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Byzantine Theology - Fr. J. Meyendorff

Byzantine Theology - Fr. J. Meyendorff

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Published by: ikonographics on May 11, 2010
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Excerpts from
Byzantine Theology,
Historical trends and doctrinal themesBy John Meyendorff
(Please get the full version of this book at your bookstore)
Byzantine Theology after Chalcedon.
onstantinople, the great cultural melting pot, the “New Rome” and capital of the empire, did
not produce any real outstanding theologian in the fifth and sixth centuries; but the city witnessedthe great theological debates of the day since their conclusion often depended upon imperialsanction. Bishops, monks, exegetes, and philosophers coming to the capital to seek favour andsupport created around the Episcopal see of the imperial city, from which the government
s theo-logical advisers were usually drawn, a convergence of ideas, and a predisposition to syncretic andcompromise solutions. The bishops of Constantinople and their staffs however were still able todefend explicit theological convictions, even against the imperial will, as the lonely pro-Chalcedonian stand adopted by the patriarchs, Euphemius (489-495) and Macedonius II (495-511), under the reign of the Monophysite emperor Anastasius, bears witness. Thus, a theology,
which can be termed specifically “Byzantine” in contrast to the earlier currents of Eastern Chri
s-tian thought and centred mainly in Egypt and Syria, comes into being during the post-
 3Chalcedonian period. It would receive an official sanction under Justinian (527-565) and an ex-
 pression in the balanced synthesis of Maximus the Confessor (†662).
 It would have seemed that no individual figure played a decisive role in the formation of thistheology, and one could be equally hard-pressed to locate any school or other intellectual centrein the capital where the theological thought was creatively elaborated. Though it seemed reason-able to assume that a theological school for the training of higher ecclesiastical personnel wasconnected with the patriarchate, sources about its character or the levels of its teaching werewanting. A centre of theological learning was attested at the famous monastery of the
(the “Non
Sleepers”), and others ce
rtainly existed elsewhere, but very little was specificallyknown about them. Theologians, who were active during the fifth and sixth centuries, often re-ceived their training in distant parts of the empire, such as Syria or Palestine. The Lavra of St.Sabbas near Jerusalem, for example, was the scene of violent debates between competing Ori-genist factions.The imperial, secular University of Constantinople, founded by Constantine and reorganizedby a decree of Theodosius II (408-450), did not include theology among its subjects; yet it cer-tainly served as a channel for the perpetuation of ancient Greek philosophical ideas. The univer-sity remained bilingual (Greek and Latin) until the seventh century and until the reign of Justin-ian and included pagans among its professors. But the drastic measures taken by Justinian in ex-cluding both, pagans and non-Orthodox Christians, from the teaching profession and in closingthe pagan University of Athens must have emphasized that the role of secular studies in ChristianByzantium was purely ancillary. Even if a small circle of intellectuals perpetuated the philoso-phical traditions of the ancient Greeks, the official position of both, Church and state, now con-sidered philosophy as at best a tool for expressing Revelation, but it never admitted that philoso-phy was entitled to shape the very content of theological ideas. In practice, one might readily ad-mit that Aristotelian logic is to be taught in the schools, but one would be consistently distrustfulof Platonism because of its metaphysical implications. Yet Platonism would subsist through pa-tristic literature mainly and especially through the Origenist tradition; but it would never be for-mally acknowledged as a valid expression of religious ideas.Conservative in form and intent, Byzantine theology in the age of Justinian continually re-ferred to tradition as its main source. In particular, the Christological debates of the period con-sisted chiefly of a battle between exegetes of Scripture about philosophical terms adopted byChristian theology in the third and fourth centuries and about patristic texts making use of theseterms. Liturgical hymnology, which began to flourish at this time, incorporated the results of thecontroversies and often became a form of credal confession. The various elements of Byzantinetheological traditionalism dominated in the fifth and sixth centuries, constituted the basis of fur-ther creativity in the later periods, and required very special attention.
Exegetical traditions.
“It is necessary for those who preside over the churches... to teach all the clergy and the people... collecting out
of divine Scripture the thoughts and judgments of truth but not exceeding the limits now fixed, nor varyingfrom the tradition of the God-fearing Fathers. But, if any issue arises concerning Scripture, it should not be in-terpreted other than as the luminaries and teachers of the Church have expounded it in their writings; let them[the bishops] become distinguished for their knowledge of patristic writings rather than for composing treatises
out of their own heads.”

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