17 April 2015

Church History (2014-2015, part-time) 5.2:
Mediaeval Church readings: Gregory the
Great, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi

Seven Fathers of the Church carved above the door of the south transept of Lichfield Cathedral (from left): Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory the Great, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Athanasius and Saint Basil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 17 April 2015,

The Brown Room, 7 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.:

‘A House divided’: Rome and Byzantium

5.2: Seminar: readings in key thinkers in the Mediaeval Church: Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi.

5.2: Seminar: readings in key thinkers in the Mediaeval Church: Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi.


It is a good principle in historical research to look for primary sources, and to read what people have to say about themselves in their own time, rather than reading how others have interpreted their thoughts.

The three key figures we are looking at this evening – Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Francis of Assisi – bridge many of the gaps between the periods we have been talking about earlier this evening:

● Saint Gregory the Great bridges the gap between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the end of the dark ages, between the Patristic period and the mediaeval church. He is concerned with reform and innovation in monasticism, pastoral care, ecclesial structures, liturgy and church music.

● Saint Thomas Aquinas bridges the gaps between the monastery and the university, between philosophy and theology, and in many ways he bridges the gap between East and West, which we encounter in our next lecture.

● Saint Francis of Assisi is perhaps the most popular mediaeval saint in Europe today. He bridges the gap between the monastery and the world, between teaching and living, and he is a Church reformer who also appears on the stage at the same time as the Crusades.

This evening, we shall briefly look at their lives, their writings and their thinking, even if we do not get too deeply into reading their writings.

Part 1: Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care

Saint Gregory the Great ... his papacy marks the recovery of the Latin Church


Pope Gregory I (ca 540-604), better known as Gregory the Great, was Pope from 3 September 590 until he died in 604.

Gregory the Great was Prefect of Rome in 573 before entering a monastery, and was the first of the popes to come from a monastic background. Gregory is a Doctor of the Church and one of the Latin Fathers. He is revered as a saint in many parts of the Church, including among the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches.

Following the fall of Rome and the Barbarian invasions of the Italian peninsula, the recovery of the Latin Church only truly begins with the Papacy of Gregory I. He is respected for his prolific writings, and for his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman liturgy of his day.

Gregory the Great is credited with re-energising the Church’s missionary work in northern Europe. In 596, he sent Augustine on a mission to England as is counted as the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

He promoted monasticism, made important changes in the liturgy and fostered the development of liturgical music. He gave the Roman Schola Cantorum its definite form, so that plainsong is often known as Gregorian Chant.

Immediately after his death on 12 March 604, Gregory the Great was canonised by popular acclaim.

Gregory is well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition he is known as Saint Gregory the Dialogist because of his Dialogues. For this reason, English translations of Orthodox texts sometimes name him as Gregory Dialogus.

Throughout the Middle Ages, he was known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day.

The Reformer John Calvin admired Gregory the Great and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good Pope.

Gregory’s Dialogues was written by Gregory the Great around the year 590, shortly after he became Pope. In this work, he relates the lives and miracles of Italian saints, including Saint Benedict. His Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis (The Book of the Pastoral Rule, commonly known in English as Pastoral Care from the alternative Latin title, Cura Pastoralis) is a treatise on the pastoral responsibilities of the bishop.

This became one of the most influential works on the topic. The text was addressed to John, the Bishop of Ravenna, as a response to a query from him. Pope Gregory later revised the text somewhat, and the popular title is taken from the copy sent by Pope Gregory to his friend, Leander of Seville.

The personal, intellectual and moral standards Pope Gregory enjoins do not at all points closely reflect sixth century realities: for example, one letter from the Bishop of Cartagena (Book II, letter 54 in Pope Gregory’s collected correspondence) praises the book, but expresses a reserve that it might prove beyond ordinary capacities.

However, the book was vastly influential. After reading the Regulae, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice directed that it be translated and distributed to every bishop within the Empire.

Among the works of the Latin Patristic writers, Pope Gregory’s alone were translated into Greek during his own lifetime.

In the West, the book was distributed widely and has retained much of its significance and broad dissemination. It was brought to England by Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent there by Pope Gregory in 597. In the late ninth century, it was translated into Old English by Alfred the Great, as part of a project to improve education in Anglo-Saxon Kingdom.

So, hundreds of years after it was written, this work continued to be seen as the most essential guide for pastoral theology. Alfred wished every bishop in his kingdom to have a copy for the benefit of the less-educated clergy.

Beyond England, Pope Gregory’s Regulae was recommended to Charlemagne’s bishops at a series of councils in 813. Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims (845-882) notes that a copy of it, together with the Book of Canons, was given into the hands of bishops before the altar at their consecration.

Numerous manuscript copes survive. The oldest may that in the Bibliothèque Municipale in Troyes (Ms 504). This is an early seventh century manuscript in an unical script without divisions between words, probably originating in Rome, with about 25 lines per page. Alfred the Great’s translation, now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, is the oldest known book written in English.

Mediaeval Sourcebook:
Gregory the Great: The Book of Pastoral Rule, ca 590

From the Introduction by Frederic Austin Ogg:

The most famous of Pope Gregory the Great’s writings, and justly so, is the Liber Regulae Pastoralis, known commonly as the Pastoral Care, or the Pastoral Rule.

This book was written soon after its author became Pope (590), and was addressed to John, Bishop of Ravenna, in reply to inquiries received from him respecting the duties and obligations of the clergy.

Though thus put into form for a special purpose, there can be no doubt that it was the product of long thought. Everywhere throughout Europe the work was received with the favour it deserved, and in Spain, Gaul, and Italy its influence upon the life and manners of the clergy was beyond estimate. Even in Britain it was a real power for good.

The work is in four parts:

1, on the selection of men for the work of the Church;

2, on the sort of life the pastor ought to live;

3, on the best methods of dealing with the various types of people which every pastor will be likely to encounter; and

4, on the necessity that the pastor guard himself against egotism and personal ambition. The passages below are taken from the second and third parts.

Saint Gregory writes:

The conduct of a prelate ought so far to be superior to the conduct of the people as the life of a shepherd is accustomed to exalt him above the flock. For one whose position is such that the people are called his flock ought anxiously to consider how great a necessity is laid upon him to maintain uprightness. It is necessary, then, that in thought he should be pure, in action firm; discreet in keeping silence; profitable in speech; a near neighbour to everyone in sympathy; exalted above all in contemplation; a familiar friend of good livers through humility, unbending against the vices of evil-doers through zeal for righteousness; not relaxing in his care for what is inward by reason of being occupied in outward things, nor neglecting to provide for outward things in his anxiety for what is inward.

The pastor should always be pure in thought, inasmuch as no impurity ought to pollute him who has undertaken the office of wiping away the stains of pollution in the hearts of others also; for the hand that would cleanse from dirt must needs be clean, lest, being itself sordid with clinging mire, it soil all the more whatever it touches. The pastor should always be a leader in action, that by his living he may point out the way of life to those who are put under him, and that the flock, which follows the voice and manners of the shepherd, may learn how to walk rather through example than through words. For he who is required by the necessity of his position to speak the highest things is compelled by the same necessity to do the highest things. For that voice more readily penetrates the hearer's heart, which the speaker’s life commends, since what he commands by speaking he helps the doing by showing.

The pastor should be discreet in keeping silence, profitable in speech; lest he either utter what ought to be suppressed or suppress what he ought to utter. For, as incautious speaking leads into error, so indiscreet silence leaves in error those who might have been instructed. The pastor ought also to understand how commonly vices pass themselves off as virtues. For often niggardliness excuses itself under the name of frugality, and on the other hand extravagance conceals itself under the name of liberality. Often inordinate carelessness is believed to be loving-kindness, and unbridled wrath is accounted the virtue of spiritual zeal. Often hasty action is taken for promptness, and tardiness for the deliberation of seriousness. Whence it is necessary for the pastor of souls to distinguish with vigilant care and vices between virtues and vices, lest stinginess get possession of his heart while he exults in seeming frugality in expenditure; or, while anything is recklessly wasted, he glory in being, as it were, compassionately liberal; or, in overlooking what he ought to have smitten, he draw on those that are under him to eternal punishment; or, in mercilessly smiting an offense, he himself offend more grievously; or, by rashly anticipating, mar what might have been done properly and gravely; or, by putting off the merit of a good action, change it to something worse.

Since, then, we have shown what manner of man the pastor ought to be, let us now set forth after what manner he should teach. For, as long before us Gregory Nazianzen, of reverend memory, has taught, one and the same exhortation does not suit all, inasmuch as all are not bound together by similarity of character. For the things that profit some often hurt others; seeing that also, for the most part, herbs which nourish some animals are fatal to others; and the gentle hissing that quiets horses incites whelps; and the medicine which abates one disease aggravates another; and the food which invigorates the life of the strong kills little children. Therefore, according to the quality of the hearers ought the discourse of teachers to be fashioned, so as to suit all and each for their several needs, and yet never deviate from the art of common edification. For what are the intent minds of hearers but, so to speak, a kind of harp, which the skilful player, in order to produce a tune possessing harmony, strikes in various ways? And for this reason the strings render back a melodious sound, because they are struck indeed with one quill, but not with one kind of stroke. Whence every teacher also, that he may edify all in the one virtue of charity, ought to touch the hearts of his hearers out of one doctrine, but not with one and the same exhortation.

Differently to be admonished are these that follow:

Men and women.

The poor and the rich.

The joyful and the sad.

Prelates and subordinates.

Servants and masters.

The wise of this world and the dull.

The impudent and the bashful.

The forward and the faint-hearted.

The impatient and the patient.

The kindly disposed and the envious.

The simple and the insincere.

The whole and the sick.

Those who fear scourges, and therefore live innocently; and those who have grown so hard in iniquity as not to be corrected even by scourges.

The too silent, and those who spend time in much speaking.

The slothful and the hasty.

The meek and the passionate.

The humble and the haughty.

The obstinate and the fickle.

The gluttonous and the abstinent.

Those who mercifully give of their own, and those who would fain seize what belongs to others.

Those who neither seize the things of others nor are bountiful with their own; and those who both give away the things they have, and yet cease not to seize the things of others.

Those who are at variance, and those who are at peace.

Lovers of strife and peacemakers.

Those who understand not aright the words of sacred law; and those who understand them indeed aright, but speak them without humility.

Those who, though able to preach worthily, are afraid through excessive humility; and those whom imperfection or age debars from preaching, and yet rashness impels to it...

Differently to be admonished are the wise of this world and the dull. For the wise are to be admonished that they leave off knowing what they know; the dull also are to be admonished that they seek to know what they know not. In the former this thing first, that they think themselves wise, is to be overcome; in the latter, whatsoever is already known of heavenly wisdom is to be built up; since, being in no wise proud, they have, as it were, prepared their hearts for supporting a building. With those we should labour that they become more wisely foolish, leave foolish wisdom, and learn the wise foolishness of God: to these we should preach that from what is accounted foolishness they should pass, as from a nearer neighbourhood, to true wisdom.

But in the midst of these things we are brought back by the earnest desire of charity to what we have already said above; that every preacher should give forth a sound more by his deeds than by his words, and rather by good living imprint footsteps for men to follow than by speaking show them the way to walk in. For that cock, too, whom the Lord in his manner of speech takes to represent a good preacher, when he is now preparing to crow, first shakes his wings, and by smiting himself makes himself more awake; since it is surely necessary that those who give utterance to words of holy preaching should first be well awake in earnestness of good living, lest they arouse others with their voice while themselves torpid in performance; that they should first shake themselves up by lofty deeds, and then make others solicitous for good living; that they should first smite themselves with the wings of their thoughts; that whatsoever in themselves is unprofitably torpid they should discover by anxious investigation, and correct by strict self-discipline, and then at length set in order the life of others by speaking; that they should take heed to punish their own faults by bewailings, and then denounce what calls for punishment in others; and that, before they give voice to words of exhortation, they should proclaim in their deeds all that they are about to speak.


From: Frederic Austin Ogg, ed., A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the German Invasions to the Renaissance (New York, 1907, reprinted by Cooper Square Publishers (New York), 1972), pp 91-96.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernised by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to mediaeval and Byzantine history. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, August 1998, halsall@murray.fordham.edu

Gregory I: Letter to Abbot Mellitus

Pope Gregory I wrote to Abbot Mellitus, who was going to join Saint Augustine of Canterbury in his mission to the English, giving instructions for dealing with the holy places of the newly converted Saxons and their pagan practices:

Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them.

For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.

Further, since it has been their custom to slaughter oxen in sacrifice, they should receive some solemnity in exchange. Let them therefore, on the day of the dedication of their churches, or on the feast of the martyrs whose relics are preserved in them, build themselves huts around their one-time temples and celebrate the occasion with religious feasting.

They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more as an offering to the devil, but for the glory of God to whom, as the giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satiated. Thus, if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones.

For surely it is impossible to efface all at once everything from their strong minds, just as, when one wishes to reach the top of a mountain, he must climb by stages and step by step, not by leaps and bounds.... Mention this to our brother the bishop, that he may dispose of the matter as he sees fit according to the conditions of time and place.

Given the 18 July in the 19th year of our most religious Emperor Maurice Tiberius, and in the eighteenth year after his consulship and in the fourth indiction.

Part 2: Thomas Aquinas


Saint Thomas Aquinas, 1476, Carlo Crivelli … This panel is part of the large ‘Demidoff Altarpiece’ made for the high altar of San Domenico in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, now in the National Gallery, London

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is one of the most influential scholastic philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages. He is the foremost classical proponent of natural theology and the father of Thomism. His influence on Western thought is considerable, and much of modern philosophy is conceived in development or refutation of his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics and political theory.

Saint Thomas was born in 1225 into a noble Italian family that held the title of Count of Aquino. Roccasecca, the hilltop castle where he was born, is near the great Benedictine abbey of Montecassino, midway between Rome and Naples. At the age of five, he became a student at Montecassino and later went on to the University of Naples. There he came into contact with the Order of Preachers or Dominicans, a recently founded mendicant order, and he became a Dominican despite the protests of his family.

He then studied in Paris, and in Cologne with Albert the Great, whose interest in Aristotle strengthened Thomas’s own interests. He completed his studies in Paris, and for three years held one of the Dominican chairs in the Faculty of Theology. Eventually he moved to in Rome, but he was called back to Paris to confront the controversy known as Latin Averroism or Heterodox Aristotelianism.

He returned to Naples but after experiencing an unexpected trance on 6 December 1273 he said that all his writings seemed like chaff. He wrote little more. While he was on his way to the Council of Lyon, he fell ill and died on 7 March 1274 in the Cistercian abbey at Fossanova, just 20 km from where he was born in Roccasecca.

The Roman Catholic Church sees Saint Thomas Aquinas as the model teacher for students for the priesthood, and the study of his works, according to papal and magisterial documents, is a core of the required programme of study for student priests, for students in religious formation, and for other students in other fields, including philosophy, theology, history, liturgy, and canon law.

He is one the 35 Doctors of the Church, he is considered by the Roman Catholic Church as the Church’s greatest theologian and philosopher. Pope Benedict XV has declared: “This (Dominican) Order ... acquired new lustre when the Church declared the teaching of Thomas to be her own and that Doctor, honoured with the special praises of the Pontiffs, the master and patron of Catholic schools.”

The writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas

The works for which Saint Thomas of Aquinas is best-known are the Summa Theologiae and the Summa Contra Gentiles.

Saint Thomas is the key figure in both mediaeval philosophy and theology. He understands theology to mean discourse that takes its rise from the revealed truths of the Bible. But there is also a theology that constitutes the defining telos of philosophical inquiry.

In the following passage, Thomas contrasts the two theologies:

Thus it is that divine science or theology is of two kinds, one in which divine things are considered not as the subject of the science but as principles of the subject and this is the theology that the philosophers pursue, also called metaphysics. The other considers divine things in themselves as the subject of the science, and this is the theology which is treated in Sacred Scripture. They are both concerned with things which exist separately from matter and motion, but differently, insofar as they are two ways in which something can exist separately from matter and motion: first, such that it is of the definition of the things said to be separate, that they can never exist in matter in motion, as God and the angels are said to be separate from matter and motion; second, such that it is not part of their definition that they exist in matter and motion, because they can exist apart from matter and motion, although sometimes they are found in matter and motion, for example, substance, potency and act are separate from matter and motion because they do not require matter in order to exist as mathematicals do, although they can be understood without sensible matter. Philosophical theology treats of things separate in the second way as its subjects and of things separate in the first way as the principles of its subject. But the theology of Sacred Scripture treats of things separate in the first way as its subjects, although in it some things which exist in matter and motion are considered insofar as they are needed to make the divine manifest.

Source: Exposition of Boethius’ on the Trinity, q. 5, a. 4.

The structure of the Summa Theologiae

Saint Thomas’s Summa Theologiae is divided into five parts:

1, The first part, Summa Theologiae I (ST I): this considers God, the Trinity, and creation, especially humanity and angels.

2, The first part of the second part (ST I-II): this deals with morals in general, considering everything, from happiness, to virtue and vice, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit and grace.

3, The second part of the second part (ST II-II) is on specific moral theology – dealing with the virtues and vices in particular, and also with vocational callings.

4, The third part (ST III) considers Christ Jesus himself and also the sacraments he instituted.

5, To this is added the “Supplement,” completed by Reginald of Piperno from Saint Thomas’s early writings, including the commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard which Saint Thomas made as a young man. It was added to the Summa, which Saint Thomas never finished this work. The Supplement deals with some of the sacraments and also considers the end of time and Christ’s second coming.

Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Nature of God

Saint Thomas believed that the existence of God is self-evident in itself, but not to us:

Therefore I say that this proposition, “God exists,” of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject.... Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature – namely, by effects.”

Saint Thomas believed that the existence of God can be proven. In the Summa Theologiae, he considered in great detail five arguments for the existence of God, widely known as the quinque viae (Five Ways):

1, Motion: Some things undoubtedly move, though cannot cause their own motion. Since, as Thomas believed, there can be no infinite chain of causes of motion, there must be a First Mover not moved by anything else, and this is what everyone understands by God.

2, Causation: As in the case of motion, nothing can cause itself, and an infinite chain of causation is impossible, so there must be a First Cause, called God.

3, Existence of the necessary and the unnecessary: Our experience includes things certainly existing but apparently unnecessary. Not everything can be unnecessary, for then once there was nothing and there would still be nothing. Therefore, we are compelled to suppose something that exists necessarily, having this necessity only from itself; in fact itself the cause for other things to exist.

4, Gradation: If we can notice a gradation in things in the sense that some things are more hot, good, etc., there must be a superlative which is the truest and noblest thing, and so most fully existing. This then, we call God. (Note, Thomas does not ascribe actual qualities to God himself.)

5, Ordered tendencies of nature: A direction of actions to an end is noticed in all bodies following natural laws. Anything without awareness tends to a goal under the guidance of one who is aware. This we call God. (Note again, that even when we guide objects, in Saint Thomas’s view the source of all our knowledge comes from God as well.)

Concerning the nature of God, Saint Thomas feels the best approach, commonly called the via negativa, is to consider what God is not. This leads him to propose five statements about the divine qualities:

1, God is simple, without composition of parts, such as body and soul, or matter and form.

2, God is perfect, lacking nothing. That is, God is distinguished from other beings on account of God’s complete actuality. Saint Thomas defines God as the Ipse Actus Essendi subsistens, the subsisting act of being.

3, God is infinite. That is, God is not finite in the ways that created beings are physically, intellectually, and emotionally limited. This infinity is to be distinguished from infinity of size and infinity of number.

4, God is immutable, incapable of change on the levels of God’s essence and character.

5, God is one, without diversification within God’s self. The unity of God is such that God's essence is the same as God’s existence. In Saint Thomas’s words, “in itself the proposition ‘God exists’ is necessarily true, for in it subject and predicate are the same.”

In this approach, he is following, among others, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides.

Following Augustine of Hippo, Saint Thomas defines sin as “a word, deed, or desire, contrary to the eternal law.” It is important to note the analogous nature of law in Saint Thomas’s legal philosophy. Natural law is an instance or instantiation of eternal law. Because natural law is that which human beings determine according to their own nature (as rational beings), disobeying reason is disobeying natural law and eternal law. Thus eternal law is logically prior to reception of either “natural law,” determined by reason, or “divine law,” found in the Old and New Testaments).

In other words, God’s will extends to both reason and revelation. Sin is abrogating either one’s own reason, on the one hand, or revelation on the other, and is synonymous with “evil” (privation of good, or privatio boni). Saint Thomas, like all Scholastics, generally argues that the findings of reason and data of revelation cannot conflict, so both are a guide to God’s will for human beings.

Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Nature of the Trinity

Saint Thomas argues that God, while perfectly united, also is perfectly described by Three Interrelated Persons. These three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are constituted by their relations within the essence of God. Saint Thomas writes that the term “Trinity” “does not mean the relations themselves of the Persons, but rather the number of persons related to each other; and hence it is that the word in itself does not express regard to another.” The Father generates the Son (or the Word) by the relation of self-awareness. This eternal generation then produces an eternal Spirit “who enjoys the divine nature as the Love of God, the Love of the Father for the Word.”

This Trinity exists independently from the world. It transcends the created world, but the Trinity also decided to give grace to human beings. This takes place through the Incarnation of the Word in the person of Jesus Christ and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within those who have experienced salvation by God.

Saint Thomas Aquinas on prima causa, the first cause

Saint Thomas’s five proofs for the existence of God take some of Aristotle’s assertions concerning principles of being. For Saint Thomas, God as prima causa (first cause) is derived from Aristotle’s concept of the unmoved mover and asserts that God is the ultimate cause of all things.

Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Nature of Jesus Christ

In the Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas begins his discussion of Jesus Christ by recounting the biblical story of Adam and Eve and by describing the negative effects of original sin. The purpose of Christ’s Incarnation was to restore human nature by removing “the contamination of sin,” which humans cannot do by themselves.

“Divine Wisdom judged it fitting that God should become man, so that thus one and the same person would be able both to restore man and to offer satisfaction.”

Saint Thomas argues in favour of the satisfaction view of atonement; that is, that Jesus Christ died “to satisfy for the whole human race, which was sentenced to die on account of sin.”

Saint Thomas argues against several specific contemporary and historical theologians who held differing views about Christ:

● In response to Photinus, Saint Thomas states that Jesus was truly divine and not simply a human being.
● Against Nestorius, who suggested that the Son of God was merely conjoined to the man Christ, Saint Thomas argues that the fullness of God was an integral part of Christ’s existence.
● However, countering Apollinaris’ views, Saint Thomas holds that Christ had a truly human (rational) soul, as well. This produced a duality of natures in Christ.
● Saint Thomas argues against Eutyches that this duality persisted after the Incarnation.
● Saint Thomas states that these two natures existed simultaneously yet distinguishably in one real human body, unlike the teachings of Manichaeus and Valentinus.

In short, “Christ had a real body of the same nature of ours, a true rational soul, and, together with these, perfect Deity.” Thus, there is both unity (in his one hypostasis) and composition (in his two natures, human and Divine) in Christ.

I answer that, The Person or hypostasis of Christ may be viewed in two ways. First as it is in itself, and thus it is altogether simple, even as the Nature of the Word. Secondly, in the aspect of person or hypostasis to which it belongs to subsist in a nature; and thus the Person of Christ subsists in two natures. Hence though there is one subsisting being in him, yet there are different aspects of subsistence, and hence He is said to be a composite person, insomuch as one being subsists in two.

Echoing Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, he says: “The only begotten Son of God...assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

Part 3: Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi is popularly portrayed with the animals and the birds


Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), who died just a year after Saint Thomas Aquinas, is the founder of the Franciscan orders, although he was never ordained a priest. He is one of the most venerated and most popular saints in church history.

He was born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone in 1181, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, and he lived the high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man of his day.

While going off to war in 1204, Saint Francis had a vision that directed him back to Assisi, where he lost his taste for his worldly life. On a pilgrimage to Rome, he joined the poor who were begging at Saint Peter’s Basilica. The experience moved him to live in poverty.

Saint Francis returned home, began preaching on the streets. One summer day, in 1206, Francis was walking close to the crumbling church of San Damiano when he felt an inner call from the Holy Spirit to go inside the Church to pray. In obedience, Francis entered the Church, fell on his knees before the familiar icon cross, open to what the God might have to say to him.

In eager anticipation, Francis looked up into the serene face of the crucified Lord, and prayed this prayer: “Most High, glorious God, cast your light into the darkness of my heart. Give me, Lord, right faith, firm hope, perfect charity, and profound humility, with wisdom and perception, so that I may carry out what is truly your holy will. Amen.”

Ever more quietly he repeated the prayer, lost in devotion and wonder before the image of his crucified Lord.

Then, in the stillness, Francis heard Christ speaking to him from the Cross: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you can see, is falling into ruin.”

Other translations give these words as: “Rebuild my house which has fallen into disrepair.” Or: “Francis, don’t you see that my house is being destroyed? Go, then, and rebuild it for me.”

In short, “Rebuild my Church!”

So Francis looked around at the crumbling church, gathered some of his friends together and rebuilt it. Then they went out and began restoring other church buildings in the vicinity of Assisi that were in need of repair.

Gradually, Francis realised that the call to “rebuild my church” was also a call to reform the institution, to rebuild it by witnessing to the truth of the faith and calling people to renewed faithfulness to Christ and commitment to his mission.

The Body of Christ on the Cross had called Francis to rebuild the Body of Christ in the world.

In the year 1209, Saint Francis and his eleven companions walked into the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome for an audience with Pope Innocent III. The Lateran was then the equivalent of the Vatican, the earthly centre of power in the Western Church, and it was the Papal residence in Rome from the early 4th century until the mid-16th century.

So, Saint Francis and his eleven companions travelled almost 200 km from Assisi to Rome along ancient roads to seek Pope Innocent’s approval of the Franciscan way of life. Innocent – having dreamt of Francis holding up a disintegrating Basilica of Saint John Lateran – heartily granted his approval Saint Francis soon attracted a larger following, and he then founded the Order of Poor Clares for women, as well as the Third Order.

“When God gave me some friars,” Saint Francis wrote in his Testament, “there was no one to tell me what I should do; but the Most High himself made it clear to me that I must live the life of the Gospel.”

Francis before the Sultan in Damietta (Giotto)

Saint Francis went to Egypt in 1219 in an attempt to convert the Sultan, Malik al-Kamil, and to put an end to the conflict of the Crusades. By this point, the Franciscans had grown to such an extent that the organisational structures were too primitive and insufficient. He returned to Italy to organise the order. Once his community had received Papal approval, he withdrew increasingly from external affairs.

In 1223, Saint Francis arranged for the first Christmas manger scene. In 1224, in La Verna, he received the stigmata, the first recorded incidence of someone bearing the wounds of Christ’s Passion.

He died during the evening hours of 3 October 1226, while he was listening to a reading of Psalm 141. He was declared a saint by Pope Gregory IX on 16 July 1228.

Francis of Assisi and The Canticle of the Sun

His best-known writing is The Canticle of the Sun, also known as Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures), written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian and among the first works of literature.

The Canticle of the Sun in its praise of God thanks God for such creations as “Brother Fire” and “Sister Water.” It is an affirmation of Saint Francis’s personal theology as he often referred to animals as brothers and sisters to humanity, rejected material accumulation and sensual comforts in favour of “Lady Poverty.”

Saint Francis is said to have composed most of the canticle in late 1224 while he was recovering from an illness at San Damiano in a small cottage that had been built for him by Saint Clare and other women of her order. According to tradition, the first time it was sung in its entirety was by Saint Francis and Brother Angelo and Brother Leo, two of his first companions, on Saint Francis’s deathbed, the final verse praising “Sister Death” having been added only a few minutes before.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honour, and all blessing.

To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

The origins of the ‘Prayer of Saint Francis’ and a popular hymn

Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College … the site of the Franciscan or Greyfriars’ church and cemetery in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer of Saint Francis is also attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. However, the prayer in its present form cannot be traced back further than 1912, when it was printed in France in French in a small magazine, La Clochette (The Little Bell) as an anonymous prayer. Soon after that first publication, it was being attributed to William the Conqueror.

It was first attributed e to Saint Francis in 1927 by a French Protestant Movement known as Les Chevaliers du Prince de la Paix (The Knights of the Prince of Peace), founded by Étienne Bach (1892-1986). The prayer became popular in the US that year when its first known translation in English appeared in January 1927 in the Quaker magazine Friends’ Intelligencer (Philadelphia), where it was also attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

A popular hymn version, adapted and set to music with a tune called “St Francis” by Johann Sebastian Temple, is Make Me A Channel of Your Peace. It was first published in a Franciscan hymnbook in 1967. There are at least nine variations of this hymn, and the version in Irish Church Hymnal (No 503) is:

Make me a channel of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me bring your love,
where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
and where there’s doubt true faith in you:

O Master, grant that I may never seek
so much to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love with all my soul!

Make me a channel of your peace:
where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope,
where there is darkness, only light,
and where there’s sadness, ever joy:

Make me a channel of your peace:
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
in giving of ourselves that we receive,
and in dying that we’re born to eternal life.


Tomorrow Morning:
The Reformation in a morning:

6.1: New questions: Lollards, Hussites and Erasmus.

6.2: Key figures in the Magesterial Reformation: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

6.3: Introducing the Anglican Reformation.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 17 April 2015 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the part-time MTh course, Years I-IV.

Church History (2014-2015, part-time) 5.1:
‘A House divided’: Rome and Byzantium

Christ Pantocrator in the dome of a church in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 17 April 2015,

The Brown Room, 7 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.:

‘A House divided’: Rome and Byzantium

5.2, Seminar: readings in key thinkers in the Mediaeval Church: Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi.

An Orthodox convent on a small island off the coast of Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Church History 5.1: A house divided: Rome and Byzantium


Orthodox liturgical music:

Tracks 26 and 27 from Russian choir, Gregorian and Orthodox Chant: ‘My Soul doth magnify the Lord’; and ‘The Great Doxology’ (Znamenny Choir)

There is a story in the Orthodox Church that when Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, was still a pagan at the end of the 10th century, he sent out envoys to discover what was the true religion and to advise him on which religion should be the state religion.

The envoys first visited the Muslim Bulgars of the Volga, but found no joy among them “but mournfulness and a great smell.”

In Germany and Rome, they found the worship and liturgy was without beauty.

But when the envoys reached Byzantium, they were so dazzled by the splendour of the Byzantine liturgy in the great church of Aghia Sophia they instantly decided that Orthodoxy should be the faith of the Slav people. “We knew not whether we were on heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among humans, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.”

The beautiful interior of the Church of Aghia Sophia in Thessaloniki ... its design is a replica of the great Aghia Sophia in Byzantium (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We have already looked at how the Creeds and Doctrines of the Church developed in the Councils of the Church. Anglicans normally refer to four great councils of the Church, but the Orthodox Church usually refers to seven Councils of the Church as having doctrinal and ecclesial authority:

We have seen how the doctrinal disputes from the fourth century on led to calling seven ecumenical councils counted after the Council of Jerusalem (ca 50), between 325 (Nicaea I) and 787 (Nicaea II):

1, Nicaea I (325), summoned by the Emperor Constantine, condemned the view of Arius that the Son is a created being inferior to the Father.

2, Constantinople I (381), called by Theodosios I, defined the nature of the Holy Spirit against those asserting the Spirit’s inequality with the Father and the Son. This council marks the end of the Arian conflict in the Eastern Empire.

3, Ephesus (431), summoned by Theodosios II, reaffirmed the Creed of Nicaea and that Mary is truly “Birth giver” or “Mother” of God (Theotokos), contrary to the teachings of Nestorius.

4, Chalcedon (451), called by the Emperor Marcian, affirmed that Christ Jesus is truly God and truly man, without mixture of the two natures, contrary to Monophysite teachings.

5, Constantinople II (553), convoked by the Emperor Justinian, interpreted the decrees of Chalcedon, further explaining the relationship of the two natures of Christ. It also condemned the teachings of Origen on the pre-existence of the soul.

6, Constantinople III (681) declared that Christ has two wills of his two natures, divine and human, contrary to the teachings of the Monothelites.

7, Nicaea II (787), called by the Empress Irene, affirmed the making and veneration of icons, while also forbidding the worship of icons and the making of three-dimensional statuary. It marks the defeat of Iconoclasm and is known as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

We also referred to the development of the five traditional patriarchal sees in the Church or the “Pentarchy,” which had evolved by the fifth century:

● Rome, the ancient centre and largest city of the empire, and associated with Saint Peter and Saint Paul;

● Constantinople, the New Rome, associated with Saint Andrew;

● Alexandria (Saint Mark);

● Antioch (Saint Peter);

● Jerusalem (Saint James).

The rise and expansion of Islam had devastating impacts on three (and eventually four) of those five Churches: Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria and finally Constantinople.

Meanwhile, after the assaults and invasions by the Barbarians and the Vikings, Western Christianity appeared to triumph in the face of adversity, with the development of monastic life and a new relationship between Church and State.

The development of Western Monasticism follows the development of Eastern Orthodox monasticism in the Western Desert of Egypt, in Syria and in Cappadocia, where Saint Basil developed a rule that influenced Saint Benedict. The Eastern tradition of monasticism later flowered in monasteries such as Mount Athos, Mount Sinai and Patmos.

The interior of Aghia Sophia ... the largest church in Christendom for centuries

We may recall that the filioque clause was inserted in the Latin version of the Nicene Creed used in the West, so that by 800 it was being used in the chapels of Charlemagne. At first its use was opposed by the Popes, and East and West agreed in Constantinople in 879 that all additions to the Creed were prohibited. But it was soon accepted quiescently; and finally it was accepted without any conciliar approval and against the wishes of the Church in the East, to the point that delegates from Rome to Constantinople even accused the Greeks of removing the filioque from the Creed.

The debate about the filioque was a result of – rather than the cause of – the divisions between East and West. On16 July 1054, the Papal Legate, Cardinal Humbert, stormed into Aghia Sophia with his retinue, interrupted the Divine Liturgy, marched up to the high altar, and laid down a Bull of Excommunication against Patriarch Michael Keroularios. The Patriarch responded in kind, and the schism, exacerbated by the Crusades, has continued to divide the Church ever since.

The Crusades drove the final wedge between the Church in the West and the Church in the East, particularly at the sack of Constantinople in 1204.

So, while the Crusades mark Europe’s recovery from the Dark Ages (ca 700–1000), for Sir Steven Runciman the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 was the culmination of the mounting dislike and suspicion that western Christendom felt towards Byzantium.

The West misunderstood Byzantium, and could not accept the ideas that the Roman inheritance had shifted from Rome to Constantinople and that the civilised, Christian world was centred on Constantinople. For their part, the Byzantines had a deep-rooted antipathy towards the West, convinced of Byzantine cultural and religious superiority, despite Byzantium’s military and political weakness.

That misunderstanding of Byzantium and the East makes it worth our while spending some time this evening redressing that balance, and looking at the history of the Church in the East as it developed in its golden age at the high point of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire.

The Byzantine period begins with the First Seven Ecumenical Councils, and encompasses more than 11 centuries from the First Council of Nicaea in 325 to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Conflicts on the borders of the Empire

Long before the Crusades, much of the agenda was set in historic memories with the conflict between the Persian and Roman Empires. This was a protracted struggle from 92 BC to 627 AD and was, arguably, a continuation of the Greco-Persian Wars. But this phase of the conflict so drained both the Persian and Byzantine empires that once the conquests of Muhammad started empire could effectively resist the onslaught, and Persia fell to the Arabs.

Following the death of Muhammad in 632, the Arab Muslim world expanded vigorously, bringing about a series of wars between the Muslim Caliphates and the Byzantine Empire.

The initial conflict, from 629, ended with the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople in 717-718 that halted the rapid expansion of the Umayyad dynasty into Asia Minor. However, these conflicts would continue from the 9th century, and as we saw, the Arab victories resulted in the request from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos for military aid and the response from Pope Urban II in 1095 that led to the First Crusade.

What was happening in the Eastern Church at time that could produce that wonderful account of the Slav envoys when they reached the great Church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople?

What was so vigorous in Church life in the East that it stimulated a spiritual life associated with the Jesus Prayer, great works of iconography, and an expression of the Christian faith that would survive the dominance of Islamic rule under Arabs, Persians and Turks for centuries, and continue survive and sustain and nourish people through the vicissitudes of Eastern Europe for most of the 20th century?

The rift with Rome

Sometimes, Patriarchs (often of Constantinople) were deposed by the emperor; at one point emperors sided with the iconoclasts in the 8th and 9th centuries. But the internal divisions were often nothing compared with the great chasm that opened between East and West.

The cracks and fissures in Christian unity that led to the East-West Schism started to become evident as early as the 4th century. Although 1054 is the date usually given for the beginning of the Great Schism, there is, in fact, no specific date on which the schism occurred. What really happened was a complex chain of events whose climax culminated with the sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

The events leading to schism were not exclusively theological in nature. Cultural, political, and linguistic differences were often mixed with the theological. So, while the eastern and western parts of the Church professed loyalty to the faith and authority of the seven ecumenical councils, the divisions beneath the surface soon began to become visible.

The transfer of the Roman capital to Constantinople inevitably brought mistrust, rivalry, and even jealousy between the two great sees, Rome and Constantinople.

Constantinople grew in confidence, and this confidence was expressed visibly in the 530s when the second Church of the Holy Wisdom (Aghia Sophia) was built in Constantinople under the Emperor Justinian I. The first church was destroyed during the Nika riots. The second Aghia Sophia would become the centre of the ecclesiastical community for the rulers of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium.

Justinian embarked on a triumphal building programme that also included the fortified Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai.

The estrangement of East and West was aggravated by the German invasions in the West, intensified by the rise of Islam and its conquest of most of the Mediterranean coastline, and continued with the arrival of the pagan Slavs in the Balkans, all helping to drive a wedge between the worlds of the Old Rome and the New Rome.

By the end of the seventh century, communication between the Greek East and Latin West had practically ceased.

Two basic problems gave expression to this mutual estrangement:

● the claims to primacy of the Bishop of Rome;

●the debates about the procession of the Holy Spirit.

These doctrinal novelties were first openly discussed during the patriarchate of Photius I.

Rome began to interpret its primacy within the heptarchy in terms of sovereignty, abandoning the collegial and conciliar nature of the Church in favour of the supremacy of papal power.

These ideas were finally given systematic expression in the West during the Gregorian Reform movement of the 11th century. The Eastern Churches viewed Rome’s understanding of the nature of episcopal power as directly opposed to the essentially conciliar structure of the Church. The two sees developed two ecclesiologies that became mutually antithetical.

Rome based its claims to “true and proper jurisdiction” on its claims to apostolic foundation by Saint Peter and an exegesis of Matthew 16: 18.

On the other hand, the Eastern Church could not accept Saint Peter’s primacy as the exclusive prerogative of any one bishop. All bishops must, like Saint Peter, confess Jesus as the Christ and, as such, all are Saint Peter’s successors. The churches of the East conceded the Roman See had primacy but could not concede supremacy. The Pope could be the first among equals, but not infallible and not with absolute authority.

The other major difference was expressed in the filioque debate or the debate on the procession of the Holy Spirit. This debate developed gradually and the insertion of the filioque was almost unnoticed.

However, the original Creed does not contain the phrase – the text at this point says simply: “the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father.”

In addition to the dogmatic issues raised by the filioque, the Byzantines argued that the phrase had been added unilaterally and, therefore, illegitimately, since the Orthodox had never been consulted. For the Orthodox, an ecumenical council alone could introduce such an alteration, but the councils had expressly forbidden any subtraction or addition to the text.


The dome inside the Daniel Pantanassa Church with frescoes of the Ascension … this church in Cappadocia preserves pre-iconoclast frescoes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Meanwhile, the Church in the East faced its own internal problems.

We often consider icons as one of the most visible expressions and marks of the Eastern Church. But icons were at the centre of one of the principal disputes to rock the Eastern Church in the eighth century.

Leo III became Emperor of Byzantium in 717 with the support of the army. In 726, with the support of the same army, he began to suppress the use of icons. He ordered the removal and the destruction of the great golden icon of Christ that stood over the bronze gates of the Imperial Palace, facing Aghia Sophia.

His command sparked riots on the streets, but Leo was not for turning and in 730 he issued an edict prohibiting all sacred images except the Cross. Icons were whitewashed, liturgical robes were burnt, relics were smashed. Pope Gregory II sent ships to Constantinople to arrest the Emperor, but they sank on the journey.

Leo’s son, Constantine V continued these policies, and even forbade the use of word “saint.” The attacks then spread to monasticism, with monasteries attacked, libraries burned, monks’ beards cut off, and monks and nuns told to choose between marriage and exile. Saint John of Damascus, the most articulate advocate of icons, was excommunicated.

But when Constantine died in 780, his daughter-in-law, the Empress Irene, became Regent. She called the Second Council of Nicaea (787), the Seventh Ecumenical Council and ended the Iconoclast controversy after 30 years. By then, however, much of the Church’s art had been destroyed with the excuse of ending what was seen as the veneration of “graven images” (see Exodus 20: 4).

There was a second period of iconoclasm (813-843), but it ended at the Council of Constantinople in 843 when the Empress Theodora reaffirmed the rulings of Nicaea II in 787.

The Photian schism

Meanwhile, in the 9th century, a further controversy dividing East and West developed when Pope John VII opposed the appointment of Photios I as Patriarch of Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor Michael III.

The Pope refused to apologise to the Patriarch over previous points of dispute, Patriarch Photios refused to accept the supremacy of the Pope in Orthodox matters or to accept the filioque clause, although the Latin delegation at his consecration pressed him to accept in order to secure their support.

There were differences too over which great see was owed loyalty by the Church in Bulgaria.

Photios offered some concessions on the question of Bulgaria and the papal legates returned to Rome. However, this was a short-lived concession, and Bulgaria returned to Byzantium’s orbit in 870.

Conversion of Eastern and Southern Slavs

During these controversies, the Serbs became Christians during the reign of Heraclius (610-641). A century later, in 732, the whole Balkans came under Byzantine jurisdiction. Then, in the ninth and tenth centuries, Christianity was introduced among the Slavs in Eastern Europe, first in Bulgaria and Serbia, then in Kievan Rus, in missions initiated during the reigns of the Patriarch Photios (858-867 and 877-886).

The Byzantine missionary brothers, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, put the Slavic language into writing, creating a new alphabet, and they also translated the Bible and the liturgy into Slavonic.

But missionaries from Germany insisted on the use of Latin and resisted the use of Church Slavonic. In the midst of this friction and dissension, the brothers travelled to Rome to seek the Pope’s intervention.

Although Pope Hadrian II (867-872) made Methodius Archbishop of Sirmium in Serbia, he was later jailed and Pope John VIII (872-882) instructed him to stop using Slavonic, and his successors adopted a Latin-only policy for the Western Church. However, the Serbs and the Bulgarians adopted the Old Slavonic liturgy rather than either Greek or Latin.

In 863, a mission from Constantinople converted King Boris I of Bulgaria to Christianity. But a popular revolt against the new religion prompted the king to seek independence from Constantinople for the Bulgarian Church.

When Constantinople refused, Boris turned to the Pope, and in August 866, a Bulgarian mission arrived in Rome with a list of 115 questions on the Christian way of life and a future Bulgarian Church under Roman jurisdiction.

On 13 November 866, the Bulgarian King was presented with the Pope’s 106 answers by Bishop Formosa of Portua and Bishop Paul of Populon, who led the Pope’s mission to Bulgaria, and the arrival of the Roman mission ended the Byzantine mission in Bulgaria.

A pro-Rome Bulgaria threatened Constantinople’s immediate interests. The Roman Church was condemned at a Church Council in Constantinople in 867, and with the support of the Byzantine Emperor Michael III, Pope Nicholas I was anathematised. The old rivalry between the two Churches, between the Old Rome and the New Rome, burned with new power.

However, Pope Nicolas I soon died and his successor, Pope Hadrian II (867-872), proved to be less amenable to King Boris. Boris now re-entered talks with Constantinople, and an autonomous Bulgarian Church was agreed to, just six years after Boris had converted to Christianity.

Over the next 10 years, Pope Hadrian II and his successors made desperate attempts to recover their influence in Bulgaria and to persuade Boris to leave Constantinople’s sphere of influence, but their efforts ultimately failed.

With the foundation of a Bulgarian Church, the next stage was the introduction of Slavonic Liturgy, using the Slavic alphabet.

The success of the conversion of the Bulgarians facilitated the conversion of other East Slavic people, most notably the Rus, the predecessors of Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians. By the beginning of the 11th century most of the Slavic world, including, Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia had converted to Orthodox Christianity.

Bulgaria’s Patriarchate was recognised by Constantinople in 927, Serbia’s in 1346 and Russia’s in 1589.

The traditional event associated with the conversion of Russia is the baptism of Vladimir of Kiev in 989, when he married the Byzantine Princess Anna, sister of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II.

The Great Schism

In the 11th century, the East-West Schism between Rome and Constantinople was formalised, leading to the separation of the Latin Church and the Orthodox Church.

Archbishop Niketas of Nicomedia expressed the thinking of the Eastern Church in the following century:

My dearest brother, we do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy among the five sister patriarchates and we recognise her right to the most honourable seat at the Ecumenical Council. But she has separated herself from us by her own deeds when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her office ... How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman pontiff seated on the lofty throne of his glory wished to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his mandates at us from on high and if he wishes to judge us and even to rule us and our churches, not by taking counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be the slaves not the sons, of such a church and the Roman see would not be the pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves.

The final breach between Greeks and Latins is often considered to have arisen after the capture and sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204, which included sacking the Church of Holy Wisdom, the destruction of the Monastery of Stoudios and the Library of Constantinople and establishing a Latin Empire based in Constantinople and spread throughout Asia Minor and Greece, including Thessaloniki and Cyprus.

This is still viewed with rancour in the East to this day, seen as weakening Byzantium and leading to the eventual fall of the Empire to Islam.

After Constantinople was sacked in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade, much of Asia Minor was brought under Roman Catholic rule and the Latin Empire of the East. After the fall of Constantinople, the Empire of Nicaea was established and gave rise to the later Greek monarchy that defeated the Latin forces of Europe and re-established Orthodox Monarchy in Constantinople and Asia Minor.

Monastic growth

The Monastery of Vatopédi (Βατοπέδι) on Mount Athos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Throughout all this time there was an immense growth in the spiritual life of the Church, typified by the development of monastic life in places such as Mount Athos, Patmos and Mount Sinai.

Mount Athos (Όρος Άθως or Άγιον Όρος) is a mountain and peninsula in Northern Greece that is home to 20 monasteries that come under the direct jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Monks have been there since the fourth century, and possibly since the third. The historian Genesios recorded that monks from Mount Athos took part in the 7th Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (787).

Following the Battle of Thasos in 829, Mount Athos was deserted for some time due by Saracen raids from Crete.

Around 860, the monk Efthymios the Younger came to Mount Athos and a number of monk-huts or skete were created around the place he lived. During the reign of Emperor Basil I, the former Archbishop of Crete (and later of Thessaloniki) Saint Basil the Confessor built a small monastery at the place of the modern harbour of Hilandariou Monastery. Soon after, a document of 883 states, a monk named Ioannis Kolovos built a monastery at Megali Vigla.

The Athonite monasteries hold huge deposits of invaluable mediaeval art treasures, including icons, liturgical vestments and religious objects, codices and other Christian texts, imperial chrysobulls and holy relics. Until recently, no organised study and archiving had been carried out, but an EU-funded effort to catalogue, protect and restore them is under way since the late 1980s. Their sheer number is such that it may take several decades before the work is completed.

Hesychast controversy

The Transfiguration, an early-15th century icon attributed to Theophanes the Greek

The practice of Hesychasm has it beginnings in the Bible (see Matthew 6: 6) and the Philokalia. The tradition of contemplation with inner silence or tranquillity is shared by all Eastern asceticism having its roots in the Egyptian traditions of monasticism exemplified by such Orthodox monks as Saint Anthony of Egypt.

About 1337, Hesychasm attracted the attention of a learned member of the Orthodox Church, Barlaam, a Calabrian monk who was Abbot of Saint Saviour’s Monastery in Constantinople. Barlaam came in contact with the Hesychasts when he visited Mount Athos and read the works of Saint Gregory Palamas.

Hesychasm is a form of constant purposeful prayer or experiential prayer. It focuses the mind on God and prays to God unceasingly. The hesychasts stated that at higher stages of their prayer practice they reached the actual contemplation-union with the Uncreated Divine Light or photomos seen at the Transfiguration.

Barlaam was scandalised by Hesychasm. As a Scholastic theologian, he taught a more intellectual and propositional approach and regarded the hesychasts’ teachings on the nature of the uncreated light as heretical and blasphemous.

The great defender of the hesychasts was Saint Gregory Palamas, an Athonite monk and later Archbishop of Thessaloniki. He defended Hesychasm at three synods in Constantinople in the 1340s.

The Council of 1341 condemned Barlaam, who recanted and returned to Calabria, later becoming a Roman Catholic bishop. The followers of Barlaam had a brief victory at a later synod, but a synod in 1351 called by the Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos, the Hesychast teachings as set out by Saint Gregory Palamas were definitively accepted by the Orthodox Church.

The fall of Constantinople

The great church of Aghia Sophia became a mosque when Constantinople fell in 1453

In 1453, the city of Constantinople, the last stronghold of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottoman Turks. But the riches of Orthodoxy were not confined to Byzantium. Nor did they fade away after the Fall of Constantinople. Instead, the exodus of highly educated Greek scholars in the 15th century, later reinforced by refugees following the fall of Constantinople, had a significant influence on the first generation of the Italian Renaissance, including Petrarch and Boccaccio.

Later a similar exodus and flight from Crete when it was captured from the Venetians by the Ottoman Turks, would provide another wave of cultural influence throughout Europe.

However, Orthodoxy survived under the Ottoman Turks and remained strong in Russia, where Moscow started to call itself the Third Rome as the cultural heir of Constantinople.

Appendix 1: The Orthodox Church today:

An icon of Christ in an antique shop in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Four EU member states have an Orthodox majority– Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria. How did Orthodox spirituality sustain the people in Soviet Russia or in Ceausescu’s Romania?

What was the role of faith in the horrors of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia?

What form of spirituality is sustaining the people of Greece in their current economic and political crisis?

Who are the Christians caught between the extremes of militant Zionism and militant Islam in the Middle East?

Or, how should I behave when I visit a church while on holiday in Greece, Cyprus or Russia?

Today, the largest Orthodox Churches are the Russian and the Romanian churches, but the most ancient of the Orthodox churches of today are the Churches of Armenia, Constantinople, Alexandria (which includes all of Africa), Georgia, Antioch and Jerusalem.

The Church of Greece became independent following Greek independence in the 19th century, and the Archbishop of Athens, was recognised by Constantinople in 1850.

The Church of Egypt in Alexandria is separate and distinct from the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria since the Christological controversies and debates at the Council of Chalcedon (451). Today, the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Egypt has 300,000 Orthodox Christians.

Russia was never part of the Ottoman Empire and was recognised by Constantinople in 1589. The Patriarchate of Moscow, which was abolished by Peter the Great, was restored in 1917.

The Romanian Orthodox Church is the largest self-governing Church after Russia. It was declared autocephalous in 1885 and became a patriarchate in 1925.

Appendix 2: Orthodox understandings of prayer

The life of an Orthodox Christian is one of prayer ... inside an Orthodox church in Samos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The life of an Orthodox Christian is one of prayer. In the Orthodox tradition, it is the person who truly prays who is a theologian and a God-seer. The purpose of all life is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to become one with Christ, so that we may “become participants in the Divine Nature” (II Peter 1: 4), or Θέωσις (theosis) as it is called in the Orthodox tradition. Everything an Orthodox person does should be to further the goal of living a life of active love for all people. A life of prayer is filled with mercy, forgiveness and love.

For the Orthodox, prayer is doxology, praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication and intercession to God. “When I prayed I was new,” wrote a great Orthodox theologian, “but when I stopped praying I became old.” For the Orthodox, prayer is the way to renewal and spiritual life, is being alive to God, is strength, refreshment and joy, is a personal dialogue with God, is a spiritual breathing of the soul, is a foretaste of the bliss of God’s kingdom.

The Orthodox teach that God does not ask us to talk with him using beautiful words, but to talk to him from a beautiful soul. For that, we need no particular eloquence. He hears us no matter how softly we speak, he understands us even when we say little. All hours are appropriate and all places good. It is sufficient that we want to pray; learning comes after that.

However, there are some specific aspects of Orthodox spirituality that should be noted here: the Liturgy; Daily and Personal Prayer; Icons and Prayer; the Jesus Prayer; and the monastic life.

As the Russian theologian Father Georges Florovsky (1893-1979) writes: “Christianity is a liturgical religion. The Church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second.”

Icons and prayer

The Hospitality of Abraham ... a contemporary icon of a much-loved traditional theme

Orthodox prayer, both public and private, is also marked by the use of icons, and, in a very developed way, by the use of the Jesus Prayer.

Through the traditional use of icons, the Orthodox Church has had a remarkable influence, not just on aesthetic considerations, but on our theological journey too. Our understanding of the Trinity, for example, has been transformed by the way in which many theologians have come to a fresh way of talking about the Trinity because of insights developed through Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Visitation of Abraham.

An icon of Saint Catherine of Sinai, patron saint of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge

The icon of Christ in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute is a copy of the earliest surviving icon of Christ, from Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.

The dispute over the doctrinal orthodoxy of icons and their place in the Church was settled at the seventh Ecumenical Council in 843. Icons are part of the heritage of the undivided Church before the Great Schism.

The Jesus Prayer

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλό

The Jesus Prayer, also called the Prayer of the Heart by some Church Fathers, is one of the best known spiritual traditions within Orthodoxy. It is simple: Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλό (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner).

This short, simple prayer has been widely used and taught throughout history. For the Orthodox, it is one of the most profound and mystical prayers. It is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice. The theology of the Jesus Prayer was most clearly set out by Saint Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), and its practice is an integral part of Hesychasm, the subject of the Philokalia, a collection of texts on prayer compiled in the late 18th century that has become a key compendium of Orthodox spirituality and prayer.

An icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, from the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai

The practice of repeating the prayer continually dates from at least the 5th century. It is first referred to in the writings of Saint Diadochos of Photiki (400-486), is described by Saint John Cassian, who died in 435, and is recommended by Saint John Klimakos of Mount Sinai (523-603) in The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Today, Mount Athos is a centre of the practice of the Jesus Prayer.

The Monastery of Vlatádon ... a working monastery with strong links with academic theological life in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Additional Readings and resources

(Bishop) Hilarion Alfeyev, The Mystery of Faith (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2002).

E Kadloubovsky and GEH Palmer, Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart (London: Fabber and Faber, 1992).

John Anthony McGuckin, Standing in God’s Holy Fire: the Byzantine Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2001).

Graham Speake, Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002).

(Metropolitan) Kallistos Ware (Timothy Ware), The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin, 1997, new ed).

(Metropolitan) Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002).


5.2: Seminar: readings in key thinkers in the late Mediaeval Church: Gregory the Great, Aquinas, Francis, &c.

Tomorrow Morning: The Reformation in a morning:

6.1: New questions: Lollards, Hussites and Erasmus.

6.2: Key figures in the Magesterial Reformation: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

6.3: Introducing the Anglican Reformation.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 17 April 2015 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the part-time MTh course, Years I-IV.