The Great Schism
“We are unchanged; we are still the same as we were in the eighth century… Oh that you could only consent to be again what you were once, when we were both united in faith and communion!” (Alexis Khomiakov).
The estrangement of Eastern and Western Christendom
One summer afternoon in the year 1054, as a service was about to begin in the Church of the Holy Wisdom (in Greek, “Hagia Sophia”; often called “Saint Sophia” or “Sancta Sophia” by English writers) at Constantinople, Cardinal Humbert and two other legates of the Pope entered the building and made their way up to the sanctuary. They had not come to pray. They placed a Bull of Excommunication upon the altar and marched out once more. As he passed through the western door, the Cardinal shook the dust from his feet with the words: “Let God look and judge.” A deacon ran out after him in great distress and begged him to take back the Bull. Humbert refused; and it was dropped in the street.
It is this incident which has conventionally been taken to mark the beginning of the great schism between the Orthodox east and the Latin west. But the schism, as historians now generally recognize, is not really an event whose beginning can be exactly dated. It was something that came about gradually, as the result of along and complicated process, starting well before the eleventh century and not completed until some time after.
In this long and complicated process, many different influences were at work. The schism was conditioned by cultural, political, and economic factors; yet its fundamental cause was not secular but theological. In the last resort it was over matters of doctrine that east and west quarreled — two matters in particular: the Papal claims and the filioque. But before we look more closely at these two major differences, and before we consider the actual course of the schism, something must be said about the wider background. Long before there was an open and formal schism between east and west, the two sides had become strangers to one another; and in attempting to understand how and why the communion of Christendom was broken, we must start with this fact of increasing estrangement.
When Paul and the other Apostles traveled around the Mediterranean world, they moved within a closely-knit political and cultural unity: the Roman Empire. This Empire embraced many different national groups, often with languages and dialects of their own. But all these groups were governed by the same Emperor; there was a broad Greco-Roman civilization in which educated people throughout the Empire shared; either Greek or Latin was understood almost everywhere in the Empire, and many could speak both languages. These facts greatly assisted the early Church in its missionary work.
But in the centuries that followed, the unity of the Mediterranean world gradually disappeared. The political unity was the first to go. From the end of the third century the Empire, while still theoretically one, was usually divided into two parts, an eastern and a western, each under its own Emperor. Constantine furthered this process of separation by founding a second imperial capital in the east, alongside Old Rome in Italy. Then came the barbarian invasions at the start of the fifth century: apart from Italy, much of which remained within the Empire for some time longer, the west was carved up among barbarian chiefs. The Byzantines never forgot the ideals of Rome under Augustus and Trajan, and still regarded their Empire as in theory universal; but Justinian was the last Emperor who seriously attempted to bridge the gulf between theory and fact, and his conquests in the west were soon abandoned. The political unity of the Greek east and the Latin west was destroyed by the barbarian invasions, and never permanently restored.
The severance was carried a stage further by the rise of Islam: the Mediterranean, which the Romans once called mare nostrum, “our sea,” now passed largely into Arab control. Cultural and economic contacts between the eastern and western Mediterranean never entirely ceased, but they became far more difficult.
Cut off from Byzantium, the west proceeded to set up a “Roman” Empire of its own. On Christmas Day in the year 800 the Pope crowned Charles the Great, King of the Franks, as Emperor. Charlemagne sought recognition from the ruler at Byzantium, but without success; for the Byzantines, still adhering to the principle of imperial unity, regarded Charlemagne as an intruder and the Papal coronation as an act of schism within the Empire. The creation of a Holy Roman Empire in the west, instead of drawing Europe closer together, only served to alienate east and west more than before.
The cultural unity lingered on, but in a greatly attenuated form. Both in east and west, men of learning still lived within the classical tradition which the Church had taken over and made its own; but as time went on they began to interpret this tradition in increasingly divergent ways. Matters were made more difficult by problems of language. The days when educated men were bilingual were over. By the year 450 there were very few in western Europe who could read Greek, and after 600, although Byzantium still called itself the Roman Empire, it was rare for a Byzantine to speak Latin, the language of the Romans. Photius, the greatest scholar in ninth century Constantinople, could not read Latin; and in 864 a “Roman” Emperor at Byzantium, Michael III, even called the language in which Virgil once wrote “a barbarian and Scythic tongue.” If Greeks wished to read Latin works or vice versa, they could do go only in translation, and usually they did not trouble to do even that: Psellus, an eminent Greek savant of the eleventh century, had so sketchy a knowledge of Latin literature that he confused Caesar with Cicero. Because they no longer drew upon the same sources nor read the same books, Greek east and Latin west drifted more and more apart.
It was an ominous but significant precedent that the cultural renaissance in Charlemagne’s Court should have been marked at its outset by a strong anti-Greek prejudice. The hostility and defiance which the new Roman Empire of the west felt towards Constantinople extended beyond the political field to the cultural. Men of letters in Charlemagne’s entourage were not prepared to copy Byzantium, but sought to create a new Christian civilization of their own. In fourth-century Europe there had been one Christian civilization, in thirteenth-century Europe there were two; perhaps it is in the reign of Charlemagne that the schism of civilizations first becomes clearly apparent.
The Byzantines for their part remained enclosed in their own world of ideas, and did little to meet the west half way. Alike in the ninth and in later centuries they usually failed to take western learning as seriously as it deserved. They dismissed all “Franks” as barbarians and nothing more.
These political and cultural factors could not but affect the life of the Church, and make it harder to maintain religious unity. Cultural and political estrangement can lead only too easily to ecclesiastical disputes, as may be seen from the case of Charlemagne. Refused recognition in the political sphere by the Byzantine Emperor, he was quick to retaliate with a charge of heresy against the Byzantine Church: he denounced the Greeks for not using the filioque in the Creed (of this we shall say more in a moment) and he declined to accept the decisions of the seventh Ecumenical Council. It is true that Charlemagne only knew of these decisions through a faulty translation which seriously distorted their true meaning; but he seems in any case to have been semi-Iconoclast in his views.
The different political situations in east and west made the Church assume different outward forms, so that men came gradually to think of Church order in conflicting ways. From the start there had been a certain difference of emphasis here between east and west. In the east there were many Churches whose foundation went back to the Apostles; there was a strong sense of the equality of all bishops, of the collegial and conciliar nature of the Church. The east acknowledged the Pope as the first bishop in the Church, but saw him as the first among equals. In the west, on the other hand, there was only one great see claiming Apostolic foundation — Rome — so that Rome came to be regarded as the Apostolic see. The west, while it accepted the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, did not play a very active part in the Councils themselves; the Church was seen less as a college and more as a monarchy — the monarchy of the Pope.
This initial divergence in outlook was made more acute by political developments. As was only natural, the barbarian invasions and the consequent breakdown of the Empire in the west served greatly to strengthen the autocratic structure of the western Church. In the east there was a strong secular head, the Emperor, to uphold the civilized order and to enforce law. In the west, after the advent of the barbarians, there was only a plurality of warring chiefs, all more or less usurpers. For the most part it was the Papacy alone which could act as a center of unity, as an element of continuity and stability in the spiritual and political life of western Europe. By force of circumstances, the Pope assumed a part which the Greek Patriarchs were not called to play: he became an autocrat, an absolute monarch set up over the Church, issuing commands — in a way that few if any eastern bishops have ever done — not only to his ecclesiastical subordinates but to secular rulers as well. The western Church became centralized to a degree unknown anywhere in the four Patriarchates of the east (except possibly in Egypt). Monarchy in the west; in the east collegiality.
Nor was this the only effect which the barbarian invasions had upon the life of the Church. In Byzantium there were many educated laymen who took an active interest in theology. The “lay theologian” has always been an accepted figure in Orthodoxy: some of the most learned Byzantine Patriarchs — Photius, for example — were laymen before their appointment to the Patriarchate. But in the west the only effective education which survived through the Dark Ages was provided by the Church for its clergy. Theology became the preserve of the priests, since most of the laity could not even read, much less comprehend the technicalities of theological discussion. Orthodoxy, while assigning to the episcopate a special teaching office, has never known this sharp division between clergy and laity which arose in the western Middle Ages.
Relations between eastern and western Christendom were also made more difficult by the lack of a common language. Because the two sides could no longer communicate easily with one another, and each could no longer read what the other wrote, theological misunderstandings arose more easily; and these were often made worse by mistranslation — at times, one fears, deliberate and malicious mistranslation.
East and west were becoming strangers to one another, and this was something from which both were likely to suffer. In the early Church there had been unity in the faith, but a diversity of theological schools. From the start Greeks and Latins had each approached the Christian Mystery in their own way. The Latin approach was more practical, the Greek more speculative; Latin thought was influenced by juridical ideas, by the concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks understood theology in the context of worship and in the light of the Holy Liturgy. When thinking about the Trinity, Latins started with the unity of the Godhead, Greeks with the threeness of the persons; when reflecting on the Crucifixion, Latins thought primarily of Christ the Victim, Greeks of Christ the Victor; Latins talked more of redemption, Greeks of deification; and so on. Like the schools of Antioch and Alexandria within the east, these two distinctive approaches were not in themselves contradictory; each served to supplement the other, and each had its place in the fullness of Catholic tradition. But now that the two sides were becoming strangers to one another — with no political and little cultural unity, with no common language — there was a danger that each side would follow its own approach in isolation and push it to extremes, forgetting the value in the opposite point of view.
We have spoken of the different doctrinal approaches in east and west; but there were two points of doctrine where the two sides no longer supplemented one another, but entered into direct conflict — the Papal claims and the filioque. The factors which we have mentioned in previous paragraphs were sufficient in themselves to place a serious strain upon the unity of Christendom. Yet for all that, unity might still have been maintained, had there not been these two further points of difficulty. To them we must now turn. It was not until the middle of the ninth century that the full extent of the disagreement first came properly into the open, but the two differences themselves date back considerably earlier.
We have already had occasion to mention the Papacy when speaking of the different political situations in east and west; and we have seen how the centralized and monarchical structure of the western Church was reinforced by the barbarian invasions. Now so long as the Pope claimed an absolute power only in the west, Byzantium raised no objections. The Byzantines did not mind if the western Church was centralized, so long as the Papacy did not interfere in the east. The Pope, however, believed his immediate power of jurisdiction to extend to the east as well as to the west; and as soon as he tried to enforce this claim within the eastern Patriarchates, trouble was bound to arise. The Greeks assigned to the Pope a primacy of honor, but not the universal supremacy which he regarded as his due. The Pope viewed infallibility as his own prerogative, the Greeks held that in matters of the faith the final decision rested not with the Pope alone, but with a Council representing all the bishops of the Church. Here we have two different conceptions of the visible organization of the Church.
The Orthodox attitude to the Papacy is admirably expressed by a twelfth-century writer, Nicetas, Archbishop of Nicomedia:
My dearest brother, we do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy amongst the five sister Patriarchates; and we recognize her right to the most honorable seat at an Ecumenical Council. But she has separated herself from us by her own deeds, when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her office… How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman Pontiff, seated on the lofty throne of his glory, wishes to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his mandates at us from on high, and if he wishes to judge us and even to rule us and our Churches, not by taking counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure, what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be the slaves, not the sons, of such a Church, and the Roman See would not be the pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves (Quoted in S. Runciman, The Eastern Schism, p. 116).
That was how an Orthodox felt in the twelfth century, when the whole question had come out into the open. In earlier centuries the Greek attitude to the Papacy was basically the same, although not yet sharpened by controversy. Up to 850, Rome and the east avoided an open conflict over the Papal claims, but the divergence of views was not the less serious for being partially concealed.
The second great difficulty was the filioque. The dispute involved the words about the Holy Spirit in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Originally the Creed ran: “I believe… in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and together glorified.” This, the original form, is recited unchanged by the east to this day. But the west inserted an extra phrase “and from the Son” (in Latin, filioque), so that the Creed now reads “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” It is not certain when and where this addition was first made, but it seems to have originated in Spain, as a safeguard against Arianism. At any rate the Spanish Church interpolated the filioque at the third Council of Toledo (589), if not before. From Spain the addition spread to France and thence to Germany, where it was welcomed by Charlemagne and adopted at the semi-Iconoclast Council of Frankfort (794). It was writers at Charlemagne’s Court who first made the filioque into an issue of controversy, accusing the Greeks of heresy because they recited the Creed in its original form. But Rome, with typical conservatism, continued to use the Creed without the filioque until the start of the eleventh century. In 808 Pope Leo III wrote in a letter to Charlemagne that, although he himself believed the filioque to be doctrinally sound, yet he considered it a mistake to tamper with the wording of the Creed. Leo deliberately had the Creed, without the filioque, inscribed on silver plaques and set up in Saint Peter’s. For the time being Rome acted as mediator between Germany and Byzantium.
It was not until after 850 that the Greeks paid much attention to the filioque, but once they did so, their reaction was sharply critical. Orthodoxy objected (and still objects) to this addition in the Creed, for two reasons. First, the Ecumenical Councils specifically forbade any changes to be introduced into the Creed; and if an addition has to be made, certainly nothing short of another Ecumenical Council is competent to make it. The Creed is the common possession of the whole Church, and a part of the Church has no right to tamper with it. The west, in arbitrarily altering the Creed without consulting the east, is guilty (as Khomiakov put it) of moral fratricide, of a sin against the unity of the Church. In the second place, Orthodox believe the filioque to be theologically untrue. They hold that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, and consider it a heresy to say that He proceeds from the Son as well. It may seem to many that the point at issue is so abstruse as to be unimportant. But Orthodox would say that since the doctrine of the Trinity stands at the heart of the Christian faith, a small change of emphasis in Trinitarian theology has far-reaching consequences in many other fields. Not only does the filioque destroy the balance between the three persons of the Holy Trinity: it leads also to a false understanding of the work of the Spirit in the world, and so encourages a false doctrine of the Church. (I have given here the standard Orthodox view of the filioque; it should be noted, however, that certain Orthodox theologians consider the filioque merely an unauthorized addition to the Creed, not necessarily heretical in itself.).
Besides these two major issues, the Papacy and the filioque, there were certain lesser matters of Church worship and discipline which caused trouble between east and west: the Greeks allowed married clergy, the Latins insisted on priestly celibacy; the two sides had different rules of fasting; the Greeks used leavened bread in the Eucharist, the Latins unleavened bread or “azymes.”
Around 850 east and west were still in full communion with one another and still formed one Church. Cultural and political divisions had combined to bring about an increasing estrangement, but there was no open schism. The two sides had different conceptions of Papal authority and recited the Creed in different forms, but these questions had not yet been brought fully into the open.
But in 1190 Theodore Balsamon, Patriarch of Antioch and a great authority on Canon Law, looked at matters very differently:
For many years [he does not say how many] the western Church has been divided in spiritual communion from the other four Patriarchates and has become alien to the Orthodox…. So no Latin should be given communion unless he first declares that he will abstain from the doctrines and customs that separate him from us, and that he will be subject to the Canons of the Church, in union with the Orthodox (Quoted in Runciman, The Eastern Schism, p. 139).
In Balsamon’s eyes, communion had been broken; there was a definite schism between east and west. The two no longer formed one visible Church.
In this transition from estrangement to schism, four incidents are of particular importance: the quarrel between Photius and Pope Nicholas I (usually known as the “Photian schism”: the east would prefer to call it the schism of Nicholas); the incident of the Diptychs in 1009; the attempt at reconciliation in 1053-1054 and its disastrous sequel; and the Crusades.
From estrangement to schism: 858-1204
In 858, fifteen years after the triumph of icons under Theodora, a new Patriarch of Constantinople was appointed — Photius, known to the Orthodox Church as Saint Photius the Great. He has been termed “the most distinguished thinker, the most outstanding politician, and the most skilful diplomat ever to hold office as Patriarch of Constantinople” (G. Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, p. 199). Soon after his accession he became involved in a dispute with Pope Nicholas I (858-867). The previous Patriarch, Saint Ignatius, had been exiled by the Emperor and while in exile had resigned under pressure. The supporters of Ignatius, declining to regard this resignation as valid, considered Photius a usurper. When Photius sent a letter to the Pope announcing his accession, Nicholas decided that before recognizing Photius he would look further into the quarrel between the new Patriarch and the Ignatian party. Accordingly in 861 he sent legates to Constantinople.
Photius had no desire to start a dispute with the Papacy. He treated the legates with great deference, inviting them to preside at a council in Constantinople, which was to settle the issue between Ignatius and himself. The legates agreed, and together with the rest of the council they decided that Photius was the legitimate Patriarch. But when his legates returned to Rome, Nicholas declared that they had exceeded their powers, and he disowned their decision. He then proceeded to retry the case himself at Rome: a council held under his presidency in 863 recognized Ignatius as Patriarch, and proclaimed Photius to be deposed from all priestly dignity. The Byzantines took no notice of this condemnation, and sent no answers to the Pope’s letters. Thus an open breach existed between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople.
The dispute clearly involved the Papal claims. Nicholas was a great reforming Pope, with an exalted idea of the prerogatives of his see, and he had already done much to establish an absolute power over all bishops in the west. But he believed this absolute power to extend to the east also: as he put it in a letter of 865, the Pope is endowed with authority “over all the earth, that is, over every Church.” This was precisely what the Byzantines were not prepared to grant. Confronted with the dispute between Photius and Ignatius, Nicholas thought that he saw a golden opportunity to enforce his claim to universal jurisdiction: he would make both parties submit to his arbitration. But he realized that Photius had submitted voluntarily to the inquiry by the Papal legates, and that his action could not be taken as a recognition of Papal supremacy. This (among other reasons) was why Nicholas had cancelled his legates’ decisions. The Byzantines for their part were willing to allow appeals to Rome, but only under the specific conditions laid down in Canon III of the Council of Sardica (343). This Canon states that a bishop, if under sentence of condemnation, can appeal to Rome, and the Pope, if he sees cause, can order a retrial; this retrial, however, is not to be conducted by the Pope himself at Rome, but by the bishops of the provinces adjacent to that of the condemned bishop. Nicholas, so the Byzantines felt, in reversing the decisions of his legates and demanding a retrial at Rome itself, was going far beyond the terms of this Canon. They regarded his behavior as an unwarrantable and uncanonical interference in the affairs of another Patriarchate.
Soon not only the Papal claims but the filioque became involved in the dispute. Byzantium and the west (chiefly the Germans) were both launching great missionary offensives among the Slavs (see pages 82-84). The two lines of missionary advance, from the east and from the west, soon converged; and when Greek and German missionaries found themselves at work in the same land, it was difficult to avoid a conflict, since the two missions were run on widely different principles. The clash naturally brought to the fore the question of the filioque, used by the Germans in the Creed, but not used by the Greeks. The chief point of trouble was Bulgaria, a country which Rome and Constantinople alike were anxious to add to their sphere of jurisdiction. The Khan Boris was at first inclined to ask the German missionaries for baptism: threatened, however, with a Byzantine invasion, he changed his policy and around 865 accepted baptism from Greek clergy. But Boris wanted the Church in Bulgaria to be independent, and when Constantinople refused to grant autonomy, he turned to the west in hope of better terms. Given a fret hand in Bulgaria, the Latin missionaries promptly launched a violent attack on the Greeks, singling out the points where Byzantine practice differed from their own: married clergy, rules of fasting, and above all the filioque. At Rome itself the filioque was still not in use, but Nicholas gave full support to the Germans when they insisted upon its insertion in Bulgaria. The Papacy, which in 808 had mediated between the Germans and the Greeks, was now neutral no longer.
Photius was naturally alarmed by the extension of German influence in the Balkans, on the very borders of the Byzantine Empire; but he was much more alarmed by the question of the filioque, now brought forcibly to his attention. In 867 he took action. He wrote an Encyclical Letter to the other Patriarchs of the east, denouncing the filioque at length and charging those who used it with heresy. Photius has often been blamed for writing this letter: even the great Roman Catholic historian Francis Dvornik, who is in general highly sympathetic to Photius, calls has action on this occasion a “futile attack,” and says “the lapse was inconsiderate, hasty, and big with fatal consequences” (F. Dvornik, The Photian Schism, p. 433). But if Photius really considered the filioque heretical, what else could he do except speak his mind? It must also be remembered that it was not Photius who first made the filioque a matter of controversy, but Charlemagne and his scholars seventy years before: the west was the original aggressor, not the east. Photius followed up his letter by summoning a council to Constantinople, which declared Pope Nicholas excommunicate, terming him “a heretic who ravages the vineyard of the Lord.”
At this critical point in the dispute, the whole situation suddenly changed. In this same year (867) Photius was deposed from the Patriarchate by the Emperor. Ignatius became Patriarch once more, and communion with Rome was restored. In 869-870 another Council was held at Constantinople, known as the “Anti-Photian Council,” which condemned and anathematized Photius, reversing the decisions of 867. This Council, later reckoned in the west as the eighth Ecumenical Council, opened with the unimpressive total of 12 bishops, although numbers at subsequent sessions rose to 103.
But there were further changes to come. The 869-70 Council requested the Emperor to resolve the status of the Bulgarian Church, and not surprisingly he decided that it should be assigned to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Realizing that Rome would allow him less independence than Byzantium, Boris accepted this decision. From 870, then, the German missionaries were expelled and the filioque was heard no more in the confines of Bulgaria. Nor was this all. At Constantinople, Ignatius and Photius were reconciled to one another, and when Ignatius died in 877, Photius once more succeeded him as Patriarch. In 879 yet another council was held in Constantinople, attended by 383 bishops — a notable contrast with the meager total at the anti-Photian gathering ten years previously. The Council of 869 was anathematized and all condemnations of Photius were withdrawn; these decisions were accepted without protest at Rome. So Photius ended victorious, recognized by Rome and ecclesiastically master of Bulgaria. Until recently it was thought that there was a second “Photian schism,” but Dr. Dvornik has proved with devastating conclusiveness that this second schism is a myth: in Photius’ later period of office (877-886) communion between Constantinople and the Papacy remained unbroken. The Pope at this time, John VIII (871-882), was no friend to the Germans and did not press the question of the filioque, nor did he attempt to enforce the Papal claims in the east. Perhaps he recognized how seriously the policy of Nicholas had endangered the unity of Christendom.
Thus the schism was outwardly healed, but no real solution had been reached concerning the two great points of difference which the dispute between Nicholas and Photius had forced into the open. Matters had been patched up, and that was all.
Photius, always honored in the east as a saint, a leader of the Church, and a theologian, has in the past been regarded by the west with less enthusiasm, as the author of a schism and little else. His good qualities are now more widely appreciated. “If I am right in my conclusions,” so Dr. Dvornik ends his monumental study, “we shall be free once more to recognize in Photius a great Churchman, a learned humanist, and a genuine Christian, generous enough to forgive his enemies, and to take the first step towards reconciliation” (The Photian Schism, p. 432). In the general historical reappraisal of the schism by recent writers, nowhere has the change been so startling as in the verdict on Saint Photius.
At the beginning of the eleventh century there was fresh trouble over the filioque. The Papacy at last adopted the addition: at the coronation of Emperor Henry II at Rome in 1014, the Creed was sung in its interpolated form. Five years earlier, in 1009, the newly-elected Pope Sergius IV sent a letter to Constantinople which may have contained the filioque, although this is not certain. Whatever the reason, the Patriarch of Constantinople, also called Sergius, did not include the new Pope’s name in the Diptychs: these are lists, kept by each Patriarch, which contain the names of the other Patriarchs, living and departed, whom he recognizes as orthodox. The Diptychs are a visible sign of the unity of the Church, and deliberately to omit a man’s name from them is tantamount to a declaration that one is not in communion with him. After 1009 the Pope’s name did not appear again in the Diptychs of Constantinople; technically, therefore, the Churches of Rome and Constantinople were out of communion from that date. But it would be unwise to press this technicality too far. Diptychs were frequently incomplete, and so do not form an infallible guide to Church relations. The Constantinopolitan lists before 1009 often lacked the Pope’s name, simply because new Popes at their accession failed to notify the east. The omission in 1009 aroused no comment at Rome, and even at Constantinople men quickly forgot why and when the Pope’s name had first been dropped from the Diptychs.
As the eleventh century proceeded, new factors brought relations between the Papacy and the eastern Patriarchates to a further crisis. The previous century had been a period of grave instability and confusion for the see of Rome, a century which Cardinal Baronius justly termed an age of iron and lead in the history of the Papacy. But Rome now reformed itself, and under the rule of men such as Hildebrand (Pope Gregory VII) it gained a position of power in the west such as it had never before achieved. The reformed Papacy naturally revived the claims to universal jurisdiction which Nicholas had made. The Byzantines on their side had grown accustomed to dealing with a Papacy that was for the most part weak and disorganized, and so they found it difficult to adapt themselves to the new situation. Matters were made worse by political factors, such as the military aggression of the Normans in Byzantine Italy, and the commercial aggression of the Italian maritime cities in the eastern Mediterranean during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
In 1054 there was a severe quarrel. The Normans had been forcing the Greeks in Byzantine Italy to conform to Latin usages; the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, in return demanded that the Latin churches at Constantinople should adopt Greek practices, and in 1052, when they refused, he closed them. This was perhaps harsh, but as Patriarch he was fully entitled to act in this manner. Among the practices to which Michael and his supporters particularly objected was the Latin use of “azymes” or unleavened bread in the Eucharist, an issue which had not figured in the dispute of the ninth century. In 1053, however, Cerularius took up a more conciliatory attitude and wrote to Pope Leo IX, offering to restore the Pope’s name to the Diptychs. In response to this offer, and to settle the disputed questions of Greek and Latin usages, Leo in 1054 sent three legates to Constantinople, the chief of them being Humbert, Bishop of Silva Candida. The choice of Cardinal Humbert was unfortunate, for both he and Cerularius were men of stiff and intransigent temper, whose mutual encounter was not likely to promote good will among Christians. The legates, when they called on Cerularius, did not create a favorable impression. Thrusting a letter from the Pope at him, they retired without giving the usual salutations; the letter itself, although signed by Leo, had in fact been drafted by Humbert, and was distinctly unfriendly in tone. After this the Patriarch refused to have further dealings with the legates. Eventually Humbert lost patience, and laid a Bull of Excommunication against Cerularius on the altar of the Church of the Holy Wisdom: among other ill-founded charges in this document, Humbert accused the Greeks of omitting the filioque from the Creed! Humbert promptly left Constantinople without offering any further explanation of his act, and on returning to Italy he represented the whole incident as a great victory for the see of Rome. Cerularius and his synod retaliated by anathematizing Humbert (but not the Roman Church as such). The attempt at reconciliation left matters worse than before.
But even after 1054 friendly relations between east and west continued. The two parts of Christendom were not yet conscious of a great gulf of separation between them, and men on both sides still hoped that the misunderstandings could be cleared up without too much difficulty. The dispute remained something of which ordinary Christians in east and west were largely unaware. It was the Crusades which made the schism definitive: they introduced a new spirit of hatred and bitterness, and they brought the whole issue down to the popular level.
From the military point of view, however, the Crusades began with great éclat. Antioch was captured from the Turks in 1098, Jerusalem in 1099:the first Crusade was a brilliant, if bloody, success (“In the Temple and the porch of Solomon,” wrote Raymond of Argiles, “men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins…. The city was filled with corpses and blood” [Quoted in A. C. Krey, The First Crusade, Princeton, 1921, p. 261]). Both at Antioch and Jerusalem the Crusaders proceeded to set up Latin Patriarchs. At Jerusalem this was reasonable, since the see was vacant at the time; and although in the years that followed there existed a succession of Greek Patriarchs of Jerusalem, living exiled in Cyprus, yet within Palestine itself the whole population, Greek as well as Latin, at first accepted the Latin Patriarch as their head. A Russian pilgrim at Jerusalem in 1106-1107, Abbot Daniel of Tchernigov, found Greeks and Latins worshipping together in harmony at the Holy Places, though he noted with satisfaction that at the ceremony of the Holy Fire the Greek lamps were lit miraculously while the Latin had to be lit from the Greek. But at Antioch the Crusaders found a Greek Patriarch actually in residence: shortly afterwards, it is true, he withdrew to Constantinople, but the local Greek population was unwilling to recognize the Latin Patriarch whom the Crusaders set up in his place. Thus from 1100 there existed in effect a local schism at Antioch. After 1187, when Saladin captured Jerusalem, the situation in the Holy Land deteriorated: two rivals, resident within Palestine itself, now divided the Christian population between them — a Latin Patriarch at Acre, a Greek at Jerusalem. These local schisms at Antioch and Jerusalem were a sinister development. Rome was very far away, and if Rome and Constantinople quarreled, what practical difference did it make to the average Christian in Syria or Palestine? But when two rival bishops claimed the same throne and two hostile congregations existed in the same city, the schism became an immediate reality in which simple believers were directly involved.
But worse was to follow in 1204, with the taking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. The Crusaders were originally bound for Egypt, but were persuaded by Alexius, son of Isaac Angelus, the dispossessed Emperor of Byzantium, to turn aside to Constantinople in order to restore him and his father to the throne. This western intervention in Byzantine politics did not go happily, and eventually the Crusaders, disgusted by what they regarded as Greek duplicity, lost patience and sacked the city. Eastern Christendom has never forgotten those three appalling days of pillage. “Even the Saracens are merciful and kind,” protested Nicetas Choniates, “compared with these men who bear the Cross of Christ on their shoulders.” What shocked the Greeks more than anything was the wanton and systematic sacrilege of the Crusaders. How could men who had specially dedicated themselves to God’s service treat the things of God in such a way? As the Byzantines watched the Crusaders tear to pieces the altar and icon screen in the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and set prostitutes on the Patriarch’s throne, they must have felt that those who did such things were not Christians in the same sense as themselves.
Constantinopolitana civitas diu profana — “City of Constantinople, so long ungodly”: so sang the French Crusaders of Angers, as they carried home the relics which they had stolen. Can we wonder if the Greeks after 1204 also looked on the Latins as profani? Christians in the west still do not realize how deep is the disgust and how lasting the horror with which Orthodox regard actions such as the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders.
“The Crusaders brought not peace but a sword; and the sword was to sever Christendom” (S. Runciman, The Eastern Schism, p. 101). The long-standing doctrinal disagreements were now reinforced on the Greek side by an intense national hatred, by a feeling of resentment and indignation against western aggression and sacrilege. After 1204 there can be no doubt that Christian east and Christian west were divided into two.
In recounting the history of the schism recent writers have rightly emphasized the importance of “non-theological factors.” But vital dogmatic issues were also involved. When full allowance has been made for all the cultural and political difficulties, it still remains true that in the end it was differences of doctrine — the filioque and the Papal claims — which brought about the separation between Rome and the Orthodox Church, just as it is differences of doctrine which still prevent their reconciliation. The schism was for both parties “a spiritual commitment, a conscious taking of sides in a matter of faith” (Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 13).
Orthodoxy and Rome each believes itself to have been right and its opponent wrong upon these points of doctrine; and so Rome and Orthodoxy since the schism have each claimed to be the true Church. Yet each, while believing in the rightness of its own cause, must look back at the past with sorrow and repentance. Both sides must in honesty acknowledge that they could and should have done more to prevent the schism. Both sides were guilty of mistakes on the human level. Orthodox, for example, must blame themselves for the pride and contempt with which during the Byzantine period they regarded the west; they must blame themselves for incidents such as the riot of 1182, when many Latin residents at Constantinople were massacred by the Byzantine populace. (None the less there is no action on the Byzantine side which can be compared to the sack of 1204). And each side, while claiming to be the one true Church, must admit that on the human level it has been grievously impoverished by the, separation. The Greek east and the Latin west needed and still need one another. For both parties the great schism has proved a great tragedy.
Two attempts at reunion; the hesychast controversy
In 1204 the Crusaders set up a short-lived Latin kingdom at Constantinople, which came to an end in 1261 when the Greeks recovered their capital. Byzantium survived for two centuries more, and these years proved a time of great cultural, artistic, and religious revival. But politically and economically the restored Byzantine Empire was in a precarious state, and found itself more and more helpless in the face of the Turkish armies which pressed upon it from the east.
Two important attempts were made to secure reunion between the Christian east and west, the first in the thirteenth and the second in the fifteenth century. The moving spirit behind the first attempt was Michael VIII (reigned 1259-1282), the Emperor who recovered Constantinople. While doubtless sincerely desiring Christian unity on religious grounds, his motive was also political: threatened by attacks from Charles of Anjou, sovereign of Sicily, he desperately needed the support and protection of the Papacy, which could best be secured through a union of the Churches. A reunion Council was held at Lyons in 1274. The Orthodox delegates who attended agreed to recognize the Papal claims and to recite the Creed with the filioque. But the union proved no more than an agreement on paper, since it was fiercely rejected by the overwhelming majority of clergy and laity in the Byzantine Church, as well as by Bulgaria and the other Orthodox countries. The general reaction to the Council of Lyons was summed up in words attributed to the Emperor’s sister: “Better that my brother’s Empire should perish, than the purity of the Orthodox faith.” The union of Lyons was formally repudiated by Michael’s successor, and Michael himself, for his “apostasy,” was deprived of Christian burial.
Meanwhile east and west continued to grow further apart in their theology and in their whole manner of understanding the Christian life. Byzantium continued to live in a Patristic atmosphere, using the ideas and language of the Greek Fathers of the fourth century. But in western Europe the tradition of the Fathers was replaced by Scholasticism — that great synthesis of philosophy and theology worked out in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Western theologians now came to employ new categories of thought, a new theological method, and a new terminology which the east did not understand. To an ever-increasing extent the two sides were losing a common “universe of discourse.”
Byzantium on its side also contributed to this process: here too there were theological developments in which the west had neither part nor share, although there was nothing so radical as the Scholastic revolution. These theological developments were connected chiefly with the Hesychast Controversy, a dispute which arose at Byzantium in the middle of the fourteenth century, and which involved the doctrine of God’s nature and the methods of prayer used in the Orthodox Church.
To understand the Hesychast Controversy, we must turn back for the moment to the earlier history of eastern mystical theology. The main features of this mystical theology were worked out by Clement (died 215) and by Origen of Alexandria (died 253-254), whose ideas were developed in the fourth century by the Cappadocians, especially Gregory of Nyssa, and by their disciple Evagrius of Pontus (died 399), a monk in the Egyptian desert. There are two trends in this mystical theology, not exactly opposed, but certainly at first sight inconsistent: the “way of negation” and the “way of union.” The way of negation — apophatic theology, as it is often called — speaks of God in negative terms. God cannot be properly apprehended by man’s mind; human language, when applied to Him, is always inexact. It is therefore less misleading to use negative language about God rather than positive — to refuse to say what God is, and to state simply what He is not. As Gregory of Nyssa put it: “The true knowledge and vision of God consist in this — in seeing that He is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility” (The Life of Moses, 2, 163 [77a]).
Negative theology reaches its classic expression in the so-called “Dionysian” writings. For many centuries these books were thought to be the work of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, Paul’s convert at Athens (Acts 17:34); but they are in fact by an unknown author, who probably lived towards the end of the fifth century and belonged to circles sympathetic to the Monophysites. Saint Maximus the Confessor (died 662) composed commentaries on the Dionysian writings, and so ensured for them a permanent place in Orthodox theology. Dionysius has also had a great influence on the west: it has been reckoned that he is quoted 1,760 times by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa, while a fourteenth-century English chronicler records that the Mystical Theology of Dionysius “ran through England like the wild deer.” The apophatic language of Dionysius was repeated by many others. “God is infinite and incomprehensible,” wrote John of Damascus, “and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility.… God does not belong to the class of existing things: not that He has no existence, but that He is above all existing things, nay even above existence itself (On the Orthodox Faith 1, 4 [P.G. xciv, 800b]).
This emphasis on God’s transcendence would seem at first sight to exclude any direct experience of God. But in fact many of those who made greatest use of negative theology — Gregory of Nyssa, for example, or Dionysius, or Maximus — also believed in the possibility of a true mystical union with God; they combined the “way of negation” with the “way of union,” with the tradition of the mystics or hesychasts. (The name hesychast is derived from the Greek word hesychia, meaning “quiet.” A hesychast is one who in silence devotes himself to inner recollection and secret prayer). While using the apophatic language of negative theology, these writers claimed an immediate experience of the unknowable God, a personal union with Him who is unapproachable. How were the two “ways” to be reconciled? How can God be both knowable and unknowable at once?
This was one of the questions which was posed in an acute form in the fourteenth century. Connected with it was another, the question of the body and its place in prayer. Evagrius, like Origen, sometimes borrowed too heavily from Platonism: he wrote of prayer in intellectual terms, as an activity of the mind rather than of the whole man, and he seemed to allow no positive role to man’s body in the process of redemption and deification. But the balance between mind and body is redressed in another ascetic writing, the Macarian Homilies. (These were traditionally attributed to Saint Macarius of Egypt [300?-390], but it is now thought that they were written in Syria during the late fourth or the beginning of the fifth century). The Macarian Homilies revert to a more Biblical idea of man — not a soul imprisoned in a body (as in Greek thought), but a single and united whole, soul and body together. Where Evagrius speaks of the mind, Macarius uses the Hebraic idea of the heart. The change of emphasis is significant, for the heart includes the whole man — not only intellect, but will, emotions, and even body.
Using “heart” in this Macarian sense, Orthodox often talk about “Prayer of the Heart.” What does the phrase mean? When a man begins to pray, at first he prays with the lips, and has to make a conscious intellectual effort in order to realize the meaning of what he says. But if he perseveres, praying continually with recollection, his intellect and his heart become united; he “finds the place of the heart,” his spirit acquires the power of “dwelling in the heart,” and so his prayer becomes “prayer of the heart.” It becomes something not merely said by the lips, not merely thought by the intellect, but offered spontaneously by the whole being of man — lips, intellect, emotions, will, and body. The prayer fills the entire consciousness, and no longer has to be forced out, but says itself. This Prayer of the Heart cannot be attained simply through our own efforts, but is a gift conferred by the grace of God.
When Orthodox writers use the term “Prayer of the Heart,” they usually have in mind one particular prayer, the Jesus Prayer. Among Greek spiritual writers, first Diadochus of Photice (mid-fifth century) and later Saint John Climacus of Mount Sinai (579?-649?) recommended, as a specially valuable form of prayer, the constant repetition or remembrance of the name “Jesus.” In course of time the Invocation of the Name became crystallized into a short sentence, known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” (In modern Orthodox practice the Prayer sometimes ends, “…have mercy on me a sinner“). By the thirteenth century (if not before), the recitation of the Jesus Prayer had become linked to certain physical exercises, designed to assist concentration. Breathing was carefully regulated in time with the Prayer, and a particular bodily posture was recommended: head bowed, chin resting on the chest, eyes fixed on the place of the heart. (There are interesting parallels between the Hesychast “method” and Hindu Yoga or Mohammedan Dhikr; but the points of similarity must not be pressed too far). This is often called “the Hesychast method of prayer,” but it should not be thought that for the Hesychasts these exercises constituted the essence of prayer. They were regarded, not as an end in themselves, but as a help to concentration — as an accessory useful to some, but not obligatory upon all. The Hesychasts knew that there can be no mechanical means of acquiring God’s grace, and no techniques leading automatically to the mystical state.
For the Hesychasts of Byzantium, the culmination of mystical experience was the vision of Divine and Uncreated Light. The works of Saint Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), the greatest of the Byzantine mystics, are full of this “Light mysticism.” When he writes of his own experiences, he speaks again and again of the Divine Light: “fire truly divine,” he calls it, “fire uncreated and invisible, without beginning and immaterial.” The Hesychasts believed that this light which they experienced was identical with the Uncreated Light which the three disciples saw surrounding Jesus at His Transfiguration on Mount Thabor. But how was this vision of Divine Light to be reconciled with the apophatic doctrine of God the transcendent and unapproachable?
All these questions concerning the transcendence of God, the role of the body in prayer, and the Divine Light came to a head in the middle of the fourteenth century. The Hesychasts were violently attacked by a learned Greek from Italy, Barlaam the Calabrian, who stated the doctrine of God’s “otherness” and unknowability in an extreme form. It is sometimes suggested that Barlaam was influenced here by the Nominalist philosophy that was current in the west at this date; but more probably he derived his teaching from Greek sources. Starting from a one-sided exegesis of Dionysius, he argued that God can only be known indirectly; Hesychasm (so he maintained) was wrong to speak of an immediate experience of God, for any such experience is impossible. Seizing on the bodily exercises which the Hesychasts employed, Barlaam accused them of holding a grossly materialistic conception of prayer. He was also scandalized by their claim to attain a vision of the Divine and Uncreated Light: here again he charged them with falling into a gross materialism. How can a man see God’s essence with his bodily eyes? The light which the Hesychasts beheld, in his view, was not the eternal light of the Divinity, but a temporary and created light.
The defense of the Hesychasts was taken up by Saint Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessalonica. He upheld a doctrine of man which allowed for the use of bodily exercises in prayer, and he argued, against Barlaam, that the Hesychasts did indeed experience the Divine and Uncreated Light of Thabor. To explain how this was possible, Gregory developed the distinction between the essence and the energies of God. It was Gregory’s achievement to set Hesychasm on a firm dogmatic basis, by integrating it into Orthodox theology as a whole, and by showing how the Hesychast vision of Divine Light in no way undermined the apophatic doctrine of God. His teaching was confirmed by two councils held at Constantinople in 1341 and 1351, which, although local and not Ecumenical, yet possess a doctrinal authority in Orthodox theology scarcely inferior to the Seven General Councils themselves. But western Christendom has never officially recognized these two councils, although many western Christians personally accept the theology of Palamas.
Gregory began by reaffirming the Biblical doctrine of man and of the Incarnation. Man is a single, united whole: not only man’s mind but the whole man was created in the image of God (P.G. cl, 1361c). Man’s body is not an enemy, but partner and collaborator with his soul. Christ, by taking a human body at the Incarnation, has “made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification” (Homily 16 [P.G. cli, 193b]). Here Gregory took up and developed the ideas implicit in earlier writings, such as the Macarian Homilies; the same emphasis on man’s body, as we have seen, lies behind the Orthodox doctrine of icons. Gregory went on to apply this doctrine of man to the Hesychast methods of prayer: the Hesychasts, so he argued, in placing such emphasis on the part of the body in prayer, are not guilty of a gross materialism but are simply remaining faithful to the Biblical doctrine of man as a unity. Christ took human flesh and saved the whole man; therefore it is the whole man — body and soul together — that prays to God.
From this Gregory turned to the main problem: how to combine the two affirmations, that man knows God and that God is by nature unknowable. Gregory answered: we know the energies of God, but not His essence. This distinction between God’s essence (ousia) and His energies goes back to the Cappadocian Fathers. “We know our God from His energies,’ wrote Saint Basil, ‘but we do not claim that we can draw near to His essence. For His energies come down to us, but His essence remains unapproachable” (Letter 234, 1). Gregory accepted this distinction. He affirmed, as emphatically as any exponent of negative theology, that God is in essence absolutely unknowable. “God is not a nature,” he wrote, “for He is above all nature; He is not a being, for He is above all beings…. No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature, or nearness to it” (P.G. cl, 1176c). But however remote from us in His essence, yet in His energies God has revealed Himself to men. These energies are not something that exists apart from God, not a gift which God confers upon men: they are God Himself in His action and revelation to the world. God exists complete and entire in each of His divine energies. The world, as Gerard Manley Hopkins said, is charged with the grandeur of God; all creation is a gigantic Burning Bush, permeated but not consumed by the ineffable and wondrous fire of God’s energies. (Compare Maximus, Ambigua, P.G. xci, 1148d).
It is through these energies that God enters into a direct and immediate relationship with mankind. In relation to man, the divine energy is in fact nothing else than the grace of God; grace is not just a “gift” of God, not just an object which God bestows on men, but a direct manifestation of the living God Himself, a personal confrontation between creature and Creator. “Grace signifies all the abundance of the divine nature, in so far as it is communicated to men” (V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 162). When we say that the saints have been transformed or “deified” by the grace of God, what we mean is that they have a direct experience of God Himself. They know God — that is to say, God in His energies, not in His essence.
God is Light, and therefore the experience of God’s energies takes the form of Light. The vision which the Hesychasts receive is (so Palamas argued) not a vision of some created light, but of the Light of the Godhead Itself — the same Light of the Godhead which surrounded Christ on Mount Thabor. This Light is not a sensible or material light, but it can be seen with physical eyes (as by the disciples at the Transfiguration), since when a man is deified, his bodily faculties as well as his soul are transformed. The Hesychasts’ vision of Light is therefore a true vision of God in His divine energies; and they are quite correct in identifying it with the Uncreated Light of Thabor.
Palamas, therefore, preserved God’s transcendence and avoided the pantheism to which an unguarded mysticism easily leads; yet he allowed for God’s immanence, for His continual presence in the world. God remains “the Wholly Other,” and yet through His energies (which are God Himself) He enters into an immediate relationship with the world. God is a living God, the God of history, the God of the Bible, who became Incarnate in Christ. Barlaam, in excluding all direct knowledge of God and in asserting that the Divine Light is something created, set too wide a gulf between God and man. Gregory’s fundamental concern in opposing Barlaam was therefore the same as that of Athanasius and the General Councils: to safeguard man’s direct approach to God, to uphold man’s full deification and entire redemption. That same doctrine of salvation which underlay the disputes about the Trinity, the Person of Christ, and the Holy Icons, lies also at the heart of the Hesychast controversy.
“Into the closed world of Byzantium,” wrote Dom Gregory Dix, “no really fresh impulse ever came after the sixth century… Sleep began… in the ninth century, perhaps even earlier, in the sixth” (The Shape of the Liturgy, London, 1945, p. 548). The Byzantine controversies of the fourteenth century amply demonstrate the falsity of such an assertion. Certainly Gregory Palamas was no revolutionary innovator, but firmly rooted in the tradition of the past; yet he was a creative theologian of the first rank, and his work shows that Orthodox theology did not cease to be active after the eighth century and the seventh Ecumenical Council.
Among the contemporaries of Gregory Palamas was the lay theologian Nicholas Cabasilas, who was sympathetic to the Hesychasts, although not closely involved in the controversy. Cabasilas is the author of a Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, which has become the classic Orthodox work on this subject; he also wrote a treatise on the sacraments entitled The Life in Jesus Christ. The writings of Cabasilas are marked by two things in particular: a vivid sense of the person of Christ “the Saviour,” who, as he puts it, “is closer to us than our own soul” (P.G. cl, 712a); and a constant emphasis upon the sacraments. For him the mystical life is essentially a life in Christ and a life in the sacraments. There is a danger that mysticism may become speculative and individualist — divorced from the historical revelation in Christ and from the corporate life of the Church with its sacraments; but the mysticism of Cabasilas is always Christocentric, sacramental, ecclesial. His work shows how closely mysticism and the sacramental life were linked together in Byzantine theology. Palamas and his circle did not regard mystical prayer as a means of bypassing the normal institutional life of the Church.
A second reunion Council was held at Florence in 1438-1439. The Emperor John VIII (reigned 1425-1448) attended in person, together with the Patriarch of Constantinople and a large delegation from the Byzantine Church, as well as representatives from the other Orthodox Churches. There were prolonged discussions, and a genuine attempt was made by both sides to reach a true agreement on the great points of dispute. At the same time it was difficult for the Greeks to discuss theology dispassionately, for they knew that the political situation had now become desperate: the only hope of defeating the Turks lay in help from the west. Eventually a formula of union was drawn up, covering the filioque, Purgatory, azymes, and the Papal claims; and this was signed by all the Orthodox present at the Council except one — Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus, later canonized by the Orthodox Church. The Florentine Union was based on a twofold principle: unanimity in matters of doctrine, respect for the legitimate rites and traditions peculiar to each Church. Thus in matters of doctrine, the Orthodox accepted the Papal claims (although here the wording of the formula of union was vague and ambiguous); they accepted the filioque; they accepted the Roman teaching on Purgatory (as a point of dispute between east and west, this only came into the open in the thirteenth century). But so far as “azymes” were concerned, no uniformity was demanded: Greeks were allowed to use leavened bread, while Latins were to continue to employ unleavened.
But the Union of Florence, though celebrated throughout western Europe — bells were rung in all the parish churches of England — proved no more of a reality in the east than its predecessor at Lyons. John VIII and his successor Constantine XI, the last Emperor of Byzantium and the eightieth in succession since Constantine the Great, both remained loyal to the union; but they were powerless to enforce it on their subjects, and did not even dare to proclaim it publicly at Constantinople until 1452. Many of those who signed at Florence revoked their signatures when they reached home. The decrees of the Council were never accepted by more than a minute fraction of the Byzantine clergy and people. The Grand Duke Lucas Notaras, echoing the words of the Emperor’s sister after Lyons, remarked: “I would rather see the Moslem turban in the midst of the city than the Latin miter.”
John and Constantine had hoped that the Union of Florence would secure them military help from the west, but small indeed was the help which they actually received. On 7 April 1453 the Turks began to attack Constantinople by land and sea. Outnumbered by more than twenty to one, the Byzantines maintained a brilliant but hopeless defense for seven long weeks. In the early hours of 29 May the last Christian service was held in the great Church of the Holy Wisdom. It was a united service of Orthodox and Roman Catholics, for at this moment of crisis the supporters and opponents of the Florentine Union forgot their differences. The Emperor went out after receiving communion, and died fighting on the walls. Later the same day the city fell to the Turks, and the most glorious church in Christendom became a mosque.
It was the end of the Byzantine Empire. But it was not the end of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, far less the end of Orthodoxy.