Popes and Patriarchs of Constantinople:
The Question of Relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church
Guest article by Reverend Father Christiaan Kappes – Indianapolis
Philosophiae Licentia – Angelicum
Sacrae Liturgiae Doctoratus – San Anselmo
I. The History and Permissibility of
Theological Dialogue with the East
A significant event for Orthodox-Catholic relations will take place in the coming days when the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople attends the Papal installation of Pope Francis. The “Ecumenical Patriarch” is considered the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians throughout the world. Although he does not have absolute authority or jurisdiction, like the Pope of Rome, he ordinarily is accorded respect and is honored above other bishops in the Orthodox Church. He is also considered the most authoritative voice to represent Orthodoxy’s positions and worldview to the non-Orthodox world.
However, the privileged place that the Eastern Churches hold in the mind of the Roman Church is hardly new. In fact, if we look back upon official relations between Rome and Constantinople in the years of 1054-1439 (until the year of the Greek corporate union with the Roman Church), then we would find that ecumenism was always a Papal policy with respect to the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
During nearly four hundred years of ecclesiastical conflict, no less than eleven Orthodox emperors and ecclesiastical authorities negotiated with the Holy See to try to negotiate a solution to ecclesiastical and doctrinal divergences between the “East” and “West” (see J. Gill, “Eleven Emperors of Byzantium Seek Union with the Church of Rome”, Eastern Churches Review 9 (1977) 72-84). Of course, these efforts led to numerous meetings between Latin and Greek theologians in Rome and elsewhere.
It was during this time, as well, that cooperation between Latins and Greeks led to many theological projects that bettered both relations and education of the Easterners with respect to the theology and learning of the West. Perhaps the most notable was the intimate relationship between Fr. Phillip de Bindo, a Dominican Inquisitor (R. Loernertz, “Fr. Phillipe de Bindo Incontri O.P. de couvent de Pera. Inquisiteur en Orient”, Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 18 (1948) 267), with the Greek Orthodox lay theologian, Demetrius Cydones. Due to Phillip’s Latin instruction, on Christmas day (1354) Demetrius finished the first Greek translation of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa contra Gentiles (a missionary handbook). His happy introduction of St. Thomas to the Byzantine world was financed by none other than the Orthodox Emperor himself, John VI Catecuzenus (N. Russell, “Palamism and he Circle of Demetrius Cydones”, ed. C. Dendrinos -J. Harris -I. Harvalia -J. Herrin, in Porphyrogenita. Essays on the History and Literature of Byzantium and the Latin East in Honour of Julian Chrysostomides, London, Ashgate 2003, 155). In subsequent years, Demetrius’ cooperation with his Catholic companion, Phillip, led to many joint projects including the discovery and Latin publication of the Greek texts for the so-called 8th Ecumenical Council (869-870; see T. Kaeppeli, “Deux nouveaux ouvrages de Philippe de Pèra”, Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 23 (1953) 164-165), which dealt with the conflict between the Patriarch St. Photius the Great and Pope St. Nicholas the Great (For Photius standing in the Catholic Church, see J. Meijer, A Successful Council of Union: A Theological Analysis of the Photian Synod of 879-880 (Patriarchikon Hydrima Paterikōn Meletōn 23) Thessalonikē, Analekta Blatadôn 1975). In fact, this relationship eventually led to Demetrius’ conversion to Catholicism, yet even life-long Orthodox adherents began to adopt Scholasticism and Thomas’ theological method. This inevitably led to a clearer understanding of the differences that existed between Eastern and Western approaches to theological questions. Disciples and admirers of Demetrius Cydones, like Fr. Manuel Calecas, OP, gradually prepared a fertile soil that culminated in intellectual exchanges, debates at the imperial palace, and theological dialogue among theologians within the confines of Rome itself (cf. Macarius Makrês, Macaire Makrès et la polémique contre l’Islam, ed. A. Argyriou (Studi e Testi 314), Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 1986; Μακαρίου Μακρῆ συγγράματα, Κέντρον Βυζαντινῶν Ἑρευνῶν, ed. Α. Αργυρίου (Βυζαντινὰ Κείμενα καὶ Μελέται 25), Θεσσαλονίκη 1996). The culmination of this activity led to the Council of Florence, which temporarily reunited the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches before the Fall of Constantinople (i.e., Istanbul) to the Turks in 1453 (J. Gill, “Greeks and Latins in a Common Council”, Orientalia Christiana Periodica 25 (1959) 265-287).
II. The Practical Result of Dialogue: Mutual Respect and Reunion
With this very long history of Papal commitment to dialogue with the Orthodox Church, the results were not immediate. If we were to speak of the practical results of such dialogue and friendly relations with the “East”, would we be disappointed with its results when looking at history? I believe that two successes point to the utility of theological dialogue over long periods of time. First, following the excommunication by Cardinal Humbert of the Patriarch of Constantinople (Michael Cerularius) in 1054, there was the additional divisive event of the Latin sacking of Greek Constantinople in 1204. The practical impact of these events was a deep animosity amongst the Byzantine populace against polemical invaders, i.e., “Franks (viz., Latins)”.
Still, diplomatic and religious dialogue resulted in a symbolic union between the two Churches at the Council of Lyons in 1274. Most notably, St. Thomas Aquinas died en route to this council, while St. Bonaventure represented the Latin Church at the discussions (Cf. D. Geanakoplos, “Bonaventure, the Two Mendicant Orders and the Greeks at the Council of Lyons (1274)”, in The Orthodox Church and the West, Oxford 1976, pp. 183-211). Alas, the union was a dead letter shortly after it was signed by the small Greek contingent at Lyons.
More importantly, the fruits of theological dialogue resulted in the monumental Council of (Ferrara-)Florence (1438-1439). This meeting of great minds included Greeks like Gennadius Scholarius (first Patriarch of Constantinople and a fan of Thomas Aquinas) and the famous anti-Latin, Mark Eugenicus. Although Mark was one of the few prelates not to sign the decree of union, he showed his respect for Latin theologians. For example, he cited St. Bernard of Clairvaux as an authority and initially treated the Pope with great deference and respect (Cf. John Lei, Tractatus Ioannis Lei O.P. “De visione beata.” Nunc primum in lucem editus. Introductione –Notis –Indicibus auctus (Studi e Testi 228), ed. M. Candal, Città del Vaticano 1963, pp. 83-84, 193). He initially consented to dine with the Latin clergy (e.g., Cardinal Cesarini; eee J. Gill, The Council of Florence, Cambridge 1959, p. 114) and to help them in their scholarly pursuits (e.g., Nicholas of Cusa; cf. M. Palavakis, «Introduction. The Life of Markos», in On the Distinction between Essence and Energy: First Antirrhetic against Manuel Kalekas. Editio princeps, London 1987 (unpublished doctoral dissertation). Ultimately, misunderstandings on both sides contributed to solidifying the hardline position of Mark Eugenicus. These misunderstandings were partially responsible for Mark´s rejection of the Council. The Latins and Mark attempted to overcome these problems by recourse to the best editions of manuscripts then available. In the end, lacking accurate editions of many texts, there was simply a standoff as to which version of a given text was authentic.
For example, when uniting together in study, all the bishops and prelates discovered that the Latins had been using interpolated (viz., inaccurate) translations of the 7th Ecumenical Council that were thought to contain the Filioque (viz., the phrase professing the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son; cf. the various acta cited below). This falsified text naturally caused Mark to be suspicious of Latin scholarship (see Gill, The Council of Florence, pp. 226, 256). Additionally, The Rev’d Dr. John Montenero, OP, and Mark were both deceived by a text falsely attributed to St. Basil. Such was the basis for a long argument that trapped Montenero into accepting the document’s authority, such that he claimed there was a difference of dignity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This compounded Mark´s suspicions of Latin heresy. For in the Trinity, no person is of more or less glory, dignity, or power. To admit distinctions in dignity was to fall into the old heresy of subordinationism. As it turns out, this text is now known to be from “Pseudo”-Basil! In a last example, Mark´s suspicions of Latins were further exacerbated by arguments of Cardinal Cesarini. He claimed the permissibility of the addition of the Filioque on the authority of an early Pope. The apocryphal ‘Letter to Athanasius’ claimed that the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325) had also forbidden any addition to the Creed. Alas, it was this (pseudo-Liberius’s letter) that proved to be the turning point in the debate with the Greeks (see Gill, The Council of Florence, pp. 168-169). The argument was made that since post-Nicene (after 324) Fathers added to the Creed, this allowed for further innovations. Unlike Ps.-Basil, the Greeks knew of no such text but were utterly demoralized by the supposed authenticity of the text. As it turned out, the text was a fake. Mark Eugenicus rightly anticipated these textual problems among the Latins on points like this (see Gill, The Council of Florence, p. 280). Mark had declared himself ready to accept the Latins´position, if only he could verify their sources (cf. acta graeca, below). However, even Mark misattributed the authorship of some documents during the Council to the wrong authors, making himself a victim of his own protests (see Gill, The Council of Florence, p. 148). Happily, in our own day, we finally have critical editions of many of the works under discussion at Florence. This should encourage modern churchmen to intensify dialogue to accomplish the corporate reunion that escaped the Fathers of the Council of Florence.
Still, Florence was also an occasion to witness the respect that Pope Eugenius IV had for the Eastern Churches. Understanding many unhappy reasons that contributed to the schism, Eugenius was aware of the fact that the Greeks possessed the same divine faith within their Fathers’ writings and within the traditional institutions of the Byzantine Church. For this reason, the Greeks were offered churches in Ferrara and Florence and even the possibility to celebrate their rites publicly during the Council (see the acta graeca, below). In fact, in the epistolary correspondence, Pope Eugenius was explicit in addressing the Ecumenical Patriarch Joseph II as his brother. At the convocation of the joint Council (following the Greeks’ arrival at Ferrara), the Pope even broke protocol allowing Patriarch Joseph to call Eugenius his “brother”, to embrace him, and to omit the traditional kissing of the Pope´s foot (even if it initially caused a bit of consternation). In effect, the importance of theological dialogue (in view of corporate reunion) was important enough for the Latin Church to dispossess Herself of many privileges and trappings at the service of unity. Were it not for the limitations of scholarship and external pressures (viz., the Conciliarist rebels of Basel) on the Church of Rome at the time, more concessions and better relations would have more likely resulted.
N.B.: For all historical comments not otherwise cited, please confer with the following for section II above: Andreas de Sanctacroce, Acta Latina Concilii Florentini, ed. G. Hofmann (Concilium Florentinum Documenta et Scriptores. Series B.VI), Roma 1955; Aa.Vv, Quae supersunt Actorum Graecorum Concilii Florentini 1, ed. J. Gill (Concilium Florentinum. Documenta et Scriptores. Series B.V.1), Rome 1953.
III. From Florence to Pope Paul VI: The Renewal of Dialogue
Unfortunately, the impossibility of reaching a legitimate compromise on the Filioque at Florence led to the famous rejection of the Council by the “Pillar of Orthodoxy”, Mark Eugenicus. His former respectful manner and charitable language morphed into acrimony reminiscent of the character and invective of St. Jerome. His forceful opposition to the Council decrees won back one of his former pro-Latin students, Gennadius Scholarius. Ultimately, this lover of St. Thomas Aquinas (and Blessed Duns Scotus) found himself taking up Mark´s cause. Mark´s followers even called for a new Ecumenical Council and declared Florence void. However, a little more than a decade later, Constantinople fell to the Turks. Gennadius Scholarius was subsequently established as the de facto Patriarch of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turk, Mehmed II, and theological dialogue was effectively frozen for several hundred years due to the opposition of the Turks to any united front among Christians, for any alliance between Christians of the East and West would have threatened Turkish power in many of the predominantly Christian lands of the Near East.
As the years continued, the Greek Church continued its wholesale isolation from the West, even if individual notable exceptions existed. Ultimately, there was simply no hope of any meaningful dialogue between a ‘Church in Captivity’ and the ‘Free West’. Obviously, the political freedom of countries like Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, etc., in the 19th and early 20th centuries, allowed for greater freedom for newly formed national and ethnic Orthodox Churches to once again engage the West in dialogue. In fact, during this period both Pius IX and Leo XIII sent officious correspondences to the Orthodox. Though contacts were often penned in strong language, this did not prevent Pius IX from inviting even Orthodox observers to Vatican I. Pope Pius merely followed his predecessors of the Middle Ages, who had often invited the Orthodox to attend General Councils of the Latin Church.
Despite some signs of interest in themes of Christian unity by both Pope St. Pius X and Pius XI, initial ecumenical projects had to wait until the early 1920s. Later, following an inauspicious reanimation of ecumenism between Orthodox and Catholics in the early 20th century, Pius XI became quite negative on the prospects of fruitful dialogue. In Mortalium animos (1928), Pope Pius lamented the possible confusion and loss of souls that an undisciplined and unprincipled ecumenism could bring to Catholics. He had some recent practical results from which he drew these conclusions. For a monastery had just been founded by Dom Beauduin for ecumenical purposes and had given great scandal when Catholic monks began to convert to Orthodoxy due to their intimate, free discussion and sharing of liturgical traditions within the joint monastery project begun in the 1920s.
In light of this disturbing experience, the Holy See cooled toward theological dialogue. Only in a reevaluation of the topic in the ante-preparatory and conciliar debates of Vatican II did the subject receive once again a positive impetus. Ultimately, the Fathers of the Council overwhelmingly approved the project of ecumenical dialogue with the Eastern Churches once again through the Decree on Ecumenism in 1964 (Unitatis Redintegratio).
The first practical fruit of Vatican II in the East was the “wiping away from the memory of the Church” of the excommunication by Cardinal Humbert (in the name of the deceased Pope Leo IX) of Michael Cerularius in 1054. I will share with you a little known and interesting facet of this event. Cardinal Alphons Stickler († 2007) was then a Vatican archivist. Paul VI personally consulted him on the viability of “lifting the excommunication” as an act of reconciliation between the two Churches. Cardinal Stickler shared with me that he told Pope Paul that it was impossible to sanction a nullification, since Cerularius died unrepentant and unabashedly in opposition to the Holy See. As such, in an act of fidelity to both Roman jurisprudence and simultaneous desire for reconciliation, Pope Paul chose to “wipe the memory” of the excommunication from the “mind” of the Church instead of lifting the excommunication. Cerularius is still an unhappy and canonically “irregular” figure in the annals of the Christian Church. Nonetheless, his example was not going to stand in the way of Pope Paul returning to a conciliatory and fraternal attitude toward the historical Churches of the East; where dialogue had been continuous, fruitful, and mutually enriching for centuries. The Catholic Church chose to exercise neither vengeance nor rancor, but fraternal charity as the motive for entering back into communication with a Church toward whom She had long practiced prolonged silences, mostly for historical reasons.
IV. From Pope Paul VI to Pope Francis
The ever-improving relations between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople chronicle a happy series of events. Just as Pope Eugenius IV and Joseph II embraced and spoke with mutual respect and in words of mutual praise toward one another, so too we should expect the same from two sincere Christians like Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew II. Though it may be true that Eugenius IV thought of Joseph II as a schismatic and Joseph II thought of Eugenius as a heretic, they were both aware of the complicated history and the numerous saints and authorities that needed to be conjointly investigated before the truth could come to light in all its radiance. Often times material errors are not due to conscious desire to depart from the magisterium of Christ the true “master” and teacher of the Christian Church.
However, discoveries of the full panorama of revealed truth has often required the most traditional and solemn of “study groups”, i.e., theologians and Fathers of an Ecumenical Council. If Pope Francis has, indeed, a mandate from Christ: “Rebuild my Church”, there can be no thought of excluding the traditional means of sewing the torn seamless garment of the Church of Christ, i.e., a Council between East and West to remove scandal among Christians and reaffirm the age-old faith according to formulas for which both Eastern and Western Fathers would gladly shed their blood.
Father Christiaan Kappes - March 2013
On the occasion of the inauguration of the Pontificate of Pope Francis
Update: A superb article by USA Today.