Saturday, December 5, 2020

30 - Book Review: "The Eastern Schism: A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches During the XIth and XIIth Centuries" by Steven Runciman

The Eastern Schism:
A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches During the XIth and XIIth Centuries

Published by Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1955, 190 pages.

By Steven Runciman

Reviewed by Georges Florovsky
Church History, Volume 26, Issue 2, June 1957, pp. 181-182.

The break between Byzantium and Rome was probably the major tragedy in the history of Christendom. It is inaccurate and misleading to speak of the Eastern Schism. The term suggests that there was "One Church," from which the East broke away, at a certain date, or rather was breaking away gradually and persistently. It is precisely what the West finally came to believe. It is natural that the East finally took the opposite view and came to believe that there was actually a "Western Schism." Strangely enough, both views are accurate and correct, from the historical point of view. What actually happened was the disruption of Unity, and both "separated" parts of Christendom are, in a certain sense, "schisms." In any case, it is so from the purely historical point of view. In spite of all tensions and divergences, conspicuous and provocative as they might have been, the Christian world in the XIth century was still "one world," and people both in the West and in the East, did firmly believe in this "unity." There was still "one universe of discourse," much as its scope and character might have been already obscured on both sides. Paradoxically, it was precisely this presupposition of "unity" that precipitated the "schism." The Western "Drang nach Osten," of which the Crusades were the most spectacular expression, was inspired precisely by this basic conviction that the "Christian World" was one, and consequently had to be "united" and "unified."

Dr. Runciman is well aware of this situation. In fact, he wants to restore the balance in the interpretation of the problem, which has so often been treated onesidedly, from the "Latin" point of view. He wants to re-emphasize the legitimacy and the validity of the "Byzantine" point of view. In a brief volume, reproducing a series of occasional lectures, he could not give an exhaustive analysis of the most involved matters. But, such as it is, his book contributes immensely to the clarification of many controversial issues. And, first of all, the "schism" was not only a split "in the Church," in a strictly theological sense. It was a split in the world at large. It was a cultural, and political, separation, and not only a "separation of Churches." And, for that reason, it was effected by an intricate contexture of "non-theological factors." One of them was the impact of German influence on the policy, and mentality, of the Roman Church itself. At this point Runciman could have said more than he actually says on the conflict between "Rome" and "Byzantium" in their missionary competition among the Slavs, and not only in the early period, in the time of Photius, but in the later times also, in the period of the Crusades and the Latin Empire of the East. He seems to be right in stressing the intervention of the Cluniacs against the conciliatory policy of John XIX, although the authenticity of the communication of Radulf Glaber about the Byzantine proposal of 1025, suggesting a formal demarcation between the two areas, Roman and Byzantine, has been persistently contested (in vain, as far as I can see). Runciman is right also in stressing the importance of the fact that, during the Crusades, the whole contest had reached the "mass-level." Ever since, the tension has been not only between theologians and ecclesiastics, but between masses and nations.

It seems, however, that Runciman does not take enough into consideration the general and cultural change in the West, the growth of a new mentality and spirit. His book was written before the publication of the admirable symposium, L'Eglise et Les Eglises. 1054 - 1954. Neuf Siecles de douloureuse seperation entre l'Orient et l'Occident. Etudes et Travaux offerts a Dom Lambert Beauduin, published by the Benedictines of Chevetogne (1954 & 1955, 2 volumes). The excellent article by Pere Yves Congar, O.P., "Neuf cents ans apres" (vol. I, p. 3-95) is an indispensable supplement to Runciman's analysis, especially in what he says on the shift in the theological method in the West, dating from the end of the XIth century (p. 43 ff.). One could have said more about the "Filioque clause," although the remarks Runciman makes (p. 30f.) are very helpful. It was not the "cause" of the schism, and probably the problem could have been settled, in the times of Photius at least. But, obviously, it was not an accident that it was not settled, and that the controversy was permitted to develop at this precise point. One may read with profit the remarkable "Thesen ueber Filioque" by Professor V. V. Bolotov, first published, without the name of the author, in the Old-Catholic periodical, Revue Internationale de Theologie, VI.4, 1898. Bolotov shows there how the two "theologoumena", the Eastern and the Western, can be reconciled in a fair and comprehensive synthesis. It is necessary to mention, however, that Bolotov's "theses" were not favourably accepted in the East, just as the conciliatory suggestions of the Bonn Reunion Conferences on the same matter in 1875 only provoked an intransigent intervention of the great Dr. Pusey. Without having been a "cause" of the schism, the "Filioque clause" is still the touchy point in the theological dialogue between the Orthodox and the Westerners (including a large proportion of the "non-Roman" Christians). This can hardly be just an "accident". - Without being the "last word" in the long discussion of the great historical problem, which Runciman, of course, does not claim, his book is an important contribution to this discussion and a noble specimen of an impartial treatment of an involved subject.