Post-classical history



‘By me kings reign, and princes decree justice’ PROVERBS VIII, 15

As the tide of Islam receded in Spain the Pope had little difficulty in establishing his authority over the Church of the reconquered lands. The Donation of Constantine, widely if incorrectly accepted as genuine by western Christendom, gave him temporal suzerainty over many countries, to which the addition of the Iberian peninsula passed unnoticed. Nor was there any ecclesiastical power in Spain that could challenge him. But eastern Christendom was differently organized. The Patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch, the latter founded by Saint Peter and the former by Saint Mark, were as old as the see of Rome. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Church of Saint James, though younger possessed the prestige that was due to the world’s most sacred city. And the Patriarchate of Constantinople was the most formidable rival of all. Despite its alleged foundation by Saint Andrew, it could not claim the same authority of age. But Constantinople was New Rome. It had superseded the older capital. It was the seat of the unbroken line of Christian Emperors. It was by far the greatest city in Christendom. Its Patriarch might reasonably call himself Oecumenical, the chief ecclesiastical magistrate of the civilized world. The religious opposition in Byzantium might at times seek to use the authority of Old Rome as a counter against the increasing domination of the Emperor; but no one in the East seriously thought that the bishop of the shrunken western city, so often in the power of its turbulent petty nobles or of barbarous potentates from the north, should hold any jurisdiction over the eastern churches, with their long-established and enduring traditions. Yet Rome could still command a special respect. Though her claim to supremacy was ignored, she was almost universally allowed a primacy amongst the great sees of Christendom, even by the Oecumenical Patriarch. Nor was anyone ready to challenge the belief that Christendom was and should be one.

After the Arab conquest, the Patriarchates of the south-east had lost much of their power; and Constantinople emerged as the champion of the eastern churches. There had been many controversies and quarrels between Rome and Constantinople on ecclesiastical affairs, though none of them had been so serious and prolonged as later polemists came to believe. The unity of Christendom was still generally accepted. But in the eleventh century the organization of the Roman Church was overhauled. The reforms had been largely suggested by monastic influences from Cluny and from Lorraine and had been at first carried out by the lay authorities that had at the time dominated Rome. The emperor Henry III had been particularly active, and had given them such momentum that after his death the Church was able to continue and develop them independently of and eventually in opposition to the lay government; and out of the movement there emerged theories that insisted on the universal spiritual dominance of Rome and its ultimate superiority over secular princes. These in their turn provoked new controversies with the East.

Rome and Constantinople

The fundamental issue lay in the reaffirmation of the Roman claim to supremacy. But disputes began over details of doctrine and of usage. In its desire to establish its authority, the Papacy sought to make the usages of the Church uniform. Not only did it, for political as well as for spiritual reasons, desire to abolish the marriage of the secular clergy, but it attempted to standardize the liturgy and ritual. Such reforms were possible in the West; but the usages of the eastern churches were different. There were Greek churches in the Roman sphere just as there were Latin churches in the sphere of Constantinople; and in southern Italy the frontier between the two spheres had long been under discussion. At the same time German influence at Rome had led to the insertion there of the word filioque in the Creed in connection with the Procession of the Holy Ghost. The reforming Popes were less willing to compromise or to remain tactfully silent on such matters than their predecessors had been. Clashes were inevitable.

Pope Sergius IV, in his systatic letter, the declaration of faith sent by a Pope or Patriarch to his colleagues on his accession, included the word filioque. The Patriarch Sergius II of Constantinople thereupon refused to commemorate his name in the diptychs of the Patriarchal churches at Constantinople. To the Byzantines this indicated that the Pope personally was considered unorthodox on a point of doctrine; it did not impugn the orthodoxy of the whole western Church. But to the Pope, and to the western churches, accustomed to regard him as the source of orthodox doctrine, the insult seemed more general and far-reaching. The Patriarch came to realize that there was bargaining power in an offer to restore the name.

In 1024 a suggestion reached Pope John XIX from Constantinople that points at issue between the Churches might be solved by the acceptance of a formula ingeniously worded to grant Rome titular supremacy and to leave Constantinople with full practical independence. It declared that ‘with the consent of the Roman pontiff the Church of Constantinople be accounted universal in her sphere as that of Rome was in the universe’. John himself was ready to agree; but the Cluniac abbot of St Benignus at Dijon wrote hastily and sternly to remind him that the power to bind and loose in Heaven and on earth belonged to the office of Saint Peter and his successors alone, and urged him to show more vigour in his government of the universal Church. Byzantium was to learn that the reformed Papacy would tolerate no such compromise.

In the middle of the century the Norman invasions of southern Italy made desirable a political alliance between the Pope and the eastern Emperor. But by now the reformed Papacy was committed to a policy of standardization and wished to abolish usages current in Greek churches in southern Italy and copied by many Italian churches as far north as Milan. In 1043 a proud, ambitious man, Michael Cerularius, had become Patriarch of Constantinople and was equally eager to standardize usages within his sphere. His original motive was to absorb more easily the churches of the newly occupied Armenian provinces, where divergent customs, such as the use of unleavened bread, were practised. But his policy affected also the Latin churches in Byzantine Italy and those that existed in Constantinople itself for the benefit of merchants, pilgrims and soldiers of the Varangian Guard. When these latter churches refused to conform, they were closed by order of the Patriarch, whose court began to issue tracts denouncing the usages of the Latins.

TheSchismof 1054

Cerularius was not, it seems, interested in the theological issue. He was ready to restore the Pope’s name to the diptychs in return for reciprocal treatment at Rome. The dispute was over usages; and it therefore raised the problem of the ecclesiastical frontier in Italy, a problem made more acute by the invasion of the Normans, themselves members of the Latin Church. Negotiations were undertaken by the governor of Byzantine Italy, the Lombard Argyrus, a Byzantine subject who followed the Latin rite. The Emperor trusted him, but Cerularius inevitably was suspicious; and circumstances played into his hand. In 1053, before legates had been appointed to go from Rome to Constantinople, Pope Leo IX was captured by Normans. When his legates, led by the Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida, arrived in Constantinople in January 1054, they were honourably received by the Emperor; but Cerularius questioned whether they had in fact been appointed by the Pope and whether the Pope in his captivity could implement any promises that they made. In April, before the discussions had gone far, Leo suddenly died; and the legates lost whatever official backing they might have possessed. It was a year before the next Pope was elected; and no one knew what his policy might be. Cerularius refused to continue the negotiations. In spite of the Emperor’s desire for an accord, feelings ran high; till at last the legates departed in fury, leaving on the altar of St Sophia a bull excommunicating the Patriarch and his advisers but expressly admitting the orthodoxy of the Byzantine Church. In answer the Patriarch held a synod condemning the bull as the work of three irresponsible persons, and deploring the addition of filioque to the Creed and the persecution of married clergy, but making no mention of the Roman Church as a whole nor of the other usages in dispute. There was, in fact, no change at all in the situation, except that bitterness had been aroused.

The churches of Alexandria and Jerusalem had taken no part in the episode. The Patriarch of Antioch, Peter III, definitely thought that Cerularius had been unnecessarily difficult. His Church had continued to commemorate the Pope’s name in its diptychs; and he saw no reason why that practice should cease. He may have feared that Cerularius, whose ambitions he suspected, had designs against the independence of his see. He probably sympathized with the Emperor’s policy. Moreover, he could not support the standardization of ritual and usage; for his diocese contained churches where a Syrian liturgy was in use, and many of them lay beyond the political frontiers of the Empire. He could not have enforced uniformity there, even had he desired it. He kept himself outside of the quarrel.

During the next decade relations slightly improved. Michael Cerularius was deposed in 1059. Soon after his disappearance the Latin churches in Constantinople were reopened. In southern Italy the growing success of the Normans, since 1059 the faithful allies of the Papacy, made it impracticable for Byzantium to press its ecclesiastical claims there. In 1061 Roger the Norman embarked on the conquest of Sicily from the Arabs, a holy war encouraged by the Pope. There too Byzantium had to face the loss of the control of the Christian congregations. By 1073 the Emperor Michael VII decided that a cordial understanding with Rome must be achieved. After the Norman conquest of Bari in 1071 he feared further aggression, which papal influence might prevent. The Turcoman irruption into Asia Minor had begun. Michael was in desperate need of soldiers; and recruitment in the West would be eased if the Papacy were cordial. In 1073 the Cardinal Hildebrand, already famed for his vigour and integrity, was elected Pope under the name of Gregory VII. Gregory was convinced of the supremacy of his see and therefore omitted to send a systatic letter to any of the Patriarchs of the East. But Michael thought it prudent to make a friendly gesture. He sent the new Pope a letter of congratulations, hinting at his wish for a closer connection. Pleased, Gregory sent Dominicus, Patriarch of Grado, as legate to Constantinople to report on conditions there.

Gregory VII’s Scheme for a Crusade

Informed by Dominicus, Gregory convinced himself that Michael was sincere. He also learnt of the situation in Asia Minor. This bore seriously on the pilgrim traffic. Palestine itself was not yet closed to pilgrims; but the journey thither across Anatolia would soon be impossible if the Turcoman invasions were not checked. In a stroke of imaginative statesmanship Gregory planned a new policy. The holy war, which was being so successfully waged in Spain, should be extended into Asia. His friends in Byzantium were in need of military aid. He would send them an army of Christian knights, under the orders of the Church. And on this occasion, because there were ecclesiastical problems to solve, the Pope would lead them in person. His troops would drive the infidel out of Asia Minor; and he would then hold a council at Constantinople where the Christians of the East would resolve their quarrels in grateful humility and acknowledge the supremacy of Rome.

Whether the Emperor Michael knew of the Pope’s intention and whether he would have welcomed it we cannot tell. For Gregory was never able to carry his scheme into effect. The unyielding integrity of his policy led him further and further into trouble in the West. His eastern ambitions had to be abandoned. But he never forgot them nor lost his interest there.

In 1078 Michael VII was deposed. On hearing the news Gregory had at once excommunicated the usurper, Nicephorus Boteniates. A short time afterwards an adventurer appeared in Italy declaring that he was the fallen Emperor. The Normans for a while affected to believe in him; and Gregory lent him his support. When Nicephorus in his turn was replaced in April 1081 by Alexius Comnenus, the excommunication was extended to the new Emperor. In June Alexius wrote to the Pope seeking to recover his goodwill and to secure his help in restraining the aggression of Robert Guiscard; but there was no response. The Emperor found a more promising ally in Henry IV of Germany. In the meantime he closed the Latin churches in Constantinople. It seemed clear to the Byzantines that the Pope was in league with the treacherous and godless Normans. They told each other fantastic stories of his pride and lack of charity; and when he died, caught in the net of disasters woven by his policy, they welcomed the news as a judgement from on high.

In 1085, the year of Gregory’s death, relations between eastern and western Christendom had never before been so cold. The eastern Emperor had been excommunicated by the Pope, who was openly encouraging unscrupulous adventurers to attack their fellow-Christians; while the Pope’s chief enemy, the king of Germany, was openly receiving subsidies from the Byzantines. Bitterness and resentment were growing on either side. But there was as yet no actual schism. Statesmanship might still preserve the unity of Christendom. In the Emperor Alexius the East possessed a statesman of sufficient elasticity and wisdom. A statesman of similar calibre was now to arise in the West.

The Accession of Urban II

Odo de Lagery was born of a noble family in Chatillon-sur-Marne in about the year 1042. For his education he was sent to the cathedral school at Reims, where his headmaster was Saint Bruno, later the founder of the Carthusian Order. He stayed on at Reims, to become canon, then archdeacon of the cathedral; but it did not satisfy him. Suddenly he decided to retire to the community at Cluny. In 1070 he was professed by the abbot Hugh, who recognized his ability. After acting for a while as prior he was transferred to Rome. He soon made his mark there; and in 1078 Gregory VII appointed him Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. From 1082 to 1085 he was legate in France and in Germany and came back to remain with Gregory during the last unhappy years of his pontificate. On Gregory’s death in exile, with the anti-Pope Guibert reigning in Rome, the loyal cardinals elected in his stead the weak unwilling abbot of Monte Cassino, who took the name of Victor III. The Cardinal of Ostia disapproved of the election and showed his disapproval. But Victor bore him no malice, and on his death-bed, in September 1087, recommended him to the cardinals as his successor. Gregory VII also was known to have wished for his succession; but it was not till March 1088 that a conclave could meet at Terracina, to elect him as Urban II.

Urban was well fitted for his task. He was an impressive man, tall, with a handsome, bearded face, courteously mannered and persuasive in his speech. If he lacked the fire and singleness of purpose of Gregory VII, he excelled him in breadth of vision and in the handling of men. Nor was he as proud nor as obstinate as Gregory; but he was not weak. He had suffered imprisonment in Germany at the hands of Henry IV for his loyalty to the Pope and to his beliefs. He could be stem and relentless, but he preferred to be gentle; he preferred to avoid controversy that might arouse bitterness and strife.

He came into a difficult heritage. He could live safely only in Norman territory; and the Normans were selfish, unreliable allies. Rome was held by the anti-Pope Guibert. Urban might penetrate to the suburbs, but he could not go further without bloodshed; and that he refused to provoke. Further north Matilda of Tuscany staunchly supported him throughout her vast domains; and in 1089 she strengthened her position by a cynical marriage with a German prince, Welf of Bavaria, a boy of less than half her age. But in 1091 her troops were routed by Henry of Germany at the battle of Trisontai. Henry was at the height of his power. Crowned emperor by the anti-Pope in 1084, he was now master of Germany and triumphant in northern Italy. A Pope as insecurely placed as Urban could not hope to command obedience further afield.

But Urban worked on steadily and tactfully, till in 1093 all was changed. By the use of money rather than of arms, he was enabled to spend Christmas that year in Rome and next spring took up his residence in the Lateran. The emperor Henry was weakened by the revolt of his own son, Conrad, whose dissatisfaction Urban had quietly encouraged. In France, his native country, he succeeded, by his powers of organization, in bringing the whole ecclesiastical structure under his control. In Spain his influence was supreme; and gradually the more distant countries of the West came to recognize his spiritual authority. He omitted to press the claims for political suzerainty made by Gregory VII. With the lay princes everywhere, except with his outspoken enemies, he showed forbearance stretched to its utmost limits. By 1095 he was spiritual master of western Christendom.

Theophylact of Bulgaria

Meanwhile he had turned his attention to eastern Christendom. On Robert Guiscard’s death his brother, Roger of Sicily, had emerged as the chief power amongst the Normans; and Roger had no wish further to offend Byzantium. With his goodwill, Urban opened negotiations with the Byzantine court. At the Council of Melfi, in September 1089, in the presence of ambassadors from the Emperor, he lifted the ban of excommunication against Alexius. Alexius responded to this gesture by holding that same month a synod at Constantinople; where it was found that the Pope’s name had been omitted from the diptychs ‘not by any canonical decision but, as it were, from carelessness’, and it was proposed that it should be restored on the receipt of a systatic letter from the Pope. There was no real cause, the synod considered, for any dispute between the Churches, and it recommended that the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem should be consulted. The Patriarch of Antioch was present in person. The Patriarch Nicholas III of Constantinople wrote to Urban to inform him of these decisions and to ask him to send his systatic letter within eighteen months. He assured him that the Latin churches in Constantinople were free to follow their own usages. No mention was made of any theological issue. This was not to the liking of the Emperor’s ambassadors in Italy, Basil, Metropolitan of Trani, and Romanus, Archbishop of Rossano, Greek clerics who were alarmed by papal encroachments into their territory and who had been shocked when the Pope claimed, with some historical justification, that his diocese ought really to include Thessalonica. They would have preferred Alexius to support the anti-Pope. But Alexius had decided which was the better man and was realist enough to accept the loss of Byzantine Italy; while Guibert soon offended his Greek friends by holding a council at Rome which condemned clerical marriage.

Urban did not in fact ever send a systatic letter, probably because he was unwilling to raise questions of theology; nor was his name ever inserted into the Constantinople diptychs. But good relations were restored. An embassy from Alexius visited Urban in 1090, bearing a message of cordial friendship. The official Byzantine point of view was shown in a treatise written by Theophylact, Archbishop of Bulgaria. He begged his readers not to exaggerate the importance of uniformity in usage. He regretted the addition of the word filioque to the Creed, but explained that the poverty of the Latin language in theological terms was apt to cause misunderstanding. He did not take seriously the papal claim of authority over the eastern churches. Indeed, there was no reason at all why a schism should ever develop. Other eastern theologians continued to discuss differences in usage; but their polemics were mild in tone. Among these writers was the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Symeon II, who condemned the Latin use of unleavened bread in the Communion, but in terms that were in no way acrimonious.

Early in 1095 Pope Urban II moved northward from Rome and summoned representatives of all the western Church to meet him at the first great council of his pontificate, to be held in March at Piacenza. There the assembled clergy passed decrees against simony and clerical marriages and against schism within the Church. The adultery of King Philip of France was discussed; but it was decided to take no action till Urban himself could visit France. Messengers came from the emperor Henry’s son, Conrad, to arrange for his meeting with the Pope at Cremona. Henry’s empress, Praxedis of Russia, of the Scandinavian house that ruled at Kiev, arrived in person to tell of the indignities that she suffered at the hands of her husband. The Council acted as the supreme court of western Christendom, with the Pope as presiding judge.

The Council of Piacenza

Amongst the visitors attending the Council were envoys from the Emperor Alexius. His wars against the Turks were faring well. Seldjuk power was in an obvious decline. A few well-timed campaigns might break it for ever. But his Empire was still short of soldiers. The old Anatolian recruiting grounds were disorganized and many of them lost. He was largely dependent on foreign mercenaries, on regiments composed of Petchenegs and other tribes from the steppes, which he used mainly as frontier guards and military police, on the Varangian Guard, still mainly filled by Anglo-Saxon exiles from Norman England, and on companies of adventurers from the West who took temporary service in his army. Most eminent of these had been Count Robert I of Flanders, who had fought for him in the year 1090. But, even with the native troops that he still could raise, his needs were unsatisfied. He had the long Danube frontier to guard against attacks from the northern barbarians. On the north-west the Serbs were restive; and his Bulgarian subjects were seldom quiescent for long. There was always the danger of Norman aggression from Italy. In Asia Minor the defence of the ill-defined frontier and its outposts and the general maintenance of order and communications used up his remaining resources. If he were to take the offensive he must have more recruits. His policy towards the Papacy would bear fruit if he could use papal influence to find him these recruits. Urban was sympathetic. It was part of the papal programme to persuade the quarrelsome knights of the West to use their arms in a distant and a holier cause. The Byzantine ambassadors were invited to address the assembly.

Their speeches have not survived. But it seems that, in order to convince their audience that it was meritorious to serve under the Emperor, they laid special emphasis on the hardships that the Christians of the East must endure till the infidel was driven back. If recruitment was to be encouraged by the Church, the inducement of good pay was insufficient. The appeal to Christian duty made a stronger argument. It was not the moment for an exact appraisal of Byzantine achievements and intentions. But let the bishops return to their homes believing that the safety of Christendom still was threatened, and they would be eager to send members of their flocks eastward to fight in the Christian army.

The bishops were impressed, and likewise the Pope. As he journeyed to Cremona to receive the homage of young Conrad, and on over the Alpine passes to France, he began to turn over in his mind a vaster and more glorious scheme, envisaging a holy war.

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