by Fr. John Romanides
Our father in the faith, John Romanides (1927 – 2001), was a prominent 20th century Orthodox Christian priest, theologian, and writer. He argued for the existence of a “national, cultural and even linguistic unity between Eastern and Western Romans” that existed until the intrusion and takeover of the West Romans (the Roman Catholics) by the Franks and or Goths (German tribes). This article originally appeared in “The Orthodox Activist.”
What follows is a heavily excerpted and slightly edited transcript of three lectures given by the great Orthodox scholar John S. Romanides in 1981 at Holy Cross Seminary in the Patriarch Athenagoras Memorial Lecture series.
This article deals with the fundamental difference between Orthodoxy and Western Christianity, mainly Roman Catholicism. Readers will be surprised to learn that the division between “East” and “West” was actually more of a political division, caused by the ambitions of the Franks and other Germanic tribes, than a “Theological” question.
Professor John Romanides of the University of Thessalonike challenges the common views regarding the causes for the Schism of the Church in the “Roman world,” and offers his own provocative interpretation of the historical background of this tragedy in the history of the Christian Church.
Far from seeing basic differences in the “Roman world,” which led to alienation between the East and West, Romanides argues for the existence of “national, cultural and even linguistic unity between East (Byzantine) and West Romans”; that is, until the intrusion and takeover of the West Romans (the Roman Catholics) by the Franks (German tribes).
European and American histories treat the alienation between Eastern and Western Christian Churches as though it were inevitable, because of an alleged separation of the Roman Empire itself into “East” and “West,” because of alleged linguistic and cultural differences, and because of an alleged difference between the legal West and the speculative East.1 Evidence strongly suggests that such attempts to explain the separation between East and West are conditioned by prejudices inherited from the cultural tradition of the Franks, and from the centuries-old propaganda of the Frankish (Germanic dominated) Papacy.
The evidence points clearly to the national, cultural, and even linguistic unity between East and West Romans which survived to the time when the Roman popes were replaced by Franks. Had the Franks not taken over the Papacy, it is very probable that the local synod of the Church of Rome (with the pope as president), elected according to the 769 election decree approved by the Eighth Ecumenical Synod in 879, would have survived, and that there would not have been any significant difference between the papacy and the other four Roman (Orthodox) Patriarchates.
However, things did not turn out that way. The Papacy was alienated from the (Orthodox) East by the Franks, so we now are faced with the history of that alienation when we contemplate the reunion of divided Christians. By the eighth century, we meet for the first time the beginnings of a split in Christianity. In West European sources we find a separation between a “Greek East” and a “Latin West.” In Roman sources this same separation constitutes a schism between Franks (a confederation of Germanic Teutonic peoples living on the lower banks of the Rhine who by the sixth century AD conquered most of France, the low countries and what is now Germany. ed) and Romans. One detects in both terminologies an ethnic or racial basis for the schism which may be more profound and important for descriptive analysis than the doctrinal claims of either side.
The Roman Empire was conquered in three stages: by Germanic tribes (the Franks) who became known as “Latin Christianity,” by Muslim Arabs, and finally, by Muslim Turks. In contrast to this, the ecclesiastical administration of the Roman Empire disappeared in stages from West Europe, but has survived up to modern times in the “East Roman Empire” the Orthodox Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
The reason for this is that the Germanic – Frankish conquerors of the West Romans (who became known as the “Roman Catholic Church.”) used the Church to suppress the Roman nation, whereas under Islam the East Roman nation, the Orthodox Church, survived by means of the Orthodox Church. In each instance of conquest, the bishops became the ethnarchs of the conquered Romans and administered Roman law on behalf of the rulers. As long as the bishops were Roman, the unity of the Roman Church was preserved, in spite of theological conflicts.
Roman Revolutions and the Rise of Frankish Feudalism and Doctrine
The Franks applied their policy of destroying the unity between the Romans under their rule and the “East Romans,” the Orthodox, under the rule of Constantinople.They played one Roman party against the other, took neither side, and finally condemned both the iconoclasts and the Seventh Ecumenical Synod (786/7) at their own Council of Frankfurt in 794,
In the time of Pippin of Herestal (687-715) and Charles Martel (715-741), many of the Franks who replaced Roman bishops were military leaders who, accordingto Saint Boniface, “shed the blood of Christians like that of the pagans.”2
The Imperial CoronationCharlemagne
An unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of (the Roman) Pope Leo III (795-816), the successor of Hadrian. Pope Leo was then accused of immoral conduct. Charlemagne took a personal and active interest in the investigations which caused Leo to be brought to him in Paderborn. Leo was sent back to Rome, followed by Charlemagne, who continued the investigations. The Frankish king required finally that Leo swear his innocence on the Bible, which he did on December 23, (800). Two days later Leo crowned Charlemagne “Emperor of the Romans.” Charlemagne had arranged to get the title “Emperor” in exchange for Leo’s exoneration. Charlemagne caused the filioque (the new line in the Creed that said that the Holy Spirit, “proceeds from the Father and the Son,” instead of the original which read, “proceeds from the Father, to be added to the Frankish Creed, without consulting the pope. When the controversy over this addition broke out in Jerusalem, Charlemagne convoked the Council of Aachen (809) and decreed that this addition was a dogma necessary for salvation. With this fait accomplit under his belt, he tried to pressure Pope Leo III into accepting it.3
Pope Leo rejected the filioque not only as an addition to the Creed, but also as doctrine, claiming that the Fathers left it out of the Creed neither out of ignorance, nor out of negligence, nor out of oversight, but on purpose and by divine inspiration. What Leo said to the Franks but in diplomatic terms, was that the addition of the filioque to the Creed is a heresy.
The so-called split between East and West was, in reality, the importation into Old Rome of the schism provoked by Charlemagne and carried there by the Franks and Germans who took over the papacy.
The Bible and Tradition
A basic characteristic of the Frankish (Germanic-Latin) scholastic method, mislead by Augustinian Platonism and Thomistic Aristotelianism had been its naive confidence in the objective existence of things rationally speculated about. By following Augustine, the Franks and the “Latin” Roman Catholic Church substituted the patristic concern for spiritual observation, (which they had found firmly established in Gaul when they first conquered the area) with a Germanic fascination for metaphysics
In contrast to the Franks the Fathers of the Orthodox Church did not understand theology as a theoretical or speculative science, but as a positive science in all respects. This is why the patristic understanding of Biblical inspiration is similar to the inspiration of writings in the field of the positive sciences.
Scientific manuals are inspired by the observations of specialists. For example, the astronomer records what he observes by means of the instruments at his disposal. Because of his training in the use of his instruments, he is inspired by the heavenly bodies, and sees things invisible to the naked eye. The same is true of all the positive sciences. However, books about science can never replace scientific observations. These writings are not the observations themselves, but about these observations.
The same is true of the Orthodox understanding of the Bible and the writings of the Fathers. Neither the Bible nor the writings of the Fathers are revelation or the word of God. They are about revelation and about the word of God.
Revelation is the appearance of God to the prophets, apostles, and saints. The Bible and the writings of the Fathers are about these appearances, but not the appearances themselves. This is why it is the prophet, apostle, and saint who sees God, and not those who simply read about their experiences of glorification. It is obvious that neither a book about glorification nor one who reads such a book can ever replace the prophet, apostle, or saint who has the experience of glorification.
This is the heart of the Orthodox understanding of tradition and apostolic succession which sets it apart from the “Latin” (in other words, Frankish-Germanic) and Protestant traditions, both of which stem from the theology of the Franks.
Following Augustine, the Franks identified revelation with the Bible and believed that Christ gave to the Church the Holy Spirit as a guide to its correct understanding. This would be similar to claiming that the books about biology were revealed by microbes and cells without the biologists having seen them with the microscope, and that these same microbes and cells inspire future teachers to correctly understand these books without the use of the microscope!
Historians have noted the naivite of the Frankish religious mind which was shocked by the first claims for the primacy of observation over rational analysis. Even Galileo’s telescopes could not shake this confidence. However, several centuries before Galileo, the Franks had been shocked by the East Roman (Orthodox) claim, hurled by Saint Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), of the primacy of experience and observation over “reason” in theology.
Instruments, Observation, Concepts, and Language
The universe has turned out to be a much greater mystery to man than anyone was ever able to imagine. Indications are strong that it will yet prove to be an even greater mystery than man today can yet imagine. In the light of this, one thinks humorously of the (Latin) bishops who could not grasp the reality, let alone the magnitude, of what they saw through Galileo’s telescope. But the magnitude of Frankish naivite becomes even greater when one realizes that these same church leaders who could not understand the meaning of a simple observation were claiming knowledge of God’s essence and nature.
The Latin tradition could not understand the significance of an instrument by which the prophets, apostles, and saints had reached glorification.
Similar to today’s sciences, Orthodox theology also depends on an instrument which is not identified with reason or the intellect. The Biblical name for this is the heart. Christ says,
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”4
The heart is not normally clean, i.e., it does not normally function properly. Like the lens of a telescope or microscope, it must be polished so that light may pass through and allow man to focus his spiritual vision on things not visible to the naked eye.
In time, some Fathers gave the name nous to the faculty of the soul which operates within the heart when restored to normal capacity, and reserved the names logos and dianoia for the intellect and reason, or for what we today would call the brain. In order to avoid confusion, we use the terms noetic faculty and noetic prayer to designate the activity of the nous.
The heart, and not the brain, is the area in which the theologian is formed. Theology includes the intellect as all sciences do, but it is in the heart that the intellect and all of man observes and experiences the rule of God. One of the basic differences between science and Orthodox theology is that man has his heart or noetic faculty by nature, whereas he himself has created his instruments of scientific observation.
A second basic difference is the following: By means of his instruments, and the energy radiated by and/or upon what he observes, the scientist sees things which he can describe with words, even though at times inadequately. These words are symbols of accumulated human experience, and understood by those with the same or similar experience.
In contrast to this, the experience of glorification is to see God who has no similarity whatsoever to anything created, not even to the intellect or to the angels. God is literally unique and can in no way be described by comparison with anything that any creature may be, know or imagine. No aspect about God can be expressed in a concept or collection of concepts.
It is for this reason that in Orthodoxy positive statements about God are counterbalanced by negative statements, not in order to purify the positive ones of their imperfections, but in order to make clear that God is in no way similar to the concepts conveyed by words, since God is above every name and concept ascribed to Him. Although God created the universe, which continues to depend on Him, God and the universe do not belong to one category of truth. Truths concerning creation cannot apply to God, nor can the truth of God be applied to creation.
Diagnosis and Therapy
Let us turn our attention to those aspects of differences between Roman and Frankish theologies which have had a strong impact on the development of differences in the doctrine of the Church. The basic differences may be listed under diagnosis of spiritual ills and their therapy.
According to the Orthodox Church, the “East Romans,” Glorification is the vision of God in which the equality of all men and the absolute value of each man is experienced. God loves all men equally and indiscriminately, regardless of even their moral status. God loves with the same love, both the saint and the devil. To teach otherwise, as Augustine and the Franks did, would be adequate proof that they did not have the slightest idea of what glorification was.
According to the Orthodox, God multiplies and divides himself in His uncreated energies undividedly among divided things, so that He is both present by act and absent by nature to each individual creature and everywhere present and absent at the same time. This is the fundamental mystery of the presence of God to His creatures and shows that universals do not exist in God and are, therefore, not part of the state of illumination as in the Augustinian (Frankish Latin) tradition.
According to the Orthodox, God himself is both heaven and hell, reward and punishment. All men have been created to see God unceasingly in His uncreated glory. Whether God will be for each man heaven or hell, reward or punishment, depends on man’s re-sponse to God’s love and on man’s transformation from the state of selfish and self-centered love, to Godlike love which does not seek its own ends.
One can see how the Frankish understanding of heaven and hell poetically described by Dante, John Milton, and James Joyce are so foreign to the Orthodox tradition (but in keeping with the “Latin” tradition).
According to the Orthodox, since all men will see God, no religion can claim for itself the power to send people either to heaven or to hell. This means that true spiritual fathers prepare their spiritual charges so that vision of God’s glory will be heaven, and not hell, reward, and not punishment. The primary purpose of Orthodox Christianity then, is to prepare its members for an experience which every human being will sooner or later have.
While the brain (according to the Orthodox) is the center of human adaptation to the environment, the noetic faculty in the heart is the primary organ for communion with God. The fall of man or the state of inherited sin is: a) the failure of the noetic faculty to function properly, or to function at all; b) its confusion with the functions of the brain and the body in general; and c) its resulting enslavement to the environment.
Each individual experiences the fall of his own noetic faculty. One can see why the Augustinian “Latin,” Frankish) understanding of the fall of man as an inherited guilt for the sin of Adam and Eve is not, and cannot, be accepted by the Orthodox tradition.
There are two known memory systems built into living beings,
1) cell memory which determines the function and development of the individual in relation to itself, and
2) brain cell memory which determines the function of the individual in relation to its environment.
In addition to this, the patristic tradition is aware of the existence in human beings of a now normally non-functioning or sub-functioning memory in the heart, which when put into action via noetic prayer, includes unceasing memory of God and, therefore, the normalization of all other relations.
When the noetic faculty is not functioning properly, man is enslaved to fear and anxiety and his relations to others are essentially utilitarian. Thus, the root cause of all abnormal relations between God and man and among men is that fallen man, i.e., man with a malfunctioning noetic faculty, uses God, his fellow man, and nature for his own understanding of security and happiness. Man outside of glorification imagines the existence of god or gods which are psychological projections of his need for security and happiness.
That all men have this noetic faculty in the heart also means that all are in direct relation to God at various levels, depending on how much the individual personality resists enslavement to his physical and social surroundings and allows himself to be directed by God. Every individual is sustained by the uncreated glory of God and is the dwelling place of this uncreated creative and sustaining light, which is called the rule, power, grace, etc. of God. Human reaction to this direct relation or communion with God can range from the hardening of the heart, i.e., the snuffing out of the spark of grace, to the experience of glorification attained to by the prophets, apostles, and saints.
This means that all men are equal in possession of the noetic faculty, but not in quality or degree of function. It is important to note the clear distinction between spirituality, which is rooted primarily in the heart’s noetic faculty, and intellectuality, which is rooted in the brain. Thus:
1) A person with little intellectual attainments can rise to the highest level of noetic perfection.
2) On the other hand, a man of the highest intellectual attainments can fall to the lowest level of noetic imperfection.
3) One may also reach both the highest intellectual attainments and noetic perfection.
Or 4) one may be of meager intellectual accomplishment with a hardening of the heart.
Saint Basil the Great writes that
“the in-dwelling of God is this—to have God established within ourself by means of memory. We thus become temples of God, when the continuity of memory is not interrupted by earthly cares, nor the noetic faculty shaken by unexpected sufferings, but escaping from all things this (noetic faculty) friend of God retires to God, driving out the passions which tempt it to incontinence and abides in the practices which lead to virtues.”5
Saint Gregory the Theologian points out that
“we ought to remember God even more often than we draw out breath; and if it suffices to say this, we ought to do nothing else…or, to use Moses’ words, whether a man lie asleep, or rise up, or walk by the way, or whatever else he is doing, he should also have this impressed in his memory for purity.”6
Saint Gregory insists that to theologize
“is permitted only to those who have passed examinations and have reached theoria, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at least are being purified.”7
This state of theoria is two fold or has two stages:
a) unceasing memory of God and
b) glorification, the latter being a gift which God gives to His friends according to their needs and the needs of others.
During this latter state of glorification, unceasing noetic prayer is interrupted since it is replaced by a vision of the glory of God in Christ. The normal functions of the body, such as sleeping, eating, drinking, and digestion are suspended. In other respects, the intellect and the body function normally. One does not lose consciousness, as happens in the ecstatic mystical experiences of non-Orthodox Christian and pagan religions.
One is fully aware and conversant with his environment and those around him, except that he sees everything and everyone saturated by the uncreated glory of God, which is neither light nor darkness, and nowhere and everywhere at the same time. This state may be of short, medium, or long duration. In the case of Moses it lasted for forty days and forty nights. The faces of those in this state of glorification give off an imposing radiance, like that of the face of Moses, and after they die, their bodies become holy relics. These relics give off a strange sweet smell, which at times can become strong. In many cases, these relics remain intact in a good state of preservation, without having been embalmed. They are completely stiff from head to toe, light, dry, and with no signs of putrefaction.
There is no metaphysical criterion for distinguishing between good and bad people. It is much more correct to distinguish between ill and more healthy persons. The sick ones are those whose noetic faculty is either not functioning, or functioning poorly, and the healthier ones are those whose noetic faculty is being cleansed and illumined.
These levels are incorporated into the very structure of the four Gospels and the liturgical life of the Church. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke reflect the pre-baptismal catechism for cleansing the heart, and the Gospel of John reflects the post-baptismal catechism which leads to theoria by way of the stage of illumination. Christ himself is the spiritual Father who led the apostles, as He had done with Moses and the prophets, to glorification by means of purification and illumination.8
One can summarize these three stages of (Orthodox) perfection as
a) that of the slave who performs the commandments because of fear of seeing God as a consuming fire,
b) that of the hireling whose motive is the reward of seeing God as glory, and
c) that of the friends of God whose noetic faculty is completely free, whose love has become selfless end because of this, are willing to be damned for the salvation of their fellow man, as in the cases of Moses and Paul.
1. The European and Middle Eastern parts of the Roman Empire were carved out of areas which, among other linguistic elements, contained two bands, the Celtic and the Greek, which ran parallel to each other from the Atlantic to the Middle East. The Celtic band was north of the Greek band, except in Asia Minor, where Galatia had the Greek band to the east, the north, and the south. Northern Italy itself was part of the Celtic band and Southern Italy a part of the Greek band (here called Magna Graecia) which in the West covered Southern Spain, Gaul, and their Mediterranean islands. Due consideration should be given to the fact that both the Celtic and Greek bands were east and west of Roman Italy. The Romans first took over the Greek and Celtic parts of Italy and then the Greek and Celtic speaking peoples of the two bands. The Celtic band was almost completely Latinized, whereas the Greek band, not only remained intact, but was even expanded by the Roman policy of completing the Hellenization of the Eastern provinces initiated by the Macedonians. The reason why the Celtic band, but not the Greek band, was Latinized was that the Romans were themselves bilingual in fact and in sentiment, since in the time of their explosive expansion they spoke both Latin and Greek, with a strong preference for the latter. Thus, one is obliged to speak of both the Western and Eastern parts of European Romania in terms of a Latin North and a Greek South, but certainly not of a Latin West and a Greek East, which is a Frankish myth, fabricated for the propagandistic reasons described in Lecture I, which survives in text books until today. Indeed, the Galatians of Asia Minor were in the fourth century still speaking the same dialect as the Treveri of the province of Belgica in the Roman diocese of Gaul. (Albert Grenier, Les Gaulois [Paris, 1970], p. 115.) That the Latin West/Greek East division of Europe is a Frankish myth is still witnessed to today by some 25 million Romans in the Balkans, who speak Romance dialects, and by the Greek-speaking inhabitants of the Balkans and the Middle East, who call themselves Romans. It should be noted that it is very possible that the Galatians of Asia Minor still spoke the same language as the ancestors of the Waloons in the area of the Ardennes when the legate of Pope John XV, Abbot Leo, was at Mouzon pronouncing the condemnation of Gerbert d’Aurillac in 995.
2. Migne, PL 89:744.
3. For a review of the historical and doctrinal aspects of this question, see J. S. Romanides, The Filioque, Anglican Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Discussions, St. Albans 1975—Moscow 1976 (Athens, 1978).
4. Matthew 5.8.
5. Epistle 2.
6. Theological Oration 1.5.
7. Ibid. 1.3.
8. On the relations between the Johanine and Synoptic gospel traditions see my study, “Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 4 (1958-59), pp. 115-39.