Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/41

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25
THE MAKING OF EUROPE

Egypt to Christianity. They also led to constant interference by the emperors in the affairs of the Church. The rulers of the Empire were naturally worried by religious disputes which became so violent that they led to rioting in the streets of their chief cities and to dissension among the people of their provinces. Since the Church did not possess the administrative machinery necessary to impose agreement, the emperors tried to secure uniformity through the power of the state. Constantine found it necessary to call a Church Council at Nicaea as early as 325, and his successors followed this precedent throughout the fourth and fifth centuries. In theory the bishops were to control the Councils and decide disputed questions of doctrine after free debate, but in practice the emperors had considerable influence over the conclusions which were reached. Moreover, in the intervals between Councils the emperors were able to influence the evolution of doctrine by backing bishops of one party and by exiling their opponents.

The quarrels over dogma were especially acute in the East and imperial interference in Church affairs was therefore greater in this region. As a result, the Eastern churches became accustomed to a certain degree of state control, which has persisted, in one form or another, down to our own times. Yet in spite of this constant intervention, the emperors failed to secure doctrinal unity in the East. If they tried to avoid trouble by imposing broad formulae which could be interpreted in opposite ways, they irritated all the contestants, whereas if they supported clear-cut decisions on dogma they ran the risk of alienating half or two-thirds of their subjects. By the sixth century, the great majority of the people of Egypt had flatly rejected the creed favored by the emperors and a large part of the population of Syria was also following unorthodox leaders. The Balkans and Asia Minor were the only Eastern regions which gave strong support to the orthodox faith.

The situation in the West was rather different. This region was less troubled by sectional and municipal jealousies than the East.