East And West In The Early Middle Ages

The Eastern and Western halves of the Christian world obviously had much in common apart from their attitude to the secular: notably monasticism, the structuring of the day for monks (at least) by prayers consisting largely of psalms, the arrangement of the year to commemorate the birth of Christ, his death and resurrection, etc., not to mention fundamental things such as the mass and the doctrines of the Three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in one God, and two natures in Christ. None of these things, obviously, are universal in the history of Christianity when viewed as a whole.

In the fifth and sixth centuries, moreover, close connections were maintained between the two worlds. Both were centred on the Mediterranean. Popes were drawn deeply into otherwise principally Eastern disputes about what the union of natures in Christ implied. Except when pitted against an emperor, popes were only too eager to remain under imperial protection, in the tradition of the Christian Empire. In the sixth century, Justinian actually reconquered Italy, though it was soon lost to the Lombards.

The failure of Byzantine emperors to find the means to protect Rome from the Lombard threat must slowly have diminished papal anxiety to stay within the imperial fold. Because of the astonishing conquests of the Arabs, the Mediterranean ceased to be a Christian lake by the end of the seventh century. In the meantime, papal preoccupations were being drawn northwards to England, where the mission sent by Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century had taken root, after initial reverses. Together with Irish monks (who were with time won over to Roman ways) this mission created a church where it was possible to appeal to Rome in a manner that anticipates the central Middle Ages. The close links between England and Rome had farreaching consequences, for it was missionaries from England, above all St Boniface, who were able to convert the pagan parts of Germany in the eighth century, and they worked closely and deferentially with the popes.

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