Oxford history of the christian church


VII 1 . The Effects of the Fourth Crusade 1204-1261



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VII 1 . The Effects of the Fourth Crusade 1204-1261.




1. The patriarchate of Constantinople 1204-1261: the Latins in occupation.


On 13 April 1204 Constantinople fell to the Fourth Crusade. Its capture and the subsequent establishment of a Latin Empire and a number of virtually independent Latin principalities on former East Roman territory presented problems for the papacy as well as for the Byzantines and of course the crusaders themselves. Before the City had fallen the crusaders drew up a partition treaty laying down the division of the City and arranging a committee to apportion the lands still to be conquered. As had been clear from the outset of the expedition, Venice was the dominating power determined to direct affairs in her own interests. Thus the doge contrived to get a nonVenetian Emperor, Baldwin of Flanders and of Hainault, elected, leaving the appointment of the canons and Patriarch of Hagia Sophia to the Venetians. Thomas Morosini, a Venetian living in Venice, was elected. The Byzantine lands were partitioned among the Emperor, the Venetians, and the other leaders. Venice had special terms designed to exempt her from certain feudal obligations, to preserve the privileges which she already enjoyed under Byzantine rule and to exclude her rivals (such as Genoa and Pisa) from participation in the profits to come. Otherwise the feudal usages of the western world were to be transplanted to Greek soil. The foremost leaders owed homage to the Emperor (or were supposed to), and they in turn expected to exact homage from those to whom they granted out fiefs.

Thus conquest of the Byzantine Empire by western forces, already foreshadowed in the previous century, was substituted for the intended deliverance of Jerusalem (though this would follow, so it was alleged). The territorial division did not work out precisely as agreed, but the victorious westerners did succeed in setting up the Latin Empire (known as Romania) and in taking over many other Byzantine provinces. They spread out into Macedonia and Thessaly, through central Greece into the Peloponnese, and they took the Aegean islands and Crete, and the north-west fringe of Asia Minor. Cyprus had already fallen to the Latin Lusignans towards the end of the twelfth century. Venice and Venetian families seized the most strategic economic points, Modon and Coron in the south Peloponnese, useful ports of call en route for Crete which they also contrived to get, as well as Euboea and many of the Aegean islands. They did not however acquire the west coast of Greece which had originally been assigned to them. The conquest was accompanied by the establishment of western feudal usage in the Latin Empire of Romania and in the newly established fiefs as they were gradually acquired. And internal relations were complicated by the conflicting interests of the Franks and the Venetians (the two main parties) which had been in evidence from the outset.

The Byzantine government, which had shown obvious weaknesses during the twelfth century, could only put up a partial, and for a time an unfortunately divided, resistance. The capital had been lost and a succession of Greek emperors were either in flight or killed. But the 'crusaders' never gained the complete control which they had planned. Byzantine centres of resistance emerged in western Greece (Epirus and for a time Thessalonica) and in western Asia Minor (the Nicaean kingdom). There was also the Greek kingdom of Trebizond round the south-east shores of the Black Sea, set up by a branch of the Comnenian family just before the Fourth Crusade. Though by no means a negligible factor, Trebizond was not so deeply involved in the struggle to expel the intruding westerners, pursuing a more independent existence far from the contested lands and understandably more concerned with Turkish movements in Asia Minor.

Fortunately for the Latins during the early stages of their conquest Greek resistance did not emerge as a single united effort. Relations of the imperial Angeli family had fled to Asia Minor where Theodore Lascaris, the son-in-law of Emperor Alexius III, established what became known as the kingdom of Nicaea, though it was really concentrated more in the Smyrna-Nymphaeum region. Another Greek, also claiming Angeli-Comnenian ancestry, set himself up in Epirus as Michael Angelus Comnenus Ducas. Attempts to drive out the Latins were seriously hampered by acute rivalry between these two Greek kingdoms, each aspiring to take the lead in a revived imperial Byzantium centred in the capital. At the same time the rising Balkan principalities, Bulgaria in the thirteenth century, and Serbia in the following century, were bent on establishing themselves as heirs of the Greek imperial rulers of Constantinople and at the same time desired to assert the independence of their national Orthodox Churches.

Against this tangled and shifting background relations between the Greek and Latin Churches had to be sorted out. The problem was threefold. The Frankish and Venetian settlers needed their own Latin clergy and had to be provided for. Within the conquered territory the position of the Greek clergy, both higher and lower, had to be defined and the Greek laity, who for the most part remained in situ, could not be entirely deprived of their own pastors. Then there was the overriding question of the strained relations between Greek and Latin Churches. This long-standing issue, aggravated by the twelfth-century crusading movement, was brought into unavoidable prominence by the Fourth Crusade. This particular problem involved not only Greek ecclesiastics within the conquered provinces, but the independent Greek kingdoms of Nicaea and Epirus, and then eventually the partially restored Byzantine Empire under Michael VIII and his successors. From then onwards the question of union was to become a bargaining point in Byzantine diplomacy aimed at enlisting papal aid for Byzantium, first against further western aggression, and then against the advancing Ottoman Turks, the enemies of Greek and Latin alike.

Within the newly conquered Latin lands the establishment of a Latin patriarchate, Latin bishops, clergy, and monastic orders was inevitable. 2 From the outset the papal attitude was clearly expressed. Pope Innocent III condemned the looting of a Christian city by Christians. At the same time he hoped that the introduction of the Latin hierarchy would prove an effective step towards the union of eastern and western Christendom and would then lead to the deliverance of Jerusalem which he so greatly desired. He seemed to think that the Greek clergy in the new Latin Empire would be willing to remain in office and would recognize the papal plenitudo potestatis, thus in effect being absorbed into the Roman Church. 'As the empire has been handed over (from the Greeks to the Latins), so must the rites of the priesthood be changed. Thus Ephraim having returned to Judah casts away the old leavened bread and is nourished on the unleavened bread of sincerity.' 3 So Innocent wrote on 15 May 1205 to the Emperor Baldwin I. It is true that he urged the Latins to show tolerance towards Greek rites and usages, provided there was recognition of papal primacy, but what he had in mind was the ultimate Romanization of the Greek Church. If the Byzantines did not fully appreciate, or at least allow for, the steady growth of papal claims from the eleventh century onwards, neither did the papacy understand the strength of Orthodox traditions and the tenacity with which these were guarded. Thus any modus vivendi in the Latin principalities was hardly on lines visualized by the Pope and in any case the wider aims of the papacy were never realized.

For Innocent III the situation was further bedevilled by the crusaders themselves and he had to assert his authority in order to prevent a secular take-over. The pre-conquest Latin partition treaty had stipulated that if a non-Venetian was elected Emperor, then the Venetians should have the right to appoint to Hagia Sophia. The able old Doge Enrico Dandolo scored a double trick in the election of the relatively harmless Baldwin of Flanders as Latin Emperor. He thus kept out the pro-Genoese Boniface of Montferrat from the imperial throne, and gained for Venice the control of the patriarchate. Without reference to Innocent fifteen Venetian canons were appointed (four of whom were illiterate) and they at once elected a Venetian patriarch. 4 When he learnt of this Innocent realized its implications. Either he had to make sure of his control over ecclesiastical affairs or be faced with a virtually independent authority which might well even assume the position of the former Byzantine patriarchate. When informed of Morosini's election as patriarch and asked to confirm this he wrote on 21 January 1205 condemning lay action in church matters. He pointed out that the canons had been uncanonically instituted and he declared their election of the Venetian Morosini invalid. However not wishing to complicate further the already disturbed situation in Constantinople he then proceeded himself to appoint Morosini as patriarch. 5 He reserved the right to choose future patriarchs. Later in May 1205 he laid down procedure for the patriarchal election whereby the Venetian canons of Hagia Sophia had to act together with the praepositi of the conventual churches in Constantinople (there were about thirty of them and they were under French influence). In practice however the Pope had the controlling hand during the life of the Latin patriarchate (1204-61), and twice appointed directly. In any case the papacy had throughout to contend with a certain amount of Venetian hostility as well as a running battle between Frankish and Venetian interests.

One of Innocent's most severe criticisms was directed against the general Latin appropriation of Greek ecclesiastical property. The crusading agreement had laid down that, provided the clergy were decently provided for, church property would be secularized and shared out. The Byzantine Church was rich and the crusaders refused to return their spoils. In the end Innocent's protests effected a settlement whereby Latin clergy (and Greek who submitted) were granted one-fifteenth of all property in Romania outside the walls of Constantinople. Monasteries and their property were to remain untouched. 6 This rule of one-fifteenth was to apply to all future conquests and in addition the usual western annual tithe was to be paid. Later readjustments were made to provide a more just compensation for lost church property within the Latin Empire and fresh settlements, which now included the Venetians, awarded the Church first one-twelfth, and then one-eleventh of occupied lands. 7

The Latin settlement meant the establishment of a Roman hierarchy if only to provide for the needs of those who were, at any rate to begin with, not Greek-speaking. In any case they could not be left to the care of schismatics (as the Greeks were regarded). The prompt election of the Venetian Patriarch had shown the Greeks what to expect. Moreover they were in a dilemma because their own Patriarch, John X Camaterus, had fled from the sacked capital to Didymoteichum where he remained. He was old and seemed crushed by the disaster, and he gave no lead to his Church. He refused Theodore Lascaris' invitation to set up the Byzantine patriarchate in Nicaea, perhaps because he had family links with the ousted Emperor Alexius III. Had he gone to Nicaea he would almost certainly have been required to crown Theodore as Emperor. It is not clear whether he resigned before he died in mid1206, 8 but until his death the Byzantine Church was virtually without its chief bishop and yet unable to proceed to a new election.

The papacy made various attempts to get the Greeks in Constantinople to recognize the Pope and the Venetian Patriarch Morosini and thus eliminate the awkwardness of a dual regime. It had yet to learn that the ease with which some rulers might promise union with the Holy See in no way indicated the attitude of the people or the monks. Several meetings were held in Constantinople during the years 1204-6. The first was under the guidance of the legate Peter Capuano. Towards the end of 1204 Peter and the higher Latin clergy met a group of Greek priests, monks, and laymen in Hagia Sophia. The Byzantines represented by John Mesarites, a leading figure in the monastic party, made it clear that papal supremacy was unnacceptable and reminded the Latins that the Greeks had their own Patriarch (John Camaterus was still alive if inactive). The highhanded and threatening Peter Capuano got nowhere, and to begin with for a time he had not even got a papal mandate as he had come unsolicited from Syria. In 1205 Innocent replaced him with a more suitable legate having full authority to organize the Church throughout the Latin conquests.

Cardinal Benedict of Santa Susanna was a man of some tact and insight and his whole enterprise was more carefully planned and more far-reaching. He brought with him an interpreter from southern Italy, the monk Nicholas of Otranto, and a pile of Greek books. The bilingual Nicholas was a unionist who was used on various occasions in the negotiations between the Greeks and Latins, both in Constantinople and at the court of Nicaea. He recognized Rome but had pro-Byzantine sympathies as his treatises on the filioque and the disputed Latin usages show. 9 Benedict travelled by way of Thebes, Athens, and Thessalonica. He seems to have made a point of inviting discussion with the Greeks.

In Thessalonica he was particularly impressed by 'the learned and holy men' with whom he conferred among whom was probably the displaced archbishop of Athens, Michael Choniates. But in Thessalonica the atmosphere was particularly favourable under the regency of Margaret of Hungary, widow of Boniface of Montferrat. When she had married Isaac II Angelus she had moved from the Latin Church of her upbringing to the Orthodox, and then on marrying the crusader ruler of Thessalonica she moved back again, though she retained a marked partiality for the Greek churchmen in the newly-founded Latin kingdom, even incurring (and apparently ignoring) Latin censure. The papal legate Benedict may have thought that some such accommodation might be reached with the Greek Church in general if only it would recognize papal supremacy and the Benedict Latin Patriarch of Constantinople. He may have been further encouraged by the submission of Theodore bishop of Euboea (Negroponte, then in Venetian hands). But events in the capital rapidly proved him wrong.

Three short meetings were held in 1206 in Constantinople in the patriarchal residence now occupied by Morosini. The first on 30 August turned on Morosini's demand for recognition and the papal primacy. In return for this he was prepared to allow the customary Byzantine veneration of one of their cherished icons (the Theotokos Hodegetria) which he had removed to Hagia Sophia — another instance of the perpetual friction engendered under the irritating Latin regime. The Byzantine spokesman on this occasion was Nicholas Mesarites, whose brother John had led the opposition to the Latins in the 1204 discussion with Peter Capuano. In fact it is Nicholas's funeral oration on his brother, who died in 1207, that supplies much of the information on the Greek point of view. 10 The Greek arguments were drawn from a treatise Against those saying that Rome is the first see, which had provided generation after generation with material drawn from polemic on this issue. 11

At the second meeting on 29 September Cardinal Benedict was present and was faced by a throng of monks not only from the capital but from the countryside round the sea of Marmora. As on other occasions, they were the unswerving supporters of the opposition. Their spokesman was John Mesarites. When faced by the legate's direct question 'Why do you not obey the Patriarch sent by the Pope who is the head of all churches' which of course implied commemoration in the liturgy, the reply was that until recently they had their own Patriarch and since his death they had no one to commemorate. This was followed by reiterating the arguments against the papal claim to universal jurisdiction maintaining that the true head of all the Churches was Christ. Even the usually equitable Benedict could not restrain his anger at the deadlock. He gave the Byzantines two days to think over the problem and on 2 October the third and final meeting was held. The result was unsatisfactory both to the legate and to Morosini. In fact Nicholas of Otranto writing about this meeting said that the Romans felt that it was useless to try to discuss points of dogma with the Byzantines. But it must have helped to clarify the issue for the Byzantines. First they again violently repudiated papal claims to universal jurisdiction and then significantly referred to those who had fled to join Theodore Lascaris in Nicaea, which was where the future for the Byzantines was to lie. According to Nicholas Mesarites the Byzantines were so moved that they declared it was even preferable to take refuge in the land of the Turks rather than to betray their true faith.

But before abandoning the capital one last effort was made. The Byzantines appealed to the Latin Emperor, Henry of Flanders, for help. He was liked and the Byzantines in Constantinople openly acknowledged him as their secular lord. They now asked him to allow them to elect their own Patriarch, but this was beyond Henry's competence, much as he wished to ameliorate the situation. They then wrote to Innocent III asking to elect their own Greek Patriarch and suggesting that this should be followed by a council in which the differences between the two Churches might be discussed. If they could elect their Patriarch they offered to acclaim the Pope at the end of the liturgy (as for a secular ruler), pending the council, and hoped for union when his name could then be placed in the diptychs and commemorated in the anaphora. No reply was received from Innocent and the possibility of this modus vivendi was lost and did not recur. In any case it could hardly have been acceptable to Innocent. As might have been foreseen the patriarchal problem was solved otherwise in the rising Byzantine kingdom of Nicaea.




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