Institutions and doctrines of the churches

History of the Armenian church

The international research cluster on the History of the Armenian church is devoted to the study of Armenian Christianity in its formative period and in the following developments up to contemporary times. Within this scope, special attention is dedicated to research on the conciliar activity of the Armenian church. The research cluster aims to produce the critical edition of the councils of the Armenian church within the project Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Generaliumque Decreta (in the Corpus Christianorum collection, Brepols) and the study of particular features of the religious history, confession and liturgy that have concerned Armenian Christians and the surrounding peoples, confessions and beliefs.
Traditionally, Armenia is considered the first nation to have embraced Christianity as a state religion. Regardless of the meaning attached to these concepts, the historical datum is that, in the year 314, Trdat, the King of Armenia, converted to Christianity and was baptised by Grigor “the Illuminator”. The event marked the birth of a Caucasian Christianity that, by the 8th century, had developed into three distinct churches: the Armenian church, the church of Caucasian Albania (north-east of Armenia) and the Georgian church. For geographical, historical, and political reasons, these churches became involved in the interplay among major neighbouring powers: Rome and Persia, Byzantium and the Caliphate, the Ottoman and the Safavid empires, the Ottoman (again) and the Russian empires, Turkey (with NATO) and the Soviet Union. Having arisen and developed in such a tumultuous context, the three Caucasian churches followed different paths. The Georgian church developed a close relationship with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and came to be counted among the Orthodox churches; the Albanian church became ‘Armenised’ (but with some distinctive features which deserve to be studied) and subjected to the Armenian church. The Armenian church itself elaborated its own confessional identity following a path marked by councils and blood. The history of the Armenian church (afterwards known as the Armenian Apostolic church) began increasingly to overlap with the history of the Armenian nation, even though it is important to note (and this is a point which requires further research) that church and nation never coincided completely: there remained outside the Armenian Apostolic church, from early times (i.e., before the eighth century), a Chalcedonian community, later followed by the birth of an Armenian-Catholic church and, in the nineteenth century, by Armenian Evangelical churches. The confessional divisions, which sometimes sparked bitter controversies, were pushed into the background during the tragic events of the 1915 genocide, which had devastating effects on all Christian Armenians, but struck the Armenian Apostolic church with even greater violence. The latter, however, managed to survive and to recover, even reaching a difficult – but successful – coexistence with the Soviet Union. It was Stalin himself who permitted the summoning of the ecclesiastical assembly which, in 1945, allowed the church to be reorganised and a certain degree of autonomy restored to it. The contribution of Armenians to the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II was undoubtedly a significant factor in that decision. In the new millennium, Armenian Christianity continues its course, finding its way amidst historical processes that are ultimately none too dissimilar from those that had characterised the previous seventeen centuries.

Contributor: Federico Alpi.

The History of the Coptic Church: the corpus canonum

The Coptic tradition is one of the richest in the Christian East. Its cultural heritage is characterized by a variety of ecclesial experiences ranging from 4th-century Egyptian monasticism to a specific literary production in Greek, Coptic and Arabic. Its influence on the development of early Christianity was due to the prominent role played by the See of Alexandria, particularly in the Christological controversies. It also represented the meeting point of several important cultural traditions of late antiquity in the Mediterranean context, where Hellenistic elements coexisted with Egyptian, Jewish and, later, Arabic ones. Within this context, the development of the Egyptian church was an articulated and complex process. In order to better understand and highlight the cultural and ecclesial heritage of this Church, the research project focuses on the Coptic canonical and conciliar tradition through the study of the Coptic translation of the Corpus canonum and its transmission in the Egyptian area. The results of the study will also be part of a volume in the Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Generaliumque Decreta series.

Contributor: Costanza Bianchi.

Christianity in Africa

During the 20th century, there has been an unprecedented expansion of Christianity in Africa and, at the same time, Africa – not only in terms of numbers – has become increasingly important in the context of the world Christian community. The study of African Christianity thus becomes a fundamental premise for understanding the new trajectories and dynamics of Christianity on a global level. This research project aims at analyzing the presence of Christianity in Africa in its multiple manifestations from an interdisciplinary and dialogical point of view. It focuses on Christianity in relation to, or rather, in dialogue with the specific underlying culture and historical context, with society and, in particular, with other religions. Critical aim of the project is also to intensify the exchange of knowledge and the dialogue between scholars from the North and the South.

Contributor: Ilaria Macconi.

The Medieval Canon Law: Hostiensis

Cardinal Henry of Susa, known as Hostiensis, who lived in the thirteenth century (about 1200-1271), is undoubtedly an important figure in the tradition of canon law, and the subject of a large number of studies. In the last fifty years, his understanding of ecclesiology in the aftermath of the Gregorian reform, has provoked heated debates among scholars: from the problematic reconciliation between his understanding of the papal plenitudo potestatis, and the participation of the Sacred College in papal decisions, to the complex relationship between civil law and canon law, at the basis of his doctrine aequistas. This research aims to bring out the complexity of the thought of this canonist, examining the most problematic points, together with aspects of continuity and innovation (with respect to an already consolidated school – that of Bologna), whereby attempting to open scholars’ eyes to new avenues of research.

Contributor: Lucia De Lorenzo.

The Education of the Clergy after the Council of Trent

The research shows the process that led to institution of the seminary as a center for the education of secular clergy. The project has focused on the century preceding the decree Super Reformationem (1563) in order to reconstruct the model of priest that the Council of Trent inherited and which then developed. With the invention of the printing press, in the period 1450-1563 many handbooks for the clergy were issued, but only one received a rapid, capillary diffusion across Europe: the Manipulus curatorum (1330), which saw about 200 editions between 1473 and 1581. This manual has turned out to be the perfect study case for the development of this project, since analyzing it revealed all the knowledge required by secular clergy for administrating the sacraments and governing the parish church. Moreover, thanks to the examination of several diocesan synods before and after the Council of Trent, it has been shown that the Manipulus was indeed, up to the 17th century, the text most frequently cited by bishops as a handbook for the clergy.

Contributor: Antonio Gerace.

The Reform of the Roman Curia

The question of the reform of the Roman Curia has accompanied it throughout its historical development. Initially, there was a request for the abuses that occurred with the affirmation of its power to be eliminated; later this request took the form of the determination to find forms of organization of ecclesial power that would permit the pope’s wishes to be implemented more effectively. The intensification of the reforms during the 20th century is both the sign of an effort to adapt to the decisions of the Councils (Vatican I and Vatican II), and the acknowledgement of the difficulty of recomposing a structure that rose in the Middle Ages and continued with the cultural and ecclesiological evolutions that occurred in more recent centuries. The reform process now follows the criterion of restoring to local Churches powers acquired by the Roman Curia over the centuries.

Contributor: Enrico Galavotti.