10. Christianity splits into Latin West & Greek East

The era that the Crusades occurred was a fascinating time in history because many aggressive cultures were coming into collision. Further many of the roots of our corrupted political leadership, which everyone seems to accept as normal, emerged during this period of time and can be observed directly, unobstructed by subsequent historical overlays.

In our exploration of the Crusades, we discovered the final ingredient in the Nordic/Christian synthesis and the roots of the strange obsessive conflict between Western Christianity and the Muslim world. Due to the heat from the battle for empire between diverse cultures this period in history also saw the transition from the domination of the Warrior cult to the supremacy of the Church/ Banking alliance. Let’s set the stage.

Norman Europe and Turkish Muslims squeeze Greek Byzantium

At the beginning of the 2nd millennium of the Modern Era, the 11th century, the Turks had recently overwhelmed the Arab Moslems becoming their overlords, just as the Norse had become the overlords of Christian Europe. Just as the Nordic warrior cult merged with Christianity, the Turkish warrior cult merged with Islam. Despite somewhat trivial doctrinal differences both cultures were based upon the exact same credo: die battling the infidel and go to heaven. As such the belief system of the warrior cult promotes war. Unfortunately this destructive attitude did not die out, but is still actively promoted by the Media.

Between these two aggressive warrior cultures was the Byzantine Empire, inheritors of the Roman Empire. They were being slowly consumed by their military neighbors. Latin Europe with its center in Papal Rome had broken off into their Western Empire under Charlemagne. With the Arab expansion they had lost their southern holdings in Africa, including Egypt. With the Norman expansion they had lost their holdings in Sicily and southeastern Europe. Reduced to a much smaller but still substantial area around modern day Greece and Turkey they maintained a culture of fabulous wealth and sophistication. However the Turkish Muslims were expanding on their eastern borders, threatening to expand into Anatolia, modern day Turkey, the heartland of Byzantium with its famed capitol of Constantinople.

Reasonably the Emperor of Byzantium sought the help of the Christian knights against the Turkish aggression. Specifically Emperor Alexius I appealed to Pope Urban II to help them as fellow Christians to turn back the military advances of the Seljuk Turks, the current military aristocracy of the Islamic Empire. Unfortunately for him he had some grave misunderstandings about the motivations of the Europeans, which had very little to do with religious camaraderie and more to do with cultural expansion.

Latin Europe had their own problems. However they were not based on aggressive enemies, but on dangerous internal pressures. The population of the peasantry was growing beyond the capability of the culture to take care of them. Further the European knights, including the Normans, were killing each other in tournaments and ravaging the countryside, presumably because they had no real war to fight. Sensing a multifaceted opportunity to relieve these internal pressures and increase his power, the Pope called a holy war, a Crusade – the first ever. Die in battle and go to heaven. No one suspected the immense ramifications that this move would have. It’s still influential today – with our ongoing holy war – Christian America’s current crusade against the Muslim countries of the Middle East, notably Iraq & Iran.

Background of the East/West Bifurcation

Although Pope Urban II in Rome responded to Byzantium’s call for assistance against the Moslems, he was more interested in reinforcing and increasing his local and international power than in assisting a friend in need. While they were both Christian, they were rivals. Constantinople, the capitol of Byzantium, was the head of the Eastern Christian Church just like Rome was the head of the Western Christian Church. However Byzantium, the inheritor of the Roman Empire, was the older of the two[1]. The Western Church based around the Pope was just a recent upstart, who was on the rise.

What had happened to turn Rome into an upstart after being the capitol of the mighty Roman Empire? In the 4th century Constantine sacked Rome in the process of moving the capitol of the Roman Empire to Constantinople for defensive purposes. The Germanic tribes swarming down from the north were proving too powerful to dominate – easier to move to the easily defensible peninsula of Anatolia. This turned Rome into a culturally backward area of recently converted or unconverted pagan tribes.

A few centuries after Rome was abandoned to tend for itself against the barbarian tides the Pope attempted to assert his independence from Constantinople. However the Patriarch of Constantinople humbled him. The Pope was required to beg forgiveness for attempting to set up his own domain at the expense of Byzantium. However a few centuries later, in 800 AD, the Latin Pope crowned Charlemagne, the Frankish king, Emperor of the newly created Holy Roman Empire. This brilliant maneuver consolidated the Pope’s position in Europe as well as establishing political independence from Byzantium. This alliance between Charlemagne and the Pope created the beginning of the Western European political structure and motivation that was to last until the Reformation nearly a millennium later.

This move had several functions. Symbolically it stated that Rome was the true inheritor of the Roman Empire, not Constantinople. In effect the Pope seized the mantle of the Roman Empire from Byzantium. Politically this move said, “We are independent. We are the Christian power in the West. Don’t mess with us. We’ve got Charlemagne, the best general of this part of the world, with his army on our side.”

While Charlemagne was able to consolidate many of the European kingdoms into a loosely knit Catholic Empire, they never crystallized into a real Empire, then or ever. Never anything like the Roman Empire, which lasted for centuries with an almighty Caesar, then Emperor, at its head – with all citizens subordinated to his almighty god-like power - where the Emperor Constantine could compel all the subjects of his entire Empire to go Christian. None of these Holy Roman Emperors was able to change the political landscape as Constantine did, when he moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium in the East and named the capital city after himself – Constantinople, Constantine’s city. The Holy Roman Emperor, of whom Charlemagne was first, never achieved this type of power or status. Although this figurehead position was always a player in the power politics of the day, he was never the absolute leader – as he always had the Pope to contend with – a major difference between the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Empire.

The Great Schism (1054): Christian vs. Christian


Doctrine determines Us and Them

Although declaring a Holy Roman Empire was the crack in the monolithic Christian Church with Constantinople as its head, the final break occurred several centuries later with the Great Schism in 1054 (only 40 years prior to the First Crusade). Seeing the Byzantium Empire besieged in the east by the encroaching and aggressive Islamic Turkish Empire (a real empire) the Western Pope seized the opportunity to reject the Patriarch of Constantinople as the absolute head of Christendom. Further he insisted on some doctrinal changes – seemingly trivial at this later date.

The Latin Christians split with the Byzantines over transubstantiation, i.e. whether the bread and wine actually become Jesus’ body and blood after the ministry consecrates them. The West believed that the wine and bread of Communion actually turned into Christ’s body and blood when blessed for the Holy Sacrament. This ritual was considered symbolic in the East – a reasonable perception. A second major doctrinal difference between the Eastern and Western manifestations of the Christian church had to do with filioque (and the Son) in the Nicene Creed – instituted as essential Church doctrine at Constantine’s Council of Nicaea – ¾ of a millennium earlier. The Latin West insisted that the Holy Spirit of the Trinity issued from God and the Son, while the Greek East maintained that the Spirit manifested from God alone. Note that neither of these points has anything to do with morality (leading to being a better person) and everything to do with belief – the orthodoxy which leads to persecution and the separation of cultures into Us and Them. Then it is easy to determine the Good Guy from the Bad Guy.

A leader, such as the Pope, determines which beliefs his followers will have, not so much that the belief really matters, but more because it determines whether You are with Us or Not. And if Not, then You are, of course, against Us, which means You are our Enemy. While the Arab (Nestorian), Greek, and Latin Christians had some ideological differences based upon divinity, human, and symbolic, which reveal some very real differences in their cultures, more importantly they were establishing a cultural identity. Once a cultural identity is established it is possible to go to War, for then We know who They are.

Pope increases power at expense of East

Of course the Eastern Patriarch rejected the demands and excommunicated the Pope from the Church for rejecting his supremacy, and the Pope returned the favor. However neither the Byzantium Emperor nor the Holy Roman Emperor had the military power or desire to enforce the respective wills of these religious leaders of the Eastern and Western branches of Christendom, as they had more pressing problems. Although Latin Rome with their Pope and Holy Roman Emperor were on the rise in the West and asserting their independence, Greek Byzantium with their Emperor and Patriarch were attempting to survive the Islamic onslaught from the East.

Fully understanding the importance of survival over doctrinal differences Alexius I of Byzantium issued a plea for assistance from the West against the Infidel just a few decades later. Pope Urban II responded to the Emperor’s request for aid by calling for a Holy Crusade against the Muslims. While the focus and inspiration from the Crusades centered on recovering Jerusalem for Christianity, it had much more to do with increasing the power of West at the expense of the East, whomever they might be –Eastern Christian or Muslim. Although framed in religious language as a divine mission the Western Europeans, aristocracy and peasantry, were more intent on cultural expansion.

[1] This older Christian tradition is now called the Greek or Eastern Orthodox in America.

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