His Ecumenical Holiness,
Bartholomew I, 270th
successor of Saint Andrew
Tensions between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople had often been tense. Contrary to Catholic Mythology, the Patriarch of Constantinople—like the other Apostolic Patriarchs of Jerusalem. Antioch, and Alexandria—had never been “under” the pope or his authority. As successor to various apostles, they were “brothers” among whom the Patriarch of the West, the Bishop of Rome, stood out as first among equals. The Council in Trullo (692), a Council which the Eastern Churches recognize as Ecumenical but the Western Church does not (since no delegates from the West were there) determined the precedence to be Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The First Council of Constantinople (381), which both the Churches of the East and the West recognize as Ecumenical, had already determined that the Bishop of Rome held precedence over the Bishop of Constantinople. This was not a matter of jurisdiction, however, but only of honor. Each Patriarch was supreme authority in his own jurisdiction; indeed each bishop was supreme in his own diocese. A patriarch could settle disputes among the bishops in his patriarchate. Each patriarch in his own jurisdiction also was the court of appeal should the clergy have a canonical or doctrinal grievance against their bishop, but the universal Church had a very collaborative structure rather than the hierarchical structure that was to emerge in the Middle Ages. From the time of the Apostles until the Emperor Justinian (d. 565) the universal Church was a communion of local churches; by the sixth century, it had become a communion of the five patriarchates which in turn were communions of the local churches that comprised them. Universal Jurisdiction of the papacy would only be claimed towards the end of the first millennium and even then it did not approach the authority claimed by the popes since the fifteenth century collapse of conciliarism—which is a future topic.
That is not to say that everything in the church was all buddy-buddy among bishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs—to the contrary. Male animals in nature do not share territory; likewise in the Church there have been squabbles of jurisdiction ever since the beginning. As Constantinople, the capital of the surviving Roman Empire, grew in importance and Rome, abandoned by its Emperor and bereft of its Empire, declined in its significance, the bishops of Constantinople pushed more and more to be recognized as the first bishop of Christendom. The bishops of Constantinople were (allegedly) the descendents of Andrew and Andrew was, after all, Peter’s older brother—and the “first-called.” (Saint Andrew is venerated to this day in the Churches form the Byzantine Tradition as “The First-Called.). Rome, on the other hand, was jealous of its ancient prerogatives and suspicious of Constantinople’s designs. The political situation made matters even more tense. Increasingly after the seventh century, the Emperors in Constantinople were unable to defend Rome from the Lombards and other Germanic tribes as well as from the Saracen pirates who dominated the Mediterranean. As a result, the popes looked more and more to the Merovingian and Pippinid (Carolingian) Kings of the Franks for protection. When Charlemagne assumed the title “Emperor” in 800 AD, the Emperor—the “real” Emperor in Constantinople—was furious that this illiterate animal-skin wearing baboon in the West would assume equality with his perfumed and silk-clad dandy self in Constantinople. Mirroring the political tension between the emperors, mistrust and antagonism grew between the Church in the East (Constantinople) and the Church in the West (Rome).
Now, over the centuries there had been a number of popes who had been chosen from the East. In antiquity there had been Anacletus, the second successor to Peter, Telesphorus (+137), Hyginus (+140), Sixtus II (+258) Zosimus (+418) among others. Even as the tension between East and West mounted, Greek and Syrian popes were common—among them (there were more) were Boniface III (+607) Theodore I (+642) Agatho (+681) Sergius I (+687) Constantine (+715) Zachary (+752) Stephen III (+772). The Greek and Syrian popes brought much to the Western Church—the “Kyrie” of the Mass being one contribution. Nevertheless the tension began to build.
858 the Emperor Michael III of Constantinople deposed the Patriarch Ignatius for political reasons and replaced him with a theologian, a layman, Photios. Under normal circumstances Photios would have made an excellent patriarch—he was both holy and scholarly. Ignatius had dared to excommunicate the Emperor’s uncle for having an affair with his widowed daughter-in-law. Pope Nicholas I, as senior patriarch, felt he had a responsibility to speak up for the deposed Ignatius whose rights had been violated. He did not claim universal jurisdiction but rather acted as the senior patriarch protecting one of the four junior patriarchs. Nicholas excommunicated Photios and the Emperor. This created a schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. When Ignatius died, Photios was elected in his own right to succede him and the schism was healed. But it left a bad mark. Ironically, according to some historians, Photius’ son succeeded to the papal throne as Theodore II.
There were other points of tension that persisted even after the schism had been healed. The Western Church unilaterally altered the Creed of the Council of Nicea, declaring that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son as well as the Father. The addition to the creed “and the Son” is known by its Latin phraseology: filioque. As the western Church began to impose celibacy on the clergy, the Eastern Church maintained a married parish clergy. The Western Church began using unleavened bread for the Eucharist as Christ had used unleavened bread at the Last Supper; the Eastern Churches kept to the apostolic custom of using leavened bread. When the Greek Church banned the use of icons—images of Christ, Mary, and the Saints in 730, Pope Gregory III convoked a synod that defended the use of Icons. This caused many Greek Christians to flee to Rome to maintain their practice of using icons in personal prayer as well as corporate worship. The second Council of Nicea in 787 affirmed the use of icons, but the East and West remained suspicious of each other’s doctrinal position