Byzantine Empire 555AD
Byzantine Empire 555AD

What Tore Early Christianity Apart?

compiled by Lewis Loflin

What is listed below are various Christian beliefs in the early Church history (Circa 500 - 800) that simply tore the system apart. In particular through Justinian, his wars over religion and the retaking of the Western Empire left the Eastern Roman Empire bankrupt, and much of Italy, Spain, and North Africa in ruins.

The Eastern Empire was also ruined due to wars with Sassanid Persia. Due to Church persecution of Jews and heretics, they left the door open for Islam after 630 AD. Will Durant called Justinian "The Imperial Theologian."

Here I will concern myself with several heresies and their impact. We should understand just how varied early Christianity really was and it seems to me how these facts are often suppressed in the history books.

I also present this as an altering view to Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization by John J. O'Neill who posits Islam ended classical civilization. They helped, but in my view Christianity is the main culprit.


The definition of heresy is "unorthodoxy: any opinions or doctrines at variance with the official or orthodox position." It has at times tore all religions apart and even secular beliefs systems as well. The real idea of heresy is the individual gets to decide what they believe. Not allowed according to "leaders" of all kinds when the real issue is their power. The early Catholic Church took a violent view of heresy as did later Islam.

Monophysitism (from the Greek monos meaning 'one, alone' and physis meaning 'nature'), or Monophysiticism, is the Christological position that Christ has only one nature, his humanity being absorbed by his Deity, as opposed to the Chalcedonian (Council of Chalcedon 451 AD) position which holds that Christ maintains two natures, one divine and one human. A brief definition of Monophysitist Christology can be given as: "Jesus Christ, who is identical with the Son, is one person and one hypostas in one nature: divine-human."

The conflict was so bad that in Alexandria Catholics and Monophysites "fought in the streets while their women joined in with missles from the roofs." Heresy was so widespread "Egypt was half lost to the (Byzantine)Empire a century before the Arabs came." (Durant 115) Many heretics were better off under the Arabs at the time than under Justinian Law.

Monophysitism and its antithesis, Nestorianism, were both hotly disputed and divisive competing tenets in the maturing Christian traditions during the first half of the fifth century; during the tumultuous last decades of the Western Empire, and marked by the political shift in all things to a center of gravity then located in the Eastern Roman empire, and particularly in Syria, the Levant, and Anatolia, where Monophysitism was popular among the people.

Nestorius' opponents found his teaching too close to the heresy of adoptionism - the idea that Christ had been born a man who had later been "adopted" as God's son. Nestorius was especially criticized by Cyril, Pope (Patriarch) of Alexandria, who argued that Nestorius' teachings undermined the unity of Christ's divine and human natures at the Incarnation. Nestorius himself always insisted that his views were orthodox, though they were deemed heretical at the First Council of Ephesus in 431, leading to the Nestorian Schism.

When churches supportive of Nestorius broke away from the rest of the Christian Church. A more elaborate Nestorian theology developed from there, which came to see Christ as having two loosely joined but distinct natures, or hypostases, the divine Logos and the human Christ. However, this formulation was never adopted by all churches termed "Nestorian". Indeed, the modern Assyrian Church of the East, which reveres Nestorius, does not fully subscribe to Nestorian doctrine, though it does reject the title Theotokos.

Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 - 431. The doctrine, which was informed by Nestorius's studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch, emphasizes the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus. Nestorius' teachings brought him into conflict with some other prominent church leaders, most notably Cyril of Alexandria, who criticized especially his rejection of the title Theotokos ('Mother of God") for the Virgin Mary.

Nestorius and his teachings were eventually condemned as heresy at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451, leading to the Nestorian Schism in which churches supporting Nestorius broke with the rest of the Christian Church. Afterward many of Nestorius' supporters relocated to Sassanid Persia, where they affiliated with the local Christian community, known as the Church of the East. Over the next decades the Church of the East became increasingly Nestorian in doctrine, leading it to be known alternately as the Nestorian Church.

Another issue dividing the Church was Iconoclasm. "Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction within a culture of the culture's own religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually for religious or political motives. It is a frequent component of major domestic political or religious changes." (Wiki) In the case of the Eastern or Byzantine Church, they believed that the worship of images, or icons, was a fundamentally pagan belief. Products of human hands should not be worshipped, they argued, but only Christ and God should be the proper objects of veneration.

Leo III the Syrian (685 - 741) was Byzantine emperor from 717 until his death in 741. He put an end to a period of instability, successfully defended the empire against the invading Umayyads Muslims, and forbade the veneration of icons. His son Constantine V greatly expanded the Iconoclastic program during his reign (740-775) causing a permanent split between the Catholic and Byzantine church. They later on went back to icons, which in my opinion is idolatry.

Legislation about religion by Justinian

Numerous provisions serve to secure the status of Catholic Christianity as the state religion of the empire, uniting Church and state, and making anyone who was not connected to the Christian church a non-citizen.

Laws against heresy

The very first law in the Codex requires all persons under the jurisdiction of the Empire to hold the holy Orthodox (Catholic) faith. This was primarily aimed against heresies such as Arianism. This text later became the springboard for discussions of international law, especially the question of just what persons are under the jurisdiction of a given state or legal system.

Laws against paganism

Other laws, while not aimed at pagan belief as such, forbid particular pagan practices. For example, it is provided that all persons present at a pagan sacrifice may be indicted as if for murder.

Laws against Judaism

The principle of "Servitude of the Jews" (Servitus Judaeorum) was established by the new laws, and determined the status of Jews throughout the Empire for hundreds of years. The Jews were disadvantaged in a number of ways. They could not testify against Christians and were disqualified from holding a public office. Jewish civil and religious rights were restricted: "they shall enjoy no honors".

The use of the Hebrew language in worship was forbidden. Shema Yisrael, sometimes considered the most important prayer in Judaism ("Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one") was banned, as a denial of the Trinity. A Jew who converted to Christianity was entitled to inherit his or her father's estate, to the exclusion of the still-Jewish brothers and sisters. The Emperor became an arbiter in internal Jewish affairs. Similar laws applied to the Samaritans.

I will note here that later Muslims used these same laws against Christians.

From and Wiki and Will Durant's The Age of Faith.

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