Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/40

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WESTERN EUROPE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

take place until long after the fall of the Western Empire, when rural churches were built and the parish system was established. Meanwhile the city churches, which carried the entire burden of preserving and teaching the faith, had no administrative connection with each other. Each city had its own bishop, who was subject to no higher authority. It is true that the bishops of smaller towns naturally looked up to the bishops of the larger cities, and that churches founded by the apostles, such as Rome and Antioch, claimed special authority in interpreting the faith, but this hierarchy in prestige was far from being a hierarchy in administration. As long as each bishop was more or less autonomous the Church could not enforce a common policy throughout the Christian world.

The dangers inherent in this lack of administrative unity were emphasized by the doctrinal disputes of the fourth and fifth centuries. There had been heresies even while the Christians were a persecuted minority, but the need for standing together against a common foe had kept most of the faithful united on a common body of doctrine. The conversion of Constantine removed this reason for conformity and the spread of Christianity to the educated classes introduced all the subtleties of Greek philosophical thought. Jealousies among the different racial and linguistic groups in the East added a new element of confusion; if the Greeks of Constantinople held to one interpretation, the Egyptians of Alexandria were automatically suspicious of it. The first disputes were over the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity — was the Son coeval with the Father or was He created later? When this question had been settled new arguments arose over the nature of Christ. It was generally agreed that He partook of both divine and human nature but was the divine so dominant that it made the human unimportant, or were the two coexistent, or was the divine almost suspended when the Son took on human form? The bitter quarrels over these questions split the Christians of the East into irreconcilable groups and paved the way for the eventual loss of Syria and