Justinian Essay, Research Paper

By the end of the Byzantine reign the culture was composed of Greek, Roman, European (Christian) and Islamic elements. Although a synthesis of the four was evident, Christianity was always the dominant force in the thoughts of man, due mainly to the enforcement by the State. Visigoths did not sack the Eastern Empire in the fifth century; therefore the Empire and its policies remained intact unlike the west. The fifth century was a critical time in the Eastern Empire’s history, for this is when the emperor Justinian ruled.

Justinian is most famous for the body of laws he promulgated — the Corpus Iuris Civilus. This was not only a great legal achievement in codifying Roman law; it was also the first systematic attempt to synthesize Roman law and Jurisprudence with Christianity. From the eleventh century onward, Justinian’s Corpus Irius Civilus became the foundation of all European law and practices (except for England). This illustrates the sweeping power Christianity once had.

Justinian’s reign was not at all perfect. Aside from forever losing the west, and closing down the universities in the west. This basically doomed artistic and scientific modes of thought in the west. The most serious and lasting mistake of Justinian’s reign was the persecution of heretical Christians. The Eastern Empire had always been distinguished from the Western Empire by the proliferation of religions and metaphysical speculation as a characteristic of religions. This did not substantially change with the advent of Christianity. Although non-Christians were stamped, the eastern Christians engaged in high intellectual speculation on theological and christological questions with a fervor unmatched in the west. You might say that the model of Christian belief in the east was more mystical and philosophical while the Christian belief in the west was more practical and obedience-centered. This meant that a number of competing doctrines circulated in the Greek-centered areas of the Byzantine world. One of these doctrines, the Monophysite doctrine, was so serious a challenge to the western Church that it was declared heretical.

The Monophysite doctrine arose from christological speculation. What was the nature of Christ? This was one of the dominant speculative questions in the Eastern Empire from the fifth century onwards. The Monophysites argued that Christ had one and only one nature (mono=one, physis=nature) and that nature was divine — the orthodox Christian Church held that Christ had a double nature, that of divinity and humanity. In the latter decades of the fifth century, the Byzantine Emperor declared himself to be a Monophysite — this estranged the Byzantines from the Roman Pope.

But Justinian — and his father before him, Justin I — needed the support of the Pope in order to retake Italy. So both Justin and Justinian renounced Monophysite belief and were reincorporated into the Latin Church. But Justinian went even further: to demonstrate his commitment to Latin Christianity, he began a series of oppressive persecutions of Monophysites in Syria and Egypt. This would have a profound effect on later history: the Monophysite Christians, horribly persecuted by the Byzantines, welcomed Muslim conquerors with open arms based on their promise to tolerate their religion.

Byzantine Christianity was a substantially different religion and cultural practice than Latin Christianity. One of its predominant characteristics was the role of the Emperor in matters of faith. The Latin Church fought with the emperors for control of the Church and with the disintegration of centralized authority in Europe and the proliferation of European kingdoms, the primacy of the Pope in matters of faith was relatively solidified.

The Byzantines, however, inherited the Roman idea that the emperor was near divinity and practiced a form of Christianity where enormous ecclesiastical and theological authority was vested in the emperor. This would eventually create a permanent breach in the world of Christianity between west and east and the event that would produce this breach was the Iconoclastic controversy.

The Iconoclastic theologians believed that the worship of images, or icons, was a fundamentally pagan belief. Products of human hands should not be worshipped, they argued, but only Christ and God should be the proper objects of veneration. Leo the Isaurian inaugurated this movement. Iconoclasts were in part inspired by the religious purity of the Islamic faith. There is little doubt that Iconoclasm would help the Byzantines regain territory conquered by the Muslims since it made Christianity more in line with the Islamic faith.

Iconoclasm, however, was fiercely opposed by the papacy, which saw it as a threat not only to Latin ecclesiastical practices, but also to the authority of the Pope himself. The breach between the Latin and Byzantine Church became permanent around 745 AD. Eventually, Iconoclasm would be abandoned in the ninth century — the breach, however, would never be healed.

The most significant result of the Iconoclastic controversy was the adoption of a strict traditionalism in the Byzantine church. Speculation and innovation had long characterized the Eastern Church, but the Iconoclastic controversy was too disorienting. Almost overnight, the Byzantine Church became averse to innovation and speculation. This created a more or less static religious culture and it also permanently ended the intellectual dynamism of Byzantine life.

The Byzantine Empire was no longer an empire after 1261, but rather a small kingdom centered around Constantinople. In 1453, the city was finally and permanently conquered by the Ottoman Turks and renamed Istanbul. Byzantine culture, law, and administration came to its final end. This was the end of the Christian control because the Turks converted the populace to Islamic over time.

A time period consuming nearly 1000 years dissipated quite quickly in the end. In the east politics and warfare end the reign of Christian influence rather quickly. On the contrary Christianity lost in grips on mankind’s minds rather slowly and because of several causes; primarily religious, cultural, political, and economic causes. Two different paths taken by the same theory ending at the same point at the same time. Coincidence? Not at all, a weak philosophical and political system is doomed to fail no matter the geographical location or time period.

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