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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 attitude of Constantine toward the Church


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 3

After the reign of Constantine three important Christian centers developed: the early Christian Rome, in Italy, although pagan sympathy and tradition continued to exist there for some time; Christian Constantinople, which very soon became a second Rome in the eyes of the Christians of the East; and, finally, Christian Jerusalem. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Emperor Titus in 70 A.D., and the formation in its place of the Roman colony, Aelia Capitolina, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D, old Jerusalem had lost its significance, although it was the mother church of Christendom and the center of the first apostolic preaching. Christian Jerusalem was called to new life in the period of Constantine. Politically, Caesarea, and not Aelia, was the capital of that province. The churches built during this period in the three centers stood as symbols of the triumph of the Christian church on earth. This church soon became the state church. The new idea of the kingdom on earth was in direct contrast with the original conception of Christianity as a kingdom not of this world, and of the rapidly approaching end of the world

                Elpenor's note : The author here repeats a position held by many, that the new status of Christianity in the empire led to its secularization. This is also the way some interpret the growth of monasticism, as a reaction to this secularization. By having been recognised by the state, Christianity had the chance to influence more people and expand; this course is not without danger, precisely the danger of secularization, yet the truth is that, as monasticism preceded the official recognition of Christianity, it remained and evolved as a further zeal and exemplar, not as a reaction. We can understand this by the fact that only one emperor (Constantine V) tried to extinguish monasticism (at the iconoclast period, when monks were the main force of resistance to the iconoclast policy). The conversion of the empire did not drive away the best christians, as theories of 'secularization' insist, but it inspired even greater desire toward the highest possible Christian life. This is the reason why monasticism did not become a marginal phenomenon, and the whole society became more human, monasticism more perfect, theology and worship higher. St. Ephraem of Syria writes that "more than in mountains and deserts, monasticism existed in towns, in villages, in islands and in the churches, the multitudes of faithful shined, each one admirably kept God's commands as God wanted, bishops, presbyters, deacons and all the offices of the Church, and kings, archons, authorities and powers" (St. Ephraim the Syrian, To the Second Coming, p. 38). We can also recall that an ascetical book, the Climax (Spiritual Ladder) of st. John of Sinai was the most popular book not only among monks but in the whole populace. Justinian, a rather 'worldly' emperor, declared monasticism as "sacred and a mystery". Faith became the heart of society. Theological discussions was the main theme of talk at imperial meals, often with the presence of monks, while many emperors were men of great education and spiritual interest (Constantine VII, Eudocia, Theodosius II, Justinian, Maurice, Nicephorus Phocas, Manuel Palaeologus, Leo the Wise, John Cantakouzene, Theodore Doukas Laskaris....) Read more on the 'secularization' surmise, in Greek. Cf. D. Turner's Byzantium.

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