Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Division and Monarchia

I have previously said that ecumenism is a conversation best left to saints, so I tend to avoid discussion of East-West matters beyond the point where I think I myself will benefit (like clarification of what the Council of Florence implies) or where I think there is some truly egregious and awful misunderstanding (like the bizarre tendency of certain Orthodox to take Augustine's arguments on consubstantiality as arguments for the completely fictional bugbear they call Absolute Divine Simplicity, thus actually attacking Augustine for being a vehement opponent of Arianism). I really don't have the holiness or wisdom to say much about the problems as such, so when Aaron asked me a few weeks ago if I would say something about the 'Great Schism' and Tap recently asked me to say something about Zizioulas and the Monarchy of the Father, I wasn't really sure I could say anything of significance. But I think I can manage a few scattered fragments, less extended discussion than a few hints that seem to me to be promising or important.

(1) The 'Great Schism' is historically clearly motivated more by politics than by theology. There were genuine theological issues, of course, but one regularly finds that they played less of a role than one might think. The theological issues that led Cerularius to close the Latin churches in Constantinople and the mutual excommunications of 1054 were no more severe than any other temporary breakings of communion that had occurred, and almost everyone at the time seems to have regarded it as a tiff that would blow over. Rather remarkably the bulk of the split was driven not by relations between the Patriarch and the Pope but between the Emperor and the various Western political leaders. The Venetians became major trading partners with the Byzantines, but in an attempt to reduce Venetian influence Manuel I Komnenos began to encourage trade with other Italian city-states, like Genoa and Pisa. This turned out to be a terrible mistake; rivalries among the Italian city-states were severe, and the Emperor could not maintain the peace between the different groups. Fighting became so severe among the city-states that the Venetians eventually went on a rampage through the Genoese quarter of Constantinople. In retaliation the Emperor arrested all the Venetians in the Empire and confiscated their property, which led to a war between Venice and the Empire. This took decades to settle down, but the heat between Venice and Constantinople remained. Things became even worse when Manuel I died, leaving his wife, Maria of Antioch, as regent for a few years. She was a Crusader princess, and an enthusiastic supporter of the Italians. When the regency government was overthrown by Andronikos I Komnenos, rioting led to a terrible massacre of the Italians in the city, with deaths in the tens of thousands. Trade eventually renormalized, but the hostility increased. The Normans of Sicily sacked Thessalonica (an event which led to the overthrow of Andronikos I's government), complete with its own massacre. The Fourth Crusade deviated from its intended destination to sack Constantinople -- the Fourth Crusade was essentially co-opted by the Venetians -- at which it succeeded in 1204. The Latin Kingdom of Constantinople was eventually overthrown, but the damage was irreparable: the Byzantine Empire remained fractured, weakened. The conquest led to the establishment of opposing hierarchies in the Empire, Latin and Greek, exacerbating the problem. When Michael VIII Palaiologos reestablished the Empire, an attempt was made to heal the rift, with the Second Council of Lyons in 1272, but the Emperor overplayed his hand and pushed things far too hard, leaving things worse off (he managed to get himself excommunicated by both sides at various points of time), as the Byzantines were repeatedly promised that they wouldn't have to do things that they were eventually forced to do, and as the Latins were repeatedly promised that the union was going fine, which they repeatedly discovered was not true. Tensions rose, and things got worse for both sides. The Black Plague hit Constantinople in the 1340s, decimating the population. The Fourteenth century sees a Papacy completely unable to do anything of significance: caught between the French and the Holy Roman Empire, we see the Avignon Papacy from 1309-1376, the Western Schism from 1378-1417. In the meantime, the weakened Byzantine Empire is becoming desperate in its attempt to repel the Ottoman Turks. John VIII Paleologus tried again the Michael Komnenon tack, and thus was born the Council of Basle-Ferrara-Florence, usually just known as the Council of Florence. I use the longer name because it shows one of the several problems faced by this Council: the West was in no shape to host an Ecumenical Council. Convened at Basle, the participants in the Council repeatedly tried to dictate policy to the Pope, which led to Pope Eugene IV transferring the Council to Ferrara; at this point the deal to bring Byzantine delegates was concluded, and the Council at Ferrara prepared to receive them. (A remnant remained at Basle, however, and elected an anti-pope, eventually moving itself to Lausanne, where the anti-Pope resigned and the council dissolved a decade later.) Nearly bankrupt, the Pope had the Council moved to Florence to save on expenses from the hundreds of Byzantine delegates. The Byzantines, not unreasonably, were somewhat irritated at the treatment. But they battled through and came to an agreement in 1439, and the Byzantines went back home, and nothing was done -- there was no broad acceptance, nor even time for any to build, and there was no second chance: Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1454. From then on the East is under Muslim rule, and the Muslim governments actively seek to increase the isolation of the Eastern Church from the West. The West was in no position to do anything about it, the Reformation begins in the sixteenth century, and here we are. Obviously there are other complications in the story, like the Prussian-Russian tensions, but they only are more of the same.

The point of this long litany of devastations is that almost none of this has to do with the Filioque; it has nothing at all to do with leaven in the bread or any of the other things that mattered canonically or liturgically or theologically. The Venetians were not imprisoned for these things, Constantinople was not sacked for these things, attempts at union did not fail because of these things. Some of these, like the Filioque, are undeniably important. But anyone who thinks that we ended up where we are simply because the Latins were too stubborn to reject the Filioque, or the Greeks too proud to accept it, is not looking at actual history but at their own self-righteous complacency. Much of the division began as an inability to rise above the politics of the time; the division remains due to the inability to rise above the politics of the past; and while that is not the whole matter, it is the overwhelming bulk of it. Another reason why ecumenism is for saints: none of us have any business talking about such matters unless we can throw aside the past and focus on the eternal.

(2) But sometimes we simply need some kind of clarification about where we are. A current major influence on the discussion on the Orthodox side is Metropolitan John Zizioulas, metropolitan of Pergamon. To be wholly honest I can't ever read Zizioulas without thinking this an obvious degeneration; we were all better off when the Orthodox were simply copying Florovsky, his teacher. I can hardly ever read him without seeing him as an obvious example of trying to rewrite the doctrine of the Trinity to fit his philosophical views, which are, in fact, quite modern and not at all derived from the Church Fathers. But I have no studied him extensively and would be willing to concede that perhaps I have simply not understood him. I agree with everything in the Loudovikos essay, to the extent that I've studied the matter. I think Zizioulas's emphasis on person as the dominant issue among the Cappadocians is obviously wrong: they are interested entirely in the question of hypostasis, and contrary to Zizioulas's claim, this does not become a 'synonym' for person: talk of persons only becomes admissible to the extent that it simply means 'hypostasis'. Nor does Zizioulas's disproportionate emphasis on freedom make any sense at all of how they ended up talking about these matters in the first place. Likewise, Basil clearly seems to use the word 'monarchia' to talk about what the Three share as one God. As I said, it's entirely possible that I've misread him, but everything he says about the Cappadocians seems obviously anachronistic.

Nonetheless, on the subject of the Monarchy of the Father itself, I accept the doctrine, and agree with a lot of the substance in his discussion of the Monarchy here. Like most people he forgets that Greek and Latin (and languages influenced directly by them) are not the same language; the most obvious case of this is his claim, "The term "cause" when applied to the Father, indicates a free, willing and personal agent, whereas the language of "source" or "principle" can convey a more "natural" and thus impersonal imagery...", which is exactly the reverse of true in any theological vocabulary dominated by Latin, and overlooks the fact, repeatedly stated over the centuries, that the Latins are uncomfortable with 'cause' because it suggests definite separation. His interpretation of Augustine is wrong throughout precisely because he fails to recognize the difference of languages, and that Augustine could not possibly have said in Latin the sorts of things that Zizioulas wants him to say without suggesting something obviously heretical, and it's incumbent on any Orthodox agreeing with Zizioulas to say what Augustine should instead have said in the Latin of Augustine's day. But this is minor; these things can be adjusted for. I accept St. Maximus's account of the Filioque, and would only add that the Latins understand procession as spiration, and that to deny that the Son spirates the Spirit is equivalent to denying that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, which everyone agrees is wrong. Here we run into the usual problem; the West thinks we are really using different words to say the same thing, the East thinks we are not. Determining what is necessary for resolving that problem requires a wiser head than mine.

Looking over all of this, I don't think I've really said much: I think the divisions are in practice mostly propagated by politics, however important the theological differences; I am unimpressed by Zizioulas's theology in general, without having any strong attitude about it; and I accept both the Monarchia and the Filioque along lines laid out by St. Maximus, II Lyons, and Florence. Not much I can contribute beyond that.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for commenting, i really appreciate it.


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