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John Meyendorff 

Theology in the Thirteenth Century: Methodological Contrasts* 

From: The 17th lnternational Byzantine Congress: Μajor Papers, ed. A.D. Caratzas, New Rochelle, Ν.Y. 1986. Reprinted by permission.

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1. The West: Universities and Religious Orders    

2. Theological Encounters

3. Monastic theology     

4. Notes

The sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 and the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe in 1237-1240 were catastrophic events which challenged the very existence of Eastern Christendom as a social and cultural entity. It survived, nevertheless, with a remarkable commitment to theological continuity. The same thirteenth century saw the emergence, in the Latin West, of a new and dynamic framework for intellectual creativity the universities and the religious orders, which changed radically the way in which Christian theology was "made".  

In the context of the period, the term "theology" itself demands a definition. In Byzantine society -as well as in the Western, early medieval world- theological concepts, convictions and beliefs were present in practically all aspects of social, or individual life. They were not only used at episcopal synods, or polemical debates between representatives of divided churches, or enshrined in treatises, sermons, anthologies and patristic collections. They were heard or sung, on a daily basis, even by the illiterate, in the hymnology of the church. They were unavoidable in political matters, based on a religious view of Kingship. Τo limit ourselves to the thirteenth century, it is sufficient to recall the debate on the use of Holy Chrism (μύρον) in the anointment of emperors, and, therefore, on the nature and significance of the chrism itself, as discussed by Demetrios Chomatianos in connection with the coronation of Theodore Lascaris in Nicea (1208)(1). Theological presuppositions were also involved in economic and social realities, as shown, for example, in the Church's attitude towards usury, or in requirements connected with marriage, or the religious basis of regulating church property, or the theological rationale which determined forms of art and iconography.

It is therefore very difficult to give a really strict and clearly limited definition of "theology" in a Byzantine or early medieval Western context. However, precisely in the thirteenth century, an institutional, social and conceptual bifurcation establishes itself between the Latin West and the Greek (and Slavic) East. The first part of my paper will point to that new contrast. The following two parts will briefly discuss the theological confrontation between East and West in the thirteenth century, and the new emergence of a "monastic" theology in the Byzantine world.