Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ware Airs Dirty Laundry From History

(See my prefatory piece here.)

Ware's exposition on Orthodox history is clear and forthright. Orthodox history, like Christian history generally, is far too nuanced and complex for me to outline here. My aim is simpler: to highlight some, uh, highlights, and share the impact these may have on the discernment process.

Christendom divided first in the 5th and 6th centuries, when the Oriental Orthodox Churches divided from the 'main body of Christians'. These Oriental Churches are further divided into two, the 'Church of the East' (aka Assyrian, Nestorian or Chaldean), and the 'Non-Chalcedonian Churches' (aka Monophysite). [Note: their separation for not accepting an ecumenical council, and the Orthodox criterion for determining which ecumenical councils are infallible (i.e., that all the church accepts that council) will be a point worth raising at another time.]

The second major division of Christendom occurred at the Great Schism, regularly dated at 1054, but having earlier manifestations of discord and later manifestations of unity. Thus the church was trifurcated in its development amongst the following cultures: Semitic, Greek and Latin.

My opinion. Divisions have been with us from the time of the Apostles to the present. Therefore, a clear rule of proper vs. improper division seems essential, and Christians should be equipped to articulate the rule that they follow.

There was early infighting over the relative rank of the five great Patriarchates. When Constantinople won recognition as second only behind Rome, Alexandria (in third place) was none too happy (which brings to mind Luke 22:24, "A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest."). Ware notes that during the first eight centuries, while other Bishops fell into heresy, the Roman See was noted for the purity of its faith (p. 28).

The Eastern Church and State, since Constantine's time, have been closely linked. Constantine himself presided over the first ecumenical council (Nicaea) 'like some heavenly messenger of God' (said Eusebius). The Byzantine Emperor was believed to be God's living Icon, so that it was proper for Christians to Prostrate themselves before him. The Emperor could do what no other layman could: he wore vestments, censed the altar, held the Eucharistic elements in his hands, and would receive the Eucharist within the sanctuary as only the priests did.

It is interesting to contrast Orthodoxy's early devotion to the Secular Head with later resistance to devotion to the Pope. Ware believes that comparing Byzantium's imperial devotion to 'Caesaro-Papism' is unjust. To prove this he draws the familiar distinction between the separate spheres of sacerdotium and imperium (priesthood and imperial power) (pp. 40-41).

A most incredible tale follows the Moslem invasions. Sultan Mohammed II, conqueror of Constantinople, upon learning that the Patriarchal seat was vacant, personally installed the monk Gennadius as Patriarch (p. 88). Gennadius was a prolific writer against Rome and, Ware notes, the Sultan doubtless chose him to reduce the chance of the Greeks secretly seeking aid from Rome. Orthodoxy accepted this because of their practice of submitting to the imperium. Islam, on the other hand, saw no distinction between religion and imperial power, so the Christian ecclesiastical structure was assigned in toto as a secular administration. The Bishops became government officials, performing as civil heads of the Greek nation. This continued in Turkey until 1923, and in Cyprus until 1977.

Further, the Church's higher administration was plagued with corruption and simony. Each new Patriarch had to pay a costly "berat" to the Sultan to enter office, the cost of which was pushed down the line to the laity. Ware notes that, like in Rome, "everything was for sale." In a sad tale, the office of Patriach turned over often (so as to allow the Sultan to exact more "berats"). Outgoing office holders disappeared or mysteriously turned up dead to create more regular vacancies.

My opinion. Ware said it best: "Nationalism has been the bane of Orthodoxy for the last ten centuries." I learned from this romp through Orthodox history that, at the least, criticisms of Roman simony and corruption can be similarly made against Orthodoxy. If the validity of Apostolic Succession can be destroyed by such wretched human practices, it was destroyed equally in the East as in the West. No list of 'atrocities' is sufficient to settle the questions of succession and division, or to settle what Christ meant in His prayer for Unity and His promise that the Church would prevail. It is only so much hot air.


Canadian said...

One minute the Church is plumbing the depths of the mystery of the Incarnation against heresy, the next....hmmmm. Things haven't changed that much when we look at ourselves today, huh?

"Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner"...
because WE SUCK!

Principium unitatis said...


You have to read pp. 25-48 of Soloviev's The Russian Church and the Papacy. Read it slowly, and carefully. After I read it, I wrote this. He shows how the battle, the entire first eight centuries, was ultimately about the incarnation. He shows how that relates to caesaro-papism, and how it relates to the conflict between East and the papacy.

Here's a teaser from page 25:

"The fundamental truth and distinctive idea of Christianity is the perfect union of the divine and the human individually achieved in Christ, and finding its social realization in Christian humanity, in which the divine is represented by the Church, centered in the supreme pontiff, and the human by the state. This intimate relation between Church and state implies the primacy of the former, since the divine is previous in time and superior in being to the human. Heresy attacked the perfect unity of the divine and the human in Jesus Christ precisely in order to undermine the living bond between Church and state, and to confer upon the latter an absolute independence."

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...


Interesting take on the Jesus prayer! Church history is dazzling and dizzying at the same time.


Okay, you've recommended enough of that book - it'll be first in my next Amazon order. Thank you for sharing. You're quite a prolific writer; where do you find the time and strength?

Peace in Christ,

Gil Garza said...

You swerve into why the Eastern Orthodox ultimately embraced "Caesaro-Papism."

Gennadios the monk was chosen by the Sultan to become the ruler and leader of the Christians under Islamic rule because he had been the leader of the Pro-Ottoman Party in Constantinople prior to her fall. Gennadios opposed the Emperor and the Patriarch in their fight against Islamic conquest of The City (see 1543, by Roger Crowley for a complete treatment of the conquest of Constantinople).

It was Islamic rulers that enforced Caesaro-Papism (& the Hellenization of the other Sees) upon the Eastern Orthodox, making it part of Islamic Law.

Prior to the Great Schism, submission of all ecclesiastical authority to Petrine authority was a matter of Imperial Civil Law (ironically!). The Imperial Decree on Papal Power of 445 AD is the first example of such codes. Others can be seen in the Code of Justinian.

Thos said...


Thank you for sharing; your knowledge of the subject seems thorough. I'm not sure if your comment about swerving into the Orthodox acceptance of "Caesaro-Papism" was directed at me or Bryan. If at me, I can only note that I don't believe I summarized Ware as saying that there was such an acceptance, but rather noted his objection to comparisons between Caesaro-Papism and Imperial Devotion (such as prostration before the Imperial head).

Regarding Gennadios, I gave Ware's take, and not my own (since I know nothing of the matter). Thank you for filling in the extra detail. I'm curious why Ware would consider his selection by the Sultan to be based on fear of Western ties, when your alternate theory sounds valid. For clarity's sake, I do not think Ware meant that Gennadios was 'in bed' with the Sultan, but rather that he happened to be a politically expedient choice (this is reinforced by your added detail, that he was previously pro-Ottoman.

I hope this helps clear some points up - thanks again!

Peace in Christ,

Gil Garza said...

I believe that Gennadios Scholarios provides insight into understanding the polemics of Orthodoxy against the West under Islamic rule.

By the time the Islamic Sultan was moving his troops against The City, Gennadios had established himself as the Sultan’s only voice from within.

Gennadios argued that it would be better to consent to Islamic rule than to accept Western help for defense. When help from the West did arrive, he organized protests and shouting from the streets: "We don't want Latin help or Latin union...!"

When the Emperor and the Patriarch (each of whom had been elected by overwhelmingly pro-unionist parties) celebrated reunion with Rome at Hagia Sophia in 1542, only Gennadios and 8 monks refused to participate. Gennadios henceforth called Hagia Sophia “no better than a Jewish Synagogue or heathen temple” and refused to worship there (pg 71, 1453).

Gennadios’ unequivocal support of the Sultan emboldened Mehmet to be complete in his total conquest of The City. Once the Sultan had conquered Constantinople, Gennadios was rescued by Mehmet in Edirne and made Patriarch, civil ruler and tax collector of Christians under Ottoman rule. Christians were confined to the Phanar district in The City and clergy made to wear the distinctive dress that they wear even today. Christians were forbidden to bear arms or speak against the Islamic government and made to pay the tax made so famous, recently, by Osama Bin Laden.

Unionists in The City at the time of its conquest were all murdered. Any support for reunion was seen as an affront to Islam and to the Sultan and was eliminated, ever after. Any Greek support for the West was quickly suppressed by the Sultan. Anti-Western and Anti-Union sentiment was also rewarded with greater civil and ecclesiastical power.

The Islamic Ottomans suppressed re-unionism and any turn to the West and continued to do so until the modern era. They also rewarded anti-Western Christian polemicists.

No one can forget the fraternal embrace between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Pope in 1964. Athenagoras I, who had been the chief Greek cleric in the Western Hemisphere since 1930, was sympathetic to the cause of reunion. This thaw in Greek-Roman relations could have never come about without American intervention. Marines sent by President Truman prevented Athenagoras from being assassinated upon his installation.

Islamic control of Eastern Orthodox clerics under Ottoman rule should not be underestimated, as you point out.

Thos said...


Your elucidation has been fascinating. Thank you.

You've reminded me of a huge oversight in my post, so I'm about to make a new entry - stand by.