Stability and threat to the order of the church. Some thoughts on the personalization of the church in Late Antiquity

Jan-Markus Kötter


The structure of the church in Late Antiquity was subject to a constant process of personalization: Church order was produced by the interaction of a small group of persons, namely the leading bishops. Their interaction worked by the mutual invocation of normative authorities, often past bishops. Thus, the church created a highly personalized frame of reference for any positioning taken by its current bishops. By this personalization of positions, the church order gained stability: Every bishop was bound to the positions of his own predecessors, thus limiting his choice of ecclesiastic positions and making him more reliable. As a result, the tracing-back of positions to personal authorities was a prerequisite for any communion within the church, as it reduced the complexity of theological debate and could cover dissent, as there was no need of specifying the contents of seemingly mutually invoked positions. On the other hand, the stability of order was also challenged by the personalization of positions: The personalized frame of ecclesiastical reference could also help to express and perpetuate disruptions. In covering minor dissents, any church order was just a personally transmitted illusion of concord, permanently threatened by disruption. In case of such a disruption, the obligation of bishops to the positions of their predecessors made a mutual rapprochement less likely, as it stabilized theological prejudices. Thus, the stabilizing and destabilizing effects of personalization of ecclesiastical positions cannot be separated.

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DOI: 10.4119/UNIBI/indi-v2-i1-27