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Prologue: the two worlds of Christendom

[From, Byzantine East & Latin West: Two Worlds in Middle Ages and Renaissance, Harper Torch books, New York 1966]


One of the great tragedies of the medieval period, some of the effects of which are still with us, was the increasingly sharp division of Christendom into two disparate and ultimately hostile worlds, the Byzantine East and the Latin West. The Christian community, of course, was originally united, constituting one political organism, the Roman Empire, and one undivided church. But already in the first centuries of the Byzantine era, even before the foundation of Constantinople as the 'new Rome' in 330, certain differences-linguistic, cultural, and to a lesser extent religious--can be discerned between the Greek and Latin halves of Christendom. Tο these nascent but gradually developing differences the foundation of the Germanic kingdoms in the West added the element of political disunity. And when in 800, the pope crowned the German Charlemagne Roman Emperor in denial of Byzantine claims, a veritable political schism between East and West was created.

Τwο centuries later, in 1054, at the Great Church of St. Sophia in Constantinople, occurred the mutual excommunications of papal legates and Patriarch Cerularius, a celebrated episode that has traditionally been taken to mark the definitive breach between the Greek and Roman branches of the Christian church. But even this ecclesiastical schism (of which most people in East and West were then hardly aware) and the mutual distrust subsequently engendered by the first crusades, did not, it would seem, irreparably damage Greco-Latin relations. For earlier religious schisms between Rome and Constantinople (notably that of Photius over papal claims to intervene in internal affairs of the Greek church) had been successfully healed, though to be sure leaving scars. And after 1054 and even the initial crusades, most western travellers or pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem continued to be amiably received in the Greek East.

It was only after 1204, when a Latin army under the guise of a holy crusade sacked Constantinople itself, carved up the Byzantine Empire, and forcibly imposed 'Roman Catholicism' on the Greek people, that the growing animosity of the Greeks for the Latins was transformed into a mass revulsion, a permanent hostility that permeated every level of society and was to poison all subsequent relations between the two peoples.(1) It is at this point, when the ecclesiastical schism became ethnic and political as well as religious in scope, that the break between the two churches may be said to have been truly consummated.

Even after the Greek recovery of Constantinople in 1261(2) the Byzantines, on the defensive in the face of continuing Latin aggressiveness and fearing a repetition of the notorious Fourth Crusade, came increasingly to view the Latins as predatory, semi ignorant 'barbarians', and out-and-out heretics.

The Latins were hardly less antagonistic toward the Greeks. Accusing the latter of treachery in the crusades and irritated by the Greek rejection of the religious union pronounced at Lyons in 1274, the Westerners became more and more contemptuous of what their chroniclers termed the 'perfidious, cowardly, schismatic Greeks'. Ambitious Latin statesmen and covetous Italian merchants refused to give up the idea of a restoration of Latin domination in the Greek East. Indeed some western propagandists of the fourteenth century, in order to achieve their aim of a united Christendom to combat the Muslims, openly advocated another crusade against Constantinople in the aim of reducing the Greek East to obedience to the pope. Α prime factor in this process, according to one leading theoretician, was to be the Latinization of key members of each 'schismatic' Greek family so that as a result Orthodoxy would be completely stamped out.(3)

But not all Greeks or Latins of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries shared these inimical sentiments. There were a few men of good will, of an ecumenical spirit so to say. And here and there a rare idealist, such as Pope Gregory Χ, the French theorist Humbert of Romans, the Greek monk John Parastron, or the famous Greco-Italian scholar Barlaam,(4) as of the enlightened view that through a greater understanding of the customs and religious beliefs and practices of their estranged brethren what a modern authority would perhaps term the 'psychology' of each people- a peaceful solution to the problem of mutual antagonism could be achieved, to the benefit of Christendom as a whole.

Most Greeks, however, recalling their bitter experience as a dominated people during the Latin occupation, and especially the forced conversion of the Greek clergy and people to Catholicism with the installation of a Latin patriarch in Constantinople, remained fanatically anti-Latin. But with the advance of the Ottoman Turks in the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a small but increasingly articulate minority of Greek politiques and intellectuals, including, as we shall see important refugee scholars to the West, became less intolerant of the Latins. For in the face of the Turkish threat to the very existence of Byzantium, they began to look to the West as the sole source of military aid and, as a result of expediency or conviction, even to favor ecclesiastical reunion with Rome as a means of salvation for the state.

On the Latin side some evidence can be found of sympathy for the plight of the Byzantines, especially on the part of Italian humanists, a few of whom went to Constantinople itself to study Greek. But on the whole, the Latin world, despite its growing passion for the ancient Greek classics, retained virtually undiminished its traditional animosity toward the medieval Greeks. Even the great fourteenth century
Italian humanist Petrarch, whose love for ancient Greek literature is well known, could make an unfavourable comparison between 'the enemy Turks and the schismatic Greeks who are worse than enemies and hate and fear us with all their souls'. The result was that in the fifteenth century most western statesmen, disturbed over the abortive religious union pronounced at Florence in 1439 or engrossed in the Hundred Years' War and internecine Italian politics, seemed almost indifferent to the fate of the Byzantine world, when, in 1453, Constantinople finally succumbed to the Turks.

The brief sketch provided above is intended of course only to mark some of the more important points in the complex, centuries long development of East-West estrangement -those events which seem most to have inflamed Greco-Latin antipathy. We must be wary of making generalizations about the emotional or mental attitudes of entire blocs of peoples, since, as noted, exceptions on the part of certain groups or individuals can almost always be cited, and the intensity of feeling engendered was not always parallel on each side. Keeping these qualifications in mind, however, it may be said that the process of alienation between East and West seems to have been cumulative, reaching its peak of intensity in the thirteenth and perhaps early fourteenth century, after which, through force of circumstance, a certain slackening of tension may be observed with regard to some of the upper classes -a few intellectuals, politicians, or an occasional high-minded cleric. Nevertheless, for the great mass of the population, the average Greek more than the Latin, mutual almost unreasoning hostility toward the other people continued to remain deeply rooted in its psychology. And the medieval image projected on either side of the 'perfidious schismatic Greek' and the 'aggressive heretical Catholic', though of course mitigated and blurred by the passing of time, has persisted to the present day in the substratum of each people's mentality as an unhappy legacy of the medieval world.

Despite the growing ideological separation of the medieval Byzantine and Latin worlds -by the twelfth or certainly the thirteenth century a citizen of Paris aware of the East looked upon his contemporary in Constantinople as completely alien(5)
-East and West in many respects were gradually being brought into closer contact with one another. The vast outpouring of men of all classes to the East during the early crusades, the concomitant Latin economic penetration of Byzantium and Islam, the desire of certain western and a few eastern scholars and theologians to acquire each other's learning-not to overlook the actual occupation of Byzantine and Muslim territories by the crusaders -brought the two segments of Christendom into direct physical contact on a scale greater than ever before. The result was not only a sharpening of mutual antipathies, but, at the same time, an increasing awareness of each other's culture(6).

The following studies are concerned with various aspects of the contacts between these two worlds. The main focus of the work is on the role of the Byzantine East, particularly in its interaction with the West in the ecclesiastical and cultural spheres. This is not of course to imply that the West, on its side, exerted no cultural influence on the East during this period, as is clearly apparent from such examples as the Byzantine adoption of certain Latin chivalric practices and feudal terminology in the twelfth century, or, later in the fourteenth, the appearance of a virtual cult of Thomism in the Byzantine court itself.(7) Part One of this work deals with certain developments in the Middle Ages until the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. Part Two, with the period of the Renaissance from a few years before 1453 to about 1600 when, despite the disappearance of the Byzantine state, the influences of Byzantine civilization on the West continued, sometimes with even more striking effect than before.

It is not the aim of these studies to trace in any systematic fashion the development of East-West connections, but rather, through essays on selected topics, to illustrate some specific yet basic aspects in the relations between the two worlds. The most obvious and dramatic of the issues involved, given the religiously oriented mentality of medieval man, was of course the ecclesiastical schism, so fateful for medieval Christendom and which still persists until our own day. The intent of this book is not to disparage the significance of the schism, but to make it even more meaningful by placing it in the broader context of East-West relations' -a context, which included political, cultural, and psychological factors as well as differences in dogma and ecclesiastical organization. As will be noted, the schism was not only sharpened by these non-religious factors, but, by the end of the thirteenth century, had become in the public mind the focal point of the differences between the two peoples. Some of these more basic differences -or in some cases similarities- will be pointed out in the course of the following studies.

The first essay, an enlarged version of an unpublished lecture delivered at the University of Minnesota in 1960 at a symposium on Byzantine civilization, attempts, after a brief historical resume of the channels of contact, to assess the cultural contribution of Byzantine civilization to the medieval West. Some of the material is of course not new, but to my knowledge no previous attempt has been made to synthesize, in one study of this kind, individual aspects of the Byzantine influences on the West beginning with the fourth century and extending into the period after 1453. It is hoped that in this essay, which covers selected fields of culture (and which because of its scope obviously cannot claim to be exhaustive) the reader will find some new information and fresh points of view, especially regarding the relative importance of the ancient Greek vis-à-vis the more purely Byzantine elements in the process of western acculturation to Byzantine civilization.
The second essay, on church and state in the Byzantine Empire and the question of Caesaropapism, is a much expanded version of a paper given at the American Historical Convention in 1963 (Philadelphia) and is included here in order to give the reader an understanding of what was probably the most basic factor in Byzantine civilization, the church.(8) It is obvious that one can have no clear picture of the many medieval attempts at union of the Roman and Orthodox churches if he lacks an appreciation of Byzantine ecclesiastical polity, which was so different from that of the West. The pope in fact often claimed, probably erroneously, that it was the emperor's absolute power over the church that prevented a true union of the churches.(9) Though the subject of Byzantine Caesaropapism is an old and celebrated one, another analysis of the problem, on the basis of a new organization of the material, may be justified in order to define more clearly the degree of actual imperial control over the eastern church.

The next essay, on the Council of Florence in 1438-39 (originally a paper delivered at the 1954 meetings of the American Historical Association and printed in Church History for 1955), is the only study in the book to have been published elsewhere.(10) It is reproduced here, in revised form, to provide a picture of the last and greatest confrontation between the eastern and western halves of Christendom. The efforts of popes and emperors to reconcile their churches, intermittent since 1054, reached a dramatic climax at this council -a conclave extremely meaningful for theologians today, as any modern attempt to unite the two churches must perforce take as its point of departure the acts and decisions at Florence. In the proceedings of this council, especially the personal encounters between pope and emperor on the one hand, and pope and patriarch on the other, we can readily observe, symbolically at least, how much the traditions of eastern and western Christendom had grown apart since the one undivided church of the early, patristic period.

Earlier episodes in the history of the schism -the ninth century conflict between Pope Nicholas and Patriarch Photius, the famous episode of 1054 with its mutual papal and patriarchal excommunications, and the unionist Council of Lyons in 1274 -have been extensively dealt with elsewhere, and it has therefore not been considered necessary to analyse them again here.

Most scholars, Byzantinists themselves being perhaps the most guilty, treat the history and influence of Byzantium as if it suddenly ceased to exist precisely on May 29,1453, when Emperor Constantine XΙ fell before -the Turkish besiegers on the ramparts of Constantinople. These scholars then turn their attention almost exclusively to the West in order to deal with the increasingly important problem of the impact of classical Greek learning on the western Renaissance, forgetting that the Byzantines, as custodians of this learning for over one thousand years, had inevitably set something of their own stamp upon their ancient inheritance. In art, too, the Byzantine tradition was not cut off in 1453 but continued to live on in the East, especially in Crete and Mt. Athos.(l1) And in the West, through the work of a painter such as the great El Greco, it was blended with western forms and techniques so as to create another synthesis.(12)

One modern scholar has aptly named the century or so after Constantinople's fall Βyzance après Byzance,(13) signifying a period when the still viable Byzantine culture continued to exert an influence on the West, now through large numbers of Greeks emigrating from their Turkish or Venetian-held homelands. (Such post-Byzantine influences were at this time also affecting some of the Slavic areas especially Russia.)(14) Νo one today of course can believe that the Greeks of this diaspora, as we may term this movement of émigrés, began the Renaissance. At its inception the Renaissance was certainly of Latin inspiration, and had begun even before refugee Greeks in any great numbers came to the West. Yet it is not sufficiently realized that much of what these Greek exiles brought with them from the former Byzantine areas, now under foreign hegemony, was still molded to a considerable extent by the thousand-year-old traditions of Byzantium.

Chapter four discusses what came to be looked upon by most Greeks of the diaspora in the West as their substitute homeland, the Greek colony in Venice. The reconstruction of the little-known history of this community not only provides a new dimension for the study of the role of the Greeks in the Renaissance revival of Hellenic letters but also helps to destroy the stock, exaggerated image of the post-Byzantine refugee as a lone, friendless individual with no place for himself in the West. Some of the material in the central portion of this essay has appeared in another form in my recent book, Greek Scholars in Venice.(15) But the present study has been extended up to 1600, set in a different framework and a lengthy section added on the significance of the colony for the rise of Venice to primacy in Greek studies.(16)

Chapter five concerns certain Cretan intellectuals who were intimately associated with the Greek colony in Venice and who emigrated from there to still more distant areas of northern and western Europe. The considerable contribution of the island of Crete, formerly Byzantine and now ruled by Venice, to western Renaissance culture has been surprisingly little studied, except in connection with a few important but seemingly isolated figures like El Greco in Spain and certain editors or professors of Greek in Italy such as Marcus Musurus at the University of Padua.(17) The present essay attempts to evaluate only one part of this contribution of the Cretans, their role in transmitting Greco Byzantine culture to the West by way of Venice. Other aspects of the Cretan influence not only on western civilization but on the Slavs of the Balkans and even on Russia during this period of late Byzantine and post-Byzantine influence, Ι hope to discuss at length in a forthcoming book devoted exclusively to this subject.

The final essay treats of the career of the Cretan Maximos Margounios, probably the leading theologian-scholar of the Orthodox Church in the later sixteenth century. Though his name is hardly known to western historians, he had remarkably
wide contacts with many personalities of the Renaissance and Reformation. The core of the study consists of the publication of a catalogue of his library of Latin books now in the Orthodox monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos and the contents of which have been hitherto unknown.(18) This last essay marks in a sense an appropriate close to our study of East-West relations, since Margounios, at least theoretically, made the last attempt to bring together the western and eastern churches in the context of the medieval Council of Florence and through his own approach to the historic problem of the filioque: At this time when the Byzantine state had ceased to exist but the legacy of East-West antagonism remained, the most meaningful attempt at rapprochement of the two peoples, as Margounios realized, would be through ecclesiastical union. If El Greco, who was born and spent his early manhood in Crete,(19) can be referred to by some scholars as the last important Greek painter to be influenced by the old Byzantine artistic traditions,(20) Margounios, his contemporary compatriot, may even more appropriately be described as the last significant Byzantine, or rather post-Byzantine, theologian humanist in the succession of the fourteenth century Demetrios Cydones and the fifteenth century Bessarion.

From 330 to 1453 and even to 1600, despite the considerable inroads of Latin influence and the destruction of the Byzantine state itself by the Turks, there may be traced in the East an unmistakable continuity of the Byzantine cultural tradition. How this Byzantine or, more accurately, Greco-Byzantine tradition, against the backdrop of increasing alienation, interacted with and influenced the western world at various points during the Medieval and Renaissance period is the underlying theme connecting the individual essays in this book.


1. - The problem of Byzantine-Latin relations as a continuous development during Middle Ages and Renaissance has not yet been dealt with in any synthesis, though episodes such as the ecclesiastical schism and the 'two emperors question' have received much attention. On 1054 and 1204 see works of Runciman, Congar, Michel, etc.

2. - See Chap. 5, D. Geanakoplos, Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West, 1258-82 (Cambridge, Mass., 1959).

3. - The crusader propagandist who particularly advocated 'Latinising' (we might say 'brainwashing') the East by sending one child from each Greek family to the West to be reared in the Latin faith, was the Dominican Βrocardus: Directorium ad passagium faciendum, in Recueil des historiens des croisades, Documents Améniens, II (1906) 367ff. Some years earlier the French publicist Pierre Dubois, De Recuperatione terre sancte, ed. V. Langlois, in Coll. de textes pour servir a l'étude ... de l'histoire (Paris, 1891) Ch. 61, pp. 51-52, had suggested the sending of educated, noble Latin girls to the East (to both the Greeks and Saracens) to do charity work in hospitals, the more comely to marry important Greek personages (especially clerics!) in the ultimate aim of converting the East to the Latin faith.

4. - On Pope Gregory Χ who pronounced religious union (it proved ephemeral) at the Council of Lyons in 1274 see Geanakoplos op. cit. 237-45ff. On Humbert of Romans, see his remarkably objective treatise, Opus Tripartitium (in Mansi, Concilia, XXIV, cols. 109-36) about the problem of union with the Greeks before the Council of Lyons. On Parastron see Geanakoplos, op. cit., 267-69, and on Βarlaam see below Chap. 3, text and notes 25-29.

5. - Already in the ninth century Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, could look upon the East as alien in character (see Opuscula et Epistolae Hincmari, in MPL, νol. 126, cols. 345-50); and Bishop Liudprand in his famous embassy to Constantinople for the German Emperor in 969 branded the Greeks as liars, weaklings, and non­ Romans (Relatio de legatione constantinopolitana, ed. J. Becker in Scriptoses rerum Germanicarum, 3rd ed. [1915,] Chaps. 5, 30, 54 esp.). Ca. 1120 Abbot Peter the Venerable of Cluny wrote to the Byzantine emperor and patriarch of 'our mutual spiritual love'. Βυt cf: his castigation of the Greeks after the failure of the second crusade in 1147, for which the Greeks were blamed (MPL, νοl. 189, cols. 260-1). Also see the twelfth century crusader account of the Chaplain of the French king, Odo of Deuil (MGH, Scriptores, XXVI, 66), who considered the Greeks as perfidious and inferior to the Latins. For Petrarch's remark see his Lettere Senili, below Ch. 3, n. 77.

6. - See Ε. Barker, Social and Ρolitical Thought in Byzantium (Oxford, 1957) 18-19.

7. - In the twelfth century Emperor Manuel Ι Comnenus adopted the western tournament, presenting jousts in the Hippodrome (Ch. Diehl, 'La société Byzantine a l'époque des Comnènes' [1919] 13ff., 23ff). Previously the Norman Bohemund, in 1108, swore allegiance to Alexius Ι Comnenus in the Latin manner, the term liege (Greek, lizios) being used. Under Michael Palaeologus, later thirteenth century, the term is even more frequent (Geanakoplos, Michael Palaeologus, 209-210). Regarding the fourteenth century Greek Thomists who centred around the Grand Logothete and famous scholar-theologian Demetrios Cydones, see esp. Μ. Jugie, 'Demetrius Cydones et la théologie latine a Byzance du XIVe et XVe siècles', Échos d'Orient, ΧΧΧΙ (1928) 385-402. Other Latin cultural influences on the East can easily be cited. (by the fourteenth century the Gasmules, children of Greco-Latin unions, were to be found everywhere in the East). Nevertheless, the Greek influence on the West was far stronger than the reverse.

8. - Barker, Social and Political Thought, 41, playing on Aristotle's expression, terms the Byzantine citizen an 'ecclesiastical animal', who, through religion, found an outlet for the 'spirit of democracy and debate'.

9. - See esp. Μ. Jugie, Le schisme byzantin (Paris, 1941) esp. 10. Cf. below, Ch. 3, note 41.

10. - Τhanks to Church History for permission to print this revision of my article. While this book was in press my 'Church and State, Church History (1965) appeared.

11. - For bibl. see below, esp. Chs. 5 and 6.

12. - Prof. Μ.Chatzidakes of the Byzantine Museum in Athens tells me that another Greek painter who blended Byzantine and western techniques was Antonio Vasilakes of Melos (called Aliense), pupil of Veronese, who did many paintings in the Ducal Palace of Venice (see Great Greek Encyclopaedia [in Greek], ΙlΙ, 811 ff.). On the much-debated question of influences on El Greco see below, Chaps. 4-5.

13. - Ν. Iorga, Byzance après Byzance (Bucharest, 1935).

14. - Ι am preparing a monograph on this question.

15. - Greek Scholars in Venice: Studies in the Dissemination of Greek Learning from Byzantium to Western Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1962). Acknowledgement is due to the Harvard University Press for permission to draw on certain materials from this book. Greek Scholars, we should note, extends only to 1535, this, to 1600.

16. - This essay and the next one, in much briefer form and in Italian, were read in Venice in September of 1963 at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini's Congress on 'Venice and the East.

17. - On Musurus see Geanakoplos, op. cit., Chap.

18. - My thanks to the American Philosophical Society for a grant enabling me to catalogue these books on Athos in the summer of 1962.

19. - For a remarkable new notarial document; recently discovered, indicating that El Greco probably lived in Crete as late as his 25th year, see below, Chaps. 4-5.

20. - See below Ch.1, n. 80 and Chaps. 4-5.

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