BYZANTINE ZENITH AND NADIR


For more than a thousand years after the time of Constantine the Great, the city of Constantinople was one of the great wonders of the world; certainly no city of the West could match it for sheer grandeur. And compared to the Christian Byzantine civilization of the East - which could claim an unbroken continuity with ancient Hellenistic and Roman culture - the kingdoms and empires of the West always seemed painfully unrefined, at least in Byzantine eyes.


During the 11th and 12th centuries, moreover, the Byzantine world enjoyed something of a cultural and intellectual renewal. But this was also the period when its decline as a military power began in earnest, under the pressure of Islam, the barbarian tribes of the East, and even Western Christian armies.


Symeon the New Theologian



The 'Byzantine Renaissance' was marked in part by a spiritual awakening - specifically, a renewal of the theology and practice of contemplative prayer. And
no figure was more significant in this regard than St Symeon the New Theologian (c.949—1022), a monk, mystic and poet whose writings profoundly shaped Eastern Orthodox spirituality in later centuries. The title 'Theologian' is a very high honorific in Eastern Christian tradition, indicating a special knowledge of the mysteries of the Holy Spirit, and Symeon is one of only three persons to whom the distinction has been accorded (along with St John the Divine and St Gregory of Nazianzus).


Symeon (whose given name was George) was a child of the aristocracy, and his family expected him to enter the service of the imperial court; they sent him to Constantinople at age 11 for his formal education. When, though, at age 14, he made the acquaintance of a monk of the Stoudion monastery called Symeon the Pious, he placed himself under the older man's spiritual guidance. He did not immediately abandon his secular studies, but when he was 20 years old (or thereabout) he suffered the first of many intense mystical experiences, in which — in a state of inexpressible ecstasy - he had a vision of God as pure and eternal light.


He continued to pursue the career for which he had been educated, rising even to the rank of senator, but ultimately could not resist the call of the contemplative life. At 27, he entered the Stoudion monastery, taking his spiritual master's name as his own. His superiors, however, feared that his constant dependency on the elder Symeon's guidance might appear unseemly; and so they told him they would allow him to remain under his master's tutelage only if he would agree to live in another monastery.





Symeon's writings are daring in many respects. His descriptions of the mystical state — the rapture of union with God, the despondency of the return to normal consciousness — are effusive, opulent and often entrancing. He did not hesitate to use the frankest erotic imagery to portray the intimacy of the soul's union with God, or to employ metaphors of inebriation or romantic elation to describe the ecstasy of the soul seized by divine love.


His greatest work is the Hymns of Divine Love, a collection of poems

rich in the most extravagant metaphors, symbols and images and often

extremely beautiful.


(BUT  HE  WAS  STILL  PART  OF  THE  WOMAN  BABYLON  AND  HER  MYSTERY  RELIGION,  AS  THE  BOOK  OF  REVELATION  CALLS  IT  -  Keith Hunt)


Scholars and Philosophers


The great rebirth of Byzantine learning encouraged by Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus (980-1055) had no greater champion than Michael Psellus (1017 - after 1078): a historian, rhetorician, philosopher, professor, legal scholar, scientific and medical encyclopaedist, occasional poet and statesman. As advisor to Constantine and succeeding emperors, it was chiefly Psellus who created the curriculum of the university in Constantinople, which was a marvel of comprehensiveness, variety and intellectual openness.


[The writings of St Symeon the New Theologian express his deep conviction that Christianity is rooted not in mere observances and outward form, but in a person's personal experience of the living Christ]


Symeon moved to the monastery of St Mamas, where in 980 he became abbot and led a revival of contemplative prayer among the monks. In 1009, though, well after his teacher's death, Symeon's disputes with the patriarch of Constantinople forced him to retire to a humble hermitage on the far shore of the Bosphorus. There disciples began to gather around him, drawn by his mystical discourses and by his personal example, and at his death he left behind him quite a sizeable community of monks dedicated to the life of mystical prayer.


(YES  BACK  TO  MONASTERIES  AND  "MYSTICAL"  PRAYERS,  WITH  THE  OTHER  MYSTERIES  OF  ROME/BABYLON  -  Keith Hunt)



More than any other man, Psellus was responsible for the Medieval revival of serious philosophical studies in the Byzantine East. His special predilection for Platonism, moreover, led to the rise of the Christian — though not always entirely Christian - Platonism that became the dominant intellectual tradition of Byzantine civilization in the later Middle Ages and that ultimately inspired the Platonist revival of the Western Renaissance. His devotion to pagan philosophy and his avid study of the religious and philosophical traditions of non-Christian peoples occasionally excited suspicions among certain citizens of Constantinople, and at one juncture he was obliged to issue a public profession of faith to reassure them of his orthodoxy.


(I  GUESS  THEY  WOULD  WANT  HIS  PUBLIC  PROFESSION  OF  "ORTHODOXY"  WITH  ALL  HIS  PAGAN  PHILOSOPHY  ETC.  -  Keith Hunt)


The name 'Psellus' is a sobriquet meaning 'stammerer', perhaps given to him on account of some defect of his speech, even though he was an acknowledged master of the art of rhetoric. His eloquence is certainly evident in his extant writings, most particularly his Chronographia, a history of the Byzantine emperors from the late 10th through the late 11th centuries that is either (depending on how one reads it) a masterpiece of servile flattery and self-promotion or a wryly subversive satire on the hypocrisies of the court and society of Constantinople.


The Sack of Constantinople


During the 12th century, the rise of the crusader states and the growing presence of Latin Christians in the lands of the Christian East were, in the eyes of many Byzantines, necessary evils at best, an intolerable menace at worst. And relations between the 'Greeks' and 'Latins' were rarely untroubled: the uneasy alliance between them was often punctuated by episodes of violent conflict. There had, moreover, been mercantile and strategic ties between the Byzantine throne and Venice from before the period of the Crusades that many Byzantines - out of financial self-interest, cultural prejudice, or religious intolerance — resented mightily.


By the last decades of the century, the situation was fairly grave. The emperor Manuel  I Comnenus (1118-80), for instance, could hardly have been more favourably disposed towards the Latin West (even his first two wives were Latin Christians); but his attempts to forge and sustain ties with the West ultimately resulted in an increase in hostility between the two sides. In 1182, when Andronicus I Comnenus (c. 1118—85) seized the Byzantine throne by force, a sizeable number of the native citizens of Constantinople celebrated by massacring the Western (mostly Italian) Christian men living in the city and selling their families to Muslim slave-traders.


The history of hatred between Greeks and Latins culminated in the tragedy — or travesty — of the Fourth Crusade. Called in 1198 by Pope Innocent III (c. 1160-1216), this particular campaign never actually reached the Holy Land. Instead, the 'Crusade' degenerated into a mercenary expedition; involving themselves in a Byzantine dynastic struggle, the crusaders agreed to aid Alexius IV (d.1204) in capturing the imperial throne (which he thought his by right) in exchange for a large fee, additional troops for an invasion of Egypt and the submission of the Orthodox Church to the pope.


In June of 1203, the crusader army attacked Constantinople and installed Alexius as emperor. He, however, lacked the funds necessary to pay for their services. The native Constantinopolitans, moreover, were enraged at the violence of the crusaders and at Alexius' agreement with them, and in January 1204 the new emperor was deposed by Alexius V Ducas Mourtzouphlus (d.1204) and executed by garrotte the following month.


On 12 April 1204, the crusader forces - weary of waiting for their pay — sacked the city of Constantinople, murdering unarmed civilians, raping women (including nuns), despoiling the churches and desecrating their altars. From this date until 1261 Constantinople was under the rule of a foreign army and its see occupied by a Latin 'patriarch'. The city would never recover from the crusaders' depredations; and the schism between East and West was now beyond all remedy.


[Pope Innocent III fiercely berated the crusaders who sacked Constantinople in 1204: 'How ... will the church of the Greeks return into ecclesiastical union and to a devotion for the Apostolic See, when she has seen in the Latins only an example of perdition ...so that she now, and with reason, detests the Latins more than dogs? As for those who were meant to be seeking the ends of Jesus Christ ... who made their swords, which they were supposed to use against the pagans, drip with Christian blood?']


(THE  WHOLE  EPISODE  IS  OUTRAGEOUS  AND  CRAZY  MINDED  TO  CALL  IT  ANYTHING  CLOSE  TO  "CHRISTIAN"  THOUGH  DONE  BY  THOSE  WHO  WOULD  HOLD  THE  NAME  OF  "CHRISTIAN."  NOTE  THE  POPE  ABOVE  THOUGH  CONDEMNING  IT,  SAID  THEIR  SWORDS  WERE  MADE  TO  USE  AGAINST  "PAGANS."  KILLING  WAS  FINE  AS  LONG  AS  IT  WAS  AGAINST  "PAGANS"  -  Keith Hunt)

THE 'CHILDREN'S CRUSADE'

One of the stranger stories to emerge from the age of the Crusades is that of the 'Children's Crusade' - a tale that owes more to legend than to historical fact. The story that was generally accepted for centuries was that a French or German child early in the 13th century claimed to have had a vision in which Jesus commissioned him to lead an army of children to the Holy Land to convert the Muslims not by force of arms, but by charity. Supposedly as many as 20,000 children joined the cause, expecting the Mediterranean to part before them so that they might cross over by foot. When the sea refused to oblige, however, wicked merchants in Marseilles offered many of the children free passage, and then sold those who accepted in the slave markets of Tunisia.


The true story appears to be more complex and less colourful. For one thing, the 'crusaders' were not in all likelihood children. What seems to be the case is that in 1212 two shepherd boys - a French boy name Stephen and a German named Nicholas - both claimed that Christ had appeared to them. The French youth claimed to have been given a letter by Jesus to be delivered to the French King Philip II (1165-1223) and,as he neared Paris, a large crowd gathered about him. The king, however, ordered the crowd dispersed. Some may indeed have set off for the Holy Land and ended up as slaves, but there is slight evidence for this.


The German shepherd boy, Nicholas, seems indeed to have intended to lead a Crusade to the Holy Land, and to have led thousands of pious souls into Italy. There, however, this crusader 'army' is thought to have fragmented into various contingents. Some may have gone to Genoa but failed to secure passage to the East. Others are said to have reached Rome - according to one version of the tale, Pope Innocent III gently absolved them of their crusader oath - and some may even have made their way to Marseilles and ultimate slavery. Again, though, there is no reliable evidence to that effect.


......................


TO  BE  CONTINUED


WELL  SUCH  WAS  THE  AGE  OF  THE  CRUSADES,  MEN  OF  SCHOLASTIC  MINDS  IN  CERTAIN  WAYS,  BUT  ALSO  FILLED  WITH  PAGAN  PHILOSOPHIES,  OTHERS  KILLING  AND  RAPING,  WHILE  UNDER  THE  FLAG  OF  "CHRISTIANITY"  -  A  DEMONIC  WORLD  OR  VARIOUS  MADNESSES  AND  CORRUPTIONS  -  Keith Hunt