To the Fall of Constantinople
I would advise those who seek liberty and shun the yoke of servitude as evil, not to fall into the plague of despotic rule, to which an insatiable passion of unseasonable freedom brought their fathers. In excess, servitude and liberty are each wholly bad; in due measure, each are wholly good. The due measure of servitude is to serve God; its excess is to serve man. Law is the god of the right-minded man; pleasure is the god of the fool.
Plato, Letters, viii, 354.
It is he that shall build the Temple of the Lord, and shall bear royal honour, and shall sit and rule upon his throne. And there shall be a priest by his throne, and peaceful understanding shall be between them both.
From Him and through Him [the Word of God] the king who is dear to God receives an image of the Kingdom that is above and so in imitation of that greater King himself guides and directs the course of everything on earth…He looks up to see the archetypal pattern and guides those whom he rules in accordance with that pattern… The basic principle of kingly authority is the establishment of a single source of authority to which everything is subject. Monarchy is superior to every other constitution and form of government. For polyarchy, where everyone competes on equal terms, is really anarchy and discord.
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, Oration in Honour of Constantine, 1, 3.
The State consists of parts and members like an individual person. The most important and necessary parts are the Emperor and the Patriarch. Therefore unanimity in everything and agreement (sumfwnia) between the Empire and the Priesthood (constitutes) the spiritual and bodily peace and prosperity of the citizens.
St. Photius the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople, Epanagoge, III, 8.
Our Tsar is the representative of the will of God, and not of the will of the people. His will is sacred for us, as the will of the Anointed of God; we love him because we love God. If the Tsar gives us glory and prosperity, we receive it from him as a Mercy of God. But if we are overtaken by humiliation and poverty, we bear them with meekness and humility, as a heavenly punishment for our iniquities. And never do we falter in our love for, and devotion to, the Tsar, as long as they proceed from our Orthodox religious convictions, our love and devotion to God.
St. Barsonuphius of Optina, Cell-Notes.
Part I: The Origins of the Ideal
1. The Pre-Christian State…………………………………….…………...7
The Origins of the State – Nimrod’s Babylon – The Egyptian Pharaohs – The Pilgrim State – From Theocracy to Autocracy – The Davidic Kingdom – Democracy and Religion – Herodotus on the State – Thucydides on the State - Plato and Aristotle on the State – Alexander, the Stoics and the Demise of Democracy - From Zerubbabel to the Maccabees – Herod the Great – Theocracy, Autocracy and the Jews – The End of the State
2. Old Rome………..………………………………………………………….64
Christ and the Roman Empire – Old Rome: Protector or Persecutor? – Why Rome? – Rome and the End of the World – Church and State in Old Rome
Part II: The Triumph of the Ideal (0-1000)
3. New Rome: the East..…..…………………………………..………….84
St. Constantine the Great – The Heretical and Pagan Reaction – Kingship and Tyranny: St. Ambrose of Milan - Models of Kingship - The Symphony of Powers – The Symphony of Nations - Roman Patriotism and Anti-Roman Nationalism – Byzantium and the Jews - The Dissonance of Powers: Monothelitism and Iconoclasm - Perso-Islamic Despotism - St. Photius the Great: “the Royal Patriarch” - Church Canons vs. Imperial Laws – The Question of Legitimacy - The First Bulgarian Empire – Georgia under the Bagratids – St. Vladimir the Great
4. New Rome: the West…….…………………….………………………152
The Fall of Old Rome – The Rise of the Popes - The Remnants of Romanity: (1) Britain – The Remnants of Romanity: (2) Italy and France – The Remnants of Romanity: (3) Spain – Romanity Restored: Anglo-Saxon England - The Sacrament of Royal Anointing – Romanity Threatened: (1) Charlemagne – Romanity Threatened: (2) Nicholas I - The Growth of Feudalism – The English Monarchy – The German Monarchy – The Year 1000: Apex of Monarchism
Part III: The Waning of the Ideal (1000 TO 1453)
5. Old Rome Resurrected: the Heretical Papacy………………202
The Germans and the Filioque – The Reform Movement – The Fall of Orthodox England – The Gregorian Revolution – The Crusades – The Apotheosis of Papism: Innocent III – The Resurrection of Roman Law – Natural Law - The Crisis of the Medieval Papacy - The Conciliar Movement
6. The Fall of New Rome….........……………………………...……..247
The Slide towards Absolutism – Church and State in Kievan Rus’ - The Breakup of Kievan Rus’ – The Autocratic Idea: St. Andrew of Bogolyubovo – The Nicaean Empire and Royal Anointing - Byzantium and the Unia - The Age of St. Sava - Russia between the Hammer and the Anvil – Kossovo Polje – The Rise of Muscovy - The Sultan’s Turban and the Pope’s Tiara – Russia and the Council of Florence – The Reasons for the Fall
Conclusion: The Kingship of Christ………………………..…………308
A famous British politician once remarked that it was impossible to be both a true Christian and a good politician. If this were true, then we should have to conclude that there is one extremely important sphere of life, politics, that is irredeemable by the grace of Christ and therefore inevitably the domain of the evil one. Such a conclusion might well be justified in the context of modern democratic politics, when the end of politics is by definition secular and anti-Christian, and the means to that end unfailingly repulsive to the Christian conscience. But it would have been emphatically rejected by the Christians of the Early Church and the more-than-1000-year period from the coming of power of St. Constantine in 306 to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the period of the Christian Empire of New Rome, when Christians of both East and West believed that the best, most Christian form of government was Autocracy under a truly Christian emperor or king whose aim was not personal glory or wealth, but the salvation of his people for eternity. It is this period that is the historical context of this book, which aims to explicate the ideal of Christian statehood, its triumph and decline, in the period when for many millions of Christians in both East and West the possibility of a universal Christian empire truly and not merely theoretically subject to Christ the King of kings, was a fervent object of faith and hope.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
February 25 / March 10, 2002.
St. Ethelbert, first Christian king of Kent.
PART I: THE ORIGINS OF THE IDEAL
1. PRE-CHRISTIAN STATEHOOD
The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men,
And giveth it to whomsoever He will,
And setteth up over it the basest of men.
My Kingdom is not of this world.
The Origins of the State
In the beginning of human history – that is, in Paradise, - there was no such thing as political life. Some heterodox thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas, in their concern to demonstrate the essential goodness of the state have argued that the rudiments of the State already existed in the Garden, with Adam ruling like a king over Eve. But this is an artificial schema. The Church may indeed be said to have existed in Paradise – as we read in The Order of Orthodoxy for the Week of Orthodoxy: “This is our God, providing for and sustaining His beloved inheritance, the Holy Church, comforting the forefathers who had fallen away through sin with His unlying Word, laying the foundation for Her already in Paradise…” But the State, while also from God and therefore good as such, is a product of the Fall and would never have been necessary if Adam had not sinned. As Metropolitan Anastasius (Gribanovsky) of New York writes: “Political power appeared on earth only after the fall of the first people. In Paradise the overseer’s shout was not heard. Man can never forget that he was once royally free, and that political power appeared as the quit-rent of sin.”
The State is necessary to fallen, sinful man because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6.23), and the purpose of the State is, if not to conquer death in man, – only Christ in the Church can do that, – at any rate to slow down its spread, to enable man to survive, both as an individual and as a species. To survive he needs to unite in communities with other men, forming families, tribes and, eventually, states. This process is aided, of course, by the fact that man is social by nature, and comes into the world already as a member of a family. So, contrary to the teaching of some heterodox thinkers, such as Thomas Hobbes, it is not only out of fear that men unite into large groups, but out of the natural bonds of family life. In this sense the state is simply the family writ large.
And since the family naturally has a single head, the father, so the state naturally has a single head, the king. Hieromonk Dionysius writes: “Both the familial and the monarchical systems are established by God for the earthly existence of sinful, fallen man. The first-formed man, abiding in living communion with God, was not subject to anyone except God, and was lord over the irrational creatures. But when man sinned and destroyed the Divine hierarchy of submission, having fallen away from God – he became the slave of sin and the devil, and as a result of this became subject to a man like himself. The sinful will of man demands submission for the limitation of his own destructive activity. This Divine establishment has in mind only the good of man – the limitation of the spread of sin. And history itself confirms that whatever may be the defects of monarchy, they cannot compare with the evil brought upon men by revolution and anarchy.”
One of those who expounded this theme in the most detail and the greatest clarity was Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow. He emphasis the rootedness of the State in the family, with the State deriving its essential properties and structure from the family: “The family is older than the State. Man, husband, wife, father, son, mother, daughter and the obligations and virtues inherent in these names existed before the family grew into the nation and the State was formed. That is why family life in relation to State life can be figuratively depicted as the root of the tree. In order that the tree should bear leaves and flowers and fruit, it is necessary that the root should be strong and bring pure juice to the tree. In order that State life should develop strongly and correctly, flourish with education, and bring forth the fruit of public prosperity, it is necessary that family life should be strong with the blessed love of the spouses, the sacred authority of the parents, and the reverence and obedience of the children, and that as a consequence of this, from the pure elements of family there should arise similarly pure principles of State life, so that with veneration for one’s father veneration for the tsar should be born and grow, and that the love of children for their mother should be a preparation of love for the fatherland, and the simplehearted obedience of domestics should prepare and direct the way to self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness in obedience to the laws and sacred authority of the autocrat…”
Now states issue laws, which determine what is a crime and what is to be the punishment for crime. Indeed, without laws there is no state, as Metropolitan Philaret makes clear: “The State is a union of free moral beings, united amongst themselves with the sacrifice of part of their freedom for the preservation and confirmation by the common forces of the law of morality, which constitutes the necessity of their existence. The civil laws are nothing other than interpretations of this law in application to particular cases and guards placed against its violation.” To the extent that the laws are good, that is, in accord with “the law of morality”, and executed firmly and impartially, the people can live in peace and pursue the aim for which God placed them on the earth – the salvation of their souls for eternity. To the extent that they are bad, and/or badly executed, not only is it much more difficult for men to pursue the supreme aim of their existence: the very existence of future generations is put in jeopardy.
The difference between sin and crime is that whereas sin is transgression of the law of God only, crime is transgression both of the law of God and of the law of man as defined by the State. The first sin, that of Adam and Eve in the garden, was punished by their expulsion from Paradise, or the Church – that is, from communion with God. The second sin, that of Abel’s murder of his brother Cain, was, according to every legal code in every civilised state, a crime as well as a sin. But since there was as yet no state, it was God Himself Who imposed the punishment – expulsion from the society of men (“a fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth” (Genesis 4.12)). The paradox is that Cain was the builder of the first state in recorded history, a city, as he fled from the presence of the Lord (Genesis 4.16,17)…
The fact that the first state was founded by the first murderer has cast a shadow over statehood ever since. On the one hand, the State exists in order to curb sin in its crudest and most destructive aspects, and to that extent state power is in principle of God, “Who rules in the kingdom of men, [and] gives it to whomever He will” (Daniel 4.17). For as St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes: “God imposed upon mankind the fear of man as some do not fear God. It was necessary that they be subject to the authority of men, and kept under restraint by their laws whereby they might attain to some degree of justice and exercise mutual forebearance through dread of the sword…” Again, St. John Chrysostom says: “Since equality of honour often leads to fighting, He has made many governments and forms of subjection.” And again, St. Gregory the Great writes that, although all men are created by nature equal, God has ordained that “insofar as every man does not have the same manner of life, one should be governed by another.” Therefore “very often even holy men desire to be feared by those under their charge – but only when they discover that by these their subjects God is not feared, so that by the dread of man at any rate they may fear to sin, who do not dread His judgements.”
On the other hand, the greatest and most destructive crimes known to man have been committed precisely by the State, and to that extent it is an evil phenomenon, permitted but not blessed by God – for God sometimes “sets over it the lowest of men” (Daniel 4.17). Moreover, since Cain and at least until Saul and the kings of Israel, all states known to man were not only the main agents both of mass murder and of slavery, but were also worshippers of demons who compelled their citizens to worship demons, too. And if Blessed Augustine, in his famous book, The City of God, could see the Providence and Justice of God working even in the most antichristian states and institutions, this could not prevent him from taking a most pessimistic view of the origin and nature of most states (even the Roman). 
St. Augustine traced the history of two lines of men descending from Seth and Cain respectively - the City of God, or the community of those who are saved, and the City of Man, or the community of those who are damned. The City of God is not to be identified with the Church (because the Church contains both good and bad), nor is the City of Man to be identified with the State (because the State contains both good and bad). Nevertheless, the Church is clearly closer to the first pole as the State is to the second….
This is the reason why the history of Church-State relations until Constantine the Great is a history of almost perpetual conflict. Thus until David and the foundation of the state of Israel, the people of God – that is, the Church – was not associated with any state, but was constantly being persecuted by contemporary rulers, as Moses and the Israelites were by Pharaoh.
And this symbolises a deeper truth: that the people of God, spiritually speaking, have never lived in states, but have always been stateless wanderers, desert people, as it were; “for here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (Hebrews 13.14). We seek, that is, the City of God, the new Jerusalem, which is to be fully revealed only in the age to come (Revelation 21-22).
On the other hand, the people who reject God are spiritually speaking citizens of the kingdoms of this earth, rooted in the earth of worldly cares and desires. That is why they like to build huge urban states and civilisations that enable them to satisfy these desires to the maximum extent. It is not by accident, therefore, that Cain and his immediate descendants were the creators not only of cities, but also of all the cultural and technological inventions that make city life so alluring to fallen man.
For, as New Hieroconfessor Barnabas, Bishop of Pechersk, writes: "In its original source culture is the fruit, not of the fallen human spirit in general, but a consequence of its exceptional darkening in one of the primordial branches of the race of Adam... The Cainites have only one aim - the construction of a secure, carnal, material life, whatever the cost. They understood, of course, that the Seed of the Woman, the Promised Deliverer from evil that is coming at the end of the ages, will never appear in their descendants, so, instead of humbling themselves and repenting, the Cainites did the opposite: in blasphemous despair and hatred towards God, they gave themselves over irrevocably to bestial passions and the construction on earth of their kingdom, which is continually fighting against the Kingdom of God."
The Cainites eventually became the overwhelming majority of mankind, corrupting even most of the Sethites. Thus Josephus writes: “This posterity of Seth continued to esteem God as the Lord of the universe, and to have an entire regard to virtue, for seven generations; but in process of time they were perverted…
“But Noah was very uneasy at what they did; and being displeased at their conduct, persuaded them to change their disposition, and their actions for the better: but seeing they did not yield to him, but were slaves to wicked pleasures, he was afraid they would kill him, together with his wife and children, and those they had married; so he departed out of the land.”
He departed, and entered, the Ark. And then God destroyed the whole Cainite civilisation in the Great Flood. So statehood in its first historical examples was demonic and antichristian and was destroyed by the just judgement of God.
Immediately after the Flood God commands Noah to establish a system of justice that is the embryo of statehood as it should be: “The blood of your lives will I require: at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man” (Genesis 9.5-6). Commenting on these words, Protopriest Basil Boshchansky writes, that they “give the blessing of God to that institution which appeared in defence of human life” – that is, the State.
As Henry Morris explains: “The word ‘require’ is a judicial term, God appearing as a judge who exacts a strict and severe penalty for infraction of a sacred law. If a beast kills a man, the beast must be put to death (note also Exodus 21.28). If a man kills another man (wilfully and culpably, it is assumed), then he also must be put to death by ‘every man’s brother’. This latter phrase is not intended to initiate family revenge slayings, of course, but rather to stress that all men are responsible to see that this justice is executed. At the time these words were first spoken, all men indeed were blood brothers; for only the three sons of Noah were living at the time, other than Noah himself. Since all future people would be descended from these three men and their wives, in a very real sense all men are brothers, because all were once in the loins of these three brothers. This is in essence a command to establish a formal system of human government, in order to assure that justice is carried out, especially in the case of murder. The authority to execute this judgement of God on a murderer was thus delegated to man.”
But not to every man. The authority to pronounce the judgement of God on a man can only be given to men whom God has appointed to judge – that is, to political rulers. We see this clearly in the story of Moses: “And he went out the second day and behold, two Hebrews were quarrelling; and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?” Then he said, Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”’ (Exodus 2.13-14). And indeed, Moses had not at that time received the power to judge Israel. Only when he had fled into the wilderness and been given power by true King of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was he accepted as having true authority. Only then was he able to deliver his people from the false authority, Pharaoh, who had usurped power over God’s own people…
Thus all true political authorities are established by God: “there is no authority that is not from God” (Romans 13.1). This is true to a special degree of the political leaders of the people of God, for whom the the Lord established a special sacrament, the anointing to the kingdom: “I have found David My servant, with My holy oil have I anointed him” (Psalm 88.19). Even certain pagan kings were given an invisible anointing to rule justly and help the people of God, such as Cyrus of Persia (Isaiah 45.1).
However, while all true political authorities are established by God, there are some political authorities that are not established by God, but are simply allowed or tolerated by Him in His providential wisdom. The main forms of political organisation in the ancient world, Absolutism (or Despotism) and Democracy, were not established by God. Only the form of political organisation of the Hebrew people - Theocracy, or Autocracy (“delegated Theocracy”, as Tikhomirov calls it) – was established and blessed by Him.
These three fundamental forms of political organisation were believed by the nineteenth-century Russian religious philosopher Vladimir Solovyov to operate throughout human history. The first, Absolutism, he defined as “the striving to subject humanity in all its spheres and at every level of its life to one supreme principle which in its exclusive unity strives to mix and confuse the whole variety of private forms, to suppress the independence of the person and the freedom of private life.” The second, Democracy, he defined as “the striving to destroy the stronghold of dead unity, to give freedom everywhere to private forms of life, freedom to the person and his activity;… the extreme expression of this force is general egoism and anarchy, and a multitude of separate individuals without an inner bond.” The third force, Autocracy, he defined as “giving positive content to the other two forces, freeing them from their exclusivity, and reconciling the unity of the higher principle with the free multiplicity of private forms and elements.”
Absolutism was both the earliest and the most widespread form of political organisation in the ancient world, being found in Babylon and Egypt, the Indus valley, China and Central and South America. The great civilisations of the early postdiluvian period were all absolutist and pagan in character – that is, they were based on submission to the will of one man, who in turn was in submission to the demons; for “the gods of the pagans are demons” (Psalm 95.5). The most famous of these early despotic rulers was Nimrod, who was by tradition also the founder of pagan religion.
Paganism consists of two main elements, according to Lev Alexandrovich Tikhomirov: (1) the deification of the forces of nature, and (2) the cult of ancestors – to which may be added, as we shall see, the cult of children.
“The belief in the immortality of the soul, and the conviction of the benevolence of the heads of families, led to people seeing their protectors in the spirits of their ancestors, and they addressed them with petitions for defence, offered sacrifices to them, built temples to them, etc. They conformed their behaviour and public life in accordance with their indications and wishes.
“The deification of the forces of nature is no more than a crude penetration into the sphere of spiritual beings. Here people worship both evil forces and good ones, and are particularly easily led away from an understanding of the Divine essence itself. His essence, as we know from Revelation, is moral in nature. In the deification of nature, on the contrary, they worship only force, whether or not it is moral or even immoral, and in this way they are particularly easily led away from the true God.
“These various kinds of religious beliefs cannot fail to have varying influences on human life in general, and on man’s understanding of the supreme power in political life in particular.”
Nature-worship and ancestor-worship can be combined. For example, among today’s Solomon islanders, tiger sharks are worshipped as gods because they are believed to be the habitations of the souls of revered ancestors. The religion of Nimrod’s Babylon, from which, by tradition, all the major pagan religious systems derive, appears to have been a mixture of nature-worship and ancestor-worship. Thus, on the one hand, the Babylonians worshipped the stars and planets, and practised astrology as a means of discovering the will of the gods. "They believed," writes Smart, "that they could predict not merely by earthly methods of divination, but also by a study of the stars and of planets and the moon". One of the purposes of the temples or towers or ziggurats, whose remains can still be seen in the Iraqi desert, may have been as platforms from which to observe the signs of the zodiac. On the other hand, the chief god, Marduk or Merodach, meaning “brightness of the day”, seems to have been identified with none other than Nimrod himself. We know, moreover, that the later kings of Babylon were also identified with the god Marduk. So the divinity seems to have reincarnated himself in every member of the dynasty.
It was probably Nimrod who invented the traditions of nature-worship and ancestor-worship, or at least combined them in a uniquely powerful and dangerous way. Having risen to power as a hunter or leader in war (he is described in the Holy Scriptures as “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10.9)), he then consolidated his power by giving himself divine honours. By imposing false religion in this way he led men away from God, which earned him the title given him by the Jerusalem Targum of “hunter of the sons of men”; for he said: “Depart from the judgement of the Lord, and adhere to the judgement of Nimrod!”
The great spring festival of Marduk took place at Babylon, at the splendid temple with ascending steps which is called in the Bible the Tower of Babel, and which by tradition was built by Nimrod himself. In Genesis (11.8-9) we read that God destroyed this Tower, divided the languages of its builders so that they could not understand each other, and scattered them in different directions across the face of the earth. This explains both the existence of different nations speaking different languages and the fact that, at least in the earliest phase of their existence, all nations known to anthropologists have been pagan, worshipping a multiplicity of gods which often bear a close relationship to the gods of other nations.
"If, before the flood,” write two Catacomb Church nuns, “the impious apostates were the Cainites, the descendants of the brother-murderer, then after the flood they became the sons of the lawless Ham. The Hamites founded Babylon, one of the five cities of the powerful hunter Nimrod (Genesis 10.8). 'Nimrod, imitating his forefather, chose another form of slavery...' (St. John Chrysostom, Word 29 on Genesis). Nimrod invented a form of slavery at which 'those who boast of freedom in fact cringe' (ibid.). He rebelled against God, against the Divine patriarchal order of governing families and governing peoples. The times of Nimrod were characterized by the appearance of the beginnings of godless monarchism and future imperialism. Having rejected God, this eastern usurper created a kingdom based on his own power.”
“Nimrod” means "let us rebel", and "it was Nimrod,” according to Josephus, “who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God; he was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means that they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage that procured their happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other method of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his own power."
Nimrod’s Babylon, like all the early urban civilisations, was characterised by, on the one hand, a totalitarian state structure, and, on the other hand, a pagan system of religion. Statehood and religion were very closely linked; for both the governmental and the priestly hierarchies culminated in one man, the king-priest-god. This deification of the ruler of the City of Man was, of course, a direct challenge to the truly Divine Ruler of the City of God.
The deification of the ruler was a great support for his political power. For, as Tikhomirov writes, “how can one man become the supreme authority for the people to which he himself belongs, and which is as many times stronger than any individual person as millions are greater than a single unit?
“This can only take place through the influence of the religious principle - through that fact or presumption that the monarch is the representative of some higher power, against which millions of men are as nothing. The participation of the religious principle is unquestionably necessary for the existence of the monarchy, as the supreme authority in the State. Without the religious principle rule by one man, even if he were the greatest genius, can only be a dictatorship, power that is limitless but not supreme, but rather administrative, having received all rights only in his capacity as representative of the people’s authority.
“Such was the origin of monarchies in history. One-man rule is often promoted in the sense of a highest ruler, dictator, leader - for very various reasons: because of his legislative or judicial wisdom, his energy and talents for the maintenance of internal order, his military abilities , - but all these rulers could receive the title of supreme authority only if the religious idea, which indicated to the people that the given person represented a supreme, superhuman power, played a part in their exaltation.”
The Catacomb Church nuns continue: “Nimrod's very idea of founding a universal monarchy was a protest against Noah's curse of Canaan.. A sign of protest and at the same time of power was the huge tower which the Hamites attempted to raise. God punished them, confusing the language of the proud builders, so that they no longer understood each other...
“Herodotus writes in his History that they built small ziggurats in Babylon (evidently in memory of the first failure) consisting of towers placed on top of each other. On the top of the small ziggurat E-temen-anki was raised a statue of the idol Marduk weighing 23.5 tons. Many centuries later the notable tyrant Nebuchadnezzar said: 'I laid my hand to finishing the construction of the tope of E-temen-anki, so that it might quarrel with heaven.’”
By the end of the third millenium BC, most of present-day Iraq was united under the rule of what is known as the third Ur dynasty, from its capital city, the Bible’s “Ur of the Chaldees”. This city, too, has a ziggurat and was therefore a centre of the worship of Marduk. Shafarevich has shown that the political and economic life of this state was purely totalitarian in character: “Archaeologists have discovered a huge quantity of cuneiform tablets which express the economic life of that time. From them we know that the basis of the economy remained the temple households. However, they had completely lost their independence and had been turned into cells of a single state economy. Their managers were appointed by the king, they presented detailed accounts to the capital, and they were controlled by the king's inspectors. Groups of workers were often transferred from one household to another.
"The workers occupied in agriculture, men, women and children, were divided into parties led by inspectors. They worked all the year round, from one field to another, receiving seeds, tools and working animals from the temple and state warehouses. In the same way, they came to the warehouses for food in parties with their bosses leading them. The family was not seen as an economic unit; food was handed out not to the head of the family, but to each worker - more often, even, to the head of the party. In some documents they talk about men, in others - of women, in others - of children, in others - of orphans. Apparently, for this category of workers there could be no question of owning property or of using definite plots of land...
"In the towns there existed state workshops, with particularly large ones in the capital, Ur. The workers received tools, raw materials and semi-finished products from the state. The output of these workshops went into state warehouses. The craftsmen, like the agricultural workers, were divided into parties headed by observers. They received their food in accordance with lists from state warehouses.
"The workers occupied in agriculture and manufacture figure in the accounts as workers of full strength, 2/3rds strength, and 1/6th strength. On this depended the norms of their food. There were also norms of work, on the fulfilment of which also depended the amount of rations the workers received. The households presented lists of dead, sick and absentees from work (with indication of the reasons for their truancy). The workers could be transferred from one field to another, from one workshop to another, sometimes - from one town into another. The agricultural workers were sent to accessory work in workshops, and the craftsmen - to agricultural work or barge-hauling. The unfree condition of large sections of the population is underlined by the large number of documents concerning flight. Information concerning flights (with names of relatives) is provided - and not only of a barber or a shepherd's son, but also of the son of a priest or priest... A picture of the life of the workers is unveiled by regular information concerning mortality... In one document we are told that in one party in one year there died 10% of the workers, in another - 14%, in a third - 28%. Mortality was especially great among women and children..."
Thus here we find all the major elements of twentieth-century communism - the annihilation of private property and the family, slave-labour, gulags, the complete control of all political, economic and religious life by an omnipotent state. Even the cult of personality is here, in the form of the worship of the king-god. It was fitting, therefore, that it was from Ur that Abraham was called out by God in order to re-establish the religion of the one True God. For the worshippers of God, who wish to be at peace with heaven, cannot co-exist in peace with the worshippers of man, who seek to “quarrel with heaven” and with heaven’s followers. It was fitting, moreover, that it was precisely after Abraham had been forced to fight against a coalition of mainly Babylonian kings in the first recorded physical battle between the Church and the State (Genesis 14.17), that he was met by the first recorded true king and “priest of the Most High God… Possessor of heaven and earth”, Melchizedek (Genesis 14.18). Thus it is only after they have proved themselves in refusing to submit to the false ruler of this world, whose power is not of God, but of the devil (Revelation 13.2), that the people of God are counted worthy of receiving a king anointed by God Himself, being in the image of God’s own supreme sovereignty.
The second battle between the Church and the State took place took place hundreds of years later, between the people of God led by Moses, on the one hand, and the Egyptian Pharoah, on the other. For Egypt was another totalitarian society which rose up against the True God and was defeated (although the Egyptians did not record the fact, since gods cannot fail). Its apex was the cult of the Pharaoh, the god-king who was identified with one or another of the gods associated with the sun.
Egyptian religion was a very complicated mixture of creature-worship and ancestor-worship. Thus Diodorus Siculus writes: “The gods, they say, had been originally mortal men, but gained their immortality on account of wisdom and public benefits to mankind, some of them having also become kings; and some have the same names, when interpreted, with the heavenly deities… Helios [Re], they say, was the first king of the Egyptians, having the same name with the celestial luminary [the sun]…”
“Although Egypt had a pantheon of gods,” writes Phillips, “the principal deity was the sun god Re (also called Ra), for whose worship a massive religious centre had grown up at Heliopolis, some fifty kilometres to the north of Memphis. It was believed that Re had once ruled over Egypt personally but, wearied by the affairs of mankind, had retired to the heavens, leaving the pharaohs to rule in his stead. Called ‘the son of Re’, the pharaoh was considered a half-human, half-divine being, through whose body Re himself could manifest. However, as the falcon god Horus was the protector of Egypt, the king was also seen as his personification. By the Third Dynasty, therefore, Re and Horus had been assimilated as one god: Re-Herakhte. Depicted as a human male with a falcon’s head, this composite deity was considered both the god of the sun and the god of Egypt, and his incarnation on earth was the pharaoh himself. Only the king could expect an individual eternity with the gods, everyone else could only hope to participate in this vicariously, through their contribution to his well-being.”
The Egyptian Pharaoh was, according to Bright, “no viceroy ruling by divine election, nor was he a man who had been deified: he was god – Horus visible among his people. In theory, all Egypt was his property, all her resources at the disposal of his projects” – and these, as the whole world knows, were on the most massive scale. “The system was an absolutism under which no Egyptian was in theory free,… the lot of the peasant must have been unbelievably hard.” Thus according to Herodotus the largest of the pyramids, that of Pharaoh Khufu, was built on the labour of 100,000 slaves. It is far larger than any of the cathedrals or temples built by any other religion in any other country, and it has recently been discovered to contain the largest boat found anywhere in the world.
Pharaoh was the mediator between heaven and earth. Without him, it was believed, there would be no order and the world would descend into chaos. He guaranteed that the sun shone, the Nile inundated the land and the crops grew. As Silverman writes: “The king’s identification with the supreme earthly and solar deities of the Egyptian pantheon suggests that the king in death embodied the duality that characterized the ancient Egyptian cosmos. The deified ruler represented both continuous regeneration (Osiris) and the daily cycle of rebirth (as Re). In their understanding of the cosmos, the ancient Egyptians were accustomed to each of their deities possessing a multiplicity of associations and roles. It was a natural extension of this concept for them to view the deified Pharaoh in a similar way.”
All the dead Pharaohs (with the exception of the “disgraced” Hatshepsut and the “heretic” Akhenaton) were worshipped in rites involving food offerings and prayers. Even some non-royal ancestors were worshipped; they were called “able spirits of Re” because it was thought that they interceded for the living with the sun god.
Rohl has put forward the fascinating theory that Egypt was conquered in pre-dynastic times by Hamites arriving from Mesopotamia by sea around the Arabian peninsula, who left a profound mark on Egyptian religion and civilisation. Thus Cush, the son of Ham and father of Nimrod, arrived in Ethiopia, giving that country its ancient name. Another son of Ham, Put, gave his name to Eritrea and the south-west corner of Arabia; while another son, Mizraim, gave his name to Egypt, becoming the first of the Egyptian falcon kings, the descendants of Horus, “the Far Distant One”. Now the name “Mizraim” means “follower of Asar” – in other words, according to Rohl’s theory, follower of the Babylonian god Marduk insofar as Marduk is to be identified with Ashur, the grandson of Noah!
This places the Egyptian god-kings in the closest spiritual relationship with the Babylonian god-kings, being all deified followers or reincarnations of Marduk-Osiris-Ashur.
Noah himself seems to have been deified by the Sumerians, according to Rohl. Thus in the Sumerian Gilgamesh epic, Utnapishtim, the Akkadian name for Noah, is elevated to divine status by the gods after leaving the ark and sacrificing to the gods. “Hitherto Utnapishtim has been but a man, but now Utnapishtim shall be as the gods.”
Now the original supreme deity of Egypt was Atum, later Re-Atum, which means “the all”. “Atum,” writes Rohl, “was both man and god. He was the first being on earth who brought himself into the world – the self-created one… Atum as the first being – and therefore the first ruler on earth – was regarded as the patron deity of royalty – the personal protector of the pharaoh and all kingship rituals… The name Atum is written A-t-m with the loaf-of-bread sign for the letter ‘t’. However, it is recognised by linguists that the letters ‘t’ and ‘d’ are often interchangeable within the different language groups of the ancient Near East… The Sumerian Adama becomes Atamu in Akkadian. So I believe we are justified in substituting the Egyptian ‘t’ in A-t-m with a ‘d’ – giving us Adam!”
This theory, if true, it sheds a very interesting light on the early Biblical account. Thus if the Babylonian cult of the god-king goes back to the self-deification of Nimrod, which is in turn based on the deification of his ancestors Ashur (Marduk) and Noah (Utnapishtim), then the Egyptian cult of the god-king, while receiving its first impetus from Babylonian Marduk-worship, went one step further in deifying the ancestor of the whole human race, Adam, and placing him at the peak of their religious pantheon. Eve fell through believing the word of the serpent that they would be “as gods”. The descendants of Noah and Ham fell through believing that Adam and Eve – and so they themselves, too - were “as gods”.
Similar systems to the Babylonian and Egyptian seem to have been in vogue in other "civilised" parts of the ancient world - in India, in China, and, somewhat later, in Central and South America. Everywhere we find the cult of the god-king, together with a totalitarian system of government and a religion characterised by astrology, magical practices, ancestor-worship and, very often, blood-sacrifices and immorality of various kinds. In Central America, in particular, the numbers of blood-sacrifices were extraordinarily large.
Thus Alexeyev writes: "The cult of the god-king was confessed by nations of completely different cultures. Nevertheless, at its base there lies a specific religious-philosophical world-view which is the same despite the differences of epochs, nations and cultural conditions of existence. The presupposition of this world-view is an axiom that received perhaps its most distinct formulation in the religion of the Assyro-Babylonians. The Assyro-Babylonians believed that the whole of earthly existence corresponds to heavenly existence and that every phenomenon of this world, beginning from the smallest and ending with the greatest, must be considered to be a reflection of heavenly processes. The whole Babylonian world-view, all their philosophy, astrology and magic rested on the recognition of this axiom. In application to politics it meant that …the earthly king was as it were a copy of the heavenly king, an incarnation of divinity, an earthly god."
Thus the religion of the ancient pagan empires was inextricably linked with the form of their political organisation. And conversely, the stability of their political organisation was inextricably linked with their religion. For as long as the people believed in the divinity of their king, they obeyed him. It was only when the king showed signs, not so much of human fallibility, as of doctrinal heresy, that the State was threatened from within. Thus the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton’s “heresy” caused temporary instability in Egypt. And the Babylonian King Nabonidus’ attempt to remove the New Year festival aroused the enmity of the people as a whole and the priests of Marduk in particular, leading to the fall of Babylon to Cyrus the Persian.
This similarity between the different pagan states amidst their superficial diversity was the result of their all being ultimately derived from a single source – Nimrod’s Babylon, from where they were spread all over the world after the destruction of the Tower of Babel – to Egypt, to India, to Greece, and, still further afield, to China, Mexico and Peru, and even, in modern times, to Mikado Japan…
The Hebrew autocracy arose out of the midst of the prototypically absolutist States of Babylon and Egypt. Its distinguishing mark was its claim, quite contrary to the claims of the Babylonian and Egyptian despotisms, that its origin and end lay outside itself, in the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It took its origin from a direct call by God to Abraham to leave his homeland, the Sumerian city of Ur, and go into a land which God had promised him.
The God of Abraham was different from the gods of polytheism in several ways. First, He revealed Himself as completely transcendent to the material world, being worshipped neither in idols nor in men nor in the material world as a whole, but rather as the spiritual, immaterial Creator of all things, visible and invisible. Secondly, He did not reveal Himself to all, nor could anyone acquire faith in Him by his own efforts, but He revealed Himself only to those with whom He chose to enter into communion - Abraham, first of all. Thirdly, He was a jealous God Who required that His followers worship Him alone, as being the only true God. This was contrary to the custom in the pagan world, where ecumenism was the vogue - that is, all the gods, whoever they were and wherever they were worshipped, were considered true.
The nation of the Hebrews, therefore, was founded on an exclusively religious - and religiously exclusive - principle. In Ur, and the other proto-communist states of the ancient world, the governing principle of life was not religion, still less the nation, but the state. Or rather, its governing principle was a religion of the state as incarnate in its ruler; for everything, including religious worship, was subordinated to the needs of the state, and to the will of the leader of the state, the god-king.
But Israel was founded upon a rejection of this idolatry of the state and its leader, and an exclusive subordination to the will of the God of Abraham, Who could in no way be identified with any man or state or material thing whatsoever. It followed that the criterion for membership of the nation of the Hebrews was neither race (for the Hebrews were not clearly distinguished racially from the other Semitic tribes of the Fertile Crescent, at any rate at the beginning, and God promised not only to multiply Abraham’s seed, but also that “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22.18)), nor citizenship of a certain state (for they had none at the beginning), nor residence in a certain geographical region (for it was not until 500 years after Abraham that the Hebrews conquered Palestine). The foundation of the nation, and criterion of its membership, was faith, faith in the God Who revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and acceptance of the rite of circumcision. At the same time, the very exclusivity of this faith meant that Israel was chosen above all other nations to be the Lord’s special people: “in the division of the nations of the whole earth, He set a ruler over every people; but Israel is the Lord’s portion.” (Sirach 17.17).
Some half a millenium later, in the time of Moses, the Hebrews were again living under another absolutist regime - this time, Pharaonic Egypt. And God again called them out of the despotism - this time, through Moses. He called them to leave Egypt and return to the promised land.
Now during the life of Moses, a third important element besides faith and circumcision was added to the life of Israel: the law. The law was necessary for several reasons. First, by the time of Moses, the Israelites were no longer an extended family of a few hundred people, as in the time of Abraham and the Patriarchs, which could be governed by the father of the family without the need of any written instructions or governmental hierarchy. Since their migration to Egypt in the time of Joseph, they had multiplied and become a nation of several hundred thousand people, which no one man could rule unaided. Secondly, the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt had introduced them again to the lures of the pagan world, and a law was required to protect them from these lures. And thirdly, in order to escape from Egypt, pass through the desert and conquer the Promised Land in the face of many enemies, a quasi-military organisation and discipline was required.
For these reasons among others, the law was given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Its God-givenness was vitally important. It meant, as Paul Johnson points out, that “the Israelites were creating a new kind of society. Josephus later used the ‘theocracy’. This he defined as ‘placing all sovereignty in the hands of God’… The Israelites might have magistrates of one kind or another but their rule was vicarious since God made the law and constantly intervened to ensure it was obeyed. The fact that God ruled meant that in practice his law ruled. And since all were equally subject to the law, the system was the first to embody the double merits of the rule of law and equality before the law. Philo called it ‘democracy’, which he described as ‘the most law-abiding and best of constitutions’. But by democracy he did not mean rule by all the people; he defined it as a form of government which ‘honours equality and has law and justice for its rulers’. He might have called the Jewish system, more accurately, ‘democratic theocracy’, because in essence that is what it was.”
And yet the “democratic” element should not be exaggerated. Although every man was equal under the law of God, which was also the law of Israel, there were no elections, every attempt to rebel against Moses’ leadership was fiercely punished (Numbers 16), and there was no way in which the people could alter the law to suit themselves, which is surely the essence of democracy in the modern sense. Even when, at Jethro’s suggestion, lower-level magistrates and leaders were appointed, they were appointed by Moses, not by any kind of popular vote (Deuteronomy 1).
One of the major characteristics of the Mosaic law, notes Johnson, is that “there is no distinction between the religious and the secular – all are one – or between civil, criminal and moral law.
“This indivisibility had important practical consequences. In Mosaic legal theory, all breaches of the law offend God. All crimes are sins, just as all sins are crimes. Offences are absolute wrongs, beyond the power of man unaided to pardon or expunge. Making restitution to the offended mortal is not enough; God requires expiation, too, and this may involve drastic punishment. Most law-codes of the ancient Near East are property-orientated, people themselves being forms of property whose value can be assessed. The Mosaic code is God-oriented. For instance, in other codes, a husband may pardon an adulterous wife and her lover. The Mosaic code, by contrast, insists both must be put to death…
“In Mosaic theology, man is made in God’s image, and so his life is not just valuable, it is sacred. To kill a man is an offence against God so grievous that the ultimate punishment, the forfeiture of life, must follow; money is not enough. The horrific fact of execution thus underscores the sanctity of human life. Under Mosaic law, then, many men and women met their deaths whom the secular codes of surrounding societies would have simply permitted to compensate their victims or their victims’ families.
“But the converse is also true, as a result of the same axiom. Whereas other codes provided the death penalty for offences against property, such as looting during a fire, breaking into a house, serious trespass by night, or theft of a wife, in the Mosaic law no property offence is capital. Human life is too sacred where the rights of property alone are violated. It also repudiates vicarious punishment: the offences of parents must not be punished by the execution of sons or daughters, or the husband’s crime by the surrender of the wife to prostitution… Moreover, not only is human life sacred, the human person (being in God’s image) is precious… Physical cruelty [in punishment] is kept to the minimum.”
A major part of the Mosaic law concerned the institution of a priesthood and what we would now call the Church with its rites and festivals. The priesthood was entrusted to Moses' brother Aaron and one of the twelve tribes of Israel, that of the Levites. Thus already in the time of Moses we have the beginnings of a separation between Church and State, and of what the Byzantines called the "symphony" between the two powers, as represented by Moses and Aaron.
That the Levites constituted the beginnings of what we would now call the clergy of the Church was indicated by Patriarch Nicon of Moscow in his polemic against the attempts of the tsar to confiscate church lands: “Have you not heard that God said that any outsider who comes close to the sacred things will be given up to death? By outsider here is understood not only he who is a stranger to Israel from the pagans, but everyone who is not of the tribe of Levi, like Kore, Dathan and Abiram, whom God did not choose, and whom, the impious ones, a flame devoured; and King Uzziah laid his hand on the ark to support it, and God struck him and he died (II Kings 6.6,7).”
However, it is important to realise that there was no radical separation of powers in the modern sense. Israel was a theocratic state ruled directly by God, Who revealed His will through His chosen servants Moses and Aaron. The Church, the State and the People were not three different entities or organisations, but three different aspects of a single organism, the whole of which was subject to God alone.
That is why it was so important that the leader should be chosen by God. In the time of the judges, this seems always to have been the case; for when an emergency arose God sent His Spirit upon a man chosen by Him (cf. Judges 6.34), and the people, recognising this, then elected him as their judge (cf. Judges 11.11). And if there was no emergency, or if the people were not worthy of a God-chosen leader, then God did not send His Spirit and no judge was elected. In those circumstances "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21.25) - in other words, there was anarchy. The lesson was clear: if theocracy is removed, then sooner or later there will be anarchy - that is, no government at all.
The unity of Israel was therefore religious, not political - or rather, it was religio-political. It was created by the history of deliverance from the satanocracies of Babylon and Egypt and maintained by a continuing allegiance to God - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God Who appeared to Moses and Joshua, - as their only King. Early Israel before the kings was therefore not a kingdom - or rather, it was a kingdom whose king was God alone. It had rulers, but these rulers were neither hereditary monarchs nor like presidents or prime ministers, who are elected to serve the will of the people. They were charismatic leaders who were elected because they served the will of God alone.
We see this most clearly in the story of Abraham, who always acted at the direct command of God; we read of no priest or king to whom he deferred. The only possible exception to this rule was Melchisedek, the mysterious king-priest of Jerusalem, who blessed him on his return from the slaughter of the kings. However, Melchisedek was the exception that proved the rule; for he was both the first and the last man in the history of the People of God to combine the roles of king and priest, which shows, as St. Paul indicates (Hebrews 7.3), that he was the type, not of any merely human king, but of Christ God, the Supreme King and Chief High Priest of the People of God. Nor was Abraham the king of his people. Rather it was said to him by God: "Kings will come from you" (Genesis 17.6; cf. 17.16, 35.2).
As L.A. Tikhomirov writes: “According to the law of Moses, no state was established at that time, but the nation was just organised on tribal principles, with a common worship of God. The Lord was recognised as the Master of Israel in a moral sense, as of a spiritual union, that is, as a Church.” Ancient Israel, in other words, was a Theocracy, ruled not by a king or priest, but by God Himself.
And strictly speaking the People of God remained a Theocracy, without a formal state structure, until the time of the Prophet Samuel, who anointed the first King of Israel, Saul. Early Israel before the kings had rulers, but these rulers were neither hereditary monarchs nor were they elected to serve the will of the people. They were charismatic leaders, called judges, who were elected because they served the will of God alone.
And they were elected by God, not the people, whose role was simply to recognise and follow the man God had elected, as when He elected Gideon, saying: “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the Midianites: have I not sent thee?” (Judges 6.14). That is why, when the people offered to make Gideon and his descendants kings in a kind of hereditary dynasty, he refused, saying: "I shall not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you" (Judges 8.23).
The seeds of the Israelite Autocratic State can be discerned already in the time of Moses. By that time the Israelites had grown far beyond the size of unit that a single patriarchal figure could know and control unaided, and had become a People with its own internal structure of twelve tribes. They needed order, and consequently, both a law and a judicial system to administer it.
God as the Supreme Ruler of Israel provided that law, a law which governed the life of the People in all its spheres, including the religious (Exodus 20 et seq.). And in obedience to God Moses created a quasi-governmental judicial system to administer it, delegating the power of resolving disputes to “the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known,” making them “captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes” (Deuteronomy 1.15), while reserving for himself the final court of appeal.
While delegating power in the judicial sphere, Moses also entrusted the priesthood, at God’s command, to his brother Aaron, who became the head of the Levitical priesthood. Thus in the relationship between Moses and Aaron we see the first clear foreshadowing of the relationship between the State and the Church, the monarchy and the priesthood. The symphony of these blood brothers foreshadowed the spiritual symphony of powers in both the Israelite and the Christian theocracies.
However, while the Church was already a reality, with a real high priest under God, the “State” did not yet have a human king, but only a lawgiver and prophet in Moses. A king would have to wait until the Israelites acquired a land. For as the Lord said to the People through Moses: “When thou shalt come unto the land which the Lord thy God shall choose, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me: thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother... And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel” (Deuteronomy 17.14-15,18-20).
Thus God blessed the institution of the monarchy, but stipulated three conditions if His blessing was to continue to rest on it. First, the people must itself desire to have a king placed over it. Secondly, the king must be someone “whom the Lord thy God shall choose”; a true king is chosen by God, not man. Such a man will always be a “brother”, that is a member of the People of God, of the Church: if he is not, then God has not chosen him. Thirdly, he will govern in accordance with the Law of God, which he will strive to fulfil in all its parts.
In the period from Moses to Saul, the people were ruled by the Judges, many of whom, like Joshua, Jephtha and Gideon, were holy, truly charismatic leaders. However, towards the end of the period, since “there was no king in Israel; everyone did what seemed right to him” (Judges 21.25), and barbaric acts, such as that which almost led to the extermination of the tribe of Benjamin, are recorded. In their desperation at the mounting anarchy, the people called on God through the Prophet Samuel to provide them with a king.
God fulfilled their request. However, since the people’s motivation in seeking a king was not pure, not for the sake of being able to serve God more faithfully, He gave them at first a king who brought them more harm than good. For while Saul was a mighty man of war and temporarily expanded the frontiers of Israel at the expense of the Philistines and Ammonites, he persecuted True Orthodoxy, as represented by the future King David and his followers, and he allowed the Church, as represented by the priesthood serving the Ark at Shiloh, to fall into the hands of unworthy men (the sons of Eli).
Some Christian democrats have argued that the Holy Scriptures do not approve of kingship. This is not true. Kingship as such is never condemned in Holy Scripture: rather, it is considered the norm of political leadership. Let us consider the following passages: "In all, a king is an advantage to a land with cultivated fields" (Ecclesiastes 5.8); “Blessed are thou, O land, when thou hast a king from a noble family” (Ecclesiastes 10.17); "The heart of the king is in the hand of God: He turns it wherever He wills (Proverbs 21.1); "He sends kings upon thrones, and girds their loins with a girdle" (Job 12.18); "He appoints kings and removes them" (Daniel 2.21); "Thou, O king, art a king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given a powerful and honourable and strong kingdom in every place where the children of men dwell" (Daniel 2.37-38); "Listen, therefore, O kings, and understand...; for your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High" (Wisdom 6.1,3).
The tragedy of the story of the first Israelite king, Saul did not consist in the fact that the Israelites sought a king for themselves - as we have seen, God did not condemn kingship as long as He was recognised as the true King of kings. The sacrament of kingly anointing, which was performed for the first time by the Prophet Samuel on Saul, gave the earthly king the grace to serve the Heavenly King as his true Sovereign. The tragedy consisted in the fact that the Israelites sought a king "like [those of] the other nations around" them (Deuteronomy 17.14), - in other words, a pagan-style king who would satisfy the people’s notions of kingship rather than God’s, - and that this desire for a non-theocratic king amounted to apostasy in the eyes of the Lord, the only true King of Israel.
Thus the Lord said to Samuel: "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should rule over them... Now therefore listen to their voice. However, protest solemnly to them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them" (I Kings 8.4-9). And then Samuel painted for them the image of a harsh, totalitarian ruler of the kind that was common in the Ancient World. These kings, as well as having total political control over their subjects, were often worshipped by them as gods; so that "kingship" as that was understood in the Ancient World meant both the loss of political freedom and alienation from the true and living God.
As the subsequent history of Israel shows, God in His mercy did not always send such totalitarian rulers upon His people, and the best of the kings, such as David, Josiah and Hezekiah, were in obedience to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Nevertheless, since kingship was introduced into Israel from a desire to imitate the pagans, it was a retrograde step. It represented the introduction of a second, worldly principle of allegiance into what had been a society bound together by religious bonds alone, a schism in the soul of the nation which, although seemingly inevitable in the context of the times, meant the loss for ever of that pristine simplicity which had characterised Israel up to then.
It is important to realise that the worldly principle was introduced because the religious principle had grown weak. For the history of the kings begins with the corruption of the priests, the sons of Eli, who were in possession of the ark at the time of its capture. Thus for the kings' subsequent oppression of the people the spiritual leaders had some responsibility - and also the people, to whom the principle applied: "like people, like priest" (Hosea 4.9).
And yet everything seemed to go well at first. Samuel anointed Saul, saying: “The Lord anoints thee as ruler of His inheritance of Israel, and you will rule over the people of the Lord and save them from out of the hand of their enemies” (I Kings 10.1). Filled with the Spirit of the Lord, Saul defeated the enemies of Israel, the Ammonites and the Philistines. But the schism which had been introduced into the life of the nation began to express itself also in the life of their king, with tragic consequences. First, before a major battle with the Philistines, the king made a sacrifice to the Lord without waiting for Samuel. For this sin, the sin of “caesaropapism”, as western scholars term it, the sin of the invasion of the Church's sphere by the State, Samuel prophesied that the kingdom would be taken away from Saul and given to a man after God's heart.
This example was also quoted by Patriarch Nicon of Moscow: “Listen to what happened to Saul, the first king of Israel. The Word of God said to Samuel: ‘I have repented that I sent Saul to the kingdom, for he has ceased to follow Me.’ What did Saul do that God should reject him? He, it is said, ‘did not follow My counsels’ (I Kings 15.10-28)…This is the Word of God, and not the word of man: ‘I made you ruler over the tribes of Israel and anointed you to the kingdom of Israel, and not to offer sacrifices and whole-burnt offerings,’ teaching for all future times that the priesthood is higher than the kingdom, and that he who wishes for more loses that which is his own.”
Then Saul spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, together with the best of his livestock, instead of killing them all, as God had commanded. His excuse was: "because I listened to the voice of the people" (I Kings 15.20). In other words, he abdicated his God-given authority and became, spiritually speaking, a democrat, listening to the people rather than to God. And so Samuel said: "Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord also shall reject thee from being king over Israel" (I Kings 15.23).
By modern standards, Saul's sins seem small. However, they must be understood in the context of the previous history of Israel, in which neither Moses nor any of the judges (except, perhaps, Samson), had disobeyed the Lord. That is why Samuel said: "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as iniquity and idolatry" (I Kings 15.22-23). For even a king can rebel, even a king is in obedience – to the King of kings Who gave him his power. Only the despot feels that there is nobody above him, that there is no law that he, too, must obey. His power is absolute; whereas the power of the autocrat is limited, if not by man and the laws of men, at any rate by the law of God.
The anointing of Saul raises the question: are only those kings anointed with a visible anointing recognised by God? The answer to this is: no. There is also an invisible anointing. Thus Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow writes: “The name ‘anointed’ is often given by the word of God to kings in relation to the sacred and triumphant anointing which they receive, in accordance with the Divine establishment, on their entering into possession of their kingdom… But it is worthy of especial note that the word of God also calls anointed some earthly masters who were never sanctified with a visible anointing. Thus Isaiah, announcing the will of God concerning the king of the Persians, says: ‘Thus says the Lord to His anointed one, Cyrus’ (Isaiah 45.1); whereas this pagan king had not yet been born, and, on being born, did not know the God of Israel, for which he was previously rebuked by God: ‘I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me’ (Isaiah 45.5). But how then could this same Cyrus at the same time be called the anointed of God? God Himself explains this, when He prophesies about him through the same prophet: ‘I have raised him up…: he shall build My city, and He shall let go My captives’ (Isaiah 45.13). Penetrate, O Christian, into the deep mystery of the powers that be! Cyrus is a pagan king; Cyrus does not know the true God; however Cyrus is the anointed of the true God. Why? Because God, Who “creates the future” (Isaiah 45.11), has appointed him to carry out His destiny concerning the re-establishment of the chosen people of Israel; by this Divine thought, so to speak, the Spirit anointed him before bringing him into the world: and Cyrus, although he does not know by whom and for what he has been anointed, is moved by a hidden anointing, and carries out the work of the Kingdom of God in a pagan kingdom. How powerful is the anointing of God! How majestic is the anointed one of God!”
Thus we can trace the beginnings of the division of Church and State to the fall from theocracy in Saul’s reign. The original fall, that of Adam and Eve, divided the original unity of mankind into the people of God (the Sethites) and the people of the devil (the Cainites). The second fall, that of Saul, divided the people of God into the sacred and the profane, the Church as the sacred aspect of the people's life and the State as its profane, worldly aspect, a division that was only partly healed by the Church’s anointing of the king, which made him a sacred person.
The Davidic Kingdom
The falling away of Saul led directly to the first major schism in the history of the State of Israel. For after Saul's death, the northern tribes supported the claim of Saul's surviving son to the throne, while the southern tribes supported David. Although David suppressed this rebellion, and although, for David's sake, the Lord did not allow a schism during the reign of his son Solomon, it erupted again and became permanent after Solomon's death...
The greatness of David lay in the fact that in his person he represented the true autocrat, who both closed the schism between north and south, and closed the schism that was just beginning to open up between the sacred and the profane, the Church and the State. For while being unequalled as a political leader, his zeal for the Church, and for the house of God, was also second to none. For “like Gideon,” notes Johnson, “he grasped that [Israel] was indeed a theocracy and not a normal state. Hence the king could never be an absolute ruler on the usual oriental pattern. Nor, indeed, could the state, however governed, be absolute either. It was inherent in Israelite law even at this stage that, although everyone had responsibilities and duties to society as a whole, society – or its representative, the king, or the state – could under no circumstances possess unlimited authority over the individual. Only God could do that. The Jews, unlike the Greeks and later the Romans, did not recognize such concepts as city, state, community as abstracts with legal personalities and rights and privileges. You could commit sins against man, and of course against God; and these sins were crimes; but there was no such thing as a crime/sin against the state.
“This raises a central dilemma about Israelite, later Judaic, religion and its relationship with temporal power. The dilemma can be stated quite simply: could the two institutions coexist, without one fatally weakening the other?”
The reign of David proved that State and Church could indeed coexist, and not only not weaken each other, but strengthen each other. This is most clearly seen in the central act of his reign, his conquest of Jerusalem and establishment of the city of David on Zion as the capital and heart of the Israelite kingdom. This was, on the one hand, an important political act, strengthening the centralising power of the state; for as the last part of the Holy Land to be conquered, Jerusalem did not belong to any of the twelve tribes, which meant that its ruler, David, was elevated above all the tribes, and above all earthly and factional interests. But, on the other hand, it was also in important religious act; for by establishing his capital in Jerusalem, David linked his kingship with the mysterious figure of Melchisedek, both priest and king, who had blessed Abraham at Salem (Jerusalem). Thus David could be seen as following in the footsteps of Abraham in receiving the blessing of the priest-king in his own city.
Moreover, by bringing the ark of the covenant, the chief sanctum of the priesthood, to a permanent resting-place in Zion, David showed that the Church and the priesthood would find rest and protection on earth only under the aegis of the Jewish autocracy. As John Bright writes: “The significance of this action cannot be overestimated. It was David’s aim to make Jerusalem the religious as well as the political capital of the realm. Through the Ark he sought to link the newly created state to Israel’s ancient order as its legitimate successor, and to advertise the state as the patron and protector of the sacral institutions of the past. David showed himself far wiser than Saul. Where Saul had neglected the Ark and driven its priesthood from him, David established both Ark and priesthood in the official national shrine.” 
The Ark was a symbol of the Church; and it is significant that the birth of the Church, at Pentecost, took place on Zion, beside David’s tomb (Acts 2). For David prefigured Christ not only in His role as anointed King of the Jews, Who inherited “the throne of His father David” and made it eternal (Luke 1.32-33), but also as Sender of the Spirit and establisher of the New Testament Church. For just as David brought the wanderings of the Ark to an end by giving it a permanent resting-place in Zion, so Christ sent the Spirit into the upper room in Zion, giving the Church a firm, visible beginning on earth.
Only it was not given to David (since he had soiled his hands with blood and war) to complete the third act which was to complete this symbolism, the building of the Temple to house the ark. That was reserved for his son Solomon, who consecrated the Temple on the feast of Tabernacles, the feast signifying the end of the wanderings of the children of Israel in the desert and the ingathering of the harvest fruits. Such was the splendour of Solomon’s reign that he also became a type of Christ, and of Christ in His relationship to the Church.
Only whereas David forefigures Christ as the Founder of the Church in Zion, Solomon, through his relationship with foreign rulers in Egypt, Tyre and Sheba, and his expansion of Israel to its greatest geographical extent and splendour, forefigures the Lord’s sending out of the apostles into the Gentile world and the expansion of the Church throughout the oikoumene. Thus David sang of his son as the type of Him Whom “all the kings of the earth shall worship, and all the nations shall serve” (Psalm 71.11). Moreover, at the very moment of the consecration of the Temple, the wise Solomon looks forward to that time when the Jewish Temple-worship will be abrogated and the true worship of God will not be concentrated in Jerusalem or any single place, but the true worshippers will worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4. 21-23): “for will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee: how much less this house that I have builded?” (I Kings 8.27).
But Solomon, while forefiguring Christ in these ways, in other ways – his luxury, pagan wives and inclination to idolatry, and vast military projects involving forced labour, - rather displayed the image of the absolutist pagan despot that the Prophet Samuel had warned against. And after his death, the schism between Church and State that had begun to open up in Saul’s reign, but had then been closed by David, began to reopen. The body politic was divided between the two tribes of the southern kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam and the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam. The political schism was mirrored by a religious schism when Jeroboam built a rival altar and priesthood to the altar and priesthood in Jerusalem.
Although the northern kingdom was accorded some legitimacy by the prophets, this changed when King Ahab’s Tyrian wife Jezabel tried to make Baalism the official religion of the State and began to persecute those who resisted her. In this, probably the first specifically religious persecution in history, the holy Prophet Elijah rose up in defence of the true faith, working miracles in the sight of all and slaughtering the priests of Baal and the soldiers whom Ahab sent against him. After his ascension to heaven his disciple Elisha continued the struggle in a new and highly significant way: he ordered the anointing of a new king, Jehu, in the place of Ahab’s dynasty. Jehu led the counter-revolution which killed Jezabel and restored the true faith to Israel. Here, then, we see the first application of a very important principle, namely, that loyalty to autocracy is conditional on its loyalty to the true faith.
Both Israel and Judah enjoyed a certain recovery in the first half of the eighth century. However, idolatry continued, combined with greed, injustice and debauchery. Then Israel descended into a time of time of troubles and civil war in which many illegitimate rulers came briefly to power and then disappeared – “they have set up kings, but not by Me,” said the Lord through the Prophet Hosea (8.3). Instead of relying on the Lord alone, Israel turned to the foreign powers, and even invaded its brother-state of Judah. Therefore God permitted its conquest by despotic Assyria and the deportation of its inhabitants to the east, which spiritually speaking constituted a reversal of the exodus from Egypt – “now will He remember their iniquity, and visit their sins; they shall return to Egypt” (Hosea 8.13).
Judah was spared for a time, though as a vassal of Assyria. King Hezekiah reversed the syncretistic policies of Ahaz, and Josiah – those of Manasseh, which attracted Divine protection. Thus in one famous incident the angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 of the warriors of Sennacherib in one night. This showed what could be done if faith was placed, not in chariots and horses, but in the name of the Lord God (Psalm 19.7). Moreover, Judah even survived her tormentor Assyria, which, having been used to punish the sins of the Jews, was then cast away (Isaiah 10.15).
In this period, as the people became weaker in faith, the kingship became stronger. This was good if the king was good, for his strength and piety could in part compensate for the weakness of the Church. But if the king worshipped idols, then, like Ahaz, he might reign during his lifetime, but after his death “they did not bring him into the sepulchres of the kings of Israel” (II Chronicles 28.27). And if he did not understand his role, and was not kept in his place by a good high priest, then the results could be catastrophic.
Thus in the reign of King Ozias (Uzziah) the kingship began to encroach on the altar. Blessed Jerome explains: “As long as Zacharias the priest, surnamed the Understanding, was alive, Ozias pleased God and entered His sanctuary with all reverence. But after Zacharias died, desiring to make the religious offerings himself, he infringed upon the priestly office, not so much piously as rashly. And when the Levites and the other priests exclaimed against him: ‘Are you not Ozias, a king and not a priest?’ he would not heed them, and straightway was smitten with leprosy in his forehead, in accordance with the word of the priest, who said, ‘Lord, fill their faces with shame’ (Psalm 82.17)… Now Ozias reigned fifty-two years… After his death the prophet Isaias saw the vision [Isaiah 6.1]… While the leprous king lived, and, so far as was in his power, was destroying the priesthood, Isaias could not see the vision. As long as he reigned in Judea, the prophet did not lift his eyes to heaven; celestial matters were not revealed to him.”
But betrayal did not only come from the kings: it could come from the high priesthood. Thus the high priest and temple treasurer in the time of King Hezekiah of Judah was called Somnas. Jewish tradition relates that Somnas wished to betray the people of God and flee to the Assyrian King Sennacherib; and St. Cyril of Alexandria says of him: "On receiving the dignity of the high-priesthood, he abused it, going to the extent of imprisoning everybody who contradicted him."
Ozias and Somnas represent what have come to be called in Christian times caesaropapism and papocaesarism, respectively – distortion to the right and to the left of the ideal of Church-State symphony.
The prominent role played by the kings in restoring religious purity foreshadowed the similarly prominent role that the Orthodox autocrats would play in defence of the faith in New Testament times. Thus when the Emperor Justinian pressed for the anathematization of the works of three dead heretics, his supporters pointed to the fact that King Josiah had repressed the living idolatrous priests, and burned the bones of the dead ones upon the altar (II Kings 23.16).
But the same spiritual sicknesses that had afflicted Israel continued to undermine Judah, and so the Lord raised another despot to punish her – the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the Temple and exiled the people to Babylon in 586 BC. The Jews had hoped to rebel against the Babylonians by appealing to the other despotic kingdom of Egypt. But the Prophet Jeremiah rebuked them for their lack of faith. If God wills it, he said, He can deliver the people on His own, without any human helpers, as He delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrians in the time of Hezekiah.
However, national independence had become a higher priority for the Jews than the true faith. The only remedy, therefore, was to humble their pride by removing even their last remaining vestige of independence. Therefore “bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and live! Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the Lord has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon… And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace…” (Jeremiah 27.12-13, 29.7).
Each of the main political systems is the reflection of a particular religious (or non-religious, or anti-religious) outlook on the world. Greek democracy, which appeared at the time of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, was no exception. It was the expression of a particularly human view of God or the gods.
J.M. Roberts writes: “Greek gods and goddesses, for all their supernatural standing and power, are remarkably human. They express the humanity-centred quality of later Greek civilization. Much as it owed to Egypt and the East, Greek mythology and art usually presents its gods as better, or worse, men and women, a world away from the monsters of Assyria and Babylonia, or from Shiva the many-armed. Whoever is responsible, this is a religious revolution; its converse was the implication that men could be godlike. This is already apparent in Homer; perhaps he did as much as anyone to order the Greek supernatural in this way and he does not give much space to popular cults. He presents gods taking sides in the Trojan war in postures all too human. They compete with one another; while Poseidon harries the hero of The Odyssey, Athena takes his part. A later Greek critic grumbled that Homer ‘attributed to the gods everything that is disgraceful and blameworthy among men: theft, adultery and deceit’. It was a world which operated much like the actual world.”
If the gods were such uninspiring figures, it was hardly surprising that the kings (whether god-kings or not) should cease to inspire awe. Hence the trend, apparent from Homeric times, to desacralise kingship and remove it from the centre of political power. For if in religion the universe was seen as “one great City of gods and men”, differing from each other not in nature but in power, why should there be any greater differences in the city of man? Just as gods can be punished by other gods, and men like Heracles can become gods themselves, so in the politics of the city-state rulers can be removed from power and those they ruled take their place. There is no “divine right” of kings because even the gods do not have such unambiguous rights over men.
As we pass from Homer to the fifth-century poets and dramatists, the same religious humanism, tending to place men on a par with the gods, is evident. Thus the conservative poet Pindar writes: “Single is the race, single / of men and gods: / From a single mother we both draw breath. / But a difference of power in everything / Keeps us apart.” Although cosmic justice must always be satisfied, and the men who defy the laws of the gods are always punished for their pride (hubris), nevertheless, in the plays of Aeschylus, for example, the men who rebel (e.g. Prometheus), are sometimes treated with greater sympathy than the gods against whom they rebel, who are depicted like the tyrannical capitalists of nineteenth-century Marxism. Even the conservative Sophocles puts a man-centred view of the universe into the mouth of his characters, as in the chorus in Antigone: “Many wonders there are, but none more wonderful / Than man, who rules the ocean…/ He is master of the ageless earth, to his own will bending / The immortal mother of gods.”
This tendency led, in Euripides, to open scepticism about the gods. Thus Queen Hecabe in The Trojan Women expresses scepticism about Zeus in very modern, almost Freudian tones: “You are past our finding out – whether you are the necessity of nature or the mind of human beings”. “[Euripides’] gods and goddesses,” writes Michael Grant, “emerge as demonic psychological forces – which the application of human reason cannot possibly overcome – or as nasty seducers, or as figures of fun. Not surprisingly, the playwright was denounced as impious and atheistic, and it was true that under his scrutiny the plain man’s religion crumbled to pieces.”
If the dramatists could take such liberties, in spite of the fact that their dramas were staged in the context of a religious festival, it is not to be wondered at that the philosophers went still further. Thus Protagoras, the earliest of the sophists, wrote: “I know nothing about the gods, whether they are or are not, or what their shapes are. For many things make certain knowledge impossible – the obscurity of the theme and the shortness of human life.” And again: “Man is the measure of all things, of things that are, that they are; and of things that are not, that they are not.” Protagoras did not question the moral foundations of society in a thorough-going way, preferring to think that men should obey the institutions of society, which had been given them by the gods. Thus he did not take the final step in the democratic argument, which consists in cutting the bond between human institutions and law (nomoV) and the Divine order of things (jusiV) – a step that was not taken unequivocally until the French revolution in the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, his example shows that already in the fifth century, when the Greek city-states were by no means all democratic, and monarchical and aristocratic models were still plentiful, the movement towards democracy went hand in hand with religious scepticism.
Herodotus on the State
It is in the context of this gradual loss of faith in the official “Olympian” religion that Democracy arose. But just as Athens was not the whole of Greece, so Democracy was not the only form of government to be observed among the Greek city-states. In Sicily and on the coast of Asia Minor Monarchy still flourished; and on mainland Europe mixed constitutions including elements of all three forms of government were also to be found, most notably in Sparta.
This naturally led to a debate on which form was the best; and we find one debate on this subject recorded by the “Father of History”, Herodotus, who placed it, surprisingly, in the court of the Persian King Darius. Was this merely a literary device (although Herodotus, who had already encountered this objection, insisted that he was telling the truth)? Or did this indicate that the Despotism of Persia tolerated a freer spirit of inquiry and debate than is generally supposed? We do not know. But in any case the debate – the first of its kind in western literature - is worth quoting at length:-
“The first speaker was Otanes, and his theme was to recommend the establishment in Persia of popular government. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘that the time has passed for any one man amongst us to have absolute power. Monarchy is neither pleasant nor good. You know to what lengths the pride of power carried Cambyses, and you have personal experience of the effect of the same thing in the conduct of the Magus [who had rebelled against Cambyses]. How can one fit monarchy into any sound system of ethics, when it allows a man to do whatever he likes without any responsibility or control? Even the best of men raised to such a position would be bound to change for the worse – he could not possibly see things as he used to do. The typical vices of a monarch are envy and pride; envy, because it is a natural human weakness, and pride, because excessive wealth and power lead to the delusion that he is something more than a man. These two vices are the root cause of all wickedness: both lead to acts of savage and unnatural violence. Absolute power ought, by rights, to preclude envy on the principle that the man who possesses it has also at command everything he could wish for; but in fact it is not so, as the behaviour of kings to their subjects proves: they are jealous of the best of them merely for continuing to live, and take pleasure in the worst; and no one is readier than a king to listen to tale-bearers. A king, again, is the most inconsistent of men; show him reasonably respect, and he is angry because you do not abase yourself before his majesty; abase yourself, and he hates you for being a toady. But the worst of all remains to be said – he breaks up the structure of ancient tradition and law, forces women to serve his pleasure, and puts men to death without trial. Contrast this with the rule of the people: first, it has the finest of all names to describe it – equality under the law (isonomia); and, secondly, the people in power do none of the things that monarchs do. Under a government of the people a magistrate is appointed by lot and is held responsible for his conduct in office, and all questions are put up for open debate. For these reasons I propose that we do away with the monarchy, and raise the people to power; for the state and the people are synonymous terms.’”
Otanes’ main thesis is true as regards Despotic power, but false as regards Autocratic power, as we shall see; for Autocracy’s rule over the people is not absolute in that it is wielded only in “symphony” with the Church, which serves as its conscience and restraining power. The theme of “equality under the law” is also familiar from modern Democracy; it was soon to be subjected to penetrating criticism by Plato and Aristotle. As for the assertion that “the people in power do none of the things that monarchs do”, this was to be disproved even sooner by the experience of Athenian Democracy in the war with Sparta.
“Otanes was followed by Megabyzus, who recommended the principle of oligarchy in the following words: ‘Insofar as Otanes spoke in favour of abolishing monarchy, I agree with him; but he is wrong in asking us to transfer political power to the people. The masses are a feckless lot – nowhere will you find more ignorance or irresponsibility or violence. It would be an intolerable thing to escape the murderous caprice of a king, only to be caught by the equally wanton brutality of the rabble. A king does at least act consciously and deliberately; but the mob does not. Indeed how should it, when it has never been taught what is right and proper, and has no knowledge of its own about such things? The masses handle affairs without thought; all they can do is to rush blindly into politics like a river in flood. As for the people, then, let them govern Persia's enemies; but let us ourselves choose a certain number of the best men in the country, and give them political power. We personally shall be amongst them, and it is only natural to suppose that the best men will produce the best policy.’
“Darius was the third to speak. ‘I support,’ he said, ‘all Megabyzus’ remarks about the masses but I do not agree with what he said of oligarchy. Take the three forms of government we are considering – democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy – and suppose each of them to be the best of its kind; I maintain that the third is greatly preferable to the other two. One ruler: it is impossible to improve upon that – provided he is the best. His judgement will be in keeping with his character; his control of the people will be beyond reproach; his measures against enemies and traitors will be kept secret more easily than under other forms of government. In an oligarchy, the fact that a number of men are competing for distinction in the public service cannot but lead to violent personal feuds; each of them wants to get to the top, and to see his own proposals carried; so they quarrel. Personal quarrels lead to civil wars, and then to bloodshed; and from that state of affairs the only way out is a return to monarchy – a clear proof that monarchy is best. Again, in a democracy, malpractices are bound to occur; in this case, however, corrupt dealings in government services lead not to private feuds, but to close personal associations, the men responsible for them putting their heads together and mutually supporting one another. And so it goes on, until somebody or other comes forward as the people’s champion and breaks up the cliques which are out for their own interests. This wins him the admiration of the mob, and as a result he soon finds himself entrusted with absolute power – all of which is another proof that the best form of government is monarchy. To sum up: where did we get our freedom from, and who gave it us? Is it the result of democracy, or of oligarchy, or of monarchy? We were set free by one man, and therefore I propose that we should preserve that form of government, and, further, that we should refrain from changing ancient ways, which have served as well in the past. To do so would not profit us.’”
This to a western ear paradoxical argument that monarchy actually delivers freedom – freedom from the scourge of civil war, especially, but freedom in other senses, too – actually has strong historical evidence in its favour. Several of the Greek kings were summoned to power by the people in order to deliver them from oppressive aristocratic rule. Darius himself freed the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, allowing them to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Augustus, the first Roman emperor, freed the Romans from the ravages of civil war. So did St. Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, who also granted them religious freedom. Rurik, the first Russian king, was summoned from abroad to deliver the Russians from the misery and oppression that their “freedom” had subjected them to. Tsar Nicolas II freed Serbia and the Yugoslavs from Austro-Hungarian Despotism, and died trying to save his people from the worst of all despotisms, Communism…
Of course, these men were exceptional rulers: examples of monarchs who enslaved their subjects rather than liberating them are easy to find. So the problem of finding the good monarch – or, at any rate, of finding a monarchical type of government which is good for the people even if the monarch himself is bad – remains. But the argument in favour of monarchy as put into the mouth of an oriental despot by a Greek democratic historian also remains valid in its essential point. It should remind us that Greek historical and philosophical thought was more often critical of democracy than in favour of it. Indeed, in its greatest historian, Thucydides, and its greatest philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, we find some of the most penetrating criticisms of democracy ever penned…
Thucydides on the State
The defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian war, and the many negative phenomena that war threw up, led not only to a slackening in the creative impulse that had created Periclean Athens, but also, eventually, to a questioning of the superiority of Democracy over other forms of government.
The first and most obvious defect it revealed was that democracy tends to divide rather than unite men – at any rate so long as there are no stronger bonds uniting them than were to be found in Classical Greece. The Greeks had united to defeat Persia early in the fifth century B.C., and this had provided the stimulus for the cultural efflorescence of Periclean Athens. But this was both the first and the last instance of such unity. For the next one hundred and fifty years, until Alexander the Great reimposed despotism on the city-states, they were almost continually at war with each other. Nor was this disunity manifest only between city-states: within them traitors were also frequent (the Athenian Alcibiades is the most famous example).
Evidently, attachment to the idea of democracy does not necessarily go together with attachment to the idea of the Nation, with patriotism and loyalty. This fact elicited Aristotle’s famous distinction between behaviour that is characteristic of democracy and behaviour that is conducive to the survival of Democracy.
The same dilemma was to confront democracy in its struggle with communism in the twentieth century, when large numbers of citizens of the western democracies were prepared to work secretly (and not so secretly) for the triumph of the most evil despotism yet seen in history.
This element of selfish, destructive individualism is described by Roberts: “Greek democracy… was far from being dominated, as is ours, by the mythology of cooperativeness, and cheerfully paid a larger price in destructiveness than would be welcomed today. There was a blatant competitiveness in Greek life apparent from the Homeric poems onwards. Greeks admired men who won and though men should strive to win. The consequent release of human power was colossal, but also dangerous. The ideal expressed in the much-used word [areth] which we inadequately translate as ‘virtue’ illustrates this. When Greeks used it, they meant that people were able, strong, quick-witted, just as much as just, principled, or virtuous in a modern sense. Homer’s hero, Odysseus, frequently behaved like a rogue, but he is brave and clever and he succeeds; he is therefore admirable. To show such quality was good; it did not matter that the social cost might sometimes be high. The Greek was concerned with ‘face’; his culture taught him to avoid shame rather than guilt and the fear of shame was never far from the fear of public evidence of guilt. Some of the explanation of the bitterness of faction in Greek politics lies here; it was a price willingly paid.”
Another defect was the fact that while, as Aristotle said, democracy arose from the belief that men who are equally free should be equal in all respects, in practice democracy could be as cruel and unjust and imperialistic as any despotism. This may be linked with the irrational, Dionysian strain in Greek religion, which was sometimes accompanied by the ecstatic tearing apart of animals. It was exemplified in the Athenians’ mass slaughter of the inhabitants of the little island of Melos simply because they did not want to become part of the Athenian empire.
The dialogue between the Melians and Athenians was recorded by Thucydides:-
“Athenians. You know as well as we do that, when these matters are discussed by practical people, the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept… What we shall do now is to show you that it is for the good of our own empire that we are here and that it is for the preservation of your city that we shall say what we are going to say. We do not want any trouble in bringing you into our empire, and we want you to be spared for the good both of yourselves and of ourselves.
“Melians. And how could it be just as good for us to be the slaves as for you to be the masters?
“Athenians. You, by giving in, would save yourselves from disaster; we, by not destroying you, would be able to profit from you.
“Melians. So you would not agree to our being neutral, friends instead of enemies, but allies of neither side?
“Athenians. No, because it is not so much your hostility that injures us; it is rather the case that, if we were on friendly terms with you, our subjects would regard that as a sign of weakness in us, whereas your hatred is evidence of our power.
“Melians. Is that yours subjects’ idea of fair play – that no distinction should be made between people who are quite unconnected with you and people who are mostly your own colonists or else rebels whom you have conquered?
“Athenians. So far as right and wrong are concerned they think that there is no difference between the two, that those who still preserve their independence do so because they are strong, and that if we fail to attack them it is because we are afraid.”
When the Melians expressed their faith in the gods to save them “because we are standing for what is right against what is wrong”, the Athenians replied: “So far as the favour of the gods is concerned, we think we have as much right to that as you have. Our aims and our actions are perfectly consistent with the beliefs men hold about the gods and with the principles which govern their own conduct. Our opinion of the gods and our knowledge of men lead us to conclude that it is a general and necessary law of nature to rule whatever one can…”
Finally, all the Melian males of military age were slaughtered, and all the women and children were driven into slavery. Thus in the end the ideal of freedom which had given birth to Athenian Democracy proved weaker than Realpolitik and the concrete examples provided by the Olympian gods and the Dionysian frenzies.
The Melian episode demonstrates that even the most just and democratic of constitutions are powerless to prevent their citizens from descending to the depths of barbarism unless the egoism of human nature itself is overcome, which in turn depends crucially on the quality of the religion that the citizens profess.
Plato and Aristotle on the State
According to Plato in his most famous work, The Republic, the end of the state is happiness, which is achieved if it produces justice, since justice is the condition of happiness. It was therefore greatly to the discredit of Athenian democracy that it condemned to death its finest citizen and Plato’s own teacher, Socrates. This tragic fact, combined with the fact of the defeat of democratic Athens at the hands of aristocratic Sparta in the Peloponnesian war, decisively influenced Plato against democracy and in favour of that ideal state which would place the most just of its citizens, not in the place of execution and dishonour, but at the head of the corner of the whole state system.
We shall come to Plato’s ideal in a moment. Let us consider first why democracy was for him, not simply not the ideal, but a long way from the ideal, being the penultimate stage in the degeneration of the state from the ideal to a meritocracy to an oligarchy to a democracy, and finally to a tyranny.
The process of degradation is approximately as follows. A meritocracy – the highest form of government yet found in Greece, and located, if anywhere, in Sparta - tends to be corrupted, not so much by power, as by money (Spartan discipline collapsed when exposed to luxury). This leads to a sharp division between the rich and the poor. Then the poor rise up against the rich and bring in democracy, which is “feeble in every respect, and unable to do either any great good or any great evil.” For democracy’s great weakness is its lack of discipline: “You are not obliged to be in authority, however competent you may be, or to submit to authority, if you do not like it; you need not fight when your fellow-citizens are at war, nor remain at peace when they do, unless you want peace…A wonderfully pleasant life, surely – for the moment.” “For the moment” only, because a State founded on such indiscipline is inherently unstable. Indiscipline leads to excess, which in turn leads to the need to reimpose discipline through despotism, the worst of all evils. For Plato, in short, democracy is bad is because it is unstable, and paves the way for the worst, which is despotism or tyranny.
Plato compares the democratic state to a ship, the people to the captain and the politicians to the crew: “Suppose the following to be the state of affairs on board a ship or ships. The captain is larger and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit deaf and short-sighted, and similarly limited in seamanship. The crew are all quarrelling with each other about how to navigate the ship, each thinking he ought to be at the helm; they have never learned the art of navigation and cannot say that anyone ever taught it them, or that they spent any time studying it studying it; indeed they say it can’t be taught and are ready to murder anyone who says it can [i.e. Socrates, who recommended the study of wisdom]. They spend all their time milling round the captain and doing all they can to get him to give them the helm. If one faction is more successful than another, their rivals may kill them and throw them overboard, lay out the honest captain with drugs or drink or in some other way, take control of the ship, help themselves to what’s on board, and turn the voyage into the sort of drunken pleasure-cruise you would expect. Finally, they reserve their admiration for the man who knows how to lend a hand in controlling the captain by force or fraud; they praise his seamanship and navigation and knowledge of the sea and condemn everyone else as useless. They have no idea that the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds and all the other subjects appropriate to his profession if he is to be really fit to control a ship; and they think that it’s quite impossible to acquire the professional skill needed for such control (whether or not they want it exercised) and that there’s no such thing as an art of navigation. With all this going on aboard aren’t the sailors on any such ship bound to regard the true navigator as a word-spinner and a star-gazer, of no use to them at all?”
David Held comments on this metaphor, and summarises Plato’s views on democracy, as follows: “The ‘true navigator’ denotes the minority who, equipped with the necessary skill and expertise, has the strongest claim to rule legitimately. For the people.. conduct their affairs on impulse, sentiment and prejudice. They have neither the experience nor the knowledge for sound navigation, that is, political judgement. In addition, the only leaders they are capable of admiring are sycophants: ‘politicians… are duly honoured.. [if] they profess themselves the people’s friends’ (The Republic, p. 376). All who ‘mix with the crowd and want to be popular with it’ can be directly ‘compared… to the sailors’ (p. 283). There can be no proper leadership in a democracy; leaders depend on popular favour and they will, accordingly, act to sustain their own popularity and their own positions. Political leadership is enfeebled by acquiescence to popular demands and by the basing of political strategy on what can be ‘sold’. Careful judgements, difficult decisions, uncomfortable options, unpleasant truths will of necessity be generally avoided. Democracy marginalises the wise.
“The claims of liberty and political equality are, furthermore, inconsistent with the maintenance of authority, order and stability. When individuals are free to do as they life and demand equal rights irrespective of their capacities and contributions, the result in the short run will be the creation of an attractively diverse society. However, in the long run the effect is an indulgence of desire and a permissiveness that erodes respect for political and moral authority. The younger no longer fear and respect their teachers; they constantly challenge their elders and the latter ‘ape the young’ (The Republic, p. 383). In short, ‘the minds of citizens become so sensitive that the least vestige of restraint is resented as intolerable, till finally… in their determination to have no master they disregard all laws…’ (p. 384). ‘Insolence’ is called ‘good breeding, licence liberty, extravagance generosity, and shamelessness courage’ (p. 380). A false ‘equality of pleasures’ leads ‘democratic man’ to live from day to day. Accordingly, social cohesion is threatened, political life becomes more and more fragmented and politics becomes riddled with factional disputes. Intensive conflict between sectional interests inevitably follows as each faction presses for its own advantage rather than that of the state as a whole. A comprehensive commitment to the good of the community and social justice becomes impossible.
“This state of affairs inevitably leads to endless intrigue, manoeuvring and political instability: a politics of unbridled desire and ambition. All involved claim to represent the interests of the community, but all in fact represent themselves and a selfish lust for power. Those with resources, whether from wealth or a position of authority, will, Plato thought, inevitably find themselves under attack; and the conflict between rich and poor will become particularly acute. In these circumstances, the disintegration of democracy is, he contended, likely. ‘Any extreme is likely to produce a violent reaction… so from an extreme of liberty one is likely to get an extreme of subjection’ (The Republic, p. 385). In the struggle between factions, leaders are put forward to advance particular causes, and it is relatively easy for these popular leaders to demand ‘a personal bodyguard’ to preserve themselves against attack. With such assistance the popular champion is a short step from grasping ‘the reins of state’. As democracy plunges into dissension and conflict, popular champions can be seen to offer clarity of vision, firm directions and the promise to quell all opposition. It becomes a tempting option to support the tyrant of one’s own choice. But, of course, once possessed of state power tyrants have a habit of attending solely to themselves.”
Plato’s solution to the problem of statecraft was the elevation to leadership in the state of a philosopher-king, who would neither be dominated by personal ambitions, like the conventional tyrant, nor swayed by demagogues and short-term, factional interests, like the Athenian democracy. This king would have to be a philosopher, since he would frame the laws in accordance, not with passion or factional interest, but with the idea of the eternal Good. His “executive branch” would be highly educated and disciplined guardians, who would not make bad mistakes since they would carry out the supremely wise intentions of the king and would be carefully screened from many of the temptations of life.
Plato had the insight to see that society could be held together in justice only by aiming at a goal higher than itself, the contemplation of the Good. He saw, in other words, that the problem of politics is soluble only in the religious domain; and while he was realistic enough to understand that the majority of men could not be religious in this sense, he hoped that at any rate one man could be trained to reach that level, and, having attained a position of supreme power in the state, spread that religious ideal downwards. “Until philosophers are kings,” he wrote, “or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, - no, nor the human race, as I believe, - and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.”
This represents a major advance on all previous pagan systems of statehood or political philosophies. For while all the states of pagan antiquity were religious, they located the object of their worship within the political system, deifying the state itself, or, more usually, its ruler. But Plato rejected every form of man-worship, since it inevitably led to despotism. Contrary to what many of his critics who see him as the godfather of totalitarianism imply, he was fully aware of the fact that, as Lord Acton put it much later, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. But he was also enough of a “Platonist”, as it were, to know that the end of human society must transcend human society.
Having said that, one cannot that there are elements of utopianism – and worse - in Plato’s system. Thus his approach to statecraft presupposed either that existing kings could be educated in the Good (which Plato tried, but failed to do in Syracuse) or that there was a rational method of detecting the true lovers of wisdom and then promoting them to the height of power.
However, as Bertrand Russell noted, this is easier said than done: “Even if we supposed that there is such a thing as ‘wisdom,’ is there any form of constitution which will give the government to the wise? It is clear that majorities, like general councils, may err, and in fact have erred. Aristocracies are not always wise; kings are often foolish; Popes, in spite of infallibility, have committed grievous errors. Would anybody advocate entrusting the government to university graduates, or even to doctors of divinity? Or to men who, having been born poor, have made great fortunes?… It might be suggested that men could be given political wisdom by a suitable training. But the question would arise: what is a suitable training? And this would turn out to be a party question. The problem of finding a collection of ‘wise’ men and leaving the government to them is thus an insoluble one…”
To be fair to Plato, he was quite aware of the difficulty of finding a man fit to be philosopher-king. He emphasised training in character as well as intellect, and acknowledged, as we have seen, that such a man, if found and elevated to power, could still be corrupted by his position. What his philosophy lacked was the idea that the Good Itself could come down to the human level and inspire Its chosen one with wisdom and justice.
The problem here was that the scepticism engendered by the all-too-human antics of the Olympian gods revealed its corrosive effect on Plato, as on all subsequent Greek philosophers. Greek religion recognised that the gods could come down to men and inspire them, but the gods who did this, like Dionysius, were hardly the wise, soberly rational beings who alone could inspire wise and soberly rational statecraft. As for the enthusiasms of the Orphic rites, these took place only in a condition that was the exact opposite of sobriety and rationality. So Wisdom could not come from the gods.
But what if there was another divinity higher than these vengeful lechers and demonic buffoons, a divinity that would incorporate, as it were, the eternal ideas of the Good, the True and the Beautiful? Now Plato did indeed come to some such conception of the One God. But this was an impersonal God who did not interfere in the affairs of men. Man may attempt to reach the eternal ideas and God through a rigorous programme of intellectual training and ascetic endeavour. But that Divine Wisdom should Himself bow down the heavens and manifest Himself to men was an idea that had to await the coming of Christianity…
So Plato turned to the most successful State known to him from the Greek world, Sparta, and constructed his utopia at least partly in its likeness. Thus society was to be divided into the common people, the soldiers and the guardians. All life, including personal and religious life, was to be subordinated to the needs of the State. In economics there was to be a thoroughgoing communism, with no private property, Women and children were to be held in common, marriages arranged on eugenic lines with compulsory abortion and infanticide of the unfit. There was to be a rigorous censorship of the literature and the arts, and the equivalent of the modern inquisition and concentration camps. Lying was to be the prerogative of the government, which would invent a religious myth – the myth that “all men are children of the same mother who has produced men of gold, silver and bronze corresponding to the three different classes into which Plato divides his idea community.” This myth would reconcile each class to its place in society.
It is here that that the charge that Plato is an intellectual ancestor of the totalitarian philosophies of the twentieth century is seen to have some weight. For truly, in trying to avert the failings of democracy, he veered strongly towards the despotism that he feared above all. Plato’s path to heaven – the ideal state of the philosopher-king - was paved with good intentions. But it led just as surely to hell as the Near Eastern despotisms that all Greeks despised. It was all for the sake of “justice” – that is, in his conception, each man doing what he is best fitted to do, for the sake of the common good. But, being based on human reasoning and human efforts alone, it became the model for that supremely unjust system that we see in Soviet and Chinese communism. Moreover, it anticipated communism in its subordination of truth and religion to expediency, and in its use of the lie for the sake of the survival of the State.
Aristotle avoided the extremes of Plato, dismissing his communism on the grounds that it would lead to disputes and inefficiency. He agreed with him that the best constitution would be a monarchy ruled by the wisest of men. But since such men are rare at best, other alternatives had to be considered.
Aristotle divided political systems into three pairs of opposites: the three “good” forms of monarchy, aristocracy and politeia, and the three “bad” forms of tyranny, oligarchy and democracy (or what Polybius was later to call “ochlocracy”, “rule by the mob). The fact that Aristotle was prepared to consider the possibility of a good kind of monarchy may have something to do with the fact that one of his pupils was the future King of Macedonia, Alexander the Great, whose father, Philip took advantage of the perennial disunity of the Greek city-states to assume a de facto dominion over them. However, Aristotle’s favourite form of government was politeia, in which, in Copleston’s words, “there naturally exists a warlike multitude able to obey and rule in turn by a law which gives office to the well-to-do according to their desert”.
Like Plato, Aristotle was highly critical of democracy. He defined it in terms of two basic principles, the first of which was liberty. “People constantly make this statement, implying that only in this constitution do men share in liberty; for every democracy, they say, has liberty for its aim. ‘Ruling and being ruled in turn,’ is one element in liberty, and the democratic idea of justice is in fact numerical liberty, not equality based on merit; and when this idea of what is just prevails, the multitude must be sovereign, and whatever the majority decides is final and constitutes justice. For, they say, there must be equality for each of the citizens. The result is that in democracies the poor have more sovereign power than the rich; for they are more numerous, and the decisions of the majority are sovereign. So this is one mark of liberty, one which all democrats make a definitive principle of their constitution.”
The second principle was licence, “to live as you like. For this, they say, is a function of being free, since its opposite, living not as you like, is the function of one enslaved.” The basic problem here, Aristotle argued, following Plato, was that the first principle conflicted with the second. For licence must be restrained if liberty is to survive. Once again, history was the teacher: licence had led to Athens’ defeat at the hands of the more disciplined Spartans. Not only must restraints be placed upon individual citizens so that they do not restrict each other’s liberty. The people as a whole must give up some of its “rights” to a higher authority if the state is to acquire a consistent, rational direction.
Not only liberty, but equality, too, must be curtailed – for the greater benefit of all. Aristotle pointed out that “the revolutionary state of mind is largely brought about by one-sided notions of justice – democrats thinking that men who are equally free should be equal in everything, oligarchs thinking that because men are unequal in wealth they should be unequal in everything.”
What is most valuable in Aristotle’s politics is that “in his eyes the end of the State and the end of the individual coincide, not in the sense that the individual should be entirely absorbed in the State but in the sense that the State will prosper when the individual citizens are good, when they attain their own proper ideal. The only real guarantee of the stability and prosperity of the State is the moral goodness and integrity of the citizens, while conversely, unless the State is good, the citizens will not become good.” In this respect Aristotle was faithful to the thought of Plato, who wrote: “Governments vary as the dispositions of men vary. Or do you suppose that political constitutions are made out of rocks or trees, and not out of the dispositions of their citizens which turn the scale and draw everything in their own direction?
This attitude was inherited by the Romans, who knew “that good laws make good men and good men make good laws. The good laws which were Rome’s internal security, and the good arms which made her neighbours fear her, were the Roman character writ large. The Greeks might be very good at talking about the connection between good character and good government, but the Romans did not have to bother much about talking about it because they were its living proof.”
However, the close link that Aristotle postulated to exist between the kinds of government and the character of people led him to some dubious conclusions. Thus democracy existed in Greece, according to him, because the Greeks were a superior breed of men, capable of reason. Barbarians were inferior – which is why they were ruled by despots. Similarly, women could not take part in democratic government because the directive faculty of reason, while existing in them, was “inoperative”. And slaves also could not participate because they did not have the faculty of reason.
A more fundamental criticism of Aristotle’s politics, and one that was to bring him into implicit conflict with Christian theorists, was his view that “the state is teleologically autonomous: the polis has no ends outside itself. A polis ought to be self-sufficiently rule-bound for it to need no law except its own.” For Aristotle it was only in political life that man achieved the fulfilment of his potentialities – the good life was inconceivable outside the Greek city-state. Thus “he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god; he is no part of a polis.”
This highlights perhaps the fundamental difference between almost all pagan theorising on politics (with the partial exception of Plato’s) and the Christian attitude. For the pagans the life of the well-ordered state was the ultimate aim; it did not exist for any higher purpose. For the Christian, on the other hand, political life is simply a means to an end, an end that is other-worldly and transcends politics completely.
This is not to say that Aristotle’s politics was irreligious in a general sense. As Zyzykin points out, when Aristotle wrote that prwton h peri twn qewn epimeleia, that is, ”the first duty of the State is concern over the gods”, he recognised that politics cannot be divorced from religion. But Greek religion, as we have seen, was a very this-worldly species of belief, in which the gods were seen as simply particularly powerful players in human affairs. The gods had to be placated, otherwise humans would suffer; but the accent was always on happiness, eudaimonia, in this life. Even Plato, for all his idealism, subordinated religious myth to the needs of the state and the happiness of people in this life; and Aristotle, for all his philosophical belief in an “unmoved Mover”, was a less other-worldly thinker than Plato.
At the same time, it would be wrong to suppose that Greek democracy was as irreligious and individualistic as modern democracy is. As Hugh Bowden writes: “Modern democracy is seen as a secular form of government and is an alternative to religious fundamentalism, taking its authority from the will of the human majority, not the word of god or gods. In Ancient Greece matters were very different…
“Within the city-state religious rituals entered into all areas of life… There was no emphasis in the Greek world on the freedom of the individual, if that conflicted with obligations to larger groups… Religion was bound up with the political process. High political offices carried religious as well as civic and military duties. Thus the two kings of Sparta were generals and also priests of Zeus...
“Plato was no supporter of democracy, because he thought it allowed the wrong sort of people to have access to office. However, in the Laws he advocates the use of the lot as a means of selecting candidates for some offices, specifically because it is a method that puts the decision in the hands of the gods. Furthermore, where there are issues which Plato considers beyond his powers to legislate for, he suggests that these should be referred to Delphi. For Plato, then, the use of apparently random selection, and the consultation of oracles was a preferable alternative to popular decision-making, because the gods were more to be trusted than the people. This view was not limited to anti-democratic philosophers…
“Greek city-states took oracles seriously, and saw them as the mouthpieces of the gods who supported order and civilisation. Although it was the citizen assemblies that made decisions, they accepted the authority of the gods, and saw the working of the divine hand where we might see the action of chance…”
Alexander, the Stoics and the Demise of Democracy
Classical Greek Democracy, undermined not only by the disunity, instability and licence highlighted by the critiques of Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato and Aristotle, but also by its narrow nationalism and pride in relation to the “barbarian” world, ended up by succumbing to that same barbarian world – first, the “Greek barbarism” of Macedon, and then the iron-clad savagery of Rome. And if the glittering civilisation made possible by Classical Greek democracy eventually made captives of its captors culturally speaking, politically and morally speaking it had been decisively defeated. Its demise left civilised mankind dazzled, but still thirsting for the ideal polity.
Most of the essential issues relating to democracy were raised in the Classical Greek period. So when the West turned again to democratic ideas in the early modern period, it was to the Greek classical writers that they turned for inspiration. Thus Marx and Engels turned to Aristotle’s description of democracy when they planned the Paris Commune of 1871, while Plato’s ideas about philosopher-kings and guardians, child-rearing, censorship and education found a strong echo in the “people’s democracies” of communist Eastern Europe.
In the intervening period, only two major ideas made a significant contribution to thinking on democracy (and politics in general). One was Christianity, which we shall discuss in detail in the next part. The second was Stoicism, which extended the notion of who was entitled to equality and democracy beyond the narrow circle of free male Greeks to every human being.
Copleston has summarised the Stoic cosmopolitan idea as follows: “Every man is naturally a social being, and to live in society is a dictate of reason. But reason is the common essential nature of all men: hence there is but one Law for all men and one Fatherland. The division of mankind into warring States is absurd: the wise man is a citizen, not of this or that particular State, but of the World. From this foundation it follows that all men have a claim to our goodwill, even slaves having their rights and even enemies having a right to our mercy and forgiveness.”
Another important element in Stoicism, which it took from Classical Greek religion, was the belief in fate. Stoicism took the idea of fate, and as it were made a virtue of it. Since men cannot control their fate, virtue lies in accepting fate as the expression of the Divine Reason that runs through the whole universe. Moreover, virtue should be practised for its own sake, and not for any benefits it might bring, because fate may thwart our calculations. This attitude led to a more passive, dutiful approach to politics than had been fashionable in the Classical Greek period.
The political event that elicited this important broadening in political thought was the rise of the Hellenistic empire founded by Alexander the Great. Alexander, writes Paul Johnson, “had created his empire as an ideal: he wanted to fuse the races and he ‘ordered all men to regard the world as their country… good men as their kin, bad men as foreigners’. Isocrates argued that ‘the designation ‘Hellene’ is no longer a matter of descent but of attitude’; he thought Greeks by education had better titles to citizenship than ‘Greek by birth’.”
Alexander’s career is full of ironies. Setting out, in his famous expedition against the Persians, to free the Greek democratic city-states on the Eastern Aegean seaboard from tyranny, and to take final revenge on the Persians for their failed invasion of Greece in the fifth century, Alexander not only replaced Persian despotism with another, hardly less cruel one, but depopulated his homeland of Macedonia and destroyed democracy in its European heartland. In spreading Greek civilisation throughout the East, he betrayed its greatest ideal, the dignity of man, by making himself into a god (the son of Ammon-Zeus) and forcing his own Greek soldiers to perform an eastern-style act of proskynesis to their fellow man. He married the daughter of Darius, proclaimed himself heir to the Persian “King of kings” and caused the satraps of Bithynia, Cappadocia and Armenia to pay homage to him as to a typical eastern despot. Thus Alexander, like the deus ex machina of a Greek tragedy, brought the curtain down on Classical Greek civilisation, merging it with its great rival, the despotic civilisations of the East.
Alexander’s successor-kingdoms of the Ptolemies and Seleucids went still further in an orientalising direction. Thus Roberts writes: “’Soter’, as Ptolemy I was called, means ‘Saviour’. The Seleucids allowed themselves to be worshipped, but the Ptolemies outdid them; they took over the divine status and prestige of the Pharaohs (and practice, too, to the extent of marrying their sisters).”
Classical Greek civilisation began with the experience of liberation from despotism; it ended with the admission that political liberation without individual, spiritual liberation cannot last. It was born in the matrix of a religion whose gods were little more than super-powerful human beings, with all the vices and frailty of fallen humanity; it died as its philosophers sought to free themselves entirely from the bonds of the flesh and enter a heaven of eternal, incorruptible ideas, stoically doing their duty in the world of men but knowing that their true nature lay in the world of ideas. It was born in the conviction that despotism is hubris which is bound to be struck down by fate; it died as the result of its own hubris, swallowed up in the kind of despotism it had itself despised and in opposition to which it had defined itself.
And yet this death only went to demonstrate the truth of the scripture that unless a seed falls into the earth and dies it cannot bring forth good fruit (John 12.24). For, in the new political circumstances of empire, and through the new religious prism, first of Stoicism and then of Christianity, Greek democratic thought did bring forth fruit.
For, as McClelland perceptively argues: “The case for Alexander is that he made certain political ideas possible which had never had a chance within the morally confining walls of the polis classically conceived. Prominent among these is the idea of a multi-racial state. The idea comes down to us not from any self-conscious ‘theory’ but from a story about a mutiny in Alexander’s army at Opis on the Tigris, and it is a story worth the re-telling. Discontent among the Macedonian veterans had come to a head for reasons we do not know, but their grievances were clear enough: non-Macedonians, that is Persians, had been let into the crack cavalry regiment the Companions of Alexander, had been given commands which involved ordering Macedonians about, and had been granted the (Persian) favour of greeting Alexander ‘with a kiss’. The Macedonians formed up and stated their grievances, whereupon Alexander lost his temper, threatened to pension them off back to Macedonia, and distributed the vacant commands among the Persians. When both sides had simmered down, the soldiers came back to their allegiance, Alexander granted the Macedonians the favour of the kiss, and he promised to forget about the mutiny. But not quite. Alexander ordered up a feast to celebrate the reconciliation, and the religious honours were done by the priests of the Macedonians and the magi of the Persians. Alexander himself prayed for omonoia [unanimity] concord, and persuaded 10,000 of his Macedonian veterans to marry their Asiatic concubines…
“The plea for omonoia has come to be recognised as a kind of turning point in the history of the way men thought about politics in the Greek world, and, by extension, in the western world in general. The ancient Greeks were racist in theory and practice in something like the modern sense. They divided the world, as Aristotle did, between Greeks and the rest, and their fundamental category of social explanation was race. Race determined at bottom how civilised a life a man was capable of living. The civilised life was, of course, only liveable in a properly organised city-state. Only barbarians could live in a nation (ethnos) or in something as inchoate and meaningless as an empire. The Greeks also seem to have had the modern racist’s habit of stereotyping, which simply means going from the general to the particular: barbarians are uncivilised, therefore this barbarian is uncivilised. The race question was inevitably tied up with slavery, though is by no means clear that the ancient Greeks had a ‘bad conscience’ about slavery, as some have claimed. From time to time, they may have felt badly about enslaving fellow Greeks, and that was probably the reason why thinkers like Aristotle troubled themselves with questions about who was most suitable for slavery and who the least. Low-born barbarians born into slavery were always at the tope of the list of good slave material. Most Greeks probably believed that without ever thinking about it much.
“The Macedonians may have lacked the subtlety of the Hellenes, but Alexander was no fool. Whatever the Macedonians may have thought to themselves about the races of the East, Alexander would have been asking for trouble if he had arrogantly proclaimed Macedonian racial superiority over conquered peoples, and it would have caused a snigger or two back in Hellas. What better way for the conqueror of a multi-racial empire to conduct himself than in the name of human brotherhood? Imperialism then becomes a gathering-in of the nations rather than the imposition of one nation’s will upon another and this thought follows from the empire-builder’s real desire: secretly, he expects to be obeyed for love. This was Alexander’s way of showing that he was not a tyrant…”
In Alexander’s empire, therefore, something like a creative fusion of the despotic and democratic principles took place. It was an empire in form like the pagan empires of old, with a god-king possessing in principle unlimited power. But the Greek idea of the godlike possibilities of ordinary men able to direct their own lives in rationality and freedom passed like a new, more humane leaven through the heartless old lump of despotism, cutting down the idea that rulers had of themselves (to the extent that they were Greek in culture), while raising the idea that the ruled had of themselves (to the extent, again, that they were Greek in culture).
Conversely, the eastern experience of many nations living in something like equality with each other under one rule - we remember the honour granted to the Jewish Prophet Daniel by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and the Persian King Cyrus’ command that the Jews be allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple - expanded the consciousness of the Greeks beyond the narrow horizons of the individual city-state or the one civilisation of the Greeks to the universal community and civilisation of all mankind (or, at any rate, of the oikoumene), and from the narrow worship of Athene of Athens or Diana of the Ephesians to the One God Who created all men, endowed them all with reason and freewill and brought them all together under one single dominion. Thus, as McClelland writes, “polis had given way to cosmopolis. Henceforward, men were going to have to stop asking themselves what it meant to be a citizen of a city, and begin to ask what it meant to be a citizen of the world…”
Although the political schism between Israel and Judah had been “healed” by the disappearance of the northern kingdom of Israel, and then the political passions of Judah had been at least partially quenched by the exile to Babylon, the spiritual “schism in the soul”, the schism between faithfulness to the God of Israel and the opposite tendency, remained. For while a part of the people repented and strengthened their spiritual unity, forming the core of those who returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel to rebuild the Temple, a still larger part stayed among the pagans – although the book of Esther shows that piety was not completely extinguished among those Jews who stayed in Persia.
However, the restoration of the autocracy under Zerubbabel, brief though it was (he was the last ruler of the Davidic line before Christ), was very important as demonstrating the power of God to transform the political situation – even with the aid of pagan rulers, such as Cyrus, whose service to the people earned him the title of the anointed of the Lord (Isaiah 45.1).
We know little about the period that followed the rebuilding of the Temple in 515. In spite of an attempt to revive observance of the law under Ezra and Nehemiah, piety declined, especially after the conquest of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great. Not that he harmed Judah: on the contrary, he even gave equal citizenship to the Jews of Alexandria. The trouble began only after Alexander’s death, when “his servants [the Ptolemys and Seleucids] bore rule every one in his place. And.. they all put crowns upon themselves: so did their sons after them many years: and evils were multiplied in the earth…” (I Maccabees 1.7-9). The image of “putting crowns upon themselves” reminds us of the difference between the true, autocratic king, whose crown is given him by God, and the false, despotic king, who takes the crown for himself in a self-willed manner.
The pagan idea of kingship was only one of the aspects of pagan culture that now began to penetrate Jewry, leading to conflicts between conservative, law-based and reformist, Hellenist-influenced factions among the people.
In 175 Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a god-king on the Middle Eastern despotic model, came to power. As US Senator Joseph Lieberman points out, “The ruler’s name hinted at imminent struggle; Antiochus added the title to his name because it meant, ‘A Divine Manifestation’. That underscored the primary difference between the ancient Greeks and Jews: The Greeks glorified the magnificence of man, while the Jews measured man’s greatness through his partnership with the Creator.
“For the children of Israel, man was created in the image of God; for the ancient Greeks, the gods were created in the likeness of man.”
Johnson has developed this distinction, one of the most important in the history of ideas: "The Jews drew an absolute distinction between human and divine. The Greeks constantly elevated the human – they were Promethean – and lowered the divine. To them gods were much more than revered and successful ancestors; most men sprang from gods. Hence it was not for them a great step to deify a monarch, and they began to do so as soon as they embraced the orient [where, as we have seen, kings were commonly deified]. Why should not a man of destiny undergo apotheosis? Aristotle, Alexander's tutor, argued in his Politics: ‘If there exists in a state an individual so pre-eminent in virtue that neither the virtue nor the political capacity of all the other citizens is comparable with his... such a man should be rated as a god among men.' Needless to say, such notions were totally unacceptable to Jews of any kind. Indeed, there was never any possibility of a conflation between Judaism and Greek religion as such; what the reformers [the Hellenising Jews] wanted was for Judaism to universalize itself by pervading Greek culture; and that meant embracing the polis.”
Antiochus was soon acting, not as “Epiphanes”, “divine manifestation”, but as his enemies called him, “Epimanes”, “raving madman”. In his eagerness to speed up the Hellenization of Judaea, he removed the lawful Jewish high-priest Onias and replaced him by his brother Jason, who proceeded to introduce pagan Hellenistic practices. After a struggle for power between Jason and Menelaus, another hellenizing high-priest, Antiochus invaded Jerusalem in 168. He plundered the Temple, led many of the people away into slavery, banned circumcision, Sabbath observance and the reading of the law, declared that the Temple should be dedicated to the worship of Zeus, that pigs should be sacrificed on the altar, and that non-Jews should be permitted to worship there with Jews. Those who resisted him were killed.
Lieberman continues: “The Jews resisted Antiochus’ edict and worshipped in secret. The conflict festered before finally coming to a head in Modi’in, a small village outside Jerusalem, where a priest named Matityahu rose up against a Greek soldier who dared sacrifice a swine on the village altar. Soon thereafter, Antiochus’ army swept through Jerusalem and ravaged the Holy Temple, torturing and murdering many Jews along the way.”
However, a liberation movement led by Matityahu (Mattathias) and his sons (known as the Maccabees after the third son, Judas Maccabeus) succeeded in expelling the Greeks from Israel, purifying the Temple and restoring the True Faith. This victory was celebrated in the feast of Hannukah, or Purification. It remains a clear example of how, in certain extreme circumstances when the faith is under direct attack, God blesses the taking up of arms in defence of the faith.
This great victory of Autocracy over Despotism was not sustained, however. A true autocracy on the Davidic model was not re-established, for the Maccabees (or Hasmoneans, as they were later called, after Matityahu’s surname, Hasmon) illegally combined the roles of king and high priest (they were, in any case, of the tribe of Levi, so they could only be priests, not kings). Thus the last of the Maccabee brothers, Simon, was described as “great high-priest, military commissioner, and leader of the Jews” (I Maccabees 13.42).
Simon’s son, John Hyrcanus, writes Johnson, “accepted as literal truth that the whole of Palestine was the divine inheritance of the Jewish nation, and that it was not merely his right but his duty to conquer it. To do this he created a modern army of mercenaries. Moreover, the conquest, like Joshua’s, had to extirpate foreign cults and heterodox sects, and if necessary slaughter those who clung to them. John’s army trampled down Samaria and razed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim. He stormed, after a year’s siege, the city of Samaria itself, and ‘he demolished it entirely, and brought streams to it to drown it, for he dug ditches to turn it into floods and water-meadows; he even took away the very marks which showed a city had been there.’ In the same way he pillaged and burned the Greek city of Scythopolis. John’s wars of fire and sword were marked by massacres of city populations whose only crime was that they were Greek-speaking. The province of Idumaea was conquered and the inhabitants of its two main cities, Adora and Marissa, were forcibly converted to Judaism or slaughtered if they refused.
“Alexander Jannaeus, John’s son, took this policy of expansion and forcible conversion still further. He invaded the territory of the Decapolis, the league of ten Greek-speaking cities grouped around the Jordan. He swept into Nabataea and took Petra, the ‘rose-red city half as old as time’. He moved into the province of Gaulanitis. The Hasmoneans pushed north into the Galilee and Syria, west to the coast, south and east into the desert. Behind their frontiers they eliminated pockets of non-Jewish people by conversion, massacre or expulsion. The Jewish nation thus expanded vastly and rapidly in terms of territory and population, but in doing so it absorbed large numbers of people who, though nominally Jewish, were also half Hellenized and in many cases were fundamentally pagans or even savages.
“Moreover, in becoming rulers, kings and conquerors, the Hasmoneans suffered the corruptions of power. John Hyrcanus seems to have retained a reasonably high reputation in Jewish traditional. Josephus says he was considered by God ‘worthy of the three greatest privileges: government of the nation, the dignity of the high-priesthood, and the gift of prophecy’. But Alexander Jannaeus, according to the evidence we have, turned into a despot and a monster, and among his victims were the pious Jews from whom his family had once drawn its strength. Like any ruler in the Near East at this time, he was influenced by the predominantly Greek modes and came to despise some of the most exotic, and to Greek barbarous, aspects of the Yahweh cult. As high-priest, celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, he refused to perform the libation ceremony, according to ritual custom, and the pious Jews pelted him with lemons. ‘At this,’ Josephus wrote, ‘he was in a rage, and slew of them about six thousand.’ Alexander, in fact, found himself like his hated predecessors, Jason and Menelaus, facing an internal revolt of rigorists. Josephus says the civil war lasted six years and cost 50,000 Jewish lives.
“It is from this time we first hear of the Perushim or Pharisees, ‘those who separated themselves’, a religious party which repudiated the royal religious establishment, with its high-priest, Sadducee aristocrats and the Sanhedrin, and placed religious observance before Jewish nationalism. Rabbinic sources record the struggle between the monarch and this group, which was a social and economic as well as a religious clash. As Josephus noted, ‘the Sadducees draw their following only from the rich, and the people do not support them, whereas the Pharisees have popular allies.’ He relates that at the end of the civil war, Alexander returned in triumph to Jerusalem, with many of his Jewish enemies among his captives and then ’did one of the most barbarous actions in the world… for as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified, and while they were living he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes’…
“Hence, when Alexander died in 76 BC, after he had (according to Josephus) ‘fallen into a distemper by hard drinking’, the Jewish world was bitterly divided and, though much enlarged, included many half-Jews whose devotion to the Torah was selective and suspect…”
It was at this point that the shadow of Roman power (with whom the Maccabees had maintained friendly relations) began to fall across the scene, taking the place of the already severely weakened Seleucids. In 64 the Roman general Pompey arrived in Antioch and deposed the last of the Seleucid kings. The two sons of Alexander Jannaeus, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, were fighting each other for the kingship and high priesthood at this time, and they both appealed to Pompey for help. The Pharisees also sent a delegation to him; but they asked him to abolish the monarchy in Judaea, since they said it was contrary to their traditions. In 63 Pompey, taking the side of Hyrcanus, captured Jerusalem and, to the horror of the Jews, entered the Holy of Holies.
Although Hyrcanus II, remained formally in power, under Pompey and then Julius Caesar, the real ruler of Judaea, with the title of Roman procurator, became an Idumaean named Antipater. His son, who was placed in charge of Galilee, was named Herod, known in history as “the Great”, the first persecutor of Christianity, and the man who finally destroyed the Israelite autocracy…
In 43 BC, Antipater was poisoned by the Jewish nationalist party. However, this did not hinder his son Herod’s rise. Although the Sanhedrin forced him temporarily to flee Palestine, his friendship with Mark Antony ensured his return. Thus when the Hasmonean Antigonus with the help of the Parthians conquered Jerusalem in 37, Herod was in Rome being feted by Antony and Octavian. In a triumphant procession they led him to the Capitol, “and there, as A. Paryaev writes, “amid sacrifices to Jupiter of the Capitol that were impermissible for a Jew, and which caused deep consternation among the Jews, he was formally raised onto the Jewish throne.” Three years later, after a bloody civil war in which the Jews supported Antigonus, Herod was installed in Jerusalem with the aid of the Roman legions.
Now Herod, as we have seen, was not only not of the line of David: he was not even a Jew by birth, being a descendant of the Edomites (Idumeans). Therefore pious Jews must inevitably have wondered how the promises made by God to David about the eternity of his dynasty could be fulfilled: “The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David, and He will not annul it: Of the fruit of thy loins will I set upon thy throne. If thy sons keep My covenant and these testimonies which I will teach them, their sons also shall sit for ever on thy throne. For the Lord hath elected Sion, He hath chosen her to be a habitation for Himself. This is My rest for ever and ever; her will I dwell for I have chosen her” (Psalm 131.11-15). Moreover, there was another prophecy, by the Patriarch Jacob: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49.10). Now that the sceptre, in the form of the Jewish kingship, appeared to have departed from Judah, was it not time for the appearance of Shiloh? Again, there was another Old Testament prophecy indicating the imminent coming of the Messiah - the “seventy times seven” prophecy of Daniel (9.24-27). This declared that from the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which took place in 453 BC, until the coming of Christ there would be sixty-nine weeks of years, that is 483 years – which brings us to 30 AD, the beginning of Jesus Christ’s ministry. Then, in the last week of years “the Anointed One shall be destroyed” – that is, Christ will be crucified.
Herod tried to remedy the fault of his non-Jewish blood by marrying the Hasmonean princess Mariamne, the grand-daughter of King Aristobulus and Hyrcanus II on her mother’s side. He also rebuilt the Temple with unparalleled splendour. But his Jewish faith was superficial. When Octavian declared himself divine, he built a temple in his honour in Samaria, renaming it Sebaste, the Greek equivalent of the emperor’ new title, Augustus. And he built so many fortresses, gymnasia, temples and other buildings that Palestine under Herod (Octavian made him procurator of Syria, too) became the most powerful Jewish kingdom since Solomon and the wonder of the East.
Under Herod, the Jews, though under Roman dominion, reached the peak of their power and influence in the ancient world. Johnson writes: “The number of Jews, both born and converts, expanded everywhere, so that, according to one medieval tradition, there were at the time of the Claudian recensus in 48 AD some 6,944,000 Jews within the confines of the empire, plus what Josephus calls the ‘myriads and myriads’ in Babylonia and elsewhere beyond it. One calculation is that during the Herodian period there were about eight million Jews in the world, of whom 2,350,000 to 2,500,000 lived in Palestine, the Jews thus constituting about 10 per cent of the Roman empire.”
But of course the essence of the kingdom was quite different from that of David and Solomon. Apart from the fact that the real ruler was Rome, and that outside Jerusalem itself Herod showed himself to be a thorough-going pagan (for example, he rebuilt the temple of Apollo in Rhodes), the whole direction of Herod’s rule was to destroy the last remnants of the Jewish Church and monarchy. Thus he killed most of the Sanhedrin and all of the Hasmonean family, not excluding his own wife Mariamne and their sons Alexander and Aristobulus. He was, in fact, the closest type of the Antichrist in Old Testament history…
“The last years of the life of Herod,” writes Paryaev, “were simply nightmarish. Feeling that his subjects profoundly hated him, haunted at night by visions of his slaughtered wife, sons and all the Hasmoneans, and conscious that his life, in spite of all its external successes and superficial splendour, was just a series of horrors, Herod finally lost his mental stability and was seized by some kind of furious madness.” The final product of his madness was his attempt to kill the Lord Jesus Christ and his slaughter of the 14,000 innocents of Bethlehem (it was his son, Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist).
Perhaps the clearest sign of the degeneration of the Jews under Herod was the behaviour of the Pharisees. We have seen that they had led the movement against Hellenising influences in the first century BC, and were zealots of the purity of the law. But just as the Maccabee movement for renewal of the true faith degenerated into its opposite, so did that of the Pharisees. They even once sent a delegation to Rome asking for the establishment of a republic in Judaea under the sovereignty of Rome. Moreover, they supported Herod, and, like him, persecuted Christ, the True King of the Jews, leading to the abandonment of the Jewish people by God.
Theocracy, Autocracy and the Jews
The people of God can be ruled by none other than God, or by a man directly appointed by God. Rule by God alone is Theocracy. Rule by a man appointed by God is sometimes also called Theocracy, but it is more called, in Lev Tikhomirov’s phrase, “delegated Theocracy”, or Autocracy.
A true autocrat is a man who is appointed to rule by God and who strives to rule in accordance with the true faith and the commandments of God. Under these conditions God blesses one-man rule. It is God Himself Who places true autocrats on their thrones. For "He sends kings upon thrones, and girds their loins with a girdle" (Job 12.18); "He appoints kings and removes them" (Daniel 2.21); "Thou, O king, art a king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given a powerful and honourable and strong kingdom in every place where the children of men dwell" (Daniel 2.37-38); "Listen, therefore, O kings, and understand....; for your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High" (Wisdom 6.1,3).
As Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow demonstrates, the superiority of the Israelite Autocracy makes of it a model for all nations in all times: “It is in the family that we must seek the beginnings and first model of authority and submission, which are later opened out in the large family which is the State. The father is.. the first master.. but since the authority of the father was not created by the father himself and was not given to him by the son, but came into being with man from Him Who created man, it is revealed that the deepest source and the highest principle of the first power, and consequently of every later power among men, is in God – the Creator of man. From Him ‘every family in heaven and on earth is named’ (Ephesians 3.15). Later, when sons of sons became a people and peoples, and from the family there grew the State, which was too vast for the natural authority of a father, God gave this authority a new artificial image and a new name in the person of the King, and thus by His wisdom kings rule (Proverbs 8.15). In the times of ignorance, when people had forgotten their Creator… God, together with His other mysteries, also presented the mystery of the origin of the powers that be before the eyes of the world, even in a sensory image, in the form of the Hebrew people whom He had chosen for Himself; that is: in the Patriarch Abraham He miraculously renewed the ability to be a father and gradually produced from him a tribe, a people and a kingdom; He Himself guided the patriarchs of this tribe; He Himself raised judges and leaders for this people; He Himself ruled over this kingdom (I Kings 8.7). Finally, He Himself enthroned kings over them, continuing to work miraculous signs over the kings, too. The Highest rules over the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He wills. ‘The Kingdom is the Lord’s and He Himself is sovereign of the nations’ (Psalm 21.29). ‘The power of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and in due time He will set over it one that is profitable’ (Sirach 10.4).”
“A non-Russian would perhaps ask me now: why do I look on that which was established by God for one people (the Hebrews) and promised to one King (David) as on a general law for Kings and peoples? I would have no difficulty in replying: because the law proceeding from the goodness and wisdom of God is without doubt the perfect law; and why not suggest the perfect law for all? Or are you thinking of inventing a law which would be more perfect than the law proceeding from the goodness and wisdom of God?”
“As heaven is indisputably better than the earth, and the heavenly than the earthly, it is similarly indisputable that the best on earth must be recognised to be that which was built on it in the image of the heavenly, as was said to the God-seer Moses: ‘Look thou that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed thee in the mount’ (Exodus 25.40). Accordingly God established a King on earth in to the image of His single rule in the heavens; He arranged for an autocratic King on earth in the image of His heavenly omnipotence; and ... He placed an hereditary King on earth in the image of His royal immutability. Let us not go into the sphere of the speculations and controversies in which certain people – who trust in their own wisdom more than others – work on the invention… of better, as they suppose, principles for the transfiguration of human societies… But so far they have not in any place or time created such a quiet and peaceful life… They can shake ancient States, but they cannot create anything firm… They languish under the fatherly and reasonable authority of the King and introduce the blind and cruel power of the mob and the interminable disputes of those who seek power. They deceive people in affirming that they will lead them to liberty; in actual fact they are drawing them from lawful freedom to self-will, so as later to subject them to oppression with full right. Rather than their self-made theorising they should study the royal truth from the history of the peoples and kingdoms… which was written, not out of human passion, but by the holy prophets of God, that is – from the history of the people of God which was from of old chosen and ruled by God. This history shows that the best and most useful for human societies is done not by people, but by a person, not by many, but by one. Thus: What government gave the Hebrew people statehood and the law? One man – Moses. What government dealt with the conquest of the promised land and the distribution of the tribes of the Hebrew people on it? One man – Joshua the son of Nun. During the time of the Judges one man saved the whole people from enemies and evils. But since the power was not uninterrupted, but was cut off with the death of each judge, with each cutting off of one-man rule the people descended into chaos, piety diminished, and idol-worship and immorality spread; then there followed woes and enslavement to other peoples. And in explanation of these disorders and woes in the people the sacred chronicler says that ‘in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was pleasing in his own eyes’ (Judges 21.25). Again there appeared one man, Samuel, who was fully empowered by the strength of prayer and the prophetic gift; and the people was protected from enemies, the disorders ceased, and piety triumphed. Then, to establish uninterrupted one-man rule, God established a King in His people. And such kings as David, Josaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah present images of how successfully an autocratic Majesty can and must serve for the glorification of the Heavenly King in the earthly kingdom of men, and together with that – for the strengthening and preservation of true prosperity in his people… And during the times of the new grace the All-seeing Providence of God deigned to call the one man Constantine, and in Russia the one man Vladimir, who in apostolic manner enlightened their pagan kingdoms with the light of the faith of Christ an thereby established unshakeable foundations for their might. Blessed is that people and State in which, in a single, universal, all-moving focus there stands, as the sun in the universe, a King, who freely limits his unlimited autocracy by the will of the Heavenly King, and by the wisdom that comes from God.”
The people can survive under other systems of government than autocracy, but not prosper. Thus Hieromonk Dionysius writes: “The Church can live for some time even in conditions of persecution, just as a dying man can remain among the living for a certain period of time. But just as the latter desires deliverance from his illness, so the Church has always wished for such a situation in which there will be flocks, not individuals, of those being saved – and this can be attained only if she is fenced around by the power of ‘him who restraineth’” – that is, the Autocracy.
In the Old Testament the loss of autocracy, and its replacement by foreign despotic rule, was a sign of the wrath of God. The classic example was the Babylonian captivity. However, God’s purpose in subjecting His people to foreign rule was always ultimately positive – to draw the people back to Him through repentance. The sign of the remission of God’s wrath and the manifestation of His mercy and forgiveness was His return of autocratic rule, as when the Jews returned from Babylon to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel.
It is possible for the people of God to serve a foreign despotic ruler with a good conscience – as Joseph served Pharaoh, and Daniel served Darius. Indeed, it may be sinful to rebel against such rule, as it was sinful for King Zedekiah to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar. However, such service is possible only so long as the foreign ruler does not compel the people of God to worship his false gods or transgress the law of the one true God. If he does, then resistance – at any rate of the passive kind - becomes obligatory, as when the Three Holy Children refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol. And in certain circumstances even armed rebellion may be blessed by God, as when the Maccabees rebelled against Antiochus Epiphanes. Even if the ruler was originally a true autocrat, if he later turns against the God of Israel he must be resisted, as when the Prophet Elijah rebelled against Ahab and Jezabel, and the Prophet Elisha anointed Jehu as king in their stead.
The essential differences between the autocrat and the absolutist despot are, first: the autocrat, having been appointed by God and being in obedience to Him, will never ascribe divine honours to himself; whereas the despot either commands that he be worshipped as a god, or acts as if he were God by rejecting any criticism of his actions based on the law of God. Secondly, the autocrat will always respect the priesthood and will yield it authority in the sphere of Divine worship and the spiritual life generally, whereas the despot will attempt to subject the priesthood to himself, perhaps by making himself high priest. Although the relationship between the autocracy and the priesthood is not clearly defined in the Old Testament, the embryo of the Christian symphony of powers is already to be seen in the relationships between Moses and Aaron, David and Abiathar, and Zerubbabel and Joshua. And encroachment by the autocrat on the priestly prerogatives is already severely punished, as when King Uzziah of Judah (otherwise a good king) was struck with leprosy for burning incense upon the altar of incense (II Chronicles 27.16-19). It was the Hasmonean combination of the roles of king and high-priest, and the degeneration that followed, that finally ushered in the end of the Israelite autocracy.
The autocrat can sin in either of two directions: by becoming a despot on the pagan model, or by becoming a democrat on the Classical Greek model. For, on the one hand, autocratic power is not arbitrary, but subject to a higher power, that of God – as Metropolitan Philaret puts it, the king “freely limits his unlimited autocracy by the will of the Heavenly King”. And on the other, it neither derives from the people nor can it be abolished by the people.
The final test of a true autocracy is its recognition of, and obedience to, the true Ruler, the King of kings, when He comes to take possession of His Kingdom. The Jews failed this test. As Blessed Theophylactus writes: “Some expected and waited for Christ to come and be their King. But these Jews did not want to be ruled by a king and so they slew this holy man, Zacharias, who confirmed that the Virgin had given birth and that the Christ had been born Who would be their King. But they rejected Him because they did not want to live under a king”.
The Jews both crucified their True King, God Himself, and said to Pilate: "We have no other king but Caesar" (John 19.15). At that moment they became no different spiritually from the other pagan peoples; for, like the pagans, they had come to recognise a mere man, the Roman emperor, as higher than God Himself. As St. John Chrysostom writes: “Here they declined the Kingdom of Christ and called to themselves that of Caesar.”
What made this apostasy worse was the fact that they were not compelled to it by any despotic decree. Pilate not only did not demand this recognition of Caesar from them, but had said of Christ – “Behold your king” (John 19.14), and had then ordered the sign, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, to be nailed above the cross. The Jews had in effect carried out both a democratic revolution against their True King, and, at the same time, a despotic obeisance to a false god-king. Thus did the City of God on earth become the City of Man, and the stronghold of Satan. Thus did the original sin committed under Saul, when the people of God sought a king who would rule them "like all the nations", reap its final wages in submission to "the god of this world" and the spiritual ruler of the pagan nations.
In 66-70 AD the Jews rebelled against Rome and were ruthlessly suppressed; perhaps a million Jews were killed, and the Temple was destroyed. In 130, the Emperor Hadrian renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina after himself, and planned to erect a temple to Jupiter on the site of the Temple. In 135, after another rebellion under Bar Koseba was crushed with the deaths of 580,000 Jewish soldiers, the city and ruins were ploughed over and a completely Hellenic city built in its place…
The history of Israel provides us with the answer to a question which neither the despots of the east nor the democrats of the west could answer, the question, namely: what is the end of the State? This question can be divided into two further questions: what is the end, in the sense of the purpose of the State? And what is the end, in the sense of the destroyer of the State, that which brings the State to an end? The two questions are logically as well as linguistically related. For that which brings the State to an end is its failure to carry out the end or purpose for which it was created by God.
Now it will be recalled that the origin of the State lies in its ability to save men from death – in other words, its survival value. Man as an individual, and even in small groups or families, cannot survive for long; he has to combine into larger groups that are self-sufficient in order to provide for his basic needs and protect himself against external enemies. That is why Aristotle defined the State as a large community that is “nearly or completely self-sufficient”.
However, for the Classical Greeks, and in particular for Aristotle, the State had a positive as well as a negative purpose. It was not distinguished from the smaller units of the family or the village simply because it was better able to guarantee survival. It was qualitatively as well as quantitatively distinct from them insofar as it enabled man to fulfil his potential as a human being. Hence Aristotle’s famous definition of man as “a political animal”, that is, an animal who reaches his full potential only by living in “polities” (literally: “cities”, for city states were the dominant form of political organisation in the Greece of Aristotle’s time). For it is only in states that man is able to develop that free spirit of rational inquiry that enables him to know the True, the Beautiful and the Good. It is only in states that he has the leisure and the education to pursue such uniquely human activities as art, science, organised religion and philosophy, which constitute his true happiness, eudaemonia.
The problem was that Greek democracy did not attain its positive end, that is, happiness, and even failed to attain its negative end, survival. First, Athenian democracy was defeated by the Spartan dual kingship and aristocracy, a kind of political organisation that theoretically should have been much inferior to democracy. And then the Greek city-states as a whole were defeated by, and absorbed into, Alexander the Great’s despotic empire, a kind of political organisation which the Greek philosophers agreed was the worst and most irrational of all.
Israel was a completely different kind of state: a theocracy that evolved in time into an autocracy. The distinguishing mark of this kind of state is that its origin is not the need to survive but the call of God to leave the existing states and their settled way of life and enter the desert on the way to the Promised Land. Here physical survival may actually be more difficult than before: but the prize is spiritual survival, life with God. Thus we may say that the negative end of Israelite autocracy is the avoidance of spiritual death (Babylon, Egypt, the kingdom of sin and death), and its positive end is the attainment of spiritual life (the Promised Land, Israel, the Kingdom of righteousness and life).
It follows that since neither spiritual life nor spiritual death are political categories attainable by purely political means, the end of the autocratic state is not in fact political at all as the word “political” is usually understood, but religious. Its aim is not happiness in this life, the peace and prosperity of its citizens in this world, but the blessedness of its citizens in the world to come, in which there will be no politics and no states, but only Christ and the Church. Thus the end of the state is beyond itself, to serve the Church, which alone can lead the people into the Promised Land.
The Israelite state survived so long as it placed spiritual ends above purely political ones and was faithful to the Lord God of Israel. When it faltered in this faithfulness it was punished by God with exile and suffering. When it faltered to such a degree that it killed its true King, the Lord Jesus Christ, it was finally destroyed.
But since the purpose of God remained unchanging, the salvation of men for the Kingdom of heaven, autocracy was re-established on a still firmer and wider base, in the very state that had destroyed the old Israel – Rome…
2. OLD ROME
Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,
And unto God the things that are God’s.
There is no power that is not from God,
And the powers that be have been instituted by God.
Christ and the Roman Empire
When the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of heaven, was born as a man on earth, He was immediately enrolled as a citizen of an earthly kingdom, the Roman Empire. In fact, His birth, which marked the beginning of the Eternal Kingdom of God on earth, coincided almost exactly with the birth of the Roman Empire under its first emperor, Augustus. For several of the Holy Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, this coincidence pointed to a certain special mission of the Roman empire, as if the Empire, being born at the same time as Christ, was Divinely established to be a vehicule for the spreading of the Gospel to all nations.
Thus in the third century Origen wrote: “Jesus was born during the reign of Augustus, the one who reduced to uniformity, so to speak, the many kingdoms on earth so that He had a single empire. It would have hindered Jesus’ teaching from being spread throughout the world if there had been many kingdoms… Everyone would have been forced to fight in defence of their own country.” Origen considered that the temporal peace of Augustus, which was prophesied in the scriptural verse: “He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the rivers even unto the ends of the inhabited earth” (Psalm 71.7), prefigured the spiritual peace of Christ. Moreover, under the reigns of Augustus’ successors, the differences between the peoples had been reduced, so that by the time of Christ’s Second Coming they would all call on the name of the Lord with one voice and serve Him under one yoke.
Again, in the fourth century St. Gregory the Theologian said: “The state of the Christians and that of the Romans grew up simultaneously and Roman supremacy arose with Christ’s sojourn upon earth, previous to which it had not reached monarchical perfection.”
Again, in the fifth century the Spanish priest and friend of St. Augustine, Orosius, claimed that the Emperor Augustus had paid a kind of compliment to Christ by refusing to call himself Lord at a time when the true Lord of all was becoming man. Christ returned the compliment by having himself enrolled in Augustus’ census. In this way He foreshadowed Rome’s historical mission.
Also in the fifth century, St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome, wrote: "Divine Providence fashioned the Roman Empire, the growth of which was extended to boundaries so wide that all races everywhere became next-door neighbours. For it was particularly germane to the Divine scheme that many kingdoms should be bound together under a single government, and that the world-wide preaching should have a swift means of access to all people, over whom the rule of a single state held sway."
This teaching was summed up in a liturgical verse as follows: "When Augustus reigned alone upon earth, the many kingdoms of men came to an end: and when Thou was made man of the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed. The cities of the world passed under one single rule; and the nations came to believe in one sovereign Godhead. The peoples were enrolled by the decree of Caesar; and we, the faithful, were enrolled in the Name of the Godhead, when Thou, our God, wast made man. Great is Thy mercy: glory to Thee.”
Thus the Roman Empire came into existence, according to the Fathers, precisely for the sake of the Christian Church, creating a political unity that would help and protect the spiritual unity created by the Church. It was to be the Guardian of the Ark.
On the face of it, this was a very bold and paradoxical teaching. After all, the people of God at the beginning of the Christian era were the Jews, not the Romans. The Romans were pagans; they worshipped demons, not the True God Who had revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In 63 BC they had actually conquered the people of God, and their rule was bitterly resented. In 70 AD they destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in a campaign of appalling cruelty and scattered the Jews over the face of the earth. How could Old Rome, the Rome of Nero and Titus and Domitian and Diocletian, possibly be construed as working with God rather than against Him?
The solution to this paradox is to be found in an examination of two encounters recounted in the Gospel between Christ and two “rulers of this world” – Satan and Pontius Pilate.
In the first, Satan takes Christ onto a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of this world in a moment of time. “And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before Me, all will be Yours.’ And Jesus answered and said to him: ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only will you serve.’” (Luke 4.6-8).
Here we see that Satan up to that time had control over all the kingdoms of the world – but by might, the might given him by the sins of men, not by right. Thus St. Cyril of Alexandria exclaims: “How dost thou promise that which is not thine? Who made thee heir of God’s kingdom? Who made thee lord of all under heaven? Thou hast seized these things by fraud. Restore them, therefore, to the incarnate Son, the Lord of all…”
And indeed, the Lord accepted neither Satan’s lordship over the world, nor the satanism that was so closely associated with the pagan statehood of the ancient world (insofar as the pagan god-kings often demanded worship of themselves as gods). He came to restore true statehood, which recognises the ultimate supremacy only of the one true God, and which demands veneration of the earthly ruler, but worship only of the Heavenly King. And since, by the time of the Nativity of Christ, all the major pagan kingdoms had been swallowed up in Rome, it was to the transformation of Roman statehood that the Lord came in the first place.
For, as K.V. Glazkov writes: “The good news announced by the Lord Jesus Christ could not leave untransfigured a single one of the spheres of man’s life. One of the acts of our Lord Jesus Christ consisted in bringing the heavenly truths to the earth, in instilling them into the consciousness of mankind with the aim of its spiritual regeneration, in restructuring the laws of communal life on new principles announced by Christ the Saviour, in the creation of a Christian order of this communal life, and, consequently, in a radical change of pagan statehood. Proceeding from here it becomes clear what place the Church must occupy in relation to the state. It is not the place of an opponent from a hostile camp, not the place of a warring party, but the place of a pastor in relation to his flock, the place of a loving father in relation to his lost children. Even in those moments when there was not and could not be any unanimity or union between the Church and the state, Christ the Saviour forbade the Church to stand on one side from the state, still less to break all links with it, saying: ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’ (Luke 20.25).
Thus Christ is the true King of the world, Who nevertheless grants a qualified authority to earthly kings. For Christians in the pagan Roman empire, this meant an attitude of qualified loyalty to the empire without full or permanent integration into it. The latter was impossible, for, as Fr. George Florovsky writes, “in ‘this world’ Christians could be but pilgrims and strangers. Their true ‘citizenship’, politeuma, was ‘in heaven’ (Philippians 3.20). The Church herself was peregrinating through this world (paroikousa). ‘The Christian fellowship was a bit of extra-territorial jurisdiction on earth of the world above’ (Frank Gavin). The Church was ‘an outpost of heaven’ on earth, or a ‘colony of heaven’. It may be true that this attitude of radical detachment had originally an ‘apocalyptic’ connotation, and was inspired by the expectation of an imminent parousia. Yet, even as an enduring historical society, the Church was bound to be detached from the world. An ethos of ‘spiritual segregation’ was inherent in the very fabric of the Christian faith, as it was inherent in the faith of Ancient Israel. The Church herself was ‘a city’, a polis, a new and peculiar ‘polity’. In their baptismal profession Christians had ‘to renounce’ this world, with all its vanity, and pride, and pomp, - but also with all its natural ties, even family ties, and to take a solemn oath of allegiance to Christ the King, the only true King on earth and in heaven, to Whom all ‘authority’ has been given. By this baptismal commitment Christians were radically separated from ‘this world’. In this world they had no ‘permanent city’. They were ‘citizens ‘ of the ‘City to come’, of which God Himself was builder and maker (Hebrews 13.14; cf. 11.10).
“The Early Christians were often suspected and accused of civic indifference, and even of morbid ‘misanthropy’, odium generis humani, - which should probably be contrasted with the alleged ‘philanthropy’ of the Roman Empire. The charge was not without substance. In his famous reply to Celsus, Origen was ready to admit the charge. Yet, what else could Christians have done, he asked. In every city, he explained, ‘we have another system of allegiance’, allo systema tes patridos (Contra Celsum, VIII.75). Along with the civil community there was in every city another community, the local Church. And she was for Christians their true home, or their ‘fatherland’, and not their actual ‘native city’. The anonymous writer of the admirable ‘Letter to Diognetus’, written probably in the early years of the second century, elaborated this point with an elegant precision. Christians do not dwell in cities of their own, nor do they differ from the rest of men in speech and customs. ‘Yet, while they dwell in the cities of Greeks and Barbarians, as the lot of each is cast, the structure of their own polity is peculiar and paradoxical… Every foreign land is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is a foreign land… Their conversation is on the earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.’ There was no passion in this attitude, no hostility, and no actual retirement from daily life. But there was a strong note of spiritual estrangement: ‘and every fatherland is a foreign land.’ It was coupled, however, with an acute sense of responsibility. Christians were confined in the world, ‘kept’ there as in a prison; but they also ‘kept the world together,’ just as the soul holds the body together. Moreover, this was precisely the task allotted to Christians by God, ‘which it is unlawful to decline’ (Ad Diognetum, 5, 6). Christians might stay in their native cities, and faithfully perform their daily duties. But they were unable to give their full allegiance to any polity of this world, because their true commitment was elsewhere….”
Let us now turn to the second time Christ confronted a ruler of this world – His trial before Pilate. While acknowledging that the power of this representative of Caesar was lawful, the Lord at the same time insists that Pilate’s and Caesar’s power derived from God, the true King and Lawgiver. For “you could have no power at all against Me,” He says to Pilate, “unless it had been given to you from above” (John 19.11). These words, paradoxically, both limit Caesar’s power, insofar as it is subject to God’s, and strengthen it, by indicating that it has God’s seal and blessing in principle (if not in all its particular manifestations).
Nor is this conclusion contradicted by His earlier words: “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18.36). For, as Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes, “Let no-one imagine that Christ the Lord does not have imperial power over this world because He says to Pilate: ‘My Kingdom is not of this world.’ He who possesses the enduring has power also over the transitory. The Lord speaks of His enduring Kingdom, independent of time and of decay, unrighteousness, illusion and death. Some man might say: ‘My riches are not on paper, but in gold.’ But does he who has gold not have paper also? Is not gold as paper to its owner? The Lord, then, does not say to Pilate that He is not a king, but, on the contrary, says that He is a higher king than all kings, and His Kingdom is greater and stronger and more enduring than all earthly kingdoms. He refers to His pre-eminent Kingdom, on which depend all kingdoms in time and in space…”
And He continues: “Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” The one who delivered Christ to Pilate was Caiaphas, chief priest of the Jews. For, as is well known (to all except contemporary ecumenist Christians), it was the Jews, His own people, who condemned Christ for blasphemy and demanded His execution at the hands of the Roman authorities in the person of Pontius Pilate. Since Pilate was not interested in the charge of blasphemy, the only way in which the Jews could get their way was to accuse Christ of fomenting rebellion against Rome – a hypocritical charge, since it was precisely the Jews, not Christ, who were planning revolution. Not only did Pilate not believe this accusation: he did everything he could to have Christ released, giving in only when he feared that the Jews were about to start a riot and denounce him to the emperor in Rome. Thus it was the Jews, not the Romans, who were primarily responsible for the death of Christ. This fact has the consequence that, insofar Pilate could have used his God-given power to save the Lord from an unjust death, Roman state power appears in this situation as the potential, if not yet the actual, protector of Christ from His fiercest enemies. In other words, already during the life of Christ, we see the future role of Rome as “he who restrains” the Antichrist (II Thessalonians 2.7) and the guardian of the Body of Christ.
Rome: Protector or Persecutor?
In the trial of Christ before Pilate, Roman power, still spiritually weak, did not use its power for the good; but its sympathies were clearly already with Christ, and this sympathy would later, under Constantine the Great, be turned into full and whole-hearted support
In fact, we do not have to wait that long to see Roman power fulfilling the role of protector of the Christians. Thus already in 35, on the basis of a report sent to him by Pilate, the Emperor Tiberius proposed to the senate that Christ should be recognised as a god. The senate refused this request, and declared that Christianity was an “illicit superstition”; but Tiberius ignored this and imposed a veto on any accusations being brought against the Christians in the future. More than that: when St. Mary Magdalen complained to the emperor about the unjust sentence passed by Pontius Pilate on Christ, the emperor moved Pilate from Jerusalem to Gaul, where he died after a terrible illness. In 36 or 37 the Roman legate to Syria, Vitellius, deposed Caiaphas for his unlawful execution of the Archdeacon and Protomartyr Stephen (in 34), and in 62 the High Priest Ananias was similarly deposed for executing St. James the Just, the first Bishop of Jerusalem. In between these dates the Apostle Paul was saved from a lynching at the hands of the Jews by the Roman authorities (Acts 21, 23.28-29, 25.19).
So for at least a generation after the Resurrection of Christ the Romans, far from being persecutors of the Christians, were their chief protectors against the Jews – the former people of God who had now become the chief enemies of God. It is therefore not surprising that the Apostles, following in the tradition of Christ’s own recognition of the Romans as a lawful power, exhorted the Christians to obey Caesar in everything that did not involve transgressing the law of God. Thus St. Paul commands Christians to give thanks for the emperor "and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty" (I Timothy 2.1-2). For it is precisely the emperor's ability to maintain law and order, "a quiet and peaceful life", which makes him so important for the Church. "Be subject for the Lord's sake," says St. Peter, "to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and praise those who do right... Fear God. Honour the emperor" (I Peter 2.13, 17). The emperor is to be obeyed "not only because of wrath, but for conscience's sake" (Romans 13.5). For he is "the servant of God for good" and "wields not the sword in vain" (Romans 13.4).
At the same time, submission to the emperor was never considered to be unconditional. Thus in the third century Hieromartyr Hippolytus, Pope of Rome, wrote: ““Believers in God must not be hypocritical, nor fear people invested in authority, with the exception of those cases when some evil deed is committed [Romans 13.1-4]. On the contrary, if the leaders, having in mind their faith in God, force them to do something contrary to this faith, then it is better for them to die than to carry out the command of the leaders. After all, when the apostle teaches submission to ‘all the powers that be’ (Romans 13.1), he was not saying that we should renounce our faith and the Divine commandments, and indifferently carry out everything that people tell us to do; but that we, while fearing the authorities, should do nothing evil and that we should not deserve punishment from them as some evildoers (Romans 13.4). That is why he says: ‘The servant of God is an avenger of [those who do] evil’ (I Peter 2.14-20; Romans 13.4). And so? ‘Do you not want to fear the authorities? Do good and you will have praise from him; but if you do evil, fear, for he does not bear the sword without reason’ (Romans 13.4). Consequently, insofar as one can judge from the cited words, the apostle teaches submission to a holy and God-fearing life in this life and that we should have before our eyes the danger that the sword threatens us. [But] when the leaders and scribes hindered the apostles from preaching the word of God, they did not cease from their preaching, but submitted ‘to God rather than to man’ (Acts 5.29). In consequence of this, the leaders, angered, put them in prison, but ‘an angel led them out, saying: God and speak the words of this life’ (Acts 5.20).”)
Even when the Empire had become Christian, St. Basil the Great wrote: “It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God is not violated thereby.” And Blessed Theodoret of Cyr wrote: “Paul does not incite us to obey even if we are being constrained to impiety; he has, in fact, clearly defined the function of the power and the manner in which God has regulated human affairs, so that promulgating laws contrary to piety is not part of the function of the power, but rather belongs to the will of those who exercise power badly. For that which concerns God does not belong to the judgement of those who exercise power; they have not been established for that; they have been established as intercessors and guarantors of justice in that which concerns the affairs of men and their mutual rights.” Again, St. John Chrysostom, commenting on Romans 13.1, asked: “Is every ruler, then, elected by God? This I do not say, he [Paul] answers. Nor am I now speaking about individual rulers, but about the thing in itself. For that there should be rulers, and some rule and others be ruled, and that all things should not just be carried on in one confusion, the people swaying like waves in this direction and that; this, I say, is the work of God’s wisdom. Hence he does not say, ‘for there is no ruler but of God’, but it is the thing [political power as such] he speaks of, and says, ‘there is no power but of God’.” Again, as Archbishop Theophan of Poltava writes, “St. Isidore of Pelusium, after pointing to the order of submission of some to others established everywhere by God in the lives or rational and irrational creatures, concludes therefrom: ‘Therefore we are entitled to say that… power, that is, royal leadership and authority, is established by God.»
However, it is not only under the image of the lawful protector of Christianity that Rome is portrayed in the Holy Scriptures. In Revelation the seven-hilled city is portrayed as Babylon, “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth”, “a woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (17.5,6). In other words, Rome is seen, not as a lawful monarchy or future Christian autocracy, but as a bloody and blasphemous despotism, in the tradition of all the ancient despotisms that took their origin from Nimrod’s Babylon. Typical of this attitude is Hieromartyr Victorinus of Petau, who wrote that the whore’s downfall was “the ruin of great Babylon, that is, of the city of Rome.”
The reason for this change is not difficult to find. In the generation after Saints Peter and Paul wrote their epistles and before the writing of Revelation, the Roman empire had changed from a benevolent dictatorship with democratic leanings into a despotism headed by a god-king on the Babylonian model. It was Nero who initiated the first specifically Roman (as opposed to Jewish or popular pagan) persecution of the Christians, while it was Domitian who initiated the first persecution of Christians for specifically religious reasons – that is, because they refused to worship the gods in general, and the divinity of Domitian in particular.
Early in the second century the Emperor Hadrian deified his favourite Antinous, of whom St. Athanasius the Great writes: “Although they knew he was a man, and not an honourable man but one filled with wantonness, yet they worship him through fear of the ruler… So do not be surprised or think that what we have said is improbable, for quite recently, and perhaps even up to now, the Roman senate decrees that their emperors who reigned from the beginning – either all of them or whomever they choose and decide upon – are among the gods, and prescribes that they be worshipped as gods.”
Now religion in Rome had always been a department of State. As J.M. Roberts writes: “It had nothing to do with individual salvation and not much with individual behaviour; it was above all a public matter. It was a part of the res publica, a series of rituals whose maintenance was good for the state, whose neglect would bring retribution. There was no priestly caste set apart from other men (if we exclude one or two antiquarian survivals in the temples of a few special cults) and priestly duties were the task of the magistrates who found priesthood a useful social and political lever. Nor was there creed or dogma… Men genuinely felt that the peace of Augustus was the pax deorum, a divine reward for a proper respect for the gods which Augustus had reasserted. Somewhat more cynically, Cicero had remarked that the gods were needed to prevent chaos in society…”
An important change in Roman religion came with Augustus’ introduction of Hellenistic and eastern ideas of divine kingship, with which he had become acquainted after his conquest of Egypt in 31 BC. Clearly impressed, as had been his rival Mark Anthony, by the civilisation he found there, and by its queen, Cleopatra, he brought back an obelisk to Rome and named himself after the month in which Cleopatra died, August, rather than the month of his own birth, September, which would have been more usual.
“Under Augustus,” continues Roberts, “there was a deliberate attempt to reinvigorate old belief, which had been somewhat eroded by closer acquaintance with the Hellenistic East and about which a few sceptics had shown cynicism even in the second century BC. After Augustus, emperors always held the office of chief priest (pontifex maximus) and political and religious primacy were thus combined in the same person. This began the increasing importance and definition of the imperial cult itself. It fitted well the Roman’s innate conservatism, his respect for the ways and customs of his ancestors. The imperial cult linked respect for traditional patrons, the placating or invoking of familiar deities and the commemoration of great men and events, to the ideas of divine kingship which came from the East, from Asia. It was there that altars were first raised to Rome or the Senate, and there that they were soon reattributed to the emperor. The cult spread through the whole empire, though it was not until the third century AD that the practice was whole respectable at Rome itself, so strong was the republican sentiment. But even there the strains of empire had already favoured a revival of official piety which benefited the imperial cult.”
Dio Cassius writes that Augustus “gave permission for sacred precincts to be set up in both Ephesus and Nicaea, dedicated to Rome and his father [Julius] Caesar, to whom he had given the title, the Divine Julius. These cities at that time held pre-eminent positions in Asia and Bithynia respectively. The Romans who lived there he bade pay honour to these two divinities, but he allowed the provincials, whom he styled Greeks, to consecrate precincts to himself, the Asians in Pergamum, the Bithynians in Nicomedia. From such a beginning this practice has also occurred under other emperors, and not only in the Greek provinces but also in the others that are subject to Rome. In the city of Rome itself and the rest of Italy, however, no emperor, no matter how deserving of praise, has dared to do this (i.e. style himself a god). Yet even there divine honours are accorded and shrines set up to emperors who have ruled well, after their demise."
It is no accident that the only martyr mentioned by name in Revelation is Antipas, Bishop of Pergamum, “where Satan’s seat is” (2.13). Pergamum is called “Satan’s seat” because it was there that the worship of Augustus was first instituted, and Lenin’s mausoleum in Red Square, Moscow, was modelled on Augustus’ temple in Pergamum. As for Nicomedia, this was the city from which Diocletian initiated the last and most bloody of the persecutions against the Christians. Thus the seeds of emperor-worship, and therefore of conflict between the Church and the Empire, were sown in the reign of the very first Roman emperor.
However, the same emperor – together with most of his successors – was compelled to curb any excessive tendencies in this direction by his regard for the traditions of republican Rome, which tended in just the opposite direction. “King” was a dirty word in Republican Rome, and sovereign power was deemed to belong jointly to the Senate and the People. Julius Caesar had been murdered precisely because he violated this democratic tradition by making himself dictator.
For the Roman state before Augustus was, in J.S. McClelland’s words, “a fortunate mixture of the three basic types of government: monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. The Roman consuls were its kings, the Senate its aristocracy, and its people and their tribunes its democracy. It was standard doctrine in the ancient world that ‘pure’ forms of government were not likely to last. Even the best of monarchies eventually became corrupted, self-disciplined aristocracies degenerated into oligarchies admiring only wealth, and democracies always ended up in mob rule. Rome was lucky, because in the government of the republic each part of the state tended to cancel out the vices of the other parts, leaving only their virtues. The people tempered the natural arrogance of the aristocrats, the senators tempered the natural turbulence of the people, while consulship for a year was a constant reminder to the consuls that they were only temporary kings…. The Romans stopped being the citizens of a free republic, and became the subjects of an emperor, with their fixed political ideas largely intact.”
So Augustus, while wielding all power de facto, still maintained the fiction that he was merely “first among equals”. And it is probably significant that Augustus allowed altars to be dedicated to himself only in the provinces, whose inhabitants “he called Greeks”, and not in Rome itself. The strength of this republican tradition, allied to other philosophical elements such as Stoicism, guaranteed that emperor-worship, as opposed to the worship of “ordinary” gods, remained an intermittent phenomenon. It was felt to be an essentially alien, non-Roman tradition, throughout the imperial period. Thus if Augustus had a temple erected to his divinity, Tiberius rejected divine honours; if Domitian considered himself a god, Trajan emphatically did not.
This intermittency in the cult of the emperor was reflected in the intermittency of the persecution of Christians. Thus for the century and a half between Domitian (late first century) and Decius (mid-third century), although it remained technically illegal to be a Christian, the Roman emperors initiated no persecution against the Christians, convinced as they were that they did not constitute a political threat. They were often more favourably inclined towards the Christians than either the Senate, which remained for centuries a powerful bastion of paganism, or the masses, who tended to blame the Christians’ “atheism”, that is, their refusal to worship the gods, for the disasters that befell the empire. The Roman authorities generally looked for ways to protect the Christians, and were only compelled to adopt stricter measures in order to appease the mob – as we see, for example, in the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. It was therefore in the Church’s long-term interest to support the imperial power, enduring the occasional madmen, such as Nero and Domitian, and waiting for the time when the emperor would not only protect her against her enemies, but take the lead in converting the body of the empire to Christ.
This looked as if it might happen already in the mid-third century, under the Emperor Philip the Arab, who was a secret Christian, converted by Martyr Pontius the Senator, and a little later under the Emperor Galerius, who declared his faith in Christ after witnessing a miracle of the Martyrs Cosmas and Damian. It was probably in order to counter Philip’s influence that the next emperor, Decius, ordered all the citizens of the empire to worship the pagan gods, which led to many Christian martyrdoms. However, the persecutions of Decius and Valerian elicited a wave of revulsion in Roman society, and from the edict of Gallienus to the persecution of Diocletian, there was even a long period in which all the old anti-Christian laws were repealed and the Church was officially recognised as a legal institution
“It is not, perhaps, a coincidence,” writes Professor Sordi, “that Gallienus’ change of policy towards the senate went hand in hand with the official recognition of the Christian religion which the senate had forbidden for the previous two centuries. Gallienus broke completely with the pro-senate policy of the preceding emperors, he forbade the senators military command and he cut them off from all the sources of real power. It was this break with the senate, this decision on the part of Gallienus to do without its consent, that made it possible for the Emperor to grant to the Christians the recognition which was so necessary for the well-being of the empire, but which the traditionalist thinking of the senate had always feared so much.”
Why did God choose the Roman Empire over other States as the special instrument of His Providence and the special protector of His Church, to the extent that, from the early fourth century, Christianitas came to be almost identified with Romanitas? Here we offer some speculative ideas borrowed from Professor Sordi.
First, as Sordi writes, “the Romans and the Christians, albeit in different ways and from different points of view, both represented a way of overcoming the Graeco-Barbarian and Graeco-Jewish antimony which the Hellenistic culture, despite all its ecumenical claims, actually contained within itself.”
Christianity is a truly universal religion in which “there is neither male nor female, …neither Greek nor Jew, neither circumcised nor uncircumcised, neither barbarian nor Scythian, neither slave nor freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11). The Jews were not inclined either to accept or to propagate this message; for in spite of the universalist hints contained in the prophets, the racial distinction between the Jews and Gentiles (or goyim) remained a fundamental divide in Jewish thought. Similarly, the Greeks, even in the persons of their greatest philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, looked on slaves, women and barbarians as unable to partake fully in the splendours of Hellenic civilisation.
True, there was a universalist, cosmopolitan element in the Hellenistic philosophy of the Stoics. However, it was not the Greeks, but the Romans who adopted Stoicism most eagerly, demonstrating thereby that typically Roman trait of being able, in Polybius’ words, “more than any others before them have ever been to change their customs and to imitate the best”. The classical Greek concepts of citizenship and equality before the law were now given a vastly deeper connotation and wider denotation.
The Romans were able to create a political framework that gave practical expression to the universalist leanings of the Roman – and Christian - soul. For “Rome’s greatest triumph,” writes Roberts, “rested on the bringing of peace and… a second great Hellenistic age in which men could travel from one end to another of the Mediterranean without hindrance. The essential qualities of the structure which sustained it were already there under the republic, above all in the cosmopolitanism encouraged by Roman administration, which sought not to impose a uniform pattern of life but only to collect taxes, keep the peace and regulate the quarrels of men by a common law….
“The empire and the civilization it carried were unashamedly cosmopolitan. The administrative framework contained an astonishing variety of contrasts and diversities. They were held together not by an impartial despotism exercised by a Roman élite or a professional bureaucracy, but by a constitutional system which took local elites and romanized them. From the first century AD the senators themselves included only a dwindling number of men of Italian descent. Roman tolerance in this was diffused among other peoples. The empire was never a racial unity whose hierarchies were closed to non-Italians. Only one of its peoples, the Jews, felt strongly about the retention of their distinction within it and that distinction rested on religion…”
In 212 Rome offered citizenship to all free subjects of the empire, which meant that these subjects could both identify with the empire as their own country and rise to the highest positions within it. Thus in the first century we hear St. Paul, a member of a savagely treated subject nation, nevertheless saying without shame or sense of contradiction: “Civis romanus sum”, “I am a Roman citizen”. And already from the beginning of the second century, we find non-Roman emperors of Rome; they came from as far afield as Spain and Arabia, Dacia and Africa. “The breadth of the East,” wrote the Spanish priest Orosius, “the vastness of the North, the extensiveness of the South, and the very large and secure seats of the islands are of my name and law because I, as a Roman and Christian, approach Christians and Romans.”
Rutilius Namatianus addressed Rome thus: “You have made out of diverse races one patria”. And the poet Claudian wrote that “we may drink of the Rhine or the Orontes”, but “we are all one people”. For the nations had become one in Rome:
The conquered in her arms and cherished all
The human race under a common name,
Treating them as her children, not her slaves.
She called these subjects Roman citizens
And linked far worlds with ties of loyalty.
Secondly, writes Sordi, “the Roman soul suffered from a perennial nostalgia for the stern moral code and the virtues on which their culture had been founded and that a religion which called for rigorous moral commitment and the practice of personal and domestic austerity would have attracted many of those who were disgusted with the corruption they saw around them. Equally attractive to those who longed for the security of the group was, probably, the Christians’ strong community feeling and their capacity for mutual assistance in times of need; and in fact this kind of solidarity would be recognisable to the Romans as their own collegia, enlarged and enriched with new ideas and with a deeper sense of human values…”
For “the conversion of the pagan world to Christianity,” concludes Sordi, “was first and foremost a religious conversion and … that immense attraction the new religion exerted on the greatest of the empires of antiquity and its cosmopolitan capital grew from the fact that it answered the deepest needs and aspirations of the human soul.”
In particular, the Romans’ religious concept of history, so different from the cyclical, naturalistic ideas of the Greeks and other pagans, fitted in well with the Christian concept. For, like the Christians, the Romans saw history as having an ethical basis and as moving towards a definite end in accordance with justice. Thus Sordi writes: “Whereas Hellenic thinking had always seen the end in terms of natural phenomena based on the concept of the corruption of the human constitution and the exhaustion of the world itself, the Romans rarely saw things in these terms. For the Romans, even before the advent of Christianity, the concept of decadence was closely linked to morality and religion, so that the end tended to take on apocalyptic overtones. This concept was to emerge in full force during the great crisis of the third century, at the time of Decius and Valerian, but Augustan writers had already diagnosed it in Rome’s first great crisis, the Gallic catastrophe of 386 BC, and it was equally present in the first century before Christ. In all three cases, but particularly in the period preceding Augustus’ accession, the crisis was felt to be a consequence of a sin which had contaminated the roots of the Roman state and had caused the gods to hate it. For example, in the first century the civil wars symbolic of the scelus of Romulus’ fratricide, were thought to be the cause. Equally in all three cases but particularly in the first century BC it seems that the Romans were convinced that the sin could be expiated, the punishment postponed and Rome renewed. With Augustus, the celebration of the return of the golden age follows punctually on the heels of the crisis, as will happen again under Gallienus.
“This religious concept of history with its sequence of sin, expiation and redemption, was part of the inheritance handed on to the Romans by the Etruscans. According to ancient Etruscan beliefs, every human being and every nation had been given a fixed period of life, divided into periods (saecula for nations), and marked by moments of crisis which could be postponed by means of the expiation of the sin which had originally caused them. The only exception was the supreme crisis, the last and fatal one, for which there was no remedy…”
Thirdly, as we have seen, the Roman empire was not a “pure” despotism, but an original mixture of monarchical, aristocratic and democratic elements which could and would be used to support that still more original organisation that came into being simultaneously with it – the Church. On the one hand, its monarchical element served to provide that strong framework of law and order over a vast area, the pax Romana, which so greatly assisted the spread and establishment of the Church. As E. Kholmogorov writes: “Rome set herself an unprecedentedly bold task – to establish peace throughout the inhabited world and root out barbarism”. On the other hand, its democratic and humanistic elements served to temper the tendency to deify the ruler which was so pronounced in all the Near Eastern despotisms.
The holy Martyr Apollonius expressed the classic Christian attitude towards the emperor thus: “With all Christians I offer a pure and unbloody sacrifice to almighty God, the Lord of heaven and earth and of all that breathes, a sacrifice of prayer especially on behalf of the spiritual and rational images that have been disposed by God’s providence to rule over the earth. Wherefore obeying a just precept we pray daily to God, Who dwells in the heavens, on behalf of [the Emperor] Commodus who is our ruler in this world, for we are well aware that he rules over the earth by nothing else but the will of the invincible God Who comprehends all things.” In other words, the only legitimate sacrifice a Christian to the emperor is the sacrifice of prayer on his behalf, who rules, not as a god, but “by the will of God”.
Thus the Christians considered the emperor, in Tertullian’s words, “more truly ours (than yours) because he was put into power by our God”. Sordi comments: “Paradoxically, we could say that the Christian empire, made into reality by Constantine and his successors, was already potentially present in this claim of Tertullian’s, a claim which comes at the end of such a deeply committed declaration of loyalty to Rome and its empire that it should surely suffice to disprove the theory that a so-called ‘political theology’ was the fruit of Constantine’s peace. Tertullian says that the Christians pray for the emperors and ask for them ‘a long life, a safe empire, a quiet home, strong armies, a faithful senate, honest subjects, a world at peace’.”
There was another, very specific reason why the Christians prayed for the emperors. “Again,” continues Sordi, “they pray ‘for the general strength and stability of the empire and for Roman power’ because they know that ‘it is the Roman empire which keeps at bay the great violence which hangs over the universe and even the end of the world itself, harbinger of terrible calamities’. The subject here, as we know, was the interpretation given to the famous passage from the second Epistle to the Thessalonians (2.6-7) on the obstacle, whether a person or an object, which impedes the coming of the Anti-Christ. Without attempting to interpret this mysterious passage, the fact remains that all Christian writers, up to and including Lactantius, Ambrose and Augustine, identified this restraining presence with the Roman empire, either as an institution or as an ideology. Through their conviction that the Roman empire would last as long as the world (Tertullian Ad Scapulam 2) the early Christians actually renewed and appropriated as their own the concept of Roma aeterna. ‘While we pray to delay the end’ – it is Tertullian speaking (Apologeticum 32.1) – ‘we are helping Rome to last forever’.”
Thus St. John Chrysostom wrote about “him that restraineth” or “withholdeth”: “Some say the grace of the Holy Spirit, but others the Roman rule, to which I much rather accede. Why? Because if he meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken obscurely, but plainly, that even now the grace of the Spirit, that is the gifts of grace, withhold him… If he were about come when the gifts of grace cease, he ought now to have come, for they have long ceased. But he said this of the Roman rule,… speaking covertly and darkly, not wishing to bring upon himself superfluous enmities and senseless danger. He says, ‘Only there is the once who restraineth now, until he should be taken out of the midst’; that is, whenever the Roman empire is taken out of the way, then shall he come. For as long as there is fear of the empire, no one will willingly exalt himself. But when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavour to seize upon the sovereignty both of man and of God.”
Of course, Old Rome did fall – in 410 through Alaric the Visigoth, in 455 through Genseric the Vandal, and finally and permanently in 476 through Odoacer the Ostrogoth. Does this not mean that the prophecy was false, insofar as the Antichrist did not come, and the world still continues in existence? Does this not mean that the “scoffers” were right, of whom the Apostle Peter says that they will ask in the last days: “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (II Peter 3.3-4)?
Not so, say the Holy Fathers. First, in a spiritual sense the Antichrist did indeed come for the West in 476, insofar as most of it was conquered by barbarian rulers who were Arian in their faith, who denied the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and were therefore “antichrist” according to the apostle’s definition: “He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either” (I John 2.22-23). All heretical or apostate regimes that deny the Divinity of the Son and therefore deny the Father also, are antichrist in this sense. Secondly, Rome did not die finally in 476, but continued in the New Rome of Constantinople, and, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, in the Third Rome of Russia. Rome finally fell during the Russian revolution of 1917, since when the spirit of Antichrist, not encountering any major opposition from secular rulers, has had free rein in the world. Indeed, according to some of the Holy Fathers, in this passage St. Paul is speaking, from an eschatological perspective, precisely of the Christian Autocracy from Constantine the Great to Tsar Nicholas II.
Thus Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow writes: "The Spirit of God in him foresaw and more or less showed him the future light of Christian kingdoms. His God-inspired vision, piercing through future centuries, encounters Constantine, who brings peace to the Church and sanctifies the kingdom by faith; and Theodosius and Justinian, who defend the Church from the impudence of heresies. Of course, he also goes on to see Vladimir and Alexander Nevsky and many spreaders of the faith, defenders of the Church and guardians of Orthodoxy. After this it is not surprising that St. Paul should write: I beseech you not only to pray, but also to give thanks for the king and all those in authority; because there will be not only such kings and authorities for whom it is necessary to pray with sorrow…., but also those for whom we must thank God with joy for His precious gift."
Old Rome was the universal kingdom that summed up the old world of paganism, both despotic and democratic, and crossed it with the autocratic traditions of Israel, thereby serving as the bridge whereby it crossed over into the new world of Christianity. It was universal both in the sense that it encompassed all the major kingdoms of the Mediterranean basin (except Persia) and in the sense that it came to embrace all the major forms of political and religious life of the ancient world. But its external universalism, ecumenicity, was soon to be transformed and transfigured by its embracing of internal universalism, Catholicity, the Catholicity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church…
Ñhurch and State in Old Rome
The relations between the Christians and the Roman empire in the first three centuries are often seen, especially in the West, as the classic example of Church-State conflict. However, as Fr. George Florovsky writes, “it would be utterly misleading to interpret the tension between Christians and the Roman Empire as a conflict or clash between the Church and the State. Indeed, the Christian Church was more than ‘a church’, just as ancient Israel was at once a ‘church’ and a ‘nation’. Christians also were a nation, a ‘peculiar people’, the People of God, tertium genus, neither Jew nor Greek. The Church was not just a ‘gathered community’, or a voluntary association, for ‘religious’ purposes alone. She was, and claimed to be, much more than just ‘a state’. Since the Augustan reconstruction, in any case, Rome claimed to be just the City, a permanent and ‘eternal’ City, Urbs aeterna, and an ultimate City also. In a sense, it claimed for itself an ‘eschatological dimension’. It posed as an ultimate solution of the human problem. It was a Universal Commonwealth, ‘a single Cosmopolis of the inhabited earth,’ the Oikoumene. Rome was offering ‘Peace’, the Pax Romana, and ‘Justice’ to all men and all nations under its rule and sway. It claimed to be the final embodiment of ‘Humanity’, of all human values and achievements. ‘The Empire was, in effect, a politico-ecclesiastical institution. It was a “church” as well as a “state”; if it had not been both, it would have been alien from the ideas of the Ancient World’ (Sir Ernest Barker). In the ancient society – in the ancient polis, in Hellenistic monarchies, in the Roman republic – ‘religious’ convictions were regarded as an integral part of the political creed. ‘Religion’ was an integral part of the ‘political’ structure’. No division of competence and ‘authority’ could ever be admitted, and accordingly no division of loyalty or allegiance. The State was omnicompetent, and accordingly the allegiance had to be complete and unconditional. Loyalty to the State was itself a kind of religious devotion, in whatever particular form it might have been prescribed or imposed. In the Roman Empire it was the Cult of Caesars. The whole structure of the Empire was indivisibly ‘political’ and ‘religious’. The main purpose of the Imperial rule was usually defined as ‘Philanthropy’; and often even as ‘Salvation’. Accordingly, the Emperors were described as ‘Saviours’.
“In retrospect all these claims may seem to be but utopian delusion and wishful dreams, vain and futile, which they were indeed. Yet, these dreams were dreamt by the best people of that time – it is enough to mention Virgil. And the utopian dream of the ‘Eternal Rome’ survived the collapse of the actual Empire and dominated the political thinking of Europe for centuries. Paradoxically, this dream was often cherished even by those who, by the logic of their faith, should have been better protected against its deceiving charm and thrill. In fact, the vision of an abiding or ‘Eternal Rome’ dominated also the Christian thought in the Middle Ages, both in the East, and in the West.
“There was nothing anarchical in the attitude of Early Christians toward the Roman Empire. The ‘divine’ origin of the State and of its authority was formally acknowledged already by St. Paul, and he himself had no difficulty in appealing to the protection of Roman magistrates and of Roman law. The positive value and function of the State were commonly admitted in Christian circles. Even the violent invective in the book of Revelation was no exception. What was denounced there was the iniquity and injustice of the actual Rome, but not the principle of political order. Christians could, in full sincerity and in good faith, protest their political innocence in the Roman courts and plead their loyalty to the Empire. In fact, Early Christians were devoutedly praying for the State, for peace and order, and even for Caesars themselves. One finds a high appraisal of the Roman Empire even in those Christian writers of that time, who were notorious for their resistance, as Origen and Tertullian. The theological ‘justification’ of the Empire originated already in the period of persecutions. Yet, Christian loyalty was, of necessity, a restricted loyalty. Of course, Christianity was in no sense a seditious plot, and Christians never intended to overthrow the existing order, although they did not believe that it had ultimately to wither away. From the Roman point of view, however, Christians could not fail to appear seditious, not because hey were in any sense mixed in politics, but precisely because they were not. Their political ‘indifference’ was irritating to the Romans. They kept themselves away from the concerns of the Commonwealth, at a critical time of its struggle for existence. Not only did they claim ‘religious freedom’ for themselves. They also claimed supreme authority for the Church. Although the Kingdom of God was emphatically ‘not of this world’, it seemed to be a threat to the omnicompetent Kingdom of Man. The Church was, in a sense, a kind of ‘Resistance Movement’ in the Empire. And Christians were ‘conscientious objectors’. They were bound to resist any attempt at their ‘integration’ into the fabric of the Empire. As Christopher Dawson has aptly said, ‘Christianity was the only remaining power in the world which could not be absorbed in the gigantic mechanism of the new servile state.’ Christians were not a political faction. Yet, their religious allegiance had an immediate ‘political’ connotation. It has been well observed that monotheism itself was a ‘political problem’ in the ancient world (Eric Peterson). Christians were bound to claim ‘autonomy’ for themselves and for the Church. And this was precisely what the Empire could neither concede, nor even understand. Thus, the clash was inevitable, although it could be delayed…”
PART II. THE TRIUMPH OF THE IDEAL (0-1000)
3. NEW ROME: THE EAST
The kingdom with which he [Constantine] is invested
is an image of the heavenly one.
He looks up to see the archetypal pattern
and guides those whom He rules below
in accordance with that pattern.
Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea.
When by Divine decree I was elected to the empire, then amidst the many needs of the State I was occupied by none more than the need for the Orthodox and true faith of the Christians, which is holy and pure, to remain without doubts in the souls of all...
Holy Emperor Marcian.
St. Constantine the Great
“The world,” had said Tertullian a century before, “may need its Caesars. But the Emperor can never be a Christian, nor a Christian ever be an Emperor.” He was wrong; and the fact of his wrongness – the fact, namely, that even the most powerful, secular and pagan element in Old Roman society, the very apex of its antichristian system, could be and was become converted by the grace of Christ – changed that society forever, renewing it in the image of the living God Whom the emperors now recognised.
The cause of the final clash was a declaration by the haruspices, the Roman-Etruscan priestly diviners, that it was the presence of the Christians that prevented the gods from giving their responses through the entrails of sacrificial victims. Angered by this, Diocletian ordered that all soldiers and all palatines should sacrifice to the gods. The real persecution began on February 23, 303, the pagan feast of the Terminalia. Churches were destroyed, the Holy Scriptures burned, and Christians who refused to sacrifice were tortured and killed.
This persecution claimed many of the greatest names in Christian sanctity among its victims: St. George, St. Barbara, St. Catherine… Typical among the responses of the Christians was the following by St. Euphemia and those with her on being commanded to worship the god Ares: “If your decree and the Emperor’s is not contrary to the commandments of the God of heaven, we will obey it. If it stands in opposition to God, then not only will we disobey it, but we will seek to overturn it. If you were to command us to do that which we are obliged to do, we would render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s. However, inasmuch as your ordinance is opposed to God’s commandments, and you, in a manner hateful to God, require us to honor that which is created rather than the Creator, worshipping and sacrificing to a demon rather than to the most high God, we shall never obey your decree; for we are true worshippers of the one God, Who dwells in the heavens.”
In the West, after the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian on May 1, 305, the persecution was brought to an end by Constantius Chlorus in Gaul and Britain, and then, after his death on July 25, 306, by his son Constantine in the whole of the West. But in the East the persecution continued under Galerius until his death in 311, and in the territories of Maximinus until 313. The turning point, which marked the beginning of the end both for paganism and for the image of Rome as the persecuting beast, must be considered the Edict of religious toleration proclaimed by the Emperors Constantine and Licinius in Milan in 313. Later, in 324, Constantine defeated Licinius and imposed his rule on the East, delivering Roman Christians throughout the Empire from the persecutions of pagan emperors. Rome was now, not the persecutor, but the protector, of the Christian people.
However, when St. Constantine was acclaimed emperor by the Roman army in York in 306, it seemed to many that the world was about to die rather than being on the point of rebirth. The reason was that Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians, the worst in history, threatened to destroy the Roman empire in its role as “that which restraineth” the advent of the Antichrist and thereby, as we have seen, usher in the end of the world. As Constantine’s tutor, Lactantius, wrote: “It is apparent that the world is destined to end immediately. The only evidence to diminish our fear is the fact that the city of Rome continues to flourish. But once this city, which is the veritable capital of the world, falls and there is nothing in its place but ruins, as the sibyls predict, who can doubt that the end will have arrived both for humanity and for the entire world?” Thus Constantine, by bringing the persecution to an end, both saved the Christians from extinction and gave Rome and the world a new lease of life.
It was to be a true Renovatio Imperii, renovation of the Empire. As Fr. George Florovsky writes, “the Age of Constantine is commonly regarded as a turning point of Christian history. After a protracted struggle with the Church, the Roman Empire at last capitulated. The Caesar himself was converted, and humbly applied for admission into the Church. Religious freedom was formally promulgated, and was emphatically extended to Christians. The confiscated property was returned to Christian communities. Those Christians who suffered disability and deportation in the years of persecution were now ordered back, and were received with honors. In fact, Constantine was offering to the Church not only peace and freedom, but also protection and close cooperation. Indeed, he was urging the Church and her leaders to join with him in the ‘Renovation’ of the Empire… Constantine was firmly convinced that, by Divine Providence, he was entrusted with a high and holy mission, that he was chosen to re-establish the Empire, and to re-establish it on a Christian foundation. This conviction, more than any particular theory, was the decisive factor in his policy, and in his actual mode of ruling.”
And yet the Triumph of the Cross under St. Constantine proved, paradoxically, that God does not need Christian kings in order to save the world. They help – they help greatly. But for almost three centuries from the Resurrection of Christ to the Edict of Milan the Church survived and grew in the teeth of everything that Jewish and pagan fury could hurl against her, and without the help of any earthly forces.
As Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow wrote: “there is benefit in the union of the altar and the throne, but it is not mutual benefit that is the first foundation of their union, but the independent truth, which supports both the one and the other. May the king, the protector of the altar, be blessed; but the altar does not fear the fall of this protection. The priest is right who preaches that the king should be honoured, but not by right of mutuality, but by pure obligation, even if this took place without the hope of mutuality… Constantine the Great came to the altar of Christ when it already stood on the expanses of Asia, Europe and Africa: he came, not in order to support it with his strength, but in order to submit himself with his majesty before its Holiness. He Who dwells in the heavens laughed at those who later thought of lowering His Divine religion to dependence on human assistance. In order to make their sophistry laughable, He waited for three centuries before calling the wise king to the altar of Christ, and meanwhile from day to day king, peoples, wise men, power, art, cupidity, cunning and rage rose up to destroy this altar. And what happened in the end? All this has disappeared, while the Church of Christ stands – but not because it is supported by human power…”
Having said that, the conversion of the Emperor to the Church was an event of the greatest historical significance that brought immeasurable benefits to the Church and to humanity in general. Constantine was converted in 312. Just before the fateful battle of the Milvian Bridge, outside Rome, against the pagan Emperor Maxentius, both he and his army saw a cross of light in the sky with the words: “In this sign conquer” above it.
Eusebius records the story as Constantine himself related it to him: “He said that at about midday, when the sun was beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription Conquer by This (Hoc Vince). At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also.”
The next night Christ appeared to him and told him to make standards for the army in this form, “and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies”. So the next day Constantine had the pagan standards removed and the Christian one, the so-called Labarum, put in their place, and declared himself publicly to be a Christian. The result was an easy victory over the much larger army of Maxentius. The next day, October 29, Constantine entered Rome and was hailed as Emperor of the West.
Although Constantine was not baptised until he was on his deathbed, and never received a Christian coronation, the Church has always believed that he received the invisible anointing of the Holy Spirit: “Thou wast the image of a new David, receiving the horn of royal anointing over thy head; for with the oil of the Spirit hath the transcendent Word and Lord anointed thee, O glorious one. Wherefore, thou hast also received a royal sceptre, O all-wise one, asking great mercy for us.”
The first consequence of the battle of Milvian bridge was the Edict of Milan (313), whereby the Emperors Constantine and Licinius restored freedom of religion. Fr. Alexis Nikolin write: “The Edict of Milan decisively rejected many traditions of antiquity. St. Constantine clearly proclaimed that Christianity is not the property of any particular people, but is a universal religion, the religion of the whole of humanity. If formerly it was thought that a given religion belongs to a given people and for that reason it is sacred and untouchable, now the lawgiver affirmed a new principle: that the sacred and untouchable religion was that religion which belonged to all peoples – Christianity. It was obviously not an attempt to bring Christianity under the usual (pagan) juridical forms, but a principled changed in those forms.”
In fact, Constantine did much more than simply tolerate the Church; he defended and helped it in every way. Long before his defeat of the last tyrant, Licinius, in 324, he had started to legislate in favour of Christianity with the following decrees: “on the abolition of pagan games (314), on the liberation of the Christian clergy from civil obligations and church lands from additional taxes (313-315), on the abolition of crucifixion as a means of capital punishment (315), on the abolition of the branding of criminals (315), against the Jews who rose up against the Church (315), on the liberation of slaves at church gatherings without special formalities (316), on forbidding private persons from offering sacrifices to idols and divining at home (319), on the annulment of laws against celibacy (320), on the celebration of Sunday throughout the Empire (321), on the right of bishops to be appeal judges (321), on banning the forcible compulsion of Christians to take part in pagan festivals (322), on the banning of gladiatorial games (325), on allowing Christians to take up senior government posts (325), on the building of Christian churches and the banning in them of statues and images of the emperor (325).”
Among these decrees the one on absolving the clergy from holding civic office is particularly interesting because it shows the underlying motivation of Constantine’s legislation: “[The clergy] shall not be drawn away by any deviation and sacrifice from the worship that is due to the Divinity, but shall devote themselves without interference to their own law… for it seems that rendering the greatest possible service to the Deity, they most benefit the state.” Some would see in this a cynical attempt to exploit the Deity in the interests of the emperor. But a more reasonable interpretation is that Constantine was already feeling his way to a doctrine of the symphony of powers, in which the emperor helps the Church as the defender of the faith and “the bishop of those outside the Church”, while the Church helps the emperor through her prayers – all to the ultimate glory of God and the salvation of men.
Barnes writes: “Constantine allowed pagans to retain their beliefs, even to build new sacred edifices. But he allowed them to worship their traditional gods only in the Christian sense of that word, not according to the traditional forms hallowed by antiquity. The emperor made the distinction underlying his policy explicit when he answered a petition from the Umbrian town of Hispellum requesting permission to build a temple of the Gens Flavia. Constantine granted the request but specified that the shrine dedicated to the imperial family must never be ‘polluted by the deceits of any contagious superstition’. From 324 onwards Constantine constantly evinced official disapproval of the sacrifices and other cultic acts which constituted the essence of Greco-Roman paganism: Christianity was now the established religion of the Roman Empire and its ruler, and paganism should now conform to Christian patterns of religious observance.”
How central Christianity was to Constantine’s conception of empire is illustrated by his words on hearing of the Donatist heresy: “Until now I cannot be completely calm until all my subjects are united in brotherly unity and offer to the All-holy God the true worship that is prescribed by the Catholic Church». Again, when the Donatists appealed to him against the judgement of the bishops, he said: “What mad presumption! They turn heavenly things into earthly, appealing to me as if the matter was of a civic nature.” Thus Constantine separated Church matters from civic matters and did not subject the former to State law, but on the contrary tried to conform his legislation to Christian principles. He gave to the Church the full honour due to her as an institution founded by the One True God, no less than the Body of the God-Man Himself, and therefore higher by nature than any human institution, not excluding the Roman Empire itself. Christianity did not simply take the place of the old Roman religion in the State apparatus; for Constantine understood that the Christian faith was not to be honoured for the sake of the empire, or in submission to the empire, but that the empire existed for the sake of the faith and was to be submitted to it.
This was most clearly illustrated at the First Ecumenical Council in 325, when the emperor took part in the proceedings only at the request of the bishops, and did not sit on a royal throne, but on a little stool. Then, when he addressed the Council Fathers he demonstrated that for him the internal peace and prosperity of the Church was even more important that the external peace and prosperity of the Empire: “Now that we, with the help of God the Saviour, have destroyed the tyranny of the atheists who entered into open war with us, may the evil spirit not dare to attack our holy Faith with his cunning devices. I say to you from the depths of my heart: the internal differences in the Church of God that I see before my eyes have plunged me into profound sorrow... Servants of the God of peace, regenerate amidst us that spirit of love which it is your duty to instil in others, destroy the seeds of all quarrels.” Again, to the Fathers who were not present at the Council of Nicaea he wrote concerning its decrees: “That which has been established in accordance with the God-inspired decision of so many and such holy Bishops we shall accept with joy as the command of God; for everything that is established at the Holy Councils of Bishops must be ascribed to the Divine will.”
Constantine saw himself as the instrument of God’s will for the uprooting of impiety and the planting of piety: “With such impiety pervading the human race, and the State threatened with destruction, what relief did God devise?… I myself was the instrument He chose… Thus, beginning at the remote Ocean of Britain, where the sun sinks beneath the horizon in obedience to the law of nature, with God’s help I banished and eliminated every form of evil then prevailing, in the hope that the human race, enlightened through me, might be recalled to a proper observance of God’s holy laws.”
Whatever Constantine did for the Church – for example, the convening of Church Councils and the punishment of heretics – he did, not as arbitrary expressions of his imperial will, but in obedience to the commission of the Church.
Thus the Fathers of the First Council welcomed the Emperor as follows: ": "Blessed is God, Who has chosen you as king of the earth, having by your hand destroyed the worship of idols and through you bestowed peace upon the hearts of the faithful... On this teaching of the Trinity, your Majesty, is established the greatness of your piety. Preserve it for us whole and unshaken, so that none of the heretics, having penetrated into the Church, might subject our faith to mockery... Your Majesty, command that Arius should depart from his error and rise no longer against the apostolic teaching. Or if he remains obstinate in his impiety, drive him out of the Orthodox Church." As A. Tuskarev observes, "this is a clear recognition of the divine election of Constantine as the external defender of the Church, who is obliged to work with her in preserving the right faith, and in correspondence with the conciliar sentence is empowered to drive heretics out of the Church."
The most famous definition of the relationship between Constantine and the Church is to be found in two passages from Eusebius’ Life of Constantine which speak of him as “like a common bishop” and “like a bishop of those outside”.
The first passage is as follows: “[Constantine] was common for all, but he paid a completely special attention to the Church of God. While certain divergences manifested themselves in different regions, he, like a common bishop established by God, reunited the ministers of God in synods. He did not disdain to be present at their activities and to sit with them, participating in their episcopal deliberations, and arbitrating for everyone the peace of God… Then, he did not fail to give his support to those whom he saw were bending to the better opinion and leaning towards equilibrium and consensus, showing how much joy the common accord of all gave him, while he turned away from the indocile…”
In the second passage the emperor receives the bishops and says that he, too, is a bishop: “But you, you are the bishops of those who are inside the Church, while I would be established by God as the bishop of those outside.” Eusebius immediately explains that Constantine’s “bishopric” here consisted, not in liturgical priestly acts, but in “watching over [epeskopei] all the subjects of the empire” and leading them towards piety. So the emperor is not really a bishop, but only like a bishop, being similar to the pastors in both his missionary and in his supervisory roles.
Constantine excelled in both roles. Thus, on the one hand, he responded vigorously to St. Nina’s request that he send bishops and priest to help her missionary work in Georgia, and on hearing that the Christians were being persecuted in Persia he threatened to go to war with that state. And on the other hand, he convened numerous councils of bishops to settle doctrinal disputes throughout the empire, acting as the focus of unity for the Church on earth.
The emperor’s role as a focus of unity within the Church should by no means be understood to mean that he was thought as having power over the Church. Thus when St. Athanasius the Great was condemned by a council at Tyre that considered itself "ecumenical", and appealed to the Emperor Constantine against the decision, he was not asking the secular power to overthrow the decision of the ecclesiastical power, as had been the thought of the Donatists earlier in the reign, but was rather calling on a son of the Church to defend the decision of the Holy Fathers of the Church at Nicaea against overthrow by heretics from outside the Church. Of course, being mortal, Constantine was not always consistent in the execution of his principles (as when he refused Athanasius’ appeal). But the principles themselves were sound, and he was always sincere in trying to uphold them.
The emperor’s role as focus of unity was especially necessary when the Church was afflicted by problems that affected the whole Church, and needed a Council representing the whole Church to solve them. Such, for example, were the problems of Arianism and the Church calendar, both of which were resolved at the First Ecumenical Council, convened by the Emperor Constantine.
Since the Church herself, contrary to the assertions of later papist propagandists, lacked a “bishop of bishops” having ecumenical jurisdiction, only the emperor could carry out this co-ordinating function. He alone had the ecumenical authority necessary to compel the bishops from all parts of the empire to meet together in Synods, and remain there until decisions were agreed upon. And he alone could then see that these decisions, such as the exile of Arius, did not remain a dead letter, but were put into practice.
St. Constantine died at midday on Pentecost, 337, and was buried in the church of the Holy Apostles in the midst of the sepulchres of the twelve apostles. For in his person the Church had indeed found an “equal to the apostles”. And the process of converting the world that began at Pentecost reached its first climax in his reign…
The transformation of the pagan despotism of Old Rome into the Christian Autocracy of New Rome on the model of the Israelite Autocracy was a gradual, piecemeal process, with many reverses along the way. Just as Constantine himself did not immediately become a baptised Christian after his vision of the Cross at the Milvian Bridge, but was baptised only on his deathbed, so the pagan governmental structure did not become Christian overnight. Official paganism still retained some of its rights until Theodosius’ decrees late in the fourth century; it was not until the reign of Gratian near the end of the century that the Emperors abandoned the pagan religious title of pontifex maximus, and the Senate was forbidden to offer incense on the altar of the goddess Victory.
Some of the successors of Constantine, especially in the East, tried to revive the pagan Roman idea of the Emperor as supreme ruler in both religious and secular affairs, and to treat the Church as no more than a department of State. This pagan reaction began already in the reign of Constantine’s son Constantius. He had been Orthodox, but converted to the Arian heresy, believing that Christ was not the pre-eternal God but a created being.
In accordance with this change, St. Athanasius, who had previously addressed him as “very pious”, a “worshipper of God”, “beloved of God” and a successor of David and Solomon, now denounced him as “patron of impiety and Emperor of heresy,… godless, unholy,.. this modern Ahab, this second Belshazzar”, like Pharaoh, worse than Pilate and a forerunner of the Antichrist. For, as he wrote to Constantius: “Judgement is made by bishops. What business is it of the Emperor’s?”
Another great bishop who spoke out in similar terms against Constantius was the normally tolerant and urbane St. Hilary of Poitiers. “It is time to speak,” he begins; “the time for holding my peace has passed by. Let Christ be expected, for Antichrist has prevailed. Let the shepherds cry, for the hirelings have fled… You are fighting against God, you are raging against the Church, you are persecuting the saints, you hate the preachers of Christ, you are annulling religion; you are a tyrant no longer only in the human, but in the divine sphere… You lyingly declare yourself a Christian, but are a new enemy of Christ. You art a precursor of Antichrist, and you work the mysteries of his secrets.”
Constantius’ heretical cast of mind made it easier for him to assume the place of Christ as head of the Church. Thus at the Council of Milan in 355, which condemned St. Athanasius, the emperor said: “My will is law”. To which St. Osius of Cordoba, replied: “Stop, I beseech you. Remember that you are a mortal man, fear the Day of Judgement, preserve yourself pure for that. Do not interfere in matters that are essentially ecclesiastical and do not give us orders about them, but rather accept teaching from us. God has entrusted you with the Empire, and to us He has entrusted the affairs of the Church. And just as one who seizes for himself your power contradicts the institution of God, so fear lest you, in taking into your own hands the affairs of the Church, do not become guilty of a serious offence. As it is written, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. We are not permitted to exercise an earthly role; and you, Sire, are not authorised to burn incense.”
At about this time, the Persian King Sapor started to kill the clergy, confiscate church property and raze the churches to the ground. He told St. Simeon, Bishop of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, that if he worshipped the sun, he would receive every possible honour and gift. But if he refused, Christianity in Persia would be utterly destroyed. In reply, St. Simeon not only refused to worship the sun but also refused to recognise the king by bowing to him. This omission of his previous respect for the king’s authority was noticed and questioned by the King. St. Simeon replied: "Before I bowed down to you, giving you honour as a king, but now I come being brought to deny my God and Faith. It is not good for me to bow before an enemy of my God!" The King then threatened to destroy the Church in his kingdom… He brought in about one hundred priests and about one thousand other Christians and killed them before the saint’s eyes. The saint encouraged them not to be frightened and to be in hope of eternal life. After everyone had been killed, St. Simeon himself was martyred.
This story is important because it shows that the Fathers and Martyrs of the Church recognised the authority of kings and emperors only so long as they did not persecute the Church of God. At the same time, non-recognition did not necessarily mean rebellion. Thus although the Fathers could not look upon a heretical emperor such as Constantius as an image of the Heavenly King, they did not counsel rebellion against him, but only resistance against those of his laws that encroached on Christian piety.
However, when Julian the Apostate (361-363) came to the throne, passive resistance turned into active, if not actually physical, attempts to have him removed. Thus St. Basil the Great prayed for the defeat of Julian in his wars against the Persians; and it was through his prayers that the apostate was in fact killed, as was revealed by God to the holy hermit Julian of Mesopotamia. At this, St. Basil’s friend, St. Gregory the Theologian wrote: “I call to spiritual rejoicing all those who constantly remained in fasting, in mourning and prayer, and by day and by night besought deliverance from the sorrows that surrounded us and found a reliable healing from the evils in unshakeable hope… What hoards of weapons, what myriads of men could have produced what our prayers and the will of God produced?” Gregory called Julian not only an “apostate”, but also “universal enemy” and “general murderer”, a traitor to Romanity as well as to Christianity.
This raises the question: what was different about Julian the Apostate that made him so much worse than previous persecutors and unworthy even of that honour and obedience that had been given to them? Two possible answers suggest themselves. The first is that Julian was the first – and last – of the Byzantine emperors who openly trampled on the memory and legitimacy of St. Constantine, declaring that he “insolently usurped the throne”. In this way he questioned the legitimacy of the Christian Empire as such – a revolutionary position that we do not come across again in Byzantine history (if we except the short interlude of the political zealots in Thessalonica in the 1340s). If, as Magdalino suggests, “each emperor’s accession was a conscious act of renewal of the imperial order instituted by Constantine the Great,” and “the idea of each new ruler as a new Constantine was implicit in the dynastic succession established by the founder of Constantinople”, then Julian’s rejection of Constantine was clearly a rejection of the imperial order as such. In this sense he was an anti-emperor as well as an anti-christ.
That this is how the Byzantines looked at it is suggested by what happened at the death of Julian and the accession of the Christian Emperor Jovian in 363: “Themistus assured the people of the city that what they were getting, after Constantine’s son Constantius and Constantine’s nephew Julian, was nothing less than a reincarnation of Constantine himself.” Jovian’s being a “new Constantine” was a guarantee that he represented a return to the old order and true, Christian Romanity. From this time new Byzantine emperors were often hailed as new Constantines, as were the Christian kings of the junior members of the Christian commonwealth of nations.
A second reason for ascribing to Julian an exceptional place amongst the forerunners of the Antichrist was his reversal of the Emperor Hadrian’s decree of the year 135 forbidding the Jews from returning to Jerusalem and, still worse, his helping the Jews to rebuild the Temple, in defiance of the Lord’s prophecy that “there shall be left not one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down” (Mark 13.2). By a miracle from God the rebuilding of the Temple was forcibly stopped. St. Gregory the Theologian relates how the Jews enthusiastically set about the rebuilding. “Suddenly,” however, ”they were driven from their work by a violent earthquake and whirlwind, and they rushed together for refuge to a neighbouring church… There are some who say that the church doors were closed against them by an invisible hand although these doors had been wide open a moment before… It is, moreover, affirmed and believed by all that as they strove to force their way in by violence, the fire, which burst from the foundation of the Temple, met and stopped them; some it burnt and destroyed, others it injured seriously… But the most wonderful thing was that a light, as of a cross within a circle, appeared in the heavens… and the mark of the cross was impressed on their garments… a mark which in art and elegance surpassed all painting and embroidery.” 
But if Julian had succeeded, then, wondered the Christians, what would have prevented him from sitting in the Temple as God – in other words, taking the place of the Antichrist himself? It is from this time, as Dagron points out, “that the face of each emperor or empress is scrutinised to try and recognise in it the characteristic traits of the Antichrist or of the sovereigns, good or bad, who precede his coming…”
Strengthened by their victories over apostate emperors, the Holy Fathers were emboldened to claim a dominant role even in relation to Orthodox emperors. Thus St. Basil the Great wrote: «The Emperors must defend the decrees of God». And St. Gregory the Theologian wrote: “The law of Christ submits you to our power and our judgement. For we also rule, and our power is higher than yours. In fact, must the spirit bow before matter, the heavenly before the earthly?” And St. John Chrysostom wrote: “The priesthood is as far above the kingdom as the spirit is above the body. The king rules the body, but the priest – the king, which is why the king bows his head before the finger of the priest.” And again: “The Church is not the sphere of Caesar, but of God. The decrees of the State authorities in matters of religion cannot have ecclesiastical significance. Only the will of God can be the source of Church law. He who bears the diadem is no better than the last citizen when he must be reproached and punished. Ecclesiastical authority must stand firmly for its rights if the State authorities interfere in its sphere. It must know that the boundaries of royal power do not coincide with those of the priesthood, and the latter is greater than the former.”
This viewpoint was summarised in the Apostolic Constitutions as follows: “The king occupies himself only with military matters, worrying about war and peace, so as to preserve the body, while the bishop covers the priesthood of God, protecting both body and soul from danger. Thus the priesthood surpasses the kingdom as much as the soul surpasses the body, for it binds and looses those worthy of punishment and forgiveness.”
This new assertiveness in the relations of the Church with the Empire were most clearly illustrated in the relationship between the Emperor Theodosius the Great and St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. Theodosius was probably more disposed to accede to the desires of the Church than any Emperor since Constantine. While only a general, he had a vision of St. Meletius, Bishop of Antioch, investing him with the imperial robe and covering his head with an imperial crown. So, on seeing him at the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, the emperor ran up to him, “and, like a boy who loves his father, stood for a long time gazing on him with filial joy, then flung his arms around him, and covered eyes and lips and breast and head and the hand that had given him the crown, with kisses” – a striking image of the new, filial relationship between Church and Empire. Never before, and probably never again until the Muscovite tsars of the seventeenth century was this relationship to be so clearly promulgated.
But if Theodosius thought that the Church would now in all circumstances support him, as he supported the Church, he was to receive a salutary shock at the hands of the great bishop, St. Ambrose of Milan. “Ambrose,” writes John Julius Norwich, “was the most influential churchman in Christendom – more so by far than the Pope in Rome, by reason not only of the greater importance of Milan as a political capital but also of his own background. Member of one of the most ancient Christian families of the Roman aristocracy, son of a Praetorian Prefect of Gaul and himself formerly a consularis, or governor, of Liguria and Aemilia, he had never intended to enter the priesthood; but on the death in 374 of the previous bishop, the Arian Auxentius, an acrimonious dispute had arisen between the Orthodox and Arian factions in the city over which he, as governor, was obliged to arbitrate. Only when it finally emerged that he alone possessed sufficient prestige to make him equally acceptable to both parties did he reluctantly allow his name to go forward. In a single week he was successively a layman, catechumen, priest and bishop.”
Now in 388 some Christians burned down the local synagogue in Callinicum (Raqqa), on the Euphrates. Theodosius ordered it to be rebuilt at the Christians’ expense. However, St. Ambrose wrote to him: «When a report was made by the military Count of the East that a synagogue had been burnt down, and that this was done at the instigation of the bishop, You gave command that the others should be punished, and the synagogue be rebuilt by the bishop himself… The bishop’s account ought to have been waited for, for priests are the calmers of disturbances, and anxious for peace, except when even they are moved by some offence against God, or insult to the Church. Let us suppose that the bishop burned down the synagogue… It will evidently be necessary for him to take back his act or become a martyr. Both the one and the other are foreign to Your rule: if he turns out to be a hero, then fear lest he end his life in martyrdom; but if he turns out to be unworthy, then fear lest you become the cause of his fall, for the seducer bears the greater responsibility. And what if others are cowardly and agree to construct the synagogue? Then… you can write on the front of the building: ‘This temple of impiety was built on contributions taken from Christians’. You are motivated by considerations of public order. But what is the order from on high? Religion was always bound to have the main significance in the State, which is why the severity of the laws must be modified here. Remember Julian, who wanted to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem: the builders were then burned by the fire of God. Do you not take fright at what happened then?… And how many temples did the Jews not burn down under Julian at Gaza, Askalon, Beirut and other places? You did not take revenge for the churches, but now You take revenge for the synagogue!” “What is more important,” he asked, “the parade of discipline or the cause of religion? The maintenance of civil law is secondary to religious interest.”  And he refused to celebrate the Divine Liturgy until the imperial decree had been revoked. Theodosius backed down…
St. Ambrose’s views on Church-State relations were squarely in the tradition of the Eastern Fathers quoted above: “The Emperor is not above the Church, but in the Church,” he wrote. “If one reads the Scriptures, one sees that it is bishops who judge Emperors.” Like other men catapulted from exalted positions in the State to still more exalted positions in the Church (we think of several popes and St. Photius the Great), St. Ambrose showed a courage in the face of State authority that was awe-inspiring. Perhaps this was based, in part, on his knowledge, based on his experience as a governor, of how weak emperors really are. As he wrote: “How miserable even in this world is the condition of kings, how mutable the imperial state, how short the span of this life, what slavery sovereigns themselves endure, seeing that they live not according to their own will but by the will of others”.
These patricians-turned-hierarchs strikingly combined the traditional ideals of the political and ecclesiastical rulers as described by St. John Chrysostom: «Fear induced by the leaders does not allow us to relax from lack of care, while the consolations of the Church do not allow us to fall into despondency: through both the one and the other God constructs our salvation. He both established the leaders (Rom. 13.4) so as to frighten the bold, and has ordained the priests so as to comfort the sorrowing».
Ambrose displayed these qualities again in 390, when a riot took place in Thessalonica that led to the murder of several magistrates. In his anger on hearing the news, the Emperor Theodosius ordered the execution of the perpetrators. But there was no trial, and many innocent as well as guilty were killed, perhaps as many as seven thousand.
“News of this lamentable calamity,” writes Theodoret, “reached Ambrose. The emperor on his arrival at Milan wished according to custom to enter the church. Ambrose met him outside the outer porch and forbade him to step over the sacred threshold. ‘You seem, sir, not to know,’ said he, ‘the magnitude of the bloody deed that has been done. Your rage has subsided, but your reason has not yet recognised the character of the deed. Peradventure your Imperial power prevents your recognising the sin, and power stands in the light of reason. We must however know how our nature passes away and is subject to death; we must know the ancestral dust from which we sprang, and to which we are swiftly returning. We must not because we are dazzled by the sheen of the purple fail to see the weakness of the body that it robes. You are a sovereign, sir; of men of like nature with your own, and who are in truth your fellow slaves; for there is one Lord and Sovereign of mankind, Creator of the universe. With what eyes then will you look on the temple of our common Lord – with what feet will you tread that holy threshold, how will you stretch forth your hands still dripping with the blood of unjust slaughter? How in such hands will you receive the all-holy Body of the Lord? How will you who in rage unrighteously poured forth so much blood lift to your lips the precious Blood? Begone. Attempt not to add another crime to that which you have committed. Submit to the restriction to which God the Lord of all agrees that you be sentenced. He will be your physician, He will give you health.’
“Educated as he had been in the sacred oracles, Theodosius knew clearly what belonged to priests and what to emperors. He therefore bowed to the rebuke of Ambrose, and retired sighing and weeping to the palace. After a considerable time, when eight months had passed away, the festival of our Saviour’s birth came round and the emperor sat in his palace shedding a storm of tears.” 
At this point Rufinus, controller of the household, proposed that he ask Ambrose to revoke his decision. The emperor did not think Rufinus would succeed; “for I know the justice of the sentence passed by Ambrose, nor will he ever be moved by respect for my imperial power to transgress the law of God.” Nevertheless, he eventually agreed that Rufinus should make the attempt.
Ambrose was scathing to Rufinus: “Your impudence matches a dog’s,” he said, “for you were the adviser of this terrible slaughter.” And he said he would rather die than allow the emperor to enter the church: “If he is for changing his sovereign power into that of a tyrant, I too will gladly submit to a violent death.”
Here we find a very important difference between the concepts of true sovereignty, basileia, and the unlawful power of the usurper, tyrannis. Such a distinction was not new. Aristotle had written: “There is a third kind of tyranny; which is the most typical form and is the counterpart to the perfect monarchy. This tyranny is just that arbitrary power of an individual which is responsible to no-one and governs all alike, whether equals or betters, with a view to its own advantage, not to that of its subjects and therefore against their will.”
The Holy Fathers developed this idea in a Christian context. Thus St. Basil the Great said: “If the heart of the king is in the hands of God (Proverbs 21.1), then he is saved, not by force of arms, but by the guidance of God. But not every one is in the hands of God, but only he who is worthy of the name of king. Some have defined kingly power as lawful dominion or sovereignty over all, without being subject to sin.” A strict definition indeed! And again: “The difference between a tyrant and a King is that the tyrant strives in every way to carry out his own will. But the King does good to those whom he rules.”
St. Ambrose followed in this tradition and gave the idea a further twist: a tyrant is a ruler who attempts disobey or dominate the Church. Other Fathers agreed that the possession of power by no means guaranteed its legitimacy. Thus St. Isidore of Pelusium wrote, early in the fifth century: “If some evildoer unlawfully seizes power, we do not say that he is established by God [the definition of a true king], but we say that he is allowed, either to spit out all his craftiness, or in order to chasten those for whom cruelty is necessary, as the king of Babylon chastened the Jews."
As we shall see, the icondule Fathers of the eighth and ninth centuries also resorted to the use of the phrase “tyrant, not king” to describe the iconoclast emperors. The distinction between true kings and tyrants was to have a long development, especially in the West. Unfortunately, in the mouths of less holy hierarchs than Ambrose it would provide an excuse for the heretical, papocaesarist theory of political power…
Models of Kingship
The Christian Roman Empire was a new and astounding phenomenon, which immediately raised the question: what kind of kingdom was it? Before attempting to answer this question, let us remind ourselves of some of the different concepts of kingship in ancient times.
“In every people,” writes the French linguist Émile Benveniste, we can observe that special functions are attributed to the ‘king’. Between royal power in the Vedas [of India] and Greek royal power there is a difference which comes out when we compare the following two definitions: In the Laws of Manu the king is characterised in one phrase: ‘the king is a great god in human form’. Such a definition is confirmed by other utterances: ‘there are eight holy objects, objects of veneration, worship and good treatment: Brahman, the holy cow, fire, gold, melted butter, the sun, the waters and the king (as the eighth)’. This is opposed by the definition of Aristotle: ‘the king is in the same relationship with his subjects as the head of a family with his children’. That is, in essence, this despotis in the etymological sense of the word was a master of the house – a complete master, without a doubt, but by no means a divinity….
“For the Indo-Iranians the king is a divinity, and he has no need to attach legality to his power by using a symbol such as a sceptre. But the Homeric king was just a man who received royal dignity from Zeus together with the attributes that emphasised this dignity. For the Germans the king’s power was purely human.”
So Rome, according to Benveniste, tended towards the oriental, despotic, god-man model of kingship. However, as we have seen, there was always a tension, in the early pagan Roman empire, between the earlier, more democratic traditions of Republican Rome and the later, more despotic traditions adopted by Augustus from the East (especially Cleopatra’s Egypt). Only by the time of Diocletian, in the early fourth century, had the oriental, despotic tradition achieved clear dominance.
But the Christian Roman emperors beginning with St. Constantine had more than Greco-Roman traditions to draw on: there were also the traditions of Old Testament Israel. That is, they had as models for imitation not only the pagan Greek and Roman emperors, such as Alexander and Augustus, but also the Old Testament kings, such as David and Solomon. In the end, a creative synthesis was achieved, which enabled the Christian Roman emperors to look back to both David and Augustus as models and forerunners. And into this sythesis went a third element: St. Paul’s teaching that the Roman emperor was “the servant of God” (Romans 13.4), the King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ – Who chose to become a man as the Son of David and a taxpayer as the subject of Augustus.
However, the tension between the pagan (Roman) and Christian (neo-Roman or Byzantine) elements of this synthesis continued to trouble the empire for centuries. G.A. Ostrogorsky writes: «The Byzantine State structure was not created by Christian Byzantium itself. It was created, first and above all, by the Roman Emperor and pagan Diocletian, and secondly, by Constantine the Great, who stood on the boundary between the old and the new Rome, between paganism and Christianity. This circumstance determined the destiny of Byzantium. According to their State consciousness, the Byzantines always remained Romans; they proudly called themselves Romans right up to the 15th century, on the eve of the fall of the Empire. Moreover, they knew no other name for themselves. But in spirit – and the more so as time passed – they were Greeks. But at the same time and first of all they were Christians. Transferred into the sphere of another culture, the form of Roman Statehood served as a vessel for the Greek-Christian spirit. No less than the Byzantine people, and still more, did the Byzantine Emperors feel themselves to be Romans – the heirs and successors of ancient Rome, right up to Augustus. With the form of Roman Statehood they absorbed also all the prerogatives and attributes of Imperial power in ancient Rome. But to these prerogatives there also belonged the prerogative of the first-priesthood. The Emperor was not only the supreme judge and army commander, but also the Pontifex Maximus; the religious life of his subjects was subject to him as a part of public law. In ancient Rome, where the State religion was the cult of the genius of the divine Emperor, this was completely natural. In Christian Byzantium such a position, it would seem, was unthinkable. Further development also demonstrated its impossibility, but not a little time passed before the new spirit broke through the ways of the old traditions. The very title Pontifex Maximus was removed only half a century after the Christianisation of the Empire (by an Edict of the Emperor Gratian in 375), while the remnants of the first-hierarchical character of Imperial power were visible for longer.... This viewpoint was not eastern, but simply typical of the given period, and was based not on Byzantine, but on ancient Roman ideas. At that time it was inherent both in the East and in the West; in the Middle Ages it lost its power both in the East and in Byzantium. And it is important that it lost its power in East in proportion as the Byzantine principles began to triumph over the Roman...»
One idea that was to prove critical in defining the status of the emperor was that of the earthly king as being the image of the Heavenly King. Though pagan (hellenistic) in origin, immediately after the christianisation of the empire this idea was borrowed and modified by Christian writers, who purified it of the tendency, so natural to pagan thought, of identifying the earthly and the Heavenly, the image and its archetype. Thus St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote to the Emperor Theodosius II: «In truth, you are a certain image and likeness of the Heavenly Kingdom».
The first to use this comparison in a Christian context was the Arian Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote of St. Constantine: "The kingdom with which he is invested is an image of the heavenly one. He looks up to see the archetypal pattern and guides those whom he rules below in accordance with that pattern.” “The ruler of the whole world is the second Person of the All-Holy Trinity – the Word of God, Who is in everything visible and invisible. From this all-embracing Reason the Emperor is rational, from this Wisdom he is wise, from participation in this Divinity he is good, from communion with this Righteousness he is righteous, in accordance with the idea of this Moderation he is moderate, from the reception of this highest Power he is courageous. In all justice one must call a true Emperor him who has formed his soul with royal virtues, according to the image of the Highest Kingdom”.
As we have seen, already in the first three Christian centuries the Roman Empire had been seen as the providential creation of God for the furtherance and strengthening of His rule on earth. Now that the emperor himself was a Christian and was acting in such a successful way to spread the faith throughout the ecumene, the idea that his earthly kingdom was a reflection of the Heavenly Kingdom was readily accepted. But this is no way implied the spiritual subjection of the Church to the Empire. And when the emperor began to support heresy and persecute the Orthodox, his “image status” was immediately lost. At no time more than in the fourth century do we find Christians bolder in their confession against false emperors, or more prepared, as we have seen, to emphasise the superiority of the Church to the Empire…
Understood in a Christian way, the idea of the emperor as being in the image of the Heavenly King excluded not only the pagan idea of the despotic king-god-man, but also the equally pagan idea of democratism. Thus Eusebius wrote: «The example of monarchical rule there is a source of strength to him. This is something granted to man alone of the creatures of the earth by the universal King. The basic principle of kingly authority is the establishment of a single source of authority to which everything is subject. Monarchy is superior to every other constitution and form of government. For polyarchy, where everyone competes on equal terms, is really anarchy and discord. This is why there is one God, not two or three or even more. Polytheism is strictly atheism. There is one King, and His Word and royal law are one."
Even those Fathers who insisted most on the inferiority of the State to the Church accepted that the State could only be ruled by one man. Thus Ê.V. Glazkov writes: «St. Ephraim the Syrian noted that God’s unity of rule in the Heavenly Kingdom and Caesar’s unity of rule in the earthly kingdom destroy polytheism and polyarchy... The holy hierarch Gregory the Theologian remarked that there exist three basic forms of rule: monarchy – rule by one man, which contains in itself faith in one God or, at least, in a highest God; polyarchy or aristocracy – the rule of the minority or of the best, which is bound up with polytheism; and, finally, the power of the majority, which St. Gregory calls anarchy (democracy), which goes hand in glove with atheism. The saint affirmed that the Orthodox venerate monarchy insofar as it imitates the unity of God, while polyarchy presupposes a scattering of His might, a division of His essence amidst several gods. And, finally, anarchy, the rule of the people, theologically includes within itself the atomisation of God’s essence, in other words, power is so fragmented that it becomes almost impossible to attain to the very existence of God».
This teaching of the fourth-century Fathers în the significance of autocratic power was confirmed, over four centuries later, by St. Theodore the Studite: "There is one Lord and Giver of the Law, as it is written: one authority and one Divine principle over all. This single principle is the source of all wisdom, goodness and good order; it extends over every creature that has received its beginning from the goodness of God…, it is given to one man only.. to construct rules of life in accordance with the likeness of God. For the divine Moses in his description of the origin of the world that comes from the mouth of God, cites the word: 'Let us create man in accordance with Our image and likeness' (Genesis 1.26). Hence the establishment among men of every dominion and every authority, especially in the Churches of God: one patriarch in a patriarchate, one metropolitan in a metropolia, one bishop in a bishopric, one abbot in a monastery, and in secular life, if you want to listen, one king, one regimental commander, one captain on a ship. And if one will did not rule in all this, there would be no law and order in anything, and it would not be for the best, for a multiplicity of wills destroys everything."
The idea that monarchy is the natural form of government because it reflects, and draws attention to, the monarchy of God, was a new concept of great importance in the history of ideas. The pagan states of the Ancient World were, for the most part, monarchical. But none of them believed, as did the Christians, in a single God and Creator. Moreover, as often as not, they invested the king with divine status, so that no higher principle or source of authority above the king or emperor was recognised. In the Christian empire, on the other hand, sacred and secular power were embodied in different persons and institutions, and both emperor and patriarch were considered bound by, and subject to, the will of God in heaven.
Of course, there were real dangers in attributing too exalted an authority to the emperor, and some of the iconoclast emperors earned the epithet “forerunner of the Antichrist” in Byzantine liturgical texts when they tried to revive the pagan idea of the king-priest. However, in spite of their experience with the iconoclast emperors, and the constant struggle the patriarchs had to prevent the emperors invading their sphere, the Byzantines continued to assert the independent and sacred authority of the anointed emperors, pointing to the examples of the Old Testament kings. And since the Old Testament kings, such as David and Solomon, while deferring to the priesthood, were nevertheless quite clearly the leaders of the people of God in a more than purely political sense, the same predominance was enjoyed by the emperors in Byzantium.
In Byzantium, therefore, writes Dagron, “the Old Testament has a constitutional value; it has the same normative character in the political domain as the New Testament has in the moral domain. The history of the Jews, carefully dehistoricised and dejudaised by this Christian reading, has the function of prefiguring what will be or should be the conduct of the Empire, of understanding in what conditions and by conformity with what biblical “figure” a sovereign will win or lose his legitimacy, a son inherit power from his father, or a king be able to call himself a priest…”
The Symphony of Powers
Although different interpretations of the Old Testament models of kingship (and priesthood) eventually led, together with other doctrinal disputes, to the schism between East and West in the eleventh century, until then a common understanding of the Church-State relationship had flourished throughout Christian Europe and the Middle East. This understanding was given its classical expression in the Emperor Justinian’s famous Sixth Novella on the “symphony of powers”. Let us briefly examine the historical process that led to this statement.
We have seen that the great fourth-century bishops of the Church, in both East and West, vigorously upheld the sovereignty of the Church in “the things that are God’s”. This led in some cases to serious conflict with the emperors. Thus Saints Athanasius and Basil and Gregory had to defy the will of Arianising emperors in the East, as did Saints Osius and Hilary and Ambrose in the West; while St. John Chrysostom reproached the Empress Eudoxia and suffered banishment for his boldness.
However, there were several emperors who were conscientious in protecting the rights of the Church – the western emperors Arcadius, Honorius and Valentinian III, for example, and the eastern emperors Theodosius I and II. The latter sent emissaries to the Council of Ephesus, at which Nestorius was condemned, instructing not to interfere in the arguments about the faith. For it was not permitted, he said, for any of them who was not numbered among the most holy bishops to interfere in Church questions.
But as the fifth century wore on, and the chaos in the Church caused by the heretics increased, there were calls for the emperors to take a more active role in Church affairs. Some “interference” by the emperors was even sanctioned by Canon 93 (Greek 96) of the Council of Carthage in the year 419: “It behoves the gracious clemency of their Majesties to take measures that the Catholic Church, which has begotten them as worshippers of Christ in her womb, and has nourished them with the strong meat of the faith, should by their forethought be defended, lest violent men, taking advantage of the times of religious excitement, should be fear overcome a weak people, whom by arguments they were not able to pervert”. An ancient epitome of this canon puts it succinctly: “The Emperors who were born in the true religion and were educated in the faith, ought to stretch forth a helping hand to the Churches. For the military band overthrew the dire conspiracy which was threatening Paul.”
That the Emperor, as well as the hierarchs, should pronounce his word in defence of the faith was accepted by the Church in both heaven and on earth. Thus we read in the life of St. Hypatius of Rufinianus (June 17): “When Nestorius had left for Ephesus, and the [Third Ecumenical] Council had assembled, on the day when he should be deposed, Saint Hypatius saw in a vision that an angel of the Lord took hold of Saint John the Apostle, and led him to the most pious Emperor [Theodosius II] and said to him, ‘Say to the Emperor: “Pronounce your sentence against Nestorius”.’ And he, having heard this, pronounced it. Saint Hypatius made note of this day, and it was verified that Nestorius was deposed on that very day…”
A little later, St. Isidore of Pelusium declared that some “interference” by the emperors was necessary in view of the sorry state of the priesthood: “The present hierarchs, by not acting in the same way as their predecessors, do not receive the same as they; but undertaking the opposite to them, they themselves experience the opposite. It would be surprising if, while doing nothing similar to their ancestors, they enjoyed the same honour as they. In those days, when the kings fell into sin they became chaste again, but now this does not happen even with laymen. In ancient times the priesthood corrected the royal power when it sinned, but now it awaits instructions from it; not because it has lost its own dignity, but because that dignity has been entrusted to those who are not similar to those who lived in the time of our ancestors. Formerly, when those who had lived an evangelical and apostolic life were crowned with the priesthood, the priesthood was fearful by right for the royal power; but now the royal power is fearful to the priesthood. However, it is better to say, not ‘priesthood’, but those who have the appearance of doing the priestly work, while by their actions they insult the priesthood. That is why it seems to me that the royal power is acting justly when, while recognising the priesthood itself.” The justification of such “interference”, in St. Isidore’s view, lay in the fact that “although there is a very great difference between the priesthood and the kingdom (the former is the soul, the latter – the body), nevertheless they strive for one and the same goal, that is, the salvation of citizens”.
Following this rule, the emperors did at times intervene successfully in Church affairs. This was especially necessary because of the violent behaviour of heretics such as Dioscuros. Thus it was the decisive intervention of the new Emperors Marcian and Pulcheria that made possible the convening of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451 and the Triumph of Orthodoxy over the Monophysite heresy. 
At such times, when the bishops were betraying the truth, the pious emperors stood out as the representatives of the laity, which, as the Eastern Patriarchs were to declare in their encyclical of the year 1848, is the guardian of the truth of the Church. At such times they were indeed higher than the clergy, if not by their intrinsic grace, at any rate in view of the fact that the clergy had forsaken their vocation. At such times, the emperors were indeed images of the Heavenly King, their vocation being, like His, to witness to the truth. For as the King of kings said to Pilate: “You say that I am a king. For that I was born, and for that I came into the world, to witness to the truth” (John 18.37). It was in this sense that St. Leo the Great wrote to the Emperor Theodosius II that he had “not only the soul of an Emperor, but also the soul of a priest”. And to the Emperor Marcian he wished “the palm of the priesthood as well as the emperor’s crown”.
As Dagron points out, “the emperor could not remain neutral. He was the guarantor and often the principal architect of the unity of the Church. Thus the Orthodox or heretical council unanimously celebrated the sovereign ‘guarded by God’ by giving him without niggardliness the title of ‘teacher of the faith’, ‘new Paul’, ‘equal to the apostles, illumined like the bishops by the Holy Spirit’. At the end of the fourth session of the council held in Constantinople in 536, the bishops expressed the conviction of all in declaring that, ‘under an Orthodox emperor’, the Empire had nothing and nobody to fear; and Patriarch Menas concluded: ‘It is fitting that nothing of that which is debated in the holy Church should be decided against the advice and order [of the emperor]’.”
It is in this context that one has to understand the at times highly rhetorical expressions used by Eastern – and also Western - bishops with regard to the emperors and kings. Dagron again: “The distinction between the two powers was never as clearly formulated as while there was a disagreement between them. When there was concord or the hope of harmony, the celebration or hope of unity carried the day. Nobody found anything wrong when the synod that condemned the heretic Eutyches in Constantinople in 448 acclaimed Theodosius with the words: ‘Great is the faith of the emperors! Many years to the guardians of the faith! Many years to the pious emperor, the emperor-bishop (tw arcierei basilei).’ The whole world is equally agreed, a little later at the Council of Chalcedon, in acclaiming Marcian as ‘priest and emperor’, at the same time as ‘restorer of the Church, teacher of the faith, New Constantine, New Paul and New David’. At the same time Pope Leo congratulated Theodosius II, and then Marcian, on the sacerdotalis industria, on the sacerdotalis anima, and on the sacerdotalis palma with which God had rewarded them, and he declared to Leo I that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit in matters of the faith. Except during periods of tension, the adjective sacerdotalis was part of the formula of the pontifical chancellery for letters addressed to the emperors of Constantinople. The composers of elegies were not behindhand, in the West as in the East. Procopius of Gaza underlined that Anastasius had been elected to be a bishop before being named emperor, and that he reunited in himself ‘that which is most precious among men, the apparatus of an emperor and the thought of a priest’; Ennodius of Pavia (473-521) proclaimed Theodoric to be ‘prince and priest’; Venantius Fortunatus, in the second half of the 6th century, called Childebert I ‘Melchisedech noster, merito rex atque sacerdos’; towards 645 and anonymous panegyric characterised Clotaire I as quasi sacerdos; Paulinus, bishop of Aquilea, in 794 encouraged Charlemagne to be ‘Dominus et pater, rex et sacerdos’. To justify the canonisation of a king, they said that he had been led during his reign acsi bonus sacerdos. We are in the domain of rhetoric, but that does not mean that they could say anything and break the taboos. Even if the words have a metaphorical and incantatory meaning, even if their association distilled a small dose of provocation, there was nothing abnormal in affirming that the ideal emperor was also a priest.”
It was therefore on the basis of a common understanding both of the theological and of the political foundations of Christian Rome that spiritual peace between the Old and New Romes was restored after the death of Anastasius. First came the recognition, by Patriarch John Kappadokes, of the primacy of the see of Old Rome – which, however, he declared to be one church with the see of New Rome. Then, in 533, Pope John II responded by exalting the emperor as high as any western bishop had ever done: "'The King's heart is in the hand of God and He directs it as He pleases' (Proverbs 21.1). There lies the foundation of your Empire and the endurance of your rule. For the peace of the Church and the unity of religion raise their originator to the highest place and sustain him there in happiness and peace. God's power will never fail him who protects the Church against the evil and stain of division, for it is written: 'When a righteous King sits on the throne, no evil will befall him'." (Proverbs 20:8)
Thus by the time Justinian ascended the throne, the Gelasian doctrine of a strict demarcation of powers between the Emperor and the Church was giving way, in both East and West, to a less clearly defined Leonine model in which the Emperor was allowed a greater initiative in the spiritual domain, for the sake of “the peace of the Church and the unity of religion”. Justinian pursued this aim in two ways: by war in the West, and by theological negotiation in the East. He was more successful in the former than the latter. Nevertheless, the union, however fleeting, of the five ancient patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem in one Orthodox Church under one right-believing Emperor, was a great achievement. And there could be little doubt that the single person most instrumental in achieving this union was the emperor himself: if the five patriarchates represented the five senses of the Body of Christ on earth, then the head in which they all adhered was the emperor.
This unity was not achieved without some pressure. However, writes Meyendorff, “without denying the dangers and the abuses of imperial power, which occurred in particular instances, the system as such, which been created by Theodosius I and Justinian, did not deprive the Church of its ability to define dogma through conciliarity. But conciliarity presupposed the existence of a mechanism, making consensus possible and effective. Local churches needed to be grouped into provinces and patriarchates, and patriarchates were to act together to reach an agreement valid for all. The empire provided the universal Church with such a mechanism…”
Thus, no less strikingly than in Constantine’s time, the emperor acted as the focus of unity of quarrelling Christians. The importance of this function was recognised by all – even by the heretics. In consequence, as L.A. Tikhomirov points out, even when a Byzantine emperor tried to impose heresy on the Church, “this was a struggle that did not besmirch the Church and State power as institutions. In this struggle he acted as a member of the Church, in the name of Church truth, albeit mistakenly understood. This battle was not about the relationship between the Church and the State and did not lead to its interruption, nor to the seeking of any other kind of principles of mutual relationship. As regards the direct conflicts between Church and State power, they arose only for particular reasons, only between given persons, and also did not relate to the principle of the mutual relationship itself.”
As if to symbolise the unity he had achieved, Justinian built Hagia Sophia, the greatest church in Christendom and without a peer to this day. “I have surpassed Solomon,” he cried on entering the church. The other, no less enduring expression of this unity was Justinian’s codification of Roman law, which united the old and new in one coherent body.
Among the new laws was the famous Sixth Novella (535): "The greatest gifts given by God to men by His supreme kindness are the priesthood and the empire, of which the first serves the things of God and the second rules the things of men and assumes the burden of care for them. Both proceed from one source and adorn the life of man. Nothing therefore will be so greatly desired by the emperors than the honour of the priests, since they always pray to God about both these very things. For if the first is without reproach and adorned with faithfulness to God, and the other adorns the state entrusted to it rightly and competently, a good symphony will exist, which will offer everything that is useful for the human race. We therefore have the greatest care concerning the true dogmas of God and concerning the honour of the priests…, because through this the greatest good things will be given by God – both those things that we already have will be made firm and those things which we do not have yet we shall acquire. Everything will go well if the principle of the matter is right and pleasing to God. We believe that this will come to pass if the holy canons are observed, which have been handed down to us by the apostles, those inspectors and ministers of God worthy of praise and veneration, and which have been preserved and explained."
Several points in Justinian’s Sixth Novella, which was addressed to Patriarch Epiphanius of Constantinople, need to be emphasised. First, both the priesthood and the empire are said to “proceed from the same source”, that is, God. This has the very important consequence that the normal and natural relationship between the two powers is one of harmony and symphony, not rivalry and division. If some of the early Fathers, in both East and West, tended to emphasise the separation and distinctness of the powers rather than their unity from and under God, this was a natural result of the friction between the Church and the pagan and heretical emperors in the early centuries. However, now that unity in Orthodoxy had been achieved the emphasis had to return to the common source and common end of the two institutions. This commonality was emphasised in the Seventh Novella (2, 1), in which it was admitted in principle that “the goods of the Church, which are in principle inalienable, could be the object of transactions with the emperor, ‘for the difference between the priesthood (ierwsunh) and the Empire (basileia) is small, as it is between the sacred goods and the goods that are common to the community.’”
Secondly, it is not any kind of harmony or symphony that is in question here, but only a true symphony that comes from God and leads to the good. As Andrushkevich points out, the word"symphony” [consonantia in the original Latin] here denotes much more than simple agreement or concord. Church and State can agree in an evil way, for evil ends. As A.V. Kartashev points out, ‘this is no longer symphony, but cacophony’.  True symphony is possible only where both the Church "is without reproach and adorned with faithfulness to God" and the State is ruled "rightly and competently" - that is, in accordance with the commandments of God.
If the emperor were seriously to care for the observation of the Church canons, then he would have to qualify the absolutist principle of Roman power, namely, that whatever is pleasing to the emperor has the force of law with the words: unless it contradicts the holy canons. This qualification had already been enshrined in Church legislation, and Justinian now made it State law in his Novella 131: “The Church canons have the same force in the State as the State laws: what is permitted or forbidden by the former is permitted or forbidden by the latter. Therefore crimes against the former cannot be tolerated in the State according to State legislation.”
«As regards the judicial branch,” writes Nikolin, “coordinated action presupposed not simply mutual complementation of the spheres of administration of the ecclesiastical and secular courts, but, which is especially important, the introduction into the activity of the latter of the moral-educational content inherent in Christianity.
“In a single service to the work of God both the Church and the State constitute as it were one whole, one organism – ‘unconfused’, but also ‘undivided’. In this lay the fundamental difference between Orthodox ‘symphony’ and Latin ‘papocaesarism’ and Protestant ‘caesaropapism’.”
Of course, the principle that the Church canons should automatically be considered as State laws was not always carried out in practice, even in Justinian’s reign; and in some spheres, as Nikolin points out, «in becoming [State] law, the [Church] canon lost its isolation, and the all-powerful Emperor, in commenting on the canon that had become law, was able thereby to raise himself above the canon. The Christian Emperor received the ability to reveal the content of the canon in his own way (in the interests of the State). Justinian’s rule provides several confirmations of this. The rules for the election, conduct and inter-relations of bishops, clergy and monks, for the punishment of clergy, and for Church property were subjected to his reglamentation. Bishops received broad powers in State affairs (more exactly, numerous State duties were imputed to them)».
This recruitment of bishops to undertake essentially secular bureaucratic duties was contrary to the apostolic canons and could have led to a secularisation of the Episcopal calling. In general, however, this did not take place; and the enormous benefits of the principle of the symphony of powers continued to be felt throughout the long history of Byzantium. As Nikolin writes, “Justinian’s rule was a rule in which the mutual relations of Church and State were inbuilt, and which later lasted in Byzantium right up to the days of her fall, and which were borrowed in the 10th century by Rus’. In the first place this related to the principle: 'Ecclesiastical canons are State laws’. Moreover, the Christian direction of Justinian’s reforms told on the content of the majority of juridical norms. This was most vividly revealed in the resolutions of questions concerning the regulation of individual spheres of Church life. Church communities were now provided with the rights of a juridical person. In property questions they were given various privileges...
“A particular feature of Justinian’s reforms was that as a result of them State power was transformed into a defender of the faith. This was most clearly revealed in the establishment of restrictions on the juridical rights of citizens of the empire linked with their confession of faith:
- Pagans and Jews were deprived of the right to occupy posts in state or societal service, and were not able to possess Christians slaves.
- Apostates, that is, people going over from Christianity to paganism or Judaism were deprived of the right to composed wills and inherit, and likewise were not able to be witnesses at trials;
- Heretics were not able to occupy posts in state or societal service; they were deprived of the right of inheritance; they could make bequests… only to Orthodox. There were even stricter measures adopted in relation to certain sects.»
As a natural development of this church-oriented tendency, from 602 the crowning of Byzantine emperors took place, not in the Hippodrome, but in the church, where he would be crowned by the Patriarch.
If the model for Justinian’s symphony of powers was the Chalcedonian doctrine of the relationship between the two natures of Christ, the model for his symphony of nations was the hierarchical relationship between father and son. Here the metaphor was of a family of nations with the Eastern Roman Emperor as its head and father. This idea had already taken root by the sixth century. This family was not united by a single political or ecclesiastical jurisdiction, but by a common sentiment of belonging to the civilisation of Christian Rome.
“This doctrine,” writes I.P. Medvedev, “found practical expression in… a hierarchical system of States…The place of each sovereign in this official, hierarchical gradation of all the princes of the world in relation to the Byzantine Emperor was defined by kinship terms borrowed from the terminology of family law: father-son-brother, but also friend… The use of kinship terms by the Byzantine Emperor in addressing a foreign Sovereign was not a simple metaphor or rhetoric, but a definite title which was given on the basis of a mutual agreement, that is, bestowed by the Emperor.. And so at the head of the oikoumene was the Basileus Romanon, the Byzantine Emperor, the father of ‘the family of sovereigns and peoples’. Closest of all ‘by kinship’ among the politically independent sovereigns were certain Christian rulers of countries bordering on the Empire, for example Armenia, Alania and Bulgaria; they were spiritual sons of the Byzantine Emperor. Less close were the Christian masters of the Germans and French, who were included in this ‘family of sovereigns and peoples’ with the rights of spiritual brothers of the Emperor. After them came the friends, that is, independent sovereigns and peoples who received this title by dint of a special agreement – the emir of Egypt and the ruler of India, and later the Venetians, the king of England, etc. Finally, we must name a large group of princes who were ranked, not according to degree of ‘kinship’, but by dint of particularities of address and protocol – the small appanage principalities of Armenia, Iberia, Abkhazia, the Italian cities, Moravia and Serbia (group 1), and the appanage princes of Hungary and Rus’, the Khazar and Pecheneg khans, etc. (group 2)…”
If we restrict ourselves to speaking only of the Orthodox Christian States and peoples, then within this single religio-cultural unit or civilisation there was, strictly speaking, only one Christian people, the people of the Romans; and Greeks and Latins, Celts and Germans, Semites and Slavs were all equally Romans, all equally members of the Roman commonwealth of nations.
Thus the following words of Fr. George Metallenos concerning the Eastern Empire could be applied, without major qualification, to the whole vast territory from Ireland and Spain in the West to Georgia and Ethiopia in the East: "A great number of peoples made up the autocracy but without any 'ethnic' differentiation between them. The whole racial amalgam lived and moved in a single civilisation (apart from some particularities) - the Greek, and it had a single cohesive spiritual power – Orthodoxy, which was at the same time the ideology of the oikoumene - autocracy. The citizens of the autocracy were Romans politically, Greeks culturally and Orthodox Christians spiritually. Through Orthodoxy the old relationship of rulers and ruled was replaced by the sovereign bond of brotherhood. Thus the 'holy race' of the New Testament (I Peter 2.9) became a reality as the 'race of the Romans', that is, of the Orthodox citizens of the autocracy of the New Rome."
So widely accepted was the ideal of “One Faith, One Church, One Empire” that when Charlemagne came to create his western rival to the Eastern Empire, he also spoke of "the Christian people of the Romans" without ethnic differentiation, and tried (without much success) to introduce a single Roman law for all the constituent nations of his empire. As Agobard, Archbishop of Lyons, put it: "There is now neither Gentile nor Jew, Scythian nor Aquitanian, nor Lombard, nor Burgundian, nor Alaman, nor bond, nor free. All are one in Christ... Can it be accepted that, opposed to this unity which is the work of God, there should be an obstacle in the diversity of laws [used] in one and the same country, in one and the same city, and in one and the same house? It constantly happens that of five men walking or sitting side by side, no two have the same territorial law, although at root - on the eternal plan - they belong to Christ."
There were gaps, it must be admitted, in the record of Orthodox unity. Thus towards the end of the fifth century the Eastern Emperor Zeno confessed Monophysitism, as did the Armenians, while a vast swathe of Italy, France and Spain was ruled by the Arian Theodoric. Again, in the seventh century all of the patriarchates fell, temporarily, into the heresy of Monothelitism, and in the eighth century the East fell into iconoclasm.
But while Orthodoxy faltered – although never in all places at the same time – the underlying unity of Orthodox Christian civilisation enabled unity of faith to be recovered before long. It was only in the first half of seventh century, in the East, and towards the end of the eighth century, in the West, that the first more or less deep and permanent cracks in the unity both of faith and civilisation began to appear.
The unity achieved by Justinian between the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Empire was striking, but it was not, of course, monolithic. Not only were there Roman citizens who were not Orthodox – the Monophysite Copts and Syrians, for example: there were also large bodies of Orthodox, and Orthodox States, that remained outside the bounds of the Empire – for example, the Celts in the West and the Georgians in the East. The question was: what was the relationship of these non-Roman Orthodox to Rome and Romanity?
Of course, friction between the nations of the Byzantine commonwealth did occur. And although nationalism as such is usually considered to be a modern phenomenon stemming from the French Revolution, something similar to nationalism is certainly evident in antiquity. Perhaps the clearest example is that of the Armenians.
Now Armenia can lay claim to having been the first Christian kingdom, having been converted by St. Gregory the Illuminator in the early fourth century. However, in the middle of the fifth century, in the wake of the Byzantine Emperor Marcian’s refusal to support an Armenian revolt against Persia, the Armenian Church ignored and then rejected the Council of Chalcedon. From this time the Armenian Church was alienated from Orthodoxy, but not completely from Romanity.
Thus in the council of Dvin in 506, they sided with the Monophysites who were being persecuted by the Persian government at the instigation of the Nestorians. As Jones writes, they “affirmed their unity with the Romans, condemning Nestorius and the council of Chalcedon, and approving ‘the letter of [the Monophysite] Zeno, blessed emperor of the Romans’.
“However, when Justin and Justinian reversed [the Monophysite Emperor] Anastasius’ ecclesiastical policy, they were apparently not consulted, and did not follow suit. This implied no hostility to Rome, however, for when in 572 they revolted against Persia they appealed to Justin II. He insisted on their subscribing to Chalcedon as a condition of aid, but they soon went back to their old beliefs. Maurice [an Armenian himself] again attempted to imposed the Chalcedonian position upon them, but the bishops of Persian Armenia refused to attend his council, and excommunicated the bishops of Roman Armenia, who had conformed. It was thus not hostility to Rome which led the Armenians into heresy… But having got used to this position they were unwilling to move from it.”
After the Muslim conquest, the Armenian Church became more and more entrenched, not only in anti-Chalcedonian Monophysitism, but also in a kind of nationalism that made it the first national church in the negative sense of that phrase – that is, a church that was so identified with the nation as to lose its universalist claims. In this way the Armenian Church contrasts with other national Churches in the region, such as the Orthodox Georgian and the Monophysite Ethiopian.
Other cases in which national hatred has been suspected to lie beneath religious separatism are the Arian Goths, the Donatist Berbers and the Monophysite Copts and Syrians. However, Jones urges caution in such inferences: “Today religion, or at any rate doctrine, is not with the majority of people a dominant issue and does not arouse major passions. Nationalism and socialism are, on the other hand, powerful forces, which can and do provoke the most intense feelings. Modern historians are, I think, retrojecting into the past the sentiments of the present age when they argue that mere religious or doctrinal dissension cannot have generated such violent and enduring animosity as that evinced by the Donatists, Arians, or Monophysites, and that the real moving force behind these movements must have been national or class feeling.”
The first and most powerful anti-Roman nationalism was, of course, that of the Jews. In the Old Testament, the faith of the Jews, though necessarily turned in on itself to protect itself from paganism, contained the seeds of a truly universalist faith. Thus God commanded Abraham to circumcise not only every member of his family, but also “him that is born in the house, or bought with the money of any stranger, which is not of they seed” (Genesis 17.12). The Canaanite Rahab and the Moabite Ruth were admitted into the faith and nation of the Jews. And by the time of Christ there was a large Greek-speaking diaspora which was spreading the faith of the Jews throughout the Greco-Roman world and winning converts such as the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 11).
However, the Pharisees, who came to dominate Jewry, were interested only in converts to the cause of Jewish nationalism (cf. Matthew 23.15). It was the Pharisees who incited Christ’s death because He preached a different kind of spiritual and universalist Kingdom that was opposed to their nationalist dreams. And after His death the Jews became possessed by an egoistical, chauvinist spirit that was expressed in such a way that, as Rabbi Solomon Goldman put it, "God is absorbed in the nationalism of Israel."
Cyril Mango writes: “By virtue of a long tradition in Roman law, Jews enjoyed a peculiar status: they were a licit sect, their synagogues were protected from seizure, they appointed their own clergy and had recourse in civil cases to their own courts of law. At the same time they were forbidden to proselytise, to own Christian slaves or to build new synagogues.”
However, the Jews continually strove to undermine the Empire. Alone among all the nations of the Mediterranean basin, they refused to benefit from, or join in, the pax Romana. Having asserted, at the Crucifixion of Christ, that they had no king but Caesar, they nevertheless constantly rebelled against the Caesars and slaughtered thousands of Christians. Thus in 66-70, and again in 135, they rebelled against Rome. In 115, in Alexandria, whose population was about one-third Jewish, civil war broke out between the Jews and the Christians. And in 150 the Jews killed 240,000 Greeks in Cyrenaica and 100,000 in Cyprus. 
At the root of the Jews’ fierce hatred of Gentiles and Christians was the teaching of what came to be, from the second century onwards, their major holy book – the Talmud. The Talmud (like the later Jewish holy book, the Cabbala) purports to record a secret oral tradition going back to Moses and representing the true interpretation of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. In fact, it bears only the most strained and perverse relation to the Torah, often completely perverting the true meaning of the Scriptures and asserting its own superiority over them: “The Law is water, but the Mishna [the first form of the Talmud] is wine.” Again: “The words of the elders are more important than the words of the Prophets.”
This opposition between the true, God-inspired Tradition of the Holy Scriptures and the false, man-made tradition of the Talmud was pointed out by Christ when He said to the Pharisees, the inventors and guardians of the Talmud: “Thus have ye made the commandment of no effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15.6).
The eleven volumes of the Talmud are extremely difficult to obtain (especially in an uncensored edition), and are fully accessible only to a Talmudic Hebrew scholar. Nevertheless, some of the flavour of the book may be gauged from the following description by the London Times correspondent in Central Europe in the 1930s, Douglas Reed:
“The Talmudic Law governed every imaginable action of a Jew’s life anywhere in the world: marriage, divorce, property settlements, commercial transactions, down to the pettiest details of dress and toilet. As unforeseen things frequently crop up in daily life, the question of what is legal or illegal (not what is right or wrong) in all manner of novel circumstances had incessantly to be debated, and this produced the immense records of rabbinical dispute and decisions in which the Talmud abounds.
“Was it much a crime to crush a flea as to kill a camel on a sacred day? One learned rabbi allowed that the flea might be gently squeezed, and another thought its feet might even be cut off. How many white hairs might a sacrificial red cow have and yet remain a red cow? What sort of scabs required this or that ritual of purification? At which end of an animal should the operation of slaughter be performed? Ought the high priest to put on his shirt or his hose first? Methods of putting apostates to death were debated; they must be strangled, said the elders, until they opened their mouths, into which boiling lead must be poured. Thereon a pious rabbi urged that the victim’s mouth be held open with pincers so that he not suffocate before the molten lead enter and consume his soul with his body. The word ‘pious’ is here not sardonically used; this scholar sought to discover the precise intention of ‘the Law’.”
The Lord said of the forerunners of the Talmudists: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.24). And of their disputes that “Hebrew of the Hebrews” and former Pharisee, St. Paul, said: “Avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and striving about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3.9).
Now a dominant feature of these Jewish “holy books” was their hatred of Christ and Christianity. Douglas Reed writes: “The Jewish Encyclopaedia says: ‘It is the tendency of Jewish legends in the Talmud, the Midrash.. and in the Life of Jesus (Toledoth Jeshua) that originated in the Middle Ages to belittle the person of Jesus by ascribing to him illegitimate birth, magic and a shameful death’. He is generally alluded to as ‘that anonymous one’, ‘liar’, ‘imposter’ or ‘bastard’ (the attribution of bastardy is intended to bring him under the Law as stated in Deuteronomy 23.3: ‘A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord’). Mention of the name, Jesus, is prohibited in Jewish households.
“The work cited by the Jewish Encyclopaedia as having ‘originated in the Middle Ages’ is not merely a discreditable memory of an ancient past, as that allusion might suggest; it is used in Hebrew schools today. It was a rabbinical production of the Talmudic era and repeated all the ritual of mockery of Calvary itself in a different form. Jesus is depicted as the illegitimate son of Mary, a hairdresser’s wife, and of a Roman soldier called Panthera. Jesus himself is referred to by a name which might be translated ‘Joey Virgo’. He is shown as being taken by his stepfather to Egypt and there learning sorcery.
“The significant thing about this bogus life-story (the only information about Jesus which Jews were supposed to read) is that in it Jesus is not crucified by Romans. After his appearance in Jerusalem and his arrest there as an agitator and a sorcerer he is turned over to the Sanhedrin and spends forty days in the pillory before being stoned and hanged at the Feast of Passover; this form of death exactly fulfils the Law laid down in Deuteronomy 21.22 and 17.5, whereas crucifixion would not have been in compliance with that Judaic law. The book then states that in hell he suffers the torture of boiling mud.
“The Talmud also refers to Jesus as ‘Fool’, ‘sorcerer’, ‘profane person’, ‘idolator’, ‘dog’, ‘child of lust’ and the like more; the effect of this teaching over a period of centuries, is shown by the book of the Spanish Jew Mose de Leon, republished in 1880, which speaks of Jesus as a ‘dead dog’ that lies ‘buried in a dunghill’. The original Hebrew texts of these Talmudic allusions appear in Laible’s Jesus Christus im Talmud. This scholar says that during the period of the Talmudists hatred of Jesus became ‘the most national trait of Judaism’, that ‘at the approach of Christianity the Jews were seized over and again with a fury and hatred that were akin to madness’, that ‘the hatred and scorn of the Jews was always directed in the first place against the person of Jesus’ and that ‘the Jesus-hatred of the Jews is a firmly-established fact, but they want to show it as little as possible’.
“This wish to conceal from the outer world that which was taught behind the Talmudic hedge led to the censoring of the above-quoted passages during the seventeenth century. Knowledge of the Talmud became fairly widespread then (it was frequently denounced by remonstrant Jews) and the embarrassment thus caused to the Talmudic elders led to the following edict (quoted in the original Hebrew and in translation by P.L.B. Drach, who was brought up in a Talmudic school and later became converted to Christianity):
“’This is why we enjoin you, under pain of excommunication major, to print nothing in future editions, whether of the Mishna or of the Gemara, which relates whether for good or for evil to the acts of Jesus the Nazarene, and to substitute instead a circle like this: O, which will warn the rabbis and schoolmasters to teach the young these passages only viva voce. By means of this precaution the savants among the Nazarenes will have no further pretext to attack us on this subject’ (decree of the Judaist Synod which sat in Poland in 1631). At the present time, when public enquiry into such matters, or objection to them, has been virtually forbidden by Gentile governments, these passages, according to report, have been restored in the Hebrew editions of the Talmud…
“The Talmud sets out to widen and heighten the barrier between the Jews and others. An example of the different language which the Torah spoke, for Jews and for Gentiles, has previously been given: the obscure and apparently harmless allusion to ‘a foolish nation’ (Deuteronomy 32.21). According to the article on Discrimination against Gentiles in the Jewish Encyclopaedia the allusion in the original Hebrew is to ‘vile and vicious Gentiles’, so that Jew and Gentile received very different meanings from the same passage in the original and in the translation. The Talmud, however, which was to reach only Jewish eyes, removed any doubt that might have been caused in Jewish minds by perusal of the milder translation; it specifically related the passage in Deuteronomy to one in Ezekiel 23.20, and by so doing defined Gentiles as those ‘whose flesh is as the flesh of asses and whose issue is like the issue of horses’! In this spirit was the ‘interpretation’ of the Law continued by the Talmudites.
“The Talmudic edicts were all to similar effect. The Law (the Talmud laid down) allowed the restoration of a lost article to its owner if ‘a brother or neighbour’, but not if a Gentile. Book-burning (of Gentile books) was recommended… The benediction, ‘Blessed by Thou… who hast not made me a goi [Gentile]’ was to be recited daily. Eclipses were of bad augury for Gentiles only. Rabbi Lei laid down that the injunction not to take revenge (Leviticus 19.18) did not apply to Gentiles, and apparently invoked Ecclesiastes 8.4 in support of his ruling (a discriminatory interpretation then being given to a passage in which the Gentile could not suspect any such intention).
“The Jews who sells to a Gentile landed property bordering on the land of another Jews is to be excommunicated. A Gentile cannot be trusted as witness in a criminal or civil suit because he could not be depended on to keep his word like a Jew. A Jew testifying in a petty Gentile civil court as a single witness against a Jew must be excommunicated. Adultery committed with a non-Jewish woman is not adultery ‘for the heathen have no lawfully wedded wife, they are not really their wives’. The Gentiles are as such precluded from admission to a future world…”
Sergius and Tamara Fomin write: «To the prayer ‘birkam za-minim’ which was read everyday against heretics and apostates there was added the ‘curse’ against ‘the proud state’ (of Rome) and against all the enemies of Israel, in particular the Christians… [The Christians were also identified with] the scapegoat, on which the sins of the Jews were laid and which was then driven into the wilderness as a gift to the devil. According to rabbinic teaching, the goat signified Esau and his descendants, who at the present time were the Christians».
Another name that the Jews had for the Christians was Edom, and the Roman-Byzantine Empire was called “the kingdom of the Edomites”. Rabbi David Kimchi writes as follows in Obadiam: “What the Prophets foretold about the destruction of Edom in the last days was intended for Rome, as Isaiah explains (34.1).. For when Rome is destroyed, Israel shall be redeemed.” And Rabbi Abraham in his book Tseror Hammor writes: “Immediately after Rome is destroyed, we shall be redeemed.”
The teaching of the Talmud incited the Jews to terrible crimes against Gentiles, especially Christians. Thus in about 520, 4000 Christians were martyred by the Jewish ruler of the South Arabian land of Omir (or Himyar), Dû-Nuwâs, for their refusal to renounce Christ. Again, in 555, the Jews took part in the Samaritan rebellion against Byzantium on the Samaritan side in spite of their traditional disdain for the Samaritans.
During the Time of Troubles that began for Byzantium with the murder of the Emperor Maurice in 602, the Jewish anti-Roman consciousness reached a new peak of frenzy. David Keys writes: “The so-called Book of Zerubabel, written by a rabbi of that name in Persian-ruled Babylon in the first quarter of the seventh century AD, prophesied the coming of the Jewish Messiah (and his mother!) and their defeat of the Christian Roman monster – an emperor/pope called Armilus – the son of Satan. Furthermore, a Palestinian Jew called Jacob who had been forcibly baptised by the Romans in Carthage described the Empire in typically apocalyptic terms as ‘the fourth beast’ which was being ‘torn in pieces by the nations, [so] that the ten horns may prevail and Hermolaus Satan… the Little Horn may come.’
“The Jews viewed the apparently imminent collapse of the Roman Empire in the first quarter of the seventh century as evidence that the ‘beast’ (the formerly pagan but now Christian empire) was doomed, that the Devil in the guise of the last Roman emperor or Christian pope would be killed by the (imminently expected) Messiah. They saw the Persians (and a few years later, the Arabs) as the agents who would help destroy the ‘Roman beast’. Violent and often Messianic Jewish revolutionary attitudes had been increasing throughout the second half of the sixth century and went into overdrive as the Empire began to totter in the first quarter of the seventh. In Antioch in AD 608, Christian attempts at forced conversion, as the Persians threatened the city, triggered a major revolt in the Jewish quarter. At first the Jewish rebels were successful, and their community’s arch-enemy, the city’s powerful Christian patriarch, [St.] Anastasius, was captured, killed and mutilated. But the revolt was soon put down – and the 800-year-old Antiochan Jewish community was almost totally extinguished.”
The situation was no better in the Holy Land. The Jewish sent an appeal to all the Jews of Palestine, inviting them to come and join the Persians. Enraged crowds destroyed the churches of Tiberias, killed the local bishop and 90,000 Christians in one day. Even the Jewish historian Graetz admits that the Jews took a greater part in the destruction of Christian churches and monasteries than the Persians.
The Persians were defeated by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, who banished the Jews of Jerusalem to a distance of three miles from the city, and decreed that all the Jews of the empire should be baptised. But the pendulum swung again when the Byzantines were defeated by the new power of the Arab Muslims. The Jews were delighted. Many of them thought that Muhammed was a prophet who had come to prepare the way for the Messiah. And “even when the Messiah failed to arrive,” writes Karen Armstrong, “Jews continued to look favourably on Islamic rule in Jerusalem. In a letter written in the eleventh century, the Jerusalem rabbis recalled the ‘mercy’ God had shown his people when he allowed the ‘Kingdom of Ishmael’ to conquer Palestine. They were glad to remember that when the Muslims arrived in Jerusalem, ‘there were people from the children of Israel with them; they showed the spot of the Temple and they settled with them until this very day.’”
Meanwhile, in what remained of the Byzantine empire there were intermittent attempts to return to the policy of Heraclius. Thus Cyril Mango writes that “Leo III ordered once again the baptism of Jews and those who complied were given the title of ‘new citizens’, but they did so in bad faith, while others, it seems, fled to the Arabs. The failure of this measure was acknowledged by the Council of 787 which decreed that insincere converts should not be accepted; it was preferable to let them live according to their customs while remaining subject to the old disabilities. A fresh attempt was made by Basil I: Jews were summoned to disputations and if they were unable to demonstrate the truth of their religion, they were to be baptized. Remission of taxes and the grant of dignities were offered as rewards; even so, after the emperor’s death, most of the converts ‘returned like dogs to their own vomit’. The last recorded case of forced conversion was under Romanus I, but it only resulted in driving many Jews to the land of Khazaria north of the Black Sea [where they converted the Khazars to Judaism]. From then on such Jews as remained were left to live in relative peace; there was even a reverse migration of them from Egypt into the Empire in the late tenth and eleventh centuries…”
Justinian’s formulation of the Symphony of Powers had been consciously based on Chalcedonian Orthodoxy: the unity of kingship and priesthood in one Christian Roman State was likened to the union of the two natures, human and Divine, in the one Person of Christ. It is therefore not surprising to find that under succeeding emperors who renounced Chalcedonian Orthodoxy and embraced heresy (Monothelitism and Iconoclasm), the Symphony of Powers was also renounced – or rather, reinterpreted in such a way as to promote the prevailing heresy. The emperor, from being a focus of unity in the religious sphere, became an imposer of unity – and a false unity at that. The empire suffered accordingly: vast areas of the East were lost, first to the Persians, and then to the Muslim Arabs. As religious unity collapsed, so did the unity of nations. St. Anastasius of Sinai considered these defeats to be Divine punishment for the heresy of the Monothelite emperor.
Of course, this was not the first time that an emperor had been tempted to apply violence against the Orthodox. Even the great Justinian had come close to overstepping the mark in his relations with the Roman Popes. If that mark, in the final analysis, was not overstepped by him, because a real unity of faith between the Old and New Romes was achieved in his reign, this could no longer be said to be the case a century later, in 655, when the Orthodox Pope St. Martin was martyred for the faith by a heretical emperor acting in concert with a heretical patriarch.
The heretics then proceeded to torture the famous monk, St. Maximus the Confessor. They wished him to acknowledge the power of the emperor over the Church, as if he were both king and priest like Melchizedek. But Maximus refused. “Then you said: ‘What? Is not every Christian emperor a priest?’ I replied: ‘No, for he has no access to the altar, and after the consecration of the bread does not elevate it with the words: “The holy things to the holy”. He does not baptise, he does not go on to the initiation with chrism, he does not ordain or place bishops, priests and deacons, he does not consecrate churches with oil, he does not wear the marks of the priestly dignity – the omophorion and the Gospel, as he wears those of the kingdom, the crown and the purple.’ You objected: ‘And why does Scripture itself say that Melchisedech is “king and priest” [Genesis 14.18; Hebrews 7.1]?’ I replied: ‘There is only One Who is by nature King, the God of the universe, Who became for our salvation a hierarch by nature, of which Melchisedech is the unique type. If you say that there is another king and priest after the order of Melchisedech, then dare to say what comes next: “without father, without mother, without genealogy, of whose days there is no beginning and of whose life there is no end” [Hebrews 7.3], and see the disastrous consequences that are entailed: such a person would be another God become man, working our salvation as a priest not in the order of Aaron, but in the order of Melchisedech. But what is the point of multiplying words? During the holy anaphora at the holy table, it is after the hierarchs and deacons and the whole order of the clergy that commemoration is made of the emperors at the same time as the laity, with the deacon saying: “and the deacons who have reposed in the faith, Constantine, Constans, etc.” Equally, mention is made of the living emperors after all the clergy’”
Again he said: “To investigate and define dogmas of the Faith is the task not of the emperors, but of the ministers of the altar, because it is reserved to them both to anoint the emperor and to lay hands upon him, and to stand before the altar, to perform the Mystery of the Eucharist, and to perform all the other divine and most great Mysteries.”
And when Bishop Theodosius of Caesarea claimed that the anti-Monothelite Roman Council was invalid since it was not convened by the Emperor, St. Maximus replied: “If only those councils are confirmed which were summoned by royal decree, then there cannot be an Orthodox Faith. Recall the councils that were summoned by royal decree against the homoousion, proclaiming the blasphemous teaching that the Son of God is not of one essence with God the Father… The Orthodox Church recognizes as true and holy only those councils at which true and infallible dogmas were established.”
Ostrogorsky sees this moment as a critical turning-point in the history of Byzantium: “The figure of Maximus the Confessor, which opens up a new era in Orthodox theology, also signifies a certain ecclesiastico-political turning-point in the history of the Byzantine Church. It is precisely in the 7th century, when, thanks to the great Emperor Heraclius and his successors, the Empire had been radically reorganised, that there also arrive for Byzantium a new era in a State and cultural sense, a new era in the relations of the Byzantine Church and State...
“However, in the following, 8th century, a strong reaction can be observed on the part of the imperial power, a desire to reestablish in principle the former position. Once more the iconoclast emperors tried to lay State fetters on the Church, striving forcibly uproot the veneration of icons accepted by the Church. And again Leo III wanted to be called emperor and high-priest. But the opposition which he and his successors encountered showed that these had not learned and underestimated the strength of their opponents – the representatives of a new, medieval, ecclesiastical ideology. All the works of the defenders of icon-veneration persecuted by the secular power that have come down to us deliberately insist on the fact that the teaching of the faith is the affair of the Church and the Church hierarchy. The emperor did not have the right to change anything in the resolutions of the Church and had without question to submit to them, as did every other Christian... That is what all the icon-venerators of the period thought. The spirit that ruled them was not to be broken by any measures of external violence. And the struggle that was kindled because of icon-veneration was crowned by the great victory of the Byzantine Church...»
Leo III’s heretical, quasi-Muslim understanding of the nature of icons went hand in hand with a resurrection of the pagan model of the imperator-pontifex maximus. In fact, insofar as the Muslim Caliph considered himself to be both a king and a prophet, Leo could be said to have borrowed his theory of kingship (“I am both king and priest”), as well as his iconoclasm, from the Muslims. It was therefore eminently fitting that his main critic in both spheres should have been St. John of Damascus, a functionary at the Caliph’s court.
“What right have emperors to style themselves lawgivers in the Church?” asks St. John. “What does the holy apostle say? ‘And God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers and shepherds, for building up the body of Christ.’ (I Corinthians 12.28). He does not mention emperors… Political prosperity is the business of emperors; the condition of the Church is the concern of shepherds and teachers.”
Again, an epistle read and accepted by the Seventh Ecumenical Council addressed both the Patriarch and the Emperors, who were described as occupying the second place in the Church order: «God gave the greatest gift to men: the Priesthood and the Imperial power; the first preserves and watches over the heavenly, while the second rules earthly things by means of just laws».
The epistle also produced a concise and inspired definition of the Church-State relationship: «The priest is the sanctification and strengthening of the Imperial power, while the Imperial power is the strength and firmness of the priesthood».
Some years later, in a document probably written early in the ninth century in Constantinople, but ascribed to the earlier Orthodox Pope Gregory II, Leo III’s claim to be both king and priest is fittingly refuted, while it is admitted that true kings are in some ways like priests: “You write: «I am Emperor and priest”. Yes, the Emperors who were before you proved this in word and deed: they build churches and cared for them; being zealous for the Orthodox faith, they together with the hierarchs investigated and defended the truth. Emperors such as: Constantine the Great, Theodosius the Great, Constantine [IV], the father of Justinian [II], who was at the Sixth Council. These Emperors reigned piously: they together with the hierarchs with one mind and soul convened councils, investigated the truth of the dogmas, built and adorned the holy churches. These were priests and Emperors! They proved it in word and deed. But you, since the time that you received power, have not completely begun to observe the decrees of the Fathers...»
Leo’s claim to be the first pastor of the Church in the image of the Apostle Peter was fittingly refuted by the Pope, who was still at that time the first pastor of Orthodoxy: “You know, Emperor, that the dogmas of the Holy Church do not belong to the Emperor, but to the Hierarchs, who can safely dogmatise. That is why the Churches have been entrusted to the Hierarchs, and they do not enter into the affairs of the people’s administration. Understand and take note of this... The coming together of the Christ-loving Emperors and pious Hierarchs constitutes a single power, when affairs are governed with peace and love”.
And again: «God has given power over all men to the Piety of the Emperors in order that those who strive for virtue may find strengthening in them, - so that the path to the heavens should be wider, - so that the earthly kingdom should serve the Heavenly Kingdom.»
One person in two distinct natures: one power in two distinct functions: the Chalcedonian basis of the symphonic doctrine of Church-State relations is clear. And just as the symphonic doctrine of Church-State relations reflects Chalcedonian Orthodoxy, so the absolutist theory of Church-State relations reflects both Monothelitism and Iconoclasm. Just as Monothelitism denies that there is more than one will in Christ, so the absolutist theory denies that there is more than one will in the government of the Christian commonwealth, declaring that the will of the emperor can take the place of the will of the hierarchs. And just as Iconoclasm destroys the proper relationship between the icon and its archetype, saying that icons are in fact idols, so absolutism destroys the proper relationship and distance between the earthly type and his Heavenly Archetype, so that the emperor becomes, in St. Maximus’ words, “another God incarnate” - that is, an idol. For this, no less than for his iconoclasm, Leo III is justly called «forerunner of the Antichrist» in the Byzantine service books, and was anathematised by the Church as «the tormentor and not Emperor Leo the Isaurian».
The great power that remained unconquered by Roman armies, and hostile to Romanity throughout the early Christian period, was Sassanid Persia, the successor of the Parthian empire. “Sassanid Persia,” writes Roberts, “was a religious as well as a political unity. Zoroastrianism had been formally restored by Ardashir [or Artaxerxes, the first Sassanid ruler], who gave important privileges to its priests, the magi. They led in due course to political power as well. Priests confirmed the divine nature of the kingship, had important judicial duties, and came, too, to supervise the collection of the land-tax which was the basis of Persian finances. The doctrines they taught seem to have varied considerably from the strict monotheism attributed to Zoroaster but focused on a creator, Ahura Mazda, whose viceroy on earth was the king. The Sassanids’ promotion of the state religion was closely connected with the assertion of their own authority.”
At the beginning of the seventh century, Persia was ruled by the great Sassanid king Chosroes II. His message to the Byantine Emperor Heraclius was uncompromising: “Chosroes, greatest of gods, and master of the earth, to Heraclius, his vile and insensate slave. Why do you still call yourself a king?”
Chosroes conquered both Antioch and Jerusalem. But then, in 628, Heraclius, by the power of the holy and life-giving cross which he recaptured from Persia, was able to defeat Chosroes and bring old-style Middle Eastern despotism to an end. However, the effort exhausted the Byzantine state; and the emperor’s sometimes despotic attempts to impose his Monothelite faith alienated some of his subject peoples.
Thus a political vacuum was created; and into that vacuum stepped a third force that was as far as possible opposed to the style of governing of its predecessors. For Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was not a king, still less a Persian-style “king of kings”, but a supposed “prophet”. He was not a man who ascribed divine honours to himself, but a man who claimed to abhor every kind of man-worship and idolatry (hence Islam’s influence, as some have supposed, on the iconoclast movement, which claimed to be fighting the idolatry of icon-worship).
As Bernard Lewis points out, “the power wielded by the early caliphs was very far from the despotism of their predecessors and successors. It was limited by the political ethics of Islam and by the anti-authoritarian habits and traditions of ancient Arabia. A verse attributed to the pre-Islamic Arabic poet ‘Abid ibn al-Abras speaks o his tribe as ‘laqah’, a word which, according to the ancient commentators and lexicographers, denotes a tribe that has never submitted to a king. ‘Abid’s proud description of his people makes his meaning clear:
They refused to be servants of kings, and were never ruled by any
But when they were called on for help in war, they responded gladly.
“The ancient Arabs, like the ancient Israelites depicted in the books of Judges and Samuel, mistrusted kings and the institution of kingship. They were, indeed, familiar with the institution of monarchy in the surrounding countries, and some were even led to adopt it. There were kings in the states of southern Arabia; there were kings in the border principalities of the north; but all these were in different degrees marginal to Arabia. The sedentary kingdoms of the south used a different language, and were part of a different culture. The border principalities of the north, though authentically Arab, were deeply influenced by Persian and Byzantine imperial practice, and represent a somewhat alien element in the Arab world…
“The early Muslims were well aware of the nature of imperial monarchy as practised in their own day in Byzantium and in Persia, and believed that the state founded by the Prophet and governed after him by his successors the caliphs represented something new and different…”
In what way was it different? Miloslavskaya and Miloslavsky point to two major differences which Muslims see as distinguishing their society from those around them: the idea that society must be ruled by the commands of Allah, and not by the laws of men, and the idea that the caliphate's secular and spiritual powers (the sultanate and the imamate) are indivisible.
Lewis confirms the first point: “For the Prophet and his companions…., the choice between God and Caesar… did not arise. In Muslim teaching and experience, there was no Caesar. God was the head of the state, and Muhammed his Prophet taught and ruled on his behalf. As Prophet, he had – and could have – no successor. As supreme sovereign of the religio-political community of Islam, he was succeeded by a long line of caliphs.”
However, he qualifies the second point as follows: “It is sometimes said that the caliph was head of State and Church, pope and emperor in one. This description in Western and Christian terms is misleading. Certainly there was no distinction between imperium and sacerdotium, as in the Christian empire, and no separate ecclesiastical institution, no Church, with its own head and hierarchy. The caliphate was always defined as a religious office, and the caliph’s supreme purpose was to safeguard the heritage of the Prophet and to enforce the Holy Law. But the caliph had no pontifical or even priestly function… His task was neither to expound nor to interpret the faith, but to uphold and protect it – to create conditions in which his subjects could follow the good Muslim life in this world and prepare themselves for the world to come. And to do this, he had to maintain the God-given Holy Law within the frontiers of the Islamic state, and to defend and, where possible, extend those frontiers, until in the fullness of time the whole world was opened to the light of Islam…”
Of course, there was a contradiction between the quasi-democratic, almost anarchical ideal of early Islam and the reality of the caliphs’ almost unlimited power. On the one hand, the caliphs wanted to create an order in which, “as ideally conceived, there were to be no priests, no church, no kings and no nobles, no privileged orders or castes or estates of any kind, save only for the self-evident superiority of those who accept the true faith to those who wilfully reject it – and of course such obvious natural and social realities as the superiority of man to woman and of master to slave.” But on the other hand, they were military leaders and success in war, especially against peoples trained in obedience to autocratic or despotic leaders, required that they should be able to command no less obedience.
And so Muslim “democratism” soon passed into a monarchism hardly less despotic than the monarchies that Islam had destroyed. This was particularly the case after 747, when Abu Muslim, a manumitted Persian slave, raised the standard of revolt, defeated the Umayyad caliph and created the Abbasid dynasty. A few years later, Al-Mansur (754-775) moved the capital of the Islamic empire to Baghdad, where it came under the influence of Persia with its strong despotic tradition. The caliphs of the ninth century, particularly Mamun (813-833), believed their authority to be unlimited. And at the beginning of the eleventh century, the Fatimid ruler Al-Hakim even accepted his identification with the godhead.
“The increasingly authoritarian character of government”, writes Lewis, “and the disappointment of successful revolutionaries is vividly expressed in a passage quoted by several classical authors. A certain Sudayf, a supporter of the Abbasids, is cited as complaining of the changes resulting from the fall of the Umayyads and the accession of the Abbasids to the caliphate: ‘By God, our booty, which was shared, has become a perquisite of the rich. Our leadership, which was consultative, has become arbitrary. Our succession, which was by the choice of the community, is now by inheritance.”
Despotism in politics leads to the persecution of all non-State-sponsored religion. Thus when Caliph Mutasim, Mamum’s brother and successor, conquered the Byzantine fortress town of Amorion, he executed forty-two prisoners who refused to renounce Christianity and embrace Islam. In Moorish Spain, too, we find an increase in Christian martyrdoms (and apostasies to Islam) at this time.
That Muslim statehood should become despotic was a natural consequence of the lack of a separation of Church and State in Islam, which gave an absolute, unchecked power to the Caliphs, embodying as they did both religious and political authority.
Guizot points out that the separation of spiritual and temporal power is a legacy of Christianity which the Islamic world abandoned: “This separation is the source of liberty of conscience; it is founded upon no other principle but that which is the foundation of the most perfect and extended freedom of conscience. The separation of temporal and spiritual power is based upon the idea that physical force has neither right nor influence over souls, over conviction, over truth. It flows from the distinction established between the world of thought and the world of action, between the world of internal and that of external facts. Thus this principle of liberty of conscience for which Europe has struggled so much, and suffered so much, this principle which prevailed so late, and often, in its progress, against the inclination of the clergy, was enunciated, under the name of the separation of temporal and spiritual power, in the very cradle of European civilisation; and it was the Christian Church which, from the necessity imposed by its situation of defending itself against barbarism, introduced and maintained it… It is in the combination of the spiritual and temporal powers, in the confusion of moral and material authority, that the tyranny which seems inherent in this [Muslim] civilisation originated.”
There is another reason why despotism and tyranny are inherent in Islam: the Muslims’ belief that all people are bound to obey Allah, and that those who do not obey – with the partial exceptions of the Jews and Christians - have no right either to life or freedom or property. This belief, combined with their further beliefs in fatalism and in the automatic entrance of all Muslim warriors that die in the struggle with the unbelievers into the joys of Paradise, made the Muslim armies of the early Arab caliphate, as of the later Turkish sultanate, a formidable expansionary force in world politics.
Thus the Koran says: “O believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Let them find firmness in you” (Sura: 9; Ayat: 123). “Fight those who believe not… even if they be People of the Book [Jews and Christians] until they willingly agree to pay the tribute in recognition of their submissive state” (Sura: 9; Ayat: 29). “You will be called to fight a mighty nation; fight them until they embrace Islam” (Sura: 48; Ayat: 16).” As Kenneth Craig writes, holy war, or jihad, “was believed to be the recovery by Islam of what by right belonged to it as the true and final religion but which had been alienated from it by the unbelief or perversity embodied in the minorities whose survival – but no more – it allowed....”
L.A. Tikhomirov writes: “In submitting without question to God, the Muslim becomes a spreader of the power of God on earth. Everyone is obliged to submit to Allah, whether they want to or not. If they do not submit, then they have no right to live. Therefore the pagans are subject either to conversion to Islam, or to extermination. Violent conversion to Islam, is nothing prejudicial, from the Muslim point of view, for people are obliged to obey God without question, not because they desire it, but because Allah demands this of them. Mohammed violently converted to his faith not only pagans, but also Jews. However, it was soon established that all those ‘having the Scriptures’, that is, Christians and Jews, should not be subjected to violent conversion or extermination. It was presupposed that they, too, submit to God, although incorrectly, because of some insufficiencies in their Scriptures, but not out of a lack of desire to submit to him. However, since they do not submit in the established way, they cannot have an independent existence, they do not have rights and must serve to the benefit of the right believers. Thus already under Mohammed the Muslims were indicated the aim of subduing the whole world. Moreover, only the Muslims can rule everywhere, while the unbelievers are subject either to extermination, or to violent conversion, or, finally (the Jews and Christians), to a subject existence, being obliged to pay the Muslims money for being allowed to exist, albeit in a rightless situation. This vision of universal conquest and pillage was also completely in the spirit of the Arabs, who were eternally occupied in pillaging all 'strangers’ and those who in a spirit of self-sacrifice defended ‘their own’.…
«Islam came from the hands of Mohammed as a religion adapted primarily for political and social life. In relation to everything that satisfies the spiritual demands of the personality, Islam is poor and in this respect weak...
“Islam is universalist and cosmopolitan, it receives to itself everyone and makes them all masters of the world or at least pretenders to such mastery. In their submission to Allah, the Muslims are equal to each other inside their own society. But in relation to the whole of the rest of the world they have the rights of mastery over the unbelievers, over their work and property. The Muslims reign in the world with Allah – clearly, evidently, with all the advantages that this entails. This entices the average person, of course. Fanaticism, when it has become a duty before Allah, and fatalism, which proceeds from faith in predestination, make the followers of Islam fearless warriors, the more so in that each success in subduing the unbelievers constantly provides the right believers with new wealth. By extremely simplifying the faith, and binding man to God not through any subtleties of the spiritual life, but through a blind, unthinking submission with the obligation to spread the faith, Mohammed created a powerful weapon in the hands of the prophet and his successors. Hence the the threatening external power of Islam and its fabulously rapid spread in the world. But the poverty of its religious content has created its inner weakness and receptivity to the external influences of other religions, which in the end has been reflected in a weakening even of the external power of Islam. This was revealed very quickly, one could say with the first conquests of the Muslims, whose power was resurrected by every outburst of Mohammed’s simplified fatalism and was weakened with every manifestation of a striving for a deeper and subtler religious life».”
With the fall of iconoclasm in Byzantium in 843, there also fell the absolutist theory of Church-State relations preached by the iconoclast emperors. Although, under the new dynasty of Macedonian emperors, the empire entered a glorious period of increased power and prosperity, the patriarchs of the period were in no mood to concede more power than was necessary to the new dynasty, Orthodox though it might be. One reason for this was that some of the patriarchs had been brought up during the iconoclast persecution and had suffered personally during it (St. Methodius had been in prison, while St. Photius’ parents had been martyred). Another reason was the particularly prominent – and damaging - role that the emperors had taken in the recent persecutions. The early Roman emperors had persecuted the Church at times – but they had been pagans in a pagan society, and were therefore simply expressing the prejudices of the society in which they lived. Later emperors in the post-Constantinian era, such as Constantius and Valens, had also persecuted the Church – which was worse, since they were supposed to be Christians, but again, they had not been the initiators of the persecution, but had responded to the pleas of heretical churchmen. However, the iconoclast emperors enjoyed the dubious distinction of having been at the head of their heretical movement; they were heresiarchs themselves, not simply the political agents of heresiarchs. As one document of the period put it: “The ancient heresies came from a quarrel over the dogmas and developed progressively, whereas this one [iconoclasm] comes from the imperial power itself.” The patriarchs therefore laboured to raise the profile, and increase the power, of the patriarchate in society, as a defence against any return to antichristianity on the part of the emperors.
This new intransigeance of the patriarchs in relation to the emperors had been foreshadowed even before the last period of iconoclast persecution, when, on 24 December, 804, “Leo V brought Patriarch Nicephorus and several bishops and monks together to involve them in coming to an agreement with those who were ‘scandalised’ by the icons and in making an ‘economy’. The confrontation gave way to a series of grating ‘little phrases’ that were hawked about everywhere and which sketched a new theory of imperial power. The clergy refused to engage in any discussion with this perfectly legitimate emperor who had not yet taken any measures against the icons and who wanted a council of bishops to tackle the problem. Emilian of Cyzicus said to him: ‘If there is an ecclesiastical problem, as you say, Emperor, let it be resolved in the Church, as is the custom… and not in the Palace,’ to which Leo remarked that he also was a child of the Church and that he could serve as an arbiter between the two camps. Michael of Synada then said to him that ‘his arbitration’ was in fact a ‘tyranny’; others reproached him for taking sides. Without batting an eyelid, Euthymius of Sardis invoked eight centuries of Christian icons and angered the emperor by reusing a quotation from St. Paul that had already been used by John of Damascus: ‘Even if an angel from heaven should preach to us a gospel different from the one that you have received, let him be anathema!’ (Galatians 1.8). The ‘ardent teacher of the Church and abbot of Studion’ Theodore was the last to speak: ‘Emperor, do not destroy the stability of the Church. The apostle spoke of those whom God has established in the Church, first as apostles, secondly as prophets, and thirdly as pastors and teachers (I Corinthians 12.28)…, but he did not speak of emperors. You, O Emperor, have been entrusted with the stability of the State and the army. Occupy yourself with that and leave the Church, as the apostle says, to pastors and teachers. If you did not accept this and departed from our faith…, if an angel came from heaven to preach to us another gospel, we would not listen to him; so even less to you!’ Then Leo, furious, broke off the dialogue to set the persecution in motion.”
What is remarkable in this scene is the refusal of the hierarchs to allow the emperor any kind of arbitrating role – even though he had not yet declared himself to be an iconoclast. Of course, the bishops probably knew the secret motives and beliefs of the emperor, so they knew that any council convened by him would have been a “robber council”, like that of 754. Moreover, the Seventh Ecumenical Council had already defined the position of the Church, so a further council was superfluous. However, the bishops’ fears were probably particularly focussed on the word “arbitration” and the false theory of Church-State relations that that implied. The Church had allowed, even urged, emperors to convene councils in the past; but had never asked them to arbitrate in them. Rather it was they, the bishops sitting in council, who were the arbiters, and the emperor who was obliged, as an obedient son of the Church, to submit to their judgement. The bishops were determined to have no truck with this last relic of the absolutist theory of Church-State relations.
It was St. Theodore the Studite who particularly pressed this point. As he wrote to the Emperor Leo V: «If you want to be her (the Church’s) son, then nobody is hindering you; only follow in everything your spiritual father (the Patriarch)». And it was the triumph of Studite rigorism – on this issue, at any rate – that determined the attitude of the patriarchs after the final Triumph of Orthodoxy over iconoclasm in 843.
However, there were other issues on which the leaders of the Church were less united in their approval of the Studite position – in particular, the so-called “moichian” controversy, in which St. Theodore had broken communion with Patriarch Nicephorus over the Priest Joseph’s illegal “crowning” of the Emperor Constantine VI and his mistress. St. Nicephorus himself had been reconciled with St. Theodore on this issue; but the first patriarch after the Triumph of Orthodoxy, St. Methodius, would not be reconciled with his followers, to the extent of excommunicating all those who did not anathematise all of Theodore’s writings that were critical of Nicephorus. The reason for this attitude, according to Hieromonk Gregory Lurye, was that St. Methodius had an ecclesiology which exalted the status of the patriarchate to an unheard-of, almost papist degree. 
Be that as it may, there is no question that the Patriarchs Methodius, Photius and Ignatius, all of whom have been canonised by the Church, quite consciously tried to exalt the authority of the patriarchate in relation to the empire. But in order to justify this programme, they needed a biblical model. And just as the Emperor Leo had used the figure of Melchizedek, both king and priest, to justify his exaltation of the role of the emperor, so Patriarch Photius used the figure of Moses, both king (as it were) and priest, to exalt the role of the patriarch. Only whereas Melchizedek had been seen by Leo as primarily a king who was also a priest, Moses was seen by St. Photius as primarily a priest who also had the effective power of a king: “Among the citizens, [Moses] chose the most refined and those who would be the most capable to lead the whole people, and he appointed them as priests… He entrusted them with guarding the laws and traditions; that was why the Jews never had a king and why the leadership of the people was always entrusted to the one among the priests who was reputed to be the most intelligent and the most virtuous. It is he whom they call the Great Priest, and they believe that he is for them the messenger of the Divine commandments.”
However, St. Photius soon came into conflict with one who called himself “Great Priest” in no uncertain terms, and who exalted his priesthood in such a way as to encroach on the prerogatives of kings and introduce heresy into the Church – Nicholas I, Pope of Rome. The dogmatic aspect of the quarrel related to Nicholas’ introduction into the Creed of the Filioque, which Photius succeeded in having anathematised together with its author. But it also had a political aspect insofar as Nicholas, reasserting the Gelasian model of Church-State relations, but also going further than that in an aggressively papist direction, claimed jurisdiction over the traditionally eastern provinces of Sicily and Bulgaria. It was becoming clear that if “caesaropapism” had been the greatest danger in the iconoclast period, it was its opposite, “papocaesarism”, that was the greatest danger in the post-iconoclast period.
Of all the patriarchates, Rome, at least in part through her healthy scepticism about the corruption and ambition of secular power, had been the most faithful to Orthodoxy for more than four centuries. But her consciousness of this fine record had bred pride and an incipient feeling of infallibility, which led her to encroach on the prerogatives both of the other patriarchates in the Church and of the emperor in the State. And so St. Photius now stood up in defence of the Eastern Church and State – and in so doing was forced to limit his own exalted conception of the patriarchate, as we see in the later part of the 15th canon of the First-and-Second Council, which permits clergy and laity to break communion with their patriarch on the grounds of publicly proclaimed heresy even before a conciliar decision.
In two letters dating to the year 870, one to the bishops from exile and the other to the Emperor Basil who exiled him, St. Photius presents a balanced and traditional model of the role of the emperor. Thus on the one hand, in his letter to the emperor, he reminds him of his fallibility and mortality. But on the other hand, in his letter to the bishops, he gives due honour to the emperor: “While before us the divine Paul exhorts us to pray for sovereigns, so does Peter too, the chief of the apostles, saying, ‘Be submissive to every human institution for the Lord’s sake whether it be to the emperor as supreme,’ and again, ‘Honor the emperor,’ But still, even before them, our common Master and Teacher and Creator Himself from His incalculably great treasure, by paying tribute to Caesar, taught us by deed and custom to observe the privileges which had been assigned to emperors. For this reason, indeed, in our mystical and awesome services we offer up prayers on behalf of our sovereigns. It is, accordingly, both right and pleasing to God, as well as most appropriate for us, to maintain these privileges and to join also our Christ-loving emperors in preserving them.” 
Moreover, in his advice to the newly bapised Bulgarian Tsar Boris-Michael he gave the tsar authority even in matters of the faith: «The king must correct his people in the faith and direct it in the knowledge of the true God».
However, in the law manual entitled the Epanagoge, which was compiled between 879 and 886, and in whose composition St. Photius probably played a leading part, the authority of the Patriarch is exalted over the Emperor. The pro-patriarchal “bias” of this document is already evident in the foreword, where, as Fr. Alexis Nikolin writes, “it says that ‘the law is from God’, Who is the true Basileus.…[And] in the Digests we do not find the following thesis of Roman law: ‘That which is pleasing to the emperor has the force of law’. Thus the emperor is not seen in the capacity of ‘the living law’ [nomoV emyucoV].” He is the living law, says the Epanagoge, only when there is not already a written law: “The Emperor must act as the law when there is none written, except that his actions must not violate the canon law. The Patriarch alone must interpret the canons of the ancient (Patriarchs) and the decrees of the Holy Fathers and the resolutions of the Holy Synods” (Titulus III, 5).
In fact, as Dagron writes, “The emperor is defined as a ‘legitimate authority’ (ennomoV epistasia), contrary to the Hellenistic and Roman tradition which declares him to be ‘above the laws’, being himself ‘the living law’ and only submitting to the laws of his own free will… In the first article [of Titulus III] the patriarch is defined as the living and animate image of Christ by deeds and words typifying the truth (eikwn zwsa Cristou kai emyucoV di’ergwn kai logwn carakterizousa thn alhqeian)… Everything that the patriarch gains, he steals from the emperor. In place of the emperor traditionally called – as in the letter of Theodore the Studite – ‘imitator of Christ’ there is substituted a patriarch called the image of Christ, and in place of the emperor as the living law – a patriarch as the living truth… The idea of the emperor-priest, which was condemned in the person of Leo III, is succeeded by the prudent but clear evocation of a patriarch-emperor, or at least of a supreme priest to whom revert all the attributes of sovereignty. If he is the living image of Christ, the patriarch participates like him in the two powers. He is a New Moses and a New Melchizedek.”
The document then proceeds to contrast the rights and duties of the Emperor and the Patriarch. «The task of the Emperor is to protect and preserve the existing popular forces by good administration, and to reestablish the damaged forces by careful supervision and just ways and actions» (Titulus II, 2). «The task of the Patriarch is, first, to keep those people whom he has received from God in piety and purity of life, and then he must as far as possible convert all heretics to Orthodoxy and the unity of the Church (heretics, in the laws and canons of the Church, are those who are not in communion with the Catholic Church). Also, he must lead the unbelievers to adopt the faith, striking them with the lustre and glory and wonder of his service» (Titulus III, 2)… «The aim of the Patriarch is the salvation of the souls entrusted to him; the Patriarch must live in Christ and be crucified for the world» (Titulus III, 3). «The Emperor must be most distinguished in Orthodoxy and piety and glorified in divine zeal, knowledgeable in the dogmas of the Holy Trinity and in the definitions of salvation through the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ» (Titulus II, 5). «It particularly belongs to the Patriarch to teach and to relate equally and without limitations o both high and low, and be gentle in administering justice, skilled in exposing the unbelievers, and not to be ashamed to speak before the face of the Emperor about justice and the defence of the dogmas» (Titulus III, 4). “The Emperor is bound to defend and strengthen, first of all, all that which is written in the Divine Scriptures, and then also all the dogmas established by the Holy Councils, and also selected Roman laws» (Titulus II, 4).
Although it is evident that a more exalted place is accorded to the patriarch in the Epanagoge, it is nevertheless striking that the emperor is still given an important role in defending the faith. However, the word “emperor” is carefully defined to exclude what St. Basil or St. Ambrose would have called a “tyrant”: «The aim of the Emperor is to do good, which is why he is called a benefactor. And when he ceases to do good, then, it seems, he corrupts the meaning of the concept of Emperor by comparison with the ancient teachings» (Titulus II, 3).
In the last analysis, if Photius’ conception of the kingship seems “to the right of centre” of the patristic consensus, if Justinian’s Novella 6 is seen as the centre, this is probably to be explained by the need felt by the Patriarch to counter the absolutism of Leo III’s Eclogue, the need to check the still sometimes intemperate acts of the contemporary emperors (Photius himself was exiled more than once), and by the great power that St. Photius wielded in post-iconoclast Byzantium. Thus in the struggle with Rome he was the main mover and the main victor. The Great Council of 879-880, which was attended by 400 bishops, including the legates of Pope John VIII, anathematised the Filioque, firmly restricted the Pope’s jurisdiction to the West, and gave Photius a completely analogous jurisdiction in the East, calling him “supreme pastor”, whose competence extended to “the whole world”.
If that phrase was just a rhetorical flourish, it was nevertheless true that the authority of the Constantinopolitan patriarchate now extended throughout the Orthodox East; and it is from this time that the structure of the Orthodox Church, which from Justinian to Theodore the Studite had been characterised as a pentarchy of patriarchates, now became a diarchy (Rome and Constantinople), with the three Eastern patriarchates under Muslim rule being virtually reduced to the status of metropolitan districts of the Constantinopolitan patriarchate.
In the East, moreover, the diarchy was seen rather as a Constantinopolitan monarchy, insofar as the decline and corruption of Rome in the early tenth century during the “pornocracy of Marozia” greatly reduced the prestige and influence of the other diarch. Again, in missionary work beyond the bounds of the empire, where the emperors had previously taken the initiative, the patriarch was now the prime mover: in relation to the Armenians and Syrians in the East, to the Moravians in the West, to the Khazars, Bulgars and Russians in the North. The patriarchate was becoming more truly “ecumenical” with every passing year.
At the same time, it must not be thought that St. Photius denied the traditional doctrine of Church-State symphony. Thus the Epanagoge concludes: «The State consists of parts and members like an individual person. The most important and necessary parts are the Emperor and the Patriarch. Therefore unanimity in everything and agreement (sumfwnia) between the Empire and the Priesthood (constitutes) the spiritual and bodily peace and prosperity of the citizens» (Titulus III, 8).
Thus the iconoclast thesis and the post-iconoclast antithesis in political theology came to rest, in the Epanagoge, in a synthesis which emphasised the traditional value of symphony between the two powers, even if the superiority was clearly given to the patriarch (the soul) over the emperor (the body).
It must also be remembered that the “consensus of the Fathers” with regard to the emperor-patriarch relationship did not occupy an exact middle point, as it were, on the spectrum between “caesaropapism” and “papocaesarism”, but rather a broad band in the middle. In times when the emperor was apostate, heretical or simply power-hungry and passionate, the Fathers tended slightly right of centre, emphasising the independence of the Church in her own sphere, the lay, unpriestly character of the emperor, and the superiority of spiritual to temporal ends as the soul is superior to the body (SS. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan, Maximus the Confessor, Photius the Great). But in times when the emperor was a faithful son of the Church, the Fathers were glad to accord him a quasi-priestly role and leadership even in spiritual matters – provided, of course, that he did not undertake strictly sacramental functions (the Fathers of the First, Fourth and Fifth Ecumenical Councils, St. Isidore of Pelusium). It was only the extremes that were definitely excluded: the royal absolutism of the iconoclast emperors and the priestly absolutism of the heretical popes, both of which tended to deny any independent sphere of action to the Church, in the former case, and to the emperor, in the latter. As society became more completely penetrated with the Spirit of the Gospel, and conflicts with the emperor over matters of faith became rarer, it became normative to see the emperor in a quasi-priestly role. This was especially the case after the introduction of the sacrament of royal anointing. However, the history of Byzantium in the ninth century shows that the exalted place that the emperor came to occupy as a matter of course in Eastern Orthodoxy was made possible only at a cost – the cost of a ferocious struggle on the part of the first hierarchs of the Church to eliminate royal absolutism, a struggle, moreover, which did not end with the death of St. Photius…
As we have seen, it was a fundamental principle both of Justinian’s and of Photius’ legislation that Church canons should always take precedence over imperial laws. As this principle became more generally accepted, more areas of what had been considered purely secular life, having little or nothing directly to do with the Church, came under the influence of the process of “enchurchment”. This process was expressed in several new requirements: that the emperors themselves should be anointed in a special Church rite; that marriages take place in church, and in accordance with the canons; and that lands and monies donated by individuals to the Church should never be secularised, but should ever remain under the control of the Church. Thus one of the novellas of Emperor Alexis Comnenus said that it was wrong to forbid a slave a Church marriage in a Christian State, for in the Church a slave is equal to a lord. Again, there were cases of trials of murderers, not according to the civil codex, but in accordance with the Church canons: the criminal besought forgiveness on his knees and was given a fifteen-year penance of standing among the penitents at the Divine Liturgy.
However, as was to be expected, there was resistance to this process, if not as an ideal, at any rate in practice; and this was particularly so in the case of marriage law – more specifically, of marriage law as applied to emperors… The first major conflict came towards the end of the eighth century, when St. Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, refused to give his blessing to the marriage of the son of the Empress Irene, Constantine VI, who had cast off his lawful wife and entered into an adulterous relationship with his mistress. The Emperors then turned to the priest Joseph, who performed the marriage, upon which. St. Tarasius at first did nothing, “through adaptation to circumstances”, but then excommunicated Joseph. Fearful, however, that too great strictness in this affair would lead the Emperors to incline towards iconoclasm, the patriarch accepted Joseph into communion before the end of his penance. Joseph was also received into communion by the next Patriarch, St. Nicephorus, who was under pressure from the next Emperor, Nicephorus.
In protest against these applications of “economy”, which he characterized as the “heresy” of “moichism” (“adulterism”), St. Theodore the Studite broke communion with both patriarchs, and returned into communion with St. Nicephorus only when he, after the death of the Emperor Nicephorus, had again excommunicated Joseph.
St. Theodore allowed no compromise in relation to the Canons of the Church, which he did not distinguish from the Gospel itself. He who was not guided by the canons was not fully Orthodox. St. Paul anathematised anyone who transgressed the law of Christ, even if he were an angel from heaven. A fortiori the emperors were not exempt from the canons; there was no special “Gospel of the kings”. Only God is not subject to the law.
St. Photius faithfully followed St. Theodore’s teaching. When Basil I came to power after murdering his predecessor, Photius accepted him as emperor, but refused to give him communion, for which he was deposed. He was deposed again by Basil’s son, Leo the Wise, who shifted the balance of Church-State relations back towards caesaropapism, saying that “from now on the emperor’s care extends to everything, and his foresight (pronoia, a word which can equally well mean the ‘providence’ of God) controls and governs everything.”
And so when St. Photius’ successor (and nephew), Patriarch Nicholas the Mystic, opposed his fourth marriage to Zoe, the Emperor simply removed him from office, forced a priest to perform the marriage and then, in the absence of a patriarch, himself placed the imperial crown on his “wife’s” head.
However, the patriarch did not give in. Commenting that the Emperor was to Zoe “both bridegroom and bishop”, he defrocked the priest that had “married” the emperor and refused the emperor entrance into the church. Then, when the legates of the Pope recognised the marriage, St. Nicholas resigned from his see, declaring that he had received the patriarchate not from the king but through the mercy of God alone, and that he was leaving his see because the emperor by his uncanonical actions had made the government of the Church impossible.
The emperor retaliated by putting his friend Euthymius on the patriarchal throne, who permitted the fourth marriage, saying: “It is right, your Majesty, to obey your orders and receive your decisions as emanating from the will and providence of God”!
However, after the death of Leo in 912, Euthymius was imprisoned and St. Nicholas was restored to the patriarchate.
But the struggle between the Nicholaitans and the Euthymites continued, and was brought to an end only by the Tome of Union in 920, which condemned fourth marriages as “unquestionably illicit and void.”
As St. Nicholas later explained to the Pope: “What was I to do in such circumstances? Shut up and go to sleep? Or think and act as befits a friend who cares at one and the same time both for the honour of the emperor and for the ecclesiastical decrees? And so we began the struggle with God’s help; we tried to convince the rulers not to be attracted by that which is proper only for those who do not know how to control themselves, but to endure what had happened with magnanimity, with good hope on Christ our God; while we touched, not only his knee, but also his leg, begging and beseeching him as king in the most reverential way not to permit his authority to do everything, but to remember that there sits One Whose authority is mightier than his - He Who shed His Most Pure Blood for the Church.”
And to the Emperor he wrote: “My child and emperor, it befitted you as a worshipper of God and one who has been glorified by God more than others with wisdom and other virtue, to be satisfied with three marriages: perhaps even a third marriage was unworthy of your royal majesty… but the sacred canons do not completely reject a third marriage, but are condescending, although they dislike it. However, what justification can there be for a fourth marriage? The king, they say, is the unwritten law, but not in order that he may act in a lawless manner and everything that comes into his head, but in order that by his unwritten deeds he may be that which is the written law; for if the king is the enemy and foe of the laws, who will fear them?”
Another area in which imperial might came up against ecclesiastical right, and in which “natural” processes were subject to a process of “enchurchment”, was the very important one of imperial legitimacy and succession.
Dagron has shown that the Byzantine concept of legitimacy was a complex one composed of many strands; one could become emperor by dynastic succession from father to son, by being “purple-born (porjurogennhtoV)”, by marrying a former empress, by being made co-emperor by a living emperor, and even by what we would call usurpation, the overthrow of a living emperor by force. Although a usurper would naturally be considered to be the very opposite of a legitimate ruler, he could nevertheless be seen as expressing a change in “the mandate of heaven”, God’s transfer of power from an unworthy man to one more worthy, as when He “repented” of His choice of Saul and chose David instead.
Thus, according to Lemerle, “usurpation… has a meaning and almost a political function. It is not so much an illegal act as the first act in a process of legitimation… There is a parallelism, rather than an opposition, between the basileus and the usurper. Hence the existence of two different notions of legitimacy, the one ‘dynastic’ and the other which we might call (in the Roman sense) ‘republican’, which are not really in conflict but reinforce each other: the second, when the usurper fails, reinforces thereby the first, and when he succeeds, recreates it, whether the usurper attaches himself to the dynasty or founds a dynasty himself.”
And yet… what if a usurper came to power by the murder of his predecessor? Even here the Church usually crowned the usurper. Thus in 865 St. Irene Chrysovalantou revealed that the Emperor Michael III was to be murdered. However, she said, “do not by any means oppose the new Emperor [Basil I], who shall come to the throne, though murder be at the root of it. The holy God has preferred and chosen him, so the enemy himself will not benefit.” St. Photius also accepted the new emperor – but refused him communion in church.
Sometimes the usurper was crowned, provided certain conditions were fulfilled. Thus when Emperor Nicephorus Phocas was murdered on December 11, 969 by his successor, John Tzimiskes, Patriarch Polyeuctus “declared that he would not allow the Emperor to enter the church as long as he had not expelled the Augusta from the palace and had not named the murderer of the Emperor, whoever he might be. Moreover, he demanded the return to the Synod of a document published by Nicephorus in violation of justice. The point was that Nicephorus, either intending to remove certain violations of the sacred rites that had been allowed, in his opinion, by certain hierarchs, or wishing to submit to himself even that in the religious sphere which it was not fitting for him to rule over, had forced the hierarchs to compose a decree according to which nothing in Church affairs was to be undertaken without his will. Polyeuctus suggested that the Emperor carry out all (this); in the contrary case he would not allow him to enter the holy church. (John) accepted the conditions; he removed the Augusta from the palace and exiled her to an island called Protos, returned Nicephorus’ decree to the Synod and pointed to Leo Valans, saying that he and nobody else had killed the Emperor with his own hand. Only then did Polyeuctus allow him into the holy church and crown him, after which he returned to the Royal palace and was hailed by the army and people”.
This extraordinary episode tells us much about the real relationship between Church and State in Byzantium. On the one hand, there is no question that Tzimiskes won the throne through brute force and murder, and that there was no real attempt to remove him or refusal to recognise him. This indicates that the pagan principle of Old Rome: “might is right”, still prevailed in tenth-century Byzantium. On the other hand, Tzimiskes’ de facto victory was not felt to be enough in a Christian society: he needed the de jure confirmation of the Church, her sacramental blessing. And this the Church felt powerful enough to withhold until several conditions had been met: (1) the removal of Empress Theophano, the widow both of Nicephoros and the previous emperor Romanos and the mother of Romanos’ purple-born sons Basil and Constantine, whom Tzimiskes had wanted to marry in order to strengthen his position; (2) the annulment of a caesaropapist decree of the previous emperor; and (3) the new emperor had made at least a formal attempt to find the murderer (everyone must have known that the emperor himself was the murderer, but if he did not accuse himself there was no higher judicial power that could convict him). By obtaining the fulfilment of these three conditions the Church, it could be said, made the best out of a bad job, extracting some good from an essentially evil deed.
While the Byzantines accepted Tzimiskes as basileus, they condemned the deed by which he attained the throne. Thus, according to Morris, “Leo the Deacon writes of the action… as kathairesis (‘pulling down’) and anairesis (‘destruction’, ‘abrogation’). He comments that if the emperor’s brother, Leo Phokas, had been quicker off the mark, he might have been able to rally support against this neoterismos (‘innovation’, revolution’).” The manoeuvre, writes Morris, was “nicely put by Leo the Deacon, who clearly understood these matters. Tzimiskes, he wrote, ‘took up the reins of the Empire’ at the fourth hour of the day of 11 December 963. In other words he assumed the governance of the empire. But it was not until after his coronation that his position as autokrator was finally legitimised by receiving the blessing of the church.”
But if this resolved the question of Tzimiskes’ legitimacy (for the Church, if not for Nikephoros’ relatives, who continued to rebel against the empire for the next fifty years), it did not wipe out his sin.  Morris writes: “In the Apocalypse of Anastasia, dateable to the beginning of the twelfth century at the latest, we have an angel indicating to the narrator an empty throne in Hell and explaining that it belonged to John Tzimiskes ‘who was not worthy of it, because he murdered Nikephoros Phokas’. Then the wounded Nikephoros is seen reproaching John, saying, ‘”John, Tzimiskes, Lord John, why did you inflict an unjust death on me… “ and John replied nothing but “Woe! What have I done?”’. The invention of the tradition that Tzimiskes’ anointing had washed away the sin of the murder is, of course, another clear indication that he was believed to have been directly implicated.”
“The aim,” according to Dagron, “is to convert brute force (to qhriwdeV, qhrion alogon, as Agapetus and Basil write) into a legitimate power, and the historical sources often allude to this conversion. If Theophanes characterises Leo V, in 814, as ‘very legitimate emperor of the Romans’, this is to signify that this general, who had been called to the Empire by war and popular favour, was able to carry out the mutation which from now on made him a legitimate sovereign by not being too precipitate in the stages of transition, by letting the patriarch act, by ceasing to be an army commander, by conforming himself, not to constitutional rules which did not exist, nor even to more or less uncertain procedures, but to a process that allowed him to leave one role, that of a popularly elected general, for another, that of an emperor elected by God. If, on the contrary, Michael Attaliates and his contemporaries were doubtful that Isaac I Comnenus had succeeded, in 1057, in his passage from ‘tyranny’ to ‘legitimate power’, in spite of his probity and his courage, this was because he had not been able to divest himself of his martial fury, which had given him power but not sacredness….
“So it is not power that is legitimate, it is he who appropriates it who can become legitimate by choosing to respect the law. Ancient tradition gave this simple idea the form of a paradox, whose first term was borrowed from Hellenistic literature: the emperor is not subject to the laws, since he is himself ‘the living law’, and whose second term brings in a correction: but a legitimate sovereign must choose to conform to the laws. In short, legitimacy passes by conversion to legality…”
The question of the legitimacy or otherwise of one who seized the Roman throne by force was linked with the question of the legitimacy of rulers of other kingdoms that claimed for themselves prerogatives similar to those of the Roman emperor. We have already studied this in the case of Charlemagne and the Carolingian empire, and have seen that, from the Byzantine point of view, Charlemagne might be an “emperor” (basileus), but in no way could he be called the “emperor of the Romans”, whose seat could only be the New Rome of Constantinople. A challenge similar to that of Charlemagne – and much more threatening to the real power of the Roman emperors – was provided by the Bulgarian tsars.
Early in the 860s Khan Boris of Bulgaria was converted to the Orthodox faith by the famous Greek monk St. Methodius. In 865 Boris was baptised, probably by the patriarch of Constantinople, St. Photius, and took the name Michael after his godfather, the Emperor Michael. In this way the foundation was laid, not only of the Christianization of Bulgaria, but also of the unification of its two constituent peoples, the Bulgar ruling class and the Slavic peasants, who had been at loggerheads up to that time.
However, Tsar Boris-Michael wanted the Bulgarian Church to be autonomous, a request that the Mother Church of Constantinople denied. So, taking advantage of the rift that was opening up between the Eastern and Western Churches and empires, he turned to Pope Nicholas I with a series of questions on the faith and a request that Bulgaria be given a patriarch. The Pope did not immediately grant his request, but Boris was sufficiently encouraged by his reply to allow Roman missionaries – with the new Frankish heresy of the Filioque - into his land.
Since the Bulgarian Church was clearly within the jurisdiction of Constantinople, the Pope’s sending his clerics to Bulgaria was already a canonical transgression and a first manifestation of his claim to universal dominion in the Church. It would never have happened if the West had recognised the authority of the East Roman emperor, as the Popes had done in earlier centuries. The same could be said of the later expulsion of Saints Cyril and Methodius from Moravia by jealous German bishops – these were all fruits, in the ecclesiastical sphere, of that division that had first begun in the political sphere, when the Pope crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans.
After some turmoil, the Bulgarian Church was firmly re-established within the Eastern Church and Empire. A pagan reaction was crushed, the Scriptures and services were translated into Slavonic by the disciples of St. Methodius and a vast programme of training native clergy was initiated. However, the virus of national self-assertion had been sown almost simultaneously with the Christian faith, and during the reign of St. Boris’ youngest son, Symeon, Bulgaria was almost continuously at war with the Empire. Symeon, writes Papadakis, “extended his power over the entire Balkan peninsula, assumed the title of ‘emperor (tsar) of the Bulgarians and the Romans’ and tried to capture Constantinople itself.”
St. Nicholas the Mystic vigorously defended the authority of the East Roman Emperor. “The power of the Emperor,” he said, “which extends over the whole earth, is the only power established by the Lord of the world upon the earth.” Again, he wrote to Tsar Symeon in 913: «God has submitted the other sceptres of the world to the heritage of the Lord and Master, that is, the Universal Emperor in Constantinople, and does not allow his will to be despised. He who tries by force to acquire for himself the Imperial dignity is no longer a Christian».
However, Symeon continued to act like a new Constantine, transferring the capital of the new Christian kingdom from Pliska, with its pagan associations, to Preslav on the model of St. Constantine’s moving his capital from Rome to Constantinople. And during the reign of his more peaceful son Peter (927-969) the Byzantines conceded both the title of “basileus” to the Bulgarian tsar (so there were now three officially recognised Christian emperors of the one Christian empire!) and (in 932) the title “patriarch” to the first-hierarch of the Bulgarian Church, Damian. Peter’s legitimacy was also recognised by the greatest of the Bulgarian saints, John of Rila.
After the death of Peter the Bulgarian kingdom was conquered by the Greeks (in about 971), as a consequence of which the local Bulgarian dioceses were again subjected to the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate. However, there was a resurgence of Bulgarian power in Macedonia under Tsar Samuel, who established his capital and patriarchate in Ohrid. But this did not last long either. In 1014 the Bulgarian armies were decisively defeated by Emperor Basil “the Bulgar-slayer”, leading to the end of the Bulgarian empire and its re-absorption into the Roman Empire.
The Ohrid diocese’s autocephaly was still recognised, but it was demoted from a patriarchate to an archbishopric. “The archbishop’s jurisdiction,” writes Papakakis, “was to extend – according to the charters – over all the territories which were part of Bulgaria under tsars Peter and Samuel, including even clearly Greek-speaking areas, and areas populated by Vlachs (Romanians) and Magyars (called ‘Turks’). The archbishopric included also most Serbian areas. Basil II was even liberal enough to appoint a native Bulgarian, John, as the first archbishop of Ohrid under Byzantine rule… All of John’s successors on the see of Ohrid would be Greek ecclesiastics, often clearly connected with the court of Constantinople. The archbishopric would survive as an autocephalous church until 1767, when it would be suppressed by the patriarchate of Constantinople. Since this suppression would be a unilateral act, supported by the Turks, the ancient status of Ohrid would be used by the Bulgarians in 1870 to justify the establishment of an independent Bulgarian exarchate (in defiance of the ecumenical patriarchate) as a restoration, not an innovation.
“Understandably the period between 1018 and 1204, when Ohrid was under direct Greek administration, is seen by many Bulgarian historians as the darkest period of the ‘Byzantine yoke’. Some historians have noted also that the Greek rule imposed on Bulgaria during that period seems to stand in direct contradiction with the Cyrillo-Methodian ideology, which encouraged the development of national Christian cultures. The Russian historian E.E. Golubinsky makes a strong point in affirming that the archbishopric of Ohrid, after 1018, became a Greek see, identical with any other, and that its history is the history of repression of Bulgarian nationalism. This view can be strengthened by referring to the snobbish utterings found in the correspondence of the most eminent among the Greek archbishops of Bulgaria, Theophylact (c.1090-c.1126), who writes to his Constantinopolitan friends about his flock as ‘unclean barbarians, slaves who smell of sheepskin,’ and as ‘monsters’.
“Notwithstanding the snobbishness of some (perhaps many) Byzantine administrators, there is no evidence that the Slavic culture, brilliantly developed in Ohrid by Sts Clement and Naum, simply disappeared after the Byzantine conquest. Many important Slavic manuscripts were copied in Bulgaria at that time, and Theophylact himself is the author of a Life of St. Clement in Greek, where the missionary merits of St. Cyril and Methodius and of their disciples are fully recognized. One should therefore agree with D. Obolensky and other scholars, who believe that ‘the Byzantine authorities, however much they affected to despise the Bulgarians as “barbarians” and strove constantly to assimilate their country into the Empire’s administrative structure, did not pursue therein a policy of systematic hellenization.’ Actually, the Bulgarian cultural revival could not have been as strong as it was in the late twelfth century, if Slavic civilization had been totally suppressed during the Byzantine rule.
”It should be remembered also that, even under tsars Symeon, Peter and Samuel, the patriarchates of Preslav, Silistria and Ohrid – although designated as ‘Bulgarian’ (as was also the empire of these tsars), were multiethnic in their constituency, including not only Bulgarians, but also Greek, Serbian, Wallachian and Hungarian flocks. The charters of Basil II specifically refer to this multiethnic reality, and reestablish territorial organization of the church with local dioceses, uniting all the faithful of a region. Except for a Byzantine leadership at the top, the cultural pluralism, so characteristic of the medieval Balkans – and very distinct from the secularistic national antagonisms of modern times – was the basic rule within the church both before and after the Byzantine conquest of 1018.
It has been claimed that the task assigned to Bulgaria and King Boris by God “could be realized only by an independent, autonomous church, since, if the nation were to be dependent on another people in church matters, it could easily lose its political independence along with its religious independence and disappear from the face of the earth.” Perhaps; and yet the idea that each nation has to have its own independent church was a new one in the history of Christianity. De facto, as a result of the conquest of certain parts of the Roman Empire by barbarian leaders, independent national Churches had sprung up in various regions, from Georgia in the East to England in the West. But the idea of a single Christian commonwealth of nations looking up to its father in God, the Christian Roman Emperor, was never completely lost; and there was still the feeling that de jure all Christian nations owed him some kind of allegiance. Charlemagne had not disputed this; he (or the Pope) simply believed that he was now that Emperor, and that the Empire was now centred, not in Constantinople but in Aachen.
It must be admitted that it was the Bulgarian emperors who made the first serious breach in this internationalist ideal; for they called their kingdom, not by the internationalist name of Rome, but “the kingdom of the Bulgarians and the Greeks” – in other words, a national kingdom composed of two nations, with the Bulgarians as the dominant ethnic element. Coups by individuals were commonplace in Byzantine history: the attempt to place one nation above all others was new. It is perhaps not coincidental that when the Orthodox Church came to anathematise the heresy of nationalism, or phyletism, in 1872, the anathema was directed in the first place against Bulgarian nationalism…
Georgia, the lot of the Most Holy Mother of God, had played only a minor role in Orthodox history since her baptism by St. Nina in the fourth century. However, in 1008 a political and ecclesiastical unification of the eastern and western Georgian lands took place under King Bagrat III. “It is from this moment proper,” writes Papadakis, “that we may speak of Georgia…
“The new unity… brought Church and State closer together. The ecclesiastical hierarchy were doubtless advocates of national unity and in this sense were of the greatest benefit to Georgia’s Bagratid rulers. The catholicus on the other hand retained control of ecclesiastical affairs and administration, and was even formally recognised as the spiritual king of the nation. However, the Georgian primate along with all major bishops and abbots were temporal princes of the realm as well, and actually sat on the council of state or Darbazi together with the feudal princes of Georgia…
“Arguably, the two most important members of the new Caucasian monarchy were David II (1089-1125) and queen Tamar (1184-1212). Both of these Bagratid sovereigns were in the end canonized as saints by the Georgian Orthodox Church. By extending Georgia’s power far beyond its historic frontiers, these rulers were in the final analysis responsible for creating a genuine Georgian hegemony not only over Georgians but over Muslims and Armenians as well. David II was surnamed by contemporaries the Restorer or Rebuilder (aghmashenebeli) for good reason…His reign constitutes a genuine ‘epic period’ in the history of medieval Georgia. David’s victories against the Muslims were especially important since they paved the way for the Transcaucasian multinational empire of his successors. In 1122 he was able to gain control of Tiflis (it had been for centuries an Islamic town) and to reestablish it as Georgia’s capital. But his great triumph was without doubt his decisively humilating defeat of the Seljuks a year earlier at the battle of Didgori (12 August). Georgians to this day celebrate the victory annually as a holiday in August.
“In addition to a strengthened monarchy and a magnified Georgia, David II also bequeathed to his descendants a reformed Church. The attention he was willing to devote to the welfare of the Church as a whole, was doubtlessly genuine. He was also evidently concerned with Christian unity and repeatedly labored to convince the separated Armenian community to return to the unity of the Orthodox Church by accepting Chalcedonian Christology and by renouncing schism. His vigorous efforts to establish ecclesiastical discipline, eliminate abused, and reorganize the Church, culminated in 1103 at the synod of Ruisi-Urbnisi. This meeting – one of the most famous in Georgian history – was presided over by the king who had also convened it…
“It was during [Queen Tamar’s] rule that the great golden age of Georgian history and culture reached its summit. There is no denying the multinational nature of her kingdom by the dawn of the thirteenth century. By then Georgia was one of the most powerful states in the Near East. As a result of Queen Tamar’s numerous campaigns, which took her armies to the shores of the Black Sea, Paphlagonia and further east into Iranian territory, the Georgian state extended far beyond its original borders. By 1212 the entire Caucasus, the southern coast of the Black Sea, most of Armenia and Iranian Azerbaijan, had in fact been annexed to the Georgian state….
«[The queen was in general friendly towards] Saladin, who was actually responsible in the end for the return to the Georgians in the Holy City of properties that had once belonged to them. In contrast, Tamar’s relations with the Latins in the crusader states… were rarely courteous or fraternal. The Orthodox Georgians never actually directly involved themselves with the crusades. This may have been at the root of the friendship Muslims felt for them.”
“Twice,” however, “did. Tamar put to flight the Turks, come out for the conquest of Iberia. During two terrible battles she herself saw the finger of God directing her to the fight, and, with her soldiers, witnessed the miraculous conversion of one of the Mohammedan generals who was made prisoner.”
As we ponder why little Georgia should have fared so prosperously and heroically at a time when the Byzantine empire was being defeated by her enemies, we should remember three factors. One was the internal unity of the State under its strong and pious rulers. A second other was its strict faithfulness to Orthodoxy. Thus when we compare the Georgians’ relations with the heretical Armenians with the Byzantines’ relations with the heretical Latins during the same period, we find much greater firmness on the part of the Georgians, whose refusal to make concessions on the faith for the sake of political gains reaped both spiritual and material fruits. It was an example, unfortunately, that New Rome, Georgia’s first teacher in the faith, was to imitate less than perfectly in the following centuries…
A third factor is the conscious assimilation and affiliation of the Georgian kingdom in this period to its Byzantine parent, from which relationship it clearly drew spiritual strength. Thus Antony Eastmond writes: “The two hundred years before Tamar’s reign saw a very marked change in the depiction of power in Georgia in an attempt to establish an effective form of royal presentation. The Georgian monarchy came increasingly to model itself on imperial rule in Byzantium. The Bagrat’ioni kings began to see themselves as inheritors of Byzantine royal traditions, and displayed themselves as the descendants of Constantine the Great, rather than their own Georgian ancestors, such as Vakhtang Gorgasalan (the great Georgian king who ruled c. 446-510). Between the ninth and twelfth centuries it is possible to trace the way the Bagrat’ionis began to adopt more and more of the trappings of Byzantine political ideas. In the ninth century, Ashot’ I the Great (786-826), the first Bagrat’ioni ruler, showed his dependence on Byzantine ideas by accepting the title of Kouropalates; although the only surviving image of the king shows him in a very abstract, indistinguishable form of dress. By the tenth century the Georgians had adopted a more positive Byzantine identity. At the church of Oshk’I (built 963-73), the two founder brothers, Davit and Bagrat’ are shown in a donor relief on the exterior wearing very ornate, ‘orientalized’, Byzantine costume. All earlier royal images in Georgia, as well as the contemporary image of the rival King Leo III of Abkhazia (a neighbouring Georgian Christian kingdom) in the church of K’umurdo (built 964), had shown the rulers in less distinct, or clearly local forms of dress. The choice of dress at Oshk’I showed the outward adherence of the Bagrat’ionis to the Byzantine political system….
“This gradual process of Byzantinization continued throughout the eleventh century, becoming increasingly dominant. It was encouraged by closer links between the Georgian and Byzantine royal families. Bagrat’ IV (1027-72) married Helena, the niece of Romanos III Agyros in 1032; and his daughter, Maria ‘of Alania’ married two successive Byzantine emperors (Michael VII Doukas and Nikephoros III Botaneiates).
“By the beginning of the twelfth century, there had been a transformation in the whole presentation of the Georgian royal family. In addition to Byzantine court dress, all aspects of the royal environment became ‘Byzantinized’. In the royal churches standard Byzantine forms were adopted…
“At Gelati, built between 1106 and 1130 by Davit IV and his son Demet’re (1125-54), this Byzantinization reaches its peak… The point of strongest Byzantine influence at Gelati comes in the fresco scenes in the narthex. These show the earliest surviving monumental images of the seven ecumenical councils… Davit IV himself convened and presided at two sets of church councils in his reign, and clearly saw himself as a successor to the early Byzantine emperors and their domination of the church: Davit IV’s biographer even calls him a second Constantine…”
Queen Tamara continues in the same tradition; in spite of her sex she is called a second Constantine, a David and a Solomon in the chronicles. The contrast between Georgia and Bulgaria is instructive: the Georgian kings saw themselves as sons of the Byzantines, and prospered, whereas the Bulgarian tsars saw themselves as rivals, and were brought low…
In 860 a new nation which St. Photius called “Ros” (RwV) appeared off Constantinople and ravaged the suburbs. These came from Russia, but were probably Scandinavian Vikings by race (the Finns call the Swedes “Rossi” to this day). Through the grace of the Mother of God the invaders were defeated, and in the treaty which followed the ceasefire the Russians agreed to accept Christianity. Thus St. Photius wrote that “the formerly terrible people, the so-called Rus… are even now abandoning their heathen faith and are converting to Christianity, receiving bishops and pastors from us, as well as all Christian customs.”
In this way was laid the foundations of the conversion of the last of the major Christian nations. St. Photius sent Bishop Michael to Russia. He began to preach the word of God among the pagans, and at their demand worked a miracle: he ordered a fire to be kindles and placed in it a book of the Gospels, which remained unharmed. Many were then converted to the faith, including the Prince Askold, the first prince of Kiev, Askold, who was baptised with the name Nicholas and opened diplomatic relations with Constantinople in 867. According to tradition, Princes Askold and Dir suffered martyrdom for the faith.
Two years after the defeat of 860, and perhaps partly as a result of it, the Slavs of the northern city of Novgorod made an unprecedented change in the form of their political organisation, inviting the Scandinavian Vikings under Rurik to rule over them: “Our land is great and abundant, but there is no order in it – come and rule over us”. As N.M. Karamzin writes: “The citizens perhaps remembered how useful and peaceful the rule of the Normans had been: their need for good order and quiet made them forget their national pride, and the Slavs, ‘convinced,’ as tradition relates, ‘by the advice of the Novgorod elder Gostomysl,’ demanded rulers from the Varyangians.”
As I. Solonevich notes, this was very similar to the appeal of the British Christians to the Saxons brothers Hengist and Horsa in the fifth century. However, the results were very different: whereas in Britain the invitation led to a long series of wars between the Britons and Saxons and the eventual conquest of most of England by the pagans, in Russia it led, without bloodshed, to the foundation of a strong and stable State – “the empire of the Ruriks”, as Marx described it, – in which the Germanic element was quickly swallowed up by the Slavs. Thus by inviting the Vikings to rule over them, the Russian Slavs triumphed at one stroke over egoism and self-will in both the individual and the national spheres.
As Hieromartyr Archbishop Andronicus of Perm wrote: “At a time when, in the other peoples of Europe, the power of the princes and kings was subduing the peoples to themselves, appearing as external conquerors of the disobedient, but weak, - we, on the other hand, ourselves created our own power and ourselves placed the princes, the prototypes of our tsars, over ourselves. That is how it was when Rurik and his brothers were recognised by Ilmen lake. We placed them to rule over ourselves at a time when we had only just begun to be conscious of ourselves as a people, and when our statehood was just beginning to come into being”.
Of course, the consolidation of the victory, and the transformation of Russia into Holy and Autocratic Russia, required many more centuries of spiritual and political struggle. “The real state life of Rus’,” writes St. John Maximovich, “begins with Vladimir the Saint. The princes who were before him were not so much ruler-lords as conquerors, for whom the establishment of good order in their country was less important than subduing the rich country to themselves and forcing it to pay some tribute. Åven Svyatoslav preferred to live in Bulgaria, which he had conquered, ànd not in his own capital. It was Christianity, which was brought into Russian first by Olga, who had great influence on her eldest grandsons Yaropolk and Oleg, and then finally by St. Vladimir the Beautiful Sun, who baptised Rus’, that laid the firm foundations of Statehood.
“Christianity bound together by a common culture the princely race, which was, as is affirmed, of Norman extraction, and the numerous Slavic and other races which constituted the population of ancient Rus’. It taught the princes to look on themselves as on defenders of the weak and oppressed and servers of the righteousness of God. It taught the people to see in them not simply leaders and war-commanders, but as people to whom power had been given by God Himself.”
Archbishop Nathaniel of Vienna develops this theme: “The ideal of Holy Rus’, like the formula itself, was not born immediately. Two stages are important in its genesis: the baptism of Rus’ and her regeneration after the Tatar conquest. Like any other historical people, the Russian nation is a child of her Church. Greece and Rome, on accepting Christianity, brought to the Church their rich pagan inheritance. The German peoples were already formed tribal units at the moment of their reception of Christianity, and they preserved quite a lot of their pagan past, especially in the sphere of national and juridical ideas, in Christianity. But we – the Russian Slavs – had absolutely nothing before our acceptance of Christianity: neither state ideas, nor national consciousness, nor an original culture. The Eastern Slav pagans did not even have their own gods – the whole ancient Russian pantheon consisted of foreign divinities: Perun was a Lithuanian divinity, Khors – a Scythian-Sarmatian one, Moksha and Veles were Finnish gods. None of them even had a Slavic name. The Russian people gave their untouched soul to Christianity. And the Church gave everything to the Slavs, so that already one generation after the reception of Christianity, under Prince Yaroslav, we were no poorer in a cultural sense, but rather richer than the majority of our neighbours…”
It was St. Vladimir’s grandmother, St. Olga, who in 957 initiated the process of the Christianisation of her country by submitting to baptism in Constantinople. Her godfather was the Byzantine Emperor himself.  However, she did not succeed in converting her son Svyatoslav, and towards the end of her reign a pagan reaction set in, which intensified under Svatoslav and even more in the early years of Vladimir’s rule.
Like Moses, St. Vladimir, the baptiser of Russia, was expelled from his homeland in his youth. But in 980 he returned and conquered Kiev. After a period of fierce idolatry, he repented and led his people in triumph out of the Egypt of idolatry and through the Red Sea of baptism in the Dniepr on August 1, 988, and thence into the inheritance of the promised land, the new Israel of “Holy Russia”, which had been all but evangelised by his death in 1015.
In view of this, the usual epithet of “new Constantine” granted to the kings of new Orthodox nations was more than usually appropriately applied to St. Vladimir, as Metropolitan Hilarion applied it in his famous Sermon on the Law and Grace in about 1050.
Indeed, Russia was not only an offshoot of Christian Rome, like Francia or England, Bulgaria or Georgia. Through her racial and dynastic links with Western Europe (especially the Anglo-Scandinavian north-west), Russia became the heir of what was left of the Old, Orthodox Rome of the West, regenerating the ideal of the Symphony of Powers just as it was being destroyed in the West by the heretical Papacy. And by her filial faithfulness to Byzantium, as well as through the marriage of Great-Prince Ivan III to Sophia Palaeologus in the fifteenth century, she became the heir of the Second or New Rome of Constantinople.
Thus Vladimir was not a “new Constantine” in the conventional way that all newly converted Christian kings, or founders of new Christian dynasties, were called such in the Middle Ages. His kingdom actually became, in the course of time (about 500 years), the reincarnation or successor or heir of Christian Rome. In fact, it became the Third Rome.
But such an idea was never accepted by the Byzantines before the fall of Byzantium itself. As St. Photius the Great declared: «Just as the dominion of Israel lasted until the coming of Christ, so we believe that the Empire will not be taken from us Greeks until the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ». Only after the Second Rome was no more did the Greeks begin to contemplate a Third Rome…
4. NEW ROME: THE WEST
So then Northumbria was prosperous,
When king and pontiff ruled in harmony,
One in the church and one in government;
One wore the pall the Pope conferred on him,
And one the crown his fathers wore of old.
Alcuin, On the Saints of the Church of York.
The heads of the world shall live in union of perfect charity, and shall prevent all discord among their lower members. These institutions, which are two for men, but one for God, shall be enflamed by the divine mysteries; the two persons who represent them shall be so closely united by the grace of mutual charity, that it will be possible to find the king in the Roman pontiff, and the Roman pontiff in the king.
St. Constantine’s transfer of his capital from Old Rome to the New Rome of Constantinople marked the beginning of the end of the Western Empire. Already in 410 and 455 Old Rome had been conquered by barbarians. In 476 she fell permanently under barbarian rule until Justinian’s conquests in the sixth century. The shock was great, and called for a theological and historiosophical explanation. For if Tertullian had said: “In the Emperor we reverence the judgement of God, Who has set him over the nations”, the fall of the empire itself – albeit only its western half - had to express the judgement of God in some especially important way.
The most famous meditation on the fall of Rome came from St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, after Alaric’s sacking of the city in 410. Augustine distanced himself from the perhaps too close identification of Romanitas and Christianitas that had been common in the first century after Constantine’s conversion. As F. van der Meer interprets his thought: “Compared with Christianity, what significance was there in things, admittedly good in themselves, like the order, unity and authority of the Roman Empire?… Were even the old ethical insights worthy to serve as a basis for the scientific investigation of revelation? ‘All mortal things are only symbols’… In the year 400 all earthly things were recognized as relative, even the immortal Empire and the supposedly final wisdom of the ancients.”
The pagans were quick to claim that Rome had fallen because she had deserted her gods. They pointed out that it was precisely since the ban on pagan practices imposed by Theodosius the Great in 380 that the barbarians had begun to overwhelm the empire. Augustine wrote the first five books of his City of God to refute this notion. Then, in the second part of the work, he describes the origin, history and final destiny of the two Cities - the City of God, which is holy and destined for eternal bliss, and the City of Man, which is sinful and destined for the eternal fire. The Roman Empire, he wrote, like the Church herself of which it is the ally, contains citizens of both Cities, both wheat and tares. When the state is ruled by a truly Christian ruler, like Theodosius, one can see “a faint shadowy resemblance between the Roman Empire and the Heavenly City”; which is why one must obey the law and render one’s patriotic and civic duty to the State.
However, this now traditional view is juxtaposed, in Augustine’s thought, with a more radical, apolitical and even anti-political view. Thus at one point he calls Rome a “second Babylon”. He points out that there was always a demonic element at the heart of the Roman state, which has not been eliminated even now. Sin, fratricide – Romulus’ murder of Remus – lie at the very root of the Roman state, just as sin and fratricide – Cain’s murder of Abel – lie at the beginning of the history of fallen humanity. Moreover, the growth of the Roman empire was achieved through a multitude of wars, many of which were quite unjust. But “without justice what are governments but bands of brigands?”
Therefore it should not surprise us that the Roman empire should decline and fall. “If heaven and earth are to pass away, why is it surprising if at some time the state is going to come to an end? If what God has made will one day vanish, then surely what Romulus made will disappear much sooner.” “As for this mortal life, which ends after a few days’ course, what does it matter under whose rule a man lives, being so soon to die, provided that the rulers do not force him to impious and wicked acts?” For it is the Jerusalem above that is our real Fatherland, not Rome here below.
Augustine’s purpose was to wean men away from trust in men and in political institutions, whether pagan or Christian, and to trust in God alone. Christian rulers were, of course, in general better than pagan ones. But politics in general was suspect.
Augustine believed Rome had not been destroyed, but chastised. By this tribulation God was purifying the Roman nation, as He purified Israel in Old Testament times. Rome would emerge from this period of affliction cleansed and better able to carry out her civilising mission in the world. For “God’s providence,” he wrote, “constantly uses war to correct and chasten the corrupt morals of mankind, as it also uses such afflictions to train men in a righteous and laudable way of life. It removes to a better state those whose life is approved, or keeps them in this world for further service.”
The catastrophe of 410 did not produce the regeneration of Rome that Augustine had hoped for. Things went from bad to worse until, in 476, the last emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus, surrendered without a fight to the barbarian, Odoacer. And that this really was the end was proved by the fact that Odoacer did not take the title of emperor, nor put a puppet-emperor in his place, but was content with the formerly despised title of rex. The ideal of the Roman empire remained potent and was even resurrected in the centuries to come. But the reality was gone…
If it was still true at the beginning of the century that Rome was being chastised, not destroyed, it had to be admitted that the disease was more serious and chronic, and the treatment more radical, tending rather to kill than cure the patient, than Augustine (in his more optimistic moods, at any rate) had recognised. It was not so much that some rotting flesh had been cut away, allowing the body to recover its full strength in time; it was rather that a whole limb – or rather, the head, the ruling city itself - had been amputated. The sad fact was that Old Rome had not profited from the opportunity presented by the conversion of St. Constantine to regenerate herself. It remained in a situation of spiritual and political crisis not dissimilar to that in the time of Diocletian over a hundred years earlier.
That Old Rome was in a sense irredeemable had been implicitly recognised by St. Constantine when he transferred his capital to the New Rome of Constantinople, hoping thereby to make a fresh start for the Christian empire. And even several of the western emperors chose rather to live in Milan or Ravenna. The symbolism of his act was clear: if the state, like the individual man, was to be redeemed and enjoy a long and spiritually fruitful life, it, too, had to make a complete break with the past, renounce the demonic sacrifices and pagan gods and philosophies that it had loved, and receive a new birth by water and the Spirit. For Old Rome, in contrast to many of her individual citizens, had never been baptised. There was a pagan rottenness at the heart of the western empire which even its Christian head, the Emperor, was not able to cut out. And so its doom was sealed.
The real rulers of the later western empire when the emperor was campaigning against the barbarians, were the senators. Snobbish and immensely rich, they had much to lose from the empire’s fall. However, as an eastern visitor to Rome remarked, they did not want to serve the State, “preferring to enjoy their property at leisure”.
“In spite of frequent lip-service to the romantic concept of Eternal Rome,” writes Grant, “many noblemen were not prepared to lift a finger to save it… They also undermined the state in a very active fashion. For of all the obstacles to efficient and honest administration, they were the worst. They forcibly ejected collectors of taxes, harboured deserters and brigands, and repeatedly took the law into their own hands… They often remained hostile to the Emperor, and estranged from his advisers. For a long time many were pagans while their ruler was Christian.”
The free poor of Rome did not come far behind the senators in corruption. Although the Christian Emperor Honorius had supposedly abolished the circuses in 404, Grant writes that “a hundred and seventy-five days of the year were given up to public shows, as opposed to a mere hundred and thirty-five two centuries earlier; moreover the fabric of the Colosseum was restored as late as 438. It is also true that in the mid-fourth century 300,000 Romans held bread tickets which entitled them to draw free rations from the government; and even a century later, when the population of the city had greatly diminished, there were still 120,000 recipients of these free supplies. Certainly the population of Rome was largely parasitic. However, the city proletariat played little active part in guiding the course of events which brought the later Roman empire to a halt.
“It was, on the other hand, the ‘free’ poor of the rural countryside upon whom the government, struggling to raise money for the army, imposed the full rigours and terrors of taxation. Although technically still distinguishable from slaves, they were no better off and perhaps worse off, since they often found themselves driven into total destitution. Between these rustic poor and the government, the relationship was that of oppressed and oppressor, of foe and foe.
“This is perhaps the greatest of all the disunities that afflicted the Western Empire. The state and the unprivileged bulk of its rural subjects were set against each other in a destructive and suicidal disharmony, which played a very large and direct part in the downfall that followed. It was because of this rift that the taxes which were needed to pay the army could not be raised. And because they could not be raised, the Empire failed to find defenders, and collapsed.”
It might have been different if the barbarians had been converted to the universalism of both Rome and the Church. Certainly, the Germans, having settled within the empire through necessity, to escape the hordes that pressed on them from the east, were not always resolved to destroy it, and often came to admire and emulate it. Thus Ataulf, the son and successor of the famous Alaric, expressed his attitude towards Rome as follows: “To begin with, I ardently desired to efface the very name of the Romans and to transform the Roman Empire into a Gothic Empire. Romania, as it is commonly called, would have become Gothia; Ataulf would have replaced Caesar Augustus. But long experience taught me that the unruly barbarism of the Goths was incompatible with the laws. Now, without laws there is no state. I therefore decided rather to aspire to the glory of restoring the fame of Rome in all its integrity, and of increasing it by means of the Gothic strength. I hope to go down to posterity as the restorer of Rome, since it is not possible that I should be its supplanter.”
Orosius, who recounted this anecdote, together with other churchmen such as St. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola and the Priest Salvian of Marseilles, were hopeful that a new Romano-Germanic order could be constructed. Moreover, they had the example of the Gothic Christian Martyrs Sabbas (+372) and Nicetas (+378), and the very early translation of the Bible into the Gothic language, to show that a real conversion of the barbarians was possible. Unfortunately, however, most of the Goths were converted to Arianism rather than Orthodox Christianity.
Moreover, many Christians did not rise to the universalist spirit that alone could have saved Rome at this hour, making a Romano-Germanic Christian order a real possibility. Thus the Christian poet Prudentius, who once declared that the peoples of the empire were “equals and bound by a single name”, nevertheless despised the barbarians:
As beasts from men, as dumb from those who speak,
As from the good who God’s commandments seek,
Differ the foolish heathen, so Rome stands
Alone in pride above barbarian lands.
In the last analysis it was this pride, more than any purely political or economic factors, that destroyed Old Rome. Rome ceased to be the universal ruler when she abandoned her own tradition of universalism. The same happened, as we shall see, to the New Rome of Constantinople when she, too, turned in on herself.
In the past Rome had not been too proud to learn from the Classical Greeks whom she had conquered. Nor, centuries later, had she despised the humble fishermen who preached a Jewish God Whom they themselves had crucified. The success of the apostles even among the emperor’s own family was witnessed by St. Paul, who declared: “My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace [of the emperor]” (Philippians 1.13), and came to fruition with the conversion of St. Constantine.
Even when the last pagan Roman emperor, Julian the apostate, tried to reverse the Constantinian revolution, the momentum proved unstoppable. Like all the previous persecutors of the Christians, he perished in agony, crying, “You have triumphed, Galilean!” And when the last Emperor to unite East and West, Theodosius the Great, bowed in penitence before a Christian bishop, Ambrose of Milan, it seemed as if Ambrose’s dream of a Rome purged of its pagan vices and uniting its traditional virtues to the Cross of Christ – a Rome truly invicta and aeterna because united to the invincible and eternal God - had been realised.
For, as St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome, said in the next century, addressing Rome: “[The Apostles] promoted thee to such glory, that being made a holy nation, a chosen people, a priestly and royal state, and the head of the world through the blessed Peter's holy See thou didst attain a wider sway by the worship of God than by earthly government. For although thou wast increased by many victories, and didst extend thy rule on land and sea, yet what thy toils in war subdued is less than what the peace of Christ has conquered… That state, in ignorance of the Author of its aggrandisement, though it ruled almost all nations, was enthralled by the errors of them all, and seemed to itself to have fostered religion greatly, because it rejected no falsehood. And hence its emancipation through Christ was the more wondrous in that it had been so fast bound by Satan.”
But the fifth century proved to be the great watershed, the “stone of separation” (Zach. 4.10) which both revealed the rottenness still nestling in the heart of the Western Empire, and cut it away in an operation so painful that in 476, with the fall of the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, the Empire, too, collapsed. It was not the Emperors that were to blame: although there were no really distinguished Emperors after Theodosius I, they remained faithful to Orthodox Christianity. The burdens they imposed on the people were not imposed willingly, but because the desperate situation of the empire called for drastic remedies. These remedies failed because Roman society was divided both against itself and against its allies. And a divided house cannot stand…
And yet Christian Rome did not die, even in the West. Although the Antichrist took her place in the sense that pagan and heretical rulers took the place of Orthodox ones, under the rubble of the old empire new kingdoms were arising that were to reincarnate the spirit of Christian Rome. Moreover, for many centuries to come the memory of Old Rome and her achievement was to remain influential; even the twentieth-century atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell concluded: “The problem of a durable and satisfactory social order can only be solved by combining the solidity of the Roman Empire with the idealism of St. Augustine’s City of God.”
The question facing the Old Rome of the West after the collapse of the Western empire was: to what extent was it able, and willing, to integrate itself into the New Rome of the East? Was the destruction of the ancient institutions too thorough, and the dominance of the Germanic kings too great, to permit Old Rome to continue in a real, and not merely nominal union with New Rome? Or, even if the answer to that question was: no, would the jealousy of the old capital towards its younger supplanter hinder it, as the jealousy of the Jews towards the Gentile Christians prevented their integration into the New Testament Church?
In the end, as is well-known, Old Rome did fall away from New Rome both politically and ecclesiastically, a fact which has been more critical than any other in determining the course of European civilisation in the second millenium of Christian history. However, it did not happen immediately; and the six centuries or so from the fall of the Western Empire to the emergence of the new Papist Empire of Hildebrand and the medieval Popes constitutes a fascinating period in which the Orthodox Christian forms of political and ecclesiastical life – upheld primarily, now, in the East – gradually succumbed to the new, heretical forms – but only after a fierce struggle during which the Orthodox staged several “comebacks”. In this struggle two forces were especially prominent both for good and for evil: the Popes of Rome, and the kings of the newly emergent national kingdoms of Western Europe.
As we have seen in the last chapter, the Popes of the fifth century were completely “eastern” in their political theology and in their respect for the Eastern Emperor. They played an important (but by no means “papist”) part in the theological struggles of the Eastern Church, St. Leo’s Tome, for example, being one of the great documents that established the triumph of Orthodoxy over Monophysitism at the Fourth Ecumenical Council. For centuries to come, the Popes constituted the main upholders of Orthodox Romanitas, the politico-ecclesiastical unity of Christendom, in the West, and the vital rampart against which the waves of barbarism and heresy beat in vain. Although such famous Popes as Leo I and Gregory I were both scions of West Roman aristocratic families, and were therefore sensitive to the pride and traditions of the old capital, they maintained close links with the Empire of New Rome. And they understood Church-State relations in essentially the same, “symphonic” way as in the East, with the Emperor being expected to play an important part in Church affairs.
However, already by the end of the fifth century, we can begin to see a different emphasis in the Popes’ understanding of Church-State relations from that prevalent in the East. This emphasis was in fact no less Orthodox than that in the East, being essentially the same “anti-caesaropapist” emphasis as we find, not only in such Western Fathers as Ambrose of Milan, but also in such Eastern Fathers as Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. Moreover, it was elicited by essentially the same fact – the falling of the Eastern Emperor into heresy. However, there was another important factor which was to be found only in the West and which sharpened the emphasis: the vacuum in political authority left by the fall of Old Rome, which vacuum the Eastern Emperors before Justinian were unable to fill and which the Germanic Arian kings only partially filled. Into this vacuum stepped the Popes, as a result of which, when the Popes argued for the independence of the Church from the State, they were speaking from a position of unparalleled authority, as being almost the first authority in both Church and State in the West.
This emphasis on the independence of the Church from the State was reflected in a rejection of the comparison, common in the East, between the Emperor and Melchizedek. This comparison might be valid in some respects, but not if it meant that a mortal man could combine the roles of king and priest in the manner of Melchizedek. For ordinary mortals, as Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow wrote many centuries later, “God has not blessed the union of the callings of king and priest”. That is why he punished King Uzziah when he took upon himself to serve as a priest in the Temple. The sinful combination of the roles of king and priest was characteristic of the pagan god-kings of antiquity, and will be characteristic of the Antichrist at the end of time.
Thus “before the coming of Christ,” wrote Pope Gelasius (492-496), “there existed people… who were, according to what sacred history tells us, at the same time both kings and priests, such as Melchizedek. This example was followed in his domain by the devil, who always, in a tyrannical spirit, claims for his own that which is fitting for divine worship, to the extent that the pagan emperors were also called pontiffs. But when there came He Who was in truth both King and Priest, from that time the emperor ceased to give himself the name of pontiff and the pontiff to lay claim to the royal pomp. For, although we say that the members of Christ, the true King and Priest, have, by reason of their participation in the glorious nature, received both the one and the other dignity through the sacred generosity [of Christ], so that they are at the same time ‘a royal and a priestly race’, nevertheless Christ, remembering the weakness of men..., has divided the spheres of the two powers by means of a distinction of duties and callings..., desiring that His own [children] should be guarded by grace-filled humility and should not once again become victims of human pride. So that the Christian emperors need the pontiffs for eternal life and the pontiffs conform to the imperial laws as regards the course of temporal things. Thus spiritual activities have been separated from carnal activities…. He who is entrusted with secular matters should not appear to preside over divine things, so that the modesty of the two orders should be respected…. ”
And so, the same Pope wrote to the Monophysite Emperor Anastasius, “there are two powers which for the most part control this world, the sacred authority of priests and the might of kings. Of these two the office of the priests is the greater inasmuch as they must give account even for kings to the Lord at the Divine Judgement. You know that although by your rank you stand at the head of the human race, you nevertheless bend your will before the leaders of Divine affairs, you turn to them in matters relating to your salvation, and you receive the heavenly sacraments from them. You know, consequently, that in matters of the faith you must submit to their lawful decisions and must not lord it over them – not submit them to your will, but be yourself guided by their judgements.” However, “in matters touching public order, the Church hierarchs know that the emperor’s power has been sent down on you from above, and are themselves obedient to your laws, for they fear to be shown to be opponents of your will in worldly affairs.”
However, as Dagron points out, this was very much a western perspective: the easterners continued to attach a quasi-priestly character to the figure of the emperor – but without, of course, the specifically sacramental functions of the priesthood. The difference in perspective is explained partly by the fact that in the fifth century Rome had little support from Byzantium in her struggle with the barbarians, and the popes were often forced to fill the political vacuum themselves, as when Pope Leo the Great who travelled to the camp of Attila and succeeded in turning him away from Rome.
The rejection of the comparison with Melchizedek was also influenced, as Dagron points out, by St. Augustine’s The City of God, “in which, during his exegesis of Melchisedek, Augustine affirms that from now on Christ is the only Mediator between God and men, the only One to have put on the eternal priesthood. In the time of Israel, the earthly kingdom ‘was a type of’ the spiritual kingdom, but since the Incarnation the City of God has found its King once and for all. The break is a sharp one: before the coming of Christ a royal priesthood is possible whether by Divine economy (Melchisedek) or by diabolical counterfeit (the Roman emperor-pontifex maximus); after the coming of Christ this very notion is lanced with illegitimacy; the regale sacerdotium has devolved to the Son of God and by extension to the Christians as a whole… A true Christian emperor is not a Roman emperor converted or faithful to Christianity, or an emperor who could draw a new legitimacy from Old Testament models, but an emperor whose power has been in part confiscated by Christ and whose competence has been modified by the installation of Christianity, who will have to adopt the pose of humility before the new wielders of spiritual power, who will be constantly suspected of belonging to ‘the earthly City’, of remaining pagan or of identifying himself through pride with the Antichrist.”
And so Augustinian scepticism with regard to secular authority, together with the unparalleled prestige and power of the Popes in Western Christendom, combined to introduce a new, and specifically western exaltation of ecclesiastical power into political theology. So far, there was nothing heretical in this new accent; it remained just that – a new accent, a different emphasis. In hindsight, however, we can see how, in the conditions of continued political weakness and disunity in the West, it paved the way for the definitely heretical political theology of such later, “papist Popes” as Nicholas I and Gregory VII, which did seek to combine the roles of king and priest in the single person of the Pope...
But that was still many centuries ahead. Let us now see how the remnants of Roman Christian civilisation, and loyalty to the idea of Romanitas, survived the fall of Old Rome. For, as Patric Ranson and Laurent Motte write, “in reality the barbarian invasions – Visigoths, Lombards, Vandals, Franks, - in spite of their violence did not shatter this national Roman unity; they could only, at the beginning, displace its visible centre: bypassing the Roman political structures, it was around the Church that the conquered people found itself again, and it was the Church that then exercised a real ethnocracy. It was with the Church that the barbarians had to come to terms; the bishop, still freely elected by the faithful and the clergy, was their interlocutor. In Gaul, this ethnarchy was for a long time assumed by the bishop of Arles – a true Roman capital, which bore the name of Constantine, - in Spain by that of Cordoba, in Italy by that of Rome.”
But it was not only in the Mediterranean provinces of France, Spain and Italy that the consciousness of Romanity survived and reestablished itself around the Church. The distant province of Britain was in a sense more committed to the new order of Christian Rome than any other province for the simple reason that the first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, had been proclaimed emperor for the first time precisely in Britain, and had taken the title Britannicus Maximus, “the greatest of the Britons”, in 315. However, with this consciousness that Christian Roman power had been established first in Britain there appears also to have come the more dangerous idea that Christian Roman power could be re-established – more precisely, usurped - from Britain. Thus in 383 Magnus Maximus, leader of the army in Britain, seized power over the whole of the West and killed the Western Emperor Gratian.
Now Maximus was baptised, was a champion of the Church and defended the Western frontier against the Germans well. Moreover, his usurpation of the empire should not have debarred him from the throne: many emperors before and after came to the throne by the same means. Nevertheless, he is consistently portrayed in the sources as a tyrant; and Sulpicius Severus wrote of him that he was a man “whose whole life would have been praiseworthy if he could have refused the crown illegally thrust upon him by a mutinous army”. St. Ambrose of Milan refused to give him communion, warning him that “he must do penance for shedding the blood of one who was his master [the Western Emperor Gratian] and… an innocent man.” Maximus refused, “and he laid down in fear, like a woman, the realm that he had wickedly usurped, thereby acknowledging that he had been merely the administrator, not the sovereign [imperator] of the state.” In 388 he was defeated and executed by the Eastern Emperor Theodosius.
It may be instructive to examine how the word was used in the land that had been known as “the Roman island”, but which became, from the beginning of the fifth century, “a province fertile in tyrants”, in St. Jerome’s words – Britain.
Now the very fact that, in the 380s, western bishops such as Ambrose could recognise the Eastern Emperor Theodosius as a true king while rejecting the British usurper Maximus, was a tribute to the way in which Christian Rome had transformed political thought in the ancient world. In early Rome a “tyrant” was a man who seized power by force; and in Republican Rome tyrants were those who, like Julius Caesar, imposed one-man rule on the true and only lawful sovereigns – Senatus PopulusQue Romanorum, the senate and people of Rome. But during the first three centuries of the empire, many generals seized power by force and the senate and the people were forced to accept their legitimacy. However, this changed with the coming of St. Constantine, who became the source and model of all legitimate emperors. Constantine, of course, had seized the empire by force; but he had done so against anti-Christian tyrants and was therefore seen to have been acting with the blessing of God. Now legitimate rulers would have to prove that they were in the image of Constantine, both in their Orthodoxy and in their legitimate succession from the previous emperor. As for who the real sovereign was – the emperor or the senate and people – this still remained unclear.
In the years 406-410, British troops attempted to place the “tyrants” Marcus, Gratian and Constantine III on the throne of the Western Empire. Gratian, for example, was given “a purple robe, a crown and a body-guard, just like an emperor,” according to Zosimus. What happened next is confusing, but the Roman legions left Britain and, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, the British found themselves outside the Roman Empire from the year 410. As Procopius wrote: “The Romans never succeeded in recovering Britain, but it remained from that time on under tyrants.”
The British sixth-century historian, St. Gildas the Wise, blamed his countrymen, saying that they had “ungratefully rebelled” against “Roman kings”, and had failed in their “loyalty to the Roman Empire”. And yet many, perhaps most Britons continued to consider themselves to be Romans and to preserve the Roman traditions in Church and State. And the distinction between true kings and tyrants continued to be made.
Thus St. Patrick, the British apostle of Ireland, called the Scottish chieftain Coroticus a “tyrant” because he did not fear God or His priests; “for the sake of a miserable temporal kingdom [regnum]” he would face God’s judgement on “wicked kings” [regibus]. Patrick’s use of the terms “king” and “tyrant” is not clear; his definition of the word “tyrant” seems to be a mixture between the old, secular meaning of “usurper” and the newer, more religious, Ambrosian meaning of “unjust or immoral person in authority”.
St. Gildas the Wise, writing in the mid-sixth century, makes a clearer distinction between “king” and “tyrant”. Among past rulers in Britain, Diocletian, Maximus, Marcus, Gratian, Constantine, Constans and Vortigern were all “tyrants”. On the other hand, there had been legitimate rulers, such as Ambrosius Aurelianus, “a modest man, who alone of the Roman nation had been left alive in the confusion of this troubled period… He provoked the cruel conquerors [the Anglo-Saxons] to battle, and by the goodness of our Lord got the victory”. It is said of him that he even “wore the purple”. And then, at the turn of the century, came the famous King Arthur. He won twelve victories over the Saxons, fighting with an icon of the Virgin Mary on his back, and halted the pagan advance westwards for at least a generation. Arthur of Britain, with Clovis of France, was the first great king of the post-Roman West, and became the stuff of innumerable medieval legends.
But as for Gildas’ contemporaries: “Britain has kings [reges], but they are tyrants [tyrannos]; she has judges, but they are wicked. They often plunder and terrorize the innocent; they defend and protect the guilty and thieving; they have many wives, whores and adulteresses; they constantly swear false oaths, they make vows, but almost at once tell lies; they wage wars, civil and unjust; they chase thieves energetically all over the country, but love and reward the thieves who sit with them at table; they distribute alms profusely, but pile up an immense mountain of crime for all to see; they take their seats as judges, but rarely seek out the rules of right judgement; they despise the harmless and humble, but exalt to the stars, as far as they can, their military companions, bloody, proud and murderous men, adulterers and enemies of God… They hang around the altars swearing oaths, then shortly afterwards scorn them as though they were filthy stones…”
Thus by the sixth century it looks as if the problem of formal legitimacy had been solved, at least in the eyes of the Britons themselves. The kings Gildas were talking about were both Christian and “anointed” – they had that link, at any rate, with the anointed kings of Israel and Christian Rome. But they did not fulfil their vows; they were a terror to good works, but not to the evil – and by that criterion they were not true authorities (Romans 13.3), being linked rather with the tyrants of old, the Ahabs and Magnus Maximuses. So the break with Rome was still keenly felt. Celtic Britain had many great monks and hierarchs, but very few great, or even powerful, kings…
Moreover, even when the link with Rome was re-established, through St. Augustine’s mission to the pagan Anglo-Saxons in 597, the old British tendency to self-assertion and rebellion manifested itself again – and led, this time, to perhaps the first formal schism on nationalist grounds in Church history (if we exclude the Jews and the Armenians at the other end of the empire, which had dogmatic underpinnings). Unlike the neighbouring Irish Church, which had always expressed willing obedience to the Pope of Rome (from whom it had received its first missionary bishop), the older Church of Wales strongly asserted its independence. Thus when the Roman St. Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury, sought union with the Welsh, asking only that they adopt the Roman-Byzantine method of calculating the date of Pascha, correct some inadequacy in their administration of the rite of Baptism, and co-operate with him in the conversion of the pagan Saxons, the Welsh refused. And two generations later, the Welsh rejected the decrees of the Synod of Whitby (664), which brought about a union of the Celtic and Roman traditions in the British Isles through the acceptance of the Byzantine-Roman Paschalion. As an Irish canon put it, “the Britons [of Wales] are… contrary to all men, separating themselves both from the Roman way of life and the unity of the Church”.
St. Aldhelm of Sherborne, described the behaviour of the schismatic Welsh thus: “Glorifying in the private purity of their own way of life, they detest our communion to such a great extent that they disdain equally to celebrate the Divine offices in church with us and to take course of food at table for the sake of charity. Rather,.. they order the vessels and flagons [i.e. those used in common with clergy of the Roman Church] to be purified and purged with grains of sandy gravel, or with the dusky cinders of ash.. Should any of us, I mean Catholics, go to them for the purpose of habitation, they do not deign to admit us to the company of their brotherhood until we have been compelled to spend the space of forty days in penance… As Christ truly said: ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees; because you make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish’.”
Some have argued that the Welsh were in fact making the first major protest against the Papist heresy. Thus according to one, somewhat suspect source