Missions and Expansion
Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka
Moreover, the Eastern Church was geographically and politically close to the Emperor in Constantinople, while the Church in Rome was often the sole source of political authority and stability in the political chaos of the former Western empire. As a result, the Western Church became distinctive for its focus on practical, administrative matters and on providing stability and order, including an emphasis on the pope as the single and supreme authority. Thus, the Western Church was heavily involved in the politics and power of governance. In contrast, the Eastern Church's reliance on functioning imperial powers enabled them to focus on theological speculation and to insist upon church autonomy from secular rulers.
Both the Eastern and Western churches were powerfully affected by the spread of Islam. During the first century following the death of Muhammad in 632, Islam spread rapidly west, conquering some of the important patriarchates of the Eastern Church, including Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. At the same time, Muslim armies spread across North Africa, eventually conquering Spain. The Muslim conquest of Christian land was finally broken when, in 732, the Frankish King Charles Martel turned back the vast Muslim army at Tours in France.
The Eastern and Western churches alternately cooperated and competed, whether in the mission field or in ecclesiastical and political matters. Ultimately, the geographical, cultural, and political distances between them proved too great to sustain Christian unity, and in the Middle Ages, the Church experienced two profound and to-date irreversible schisms.
1. How was the Church divided after Emperor Theodosius I?
2. Why was the monastic order crucial to the spread of Christianity?
3. How did the mission efforts of the Eastern and Western Church differ?
4. What religious tradition was a powerful competition to the spread of Christianity? Why?