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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XVII THE CHURCHES OF THE EAST

The Church And The Empire by D. J. Medley

CHAPTER XVII THE CHURCHES OF THE EAST

[Sidenote: The Eastern Church.]

A history of the Church Universal must needs take some notice of those Christian communities which never acknowledged the supremacy of Rome. Chief among these stands the Church of the Eastern Empire where the Patriarch of Constantinople strove to make himself at least the equal of the Bishop of Rome. This mutual jealousy of the old and the new Rome was only one of the causes of quarrel between them, a quarrel which was fanned from time to time by the appeal of a defeated party in some ecclesiastical dispute at Constantinople to the Pope. The most famous of these disputes was that begun by the deposition of the aristocratic Ignatius from the patriarchate in favour of the learned Photius. Both Emperor and Patriarch appealed from Constantinople to Pope Nicholas I; but when that masterful bishop decided against the new patriarch, Photius used his learning to summarise in eight articles the differences between east and west. Of these, two concerned such important matters as the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Ghost and the practice of clerical celibacy.

[Sidenote: Breach between East and West.]

The schism made by this quarrel was healed for the moment, but for the first time the points of difference between the two Churches had been crystallised. The Eastern Emperors, however, who still possessed lands in the Italian peninsula, felt it to their interest to remain friendly with the pope, and in 1024 an attempt on the part of Basil II to adjust the question of dignity by the suggestion that both the Patriarch and the Pope should assume the title of Universal bishop, was only defeated by the inextinguishable jealousy of the Western Church. The presence of the Normans in Southern Italy should have united Pope and Eastern Emperor against the intruders; but the Greek Church only saw in the Norman successes a danger lest Southern Italy should pass from the Greek to the Latin communion, and the Patriarch Michael Caerularius joined with the Bulgarian Archbishop of Achrida in publicly warning the inhabitants of Apulia against the errors of the Latin Church. The one especially noted was the use of unleavened bread at the Sacrament, with the addition of others of even less importance. The Emperor Constantine Monomachos strove hard in the interests of peace and even compelled a literary champion of the Greek Church, Nicetas Pectoratus, a monk of the monastery of Studium, to repudiate his own arguments. But the violence of the papal envoys and the obstinacy of the Patriarch made agreement impossible. Finally the legates laid upon the altar of St. Sophia's Church a document in which Michael and all his party were anathematised; and the Patriarch responded by summoning a Council, which in like manner banned the Western Church (1054). Not only was Michael's action supported by the clergy and people of Constantinople, but it was ratified by the approval of the Patriarchs of Bulgaria and Antioch.

[Sidenote: Attempts at reconciliation.]

Attempts to promote reunion between the Churches were made at intervals. The danger from the Mohammedans forced the Emperors of the East to seek help in the West and encouraged the theologians of the West in their maintenance of a perfectly rigid attitude. These approaches began with the forced intercourse of the First Crusade, and in 1098 Urban II held a Council at Bari among the Greeks of Southern Italy, at which Anselm of Canterbury, then in voluntary exile, was put forward to propound the Roman view. In 1112 Peter Grosolanus the defeated candidate for the archbishopric of Milan, as an emissary of Pope Pascal II discussed the points at issue before the Emperor Alexius Comnenus and was answered by Eustratius Archbishop of Nicaea. Again in 1135 Lothair III had sent as ambassador to John Comnenus a Premonstratensian Canon Anselm afterwards Bishop of Havelberg, who held a debate with Nicetas Archbishop of Nicomedia. According to the report which he subsequently drew up at the request of Eugenius III, the points discussed were the procession of the Holy Ghost, the use of unleavened bread and the claims of Rome. A generation later the Emperor Manuel Comnenus held a conference at Constantinople (1170) for the promotion of a union which he sincerely desired; while extant letters of Eugenius III and Hadrian IV to ecclesiastics of the Eastern Church show that the head of the Western Church did not ignore the question of Christian unity. But there were too many political causes of division. The success of the crusaders involved the establishment of the Latin Church in lands claimed by the Eastern Empire. And this affected not only the principalities of Syria, but also Cyprus which Richard Coeur de Lion conquered and handed over to Guy of Lusignan in compensation for his lost kingdom of Jerusalem; as a consequence of which the Greek clergy and monks there were cruelly persecuted. The aggression of the Latin Church was even more conspicuous when the Normans conquered Thessalonica in 1186 and treated the Greek churches and services with contumely, and when Innocent III took advantage of the fact that the Bulgarian monarch had repudiated the suzerainty of Constantinople, to reassert over the Bulgarian Church the supremacy of Rome. The Greeks did not suffer without protest and the massacre of the Latins of Constantinople under the usurper Andronicus (1183) showed the depth as well as the impotence of the Greek hatred. The climax of all previous acts of usurpation was reached in the capture of Constantinople and the organisation of a Latin Church beside the Latin empire. But the Greek Emperors who ruled at Nicaea found it politic to pretend a desire for union of the Churches, and in 1233 and again in 1234 negotiations were carried on between the Greek Patriarch Germanus and some Dominican and Franciscan emissaries of Gregory IX. But the bargaining was one-sided; for while with Rome Christian unity never rose above an object to be kept in view, to the Greeks of the East it presented itself as the only condition on which they could claim the help which might save them from gradual extinction. And this became even more apparent than hitherto after the reconquest of Constantinople by the Greeks; for it seemed as if the prospect of a peaceful reunion of the Churches alone might remove the pretext now given to the princes of the West for a new crusade directed against Constantinople. This was no imaginary danger; for Charles of Anjou and Naples had made himself the champion of the dispossessed Latin Emperor and was preparing to attack. So Michael Palaeologus who had rewon Constantinople for the Greeks and himself, made overtures to Pope Urban IV; and negotiations were thus begun which ended in the appearance of Greek delegates at the second Council of Lyons in 1274. These accepted, on behalf of the Greek Church and empire, the primacy of Rome and the Latin Creed. In return, the Bulgarian Church was once more restored to its own Metropolitan at Achrida. But all Michael's coercive efforts failed to make the union acceptable to his own clergy and people. It was so difficult to carry out the promised assimilation of the Greek to the Latin forms that the Popes became impatient; and when Nicholas III, the opponent of Charles of Sicily, was succeeded by Martin IV, the tool of that ambitious monarch, the excommunication launched by the new Pope against the Eastern Emperor was merely a preliminary step to the general attack on the empire planned by Charles. Michael's son and successor Andronicus entirely repudiated the agreement made at Lyons; but the misfortunes of Charles in Sicily removed the serious danger of invasion from the West. Overtures for ecclesiastical union were not renewed until the conquests of the Turks in the Balkan peninsula forced the Greeks to seek external aid.

[Sidenote: Internal condition of Church.]

The internal condition of the Eastern Church during these centuries does not call for much detailed treatment. The end of the iconoclastic quarrel had been followed by the development of great elaboration of ceremonial in the services. It is true that learning was not dead and that the Emperors of the Comnenan house distinctly encouraged it. But the literature of ancient Greece and the theological works of the Fathers of the early Church appeared to the writers of these centuries to have exhausted all earthly possibilities in their respective spheres. The writings of learned Christians did not rescue their religion from pure formalism; while the study of the classics led them to the ancient philosophers and landed many of the students in paganism. Under the circumstances it is not perhaps wonderful that there arose a sect called Gnosimachi who deprecated any attempt after knowledge of the Scriptures on the ground that God demands good deeds done in all simplicity. It is, however, among the monks, if anywhere, that personal piety should have been retained. But such as existed, was inclined to take fantastic forms; and we are told of those who wrapped themselves round with the odour of sanctity by self-inflicted tortures of a useless and meaningless kind. There was no foundation of new monastic Orders in the East such as during these centuries led to the maintenance of the missionary spirit in the West. But it was from the monastic bodies alone that any opposition was offered to the actions of the Emperor. The most noteworthy case was that of the Abbot Nicephorus Blemmydes whose attempts to promote an understanding between the Eastern and Western Churches (1245) were foiled, because he had the temerity to deal harshly with the mistress of the Emperor John Dukas. Indeed the imperial authority was an influence stronger than any other, with the possible exception of hatred of the Latin Church. Such dogmatic discussions as occasionally arose, were concerned with unimportant points: but the participation of the Emperor did not necessarily tend to either truth or peace. Manuel I not only intervened in such disputes, but even started them himself and enforced his view by punishing those who took the opposite side.

[Sidenote: Heresies.]

The Eastern Church, like that of the West, had to deal with heretical sects. The Paulicians who in the ninth century had formed a politico-religious community on the confines of the empire, were deprived of their political power by Basil I in 872; while in 969 John Tzimisces transferred a portion of them from their settlements in Asia Minor to the district of Philippopolis in Thrace. Here they throve, until their desertion of the Emperor Alexius in his war against Robert Guiscard and the Normans ended the toleration hitherto extended to the exercise of their religion, and the |thirteenth apostle,| as his literary daughter Anna Comnena styles him, entered on a plan of forcible conversion. Alexius also dealt severely with another body of heretics. The Bogomiles were perhaps a revival of the earlier sect of the Euchites or Messalians who are mentioned by writers of the fourth century. The origin of the name is obscure, but it is said to mean |Friends of God.| Their tenets resembled those of the Cathari with whom they were most probably connected. Alexius by pretending sympathy got from their leader an avowal of his doctrines and then had him burnt (1116). But in neither of these cases did violent suppression achieve its purpose. Despite the foundation of the orthodox city of Alexiopolis in the neighbourhood, the Paulicians still continued about Philippopolis, where they were secretly strengthened in their particularist attitude by the continued presence of the remnants of the Bogomiles. Even a century later the Patriarch Germanus (1230) attacks the latter on the plea that they are still secretly making converts.

[Sidenote: Other Eastern Churches.]

Of the other Christian Churches of the East we have seen that the Nestorians were very active among the Tartars throughout Asia. They and their Syrian neighbours but dogmatic opponents, the Jacobites, a monophysite body, adopted a conciliatory disposition towards the crusaders. In 1237 the prior of the Dominicans in Jerusalem reported to Gregory IX that the Maphrian of the Jacobites, a kind of lesser patriarch, had acknowledged the supremacy of Rome; but a submission given from stress of circumstances carried no permanent weight; and subsequent correspondence between Innocent IV and officials of both churches seems to have been wilfully misunderstood at Rome. There were two other Christian churches whose conduct was guided by proximity to the Mohammedans. The small body of the Maronites on Mount Lebanon kept their ancient customs but attached themselves to the Roman Church in 1182 and remained faithful to her. The more important Armenian Church wavered between Rome and Constantinople. Manuel Comnenus made overtures to the Patriarch or Catholicos, which were prevented from coming to any result by the emperor's death. Shortly afterwards Leo the Great of Armenia was recognised as King by the Emperor Henry VI and was crowned by the Archbishop of Mainz; and in return he and his Catholicos recognised the supremacy of Rome. In 1240 the Greek patriarch tried to win over the Catholicos to the Eastern Church. In 1292 the Armenian King Haiton II, who became a Franciscan friar, persuaded his church to accept the Roman customs: but despite this nominal subjection to Rome, the obstinacy of the people prevented any real change in either doctrine or organisation.

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