Emperor Theodosius I "The Great"
In his second chapter, “The Viceroy of God: The Image of God Upon Earth,” Steven Runciman chronicles how Constantine’s successors through Justinian I struggled to live out the Eusebian ideal for a Christian Empire. Constantine’s son Constantius followed his father’s example, summoning several Church councils that attempted to resolve the Arian controversy, which continued despite the ruling of the Council of Nicaea. Constantius’ involvement in Church affairs, unlike that of his father, was not met with universal approval, as the rebuke he received from his father’s spiritual advisor Hosius of Cordova reveals: “Do not meddle in Church affairs nor give orders on them. Rather take instruction from us…as we are not permitted to govern the world, so you are not permitted to swing the censer.”
Constantius was succeeded by Julian, who immediately declared himself a pagan. This turn of events severely tested the Eusebian model. How could a pagan serve as the Viceroy of God in a Christian Empire? The crisis passed rather quickly, however, when Julian died in battle only two years after becoming Emperor. After the relatively brief reign of the Arian emperor Valens, the throne was assumed by Theodosius, a deeply devout Christian who was strongly opposed to Arianism. Like Constantine, Theodosius made the unity of the Church his top priority. In 381, he summoned a Council in Constantinople that reaffirmed the faith of Nicaea and again condemned Arianism. Theodosius went further than Constantine in acting as guardian of the faith, issuing laws against rejecting the faith and canons of the new Council, suppressing paganism, and ultimately making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Still, Theodosius’ powers as the Viceroy of God were not seen by the leading churchmen of his time as unlimited. The Cappadocian Fathers Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa, who were very influential in Theodosius’ understanding of Christianity, “opposed the use of physical force in dealing with heretics. Their attitude toward the Emperor was Eusebian. He was the Viceroy of God; but it was the duty of the priesthood to guide him into the true spiritual path. He needed its help to become the Christian philosopher-king.”
Theodosius’ son and successor Arcadius, despite being a weak-willed and ineffectual ruler, nevertheless made an important contribution to the Byzantine conception of the Emperor. He was the first Emperor to reside exclusively in Constantinople. He seldom left the imperial palace, which made it possible for elaborate court ceremonies to develop and be standardized. Under Arcadius, Runciman points out, “the Emperor began to be a remote figure who only appeared in public on ritual occasions…surrounded by the pomp and the mystery that befitted the Viceroy of God.” Arcadius, then, began the long-standing tradition of Byzantine Emperors attempting to make themselves seem more divine than human to those outside the palace.
Despite this self-elevation, Arcadius did not find himself to be exempt from criticism from the Church. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople during much of Arcadius’ reign, often criticized the nobility in general and the Empress Eudoxia in particular for their lavish displays of wealth and neglect of the poor. Although John never directly criticized the Emperor in public, his attacks on the Empress were nevertheless indirect attacks on the Emperor. For Runciman, John’s actions “established the role of the Patriarch of Constantinople as keeper of the Empire’s conscience. On matters of morals the Emperor must listen to the priesthood.”