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The Dissolution Of The Imperial

The third period of the ancient Church under the Christian Empire begins
with the accession of Justin I (518-527), and the end of the first schism
between Rome and Constantinople (519). The termination of the period is
not so clearly marked. By the middle and latter part of the eighth
century, however, the imperial Church has ceased to exist in its original
conception. The Church in the East has become, in great part, a group of
national schismatic churches under Moslem rulers, and only the largest
fragment of the Church of the East is the State Church of the greatly
reduced Eastern empire. In the West, the imperial influence has ceased,
and the Roman see has allied its fortunes with the rising Frankish power,
and the rise of a Western empire is already foreshadowed.

In this period, the imperial ecclesiastical system, which had begun with
Constantine, found its completion in the Caesaropapism which was
definitively established by Justinian as the constitution of the Eastern
Church. But at the same time the Monophysite churches seceded and became
permanent national churches. The long Christological controversy found, at
least as regards Monophysitism, its settlement on a basis derived from the
revived Aristotelian philosophy; and the mystical piety of the East, with
its apparatus of hierarchy and sacraments, found its characteristic
expression in the works of Dionysius the Areopagite.

While in the East the Church was assuming its permanent form, in the West
the condition of the Church was being profoundly influenced by the
completely changed political organization of what had been the Roman
Empire of the West, but was now parcelled out among new Germanic
nationalities. The Church in the various kingdoms, in spite of its
adherence to the see of Rome as the centre of Catholic unity, came, to no
small extent, under the secular authority, and Christianity in Ireland, in
Spain, among the Franks, Anglo-Saxons, and even among the Lombards in
Italy assumed a national character, coming largely under the control and
subject to the laws and customs of the nation. In this period were laid
the foundations of the leading ecclesiastical institutions of the Middle
Ages, as the Church, although still under the influence of antiquity,
adapted itself and its institutions to the changed condition due to the
political situation and took up its duty of training the rude peoples that
had come within its fold.

The seventh and eighth centuries saw the completion of the revolution in
the ecclesiastical situation. In the East, in the territories in which the
national churches of the Monophysites were established, the Moslem rule
protected them from the attempts of the orthodox emperors to enforce
uniformity. The attempts made to recover their allegiance before they
succumbed to Islam had only ended in a serious dispute within the Orthodox
Church, the Monothelete controversy, which ended in the Sixth General
Council of 681. In Italy the Arian Lombards were gradually won to the
Catholic faith, but the Roman see soon found itself embarrassed by the too
near secular authority. Accordingly, when the controversy with the East
over Iconoclasm broke out, the Roman Church became practically independent
of the Eastern imperial authority, and in its conflict with the Lombards
came into alliance with the rising Frankish power. With this, the
transition to the Middle Ages may be said to have been completed. It was,
however, only the last of a series of acts whereby the Church was severing
itself from the ancient order and coming into closer alliance with the new
order in the life of the West. Henceforth the Church, which found its
centre in the Roman see, belongs to the West, and its relations to the
East, although no formal schism had occurred, are of continued and
increasing estrangement or alienation.

The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. II, will cover the entire
period and give ample bibliographical references.

Chapter I. The Church In The Eastern Empire

The century extending from the accession of Justin I (518-528) to the end
of the Persian wars of Heraclius (610-641), or from 518 to 628, is the
most brilliant period of the Eastern Empire. The rise of Islam had not yet
taken place, whereby the best provinces in Asia and Africa were cut off
from the Empire. A large part of the West was recovered under Justinian,
and under Heraclius the power of Persia, the ancient enemy of the Roman
Empire, which had been a menace since the latter part of the third
century, was completely overthrown in the most brilliant series of
campaigns since the foundation of the Roman Empire. With the death of
Justin II (565-578), the family of Justin came to an end after occupying
the throne for sixty years. But under Tiberius (578-582) and Maurice
(582-602) the policy of Justinian was continued in all essentials in the
stereotyped form known as Byzantinism. The Church became practically a
department of the State and of the political machinery. The only
limitation upon the will of the Emperor was the determined resistance of
the Monophysites and smaller factions. Maurice was succeeded by the rude
Phocas (602-610), whom a military revolution placed upon the throne, and
who instituted a reign of terror and blood. Upon his downfall, Heraclius
(610-641) ascended the throne.

Next: The Age Of Justinian

Previous: The Church Of Italy Under The Os

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