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St. George

Lecture for ChH 601 Charlemagne, Pope Leo III, the Filioque and the Franks

Lecture for ChH 601 Charlemagne, Pope Leo III, the Filioque and the Franks

"Divided Empire, Unified Faith"

by Timothy Kenney, PhD

Edited by +David Leon Cooper, Metropolitan Archbishop

Editor's Note: I have added the emphasis in bold print. I consider those items in Timothy Kenney's lecture to important points.


The View from the Nonbeliever's Perspective: Flaws in Objectivity

Trying to understand such an important subject as how the unified Christian Church began to change jurisdictional direction from its Nicean-Chalcedonian roots, is somewhat akin trying to describe for the nonbeliever that his arguments, though perceptive and insightful, in a sense actually support the very thing argued against. The complexity and interconnectedness of the nonbeliever's argument reveal not so much his truth, but his connectedness to the Truth. In his charge against the Faith, the Divine Light reveals the nonbeliever's innocence.

Flawed Perspectives of Western Historians Based Upon Ignorance of Facts

Such is the trap faced by European and American historians in their attempts, successful arguments to be sure, in explaining the Church's redirection after the fall of the Roman Empire. They are quick to point out that military, political, cultural, linguistic, and theological changes drove the "inevitable" drift toward division in describing the ensuing realignment of the Roman Nation after 395. Like a recalcitrant nonbeliever, these analysts fail to grasp that their charges against the unity of the Church and its "inevitable" splintering, reveal instead vital elements to a rather robust understanding of the truth: in light of, rather perhaps, because of, these geo-political players, their maneuverings, and societal and theological challenges, the undivided truth of Orthodox faith survived within the five established Patriarchs for another 1,100 years until the military and empire conquests finally succeeded in foistering their temporal designs upon the Divine Design on earth. Like our nonbeliever, most historians who have argued that these character-events led the Church to inevitably succumb to a division--of "East" and "West," "Latin" and "Greek"--stand to realize it is the nonbeliever himself standing alone in utter amazement at the brilliant structure before him of the unified Roman Faith of a unified Roman Nation, erect with all Her infinite angles, cornered structures, roughed squareness, sensual roundness, and in all Her Glory.

Editor's Note: Brother Kenney has just told you that Western historians do not know what they are looking at. It is the same type of ignorance that a "nonbeliever" (heathen) has of the church and Christianity itself. These historians do not understand that the faith continued to be united until the fall of Constantinople in 1453AD at the hands of Muslim invaders.

Mischief of Charlemagne and the Franks: Dividing Christendom

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The Myth of the Sudden Split in the Church

Let us use the example of Charlemagne, Pope Leo III, and the filioque controversy to illustrate what is meant. Historians tell us that the Great Schism, also known as the East-West Schism, was the event that divided "Chalcedonian" Christianity into Western (Roman) Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Though normally dated to 1054, when Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I excommunicated each other, the East-West Schism was actually the result of an extended period of estrangement within the Church dating back to the reign of Charlemagne. The primary causes of the Schism were disputes over papal authority -- the Roman Pope claimed he held authority over the four Eastern patriarchs, while the four eastern patriarchs claimed that the primacy of the Patriarch of Rome was only honorary, and thus he had authority only over Western Christians -- and over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed. There were other, less prominent catalysts for the Schism, including variance over liturgical practices and conflicting claims of jurisdiction. Beginning with Charlemagne's efforts in the 9th century, the Church finally split around 1054 along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographic lines. Even under this stress the Church would remain connected until the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 causing a split which remains today. It is simply astonishing that there was no schism between the Romans of Old and New Rome (Constantinople) during the two and a half centuries of Frankish and German control over Papal Romania leading to the 1054 split. Even more astonishing is the fact that most European and American historians gloss over this divine feat with such ease. Wedges Made by the Franks

If we look at the so-called split between East and West as an importation into Old Rome of a schism provoked by Charlemagne and carried there by the Franks and Germans who took over the papacy, then "differences" within the changing Roman Nation and ecclesiastical developments of the Church Fathers thus become political opportunities for conquerors such as Charlemagne and his followers. These differences are exploited, becoming useful wedges to divide a unified people into groups, making governance of a new and Frankish empire possible. Theologian and historian John Romanides turns the readers eyes toward this direction. The time of Charlemagne, Pope Leo III, and the filioque controversy combine as seminal characters and events in the young ecclesial life of the Roman Church. In this light, the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was not between East and West Romans. No, in actuality, it was a split between East Romans and the conquerors of the West Romans.

Editors Note: The conquerors of the West Romans were the Franks! The term "East Romans" is a much more accurate term than "Byzantines." The Franks wanted to keep the East Romans and West Romans divided so that they would ensure their subjugation of the West Romans.

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Dividing by Ethnic and Racial Bias: More Frankish Mischief

Romanides notes that by the eighth century visible signs of a split in the Christian people along racial and ethnic lines began to become apparent. For the first time heresy took on ethnic names instead of names designating the heresy itself or its leader. Thus in West European sources we find a separation between a "Greek" East and a "Latin" West. In Roman sources this same separation constitutes a schism between Franks and Romans. This racial and ethnic basis for a schism may be more profound and play a leading role than historians acknowledge. Ensuing struggles in Church doctrine may have more to do with racial or ethnic prejudices than, say, doctrine itself. The point Romanides is making here is that the interplay between doctrine and ethnic or racial struggle may be such that the two can be distinguished, but not separated.

The instigating event was the founding of the Carolingian Empire in the West. The Frankish king decided to split Constantinople's claim to universal jurisdiction over the Roman Nation by bringing about a charge of heresy against the Eastern emperor. The Eastern emperor, argued Charlemagne, could not claim to be the successor of earlier Christian rulers because he worshiped images and because he confessed that the Holy Spirit proceeds "from the Father by the Son" instead of "from the Father and the Son." Charlemagne issued his "Libri Carolini," stating as such, and sent it to Pope Hadrian in 792. This became the basis for the Franks refuting earlier decrees which the Church had announced at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787.

Editor's Note: This means that Charlemagne interfered with the theology of an Ecumenical Council!

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Charlemagne Uses the Filioque as a Wedge to Separate East from West

Creating a fresh wound where none had existed prior, Charlemagne opened the path of dissension between East and West over the question of the Filioque. Pope Leo III of Rome agreed with the filioque phrase theologically but was opposed to adopting it in Rome, in part because of his loyalty to the received tradition. In fact, Leo had the traditional text of the Creed, without the filioque, displayed publicly, having the original text engraved on two silver tablets, at the tomb of St. Peter. So while the Bishop of Rome approved Charlemagne's political aims, he was decidedly opposed to his theological attack on the remaining four Patriarchates. Popes Hadrian I (772-795) and Leo III (795-816) defended the Council of Nicaea and formally rejected the interpolation in the Creed. Romanides helps the observer understand that the Filioque controversy was not a conflict between the Patriarchates of Old Rome and New Rome, but between the Franks and all Romans in the East and in the West. The schism began when Charlemagne ignored both Popes Hadrian I and Leo III on doctrinal questions and decided that the East Romans were neither Orthodox nor Roman. Officially, this Frankish challenge was answered at the Eighth Ecumenical Synod in 879 by all five Roman Patriarchates, including that of Old Rome.

Editors Note: The addition of the filioque was a violation of the canon of the Third Ecumenical Council in 431 AD.
The filioque may be interpreted 2 ways. One is heretical and the other Orthodox.
The heretical interpretation holds that the Holy Spirit is caused by the Son
St. Maximus the Confessor held that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.
The "Eighth Ecumenical Council of 879AD" is not universally recognized as Ecumenical in Orthodoxy.

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Ignorance of the Illiterate Franks: They Discovered Augustine

The odd effect of historians overlooking Christian Church unity during Charlemagne's time gives rise to arousing doubts deeper than their might otherwise be illustrated. Let us look at St. Augustine and the filioque arguments of the Franks as an example of such over-extended doubts. The theological tradition of the Franks promotes Augustine as a student and friend of Ambrose. Hence, Augustine is given the primordial role in Frankish theology. In turn, other Latin-speaking or Greek-speaking Roman Fathers are subordinated to the authority of Augustinian logic. Even the dogmas promulgated at Ecumenical Synods were eventually replaced by Augustine's understanding of these dogmas. Of course, such Frankish tradition is in sharp contrast to East and West Roman theology. In fact, there is little evidence to the Frankish claims of Augustine being a student and friend of Ambrose. Rather the opposite, it appears Augustine read very little of Ambrose's theological method and doctrine. Yet Charlemagne and the Franks had created a connection between the two and proceeded to use that "connection" as a dividing wedge between the Christian peoples of the unified Church. Scholasticism would hail Augustinian logic as its underpinning feature, giving Thomas Aquinas at least one leg to stand upon. It was the scholasticism of the Franks and their eventual takeover of the Papacy in Rome that drove thundering chariots across the sky, roundly replacing the earlier Patristic Tradition of a unified Church, leaving behind in its dust a conquered Roman west split from its roots.

The filioque is the result of Augustine's philosophical speculation and not of apostolic theology. The knowledge of God, however, is revealed; it is not the product of logic, no matter how cogent. The truth concerning the Trinity comes by Holy Tradition and is assimilated by the individual through the Grace of the Church. Romanides points out that Saints Ambrose and Augustine differ radically over the questions of the Old Testament appearances of the Logos, the existence of the universals, the general framework of the doctrine of the Trinity, the nature of communion between God and man, the manner in which Christ reveals His divinity to the apostles, and in general, over the relation between doctrine and speculation, or revelation and reason. Ambrose clearly follows the East Roman Fathers, and Augustine follows the Bible interpreted within the framework of Plotinus, and under the pressure of his Manichaean past.

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Problems Compounded by Iconoclasm

What is not speculation is that the Franks intended to exalt Charlemagne as the new Roman Emperor. The Orthodox Catholic religion, as they knew it in the western empire, was to be part of the catalyst. Meanwhile, from 726 to 843, the Eastern Roman Empire, under the thumb of successive emperors, was dominated by the heresy of iconoclasm. Both Franks and Greeks, in their own way, departed from ancient tradition. Unlike the East, however, where iconoclasm was repudiated at the Seventh Ecumenical Council and the use of icons later confirmed by the Empress Theodora, the West to date never recovered from its departure.

We can now see the thrilling attraction of orthodoxy. The over-extended doubts spurred by speculative Trinitarian theology were, in reality, doctrinal explanations of Nicean-Chalcedonian dogma. Still, the Church was aggravated on all sides by Charlemagne and the Frankish rulers for all contradictory reasons. Really, no sooner had Charlemagne demonstrated that the Church was too far to the east than the pope demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west. No sooner had Pope Hadrian's indignation died down than Pope Leo III was called up again to notice and condemn the Emperor's attempts to divide. Yet the fact remains that between 395 and 1453 Constantinople ("New Rome") was the Capital of the Roman Empire. She was not the capital of any "Byzantine" or "Greek" Empire which never existed. Such racial and ethnic terms have the obvious dividing effects.
Conclusion: Divine Purpose and the Church in the Context of History

This is what seems so inexplicable to the nonbeliever of Christianity. Think of the monstrous wars about small points of theology, enough to be used to divide East and West. A gesture or word, such as 'filioque' generates an earthquake of emotion. A small theological point that has the potential to upset the equilibrium of a great experiment or the balance in the universe. The Church could not afford to swerve even on this small point lest some other idea may become too powerful. It was already taking a large enough risk as it was being the religion whose ideas of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfillment of prophecies, were ideas that needed but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or violent. Here the nonbeliever discovers that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made throughout the human condition. Ramifications were simply far too great. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of Christ's divinity would have broken all the revealed knowledge of the Patristic period. Yes, doctrines had to be defined within strict limits so that mankind might enjoy general human liberties. The apologist G.K. Chesterton notes, "The Church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless."

Editors' Note: The section headings are my additions. Brother Timothy has presented an excellent discussion of the key points of the troubles and division brought on Christendom by the Germanic tribe called the "Franks." Their legacy is dissent and division in the church driven by lust for political power. Eventually, they would become even more Latinized and develop primarily into the French and Germans of later times.

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