The Fall of 1204 and its Consequences

26 October 2012

Referring to the 4th crusade, Henri Grégoire speaks of the atrocity of the West, Colin Morris observes that “the Latin capture if Constantinople was a disaster for Christendom” and Sir Steven Runciman, in his classic work on the crusades, does not hesitate to write that the 4th crusade was the greatest crime against humanity ever perpetrated. And, indeed, these descriptions are entirely apposite for the behaviour of the crusaders after the fall of the City on 13 April, 1204. The “Christian” Franks committed unmentionable acts of barbarity and savagery. They murdered the elderly, women and children without discrimination. They looted and seized the riches of “the queen of the cities of the world”. According to the agreement, Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) also took part in the distribution of the spoils. Worst of all, they set fire to the greater part of the city and enslaved a large portion of the population. On the first day alone, 7,000 residents were killed. But the particular target of the crusaders was the Orthodox clergy. Bishops and other clerics were subjected to dreadful tortures and were slaughtered with unprecedented fury. Patriarch Ioannis III only just managed to reach the opposite shore, naked and barefoot. Churches, including Ayia Sofia (Holy Wisdom) were desecrated, in scenes of unparalleled horror.

The Latin clergy played a leading role in the pillage. For many years to come, Western ships would bear treasures from the City to the West, where, to this day, they continue to adorn churches, museums and private collections. The centre for the collection of the treasures seized was the church of Saint Mark, in Venice. Part of the treasure, mainly manuscripts, was destroyed. A large portion of the “Byzantine” treasures in Saint Mark’s was sold off by the Venetian Republic in 1795 to cover its military expenditure.

The behaviour of the invaders, however, revealed the Frankish West to the Easterners, one hundred and fifty years after the great schism in the Church (1054). Traces deeper even than the destruction of the “city of cities” were etched  on the souls of the Orthodox. For the inhabitants of the Empire of New Rome (Romania) it was evident from the beginning that the aim of the 4th crusade was the destruction of their state. Indeed, Western sources blame the ecclesiastical aspect: the destruction of Constantinople was seen as punishment for the “heretical” Greeks, who were “impious and worse than the Jews”. The capture of the City was taken to be a victory for Christendom. The “Byzantines”, however, understood very well that, after 1204, their real enemy were the Latin Franks, because it was from them alone that the danger was posed to the Orthodox faith and the tradition of the Greek people. In this way, the rebellion of the anti-union party was created and given substance and they chose to prefer (purely opportunistic) cooperation with the Ottomans over the “friendship” of the Franks, consciously choosing between two evils. They were conscious of what would be expressed theologically- and incontrovertibly- in the 18th century by Saint Kosmas Aitolos: “And why did God not bring another emperor, when there were so many kings hereabouts to give it to, and instead brought the Turks in through Kokkini Milia and handed it to them? How knew that the other kings harmed us in our faith and that the Turk did not. Give him money and you can lead him by the head. And, so that we would not perish in Hell he gave it to the Turk and God keeps the Turk as a dog to guard us…”. This was Saint Kosmas’ riposte to the West-leaning, pro-unionists.

As well as the conquest of the City, the crusaders agreed (the treaty was signed under the walls) to set up a Frankish-Latin State of Constantinople and the partition of the empire (partitio Romaniae was the term used, which preserves the real name of the “Byzantine” empire: Romania). All the actions of the Frankish invaders, however, were based on the premise of the seamless interweaving of political and ecclesiastical matters, a state of affairs which obtained in the Latin West and the Roman East until recent centuries. So after the election of an emperor (Count Baldwin of Flanders), a Latin patriarch was appointed (the Venetian, Tomasso Morosini). In parallel with the foundation of Frankish statelets throughout the length and breadth of the Roman realm, Latin ecclesiastical regions were also created, with a Papist hierarchy. So the occasions for friction between the Frankish conquerors and the Orthodox subject peoples had a dual source: political, but, more importantly, ecclesiastical. The installation of Latin hierarchy in all the Frankish statelets was aimed at the subjection of the Orthodox population to the authority of the Papal throne and the Frankish princes.

 It is a fact that the Papal throne, in the person of the bombastic Pope Innocent III and with the Frankish domination, also sought to expand its political support in the East and to bring the Orthodox Church into direct subjection to the Pope of Rome. This, in any case, had been the unflinching purpose of the Papacy since the schism. Besides, the submission of the Orthodox Church to the Pope had been promised by Alexios, pretender to the throne of Constantinople and son of the deposed emperor Isaak II Angelos (1195-1204), when he sought Papal assistance. The doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, supported the election of Tomasso Morosini as the first Latin patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual leader of the Latin empire. But the Latin emperor, Baldwin,  also became a willing subject of the Pope of Rome, who, on his part, offered his support to the new emperor in return. Of greater value to the Pope and his state than the spoils was the imposition of Latin prestige in the East. For this reason, the Latin hierarchy was organized appropriately in order to wage an effective battle for the conversion and subjugation of the Orthodox. Anyone who did not recognize the Latin emperor and the Latin hierarchy was labelled a schismatic.

 The organization of the battle for the subjection of the Orthodox East to the Pope was placed in the hands of his legates. This spiritual campaign brought turmoil to the Orthodox hierarchy. Many Orthodox hierarchs fled to the new Greek states, Nicea, Trebizond and Epirus). The Orthodox hierarchs who remained on their thrones were subjected to constant pressure to submit to the Papal throne, while Latins were consecrated to vacant or “widowed” sees. Twenty-two archbishoprics (metropoles) and fifty-six dioceses were added to the Latin Patriarchate of Constantinople, though without declaring subjection to the Pope. “The imposition of Frankish rule on the lands of the empire, however, … became a new cause of general conflict between the local populations and their conquerors from the West”.

 In order to deal with Orthodox resistance and facilitate the subjugation of the broader masses to Papal doctrine, Pope Innocent invented the fiendish institution of the Unia at the Lateran Council in 1215. This institution of the Unia, which was later employed as a siege engine and “Trojan horse” in regions of the Orthodox East, remains to this day the most substantial obstacle to Orthodox -Roman Catholic dialogue and the most serious impediment to the vision of unity. The overall effect, however, was negative since the Uniate surge into the East (through the Jesuit Order), helped local people to become all the more devoted to Orthodoxy. The Council accepted the retention of the ecclesiastical customs of the Orthodox, asking of them merely to recognize the primacy of the Pope (and the institution of the Papacy in general) and, thus, subjection to the Papal throne. This tactic provoked greater and sharper conflicts.

The position of the Orthodox Church in the Latin-held regions became really tragic. Such hierarchs as were not hounded out and remained in their sees were deprived of Church lands, which were seized by the Latins, and lost all freedom, so that pastoral care, if not impossible, certainly became very difficult. According to the late Professor Yerasimos Konidaris, the Orthodox hierarchs who fled Latin-held territories performed a negative service to Orthodoxy” because they did not do the Latins the favour of submitting to them”. In the regions where the Latin clergy infiltrated, the institution of the Protopapades came into play. These acted as head of the Orthodox congregations but without the right to ordain, since they were not bishops. So Orthodox people were further humiliated, although the Protopapades as a whole responded with zeal and conscientiousness to their work (in the Ionian Islands, Crete and elsewhere). The institution of Protopapades also facilitated the resolution of other serious problems. In order for the Orthodox hierarchs to retain their thrones, Innocent set certain conditions: a) they were to be asked if they accepted the Pope as head, otherwise they would be deposed and their seat taken over by a Latin “bishop”; b) at the beginning of Latin rule, the bishops who remained had to be anointed, but this term was soon withdrawn; c) the Latin patriarch of Constantinople was given the right by the Pope to consecrate Orthodox hierarchs in Orthodox areas, and, if this was not accepted, to consecrate Latins; d) Since the Churches had been given over to the Latins, the people were often forced to take part in their worship. As has been shown, however, this “common worship” of Orthodox and Latins was, as a rule, out of necessity and cannot be considered a free act or choice on the part of the Orthodox, and so we cannot talk here about “sacramental intercommunion”.

Of course, the presence of the Grace and Love of God for the pressurized Orthodox was often tangible. So it was that the Latin bishops, with their feudal mentality, generally did not stay long in the physical location of their sees, as was the case in Crete, for example, which they visited only to collect their revenues. It is, moreover, certain that that the clergy sent by the Pope to the Orthodox East were, by and large, not the best, even in the field of education and so their influence over the Orthodox population remained very limited. The Orthodox populations stayed faithful to their own religious leadership (the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which found a variety of ways with which to keep in touch with its flock and keep it together in its pastoral tradition. The Venetians, in particular, took care to appoint their own clerics, partly because of the opposition of Venice to Rome and the Pope, but also because of the nationalist spirit of La Serenissima (“Venetians first, then Christians”). In their broad stratification, it was difficult for the people to be influenced by the Latin factor, and this was true even for the upper classes, very few of whom went over completely to Latinism, whereas most practiced political and diplomatic deceit against the Unionists and Latins, with great success. Most of the Roman Catholics in Greece today are descendants of Latin families who settled in the East, as is clear from their surnames.

In closing this brief review we may make some observations by way of conclusions:

a) As Professor Vlas. Feidas aptly points out: “The consequences of this inevitable diversion on the part of the crusaders were painful for the relations between the Churches of the East and West, since, on the one hand the ecclesiastical nature of the relations was altered, and, on the other, the schism became charged with a variety of political and social objections by the Byzantines to any Western presence at all in the East”. The average Romios (“Byzantine”) would quickly realize the enormous significance of the first capture of the City and the dissolution of the empire of New Rome. Indeed, the longer Frankish rule continued, the more the antipathy towards the Latin Franks was transformed into unanimity. It was only the Unionists who had any time for Old Rome. Because of the rupture in the unity of the local nationalities living inside the empire after 1204, the factor of nationality (provenance) began to be stressed, with the appearance of an early form of nationalism. Indeed, the wound to national prestige would eventually give rise to the Great Idea, as a desire for the recapture of Constantinople and a restoration of the empire. This idea would be taken to heart and cultivated in various guises, especially in Church circles.

b) The gulf between East and West, which began to open in 1054, now became unbridgeable. The Franks demonstrated that they not only “lurked privily” for our life, but also something more precious: our very faith (Saint Kosmas Aitolos; cf. Prov. 1, 18 [trans. note]).

c) This is why all the efforts towards unity on the part of the emperors of New Rome from the 11th to the 14th centuries failed, and why the unifying council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-9) was rejected with such passion. Indeed, the distrust towards Papism and the Christian West in general continued throughout the time of Ottoman and Venetian rule, so that to this day it is deeply embedded and might be expressed, slightly amended, as: “Timeo Latinos et dona ferentes”!

d) The crusades, particularly the fourth, with the breakup and dissolution of the empire  of New Rome, gave indirect impetus to the development and fortification of Islam. Constantinople was, indeed, recaptured in 1261, but never recovered its erstwhile power and vitality. As Mme. Hélène Glykatzi-Arweiler has rightly pointed out, after 1204 Constantinople was a city waiting to be lost.

e) But the fourth crusade also proved to be of momentous significance for developments in Europe. “A new world began to be produced in the West which, after various adjustments would shape the face of Europe for centuries to come”. I can think of no more fitting conclusion than a reference by that great scholar of 1204, Sir Edwin Pears, to the path taken by Europe: “The results of the Fourth Crusade upon European civilization were altogether disastrous. The light of Greek civilization, which Byzantium had kept burning for nearly nine centuries after Constantine had chosen it as his capital, was suddenly extinguished. The hardness, the narrowness and the Hebraicism of Western civilization were left to develop themselves with little admixture from the joyousness and the beauty of Greek life […] The crime of the Fourth Crusade handed over Constantinople and the Balkan Peninsula to six centuries of barbarism and rendered futile the attempts of Innocent and subsequent statesmen to recover Syria and Asia Minor to Christendom and civilization. If we would understand the full significance of the Latin conquest of Constantinople, we must try to realize what might now be the condition of Western Europe, if the Romania of six centuries ago had not been destroyed” (The Fall of Constantinople, pp. 412-3).

This is precisely why, today, it would take a move of seismic proportions on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, beyond any mere apology- and certainly not by Papism itself- to create the necessary trust in our relations. And this action can never be the cultivation of secular, friendly relations and the non-theological pleasantries of annual meetings, but the genuine repentance of Papism, with the rejection of Papist dogmas and of its existence as a state. Because it is these considerations that give rise to crusades and their spirit. Until then, Orthodox all over the world can wait and pray.