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The Historical Study of Orthodox Theology

Some Basic Guidelines

by Archbishop Chrysostomos

In discussing the historical events and theological trends that determined the interaction between the Byzantine East and the Latin West in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, from the sack of Constantinople to the Hesychastic Controversy, which is our central concern during this semester, we will attempt to dispel certain prejudices and wrong assumptions about the nature of Byzantine theology, which can be said to have reached an especially high point of development during these centuries, as it is understood in the religious Western world. We will address the psychological world and cognitive paradigms behind Orthodox religious thought, as well as its relationship to classical Greek thought, this relationship being one that has been flagrantly distorted in Western theological and historical commentaries on the Byzantine experience. At the same time, we must also address some very complex and subtle historiographical problems that tend to affect both our outlook on these particular centuries and our general view of the Byzantine Empire. Here, too, Western prejudices and glaringly superficial and naive assumptions about the nexus between religion and politics—the Church and the state—have colored how scholars study and interpret the events which shaped the course of Byzantine history.

At the outset, one must be bold and say that it is impossible to study this period of Byzantine history, if not to some extent the whole of Byzantine history, without studying theological trends. If one cannot understand the Byzantine theological tradition without properly putting it into the context of the technical and very deliberate way that the Greek Fathers drew on and refined the thought of the Greek ancients, by the same token it would be impossible to understand historical events in the Byzantine Empire without acknowledging that theological trends and religious influences helped shape and, in fact, partially determine the outcome of these events. A scholar who is an atheist, a doctrinaire social determinist, or simply indifferent to religion will not, unless he can overcome the historiographical or anthropological presuppositions which often arise from such ideologies and personal dispositions, come to anything like an objective or accurate understanding of the Byzantine world and those who inhabited it. If theological trends are affected by the world in which they develop (something which one must admit), there is a unity in Byzantine thought—a sense of continuity that grows out of a studious appeal to the consensus of the Fathers and a creative repetition of established truth in new languages and categories—which very much tends to mitigate this fact. To retreat into the hackneyed and largely unfounded charge of caesaro-papism so often leveled against the Byzantines, and thus to dismiss theological pronouncements as mere reflections of the vagaries and aims of imperial policy or of political manipulation, is to distort and to misrepresent the real dimensions of theology in the Byzantine Empire. If theology was, among the Byzantines, a topic of everyday discussion even among the common people, as several chroniclers from various periods tell us, its impact on historical events was pivotal and not peripheral. One cannot argue, indeed, that events alone shape history, or that they are unconnected with the intellectual trends that often generate and shape them; and theology was the stuff of intellectual life in Byzantium. The historical record and the intellectual ethos of the Byzantines, permeated as it was by religious issues and spiritual pursuits, avers this.1

Second, it is absolutely crucial that we come to an understanding—we who live almost six centuries after the fall of Constantinople—of the way in which our notion of the Byzantine era has been shaped by intellectual trends at once inimical to the Byzantine experience and sympathetic to the ascendancy of Western European thought and according to historiographical models that are, like all such models, tentative and sometimes misleading. (Suffice it simply to mention, as an illustration of these trends and ways of looking at history, the monumental work of the eighteenth-century English scholar Edward Gibbon, The History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, which paints the Byzantine Empire in quite negative terms—as an "inferior" political entity.) In the Western world, we tend to divide history, after the recognition of Christianity by the Roman Empire in the fourth century, into periods corresponding to the subsequent collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth and sixth centuries, the restoration of the Roman Empire in Christian form during the Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth century, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and so on. The Byzantine Empire, on the other hand, saw itself as the inheritor or continuator of the Roman Empire, which had collapsed in the West, and its Church as the Catholic Church of that Empire. Greeks, with whom, as a nationality, we too narrowly associate Byzantium, considered themselves Romaioi or Romans (that is, citizens of the Roman Empire), an appellation that still holds, at times, among the contemporary citizens of Greece. Thus, when one speaks of a Greek Orthodox-Roman Catholic confrontation during the Middles Ages, he is speaking in categories that describe an experience and a period of history that are viewed quite differently in traditional Orthodox countries, where the legacy of Byzantium persists in a more vivid form than it does in the West. In the historiographical terminology of the East,2 one might more accurately speak of this period as an age of confrontation between the Catholic Church of the Roman Empire (the Orthodox Church) and the Frankish Church of the emerging, post-Roman West, a body established under the aegis of the Roman See by Charlemagne in the ninth century.

Furthermore, the domination of what had been the administrative center of the Byzantine Empire by Islam for nearly five centuries (a phenomenon that was already known in large parts of the Empire well before the fall of Constantinople itself in 1453), as well as the fall of Eastern Europe and that surviving part of the Byzantine world that did not wholly succumb to Turkish rule to the yoke of Communism in the twentieth century, left the Orthodox world in difficult circumstances. If, as I have said, the Byzantine experience cannot be separated from the theological precepts that helped determine much of its history and that played such a vital rôle in so many events, it is self-evident that to publish or disseminate studies of the Byzantine Empire and its theological traditions under the harsh restrictions of Islamic rule and the anti-religious policies of the communist era was exceedingly difficult. This does not necessarily mean, as Jean Cardinal Daniélou has written, that the cultural continuity of the Byzantine East with its ancient Greek heritage ended with the fall of Constantinople,3 or that a high level of intellectual activity did not survive the Turkish occupation. Professor Constantine Cavarnos, for one, has written extensively on this subject, and his observations tend to contradict this unfounded claim.4 Nonetheless, the Turkish occupation and, more recently, militant communist attempts in the last century to eradicate any memory of the religious ethos that formed the traditional life and thought of those Eastern European countries that came under its sway took their toll. The struggle for the mere survival of unpopular, and even outlawed, intellectual traditions leaves little opportunity for that refinement of thought that the Christian West has enjoyed to a far greater extent, in contemporary times, than the Christian East. Thus, it is understandable that portrayals of Byzantium from the perspective of those who were intimate with (or at least sympathetic to) its legacy immediately after the Fall of Constantinople (save for a relatively small number of chroniclers) and in the contemporary world have neither been easy to find—until fairly recent times—nor all that numerous, when compared to materials available in other areas of historical research in the West.

Third, Islamic conquests and the later onslaught of Communism also led to a significant exodus of intellectuals from the lands which comprised what was formerly the Byzantine Empire—or again, more properly, the Roman Empire, since the word "Byzantine," while certainly useful and part of predominant historical nomenclature, is nonetheless a term of Western and fairly recent provenance. As some Western historians now acknowledge, the Renaissance and renewed concern in the West for the classical world were profoundly influenced by the influx of Greek intellectuals fleeing the Turkish occupation of Byzantine lands even early on in the fifteenth century,5 before the fall of the imperial capital, just as refugee Iconophiles from the East had, in the eighth century, influenced the mosaic art of the West at that time. This emigration of scholars, incidentally, serves in general to impugn the idea that the Byzantines had lost an appreciation of the arts and wisdom of the classical world and, specifically, that they had lost access to the writings of the ancients, which supposedly reached the West solely through Arabic sources. In fact, as Father John Meyendorff has rightly observed, "much of our knowledge of Greek antiquity is the direct result" of Byzantine scholarship, and notably so after the  revival of classical studies that occurred in ninth-century Byzantium and the careful copying of ancient manuscripts that resulted therefrom.6 Byzantine scholars took with them to the West a rich knowledge of the ancient Graeco-Roman world. As in theology, the Byzantine cultural world was, it must be admitted, eclectic with regard to what it received and appreciated from classical arts and letters; however, the classical arts and knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy flourished in Byzantium.7 

If the intellectual exodus  away from the Turkish yoke (and once more, at the beginning of the twentieth century, from the violent Communist revolutions that erupted in Eastern Europe) broadened the intellectual horizons of the West, it also, in many ways, helped to spawn in the Eastern  intellectual emigration what has been called a "Western captivity." That is, in filling the vacuum created by upheavals in the East that greatly restricted the study of the history, values, and ethos of the Byzantines, émigré scholars quite often adopted the jaundiced historiographical presuppositions and theological models of the West. As the members of the Eastern emigration became increasingly assimilated into the Western world, this effect became more pronounced. Moreover, with the deliberate Westernization of Muscovite Russia, the so-called "Third Rome"8 and the putative inheritor of the Byzantine mantle, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries under Peter the Great (1672-1725), this trend was heavily reinforced. In an effort to turn to the social models of the West, the Tsar dissolved the Russian Patriarchate, in 1721, and replaced it by a ruling council or Synod under an imperial Procurator of Religion. In subsequent years, Roman Catholic and Protestant, as well as a wide array of other Christian and non-Christian religious ideas, gained popularity in Russia, changing both the tenor and tone of the theological tradition that it had taken from the Byzantines. But undoubtedly, the dominant force in this deviation from the Byzantine model was Western Christian and strongly fixed on Rome, as evidenced by the fact that, well after the time of Peter the Great, many of the prominent theological seminaries in Russia used Latin as their language of instruction and were staffed by Jesuit-trained scholars from Ukraine. Over many years, the effect of this Westernization naturally reached into the whole of the intellectual life of the country.9 And certainly it was nourished by the influence of the Western spirit of Russian intellectual circles in Western Europe and America, especially after the flight of Russian intellectuals to the West after the Bolshevik Revolution, just as the thinking, social ideals, and political clout of Orthodox immigrants from Greece, the Levant, and other Eastern European countries have introduced the fruits, both constructive and destructive, of their Western experiences into the countries of what was once the Byzantine East. 

We cannot, of course, speak as though the Orthodox emigration, whether during the waning years of Byzantium or in modern times, was without its positive contributions to an understanding of the Byzantine East in the Western world in which these immigrants found refuge. Indeed, I am addressing, here, a current to which there are inevitable exceptions and which was not entirely negative in its consequences. For example, one of the most important post-Byzantine Greek scholars working in the West, Adamantios Koras, who died in 1833, is often characterized by contemporary scholars as a "Westernized" Orthodox thinker and even as a thinker who consciously "rejected" his Byzantine heritage. Indeed, he lived the majority of his life in France. Conversant in the languages and then vogue thought of Western Europe, it is well known that he greatly admired Edward Gibbon, whose opinion of the Byzantines, as we have noted, was not a positive one. In point of fact, however, Koras devoted much of his scholarly effort towards the study of ancient Greek writers and also wrote books in defense of the Orthodox Church—to which he was vehemently loyal—, including a catechism and several volumes of a devotional nature. In more modern times, Russian, Greek, and other migrs to the West have, through their writings, helped bring the Byzantine and Orthodox world to the attention of Western scholars. Though Western influence certainly mars their writings, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the individual scholar, all of these immigrant intellectuals have, nonetheless, contributed to this awakening of the West to its Eastern counterpart and, in many ways, to its own Byzantine legacy. Moreover, we must point out that it is to a great extent—though not exclusively—in the Orthodox emigration, among theologians and historians alike, that the seeds of a reaction against the defects of Western historiography and intellectual prejudice against the Byzantine East were originally planted. And hints of this inclination towards the "Easternization" of Orthodox theology and Byzantine history are frequently seen even in the writings of scholars seemingly formed in the crucible of Western thought and attitudes.

To summarize what I have said about the effect of the three foregoing factors on Byzantine historiography at a general level, then, we can observe that the historiographical prism through which we see Byzantium and its thousand-year-long history, both in the East and in the West, is very much that of the Westerner. There are, as I have emphasized, notable exceptions to this observation, including some writers in the East itself who, though I have not cited them, maintained or developed an intellectual outlook largely unaffected by Western thought. (With regard to recent times, the great Serbian Churchman and theological genius, Archimandrite Justin [Popovich], comes immediately to mind.) The observation itself must be taken as an ideational guide, not as an idçe fixe. Nonetheless, what I wrote some years ago in a small volume on Byzantium and the West for a popular audience, while intentionally overstated, is not without merit:

The Western view of the Christian past...is particularly artificial—it is a rather whopping lie, as the modern idiom would have it, if only because it ignores the historical experience of more than half of the Christian world, the Christian East, from which Western Christianity itself ultimately derives! Yet, it has gained such ascendancy that one is hesitant to challenge it. It is so ubiquitous that even Eastern Christians, especially those living in the West, often embrace it themselves. And if they do not, in fact, embrace it as their personal view, they often feel compelled to speak within its framework in trying to present their own perspectives on the Christian past. The Western view has become triumphant, despite its inadequacies in accounting...for a vast part of Christian history.10

In a similar vein, the late Father Georges Florovsky, though addressing Russian theological thought and the Russian experience in particular, expresses very much what I have said about the Christian East in general. More importantly, however, he makes a necessary rejoinder to what I have said. True though it may be that Byzantium, its history, and its theological traditions have been viewed, in the dominant scholarly tradition, through the myopic eyes and sometimes seriously flawed lenses of the Western investigator, the Christian East owes a great debt to the West. If Eastern Christians have lost an acute awareness of their historical, cultural, and theological uniqueness, whether because of the vicissitudes of history and their victimization by inimical political powers, or because they have been held captive by a more-or-less conscious adoption of Western historical models and philosophical ideas, Western scholars have preserved and studied much of the historical and intellectual data that can help the Easterner to regain self-knowledge and his authentic identity. This we must stress, and this, as Father Florovsky points out, must guide us in our confrontation with the West: a confrontation on common ground with equal footing—albeit one in which the East is obliged to the West for the gift of the common ground on which this intellectual squaring away occurs, even if that ground has been littered at times by Western historiographical and cultural prejudices that cannot be ignored: 

Orthodox theology borrows its sources from the West; it reads the Fathers and the acts of the Councils in Western editions, often merely for the sake of example, and it learns the methods and the technique of utilization of sources at the school of the West. We know the past of our Church above all thanks to the efforts of many generations of Western scholars, as far as both the facts and their interpretation are concerned. The fact that the conscience of the West is constantly attentive to the ecclesial reality of history, that it assumes a responsible and heedful attitude toward it, that it never desists from reflecting and meditating on the Christian sources, this fact already is important. Western thought continues to live in that past, thereby compensating, so to speak, the weaknesses of its  mystical memory with the liveliness of its recollections. To the Western world, the orthodox [sic] theologian himself must bring its witness, the witness of the intimate memory of the Church, in order to have it coincide with the results of historical research. It is only that intimate memory of the Church which vitalizes fully the silent witness of the texts [emphasis mine].11

The historiographical problems which I have enumerated, resulting in a loss of intimate contact with the spirit and ethos of the Byzantine East, touch on a more general problem for the historian; they impede us, to be sure, in a far more universal way. In his beautiful volume on the writing of history, The Idea of History, which was first published in 1946, three years after his death, the British historian and philosopher, R.G. Collingwood, argues that the goals and the purpose of history of any kind are to recapture, in the mind of the student or scholar, a vivid feeling for, and understanding of, the period which he is investigating. True history, Collingwood opines, is a recapitulation of the past, a psychic entry, to the extent possible, into the societies and times which we study and an attempt to capture the ways of thinking, the values, and the attitudes of those who inhabited these times and societies. Collingwoods contemporary critics, as well as many of his present-day detractors, accuse him of wishing to make the study of history something unscientific, a venture into scholarly fantasy and the imagination. He has been accused of so idealizing history that it loses any objective content. Despite these criticisms, it is certainly true that history is authentically objective, not only when it undertakes a scientific study of the past and operates within the guidelines of established scholarly inquiry (which Collingwood in no way disputed), but also when it in fact captures past experience and understands events and intellectual trends in the way that those who experienced them understood them. This is not fantasy; rather, in its ideal form, it is rational reconstructionism. Failing to reconstruct the past in a rational way, and thus failing to place history in the context of those who lived it, is to fail at historical inquiry at an elemental level. In this sense, Collingwood and those who embrace his notions of history should guide the serious historical researcher in his investigations.  

Without doubt, if one applies the criteria by which Collingwood characterizes true historical writing, all of the deficits which we have acknowledged vis-à-vis the study of Byzantine history, Byzantine theology, and the confrontation between the Byzantine East and the Roman West frustrate, in the most immediate and substantial way, any grasp of how the Byzantines approached the West conceptually, how they understood the mentality of the West, and how they were affected by their interactions and exchanges with the West. This is true, not only because the historiographical foibles and prejudices in question obfuscate the nature of the Byzantine Empire and the experiences of those who lived in it, but also because these intellectual impediments further complicate an already distorted vision of the Christian East. To study the Byzantine perception of the thwarted rapprochement between the Eastern and Western Christian worlds in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a scholar must seek to understand Byzantium on its own terms; he must liberate himself from the dominant categories and paradigms of Western thought, thought which has made the study of this period of time so asymmetrical. He must begin to think like the Byzantines. And this is obviously impossible, once more, when our intellectual world is already once removed from their world, from their thought processes, and from their world-view: removed not merely because of a prevailing intellectual tradition, but also because of enduring prejudices which have, paradoxically enough, passed from the West to the East and taken root in the East itself. 

Not only, therefore, must the scholar embrace the guidelines for writing history put forth so brilliantly by Collingwood, but he must also exhibit the humility that will allow him to admit that there may have been things in the Byzantine experience that exceed what the historians who have studied the Byzantines in a superficially prejudicial, if not sometimes deliberately hostile, way have found. He must yield to the idea that there may be dimensions to a society formed by theological and spiritual ideals that we do not easily grasp, dimensions beyond those which we can easily access and assess by the standard "scientific" tools and evaluative criteria of the historian. Only in this humble turning-away from old prejudices and tainted theories can we come to share something with those whom we study; in this case, the Byzantines. This may appear to some to constitute an assault against objectivity; nonetheless, it is the one thing needful, if we are to be truly objective. In the final analysis, neutral objectivity is not always, if ever, attained by the scholars supposed ability to remain uninvolved; rather, involvement and direct immersion into the thinking and values of a people alone ultimately provide us with the genuine data by which we can understand them. What measure of objectivity exists, one might ask rhetorically, where such understanding is absent? 

As we set about investigating the specific historical events, social attitudes, and theological thinking that shaped the confrontation between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it becomes immediately evident that all of the warnings that I have set forth here are both operative and crucial. This is quite simply because general surveys of Byzantine history give short shrift to most of this time period, save for the tragic events of the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople by the Latins, which opened the thirteenth century, and the theological controversies of the fourteenth century as they impacted on the attempts at union between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics on the very eve of the final collapse of Constantinople. Though there are specialists who have studied specific periods and issues within these two centuries with great care and in great detail, it is still a period that is seldom studied as an entity in and of itself.12 Of course, these are not centuries that stand alone, as though the currents of the centuries before them did not shape them; nor, of course, were they anything but antecedents to other events, when seen from the perspective of subsequent epochs. But they do have an integrity and unity of their own, much in the same way that a person, though he is the product of his forbears and contributes much of his own to his progeny, is nevertheless a distinct individual and constitutes an array of genetic, physical, psychological, and even spiritual traits that are his alone and which are worthy of independent study. 

Hence, as curious as it may seem, we must approach the study of these two centuries in a very broad way, essaying thereby to bring into focus their peculiarities and to show why they constitute such a distinct period of time between the violent assault against Constantinople in 1204 and the tumultuous century that ushered in the collapse of the Byzantine Empire. To this end, we must with equal assiduity avoid the historiographical pitfalls which I have tried to enumerate and explicate and delve deeply into the intellectual effects of the events of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which saw their own failed union attempt between the Christian East and West, the Hesychastic controversy, and the flowering of Papism in the West. There are few histories or guides available to us in this quest, since the Byzantine story has not been fully or carefully told. However, of those few studies that are available, one of two chief sources is Father John Meyendorffs Byzantine Theology, 13 which treats with Byzantine theology from Chalcedon to the fall of Constantinople. This is in many ways a remarkable work, since it aims at placing the doctrinal and political disputes between the Christian East and West in proper theological perspective. Unfortunately, however, Father Meyendorff was very much the product of his training in Western historiography. As well, despite a brilliant chapter on Eastern Orthodox anthropology (Chapter 11, "Man"), wholly consistent with the consensus of the Eastern Fathers, there are some glaring Western influences—not to mention lapses in philosophical acuity—in his theological discussions in this book, and especially with regard to the Palamite or Hesychastic Controversy.14 This volume is not the "definitive book on Byzantine Orthodox theology" that a blurb on the back cover of the second edition suggests it is, but it does help to fill a scholarly void that has not even begun to be faced. 

In addition to Father Meyendorffs survey of Byzantine theology, there is a useful book by Professor Aristeides Papadakis, written in collaboration with the former. This book is entitled, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy: The Church 1071-1453 A.D.15 It covers the period from the victory of the Seljuk Turks over the Byzantines in Armenia and ends with the fall of the Byzantine capital. 16 It was, in fact, not only written in collaboration with Meyendorff, but contains two essays by him, one on the Orthodox Church in the Balkans and the other on the Church of Russia, roughly covering the time period designated in the books title. Unfortunately, though this book is marked by very sound and impressive historical scholarship, it does not deal with the two centuries which are our concern in great detail, except as they fit into the broader period that it covers. Professor Papadakis discussion of the Hesychastic controversy, one of the most important events of the fourteenth century, however, is of great importance to us. It is reasonably thorough and reflects a very good understanding of the basic issues involved in the theological disputes that shaped the controversy. Admittedly, the authors preoccupations, in this volume, are not essentially theological; but he understands and emphatically states that no history of the Byzantine Empire can ignore its theological and spiritual dimensions.17 His account of Western historical developments during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is also insightful and of direct use to us. In our investigation of the interaction between the Byzantine East and Roman Catholic West, we will follow, evaluate, and expand on many of his observations, as well as those of Father Meyendorff. 


1. I should note, here, that there are, of course, historical sources that place in question the extent to which Orthodox Christianity reached the masses and the quality of the religious or spiritual life that they led. For example, R.J.H. Jenkins, in his commentaries on the social life of the Byzantines, acknowledges that Christianity prevailed among the higher social classes as a matter of their daily preoccupations and as a monument of their conservatism, but argues that any real religious hegemony was absent from the Empire. He maintains that the spiritual needs of the lower classes, "whose lives began and ended with the soil and its tillage," were met largely by paganism, "with its roots securely planted in the periodicity and aberrations of nature." It is, in fact, to the inability of the Byzantine Empire, despite "the force of religious feeling," to make Christianity "equally potent among the peasantry" that Jenkins attributes the lack of "solidarity" that doomed the Byzantine Empire. (See his essay, "Social Life in the Byzantine Empire," in The Cambridge Medieval History, ed. J.M. Hussey [Cambridge: The University Press, 1967], Vol. IV, Part II, pp. 102-103, 101.)

Nonetheless, I believe that the prevailing view among careful students of the Byzantine experience is that primary sources and chronicles speak of a reasonable degree of theological awareness even among the lower classes in Byzantine society (excluding, naturally, those populations on the periphery of the Empire, who were frequently without the ministrations of the Church or who were non-Christian or pagans). J.M. Hussey and T.A. Hart, admitting that the "great traditions of Byzantine mysticism may have affected a small minority," nonetheless, in their study of the rôle of the Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, contend that, "for whatever its defects, Byzantine civilization was permeated by Orthodox Christianity, and perhaps owed its existence to it." Certainly, moreover, the population of Byzantium was no more beset by pagan superstitions than the populations of the West; and while Professor Jenkins sees Orthodox Christianity as a limited force that failed to save the Empire, Professors Hussey and Hart place far less emphasis than he does on alleged religious deviation at a popular level and see the Orthodox Church as a basic element in the very existence of the Empire. It is my opinion that the historical data themselves support this latter point of view. (See J.M. Hussey & T.A. Hart, "Byzantine Theological Speculation and Spirituality," ibid., pp. 204-205.) 

2. This alternative historiographical model is set forth quite forcefully—if a bit peremptorily at times—by [Father] John Romanides in his Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine: An Interplay Between Theology and Society (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1981; esp. pp. 9-36). To some degree, this provocative and compelling work undoubtedly overstates the "Eastern" view of historical events that helped to shape the contemporary European world and the cultural scions of Byzantium in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, one must admit that many of the weaknesses that accrue to the reification of the Western historiographical model which it seeks to challenge are also evident in Romanides notion of Romiosine, or the peculiar culture which marked the legacy of the Roman Empire in Byzantium; nor, indeed, does he put forth his views without some polemical commentary that compromises the objectivity of his thesis. Nonetheless, his brilliant creation of an historiographical model that in many ways turns the accepted historical view in the West upside down helps us to understand quite clearly that ostensible historical trends are frequently more the product of how we see and interpret historical events than they are literal and accurate portrayals of these events.

3. J. Daniélou, "Patristic Literature," in Historical Theology, Vol. II, The Pelikan Guide to Modern Theology (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 116.

4. In this respect, see the remarkable Introduction, by Professor Stephen D. Salamone of Boston University to Professor Cavarnos book, The Hellenic-Christian Philosophical Tradition (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1989), pp. 1-10; esp. the section entitled "The question of the Hellenic Continuum" (pp. 2-4), in which Dr. Salamone identifies the ongoing traditions of the Hellenic experience with certain "spiritual" values that link the ancient and Christian Greek worlds. 

In his book, The Hellenic Heritage: Ancient, Byzantine, and Modern (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1999), Professor Cavarnos also provides a brief summary of the intellectual life of the Greeks after the fall of Byzantium and into modern times, characterizing the scholarship of this period as a clear continuation of the ancient Hellenic heritage and the scholarship of the Byzantines. (See Chapter 2, "The Hellenic Heritage in Modern Times," pp. 35-55.)

5. See an interesting commentary on the Greek colony in Venice and both its impact, as well as that of the emigration from Byzantium after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, on the Renaissance in Deno John Geanakoplos, Byzantine East and Latin West (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), Part II, Chapter 4, pp. 112-114 esp. 

6. [Father] John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, second printing (with revisions) (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), p. 55. 

It should be noted that F. Dlger, the famous philologist and student of Byzantine literature, denies that the Renaissance "came about as a result of the activities of Greek humanists" who emigrated West following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. However, he concedes that "the educated Byzantine world gave a good deal of its time to the literature of ancient Greece, to textual emendation and commentaries and to the production of linguistic and other aids to its better understanding and appreciation. So strong was tradition that the best minds of Byzantium were constantly lavishing their time on absorbing this philological, exegetical, and encyclopaedist work." (See his essay, "Byzantine Literature," in The Cambridge Medieval History, op. cit., p. 247.) 

Cavarnos observes, with regard to the works of Aristotle, for example, which were popularized in the West through Latin translations from Arabic texts in the twelfth century, that "a broader and more accurate knowledge of Aristotles philosophy resulted in the thirteenth century through the capture of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, in 1204, by the Crusaders—for after the closing of Aristotles school at Athens in the sixth century, Greek philosophy had found a home at Constantinople. Here, the study of Aristotles philosophy, as well as that of Plato, continued without interruption" (The Hellenic-Christian Philosophical Tradition, op. cit., p. 37).

7. On the subject of the preservation of various elements of classical art and architecture in the Byzantine Empire, let me quote here a statement by the British art critic, Herbert Read, taken from his Introduction to the English translation of Professor Panagiotis A. Michelis book on the art of Byzantium, An Aesthetic Approach to Byzantine Art (first published, in translation, in London in 1955). Read praises Professor Michelis for his enlightening presentation of an artistic tradition "which has suffered from so much ignorance, confusion, and controversy" (quoted in Cavarnos, The Hellenic Heritage: Ancient, Byzantine, and Modern, op. cit., p. 45). This insightful characterization applies broadly to a large number of contemporary assessments of Byzantine art. 

Byzantine art, of course, drew on classical Greek and Roman art for many of its models. But there exists not a little controversy in art history concerning the clear lines that can be drawn between Greek and Roman art. Byzantine art also drew from Persian, Egyptian, and Syrian art. But here, too, the latter two traditions were similarly influenced by Hellenic art. Whatever the case, the Byzantines certainly incorporated classical art into their artistic style, and this classical influence endured throughout the history of their art. It is undeniable, of course, that, as David Talbot Rice states, the Orthodox Church "moulded and influenced that art as a sculptor moulds his clay" and "dictated its form and limitations," bringing it "to express the infinity of the Christian God, not the finite perfection of Greek thought" (D. Talbot Rice, Byzantine Art, revised and expanded edition [Baltimore, MD: Penguin books, 1968], p. 64). But unlike A. Grabar, the French historian and archaeologist of Christian antiquities, Professor Rice does not create the impression that the limitations set by its religious goals frustrated or even obviated the cultivation of an appreciation for the Graeco-Roman artistic paradigms from which Byzantine art in part developed. (Grabars views are clearly set forth in an essay on Byzantine art in The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. IV, Part II, op. cit., pp. 306-353.) Professor Cavarnos, whose thought also sharply contrasts with Grabars notion of the limitations of Byzantine art, argues, along the lines of Rice, that the Byzantines refined the simplicity, clarity, and idealism of classical Greek art, adding to the beauty of the latter a sublime spiritual element that does not, in this admixture, violate the "organic unity" and artistic authenticity of Byzantine art. 

In fact, the Byzantines also directly preserved many of the plastic arts of the ancient world, including free statuary. The pious Emperor Justinian had statues of himself and his Empress placed in gardens and public places, and into the first part of the seventh century this art was not at all unusual in Byzantium. It is a misunderstanding of the theory of Icons that emerged from the Iconclastic period that has led to the idea that statuary, and even religious statuary, is forbidden in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Rather, because it too easily lends itself to the veneration of the religious object, rather than the archetype to which such veneration is ideally directed (to employ the theological imagery of St. John of Damascus), religious statuary is disfavored in the Christian East and only two-dimensional iconographic art is given liturgical sanction. Nonetheless, very beautifully executed religious statues could be found in relatively late Byzantine times (see, for example, a twelfth-century ivory statue of the Mother of God the Hodegetria in Steven Runciman, Byzantine Style and Civilization, second reprinting [New York: Viking Penguin, 1987], p. 101).

8. The idea of the translatio imperii, or translation of the Empire, from Constantinople to Moscow, following the fall of the former, was a very popular theme in the sixteenth century, the dissemination of which was meant to bolster Russian imperialism. The idea was formulated in religious terms in the correspondence of the Monk Filofei early in the sixteenth century. It was his conviction that, with the fall of Constantinople, Russia remained the only Christian State and that, just as the power of "Old Rome" had been transferred to the "New Rome" in Constantinople in 330, so the power of the latter had been transferred to Moscow after 1453. This is a rather naive understanding of the relationship between Old and New Rome, which was the subject of the administrative pronouncements of the Second Oecumenical Synod in Constantinople (381); this Synod, in a complex canonical formula, gave an equal status of honor to Rome and Constantinople. From a purely theological standpoint, the succession of some sort of ecclesial authority from Old to New to a Third Rome is not only tenuous, but unacceptable in terms of how the Orthodox Church interprets the nature of the primacy of honor granted Constantinople, along with Rome, at the Constantinopolitan council. Nonetheless, this image of Moscows inherited primacy has taken on nearly doctrinal dimensions among some Russian Orthodox and Western writers. 

9. The effects of this Westernization are presented in a very stark statement by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky of Kiev (later First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) in his Introduction to a theological monograph published at the beginning of the last century in Poland (Tarasii Kurganskii, "Perelom v drevnerusskom Bogoslovii" [Warsaw: A.T., 1927]). He argues that a systematic Orthodox theology in the Russian Church at the time was yet to be formulated, on account of the "imitation of heretical doctrinal systems, as we have habitually done for two hundred years." One might argue that, despite the intricacies of Russian Orthodox theological trends (which also wandered off into such philosophical movements as German idealism and the thinking of the nineteenth-century European Romantics), there still remained, of course, a fundamental confession of the Patristic consensus that forms the body of Orthodox Church dogmatics. The tragedy of Russian theology (and not Russian theology alone, we must emphasize) is perhaps not so much the lack of a systematic theology of its own, but its failure to draw fully on the organic unity of Orthodox  theology, a natural system that rises out of the consensus Patrum.

10. Archbishop Chrysostomos and Bishop Auxentios, The Roman West and the Byzantine East (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1988), p 11. Also see the comments in the Introduction to my book, Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Thought: The Traditionalist Voice (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Company, 1982). 

11. [Protopresbyter] Georges Florovsky, Aspects of Church History, Vol. IV in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Company, 1975), pp. 203-204. 

Father Georges observations about the dependence of Orthodox scholars on Western theological texts and scholarly interpretation is not an exaggeration. A striking example of what he asserts can be found in the scholarly treatment of St. Theodore the Studite. In spite of the Saints absolutely pivotal rôle in the history of the Orthodox Church (and particularly in the late eighth and early ninth centuries), the only critical collections of his works, until well into the twentieth century, were of Western provenance. Furthermore, the scant studies of his life and work that can be found prior to this time—and these written from a clearly Roman Catholic standpoint—are those published, in French, by the Société des Bollandistesearly in the century. Indeed, to this day, the only complete and reliable survey of Saint Theodores writings is a monumental two-volume work, in Russian, by Alexander Dobroklonsky, published in Odessa in 1913 and 1914. The effects of this paucity of materials and commentaries on the historical study of Byzantine theology are obvious. Equally obvious is the support that this single example lends to Florovskys observations. 

 12. One of the few studies of the Byzantine East and its  relationship to the Papacy is Sir Steven Runcimans, The Eastern Schism: A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches During the XIth and XIIth Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955). This is an outstanding book which undertakes to examine, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the relationship between the Byzantine East and the Papacy in much the same way that we intend to look at that relationship in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. His perspective is less global thanours, but his approach to the Byzantine East is both a sympathetic and very insightful one. 

13. John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology, op. cit.

14. With regard to the serious limitations in Father John Meyendorffs Palamite scholarship, which has nonetheless gained great popularity in the West, see the devastating review of his Introduction lÉtude de Grgoire Palamas (Paris: ditions du Seuil, 1959) by the Reverend John S. Romanides, "Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics," Parts I and II, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. VI (Winter 1960-61), pp. 186-205, and Vol. IX (Winter 1963-64), pp. 225-270.

15. Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy: The Church 1071-1453 A.D. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press,  1994).

16. This first date is not an arbitrary one. Many historians contend that it was at the battle of Manzikert, in Armenia, in 1071, that the Byzantine Empire first began to unravel, leading to its final dissolution in the mid-fifteenth century. 

17. Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy: The Church 1071-1453 A.D., op. cit., p. 3.

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From Lecture III: Evaluating the Fourth Crusade: the Social, Political, and Theological Drifting-Away of Orthodox Byzantium from Papal Europe, pp. 80-82.

To conceptualize the political world of the Byzantines and the interaction between Church and state, we have to turn from Western categories and ways of thinking to iconographic imagery. An Icon is traditionally made of material things: wax, wood, fragments of glass, paint, and so on. And it is painted by human beings who share with the medium of their art all of the flaws, limitations, and shortcomings of the physical world. In its spiritual aspects, however, in its ontological dimensions, the Icon serves as a sublime channel for the expression of the spiritual. It lifts one up, in a perceptual sense, to the archetype which it represents, acting through matter to link those who venerate it with the spiritual realm and the figures—dwelling in that realm—who are depicted on the Icon. An Icon may, of course, become spoiled. Those who paint it may betray, in their own imperfections, the artistic, spiritual, and ontological perfection to which the Icon aspires. The Icon itself may, indeed, fade or simply rot away. But the external attributes of the Icon and this process of natural deterioration do not detract from or compromise its ideal purpose: that of capturing, in imperfection, a glimpse of perfection; in time and space, a vision of the Eternal; and touching, by way of what is natural, the supernatural.

In like manner, the Byzantine Empire sought, in its ideal image, to make the earthly realm a reflection of the Heavenly realm—to bring Heaven down to earth and to lift earth up to the archetype of spiritual and social perfection contained in the Heavenly realm. Thus, in defining their political goals and aspirations, the Byzantines did not heed just the external imperfections of the Empire and the failures of its very human leaders and citizens. They looked, as well, to the ideal of a perfect interaction between the mundane and the spiritual, between the human and the Divine, that formed the icon of the Empire. And thus the political realm, too, reflected, for them, something theological and compellingly spiritual. It took on an aura of holiness, even in the face of its very imperfect and sometimes gruesomely violent and self-serving political policies and religious leaders. The Emperor and the Patriarch represented this blending of the mundane and the spiritual, this expression of the communion between earth and Heaven, the secular and the spiritual. And this organic relationship was not, for the Byzantine—whatever its imperfections and however frequent and gross its abuses—, a human invention, adventitious and contrived in nature; it represented a spiritual legacy that dwelled in the Byzantine mind. Therefore, the sack of Constantinople and the defilement of its spiritual treasures—of this city where Heaven touched earth—had psychological implications for the Byzantines that are inestimable. The Great City was not simply conquered. The Latins were not simply invaders. Rather, the Westerners had become to them the enemies of Christ, despoilers of the sacred; the Latins, in some ways, were to the Byzantines what the Moslems had become to the simple pious of the West. This perception, which was somewhat modulated late on in the Empire, as literary evidence suggests, nonetheless lingered in the minds of many and helped to bring an end to hope of a common witness between the East and West, whether social or religious.

Lecture 1 from Orthodox & Roman Catholic Relations. Available from the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies.