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Yuri Koszarycz

The Results of the Disputes

The sack of Constantinople on April 13, 1204, dealt the final blow to relations between these two branches of the Christian Communion. It was an occasion of plunder and destruction seldom equalled for horror even in modern history. The great city, which had remained unconquered ever since its foundation in the fourth century, contained unique treasures of Christian art and learning. This was also the place where all the great relics of Christian piety had been stored by the Emperor. The riches of its Churches and especially of its Cathedral of St. Sophia, were unsurpassed in the whole world. Soldiers and Latin clergy vied with each other in their attempts to seize some part of these riches for themselves; even the precious Holy Altar of St. Sophia was polluted, broken in pieces and sold. Most of it was, however, simply lost or destroyed and only meagre remnants reached Europe.

Greek writers could not find words adequate to express their disgust and exasperation at the sight of such plundering, and their descriptions found confirmation in the epistle of Pope Innocent III, addressed to his Cardinal in Constantinople. The Pope's denunciation of the sacrileges committed by the Crusaders bear out the statements of Greek writings. This day, April 13, 1204 marks the end of the fellowship between Eastern and Western Christians. The split was brought about, not by quarrelsome theologians or ambitious prelates, as is usually suggested, but by the greed and lust of those men who, in the name of the Prince of Peace, had embarked upon a war of aggression and conquest.

The horrors of the sack of the great Byzantine cities brought about a radical change of attitude among the ordinary members of the Church. Up to this time the feeling of competition between the Christian East and the West had been confined to a few prelates and to the narrow circle of the Court. The mass of Christians has the oneness of the Church and therefore all ecclesiastical disputes had sooner or later been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. But after the aggression of the Crusaders a deep sense of indignation spread all over the Christian East. The bulk of Church members refused to recognise the Westerners any longer as their brothers and sisters in Christ. During the course of the next two centuries the secular and ecclesiastical rulers of the Byzantine Empire, under the rapidly growing threat of the Moslem domination, tried hard to come to some understanding the Christian West. At Lyons in 1274 and at Florence in 1439 reconciliation between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople was achieved; but it came to nothing, for the Eastern Christians stubbornly refused to enter into communion with the offenders. After the outrages of Knights it was the Eastern laity which became the stronghold of opposition to reunion, and all efforts on the part of prelates to bridge the gulf proved a complete failure.

Whatever had been the mistakes of the past, undoubtedly in the last and fatal stage of the disruption of Christian unity the East was the victim and the West the aggressor. The conduct of the latter during the succeeding centuries was the logical result of their particular role in the quarrel. Somewhere in the depths of its conscience the Christian West has retained a memory of the crime it once committed. Ever since that time it has been troubled by the very existence of the Christian East; it has frequently been tempted to resume negotiations with the Orthodox Christians; it has tried hard to force them to accept its leadership and to exchange their traditions for Latin or Protestant forms of Christianity. It has employed cajolery, promises and threats; it has calumniated the Orthodox faith and practice and attacked the Eastern Church whenever possible; it has never been able to leave the East alone, and both the Roman and Protestant Churches have displayed a striking similarity in their conduct.

The line taken by the Eastern Christians was the very opposite: they refused to pardon the offenders; they were unable to swallow the insult and take part in a reconciliation. Resentful and embittered, they displayed a complete indifference to the fate of Western Christians, and had but one wish: to be left alone. They ceased to recognise any moral link between themselves and the Christian West, and considered the Latins as idolaters who worshipped the Pope, and Protestants as still worse, since they had elevated the Book to the position which should be occupied by God alone.

A study of the relations between East and West during the last 800 years is a sordid and melancholy business. Both parties wilfully persisted in their errors; one side was arrogant, the other unforgiving: the West tried hard to induce the East to submit; the latter remained firm in its refusal to open its heart and mind to those who had formerly been allies and who had violated the bond of peace and love. There is little hope of any improvement in the relations between Eastern and Western Christians until the true cause of the schism is fully recognised. It is a fact of paramount importance that the split was occasioned not by any doctrinal disagreement, but by political and cultural differences which flared up into open warfare at the time of Crusades.


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Copyright ©1999, Yuri Koszarycz. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.The contents of ORB are copyright © 1995-1999 Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber except as otherwise indicated herein.