Oxford history of the christian church

Andronicus II: internal problems: Josephites and Arsenites: repudiation of the union

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4. Andronicus II: internal problems: Josephites and Arsenites: repudiation of the union.

With Michael VIII's strong hand removed, the early years of his son and successor the Emperor Andronicus II were characterized by marked anti-unionist reaction and also by confusion in ecclesiastical and political circles. The new Emperor was a less dominating figure than his father, and he was greatly tried during his troubled reign. Michael left him a legacy of an unacceptable union and heavy debts. He also inherited internal ecclesiastical strife, and then this was followed by family dissension and a rebellious grandson. Andronicus had certainly professed loyalty to the Roman faith, perhaps under pressure. But once the excommunicated Michael VIII had died Andronicus allowed himself to be swept along on the crest of anti-Roman feeling. He proved to be an excessively devout man, in some ways more monk than emperor, susceptible to monastic influence, and yet the friend of a learned humanist such as Theodore Metochites. He had no hesitation in repudiating the union with Rome. Towards the end of December 1282 the anti-unionists banned and penalized by Michael VIII were recalled. 80 This did not however bring tranquillity to Byzantium. It is true that there were still unionists, some moved by genuine conviction, such as Beccus, others, as the wealthy rural proprietors, seeing material advantages in being aligned with the West. But these were only a minority.

The greatest confusion was however caused by the bitter strife between two parties within the Byzantine Church — the Josephites and the Arsenites, both of whom were in schism as they had refused to recognize the establishment under Patriarch Beccus during Michael VIII's reign. Under Andronicus II the situation was not helped by some of the figures promoted to the patriarchal throne, so that the troubled polity was often deprived of stabilizing and guiding leadership. Even when an able man such as Gregory II the Cypriote became Patriarch, in the end he retired prematurely, as Beccus before him had tried to do under Michael VIII. As for John XII Cosmas and Niphon, they were not particularly suited for their high office. Athanasius in his two patriarchates at the turn of the thirteenth century was an exception. Strong-minded and with excellent qualities, he showed that the Church could give a lead, though even his energetic resolution could not control or even stem the deteriorating situation and what was left of the Empire.

Of the two dissident parties facing Andronicus on his accession in 1282 the Josephites were the easiest to deal with. They were antiunionists who resented the abdication of Patriarch Joseph in 1274 after the council of Lyons. They were joined by every kind of discontented element. Many of their followers were rampant vagrant monks who would no doubt have resented any kind of papal discipline had the union been consummated. They argued moreover that it was only because of their passionate championship of Orthodox traditions that Providence had been induced to save them by the Sicilian Vespers of 1282 (not realizing apparently that Providence used human agents, in this case the pro-unionist Michael VIII). They were now all set to repudiate any thought of alliance with Rome and were willing to end their schism with their own Church after the pro-unionist element had been ejected. And Andronicus seemed to be their willing tool.

It was the Arsenites however who presented the greater threat to Andronicus. They were the supporters of Patriarch Arsenius who, after some vacillation, had finally abdicated in protest at Michael VIII's blinding of the ousted young Emperor John IV Lascaris. Though Arsenius had died in 1273 the party remained in schism. It was strongly anti-unionist and equally strongly anti-Josephite, since its members refused to recognize the validity of Arsenius's abdication or of Joseph's election, and so, like the Josephites, if for different reasons, its followers were in schism with the Byzantine party not only in Constantinople but in what was left of Asia Minor where amid increasing harassment by the Turks old men could still remember the achievements of the Lascarid dynasty. Even after Michael VIII's death this opposition still continued to persist and Andronicus recognized the danger to himself and to his dynasty.

It was obviously in Andronicus's interests to placate the Josephites whom he now supported. After all it was the ex-Patriarch Joseph who had crowned him in November 1272 and to accuse Joseph of being uncanonically elected might well be to question the validity of his coronation. With the change of policy in 1282 the position of the Patriarch John Beccus clearly became untenable. The man who had so warmly upheld the union with Rome was the obvious scapegoat. At Andronicus II's request he left the patriarcheion for a monastery. On 31 December 1282 Joseph I was declared Patriarch for the second time. He was a dying man and authority was quickly seized by anti-unionist monks who in their fanaticism went to every extreme. Hagia Sophia was even considered to be unclean and had to be purified by one of the monks who had suffered under Michael VIII. Joseph, or rather, the monks acting in his name, declared Beccus deposed for usurping the patriarchal throne from Josephand for professing unorthodox doctrine. Then the three official envoys who went to the council of Lyons, the metropolitan of Nicaea, Theophanes, the chartophylax Constantine Meliteniotes, and the archdeacon George Metochites, were also condemned, ostensibly because they were said to have taken part in a papal mass. In fact they had simply been present and as members of a diplomatic mission they could scarcely have done otherwise. And after all the same thing had happened in reverse in Constantinople when Latins had been present at the Orthodox liturgy without causing adverse comment. Bishops and clergy who had supported the union were suspended for three months, 81 though in the interests of ecclesiastical administration a certain number of dispensations, for instance in the case of Hagia Sophia, could not be long deferred. 82 Those of the laity who had supported Lyons were also penalized. All this was done in the name of the dying Patriarch.

Feeling within the City was further whipped up. Surrounded by an enflamed mob on the eve of Epiphany 1283 a synod of bishops sat in judgement on John Beccus. The Patriarch Joseph was too ill to attend and the Patriarch of Alexandria acted for him. Amid such turmoil any kind of reasonable trial was impossible and Beccus had no opportunity to defend himself. As he later pointed out in his De depositione sua, 83 he was harrassed beyond bearing and quite unable to state his case, so he temporized by renouncing unionist views, tacitly admitting that he had been overbold in writing about the mysteries of the Trinity. 84 In all probability it was only this that saved his life from the infuriated mob. He was condemned for heresy and exiled to Brusa, a spa with splendid marble baths, situated under the shadow of Mount Olympus in Bithynia. Here he had friends and relations and was not at first subjected to hardship.

In early March 1283 Joseph abdicated 85 and on 23 March he died. His place was speedily filled. On 28 March 1283 George of Cyprus became Patriarch as Gregory II. He was a scholar of some standing. Among his works he has left a brief Autobiography. He was a native of Cyprus, then being ruled by the western Lusignans. He left the island because he wished for his higher education to be Greek and not Latin. His attempt to study under Blemmydes in Ephesus met with a cursory rebuff and he then made his way painfully on foot via Nicaea to Constantinople. Here in the capital under George Acropolites' tuition he developed into a humanist in the early Palaeologan tradition as well as an able theologian with a wide circle of correspondents as his many letters show (no wonder that he bemoaned his lack of writing paper). 86 At first he supported Beccus and then after 1282 he renounced the union, but he was a partisan of neither the Josephites nor the Arsenites. Andronicus must have hoped that he would be able to stand above feuds and exercise control over the unruly elements in the capital. By now the Josephites had been to some extent placated. Their leader Joseph had come back to the patriarchate and in the end as a dying man had abdicated of his own free will (he could hardly do otherwise). He had even been swiftly canonized. 87 Moreover his followers had been allowed a free hand in their anti-unionist activities. It was far otherwise with the Arsenites who were still in schism and had been infuriated by the honour paid to the lately deceased Joseph.

Gregory continued to carry out anti-unionist measures. In April 1283 in Holy Week at the church of the Blachernae a synodal tome pronounced the deposition of all unionist bishops. 88 It was later made clear to the Dowager Empress that her deceased husband Michael VIII would not be permitted the liturgical commemoration normally accorded an Emperor on his anniversary. 89 It might well have been hoped that as far as the union went repudiation was complete and the matter could now rest. But this was not so. John Beccus had every intention of attempting to justify his position. In 1284 he was claiming the right to answer the charges brought against him. To meet this challenge Patriarch Gregory appealed to the Emperor for support and a synod was convened at the beginning of 1285. 90 Beccus was condemned to solitary confinement in the 'Great Monastery' of Brusa. 91

In February of the same year a second synod opened and this time there was some attempt at a debate. Beccus's later writings show how passionately he resented the suggestion that his views were heretical. His defence turned on his contention that the Greek fathers supported the procession from the Father and the Son, arguing that the prepositions ἐκ and δι° had the same meaning. He cited a sentence from John of Damascus 'The Father is the emitter, or producer, of the Spirit through the Son'. 92 The matter seemed at the time to be unresolved and some of the anti-unionists put up a poor defence. George Moschabar, then the chartophylax, even went so far as to maintain that this passage in John of Damascus was spurious, for which he was rebuked by the grand logothete Theodore Muzalon. The synod dragged on for six months and then Beccus and his two unionist friends, Constantine Meliteniotes and George Metochites, were excommunicated and in the end sentenced to strict imprisonment in the fortress of St Gregory in the bay of Nicomedia off Bithynia. Beccus subsequently refused any kind of compromise even when Andronicus II made personal overtures to him, and he lived in hardship in St Gregory until he died in 1297. He continued to write in defence of the position which he had taken on the filioque, and he vehemently protested against the injustice of being regarded as either heretical or anti-Byzantine. 93 One of his near contemporaries, though an anti-unionist, warmly praised his theological acumen, maintaining that he was outstanding in doctrinal expertise. 94

In spite of apparently fruitless discussions the synod which condemned Beccus and his associates did in fact have an outcome of importance for the development of Orthodox doctrine. Patriarch Gregory drew up a statement, or Tomos, on the filloque problem which was signed by only relatively few bishops and official clerics. 95 This Tomos denied that the Father caused the Holy Spirit through the Son in the sense that the Holy Spirit received its existence from the Son as well as from the Father. Therefore the Spirit could not 'proceed', or get its existence, from both Father and Son. But it was eternally revealed or manifested through the Son. 96 This was further developed in Gregory's later writings on the procession of the Holy Spirit. 97 In distinguishing between eternal, uncreated, and unknowable existence and eternal, uncreated manifestation Gregory provided one more step forward in the development of the Orthodox tradition. In the fourteenth century it was to be taken further by Gregory Palamas's teaching on the uncreated essence of God and his uncreated energies. 98 Such doctrine was intimately connected with Orthodox belief in man's participation in Divinity, θἒωσιζ, which lay at the root of Christian life in the Orthodox world and still does.

There was however clearly turmoil and dissension on religious matters as is reflected both by the small number of signatures to the Tomos and by the apparent freedom with which the views of the imprisoned Beccus and his friends could circulate. Unfortunately for Gregory one of his followers, the monk Mark, misrepresented his views by asserting that the Patriarch approved the statement, that the emission or way in which the Holy Spirit came into existence (ἐκπóςευσιζ) was the same as the Spirit's eternal revelation or manifestation (ἐκϕανσιζ). This was the opposite of what Gregory had intended and he disavowed it. 99 But the episode had given his enemies a loophole. Led by the discredited George Moschabar, they rounded on him, also attacking the Tomos, though some of them had signed it. Gregory, who was at the time facing serious illness, protested bitterly to the Emperor about the hostile attacks. In May 1289 he wrote to one of his friends that he had never desired the office of patriarch and had accepted it only in the hope of bringing peace to a troubled Church. He added that he proposed to abdicate rather than be himself a cause of discord. This he did, probably about the beginning of June 1289. 100

Up to a point Gregory II had eased the situation in the Byzantine Church even though he chose to resign in the face of pressure from his critics who attacked his theological position and resented his Cypriot origins. Brought up in a Latin-dominated island what could he know of the genuine Byzantine ecclesiastical tradition, asked his enemies? But he had however made his contribution to Orthodox doctrine and he is one of those to whom Gregory Palamas was indebted, as Acindynus recognized in the course of his attack on Palamas. 101

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