July 24, 2014

The Days of the Schism of 1054 (5 of 6)

Patriarch Michael Cerularios sitting on a throne with clergymen, 
from the Chronicle of John Skylitzes

4. The Impact of the Schism on Constantinople

After the first outrage, it seems Constantinople did not give great weight to the actions of the then weakened papal throne. In a climate of political and cultural superiority possessed by the Byzantines in the eleventh century, the actions of the West were probably viewed with disdain and contempt. The rude behavior of the papal envoys merely confirmed the Byzantine perception.

Besides Cerularios, the other church men of the time kept a low profile. For example, Patriarch Peter of Antioch and Archbishop Leo of Ochrid have quite a condescending tone in their writings. They believed that the Latins distanced themselves from the true path out of ignorance and that if they were corrected by the most learned and wise men of their Eastern brothers they could return to the straight path. Peter of Antioch wrote in a letter to Cerularios: "For they are our brethren, even if due to lack of education they have often strayed from the straight path." Also, in reference to the Papal Church he speaks of "Romans" to distinguish them from "Vandals", although he fears that the Romans may have been influenced by the Vandals.

It is remarkable that at first the Byzantines did not argue that the Western Church overall had fallen into error. In his correspondence Cerularios usually insisted that the Pope was not to blame for the mistakes of the West or for the feud with Humbert. He made a distinction between the Pope, whom he sought to be aligned with, and the "Franks" (those whom we call Normans). Besides, the Synod of Constantinople on 20 July 1054 did not condemn the Pope or the West in general, but it placed the responsibility on Humbert and the other envoys who brought the forged documents. Peter of Antioch insisted that if some Westerners were infringing the canons they did it without the knowledge of the Pope.

It is obvious that the Orthodox Church made ​​an effort to maintain open channels of communication with the West, hoping that the papal envoys had acted arbitrarily, without the approval of the Pope, or that some next Pope would defeat the separatist views of his predecessor. That's why the first known reference to the Schism between Cerularios and Humbert dates much later, to the early 12th century.

Moreover, as has been rightly pointed out by modern historians, generally the protagonists of the period in Byzantium did not view the West as something monolithic, and therefore they did not feel that they lived in a world of the very distinct East-West. Instead, the collision of Rome-Constantinople saw different groups with different interests. In Italy, let's say, there was the Pope, the German Emperor, the Normans, the Lombards and the native Italians who considered themselves citizens of the Roman Empire of Constantinople. Many of the elements of the subsequent relations between Byzantium and the Westerners were not yet apparent. The perception of the West as a united threat, the popular antipathy towards the "Latins", all these will emerge later. You can say how even the very Schism itself gradually led to the construction of a monolithic West in the eyes of the Byzantines, and small subtleties bowed before the priority of demarcation between Orthodox and heretics.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.