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Scenes from Church History I

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  • Andrew Morbey
    ARSENITE SCHISM The Arsenite schism against which Theoleptos of Philadelphia fought is extremely interesting. Like the Meletian schism of the 4th century it is
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 26, 2001
      The Arsenite schism against which Theoleptos of Philadelphia fought is
      extremely interesting. Like the Meletian schism of the 4th century it
      is an example of a schism being - in a sense - both right and wrong at
      the same time - right with regard to principle, but wrong in the
      conclusions drawn from those principles and above all wrong pitting
      selected, correct principles over against the Church.

      The Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos conspired to murder the regent of
      the child emperor John IV Laskaris in 1258. He then made himself
      co-emperor, had the youth blinded three years later, and took the throne
      as sole emperor. For this, he was excommunicated by the Patriarch
      Arsenios. In retaliation, Michael deposed the Patriarch, in 1265. In
      his place the Emperor elevated Germanos as Patriarch, but opposition to
      this uncanonical act led Germanos to abdicate in 1266. The next
      Patriarch, Joseph I, was Michael's own confessor, and in 1267 he
      absolved Michael of blinding John Laskaris, and lifted the
      excommunication imposed by Arsenios. The deposed Arsenios had many
      sympathizers, not least the supporters of the Laskarid dynasty.
      Supporters of Arsenios, on the basis of both personal loyalty and the
      canon law of the Church, rejected and opposed Patriarch Joseph and the
      Emperor. This division was naturally exacerbated by the Emperor and
      Patriarch's support of the Union of Lyons, which was seen as a further
      betrayal of Orthodoxy. The schism between the Arsenites and the imperial
      Church lasted 45 years, until 1310, when a reconciliation - not without
      its own curious aspects - was engineered by the Higher Church

      There were pressing ecclesiological dimensions to this schism:

      - a patriarch cannot be deposed by the civil authority, save for heresy;
      no one claimed any heresy on the part of Arsenius;
      - it was said that Arsenius had excommunicated Joseph, and thus
      Joseph's election and elevation was doubly invalid;
      - thus all of Joseph's sacramental and jurisdictional acts were invalid
      and void: all consecrations and ordinations performed by him were
      - further, all who accepted communion with him likewise incurred
      excommunication; and
      - an emperor crowned by an illegitimate patriarch jeopardises his
      claim to the throne - and Michael's successor - Andronikos II - had
      been crowned by Joseph. He was consequently illegitimate, even though
      he repudiated the Union, deposed Unionist bishops, upheld Orthodoxy.

      The Arsenites appeared to have canon law and justice in their favour,
      and on top of this they also attacked the Imperial Church and the
      hierarchy for being worldly and lax and they called for people to break
      communion with the Imperial Church not only for the aforementioned
      canonical reasons (to do with legitimacy), but in light of the laxity
      and vice of the clergy. Specifically they called on Christians to sever
      communion with the bishops of the Imperial Church, to disregard the
      parish clergy, to cease attending parish churches and to avoid any
      sacramental ministration of such clergy as remained in communion with
      the hierarchy. Theoleptos notes that as a result of the Arsenites'
      assault, the faithful were avoiding church, absenting themselves from
      the Holy Mysteries and public worship, disobeying their bishops,
      rejecting the counsel of the priests. Families were divided and breaking
      up as a result of Arsenite influence. The Arsenites encouraged their
      followers not to eat or drink, pray, or marry those in communion with
      the local Church.

      Theoleptos' anti-schismatic activity included delivering two lengthy
      discourses or tracts to his flock concerning the disorder arising out
      of Arsenite agitation. His major theme is that by turning their backs
      on the Church, the schismatics turn their backs on Christ and the
      salvation and edification uniquely offered them in the life of the
      Church. Although he admits that their opposition to the Union of Lyons
      and the Unionist policies of Michael VIII and his chosen church leaders
      was praiseworthy, he roundly denounces theirs as a destructive
      conservatism because directed against the Church. According to
      Theoleptos, the importance of the unity of the Church and our salvation
      through the Church means that in canonical and ecclesiastical matters
      oikonomia - prudent management - must take precedence over akrivia -
      strict application of principles. Even if the Arsenites are correct in
      condemning the meddling actions of the Emperor and the legitimacy of his
      puppet Patriarch, they are wrong to subvert the Church.

      (Based on Robert Sinkewicz's introduction to his translation of the
      Monastic Discourses)

      ps. But one of the most interesting things about Theoleptos was that,
      having had to struggle so hard against the damage of the Arsenites in
      his diocese, he was furious when, without being informed or consulted,
      a reconciliation with them was engineered in Constantinople. He broke
      communion - or walled himself off - from the Imperial Church for ten
      years - ruling his diocese without commemorating or heeding the Church
      authorities. Possibly out of respect for him - he bravely defended
      Philadelphia from the Turks - and fearing to provoke further dissension,
      especially amongst his wide-spread admirers - he was left alone and he
      more or less ruled his diocese in an autonomous fashion. Ultimately he
      was quietly reconciled and participated in Church life...
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