32.THE CHURCH IN THE THIRD
CHRISTIAN MILLENNIUM

 

The Church of the First Millennium appears to have been very different in character from many of the churches at the end of the Second Millennium. What still survives from the first millennium is the remarkable writings of saints, of genuinely holy men which formed a forgotten 'second testament' of a Church that was then spilling over the boundaries of its original world and facing a confusion of different cultures, a great resource of Christian thought forgotten by the reformed churches in their excitement at their 'new age.'

The Philokalia in its various editions, Greek and Russian, is a compendium of those works. The Triads of Saint Gregory Palamas give many further clues to the significance of what was for so long lost to us. Saint Gregory was the successor and summation of the saints of the First Millennium, who themselves sometimes described their thought not as doctrine but as philosophy. The philosophical work with which they sometimes supported their spirituality was rigorous, coherent, and formed a consensus, and their philosophy was understood as one of the cornerstones of their sanctity.

Who were these saints? They were some of those we read about when we read about the early church: Clement and Maximos, several Basils and at least a trio of Gregorys. We can place them roughly in space and time. Firstly, they were widespread throughout the Greek Oikumene, the wider Greek world, which was roughly defined by Greek colonies to the West, and by the wide circle of Alexander's conquests to the East. They were both urban and rural, both monks and clergy - often senior bishops - but these were not separate groups so much as separate phases in the lives of the same individuals. Scholars would become practising monks, then teaching bishops. Few of us today have met anybody who could ever be imagined to be a saints, but in that time of saints, both monks and bishops became saints, in objective fact as well as according to their immediate followers. Generally, they shaped the thinking and morality of their age, and as such even their failures were often significant. Palamas makes it clear that their community was defined in its beginning in time not just by the Incarnation, but later - in the first centuries of their age - by the fact that, using Saint Paul's definitions, they distinguished in practice as well as in theory between two kinds of thinking, which they called 'the Philosophy of the World' and the 'Philosophy of God.'