Doctrinal Developments in the Christian Churches in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Second to Twelfth Century) [MEDS 5280]—III

Course Status: 
CEU code: 
MEDS 5280
CEU credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
10 Jan 2011 - 28 Mar 2011
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies (CEMS)
Non-degree Specialization: 
ACRS—Advanced Certificate in Religious Studies
István Perczel
Learning Outcomes: 
The course will provide the basic erudition for handling the doctrinal developments of the period. Hopefully students will acquire a solid overview on this history. Particularly, the course will give an insight into the inseparable processes of doctrinal debates and political strife, a phenomenon that is inevitable in theocratic states where theology is immediately translated into politics and where political strife is expressed in theological debates. However, the most important outcome will be a comprehension of the basic concepts and tenets in Trinitarian doctrine, Christology and the related ontological and epistemological questions. Students will also be taught to try and use an empathetic approach, that is, instead of looking at religious phenomena from a definite point of view (confessional or anti-confessional) considered as authoritative, to become able to acquire an internal view of diverse, often antagonistic, convictions.
Assessment : 
The main criterion of assessment will be the students' active participation in the classes, their serious preparation for the readings and their oral presentations at the tutorials (60%). During the term three or four small tests will be written to check the proper understanding of historical events and of basic concepts (10%). A seminar paper will also be expected on a freely chosen subject from among those treated at the classes (30%).

Course description:

From a very early stage of its history, Christianity evolved as a “dogmatic” religion accepting some views as orthodox while excluding others as heterodox. Questions of orthodoxy and heterodoxy were decided at local councils where bishops belonging to a certain administrative unit of the secular power convened to decide about such issues. Beginning with the conversion of Emperor Constantine I to Christianity (312 AD) the Roman Empire evolved toward becoming a Christian theocracy. The pre-Constantinian conciliar structure was adopted and developed into an imperial institution. Beginning with the first council of Nicaea (325 AD) dogmatic issues, decided at the so-called ecumenical councils as the highest decision-making fora, were accompanied by intense debates in which politics inextricably intermingled with biblical exegesis and doctrinal speculation, as well as with philosophical and spiritual arguments. The language and the ideas developed during the ca. thousand years under consideration have fundamentally shaped the mentality not only of the Christian societies and populations of Europe, Asia and Africa but also that of our modern world. Fundamental concepts of our world-view, such as a linear concept of time versus a model of cyclical returns, personhood versus a more analytical anthropology, creation versus emanation as the origin of the world etc. had developed during this period. Also, as a result of these doctrinal debates, the originally unified Christian Church became split into several confessions. This course will give a basic introduction into these processes, examining the political and the doctrinal developments beginning with the second century and ending with the schism between the Roman Catholic and the Byzantine Orthodox Churches in the twelfth century (not in 1054 as it is erroneously held). Due to the instructor's expertise it will focus more on what happened in the Greek-speaking Eastern Mediterranean than on Western developments and the Oriental Churches but the latter will be considered, too. It is important to realize that the course is not there to “tell the truth” about this complex history but to impart skills and tools for dealing with it independently.


As the course consists of lectures and tutorials (seminars), every lecture will give an overview of the given subject, while students will discuss the assigned readings in the tutorials. The starting point for the methodological approach is the recognition of the fact that there is no universal metalanguage for religious history, that is, that any discourse dealing with these phenomena is inevitably tainted by the innermost convictions of the speaker, be they religious or other. It will be argued that this a priori denial of a false objectivity of the discourse is the conditio sine qua non for preserving ourselves from blind ideological and, as such, non-scholarly approaches. Consequently, much emphasis will be laid on the critical examination of modern historiographic literature. So, when reading secondary literature, it will be expected that students realise the points of view, the inner convictions, the biases and the stakes involved. This will result in an aporetic approach which – as many years' experience shows – may be perplexing at the first sight but pays off in the long run. At every tutorial one or two students will present relevant articles and chapters and the whole group will discuss them.


Week 1. What is the history of dogma? The paradox of the impossibility of a metalanguage for religious history. On the question how the doctrinal debates themselves have shaped the discipline of doctrinal history. The effects of the translatio imperii et studii around 800 AD; of the rise of the Protestant movement and of the Enlightenment; German classical philosophy and the birth of Dogmengeschichte; the Papal condemnation of Modernism in 1907/1910 and the subsequent rediscovery of the “Fathers”; Orthodox doctrinal historians in Russia and in the emigration; modern Ecumenism and anti-Ecumenism and their impact on doctrinal history.

Week 2. Basic outline of the course; doctrinal developments and schisms; a list of the presently existing pre-Protestant Churches; ecumenical councils; an introduction to the main doctrinal concepts.

Week 3. 1st to 3rd centuries: The formation of the New Testament canon; the Apologetes: discussions on the temporal creation versus eternity of the world; early Trinitarian and Christological theories in function of the creation of the world. An alliance between theology and philosophy: The Alexandrian School and Origen.

Week 4. 312-373: The Constantinian turn; The Arian controversy and the council of Nicaea (325); Eusebius of Caesarea as the ideologist of the Christian Roman Empire; Arius and Athanasius of Alexandia.

Week 5. 373-400: The epistemological crisis of late Arianism and Appolinarism; the Eunomian controversy; the Cappadocian Fathers and the first council of Constantinople (381); Marius Victorinus and Neoplatonism; Augustine's Epistula de videndo deo and the imperceptible germs of the East-West divide; imperial legislation against heretics; the first “Origenist” strife and Evagrius of Pontus.

Week 6. 385-433: The greatest riddle of Christian doctrinal history: Augustine and his new theology; the Pelagian controversy in the West and the Nestorian controversy in the East; the first council of Ephesus (431); what constitutes the unity of Christ?: the doctrinal and political stakes of the strife; the philosophical intricacies of the concepts of hypostasis and nature; the union formula of 433.

Week 7. 431-480: Cyril of Alexandria and his importance; the strife for Cyril's mantle; dyophysite strategies of survival; Pope Leo the Great and the new role of the Papacy; the council of Chalcedon (451) and its aftermath; one hypostasis in two natures: a philosophical impossibility?; a new art of writing as a hiding place: the Pseudo-Dionysian Corpus; the Persian Church goes its own way.

Week 8. 451-553: The defence of Chalcedon in East and West; Severus of Antioch, Julian of Halicarnassus and the rise of miaphysitism; the empire wavers between Chalcedonism and anti-Chalcedonism; the Chalcedonian turn under Justin I and Justinian I; “Origenists” or “Theosophers”?: the second “Origenist” strife. “Neo-Chalcedonism” - what does it stand for and who invented it? a “middle way”: the second council of Constantinople (553). Boethius and a new Latin theology.

Week 9. 553-681: Justinian I - an orthodox theologian-emperor tainted with heresy; failed attempts after Justinian to unite the Churches; the birth of the Syrian Orthodox Church; Boethius and a new Latin theology; the third council of Toledo (589) and the beginnings of the Filioque controversy; the last failed attempt at union under the Persian threat: Emperor Heraclius and monotheletism; Maximus the Confessor and Pope Martin I: the defence of Chalcedon as a factor of military failure and of lasting spiritual achievement; the rise of Islam and the third council of Constantinople (6 81); Hormisdas: a heretical Pope?

Week 10. 680-842: Iconoclasm and icon-worship: the period that has formed the Byzantine Orthodox Church; translatio imperii et studii: the Western Church and the Byzantines part ways.

Week 11. 850-1204: the “Photian Schism”; controversies around the Filioque and the azymes; Symeon the New Theologian and a new Byzantine spirituality; the supposed “schism” in 1054; doctrinal debates in Constantinople in the eleventh century; the evolution of a real schism before the Fourth Crusade.

Week 12. Overview on the entire history; a recapitulation of the main concepts; what kind of legacy has this history left to us?