THE MEDIEVAL CHURCH
THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE. THE SEPARATION OF LATIN AND GREEK CHURCHES
From the tenth century until the nineteenth there existed in Europe a peculiar political organism, showing different phase during different generations, of which the official name was the Holy Roman Empire, commonly but inaccurately called the German Empire. Until it appeared, Europe west of the Adriatic Sea was in disorder ruled by warring tribes rather than by states. Yet, through all the confusion, the old Roman conception of unity and order remained, an aspiration after on empire to take the place of that which, though fallen, was still held in traditional veneration.
In the latter part of the eighth century arose one of the greatest men of all time, Charless the Great(742-814 A.D), claimed by the Germans as Karl the Great, and by the French as Charlemagne. He was the grandson of Charles Martel, the victor at Tours(732 A.D); and King of the Franks, who were a Germanic tribe controlling a large part of France. Charles or Karl made himself the master of nearly all the lands in western Europe, northern Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, an empire indeed. While visiting Rome, on Christmas day in the year 800, he was crowned by Pope Leo III as Charles Augustus, Roman emperor, and was regarded as the successor of Augustus, Constantine and the old Roman emperors. He reigned over all his wide dominion with power and wisdom, a conqueror, reformer, legislator, patron of education and of the church. Only for a short time was the authority of his empire over Europe real. The weakness and incapacity of Charlemagne’s descendants, the varied development of different states, of languages, and conflicting national interests, caused the authority of the Holy Roman or German empire to be limited on the west mainly by the River Rhine. Even in Germany the minor states became practically independent, waged war with one another, and much of the time were only nominally under the emperor’s control. The emperor was recognized as the titular head of European Christendom, and in France, England, and the Scandinavian states, he was honored, but not obeyed. Because his authority, such as it was, was limited to Germany, with a shadowy claim to Italy, his realm has been commonly called “the German Empire.” After the throne was lost by the degenerate descendants of Charlemagne, it became elective, the emperor being chosen by seven princes, entitled electors. Among the fifty-four emperors, we can merely name a few of the greatest after the time of Charlemagne. Henry I(the Fowler)919-936, began the restoration of the empire, which had fallen into decay, but his son Otto I (the Great), though not crowned as emperor until 951, and reigning until 973, is regarded
as the real founder of the Holy Roman Empire as distinct from the Roman.
Frederick Barbarossa (“Red Beard”) was one of the most powerful in the line of emperors. He went on the Third Crusade, but was drowned in Asia Minor, and his death led to the failure of the expedition. Frederick II, grandson of Barbarossa, has been called “the marvel and enigma of history, enlightened and progressive, the most liberal man of his age,” in his views of government and religion; was twice excommunicated by the pope, but in the Fifth Crusade made himself king of Jerusalem. Rudolph of Hapsburgh, founder of the house of Austria, received the imperial crown in 1273 when it brought not much more than an empty title; but he compelled princes and barons to submit to his authority. From his time Austria was the most powerful state in the German confederation, and nearly all the emperors were his descendants, the archdukes of that country. Charles V, emperor at the opening of the Reformation (1519-1556) was also hereditary ruler of Austria, Spain, and the Netherlands. He did his best, but unavailingly, to hold all the lands under him to the old religion. In 1556 he voluntarily abdicated, and spent the last two years of his in retirement. For many centuries during the earlier history of the empire, there was strong rivalry, and sometimes open war between the emperors and the popes; emperors striving to rule the empire.
We have seen how Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) for a time compelled the submission of an emperor, and how Innocent III set up and put down emperors and kings. But the strife grew less vigorous and ceased after the Reformation, when the boundary lines between church and state had gradually become fixed. As the realm of Austria grew more important, the emperors were increasingly occupied in their hereditary dominions. The many states of the empire became practically independent, until the emperorship was little more than a meaningless honor. In the eighteenth century, the cynical Voltaire said that “the Holy Roman empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” The succession of emperors ended in 1806, when Napoleon was at the summit of his power. In that year Francis II was compelled to renounce the title “Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,” and assumed that of “Emperor of Austria.” The separation of the Latin and Greek churches was formally made in the eleventh century, although practically accomplished long before. Between popes and patriarchs strife had been the normal relation for hundreds of years, until finally, in 1054 A.D., the pope’s messenger laid upon the alter of St. Sophia in Constantinople, the decree of excommunication; whereupon the patriarch in turn issued his decree excommunicating
Rome and the Latin churches submitting to the pope.
Since that time the Latin and Greek churches have stood apart, neither one recognizing the churchly existence of the other. Most of the questions at issue, forming causes leading to the separation, seem in our day almost trivial, yet for centuries these were subjects of violent controversy, and at times of bitter persecution. Doctrinally, the principal difference lay in the doctrine known as “the procession of the Holy Ghost.” The Latins repeated it “the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father and the Son“-in Latin “filioque.” The Greeks said “from the Father” leaving out the word filioque. Over that one word mighty debates were held, books in untold numbers were written, and even blood was shed in bitter strife. In the ceremonies of the church, different usages became the custom in the East and the West, and these customs were formulated into laws. The marriage of priests was forbiden in the western church, but sanctioned in the eastern. Throughout the Greek church at the present time, every village priest(who bears the title of “pope,” equivalent to “father” among the Roman Catholics) must be a married man. In the western churches the adoration of images has been practiced for a thousand years, while in the Greek churches one sees not statues but only pictures. Yet the pictures are in bold relief, as bas-relief images, and they are held in the most profound reverence. In the servece of the mass unleavened bread is distributed in the Greek communication. As a protest against observance of the seventh day, the practice of fasting on Saturday arose in the West but never in the East. Later, the Roman Catholic fast-day was changed to Friday, the day of our Lord’s crucifixion.
But deeper than these difference of ceremony, in bringing about the separation of the Latin and Greek churches, was the political cause in the independence of Europe from the throne of Constantinople, in the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire(800 A.D). Even after the fall of the old Empire of Rome in 476 A.D. the imperial idea still held power; and the new barbarian kingdoms of the Goths, Franks and other races, in a loose way regarded themselves as theologically under the emperor at Constantinople. But when the Empire was established by Charlemagne, it took the place of the ancient empire, separate from and independent of the emperors of Constantinople. An independent state necessitated an independent church.
But the most powerful force leading to the separation was the persistent claim of Rome to the ruling church, and of its pope to be the “Universal Bishop.” At Rome the church was gradually dominating the state; at Constantinople the church was obsequious to the state. Hence a schism between the two section with such opposite conceptions was inevitable; and the final rending apart of the two great divisions of the church came, as we have seen, in 1054 A.D.
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