...who can penetrate the ways and will of God, and why did each branch (Orthodox and Catholic) have to work out its separate way to salvation? Each accumulated its wisdom and knowledge according to the minds of different peoples; each became rich in a spirituality that goes deep into the nature of things, so that today both sides have stored great treasures, which, if joined together, may yet bring the world more peace and joy than we understand or can imagine.
(Princess Ileana of Romania: from "The Spirit of Orthodoxy)When I read these words in the post on "the Spirit of Orthodoxy", I immediately thought of the cathedral of Monreale, some miles out of Palermo in Sicily which is a glorious example of what happens when East and West collaborate. Built in the second half of the 12th Century, over a hundred years after the usual date for the schism, Norman stone masons, Sicilian and Byzantine artists, worked together in harmony to give us a wonderfully coherent vision of what the Faith is, and of a Latin-Orthodox common understanding on what a church ought to be like.
However, about fifty years later, the breath-takingly beautiful cathedral of Amiens was built. In the Byzantine style, the designers use icons to portray the union of heaven and earth brought about by the Incarnation and celebrated in the Mass; while,in Amiens, they used light to illustrate the same thing in a way that must have been extremely startling at the time the cathedral was built. Advances in technology allowed them to build huge windows; and this was accompanied by a theology of light that Orthodox commentators often say the West didn't have. The good news is the spiritual depth shown in this style: the bad news is that we now had an architectural style different from that of the Orthodox in a context where, to an ever growing extent, neither side would tolerate differences in the other.
What was the root cause of the split that turned even legitimate differences, even ones that had caused no problems in the first centuries, into divisive evidence of heresy? The Orthodox say it was papal power; but I believe papal power and the shape it took, and the hostility shown to it in the East, were a consequence of something else, not a cause.
I believe that the root cause, the cause behind all other causes, was what happened after the conversion of Constantine. As an introduction to the problem, listen to "Constantine without Eusebius" in which the American Orthodox historian and theologian, Richard Schneider, looks at the real Constantine behind the propaganda.
The Church elevated the newly converted Emperor and his successors to a role they could not fulfil and projected onto them a sanctity they did not have. This is what the Orthodox Information Centre says of the Byzantine emperors:
The ideology that had prevailed since Constantine (4th century) and Justinian I (6th century)—according to which there was to be only one universal Christian society, the oikoumene, led jointly by the empire and the church—was still the ideology of the Byzantine emperors. At the heart of the Christian polity of Byzantium was the Emperor, who was no ordinary ruler, but God's representative on earth. If Byzantium was an icon of the heavenly Jerusalem, then the earthly monarchy of the Emperor was an image or icon of the monarchy of God in heaven; in church people prostrated themselves before the icon of Christ, and in the palace before God's living icon - the Emperor. The labyrinthine palace, the Court with its elaborate ceremonial, the throne room where mechanical lions roared and musical birds sang: these things were designed to make clear the Emperor's status as vicegerent of God. 'By such means,' wrote the Emperor Constantine Vll Porphyrogenitus, 'we figure forth the harmonious movement of God the Creator around this universe, while the imperial power is preserved in proportion and order.'' The Emperor had a special place in the Church's worship: he could not of course celebrate the Eucharist, but he received communion within the sanctuary 'as priests do'- taking the consecrated bread in his hands and drinking from the chalice, instead of being given the sacrament in a spoon - and he also preached sermons and on certain feasts censed the altar. The vestments which Orthodox bishops now wear are the vestments once worn by the Emperor in church.This ideal of "only one universal Christian society, the oikoumene, led jointly by the empire and the church", had little relationship to world-wide political realities and was a recipe for schism.
Firstly, there were the "Assyrians" who belonged to the Persian Empire that was often at odds with Byzantium. They were not invited to the ecumenical council of Ephesus because the emperor only invited bishops within the Empire, but they were expected to accept the formula of that council, Greek words, when their own language was Aramaic, the language of Christ. On refusing to do so, they became Nestorian heretics.
Then there were those in Egypt and the part of Syria that was under the Byzantine yoke who wanted independence from Byzantium. Theology and politics were so mixed up that they became Monophysite heretics. After all, if the Council of Chalcedon was called and sustained by imperial authority, then why should churches that rejected that authority obey its decrees and change the language they normally used when talking about the Incarnation? Those who accepted the definition of Chalcedon were called "Melkites" or "king's men", a political title if ever there was one. Of course, if they had been westerners, they would have had no difficulty, because Pope St Leo and company believed the legitimacy of the council was based on papal authority derived from St Peter, even if the emperor helped the Church by summoning the bishops. Yes, the teaching of Pope St Leo on the papacy wasn't all that different from Vatican I.
The retreat from western Europe of the Roman army happened quite early on in the Christian empire and forms the context for the legend of King Arthur and the Round Table in Britain. While Justinian I (527 - 565) reconquered much of the Western Empire from the barbarians, and Rome itself was nominally under Byzantine authority for the next two hundred years, it was utterly beyond the resources of the Empire to fufil even the basic functions of the state. It could neither defend the borders, nor could it keep order within them. Western Europe descended into chaos. The only bastion against chaos was the Roman Church. Western Europe learned that it could not look to Byzantium for anything: the Byzantine solution to Church-State relations simply didn't work in the West. Thus the crowning of Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800, or something like it, was inevitable. However, even that failed to unite the various Christian nations under one banner; and separate Christian countries threatened to divide the Church. The Church responded by ever growing centralisation under St Peter.
The Orthodox could only hold on to the unrealistic myth of "one universal Christian society, the oikoumene, led jointly by the empire and the church" by calling in question the orthodoxy of western Catholicism, which they did with gusto: a recipe for schism.
I wish I could end there. I could look across the divide and exclaim, "It was all your fault"; but that would be unfair; and we have been unfair to each other for a thousand years. Let us look now at the damage done by the ghost of Constantine on the western, Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church did not reject the notion of a world-wide Christian society: the existence of such a society was believed in by both East and West; but it identified this world-wide Christian society with itself: the disunity and even chaos that reigned in western civil society made it impossible to look to the emperor or any other civil authority to hold it together; though the Frankish emperors wanted to claim such authority - what emperor, given the chance, wouldn't; which is why the emperors wanted the pope to make the "filioque" a necessary part of the Creed, to catch the Byzantine emperor on the wrong foot, turn him into a heretic, and thus forfeit his position as God's representative on earth. The Popes, however, without denying that the Church is the body of Christ centred on the Eucharist, increasingly saw the Church as the universal Christian society, held together by papal jurisdiction; and the popes became the "image or icon of the monarchy of God in heaven". Emperors, kings and peoples only belonged to that society by belonging to the Church and accepting the pope in this position: a recipe for schism, at least, when applied to the East.
However, it is difficult to see how the popes could have acted otherwise. There were times when the very existence of western Christian civilisation rested on their shoulders, while raising the standards of Christian life entailed a constant intervention. The Church was one, but the states were many, even after the crowning of Charlemagne; and they were often at war with one another. Worse, each local ruler saw himself as heir to the now defunct Roman Empire and wanted to exercise control over his part of the Church. Dioceses queued up to have their bishops appointed by Rome: anything was better than leaving the appointment to the local king or baron. Worldly bishops and monasteries used the chaos to escape their obligations.Papal authority had to transcend these divisions. This centralisation wasn't just the work of power-hungry popes. Some were power hungry, but some were saints: it was the only solution for Western Christianity. It was a battle between ordered Christian society and tribal chaos. There was no real alternative.
In the East, Christendom was made up of Church and State acting in harmony, which was all very well until Islam conquered Constantinople. Without an emperor, Orthodoxy lost the ability to act in a coordinated way, and, lacking any kind of centre, it eventually divided itself up into a number of regional patriarchates, some of which act towards each other as though they were sovereign states and jostle for position and influence in the Orthodox world. This is sometimes accompanied by a nationalism which borders on xenophobia. It is strange that a church which quite rightly accuses Catholicism of forgetting the strong dimension of eschatology in the Mass and in Christian life in general should have so mixed up Orthodoxy and Hellenism or Orthodoxy and Pan-Slavism. The Early Fathers, like the writer of the Letter to Diognetus, believed that, although Christians live on the earth, they are citizens of heaven; and they believed that such a strong connection between religion and nationality is a characteristic of the old pagan religions and is contradicted by Christianity.
Because there is no way that these "autocephalous" churches can coordinate, where there is immigration from various Orthodox countries to a place outside their canonical boundaries, there is a plethora of bishops, each caring for his own ethnic flock, each covering the same territory. This is recognised as a weakness in America, and efforts are being made to integrate the different ethnic churches into a single American church. Some even believe that the situation shows the need for some kind of universal primate.
There is no universal pattern of how an autocephalous church is organised because each has its own history which is reflected in the relationships between the component dioceses. In Greece, the dioceses are held together in a rather loose way, while the Russian Orthodox Church is highly centralised. Neither is there a universally accepted theology of primacy apart from "Orthodoxy is right and Rome is wrong."
In the West, where the Church was seen as a "universal Christian society" unified under the jurisdiction of the pope, this did not imply a denial of what we now call eucharistic ecclesiology. Indeed, St Peter Damian, one of the main architects of the reformed papacy, had a wonderful understanding of the Church which was was centred on the Eucharist. His concern was Church reform and the only practical way of bringing it about, through a reinforced papal authority.
Nevertheless, since Law fascinated people at that time, and lawyers were held in as high esteem as scientists nowadays, legalistic thinking gradually transformed almost all aspects of Christian understanding, so that the purpose of the Incarnation was to allow Christ to make adequate satisfaction on the Cross to the feudal Lord in the sky. Hell and Purgatory became two different classes of prison to which you were sent according to the gravity of sins committed. Other understandings of salvation were not denied, especially if they were in the Church Fathers; but they didn't speak to these generations with the same force, except in certain theologians and mystics. The prayer life of the Church was always much wider and deeper than the explanations of theologians.
In this climate, the western Church lost the distinction between authority as exercised by the state, an authority backed by force, and authority in the Church which is backed by a certain kind of ecclesial love. This love is the fruit of the Eucharist and is the concrete evidence of the Presence of the Holy Spirit. As St Ignatius of Antioch wrote: the Roman Church presides in love. The purpose of this presiding is to make the world-wide communion in love that springs from the Eucharist into a working force for the good of the world and for its own members. However, without ecclesial love, it ceases to function. Just as the Byzantine emperor lacked authority in the West because he lacked force, so papal authority and any other kind of church authority cannot function when ecclesial love is missing.
East and West ceased to recognise each other because they ceased to love one another. Only lack of love made it possible to look at one another and say, "I have no need of you." Each interpreted what it saw in the other from its own very different experience. The Orthodox saw pride in the papal claims, while the Catholic Church saw survival. The West saw in Orthodox rejection of papal claims, not Christian churches rejecting a power that was simply irrelevant to the very different needs of the Orthodox East, but the corrupt self-interest of the bishops and monasteries in the West who resisted the movement of very necessary reform coming out of Rome. Neither could see the other from its own point of view.
It was made worse by the enmity between the two empires. The Western Empire adopted as a weapon the "Filioque" clause, thus turning an awkward difference with which the two sides had managed to live over the centuries into a bone of contention. Succesive popes resisted pressure to put the "filioque" in the Creed, but eventually gave in when schism seemed certain and when he wanted help from the emperor. It was a thoroughly bad move; not a sign of papal strength but of papal weakness, and I believe that the "filioque" will have to be removed in any reunion, not for doctrinal reasons but for liturgical ones. In the Creed we celebrate our common faith. "Filioque" cannot be translated into Greek without distorting its meaning: it must go.
- What are the signs that we may have begun the long way back to reunion? There is the new context in which we live. We no longer live in two totally different kinds of society which cause us to become more and more different: the world has become a much smaller place, and people are sharing their lives across the globe.
- In this world we have a common enemy, secularism, which is becoming less and less tolerant all the time. Patriarch Kiril of Moscow has suggested that we leave our doctrinal differences to one side and concentrate on combining to bear witness to Christian Truth in a secular world and to work together in the re-evangelisation of Europe. Pope Benedict XVI was in agreement, and cooperation has already started. Only a little time back, Catholic and Orthodox joined together in Paris to do a campaign of street evangelisation to mark the Year of Faith. By cooperating together we will learn to trust and love each other; and by loving each other we will be eventually able to say the Creed together with one mind, as the Divine Liturgy tells us. How terrible would it be if the theologians were to come to an agreement before we come to love one another: such an agreement would only lead to more divisions. It has happened before.
- We now have an agreed model of the Church to form the context for our discussions on our agreements and differences. Both sides accept a eucharistic ecclesiology, an understanding of the Church based on a common understanding of the Eucharist, not in abstract, but as a concrete assembly. There is complete agreement on the Eucharist, and this agreement forms the basis for any future agreement on the nature of te Church. However, I know from the internet, that many Orthodox are either unaware of this agreement, or think it is more Orthodox to repeat the arguments from the past as though they still have validity. The good news is that they don't: scholarship has left such arguments like those over the epiclesis versus the words of institution far behind.
- We often now use the same words and mean the same thing. Thanks to the friendship between the exiled Russian theologians in Paris and their Catholic counterparts before and during Vatican II, Orthodox concepts like theosis and synergy have entered the mainstream of Catholic theology, and an exchange of ideas is becoming more and more common.
ROMA, April 12, 2006 – In Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome, Benedict XVI is celebrating his first Holy Week as pope. Meanwhile, in another ancient and grandiose basilica, that of Monreale in Sicily, the Paschal rites find a “guide” very close to him in point of view: Romano Guardini, the German theologian from whom the young Joseph Ratzinger learned the most in the area of liturgy.
Guardini visited the basilica of Monreale in 1929, and told the story in his “Voyage in Sicily.”
The present archbishop of Monreale, Cataldo Naro, took up the original German version of Guardini’s account, translated it, and provided it for the faithful within a pastoral letter with the title “Let Us Love Our Church.” It is like a guide for today’s liturgical celebrations.
In the text, the great German theologian wrote of all his amazement at the beauty of the Monreale basilica and the splendor of its mosaics.
But above all, he wrote of how impressed he was with the faithful who attended the rites, and their “living-in-the-gaze,” with the “compenetration” of these people and the figures in the mosaics, which draw life and movement from the assembly.
“It seemed to him,” archbishop Naro notes in his pastoral letter, “that those people celebrated the liturgy in an exemplary way: through vision.”
The basilica of Monreale, a masterpiece of twelfth century Norman art, has its walls completely covered with gold-enameled mosaics depicting the stories of the Old and New Testaments, angels and saints, prophets and apostles, bishops and kings, and the Christ “Pantocrator,” ruler of all, who from the apse enfolds the Christian people in his light, his gaze, his power.
Here follows a translation of Guardini’s account of his visit to Monreale, excerpted from his “Reise nach Sizilien [Voyage in Sicily]”.
The German original is in Romano Guardini, “Spiegel und Gleichnis. Bilder und Gedanken [Mirror and Parable: Images and Thoughts]”, Grünewald-Schöningh, Mainz-Paderbon, 1990, pp. 158-161.
“Then it became clear to me what the foundation of real liturgical piety is...”
by Romano Guardini
Today I saw something grandiose: Monreale. I am full of gratitude for its existence. The day was rainy. When we arrived there – it was Holy Thursday – the solemn Mass had proceeded beyond the consecration. For the blessing of the holy oils, the archbishop was seated beneath the triumphal arch of the choir. The ample space was crowded. Everywhere people were sitting in their places, silently watching.
What should I say about the splendor of this place? At first, the visitor’s glance sees a basilica of harmonious proportions. Then it perceives a movement within its structure, which is enriched with something new, a desire for transcendence that moves through it to the point of passing beyond it; but all of this culminates in that splendid luminosity.
So, a brief historical moment. It did not last long, but was supplanted by something else entirely. But this moment, although brief, was of an ineffable beauty.
There was gold all over the walls. Figures rose above figures, in all of the vaults and in all of the arches. They stood out from the golden background as though from a star-studded sky. Everywhere radiant colors were swimming in the gold.
Yet the light was attenuated. The gold slept, and all the colors slept. They could be seen there, waiting. And what their splendor would be like if it shone forth! Only here and there did a border gleam, and an aura of muted light trailed along the blue mantle of the figure of Christ in the apse.
When they brought the holy oils to the sanctuary, and the procession, accompanied by the insistent melody of an ancient hymn, wound through that throng of figures, the basilica sprang back to life.
Its forms began to move. Responding to the solemn procession and the movement of vestments and colors along the walls and through the arches, the spaces began to move. The spaces came forward to meet the listening ear and the eye rapt in contemplation.
The crowd sat and watched. The women were wearing veils. The colors of their garments and shawls were waiting for the sun to make them shine again. The men’s faces were distinguished and handsome. Almost no one was reading. All were living in the gaze, all engaged in contemplation.
Then it it became clear to me what the foundation of real liturgical piety is: the capacity to find the “sacred” within the image and its dynamism.
* * *
Monreale, Holy Saturday. When we arrived, the sacred ceremony had come to the blessing of the Paschal candle. Immediately afterward, the deacon solemnly advanced along the principal nave, bearing the Lumen Christi.
The Exultet was sung in front of the main altar. The bishop was seated to the right of the altar, on an elevated throne made of stone, where he sat listening. After the Exultet came the readings from the prophets, and I rediscovered the sublime significance of those mosaic images.
St Thomas of Canterbury
Then there was the blessing of the baptismal water in the middle of the church. All the assistants were seated around the font, with the bishop in the center and the people standing around them. The babies were brought forward – one could see the emotion and pride in their parents – and the bishop baptized them.
Everything was so familiar. The people’s conduct was simultaneously detached and devout, and when anyone spoke to another person standing nearby, it was not a disturbance. And so the sacred ceremony continued on its way. It moved through almost every part of that great church: now it took place in the choir, now in the nave, now under the triumphal arch. The spaciousness and majesty of the place embraced every movement and every figure, commingling them and uniting them together.
Every now and then a ray of sunlight pierced through the vault, and a golden smile spread across the space above. And anywhere a subdued color lay in wait on a vestment or veil, it was reawakened by the gold that spread to every corner, revealed in its true power and caught up in an harmonious and intricate design that filled the heart with happiness.
The most beautiful thing was the people. The women with their veils, the men with their cloaks around their shoulders. Everywhere could be seen distinguished faces and a serene bearing. Almost no one was reading, almost no one stooped over in private prayer. Everyone was watching.
The sacred ceremony lasted for more than four hours, but the participation was always lively. There are different means of prayerful participation. One is realized by listening, speaking, gesturing. But the other takes place through watching. The first way is a good one, and we northern Europeans know no other. But we have lost something that was still there at Monreale: the capacity for living-in-the-gaze, for resting in the act of seeing, for welcoming the sacred in the form and event, by contemplating them.
I was about to leave, when suddenly I found all of those eyes turned toward me. Almost frightened, I looked away, as if I were embarrassed at peering into those eyes that had been gazing upon the altar.