Front Page Titles (by Subject) 6.: THE CONVERSION OF THE SLAVS - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 10
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6.: THE CONVERSION OF THE SLAVS - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 10 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 10.
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THE CONVERSION OF THE SLAVS
It is remarkable that Gibbon has given no account of the Apostles of the Slavs, the brothers Constantine and Methodius; whose work was far more important for the conversion of the Slavonic world to the Christian faith than that of Ulfilas for the conversion of the Germans. Little enough is known of the lives of these men, and their names were soon surrounded with discrepant traditions and legends in various countries — in Moravia and Bohemia, Pannonia and Bulgaria.
There seems no reason to doubt that they were born in Thessalonica, and the date of the birth of Constantine, at least, the elder of the two, probably falls between 820 and 830. In Thessalonica they were in the midst of Slavonic districts and had opportunities of becoming acquainted with the Slavonic language in their youth. Perhaps they both became monks when they were still young.1 Constantine went to Constantinople and became a priest. His learning won him the title of Philosopher and the friendship of Photius;2 but, when Photius started the doctrine of two souls in man, Constantine opposed him. It was probably soon after the elevation of Photius to the Patriarchate ( 857) that Constantine, who had a gift for languages, was sent as a missionary to the Chazars (perhaps 860-1), who had begged the Emperor to send them a learned instructor. While he was at Cherson, learning the Chazaric language, he “discovered” the remains of the martyr Pope Clement I., which he afterwards brought to Rome.3 On his return from Chazaria ( 862) he received a new call. Christianity had already made some way among the Slavs of Moravia, through the missionary activity of the bishops of Passau. Thus Moravia seemed annexed to the Latin Church. But the Moravian king Rastislav quarrelled with his German and Bulgarian neighbours, and, seeking the political support of the Eastern Emperor, he determined to bring Moravia into spiritual connection with Constantinople. He sent ambassadors to Michael III., asking for a man who would be able to teach his flock the Christian faith in their own tongue. Constantine, by his knowledge of Slavonic and his missionary experience, was marked out as the suitable apostle; and he went to Moravia, taking with him his brother Methodius ( 863). They worked among the Moravians for four and a half years, having apparently obtained the reluctant recognition of the bishop of Passau. But Prince Rastislav was fully resolved that the church of his country should not remain a dependency on the German see of Passau. A new bishopric should be founded and Constantine should be the first bishop. If Ignatius had been still Patriarch, Constantine would probably have sought episcopal ordination at his hands. But the heretic Photius was in the Patriarchal chair; there was schism between Rome and Constantinople; and so it came about that Rastislav and Constantine had recourse to the Bishop of Rome. Pope Nicholas invited the two brothers ( 867), but died before their arrival; and his successor Hadrian II. ordained them bishops ( 868). On this occasion Constantine changed his name to Cyril, by which he has become generally known. But a premature death carried him away at Rome (Feb. 14, 869). Methodius then went to Blatno on the Platten See in Pannonia (where Kocel, prince of the Slavs of those regions, held his court) as bishop of Pannonia — an ancient see which was now reconstituted. Here he exercised missionary influence upon neighbouring Croatia. But presently he returned to Moravia, where Svatopluk had become king. He died in 885.
The great achievement of Constantine or Cyril was the invention of a Slavonic alphabet. His immediate missionary work was in Moravia; but by framing an alphabet and translating the gospels into Slavonic he affected, as no other single man has ever done, every Slavonic people. He did what Ulfilas did for the Goths, what Mesrob did for the Armenians, but his work was destined to have incomparably greater ecumenical importance than that of either. The alphabet which he invented (doubtless in 863) is known as the glagolitic; and we have a good many early documents written in this character in various parts of the Slavonic world. But ultimately the use of it became confined to Istria and the Croatian coast; for it was superseded by another alphabet, clearer and more practical, which was perhaps invented about half a century later by Bishop Clement of Drenoviza.4 This later alphabet is known as the cyrillic; and has been supposed — and is still supposed — by many to be the alphabet which Cyril invented. But a study of the two characters makes it quite clear that the cyrillic is the later and was formed upon the glagolitic. It was the framer of the glagolitic who possessed the creative genius; and it was not unfair that, when the second form of the alphabet, with all its improvements, superseded the older, the name of the original inventor should be attached to the improved script.
Directly neither Cyril nor Methodius had anything to do with the conversion of Bulgaria. But the conversion of Bulgaria took place in their days; the invention of the alphabet facilitated the conversion; and the application of the Moravian monarch to Constantinople probably induced the Bulgarian prince, Boris, to resolve, from political considerations, to abandon heathendom. Making peace with the emperor, with whom he had been at war, he was baptised at the place where the peace was concluded, and the Emperor himself was his sponsor (probably 864). He then introduced Christianity forcibly among his people, executing fifty-two persons who resisted. But it was not long before he turned away from Constantinople and sought to connect the Bulgarian Church with Rome. He sent envoys ( 866) to Pope Nicholas I., with 106 questions, and the answers of the Pope,5 which are preserved, throw some interesting light on Bulgarian customs. If the successor of Nicholas had shown tact and discretion, Bulgaria might have been won for the Latin Church; but Hadrian II. tried the patience of Boris, and in 870 Bulgaria received an archbishop from Constantinople and ten bishoprics were founded. Boris sent his son Simeon to be educated at New Rome. It was not long before Slavonic books and the Slavonic liturgy were introduced into Bulgaria.
[Only a few works out of the enormous literature on the apostles of the Slavs can be quoted. J. A. Ginzel, Geschichte der Slawenapostel Cyrill und Method, und der Slawischen Liturgie (1857). L. Leger, Cyrille et Méthode (1868). Bonwetsch, Kyrillus und Methodius (1885). V. Jagič, article in the Zapiski of the Imperial Acad. of St. Petersburg, vol. li. (1886). L. K. Goetz, Gesch. der Slavenapostel Konstantinus und Methodius (1897). Cp. also the accounts in Golubinski’s Hist. of the Bulgarian, Servian and Romanian Church, and in Bretholz’s Geschichte Mahrens.]
[1 ]Cp. Translatio Gauderici, c. 11. But according to the Pannonian legend, Vita Methodii, c. 2 (and the notice is accepted by Jireček, Gesch. der Bulgaren, p. 152), Methodius was appointed to the civil administration of a Slavonic district.
[2 ]Cp. the Preface of Anastasius to the Council of 869; Mansi, Conc. 16, 6.
[3 ]This is the subject of the Translatio S. Clementis (in Acta Sanctorum, March 9), probably composed by the contemporary Gauderic, bishop of Velletri. It is a valuable source for the lives of the Apostles.
[4 ]This is the view of Shafarik.
[5 ]Included in Collections of Acta Conciliorum.