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Byzantine Imperial Excommunication or About the Boldness of a Patriarch. Case Study: Michael VIII Palaiologos (2014-2015)

Field of study: Theology

In the Byzantine society, profoundly religious as it was, one could hardly imagine that the emperor or a member of the imperial family could become subject to excommunication. Firstly, the status of God’s chosen, promoted by the Byzantine imperial ideology, was totally incompatible with the severe transgressions one had to commit in order to be liable for ecclesiastical censure, even only for a temporary one. Secondly, any bishop who would dare to forbid an emperor’s access to the Church would obviously risk opening a conflict with very little chance of success. The practice of excommunication was mentioned by the Church in several penitential canons and enforced, in some exceptional cases, even on the Byzantine emperors (Theodosius I, Leo VI, Nikephoros II Phokas, and John I Tzimiskes). Thus, the conflict between Arsenios and Michael VIII should not be construed solely as a Western influence, but rather merely as one of the recurring disputes between the representatives of the State and the Church that took place throughout the Byzantine history.

Keywords: excommunication, Byzantium, State vs. Church, emperor vs. patriarch

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