chapter  V
14 Pages


While Gregory the Great was ruling in the west, the eastern church had no one single ruler. The patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria had greater and more unquestioned historical prestige, but the fortunes of the patriarch of Constantinople were of more importance to eastern Christians, because he ruled the church of the great eastern world capital. Since Constantine had presided over the council of Nicaea, a thirteenth apostle, the east Roman emperors had claimed a sacred character, and a large share in the rule of the church: the patriarchs of Constantinople were overshadowed by their presence, and rendered half superfluous by their activities. They did not, however, accept this complete subjection of the church to the state without a struggle: many of the doctrinal questions which agitated the eastern church drew their bitterness from the fact that the patriarch and the imperial court took different sides; what appeared as doctrinal controversy was in reality a struggle for the independence of the patriarch and the Greek church. The great struggle over Iconoclasm, still in the future, was to partake of this character. The failure of the patriarchs gave Europe “one of the longest and most considerable experiments in a state-church that Christendom has ever seen.” But though the subjection of the patriarch to the emperor helped to render the fortunes of the eastern church less splendid in these years than those of the

western, yet eastern influences on the west between 600 and 800 were real and valuable. The east was the reservoir of civilisation, classical learning, and the primitive traditions of ecclesiastical discipline and Christian art. “The well-to-do classes in the west were as a rule illiterate, with the exception of ecclesiastics: among the wellto-do classes in the Byzantine world education was the rule, and education meant not merely reading, writing and arithmetic, but the study of ancient Greek grammar and the reading of classical authors.”