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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)

The ecclesiastical policy of Justinian 


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As the successor of Roman Caesars, Justinian considered it his duty to restore the Roman Empire, and at the same time he wished to establish within the Empire one law and one faith. One state, one law, and one church such was the brief formula of Justinian's entire political career. Basing his conceptions on the principle of absolute power, he assumed that in a well-ordered state everything is subject to the authority of the emperor. Fully aware of the fact that the church might serve as a powerful weapon in the hands of the government, he used every effort to bring it into subjection. Historians have tried to analyze the motives which guided Justinian's church policy; some have concluded that with him politics was foremost and religion only a servant of the state, others that this second Constantine the Great was ready to forget his direct administrative duties wherever church matters were concerned.

In his desire to be full master of the church, Justinian not only aimed to keep in his own hands the internal administration and the fate of the clergy, even those of highest rank, but he also considered it his right to determine a specific dogma for his subjects. Whatever religious tendency was followed by the Emperor had to be followed also by his subjects. The Byzantine Emperor had the right to regulate the life of the clergy, to fill the highest hierarchic posts according to his own judgment, to appear as mediator and judge in the affairs of the clergy. He showed his favorable attitude toward the church by protecting the clergy and by promoting the erection of new churches and monasteries, to which he granted special privileges. He also exerted much effort in attempting to establish a unity of faith among his subjects. He frequently participated in dogmatical disputes, passing final decisions on debatable questions of doctrine.

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