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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)

Religious problems 


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The successors of Justinian favored orthodoxy and the Monophysites were at times as during the reign of Justin II subjected to extremely severe persecution. Relations between the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Church during the reign of Maurice and Phocas are interesting to consider. Gregory protested against the assumption by the Bishop of Constantinople of the title ecumenical and, in a letter to Maurice, Gregory accused the patriarch, John the Faster, of haughtiness:

I am compelled to cry aloud and say O tempora! O mores! When all of Europe is given over to the power of barbarians, when cities are destroyed, camps overthrown, provinces depopulated, when the husbandman no longer tills the soil, when idol-worshippers are raging and contending for the slaughter of the faithful and then priests, who ought to lie weeping on the ground and in ashes, seek for themselves names of vanity and glory in new and profane titles. Do I, in this matter, most pious Lord, defend my own cause? Do I resent my own special wrong? Nay, I defend the cause of Almighty God and the cause of the Universal Church. He is to be coerced, who does wrong to the Holy Universal Church, who swells in heart, who covets in a name of singularity, who also puts himself above the dignity of your Empire through a title peculiar to himself.

The pope did not attain the desired concession, and for a time even ceased to send his representative to Constantinople. When in the year 602 a revolution broke out in the capital against Maurice, Pope Gregory addressed a letter to the new emperor, Phocas, in terms quite unbefitting this foolish tyrant on the Byzantine throne:

Glory be to God in the highest. Let the heaven rejoice, and let the earth be glad (Ps. 95:11). Let the whole people of the republic hitherto afflicted exceedingly, grow cheerful for your benignant deeds! Let every single persons liberty be now at length restored to him under the yoke of the pious empire. For there is this difference between the kings of other nations and the emperors: that the kings are lords of slaves, but the emperors of the Roman state are lords of freemen.

Phocas was apparently pleased, for later he forbade the patriarch of Constantinople to bear the ecumenical title, declaring that the apostolic throne of the blessed apostle Peter was the head of all churches. Thus while Phocas suffered defeat in all his external and internal undertakings and inspired the deep wrath and irritation of his subjects, his relations with Rome, based on his concessions to the pope, were peaceful and friendly throughout his reign. In memory of these friendly relations the exarch of Ravenna erected in the Roman Forum a column with laudatory inscriptions to Phocas. This monument is still in existence


A History of the Byzantine Empire - Table of Contents

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