You can listen to a podcast of this class at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/class-13
Class 13 – The Latin High Middle Ages: Politics and Chiliasm
I. Introduction: Tonight is the third session in our exploration of this key period of the Latin High Middle Ages, roughly the 12th and 13th centuries, the all-important epoch of profound changes in the Western Church that marked a definitive break with Orthodox spiritual life, theology, and culture. Following Fr. Seraphim Rose’s outline in Lecture 2 of his “Orthodox Survival Course,” we are covering six topics: Scholasticism, Romance, The New Concept of Sanctity, Sacred Art, Politics, and the chiliast teachings of Joachim of Flora. Tonight we will cover the last two topics, which are actually closely related, for the new concept of the pope as a kind of world ruler fits in neatly with the chiliast conception of establishing the kingdom of God on earth.
Providentially, I was recently re-acquainted with a curious book called The Keys of this Blood, written by a rather intriguing, not to say shady, character named Malachi Martin and published in 1990. I say “providentially,” because the subject and the argument of the book fit in quite well with our topics tonight. So by way of introduction, I’m going to discuss this very recent book, to confirm a point I’ve stressed many times, that the fundamental changes which took place in the Western church in the High Middle Ages have direct consequences for our own time.
The first few pages of the book are shocking, really, because the author assures us that one-world government is inevitable, and that it will be fully in control of us during the lifetime of anyone under forty years of age at the time of the book’s publication, that is, anyone born after 1950. The only question in the author’s mind is whether this one-world system will be dominated by Soviet communism, the Western “capitalist” establishment, or…the Vatican! In other words, as late as 1990, someone is floating the idea of a world government controlled by the pope of Rome as a realistic possibility. The book was published by a big name, “establishment” New York house (Simon and Schuster), and the author is not a naive or mentally unbalanced Catholic zealot or a marginal “conspiracy theorist,” not an “outsider,” but an “establishment” figure: He was a peritus (“expert”) at the Second Vatican Council, advising none other than Cardinal Bea, the chief architect of the Vatican’s radical change, in the 1960’s, in favor of Ecumenism and in favor of a conciliatory policy towards world Communism. Later Martin pretended to be converted to Catholic traditionalism and to oppose Vatican II, but as we can see from this book, he was a great promoter of John Paul II, the pope who did more to promote inter-religious syncretism – much less ecumenism – than any other single public figure in 20th century history. John Paul II took the ecumenist theory of Vatican II and “put it on steroids,” as the saying goes.
We know, also, that in the 1960’s Pope Paul VI appeared before the UN and praised them as the “hope of mankind,” etc., and that the supposed “conservative” Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical in which he called for a single global financial authority. And these were not isolated incidents, but part of a grand design, an overarching policy thought out and executed by the oldest intelligence and propaganda organization in the world, one that commands the allegiance of a billion people. The audacity – really shamelessness – of these modern popes in proposing such obvious Anti-Christ schemes is extreme, but it is not contradictory in essence to what the papacy has stood for, for many centuries: a single world commonwealth under the direct spiritual authority and the indirect temporal authority of the pope, who, as the substitute for Jesus Christ on earth, has the moral and legal right to govern the entire earth as Viceroy of Christ the King.
This ideology was born not recently, but a long time ago, in the period we have been discussing. Let’s take a look at it.
II. The High Medieval Papacy and the German Emperors: The Degeneration from Symphonia to Competition for Dominance
A. Prior Developments during the First Millennium: The fully blown papist ideology did not spring up suddenly of course; it did not come out of nowhere. I think we know pretty well the basics of the history of the disintegration of the Roman authority in the West, and how the papacy, the Western bishops, and the monasteries came to be the stabilizing and unifying spiritual, cultural, and even political influence during the turbulent period when the barbarian kingdoms were being converted to orthodox Christianity and becoming civilized, becoming “Romanized.” Their stepping into this vacuum of power, to become not only the unifying spiritual but also temporal influence on their society, was perfectly natural – actually necessary – given the circumstances, and surely in its original intention and many of its aspects it was a God-pleasing project, an accomplishment, over centuries, of vast dimensions, that is hard for us to conceive, and which we cannot but admire. A negative outcome, however, is that the Western Church, and especially the popes, were tempted to overemphasize the extent of their temporal powers at the cost of the God-pleasing symphonia of the powers of the imperium and sacerdotium. This unbalanced view bore bitter fruit later on.
In the 8th century we have the appearance of an extremely important document, a forgery, called “The Donation of Constantine,” a supposed decree of St. Constantine giving the pope the ownership of vast territories in the Roman empire. Though in the fifteenth century it was proved to be a forgery, the idea of the Roman emperor ceding his temporal power to the pope, not simply de facto by dint of circumstances, but as an ideological position sanctioned by the archetypal Christian ruler, became “hardwired” into the medieval Western Christian mindset.
Also in the 8th century we see the rise of the Carolingian Frankish power, culminating in the establishment of what comes to be called the “Holy Roman Empire” with the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day, 800. At first, these German emperors had a kind of “symphonic” relationship with the pope, more or less imitating the system in the Eastern Roman Empire, but this is not going to last.
In his lecture, Fr. Seraphim has this to say about the “Holy Roman Empire” of the Frankish kings: “…in the 800’s there was the rival empire of Charlemagne that was consciously set up as a rival. The Pope indeed chose Charlemagne over Irene the Easterner who was for the icons, and Charlemagne was against the icons, and also favored the Filioque. Already we see that this is very shaky. And this empire gave rise to what was called the Holy Roman Empire in the West. And Kireyevsky notes, ‘We have a Holy Russia because there are holy men in it, called because of holy men, but the Holy Roman Empire was holy in itself, not because there were holy men, holy emperors or holy men in it. It was called “holy” because the institution itself was conceived as being holy.’ And this is an attempt, which will come out very strongly later, at ‘sanctifying the world,’ in which an earthly institution becomes conceived as something holy.”
Something I would like to add is this: Remember that we discussed, in our earlier course on Orthodox political thought, and in our class earlier in this course on the Church and the State, that the Christian Empire is an icon that mediates the reality of the heavenly kingdom; it is not itself that kingdom. But the medieval popes and emperors have this project of creating a “holy society” on earth, which is analogous, in the political realm, to having statues instead of icons, to having saints and priests who are “other Christs,” not icons of Christ. The whole culture, being an “Idealistic” culture, to use Sorokin’s category, becomes opaque. It inspires you with the thought or feeling of the heavenly reality, but it does not mediate the reality, having become “something in itself.”
B. The Gregorian Reform – the Great Turning Point. Regardless of how one views the legitimacy of this new “Roman” empire in the West (and, of course, as the real successors to the Romans, we Orthodox have profound reservations in this regard), at least it provided a counterbalance to the papacy’s pretensions to temporal power. But in the 11th century – the century of the Schism – Pope Gregory VII definitively made the break with the tradition of symphonia to declare the papacy a power superior to that of the emperors, possessing even the power to depose emperors and kings. Until his time, bishops were chosen in a variety of ways – by local councils, popular election, appointment by local rulers, etc. – and the local dioceses were endowed with lands for their support by local rulers, independent of Rome’s approval. Gregory, however, in the course of what came to be called the Investiture Controversy, established that the popes had direct control over all episcopal appointments and the apportioning of Church lands, which represented an enormous transfer not only of spiritual but temporal power into the hands of the pope. Western Europe was transformed, by this change, into a vast fief of the pope, at least in theory, since, according to Gregory’s teaching, he had direct control over the bishops not only as spiritual but temporal lords, and indirect control over every temporal authority, including that of the emperor. The famous scene at Canossa, in January 1077, in which the Emperor Henry IV knelt in the snow for three days to beg the pope’s forgiveness for opposing him, is the symbolic moment of the triumph of this new ideology, one of the key turning points in world history.
C. The 1100’s and 1200’s – The temporal dominance of Western Europe by the pope, in practice, reached its height in the reign of Innocent III (+1216). From that time on, the “Holy Roman” Emperors and the rulers of the newly developing nation-states gradually became more powerful geopolitical rivals to the papacy. The sad thing is that the pope, while claiming to be, for all intents and purposes, God on earth, had simultaneously reduced himself to just another temporal prince in a nasty dogfight for temporal power with all the other temporal princes. As ruler of the Papal States, he employed his own military and diplomatic resources on the chessboard of international politics, right along with everyone else.
Despite the fact that, by the end of the 13th century, the papacy had less political clout than at the time of Innocent’s death, Pope Boniface VIII, at his enthronement in 1294 , declared himself “Caesar” as well as the successor of Peter. This claim – to the imperial as well as the priestly power – was not simply vanity or boasting, but an intentional and consistent statement of his beliefs, which are summarized in one of the key documents of papal ideology, his famous bull Unam Sanctam (1302), the text of which I’ve appended to these notes. In this document, he clearly states that the temporal authorities should be subject to, not in symphonia with, the spiritual authority, and that the highest spiritual authority, the Pope, can be judged by no one but God. The final words are famous: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” That kind of says it all.
III. The Chiliast Utopianism of Joachim of Flora
This claim to what is, essentially, world dominance by the pope, is, of course, a species of utopianism, a fanatical idea that if only everyone would just obey the pope – who is, after all, endowed with the plenary authority of God Incarnate – there would be peace on earth, universal justice, and so forth. A feverish kind of mass mindset that would foster acceptance of strange ideas like this among the ordinary people was created in the 13th century by a group of fanatic Franciscans called “the Spirituals,” who took the teachings of a late 12th century Cistercian abbot, Joachim of Flora (+1202), about a “new age of the Holy Spirit,” and spread them all over Europe. Joachim taught that the Old Testament Church of the patriarchs and prophets was the period of the Father, that the New Testament Church of the priests and monks, the Church of the first thousand years AD, was the period of the Son, and that soon there would be a third and final age of the Holy Spirit, in which everyone would be spiritual and would not need kings and priests and rules and asceticism, but everyone would simply pray and be holy and happy all the time, and share everything, and there would be no sin, and so forth. Now, of course, this is a kind of “Christian anarchy” that is the opposite of an organized “Holy Kingdom of God on Earth” ruled by the emperor or the pope, but the spirit is the same: “We are going to enjoy Christ’s Kingdom right here on earth by making a perfect society that ‘sanctifies the world.'” The two seemingly opposed ideas are both species of chiliasm.
Now the 13th century Franciscan “Spirituals” who spread Joachim’s ideas went far beyond him, as fanatic “groupies” of a spiritual teacher often do, and they got into trouble by identifying the Emperor Frederick II as the Antichrist, but when he died that did not faze them, and they said the world was going to end in 1260, but of course it didn’t, and so forth. They also spread forgeries which they ascribed to Joachim, and finally got into trouble with the head of their order, Bonaventure, and with the papacy. Ultimately not only their additions to Joachim’s teaching but also the teaching of Joachim himself was condemned by Pope Alexander IV in 1256, and the Franciscan authorities suppressed their movement. Yet, as the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia states, Joachim was still regarded informally as a beatus (a Blessed, though not a Saint), and he had his own feast day, on May 29th. You can read all about him in the Catholic Encyclopedia article at http://newadvent.org/cathen/08406c.htm.
(What is interesting for us as contemporary Orthodox is that a 20th century “Orthodox” thinker, Nicholas Berdyaev, had a theory very similar to Joachim’s, and this is discussed by Fr. Seraphim in Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. The same bad ideas keep popping up – there is nothing new under the sun!)
IV. Summary: By the end of the period we’ve been discussing, by around the year 1300, we now have the full-blown papal claim to world dominance clashing directly with the claims of the “Holy Roman” [actually German] Emperors and also the rulers of the developing modern nation-states of Western Europe. The old concept of symphonia has been destroyed, and Europe will enter on a centuries-long drama of the political, diplomatic, and military adventures of the popes as rivals to the Western emperors and kings. Of course, this makes reconciliation with the Orthodox Eastern Church even more difficult, for in addition to all the theological, spiritual, and cultural differences, we now have a much different theory of how the Church is supposed to relate to the State. The “Church” has come to be identified entirely with the worldly organization under the popes, and its rulers claim to have direct spiritual authority and indirect political authority over the entire human race.
So the One-World-Government-Under-John-Paul-II-Idea in Malachi Martin’s 1990 book is really nothing new.
V. Appendix: “Unam Sanctam,” Pope Boniface VIII
“Unam Sanctam,” Bull of Pope Boniface VIII promulgated November 18, 1302
Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins, as the Spouse in the Canticles [Sgs 6:8] proclaims: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one. She is the only one, the chosen of her who bore her,‘ and she represents one sole mystical body whose Head is Christ and the head of Christ is God [1 Cor 11:3]. In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism [Eph 4:5]. There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide, i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed.
We venerate this Church as one, the Lord having said by the mouth of the prophet: ‘Deliver, O God, my soul from the sword and my only one from the hand of the dog.’ [Ps 21:20] He has prayed for his soul, that is for himself, heart and body; and this body, that is to say, the Church, He has called one because of the unity of the Spouse, of the faith, of the sacraments, and of the charity of the Church. This is the tunic of the Lord, the seamless tunic, which was not rent but which was cast by lot [Jn 19:23- 24]. Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter, since the Lord speaking to Peter Himself said: ‘Feed my sheep‘ [Jn 21:17], meaning, my sheep in general, not these, nor those in particular, whence we understand that He entrusted all to him [Peter]. Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John ‘there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.’ We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: ‘Behold, here are two swords‘ [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: ‘Put up thy sword into thy scabbard‘ [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter bythe Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.
However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: ‘There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God‘ [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.
For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: ‘Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms‘ and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man‘ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven‘ etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.