THE SCHISM OF 1054: A SHORT HISTORY
Written by Vladimir Moss
The Western Church distorted the image of Christ, changing herself from a Church into a Roman State, and again incarnating the State in the form of the Papacy.
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, The Diary of a Writer (August, 1880).
From the late eleventh century Western Europe began to recover its strength politically and economically, making the first steps on that path to world dominance that it and its offshoots in the Americas, Africa and Australasia were to acquire so spectacularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, this political and economic ascent was accompanied and conditioned by a catastrophic spiritual fall: the loss of the West’s unity with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and the religio-political civilisation of Orthodox Christian Romanity. This fall was accomplished in the historical capital of the West, Old Rome, in the year 1054, when the Patriarchate of Old Rome fell under the anathema of the Great Church of Constantinople. Simultaneously it was announced symbolically in the heavens by the collapse of the Crab nebula (a fact noted by Chinese astronomers of the time). Thus the great star that had been Western Christianity now became a black hole, sucking in a wider and wider number of peoples and civilisations into its murky depths.
The Germans and the Filioque
There were many reasons for the schism of the Western Church, but the most important were four innovations, one theological, two liturgical and one politico-ecclesiological, which the Church of Rome introduced into the life of the Church and which were rejected by the Eastern Patriarchates. The first of these was the introduction of the word Filioque, meaning “and from the Son”, into the Nicene Creed, so that the article on the Holy Spirit read: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son”. Although the legates of Pope John VIII rejected this innovation at the Council of Constantinople in 879-880, he failed to extirpate it from the whole of the West. In 903 Pope Christopher reintroduced it, which produced a temporary schism with the West. And in 1006 Pope Sergius IV again reintroduced it, which led the Great Church of Constantinople to remove his name from the diptychs. However, the Filioque was not the centre of attention at the moment of the schism in the mid-eleventh century. That position was occupied by the innovations in the Divine Liturgy: the replacement of leavened bread (artos) by unleavened bread (azymes), and the removal (during the papacy of Leo IX) of the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, during the consecration. Although these innovations would at first sight appear to be of less than fundamental importance, their symbolical importance was very great and in fact signified the loss of grace in the Western Church. For since the leaven represented the soul of Christ, its removal by the Papists signified the replacement of the living Christ by a soulless corpse. And in removing the invocation of the Holy Spirit, Who according to the Orthodox accomplishes the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, the Popes invalidated their own sacrament. It was as if they were witnessing of themselves: “The Holy Spirit no longer descends upon our offerings, since we have presumed to speak in His name, and the Christ that lies on our altars is no longer the living Christ, since we have presumed to usurp his authority.”
This brings us to the fourth, politico-ecclesiological innovation, which must be considered to the most fundamental. At in the Council of Constantinople in 879-880, the theory that the Pope has jurisdiction over all the Churches in the world was rejected by the delegates, including those of Pope John VIII. However, the nearly two hundred years that followed that Council had not only not seen a quenching of the ambitions of the Popes, but rather an increase in those ambitions to the point of megalomania, to the point that they asserted the theory that the Pope is to the Church and Christian society what the head is to the body – the unimpeachable and infallible Sovereign.
There is an inner connection between the theory of papal infallibility, the introduction of the Filioque and the removal of the invocation of the Holy Spirit from the Divine Liturgy. Infallibility belongs to God, not man; truth and grace are maintained in the Church through the operation, not of any one man or group of men, however distinguished and holy, but through the workings of the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore if the Popes were to “promote” themselves to the heights of infallibility, they had somehow to “demote” the Holy Spirit and take His place in the Divine economy. This was done through the Filioque, which made the Spirit as it were subject to both the Father and the Son, and by the doctrine of the Pope as the “Vicar of Christ”. With the Holy Spirit lowered to a position below that of the Son, and the Pope raised to a position, if not equal to Christ, at least immediately below him, the way was paved for proclaiming the Pope as, in the words of a recent book with the imprimatur of the Vatican, “the ultimate guarantor of the will and teaching of the Divine Founder”.
The theory of papal infallibility was not expressed in a fully explicit manner until the eleventh century. Before then we have an accumulation of grandiloquent epithets, which were seen simply as rhetorical devices by the majority. That they were not taken literally is evident from the fact that some Popes were condemned as heretics – for example, the Monothelite Pope Honorius I was anathematised by the Sixth Ecumenical Council, and this anathematisation was confirmed by later Popes. Moreover, towards the end of the sixth century Pope Gregory I forcefully rejected the title “universal bishop”: “Anyone who dares to call himself ‘universal bishop’ is a forerunner of the Antichrist”.
Until about 600, the development of Papism was inhibited, as we have seen, by the fact that the Popes were subjects of the Byzantine Emperors, whose basic view of Church-State relations they shared, and whose confirmation they still required before they could be consecrated. In the seventh and eighth centuries, however, both the political and ecclesiastical bonds between the Popes and the Emperors became weaker as Byzantine power in Italy weakened and the Byzantine emperors fell into the heresies of Monothelitism and Iconoclasm. The estrangement from Byzantium was accompanied by a rapprochement with the new Carolingian empire in the north. This relationship was reinforced by the Pope’s double anointing of the first Carolingian, Pepin, the crowning of Charlemagne in Rome and the double anointing of his son, Louis the Pious, in 814. At the same time, the Frankish bishops, using the forged Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals, began to stress the theme of papal primacy and the independence of the clergy from all lay control. In the middle of the century, another forgery, the famous Donation of Constantine, made its appearance. This alleged that Constantine the Great had given his imperial throne to Pope Sylvester and his successors because “it is not right that an earthly emperor should have power in a place where the government of priests and the head of the Christian religion has been established by the heavenly Emperor”; and for this reason had moved his capital to the New Rome of Constantinople. “And we ordain and decree that he [the Roman pontiff] shall have rule as well over the four principal sees, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, as also over the Churches of God in all the world. And the pontiff who for the time being shall preside over the most holy Roman Church shall be the highest and chief of all priests in the whole world, and according to his decision shall all matters be settled.”
Now Romanides has argued that the purpose of this forgery was to prevent the Franks from establishing their capital in Rome. This may well be so; but in the longer term its significance was much wider: it represented a quite new theory of the relationship between the secular and the ecclesiastical powers. For contrary to the doctrine of the “symphony” of the two powers which prevailed in the East and the Byzantine West, the theory encapsulated in the Donation essentially asserted that the head of the Church had a higher authority, even in purely jurisdictional matters, than the head of the Empire (whether Eastern or Western); so that the Emperor could only exert his authority as a kind of vassal of the Pope.
Of course, there is an inherent contradiction in this theory. If it was St. Constantine who gave the authority to St. Sylvester, then the ultimate authority rests with the Emperor and not with the Pope. But this consequence was ignored in the face of the urgent necessity of finding some justification for the papacy’s expansionist plans. Centuries later, in 1242, a pamphlet attributed to Pope Innocent IV corrected this flaw in the theory of papism by declaring that the Donation was not a gift, but a restitution.
However, from the late ninth century the papacy went into a steep moral decline just as Byzantium reached its apogee. This severely damaged its prestige in the West as well as in the East. Thus in 991 a Council of French and English bishops at Rouen even wondered whether the pope of the time was not the Antichrist, or at any rate his forerunner! For a short period, as we have seen, it looked as if Byzantinism might triumph in the West under the leadership of the German Emperor Otto III, who was married to the Byzantine Princess Theophano, and Pope Sylvester II, an anti-papist Pope. “But the Romans,” writes Chamberlin, “rose against [Otto], drove him and his pope out of the city, and reverted to murderous anarchy. He died outside the city in January 1002, not quite twenty-two years of age. Sylvester survived his brilliant but erratic protégé by barely sixteen months. His epitaph summed up the sorrow that afflicted all thoughtful men at the ending of a splendid vision: ‘The world, on the brink of triumph, in peace now departed, grew contorted in grief and the reeling Church forgot her rest. The failure of Otto III and Sylvester marked the effective end of the medieval dream of a single state in which an emperor ruled over the bodies of all Christian men, and a pope over their souls.”
After this the Church-State “symphony” began to break down. Like a spinning top that, as it slows down, begins to lurch more and more sharply from one side to the other, so the balance of power shifted first to the Emperor and then to the Pope.
First, it shifted to the Emperor, who wished to place his Franco-German candidate on the papal throne. And so “suddenly,” as Papadakis puts it, “the papacy was turned into a sort of imperial Eigenkirche or vicarage of the German crown. The pope was to be the instrument and even the pawn of the Germans, as opposed to the Romans.”
This was done in spite of the opposition of the Orthodox populace of Rome, who stood for a canonically correct election of a Graeco-Roman Pope who would preserve the Orthodox confession of faith (without the Frankish Filioque in the Creed) and the communion of the papacy with the Eastern Church and Empire. However, in 1009, as Ranson and Motte write, “the last Roman Orthodox Pope, John XVIII, was chased away and a Germanic Pope usurped the Orthodox patriarchate of Rome: Sergius IV, an adulterer-bishop of Rome who, on ascending the episcopal throne, wrote to the four other patriarchs a letter of communion which confirmed the doctrine of the double procession [of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son – the Filioque heresy] and immediately provoked a break. The four Orthodox patriarchs then broke communion with the pope. Some years later [in 1014], Benedict VIII, who was close to the emperor of Germany Henry II, had the Filioque inserted into the Creed.”, and then to
Lampryllos writes: “After the death of this pope, who was… the nephew of the Emperor Henry, another of his nephews, and brother of the last pope, was elevated by the imperialist party to the pontificate under the name of John XIX in 1024. Simple layman though he was, he ascended through all the degrees of the hierarchy in six days. He held the pontificate for nine years, but finally the national party, impatient with the excesses of his behaviour, expelled him from Rome. However, the Emperor Conrad II came down with an army into Italy and restored him; he died in the same year, and another Teuton, the nephew also of the Emperor Conrad, succeeded him under the name of Benedict IX. Henry III, then his son Henry IV, contined to get involved in successive elections of the popes, tipping the scales in favour of their candidates; almost until 1061 the popes were their creatures: they were those who go down in history under the name of the German Popes.”
According to Sir Steven Runciman, the Roman addition of the Filioque was hateful to the Greeks for purely political reasons, since it represented the triumph of German influence in Rome. However, the purely theological zeal of the Byzantines must not be underestimated. In any case, it is certain that the German emperors imposed the heretical Filioque, and their own German candidates to the papacy, on a basically unwilling Roman populace.
So German caesaropapism can be said to have been the cause of the first stage in the schism between East and West. The next stage, which would lead, not only to a break in communion, but to the mutual anathematisation of the two sides, would be the result, not of German caesaropapism, but of German papocaesarism…
The Reform Movement
The transformation of German caesaropapism into papocaesarism and of the papacy into a despotic secular state, was the work of one of the greatest “spiritual” despots in history, Pope Gregory VII, better known as Hildebrand… Before becoming pope himself, Hildebrand had been an adviser to Pope Leo IX, who as bishop of Toul in Lorraine had come under the influence of a network of monasteries under the leadership of the great Burgundian abbey of Cluny, founded by Duke William the Pious of Aquitaine in 910. The Cluniac monasteries were not Eigenkirchen, but “stavropegial” foundations independent of the control of any feudal lord. As such, they had assumed the leadership of a powerful reform movement directed against the corruptions introduced into the Church by the feudal system, and had had considerable success in this respect.
The Cluniacs, writes Jean Comby, “restored the main principles of the Benedictine Rule: the free election of the abbot, independence from princes and bishops. Moreover, the abbey affirmed its direct allegiance to the pope. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries it became the head of an Order which multiplied throughout Europe. In fact, unlike the old monasteries, all the new ones that were founded remained under the authority of the abbot of Cluny. In its heyday, the ‘state of Cluny’ comprised 50,000 monks.”
Pope Leo IX introduced the principles of the Cluniac movement into the government of the Church – but with results that went far beyond the original purposes of the movement, and which were finally to tear the whole of the West away from New Rome and the Byzantine commonwealth of nations.
“From the outset,” writes Papadakis, “the new pope was determined to make the papacy an instrument of spiritual and moral rejuvenation both in Rome itself and throughout Europe. To this end Pope Leo journeyed to central and south Italy, but also to France and Germany, crossing the Alps three times. Nearly four and a half years of his five year pontificate were in fact spent on trips outside Rome. The numerous regional reforming synods held during these lengthy sojourns often had as their target the traffic in ecclesiastical offices and unchaste clergy. Their object above all was to rid the Church of these abused by restoring canonical discipline. The need to reassert both the validity and binding power of canon law for all clergy was repeatedly emphasized. In addition to the decrees against simony and sexual laxity promulgated by these local synods, however, simoniacal and concubinary clergy were examined and, when required, suspended, deposed and, even excommunicated. The object, in short, was to punish the offenders as well. Even if the synods were not always successful, no one was in doubt that Leo IX and his team of like-minded assistants were serious. The immediate impact of this flurry of activity was often extraordinary…
“Overall, the progress of the new papal program was not all smooth sailing. Widespread protest, often accompanied by violent protest, was to continue for decades. Yet, all in all, by the end of the century the popular defenders of simony, of clerical marriage, and of the evils of the proprietary church had by and large vanished. The champions of reform at any rate proved more unyielding than their often more numerous adversaries. This was particularly evident in the skilful drive of the reformers to make celibacy an absolute prerequisite to ordination. This part of the Gregorian platform was reinforced by the monastic ideal, since many of the reformers were actually monks and had already embraced a continent life. Some, like the ascetic Peter Damian, cardinal-bishop of Ostia, were even eager to treat the problem as heresy and not as a matter of discipline. But the reformers were perhaps also uncompromising on this issue because they were convinced that compulsory clerical continence could advance the process of de-laicization – another more general item of their platform. A monasticized priesthood, quite simply, was viewed by reformers everywhere as a crucial corrective to clerical involvement in the world. If successful, the strategy, it was hoped, would provide the clergy with that sense of solidarity and corporate identity needed to distinguish them from the laity. In all essential respects, as one scholar has put it, the reforming initiatives of the popes were ‘an attempt by men trained in the monastic discipline to remodel Church and society according to monastic ideals… to train churchmen to rethink themselves as a distinct ‘order’ with a life-style totally different from that of laymen.’ Behind the campaign for celibacy, in sum, aside from the moral and canonical issues involved, was the desire to set all churchmen apart from and above the laity; the need to create a spiritual elite by the separation of the priest from the ordinary layman was an urgent priority. Doubtless, in the end, the Gregorian priesthood did achieve a certain libertas and even a sense of community, but only at the expense of a sharp opposition between itself and the rest of society.
“By contrast, in the Christian East, as in primitive Christianity, a wholly celibate priesthood never became the norm…”
It sometimes happens that one important historical process going in one direction masks the presence of another going in precisely the opposite direction. The process of ecclesiastical reformation initiated by Pope Leo IX in 1049, which aimed at the liberation of the Church from secular control, was - with the exception of the element of clerical celibacy – a laudable and necessary programme. But the increasing distance it placed between the clergy and the laity was fraught with danger. In particular, it threatened to undermine the traditional place in Christian society of the anointed kings, who occupied an intermediate position between the clergy and the laity. And in the hands of two ambitious clerics who entered the service of the papacy at about this time, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida and Archdeacon Hildebrand, it threatened simply to replace the caesaropapist variety of feudalism with a papocaesarist variety – that is, the subjection of the clergy to lay lords with the subjection of the laity, and even the kings, to clerical lords – or rather, to just one clerical lord, the Pope. For, as Ranson and Mott write, “in many respects, in its structure the papacy is nothing other than the religious form of feudalism…”
The problem was that by the middle of the eleventh century Church and State were so deeply entangled with each other that nobody, on either side of the quarrel, could conceive of a return to the traditional system of the symphony of powers, which allowed for the relative independence of both powers within a single Christian society. Thus the Church wished to be liberated from “lay investiture”; but she did not want to be deprived of the lands, vassals and, therefore, political power, which came with investiture. Indeed, the last act in the life of Pope Leo IX himself was his marching into battle at the head of a papal army in 1053 (in alliance, ironically, with the Byzantines) in order to secure his feudal domains in Benevento, which had been granted to him by his kinsman, Emperor Henry III.
Contemporary western society was shocked; for, worldly and entangled in secular affairs as bishops had become, it was still felt that war was not an activity suited to a churchman. But that shock was as nothing compared to the trauma caused in the 1070s and 1080s by Hildebrand’s transformation of the Church into a feudal fief headed by himself. All Christians, he said, were “the soldiers of Christ” and “the vassals of St. Peter”, i.e. of the Pope, and the Pope had the right to call on all the laity to break their feudal oaths and take up arms against their lords, in obedience to himself, their ultimate feudal suzerain, who would repay them, not with lands or physical security, but with the absolution of sins and everlasting life! Thus freedom from lay control, on the one hand, but control over the laity, and greater secular power, on the other: that was the programme – both contradictory and hypocritical - of the “reformed” papacy.
The Schism of 1054
But before undertaking this assault on the West, the papacy needed to secure its rear in the East by bringing the Eastern Patriarchs to heel. Now late in 1053, Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople had criticised certain liturgical practices of the Latins in a letter to Bishop John of Trania, and had asked the latter to convey his views to Pope Leo IX. The Pope replied: “You, beloved brother of ours, whom we still call in Christ and primate of Constantinople, with extraordinary presumption and unheard-of boldness have dared openly to condemn the apostolic and Latin Church – and for what? For the fact that she celebrates the commemoration of the sufferings of Christ on unleavened bread. That is your imprudent abuse, that is your unkind boasting, when you, supposing that your lips are in heaven, in actual fact with your tongue are crawling on the earth and striving by your human reasonings and thoughts to corrupt and shake the ancient faith. If you do not pull yourself together, you will be on the tail of the dragon [cf. Rev. 12], by which this dragon overthrew and cast to the earth a third of the stars of heaven. Almost 1200 years have passed since the Saviour suffered, and do you really think that only now must the Roman Church learn from you how to celebrate the Eucharist, as if it means nothing that here in Rome there lived, worked for a considerable period, taught and, finally, by his death glorified God he to whom the Lord said: ‘Blessed are thou, O Simon, son of Jonah’.”
“Then,” continues A.P. Lebedev, “the Pope explained in detail why the Roman Church could not tolerate any instructions from other Churches, but remained the leader of all the rest. ‘Think how senseless it would be to admit that the heavenly Father should conceal the rite of the visible sacrifice [of the Eucharist] from the prince of the apostles, Peter, to whom He had completely revealed the most hidden Divinity of His Son. The Lord promised to Peter, not through an angel, nor through a prophet, but with His own lips: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church’ (Matthew 16.16). But in the opinion of the Pope an important place in the question of the headship of the Roman high priest was occupied by the miracle-working power of Peter’s shadow. This argument of the Pope in his favour was so original that we cite it in full. ‘In Peter,’ said the Pope, ‘what is particularly remarkable is that the shadow of his body gave health to the infirm. Such power was given to none of the saints; even the Holy of holies Himself did not give the gift of healing from His own most holy body; but to His Peter alone He gave this privilege that the shadow from his body should heal the sick. Here is a great sign of the Church of the present and the future, that is, Peter has become the manager of both Churches and indicates their condition beforehand in himself: it is precisely the present Church which by the power of its visible sacraments and those that are still to come as it were by her shadow heals souls on earth, and presents to us an as yet invisible but firm image of truth and piety on earth.’ Or here is one more cunning papal interpretation of one saying with which the Lord addressed Peter, and interpretation whose aim was to prove the overwhelming significance of the Roman high priests among the other bishops of the whole Church. The Pope takes the saying of the Lord: ‘I have prayed for thee, O Peter, that thy faith should not fail, and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren’ (Luke 22.32).
“’By this the Lord showed,’ says the Pope, ‘that the faith of the other brethren will be subject to dangers, but the faith of Peter will remain without stumbling. Nobody can deny that just as the whole door is ruled by the hinge, so by Peter and his successors is defined the order and structure of the whole Church. And as the hinge opens and closes the door, while remaining itself unmoved, so Peter and his successors have the right freely to pronounce sentence on every Church, and nobody must disturb or shake their condition; for the highest see is not judged by anybody (summa sedes a nemine judicatur).’”
But the most interesting part of Leo’s pretensions was his claim to have royal as well as priestly power. Thus he not only tried, as Gilbert Dagron writes, “to impose obedience [on the Eastern Church] by multiplying the expected scriptural quotations… He also added that the rebels of the East should content themselves with these witnesses ‘to the simultaneously earthly and heavenly power, or rather, to the royal priesthood of the Roman and apostolic see (de terreno et coelesti imperio, imo de regali sacerdotio romanae et apostolicae sedis).”
“Of much greater importance and interest in the given letter,” continues Lebedev, “are the very new papal ideas about his secular lordship, which are developed by the Pope in his letter to Cerularius and which rely on a false document – the so-called Donatio Constantini. Setting out his superior position among the other hierarchs of the Church, the Pope, in order to humiliate the Church of Constantinople – the aim of the letter – he develops the thought that the Popes are immeasurably superior to the representatives of all the other Churches since they are at one and the same time both first priests and emperors. In the East, it would seem, nothing of the sort had ever been heard; and for that reason it is understandable how such a novelty would affect the Church of Constantinople!
“Since the time of Constantine the Great the Popes had become at the same time emperors, insinuated Leo to Cerularius. The Pope wrote: ‘So that there should remain no doubt about the earthly [secular] power of the Roman high priest, and so that nobody should think that the Roman Church is ascribing to herself an honour that does not belong to her, we shall cite the proofs of from that privileged deed which the Emperor Constantine with his own hands laid upon the holy tomb of the heavenly key-bearer [Peter], and that the truth should be manifest and vanity disappear.’ In this privileged deed Constantine, according to the words of the Pope, declared the following: ‘We have considered it necessary, we together with all our rulers, the Senate, the nobles and the people of Rome, that, just as St. Peter was the vicar of the Son of God on earth, so the high priests, the heirs of the prince of the apostles, should retain the power to rule – and to an even more complete extent than is given to the earthly imperial dignity. That is, we are decreeing that reverent honour should be accorded both to our earthly imperial might, and in exactly the same way to the most holy Roman Church, and, so as more fully to exalt the see above our own earthly throne, we ascribe to her a royal power, dignity and honour. Moreover, we decree that the see of Peter should have the headship over the four sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Constantinople and also over all the Church in the inhabited world; the high priest of this Roman see must be considered for all time to be higher and more glorious than all the priest of the whole world, and in relations to questions of Divine service and faith his judgement should rule over all.’ Then Pope Leo describes what precisely Constantine bestowed upon his contemporary, Pope Sylvester, so as to exalt the papal altar. In the opinion of the Pope, it turns out that Constantine bestowed upon the Pope first of all the palace in Rome. The privileged deed, according to the letter of Pope Leo, said the following about this: ‘We cede to the holy apostles themselves, the most blessed Peter and Paul, and through them to our father Pope Sylvester and all his successors who will be on the see of St. Peter to the end of the ages the Lateran palace, which is superior to all the palaces in the world.’ Then the Emperor Constantine adorns, as the Pope puts it, the person of the Roman high priest with royal regalia. The deed, according to the words of Pope Leo, said this about that: ‘We transfer to the Pope of Rome the diadem, that is the crown, from our own head, the garland that adorns the imperial neck, the purple chlamys, the scarlet tunic and all the other royal vestments. We entrust to him the imperial sceptre and all the other marks of distinction and the shoulder-belt – in a word, all the appurtenances of royal majesty.’ The letter even informs us that the Emperor with his own hands want to place his crown on the Pope’s head, but ‘the Pope did not want to use a crown of gold, and for that reason the Emperor placed on him with his own hands his Phrygian wreath (phrygium), shining white and signifying the Resurrection of Christ.’ In the words of Pope Leo, the Emperor Constantine, having adorned the Pope with royal regalia, in correspondence with this wanted to put the clergy who constituted his suite on a level with the royal courtiers. The deed, in the words of the letter, made the following legal ruling: ‘We raise the most honourable clergy of every rank in the service of the Roman Church to the same height of power and brilliance as our Senate, and decree that they should be adorned as our patricians and consuls are adorned. In a word, just as there are various kinds of servants attached to the imperial dignity – bed-makers, doormen and guards, so must it be with the holy Roman Church. And more than that: for the sake of the greater brilliance of the papal dignity let the clergy travel on horses adorned with the whitest of materials, and let them wear exactly the same shoes as are worn by the senators. And in this way let the heavenly [papal] power be adorned like the earthly [imperial], to the glory of God.’ In his concern for the person of the Pope and those close to him, according to the words of the Pope’s letter, Constantine bestowed on Sylvester and his heirs a broad, de facto royal power over a whole half of the Roman kingdom: the Roman high priest became the Roman emperor. In the words of the Pope, the deed said the following on this score: ‘So that the high priestly power should not decline, but should flourish more than the imperial power itself, we have decreed that besides the Lateran palace, the city of Rome, the provinces of Italy and all the western lands, and all the places and cities in them, should be transferred to our father Sylvester, so that he should have complete use of and dominion over them.”
Pope Leo sent an embassy led by Cardinal Humbert to Constantinople with a letter to the Patriarch, saying: “We believe and firmly confess the following: the Roman Church is such that if any nation (Church) on earth should in its pride be in disagreement with her in anything, then such a Church ceases to be called and to be considered a Church – it is nothing. It will already be a conventicle of heretics, a collection of schismatics, a synagogue of Satan.” When the Patriarch and Emperor refused to enter into negotiations with the legates, the latter, on July 16, 1054 anathematized the Church of Constantinople, accusing her of every possible heresy. On July 20, Patriarch Michael convened a Council which anathematised the legates and those attached to them. “O you who are Orthodox,” said the Patriarch, “flee the fellowship of those who have accepted the heretical Latins and who regard them as the first Christians in the Catholic and Holy Church of God!” And again: “The Pope is a heretic.”
Pope Leo IX was actually dead when the exchange of anathemas took place, but his successor did not act to repair the damage. The other Eastern Churches were informed of the decision, and accepted it. And so 1054 has conventionally been taken as the date of the severing of the branch, the moment when the Western Church finally fell away from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
In 1059 a quasi-royal coronation was introduced into the rite of the inauguration of the new Pope, Nicholas II. Then he decreed that the Popes should be elected by the cardinal-bishops alone, without the participation of the people. “The role of the Roman clergy and people,” writes Canning, “was reduced to one of mere assent to the choice. The historical participation of the emperor was by-passed with the formula ‘saving the honour and reverence due to our beloved son Henry [IV] who is for the present regarded as king and who, it is hoped, is going to be emperor with God’s grace, inasmuch as we have now conceded this to him and to his successors who shall personally obtain this right from the apostolic see’.” Sixty years before, Otto III had bombastically claimed that he had “ordained and created” the Pope. Now the wheel had come round full circle: the emperors were emperors only by virtue of receiving this right from the Pope…
Four months later, the new Pope made a hardly less momentous decision: he entered into alliance at Melfi with the Normans of South Italy, the same nation whom the Leo IX had been fighting at his death, and whom he had cursed on his deathbed. The alliance was momentous because up to this moment the Popes had always turned for protection to the Christian Roman Emperor, whether of East Rome or of the “Holy Roman Empire” of the West. Indeed, the Pope had insisted on crowning the “Holy Roman Emperor” precisely because he was the papacy’s official guardian. For it was unheard of that the Church of Rome should recognise as her official guardian any other power than the Roman Emperor, from whom, according to the forged Donation of Constantine, she had herself received her quasi-imperial dignity and power. But just as, in the middle of the eighth century, the Papacy had rejected the Byzantines in favour of the Franks, so now it rejected the Germans in favour of the Normans, a nation of Viking origin but French speech and culture that had recently seized a large swathe of Lombard and Byzantine land in Southern Italy. The Pope now legitimised this robbery in exchange for the Norman leaders Richard of Capua and Robert Guiscard becoming his feudal vassals and swearing to support the Papacy. In addition, Robert Guiscard specifically promised: “If you or your successors die before me, I will help to enforce the dominant wishes of the Cardinals and of the Roman clergy and laity in order that a pope may be chosen and established to the honour of St. Peter.”
Guiscard was as good as his word. “Thus after 1059 the Norman conquests were made progressively to subserve the restoration of the Latin rite and the extension of papal jurisdiction in southern Italy" - at the expense both of the Byzantines and of the German Emperor, Henry IV, who was at that time still a child and therefore unable to react to the assault on his position. Even before this, the Papacy had begun to forge close bonds with the Normans in their homeland in Northern France, whence the papal assault on that other fortress of old-style Orthodox Autocracy, England, would soon be launched. Thus in 1055, the year after Duke William of Normandy seized effective control of his duchy by defeating a coalition led by his lord, King Henry I of France, the old-fashioned (that is, Orthodox) Archbishop Mauger was deposed to make way for the more forward-looking Maurilius. He introduced “a new and extraneous element” – that is, an element more in keeping with the ideals of the heretical, “reformed papacy” – into the Norman Church.
Then, in 1059, papal sanction for the marriage between Duke William and Matilda of Flanders, which had been withheld by Leo IX at the Council of Rheims in 1049, was finally obtained. This opened the way for full cooperation between the Normans and the Pope. Finally, William supported the candidacy of Alexander II to the throne as against that of Honorius II, who was supported by the German Empress Agnes. The Pope now owed a debt of gratitude to the Normans which they were soon to call in…
By the 1060s, then, there were only two powers in the West that stood in the way of the complete triumph of the crude, militaristic ethos of feudalism: the Orthodox autocracies of England and Germany. By the end of the century both powers had been brought low – England by military conquest and its transformation into a single feudal fief under William of Normandy, and Germany by cunning dialectic and the fear of excommunication by the Pope.
The Fall of Orthodox England
In 1043, after a period of rule by Danish Christian kings (1017-1042), the Old English dynasty of Alfred the Great was restored in the person of King Ethelred’s son Edward, known to later generations as “the Confessor”. In January, 1066, King Edward died, and his brother-in-law Harold Godwineson was consecrated king in his place. Now two years earlier, Harold had been a prisoner at the court of William in Normandy, and in order to gain his freedom had sworn over a box of holy relics to uphold William’s claim to the English throne. And so when he broke his oath and became king himself, William decided to invade – with the Pope’s blessing.
How could the Pope bless the armed invasion of a Christian country led by an anointed king who posed no threat to its neighbours? In order to answer this question, we have to examine the new theory of Church-State relations being developed in Rome. The critical question then was: in a society whose aims are defined by the Christian faith, are the jurisdictions of the clergy and secular ruler strictly parallel, or do the clergy have the power to depose a king who, in their judgement, is not ruling in accordance with these spiritual aims – whose nature, of course, can only be defined by the clergy?
Now up to the middle of the ninth century, no decisive test-case had yet appeared which would define whether the Church could, not simply confirm a royal deposition or change of dynasty, but actually initiate it. Pope Nicholas I was the first pope to take it upon himself to initiate the deposition of emperors and patriarchs as if all power in both Church and State were in his hands.
However, as we have seen, in 865 Nicholas’ efforts were thwarted by the firm opposition both of the Eastern Church under St. Photius the Great and of Western hierarchs such as Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims. It was not before another two hundred years had passed that the papacy once again felt strong enough to challenge the power of the anointed kings. Its chance came on the death of King Edward the Confessor, when Harold Godwinesson took the throne of England with the consent of the leading men of England but without the consent of the man to whom he had once sworn allegiance, Duke William of Normandy.
Professor Douglas writes: “At some undetermined date within the first eight months of 1066 [Duke William] appealed to the papacy, and a mission was sent under the leadership of Gilbert, archdeacon of Lisieux, to ask for judgement in the duke’s favour from Alexander II. No records of the case as it was heard in Rome have survived, nor is there any evidence that Harold Godwinesson was ever summoned to appear in his own defence. On the other hand, the arguments used by the duke’s representatives may be confidently surmised. Foremost among them must have been an insistence on Harold’s oath, and its violation when the earl seized the throne… Archdeacon Hildebrand… came vigorously to the support of Duke William, and Alexander II was led publicly to proclaim his approval of Duke William’s enterprise.”
The Pope had his own reasons for supporting William. In 1052 Archbishop Robert of Canterbury, a Norman, had fled from England after the struggle between the English and Norman parties at the court had inclined in favour of the English. During his flight he forgot to take his pallium (omophorion), which with the agreement of the king was then handed over to Bishop Stigand of Winchester, who became archbishop of Canterbury in place of Robert. This elicited the wrath of the Pope, who labelled Stigand an anticanonical usurper. But the English refused to obey the Pope. And so, beginning from 1052 and continuing right up to the Stigand’s deposition by the legates of the Pope at the false council of Winchester in 1070, England remained in schism from, and under the ban of, the Roman Pope – who himself, from 1054, was in schism from, and under the ban of, the Great Church of Constantinople.
To make matters worse, in 1058 Archbishop Stigand had had his position regularised by the “antipope” (i.e. enemy of the Hildebrandine reformers) Benedict IX. Here was the perfect excuse for blessing William’s invasion: the “schismatic” English had to be brought to heel and their Church purged of all secular influence. And if this “holy” aim was to be achieved by the most secular of means – armed invasion and the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent Christians – so be it!
According to Frank McLynn, it was Stigand’s supposed uncanonicity “that most interested [Pope] Alexander. William pitched his appeal to the papacy largely on his putative role as the leader of the religious and ecclesiastical reform movement in Normandy and as a man who could clean the Augean stables of church corruption in England; this weighed heavily with Alexander, who, as his joust with Harald Hardrada in 1061 demonstrated, thought the churches of northern Europe far too remote from papal control. It was the abiding dream of the new ‘reformist’ papacy to be universally accepted as the arbiter of thrones and their succession; William’s homage therefore constituted a valuable precedent. Not surprisingly, Alexander gave the proposed invasion of England his blessing. It has sometimes been queried why Harold did not send his own embassy to counter William’s arguments. Almost certainly, the answer is that he thought it a waste of time on two grounds: the method of electing a king in England had nothing to do with the pope and was not a proper area for his intervention; and, in any case, the pope was now the creature of the Normans in southern Italy and would ultimately do what they ordered him to do. Harold was right: Alexander II blessed all the Norman marauding expeditions of the 1060s.
“But although papal sanction for William’s ‘enterprise of England’ was morally worthless, it was both a great propaganda and diplomatic triumph for the Normans. It was a propaganda victory because it allowed William to pose as the leader of crusaders in a holy war, obfuscating and mystifying the base, materialistic motives of his followers and mercenaries. It also gave the Normans a great psychological boost, for they could perceive themselves as God’s elect, and it is significant that none of William’s inner circle entertained doubts about the ultimate success of the English venture. Normandy now seemed the spearhead of a confident Christianity, on the offensive for the first time in centuries, whereas earlier [Western] Christendom had been beleagured by Vikings to the north, Hungarians to the east and Islam to the south. It was no accident that, with Hungary and Scandinavia recently Christianised, the Normans were the vanguard in the first Crusade, properly so called, against the Islamic heathens in the Holy Land.
“Alexander’s fiat was a diplomatic triumph, too, as papal endorsement for the Normans made it difficult for other powers to intervene on Harold’s side. William also pre-empted one of the potential sources of support for the Anglo-Saxons by sending an embassy to the emperor Henry IV; this, too, was notably successful, removing a possible barrier to a Europe-wide call for volunteers in the ‘crusade’.”
As long as King Edward had been alive, Hildebrand’s party had been restrained from attacking England both by the king’s Europe-wide renown as a holy wonderworker and by the lack of a military force suitable for the task in hand. But now Edward was dead, having prophesied on his death-bed that England would soon be invaded by demons and lose the grace of God. And William’s suit presented Hildebrand with the opportunity for the “holy war” he had wanted for so long.
William and his army invaded the south of England in September, 1066. Meanwhile, King Harald Hardrada of Norway had invaded the north. On September 20 the English King Harold defeated the Norwegian army, and then, with the minimum of rest and without waiting for reinforcements, he marched south to meet the Normans.
David Howarth has argued convincingly that the reason was that Harold now, for the first time, heard (from an envoy of William's) that he and his followers had been excommunicated by the Pope and that William was fighting with the pope's blessing and under a papal banner, with a tooth of St. Peter encrusted in gold around his neck. "This meant that he was not merely defying William, he was defying the Pope. It was doubtful whether the Church, the army and the people would support him in that defiance: at best, they would be bewildered and half-hearted. Therefore, since a battle had to be fought, it must be fought at once, without a day's delay, before the news leaked out. After that, if the battle was won, would be time to debate the Pope's decision, explain that the trial had been a travesty, query it, appeal against it, or simply continue to defy it.”
The defeat of King Harold at Hastings was the prelude for the greatest genocide in European history to that date. According to one source, every fifth Englishman was killed, and even if this figure is an exaggeration, Domesday Book (1086) shows that some parts of the country were a wasteland a generation after the Conquest. So terrible was the slaughter, and the destruction of holy churches and relics, that the Norman bishops who took part in the campaign were required to do penance when they returned home.
But the Pope who had blessed this unholy slaughter did no penance. Rather, he sent his legates to England, who, at the false council of Winchester in 1070, deposed Archbishop Stigand (and after him, most of the English bishops), and formally integrated conquered England into the new Roman Catholic empire.
The Norman Conquest was, in effect, the first crusade of the “reformed” Papacy against Orthodox Christendom. For, as Professor Douglas writes: “It is beyond doubt that the latter half of the eleventh century witnessed a turning-point in the history of Western Christendom, and beyond doubt Normandy and the Normans played a dominant part in the transformation which then occurred… They assisted the papacy to rise to a new political domination, and they became closely associated with the reforming movement in the Church which the papacy came to direct. They contributed also to a radical modification of the relations between Eastern and Western Europe with results that still survive. The Norman Conquest of England may thus in one sense be regarded as but part of a far-flung endeavour.” It follows that if William had lost, then, as John Hudson writes, “the reformers in the papacy, who had backed William in his quest for the English throne, might have lost their momentum. Normandy would have been greatly weakened…” In other words, the whole course of European history might have been changed…
All William’s barons and bishops owned their land as his vassals; and when, on August 1, 1086, William summoned all the free tenants of England to an assembly at Salisbury and imposed upon them an oath of loyalty directly to himself, he became in effect the sole landowner of England – that is, the owner of all its land. Thus was born the feudal monarchy, a new kind of despotism.
R.H.C. Davis explains that this feudal monarchy was in fact “a New Leviathan, the medieval equivalent of a socialist state. In a socialist state, the community owns, or should own, the means of production. In a feudal monarchy, the king did own all the land – which in the terms of medieval economy might fairly be equated with the means of production.
“The best and simplest example of a feudal monarchy is to be found in England after the Norman Conquest. When William the Conqueror defeated Harold Godwineson at the battle of Hastings (1066), he claimed to have established his legitimate right to succeed Edward the Confessor as King of England, but, owing to Harold’s resistance, he was also able to claim that he had won the whole country by right of conquest. Henceforward, every inch of land was to be his, and he would dispose of it as he thought fit.”
As we have seen, William had conquered England with the blessing of Archdeacon Hildebrand. And shortly after his bloody pacification of the country he imposed the new canon law of the reformed papacy upon the English Church. This pleased Hildebrand, now Pope Gregory VII, who was therefore prepared to overlook the fact that William considered that he owed his kingdom to his sword and God alone: "The king of the English, although in certain matters he does not comport himself as devoutly as we might hope, nevertheless in that he has neither destroyed nor sold the Churches of God [!]; that he has taken pains to govern his subjects in peace and justice [!!]; that he has refused his assent to anything detrimental to the apostolic see, even when solicited by certain enemies of the cross of Christ; and that he has compelled priests on oath to put away their wives and laity to forward the tithes they were withholding from us - in all these respects he has shown himself more worthy of approbation and honour than other kings..."
The "other kings" Gregory was referring to included, first of all, the Emperor Henry IV of Germany, who, unlike William, did not support the Pope's “reforms”. If William had acted like Henry, then there is no doubt that Pope Gregory would have excommunicated him, too. And if William had refused to co-operate with the papacy, then there is equally no doubt that the Pope would have incited his subjects to wage a "holy war" against him, as he did against Henry.
For, as an anonymous monk of Hersfeld wrote: "[The Gregorians] say that it is a matter of the faith and it is the duty of the faithful in the Church to kill and to persecute those who communicate with, or support the excommunicated King Henry and refuse to promote the efforts of [the Gregorian] party."
But William, by dint of brute force within and subtle diplomacy without, managed to achieve complete control over both Church and State, while at the same time paradoxically managing to remain on relatively good terms with the most autocratic Pope in history. For totalitarian rulers only respect rivals of the same spirit. Thus did the papocaesarist totalitarianism of Hildebrand beget the caesaropapist totalitarianism of William the Bastard…
The absolute nature of William's control of the Church was vividly expressed by Edmer of Canterbury: "Now, it was the policy of King William to maintain in England the usages and laws which he and his fathers before him were accustomed to have in Normandy. Accordingly he made bishops, abbots and other nobles throughout the whole country of persons of whom (since everyone knew who they were, from what estate they had been raised and to what they had been promoted) it would be considered shameful ingratitude if they did not implicitly obey his laws, subordinating to this every other consideration; or if any one of them presuming upon the power conferred by any temporal dignity dared raise his head against him. Consequently, all things, spiritual and temporal alike, waited upon the nod of the King... He would not, for instance, allow anyone in all his dominion, except on his instructions, to recognize the established Pontiff of the City of Rome or under any circumstance to accept any letter from him, if it had not first been submitted to the King himself. Also he would not let the primate of his kingdom, by which I mean the Archbishop of Canterbury, otherwise Dobernia, if he were presiding over a general council of bishops, lay down any ordinance or prohibition unless these were agreeable to the King's wishes and had been first settled by him. Then again he would not allow any one of his bishops, except on his express instructions, to proceed against or excommunicate one of his barons or officers for incest or adultery or any other cardinal offence, even when notoriously guilty, or to lay upon him any punishment of ecclesiastical discipline."
Again, in a letter to the Pope in reply to the latter's demand for fealty, William wrote: "I have not consented to pay fealty, nor will I now, because I never promised it, nor do I find that any of my predecessors ever paid it to your predecessors." In the same letter he pointedly called Archbishop Lanfranc "my vassal" (i.e. not the Pope’!). Here we see the way in which the language of feudalism, of the mutual rights and obligations of lords and vassals, had crept into the language of Church-State relations at the highest level.
On the other hand, William agreed to the Pope's demand for the payment of "Peter's Pence", the voluntary contribution of the English people to Rome which had now become compulsory. For to squeeze the already impoverished English meant no diminution in his personal power. The Popes therefore had to wait until William's death before gradually asserting their personal control over the English Church…
The Gregorian Revolution
In 1071, Byzantine Bari in South Italy fell to the Normans, who soon created another absolutist kingdom “of Sicily and Italy” that served as the launch-pad for several invasions of the Byzantine Empire. In the same year the Byzantines suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert, as a result of which most of Anatolia was conceded to the Turks. As Orthodoxy reeled under these hammer blows, Papism entered upon a new phase of its development with the election, in 1073, of Archdeacon Hildebrand as Pope Gregory VII…
Hildebrand was a midget in physical size. But having been elected to the papacy “by the will of St. Peter”, he set about ensuring that no ruler on earth would rival him in grandeur. Having witnessed the Emperor Henry III’s deposition of Pope Gregory VI, with whom he went into exile, he took the name Gregory VII in order to emphasise a unique mission. And perhaps to emphasise his kinship with Gregory VI. For both popes were of the Jewish Pierleone family. For, as Peter de Rosa writes, “he had seen an emperor dethrone a pope; he would dethrone an emperor regardless.
“Had he put an emperor in his place, he would have been beyond reproach. He did far more. By introducing a mischievous and heretical doctrine [of Church-State relations], he put himself in place of the emperor… He claimed to be not only Bishop of bishops but King of kings. In a parody of the gospels, the devil took him up to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and Gregory VII exclaimed: These are all mine.
“As that most objective of historians, Henry Charles Lea, wrote in The Inquisition in the Middle Ages: ‘To the realization of this ideal [of papal supremacy], he devoted his life with a fiery zeal and unshaken purpose that shrank from no obstacle, and to it he was ready to sacrifice not only the men who stood in his path but also the immutable principles of truth and justice.’
“… The Bishop of Trier saw the danger. He charged Gregory with destroying the unity of the Church. The Bishop of Verdun said that the pope was mistaken in his unheard-of arrogance. Belief belongs to one’s church, the heart belongs to one’s country. The pope, he said, must not filch the heart’s allegiance. This was precisely what Gregory did. He wanted all; he left emperors and princes nothing. The papacy, as he fashioned it, by undermining patriotism, undermined the authority of secular rulers; they felt threatened by the Altar. At the Reformation, in England and elsewhere, rulers felt obliged to exclude Catholicism from their lands in order to feel secure…
“The changes Gregory brought about were reflected in language. Before him, the pope’s traditional title was Vicar of St. Peter. After him, it was Vicar of Christ. Only ‘Vicar of Christ’ could justify his absolutist pretensions, which his successors inherited in reality not from Peter or from Jesus but from him.”
Canning writes: “The impact of Gregory VII’s pontificate was enormous: for the church nothing was to be the same again. From his active lifetime can be traced the settling of the church in its long-term direction as a body of power and coercion; the character of the papacy as a jurisdictional and governmental institution… There arises the intrusive thought, out of bounds for the historian: this was the moment of the great wrong direction taken by the papacy, one which was to outlast the Middle Ages and survive into our own day. From the time of Gregory can be dated the deliberate clericalisation of the church based on the notion that the clergy, being morally purer, were superior to the laity and constituted a church which was catholic, chaste and free. There was a deep connection between power and a celibacy which helped distinguish the clergy as a separate and superior caste, distanced in the most profound psychological sense from the family concerns of the laity beneath them. At the time of the reform papacy the church became stamped with characteristics which have remained those of the Roman Catholic church: it became papally centred, legalistic, coercive and clerical. The Roman church was, in Gregory’s words, the ‘mother and mistress’ (mater et magistra) of all churches.’”
Gregory’s position was based on a forged collection of canons and a false interpretation of two Gospel passages: Matthew 16.18-19 and John 21.15-17. According to the first passage, in Gregory’s interpretation, he was the successor of Peter, upon whom the Church had been founded, and had plenary power to bind and to loose. And according to the second, the flock of Peter over which he had jurisdiction included all Christians, not excluding emperors. As he wrote: “Perhaps [the supporters of the emperor] imagine that when God commended His Church to Peter three times, saying, ‘Feed My sheep’, He made an exception of kings? Why do they not consider, or rather confess with shame that when God gave Peter, as the ruler, the power of binding and loosing in heaven and on earth, he excepted no-one and withheld nothing from his power?”
For “who could doubt that the priests of Christ are considered the fathers and masters of kings, princes and all the faithful?” This meant that he had power both to excommunicate and depose the emperor. Nor did the emperor’s anointing give him any authority in Gregory’s eyes. For “greater power is conceded to an exorcist, when he is made a spiritual emperor for expelling demons, than could be given to any layman for secular domination”. “Kings and princes of the earth, seduced by empty glory, prefer their interests to the things of the spirit, whereas pious pontiffs, despising vainglory, set the things of God above the things of the flesh.” Indeed, “who would not know that kings and dukes took their origin from those who, ignorant of God, through pride, rapine, perfidy, murders and, finally, almost any kind of crime, at the instigation of the devil, the prince of this world, sought with blind desire and unbearable presumption to dominate their equals, namely other men?”
Hildebrand’s attitude to political power was almost Manichaean in its negative intensity. Manichaeism, a dualistic heresy that saw physical nature as evil, arose in Persia and had a most varied history after the execution of its founder, Mani, in 276. It spread west to the Roman Empire, where St. Augustine was a Manichaean before he became a Christian. Towards the end of the first millennium it reappeared as the sect of the Paulicians in Asia Minor, then as the Bogomils in Bulgaria and Bosnia, then as the Cathars in southern France. It survived in southern China until the 16th century. Hildebrand’s attitude was Manichaean insofar as it saw the relationship between the Church and the State as a dualistic struggle between good and evil, light and darkness. Just as the Manichaeans (like all heresies of the Gnostic type) tried to free themselves from the flesh and physical nature as from something defiling in essence, so the Gregorians tried to free themselves from the state as from something evil in essence. For them there could be no really good king: kingship should be in the hands of the only good ones, the priests. Indeed, as de Rosa writes of a later Pope who faithfully followed Hildebrand’s teaching, “this was Manicheeism applied to relations between church and state. The church, spiritual, was good; the state, material, was essentially the work of the devil. This naked political absolutism undermined the authority of kings. Taken seriously, his theories would lead to anarchy”.
Of course, the idea that the priesthood was in essence higher than the kingship was not in itself heretical, and could find support in the Fathers. However, the Fathers always allowed that kings had supremacy of jurisdiction in their own sphere, for the power of secular rulers comes from God and is worthy of the honour that befits every God-established institution. Índeed, just before the schism the Latin Peter Damian had written: “In the king Christ is truly recognised as reigning”. What was new, shocking and completely unpatristic in Gregory’s words was his disrespect for the kingship, his refusal to allow it any dignity or holiness – still more, his proto-communist implication that rulers had no right to rule unless he gave them that right.
The corollary of this was that the only rightful ruler was the Pope. For “if the holy apostolic see, through the princely power divinely conferred upon it, has jurisdiction over spiritual things, why not also over secular things?” Thus to the secular rulers of Spain Gregory wrote in 1077 that the kingdom of Spain belonged to St. Peter and the Roman Church “in rightful ownership”. And to the secular rulers of Sardinia he wrote in 1073 that the Roman Church exerted “a special and individual care” over them – which meant, as a later letter of 1080 demonstrated, that they would face armed invasion if they did not submit to the pope’s terms.
Again, in 1075 he threatened King Philip of France with excommunication, having warned the French episcopate that if the king did not amend his ways he would place France under interdict, adding: “Do not doubt that we shall, with God’s help, make every possible effort to snatch the kingdom of France from his possession.”
But this would have remained just words, if Gregory had not had the ability to compel submission. He demonstrated this ability when wrote to one of King Philip’ vassals, Duke William of Aquitaine, and invited him to threaten the king. The king backed down…
This power was demonstrated to a still greater extent in his famous dispute with Emperor Henry IV of Germany. It began with a quarrel between the pope and the emperor over who should succeed to the see of Milan. Gregory expected Henry to back down as King Philip had done. But he did not, doubtless because the see of Milan was of great importance politically in that its lands and vassals gave it control of the Alpine passes and therefore of Henry’s access to his Italian domains. Instead, in January, 1076, he convened a Synod of Bishops at Worms which addressed Gregory as “brother Hildebrand”, demonstrated that his despotism had introduced mob rule into the Church, and refused all obedience to him: “Since, as thou didst publicly proclaim, none of us has been to thee a bishop, so henceforth thou shalt be Pope to none of us”.
Gregory retaliated in a revolutionary way. In a Synod in Rome he declared the emperor deposed. Addressing St. Peter, he said: “I withdraw the whole kingdom of the Germans and of Italy from Henry the King, son of Henry the Emperor. For he has risen up against thy Church with unheard of arrogance. And I absolve all Christians from the bond of the oath which they have made to him or shall make. And I forbid anyone to serve him as King.”
By absolving subjects of their allegiance to their king, Gregory “effectively,” as Robinson writes, “sanctioned rebellion against the royal power…” And he followed this up by published the famously megalomaniac Dictatus Papae: "The Pope can be judged by no one; the Roman church has never erred and never will err till the end of time; the Roman Church was founded by Christ alone; the Pope alone can depose bishops and restore bishops; he alone can make new laws, set up new bishoprics, and divide old ones; he alone can translate bishops; he alone can call general councils and authorize canon law; he alone can revise his own judgements; he alone can use the imperial insignia; he can depose emperors; he can absolve subjects from their allegiance; all princes should kiss his feet; his legates, even though in inferior orders, have precedence over all bishops; an appeal to the papal court inhibits judgement by all inferior courts; a duly ordained Pope is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter."
Robinson continues: “The confusion of the spiritual and the secular in Gregory VII’s thinking is most marked in the terminology he used to describe the laymen whom he recruited to further his political aims. His letters are littered with the terms ‘the warfare of Christ’, ‘the service of St. Peter’, ‘the vassals of St. Peter’…, Military terminology is, of course, commonly found in patristic writings.. St. Paul had evoked the image of the soldier of Christ who waged an entirely spiritual war… In the letters of Gregory VII, the traditional metaphor shades into literal actuality… For Gregory, the ‘warfare of Christ’ and the ‘warfare of St. Peter’ came to mean, not the spiritual struggles of the faithful, nor the duties of the secular clergy, nor the ceaseless devotions of the monks; but rather the armed clashes of feudal knights on the battlefields of Christendom…”
This was power politics under the guise of anti-politics; but it worked. Although, at a Synod in Worms in 1076, some bishops supported Henry, saying that the Pope had “introduced worldliness into the Church”; “the bishops have been deprived of their divine authority”; “the Church of God is in danger of destruction” – still Henry began to lose support, and in 1077 he with his wife and child was forced to march across the Alps in deepest winter and do penance before Gregory, standing for three days almost naked in the snow outside the castle of Canossa. Gregory restored him to communion, but not to his kingship… Canossa became the enduring symbol of the papocaesarist heresy. Soon rebellion began to stir in Germany as Rudolf, Duke of Swabia, was elected anti-king. For a while Gregory hesitated. But then, in 1080, he deposed Henry, freed his subjects from their allegiance to him and declared that the kingship was conceded to Rudolf. However, Henry recovered, convened a Synod of bishops that declared Gregory deposed and then convened another Synod that elected an anti-pope, Wibert of Ravenna. In October, 1080, Rudolf died in battle. Then in 1083 Henry and Wibert marched on Rome. In 1084 Wibert was consecrated Pope Clement III and in turn crowned Henry as emperor. Gregory fled from Rome with his Norman allies and died in Salerno in 1085.
It looked as if Gregory had failed, but his ideas endured - as did the conflict between papacy and empire, which rumbled on for centuries. Both sides in the conflict adopted extreme positions, showing that the Orthodox understanding of the symphony of powers had been lost in the West. Thus Joseph Canning writes: “Consideration of the issues which the Investiture Contest raised concerning the relationship between temporal and spiritual power was not confined to Germany and Italy, but was evident in France from the 1090s and in England from the turn of the century. Indeed, the most radical treatment was contained in a tract produced in the Anglo-Norman lands. The writer, who was originally known to modern scholars as the Anonymous of York, but following the research of George H. Williams, is now commonly called the Norman Anonymous, produced in his work on the Continent, perhaps at Rouen in c. 1100. He expressed the traditional view that royal and sacerdotal powers were combined in Christ; but the author’s independence of mind was revealed in his development of his argument. He held that Christ was king by virtue of his divine nature and priest by that of his human, with the result that kingship was superior to priesthood within both Christ and his vicar, the king. Whereas, however, Christ was divine by nature, the king was God and Christ through grace, that is through unction: the king, therefore, had a dual personality – ‘in one by nature an individual man, in the other by grace a christus, that is a God-man’. The anointed king as the ‘figure and image of Christ and God (figura et imago Christi et Dei) reigned together with Christ. As a result, ‘It is clear that kings have the sacred power of ecclesiastical rule even over the priests of God themselves and dominion over them, so that they too may themselves rule holy church in piety and faith.’ The priesthood was subject to the king, as to Christ. The king could in consequence appoint and invest bishops. Behind the Anonymous’s statements lay the view that jurisdiction was superior to sacramental power, a notion common both to Gregorians and their royalist opponents. But he reversed the papalist position by denying governmental powers to the priesthood and reserving them solely to the king. He did not consider, incidentally, that the fact that bishops consecrated kings made them in any sense superior, because there were many examples of lesser powers elevating superior ones to office.
“Of all the issues treated in the publicistic literature of the Investiture Contest the crux was clearly whether the pope in fact had the authority to free subjects from their oaths of allegiance and depose kings. The papacy was here on its most insecure ground and its claims most shocking, indeed no less than a sign of contradiction to the presuppositions of lay society. Fundamental questions concerning obedience to authority and the justifiability of rebellion were at issue. Both sides accepted that kingship was an office in the tradition of the ideas of Gregory I and thus limited by its function; but whereas the Henricians followed that pope in leaving an errant king solely to God’s judgement, the followers of Gregory VII interpreted the notion of royal office as justifying human action to remove a ruler who was perceived to have failed in his duties; they thereby contributed further to the desacralisation of kingship. Their main focus was on the pope’s role in this respect. Manegold of Lautenbach, however, went further by saying that a king (a name not of nature, but of office), who was unjust or tyrannical had broken the pact (pactum) with his people by which he had been constituted, and that as a result of his severing the bond of faith his people were already freedom from its oath of allegiance…”
It can easily be seen how ideas like these could develop into a full-blown theory of popular sovereignty, and even into the theory of the social contract. Indeed, in the Investiture Contest we see in embryo the whole tragedy of the further revolutionary development of Western civilization.
When Pope Gregory was lying on his death-bed, an exile in Salerno, he said: "I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity," he said; "therefore I die in exile." But a monk who waited on him replied: "In exile thou canst not be, for God hath given thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession (Psalm 2.8). The papist claim to lordship over the whole world, including the heathen, was demonstrated especially during the Crusades, which were the manifestation to the outside, Orthodox Christian and Muslim worlds, of the mystery of iniquity that was taking place within the Western world. The West – especially England, Germany and Italy – had already felt the mailed fist of the Pope. Now it was the turn of the North, the South and the East.
First, the Pope’s vassals, the Normans, having conquered Sicily and Bari, invaded Greece; Emperor Alexis I only just succeeded in containing them with the help of English warrior-exiles.
Then, in 1085, King Alfonso VI of Castile-Leon captured the Muslim city of Toledo for the Pope; within a few years, his champion, the famous El Cid, had entered Valencia.
Most importantly, in 1095, at a synod in Clermont, Pope Urban II appealed to all Christians to free Jerusalem from the Saracens, and placed his own legate, a bishop, at the head of the Christian forces. Thus, as Roberts writes, “Urban II used the first crusade to become the diplomatic leader of Europe’s lay monarchs; they looked to Rome, not the empire.”
Urban saw the crusades as a “Christian” solution to problems thrown up by the new feudal, militaristic pattern of life in the West. He made it clear, writes Barbara Ehrenreich, “that a major purpose of the crusade was to deflect the knights’ predatory impulses away from Europe itself:
“’Oh race of the Franks, we learn that in some of your provinces no one can venture on the road by day or by night without injury or attack by highwaymen, and no one is secure even at home.’
“We know he is not talking about common, or lowborn, criminals because it emerges in the next sentence that the solution to this problem is a re-enactment of the ‘Truce of God’, meaning voluntary restraint on the part of the knights, whose energies are now to be directed outward towards the infidels:
“’Let all hatred depart from among you, all quarrels end, all wars cease. Start upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre to wrest that land from the wicked race and subject it to yourselves.’
“Militarily, the Crusades were largely a disaster for the Christians, but they did serve to cement the fusion of the cross and the sword. The church’s concept of the ‘just war’ had always been something of a grudging concession to reality. Here, though, was a war that was not only ‘just’ but necessary and holy in the eyes of God, Christendom’s first jihad. Those who participated in Europe’s internal wars were often required to do penance for the sin of killing; but participation in a crusade had the opposite effect, cleansing a man from prior sin and guaranteeing his admission to heaven. It was the Crusades, too, that led to the emergence of a new kind of warrior: the warrior-monk, pledged to lifelong chastity as well as to war. In the military monastic orders of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitalers, any lingering Christian hesitations about violence were dissolved. The way of the knight – or at least of the chaste and chivalrous knight – became every bit as holy as that of the cloistered monk.”
The first Crusade of 1098-99 was a watershed in relations between East and West. Although the proclaimed enemies of the Cross, the Muslims and Jews, were duly slaughtered en masse at the capture of Jerusalem, those who suffered most in the long-term were those who were supposed to be being liberated – the Orthodox Christians of the Orient. Latin kingdoms with Latin patriarchs were established over Orthodox populations in Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus and, most bloodily and shockingly, in Constantinople itself during the Fourth Crusade of 1204. In general, the thirteenth century represented a nadir for Orthodoxy and the zenith of Papism.
The Pope also encouraged crusades against the pagan Slavs and Balts of the Baltic Sea coast. As in the Mediterranean, these campaigns were marked by extreme militarism, an eye for commercial exploitation and anti-Orthodoxy. Thus Albert, Margrave of Brandenburg is described as having colonised the lands of the Slavic Wends in the mid-twelfth century as follows: “Because God gave plentiful aid and victory to our leader and the other princes, the Slavs have been everywhere crushed and driven out. A people strong and without number have come from the bounds of the ocean and taken possession of the territories of the Slavs. They have built cities and churches and have grown in riches beyond all estimation.”
Again, Bernard of Clairvaux said about the Wendish crusade of 1147: “We expressly forbid that for any reason whatsoever they should make a truce with those peoples, whether for money or for tribute, until such time as, with God’s help, either their religion or their nation be destroyed.” Both the religion and the nation were destroyed… For, as Bernard stressed in his In Praise of the New Knighthood, “the knight of Christ need fear no sin in killing the foe, he is a minister of God for the punishment of the wicked. In the death of a pagan a Christian is glorified, because Christ is glorified.” Even the Orthodox Russians were considered to be in need of this militaristic kind of conversion. Thus Bishop Matthew of Crakow wrote to Bernard in 1150, asking him to “exterminate the godless rites and customs of the Ruthenians [Russians]”.
A vivid witness to the destructiveness and anti-Orthodoxy of these Crusaders in the Baltic is provided by the city of Vineta on the Oder, whose under-sea remains are now being excavated by German archaeologists. Tony Paterson writes: “Medieval chroniclers such as Adam of Bremen, a German monk, referred to Vineta as ‘the biggest city in all of Europe’. He wrote: ‘It is filled with the wares of all the peoples of the north. Nothing desirable or rare is missing.’ He remarked that the city’s inhabitants, including Saxons, Slavs and ‘Greeks and Barbarians’ were so wealthy that its church bells were made of silver and mothers wiped their babies’ bottoms with bread rolls.… A century later, another German chronicler, Helmold von Bosau, referred to Vineta, but this time in the past tense. He said it had been destroyed: ‘A Danish king with a very big fleet of ships is said to have attacked and completely destroyed this most wealthy place. The remains are still there,’ he wrote in 1170.….Vineta was most likely inhabited by resident Slavs and Saxons as well as ‘Greeks and Barbarian’ merchants from Byzantium who plied a trade between the Baltic and the Black Sea via the rivers of western Russia. Dr. Goldmann said that the majority of Vineta’s estimated 20,000 to 30,000 population were probably Greek Orthodox Christians…’After the great schism of 1054, the Orthodox believers were regarded as threat by the Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. Vineta was almost certainly a victim of a campaign to crush the Orthodox faith,’ he said. Its demise is therefore likely to have occurred when the chronicler von Bosau said it did: towards the end of the 12th century when the Crusaders launched a never fully explained campaign in northern Europe…”
The crusades were rightly called “the Roman war” because they were waged by the Pope of Rome. Although the actual fighting was undertaken by emperors and kings, who sometimes displayed megalomaniac tendencies on a par with the Pope’s – as when Emperor Frederick Barbarossa once wrote to Saladin claiming, like the most powerful Roman emperors, to have dominion over the whole of the Middle East and Africa as far as Ethiopia!, - it was the Popes who propelled the crusaders eastward; and they frequently excommunicated rulers who were tardy in fulfilling their vows to take up the cross. Thus the crusades completed the transformation of the papacy from a spiritual power into a worldly, political and military one.
The Apotheosis of Papism: Innocent III
The climax of the Crusades was undoubtedly the Fourth Crusade of 1204, as a result of which Constantinople was sacked in a frenzy of barbarism, and a Latin emperor and patriarch were placed on the throne of Hagia Sophia. The pope at the time was Innocent III, probably the most powerful and imperialist pope in history. His imperialist claims had been obvious as early as his enthronement: “Take this tiara,” intoned the Archdeacon, “and know that thou art Father of princes and kings, ruler of the world, the vicar on earth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, whose honour and glory shall endure through all eternity.”
Nor did Innocent in private soften the force of these publicly proclaimed claims. For “we are the successor of the Prince of the Apostles,” he said, “but we are not his vicar, nor the vicar of any man or Apostle, but the vicar of Jesus Christ Himself before whom every knee shall bow.” But was it before Christ or the Pope that the Scripture said every knee shall bow? It made little difference to the papists. For by now the Pope had taken the place of Christ in the Roman Church.
Innocent invented an original doctrine, the “by reason of sin” (ratione peccati) theory, which enabled him to interfere in secular affairs, and make judgements in disputes between secular rulers where he judged sin to be involved. Whether or not sin was involved was in a given case was up to the Pope to decide; he was the expert on sin, though he was not yet acknowledged to be sinless himself. And since, as is generally acknowledged, sin is everywhere, Innocent intervened vigorously in every part of Christendom. In accordance with this teaching, Innocent intervened vigorously in the election of the German Holy Roman Emperors. Thus he chose Otto IV because he promised to do whatever he ordered him. So Otto was crowned “king of the Romans, elect by the grace of God and of the Pope”. But within a year he had excommunicated him…
Innocent was no less high-handed in his relations with the other monarchs of the West. Thus when King John of England disagreed with him over who should be archbishop of Canterbury, the pope, determined to break the king’s resistance, placed the whole kingdom under interdict for six years. He excommunicated John, deposed him from the throne and suggested to King Philip Augustus of France that he invade and conquer England!!! John appealed to papal mediation to save him from Philip. He received it, but at a price – full restitution of church funds and lands, perpetual infeudation of England and Ireland to the papacy, and the payment of an annual rent of a thousand marks. Only when all the money had been paid was the interdict lifted “and,” as De Rosa puts it acidly: “by kind permission of Pope Innocent III, Christ was able to enter England again”.
This enraged King Philip, however; for he was now ordered to abandon his preparations for war, in that he was not allowed to invade what was now, not English, but papal soil. Moreover, the abject surrender of John to the Pope, and the oath of fealty he made to him, aroused the fears of the English barons, whose demands led to the famous Magna Carta of 1215, which is commonly regarded as the beginning of modern western democracy. Thus the despotism of the Pope elicited the beginnings of parliamentary democracy….
Now Magna Carta was a limitation of royal, not papal power. Nevertheless, it affected the papacy, too, first because the kingdom of England was supposed to be a papal fief, but more importantly because it set a dangerous, revolutionary precedent which might be used against the Pope himself. And so Pope Innocent III “from the plenitude of his unlimited power” condemned the charter as “contrary to moral law”, “null and void of all validity for ever”, absolved the king from having to observe it and excommunicated “anyone who should continue to maintain such treasonable and iniquitous pretensions”.
But Archbishop Stephen Langton of Canterbury, reversing the fanatically papist position of his predecessor, Thomas Beckett, only 50 years earlier, refused to publish this sentence. And the reason he gave was very significant: “Natural law is binding on popes and princes and bishops alike: there is no escape from it. It is beyond the reach of the pope himself.” We shall return to this concept of natural law, which presented a challenge to the papacy’s claims of the greatest significance…
Innocent also intervened in France, when in 1209 he gave an expedition against the Cathar (Albigensian) heretics the legal status of a crusade. At Muret in 1213 the Catholic crusaders from northern France overcame the heretic Cathars of southern France and a terrible inquisition and bloodletting followed. They were accompanied and assisted by “Saint” Dominic, the real founder of the Inquisition. Indeed, according to Ehrenreich, “the crusades against the European heretics represented the ultimate fusion of church and military… In return for an offer of indulgences, northern French knights ‘flayed Provence [home of the Cathars], hanging, beheading, and burning ‘with unspeakable joy.’ When the city of Béziers was taken and the papal legate was asked how to distinguish between the Cathars and the regular Catholics, he gave the famous reply: 'Kill them all; God will know which are His…’”
This slaughter was legalised at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which declared it right and obligatory to kill heretics: “If a temporal Lord neglects to fulfil the demand of the Church that he shall purge his land of this contamination of heresy, he shall be excommunicated by the metropolitan and other bishops of the province. If he fails to make amends within a year, it shall be reported to the Supreme Pontiff, who shall pronounce his vassals absolved from fealty to him and offer his land to Catholics. The latter shall exterminate the heretics, possess the land without dispute and preserve it in the true faith… Catholics who assume the cross and devote themselves to the extermination of heretics shall enjoy the same indulgence and privilege as those who go to the Holy Land…”
The theological justification for the extermination of heretics was given some years later by Thomas Aquinas: “There is a sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be shut off from the world by death. For it is a much more serious matter to corrupt faith through which comes the soul’s life, than to forge money, through which temporal life is supported. Hence if forgers of money or other malefactors are straightway justly put to death by secular princes, with much more justice can heretics, immediately upon conviction, be not only excommunicated but also put to death.”
The Inquisition was officially founded by the Pope in 1233. The Dominicans were entrusted with the task of eradicating heresy, calling in the secular authorities if necessary. Only one verdict was possible: guilty. For according to the Libro Negro of the inquisitors, “if, notwithstanding all the means [of torture] employed, the unfortunate wretch still denies his guilt, he is to be considered as a victim of the devil: and, as such, deserves no compassion…: he is a son of perdition. Let him perish among the damned.”
The Inquisition became especially notorious in Spain, where, as “Llorente, Secretary to the Inquisition in Madrid from 1790 to 1792, estimated in his History of the Inquisition… up to his time thirty thousand had been put to death…. During the reign of Philip II, Bloody Mary’s Spanish husband, it is reckoned that the victims of the Inquisition exceeded by many thousands all the Christians who had suffered under the Roman emperors.” And yet Orthodox Spain before the schism in the eleventh century had already, according to Guizot, replaced “the oath of compurgatores, or the judicial combat” by “the proof by witnesses, and a rational investigation of the matter in question, such as might be expected in a civilised society.”
Truly, as de Rosa writes, “the Inquisition was not only evil compared with the twentieth century, it was evil compared with the tenth and eleventh century when torture was outlawed and men and women were guaranteed a fair trial. It was evil compared with the age of Diocletian, for no one was then tortured and killed in the name of Jesus crucified.”
The Fourth Lateran council, which assembled bishops and representatives of every power in Europe and the Mediterranean basin, represents the highwater mark of the papal despotism. For in it every decree of the Pope was passed without the slightest demurring or debate in accordance with Innocent’s word: “Every cleric must obey the Pope, even if he commands what is evil; for no one may judge the Pope…”
Five centuries later, the Roman Church was still preaching the same doctrine. Thus Cardinal Bellarmine, in his book De Romano Pontifice, wrote: “The Pope is the supreme judge in deciding questions of faith and morals…. If the Pope were to err by imposing sins and forbidding virtues, the Church would still have to consider sins as good and virtues as vices, or else she would sin against conscience.”
Thus did the Roman Church consciously and completely openly declare that truth is not truth, or goodness goodness – if the Pope so decrees. Later, during the Reformation, the Pope would be replaced by the People as the ultimate arbiter of truth and goodness. Thus both Catholics and Protestants denied the only “pillar and ground of the truth”, which is “the Church of the living God” (I Timothy 3.15) – the Orthodox Church.