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A Key To The Knowledge Of Church History by John Henry Blunt

CHAPTER IX The Division between East and West


[Sidenote: Outward unity of the Church broken]

So far we have contemplated the Church of Christ as one in external communion, no less than by the inner bonds of charity and of sacramental life; but we now come to a period in which this external unity began to be to a certain extent dissolved, and that in great measure by the same outward influences which had at first secured its cohesion. [Sidenote: with the breaking up of the Roman Empire.] Heresies and schisms, especially the great heresy of Arius, had indeed troubled the Church and threatened to break the visible union existing between its branches in different countries; but it was not until after the dissolution of the Roman empire that the breach really came.

Section I. Jealousy between Rome and Constantinople.

[Sidenote: Reasons for Roman ascendancy.]

During the flourishing days of the empire the city of Rome had naturally been looked up to with great reverence by all the other Churches of the world. Its political importance as the centre of government, the vast number {95} of its martyrs, its comparative freedom from heresy, and its connexion with the lives and deaths of St. Peter and St. Paul, all tended to give it a moral ascendancy which was gradually claimed as a right. This, however, did not take place without protests on the part of other Bishops, nor even without very definite disclaimers of any wish for or right to supreme authority on the part of the Bishops of Rome themselves.

[Sidenote: Ambition of an Eastern Patriarch.]

Constantinople, as being the new Rome and capital of the Eastern empire, was especially jealous of the claims of the mother city, and one of her Patriarchs, John the Faster, in the sixth century, first set the evil example of assuming the title of |Universal Bishop,| a title which the Roman Pontiffs have since taken and retained. In proportion as the political division between East and West became more complete, so also did the tendency towards separation in ecclesiastical matters increase. [Sidenote: Beginnings of disunion.] Western dioceses, now peopled by the barbarian nations who had overrun Europe, still looked up to Rome as their centre and head; whilst the Eastern Bishops, under the sway of the decaying empire, clung to Constantinople. [Sidenote: Its crisis.] The controversy respecting the use of Images, and that about the Procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son as well as from the Father, were, however, the means of actually bringing about the cessation of all outward communion between East and West.

Section 2. The Iconoclast (or Image-breaking) Controversy.

[Sidenote: Dislike of images]

There had been from very early times an extensive though not universal feeling in the Church, against the use of painting or sculpture in {96} Divine Worship. This feeling was occasioned partly by dread of the idolatry still prevalent amongst the heathen, and partly, especially in the East, where it was strongest, by the remains of Judaism still lingering in the Church of Christ. [Sidenote: lost in the West, but retained in the East.] As heathenism died out, it was gradually felt in the West that the strong reasons formerly existing against the adornment of Churches with pictures and images had passed away; but the Eastern Church, with that dread of change which distinguishes it to this day, clung as before to the old sentiment.

[Sidenote: Image-breaking legislation]

In the eighth century, Leo III., |the Isaurian,| then reigning at Constantinople, passed a decree for the removal of all images and paintings from Churches, and his violent conduct in the matter occasioned such discontent in the West, that Italy withdrew altogether from the nominal allegiance she had hitherto paid to the emperors, about A.D.730. [sidenote: dissolved the link between Eastern and Western Empires.] Other emperors were as fanatical in their Iconoclastic (or image-breaking) prejudices as Leo, and their extravagance excited a reaction in the other extreme in the Western empire. [Sidenote: Reactionary decrees in the West.] In A.D.786, a Council, which was held at Nicaea, not only protested against the violent fanaticism of the East, but sanctioned the veneration of images and pictures to an extent which we find it hard to justify, and which was, in fact, deemed unjustifiable by many in the West, who yet wished for their retention as decorations and aids to devotional feeling. Charlemagne, under the influence of our English Alcuin, opposed the decision of the Council, and held provincial synods (especially one at Frankfort, A.D.794) {97} to condemn what was, at any rate, very like image-worship.

[Sidenote: Charitable supposition regarding them.]

Probably dread of Judaism and Mahometanism, with their hatred of our Blessed Lord and of His Image, as well as of all sculpture, had some influence on the decisions of the council of A.D.786, and we may reasonably hope that it was not really intended to encourage any worship or veneration contrary to the express law of God. At any rate, the Iconoclast controversy aided very strongly to put an end to all political union, and with it to all public ecclesiastical intercourse, between East and West; though the bonds of external communion were not yet broken, and they were still one both in faith and practice.

Section 3. The Controversy respecting the Double Procession of the Holy Ghost.

[Sidenote: Western addition to the Nicene creed.]

We have seen that the summary of Christian belief, known to us as the Nicene Creed, was completed at the Council of Constantinople, A.D.381; but with this exception, that the article defining the faith of the Church concerning the Third Person of the Ever-Blessed Trinity, asserted only that |the Holy Ghost . . . . proceedeth from the Father,| without the addition of the words |and the Son;| and it was the controversy as to the admission or non-admission of these words into the Creed which caused the formal division between Eastern and Western Christendom. The question is said to have first arisen in the fifth {98} century; and gradually the words in dispute came to be sung in the West during Divine Service. [Sidenote: Decrees against it.] In the ninth century an appeal was made on the subject to Pope Leo III., who decided in a provincial Council that no such addition could lawfully be made to the Creed, and ordered it to be engraved on silver plates exactly as the Council of Constantinople had left it. Towards the end of the same century another Council was held at Constantinople, which also decreed the disuse of the addition, and then the matter dropped for about a hundred and fifty years. [Sidenote: Dispute stirred up again for political purposes.] Its revival seems to have been chiefly owing to political jealousies and to the struggle for supremacy which was continually going on between Rome and Constantinople. We may be allowed to believe that the dispute was, in reality, a question of mere words, and that the two branches of the One Church did, and still do, hold the |One Faith,| although differing in their mode of expressing it. [Sidenote: Actual schism in consequence.] Still the ultra-conservatism which has always distinguished the Eastern Church, and the unyielding temper which has been no less conspicuous in the Church of Rome, did in time bring about a formal schism; and in A.D.1053, the Pope Leo IX. issued a sentence of excommunication against the Patriarch of Constantinople and all who adhered to him. In the following year the Patriarch Michael Cerularius summoned a synod at Constantinople, and retorted the excommunication upon the Latins. Two attempts at reconciliation were afterwards made, one in A.D.1274, following the close of the last Crusade, and another which, after lengthened negotiations, came to an equally unsuccessful termination at the Council of Florence, A.D.1430.


[Sidenote: Outward union never since restored.]

Since that time the two great Branches of the One Vine, whilst still drawing Life and Nourishment from the same Divine Root of Jesse by means of the same Holy Sacraments, have yet abstained from all acts of outward communion, and have failed to recognize in each other those essential marks of Catholicity which God's Mercy and Providence has preserved to them even in the midst of all their respective defects of Charity, or their errors in theory and practice.

Chap. VI., sec.3.


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