Thirteenth Century

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By: Fr. Thomas Hopko
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Thirteenth Century

The Fourth Crusade

The thirteenth century began with what has been considered the final confirmation of the schism between East and West, the fourth crusade. In 1204 the crusaders sacked Constantinople. They destroyed and pillaged the churches. They desecrated the altars. They stole the holy objects. A Latin, Thomas Morosini, was named patriarch of Constantinople, and a Frank was named emperor. Now, for the first time, the Latin West became an open, enemy in the minds of the Greek people. Writings were directed against the papacy and the Latin Church as such. From this period the famous Byzantine slogan preferring the “turban of the sultan” to the “tiara of the pope” became popular. The Latin rule of Constantinople lasted until 1261 when the emperor Michael Paleologos recovered the city.

The Council of Lyons

Michael III was in the unbearable situation of being attacked on the East by the Turks, and having no assurance that the Western Latins would not return again. For political reasons, therefore, he sent a delegation of bishops to the council of the Western Church in Lyons in 1274 hoping to gain sympathy, and military and economic aid for his crumbling empire. The Westerners proposed to the legates of Michael what was to become a classical formula of church union in subsequent centuries. They proposed that the East could keep its liturgical rites. The use of the word filioque in the creed could be optional as long as the doctrine it professed was not denied as heretical. The pope was to be recognized as supreme.

Michael’s legates at the council of Lyons went further than was asked of them. They officially accepted the Roman formula of the papacy, and the Roman doctrine of the filioque – the first time in history it was required. The peace and help from the West which Michael desired, lasted until his death in 1282.

When Michael died the acts of the union of Lyons were immediately rejected by the Eastern bishops. The emperor was buried without the funeral rites of the Church.


In 1217 Sava went to Nicea to obtain the blessing of the church of Constantinople for an independent national church for,the Serbians. In 1219 Sava himself was consecrated as the first “archbishop of the Serbian lands” by Manuel, patriarch of Constantinople, in the presence of the emperor Theodore. On Ascension Day in 1220, at an assembly of the Serbians at the Zitcha monastery, the newly-consecrated archbishop Sava crowned his brother Stephan, the grand zhupan, as the first “king of all the Serbian lands.”

After a life of outstanding leadership, after passing through many grave trials and difficulties, after traveling extensively throughout the Christian East, Sava died on January 14, 1235. Sava was succeeded in office by Arsenios, a man of his own choosing who was elevated to the episcopal rank by Sava himself. Archbishop Sava, the founder and father of the Serbian Orthodox Church and one of the truly outstanding personalities in Orthodox Church history, has been canonized a saint of the Church, together with his father, Saint Simeon, his brother, Saint Stephan the First-Crowned, and his successor, Saint Arsenios.


The thirteenth century witnessed the founding of the national church for the Bulgarians with the recognition of the archbishop of Tmovo as the head of the church in the Bulgarian lands.


Russia in the thirteenth century was overcome by the Mongolian invasion. The Tatar Yoke fell over the land when the Khan Batu led four hundred thousand men against the Russians in 1237. The Kievan state collapsed in 1240.

In 1231 Alexander Nevsky became the prince of Novgorod. This city-republic in the North had its own unique form of republican government as well as its own particular spiritual, architectural, and iconographic tradition. In 1240 Alexander led the Russians in a victorious battle against the Roman Catholic Swedes. In 1242 he once again led the Russian people to victory over the Teutonic knights who were attacking the Russian lands. Alexander then traveled to Khan Batu’s headquarters in 1247, seeking mercy for the Russian peoples under the Tatar Yoke. Alexander agreed to pay tribute to the Khan in order to have peace for his people. He returned from Mongolia with the title of Grand Prince of Kiev. He died at the age of forty-two in 1263. In 1380 he was canonized a saint by the Church for his personal holiness, his military bravery, and his practical wisdom and diplomacy – all of which he dedicated selflessly to the service of his people as a true Christian statesman.

Alexander Nevsky’s son Daniel went north to Moscow, beyond the Tatar Yoke, where he served as prince from 1263 until the end of the century. Saint Cyril (1242-1281) and Saint Peter (1281-1326), Metropolitans of Kiev, who were residing in the Muscovite principality, were the outstanding hierarchs of the period.

The West

The thirteenth century has been called the “greatest of centuries” in the Western Church. Innocent III succeeded in upholding the prestige and power of the papacy. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 defined the official doctrines of the Western Church. Francis of Assisi (d.1226) founded his Franciscan Order with its first great members Anthony of Padua (d.1231) and the theologians Bonaventure (d.1274) and Duns Scotus (d.1308). The Spanish Dominic founded the Dominican Order of preachers with its great theologian Albertus Magnus (d.1280) and his famous disciple Thomas Aquinas (d.1274) who wrote the theological “summae” which dominated official Roman Catholic theology until the Second Vatican Council of the second half of the twentieth century. The mystic theologian Meister Eickhart (d.1339) was also a member of the Dominican order. The Carmelite order, together with a number of smaller religious groups, emerged at this time in the Latin Church.