With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Friday, May 11, 2007

From Schism to the Council of Florence: Parts I and II

I have been relatively busy of late, but plan to get back to writing soon. Until then, I thought I would slowly put up parts of a paper I wrote in the fall of 2004 for a seminar I took at CUA. The paper was written relatively quickly, and probably needs some editing, but I thought there is enough in it which is quite good and worthwhile that I would put it up here.

I. A Tale of Three Cities

When Christians heard that the great city of Constantinople had fallen to the Turks on May 29, 1453, they were horrified. Nicholas of Cusa, amazed by the violence, felt the full impact of it in his grief. It led him to try to understand why religions fought so cruelly against each other. His response was to write a plea to the different the religions of the world, asking them to come together and work for a peaceful resolution of their differences. He believed they could produce a concordance of their beliefs, which allowed for a diversity of practices in a unified faith.[1] Perhaps he was influenced by his previous work in Constantinople, where he went to call the Greeks to an Ecumenical Council with the express purpose of reuniting the Greeks with the Latins. He saw dialogue was the means of peace. This council, the Council of Ferrara-Florence of 1438 -1445, was the second major attempt, beyond the use of sheer force, to bridge the schism which separated Rome from Constantinople. [2] The first, the Council of Lyons II in 1274, was important for ecclesiastical reforms it initiated. At both councils, the Greeks hoped reunion would encourage the West to protect the empire from all who sought to destroy it. Even though both councils received the support of the emperor, the Byzantine populace did not accept them. They thought that what was agreed to in them was in error, and that the Orthodox faith had been betrayed.[3]

The Pope tried to get Western military aid for Constantinople. While what was sent to Constantinople slowed down the Turkish advance, there was not enough aid to stop it. Constantinople’s fall was only a matter of time.[4] In the aftermath, Byzantium found a spiritual and political heir in Russia. Within a century of this monumental event, Russian apocalyptic literature was already designating Moscow as the third Rome, the final successor of the old empire.[5] Both of its ancestors, Rome and Constantinople, had fallen, first to a spiritual decline, and than to the infidel as a punishment for their errors. At last there were three great cities, and each had a rival claim for religious and secular authority. The attempts to forge a unity between Rome and Constantinople had becomes the means by which more discord was sown within Christendom.

While both unions failed, it is disingenuous to think that nothing positive came from them. To fully assess their value, not only must we take not as to why they failed, we must also look to see how they affected both sides of the Christian divide. When we do this, we will see some major work was achieved, not only at both of the councils, but also in their wake.

In the following essay we will look at the historical context of the councils, look at what was declared at them, and see why, if they reestablished unity, it was only for a fleeting moment of time. But we will not stop there. We will see how the councils helped spawn a different kind of dialogue, that of an intra-religious dialogue, where both sides had to re-examine their own religious traditions in light of what they learned at the councils. And finally, we will look at what lessons they can teach to the ecumenical movement. If we can learn from our mistakes, we might be able to forge a better future.

II A Bleak House, A Church Divided

To truly understand why Lyons II and Florence failed, we must look at them in context of their pre-history. We must understand why there was a schism between the East and the West, and also see what historical events helped strengthen the division between the churches. Thus, we will see that the disputes were often on theological issues, but there were many non-theological factors at work.

While many history books place the start of the schism 1054, this is an over simplification. Before then, there were many instances of schism between Rome and Constantinople. Each time, while unity was re-established, the relationship between the Sees was never fully healed. This helps point to the fact that the schism developed over a course of several centuries, long before 1054.[6] Certainly the lack of a common language between the West and the East did not help. Theology developed differently in the two traditions. Few could see that such a diversity was developing, and when they did it was too late. Rival ecclesiologies had sprung up. The West believed that the authority to lead the whole Church was granted to the Bishop of Rome. The Greeks, on the other hand, believed that authority rested upon the collegial activity of the so-called Pentarchy: the Sees of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, under the guidance of the teachings and canons of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils. This question of authority and primacy in the Church was played out over the question of the filioque.

Much could have been done by both the Greeks and the Latins to restore communion. Instead, both sides began to write polemical tracts against each other. These arguments were only a cover for a far greater problem: both sides lacked the humility and charity needed to heal the schism. Certainly whatever good will the Greeks might have had for the West was lost after the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. The elevation of a Western clergyman to the position of Patriarch in Constantinople was just one of many insults the Greeks endured at this sad point in history and this fostered a renewed polemical tradition against the Latins by the Greeks.[7] One can say that the indignity felt by the East became the central non-theological component behind the continuation of the schism. After the sacking of Constantinople, “mutual accusations turned into a real uprising of hatred…”[8] Many fled the city, and moved to the outskirts of the old Byzantine Empire, to Nicea, to form a new but smaller empire. Those who remained were forced to become Latins, and even after Constantinople was retaken by the Greeks, the people never forgot nor forgave the West for the humiliation they endured.

Michael Palaeologus (VIII) took back Constantinople from the West on July 25, 1261.[9] He found himself in a precarious situation. When Charles of Anjou became the king of Sicily, he wanted to take Constantinople for himself. To the East, the Turks continued their advance against the Byzantine Empire. Faced with the possibility of a war on two fronts, Michael, “did what he could to avert the danger by diplomatic and military measures. But he had the wit to see the ultimate deterrent to his Latin enemies lay in the moral authority and the restraining influence of the Pope.” [10] He believed that if he could foster a reunion of the churches, the Pope would back Michael against Charles of Anjou.

Pope Clement IV welcomed the idea of reunion, but he wanted it to be done only on his terms. He made it clear that the Greeks would have to accept Papal claims to authority, as well as the Western teachings on the filioque and purgatory. The Greeks would also have to follow the Latins in using unleavened bread for the eucharist. Clement knew it would be a difficult agreement for the Greeks to accept, but he “added in a subsequent letter that the emperor had great power over the Greek clergy and should simply coerce his subjects into union.”[11]

While Michael did not initially agree to Clement’s terms, he continued to hold a series of talks with Rome. Eventually he resigned himself to accepting the Papal demands. By that time Pope Clement IV was dead. His successor, Pope Gregory X, “made the liberation of the holy places the central theme of his pontificate.”[12] He believed that this could be accomplished by a united Christendom, and so was pleased with Michael’s desires for Christian unity. While Gregory did not change the stipulations for reunion, he was diplomatic enough to know that the agreement needed to be signed at a church council. In 1272, he issued a Bull for such a council to take place in 1274. The place he chose for the council was Lyons. Beyond reunion with the Greeks, he gave the council the objectives of collecting funds for a new Crusade and ecclesiastical reform.[13]

The Council of Lyons II was not set up to allow any formal debate between the Greeks and Latins. Michael promised the Pope that the Greeks would accept whatever the council decreed. He sent a layman, George Acropolites, to swear fidelity to the council on his behalf.[14] Thus it can be said the debates at the council were mostly focused upon internal Western concerns. This is not to say there was no theological investigation or achievement at the council to deal with the Greek situation. By this time, polemics on both sides of the schism focused on the filioqu. The Greeks had made the charge that the Latin filioque meant that there were two origins for the Holy Spirit. The council, taking note of this objection, agreed that such an interpretation would be in error. When they proclaimed the filioque, they said it must be understood in such a way that the Holy Spirit came from a single origination.[15] Despite the way the council favored the Latins, it is interesting to see this concession given to the Greeks. The West was not entirely unsympathetic to the Greeks, and made this change to rectify the situation.

There are two major reasons why the council failed to reconcile the East with the West. The first was the fact that unity was imposed, and not established through debate and dialogue. The Greeks did not place their heart into the union. Because they were told they were going to accept whatever was decreed at the council, the Greeks did not send a large delegation. Those who went were there mostly for ceremonial purposes. Only three important officials represented the East at the council – the layman George Acropolites, the ex-Patriarch of Constantinople Germanos III, and Theophanes the Metropolitan of Nicea.[16] The second reason was that the general populace reacted unfavorably to the council and its decrees. They had only recently broken their bondage from the West, and saw it as an example of the West once again trying to take control of Byzantium. Politicians might have obeyed the emperor’s wishes and agreed to the dictates of the council, but only a few Byzantines actually came to accept what the council taught. The most important of these was John Bekkos.[17] The unity was short lived, and did not last past Michael’s death. His son, Andronicus II, repudiated the council soon after his elevation to the throne. When Michael had died, he was rejected by many of the Greeks as a heretic, and anathematized by Pope Gregory’s successor, showing that neither side fully appreciated his attempts for unity.[18]

[1] He wrote one of the first great writings on religious pluralism, De Pace Fidei, where he begins by decrying the religious violence which spawned the destruction of Constantinople, “Fuit ex his, quae apud Constantinppolim proxime saevissime acta per Turkorum regem divulgabantur, quidam vir zelo Dei accensus, qui loca illarum regionum aliquando viderat, ut pluribus gemitibus oraret omnium creatorem; quod persecutionem, quae ob diversum ritum religionum plus solito saevit, sua pietate moderaretur.” Nikolaus von Kues, Philosophisch-Theologische Schriften, Band III (Wien, Austria: Herder & Co., 1967), 706.
[2] After the decree of unity was signed with the Greeks in 1439, the council continued to work and call other separated churches, such as the Coptic Orthodox Church, back into communion with Rome.
[3] See for example Deno John Geanakoplos, Interaction of the “Sibling” Byzantine and Western Cultures in the Middle Ages and Italian Renaissance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 156 – 170 for the general reaction against the Council of Lyons, and George E. Demacopoulos, “The Popular Reception of the Council of Florence in Constantinople 1439 – 1453,” in St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 43 (1999): 37 – 53 for an important analysis on the reaction to the Florentine union.
[4] Cardinal Isidore, once the Metropolitan of Kiev, became the Papal Legate to the Byzantine emperor. Upon his entry into Constantinople in 1452, he proclaimed and celebrated the Florentine Union. He had brought with him a small number of troops, and the people of Constantinople for a time came to believe that Western aid was going to save them. This almost swayed them to accept the union. But by this time, the troops which would reach Constantinople would be too few, and not enough to hold back the Turks. See Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 69 – 72; 82 -85.
[5] John Meyendorff, Rome, Constantinople, Moscow: Historical and Theological Studies (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), 125.
[6] As Jaroslav Pelikan relates, “The formal severance of communion came later, but the loss of community had been there earlier. In many ways it seems correct to look for the religious and doctrinal origins of the split in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, even tough there was only occasional explicit acknowledgement of the widening gulf.” Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600 – 1700), (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974), 147.
[7] See John Meyendorff, Rome, Constantinople, Moscow, 78 -9.
[8] John Meyendorff, “St Peter in Byzantine Theology,” in The Primacy of Peter, ed. John Meyendorff (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992), 77.
[9] Henry Chadwick, East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church, From Apostolic Times Until the Council of Florence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 246.
[10] Donald M. Nicol, “The Byzantine Reaction to the Second Council of Lyons, 1274” in Councils and Assemblies, ed. G.J. Cuming and Derek Baker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 115.
[11] Chadwick, East and West, 246 – 7.
[12] Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco: 1997), 219.
[13] Steven Runcimann, The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958; Canto edition, 1992), 148.
[14] Chadwick, East and West, 249.
[15] “Fideli ac devota professione fatemur, quod Spiritus sanctus aeternaliter ex Patre et Filio, non tanquam ex duobus principiis, sed tanquam ex uno principio, non duabus spirationibus, sed unica spiratione, procedit..” Concilium Lugdunense II in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils: Volume One, ed. Norman P. Tanner, S.J. (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 314.
[16] Deno J. Geanakopolos, “Bonaventura, the Two Mendicant Orders, and the Greeks at the Council of Lyons (1274),” in The Orthodox Churches and the East, ed. Derek Baker (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976), 192-3.
[17] Known as the “unionist” Patriarch, John was not originally supportive of the union or its teaching on the filioque. Sergius Bulgakov tells us of his conversion while he was in prison: “It is a remarkable fact of his life that he began as an opponent of the union with the Latins that was being prepared by the emperor of Constantinople. He was imprisoned for this, and it was precisely the question of the procession of the Holy Spirit that for him was the chief stumbling block. In prison he obtained the works of the Latinizers on this question […] and they made upon him an impression so great that he became as ardent a defender of the Western doctrine as previously he had been an opponent of Latinism.” Sergius Bulgakov, The Comforter, trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 103.
[18] See Chadwick, East and West, 253.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home