This subject will be treated under the following heads:I. Explanation of Terms;
II. The Greek Orthodox Church and Its Divisions;
III. Greek Uniat Churches;
IV. Greek-Church History, subdivided into: (1) The First Five Centuries;
(2) Decay of the Greek Churches of the East and Rise of the Byzantine Hegemony (451-847);
(a) Internal Organization of the Byzantine Churches;
(b) The Emperor; Relations between East and West; Liturgy.
(3) The Greek Schism; Conversion of the Slavs (ninth to eleventh century);
(4) Efforts towards Reunion; the Crusades (eleventh to fifteenth century);
(a) Internal Organization;
(5) From 1453 to the Present Time -- Relations with the Catholic Church, the Protestants, etc.
I. EXPLANATION OF TERMS
In the East, when a Church is spoken of, four things must be kept distinct: the race to which the adherents of the Church belong; the speech used in their everyday life, and in their public devotions; the ecclesiastical rite used in their liturgy, and their actual belief, Catholic or non-Catholic. It is because these distinctions have not been, and are not, even now, always observed that a great confusion has arisen in the terminology of those who write or speak of the Eastern (Oriental) Churches and of the Greek Church. As a matter of fact, the usual signification attached to the words Eastern Churches extends to all those Churches with a liturgical rite differing from the Latin Rite. Let them reject the authority of the pope or accept it, they are none the less Eastern Churches. Thus the Russian Church, separated from Rome, is an Eastern Church ; in the same way the Greek Catholics who live in Italy, and are known as Italo-Greeks, make up an Eastern Church also. The expression Eastern Churches is therefore the most comprehensive in use; it includes all believers who follow any of the six Eastern rites now in use: the Byzantine, Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean, Maronite, and Coptic.
What, then, do we mean when we speak of the Greek Church? -- Ordinarily we take it to mean all those Churches that use the Byzantine Rite, whether they are separated from Rome or in communion with the pope, whether they are by race and speech Greek or Slavs, Rumanians, Georgians, etc. The term Greek Church is, therefore, peculiarly inappropriate, though most commonly employed. For instance, if we mean to designate the rite, the term Greek Church is inaccurate, since there is really no Greek Rite properly so called, but only the Byzantine Rite. If, on the other hand, we wish to designate the nationality of the believers in the Churches following the Byzantine Rite, we find that out of fifteen or twenty Churches which use that rite, only three have any claim to be known as The Greek Church , viz., the Church of the Hellenic Kingdom, the Church of Constantinople, the Church of Cyprus. Again, it must be borne in mind that in the Church of Constantinople there are included a number of Slavs, Rumanians, and Albanians who rightly refuse to be known as Greeks.
The term Orthodox Greek Church , or even simply the Orthodox Church , designates, without distinction of speech, or race, or nationality, all the existing Churches of the Byzantine Rite, separated from Rome. They claim to be a unit and to have the same body of doctrine, which they say was that of the primitive Church. As a matter of fact, the orthodoxy of these Churches is what we call heterodoxy, since it rejects the Papal Infallibility, and the Papal Supremacy, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, that of Purgatory, etc. However, by a polite fiction, educated Catholics give them the name of Orthodox which they have usurped. The term Schismatic Greek Church is synonymous with the above; nearly everybody uses it, but it is at times inexpedient to do so, if one would avoid wounding the feelings of those whose conversion is aimed at.
The term United Greek Church is generally used to designate all the Churches of the Byzantine Rite in communion with the See of Rome. Thus the Ruthenian Church of Galicia, the Rumanian Church of Austria-Hungary, the Bulgarian Church of Turkish Bulgaria, the Melchite Church of Syria, the Georgian Church, the Italo-Greek Church, and the Church of the Greeks in Turkey or in the Hellenic Kingdom -- all of them Catholic -- are often called the United Greek Churches. Again, the term is inappropriate, and belongs of right only to the last two Churches. As a matter of fact the Ruthenians and Bulgarians are Slavs who follow the Byzantine Rite, but use a Slavonic translation; whereas the Rumanians are Latins who follow the Byzantine Rite, but in a Rumanian translation, etc.
Instead of United Greek Church , the term Uniat (or Uniate ) Church is often used; and in like manner the word Uniats is used instead of United Greeks . These words are by no means synonymous. Uniat Church , or Uniats , has a much wider signification than United Greek Church or United Greeks , and embraces all the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome, but following another than the Latin rite, whether it be Byzantine, Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean, Maronite, or Coptic. The Uniat Church is therefore really synonymous with Eastern Churches united to Rome , and Uniats is synonymous with Eastern Christians united with Rome .
II. THE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH AND ITS DIVISIONS
The Greek Orthodox Churches are Churches separated from Rome and following the Byzantine Rite, i.e. the rite developed at Constantinople between the fourth and tenth centuries. In the beginning, the only language of this rite was Greek. Later, however (the exact date is uncertain), it was introduced among the Georgians, or Iberians, of the Caucasus and was translated into the Georgian vernacular of the country. In the ninth century, through the efforts of Sts. Cyril and Methodius and their disciples, the Moravians and the Bulgarians were converted to Christianity, and as the missionaries were Byzantines they introduced their own rite, but translated the Liturgy into Slav, the mother tongue of those nations. From Bulgaria this Byzantine-Slav Rite spread among the Servians and the Russians. In recent times the Byzantine Rite has been translated into Rumanian for use by the faithful of that nationality. Lastly, the Orthodox Syrians of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt have adopted a hybrid Byzantine Rite in which, according to the whim of the celebrant, either Greek or Arabic is used. Hence we have five divisions of the Byzantine Rite, and consequently five divisions of Orthodox Greek Churches: --(1) The Greek-ByzantineRite, which includes the pure Greeks subject (a) to the Patriarchate of Constantinople,
(b) to the Holy Synod of Athens, and
(c) to the Archbishopric of Cyprus. (2) The Arabic-Byzantine Rite, which includes the Christians under the Patriarchates of (a) Antioch,
(c) Alexandria, and
(d) the Archbishopric of Sinai. (3) The Georgian-Byzantine Rite, which, up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, included the Churches of the Caucasus Range now absorbed by the Russian Church and obliged to use the Slavonic Liturgy instead of their own native Georgian.
(4) The Slavonic-Byzantine Rite , comprising (a) the Russian,
(b) the Servian, and
(c) the Bulgarian Churches. (5) The Rumanian-Byzantine Rite, used by the Rumanian Churches. (1) Pure Greeks (a) Patriarchate of Constantinople
This Church is governed by a patriarch, a Holy Synod consisting of twelve metropolitans, and a mixed council of four metropolitans and eight laymen. It numbers in all 101 dioceses, of which 86 have metropolitan rank, and 15 are suffragan sees. Such were the official figures and were accurate until the month of October, 1908. As we write, however, this is no longer so. Since the proclamation of Bulgarian independence the five Greek metropolitans in their country have been suppressed by the Bulgarians. Bosnia-Herzegovina had four metropolitans depending more or less on Constantinople, but since Austria-Hungary has annexed that country they will no longer be dependent. Lastly, the Island of Crete is now almost independent of Turkey, and in consequence its metropolitan and his seven suffragan bishops have gone over to the Holy Synod of Athens. From the 101 dioceses, therefore, we may deduct 17, viz., 10 metropolitan sees and 7 suffragan sees, which leaves a total of 84 dioceses, 76 being metropolitan and 8 suffragan. Of these 84 dioceses, not including Constantinople, 22 are in Asia Minor , 12 in the Archipelago, and 50 on European soil. For want of reliable statistics, it is difficult to form an estimate of their population. The Greeks in the Ottoman Empire claim to number 6,000,000, but this figure is exaggerated. We shall be nearer the truth in computing 1,000,000 Greeks in Asia Minor, 400,000 in the Archipelago, 1,500,000 in Turkey in Europe, including the Albanians and Bulgarians. There are, moreover, 600,000 Slavs, either Bulgarians or Servians, who belong to the œcumenical patriarchate. All this gives a grand total of 3,500,000 souls. In consequence of the independence of Bulgaria, of the annexation of Bosnia by Austria-Hungary, and the secession of Crete to Greece, the œcumenical patriarchate has recently lost nearly a million subjects -- namely, 700,000 in Bosnia, 200,000 in Crete, and from 70,000 to 80,000 in Bulgaria.(b) The Church of Greece
This Church dates back to 1833, when 36 bishops proclaimed their independence of Constantinople and established a Holy Synod; its authority was not recognized until 11 July, 1850, by the œcumenica1 patriarch. At the present time this Church is controlled by a Holy Synod of five members: the Metropolitan of Athens as president and four bishops chosen in regular succession. The Hellenic Kingdom contains 32 dioceses, of which one -- that of Athens -- is a metropolitan see ; it is not, however, rare to find one-third of the sees vacant for economic reasons. The Church of Greece numbers 2,500,000 members in Greece and many thousands of believers in other countries, especially in the United States. By an arrangement arrived at between Athens and Constantinople in 1908, all the Greek Churches of the dispersion, save that of Venice, must, look to Athens as their head.(c) The Church of Cyprus
Ever since the Council of Ephesus, in 431, recognized its autonomy, which was confirmed in 488 by the Emperor Zeno, the Church of Cyprus has remained independent. The hierarchy consists of the Archbishop of Constantia and his three suffragans, the Bishops of Paphos, Cytion, and Cyrenia. Nearly ten years ago the archbishop died, and so far his successor has not been agreed on. The Church has about 200,000 adherents.(2) Arabic Byzantines (a) Patriarchate of Antioch
The Orthodox population of this patriarchate is hardly Greek any longer. They are a Syrian race whose speech is Arabic, and as a rule the liturgical offices are celebrated in Arabic. Since 1899 the Greek element, which had up to then monopolized the superior clerical positions, has been definitively driven out of Syria. The patriarch lives at Damascus and governs with the aid of a Holy Synod and a mixed council. At the present time this Church has 13 dioceses, all of metropolitan rank, and numbers 250,000 souls.(b) Patriarchate of Jerusalem
This patriarchate was cut off from that of Antioch in 451. If it were not for the sanctuaries of the Holy Places, which draw so many pilgrims and such considerable alms, its importance would be nil. All the superior clergy are Greek, and, in accordance with a rule made in the early part of the eighteenth century, the clergy of Syrian birth and Arabic speech are eligible for the lower clerical positions only, although the whole membership of this Church is Syrian. There has been a revolt recently against this slavery, and it is not unlikely that before long the Greeks will be expelled from Jerusalem as they have been already driven from Antioch. The only extant dioceses are Jerusalem, Nazareth, and St. Jean d'Acre, but a number of titular metropolitans and archbishops aid the patriarch in the administration of his Church. The liturgical languages in use are Greek and Arabic; the number of subjects of this patriarchate cannot exceed 50,000 souls.(c) Patriarchate of Alexandria
This patriarchate is made up of only one diocese under the personal care of the patriarch. According to decisions arrived at in 1867 he ought to be assisted by a Holy Synod composed of four members who were to be honorary Metropolitans of Pelusium, the Thebaid, Pentapolis, and Lybia. This synod is being formed. Church-membership numbers about 80,000 persons, made up mostly of strangers from Syria and Greece, among whom far from harmonious relations prevail. The liturgy is celebrated in either Greek or Arabic, but for the most part in Greek.(d) Archbishopric of Sinai
The titular of this see has jurisdiction over the convent of St. Catherine and about fifty Bedouins. Its autonomy was proclaimed in 1575 and confirmed in 1782. At the present time the tendency is to consider it rather as a diocese in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.(3) Orthodox Georgians
The various national Churches of Iberia, Mingrelia, and Imerethia no longer exist since Russia has extended her dominion over the Caucasus provinces. In the Liturgy the Georgian tongue has been replaced by the Slavonic. The number of dioceses was formerly twenty, but is now only four, all in the hands of the Russians. It has a metropolitan, with the title of Exarch of Georgia and three suffragan bishops. The number of the Orthodox in Georgia, including the Russian colonists, is reckoned at about 1,600,000.(4) Orthodox Slavs (a) The Synodal Church of St. Petersburg
This is but a continuation since 1721 of the Patriarchate of Moscow, which had been established in 1589 by the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremias II, who up to that time had ruled the Russian Orthodox Church . The Holy Synod instituted by Peter the Great and composed of seven members, is the head of this Church. The Russian Church counts 63 dioceses, ruled by 3 metropolitans, 13 archbishops, and 47 bishops. In many of the dioceses, where the distances are enormous, it is customary for the bishop to take one or more auxiliary bishops, known as episcopal vicars, for the governing of parts of the diocese. At the present time there are 44 of these episcopal vicars. The number of members of this Church must be about 70,000,000, or half the population of the Empire. There are at least 25,000,000 more believers who separated from the official church in the seventeenth century and make up the great Raskol sect (see RUSSIA). The remainder of the population of Russia is made up of about 12,000,000 Catholics together with Protestants, Armenians, Jews, Mussulmans, Buddhists, and even pagans.(b) The Servian Church of Servia
It was not till November, 1879, that this Church secured its independence of the Œcumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Since then it has been governed by a Holy Synod comprising the Metropolitan of Belgrade and the four suffragan Bishops of Nich, Uchitzé, Timok and Chabatz. Its members number about 2,500,000 souls, and its liturgical language is the Slavonic. -- The Servian Church of Montenegro. -- It is ruled by the Metropolitan of Cettinjé, who goes to Russia for consecration. Until 1852 the bishop, or Vladika , was temporal as well as spiritual head of the principality. Since then the authority has been divided. The membership is about 250,000. -- The Servian Patriarchate of Carlovitz in Hungary. -- This Church was founded in 1691 by Servian emigrants from Turkey. It became a patriarchate in 1848. Besides the patriarchal diocese, there are six others: Bracs, Buda, Carlstadt, Pakray, Temescaz, and Versecz. Its membership numbers about 1,080,000 souls. It is governed by a Holy Synod and a national Parliament, or Assembly, of which one-third of the members are clerics and the remainder laymen. It meets every three years. -- The Servian Church of Bosnia-Herzegovina. -- Theoretically this Church still belongs to the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople, but since the annexation of these provinces by Austria-Hungary (6 October, 1908) it may be looked on as autonomous. It has four metropolitan sees. Seraiero, Mostar, Doinja-Touzla, and Banialouka, and numbers 700,000 souls. -- Two other Servian groups have not yet acquired autonomy. That in Dalmatia belongs to the Rumanian Metropolitan of Tchernovitz; it has two dioceses, Zara and Cattaro, and numbers 110,000 souls. The other group, in Turkey, in the vilayet of Uskub, acknowledges the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople. It has two dioceses, Prizrend and Uskub, and numbers 250,000 souls.(c) The Bulgarian Exarchate
After having concurrently two patriarchates, one at Tirnovo, suppressed in 1393, and another at Ochrida, suppressed in 1767, the Bulgarians have organized an independent Church, recognized by the Sublime Porte, 11 March, 1870. The exarch, head of all Bulgarians in Turkey and Bulgaria who may be disposed to admit his authority, resides in Constantinople. He has subject to him in Turkey 21 dioceses, of which about two-thirds are still waiting for the nomination of their bishops, and in Bulgaria 11 metropolitan dioceses. The faithful of the exarchate number about 4,000,000, of whom 2,900,000 are in the Kingdom of Bulgaria, and 1,000,000 in Turkey in Europe. The proclamation of Bulgaria as an independent kingdom will bring about modifications in the ecclesiastical domain, for it is hardly likely that Turkey will accept an outsider as spiritual head of its Ottoman subjects.(5) Orthodox Rumanians (a) The Church of Rumania
This church has existed since 1864, though it was not recognized by the Phanar as independent until 13 May, 1885. It obeys a Holy Synod composed of two metropolitans and six bishops -- its whole episcopate. Its membership numbers 4,800,000 souls.(b) The Rumanian Church of Sibiu
This Church, formerly under the Servian Patriarchate of Carlovitz, secured its independence in 1864. It is governed by a national Assembly composed of 90 members (30 ecclesiastics and 60 laymen ) who meet every three years. The Metropolitan of Sibiu has two suffragans, the Bishops of Arad and of Karambes. Its computed membership is 1,750,000. (c) Servo-Rumanian Church of Tchernovitz. -- This Church secured independence in 1873. It comprises three dioceses ; Tchernovitz, the metropolitan see, situated in Bukovina, Zara and Cattaro in Dalmatia (its two suffragan sees ). The population of this Church, which in Bukovina is mainly Servo-Rumanian and in Dalmatia Servian, is about 520,000 souls.
To sum up, there are seventeen Orthodox Churches of various tongues and nationalities, knit together more or less by a common Byzantine Rite and a vague basis of doctrine that becomes more and more imbued with Protestant ideas. Their total membership does not exceed 100,000,000 souls ; the exact figure is 94,050,000, of whom about three quarters (70,000,000) are in the Russian dominions.
III. GREEK UNIAT CHURCHES
Nearly every one of the Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine Rite has a corresponding Greek Catholic Church in communion with Rome. As we saw in the majority of the Orthodox Churches, so in the case of the Uniat Churches, they are Greek only in name. Altogether eight divisions are recognized:
- (1) Pure Greeks,
- (2) Italo-Greeks,
- (3) Georgians,
- (4) Græeco-Arabs (or Melchites ),
- (5) Ruthenians,
- (6) Servians,
- (7) Bulgarians, and
- (8) Rumanians.
The total membership of these various Churches does not exceed 6,000,000 souls ; the exact figure is computed at 5,564,809, of whom 4,097,073 belong to the Ruthenians and Servians, 8488 to the Bulgarians, 1,271,333 to the Rumanians, 138,735 to the Melchites, and 49,180 to the Italo-Greeks and Pure Greeks. The number of Catholic Georgians is unknown, but it is small. These are the figures furnished by the 1907 edition of "Missiones Catholicæ", published at Rome (p. 743).(1) Pure Greeks
Their Church has not yet been organized, it is under the Apostolic Delegate at Constantinople. Parishes and missions exist at Constantinople, Cadi-Keui, Peramos, Gallipoli, Malgara and Cæsarea in Cappadocia. The faithful number about 1000, under the care of a dozen priests, of whom seven are Assumptionists. There are also Catholics of this rite in Greece. They are subject to the Delegation at Athens.(2) The Italo-Greek Church
These Catholics are of Greek or Albanian origin, and use the Byzantine Rite. They live mainly in Sicily and Calabria, and have some fixed colonies in Malta, at Algiers, Marseilles, and Carghese in Corsica. Their number is not more than 50,000. Ecclesiastics in Calabria and Sicily are ordained by two Italo-Greek bishops. Their liturgical language is Greek, but for the most part the vernacular of the faithful is Italian.(3) Georgian Churches
Russia, unwilling to tolerate within her dominions an Orthodox Georgian Church distinct from the Russian, is all the more opposed to the creation of a Catholic Georgian Church. Out of from 30,000 to 35,000 Georgian Catholics, about 8000 follow the Armenian Rite, the remainder having adopted the Latin Rite. The only Catholic Georgian organization in existence is at Constantinople.(4) Græco-Arabs (or Melchites)
All these are under a patriarch who bears the titles of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, and who, moreover, has jurisdiction over all the faithful of his rite in the Ottoman Empire. Their number amounts to about 140,000 and they are subject to twelve bishops or metropolitans. The liturgical language is either Arabic or Greek.(5) Ruthenians
The Uniat Church of Russia has disappeared. Its last two bishoprics, those of Minsk and Chelm, were suppressed in 1869 and in 1875 respectively. Since the disorders of 1905 many have availed themselves of the liberty of returning to the Catholic Church, but as a precautionary measure they have adopted the Latin Rite.(6) Servians
In Austria-Hungary the ancient Ruthenian Church has survived with a little more than 4,000,000 members. It has six dioceses, of which three are in Galicia (the Archbishopric of Lemberg, and the Bishoprics of Przemysl and of Stanislawow ) and three in Hungary (the Bishoprics of Munkács and of Eperies under the Latin Archbishop of Grau, and the Bishopric of Crisium, or Kreutz, in the archiepiscopal province of Agram, and of which the Catholic population is mainly Servian ).(7) Bulgarians
The movement for union with Rome, very strong in 1860, was, owing to political reasons, not a success. To-day there are hardly 10,000 Catholics between the two Apostolic vicariates of Thrace and Macedonia. The seminary of Thrace is under the care of the Assumptionists, that of Macedonia under the Lazarists.(8) Rumanians
The Rumanian Catholic Church uses the Byzantine Rite, but the liturgical language is Rumanian. It is established only in Hungary and counts four dioceses, viz., the Archdiocese of Fogaras with the suffragan Dioceses of Armenopolis, Gross-Wardein, and Lugos, having in all 1,300,000 members.
The Uniat-Rumanians of the Kingdom of Rumania have no ecclesiastical organization. In this summary I have omitted the other Oriental Churches in communion with Rome, e.g. the Armenian, the Coptic, the Abyssinian, the Syriac, the Maronite, the Chaldean and Malabrian Churches, because they do not use the Byzantine rite, and have no claim to be considered as Greek Churches, even in the wider meaning of the word.
IV. GREEK-CHURCH HISTORY (1) The First Five Centuries
The Gospel, preached by the Apostles and by their disciples, who were converts from Judaism, spread first of all among the Jewish communities of the Roman Empire. These Jewish settlements were mainly in the towns, and as a rule spoke the Greek tongue; and thus it came to pass that the earliest Christian communities were in the towns and used the Greek tongue in their liturgical services. Gradually, however, Christian converts from among the Gentiles began to increase and, as the author of the so-called Second Epistle of Clement says, "The children of the barren woman outnumbered those of the fruitful one". The original differences between the Judæo-Christian and Helleno-Christian communities quickly disappeared, and soon there existed only Christians, with a certain number of heretical sects which either held aloof of their own accord or were constrained to do so. At the end of the fourth century, at least in the East, nearly all the cities were Christian, but the villages and country places, as in the West, offered a more stubborn resistance to the new religion. The government of the Church was monarchical; as a rule every city had its bishop, and the priests were his assistants; the deacons and lower ministers attended to the ceremonial and to charitable works. Even before the Council of Nicæa (325) ecclesiastical provinces had begun to appear, each having a metropolitan and several suffragan bishops. The size of these provinces generally corresponded to the extent of the civil provinces.
The fourth canon of Nicæa expressly refers to such provinces. But were there also Churches whose high jurisdiction was recognized by a number of ecclesiastical provinces , and did they correspond with the future patriarchates and exarchates? We must reach the third century before we find conclusive proof of this. At that time the Bishop of Alexandria was looked up to as the Primate or Patriarch of all Egypt. In a somewhat similar way, though in a lesser degree, the Bishop of Antioch had authority in the provinces of Syria and Asia Minor. For instance, at the end of the second century Serapion of Antioch exercised his authority at Rhossos, a town of Cilicia, and this same Serapion appears to have ordained Palout, the third Bishop of Edessa. During the latter half of the third century we see assembled at Antioch the bishops of all Syria and eastern Asia Minor, soon to become the civil diocese of Pontus. As early as 251. we know of a synod that was to be held at Antioch because Fabius, the bishop of that town, seemed to be leaning towards Novatianism. The promoters of this meeting were the Bishops of Tarsus, Cæsarea in Palestine, and Cæsarea in Cappadocia. A few years later, in 256, Dionysius of Alexandria, treating of the Eastern Churches that had been disturbed by this quarrel, mentions Antioch, Cæsarea in Palestine, Ælia (Jerusalem), Tyre, Laodicea in Syria, Tarsus and Cæsarea in Cappadocia. Somewhat later, again, from 264 to 268, the affair of Paul of Samosata was the occasion of many meetings of bishops at Antioch, and in the interests of that Church. They always came from the same provinces, viz., those extending from Polemoniac Pontus (Neo-cæsarea) and Lycaonia (Iconium) to Arabia (Bostra) and Palestine (Cæsarea and Ælia). "Immediately after the persecution of Galerius and Maximianus a celebrated council was held at Ancyra, presided over by the Bishop of Antioch, at which some fifteen bishops from the same countries, were again present; this time, however, the Provinces of Galatia, Bithynia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia are represented, but Asia, properly so called, still remained outside the group" (Duchesne, "Christian Worship", London, 1904, p. 20). On the other hand, in Proconsular Asia no Church had yet succeeded in asserting authority over the others; Ephesus, the most famous of them, had merely a primacy of honour over its rivals in influence and wealth, Smyrna, Pergamus, Sardis, and others.
To sum up, then, during the opening years of the fourth century we find three principal ecclesiastical groups in the Eastern Empire:
- (1) that of Alexandria, with authority over the whole of Egypt ;
- (2) that of Antioch, with a more or less recognized jurisdiction over the whole Greek world, with the exception of Asia proper, and even over lands beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire, e.g., Armenia and Persia ;
- (3) Proconsular Asia, forming a group apart.
The Councils of Nicæa (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451) legalized the existing state of things, created new Churches and established the ecclesiastical hierarchy as it has remained ever since. But in order to understand the situation properly, we must first briefly review the civil organization of the Roman Empire, which had such an influence over early Church organization.
From Diocletian to the accession of Theodosius the Great (379) the Empire of the East included the civil dioceses of Egypt (after its separation from Antioch), Asia, Pontus, and the two Mysias, or Thrace. The remaining dioceses formed part of the Empire of the West. On 19 January, 379, Gratian, Emperor of the West, ceded to his colleague, Theodosius I, the Prefecture of Eastern Illyricum, which included the dioceses of Dacia and Macedonia. Soon afterwards, between 424 and 487, Western Illyricum, or the diocese of Pannonia, became part of the Empire of the East.
Among the canons of Nicæa (325) that do not specifically deal with the ordinary ecclesiastical provinces, canons 6 and 7 confirm the rights accorded by immemorial custom to certain great Churches, such as Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and the other eparchies. It is not easy at first sight to determine what rights the council referred to. Nevertheless it is a general opinion that the sixth canon aimed at securing to the Bishop of Alexandria an exceptional rank, and at endowing him with powers over the metropolitans and bishops of the four civil provinces of Egypt, Thebaid, Libya, and Pentapolis, as ample as those exercised by the Bishop of Rome over the various provinces of the Patriarchate of the West. Thus the Bishop of Alexandria had the right to consecrate all the metropolitans and bishops of Egypt, and from this some historians and canonists would have us conclude that he was, as a matter of fact, the only metropolitan in Egypt, and that his entire patriarchate was a single diocese. This is an evident exaggeration. At the Council of Nicæa there were four Egyptian metropolitans, one for each of the civil and ecclesiastical provinces ; later their number rose to nine, or even ten, according as the emperors increased the number of civil provinces. The number of suffragan bishops rose at one time to a hundred. The organization of the Egyptian Church really followed the same lines as the others. But the Patriarch, or Bishop, of Alexandria had the right of consecrating all his bishops, once their election had been confirmed by the metropolitan, whereas in the other greater Churches the metropolitan himself discharged this function.
Although the sixth canon, in as far as it refers to Antioch, is far from clear, it would seem that the Nicene Council recognized and granted to the Bishop of Antioch the same jurisdiction over the provinces of the civil diocese of the East ( Diœcesis Orientis ) that it had recognized and granted to the Bishops of Rome and of Alexandria over the Provinces of the West and of Egypt respectively. Therefore it attributes to Antioch a supremacy over many provinces, each having its own metropolitan, in such a way as to constitute them into a patriarchate. It is thought that the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch was coextensive with the aforesaid civil diocese of the East, but it may very likely have extended also over certain provinces in Pontus and Asia Minor .
The same canon requires that the rights of the other eparchies be maintained. The meaning of the word eparchies is not clear and has been variously interpreted. According to some, it refers to ordinary ecclesiastical provinces , but this is hardly probable, seeing that the council had already dealt with them in its fourth canon. Others are of opinion that the council intended to grant the Bishops of Heraclea, Ephesus, and Cæsarea the same privileges and rights over the provinces of the civil dioceses of Thrace, Asia, and Pontus that the Bishops of Alexandria and Antioch enjoyed over the provinces of the civil dioceses of Egypt and the East. The second canon of the Council of Constantinople (381) seems to support this interpretation, where it says: "The Bishops of the Diocese of Asia must watch over the concerns of Asia only; those of Pontus, over what concerns Pontus, and those of Thrace over what concerns Thrace." Perhaps the council simply meant to enfranchise the provinces of these three civil dioceses from the jurisdiction of Antioch, Alexandria, or any other Church, without, however, raising any particular see -- Ephesus for instance, or Cæsarea -- to a particular rank like that of Antioch or Alexandria.
As for Jerusalem, or Ælia, according to the seventh canon, it remained a simple bishopric under the jurisdiction of Cæsarea Maritima, its metropolitan see, but enjoyed the right to certain honours on the occasion of œcumenical councils, when its bishops sat next to those of the greater Churches of the empire.
The Council of Constantinople (381) confirmed and defined, in its second canon, what the Council of Nicæa had attempted to outline. It was understood that the Bishop of Alexandria should be the head of the Church of Egypt, and the Bishop of Antioch head of the Church of the East. As for the remaining two Asiatic dioceses, those of Pontus and of Asia, the ambiguous phrases of the second canon, and the interpretation thereof given by the historian Socrates (Hist. Eccl., V, c. viii, in P. G., LXVII, 580), do not permit us to infer the supremacy of any one Church over all the other Churches of a civil diocese. That Ephesus in Asia and Cæsarea in Pontus held privileged positions is certain, but that either Ephesus or Pontus was at the head of the episcopate of Asia or of Pontus, as Antioch was at the head of the Eastern episcopate, is a position which we have no documentary evidence to support. The third canon of this council of Constantinople brings another Church on the scene, that of the imperial capital itself, to which Nicæa had made no reference. The silence of the First Œcumenical Council is easily understood when we remember that in 325 Byzantium, or Constantinople, was still an undistinguished bishopric, with Heraclea, in Thrace, as its metropolitan, and that its first bishop, St. Metrophanes, had died as recently as 314. In consequence of the transfer of the seat of imperial government to Byzantium, the city increased in importance, even from an ecclesiastical point of view; in 339 and 360 we find two Arian bishops, Eusebius and Eudoxius, leaving their metropolitan Sees of Nicomedia and Antioch to occupy this bishopric, which they had already begun to consider the first episcopal see of the Empire. The Council of 381 encouraged this attitude, and its third canon asserts that "the Bishop of Constantinople ought to have a pre-eminence of honour next to the Bishop of Rome, for that
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