Monday, July 26, 2021

Cementing Division


The way to reunion was therefore open to the first pope who sincerely desired to pursue it.

But none did.

The Age of Division: Christendom from the Great Schism to the Protestant Reformation, by John Strickland

Most groups, when small and, especially, when persecuted, find it easier to overlook differences and stick together on the big things.  Once size and power are achieved, factions come to the surface – authority over a smaller group is more valuable to many than playing a lessor role in a larger group.

So, I read this sentence, cited above and referring to the time shortly after the Great Schism, and – even taking Strickland’s narrative at face value – find myself asking: why?  Why would any pope decide to pursue it when there was little need to do so from a standpoint of security, scale, etc.? 

The division could only be reversed through one of two equally unlikely scenarios: the abdication of the newly created Roman Catholic papal monarchy of the West, or the capitulation to it of the Orthodox East.  Neither ever occurred.

And, unexamined to any great degree: why would the patriarch in the East desire it, except for aid to hold off the armies of Islam and Turks?  Which was subsequently done.  Which raises an interesting question: why ask the West for help – hence launching the first Crusade – and believe nothing would be expected in return?

With this preamble out of the way, a quick look at four important documents – two of these forged: we have already touched on The Donation of Constantine, purporting that all authority – both over the episcopate and over the state – was bestowed on the bishop of Rome.  First used in the eleventh century, it was penned a couple of centuries earlier, and well after Constantine’s death.  But this was not known at the time.

There is also a collection of legal precedents attributed to one Isidorus Mercator.  It, too, was a fabrication – but also initially unknown to be so.  It claimed to include canons of the early Church fathers, but also was composed in the ninth century.  It would also assert papal supremacy.

Humbert – who stood as the highest Christian authority in the West after Leo’s death and before a new pope was named – would write a three-volume Three Books against the Simoniacs.  As the title suggests, the volumes addressed simony, offering necessary reforms.  But it also introduced a new claim: the papacy, as an institution, would be the necessary intermediator for the experience of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Finally, the Papal Dictate, from 1075: the pope may be judged by no one; the pope alone is rightly to be called universal; the pope alone shall have his name called in the churches; the pope possesses the exclusive power to make new laws; the pope may depose and reinstate bishops without assembling a synod.  The Church of Rome has never erred and shall never err to all eternity.

What followed in the West: a rapid succession of popes, militarism – even against Christians – blessed by the Church and in exchange for fealty to Rome; excommunication of the Western emperor.  What was to come to the East was equally significant.

The Turks, following in the wake of the Huns and the Mongols before them, would sweep in from the east – even conquering land previously conquered by the Arabs. 

An example of this outrageous behavior by the Turks is offered:

In 1004 an effort was made to undermine the Christians’ paradisiacal subculture by outlawing the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection at Pascha.

Can you imagine?  Passing laws that outlaw Christians from meeting at Easter?  What ungodly hordes!  Only tyrannical dictators would ever dare such a dastardly deed.  That could never happen in a free country.  But I digress (only slightly).

Alp Arslan, leader of the Turks, would attack Georgia and Armenia in 1064.  The Armenian capital of Ani was destroyed, with stories of dead bodies piled so high that the streets were impassible.  (What remains of Ani’s fabled one-thousand churches today is a ghost of a town, in Turkey and within spitting distance of the Armenian border.)

Yet the emperor only acted when the Turks came further west, into central Anatolia.  The emperor attacked at Manzikert, and Arslan wiped out the armies of Byzantine Christians and captured the emperor.  This loss included a duplicitous retreat by one of the Byzantine leaders, in hope of gaining political advantage in the wake of the disastrous result. 

It also included the gouging out of the emperor’s eyes – not by the Turks, but by his Christian enemies after his release.  It seems clear that the East, despite its favorable (for Strickland) cosmology and theology, held no superiority regarding bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

Which brings us to the Crusades.  An opportunity to reunite Christendom, perhaps?  Obviously, it didn’t work out that way.  I have covered the Crusades several times, most recently here.  Now I will just touch on two episodes.

First, the Fourth Crusade was called in 1198, but did not begin until 1202; it resulted in nothing beyond a mercenary spirit.  Bloodshed driven by political intrigue, and much of this sourced in the East. 

An armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem was called; along the way, the Crusaders, out of money, sacked Zara.  A Christian city, under the authority of the pope!  A strongly worded excommunication would follow, but this had no effect on future behavior.

A claimant to the Byzantine throne, Alexios Angelos, would pay the crusaders good money if they would help him secure the throne.  Sail to Constantinople first, receive this pay, and then go on to Jerusalem.  The crusaders did just this, in 1203.  As soon as they were successful, however, Alexios reneged on his debt.

So they attacked Constantinople.  After several days of siege, the walls were breached.  The army was let loose, on a city that had never fallen to an invading army in 900 years.  It was April 12, 1204 – Great and Holy Monday.  The first three days of Passion week brought slaughter to civilians, rape to women, and theft of the wealth of the city and Church.

Next, Christian heretics:

In 1209, Pope Innocent ordered a crusade to suppress the heretical Albigensians (also known as Cathars) in southern France.

These were Christians that held to a gnostic notion: the world is fundamentally evil and bereft of God’s presence.  The pope announced the same indulgence offered for the crusades against the Muslims; as the pope stated, the Albigensians “are worse than them.”

The crusade lasted years, with the worst single battle in 1209 – the sack of Beziers.  The crusading commander was a member of the Roman Catholic clergy.  When asked how to tell the heretics from the Christian faithful, he is reported to have said “kill them all, for God will know his own.”  Strickland notes that twenty-thousand were thus slaughtered, although many feel the number is exaggerated as the town was likely not much larger than 10 – 15 thousand.


Throughout, Strickland continues to emphasize the dual nature (in simple terms, Augustine’s two cities) of the West as opposed to the Symphony of the East.  I have yet to find a convincing argument for the Eastern position as relates to governance, albeit this isn’t the focus of Strickland’s work.  

I am also yet to find a convincing argument that gets past the issues of monopoly authority in a world of fallen man.  Strickland himself has offered numerous examples of abuse in Eastern governance and Eastern Christianity.

Jesus certainly didn’t model a Symphony.  But maybe I am not yet understanding any of this.


  1. You will probably enjoy this essay:

    I just ordered his book "Rendering unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America" from my government library as well.

  2. It might be of interest to note that the Patriarch of Constantinople did not create rival episcopates for the West, nor, to my knowledge, did the Pope do so in the East. "Communio in Sacris": extending Eucharistic hospitality from Orthodox to the Latins, and vice versa, was routinely practiced in the Middle East. Until the rape of Constantinople. That event solidified an otherwise somewhat fluid schism. After that, as the Easterners put it, "Rather the sultan's turban than the Papal tiara."