The history of the late Byzantine period from the 8th to the 15th century has not yet been written in full. This means that a centuries-long phase of our own church history has not been discerned and evaluated in all its inner complexity, in its "ruptures and links". In a strange manner the Orthodox mind has always had little interest in Byzantium, and she has been the domain either of "worldly" historians or of authorities on specific problems. But, despite the abundance of monographs, there exists no history of the Byzantine Church in the full sense of the word as the attempt to describe and to comprehend the road taken by history, to find an integral historical perspective. Somehow, entire centuries have slipped from the Churchs memory; against the background of the Byzantine "Middle Ages", the historians attention pauses only for detached individuals and events. This makes every attempt at a rapid "survey" of Byzantium extremely difficult. The only thing that can be done is to give the "feel" of the Byzantine problem, the problem of the real meaning of this thousand-year phase in our journey through history.
Significant above all is the fact that Byzantium can in no way be considered merely a past, completed, and outlived chapter of church history. Not only does she continue to live in the Orthodox Church but, in a sense, she still defines Orthodoxy itself, constituting its "historic form". Just as modern Catholicism crystallized in the Middle Ages and in the era of the Counter-Reformation, so, perhaps to an even greater extent did Orthodoxy acquire its present form, its historic "canon", in Byzantium. A simple inquiry will show that any aspect of our church life to which we might refer found its present-day form in the Byzantine period in particular. The development of Orthodox worship was completed in Byzantium, i.e., of that Rule which completes it and makes of it a system permitting almost no progress or change: the Byzantine typikons and euchologia of the 13th and 14th centuries already hardly differ from our own missals and rule-books. The Orthodox icon is painted in accordance with the Byzantine canon, our canonical tradition was fixed in both volume and interpretation by Byzantine canonists, in Byzantium there took final shape that list of the Fathers which has hitherto been the basis of Orthodox theology and, finally, in this period there first flowered that manner and spirit of piety which is well expressed in Russian by the word tserkovnost. In a sense the Byzantine period must be acknowledged as decisive in the history of Orthodoxy, and recognized as the age of the crystallization of church life. The modern Orthodox Church is from historys viewpoint the Church of Byzantium, which has survived the Byzantine Empire by five hundred years.
All historians of Byzantium declare in unison that a new period in her history opens with the beginning of the eighth century. The seventh century had ended in anarchy and in the almost complete ruin of the Empire. In the year 717 the Arabs besieged Constantinople, and her internal disorder made her an easy prey for a conqueror. Leo the Isaurian one of those soldiers, numerous in the Byzantine army, from the eastern border country, who often rose to the highest ranks and by whom the Empire was actually held together saved her. Leo was proclaimed Emperor and he started a new dynasty, that of the Isaurians. In a series of victorious wars, he (717745) and his son, Constantine Copronymus (745-775), retrieved the situation and added internal strength by a profound military, economic and administrative reform of the state. This reform, completing an evolution which had already begun under Heraclius, concludes the metamorphosis of Byzantium from a world Empire into a comparatively small state wherein all was subordinated to the need of withstanding pressure that of Islam from the east, that of the Slavs from the north, and that of the Normans which was soon to come from the west. The Roman "oikumene" had finally been transformed into Byzantium.
For the Church this period opens with a new disturbance, one which has branded the names of the Isaurian Emperors in her memory forever; namely iconoclasm, over which there was to be a prolonged struggle of almost half a century. There has been much scholarly dispute as to the causes of iconoclasm. Some have seen in it the influence of the Mohammedan east with its ban on human images, and an attempt at a certain psychological compromise with Islam; others the first revolt against the Church of the idea of a "secular" culture inspired by the Emperors, and a struggle for the liberation of art from every sort of suffocating "sacralism"; while a third group, finally, have detected a new outburst of the perennial Hellenic "spiritualism" for which the veneration of icons was a manifestation in religion of the artificial and the material. At any rate, it has been customary since the tenth century to lay all responsibility for the rise and spread of heresy at the foot of the Emperors. But new research shows that the dispute over icons first arose in the Church itself and that only later did the state authority interfere in it in a peremptory way. It also reveals that there were sufficient grounds for such a dispute.
The veneration of icons has a long and complicated history. It too is the fruit of mens gradual assimilation of the Churchs faith. The early Church did not know the icon in its modern, dogmatic significance. The beginning of Christian art the painting of the catacombs is of a symbolic, or as Professor V. V. Weidle has defined it, a "signitive" nature. It is not the portrayal of Christ, of the saints, or of the various events of sacred history, as on an icon, but the expression of certain ideas about Christ and the Church, first and foremost the expression of the sacramental experience of Baptism and the Eucharist, that is to say of the twofold "mystery" through which salvation is granted to him who has believed. "In art of a signitive kind not the interpretation of its subjects for how they are interpreted makes no difference to its aims but their selection and combination are important. It is not so much inclined to depict divinity as it is to portray the function of divinity. The Good Shepherd of the sarcophagi and the catacombs is not only not an image, he is not even a symbol of Christ; he is the visual signification of the idea that the Saviour saves, that He has come to save us, that we are saved by Him. Daniel in the lions den is likewise not a portrait of even the most conventional sort, but a symbol of the fact that Daniel was saved and that we have been saved like Daniel. This art cannot be called art in the real sense of the word. It does not represent and it does not express: it signifies, and it signifies that fiery core, that living sun of faith in the "mysteries" to which the martyrs and pastors of those centuries, the newly baptized pagans, the rite of their baptism, and the enemies of the Christian Church themselves all bear witness."
But, although it renounced art for the sake of something else, this painting of the catacombs actually proved to be a cause of the "rise of that new, medieval art, religious and Christian throughout, which gradually consolidated itself both in the east and in the west of the Empire. In order that it might arise, corporeal and mental forms and images had to become spiritual, a naturalistic art had to become transcendental. So as to come to life and be reborn, art was obliged to renounce itself and plunge, as though into a baptismal font, into the pure element of faith. It accepted "penitence for its life" and was washed "in the waters of everlasting life" that it might become "a new creature". (V. V. Weidle).
The icon is also a fruit of this "making new" of art, and its appearance in the Church is connected, of course, with the unveiling in the Churchs consciousness of the meaning of God-Manhood: the fullness of the Godhead which dwells is Christ corporeally. No one has ever seen God, but the Man Christ reveals Him in full. In Him, God becomes visible. But this means that He also becomes portrayable. An image of the Man Jesus is an image of God, because Christ is the God-Man. But, if the world itself and its matter can be sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit and, feeding our bodies, also feed our souls, or, more certainly, the "whole" man, in Gods full conception of him as an incarnate spirit; if the water of Baptism grants us forgiveness of sins; if the bread and wine of the Eucharist give us in Holy Communion the Body and Blood of Christ, then a portrayal of Christ the product of human art may also be filled with the grace of His presence and His power; may become not an "image" but also a spiritual reality. In the icon there is at once a further revelation of the profundity of the dogma of Chalcedon and the gift of a new dimension in human art, because Christ has given a new dimension to man himself.
In the seventh century many literary remains already give evidence of the veneration of icons; it is a well established fact of church life. "I sketch and paint Christ and the sufferings of Christ in churches, in homes, in public squares", writes Leontius the Hierapolian, "and on icons, on linen cloth, in closets, on clothes, and in every place I paint so that men may see them plainly, may remember them and not forget them . . . And as thou, when thou makest thy reverence to the Book of the Law, bowest down not to the substance of skins and ink, but to the sayings of God that are found therein, so I do reverence to the image of Christ. Not to the substance of wood and paint that shall never happen . . . But, by doing reverence to an inanimate image of Christ, through Him I think to embrace Christ Himself and to do Him reverence . . . We Christians, by bodily kissing an icon of Christ, or of an apostle or martyr, are in spirit kissing Christ Himself or His martyr." (For every saint is a witness for Christ, who shows forth in his own person all the power of union with Him, being His living icon.) And from this "Chalcedonian" interpretation of the icon there also derived the method of painting them prescribed by the 82nd decree of the Council "in Trullo": "In venerating the ancient icons and the saints who were devoted to the Church, as symbols and prototypes of the Truth, we venerate more highly Grace and Truth as the fulfillment of the Law. Therefore, that what has been accomplished may be represented to all mens eyes through the art of painting, We Decree that henceforth there are to be imprinted upon the icons of Christ our God Who took in the guise of humanity that in this semblance men might discover the depth of Gods humility His Words, to bring to mind His life in the flesh, His Passion, His saving Death, and the redemption of the whole world which has proceeded therefrom." In this text the fundamentals and the meaning of the icon are already given: they are testimonials to the Incarnation, testimonials in the full sense of the word images, whose subject has been filled with power.
But, as is almost always the case in the Church, acceptance and definition preceded "the path of understanding", experience came before revelation in thought. Moreover, the veneration of icons, because the line dividing its "Chalcedonian" essence from real idol-worship is an exceeding fine one, very soon became perverted in many places and took on improper forms. The seventh century was simultaneously the time of astonishing fruits of church "contemplation", and of an indisputable coarsening of the mass of Christians. And among the masses the veneration of icons was sometimes exemplified by crude and sensual superstition. "Many think", wrote the saintly Anastasius of Sinai, "that he sufficiently reveres his baptism who, entering the church, kisses all the icons without paying any attention to the Liturgy and the divine service." There appeared the customs of taking icons as godparents for ones children, of adding paint scraped from icons to the Eucharistic wine, of laying the sacrament upon an icon so as to receive it from a saints hand, etc. "In the great majority of these phenomena, no doubt, a crude distortion of church ritual made itself felt, the honor paid to icons approached idol-worship and honoring their very material substance was permitted." (Bolotov) In other words, the same thing occurred with the veneration of icons that had often happened earlier with the cult of the saints and the veneration of relics. Arising from sound, Christological foundations as a product and a revelation of the Churchs faith in Christ, too often they lost touch with this foundation, they changed into something self-contained and, in consequence, were reduced to declining back into paganism.
But these distortions alone, of course, would not have been sufficient to create the profound and long-lasting iconoclastic movement. This was a very subtle, theologically well thought-out, rejection of the whole concept of the icon, which required the Church to exert its mind afresh, demanded creative effort and theological "contemplation".
Iconoclastic sentiments appeared at the very beginning of the eighth century among the bishops of the eastern borderlands of the Empire. And they at once proved to be so strong that Germanos, the Patriarch of Constantinople, was obliged to defend the truthfulness of venerating icons in a special epistle. But the ferment which had started soon reached the Emperor Leo, and it then immediately took on its "imperial" dimension: Leo openly sided with the iconoclasts. This new interference of the state authority in a theological dispute complicated it tragically for a long time. Leo published a decree against icons in about the year 730. The Patriarch Germanos who had not submitted to him was removed and replaced by Anastasius who was sympathetic to iconoclasm. Shortly thereafter the first blood was shed: in a skirmish between the mob and soldiers who, at the Emperors command, had taken down from the Chalcopratian Gate a revered icon of Christ, several people were killed. In Greece opposition to the new heresy took the form of a political uprising, the entire West condemned it again unanimously: all this poured oil upon a blazing fire. But it was Leos son, Constantine Copronymus, who now began a real persecution of the icon-worshippers. A brilliant general and statesman, he also showed himself to be a remarkable theologian: fragments of his works against icons that have been preserved display deep, well-reasoned conviction.
Constantine pursued his iconoclastic policy systematically. Carrying out in a few years a "purge" of the episcopate, he summoned in 754 an "ecumenical" council in Constantinople at which icons and the veneration of icons were condemned in a lengthy, carefully justified "oros". At this council, as always, the active minority triumphed, namely the convinced opponents of icons. The majority, unprepared for a theological defense, had never "thought through" the veneration of icons, and it passively accepted the "general line".
Having secured the councils approval, Constantine began to put its decision into practice with fire and sword. From this "decade of blood" (762-775) there have remained in our church calendars many names of the "neo-martyrs", as the Church has entitled them. True, it must be said that the first reaction against iconoclasm on the part of the bulk of the Church was rather feeble. Among the martyrs of this period we observe almost no bishops, white clergy, or laymen. Many did not give up the preservation and veneration of icons in secret, but they did not state their convictions openly. Thus, St. Tarasius of Constantinople, a future hero of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, at which the dogma of the veneration of icons was promulgated, had a brilliant governmental career under Copronymus. In fact only the monks rose to the defense of icons and, in the words of Professor I. M. Andreev, "one can dispute as to which term more precisely characterizes the work of reform "iconomachy" or "monachomachy". And it was upon the monks in particular that the whole weight of persecution fell. We shall try below to show that in this struggle with the monks another meaning of the iconoclastic struggle, no longer purely theological, comes into view. Here we only stress the fact that the monks proved to be the chief confessors of Truth and, indeed, the lives of St. Stephen the New or St. Andrew Kalivitus are illuminated by an "early Christian" spirit. Along with this destruction of the monastic element there went also, of course, the destruction of the icons, and they were replaced by "worldly art": hunting scenes, decorative designs, etc. And it can never be known how and in what this persecution would have had its ending, if the aged Emperor-fanatic had not died on September 14th, 775. Under his son Leo IV the Khazar though he too was a convinced iconoclast, the persecution died down. And a real reaction came when, after Leos death, authority passed to his wife, Irene (780-802), on account of his son, Constantine VIs minority. Irene, who had always been a devotee of icons and monks, started to prepare an Ecumenical Council, and to this end she installed as patriarch Tarasius, the State secretary, a wise and moderate Orthodox. But fifty years of iconoclasm had a deep effect on Byzantine society: the first attempt to assemble the Council in Constantinople was frustrated by the soldiers, who worshipped the memory of Copronymus. Only in 787, and not in the capital but in Nicaea, did there assemble, with Patriarch Tarasius presiding, the Seventh Ecumenical Council, at which the dogma of the veneration of icons was formulated and promulgated.
This dogma had been prepared for by that reaction of Orthodox theological thought which was evoked by iconoclasm; first and foremost, it was the work of St. John of Damascus (who had died, in all probability, before the iconoclastic council of 753). John had lived in Syria under the rule of the Arabs; he then became a monk in the monastery of St. Sabbas in Palestine. He derived his defense of icons directly from the God-Manhood of Christ. Before He was made Man only symbols and "shadows" were possible. In a certain sense the whole world is full of "natural images" of God, but something completely new began from the moment that the "word became flesh". "When He Who is without a body and without form, Who has neither quantity nor magnitude, Who is incomparable with respect to the superiority of His nature, Who exists in Divine form, accepts a bondservants appearance and submits to it, both as to quantity and size, and arrays Himself in bodily form, then do thou trace Him upon wood, and rest thy hopes in contemplating Him, Who has permitted Himself to be seen." But because God has united with man forever, an image of the Man Christ is also an image of God: "everything that is human in Christ is now the living image of God" (G. Florovsky). And in this union "matter" Itself is made new and becomes "worthy of praise". "I do not bow down to matter, but to the Creator of matter, Who for my sake took on substance and Who through matter accomplished my salvation, and I shall not cease to honor matter, through which my salvation was accomplished." This means that everything in the world and the world itself has, taken on a new meaning in the Incarnation of God, everything has become accessible to sanctification, matter itself has become a channel of the grace of the Holy Spirit, it no longer divides us from God but opens up for us the way to union with Him. We "honor" all things because Christ has honored all things, and each act of worship of God Himself Who is in all things.
This Christological definition of the icon and the veneration of icons also forms the substance of the dogma promulgated by the Seventh Ecumenical Council and from this viewpoint the whole Christological dispute comes to a climax with this council, which gave it its final "cosmic" meaning. "We therefore, proceeding as it were along a royal road and following the God-revealing teaching of the saints our Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church . . . with all circumspection and care do decree: That, like the image of the glorious and life-giving cross, there shall be placed in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and vestments, on walls and on wood, in houses and along the roads, glorious and holy icons, painted in colors and made from mosaic and out of other substance expedient to this matter, icons of the Lord Jesus Christ and . . . of the Mother of God . . . and of all saints and holy men."
The reverence rendered to these images is different from the "true devotion according to the faith which befits the Divine nature alone"; the council defined it as a "worship of reverence". In it the "honor rendered to the image ascends to its prototype and he who reveres an icon is worshipping the hypostasis of him who is portrayed thereon." In this way the dogma of the veneration of icons concludes the dogmatic "dialectic" of the age of the Universal Councils, a dialectic which was concentrated on two fundamental themes of the Christian Revelation; on the doctrine of the Trinity and on the doctrine of God-Manhood. In this respect the "faith of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and of the Fathers" is the everlasting and immutable foundation of Orthodoxy.
But, although vanquished dogmatically, iconoclasm revived with new strength after the death of Irene in 802. There were still supporters enough of the heresy, chiefly in government and military circles, where the glorious reign of Constantine Copronymus was invested with enraptured adoration. And all the misfortunes and failures of the Empire, which descended upon her at the beginning of the ninth century wars, invasions, revolts were ascribed in such quarters to "iconolatry". In 815 the Emperor Leo V the Armenian demanded of the Patriarch Nicephorus that the icons in churches should be raised above human height, thus becoming impossible to kiss. From that instant all understood that a persecution was inevitable. But on this occasion the Church was not taken unawares: the decree of the Ecumenical Council and the writings of the defenders of icon-veneration gave her weapons that she had previously lacked. The entire Church rose to the defense of Orthodoxy against the Emperor. The Patriarch Nicephorus was the first to suffer, but he had time to announce the imminent struggle to the Church and summon her to resistance. He was deposed and exiled. The saintly Theodore the Studite, abbot of the famous monastery of Studios in Constantinople, took his place at the head of the Orthodox population. On Palm Sunday 815, thousands of Studite monks moved through the city in procession, carrying icons. The gauntlet had been thrown down before the state and a bloody persecution began. It made more victims than the persecution of Copronymus: scores of bishops exiled, monks drowned in sewn-up sacks or tormented in torture chambers . . . Although weakened somewhat, the persecution continued under Leos successors Michael II (820829) and Theophilus (829842) and after the year 834 the wave of terror gained fresh intensity. The final victory of Orthodoxy again came through awoman. The wife of Theophilus, the Empress Theodora, halted the persecution immediately after her husbands death. In March 843, Methodius, one of the sufferers on behalf of icon-worship, took the patriarchal throne. On March 11, 843, the first Sunday in Lent, the reinstatement of icons was proclaimed in the Cathedral of St. Sophia and this day has remained in the Churchs memory as "The Triumph of Orthodoxy": since then each year on this Sunday the Church celebrates her victory over the last of the great heresies and, solemnly proclaiming the Truth, she excommunicates all those who do not acknowledge this truth. "The Triumph of Orthodoxy" an epilogue to the age of the Ecumenical Councils.
But the dogmatic question of the meaning of iconworship does not exhaust the significance of the iconoclastic upheaval. With iconoclasm the vexing problem of church-state relations became so acute as to reach a breaking point and the "synthesis" of Justinian collapsed. In itself the Churchs conflict with a heretical Emperor was nothing new and St. John of Damascus was only repeating the words of St. Maximus the Confessor when he declared that "it is not the business of Caesar to engage in definitions of the faith." But the importance of iconoclasm lay in the fact that it exposed the pagan and antichristian roots of the Byzantine theocracy in its fundamental form. Therefore the overthrow of iconoclasm was the starting point of a new "synthesis", a union of Church and Empire which was to determine the subsequent fate of the Byzantine world.
In the first place it was no accident that the struggle over icons in the eighth century also proved to be a struggle over monasticism. We must remember the significance of monasticism in the preceding era: at the moment of the worlds "christianization" it embodied in itself the "eschatological" aspect of Christianity as the overcoming of the world itself by the light of the Kingdom "not of this world", and by that very light it was saving Christianity from falling into worldliness. And we have also indicated that from this standpoint there is nothing more characteristic and noteworthy in the Churchs relationship to the Christian world than the "victory" of monasticism in that world, its acceptance as the "norm" of the Christian Way. Not only the Church, but even the Empire yielded to monasticism: emperors vied with great noblemen in creating monasteries, so that, according to Professor I. M. Andreyevs calculations, the number of monks in Byzantium had reached 100,000 by the outset of iconoclasm an almost incredible percentage of the population! The monks had become the "leading stratum" of the Church, her model and her conscience.
But if the Empire accepted unreservedly this victory of monasticism and safeguarded it with every possible guarantee and privilege, monasticism could not but become in the course of time a real burden to her. Above all, monasticism lay like a heavy load upon the economic life of the state; tens of thousands of people were lost to the army, the vast property of the monks was escaping taxation, a whole section of the population was found to be outside the states control. And rather early in Byzantine legislation we see attempts to regulate somehow this elemental fact, to guide it into the normal channels of state activity. On the other hand monasticisms very triumph proved harmful to it: from the beginning of the seventh century there are increasing signs of an unmistakable deterioration. The monasteries had grown rich, privileges of every sort had now begun to attract to them not those alone who sought a Christian "maximalism"; the monks who had become the counsellors, the mentors, and the confessors of the whole Byzantine society naturally were but too often exposed to the temptation of abusing this confidence. The decrees of the Council "in Trullo" paint a rather unconsoling picture in this regard.
But it was in the eighth century that the spirit of heroism began to sweep abroad in the Empire: the Empire was perishing, the Isaurian Emperors saved her at the price of a terrible straining of all the forces of the state and in this stress a new patriotic consciousness was born in Byzantium. This total mobilization as in Russia under Peter the Great almost inevitably was bound to raise the question of monasticism, thus in Copronymuss policy one feels distinctly that it is not the monks defense of icons alone that forms the root of his hatred for them. In this way the opposition between the two "logics" that had been poisoning relations since time immemorial between Church and Empire was brought to light. According to one "logic" that of the Church the state was called upon to be the mainstay and earthly "receptacle" of the Church and therefore was to submit to ecclesiastical values, even if these were opposed to the states interests; according to the second "logic" the theocratic one Christianity itself was always in the final analysis interpreted as a state cult, as the religious support of the Empire. In the first "logic" monasticism was a symbol of the extranatural quality of the Church, of the inner freedom of Christianity and the Christian personality from the all-absorbing "utilitarianism" of the state; in the second it could not but sooner or later prove useless and therefore also harmful to the state. Behind the revolt against monasticism there was revealed the desire of the Isaurians to thoroughly subject the Church to the state, to render her in all respects "useful". The Isaurian emperors in this respect proved to be the logical ones to complete that theocratic "logic" which, in essence, had prevailed in Church-Empire relations since the very conversion of Constantine. And Leo expressed this theocratic, absolutist state-consciousness in the preface to the "Eclogue" a new code of laws which he published. "The Lord, having entrusted the realm to the emperors, hath likewise commanded them to tend Christs faithful flock, after the example of Peter, the chief of the Apostles". Here is the final deduction from the Justinian "symphony".
Thus the victory of icon-veneration turned out to be also a victory for monasticism. And it was not only an external triumph but an inward one, too. The persecution revived and renewed it and at the start of the ninth century we see a genuine flowering of Byzantine monasticism, linked in the first place with the name of St. Theodore the Studite. It was he in particular who finally formulated that ideology of monasticism, that definition of its functions in the Church, which would consolidate its triumph forever. In St. Theodores "system", monasticism, which started as a "pricate", lay and individual movement is clearly defined as a special ministry of the Church. The monks are the Churchs "nerves and her support", they are the "salt of the earth and the light of the world", "a light for them that sit in darkness", "an example and a declaration". And this was so because the goal of the monk is not something different from the laymans goal but is the final goal of every Christian the Kingdom of Heaven, the souls salvation. And one cannot save ones soul except by renouncing the world. "To ask whence it hath been revealed to us that we should renounce the world (an echo of iconoclastic doubts in the expediency of monasticism) and become a monk is nothing other than to ask whence it hath been revealed to us to become a Christian." One should not think that St. Theodore saw salvation in monasticism alone. But here a central problem of all Christian history comes into view. Theodore asserts that Christianity is impossible without what is called "renunciation" in the Gospel. Whereupon historical fact ascertains that actually the Gospels call to ["renunciation"] has only been realized in monastic life. Essentially, all Christians are summoned to "maximalism", but historically this "maximalism" is always in practice being turned into "minimalism", into compromise, into worldly laxness. Therefore the monastic life is in its own way a historical shadow of Christianity which the Church will cast until she is "fulfilled." According to St. Theodore the monks must be in the Church her active inner kernel, a perpetual reminder of the Christians ultimate calling, the "support and affirmation" of the Church. In Constantinople itself St. Theodore revitalized the ancient Studite monastery, which soon become one of the chief centers of Byzantine church life. Monastic life was finally established in the heart of Byzantium.
This triumph of monasticism also spelled the failure of the iconoclastic attempt to destroy the independence of the Church, to include her without reservations in the theocratic framework. Often historians have not understood the meaning of this victory. "In the struggle for Orthodoxy," wrote Harnack, "the Church was victorious, in the struggle for freedom she was defeated." But what sort of freedom is being discussed here? The monks were not fighting for the "separation of Church and state", still less for a clericalist subjection of the state to the Church, but only for that conception of theocracy which, since the days of Constantines conversion, had opened so broadly to the Empire the arms of the Church. And, as a counterpoise to Harnack and all the historians who measure Byzantium according to western categories (categories which in the West itself only appeared later on), it must be affirmed that it was the Church, and not the Empire, which was victorious in this struggle. Of course on earth and in history there are no final victories. This victory too, like the first one gained under Constantine over paganism, cost the Church dearly and also had its negative aspects. But before speaking of these last, we must try to reveal the essence and the significance of this new, late-Byzantine conception of theocracy. Only when we have uncovered this shall we again obtain a reliable criterion for judgements as to the success or failure of the Orthodoxy of Byzantium.
This conception is best of all exposed to view in the "Epangoge", an introduction to the code of laws published at the close of the ninth century by the Emperor Basil I the Macedonian which was to remain until the end of the Empire the "fundamental law", as it were, concerning the relations of Church and state. A comparison of it with Justinians "symphony" as that was formulated in its sixth novella, shows the change that had taken place in the states understanding of itself. The "Epanagoge" also has its starting point the parallel position of Emperor and Patriarch "the most exalted and the most necessary members of the realm", and in it are defined the obligations of each. "The task of the Emperor is to safeguard and secure the strength of the nation by good governance, to restore this strength when it is impaired through watchful care, and to obtain new strength by wisdom and by just ways and deeds. The aim of the Patriarch is first of all this that he is to preserve in piety and purity of life those people whom he has received of God; . . . he must, as there is opportunity, convert all heretics to Orthodoxy and the unity of the Church . . . further, he must lead unbelievers into adopting the faith, astounding them with the splendor and the glory and the wondrousness of his own devotion . . . The Emperor must perform beneficial acts, wherefore he is also called benefactor . . . The aim of the Patriarch is the salvation of the souls entrusted to him; he must live by Christ and strive wholeheartedly for peace . . . The Emperor must be of the highest perfection in Orthodoxy and piety . . . versed in the dogmas concerning the Holy Trinity and in the definition concerning salvation through the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . It is natural for the Patriarch to be a teacher and to treat high and low alike without restraint . . . and to speak of the truthfulness and safeguarding of dogmas before the face of the Emperor without confusion . . . The Patriarch alone must interpret the maxims of the ancients, the definitions of the Holy Fathers, and the statutes of the Holy Councils... It is for the Emperor also to support firstly all that is written in Holy Scripture, then likewise all dogmas established by the seven Holy Councils, and also selected Roman laws."
Professor Vernadsky and many others have inferred from the "Epanagoge" a full and final blending of Church and Empire into a single "church-state body", i.e., in essence the crowning of a process begun by Justinian. Its text would appear to justify such an interpretation. But commentary usually goes no further than a simple statement of this fact, while the "Epanagoge" actually does as much to overcome the iniquity of the Justinian "symphony" as to speak of merging Church and State. In one sense a fusion did really occur: all members of the Church were subjects of the Empire, the "borders" of Church and Empire coincided. But does this mean that they constituted a single "organism", headed by a diarchy of the Emperor and the Patriarch? Above all it must not be forgotten that the "Epanagoge" is political law and that it speaks of the state, not the Church. This state, because it is Christian, is organically linked with the Church and this same bond is exemplified in the diarchy of Emperor and Patriarch. What is the meaning of this diarchy? Its meaning lies in the fact that apart from his position in the Church as defined in the canons, the Patriarch now secures a special position in the government structure: his place therein is analogous with that of the Emperor. He is in some sense the Churchs representative in the state, the watchguard of its orthodoxy and faithfulness to Christianity, a guarantee of the Empires "orthodoxy", and he alone, therefore, has a right to teach and interpret church doctrine and the state itself charges him with the defense of the Orthodox faith before the Emperor himself. But of the Emperor the "Epanagoge" requires only fidelity to Orthodoxy to her doctrine concerning Christ and the Trinity. One must emphasize again and again that in the Byzantine vision of the ideal the Church and the state were not connected by a juridical definition and delimitation of their spheres of action, but by the Orthodox faith: the faith and doctrine of the Church which the Empire had accepted as its own faith. And the "Fount" of this doctrine, its custodian and interpretrix, was the Church and not the Empire. But, hallowed by its Orthodoxy, the Empire was, of course, no longer an object to indifference to the Church, and its special, sacred purpose was made manifest in the position which the Emperor, for his part, held in the Church. This position was symbolized in the Emperors coronation ceremony which, from the ninth century on, can be considered as in its own way a liturgical expression of the Byzantine theocracy. A vital moment therein was the Emperors profession of faith and his oath to maintain the faith in its entirety: the imperial power had finally ceased to be the one "reflection" in the world of the Divine power, but was now itself subject to the Truth preserved by the Church. Then, there was the ceremony of Anointing, which also in all probability became in the ninth century the fundamental and instituting moment of the coronation. This conferring of a special "charisma" upon the Emperor a special gift by the Church for the governance of the Empire, did not signify the "politicization" of the Church but even if only "symbolically" the clericalizing of the Empire. The Emperor bowed his head and the Patriarch with his own hand placed the crown upon him, saying: "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost", to which the people would answer: "Holy, Holy, Holy. Glory in the Highest to God and earth peace." Often the Byzantine Emperors special part in divine service is discussed as though it indicated that he had a particularly sacred or even a sacerdotal position in the Church. Andthose who discuss this point the most know the least about it. But, as D.Ph. Belyaev, the Russian Byzantinist, has skillfully demonstrated, this participation was actually very unimportant and, in any event, devoid of any priestly significance at all. The Emperor had the place of precedence in the procession of the Great Entrance (similar to the modern "boy with the candle") and he also kept the right, which had once belonged to all laymen, of entering the apse so as to bring his offering to the altar. The 69th decree of the Council "in Trullo", sanctioning this right, speaks of the exception made in this case for the Emperor, but on the same point stresses that this right belongs to the lay state in general.
Thus one cannot simply equate Byzantine theocracy with either "caesaropapism" (the subjection of the Church to the State), or with "papocaesarism" (the subjection of the State to the Church for which the medieval pope struggled), although both these tendencies appeared and were too often to appear therein as its sinful distortions. If the Empire had received the faith from the Church and was consecrated by that faith, the Church in turn, without being false to her mystical and sacramental "independence", had entered into the Empire, had charged it with protecting her, safeguarding her, and even, in her earthly aspect, with "organizing" her. In this sense it is true that henceforth Church and Empire will compromise a single whole, "unmixed and inseparable". But this did not happen out of a confusion of ideas, since confusion long with iconoclasm, had been surmounted, but, on the contrary, out of the "maximalism" of the Church which felt herself to be an "icon of Christ" for the world, but did not take earthly power upon herself, nor the earthly organization of mans life . . .
St. Vladimirs Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 3, Fall, 1959, pp. 18-34