The Rise of the Heretical Papacy

The Rise of the Heretical Papacy


As the power of the “Holy Roman Emperors” of the West declined in the ninth century, so the power of the Popes increased. Beginning with Nicholas I, they began to claim a quasi-imperial rule over the whole Church, East and West. And this combination of the roles of emperor and priest began increasingly to resemble the “imperator-plus-pontifex maximus” role of the pagan Roman emperors: the heresy of Papism was born.


However, for the first eight centuries, every attempt to combine the roles of king and priest in a single person was decisively rejected by the Popes. Thus when, in 796, Eadbert Praen, an English priest, assumed the crown of the sub-kingdom of Kent for himself, he was immediately rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury and anathematised by Pope Leo III, who wrote that such a priest-king was like Julian the Apostate. (18) But gradually, and with increasing self-assertion, the Popes themselves claimed a kingly power and role.


One of the reasons for this was that after the Western Empire had collapsed after 476 and split up into a number if independent kingdoms, the Church remained united, making her by far the most prominent survival of Christian Romanity in the West. Even the most powerful of the western kings did not command a territory greater than that of a Roman provincial governor, whereas the Pope was not only the undisputed leader of the whole of Western Christendom but also the senior hierarch in the whole of the Church, Eastern and Western. However, as long as the Popes remained both Orthodox in faith and loyal subjects of the Eastern Emperor in politics, – that is, until Pope Stephen`s political break with Byzantium in 756, – the lack of a political power in the West commensurate with the ecclesiastical power of the Popes was not a pressing necessity; for everyone accepted that in the political sphere the Eastern Emperor was the sole Basileus of the whole of Christendom, and the western kings were his sons or satraps; while in the ecclesiastical sphere there as no single head under Christ, the body being overseen by its “five senses”, the five patriarchates, of which Rome was simply the primus inter pares.

But problems arose when Rome broke its last political links with the Eastern Empire and sought a new protector in the Frankish empire of Pepin and Charlemagne. This caused changes in the political ideology of the Franks, on the one hand, who came to see themselves as the real Roman Empire, more Roman and more Orthodox than the Empire of the East; and on the other hand, in the ecclesiology of the Popes, who came to see themselves as the only Church of this renewed Roman Empire, having ultimate jurisdiction over all the Churches in the world. Frankish caesaropapism soon collapsed; but Roman papocaesarism continued to grow until it claimed supreme authority in both Church and State…


In fact, there is a strong argument to be made for the thesis that the ultimate gainer from Charlemagne `s coronation in 600 was not the new emperor, but the Pope, Judith Herrin writes: “Of the three powers involved in the coronation event of 800, the Roman pontiff emerges as the clear winner in the triangular contest over imperial authority. By seizing the initiative and crowning Charles in his own way, Pope Leo claimed the superior authority to anoint an imperial ruler of the West, which established an important precedent… Later Charles would insist on crowning his own son Louis as emperor, without papal intervention. He thus designated his successor and, in due course, Louis inherited his father`s authority. But the notion that a western ruler could not be a real emperor without a papal coronation and acclamation in ancient Rome grew out of the ceremonial devised by Leo III in 800”. (19)


So the foundations were laid for the growth of papal powers in the political as well as the ecclesiastical spheres, which growth was especially evident as Carolingian power declined later in the ninth century.


The significant figure here is Pope Nicholas I, whose first task was to establish his supremacy over the Church in the West. However, an Orthodox ecclesiology still prevailed at the metropolitan and lower levels. Thus the archbishops of Treves and Cologne replied to an unjust sentence by Nicholas as follows: “Without a council, without canonical inquiry, without accuser, without witnesses, without convicting us by arguments or authorities, without our consent, in the absence of the metropolitans and of our suffragan bishops, you have chosen to condemn us, of your own caprice, with tyrannical fury. But we do not accept your accursed sentence, so repugnant to a father`s or a brother`s love; we despise it as mere insulting language; we expel you yourself from our communion, since you commune with the excommunicate; we are satisfied with the communion of the whole Church and with the society of our brethren whom you despise and of whom you make yourself unworthy by your pride and arrogance. You condemn yourself when you condemn those who do not observe the apostolic precepts which you yourself are the first to violate, annulling as far as in you lies the Divine laws and the sacred canons, and not following in the footsteps of the Popes your predecessors…” (20)

Nicholas did not confine himself to unjustly deposing western bishops: he also deposed St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, whose speedy promotion to the rank of patriarch from the lay state he considered uncanonical (although many holy patriarchs, and the famous St. Ambrose of Milan, had risen to the episcopate as quickly). All this was in accordance with his theory, first put forward in 865, that the pope had authority “over all the earth, that is, over every other Church”, “the see of Peter has received the total power of government over all the sheep of Christ”. The Emperor Michael III was furious, but Nicholas replied: “The day of king-priests and emperor-pontiffs is past, Christianity has separated the two functions, and Christian emperors have need of the Pope in view of the life eternal, whereas popes have no need of emperors except as regards temporal things.” (21)


This would suggest that Nicholas supported the Orthodox teaching on the separation of the secular and ecclesiastical powers. However, while it was useful for him to preach the Orthodox doctrine in order to limit the power of the emperor, he accepted few, if any, limitations on his own power. He even hinted that the Byzantine emperors might not be legitimates of the Romans, which would imply that the only legitimate emperor was the Frankish one, or, if the forged `Donation of Constantine` was to be believed, the pope himself!


Thus he said that it was ridiculous for Michael to call himself Roman emperor, since he did not speak Latin. (22)


Then he demanded from the Emperor the return of his territories in the Greek-speaking south of Italy for no other reason than that they had once, centuries before, come within the jurisdiction of the Roman patriarchate: “Give us back the patrimony of Calabria and that of Sicily and all the property of our Church, where of it held possession, and which it was accustomed to manage by its own attorneys; for it is unreasonable that an ecclesiastical possession, destined for the light and service of the Church of God, should be taken from us by an earthly power.”

Finally, he sent missionaries to Bulgaria, which was deep within the traditionally Byzantine sphere. To add injury to insult, these missionaries preached the heresy of the `Filioque` to the newly converted Bulgarians. For this reason, a Council convened at Constantinople in 867 presided over by St. Photius, and at which the archbishops of Treves, Cologne and Ravenna were present, excommunicated and anathematized Nicholas.


Two years later, however, a palace revolution enabled another “anti-Photian” council to be convened, at which the Council of 867 was annulled. Papists have often counted this anti-Photian council as the Eighth Ecumenical – not least, one suspects, because the new Pope, Hadrian II, demanded that all its participants recognized him as “Sovereign Pontiff and Universal Pope”. But a much better claim to ecumenicity can be made for the Great Council convened at Constantinople in 879-80, which four hundred Eastern bishops and the legates of Pope John VIII attended. This Council annulled, under the papal legates` signature, the acts of the ant-Photian council. It also made two very important decisions. First, it decreed that there was no papal jurisdiction in the East, although the papal primacy was recognized. And secondly, it reaffirmed the original text of the Nicene Creed without the `Filioque` and explicitly condemned all additions to it. So a Roman Pope formally recognized that he had no jurisdiction in the Eastern Church and that the `Filioque` was a heresy!




Thus was the Papist heresy – for the time being. However, the serpent of Papism lay bruised, not completely scotched; and a more permanent triumph could be hoped for only if a healthy antidote against its poison could be built up within the West. This depended, above all, on the strength of the other pillar of Christian society in the West – the sacred power of the anointed kings.


Such an antidote existed, as we shall see, in England, where the powerful monarchy ruling most of the country arose in the person of King Alfred the Great. On most of the continent, however, the monarchy was deeply involved in the phenomenon that had a profoundly negative impact on both political and ecclesiastical life – feudalism.


The word “feudalism” comes from the Latin `feuda`, translated as “fief”, which means a piece of land held in exchange for service to a lord. Feudalism, in the sense of the widespread division of the land into fiefs, is a common phenomenon in many lands in time of invasion or social decline. But the term was invented to describe the particular socio-political organization of Western Europe in the later Middle Ages. It arose as a defensive reaction to the Viking invasions of the ninth century, and the breakdown in central authority which they caused. The breakdown was worse in West Francia, modern France, where royal authority almost disappeared. One result was serfdom: the lands which had belonged to the crown, the royal “fisc”, were given to local landowners, both ecclesiastical and lay, and the peasants who had cultivated the land, deprived of any protection from the crown, threw themselves on the mercy of the landowners, bartering their and their children`s labour in return for protection. The second was feudalism proper: the freemen became vassals of lords, swearing to fight the lord`s battles in exchange for protection. A vassal was a knight – that is, he owned arms and a horse and was able to fight. Since this required money, he very likely owned land – either inherited, “allodial” land, or a “benefice” or “fief” granted temporarily, in the vassal`s lifetime only. A vassal might himself have vassals. Thus many of the king`s counts, or local officials, were at the same time both feudal lords and vassals of the king.


Feudalism ate into the king`s power in two ways: first, the king`s peasants hardly counted as his subjects any more since their real masters were now their landowners; and secondly, the king`s vassals tended to leave his service for that of the most powerful local feudal lord. The king did not always resist this process, but rather reinforced it, since he saw that the feudal lord was the only guarantee of law and order in the countryside. Thus in the capitulary of Meersen in 847 the Frankish King Charles the Bald ordered all free men to choose a lord, and likewise forbade them to leave their lord without just reason – which effectively made the bond of vassalage permanent in all normal cases. Again, in a capitulary issued at Thionville, he gave official recognition to the vassal`s oath, which thereby replaced the oath of allegiance as the main glue holding society together. Finally, in the capitulary of Kiersy in 877, Charles sanctioned hereditary succession to counties and other fiefs, which meant that county administration became hereditary and passed out of the king`s control. (23)


As a defensive system to preserve a minimum of order in a time of foreign invasion, feudalism undoubtedly had merits. But it was much inferior not only to Byzantine-style autocracy, but also to the forms of Western European monarchy that preceded it. It represented a regression from monarchy to a much cruder and more primitive form of social organization.


According to Ivan Solonevich, feudalism could be defined as “the splintering of state sovereignty among a mass of small, but in principle sovereign owners of property”. Contrary to Marx, it had nothing to do with `productive relations` and was far from being an advance on previous forms of social organization. “It is sufficient to remember the huge cultural and unusually high level of Roman `production`. Feudal Europe, poor, dirty and illiterate, by no means represented `a more progressive form of productive relations` – in spite of Hegel, it was sheer regression. Feudalism does not originate in productive relations. It originates in the thirst for power beyond all dependence on production and distribution. Feudalism is, so to speak, `the democratisation of power` – it transfer to all those who at the given moment in the given place have sufficient physical strength to defend their baronial rights – `Faustrecht`… Feudalism sometimes presupposes a juridical basis of power, but never a moral one.


“The feudal lord does not rule `in the name` of the nation, the people, the peasants, or whoever else there might be. He rules only and exclusively in his own interests, which have been strengthened by such-and-such battles or parchments. For the feudal lord the monarch is not the bearer of definite moral ideals or even of the practical interests of the people or nation, but only `the first among equals`, who has had the luck to be stronger than the rest…


“The thirst for power is, a property common to all humanity, and therefore the tendency to the development of feudalism will be to a greater or lesser degree characteristic of all countries and all peoples of the world… But if we discard trivialities, then we must say that Rome, for example, had no knowledge at all of feudal relations. There were landowners and there were senators, there were proconsuls and there emperors, but there were no barons. The sovereign power `of the people and senate of Rome`, engraved on the Roman eagles, remained the single indivisible source of all power – even the power of the Roman emperors. The civil wars of Rome bore no relation to the feudal wars of medieval Europe. Nor did Ancient Greece with its purely capitalist relations know feudalism. Yes, Greece was split up into a series of sovereign states, but, though tiny, these were nevertheless states – monarchies and republics, in principle having equal rights in relation to each other and by no means in relations of feudal submission or co-submission.” (24)


One of the worst aspects of feudalism was the fact that the Church, too, was bound up in the feudal nexus, with churchmen having lay lords higher than themselves and vassals lower than themselves, which resulted, as Aristides Papadakis, writes, in “the unrestrained secularization of the western clergy. By the 900s most churchmen – both high and low – had lost nearly all their independence and sense of corporate identity, as their functions everywhere became identified with those belonging to lay vassals. Quite simply, as rulers came to regard all ecclesiastical organization under their effective control as a facet of the secular system, conventions governing one sphere were adjusted to fit the other. As a result, bishops and abbots were not exempt from the secular obligations and responsibilities attached to feudal tenure. As feudal dependents they, too, had to attend court, give advise and when required, supply their lay superiors with military service… Characteristically, promotion to an Episcopal see or a rich abbey was often the reward of previous dutiful service in the royal household. It is worth adding that ecclesiastical tenants were also preferred for many posts because their lands and their jurisdictions were not governed by inheritance [celibate priests had no (legal) children]. Whereas the heirs of a lay vassal holding of the king by hereditary right could occasionally create legal difficulties or forment rebellion, an heirless but enfoeffed celibate cleric was incapable of doing so this was probably a decisive reason why so many high ecclesiastics, time and again, became essential associates in royal government everywhere.” (25)

The control exercised by feudal lords over clerical appointments was symbolised by the ceremony of “lay investiture”, whereby the lord endowed the cleric with a ring, signifying the cleric`s entry into feudal tenure of a church or lands. Such a ceremony was distinct from ecclesiastical ordination. But in practice the powers inherent in lay investiture determined who should be ordained (and for how much).

“The hastily ordained and `invested` clerk was often altogether unworthy (if not also incompetent and untrained) of the priestly calling. Church assemblies and individual churchmen, it is true, routinely complained. All the same, neither the power of the laymen to appoint and invest clergy, nor the encroachment and spoliation of Church property, was ever discontinued. As a matter of fact, lay nominations to vacant sees became so frequent that they were no longer regarded as a radical departure from canonical tradition. The abuse was recognized as a perfectly acceptable practice. In 921 the archbishop of Cologne was thus solemnly admonished by the Pope himself for attempting to block a royal appointment at Liege. Pope John X`s letter informing the archbishop that no Episcopal candidate was to be consecrated in any diocese without royal authorization still survives. As far as Pope John was concerned, the right of the feudal power to interfere at the highest level in the internal affairs of the Church was `ancient usage`. Ecclesial autonomy, to say nothing of ecclesial political and economic freedom, was apparently of little consequence. Canon law evidently had long given way to the feudal system…” (26)




By the middle of the eleventh century the whole of Western Europe was caught up in the feudal nexus. The only major exception to the rule was England. “In the intricate web of vassalage,” writes J.M. Roberts, “a king might have less control over his own vassals than they over theirs. The great lord, whether lay magnate or local bishop, must always have loomed larger and more important in the life of the ordinary man than the remote and probably never-seen king or prince. In the tenth and eleventh centuries there are everywhere examples of kings obviously under great pressure from great men. The country where this seemed to present least trouble was Anglo-Saxon England…” (27)

England before the Viking invasions, which began in 793, was divided into seven independent kingdoms. Each had its own bishops, but all, from the time of St. Theodore the Greek, archbishop of Canterbury (+691), recognized the authority of the archbishop of Canterbury. In 786, however, Prince Egfrith, son of King Offa of Mercia, was anointed even before he had ascended the throne of his father, and from the time of this, the first royal anointing in Anglo-Saxon history, the Wessex dynasty gradually came to dominate political life in England. In the late ninth century, under Alfred the Great, it led the recovery against the Viking invaders, and Alfred`s successors succeeded in uniting most of Britain in a single Orthodox kingdom until the Norman-papist invasion of 1066-70. In a real sense, therefore, the anointing of Egfrith may be said to have been the critical event that led to the creation of one nation and one State.

King Alfred came to the throne of Wessex when English civilisation was in, the process of being wiped out by the pagan Danes. Almost single-handedly, he defeated the Danes and laid the foundations for their conversion and integration into his All-English kingdom. But not content with that, he undertook the organisation and education of the badly shattered Church, beginning by  sending all his bishops a copy of his own translation of the `Pastoral Care` by Pope Gregory the Great – the Roman connection again! Indeed, re-establishing links with both Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church was a priority with Alfred. He corresponded with the Patriarch of Jerusalem and sent alms to the monks of India.


The stability of Alfred`s dynasty and kingdom by comparison with the sub-Carolingian kingdoms on the continent was partly owing to the fact that, like the Roman missionaries in the early seventh century, this Romanising monarch found a `tabula rasa` and was able to rebuild on relatively uncluttered, but firm foundations. In particular, the tensions between the monarchy and the local aristocracies which so weakened the West Frankish kingdom, hardly existed in England after 878 and surfaced again in a serious was only in 1052. There are several indications that the English kingdom modelled itself on Byzantium. Thus King Athelstan gave himself the Byzantine titles `basileus` and `curagulus`. (28) Again, in 955, King Edred called himself “King of the Anglo-saxons and Emperor of the whole of Britain”. And a little later King Edgar is also called `basileus et imperator`.

In the tenth century, England reached the peak of her glory as an Orthodox kingdom, based on a monastic revival supported by a powerful king, Edgar, and a holy archbishop, Dunstan, working in close harmony. Ryan Lavelle writes. “A document from around 973, the `Regularis Concordia`,… was intended as a rulebook and liturgical guide for English monks and nuns, but it was also a bold statement of the relationship between God, the king and a Christian people. The king and queen were seen as protectors of monks and nuns in the temporal world, while, in return, the souls of the West Saxon royal family were protected with prayers by the same monks and nuns. The positions of the king and queen were therefore inextricably linked with the survival of Christianity in the kingdom. This was part of a process of legitimising royal power to an extent that was hitherto unparalleled in Anglo-Saxon England. The king had become part of the ecclesiastical order in a coronation meaning of Christ`s name, `Christus`, meant `the anointed [king]`, and the inauguration of Edgar used an `ordo` (an order of service) that put Edgar on a similar level – directly anointed by God. the monastic reform movement gave this a new impetus, to such an extent that King Edgar could go through such a royal inauguration for a second time.” (29)


Edgar`s first anointing had taken place in 960 or 961, when he became King of England. For many years he was not allowed to wear his crown in penance for a sin he had committed. But in 973, the penance came to an end, and at the age of thirty (perhaps significantly, the canonical age for Episcopal ordination in the West) he was anointed again, this time as `Emperor of Britain” in the ancient Roman city of Bath (again significantly, for Edgar was emphasising the imperial, Roman theme). In the same year, again emphasising the imperial theme, he was rowed on the River Dee by six or eight sub-kings, include five Welsh and Scottish rulers and one ruler of the Western Isles. (30) “This was a move,” writes Lavelle, “that recalled the actions of his great-uncle Athelstan, the successful ruler of Britain, but it was also an English parallel to the tenth-century coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto of Germany, in which the stem-dukes had undertaken the task of feeding the emperor.” (31)

Edgar`s ascription to himself of the trappings of `Romanitas` was not without some foundation. The economy was strong, the tax and legal systems were sophisticated, the coinage was secure (with an impressive system of monetary renewal whereby all coins issued from the royal mints had to be returned and reissued every five years). England was now a firmly Orthodox, multi-national state composed of three Christian peoples, Anglo-Saxons, Celts and Danes, (32) living in mutual amity. She was at peace at home and respected abroad, spreading her influence in a beneficial way outwards through missions to the Norwegians and Swedes. (33)


Edgar married twice, the first marriage producing a son, Edward, and the second another son, Ethelred. When he died in 975 (his relics were discovered to be incorrupt in 1052),Ethelred`s partisans, especially his mother, argued that Ethelred should be made king in preference to his elder half-brother Edward, on the grounds that Edgar had not been anointed when he begat Edward in 959 or 960, and that his first wife, Edward`s mother, had never been anointed, so that the throne should pass to the younger son, Ethelred, who had been born “in the purple” when both his parents were anointed sovereigns. The conflict was settled when the archbishop of Canterbury, St. Dunstan, seized the initiative and anointed St. Edward. In this way, through her stewardship of the sacrament of royal anointing, the Church came to play the decisive role in deciding the question of succession. (34)

The religious nature of Anglo-Saxon kingship is seen in the fact that the king was seen as the “warden of the holy temple”.(35) Crimes against the Church or her servants were seen as crimes against the king, and were duly punished by him. It was seen as his duty to look after the Church and enforce her laws with secular penalties. “For a Christian king is Christ`s deputy among Christian people”, as King Aethelred`s laws put it. Both he and the archbishop were “the Lord`s Anointed” – the archbishop so that he might minister the sacraments of salvation, and the king so that, as Bede wrote in his commentary on Acts, “he might by conquering all our enemies bring us to the immortal Kingdom.

The king was sometimes compared to God the father and the bishop – to Christ (he is often called “Christ” in Anglo-Saxon legislation). The king was the shepherd and father of his people and would have to answer for their well-being at the Last Judgement. Regicide and usurpation were the greatest of crimes; for, as Abbot Aelfric wrote in a Palm Sunday sermon, “no man may make himself a king, for the people have the option to choose him for king who is agreeable to them, but after that he has been hallowed as king, he has power over his people, and they may not shake his yoke from their necks.” And so, as Archbishop Wulstan of York wrote in his `Institutes of Christian Polity,` “through what shall peace and support come to God`s servants and to God`s poor, save through Christ, and through a Christian king?” (36)


The relationship between Church and State in England was one of “symphony” in the Byzantine sense, not of caesaropapism; for the kings, as well as being in general exceptionally pious, did nothing without consulting their bishops and other members of the `witan` or assembly – who were not afraid to disagree with the king , or remind him of his obligations. (37) Thus, writes Barlow, “a true theocratic government was created, yet one, despite the common charge of confusion [between spiritual and political functions] against the Anglo-Saxon Church, remarkably free of confusion in theory. The duality of the two spheres was emphatically proclaimed. There were God`s rights and the king`s rights, Christ laws and the laws of the world. There was an independent ecclesiastical jurisdiction under the control of the bishop, but there was also the helping hand of the secular power which the church had invoked and which it could use at its discretion. (38)




Turning to Rome now: the first half of the tenth century was probably the period of the deepest degradation in the eternal city`s pre-schism history – the so-called “pornocracy” of Marozia, an evil woman who with her mother Theodora made, unmade, lived with and begat a series of popes. However, in 932 Marozia`s second son Alberic, marquis of Spoleto, imprisoned his mother, took over the government of Rome and gave it a short period of peace and relative respectability. But in 955 Alberic died and his son Octavian became Pope John XII at the age of sixteen.


“Even for the pope of that period,” writes Peter De Rosa, “he was so bad that the citizens were out for his blood. He had invented sins, they said, not known since the beginning of the world, including sleeping with his mother. He ran a harem in the Lateran Palace. He gambled with pilgrims` offerings. He kept a stud of two thousand horses which he fed on almonds and figs steeped in wine. He rewarded the companions of his nights of love with golden chalices from St. Peter`s. he did nothing for the most profitable tourist trade of the day, namely, pilgrimages. Women in particular were warned not to enter St. John Lateran if they prized their honour; the pope was always on the prowl. In front of the high altar of the mother church of Christendom, he even toasted the Devil…” (39)


Retribution was coming, however. Berengar, king of Lombardy in northern Italy, advanced on Rome, and the pope in desperation appealed to Berengar`s feudal lord, Otto of Germany. This was Otto`s opportunity to seize that imperial crown, which would give him complete dominance over his rivals. He marched into Italy, drove out Berangar and was crowned Emperor by John on 2nd February, 962. However, when Otto demanded that the inhabitants of the Papal States should swear an oath of allegiance to him, Otto, and not to the pope, thereby treating the Papal states as one of his dependencies, the Pope took fright, transferred his support to Berangar and called on both the Hungarians and the Byzantines to help drive Otto out of Italy. But Otto saw this as treachery on the part of the pope; he summoned a synod in Rome, deposed John, and placed Leo VIII in his place. Then he inserted a clause into his agreement with Leo whereby in future no pope was to be consecrated without taking an oath of loyalty to the Emperor.

Although Otto was crowned in Rome, he did not call himself “Emperor of the Romans”, but preferred simply “emperor”. This was probably because he did not wish to enter into a competition with the Byzantine emperor.


It may also have been because he had little admiration for Old Rome, just as Old Rome had little time for him. (40) Thus He instructed his sword-bearer to stand behind him as he kneeled at the tomb of the Apostle. “For I know,” he said, “only too well what my ancestors have experienced from these faithless Romans.” (41)

Otto gained the Byzantines` recognition of his imperial title, and persuaded them to send Princess Theophanou, the niece of Emperor John Tzimiskes, to be the bride of his son, Otto II. The marriage was celebrated in Rome in 972. Theophanou then introduced another Byzantine, John Philagathos, as godfather of her son, Otto III; he later became head of the royal finances and finally – Pope (or antipope) John XV. This led to a sharp increase in Byzantine influence in the western empire, (42) and the temporary eclipse of the new papist theory of Church-State relations. Thus in an ivory bas-relief Christ is shown crowning Otto II and Theophanou – a Byzantine tenth-century motif expressing the traditionally Byzantine concept of Church-State symphony. (43)


In 991 PrincessTheophanou died and the young Otto III became Emperor under the regency of his grandmother. He “dreamed of reuninting the two empires [0f East and West] into one, one day, so as to restore universal peace – a new imperial peace comparable to that of Augustus, a Roman Empire which would embrace once more the `orbis terrarium` before the end of the world that was announced for the year 1000.” (44) to signify that the `Renovation imperii Romani` (originally a Carolingian idea) had truly begun, he moved his court from Aachen to Rome, and began negotiations with the Byzantine Emperor for the hand of a daughter or niece of the `basileus` which union would enable him to unite the two empires in a peaceful, traditional manner.


The plan for union with Byzantium was foiled. But Otto sought the advice of holy hermits, (45) and Byzantine influence continued to spread outwards from the court. And when Gerbert of Aurillac became the first Frankish Pope in 999 and took the name Sylvester II, he revived memories, in those brought up on the forged `Donation of Constantine`, of the symphonic relationship between St. Constantine and Pope Sylvestor I. (46) However, Sylvestor loved the true symphony, not the forged variety: in 1001 he inspired Otto to issue an act demonstrating that the `Donation of Constantine` was a forgery. (47) Moreover, this very unpapist Pope did not believe that he was above the judgement of his fellow-bishops. Thus Pope Marcellinus offered incense to Jupiter [in 303], did all the other bishops have to do likewise? If the bishop of Rome himself sins against his brother or refuses to heed the repeated warnings of the Church, he, the bishop of Rome himself, must according to the commandments of God be treated as a pagan and a publican; for the greater the dignity, the greater the fall. If he declares us unworthy of his communion because none of us will join him against the Gospel, he will not be able to separate us from the communion of Christ.” (48)

This must count as a formal adjuration of the papist heresy that had held the papacy in thrall for over two thousand years. Unfortunately, Sylvestor was not imitated by his successors. But the courage of his right confession deserves appreciation.


This forty-year Ottonian period in the history of the papacy has been viewed in sharply contrasting ways. According to Voltaire in his `Essay on history and customs` (chapter 36), and some  later writers, “the imprudence of Pope John XII in having called the Germans to Rome was the source of all the calamities to which Rome and Italy were subject down the centuries…” (49) However, an unprejudiced view that ties to avoid stereotypes must accept that the intervention of the German monarchy in Roman affairs – until at least the death of Otto III in 1002 – was not wholly unbeneficial. Someone had to put a stop to the scandalous degeneration of the first see of Christendom. And if the Ottonian emperors did not finally succeed in cleansing the Augean stables, it was hardly their fault alone.


The rivalries between the Roman aristocratic families – which were only partly influenced by the desire to keep Rome free from foreigners, – appears to have made the city virtually ungovernable in this period. The Ottonians at least seem to have had good intensions, and the partnership of the German-Greek Otto III and the Frankish Sylvestor II looked on the point of restoring a true unity between the Old and the New Romes. Indeed, for a short period it even looked as if Byzantinism might triumph in the West… “But the Romans,” writes Chamberlin, “rose against (Otto), drove him and his pope out of the city, and reverted to murderous anarchy. He died outside the city in January 1002, not quite twenty-two years of age. Sylvestor survived his brilliant but erratic protégé by barely sixteen months. His epitaph summed up the sorrow that afflicted all thoughtful men at the ending of a splendid vision: `The world, on the brink of triumph, in peace now departed, grew contorted in grief and the reeling Church forgot her rest.` the failure of Otto III and Sylvestor marked the effective end of the medieval dream of a single state in which an emperor ruled over the bodies of all Christian men, and a pope over their souls.” (50)


Thus by the year 1000 there was little trace of papism in the west: it was the Byzantine ideal of “sympohony” Church-State relations that had triumphed in the west`s most powerful monarchies.


However, Otto III died in 1002 and Pope Sylvestor in 1003. After that the “symphony” between Church and State at the highest level of western society began to break up. Like a spinning top that, as it begins to slow down, at the same time begins to lurch more and more sharply from one side to the other, so the balance of power shifted first to the Emperor and then to the Pope.

In the first half of the eleventh century, it was the German Emperors who held the upper hand, as the Papacy descended into one of its periodic bouts of decadence. “Suddenly,” as Aristides Papadakis puts it, “the papacy was turned into a sort of imperial `Eigenkirche` or vicarage of the German crown. The pope was to be the instrument and even the pawn of the Germans, as opposed to the Romans.” (51)


At the same time the heresy of the `Filioque` reared its head again. In 1009 Pope Sergius IV reintroduced it into the Roman Symbol of faith, (52) upon which the Great Church of Constantinople promptly removed his name from the diptychs. In 1014, the heretical innovations was recited again, at the coronation of Emperor Henry II. Some date the beginning of the Great Schism to this period, although it was another forty years before the formal lack of communion between East and West was cemented by the anathemas of 1054.

In 1046 Emperor Henry III acted decisively to stop the chaos into which the Roman papacy had descended, as rival families of Roman aristocrats, the throne of St. Peter. At the Council of Sutri Henry forced the resignation of Pope Gregory VI and the deposition of Popes Sylvestor III and Benedict IX. Then he proceeded to nominate four German Popes in succession: Clement II, Damasus II, Leo IX and Victor II. However, in 1056 Henry died while his son was still a child; and it was at this point that German caesaropapism began to fall. It was struck down by one of the greatest “spiritual” despots in history, Pope Gregory VII, better known as Hildebrand…




One of the Emperor Henry`s appointees, pope Leo IX, had been bishop of Toul in Lorraine, an area that had come under the influence of a network of monasteries under the leadership of the great Burgundian abbey of Cluny. The Cluniac monasteries were “stavropegial” foundations independent of the control of any feudal lord. As such, they had assumed the leadership of a powerful reform movement directed against the corruptions introduced into the Church by the feudal system, and had had considerable success in this respect. (53) They stressed papal authority, clerical celibacy and ecclesiastical centralisation.


Leo IX now introduced the principles of the Cluniac movement into the government of the Church at the highest level – but with results, in the reign of his reign, Gregory VII (Hildebrand), that went far beyond the original purposes of the movement, and which were finally to tear the whole of the West away from New Rome and the Byzantine commonwealth of nations… “From the outset”, writes Papadakis, “the new pope was determined to make the papacy an instrument of spiritual and moral rejuvenation both in Rome itself and throughout Europe. To this end Pope Leo journeyed to central and south Italy, but also to France and Germany, crossing the Alps three times. Nearly four and a half years of his five year pontificate were in fact spent on trips outside Rome. The numerous regional reforming synods held during these lengthy sojourns often had as their target the traffic in ecclesiastical offices and unchaste clergy. Their object above all was to rid the Church of these abused by restoring canonical discipline. The need to reassert both the validity and binding power of canon law for all clergy was repeatedly emphasized. In addition to the decrees against simony and sexual laxity promulgated by these local synods, however, simoniacal and concubinary clergy were examined and, when required, suspended, deposed and, even excommunicated. The object, in short, was to punish the offenders as well. Even if the synods were not always successful, no one was in doubt that Leo IX and his team of like-minded assistants were serious. The immediate impact of this flurry of activity was often extraordinary…


“Overall, the progress of the new papal program was not all smooth sailing. Widespread protest, often accompanied by violent protests, was to continue for decades. Yet, all in all, by the end of the century the popular defenders of simony, of clerical marriage, and of the evils of the proprietary church had by and large vanished. The champions of reform at any rate proved more unyielding than their often more numerous adversaries. This was particularly evident in the skilful drive of the reformers to make celibacy an absolute prerequisite to ordination. This part of the Gregorian platform was reinforced by the monastic ideal, since many of the reformers were actually monks and had already embraced a continent life. some, like the ascetic Peter Damian, cardinal-bishop of Ostia, were even eager to treat the problem as heresy and not as a matter of discipline. But the reformers were perhaps also uncompromising on this issue because they were convinced that compulsory clerical continence could advance the process of de-laicization – another more general item of their platform. A monasticized priesthood, quite simply, was viewed by reformers everywhere as a crucial corrective to clerical involvement in the world. If successful, the strategy, it was hoped, would provide the clergy with that sense of solidarity and corporate identify needed to distinguish them from the laity. In all essential respects, as one scholar has put it, the reforming initiatives of the popes were `an attempt by men trained in the monastic discipline to remodel Church and society according to monastic ideals… to train churchmen to rethink themselves as a distinct `order` with a life-style totally different from that of laymen.` Behind the campaign for celibacy, in sum, aside from the moral and canonical issues involved, was the desire to set all churchmen apart from and above the laity; the need to create a spiritual elite by the separation of the priest from the ordinary layman was an urgent priority. Doubtless, in the end, the Gregorian priesthood did achieve a certain `libertas` and even a sense of community, but only at the expense of a sharp opposition between itself and the rest of society.


“By contrast, in the Christian East, as in primitive Christianity, a wholly celibrate priesthood never became the norm…” (54)


It often happens in history that one important historical process going in one direction masks the presence of another going in precisely the opposite direction. We see the same contradiction in this, the final chapter of Western Orthodox history. The process of ecclesiastical reformation initiated by Pope Leo IX in 1049, which aimed at the liberation of the Church from secular control, was – generally speaking, and with the exception of the element of clerical celibacy – a laudable and necessary programme. But the increasing distance it placed between the clergy and the laity was fraught with danger. In particular, it threatened to undermine the traditional place in Christian society of `the anointed kings`, who occupied a kind of intermediate position between the clergy and the laity. And in the hands of to ambitious clerics who entered the service of the papacy at about this time, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida and Archdeacon Hildebrand (the future Pope Gregory VII), it threatened simply to replace the caesaropapist variety of feudalism with a papocaesarist variety – that is, the subjection of the clergy to lay lords with the subjection of the laity, and even the kings, to clerical lords – or rather, to just one clerical lord, the Pope.


The problem was that by now Church and State were so deeply entangled with each other than nobody, on either side of the controversy, could conceive of a return to the traditional system of the symphony of powers, which allowed for the relative independence of both powers within a single Christian society. Thus the Church wished to be liberated from “lay investiture”. But she did not want to be deprived of the lands, vassals and, therefore, political power which came with investiture. Indeed, the last act in the life of Pope Leo IX himself was his marching into battle at the head of a papal army in 1053 in order to secure his feudal domains in Benevento, which had been granted to him by his kinsman, Emperor Henry III.


Contemporary western society was shocked by that; for, worldly and entangled in secular affairs as bishops had become, it was still felt that war was not an activity suited to a churchman. But that shock was as nothing to the trauma caused in the 1070s and 1080s by Hildebrand`s creative interpretation of the basic feudal relationship: all Christians, he said, were “the soldiers of Christ” and “the vassals of St. Peter”, i.e. of the Pope, and the Pope had the right to call on all the laity to break their feudal oaths and take up arms against their lords, in obedience to himself, their ultimate feudal suzerain, who would repay them, not with lands or physical security, but with the absolution of sins and everlasting life! Thus freedom from lay control, on the one hand, but control over the laity, and greater secular power, on the other: that was the programme – both contradictory and hypocritical – of the “reformed” papacy.

But before understanding this assault on the West, the papacy needed to secure its rear in the East. This was achieved by picking a quarrel with the Eastern Church (55) and sending Cardinal Humbert to Constantinople to anathematize it in 1054. Pope Leo IX was actually dead when the exchange of anathemas took place, but that he was a truly papist pope is proved by his words: “If anywhere in the universe any people proudly disagrees with the Roman Church, it can no longer be called or considered to be a Church – it is already an assemblage of heretics, a conventicler of schismatics, a synagogue of Satan” (56) In reply to this Patriarch Michael (Cerularius) of Constantinople said: “O you who are Orthodox, flee the Catholic and Holy Church of God!”


For it was in this proud exaltation of the opinion of one Church, the Roman – or rather, of one man in one local Church – above the Universal Church that the whole tragedy of the further development of Western civilisation lay…


The now definitely secular character of the papacy was demonstrated at the inauguration of Pope Nicholas II, when a quasi-royal coronation was introduced as part of the rite. Then, in 1059, he decreed that the Popes should be elected by the cardinal-bishops alone, without the participation of the people. “The role of the Roman clergy and people,” writes Canning, “was reduced to one of mere assent to the choice. The historical participation of the emperor was by-passed with the formula `saving the honour and reverence due to our beloved son Henry [IV] who is for the present regarded as king and who, it is hoped, is going to be emperor with God`s grace, in as much as we have now conceded this to him and to his successors who shall personally obtain this right from the apostolic see`. (57)


Sixty years before, Otto III had bombastically claimed that he had “ordained and created” the Pope. (58) Now the wheel had come round full circle: the emperors were emperors only by virtue of receiving this right from the Pope.