Spiritual unity, geographical division

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Defenseless city?

In the 4th century AD another historical event took place which – although was not directly involving the life of the Church played a pivotal role in its future development.

In 330 AD the Emperor Constantine the Great decides to transfer the capital of the Empire to Byzantium, a little town at the coast of Bosporus, which he renames Constantinople, i.e. the City of Constantine. Constantinople soon surpasses Rome in seize and luxury as well as in political influence.

The consequences were dramatic: Rome was more-or-less left on her own and, de facto, the Bishop of Rome found himself becoming the political leader of the eternal city as he was increasingly shouldering the responsibility to protect the population from the continual barbaric invasions, especially from the 5th to the 8th centuries. Thus the widened role of the Pope of Rome contributed in a decisive way to a united structure in the western Roman Empire and its subsequent formation.

The end of the 4th century marks, also, the end of the unity of the Roman Empire. In 395 AD Theodosius the Great dies and upon his death his two sons take each a part of the Empire; Arcadius takes the Eastern part with Constantinople as its capital, and Honorius takes the Western part with Milan at first as its capital and later Ravenna. Ever since the Roman Empire will remain divided and the dissimilarities in the development of its two parts as well as the increasing rivalries and differences in mentalities will become a destabilizing factor.

The 4th century ends leaving behind it an Empire spiritually united, on the one hand, with the Catholic Faith being the official religion in its vast domains, yet divided geographically and politically on the other.

Politically and militarily the centre of gravity has moved to the East, spiritually, however, it has remained in the West with the Pope of Rome being the visible and active symbol of the cohesion and unity of the whole Christian world, both in East and West.

It is particularly interesting to see some of the additional preoccupations of the Popes in the centuries which immediately followed the capital’s transfer to Byzantium: the repair and construction of the walls of Rome, the collection of food and other necessities for the poor (most of the wealth had been moved to Constantinople) and the care of the military for the protection of the citizens vis-à-vis the intensifying barbaric invasions.

Their essential task was, certainly, and always remained the care of the Church and the defense of the true Faith as it has been handed down by the Apostles. That is why at every time when various heresies or disagreements would τηρεατεν the peace in the Church the local bishops would turn to the Pope for the solution.

The Pope, as the Successor of Saint Peter, finds himself on the cross-section of two axes: the Apostolic axis (reference to the Church in her beginnings) and the axis of Catholicity, i.e. of the Universality of the Church. We have here to do with the service of the true teaching and its unity in space and time.

Did you know…

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The Synods or Councils by their nature consist in an effort by the Church or a part of the Church in concerted teaching and action when it is deemed necessary for reasons of self-preservation or defense against threatening heresies.

Already the Council appears in the Apostolic times  (see “The Acts of the Apostles”, ch. 15) and during the whole history, whenever the Faith, morality or discipline are severely threatened.

Since the Synods’ objectives and the conditions under which they are convened are not always the same, there are various categories of Synods.

Ecumenical Council is the Synod in which are convened all the bishops and others who have the right of vote, from the  whole world (Ecuméne), under the presidency of the Pope or his Delegate and whose conclusions are valid and binding for all Christians.

(From the Catholic Encyclopedia).

The most recent Ecumenical Council took place in Rome, at the Vatican, between 1962 and 1965 and it is the 21st Ecumenical Council.

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