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Ecumenical Councils

Third Council of Constantinople

Third Council of Constantinople (680–681): repudiated Monothelitism, affirmed that Christ had both human and divine wills.

The Sixth Ecumenical Council is the third of Constantinople in 681; it declared that Christ has two wills of his two natures, human and divine, contrary to the teachings of the Monothelites.

Quinisext Council

Quinisext Council (= Fifth and Sixth) or Council in Trullomarker (692) has not been accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. Since it was mostly an administrative council for raising some local canons to ecumenical status, establishing principles of clerical discipline, addressing the Biblical canon, and establishing the Pentarchy, without determining matters of doctrine, the Eastern Orthodox Church does not consider it to be a full-fledged council in its own right, instead it is considered to be an extension of the fifth and sixth councils.

Second Council of Nicaea

Second Council of Nicaea (787). In 753, Emperor Constantine V convened the Synod of Hieria, which declared that images of Jesus misrepresented him and that images of Mary and the saints were idols. The Second Council of Nicaea restored the veneration of icons and ended the first iconoclasm.

Eastern theology after Chalcedon

Western theology

When the Western Roman Empire fragmented under the impact of various 'barbarian' invasions, the Empire-wide intellectual culture that had underpinned late Patristic theology had its interconnections cut. Theology tended to become more localised, more diverse, more fragmented. The classically-clothed Christianity preserved in Italy by men like Boethius and Cassiodorus was different from the vigorous Frankish Christianity documented by Gregory of Tours which was different again from the Christianity that flourished in Irelandmarker and Northumbriamarker in the seventh and eighth centuries. Throughout this period, theology tended to be a more monastic affair, flourishing in monastic havens where the conditions and resources for theological learning could be maintained.

Important writers include:

Tensions between East and West

As the Great Schism between East and West grew, conflict arose over misunderstandings about Hesychasm. Saint Gregory Palamas, bishop of Thessalonicamarker, an experienced Athonite monk, defended Orthodox spirituality against the attacks of Barlaam of Calabria, and left numerous important works on the spiritual life.

The events leading to schism were not exclusively theological in nature. Cultural, political, and linguistic differences were often mixed with the theological. Any narrative of the schism which emphasizes one at the expense of the other will be fragmentary. Unlike the Coptics or Armenians who broke from the Church in the fifth century and established ethnic churches at the cost of their universality and catholicity, the eastern and western parts of the Church remained loyal to the faith and authority of the seven ecumenical councils. They were united, by virtue of their common faith and tradition, in one Church.

Nonetheless, the transfer of the Roman capital to Constantinople inevitably brought mistrust, rivalry, and even jealousy to the relations of the two great sees, Romemarker and Constantinoplemarker. It was easy for Rome to be jealous of Constantinople at a time when it was rapidly losing its political prominence. In fact, Rome refused to recognize the conciliar legislation which promoted Constantinople to second rank. But the estrangement was also helped along by the German invasions in the West, which effectively weakened contacts. The rise of Islam with its conquest of most of the Mediterranean coastline (not to mention the arrival of the pagan Slavs in the Balkans at the same time) further intensified this separation by driving a physical wedge between the two worlds. The once homogeneous unified world of the Mediterranean was fast vanishing. Communication between the Greek East and the Latin West by the 600s had become dangerous and practically ceased.



This activity brought considerable wealth and power. Wealthy lords and nobles would give the monasteries estates in exchange for the conduction of masses for the soul of a deceased loved one. Though this was likely not the original intent of Benedict, the efficiency of his cenobitic Rule in addition to the stability of the monasteries made such estates very productive; the general monk was then raised to a level of nobility, for the serfs of the estate would tend to the labor, while the monk was free to study. The monasteries thus attracted many of the best people in society, and during this period the monasteries were the central storehouses and producers of knowledge.

The system broke down in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as religion began to change.


Of great importance to the development of monasticism is the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinaimarker. Here the Ladder of Divine Ascent was written by Saint John Climacus (c.600), a work of such importance that many Orthodox monasteries to this day read it publicly either during the Divine Services or in Trapeza during Great Lent.

At the height of the East Roman Empire, numerous great monasteries were established by the emperors, including the twenty "sovereign monasteries" on the Holy Mountain, an actual "monastic republic" wherein the entire country is devoted to bringing souls closer to God. In this milieu, the Philokalia was compiled.

Spread of Christianity


Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England began around AD 600, influenced by the Gregorian mission from the south-east and the Hiberno-Scottish mission from the north-west. The first Archbishop of Canterbury, Augustine took office in 597.The last pagan Anglo-Saxon king, Arwald, was killed in 686.

Germanic peoples

Saints Colombanus, Boniface, Willibrord, Ansgar and many others took Christianity into northern Europe and spread Catholicism among the Germanic, and Slavic peoples, and reached the Vikings and other Scandinavians in later centuries. The Synod of Whitby of 664, though not as decisive as sometimes claimed, was an important moment in the reintegration of the Celtic Church of the British Islesmarker into the Roman hierarchy, after having been effectively cut off from contact with Rome by the pagan invaders.

With this act, the Frankish Kingdom became Christian, although it would take until the 7th century for the population to abandon some of their pagan customs. This was typical of the Christianization of Europe. Christian and pagan practices would effectively exist in parallel.

The Alamanni became Christians only after a period of syncretism during the 7th century, by gradual emulation of the new religion of the Merovingian elite.

Christian Missionaries toto the Anglo-Saxons (see Anglo-Saxon Christianity)

Christian Missionaries toto the Frankish Empire (see Hiberno-Scottish, Anglo-Saxon mission)

The Introduction of the "Luminous Religion" to China

When Christianity was first introduced to Chinamarker three major religious systems, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, were already popular there, woven into the ancient traditions and customs of the people. The average Chinese did not regard himself as an exclusive adherent of any one of the three, but rather as a follower of a general Chinese religion made up of both animistic and polytheistic elements which represented a syncretistic conglomeration of ideas. Thus the Church of the East encountered grave difficulties as it sought to introduce the “Luminous Religion” to China. Only in the periods of the Tang (A.D. 618-906) and Yuanmarker (A.D. 1206-1368) dynasties did the gospel enterprise have any considerable degree of success.It is difficult to determine the exact time when the Christian gospel first reached China. the ancient Breviary of the Syrian church of Malabar (India) states that “By the means of St. Thomas the Chinese...were converted to the truth...By means of St. Thomas the kingdom of heaven flew and entered into China...The Chinese in commemoration of St. Thomas do offer their adoration unto Thy most Holy Name, O God.” Some authors have claimed to have found in a very ancient Taoist writing evidence of a spiritual awakening in China in the latter part of the first century.

Active trade for centuries between China and the West could have brought Christian missionaries at an early date. But aside from one rather obscure reference in the Adversus Gentes by Arnobius (A.D. 303) to “the Chinese as among those united in the faith of Christ, “there is little or no evidence of Christians in China before the Seventh Century. But from then on the evidence of Christianity in China during the T’ang Era (A.D. 618-906) are numerous, including references in Chinese writings, imperial edicts, and in particular the famous inscriptions on the so-called “Nestorian Monument”. During the Táng period conditions were favorable for the introduction of foreign faiths: the lines of international communication were wide open; foreign trade flourished; the government was tolerant toward all faiths; all foreigners were welcome in various capacities. It was in this T’ang Era that the Christianity of the Church of the East first came to be known as the “Luminous Religion” (Jǐng Jiào, 景教).

The earlier part of the inscription is in Chinese, with certain Buddhist terms used to express Christian ideas, probably indicating that a distinctly Christian vocabulary had not yet developed in China. The doctrinal statement mentions the triune of God, the Creator of all things, the fall of mankind, the incarnation and virgin birth, the holy life and ascension of Christ, the rite of Baptism, and certain scriptures, but no mention is made of Christ's redemptive death for sin.

Following this is an account of how Alopen of Dà-chín (the Near East, especially Syria or Persia) arrived in Ch’angan in 635 bearing the Scriptures. He was welcomed by the emperor T’ai Tsung, the founder of the Tang Dynasty and one of the most famous of Chinese rulers. The emperor, having examined the sacred writings, ordered their translation and the preaching of their message. He also directed the building of a Christian monastery in his capital. According to the inscription, his successor, the emperor Kao Tsung, also encouraged Christianity and ordered the building of a monastery in each province of his domain.

The second part of the monument was written in Syriac and listed some sixty-seven names: one bishop, twenty-eight presbyters, and thirty-eight monks. Some of these have been verified from Assyrian church records. The inscription displays considerable grace of literary style, and the allusions and phraseology reveal competence in both Chinese and Syriac and familiarity with both Buddhism and Taoism. Ancient Christian manuscripts were also discovered at Dunhuangmarker from about the same period and are written in the literary style of the Monument. These include a “Hymn to the Trinity” and refer to at least thirty Christian books, indicating that considerable Christian literature was in circulation.

The 250-year span of the Christian movement in the T’ang period was characterized by vicissitudes of imperial favor and prosperity, persecution and decline. Christianity fared badly during the reign of the infamous Dowager Wu (689-699), who was an ardent Buddhist. However, several succeeding emperors were favorable, and the missionary forces were reinforced from time to time.

Northeast Asia

The trade routes of the ‘Silk Road’ are also known to have reached Korea, Japan, and what is today eastern Russia by this time, contributing to these exchanges. Against this background it is from China, in particular from Chang-an during the Tang Dynasty, that Christianity also first came to Korea and Japan.In the case of Korea, where Christianity seems to have been present, evidence has been found in the Korean Chronicles Sanguk Yusa and Sanguksa, for the presence of ‘Nestorian’ Christianity during the united Silla Dynasty (661-935). This is not unexpected in the light of the known presence of Koreans at the tang capital, Chang-an, in the seventh to ninth centuries.

The later inclusion of present-day Korea within the Mongol Empire (from 1236) opened the peninsula to Nestorian missionaries who enjoyed full acceptance from the early khans, throughout their territories. In the fourteenth century, when the Koryo state remained under Mongol control, Koryo crown princes were held hostage in Khanbaliq and often forced to marry Mongol princesses. Some of these were Nestorian Christians.

Middle Eastern situation

The Muslim presence in the Holy Land began with the initial Arab conquest of Palestine in the 7th century. The Muslim armies' successes put increasing pressure on the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire.

Conditioning Factors of Missionary Expansion

Early Muslim conquest of these lands in the seventh and eighth centuries did not introduce direct persecution. However, Muslim apostasy was curbed by threat of death, and many nominal Christians began to gradually defect to Islam to avoid discrimination and heavy taxation. This type of subtle oppression stifled Christian growth, backed the church into ghetto communities, and discouraged evangelism. Muslim governments eventually gained control of the great trade routes, and the Islamic world became virtually closed to the proclamation of the gospel.

In 644, Abdisho, the metropolitan, had succeeded in drawing a large number of Turks, beyond the Oxus River, into the Church of the East. Colleges were established in Merv and a further monastery was founded there in the eighth century.In fact, so successful were the missionary efforts that it appeared that Christianity might become the dominant faith in the whole region between the Caspian Seamarker and Xinjiang in Northwest China. The largely animistic and polytheistic religions there offered little or no effective resistance to the higher faith. Moreover, Islam at first made little headway in that area, and the dualistic faith of Manichaeism also had scant appeal.Christian Turks visiting Ctesiphonmarker in connection with the election of a new metropolitan about this time were described as people of clean habits and orthodox beliefs and as readers of the Scriptures in both Syriac and their own language.Though there was a mass conversion of Turks to Islam in the ninth century, the Moslems did not dominate the area until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Byzantine and Muslim conflict

The Roman-Persian Wars

Lasting from 92BC to 627AD the conflict between the Persian and Roman Empires was a protracted struggle which was arguably a continuation of the Greco-Persian Wars. The Roman-Persian Wars led to weakening of the neighboring Arab states to the South and East of the Eastern Roman Empire. The conflict so drained both the Persian and Byzantine empires that once the conquests of Muhammad started, neither could mount an effective defense against the onslaught. Persia fell to the Muslims (see conquests).

Byzantine-Arab Wars

Following the death of Muhammad in 632, there was a vigorous push by the Arab Muslims to conquer Arab tribes of the East such as the mostly Christian Ghassanids. The Byzantine-Muslim Wars were a series of wars between the Arab Muslims Caliphates and the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire. These started during the initial Muslim conquests under the Rashidun and Umayyad caliphs and continued in the form of an enduring border tussle until the beginning of the Crusades. As a result the Byzantines saw an extensive loss of territory.

The initial conflict lasted from 629-717, ending with the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople that halted the rapid expansion of the Arab Muslim Empire or Umayyad dynasty into Asia Minor. Conflicts with the Caliphate however continued between the 800s and 1169. The Muslim victories resulted in the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus request for military aid from Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza in 1095; one of the events often attributed as a precursor to the First Crusade.

After the Arab conquest of North Africa in the 7th century the Eastern Orthodox Church of Egypt in Alexandria were a minority even among Christians, and remained small for centuries.

Muslim history

According to the traditionalist view, the Qur'an began with revelations on Muhammad's divine revelations in AD 610. The verses of the Qur'an were written down and memorized during his life. Meccamarker was conquered by the Muslims in the year AD 630. In 628 the Meccan tribe of Quraish and the Muslim community in Medina had signed a truce called the Treaty of Hudaybiyya beginning a ten-year period of peace, which was broken when the Quraish and their allies, the tribe of Bakr, attacked the tribe of Khuza'ah, who were allies of the Muslims. Muhammad died in June 632. The Battle of Yamama was fought in December of the same year, between the forces of Rashidun Caliph Abu Bakr and Musailima.

Early Caliphate: The Rightly-Guided Khalifahs

After Muhammad died, a series of Caliphs governed the Islamic State: Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique, Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Uthman, Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Hasan. These first Caliphs are popularly known as the "Rashidun" or "rightly-guided" Caliphs in Sunni Islam. After the Rashidun, a series of Caliphates were established. Each caliphate developed its own unique laws based on the sharia. There were at times competing claims to the Sunni caliphate, and the Imams of Ismaili Shi'a Islam, descended from Ali and Muhammad through his daughter Hazrat Fatimah, set up their own caliphate which ruled the Fatimid Empire.

Following Muhammad's death, a series of four Caliphs lead the Islamic Empire during this period. Starting with Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman, and ending with Ali.

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Further reading

  • Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism. 3rd ed. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2001. ISBN 0-582-40427-4
  • Fletcher, Richard, The Conversion of Europe. From Paganism to Christianity 371-1386 AD. London 1997.
  • Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, book 1, chp.19
  • Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, book 3, chp. 1

Parthia and Persia:
  • Ibid, book 1, chp. 13, book.2, chp 1.
  • The Ante-Nicene Fathers Down to A.D. 325.
  • Mingana, The Early Spread of Christianity in Central Asia and the Far East, pp. 300.

The Great Persecution:
  • Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History 1
  • Eusebius, Life of Constantine 4:56
  • Aphrahat, Demonstrations 5
  • Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History 2, 9-10

  • A.C. Moule, Christians in China Before The year 1550, pp. 19-26
  • Arthur Lloyd, The Creed of Half Japan, pp. 76-84
  • Catholic Encyclopedia, 3:667
  • A.C. Moule, pp. 27-52
  • P.Y. Saeki, The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China and The Nestorian Monument in China, pp. 27-52

External links

See also

History of Christianity: The Middle Ages
Preceded by:
Christianity in
the 6th century

Followed by:
Christianity in
the 8th century

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