By Anastasios Philippides
Bachelor of Arts, Yale University; Master of Arts, Georgetown University
The huge contribution of Fr. John Romanides to theology was based on solid empirical, experiential knowledge gained from his family environment, especially his mother Evlampia. Similarly, his contribution to historical science was also based on personal experiences that he had, which led him to original thinking and radical conclusions, after, of course, exhaustive research. He began his first history book, Romiosini (1975), by telling of an incident he experienced in 1951 as a young parish priest in America. He was notified to go to the home of someone who was ill, and by mistake he knocked on the wrong door which was answered by a Greek. At the same time the brother of this Greek came into the living room, whom Romanides recognized as the leader of the Albanians in the city. Neither the two brothers nor Romanides were able to explain this paradox. The key to the interpretation is found in the pages that followed in the book Romiosini.
Also, of course it is no coincidence that Romiosini was written after the encounter of Romanides with Lebanon and Syria, at the Theological School of Balamand. There he realized that thousands of believers belonging to the Patriarchate of Antioch identified themselves as "Roman Orthodox" without being Greeks, not even Greek speakers. This paradox was also solved in the book Romiosini.
On an academic level, Romanides' debt to Florovsky must be recognized, with whom he had a particularly close relationship, as is clear from their hitherto published correspondence. Florovsky was particularly interested in the interaction of theology and history and Romanides was inspired by the same spirit.
The historical work of Romanides consists mainly of three studies: 1) Romiosini (1975), 2) Franks, Romans, Feudalism and Dogma (1982), and 3) Prologue to the second edition of Ancestral Sin (1989). In addition, several historical elements are included in the extended introduction to Roman Fathers of the Church: Volume One (1984), where the synthesis of theological and historical discourse becomes obvious. Yet in almost all of his studies after 1975, historical elements intrude into the theological.
1. The Basic Historical Positions of Fr. John Romanides
The historical positions of Romanides, beginning in 1975 when they were first heard, have become well known now and there is no need to repeat them here except only briefly:
A) Roman Civilization is actually Greek. Rome was a Greek city, and many ancient Roman writers wrote in Greek or were bilingual, and the Greek language was one of the two official languages of the Senate, where the position of the translator was abolished from the first century B.C. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote his Epistle to the Christians of Rome in Greek. Even worship in the city of Rome was conducted in Greek until the early fourth century. In the entire Empire, the majority of the population spoke Greek.
B) The main cultural division of Europe did not come from the diversification of Greco-Roman, but by the diversification of Roman-Frank, that occurred after the conquest of the western section of the Empire by the barbarian tribe known as the Franks. The Franks subjugated the Romans and turned them into serfs, while they remained feudal, enclosed in protected towers. The acquisition was completed by Charlemagne and was accompanied by the theological independence of the Synod of Frankfurt in 794 (that rejected the Seventh Ecumenical Synod), the Synod of Aachen in 809 (that introduced the Filioque into the Symbol of Faith) and the gradual occupation of the papal throne between 983 and 1046. Important milestones in this occupation are 1009 (the ousting of the last Orthodox Pope) and 1014 (the official introduction of the Filioque into the Church of Rome). The descendants of the Romans in the West remained enslaved until 1789, when they revolted and were liberated in France, ignorant however of the Romiosini of their ancestors and their identification with the Romans of the East.
C) The Schism did not occur between the Byzantine and the Roman Churches, but between the Orthodox Romans (of East and West) and the Frankish conquerors of the papal throne. Because the Romans of Old Rome resisted for decades the Frankish aspirations, a direct occupation of the papal throne was required by the Franks (completed in 1046) and immediately after this the Schism was proclaimed. The causes of the Schism are related primarily to the political aspirations of the Franks and not some mythical inevitable contrast between Greek and Roman theology.
D) As conquerors of Western Europe, the Franks imposed their own misrepresentative version of the Story, naming the free Romans "Greeks" to differentiate them from the Romans of France and Italy which they had conquered. Then, after the fall of Constantinople, when there were no more free Romans, they renamed the Empire to "Byzantium", to cut off all the enslaved Romans from their historical continuity and prevent any reconstitution of the Empire. In fact there never has been a "Byzantine Empire". The term was first used in 1562 by Hieronymus Wolf in his publication of a collection of historical sources.
E) Despite all this, however, the enslaved Romans of the East under the Turks retained the memory of their Empire, and there was always a risk of their claiming it anew. The Great Powers, with the assistance of modern Greek intellectuals like Koraes, undertook to persuade the people that they were only descendants of the ancient Greeks who had been enslaved for the past 2000 years under the Romans and the Turks. These same Powers switched to a positive support of the Revolution of 1821 only after having secured their orientation towards their antiquity. This question did not dissolve even a hundred years after Koraes, as demonstrated by the controversy that erupted with the publication History of Romiosini by Argyres Eftaliotis in 1901, when Kostes Palamas defended Eftaliotis, while scholars like Nicholas Polites and Sotiriades taunted him.
The historical work of Romanides focuses on the medieval period, as is reasonable, since this is the period that has been counterfeited from the latest official historiography. However, it does not end there. He extends both into ancient and modern History. This expansion came as a need to clarify obscure areas or to respond to criticism. For example, the view of Romanides regarding the Greekness of ancient Rome seemed awkward to many. So Romanides needed to respond thoroughly in one of his latest studies that he wrote before his repose. It bears the title "Examples of the Science of the Ethnic Cleansing of Roman History and a Vision of the Future United States of Franco-Romania" (a lecture delivered at Hellenic College of Brookline, Massachusetts on 10/17/1998). There he refers extensively to ancient historians like Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who wrote about the early years of the city of Rome.
Similarly, in trying to explain the acceptance of the westernized version of History by the modern Greeks, Romanides investigated the mechanisms and persons who imposed the western view on modern Greece. He thus revealed the role of Koraes and Napoleon, as exposed in the Prologue to the second edition of Ancestral Sin. He names Napoleon as responsible for the death of Rigas Feraios, in order to prevent the reconstitution of the Roman Empire, in the European section as it is presented in the famous Charter of Rigas. Romanides proceeded even to the beginning of the 20th century, examining the two clashes around the ethnic name Greek or Roman, in his study "Kostes Palamas and Romiosini" (1976).
What must be emphasized is that Romanides arrived at the point that he dealt with History as a continuity, and not as a break, from his theological work. Besides, during the period of his historical writings, that began in 1974, he did not cease to produce theological texts. The two were inseparable. For example, his understanding of the differences with western confessions led him to the examination of Apostolic succession and the key discovery of their severing from this succession in the Frankish West. This is why he deeply investigated the obscure and rather unknown Greek period, the period of the 7th and 8th centuries, when the Merovingian kingdom collapses and the Carolingians come to the throne. He writes in his study "Church Synods and Civilization" in 1995: "The Frankish bishops encountered by St. Boniface understood Apostolic succession as a magical power which allowed them to make it the property of their race and use it as the prime means of keeping their subjugated populations pacified by fear of their religious and military powers. Augustine's theories about original sin and predestination helped them in this direction."
As Romanides discovered, in the beginning the Merovingian Franks usurped the right of veto in the elections of bishops. Then they usurped the right to appoint bishops and began to sell positions on bid. Eventually, the Carolingian Franks expelled the Roman bishops and imposed only Frankish bishops in office.
A second example is his historical study of the Filioque, published in 1975 with a revised version in 1982. For understanding the origin of the Filioque, Romanides needed to proceed into thorough historical research, in which the interaction between theology and political history becomes constantly apparent. Finally, developments in the theological thought of the West were often produced as products of political expediency, whether to reject the Seventh Ecumenical Synod in 794, or for the Schism in 1054, or the adoption of the doctrine of the "satisfaction of God" by Anselm of Canterbury, which was an imitation of feudal justice.
2. An Evaluation of the Historical Works of Romanides
Despite the fact that the views of Romanides were based on known published sources, they were not presented in this way by any previous investigator. The composition is solely the work of Romanides. Byzantinists knew there was never a state called "Byzantium", but they used this term without explaining the political implications of this choice. Until today, the historical positions of Romanides have not become widely accepted, nor have they penetrated the textbooks, although they have been widely discussed, particularly on the internet. One would believe them to be completely trivial opinions that are not worth answering or consider them blatantly wrong opinions that are easily refuted by each graduate of History, and so again they are not worth answering. However, they are neither the one nor the other.
In his studies, the fruit of many years and arduous effort, Romanides used countless sources of known reliability. It is difficult to argue that he failed to take account of any significant source that would alter his conclusions. Instead, he managed to draw on small details that might have escaped the attention of other researchers. A typical example is his original claim that in the middle of the eighth century the enslaved Romans under the Franks in contemporary France allied with the Arabs to throw off the Frankish yoke. This information is indeed contained in the Continuations of the Chronicle of Fredegar, which is cited by Romanides but has been ignored until now. Its discovery is indicative of the careful study of the sources by Romanides.
Another example of discovering details that had escaped the attention of other researchers is the London Protocol of 01/31/1836 which determines the right of emigration from the Ottoman Empire to Greece. Romanides examined the original text in French, which he cites in his study "Examples of the Science of the Ethnic Cleansing of Roman History and a Vision of the Future United States of Franco-Romania". As we know, by then in all western languages our ancestors were called "Greeks" (Γραικοί). The text of the London Protocol first introduced the distinction between "Hellenes" (the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Hellas or Greece) and "Grecs" (everyone at that time called Greeks who inhabited the Ottoman Empire). Here is fully revealed the western propaganda that distorted our national names over the centuries. In attempting to diversify the free Romans from the enslaved Romans under the Turks, the Great Powers distinguished between Hellene and Grec, a difference that will certainly cause laughter if translated into Greek.
With his detailed research, Romanides solved a historical question, the answer of which was unknown to the general public. The question was: Why did all the kings of Greece, beginning from the second king (George I, 1863), bear the title "King of the Hellenes", while the first king (Otto), bore the title "King of Greece"? It was known that the Great Powers prevented Otto to bear the title "King of the Hellenes". But why did they allow George I? Because of Romanides we know the explanation: Otto came in 1833, ie before the Protocol of 1836, when even the Great Powers did not differentiate between "Hellenes" and "Grecs". If they called Otto "King of the Hellenes" (Roi des Grecs), they would have stated that Otto was king of all whom those in the West called Grecs (Greeks), ie the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Greece and enslaved Romans in the Ottoman Empire. Not even the Great Powers wanted this, nor, of course, Turkey. Instead, at the time when George I came in 1863, there was a distinction between "Hellenes" and "Grecs", thanks to the Protocol of 1836. So George was named King of the Hellenes (Roi des Hellenes) and everyone was pleased.
Therefore, it cannot be argued that Romanides ignored the sources. It is equally difficult to argue that he misunderstood his sources. For example, the view that the Roman Empire, before the invasion of the barbarian tribes, was bilingual is no longer an acceptable conclusion of modern researchers. To be exact, the majority of the population spoke Greek, as it has been convincingly supported by the leading contemporary scholar of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown (The World of Late Antiquity and other works). The reason was simple: All major urban centers located in the eastern part of the state, had already been Hellenized since the time of the successors of Alexander the Great. Apart from Rome, there was no major city in the western part of the Empire.
The university professor, Protopresbyter Fr. George Metallinos, studied the historical sources for decades, primarily of the Turkish occupation and the nineteenth century, but not only these, and this resulted in the identical conclusion produced by Romanides. The extensive published works of Fr. George confirms the findings of Romanides.
The same results were obtained from independent personal research from sources of Medieval History. Among other things examined were the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, the History of the Goths by Jordanes, the Chronicle of Fredegar, the History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, the Laws of the Lombards curated by Drew K. Fischer, the Biography of Charlemagne (Vita Caroli) of Einhard, the Report of the Embassy to Constantinople (Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana) by Liutprand of Cremona, the Chronography of Theophanes, the Epistles of Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos, the For His Own Son Romanos by Constantine Porphyrogenitos and his epic Digenis Akritas. None of the conclusions of Romanides are inconsistent with the sources we examined.
So far we do not have in mind a coherent refutation of the positions of Romanides. However, below we will present five criticisms that have been raised at times regarding his views.
A) Perhaps the biggest overall critique of the work of Romanides comes from Vladimir Moss in his study Against Romanides -- A Critical Examination of the Theology of Fr. John Romanides (2012). As regards the historical part, Moss disagrees with Romanides arguing that:
a) The Franks were the only Orthodox of all the barbarian people from the outset who settled in the territory of the Roman Empire (the others converted to Arianism). Therefore, the "conquest" of the Franks, by Clovis for example, around 510 was celebrated by the Romans of the West as a "liberation" rather than a conquest. (p. 73)
To support his argument, Moss refers to the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917, where we read of Clovis: "Everywhere he introduced good laws." This certainly cannot be regarded as a credible rebuttal. Moreover, the favorable treatment of the Franks from the Catholic Encyclopedia confirms rather than undermines the claim of Romanides.
Furthermore, Moss refers to the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, writing that "nowhere does he challenge the legality of the Frankish power" (p.74). Romanides read Gregory of Tours differently, who "wrote the History of the Franks until 591, that is, 1) Before the Franks completely infiltrated the hierarchy and 2) during the time when there was a certain cooperation between Franks and Romans for the sake of common problems. Nevertheless, although Gregory was inspired by the much hoped for dream that the Romans would eventually affect the Franks for the good and that the Romans would manage to continue, mainly through the bishops, the administration of the numerous Romans conquered by the Franks, he does not conceal even the smallest detail regarding the ferocity and brutality of the Franks" (Romiosini, p. 137).
b) The distance of Western Europe from Orthodoxy, writes Moss, cannot be attributed only to one German tribe that tried to destroy Romanism (p. 76). The Romans of the West participated in the conflict with Constantinople: Pope Stephen II sought help from the Frankish king Pepin in 754 and insulted the "Greeks" in his epistles. Pope Hadrian I unveiled in 785 the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals which became the basis for the claim of papal absolutism in subsequent centuries (p. 79). Pope Leo III was the main winner in the coronation of Charlemagne in 800, because he "obtained a 'pocket emperor' in place of the Eastern Emperor" (p. 81).
Moss refers extensively to a book by a certain French abbot of the 19th century (Guettee) in order to recount the relationship between the papacy and Charlemagne. The reader wonders how it is possible for a conventional book published 150 years ago, that reiterates the established views, can be considered a rebuttal of Romanides. In each case, Romanides had answered all the specifics regarding the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals, which he considered to be formed as a line of defense by the Roman Popes against the Frankish attack. Also, it is difficult to convince anyone that Pope Leo won something against Charlemagne, apart from the temporary suppression of a militaristic ruler. Besides, as Moss writes immediately further, Charlemagne ignored the Pope when he was to crown his son Emperor Louis (p. 81).
Despite the Manichean simplifications of his critics, Romanidis has shown a much more complex representation of this period. It has nothing to do with the "racial theory" that Moss criticizes (p. 96), and Romanides does not consider all western Romans to be the "good guys" of History. At a time of enormous pressure and foreign occupation, many settled for the Franks either for tactical reasons or for reasons of belief. Successive changes to the papacy, especially in the tenth century, reflected the changes in the balance of forces between the Franks and Romans of Rome. However, even under the toughest conditions of Frankish pressure, the Popes remained Orthodox in dogma, which is why their names are recorded in the diptychs of Constantinople until 1009. The characteristic example is the same Leo III, the pope who crowned Charlemagne in 800. When the Franks proclaimed as dogma the addition of the Filioque to the Symbol of Faith (Synod of Aachen, 809), Leo responded by making the Creed without the Filioque on two silver plates in the Church of Saint Peter with the inscription: "Leo laid these for the love and protection of the Orthodox Faith" (Romiosini, p. 59). It was a move of the utmost bravery, when the undefeated armies of Charlemagne were still in Italy.
c) As most readers of Romanides, Moss rejects the radical view that the French Revolution was a rebellion of the Gallo-Roman serfs against their Frankish rulers. He just calls it "nonsense" and considers that by this sort of thing Romanides "departed from history into the realm of imagination" (p. 94). However, younger foreign researchers have identified evidence that supports Romanides. In his interesting study titled The Franks, Edward James cites a quote from a letter of Catherine the Great, during the course of the French Revolution, where the Tsarina writes: "Do you not see what is happening in France? The Gauls are driving out the Franks." Therefore, in the great courts of Europe it was known what was happening, even though the rebels were called "Gauls" instead of "Romans".
B) Apart from the overall criticism of Moss, the other individual reviews that have been published are much leaner. Aidan Nichols, a Catholic priest and university professor, in a thorough review of the leading Orthodox theologians of the 20th century, characterizes Romiosini as a "strange work", but the only rebuttals offered are as follows: "The main problem with this historical thesis is that Western barbarians, instead of wishing to rebuild the Western Roman Empire in their own image, and thereby break from the shackles of the East, were rather too glad to accept any of its heritage, either cultural, linguistic or religious, which the Greco-Roman world as a whole might have offered."
The observations of Nichols might have been true, in part, for the initial conquerors of Italy, the Ostrogoths, who adopted many outer attributes of the Roman government. They were not, however, those who left their permanent mark on Western Europe. After their defeat by Justinian, they disappeared from the scene of history and the evolution of Western Europe was established by the Franks. The Franks chose conflict with the Roman Empire, not only politically, but also culturally and theologically. Therefore, they were not "too glad to accept any of its heritage." However, it is remarkable that Nichols, notwithstanding the comment above, considers Romanides as one of the leading theologians of the world of the twentieth century.
C) A critique that seems to underlie many comments of Greeks regarding the positions of Romanides is his preoccupation with our national historical names is anachronistic and that the issue of national names is not essential today. However, as demonstrated by the experience of the past twenty years, where Greece is engaged in a diplomatic unresolved name dispute with a neighboring state, national names are not innocent choices. Instead, they carry complex symbolism, and include territorial disputes, redefining historical choices and feeds the cultural achievements of the future. It is therefore absolutely essential to have an adequate knowledge of our national names and the symbolic weight they carry.
D) A superficial reading of the work of Romanides can lead to the impression that the conclusion of his views leads to a peculiar nationalism. Instead of a modern Greek nationalism there arises a "Romanistic" nationalism, they say. The Romans identified with the Orthodox Christian exclusion of other peoples from the correct faith, they explain. "A Chinese person cannot become Orthodox? Why should Romiosini be identified with Orthodoxy?" they question.
In fact, Romanides saw Romiosini as something much broader than the boundaries of a nation, whether or not it was Roman - assuming one could speak of a "Roman nation". Romiosini is a universal culture that includes Hellenism in its ecumenical dimension. Christianity was provided with the terminology of the Greek language, but everybody can incorporate the Greco-Roman Christian heritage into their own tradition. Indeed, not even the modern Greeks have some preferential treatment of ethnic origin. Instead, to the extant that they ignore the history of Romiosini, they have accepted the propaganda of Western Europe and turned into Greekies.
Despite allegations from several critics, Romiosini proved over the centuries that it is eminently above nationalism. It enrolled and assimilated diverse peoples of different language backgrounds, giving no importance to the place of their origin or their social status. The purpose has always been to rescue the therapeutic method for people, which had been lost to other cultures, and to lead them to theosis. This purpose has no relation with the property of peoples, chosen nobles or sacred languages.
Romanidis himself constantly stressed the difference between Romiosini and nationalism: "Although a Roman has an absolute conviction in their Romiosini, they are neither fanatic nor intolerant, nor do they have any xenophobia. On the contrary they love strangers though not naively. This is because they know that God loves all people and all tribes and all nations without discrimination and without preference." He continues later: "Wherefore Romiosini is confidence, humility and philotimo and not phony confidence, fowardness and egoism. The heroism of Romanity is a true and lasting condition of the spirit and not cruelty, barbarity and rapacity."
E) Finally, a more general and quite convincing critique presents the conclusions of the research of Romanides as having utopian features. When they conclude a study of his works, many readers are led to an opinion that the author urges a reconstitution of the Roman Empire today. Indeed, the last pages of Romiosini, in the Epologue, looks like an ambitious political manifesto for the return of the "teuton-formed" Europe to the "Greek culture of the Romans":
"Western descendants of the Romans not only reversed the class nobility and theology of the feudalism of the conquerors, but they are ready to return to the Romiosini of their ancestors which the East Romans preserve till today with their many cultural manifestations which once existed in western Romiosini" (p. 273).
"A non teutonic-formed, though to a certain extant distorted, Roman-voiced and Celtic-voiced Romiosini was preserved in western Europe, and is returning to its national, religious and political unity since it repels the teutonic spirit which cuts off the descendants of the Romans into small egocentric and selfish states" (p. 275).
Perhaps it is a utopia. It is a utopia just like the proclamation of the Jews of the Diaspora in 1897 when they sought to return to the Promised Land, with their capital in Jerusalem, after being scattered for 2000 years. However, not even fifty years were needed for this to be realized.
Romanides recognizes that his vision is utopian, but he hastens to add that it is less utopian than the current vision of a European Union: "In as much as today's Europeans are already trying to do something similar, why can't the ancestors of the Romans seek a less utopianistic and historically true unity?"
The vision of a European Union is more utopian because: "As it is currently, the Teutonic-formed Europe will never be united as it is dominated by the racist, sexist, sectarian, eudaimonistic and exploitative spirit of the Teutons which seeks the subjugation and exploitation of the people under small mercenary groups" (Romiosini, p. 275).
In the era of the Memorandum, as the people of Europe are increasingly removed from each other and insult one another hurling racist slogans, the words of Romanides are heard, once again, as prophetic.
Concluding this brief report, we can summarize how, apart from being a world leading theologian, Fr. John Romanides was also a pioneer historian. He used fragments of obscure information that escaped the attention of other researchers and composed a completely new concept, which has withstood time and criticism. This ambitious synthesis combines historical research with a theological proposal and is solidly grounded in the tradition of both the Church and the Orthodox people. This is why it will remain a valuable property for future generations of all humanity.
Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "O π. Ιωάννης Ρωμανίδης ως ιστορικός, September 2013. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.