After Church yesterday I had a good discussion with my Priest. We talked about heresy in the first Millenia of the Church and the Islamic Invasions. He put forward a very interesting hypothesis that I had never thought about before. I don’t know if I believe it but it certainly got me thinking.
Our conversation started with a discussion of Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem who was the prelate in Jerusalem when it was conquered by the Muslims. Patriarch Sophronius was a good friend of the Pope and a huge promoter of Chalcedonian Christology against Monophysitism. Sophronius also viewed these invasions as a judgment from God. These invasions continued for 100 years after Muhammad’s death until Charles Martel stopped the invasion at Tours, France in 732 AD.
In these 100 years, two thirds of Christendom was conquered including much historical Christian land and Episcopal Sees. It’s quite a tragedy.
However, as my Priest pointed out, all of the land conquered by the Muslims was either heretical, or had a large presence of heresy. We talked quite a bit about the geography that came under Muslim rule and I realized that my Priest might be onto something. Egypt and Syria were majority Monophysite. The Holy Land was officially Catholic though many Monophysite sympathies existed, hence the need for the strong preaching of Patriarch Sophronius.
Latin North Africa which constitutes modern day Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco was officially Catholic though they only recently defeated Donatism and it still would have been present, though in smaller numbers. There is a similar situation with Spain. Spain was officially Catholic but they had only recently overcome Arianism and it would still have been prevalent to a certain degree. In France, where the Muslims were halted, there was no heresy. Coincidence?
France, the rest of Western Europe, Rome, Constantinople, Anatolia, and other areas with orthodox uniformity were able to fend off these invasions. Did God preserve them? It’s hard to say.
At the time of the invasions, there was the Monothelyte heresy which was present briefly in Rome, and much longer in Constantinople. This heresy was smaller but still took it’s toll on the Church. It was defeated in 681 AD at the Third Council of Constantinople by Pope Agatho but like the other heresies, they would have still been present after they were condemned. How much longer is the question? Monothelytism doesn’t exist today while Monophysitism is thriving. How quickly did this heresy fade? Especially in the lands that weren’t conquered by these invasions? It’s hard to say.
My Priest admitted that there were true believers in all of these lands that were conquered and that these communities even persisted for quite some time. After all, there was still a vibrant Christian community in Carthage in the 1070’s as evidenced by correspondence between their Church and Pope Gregory VII in Rome. Spain eventually became Catholic again and was one of the most powerful Catholic countries that helped spread the faith globally. However, Christianity in Latin North Africa eventually disappeared. In both regions, their respective heresies were on the decline.
Do I endorse the theory that God used Islam to purify the Church? I’m leaning toward no, but it’s certainly worth thinking about. After all, the Church has successfully defeated many heresies in the past without having that land conquered by a foreign religion.
I’d like to hear some input from my readers.