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Sixth Century

Emperor Justinian I and the Monophysites

The sixth cen­tu­ry of Ortho­dox Church his­to­ry in the East was dom­i­nat­ed by the per­son and poli­cies of the Emper­or Jus­tin­ian 1 (527–65).

Jus­tin­ian under­stood the rela­tion­ship between the Church and the state to be one of uni­ty and coop­er­a­tion between the priest­hood (which “con­cerns things divine”) and the empire (which “pre­sides over morals”). His goals were to regain the west­ern part of his empire from the bar­bar­ian invaders, and to win back the mono­physites to the Ortho­dox faith of the Coun­cil of Chal­cedon. He hoped to reunite com­plete­ly the one Church and empire. Jus­tin­ian accom­plished his first goal by the efforts of his armies which were led by the gen­er­al Belis­ar­ius. He failed in his sec­ond goal, although his attempts were bold and persistent.

Justinian’s main attempt to win back the mono­physites to the Ortho­dox Church was through the offi­cial con­dem­na­tion of three the­olo­gians whom the sup­port­ers of the Coun­cil of Chal­cedon gen­er­al­ly favored, but whom the oppo­nents of Chal­cedon despised. By impe­r­i­al decree in 544,and by deci­sion of a coun­cil held in 553 (tra­di­tion­al­ly referred to as the Sec­ond Coun­cil of Con­stan­tino­ple and the Fifth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil) Jus­tin­ian for­mal­ly con­demned the so-called Three Chap­ters. These were the objec­tion­able writ­ings of Theodor­et of Cyr and lbas of Edessa, and the writ­ings and the per­son of Theodore of Mop­sues­tia.

The con­dem­na­tion of the Three Chap­ters dis­pleased the strict sup­port­ers of the Chal­cedon­ian Coun­cil. They did not agree with the wrong and ambigu­ous Doc­trines of these three the­olo­gians, but they did not see any rea­son for their con­dem­na­tion. Justinian’s efforts to appease the mono­physite oppo­nents of Chal­cedon­ian Ortho­doxy through the con­dem­na­tion of the Three Chap­ters was ulti­mate­ly fruit­less. The mea­sure did not con­vince the dis­senters to reunite with the Church or the Empire.

The Fifth Ecumenical Council

In addi­tion to reject­ing the unortho­dox and ambigu­ous teach­ings of the Three Chap­ters, the Fifth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil care­ful­ly clar­i­fied the Ortho­dox doc­trine of the hypo­sta­t­ic union of divin­i­ty and human­i­ty in Christ. In a long series of state­ments, the Coun­cil affirmed, with­out ambi­gu­i­ty, the tra­di­tion­al Ortho­dox faith that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “one of the Holy Trin­i­ty,” one and the same divine per­son (hyposta­sis) Who has unit­ed per­son­al­ly (hypo­sta­t­i­cal­ly) in Him­self the two natures of God and man, with­out fus­ing them togeth­er and with­out allow­ing their sep­a­ra­tion in any way.

The Fifth Coun­cil also offi­cial­ly con­demned the teach­ings of Ori­gen (d.254) and his sixth-cen­tu­ry dis­ci­ples who taught and prac­ticed a “spir­i­tu­al­is­tic” ver­sion of Chris­tian­i­ty which held many unortho­dox doc­trines. They taught that Christ was the only cre­at­ed spir­it who did not become mate­r­i­al through sin; that men’s souls were pre-exis­tent spir­its; and that all cre­ation will ulti­mate­ly be saved through its spir­i­tu­al­iza­tion by God in Christ the Savior.

Emperor Justinian I and Reform

Justinian’s reign also saw a con­cert­ed attack against the rem­nants of Hel­lenis­tic pagan­ism in the empire. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Athens was closed in 529 and exclu­sive­ly Chris­t­ian learn­ing and cul­ture was promoted.

Jus­tin­ian built many Church build­ings in the impe­r­i­al city and through­out the empire, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Jerusalem, Beth­le­hem, and on Mount Sinai in Egypt. His great­est cre­ation was the tem­ple ded­i­cat­ed to Christ the Wis­dom of God in Con­stan­tino­ple — the mag­nif­i­cent Church of the Hagia­Sophia. Iconog­ra­phy, engrav­ing and mosa­ic work flour­ished dur­ing this time. The basil­i­cas of Raven­na, the seat of the impe­r­i­al author­i­ty in the West dur­ing the bar­bar­ian con­quests, were built.

Liturgical Development

Many litur­gi­cal hymns were writ­ten, includ­ing the Christ­mas Kon­takion and songs by Saint Romanos the Hymno­g­ra­ph­er (d.510). The emper­or, Jus­tin­ian, him­self wrote the hymn Only-begot­ten Son, which is still sung at the synax­is of the divine litur­gies in the Ortho­dox Church.

The sixth cen­tu­ry wit­nessed a cer­tain estab­lish­ment and sta­bi­liza­tion of litur­gi­cal wor­ship through­out the East­ern Chris­t­ian world, par­tic­u­lar­ly because the litur­gi­cal prac­tices of the impe­r­i­al city of Con­stan­tino­ple were being accept­ed by oth­er cities through­out the empire. The Church of Con­stan­tino­ple began to use cer­tain litur­gi­cal feasts already in use in the Pales­tin­ian cen­ters of Church life. These feasts were the Nativ­i­ty and the Dor­mi­tion of the Theotokos and the Pre­sen­ta­tion of Christ to the Tem­ple. It is like­ly that the feast of the Trans­fig­u­ra­tion was cel­e­brat­ed in Con­stan­tino­ple by this time.

addi­tion to the fes­tal cel­e­bra­tions of the cap­i­tal city which spread through­out the empire, such ele­ments as the for­mal litur­gi­cal entrances, and the chant­i­ng of the Tris­a­gion and the Creed in the divine litur­gy of the Church were added.

The con­ver­gence of sev­er­al fac­tors caused numer­ous changes in the Church’s litur­gi­cal rit­u­al and piety. These fac­tors were the rise of the Con­stan­ti­nop­o­li­tan Church as the mod­el for oth­er church­es; the devel­op­ment of the impe­r­i­al church­ly rit­u­al; the appear­ance of the mys­ti­cal the­ol­o­gy of the writ­ings under the name of Diony­sius the Aeropagite; and the attempts of the impe­r­i­al pow­ers to paci­fy the monophysites.

At this time the prac­tices of the Church of Con­stan­tino­ple were com­bined with the orig­i­nal Jew­ish-Chris­t­ian wor­ship of the ear­ly Church, the rule of prayer which had devel­oped in the Chris­t­ian monas­ter­ies, and the litur­gi­cal prac­tices of the Church in Jerusalem, to form the first great syn­the­sis of litur­gi­cal wor­ship in Ortho­dox history.

Five Patriarchates

In the sixth cen­tu­ry, Con­stan­tino­ple, at least in the minds of East­ern Chris­tians, was firm­ly estab­lished as the pri­ma­ry see in the Chris­t­ian pentarchy, which Jus­tin­ian called the “five sens­es of the uni­verse”: Con­stan­tino­ple, Rome, Alexan­dria, Anti­och, and Jerusalem. The title ecu­meni­cal was giv­en to all the chief offices in the impe­r­i­al city. When John the Faster (528–95), the bish­op of Con­stan­tino­ple, assumed the title of ecu­meni­cal patri­ar­chate, the des­ig­na­tion was force­ful­ly opposed by Pope Saint Gre­go­ry the Great of Rome (590–604) as unbe­com­ing of a Chris­t­ian pas­tor. It is this same Saint Gre­go­ry whose name is tra­di­tion­al­ly con­nect­ed with the Litur­gy of the Pre­sanc­ti­fied Gifts which the Ortho­dox cel­e­bra­teon the week­days of Great Lent. (See Book 2 on Wor­ship)

The West

In the West, in addi­tion to Saint Gre­go­ry, the bish­op of Rome who was a the­olo­gian and pas­tor of saint­ly rep­u­ta­tion, was Saint Bene­dict of Nur­sia (c.480–542) whose monas­tic dis­ci­ples were to have great influ­ence on the sub­se­quent his­to­ry of the West­ern Church. Among the saints of this cen­tu­ry, men­tion must be made of Saint Colum­ba and Saint Augus­tine of Can­ter­bury, the con­tem­po­raries of Saint Gre­go­ry. These men were the most famous of the mis­sion­ar­ies in West­ern Europe, Eng­land, and Ire­land who labored among the bar­bar­ian tribes.

In Spain, in the sixth cen­tu­ry, the word fil­ioque was added to the Nicene-Con­stan­ti­nop­o­li­tan Creed. This action, which was done to stress the divin­i­ty of Christ to the invad­ing bar­bar­ians — who were Ari­ans — was des­tined to have grave con­se­quences in lat­er Church history