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Egypt and the Byzantine Empire             341
Timothy Aelurus the Egyptian Church as a whole went into
permanent schism. It paid the penalty which so often attaches
to sectarianism. Cut off from the main current of Christian
development, it became provincial, its thought undistinguished,
its energies wasted in sterile recriminations. Monophysitism
was not indeed the only faith in Egypt; the government re-
peatedly endeavoured to recover the country for orthodoxy, and
at Alexandria and among the official classes elsewhere Catholi-
cism had its adherents, but the bulk of the people, and not only
those of Egyptian blood, remained stubbornly loyal to their
heretical belief. Inevitably Coptic influence was strengthened;
for Greek was the language of government circles, and the
monophysite cause found its chief bulwark among the Coptic-
speaking monks. This heretical tendency was indeed the effect
as well as the cause of the nationalist bias. Monophysitism has
well been described as less a heresy than a schismatic intention.
The differences between it and the Catholic position were in
essentials not very great, and one attempt after another was
made by the government to arrive at a compromise acceptable
to Egyptian susceptibilities, but all its efforts proved unavailing.
What Constantinople espoused the Patriarch of Alexandria, in
this the mouthpiece of Egypt, must needs oppose; and if Con-
stantinople condemned monophysitism the Egyptian Church,
embodying as it did the perennial opposition of Egypt to Rome,
became monophysite as a natural corollary.
Though Byzantine Egypt was predominantly a Christian
country it must not be supposed that paganism died without
a struggle. As late as the middle of the sixth century the town
councillors of Omboi, complaining to the Duke of the Thebaid
of a local notable, could accuse him of pagan practices. Ptole*
mais, the only Hellenistic foundation, save Alexandria, in the
whole country, clung stubbornly to its Greek and pagan tradi-
tions; it is significant that, with one brief and doubtful excep-
tion, this important town, provided from its foundation with