The Creation of the “West” (Christos Yannaras)

News of social change in the West had reached Constantinople by 1400. From the mid-twelfth century to the mid-thirteenth century we can trace the origins of what we now call “totalitarianism.” Authoritarian institutions and a single ideology dominated thought and daily social and personal life.

Westemizers admired scholasticism, transforming religious faith into an ideology consisting of a strictly determined world view and obligatory methodology. The Scholastics grounded truth in the syllogism and in the defense of theses by the systematic refutation of contrary statements.

This “technology of truth,” based on intellectual dexterity and methodological effectiveness, measured every aspect of Western European life. The Summae articulated the Gothic structure of society, strengthening its authoritarian hierar-chies. A syllogistic “system” balancing theses and antith-eses, and excluding all doubt, refutation or risk, lay behind this Western culture.

This method controlled everything. Lifc and culture were polarized between an intellectual individualism and an au-thoritarian “objectivism,” reversing the Greek terms. But the “common logos” of the Greeks habitually identified “what is true” (aletheteein) with “what is participated” (to koinonein), verifying theory and practice against social and empirical reality.

The investiture controversy between the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor had seen the papacy’s triumphant theocrat-ic vision unite political, spiritual, legal and judicial ‘author-ity (plenitudo potestatis) under the Roman pontiff’s control. The Summa Theologiae (1266-72) of Thomas Aquinas in-troduced the principle of papal infallibility as incontestable. Earlier, in April 1233, Pope Gregory IX had instituted the Holy Office (or Inquisition) which tortured and executed thousands of opponents or suspected opponents of the pre-vailing ideology. And in 1252 Pope Innocent IV had issued a bull institutionalizing torture for heresy trials: a model for the way later totalitarian regimes have dealt with dissidents.

The Greek East also had direct experience of Western behavior. One hundred and fifty years before Demetrios Kydones was translating Aquinas’s Summa contra Gentiles, the Fourth Crusade had achieved its real goal: sacking Constantinople (1204) and abolishing the Roman Empire in the Greek East.

The Christian Crusaders in Constantinople behaved worse than the Saracens at the capture of Jerusalem in the seventh century or the Ottoman Turks when they took the imperial capital in the fifteenth century. A modem Western historian writes:

The violence of the Western knights and soldiers, unleash-ing their inhibited envy and resentment against the perfidi-ous Greeks, did more deliberate and lasting damage …. [L]ust and avarice raged through the streets. The treasured monuments of antiquity, which Constantinople had shel-tered for nine centuries, were overthrown, carried off, or melted down. Private houses, monasteries and churches were emptied of their wealth. Chalices, stripped of their jewels, became drinking-cups; icons became gaming-boards and tables; and nuns in their convents were raped and robbed. In St. Sophia the soldiers tore down the veil of the sanctuary and smashed the gold and silver carvings of the altar and the ambon. They piled their trophies on to mules and horses which slipped and fell on the marble pavement, leaving it mining with their blood; and a pros-titute sat on the Patriarch’s throne singing bawdy French songs … and the most horrifying account of all comes from the pen not of a Greek but of Innocent HI, who was quick to condemn what he might have foreseen but had been power-less to prevent.’

This brutality had not been forgotten in fourteenth-century Constantinople, but the empty pedestals of destroyed classi-cal statues and the graves of the victims did not dampen the enthusiasm of Demetrios Kydones and his circle for the new civilization in Western Europe. Historical information was scarce. Ignorance, or lack of his-torical memory, would persist for centuries, while profound changes took place in the Greek consciousness through an uncritical admiration for the West. The Greeks seemed to be oblivious to the most basic historical facts: the comparative antiquity of their culture, whose achievements were already outstanding when European civilization was just starting.

The Eastern Roman Empire, the medieval Greek civiliza-tion of New Rome, had its first period of greatness while the western part of the empire was undergoing the barbar-ian invasions. Successive waves of invaders crossed the frontier and settled in imperial territory. They were the Germanic Franks and Goths, both Ostrogoths and Visigoths, the Mongolian Huns, succeeded by Germanic Burgundians, Vandals, Longobards, Angles and Saxons. Contemporary chroniclers describe the barbarians who conquered and di-vided up central, western and southwestern Europe most un-flatteringly.

Later historians refer to “the great migration of peoples” from the late fourth to the sixth centuries. The word “van-dalism” still evokes the violence of the period. Yet the Greek world was still productive. The great Cappadocians, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa continued the tradition of Plato and Aristotle. John Chrysostom composed his liturgy, and the homilies that re-main models of Greek rhetoric. Then Hagia Sophia was built in Constantinople, Justinian compiled his legal code, and Romanos the Melodist wrote remarkable poetry. The mosa-ics at Thessalonica and Ravenna date from the same period, as do the encaustic icons of Mount Sinai.

The Eastern Roman Empire used diplomacy and mission-aries to Christianize the barbarians, but indigenous Roman populations and the surviving Latin community in Rome did most to convert the new Europeans. The barbarians were de-lighted to imitate and adopt the civilization of the Christian world. Greek missionaries, architects and artists reached the German forests and the north of the British Isles to help these peoples adapt to a new Christian civilization, although it is doubtful whether Greek art and philosophy could have meant much to them.

Germanic tribes first encountered Christianity through the Arian heresy which simplified the Holy Trinity to an eas-ily grasped formula. Arian Greek prisoners had converted the Visigoths when they were still occupying the lands be-tween the Danube and the Carpathians, and the Ostrogoths and Burgundians and later the Vandals of Spain took their Arianism from them.

Missionaries from Ionia, or the Asia Minor colonies of Marseilles and Lyons in Southern Gaul, brought orthodox Christianity to the Angles and Saxons in the British Isles. The same is true for the Franks: when they occupied Gaul at the end of the fifth century they adopted the faith of the native population, in their desire to emulate the culture of the peoples they ruled. Frankish conquests or intermarriage gradually converted the Germanic Arians to the orthodox faith.

But the “orthodoxy” of the Franks did not survive for more than a hundred years. The council of Toledo of 589 con-demned Arianism but added the Filioque to the Creed, as-serting that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son as well as from the Father. To the orthodox they were simplifying and schematizing the Holy Trinity and by the arbitrary addition of the Filioque to the Creed marked off Western Christianity from the East

A national form of Christianity assisted the Franks’ politi-cal ambitions, especially after 800 when Charles the Great (Charlemagne) became king. They were working towards a unified Western Roman Empire bringing other European peoples and rulers under their control.

The idea of the empire recalled a single ordo rerum — an “order of things” (like the pax Romana or the later Roman pax Christiana). The empire perhaps was more a cultural en-tity than a formal state. No second empire could conceivably challenge the “Christian Oecumene” (the Christian Imperium Romanum) centered on New Rome or Constantinople.

Charlemagne perceived correctly that his ambition to found a new empire in the West required a new “order of things,” a cultural unity which had to break with the Roman world’s traditions. The Christian faith was still the obvious basis for civilized social life. A new kind of Christian belief and wor-ship was needed to justify a second empire in the Christian world.

Charlemagne also had the good sense to gather the best available advisors at his court, including Alcuin the famous Anglo-Saxon scholar. It was perhaps from thcsc advisors that Charlemagne acquired his ideological ideas and politi-cal ambitions.

Augustine’s theology was decisive, offering an ideal ba-sis for a differentiated Western version of Christianity. A Westerner of exclusively Latin education, he neither spoke nor read Greek. He was universally respected in the Christian world for the brilliant example of his conversion. He was un-familiar with early Christian theological debates, since he did not know the Greek texts or their philosophical background. His Christianity was easier to understand and assimilate than the more complex Greek discussions.

The Franks had already drawn from Augustine their teach-ing on the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son. Charlemagne also borrowed from him the idea of a theocratic civilization (from his work De Civitate Del) of an empire which imposed divine justice and routed the enemies of the Church.

Frankish theologians derived from Augustine the presup-positions for a secularized “religionization” of the Christian life, emphasizing individual conviction against experiential participation in the Church as truth. Intellectualism and indi-vidualism afterwards always pervaded the Western religious tradition. A divine judge and his implacable justice would irrevocably predestine human beings to salvation or perdi-tion. Humanity’s relationship with God is transformed into a metaphysics of exchange, in which God calculates guilt and man pays up.

This characteristic Western mutation was already pres-ent in the mentality of Tertullian and Ambrose of Milan, Augustine’s teachers.’ The elder Rome’s Latin hierarchy barely resisted the Carolingian theological innovation. Besides, Rome found in the person of Charlemagne an effec-tive supporter of its ecclesiastical authority and autonomy.

Converted barbarian tribes accepted this version of the Christian life unhesitatingly, oblivious to any “canoni-cal presuppositions” of ecclesiastical order. The Church of Rome no longer participated in imperial institutions which might have preserved church unity. To impose its authority meant assuming political powers and transforming itself into an autonomous political entity.

Charlemagne’s father, King Pepin H Ihe.Short, had offered political autonomy for the Church of Rome to Pope Stephen II. Just as the barbarian kings distributed their feudal lands among themselves, Pepin granted the duchy of Rome, the exarchate of Ravenna, and the Pentapolis to the pope, thus forming the first papal state (754). Charlemagne protected it from Lombards and granted it new territories. In return Pope Leo III crowned him emperor of the West (on Christmas day 800), recognizing him as the overlord of the papal state. Charlemagne’s theocratic ideas justifying his imperial power depended on the Church’s authority.

Despite these mutual concessions, the Church did not al-ways officially accept the innovations the Franks had intro-duced into the Christian life. Leo III flatly refused to add the Filioque to the Creed. He had the original text engraved on silver panels in the Church of St. Peter to defend the Creed against Frankish misrepresentations.’

From 1009, the Franks controlled the succession to the pa-pal throne and Latin orthodoxy dropped its resistance to the innovations devised at the court of Charlemagne, making it official doctrine. But even before 1009 the Latin Romans had been ambivalent. The historical circumstances that strength-ened the Church of Rome only highlighted the changes in ecclesiastical sensibility that had become dominant.

By the ninth century Western Christianity had already changed it customs and external forms of ecclesiastical practice, which had been invented by the Franks, to make the particularity of Western Christianity, and therefore of the Western Roman Empire in relation to the Greek East, perceptible to the laity as a whole. The obligatory celibacy of the clergy, the celebration of the Eucharist with unleav-ened bread, the exclusion of the laity from communion from the chalice, the abolition of baptism by immersion and its replacement by sprinkling, the tonsure of the clergy and their shaven faces were some of the external changes which manifestly differentiated the practice of Western Christianity from the early Christian tradition and its continuity in the Greek East.

These changes articulated a profound mutation in the Church’s proclamation of religious truth, and how it made sense of life and the world. For ordinary people these chang-es were only the external marks of the attempt to create a new world independent of the cultural legacy of the Greeks.

The descendants of the Germanic tribes resented the Greeks. The West produced at least ten treatises between 800 and 1300 entitled Contra errores Graecorum — “Against the errors of the Greeks.” All Greek culture was depicted as false. And certain Latin bishops of Rome shared in this enmity.

After New Rome became the capital of the Roman Empire, and especially after an equal “primacy of honor” with Rome was accorded to her by the 28th Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, this rivalry became permanent. The popes started to claim jurisdiction over the whole Church, presuming to exercise control or intervene pastorally in other local churches. The consolidation of the German kingdoms strengthened the Roman Church, intensifying papal ambi-tions.

The myth grew up that the first bishop and founder of the Church of Rome was the Apostle Peter. Since Christ had giv-en him primacy amongst the apostles, this primacy devolved upon his successor bishops of Rome — although Peter had also founded churches in other cities. One of history’s most skillful spurious documents, the famous Pseudo-lsidorian Decretals, was fabricated in France in the mid-ninth century. The equally spurious Donation of Constantine was also very influential. These forged synodical canons assigned a higher rank to the clergy than that of the political authority and rec-ognized the Roman pope as head of the clergy and therefore of the whole world (caput ratites orbis). According to the Donation of Constantine, when Constantine the Great trans-ferred the imperial capital to the Greek East, he granted the pope the administrative control of the Western Roman state with imperial authority and insignia: the purple robe, scarlet buskins, crown, scepter and the Lateran Palace.

These crass forgeries and political claims played a decisive role in the formation of medieval and modem Europe. But papal ambitions were more than personal aggrandizement. They were one of the ways in which the popes defended themselves and contested the imperial pretentions of the Frankish and later the German emperors. They needed to im-pose papal authority on bishops from the convened peoples who often behaved as if they held their sees as autonomous feudal fiefdoms.

The popes’ growing involvement in the conflicts between feudal leaders must have altered and damaged their sense of the Church. When might was right in daily life, church pastors could hardly follow Christ’s example of self-empty-ing after he renounced wordly power and authority. Greek patriarchs of the East were rarely examples of Christlike hu-mility, but they never made their worldly pretentions into an institution. In the East, personal pursuit of power was seen as an aberration or personal sin, but in the West it became institutionalized in the canon law of the Roman Church.

The first pope to make the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals a legally obligatory code for the whole Church was Nicholas I (858-67). He tried to impose papal authority on all Western sees and secular rulers. He intervened in internal politics, using excommunication as a weapon against rulers who con-tested his jurisdiction. He proclaimed the emperor’s authori-ty itself to be a feudal gift from Peter’s successor, the Roman pope, because only anointing and crowning by the pope gave validity to the imperial dignity. Thus Nicholas concentrated all ecclesiastical and political authority in his person — or, as contemporaries said, he regarded himself as the emperor of the whole world (Nicolaus totius mundi imperatorem se fecit).

His limitless ambitions inspired him to intervene uncanoni-cally even in the ecclesiastical provinces of the East (specifi-cally in the Church of Bulgaria) and also to demand that he should be recognized as the highest court of appeal for the canonical disputes that had arisen as a result of the ordina-tion of the Patriarch Photios. Constantinople resisted, and the clash between Old and New Rome became an open rift with mutual excommunications causing the first schism be-tween Eastern and Western Christendom (867).

– Artículo*: TonyPedroza –

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