Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Vienna edition of the Latin Fathers (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, 1867 ff.), both of first-rate importance. There is a convenient English translation of most of the writings of the ante-Nicene Fathers by Roberts and Donaldson (Ante-Nicene Christian Library, 25 vols., Edinburgh, 1868 ff., American reprint in nine vols., 1886 ff.). A continuation of it, containing selected works of the Nicene and post-Nicene period, was edited by Schaff and others under the title A Select Library of Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers (series 1 and 2; 28 vols., Buffalo and New York, 1886 ff.).

On early Christian literature, in addition to the works on Church history, see especially the monumental Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius, by Harnack (1893 ff.). The brief Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten, by G. Krüger (1895, English translation 1897) is a very convenient summary. Bardenhewer’s Patrologie (1894) and his Geschichte der altkirchlichen Litteratur (1902 ff.) should also be mentioned. See also Smith and Wace’s invaluable Dictionary of Christian Biography (1877 ff.).  (A. C. McG.) 

B. The Christian Church in the Middle Ages

The ancient Church was the church of the Roman empire. It is true that from the 4th century onwards it expanded beyond the borders of that empire to east and west, north and south; but the infant churches which gradually arose in Persia and Abyssinia, among some of the scattered Teutonic races, and among the Celts of Ireland, were at first not co-operating factors in the development of Christendom: they received without giving in return. True historic life is only to be found within the church of the Empire.

The middle ages came into being at the time when the political structure of the world, based upon the conquests of Alexander the Great and the achievements of Julius Caesar, began to disintegrate. They were present when the believers in Mahomet held sway in the Asiatic and African provinces which Alexander had once brought under the intellectual influence of Hellenism; while the Lombards, the West Goths, the Franks and the Anglo-Saxons had established kingdoms in Italy, Spain, Gaul and Britain. The question is: what was the position of the Church in this great change of circumstances, and what form did the Church’s development take from this time onwards? In answering this question we must consider East and West separately; for their histories are no longer coincident, as they had been in the time of the Roman dominion.

I. The East. (a) The Orthodox Church.—Ancient and medieval times were not separated by so deep a gulf in the East as in the West; for in the East the Empire continued to exist, although within narrow limits, until towards the end of the middle ages. Constantinople only fell in 1453. Ecclesiastical Byzantinism is therefore not a product of the middle ages: it is the outcome of the development of the eastern half of the empire from the time of Constantine the Great. Under Justinian I. all its essential features were already formed: imperial power extended equally over State and Church; indeed, care for the preservation of dogma and for the purity of the priesthood was the chief duty of the ruler. To fulfil this duty was to serve the interests of both State and people; for thus “a fine harmony is established, and whatever good exists becomes the portion of the whole human race.” Since the emperor ruled the Church there was no longer any question of independence for the bishops, least of all for the patriarch in Constantinople; they were in every respect subordinate to the emperor.

The orthodoxy of the Eastern Church was also a result of the Church’s development after the time of Constantine. In the long strife over dogma the old belief of the Greeks in the value of knowledge had made itself felt, and this faith was not extinct in the Eastern Church. There is no doubt that in the beginning of the middle ages both general and theological education stood higher among the Greeks than in more western countries. In the West there were no learned men who could vie with Photius (ca. 820–891) in range of knowledge and variety of scientific attainment. But the strife over dogma came to an end with the 7th century. After the termination of the monothelite controversy (638–680), creed and doctrines were complete; it was only necessary to preserve them intact. Theology, therefore, now resolved itself into the collection and reproduction of the teaching of ancient authorities. The great dogmatist of the Eastern Church, John of Damascus (ca. 699–753), who stood on the threshold of the middle ages, formulated clearly and precisely his working principle: to put forward nothing of his own, but to present the truth according to the authority of the Bible and of the Fathers of the Church. Later teachers, Euthymius Zigadenus (d. circa 1120), Nicetas Choniates (d. circa 1200), and others, proceeded further on the same lines; Euthymius, in particular, often uses an excerpt instead of giving his own exposition.

This attitude towards dogma did not mean that it was less prized than during the period of strife. On the contrary, the sacred formulae were revered because they were believed to contain the determination of the highest truths: the knowledge of God and of the mystery of salvation. Yet it is intelligible that religious interest should have concerned itself more keenly with the mystic rites of divine worship than with dogma. Here was more than knowledge; here were representations of a mystic sensuousness, solemn rites, which brought the faithful into immediate contact with the Divine, and guaranteed to them the reception of heavenly powers. What could be of more importance than to be absorbed in this transcendental world? We may gauge the energy with which the Greek intellect turned in this direction if we call to mind that the controversy about dogma was replaced by the controversy about images. This raged in the Eastern Church for more than a century (726–843), and only sank to rest when the worship of images was unconditionally conceded. In this connexion the image was not looked upon merely as a symbol, but as the vehicle of the presence and power of that which it represented: in the image the invisible becomes operative in the visible world. Christ did not seem to be Christ unless he were visibly represented. What an ancient teacher had said with regard to the worship of Christ as the revelation of the Eternal Father—“Honours paid to the earthly representative are shared by the heavenly Archetype”—was now transferred to the painted image: it appeared as an analogy to the Incarnation. It was for this reason that the victory of image worship was celebrated by the introduction of the festival of the Orthodox Faith.

It is consistent with this circle of ideas that initiation into the profound mysteries of the liturgy was regarded, together with the preservation of dogma, as the most exalted function of theology. A beginning had been made, in the 5th century, by the neo-platonic Christian who addressed his contemporaries under the mask of Dionysius the Areopagite. He is the first of a series of theological mystics which continued through every century of the middle ages. Maximus Confessor, the heroic defender of Dyotheletism (d. 662), Symeon, the New Theologian (d. circa 1040), Nicolaus Cabasilas (d. 1371), and Symeon, like Nicholas, archbishop of Thessalonica (d. 1429), were the most conspicuous representatives of this Oriental mysticism. They left all the dogmas and institutions of the Church untouched; aspiring above and beyond these, their aim was religious experience.

It is this striving after religious experience that gives to the Oriental monachism of the middle ages its peculiar character. In the 5th and 6th centuries Egypt and Palestine had been the classic lands of monks and monasteries. But when, in consequence of the Arab invasion, the monasticism of those countries was cut off from intercourse with the rest of Christendom, it decayed. Constantinople and Mount Athos gained proportionately in importance during the middle ages. At Constantinople the monastery of Studium, founded about 460, attained to supreme influence during the controversy about images. On Mount Athos the first monastery was founded in the year 963, and in 1045 the number of monastic foundations had reached 180. In Greek monachism the old Hellenic ideal of the wise man who has no wants (αὐτάρκεια) was from the first fused with the Christian conception of unreserved self-surrender to God as the highest aim and the highest good. These ideas governed it in medieval times also, and in this way monastic life received a decided bent towards mysticism: the monks strove to realize the heavenly life even upon earth, their highest aim being the contemplation of God and of His ways. The teachings of