The fall of Orthodox England – The Ecclesiastical Roots of the Norman Conquest, 1043-1087 (Part 5)

by Vladimir Moss

Rome and the Holy Roman Empire

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.

αρχείο λήψης.jpg

“Even for a pope of that period,” writes 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…”[34]

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 Berengar and was crowned Emperor by John on February 2, 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 Berengar 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.

Nor they for him. Indeed, it is from this time that the struggle between the Franco-German and Greco-Roman parties for control of the papacy began, a struggle which ended in the middle of the eleventh century with the final victory of the Franco-German party – and the fall of Orthodoxy. Thus Cyriaque Lampryllos writes: “The people of Rome preferred to govern themselves, under a republican form of government, with a consul as their supreme magistrate, under the nominal protectorate of the Greco-Roman emperors of Constantinople, rather than support the temporal domination of their bishops, who had often been imposed on them by the Teutonic emperors and kept there by force. For one should note that in general, before the pontificate of Gregory VII, the party of the Popes in Rome was usually the same as the imperialist party (with the emperors of the West, of barbaric origin), and that, by contrast, the popular party sympathised with the Greco-Roman empire of the East. Those of the popes who were supported by the Teutons also laid claim to temporal power, either as receivers, or as vicars of the emperors of the West, while the others restricted themselves to spiritual power alone…. Voltaire, in his Essay on history and customs (chapter 36) made the observation that 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…”[35]

Be that as it may, Otto seems to have impressed the Byzantines sufficiently to obtain their recognition of his imperial title (which, as we have seen, did not contain the word “Roman”), and to persuade them to send Princess Theophano to be the bride of his son, Otto II. The marriage was celebrated in Rome in 972. Theophano 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,[36] 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 Theophano – an authentically Byzantine tenth-century motif.

“The image,” as Jean-Paul Allard writes, “was more eloquent than any theological treatise. It illustrated a principle that the papacy and the Roman Church have never accepted, but which was taken for granted in Byzantium and is still held in Orthodoxy today: Christ and Christ alone crowns the sovereigns; power comes only from God, without the intercession of an institutional representative of the Church, be he patriarch or pope. The anointing and crowning of the sovereign do not create the legitimacy of his power; but have as their sole aim the manifestation of [this legitimacy] in the eyes of the people.”[37]

“Sole aim” is an exaggeration: anointing and crowning also sanctify the sovereign, giving him the Divine grace without which he cannot fulfil his duties in a manner pleasing to God. Moreover, there is a difference in legitimacy between the God-chosen Orthodox sovereign and any other ruler, a difference that is expressed by the Latin terms legalis and legitimus.[38] Nevertheless, the main point stands: legitimate political power comes directly from God.

In 991 Princess Theophano died and the young Otto III became Emperor under the regency of his grandmother Adelaide. He “dreamed of reuniting the two empires [of 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 terrarum before the end of the world that was announced for the year 1000.”[39] To signify that the Renovatio 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 that would enable him to unite the two empires in a peaceful, matrimonial way. And, imitating the Byzantine concept of a family of kings under the Emperor, he handed out crowns to King Stephen of Hungary and the Polish Duke Boleslav.

The plan for union with Byzantium was foiled; but Byzantine influence continued to increase.[40] Moreover, it spread outwards from the court into the episcopate. Thus Gerbert of Aurillac, who became the first French pope in 999, took the name Sylvester II, reviving memories, in those brought up on the forged Donation, of the symphonic relationship between St. Constantine and Pope Sylvester I.[41] The new Pope, breaking sharply with recent tradition, emphasised that while the Renovatio embraced Empire and Church, it had to be led by the Emperor.[42] Again, it was Sylvester who, in 1001, inspired Otto to issue an act demonstrating that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery.[43]

Another striking characteristic of this very unpapist Pope was his declaration that there could be no question of the Pope being above the judgement of his fellow-bishops. Thus he wrote in 997: “The judgement of God is higher than that of Rome… When 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.”[44]

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

However, Otto III died in 1002 and Pope Sylvester in 1003; after which 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 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.”[45]

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[46], upon which the Great Church of Constantinople promptly removed his name from the diptychs. In 1014, the heretical innovation 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.[47]

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 Crescentii and Tusculum counts, each tried to place their candidate on the throne of St. Peter. At the Council of Sutri Henry forced the resignation of Pope Gregory VI and the deposition of Popes Sylvester 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…

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