Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sui Juris Churches I: The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church

In doing the previous post on sui juris churches in the Catholic Church, I realized that, despite a longstanding interest in them, I'd never really done anything organized or systematic about that interest. So I thought it would be interesting to do an occasional series on the 24 sui juris churches; some of them I know a fair amount about and some of them very little, but they are all worth knowing a bit about -- a lot of the history of the Church is bound up in them. So I start out with a small but very distinctive church with an interesting history: the Italo-Albanian Greek Catholic Church.

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Languages: Albanian and Greek

Juridical Status: Eparchial (directly subject to the Pope)

Approximate Population (Rounded to Nearest 10,000): 60,000

Basic History: The way to think about Italo-Albanian Catholics is to recognize that they are the Eastern Catholics of Italy. We tend to associate Italy with Western Catholicism because of Rome; but in fact Italy has been a notable bastion of Byzantine Rite Christianity since very early days. For much of its history, Northern Italy was 'western' and Southern Italy was 'eastern'. Southern Italy and Sicily had been Greek-speaking for centuries before any church came to them; they are littered with what were originally Greek colonies. Thus Christians in these areas tended to speak Greek, have liturgies in Greek, and in general to have lots in common with Greek-speakers generally. Because they were on the peninsula, their patriarch was the Bishop of Rome, the Pope; but they did things the Greek way.

In the eighth century this amicable understanding was broken from the outside due to a major crisis in the Church: the Iconoclasm Controversy. The Popes were all opponents of the iconoclastic movement, but the Emperors, in Constantinople, were often themselves iconoclasts. One of the strongest of the Iconoclast Emperors was Leo III the Isaurian, who had seized Constantinople from his predecessor, whose abdication he forced, and then scored some important victories repulsing the invading Umayyad caliphate. This then gave him time to engage in a number of major administrative reforms, and, unfortunately, one of his reforms was to ban the veneration of images. Revolts broke out. St. Germanus I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, refused to cooperate and (depending on the story) was deposed or resigned. He was replaced by Anastasius in 730, who was against, then for, then against icons. In Italy the same refusal manifested itself: Popes Gregory II and Gregory III refused to cooperate with the imperial edict. Pope Gregory II's opposition led to rebellion against the Imperial government in Italy. After Gregory II's death, Gregory III, who was himself an Easterner from Syria, continued the opposition with a will. In retaliation, Leo seized control of Sicily and Calabria (Calabria is Italy's 'toe'), and by military force transferred authority over much of Southern Italy from the Pope to the Patriarch of Constantinople. This would have the result of massively strengthening the Greek and Byzantine character of Christianity in Southern Italy, which continued even as authority slowly slipped back to the Pope and iconoclasm lost ground.

A new external force enters into the picture: the Normans. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Normans began invading Southern Italy, eventually -- but only eventually -- uniting them into the Kingdom of Sicily. As they advanced, they did what they often did: as bishops died or went into exile for this or that reason, they slowly replaced the bishops of the area with bishops more favorable to them. The Greek-speaking bishops were slowly replaced by Latin-speaking ones. The Byzantine Rite in Italy never completely died; there still seems to have been scattered pockets of it several centuries later.

After the Council of Florence, the great Bessarion attempted to revive the dwindling community. But what really revived the Byzantine Rite in Italy was immigration, and again an external factor intervened. The Turks invaded Albania, and many Albanians fled the Turkish advance. Northern Albanians were Latin Rite; but Southern Albanians tended to be Byzantine Rite. Over the years, there were several notable Albanian influxes. Most of these Albanians were what we would think of Eastern Orthodox rather than Catholic, but (1) many of them came shortly after the Council of Florence in 1439, during the brief period in which it was in many places thought that Catholics and Orthodox had been conclusively reunited; and (2) Constaninople fell to the Turks in 1453, which massively reduced the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Thus the Albanians in Italy had Byzantine Rite churches in communion with, and under the jurisdiction of, Rome.

In the wake of the Council of Trent, as the Counter-Reformation picked up steam, the Byzantine Rite communities in Italy began to have increasing difficulties -- they were often looked at with suspicion, and Rome tended to prefer to strengthen Latin Rite influence over these Byzantine Rite communities. Again the Byzantine Rite in Italy began to dwindle. A reversal began, however, under the great Pope Benedict XIV, in the eighteenth century, and the popes of the nineteenth century (most notably Leo XIII) supported the Byzantine Rite communities to an even greater extent. The recognition of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church as sui juris began in the twentieth century with the recognition of official eparchies (dioceses) devoted specifically to Byzantine Rite Catholics in Italy.

Notable Monuments: The Monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata near Rome, founded by St. Nilus the Younger in the eleventh century and confirmed in the Byzantine Rite by Leo XIII in the nineteenth; also the church of San Basilio agli Orti Sallustiani in Rome.

Notable Religious Institutes: Order of Grottaferrata (Basilian monks); Figlie di Santa Macrina (Basilian sisters).

Notable Saints: St. Nilus the Younger (September 26).

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: Eparchy of Lungro (mainland Italy), Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi (Sicily), Territorial Abbacy of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church. In this case, one can find scattered Italo-Albanian liturgies elsewhere, although only under the patronage of bishops of other particular churches.)

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