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Monday, 1 November 2010

East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church - From Apostolic Time to the Council of Florence: Book Review

Edited by Henry Chadwick, in the Oxford History of the Christian Church – Oxford University Press. Paperback £25

Fr John Salter writes in Chrysostom, November All Saints 2010:

From soon after the Settlement of Constantine the Great Church experienced divisions. The so-called Nestorians hived off after the Council of Ephesus (431); twenty years later the Armenians, the Copts, the Syrians, the Syro-Indians and the Ethiopians found themselves, at various stages, out of communion with both Rome and Constantinople after the Council of Chalcedon (451). Arianism was to plague both Rome and Constantinople for some centuries. Theology did, of course, play an important part in causing divisions in the Great Church, but disagreements over the Papacy were more political and on order of precedence, rather than over such questions as the universal jurisdiction of the Pope in ecclesiastical terms. As Chadwick points out the Bishops of Rome, who were subjects of the Byzantine Emperor, hated the implication that the Roman leadership depended on the secular dignity of their city rather than on the shrines and relics of Peter and (in a subordinate clause) Paul, whose apostleship to all nations Jews and Gentiles, had apostolic and biblical
sanction (Galatians 2: 1-10)… The canon of Constantinople, second see in the hierarchy after Rome's honour was equally resented at Alexandria, long reckoned as the second city of the empire, and by
the sixth canon of Nicaea. The Council of Aquileia stressed Alexandrian dignity, marking western support. Resentment was to affect relations between the sees of Alexandria and Constantinople for
decades to come, as in the quarrel between John Chrysostom and Theophilus of Alexandria in and after 402. The schism of the Copts in the Patriarchate of Alexandria may have had less to do with
Monophysitism than to the fact that Alexandria had been kicked into the Third Division after Constantinople, whereas it had been second only to Rome.

The Acacaian Schism was partially caused by the attempt to pacify those in Alexandria who saw the Council of Chalcedon as the thin edge of a Nestorian wedge. To attempt to reconcile the Egyptian
Christians, the Byzantine Emperor Zeno in 482 issued an edict, popularly known as the Union of Henotikon, drafted by the patriarch of Constantinople Acacius. Alexandria had just acquired a new   patriarch Peter, who shared the reservations about Chalcedon held by many of his flock. The union formula was put to him, his signature being the price for imperial recognition. He signed and Acacius of Constantinople held communion with him. Rome was not consulted and was offended. The  Henotikon`s unenthusiastic reference to Chalcedon seemed insulting to papal authority. Acacius and the eastern patriarchs were excommunicated by Rome and for thirty-four years east and west were not in communion. At one point Acacius assumed, perhaps asserted, that he possessed the jurisdiction to decide the issue in the Greek churches. This was not language calculated to pacify irate bishops of Rome, who took him to be claiming to be 'head of the entire Church'. In a sharp correspondence,  successive popes stressed that Peter's see was the sole locus of decisions. Felix II hailed a Roman synod (5 October 485), which insisted that even the decisions of the Council of Nicaea (325) lacked ecumenical authority until the holy Roman Church had confirmed them. Against a Byzantine conciliar ecclesiology Pope Gelasius I (492-6) countered that St.Peter's successors at Rome needed no synods to ratify their decisions.

Chadwick takes us on through the Iconoclastic Controversy and Pope Hadrian I, and the iconoclastic Emperor Leo IV (died 780) and his iconodule widow the Empress Irene, and shows how this was yet
another bone of contention between east and west. In this tiff, the Imperial Army was Low Church and the Navy High Church, rather like Anglican military chaplains in our own days. In the West the Franks were in the ascendancy and the Papacy needed to be backing them. Pope Hadrian I had died and a new Pope, Leo III, sat on Peter`s throne. He was a priest and not of noble birth like his predecessor, so a somewhat snobbish nephew of Hadrian's had him physically assaulted and he fled to Charlemagne at Paderborn, as Chadwick writes  - "The meeting had vast consequences for Europe's future".

Charlemagne travelled to Rome and set up an inquiry, which vindicated Leo against the Hadrian party. Charlemagne was devoted to St. Peter and in the apostle's basilica on Christmas Day 800 he went to mass. Leo was declared innocent and replied by crowning the king as "Roman emperor and Augustus". He would then drop his previous title "patricius Romanorum". Charles accepted the new
title, impressed by the argument that the Greeks had "only a woman"; but, from fear of vexing the emperor at Constantinople, disowned responsibility for Leo's surprising action. Leo needed the ceremony, which manifested his intimate bond to Charlemagne.

That bond was - surprising looking back at the Filioque controversy - rather strained by the action of Charlemagne's Church of Aachen; "To insert Filioque into the liturgical recitation of the creed in the context of the sacraments was, in Roman eyes, an indiscretion and an insensitive mistake. It asserted a particular church to be prior to the universal. Charlemagne's Aachen synod thought otherwise."

The conversion of the bellicose Bulgarians was another cause of friction between Constantinople and Rome. Pope Nicholas I was eager to include them in the patriarchate of the West to the chagrin of the patriarchs of Constantinople, whose Greek priest missionaries had first evangelized the tribes of the Bulgar Khan.

The Empire had had fracases with the Bulgars and needed to keep them onside politically and militarily, so the thought that they may throw in their lot with the Latin Franks was too disturbing to
contemplate. Hence Bulgaria is Orthodox today with its own Patriarch, but for some years it was out of communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch - until about sixty years ago. It had impertinently built an Exarchate almost opposite the Ecumenical Patriarch's residence in the Phanar, which boasts a cast iron church floated on rafts down the Danube by courtesy of the mischievous Turks looking for ways of harassing the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Phanar may well have wished at times that the Bulgars had gone under Rome.

Then there came the problem of Patriarch Ignatius, who sought to emphasize his Church's foundation by St. Andrew, St. Peter`s brother, who had brought Peter to Christ. It was Ignatius who sent a pallium to Pope Leon IV, to emphasize his equality with the Bishop of Rome. It was promptly returned  "with a polite note that a pallium was an honour conferred by and not on a pope."

The Photian schism under the highly educated and cultured Patriarch Photios was the first major schism between east and west, and Photios has been allocated a great deal of the blame; although  Father Francis Dvornik in his book The Photian Schism tried to give a fair assessment of the character of Photios. That 9th century schism was eventually healed and the excommunications flung at each other by Pope Nicholas I and Photios (always a bogey man in the Latin West) were lifted. The Great Schism of 1054 under Patriarch Michael Cerularius has taken longer to heal, although the anathemas thrown at each other by the Patriarch and the Papacy have been now lifted.

There followed the reunion councils of Lyons (1274), but there was the appalling scandal of the savagery of the 4th Crusade in 1204, the sacking of Constantinople and the setting up of the absurd Latin Kingdom and Latin Patriarch on the devastated Byzantine remains to live down. (It still has not been in Greece!) It was Pope John XXIII who eventually abolished the title of Patriarch of Constantinople at the Papal Court as late as the 1960s. The office of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem persists to the irritation of the Orthodox and, to some extent, of the Greek Catholics.

That union brought some Easterns into communion with Rome, as did the Council of Basel Ferrara-Florence of 1458 on a larger scale, when the Armenians of what was then Lemberg (later Lwow, and L`viv today) were reconciled with the Holy See; but the community has been in and out of communion with Rome and is presently under the Catholikos of Etchmiadzin, so separated. The Copts were reconciled in 1442 and the Ruthenians of Poland also entered the union and have remained united ever since, to be joined by the Ukrainians at the Union of Brest Litovsk in 1596. But Florence's Council gave an excuse for Henry VIII to set himself up as Head of the Church of England, when he heard of the Greeks' rejection of Papal jurisdiction.

Professor Henry Chadwick concludes:
A genuine ecumenical agreement had to win the hearts and minds of those on both sides who had reservation. There were fears and layers of conscious or unconscious hatred inherited from centuries of separation and ignorance… What keeps pro-unionists from losing heart is the ineradicable belief that division brings evils in its train- evils to which we become insensitive by habit. Patient listening can uncover deep and wide agreement concealed by the polemics of the past. The most obvious characteristics shared in common by the anti-unionists on both sides in ecumenical conversation, whether at Florence or elsewhere, in that interpretation of the past defines the limits of what is possible in the present.

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