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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

The Church and the state at the end of the fourth century 


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Page 3

During the reign of Valens, Arianism played the dominant role. After the death of Valens, especially in the absence of a ruler during the short period preceding the election of Theodosius, religious disputes burst forth once more and at times assumed very crude forms. These disquieting movements were felt particularly in Constantinople. The disputes on dogma, passing beyond the limited circle of the clergy, were taken up by all classes of society and were discussed even by the crowds in the streets. The problem of the nature of the Son of God had aroused heated discussions everywhere since the middle of the fourth century: in the cathedrals and churches, in the imperial palace, in the huts of hermits, in the squares and markets. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, wrote, not without sarcasm, of the prevailing conditions in the second half of the fourth century: Everything is full of those who are speaking of unintelligible things streets, markets, squares, crossroads. I ask how many oboli I have to pay; in answer they are philosophizing on the born or unborn; I wish to know the price of bread; one answers: The Father is greater than the Son; I inquire whether my bath is ready; one says, The Son has been made out of nothing. [On the godly nature of the Son and of the Spirit, Patrologia Graeca 46.557]

By the time of the succession of Theodosius conditions had changed. Upon arriving in Constantinople, he proposed to the Arian bishop that he renounce Arianism and join the creed of Nicaea. The bishop, however, refused and preferred to leave the capital and live outside the city gates, where he continued to hold Arian meetings. All the churches in Constantinople were turned over to the Nicaeans.

Theodosius was confronted with the questions of regulating his relations with the heretics and pagans. Even in Constantine's time the Catholic (i.e. universal) church (ecclesia catholica) had been contrasted with the heretics (haeretici). During the reign of Theodosius the distinction between a Catholic and a heretic was definitely established by law: a Catholic was an adherent of the Nicene Creed; followers of other religious tendencies were heretics. The pagans (pagani) were considered in a separate category.

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