Sunday, December 22, 2013

12) Ecumenicism, Schism, and Call to Islam

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12) Ecumenicism, Schism, and Call to Islam

The Great Schism of 1054
The Great Schism
Government ties between the Western Latin and the Eastern Greek churches first broke in 476 CE when Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the Goths. This would result in a drift between the two spheres and a subsequent development of independence in the West. In the centuries that followed division and tensions would grow over a variety of issues.

A later rift between Pope and Emperor would escalate to the first schism during the period of Eastern Iconoclasm, when the Emperor would issue an edict to ban and destroy religious images with the Pope challenging imperial authority to make such decrees. Adding to continued pointed exchange was the rapid decline of the Eastern Empire.

Subsequent to the rise of Islam, the centers for Christian theology, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, would fall to Muslim control. This resulted in Constantinople becoming the sole ecclesiastical challenger to the western papacy. Provocations would turn to serious ecumenical challenges once the Pope made up his mind to edit the sacrosanct Nicene Creed.

Pope vs Emperor

Never the Twain Shall Meet

Over the 500 years since the Council of Nicaea, there were regular disagreements between the East and West Churches. Here are a few major differences, which remained unresolved by the 11th century. Even with this short list, serious division is evident.

Final Controversy
In 1014, the Latin Western Church formally accepted changes in the Nicene Creed to include the “Filioque”, a Latin phrase to define the Holy Spirit’s role in the Trinity as being “and (from) the Son”. The Filioque had been recited within the Creed since the 8th century. However, by the 11th century Rome came to embrace it as further clarification of the Trinity. 

The Holy Spirit's Role in the Trinity
Ultimately, a final decision as to whether the Holy Spirit came through the Father, the Son or both could only be made by Jesus Christ at some miraculous reappearance before the Church Fathers. In lieu of that, the Western church was set on reopening the age-old Christology debate. 

Not surprisingly, the change was rejected by the Eastern Church (though they were a few centuries late objecting) as being contrary to the Council of Nicaea and the Second Ecumenical Council, which established the Holy Spirit as proceeding “from the Father”. As trivial as this objection may seem (considering Christ and his apostles had not bothered to explain it better), this updated theological progression of the Holy Spirit would again impact the conception of the Person of Christ, and Christology had been at the very root of all sectarian differences within the Church since before the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. At that time, numerous Christian sects had been deemed heretical by the majority of bishops in attendance at Nicaea, simply because they held differing views. 

The resulting disagreements at Nicaea had led to the unseating of several venerable bishops. A further consequence had been an abandonment of the new imperial bound church by many of its followers, with hermit monks scurrying off into the hinterlands to spread their own brand of Christianity (Arianism, Gnosticism, etc). Yet, with full knowledge of these earlier consequences, Rome decided to once again opening the pandora box of ecclesiastical debate. 

The Apocryphal "Donatio"
Failed Attempt at Papal Supremacy 

In 1054, Pope Leo IX sent legates to Constantinople to defend the Pope’s primacy to amend the Nicene Creed, asserting Emperor Constantine had provided the papacy with supreme temporal and spiritual power in his imperial decree entitled the “Donation of Constantine”.

This must have seemed a stretch to anyone familiar with Church history. Constantine's involvement occurred half a century before Christianity was the state religion, and he was neither baptized or a practicing Christian at the time. Therefore, not holding any position within the church, how could he promote the Pope? Moreover, the document’s authenticity had been questioned earlier on in that century, and there existed no record of the “Donatio” in Constantinople, where it was purported to have been written. Consequently, Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cærularius discarded the document and its claims out of hand. 

Mutual Excommunication
The visit by the legates turned hostile and both sides excommunicated each other. To further deflate Rome’s position, the legates excommunication was surreptitious, as Pope Leo died before his legates could censure the Patriarchs, thus nullifying the excommunication. Still, valid or otherwise, this final crossing of ecclesiastical swords would at long last signal the end for all times to one united Christian Church. These actions are today referred to as the Great Schism of 1054

Supporting Evidence Dismissed

The notorious Donation of Constantine document would finally be put to rest in the mid-15th century when it was determined to be apocryphal. Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) openly declared it a forgery. Later, the Italian priest, humanist and educator Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457) would further substantiate the forgery because of employed Latin elements that post-dated Constantine’s era. Others scholars would weigh in but it would be Pope Pius II (papacy - 1458-64) who would finally put the Latin Church’s house in order with a religious tract (unpublished) stating “...the Church owed its lands to Charlemagne and its powers of the keys to Peter”, which actually made far some sense. Unfortunately, the East was by then no longer lending an ear. 

Defeat at Manzikerk
Attempted Reconciliation
In 1071, after its defeat at the Battle of Manzikerk, Byzantium would lose the vital province of Anatolia to the Seljuk Turks (separate from the Fatimid Caliphate). In 1081, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos took up the reins of power within the Eastern Empire, which was by then beginning to collapse. By now, the Eastern Empire was feeling quite alone against the mounting military strength of the surrounding Muslim Caliphates. In 1095, Alexios sent a delegation west to speak before the Council of Piacenza to request military aid. The delegates would make two separate pleas for military assistance during their visit. Undoubtedly, the Pope saw the requests as an olive branch to renew ties to the East. Consequently, the stage was now set for the Crusades. 



The Filioque was the igniting match but not the substance of the fire. 500 years of disagreement and transgression would have eventually forced spontaneous combustion without the Filioque. The fundamental issue underlying division was imperial involvement in ecclesiastical matters. Had Sylvester I been present at the Council of Nicaea or forbid temporal involvement by the emperor then at the outset, all resulting disagreements could have been averted. What will remain in doubt is whether Pope Sylvester I would have triumphed over powerful Patriarchs present in 325 at Nicaea. We know that Constantine was willing to defer ecclesiastical matters to the ranking bishops, why not to the very pope who he had initially engaged with letters before convening the conference.

As for the Filioque, this was, no doubt, a provocative move to stir up the ecumenical pot. What is surprising is that it took almost 40 years for the East to respond to the Western edit of the Nicene Creed. History points out that this article of Christology would remain the Achilles Heal of the Christian Church. What was deliberately left as an article of faith by Christ and the Apostles would grow to become a subjective theory, which an institutionalized church would then concoct as ecumenical (canon) law

Heretic Meets with Capital Punishment
Subsequent transgressors would feel the weight of excommunication and even the punishment of death as heretics. It’s hard to imagine an intelligent and caring Christ or his humble mission-bound apostles endorsing such a contrivance or its ensuing punishment. Even today, the Nestorian Church of the East views Christ divinity as separate human and divine entities.

Click here for 13) Fire in Jerusalem 

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