Written by Vladimir Moss



     One of the historical theses of the late Fr. John Romanides was the idea that the fall of the Western Church was entirely the product of German and Frankish kings and popes, who opposed their heresies on an unwilling West Roman people – identical in race and culture to the East Romans of Constantinople - that in fact remained Orthodox all along. His thesis is shared, up to a point, by other Greek scholars. Thus a more moderate version, that does not put all the blame on the Germans, was put forward by Aristides Papadakis, who points out 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”. According to Papadakis, “the papacy was turned 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.”

     This idea has been supported also by non-Greek writers. Thus according to Voltaire in his Essay on history and customs (chapter 36), “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…”

     In order to examine this thesis, therefore, we need to go back at least to 962, when the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, a German, was crowned by Pope John XII in Rome, thereby ushering in the period of German dominance.



      When assessing the impact of the Ottonian dynasty on Rome and the Roman Church, we must remember what a terrible state the city was in. The first half of the tenth century was the period of the deepest degradation in the eternal city’s pre-schism history - the so-called “pornocracy” of Marozia, an evil woman who with her mother Theodora made, unmade, lived with and begat a series of popes.

     However, in 932 Marozia’s son Alberic, marquis of Spoleto, imprisoned his mother, took over the government of Rome and gave it a short period of peace and relative respectability. The churches of the Roman region were placed under the jurisdiction of Abbot Odo of Cluny, a holy man whose influence, as we shall see, would extend far to the north…

     But in 955 Alberic 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…”

     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 the 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 the word “emperor”. This was probably because he did not wish to enter into a competition with the Byzantine emperor. It may also have been because he had little admiration for Old Rome, just as Old Rome had little time for him.Thus He instructed his sword-bearer to stand behind him as he kneeled at the tomb of the Apostle. “For I know,” he said, “only too well what my ancestors have experienced from these faithless Romans.”

     In spite of that, Otto and his dynasty were more closely linked to Old Rome than Charlemagne had been. Janet Nelson writes: “Bishop Liutprand of Cremona saw Otto in the line of Constantine and Justinian, appointed by God to establish peace in this world. Returning from an embassy to Constantinople in 968, Liutprand denounced the ritual technology of the ‘Greeks’ [i.e. the machines used to dazzle foreign visitors at the imperial court] as empty form: the substance of true Roman emperorship now lay in the West. Otto, legislating in Italy ‘as a holy emperor’ (ut imperator sanctus) gave colour to Liutprand’s claim. In the Ottonianum, he confirmed the privileges of the Roman Church under his imperial protectorship.”

     Otto gained the Byzantines’ recognition of his imperial title, and in 972 married his son, Otto II, to Princess Theophanou, the niece of Emperor John Tzimiskes, in Rome. 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 John XVI.This led to a sharp increase in Byzantine influence in the western empire, 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. 

     In 991 Theophanou died and Otto III became Emperor under the regency of his grandmother. Otto, as Tom Holland writes, “was nothing if not a Roman emperor. He lived on the Palatine Hill, just as Augustus had done a thousand years before him; he revived the titles of ‘consul’ and ‘senator’. He had himself betrothed to a princess from the Second Rome, Constantinople. His death in 2002, before his marriage could serve to join the eastern and western empires, left hanging one of history’s great ‘what-ifs’. Otto III’s ambition of reviving the Roman empire had been the great theme of his reign. Tantalising, then, to ponder what might have happened if he had succeeded in joining it to the eastern Roman empire – the empire that, unlike his own, could trace a direct line of descent from ancient Rome.”

     Otto, writes Jean-Paul Allard, “dreamed of reuniting the two empires 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.” To signify that the Renovatio Imperii Romani 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. Although the plan for union with Byzantium was foiled through the death of Otto’s fiancée before her arrival in Rome, Otto sought and followed the advice of holy hermits, 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.

     However, Sylvester loved the true symphony, not the fake variety: in 1001 he persuaded Otto to issue an act demonstrating that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery. 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." This must count as a formal abjuration of the papist heresy, the first in over two hundred years. Unfortunately, Sylvester was not imitated by his successors. But the courage of his right confession deserves appreciation.

     Otto and Sylvester imitated the Byzantine concept of a family of independent kings under one Christian Emperor.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. “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…”

     The forty-year Ottonian period in the history of the papacy has been viewed in sharply contrasting ways. However, an unprejudiced view must accept that the intervention of the German monarchy in Roman affairs – until at least the death of Otto III – was not wholly unbeneficial. Someone had to put a stop to the scandalous degeneration of the first see of Christendom.And if the Ottonians did not succeed in completely cleansing the Augean stables, it was hardly their fault alone - the rivalries between the Roman aristocratic families 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. Morrall - 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 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.”

     “Otto transposed political and religious universalism. In his legislation he evoked Justinian. Denouncing the Donation of Constantine as the product of papal arrogance, Otto ‘slave of the Apostles’ stole the clothes of papal humility. Otto died young and his successor Henry II preferred to stay north fo the Alps. But Otto’s imperial vision never entirely faded. His successors perpetuated it in their symbols of state. Henry II’s mantle, still to be seen at Bamberg, is embroidered with the stars of heaven in imitation of Byzantine imperial claims to cosmic authority. More importantly, Otto had forged the bond between the regnum and the empire so strongly that it would not be broken even by rulers like Henry II with little interes in a Roman power-base. Conrad I, once elected ing, was already an emperor-elect and the East Frankish realm only one of the regna he would rule. His son Henry III immediately on Conrad’s death took the title, no longer of ‘king of the Franks’ but ‘king of the Romans’. When, later, there was a German kingdom, its ruler was never officially entitled ‘king of the Germans’. German kingship had become inseparable from Roman emperorship...”

     The Holy Roman Empire of the Ottonians and their German and Spanish successor dynasties survived, amazingly, until 1806. Voltaire famously said it was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire”. But under Otto III it had been, briefly, all three, a not unworthy consort to its greater eastern brother…



     There were many reasons for the schism of the Western Church, but the most important were four innovations, one theological, two liturgical and one politico-ecclesiological, which the Church of Rome introduced into the life of the Church and which were rejected by the Eastern Patriarchates.

     The first of these was the introduction of the word Filioque, meaning “and from the Son”, into the Nicene Creed, so that the article on the Holy Spirit read: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son”. Although this theological innovation remained the most important difference between East and West, it was not the centre of attention at the moment of the schism in the mid-eleventh century. That position was occupied by the innovations in the Divine Liturgy: the replacement of leavened bread (artos) by unleavened bread (azymes), and the removal of the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, during the consecration.Although these innovations would at first sight appear to be of less than fundamental importance, their symbolical importance was very great. For since the leaven represented the soul of Christ, its removal by the Papists signified the replacement of the living Christ by a soulless corpse. Thus the Monk Nicetas Stethatos, of the Studite monastery in Constantinople, wrote to the Latins: “Those who still participate in the feast of unleavened bread are under the shadow of the law and consume the feast of the Jews, not the spiritual and living food of God… How can you enter into communion with Christ, the living God, while eating the dead unleavened dough of the shadow of the law and not the yeast of the new covenant…?” And in removing the invocation of the Holy Spirit, Who according to the Orthodox accomplishes the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, the Popes invalidated their own sacrament. It was as if they were witnessing of themselves: “The Holy Spirit no longer descends upon our offerings, since we have presumed to speak in His name, and the Christ that lies on our altars is no longer the living Christ, since we have presumed to usurp his authority.”

     However, it is the fourth, politico-ecclesiological innovation that is the most fundamental. In the Council of Constantinople in 879-880, the theory that the Pope has jurisdiction over all the Churches in the world was rejected by the delegates, including those of Pope John VIII. However, the two hundred years that followed that Council not only did not see a quenching of the ambitions of the Popes, but rather an increase in those ambitions to the point of megalomania, to the point that they asserted the theory that the Pope is to the Church and Christian society as a whole what the head is to the body – the unimpeachable and infallible Sovereign.

      There is an inner connection between the theory of papal infallibility, the introduction of the Filioque and the removal of the invocation of the Holy Spirit from the Divine Liturgy. Infallibility belongs to God, not man; truth and grace are maintained in the Church through the operation, not of any one man or group of men, but through the workings of the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore if the Popes were to “promote” themselves to the heights of infallibility, they had somehow to “demote” the Holy Spirit and take His place in the Divine economy. This was done through the Filioque, which made the Spirit as it were subject to both the Father and the Son, and by the doctrine of the Pope as the “Vicar of Christ” – to the Pope also. With the Holy Spirit lowered to a position below that of the Son, and the Pope raised to a position immediately below the Son, the way was paved for proclaiming the Pope as, in the words of Pope John-Paul II, “the man on earth who represents the Son of God, who ‘takes the place’ of the Second Person of the omnipotent God of the Trinity.” Again, the Pope is “the ultimate guarantor of the will and teaching of the Divine Founder".

     The theory of papal infallibility was not expressed in a fully explicit manner until the eleventh century. Before then we have an accumulation of grandiloquent epithets, which were not taken literally by most, as is evident from the fact that some Popes were condemned as heretics. For example, the Monothelite Pope Honorius I was anathematised by the Sixth Ecumenical Council, and this anathematisation was confirmed by later Popes. Moreover, towards the end of the sixth century Pope Gregory I forcefully rejected the title “universal bishop”: “Anyone who dares to call himself ‘universal bishop’ is a forerunner of the Antichrist”. 

     Until about 600, the development of Papism was inhibited by the fact that the Popes were subjects of the Byzantine Emperors, whose basic view of Church-State relations they shared, and whose confirmation they still required. In the seventh and eighth centuries, however, both the political and ecclesiastical bonds between the Popes and the Emperors became weaker as Byzantine power in Italy weakened and the Byzantine emperors fell into the heresies of Monothelitism and Iconoclasm. The estrangement from Byzantium was accompanied by a rapprochement with the new Carolingian empire in the north. This relationship was reinforced by the Pope’s double anointing of the first Carolingian, Pepin, the crowning of Charlemagne in Rome and the double anointing of his son, Louis the Pious, in 814. At the same time, the forgeries created in the papal chancellery in the previous century – the Donation of Constantine and the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals – enabled the Popes to propagate the papist heresy of the unimpeachable power of the papacy over all bishops, and even over kings.

     However, after the anathematization of the Filioque by the Council of Constantinople, which was signed by the legates of Pope John VIII, the papacy, as we have seen, went into a steep moral decline, which was followed by a recovery under the Ottonian dynasty, just as Byzantium reached its apogee.

     However, in 1009, according to Fr. Patric Ranson and Laurent 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.”

     Cyriaque Lampryllos writes: “After the death of this pope, who was… the nephew of the Emperor Henry, another of his nephews, and brother of the last pope, was elevated by the imperialist party to the pontificate under the name of John XIX in 1024. Simple layman though he was, he ascended through all the degrees of the hierarchy in six days. He held the pontificate for nine years, but finally the national party, impatient with the excesses of his behaviour, expelled him from Rome. However, the Emperor Conrad II came down with an army into Italy and restored him; he died in the same year, and another Teuton, the nephew also of the Emperor Conrad, succeeded him under the name of Benedict IX. Henry III, then his son Henry IV, continued to get involved in successive elections of the popes, tipping the scales in favour of their candidates; almost until 1061 the popes were their creatures: they were those who go down in history under the name of the German Popes.”

     According to Sir Steven Runciman, the Roman addition of the Filioque was hateful to the Greeks for purely political reasons, since itrepresentedthetriumph of German influence in Rome. However, the purely theological zeal of the Greeks must not be underestimated.

     As for the native Romans, Romanides has argued that they remained basically Orthodox (because they were actually Greek!) and only accepted the Filioque unwillingly, it being forced on them by the German emperors and their appointed popes. However, this ignores the fact that in the eleventh century, the rivalries between the Roman aristocratic families, - which were only partly influenced by the desire to keep Rome free of Germans, - appear to have made the city virtually ungovernable. The fact is that the whole of the West, both Latins and Germans, formed a single body that fell away from the Church together...

     The German ascendancy over the papacy came to a head in 1046, when there were no less than three men, all Germans, calling themselves the Pope of Rome. The German Emperor Henry III summoned all three to Sutri, north of Rome, and deposed all of them, placing a fellow German, Clement II, in the Lateran. After his death the notorious Benedict IX returned for his third spell as Pope.

     Benedict IX was Pope from 1032 to 1044, again in 1045, and finally from 1047 to 1048, the only man to have served as Pope for three discontinuous periods. Benedict gave up his papacy for the first time in exchange for a large sum of money in 1044. He returned in 1045 to depose his replacement and reigned for one month, after which he left again, possibly to marry, and sold the papacy for a second time, to his Godfather (possibly for over 650 kg /1450 lbs. of gold). Two years later, Benedict retook Rome and reigned for an additional one year, until 1048. Poppo of Brixen (later to become Pope Damascus II) eventually forced him out of Rome. Benedict’s place and date of death are unknown, but some speculate that he made further attempts to regain the Papal Throne. St. Peter Damian described him as “feasting on immorality” and “a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest” in the Liber Gomorrhianus, a treatise on papal corruption and sex that accused Benedict IX of routine homosexuality and bestiality.”

     Emperor Henry replaced Benedict with another German, and then with an aristocrat called Bruno of Egisheim-Dagsburg, Pope Leo IX However, though a distant cousin of the Emperor, Leo was no pawn of the German Reich. During his reign German caesaropapism turned into German papocaesarism, with dramatic consequences for the whole of Christendom…



     As Bishop of Toul, Leo had come under the influence of a network of monasteries under the leadership of Cluny, founded by Duke William the Pious of Aquitaine in 910. The founder of the movement, Abbot Odo of Cluny, had originally been appointed archimandrite of Rome by Duke Alberic with authority to reform all the monastic houses in the district. The reformation he began in Rome then spread northwards.

     Odo’s monasteries were not Eigenkirchen, feudal fiefdoms of the emperor, but “stavropegial” foundations independent of the control of any feudal lord. As such, they were able to assume the leadership of a powerful reform movement directed against the corruptions introduced into the Church by the feudal system, and had had considerable success in this respect. The Cluniacs, writes Jean Comby, “restored the main principles of the Benedictine Rule: the free election of the abbot, independence from princes and bishops. Moreover, the abbey affirmed its direct allegiance to the pope. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries it became the head of an Order which multiplied throughout Europe. In fact, unlike the old monasteries, all the new ones that were founded remained under the authority of the abbot of Cluny. In its heyday, the ‘state of Cluny’ comprised 50,000 monks.”

     Pope Leo introduced the principles of the Cluniac movement into the government of the Church – but with results that went far beyond the original purposes of the movement, and which were finally to tear the whole of the West away from New Rome and the Byzantine commonwealth of nations.

     “From the outset,” writes Papadakis, “the new pope was determined to make the papacy an instrument of spiritual and moral rejuvenation both in Rome itself and throughout Europe. To this end Pope Leo journeyed to central and south Italy, but also to France and Germany, crossing the Alps three times. Nearly four and a half years of his five year pontificate were in fact spent on trips outside Rome. The numerous regional reforming synods held during these lengthy sojourns often had as their target the traffic in ecclesiastical offices and unchaste clergy. Their object above all was to rid the Church of these abused by restoring canonical discipline. The need to reassert both the validity and binding power of canon law for all clergy was repeatedly emphasized. In addition to the decrees against simony and sexual laxity promulgated by these local synods, however, simoniacal and concubinary clergy were examined and, when required, suspended, deposed and, even excommunicated. The object, in short, was to punish the offenders as well. Even if the synods were not always successful, no one was in doubt that Leo IX and his team of like-minded assistants were serious. The immediate impact of this flurry of activity was often extraordinary…

     “Overall, the progress of the new papal program was not all smooth sailing. Widespread protest, often accompanied by violent protest, was to continue for decades. Yet, all in all, by the end of the century the popular defenders of simony, of clerical marriage, and of the evils of the proprietary church had by and large vanished. The champions of reform at any rate proved more unyielding than their often more numerous adversaries. This was particularly evident in the skilful drive of the reformers to make celibacy an absolute prerequisite to ordination. This part of the Gregorian platform was reinforced by the monastic ideal, since many of the reformers were actually monks and had already embraced a continent life. Some, like the ascetic Peter Damian, cardinal-bishop of Ostia, were even eager to treat the problem as heresy and not as a matter of discipline. But the reformers were perhaps also uncompromising on this issue because they were convinced that compulsory clerical continence could advance the process of de-laicization – another more general item of their platform. A monasticized priesthood, quite simply, was viewed by reformers everywhere as a crucial corrective to clerical involvement in the world. If successful, the strategy, it was hoped, would provide the clergy with that sense of solidarity and corporate identity needed to distinguish them from the laity. In all essential respects, as one scholar has put it, the reforming initiatives of the popes were ‘an attempt by men trained in the monastic discipline to remodel Church and society according to monastic ideals… to train churchmen to rethink themselves as a distinct ‘order’ with a life-style totally different from that of laymen.’ Behind the campaign for celibacy, in sum, aside from the moral and canonical issues involved, was the desire to set all churchmen apart from and above the laity; the need to create a spiritual elite by the separation of the priest from the ordinary layman was an urgent priority. Doubtless, in the end, the Gregorian priesthood did achieve a certain libertas and even a sense of community, but only at the expense of a sharp opposition between itself and the rest of society.

     “By contrast, in the Christian East, as in primitive Christianity, a wholly celibate priesthood never became the norm…”

     It sometimes happens that one important historical process going in one direction masks the presence of another going in precisely the opposite direction. The process of ecclesiastical reformation initiated by Pope Leo IX in 1049, which aimed at the liberation of the Church from secular control, was - with the exception of the element of clerical celibacy – a laudable and necessary programme. But the increasing distance it placed between the clergy and the laity was fraught with danger. In particular, it threatened to undermine the traditional place in Christian society of the anointed kings, who occupied an intermediate position between the clergy and the laity. And in the hands of two ambitious clerics who entered the service of the papacy at about this time, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida and Archdeacon Hildebrand, it threatened simply to replace the caesaropapist variety of feudalism with a papocaesarist variety – that is, the subjection of the clergy to lay lords with the subjection of the laity, and even the kings, to clerical lords – or rather, to just one clerical lord, the Pope.For, as Ranson and Mott write, “in many respects, in its structure the papacy is nothing other than the religious form of feudalism…”

     The problem was that by the middle of the century Church and State were so deeply entangled with each other through the feudalism that nobody could conceive of a return to the traditional system of the symphony of powers, which allowed for the relative independence of both powers within a single Christian society. Thus the Church wished to be liberated from “lay investiture”; but she did not want to be deprived of the lands, vassals and political power that came with investiture. The only solution, therefore, from the Pope’s point of view, was to bring the whole of Christian society, including its kings and emperors, into vassalage to the papacy…

     But before undertaking this assault on the West, the papacy needed to secure its rear in the East, in the south of Italy. There an upstart, newly Christianized people, the Normans, had carved out a dominion for themselves that was independent both of the Byzantines and of the German Emperor. They had even encroached on some lands given to the papacy by the Emperor. Leo declared a holy war against the Normans, promising “an impunity for their crimes” to all who answered his call (those who died in the battle were declared to be martyrs), and set off with himself at the head of the papal army. But at Civitate he was roundly defeated. Since the German Emperor could not come south to help him, Leo now decided to try and forge an alliance with the Byzantines against the Normans, and sent Cardinal Humbert and two others (one was the future Pope Stefan IX) to Constantinople as his envoys.

     This was always going to be a difficult mission, because there were tensions between Rome and Constantinople on ecclesiastical questions. In 1053, Patriarch Michael Cerularius had criticised certain liturgical practices of the Latins. And in a letter to Bishop John of Trania he asked the latter to convey his views to Pope Leo IX.

     In September of the same year the Pope replied: “In prejudging the case of the highest See, the see on which no judgement may be passed by any man, you have received the anathema from all the Fathers of all the venerable Councils… You, beloved brother of ours, whom we still call in Christ and primate of Constantinople, with extraordinary presumption and unheard-of boldness have dared openly to condemn the apostolic and Latin Church – and for what? For the fact that she celebrates the commemoration of the sufferings of Christ on unleavened bread. That is your imprudent abuse, that is your unkind boasting, when you, supposing that your lips are in heaven, in actual fact with your tongue are crawling on the earth and striving by your human reasonings and thoughts to corrupt and shake the ancient faith. If you do not pull yourself together, you will be on the tail of the dragon [cf. Revelation 12], by which this dragon overthrew and cast to the earth a third of the stars of heaven. Almost 1200 years have passed since the Saviour suffered, and do you really think that only now must the Roman Church learn from you how to celebrate the Eucharist, as if it means nothing that here in Rome there lived, worked for a considerable period, taught and, finally, by his death glorified God he to whom the Lord said: ‘Blessed are thou, O Simon, son of Jonah’…” 

     “Then,” continues A.P. Lebedev, “the Pope explained in detail why the Roman Church could not tolerate any instructions from other Churches, but remained the leader of all the rest. ‘Think how senseless it would be to admit that the heavenly Father should conceal the rite of the visible sacrifice [of the Eucharist] from the prince of the apostles, Peter, to whom He had completely revealed the most hidden Divinity of His Son. The Lord promised to Peter, not through an angel, nor through a prophet, but with His own lips: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church’ (Matthew 16.16). But in the opinion of the Pope an important place in the question of the headship of the Roman high priest was occupied by the miracle-working power of Peter’s shadow. This argument of the Pope in his favour was so original that we cite it in full. ‘In Peter,’ said the Pope, ‘what is particularly remarkable is that the shadow of his body gave health to the infirm. Such power was given to none of the saints; even the Holy of holies Himself did not give the gift of healing from His own most holy body; but to His Peter alone He gave this privilege that the shadow from his body should heal the sick. Here is a great sign of the Church of the present and the future, that is, Peter has become the manager of both Churches and indicates their condition beforehand in himself: it is precisely the present Church which by the power of its visible sacraments and those that are still to come as it were by her shadow heals souls on earth, and presents to us an as yet invisible but firm image of truth and piety on earth.’ Or here is one more cunning papal interpretation of one saying with which the Lord addressed Peter, and interpretation whose aim was to prove the overwhelming significance of the Roman high priests among the other bishops of the whole Church. The Pope takes the saying of the Lord: ‘I have prayed for thee, O Peter, that thy faith should not fail, and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren’ (Luke 22.32).

     “’By this the Lord showed,’ says the Pope, ‘that the faith of the other brethren will be subject to dangers, but the faith of Peter will remain without stumbling. Nobody can deny that just as the whole door is ruled by the hinge, so by Peter and his successors is defined the order and structure of the whole Church. And as the hinge opens and closes the door, while remaining itself unmoved, so Peter and his successors have the right freely to pronounce sentence on every Church, and nobody must disturb or shake their condition; for the highest see is judged by nobody (summa sedes a nemine judicatur).’”

      But the most interesting part of Leo’s pretensions was his claim to have royal as well as priestly power. Thus he not only tried, as Gilbert Dagron writes, “to impose obedience [on the Eastern Church] by multiplying the expected scriptural quotations…  He also added that the rebels of the East should content themselves with these witnesses ‘to the simultaneously earthly and heavenly power, or rather, to the royal priesthood of the Roman and apostolic see (de terreno et coelesti imperio, imo de regali sacerdotio romanae et apostolicae sedis).”

     “Of much greater importance and interest in the given letter,” continues Lebedev, “are the very new papal ideas about his secular lordship, which are developed by the Pope in his letter to Cerularius and which rely on a false document – the so-called Donatio Constantini. Setting out his superior position among the other hierarchs of the Church, the Pope, in order to humiliate the Church of Constantinople – the aim of the letter – he develops the thought that the Popes are immeasurably superior to the representatives of all the other Churches since they are at one and the same time both first priests and emperors. In the East, it would seem, nothing of the sort had ever been heard; and for that reason it is understandable how such a novelty would affect the Church of Constantinople!

     “Since the time of Constantine the Great the Popes had become at the same time emperors, insinuated Leo to Cerularius. The Pope wrote: ‘So that there should remain no doubt about the earthly [secular] power of the Roman high priest, and so that nobody should think that the Roman Church is ascribing to herself an honour that does not belong to her, we shall cite the proofs of from that privileged deed which the Emperor Constantine with his own hands laid upon the holy tomb of the heavenly key-bearer [Peter], and that the truth should be manifest and vanity disappear.’ In this privileged deed Constantine, according to the words of the Pope, declared the following: ‘We have considered it necessary, we together with all our rulers, the Senate, the nobles and the people of Rome, that, just as St. Peter was the vicar of the Son of God on earth, so the high priests, the heirs of the prince of the apostles, should retain the power to rule – and to an even more complete extent than is given to the earthly imperial dignity. That is, we are decreeing that reverent honour should be accorded both to our earthly imperial might, and in exactly the same way to the most holy Roman Church, and, so as more fully to exalt the see above our own earthly throne, we ascribe to her a royal power, dignity and honour. Moreover, we decree that the see of Peter should have the headship over the four sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Constantinople and also over all the Church in the inhabited world; the high priest of this Roman see must be considered for all time to be higher and more glorious than all the priest of the whole world, and in relations to questions of Divine service and faith his judgement should rule over all.’ Then Pope Leo describes what precisely Constantine bestowed upon his contemporary, Pope Sylvester, so as to exalt the papal altar. In the opinion of the Pope, it turns out that Constantine bestowed upon the Pope first of all the palace in Rome. The privileged deed, according to the letter of Pope Leo, said the following about this: ‘We cede to the holy apostles themselves, the most blessed Peter and Paul, and through them to our father Pope Sylvester and all his successors who will be on the see of St. Peter to the end of the ages the Lateran palace, which is superior to all the palaces in the world.’ Then the Emperor Constantine adorns, as the Pope puts it, the person of the Roman high priest with royal regalia. The deed, according to the words of Pope Leo, said this about that: ‘We transfer to the Pope of Rome the diadem, that is the crown, from our own head, the garland that adorns the imperial neck, the purple chlamys, the scarlet tunic and all the other royal vestments. We entrust to him the imperial sceptre and all the other marks of distinction and the shoulder-belt – in a word, all the appurtenances of royal majesty.’ The letter even informs us that the Emperor with his own hands want to place his crown on the Pope’s head, but ‘the Pope did not want to use a crown of gold, and for that reason the Emperor placed on him with his own hands his Phrygian wreath (phrygium), shining white and signifying the Resurrection of Christ.’ In the words of Pope Leo, the Emperor Constantine, having adorned the Pope with royal regalia, in correspondence with this wanted to put the clergy who constituted his suite on a level with the royal courtiers. The deed, in the words of the letter, made the following legal ruling: ‘We raise the most honourable clergy of every rank in the service of the Roman Church to the same height of power and brilliance as our Senate, and decree that they should be adorned as our patricians and consuls are adorned. In a word, just as there are various kinds of servants attached to the imperial dignity – bed-makers, doormen and guards, so must it be with the holy Roman Church. And more than that: for the sake of the greater brilliance of the papal dignity let the clergy travel on horses adorned with the whitest of materials, and let them wear exactly the same shoes as are worn by the senators. And in this way let the heavenly [papal] power be adorned like the earthly [imperial], to the glory of God.’ In his concern for the person of the Pope and those close to him, according to the words of the Pope’s letter, Constantine bestowed on Sylvester and his heirs a broad, de facto royal power over a whole half of the Roman kingdom: the Roman high priest became the Roman emperor. In the words of the Pope, the deed said the following on this score: ‘So that the high priestly power should not decline, but should flourish more than the imperial power itself, we have decreed that besides the Lateran palace, the city of Rome, the provinces of Italy and all the western lands, and all the places and cities in them, should be transferred to our father Sylvester, so that he should have complete use of and dominion over them.”

     In the letter Leo sent to the Patriarch with Cardinal Humbert he continued his assault: “We believe and firmly confess the following: the Roman Church is such that if any nation (Church) on earth should in its pride be in disagreement with her in anything, then such a Church ceases to be called and to be considered a Church – it is nothing. It will already be a conventicle of heretics, a collection of schismatics, a synagogue of Satan.”

     This was hardly calculated to mollify the Byzantines. And things were made worse when Humbert called them pimps and disciples of Mohammed. As a consequence, they refused to enter into negotiations with the papal legates about an alliance against the Normans.

     On July 16, 1054 the papal legates marched into the cathedral of Hagia Sophia and placed a bull of excommunication on the altar, anathematizing the Church of Constantinople and accusing her of every possible heresy in a “fantastically ignorant” document. Four days later, on July 20, Patriarch Michael convened a Council which excommunicated the legatesumHH.  “O you who are Orthodox,” said the Patriarch, “flee the fellowship of those who have accepted the heretical Latins and who regard them as the first Christians in the Catholic and Holy Church of God!” For, as he said a little later, “the Pope is a heretic.”

     Pope Leo IX had actually already died in April, 1054, so the papal anathema was technically invalid as not representing the will of a living Pope. The next Pope, Stephen IX, wanted to send an embassy to Constantinople to repair the damage. But he also died before the embassy could set off 

     “No further missions were sent,” writes Holland. “Already, in the space of a few years, the mood in Rome had decisively shifted. What was at stake, many reformers had begun to accept, was nothing less than a fundamental point of principle. Cardinal Humbert had sounded out a trumpet blast on a truly decisive field of battle. The message that it sent to the rest of Christendom could hardly have been more ringing: no one, not even the Patriarch of the New Rome, could be permitted to defy the authority of the Pope…”



     The other Eastern Churches were informed that the Patriarchate of Constantinople had anathematized the papacy, and accepted it. And so 1054 has conventionally been taken as the date of the severing of the branch, the moment when the Western Church finally fell away from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

     Many have doubted that this was the real cut-off point. Thus a Byzantine council of 1089 acted as if the schism of 1054 had not taken place. Again, Dvorkin writes that “the popular consciousness of that time in now way accepted the schism as final: nobody pronounced a ban on mutual communion, and concelebrations of priests and hierarchs of the two halves of Christianity continued even after 1054. The name of the pope of Rome was commemorated in the diptychs of other Eastern Churches (at any rate, sometimes). In our [Russian] lists of saints there were western saints who died after 1054.”

     Nevertheless, the balance of evidence remains in favour of the traditional dating. For after 1054, there is a very sharp and noticeable change in the papacy’s policies and attitudes to dissidents in Church and State. The bloody destruction of Orthodox England in 1066-70 was followed by the less violent subjection of Churches throughout Western Europe. Then came the papal blessing of the Norman invasion of Greece in the 1080s and of the first of the crusades – which did so much damage to Eastern Orthodox Christendom - in 1095. Ironically, the last powerful opponent of the new, “Reformed” papacy was the German Emperor Henry IV, who was anathematized and deprived of his crown by Pope Gregory VII – an Italian Jew…

     The momentous event of the Great Schism was heralded in the heavens by a huge explosion. As Dr. Jerjis Alajaji writes, “Arab and Chinese astronomers recorded the appearance of the bright Crab Supernova in [July] 1054. At X-ray and gamma-ray energies above 30 KeV, the Crab is generally the strongest persistent source in the sky today.” From now on, the whole of the West would be steadily sucked into the great black hole formed through the apostasy of the Roman papacy - the explosion of the first star in the firmament of the Church on earth.


May 31 / June 13, 2014.


[1] The Orthodox East and the Rise of the Papacy, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994, p. 29.

[2] Papadakis, op. cit., p. 28.

[3]Cyriaque Lampryllos, La Mystification Fatale (The Fatal Mystification), Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1987, pp. 59-60.

[4] It has been suggested by J.N.D. Kelly that this was the origin of the legend of the female Pope Joan (The Oxford Dictionary of Popes).

[5] Peter de Rosa, Vicars of Christ, London: Bantam Press, 1988, p. 51.

[6] Richard Chamberlin, “The Ideal of Unity”, History Today, vol. 53 (11), November, 2003, p. 62.

[7]Nelson, “Kingship and Empire”, The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought, c. 350 – c. 1450, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 245.

[8] Tom Holland, Millenium, London: Abacus Books, 2009, 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” (Peter Llewellyn, Rome in the Dark Ages, London: Constable, 1996, p. 307).

[9] “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.

[10] Holland, “Rome Undead”, New Statesman, May 16-22, 2014, p. 24.

[11] Allard, op. cit., p. 40

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

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

[14]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).

[15] 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, N 2, December, 1997, p. 6.

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

[17] 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.

[18] Morrall, op. cit.

[19] Chamberlin, “The Ideal of Unity”, op. cit., p. 62.

[20] Nelson, op. cit., pp. 245-246.

[21] As even the Roman Catholics admit, the epiclesis was present in all the ancient liturgies. See

[22] Niketas, in Jean Comby, How to Read Church History, London: SCM Press, 1985, vol. 1, p. 132).

[23] Mgr. Oliveri, The Representatives, Apostolic Legation of London, 1980.

[24] Pope John-Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 3; quoted by Michael Woerl.

[25] St. Gregory the Great, Epistle 33.

[26] Ranson and Motte, introduction to Cyriaque Lampryllos, La Mystification Fatale, Lausanne, p. 14.

[27] Lampryllos, op. cit., pp. 65-66.

[28]Runciman, The Eastern Schism, Oxford, 1955, p. 161.


[30] Comby, op. cit., pp. 140-141.

[31] Papadakis, op. cit., pp. 34, 36-37.Peter de Rosa (Vicars of Christ, London: Bantam Press, 1988, p. 420) agrees with this estimate: “The chief reason for maintaining the discipline [of clerical celibacy] was the one dearest to the heart of Gregory VII: a celibate priest owed total allegiance not to wife and children but to the institution. He was a creature of the institution. The Roman system was absolutist and hierarchical. For such a system to work, it needed operatives completely at the beck and call of superiors. The conservatives at Trent [the papist council of 1545] were quite frank about this. They actually said that without celibacy the pope be nothing more than the Bishop of Rome. In brief, the papal system would collapse without the unqualified allegiance of the clergy. Celibacy, on Trent’s own admission, was not and never was primarily a matter of chastity, but of control…”

[32] Ranson and Motte, in Lampryllos, op. cit., p. 14.

[33] Henry Bettenson and Christopher Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, London: SPCK, 1999, p. 106.

[34] Lebedev, “Vek odinnadtsatij – Okonchatelnoe razdelenie Tserkvej (1053-1054gg.)” (“The 11th Century – the Final Division of the Churches”),, pp. 23.

[35] Dagron, Empereur et Prêtre (Emperor and Priest), Éditions Gallimard, 1996, p. 247.

[36] Lebedev, op. cit., pp. 3-5.

[37] Lebedev, op. cit., p. 7.

[38] Alexander Dvorkin, Ocherki po Istorii Vselenskoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi (Sketches on the History of the Universal Orthodox Church),Nizhni-Novgorod, 2006, p. 618. Humbert wrote: “May Michael the neophyte…and all those who follow him… fall under the anathema, Maranatha…” Comby (op. cit., p. 133) supposes that “he did not know that Maranatha means ‘Come, Lord’, and is not a condemnation”. But he could simply have been quoting from I Corinthians 16.22.

[39] The Lives of the Pillars of Orthodoxy, Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1990, p. 155.

[40] Holland, op. cit., p. 280.

[41] Papadakis, op. cit., pp. 76-77.

[42] Dvorkin, op. cit., p. 619.

[43] Cf. O. Barmin, “Sovremennaiaistoriografia o datirovke tserkovnoj skhizmy mezhdu Zapadom i Vostokom khristianskoj ekumeny” (“Contemporary Historiography on the Dating of the Church Schism between the West and the East of the Christian Oikumene”), in D.E. Afinogenov, A.V. Muraviev, Traditsii i Nasledie Khristianskogo Vostoka (The Traditions and Heritage of the Christian East), Moscow: “Indrik”, 1996, pp. 117-126.

[44] Dr. Jerjis Alajaji, personal communication, March 22, 2010.

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