Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Eastern Orthodoxy's Witness to Papal Primacy: The Acacian Schism of 484-519

Pope John Paul II has referred to the Eastern Orthodox churches collectively as the "other lung" of the univeral Church. Rome permits Catholics in areas of the world where there are no Catholic churches to receive the Sacraments in these Eastern churches, thus recognizing their validity. The Divine Liturgy of these churches is widely recognized and appreciated by Western Catholics for its sublime beauty, depth, and antiquity (even though perhaps not quite as ancient as the Roman Canon of the traditional Latin Rite). Eastern Orthodox churches have preserved and passed down the Apostolic Faith virtually intact in their communities. They have preserved traditions of mystical and ascetical theology that are the admiration of all those acquainted with them. Furthermore, when it comes to accounting for Church history, Eastern Orthodox Christians have their just share of complaints about the scandalous behavior of certain Roman Legates towards them in times past, as well as about the corrosive inroads of the Western Enlightenment and its abominable fruit of desacralization and secularization among Catholics in the West.

All too often, however, Eastern Orthodox Christians have projected these just complaints into blanket dismissals of everything Western, so that their identity seems more dependent on a negative "anti-Westernism" than on whatever may be positively "Eastern." Furthermore, contemporary developments in the world suggest that it is not only Western Catholics who must face up to the massive challenges of social secularization and the inroads of modernity and postmodernity into their communities. The era of the ethnic religious 'ghetto' is quickly evaporating, whatever security its insularity may have provided. More seriously, the just historical complaints of the Orthodox have led, despite protestations to the contrary, to an effective dismissal of Roman Primacy in any sense whatsoever. Even the occasional lip service to a "primacy of honor" is eviscerated of significance by what most of our Eastern Orthodox brethren actually say and do. At this point, these brethren will find themselves, if they can bring themselves to look, in position of "rupture" from their own Eastern Orthodox tradition. Moreover, as I hope to show, their own tradition offers ample witness to Papal Primacy in a sense that far surpasses the etiolated notion of a "Primacy of Honor."

One good example of the Eastern Orthodox witness to Papal Primacy if found in what I shall call the Acacian Schism of 484-519. This schism began in AD 484 when Patriarch Acacius of Constantinople (pictured left) warmly espoused the Emperor Zeno's politically-motivated meddling in theology. Zeno, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (474-91), composed a script entitled Henotikon (Unification), to win over the Egyptian and Syrian monophysites, by condemning the definitions of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon about the unity of the divine and human natures in the second Person of the Holy Trinity, while exonerating the heretics Nestorius and Eutyches whom Chalcedon condemned. At first nearly all of the Eastern bishops hastened to subscribe to the Emperor's script--a pattern repeated with great frequency in Byzantium.

By the time of the Acacian Schism of 484-519, the bishops of Rome in the West had not only braved a long list of pagan Roman Emperors but also learned to cope with continual meedling by Christian Emperors in Constantinople in the affairs of the Church. These Byzantine emperors, emboldened by their frequent success in cowing into submission the bishops, archbishops and patriarchs of Constantinople, attempted to do the same with the bishops of Rome, some of whom they sent into exile, such as Martin I, who died in exile.

When Pope St. Felix II (483-492) (pictured right) caught wind of Zeno's Henotikon, he promptly protested. But his protest was in vain, as Acaius ordered the names of popes to be struck from the diptychs. In Constantinople, only a group of monks called Acoemetae) (Greek: "Akoimetai" from privative a and koiman, to rest; meaning "those who hardly slept") held fast to communion with Rome. Outside of Constantinople, bishops insistent on orthodoxy and unity eventually called upon a later bishop of Rome, Pope St. Symmachus (498-514) (pictured left), requesting communion with Blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and assuring him that they would "obey the decision of the Apostolic See." Early in the pontificate of the next pope, Pope St. Hormisdas (514-523), Metropolitan John of Nicopolis and his subordinates begged the pope to restore them to communion with Rome and pleaded their fidelity to Chalcedon.

It is in the response of Pope Hormisdas (pictured left) to the Eastern schismatics and in the transactions between Rome and Constantinople which followed, that the meaning of Petrine Primacy to both East and West becomes ineluctably clear. Pope Hormisdas exercised his primacy and supremacy by decisively putting an end to the long-standing schism. He composed his Libellus, which is better remembered as the Formula of Hormisdas, and sent it to Nicoplolis (the See of Metropolitan John who had called on his help) as well as to Constantinople. No less important than what Pope Hormisdas wrote (which we shall examine mementarily) is what he did. His action was decisive: he demanded that the Eastern bishops and emperor sign the document, signifying their assent to its content and submission to his authority.

The emperor at the time (518), Anastasius I, resisted. But his successor, Justin I, yielded to Rome, garnering for himself the exceptional legacy of being a great champion of Orthodoxy among the Eastern emperors and producing a domino effect in the Eastern Episcopate. This led to the singular event that brought to an end the Acacian Schism of 484-519: two hundred Eastern bishops were summoned to Constantinople and, in complicity to the demand of Pope Hormisdas, made to sign the document that has come to be known to posterity as the Formula of Hormisdas.

The most substantial first part of the Formula offers a review of the acts of the perpetrators of the schism, with references also to three earlier instances of heresy that the bishops of Rome duly condemned. The Pope also refers to his papal predecessors' references to themselves as the successors of Peter and to the powers conferred on them by Christ at the founding of His Church. In fact, the Formula begins with an emphatic reference to that act of Christ (Matthew 16:18). Throughout the first part, Pope Hormisdas uses the plural "We" to convey his identification of his own authority with that of his predecessors, who did not refrain from imposing doctrine and discipline on other bishops, whether from East or West. In the quotations from the Formula that follow, these key passages will be presented in Italics just as they are in Adrian Fortescue's The Orthodox Eastern Church (1907, 1925; rpt. New York: B. Franklin, 1969--used copies available).

In the first part of the Formula, those to whom it is addressed are asked to consider the consequences and to individually sign the Formula, which spells out what each of them must hold de fide. At this point, therefore, there is a significant shift from the first person plural ("We") to the first person singular ("I"). No leeway is granted to those called upon to sign the Formula to change anything in it, or to interpret it in any other way than unconditional adherence to the See of Rome:
"The first [condition of] salvation is to keep the rule of the true faith and in no way to forsake the laws of the Fathers. And the worlds of our Lord Jesus Christ: Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church, cannot be passed over; they are proved by the facts, because in the Apostolic See the Catholic Religion is always kept immaculate."
So that there can be no doubt about what is being enacted in the signing of the document, the Formula asks its signatories to condemn all those whom the Roman See has condemned:
"We then, wishing by no means to be parted from that hope and faith, following also in everything the laws of the Fathers, anathematize all heresies, especially the heretic Nestorius, sometime Bishop of the City of Constantinople, who was condemned at the Council of Ephesus by the blessed Celestine, pope of the City of Rome, and by Cyril, bishop of the City of Alexandria. We also anathematize both Eutyches and Dioscorus of Alexandria, condemned by the holy Synod of Chalcedon, which we follow and embrace and which We likewise condemn and anathematize Acacius, some time Bishop of Constantinople, who was condemned by the Apostolic See.... Further, we condemn Peter of Antioch [see Epiphanius of Constantinople] with all his followers and followers of all the above-mentioned."
The signatories are then asked to profess their adherence to the Tome of Pope St. Leo the Great (pictured below right) and to personally and individually promise fidelity to Pope Hormisdas and his successors (note the way in which the wording changes to first person singular ["I"] as it comes to the signing of the Formula following the first sentence below):
"We receive and approve all the letters of the blessed Pope Leo, which he wrote about the Christian religion; and, as we have said, we follow the Apostolic See in everything and teach all its laws. Therefore, I hope that I may deserve to be with you in that one Communion taught by the Apostolic See, in which Communion is the whole, real and perfect solidity of the Christian Religion. And I promise that in the future I will not say in the holy Mysteries the names of those who are banished from the Communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who do not agree with the Apostolic See. And if in any way I ever attempt to depart from this my profession, I acknowledge that by my own sentence I shall be an accomplice of those whom I have condemned. This my profession I sign with my own hand and address to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable Pope of the City of Rome."
The Papal Legates who presided over the convocation of the two hundred bishops in Constantinople allowed no room for discussion of the Formula. When a number of bishops from Thessaly wanted to changes some words, the Legates replied:
"It is not in your power to do this; if you will sign, thank God; if you will not, we have come and greeted you, we will now walk away."
Patriarchs Epiphanius (520-536) and Mennas (536-552) signed the Formula, as well as Emperor Justinian (527-565), who was responsible for initiating the Byzantine period by institutionalizing anti-Roman sentiments in Constantinople. The Formula was also signed by the bishops at the Fourth Council of Constantinople (Eighth Ecumenical Council) in 869. It formed an integral part of the declarations of the two reunion Councils, the second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439). Finally, it played a central role in the deliberations that led in the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) to the definition of papal infallibility.

... Quot erat demonstrandum.