HEALING THE BREACH: THE LONG ROAD TO REUNIFICATION
By A.M. Tuttle
Following is the second in a four-part series of articles on Eastern
The division between East and West that was achieved so quickly and
decisively in 1054 was not destined to heal so easily. Although there were
never any real disputes over doctrine, at least in the case of the
Byzantine Rite Churches, the built-up prejudices caused by the sack of
Constantinople in 1204 and cultural differences resulted in literally
centuries of separation.
Attempts were made by the Byzantine emperors to reunite the Eastern and
Western Churches beginning in 1204 until the fall of Constantinople in
1453, according to the .
Although their efforts focused on ecclesiastical reunion, their motives
were mostly political. The Byzantine emperors, who were the civil rulers
in the Byzantine Church, sought papal support against the Moslems and
Their failure was almost inevitable, in part because of Pope Innocent
III's view, continued by most of his successors throughout the Middle
Ages, that reunification meant the absorption of the Eastern Churches into
the Latin Church, or at least extensive Latinizations.
The first major attempt at reunification occurred at the Council of Lyons
in 1274. A group of delegates commissioned by Emperor Michael VIII
Palaeologus -- not by Greek hierarchy as a whole -- accepted, without
debate, terms of union laid out by Pope Gregory X.
More important was the Union of Florence. According to the , the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-c.1445) was attended
by a genuinely representative Greek delegation, including Emperor John
VIII and Patriarch Joseph II. Theological questions were fully debated.
The Greeks agreed to accept the Latin teaching that the Holy Spirit
"proceeds from the Father and the Son" (), but were not required
by the Latin Church to add it to their creed. Another sticky point, the
use of leavened or unleavened bread, was settled as well. It was decided
that both were equally legitimate and each side would continue to follow
its own customs. The agreement was signed by all but one of the Orthodox
Unfortunately, these two agreements were rejected by a large segment of
the lower clergy as well as most of the people and had no real impact. The
agreement was not forgotten, however, and was used as a basis for later
The first successful reunification of any significance is called the Union
of Brest. This 1596 agreement united the Ruthenian Orthodox and Roman
Catholic Churches of Poland.
The Polish government felt threatened by the establishment of an
independent Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in 1589 and sought ways to
eliminate Russian influence in the country, according to McGraw-Hill's
. At the same time, the Orthodox clergy in
Ruthenia (the Polish Ukraine), were engaged in efforts to reform and
revive their church.
The idea of union with Rome, along the lines of the Union of Florence,
quickly gained popularity among the hierarchy.
Progress was slow, however, and by the time the union was accepted at a
synod at Brest in 1596, the general interest in union had faded. The union
took place, but the organized opposition to it created a divided Church
and much distrust.
In the agreement, Pope Clement VIII issued a decree confirming and
approving the rites, customs and Julian calendar of the Ruthenian Church.
It survives today as the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Some of the Eastern Churches less familiar to Americans than those in the
Byzantine Rites have vastly different stories. The Maronite Church, which
belongs to the Antiochene Rite, is the only Eastern Rite Church without an
Orthodox counterpart. Its members take great pride in their claim that
they were never schismatic. The Maronite Church is presided over by a
patriarch who resides in Bkerke, Lebanon. There are 2.5 million Maronites
Another Antiochene Church, the Syrian, evolved differently. The Council of
Ephesus (431) and, to a greater degree, the Council of Chalcedon (451)
caused a great rift among the Semitic population of the See of Antioch.
Most rejected the Greek authority and customs and adopted monophysitism,
the belief that Jesus has only one nature -- divine. With the support of
the Empress Theodora, the monophysite movement grew. Its followers came to
be called Jacobites.
Union was not re-established between Syrian non-Chalcedonians and Rome
until the 17th Century. Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries in Aleppo,
Syria, established a core community of Catholics there. One of these
converts was ordained a priest by the Maronite patriarch in 1649 and was
ordained a bishop in 1656. When the Jacobite patriarch died, the Catholic
community managed to have their bishop installed as patriarch. When he
died, there was a seven-decade reign of non-Catholic patriarchs that ended
in 1782, when the Jacobites were pressured into electing a Catholic as
One of the most recent reunifications involved the "St. Thomas Christians"
in Kerala, India. This church was long in existence and in communion with
the Assyrian (Nestorian) Church when Portuguese missionaries came to India
Latinization attempts by the Portuguese caused a rift in the Malankar
Church. Those that refused to submit sought to have their own bishop, but
the Assyrian patriarch refused. The West Syrian patriarch agreed, although
they had to adopt the Antiochene Rite. They became the Malankar Syrian
Efforts at reunion were unsuccessful until 1930. In 1926, Bishop Ivanios
Panikerveetil, on behalf of several other bishops, began a dialogue to
discuss possible reunion with Rome. On Sept. 20, 1930, Bishop Ivanios, two
other bishops, a priest, a deacon and a layman were received into the
Catholic Church, thus establishing the Malankar Catholic Church.
The initial approach to reunification taken by the Latin Rite Church has
changed over the centuries. Until the 20th century, it was very
"Intellectually, the West understood that all five Churches were of equal
value. In practice, whenever they encountered Eastern Churches, whatever
was different was often seen as inferior," said Maronite Chorbishop Seely
Beggiani of Washington. The emphasis from the West in any discussion of
unification was, "How can we get these Churches to do things the way we
do?" he said.
Today, there is a great deal of acceptance of Eastern traditions on the
part of the Latin Church, especially Pope John Paul II. The Vatican now
encourages the Eastern Rites to remove from their liturgies
"latinizations" that were added over the centuries, Chorbishop Beggiani
Last Good Friday, Pope John Paul even used meditations on the Stations of
the Cross that were composed by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of
Reunification, Chorbishop Beggiani said, "is not a matter of one side
capitulating to the other." Each side must recognize the validity of the
other's liturgy and tradition. What is necessary "is a profession of
faith," which includes the issues which caused the initial break, he said.
In the case of the Byzantine Rite Churches, the significant issue was
papal authority. The other Churches split from Rome over doctrinal
questions; reunion meant accepting the Roman Catholic doctrine on the
This article appeared in the August 11, 1994 issue of "The Arlington
Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the
Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511
or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.