Faulkner University

CONSTANTINE AND THE CHRISTIAN EMPIRE

By Richard A. Todd

Momentous changes occurred both in the church and in the political structure of the West during the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. The Western Roman Empire disappeared under the repeated assaults of the German barbarian tribes on its northern frontier. Christianity, a persecuted minority faith at Constantine's conversion in AD 312, had become the religion of the Empire by the end of the century. The bishop of Rome, whose leadership in the church had been largely a primacy of honor, now claimed supreme and universal authority in Christian lands, and began to make good this claim in the West, at least over the church. By the time of Pope Gregory I (590-604) the collapse of the Western Empire left the Roman bishop the real ruler of much of central Italy.

The Conversion of Constantine Throughout the fourth century relations between the Church, the Emperor and pagan religion were continually changing. Constantine's defeat of Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge in the autumn of 312, and his interpretation of that victory as the response of the Christian God to his prayer for help, propelled church and state into a new age for which neither was prepared. Out of this new relationship between Christian church and Christian emperor stemmed the history of church-state relations in the later Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages.

Constantine's account of his conversion, told by the Emperor himself to the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, towards the end of his life, is well known. Constantine, alarmed by reports of Maxentius' mastery of magical arts, prayed to the "Supreme God" for help. The response was a sign, a cross in the noonday sky "above the sun", and with it the words, "Conquer by this." That night Christ appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to use the sign--presumably Chi-Rho, the initial letters of the name of Christ-"as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies". Constantine obeyed, marched on Rome, confronted Maxentius; who was miraculously induced to fight outside the city fortifications, and conquered.

The story has been doubted. But Constantine's new allegiance to Christianity was genuine though he imperfectly understood the Christian faith, and at first did not even distinguish clearly between the Father of Jesus Christ and the divine Sun. Constantine retained the pagan high priest's tide of Pontifex Maximus; for a decade his coins continued to feature some of the pagan gods, notably his own favorite deity, the Unconquered Sun; and he delayed Christian baptism until the end of his life. But delayed baptism was the custom of the age, a device for avoiding mortal sins. Retaining the pagan symbols was a necessary compromise with his pagan subjects, still very much in the majority.

Constantine treated Christianity as the favored, though not yet the official, religion of the Empire. He granted immunities to the clergy and lavished gifts on the church; in his letters and edicts he spoke as if the Christian God were his own.

It is important to understand Constantine's previous religion, the worship of the "Unconquered Sun." If the story of the cross in the sky is true, he may have interpreted the sign as his own special deity recommending the worship of the Christian God. Constantine continued to identify the sun with the Christian God in some way--a belief made easier by the tendency of Christian writers and artists to use sun imagery in portraying Christ. For them "Christ is the source of light and salvation," and a mosaic from a third-century tomb found under St Peter's, Rome, even shows him as the sun god in his chariot. When in 321 Constantine made the first day of the week a holiday, he called it "the venerable day of the Sun" (Sunday). When the pagan symbols eventually disappeared, the "Unconquered Sun" was the last to go.

Christianity and Pagan Customs The Christian church took over many pagan ideas and images. From sun-worship, for example, came the celebration of Christ's birthday on the twenty-fifth of December, the birthday of the Sun. Saturnalia, the Roman winter festival of 17-21 of December, provided the merriment, gift-giving and candles typical of later Christmas holidays. Sun-worship hung on in Roman Christianity and Pope Leo I, in the middle of the fifth century, rebuked worshippers who turned round to bow to the sun before entering St Peter's basilica. Some pagan customs, which were later Christianized, for example the use of candles, incense and garlands were at first avoided by the church because they symbolized paganism.

The veneration of the Virgi1 Mary was probably stimulated by parallels in pagan religion. Some scholars believe that the worship of Artemis (Diana) was transferred to Mary. Ephesus, a city that belonged to Artemis until the end of the pagan era, was also associated with Mary from an early date.

Many people connected Mary with Isis, the Egyptian goddess whose worship had spread throughout the Empire in the Christian era. Isis in her travel became identified with many other goddesses, including Artemis, and was the "universal mother" of later pagan religion. The devotees of Isis, herself called "the Great Virgin" and "Mother of the God", naturally tended to look to Mary for comfort when paganism was outlawed and their temples destroyed at the end of the fourth century. Some surviving images of Isis holding the child Horus are in a pose remarkably similar to that of some early Christian Madonnas. However, the original aim of titles such as "bearer of God" for Mary was to honor the divine Son.

The cult of saints and martyr grew rapidly in the fourth century, another example of the blending of the old paganism with Christianity. Chapels and even churches began to be built over tombs of martyrs, a practice which influenced church architecture. Competition for saintly corpses soon degenerated into a superstitious search for relics. In parts of the East it sometimes became a fight for the bodies of saintly hermits, still alive but expected to expire shortly. The cult arose among the people, but was approved and encouraged by the great Christian leaders of the age--Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine. Ambrose, for instance, discovered the bodies of several forgotten saints.

The Christian historian Theodoret boasts that in many places saints and martyrs took the place of pagan gods, and their shrines the place of pagan temples. Some saints were claimed to cure barrenness, others protected travelers, detected perjury, foretold the future, and many healed the sick. The shrine of saints Cyrus and John, physicians who in their earthly practice charged no fees, near Alexandria, was particularly popular. To the shrine of St Felix of Nola, who detected perjury, Augustine sent two clergymen who had accused each other, to discover which was lying.
The Church never went as far as to teach that saints were to be worshipped. It was only suggested that they were in a special position to hear petitions and present them directly to God. The saint's position in heaven was compared to that of the great man at court, who might be expected to get results for a lowly petitioner by presenting his request directly to the Emperor. Augustine and others protested against abuses of the traffic in relics. An African church council in 401 insisted that a saint or martyr must be proved genuine before a chapel was consecrated. Only one suggestion remains by an orthodox Christian that attachment to particular shrines or relics marked a return to pagan superstition. Vigilantius, an obscure priest from Aquitaine, wrote, "We almost see the rites of the pagans introduced into the churches under the pretext of religion; ranks of candles are 1it in full daylight; and everywhere people kiss and adore some bit of dust in a little pot, wrapped in precious fabric." Vigilantius' protest survived only because some outraged priests sent a copy to Jerome who refuted it in a scathing reply.

Constantine and the Church "What has the Emperor to do with the church?" retorted Bishop Donatus when presented with an unfavorable decree from the Emperor Constans. Most of the conflict between church and state, during the fourth century, related to this question. From the very beginning of Constantine's reign most Christians agreed with the Emperor that he had a great deal to do with the church. Although they later complained about the Emperor's interference, it was the Donatists who first asked Constantine to intervene, less than six months after his victory over Maxentius. The Donatists were a strict party in North Africa who refused to recognize Caecilian as bishop Carthage because, they alleged he had been ordained by a traitor, one who had "hand over" or "betrayed" Scriptures to the authorities in the recent persecution.

Constantine did not hesitate to accept jurisdiction, though he referred the matter to a council of bishops. When the Donatists refused to accept the authority of this and a subsequent council, the Emperor lost patience and threatened to go to Africa to set things right himself: "I am going to make plain to them what kind of worship is to be offered to God . . . . What higher duty have I as emperor than to destroy error and repress rash indiscretions, and so cause all to offer to Almighty God true religion, honest concord and due worship?"

The visit to Africa did not materialize, but Constantine ordered the Donatist churches to be confiscated and their leaders banished. The Donatists resisted tenaciously; over the years they produced a host of martyrs. Constantine soon saw that his policy of repression was futile and revoked it. The Donatists survived for three centuries, despite intermittent attempts to root them out; they only disappeared with the obliteration of Christianity in North Africa after the Muslim conquest.

The Roman Emperor, as head of the state religion, had always been responsible for maintaining good relations between the people and their gods. Constantine naturally saw himself in a similar role as Christian Emperor. Strife in the church, such as the Donatist and Arian controversies, was likely to bring down the wrath of the Christian God on himself and the people entrusted to his care.

It is difficult to understand why the church readily accepted indeed asked for, the intervention of the Emperor in affairs so clearly outside his expert knowledge. In part it resulted simply from the selfish desire of one faction or another to gain an additional advantage in a desperate struggle. In addition the only Christian precedent for the role of a Christian emperor was that of the Old Testament kings of Israel, who had a great deal to do with maintaining peace and purity of religion in their kingdoms. In the Byzantine East, once the doctrine that the Emperor was above the church had been established, it was never effectively challenged.

Constantine's handling of the Arian controversy was more astute and at first more successful than his approach to the Donatist split. The Council of Nicaea, where the controversy shou1d have ended, was his great triumph.

When Constantine became master of the East in 324 he found a dispute already raging between Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and his presbyter Arius. Arius was attempting to solve the difficult problem of the relation of the Son to God the Father. He suggested that the Son, though Creator, was himself created and therefore could not be truly divine like the Father. Alexander and his bishops judged this heretical and excommunicated Arius, who found support elsewhere in the East.

Constantine hoped to settle the matter "out of court" and sent a letter to the contending parties describing the dispute as "very trifling and indeed unworthy to be the cause of such a conflict." When he saw that the dispute was not to be settled so easily Constantine called a council of the whole church, the first "ecumenical" (general) council, at Nicaea in 325.

The Emperor himself presided over the critical session, and it was he who proposed the reconciling word, homoousios (Greek for 'of one essence'), to describe Christ's relationship to the Father (though it was probably one of his ecclesiastical advisers, Ossius of Cordova, who suggested it to him). Nicaea was a triumph both for orthodoxy, since Arius could not accept the word, and apparently for Constantine's goal of church unity, since only two bishops finally stood with Arius.
The orthodox statement of doctrine produced at Nicaea, with some later modifications, became one of the great creeds of Western Christianity. But Constantine's achievement of unity proved a hollow victory. Conflict flared up again when the anti-Arian party, led by Athanasius who succeeded Alexander as bishop of Alexandria, refused to receive back repentant Arians into the church. Constantine's continued attempts to attain unity were frustrated, as he saw it, by the obstinate refusal of first one faction and then the other to make any compromise.

Constantine died in 337, tolerant towards Arian sympathizers, with Athanasius defiant in exile. Constantine thus failed to achieve his goal of unity in the church. Against this must be balanced his successes. He had begun to Christianize the Empire. He founded Constantinople (in 330) and thus shifted the focus of the Empire eastward, contributing both to the decline of the West and the independence of the Western church. The effect of Nicaea and its Creed far outlived his own failure to solve the Arian controversy. Finally, he established, permanently in the East and for a time in the West, his own answer to the question, "What has the Emperor to do with the church?"

Church, State and Paganism The three sons of Constantine, Constantine II, Constantius and Constans, divided up the Empire on his death in 337, though the matter was not finally settled until all rivals were eliminated several months later. Constantius received the East and therefore backed the reaction against Nicaea, which was still strong there. The other two brothers, in the pro-Nicene West, soon fell out, and in the war that resulted; Constantine II was killed (340). In 350 Constans was murdered by a usurper, Magnentius, who was in turn defeated two years later by Constantius (353). The Empire was now united under Constantius, who was increasingly inclined towards Arianism.

Constantius' efforts to unite the church under an anti-Nicene banner are seen in the series of councils held in various parts of the Empire from 354 to 360. Through these he finally succeeded in forcing an anti-Nicene creed on reluctant bishops, and secured the condemnation of Athanasius, leader of the Nicene party. The climax of imperial intervention came at Milan in 355, if Athanasius' account is accepted. Certain bishops were summoned before Constantius at his palace and ordered to condemn Athanasius. When they dared to appeal to the canons of the church, the Emperor replied, "Whatever I will, shall be regarded as a canon . . . . Either obey or go into exile." In spite of all this, neither Athanasius nor the other Nicene bishops at first questioned the Emperor's authority to intervene in church disputes. They held that he was simply wrong, deceived by his advisers. By 358, however, Athanasius' views had changed: When did a judgment of the church receive its validity from the Emperor? ...There have been many councils held until the present and many judgments passed by the church; but the church leaders never sought the consent of the Emperor for them nor did the Emperor busy himself with the affairs of the church ...' This was not quite true--but Athanasius might well forget the events of Constantine's reign when confronted with the audacity of Constantius.

Even the old Ossius of Cordova, who had helped shape Constantine's policy towards the church, now quoted Jesus against imperial interference: "Do not intrude yourself into church matters, nor give commands to us concerning them ...God has put into your hands the kingdom; to us he has entrusted the affairs of his church . . It is written, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."'

The sons of Constantine were bolder than their father in the attack on paganism. Constantine had to proceed slowly since most of his subjects were still pagan --particularly the army, and the nobility from whom he drew his officials. His "Edict" of Milan (313) proclaimed toleration for both pagans and Christian subjects. He did close a few temples particularly offensive to Christians for such things as ritual prostitution, and stripped many others of their treasures to deck his new capital city. He also banned private sacrifices and divining. He probably prohibited public sacrifice too, near the end of his reign.

The sons of Constantine proceeded more vigorously. A law of 341 apparently suppressed pagan cults. A stronger decree of Constantius, in 356, closed the temples and prohibited sacrifice on pain of death. Some temples were closed but the law seems not to have been rigidly enforced, for the priesthoods and rituals continued at Rome and probably elsewhere. In 357, Constantius, on a visit to Rome, removed from the Senate House the altar of Victory on which incense had been offered by the senators since the age of the Emperor Augustus.

Athanasius came to regard Constantius as worse than Saul, Ahab or Pilate and herald of the Antichrist. This view is too harsh. Constantius was, after all, acting in the spirit of Constantine to bring about unity in the Empire. Furthermore, he thought the church was on his side since he had the support of a large part of the Eastern church--and Christianity was stronger in the East. But Constantius' reign does show how truth and liberty may suffer when unity is made the ultimate goal.

Julian the 'Apostate' Some of the Nicene leaders thought better of Constantius when confronted with Julian, who became emperor in 361. Julian was a nephew of Constantine who barely escaped the general massacre that had followed his death in 337. As emperor he could at last reveal that he had been for some years a secret pagan. His conversion was due to many factors. There was the massacre of his family and his long, lonely childhood filled with fears, imagined and real, of enemies at the Christian court of Constantius. In his education he had felt closest to Plato and other great writers of ancient Greece, whom he studied under sympathetic tutors. Finally, he was influenced by the skill of the Neo-platonic magician and medium, Maximus.

Julian now attempted to convert the Empire to a religion that he called 'Hellenism'. This was more than a mere revival of the old, uncoordinated paganism. Julian made a unique attempt to combine many old elements in an organized pagan 'church'. The principal deity was Plato's 'Supreme Being', whose chief visible representative was the life-giving Sun, identified with Helios and Mithras in the mythologies of the day. Syncretism prevailed, and it was possible to regard all the old and new gods with their cults and rituals as originating from the Sun. Thus the world of Greek culture, mythology and ritual could be retained without sacrificing the lofty monotheism of the Sun.

Julian paid tribute to the Christian church by attempting to incorporate in his 'Hellenism' some of the more successful features of Christianity. He tried to set up a hierarchy, like that of the church, with metropolitans of provinces set over the local priest-hoods and answerable to the Emperor as Pontifex Maximus. Julian was much concerned that the 'Hellenists' should not be out- done in holiness and charity by the 'Galileans', as he called the Christians, and that the lives of his priests should be worthy of their high calling. A letter to Arsacius, High Priest of Galatia, is in this spirit:

'Why do we not notice that it is their kindness to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [i.e. Christianity]? I believe that we ought really and truly to practice every one of these virtues. And it is not enough for you alone to practice
them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception . . In the second place admonish them that no priest may enter a theatre or drink in a tavern or control any craft or trade that is base and not respectable . . .'

Arsacius was to set up hostels on the Christian model:

'In every city establish frequent hostels in order that strangers may profit by our generosity; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money . . . For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galileans [Christians] support both their own poor and ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us . . .'

Although Julian restored pagan worship all over the Empire, and the special privileges enjoyed by Christian clergy were taken away, there was no open persecution of Christians. In fact, toleration was decreed for all religions. Pagans were, or course, particularly favored in the civil service, and imperial justice was not always even-handed when settling the violent disputes that arose in some cities over the religious changes. But Julian raised the strongest protest by prohibiting Christians from teaching literature in the schools. He knew that upper-class Christians would continue to send their children to the ordinary schools, which prepared them for public life, even if their teachers were pagan; they would thus be exposed to pagan propaganda. A curious solution to the dilemma was found by two Christian professors. They attempted to make the Scriptures a suitable vehicle for the preferred classical education by translating the Old Testament into epic and tragedy and the New Testament into Platonic dialogue; but Julian died in 363 before it could be tried.

"Be of good courage; it is but a cloud which will quickly pass away", Athanasius told his weeping congregation on hearing that Julian had ordered him into exile. Athanasius was right, for the zeal had gone out of paganism--at least Julian's kind of paganism. Its failure was apparent even before Julian's death.

Christian Emperors Jovian, the emperor who followed Julian in 363, was a Christian. He proclaimed toleration, as did Valentinian I (364-75), who soon succeeded him. Ammianus, a pagan historian, praised Valentinian because: "he kept a middle course between the different sects of religion; and never troubled anyone, nor issued any orders in favor of one kind of worship or another. .." Valentinian extended toleration to Arians and most other heretics, though he himself was of the Nicene faith.

Valens (364-78), the younger brother of Valentinian, chosen by him to rule the East, was less tolerant. He did not attack paganism, but felt obliged to proceed against the Nicene party, and exiled some bishops. Valens, however, was killed at the battle of Adrianople in 378 and subsequent emperors, in the East as in the West, were orthodox.

A dispute over the election of the bishop of Rome in the reign of Valentinian scandalized the pagan Ammianus. A bloody battle between the followers of Damasus and Ursinus left, at the end of a day's strife, one hundred and thirty-seven dead in the basilica of Sicininus which, Ammianus noted, "is a Christian church." The historian concluded that the Roman bishopric had become a prize worth fighting for, and described the luxury of the Roman clergy: "enriched by offerings from women, riding in carriages, dressing splendidly, and feasting luxuriously, so that their entertainments surpass even royal banquets." Not all lived luxuriously however. Many lived frugal even austere lives, as did bishops Ambrose and Augustine, and recommended the same simple life to their congregations.

Gratian (375-83) succeeded his father, Valentinian, in the West) and became ruler of the East as well on the death of Valens. Wisely recognizing that he could not govern the whole Empire alone, he chose an experienced soldier, Theodosius, to rule the East. Gratian was a talented, pious and cultured young man who received a classical, but Christian, education from the poet Ausonius. He was also an accomplished sportsman, who could have "excelled in every sphere if he had put his mind to the art of government, for which he was unsuited by temperament and training." Gratian's inability to win the loyalty of the armies led to his death during the rebellion of a Spanish officer, Magnus Maximus (383).

The End of Pagan Religions The reigns of Gratian and of Theodosius I (379-95) finally decided the fate of paganism. Both Gratian and Theodosius strongly supported the orthodox faith. But the imperial policy of outlawing heresy and pagan religion during these years was partly the work of the great bishop Ambrose who was elected to the see of Milan in 374.

When Auxentius, the Arian bishop of Milan, died in 373, the new governor, Ambrose, was afraid that the Catholic-Arian Controversy would break into violence. When the people of Milan poured into the cathedral to elect their bishop, Ambrose spoke a few words to calm the crowd. Suddenly a voice was heard (a child's voice, it is said), "Ambrose, bishop!" The congregation took up the cry and Ambrose found himself elected bishop, much to his surprise and against his will, for he was un-baptized and had had no church training. He tried to flee and hide, but eventually was persuaded that this was the will of God.

Ambrose became bishop at the age of thirty-four and held the position for twenty-three years He was particularly influential because Milan, rather than Rome was at the time the Emperor's residence in the West. The Western Emperors Gratian and Valentinian II (383-92), came under his direct influence, as did Theodosius when in the West during some of the most critical years of his reign.

Gratian at first tolerated other religions as well as Christianity. He soon changed his mind under Ambrose's influence and began to suppress pagans and heretics. He once again removed the altar of Victory from the Senate House in Rome (Julian had restored it), confiscated the revenues of the Vestal Virgins and other Roman priesthoods, and refused the title of Pontifex Maximus (High Priest), which previous Christian emperors had taken.

Theodosius, in 381 and 385, prohibited sacrifices for divination, which seems to have stopped all sacrifice. Petitions to destroy individual temples, or convert them to Christian churches, were received and many were destroyed. Theodosius ordered all the temples in Alexandria to be demolished following the unrest. It is reported that when the first blow at the great bronze statue of the god Serapis in the famous Serapeum produced only a swarm of rats, and divine retribution failed to follow the destruction of the temple, many pagans became believers.

Finally, in 391, Theodosius prohibited all sacrifices and closed all temples. The next year private pagan worship was forbidden too. Paganism had one last chance in the West during the brief reign of the usurper Eugenius. His chief supporters were zealous pagans who restored the ancient worship in Rome, but the final triumph of Theodosius in 394 put an end to that. Nevertheless, the laws against paganism were not rigidly enforced, and pagan worship continued openly in some places for several generations--and secretly for much longer. In much of the Empire the countryside remained pagan for several centuries. Pagan belief was not prohibited, and pagans still managed for some time to attain high positions in the Empire. Theodosius began to act against heretics early in his reign. In 380 he ordered all his subjects to subscribe to the faith brought by Peter to Rome and now held by Pope Damasus and by Peter, bishop of Alexandria. The; next year he summoned the Council of Constantinople which drew up a definition of faith on the Nicene model. But Arianism had by now lost its vitality, except among the Gothic tribes, still mostly outside the Empire, and he met little opposition.

Priscillian Executed for Heresy In Gratian's reign began the strange and sad case of Priscillian. The usurper, Magnus Maximus, became the first Christian emperor to inflict the death penalty on a heretic. These events foreshadow the later medieval practice of handing over heretics condemned by the church for execution by the state.

Priscillian was the Spanish leader of a strict Christian ascetic movement, and was suspected of heretical beliefs and immoral practices. He was first accused by prominent Spanish church leaders but escaped outright condemnation. Later his case was referred to Maximus, who was biased against Priscillian and his followers. Finally, Priscillian and six of his associates were condemned and executed at Trier, in spite of the personal appeal of the saintly bishop, Martin of Tours. Martin also objected to the case being tried before secular rulers.

Although Priscillian and his followers were ultimately condemned for the civil crime of sorcery, no one doubted that their real offence was Priscillian's unusual beliefs and religious practices. He was perhaps more an eccentric than a heretic-although he was involved in magic and the occult.

To the credit of the church the, executions brought a strong reaction. Martin reappeared at Trier to denounce the Emperor Maximus; Ambrose and Pope Siricius refused to, have fellowship with
Priscillians accusers. Finally in 388, the anti-Priscillian bishop were deposed and their party destroyed. Though a few fanatical churchmen were willing to execute people for heresy and use the state as the church's executioner most drew back from that severe view.

What Has the Emperor to Do with the Church? Two encounters between Am brose and the Emperor Theodosius show a dramatic increase in the power of the church since the time of Constantius. The firs occurred in 388 after rioting in the town of CalIinicum on the River Euphrates. The Christians had been led on by the bishop to rob and burn a Jewish synagogue. Theodosius ordered the stolen property to be restored and the synagogue rebuilt at the bishop's own expense; just compensation, it appears. But Ambrose sent Theodosius a letter insisting that to make a Christian bishop rebuild a place of worship for the Jews, the enemies of Christ amounted to apostasy. "The maintenance of civil law is secondary to religious interests," wrote Ambrose. When Theodosius ignored Ambrose's letter, the bishop felt obliged to preach on the subject in the presence of the Emperor. Theodosius, partly because he was weak in the West, finally had to give in and withdraw his order.

The second encounter, in the summer of 390, shows Ambrose in a better light. The people of Thessalonica had murdered the military commander of the city because he had refused to release a favorite charioteer. Theodosius avenged his death by a massacre of the inhabitants, despite Ambrose's protest. The Emperor repented, but too late; 7,000 or more citizens, both guilty and innocent, were slaughtered in the theatre. Ambrose sent a secret letter excommunicating the Emperor until he did public penance. Theodosius was again obliged to give way, and publicly in the church asked forgiveness for his sin.

Ambrose's answer to the question, "What has the Emperor to do with the church?" was that the Emperor was within the church, not above it. But this did not mark the end of imperial interference in the church's affairs. The Emperor in Constantinople kept control of the Eastern church and occasionally interfered in the West, particularly in the Sixth century after Justinian re-conquered Italy.

By the late fifth century the bishop of Rome, Gelasius I, had developed the view that the Emperor was directly subject to the head of the church, the bishop of Rome (or pope), and should rule the Empire for the good of God's people. This exalted idea could not be applied in the late Empire because of its political weakness, but was picked up in the Middle Ages. Ambrose showed how it might work in practice.

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