Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Caesaropapism in the Orthodox Church

The following is a contribution I made to Wikipedia (for the article Caesaropapism, which was surprisingly devoid of any discussion of Eastern Orthodox caesaropapism). I hope that the reader will find it useful for its succinct coverage of the definition, synonyms, the opponents of caesaropapism, Byzantine Empire caesaropapism, Russian caesaropapism, the decline of caesaropapism, and the reasons it happened:

Caesaropapism's chief meaning is the authority the Byzantine emperors had over the Eastern Christian Church from the 500s through the tenth century.{1}{2} The Byzantine emperor would typically protect the Eastern Church and manage its administration by presiding over councils and appointing patriarchs and setting territorial boundaries for their jurisdiction.{3} The emperor, whose control was so strong that "caesaropapism" became interchangeable with "Byzantinism", was called "pontifex maximus," meaning chief priest, and the Patriarch of Constantinople could not hold office if he did not have the emperor's approval.{4} Eastern men like St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople{5} and St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, strongly opposed imperial control over the Church, as did Western theologians like St. Hilary and Hosius, Bishop of Cardova.{6} Such emperors as Basiliscus, Zeno, Justinian I, Heraclius, and Constans II published several strictly ecclesiastical edicts either on their own without the mediation of church councils, or they exercised their own political influence on the councils to issue the edicts.{7} Caesaropapism was most notorious in Russia when Ivan IV the Terrible assumed the title Czar in 1547 and subordinated the Russian Orthodox Church to the state.{8} This level of caesaropapism far exceeded that of the Byzantine Empire.{9} Caesaropapism existed in the Orthodox Church in Turkey until 1923 and in Cyprus until 1977, when Archbishop Makrios III reposed.{10} However, in no way is caesaropapism a part of Orthodox dogma. The historical reality, as opposed to doctrinal endorsement or dogmatic definition, of caesaropapism stems from, according to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the confusion of the Byzantine Empire with the Kingdom of God and the zeal of the Byzantines "to establish here on earth a living icon of God's government in heaven."{11}

Notes and References
{1} Cross, F.L. & Livingstone, E.A. (1983), Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd ed.), Oxford: Oxford Unversity Press, p. 218.
{2} Douglas, J.D. (1978), The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (revised ed.), Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, p. 173.
{3} Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. II, 1985, pp. 718-719.
{4} Latourette, Kenneth Scott (1975), A History of Christianity to A.D. 1500, vol. I (revised ed.), San Francisco: Harper & Row, pp. 283; 312.
{5} Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. II, 1985, pp. 718-719.
{6} Dawson, Christopher (1956), The Making of Europe (2nd ed.), New York: Meridian Books, pp. 109-110.
{7} Schaff, Philip (1974), History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, vol. II (5th ed.), Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 135. Schaff was a Calvinist ecclesiastical historian.
{8} Bainton, Roland H. (1966), Christendom: A Short History of Christianity, vol. I, New York: Harper & Row, p. 119.
{9} Billington, James H. (1966), The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, New York: Random House, p. 67.
{10} Ware, Timothy (1980), The Orthodox Church (revised ed.), New York: Penguin Books, p. 98.
{11} Ware, Timothy (1980), The Orthodox Church (revised ed.), New York: Penguin Books, pp. 50.

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