Written by Vladimir Moss



     When Emperor Basil II died in 1025, New Rome had reached its peak – politically, militarily and culturally. Some fifty years later, after the disastrous defeat at the hands of the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert in 1071, she started upon the path of decline that would lead to the Fall of the City in 1204, and again, more permanently, in 1453. In between these two events lay another: the loss of the West’s unity with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and the religio-political civilization of Orthodox Christian Romanity. This fall was accomplished in the historical capital of the West, Old Rome, in the year 1054, when the Patriarchate of Old Rome fell under the anathema of the Great Church of Constantinople. Simultaneously it was announced symbolically in the heavens by the collapse of the Crab nebula (a fact noted by Chinese astronomers of the time). Thus the great star that had been Western Christianity now became a black hole, sucking in a wider and wider swathe of peoples and civilizations into its murky depths. And the New Rome, too, suffered: one of the two “lungs” of Orthodox Christian Romanity had collapsed, and the whole body was now weaker, more prone to disease and less capable of vigorous recovery…

     Such an important event has naturally elicited much study and analysis; and in what is now a very well-known lecture, Fr. John Romanides put forward a new and highly controversial thesis: that the schism between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism was not a schism between Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) Christianity, but between the Romans understood in a very broad sense and the nation of the Franks. By the Romans he understands the inhabitants of Gallic Romania (Southern France), Western Romania (Rome and Southern Italy) and Eastern Romania (Constantinople and its dependencies). By the Franks he appears to understand all the Germanic tribes of North-Western Europe – the Franks, the Visigoths, the Lombards, the Saxons and the Normans - with the exception of the “Romanized Anglo-Saxons” (although the Anglo-Saxons were in fact less Romanized than the Franks). Romanides’ argument is that the schism was not really caused by theological differences, - at any rate, between Rome and Constantinople, - but by political manipulations on the part of the Franks, the only real heretics: “The Franks used church structure and dogma in order to maintain their birthright, to hold the Roman nation in ‘just subjection’.”1 The West Romans, he claims, were never really heretics, but always remained in union with the East Romans of Constantinople, with whom they always formed essentially one nation, in faith, in culture and even in language. In another article, Romanides argues that the Protestant Reformation, together with the American and French revolutions, constituted the birth of “Re-Greco-Romanisation, but not in its Apostolic form”!2

     Romanides begins his lecture with a tribute to Patriarch Athenagoras and Archbishop Iakovos – two notorious Freemasons who tried to unite Orthodoxy with the heresies of the West. Having failed to see that these two leading contemporary “Romans” are in fact spiritually “Franks”, we should not be unduly surprised to find that he also fails to prove his case with regard to the Romans and Franks of yesteryear.

     But we may agree with the comment of Fr. Michael Vaporis in his foreword to Romanides’ lecture, that while “some might not agree with Romanides’ presentation, analysis or evaluation of the events leading to and causing the Schism”, “few will not be challenged to re-think the unfortunate circumstances which led to the tragic division”. Romanides’ presentation is challenging - though deeply flawed, as we shall try to demonstrate. And we shall try to rise to the challenge by presenting a more plausible account of the causes of the schism.

The Merovingian Franks

     If Romanides had limited his thesis to explaining the pernicious influence of the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne on East-West relations, and on the development of the schism between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, he would have done everyone a service. For Charlemagne not only created a political schism with Constantinople, but also introduced the heresy of the Filioque into his kingdom and rejected the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. This is undisputed.

      But Romanides casts aspersions even on those servants of Charlemagne who opposed the Filioque, like his English “minister of education” Alcuin. Morever, he casts the Franks as the villains of the piece much earlier than Charlemagne, quoting St. Boniface, the Apostle of Germany (+754) to the effect that the Frankish bishops were immoral warmongers. But he fails to mention that for two-and-a-half centuries before that the Frankish kingdom had been strongly Romanised and had produced many saints.

     Thus Thomas F.X. Noble and Thomas Head write: “Over the course of the seventh century… numerous men and women of the Frankish aristocracy came to be viewed as saints…

     “One of the first of these… was Queen Radegund (518-587)…. The Frankish female saints of the seventh century were, like Radegund, largely abbesses; the men were almost all bishops. Many had distinctly Germanic names: Balthild, Sadlberga, Rictrude, Wandrille, and Arnulf. Others bore traditional Roman names: Sulpicius, Eligius, and Caesaria. This evidence suggests that the old Roman elite had by now been almost entirely absorbed through intermarriage into the Frankish ruling classes. In the process the Franks had largely adopted a form of Latin as their spoken tongue, known as a Romance vernacular…”3

     Again, he asserts that the Franks enslaved the Orthodox Gallo-Romans of France, and sees the whole of their subsequent history in terms of failed attempts by the Orthodox Gallo-Romans to recover their independence from their heretical masters. But there is no historical evidence for such enslavement… Rather, the Franks were unique among the Germanic tribes of fifth-century Europe in being Orthodox. All the other Germanic tribes were Arians. So when Romanides speaks of the enslavement of the Orthodox Gallo-Romans to the “Franks”, his words can be accepted if they refer to the Franks before they became Orthodox, or to the Arian Ostrogoths and Visigoths (although the evidence appears to indicate that the Gothic yoke was not severe). However, when Clovis (Louis), the king of the Franks, was converted to Orthodox Christianity by his Burgundian (i.e. Germanic) wife St. Clothilde, this was welcomed by the Gallo-Romans as a liberation and a return to Romanity. Thus St. Avitus, Bishop of Vienne, congratulated Clovis on his baptism in terms that showed that he regarded his kingdom as still part of the Eastern Roman Empire: “Let Greece rejoice indeed in having chosen our princeps”.4

     Moreover, this is also how the East Romans also perceived it. Thus St. Gregory of Tours wrote that Clovis received letters “from the Emperor Anastasius to confer the consulate on him. In Saint Martin’s church he stood clad in a purple tunic and the military mantle, and he crowned himself with a diadem. He then rode out on his horse and with his own hand showered gold and silver coins among the people present all the way from the doorway of Saint Martin’s church to Tours cathedral. From that day on he was called Consul or Augustus.”5

     After his baptism Clovis proceeded to subdue the Arian Goths to the south and west and liberate the Orthodox there from the Arian yoke. Undoubtedly his Orthodox wife St. Clothilde played an important role in this, but there is no reason to suspect the sincerity of Clovis himself. Everywhere he introduced good laws. “Established at Paris, Clovis governed this kingdom by virtue of an agreement concluded with the bishops of Gaul, according to which natives and barbarians were to be on terms of equality... The Frankish kingdom thereupon took its place in history under more promising conditions than were to be found in any other state founded upon the ruins of the Roman Empire. All free men bore the title of Frank, had the same political status, and were eligible to the same offices. Besides, each individual observed the law of the people among whom he belonged; the Gallo-Roman lived according to the code, the barbarian according to the Salian or Ripuarian law; in other words, the law was personal, not territorial. If there were any privileges they belonged to the Gallo-Romans, who, in the beginning were the only ones on whom the episcopal dignity was conferred. The king governed the provinces through his counts, and had a considerable voice in the selection of the clergy. The drawing up of the Salian Law (Lex Salica), which seems to date from the early part of the reign of Clovis, and the Council of Orléans, convoked by him and held in the last year of his reign, prove that the legislative activity of this king was not eclipsed by his military energy.”6

     Our main source for early Frankish history, The History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours (+594), confirms this account. As Chris Wickham writes, St. Gregory, “although of an aristocratic Roman family, seems hardly aware the empire has gone at all; his founding hero was Clovis, and all his loyalties Frankish.”7 Nowhere does he dispute the legitimacy of Frankish rule; and the rebellions that take place are of Franks against Franks rather than Gallo-Romans against Franks. One exception to this rule was the attempt of Bishop Egidius of Rheims to kill King Childebert (book V, 19). But St. Gregory shows no sympathy for him, and records his trial and exile by his fellow-bishops without criticism. As for the independence of the bishops in the Frankish kingdom, this is demonstrated by the completely free election of St. Gregory himself to the episcopate by the people, with no interference by the king.8

     As if sensing that his thesis is contradicted by the authoritative testimony of St. Gregory, Romanides seeks in another lecture to downgrade his witness, declaring, on the basis of four supposed “mistakes” in his History of the Franks, that “Orthodox spirituality and theology… were not very well understood by the new class of aristocratic administrator bishops created by the Frankish kings”.9 It would take us too far from our theme to discuss these “mistakes” in detail. Suffice it to say that, far from undermining the authority of St. Gregory, - a miracle-worker and close friend of St. Gregory the Dialogist, - Romanides only shows that it is he who does not very well understand Orthodox spirituality and theology…

     Another great merit of the Frankish Orthodox kingdom was the help it provided in the conversion of neighbouring kingdoms to Orthodoxy. Thus in the late sixth century the Visigothic Prince Hermenegild was converted to Orthodoxy from Arianism by his Frankish wife Ingundis. Not only did Ingundis stubbornly refuse to become an Arian even when subjected to torture by the Queen Mother Goisuntha. On arriving in Seville, she and the Hispano-Roman bishop of the city St. Leander succeeded in converting Hermenegild to Orthodoxy. Then several thousand Goths were converted. For the sake of his new-found faith, Hermenegild rebelled against his Arian father King Leogivild, but, though aided by the Orthodox Sueves in the north-west (who converted to Orthodoxy in the 550s) and the Byzantines in the south-east, he was crushed by Leogivild (the Byzantine general was bribed to stay in camp10). Hermenegild himself was killed at Pascha, 585 for refusing to accept communion from an Arian bishop in prison.

     The influence of the Franks was hardly less beneficial in the conversion of the pagan Anglo-Saxons. The mission of St. Augustine to England was greatly helped on its way by Frankish bishops; and his conversion of King Ethelbert of Kent was undoubtedly helped by Ethelbert’s wife, the Frankish Princess Bertha and her chaplain, the Frankish Bishop Liutprand. A little later the Burgundian Bishop Felix became the apostle of East Anglia. The seventh and eighth centuries were the golden age of the English Orthodox Church, and the frequent interchange of holy bishops, abbots and abbesses across the Channel was no small factor in this triumph of Orthodoxy in England.

     Another great contribution of the Franks to Orthodoxy and civilization in general was the destruction of the Muslim Arab armies by the Frankish leader Charles Martel at Poitiers in 732. However, Romanides argues that the battle of Poitiers was in fact a suppression of a Gallo-Roman revolution that was supported by Arabs and Numidian Romans!11 And yet there can be no question that Charles Martel’s victory was a great triumph of Orthodoxy; for if he had lost, then the Muslims might well have gone on to conquer the whole of Western Europe, which in turn would have put enormous pressure on beleaguered Constantinople. One is tempted to think that Romanides cannot be serious in bemoaning the great victory of Charles Martel, who was given the title of “Patrician” by Pope Gregory II and saved Orthodox civilization in the West. And yet a reading of his lecture convinces us that he was!

     Romanides’ obsession with proving that the Franks were the root of all western evil even leads him to claim that the French revolution was the final, successful rising of the Gallo-Romans against the Franks!

     Romanides applies the same scenario to Spain, where the conversion of the Visigoths to Orthodoxy in the late sixth century was supposedly “nominal”. But then why were there so many Spanish saints well into the ninth century?..

West Rome Breaks with East Rome

     A generation after Charles Martel’s victory Charlemagne came to power in Francia and set about building that empire that was to be the ancestor, spiritually and geographically, both of the “Holy Roman Empire” of the Catholic Middle Ages and of the European Union of today. This was an extremely important historical development; and there is no doubt that the influence of the Franks on both Western and Eastern Romanity in the centuries that followed until the schism was often negative. Nevertheless, historical justice requires us to take issue with Romanides’ excessively one-sided account and contest his assertion that the fall of the West from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church was entirely the work of men of Germanic race who were deliberately trying to destroy Romanity, and not to a large extent the work of men of Italian (and sometimes even Greek) race who were often Romans only in name…

     Let us begin with the first act that “brought the Franks into Italy”: the blessing by Pope Zachariah of a dynastic coup d’état in Francia. The last Merovingian rulers were weak and ineffective: real power was concentrated in the hands of their “mayors” or prime ministers. Pope Zachariah had already been heavily engaged in the reorganization of the Frankish Church through his legate in Francia, St. Boniface, the English Apostle of Germany. In 751 the Frankish mayor, Peppin III, Charles Martel’s grandson, sent envoys to him to ask “whether it was just for one to reign and for another to rule”. Zachariah took the hint and blessed the deposition of Childeric III and the anointing of Peppin by St. Boniface in his place.

     We may wonder whether this act was right in God’s eyes, and whether Zachariah, the last of the Greek popes12, was interfering rightly in the politics of the West. Be that as it may, his successor, Stephen II, a Roman aristocrat, greatly increased the links with “the most Christian king of the Franks”. Having been deserted at a moment of great peril by the iconoclast Emperor Leo, who also deprived the Church of Rome of many bishoprics and their patrimonies, he crossed the Alps and in the summer of 754 gave Peppin the title of “patrician” and blessed him and his successors to rule in perpetuity. Pope Stephen also re-consecrated Peppin and his Queen - perhaps Peppin’s first consecration was deemed to have been illegitimate in that the last Merovingian king, Childeric, was still alive. Or perhaps this second anointing had a deeper significance. For, whether Stephen had this in mind or not, it came to signify the re-establishment of the Western Roman Empire, with its political capital north of the Alps, but its spiritual capital, as always, in Rome. For in exchange, the Franks became the official protectors of Rome instead of the Eastern emperors, whose subjects the Popes now ceased to be.13  

     It is important to note the Pope’s attitude towards the Eastern Emperor at this time: “We earnestly entreat you,” he wrote to Peppin, “to act towards the Greeks in such a manner that the Catholic faith may be for ever preserved, that the Church may be delivered from their malice, and may recover all her patrimony.”14 As Romanides correctly points out, to call someone “Greek” in this period was an insult, implying that he was not “Roman”, i.e. an Orthodox Christian, but rather a pagan or heretic. Of course the iconoclast Leo fully deserved the insult, but the more significant point here is that the insult was hurled, not by a Frank, but by a West Roman of impeccable genes from Romanides’ point of view…

     Peppin more than fulfilled his side of the bargain with Pope Stephen: he defeated the Lombards, restored the Pope to Rome and gave him the former Byzantine exarchate of Ravenna – the beginning of the Papal States and the role of the Popes as secular as well as spiritual rulers.

     At about this time the forgery known as The Donation of Constantine was concocted by someone in the papal chancellery. This alleged that Constantine the Great had given his throne to Pope Sylvester and his successors because “it is not right that an earthly emperor should have power in a place where the government of priests and the head of the Christian religion has been established by the heavenly Emperor”. For this reason he moved his capital to the New Rome, Constantinople. “And we ordain and decree that he [the Roman Pope] shall have rule as well over the four principal sees, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, as also over the Churches of God in all the world. And the pontiff who for the time being shall preside over the most holy Roman Church shall be the highest and chief of all priests in the whole world, and according to his decision shall all matters be settled.”15

     Now Romanides argues that the purpose of this forgery was to prevent the Franks from establishing their capital in Rome. Much more likely, however, is that its immediate purpose was directed, not against the Franks, - who, after all, were Orthodox and great benefactors of the papacy, - but against the heretical emperor in Constantinople, being meant to provide a justification for the papacy’s stealing of the exarchate of Ravenna from the emperor in exchange for his earlier depredations. But in the longer term its significance was deeper: it represented a quite new theory of the relationship between the secular and the ecclesiastical powers. For contrary to the doctrine of the “symphony” of the two powers which prevailed in the East and the Byzantine West, the theory encapsulated in the Donation essentially asserted that the head of the Roman Church had a higher authority, not only than any other “priest”, but also than the head of the Empire; so that the Emperor could only exert his authority as a kind of vassal of the Pope.

     Of course, there is an inherent contradiction in this theory. If it was St. Constantine who gave the authority to St. Sylvester, then the ultimate authority in the Christian commonwealth rested, not with the Pope, but with the Emperor. But this consequence was ignored in the face of the urgent necessity of finding some justification for the papacy’s expansionist plans. 16  

     But in the context of this article the major significance of the Donation consists in the fact that this foundation-stone of the papist heresy was concocted, not in Francia, but in Rome – and when the papacy was still in the hands of impeccably West Roman Popes who had, as far as we know, not a drop of Germanic blood in their veins!

The Popes and the Carolingians

      Towards the end of the century two further West Roman Popes – Hadrian I and Leo III – placed further solid stones in the edifice of the papist heresy. Now Romanides praises these Popes because they opposed the incipient heresies of Charlemagne – his rejection of the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council on icon-veneration (although this appears to have been the result of a mistranslation rather than deliberate heresy17), and the Filioque.

     This is fair enough. But Charlemagne’s heresies soon collapsed with the collapse of his empire, whereas the heresy of papism continued to strengthen. And, as we shall see, the heresy of papism – the most fundamental cause of the Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches – continued to be pursued in this period, not by the Franks, but by the West Roman Popes - most notably, by Pope Nicholas I.

      The attitude of Pope Hadrian can be seen in his reply to an Epistle of Empress Irene and her son. Abbé Guettée writes: “We will quote from his letter what he says respecting the Patriarch of Constantinople: ‘We are very much surprised to see that in your letter you give to Tarasius the title of oecumenical Patriarch. The Patriarch of Constantinople would not have even the second rank WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF OUR SEE; if he be oecumenical, must he not therefore have also the primacy over our church? All Christians know that this is a ridiculous assumption.’

     “Adrian sets before the Emperor the example of Charles, King of the Franks. ‘Following our advice,’ he says, ‘and fulfilling our wishes, he has subjected all the barbarian nations of the West; he has given to the Roman Church in perpetuity provinces, cities, castles and patrimonies which were withheld by the Lombards, and which by right belong to St. Peter; he does not cease daily to offer gold and silver for this light and sustenance of the poor.’

     “Here is language quite new on the part of Roman bishops, but henceforth destined to become habitual with them. It dates from 785; that is, from the same year when Adrian delivered to Ingelramm, Bishop of Metz, the collection of the False Decretals [which gave the Popes all authority to convene councils and judge bishops]. There is something highly significant in this coincidence. Was it Adrian himself who authorized this work of forgery? We do not know; but it is incontestable that it was in Rome itself under the pontificate of Adrian, and in the year in which he wrote so haughtily to the Emperor of the East, that this new code of the Papacy is first mentioned in history. Adrian is the true creator of the modern Papacy…”18

     That it was the papacy, rather than the Franks, who were behind the major developments in Church-State relations in this period is confirmed by a close analysis of the famous coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800. The context was a grave personal crisis of Pope Leo III, in which he very much needed the support of Charlemagne. For “even though his election had been unanimous,” writes Tom Holland, “Leo had enemies: for the papal office, which until recently had brought its holder only bills and overdrafts, was now capable of exciting the envious cupidity of the Roman aristocracy. On 25 April, as the heir of St. Peter rode in splendid procession to Mass, he was set upon by a gang of heavies. Bundled off into a monastery, Leo succeeded in escaping before his enemies, as had been their intention, could blind him and cut out his tongue. Lacking any other recourse, he resolved upon the desperate expedient of fleeing to the King of the Franks. The journey was a long and perilous one – for Charlemagne, that summer, was in Saxony, on the very outer reaches of Christendom. Wild rumours preceded the Pope, grisly reports that he had indeed been mutilated. When he finally arrived in the presence of Charlemagne, and it was discovered… that he still had his eyes and tongue, Leo solemnly asserted that they had been restored to him by St. Peter, sure evidence of the apostle’s outrage at the affront to his vicar. And then, embracing ‘the King, the father of Europe’, Leo summoned Charlemagne to his duty: to stir himself in defence of the Pope, ‘chief pastor of the world’, and to march on Rome.

     “And to Rome the king duly came. Not in any hurry, however, and certainly not so as to suggest that he was doing his suppliant’s bidding. Indeed, for the fugitive Pope, humiliation had followed upon humiliation. His enemies, arriving in Charlemagne’s presence only days after Leo, had publicly accused him of a series of extravagant sexual abuses. Commissioners, sent by Charlemagne to escort the Pope back to Rome and investigate the charges against him, drew up a report so damning that Alcuin preferred to burn it rather than be sullied by keeping it in his possession. When Charlemagne himself, in the early winter of 800, more than a year after Leo’s arrival in Saxony, finally approached the gates of Rome, the Pope humbly rode out to greet him twelve miles from the city. Even the ancient emperors had only required their servants to ride out six.

     “But Leo, a born fighter, was still resolved to salvage something from the wreckage. Blackened though his name had certainly been, he remained the Pope, St. Peter’s heir, the holder of an office that had been instituted of Christ Himself. It was not lightly to be given to any mortal, not even Charlemagne, to sit in judgement on Rome’s bishop. In token of this, when the proceedings against Leo formally opened on 1 December, they did so, not within the ancient limits of the city, but in the Vatican, on the far side of the Tiber, in implicit acknowledgement of the rights of the Pope, and the Pope alone, to rule in Rome. Papal officials, displaying their accustomed talent for uncovering ancient documents just when they were most needed, presented to Charlemagne papers which appeared conclusively to prove that their master could in fact only be judged by God. Charlemagne, accepting this submission, duly pronounced the Pope acquitted. Leo, placing his hand on a copy of the New Testament, then swore a flamboyant oath that he had been innocent all along.

     “And now, having triumphed over his enemies in Rome, he prepared to snatch an even more dramatic victory from the jaws of all his travails. Two days after the Pope’s acquittal, Charlemagne attended Christmas Mass in the shrine of St. Peter in the Vatican. He did so humbly, without any insignia of royalty, praying on his knees. As he rose, however, Leo stepped forward into the golden light cast by the altar candles, and placed a crown on his bare head. Simultaneously, the whole cathedral echoed to the ecstatic cries of the congregation, who hailed the Frankish king as ‘Augustus’ – the honorific of the ancient Caesars. Leo, never knowingly less than dramatic, then prostrated himself before Charlemagne’s feet, head down, arms outstretched. By venerable tradition, such obeisance had properly been performed only for one man: the emperor in Constantinople.

     “But now, following the events of that momentous Christmas Day, the West once again had an emperor of its own.

     “And it was the Pope, and no one else, who had granted him his crown…”19

     Now Charlemagne’s biographer Einhard claims that he would never have entered the church if he had known what the Pope was intending to do. And there is evidence that in later years Charlemagne drew back from too sharp a confrontation with Constantinople, dropping the phrase “of the Romans” while retaining the title “Emperor”. Moreover, he dropped his idea of attacking the Byzantine province of Sicily. Instead he proposed marriage to the Byzantine Empress Irene (or perhaps it was her idea20), hoping “thus to unite the Eastern and Western provinces”, as the chronicler Theophanes put it21 - not under his sole rule, for he must have realised that that was impossible, but perhaps on the model of the dual monarchy of the fifth-century Roman empire. In any case, all these plans collapsed with Irene’s overthrow in 802…22

     The important point in the context of this article is that although Charlemagne and his successors went along with the glorification of their role by the Popes, the real initiator of the process, and gainers from it, were not the Frankish kings, but the Popes, who obtained a “pocket emperor” in place of the Eastern Emperor, who could be used against the latter if necessary. As Judith Herrin writes:  “Of the three powers involved in the coronation event of 800, the Roman pontiff emerges as the clear winner in the triangular contest over imperial authority. By seizing the initiative and crowning Charles in his own way, Pope Leo claimed the superior authority to anoint an imperial ruler of the West, which established an important precedent… Later Charles would insist on crowning his own son Louis as emperor, without papal intervention. He thus designated his successor and, in due course, Louis inherited his father’s authority. But the notion that a western rule could not be a real emperor without a papal coronation and acclamation in ancient Rome grew out of the ceremonial devised by Leo III in 800.”23
     “Thus was the Roman empire of the West re-established. Rome, who had always looked with jealousy upon the removal of the seat of government to Constantinople, was in transports of joy; the Papacy, pandering to her secret lusts, was now invested with power such as she had never before possessed. The idea of Adrian was achieved by his successor. The modern Papacy, a mixed institution half political and half religious, was established; a new era was beginning for the Church of Jesus Christ – an era of intrigues and struggles, despotism and revolutions, innovations and scandals.”24

     The increased power of the papacy vis-á-vis the Franks after 800 is confirmed by Andrew Louth, who writes: “The Constitutio Romana sought to establish a bond between the Frankish Empire and the Republic of St. Peter, but it was a very different relationship from that which had formerly held between the pope and the Byzantine emperor. The Frankish emperor undertook to protect the legitimacy of the electoral process, but claimed no right, as the Byzantine emperor had done, to confirm the election itself. What we see here, in inchoate form, is a way of protecting the legitimacy and independence of the pope…”25

     However, after the death of Charlemagne his empire began to break up. And “it was precisely after the fall of the artificial empire of Charles” writes K.N. Leontiev, the disciple of St. Ambrose of Optina, “that the signs which constitute, in their integrity, a picture of a special European culture, a new universal civilization, become clearer and clearer. The future bounds of the most recent western States and particular cultures of Italy, France and Germany also begin to become clearer. The Crusades come closer, as does the flourishing age of knighthood and of German feudalism, which laid the foundations of the exceptional self-respect of the person (a self-respect which, passing by means of envy and imitation first into the bourgeoisie, produced the democratic revolution and engendered all these modern phrases about the boundless rights of the person, and then, penetrating to the lower levels of western society, made of every simple day-time worker and cobbler an existence corrupted by a nervous feeling of his own worth). Soon after this we hear the first sounds of Romantic poetry. Then Gothic architecture develops, and soon Dante’s Catholic epic poem will be created, etc. Papal power grows from this time. And so the reign of Charles the Great (9th century) is approximately the watershed after which the West begins more and more to bring its own civilisation and its own statehood into prominence. From this century Byzantine civilisation loses from its sphere of influence all the large and well-populated countries of the West.”26

     However, the power of the papacy began to grow again when Nicholas I ascended the papal throne in 858. He was a West Roman by birth (his father was the regionarius Theodore27), who spent his pontificate in violent conflict with the Frankish Emperor Louis II. According to Romanides’ criterion, therefore, he should have been a “good” pope, in that he opposed the “tyranny” of the Franks. But in fact, he was one of the worst of all the popes, trying to impose his tyranny on everyone, kings and bishops, easterners and westerners. The history of his championship of the Filioque and his struggle with St. Photius the Great, ending in his excommunication, is well-known to Orthodox readers. Less well-known is his war against Archbishops John of Ravenna, Hincmar of Rheims and others, that brought the Franks briefly into an alliance with the Eastern Church against him.

     So serious were the tensions that in 862 Emperor Louis II and the dissident archbishops marched on Rome. “As the Frankish army approached,” writes Llewellyn, “Nicholas organized fasts and processions for divine intervention. One of these was attacked and broken up in the street by Louis’ supporters in the city; the crosses and relics, including a part of the True Cross, were thrown to the ground and the pope himself was barely able to escape by river to the Leonine City. He remained there for two days until, with the promise of a safe-conduct, he went to interview Louis. In the Emperor’s camp the archbishops overwhelmed him with reproaches and accused him, in Louis’ presence, of trying to make himself emperor and of wishing to dominate the whole world – the expressions of resentment felt by a national episcopate in conflict with a supranational authority. Nicholas’s excommunication of the bishops was rejected and they in turn anathematized him.”28

     Nicholas won that particular battle – and promptly opened up the war on other fronts – in Bulgaria, and in Constantinople. In 863 he defrocked St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, in typically papist language. 29 The Frankish Annals of St. Bertin for 864 responded by speaking of “the lord Nicholas, who is called pope and who numbers himself as an apostle among the apostles, and who is making himself emperor of the whole world”.30 Nothing daunted, in 865 Nicholas declared that the Pope had authority “over all the earth, that is, over every other Church”, “the see of Peter has received the total power of government over all the sheep of Christ”. As he wrote to Emperor Michael III: “The judge shall be judged neither by Augustus, nor by any cleric, nor by the people… The First See shall not be judged by any…”31  

     In 867 St. Photius convened a large Council in Constantinople, to which he invited the archbishops of Ravenna, Trèves and Cologne who had appealed to him against Nicholas. Nicholas was defrocked. However, Nicholas’ successor, Hadrian II, rejected the Photian Council’s decree and burned its Acts. Then in 869 he convened a Council in Constantinople led by his legates that reversed the decisions of the earlier Council. Papists have often counted this anti-Photian council as the Eighth Ecumenical – not least, one suspects, because Hadrian demanded that all its participants recognized him as “Sovereign Pontiff and Universal Pope”. “The Pope,” he said, “judges all the bishops, but we do not read that any have judged him.”32 St. Photius refused to defend himself at the Council, saying that its thirty-three bishops could not presume to reverse the decision of the three hundred and eighteen bishops who had proclaimed him legitimate Patriarch, and condemned Nicholas, in 867.

     In 872 Hadrian II was succeeded by John VIII. His language in relation to Constantinople was scarcely less authoritarian than that of his predecessors. But in time he came to recognize St. Photius’s episcopate as lawful, and in 879-880 sent his legates to the Great Council of Constantinople, which anathematized the Filioque.

     However, in 903 Photius’ successor St. Nicholas the Mystic broke communion with Pope Christopher because the latter reintroduced the Filioque into the Creed of the Roman Church. In 904, however, communion between the two Churches was again restored. But the reappearance of the Filioque in Rome in 1009 under Pope Sergius IV caused the names of the Popes to be removed from the East Roman diptychs indefinitely…

Rome and the German Emperors: (1) The Ottonian Dynasty

     In the first half of the tenth century both the Frankish empire and the Roman papacy descended into chaos – the Franks because of the invasions of the Vikings, which precipitated the decentralization of political power on the more primitive and localized basis of feudal vassalage (this was the real cause of feudalism, not Romanides’ idea that it was for the sake of herding the Gallo-Roman Orthodox into slave-labour camps!33), and the Popes because of the moral degradation of “the pornocracy of Marozia”, the famous whore who exercised so much power over the Popes that were her sons or lovers. This disastrous situation had at least this advantage, that it both enabled the East to recover its strength unhindered by the machinations of the Popes and halted the spread of the papist heresy in the West. For how could anyone take the papacy’s claims seriously when it was plunged in a degradation fully equal to that of the Borgias in Renaissance times?

     In 955 two critical events took place. First, the German King Otto I, who had inherited the eastern part of the Carolingian empire, defeated the Magyars in open battle, thereby laying the basis for a powerful kingdom. And secondly the de facto ruler of Rome, Marquis Alberic of Spoleto, died and his son Octavian became Pope John XII at the age of sixteen.

     “Even for a pope of that period,” writes De Rosa, “he was so bad that the citizens were out for his blood. He had invented sins, they said, not known since the beginning of the world, including sleeping with his mother. He ran a harem in the Lateran Palace. He gambled with pilgrims’ offerings. He kept a stud of two thousand horses which he fed on almonds and figs steeped in wine. He rewarded the companions of his nights of love with golden chalices from St. Peter’s. He did nothing for the most profitable tourist trade of the day, namely, pilgrimages. Women in particular were warned not to enter St. John Lateran if they prized their honour; the pope was always on the prowl. In front of the high altar of the mother church of Christendom, he even toasted the Devil…”34

     Retribution was coming, however. Berengar of Lombardy advanced on Rome, and the pope in desperation appealed to Berengar’s feudal lord, Otto of Germany. This was Otto’s opportunity to seize that imperial crown, which would give him complete dominance over his rivals. He marched into Italy, drove out Berengar and was crowned Emperor by John on February 2, 962. However, when Otto demanded that the inhabitants of the Papal states should swear an oath of allegiance to him, Otto, and not to the pope, thereby treating the Papal states as one of his dependencies, the Pope took fright, transferred his support to Berengar and called on both the Hungarians and the Byzantines to help drive Otto out of Italy. But Otto saw this as treachery on the part of the pope; he summoned a synod in Rome, deposed John, and placed Leo VIII in his place. Then he inserted a clause into his agreement with Leo whereby in future no pope was to be consecrated without taking an oath of loyalty to the Emperor. Although Otto was crowned in Rome, he did not call himself “Emperor of the Romans”, but preferred simply “emperor”. This was probably because he did not wish to enter into a competition with the Byzantine emperor. 35

     However, Otto did gain the Byzantines’ recognition of his imperial title, and persuaded them to send Princess Theophanou, the niece of Emperor John Tzimiskes, to be the bride of his son, Otto II. The marriage was celebrated in Rome in 972. Theophanou then introduced another Byzantine, John Philagathos, as godfather of her son, Otto III; he later became head of the royal finances and finally - Pope (or antipope) John XV. This led to a sharp increase in Byzantine influence in the western empire36, and the temporary eclipse of the new papist theory of Church-State relations. Thus in an ivory bas-relief Christ is shown crowning Otto II and Theophanou – a Byzantine tenth-century motif expressing the traditionally Byzantine concept of Church-State symphony. 37

     In 991 Princess Theophanou died and the young Otto III became Emperor under the regency of his grandmother. He “dreamed of reuniting the two empires [of East and West] into one one day, so as to restore universal peace – a new imperial peace comparable to that of Augustus, a Roman Empire which would embrace once more the orbis terrarum before the end of the world that was announced for the year 1000.”38 To signify that the Renovatio Imperii Romani (originally a Carolingian idea) had truly begun, he moved his court from Aachen to Rome, introduced Byzantine ceremonial into his court on the Aventine hill, gave a stimulus to the rediscovery of Roman law, and began negotiations with the Byzantine Emperor for the hand of a daughter or niece of the basileus, which union would enable him to unite the two empires in a peaceful, traditional manner.

     The plan for union with Byzantium was foiled (the Byzantine princess he was to marry arrived in Italy just as Otto died). But Otto sought and followed the advice of holy hermits39, and Byzantine influence continued to spread outwards from the court. And when Gerbert of Aurillac became the first Frankish Pope in 999 and took the name Sylvester II, he revived memories, in those brought up on the forged Donation of Constantine, of the symphonic relationship between St. Constantine and Pope Sylvester I.40

     However, Sylvester loved the true symphony, not the forged variety: in 1001 he inspired Otto to issue an act demonstrating that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery.41 Moreover, this very unpapist Pope did not believe that he was above the judgement of his fellow-bishops. Thus he wrote in 997: “The judgement of God is higher than that of Rome… When Pope Marcellinus offered incense to Jupiter [in 303], did all the other bishops have to do likewise? If the bishop of Rome himself sins against his brother or refuses to heed the repeated warnings of the Church, he, the bishop of Rome himself, must according to the commandments of God be treated as a pagan and a publican; for the greater the dignity, the greater the fall. If he declares us unworthy of his communion because none of us will join him against the Gospel, he will not be able to separate us from the communion of Christ."42

     This must count as a formal abjuration of the papist heresy that had held the papacy in thrall for over two hundred years. Unfortunately, Sylvester was not imitated by his successors. But the courage of his right confession deserves appreciation - even if, to Romanides’ chagrin, he was a Frank!

     Otto and Sylvester imitated the Byzantine concept of a family of independent kings under one Christian Emperor. 43 Thus they handed out crowns to King Stephen of Hungary and the Polish Duke Boleslav. And in a Gospel book made for Otto four states – Roma, Gallia, Germania and Sclavinia (Poland) – are represented as women doing homage to him.44 “Otto even opened up friendly relations with Vladimir, prince of the powerful Russian state of Kiev, who had accepted his Christianity from Byzantium. One can only speculate how different the future history of Eastern Europe might have been had Otto’s policy of pacification been followed by subsequent German rulers…”45

     The forty-year Ottonian period in the history of the papacy has been viewed in sharply contrasting ways. According to Voltaire in his Essay on history and customs (chapter 36), and some later writers, “the imprudence of Pope John XII in having called the Germans to Rome was the source of all the calamities to which Rome and Italy were subject down the centuries…”46 However, an unprejudiced view that tries to avoid racial stereotypes must accept that the intervention of the German monarchy in Roman affairs – until at least the death of Otto III in 1002 – was not wholly unbeneficial. Someone had to put a stop to the scandalous degeneration of the first see of Christendom. And if the Ottonian emperors did not finally succeed in cleansing the Augean stables47, it was hardly their fault alone.

     The rivalries between the Roman aristocratic families, - which were only partly influenced by the desire to keep Rome free from foreigners, - appear to have made the city virtually ungovernable in this period. The Ottonians at least seem to have had good intentions, and the partnership of the German-Greek Otto III and the Frankish Sylvester II – a collaboration “unique in medieval history”, according to J.B. Morrall48 - looked on the point of restoring a true unity between the Old and the New Romes. Indeed, for a short period it even looked as if Byzantinism might triumph in the West…

     “But the Romans,” writes Chamberlin, “rose against [Otto], drove him and his pope out of the city, and reverted to murderous anarchy. He died outside the city in January 1002, not quite twenty-two years of age. Sylvester survived his brilliant but erratic protégé by barely sixteen months. His epitaph summed up the sorrow that afflicted all thoughtful men at the ending of a splendid vision: ‘The world, on the brink of triumph, in peace now departed, grew contorted in grief and the reeling Church forgot her rest.’ The failure of Otto III and Sylvester marked the effective end of the medieval dream of a single state in which an emperor ruled over the bodies of all Christian men, and a pope over their souls.”49

Rome and the German Emperors: (2) Descent into Darkness

     After the death of Otto and Sylvester, the papacy descended into a moral morass almost as bad as during the “pornocracy of Marozia”. Some writers see this as exclusively the fault of the Germans, who, as Aristides Papadakis writes, turned “the papacy… into a sort of imperial Eigenkirche or vicarage of the German crown. The pope was to be the instrument and even the pawn of the Germans, as opposed to the Romans.”50 Again, in 1009, according to Ranson and Motte, “the last Roman Orthodox Pope, John XVIII, was chased away and a Germanic Pope usurped the Orthodox patriarchate of Rome: Sergius IV, an adulterer-bishop of Rome who, on ascending the episcopal throne, wrote to the four other patriarchs a letter of communion which confirmed the doctrine of the double procession [of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son – the Filioque heresy] and immediately provoked a break. The four Orthodox patriarchs then broke communion with the pope. Some years later [in 1014], Benedict VIII, who was close to the emperor of Germany, Henry II, had the Filioque inserted into the Creed.”51

     However, this is a one-sided point of view. The first half of the eleventh century was characterized by a powerful reform movement against abuses in the Church, and foremost among them: simony and the interference of the laity, including kings, in the appointment of bishops. It was led by the famous Burgundian monastery of Cluny, and supported by the German kings. Thus Louth writes: “The impetus for the reform of the Church came from the German (“Salian”) emperors, Henry II (1002-1024) and Henry III (1039-56), their reliance on the imperial Church (the Reichskirche) in the running of the empire giving them an interest in having a Church free from corruption.”52

     Moreover, even if the popes were often hand-picked by the German emperors, they were usually of mixed Italian and German blood, as almost all the aristocratic families of Italy were by this time. Thus in the period before 1045 “the papal office had been held by one or other of the great Roman family of Tusculum.”53 And this family was notoriously immoral…

     Thus Peter De Rosa writes: “In 1032, Pope John XIX of the House of Tusculum died. Count Alberic III paid a fortune to keep the job in the family. Who better to fill the vacancy than his own son Theophylactus? Raoul Glaber, a monk from Cluny, reports that at his election in October of 1032 his Holiness Benedict IX was ‘a mere urchin… who was before long to become actively offensive’…

     “St. Peter Damian, a fine judge of sin, exclaimed: ‘That wretch, from the beginning of his pontificate to the end of his life, feasted on immorality.’ Another observer wrote: ‘A demon from hell in the disguise of a priest has occupied the Chair of Peter.’

     “He often had to leave Rome in a hurry. The first time, on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul 1033, an eclipse of the sun that turned the interior of St. Peter’s into an eerie saffron was sufficient pretext for ejecting him. On his return, a few nobles tried to cut him down during mass. They failed. When Benedict was next swept out of Rome, the army of Emperor Conrad swept him back in. In 1046, having been driven out once more for plunder, murder and oppression, he went home to his native Tusculum. In his absence, the Romans chose another pontiff, Sylvester III, a man from the Sabine Hills. Far better, they decided, to break canon law and offend the deity than put up with Benedict IX. After fifty blissful days, the boy-pope was restored by his family, who persuaded Sylvester to go elsewhere.”54

     Then Benedict wanted to resign in order to marry. Having dispensed himself of the vow of chastity, and been rewarded with two thousand pounds in weight of gold (the whole of Peter’s Pence from England), he abdicated in favour of his godfather, John Gratian, who became Pope Gregory VI. But Benedict’s amour rejected him, so he came back to claim the throne again.

     There were now three claimants to the papal throne: Benedict IX, Gregory VI and Sylvester III. The Emperor Henry III convened a Council at Sutri in 1046 at which all three were deposed. Clement II was ordained in their place. However, both he and Gregory VI soon died, so Benedict returned for another eight months. The emperor ordered Benedict to leave. The new pope, Damasus II, soon died – poisoned, it was rumoured, by Benedict. Eventually, Benedict retired to a monastery…

     In such conditions of scarcely believable chaos and depravity, it is very difficult to believe in the exclusive purity or Orthodoxy of any single faction or national tradition. The truth is that the see of Rome was falling away from Christ because of the general corruption of the Eternal City’s inhabitants. And in a few years its final fall would become manifest to all in the career of the most papist of all the Popes – Hildebrand, or Gregory VII…

     In April, 1073, Pope Alexander II died. “The people of Rome, rather than wait for the cardinals to nominate a successor, were soon taking the law into their own hands. They knew precisely whom they wanted as their new pope: ‘Hildebrand for bishop!’ Even as Alexander was being laid to rest in the Lateran, the cry went up across the whole city.”55

     So a democratic revolution in the Church effected by the native West Romans brought to power one of the greatest despots in history and the effectual founder of the heretical papacy…

     Hildebrand – Hőllenbrand, or “Hellfire”, as Luther called him - was a midget in physical size. But having been elected to the papacy “by the will of St. Peter”, he set about ensuring that no ruler on earth would rival him in “spiritual” grandeur. Having witnessed, in 1046, the Emperor Henry III’s deposition of Pope Gregory VI, with whom he went into exile, he took the name Gregory VII in order to emphasise a unique mission: to subdue the secular power of the emperors to that of the Popes.
     Romanides admits that Gregory VII was Italian, but still tries to tar him with the Frankish brush by saying that he was “descended from the Frankish army of occupation”.56 If he means by that phrase that he sympathized with the reform programme that originated in Francia, and was supported by the German emperors, then he is right. But in fact, like his patron Gregory VI, he was from the Jewish Pierleone family57, and turned out to be the fiercest enemy of the German emperors.

     Of Gregory VII Henry Charles Lea wrote in The Inquisition in the Middle Ages: “To the realization of this ideal [of papal supremacy], he devoted his life with a fiery zeal and unshaken purpose that shrank from no obstacle, and to it he was ready to sacrifice not only the men who stood in his path but also the immutable principles of truth and justice.”

     Gregory claimed that the Roman Church was “mother and mistress” of all the Churches. But this was a commonplace claim since the time of the West Roman Popes Hadrian I and Nicholas I. His real originality consisted in his claim to have jurisdiction, not only over all bishops, but also over all kings. Of course, the idea that the priesthood was in essence higher than the kingship was not in itself heretical, and could find support in the Fathers. However, the Fathers always allowed that kings had supremacy of jurisdiction in their own sphere, for the power of secular rulers comes from God and is worthy of the honour that befits every God-established institution. Indeed, Gregory’s colleague and fellow-reformer Peter Damian had written: “In the king Christ is truly recognised as reigning”.58 What was new, shocking and completely unpatristic in Gregory’s words was his disrespect for the kingship, his refusal to allow it any dignity or holiness, his denial to Caesar of the things that are Caesar’s – because he considered himself to be Caesar!

     In Gregory’s view rulers had no right to rule unless he gave them that right. The corollary of this was that the only rightful ruler was the Pope. For “if the holy apostolic see, through the princely power divinely conferred upon it, has jurisdiction over spiritual things, why not also over secular things?”

     In 1066, while still Archdeacon of the Roman Church, he had probably been the driving force behind Pope Alexander’s blessing William of Normandy to invade England and depose her lawful king, Harold II. In 1073 he wrote to the rulers of Sardinia that the Roman Church exerted “a special and individual care” over them - which meant, as a later letter made clear, that they would face armed invasion if they did not submit to the pope’s terms. In 1077 he wrote to the kings of Spain that the kingdom of Spain belonged to St. Peter and the Roman Church “in rightful ownership”. And in 1075 he threatened King Philip of France with excommunication, having warned the French episcopate that if the king did not amend his ways he would place France under interdict, adding: “Do not doubt that we shall, with God’s help, make every possible effort to snatch the kingdom of France from his possession.”59

     But this would have remained just words, if Gregory had not had the ability to compel submission. He demonstrated this ability when wrote to one of King Philip’ vassals, Duke William of Aquitaine, and invited him to threaten the king. The king backed down… This power was demonstrated to a still greater extent in his famous dispute with Emperor Henry IV of Germany. It began with a quarrel between Gregory’s predecessor, Alexander II, and the Emperor over who should succeed to the see of Milan. Gregory, following the line of his predecessor (which he had probably inspired), expected Henry to back down as King Philip had done. And he did, temporarily – not because he recognized Gregory’s right, but because from the summer of 1073 he had to face a rebellion in Saxony.

     “So it was that, rather than rise the slightest papal sanction being granted to his enemies’ slurs, he brought himself to grovel – even going so far as to acknowledge that he might possibly have backed the wrong horse in Milan. ‘Full of pleasantness and obedience’, a delighted Gregory described the royal tone to Erlembald [his demagogic supporter in Milan]. The likelier alternative, that the king might be stringing him along and playing for time, appeared not to have crossed the papal mind…”60

     And sure enough, having subdued the rebellion in Saxony, Henry prepared to hit back. He was helped by the fact that many German bishops “had developed an active stake in thinking the worst of the new pope. ‘The man is a menace!’ sniffed one archbishop. ‘He presumes to boss us around as though we were his bailiffs!’ Others, recoiling from Gregory’s brusque demands that priests be obliged to abandon their wives, demanded to know whether he planned to staff the Church with angels. Such a show of sarcasm had absolutely zero effect on Gregory himself. Indeed, by 1075, his prescriptions against married priests, and simony too, were attaining a new level of peremptoriness. In February, four bishops were suspended for disobedience. Then, in July, one of them, a particularly inveterate simonist, was deposed. Finally, as the year drew to its close, Gregory unleashed against the sullen and recalcitrant imperial Church the reformers’ most devastating weapon of all. ‘We have heard,’ he wrote in an open letter to King Henry’s subject, ‘that certain of the bishops who dwell in your parts either condone, or fail to take notice of, the keeping of women by priests.’ Such men, rebels against the authority of St. Peter, he now summoned to the court of popular opinion. ‘We charge you,’ Gregory instructed the peoples of the Reich, ‘in no way to obey these bishops.’”61

     To add insult to injury, in February by a formal synod of the Roman Church the King’s right to confer bishoprics was prohibited. This directly threatened Henry’s power-base, since the bishops of the Reich were also important imperial lieutenants and administrators. Finally, a letter came from the Pope demanding that Henry repent of his offences and do penance for them, or else “not only would he be excommunicated until he had made due restitution, but he would also be deprived of his entire dignity as king without hope of recovery”.

     In January, 1076, Henry convened a Synod of Bishops at Worms which addressed Gregory as “brother Hildebrand”, demonstrated that his despotism had introduced mob rule into the Church, and refused all obedience to him: “Since, as thou didst publicly proclaim, none of us has been to thee a bishop, so henceforth thou shalt be Pope to none of us”.62 The Pope had “introduced worldliness into the Church”; “the bishops have been deprived of their divine authority”; “the Church of God is in danger of destruction”. Henry himself declared: “Let another sit upon Peter’s throne, one who will not cloak violence with a pretence of religion, but will teach the pure doctrine of St. Peter. I, Henry, by God’s grace king, with all our bishops say to you: come down, come down.”63

     Gregory replied to Henry’s challenge in a revolutionary way. In a Synod in Rome he declared the emperor deposed. Addressing St. Peter, he said: “I withdraw the whole kingdom of the Germans and of Italy from Henry the King, son of Henry the Emperor. For he has risen up against thy Church with unheard of arrogance. And I absolve all Christians from the bond of the oath which they have made to him or shall make. And I forbid anyone to serve him as King.”64 By absolving subjects of their allegiance to their king, Gregory “effectively sanctioned rebellion against the royal power…”65

     He followed this up by publishing the famously megalomaniac Dictatus Papae: "The Pope can be judged by no one; the Roman church has never erred and never will err till the end of time; the Roman Church was founded by Christ alone; the Pope alone can depose bishops and restore bishops; he alone can make new laws, set up new bishoprics, and divide old ones; he alone can translate bishops; he alone can call general councils and authorize canon law; he alone can revise his own judgements; he alone can use the imperial insignia; he can depose emperors; he can absolve subjects from their allegiance; all princes should kiss his feet; his legates, even though in inferior orders, have precedence over all bishops; an appeal to the papal court inhibits judgement by all inferior courts; a duly ordained Pope is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter."66

     Robinson continues: “The confusion of the spiritual and the secular in Gregory VII’s thinking is most marked in the terminology he used to describe the laymen whom he recruited to further his political aims. His letters are littered with the terms ‘the warfare of Christ’, ‘the service of St. Peter’, ‘the vassals of St. Peter’…, Military terminology is, of course, commonly found in patristic writings.. St. Paul had evoked the image of the soldier of Christ who waged an entirely spiritual war… In the letters of Gregory VII, the traditional metaphor shades into literal actuality… For Gregory, the ‘warfare of Christ’ and the ‘warfare of St. Peter’ came to mean, not the spiritual struggles of the faithful, nor the duties of the secular clergy, nor the ceaseless devotions of the monks; but rather the armed clashes of feudal knights on the battlefields of Christendom…”67

     And so open warfare – military as well as spiritual – broke out between the secular and ecclesiastical powers – and it was the Pope’s fault!

     Now Henry began to lose support, and the Saxons rebelled again – this time with the support of Duke Rudolf of Swabia. In October a letter from Gregory was read out to a group of rebellious princes in Tribur suggesting that they elect a new king. Desperate, the king with his wife and child was forced to march across the Alps in deepest winter and do penance before Gregory, standing for three days almost naked in the snow outside the castle of Canossa. Gregory restored him to communion, but not to his kingship…

     We shall not trace the rest of the papacy’s struggle with the German emperors, which in any case continued for centuries, except to point out that Gregory’s revolution against lawful political power contained in itself the seeds of the whole future development of western revolutionary thought.68 For it was here, as Tom Holland writes, that “the foundations of the modern Western state were laid, foundations largely bled of any religious dimension. A piquant irony: that the very concept of a secular society should ultimately have been due to the papacy. Voltaire and the First Amendment, multiculturalism and gay weddings: all have served as waymarks on the road from Canossa…”69

Conclusion: The Fall of Old Rome

     The fall of any Local Church as large as the Roman is a very complex phenomenon that cannot be reduced to a few factors: cultural, ethnic or even doctrinal. For it is not only the Church as a collective organism that falls, but also every individual nation and person that chooses to remain with it in its fall; so that all the various unrepented sins and passions of all the members of the Church contribute to the final catastrophe, to God’s allowing the candlestick to be removed from its place and the angel of the Church to be recalled from its altar. If a certain false teaching, such as the Filioque or the papist heresy, becomes the official reason why the True Church cuts off the rotting member, this is only the most visible and measurable symptom of a disease whose depths remain largely unsearched and undiagnosed.

     The Roman Church until about the middle of the eighth century was indisputably the senior Church of Christendom with an unequalled record of Christian holiness. Though battered and bowed by successive pagan persecutors and barbarian invaders, she had survived them all and had even managed to convert them to the saving faith. By 754, the date of the martyrdom of St. Boniface of Germany, even the savage German tribes beyond the Rhine were being converted in large numbers with the encouragement and under the banner of the Roman Church. Martyrs and confessors, theologians and hierarchs, hermits and kings of many nations had all entered the ranks of the saints under her omophorion. The papacy itself had produced many saints and martyrs, as well as theologians to match the best that the East could offer: St. Leo the Great, St. Gregory the Dialogist, St. Martin the Confessor, St. Agatho, St. Gregory II. With regard to the consistency and purity of her Orthodox confession, no Church could rival Rome, as even Eastern confessors such as St. Theodore the Studite acknowledged. And in the year 754 only the Roman Church stood firm against the heresy of iconoclasm that was raging in the East.

     At this critical moment, when the Roman Church stood at the pinnacle of her glory, she began to decline. The most visible symptoms of her decline were: a proud exaltation of herself above other Churches, an opportunist use of her prestige to elicit political protection and secular possessions (the Papal States), and the producing of forgeries to bolster and increase that prestige and those possessions. By 854 the papist heresy was entrenching itself in Rome, together with the Filioque. By 954 moral depravity had turned her into an object of disdain by her former admirers. By 1054 she had been anathematized by the Great Church of Constantinople, and the period of the medieval Roman Catholic papacy so well known for its crusades and inquisition and megalomaniac lust for power was under way…

     When contemplating the depth of the fall of the Roman Church, and by contrast the continuance of the Eastern Patriarchates in Orthodoxy for many more centuries, it is tempting, on the one hand, to search for some flaw in the former that predestined her to fall, and on the other, to see some special genius in the latter that predestined them to survive. Thus the Latins are said to have fallen because of their supposedly “legalistic” mentality, lack of mystical feeling – and lack of knowledge of Greek, while the Greeks are said to have survived precisely because of their lack of legalism, their mystical feeling – and their knowledge of Greek. This approach fails to explain how some of the greatest of the Roman Christians, such as Popes Leo the Great and Gregory the Dialogist, were both great lawgivers and theologians - and  appear not to have known Greek… But more fundamentally, this approach fails to understand that God will never allow a man or group of men to fall away from Him because of some cultural or psychological defect for which he or they are not responsible. If a man falls, he falls because he has failed to struggle as best he can against the sin that is in him – and for no other reason...

     This is not to discount the importance of education, culture and even language in helping to strengthen and preserve the Orthodox faith and life. Periods of spiritual and moral decline often – though not invariably – coincide with periods of cultural decline. This is certainly the case with the pre-schism West, where the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries represent a clear decline, both spiritually, morally and culturally, by comparison with the “golden age” of Western Orthodoxy: the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries.

     However, we must be careful not to confuse cause and effect here. Did the cultural decline cause the spiritual and moral decline, or vice-versa? The argument of this article has been that it was spiritual factors – above all, pride and the heresies that pride begets – that caused the decline of the Roman papacy, which in turn produced a gradual cultural deterioration.

     Now the basic culture of the whole of Christian Europe was the Byzantine or East Roman; and the West Roman, Frankish, Hispanic, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic cultures were all variations on that theme. So the cultural deterioration that set in throughout the West from the ninth century can be called the “debyzantinization” of the West, its gradual alienation from the sources and inspiration of Byzantine civilization. However, this gradual alienation, which many historians have remarked on and documented, was not the cause of the decline of the West, but its consequence.

     According to the cultural theory of the fall of the West, the West died because it lost its link with the life-giving streams of Byzantine culture. Romanides’ thesis is a variation on this theme, consisting in the argument that West Rome, as opposed to the Germanic north, never in fact lost that link, but resisted the break to the end, and that West Rome’s eventual separation from her eastern twin was not her fault, but the fault of the evil Franks. I have argued that this thesis is false, that the West, including the city of Rome itself, had been for centuries a Romano-Germanic synthesis, and that West Rome fell away from God and from East Rome because of the evil in herself – in particular, her pride in her own position as head of the Christian world – and not because evil was imposed upon her by barbarians from outside. Although Frankish kings such as Charlemagne had their own ambitions and played their own part in the tragedy, it was the West Roman Popes who manipulated the Franks rather than the other way round.

     In particular, Romanides’ racial thesis that only men of Frankish descent led the West away from Christ, rather than men of Italian descent, must be rejected. The builders of the new and heretical papist ideology were mainly of West Roman descent, as were several of the most depraved of the Popes. This is not to say that the Franks were not guilty, too. Indeed, insofar as the whole of the West followed Rome into schism and heresy, the whole of the West was guilty. But while the blind who follow the blind also fall into the pit, and by their own fault, it is the blind leaders who must take the main burden of responsibility…

Vladimir Moss.
June 11/24, 2011.

1 Romanides, Franks, Romans, Feudalism and Doctrine: An Interplay between Theology and Society, Boston: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1981, p. 29.

2 Romanides, “Church Synods and Civilisations”, Theologia, 63, July-September, 1992, p. 428.

3 Noble and Head, “Introduction” to Soldiers of Christ, London: Sheed & Ward, 1995, pp. xxxi-xxxii.

4 St. Avitus, Letter 4.

5 St. Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, London: Penguin Books, 1974, II, 38, p. 154.

6 “New Advent” Catholic encyclopaedia,

7 Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000, London: Penguin Books, 2009, p. 200.

8 Abbot Odo, The Life of St. Gregory of Tours, translated by Fr. Seraphim Rose in Vita Patrum, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1988, p. 45.

9 Romanides, “Empirical versus Speculative Theology”, in Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine, p. 53.

10 St. Gregory of Tours writes that Hermenegild “joined the party of the Emperor Tiberius, making overtures to the Emperor’s army commander, who was then invading Spain”, but that “as soon as Leovigild ordered his troops to advance Hermenegild found himself deserted by the Greeks” (History of the Franks, V, 38).

11 Romanides, “Church Synods and Civilisation”, p. 425.

12 Andrew Louth writes: “From 680 to 751, or more precisely from the accession of Agatho in 678 until Zacharias’ death in 751 – the popes, with two exceptions, Benedict II and Gregory II, were Greek in background and speakers of Greek, which has led some scholars to speak of a ‘Byzantine captivity’ of the papacy. This is quite misleading: most of the ‘Greek’ popes were southern Italian or Sicilian, where Greek was still the vernacular, and virtually all of them, seem to have made their career among the Roman clergy, so, whatever their background, their experience and sympathies would have been thoroughly Roman” (Greek East and Latin West, Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007, p. 79).

13 Moreover, from this time the popes stopped dating their documents from the emperor’s regnal year, and began to issue their own coins (Judith Herrin, Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium, London: Phoenix Press, 2001, p. 47).

14 Abbé Guettée, The Papacy, New York, 1866, p. 255.

15 Translated by Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 52.

16 Centuries later, in 1242, a pamphlet attributed to Pope Innocent IV corrected this flaw in the theory of papism by declaring that the Donation was not a gift, but a restitution (Charles Davis, “The Middle Ages”, in Richard Jenkyns (ed.), The Legacy of Rome, Oxford University Press, 1992, p.  86.)

17 Louth writes: “The Frankish court received a Latin version of the decrees of Nicaea II in which a central point was misrepresented: instead of an assertion that icons are not venerated with the worship owed to God, the Latin version seems to have asserted exactly the opposite, that icons are indeed venerated with the worship due to God alone. There is certainly scope for misunderstanding here, especially when dealing with a translated text, for the distinction that the iconodules had painstakingly drawn between a form of veneration expressing honour and a form of veneration expressing worship has no natural lexical equivalent. Proskynesis, which in Greek at this time probably carried a primary connotation of bowing down, prostration – a physical act – and latreia, the word used for worship exclusively due to God – a matter of intention – are derived from roots, which in their verbal forms are used as a hendiadys in the Greek version of the second commandment in the Septuagint (προσκυνήσέίς… λάτρέυσής: ‘you shall not bow down… you shall not worship’: Exod. 20.5). Latin equivalents add further confusion, not least because the Latin calque of proskynesis, adoratio, was the word that came to be used for latreia. But whatever the potential confusion, the distinction explicitly made by the Nicene synod simply collapsed into identity by the faulty translation that made its way to the Frankish court” (op. cit., pp. 86-87).

18 Guettée, op. cit., pp. 258-261.

19 Holland, Millenium, London: Abacus Books, 2009, pp. 30-32.

20 Herrin, op. cit., pp. 117-118.

21 Quoted in A.A. Vasiliev, A History of the Byzantine Empire, Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press, 1958, p. 268.

22 The Byzantines at first treated Charlemagne as yet another impudent usurper; for, as a chronicler of Salerno put it, "The men about the court of Charles the Great called him Emperor because he wore a precious crown upon his head. But in truth, no one should be called Emperor save the man who presides over the Roman - that is, the Constantinopolitan kingdom.” As Russell Chamberlin writes: “The Byzantines derided the coronation of Charlemagne. To them he was simply another barbarian general with ideas above his station…” (Charlemagne, Emperor of the Western World, London: Grafton books, 1986, p. 52).

23 Herrin, op. cit., p. 128.

24 Guettée, op. cit., pp. 268-269.

25 Louth, op. cit., p. 81.

26 Leontiev, “Vizantinizm i Slavianstvo” (“Byzantinism and Slavism”), in Vostok, Rossia i Slavianstvo (The East, Russia and Slavism), Moscow, 1996, pp. 94-95 (in Russian).

27 Peter Llewellyn, Rome in the Dark Ages, London: Constable, 1996, p. 112.

28 Llewellyn, op. cit., pp. 274-275. The archbishops of Trèves and Cologne wrote to Nicholas: “Without a council, without canonical inquiry, without accuser, without witnesses, without convicting us by arguments or authorities, without our consent, in the absence of the metropolitans and of our suffragan bishops, you have chosen to condemn us, of your own caprice, with tyrannical fury. But we do not accept your accursed sentence, so repugnant to a father’s or a brother’s love; we despise it as mere insulting language; we expel you yourself from our communion, since you commune with the excommunicate; we are satisfied with the communion of the whole Church and with the society of our brethren whom you despise and of whom you make yourself unworthy by your pride and arrogance. You condemn yourself when you condemn those who do not observe the apostolic precepts which you yourself are the first to violate, annulling as far as in you lies the Divine laws and the sacred canons, and not following in the footsteps of the Popes your predecessors…” (in Guettée, op. cit., p. 305, note).

29 “We declare him,” he says, “deprived of all sacerdotal honour and of every clerical function by the authority of God Almighty, of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, of all the saints, of the six general councils, and by the judgement which the Holy Spirit has pronounced by us” (in Guettée, op. cit., p. 298). Note the reference only to six ecumenical councils.

30 Quoted in Louth, op. cit., p. 168.

31 Bettenson and Maunder, op. cit., pp. 103, 104.

32 Guettée, op. cit., p. 307.

33 According to Ivan Solonevich, feudalism could be defined as “the splintering of state sovereignty among a mass of small, but in principle sovereign owners of property”. Contrary to Marx, it had nothing to do with ‘productive relations’ and was far from being an advance on previous forms of social organisation. “It is sufficient to remember the huge cultural and unusually high level of Roman ‘production’. Feudal Europe, poor, dirty and illiterate, by no means represented ‘a more progressive form of productive relations’ – in spite of Hegel, it was sheer regression. Feudalism does not originate in productive relations. It originates in the thirst for power beyond all dependence on production and distribution. Feudalism is, so to speak, the democratisation of power [my italics – V.M.] – its transfer to all those who at the given moment in the given place have sufficient physical strength to defend their baronial rights – Faustrecht. Feudalism sometimes presupposes a juridical basis of power, but never a moral one.” (Narodnaia Monarkhia (Popular Monarchy), Minsk: Luchi Sophii, 1998, p. 270 (in Russian))

34 Peter de Rosa, Vicars of Christ, London: Bantam Press, 1988, p. 51. Romanides thinks that this description is biased, coming from the Pope’s Frankish enemies. But even allowing for possible exaggerations, the general degradation of the papacy in this period cannot be doubted.

35 It may also have been because he had little admiration for Old Rome, just as Old Rome had little time for him. See Charles Davis, “The Middle Ages”, op. cit., pp. 82-83. He instructed his sword-bearer to stand behind him as he kneeled at the tomb of the Apostle, “for I know only too well what my ancestors have experienced from these faithless Romans” (Chamberlin, op. cit., p. 62).

36 Holland, op. cit.. pp. 75-76. Byzantine influence had already been increasing under Alberic, whose “insistence on the forms of Byzantine administration and court hierarchy… checked the growth of any real feudal devolution of government such as the rest of Europe [outside Rome] was experiencing” (Llewellyn, op. cit., p. 307).

37 “The image,” as Jean-Paul Allard writes, “was more eloquent than any theological treatise. It illustrated a principle that the papacy and the Roman Church have never accepted, but which was taken for granted in Byzantium and is still held in Orthodoxy today: Christ and Christ alone crowns the sovereigns; power comes only from God, without the intercession of an institutional representative of the Church, be he patriarch or pope. The anointing and crowning of the sovereign do not create the legitimacy of his power; but have as their sole aim the manifestation of [this legitimacy] in the eyes of the people.” (“Byzance et le Saint Empire: Theopano, Otton III, Benzon d’Albe”, in Germain Ivanov-Trinadtsaty, Regards sur l’Orthodoxie (Points of View on Orthodoxy), Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1997, p. 39 (in French).

38 Allard, op. cit., p. 40

39 Both the Greek Nilus of Calabria and the Germanic Romuald of Ravenna (Holland, op. cit., pp. 120-121, 125-126). See also Louth, op. cit., pp. 277-281.

40 R. Lacy & D. Danzinger, The Year 1000, London: Little, Brown and Company, 1999, p. 190.

41 Charles Davis, op. cit., p. 84.  In this exposure he was correct, even if he was wrong in his dating of the forgery to the middle of the tenth century (Allard, op. cit., pp. 45-46).

42 Pope Sylvester, Letter 192, quoted in Fr. Andrew Phllips, “The Three Temptations of Christ and the Mystical Sense of English History”, Orthodox England, vol. I, № 2, December, 1997, p. 6.

43 J.M. Roberts, History of the World, Oxford: Helicon Publishing, 1992, p. 321.

44 Louth, op. cit., p. 249.

45 J.B. Morrall, “Otto III: an Imperial Ideal”, History Today, 14 January, 2011.

46 Cyriaque Lampryllos, La Mystification Fatale (The Fatal Mystification), Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1987, pp. 59-60 (in French).

47 Thus in 991, at a Council in Rheims attended by English as well as French bishops, Arnulph, bishop of Orleans, said that if Pope John XV had no love and was puffed up with knowledge, he was the Antichrist… See John Eadie, “The Man of Sin”, in Greek Text Commentaries: On Thessalonians, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1877, 1979, p. 341.

48 Morrall, op. cit.

49 Chamberlin, “The Ideal of Unity”, op. cit., p. 62.

50 Papadakis, The Orthodox East and the Rise of the Papacy, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994, p. 28. However, Papadakis dates this transformation to 962 rather than 1002, on the grounds that “during the century following the revival of the empire [in 962], twenty-one popes from a total of twenty-five were virtually hand-picked by the German crown” (p. 29). Romanides dates it to 983 (“Church Synods and Civilisation”, p. 423). They were both wrong. The pernicious influence of the Germans began only after 1002.

51 Patric Ranson and Laurent Motte, introduction to Lampryllos, op. cit., p. 14.

52 Louth, op. cit., p. 297.

53 Louth, op. cit., p. 297.

54 De Rosa, op. cit., pp. 53-54.

55 Holland, op. cit.. pp. 348-349.

56 Romanides, op. cit., p. 29.

57 David Allen Rivera, Final Warning, chapter 10.

58 Peter Damian, Letter 8, 2, P.L. 144, 436.

59 I.S. Robinson, “Gregory VII and the Soldiers of Christ”, History, vol. 58, № 193, June, 1973, pp. 174-175.

60 Holland, op. cit., p. 362.

61 Holland, op. cit., p. 365.

62 Bettenson and Maunder, op. cit., p. 113.

63 Holland, op. cit., p. 368.

64 Bettenson and Maunder, op. cit., p. 114.

65 Robinson, op. cit., p. 175.

66 R.W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, London: Penguin, 1970, p. 102.

67 Robinson, op. cit., pp. 177, 178.

68 As the Russian poet F.I. Tiutchev wrote in 1849: “The revolution, which is nothing other than the apotheosis of that same human I having attained its fullest flowering, was not slow to recognise as its own, and to welcome as two of its glorious ancestors – both Gregory VII and Luther. Kinship of blood began to speak in it, and it accepted the one, in spite of his Christian beliefs, and almost deified the other, although he was a pope.
     “But if the evident similarity uniting the three members of this row constitutes the basis of the historical life of the West, the starting-point of this link must necessarily be recognised to be precisely that profound distortion to which the Christian principle was subjected by the order imposed on it by Rome. In the course of the centuries the Western Church, under the shadow of Rome, almost completely lost the appearance of the originating principle pointed out by her. She ceased to be, amidst the great society of men, the society of believers, freely united in spirit and truth under the law of Christ; she was turned into a political institution, a political force, a state within the state. It would be true to say that throughout the whole course of the Middle Ages, the Church in the West was nothing other than a Roman colony planted in a conquered land…” (Tiutchev, “Papstvo i Rimskij Vopros” (“The Papacy and the Roman Question”), in Politicheskie Stat’i (Political Articles), Paris: YMCA Press, 1976, pp. 57-58 (in Russian)).

69 Holland, op. cit., p. xxii.

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company