Skip to main content

Byzantine Theology

BYZANTINE THEOLOGY

Byzantine theology is used here to designate the writings and thoughts of Eastern writers from the patristic age to the end of the Byzantine empire indicated by the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when it came to be called more properly Greek theology.

NATURE AND SOURCES

Byzantine theology remained faithful, generally speaking, to the dogmas defined by the first seven ecumenical councils and had great reverence for the writings of the fathers of the church. It recognized the same Sacraments and the same ecclesiastical organization and was presided over by bishops whom the Roman Church acknowledged as true successors of the Apostles. Nevertheless, Byzantine and Latin theology are profoundly different. While they treat the same matters, they deal with them diversely. What differentiates and even divides Latin from Byzantine theology is not so much the objects of belief as the manner of dealing with them. It is a question of mentality or esprit.

Spiritual Platonism. The Byzantine approach to theology is primarily influenced by a spiritual platonism that considers the world as an epiphany or appearance of a superior world. The Gospel of John and the Platonizing Fathers of the first five centuries formed Oriental and Byzantine Christian thought. This thought insists on the separation between the visible world and the invisible world. What one sees here below are the changing, imperfect things. Behind these beings, there is the true unchanging Being that the soul will contemplate happily in immortal life. The hereafter is the sole end of man's destiny and of all worldly activity.

Visible creation is admired as the work of the Divinity, but this vision will never fully satisfy the ineffable desire of the human spirit. As long as the soul is confined to the body, it will not attain that of which it is capable. Thus, Byzantine theology considers the corporeal envelope of the senses as a prison; with the Apostle Paul, it groans for liberation from the body and considers death as an accomplishment or gain. The Fourth Gospel and Revelation express this tension of the soul in striving after Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.

The Platonizing method of Byzantine theology does not look for immanent ideas in things or a rational explanation after the fashion of the Aristotelian method; for this reason, supernatural reality, with which revelation is concerned, is enveloped in mystery. It is something spiritual and consequently not comprehensible to the soul immersed in the material as in a prison. Byzantine theology does not seek out reasons to justify the intelligibility of the supernatural in the natural order; it does not attempt to build the supernatural upon nature, nor does it consider the human spirit as naturally Christian. Speculative Byzantine theology is therefore not highly developed or systematic.

It is rather mystical, liturgical, scriptural, patristic, and eclectic.

As human reason is incapable of comprehending the supernatural, or the divine side of the Christian mystery that is revelation, there are few dogmas in Byzantine theology, few rational explanations of revealed truths. There are theologoumena, or truths that can be accepted without being clothed with dogmatic value to be imposed as the faith for all. Byzantine theology does not admit of a well-determined, proximate rule of faith and leaves much room for belief. There is a tendency simply to identify dogma with revelation, the human and contingent expression of the revealed truth with the revealed truth itself.

In Byzantine theology, revelation is a determined sum of supernatural truths fixed from all eternity; there is little dogmatic progress in the theological science of revealed doctrine. According to Bulgakov, dogmas are the markers or limits beyond which orthodox doctrine should not strive to pass. Not having a permanent, living magisterium, Byzantine theology does not try to penetrate the revealed truths received from tradition through reason; but it tries to live them in a mystical and liturgical atmosphere. This is why Byzantine theology has not produced a powerful rational synthesis, but rather, particular treatises dealing with controverted questions, frequently merely repeating the arguments of others. aristotelian ism had more success among the Nestorians and Monophysites in the Orient. Despite his greatness, john damascene, who was actually a Syrian Melkite of Damascus, did not exercise an influence on Greek Byzantine thought in any way comparable to that of thomas aqui nas on Western theology.

Sources of Byzantine theology. The Byzantines admit in general two sources of their theology: Scripture and tradition. Recent Greek, rather than Byzantine, theology seems to speak of but one sole source of revelation; this reflects the influence of Cyril Lucaris. For the canon of the Scripture, the Byzantine theologians followed the third and fourth synods of Carthage and the Council of Trullo (Quinisext 691), which with very little exception admitted Catholic teaching on both the NT and Revelation and on the Deuterocanonical books of the OT. They attributed an infallible authority to all the books of Sacred Scripture, particularly as regards faith and morals, and taught that the Church is charged with the interpretation of Scripture by means of tradition. They speak of an active tradition, by which they mean the consent of the Church, or of the piety and liturgical sense, as well as the universal consciousness of the Church. Modern authors developed and emphasized this point.

Passive tradition comprises: the creeds or symbols of faith, including the Nicene-Constantinopolitan, the Athanasian, and Apostles' Creeds; the apostolic con stitutions; the first seven councils before the separation of the Churches, to which are added the Quinisext of 691 and, usually, the Photian Council of 879880. The doctrinal authority of the councils is infallible. Some moderns, including khomiakov, also attribute this infallibility to the Church "as already instructed." According to Bulgakov, the councils are merely the expression of this infallibility. The Byzantines attribute dogmatic value also to certain synods, to the Apostolic canons, the acts of the martyrs, the Liturgy, the usage of the ancient Church, the Fathers, and certain confessions of faith in recent theology, such as those of Dositheus and Peter moghila. Among the Fathers of the Church, they venerate in particular the old, post-Nicene theologians: Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Maximus the Confessor, Pseudo-Dionysius, and John Damascene; and among the Latins, Pope Leo I and Augustine. They consider them as witnesses to tradition, and their consensus as a definite sign of the truth.

Christology. The apostolic fathers, such as igna tius of antioch, occupy the particular attention of the Byzantines in the discussion concerning the reality of Christ's humanity in controversy against the Docetists (see docetism). In the 4th century, it was the divinity of Christ that had to be defended against the Arians (see ari anism), leading to a deepening of the doctrine of the hypostatic union through definitions at the Councils of ephesus (431) and of chalcedon (451).

After the constitution of the great patriarchal churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, these patriarchal centers were at rivalry not only for ecclesiastical supremacy but also for doctrinal control. The theological school of antioch, by stressing the twofold nature of Christ, provided a foundation for nestori anism, while the school of alexandria favored the divinity of Christ, and gave a foothold to Monophysitism. The Alexandrian theologians, with their Platonizing tendencies under the guidance of Pantaenus, Clement, and Origen, attempted to reconcile Neoplatonism with an allegorical interpretation of Scripture; they tended to confuse the unity of the person in Christ with the two natures.

The school of Antioch, with its Aristotelianism and its teachers, such as lucian of antioch, dorotheus, paul of samosata, and diodore of tarsus, tried to reconcile Aristotelianism with a literal exegesis of Scripture, and not only did they tend to establish a division between the double nature in Christ, but they introduced this division into the person of the Savior. The schools of edessa and of nisibis were attached to Antioch. Constantinople did not develop its own theological school; only under Emperor theodosius ii was a school of philosophy founded to replace the pagan academies of the Greeks.

THE AGE OF JUSTINIAN

In the Justinian age, Byzantine theology was engaged in a battle against two excesses: Monophysitism and Nestorianism. proclus, the patriarch of Constantinople (434446), had begun this controversy and inspired a group of defenders of orthodoxy in the East. He gave an orthodox explanation of the hypostatic union in his Tome to the Armenians and in his Marian homilies. leontius of byzantium (485543) began as a Nestorian, then combatted both Nestorianism and Monophysitism, leaning in part on Origenism (see origen and orige nism). His principal works, the Three Books against the Eutychians and Nestorians and his Diversa Opuscula et Scholia, employed the Neoplatonic dialectic against the Aristotelian heresiarchs and established the orthodox relations between the human nature of Christ and His divine hypostasis or person. The human nature is a true and real nature belonging to the divine hypostasis.

The concepts of nature and of hypostasis or person were finally clarified by John Damascene. Meanwhile, Byzantine writers, and particularly Emperor justinian i (527565), the fervent caesaropapal ruler and theologian, based their doctrine on cyril of alexandria and attacked the Monophysites; Justinian rejected Origenism and condemned the three chapters as Nestorian, using his own authority and that of the ecumenical Council of constantinople ii (553), finally bending Pope vigilius to his will in this matter. While the emperor admitted the doctrine of the Roman primacy, in practice he proclaimed the ruler's right to make doctrinal and ecclesiastical decisions. His caesaropapism, particularly in ecclesiastical legislation, had a great influence on Byzantine Church development, in hierarchical structure and in disciplinary decrees for clerics and monks, as well as on matrimonial law. By inserting the famous canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon concerning the privileges of the See of Constantinople as the second Rome, Justinian sowed the seed of discord between the churches of the Orient and that of Rome.

Patriarchal rights. The Council of nicaea i (325) had recognized the patriarchal rights of the Sees of Alexandria and Antioch. The Council of constantinople i (381) changed the order of the sees established by Nicaea I and attributed the first rank and the "same privileges of honor" to Constantinople after Rome. The fathers at Chalcedon (451), despite their assertion that they respected the sense of canon 3 of the Council of Constantinople I, actually gave Constantinople true jurisdiction over the Dioceses of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace: they suppressed the term "of honor" and added as justification the fact that old Rome enjoyed a primacy because it was the political capital. In itself, the sense of canon 28 was disciplinary and canonical; but it could easily be employed in an abusive interpretation, to concede to the See of Constantinople the same powers over the East that Rome enjoyed in the West. Hence, the papal legates and Pope Leo I rejected this canon. Before Justinian, canon 28 did not actually prevail in Byzantine theology; he gave it the attribute of law, and after him the Council in Trullo (691) and later Byzantine writers accepted it as such.

Monothelitism. Theological deviation appeared at this epoch in the guise of monothelitism that admitted but one, unique theandric operation in Christ. This doctrine was taught by the patriarch of Constantinople, sergi us i (610638), and was adopted gradually by the Copts, Syrians, and Armenians. sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 638), was the first effective adversary of Monothelitism; he was aided by maximus the confessor (d.662), who during his journeys and by his contacts in Jerusalem and in Rome, particularly with Pope martin i, combatted both Monophysitism and Monothelitism. In his Florilegium, he shows the influence of pseudodionysius and Leontius of Byzantium, as he employed Neoplatonic philosophy and dialectic to combat these errors; he employed them also to explain the double will of Christ.

The doctrine of Maximus triumphed finally at the Council of constantinople iii (681). Another Byzantine Melchite, John Damascene (d. 749), achieved a reputation as a great theologian in the 8th century. He is properly called the Thomas Aquinas of the East. He composed a series of ascetical, dogmatic, polemic, and poetic works. His Fons cognitionis (Πηγή τ[symbol omitted]ς γνώσεως) is a learned compilation of patristic authors, systematized in an Aristotelian, logical structure; it dealt with problems that later became matters of contention between the Latins and the Byzantines, such as the Immaculate Conception, the epiclesis, and purgatory. In the Christological domain, he gave clear and orthodox testimony regarding the hypostatic union, the Eucharist, and the notions of nature and person, in his De fide orthodoxa. John also achieved eminence with his Three Orations on Images, in which he defended sacred icons against the iconoclastic Byzantine emperors of the Syrian dynasty. He distinguished between the worship of latria due to God, and the worship of dulia, due to the saints and their representations in images. In this cult, it is not the material of the image that is venerated but the person of the one who is depicted.

Council of Nicaea III. Under Empress irene, the veneration of images was vindicated with the Council of nicaea iii (787). At the Synod of Constantinople (843), held under theodora (2) and Michael III (842867), iconoclasm was definitively vanquished. As a souvenir of this event, the Sunday of Orthodoxy was established. the odore the studite, founder of the Studite monastery at Constantinople (798) and an ascetical and poetic writer, defended the Roman primacy and the cult of images with the same arguments as those used by John Damascene.

Carolingian controversies. During the Carolingian age, Western theologians took an interest in the iconoclastic controversy of the Byzantines. Under Alcuin, they opposed the iconophile doctrine defined at the Council of Nicaea III. In the collective work called the Carolingian Books (Libri Carolini ) they attempted to achieve a via media; while they repudiated the exaggerations of the iconoclasts, they did not agree with the iconophiles that images were to be worshiped with the cult of dulia. This stemmed from a misunderstanding. Actually, for the Westerner the cult given to images is a relative worship, going directly to the person represented, while for the Oriental, the cult given to images is an external veneration or proskynesis that differs from the worship rendered to God and that given to the saints. Images, in the thought of John Damascene, possess a superior virtue because of their consecration and their quality as instruments by which God works miracles.

The Carolingian theologians also complained that the Council of Nicaea III had employed a formula proposed by Patriarch tarasius of constantinople concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit "from the Father through the Son." They charged that this was a vague and even equivocal expression, giving the impression that the Holy Spirit was a creature. They defended the filioque formula and accused Tarasius of dogmatic error. Pope Adrian came to the defense of the patriarch by showing that the formula "through the Son" was well founded among the Greek fathers. Thus the filioque dispute changed terrain and became a quarrel between the Carolingians and the Romans. At the behest of Charlemagne, Alcuin defended the filioque in his Libellus de processione Spiritus Sancto.

Filioque. This difficulty was increased between the Byzantines and the Carolingians in 809, at a synod of Aix-la-Chapelle, when the formula "filioque" was introduced into the Creed in the Latin sung Mass. The Carolingians also supported the Latin monks on Mt. Olivet in Jerusalem, who defended the filioque against the Greek monks in the monastery of St. Sabas. For ecumenical reasons, Pope Leo III did not approve the use of the filioque in the Mass. "Why approve the use of this formula without necessity," he asked, "when such an addition will favor a division between the East and the West?"

Another question that came to the fore at this time was the doctrine of the pentarchy. The defenders of images were in favor of a moderate pentarchy in attributing to the five patriarchs supreme power in the Church. By this they desired to prove that the Iconoclastic Synod, presided over by only one patriarch, was not legitimate. Their chief, Theodore the Studite, recognized the full powers of the five patriarchs in an ecumenical council, but he did not desire to downgrade the Roman primacy, which, according to him, was of divine right and was provided with the charism of infallibility and the principle of unity. For the defenders of the pentarchy, the Pauline idea of the Mystical Body of Christ suggested a concept of the Church in which all the members, with their head, the Roman sovereign pontiff, are united among themselves by the intermediary of the patriarchs, who hold a rank midway between the Roman pontiff and the bishops in the direction of the Church. However, during the 9th century the Byzantines abused this interpretation of the Church to assert that it was not reconcilable with the monarchic structure defended by the Latins, and that as a consequence all the patriarchs were equal in dignity and power, including the Roman patriarch of the Latin Church.

THE PHOTIAN PERIOD: 9TH AND 10TH CENTURIES

After the suppression of the Ecumenical Academy in 726 by the iconoclastic Emperor Leo III, Michael III and his minister Bardas founded in 863 the University of the Imperial Palace of Constantinople. Profane sciences were taught at the university, and the professors were all laymen. Theology was cultivated by the monks of the Studite monastery, particularly under Theodore. Among the renowned lecturers at the university were Leo the Philosopher, Photius, and Constantine (Cyril), later the apostle of the Slavs. In the West, the secular and theological sciences were cultivated in the Carolingian Empire and in northern Italy. In Rome these studies were almost totally neglected. It was only under the Greeks in flight from the iconoclastic persecution that sacred studies began to flourish in Rome.

photius became patriarch of Constantinople under Emperor Michael III in 858 in place of the deposed Ignatius. Because of his controversy against the Roman primate, as well as for his knowledge and virtue, Photius is held in great veneration by the Byzantine Orthodox Church. It should be remarked, however, that the knowledge of Photius was more encyclopedic than profound, and that his integrity was tarnished by his intrigues against Patriarch Ignatius and the Roman See.

Responsibility of Photius. More recently F. Dvornik has attempted to diminish the responsibility of Photius in the break between the two Churches. In his opinion, Photius would have opposed the pope only in the beginning; and his reinstallation in the patriarchal see after the resignation of Ignatius would have been approved by the pope. Likewise, in Dvornik's view, Photius lived in peace with the Church of Rome until his death. As regards his doctrine, Photius admitted the inspiration of the Deuterocanonical books; he interpreted the Sacred Scriptures in a literal and historical sense. The Fathers of the Church, from whom he omitted the pre-Nicaeans, the Latins, and even John Damascene, are in his estimation the authentic interpreters of the Bible and witnesses to tradition. He used Aristotelian dialectic adroitly in his polemics against the Latins, particularly in the subtle questions of the procession of the Holy Spirit, not hesitating to reverse himself when the Roman-Byzantine relations took a more favorable turn for him.

In his writings before his break with the Latins (867), as in his letters to Zachary of Armenia, to King Boris Michael of Bulgaria, to Pope Nicholas I (860; containing his profession of faith), and in another letter to the same pope in 862 with his apology for his election to the patriarchate, he taught nothing contrary to the faith of the Roman Church, even though he mentioned diverse liturgical and disciplinary uses. In these letters, Photius also clearly admitted the primacy of St. Peter.

Primacy of Rome. As for the primacy of the Roman pontiffs, there is nothing explicit. While he rejected the Synod of Sardica (c. 13) quoted by Pope Nicholas, it seems that Photius was merely refuting the argument against the legitimacy of his own election. Besides, the allusions in the writings of Photius during this period and his whole attitude toward the pope show how much he prized papal approbation of his election. This must be said against those who would interpret his actions as being tactical rather than being dictated by conviction. But Photius tried in vain to convince the pope to confirm his election, and this certainly disposed him against the Roman See. Yet he did not immediately break with Rome. The occasion arose in the course of the conflict over Bulgaria.

Boris of Bulgaria was conquered by the Byzantines in 865 and baptized by them, but he turned toward Rome, despite the fact that Photius as patriarch sent him a dogmatic letter on the Christian faith and believed that the Byzantine Church should exercise jurisdiction over Bulgaria. Boris was motivated by political resentment against Byzantium. He maltreated and expelled the Byzantine missionaries and addressed himself to Pope Nicholas. The latter wrote his famous Letter to the Bulgarians. In furious reaction, Photius convoked the Synod of 867, which condemned the Latins and addressed an Encyclical Letter to the Oriental Thronos, inviting them to an ecumenical council called in Constantinople that same year. This council excommunicated the Latins and deposed Pope Nicholas as illegitimately elected. But immediately afterward, Emperor Michael was assassinated and his successor, Basil I the Macedonian, reestablished peace between the two Churches, reinstated Ignatius as patriarch, and expelled Photius.

After the death of Ignatius (878), Photius resumed the patriarchate until his exile in 886. During this period, a relative peace existed between Byzantium and Rome. Photius had not changed in his resentment, nor in his doctrine regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit, as is evident, for example, in his Mystagogia, written at this time. It is probable that he had at least a fragmentary knowledge of the Latin replies to his attacks, even though he knew no Latin. But he passed over the recriminations against the liturgical and disciplinary usages in silence and his older arguments against the Roman primacy. He made an indirect attempt to weaken the primatial authority of Rome.

The Ecumenical Council of 869870 anathematized Photius for favoring new dogmas and for deceit. He had had predecessors who in word and deed had acted independently of the Roman See and admitted the Roman primacy when it pleased them. Before Photius, no Byzantine employed the phrase "from the Father alone" of the Holy Spirit, but said rather "from the Father through the Son." The doctrine of Photius on the active inspiration of the Father alone is certainly contrary to the tradition of the Fathers, with the exception of one or other who used the Alexandrian formula "from the Father through the Son," but limited the function of the spiriting principle to the Father, and understood "through the Son" to include only the temporal mission of the Holy Spirit. Duns Scotus came close to this Byzantine opinion on the procession "through the Son" in his work De divisione naturae.

Photius to Michael Cerularius. There is little evidence for the relations between Rome and Byzantium during this period. Basil I considered the quarrels between the two churches as an internal affair of the clergy and the partisans of Ignatius and Photius. Patriarch nicho las i mysticus anathematized Emperor Leo VI (912), who was already dead, and with him, all who had admitted the legitimacy of the emperor's fourth marriage, among whom was the pope, Sergius III. Although the Photian attacks were not repeated, his doctrinal attitudes prevailed. As the Byzantine Empire was then at the apex of its influence, the Church propagated its doctrine among the Slavs and Arabs. However, the 10th century produced no Byzantine theologian of renown, despite the writings of Arethas of Caesarea, Nicetas of Byzantium, George of Nicomedia, and particularly Emperors leo vi the wise and constantine vii porphyrogenitus with their homilies, as well as patriarchs Eutychius of Alexandria and the saintly Euthymius (d. 917) of Constantinople. These authors held the procession of the Holy Spirit "from the Father through the Son" and favored the prerogatives of Constantinople against Rome. Yet there were Byzantine authors in this period who admitted the Roman primacy, including Nicholas of Paphlagonia, a student of both Arethas and Photius. The Byzantines were interested in defending Christianity against the Mohammedans and Jacobites. Among them were those who bore excellent witness to the Mother of God (theo tokos), whom the Byzantines exalted by literary and rational arguments rather than by a profound search of revelation. In their Marian homilies, they went back to the ancient theses of the Marian feasts: her perpetual virginity, her bodily assumption, her mediation through intercession, and her holiness at the moment of her conception.

THE BREAK WITH ROME

After the formal break between the Churches of Rome and Byzantium under Patriarch michael ceru larius (104259), tension grew. During this period many popes, including Alexander II, Gregory VII, and Urban II, tried to reestablish unity, but in vain. The lower clergy and the monks in particular were opposed, as also were the patriarchs John VIII Xiphilinus and nicholas iii, who made use of the title "Ecumenical Patriarch" and tried to turn the Melkites, Nestorians, and Monophysites of the Diaspora against Rome. With the crusades and the founding of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099), matters worsened between the two Churches.

Spread of the schism. Questions were raised concerning the validity of the excommunication hurled at mi chael cerularius and his followers by Cardinal Humbert on July 16, 1054, since Pope Leo IX (d. April 19, 1054) was dead at this time. The mutual excommunications themselves were directed at the persons and not the Churches, but unhappily the schism that resulted spread to the other patriarchates of the East, and it was further fomented by the schools. The university founded at Constantinople in 1045 by constantine ix mono machus had faculties of philosophy and law and exercised an influence on Byzantine thought. There was also a patriarchal school for theology that held a middle position between the university and the monastery schools. In the latter two, theology was taught in a positive fashion, while at the university Michael Psellus tried to apply hellenistic philosophy to the revealed doctrines. Michael Cerularius had contributed to the separation of the churches not only by his hostile attitude toward the papal legates in his Edictum Synodale, read to the people on July 20, 1054, in Hagia Sophia, but also by his writings (such as his Epistula ad Petrum Antiochenum ) on the errors of the Latins, by his Panoplia, and by his Epistula Leonis Achridensis. Michael accused the Latins of liturgical deviations and dogmatic errors concerning the azymes or unleavened bread, the Saturday fast, abstinence, Baptism, the veneration of images, lack of respect for the Greek Fathers, the filioque, and the Roman primacy; these 22 accusations in all were repeated by contemporary writers.

Hostile Influences. The Studite monk nicetas stethatos, called Pectoratus (d. after 1054), left a number of works on spiritual theology and on controversy with the Jews, Armenians, and Latins (e.g., Spiritual Paradise and De fermentato et azymo contra armenios et latinos ). Leo of Ochrida, the Bulgarian archbishop, accused the Latins, in a letter to John of Apulia, of liturgical deviations, such as not chanting the Alleluia during Lent. The patriarch of Antioch, Peter III, in his Epistula ad Dominicum Gradensem and in other writings, also brought up these questions, particularly that of the azymes. But he seemed to act as a supporter of peace, saying that he would absolve the Latins of all abuses if they would leave the filioque out of the Creed.

An anonymous Contra francos aliosque latinos in the second half of the 11th century brought the number of accusations to 28; this had great influence on the hostile mentality of the Byzantines and led Michael Cerularius to consider the filioque as heretical. Michael did not attack the Roman primacy directly, but he insisted on breaking with the pope, whom he considered to be in heresy, and said it was not traditional to remain in communion with heretics, even the head of a Church. If the head of the fish is rotting, he asked, how can the body be salutary? Peter of Antioch, who deplored the schism, actually held for the pentarchy, according to which the Church under one head alone, Christ, was governed by the five patriarchs as equals. But the question of unleavened bread was principal at this period. The Byzantines maintained that when Christ instituted the Eucharist, the Jews did not have unleavened bread.

Michael Psellus. Among the Byzantine theologians who tried to apply a Platonizing philosophy to the dogmas of the Trinity and Christology was Michael Psellus the Younger (d. 1078). He was a poet, historian, and philosopher. Only part of his works have been published, but he used both an Aristotelian and Platonizing approach to the Trinity and Christology and was accused by the monastic schools of Neoplatonizing. He admitted the procession "from the Father alone," a certain material essence in the angels, the holiness of the Mother of God at her conception, and her mediatorship. john italus of Calabria (d. 1084) succeeded Psellus as rector of the university. But he had to resign his professorial chair due to the accusation of Hellenization made by the monks under Emperor Alexius Comnenus. Eleven anathemas were brought against Psellus in the Synodicon of the first Sunday of Lent (1082), called the Sunday of Orthodoxy. This gave a death blow to speculation in Byzantine theology.

These theologians were accused of attempting to rationalize the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation. In the same current were Theodore Prodromus, a humanist rather than theologian, Euthymius zigabenus, who in the second section of his Panoplia dogmatica furnished rational expositions for the service of theology that were fairly profound; John Mauropus, the master of Psellus; and Michael Italicus.

One of the better theologians of the time was Theophylactus, metropolitan of Bulgaria (d. 1108), disciple of Psellus, and lecturer in the patriarchal school at Constantinople. Among his writings were his Enarrationes in 4 Evangelia; Commentaria in V. et N. Testamenta; and Vita St. Clementis Bulgaris. His opuscule De üs quorum Latini incusantur gives an exact idea of the problems being disputed between the Latin and Greek churches. He differed with those who accused the Roman Church of heresy. He appeared to reject the Roman primacy but admitted the primacy of Peter. He said the deficiency of the Latin language was responsible for their confusion on the filioque between the "eternal procession" and the "temporal sending" of the Holy Spirit. He would allow the filioque in private usage if the Son were not considered a principium, or cause.

Positive Theologians. Concerning the two principal doctrines of the Trinity and Christology, the positive theologians had a better position after the condemnation of Psellus and his school. Along with Euthymius Zigabenus, whose Panoplia dogmatica was a new version of the Photian Libellus with attention to the opinions of the Greek Fathers and some of the Latins, were Andronicus Camateros, with his Sacrum Armentarium, and Nicetas Acominatus and his Thesaurus Orthodoxiae. Both Andronicus Camateros and Nicetas Acominatus followed the official doctrine of Constantinople in the dispute with the Latins. John Phurnensis, Eustratius of Nicaea, A. Demetrakopoulus, Nicetas Seides, and Nicholas of Methone did likewise, although through their interest in the Fathers they departed from the attitude of Photius.

Nicetas of Maronia, in his Dialogues on the Holy Spirit, affirmed that the Holy Spirit proceeded immediately from the Son and through the Son from the Father as from a primary and original cause. He hoped to arrive at a compromise by requesting the Latins to suppress the filioque in the Creed if the Greeks would admit that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, or even from the Father and the Son, understanding the ex filio in accord with the Fathers as ex principio immediato, and not ex principio carente principio. During all this period, however, these authors repeated the old Cerularian accusations.

Pentarchy. The Byzantine concept of the pentarchy had evolved at the end of the 12th century into a system against the Roman primacy. The canonist Theodore bal samon (d. after 1195) contributed to this development with his Commentary on the Canons and in his Responsum de Patriarcharum privilegiis, in which he dealt with the origin, privileges, and equality in dignity of all the patriarchs. He admitted the apostolic origin of the three patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. The patriarchate of Rome had its origin with Constantine I, and that of Constantinople with the Council of Constantinople I (381). This theory was sustained by the Byzantines and the Slavs, with few exceptions, until the 17th century. The other questions agitated during this period were the cult of images, as something absolute, a position that was sustained by Leo of Chalcedon, who was condemned for this reason; and the sacrifice in the Liturgy of the Mass, that is not offered to the Word (Christ offers and is offered), a position sustained by Soterichus Panteugenus of Antioch, Eustathius Dyrrachiensis, and Michael of Thessalonica, all of whom were condemned at the Synod of Constantinople of 1157. The Synod of 1166 gave an explanation of the words "the Father is greater than I" (Jn 14.28), which refer to Christ as man, and not solely to the humanity in Christ.

Council of Lyons. Byzantine theology in the 13th century gravitated around the Council of Lyons (1274), as a preparation or a consequence, with one nuance before the Latin occupation of Constantinople (120461) and another nuance after the occupation. During the Latin Empire of the East (12041393), the controversy with the Latins became acute under the brothers John and Nicholas Mesarites, the first a monk and exegete, and the other the metropolitan of Ephesus. The two engaged in conferences with the Latins in which the question of the Roman primacy was discussed and combatted by the Byzantines with new arguments. It was asserted that Peter was not the first bishop of Rome, but Linus; and that it was not Rome but Jerusalem or Antioch that should enjoy the primatial right. This idea is found in John Camateros of Constantinople (d. 1206) in his Letters to Pope InnocentIII. Many authors taught the Photian doctrine on the procession of the Holy Spirit. At this period, the problem of purgatory appeared for the first time. Georgius III Bardanes, metropolitan of Corfu, denied the fire of purgatory (1231) for venial sins not expiated on earth, and he also denied immediate retribution after death. This idea became a common Byzantine teaching. The Franciscan Bartholomeus answered Georgius, and Pope Leo IV took up the question of purgatory in his letter to the legate in Cyprus (1254); Leo also brought up the problem of fornication, which the Greeks did not consider a mortal sin.

Principal Arguments. The Tract against the Errors of the Greeks of the Dominican Bartholomew of Byzantium (1252) gave a résumé of the principal Greek arguments and the Latin responses. After the transfer of the imperial government from Nicaea back to Constantinople under Michael Palaeologus in 1261, two tendentious factions controlled the religious thought of the capital: the zealot monks and the learned courtiers and courtesans. Michael persecuted the Zealots, who, with the deposed patriarch Arsenius, violently opposed the emperor's efforts to approach Rome.

The writings of the monk nicephorus blemmydes (d. 1272) contributed to the cause of union, particularly in clarifying the question of the procession of the Holy Spirit. Nicephorus did not approve the addition of the filioque in the Creed. His teaching deviated from that of Photius far enough, however, to admit the procession "from the Father and Son" or "through the Son," admitting that the Holy Spirit was the Spirit of the Son for he pertained to the Son essentially. His critics said that the formula per filium in Blemmydes' thought signified the mediation of the Son in the eternal procession of the Spirit. This mediation was essential but not actual, according to V. Grumel, while Gordillo sees it as an active principle of the Holy Spirit in so far as the Son receives it from the Father. Blemmydes' doctrine, at once positive, patristic, and catholic, on the procession, had great influence on many Byzantines, including the Patriarch john xi bec cus, and it helped prepare a mentality that would affect the discussion of union at the Council of Lyons.

Rejection of the Roman Primacy. It was precisely the charge that the Latin Church taught heresy in this matter that occasioned the rejection of the Roman primacy. The council under Pope gregory x and Michael Palaeologus favored the Byzantine approach. Although its acts have been lost, it condemned extreme positions and decreed that the Holy Spirit proceeded not from two principles, or two spirations, but from the Father as principle, and from the Son through spiration. Accord was reached in regard to purgatory, the immediate retribution after death, and the Sacraments; mention was also made of the unleavened bread for the Eucharist and the Roman primacy.

This reunion was not brought about solely by external political pressure. Gregory Acropolites, who taught after the council, sincerely held the Roman doctrine on the Holy Spirit and the primacy, as his homily on the Apostles Peter and Paul clearly indicates. However, the monks and lower clergy, as well as certain members of the imperial family, rejected the union despite the efforts of the emperor. Pope martin iv felt constrained on Nov. 18, 1281, to excommunicate the refractory Byzantines, and a synod at Constantinople under Emperor Andronicus II declared the union at an end in 1283. Andronicus expelled John Beccus from the patriarchate. Besides Beccus, Constantinus Melitiniotes, George me tochites, and the Dominican theologians living in Byzantium had written in favor of the union; George Moschabarus, a professor at the ecumenical Didascaleion, Patriarch Gregorius II, Maximus planudes, and the followers of Arsenius had vigorously opposed it. There had been falsifications of the texts of the Fathers in the course of the controversy. Gregorius II in his Tomus fidei even said he had found a patristic text justifying "an eternal illumination which the Spirit received from the Son, and reflected in having his Being from the Father."

Between the Councils of Lyons and Florence. A number of theological academies were organized in the 13th and 14th centuries, of which the more important was that at the monastery of Chora which was founded by Nicephorus Gregoras. In the patriarchal school and university at Constantinople, under the stimulus of Andronicus III and Manuel II, along with jurisprudence and philosophy, theology was taught in a fashion affected by Western methods. The works of Thomas Aquinas, translated into Greek by the cydones brothers in the 14th century, and especially by George (gennadius) Scholarius in the 15th, had considerable influence. Meanwhile, the question of Palamism became a burning issue. Besides the official theology, a current of ascetical and spiritual ideas was fomented in the monasteries. One of these manifestations could be traced back at least to the writings of John Climacus in the 6th century, author of the Ladder of Paradise, and a monk on Mt. Sinai. He described the rise of the soul toward God in a series of steps after the 30 steps of Jacob's Ladder. The 29th step resembles stoic impassibility and describes a state in which through asceticism the flesh has been incorruptible in the sense that all sensation has been subordinated to the reaching after transcendent Being. John is an important link binding later Byzantine spirituality to Neoplatonism as well as to the desert fathers and the fathers of the church. This current of spirituality included the works of Dionysius the Areopagite (see pseudo-dionysius), whose mystical thought was preserved in the monasteries, and the commentary on the Books of Solomon by an anonymous 8th-century author inspired by the Neoplatonism of Maximus, the disciple of Dionysius; and it was related to the thought of symeon the new theologian, who maintained that mystical contemplation was incompatible with life in the world. It lead directly to Palamism.

Palamism. Gregory palamas (d. 1359), a noble Asiatic educated at the imperial court, who became a monk on Mt. Athos, taught a real distinction between the divine essence and the divine operation. This doctrine occasioned a strange form of asceticism and hesychasm, in which the soul liberated from the passions could arrive at the sight of divine light, such as that which surrounded Christ in the transfiguration on Mt. tabor. Under the influence of gregory sinaites, author of Quietude and Two Methods of Prayer, of Nicephorus Haghiorita in the 14th century, and of the commentaries of Symeon the New Theologian, who wrote tracts on Prayers and Practical Theological Chapters, as well as Books of Divine Love, Hesychasm underwent a degenerating influence. Palamas maintained that the Taborite light was distinct although inseparable from the Divine Essence. It was the Divine energy or operation whose contemplation was a form of deification due to grace and the beatific vision. Barlaam of Calabria, Gregorius Akindynos, and Nice-phorus Gregoras opposed the Palamite theology, and Palamism was condemned by Patriarch john xiv cale cas in 1344. Patriarch Callistus, the homily writer, condemned Barlaam in 1351, and Palamism was restored as an authentic form of Byzantine theology; Palamas himself became archbishop of Thessalonica. The condemnations against Barlaam were added to the Synodicon read each year on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and Palamas was considered a saint after 1368.

Disciples of Palamas. Among the disciples of Palamas were David dishypatos, author of a Dialogue, Nilus cabasilas (d. 1363), successor to Palamas in the See of Thessalonica and author of Regula theologica, De causis dissensionum in Ecclesia, De papae imperio, and long treatises on the procession of the Holy Spirit; philotheus coccinus (d. 1376), first abbot on Mt. Athos, then metropolitan of Heraclea, and finally patriarch of Constantinople, who wrote Contra Nicephorum Gregoram, Three Dissertations on Palamite doctrine, an Encomium of Gregory Palamas, and other liturgical works (he canonized Palamas in 1368); and Theophanes, Metropolitan of Nicaea (d. 1381), author of A Sermon in Honor of the Theotokos, Five Books on the Living Light of Mt. Tabor, Seven Books against the Jews, Against the Latins , On the Procession of the Holy Spirit, and numerous letters.

John VI Cantacuzenus (d. 1383), the emperor, wrote against the adversaries of Palamas. Nicolas cabasilas, the nephew of Nilus Cabasilas, was the author of two well-known tracts, Seven Books on the Life of Christ (a remarkable ascetical work) and an Interpretation of Sacred Liturgy; he also wrote a pamphlet Against the Ravings of Gregoras, as well as three Marian homilies. Matthew Angelus Panaretus was a determined adversary of the Latins in the 14th century, who wrote some 18 works against them. Simeon of Thessalonica (d. 1429) was a writer of irenic tendencies, and he was attached to tradition; he composed a Dialogue against heresy and an Exposition of the Divine Temple and the Sacred Liturgy. He denied the infallibility of the pope but admitted the Roman primacy. Demetrius Chrysoloras (d. 1430), a friend of Michael Palaeologus, wrote some 100 letters against the enemies of Palamas and a series of dialogues (unedited). Joseph bryennios (d. c. 1435), a monk of Crete and of the Studion, also proved to be a determined adversary of reunion. He wrote some 49 chapters on various theological, philosophical, and moral questions.

Anti-Palamites. Of the anti-Palamite theologians barlaam of calabria (d. 1348), a monk who lived in Constantinople and enjoyed imperial favor, was charged with various diplomatic and religious missions. He was an adversary of Nicephorus Gregoras and Gregory Palamas. After his condemnation in 1341, he returned to his own country as a bishop and became a Catholic. In his earlier writings, he had zealously opposed the Latins and later used the same zeal and courage against the Palamites. He was the author of an Adversus umbilicanimos and Adversus Messalianos, as well as other minor writings and letters in favor of the Roman faith. Among the other adversaries of Palareas were gregorius akindynos (d. c. 1350), who wrote against both Barlaam and Palamas and was condemned with Barlaam; and Nice-phorus Gregoras (d. 1360), who wrote Eleven Orations against Gregory Palamas, Historia Byzantina, Marian homilies, and on the reform of the calendar. Prochorus cydones (d. c. 1368) translated the works of Thomas Aquinas and Augustine and wrote on the Divine Essence and operation and on the divine light of Mt. Thabor. He suffered much because of his ideas against Palamas. Demetrius cydones (d. 1400) also translated part of the Summa theologiae and the Contra Gentiles of Aquinas and wrote On Contempt of Death. John Cyparissiota, called the Wise, was one of the principal adversaries of Palamas and composed Four Books of Palamitic Transgressions, to which he added a fifth book against Nilus Cabasilas and an elementary exposition of theology. Manuel Calecas (d. 1410) was a Byzantine Dominican and author of On the Principle of the Catholic Faith, On the Procession of the Holy Spirit, and Four Books against the Greeks. Maximus Chrysoberges (d. after 1410), also a Dominican, wrote on the procession of the Holy Spirit.

While the adversaries of Palamism utilized theological information and the distinctions found in the works of Aquinas, the Palamite group repudiated this type of theological argument. In the controversy over the Holy Spirit, they refuted the Thomistic arguments in favor of the filioque. Barlaam and Nilus Cabasilas maintained that the Latins could not demonstrate the procession of the Holy Spirit by dialectical methods and appealed to the doctrine of Duns Scotus. Nilus searched for new arguments against the Roman primacy, but he recommended the convocation of a general council to put an end to schism.

Nilus distinguished two phases of papal power: that which the pope held as the bishop of Rome, and that which he held as the legitimate successor of Peter. He enjoyed power as primus episcoporam, which the conciliar fathers and the emperors, not Christ or St. Peter, had conferred on him. Peter had indeed received the primacy by divine right, but he had not transmitted these extraordinary powers to his successors, since he enjoyed them as a personal privilege. The bishop of Rome is the successor of St. Peter in the same manner in which other bishops are the successors of the Apostles without inheriting apostolic powers. Nilus added that the Roman pontiffs are fallible in questions of faith, as history demonstrated, and that other sees had had recourse to Rome for a testimony of mutual charity and to preserve order and unity.

Epiclesis. During this period the controversy over the Epiclesis arose. After the words of Consecration in their liturgy, the Byzantine rite employed a prayer in which the Father was asked to send the Holy Spirit to change (transmutare ) the holy gifts into the body and blood of the Savior. According to more recent research the words ea transmutans in the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom are not found in the ancient Armenian translation of this liturgy (5th century) or in the codex of Grottaferatta. These words would seem to have been added in the Athens codex during the 15th or 16th centuries. However, in the 13th century an Armenian, Vartanus Magnus, mentioned the question; and in the second half of the 14th century, a Latin writer approached the Byzantines for the employment of the words of the Epiclesis in the liturgy. Nicholas Cabasilas was the first Byzantine writer to defend the legitimacy of the Epiclesis, and after Nicholas, this subject became a regular anti-Orthodox recrimination. At first, Byzantine theologians defended its place in the canon of the liturgy; later they attributed a consecratory power to the Epiclesis as completing the words of the Savior. In his book on the Exposition of the Sacred Liturgy (ch. 29), Nicholas Cabasilas, in answer to the Latins, said that this prayer was legitimate and useful in the liturgy, on a par with the other prayers and the other Sacraments. He claimed that the Supplices rogamus of the Latin liturgy was an Epiclesis. Besides, he maintained, it was necessary, because the words of the Savior achieved the Consecration not in so much as pronounced by the priest in a narrative fashion but by the priest as such provided with sacerdotal power; and this power is the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is only when the priest pronounces the Epiclesis after the words of the Savior that one becomes aware that the priest desires to use the sacerdotal power, that is, the power of the Holy Spirit who makes him a minister of the sacred mystery. While Nicholas did not enter into the problem of the exact moment in which the Consecration takes place in the liturgy, Simeon of Thessalonica, in his Exposition of the Divine Temple, maintained that the sign of the cross and the inclination after the Epiclesis was an indication that the Consecration took place during the Epiclesis, and he quoted the Liturgy of St. Basil as supporting this theory (ch. 87). Thus, the way was open for the Byzantines at the Council of Florence; they maintained that Consecration came with both the Epiclesis and the words of the Savior; or even through the Epiclesis alone, as the Byzantines and Greeks thought after the 17th century.

Byzantine Mariology. Since the time of Photius at least, Marian questions had been treated in homilies. The 14th century became the golden age for Byzantine Mariology. Theophane of Nicaea (d. 1381), in his Oration for the Most Holy Theotokos, taught that the Mother of God from the first moment of her existence possessed all creaturely perfections, particularly in the supernatural order, with the plentitude of graces. She is thus the source of man's salvation, the mediatrix between God and man. But as a Palamite, Theophane exaggerated in speaking of the relations between the Mother of God and the Divine Persons. He maintained that the Palamites excelled in extolling the privileges of Mary, such as the Immaculate Conception, the divine maternity, the perpetual virginity, the universal mediation through intercession, her bodily assumption, and her royalty.

The Byzantines taught that Marian mediation implied the cooperation of Mary in the work of man's deification. The privilege is extended to all intelligent creatures, men and angels, to whom the gifts and privileges of the "new creature" were accorded. With the exception of Nicholas Cabasilas, Byzantine theology did not enter into the question of the coredemption. The historian Nicephorus Callistus, in his Synaxaria, expressed certain doubts on the Immaculate Conception. In his explanation of the Marian hymn in the liturgy that she is worthy of all praise, he added that the Mother of God had been purified of original sin by the Holy Spirit at the Incarnation, but no one imitated him until the 16th century. On the contrary, Byzantine theologians had excluded Mary from the taint of original sin, imitating the Franciscans, who maintained that as a consequence of her original purity she was created in the state of original justice.

The Council of Florence. In preparation for the Council of florence, the emperor had assembled several theologians in Constantinople under Patriarch Joseph, for example, bessarion, isidore of kiev, and Marcus eu genicus of ephesus; to the council, with representatives of all the metropolitans, he brought the lay theologians George Scholarius (later Patriarch Gennadius II) and Gemistos plethon for lack of well-trained ecclesiastics. Joseph's opinion before departing for the West was naïve; he felt that the Greeks would simply demonstrate the Latin errors for the Roman theologians, and that because the Orthodox teaching faithfully represented the tradition of the Fathers of the Church, their adversaries could not but be convinced.

When the debate proved otherwise at the council, Joseph showed heroic forbearance, and with the advice of Bessarion, Isidore, and George Scholarius, little by little the Greeks conceded that the two positions on the processions of the Holy Spirit, on purgatory, and on the Consecration of the Eucharist could be harmonized. The papal primacy was accepted with the provision that nothing would be done to interfere with the Oriental rites and customs. Nothing was said of moral issues such as marriage and divorce. The only dissenter at the council was Mark Eugenicus. After his return, he began a violent campaign against the union and produced innumerable theological tracts that prevailed among the lower clergy and the monks. The union was defended by Bessarion and Isidore of Kiev and some of the Byzantine refugees in the West after the fall of constantinople (1453). But with that catastrophe, Byzantine theological production as such ended.

Bibliography: h. denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum. Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium (Paris-Louvain 1903). Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350;) Tables générales (1951) 1:18981919. h. g. beck, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Feiburgh 195765) 2:860863. e. a. voetzsch and h. g. beck, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 1:157378. Theologica dogmatica christianorum orientalium, 5 v. (Paris 192635). m. gordillo, Theologia orientalium cum latinorum comparata (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 158, Rome 1960); Mariologia orientalis (ibid. 141, Rome 1954). a. palmieri, Theologia dogmatica orthodoxa, 2 v. (Florence 191113). j. meyendorff, Orthodoxie et catholicité (Paris 1965). k. krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Literatur (Munich 1897). h.g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959). j. gill, The Council of Florence (Cambridge, Eng. 1959). s. runciman, Byzantine Civilisation (New York 1933; pa. 1956). Important articles or studies have been pub. over many years in such periodicals as The Christian East, Échos d'Orient, Irénikon, Orientalia Christiana periodica, Revue des études byzantines, and Dumbarton Oaks Papers.

[v. malanczuk]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Byzantine Theology." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Byzantine Theology." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byzantine-theology

"Byzantine Theology." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/byzantine-theology

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.