Thursday, May 12, 2011

Roots of the Reformation XI: Crown Control of the Church

The Holy Spirit Window of the Chapel of the Carmelite Nuns
in Christoval Texas--modeled on the window over Bernini's
Altar of the Chair inSaint Peter's Basilica.
We had  been talking about clericalism and the danger it presents to the Church and I want to pick up on that theme both in terms of the anti-clericalism of sixteenth century and rising anti-clericalism in the Church today.  But before we go further down that road, I do want to finish up on Charlemagne and his Reformation in the ninth century. 
I recently wrote that Charlemagne and Pope Leo III (and his successors) had a clear understanding of the respective roles of the pope and of the emperor.  The emperor was to protect the Church and manage its external affairs; the pope was to define the doctrines which guaranteed the unity of the faith and to pray for the Emperor and his army, whose task it was to defend the Church.  Sometimes, however, the Emperor usurped even this somewhat limited role of the pope.  An important case in point was the dispute over the “Filioque”—the line in the Nicene Creed that declares that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son.”  
In the original Nicene formulation, the Fathers of the Council of Nicea (325) defined that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father.”  Now, I am not going to get into the doctrinal issue here, but suffice it to say that the decrees of a Council, and especially the first seven Councils, need to be held unchanged unless changed by the Universal Church, i.e. the Churches of the East and of the West.  Individual bishops or even synods cannot usurp the magisterium of the Universal Church which the teaching of a Council represents.  Nevertheless a synod of bishops in Spain, the Third Council of Toledo (589) added the phrase filioque to the Nicene formula, proclaiming that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  They had no authority to do so, of course, yet it became a popular variation in the Creed in both what is today Spain and France.  In 809 Charlemagne had it added to the Liturgy in the chapel royal in Aachen, the Imperial Capital.
Pope Leo III, in Rome, forbad the addition and had the original formula of the Creed engraved on silver plates with the admonition that it was never to be changed.    Two centuries later, however, the filioque was added at Rome.  Almost immediately it became and still remains today one of the major points of contention today between the Orthodox Churches of the East and the Catholic Church.  The Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome no longer use it in the Creed and in the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Churches it has most usually been abandoned these past twenty-five years or so.  There is some pressure on the Catholic Church to drop the filioque from the Creed, not as a denial of the doctrine but as a sign of the Catholic Church’s repentance for having unilaterally altered an infallible formula from an Ecumenical Council.   Charlemagne’s interference in this matter brings up a crucial issue and that is the role of the Emperor vis a vis the authority of the Patriarch.  In the East, both in Constantinople and later in Moscow, the Emperors had firm control over the Church, subjecting the authority of the Patriarch to that of the Crown.  In Western Europe there would be a long battle for supremacy between Pope and Emperor—culminating in the Guelf and Ghibelline struggles of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries between the Popes and the Hohenstaufen Emperors.  The Popes would eventually assert their authority, at least in matters spiritual, over the Imperial Crown, but that settlement would not hold in England and Scandinavia where the respective crowns would eventually demand authority over the Church in their realms leading to the English, Danish, and Swedish Reformations.  And all that will be dealt with in the future. 

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