A Christian Survey of World History

Early Church – Byzantium, II


*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:02 “In summer,” this is from a contemporary account now. “In summer, when attacked, they have to disappear like frogs into the water, or into the woods. In winter, they had to take refuge behind the shelter of their numerous stockades. They dive under water and, lying on their backs on the bottom, they breathe through a long reed and thus escape destruction. For the inexperienced take these projecting reeds for natural. But the experienced recognize them by their cut. And pierce the body through with them, or pull them out, so that the diver must come to the surface if he will not be stifled.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:45 “It was this people,” now going on, “of such unpromising origin who multiplied into the mighty millions of Slavic peoples covering Eastern and South-Eastern Europe today. Their expansion is exactly parallel to the German expansion southward from the shores of the Baltic. But whereas Germanic migration was eruptive like a volcano, the Slavonic was a gradual percolation like that of a flood rolling slowly forward.

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:19 “From their very nature and experience the Slavs could not expand by conquest, but they moved noiselessly into unclaimed territory or areas vacated by the emigration of Germans. To the north-east of their original homelands stretched the empty regions of Russia. To the north the valleys of the upper Neman and the [Dvina 00:01:42]. To the north-west the valleys of the Vistula and the old, now abandoned, German homeland of the Oder, extending west to the Elbe and the [Saone 00:01:52]. To the south-west, the northern slopes of the Carpathians, and the abandoned homeland of the Marcomanni and the Quadi, modern Czechoslovakia. To the south, the Steppes of southern Russia, for a while the home of the Ostrogoths but now filled by a regular succession of Mongolian nomads from Asia.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 02:14 And if that wasn’t bad enough, then the next pressure both on these peoples and on Byzantium was Attila the Hun. Just a few accounts of their character from the period, because it gives us something of the flavor of history when we get the words of the men of the day, telling us what they were like. Yes, now the Huns under Attila.

R.J. Rushdoony: 03:28 “They subdued the [Alans 00:03:30] also, wearing out by constant warfare a race which was equal to them in war, but unlike them in civilization, mode of life, and appearance. Those men whom they, perhaps in no wise surpassed in war, they put to flight by the terror of their looks, inspiring them with no little horror by their awful aspect, and by their horribly swarthy appearance. They have a sort of shapeless lump, if I may say so, not a face, and pinholes rather than eyes.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:01 ” Their wild appearance gives evidence of the hardihood of their spirits, for they are cruel, even to their children. On the first day they are born they cut the cheeks of the males with a sword so that before they receive the nourishment of milk they are compelled to learn to endure a wound. They grow up bold without beards, and the youths are without good looks because a face furrowed by a sword spoils by its scars the natural grace of a beard.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:34 “Somewhat short in stature they are trained to quick bodily movement, and are very alert in horsemanship and ready with bow and arrow. They have broad shoulders, and thick-set necks, and are always erect and proud. These men, in short, live in the form of humans but with a savagery of beasts.” These men are an embassy from Byzantium to Attila. “At the village, food was supplied to us generously, millet instead of wheat and meat, as it is called in the native tongue, instead of wine. The attendants following us were also supplied with millet, and a drink made of barley was provided.

R.J. Rushdoony: 05:27 “Having completed a long journey, late in the afternoon we camped by a certain lake, which had fresh water, and once the inhabitants of the nearby village drew their water a wind and a storm arose in a sudden, accompanied by thunder and frequent lightning flashes, and a heavy downpour of rain; and not only overturned our tent, but also rolled all our gear into the water of the lake.

R.J. Rushdoony: 05:51 “Terrified by the tumult, which ruled the water, and by what had happened, we left the place and were separated from one another, and as in the dark and in the rain each of us took whatever road he thought would be easy for himself. When we came to the huts of the village, where we returned to it all by different routes, we met in the same place and searched, shouting for the things we needed.

R.J. Rushdoony: 06:13 “The Scythians, who were ruled by the Huns and were under them, leaped out at the tumult and lit the reeds which they used for fire, and having made a light they asked why we raised such an outcry? The barbarians with us answered that we had been thrown into confusion by the storm. And so they summoned us to their own huts, and burning a great many reeds, furnished us shelter.

R.J. Rushdoony: 06:41 “A woman rules in the village. She had been one of [Blada’s 00:06:46] wives, and she sent us provisions and good-looking women to comfort us. This is a Scythian compliment, but we, when the eatables had been laid out, showed them kindness but refused intercourse with them.” These are Christian men.

R.J. Rushdoony: 07:00 ” We remained in the huts until daylight and then turned to search for our baggage. We found it all, some in the places where we had chanced to halt, some on the bank of the lake, and some in the water itself. We spent that day in the village drying out all our things, for the sun had stopped, and the sun was shining.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 07:22 He then describes their visit with Attila, and then they meet someone from Byzantium who had been taken captive, and now was living amongst the Huns and the Scythians. And they speak to him.

R.J. Rushdoony: 07:47 “Having greeted him in turn, I asked who he was, and from where he had come into this barbaric land and taken up the Scythian life. He in turn asked why I was so eager to know this. I answered that the reason for my curiosity was his Hellenic speech. Then, laughing, he said that he was a Greek by race, and that he had gone for trade to [Limonachium 00:08:09], the city of [Mochi 00:08:11] on the Danube river, and had lived in it for a long time and had married a very rich woman. But when the city came under the barbarians he had been stripped of his prosperity, and on account of the wealth belonging to him had been assigned to [Onegesius 00:08:25] in the distribution of the spoils. For the elite of the Scythians, after Attila, took the captives selected from among the well-to-do because they sold for the most money.

R.J. Rushdoony: 08:36 “He had fought bravely in the latter battles with the Romans and the nations of the [Oceteri 00:08:44], and having given his barbarian master, according to the law of the Scythians, what he had gained for himself in the war, he had obtained his freedom. He had married a barbarian woman and had children. He was a partaker of the table of Onegesius, one of the leaders, and led a better life at present than he had formerly.

R.J. Rushdoony: 09:04 “Among the Scythians, said he, men are accustomed to live at ease after war, each enjoying what he has, causing very little or no trouble, and not being troubled. Among the Romans, however, men are easily destroyed in war, in the first place because they put their hopes of safety in others since, on account of their tyrants, all men are not allowed to use arms.” Sounds quite modern, doesn’t it? This was Rome in Italy that he’s talking about.

R.J. Rushdoony: 09:46 Then perhaps just one more about Attila’s death. The great Hun had not long to live, and a few weeks or months later at the time of his death, as the historian [Priscus 00:09:58] reports, and these are Priscus’ words:

R.J. Rushdoony: 10:01 “Attila took in marriage a very beautiful girl, [Ildico 00:10:04] by name, after numerous other wives according to the custom of his race. Worn out by excessive merriment at his wedding, and sodden with sleep and wine, he lay on his back. In this position, a hemorrhage, which ordinarily would have flowed from his nose, since it was hindered from its accustomed channels, poured down his throat in deadly passage, and killed him.

R.J. Rushdoony: 10:29 “So drunkenness put a shameful end to a king in war. But late on the following day the royal attendants, expecting some misfortune, after loud shouts, broke down the doors. They found Attila dead from the flow of blood, unwounded, and the girl with downcast look, weeping beneath her veil. Then, as is the custom of that race, they cut off parts of their hair and disfigured their faces horribly with deep wounds, so that the distinguished warrior might be bewailed, not with feminine lamentations and tears, but with manly blood.

R.J. Rushdoony: 11:06 “Concerning this event had happened,” … well, I’ll skip over it.

R.J. Rushdoony: 11:12 “Attila was considered fearsome to such a degree by the Empires, that supernatural signs showed his death to rulers by way of boom. In the middle of a plain, in a silk tent, his body was laid out and solemnly displayed to inspire awe. The most select horsemen of the whole Hunnish race rode around him where he had been placed in the fashion of the circus races, uttering his funeral song as follows:

R.J. Rushdoony: 11:41 “‘Chief of the Huns, King Attila, born of Mundiuch his father, lord of the mightiest races, who alone, with power unknown before his time, held the Scythian and German realms and even terrified both empires of the Roman world, captured their cities and, placated by their prayers, took yearly tribute from them to save the rest from being plundered. When he had done all these things through the kindness of fortune, neither by an enemy’s wound nor a friend’s treachery, but with his nation secure, amid his pleasures and in happiness, and without sense of pain, he fell. Who would then consider this a death which no one thinks should be avenged?’

R.J. Rushdoony: 12:23 “After he had been mourned with such a lamentation, they celebrated a [Strava 00:12:29], as they called it, over his tomb with great revelry, coupling opposite extremes of feeling in turn among themselves. They expressed funereal grief mixed with joy, and then secretly by night they buried the body in the ground. They bound his coffins, the first with gold, the second with silver, and the third with iron, showing by such a device that these things suited a most mighty king. Iron because with it he subdued nations, gold and silver because he received the honors of both empires.

R.J. Rushdoony: 13:02 “They added arms of enemies gained in battle, fittings costly in the gleam of their various precious stones, and ornaments of every kind and sort whereby royal state is upheld. In order that human curiosity might be kept away from such great riches, they slaughtered those appointed to the task, a grim payment for their work. So sudden death covered the buryers and the buried.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 13:32 Attila the Hun, when he died, the Hunnic Empire fell apart. And the Huns disintegrated, and they merged with various peoples. The Scythians moved across northern Europe and settled here and there, and some of them finally wound up and settled in Scotland. Very interesting. They’ve left their mark on Scotland in various relics as well as in certain words that have survived to this day.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:06 Now one item more, and again I’m going to read because it’s very interesting. I’m taking a little longer, but we’ve got to cover a great deal of ground tonight; about Byzantium. Now, I have gone into great length in our chapter about the nature of Byzantium, and I’d like to read a few pages of Rene Guerdan’s book, ‘Byzantium: Its Triumphs and Tragedies’. And the title of this chapter, of which I’ll read just a little, is ‘A State With A Gospel For Constitution’.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:46 Now their conception of Christianity was very defective, very wrong at points, but all the same, because they took even their defective version as the constitution, they were able to create the greatest state, the greatest empire, in all history.

R.J. Rushdoony: 15:10 Guerdan writes: “What could be the constitution of a state that had Christ as its sovereign? There could be only one answer: The Gospel. In Byzantium then, it was the Gospel that determined the structure of society and the position of the individual. From this it follows that the Byzantine Empire was essentially a democracy, an authoritarian one doubtless, but a democracy in the sense that the regime was equalitarian first. There were no class or caste prejudices. The highest positions were open to all. Entrance to the administration, the best ladder to success, was wide open to everyone. Advancement in it did not depend upon age or birth but upon merit or ability.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:01 And then he goes on to cite how many ordinary people, stevedores and peasants, became very powerful.

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:12 “In the struggling for life anyone might emerge with wealth and power. The poor and destitute were not forgotten in Byzantium. The town was full of homes for old people, shelters, charitable institutions, cheap boarding houses, and above all, hospitals. The hospital founded in 372 by Bishop [Basil 00:16:32] was the size of a small town. Doctors and priests were there in large numbers. Orphans were taken in and taught a trade; even lepers were not turned away.

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:44 “The community which Alexios Komnenos founded on the Golden Horn consisted of a number of institutions; an orphanage, a home for the blind, and a military hospital. Together they cared for about 7,000 people. All this was charity.

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:04 “The most representative was that of the [Pantokrator 00:17:06], which was organized down to the last detail. Each sick person had a separate room, a bedside rug, a pillow, a mattress, an eiderdown, double thickness in winter, a comb, a chamber pot, sponge, basin, and slop pail. Baths were twice a week. In addition, each person was issued two bath towels, two face towels, two bathrobes, and at Easter a special allowance to buy more soap. The cleanliness of the rooms was ensured by a frequent sweeping out. Every morning inspectors made their rounds, asking about the quality of the food, for example, and listening attentively to complaints.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:49 Now these are charity hospitals.

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:52 “The women were looked after in a separate wing for women, by women doctors. Infectious cases were segregated, and thanks to an ingenious system of heating, enjoyed the most suitable temperature. New doctors were taught by qualified herbalists and a professor. A unique machine, of which everyone was very proud, cleaned the surgical instruments. The community was served by numerous kitchens, a dispensary, a bakery, and a laundry.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 18:23 Now, “To be a failure here below …” that is in this world “… was no shame, for shall not the humblest here on earth be the most exalted in Heaven according to Scriptures? So Byzantium knew nothing of social arrogance.

R.J. Rushdoony: 18:40 “The [Basilias 00:18:40],” or the King, or Emperor, “frequently entertained tramps at his table, and his door was never closed to anyone who wanted to enter. The following two stories illustrate this point. One Sunday after the Emperor, [Theophilus 00:18:55], was leading a solemn procession, a working woman broke through the crowd and flung herself at the bridle of his horse. “This horse belongs to me,” she cried. “Your agents requisitioned it unjustly. Give it back to me.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 19:09 “She was not flung in prison. On the contrary, the King dismounted, handed over the horse, and continued his way on foot. From that time onward, however, the ceremonial was slightly changed. As a precautionary measure, the Emperor was accompanied henceforth by several changes of mount. He didn’t trust his officials.

R.J. Rushdoony: 19:34 “One day at the Circus, two clowns appeared before the Emperor’s box. They had some toy boats and were shouting at one another, “Come on. Try hard. Just swallow this boat.” “It’s no good. I can’t do it.” “Can’t do it? The other day the palace prefect swallowed a huge galley, complete with cargo.” The Emperor smiled and understood. He asked for details, summoned the accused man, confronted him with the plaintiffs, and summoned witnesses. As soon as he was convinced of the official’s guilt, he ordered him to be burnt alive in full uniform. To everyone’s delight this was done immediately in the hippodrome.

R.J. Rushdoony: 20:12 “Moreover, what reason had the Emperors for pride? So many of them were of the lowest origin, for in Byzantium anyone could come Basileus, regardless of rank, fortune, and ancestry. Leo the First had been a butcher. People in Constantinople used to point out to one another the stall where he and his wife used to sell meat. Justin the First was a poor swineherd from the [Veteriana 00:20:37], who first appeared in the capital with bare feet and a pack on his back. One day his nephew, haggard and in rags, also left the family village to join him. His name was Justinian.

R.J. Rushdoony: 20:49 “Phocas was a simple centurion, and Leo the Third, the Isaurian, was an odd job man. The parents of Leo the Fifth lived in the greatest poverty; Michael the Third was a servant; Basil the First, a peasant; Romanos Lekapenos was the lowest in rank of Petty Officers in the navy.

R.J. Rushdoony: 21:07 “All that was necessary for a coronation was to be elected by Senate, army, and people, and this procedure was never changed, even when the course of time the need for a dynastic succession made itself felt. A system was then worked out which made some show of respect to democratic principles. During his own lifetime the Emperor elected his son, thus for 24 years Leo the Third had for a colleague his son, Copronymus, who had been crowned when one year old.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 21:38 Now that Copronymus is the name he carried all his life. I won’t translate it, but I’ll tell you what it meant. When he was being baptized in the church as a baby, he dirtied himself and his mother and the baptismal fount. So for the rest of his life he carried the name that described what he did, Copronymus. Even when he was Emperor he never lived down that name.

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:03 “The Basilissa, that is the Empress, too could be of humble origin, for she was expected to be beautiful. Hence the number of strange creatures who, one after another, wore the purple gown; [inaudible 00:22:20], singers, prostitutes, peasants from the Danube Valley like [inaudible 00:22:25] the cook, and Theodora the bear leader. How many humble workers became father-in-law to the Emperor?”

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:36 And it goes on to describe some of the incidents connected with them. Then this fact: “As all creatures are equal in the sight of God, strict equality between the sexes existed in Byzantium. While a girl doubtless led a rather sheltered life and was not always free to choose her own husband, the married woman shared completely the life of her menfolk. Often indeed, women dominated the family circle. The authority of Anna Dalassene, the mother of Alexios the First, was notorious. At mealtime Diogenes [Acretus 00:23:10] respectfully awaited his mother and gave her the seat of honor, a chair that is, while he was content to recline on a couch.

R.J. Rushdoony: 23:18 “To hold one’s wife in seclusion was unpardonable,” and it goes to describe how any man who beat his wife was very savagely treated. He was a contemptible character. “Very revealing as regards this emancipation of women was the status of the Empress. She was the equal of her husband. She exercised absolute sovereignty, the incarnation of Almighty God, and this quality did not come to her by virtue of her marriage as a reflection, but of her own nature, from a true inner emanation, according to their theory. Ceremony bore this out.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 23:58 And then it goes on to cite examples of this, and perhaps just a little more. “Byzantium’s democracy, however, was not of a secular nature. The Gospel was adopted as the constitution, not from philosophical convictions, but because the City of God was believed to be organized along such lines. For just as the Byzantines wanted their monarchs to be the incarnation of the Son of God, they wanted their state to be the replica of the Kingdom of God. Consequently, their entire political, social, and economic structure was impregnated with divine significance. Divine was their law and order, and anyone who broke it was guilty of sacrilege.

R.J. Rushdoony: 24:54 “A law of Theophilus illustrates this point well. It said in substance, ‘He who assumes a rank which is not his, or lays false claim to an office, or assumes a dignity which is not due to him, may not put forward error as an excuse. Having blasphemed against the Divine Order, he will be punished for the crime of high treason.’ And therefore anyone who offended against this law was very savagely treated.” Well, our time is more than up and we have very little time for questions, but I did want to deal at some length with the Byzantium because today it is very commonly despised, and we are told that it was an empire that was stagnant, and there’s very little about it in the history books. And yet when you consider that here was an empire of tremendous wealth, tremendous power, with a thousand-year history, falling only shortly before Columbus discovered America. And having been founded in the early 300s, eleven hundred years. It would have lasted longer but for the fact of the Crusades. As I point out in the chapter, the Crusaders were the ones who destroyed it.

R.J. Rushdoony: 26:27 It had many faults. It’s theology was very, very bad at many points. They saw the Emperor as a kind of new incarnation of Christ, very, very faulty. Terrible. Heretical. But the fact that, to a degree, they did make it the Kingdom of God on Earth, and the Law of God to be the law of the state, gave them a stability and a power that no other nation in all of history has had. And yet where is it in the history books? All you get in the history books are its errors and its evils; nothing about its accomplishments, because of course its accomplishments sprang from faith. And this they will not acknowledge.

R.J. Rushdoony: 27:27 They give a great deal of attention to the Roman Empire, but the Roman Empire never was the equal of Byzantium. We read a great deal about the Greeks, but the achievement of the Greeks was next to nothing. We read a great deal about modern nations, but Byzantium is bypassed. History has been falsified. What Byzantium did with a very bad theology could be done with a sound theology; and of course precisely what Byzantium did, the Puritans, when they came to America, made their purpose.

R.J. Rushdoony: 28:22 They came here with the same purpose, and they wrote back and sent pamphlets to England summoning others to come. And they said, “Come, for we will here build Zion the city of our God.” America thus had a glorious beginning. Deliberately, twice in history, men set out to establish Zion on Earth, once in Byzantium, and once in this country. We gained our greatness from that purpose. We will not return to it unless we return to that purpose.

R.J. Rushdoony: 29:14 Byzantium had a noble purpose, but a very faulty obedience to it in their theology. Ours was sound. How much greater is our offense that we have departed from it? Let us pray.

R.J. Rushdoony: 29:33 Almighty God our Heavenly Father, we thank thee that thou hast given us so glorious a heritage in Jesus Christ, and thou hast made us a people highly favored. But oh, Lord God of Hosts, we have sinned. We have gone astray from thy ways, and we have departed from thy Word, and we have turned our backs upon thine only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, our King, our Savior. Oh Lord our God, recall us as a people again to thee, and grant that again we be faithful to thee and that thy Word prevail in our schools, and the counsels of state in homes and in business, and in churches; that we cast out the unbelief, the Arianism, and the Pelagianism in our midst, and become a people whose joy it is to obey and to honor thee. Grant us this, we beseech thee, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

R.J. Rushdoony: 30:54 I think we can take about two minutes for questions because we do want to maintain strictly our nine o’clock closing time. Yes?

Speaker 2: 31:02 [inaudible 00:31:02] in the First World War they called Germans, Huns.

R.J. Rushdoony: 31:01 Yes.

Speaker 2: 31:02 Were they related?

R.J. Rushdoony: 31:13 No. All the peoples of Europe have Hunnic blood, but this was just a way of slandering them. Yes?

Speaker 3: 31:24 [inaudible 00:31:24] talk more about the Tribulation and how you think that [inaudible 00:31:30]?

R.J. Rushdoony: 31:31 Very good point. Until the Pre-Millennials came along, the belief was that the Tribulation was that which the early church went through. Now, right up until almost World War One you found great American theologians like Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, one of the greatest men of God this country has seen, teaching that. That was the Great Tribulation, it was past. But with Schofield, you see, this was changed and projected into the future.

Speaker 3: 32:13 Along that same line, [inaudible 00:32:15] I mean so that we can understand today [inaudible 00:32:20].

R.J. Rushdoony: 32:28 The Communist persecutions have been fearful. The Communists have perhaps killed more people than anyone else in history. But not Christians to the same degree. Christians have never been persecuted as savagely, and as totally, as during the two and a half centuries. Remember it was aimed at total extermination, and again and again they would just mow them down, and new converts would spring up. The old saying, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seat of the church’. And the worst part of it is that today people act as though this is all a myth, the persecution and the martyrdom. It’s actually so written in some of the newer histories, and I’ve been told that the guides now, when they take you to the Colosseum in Rome, they say, “Here, according to legends, Christians were thrown to the lions.” Yes?

Speaker 4: 33:32 Well when I was there [inaudible 00:33:32] said no Christians were killed in the Colosseum because they were all killed in [inaudible 00:33:37] than were killed in the Colosseum.

R.J. Rushdoony: 33:46 They were killed everywhere. They were killed everywhere.

R.J. Rushdoony: 33:52 Well, our time is up. Next week read chapters 12 and 13.

Speaker 5: 34:02 We don’t meet next week-

R.J. Rushdoony: 34:03 Oh that’s right. We do not meet next week. We will meet two weeks from now, and chapters 12 and 13.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder