Church History for Orthodox | 7


1. Papal supremacy

The Council of Florence prepared the way for a new structure in the Western church:

The Councils of Constance and Basel had both decreed as a dogma of Catholicism that the highest authority in the Roman church was an ecumenical council of bishops .

The Council of Florence reversed this trend and re-established the Papacy as the heart of Western Catholicism .

Now, the manner of church government in the West was neither a college of ruling bishops with honorary Patriarchs and Metropolitans (with the Pope in titular precedence) nor yet a college of ruling bishops with an autocratic Pope above them:

Increasingly, it was that of a college of powerless bishops appointed and directed solely by the Pope at Rome.

2. Corruption in the West ...

As power plays dominated the Western skyline, and all best efforts at internal reform were thwarted by the entrenched hypocrisy and corruption of Roman Catholic officials of all ranks and all lands, a sense of hopelessness spread like a cancer across Western Europe:

In particular, the common people's respect for the Papacy dwindled to almost nothing, as eyewitness accounts of Vatican orgies and sadistic entertainments were borne from Rome back to all Catholic nations.

The Roman Curia held nothing sacred, and soon the people of Europe felt the same way about their leadership. A grass-roots Revolt was unavoidable.

3. ... And in the East.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 , Serbia, Greece, Bosnia, and Egypt capitulated to the Turks as well. Much of Europe and all of Asia Minor and the Levant were ruled by Muslims,

and the national Orthodox Churches were dismantled as the Turks placed all Christians in the Ottoman Empire under a Greek Patriarch of Constantinople who dwelt in the shadow of the Sultan.

A great deal of corruption entered the Church in Greece;

for one example, the government exacted higher and higher fees from newly-elected Patriarchs, making the Patriarchate a rich man's enclave.

In a debacle recalling the contemporary morals of the Papacy, the Turks would depose or execute Patriarchs in rapid succession to accrue more income from accession fees. In spite of the danger involved, there was always someone willing to pay enough money to be Patriarch.

4. Moscow — the “Third Rome.”

Things took quite a different turn in Russia , however, where a powerful Orthodox nation was being born.

There, a monastic controversy erupted in the 15th century:

between the possessors , who stressed the Church's public and national role, and believed that the Church should own great properties, maintain splendour in worship, and distribute charity on a vast scale,

and the non-possessors , who stressed the inner and spiritual orientation of the Church, called for a return to monastic ideals of poverty and seclusion, and shunned collaboration with the State.

St. Joseph of Volotsk led the possessors and St. Nilus of Sora the non-possessors .

Although the ideals of the non-possessors remained an active leaven in Russian church life, the possessors won the day, and, in fact, the next several centuries.

The monk Philotheus of Pskov propounded his Third-Rome theory at this time:

He told Tsar Basil III that

1. the 1st Rome had fallen through heresy ,
2. the 2nd Rome (Constantinople) through sin .

3. Moscow, he said, was the 3rd Rome , or Christian centre, and there would not be a fourth.

Not only the Slavic, but also the Greek Orthodox began to look to Russia as the great protector of Orthodoxy.

5. Western volcano erupts.

After Pope Eugene IV outmanoeuvred the Conciliar movement, which would have exalted the collective Episcopate of the West above its Pope, other challenges to Papal control of the European scene arose quickly.

The secular monarchs of Europe, overcoming the opposition of their nobles, united their kingdoms around themselves.

As a new sense of national identity grew stronger, the trans-national influence of the Popes naturally waned. Dissident movements abounded:

Typical of them was the uprising of Jan Hus in what is now Czechoslovakia - Hus questioned papal authority and insisted that the Eucharistic wine should be given to the people at Mass:

(that was the Orthodox and Early Western custom). But the Council of Constance had forbidden laity to receive the chalice, and it had Hus captured and burnt at the stake.

The Inquisition , which had been established in the 13th century and whose power to torture and kill opponents of the Catholic denomination had been given a theological footing by Thomas Aquinas , increased the scope of its activities and strengthened the Papacy.

Simultaneously, a cultural revolution was underway — Humanists embraced the esthetical ideals of the pagan Romans and Greeks, and pagan culture was the rage of the age.

Popes and princes patronized humanist artists who cast off the iconographic ideals of Christianity and lionized realism, nudity, and emotionalism.

The Catholic hierarchy was amazingly corrupt, and the Papacy of the time was no exception:

Pope Julius II rode into battle in full plate armour; the behaviour of Pope Alexander VI acknowledged having children from several mistresses and so on.

The average Christian in the West was seeing indulgences which were distributed by lottery, bishops who oppressed commoners with heavy taxes to pay for their lavish lifestyles, and hideous Popes who claimed, as Boniface VIII had in 1302:

We declare, state, define, and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

A general revolt was inevitable, and the first spark is often pinpointed to October 31, 1517 , when Martin Luther , a German friar, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church to protest abuses.

Later he left the Catholic denomination, got married, and founded the Lutheran religion .

Luther and many other of the early Reformers were not Protestants as we would picture today, however –

Luther taught in his catechism that Christians should make the sign of the Cross daily, believed that in the Eucharist the actual body and blood of Christ are received, and greatly venerated the Holy Mother of God.

6. Protestant movements.

In England , King Henry VIII , unable to secure from the Pope a divorce from the first of his 8 wives, had himself declared Head of the Church in England :

The resulting Anglican Church began more as a political necessity than a new religion:

Its worship and theology remained virtually unchanged for a time, evolving into a truly Protestant form only under Edward VI .

Henry VIII , like Luther , was not what the word “Protestant ” conjures up today:

He wrote pamphlets defending the 7 sacraments of Catholicism and continued to burn Lutherans at the stake as heretics until syphilis cut him down .

From Geneva in Switzerland came John Calvin , who introduced a stark faith with a worship stripped of symbolism and artistry.

Calvin taught that the sacraments were merely symbols used by the church to confirm the faith of its people.

He vigorously defended infant baptism (a practice over which Protestants are still divided) but did not believe as did Luther that the Eucharist gave a Christian the actual body and blood of Christ.

Calvin's ideas, which included God's absolute predestination of human beings to heaven or hell irrespective of their good will or good deeds, swept like wildfire through France, Switzerland, and Scotland, producing Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

Ostensibly, the Orthodox people were untouched by these developments, but the ripples spreading outward from the Protestant movement would eventually stir Orthodox as well as Roman Catholic waters.

The Protestant revolt had one lasting effect which actually helped Western Christians become re-acquainted with their Orthodox roots:

Reformers promoted study of the early Church Fathers, since they found discrepancies between these ancient Christian writings and later Roman Catholic doctrines and practices. Since the rise of the Scholastic system, study of the Fathers had sharply declined.

Now both Protestant and Catholic disputants were keenly interested in this field, which is called Patristic . Many ancient Christian authors were published.

Too often, though, both sides missed the point of what the Fathers were saying, since their aim was often to “win ” rather than to learn. Also, the Protestants encouraged study of the Bible , which Catholic authorities at first resisted, but later recommended.

7. Counterrevolution — the Council of Trent.

The Protestant Revolt devastated medieval Roman Catholicism:

Most of the countries of northern Europe became Protestant; geographically, the Roman church was downsized by 50%.

The papal authorities reacted in 2 ways:

1. first , they were so desperate that they tried to genuinely reform the Church;
2. second , they pinned their hopes on expansion into the New World, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

The effort at reform was called the Counter-Reformation , and it was, by and large, a moral success. However, instead of a return to the original Orthodoxy of the Western Church, the instinct in the 16th century was to cling ever more tightly to the Papacy :

It was hoped that a less scandalous, more centralized Papacy would be a great unifying force for Counter-Reformation Catholicism.

The great triumph for this school of thought was the Council of Trent , which the Catholics considered to be yet another ecumenical council. This Council essentially drew the wagons around Rome:

It shot down Protestant heresies and affirmed post-Schism Catholicism , with its papal supremacy, indulgences, purgatory, supererogatory merits of the Saints, and all the rest which, sadly, still forms a wall between Rome and Orthodoxy.

For the first time, it made binding the Scholastic union of dogma, philosophy, and science, with the practical effect that medieval sciences were dogmatised.

The Council of Trent also tried to pinpoint with scientific exactitude the precise source, nature, and operation of the Sacraments.

A new rite of worship called the Tridentine Rite was appointed for the Roman church, drawn up by Pope Pius V , a former inquisitor. It was based on the original traditions of the Western Church, but many of them it sharply curtailed.

In order to compete with the less-demanding Protestant groups, worship began to be shortened and was more and more spoken rather than sung;

rows of pews , for the first time in Christian history, replaced the open naves of churches where once the people had stood and moved about freely;

ancient chant was replaced by secular-styled music using various musical instruments as well as the voice.

The Divine Office , the round of prayers which formerly united Christian communities with frequency around the local church, became a legal requirement for clergy and monastics to fulfil by private prayers.

So much were Papal prerogatives increased that Charles V of Spain, also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, complained that his bishops went to the Council of Trent bishops and returned parish priests.

Old Western rites such as England’s Sarum, York, and Hereford rites fell into oblivion before the advancing Tridentine rite . Only certain monastic orders and specific installations in Lyons, Milan, and Toledo retained modifications of their ancient liturgical rites.