Papal Supremacy and the Parting of the Ways IV

June 5, 2014 Length: 25:36

In this episode, Fr. John discusses Pope Urban II's calling of the First Crusade and the impact it and the crusades of the twelfth century had upon relations between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics.


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Welcome back to this reflection on “Papal Supremacy and the Parting of the Ways,” an alternative title for which might be: “How the Schism of 1054 became Great.” In the past two episodes I’ve described, respectively, the sack of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 and, more recently, efforts to achieve Church reunion under the leadership of popes such as Gregory VII, popes who insisted upon, as a condition for that reunion, the principle of papal supremacy. And in that previous episode, I described especially Pope Gregory VII’s famous composition, called the Dictatus Papae, in which he laid out the principles of the papal reformation and especially the role of papal supremacy within it.

In this episode of the reflection, I would like to turn to the Crusades themselves, for the Crusades were the medium through which not only papal supremacy was advanced but also the medium through which the schism of 1054 became permanent. The Crusades began very soon after the famous pontificate of Gregory VII. As we recall, Gregory VII had even dreamed of leading a crusade to the east on behalf of the Byzantine Empire himself. That never materialized, but within a generation of his death, another pope came along, one equally committed to the papal reformation and the principle of the papal supremacy within it, and that pope was Urban II.

Urban II reigned from 1088 to 1099, and he was dedicated to advancing the reformation that not only Gregory VII, soon before him, but further back in the 11th century, Leo IX had advanced. He was the son of a feudal knight, a detail which may help us understand better his readiness to launch the Crusades, and had grown up in the atmosphere of internecine violence in the feudal West. He was tonsured a monk at Cluny, which we recall was the leading center of Church reform in the 10th and 11th centuries, and was the major force leading to the beginning of the papal reformation of Leo IX. Pope Gregory VII had also come from Cluny, and significantly at Cluny, which was a vast network of monasteries, a hierarchical system, or model, of administration had been perfected through which the entire network of monasteries and monastic life was carefully regulated in a kind of pyramid-like structure, with the mother monastery, Cluny itself, at its top. This model was, more or less, what would be applied by the popes in advancing papal supremacy.

Urban II came to Rome and became an advisor, in fact, the chief advisor, to Pope Gregory VII, and had even been selected by Gregory as a possible successor. He advanced the legacy, when he became pope, of Leo IX, by organizing a series of reforming councils throughout the West, where policies against simony, clerical marriage, and lay investiture were all advanced. Listeners who wish to know more about those particular issues within the life of the Western Church are referred to the previous recollection on “Papal Reformation and the Great Schism.” And, significantly, Urban II expanded the papal court in Rome itself to become a bureaucratic center, directing and administering this papal reformation. It was self-consciously modeled, significantly, on the secular courts of the English and French kings. And let me quote the historian of the medieval papacy, Geoffrey Barraclough, here, in his account of the significance of the establishment of the papal curia, or court, of the papacy under Urban II. This is what he writes:

With the emergence of the curia, a new chapter of papal history begins. Naturally, the development of appropriate institutions took something like a generation to complete, but it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the changes Urban II inaugurated. The establishment of the curia as the pivot of the administration put the papacy on an equal footing with the rising states of feudal Europe, while at the same time, the new conception of the pope’s government as a court, for curia, as in contemporary secular states, meant both the central administration as a whole and a court of law, prepared the ground for the legal developments which contributed so much to the rise of the papal monarchy. Here again, the pontificate of Urban II marked a decisive turning point.

So Urban II, without question, advanced the papal reformation and papal supremacy within it. He was also very concerned with Byzantium, as Gregory VII and as Leo IX before him had [been]. He found, actually, that reigning about a generation after the Great Schism, Urban found that the patriarch of Constantinople was ready to reinstate the name of the pope in the diptychs read in Constantinople at the primatial Divine Liturgy. These diptychs are the expression of unity within the Church between the various primates or patriarchs, and in 1009, the pope’s name had been removed from the diptychs in Constantinople. So now Urban II found that the patriarch there in Constantinople, the very successor of Michael Cerularius, who, after being excommunicated himself, had excommunicated the pope in 1054, that very patriarch was now ready to reinstate the name of the pope of Rome—a very encouraging sign of the possibility of Church reunion.

However, the conditions under which the patriarch of Constantinople was willing to reinstate the pope’s name included the requirement, according to custom, that the pope of Rome send what’s called a systatic letter, a letter stating his faith to the patriarch of Constantinople, his brother patriarch, so that this statement of faith could be reviewed and affirmed by the patriarch. Urban II was now working, in the wake of the pontificates of Gregory VII and Leo IX, with a new model of Church administration, by which the pope was not required to send such statements of faith to what were considered to be “subordinate” patriarchs or bishops. And so he refused to send this systatic letter, and his name was subsequently not reinstated in the diptychs in Constantinople.

However, Urban II was approached by the emperor of Byzantium, Alexios, with a request to send a mercenary force of Latin knights from the West to the East to aid or assist the emperor in fighting back the aggressive Muslim Turks who, after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, were driving forcefully toward Constantinople across Anatolia. And it was in response to this request for a mercenary force to help the Byzantine Empire fight the Turks in Anatolia that the idea of the First Crusade was born in Urban II’s mind.

As Urban II began to consider the emperor’s request, his mind went not toward the Turks in Anatolia, but toward the Arabs in Palestine, for it was there in Palestine that the city of Jerusalem stood, now ruled by the Muslim Arabs, and long ruled by them. Jerusalem was a sign or symbol of paradise for the many pilgrims that had gone there since the earliest centuries of Christian statecraft. Listeners may recall that one of the most famous of these early pilgrims was Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim, who had gone in the fourth century, following the example of St. Helen, the very mother of Constantine, the first Christian emperor.

Pilgrimage had expanded substantially in subsequent centuries, but with a Muslim conquest of the city in 637, it was no longer under the protection of a Christian ruler, and as a matter of fact in the year 1009, the temple built in Jerusalem by St. Helen—the Church of the Holy Resurrection, as it was known to the East, or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as it was known in the West—was totally destroyed on orders of the Muslim Caliph, Al-Hakim. Now Urban II, considering the possibility of leading a crusade, a “holy war” in defense of Christendom, to the east, decided to settle on a campaign to Palestine to liberate Jerusalem. This would give, among other things, the papacy the opportunity for overseeing the pilgrimages that were so popular there, and with that oversight the ability to regulate the innovative system of penance that had come to be attached to these pilgrimages in the West. For it was at this time—the 11th century—that pilgrimage had become increasingly a means toward fulfilling a penance in the Western Church. I can quote here a work called The Age of Pilgrimage: The Medieval Journey to God by an Australian named Jonathan Sumption, and this is what he writes about this very period in the history of Western Christendom.

From the end of the 10th century (in other words, beginning in the 11th century, the time we’re discussing now), penitents were usually absolved and reconciled with the Church immediately after confession. Thus arose the distinction between sin and punishment. The former was expunged by confession; the latter remained to be suffered in purgatory.

Listeners will recall that I discussed penitential piety and the concept of penances in the reflection on “The Rise of Pessimistic Anthropology in the West,” especially the place of purgatory within it. Sumption continues here:

The penitent was reconciled to the Church, but he still had to do “satisfaction” for his sins, and the view ultimately prevailed that by performing good works in this life he could reduce the punishment that awaited him in the next. Against this background, the unprecedented number of foundations and the extraordinary popularity of pilgrimages and the Crusades, which mark out the 11th century, become intelligible.

With this penitential system in place, the papacy had a strong interest in exercising leadership, especially in the crusade that would liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims. So Urban II called together a council at the French city of Clermont in 1095. This council brought together hundreds of not only Frankish clergy but also Frankish lords, the ones who would call armies together and had the power to wage military campaigns. It was clearly organized under his ecclesiastical headship. Urban II used his papal leadership at the council further to advance the papal reformation that was going on, but the central matter that he called the Council of Clermont together for was the launching of a holy war against the Muslims.

According to one account of his speech at the Council of Clermont, Urban II promised that those who go off and fight in this holy war under the direct leadership of the pope will have all of the punishment for their sins removed. In other words, all of their penances that had been imposed upon them after they had had their sins forgiven through confession, all of those penances would be eliminated if they gave themselves to this holy war. And this was the origin of the practice known as indulgences, and I’ll say more about that practice in subsequent reflections in this podcast, but for the time being, having offered a kind of salvation to those who had pledged themselves to the crusade by “taking up the cross,” as it was known, and, by doing so, having reversed the centuries-old principle in traditional Christianity that military violence and warfare are an obstacle to salvation, claiming now that they were a means towards salvation, Urban II declared famously in Latin, “Deus vult—God wills it.” And this slogan, “God wills it—Deus vult,” became the slogan of the Crusades for the next 200 years.

The First Crusade was successful. In 1099, the city of Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders and became a possession once again of Christian rulers. However, the First Crusade also revealed problems in the relationship of Latin Christians to the Greek Christians in the East. The passage to Jerusalem carried the Crusaders through Constantinople, and that passage was carefully regulated, for obvious reasons, by the Emperor Alexios, and he demanded that each one of the crusading lords come to the palace in Constantinople and personally pledge to him fealty—loyalty—before they were allowed to pass over the straits and on to combat against the Muslims. In exchange for this oath of fealty, the Crusaders believed that they would receive substantial military assistance from the Byzantine Empire, and this the Emperor Alexios failed to provide, leading the Franks to regard him as a coward at best, and a deceiver and even traitor at worst.

And while this was happening, in 1098, just a year before Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders, a council, hosted by the papacy in the Italian city of Bari, which was designed to bring about reunion between East and West, failed to achieve reunion. And in light of this failure to achieve Church reunion through negotiations, the papacy settled on reunion through military means. The Crusades became a military solution to the Great Schism, and as Jerusalem and Antioch both fell to Roman Catholic crusading forces, each city now had installed within it a Roman Catholic patriarch, and the Orthodox patriarchs of those two cities, cities that had always been regarded as part of the Pentarchy, the rule of five ruling patriarchs in the ancient Church, the Orthodox patriarchs were expelled from those cities.

So the First Crusade was really a success by most standards, certainly from the point of view of the West, but in the following century, throughout the 1100s, the vigorous campaigns that were waged against Muslims cultivated a growing hostility toward the Orthodox Greeks in the East. We can trace the rise of an anti-Byzantine militancy among the Crusaders during that 12th century, a militancy which would tragically result in the event I described in the anecdote introducing this reflection, the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade of 1204.

How did this come about? Well, on the one hand the Crusaders brought with them to Byzantium, as they passed through Byzantine territories on the way to Palestine and Syria, they brought with them a very different political culture, a feudal mentality. This feudal mentality was very different [from] the political culture of Byzantium, which was shaped by centuries of autocracy and centralized state administration. The feudal system of western Europe of this time, a time known often by historians as the high middle ages, the political culture in the West was a very decentralized order that regularly degenerated into armed conflict and the seizure of territories in the name of one or the other feudal lord.

So as those feudal lords came through Byzantium, many of them looked on Greek lands as potential fiefs or territories to rule. This attitude is frequently recorded by the leading Byzantine chronicler of this period, Anna Comnena, whom I’ve quoted before. As a matter of fact, the Crusaders who had made their vows of fealty to Emperor Alexios, who was Anna Comnena’s father, subsequently violated those vows and claimed territories in Antioch and other parts of Palestine and Syria. And there arose throughout that area a series of kingdoms, Crusader kingdoms.

But not only the minor lords saw Byzantium as well as the Holy Land as a territory to be divided for their own interests, but some of the most powerful political leaders of the West also developed an increasingly militant attitude toward Byzantium. I can mention here just two of the 12th-century Holy Roman Emperors, both Frederick Barbarossa, who reigned from 1155 to 1190, and Henry VI, who reigned from 1191 to 1197, actively cultivated plans, designs, on Byzantium, and even approached—each of them approached the pope with a proposal to invade Byzantium and launch a crusade against the Greek Orthodox there.

For these reasons we can understand better the growing hatred of these Latins by the Greeks, as they were known. The impressions made on the Greeks by the Latin Crusaders was consistently negative. Often they were seen as barbarians, and so they were by most cultural standards held by the urbanized and literate Greeks of the time. Again, one only needs to read the chronicle of Anna Comnena to see how frequently she brings attention to the uncultivated and barbaric manners of the Crusaders. And those Crusaders regularly pillaged Greek lands, stealing crops, stealing possessions from the Greek population there, bringing with them as they did a very different political culture with a different concept of the state and its integrity. There were even occasions of violence against the Orthodox clergy that were inspired by the Great Schism and the divisions between East and West. In one particular case, Richard the Lionheart, king of England, ordered the execution of a group of Orthodox priests on the island of Cyprus when they refused to acknowledge papal supremacy.

So the Greeks in Byzantium became themselves increasingly hostile toward the Crusaders, a development which tragically exploded in 1182 in an anti-Latin riot that took place in Constantinople itself. By the way, I want to thank the listener who sent an email using the link there on the page for the podcast, Paradise and Utopia. I encourage listeners always to send any comments, any questions, to me. I enjoy very much reading those. But I had a listener send me an email asking about this event, and it is in fact a very significant part of the larger picture for why the Crusaders acted so ferociously against the Greeks in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. The email was in response to the introductory historical anecdote to this reflection that described at least part of that event.

Well, what was this all about? What was this anti-Latin riot of 1182? There in Constantinople there was and had been for some time a Latin quarter, filled mostly with Venetians, although there were other Italians who lived there from time to time, and they were given a great deal of influence in commerce and became very wealthy and were resented by many of the people of Constantinople. And in 1182, there was an explosion of violence against this Latin community, where many of the Roman Catholic Latins were massacred by the Orthodox Greeks of Constantinople, and many more driven out of the city.

So relations between East and West were at an all-time low by the end of the 12th century, just 100 years into the experience of the Crusades. The Crusades, growing out of the papacy’s efforts to establish its supremacy, both in the West but also, as we’ve seen, in the East, a consequence of the papal reform movement launched by Leo IX in the middle of the 11th century, passing through the pontificate of Gregory VII later in that century, and then being launched formally by Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095, the Crusades had brought Orthodox Christians of Byzantium into direct contact with Roman Catholic Christians from the Latin West—not through theological exchanges and negotiations for Church reunion, and even less through fellowship at the Eucharistic assembly, but as political and even military rivals.

Join me next time, when I continue this reflection, by looking at what can be called the holy wars against the Orthodox: the Greek crusade under Pope Innocent III and the Russian crusade under Pope Gregory IX in the 13th century.