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§ 69. The Causes of Separation.
Church history, like the world’s history, moves with the sun from East to West. In the first six centuries the Eastern or Greek church represented the main current of life and progress. In the middle ages the Latin church chiefly assumed the task of christianizing and civilizing the new races which came upon the stage. The Greek church has had no Middle Ages in the usual sense, and therefore no Reformation. She planted Christianity among the Slavonic races, but they were isolated from the progress of European history, and have not materially affected either the doctrine or polity or cultus of the church. Their conversion was an external expansion, not an internal development.
The Greek and Latin churches were never organically united under one government, but differed considerably from the beginning in nationality, language, and various ceremonies. These differences, however, did not interfere with the general harmony of faith and Christian life, nor prevent cooperation against common foes. As long and as far as the genuine spirit of Christianity directed them, the diversity was an element of strength to the common cause.
The principal sees of the East were directly founded by the apostles—with the exception of Constantinople—and had even a clearer title to apostolic succession and inheritance than Rome. The Greek church took the lead in theology down to the sixth or seventh century, and the Latin gratefully learned from her. All the oecumenical Councils were held on the soil of the Byzantine empire in or near Constantinople, and carried on in the Greek language. The great doctrinal controversies on the holy Trinity and Christology were fought out in the East, yet not without the powerful aid of the more steady and practical West. Athanasius, when an exile from Alexandria, found refuge and support in the bishop of Rome. Jerome, the most learned of the Latin fathers and a friend of Pope Damasus, was a connecting link between the East and the West, and concluded his labors in Bethlehem. Pope Leo I. was the theological master-spirit who controlled the council of Chalcedon, and shaped the Orthodox formula concerning the two natures in the one person of Christ. Yet this very pope strongly protested against the action of the Council which, in conformity with a canon of the second oecumenical Council, put him on a par with the new bishop of Constantinople.
And here we approach the secret of the ultimate separation and incurable antagonism of the churches. It is due chiefly to three causes. The first cause is the politico- ecclesiastical rivalry of the patriarch of Constantinople backed by the Byzantine empire, and the bishop of Rome in connection with the new German empire. The second cause is the growing centralization and overbearing conduct of the Latin church in and through the papacy. The third cause is the stationary character of the Greek and the progressive character of the Latin church during the middle ages. The Greek church boasts of the imaginary perfection of her creed. She still produced considerable scholars and divines, as Maximus, John of Damascus, Photius, Oecumenius, and Theophylact, but they mostly confined themselves to the work of epitomizing and systematizing the traditional theology of the Greek fathers, and produced no new ideas, as if all wisdom began and ended with the old oecumenical Councils. She took no interest in the important anthropological and soteriological controversies which agitated the Latin church in the age of St. Augustin, and she continued to occupy the indefinite position of the first centuries on the doctrines of sin and grace. On the other hand she was much distracted and weakened by barren metaphysical controversies on the abstrusest questions of theology and christology; and these quarrels facilitated the rapid progress of Islâm, which conquered the lands of the Bible and pressed hard on Constantinople. When the Greek church became stationary, the Latin church began to develop her greatest energy; she became the fruitful mother of new and vigorous nations of the North and West of Europe, produced scholastic and mystic theology and a new order of civilization, built magnificent cathedrals, discovered a new Continent, invented the art of printing, and with the revival of learning prepared the way for a new era in the history of the world. Thus the Latin daughter outgrew the Greek mother, and is numerically twice as strong, without counting the Protestant secession. At the same time the Eastern church still may look forward to a new future among the Slavonic races which she has christianized. What she needs is a revival of the spirit and power of primitive Christianity.
When once the two churches were alienated in spirit and engaged in an unchristian race for supremacy, all the little doctrinal and ritualistic differences which had existed long before, assumed an undue weight, and were branded as heresies and crimes. The bishop of Rome sees in the Patriarch of Constantinople an ecclesiastical upstart who owed his power to political influence, not to apostolic origin. The Eastern patriarchs look upon the Pope as an anti-christian usurper and as the first Protestant. They stigmatize the papal supremacy as “the chief heresy of the latter days, which flourishes now as its predecessor, Arianism, flourished in former days, and which like it, will in like manner be cast down and vanish away.”306306 Encycl. Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, 1844, § 5.
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