The Roman and Byzantine eras were grounded in discovery, innovation and great enlightenment. Many old beliefs were challenged religiously, politically and scientifically. Iconoclasm runs rampant but was the hallmark of the era.

One would think, having grown up in an iconoclastic society, that Irene of Athens would have additionally embraced the concept and continued to challenge past beliefs and traditions. But you would be wrong, it turns out.

When it comes to Irene of Athens, who ruled the Byzantine Empire at the turn of the 9th century, iconoclasm was fine as long as it wasn’t for religious reasons. For what she thought was for the safety and protection of her family as royalty, she put an end (albeit temporarily) to the concept of inconclasm when it comes to images and idols dedicated to Jesus Christ and saints as held by the Roman Catholic Church.

Irene became close to the Catholic Church – making her one of the first rulers so aligned – when her husband has his ascent to the throne challenged by a half-brother. Irene worked out an agreement with the Pope to have the half-brother and an associate ordained as priests, which would then have officially ruled them out from ascending to the throne. That started a long relationship between Irene and the Church in Vatican City, and as she ascended to the throne herself, her alignment with the church became more pronounced, so much so that it caused a divide in the empire and led to an incursion and an eventual civil war between her loyalists and part of the military who were opposed to her budding autocratic (and in some ways, theocratic) leadership.

As she ascended to power, she essentially gave thanks to the Catholic Church by all but eliminating iconoclasm through the Byzantine Empire, severely punishing those who did not pay sufficient homage to the various symbols and idols dedicated to Christ and the saints of the Church. She also mandated that all monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church remain open and operational, which went against the common practice of the time to de-emphasize influence of the Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, within the Empire.

Rumors and conjectures abounded (8mostly from Western Europe, not from the Byzantine Empire of the East, of which she ruled) that Irene of Athens was canonized by the Church for her unwavering support and fidelity to the Church. The truth was that Irene was never canonized into a saint, but the rumor just showed how predominant her fealty was and how much it was believed that it shaped her reign on the throne and caused fractures in the Empire because of the religious bent to her rule, which was not supported by tradition (it was believed that the church and state would be separate, explaining why priests could never ruler be placed in such powerful upper-level positions in the government).

Irene was eventually deposed from the throne and exiled to the island of Lsbos, where she died a year after arrival.  – an ignominious end to one of the Byzantine Empire’s more controversial reigns.

Second Council of Constantinople

In AD 449, under the authority of Emperor Theodosius II, the Council of Chalcedon had convened and ultimately regarded Pope Leo I’s definition of Christ as possessing two simultaneous natures, both human and divine, to be orthodoxy. This was later known as the Chalcedonian Definition by historians and scholars. Despite the decision of the Council, however, sects existed within the Christian world that still did not accept the idea of two natures existing in one body. Apart from Nestorianism, the belief that the Incarnation of Christ existed effectively as two separate bodies with exclusive natures, there were also groups identified as Monophysites, those that believed that Christ existed with only one will or nature, these groups having segregated themselves after the rejection of Eutychianism that branded Eutyches a heretic in AD 448. Despite being reinstated in 449, he and Monophysitism came under scrutiny again at the Council of Chalcedon after the establishment of the Chalcedonian Definition.

Over 100 years later, following the Three Chapters, a series of writings that opposed Cyril’s Twelve Anathemas that asserted the Chalcedonian Definition as well as Cyrillianism as a whole, Emperior Justinian issued an edict that condemned these writings and reinforced the opposition to Nestorianism. A lesser objective of this tactic was also an attempt to reconcile with Monophysites and bring them back into the fold of the Orthodox Church. These were brought to bear on his authority at the Second Council of Constantinople in AD 553.

While the council was meant to have Pope Vigillus, a resident of Constantinople at the time due to conflict in the West with the Visigoths, Vigillus refused, finding his priorities to be more focused toward trying to sway Justinian to send military aid rather than address the Three Chapters. Vigillus was personally excommunicated and imprisoned within Constantinople, through the entirety of the Second Council, before agreeing to condemn the Three Chapters in December of 553.

During the Council itself, the Three Chapters were condemned without the Pope presiding over the proceedings. The canons that were to follow outlined the Chalcedonian Definition in finer detail: that the two natures it once alluded to were now two sets of exclusive attributes maintained in one person.

The initial response was not felt until the Pope, in his captivity, acquiesced to agree to their condemnation. This sent shockwaves through the Western portions of the empire. As a result, several bishops in Italy broke communion with Rome, arguing strongly against the Pope’s condemnation of the Three Chapters and affirmation of the new Chalcedonian interpretation. This would be known as the Schism of the Three Chapters. These grievances would not be rectified in their entirety until the end of the 7th century, when Aquileia finally accepted the condemnation, although far from willingly.

Before the end of the Schism’s effects, Monophysites had developed compromises to their beliefs in the forms of monoenergism (the belief that Christ existed with two natures, but one “energy”) and monotheletism (the belief that Christ existed with two natures but one divine will). These compromises were not sufficient enough to reunited them with Orthodox Christianity that believed in two distinct natures and wills respectively. The schisms that remained between Monophysites and non-Monophysites would only expand further between the conquests of Muslims as well as the Third Council of Constantinople.

Third Council of Constantinople

With the rise of the Chalcedonian Definition that stated Christ existed as one being with two natures and two corresponding wills, both human and divine, Orthodox Christology had become fairly well-established after the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth Ecumenical Council in Orthodox Christian history. However, with its rise also came the rise of separatist factions such as Nestorianism, which opposed the idea of Christ possessing any human qualities whatsoever, lest he be considered fallible and devoid of his divine nature. Other sects included Monophysitism and its branches such as monoenergism and monotheletism, which believed with variations that Christ existed as one man with two natures, in accordance with the Chalcedonian Definition, but also maintaining an energy or will of divine origin that superseded his human qualities. While the former Nestorianism had been denounced time and again through the Council of Chalcedon as well as the Second Council of Constantinople, With the Second Council, Emperor Justinian had attempted to strike a compromise with Monophysites to bring them back into the fold of Orthodox Christianity. For the most part, the compromise seemed to appease many through the Byzantine empire, although it upset the balance greatly in parts of northern Italy, who would not accept it in its entirely for almost a century and a half after the Second Council had concluded. This hostility carried until the rise of Constans II in AD 641. He saw the rift in opinion over the doctrine to be a threat to the empire’s stability, and he outlawed open conversation either for or against the doctrine simply for the sake of keeping the peace. By the time his son, Constantine IV, came to power and drove back the Muslims’ siege of Constantinople in AD 678, he was of the mind to make recompense with Rome over the doctrine. Between the Pope and the Emperor, bishops under their jurisdiction convened for the Third Council of Constantinople in AD 680.

The Council discussed matters almost exclusively pertaining to monoenergism and monotheletism, condemning them and branding them heretical as they went against the beliefs of Western tradition and the original Chalcedonian definition (elaborated upon in a letter from Pope Agatho), that Christ existed with two natures and two wills, both human divine with the human aspect being in subjection to the divine. The Council also branded Pope Honorius I, now long deceased at this point, as well as four previous patriarchs of Constantinople as heretical for supporting monoenergism and monotheletism. The schism between Constantinople and Rome seemed to have been rectified, as the decrees were reported back to Pope Leo II, the successor to Pope Agatho.

Pope Leo II would later write in support of the Council’s decision to brand Pope Honorius a heretic and to anathematize him posthumously. Pope Leo criticized Honorius of his silence while monotheletism too root around him and he allegedly did nothing to stop it or stem its flow, whether or not he actually shared in its beliefs.

Second Council of Nicaea

During the period of Byzantine history known as Iconoclasm, Emperors Leo III and Constantine V had banned the worship of religious icons and figures, believing these to be in direct violation of one of the Ten Commandments and in support of idolatry. The Council of Hieria, convened in AD 754 under Emperor Constantine V and initially claimed to be the Seventh Ecumenical Council, had decreed that the veneration of religious icons should be banned, ushering in the Iconoclasm which saw many displays of religious art destroyed. The Iconoclasm also enforced persecution of those who worshiped religious icons as well as monks on a general scale.

When Patriarch Tarasius had succeeded Paul IV in AD 784, he attempted to enter into communion with other churches and believed that religious imagery should be reestablished. In order to overturn one Ecumenical Council, another would need to convene. Pope Adrian I responded to the Patriarch’s request and sent a legate to attend this council, though it would be interrupted by Iconoclastic soldiers in 786. The locale for the council would be moved to Nicaea in AD 787, assembling in the Hagia Sophia.

By the end of the proceedings, the Second Council of Nicaea had overturned the proceedings of the Council of Hieria by declaring that figures such as Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, angels and all other manner of religious figures existed as symbols and embodiment not dissimilar to the cross in terms of their importance to Christianity. Thus, they deserved to be revered and venerated in a similar manner as the cross itself, although they were explicit in reserving worship for the Divine Being. The Council also found that the Council of Hieria was not ecumenical in its nature, as representatives from the Western parts of the Empire had not been present to convene, and all of its decrees and rulings were effectively null and void.

The papal legates did not hesitate to support the findings of the Second Council of Nicaea, and a full transcript of its proceedings were sent to Pope Hadrian I. This gathering is regarded as the true Seventh Ecumenical Council and is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Despite the Second Council of Nicaea being regarded as the last of the First Seven Ecumenical Councils, its efforts at reinstating veneration and adoration of holy figures to counteract Byzantine Iconoclasm were short-lived. Under Emperor Leo V in AD 815, Patriarch Theodolos ordered to convene at the Hagia Sophia regarding the reinstatement of the rulings found in the Council of Hieria. This event had brought the beginning of the Second Iconoclasm. The ruling as well as the Iconoclasm itself was maintained through the rule of Leo V, his successor Michael II, and finally through Theophilus. Upon the death of Theophilus, however, the throne passed to his heir, Michael III. Acting as regent on her son’s behalf, Empress Theodora called for and presided over a gathering in AD 843 that was meant to reinstate icon veneration and the rulings decreed in the Second of Council of Nicaea, this time for good.

First Council of Nicaea

By the early 4th century AD, Christianity had gained a foothold in the Roman Empire and was spreading into its far reaches, including Constantinople, courtesy of the deeds of then-emperors Constantine and Licinius in the formation of the Edict of Milan in AD 313. This edict had legalized Christianity and its practices throughout the Roman empire and prevented Christians from further persecution by Roman forces as well as re-established any losses in the form recompense. However, despite its relative formation as it overtook Roman polytheism, several divides still existed within Christendom that led to several conflicts. Many of them stemmed from conflict of doctrine that spawned from a lack of universality throughout the religion within the Roman empire at this time, as many regions were overseen separately by powerful, but remote, bishops who had little interaction with each other. However, in AD 325, Emperor Constantine called religious officials from across the empire to convene in the city of Nicaea, a congregation that would grow between 250 and 300 strong with bishops from all over the empire. This gathering, known as the First Council of Nicaea, would also become the first of seven Ecumenical Councils to determine a path for all of Christendom and long term care planning attorney Staten Island.

The First Council of Nicaea was called mainly for two purposes: to unite the Christian faith under one universal doctrine that would be determined by its highest officials and to combat the growing ideological threat known as Arian doctrine. At the time, teachings were torn on the belief of the divinity of Jesus Christ the Son as it was related to the Father. Some believed that the Son shared eternity and, thus, divinity with the Father as His “begotten” without beginning while others (particularly Arius, the founder of “Arianism”) believed He was created from nothing and therefore did not share eternity with the Father.

This difference of opinion eventually led to Arius’ banishment into Illyria and the formation of the Nicene Creed, which affirmed for all of Christianity that the Son and the Father were consubstantial, that they existed as one being, inseparable and immutable.

The First Council of Nicaea also discussed and finalized matters regarding a time to celebrate Easter as well as several smaller matters relating to canons, such as the Church’s hierarchy and structure, the standards of the clergy with regard to dignity and behavior, and the formation of liturgical practice among others.

While this unification was a great step toward establishing Christianity as a globally widespread religion, conflict arose to stir unrest. Constantine, the emperor who saw to convene in Nicaea, was succeeded by two Arian Emperors, one of which attempted to confront the bishop of Caesarea, St. Basil, regarding the Nicene Creed. Nicene Christianity, while successfully unified in many of its beliefs, would not become the state religion for another 55 years. During this time, Arianism went through a process of revival and remained the subject of great debate for much of the remaining 4th century. Paganism also attempted a revival, seeking to restore its place as the state religion through the Seat of the Emperor. Even Constantine himself was subject to persuasion for a time by an Arian bishop named Eusebius of Nicomedia.

Council of Chalcedon

In AD 431, the Council of Ephesus (the Third Ecumenical Council) had condemned the teachings of Nestorius that asserted that Christ was separate as man and divine. After the council, unrest still remained between the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, Cyril and John respectively. Cyril accused John of maintaining beliefs in Nestorianism. John argued that Cyril held to Apollinarism, another heretical belief that Christ did not possess a human mind and was entirely divine in all but body. Many believed this was an overcompensation for the earlier Arian belief system which asserted that Christ was not divine in any respect whatsoever. Their differences were eventually settled with the moderation of Bishop Acacius of Beroea.

Two years after the death of Cyril in AD 444, Eutyches, a monk of Constantinople began to spread teachings that he perceived as similar to Cyril’s original interpretation of the nature of Christ (that being one nature) to combat another uprising of Nestorianism in the Byzantine empire. However, his teachings were regarded as Docetism, a belief system that effectively denied the human nature of Christ and believed him to be entirely divine, regarded as the exact opposite of Arianism. Though many, including Pope Leo I, interpreted Eutyches to spread untrue teachings more out of a lack of base knowledge than out of any attempt to supplant Nicene Christianity and its belief in Christ as both man and divine, Eutyches’ influence proved surprisingly great. He was branded a heretic in AD 448 and called for his removal from office. However, due to his popularity among the people, Emperor Theodosius II personally opposed this due to Eutyches later repenting.

However, this did not quell controversy between the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria. A second Council of Ephesus was called in 449, with Pope Leo invited to preside.  The pope declined, but sent representatives and documents outlining the Papacy’s position on the matter. He wrote that Christ was indeed of two natures, both human and divine. This definition conflicted with Cyril’s Twelve Anathemas that had been put forth years before. Studies to determine the compatibility between “Leo’s Tome” and the Twelve Anathemas took place leading up to the Second Council of Ephesus.

However, Leo’s Tome would not be addressed at this council, and the presiding Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria, in a series of events that left representatives beaten and threatened, declared that the Twelve Anathemas were orthodox, maintaining that Christ originally had two natures that merged into one nature after incarnation. When Pope Leo received news of this, he declared it a “synod of robbers” and ignored any and all of its pronouncements as a result. The conflict threatened a great schism between Western and Eastern belief.

Despite Leo’s insistence to Emperor Theodosius to reconvene, the emperor continued to install supporters of Dioscorus up until his dramatic death, whereupon an orthodox Christian named Marcian assumed the throne. He agreed with Leo to reconvene, insisting it take place in Nicaea, though it needed to be relocated (due to invading Huns) to Chalcedon in AD 451.

This Council of Chalcedon discussed with finality the matter of the Incarnation and the nature of Christ. The council came to agreement that Leo’s pronouncement was in accordance with Cyril’s teachings, and would be used as orthodoxy. Christ was recognized with two natures, both of man and of divine. This would come to be known as the Chalcedonian Definition.


First Council of Constantinople

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After the First Ecumenical Council that took place in AD 325 to establish the foundations of the Nicene Creed and bring a unified doctrine to Christianity, the Roman empire was struck with turbulence regarding the official state religion. Despite bishops from across the empire gathering and agreeing upon a single doctrine regarding the Father and the Son, the First Council of Nicaea never addressed the third element of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. Along with this newly-rising debate that threatened the stability of Nicene Christianity, believers belonging to other factions attempted to assert their power by influencing those within power. Arianism, Meletism and paganism all attempted to revive their standing before Emperor Theodosius I campaigned to establish Nicene Christianity as the official state religion in AD 380. With the 55-year struggle at an end, Theodosius called to convene the First Council of Constantinople, the second Ecumenical Council in the history of Christianity, to reconfirm the Nicene Creed that was established in the First Council of Nicaea.

While attempts to overturn Nicene Christianity had failed, for the most part, the events leading up to the First Council of Constantinople were tumultuous at best. Even despite recognizing Nicene Christianity as the state religion, many high-ranking officials within Constantinople were still of Arian belief. Gathering supporters from Alexandria and Antioch together was also considered a gamble, as Nicene and Meletian supporters were at odds with each other. Spurred on as well by a conspiracy to seat a bishop that would allow Alexandria to maintain control of the Eastern Churches, the conspiracy was discovered, and the issue ultimately brought before Pope Damascus who issued a decree to the Emperor to summon a council to settle the matter and instate a bishop worthy of the position.

In the proceedings that followed, the consecration of Maximus, the bishop that conspired to seize the open position in Constantinople, was declared invalid and Gregory Nazianzus was instated by Theodosius. Despite this installation, Gregory surprisingly offered his resignation when he lost the support and the confidence of the fellow bishops. When his resignation was granted, an unbaptized civil official named Nectarius was set to succeed him, and power over the churches transferred in Constantinople despite the efforts of Maximus and Alexandria, though this would be corrected later by Pope Damascus.

Apart from this matter, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was also instated. A more structurally sound revision to the original Nicene Creed, though it clarifies confusion regarding the Holy Spirit as a definitive part of the Trinity. It also addresses separate matters regarding the Church itself, baptism and resurrection of the dead. This particular portion of the First Council of Constantinople has come under scrutiny, however, and many historians believe that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was simply a decree from the bishops within the empire and not necessarily a part of the official delegation of the council. Despite this debate, it further solidified the position of Nicene Christianity within the Roman empire.

Many minor canons were also discussed by the gathering, though much debate surrounded the Third Canon that prioritized power of the Eastern churches in Constantinople and made the bishop there second only to the Bishop of Rome. Pope Damascus would address this the following year (AD 382) and historians assert that, while this council was regarded as ecumenical, the Pope is likely to have only approved of the revision of the Nicene Creed. Some believe, however, that the aftermath of this council is evidence that power between the Western and Eastern portions of the churches was reaching a breaking point, and the West was beginning to lose its influence as Constantinople began to establish itself as a great seat of power within Christianity.

Council of Ephesus

Within nearly the first 100 years of its practice, Nicene Christianity called to convene three separate Ecumenical Councils. The first was the First Council of Nicaea that set out the initial foundation of the Nicene Creed and established that the Father and the Son were one and the same, as well as denouncing Arianism, which challenged this notion. Despite this, the First Council of Constantinople that convened nearly 60 years later, was required to address the relationship of the Holy Spirit to complete the Holy Trinity. It also checked balances of power within the church’s structure, and some maintain that its aftermath began to show wear between the influence of the West on the East as Constantinople became a seat of considerable influence. By the year AD 431, a third Ecumenical Council was called by Emperor Theodosius II, the Council of Ephesus, to address conflicting beliefs and teachings of Nestorius, who maintained that the Virgin Mary could be called the “Birth Giver of Christ” (or Christotokos), but not the “Birth Giver of God” (Theotokos). These beliefs would be aptly identified as Nestorianism.

Nestorius’ teachings were predominantly founded on the belief of the separation of Christ’s natures as both human and divine, and thus maintained that the Virgin Mary should not be addressed as Theotokos. These beliefs and his position as Patriarch of Constantinople brought him at odds with the Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril. Due to their conflict, Cyril addressed the pope at the time, Pope Celestine I, to intervene on Cyril’s behalf. Pope Celestine came to favor Cyril’s position and informed the Patriarch of Alexandria to request that Nestorius recant his position or face excommunication from the church.

In an effort to maintain his position as well as his beliefs, Nestorius himself approached Emperor Theodosius II to call for the convening of an Ecumenical Council so as to support the validity of his teachings and override the decree of Pope Celestine. His opponents believed that he detached Christ’s divinity from his humanity and thus denied the nature of Christ is consubstantial with the Father as well as one with man. Nestorius believed that Christ could not be both, as it would be contradictory. To be even partially man would imply that Christ was capable of aging and dying, as well as fallible in sin. The implication of Nestorius’ teachings, as interpreted by his opponents, was that Christ was separated into two distinct beings: one human and one divine, and thus denying the title of Theotokos to the Virgin Mary.

Emperor Theodosius II called for the convening. The council lasted over the course of several weeks as bishops congregated to Ephesus in stages, holding informal discussions of the matter at hand. Near the end of July, AD 431, the convened Council had denounced Nestorius’ teachings, asserting that Jesus was indeed one being that was both human and divine in nature. Several minor canons were also passed through the course of the council’s congregation, though the greatest legislation to come out of the Council of Ephesus was the outlawing of bringing forth rival Faiths to challenge that which was established through the Nicene Creed. As a result, those who followed the teachings of Nestorius found themselves on the other side of a schism that occurred between Nestorianism and Nicene Christianity. These differences would eventually be reconciled as factions acquiesced to the condemnation of Nestorius. However, it would not be the last time in history that Nicene Christianity faced upheaval.

The Great Schism

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Up until AD 1054, beliefs in Orthodox Christianity remained relatively consistent despite recognized turbulence that spanned over centuries. The differences in political, cultural and theological background between Eastern and Western influences had been troublesome, evident in many less significant schisms between East and West, such as the schisms under Pope Damascus I, the Acacian schism between AD 482 and 519, and the Photian schism of AD 866 to 879, all of which were said to contribute to the strain that led to the Great Schism.

Throughout the history of the Roman empire, power shifts within the church were prominent and frequent. Many locales were regarded by many different people as centers of Christianity with insistence that the apostles had constructed several churches in the East, Rome the special exception of the West. This alone led to strain as to who might hold papal primacy among the authorities of the aforementioned churches. This struggle for power lasted centuries and was known to pervade Ecumenical Councils in regard to orthodox belief as well as trigger periods of separation between East and West before differences would eventually be reconciled.

What is normally regarded as the greatest tipping point is the mutual excommunication of 1054, whereupon Pope Leo IX demanded of Patriarch Cerularius of Constantinople to set aside his title as Ecumenical Patriarch and recognize Rome as the highest authority within Christianity. This came as a response to Cerularius closing churches in the East that supported Latin practices, an act that came in response to Greek churches being closed in southern Italy. When Cerularius refused the Pope’s demand, he was excommunicated by Cardinal Humbert. Cerularius, in turn, excommunicated the Cardinal.

It is unclear whether Cardinal Humbert even had the authority to excommunicate Cerularius, as Pope Leo IX had since died in office, and Cerularius’ actions were nothing more than a personal attack on the legate sent by the now-deceased Pope. However, it was exceedingly clear that the church had been separated distinctly by many different factors, not the least of which included ideology and geography. And while these particular events do not seem particularly significant, it was the beginning of progressively more and more aggressive action that refused to allow any reconciliation to take place.

After the Schism of 1054, many events occurred with the East and West interchangeably acting as the aggressor. The Crusades that involved military conflicts of European forces in Byzantine territory. The event known as the Massacre of the Latins in 1182. The Sacking of Thessalonica. The Siege of Constantinople. While religiously motivated, many (if not all) of these events and more superseded religious methods, resorting to shows of military strength that furthered the rift between Eastern and Western ideology as the course of history continued.

In 1965, a show of good faith was brought forth between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople nullified the anathemas of 1054. Although this was little more than ceremonial in its efforts and signified no reunion between East and West, it has since brought forth religious leaders from both sides to convene annually in celebration of each other. Some Patriarchal leaders of recent memory have even attempted to strike a formal reunion between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, although this has been met with scrutiny and criticism from members of the Orthodox congregation.

The Codex Theodosainus

It is always best to put things in writing. There seems to be more permanence in doing so compared to an oral history or a verbal agreement, and one way to hold leaders to account is by putting their laws and decrees into written form.

As the Roman Empire was fading into oblivion at the Byzantine Era was on the rise, there became a new need in codifying Roman law in the Empire in the fifth century A.D., as there was no legal record of the now-Christian Empire that was established a century earlier by Emperor Constantine.

Theodosius II appointed nearly two dozen lawyers and politicians to compile a codex, or set of laws or decrees, established in the Roman Empire from the time of Constantine’s reign in the early part of the fourth century A.D. forward to Theodosius’ tenure as head of the Empire. The special committee first got together in 429 and spent nearly nine full years in gathering all of the legislation that was passed and/or decreed by the emperors during the previous 100-plus years, known as the early Christian era in the Empire.

Finally, in 438, the codex was unveiled and it became the legal standard of society for more than 600 years, carrying into the Middle Ages. Written in Latin (the dominant language of Greece, the eastern part of the Roman Empire that eventually became part of the Byzantine Empire), the codex was furnished to the Senate in Rome, as well as to officials in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) for consideration across the entire Roman Empire.

There were two main items that made the Codex Theodosianus so vital in history. First of all, this was the main codex of laws that essentially guided the Byzantine Empire – which was the part of the Roman Empire that survived the fall (the eastern half of the Empire, containing Greece and much of the current-day Middle East) and lasted until the Renaissance in Europe – and carried forward into the Middle Ages in Europe as the “common law” of the time.

The second key part about the codex is that it is known for codifying Christianity in the latter stages of the Roman Empire and for most of the Byzantine Empire. Christianity was not only encouraged in the Empire, but the Codex Theodosianus was the first known text that made Christianity an official religion of a region, and it even went so far as to foment a reputation of Christian intolerance by making all other religions illegal in the Empire.

In other words, Christianity in some ways taking the brunt today of what the Roman/Byzantine Empire decided about Christianity. Christianity itself wasn’t intolerant; the government that created a Christian theocracy developed the intolerance in favor of Christianity. This alleged intolerance by Christians was essentially brought about by the Theodosian Code, and some aspects of that code lasted through the Middle Ages and stretched from the Middle East and Greece eventually to western Europe.

The Codex Theodosianus, for all intents and purposes, codified the expansion of the burgeoning religion of Christianity, which had only started to take hold in the previous century following the establishment of the Holy Bible by the Council of Nicaea (of while Emperor Constantine had a vital role, being an early evangelical). Making Christianity not only the official religion of the Roman and Byzantine empires, but the only religion to be observed, established the foundation for Christianity to become a major worldwide religion for centuries to come.