Book Reviews
The Byzantine Theocracy: The Weil
Lectures, Cincinatti
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Steven Runciman, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Mark Merlino - Home page

In his book "The Byzantine Theocracy" is an excellent survey of the relationship between Emperors and the Church
hierarchy throughout Byzantium's 1,100 year old history. This book is in fact a collection of six separate lectures
given by Runciman given at the Weil Institute in Cincinnati. The six chapters in the book chronologically map the
evolution of Byzantine political thought, from the Constantine I and the era of Christological controversies, through
the Iconoclastic controversy, Schism with the West, and the Byzantine Empire's decline and eventual collapse in
1453.

Runciman's main argument is that an unwritten Byzantine constitution, formulated by the fourth century Bishop
Eusebius, regarded the Emperor as God's Viceroy on earth. Runciman's view is that throughout the Empire's history,
Byzantines following this understanding of divine kingship jealously struggled to maintain the dignity of the Imperial
office in the face of abuse, incompetence and challenges from ecclesiastical authorities.

"The Byzantine Theocracy" is also a rather pleasant history of Church history from the 4th through 15th century,
demonstrating many of Byzantium's splendid contributions to Christian history. Byzantine emperors were very much
involved in virtually all of the ecumenical councils that took place during this era. As well, the complicated history of
the relationship between the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Pope and the other eastern Patriarchs is
intertwined with Byzantine political history.

This is a fascinating book and an essential read for anyone interested in Byzantine history, Church history, applied
politics or anyone curious how a state that lasted more than a millennium governed itself.
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