Barbara Zeitler

title.none: Angold, Church and Society in Byzantium (Zeitler)

identifier.other: baj9928.9706.010 97.06.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Barbara Zeitler , Art History, UCLA,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Angold, Michael. Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 1081-1261. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Pp. xvi, 604. $89.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-26432-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.06.10

Angold, Michael. Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 1081-1261. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Pp. xvi, 604. $89.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-26432-4.

Reviewed by:

Barbara Zeitler
Art History, UCLA

The subject of Michael Angold's book is the relationship between church and society in Byzantium from the late eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. Angold focuses on the period of the Komnenian dynasty, but continues his account into the period of the Latin Empire (1204-61) when the Byzantine emperor and patriarch were exiled in Nicaea. The inclusion of the thirteenth century, as Angold points out, is dictated by the nature of the source material. At the same time, the discussion of the thirteenth century can also be seen to emphasise that the establishment of Latin rule over Constantinople, however disruptive, did not represent a complete caesura for Byzantine society.

Incorporating research of the last few decades, Angold sets out to provide a new synthesis of the Byzantine church during the Komnenian period. From the end of the eleventh century, the control exercised by the church over all levels of society increased. This increase in social control by the church was inextricably bound up with the relationship of the church with the Byzantine emperor. This relationship was redefined under the Komnenians. At the heart of Angold's study is a paradox: in the wake of the challenges posed to imperial authority in the eleventh century, during the twelfth century the church assumed much greater responsibility for society. At the same time, however, the church was also subjected more closely under imperial control. This left the church of the period "politically weaker, but institutionally stronger" (p.7).

Writing a history of the Byzantine church in the twelfth century is facilitated by a wealth of documentation. Typika (monastic foundation charters), which survive in considerable numbers from the Komnenian period, provide invaluable insights into monastic life at the time. The development of Byzantine canon law in the twelfth century is also well known thanks to the commentaries of Theodore Balsamon on the canons of the church. Trials for heresy which took place under the Komnenians are also well documented, and there are numerous literary survivals, including letters, from the period. The wealth of source material in the twelfth century is in stark contrast to the period between ninth and the mid- eleventh centuries, even though our knowledge of the Byzantine church in this period has recently been expanded in a stimulating study by Rosemary Morris, entitled Monks and Laymen in Byzantium, 843-1118 (Cambridge, 1995), which in many ways complements the study under discussion here.

Michael Angold draws on these diverse sources to write a lengthy and fastidiously documented account of relations between the church, the emperor and Byzantine society at large. Similar to H.-G. Beck in Das byzantinische Jahrtausend (Munich, 1978), Angold challenges the widely held view that orthodoxy exerted an iron grip on Byzantine society (pp. 2-3). This is indeed a welcome corrective to the notion that orthodoxy was the raison d'etre of Byzantium. But whilst the view that Byzantine society was deeply imbued with orthodoxy smacks of either a deep romanticism or enlightenment rationalism that sees the Byzantine Empire as a medieval version of a totalitarian state, the notion that, in Byzantium, church and society were essentially distinct entities is similarly not without its problems. As Angold himself states in the introduction to his book, an historian's investigation of the relationship between church and society in Byzantium is beset by a fundamental methodological problem, namely, that the Byzantines did not have a word for society. It is certainly true that writers in the Komnenian period had an awareness of social change and wrote about different social groups (p. 6), but whether that justifies the adoption of an antithetical view that insists on a rigid distinction between church and society is another matter. Is the absence of the word "society" in Byzantine Greek not in itself significant?

Angold's study is divided into six parts. The turmoil of the eleventh century is outlined in a short first chapter. During the eleventh century a series of strong patriarchs sought to dominate the political process within the Byzantine Empire. As a result, the balance of power shifted from the emperor to the church. This chapter sets the stage for Angold's detailed exploration of the Byzantine church during the Komnenian period. Alexios I Komnenos, who came to power in a coup in 1081, set about reversing the balance of power in favour of the emperor.

The attempts by Alexios (1081-1118) and subsequent Komnenian emperors to re-establish imperial control over Byzantine society and the church are the subject of part II of the book, entitled "Emperors and Patriarchs." This is a solidly written account of the way in which Alexios, in partnership with Patriarch Nicholas III Grammatikos, achieved a church settlement. This settlement, which Angold characterises as "Caesaropapist" (p. 49, 102), enabled the Komnenian dynasty to establish its ascendancy over the church. An example of Komnenian Caesaropapism is the close involvement of the emperor in the patriarchal administration. It became the emperor's prerogative to appoint the "chartophylax." This was a highly influential office as the "chartophylax" was not only the archivist and registrar of the Great Church, but also the patriarch's deputy. The emperor's prerogative to appoint the holder of such an influential post institutionalised the close imperial supervision of the patriarchy. During his reign Alexios also initiated a reform of "kharistike", a system of monastic lay patronage, which enabled lay patrons to benefit substantially from the income of a monastery, often to its detriment. This reform enabled Alexios to pose as the guardian and defender of the church. Alexios' control over the church is also exemplified by the trial of John Italos for heresy in 1082. John Italos was condemned on the first Sunday of Lent. It was on this day that the victory over iconoclasm in 843 was celebrated. To commemorate this event, it was customary to read out the "synodikon" of Orthodoxy, a statement of faith anathematising heresies. With the trial of John Italos this celebration took on an entirely new significance, being transformed from a commemoration of the iconophile victory into an authoritative statement of orthodoxy (pp. 50-4).

It was not until the reign of Alexios' grandson Manuel (1143- 80) that the relationship between church and emperor was theorised. Theodore Balsamon, perhaps the best-known holder of the office of "chartophylax" and an eminent canon lawyer, ascribed the epithet "epistemonarkhes", disciplinarian of the church, to the emperor (pp. 101-3). During the early part of his reign, however, Manuel did little justice to this title because he was much less successful at impressing his mark on the Byzantine church than his grandfather. During the first two decades of his reign, Manuel's relations with the church were stormy, a state of affairs that was not helped by the theological disputes dividing the clergy of St. Sophia at the time. At last, in 1166, Manuel succeeded in asserting his control over the ecclesiastical hierarchy by calling a church council. An imperial edict was issued threatening severe punishment for non-compliance with decisions taken at the council. Manuel further expressed his ascendancy over the church by imposing an oath of allegiance to the emperor upon the higher clergy in 1171. The crisis of succession after Manuel's death spelt the failure of the Komnenian church settlement. None of his successors managed to stamp their control on the Byzantine church. More seriously, the church had been forced into a role of political passivity at the time of the Latin conquest and failed to provide decisive leadership at a time of great turmoil.

Part III of the book takes us away from the dealings of emperors and patriarchs in Constantinople to the Byzantine provinces and away from an historical narrative spanning the end of the eleventh century to the events of 1204 to case studies of eight Byzantine bishops. This is perhaps the most stimulating section of Angold's book. He uses the writings of Theophylact of Ohrid, Michael Italikos, George Tornikes, Eustathios of Thessaloniki, Michael Choniates, John Apokaukos, George Bardanes and Demetrios Chomatianos to create a vivid picture of the duties of a Byzantine bishop and his dealings in his diocese. This section is particularly illuminating because Angold meticulously charts a Byzantine bishop's relationship with his flock, a relationship that, not infrequently, was of a conflictual nature. It is one of the merits of this book that, wherever possible, Angold highlights the differences between the Byzantine and the Latin churches. In contrast to western Europe, for instance, the ecclesiastical organisation of the Byzantine Empire is not well known. In the absence of other documentation, the writings of the Byzantine bishops discussed in this section provides vital information for the history of the Byzantine church.

The correspondence of Theophyact of Ohrid, archbishop of Bulgaria from the late 1080s to 1125, shows an astute politician who worked hard at defending the interests of his church against the aspirations of the local ruler and the demands of the imperial fisc, but who also had to assert his authority of his suffragan bishops. Theophylact emerges as someone who was diligent in carrying out his pastoral duties and who, in contrast to some scholars' views, was respectful of his Bulgarian flock. Theophylact was to be remembered for a long time as a greatly influential bishop, not least, as Angold points out, because some of his successors were less successful than he at leaving their mark on local society. Other bishops found their tenure of a bishopric considerably more difficult. Michael Italikos, archbishop of Philippopolis, best known for his skilful dealings with the armies of Emperor Conrad III (not II as stated in the book) who passed through his city in the summer of 1147, resigned his see. George Tornikes was elected bishop of Ephesos in 1155, but his tenure of this office was cut short by his premature death, it seems, about at year later. His letters highlight the difficulties a bishop, who had spent many years in Constantinople, encountered on arriving in a provincial diocese. The problems of George Tornikes, however, were nothing compared to those experienced by Eustathios, who was archbishop of Thessaloniki from the late 1170s to c. 1195/6 and who left a detailed account of the sack of his city by the Normans in 1185. Of all the bishops included in Angold's study, Eustathios emerges as the one least successful in establishing harmonious relations with his flock. His rigid views on marriage, his disapproval of the local Jewish community and his lack of enthusiasm for a provincial see did not endear him to the inhabitants of Thessaloniki. Relations with the local monastic communities were especially bad. His troubled relationship with the inhabitants of his diocese culminated in his temporary expulsion from Thessaloniki, probably in 1191. Bishop Eustathios is a good example of a senior cleric, who, having been trained in Constantinople, found himself isolated in and alienated by the Byzantine provinces. The example of Eustathios, perhaps more so than any of the other bishops discussed by Angold, shows how the Constantinopolitan training of senior clergy fostered an "esprit de corps" which was often at odds with the reality of life in the Byzantine provinces. The career of Michael Choniates, bishop of Athens from 1182 and exiled in 1204, brings us to the period of Latin rule over Constantinople and the western parts of what remained of the Byzantine Empire at the beginning of the thirteenth century. He was more successful at forging links with the local community than Eustathios, who had been his teacher. This is particularly true of the monasteries in his diocese. After the establishment of Latin rule of Greece, Choniates was able to maintain the fabric of his church, presiding over his flock from his exile in Keos. Another key figure in the history of Greece in the thirteenth century is John Apokaukos, bishop of Naupaktos in Epiros from c. 1200 to c. 1220. Epiros having escaped from Latin domination, John Apokaukos was able to continue his work undisturbed. He became a keen advocate for the independence of the Epirote church from the patriarch in Nicaea. His letters are a unique survival from Byzantium because they chronicle the day-to-day running of the Byzantine church in the provinces. His correspondence also shows Apokaukos, like Eustathius, as someone to whom Constantinople was the epitome of an ideal order. George Bardanes, bishop of Corfu from 1219, was Apokaukos' protege. The documentation from Corfu dating from the time of Bardanes' tenure of the bishopric provides important insights into the circumstances that governed the relationship between a Byzantine bishop and the population of his diocese. Fiscal privileges were a central factor in this relationship, often arousing the envy of local landholders and the disapproval of the local clergy (p. 237). Demetrios Chomatianos, archbishop of Bulgaria from 1217 to 1235, concludes the series of episcopal biographies in Angold's book. The most important part of his literary oeuvre is a series of legal works which provide much evidence for the relationship between the secular and ecclesiastical courts in Byzantium. The writings of Demetrios Chomatianos reveal much about the relationship between church and society at the time. In particular, they highlight the difficulties a leading church man encountered when negotiating between different interests. Chomatianos, for instance, frequently had to deal with property disputes, an area in which the Byzantine church and lay society came in contact and often collided with one another. He was keen to protect the integrity and interests of the clergy, but, at the same time, the expansion of the church's legal competence rendered this difficult as the ecclesiastical hierarchy was brought into sustained contact with lay society.

Part IV of Angold's study explores the role of monasteries in Byzantine society during the Komnenian period. There can be little doubt that one of the main achievements of the Komnenian dynasty was the revival of monasticism. The Komnenians' interest in monasticism was in no small measure due their dependence on political support from monasteries and their leaders. Angold has written a thorough and illuminating account of Byzantine monasticism in the twelfth century, even though the interest in this section is at times diminished by frequent repetitions of evidence and events discussed in part II of the book, an example being the reform of "kharistike." The coenobitic monasteries of the Byzantine capital, in particular the monasteries of St. John of Studios and the Theotokos Evergetis, played a key role in this renewal. In contrast to the Constantinopolitan monasteries, other monastic centres, a prominent example being Mount Athos, diminished in importance because the Komnenians had little interest in non-coenobitic forms of monasticism. Patronage of monasteries became central to the endeavour of the Komnenian dynasty to exert influence over Byzantine society. Here, the discussion of patronage might have benefited from a more detailed consideration of Komnenian monasteries, focusing in particular on visual evidence. Short shrift is given, for instance, to the monastic patronage of John II Komnenos. Perhaps this is so because John Komnenos in the book is seen to be less important to an understanding of the relationship between the emperor and the church than his father or son. At the same time, however, the activities of John Komnenos and his wife Irene as the founders of the Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople are well documented and accompanied by substantial artistic and architectural survivals. Alongside monasteries, a considerable number of nunneries was founded or revived under the Komnenians, reflecting the concerns of female members of the dynasty. Monastic patronage, however, was not the prerogative of the aristocracy or the episcopate; it was seen as a form of investment that attracted people from other echelons of society as well. The nature of this investment was not necessarily permanent. Often, the lifespan of some Byzantine monasteries, which, as major landholders played an important social role, was barely longer than that of their founders. One particularly illuminating passage in this section is Angold's discussion of the monastery of St. John the Theologian at Patmos, one of the largest monasteries in the Byzantine Empire. As Angold points out, this monastery has the most complete records of any monastery from the Komnenian period. Among the documents surviving from this monastery is a catalogue of its library dating to about 1200. This catalogue provides important insights into the manuscript holdings of a Byzantine monastery, showing that the monks at Patmos were able to benefit from a well stocked library. Also of interest in this section of Angold's study is his comparison of western and eastern monasticism, the former playing a far more important role in education than the latter.

Part V of the book, entitled Religion and Society, is concerned with what might be described as popular religion. This section examines manifestations of lay piety and presents a case for Byzantine society having been very homogeneous in its practice of and attitude towards religion. Angold, for instance, argues that -- pace H.-G. Beck's Die Byzantiner und ihr Jenseits. Zur Entstehungsgeschichte einer Mentalitaet (Munich, 1979) -- popular beliefs about death were not entirely divorced from those held by the educated clergy. Particularly interesting in this part is the chapter dealing with popular beliefs and customs (Chapter 22). Attempts by church authorities to clamp down on such practices, for instance the semi-pagan feasts of Agatha and Rosalia, are indicative of the Byzantine church exercising far greater control over lay society than in earlier periods. Alongside popular festivals, sayings also provide insights into popular religion. These, as Angold shows, suggest that the Byzantines were thoroughly acquainted with Christianity, albeit with a very basic kind of Christianity (p. 462). Angold's discussion of these manifestations of popular beliefs provides a starting point for further research into a much understudied subject in Byzantine studies. Here, too, a consideration of visual evidence, an example being amulets, is bound to yield important insights. Also discussed in this section of the book is the increasing control of the church over marriage legislation, as is the role of women in Byzantium under the Komnenians, alas only in a short chapter. This part further contains a discussion of Bogomilism, the last dualist heresy to raise its head in Byzantium. The trial and execution of Basil the Bogomil under Alexios can be seen to exemplify the tendencies under the Komnenians to clamp down on dissent.

The book concludes with an examination of Byzantine exile at Nicaea, focusing in particular on the attitudes of the Byzantines towards the Latins in the run-up to the Sack of Constantinople in 1204 and the relationship between the Byzantine emperor and the Orthodox elite in exile. In this final chapter the thirteenth century is used as a vantage point from which to assess the history of the Byzantine church in the preceding century.

Angold's book is a thorough, if at times slightly dry account of the church and religion during the Komnenian period. Visually, the effect of the book is marred by odd placement of accents, which results in an irregular typography. Occasional typographical errors occur in the footnotes, especially in references to publications in German. Also a bone of contention is the author's decision to transliterate Greek names into Latin, whilst at the same time leaving many Greek specialist terms unexplained. This unfortunately undercuts the author's declared intention to make Byzantium an integral part of medieval studies. Angold, however, is to be congratulated on tackling a vast and complex subject.