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The Question Of the Eastern Church

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The Estrangement Of the Western and Eastern Churches

The emergence of an Eastern Church is mostly and obviously linked to the division of the former Roman empire into two halves, West and East, beginning at the time of Diocletian and which became definitive at the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries under the sons of the emperor Theodosius I. If one takes in account the religious history only, the early Christendom eventually turn, by the beginning of the 4th century, to be organized into three patriarcates, that is Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. By 451 A.D. the Church had got two more of them, with Constantinople and Jerusalem. Remaining on that religious question, the early Christians had always considered, first, that the patriarchs were their immediate head, and that, on the other hand, the patriarch of Rome was the supreme pontiff. This was due to that his see was located in Rome, there where Peter, the Apostle had had his office. The Pope, in Rome was, at the same time, the head of the western Christians, just like the patriarch of Antioch was the one for his own Christians. The Pope of Rome, on the other hand, was the authority to which the other patriarcates brought the questions which they had not been able to settle locally. Hence, from this sole point of view, there was there a first tendency to that Rome was seen like a remote power by the Christians living in the patriarcates of the East. Their patriarch was their immediate head for these Eastern Christians -to whom they brought their loyalty first, as the Pope in Rome was the ultimate place of appeal only

This first cause of estrangement between Rome and the other Christian patriarcates was deepened due, this time, to political and historical reasons. The Barbaric invasions of the 5th century eventually brought the western part of the Roman empire to an end. Barbaric kingdoms there developed and became the new powers. Hence that the emperors in Constantinople remained the soles to perpetuate the imperial tradition. As the West was entering this long way which was to create Europe, the East was remaining an empire, and was turning into a Greek, and Eastern one. This was not without consequence about the relations between Rome and the other patriarcates. The patriarch of Constantinople's fate was now linked to that of the Eastern empire. It was officially turned into a real patriarcate by the council of Chalcedon (451). As Constantinople was becoming the New Rome, its was obviously tempting for the patriarch to develop its rank towards some kind of equivalent to the see of the Old Rome, as its greatness was linked to the one of the empire. Two heresies, further, the Nestorian and its opposite, the Monophysite one, contributed in the 5th century to the estrangement between the eastern and western parts of the Christendom. Such schisms turned into independent Churches, which, one one hand, severed their links with Constantinople on this base of their religious divergence, compared to the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. On the other hand, the emergence of these two Churches led to the nearly complete disparition of the two eastern patriarcates where they had been born, that is Antioch and Alexandria respectively. Hence, correlatively, the patriarcate of Constantinople further rose in importance. The Arab conquest eventually finished to deplete the reality of the two patriarcates of Alexandria and Antioch, further enhancing the position of the see of Constantinople. Constantinople, with the presence of the emperor and the court, with the decline of Alexandria and Antioch, came to be the natural and sole head of the Christians living in the eastern part of the former Roman empire. The Christendom, in the East, gradually turned to something original and different. Different rites, the question of the language -Latin in the West, Greek in the East- at a time when no one mastered any other language than its mother tongue, the fact too, that the popes in Rome always opposed to the development in importance of the see of Constantinople, all that led to the estrangement between the western and eastern halves of the Christendom. All that is true, from a strict ecclesiastical point of view however, as, in this context, Byzantium and, likely, the patriarch of Constantinople, surely considered at those times of their largest might along those epochs, to simply rattach Rome to Constantinople and to have the patriarchate definitively become the New Rome -in an ecclesiastical sense- as much that Constantinople had become that in the political sense. Rome, thus, did not defend no more mere theological points of view, or of a hierarchy between the patriarcates, but it was having at play its role as the chief of Christendom instead! Such a rattachment of Rome to Constantinople nearly occurred, with Byzantium eventually controling the papal elections at the times of its highest power, as that eventually never led to the disappearance of Rome. Since 500 A.D., during one century, papacy did not have any relations with the Western Churches which had turned national. Popes thus turned more and more subject to the deeds of the Byzantine emperors and patriarchs to whom Italy was the closest Western lands to them. Popes moreover cannot neglect to attempt to maintain unity between Western, Eastern Churches and Rome, despite dissociation factors. Papacy eventually managed to defend its independency during the 7th century A.D. only due to the weaknesses and episodes of the history of the Byzantine empire or even to the links the popes had progressively re-established with the West. The Lombardic question, the iconoclastic schism and the emergence of the Carolingians accentuated that tendency and made the Carolingian era a key moment of the relations between the East, the West and papacy. One will have to wait for beyond the Carolingians that the West definitively emerges and the links between the Orthodox Church and the Roman one be officially severed. The dialog between the Church and the Orthodox Church then ceased to be a effort to maintain a dialog but instead turned into oecumenism, or attempts between two churches which had definitively ruptured. for more about how the papacy was implied into the geopolitic of the time, see the page Geopolitics From 400 A.D. to 1000 A.D.

The March To a Formal Schism

This estrangement between the two halves of the Christendom often opened the way to schisms between Rome and Constantinople. Both Churches were separated in 343-398, 404-415, 484-519 and 640-681. Albeit always healed by the length of time, such schisms kept weakening the sense of unity. A point of interest is that most of these divisions originated into divisions affecting the Byzantine empire only. A high of the opposition of Byzantium to Rome was reached at the council In Trullo, under Emperor Justinian II, who aimed to impose himself to Rome even as far as canon law was concerned. The last of those clashes was the Iconoclasm, lasting 61 years. The Iconoclasm is a quarrel about the role of images in worshiping. A suspicion for the use of images, in Christendom and especially in the East, was supported by the Paulician heretics, who held all matter for bad and asking that any external forms, like the sacraments, rites, and the pictures and relics, to be abolised. They always had had some influence at the court of Constantinople since the 7th century as, in the beginning of the 8th century, several Eastern bishops came to support then. The Iconoclasts got the ear of the emperor Leo III the Isaurain (716-741), bringing to a first persecution. The emperor saw too the images like the cause of the difficulty to convert Jews and Muslims, as, on the other hand, he wanted to purify and centralize the Church. A form of rationalism against the piety of the monks -a tendency seen at various times in the East, was, at last, at the basis of the move. The bishops, on the other hand, were favourable too to the iconoclasm movement on the basis that they were jealous of the wealth and power of the pro-icons monks. The Pope, as the supreme place of appeal, was involved into the dispute, with the emperor ordering him to convoke a council to support the Iconoclasm. Pope Gregory II (713-731), at the opposite rebuked the claims of Byzantium. The quarrel, of course, added to the fact that Italy and the pope, at that time, were getting more and more distant from the Byzantine emperors. Numeroux Greek monks fled into the West. The struggle kept between the new pope, Gregory III, then Leo's son, Constantine V Copronymus (741-775). A lull, then a reaction set in eventually about 780 with the empress Irene, the emperor Leo IV's widow, restauring pictures and relics, and the favor of monks, with the approval of Pope Adrian I (772-795) of the Second General Council of Nicea (787). The Iconoclam however broke out again in 814, lasting 28 years and mostly supported by the Byzantine military, as it's an empress and regent again, Theodora, who restored peace in 842, as all the icons were brought back to all the churches in the empire on the first Sunday of Lent, 842. The Iconoclastic crisis had that aspect that it settled the relations between the State and Church among Byzantines. The Patriarch turned subjugated to the emperor as emperors were to serve the religious ambitiousness of the him against the Pope, along with the vast mission among Slavic peoples. Between 610 and 843 A.D., the East indeed had learned to live without the West as during half of that period, relations had been ruptured with Rome. From times to times balanced relationships could have been extant

The quarrel of the "Filioque" was the other step towards more schism. The earlier doctrine of the Faith steadily believed that the Holy Ghost processes from both God and His Son. The Greek doctrine seems to have also adhered to this statement. The Creed of Constantinople, which was enounced at the Council of Constantinople in 381, is omitting to mention this double procession, as its main purpose was to fight heretics which denied the Procession from the Father. This did not lead to any misunderstanding in the East. When, in Spain, the Wisigoths renounced Arianism and came to the Catholic Faith in 589, the Creed was found wanting on that point, by comparison. Hence it's there, in Spain, that the words "Filioque" were added ("Filioque", in Latin, means "and from the Son" -asserting for the first time in a Church text that double procession of the Holy Spirit). The practice expanded then in northeastern Italy, and in the Frankish world -where the Council of Aachen (809) seem to have approved the fact. That council seems to have did such in the particular context of the relationship between Charles and the successors, in Byzantium, to the impress Irena, following the imperial coronation of Charles in 800, getting sour. As two Latin monks of Jerusalem had come in Aachen by 806 and brought back in the Holy Land the way the Franks were now singing the Creed, at the mass, with the insertion of the Filioque, like Charles had imposed to the palatine chapel or had made imposed at the Council of Aquileia through arcbhishop Paulinus. That had indisposed the neighbouring Greek monks who made appeal to the Byzantine emperor, as the Latin monks did to the pope, who in turn appealed to Charlemagne. That eventually brought to that the Council of Aachen, in November 809, under the monitoring of archbishop Theodulf, approved for the whole Frankish empire the usage that Charlemagne had initiated as the Frankish ruler was taking that opportunity to stand against Byzantium and to accuse the East of heresy! The decrees of Aachen were in turn approved by Pope Leo III. The pope however approved the doctrine conveyed by the addition but adviced to omit the words "Filioque" in the liturgy. The position of Rome was that it was possible to propose the Creed of Constantinople in a clearer way, albeit not having it in the liturgy, likely, on some point, not to interfere with the relationships with the Eastern Church. The practice did not follow the pope's advice as the Filioque eventually gained a firm foothold in Rome itself. That quarrel of the Filioque had in fact important practical consequences. Should the Holy Spirit, like hold by the Orthodoxs, which followed the Nicea-Constantinople Credo, is proceding from the Father only, He can save whoever He wants, without any condition of religion as, should the Holy Spirit procede both from the Father and Christ, like hold in the West, Christian souls only can be saved as the obligation is made to the Church to convert any unbeliever

Thus, along a story of four centuries, the Western and Eastern Churches which, like some author says, began being two portions of the same Church, kept becoming two entities ready to be divided. It's not before the half of the 11th century however that they eventually ended like rival Churches. In 867, the so-called "Schism of Photius" occurred. The quarrel, this time, arose from that the patriarch of Constantinople, Ignatius, had refused, in 857, communion to the regent Bardas, guilty of open incest. Ignatius, on the other hand, was on the side of the party of the monks, willing to take their revenge from the violence of the times of the iconoclasm. Those times however were not prone to that are the Bulgars were threatening the Empire, not allowing any such dispute. The regent then overthrew the patriarch and replaced him with a protégé, Photius. Both the patriarch and Photius appealed to pope Nicholas I, in Rome. As Photius lost his case, he and Byzantium preferred to cut their links to Rome than to submit, as Photius denied the Procession of Holy Ghost from the Son, and opposed the insertion of the Filioque into the Constantinopolitan creed. It's doubtful however that the schism was really felt in the Eastern world. The former patriarch was restored in 869, as the other patriarchs of the East declared that they had accepted the pope's decision at the time of it. The Photius' opinion however kept lasting in the Byzantine world due to an anti-western party left by Photius. This latter had expressed in one affair the rancour of centuries between the East and the West, bringing the accusation of heresy againt the western Christendom to a point never reached before, calling the Latins "liars, fighters against God, forerunners of Antichrist". The Schism of Photius, further, took place at a time when the West and the East were competing for missionarizing into central Europe and the Balkans, Cyril and Methodius being in mission in the Balkans, Bulgaria and Moravia. The schism of Photius had represented a major step as, until the rupture in 1054 A.D., relations of power kept between Rome and Byzantium. Despite the decline of papacy which had matched the one of the Carolingians, popes intended however to keep intervening into Byzantine affaires as such interventions -which also went the other way- are seen until in 979 A.D., a time when Byzantium upheld antipope Francon. After that date, oppositions kept on as, now, they affronted the Byzantine empire and the Ottonian emperors. It's eventually patriarch Michael Caerularius (1043-1058) who, with no apparent reason, definitively broke with Rome, shuting up the Latin churches at Constantinople and hurling accusations. The Roman legates excommunicated Caerularius on July 16th, 1054, taking a great care that the excommunication be directed against the patriarch only and not against the emperor nor the people of the Byzantine empire. As the eastern Church had, since too long, taken the habit of obeying Constantinople and the emperor however, most of the remaining eastern patriarchs rallied the schism, which is still in use today. The Councils of Lyons in 1274 and Florence in 1439, instead of sincere efforts to reconciliation, were mere opportunistic attempts by the Greeks to gain the help of the West against the islamic threat, as the Eastern Church had become rooted into its Greek, anti-western stance. That separation between the Western and Eastern Churches which accentuated by the Carolingian era, originates from the doctrinal and liturgical divergences which brewed since long, from turns of mind which cristallyzed into conflicts, from the cultural distanciation, and from the affirmation of the West on a political point of view as well. Papacy, which, until now, had endeavoured -or had been forced- to maintain a dialog with the Eastern Christendom, became more Italian. Despite a renewed power of Byzantium during the Carolingian decline, all those tendencies -as Italy passed under Frankish control and, above all, the South which passed under the Northmen, with the will of the Patriarch to assert a superiority over the Pope- eventually led to the definitive rupture of 1054

The Carolingians And the Eastern Church

As far as the Carolingians are concerned, a first controversy concerning the double Procession of the Holy Ghost was held with the envoys of the Emperor Constantine Copronymus, in the Synod of Gentilly near Paris, held in the time of Pepin (767). At this same time, the Iconoclasm was raging in the East and the Byzantine envoys tried too to secure the Franks on their side in their campaign against the images, but with no success. The quarrel about the icons eventually determined a definitive break between Europe and Byzantium in terms of art with the East chosing the icon and its theological constraints as the West, where relics were playing the role of the icons, had artistic freedom. The Second Council of Nicea, in 787 A.D. decided that icons could receive a adoration equal to that of the Cross or the Gospels as they also linked to what they represented. As it is still unknown who was the culprit, a faulty text of Nicea was sent into the Frankish dominions, which among other was presenting Nicea like obliging to worship the images with the adoration given to the deity and saints. Hence Frankish prelates feared that their people, of which many had been just recently converted from paganism might be tempted to return to it throught such a cult of images. The Frankish world further was distrustful from the Byzantine elaborate forms of worshipping adressed both to God and their emperors, they considered like servile or idolatrous. It was why the western prelates, through the 'Libri Carolini,' which were a extended refutation, and augmented with quotes of Fathers and other arguments, asserted their different, European of icons, which were seen like purely material, decorative, objects with a teaching role as those views could be traced back to pope Gregory the Great. Images were to be 'the books of those who could not read.' The Franks were in fact equally rejecting the Iconoclast synod of 754 than Nicea II and they were refusing that the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Eastern emperor impose their councils to the Frankish dominions. Such views were confirmed at the Council of Frankfurt by 794 A.D., that the Franks claimed to be oecumenical. As Pope Adrian I was consulted by a Frankish embassy in that same year, which was led by abbot Angilbert of Centula, he knew that the decisions of Nicea II was in accordance with Christian doctrine as the version sent to the Franks was faulty, and that the conclusions of those were not that far from the council. He took his time however and as he died by Christmas 795, the case was never settled and five years later a new question, the one of the restoration of the Empire set the icon question aside. Adrian I further, by 794, had already sent a answer into which he presented the real decisions of Nicea but it seems like the Franks never received it as two papal legates, present there, did nothing to clear the misunderstanding. It is likely that i was not religion only which formed the basis of such the history, as politics, in that time of moves and frictions between Charlemagne and the Greeks (with, for example, Rotrud, the daughther of Charles betrothed with the son of Irene, Constantine VI and this betrothal canceled by Irene), leading, 13 years later, to the coronation of Charlemagne in Rome, surely had a role. A part of the Frankish arguments about images, which might come from Theodulf, bishop of Orléans, of a Visigothic origin and often quoted like the author of Libri Carolini, were basing upon the Old Testament which forbade the Elected People to make and worship idols. Among the Franks thus, they were to distrust religious pictures. God, for example, was very often figured under the shape of a hand out of a cloud, which was the expression of God's will and power along with a evocation of the Divine majesty

Such a misunderstanding and the amazing position of the Frankish Church about images kept under the reign of Louis the Pious. As, during the second iconoclastic persecution, the Byzantine emperor Michael II had written to Louis to demand the return of Greek exiles and to develop the whole question of image-worship and vehement accusations against its defenders, the Frankish emperor proposed Pope Eugene II (824-27) that Frankish bishops meet about a text on the subject. The bishops met in 825 at Paris as their texts just mimic the Synod of Frankfort exactly. Trying to propose a middle way, the Frankish bishops, in fact, are seen decidedly leaning toward the Iconoclasts! Pictures, they say, may be tolerated only as mere ornaments as Pope Adrian I is blamed for his assent to the Second Council of Nicaea. The emperor seem to have been afraid of what had been decided and asked the two bishops, Jeremias of Sens and Jonas of Orléans, bringing the acts to Rome, to efface any passages that might offend the pope. The emperor himself wrote to the pope, protesting that he just meant to help the pope in his discussions with the Byzantine court with usuful quotations from the Fathers.. Nothing more is known of what followed. What is sure is that some more correspondence kept for some time between the Frankish Church and Rome about the question of the images, as, gradually, the decrees of the pro-images decrees of Nicaea were eventually accepted throughout the Carolingian Empire. Pope John VIII (872-882) sent a better translation of the Acts of Nicaea which, at last, helped very much to remove the misunderstanding! Some isolated cases of Frankish iconoclasm kept however. It seems well, at last, that, on the other hand, such those religious disputes in relation to Byzantium to have been some other aspect of that complex game which was at play between the Franks, the Pope, and the Eastern empire

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 12/28/2010. contact us at