Episode Detail


  1. Hello and Welcome to the History of the Copts. Episode 18. Moses and the Arab queen.  
  2. Last week we ended with the Coptic Pope Peter II in Rome with his colleague Pope Damasus, Lucius, the Arian bishop in Alexandria with shaky hold on power, and Valens was.. 
  3. Wait, where was Valens? 
  4. Well, Valens was extremely busy man..  his half of the empire was being attacked on multiple fronts
  5. First, he had a rebellion based on Constantinople, which he was able to put down after a serious effort 
  6. But as part of the struggle, a barbarian tribe beyond the empire borders were recruited to fight with the rebel army 
  7. Now, the label barbarian tribe is a testament to the Roman Propaganda machine.. They were distinct people with respectable culture where Arian Christianity have started to take roots.. The Goths as they were named came to help the rebels, but they were late to the party 
  8. Thus, they decided to plunder some Roman territories anyway since they were already there 
  9. As a result, hostilities broke out between the Goths and Valens 
  10. In the middle of their conflict, the Persians get restless again and conflict was brewing in Armenia 
  11. Then, the Bedouin Arabs were united under a queen named Maviaand were raiding the Roman Syrian frontier  
  12. So – Valens tried to make the best of the situation. He made quick peace with the Goths after a couple of indecisive battles, moved his attention to Persia, and started negotiating with Mavia 
  13. As part of the negotiation, Mavia, a pagan queen of the Arabs requested that a bishop be assigned to her people for their conversion to Christianity and the establishment of an official  church for the Arabs  
  14. Her request is probably because she had the extraordinary vision of the potential of religion to unite the hostile Bedouin Arabs under one banner or maybe she just wanted to be genuinely Christian.. or maybe a combination of both.  
  15. The point is, the Arabs existed and influenced and were influenced by the events in the Empire, and they bordered Syria, Palestine, and Egypt – Those provinces were of special interest 
  16. There is a common notion in popular history that the Arabs appeared out of nowhere and Islam was the first time they embraced organized religion 
  17. As we will see, this thought became popular because it helped shape the identity of the Caliphate and was convenient for the Byzantine as an excuse for not seeing their defeats coming 
  18. But, the reality on the ground was much more complicated than that and the average Syrian or Egyptian knew Arabs existed and treated them as neighbors with the occasional expected tensions between settled and nomadic  communities
  19. Anyway, more on that topic in 300 years from now..  at this point, Valens readily agreed to the request and Maviawanted a specific monk named Moses who was known and beloved by the local Arabs to be their bishop  
  20. Thus, a group of soldiers were dispatched to the otherwise unknown Moses to bring him to Alexandria where he can be ordained as a bishop by Lucius 
  21. But, Moses responded by refusing to be ordained by Lucius who, in Moses’ words “ his hand has been filled with blood” 
  22. Lucius responded angrily, how dare a simple monk stand and lecture the bishop of Alexandria
  23. But Moses stood his ground, he will not be consecrated by a cruel, heretical, wanna-be bishop no matter the consequences 
  24. And as Maviahave specifically requested Moses, there was nothing Lucius could do   
  25. Thus, Moses was taken to an exiled Egyptian bishop in the desert to be ordained and became the bishop of the Arabs 
  26. The solid narrative ends here, we don’t really know what happened to Maviaafterward or Moses.  
  27. Maybe, once Christianized they slowly abandoned their nomadic life, settled and became Romans 
  28. Maybe, worried about a united confederation of tribes on their borders, the Romans deliberately divided the tribes and things fizzled out once Moses and Maviadied  
  29. Whatever the case, the Arab tribes seem to have went back to the status que of infighting and patchwork of religious beliefs  relatively quickly 
  30. Now, there is a well-known Coptic saint known as Moses the black.. He is not that Moses. They are two different people and Moses the black came 50 or so years after Moses, the bishop of the Arab 
  31. Most Copts have never heard of our Moses or Mavia.. as it implies some Arabs have embraced Christianity before Islam.. Which is a touchy subject in modern Egypt  
  32. Valens, once the peace with Maviawas concluded, went back to his preparation for a campaign against the Persians  
  33. But, his campaign was never realized, as a new player has entered the scene… The infamous Huns 
  34. The Huns were fierce nomadic horse archers from the East who have moved to the traditional Gothic lands devastating everything on their path 
  35. Subsequently, that started a chain of events that ended with a massive group of the Goths standing on the empire borders requesting settlement within the Empire 
  36. To make matters worse, Valenetinian, Valens’ brother and the Augustus for the Empire western half have died, leaving his young, relatively inexperienced son Graitianin Charge  
  37. Things quickly spiraled out of control, and the Gothic refugees became an invasion force 
  38. Valens rushed to meet them without waiting for the western forces, perhaps out of jealousy from his co-augustiand nephew, Graitian, who just emerged victorious over another barbian tribe  
  39. A massive pitched battle then ensued with close to 50,000 men on one field battling out in brutal hand to hand combat 
  40. The battle of Adrianople as it came to be known was won by the Goths and two thirds of the Roman Army and Valens himself laid dead on the field 
  41. The battle had major consequences.. The immediate consequence that a massive hostile force was loose in the empire without a large enough army to stop them. . a big problem  
  42. The long-term consequence –however- was the vanquishing of Roman superiority.. While, this was not the first time that a Roman army is defeated and its emperor killed at the battle.. The Goths were not expelled or assimilated into the larger empire 
  43. They lived side by side to the Romans inside Roman territory, sometimes as allies, sometimes as enemies, but in both situations, they existed as a distinct people with a strong military organization who didn’t identify as Romans, but lived in land claimed by the Romans.. a bigger problem 
  44. The collapse of the western half of the empire is due to many complex factors and multiple defeats. The battle of Adrianople and Valens inadequacy as a military commander, is toward the top of those reasons 
  45. Shortly before the battle and the death of Valens, in the spring of 378 AD, Pope Peter II took a huge risk and returned to Alexandria without imperial permission 
  46. Lucius subsequently was expelled from the cityby the populace
  47. It’s hard to say why the Prefect and the garrison didn’t intervene 
  48. Possibly because of a lack of political will or with the transfer of troops to the Goth frontier there wasn’t enough troops to enforce that political will 
  49. Either way, Lucius left Alexandria and was on his way to meet Valens when news arrived that Valens have died and Graitianwas struggling to keep things under control    
  50. Now- Graitian, who was probably around 19 years old, found himself ruling a massive empire with a crippled army and plagued by theological conflicts and internal disunity 
  51. Wisely realizing that he can’t bear the weight, he called for a capable general named Theodosius and appointed him as Emperor of the East
  52. Technically, Graitianwasn’t alone, as he had an infant brother named Valantanian II who was his co-augusti.. But nonetheless, someone who actually knows what he was doing was needed and that someone was Theodosius  
  53. Theodosius was a westerner and well-acquainted with bishops of the west and as such, he was squarely Orthodox when it came to his theological views 
  54. His religious activities had to wait though, as the Gothic problem loomed large 
  55. His simply stated that the religious policy of the empire would be to adhere to, and I am going to quote his exact wording here, the faith that was “taught by St. Peter to the Romans: which faithful tradition has preserved and which is now professed by the priest Damasusand by Peter II, bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness."  
  56. Thus, at least initially, the bishops of Alexandria and Rome were in Theodosius mind, the leading Christian bishops in the Empire 
  57. What of Constantinople I hear you saying?   
  58. Well, Constantinople was a mess, with various factions jockeying for control and often using violence when needed 
  59. And they weren’t much Theodosius can do for now, as his attention was toward solving the Gothic problem 
  60. It was mostly a diplomatic effort, as he couldn’t meet them again on a pitched battle.. One tribal chief at a time, he induced them via various means to no longer be hostile to the empire, but work hand in hand
  61. He was on the field for 2 years until 380 AD, where he finally entered Constaninpoleand tried to an end to the religious disputes there  
  62. Now – I would like to talk a bit about a certain Gregory, known to history and the Copts as Gregory the theologian who in a bit would be the bishop of Constantinople  
  63. He wasn’t a Copt, and curiously, he doesn’t have an entry in the Coptic book of saints, the Synexerium 
  64. So why I want to talk about him you say? Well – Because he was involved in a curious incidence with Pope Peter II that played a major role on the history of the Copts  
  65. You see - Pope Peter II despite being the hand-picked successor to St. Athanasius and the target of Arian persecution have been mostly forgotten about and relegated to the footnotes of history
  66. And that’s because he messed up.. The kind historians paint him as a fool who was tricked by ambitious men, the unkind ones, tell a story of a failed religious coup that aimed to increase his political influence 
  67. The failed coup had major consequences, most significant of which is a failing out between the churches of Alexandria and Constatinpolethat will play out over the next 100 years or so  
  68. The failings of Peter II were magnified by the legacy left by Gregory 
  69. Gregory was a Cappodician, the son of a bishop and one of the elites. He received the best education money can buy, being in the company of several great theologians and philosophers such as Basil, the Great, and even for a while,  Julian, the Apostate 
  70. But, he was of the ascetic mind-set and really, never aspired to be in a position of power
  71. He was forced to become a bishop by his father, and Basil, his friend and the bishop of Ceaserea 
  72. Despite the ordination, he stayed at home and didn’t move to the small city that he was ordained to 
  73. The city was a disputed territory between Basil and another bishop, so, he probably didn’t want to get involved in the highly charged religious disputes 
  74. Either way, he ended retiring to a Monastery once his immediate family died and his reputation grew as a holy man of God there 
  75. So, by the time Valens have died and Theodosius in the process of assuming power, as mentioned before,  Constanipolewas full of various Christian factions trying to advance their candidate to the office of the bishop 
  76. One of those factions invited Gregory to come to the city and try to reconcile the differences 
  77. He agreed, residing in a small house that he turned into a church, and slowly by his personal appeal, logical theological arguments, and personal piety began winning over the various factions 
  78. Like flies attracted to honey, an ambitious Alexandrian named Maximus began associating himself with Gregory 
  79. Maximus was a self-proclaimed great philosopher and used a mention of him by St. Athanasius and a scourging by the imperial troops in Alexandria to promote himself as a persecuted Orthodox theologian of great value 
  80. He was well-known in Alexandria and described by his contemporaries as charismatic, handsome man with long locks of blonde hair flowing over shoulders
  81. So, naturally, he ended being in the orbit of Pope Peter II, becoming Pope’s Peter man in Constantinople..
  82. It is hard to tell whether he took the initiative himself and travelled there, or his travel to Constantinople was directed by Pope Peter
  83. Either way, he ended up in Constantinople, and began associating himself with Gregory
  84. Now, technically, at this point, Gregory wasn’t officially the bishop of Constantinople yet, remember, he was already the bishop of another city and transfers were frowned upon but he was becoming a popular figure in the city and more or less a de-facto bishop
  85. To make the move official, a local council met in Antioch and approved his transfer and he became the bishop of Constainople in 379 AD         
  86. In the meantime, Pope Peter and Maximus intrigued to replace Gregory and install Maximus in place of him
  87. Remember a few episodes ago when I talked about how the relationship between bishops was hazy and how there was no clear lines of hierarchy between them
  88. The bishops of the cultural centers of the empire, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople became important men and served as the regional leaders of Christianity.. but there was no agreed upon mechanism to resolve their disputes
  89. Last time, when Eusebius of Nicomedia and St. Athanasius disagreed on a theological point – It took close to 50 years and the death of both of them to sort of resolve their dispute, but really, it was never resolved
  90. Church councils was a mechanism, but those leading bishops can effectively build rival coalitions and thus make universal, wide-spread agreements very difficult
  91. Imperial intervention was another mechanism, but without broad theological legitimacy, it can backfire and give a faction the Christian badge of honor that is persecution for rightousness’ sake
  92. Thus, if the bishop of Alexandria were to install his man to the seat of Constantinople, well, that would go a long way in making the lines of hierarchy clear
  93. The bishop of Alexandria handles the East, and the bishop of Rome, handles the west. Similar to the imperial arrangement
  94. But the bishop of Constantinople can also assume that role and as such for the next few centuries, this will be our battle.
  95. If you are wondering about the concept of Papal primacy.. I.E, the Roman bishop as the first of his fellow bishops.. that concept took centuries to fully develop, and it is contentious even to this day
  96. Sufficient to say, at this point of history, Papal primacy was still being formulated as a concept
  97. So despite being in agreement theologically with Gregory, Pope Peter sent a group of Egyptian bishops to secretly ordain Maximus as the bishop of Constantinople and challenge the ordination of Gregory as uncanonical
  98. Now to be fair to Pope Peter, some historians take the position that Maximus was manipulating him
  99. In that version of events, Maximus pleaded with Pope Peter to intervene and save Constantinople from an unworthy bishop
  100. Pope Peter II, not knowing any better, believed him and sent some bishops to consecrate Maximus instead
  101. When the bishops arrived, Gregory was ill and away from the public eye
  102. Still, even with his illness, he was way too popular for another bishop to be ordained without his supporters intervening
  103. So Maximus and the bishops sent for his ordination waited until darkness fell and went to a church and began the ceremony for his consecration while the city was asleep
  104. Part of the ceremony involved cutting the long hair locks of Maximus, which really took a long time
  105. Unfortunately for Maximus , half-way through the hair cutting, their coup was discovered and a riot broke out
  106. So they quickly left the church, and finished the ceremony and the hair cutting on the run
  107. Hoping to salvage the botched job, they went to meet Theodosius and get his recognition
  108. Remember, at this point, Theodosius held the bishops of Rome and Alexandria in high regard, so their request was somewhat reasonable
  109. Nonetheless, Theodosius declined to recognize Maximus and Maximus had to go back to Alexandria having failed and in the process created visible tensions between the church of Alexandria and Constantinople
  110. Shortly after arriving, Pope Peter II died on February 380 AD after 7 years on the throne of St. Mark, 5 of which he spent in exile of Rome
  111. The failed coup had major consequences and I really mean major. In a year, a universal council would meet and through the failing of the Coup, several cannons would be dedicated to writing down a hierarchy of the regional churches
  112. And once a ranking is out, everyone would be out to preserve their position or improve upon it
  113. Now – I don’t want to be hard on Pope Peter – He saw what St. Athanasius have went through and no doubt wanted to ensure that nothing like that happens to him or his successors
  114. As long as the bishop closest to the emperor was independent of Alexandria, the Coptic Church couldn’t be safe from hostile imperial action
  115. Thus, he took the initiative when it presented itself
  116. Alternatively, he could have been truly manipulated by Maximus, but it is hard to believe that the bishop of Alexandria would be that politically naïve  
  117. He was succeeded by Pope Timothy the first, an elderly popular priest nicknamed the poor because he had given up all his worldly possessions
  118. Pope Timothy inherited the tension between Alexandria and Constantinople and will have the delicate task of representing the Coptic Church in the upcoming Great Council of Constantinople
  119. In the Capital, Theodosius finally arrived in November 380 AD and there he realized that a universal council was badly needed to set the religious policy of the empire straight
  120. He wasn’t going to a passive observer either, he knew what this religious policy should be and he went to work ensuring it comes to fruition
  121. The semi-Arian bishop of Constantinople was given a choice between accepting the Nicean creed or being removed and exiled. He chose exile.
  122. Then Gregory was officially recognized by him as the bishop of Constantinople, and the Orthodox bishop of Antioch was tasked to preside over the planned First Council of Constantinople where the bishops of the empire will meet once again to finally put all the issues started with Arius to rest
  123. The theological debate have shifted considerably since he was around, but the essential issue of the relationship of the Godhead and the Trinity was still in the forefront
  124. Arius was excommunicated by a local Council in Alexandria in 318 AD – Now, 63 years later, the issue would be finally decided and the Nicean creed with a new paragraph would stick this time with universal acceptance within the empire and really to this day.
  125. Well, sort of anyway.. These things are never simple, by 1054 AD, a certain term, the Filioque would become a major issue. But, that would be for another Podcast. In this one, by next week episode, the Copts will get their Christian creed.
  126. Farewell, and until next week


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  • The Coptic Encyclopedia by" Aziz S. Atiya (editor)
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