Oxford history of the christian church


Byzantine reaction to the union 1274-1282



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3. Byzantine reaction to the union 1274-1282.


The Byzantine envoys stayed in Lyons until the conclusion of the council at the end of July. They arrived back in Constantinople in the late autumn together with the papal legates and John Parastron. They announced the union. The papacy optimistically expected it to be acknowledged by clergy and people and it must be admitted that Michael VIII spared no effort to achieve this and fulfil his promise. He realized that it was essential to have the support of the Patriarch of Constantinople and in a sense the way was smoothed since the anti-unionist Joseph had threatened to resign if the reconciliation went through at the council of Lyons. In early January 1275 Joseph retired to the Lavra, a monastery near Anaplous at the Black Sea entrance of the Bosphorus (near enough to Constantinople to be within easy reach of his partisans). On 9 January the synod declared him deposed. On 16 January on the festival of St Peter in Chains in the imperial chapel in the palace of Blachernae the union was celebrated and the epistle and gospel read in Greek and in Latin. The bishop of Chalcedon was the celebrant and the papal envoys were present. As yet there was no Patriarch to take part in more formal ceremonies in Hagia Sophia. It was not until 26 May that a convert to union, the chartophylax John Beccus, was elected by the synod to the vacant office. Beccus was an individualist and a forceful character, a strong and intelligent upholder of his convictions, as his subsequent and often unhappy career showed. 54 He was not a man who could change from side to side as a matter of oeconomia or expediency. He came to accept the major Roman claims but he maintained that on patristic evidence the Greek and Latin views on the filioque could be reconciled. He apparently read little or no Latin and his views were mainly based on the Greek fathers, with translations of excerpts from only a few Latin works. 55 To call him 'Latinophron', pro-Latin, would be a misnomer. He was in fact passionately attached to the Byzantine way of life. 'It is the best interests of the Greek people which I have at heart,' he emphasized again and again, though this did not avail him much later on when the full storm of anti-unionist feeling burst out in the reign of Andronicus II.

Michael VIII had hoped that his recognition of the union (even if only in the imperial chapel), followed by his appointment of a unionist Patriarch, would satisfy the well-disposed Gregory X and suffice to stave off any papal support for a western attack on Constantinople. At the same time he himself did not cease to employ both force and diplomacy to regain lost Byzantine territory in Greece, somewhat to the neglect of the greatly reduced lands in Asia Minor, once a Lascarid stronghold. Michael was tough and determined — in contrast to his heir, the vacillating Andronicus -but in the end even he must have realized the difficulty of maintaining the union in the face of the unrealistic stiffening of papal demands and the acute tension within his Empire. It was the tragedy of the union that it was superimposed on an already fiercely raging internal ecclesiastical controversy which also had marked political implications. The Patriarch Arsenius had a considerable following. He had been deposed for excommunicating Michael VIII for blinding and displacing the boy John IV Lascaris and his followers maintained that all subsequent elevations to the patriarchate were uncanonical. The Arsenite party, strengthened by a strong pro-Lascarid element, particularly in Asia Minor, was a threat both to internal harmony within the Byzantine Church and to the Palaeologan dynasty. A second party, the followers of the deposed anti-unionist Patriarch Joseph, also considered Beccus's appointment irregular, and both Josephites and Arsenites, though not at one with each other, were against Michael VIII's unionist policy.

Further, outside these more specialized dissident circles there were many, some of them influential figures, who were antiunionist mainly because they supported the traditions of the Byzantine Church and could not concur in papal claims to what amounted to supreme control of all Christian Churches. Among the most determined of these were certain members of Michael's own family (notably his sister Eulogia) and some of his top generals. These were in a position to intrigue with Michael's enemies outside his reconstructed Empire, such as the Balkan principalities, or Epirus and Thessaly, who seized the opportunity to pose as the protectors of Orthodoxy and were moreover in alliance with Charles of Anjou and Philip of Courtenay (who was then claimant to the Latin Empire of Constantinople). Then there were the lower classes, refugees from pro-Lascarid Asia Minor fleeing from the advancing Turks or those of Constantinople who remembered with hatred the Latin regime of the pre-1261 period. All these were ready to be inflamed by the anti-unionist and anti-Latin views poured forth by the monks. There was, too, much pamphlet propaganda, 56 as is evidenced by Michael VIII's severe penalties against this later on in his reign.

With the help of Beccus, Michael put up a good fight. An embassy went to Gregory X († 10 January 1276) and then to Innocent V (26 January 1276-22 June 1276) to announce progress and to enquire after the proposed crusade. It also emphasized the need to control Anjou and Philip of Courtenay and to excommunicate the anti-unionist John Ducas of Thessaly. It was unfortunate for Michael that after Gregory X there were several short pontificates none of whose holders possessed Gregory's breadth of understanding of the Greek outlook. Nor did they fully take into account the particular Byzantine problems of the day, though these had certainly been explained by the friars who knew Constantinople well and travelled backwards and forwards between Rome and Constantinople.

With regard to the union, Innocent V desired Michael VIII, his son Andronicus, and the Greek clergy to swear personally that they accepted the Roman faith and primacy. This included reciting the addition of the filioque to the creed, and so would run contrary to Michael's assurance to his clergy that there would be no change in their accustomed usages if only they recognized the three main papal claims — primacy, jurisdiction, and commemoration. Innocent also pointed out that George Acropolites had no written authorization when he took the oath in Michael's name at Lyons in 1274. But, as in the case of Gregory X, Innocent gave his legation certain private instructions enabling them to moderate his demands if necessary. 57 Innocent died before his embassy reached Constantinople but his policy was swiftly taken up by his successor John XXI (mid-September 1276-20 May 1277) who sent similar letters to both Emperor and Patriarch. These were somewhat stiff in tone in that they stressed the need for Michael to make more effort and take a firmer line with his subjects. Whatever modifications were sanctioned in private instructions to the envoys, the detail of the actual demands marked a departure from the policy of Gregory X and made it even more difficult for Michael VIII to assure his bishops that all, or nearly all, could go on as before in the Byzantine Church. Stringent conditions were laid down to ensure that the Emperor, his son, and all the clergy should individually take an oath to abjure schism and accept the Roman faith, specifically including the filioque in reciting the creed. However, should this prove impossible the legates were instructed as before to get what recognition they could rather than to imperil the union by the rigidity of their demands. On the political issues John XXI was from the Byzantine point of view equally disappointing. Michael got no help against Epirus and Thessaly, who were in alliance with his Latin enemies, as both Innocent V and John XXI ruled this was a political and not an ecclesiastical matter and must therefore be dealt with by Michael. For obvious reasons the papacy preferred to remain neutral. Moreover Michael was urged to take steps to come to terms with his Latin enemies within five months.

Before John XXI's embassy reached Constantinople in the spring of 1277 Michael VIII and Beccus tried to gain control over a threatening situation and at least to give signs of active support for the union. On 19 February 1277 a synod was held at Blachernae and a document (a written statement, tomographia) was drawn up 58 and a copy was sent to the Pope with a letter signed by the bishops present. 59 The tomographia revealed the wide range of opposition to the union and explicitly condemned those schismatics who were refusing to accept the sacraments from unionist priests. Among the accused were 'some of royal blood and lineage, some members of the senate, some of the bench of bishops, of the church officials, of the status of monks and of the assemblage of layfolk, among whom there seem to be a large number of women (alas! for the evil guile of Satan . . .)'. 60 These, both lay and ecclesiastic, were then excommunicated and anathematized, and if a cleric also unfrocked. In addition to the bishops in synod, the tomographia was subscribed to by a long list of the great office-holders of Hagia Sophia, 61 amongst whom was Pachymeres, described as 'teacher of the Apostles'. 62 There was also a separate statement from the palace officials. This stressed the need to suppress the prevailing chaos in which streams of insults were insolently hurled around, each side calling the other schismatic, 63 a state of affairs most graphically described by Pachymeres. 64

In April 1277 Michael VIII and his son agreed to John XXI's request that they should in person swear to the abjuration taken on their behalf at Lyons in 1274. This they did in a formal public session at the Blachernae palace in the presence of the papal envoys. 65 Beccus likewise expressed his renunciation of the schism and entire submission to the primacy of Rome. 66 Later in July 1277, Michael, in response to a papal reproach, attempted to arrange a truce with Anjou and Philip of Courtenay. 67 The unionist decisions of the February synod of Blachernae had been sent to Nicephorus of Epirus and John Ducas of Thessaly, 68 but they refused to accept them and it was well known that their courts were centres of antiPalaeologan and anti-unionist intrigue. The Patriarch Beccus therefore took the step that the papacy had refused to do and the Epirotes were excommunicated on 16 July 1277. 69 They retaliated by convening a synod at Neopatras in December 1277 where they in turn excommunicated the 'heretics' Michael VIII and the other unionists.

The papacy now under the guidance of Nicholas III (25 November 1277-22 August 1280) was not reassured by the acts of the Blachernae council and thenceforth relations between Rome and Constantinople steadily worsened. Nicholas III in October 1278 prepared to send legates to demand the complete consummation of the union. 70 This included 'unity of faith' and the elimination of diversity, especially on the question of the filioque. Even more unacceptable to the Byzantines was the request that 'patriarch, prelates, clerics of every city, fortress, village or locality' should each individually swear by oath to accept the Roman faith and primacy. Legates were to visit throughout the land and collect up signed copies of the profession of faith to go to Rome. Worse still it was suggested that Michael VIII should ask for a cardinal-legate who would be resident in Constantinople. This last request was impossible from a Byzantine point of view. Even Nicholas III with his dreams of world-wide papal domination saw the difficulty ahead for there is evidence that he privately warned his envoys to move cautiously and do nothing to imperil the union. 71

The embassy arrived in the spring of 1279. Michael VIII was faced with an exceptionally awkward situation, since not only were the papal terms totally unacceptable and the very opposite of what he had promised his bishops but he was in disagreement with his Patriarch. Beccus in his own way was as strong-minded as the Emperor and he had greatly annoyed Michael by his persistent pleas on behalf of the poor and the condemned. He also had personal enemies working against him. Bad feeling between them and mutual retaliation came to a head with Beccus's resignation from his office in early March 1279. 72 He did not leave the city but went to the monastery of Panachrantus. Michael had to coax him out of retirement to meet the papal envoys. At the same time the bishops had to be put into the right frame of mind before they heard what the envoys had to say. Michael therefore addressed the episcopate, warning them that Byzantine unionist policy had been grossly misrepresented to the papacy as a mere farce. He asked them to remain calm if he seemed rather too well-disposed towards the envoys, promising that the faith of their fathers would remain unaltered. 73 The bishops backed him up and he weathered the storm rather better than might have been expected. He tried to drive home the seriousness and firmness with which he was sponsoring the union by showing the envoys his prison where antiunionists were miserably languishing. This was the occasion on which four dissident generals were exhibited, each chained in a corner of the same cell.

Beccus returned to the patriarchate on 6 August 1279. He found it impossible however to get the prelates to subscribe to papal demands, particularly with regard to the filioque, even though various other patristic terms more acceptable to the Byzantines could be found for the verb 'to proceed' (ἐκποςεύεσθαι) Michael and Andronicus again took the oath required 74 and Beccus replied to Nicholas III in September 1279, but Pachymeres reported that the episcopal signatures in the letter were greatly swollen by fictitious names attached to non-existent sees (all added in the same handwriting, but not necessarily implicating Beccus). 75

In the imperial letter to Nicholas III Michael VIII makes no mention of any truce with his Latin enemies, as demanded by successive popes. Indeed throughout his reign he was engaged in only meant regaining what the Franks had seized when they disrupted the Empire from 1204 onwards. As the Palaeologus widened his field of activity — for instance by his negotiations with Peter III of Aragon — so the breach with the papacy widened. The contrasts of Michael VIII's reign were never more vividly demonstrated than in his last years. With increased cruelty he punished anti-unionists in all classes of society, but on 18 November 1282 76 he was himself excommunicated by the pro-Angevin Pope Martin IV as a schismatic and supporter of heretics, 77 an act repeated twice in the following year 78 and executed almost entirely for political motives. In contrast to his failure to achieve union must be set Michael's significant victory in March 1281 when he foiled the attempt of the invading Angevins to take Berat and thus open the way to Thessalonica and thence along the via Egnatia to Constantinople. Further, his diplomacy was rewarded by the crushing blow to Anjou when the Sicilian Vespers drove the Franks out of the island and brought in Michael's ally, Peter III of Aragon.

Whether he was genuinely converted to the Roman faith or not, Michael VIII had striven to uphold the union, and his rejection by Rome and his treatment after his death (11 December 1282) were both undeserved. Though he received the last unction and was buried, if quickly and quietly, later in 1285 he was denied the usual liturgical commemoration given to emperors. 79 The full antiunionist reaction had set in and Andronicus was ruler with none of his father's quality. Perhaps Michael did err in retaking Constantinople. But even if he had renounced New Rome, Greece, and the islands it is doubtful whether he could have kept secure the Asia Minor kingdom in the face of western economic and dynastic ambitions and eastern pressures from the Turk.





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