The Byzantine State Church Under
According to Justinian's scheme of Church government, the Emperor was the
head of the Church in the sense that he had the right and duty of
regulating by his laws the minutest detail of worship and discipline, and
also of dictating the theological opinions to be held in the Church. This
is shown, not merely in his conduct of the Fifth General Council, but also
in his attempt, at the end of his life, to force Aphthartodocetism upon
the Church. This position of the Emperor in relation to the Church is
known as Caesaropapism. (See Bury, Later Roman Empire, chap. XI.) The
ecclesiastical legislation of Justinian should also be considered. At the
same time Justinian strictly repressed the lingering heathenism and, in
the interest of the schools at Constantinople, closed the schools at
Athens, the last stronghold of paganism.
(a) Evagrius, Hist. Ec., IV, 39. (MSG, 86 II:2781.)
Aphthartodocetism of Justinian.
Among the many variations of Monophysitism flourishing under
Justinian was Aphthartodocetism, according to which the body of
Christ, before as well as after his resurrection, was "a glorified
body," or incapable of suffering. See selection for description.
At that time Justinian, abandoning the right road of doctrine and
following the path untrodden by the Apostles and Fathers, became entangled
in thorns and briars; and he attempted to fill the Church also with these,
but failed in his purpose, and thereby fulfilled the prediction of
prophecy. Justinian, after he had anathematized Origen, Didymus, and
Evagrius, issued what the Latins call an edict, after the deposition of
Eustochius [A. D. 556], in which he termed the body of the Lord
incorruptible and incapable of the natural and blameless passions;
affirming that the Lord ate before His passion in the same manner as after
His resurrection, His holy body having undergone no conversion or change
from the time of its actual formation in the womb, not even in respect to
the natural and voluntary passions, nor yet after the resurrection. To
this he proceeded to compel bishops in all parts to give their assent.
However, they all professed to look to Anastasius, the Bishop of Antioch,
and thus avoided the first attack.
(b) Justinian, Novella VI "Preface."
Church and State according to Justinian.
Among the greatest gifts of God bestowed by the kindness of heaven are the
priesthood and the imperial dignity. Of these the former serves things
divine; the latter rules human affairs and cares for them. Both are
derived from the one and the same source, and order human life. And,
therefore, nothing is so much a care to the emperors as the dignity of the
priesthood; so that they may always pray to God for them. For if one is in
every respect blameless and filled with confidence toward God, and the
other rightly and properly maintains in order the commonwealth intrusted
to it, there is a certain excellent harmony which furnishes whatsoever is
needful for the human race. We, therefore, have the greatest cares for the
true doctrines of God and the dignity of the priesthood which, if they
preserve it, we trust that by it great benefits will be bestowed by God,
and we shall possess undisturbed those things which we have, and in
addition acquire those things which we have not yet acquired. But all
things are well and properly carried on, if only a proper beginning is
laid, and one that is acceptable to God. But this we believe will be so if
the observance of the sacred canons is cared for, which also the Apostles,
who are rightly to be praised, and the venerated eye-witnesses and
ministers of the word of God, delivered, and which the holy Fathers have
also preserved and explained.
(c) Justinian, Novella CXXXVII, 6.
The following section from the conclusion of a novella
illustrates the manner in which Justinian legislated in matter of
internal affairs for the Church and instituted a control over the
priesthood which was other than that of the Church's own system of
We command that all bishops and presbyters shall offer the sacred oblation
and the prayers in holy baptism not silently, but with a voice which may
be heard by the faithful people, that thereby the minds of those listening
may be moved to greater contrition and to the glory of God. For so,
indeed, the holy Apostle teaches (I Cor. 14:16; Rom. 10:10). Therefore it
is right that to our Lord Jesus Christ, to our God with the Father and the
Holy Ghost, be offered prayer in the holy oblation and other prayers with
the voice by the most holy bishops and the presbyters; for the holy
priests should know that if they neglect any of those things they shall
render an account at the terrible judgment of the great God and our
Saviour Jesus Christ, and that we shall not quietly permit such things
when we know of them and will not leave them unpunished. We command,
therefore, that the governors of the epachies, if they see anything
neglected of those things which have been decreed by us, first urge the
metropolitans and other bishops to celebrate the aforesaid synods, and do
whatsoever things we have ordered by this present law concerning synods,
and, if they see them delaying, let them report to us, that from us may
come a proper correction of those who put off holding synods. And the
governors and the officials subject to them should know that if they do
not observe these matters they will be liable to the extreme penalty
[i.e., death]. But we confirm by this present law all things which have
been decreed by us in various constitutions concerning bishops,
presbyters, and other clerics, and further concerning lodging-places for
strangers, poor-houses, orphan asylums and others as many as are over the
(d) Justinian, Novella CXXIII, 1.
Laws governing the ordination of bishops.
We decree that whenever it is necessary to ordain a bishop, the clergy and
the leading citizens whose is the bishop who is to be ordained shall make,
under peril of their souls, with the holy Gospels placed before them,
certificates concerning three persons, testifying in the same certificates
that they have not chosen them for any gifts or promises or for reasons of
friendship, or any other cause, but because they know that they are of the
true and Catholic faith and of honest life, and learned in science and
that none of them has either wife or children, and know that they have
neither concubine nor natural children, but that if any of them had a wife
the same was one and first, neither a widow nor separated from her
husband, nor prohibited by the laws and sacred canons; and know that they
are not a curial or an official, or, in case they should be such, are not
liable to any curial or official duty; and they know that they have in
such case spent not less than fifteen years in a monastery. This also is
to be contained in the certificate: that they know the person selected by
them to be not less than thirty years of age; so that from the three
persons for whom these certificates were made the best may be ordained by
the choice and at the peril of him who ordains. But a curial or an
official who, as has been said, has lived fifteen years in a monastery and
is advanced to the episcopate is freed from his rank so that as freed from
the curia he may retain a fourth part of his property, since the rest of
his property, according to our law, is to be claimed by the curia and
fisc. Also we give to those who make the certificate the privilege that if
they deem a layman, with the exception of a curial or an official, worthy
of the said election, they may choose such layman with the two other
clergy or monks, but so, however, that the layman who has in this way been
chosen to the episcopate shall not be ordained at once, but shall first be
numbered among the clergy not less than three months, and so having
learned the holy canons and the sacred ministry of the Church, he shall be
ordained bishop; for he who ought to teach others ought not himself to be
taught by others after his consecration. But if by chance there are not
found in any place three persons eligible to such election, it is
permitted those who make the certificates to make them for two or even for
only one person, who shall each have the testimonials mentioned by us. But
if those who ought to elect a bishop do not make this certificate within
six months, then, at the peril of his soul, let him who ought to ordain
ordain a bishop, provided, however, that all things which we have said be
observed. But if any one is made bishop contrary to the aforesaid rules,
we command that he be driven entirely from the episcopate; but as for him
who dared to ordain him against these commands, let him be separated from
the sacred ministry for a year and all his property, which at any time or
in any way shall come into his possession, shall be seized on account of
the crime he has committed against the rule of the Church of which he was
Ch. 13. We do not permit clergy to be ordained unless they are educated,
have the right faith, and an honorable life, and neither have, nor have
had, a concubine or natural children, but who either live chastely or have
a lawful wife and her one and only, neither a widow not separated from her
husband, nor forbidden by laws and sacred canons.
Ch. 14. We do not permit presbyters to be made less than thirty years old,
deacons and sub-deacons less than twenty-five, and lectors less than
sixteen; nor a deaconess to be ordained(207) in the holy Church who is
less than forty years old and who has been married a second time.
(e) Justinian, Codex, I, 11.
Law against paganism.
The following laws of Justinian, though of uncertain date, mark
the termination of the contest between Christianity and paganism.
In the second of these laws there is a reference to the
prohibition of pagan teachers. It is in line with the closing of
the schools of the heathen teachers at Athens. The decree closing
the schools has not been preserved.
Ch. 9. We command that our magistrates in this royal city and in the
provinces take care with the greatest zeal that, having been informed by
themselves or the most religious bishops of this matter, they make inquiry
according to law into all impurities of pagan(208) superstitions, that
they be not committed, and if committed that they be punished; but if
their repression exceed provincial power, these things are to be referred
to us, that the responsibility for, and incitement of, these crimes may
not rest upon them.
(1) It is permitted no one, either in testament or by gift, to leave or
give anything to persons or places for the maintenance of pagan impiety,
even if it is not expressly contained in the words of the will, testament,
or donation, but can be truly perceived in some other way by the judges.
(2) But those things which are so left or given shall be taken from the
persons and places to whom they have been given or left, and shall belong
to the cities in which such persons dwell or in which such places are
situated, so that they may be paid as a form of revenue. (3) All penalties
which have been introduced by previous emperors against the errors of
pagans or in favor of the orthodox faith are to remain in force and effect
forever and guarded by this present pious legislation.
Ch. 10. Because some are found who are imbued with the error of the
impious and detestable pagans, and do those things which move a merciful
God to just wrath, and that we may not suffer ourselves to leave
uncorrected matters which concern these things, but, knowing that they
have abandoned the worship of the true and only God, and have in insane
error offered sacrifices, and, filled with all impiety, have celebrated
solemnities, we subject those who have committed these things, after they
have been held worthy of holy baptism, to the punishment appropriate to
the crimes of which they have been convicted; but for the future we decree
to all by this present law that they who have been made Christians and at
any time have been deemed worthy of the holy and saving baptism, if it
appear that they have remained still in the error of the pagans, shall
suffer capital punishment.
(1) Those who have not yet been worthy of the venerable rite of baptism
shall report themselves, if they dwell in this royal city or in the
provinces, and go to the holy churches with their wives and children and
all the household subject to them, and be taught the true faith of
Christians, so that having been taught their former error henceforth to be
rejected, they may receive saving baptism, or know, if they regard these
things of small value, that they are to have no part in all those things
which belong to our commonwealth, neither is it permitted them to become
owners of anything movable or immovable, but, deprived of everything, they
are to be left in poverty, and besides are subject to appropriate
(2) We forbid also that any branch of learning be taught by those who
labor under the insanity of the impious pagans, so that they may not for
this reason pretend that they instruct those who unfortunately resort to
them, but in reality corrupt the minds of their pupils; and let them not
receive any support from the public treasury, since they are not permitted
by the Holy Scriptures or by pragmatic forms [public decrees] to claim
anything of the sort for themselves.
(3) For if any one here or in the provinces shall have been convicted of
not having hastened to the holy churches with his wife and children, as
said, he shall suffer the aforesaid penalties, and the fisc shall claim
his property, and they shall be sent into exile.
(4) If any one in our commonwealth, hiding himself, shall be discovered to
have celebrated sacrifices or the worship of idols, let him suffer the
same capital punishment as the Manichaeans and, what is the same, the
Borborani [certain Ophitic Gnostics; cf. DCB], for we judge them to be
similar to these.
(5) Also we decree that their children of tender years shall at once and
without delay receive saving baptism; but they who have passed beyond
their earliest age shall attend the holy churches and be instructed in the
Holy Scriptures, and so give themselves to sincere penitence that, having
rejected their early error, they may receive the venerable rite of
baptism, for in this way let them steadfastly receive the true faith of
the orthodox and not again fall back into their former error.
(6) But those who, for the sake of retaining their military rank or their
dignity or their goods, shall in pretence accept saving baptism, but have
left their wives and children and others who are in their households in
the error of pagans, we command that they be deprived of their goods and
have no part in our commonwealth, since it is manifest that they have not
received holy baptism in good faith.
(7) These things, therefore, we decree against the abominable pagans and
the Manichaeans, of which Manichaeans the Borborani are a part.
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