Papal Reformation and the Great Schism: II
Fr. John Strickland · March 13, 2014
Fr. John continues his exploration of the pivotal reign of Pope Leo IX and the way in which its reforms led toward a confrontation with the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1054.
Welcome back to this episode on papal reformation and the Great Schism. It comes after a break of a couple of weeks in the podcast, for which I apologize. Here at St. Katherine College we are launching into our accreditation process, and that has been taking up a good deal of our time. But listeners will recall that in the previous segment of this episode, I introduced the papacy of Leo IX. He reigned as pope from 1049 to 1054, the very year of the Great Schism. And I noted how he came to power as pope in a time when Western Christendom appeared to many in a troubled state.
In response to the problems of that time, some Church leaders had introduced a policy of reformatio or reformation. I spoke about monks who led this reformation and also about emperors, especially Emperor Henry III, who was the one at the Synod of Sutri in 1046 who wrestled control of papal elections away from the Roman nobility and placed it in his own hands. And it was Henry III who saw Pope Leo IX elevated to the papacy in 1049. That papacy was remarkable because it ended with Leo as a prisoner of war, and in this segment of the episode, I would like to review the papacy of Leo IX and explain why it had such a remarkable outcome, and not just due to the fact that it resulted in Leo’s imprisonment, but, more significantly, because with its reforming agenda it resulted in the Great Schism.
Upon assuming office in 1049, Leo fulfilled those earlier efforts, first by monks such as those at Cluny and then by emperors such as Henry III, to reform the Church, and under Leo we can begin speaking about an actual papal reformation. The word “reformatio,” and “correctio,” had both a venerable history in the Western Church and related to efforts to correct the Church, to reform the Church, in a conservative direction rather than an innovative one. This fact is brought out by a modern historian of the papacy named Roger Collins, who wrote a book called Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy, and this is what he wrote about the reformation undertaken by Leo IX.
We may speak of Leo IX (Collins writes), his supporters and successors as reformers, but this was not how they saw themselves. They wanted to return the Church to a ‘golden age’ they thought had once existed. They saw themselves correcting errors and evil customs that had been allowed to develop unchallenged in recent centuries. The past they wished to recover was largely imaginary, being derived from such spurious texts such as the Pseudo-Isidoran Decretals (and I’ll talk more about those later) which provided seemingly authoritative evidence of papal supremacy.
So those are the words of Collins, writing about the papal reformation undertaken by Pope Leo IX.
To advance this reformation, Leo knew that he needed supporters and advisors in Rome, and thus he assembled a team of reformers, a very remarkable one. Virtually all of them had very strong monastic background. Peter Damian, for instance, played his own role. It was Peter Damian, listeners will recall, who had written that fiery letter to the wives of clergy in the West, attacking the continued existence on a very large scale of a married priesthood up into the eleventh century. These monks for the most part—Peter Damian would be an exception here—came from beyond Italy, from the north, from centers like Cluny and Burgundy or Lorraine. One member of Leo’s team was Frederick of Lorraine. He would be the future Pope Stephen IX who was such a monk. And Humbert of Moyenmoutier: he had been recruited to serve in Rome in 1049, the very year Leo arrived.
And it wasn’t just personalities that assembled in Rome to support Leo in his reformation, but also we see the use now of documents asserting papal leadership that had never been used before but now will be used in what is often described as the medieval papacy and its claims of papal supremacy. These documents were often forgeries—we know that now, although they weren’t known at the time by those who used them—such as the donation of Constantine. This had possibly been composed at the papal court in the eighth century in connection with the papacy’s alliance with the Frankish King Pepin III, and its effect had been to assert papal authority over royal but also Eastern patriarchal leadership in the Church: the donation of Constantine.
The Isidoran Decretals I mentioned earlier, or rather Collins mentioned them in the quote I gave earlier, were another such document. Their origin was possibly from Frankish bishops in the ninth century who were asserting papal authority over episcopal authority.
So documents like the Donation of Constantine, in addition to personalities like Humbert and Peter Damian, strengthened Leo’s resolve to advance reform, and the result was something like a revolution in papal authority that took place under Leo IX. The papacy was now elevated as the most important institution within the Western Church. The biographer of Peter Damian, who supported this movement, says the following about Peter:
If Damian, while working alone, had been an effective reformer of monastic, sacerdotal, and episcopal morals, his program became doubly effective when linked with the efforts of the papacy. He was fighting for a spiritual renaissance so badly needed in the eleventh century, and in his eyes the pope, possessing the highest spiritual authority, was the logical leader in restoring Christian morality.
The momentum that the Cluny reforms and the imperial reforms provided Leo enabled him to expand significantly the horizons of papal authority. I can quote here Christopher Dawson, to whose book, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, I referred last time. This is what Dawson writes about the impact of Leo’s advisors, especially those who came from beyond Italy and their ability to open up the horizons of papal authority throughout the West.
The introduction (Dawson writes) of this foreign element into the Curia (the papal court) had a revolutionary effect on the papacy, which became the hierarchical center and organ of leadership for the reforming movement. The reform of the Church was no longer the aim of scattered groups of ascetics and idealists. It became the official policy of the Roman Church. In his brief pontificate of less than five years, St. Leo devoted himself to the work of reform with super-human energy, crossing the Alps again and again to hold reforming councils in Germany and France as well as in Italy and establish direct, personal control over the churches of Western Christendom.
So now the horizons of the papacy were much broader than they had ever been before, and we can even speak about attendancy now, a transition in the papacy’s status, from patriarch of the West to supreme pontiff of the universal Church. Here we can refer to the Orthodox historian, Andrew Louth, who wrote a book called Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071. And this is what Andrew Louth writes about Leo IX’s reforms and their effect not so much of elevating the papacy but of fundamentally redefining it. This is what Louth writes:
The movement initiated by Leo IX created the very notion of the papacy. To speak of the papacy before the eleventh century is an anachronism, for the term “papatus” in Latin was coined only then, apparently used for the first time by Clement II in 1047 (that is, two years, only two years, before Leo came to power). Formed on the analogy of episcopatus, it suggests that the papacy, papatus, is a further order of ministry in the Church, transcending the episcopate. There seem to be two notions entailed here.
The first makes explicit something that had a long history, namely, that the Church of Rome exercised a primacy, primatus, over the other churches, a primacy that was not shared by any other church. This was defined more precisely: it meant that the Church of Rome was the mother of the churches, mater ecclesiarum, their head and hinge, all claims made by Nicholas I in the ninth century.
Listeners will recall that Nicholas I is that pope that is responsible for the Nicolaitan Schism, also called the Photian Schism, in his controversy with Patriarch Photius. Louth continues here:
Peter Damian (who of course was one of the leading advocates for papal authority at the time) advanced the idea that while all other churches have founders, Rome alone was founded by Christ. Damian may have taken this to mean that St. Peter had himself appointed the patriarchs in the East and the bishops in the West.
The other notion entailed focuses these claims not so much as traditionally on the See of Rome as on the pope in person. The title “universalis episcopus,” universal bishop, once rejected by Gregory the Great, is resurrected. The pope is not just a bishop with universal jurisdiction, but is personally the ruler of the whole Church. Universal jurisdiction might simply mean that Rome was a final court of appeal in the Church, as Nicholas I had claimed. The notion of universalis episcopus, universal bishop, going beyond universal jurisdiction, went further. The pope has become a pope for all Christians, with immediate, not just appelate, jurisdiction. He is more than a bishop; he is the pope.
So Andrew Louth [is] here now tracing the origin of what was considered to be a new understanding of the pope of Rome, personal head of the entire universal Church, and the coining of the very term “papatus,” or “papacy,” in connection with this development. And, as a matter of fact, statements made under Leo IX did assert this kind of universal authority. At a council in Rheims in 1049, the very year Leo came to power, the declaration was made that the bishop of Rome is the primate of the universal Church.
So with this self-confidence, this not just revived papacy but transformed papacy, Leo set about reforming the Western Church. He organized annual Easter synods at Rome. Every year, bishops would assemble in Rome under his leadership to advance the reforms that had long been demanded by people like Peter Damian and the abbots of Cluny and even emperors like Henry III. He also traveled beyond Italy throughout western Europe to the lands of France and Spain and Germany, organizing synods in which he likewise advanced the reformation.
And a noteworthy tendency that Leo IX showed was one toward confrontation with his opponents and with those who resisted this papal reformation. This can be seen in the case of Berengar, a theologian whose teaching about the Eucharist resulted in his excommunication in absentia by Leo IX; and also at that very council at Rheims to which I just referred, held in 1049, where a group of bishops who did not appear because they resisted the reforms Leo was advancing were summarily excommunicated from the Church. So Leo IX, inspired as he was by a new definition of the person of the pope inspired by the new conception of what the papacy was, as a matter of fact, the very coining of the term “papacy,” “papatus,” being used at this time, pursued a papal reformation of the West.
Then there came the case of southern Italy. Southern Italy represented in the eleventh century the jurisdictional nexus of the universal Church, that is to say, the connection between Rome and Constantinople, in a way very comparable to the Balkans in the ninth century, where a collision occurred between Pope Nicholas I and Patriarch Photius over the question of the ecclesiastical and jurisdictional allegiance of the newly converted Bulgarians and the missionary activities of Cyril and Methodius among the Moravians.
Southern Italy, of course, was contiguous with Rome, which was now firmly under the authority of the papacy, but it had been taken from Roman jurisdiction centuries earlier by Emperor Leo III of Byzantium as punishment to papal resistance to the iconoclastic movement. Southern Italy was constituted by a large number of Greek-affiliated churches. The liturgies were in Greek and followed the pattern in Constantinople; the piety and the experience of Church life was largely Greek in character, but in the eleventh century now, southern Italy is conquered by a new presence in Europe: the Normans. And a group of Norman adventurers come to southern Italy and conquer it.
These Normans were under Roman jurisdiction, and they favored a policy there of Latinization, and in fact Leo now decides to introduce a policy of Latinization in southern Italy as part of his overall reformation of the Church. He imposed a Roman standard on the Greek churches there, and I can quote what is probably the best book on the whole history of the Great Schism. It’s by Steven Runciman; he’s a Western scholar and writes from a Western point of view, so you get that. The book is entitled The Eastern Schism, which shows his Western point of view. The subtitle is: “A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches During the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries.” Written quite a long time ago, it remains just an excellent, excellent account of the Great Schism. Let me quote here Runciman’s account of the effort to Latinize the southern Italian churches, Greek-speaking churches. This is what he writes:
The Normans were, after all, Latins, and the districts that they occupied were thereby brought under Latin ecclesiastical domination. The pope had no intention of letting them revert to Byzantine rule, and he wished also to be sure that all the churches there should conform to Roman usages. Hitherto, the great churches of Christendom had not been greatly troubled over divergencies of usage. The Byzantines, devoted though they were to their own liturgy, recognized that other churches might follow other customs. There had been in the past many varied practices within the great patriarchate of the West, but the reformed papacy was anxious, in the interest of discipline and order, to introduce uniformity of usage.
So Leo now advances with Norman support the Latinization of southern Italy. He even goes so far as to organize a synod at the town of Bari in which he advocates the adoption among those Greek churches of the filioque, which, as listeners know now, was a tremendous issue by the eleventh century as a result of Frankish Christendom and the estrangement of East and West, the topic of an earlier episode of this podcast.
So by Latinizing these Greek churches, churches which had a very close connection with the patriarchate of Constantinople, Leo inevitably aggravated this legacy of East-West estrangement. But what is remarkable is that at the very moment he decided to take this provocative course, his very pontificate and the reformation it was designed to advance was thrown into crisis. He suddenly found himself a prisoner of war. How did such a thing occur? Well, one will need to recall that ever since before the time of Pope Stephen II in the eighth century, the papacy had been in possession of an actual state, the territory surrounding Rome. This had been obtained from the king of the Franks, Pepin, who, listeners will recall, had forged a close alliance with the papacy.
Pope Leo IX, though he had actually condemned the Western clergy’s participation in military affairs at the Council of Rheims, now decided in 1053 to raise an army and, as head of the papal states, to invade southern Italy. The campaign that resulted was a disaster. At the battle of Civitate in June 1053, the entire papal army, bearing the papal banner itself, was destroyed by the Normans. Pope Leo had remained in the city of Civitate to observe the battle, and when it was over, he was forced to surrender. He was subsequently imprisoned at Benevento from June of 1053 all the way until March of 1054. Those dates are rather significant, as we’ll see as we go forward here.
He was given honorable treatment at the hands of the Normans who were, for the most part, embarrassed by having such an illustrious prisoner in their midst, the pope of Rome, their ecclesiastical superior, but he was nevertheless a prisoner of war, and that meant that the papal reformation that he had been overseeing for four years now was in question. Would reform have to be suspended while he was a prisoner in southern Italy?
And it was under these circumstances that the ambitious and reform-minded and sometimes confrontational and now languishing in prison, deeply frustrated Pope Leo IX decided to confront the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius. The year was 1054.
Join me next time when I complete this episode on papal reformation and the Great Schism by describing the long-term background to conflicts between Rome and Constantinople and the way in which they culminated in this, perhaps the most tragic event in Church history.