Caesaropapism–really?

A common charge against Eastern political theory is that it turned the Emperor into a Pope and he ruled the church with an iron hand.  In other words, it was Erastianism on steroids.  John Meyendorff, however, has challenged this line of thought in Byzantium and the Rise of Russia.
Meyendorff writes,
“Abundant evidence, is indeed, available, and was quoted in the preceeding chapters, to show that the monks, while remaining faithful to imperial ideology, were also, in practice and in theory, opposed to caesaropapism.  They contributed to the formulation of the Byzantine Imperial idea along wthe more practical lines of a Commonwealth of Orthodox nations, acknowledging the idea supremacy of the Emperor. Furthermore, the Turkish threat seems to have led at least some of them to believe that the Slavic nations, and particularly Muscovite Russia, would be able to act as bulwarks of Orthodox Christianity, as Byzantium had done for centuries” (263).
“All this suggests that Byzantium’s covenant with Russian in the fourteenth century, as expressed by the hesychast monks controlling the patriarchate, was not caesaropapism, but rather the idea of a strong, unified Church, transcending national allegiances and political boundaries.  To the Russians, the Byzantine Emperor [and later the Tsar–JBA] was presented a supporter, not a master, of this Church” (264-265).
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2 Responses to “Caesaropapism–really?”

  1. I still remember one of Schmemann’s quotes from the book “Historical road of Eastern Orthodoxy” where he contrast what I recall he terms Byzantine symphony with Russian Tatarism.

    He makes an argument that in Russia the Church was much more tightly controlled by the state than in the Byzantine Empire where a harmony between the Emperor and his Patriarch existed (except for the Iconoclastic era maybe). The Oberprokuratur and the ironic fact that there was no Patriarch (from the time of Peter I) until the deposition of the Passionbearer Tsar Nicholas II, all speak for this. That a great tragedy befell the Church afterwards is another matter.

    So I am not quite sure about the end of the second quote. I would say the “Modern” Tsars were de facto masters of the Church, however they were still not the actual heads. We can also add to that the harsh treatment of Metropolitan Phillip by Ivan IV from the earlier times. Not even the Isaurians dared to do such a thing to a senior hierarch.

    Anyway, Cesaropapism still does not capture the essence of Church-State relations in Orthodox countries.

  2. tesla1389 Says:

    Hmmm….I think that is true. I think definitely after Peter the Great the state did dominate the church, and the harmony was better seen in Byzantium.

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