The persistent theme of the Popes’ opposition to the Basileus and the Patriarch of Constantinople was their refusal to accept the idea that any exercise of juridical power on the part of the Church in the Empire derived from some political or imperial statute. They insisted, in these cases, that it flowed from an Apostolic law, one properly ecclesiastical, particularly in the case of supreme authority in the Universal Church, which it is the divine prerogative of Rome to exercise. The crisis, a veritably endemic one after Nicaea, was to become decidedly acute when Rome, politically emancipated from the Empire, could more independently assert the right to regulate the canonical life of the Universal Church without appeal. In this respect, all the events which were to render the Church more effectively independent of Constantinople and the Basileus were to have their ecclesiological and canonical repercussions. Among these events were: the conversion of the barbarian kings and peoples upon whom the Church depended in the West (a fact that was resented in Constantinople, as was clearly noticeable at the end of the Sixth Century); the emergence of Pepin the Short and Charlemagne; the Donatio Constantini, to which we will refer later on; and the establishment of the Normans in the southern part of Italy to direct injury of Constantinople, a step which provided the context for the affair of Michael Cerularius.
Thus the relations between Rome and Constantinople have often represented so many occasions for a struggle and a competition wherein the point at issue sometimes had juridico-political aspects (Illyricum, the Bulgars), but was fundamentally an ecclesiological concept. Rome followed the logic of a Universal Church centered round its primacy. In this, she obeyed her profound vocation, based on the institution of Our Lord and on the presence of the Apostles Peter and Paul; she was likewise favored by various factors that were both political and natural: the Roman genius, the ideological and sentimental heritage of Imperial Rome, and the fact, which Baumstark stresses, that in the West occupied by the barbarians Rome appeared as a center and even as a unique source of civilization. She had complete freedom to realize, in the peoples who did not erect against her the barriers of a secular culture and a Christianity that already had its own existence, a life of a unified Church, which was Latin and, finally, Roman. These and other data which reveal the social and ecclesiological history of the West, provided the ecclesiology of the Universal Church with every chance to take hold in that part of Christianity. This ecclesiology, however, ran the grave risk of being seriously tinged with Latinism and juridicism.
In the East, on the contrary, Christianity developed from the beginning in various regional and very ancient cultures. There, according to the extent that Constantinople dominated (and this extent varied according to political destinies), it was the idea of a Church of Empire, ecumenical in that sense, which prevailed, with the ecclesiological risks pointed out above. The rise of the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch (authority de facto stronger than authority de jure), even in the times, (more numerous than is often thought) when this authority displayed an independence towards the Basileus, took place within the framework of the Imperial idea. Moreover, while the existence of local churches, with their own liturgical language and their autonomy, had from the beginning oriented people’s minds towards the idea of a communion or fraternity of churches, the aggressive contact with Islam made Byzantium consolidate herself as a nation confronting other national powers, and the Byzantine Church thus became a national Greek Church. The idea of an organization of the Church on a universal plane, with an appropriate hierarchical court of appeal, had not the least chance of finding favor in Eastern thought. Baumstark notes with subtlety that the West approaches ecclesiastical reality in an analytical way; to begin with, the whole is posited, then the particular communions are conceived of as parts of this whole. In the East what is first envisaged are the local churches, then the exigencies of their communion are postulated. In the West, one prays for the unity of the Church (“pro Ecclesia tua sancta catholica, quam pacificare, custodire, adonare et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum, una cum famulo tuo papa nostro…”; “ne respicias peccata mea, sed fidem Ecclesiae tuae…”); in the East, one prays “for the prosperity of the holy Churches of God.” In the West, the first and concrete given fact is the total unity, in the East, it is the local diversity. In the West, separation is all the more felt as a scandal, a kind of amputation which mutilates the body; in the East, unity is regarded more as an ideal, as a family reunion can be a reunion in which many things can, at one time or another, prevent one or the other member from taking part. In fact, among the Eastern Churches it is impossible not to be struck by a certain lack of any uneasiness or discomfort in the midst of multiple and often, rather long interruptions of communion.
For all these reasons and still others, the ecclesiological acquisitions of the West (an ecclesiology of the universal Church and a hierarchical court of appeal, likewise universal and apostolic in origin) have remained foreign to the East. On the other hand, the ecclesiological significance of the local Church, centered on the mystery and the sacrament, which has unceasingly inspired Eastern thought, has played a smaller part in this half of Christendom.
To be continued …