Chapter 27 - JUSTINIAN (AD 527-565)

It would be wearisome to follow very particularly the history of the Church in the East for the next century and a half after the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451).

The most important reign during this time was that of the Emperor Justinian, which lasted eight-and-thirty years, from 527 to 565. Under him the Vandals were conquered in Africa, and the Goths in Italy. Both these countries became once more parts of the empire, and Arianism was put down in both.

Justinian also, in the year 529, put an end to the old heathen philosophy, by ordering that the schools of Athens, in which St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzum, and the emperor Julian had studied together two hundred years before (p 68), should be shut up. The philosophers, who had continued to teach their heathen notions there (although they had been obliged to treat the religion of the empire with outward respect), were in great distress at finding their trade taken away from them. They thought it unsafe to remain in Justinian's dominions, and made their way into Persia, where the king was a heathen, and was said to be a friend of learned men. The king received them kindly; but the Persian heathenism was very different from their own, and the ways of the country were altogether strange to them; so that they felt themselves very uncomfortable in Persia, and became so home-sick as to be willing to risk even their lives for the sake of getting back to their own country. Happily for them, the Persian king was able to intercede for them in making a peace with Justinian, and it was agreed that they might live within the empire as they liked, without being troubled by the laws, if they would only remain quiet, and not try to draw Christian youths away from the faith. The philosophers were too glad to return on such terms. I wish I could tell that they became Christians themselves: but all that is said of them is, that when they died, there were no more of the kind, and that heathen philosophy no longer stood in the way of the Gospel.

Justinian spent vast sums of money on buildings, especially on churches; but it is said that much of what he spent in this way had been got by oppressive taxes and by other bad means, so that we cannot think much the better of him for it. The grandest of all his buildings was the cathedral of Constantinople. The church had been founded by Constantine the Great, but was once burnt down after the banishment of St. Chrysostom, and a second time in this reign. Justinian rebuilt it at a vast expense, and, as he cast his eyes around it on the day of the consecration, after expressing his thankfulness to God for having been allowed to accomplish so great a work, he gave vent to the pride of his heart in the words: "I have beaten thee, O Solomon!" The cathedral was afterwards partly destroyed by an earthquake, but Justinian again restored it, and caused it to be once more consecrated, about two years before his death. We learn from one of his laws that this church had sixty priests, a hundred deacons, forty deaconesses, ninety subdeacons, a hundred and ten readers, five-and-twenty singers, and a hundred doorkeepers. And (which we should perhaps not have expected to hear) the law was made for the purpose of preventing the number of clergy connected with the cathedral from increasing beyond this, lest it should not have wealth enough to maintain a greater number! This great building is still standing (although it is now in the hands of the Mahometan Turks); and it is regarded as one of the wonders of the world. It was dedicated to the Eternal Wisdom, and is now commonly known by the name of St. Sophia ("sophia" being the Greek word for "wisdom").