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Medieval Sourcebook:
Patriarch Anthony:
Defending the Emperor, 1395

By the 14th century the powers and influence of the patriarch of Constantinople far outstripped those of the Byzantine Emperor. The Patriarch presided over a Church which had many more adherents outside the city state that the Empire had become, notably in the Slavic world. But in response to disparaging remarks made by the Grand Prince of Moscow, Vasily I, Patriarch Anthony wrote this rousing defence of the Byzantine conception on divine and earthly order.


The holy emperor has a great place in the church, for he is not like other rulers or governors of other regions. This s so because from the beginning the emperors established and confirmed the [true] faith in all the inhabited world. They convoked the ecumenical councils and confirmed and decreed the acceptance of the pronouncements of the divine and holy canons regarding the correct doctrines and the government of Christians. They struggled boldly against heresies, and imperial decrees together with councils established the metropolitan sees of the archpriests and the divisions of their provinces and the delineation of their districts. For this reason the emperors enjoy great honor and position in the Church, for even if, by God's permission, the nations [primarily the Ottoman Turks] have constricted the authority and domain of the emperor, still to this day the emperor possesses the same charge from the church and the same rank and the same prayers [from the church]. The basileus [note: the Greek term for emperor] is anointed with the great myrrh and is appointed basileus and autokrator of the Romans, and indeed of all Christians. Everywhere the name of the emperor is commemorated by all patriarchs and metropolitans and bishops wherever men are called Christians, [a thing] which no other ruler or governor ever received. Indeed he enjoys such great authority over all that even the Latins themselves, who are not in communion with our church, render him the same honor and submission which they did in the old days when they were united with us. So much more do Orthodox Christians owe such recognition to him....

Therefore, my son, you are wrong to affirm that we have the church without an Emperors for it is impossible for Christians to have a church and no empire. The Baslleia [empire] and the church have a great unity and community - indeed they cannot be separated. Christians can repudiate only emperors who are heretics who attack the church, or who introduce doctrines irreconcilable with the teachings of the Apostles and the Fathers. But our very great and holy autokrator, by the grace of God, is most orthodox and faithful, a champion of' the church, its defender and avenger, so that it is impossible for bishops not to mention his name in the liturgy. Of whom, then, do the Fathers, councils, and canons speak? Always and everywhere they speak loudly of' the one rightful basileus, whose laws, decrees, and charters are in force throughout the world and who alone, only he, is mentioned in all places by Christians in the liturgy.


Letter of' Patriarch Anthony, from F. Miklosich and I. Mueller, eds., Acta et Diplomata Graeca Medii Aev)I [Vienna, 18621, vol. 2, pp. 190-91., trans in Deno Geanakoplos, ed. Byzantium: Church Society, and Civilization Seen through Contemporary Eyes, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984) [This is copyright text, but this is the only copyright extract in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook from this volume, and is used here under fair use criteria.]

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

Paul Halsall Mar 1996
[email protected]

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