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THE reign of Justinian in its theological aspect was a long contest between the Dyophysites, that is, the Orthodox Christians according to the creed of the dominant hierarchy, and the Monophysites. Although the Emperor was devotedly attached to Orthodoxy, he was above all things desirous of finding some common ground on which the conflicting sects could meet and be reconciled. From the opposite side Theodora was animated by a similar policy; she warmly espoused the Monophysite doctrine, but was equally anxious with her husband to promote a general union of the Christian Church. The Monophysites at this time were divided into two parties, viz., the uncompromising Acephali, who would concede nothing, and those who accepted the Henoticon of Zeno (482). The former, almost all Egyptians, anathematized the Council of Chalcedon; the latter, chiefly Asiatics, pretended to tolerate that synod with the reservations expressed by the Henoticon. Thus, in the East there was a partial agreement between the Orthodox and Monophysites; but the Christians in the West were as uncompromisingly Orthodox as the Acephali in Egypt were dissident: the Patriarch Acacius, the author of the Henoticon, had been excommunicated for that piece of work by the contemporary Pope, Felix.

After the death of Anastasius, the hicrarchies of Rome and Constantinople had resumed friendly relations, owing to the policy adopted by Justin and Justinian of persecuting the Monophysites; but under the influence of Theodora, or because of the Emperor's discouragement at the results of these harsh measures, the opening of the new reign wore a much more benign aspect toward the heretics. Amicable discussion of the points of controversy and mutual concession became the prevalent sentiment of the Court; and soon Monophysites of every grade in the priestly office began to crowd into the capital. Justinian received them with condescension and Theodora afforded them material hospitality, finding them quarters according to their rank in the house of Hormisdas and even in the Imperiai palace. The Emperor argued questions of doctrine with them as a prelate might do with his inferior clergy, and convened representative meetings of both parties with a view to the resolution of differences. His success, however, was limited to the addition of one of theless contestable formulas of the Monophysites to the Catholic theology, viz., that "God was crucified for us", but this step did not meet with universal or permanent approbation.

Yet Theodora was able to push her influence to such an extent that she procured the translation of Anthimus, Bishop of Trebizond, who was known to have heretical leanings, to the Patriarcbate of Constantinople (535). This appointment was such a triumph for the dissident sect that they assumed their advent to power to be actually realized; and the recognized leader of the Monophysites, Severus, the deposed Bishop of Antioch, who had previously repulsed Justinian’s advances as being illusory, now issued from his retreat and appeared among the dependents of the Byzantine Court.

This ascendancy, however, rested on no solid ecclesiastical foundation, but was sustained merely by the breath of Court favor, as directed by Theodora. At the moment when the prospects of the Monophysites seemed brightest it is probable that disaster from some quarter was imminent and inevitable, but the immediate cause of their ruin was a fortuitous circumstance arising in connection with Justinian's foreign policy. In the beginning of 536 Pope Agapetus arrived at Constantinople, commissioned by Theodahad to effect some favourable accommodation for him with the Emperor. Among the more intimate members of his suite were two deacons of noble family, Vigilius and Pelagius. The Catholic prelates, who were indignant at the elevation of Anthimus, immediately surrounded the Pope and induced him to refuse communion with the new Patriarch unless he should prove his Orthodoxy. Agapetus, therefore, challenged Anthimus to a debate on the articles of the faith in the presence of Justinian, and easily convicted him of flagrant error. Excommunication, notwithstanding the menaces of Theodora, at once followed, and the Emperor could not resist the Pope's demand that he should be expelled from his see.

The Empress at once took him under her personal protection, and gave him private apartments in the Palace. At the same time she began to intrigue for his restoration, and the course of events seemed to shape itself very fortunately in her favor. The Pope died in the spring of the same year before he could set out on his return journey; and concomitantly Belisarius was making brilliant progress in his invasion of Italy. Vigilius was a recognized candidate for the see of Rome, and had, in fact, been irregularly nominated before the consecration of Agapetus. Theodora approached him with bribes and threats; he should be Pope, and receive also a large pecuniary grant, if he agreed to adopt the policy she defined for him. Vigilius gave her all the assurances she required; he would condemn the Council of Chalcedon and communicate with the three leaders of the Monophysites, Anthimus, Severus, and Theodosius of Alexandria, the only one who was in occupation of a see. At her dictation he at once wrote a letter to these prelates, confessing the same faith as themselves; and then he departed for Italy with a mandate for Belisarius directing that he should be installed in the Papal seat.

He joined the Master of Soldiers at Naples, and, after the capture of that city, accompanied him to Rome. In the meantime, however, Theodahad had filled the vacancy, and caused Silverius to be created Pope in due form. When the Byzantine army entered the Western capital after the flight of the Goths, as already related, Belisarius took up bis abode in a palace on the Pincian Hill; and, in concert with his wife, who was better versed than himself in such matters, endeavoured to carry out the ecclesiastical policy of the Empress. At first, persuasion was tried, in order to induce Silverius to adapt himself to altered circumstances, but he was a strenuous upholder of Orthodoxy and would make no concession. It was decided, therefore, to find a pretext for deposing him, and with that view libels were circulated, insinuating that he was now acting in collusion with the Goths. His residence was in the Lateran palace near the Asinarian gate, and he was accused of plotting to admit the enemy through that portal. He repudiated the charge and removed his habitation to an interior part of the city. A letter was then forged, in which his treasonable relations with Vitigis were set forth in precise terms; whereupon he was summoned to the presence of the general on the Pincian.

He found Belisarius sitting at the feet of his wife, who was reclining on a couch; and the moment he entered, Antonina addressed him with : "My Lord Pope, what have we done to you and the Romans that you should wish to betray us to the Goths?" She had scarcely finished speaking, when a pair of subservient deacons stripped him of his pallium, and hastily enveloped him in a monkish habit. He was then hurried away to exile, while the information was spread among the populace that the Pope had been made a monk.

After his deposition, Vigilius was consecrated without delay or difficulty, little or nothing being known at Rome of the pledges he had given at the Byzantine Court to apostatize from the Catholic faith. Theodora soon claimed the fulfilment of his promises, but in the West he found himself in an atmosphere where no departure from Orthodoxy would be tolerated, whilst in the East the tide was running so strongly against the Monophysites that no neutral ecclesiastic could be so indiscreet as to espouse their cause. He, therefore, put her off with professions of inability and evasive replies, so that the heretics were as far off as ever from being countenanced by the Papal chair. Vigilius even thought it prudent to purge himself of any suspicion of heresy by writing to Justinian and the Patriarch Menna, who had succeeded Anthimus, in terms which left no doubt of his orthodoxy. As for Silverius, his first place of exile was Lycia, and from thence reports were sent up to the Court representing that he had been wrongfully accused. Justinian was thus influenced to issue a mandate for him to return to Italy, and clear himself, but, as he drew near to Rome, he was again arrested and deported to the isle of Palmaria, where he died within the year. It was generally believed that he perished gradually through inanition, the result of his being kept on a very meagre diet by Vigilius; but the definite statement of Procopius that he was made away with by one Eugenius, an assassin suborned by Antonina at the instance of Theodora, has the strongest claims on our credence.

After the death of Silverius, the theological peace of the West remained undisturbed for several years; but Justinian and Theodora at New Rome never flagged in their efforts to approach from opposite sides the goal of union between the two great Christian sects. After the deposition of Anthimus, however, the Emperor felt that he had been too yielding to the heretics; and he now allowed the Orthodox bishops of the East to give practical effect to their abhorrence of the Monophysites. It must be admitted, indeed, that the members of that sect who had flocked to the capital under the impression that the injunction against their teaching had been for ever rescinded, went far beyond the limits of moderation; and entered on a tireless mission which seemed to aim at no less than to proselytize the whole mass of the Constantinopolitans to their creed.

One of the first acts, therefore, of the new Patriarch, Menna, was to convene a Council under the Imperial sanction, at which more than three score bishops and a number of inferior clergy received protests from all parts of the Empire, and pronounced sentence of deprivation against their opponents, wherever they might be found. A general flight of the sectaries, who had shown themselves to be so irrepressible in the city, ensued; and a repetition of the persecution which marked the accession of Justin was reintegrated throughout the Asiatic provinces. Nevertheless, the Empress provided secure refuges for numbers of those who were pursued, and even determined by her active interference the tenure of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. That city was the stronghold of the Acephali, and when the episcopal throne became vacant in 536, an extremist named Gaianus was immediately elected to fill it by the most powerful local faction. Theodosius, who accepted the Henoticon, was the nominee of the local government, as inspired by Theodora, but his confirmation was resisted by violent riots. The Empress at once dispatched Narses to establish her candidate by the aid of the military; and the eunuch had to wage a civil war in the streets of the hostile city, amid showers of missiles launched from windows and from roofs of houses by infuriated women, before he could achieve bis object.

Yet the Orthodox party had become so reinvigorated that the very next year the presence of the Egyptian primate was commanded at the Imperial capital, where he was offered the option of accepting fully the Council of Chalcedon, or of deposition from his see. He chose the latter alternative, and was banished to the Castle of Dercos in Thrace, which had been chosen for the seclusion of Monophysites who were unable, or who had not deigned to escape. Shortly, however, there was a lull in the storm of Orthodox rancour; and a flourishing brotherhood of Monophysites was permitted to exist at Sycae, where a monastery had been built for them, and liberally endowed by Theodora. To this establishment Theodosius returned before a twelvemonth, and continued for more than a quarter of a century to be the head of it.

Early in the fifth decade of the sixth century the great theological question which agitated the subsequent years of Justinian's reign, had its origin. Paul, the Alexandrian Patriarch who had replaced Theodosius, became involved shortly after his accession in a scandal connected with the unwarrantable execution of a deacon by Rhodo, the Augustal Praefect. The Emperor and his consort were much affected by this circumstance, and decreed that Paul should be tried for his share in it by an ecclesiastical court. The Patriarch was convicted, deposed, and one Zoilus appointed in his stead, but these occurrences were merely collateral to the main event. Among the ecclesiastics in favour at the Byzantine Court were Pelagius, the Papal nuncio, and Theodore Ascidas, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Their rivalry for the Imperial patronage was keen, and they were mutually desirous of damaging one another in the estimation of the sovereign. The court which tried Paul assembled at Gaza (542), and was summoned for the purpose by Pelagius, acting as Imperial Commissioner. Certain monks of Jerusalem availed themselves of his proximity and authority to forward a petition to the Emperor against an antagonistic fraternity who were earnest disseminators of the doctrines of Origen. The brothers complained of emanated from the New Laura in that region; and it happened that Theodore Ascidas had formerly been one of their associates.

Knowing, therefore, that he would be zealous in the defence of Origen, Pelagius eagerly accepted the advocacy of the complainants as a means of injuring his rival; and on his return to Constantinople at once apprised the Emperor as to the teeming crop of error which threatened to befoul the sources of the faith in Palestine. Justinian listened with avidity, and forthwith began an assiduous study of the Works of Origen with a view to the disclosure of noxious passages. As that father had lived before any definite creed of the Christian faith had been specified, and had been deeply imbued with notions derived from Egyptian and Oriental mythology, Justinian was shortly successful in unearthing a mass of glaring heresy from his writings. This material was then systematically drafted into canons, which were embodied in a formal requisition from the Emperor to the Patriarch that Origen should be anathematized in a council of bishops.

In the meantime Theodore, anxious to retaliate against Pelagius, and to disturb the convictions of the Orthodox in general, as well as to divert attention from Origen to a greater issue, had devised a skilful attack on the Council of Chalcedon. The action of the Roman legate had created a precedent for reviewing and censuring the opinions of ecclesiastics long since dead; and his adversary perceived that this new method could be applied effectively to damage the authority of the synod in question. Two bishops, who had incurred the charge of Nestorianism, had been expressly approved at Chalcedon; whilst a third, who was infected, had been passed over without animadversion. Besides being an Origenist, Theodore was a temperate Monophysite; and he now persuaded the Emperor that a qualified condemnation of the defunct prelates would purge the Council of every blemish and win for it the acceptance of all of his creed.

Justinian again applied himself to his studies, and soon convinced himself that the theologians indicated had been tainted with flagrant impiety; upon which he published an edict wherein their respective errors were reprobated in three sections. In the East but little commotion was occasioned by this document, as the objections were familiar to those accustomed to read the Greek Fathers, but among the Latins the Church was agitated violently because nothing was comprehended except that the Council of Chalcedon, the decisions of which had been dictated by Pope Leo, was convicted of fallacy. On that side of the Empire, therefore, controversy and stubborn resistance was at once manifested against the Emperor's proscription of the "Three Chapters", the title conveniently bestowed on the matters in dispute.

Justinian, as usual, was determined to carry his point; and he now concluded that the most effective means of attaining his end was to procure a Papal ordinance in confirmation of his own edict. But Vigilius at Rome was beyond the power of persuasion, and might soon not be amenable even to force. His presence at Constantinople was, therefore, an urgent necessity; and when the Emperor expressed himself to that effect he was eagerly seconded by Theodora, who was anxious to arraign the Pope for having broken faith with her. With the decision that was habitual to her she resolved that he should be compulsorily deported, and at once despatched an officer with strict injunctions to seize Vigilius wherever he should find him, with the single exception of St. Peter's Cathedral.

The Italian capital was not yet beset by the Goths, and the orders of the Empress were executed to the letter (545). In broad day, while celebrating the holy office in the church of St. Cecilia, the Pope was arrested by a company of guards and hurried through the streets to a ship which lay waiting in the Tiber. A concourse of people thronged after him, and, as soon as they saw him standing without restraint on the deck of the vessel, they clamoured for a benediction. He acceded to their request, and when he had finished, the ship began to put off from the shore. Only then did they realize that he was actually about to leave them, whereupon their demeanour changed suddenly, and they gave a striking proof that they were inspired by two natures. Stones, sticks, and old pots were hurled after the receding pontiff, whilst they yelled abusive epithets at the top of their voices: "Famine and death go with you! You have done badly by the Romans; may you fare ill wherever you go!"

Vigilius did not now complete the voyage to the Imperial city, but, being landed at Syracuse, remained there about a year, as Justinian was not yet prepared to push the question to a crisis. In 547, however, Emperor and Pope met at Constantinople, and embraced each other with the greatest seeming cordiality. For some time they worked together in perfect concord, while Justinian entirely won over the head of the Western Church to his views; and in the next year a papal decree was promulgated, under the title of the "Judicatum", in which the Three Chapters were anathematized in the terms dictated by the Imperial theologian. But this decisive act was the signal for Western indignation to rise to its height; and Vigilius was stricken with awe at finding that he could scarcely count on a single adherent in the Roman half of the Empire.

Latin ecclesiastics at once began to compose and circulate elaborate treatises in which they contravened the Imperial and Papal pronouncements and maintained that the proceedings at Chalcedon had been infallible in every detail. Vigilius, therefore, withdrew his Judicatum without reserve, a measure which caused the tension of opinion between Emperor, Pope, and Patriarch to become acute. The arch-priests excommunicated each other, and Justinian became desperate at finding himself defied at the moment when he believed himself to be in touch with the goal. He issued a new edict (551), condemning the Three Chapters, and insisted that the Pope should sign it. But Vigilius had now been joined by some Western bishops and clerics, and especially by the resolute Pelagius, who thought the contest demanded his presence in the East. With the support of these coadjutors, Vigilius persisted in his refusal to sign, while the attitude of the Emperor became more and more threatening from day to day.

At length, fearing that personal violence would be resorted to, he fled from his residence in the palace of Placidia to take sanctuary in the adjacent church of St. Peter in Hormisdas; and here the Pope with some of his supporters sought to save themselves by clinging to the columns of the altar.

As soon as this flight was announced to Justinian, he commanded a praetor with an armed guard to arrest the fugitives in the sanctuary, and drag them to his presence. The military entered the church, followed by a popular concourse, and proceeded to execute their orders. The lesser clerics were soon detached, but Vigilius embraced the pillars of the altar with all his might. The soldiers laid hold of him, some by the feet, some by the hair and beard, and strove to bear him off by main force, but the massive structure gave way and would have crushed the pontiff in its fall had its collapse not been prevented by some of the deacons standing by. A groan of horror arose from the crowd of onlookers; the assailants then desisted from the struggle and released their victim. Fearing that he might have gone too far, the praetor now called off his men, and retired to inform the Emperor of what had occurred. On hearing his report Justinian decided to proceed no further by compulsion, and sent a deputation to give the Pope assurances that he might return to the Placidian palace without fear of being again subjected to physical coercion. Vigilius acted according to these representations and left the sanctuary; but a few months afterwards his apprehensions were renewed and he again determined to vacate his secular residence. One night, just before Christmas (551) he crept out at the back of the premises, scaled a half-built wall, and made his way to the water's edge. A boat was in waiting which carried him across to Chalcedon, and there he took refuge in the Church of St. Euphemia. Within the same walls a century previously had been held the famous Council, of which he had involuntarily become the champion. In this retreat a body of delegates, headed by Belisarius, soon arrived, hearing protests from the Emperor as to his pacific intentions, and offering every inducement for the Pope to return to the capital. Vigilius, however, would listen to no entreaties, but drew up a history of his sufferings in the cause of orthodoxy, which he embodied in an Encyclical and published to the whole Christian world. Justinian now decided that perseverance in violent hostilities would be futile, and that a personal reconciliation with the Pope on any terms would best serve his Church policy. He, therefore, sent Menna and Theodore to offer ample apologies for all that had passed, and to promise Vigilius that he should in future be free to follow his own course with respect to theological doctrine. The Pope accepted their professions, and, after a mutual withdrawal of anathemas, returned to his quarters in the palace of Placidia.

Justinian now resolved that his reign should be distinguished by an Ecumenical Council, at which the Catholic faith should be postulated in accordance with his own theological bias. Almost all the Bishops of the East were willing to confirm his edicts relating to Christian doctrine in a general synod; and those who acted in opposition to him did so at the peril of being ejected from their sees. In the spring of 553, therefore, the assenting prelates poured into Constantinople from diverse regions to the number of one hundred and sixty-five; and the great assembly was held in one of the collateral halls of St. Sophia in the month of May of that year. The clerical concourse were extremely anxious that Vigilius should take his seat with them at the Council, but he was immutable in his resolution to uphold the Three Chapters. Several deputations waited on him, with whom he held colloquies, but to their invitations he replied invariably that the Oriental bishops were many, whilst in his own following there were but few. In vain they urged that a very small number of Occidental prelates had attended the previous Councils, for he had, in fact, prepared a document, which he denominated his "Constitutum", to be published before the meeting of the synod, in contravention of its decrees.

The Pope had now about him seventeen Latin bishops, as well as Pelagius and other clerics, who inspired his determination and appended their signatures to the Constitutum. That decretal was a lengthy composition which included the responses of Vigilius to sixty propositions of Theodore Ascidas, but the tenor of it was summed up in a single sentence: "That it was not lawful to subvert anything constituted by the Holy Council of Chalcedon". The Fifth Oecumenical Council, therefore, was held without the presence of the Pope, although he was for the moment resident at its gates; and the discussion of his hostile Constitutum formed an important part of its transactions. The Emperor quoted passages from his Judicatum, whereby he demonstrated that Vigilius was in contradiction with himself; and ultimately the Council decided that he had associated himself with impiety and voted that his name should be erased from the sacred diptychs. At the same time they asserted that their union with the Apostolical See of Rome remained intact, notwithstanding that they dissociated themselves from the person of the occupying pontiff. Fourteen canons against the Three Chapters were then proposed and ratified, and a further rule of credence was thus established for the Christian Church, which Justinian at once proceeded to enforce with all the resources of his sovereignty. A number of recalcitrant ecclesiastics were deprived and banished, or placed in durance, among the latter being Pelagius. As for Vigilius, since Rome and Italy had now been brought permanently under the dominion of the Emperor by the victories of Narses, he was anxious to return to his see with the Imperial countenance; and within a year after the sitting of the Council he effected a reconciliation with Justinian by the issue of a second Constitutum, by which he retracted the first, and again advocated the views he had professed in his Judicatum.

Being thus restored to Court favour he was entrusted with the Pragmatic Sanction and set out for Rome, as related above; but he was now broken by years, and illness compelled him to interrupt his voyage at Syracuse, where he died in the spring of 555.

The Emperor now judged sagaciously that the vacant Popedom was an allurement which would dissipate the most assured theological convictions; and he determined to test its potency on the man who above all others was best fitted for the Papal seat. When an intimation was conveyed to the redoubtable champion of Chalcedon, Pelagius, that the pontificate was the prize of his recantation, the weapons with which he had so long defended the Three Chapters escaped from his nerveless grasp; and, while he accepted the tiara of the West with one band, he signed with the other a convention that his faith was assimilated in all respects to that of the princely donor.

The report of his defection preceded him to Rome, and on his arrival there the influence of Narses scarcely availed to induce three ecclesiastics of sufficient rank to perform the ceremony of his consecration. He had covenanted with Justinian to enforce the decrees of the Fifth General Council in the West with the authority which attached to the occupant of St. Peter's chair; but the hostility of the Latin bishops was so positive that he was obliged to shelter himself behind ambiguous utterances and pronouncements as to his unfaltering allegiance to the Council of Chalcedon. He organized a solemn procession to St. Peter's, and, standing before the high altar with the Cross and Gospels held above his head, and the Imperial vicegerent at his side, affìrmed his innocence of all the charges which had been made against him. He also addressed an Encyclical "To All the People of God", in which he expressed his reverence in detail for everything held sacred in the West, and his especial veneration for the memory of "the Orthodox bishops, Theodoret and Ibas."

By these asseverations he won over the Italian people and hierarchs in general to his side, but the sees of Milan and Aquileia for long maintained a schismatic attitude to the pontificate, and the Church of Gaul declined communion with Rome for more than half a century.

The Fifth Oecumenical Council was totally ineffective in procuring a union between the Monophysites and the Catholic world. For more than a decade before that synod the heretics of the One-Nature had been a spreading sect, and they ultimately established themselves as one of the permanent Churches of the East. This result is, perhaps, to be attributed to the steady patronage bestowed on them by Theodora. From the monastery at Sycae, with which she zealously associated herself, emanated several prelates, whose missional activities brought over whole districts and even nationalities to their creed; and especially that extraordinary man, Jacob Baradaeus, in recognition of whose prodigious efforts, sustained for more than thirty years, the title of Monophysites was abrogated in favour of that of Jacobites.

After an ascetic seclusion of fifteen years at Constantinople he was (in 543) ordained Bishop of Edessa by Theodosius, the exiled Patriarch of Alexandria; and thereafter he pursued his labours untiringly throughout the Asiatic provinces, returning continually from his round to the Imperial or Egyptian capital, where the centres of the sect were maintained. Concealed under a variety of disguises and penetrating the most inaccessible regions, he walked thirty or forty miles daily to win over converts. During all this time he eluded the vigilance of those who were eager to capture him, either to obtain the reward offered by the Emperor, or to satiate the rancour of the Orthodox. The ordination of two Patriarchs, twenty-seven bishops, and one hundred thousand lesser clergy is recorded as the fruit of his activities.

About the same time, Theodora, in conjunction with Theodosius, dispatched a missionary to Nubia, who was successful in gaining the favour of King Sileo of that country, and even caused a rival, who was acting in the interests of Justinian, to be dismissed with a rebuff. At the petition of Arethas, prince of the Ghassanides, the Empress also procured the ordination of a bishop for Bostra, a populous town in the north of Arabia. Thus, before her death in 548, she had the satisfaction of seeing her favourite sect dividing the allegiance of the population with the Catholics throughout Asia and Africa. Thenceforward, the Orthodox in the East were called Melchites ("Royalists"), in contradistinction to the Jacobites, as representing the Imperial party in religion.