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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867)

The restoration of Orthodoxy. The separation of churches in the ninth century 


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 3

The iconoclastic emperors of the second period, Leo V the Armenian, Michael II the Stammerer, and Theophilus, had to carry out their religious policy under conditions which differed greatly from those which had prevailed in the first period. The second period lasted only for about thirty years (815-43), and was thus much shorter than the first period which had lasted for more than fifty years. The iconoclasts of the first period took the iconodules, so to say, unawares. The latter were not sufficiently organized nor prepared for the struggle. The ruthless measures against images forced them to unite their ranks, strengthen their faith, develop methods of fighting, and collect all their dogmatic and polemic materials. The iconoclasts of the second period, therefore, met a much stronger resistance than had their predecessors. The struggle became more difficult for them. Especially strong was the opposition advanced by the abbot of the monastery of Studion, Theodore, and his followers, the Studites, convinced defenders of image-worship, who exerted a great influence upon the mass of the people. Furthermore, Theodore openly wrote and spoke against the intervention of imperial power in the affairs of the church and defended the principles of church independence and freedom of conscience. Angered by Theodores attitude and activity, the Emperor sent him into distant exile and banished many of his followers.

According to the surviving sources, which are almost without exception hostile to the iconoclasts, the persecution of images and their worshipers was very severe in the time of Leo V. These sources name martyrs who suffered in this period. On the other hand, even the most vehement opponents of Leo V acknowledge that he was very efficient and skillful in defending the Empire and wise in his administrative measures. According to one historian, Patriarch Nicephorus, deposed by Leo, said after Leo's death that the state of the Romans lost a very great, though impious, ruler. Still other contemporaries called Leo the creeping snake, and compared his time with winter and a thick fog.

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