If it please God that I should die for unity under the earthly headship of St. Peter’s successor, so be it. I am ready to die for truth. — St. Josaphat of Polotsk
Submit to our Holy Father, or you will never save your soul. — St. Andrew Bobola
In Hell, the souls of the damned are tormented most by the thought: “For such a superfluous thing I am damned forever in this pit!” In the case of those who die separated from the One True Church of Jesus Christ, it is the thought: “If only I had submitted to the Holy Father, the Roman Pontiff, I would not be burning in Hell-fire forever!”
So what do these thoughts have to do with the subject of which I am writing?
I will tell you.
Fr. Adrian Fortescue, PhD. DD., states: “[The Eastern Schism] is not only the greatest, it is also the most superfluous evil in Christendom.” 1 This twofold evil is first the greatest , because it is one of the main reasons that Christian souls go to Hell, and it is the most superfluous because only a small concession has to be made by the Orthodox Schismatics to once again become part of the One True Church, and put themselves back on the road to salvation.
One of the main reasons that Christian souls go to Hell? Yes, sadly, because the Orthodox Schismatics, who are Christian, have renounced obedience to the Supreme Head of the Church — the Roman Pontiff. As such, because of this, there is no hope of forgiveness of sins, or of sanctifying grace received through the illicit use of the Catholic Church’s sacraments while remaining in such a schismatic communion.
If the Orthodox only knew the precarious position in which they find themselves as regards their final end!
It is my hope that if they knew the reasons for their separation from the One True Church, they would return to her. (Of course, this will only be the case with those of good will.) For this, I embark on the task of laying out before them the facts of the Eastern Schism. And may God grant them the grace to see how superfluous it is to remain separated from Holy Mother Church while they are still in via — that is, in this life.
Sister Catherine Clarke, M.I.C.M., writes: “The story of the Church is the story for the hearts and the minds of men. It is the story of the struggle of Peter against Caesar, of the Spirituality against the encroachments of the Temporality. It is, above all, the story of the conflict of the Blessed Virgin Mary against Lucifer, the Father of Lies, for the souls of men.” 2 The story of the Eastern Schism is no different, as it illustrates all too well the truth of Sister Catherine’s words. We know that the Church will win out in her struggle against the Temporality, but we also know that she lost a great battle in the East to the Father of Lies some one thousand years ago. The eastern part of the Church, with few exceptions, chose to follow Caesar rather than Peter, and so has separated itself from the one path of salvation for its subjects. 3
Caesar played a tremendous role in this tragedy, and in order for us to understand the roots of the Eastern Schism, we must understand how the Temporality in the guise of the Roman emperors effected this break. Let us start first with a discussion of how Caesar viewed himself in matters of religion.
Etymologically, Caesaro-Papism is the regime in which Caesar would be pope.
‘Before Christ’s coming there were some who were justly and rightly both kings and priests, such as Melchisedech, and Satan imitated this among unbelievers; therefore, pagan emperors were called pontifex maximus .’ Thus Pope St. Gelasius indicated the antecedents of Caesaro-Papism in the Roman Empire, once become Christian. On the one hand, Christians had never questioned even pagan imperial jurisdiction, citing St. Paul’s dictum that ‘all power is of God.’ They were prone to point out Old Testament customs of deference to kings, the anointed of God. On the other hand, the emperors were successors of such rulers as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, who claimed divine origins and united religious headship to secular. Even [as] Christian rulers [the Roman emperors] proved loathe to relinquish supreme arbitrament in the religious sphere… 4
‘You are the bishops of the things inside the Church,’ [the Roman Emperor] Constantine once told a gathering of bishops, ‘while I, being appointed by God over the things without, am bishop there.’ And while he bore always toward the bishops the greatest reverence, and while his realization of the powers given to them by Jesus Christ, which were theirs alone, never waned; this indication that the Church had a political role which constituted an external bishopric to be held by the Emperor, would, when developed by rulers who had none of Constantine’s greatness, bring endless trial and suffering upon the Holy Roman Pontiffs. 5
Constantinople — The New Rome
Of major significance in this story is the transferring of the temporal capital of the world from Rome to a small city in the eastern part of the Empire. It will set the stage for all the events that follow as regards the separation of the East from the Pope. We will see that the influence of Caesar in Church affairs will have a freer hand; his underling bishop will gain in prominence and influence throughout the whole of the Eastern empire; and the influence of the Vicar of Christ over his subjects in the East will decrease dramatically, and eventually cease altogether.
Constantine, Emperor of the Roman Empire, having issued the Edict of Milan in the year of our Lord 313, freed the Church of Jesus Christ from the catacombs. In doing so, he ended the general persecutions of the Bride of Christ. While yet a catechumen, and continuing to hold the title pontifex maximus , he removed the seat of the Empire from Rome to the old Greek city of Byzantium, on the Bosporus Sea. By doing so, he left the city which Saint Peter had chosen for the lasting site of the Holy See free from the domination of the Emperors and the stifling influences of the Imperial Court. 6
The Emperor made sure that New Rome would be very much like the Old Rome albeit without the paganism that existed as part of the history of Old Rome.
Father Simeon Vailhe, professor of Church History, describes this New Rome:
[The New Rome] was soon filled with sumptuous edifices like those of [the Old] Rome; like the latter it was situated on seven hills and divided into fourteen regions; in the matter of privileges also it was similar to Rome. Among the new public buildings were a senate house, forums, a capitol, circuses, porticoes, many churches (particularly that of the Holy Apostles, destined to be the burial-place of the emperors). The most beautiful statues of antiquity were gathered from various parts of the empire to adorn its public places. In general, the other cities of the Roman world were stripped to embellish the ‘New Rome’, destined henceforth to surpass them all in greatness and magnificence. 7
Also, to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople were brought the relics of St. Andrew, together with the bodies of the holy Evangelist St. Luke, and St. Paul’s disciple, St. Timothy. The significance of these translations of relics is found in the fact that since Old Rome had the relics of Saints Peter and Paul, the New Rome would have those of the elder brother of St. Peter and the disciple of St. Paul. 8
Fathers Mourret and Thompson state for us the obvious outcome of this event:
The political and religious consequences of the founding of Constantinople were incalculable. The transfer of the capital to the East had the effects of better detaching the imperial administration from paganism and of letting the pope more freely and evidently occupy the first place in the city of Rome. But ‘it had another consequence. The city of the emperor’s residence would powerfully attract the attention of the whole Empire. The bishop of that place, living near the sovereign and having frequent and close relations with him, would thereby enjoy a privileged position. The Christians of the whole Empire, especially those in the regions near the capital, would regard this bishop as an intermediary with the ruler. If the bishop were to encourage this view, would he not seek to extend his power over a large portion of the Church? In short, by creating a capital other than Rome, was not Constantine, even unwittingly, aiding the formation of a second religious center?’ 9
As regards this bishop in whose territory the Roman Emperor established his seat of power, what was his standing hierarchically in the Church? Was he the Patriarch of a large See or was he a bishop of a single diocese? Fr. Vailhe tells us that Christianity did not appear in Byzantium before the end of the second or the beginning of the third century. He goes on to inform us that “the first historically known Bishop of Byzantium was St. Metrophanes (306-314), though the see had perhaps been occupied during the third century. It was at first subject to the metropolitan authority of Heraclea, and remained so, at least canonically, until 381…” 10 A simple bishopric then, and now with the presence of the Roman Emperor and the Royal Court in his diocese, a transformation in the local church will begin to take place. Let us next examine the events of this transformation and what it meant for the Catholic Church in the eastern part of Christendom.
The Three Major Centers of Christianity
Some groundwork must be laid here in order that we may better understand how the Roman Emperor and the bishop of “New Rome” began to change the ecclesiastical map, so to speak, of the Church forever. Up to the time of the transferal of the seat of temporal power to Byzantium there were three major centers of ecclesiastical authority in the Church — Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, in the order of precedence.
Commenting on this threefold hierarchy, the Abbé Joseph-Epiphane Darras, Church historian, states:
We must remember that St. Peter himself founded the Church of Antioch, the capital of the East; the Church of Alexandria, capital of Egypt, by his disciple St. Mark; and lastly, by a residence of twenty-five years, the Church of Rome, the capital of the universe; here, by his death, he fixed the seat of his power. 11
Pope St. Gregory the Great stated:
Though there were several Apostles, yet only one of them, whose place is in three different churches, could give to these a paramount influence over all other churches. St. Peter gave the first rank to the see in which he deigned to fix his authority, and to close his mortal career. It is he who illustrated the see to which he sent his disciple, the evangelist; it is he again who established the see of Antioch, in which he sat for seven years, so that they form but one and the same see. 12
Pope St. Leo I, (the Great) in 451, added:
The three patriarchs occupy one and the same apostolic chair, because all three have succeeded to the see of Peter and to his Church, founded by Jesus Christ, in unity, and to which he gave one single head to preside over three principal sees in the three patriarchal cities, that the indissoluble union of the three sees might bind the other churches more closely to the divinely constituted head. 13
Now, the Emperor of the Roman Empire, with his underling bishop in tow, will proceed to change this order of things, and within fifty years of the Emperor’s residency in Constantinople, the bishop there would claim second place amongst the rulers of the Church!
330 AD to 381 AD
In this period of time, Fr. Vailhe writes, the bishopric of Constantinople attracted ambitious and unscrupulous individuals, and through them the imperial will caused great upheaval:
In 339 Eusebius, and in 360 Eudoxius, quitted the great Sees of Nicomedia and Antioch for what was yet, canonically, a simple bishopric. Both the city and its inhabitants suffered much during the Arian controversies; the Arian heretics held possession of the Church for forty years. 14
Occurring also in this fifty year period of time, were the banishments and exiles, by the Emperor, of Pope Liberius, St. Athanasius, and St. Cyril of Jerusalem. There was the installation of the anti-pope Felix in Rome for a short period. Several heretical councils were held at this time as well: the Arian councils of Caesarea, Antioch, Ancyra, and three councils of Sirmium; there was the Council of Rimini, the Council of Seleucia, and an Arian Council of Constantinople, all under the authority of the Arian Roman Emperor — Constantius — and all without the sanction of the Holy Roman Pontiffs.
[It was] in the midst of this general conflagration of minds, whilst most of the legitimate bishops were lingering out a life of exile, and intruded heretics held their sees; when, to use the energetic expression of St. Jerome, ‘the whole world seemed to have waked up Arian,’ Constantius gave his whole attention to the multiplication of formulas of faith, to the assembling of councils [see above]; and spent his time in constructing Arian theology in the midst of his courtier bishops. God alone could now save His Church from the peril into which it had been precipitated by the Emperor and the Greek bishops, who seemed to look to the court of Constantinople for their dogmatic definitions. 15
The First Council of Constantinople (381)
In 381, the Emperor convoked a General Council of the Catholic Church in Constantinople with the approval of Pope St. Damasus I. Under the presidency of the Emperor’s pliant prelate, Nectarius, this council passed some jurisdictional canons which pertained to the authority of the Church and Constantinople’s place in it.
The most celebrated of all these canons is the third, which ascribed to the Patriarch of Constantinople the precedence, after the Roman pontiff, for the reason that Constantinople was the new Rome. It was on this ground that the patriarchs of Constantinople subsequently based their claim of jurisdiction over all the churches of Asia, and took to themselves the pompous title of ecumenical patriarchs of the East. This canon of the General Council of Constantinople never received the approbation of the See of Rome. 16
However, Constantinople, under the Roman Emperor, had become, by that time, the de facto center of Church authority in the East, with or without the approbation of the Holy See. It had been accomplished by Imperial fiat.
The Council of Chalcedon (451)
Seventy years later, in a city near Constantinople, the 4th Ecumenical Council was held. The Patriarch of Constantinople again attempted to broach the subject of Constantinople’s claim to second place among the churches. Abbe Darras gives us the details:
The only dissonance which affected the harmony existing between the Papal Legates and the Fathers of the Council of Chalcedon, arose from an attempt of Anatolius [bishop of Constantinople]. The besetting ambition of the patriarchs of Constantinople had ever been to raise their see to the second place in the Church, and to make it first after that of Rome. Anatolius thought this a favorable moment to renew the attempt; the service he had done the Catholic cause, the zeal displayed by him against the Eutychian heresy, the letters of communion, so lately received from the Sovereign Pontiff, all inspired the most sanguine hope of success. The 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon was then drawn up to that effect; but the legates loudly protested against the innovation. ‘The holy and Apostolic Pontiff,’ said they, ‘gave us these amongst his other instructions: Should any prelate, looking too much to the splendor of his city, wish to arrogate to himself any prerogative whatever, oppose the attempt with all becoming firmness.’ The legates supported this noble sentiment, by reading the sixth canon of the Nicene Council, where the question had… already been decided. The close of the council was not delayed by the debate thus left pending. The bishops separated, with the hope that their harmony and pious efforts had secured long years of peace to the Church. They had sent the acts of the council, with a synodal letter, to the pope. They begged him especially to confirm ‘by his Apostolic authority’, the privilege they had deemed it right to grant to the See of Constantinople. Anatolius urged the same petition in private letters. St. Leo stood out firmly against this claim. 17
Pope St. Leo I, in his letter to the Council of Chalcedon, declared that the 3rd canon of Constantinople had been, from the first, utterly nullified; and he also refused to confirm the 28th canon of Chalcedon. He then summed up the apostolic tradition touching the rank of the patriarchs in this invariable rule:
The See of Alexandria shall lose nothing of the dignity it derives from St. Mark, the disciple of St. Peter; the Church of Antioch, birth-place of the name of Christian, by the preaching of the same apostle, shall keep the rank assigned it by the regulation of our fathers; let it never lose its place as third in order. 18
Undaunted by these strong words from the Vicar of Christ, the Eastern Emperors and their court bishops continued in an unceasing manner to arrogate to themselves more and more ecclesiastical prerogatives. Fr. Vailhe tallies up this gradual usurpation of power by the bishops of Constantinople:
From the council of 381 may be said to date the ecclesiastical fortunes of Constantinople. Its bishop began thenceforth to claim and to exercise ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the six provinces of Thrace, hitherto subject to Heraclea, and soon over the twenty-two provinces of Asia Minor and Pontus, originally subject to Ephesus and Cæsarea. These rights of supremacy, though usurped, were acknowledged by the twenty-eighth canon of the Council of Chalcedon (451), from which time the bishops of Constantinople ruled over about 420 dioceses. In 431 began an almost continuous conflict with the Roman Church, that was crowned with success in 733, when an Iconoclast emperor withdrew from the jurisdiction of Rome all ecclesiastical Illyricum, i.e., more than a hundred dioceses. About the end of the ninth century, when Photius broke with the Roman Church, his own patriarchate included 624 dioceses (51 metropolitan sees, 51 exempt archbishoprics, and 522 suffragan bishoprics). At that time the Roman Church certainly did not govern so great a number of sees. At this period, moreover, by its missionaries and its political influence, Constantinople attracted to Christianity the Slav nations, Serbs, Russians, Moravians, and Bulgars, and obtained in these northern lands a strong support against the Roman and Frankish West. 19
This power struggle between the Roman Emperor and the Pope had its theological consequences as well. On several occasions, in the five hundred years following the reign of Constantine the Great, Constantinople left the Church due to schism and heresy. Fr. Vailhe again comments:
When Photius (d. 891) began the schism consummated by Michael Cærularius in 1054, the Byzantine Church had, since the death of Emperor Constantine in 337, been formally out of communion with the Roman Church during 248 years (55 years on account of Arianism, 11 on account of the condemnation of St. John Chrysostom, 35 on account of Zeno’s Henoticon, 41 on account of Monothelism, 90 on account of Iconoclasm, 16 on account of the adulterous marriage of Constantine VI). On the whole, therefore, Constantinople had been out of communion with the Apostolic See one out of every two years. During this period nineteen patriarchs of Constantinople were open heretics, some of them quite famous, e.g., Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eudoxius, Macedonius, Nestorius, Acacius, Sergius, Pyrrhus. 20
Ill treatment towards the person of the Roman Pontiff became more audacious as time passed and relations between Rome and the Emperor deteriorated.
In 654, Pope St. Martin I, because he would not bend to the will of the Monothelite Emperor Constans II and his heresy, was captured by the Emperor, and taken to Constantinople where he was horribly tortured and eventually starved to death! 21
In 692, the Emperor Justinian II, assembled a false council in Carthage, known as the council in Trullo, or council of the dome, as it was held in the hall of the dome at the imperial palace. The pretext under which the council met was that neither the fifth nor the sixth General Councils of the Church (Constantinople II and III) had published canons of discipline, so this “Quinisext” (literally, “fifth-sixth”) council would supply what was wanting in these two ecumenical councils! The Abbe Darras picks up the narrative:
The bishops gathered together by the emperor’s order, showed a most disgraceful slavishness, leaving the spiritual authority utterly at the discretion of the temporal power. Priests were allowed to marry, in contempt of every canonical law, whether of the Eastern or Western Church…. The one hundred and two canons drawn up by this assembly, which pompously styled itself an ecumenical council , but was more properly called by Venerable Bede the erratic council , were sent to the Sovereign Pontiff — St. Sergius I — for his approval, which was refused. 22
Whereby Justinian II ordered his armor-bearer Zachary to seize the Pope and bring him to Constantinople. This time however, Rome came to the defense of their pastor, and Zachary was forced to flee for his life. 23
The Photian Schism
Catholic historian Abbe Darras introduces us to this final phase of the Eastern Schism:
It is worth observing that the Eastern schism, like most of the great heresies which have desolated the Church, had its root in the corrupt heart of an adulterous Caesar striving to stifle the rebuking voice of a worthy ambassador of Christ, and found a minister in the unprincipled infidelity of an ambitious courtier. The seeds of schism had been sown in Constantinople, in the second general council, in 381. But it was reserved to Photius to give the final expression to the separation, and to bring it forth with all its political and religious perils. He tore the branch from the trunk, and the branch withered away, because it had not the life-stream which could come but from the great heart in Rome. He established a Greek Church , whereas Jesus Christ founded but the one Catholic Church , whose see St. Peter fixed at Rome. In division is death; in union is life and power. 24
In AD 857, for excommunicating Bardas (the uncle of Emperor Michael III) who had put aside his wife and married his daughter-in-law, St. Ignatius, Patriarch of Constantinople was banished to the island of Terebintha, and the see of Constantinople became “vacant”. Emperor Michael and his uncle Bardas had just the man they wanted to place into power — the eunuch Photius.
Poet, mathematician, orator, grammarian, jurist, theologian, and statesman, Photius possessed at once the most refined intellect and the most perverse heart of his age; the most vast and cultivated, the boldest and most artful mind. His nobility of birth was heightened by alliance with the imperial family, and illustrated by his two distinguished offices of master of the horse and of chief secretary, and by a celebrated mission to Syria. His was the power of wealth, of credit, of facility in making partisans, of giving plausibility to his guilty projects, and of even deceiving men of true worth. Religion, which he always regarded as a jest, had every thing to fear from an enemy of such a character. 25
And so, “in contempt of all canonical rule, and without even the form of an election, he was consecrated by the bishop of Syracuse, and on Christmas Day, AD 857, the future author of the great Eastern schism ascended the Patriarchal throne of Constantinople.” 26
Two years later, in order to investigate the irregularity of such an event, Pope St. Nicholas I sent two bishops to Constantinople to make juridical inquiries. Upon their arrival, the papal legates were surprised to find a council in session with 318 bishops in attendance. The purpose of the council? To formally depose the holy Patriarch St. Ignatius! Abbe Darras describes the events:
Ignatius was brought into the assembly and stripped of his pontifical vestments. As each part of his dress was successively removed, the guilty legates [the papal legates had been blinded to the true state of the case by Photius upon their arrival] joined their voices to those of all the Greek bishops, to utter the Greek formula of degradation: Anaxioz [he is unworthy]! But even Photius, conscious of the glaring irregularity of this proceeding, sought to obtain a formal resignation from Ignatius. The Patriarch resolutely refused to give it, and was imprisoned in the empty tomb of Copronymus, whose ashes Michael III had scattered to the winds. Here he was subjected to the most frightful torture. Overcome by suffering and hunger, stretched almost lifeless upon the imperial sarcophagus, the Patriarch was visited by a man whose features were hidden behind a mask, and who overwhelmed him with blows; then guiding the victim’s nerveless hand, into which a pen had been forcibly thrust, he traced with it a cross upon a blank parchment, and took it to Photius, who wrote these words above the martyr’s sign: ‘I, Ignatius, unworthy Patriarch of Constantinople, confess that I assumed the episcopal dignity without regular election, and that I have tyrannically governed the Church entrusted to my care.’ Photius read the false instrument to the people, and then gave a copy of it to the legates, who were to present it to Pope St. Nicholas. 27
The papal legates, along with an ambassador from Michael III returned to Rome bearing letters from the Emperor and his false Patriarch. Pope St. Nicholas saw through the deception of the reports he received from his legates, and he wrote at once to the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, and to all the Eastern metropolitans, forbidding them to hold communion with the intruder Photius. Pope Nicholas proceeded to depose the two bishops who had betrayed their trust and then they were excommunicated. The false council of Constantinople was solemnly annulled, and placed on a level with the robber council of Ephesus. 28 Pope St. Nicholas then proceeded to depose and excommunicate Photius:
Photius has dared, during the lifetime of our venerable brother Ignatius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to usurp his see, and has entered the sheepfold like a robber; he has, in contempt of all law and justice, caused the condemnation and deposition of Ignatius by a cabal; he has violated the law of nations to corrupt the legates of the Holy See, obliging them not only to infringe, but even to oppose, our orders; he ceases not to persecute the Church, and to inflict barbarous outrages upon our brother Ignatius. Wherefore, by the authority of Almighty God, of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, Photius is hereby deprived of all priestly honor. As to our brother Ignatius, driven from his see by the violence of the emperor and the prevarication of our legates, we declare, in the name of Jesus Christ, that he has never incurred either deposition or anathema, and we maintain him in his episcopal dignity and functions. 29
Unbending in the face of this act of apostolic vigor, Photius forged a letter by which the Pope approved [!!] fully of his ordination and of the false council of 859. However, the truth became known to the public and a great indignation arose among the people. Bardas [remember him?] instituted an inquiry and one of Photius’ minor accomplices in the affair, an unknown monk, was made the scapegoat and publicly scourged. Later, this monk was given an office in the magistracy of Constantinople by Photius himself! 30
Photius continued in his insolence by summoning a new council in the church of St. Sophia and there in the year 866, he pronounced a sentence of deposition and excommunication against Pope St. Nicholas I and his adherents.
The Emperor Michael III, all the senators of Constantinople, three legates in the East, magistrates, generals, and more than a thousand bishops and priests signed the act of deposition, which was then sent to the Pope himself, to all the Churches of Asia, and to the Bulgarians, whom Nicholas had lately received into the fold. Photius followed up this sacrilegious act by a circular declaring that the Greek Church is the first and only true Church; that it must thenceforth remain separated from the Church of Rome, ‘which has corrupted the primitive purity of the faith.’ He then spoke thus of the Latins: ‘Men have come forth from the darkness of the West to alter the sacred traditional heritage of our fathers. Wandering wide from the way of truth, and plunging into the impious errors of Manes, they take upon themselves to condemn the Divine institution of marriage, and make it a crime in their priests. Secret disorders and hidden immorality naturally follow such a measure. They have crowned their impiety by the addition of new words to the sacred symbol of our faith, declaring that the Holy Ghost does not proceed from the Father only, but likewise from the Son. They also admit two principles in the Trinity, and confound the properties of the Divine Persons.’ 31
Photius then applied the name of “ministers of Antichrist” to Catholic priests. Because Pope St. Nicholas had excommunicated him, many of the faithful in Constantinople refused to communicate with him. Photius punished these Catholics with sentences typically imposed upon rebels and traitors. Catholic bishops who opposed him were deposed and banished to distant lands. Photius even attempted to have the Empress Ingelberga persuade her husband, the Holy Roman Emperor in the West, Louis I to drive Pope St. Nicholas from Rome since he had been “deposed” by an ecumenical council! 32
Fortunes quickly changed for Photius however, when the character Basil the Macedonian came on the scene. During this time period, Basil had supplanted Caesar Bardas as Emperor Michael’s closest advisor; he eventually murdered Bardas (March 28, 866) and then murdered Emperor Michael (Sept. 24, 867), and finally seized the throne of the Empire. 33
Two days after acceding to the throne, Basil removed Photius from the See of Constantinople (calling him a disturber of the peace) and reinstated St. Ignatius of Constantinople as bishop. This occurred on November 23, 867.
Directly after this event, Emperor Basil sent ambassadors to Rome to notify Pope St. Nicholas. However, by the time they reached the Holy See, Pope St. Nicholas had died and Pope Adrian II had been elected. The new pontiff was immensely pleased and he dispatched three legates to Constantinople — Donatus, bishop of Ostria; Stephen, bishop of Nepi; and Marinus, one of the seven deacons of the Roman Church. With them Pope Adrian sent the message to Basil:
Heartfelt and sincere is the joy of the West at the expulsion of Photius by an act of your impartial justice. For the measures to be taken concerning the other schismatics, our legates will confer with our venerable brother Ignatius. We are disposed to use the greatest possible indulgences toward them all save Photius, whose consecration must be wholly rejected. We approve the convocation of a general council, over which our legates will preside, for the final judgment of the guilty, the annulment of the false council of 866, which outraged the dignity of the Holy See, and to sign the decrees of the Council of Rome against Photius. 34
Upon the arrival of the legates in Constantinople, Basil greeted them with the following:
The Church of Constantinople, rent by the ambition of Photius, has already experienced the unerring guidance and fatherly affection of Pope Nicholas. Since his death we have been awaiting, with all the Patriarchs of the East, the judgment of the Roman Church, our mother. We beg you to restore immediate order and harmony among us. 35
Constantinople IV — The Eighth Ecumenical Council of the Church
The 8th general council of the Catholic Church opened on October 5, 869, and was attended by 109 council Fathers. The papal legates took the place of honor. Beside them sat St. Ignatius, newly reinstated bishop of Constantinople; and next to him sat the Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem, with a place held for the Patriarch of Alexandria.
Those bishops who had been exiled and tortured under the reign of Michael III were reinstated. Along with these, and after making the following abjuration: “We have had the weakness to yield to the violence and threats of the schismatics. With contrite and humble hearts we have recourse to your clemency, ready to perform whatever penance may be imposed upon us by the holy Patriarch,” those bishops and clerics who had communicated with Photius in spite of the Holy See were also received back into the Church.
The council proceeded to excommunicate those rebellious prelates who would not renounce their schismatic positions. Photius himself was brought before the council. Abbe Darras narrates:
‘Is this the man,’ asked the legates, ‘who for seven years has unceasingly outraged the Roman Church; who has rent the Church of Constantinople, and filled the East with the fruits of his madness and revenge?’ Photius seemed another man. He was no longer the artful and eloquent sophist whose words were clothed with such alluring charms; he had assumed another character, and now played the part of injured innocence. To all the questions of the Roman legates he made but two replies: ‘The God who guards the innocent hears me without the help of words.’ When told that his silence would not save him from condemnation, he only answered: ‘The very silence of Jesus Christ was also condemned.’ A delay was granted him to prepare whatever defence he might wish to present. He was again brought before the council at its next session. Again he had changed his character and action. Feigning weakness, he leaned upon a long and curved staff, somewhat like the crosier used by Eastern bishops. He was made to lay aside the significant emblem, an insult to the august assemblage. He then began a crafty speech full of recriminations against the Holy See. ‘In what is contrary to reason and the canons,’ said he, ‘though the messenger come from Rome or Jerusalem, or were he even an angel from heaven, I obey not!’ ‘When schism or heresy,’ said the Fathers, ‘have rent the bosom of the Church, is not safety always sought in adherence to the Roman See and to the other Patriarchates? Today the united voices of Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria condemn you; what authority can you bring in your defence?’ ‘That of the canons,’ replied the schismatic; ‘they are my rule and my judges!’ In presence of such obstinacy, there was nothing left but to pronounce the sentence. The legates spoke: ‘We utter no new judgment; we but promulgate that which was long ago pronounced by the holy Pontiff Nicholas, since confirmed by Pope Adrian. We cannot deviate from their paternal decision. Tell us whether you approve this sentiment; for it is that of the holy Apostolic See which we represent. Should you not confirm it, we shall rise, as upon a lofty mountain, above the council, and publish with all our power the sentence already pronounced, with the grace of the Holy Ghost, by the voice of our holy Fathers Nicholas and Adrian.’ All the Fathers assented. 36
Following upon this condemnation, 27 canons were promulgated in regard to Photius. It was declared that Photius was never really a bishop; that the ordinations conferred by him were null, as well as all the acts performed by him during his intrusion. He and his partisans were excommunicated. The primacy of the Roman See, the independence of the spiritual power, and the freedom of councils, were recognized and proclaimed. The acts of the false council of 866 were committed to the flames along with all the false and schismatical writings of Photius. 37
While this council temporarily healed the relations between the East and Rome, the schismatic seed had been sown in the East, and it would be but a short time till it would blossom forth anew with the restoration of Photius to the episcopal see of Constantinople upon the death of St. Ignatius. Emperor Basil the Macedonian, fooled by the wiles of this man, reinstated Photius eight years later in AD 878!
Pope John VIII, now in the 6th year of his pontificate, was faced with a “cruel perplexity.” The Saracens had mounted a great invasion and were devastating Italy with their attacks. Pope John appealed to the Western rulers for help but to no avail. He then sent delegates to Emperor Basil to plea for help in fighting back this latest threat from Mohammedanism. Basil responded with the bargain that the Pope approve of Photius’ nomination to the See of Constantinople.
Pope John VIII wrote the following to Basil:
You ask that, opening our heart to the call of mercy, we should, by our Apostolical authority, consent to the restoration of Photius to the honors and dignity of the Patriarchate. In order to conform to your petition, to heal the division and scandal existing in the Church, now so long harassed, and yielding to stern necessity, we consent to grant the pardon of Photius and his restoration to the Apostolic Constitutions, without annulling the regulations of the holy Fathers, and upon this principle alone, that there are occasions in which we must yield to the force of circumstances and act contrary to the ordinary traditions of the Church. We therefore absolve Photius from the ecclesiastical censures laid upon him; we allow him to resume the Patriarchal See, in virtue of the supreme authority granted us in the person of the Prince of the Apostles, by Jesus our Lord, Who said to St. Peter, ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.’ Yet we give our consent under four conditions: 1st, That, on the death of Photius, his place shall not be filled by a layman. 2nd, That the Patriarch claim no jurisdiction whatever of the province of Bulgaria. 3rd, That the bishops and clerics ordained by Ignatius shall all hold their present rank and positions, and suffer no persecution. 4th, That Photius convoke a council to receive the disavowal of his past conduct. 38
Condition #4 was too much for the pride of Photius to bear, and he would elude it in his usual way.
He took upon himself to translate the Pope’s letters into Greek; and in the translation purposely omitted the pontifical reservation concerning the acknowledgment of his faults, the relinquishment of all claims upon Bulgaria, and the plea of pressing necessity which alone could have relaxed the strictness of ecclesiastical discipline in his regard. He even inserted the expression, which the Pope had never used, that the general council of 869 had been guilty of injustice in deposing Photius, and that all its acts were annulled. 39
Unfortunately, the papal legates, still in Constantinople, did not speak up as these lies were publicly made known. They neither complained of this dishonor nor protested against the shameful expressions ascribed to the Vicar of Jesus Christ! The legates returned to Rome and informed the Pope that “peace was at length restored and consolidated for ever in the Church of Constantinople.” 40
However, Pope John VIII had received a full report of the intrigues of Photius and the faithlessness of his legates. Acting against this situation,
he ascended the ambo of St. Peter’s church, and in the presence of the assembled clergy and faithful of Rome, and holding the book of Gospels, Pope John VIII renewed the anathemas uttered against Photius by Nicholas I, Adrian II, and the 8th general council; and afterwards fulminated a sentence of excommunication against the cowardly legates who had so basely betrayed their trust. 41
Pope John VIII then sent the deacon Marinus, the future Roman Pontiff, to inform the Emperor Basil of the sentence just promulgated. Marinus publicly appeared in St. Sophia’s church in Constantinople and announced the annulment of all that had been done in favor of Photius. Basil had him thrown into a dungeon, but Marinus escaped and went back to Rome. In AD 882, Pope John VIII died, and Marinus was elected pope.
Against the protestations of the Emperor Basil and his false Patriarch, Pope Marinus I was consecrated Pontiff of the Universal Church on December 23, 882. One of his first acts as Pope was to renew the excommunication of Photius. Also, he issued a decree declaring that henceforth, the orders of the Eastern emperors should not be awaited for the Pope’s consecration.
The next pontiff Adrian III confirmed his predecessor’s censures against Photius.
Photius then decided to take revenge upon the Roman Church by calumniating the faith of the Latins in respect to the Filioque and the procession of the Holy Ghost. He published a pamphlet which claimed to prove by texts of Holy Writ and quotations from the Fathers, that the Holy Ghost does not proceed from the Son. This pamphlet was addressed to Adrian III and it was accompanied by an insulting letter from Basil. However, Adrian III had died after a pontificate of only 16 months. Pope Stephen VI received the dispatches and replied accordingly:
If God has bestowed upon you the government of the political and civil world, He has entrusted to Peter and his successors the government of the religious and moral world. You accuse the Apostolic See of breaking off all relations with the Church of Constantinople. Where is the head of that Church, that the Sovereign Pontiffs may communicate with him? You have no Patriarch. We cannot hold official communication with Photius, a mere layman. 42
Photius’ career of intrigue and deceit came to an end when his protector, the Emperor Basil the Macedonian died in AD 886. Basil’s son, Leo VI immediately had two of his officers publish, in the ambo of the church of St. Sophia, a detailed account of the schismatical usurper’s intrigues, and the sentences of excommunication pronounced against him by the Roman Pontiffs. Photius was then banished from Constantinople never to return. The Eastern schism was crushed, again temporarily.
The Abbe Darras comments on the works of Photius:
Photius was, unquestionably, one of the best writers of his day. The chief works we have from him are: 1st, his Bibliotheca , an analysis of the various works read by him in the course of his Syrian embassy…. 2nd, The Nomocanon , or Harmony of the laws and canons, a collection of the acts of all the councils, from the apostolic days to the seventh general council, compared in their relation to the imperial decrees. 3rd, Syntagma Canonum , or classification of the canons under fourteen titles. The original of this work was first brought to light and published by H.E. Cardinal Mai, in the seventh volume of his Spicilegium Romanum . It is a remarkable feature of the last two works, that they contain not a single word in favor of the schism. Photius quotes, entire and without gloss, the canons establishing the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff and the right of appeal to the Pope. In this respect the writer and the private individual seem to have nothing in common. Impartiality and love of truth, banished from his heart, had made their seat in his intellect; his pen proclaims the uprightness and honesty which were wanting in his character and his deeds. 43
One hundred and fifty years later, the See of Constantinople went into schism for the final time, never to be fully healed by a return of the hearts and minds of many in the East to the Church that Jesus Christ founded upon the Earth for the salvation of souls.
On March 25, 1043, Michael Cerularius was promoted to the Patriarchate of Constantinople by the Emperor Constantine Monomachus; Pope St. Leo IX was elected to the Holy See in 1049.
In 1052, Michael closed the Latin churches in Constantinople and ordered all clerics of the Latin rite to adopt the Greek liturgical observances. He encouraged attacks on the Latin practices by the Studite monks, and he seems to have condoned Chancellor Nicephorus who burst open Latin tabernacles and trampled on the hosts! 44
In 1053, Michael Cerularius inspired the metropolitan of Achrida in Bulgaria to denounce Latin customs to “all the bishops of the Franks and the most reverend pope.” The Bulgarian primate went on to criticize the use of unleavened bread, eating of meat from strangled animals, fasting on Saturdays, and omission of the alleluia during Lent; he also ranted: “Anyone who thus observes the sabbath and uses unleavened bread is neither Jew nor pagan; he resembles a leopard.” 45
Another Cerularian ghost writer, the Studite monk Niketas Stethatos denounced Latin clerical celibacy which Pope St. Leo IX was then trying his best to reinforce. Stethatos: “Whence do you derive the custom of forbidding and dissolving the marriage of priests? What doctor of the Church has taught you this abomination?” 46
Pope St. Leo IX received the Bulgarian prelate’s blast against the West. Newman Eberhardt describes the Pope’s reaction:
Detecting a schismatic trend in the indictment, the pope in reply laid stress upon Petrine primacy. Addressing ‘those most dear to us and still to be accounted our brethren in Christ,’ St. Leo deplored that ‘some cockle-sowers’ had condemned the ‘Apostolic and Latin Church,’ as if ‘Our Father who is in heaven had hidden from Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, the rite of the visible sacrifice.’ The pope contrasted the records of Rome and Constantinople in matters of faith. ‘Have not all false doctrines and heresies been combatted and condemned by the see of Rome,’ whereas among the ‘would-be ecumenical bishops’ of Constantinople were the Arians, Eusebius and Macedonius, Nestorius, Anthimius the Monophysite, Sergius, Pyrrhus and Paul, Monotheletes. While St. Leo made a passing reference to the Donation of Constantine in favor of Roman primacy, he added: ‘But we have on this matter testimony greater than that of Constantine…. We are filled with the witness of Him who came down from heaven and is above all, and who said: Thou are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.’ The pope closed with a warning that proved prophetic: ‘If you live not in the body which is Christ, you are none of His. Whose, then, are you? You have been cut off and will wither, and like the branch pruned from the vine, you will burn in the fire — an end which may God’s goodness keep far from you. 47
Michael Cerularius responded in such a manner that Pope St. Leo IX sent three papal legates to Constantinople — Cardinal Humbert of Moyen-moutier, Cardinal Frederick of Lorraine, and Bishop Peter of Amalfi. They arrived in March, 1054. Through them, Pope St. Leo stated: “You write us that if we make your name honored in the one Church of Rome, you will make our name honored throughout the whole world. What montrous idea is this, my dear brother? So little does the Roman Church stand alone, as you think, that in the whole world any nation that in its pride dissents from her is in no way a church, but a council of heretics, a conventicle of schismatics, and a synogogue of Satan…. How lamentable is that sacrilegious usurpation by which you everywhere boast yourself to be the ‘Universal Patriarch.’ Let heresies and schisms cease. Let everyone who glories in the Christian name refrain from cursing and wounding the Holy Apostolic Roman Church.” 48
Cerularius received them without courtesy, denied them precedence, refused to restore the papal name to the diptychs, and obstinately insisted upon treating with the Roman Pontiff as an equal.
By July of 1054 the legates only succeeded in obtaining a recantation of excommunication from Niketas Stethatos. As such was the case, the papal legates had no choice but to prepare the bull of excommunication, Sancta Romana Prima , for those who refused to submit: “As far as the pillars of the empire are concerned and its wise and honored citizens, the city is most Christian and orthodox. But we, not enduring the unheard-of offense and injury done to the Holy Apostolic and First See, wishing to defend in every way the Catholic Faith, by the authority of the Holy and Undivided Trinity and of the Apostolic See, whose legates we are, declare that Michael, patriarch by abuse; … Leo called bishop of Achrida;… and all their followers in the aforesaid errors and presumption shall be: anathema, maranatha… with all the heretics and with the devil and his angels, unless they repent. Amen.”
Fr. Adrian Fortescue relates the dramatic promulgation of the bull: “It was Saturday, July 16, 1054, at the third hour (9:00 AM). The Hagia Sophia was full of people, the priests and deacons are vested, the prothesis of the holy liturgy has just begun. Then the three Latin legates walk up the great church through the people, go in through the Royal Door of the Ikonostasis, and lay their bull of excommunication on the altar. As they turn back, they say: May the Lord see and judge.'” 49
And as we know, the Lord saw, and He judged. Constantinople, 400 hundred years later, was overrun by the Turks in 1453 and the great See of Constantinople faded from influence and power. Less than 500 years after that, Russia — the seat of the largest schismatic church in the East after the fall of Constantinople — was taken over by atheistic Communism in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.
And so this ends with the way it began, with a plea to the Eastern schismatics to return to the One True Church, outside of which there is neither holiness nor salvation. Follow the example of those Schismatics from Constantinople who came to the Council of Florence to be reconciled with Rome: “We have come to you our head,” they said to the pope. “You are the foundation of the Church. Every member that has left you is sick, and wild beasts have devoured the flock that has separated itself from you…. You who have the power of the heavenly keys, open to us the gates of eternal life.” 50
1 “Eastern Schism”, Fr. Adrian Fortescue, PhD, DD., Catholic Encyclopedia .
2 Our Glorious Popes , Sister Catherine, M.I.C.M., p. 1.
3 As was pointed out in From the Housetops #43, the Maronite Catholics of Lebanon were an exception to this rule. It is also said that some Syro-Malabar Catholics of India never went into schism. The Greek monks of St. Nilos monastery in Groteferrata, Italy are also conspicuous for their preservation of loyalty to the Holy See (as well as continued loyalty to the Greek liturgical rites and religious customs). There could be others to add to this list. Sadly, these exceptions are just that — exceptions .
8 The presence of St. Andrew’s relics in Constantinople will help to give rise to the idea that Constantinople was an apostolic see like Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria, because St. Andrew established his see there. Fr. Vailhe gives us the origin of this rumor: “In the fifth century we meet with a spurious document attributed to a certain Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre at the end of the third century, according to which the Church of Byzantium was founded by the Apostle St. Andrew, its first bishop being his disciple Stachys (cf. Rom., xvi, 9). The intention of the forger is plain: in this way the Church of Rome is made inferior to that of Constantinople, St. Andrew having been chosen an Apostle by Jesus before his brother St. Peter, the founder of the Roman Church.” (“Constantinople”, Fr. Simeon Vailhe
9 History of the Catholic Church , Fathers Fernand Mourret, S.S. and Newton Thompson, S.T.D., Vol. II, p. 83. (Frs. Mourret and Thompson quote here from Bousquet, “The Unity of the Church and the Greek Schism”, p.44)
In 449, the defenders of Eutyches (the Monophysite heresiarch) summoned a council which was intended to be Ecumenical. A papal legate named Hilarus (later pope) was sent. At one point, through military force, bishops were forced to sign a decree deposing Saint Flavian, who had condemned Eutyches and his followers. With one word, the papal legate brought the council to a halt: Contradicitur , “it is contradicted.” He quickly ran from the scene in fear for his life. The Council of Chalcedon, which was two years after the Robber Council, condemned its chief architect, Dioscorus because he “…had held an (ecumenical) council without the Apostolic See, which was never allowed.” This was a reference to Dioscorus’ re-convening the council after the papal legate withdrew. St. Leo the Great excommunicated the perpetrators of the synod and wrote to the emperor that the acts of the council were null. No one in the East or West considers “Ephesus II” to be ecumenical, because the pope condemned it.