Home > Archives > 01 - 2004 > The root of the schism: worldly thinking in the Church
from issue no. 01 - 2004

An interview with Bartholomew I, Ecumenic Patriarch of Costantinople

The root of the schism: worldly thinking in the Church

«Of all these disagreements, the one that can be understood most easily is why and wherefore the Church of the West founded its hope in its worldly power»

by Gianni Valente

Bartholomew I during the meeting with the reporters of  30Days

Bartholomew I during the meeting with the reporters of 30Days

After his surprising visit to Cuba at the end of January for the inauguration of the Orthodox cathedral of San Nicola (built in Havana under the auspices of Fidel Castro) Bartholomew I, the Ecumenic Patriarch of Constantinople, is now preparing to come to Rome. In the next months, the restoration and the works of adaptation are finished, the Catholic church of San Theodoro on the Palatino will finally be entrusted to the pope of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy so as to facilitate the pastoral care of the Greek-speaking Orthodox believers resident in the Eternal City. On that occasion the arrival in the city of the primus inter pares among the primates of the Orthodox Churches is also expected, to honor with his presence this “handing-over” which is of undeniable ecumenical value. And to pay a visit to John Paul II in the Apostolic Palace also.
The new encounter between the successors to the fishermen brothers Peter and Andrew should have taken place in mid February. The delay in the works of adaptation of the future Orthodox parish of Rome has officially justified the delay till after Easter. The appointment on the agenda between the Pope and the Patriarch has a particular quality in the light of the evocative historic anniversaries that mark the recently begun year 2004. Soon 950 years will have passed since the episode that according to historic reconstruction was the catalyst to the great Eastern schism: on 15 July 15 1054 the papal legate Umberto da Silvacandida tossed onto the altar of Santa Sophia in Byzantium the Bull of excommunication against the patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerulario, receiving in exchange a similar and opposing anathema. And eight hundred have passed since the fourth Crusade of 1204, when the Christian armies of the West, which had set off to liberate the Holy Places, decided to change destination and turned aside to ransack Byzantium, to then adorn the churches of Venice with the gold and the marble in the plunder. After this terrible “one-two”, the whole second Christian millennium was marked by the split between the Church of the West and that of the East. But the fortieth anniversary has also just passed of an event of an altogether different kind: the embrace between Athenagoras and Paul VI in Jerusalem, on 5 January 1964, when to some it looked as if the furrow of enmity between brothers was not destined to harden in irreversible manner till the end of time.
On 1 December last, the day after the celebration of the feast of Saint Andrea, his 264th successor received the envoys of 30Days in the headquarters of the Patriarchy, overlooking the Golden Horn, in an Istanbul still shaken by the bloody attacks of November. On that occasion the Patriarch was asked several questions aimed at briefly going over the facts and the underlying reasons that have fostered the split of the single Church of Christ throughout the second Christian millennium.
In the replies that follow, Patriarch Bartholomew, while speaking of things that happened hundreds of years ago, makes extremely relevant points on the present situation of the faith and of the Church in the world. As when he picks out the underlying reason for the split in the first manifestation of worldly thinking in the Church.
On this and the followings pages, moments and images of the sacred liturgy celebrated on 30 November last in the cathedral of San George, at the headquarters of the Ecumenic Patriarchy of Constantinople, for the feast of the patron saint, Saint Andrew apostle; here above, left, the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul Mesrop II Mutafyan, attending the celebration

On this and the followings pages, moments and images of the sacred liturgy celebrated on 30 November last in the cathedral of San George, at the headquarters of the Ecumenic Patriarchy of Constantinople, for the feast of the patron saint, Saint Andrew apostle; here above, left, the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul Mesrop II Mutafyan, attending the celebration

Your Holiness, 950 years have passed since the schism of 1054, which the history books present as the moment of rupture between the Churches of the East and West. After so much time, and in the light of later developments and of the current situation, what historic and theological judgment can one make on that episode?
BARTHOLOMEW I: In effect it was an episode, that is of a fact that in itself had little importance, not because the schism was not cause of grievous consequences, but because the episode of the official manifestation of the schism is not essential to history and theology. The essential point, in regard to them, is the mentality and the spirit that dominated in the West and that as such strained on the bond that kept the West and the East ecclesially united that in the end it broke.
The official manifestation of the schism, if it has not taken place in 1054 in the circumstances in which it happened, would undoubtedly have happened later in other circumstances, because in the West another spirit had infiltrated, different from the one preserved in the East.
For those who know, then, the spiritual laws, the schism was the inevitable consequence of a process, the roots of which are to be sought in the first manifestations of worldly thinking in the Church. Given that this thinking was not immediately rejected as anti-Christian, it was inevitable that a spirit should emerge from it different from that of the early united Church, leading in that way up to the consequences of the schism.
In the year 1054 what officially emerged with greater clarity were some of the deviations already in fact noticeable and ripened beforehand, which revealed that the Churches of East and West were not in agreement about many substantial things, of which some were of dogmatic nature, such as the Filioque and the papal primacy of universal jurisdiction, while other were of canonical nature, such as the celibacy of priests.
Of all these disagreements, the one that can be understood most easily is why and wherefore the Church of the West founded its hope in its worldly power. Perhaps the fact that almost all the modern Western societies base their hope on man and on his conquests, on wealth, on science, on military power, on technology and on similar things, prevents an understanding of Orthodox man, who, without underestimating or rejecting all that completely, sets his hope chiefly in God.
The Church must base its strength on its human weakness, on the folly of the Cross (scandal for the Jews, stupidity for the Greek), and its hope in the resurrection of Christ. Free of any worldly power, persecuted and daily put to death, it gives rise to saints, who have the grace of God in vessels of clay, who live in the light of the transfiguration and are led by God to martyrdom and sacrifice, not to the violent setting up in the world of an alleged State of God. Its saints are not simply social workers or philanthropists or thaumaturgs. They put the human person in communion with the person of Christ, they lead created man to the uncreated Deity, they stir in him not a simple improvement or moral perfecting, but an ontological change of the nature of man. Thus the hope of the Orthodox Church is not to be found in this world.
Catholic historians point out that already during the first millennium there were tensions between the Church of East and West, above all in regard to the role of the Pope. So one shouldn’t portray the first millennium as a kind of golden age. Do you share in that assessment?
BARTHOLOMEW I: The world, in which the Church lives in its historic condition, is a gym and not a place of rest. During the first millennium the Church faced hundreds of heresies and deviations or falls of every kind by groups of faithful. So, nobody who knows the facts can characterize the first millennium of the Church as its golden age, and nor were even the relations between the Churches of East and West cloudless during the first millennium.
Despite that, during the first millennium, the bond of peace and the unity of the faith, at least in the fundamental questions was kept to between the Churches of East and West, since the deviations, though manifest early, were still not considered unhealable. The dialogue was active, the sense of unity and communion confirmed in the Body and Blood of Christ, that is in the sacraments, was maintained while every effort was made to get rid of the deviations.
Unfortunately those intentions were unsuccessful and in the end the contrary movement prevailed, that is of the exasperation of differences and of the schism, as I said above. In consequence the first millennium, if on the one hand it was not a golden age for relations between East and West, it was nevertheless an age of spiritual communion, and this is very important.
Patriarch Bartholomew I flanked by 12 metropolitans of the Ecumenic  Patriarchy of Constantinople, during the liturgy

Patriarch Bartholomew I flanked by 12 metropolitans of the Ecumenic Patriarchy of Constantinople, during the liturgy

According to Cardinal Kasper the mutual excommunications between Patriarch Cerulario and the papal legate Umberto da Silvacandida was not a schism between two Churches, but an excommunication «between two old and stubborn churchmen, who both made mistakes and whose actions had consequences beyond the quarrels of their own times». Do you share that judgment?
BARTHOLOMEW I: Not exactly. I have already explained that the anathemas of 1054 were an episode of small importance in themselves, but they were the outcome of a long process, the bursting of a septic boil that had lasted a long time. Their persons and their characters, certainly, played their part, but the factors that determined the course of the history of the Church do not lie there. The forces that determined that course were deeper, broader, more spiritual and more effective. They concerned entire peoples and mind-sets, not individuals, however influential in the social or ecclesiastical hierarchy, and in any event did not concern their isolated and unpredictable reactions.
If the Christians of the East and West had not already been distant spiritually from one another, the actions of Cerulario and Umberto would have been revoked by their immediate successors. The fact that they have remained in force for a millennium testifies that the common spirit prevailing approved the schism as expression of the existing spiritual diversification.
For that matter, the feeling of the spiritual diversification between East and West or, in other words, between the Roman-Catholic and Protestant world on one side (given that those two worlds feel themselves more deeply akin, despite their quarrels) and the Orthodox on the other, is recognized and proclaimed even by the greatest intellectuals of the modern period.
The Dominican theologian Yves Congar noted that even after 1054 and up to the Council of Florence in 1431 the facts of communion were so many that one could not speak of a total break. What in later centuries made the split “provisionally definitive”?
BARTHOLOMEW I: A spiritual break that involves millions of faithful and whole continents does not occur from one instant to the next, nor even uniformly. The malady and the collapse that comes of it doesn’t attack all cells simultaneously. It’s therefore quite understandable that locally and temporarily the elements of communion were kept. But that didn’t change the general situation, which, unfortunately, always went from bad to worse.
In 1204 Constantinople was ransacked in an inhuman and barbaric way, as if it were a city of infidels and not of people of the same Christian faith. An ecclesiastical Latin hierarchy was installed there and in many other cities, as if the Orthodox has not been Christian. It was proclaimed that outside of the papal Church there was no salvation, which meant that the Orthodox Church did not save. A considerable effort to latinize the Orthodox Church of the East in Frankish mould was begun and systematically carried out.
That harsh treatment widened the psychological abyss between East and West with the result we have come to the current situation, where many of the Orthodox Churches, chorally or as their majority, challenge the sincerity of the unionist intentions of the Roman-Catholic Church towards the Orthodox and distrust the hope of achieving a unionist result through dialogue. They consider this attempt as a method for swallowing up Orthodox and subjecting them to the Pope. I personally consider dialogue always useful and I expect it to yield fruit, even if it ripens slowly. Besides human efforts of goodwill, we count on the illumination of the Holy Spirit, on divine grace, that always heals from illness and makes up for things lacking.
Bartholomew I embracing Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Holy See delegation in Istanbul for the feast of the patron saint of the Ecumenic Patriarchy

Bartholomew I embracing Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Holy See delegation in Istanbul for the feast of the patron saint of the Ecumenic Patriarchy

Umberto da Silvacandida was a representative of the innovators who in the Western Church set going the Gregorian reform. Why did that movement involve a distancing and the break of the Church of the West from the Church of the East?
BARTHOLOMEW I: The Gregorian reform caused reactions in the Orthodox Church and in its flock because of the spirit out of which emanated the mode of its realization (a spirit of authoritarianism, of power and of unilateral actions that overthrew traditions). The reactions were against spiritual dominion, against spiritual slavery, against spiritual authoritarianism. We might say, in general, that the reactions arose out of the sense of the freedom of the person, that is familiar to the Eastern Orthodox civilization.
Beginning with the Gregorian reform, the historical development of papal power moved away in the eyes of the Orthodox from the order entrusted to Peter and to the other apostles by Christ himself. In your view what were the more blatant and substantial elements in that process?
BARTHOLOMEW I: From what I have said it is evident, I believe, that the spirit of Christ, manifested in his words «I have not come to be served, but to serve», and above all in «give His soul as ransom for many», that must inspire also His apostles, is not expressed, according to Orthodox perception, by a centralized ecclesiastical power.
According to Orthodox perception the theory of the power of authority of Peter over the apostles is a mistake, because Peter was on the one hand leader, but on the other was one of the apostles, equally an apostle, like all the others. The superiority of Peter compared to the other apostles is put forward to legitimate a primacy of power.
Besides that, the Orthodox also rightly mistrust all the other papal pretensions, such as infallibility and the new papal dogmas, because, in these claims, they see a deviation from the early faith, from the ecclesiology of the early Church.
But there were negative effects of the schism not only for the Western Church. Catholic scholars stress that after the split the fragility of the Churches of the East increased, as did their structural subjection to the civil power. Is there anything you share in that judgment?
BARTHOLOMEW I: No, we don’t share that opinion. The Orthodox Churches of the East have never sought earthly power and have never based their existence and life on it. They ever remember what God said to Paul: «Let my grace suffice you, my power in fact is revealed fully in weakness» (2Cor 12,9). They remember, besides, what Christ told Pilate: he did not ask the help of twelve armies of angels to be torn from his hands.
Furthermore, despite the efforts that are sometimes made to englobe the Churches within the state body, like the tendency to nationalist conceptions that sometimes surfaces, the Orthodox Churches have denounced ethnophiletism [the theological justification of nationalist ideologies, ed.] as heresy and they have kept the sense of their spiritual unity, despite the administrative autocephaly that exists in many of them.
After centuries of mutual estrangement, Paul VI and Athenagoras, at the end of the Vatican II Council, wanted in their common declaration of the December 1965 “to cancel from the memory of the Church” the excommunications of 1054. How do you remember that gesture and those moments?
BARTHOLOMEW I: It was an exceptionally touching moment, that revived the hopes of progress toward the unity. Unfortunately those hopes have not so far been realized, despite the possibility of realizing them, but we have not given up hope, even if as I said earlier above, we are aware of the difficulties. Through a letter of mine addressed in recent days to his Holiness Pope John Paul we hailed the anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem of our predecessors, Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, as a great historic event.
Athenagoras described that action as «pledge of future events». At that moment, many had the impression that the Catholic and the Orthodox would return to acknowledging themselves a single Church, down to sacramental communion. In comparison with that phase, how do the last decades of ecumenic dialogue seem to you?
BARTHOLOMEW I: Very short of important results, but fecund in the inward workings of conscience. We are a long way from the epoch of Athenagoras, we are a long way from his lightning and visionary spirit. Unfortunately the facts show that the past determines the future in many things, as the bullet that leaves the barrel of the rifle inevitably follows its predetermined trajectory. We need a great deal of commitment and deeper conversion, to reverse the way of the world and, in particular, the way of the schism.
I’d like to finish with some questions on the current world. Faced with the wars, the bomb attacks, the continual pain wrapping the world, through what eyes does the Orthodox faith look at all this? With what criteria does it judge events?
BARTHOLOMEW I: The Orthodox Church sees the evil of our times as manifestation of general evil. Naturally it condemns with disgust acts of terrorism from wherever they originate and prays for peace in the world. But the definitive elimination of these terrible wounds to humanity will only occur if we love the true God and accomplish His will.
Some people continue to speak of a clash of civilizations and to demonize Islam. What has your millennial co-existence with people of Moslem religion taught you?
BARTHOLOMEW I: Demonization can strike any man, independently of the religion to which he belongs. The Gospel itself tells us that the hour comes when those who kill the faithful will believe they are offering worship to God. We have known examples from history of possessed Christians who have committed terrible crimes in the name of Christ. Consequently it is not Islam itself that should be demonized but its fanatic interpretations, exactly as happens also with so many fanatical opinions of various Christians or followers of other religions.
As for civilizations, in open societies like those of the modern world, they find themselves in continual dialogue and they exert pressures that balance out. Conflicts are not inevitable when people are opened to cultural dialogue. Only people who refuse dialogue or who are afraid of it use conflict to impose religious or cultural views. The Koran itself, invoked by the fanatics, proclaims that religion is not to be imposed.
Turkey, where a moderate Islamic party is in power, has been stricken by terrorism, after many people in Europe, even among churchmen, had opposed its admission to the European Union. What is your view on the matter?
BARTHOLOMEW I: We believe that the European perspective of Turkey is advantageous for Turkey as it is for Europe, something we have repeatedly avowed. It is surely necessary for Turkey to adopt the parameters on human rights achieved in Europe, on religious freedom and on other freedoms, the Community laws on the environment, trade et cetera, and it is comforting that important steps have been made in that direction. Naturally many legislative, administrative and social reforms must take place, some of which are already on-going, while others will follow.
This is the response also to those who oppose Turkey’s entry. Given that its entry is not automatic but controlled, it will come about only when the premises established by the European Union have been satisfied. If such premises are satisfied, the religious difference of Turkey from the majority of the European States with Christian foundations cannot be sufficient to justify opposition to its entry from a tolerant and secular Europe that already houses millions of Moslems in its bosom.
In the coming months you visit Rome. Will you meet the Pope? And what will you tell him?
BARTHOLOMEW I: Of our fervent wishes for his good health, the expression of our love and of our prayers for fruition at the right time of the preconditions for the union of the Churches of God.

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