As we remember Justinian today, we read a devotion about him from Celebrating the Saints.
Justinian was emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from AD 527 to 565. He was born about 482 to a peasant family. His uncle Justin, who had served in the Imperial Guards and later became the Emperor, adopted him. His uncle brought the young lad to Constantinople and had him well schooled in history, theology, and law. A contemporary described the young man as short of stature, fair-skinned, round of face, and curly haired. Significantly, Justinian is regarded as the last emperor of the Roman Empire to be a native Latin speaker.
Although the empire had been in steady decline, Justin and his wife, Theodora, strove to regain control of the West and to restore something of the splendor and dignity that had once characterized the Byzantine court. He was truly a workaholic and earned the nickname “the emperor who never sleeps” for his great energy in governing. His great and lasting achievement in government was the promulgation of a revised and comprehensive code of law, the Codex Iustinianus.
After the untimely death of Theodora in 548, Justinian devoted ever more time and energy to theology and the problems of the Church. Under him, the fifth ecumenical council had been convened in Constantinople (Constantinople II) in 533, and he remained committed to extending the Church’s rights and influence his whole reign.
To this day, the Eastern rite churches sing in their Divine Liturgy a song of praise to Christ that is known as the hymn of St. Justinian. It encapsulates in the liturgy the point at issue at Constantinople II:
Only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal as You are, You condescended for our salvation to take flesh from the holy mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, and without undergoing change You were made man. You were crucified for us, O Christ our God, and crushed death by Your death. You are One of the Holy Trinity, equal in glory to the Father and the Holy Spirit: save us!
This is the liturgical confession of a teaching that Lutherans gladly embrace: in the incarnation, the Second Person of the Godhead, the eternal Word, takes to Himself a human nature, with all the attributes of that nature. But the person acting through that human nature is that of God the Son.
Justinian died upon this day in the year 565. He sadly did not live to see his dream fulfilled of a reunion between the parties who embraced the Council of Chalcedon and those who rejected it, yet he left behind a Church strengthened in the true confession of Christ and a comprehensive law code for the empire.
Lord God, heavenly Father, through the governance of Christian leaders such as Emperor Justinian, Your name is freely confessed in our nation and throughout the world. Grant that we may continue to choose trustworthy leaders who will serve You faithfully in our generation and make wise decisions that contribute to the general welfare of Your people; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Devotional reading and prayer are from Celebrating the Saints, pages 208–09 © 2016 William C. Weedon. Published by Concordia Publishing House.