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The Byzantine Church
As the Christian faith evolved, its spread was
facilitated greatly by both the Roman and Byzantine
Empires. Emperors of these powerful nations not only
practiced Christianity, but eventually made it the official
religion of their states. The result was that the affairs of
the church became closely tied to the political affairs of
the empire. Leaders of these empires exerted great
control and influence over the developing religion. In
Rome, the Bishop known as the Pope gradually grew in
authority, until he was recognized throughout the western
world as the highest authority in the Church. The
Patriarch of Constantinople did not however recognize this authority. The
Byzantines felt that their Patriarch was an equal to the Pope, and looked to
their own patriarch for leadership. The Byzantine emperor also held a great
deal of authority in matters of the church, and often settled doctrinal
One of these conflicts was the use of icons in
the worship of God. An icon was a statue, or image,
which believers worshiped, or used as they
worshiped. Many believers felt that icons helped
them visualize holy beings. They felt that these icons
represented the sacred, and were an important part
of their worship. Opponents to icons felt that they
violated the Ten Commandments, which stated that
there should be no graven images. Those who
opposed the use of icons had powerful supporters in
the church, and in the government. In A.D. 726
Emperor Leo III ordered that all icons be destroyed.
Those who supported the destruction of all icons became known as
Iconoclasts. The ban on icons was ultimately not successful, due in large
part to the influence of the church in Rome. Many of the Byzantines felt that
Rome had meddled in things that were none of their business, which helped
to further divide the church in Rome from the church in Constantinople.
During the A.D. 700s the church in Rome faced
serious challenges. The Roman Empire had fallen, and
with it, went the protection that the powerful emperors
had given the Catholic Church. The region was now
under constant attack from the Germanic tribes of the
North. The Pope in Rome sought help from the emperor
in Byzantine. When the emperor refused to provide the
needed help, the Pope was forced to look to a Germanic tribe that had been
converted to Christianity. The lack of help from the Byzantines created
resentment in the hearts of those in the West who practiced Roman
Christianity, that would last for centuries. In A.D. 1054 the division of the
church in the East from the church in the West had become so deep that the
two churches were essentially functioning as separate organizations. A
conflict between the Pope in Rome and leaders of the church in
Constantinople was the last straw. The Pope excommunicated members of
the church in the East, while leaders of the church in the East
excommunicated the Pope, and members of the church in the West. Both
churches claimed to have the authority of God behind them, and to be the
original church of Christ. The church in the West became the Holy Roman
Catholic Church, while the church in the East became the Eastern Orthodox
The Emperor Justinian, who ruled Byzantium during much of the A.D.
700s brought prosperity to the empire, and expanded its borders. However,
this success came at a great cost. The treasuries of the Byzantines were
emptied, and the economy of the empire was weakened. For the next 700
years after the death of Justinian, the empire would see a long slow period
of decline. Throughout these centuries, neighboring empires and nomadic
tribes would attack Byzantium, conquering their lands, and further
weakening them. By A.D. 1453 the once mighty Byzantium Empire was
nothing more than a city in decline, surrounded by a few smaller villages.
The city of Constantinople was in serious decline. No longer a center of
wealth, Constantinople was now home to
legions of poor. However, the city still held an
important strategic location, which had
allowed them to hold off Islamic invaders from
reaching the Christian nations in the North. In
their weakened state, the Byzantines were
attacked by the Ottoman Turks. The Turks
besieged the city of Constantinople for six
weeks before finally breaking through the city
walls, ending over a thousand years of
Byzantine culture, and rule.