Friday, 23 November 2012

Church History 6.3: External and internal priorities: the Crusades and the Monasteries

Monasticism and the Crusades … Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preaches the Second Crusade

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 23 November 2012, 11 a.m.:

Church History 6.3:
External and internal priorities: the Crusades and the Monasteries


We left a few moments ago with the division of the Church at the Great Schism into East and West. By then the Western Church was in need of consolidation, and two priorities, pressures or forces, one external and one internal, helped to provide that consolidation or focus for it in very different ways – the development of monastic and mendicant traditions, and the lessons and disasters of the Crusades.

In many ways, those two movements are brought together in the person of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who is remembered for his efforts to reform the Benedictine monastic tradition, and for his zeal in preaching on behalf of the Crusades.

Part 1: The Crusades

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem … at the heart of the conflict between Islam and Christianity in the Holy Land

The Crusades were a series of religious wars between 1095 and 1291 blessed by the Pope and the Church with the expressed goal of restoring Christian access to holy places in and near Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the sacred city and symbol of the three principal Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It was first captured by Islamic forced in the year 638. When the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine army in 1071, Christian access to Jerusalem was cut off and the Emperor Alexis I feared the Turks would over-run all Asia Minor. The Byzantine emperor called on western Christian leaders and the papacy to come to the aid of Constantinople and to free Jerusalem from Islamic rule.

In all, there were nine Crusades from the 11th to the 13th century, along with many “minor” Crusades. Several hundred thousand Crusaders came from throughout western Europe, but they were not under any one unified command. Their emblem was the cross, and the term “Crusade,” although not used by the Crusaders to describe themselves, comes from the French term for taking up the cross. Many were from France and were called “Franks” – the common term used by Muslims.


The Cathedral of Pisa … funded through two raids on Muslim territories in the 11th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In the decades immediately before the launch of the Crusades, the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bin-Amir Allah ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. His successors allowed the Byzantine Empire to rebuild the church in 1039 and Christian pilgrims were allowed once again to visit the holy sites in Palestine.

In second half of the 11th century, even before the First Crusade, European forces had been at war with Muslim forces:

● The city of Pisa in Italy funded its new cathedral through two raids on the Muslims – in Palermo (1063) and Mahdia (1087).
● In Sicily, the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard had conquered northern Sicily by 1072.
● In 1085, Moorish Toledo fell to the Kingdom of León.

The Crusades came as a response to wave-after-wave of Turkish assaults on the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine emperors sent emissaries to the Pope asking for aid in their struggles with the Seljuk Turks. In 1074, Emperor Michael VII sent a request for aid to Pope Gregory VII, but there was no practical response.

In 1095, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos appealed to Pope Urban II for help against the Turks, and Urban II responded by launching the crusades on the last day of the Council of Clermont.

His speech is of the most influential speeches ever. He called for Christian princes across Europe to launch a holy war in the Holy Land. He vividly described attacks on Christian pilgrims and contrasted the sanctity of Jerusalem and the holy places with the plunder and desecration by the Turks. He urged the barons to give up their fratricidal and unrighteous wars in the West for the holy war in the East. He also suggested material rewards in the form of feudal fiefdoms, land ownership, wealth, power, and prestige, all at the expense of the Arabs and Turks.

When he finished, those present chanted: “Deus vult, God wills it.”

Immediately, thousands pledged themselves to go on the first crusade. Pope Urban’s sermon at Clermont was the start of an eight-month preaching tour he undertook throughout France. Preachers were sent throughout Western Europe to talk up the Crusade.

Urban’s example inspired the preaching of Peter the Hermit, who eventually led a “People’s Crusade” of up to 20,000 people, mostly from the lower classes, after Easter 1096. When they reached the Byzantine Empire, Alexius urged them to wait for the western nobles, but the “army” insisted on moving on. They were ambushed outside Nicaea by the Turks, and only about 3,000 people escaped the ambush.

First Crusade (1095–1099):

The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem in 1099 (Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)

The leaders of the First Crusade were Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke William II of Normandy, but not King Philip I of France or the German Emperor Henry IV. In all, the forces may have numbered 100,000.

The first crusader armies set off from France and Italy on 15 August 1096. They received a cautious welcome in Constantinople from the Byzantine Emperor. The main army, mostly French and Norman knights, then marched south through Anatolia and first fought the Turks at the lengthy Siege of Antioch from October 1097 to June 1098. Once inside the city, the Crusaders massacred the Muslim inhabitants and pillaged the city.

Most of the surviving crusader army then marched south, finally reaching the walls of Jerusalem on 7 June 1099 with only a fraction of their original forces. Although Jerusalem was defended by its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants, who fought alongside each other, the crusaders entered the city on 15 July 1099. They proceeded to massacre the remaining Jewish and Muslim civilians and pillaged or destroyed the mosques and the city itself.

As a result of the First Crusade, several small Crusader states were created. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, at most 120,000 Franks ruled over 350,000 Muslims, Jews, and e Eastern Christians. The other Crusader states were the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli.

Eventually, the Muslims began to reunite and Edessa was retaken in 1144 It was the first city to fall to the Crusaders, and was the first city recaptured by the Muslims. This led the Pope to call for a second Crusade.

The historian Steven Runciman writes of the First Crusade as a barbarian invasion of the civilised and sophisticated Byzantine empire, ultimately bringing about the ruin of Byzantine civilization.

The Second Crusade (1147–1149):

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preaches the Second Crusade

After a period of relative peace in the Holy Land, the Muslims reconquered Edessa and a new crusade was called for by various preachers, especially Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. However, Bernard of Clairvaux was upset with the amount of misdirected violence and the slaughter of the Jewish population of the Rhineland.

French and German armies under the King Louis VII and King Conrad III marched to Jerusalem in 1147 but failed to win any major victories. Even the pre-emptive siege of Damascus was a failure. By 1150, the kings of France and Germany had returned home without any gains. As part of the wave created by the Second Crusade, however, Lisbon was retaken from the Muslims in 1147, and Tortosa was captured in 1148.

The Third Crusade (1187-1192)

The Crusaders before Saladin

The divided Muslim forces and powers were united by Saladin, who created a single powerful state. Following his victory at the Battle of Hattin, he overwhelmed the disunited crusaders in 1187 and all of the crusader holdings except a few coastal cities. The Byzantines, who now feared the Crusaders, made a strategic alliance with Saladin.

Saladin’s victories shocked Europe. When he heard of the Siege of Jerusalem (1187), Pope Urban VIII died of a heart attack on 19 October 1187. On 29 October, Pope Gregory VIII issued a papal bull calling for the Third Crusade. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, King Philip II of France and King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England responded by organising a crusade.

But Frederick died on the way and few of his men reached the Holy Land. The other two armies arrived but were beset by political quarrels. Philip returned to France. Richard captured Cyprus from the Byzantines in 1191, recaptured the cities of Acre and Jaffa, and his Crusader army marched south to Jerusalem. However, Richard did not believe he could hold Jerusalem once it was captured.

The crusade ended without Jerusalem being retaken. Instead, Richard negotiated a treaty with Saladin allowing merchants to trade and unarmed Christians to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204):

The Crusaders assault Constantinople in 1204

The Fourth Crusade was initiated by Pope Innocent III, with a plan to invade the Holy Land through Egypt, with a fleet contracted from Venice. But the crusaders lost the support of the Pope and were excommunicated.

They lacked supplies, the leases on their vessels were running out when they turned on Constantinople and tried to place a Byzantine exile on the throne. In 1204, the Crusaders sacked the city and established the so-called “Latin Empire” and a collection of petty Crusader states throughout the Byzantine Empire.

Finally, the Pope returned his support to the Crusade, and backed a plan for a forced reunion between the Churches of the east and the West. But this forced but short-lived reunion was the final breaking point of the Great Schism.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221):

Saint Francis of Assisi before the Sultan at Damietta in 1219

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council formulated yet another crusade plan for the recovery of the Holy Land. In the first phase, a crusading force from Austria and Hungary joined the forces of the “King of Jerusalem” and the “Prince of Antioch” to retake Jerusalem.

In the second phase, the Crusader forces captured Damietta in Egypt in 1219. Saint Francis of Assisi crossed the battle lines at Damietta to speak to the Sultan, who was impressed by Francis and spent some time with him. Francis was given safe passage and his action eventually led to the establishment of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

But in 1221, the Crusaders launched a foolhardy attack on Cairo, where they were turned back and forced to retreat.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229):

The Dome of the Rock ... left in Muslim hands by the Sixth Crusade

Emperor Frederick II launched the Sixth Crusade in 1228, when he set sail from Brindisi for Saint-Jean d’Acre. There were no battles in the Crusade, and Frederick signed a treaty with the Sultan of Egypt allowing Christians to rule over most of Jerusalem and a strip of territory from Acre to Jerusalem, while the Muslims had control of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque. In 1228, Frederick crowned himself king of Jerusalem. The peace lasted for about ten years. Following the Siege of Jerusalem in 1244, the Muslims regained control of the city.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254):

King Louis IX of France organised a crusade against Egypt from 1248 to 1254. The crusaders were decisively defeated on their way to Cairo and King Louis was captured, released only after a large ransom had been paid.

The Eighth Crusade (1270):

Louis IX again attacked the Arabs in 1270, this time in Tunis in North Africa. The king died in Tunisia, ending this last major attempt to take the Holy Land.

The Ninth Crusade (1271–1272):

The future Edward I of England, who had accompanied Louis on the Eighth Crusade, launched his own Crusade in 1271. But the Ninth Crusade was a failure and it marks the end of the Crusades in the Middle East.

Antioch had fallen in 1268, Tripoli fell in 1289, Acre n 1291, and the island of Ruad, 3 km off the Syrian shore, was captured by the Mamluks in 1302. The last traces of Christian rule in the Levant disappeared.

The Knights of Saint John relocated themselves to the island of Rhodes, which they held until 1522. Cyprus remained under the House of Lusignan until 1474, and then in the hands of Venice until 1570.

Some other “Crusades”:

The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars of Occitania in southern France. It was a decades-long struggle that had as much to do with the concerns of northern France to extend its control southwards as it did with heresy. In the end, the Cathars were exterminated and the autonomy of southern France came to an end.

The “Children’s Crusade” The chronicles report a spontaneous youth movement in France and Germany attracted large numbers of peasant teenagers and young people in 1212, convinced they could succeed where older and more sinful crusaders had failed. Many of the children died of hunger or exhaustion on the hot summer’s journey to the port of Marseilles, others were captured and sold into slavery. At Marseilles, seven ships were put at their disposal. It was 18 years before anything more was heard of them.

Evaluating the Crusades:

The Crusades had political, economic, and social impacts on western Europe. Later consequences were, on the one hand, the way they weakened the Byzantine Empire, which fell eventually to the Muslim Turks; and on the other hand a long period of wars in Spain and Portugal leading to a Christian conquest or reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. The Crusades allowed the Papacy to assert its independence of secular rulers and developed the arguments for the proper use of armed force by Christians, leading eventually to the development of the “Just War” theories.

Some historians have argued that the Crusades opened up European culture to the world, especially Asia, and gave Christian Europe a more cosmopolitan world view that led to its world-wide empires.

Sir Steven Runciman says of the Crusades: “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed ... the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God.”

Runciman has highlighted the tension between the Patriarchs of Constantinople and the Popes in Rome during the Crusades, and the more tolerant attitude of the Byzantines towards Muslim powers. For 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.

Nevertheless, the Crusades had an enormous influence on the Church and on western Europe in the Middle Ages. In part, they contributed to the development of nation states such as France, England, Spain, Burgundy and Portugal.

Much knowledge in areas such as science, medicine, mathematics, philosophy and architecture were introduced to Europe from the Islamic world during the crusades.

Along with trade, new scientific discoveries and inventions made their way east or west. Arab and classical Greek advances, including the development of algebra and optics and the refinement of engineering, made their way west and sped the course of advancement in European universities that led to the Renaissance in later centuries.

Maritime passage brought the rise of Western European and Mediterranean trading and naval powers such as the Sicilian Normans and the Italian city-states of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa.

Trade routes opened across Europe, bringing many things to Europeans that were once unknown or rare, including a variety of spices, ivory, jade, diamonds, improved glass-manufacturing techniques, early forms of gun powder, oranges, apples, and other Asian crops and produce.

The Crusades mark Europe’s recovery from the Dark Ages (ca 700–1000). The economy of Western Europe advanced, and the Renaissance began in the Italian maritime republics of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa which were opened to the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans.

But the rising Ottoman Empire would pose a new threat to Western Europe in advance of Christopher Columbus’s voyage in 1492 and the opening of the Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century.

Part 2: The rise of the monastic tradition:

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux ... links the Crusades and Monasticism

The role of the monastic and mendicant orders at the time of the Crusades is crucial to their development. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, responsible for the reform of the Benedictine tradition, “preached up” the Second Crusade; Saint Francis of Assisi crossed the battle lines at Damietta to speak to the Sultan in 1219 during the Fifth Crusade; and the Carmelites arrived in Europe as a loose group of hermits forced to leave the Holy Land in the wake of the failure of the Crusades.

However, we last left the monks at our visit to Kells, when we looked at the rise of the monastic tradition in Ireland. Perhaps we should take a step back a few centuries to understand the development of monasticism in the history of the Church.

Two particular rules have shaped Western monasticism: the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Rule of Saint Augustine. But the monastic tradition has its roots in the Desert Fathers and a tradition that developed in Egypt and Syria.

Origins of Monasticism:

Saint Anthony of Egypt (252-356) ... the founder of the eremetical or solitary monastic life

The word monk comes from the Greek word monos, indicating someone who lives alone. At first, monks did not live in monasteries but lived alone in the wilderness or the desert. When their followers started to come together and model themselves along the lifestyle of the monks, the monks began to form communities.

Saint Anthony the Abbot (252-356) could be regarded as the founder of the eremetical or solitary monastic life, while Saint Pachomius is seen as the founding figure in the cenobotical or community-style monastic life.

Eremitic monasticism, or solitary monasticism, is marked by a complete withdrawal from society. The word “eremitic” comes from the Greek word eremos, meaning desert. Saint Anthony of the Desert, or Saint Anthony of Egypt, left civilisation behind in the third century to live a solitary life on an Egyptian mountain. Although he was probably not the first Christian hermit, he is generally seen as such.

Then, ca 323, at Tabenna in Upper Egypt, Saint Pachomius gathered his disciples into a more organised community that lived in individual huts or rooms, but worked, ate and worshipped together. Similarly, in 328, Saint Makarios established individual groups of cells. These two monastic saints wanted to bring together individual ascetics who were not able to live a solitary existence in the desert.

The head of these monasteries came to be known as “Father” – in Syriac Abba, which gives us our English “Abbot.”

Saint Pachomius helped to organise other communities, so that by the time he died in 346 there were 3,000 such communities throughout Egypt. From there, monasticism quickly spread first to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and then through the rest of the Empire.

Two different two types of monastic lifestyle developed – the permanent and the mendicant; the permanent monks were committed to living in one community, while the mendicants renounced all of their worldly possessions and travelled about preaching, dependent on the alms and offerings of others.

Western monasticism:

Saint Marin of Tours ... a bas relief in Oxford of Saint Martin giving half his cloak to a beggar

After serving in the Roman legions, Martin of Tours converted to Christianity and established a hermitage near Milan, and then moved on to Poitiers, where he gathered a community around his hermitage. He became Bishop of Tours in 372, and his community has strong associations with the story of Saint Patrick and his mission in Ireland.

Saint John Cassian began his monastic career at a monastery in Palestine and Egypt around 385 and established two monasteries, one for men and one for women, near Marseilles ca 415. In time, these attracted over 5,000 monks and nuns.

Ireland was the first non-Roman area to adopt monasticism. The earliest monastic settlements in Ireland emerged at the end of the fifth century. Irish monasticism spread widely, first to Scotland and northern England, and then to Gaul and Italy.

The Benedictine tradition:

Saint Benedict of Nursia ... the key figure in the foundation and development of the Western monastic tradition

Within the Western monastic tradition, there are two key figures, Saint Benedict and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Saint Benedict of Nursia is the most influential figure in western monasticism. He was educated in Rome but soon sought the life of a hermit in a cave at Subiaco, outside the city. He attracted followers and with them he founded the monastery of Monte Cassino ca 520, between Rome and Naples.

Saint Benedict was more focused on schools, and the education of the monks who followed his rule. He wished to reform the education throughout the monasteries so that a monk could be a better person, and more greatly achieve their quest of living a life like that of Christ.

He set out the rule that led to him being credited with the title of Father of Western Monasticism.

By the ninth century, largely under the inspiration of Charlemagne, the Rule of Saint Benedict had become the guiding rule for Western monasticism.

The Mendicant orders:

Saint Dominic in Prayer by El Greco

In the 13th century, with the decline of the monasteries, new mendicant orders of friars were founded to teach the Christian faith. Within the mendicant orders, two principal groups of friars emrged: the Franciscans and the Dominicans.

The Franciscans begin with Saint Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century. Saint Francis realised that as the monks became rich from their earnings, they ultimately started to become lazy and proud. His Franciscans believed in living in poverty and sought to survive by begging.

The Dominicans or the Order of Preachers was founded by Saint Dominic de Guzman in the 13th century. He established a systematic and organised method of teaching the monks so they would be prepared to travel and preach to the people. Saint Dominic taught the most importance of linking the monastic rules with lives of poverty, chastity and obedience. He also emphasised charity and meekness.

Later, the Dominican friars would be linked with the Spanish Inquisition. But among their great scholars and theologians were Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Catherine of Siena.

The principal western monastic and mendicant traditions include:

● The Benedictines: founded in 529 by Benedict at Monte Cassino. They, stress the combination of work, prayer and study in the monastic life.
● The Augustinians, who evolved from the canons who lived under the Rule of Saint Augustine.
● The Carmelites (Whitefriars) who were founded ca 1206 and 1214, but claimed to have originated on the slopes of Mount Carmel.
● The Cistercians or Trappists, who developed out of reforms of the Benedictine tradition initiated by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.
● The Dominicans (the Blackfriars), founded in 1215 by Saint Dominic.
● The Franciscans, who followed the lifestyle of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich … “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

If you recall how we looked at the monastic tradition including both those who lived in community and those who lived a solitary life, then one of the most interesting people, from an Anglican perspective, to live a solitary, religious life at the end of this period must be Julian of Norwich (ca 1342 – ca 1416).

She was an English anchorite who is regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics. Yet, apart from her writings, we know little about her life: we do not know her birth name, nor do we know the date of her death, whether she was a nun or a laywoman, single or widowed.

Her major work, Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love (ca 1393), is believed to be the first book written in the English language written by a woman.

The saying, “…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” which Julian claimed was said to her by God, reflects her theology. It is well-known line in Anglican and Catholic spirituality, and one of the best-known phrases of the literature of her era. It has been given new literary currency in recent generations by TS Eliot, who drew on this quotation and her phrase, “the ground of our beseeching,” in his poem Little Gidding, the fourth of his Four Quartets:

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us – a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.

Monasticism in the East:

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

Eastern Orthodox monasticism does not have religious orders as in the West, and there are no formal monastic rules, and no division between the active and the contemplative life.

There are three types of monasticism in the East: eremitic, cenobitic and the skete. The skete is a small community, often of only two or three, under the direction of an elder. They pray privately for most of the week, then come together on Sundays and Feast Days for communal prayer.

Among the first figures to try to regulate the monastic life is Saint Basil the Great. He was educated in Caesarea, Constantinople and Athens, and visited groups of hermits in Palestine and Egypt. He was deeply impressed by the communities that developed under the guidance of Saint Pachomius.

Saint Basil wrote a series of guides for monastic life which, while not rules as later understood in West, provided guidelines for communities living under one abbot.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, represented in an icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai

An important place in the development of Eastern monasticism is Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. There the Ladder of Divine Ascent was written by Saint John Klimakos (ca 600).

The central and unifying feature of Orthodox monasticism is Hesychasm, the practice of silence, and the concentrated saying of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on me, the sinner” ... which is a good place to end this part of our module on Church History.

Next (Week 11):

7.1, A house divided: Rome and Byzantium.

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

7.3, Meanwhile, back in Ireland: the Anglo-Norman and post-Norman Church.

Semester II:

8.1: New questions: Lollards, Hussites and Erasmus.

8.2: Reformation readings: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

8.3: The Anglican Reformation: readings.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 23 November 2012 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.

Church History 6.2: The arrival of Islam and the triumph of Rome

The Emperor Constantine in a mosaic in the great basilica of Aghia Sophia

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 23 November 2012, 10.15 a.m.:

Church History 6.2:

The arrival of Islam and the triumph of Rome


This morning, we have been looking at the development of doctrine, the creeds and the canon of Scripture, the problems that the Early Church faced with first articulation of heresies, and how this agenda came together at the first four great or ecumenical councils of the Church.

Doctrine was affirmed, heresy was combated, and unity was expressed in the pronouncements of the councils and the formulations of the Creeds.

But it must be striking for you that the locus for all these activities is the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria, the Syrian and Egyptian deserts, and the great commercial and cultural centres of western Anatolia, such as Ephesus and Chalcedon, across the Bosporus from Byzantium.

An icon of the Council of Nicaea, with the Emperor Constantine and the bishops holding a scroll with the words of the Nicene Creed

When Constantine moved the capital of the Empire from Rome to Byzantium in 330, the centre of Christianity moved from the Old Rome to the New Rome, and the Eastern rim of the Mediterranean basin became the centre of Christian intellectual activity and debate as the western empire was crumbling and collapsing.

A mosaic of Saint John Chrysostom in the Aghia Sophia in Constantinople

But divisions began to afflict the Eastern Church too, as illustrated by the story of the fate of Saint John Chrysostom.

Saint John Chrysostom (Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος, “John the Golden-Mouthed” (ca 347–407), Patriarch of Constantinople, is known for his eloquent preaching and his denunciation of the abuse of power and privilege. He has given his name to the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and the “Prayer of Saint Chrysostom” in The Book of Common Prayer.

He was a monk and a priest in Antioch when he was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople in 397. He quickly became unpopular with the ruling class, the wealthy citizens and the clergy of Constantinople, and his reforms proved unpopular.

At a synod in 403, he was deposed and banished. But on the night of his arrest an earthquake hit the city, and the Empress Eudoxia saw this as a sign of God’s anger, and John was reinstated.

But this peace was short-lived, and John compared Eudoxia with Herodias, who “desires to receive John’s head in a charger.” This time, John was banished to the Caucasus in Armenia. In exile, he appealed for support to three Church leaders in the West, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Innocent I, the Bishop of Milan and the Bishop of Aquileia, as the champions of an ecclesiastical discipline he was unable to enforce or establish.

Pope Innocent sent a delegation to intercede on John’s behalf, but the three bishops he sent were not allowed to enter Constantinople, and John was exiled to furthest eastern end of the Black Sea. On the gruelling journey there he died in Comana in Cappadocia on 14 September 407.

After his death, relations between Rome and Constantinople were broken off, and were not restored for 11 years. Eventually, his relics were returned to Constantinople in the year 438. But his deposition, his appeal to Rome, the treatment of the Roman delegation by Byzantium, and the breach in communion for over a decade would set the agenda and paved the way for further divisions between the Church of the East and the Church of the West.

Two long-lasting divisions

The pyramids at sunset ... much of the intellectual impetus for the great debates came from the monks of the Egyptian and Syrian deserts (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Meanwhile, two further divisions beset the Church in the East – the heresies labelled as Nestorianism and Monophystitism.

Monophysitism was born in the theological School of Alexandria, which began its Christological analysis with the divine eternal Son or Word of God and sought to explain how this eternal Word had become incarnate as a man. In contrast, the School of Antioch, the birthplace of Nestorianism, began with the human Jesus of the Gospels and sought to explain how this man is united with the eternal Word in the Incarnation.

Both sides agreed, of course, that Christ is both human and divine. But the School of Alexandria emphasised the Divinity of Christ, including the concept that the divine nature was itself “impassible” or immune to suffering. On the other hand, the Antiochines emphasised humanity of Christ, including the limited knowledge and growth in wisdom of the Christ of the Gospels.

In reality, individual Monophysite and Nestorian theologians rarely believed the extreme views attributed to them by their opponents, even if some of their followers may have.

Nestorius and Nestorians

Saint Mary’s Basilica … the Double Church where the Council of Ephesus met and Nestorius was condemned met in 431 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Nestorius (Νεστόριος, ca 386–ca 451) was the Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to August 431. His teachings included a rejection of the long-used title of Θεοτόκος (Theotokos, “God-bearer” or “Mother of God”) for the Virgin Mary, and were understood by many to imply that he did not believe that Christ was truly God.

However, Nestorius actually was concerned that the use of the term Θεοτόκος ran the risk of venerating the Virgin Mary as a goddess. His position soon brought Nestorius into conflict with other prominent church leaders and theologians of the time.

Saint Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, accused Nestorius of heresy. Nestorius sought to defend himself at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 – a year before Saint Patrick is traditionally said to have landed in Ireland to begin his mission. But a majority of the bishops at the council formally condemned Nestorius for heresy. Later that year, the Emperor Theodosius II, who had initially supported Nestorius, confirmed the condemnation and he was removed from his see.

On his own request, Nestorius retired to his former monastery near Antioch. In 435 Theodosius II sent him into exile in Upper Egypt, where he lived until 450 or 451, strenuously defending his orthodoxy. He was anathematised in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

A copy of the Nestorian stele in the Mien Church in Shanghai ... the followers of Nestorius had brought Christianity to China within two centuries of his death (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Assyrian or Chaldean Church, which also calls itself the Church of the East, never accepted his condemnation. At the time, this Church in eastern Mesopotamia and Persia was under Sassanian rule, and was subsequently treated by other churches, East and West, as the “Nestorian Church,” although it was not founded by him and never regarded him as an authoritative teacher.

It is now generally agreed that Nestorius and his ideas were not as far from those that eventually emerged as orthodox. But the orthodoxy of his formulation of the doctrine of Christ remains controversial, and the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 confirmed the validity of the condemnation of Nestorius.

By the early seventh century, we know, Nestorian missionaries were firmly established in China under the Tang Dynasty (618–907). The so-called “Nestorian stele” records a mission under Alopen, a Persian Christian, who introduced Nestorian Christianity to China in 635.

Following the Muslim conquest of Persia in 644, the Persian Church became a protected faith community under the Caliphate. The church and its communities flourished under the Caliphate, and by the 10th century this church had 15 metropolitan sees within the territories of the Caliphs, and another five beyond, including in China and India.

Monophysites and Monophysitism

The interior of Aghia Sophia ... with the end of the great doctrinal and creedal debates, Aghia Sophia remain the largest church in Christendom for centuries

The Monophysite concepts developed in reaction to Nestorianism. This new teaching asserted that Christ had but one nature, his human nature being absorbed into his divinity. This doctrine was condemned in 451 at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, he Council of Chalcedon.

The Chalcedonian decrees were accepted by the Patriarchal Sees of Rome, Constantinople and Antioch, but were resisted strongly in Alexandria and in the Egyptian monasteries. This led eventually to the schism between the Chalcedonian churches and the Oriental Orthodox churches.

Monophysitism was later attributed mistakenly to the non-Chalcedonian churches, including the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Egyptian and Ethiopian Orthodox churches (Copts), and many of the Syrian Orthodox Churches in the Middle East and India, although today it is condemned as heresy in the modern Oriental Orthodox churches.

Later, monothelitism – the belief that Christ was two natures in one person except that he only had a divine will and no human will – was developed as an attempt to bridge the gap between the Chalcedonian position and the Monophysite. However, it too was rejected by the members of the Chalcedonian synod, despite at times having the support of Byzantine emperors and once avoiding being condemned by the Pope of the day, Honorius I.

Orthodoxy was now triumphant in Byzantium, and that triumph was symbolised by Aghia Sophia (Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας or more simply Ἁγία Σοφία), the great Church of Holy Wisdom, built by Justinian in Constantinople in 537. Justinian built other great churches, including those in Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai and in Ravenna in Italy. Aghia Sophia would remain the largest cathedral in the Christian world for almost 1,000 years.

The rise of Islam

A map showing the rise of Islam on the borders of the Byzantine and Persian empires

But the greatest threat to the East at the time was posed not by internal divisions, not by the rival claims of Rome and the Church in West, but by the Rise of Islam.

It is one of those strange coincidences or convergences in history that the fertile crescent of the Middle East is the birth place of great ancient kingdoms such as Babylon, Jerusalem and Persia, and of three of the great surviving monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Just five centuries after the start of Christianity, Muhammad was born ca 570, little more than a generation after the completion of Aghia Sophia, and Islam would rise as a religious, political and social force in the Middle East.

Muhammad was a member of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca in the Arabian peninsula, Around the years 610-613, he claimed to have received revelations from God through the Angel Gabriel, that he was a prophet in the same line of prophets as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, and calling him to preach the religious message of Islam.

At first, he shared his ideas with a close circle of family members, neighbours and friends. After three years, however, he found the courage to proclaim this faith publicly and gained a growing number of followers. But his monotheistic message was not well received in Mecca, a centre of polytheistic worship that profited from pagan pilgrims to the Kaaba. The early Muslim converts faced persecution, and Muhammad and his followers were forced to leave Mecca and flee to Medina in the hejira in the year 622.

From his new base in Medina, Muhammad sent his followers out to raid the merchant caravans of the pagan Arabs. In the year 624, the Muslims attacked and defeated a heavily guarded merchant caravan and took many captives. This Battle of Badr is the first major battle in the Muslim conquest of Arabia.

Over the next few years, he expanded his territorial control over the area to the north of Medina and waged war with a number of both pagan and Jewish Arab tribes. But, as his power and influence grew, relations with the three Jewish tribes of Medina began to deteriorate.

In 630, Muhammad conquered Mecca and over the next two years he sent his armies throughout western Arabia to conquer the remaining tribes. He demolished the temples of his defeated enemies and refused to accept their surrender until they agreed to convert to his religion.

After the death of Muhammad in 632, the Muslims were led by a series of Caliphs who had been his closest companions. They continued his aggressive territorial expansion, first in the Arabian peninsula and then attacking the two major powers in the region, the Byzantine Empire of the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Sassanid Empire of Persia. Both empires had been in a state of almost continuous war with each other for an entire century. Each was now were in a weak state and unable to mount an effective resistance.

In the year 638, Jerusalem was captured by the Muslims. During the Caliphate of Umar, Muslim armies conquered almost the entire Middle East, including the Levant, Egypt, and much of Persia. The rest of Persia was conquered under the reigns of the two subsequent Caliphs, Uttman and Ali. Islam spread quickly to northern Africa and east as far as India, which Muslims interpret as a sign of their favour in the eyes of God.

Yet many historians point out that none of these first Caliphs ever mention Muhammad’s name or refer to Islam on any of their inscriptions or coins. This has led scholars to suggest that the first Caliphs were not nearly as pious as later Islamic historians made them out to be, and some even suggest that much of Islamic belief may have been constructed in later periods.

During the Umayyad Caliphate, from the year 661, the pace of conquests began to slow down. When the Muslim armies reached the Maghreb or north-west Africa, they met stiff resistance from both Byzantine and Berber forces.

But once all of North Africa had come under the rule of the Caliphate, the Muslim forces quickly crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and invaded Europe. The Visigoths of Spain were defeated within a few years. Islam reached as far west as the Iberian Peninsula and pressed north, almost reaching Paris before Charles Martel checked its advance and defeated the Muslim armies at the Battle of Tours in 732.

Should we regard this as the battle that saved Europe for Christianity? Certainly, the expansion of Islam was astonishing in its days. In just 100 years, Islam had conquered all of Arabia and then expanded, conquering vast territories as far west as Spain and as far east as Afghanistan.

The village mosque in Sirinçe, is now the only public place of worship in the former Greek-speaking village in Anatolia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Islamic Caliphate was now the largest empire the world had yet known, controlling some of the most important centres of civilisation. Of the five Christian Patriarchates, three had fallen under Islamic rule – Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch. Indeed, there is evidence that in some places, including Alexandria in Egypt and Damascus in Syria, that Christians who had been living under oppressive rule welcomed the Muslim conquerors.

Only Rome and Constantinople remained in Christian hands. From this point on, much of Mediterranean history would be marked by the struggles between Christianity and Islam, with Christianity dominating the northern shores of the Mediterranean and Islam the southern shores. The battlegrounds would be Spain, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and the islands caught in the middle.

Meanwhile, way out West

The Coliseum in Rome ... it took centuries for Rome to reclaim its privileges and authority (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In all these debates, Rome seemed to be little more than a provincial backwater, and it took centuries for the “Eternal City” to claim or reclaim its authority and its claims to primacy.

When Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople, the empire was divided into east and west, and while many parts of what we know today as Italy – including Ravenna, southern Italy and Sicily – remained within the Greek sphere of influence, the western Empire was vulnerable and was under assault.

Saint Jerome had translated the Bible in his Latin Vulgate version in the year 404. But only six years later, in 410, Rome was sacked by Alaric and the Goths, sending shockwaves throughout the civilised world. It is seldom remembered that Alaric was an Arian, and that he left the great churches of Rome untouched. Pelagianism rather than Arianism appeared to be the heresy that posed the greatest threat in Rome until Pelagius moved to North Africa and there he clashed with Augustine of Hippo.

Nevertheless, the old order seemed to be crumbling and Christianity appeared to be under siege, inspiring Augustine to write his City of God ca 413-427. Leo the Great, who became Pope in 440, was the first Bishop of Rome to assume the title of Pontifex Maximus, a title previously used only by the emperors.

Leo’s meeting with Attila the Hun (Raphael, 1531)

But Leo was not present at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and a year later, in 452, Attila the Hun and his forces arrived in Italy. At an encounter in Mantua, Leo persuaded Attila and his forces to turn back from Rome, but the Vandals captured Rome in 455, and spent a fortnight looting and sacking the city.

Less than two decades later, in 476, the German warrior Odoacer became the first barbarian King of Rome. The links between the Old Rome and the New Rome were now merely nominal and not always respected.

The Baptism of Clovis in Rheims Cathedral

When the Frankish king Clovis sought to be baptised in Rheims Cathedral ca 500, he consciously modelled himself on the Emperor Constantine almost two centuries earlier.

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

But the recovery of the Latin Church only truly begins with the Papacy of Gregory I, Saint Gregory the Great, who was Pope from 590 until his death in 604. Gregory is respected for his prolific writings, and for his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman liturgy of his day.

He was the first of the popes to come from a monastic background, and he is revered by Roman Catholics, the Orthodox Church, Anglicans and Lutherans. Even Calvin admired Gregory the Great, and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good pope.

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

Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in Rome on Christmas Day 800

Rome was beginning its recovery and would eventually triumph. With the defeat of the Muslims at Tours by Charles Martel in 732, the ground was prepared for the reunion of the Frankish kingdoms. The link between the reunified Frankish kingdoms and the Papacy was consolidated when Charles the Great, Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome on Christmas Day 800.

Although the Vikings were still plundering the monasteries of northern Europe, the Moors were ensconced in Spain and Jerusalem, and the Byzantine Empire was holding out in the East, the Vikings and the Slavs were learning to write, and Christian kingdoms were emerging throughout northern and western Europe. Western Christianity appeared to have triumphed in the face of adversity and the next four centuries, between 800 and 1200, saw a new relationship between Church and State.

The monastic houses were providing renewal and learning, and Anselm was asking his great questions about God, Faith and Understanding.

But the divisions already created between Greek East and Latin West continued to simmer.

The debate on the filioque clause reached its climax in Aghia Sophia when Cardinal Humbert excommunicated Patriarch Michael Keroularios

In a defence against the Arianism of the Visigoths in Spain, the filioque clause had been inserted in the Latin version of the Nicene Creed used in the West. 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 Church in East had already been weakened externally by the assaults from its Muslim neighbours and internally by the frictions created by the iconoclast controversy.

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.



External and internal priorities: the Crusades and the Monasteries

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 23 November 2012 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.

Church History 6.1: Setting the boundaries of Christianity: Creeds, Heretics and Orthodoxy

An icon of the Council of Nicaea, with the Emperor Constantine and the bishops holding a scroll with the words of the Nicene Creed

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 23 November 2012, 9 a.m.:

Church History 6.1:

Setting the boundaries of Christianity: Creeds, Heretics and Orthodoxy


The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Caroline Divine, Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), summarises the Anglican understanding of doctrinal authority in memorable form: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”

In our last lecture we looked at the development of the Church from the Apostolic period to the reign of Constantine and the toleration that was ushered in for Christians throughout the Empire as the fourth century unfolded.

This morning, in the light of that summary by Lancelot Andrewes, I want us to look at how we received once canon, two testaments and three creeds, and at what happened at the four general councils during those first five centuries in the life of the Church.

We have already looked at the spread of Christianity throughout the Mediterranean basin in the Apostolic and post-Apostolic age. But despite Tertullian’s statement about how this Christians loved one another, within a short space of time Christians were divided.

The Initial Heresies and Heretics

The entrance to the Basilica of Saint John in Ephesus … New Testament writings indicate early doctrinal divisions in the Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

So, first of all, let us take a step back to the second or even the first century and the first heresies.

We know that from the time of Saint Paul the leaders of the early church had to address false teachings and ideas that threatened the integrity of the Gospel, and the Johannine writings indicate a strong reaction in the Early Church to Gnosticism or Docetism.

Scholars debate when these early heresies began, but we have little evidence about them until the second century. Most of the heretics in the Early Christianity held positions of influence and authority before they came to be regarded as heretical.

These heresies forced the Early Church to define and more clearly what we believe and led to the formulation of the Creeds and the agreements on the canon of the New Testament.

Some of the early heresies we ought to be aware of at this stage include:

1, Docetism

Saint Ignatius of Antioch ... writes against the Docetics

One of the first heresies was Docetism. The word Docetic comes from the Greek word meaning “to appear.” This heresy held that Christ really did not have a physical body, but only appeared to have one, that he was truly a spiritual being, and as such, could not have had a true body.

Some scholars believe Saint John’s Gospel contains some anti-Docetic texts. For example, in Chapter 21 Christ eats fish with his disciples (see John 21: -14). It seems I John was also written to combat this heresy: “... every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (I John 4: 2).

Saint Ignatius of Antioch is clearly writing against Docetics when he says: “He was then truly born, truly grew up, truly ate and drank, was truly crucified, and died, and rose again” (Philippians 3).

2, Marcion (ca 85-ca 160)

Marcion of Sinope … found holiness and love incompatible

Marcion of Sinope, who was born ca 85, was the son of a bishop. He travelled widely as a merchant and moved to Rome ca 135, when he began to teach in the Church.

Marcion claimed there are major discrepancies between God as represented in the Old Testament and the God of Christ in the New Testament. As Angela Tilby writes, Marcion found holiness and love incompatible.

His answer was to reject the God of the Old Testament, seeing him as the evil craftsman or demiurge, the creator of an evil world. Marcion also constructed his own Biblical canon, excluding the entire Old Testament canon, and including only Saint Luke’s Gospel and Saint Paul’s letters. But he even excluded those parts of the Pauline writings that refer positively to the Old Testament, or to hell and judgment (for example II Thessalonians 1: 6-8).

His unorthodox canon, though, prompted the Church Fathers to begin naming the accepted texts. He was so influential that several Church Fathers, including Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Tertullian wrote or argued against him. But Marcionite churches continued until the early fourth century.

3, Montanus

Tertullian … defected to the Montanists

Montanus claimed ca 160 that he had an ecstatic experience of the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) and, along with two women, Maximilla and Priscilla, that he had the ability to deliver prophetic messages from God. The Montanist teachings included:

● the immanent return of Christ and the apocalyptic end of the world,
● a new outpouring of the Spirit announcing this message,
● an encouragement to embrace persecution and martyrdom.

Montanists may have been among the many martyrs in Lyons in the 177, and Tertullian defected from the church to join the Montanists. Finally, Montanism was rejected more for being fanatical than for being heretical.

4, Gnosticism:

Much of our evidence for Gnosticism is found in the Nag Hamadi collection of texts

There is some indication in the New Testament of an early form of Gnosticism. It developed strongly in the second century, which leads some scholars to date some New Testament documents to the second century. But Gnosticism truly developed in the early second century and was strongly concentrated in Egypt, with smaller centres throughout the Empire.

Gnosticism was a mixture of Jewish apocalypticism, Platonism, elements of mystery religions and early Christianity. But second century Gnosticism was not a unified movement, and it is difficult to define the views of its different groups.

Gnosticism promoted an extreme dualism, making a distinction between the body and the spirit. The “demiurge” was the evil creator of the visible or physical universe. Humans were bound in our physical bodies, and we could only be released from the confines of the body through gaining gnosis or divine knowledge.

Plato had written about the pre-existence of souls that take on a mortal body before ascending to be reunited with the realm of ideas. In Gnosticism needed this gnosis to pass through stages on its return to a state of perfection.

External Critics and Apologists

The growth of the Early Church also attracted critics like the writer Lucian, Galen the physician and Celsus the philosopher. We know of Celsus his writings through Origen’s argument against him, Contra Celsum, written almost a century later.

This consistent criticism of Christianity gave rise to the early writers known as the Apologists, including Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century, and Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria in the third century.

Justin Martyr (ca 100-165):

Justin Martyr …the philosopher who became a Christian apologist

Justin had studied philosophy, particularly Stoicism and Platonism, and went on to teach philosophy. In his early 30s he met an elderly man on the seashore who impressed upon him the trustworthiness of the Gospel. Justin investigated Christianity and became convinced. He continued to wear his philosopher’s gown and to teach philosophy, but now promoted Christianity as the only true philosophy.

Justin is mainly known through his writings, including:

The Apologies, a set of discourses addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) and his son Marcus Aurelius (161-180), appealing to their sense of decency and arguing against the persecution of Christians.

Dialogue with Trypho, his debate with an educated Jewish philosopher, emphasising how the followers of Christ represent the “new” people of God.

Justin is important for his role in the development of the New Testament canon. He refers to each of the four gospels and to many of Saint Paul’s letters.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 135-202):

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons … apologist and martyr bishop

Saint Irenaeus was Bishop of Lyons in the late second century, grew up as a Christian and was a student of Polycarp. He is mainly known for his work Against Heresies (ca 175-185), a summary and brief history of all the heresies he knows, focusing on Gnosticism.

Irenaeus gives us many details about his time, recounting the succession of bishops in Rome from Peter and Paul to his day, and gives us the basis for a creed recited during his times. He also cites passages from the four canonical gospels and from almost every other New Testament book.

Tertullian (ca 155–230):

Tertullian … defected to the Montanists

Tertullian was born in Carthage, the son of a centurion, and was trained in law. He is known only for his writings. He was the first of the Latin Fathers and his Biblical quotations are from a Latin Bible. He argues against the persecution of Christians, but also had strong disagreements with other Church leaders. The most serious argument was about “second repentance” after sins such as adultery, fornication and apostasy.

As persecutions eased, many bishops found large numbers of the lapsed seeking forgiveness and readmission to the Church. But Tertullian was among those who were rigorous.

Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-215):

Saint Clement of Alexandria … the most influential of the apologists

Saint Clement of Alexandria was perhaps the most influential of the apologists and represents a period when the Church in Egypt was recovering from a 50-60 year period when Gnosticism was the dominant force.

His first major work is his Exhortation to the Greeks, a call to the educated Greek and Latin-speaking society to hear the Gospel. His Exhortation is filled with numerous citations from Greek writers and literature. In his Miscellanies, Clement attacks the main Gnostic leaders in second century Egypt, including Basilides and Valentinus. In Excerpts from Theodotus, Clement argues against Theodotus, a teacher of Valentinian Gnosticism.

The New Testament Canon:

The Book of Kells … how did we agree on the canon of Scripture?

As we saw, Marcion had his own canon that included Saint Luke’s Gospel and an edited form of most of the Pauline letters in edited form. His list is the first known listing of what is called a New Testament canon.

Justin Martyr gives several New Testament citations although he cites no New Testament writings by name.

Later, ca 170-175, Tatian produced a harmony of the four Gospels known as the Diatessaron, which reveals that the church recognised four Gospels.

The four Gospels are confirmed ca 175 by Irenaeus of Lyons in Against the Heresies. He also refers almost all the documents that become part of the New Testament, including most of the Pauline letters and, all three Pastoral letters, but not Philemon, II Peter, III John, and Jude, yet including I Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas.

Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian cite hundreds of references from almost every New Testament document, apart from four or five small epistles. From then on, the writings of an increasing number of Fathers are filled with biblical references.

The Muratorian Canon represents the oldest known list or canon of the New Testament, although the beginning and end of the manuscript are missing. The document, from ca 170 AD, was discovered in a library in Italy by Ludovico Antonio Muratori, and it lists:

● [Matthew and Mark are apparently in the missing fragment at the beginning]
● Luke and John
● The Acts of the Apostles
● All 13 Pauline letters
● I and II John ( the writer refers to two letters of John)
● Jude
● the Revelation of John

What’s missing? This list omits Hebrews, I Peter, II Peter, and III John. But it also names some books documents not later accepted as canonical.

By the middle of the second century most of the 27 documents in the canonical New Testament have gained wide acceptance, especially the four gospels. Many Gnostic texts and many orthodox texts were not accepted as canonical.

By the third century there is a noticeable increase in citations from the “inspired” writings that become the New Testament, from writers such as Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, Origen of Alexandria and Cyprian of Carthage.

By the fourth century, there is a degree of consensus among writers about the content of the New Testament. These writers include Lactantius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius of Alexandria, the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus), John Chrysostom, Jerome, Rufinus, and Augustine of Hippo.

The first historical reference listing the 27 canonical writings in the New Testament is in the Easter Letter of Athanasius in 367, when he states that these are the only recognised writings to be read in church.

The first church council to rule on the list was the Synod of Hippo in 393. But we only know of this decision because it was referred to at the third Synod of Carthage in 397. Even Canon 24 of Carthage does not list every single book, and there is no comment about why or how this list was agreed upon.

The New Testament developed, or evolved, over the course of the first 250 or 300 years of Church history, and no one person, no one council, made the decision.

The debate about the Trinity:

Trinitarian symbolism in the clerestory lights in Lichfield Cathedral … how did the doctrine of the Holy Trinity develop? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Belief in the Trinity begins at an early stage, but there is no significant theological writing about the Trinity outside the New Testament until the first part of the third century in the works of Origen of Alexandria.

Around 220, Sabellius, a Libyan Church leader, rejected the concept of three personalities, and sought to hold tightly to a monotheistic position. Sabellius taught a type of modalism, in which each part of the Trinity was revealed through energies but did not have a separate personality.

This theological discussion was taken up by the Bishop of Rome, Dionysius, and the Bishop of Alexandria, also named Dionysius and a student of Origen. Dionysius of Rome understood the Greek word ὑπόστᾰσις (hypostasis) to mean “substance,” while Dionysius of Alexandria was actually talking about “personality.” This linguistic struggle only made a delicate and technical discussion more difficult.

In addition, the Greek word ὁμοούσιος (homoousios), “same substance,” was introduced to the discussion to talk about whether the Father and the Son were of the “same substance.” Dionysius of Alexandria used the term “same substance,” but refused to rely on it theologically because the word was not used in any biblical text. However, Dionysius of Rome was fully prepared to accept this usage.

In the end this discussion showed the willingness of regional bishops to work together for a common faith, but it also opened the door for the future problems. The concept of ὁμοούσιος would resurface and the bishops at Nicaea would act in a definitive fashion.

Paul of Samosata

Paul of Samosata became the Bishop of Antioch ca 260, when the differences between Antioch and Alexandria come to the surface. Paul of Samosata held that Jesus had not been eternally united with the Logos, but had been infused with Logos at his baptism. Dionysius of Alexandria called a council and at a council ca 265 the Alexandrian bishops affirmed the pre-existence of Christ. Another council in 268 called on Paul of Samosata to recant. When he refused, he was condemned.

These struggles foreshadowed the principal controversy of the fourth century. The Arian controversy, in part, lead to the first major Church Council, the Council of Nicaea in 325, when the bishops were summoned by the Emperor Constantine.

Donatus and Donatism:

A dispute arose in Carthage about Bishop Caecilian who was consecrated by a traditor (“betrayer”). At the same time, Donatus was active around the region of Numidia rebaptising priests who had lapsed and giving them a commission to preach and administer the Eucharist again. It had been greed earlier that it was not necessary to rebaptise people, even if they had been baptised into a less than orthodox sect. But Donatus was doing this within the region of an accepted bishop, and without his authority.

The Donatists refused to accept the sacraments from someone who had lapsed during persecution. The Numidian bishops called a council in 312 and deposed Caecilian, but shortly afterwards Constantine ruled in favour of Caecilian and those he had appointed. The Donatists appealed to the emperor for another council and asking for bishops from Gaul.

Constantine agreed to call a council headed by Miltiades, the Bishop of Rome. When that council ruled in favour of Caecilian, the Donatists appealed again on the grounds that Miltiades had been appointed by Marcellinus, who had also lapsed during persecution. Constantine called a larger council at Arles. In all, 33 bishops, including three from Britain, attended and approved a number of canons on the date of Easter and regulations on clergy moving from one region to another. They also decided that churches would not rebaptise the lapsed or those who came from heretical sects.

In the end, Donatus and his churches continued, and the Donatist movement continued into the fifth century.

Arius and the Arian Controversy:

Arius … radical or conservative?

The story of Arius also begins during the period of persecutions. During the Diocletian persecution, bishops in Egypt were divided on how strictly to treat lapsed Christians. In prison in Alexandria, Peter, the more lax-minded Bishop of Alexandria, and Meletius, a much stricter bishop from Upper Egypt, disagreed so sharply that they hung a curtain to separate themselves in their shared prison cell to separate themselves from each other.

The dispute continued after they were released from prison. Arius was initially among the people loyal to Bishop Meletius. Meanwhile, Bishop Peter rearrested and martyred. When Arius was ordained a priest by Bishop Peter’s successor, the Meletians treated him as a traditor.

Another controversy revolved around some of the writings of Origen of Alexandria, and became the first major theological struggle over the definition of the Trinity and the main reason for Constantine calling the Council of Nicaea in 325.

After Origen’s death, Arius held that the only “unbegotten” being was the Father, and that no other was like him. Jesus, the Son, was begotten, so Arius maintained that the Son was created. If he was created, then “there was a time when he was not.”

The Meletians demanded that Arius be disciplined. At a council called in 318, 100 bishops condemned Arius to exile. His continuing influence, though, brought Constantine to call the Council of Nicaea in 325.

At first, Constantine sent Hosius, a bishop from Spain, to seek to reconcile Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, and Arius. Constantine also sent envoys across the empire, inviting bishops to a council at his summer retreat in Nicaea. Around 220 bishops attended, mostly from the eastern churches, although there were eight representatives from western churches – Rome sent only two priests.

During the debates, Constantine chided Bishop Acesius for his rigid stance, saying: “Place a ladder, Acesius, and climb alone into heaven.”

Constantine was more interested in attaining peace and unity in the Church than he was with theology or doctrine. Three men who had been excommunicated at a previous, smaller council, including Eusebius of Caesarea, were readmitted. But the principal debate was about the views of Arius.

As Arius defended his position on the nature of Jesus, some of the bishops refused to listen. Arius was condemned in a unanimous vote, with two bishops abstaining. But this vote was not a vote on the divinity of Jesus, or on the Trinity, but specifically on the views of Arius and whether or not he should be allowed to stay in his position.

Constantine insisted on the use of the term ὁμοούσιος in a creedal formula from the council, but it was not a new term, and had been used 70 years earlier by Dionysius of Alexandria.

In the end, the teachings of Arius were condemned, a creed was drafted, and 20 canons were passed, including one on the date of Easter and others regulating how bishoprics were to operate. For example:

Canon 4: a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops of that least three bishops should meet to make this decision.

Canon 5: provinces should honour excommunications pronounced by other bishops in other provinces.

Canon 6: The Bishop of Alexandria has authority over bishops in Libya and other African provinces.

Canon 10: No lapsed believer should be ordained.

Canon 15: Priests and bishops shall not move from city to city on their own accord.

The Council of Nicaea closed on 25 July 325.

The Nicene Creed:

One of the most important achievements of the Council of Nicaea was the adoption of a creedal form that defined much of our theology, Christology, and the Trinity.

However, within a short f time the creed was under attack, and eventually it was rewritten at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

The Original Creed of 325 AD:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];

Who for us, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was born in human flesh;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

And in the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the original creed, a clause directed against Arius was added:

But those who say: “There was a time when he was not;” and “He was not before he was made;” and “He was made out of nothing,” or “He is of another substance” or “essence,” or “The Son of God is created,” or “changeable,” or “alterable – they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.

The Ecumenical Creeds:

The ecumenical creeds as we understand them within the Anglican tradition are three in number: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

These three Creeds have long been accepted as an integral part of Anglicanism. For example, Article 8 of the 39 Articles states: “The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’ Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture” (The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 780).

The common focus in Anglican theology is based on an appeal to scripture, tradition, and reason. But this was expanded in that dictum by Lancelot Andrewes.

In effect, Lancelot Andrewes is saying the tradition of the Church in Anglicanism finds its foundations in the three creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed – the decisions of the first four General Councils of the Church:

● Nicaea (325)

● Constantinople (381)

● Ephesus (431)

● Chalcedon (451)

and in the first five centuries of the history of the Church, and the corpus of Patristic writings.

The three ‘ecumenical’ Creeds

1, The Apostles’ Creed:

The Twelve Apostles ... but did they write the Apostles’ Creed?

The Apostles’ Creed is used by Anglicans traditionally in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and for most Anglicans this is the Creed first memorised, as part of the preparation for Confirmation. Although we call it one of the “ecumenical” creeds, it is only used in the Western Church and it is not found in the Eastern or Orthodox Churches.

This creed is first referred to as the Apostles’ Creed in a letter written by Saint Ambrose ca 390. By that time, there was a legend that it was written by the 12 Apostles, each writing a separate clause or phrase. It was first used as a baptismal creed in the West, and was introduced into the daily offices some time between the eighth and ninth century.

2, The Nicene Creed:

The Church of Aghia Sophia in Nicaea

Although we know the creed used at the Holy Communion or the Eucharist as the Nicene Creed, this is not what it actually is.

The Creed, which was approved at the Council of Nicaea in 325, was drawn up to defend the orthodox faith against Arianism, and includes the term ὁμοούσιον homoousion (consubstantial, of one substance with) to express the relationship of the Father and the Son in the Godhead. Four anti-Arian anathemas were appended to the original Nicene Creed and came to be regarded as an integral part of the text.

But what we know and use as the Nicene Creed is a longer formula, used in the Eucharist in both the East and West. This is more accurately known as the “Niceno-Contstantinopolitan Creed.” It is said to have been adapted at the Council of Constantinople in the year 381, although it may have been endorsed rather than drafted at that council, using the baptismal creed then in use in the Byzantine capital.

From the time of the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451, this Creed has been the defining creed of the church.

3, The Athanasian Creed:

Saint Athanasius … but did he write the Athanasian Creed?

The third of the so-called ecumenical creeds – the so-called Athanasian Creed or Quicunque Vult – is still included in The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (see pp 771-773) but has been omitted, for example, from Common Worship and New Patterns for Worship.

This creedal statement was traditionally ascribed to Saint Athanasius (ca 296-373), who succeeded Alexander as Patriarch of Alexandria. But it is a Western document, probably written around the year 428, and is used only in Western Christianity.

It sets out the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, adding a list of the most important events in Christ’s life. It also includes anathemas against those who do not subscribe to its creedal statements and definitions.

How do we know it was not written by Saint Athanasius?

It contains a number of doctrinal expressions that arose as a consequence of debates long after the time Saint Athansius, who died in Alexandria in 373. And its statements on the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son could not be accepted in any Orthodox tradition.

The Book of Common Prayer includes the Athanasian Creed (see pp 771-773), after the Catechism of 1878 and before the Preamble and the 39 Articles. But there are no rubrics about when and how it should be used. Can you imagine situations or occasions on which you would use it? Can you ever remember it being used?

And so, although we call three creeds “ecumenical,” in reality there is only one ecumenical creed, the Nicene Creed.

The Nicene Creed and the Four Ecumenical Councils:

Like most doctrinal statements, however, the Nicene Creed was not written in one sitting, nor was it written in a vacuum. This creed was developed, worded, phrased and edited at the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), and the version we have in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is not the only and only, definitive, ecumenical version.

The First Ecumenical Council, Nicaea (325):

An icon of the Council of Nicaea

At the first draft of the Nicene Creed in 325, the principal problem to wrestle with was the heresy of the presbyter Arius of Alexandria, who taught, among other peculiar beliefs, that Jesus Christ, “The Son,” was a creation of the “The Father.”

A popular way of expressing this belief for those who agreed with Arius was: “There was a time when he [The Son] was not.” Arius taught that the Father, in the beginning, created (or begot) the Son, who then, with the Father, created the world. For Arius, then, Christ was a created being; his “god-ness” was removed.

Alexander, the Patriarch of Alexandria, summoned Arius for questioning, and Arius was subsequently excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. In exile in Nicomedia, Arius wrote in defence of his beliefs. His following and influence grew to the point that the Emperor Constantine called a council of bishops in Nicaea (Νίκαια, present day İznik), where the first draft of what we now call the Nicene Creed was promulgated by a decided majority as a creedal statement of faith – and a firm rejection of Arius’ teaching that Christ was the “begotten” son of an “unbegotten” Father.

The principal argument for the full deity of Christ was made by Athanasius, a deacon in Alexandria who later succeeded Alexander as Patriarch. The Creed the bishops assented to in 325 is, for the most part, contained in the Nicene Creed as it appears in The Book of Common Prayer (2004), beginning with “We believe in one God . . .” and ending immediately after “in the Holy Spirit” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 205).

The purpose was clear: to refute the teachings of Arius and to affirm the orthodox doctrine of One God in Three Persons with specific attention to the Christology of the Son.

The Second Ecumenical Council, Constantinople (381):

However, the Council of Nicaea did not end the Arian controversy. By 327, the Emperor Constantine had begun to regret the decisions of 325. He granted an amnesty to the Arian leaders and sent into exile Athanasius, by now Patriarch of Alexandria, who continued to defend Nicene Christianity.

An additional heretical teaching by Macedonius – who was twice Bishop of Constantinople (342-346, 351-360) – denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The followers of Macedonius were referred to as pneumatomachians or “fighters of the spirit.” These pneumatomachians also believed that God the Son was a similar essence of substance as the Father, but not the same substance.

Macedonianism taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person – or hypostasis – but merely a power of God. The Spirit, then, was inferior to the Father and the Son.

Yet another group, led by Bishop Apollinarius who opposed the teaching of Arius, argued that Jesus did not have a human soul and was not fully human.

In 381, the Emperor Flavius Theodosius convoked the First Council of Constantinople, the second meeting of bishops (also known as the Second Ecumenical Council). Among the influential theologians at the time were Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Patriarch of Constantinople, who presided at the Second Ecumenical Council, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, two of the Cappadocian Fathers – the third being Saint Basil the Great.

The Cappadocian Fathers, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nazianus and Saint Gregory of Nyssa

At that council, the bishops reaffirmed and expanded the Nicene Creed of 325 to address further questions about Christ’s divinity and humanity. They added five articles to the Creed concerning the Holy Spirit: the Lord, the giver of life; who proceeds from the Father (see John 15: 26): who is worshiped and glorified with the Father and the Son; and who has spoken through the prophets.

This expanded and modified Creed became the definitive document on the doctrine of the Trinity: one God in three persons or hypostases. Although more Councils and heresies followed, the Creed was essentially codified in 381 and received in 431 when the Council convened to discuss the Nestorian controversy.

However, a heavily disputed clause was added in 589 by the Third Council of Toledo primarily to counter Arianism among the Germanic peoples. Where the original Creed reads “We believe in the Holy Spirit . . . who proceeds from the Father,” the amended creed reads “. . . from the Father and the Son.”

Pope Leo III forbade the addition of the filioque clause (the words “and the Son”) and ordered the original Nicene Creed to be engraved on silver plates so that his conclusion would not be overturned in the future.

The filioque clause was one of the causes that eventually contributed to the Great Schism between East and West in 1054. The phrase “and the Son” still appears in the 2004 Book of Common Prayer, although a resolution of the 1988 Lambeth Conference called for its removal.

The Third Ecumenical Council, Ephesus (431):

Saint Mary’s Basilica … the Double Church where the Council of Ephesus met in 431 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Emperor Theodosius II called the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 to address the Nestorian controversy. Saint Cyril of Alexandria was a central figure in the Third Ecumenical Council as its spokesperson and president.

Nestorius, who was Patriarch of Constantinople, objected to the popular practice of calling the Virgin Mary the “Mother of God” or Theotokos. Nestorius taught that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a man, Jesus Christ, not God the Logos.

Nestorianism taught the Logos only dwelt in Christ, whose physical body provided a kind of temple for the Logos. Nestorius promoted the term Christotokos for Mary: the Mother of Christ.

Having summoned Nestorius three times to no avail, the Council condemned his teaching as erroneous and stripped him of his bishopric. The council declared Christ to be both a complete man and a complete God, and upheld the Virgin Mary as Theotokos because she gave birth not just to a man. The Council declared the text of the Creed, in its present form of 325 and 381, as complete and forbade any changes.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon (451):

The Fourth Ecumenical Council met at Chalcedon in 451

Flavius Marcianus, Emperor of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire (450-457), called the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon (Χαλκηδών, present-day Kadıköy), across the Bosporus from Constantinople and now a suburb on the Anatolian side of Istanbul.

Once again, this council was concerned with the nature of Jesus Christ. Monophysitism, from the Greek mono (one or alone) and physis (nature) argued the Christological position that Christ had only one nature, which was Divine. While Christ was human, they believed, his less-perfect human nature was dissolved into his more perfect divine nature.

The council condemned Monophysitism and reaffirmed that Christ has two and complete natures as defined by previous councils. These two natures, the Council argued, operate harmoniously and without confusion. They are not divided or separate, as the Nestorians argued; nor did they undergo any change, as the Monophysites contended.

The Council gave a clear and full statement of orthodox Christology in a document defining the union of the divine and human natures of Christ. This document, which concentrates specifically on the nature of Christ, reflects a very clear, final statement on the orthodox theology that Christ is at once man and God.

The statement declares that is the unanimous teaching of the Church that Christ is perfect in humanity and in divinity; truly God (an Alexandrian notion) and truly man (an Antiochian notion); consubstantial with God and with humanity. It established the absolute limits of theological speculation using words like “unconfusedly,” “unchangeably,” “indivisibly” and “inseparably.”

The 1888 Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does not list the Chalcedonian Creed among the fundament doctrines for Communion based on scriptures, creeds, sacraments and the historic episcopate.

The Chalcedonian Creed does not appear to contain any doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, nor does it use the word Trinity. This is a single paragraph lifted from a larger document that speaks about the decisions reached at Nicea in 325 by the “318 Fathers” in attendance and at Constantinople in 381 by the “150 Fathers” in attendance.

Selected reading:

The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, 2004.

Alison, CF, The Cruelty of Heresy (London: SPCK, 1994).
Ayers, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy (Oxford: OUP, 2004).
Bettenson, H., and Maunder, C. (eds), Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford, OUP, 3rd ed, 1999).
Geitz, ER, Gender and the Nicene Creed (New York: Church Publishing, 1995).
Gregorios, Paulos, Lazareth, WH, and Nissiotis, NA (eds), Does Chalcedon divide or unite? (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981).
Micks, MH, Loving the Questions: an exploration of the Nicene Creed (New York: Seabury, 2005).
Stevenson, J, and Frend, WHC, Creeds, Council and Controversies (London: SPCK, revised ed, 1989).
William, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Eerdmans, revised ed, 2002)
Young, Frances, The Making of the Creeds (London: SCM Press, 1991/2002).


The arrival of Islam and the triumph of Rome

External and internal priorities: the Crusades and the Monasteries

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 23 November 2012 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.