Rise of the Frankish Empire

Important Differences
Eastern Church Western Church
Part of Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire Roman church speaks Latin
Bible and liturgy tend to be in indigenous languages Bible and liturgy are read in Latin
Local autonomy in church affairs Local clergy is subject to the pope in Rome
Not involved in functioning politics and focuses instead on theological concerns Heavily involved in politics

There were important cultural differences between the eastern and western churches. The Byzantine Empire was Greek-speaking, while the Church in Rome spoke Latin. Missionaries from the Eastern Church tended to translate the Bible and the liturgy into indigenous languages. They also encouraged locals to enter the clergy and nurtured local autonomy in the running of church affairs. Missionaries from the Western Church commonly required that converts use a Latin Bible and liturgy, mandated the local clergy's hierarchical subjugation to the pope, and required the clergy to be celibate.

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.

Islam expansion following Muhammad's death Source: Public Domain

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.

Study Questions:
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?

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