POLY Lecture Series on Space and Religion II: “Concepts of Space and Orthodoxy beyond Byzantium”


Johannes Pahlitzsch (University of Mainz)




18:15 Central European Time


Campus Westend (Seminarhaus, SH 1.108) and Zoom Meeting

This paper will investigate the significance of space and polycentricity for the Byzantine Orthodox Church, specifically with regard to the Islamicate world. According to classical Roman and then Byzantine understandings, the Roman Empire encompassed the entire oikoumene, i.e. the inhabited, civilized world. With the Christianization of the empire, this political ecumenism corresponded – in theory – to religious ecumenism. With the loss of most of its Near Eastern provinces from the seventh century onwards, however, Byzantine political ecumenism corresponded less and less to the actual political situation, and so there developed in parallel a “limited” ecumenical view. In this sense, even at the beginning of the thirteenth century, when Byzantium was little more than a regional power in the Aegean, the idea was propagated that the Byzantine emperor would be generally responsible for the Christians in the Islamicate world. However, at the same time, Byzantium in a sense turned its back on the Islamicate Near East, doubling the number of religious centres from the Near East within the realm of the Byzantine Empire. Thus, Constantinople became not only New Rome but also New Jerusalem. Byzantium was the New Israel.


Furthermore, this paper will explore the extent to which ideas of centrality and polycentricity shaped the Orthodox Church. Indeed, Byzantine ecclesiology seems to be explicitly polycentric within the framework of the pentarchy theory. In practice, however, we can see strong centralizing tendencies coming as a result of the strong centralization of empire and church.

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About the picture: Church Interior with Christ Preaching to a Congregation, attributed to Cornelis van Dalem and Jan van Wechelen, 1545–1570 (image: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam).

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