We continue with the second part of Michaël de Verteuil’s report on the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30). Part one may be found here
– Dr Peter Gilbert, of De unione ecclesiarum
, has posted the first part
of his reflections on the Conference.
Dr. Kolbaba is a secular historian for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. I relied in large part and on whose work on the background to the 1054 dispute in drafting my article on Patriarch Michael Cerularius.
In her lead presentation at the conference, “The Tenth Century: Orthodox Constructions of the West in the Golden Age of Byzantium”, she set out to explain not so much why the schism occurred, but why it occurred when it did in the latter half of the 11th century. Specifically, she sought to answer this question in such a way as to avoid a deterministic view of history which treats critical events in retrospect as if they were somehow inevitable. What made the timing of the schism so difficult to explain, in her view, was that it followed on a long period of generally good relations between East and West. The 9th century dust-up between Rome on one hand, and Constantinople in the person of Photius on the other was widely seen in retrospect in the 10th century as an aberration.
Nevertheless, Dr. Kolbaba noted that this earlier dispute had not occurred in a vacuum.
All the factors that were later offered up to justify the schism (the papal claims, the filioque, as well as liturgical and disciplinary differences) were of long standing and were known in the 10th century, though they were not yet seen at the time as obstacles to communion. Both East and West had gone through a period of missionary expansion early in the 10th century with their evangelization efforts overlapping notably in Moravia and Bulgaria. Differences in ritual practice had been noted in these shared missionary areas, but without the “other side” necessarily being seen as “wrong” as a result. Differing liturgical practices had also been a minor factor in the political and ecclesial rivalry between the Lombard duchies and the Byzantine empire in Southern Italy, though not one that had attracted much notice in Constantinople prior to the 11th century.
In essence, Rome was still viewed positively in the 10th century for its earlier role in resisting iconoclasm, and the West was correspondingly not then perceived as a source of heresy. Despite the 9th century controversy over the filioque, Dr. Kolbaba noted that a comprehensive review of extant documents has yielded not a single Greek treatise against the interpolation that can be traced unambiguously to the 10th century, a lacuna all the more remarkable as one would in later times be expected (she observed half jokingly) to write at least two before being taken seriously as an Orthodox theologian. Furthermore, works condemning typically Western liturgical practices which would characterize Orthodox polemics in later centuries had yet to be written. So what changed in the 11th century?
Some early developments in the West were to have a latent impact on relations and on the way in which it would be perceived in the East. Dr. Kolbaba noted, for example, to the differing way in which Rome and the Frankish court were to receive the decisions of the 7th ecumenical council (albeit the Frankish reaction being based on a seriously flawed translation of the canons). The Gregorian reforms in the 11th century were to usher in a harder Western line on clerical celibacy and independence from secular authorities, as well as on the Papal claims; but Dr. Kolbaba argued that it was the East rather than the West that was ultimately to pick fault with the other, and that it was in the East that we should look for the key developments that would leading to a change in attitude that in turn would make the schism possible. Specifically and perhaps surprisingly she pointed to the substantial improvement in the Byzantine military situation along the empire’s eastern and southeastern frontier in the late 10th and early 11th centuries as the key underlying game changer.
Territorial contraction in earlier centuries and the struggle against iconoclasm had resulted in a more homogenous Greek-speaking and liturgically Byzantine empire. These features were to become, for courtly and religious elites based in Constantinople, the empire’s defining attributes any weakening of which could be seen as posing an existential threat to its survival. The later reestablishment of Byzantine control in Armenia and northern Syria, however, was to significantly alter the political and cultural balance of power in the empire in ways that would prove threatening to these self-described “Guardians of Orthodoxy.”
The reversal of the empire’s fortunes was to occur under a successful string of emperors from military families with allegedly non-Greek antecedents. Non-Greek populations, most notably Armenians, were resettled in the reconquered areas, forming a client and martial recruitment base for these new military elites. In order to facilitate the incorporation of populations that had largely broken with the official Church over Chalcedon, emperors such as Basil II tended to adopt a policy of de facto religious toleration that was bitterly contested by the more “purist” traditional elites in the capital. For the Guardians of Orthodoxy, the policy of tolerance pursued by emperors themselves of allegedly Armenian descent became increasingly reminiscent of the heretical proclivities of the earlier non-Greek (“Isaurian”) iconoclast emperors. This led to fears that the new military elites now based in the reconquered east were poised to link up politically with the new non-Greek “other” increasingly associated with heresy, in a way that threatened the empire’s unity, purity and thus divine protection.
The ire of these traditional elites in Constantinople came to be focused on the main distinguishing features of the Armenian liturgy, namely the use of azymes (unleavened bread) in the eucharist portrayed as a deliberate downplaying of the Resurrection and thus of Christ’s humanity, i.e. of monophysite heresy made liturgically manifest. Dr. Kolbaba concluded that it is in the context of the resulting anti-Armenian polemics (in which difference in liturgical practice was linked conceptually with religious dissent, and in which non-Greekness came to be increasingly identified with heterodoxy) that previously low-level tensions over rite and jurisdiction in Southern Italy came to be seen in Constantinople in a new light, and in which the orthodoxy of the non-Greek, “azymite” West first came to be questioned.
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