"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Orthodox Church -- The Estrangement that Lead to the Schism; Latin & Greek Thoughts; Barbarian Influence on the Church

The more I read history books and imagine the olden days, the more my mind brings up images of hordes of yelling warriors running up hills, down hills, across plains.  This tribe slaughtering that tribe.  The other tribe ravaging the other's land.  Dark haired, dark eyed, some. Blondes with blue and green eyes, others.

Oh something like these guys from Night at the Museum.  Remember all that yelling?


Isn't this post about The Orthodox Church, you ask? Most definitely,but chapter three's beginning impressed upon me how "barbarians" influenced Christianity!

For the record, I like to believe we have moved past these barbaric tendencies, but I think in reality we have those little warriors lurking just below the surface and more often than we like to admit: they surface!

Movin' on!

Chapter 3 of The Orthodox Church begins with the estrangement leading up to the great schism between eastern and western Christianity.  The author reminds us that the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire during the apostles' time was due to commonalities in politics and culture.  Many people spoke both Latin and Greek.  Over time politics and culture throughout the Empire changed.  Step by step, the crack widened. I suppose it's like a marriage where spouses develop and pursue different interests.  Before you know it, you've grown apart and then if you aren't careful, you find yourself estranged, separated and "schismed." I mean divorced.

Here are factors that I noted as contributing to the increasing estrangement.

 Political disunity happened first.

1.  Unity of the Mediterranean world declined partly when Constantine founded a "second imperial capital in the east".  Except for Rome, barbarian invasions carved up much of Europe under various chiefs.

2.  Illyricum, formerly seen as a bridge between east and west, became a barrier when Avars and Slavs invaded the Balkan peninsula.

3.  Due to the rise of Islam, the Mediterranean Sea fell largely under Arab control and contact between east and west became more difficult.

4.  The Iconclast controversy.  Some were for icons; others were not.

5.  Pope Stephen reaching out to Pepin brought increased Frankish influence to Rome.

6.  Fifty years later, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne, King of the Franks, as Emperor.  He was unable to gain sought-after recognition by the Byzantines who regarded him as an "intruder."

All of this political disunity naturally lead to cultural divisions over time.  Whereas before many people were bilingual, increasingly, those in the west spoke only Latin and those in the east, Greek.   As this pertains to the church, the people stopped reading each other's books so the Latin-only people got more "Latinized" in thinking whereas the Greeks, predictably, went in the other direction.

Even from the beginning the Latins and Greeks approached theology and the Christian Mystery differently.  For example:

the Latin approach was more practical, the Greek more speculative;

Latin thought was influenced by judicial ideas, by the concept of Roman law, while the Greeks understood theology in the context of worship and the light of the Holy Liturgy.

When thinking about the Trinity, Latins started with the unity of the Godhead, Greeks with the threeness of the persons;

when reflecting on the Crucifixion, Latins primarily thought of Christ the Victim, Greeks of Christ the Victor;

Latins talked more about redemption, Greeks of deification. (pg. 48)

But when the two groups were in political unity, they would complement each other's work.  Both approaches could be melded into one.  When the disunification happened, this "blending" stopped.

The Byzantines always were more involved in councils and had a collegiality style, whereas the Latins - with those numerous, divided barbarian tribes - often looked at the Roman Church as the one unifying presence.  The western Church grew to resemble a monarchy. 

The east tended to be more educated with many "lay" theologians abounding. By contrast the commoners were illiterate in the west so the Church took on a bigger role. People were not reading the Scripture for themselves - how could they? - so they had to wait for the Church to tell them what it said. 

With all that power - no checks and balances from other churches or the common folks - I can certainly see how corruption could settle in!  Power too often breeds corruption.

Eventually the churches grew into direct conflict regarding two things:

1 -- Papal claims to more authority than the eastern churches wanted to give. The Orthodox were for primacy of Rome, but not supremacy.  (Perhaps this monarchical-type ruling in Rome among the barbarian tribes transferred to Rome thinking even the other churches should bow to their wishes.)

2 -- The Filioque -- changing the Creed from saying the Holy Spirit proceeds from not just the Father, but also the Son. While this insertion was not necessarily a bad theological position for some Orthodox, the fact that Rome decided to do this independent of the council, the Orthodox simply could not handle.

So does the individualistic nature/independent streak of many westerners go back to the Roman Church acting independently of the council of Churches?  The East even today is more community-minded, yes?

It's all rather interesting, huh? What are your thoughts?


Amber said...

I think the differences tend to have just been inherited from the cultures prior to Christianity or the great empires. Those that tended to be community oriented retained that, though it was filtered through new thought processes. And those who valued the lone warrior mentality (even when it wasn't practical and most couldn't afford it) retained that.

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

"Even from the beginning the Latins and Greeks approached theology and the Christian Mystery differently."

I wouldn't say that. In the beginning, they were identical. The differences came later.

Susanne said...

Amber, oh I see. So the west has just always prized the lone ranger and never was community-oriented like the east. I need to read some history about these guys! Any good book recommendations?

Daniel,I went back and checked page 48 to see if I misspoke (miswrote?) and the author says "from the start." So I just reported what he did.

Amber said...


Sorry, nope. Just my personal opinion on the matter. :) I'm not saying the West isn't or never has been community oriented, just that different factors in the development of the cultures led to different results.

Lat said...

Very interesting history lesson on Orthodoxy Church! Thank you for your summary :)

I have been confused about the differences and similarities of the Roman Church and the Eastern Churches and why the selected Pope mostly happens to be from Europe,esp Poland.And those of the Eastern Church,have been superceded so far(eventhough they have a good number of years of experience).

Susanne said...

Amber, I think reading about those different factors would be interesting to see what made us into what we are. :) Always enjoy your opinion!

Lat, those are interesting thoughts. I wish I knew. Maybe the book will address this? If not, maybe Amber or someone else knows. Now you have me curious!

Amber said...

I'm not sure that I understand Lat's question.

Does she mean why no one from the Eastern Orthodox Church has ever been elected Pope of Rome?

Lat said...

Yes.According to papers I read,it seems very few,(I'm not sure exactly how many.Maybe one or two) priests from Eastern Churches have been selected for Pope.And that there were some misgivings initially but accepted the decision nevertheless and gave support for the new Pope.

I wish I'm not talking in riddles nowadays :)

Amber said...


You're not talking in riddles, I just wanted to be sure I understood what the question was before I tried to answer it.

If you're asking why Eastern Orthodox priests aren't chosen to be the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church the answer's pretty simple. They don't share priests between them at this point in time. The Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church have been separated, in schism, since about 1054. So when there's a need for a new Bishop of Rome (the Pope), the candidate pool is restricted to men who are a) members of the Roman Catholic church and b) a Cardinal. *waffles hand* There's actually a few different ways, historically, to be elected pope, but the one currently in use restricts it to Cardinals.

Now if the question is why would Roman Catholic Cardinals from Eastern European countries not be elected pope, I don't know. I'd have to go and look and see what the break down of country of origin for past popes was and give you my opinion. :)

Susanne said...

Yes, do that,Amber.I'd like to know your opinion. Now I am curious where most of the Popes are from!

Thanks for answering the question and, Lat,thank you for asking!

I love learning from you ladies' comments! :D

Amber said...


Well, from looking at the list here:


it seems like most Popes have been from Italy somewhere. There've been some from Greece, some from Africa, Syria, France, etc. but mostly Italy. Just at a guess, I'd say that there haven't been many Popes from Eastern European countries for two reasons: Eastern Europe was, traditionally, more Eastern Orthodox than Roman Catholic. So they wouldn't have been eligible for election after the schism. And for a good chunk of recent history the Eastern countries have been oppressed under Communism and it's national atheism. So any Roman Catholic priests that existed would have been persecuted, perhaps executed, and so on so again they wouldn't have been available or able to rise to the position of Cardinal and then be eligible for the pontificate. But like I said, that's just my personal guess at the matter.

Susanne said...

And it makes a lot of sense! Glad you shared! Thank you!

Lat said...

Thank you Amber for explaining this.I don't even know if you'll see this comment at the rate our dear friend,Sus is writing her posts :D Anyway I appreciate your reply.

So I now know a little.It's sad that Eastern priests would be executed for this.don't quite understand this whole schism thing!

Amber said...


No problem. I track comments for posts I comment on so I can keep up with Susie! :)

Just to be clear, though, it's not the opposite sides of the Schism that were doing the executing I was speaking of. Under the communist/socialist regimes in Eastern Europe all religions were persecuted and those who did not toe the national line and renounce their faiths were imprisoned, tortured and a great many were executed.

The Schism is a really complicated series of events. I'm not sure I even know all of the factors that went into it and built up to the final break and where we are today.

Lat said...

Oh ok! Thanks you so much again for explaining!:)