Iconoclasm, The Carolingian
Renaissance, And The Great Schism
The communion between East and West was shattered in the Great
Schism that separated two traditions with the same Sacraments.
Iconoclasm, The Carolingian
Renaissance, And The Great Schism
From the fourth to the eleventh centuries the Church focused her energies on
the conversion of the European peoples. However, during the eighth and
ninth centuries, political and religious factors, coupled with language, cultural,
and geographical differences drove the Church in the East and West further
apart. Although they shared the same Sacraments, the rise of the patriarchs,
questions of papal supremacy, liturgical and disciplinal differences, and the
Iconoclastic Controversies pushed the East and West toward a final
 Byzantium was at one time the most important center of political,
religious, cultural, and economic activity in the world of the former
Roman Empire.
 The Byzantines were Roman in their laws, Greek in their culture, and
Oriental in their habits. Constantinople was a center of learning, art,
and architecture.
 Hagia Sophia, the cathedral of the Patriarch of Constantinople, is still
regarded as a wonder of Byzantine art and architecture.
 The Byzantium Empire lasted longer than the combined duration of
the Roman Republic and Empire.
 Unlike the Roman Empire, Byzantium enjoyed the blessing of a wholly
Christian orientation.
 Constantine the Great had established the city AD 330, and it lasted
until 1453, when it fell to the Ottoman Turks. Muslim armies had
already conquered three of the four great patriarchates (Jerusalem,
Antioch, and Alexandria).
 The numbers of Christians in Byzanatium exceeded those in Rome and
the West. All of the cities to which Christianity first took hold were
within the Byzantine Empire, and the original language of the New
Testament was almost entirely Greek.
 Although Rome remained the location of the successor’s of St. Peter, it
no longer enjoyed the influence that it had during the Roman Empire.
 Although the Pope was still the ultimate authority, the intimate
relationship between the emperor and the patriarchs of Constantinople
would come to overshadow the authority of the Pope.
 In the west, due to the absence of political communities, the Church
came to be viewed as something that transcended all national
boundaries or allegiances.
 However, in the east, missionary activity resulted in the creation of
national churches. At times the influence of these national churches
was strong enough to cause schisms within the Eastern Church.
 The political environment of the Eastern Empire gave rise to
caesaropapism, in which the temporal ruler extended his authority to
ecclesiastical and theological matters.
 Such emperors appointed bishops and the Eastern Patriarch, and were
involved in directing liturgical practices.
 In time, the increasing power of the emperor put him in conflict with
the authority of the Pope.
 Justinian I succeeded in resurrecting the glories of the Roman Empire
in the East. He is responsible for many advances in architecture, the
fine arts, and civil law.
 However, his view that he was head of both the state and the Church
led him into conflict with the papacy over the question of
 In 553/4 Justinian I led a campaign against the Vandals.
 Not only did he defeat the Vandals, capturing their king, he freed Italy
from the Ostrogoths, and secured most of Spain from the Visigoths.
 He succeeded in reconquering half of Europe and Northern Africa.
 Justinian I undertook the collection and systemization of all Roman
law. He wanted to ensure a uniform rule of law throughout the entire
empire, and sought to provide an ultimate reference for any legal
question that might arise.
 His codex is an important basis for the development of Canon Law as
well as for civil law in all of the countries of Europe.
Under Justinian’s patronage grew a unique style of architecture which is now
called Byzantine. The most famous work built under his reign is Hagia
Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople, which is widely thought to be one
of the most perfect buildings in the world.
 Monophysitism, the belief that Christ possesses only one nature, and that his
human nature was incorporated into the divine nature, was a troubling heresy
during Justinian’s rule.
 The issue was supposedly resolved at the Council of Chalcedon (451) by
Pope St. Leo I and St. Cyril. However, there remained some controversy and
some Eastern Churches (now called “Old Oriental Churches”) refused to
recognize the council.
 Justinian desired to reconcile the remaining Monophysites with the Church.
 When Pope St. Silverius was elected Pope, Justinian’s wife, who had
Monophysite tendencies, sought to have him removed. Documents were
forged purporting to prove the Pope’s betrayal of the empire, and Pope St.
Silverius was sent into exile.
 Justinian I’s activity in the ecclesiastical sphere led to other abuses and
constitutes the main flaw in an otherwise admirable reign.
 After Justinian I’s death, the empire fell into disarray, and the lands he
had reclaimed were soon lost again.
 In 611, the king of Persia marched against Byzantium and finally
overran Jerusalem with the help of 26,000 Jews who were eager to
destroy Christian sovereignty in their city. Churches, Christian shrines,
and monasteries were destroyed.
 Emperor Heraclius reached an agreement with the Patriarch of
Constantinople, who funded the emperor’s army in order to liberate
 In 629, this Byzantine Crusade culminated in the invasion of Persia and
Heraclius, victorious, entered Jerusalem to venerate the relic of the
True Cross.
The Iconoclastic Controversy (ca. 725-843)
The Iconoclastic Controversy served as a breaking point between the Popes and the
emperors, as they adopted permanent and adversarial positions regarding the use and
veneration of icons. At times, the Popes had to seek protection from the Franks against
the oppressive measures of dissenting emperors.
 An icon is a flat, two-dimensional picture of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or
one of the saints.
 Icons were numerous in the East before the fifth century, and were
used as aids for Christian acts of piety.
 Highly ritualized prayer involving bowing and the lighting of incense
became the norm among the Christian faithful.
 The icon is seen as an invitation to prayer, and not as an object to
 The word “iconoclast” literally means an “image breaker.”
 By the eighth century, abuses of icons had sprung up among the
faithful, and many people believed that they had special powers. Many
worshipers turned their attention to the icon itself, rather than the
spiritual mysteries the icon was supposed to represent. A kind of
idolatry, forbidden by the First Commandment, emerged from the
incorrect use of icons. As a guard against idolatry, iconoclasts sought
to destroy the icons, and purify the Christian religion.
 Two to three centuries before Leo III, two forces were at work which
would aid the cause of Iconoclasm.
 The Monophysite heresy, denying the humanity of Christ, objected that
icons portrayed Christ’s humanity.
 Judaism and Islam, the other great monotheistic religions, prohibited
the representation of God.
 Leo III, desiring unification in his empire, was convinced that the only
issue preventing the conversion of Jews and Muslims was the use of
 Furthermore, he sought to appease those Christians with Monophysite
 In 726, Leo issued a decree that all icons were an occasion of idolatry,
and ordered their destruction. The Pope, the Patriarch of
Constantinople, and nearly all monks condemned this decree.
 The patriarch was deposed, hundreds of monks and nuns lost their
lives, and many of the oldest icons in Byzantium were destroyed.
 Finally, Pope St. Gregory III convened two councils in Rome that
condemned Leo’s actions, and excommunicated him.
 However Leo remained obstinate, and at the time of his death,
iconoclasm was still in force, and the Eastern Church was no longer in
communion with Rome regarding this matter.
 At a young age, St. John renounced his family’s wealth and became a
monk in Jerusalem. There he wrote a great iconophile (Greek for “lover
of icons”) work in favor of St. Gregory II and against Leo III. He also
criticized all imperial interference in ecclesiastical matters.
 In his work The Fount of Wisdom, he explicates the teaching of the
Greek fathers on all important doctrines of Christianity, defending the
use of icons by reference to the Incarnation.
 In coming to world as the God-man, Jesus Christ, God implicitly gave
permission for the depiction of Christ’s human form in art.
 Considered the last of the Eastern Church Fathers, St. John of
Damascus was made a Doctor of the Church.
 Constantine V sought to strengthen his position against icons by
gaining the support of the Greek Church.
 He carefully orchestrated the Council of Hiereia (754), which
delivered the results that he sought.
 He not only excluded Rome, but the ancient patriarchies of
Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria, all of whom were iconophiles.
 The monks continued to oppose him, and they were met with exile,
imprisonment, and sometimes death. At least 300 monks were put
to death for the Faith.
 The next emperor, Leo IV, did not enforce, although he did not repeal,
the iconoclastic measures.
 When he died, his wife, the Empress Irene, took control of the empire
for their son. She had Catholic sympathies, and persuaded Pope Adrian
I to convene the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Second Council of
 The Pope sent two legates with written condemnations of iconoclasm,
and the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria, not
permitted to attend by their Muslim rulers, each sent two monks in
their stead.
 The Council ruled in favor of the papal teaching regarding the
veneration of icons.
 It went on to distinguish two types of adoration:
 An icon may be venerated through acts of respect and honor,
 However, God alone is worthy of adoration.
 In 811, the Bulgar leader killed the Byzantine Emperor. Two years later
the Byzantine military staged a coup and Leo V became emperor.
 Many in Byzantium’s upper society and military had remained
iconoclastic. As a result, Leo V and his successors reinstated iconoclasm.
 He deposed the Patriarch of Constantinople and appointed his own
patriarch, who summoned a council restoring the findings of the
Council of Hiereia. When several of the bishops opposed him, Leo V
revived the persecutions.
 Empress Theodora reversed the trend of iconoclasm by
deposing the iconoclastic Patriarch of Constantinople.
 Under the new Patriarch Methodius, the iconoclastic bishops
were deposed and replaced by iconophiles.
 The first Sunday of Lent was named the Feast of the Triumph
of Orthodoxy to celebrate the triumph of icons.
 Finally, in 843, the barren walls of churches were again
decorated with beautiful icons, and the orthodox practice of
venerating icons was secure.
PART III The Rise of the Carolingians
and an Independent Papacy
During the Iconoclastic controversies, the Papacy often looked to the
Western Franks for protection against the Byzantine Emperors. The
Franks conversion and rise to power provided the West with a semblance
of political unity and relatively stable support for the Church. The
alliance between the two would culminate with the crowning of
Charlemagne as Emperor AD 800.
 The Merovingian Dynasty had ruled the Franks since the time of Clovis.
However, their control was nominal due to corruption and incompetence.
Since the end of the seventh century, the real power lay with the
Carolingians, named for Charles Martel.
 Pepin the Short, son of Charles Martel, defeated the Muslims at tours AD
732. Pepin consolidated his power by requesting that the Pope give him
kingship over the Franks. The Pope granted this power, making the
Carolingian dynasty the rightful rulers, and successfully transferring power
from the Merovingians.
 Pope Stephen II expected protection from Pepin in exchange for papal
support of the Carolingians.
 The Lombards were threatening Rome and the Byzantines did not
intend to protect them.
 The Pope anointed Pepin and his sons, threatening to condemn anyone
who disobeyed them. This showed that the Church could bestow
secular authority on kings. Pepin in turn agreed to intervene on behalf
of the Pope before the Lombard threat.
 Pepin successfully defeated the Lombards, securing lands for the
papacy that would come to be known as the Papal States. For the first
time the Pope became both a spiritual and temporal leader. The Papal
States protected the papacy from temporal and ecclesiastical
 However, they also suffered from the same temptations that beset
those in political authority.
(REIGNED 769-814)
 Charles, son of Pepin, had a long reign devoted to securing and
expanding his kingdom, and by the time of his death he had unified
most of Western Europe under one Christian ruler.
 Charles, known as the “Great,” (Carolus Magnus in Latin) was a powerful
and charismatic ruler, combining military skill with political astuteness.
 His public policy was explicitly Christian, and his ecclesiastical and civil
reforms helped European culture.
 His civic legislation was based on Canon Law, and he considered
decrees of synods and councils as binding on his subjects.
(REIGNED 769-814)
 Acting in the interest of the Church, he reformed the clergy,
established new dioceses, and raised funds to support worship and the
 A devout Catholic, he observed the times for prayer and fasting, and
attended liturgical ceremonies. He sang in the choir and read the Bible
 When the Lombards once again threatened Rome, Charlemagne came
to the defense of the papacy. Entering Rome as a hero, he prostrated
himself before the Pope and was given the title “Patrician of Rome.”
He made himself king of the Lombards, uniting all Germanic peoples.
 When the Roman nobility charged Pope St. Leo III with conspiracy and
corruption, Charlemagne came to Rome to investigate. With the help
of Charlemagne, St. Leo was able to escape the machinations of the
 After his trial, Pope St. Leo III crowned Charlemagne as emperor
during the Christmas day Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in 800. This
coronation placed Charlemagne in direct line of descent from the old
Roman Empire, and the Germans were finally incorporated into
Roman civilization.
 These actions infuriated the Byzantine emperors, who still considered
themselves as the rightful imperial rulers in the West. They felt the West
was now ruled by a barbarian, and refused to recognized the legitimacy
of this newly formed empire, but because of Charlemagne’s power and
influence, they eventually had to recognize him, referring to him as
King of the West.
 For years the Saxons resisted conversion to Christianity. They would
seemly convert, only to rebel and kill Christians. Charlemagne felt he
had no other choice than to force their conversion by the sword. To
this end, he was extremely harsh, and at one point ordered the
beheading of four thousand men.
 This exemplifies Charlemagne’s weakness as a ruler. He considered any
infraction of the Church’s teaching as a crime, and the disproportionate
punishment often contradicted the true meaning of the Gospel.
 He also made liberal use of capital punishment. Under his rule any of
the following merited death: killing a priest, belonging to a heathen
group, stealing, eating meat on Friday, refusing to fast, refusing
Baptism, or cremating a body.
 When Charlemagne came to power, learning was on the decline in the West.
Charlemagne emphasized the importance of education and artistic
excellence, and commanded that every monastery have a school.
 Due to his efforts, the clergy were better educated in classical and biblical
texts than they had been for several hundred years. This improved literacy
led to a renewed enthusiasm for the Catholic Faith and paved the way for a
new wave of missionary activity.
 Born in Northumberland and educated at York, Alcuin was the best
and most influential scholar of the Carolingian Renaissance.
 He joined Charlemagne’s court to participate in the new spirit of
learning and eventually retired in France as the Abbot of St. Martin’s
monastery in Tours.
 His scholarly work included a variety of texts covering the Bible and
theological tradition, as well as Latin grammar and mathematical tracts.
He oversaw the production of the Tours Bible. He had a keen interest
in the liturgy, revising the Roman Lectionary and the Gregorian
The Great Schism
Although the seed of division had been planted by Constantine in the Fourth
Century, the alienation intensified due to the Iconoclastic Controversy and
Charlemagne’s rise to power. By the eleventh century the relationship was very
tenuous, and the final shattering of their communion occurred AD 1054.
 Different conceptions of Church government and hierarchy caused a
growing distance between East and West.
 The Bishop of Rome had a dual jurisdiction in the Church: the Latin
West, centered in Rome, as well as the universal Church.
 As Constantinople grew in power, it tightened its grip over the other
ancient centers of Christianity in Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.
The Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 recognized these centers,
along with Rome, as especially ancient and important centers of
 For political and theological reasons, the Christians of the East tended
to minimize the importance of the Pope as chief shepherd of the
Church, and seldom referred to the Pope, except in extreme cases.
 Eastern Christians were much more closely aligned with their National
Patriarch than with the Bishop of Rome.
 In addition, caesaropapism was a cause of tension. The emperors
played an important role in the Eastern Church, and played a major
role in each of the five schisms that occurred between 325 and 825.
 Finally, the relationship between the laity and the religious was different
in the East and the West. In the West, the monks worked very closely
with the people, while in the East, the monks were secluded and had
little contact with the laity.
 There are two types of Eastern Churches: Catholic and Orthodox.
 The Eastern Catholic Churches are in union with Rome, while the Eastern
Orthodox Churches are not.
 The liturgical rites practiced in both of these Churches are based on the
practices of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church.
 Because Greek was the common language in the East, it became the
liturgical language of the Church, and the vernacular was adopted by the
National Churches. This is exemplified by the missionary activity of Sts.
Cyril and Methodius when they translated the Bible and the liturgical texts
into the native language of the Slavs.
 Over time, the West incorporated Latin and more Roman customs, while
the Eastern liturgy remained Greek.
 There are two types of musical traditions in the East: Byzantine and
Russian. The Byzantine is sung a cappella, while the Russian (although
based on the Byzantine) incorporates western scales.
 Another difference is the Sign of the Cross. In the east the thumb,
forefinger, and middle finger are brought together symbolizing the Triune
God and the two natures of Christ. The “horizontal” beam of the cross
is traced right to left, the opposite direction as in the West.
 Beginning in the Third Council of Toledo in 589, the words “and the
Son” were added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. By 800, this
formulation of the Creed was standard in the West.
 The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was developed against those who
denied that the Holy Spirit came from the Father, and was never meant to
be interpreted that the Holy Spirit did not also come from the Son. The
“Filioque” clause was simply meant to clarify the original meaning.
 However, the Patriarch of Constantinople refused the addition to the
Creed, and it is has not been accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Churches
to this day.
 When the Patriarch of Constantinople refused Holy Communion to a
high ranking government official due to rumors regarding an
adulterous affair, he was deposed by the emperor, who elevated another
to the position.
 When the rightful patriarch refused to step aside, the emperor and his
“new” patriarch, Photius, appealed to the Pope.
 When the Popes legate’s decided in favor of the emperor, after being
bribed, the Pope had them excommunicated, and then ruled in favor of
the deposed patriarch.
 This infuriated the emperor and Photius, who tried to stir up unrest
against the Pope, in particular in regard to the filioque clause, and
German missionaries in Bulgaria.
 Later, when the Pope refused to recognize a Bulgarian Patriarchate, the
Bulgarian Church turned to Constantinople.
 Photius was removed, but years later was legitimately elected as
Patriarch of Constantinople. He once again renewed his campaign
against the Pope, excommunicating the entire Latin Church for
“liturgical irregularities” and their alteration of the Creed. Although
many Eastern bishops disagreed with him, they could not resist his
 Photius was finally deposed and reunion with Rome was restored, but
his dissension had struck deep roots among the Greek people and
would resurface later.
The final split between Eastern and Western Christianity occurred in 1054.
The disputes over the Filioque Clause, the crowning of Charlemagne, the issues
of authority raised by Photius, and the reforming tendencies of the Popes, all
came into focus. Further, Byzantium had increased its military strength, and
wanted a greater degree of independence from the West. These circumstances
shattered the 1000 year communion between East and West.
 Before becoming partriarch, Michael Cerularius had lived in the
seclusion of an Eastern monastery that had been influenced by
 Upon becoming patriarch, his anti-Latin tendencies grew, and the target
of his attacks was the Pope.
 He objected to a celibate priesthood, the Saturday fast, the use of
unleavened bread in the Eucharist, beardless priests, eating meat with
blood, and omitting the alleluia in Lent.
 He closed all of the Latin parishes in Constantinople and their
consecrated hosts were trampled on.
 Cardinal Humbert was sent by the Pope to deal with the situation. He
made it plain to the patriarch that the Pope held primacy in the Church.
His statement to the patriarch was, “Either be in communion with
Peter or become a synagogue of Satan,” at which point the patriarch
deleted the Pope’s name from all liturgies.
 Two papal legates later sent by the Pope were equally disastrous. Due
to their lack of diplomatic skill and arrogance, they enabled the
patriarch to turn the population of Constantinople against them and
against Rome.
 On July 16, 1054, Cardinal Humbert attended the Divine Liturgy at
Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. There he denounced the patriarch for
refusing papal authority and laid a document of excommunication on
the high altar.
 Technically, the papal legates did not have this authority as the Pope
had just died.
 The Easter emperor wanted to heal the rift and called for
reconciliation, but the patriarch incited riots. Not wanting a civil war,
the emperor backed down.
 The documents of excommunication were burned by the patriarch, and
a council in Constantinople excommunicated the Pope.
 Since that time, the Patriarch of Constantinople has been known as the
“Ecumenical Patriarch” of the East, and is regarded as the first among
equals among the Eastern Patriarchs.
 In 1965, before the closing Mass of the Second Vatican Council, the
Pope and patriarch participated in a show of reconciliation, expressing
regret over the mutual excommunications.
Pope John Paul II made great efforts to reach out to the Eastern
Church. He opened dialogues that may some day ultimately heal the
schism. He called for Christians “to work ever more fervently for
the unity which is Christ’s will,” calling division a sin before God
and a scandal before the world.
During this period two distinct forms of Christianity came into being. While
the East was locked in the Iconoclastic Controversy, the West found unity under
the leadership of the Franks and the Popes. The Great Schism shattered
Christianity, which has remained divided to this day. From the perspective of
the Catholic Church, the major difference between East and West is the
teaching authority and jurisdiction of the papacy as established by Christ
through his Apostle St. Peter.
The End
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