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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]

Religious Piety: Music and the liturgy

In recent years, with the growth of interest in the Greek church, it has become increasingly realized that that element of Byzantine civilization which was able to weld together the diverse aspects of her culture and provide its greatest distinctiveness was the Orthodox religion. The peculiar ethos of Byzantine piety was expressed most clearly in the eastern liturgy, a vivid ceremonial in which the worshipper, through personal identification with the drama transpiring in the church, was able, even more than in western liturgy, to experience a kind of mystical foretaste of the blessed life of the hereafter. The importance of the liturgy was so central to Byzantine culture in general that we shall devote some space to a discussion of it.

One, if not the chief example, of the artistic creations of Byzantine religious piety is the hymn -those of Romanos the Melodist, for example, or of John of Damascus or the Patriarch Sergius, one of whom wrote the celebrated Akathistos Hymnos.(61) These Byzantine hymns were a combination of metrical poetic text and music, together designed to underline and emphasize the devotional, other wordly character of the liturgy. Since we are as yet not certain exactly how the music of these hymns sounded (much more work remains to be done in this area) we can perhaps best compare their poetry to such thirteenth century western hymn texts as the Dies Irae or to Jacopone da Todi's Stabat Mater-masterpieces which are at least equalled in expressiveness by the Byzantine hymns.(62) (Many scholars acknowledge, incidentally, that the western mass as a whole was probably not nearly so moving as the Byzantine, and it was not until as late as the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century, with the composition of the highly polyphonic liturgical music of the great Palestrina that it may be considered to surpass the Byzantine liturgy.)

For a long time musicologists have been intrigued by certain similarities to be found in Greek and Latin church music, and particularly by the affinity between Byzantine chant and the western Gregorian, as well as by the fact that certain passages of the Catholic liturgy contain isolated Greek words or phrases. One obvious explanation for such similarities is of course the common Syrian-Hebrew background of both the Christian East and West. But significant too are the subsequent influences that flowed westward from Byzantium. We have already mentioned in the first section of this study the existence of Byzantine colonies in many areas of Western Europe, especially with respect to the sixth and seventh century Greco-Syrian merchants in southern Gaul. More important, culturally, were the Byzantine monks who brought their ritual with them and who continued, in such places as the Greek monastery of Grottaferrata near Rome, to write original Greek hymns until past the eleventh century. We know that the famous fourth century Gallic monk St. Martin of Tours was in contact with and deeply influenced by the great champion of Nicene orthodoxy, St. Athanasius, and the monastic tradition of the East. In Rome itself as we have seen, during the first three centuries Greek was the language of the Roman mass and it does not seem at once to have been supplanted by Latin. Still today in the Good Friday service of the Roman Church, according to the noted scholar Ε. Wellesz, one may hear sung the alternating chant, first of the Greek words 'Hagios athanatos eleison hemas', then of the Latin equivalent, 'Sanctus immortalis, miserere nobis'. Wellesz cites also the interpolation of the Greek trisagion ('Holy, holy, holy') in the western service, which we know came to the West shortly before 529 by way of Burgundy, the rulers of which were then in close rapport with the Byzantine court.(63)

Another consideration of importance is the fact, previously mentioned, that virtually all the popes of the late seventh and eighth centuries were Greeks or Syrians. Thus the western melody of 'Ave [Maria] gratia plena' ('Hail Mary full of grace') has been shown to be connected directly with the Greek Pope Sergius of the seventh century and was originally sung to the Greek text 'chaire keharitomene'. Still another but curious example is the Latin hymn, 'Ave sponsa incorrupta' of Chester (England) which includes a terribly garbled Greek line 'Karikaristo menitra toche partine', the original words of which had come from the Byzantine troparion, 'chaire keharitomene theotoke parthene'.(64) Not all accretions of Greek phrases in Latin service books are of course to be attributed to remnants of a common ecclesiastical heritage. In certain cases, they might rather be ascribed to the influence of Charlemagne and his learned circle (who, according to one scholar, might even have received Byzantine influences in church music via the Muslims of southern Spain, with whom Charlemagne's court had frequent contacts.) Charlemagne, we are told, after hearing members of a Greek embassy to his court chanting their religious hymns, became so attracted that he ordered the Byzantine hymns to be translated into Latin.(65)

Claims for extensive western borrowings from Byzantine religious music are still a matter of some dispute. It is not yet entirely clear, for example, what influence the Byzantine musical system of echoi (a grouping of tones in a kind of scale and constituting a melody type) may have had on the western modal system. On the other hand, there is a reasonable degree of agreement that Pope Gregory the Great, whether or not he should be credited with the reform of the western ecclesiastical chant, was deeply influenced by the eastern hymnody. And this despite the fact that as long-time papal apocrisiarius (ambassador) in Constantinople he had refused to learn Greek on the grounds that the Byzantine clergy were too worldly!
But it seems significant that he set about reorganizing his Schola Cantorum, a training school for instruction in the chant, immediately after his return from Byzantium, where we know that he was a frequent observe of the practice of the Byzantine chant at the cathedral of St.Sophia.(66)

Another vestige of Byzantine music that still remains today had to do with the acclamations, or polychronia, which were addressed to a newly enthroned emperor. It is worthy of note that at the coronation of Charlemagne in St. Peter's on Christmas day of the year 800, the populace assembled in the Basilica broke forth, at the appropriate moment, into a form of Byzantine polychronion -a practice, which is today still preserved in the Orthodox salutation to a newly appointed bishop. Though we evidently cannot credit the medieval Greeks with the invention of the organ, Constantinople was the early medieval centre for organ building: we know that in 757 Pepin, King of the Franks, requested and received an organ from the Byzantine Emperor.(67)

Much more evidence of western indebtedness to eastern religious music -and quite possibly a few of the reverse as well -will probably be found by researchers. One hindrance to such a study has been the undue emphasis placed on the schism between the two churches- a fact which has led some too readily to believe that little cultural interaction was possible, at least after 1054, the date commonly taken as marking the complete rupture between the Greek and Latin churches. But this interpretation is probably much exaggerated, because for centuries the two great bodies of Christians had looked upon one another as part of one undivided Christian church.(68) Indeed, the schism did not become truly definitive, it would seem, until as late as 1204, when the Latins captured Constantinople and forced the Greek population to accept Roman Catholicism. On the lower levels in fact the ordinary man of East and West was hardly even aware of any religious rupture until long after 1054 and probably not until well into the twelfth century.(69)

Another subject of significance, the study of which is only now developing, is the influence of Byzantine piety, especially of the Greek 'Basilian' monks, on western monastic life. When during the ninth, tenth and early eleventh centuries many Byzantine monks fled the Arabic invasions of Sicily and southern Italy to move further north, they brought with them the traditional ideals and practices of Byzantine monasticism, especially of the ascetic type. Because of the piety of these monks they were, in this period, almost always well received, and we find examples of Byzantine-Latin symbiosis in certain western monasteries such as at Monte Cassino, where in the late tenth century the famous Greek monk St. Nilus lived with Latin monks and wrote hymns to St. Benedict. (At this time Monte Cassino even had a Greek abbot.) In Rome, at Sts. Boniface and Alexius, Basilian and Benedictine monks lived together, each under its own rule, all under a Greek abbot. The Byzantine traits that most attracted and influenced the West were the high degree of Byzantine spirituality, and the monks' sanctity of life (including their manner of prayer), in a period of general western corruption and ecclesiastical degradation. The severe Basilian ideal of manual labour at this time western monks usually employed serfs to do their work- and the patristic erudition of some of the Greek monks also seem to have inspired their western counterparts. It is interesting that the monastic houses of the West most connected with the Cluniac reform movement -St. Vannes at Verdun, Cluny under Hugh, and others, had the closest relations with the Greek monks. It is therefore very possible that Byzantine influence may have played a certain role in the western reform movement of the period. This, incidentally, is a consideration which has hitherto been generally overlooked.(70)

Finally, in connection with the development of popular piety in particular, one might profitably investigate the influence of Byzantine ideas on western attitudes regarding veneration of the Virgin -Mariology, that is. After all, when Mariology in the West was still in a rather undeveloped phase, the cult of the Virgin, who was looked upon as the protectress of Constantinople, was second to none in the East. In the late eleventh century a new and influential form of popular literature emerged in the West, the so-called Stories of Miracles of the Virgin. These, more imaginative than previous legends of this type, were concerned with the miraculous intervention of the Virgin in the lives of her devotees and, now like the more extravagant stories of the East, came to emphasize her compassion for individuals, not so much her interest in churches or religious corporations as such. Some of the stories of course were taken over from ancient Latin tradition, but it seems certain that a not inconsiderable number now came from the Byzantine East. Thus the famous reformer Peter Damiani, one of the earliest collectors of such stories, tells us that one of his chief sources of information was the Cardinal-priest Stephen, a Burgundian who has served as papal legate to Constantinople in the mid-eleventh century.

No less important than the newly developing emphasis on veneration of the Virgin was the influence of the many sacred relics of the early Christian church which had begun to flow westwards, already before the twelfth century and especially after the mass despoiling of the Greek churches by the Latins in 1204. This wealth of relics in certain ways helped to bring about an alteration even in the appearance of western churches, and thus, together with the increased emphasis on Mariology, made a deep impression on the developing western forms of public and private devotion in this period.(71)


61. - On the hymns see esp. Ε. Wellesz, Α History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1961); G. Reese Music in the Middle Ages, 157 ff., 79, and Ν. Tomadakes, Introduction to Byzantine Literature (in Greek) Ι (Athens, 1958) 171 ff., 187 ff., and now cf. Jenkins 'Hellenistic Origins of Byzantine Literature', 39, 52.

62. - Ε. Wellesz Eastern Elements in Western Chant (Oxford, 1947) 13. Also on the authorship of the Akathistos see bibl. in C. del Grande's ed. of L'Ιmno Acatisto (Florence 1948) 30-31 On the Grottaferrata hymn writing see Wellesz, History of Byzantine Music, 130. Also L. Tardo, L'antica melurgia bizantina (Grottaferrata, 1938).

63. - See Wellesz, Eastern Elements in Western Chant, 201.

64. - Ibid.

65. - Wellesz, ibid., 168, 201. See John the Deacon's Life of Gregory the Great (cited in Reese, Music in the Middle Ages, 120). Charlemagne attempted to revise the gospel text with the aid of Byzantine scholars. Wellesz 201. Also see G. Gray, The History of Music (London, 1928) 17. On the Arab influence on Charlemagne's court see Η. G. Farmer, Historical Facts for the Arabian Musical Influence (London, 1930) 1-39.

66. - On the echoi see Reese, op. cit., 90. Also on Gregory see Reese, op. cit., 73, 90 and Wellesz, op. cit.

67. - Reese, op. cit., 120. G. Frotscher, Geschichte des Orgelspiels, Ι (Berlin, 1935). The gift was evidently that of a hydraulic organ (which had already been known to the Romans and Egyptians). William of Malmesbury describes a hydraulic organ made by Gerbert (d. 1003), implying that this was still unique in the West as late as the eleventh century (see Chronicle of the Kings of England, transl. J. Giles [London, 1847] 175). On the polychronion see Η. Tillyard, 'The Acclamation of Emperors in the Byzantine Ritual', Annual of the British School at Athens, 18 (1911-12) 239-41.

68. - S. Runciman, Eastern Schism (Oxford, 1955) 159 ff. Υ. Congar, After Nine Hundred Years (New York 1959).

69. - See discussion and bibl. in D. Geanakoplos, 'On the Schism of the Greek and Roman Churches: Α Confidential Papal Directive for the Implementation of Union', Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Ι (1954) 16 ff. Also L. Brehier, 'Normal Relations between Rome and the Churches of the East before the Schism of the eleventh century', Constructive Quarterly, IV (1916) 669 ff.

70. - Ι have been for a long time interested in the possible influence of Byzantine ideas and practices on the Cluniac Reform Movement. See for background R. Weiss, 'The Greek Culture of South Italy in the Middle Ages', in Proceedings of the British Academy (1951) 23-50 and esp. McNulty and Hamilton, 'Orientale Lumen" et "Magistra Latinitas",' 181-216. Now J. Leclercq, 'Les Relations entre le Μonachisme Oriental et Occidental dans le haut Moyen Age, Millénaire du Mt. Athos II (Chevtogne, 1965) 76 ff.

71. - See especially R. Southern, Making of the Middle Ages (New Haven 1953), 246-56. Recent works helpful here are, for the Greek viewpoint, J. Kalogerou, Mary the Ρerpetual Virgin Theotokos according to the Orthodox Faith (in Greek) (Salonika) 1957) and J. Anastasiou, The Presentation of the Theotokos: History, Iconography and Hymnography (in Greek) (Salonika, 1959). For the Catholic view, M. Gordillo, 'Mariologia Orientalis', in Orientalia Christiana Analecta 141 (Rome, 1954) and Μ. Jugie, L'Immaculee Conception dans l'Ecriture Sainte et dans la Tradition orientale (Rome, 1952) 225-40. Also Leclerq, 'Relations', 77 f.

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