I’ve been reading a short history of the Byzantine Empire this week.
It has reminded me how deeply the church has been divided for a very long time. For a couple hundred years the doctrine of the two natures of Christ caused turmoil in the Eastern Roman Empire. Riots erupted and emperors were rocked by theological controversies about Jesus Christ. If not for the Muslim conquests, the churches opposed to the Council of Chalcedon would have remained much larger and stronger.
I have also read about numerous divisions between East and West, including the time the Byzantine Empire arrested the sitting Roman pope and dragged him off to prison before he died in exile. Long before the final schism that divided East and West, there were centuries of conflict, excommunication, and strife.
I’m honestly not sure what to make of it all.
Is it a lesson to us that the whole Constantinian project was a mistake? Is it a reminder that the church militant has always been and will always be by schism rent asunder and by heresy distressed? Is it a call to a radical return to apostolic simplicity? Is it a sign of hope that even through all that strife and bloodshed the church endured and Jesus was proclaimed?
When I ponder these questions, it leaves me all feeling a bit like Ecclesiastes.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Eccl. 12: 12b-14)