Archive for the 'Pope' Category

How much influence did the Pope have in Byzantium?

Sep 21 2012 Published by under Pope,Uncategorized

Jack asks how much influence the Pope had in Byzantium before the Great Schism and how that crisis affected the Empire.

Constantinople’s attitude towards Rome was always a complicated one.  On the one hand, the bishop of Rome had a uniquely respected place in the early church.  Peter, who had been entrusted with the ‘keys to the kingdom of heaven’ had founded its church, and as such it had far more prestige than the relatively late church of Constantinople.  The Pope was the ‘first among equals’, due a special reverence and respect.  On the other hand, however, Constantinople was the residence of the emperor- God’s regent on earth who looked after the physical well-being of the faithful in the same way the church looked after its soul.  They resented the increasingly authoritarian claims of the Roman church as it moved from ‘first among equals’ to simply ‘first’.  The Orthodox view was that each of the five major bishops of the Church (Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Constantinople) had an equal voice- Rome was in effect an elder statesman not a dictator.

As the East and West went their separate ways politically, the Pope became a useful tool for the Emperor to use if he disagreed with his Patriarch.  In the case of Leo the Wise, for instance, when his church rejected his bid for a fourth marriage, he referred the matter to the Pope, knowing that the pontiff would eagerly grant him a marriage in exchange for publicly ‘overruling’ the Patriarch.  This was a political gambit- nothing more.  But it does show that the Pope’s opinion still mattered- the ‘senior’ bishop of Christendom had weighed in and- over the Patriarch’s objection- Leo got his 4th marriage.

As for the Great Schism, 1054 is a nice, clean date for historians, but is relatively meaningless.  As Sir Steven Runciman wrote ‘a schism only exists when a majority of individuals believe it does.’  Clearly this wasn’t the case in the 11th century.  A hundred years after the ‘Schism’ the emperor Manuel Comnenus wrote to the Pope, offering to act as the ‘sword arm of the Church’ in the reconquest of Italy from the Normans.  The Pope accepted- hardly the actions of people who considered the other side heretical.  What really put the nail in the coffin of Church unity was the 4th Crusade.  After that tragedy, there was no real possibility of reunion.  As the Byzantines famously put it- ‘better the Sultan’s turban than the Pope’s mitre.’  While the Orthodox church maintains even today that they will welcome the Pope back into his favored position if he admits his errors, practically speaking all papal influence on Byzantium ceased in 1204.

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Why didn’t the Pope lead the Crusade himself?

Listener John asked why Urban II didn’t lead the Crusade since he seemed to be using it to increase Papal prestige.  There were many reasons for his non-participation.  He could have used the valid excuse of too many other responsibilities- every crowned head of Europe begged off involvement with this one- but a far better justification was safety.  The Crusading army was going to have to walk on foot from Western Europe to Jerusalem, fighting hostile forces nearly every step of the way.  The probability of success was remote, the possibility of death or capture was nearly certain, and the thought of the Vicar of Christ as a prisoner of Islam was horrendous.   Had the Pope been captured and then forcibly converted the symbolic damage would have been immense.

This isn’t to say, however, that it wasn’t contemplated.  The idea of a Crusade had first occurred to Pope Urban’s predecessor Gregory VII.  His original plan was to lead it in person and leave the German Emperor Henry IV home to take care of the Church.  The irony of course is that the investiture controversy almost immediately erupted: the emperor called the Pope a few choice names, the Pope excommunicated (and deposed) the emperor and it was war from then on.

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