Church History for Orthodox | 3

Part 3 | Index

1. The rise of the Papacy. | 2. A Snake in the garden of the Church. | 3. The Sixth Ecumenical Council (680 A.D.). | 4. The “Quinisext” Council — 692 A.D. | 5. Missions.


1. The rise of the Papacy.

From 600 A.D. on, the question of the Papacy's role in the Church proved thornier and thornier.

At the turn of that century, however, an ideal man was drafted to fill the Roman see. St. Gregory the Great shepherded his patriarchate in a truly inspired way.

First of all, he was mission-minded :

He sent a troop of monks from the monastery he had founded in Rome into England to convert the Germanic people that had settled there and had re-paganised the land.

St. Gregory is revered as the Father of the Roman Rite of the Church . He is known for having popularized the word Mass to describe the Liturgy of the Eucharist .

Taking his lead from the Greek liturgies, he placed the Our Father where it is sung today and added prayers to the Roman Mass.

He polished and codified the chants then in the infancy of their use, resulting in an otherworldly musical form called, after himself, Gregorian Chant .

The Saint felt it was his personal responsibility that no poor man or woman should ever die of neglect in the city of Rome. Times were often hard, but whenever Gregory heard that a homeless man had died, he counted himself unworthy to celebrate Mass on that day.

A dispute broke out between Gregory and the Bishop of Constantinople , St. John the Faster .

All the offices held in Constantinople, which was the capital city of the Roman Empire, were dubbed ecumenical (the librarian of New Rome, for example, was the ecumenical or “universal” librarian), and this title was bestowed by the Emperor on the city's Patriarch as well.

Convinced because of the language barrier that John thought himself to be a Bishop ruling over all other Bishops, St. Gregory reacted violently:

In the most charitable language possible, he condemned St. John of insufferable pride and demanded he forfeit the title, himself adopting the title “slave of the slaves of God .”

St. Gregory's plea was,

May all Christians reject this blasphemous title [Universal Bishop] — this title which takes the priestly honour from every Priest the moment it is insanely usurped by one!

The unity of the Church was not broken by this misunderstanding.

2. A Snake in the garden of the Church.

In St. Gregory's lifetime, however, a quiet event transpired in Spain that did lead, in time, to a permanent division:

In 589 , at the Council of Toledo , the word filioque was inserted in the Nicene Creed , so that it read, “I believe... in the Holy Spirit... Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son.

This was done to bolster the Divinity of God the Son, since Spain had been overrun by Arians who denied His equality with God the Father.

But the phrase revised at Toledo is a passage of Scripture, and Scripture cannot just be altered.

This local council disobeyed the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, which had ruled that no change could at any time be made to the Nicene Creed.

Passing slowly into Central Europe and the rest of the West, the filioque was a theological time bomb with a fuse 4 1/2 centuries long.

3. The Sixth Ecumenical Council (680 A.D.). The schism of the Monophysites , who did not accept the Fourth Council , greatly reduced the size and influence of the Church in Eastern lands,

The Monophysites liked it, and no fewer than three Patriarchs of Constantinople and Pope Honorius of Rome favoured the notion.

If Christ has no distinct human will, they insisted, then He is not truly a man, for no man without a human will is a true man.

Amidst the uproar, Emperor Constantine Pogonatos called the Sixth Ecumenical Council of the Church to order in 680 at New Rome.

It is interesting that the history of his condemnation continued to be read once a year in the Roman Catholic service of Matins until the uncomfortable passage was yanked in the 16th century.

It must be remembered that at this time in history the Popes of Rome were widely revered throughout the Church, East and West, as holding the most steadily orthodox of any ancient, apostolic see.

4. The “Quinisext” Council — 692 A.D.

The 5th and 6th Ecumenical Councils had concerned themselves entirely with matters of dogma and had issued no canons for running church affairs.

Therefore, a sacred Council was called at Constantinople to issue canons . It is often called the “Quinisext ” or “Fifth-Sixth ” and is considered an extension of those Councils.

Just a few of its rulings:

Bishops could not be married; Deacons and Priests must be allowed to marry before ordination, but must never marry afterwards;

the Roman custom of fasting on Saturdays, which differed with apostolic custom, was not permitted.

Also, all clergy of the Church were strictly excluded from the political, military, and economic affairs of this world.

Although Rome had local rules by this time forbidding Deacons or Priests to marry, and the Romans fasted on Saturdays,

the canons which would not allow these practices were officially admitted at Rome, at least for a time, and the Roman and Eastern churches remained united.

5. Missions.

Throughout the 7th and 8th centuries, the Gospel was slowly accepted by more and more of Europe, but it must be remembered that much of Europe was still staunchly pagan.

Many of the European peoples were so fierce that their eventual acceptance of the gentle Jesus of Nazareth is considered by some historians to be the greatest miracle of Christian history.

Evangelism at this time was conducted mainly by monks, and their principles were very sound and are relevant today.

They would found a monastery in a lonely place, away from human habitation in a pagan area. Some among them might preach to the people, but only if they had a special gift for this. The other brethren would simply live their Gospel lifestyle to the fullest.

With the passage of time, the local inhabitants would discover the true nature of the Christians' lives, and when they liked what they saw, they would be near to Baptism.

The compunction and orderly beauty of the church services also warmed the hearts of these peoples, and served to convert them as much as any conversation or reasoning.

In Western Europe, it was the Irish monks who were the most active missionaries; in Central Europe, Benedictine monks and nuns from England Christianised the German lands.