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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

Ιnternal affairs under the Comneni and Angeli 


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Ecclesiastical life under the Comneni and Angeli enabled the Emperors to apply widely their caesaropapistic ideas: on the one hand, numerous heresies and false doctrines considerably agitated the minds of the population. On the other hand, the menace from the Turks and Patzinaks, and the new relations between the Empire and the West resulting from the crusades, began to threaten the very existence of Byzantium as an independent state, and forced the Emperors to consider deeply and ponder seriously the problem of union with the Catholic church, which in the person of the pope, could prevent the political danger threatening the East from the West.

As regards religion, the first two Comneni were in general the defenders of the Eastern Orthodox faith and church; nevertheless, under the pressure of political reasons, they made some concessions in favor of the Catholic church. Alexius Comnenus' daughter, Anna, struck by the activity of her father, in her Alexiad calls him, doubtless with exaggeration, the thirteenth Apostle; or, if this honor must belong to Constantine the Great, Alexius Comnenus must be set either side by side with the Emperor Constantine or, if any one objects to that, next to Constantine. The third Comnenus, Manuel, inflicted great harm upon the interests of the eastern church for the sake of his illusive western policy.

In the internal church life of the Empire the chief attention of the emperors was directed to the struggle with dogmatic errors and heretic movements of their time. One side of the ecclesiastical life alarmed the emperors, the excessive growth of ecclesiastic and monastic property, against which the government, from time to time, had taken adequate measures.

In order to provide funds for state defense and the compensation of his supporters, Alexius Comnenus confiscated some monastic estates and converted several sacred vessels into money. But to appease the discontent which this measure aroused, the Emperor returned to the churches an amount equal to the value of the vessels and condemned his own action by a special Novel, On abstaining from using the sacred vessels for public needs. Manuel by restoring the abrogated Novel of Nicephorus Phocas (964) again limited the increase of the church and monastic property; but later he was forced by means of other Novels, as far as possible, to modify the harsh consequences of this decree.

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