Dr Matthew Raphael Johnson continues discussing the Emperor Justinian, this week looking at his law code and the centralisation of power that followed.
Justinian re-established and reformed Roman power. His great claim in this regard was in his internal policy, especially in his codification of older Roman laws adapted to the realities of the Christian era. Ultimately, after many years, the Corpus Juris Civilis was published, serving as the font for all European law afterwards.
The theological foundation for the restoration of Rome was found at Chalcedon in 451, the single most significant event of European history. Though Justinian ruled a century later, the issue still loomed very large. St. Leo the Great and Justinian were two of the more articulate defenders of the Orthodox position that argued that justice is impossible if the divine nature absorbs the human. The free choice of the faith was impossible under this condition. It was Leo’s witness that permitted the Orthodox east to plausibly attempt to reunify both sides of the empire. For Justinian, it was Pope Agapetus that served as the promoter of St. Leo’s ideas. Justinian’s attempt to compromise over the issue helped create distrust between the two Romes.
It is true that his reunification required high taxes, great military expenditure and increased centralization, but these were all in the interests of justice. While Justinian’s attempt to unify both sides of the Roman empire failed, his conception of justice that served as the foundation of the attempt led to our idea of Christian Europe.