The Western And Eastern Empires

Both the English missionaries and the Popes received protection from the Carolingian dynasty which had, by the mid-eighth century, become supreme de facto in the realm of the Franks. When the Lombards seemed finally to be on the point of engulfing Rome, the papal call for help was answered by the Carolingian Pepin, who crushed them. Shortly after that, in 751, the Pope duly agreed that the last Merovingian king should lose his royal office (which had long been purely nominal) to Pepin. This was at a time when the Emperor in Byzantium was attacking the use of religious images, which made him heretical in papal eyes. Thus a combination of things had shifted papal orientation decisively to the West by the mid-eighth century. Finally, on Christmas day 800, another Pope crowned Pepin's son Charlemagne as Emperor, a ritual which has been variously interpreted but which marks at least symbolically the end of the papacy's (admittedly stormy) love affair with the imperial power in Constantinople.

Nonetheless the Eastern and Western halves of the Christian world remained more or less united. The ninth-century conflict between Pope Nicholas I and Photius was a messy but temporary interlude. The evidence for some other alleged manifestations of division does not stand up to close examination. Thus for instance it has been maintained that Patriarch Sisinnios II (996-8) brought out the anti-Roman encyclicals of Photius, which had fallen into oblivion, under his own name. Although these encyclicals can be found attributed to Sisinnios in later manuscripts, other manuscripts attribute them to men who could not possibly have held the views they contain: in short, there is no trusting these late attributions (Beck 1980:127).

The course of a dispute over the fourth marriage of the Byzantine Emperor Leo IV shows the continued desire of the Greeks for communion even in strained circumstances. Greek Christianity frowned on re-marriage after a spouse's death, and Emperor Basil I, Leon VI's father, went so far as to declare a fourth marriage not only forbidden but invalid. The mortality rate of Leo VI's wives was high, however, and in 906 he married for the fourth time; so the Patriarch Nikolaos Mystikos banned the Emperor from participation in the liturgy. The Emperor put the question of the possibility of a fourth marriage to the Pope and the Eastern Patriarchs. The papal legates who subsequently arrived decided in favour of the Emperor. The dispute rumbled on for a long time, well after the death of Leo. Though leading Byzantine churchmen were at odds during this time, there was at least a consensus, reaffirmed by a synodal decision in 920, that fourth marriages should not be permitted. Nikolaos wrote twice after this decision to try and persuade the Pope to join the Byzantine consensus, but the papacy appeared to have maintained a diplomatic silence—perhaps because of genuine disagreement between Western and Eastern thinking on this issue. Finally Nikolaos made overtures for reconciliation without any conditions, and this time the Pope responded. This episode left unresolved the question of how genuine differences of principle between the Churches should be settled. It was evident that the two halves of the Christian world were moving towards substantially different conceptions of marriage, and a decision by a synod of Greek bishops was not likely to command obedience from their Western counterparts. In the short term, however, the episode shows how reluctant the two sectors were to lose contact with one another. The efforts of the Patriarch, above all, would seem to show a remarkably eirenic spirit.

If one abstracts from obvious social and political differences between the Byzantine empire and the West, moreover, these two great sectors of Christianity continued to look in some ways quite similar. Tenth-century German and English kings had an often decisive influence on episcopal appointments. Their control over and generally good relations with the episcopate were an important power base. It did not amount to the 'Caesaropapism' sometimes associated with Byzantium, but then as we have seen, there were definite limits to the influence even of Byzantine Emperors over the Church in their territory. Both Greek and Latin missionaries were active and successful in Eastern Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. In both East and West this was a great period in the history of monasticism. The order of Cluny in the West and Mount Athos in the East, most notably, exercised an incalculable influence on the spirituality of their respective societies. Admittedly the two sorts of monasticism were very different. One peculiarity of the West was the remarkable concentration by religious communities on the liturgical memoria (i.e. commemoration) of the absent living and the absent dead—a preoccupation which can already be found in the eighth century but which was carried in the tenth to astonishing lengths. The essential idea seems to have been to let absent individuals participate in the community of those present.

Contrasts in the styles of spiritual life need not have affected relations between Eastern and Western Christianity. It was possible for Otto II, the Western Emperor, to marry a Byzantine princess, and their son Otto III, who was deeply imbued with Byzantine culture, was due to follow this precedent when he died in 1002. The serious breach of 1054, when Leo IX was Pope and Michael Cerularius was Patriarch, arose in part out of the high-handed insensitivity of the papal envoy Humbert. Imbued with the idea that a strong interventionist papacy was a key to reform in the Church that he knew, he brought to Constantinople an abrasive attitude which had predictable results. Although the dispute can scarcely be regarded as, at the time, a formal schism, the spirit of intolerance shown by both sides, notably on matters of ritual and the introduction into the dispute of the dogmatic 'Filioque' issue (i.e., whether the words 'and the Son' should be included in the third part of the Nicene Creed, concerning the Holy Spirit), boded ill for further relations between the two traditions.

Military intervention from the West to protect the Eastern Christians from the Turks at first seemed to offer the likelihood of genuine rapprochement. The fiery reforming Pope Gregory VII proposed the plan to Emperor Michael VII, who liked it, and though it came to nothing then, Pope Urban II had managed by the end of the eleventh century to launch the first Crusade, at least one aim of which was to save the Greeks from Islam. However, direct contact between Prankish knights and Byzantium generated dislike and distrust on both sides, in both this and subsequent crusades.

Moreover, the religious transformation in the West, of which the crusading movement was a part, tended to increase the distance between Latin and Greek Christianity to a point where mutual comprehension would not be at all easy, especially since many of the changes were bound up with a rapid growth of papal dirigisme: fierce and dramatic initiatives, then rapidly expanding bureaucratic intervention, which made Rome seem quite different from that remote final court of appeal that Byzantine churchmen had at times seemed happy to accept.

It would be futile to look for a single cause for the religious transformation of the West. In the case of the crusading movement one might single out (at the cost of oversimplification) the popularity of pilgrimage and religious attempts to limit violence by the 'Truce of God' movement, and a papal idea of channelling this violence into a defence of Eastern Christians.

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