Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The year was 399. We remember Pulcheria, the silent star of the 5th century. The reading is from George Herbert, “The Hold Fast.”

It is the 19th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 399.

Today we will turn our attention to the Byzantine Empire. Except, in 399, it wasn't called the Byzantine empire. It was the Eastern Roman Empire. Let's break it down.

In the early 300s, the big famous Emperor Constantine moved the Roman Empire's capital to the ancient Greek city of Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople. After Constantine, it becomes the Eastern Roman Empire's capital while Rome would once again become the capital, but now only of the Western part of the Empire. So we have two emperors and two Popes except the Eastern "Pope" is called the "Patriarch."

A lot of the noise in the latter end of the Empire was coming from the East, whether it was attacked by the Huns, developing a codified legal system, or establishing an early University at Constantinople. On top of all of this, two fellows will cause some Christological trouble in the East. We call them: Nestorius and Eutyches.

Throughout all of this, spanning the first 50 years of the new century, Theodosius the Younger was the Emperor in the Eastern Empire. He usually gets most of the credit for navigating these tumultuous times. And indeed, he deserves some, but today we remember someone arguably more important and consequential than Theodosius, his older sister. Theodosius was born in 401, but on the 19th of January in 399, Pulcheria, the silent star of the 5th century, was born.

Pulcheria was the oldest of 4 children by Emperor Arcadia, while Theodosius was the youngest. As the only male, it was expected that he would be named Augustus after his father died. And he was. But he seemed less than overwhelming in stature, especially as compared with his older sister. Historian Edward Gibbon wrote that "she alone… appears to have inherited [Her father's] manly spirit and abilities".

After Arcadia's death, Pulcheria took over her younger brother's education and was named "Augusta" in 414. But any woman found with such authority would have to wield it despite being a woman. Pulcheria seems to have wielded her authority on account of being a woman. She took a vow of virginity a la the most esteemed woman in Christian history and instructed her brother in piety and doctrine.

Pulcheria chose Theodosius's wife for him, but when his new bride turned out to favor the Nestorians, Pulcheria had her exiled. She had her brother convene the council at Ephesus in 431. Another council had been convened that accepted the Nestorian doctrine of two distinct persons, one human, and one divine, in the person of Christ. And Nestorius himself had some pull. He was the Patriarch of Constantinople. But Pulcheria sided with Cyril of Alexandria, and the new council of Ephesus would prevail in condemning Nestorius.

But one guy at that council wanted to go farther. The Archimandrite Eutyches taught that there were not two distinct persons in Jesus, there was only one person, and it was divine.

Theodosius would soon die, but Pulcheria held on to power by marrying Marcian, a wealthy old patrician, despite her vow of perpetual virginity. In 451, Pulcheria called another council to deal with the Eutychian controversy (also called the Monophysite controversy). Upon arriving at the council, Pulcheria was lauded by the bishops as the "protector of the faith," "the exterminator of heresies," and the "new St. Helena." The Council at Chalcedon would become perhaps the most consequential for the doctrine of Christology. Fun fact, many if not most history books will refer to the council at Ephesus as being called by Theodosius II and the council at Chalcedon being called by Marcian. The 5th century knew better, and so do we. Today we remember the woman who made it happen, Pulcheria, on the 19th of January, the day she was born in 399.

The last word for today comes from George Herbert. This is his "The Hold Fast"

I threaten'd to observe the strict decree
Of my dear God with all my power and might;
But I was told by one it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
"Then will I trust," said I, "in Him alone."
"Nay, e'en to trust in Him was also His:
We must confess that nothing is our own."
"Then I confess that He my succour is."
"But to have nought is ours, not to confess
That we have nought." I stood amaz'd at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend express
That all things were more ours by being His;
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man once lauded as the "protector of the faith," "the exterminator of heresies," and the "new St. Helena," Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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