The pagan city of Byzantion was selected and reconstructed as the capital by Constantine in 324, being given the name “New Rome” or “Constantinople,” and was officially consecrated on May 11, 330. The new capital of the empire now was the “governing city.” Thus Constantinople became a center for worldly passions, such as power, administration, wealth, and entertainment. The city was also the place where holy relics, bishops, councils, monks, intellectuals, thoughts and theologies flowed into the Byzantine world. Without a doubt, it was not easy for the city to become a center which brought the Christian world into shape. The fact that the traditional Christian centers (Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch) had lost power between the fifth and seventh centuries reinforced the status of Constantinople as the “governing city.” The religion that we perceive as Orthodox Christianity in the modern world was largely shaped between the 5th and 15th centuries in Constantinople.
The history of the Orthodox Church, which was shaped in Constantinople, and its opponents can only be written by taking into account the incredibly rich and diverse literature on the topic. Many church histories or other historical works written between the 4th and 15th centuries, a time when Constantinople was the heart of the Byzantine world, are extant today in a number of languages. In addition to this, other sources of information include the letters of intellectual church leaders, theological works written in response to certain contemporary controversies, the lives of monks or monastic and ecclesiastical leaders, and theological refutations written at the command of emperors. The works of the fifth-century church historians, such as Rufinus, Socrates, Sozomenus, Theodoret and the Arian Philostorgius, are comparatively easy to attain; these histories contain valuable historical and theological details about Constantinopolitan-based religious controversies that occurred between the fourth and fifth centuries. The church history of Evagrius, the chronicles of Malalas, Chronicon Paschale, and Theophanes are important particularly as they relate events that occurred after the outbreak of the Nestorian controversy. Theophanes and the short history written by Patriarch Nicephorus are also important sources for details regarding the iconoclastic controversy. The works of Anna Commnena, Cosmas the Bulgarian and Zigabenos are almost the sole sources for the “other Christians,” that is, the Paulicians and Bogomils, who had great influence in the eastern and the western parts of the Byzantine world. The tension which arose between the Roman and Constantinopolitan churches in the 11th century can be traced in epistles from both sides. The best reference which summarizes the trauma of the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople is the lamentation of Niketas Choniates. The efforts at reestablishing peace in the 13th to 15th centuries can be traced in works by historians like George Akropolites, Pachymeres and Ducas. The works of Meletios Homologetes and Barlaam the Calabrian are important from the aspect of the religious and political reasons for refusing unification of the Constantinople Church with Rome. The diversity and richness of the Byzantine source materials are similarly reflected in modern literature. The large number of books, articles and printed sources, partially listed in the bibliography, can be perplexing to those who want to have an overview of the ecclesiastical history of Byzantine Constantinople.
Classial Paganism in Byzantion
According to a story retold by the historian Herodotus, the city of Byzantion was established by a group of colonists from Megara; thus, it is not surprising that the religious culture of Byzantion developed in parallel to that of Greek paganism. Byzas, the leader of the colonists, dedicated this new settlement to the cult of Rhea, the goddess of fortune (tykhe). As in other cities of the Greek-Roman world, pagan religious ceremonies, such as offerings (libations or the presentation of first fruit) and sacrifices were social activities carried out to ensure the pax deorum. In fact, classical paganism was not a belief system that presented any solutions to daily individual problems, nor was it a religion that had a consistent theology. Rather, classical paganism was a series of complex public activities. In this world questions like the origin of the universe or the meaning of life were not dwelt upon by the men in the temples, but rather by philosophers. The main aim of the public activities in which people took part was to mollify the gods and thus ensure general tranquility. While classical paganism, as a public religion, was under the control of a city-state (or the Roman state), there was no theology, divine text or professional religious class. The religious ceremonies in the cities were supervised by the governing class. In contrast to this, these types of public religious practices should not be perceived as purely superstitious beliefs.
Ancient paganism is reminiscent of a supermarket from which one can purchase whatever one desires; in every city there were a large number of gods and cults in the pantheon. In the ancient world, any god or goddess could be adopted as protector or patron(ess) by the people or the city. Similarly, the cities in the ancient world had many different temples for various gods. These gods and goddesses can reveal the cultural affiliations of the cities. Ancient Byzantion was no exception; here there were temples and holy places constructed for gods of Greek, Thracian and Egyptian origin. The literature and epigraphic evidence of the pagan religious topography of Byzantion provide clues about the religious culture of its earliest habitants. The most important literary evidence is Anaplous Bospori by Dionysios Byzantinos. According to Dinoysios’s notes, the temple of Athena Ekbasios was in the city’s first acropolis. The temple of Poseidon was in the same region, close to the coast. The temples of Pluto and Hera were located in what is known today as Süleymaniye. The temple of Ge Onesidora (mother goddess) was at the bottom of the hill on which Süleymaniye Mosque is situated. In the upper parts of this temple were shrines dedicated to Demeter and Kore. It should also be noted that there was a sacred location for the sun god Helios and the moon goddess Selene; this was located in the area known today as Şehzadebaşı. The temples in Byzantion were not only affiliated with mainland Hellas: when the Seleucid king, Antiochus II, laid siege to Byzantion, the Egyptian Ptolemy II Philadelphos helped the city. Following this association a temple was built for the Egyptian cults, Serapis and Isis, in the Fındıklı area. Also on the western side of the Bosphorus near Bebek region, fishermen built a temple dedicated to Artemis Diktynna. This is not surprising, as Artemis was also the goddess of hunters. A temple for another moon goddess, Hekate, was built in the Emirgan area. This cult was very important due to the fact that when Philip, the king of Macedon, attacked Byzantion in the middle of the fourth century BC, the local people believed that the city was protected by Hekate. In the Rumeli Kavağı area a hieron (sacred location) was dedicated to the twelve Olympians. These temples are some of the most important elements in the pagan religious topography of ancient Byzantion. On the eastern side of the Bosphorus, near Anadolu Kavağı, there was a hieron that was built to protect sailors from the harsh winds. This place was dedicated to Zeus Ourios. The ancient sources claim that the area was a matter of contention between Chalcedonians and Byzantines. Yoroz is the modern rendering of the name Ourios. In addition to Strabo, one of the most important geographers of the ancient world, the fifth-century pagan historian Zosimus mentions the sacred location of Zeus Ourios when providing details about Constantine; he refers to this area as a Chalcedonian temple. This demonstrates that the temple was still active in the early fourth century. The ancient sources make reference to a Kline (bed) of Herakles to the south of the Zeus Ourios temple. This place is known today as Yuşa Hill. Stelae and epigraphic materials dedicated to the Thracian god Dionysos, which have been found in modern excavations, demonstrate that this cult was active in Roman Byzantion. However, it is no longer possible to confirm the religious topography of pagan Byzantion. It is for this reason that the numbers and locations of the temples and sacred locations have always been a matter of controversy. The available evidence indicates that the colorful religious culture of Byzantion was spread over a wide geography, reaching as far as Egypt, Greece, Thrace, and the Aegean.
Although it is claimed that Constantine established New Rome as a Christian capital, the Severan tetrastoön (the colonnaded courtyard), the pagan temples and monuments existed up until the fourth century. When the column (modern-day Çemberlitaş) was erected in the reign of Constantine, the emperor had his own statue sculpted in the form of the sun-god Helios. Such a high monument must have been visible from every corner of the city; indeed, the inhabitants of Constantinople always felt as if the emperor was watching over them like a radiating god. The Christian sources, for example, Chronicon Paschale and Ioannes Malalas, noted that in the opening celebrations of the city, the emperor, was honored with candles and incense being burned, like a pagan god; it is also noted that the emperor dedicated the city to the goddess of Tykhe (Fortuna) and called it “Anthousa” (another version of Dea Roma).
The story of paganism in Constantinople in the post-Constantinian period is also interesting. On the one hand, the emperors financed the church councils of bishops, while on the other, Constantine had his statue sculpted in the form of Helios, the sun-god; indeed, in addition Constantine and his successors continued to use the title pontifex maximus (pagan archpriest) until the 370s. This demonstrates that the existence of paganism in the city was tolerated. Apart from the ardent paganism of Julian (361-363), it was not possible for the emperors, as the constitutional heads of Roman society, to indulge in paganism. Until the beginnings of the 390s paganism was not forbidden; nevertheless, it was subject to some restrictions. For example, Constantius II (the son of Constantine) published an edict against the pagan temples (CTh 10.16.4). However, Julian, a practicing pagan, reopened the temples. Although emperors like Valens and Valentinian were lenient towards paganism, Theodosius (379-395) did not tolerate it, and he first prohibited the oracle sacrifices and then, on February 24, 391, he forbade any kind of sacrifice or visiting of temples. In the following year a more severe edict was promulgated; lighting candles, incense or hanging garlands were completely forbidden. Anyone who violated the imperial edicts would have their property confiscated. However, even at the beginning of the sixth century, the pagan historian Zosimus still attributed the decline of the Roman Empire to the desertion of the pagan gods; this demonstrates that paganism was still popular in intellectual circles. Thus, it is clear that the official ban on paganism did not annihilate the old beliefs; they were merely practiced in secret.
From Byzantion to Constantinople: The Earliest Christians and the Rise of the Church
Our knowledge about the earliest Christians in Byzantion, a city rebuilt by Constantine, is rather meager. Nevertheless, the arrival of Christians in the region of Bithynia, adjacent to Byzantine, provides an opportunity to draw parallels and make inferences. It is indeed very difficult to speak of the existence of any serious Christian church in Byzantine in the pre-Constantinian period. It is also difficult to verify when and how the early Christians came to the city. Most likely, there was not a significant Christian congregation in Byzantion before Constantine laid his hands upon it. This is not to say that the people of Byzantion were completely unaware of Christians; indeed, according to a medieval tale, it is claimed that Christianity arrived in the city during the age of the apostles, and Andrew, one of the twelve apostles, included Byzantion in his missionary area, ordaining a certain Stachys as bishop. However, the legendary connection between Andrew and Stachys is not mentioned in early Christian sources.
The earliest evidence of the presence of Christians in Byzantion dates from the second century. The correspondence between Emperor Trajan and Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, shows that in the early second century a considerable number of Christians were living in the Bithynian cities that surrounded Byzantion. Furthermore, the ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius, mentions a letter from Aelius Publius Iulius, bishop of Debeltum, in the north of Byzantion. This letter complains about the controversy that the Montanists, a Christian sect with Phrygian roots, caused among the Christians of the Thracian city of Anchialus (Pomorie, in Bulgaria). The first direct evidence about the presence of Christians in Byzantion dates from the late second century, when debates began about the nature of Christ. A certain Theodotus, a leather merchant operating from Byzantion, defended a view that denies the divine nature of Christ. Apart from this direct and indirect evidence, it is difficult to make any determinations about the Christian community in Byzantion in the pre-Constantinian era. The fact that the absence of a Christian martyr in the martyrology before the fourth century may indicate that the Christians of Byzantion were a small community of not great importance. The names of martyrs, for example, St. Mocius or St. Euphemia, only appear during the last great persecution of Diocletian, carried out after 303.
Chronicon Paschale, written in seventh-century Constantinople, reports that the first bishop of Byzantion was Metrophanes. If not a purely mythological character, Metrophanes was bishop during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), or immediately afterwards. The successor to Metrophanes, Alexander, was a semi-legendary figure and his name first appeared in the early 320s when the Arian controversy broke out in Alexandria. This controversy questioned the nature of Christ and led to a heated correspondence between the Christian leaders of the cities in the Mediterranean. The name of the bishop of Byzantion is included in this correspondence. Although fifth-century ecclesiastical historians claim that Alexander participated in the Council of Nicaea in 325, the anecdote about Alexander is legendary in nature, rather than historical.
After Constantine reorganized the city in 330 as the new capital, Alexander took his place in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Bithynian bishops. In 336, Alexander reacted to the suggestion that Arius, who had been excommunicated and exiled from the Church at the Council of Nicaea, could be readmitted to the Church. Arius was not readmitted in Constantinople, because on the eve of his reception ceremony he suddenly died in the forum (Çemberlitaş). When Alexander died in 337 (the same year that Constantine died), the election of a successor was heatedly disputed; there were two candidates, Paul and Macedonius. This was no surprise, because previously what had been an unimportant see had become the capital of the Eastern Empire, and the population of the city and the significance of the Church institution had simultaneously increased.
Paul, the successor of Alexander did not obtain the consent of the neighboring bishops; in addition, he was not a figure who agreed with the Arian ideology of the new Eastern emperor, Constantius II. Therefore, in a short time he was dismissed from his post and exiled. Between 337 and 380 (from Constantius II to Theodosius the Great) the church of Constantinople was mostly under the control of the Arian group of bishops. As noted above, this group, controversially named after the priest Arius, were opposed to the decisions taken at the Council of Nicaea, questioned the divine nature of Christ and refuted the view that the Father and the Son were of the same essence (homoousios). Emperor Constantius II and his successors sought bishops who had experience in administration and were intellectual in theological aspects to serve in Constantinople, thus increasing the prestige of the city and establishing the Church, institutionally, on firm ground. Eusebius of Nicomedia was the first in this series of bishops. An experienced churchman and original theologian, Eusebius, was a leading figure even at the beginning of the Arian controversy and had ties with the Constantinian dynasty. His ecclesiastical career began in Beirut and he later became bishop of Nicomedia during the reign of Licinius (308-324). Constantinople was not only the “governing city,” but with the election of Eusebius in 337, it also became the “governing Church.” In his four years in the episcopacy Eusebius of Constantinople tried to regulate the ecclesiastical matters of Eastern Christianity; associations with the city stretched as far as Armenia and the Persian Gulf, and he established contact with the Gothic tribes to the north of the Danube. Ulfilas, a missionary with Cappadocian origins, was consecrated as the bishop of Gothia and he translated the Gospel from Greek to the Gothic language.
When Eusebius died in 341, the old rivalries emerged again and the supporters of the candidates, Paul and Macedonius, created chaos in the city. There was probably violent street fighting, as one of the leading generals of the Eastern Empire was lynched during the unrest. Constantius II punished the population of the city and halved the amount of free bread that was distributed. In the end, Macedonius was elected as the new bishop of Constantinople and he remained in this position until the beginning of the year 360 (although there were brief interruptions). The unrest demonstrates the power that a popularly supported figure could summon in Constantinople at the time.
Macedonius of Constantinople was an eminent administrator and a distinguished intellectual. Although the church laws of the period did not allow for it, he tried to expand the administrative influence of Constantinople through the Bithynia region. However, at the Council of Nicaea, the jurisdictional areas of the great sees, such as Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, were specifically set up and the bishops of the provincial capitals had been appointed. As Constantinople was an unimportant see in 325 (it had not yet become New Rome or Constantinople) no jurisdictional area had been appointed for it. Therefore, in the fourth century the bishop of Constantinople was only responsible for the religious matters within the borders of the capital. Macedonius not only intervened in matters in Bithynia, he also attempted to control church factions that did not conform to the imperial ideology. The historian Socrates furiously noted that the bishop of Constantinople used the imperial soldiers to intimidate the separatist Novatianist group in Bithynia. Macedonius performed some positive actions that enriched the Christian’s topography in the capital; in addition, he brought the relics of the apostles Luke and Andrew to the city. He also played an active role as an intellectual bishop at the church councils in the mid-fourth century. For instance, according to the deposition list for Western bishops, at the council of Serdica in 343, Macedonius was a leader of the Eastern bishops. However, he was one of the losers in the new theological groupings that occurred among the Eastern bishops at the end of the 350s; he was removed from his post and exiled at a council in Constantinople in 360. Later, when he was exiled, it is reported that Macedonius became the leader of a new theology, Pneumatomachoi, the “Spirit-fighters,” which denied the divine status of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity.
Eudoxius of Antioch replaced Macedonius in Constantinople. He became an active leader of the Arian group during his tenure in the episcopacy. His election coincided with the formal consecration of the church of Hagia Sophia, which had begun to be constructed in the reign of Constantine, but was completed under Constantius II. The church council, which celebrated both the new church and bishop, also declared a new creed in which the likeness of the Son to the Father (homoiosios) was promulgated as the official creed of the Roman Empire. This was the first doctrine declared at Constantinople; Jerome reacted by saying that “the whole world groaned upon finding itself Arian.” Eudoxius removed all the bishops who did not conform to the Arian ideology supported by the emperor. The bishop of Alexandria was also removed from his post. According to the church historian Theodoret, Eudoxius, relying on his close relationships with the imperial family, even attempted to organize the relationship between the bishops and the imperial court.
When Eudoxius died in 370, the all-too-familiar election crisis followed in the capital; however, the emperor Valens responded to the crisis by appointing Demophilus, the bishop of Beroea in Macedonia. Church sources focus on the intellectual qualities of the Arian Demophilus. The new bishop was a good choice, because Valens followed the same religious ideology as Constantius II. Episcopal rotation (and the desertion of jurisdictional areas) had been forbidden at Nicaea; nevertheless, this rule was ignored for Constantinople. The fifth-century church historians do not mention Demophilus very often; this was because the emperor was outside of Constantinople, preoccupied with the Sassanid threat. Therefore, the center of ecclesiastical politics lay to the east; it was during this period that the bishop of Antioch became prominent. However, towards the end of the 370s, Valens was forced to turn his attention to the north, from where the Gothic threat arose; in 378, the emperor lost the Battle of Hadrianopolis and a Spaniard, Theodosius, became the emperor of the East. The new emperor followed an anti-Arian religious policy due to political factors; when he arrived in Constantinople on 24 November, 380, the tenure of Demophilus was brought to an end as the latter did not accept the imperial religious policy. Demophilus was driven through the city gates with his congregation. This demonstrates that Constantinople now had a significant Arian community. The fall of Demophilus brought the Arian control in the capital to an end and the Nicene theological star Gregory of Nazianzus (from Cappadocia) became bishop.
Gregory of Nazianzus came to Constantinople in 379 on the recommendation of Basil of Caesarea; he began his mission in a little church called Anastasia, “awakening” the small Nicene community of Constantinople under his guidance. With the fall of Demophilus, the Arian days had come to an end and this group never managed to take control of the Church in Constantinople again. Nevertheless, the Arian community continued to exist for a long time. For example, when Cappadocian Gregory of Nyssa came to Constantinople to attend the second ecumenical council in 381, he witnessed the popularity of the Arian beliefs in the streets. Moreover, the sources tell us that in response to the nightly parade of the Arians, John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople (397-403), organized an alternative parade. As will be mentioned below, a council at the end of the seventh century went so far as to name the Arians as a dangerous heresy. These instances show that although the emperors forbade some Christian beliefs, these beliefs did not die easily, but continued to live on for many years.
The Church Councils in Constantinople and the Rise of the Patriarchate, 381-691 AD.
The strength of the Church in Constantinople increased through the fourth century at the expense of Alexandria and Antioch, the great sees of the Eastern Roman Empire. Despite the prestigious episcopal appointments, the place of Constantinople in the traditional ecclesiastical hierarchy (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) remained unchanged, due to the fact that this hierarchy was canonically determined. The church councils held in Constantinople between 381 and 681 not only brought the patriarch of Constantinople to the fore, but at the same time the capital became the “sole center” to reinterpret Orthodoxy. At this point, it would be useful to carry out an examination of the Second, Fourth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils and the home-synod of the capital.
The Second General Council, commonly known in the ecclesiastical tradition as the Second Ecumenical Council, was held at the invitation of the emperor, Theodosius the Great, in 381. The council was attended by 150 bishops, mainly from the eastern part of the empire, an area that was under the control of Theodosius. This meeting had three main aims: to end the theological controversy led by the Spirit-Fighters, to completely ban Arianism, and to make an official episcopal appointment for Constantinople. When Gregory of Nyssa, a Cappadocian bishop, visited the capital, he observed the passionate participation of the people in theological matters; indeed, he recorded that everybody expressed their views on theology, be it in the marketplace or in the shops. The Second General Council reinterpreted Orthodox theology, which had been adopted at Nicaea about fifty years earlier, and explained the divine quality of the Holy Spirit. The council also declared the Arian and Macedonian groups to be illegal in the Roman world.
An important canon (Canon 3) of the council recognized “a primacy of honor for the see of Constantinople, the New Rome.” However the “primacy of honor” was a fallacious title, as the council had strictly redefined the jurisdictional rights of the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem; this was done according to the canons of the Council of Nicaea. The Second General Council also failed to define any jurisdictional area, and the autonomous power base of the provincial bishops, such as Asia, Thrace and Pontus, was also emphasized. Thus, no room for maneuver was left for the patriarch in the Roman world, as his jurisdiction had been restricted to the city. Fifty years earlier, Jerusalem, as the birthplace of Christ, had received a “primacy honor without jurisdiction”; now a similar status was being recognized for Constantinople, the capital of the empire.
The Council of Constantinople elected a new patriarch for the capital. In fact, it was expected that Gregory of Nazianzus was to be elected, as he was in Constantinople to administer the religious affairs of the Nicene community. Yet it was a retired senator, Nectarius of Tarsus, who was elected as the “first patriarch.” With the election of an unbaptized, high-profile former bureaucrat, the fact that the post of the patriarchate was also a position of prestige was emphasized. The “primacy of honor,” granted to Constantinople, was furiously refuted by the Roman pope. The Western Church only acknowledged this status for Constantinople in the fourth Lateran council in 1215, after Constantinople had been invaded by the Latins in the Fourth Crusade. The famous Fifth Canon of the Lateran Council first put heavy emphasis on the greatness of the papacy, and then declared an ecclesiastical hierarchy: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. This recognition was only circumstantial, because now a Latin patriarch was sitting on the patriarchal throne of the capital.
The sudden rise of the bishop of Constantinople in the ecclesiastical hierarchy infuriated the Church in Alexandria as well, because until then, as the first city of the Eastern Roman world, the Egyptian center came second in church hierarchy after Rome. The status of the ancient grand cities in the church hierarchy had two foundations: their prestigious position within the imperial system and their connections with the apostles, as the founders of the religion. However, Constantinople was pushed up the hierarchy by the secular hand of the state.
The Church of Alexandria tried to discredit the patriarchs of Constantinople in the seventy years between the Second and Fourth Ecumenical Councils, and managed to unseat three patriarchs, with one even being lynched. This policy was first followed at the time of the fall of John Chrysostom, a leading saint of the Orthodox Church. When the patriarch Nectarius died in 397, the Alexandrians attempted to fill his place with someone with Alexandrian roots, but they failed. The court had other plans and a charismatic and ascetic figure, John, was brought from Antioch and appointed patriarch in 397. The choice of John Chrysostom was not unreasonable, because Constantinople was gradually coming to a parting of ways with Rome, and it needed the leadership of a preacher-bishop who was an authority on matters of theology and who had the necessary charisma to influence society. Although John Chrysostom was a powerful orator, he was so ascetic in lifestyle that he could not attend the dinner parties of the courtiers. Chrysostom interfered in the episcopal appointments in the churches of Ephesus and Nicomedia (modern day İzmit). He also attempted to discipline the monks in the streets and limit the expenditures of the church. These actions positively influenced ordinary Christians in Constantinople, and Chrysostom became a natural leader of society in the capital. However, Chrysostom quickly had problems with the courtiers, including the empress, and as a result he was removed, on the pretext of his theological views, from the bishopric in his sixth year at a council led by the bishop of Alexandria. He was exiled in 403 and died in exile in 407. When he was deposed and exiled, his supporters revolted in Constantinople and in this disorder the Great Church (later Hagia Sophia) was burned down. The Chrysostomides led a schism that organized an alternative ecclesiastical community; this crisis was only solved in 415, when the relics of John Chrysostom were brought to the capital.
The tension between Constantinople and Alexandria broke out again during the Nestorian controversy. Like Chrysostom thirty years earlier, Nestorius too was brought from Antioch because of his qualities as a preacher and theologian; he was ordained as the patriarch of Constantinople in 428. In his first sermon as patriarch, Nestorius attacked the “other Christians” of the capital, and he demanded that the emperor, Theodosius II (408-450), “purge the world from the heretics; I too will promise you victory against the Sassanians.” One of his earliest actions was to demolish an Arian chapel, and Netorius then began to attack the Alexandrian theology of Mary, which defined her as the mother of God (theotokos). Nestorius, on the other hand, described Mary as the mother of Christ (Christotokos). This theological controversy spread, particularly through the monasteries of the capital, very quickly, and a new religious polarization emerged in Constantinople. Emperor Theodosius II decided to organize a new general council in Ephesus in 431. This meeting, traditionally known as the Third Ecumenical Council, was held under the religious (and despotic) authority of the bishop of Alexandria at the expense of Nestorius, who, at the end of the sessions, was excommunicated and deposed.
The Church of Constantinople met a second disaster again at Ephesus, twenty years after the first one. The patriarch was a certain Flavian. The problem on the surface was theology, however, below this laid the rivalry between Alexandria and Constantinople. As in the case of Nestorius, the monastic foundation of Constantinople sided with the bishop of Alexandria. The event unfolded as follows: the theology of Eutyches, a monastic leader, was refuted at a council in 448 and Eutyches himself was declared a heretic. This led to more polarization in the capital. The correspondence between some monastic leaders and the Church of Alexandria showed that the Egyptian capital was playing a provocative role in this polarization. The emperor referred the case again to the bishop of Alexandria at the recommendations of some courtiers and leading monastic abbots. The meeting was held in Ephesus in 449 under very strained circumstances. The representatives of the Roman Church were attacked and thrown out of the meeting hall; Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople was lynched, dying three days later from his wounds. The second Ephesus was accurately referred to by the pope as the “thieves’ synod.”
Although the patriarchs of Constantinople were attacked and excommunicated, the two Ephesian councils demonstrate that nevertheless the patriarchs were keen to play a key role in determining theology and ecclesiastical politics. However, the Church in Alexandria had the upper hand in the cases of Chrysostom, Nestorius and Flavian; the ultimate victory would inevitably go to one, i.e., the patriarch of Constantinople, who was close to the imperial power, which had the final word in the Eastern Roman Empire.
In Constantinople, particularly after the Second General Council, a permanent council was established; this was known as the Endemousa Sunodos. Although it is claimed that the tradition of the permanent synod started with Constantine the Great, the term first appeared for the synod of Flavian, which refuted the views of Eutyches. This synod was organized at the invitation of the patriarch, who presided, and was attended by neighboring bishops and those who were present at Constantinople at the time. The agenda of this council consisted of problems that routinely occurred in the capital or in neighboring bishoprics. The Endemousa Sunodos was the most important institution to develop in the capital between the Second General Council, at which the city had gained the “primacy of honor,” and the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when the patriarch was given an equal status with the Roman bishop. The ninth and seventeenth canons of Chalcedon referred the resolutions of the problems among the provincial bishoprics to the patriarch of Constantinople; as a result, the importance and frequency of the Endemousa Sunodos must have increased after 451. After the 11th century the membership of the Endemousa Sunodos included the metropolitan bishops, independent archbishops (autocephales), and five high-profile administrators of the patriarchate; this synod continued to be convened up to the end of the Byzantine Empire.
All the councils held in Constantinople should not be seen to be in the category of the endemousa; however, the presence of the patriarch as an intermediary between those who had come to the capital to find solutions to their problems and the court officials meant that he was a key figure who connected the religious class of the provincials to the secular state officials. In this way, the patriarch was an important authority and power center who fulfilled the role of transition. In fact, the church canons had forbidden the lower clergy from appealing directly to the court, rather requiring an intermediary, either a chief bishop, a metropolitan or, ultimately, the patriarch. This intermediary naturally generated power and constituted an advantage for the patriarchate. The ultimate victory of Constantinople however, came at the Council of Chalcedon, where the power of the patriarch was taken under canonical protection.
The Council of Chalcedon was attended by approximately six hundred bishops and eighteen very high profile court bureaucrats; it was held in the Church of St. Euphemia between October 8 and November 1, 451. The council re-examined the illegal proceedings of the bishop of Alexandria at the “thieves’ synod” of Ephesus two years earlier, finding him guilty and condemning him. The bishop of Alexandria was removed from his post and exiled. In order to find a solution to theological questions, the council published a new dogma written in the light of a letter from Pope Leo of Rome. The new dogma accepted the two natures of Christ and defined the Son of God as follows: “the One and Same Son,” “perfect human and perfect God,” “homoousios with the Father in divinity,” “from the same essence with human beings (consubstantialis),” “the same with humans, but without sin,” “he was adopted by his Father before time, and He became the son of Mary (theotokos) for our salvation,” “Christ with two natures,” and an “immutable, indivisible, infallible, and inseparable human and God.”
The council also considered ecclesiastical discipline and published thirty canons. The most important and controversial one was the 28th Canon. This canon gave the patriarch of Constantinople an equal status with the pope in Rome, as well as defining a jurisdictional area for Constantinople. Thus, the status of Constantinople as the most important see was re-emphasized and the arrogance of the Church of Alexandria was broken. As a matter of fact, the Church of Constantinople did not institutionally rely on any canonical rights, but rather on the de facto proximity of the patriarch to the emperor. In the capacity of this imperial power, the patriarch intervened in several ecclesiastical affairs in the Eastern Roman world, in Cilicia, in Bithynia and in western Asia Minor. For example, Nestorius attempted to reorganize appointments in Miletus and in Sardis. The Church of Ephesus reacted to these interventions by taking the side of Alexandria, not of Constantinople, at the two councils held in the city. The Church of Ephesus affiliated itself with John the Apostle, and consequently considered itself to be the most ancient church in Asia Minor.
Although the initiatives of Constantinople to become a “governing center” did not meet with the approval of Rome, Alexandria, and some other leading cities in Syria and Anatolia, the 28th Canon of the Council of Chalcedon very clearly and indisputably defined its priority and primacy in the Eastern world and its equality with the Roman pope:
For the Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city. And the One Hundred and Fifty most religious Bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges to the most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honored with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her; so that, in the Pontic, the Asian, and the Thracian Dioceses, the Metropolitans only and such Bishops also of the Dioceses aforesaid as are among the barbarians, should be ordained by the aforesaid most holy Throne of the most holy Church of Constantinople; every metropolitan of the aforesaid dioceses, together with the Bishops of his province, ordaining his own provincial Bishops, as has been declared by the Divine Canons; but that, as has been said above, the Metropolitans of the aforesaid Dioceses should be ordained by the Archbishop of Constantinople, after proper elections have been held according to custom and have been reported to him.
This canon defined the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the capital and obstructed the interventions of neighboring bishoprics into its affairs. The 28th Canon of the Council was accepted in the last session of the Council, on November 1, 451. Having referred to the canons of the Second Council of Constantinople (381), the privileges and the rights which were attributed to Rome as the classical capital of the Empire were also granted to Constantinople, now the center of the Eastern world. Three chief courtiers, led by Anatolius, and 185 Eastern bishops attended the final session; the representatives of the pope and some bishops from the Balkans did not take part in this session. The 28th Canon was not the only canon concerned with the patriarchate. The 9th canon of the council asserted that
If a bishop or cleric should have a case with the metropolitan of his province, let him have recourse to the Exarch of the Diocese, or to the throne of the Imperial City of Constantinople, and let it be tried there.
This canon confirmed and enforced the status of the patriarch. The two canons, 9 and 28, provided sufficient armor for the bishop of Constantinople, and assisted the city in becoming a “governing center.”
The equal status that New Rome gained in Chalcedon incited conflicts with Old Rome. The first serious problems arose in 484. The theological doctrine of Chalcedon was a cause of disappointment in the Syrian and Coptic East, and a parting of ways began to take shape. Emperor Zeno attempted to reduce the tension; after having lost the West, the emperor was now trying to hold together the East, politically and religiously. Therefore, the emperor ordered the patriarch to prepare a new creed, which would help to heal the wounds. The new creed is known in history as the Henotikon or the “act of union,” and it aimed at reconciliation between the bishops of Alexandria and Constantinople. The Henotikon formula completely ignored the theology of Chalcedon, which had been formed according to a letter from Pope Leo the Great. Pope Felix reacted with fury to this new ecclesiastical policy in the East, as it excluded the Roman creed. The pope excommunicated Acacius, the patriarch of Constantinople, who responded to the crisis by removing the name of the pope from the diptych. This is traditionally referred to as the Acacian Schism between the Roman and Constantinopolitan Churches. As Anastasius, the successor to Zeno, was also an emperor with monophysite tendencies, the crisis did not wane until 518, when a new emperor ascended the throne in Constantinople. The Balkan-born Emperor Justin refuted the Henotikon formula and returned to the Creed of Chalcedon as the official religious doctrine of the state.
The Fifth General Council, held in Constantinople between May 5 and June 2, 553, under the auspices of the Emperor Justinian, attempted to find a solution to the parting of the ways within the Eastern Churches. In the background was the rift that had opened after the Council of Chalcedon, which had determined that Christ had two natures, human and God. This theological doctrine had been considered to be a confirmation of the Nestorian theology in some cities in Syria and Egypt, and thus was vehemently refuted; the monophysite followers of the East gradually began to organize an alternative Church. In order to reintegrate the Eastern Churches with the imperial Church in Constantinople, Emperor Justinian first desired to establish that the conclusions of the Council of Chalcedon were not Nestorian. Therefore, he condemned Ibas of Edessa, Theodoret of Cyrhhus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, and some of their works; these men were three leading theologians who had died in the previous century. The three were accused of being Nestorian by miaphysite (monophysite) theologians. The Fifth General Council also condemned Origen, an eminent intellectual theologian who had lived in the third century. Justinian forcefully brought Pope Vigilius from Rome to Constantinople to attain his official confirmation; in the end, under duress the pope signed the proceedings of the council. However, the Fifth Council could not integrate the Churches, but rather led to the acceleration of the disintegration of Eastern Christianity; the Syrian miaphysites, who emphasized the divinity of Christ, made haste to set up their own Church.
Constantinople as the center of the religious controversies of Eastern Christianity, hosted another great council in the seventh century. In the previous century, the controversies about the human and divine nature of Christ had divided the Christians of the Eastern Roman world, now in the seventh century, during the reign of Heraclius, the monotheletist (single will) theology was introduced; not surprisingly, this theology also led to more disagreement. In order to resolve this problem, a new council for the Eastern Church was held in Constantinople between November 7, 680 and September 16, 681 under the supervision of Emperor Constantine IV. This council declared that in Christ two wills and two energies, human and divine, existed; a strong emphasis was given to the inseparability of the two natures. The defenders of the monotheletist theology, including the patriarchs were condemned; however, opponents of the theology were purged (for example Maximus the Confessor). Although the Council was concerned with other theological matters, it did not publish a new canon. The Council of Trullo, held ten years later, in 692, was able to be concerned with merely disciplinary matters.
As the defining and propagating center of Orthodoxy, Constantinopolis hosted a number of church councils during the Iconoclasm crisis; during the strained relationships with the Roman Church; in the suppression of dualist movements, such as Bogomilism; in reunion attempts with the Western Church; as well as in the hesychasm controversy led by Gregory of Palamas. These councils, held under the auspices of the emperor, were platforms where the State and the Church came together under one roof. The councils were also platforms where shared political and religious ideologies were formed and planned. It was also through these councils that the patriarch consolidated his power as the ultimate religious authority.
The Rise of the First Monasteries in Constantinople
The modern term ‘monastery’ is derived from the ancient Greek word monasterion (to live alone); the origins of this lifestyle, described by this term, in Christian history date back to the beginning of the fourth century. In the Christian context, the earliest reference to the term monachoi (those who live alone) can be found in Roman documents that originated from Egypt. This form of life, not unfamiliar in the Roman world, was introduced into the Christian environment by a certain Antony, an Egyptian peasant. Antony retired to the desert near his village, first around 270, and lived there as an ascetic to the end of his life (he was 106 years old when he died in 356). The life of Antony was recorded by his contemporary Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, and when the latter was exiled to the West in 336 by Emperor Constantine, he brought a copy of this work with him. Thus, the monastic form of life was introduced to the Christian world.
The second originator of the Christian monastic system was also another Egyptian, St. Pachomius (d. 346). He was born into a pagan family in southern Egypt at the end of the third century and enrolled as a soldier in the army of Maximinus Daia, a devoted pagan. When this emperor lost his position and life in 313, Pachomius left the army. He then converted to Christianity and was baptized. At first Pachomius followed a path that was similar to that of Antony, but later he established a “communal life” in the deserts; other ascetics participated in this life, and thus Pachomius became the father of another tradition. This form of monastic life was known as koinobion (communal life). Thus, the tradition of Christian monastic life has two dimensions: one which is based on the followers of Antony, who were called individual eremites, (anakhoretes/hermits), while the other consists of the followers of Pachomius, in other words those who adopt a communal form of life.
The Christian monastic culture quickly spread from Egypt to Syria and then to Anatolia, around the second half of the fourth century. The popular form of the monastery in Anatolia was based on the tradition of St. Pachomius, as it is known that this tradition was introduced into Cappadocia by Basil of Caesarea (d. 379), a follower of the Pachomian tradition who traveled around Syria and Egypt. According to ancient and modern literature about the spread of monasteries, this new form of life was introduced to Constantinople by a certain Isaac, a Syrian monk, in the last quarter of the fourth century. However, this view ignores the activities of Macedonius of Constantinople and his friend Marathonius; these two men made great efforts to establish monasteries in Constantinople and in Bithynia. As Macedonius and Marathonius were Arian figures, their initiatives were considered to be a “false start.” The second important step in introducing monasteries to Constantinople was the efforts of Gregory of Nazianzus, another Cappadocian and close friend of Basil. He was in Constantinople between 379 and 381; he had a monastic character both before and after his days in Constantinople.
Monasteries became very popular and their numbers increased dramatically in Constantinople, particularly between the fifth and seventh centuries. The church council which tried a monastic leader in 448 included more than twenty hegoumenoi (leaders of monasteries). In the following century, when Justinian convened a church meeting in Constantinople in 536 to smooth relations between the Chalcedonian and anti-Chalcedonian clergy, the council consisted of approximately seventy monastic leaders. R. Janin, a leading French scholar who studied the religious topography of Constantinople, identified 325 monasteries in the city from the beginning to the end of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Justinian not only tolerated the monasteries, he also forbade the confiscation of monastic properties and allowed the processing of the land they owned. Monasteries also had the right to inherit; as a result these privileges led to an increase in their number.
In the age of Justinian Constantinople not only played host to monasteries that conformed to the official religious ideology of the empire, but it also contained monasteries that did not agree with the imperial ideology. This was a conscious imperial policy. While Justinian himself supported the Chalcedonian doctrine, his wife Theodora patronized the non-Chalcedonian monophysite monks in Constantinople. For example, the Syrian monophysite monks were accommodated in the Sergius and Bacchus Church complex (present-day Küçük Ayasofya Mosque), close to the imperial palace. These monks may also have been located in Sycai (Galata) and Dercus (Terkos).
From the eighth century on, the Iconoclasm controversies dealt a severe blow to the monasteries of Constantinople. These controversies waned in the second half of the ninth century, giving an opportunity for the monasteries to recover. Although these institutions were restricted by emperors like Nikephoros Focas II and Basil II, they continued to develop in the following centuries; between the end of 800 and 1200, 159 monasteries have been identified in Constantinople. Monasteries continued to exist during the Byzantine period; in fact, at the time of the conquest of Constantinople there were 18 monasteries.
The founders of monasteries were emperors, patriarchs, senators, members of the wealthy upper class and upper-class widows. The founder of a monastery (ktetor) prepared an endowment (typikon) which defined the subsistence and administration of the institute, as well as the sequence of the prayers. As for the finance of the Constantinopolitan monasteries and their role in society, they had a wide range of income coming from land endowed by the founders, like vineyards, pastures, saline, mills and fisheries. They had also real estate and other sources of income. Monasteries used these large incomes to support the needy, those who were alienated or ostracized from society, orphans and the elderly, or indeed for any form of humanitarian aid. Monasteries founded hospitals (nosokomeia), nurseries for the elderly (gerokomeia), orphanages (orphanotropheia), soup kitchens or hostels for strangers (xenones). For example, when Emperor John Comnenus II established the Pantocrator Monastery in 1136, a hospital was built adjacent to it. However, the main function of a monastery was not to help the needy, but to house those who devoted themselves “to thinking and to praying” (Gr. bios theoretikos; Lat. vita contemplativa). Thus, these pious persons imitated Christ and Mary and prayed not only for their own salvation but also for the redemption of society; from this perspective, the aim of a monastery was to maintain these prayers.
The first monastery in Constantinople was Dalmatou, which was established by Flavius Saturninus, a magister militum (army commander) and consul in the reign of Theodosius the Great. In the fifth century the Stoudios Monastery was also established by an aristocrat. Although the patriarchs encouraged the foundation of monasteries, nevertheless they tried to control the activities of these institutions. Obviously, leaders of monasteries did not tolerate the interventions of the patriarchs. For example, the patriarch John Chrysostom attempted to discipline the parasite monks of Constantinople, but he was deposed by the united forces of the monks of Dalmatou and some leading members of the upper class with whom John was unable to establish a friendly relationship. The members of Dalmatou also formed the center of opposition against Nestorius, and this anti-Nestorian vox populi persuaded Emperor Theodosius II to exile Nestorius.
It would be appropriate to examine the Akoimetoi and Stoudios monasteries more closely. The monastery of Akoimetoi (the sleepless ones) was established by a certain Alexander in Constantinople in the 420s. It housed a group of three hundred monks, who recited hymns uninterruptedly 24 hours in shifts, thus being referred to as “the sleepless ones.” The monastery was first established in the Mangana region (around Topkapı Palace) near the Church of St. Menas. However, they fell afoul of the patriarch and some other high bureaucrats and retired to a different place, known as Gomon (around the modern-day Anadolu Feneri), on the eastern side of the Bosphorus, close to the Black Sea. After a short while the Sleepless Monks were relocated in Irenaion (Çubuklu), again on the eastern side of the Bosphorus; under the leadership of Marcellus, the successor to Alexander, they took part in the theological controversies of the era and in political conflicts. The Sleepless Monks were ardent supporters of the theology that had been accepted at Chalcedon, and they were also very politically active during the conflicts against the Gothic element in Constantinople. After the Arian Goths were driven out of Constantinople, Emperor Zeno took control of the capital; however, he began to follow an ecclesiastical policy that did not please the Akoimetoi monks; the latter spoke out against this policy and complained about the change in religious ideology to Felix, the pope in Rome. Thus, a showdown between Rome and Constantinople ensued; this was to become known as the Acacian Schism.
The political activities of the Sleepless Monks continued in the fifth century as well. When Vitalianus revolted on the pretext of alienation from the creed of the Council of Chalcedon, the Sleepless Monks unhesitatingly supported Vitalianus against Anastasius. The monastery developed under the leadership of Sleepless Marcellus, and there were Latin and Syriac speaking monks among its members. Some members of the monastery of the Akoimetoi moved to the Stoudios Monastery. Some members of the Akoimetoi were also active in the religious controversies during the reign of Justinian. In the seventh and eighth centuries the Akoimetoi lost their importance; some, as mentioned above, had already joined the Stoudios Monastery. Antony of Novgorod, who visited Constantinople in 1200, mentions these monks.
As stated earlier, the members of the Constantinopolitan aristocracy may have established monasteries at their own expense. One example is the case of Stoudios Monastery, founded by Studius, a council in 454. He built the church of John Baptist and a monastery complex was also constructed next to the church. As noted above, the first members of this new monastery were brought from the Akoimetoi Monastery. This monastery played a central role in the urban life of Constantinople; emperors would visit the monastery on the feast day of John the Baptist (September 23, January 7, February 24, May 25, June 24 and August 29 according to the Orthodox religious calendar) in an elaborated ceremony. Particularly in the turbulent Iconoclastic period in the eighth century, the Stoudios Monastery became a center of opposition and Emperor Constantine V (741-775) closed it down and exiled the monks. However, after Constantine V died, the monks returned to Constantinople and revived the monastery. The Stoudios Monastery witnessed the brightest period under the leadership of Theodore, that is, at the beginning of the ninth century. According to a legend, when Theodore became the hegoumenos in 799 there were only twelve monks in the monastery; when he died there were a thousand. Theodore reorganized the monastery according to the rules Pachomius and Basil had introduced, and ensured the perpetual engagement of the monks in various occupations. The monks made important contributions to the intellectual environment of Constantinople; among them there were poets, composers, icon painters, and scribes. Occasionally even patriarchs were recruited from the Stoudios, a place where deposed emperors were housed. For example, when Issac Comnenus left office in 1059, he secluded himself here. When Constantinople was invaded by the Latins in the Fourth Crusade, the Monastery of Stoudios suffered great destruction; it could only be repaired at the end of the 13th century. After the Ottoman conquest of the city, the monastery continued to exist for a while, later being converted into a mosque by Ilyas Bey, the Head Master of the Stables for Bayezid II.
Constantinople not only hosted monasteries for men but there were similar institutions for women, i.e., nunneries. The first nunnery in the city was established by a certain wealthy woman, Olympias, on the encouragement of John Chrysostom. This first nunnery, known as Olympiades, was close to the Great Church (where Hagia Sophia is located), and it accommodated around 250 women. In Constantinople there were nunneries constructed by women from the court, for example Theodora, the wife of Justinian, and Emperor Michael IV established monasteries for repentant prostitutes (or penitentiaries). Among the nuns of Constantinople, there was a certain group who were known as “transvestite nuns.” How common were these nuns in the society is difficult to know; however, the Constantinople society showed certain respect to these extraordinary nuns. The most famous transvestite nun in Constantinople was Matrona, who fled from the brutality of her husband sometime in the sixth century.
Constantinople was not only a center that attracted talented holy men; it was indeed the most attractive platform for gifted holy men in the Eastern Roman world. The best known example of this was Daniel the Syrian. He was born in Samasota (present day Samsat in Adıyaman) at the beginning of the fifth century and joined a monastery near his village when he was still a child; in time he became abbot of the monastery. The most interesting saint of this period was Symeon the Stylites (d. 459), famous for climbing a column near Antioch. Daniel visited Symeon and it was likely that he was impressed. In his mature years, Daniel decided to go to Jerusalem, which was the most important home for monks and was also the home of Christ. However, on the road to Jerusalem Daniel was told to go to Constantinople, the “second Jerusalem,” and he arrived in the capital in 451. Constantinople was the best place to become famous at that time, as its population had dramatically increased upon becoming the center of the empire. Daniel settled around the Anaplous region (today’s Arnavutköy). Although at the beginning Daniel had problems with his neighbors, not knowing any other language than Syriac, in the end he managed to keep his position by communicating with other Syrians in the capital. Daniel settled at a deserted temple, believed to be occupied by demons, and according to his biographer he first expelled these demons from the region and then ensured the security of land and sea traffic. This gave Daniel a chance to gain popularity. He was fortunate as well, because, when Symeon the Stylites died in Antioch in 459, one of his pupils, Sergius, was bringing his mentor’s leather cloak to present to the emperor; however, Sergius was unable to enter the court and in the end presented the cloak to Daniel. Daniel was not only successful against demons; he was also able to treat people. The most famous person that Daniel cured was Patriarch Anatolius. In this way Daniel managed to make contact with influential people in the court. At some stage Daniel imitated Symeon and constructed a column where he began to live. The saint on the column was a novelty for the capital and very quickly became a center of attraction. Crowds of people would visit Daniel to get his blessings. Among the visitors were the highest dignitaries of the court, the emperor himself and even the king of Lazica. When Daniel’s popularity increased a higher second column was erected. The third and highest column was constructed by Emperor Leo, after Daniel had predicted he would have a son. In a short time a huge monastery was built at Anaplous and the relics of St. Symeon were brought from Antioch and kept in this monastery. St. Daniel was a political figure as well, playing a hand in the destroying of the Gothic influence in the capital. Daniel played the most important political role in the consolidation of Zeno’s power. Although Zeno had fled from Constantinople after a coup in the palace, a year later he returned with support from the Isaurians and the prayers of Daniel; at least, this is what his biographer tries to persuade us was the case. In spite of his wide popularity in Constantinople, there were people who had no respect for Daniel. According to his biographer, one day in the heart of Constantinople someone tripped him up in the street and some courtiers mocked him, calling him “our new consul.” Daniel remained in contact with Zeno’s government until the end of his reign; Daniel died at the beginning of Anastasius’s reign in 493.
In conclusion, the monasteries or the activities of saints like Daniel - “a one-person monastery” - were the most important civil initiatives, particularly for humanitarian aid, that kept Byzantine society together. However, the endowment documents which came from monasteries established at later dates demonstrate that the main expectation from these institutions was that they maintained constant prayers for the founders. It is not surprising to find the rich seeking prayers; in Byzantine society religious people believed that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eyes of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Therefore, monasteries were considered to be not merely a physical strong-arm force in religious and political conflicts, but they also played very important roles in Constantinople as institutions of education, charity and prayer.
Iconoclasts and Iconodules in Constantinople
When I was appointed Deacon to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople I examined the inventory and realized that two books ornamented with icons in silver cases had been lost. When I investigated I learnt that they were burned off by the heretics in the fire.
Thus, in 787 Demetrius, deacon and bell ringer, made a statement before the bishops who were participating in the Seventh General Council in Nicaea (İznik). The heretics that Demetrius mentioned were iconoclasts. Between 726 and 843 there was major controversy and conflict about icons in the Byzantine world. The core problem of the controversy was whether the use of icons for Christ, Mary, the Apostles and saints as an instrument of worship was religiously permissible. In the controversy, those who were opposed to the use of icons were called eikonoklastes (iconoclasts), while those in favor of icons were called eikonodouloi or eikonophileis (iconodule, iconophile). The iconoclast ideology had four foundations: the anti-icon tradition in Christianity; Jewish criticisms of icons; the edict of Caliph Yezid II and the anti-icon attitude of Islam; and pagan philosophy. Moreover, iconoclasm was fostered by certain political and economic conditions as well. The most important of these was the over-strengthening of churches and monasteries, which in turn restricted the political influence of the state. At this point the icon controversy was compared with the religious reforms of Pharaoh Akhenaton, who attempted to break the power of the Egyptian clerical class.
The controversy affected Constantinople society utmost, because, as the center of the empire, the anti-icon policies were implemented here first; in addition, the city housed the most monasteries that produced icons which were, not surprisingly, the strongest supporters of icons. On the other hand, it is also not surprising that two of the three greatest intellectuals who gave a theological substance to icon-worshipping were located in Constantinople. Although John of Damascene was in Syria, Patriarch Nicephorus and Theodore the Studite were situated in the capital. As a matter of fact, in late antique Christian literature the icon problem is seen from two different angles: on the one hand, it was considered that the icons deserved reverence (proskynesis), but on the other hand, the use of icons as objects of worship was severely criticized. Theologians, such as Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius and Epiphanius, (between the second and fourth centuries) held very clear and opposing views about icons. When the emperor Constantine’s sister, Constantia, wrote a letter to Eusebius of Caesarea and asked for an image of Christ, Eusebius was surprised and replied “only the Father knows the Son.” Nevertheless, the religious images may have been kept in houses of prayer at the beginning of the fourth century; in 306, a church council in Spain conceded to publish a canon which forbade keeping images in places of Christian worship. Contrary to this, St. Basil of Cappadocia allowed the use of icons as objects of worship, stating that “the respect to the icon was to its prototype.” The use of holy images spread widely, particularly in the sixth and seventh centuries. The Council of Trullo, held in Constantinople in 692, published a canon in which it was stated that the use of icons as objects of worship was common and legitimate. In the 82nd Canon, the council declared that “the image of Christ should be painted in human form instead of as a lamb.”
The Byzantine world witnessed deep political crises along its borders during the seventh century. The Bulgarians, Slavs and Avars appeared along the northern frontier and even before the walls of Constantinople; the Sassanids and Muslims came from the East and put pressure on the gates of the capital. In these struggles to defend themselves, images were widely used; for instance, during the reign of Heraclius (610-641), the propaganda was that the holy images had contributed a great deal in driving away the invading forces. When the Avars laid siege to Constantinople, a rumor spread that Mary was fighting on behalf of the Byzantines against the infidel barbarians; this rumor meant that Mary was immediately perceived as the protector and patroness of the city. The combination of the image of Mary with Constantinople and the proclamation of her as the protector of the capital gave way to the tradition that other saints began to serve as protectors of other cities. In fact, this is a clear reminder of classical pagan culture, in which it is believed that gods and goddesses were protectors or patrons(ess) of certain cities or places. Another factor that helped the spread of icons was the circulation of certain tales concerned with recovery from illness or financial gains.
The first reaction against the use of icons as objects of worship was not a product of the Byzantine world, but rather of the Islamic caliphate. Caliph Yezid II strictly adhered to the Islamic ban on icons and published an edict in 723 forbidding icons in the Christian churches in his empire. It is odd that a ban on icons delivered by the Muslim caliph should lead to a division of Christians into iconodules and iconoclasts. Following the edict of Yezid the first blow to the icons came a few years later in Constantinople. After severe earthquakes on an Aegean island in 726, the tremors were interpreted as divine warnings not to show respect to the images and Emperor Leo III removed the icon of Christ from the Chalke gate of the Great Palace; thus the controversy about icons flared up. Although chaos ensued, the emperor managed to control the events in the city. More was to come. In 730, Leo III published an edict which ordered the removal of all the images in the churches throughout the empire. This created a great reaction in the provinces, and particularly the Theme of Hellas mutinied against the imperial policy. However, the emperor did not give up and even deposed the Patriarch Germanos, who did not agree with the new religious policy; a certain Anastasius was appointed in his place. This change was not confirmed by the pope, thus causing another schism. The radical change in ecclesiastical policy naturally had a great impact on the Christian society in Constantinople.
The icon-smashing imperial policies were maintained and increased by Leo’s son, Constantine V; this was a great disaster for the iconodules. The emperor held a great council in Constantinople in 754 to establish a theological frame for iconoclast actions. This council announced that “true Christianity was a religion without icons.” After this the real struggle began between the iconclasts and the icon worshippers. Some zealous iconodules were tortured or killed. Among the icon martyrs was St. Stephen, who was killed in 764. The emperor not only destroyed the icons in the churches, but he acted against monasteries that produced icons, many of which were closed down or converted into military quarters. The monastery of Dalmotou was shut down. The former monks were forced to take part in daily life, or were publicly humiliated. According to the contemporary chronograph of Theophanes, some of the dismissed monks and nuns were forced to walk in the hippodrome holding hands while being jeered and insulted by the public.
In fact, these harsh policies were aimed at redirecting the wealth that had been absorbed by the monasteries to the government. The churches and monasteries were exempt from any kind of taxation in the Roman and Byzantine world from the fourth century on; they had several ways to gain wealth, such as accepting wills, and by this accumulation of wealth they rapidly prospered. The monasteries were also the most important center for the making and distribution of icons. In this context, it is not surprising that the most precious icon collections could be found in the monasteries.
At a church council in Nicaea in 787, widely known as the Seventh Ecumenical Council, held on the initiative of Empress Irene, the iconoclast policy followed by Constantine V was reversed. The council begun its meeting in Hagia Sophia, however, the iconoclasts invaded the church and brought the meeting to an end. This event alone may demonstrate how Byzantine society participated in religious controversies. The Seventh Ecumenical Council rejected iconoclasm and honored the icons. The image of Christ was again hung upon the Chalke Gate.
However, relationships with the Western world developed very differently. The pope did not recognize the iconoclast policy of the emperors; however, the decisions of the iconodule Council of Nicaea were not accepted in the Frankish court of Charlemagne; the Frank innovation regarding the status of the Holy Spirit (filioque) was disliked in Constantinople.
The victory of the iconodules did not last long. In 813, an iconoclast Armenian, Leo V, ascended the throne. Two years earlier the Byzantine army had suffered a disastrous defeat against the Bulgarians; the iconoclast society of the capital attributed this scourge to icon worshipping. The new emperor removed the image of Christ from the gate once again and holding a council in 815 denounced the decisions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. By doing so Leo V returned to the iconoclast policy that had been framed at the council in 754. This change of policy is seen as the “period of the second iconoclasm” in modern historiography. However, this second period did not last long and in 843, after a church council another empress, Theodora, officially declared the end of the second iconoclast period. This last council ratified the decisions of the 787 Council in Nicaea once again. The council also deposed the iconoclast patriarch, John Grammaticus V, and appointed Methodius in his place; the image of Christ was once again hung on the Chalke Gate of the Palace. The final decision of the council was to publish an edict ordering that proper reverence be shown to the images. After the final change in policy in 843, icons were not disturbed again in the Byzantine world, and for centuries they have existed as objects of worship among Orthodox Christians.
The “Other Christians” in Constantinople: Montanists, Arians, Novatians, Paulicians and Bogomils
The Council of Trullo (known as Quinsext) was held in Constantinople in 691 and a canon was promulgated; this referred to those who had reconverted from the following leading Christian intellectuals living between the second and fourth centuries, like Montanus, Sabellius, Manes, Novatian, Paul, Arius, Macedonius, Eunomius and Apollinarius. The canon (can. 95) specified which reconverts were to be rebaptized or reconsecrated. The presence of these religious groups may be questioned, yet in the world of Constantinople, that is, the Byzantine world, these extraordinary “other Christians” existed in the capital, and they aimed to spread their doctrines there, to the patriarch, even to the emperor himself. At this point, Constantinople was not only a center that accommodated various cultures, a melting pot, but it also held different cultures alive in one area.
In the context of the Christian Orthodoxy, those who hold deviant beliefs (“other Christians”) are described as heretic, which is derived from the Greek word hairesis, that is, choice. This term first appears in the Christian literature in Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Origen and Epiphanius, and is used to describe Christian groups who were outside the mainstream. In later periods, the term was employed to describe groups that were beyond the integration that existed between the church and state. The heretics which preoccupied ancient and medieval Christianity are classified into three categories in modern ecclesiastical historiography. They are either described as class movements against the feudal type social organization; or they are considered to be related to regions of Africa, Phrygia, Bulgaria or Armenia, that is, they are perceived as nationalistic movements; or they are linked to Manichaeism or Gnostic schools of thought, and thus are rejected as dualist movements.
The most remarkable religious community in Constantinople was the Arian group, named for Arius (d. 336), a Libyan who preached in Alexandria. The Arians were theologically affiliated with the Jewish Christianity of the second century; however, they rejected the key word homoousios, which denoted equality to the Father and the Son in the divine Triad. Rather, they defended the view that there was a hierarchy between the Father and the Son, the latter being subordinate to the former. This view was condemned at the Council of Nicaea, however, between 337 and 380 a change in the imperial regime occurred, and this view gained almost an official status, particularly in the Eastern provinces of the empire. At the Second General Council this view was once again refuted, but it became the official theology of the Goths. Thus, the Arian interpretation of Christianity was followed by the Goths in Constantinople. I have already mentioned above that patriarchs like John Chrysostom and Nestorius attempted to take precautions against the Arian community. In the sixth century the Arian community was still significant in Constantinople; John of Ephesus, a sixth-century church historian, unsympathetically mentions an Arian church that belonged to the Gothic community (John of Ephesus, 3.13, 26; 5.16).
The followers of Novatian (d. 257/58) were another Christian group in Constantinople whose presence is recorded until the seventh century. This group first emerged in the reign of Emperor Decius, the first emperor to persecute the Christians throughout the empire. During this persecution some Christians refuted their religion; however, after the storm had passed they asked to return. One group stated that they should not be allowed to return without being re-baptised in the Roman church. This group was led by Novatian, and his followers called themselves katharoi, the “pure ones.” They found supporters in Asia Minor, particularly in the Phrygian region, and they took part in the Council of Nicaea, thus preserving their distinct character. The Novatian group had a bishop in fifth-century Constantinople. This meant that there must have been a significant number of Novatians in the capital, and although controversial, one of the most distinguished members was the church historian Socrates. The 95th Canon of the Council of Trullo is the last record of this group.
The Montanist group, originating in Phrygia, was also present in Constantinople. This group, named after Montanus, a charismatic second-century Phrygian religious leader, was also theologically part of the Jewish Christian environment. Having developed an eschatological teaching, they tried to strengthen the Christian faith in the pagan environment, opposing the pardoning of sins that existed in mainstream Orthodoxy, as this was considered to be a reflection of the secularization of the religion. The followers of Montanus organized an alternative church and maintained their distinct identity even after the official Christianization of the empire. Although Procopius, historian of the reign of Justinian, records that when Justinian persecuted the un-Orthodox Christians, the Montanist Christians locked themselves in a church and set it on fire; however, he must have been mistaken, because we know that the same fire rumor was also employed by the chronographer Theophanes, when he reports the edict of Emperor Leo III about the forced baptism of the Montanists. The Canon of the Trullo and the report of Theophanes both show that the Montanist group still existed in Constantinople in the eighth and the ninth centuries.
One of the most important Christian groups in Constantinople was the Paulicians, who appeared after the seventh century. This group was occasionally mistakenly affiliated with St. Paul of the apostolic age, because of the connotation of the name Paul. In fact, the Paulicians should be associated with Paul of Samosata, who lived in the middle of the third century and became bishop of Antioch in the 260s. The medieval sources and modern ecclesiastical historians tend to categorize this group as an example of the dualist schools of thought. However, having questioned the divine quality of Christ and seeing him as a “perfect human,” the theology of Paul of Samosata was not dualist, but rather can be linked to the Jewish Christian theology. The Paulician movement first emerged in Armenia, far removed from Constantinople. At some time in the ninth century they declared a state independent from the Byzantine centered in Tephrike (modern Divriği in Sivas province). After an expedition in 871 by Emperor Basil I, the Paulicians scattered throughout Eastern Anatolia and Syria. They were deported to the Balkan lands during the Iconoclast controversy by Emperor Constantine V; however, a similar relocation occurred in the second half of the tenth century during the reign of John I Tsimisches, and the Paulicians settled in Thrace. Since the time of Theophanes in medieval historiography their deportation to the Balkans has been seen as a link which carried the dualist heterodoxy from the East to the West. In order to support this claim the Paulicians are connected with the origins of the Bogomils in Bulgaria and the Katharoi of Western medieval Europe. However, it is not unfounded that the population transfer from Eastern Anatolia to Thrace aimed to create a buffer zone between the Byzantines and the Bulgarians.
During the process of their deportations to the region of Philippopolis, the Paulicians scattered around Western Asia Minor and Constantinople. As a matter of fact, the Paulicians were not a simple provincial movement; they had a potential to attract people even among the higher aristocracy. At this point the lamentation of Theophanes about the popularity of the Paulicians was unreasonable. Theophanes notes that when the Bulgarian king, Krum, routed the Byzantine emperor, Nicephorus I, and advanced towards Thrace, the people of the capital ran to the Church of the Apostles, led by their patriarch. However, he continues that the Paulicians ran to the grave of the iconoclast emperor, Constantine V, who had died many decades before. According to Theophanes, the authorities of Constantinople should judge them. Another example of the popularity of the Paulicians in the capital was that two leading courtiers (one was a protoasecretis) from the central bureaucracy were also members of this group. One of the earliest leaders of the Paulicians, Genesios, was invited to the capital by the emperor to discuss theology with the patriarch. This must have been very important in the popularity of this movement in Constantinople.
After the tenth century the Paulician movement gave way to Bogomilism. The Bogomils were the most active “other Christians” in 11th- and 12th-century Constantinople. The origins of the group go back to a certain Pop Bogomil (Bogomil means Theophilus, the beloved servant of God, in Slavic); Pop Bogomil was a church member who lived in Bulgaria in the middle of the 10th century. The transform of Bulgaria into a Byzantine province in the 11th century helped the Bogomils spread. Although it is also claimed that Byzantine imperialism led to social and economic decline in the Balkans and this led to the emergence of the Bogomil movement; this movement taught that poverty was a virtue. Nevertheless, it is difficult to prove this claim, as the Bogomils also had supporters among the upper class members of Constantinopolitan society. Anna Comnena, the historian and daughter of Emperor Alexius Comnenus, records in detail how the Bogomil leader Basil and his twelve apostles established an alternative church organization and how the emperor trapped them and had them burned in public in Constantinople. Nevertheless, Alexius’s attempt to destroy the Bogomils was not very successful, because the historians Niketas Choniates and John Cinnamus mention a certain Bogomil monk Niphon, who even influenced the patriarch in Constantinople. In the same period, the fact that the Orthodox intellectuals of the Church of Constantinople started to write anti-Bogomil works demonstrates that Bogomilism had become popular again in the capital. Despite this, the harsh measures that emperors like Alexius and Manuel took reduced the impact of the Bogomils in Constantinople; however, they continued to exist in the Balkans up until the 15th century.
Anna Comnena did not write about the theology of the Bogomils in order to keep her tongue and pen clean, but she referred to those who were curious about their theology to the work of the monk Zigabenos, who had been entrusted with the task of refuting the Bogomil beliefs by her father Alexius. Unfortunately nothing written by any Bogomil has remained extant today, and as a result Bogomil theology can only be studied from two medieval sources, the aforementioned Zigabenos, and the works of the Bulgarian anti-Bogomil monk Cosmas. However these two sources offer us different theologies; this is because Cosmas lived and wrote about the Bogomils of 10th-century Bulgaria, while Zigabenos wrote about the theology of the Bogomils in 11th-century Constantinople. According to Cosmas, the Bogomils were dualists and claimed that the world was created by Satan; while rejecting the Old Testament, they accepted the seven books (Psalms, Prophets, Four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles) as holy. The Bogomils also interpreted the miracle stories of Christ in the Gospel not as historical events, but as allegories. On the other hand, the Bogomils of Zigabenos were not completely dualists, because they defended the view that at the beginning there was only God, who was the only sovereign and that everything originated from Him. Likewise, the Devil, who had created the material world, was the son of God. The Bogomils that Zigabenos told us about did not respect the cross, because it was the object on which Christ had been crucified. However, in the end, Bogomil theology was perceived as a dualist Manichaean and was rejected.
The Parting of Ways Between the Churches of Constantinople and Rome
The papal representatives, under the presidency of Cardinal Umberto, went to the Church of Hagia Sophia in the early hours of July 16, 1054 and placed a document of anathematization on the altar of the church and left. Umberto did not even want to carry the dust of the church with him, and brushed off his boots. The document that Umberto left was an encomium to the emperor and the people of Constantinople; however, it declared that Patriarch Michael Cerularius and his supporters had been excommunicated. This event is known in history as the Great Schism, separating Catholic Rome and Orthodox Constantinople. It was in fact the final breaking point between Western and Eastern Christianity. Essentially there was no difference of faith between Byzantine Christianity, dominated by the Greek tradition, and Roman Christianity, which was colored by the Latin cultural tradition. In the Churches of the East and West the same gospel texts and creed were read. Moreover, Constantinople and Rome accepted the decisions of the seven ecumenical councils (with a few exceptions).
The two Churches were united on basic points, but from the end of the fourth century onwards, Constantinople and Rome gradually became alienated from one another. As a result, the crisis of 1054 was the breaking point in the tension that had taken shape over a few centuries between the two Churches. Until this date the Acacian Schism of the fifth century, the Icon Crisis of the eighth century and the Photios showdown of the ninth century, between the pope and the patriarch, had already taken place. Yet at the basis of the separation between Constantinople and Rome were cultural, political and religious differences; these are discussed in some details below.
The first significant point in the parting of the ways between the East and the West was that there was no shared language of communication. The Greek language in Rome and the Latin in Constantinople were not well understood. This sometimes led to misunderstandings between the two churches. When the theotokos controversy broke out between Alexandria and Constantinople in the fifth century, Patriarch Nestorius wrote a letter in Greek to the pope; however, this letter was not even read by the pope. This was not surprising, because neither a talented intellectual like St. Augustine (d. 430) or Pope Gregory (d. 604), who had spent ten years in Constantinople in his youth, had been able to learn sufficient Greek. Latin was the official language of the state in the East, but Greek disappeared earlier in the West. Therefore, the language barrier was an important factor in creating different worlds in the East and in the West.
When the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to organize Byzantion in 324, he laid the foundation of a new ecclesiastical center. Fifty years after the emergence of Constantinople, the Second General Council reorganized the religious hierarchy, and with the support of the state a previously unknown city now climbed to the top of the hierarchy and took second place in “primacy of honor” after the Roman Church. As the Second General Council did not specify any jurisdictional area for Constantinople, the “primacy of honor” was an empty title. However, the Roman Church did not accept even this empty title. Damasus, the bishop of Rome, linked his own Church with Apostle Peter, claiming to be the “successor to Peter.” Thus, he attributed his power to a religious tradition, not to the secular support of the state. Up until this time, the apostolic connection has never been questioned. The affiliation with Peter was a deliberate choice; Christ said: And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church (Matt. 16.18). Petros derives from petra which means rock in ancient Greek.
Constantinople could only respond to Roman claims of an apostolic connection in the ninth century, replying that it was connected with Apostle Andrew. No patriarch had searched for an apostolic founder before; rather, the patriarchate was busy defending the argument that Constantinople was the capital of the empire. According to the view of the patriarchate, the greatness of the bishopric in Rome was not dependent on its connection with Peter, but on its status within the administrative hierarchy of the empire. The choice of Apostle Andrew as the founding father of the Constantinople Church was nothing more than a diplomatic move; according to the Gospel of John (1.40-44), it was Andrew who became the disciple of Christ and introduced him to Peter. Thus Andrew was the first apostle and therefore the church he founded must have been the first in the hierarchy. In the Christian tradition the apostolic connection was also important in the continuity of the conveyor of the true teaching. Therefore, Constantinople needed an apostolic tradition not only in the competition with Rome but also in the missionary activities in the Balkans and in the south Russia.
The main factor that deepened the fracture between Rome and Constantinople was the 28th Canon of the Council of Chalcedon. In this canon the two sees were declared equal; the secular status of Constantinople, at the base of this equality, was emphasized. The canon also specified a certain jurisdictional area for the patriarchate of Constantinople. As might be expected, the Roman Church recognized neither the Third Canon of Constantinople, which gave the new capital secondary status, nor the 28th Canon of Chalcedon. Moreover, the Roman Church always snubbed “New Rome,” putting stress on its own primary status. The title of “ecumenical patriarch,” used by the bishops of Constantinople after the sixth century, also increased tension; Rome never recognized this title either.
The political factors also contributed a great deal to the parting of ways between Constantinople and Rome. Theodosius, the last emperor of the unified Roman Empire, shared the responsibility of the Roman world between his two sons. This led to the emergence of two bureaucracies in the empire, competing over the division of the Balkan lands. The Visigothic sack of the Balkans, under their leader Alaric, brought Rome and Constantinople face to face; the province of Illyricum (Albania), formerly a Western territory, became the political responsibility of the Eastern government. Yet, the province was under papal jurisdiction, and the bishop of Thessaloniki was the representative of the pope in the region. Nonetheless, the missionary activities of the patriarchate of Constantinople (in particular during the tenure of John Chrysostom) continued. The council of Chalcedon handed the region, including Thrace, to the ecclesiastical control of Constantinople. When the Avar and Slavic tribes flowed into the Balkans, the region became intertwined again, and the Roman church took initiative to convert the newcomers. At the same time, Emperor Heraclius forced the Croats and Serbs to settle in the region in order to balance the Avar tribes. Thus, after the Christianization of the Slavic people, the Balkan lands, already under the influence of Latin and Greek cultures, were divided into Orthodox and Catholic. On the one hand the Croats, close to Italy and to the Catholic environment, converted to Roman Catholicism, while the Serbians to their east adopted the Orthodox form of Christianity. In the ninth century, the Bulgarians entered the scene and were included in the Balkan problem. The Bulgarian king employed a multi-dimensional religious policy. He adopted the name of the Byzantine emperor as his Christian name, Michael, while promoting Byzantine Orthodoxy in Bulgaria; however, the Church here was independent. The Bulgarian king also followed a close relationship with the Pope and with the Frankish court, thus ensuring political support, if needed, against the Byzantine emperor. The intervention of the pope into the Bulgarian issue only helped to deepen the gap between Rome and Constantinople. In fact, the pope perceived the missionary activities of Methodius and Cyrillus, sent from Constantinople, as illegal and an intrusion on papal jurisdiction.
The first showdown between Rome and Constantinople, as stated earlier, was the Acacian Schism at the end of the fifth century. A similar situation re-emerged in the ninth century. When Patriarch Ignatius was forced to resign from his post in 858 under imperial pressure, he was replaced with the distinguished scholar, Photios. The fact that the Pope refused to recognize this appointment was at first considered to be not important by the emperor or Photios. However, when after a coup the regime changed in Constantinople, the new emperor, Basil I, wanted to restore the relations with the Pope; he removed Photios and reappointed Ignatius as patriarchate. The emperor also sent a letter to the pope, asking for delegates to be sent to a council in Constantinople. The Council of 869 deposed Photios, yet ten years later another council in the capital reinstated him to the patriarchate. In this way the tension between Rome and Constantinople disappeared for a while. However, the first of the three canons adopted at the Council of 879 concerned mutual respect between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople. Accordingly, the two Churches mutually recognized the punishment of its own clergy and punitive decisions of the other Church. According to the ecclesiastical policy developed in Constantinople, there was a reciprocal pentarchy throughout the entire Church, with each Church being equal to the other. The pentarchy was as follows: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
The factors which separated the papacy from the patriarchate were not limited to those mentioned above. There was also a difference of approach in some religious and disciplinary matters. The most important question was the double origin of the Holy Spirit, that is, from both the Father and the Son. This controversy revolved around the Latin term filioque (“and from the Son”); while the Western Church recognized the Frank innovation of the filioque, the Eastern Church categorically refused this innovation. This was in fact first introduced to the baptismal creed and became official in the Council of Toledo of 589. It slowly spread through the West and in the 11th century this innovation was included in the baptismal creed. However, the Church of Constantinople severely opposed the term filioque, as it did not appear in the traditional declaration of faith. The term filioque was first put into circulation by Patriarch Photius, as a reference of separation.
Another religious problem that helped to increase the alienation between Rome and Constantinople was the use of leavened or unleavened bread in the Eucharist ritual; the Catholics used unleavened bread (azymes), whereas the Orthodox Church preferred leavened bread. This was not only a problem between Rome and Constantinople; it was also an important question in Syrian and Armenian traditions. The latter insisted on using unleavened bread, while the former tolerated both types, preferring the unleavened. At the base of the issue were also the foreigners who came to Constantinople who wanted to maintain their own traditions. In addition, the leavened bread was used in churches in south Italy, and when the Normans arrived and settled in the region, they forced the churches that were under the religious patronage of Constantinople to use unleavened bread. The papacy backed up the Norman pressure and as it may be expected, Constantinople protested the Norman religious oppression and papal political opportunism.
Even today, the bearded Orthodox clergy is visibly different from the beardless Catholic priests. The Orthodox tradition maintained some Greek cultural values, one of which was the importance of beards as a reflection of the philosophical outlook; however, the Catholic tradition was inspired from the Latin senatorial convention and imitated the clean-shaven Roman senators. This detail alone shows that the division of the Roman Empire into the West and the East was not only a matter of politics; indeed, this division had some deeply rooted cultural foundations as well.
The Byzantine emperors tried to follow a policy of balance; they sometimes were able to control the patriarch and ignore papal claims for primacy. Thus, the emperors managed to prevent an ecclesiastical division for many years. The emperors were not happy with the growing power of the patriarchate; on the other hand, they were not ready to lose the pope, who helped to maintain the Byzantine claims of authority in the south of Italy. The attitudes of the emperors towards the papacy began to take a different character after the ninth century; the pope was no longer under the protection of the Byzantine emperor, but he was a key player in European politics. If necessary, the pope could find military support outside the Eastern Empire. Such political changes allow us to perceive other factors.
Apart from the cultural differences between the Latin world and Constantinople, the “Germanization of Medieval Europe” was an important political driving force in the parting of ways between the East and the West. As a collective form, this “Germanization” differed from the classical Greek-Roman background. On the other hand, after the second half of the eighth century, the papacy established cooperation with the Frankish kingdom, and later, in the tenth century with the Ottonian dynasty, also known as the Holy Romano-German Empire; as a result, this cooperation helped the churchmen of German origin to take their place on the holy throne of St. Peter. The coronation of Charlemagne in 800 AD in Rome by Pope Leo III (d. 816), and the visits of the German emperor to be consecrated by the pope in later periods or to have their candidates elected as pope were not simple symbolic events, but profound indicators of the “Germanization of the West.”
When the uncompromising behavior of the popes and patriarchs are incorporated into the diverse religious attitudes, cultural values and the changing imperial policies, the Great Schism of 1054, between Constantinople and Rome, can be seen to have been unavoidable. The irritable character of the patriarch, Michael Cerularius, and the arrogant behavior of the papal representative, Cardinal Humbert, certainly played a role in the schism; however, the way for separation had already been paved by the factors mentioned above. The mutual excommunications, the cultural, political and religious differences between the two Churches had gradually prepared for a parting of ways. The painful memoirs of the Latin administration of Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade, lasting from 1204 to 1261, increased the already existing Latinophobia among the Orthodox population of Constantinople.
Return to Constantinople: The Arsenius Schism and the Re-union Disputes
Throughout the two centuries between the return to Constantinople in 1261 and the conquest of the city by the Ottomans the major important problem was the Arsenius Schism in the Constantinople Church. The controversy began when, as soon as Constantinople was liberated from the Latin occupation, Michael VIII blinded his protégée John IV Lascaris, the legal emperor. When Michael VIII usurped the throne, the church, under the leadership of Patriarch Arsenius, who had assumed patriarchal power in Nicaea in 1254, reacted very harshly. According to George Akropolites, Arsenius completed the church hierarchy in a few days. The patriarch did not hesitate to excommunicate the usurper Michael, whom he had consecrated just a few months before. Arsenius forbade the emperor from visiting Hagia Sophia. The tension between the emperor and the patriarch was so great that the supporters of Arsenius formed a very serious political threat. They attempted to organize a riot against the emperor, even making an assassination attempt in 1265. It was only three years later that Emperor Michael VIII could take control of events. Pachymeres reports that although Arsenius was sent into exile to Proconessus (Marmara Island), the post of the patriarch remained vacant for a year; it was not easy to find a replacement. The successor to Arsenius was Germanus III, who was only able to be elected in May 1265. However, the new patriarch could not revert the excommunication of the emperor, and he was also deposed. The name of the emperor was only exonerated by the new patriarch, Joseph, who was appointed to the office towards the end of 1266. The emperor was readmitted to the church and visited the church in his fifth year in office.
Arsenius died in exile in 1273, yet his followers in the churches and monasteries attempted to establish a new ecclesiastical organization. In order not to deepen the crisis, immediately after the death of Michael VIII, under the reign of Andronicus II, the son of and successor to Michael, the church of Constantinople proclaimed Arsenius a saint. Pachymeres reports that when the relics of Arsenius were brought to Constantinople in 1284 in a ceremony held in Hagia Sophia, the courtiers (including the emperor, the senate, the patriarch and clergy) were all present. Although this gesture did not reconcile the followers of Arsenius to the mainstream Church, the fire of separation had been extinguished to a large extent, and the schism ended a few decades later, in 1310. The contemporary historian and statesman George Akropolites painted Arsenius as a conservative and old-fashioned patriarch; however, in the accounts of travelers to Constantinople, Arsenius was respected even in the following century and this shows us his influence had penetrated into the depths of Constantinople society.
The Byzantine emperors’ policy of maintaining a delicate balance in their relationship with the pope and the patriarch collapsed in 1054. Henceforth the new policy was to reunite the Roman and Constantinopolitan Churches. This policy did not aim to recreate a single church; rather it was a policy of compulsion parallel to the political interests of the emperors. First, in 1089, Emperor Alexius I Comnenus wrote a letter to Pope Urban II asking for support against the assaults of the Pechenegs and Seljuk Turks which threatened Constantinople. Alexius’s letter brought unexpected consequences; the Crusade of 1096 went to Antioch via Constantinople and in 1098, when they had captured Antioch, a Latin Church was established there, forcing the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch to seek refuge in Constantinople. This was not something that Alexius had considered. The second attempt at reunion came during the reign of John II Comnenus in 1141; however, this was simply ignored in Rome.
The sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade was the lowest point in the separation of the Orthodox mind from the Latin world. When the Crusaders invaded Constantinople in 1204, the city was sacked; indeed, such a vicious pillage has rarely been seen in history. All the churches, monasteries, palaces, libraries and private houses were ransacked. Holy relics, valuable works of art, icons and statues were either looted or destroyed. The Latin coalition entered and ravaged Hagia Sophia on horseback, and then it was converted into a Latin temple. The 57-year Latin occupation was engraved in the memory of the Orthodox society in Constantinople as an act of oppression inflicted by the Latin Catholics. This hostility was well described by the historian Niketas Choniates:
Exhibiting from the very outset, as they say, their innate love of gold, the plunderers of the Queen of Cities conceived a novel way to enrich themselves without attracting any attention. They broke open the sepulchers of the emperors, which were located within the Heroon, erected next to the great temple of the Disciples of Christ and plundered it throughout the night, taking, with the utter lawlessness, whatever gold ornament or round pearls or radiant, precious and incorruptible gems that were still preserved within. Finding that the corpse of Emperor Justinian had not decomposed, despite the long centuries, they looked upon the spectacle as a miracle; but this in no way prevented them from taking the valuables of the tomb. In other words, the Western nations spared neither the living nor the dead; they displayed complete indifference and irreverence to all, primarily to God and his servants. (Niketas, 648).
The Crusaders domination of Constantinople ended in 1261, yet the Latin interest in the city continued. While Charles of Anjou, brother to the French king, Louis IX, intervened in Sicily, Naples and even Greece, he had also set his eye on Constantinople. In order to avoid this danger, Emperor Michael VIII persisted in reviving the policy of reuniting the Churches under papal authority. There can be no doubt that the real aim of the emperor was to avoid the threat of Charles at any cost. Michael not only accepted the papal primacy, he also agreed with the Western Church on the matter of filioque. In this framework, Pope Gregory X convened a council in 1272 to assemble in Lyon. The Lyon Council was held between May 7 and July 17, 1274; the Byzantine delegation was only able to arrive on June 24. This was a small delegation, led by the historian and statesman George Akropolites, who was representing the emperor. The patriarch of Constantinople had been locked up in a monastery, and as a result, the clerical class was represented in Lyon by the former patriarch Germanos and the metropolitan bishop of Nicaea, Theophanes.
By the end of the council, the Byzantine delegation accepted the papal primacy and the Western views of filioque. However, Patriarch Joseph in Constantinople did not agree; consequently, he was immediately removed from his post. The new patriarch was John Bekkos, who could only hold a council in Constantinople in 1276, two years after Lyon. This council confirmed the decisions of the Council of Lyon and excommunicated those who opposed these decisions. In fact, the excommunication was quite comprehensive. According to Pachymeres, the foremost opponents of the decisions reached at Lyon consisted of a wide sector of society in the capital, including monastic followers of Arsenius, supporters of the deposed patriarch, Joseph, as well as intellectual and clerical circles. However, the emperor was resolutely in favor of reunion, and as a result, his uncompromising attitude led to divisions, even within the imperial family. His sister Irene made Bulgaria the center of opposition against Michael. As early as in 1278, the prince of Thessaly, John, organized a local church council, which denounced Emperor Michael as a heretic.
The harsh opposition to the Lyon Council in Constantinople and in the other parts of the Orthodox world proved that the reunion was only on paper. The basic problem that stood in the way of the reunion policy was not the Latin hostility in the society of Constantinople. Rather, society was not sympathetic to Emperor Michael VIII, who had blinded his protégée, the young legal heir to the throne John; he did this because the followers of Arsenius in the monasteries had eliminated the legality of Michael. The acceptance of the Western view of filioque was seen in Constantinople as selling out the religion for political objectives. The ideal of reunion had been devastated, not only in the East, but also in the West. The Western champion of reunion, Pope Gregory, had died in 1276 and four years later an anti-union pope was sitting on the throne of St. Peter. Pope Martin IV supported Charles of Anjou and excommunicated the Byzantine emperor.
When Michael died in the following year, the unionist patriarch John Bekkos was deposed and the change of regime was joyfully celebrated in Constantinople. The Council of Lyon accepted an ecumenical meeting in Rome; this was rejected in a church council in Constantinople in 1285. Thus, the reunion formula of Lyon had run its course. In later years, the idea of reunion was discussed a few times in Constantinople; however, until the Council of Florence, on the eve of the fall of Constantinople, no serious attempt for reunion emerged. The reunion fiasco at the Council of Lyon is not surprising, as the patriarch of Constantinople was not there and the imperial representative, Akropolites, himself was not even a churchman.
The Mysticism Controversy: Barlaam of Calabria and Gregory Palamas
After the Latin disaster, the Arsenius Schism and the reunion disputes of the 13th century, the most important religious controversy that occupied the agenda of Orthodox society in Constantinople during the following century was the hesychasm, also known as the mysticism controversy. The name hesychasmos is related to a simple short prayer that dates to the fifth century in the Byzantine monastic tradition. The term hesychia (ἡσυχία) was derived from the ancient Greek, meaning “quietness” or “serenity.” Monks used to repeat a short prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” constantly while mediating deeply; by so doing, they could experience a spiritual state. A monk would repeat this prayer while holding his breath between the two prayers in order to contact the divine light. In order to reach the divine light, monks used to live a strict ascetic life and would refuse profane things and even family ties. In this way, they devoted themselves to God with full simplicity. Apparently, this form of life was expected from monastic people, in keeping with a Justinian law (Nov. 5.3), which described the hesychia as the aim of an ascetic.
The hesychast tradition was introduced into the Byzantine monastic culture by Symeon the Younger (also known as the New Theologian). He was born into an aristocratic family and had a place on the Senate in his youth; however he later refused this worldly career and joined the Stoudios Monastery. He wandered to various monasteries and developed the concept of the “individual path to salvation.” The slogan of his doctrine of salvation was “while helping your neighbor to construct his house, do not destroy your own house.” According to Symeon the insurance for salvation was not philanthropy or participation in religious rituals, but rather deliverance to the guidance of a spiritual father, awareness of one’s own humble position, and directly experiencing the grace of God as a divine light; this is also recognized as contemplation or theoria. Consequently, the individualistic approach of Symeon led to the refutation of ties of family and friendship, and in this way, ascetic behavior emphasized the loneliness of the human being in the world. Such thoughts found protagonists in the monasteries of Constantinople and Athos, and spread quickly.
The hesychast tradition was not a significant controversial matter until the second quarter of the 14th century. However, between the 1330s and the 1350s, it became the most important matter on the agenda for monks and the people of Constantinople and surrounding regions. The controversy flared up after the arrival of Barlaam of Calabria to Constantinople in 1330. The story of Barlaam is quite interesting. He was born in the city of Calabria in southern Italy, where a Greek and Latin population lived together. When he arrived at Constantinople his remarkable knowledge of mathematics, astronomy and logic was appreciated and he was given a position at the university. He was a very distinguished, but arrogant scholar. At the beginning he was an active member of the Orthodox Church, even during the attempts to reunite Constantinople and Rome. Barlaam was chosen as the representative of the Church by Emperor Andronicus II to confront and debate with the papal envoys, two Dominican monks. In 1339 the emperor sent Barlaam to Avignon, where the pope resided, as a special envoy; his task was to explain why the Byzantines were not keen on the reunion attempts.
Barlaam quickly became very famous, particularly after a series of lectures on theology when he was the hegoumenos of Akataleptos Monastery in Constantinople. However, his theology, which drew a sharp line between eternal and ephemeral ideas, after some time began to be seen as too pro-Latin by the Orthodox circles and a strong reaction emerged. Barlaam did not stop and began to criticize the monks of the Athos Mountain, who believed that they were able to perceive the essence of the divine light in the transfiguration of Jesus, which appeared to the Disciples of Christ on Mount Tabor. Barlaam accused the monks of being Messalian and denounced them as heretics. The Messalian thought had originated in fourth-century Mesopotamia and was able to find supporters even in 13th century-Constantinople; we know this is the case, as the exiled Patriarch Germanos II (1223-1240) warned Constantinople Orthodox society in his letters from Nicaea about the danger of Messalianism. According to the Messalian thought, everybody carried a demon in his spirit as the result of Adam’s original sin and this demon could only be repelled by intensive and constant prayer; baptism could not expel it. Barlaam derided the monks as omphalopsychoi (men with their souls in their navels), because they used to look at their navels when they held their breaths between two invocations, especially in the Jesus prayer.
The first reaction against the criticisms of Barlaam came from the monk Gregory Palamas, who was a hesychast. Palamas was born into a noble Byzantine family in Constantinople in 1296. However, during his education he abandoned a secular career; he selected a monastic life and joined the monastery of Vatopedi in Athos Mountain in 1316. Palamas saw his mission as responding to Barlaam’s criticisms and alleged that Barlaam maintained a Latin-style theological reasoning. Palamas was not content with intellectual activity alone, but he carried on his struggle in a political sphere as well. When he composed a comprehensive work entitled In Defense of the Holy Hesychasts (known commonly as the Triads), Palamas also produced a short summary of the same, and having received approval from monastic leaders, he sent the work to influential circles in Constantinople, thus establishing a counter-argument against Barlaam’s accusations. This step was aimed at mobilizing the political milieu of the capital to hold a church council; the patriarch, John Kalekas, was not very willing to openly support Palamas. However, when a group of monks that had been accused of heresy came to Constantinople in the autumn of 1340 under the leadership of Palamas, the discussion of these matters at a council was inevitable. The great support that Palamas received from the monasteries demonstrated itself in the capital not only religiously, but also politically.
John Meyendorff, an Orthodox theologian and scholar, describes the theological views of Palamas in the following words: the knowledge of God is an experience that all Christians can receive through constant prayer and baptism; in this world and in the other God is completely transcendental as an essence, yet through intensive prayer and through the grace and might of God the deification of the human being can become possible. In the Orthodox tradition, the idea that the essence of God is transcendental dates back to the theological disputes between Basil of Caesarea (d. 379) and Eunomius of Cyzicus in the fourth century. Palamas makes a distinction between “essence” and “might” in God and he defends both the transcendental essence and he argues for the possibility of participation in divine life. The views of Palamas resemble the theology of the Council of 681, which defined “two essences” and “two wills” in Christ.
In order to resolve the hesychasm dispute, a one-day church council was held in Constantinople under the auspices of Emperor Andronicus III; the Patriarch John Kalekas and John Kantakouzenos participated in this council, which was held on June 10, 1341. This council rejected the theological ideas of Barlaam and ratified Palamas as orthodox. Seeing the atmosphere turning against him, Barlaam returned to Calabria and later adopted the Latin theology, becoming a Catholic. Barlaam was consecrated as the bishop of Gerace in southern Italy by the pope. When he came to Constantinople in 1346, he now represented the pope. The last piece of evidence about Barlaam is that towards the end of his life he taught Greek to Petrarch, a famous Renaissance intellectual.
The hesychasm controversy was not only a philosophical problem; at the same time, it had social and political dimensions. The social dimension was the relation to the monasteries; the political dimension was that state support was necessary for this thought to become official church doctrine. Emperor Andronicus III died a few days after the council which cleared the name of Palamas and accepted the hesychasm as official theology. His nine-year-old son John V and his mother Anna of Savoy inherited the empire, but civil war followed, lasting until 1347, when John Kantakouzenos came to power. John Kantakouzenos had been declared rebellious in Constantinople, because he had supported Palamas at another council in 1342. The Patriarch John Kalekas, in alliance with the group that controlled the empire, repealed the decisions of the pro-Palamas council on the recommendation of the Bulgarian monk, Akyndinos. Palamas himself was arrested. Thus, Palamas became a spiritual leader of the rebellious group. The civil war was only ended in 1347, when John Kantakouzenos entered Constantinople in triumph and Patriarch Kalekas was deposed. A series of church councils adopted the decisions that had been taken at the Council of 1341 under the new regime, and thus the theological doctrine of Palamas was accepted. Palamas was made bishop of Thessalonica. A large church council was held in Constantinople in 1357 with the participation of all Orthodox representatives; this council declared the theology of Palamas to be the official dogma of the Orthodox Church. Palamas himself remained the bishop of Thessalonica until his death in 1359; after a few years he was included among the saints of Orthodox Christianity.
The mysticism controversy, as can be seen in the accusations of Palamas against Barlaam, was nourished by the anti-Latin feelings that existed in Orthodox society; this was also the case in the Arsenius Schism as well. However, another important aspect of the mysticism controversy was the re-emergence of individual asceticism, an old tradition in the monastic culture, first originating in the fourth century. This situation can be interpreted as the effort of Constantinopolitan society to protect the inner kernel of their Orthodox identity, shaped by the monasteries, against the political and cultural crises of the 14th century. The concern to protect this inner kernel ensured that the doctrine of Palamas became the official view of the Orthodox Church.
The End of the Road: The Council of Florence and Reactions in Constantinople
The efforts to establish a union between Constantinople and Rome came onto the agenda once again during the difficult reign of John VIII (1425-1448). Behind this new initiative was the intensification of Ottoman conquests in the Balkans. The Ottomans had recovered after the Ankara disaster and conquered Thessalonica in 1430; this had repercussions in the West. During the talks between Emperor John VIII and Pope Eugene, a new ecumenical council was convened. The pope himself was in a difficult position as well, as another church council was already in session in Basel; Catholic representatives were participating in this council and here the papal primacy was under discussion, as well as the reduction of the pope’s power. Therefore, a counter council was organized by the pope; there was a large representation from the Orthodox Church, this would provide a balance with the West and save papal prestige. As for the council location, Emperor John requested a place close to the coast, and the pope transferred the Basel council to Ferrara, a city not far from the Adriatic. The Byzantine delegation, under the leadership of the emperor, consisted of 700 people from the churches, including the patriarch of Constantinople, Joseph II, the archbishop of Nicaea, Bessarion, representatives from churches in Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, the archbishop of Kiev, Isidore, and Mark Eugenikos, bishop of Ephesus. The presence of the patriarchal representatives was important because, according to the political ideology of the Church of Constantinople, the highest religious authority was not the pope, but the ecumenical councils in which all the patriarchs were represented.
The Eastern delegation left Constantinople towards the end of 1437 and after a long sea voyage reached Ferrara in the spring of the following year. The first crisis emerged in the greeting ceremony; in the Western style of greeting everybody was required to kneel and kiss the feet of the pope. The Constantinople patriarch refused to do this and insisted that he could only embrace the pope. This was not surprising, because in the pentarchy (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) there was no supremacy, but only an “honor of primacy.” On the council’s agenda were the matters of the filioque, of leavened / unleavened bread for the Eucharist, the beards of clergy, the matter of purgatory (whether those who die in sin will go to the hell or not), the mystical prayer and the primacy of Rome. The final proclamation of the council was declared by the pope and the emperor in Latin and Greek on July 6, 1439. The Constantinople patriarch, Joseph, had died a few days before the end of the council; however, he had signed the final document in advance. The proclamation also declared a new dogma. According to this, all Christians would accept the filioque (the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son), and recognize the papal primacy, as he was the successor to Peter and the representative of Christ. The final document also declared that those who died in sin would first go to Hell and be punished. On the Orthodox side two people did not sign the dogma; one of them was the bishop of Ephesus, Mark of Ephesus ( born Manuel Eugenikos), who later became the center of opposition against the union agreement.
A contemporary of the Council of Florence and unionist historian, Doukas (1400-1462), observed how reluctant the Byzantine delegation was; he recorded that the first words of those who disembarked from the ship were “We have betrayed our religion.” It is impossible to say whether this was historically accurate, however, this expression accurately reflects the feelings of the ordinary Orthodox populace of the capital. When the emperor returned, he learned about the death of his wife, and subsequently lost the energy to carry out a strict unionist policy. Moreover, the anti-unionists began to boycott the pro-unionists. Mark of Ephesus, one of the two who refused to sign the final document at the council of Florence, began to carry out written and oral propaganda against the union. The presence of the Latin clergy in the consecration ceremony of the new patriarch led him to fall into disfavor with people who perceived the monks as their spiritual leaders.
In the final proclamation of the Council of Florence, the papal primacy was set out in ambiguous words, and the maintenance of the Byzantine ecclesiastical traditions was allowed. However, the rest of the disputed matters had been formulated from the Roman point of view. The Orthodox society of Constantinople reacted sharply; the bitter memories of the fifty-seven years of Latin occupation were still fresh in their minds. The Council of Florence could not substantiate the political promises; although the pope had promised to protect the Balkans, a crusading army had lost the Battle of Varna to the Ottomans in 1444.
When Constantine XI, successor to John VIII Palaiologos, became emperor in 1448, he made a final attempt to carry out the decisions of the Council of Florence in order to get Western support against Mehmed II. However, not only did he not receive military support from the West to the extent that he expected, he also carried out a zealous unionist policy. When Isidore of Kiev, a participant of the Florence Council and a unionist, visited Constantinople as a papal envoy, he conducted a religious ceremony in Hagia Sophia in the Latin style; this led to virulent protests among the people. The famous phrase attributed by the historian Doukas to the Grand Duke Notaras, “I would rather see a Turkish turban in the midst of the city (i.e. Constantinople) than the Latin mitre,” was uttered during these protests. When the end of the road for Constantinople as a Christian capital appeared, in other words on the day before the conquest (28 May), the people and the emperor assembled in Hagia Sophia, the prayer was conducted according to Orthodox traditions, not Latin, thus proving that union attempts had been futile. In fact, Doukas noted that the public opinion in Constantinople perceived the conquest as a divine punishment to those who had accepted the decisions of the Council of Florence.
In conclusion, what have we learned about the religious history of Constantinople from what has been discussed above? The church councils held in Constantinople were not only platforms where Orthodoxy had been defined; they were also platforms that shaped the church organization and society. The Byzantine state employed this platform through the patriarch, whose status had been promoted with initiatives carried out by high profile bureaucrats in the Councils of 381 and 451. The councils of Constantinople also became the stage on which Constantinople was reconstructed as a religious reference center. The monasteries, protected by the upper class of the capital (including the patriarch), played an infusive role in social life, and acted as institutions to spread Christianity and to control social sensitivity. The rich religious topography of Constantinople demonstrates that apart from the mainstream Christians, various non-mainstream groups found supporters among the different social strata of the capital; the different groups, as in any modern city, existed side by side. The sources record the active public participation in the Nestorius, Iconoclasm, Arsenius and Reunion controversies; this indicates the role of the crowds in the formation of Orthodoxy. As a final word, the patriarchs and the church were instruments for the emperors in carrying out their political initiatives, if necessary; otherwise, the emperors never hesitated to depose of any patriarch.
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