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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: February 2015

2 - Churches of east and west in the early Middle Ages


He who has founded his church in the west, his church has not reached the east; the choice of him who has founded his church in the east has not come to the west … My church is superior … to previous churches, for these previous churches were chosen in particular countries and in particular cities. My church shall spread in all cities, and its gospel shall reach every country.

The previous chapter explored the way in which dreams of universal dominion helped shape the fortunes of early Christianity and support the rise to power of the Catholic church. Such dreams lost nothing of their allure as antiquity gave way to the Middle Ages. Men of power still imagined themselves at the helm of great empires, and they were men of religion as well as of politics – for as yet there were no secular empires, only religious ones.

Yet the Christian empire was threatened by competing powers, both religious and political. The words above are those not of a Christian but of Mani (216–76), the founder of a new universal religion that, he believed, would supplant those that had come before, including Christianity. Mani's dream faltered because his religion failed to form an adequate alliance with political power. The next great world empire, the Islamic, did not make the same mistake. Its dramatic rise to power from the seventh century, and its rapid seizure of territories belonging to the Roman empire, would have serious consequences for the development of Christianity.

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An Introduction to Christianity
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Further reading
Late antiquity
The encyclopedic volume on Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), edited by G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown and Oleg Grabar, is an excellent resource for information on Roman, Byzantine, Persian and Islamic cultures from the mid-third century to the eighth. So is Garth Fowden's monograph From Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), whose synoptic view and argument about the significance of universal faiths influenced this chapter and the previous one
Judith Herrin's The Formation of Christendom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989) and Peter Brown's The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversityad200–1000 (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996) offer elegant, wide-ranging accounts of the fate of the Roman Empire from late antiquity to 800 and 1000 respectively. See also Peter Brown's Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity (London: Faber, 1982)
Byzantine Christianity
J. M. Hussey's The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990) is an important source. There are in addition a number of histories of the Byzantine empire that give attention to the role of the church. See, for example, Steven Runciman's The Byzantine Theocracy (new edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), Dimitri Obolensky's The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500–1453 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971) and Cyril Mango's Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980)
Jaroslav Pelikan's The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600–1700) offers an account of the development of Orthodox thought (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1974). Tia Kolbaba's The Byzantine Lists: Errors of the Latins (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000) offers a scholarly introduction to this neglected genre. Andrew Louth has written a number of useful studies of the eastern mystical tradition. See, for example, his studies of Maximus the Confessor (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), St John Damascene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) and Denys the Areopagite (London: Geoffrey Chapman; Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 2002)
The making of the western tradition
R. W. Southern's The Making of the Middle Ages (London and New York: Hutchinson's University Library, 1953) provides an extremely helpful introduction to the subject, as do R. A. Markus's From Augustine to Gregory the Great (London: Variorum Reprints, 1983) and The End of Ancient Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Augustine's achievement is analysed by Peter Brown in Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (London: Faber, 1967), and Augustine's works are readily available in translation. His Confessions is a good place to start
On the rise of the papacy see Geoffrey Barraclough, The Medieval Papacy (London: Thames and Hudson, 1968). On religion and kingship see Walter Ullman, The Carolingian Renaissance and the Idea of Kingship (London: Methuen, 1969) and E. H. Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957). On relations between church and state, see Janet L. Nelson, Politics and Ritual in Early Medieval Europe (London and Ronceverte, WV: Hambledon, 1986)
Benedict's Rule is short, accessible and available in a number of translations. On the development of western monasticism see David Knowles's Christian Monasticism (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969). On the evangelisation of the west see Richard Fletcher, The Conversion of Europe: From Paganism to Christianity, 371–1386 (London: HarperCollins, 1997)