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Byzantine Spirituality and Litteracy

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Byzantine Spirituality

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Byzantine monks, by the times of the Iconoclasm, are opposing it as it is a rationalism and a hatred of them. Monks, traditionally, are siding the Byzantine people against cesaropapism and the Patriarch. They are humanitarian evangelists in St. John Chrysostomus' way, the Greek Father of Antioch as they are referring to Platon in terms of contemplation. St. John Chrysostomus, as far as he is concerned, about 380 A.D., is originating from Antioch, a city which is the point where the Asiatic culture and the Roman world are meeting. St John reacts against the abuse of the allegoric school and he advocates a litteral, or figurated meaning only of Scriptures. He is also advocating moralism, the historical method applied to sacred texts (which may bring heresies like Pelagianism and questioning Trinity). He is anti-Jews, against coexisting with Jews -mostly from the part of Christian women- as he is evangelist, humanitarian, and a proponent of social activism. He promotes, at last, eremiticism, Psalms, St Paul, ethics, ascetism and Marial worship. Byzantines, generally, is greek as they hesitate between the mysticism of the Alexandrian school, the reason of the Antiochan one, and Neo-platonicism. Byzantines are Platonicists with a Neo-platonicist terminology as they are under the influence of three currents of thought. The school of Alexandria, first, which promotes allegory and speculation, the Logos, Philo, the Platonicism and even the Judaism, and contemplative life. The one of Antioch, which is realism and historicism. And, at last, the humanitarianism of the Byzantine monks with the evangelism of St. John Chrysostomus. Byzantium is referring to the first 3 centuries of Patristic, or the ones of the Apostolic and Apologetic Fathers, who consider salvation coming from a split from the world. Byzantine Fathers are having a basic sympathy to Plato. Proclus, with his mystical and intuitive theology is confronting against a 'apodictic' and rational one, like St. Maxim the Confessor

Byzantine spirituality above all works upon the following elements. The Gospels, from Which it deviced the concept of the Mystical Body like a practice. The 'Logos' the Byzantines inherited from the Greeks, with also a evangelical current. The eremetic monachism of the Fathers of The Desert, the humanitarian one of the Rule of St. Basile, and then a contemplative one. Byzantium is refering to the first generation of the Fathers. Thence the Byzantine spirituality is at the same time mystical, speculative, defying, contemplative, ethical and ascetic. For the Byzantines, the Council of Chalcedon is fundamental with a view of Man, through which Christ is irradiating Himself, exerting a spiritual life. Most of Byzantine theologians based their works upon the Logos and were proponents of tradition or even were scholasticists. It might that some source might criticize Byzantines for having been a mix of Greek metaphysics and ritualism. Of note, at last, that Byzantine spirituality survived itself, after the disparition of the Empire by 1452 A.D., into the Russian Orthodox Church

The heart of Byzantine spirituality resides into the Scriptures. Scriptures impose themselves upon the piety of simple faithfull included, which nurtures mostly with Psalms and the Gospels. The Gospel by St. John is of importance. Gospels are bringing ascese and non-violence too. The Eastern Church is encouraging the lecture of the Bible, whence the Greeks have a relatively personal relationship with it. St. John Chrysostomus was the one who passed St. Paul to the Greeks like St. Augustine had to the Romans. As both authors deviced the same concept of the 'Mystical Body of Christ,' John issued a practice from it as Augustinus a theology, the one of grace. Three fundamental currents inspired Eastern thinkers. The School of Alexandria, with allegory and speculation, the School of Antioch with realism and historicism, as St. John Chrysostomus founded a evangelical spirituality which prone the spirit and virtues of Gospels in a humanitarian and charitable meaning. Such that spirituality is expressed into the Rule of St. Basile or by Thedorus the Studium

Byzantium, then, is the land of Logos. The School of Alexandria already, as influenced by Philo, Platonicism and even Judaism, had developed the concept of the Logos along with those of contemplative life and allegoric exegetics. Alexandria was also characterized by a dualist vision separating matter from spirit, a tendency to dialectics, to a abstract God and a tendency too to erase Man and to base salute upon knowledge and Logos. Clemens and Origenus too, through the Christain gnosis they built, also are part of that move as the Logos too is inspiring the popular devotion. Logos is intelligence, the Divine Verb, and the fundamental cosmic principle. Logos, finally is to the Byzantine empire what Reason was to be to Modern Times. Logos is identifying itself to Christ and it is the mediator between God and Man. Real Eastern Christians thus have to subject themselves to Logos both in spirit, and flesh like summarized by those workds: 'Sarkos logotheisès,' meaning 'flesh was logoified.' From that the human will has to unite to divine one at the image of Christ, who in Himself is subjecting His human, and His divine will. Incarnation is repeating Itself in each Christian being, even the most humble one, and that yields a objective, and a subjective, truth. As far as the influence proper of Plato is concerned, Greek Fathers already were using a Platonicist or neo-Platonicist terminology and they had a sympathy for the basic ideas of Plato's philosophy. The Byzantine concept of contemplation for example is platonicist. Since St. John Damascène, by the 8th century A.D., a Aristotelician tradition is also extant with ethics and ascetics belonging to it, or refering to Stoicians. Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, on a other hand, who also influenced the West -with the Corpus Dionysiacum published as soon as the 5th or 6th century A.D.- and as his works are tightly depending upon the ones of pagan philosopher Proclus, is making a distinction between mystical, intuitive and 'apodictic,' rational theology. His works were commented by St. Maxim the Confessor, who died in 662 A.D. Byzantine intellectual life is of a 'harmonious elegance' and Byzantine Orthodoxy, eventually, may be considered a 'classical landscape illuminated by the light of the Logos.'

Another typical elements of Byzantines is the influence of the Fathers of The Desert's monachism. We know those through their works as Cassian will represent the link between such a original monachism and the West. That monasticism still is not the one of St. Basile as, of course, it is not the one of Benedictines. The early monasticism does not endeavour to act in the world but through prayer, contemplation and austerity. Ermits of those early times were aiming to the communautary life of early Christians and they produced a first theorization of contemplative life. Such a austere life also endured fights against Evil and darkness as Fathers of The Desert also yielded a important demonology. They are mystics too. Through the concept of 'Spiritual Father' however, they also interested themselves into Man. By the Carolingian era, the Byzantine monachism is mostly making use of the evangelical spirituality which is charitable and humanitarian, and practising social activities like St. John Chrysostomus had conceived it. Monks are feeding upon Psalms. Most of concepts relatives to contemplation are originating by Plato. A theology of contemplation had been deviced by Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite but contemplation turned a discipline and a technique during the Byzantine Middle Ages only, via the 'hesichastes,' who were great contemplatives. They appeared with St. Simon the New Theologian (949-1022 A.D.), who were the higoumene -the 'abbey'- of a monastery. Mount Athos later was to become their home center. They are practising with psycho-somatical techniques and they are looking for peace and the mystical light -which might be a idea influenced by the Jewish mystique, who have the one of God's glory like a luminous apparition. Like the Spanish mystics of the 16th century A.D., the hesichates are simplifying and systematizing spiritual paths. Byzantium also refered a lot to the Patristics of the first three centuries A.D., those of the Apostolic Fathers and Apologists, thence Byzantines are fond of themes like martyr, confession or the ones of athlets of Religion, ascets, virgins and widows. The Montanist heresy was a deviation of such a spirit. Due to monasticism, Eastern Christians have difficulties to conceive salute without some rupture from the world

In terms of liturgy, the one in the Byzantine empire is very elaborated and full of a 'spiritual sense of beauty.' Most of the Byzantine liturgy originates in the Gospels as it favours mostly the collective forms and is organized around the moments of Christ's life. Greek liturgy may be kept some influence from the ancient, Mysteries' Liturgies -with maybe too some Jewish similitudes, or even from the ceremonial of the Byzantine court. One of the typical aspect of the Byzantine liturgy resides in the icons, relics and the saint's cult. A school of thought was even to base itself, as far as the development of soul was concerned, upon liturgy and a liturgical -or mystagogical- theology will also exists with, for example, Theodorus of Mospuestes. Byzantine marial cult was to develop with St. Sergius of Constantinople, who died by 638 A.D. and then St Andrew of Crete and St. John Damascène, in the 8th century A.D.

Byzantine Litteracy

The Byzantine empire is remembering that the first centuries of the Patristic were Greek-speaking and they assimilate Hellenism and Christianism. Byzantines are sometimes devoted to mystics and sometimes to reason. The majority of the Antique works has survived in Byzantium, where they had a minor impact upon science, except for the transmission of Classics to the Arabic world and the West, and even from the former to the latter. Byzantine science mostly yielded the building of the Hagia Sophia church by the architects and mathematicians Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, which remained the largest church in the world for a thousand years, and the discovery of the Greek Fire, a mixture used in naval battles allowing the survival of the Byzantine Empire for a thousand years. Both those achievements occurred by the 6th century A.D. Science in Byzantium then just entered a continuous decay, with peaks referring the Classics during the Macedonian (11th), the Komnenoi (12th), and the Palaeologean (14th) Renaissance. Princess Anna Komnene (1083-1153) was a famed Byzantine scientist, showing what education she had received, like ancient Greek, literature, rhetoric, and sciences, with also medicine, astronomy, mathematics, geography, history, or military affairs. The following summary may be established of the main steps of Greek cultural life under Byzantium. Of interest is that Neoplatonicism, generally, survived in the Byzantine empire both in works and culture

More freedom and even rationalism, philosophy (both under its platonicist and aristotelist forms) -with a opposition however of mystics and moralists- are appearing in the following centuries of Byzantine history as Orthodox religion accomodates itself with it. History works are now tainted with pessimism as historians are forecasting the end of the Empire. Byzantium is also by those times having satires, romanesque novels, and marvellous ones. The occupation of Byzantium by the Crusaders will eventually have to be born two conceptions of hellenic theology, a one attempting to close to Rome, another one opposing that

More About The Eastern Monasticism

As far as monasticism in the Byzantine empire is concerned, it was a main component of it as numerous men and women took the monastic vows (the monastic vocation was prized) as even the dying were turning monks or nuns. Paul the Hermit and St Antony were the founders of heremetism (ermits) by about the mid-3rd century A.D. as St Pachomius was to cenobitism (monks living in a community) about 300, as he eventually structured the eastern and western monasticisms altogether, the latter through St Benedict. St. Basil of Caesarea, finally, about 350, ended into defining a rule for the Eastern monks in a tradition more rattached to Greek moderation, like 'nothing in excess.' The size of monasteries, their location both in the country and the cities and no more in the solitudes so to act like a example to contemporaries, obedience to a abbot, no excess in asceticism were the basics. All monasteries of the East followed the rule and it did not exist any orders like the ones known in the West. In that general frame, each monastery had its own practical, daily organization however, which brought some variation. The monasteries in the country often constituted the center to a spritual life and social aid and the same in the boroughs of a city. People came in for spiritual advices or material help when needed as the monasteries were playing a important societal role. They served like inns, retirement houses (often in exchange of a donation of property), hospitals, burial cares, commemoration masses, food and alms to the poor as people of the outside gave work to the scriptoria or gave properties. The rulers themselves tool advice from the monks as emperors, willingly or not, ended their lives like monks. Monks thus both were seeking their salvation and provided a service to lay communities. Like in the West, the Byzantine monasteries were too the place of intellectual and artistic activities as the tendency was to that each scriptorium to specialize into a given domain (liturgical works, hymns, etc.) At the opposite of what was seen in the West, the eastern monasteries had no role into education of the laymen (as they care about training their own monks and nuns). Byzantine monasteries provided for their needs through rural properties, urban workshops and houses for rent as they were exempt from taxation. Monks were often mobile, passing from one monastery to another, or from the status of hermit to that of monk. At the time of the Iconoclastic crisis, eastern monks provided the center of resistance of the Orthodoxy against heresy. As eremeticism made resurgence, it was eventually Theodorus the Studium (759-826), a monk at Studium, a monastery in Constantinople, who confirmed the societal involvement of the Eastern monasticism according to Basil of Caesarea, with a auto-sufficient monastery and manual and intellectual work mandatory. The rule of Theodorus, the 'Hypotyposis' or 'Typikon,' was codified and eventually adopted in Mount Athos by 962 A.D. and too by the Kievian Rus

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