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Byzantine Theology after Chalcedon. C onstantinople, the great cultural melting pot, the "New Rome" and capital of the empire, did not produce any real outstanding theologian in the fifth and sixth centuries; but the city witnessed the great theological debates of the day since their conclusion often depended upon imperial sanction.
The bishops of Constantinople and their staffs however were still able to defend explicit theological convictions, even against the imperial will, as the lonely pro-Chalcedonian stand adopted by the patriarchs, Euphemius and Macedonius IIunder the reign of the Monophysite emperor Anastasius, bears witness.
Thus, a theology, which can be termed specifically "Byzantine" in contrast to the earlier currents of Eastern Christian thought and centred mainly in Egypt and Syria, comes into being during the post-Chalcedonian period.
It would have seemed that no individual figure played a decisive role in the formation of this theology, and one could be equally hard-pressed to locate any school or other intellectual centre in the capital where the theological thought was creatively elaborated.
Though it seemed reasonable to assume that a theological school for the training of higher ecclesiastical personnel was connected with the patriarchate, sources about its character or the levels of its teaching were wanting.
A centre of theological learning was attested at the famous monastery of the Akoimetai the "Non-Sleepers"and others certainly existed elsewhere, but very little was specifically known about them.
Theologians, who were active during the fifth and sixth centuries, often received their training in distant parts of the empire, such as Syria or Palestine. The Lavra of St. Sabbas near Jerusalem, for example, was the scene of violent debates between competing Origenist factions.
The imperial, secular University of Constantinople, founded by Constantine and reorganized by a decree of Theodosius IIdid not include theology among its subjects; yet it certainly served as a channel for the perpetuation of ancient Greek philosophical ideas.
The university remained bilingual Greek and Latin until the seventh century and until the reign of Justinian and included pagans among its professors. But the drastic measures taken by Justinian in excluding both, pagans and non-Orthodox Christians, from the teaching profession and in closing the pagan University of Athens must have emphasized that the role of secular studies in Christian Byzantium was purely ancillary.
Even if a small circle of intellectuals perpetuated the philosophical traditions of the ancient Greeks, the official position of both, Church and state, now considered philosophy as at best a tool for expressing Revelation, but it never admitted that philosophy was entitled to shape the very content of theological ideas.
In practice, one might readily admit that Aristotelian logic is to be taught in the schools, but one would be consistently distrustful of Platonism because of its metaphysical implications.
Yet Platonism would subsist through patristic literature mainly and especially through the Origenist tradition; but it would never be formally acknowledged as a valid expression of religious ideas. Conservative in form and intent, Byzantine theology in the age of Justinian continually referred to tradition as its main source.
In particular, the Christological debates of the period consisted chiefly of a battle between exegetes of Scripture about philosophical terms adopted by Christian theology in the third and fourth centuries and about patristic texts making use of these terms.
Liturgical hymnology, which began to flourish at this time, incorporated the results of the controversies and often became a form of credal confession. The various elements of Byzantine theological traditionalism dominated in the fifth and sixth centuries, constituted the basis of further creativity in the later periods, and required very special attention.
But, if any issue arises concerning Scripture, it should not be interpreted other than as the luminaries and teachers of the Church have expounded it in their writings; let them [the bishops] become distinguished for their knowledge of patristic writings rather than for composing treatises out of their own heads.
Even though the consensus patrum reached by this method was in some instances partial and artificial, the standard Church teaching came to rely on it especially when it was sanctified by liturgical and hymnographical usage. The Bible was always understood not simply as a source of revealed doctrinal propositions or as a description of historical facts but as a witness to a living Truth, which had become dynamically present in the sacramental community of the New Testament Church.
The veneration of the Virgin, Mother of God, for example, was associated once and for all with a typological interpretation of the Old Testament temple cult: The identification of the Old Testament Wisdom with the Johannine Logos had been taken for granted since the time of Origen, and no one would have thought of challenging it.
As early as the fourth century, when much of the Arian debate centred on the famous text "The Lord created me at the beginning of his works" Pr 8: Athanasius and other members of the Nicaean party declined to challenge the identification between Logos and Wisdom preferring to find references to other texts supporting the uncreated character of the Logos-Wisdom.
No one questioned the established exegetical consensus on the identification itself. Much of the accepted Byzantine exegetical method had its origin in Alexandrian tradition and its allegorism.
Thus, in pushing the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture to its very extremes, the Alexandrian Hellenistic milieu, common to Philo, Clement, and Origen, could refer to the illustrious precedent of St.
Allegory was first of all consonant with the Hellenic and especially the Platonic concern for eternal things as the opposite to historical facts.Planet Ark is all about creating positive environmental actions, for everyone – but especially for you.
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