"Nothing changed fundamentally in the Western narrative, marked by an almost total amnesia concerning Byzantium, by an incurable Eurocentrism, and by a willful blindness to the enormity of Roman fraud. [This] feeds our ignorance, prejudice, and hostility toward her spiritual heir: Orthodox Russia. History repeats itself."
The coming Russian millennium
“Russianism” is the promise of a future culture as the evening shadows grows longer and longer over the Western world. The distinctions between Russian and Western spirit cannot be drawn too sharply. As deep a cleavage as there is between the spirit, religion, politics, and economics of England, Germany, America, and France, when compared with Russia these nations suddenly appear as a unified world.
So wrote Oswald Spengler in Prussian Socialism, published in 1919, between the two volumes of The Decline of the West. In the latter, Spengler also predicted that after the collapse of the “Faustian West”, a new civilizational force would arise in Russia.
The Faustian West opposes this with all its might. But whatever happens, the sun will rise in the East for European peoples. The revival of faith and moral values in Russia are there to stay, thanks to a strong alliance between State and Church for the defense of traditional family values. To measure the distance with the West, let me simply recall the federal law ratified in 2013 prohibiting and punishing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations in front of minors” We can only dream of it here. On December 4, 2015, Vladimir Putin, addressing the Federal Assembly of Russia as every year, put at the top of Russia’s priorities “healthy families and a healthy nation, [and] the traditional values which we inherited from our forefathers.” For this alone Russia has now become the axis of civilization toward which Europe should gravitate.
“Our salvation will come from Russia,” stated French opposition leader Alain Soral four years ago (watch it here, and more videos with English subs here). Given the moral degeneracy of the French population, Soral wished that NATO’s warlike provocations against Russia would ultimately force Putin to wage a preventive blitzkrieg on Western Europe. This, he said, could “create the conditions for a national revolution to restore France.” Soral’s predictions have often proven right, for example when, in Understand the Empire, published ten years ago and now translated in English, he saw the West moving toward “global governance in the name of public health under the diktat of the World Health Organization,” using pandemics as “another phony construct that will allow the global oligarchy to terrorize entire populations and subjugate them to authoritarian policies: mandatory vaccination under the supervision of armed forces, assembly bans, and so on.” Spot on!
The view that a spiritual and moral revival may come to Europe from Russia appears more convincing every day. Russia fulfills all the conditions for a fruitful equilibrium between nationalism and Christianity. Russian Orthodoxy is the union between a nation and her Church. This makes a whole difference with Catholicism. Imagine that Putin had to seek the blessing of an Argentinian pope in Rome! No patriotic momentum could come out of it. More than 70 percent of Russians identify as Orthodox Christians because Orthodoxy means Russianness.
The Russian Church also has karma on her side: a heavy toll of martyrs under Lenin and Stalin. Although it has not absolutely lived up to this role, the Russian Church symbolizes the resistance of faith against the Communist dictatorship and its ideological materialism, and it can claim to have been resurrected on the blood of the martyrs.
Very cleverly, some would say, the Church canonized the Romanov family, who are now honored at the Church of All Saints, built on the site of their execution by Jewish Bolsheviks. While America unbolts the statues of its heroes, Russia discovers new ones and makes demigods out of them. Just imagine a Catholic church being consecrated in honor of JFK on the site of his execution by the Jewish mafia.
Building and rebuilding churches is a key part of rebuilding the Church. The first and most symbolic of the tens of thousands of beautiful churches opened since 1991 is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, not far from the Kremlin. It had been blown up in 1931, and rebuilt 60 years later thanks to massive investments by both the government and private businesses.
The architecture of most Russian churches, old or new, bears a decidedly national character. The domed basilicas are in fact an elaboration of the Byzantine style. And this is quite natural, because Muscovite Russia is the spiritual heir of Byzantium. The double-headed eagle on the coat of arms of Russia was given to Ivan the Great (1462-1505) as a dowry when he married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor. The dying Constantinople thus entrusted her soul to Moscow. From then on, Russia was the only Orthodox kingdom. Assuming Moscow was now the Third Rome, Russian rulers took the title “tsar”, the Slavicization of “Caesar”.
The conversion to Byzantine Orthodoxy dates back to Kievan Russia, when King Vladimir (980-1015) was baptized and wedded to a sister of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II. It is told that Vladimir embraced Christianity rather than Islam or Judaism after his emissaries told him of the beauty of Byzantine worship in Constantinople:
“we knew not whether we were in heaven on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and were are at a loss how to describe it. We only jnow that God dwells among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.”
Vladimir and his son Yaroslav had Byzantine architects build in Kiev a Saint-Sophia basilica inspired by that of Constantinople. From that time on, explains John Meyendorff in Byzantium and the Rise of Russia: “the influence of Byzantine civilization upon Russia became the determining factor of Russian civilization.” During the schism of 1054, and during all the vicissitudes of Constantinople, Russia remained faithful to the Byzantine rite. Even after 1261, when Constantinople was only a shadow of its glorious past, it retained its prestige and influence over Slavic lands, and in particular over the great principality of Moscow.
As Nicolai Berdyaev wrote in The Russian Idea (1946), Russia “unites two worlds, and within the Russian soul two principles are always engaged in strife — the Eastern and the Western.” In this inner tension also, Russia is heir to Byzantium, the former bridge between Asia and Europe.
Russia never forgot Constantinople. Catherine II, Empress of all the Russias from 1762 to her death in 1796, hoped to rebuild the Byzantine Empire by including Greece, Thrace and Bulgaria, and pass it on to her grandson Constantine. If the Ottoman Empire survived, it was mainly thanks to the British. In the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Sultan received help from the United Kingdom and France, who imposed the Treaty of Paris on Russia. Twenty years later, Tsar Alexander II once again went to war against the Ottomans who had just drowned the uprising of the Serbs and the Bulgarians in a bloodbath. The Ottomans capitulated with the Russians at the gates of Istanbul. But the British Empire and Austria-Hungary came to the Ottomans’ rescue and, at the Congress of Berlin, returned to them the Christian nations emancipated by the Tsar, including Armenia, for her greatest misfortune.
In this article, I wish to show that the geostrategy of the Great Game, by which the British and now the Americans are trying to dig a trench between Russia and Europe, is the continuation of a war waged by Western Europe against the Byzantine Empire from the eleventh to the fifteenth century. This thesis seems paradoxical if one thinks that Constantinople is now called Istanbul, but not if one understands the spiritual filiation between Constantinople and Moscow. And if we understand this filiation, then a thousand-year-old background suddenly appears behind the geopolitical conflict that is currently taking place. It is this background that I would like to draw here in broad strokes. Or rather redraw, because it is known in the West in an inverted version which is, obviously, the version of the victor. This kind of revisionism is, in my opinion, a necessary condition for Europe to come to terms with her Eurasian destiny.
Russia is somehow haunted by imperial Byzantium. It is so despite herself, for Russians themselves do not feel an imperial calling, and might actually suffer in their national identity for going imperial. It is Europe that needs Russia as a new beacon of civilization, like it needed Constantinople throughout the Middle Ages. For Europe cannot exist without some form of imperial or federal unity; and since there can be no unity without leadership, the choice is now between the US (ruling through NATO and the UE) and Russia.
In The Origins of Nationalism (a book I learned about in James Lawrence’s interesting article), Caspar Hirschi puts forward the thesis that political thought in Europe throughout the Middle Ages was dominated by the imperial vision: “medieval culture, at least on the upper strata, can be described as a secondary Roman civilisation.” The great European nations emerged while trying to inherit the Empire, through “an intense and endless competition for supremacy; all major kingdoms aimed for universal dominion, yet prevented each other from achieving it.” I find this perspective quite enlightening. However, when Hirschi describes the order that emerged in the twelfth century as “the product of an enduring and forceful anachronism,” he is misled by the prejudice common to Western historians: the Roman Empire was not then — or not only — a distant memory, but a living reality. Rome was then Constantinople. This is why, until the Great Schism, all the pretenders to the Roman heritage competed for matrimonial alliances with the Byzantine dynasty, starting with Charlemagne (who wanted to marry his daughter Rotrude to the son of Empress Irene), Otto Ist (who married his son, the future Otto II, to the Byzantine princess Theophanu, mother of Otto III), then Hugh Capet (who solicited a Byzantine princess for himself, without success). Until Frederick II Hohenstaufen (1215-1250), the last hope for reuniting East and West, Western imperial ceremonial rituals were borrowed from Byzantium. It is only to the extent that, by mimetic rivalry, Western kings assumed an imperial posture (Philipp II by calling himself August, for example), that they saw their kingdoms as more than just territorial possessions. Civilization always belonged to the empire.
Whether we like it or not, Europe has never really been a Europe of nations without imperial unity, at least as a vision and goal. She never will. Ever since the Second World War, after Germany’s failure to gain leadership and the ruin of the British empire engineered by Roosevelt, Europe has de facto been part of the American imperium. To break free from it, Europeans have only one way to go: being pulled into the civilizational field of Russia, which, like Byzantium, is less an empire than an Oikoumene, a community. And this requires an overture to Russian Orthodoxy, for it is the root of Russian civilization.
We, Westerners, don’t know what Russia is, because we don’t know what Byzantium was. The Byzantine civilization was at the center of the known world during the thousand years of the Middle Ages, yet you can spend years studying “the Middle Ages” at university without ever hearing about it. Nothing has really changed since Paul Stephenson complained in 1972: “The excision of Byzantine history from medieval European studies does indeed seem to me an unforgivable offense against the very spirit of history.”
When Western historiography mentions the Byzantine Empire, it is almost as a ghost of the Western Roman Empire. According to the paradigm of the translatio imperii fabricated by Catholic historiography, the Eastern Roman Empire is only the transfer of the Roman Empire from Italy to the Bosphorus, soon to be transferred again to Aachen. But this representation is misleading. When Constantine established his capital at Byzantium, Rome had ceased to be the capital of the Empire for half a century, having been replaced by Milan after the “Crisis of the Third Century”. It is admitted that Constantine himself set foot in Rome only once, to conquer it from Maxentius. Like his father Constantius Chlorus, Constantine was from the Balkans (born in Naissus, today Niš in Serbia), in the region then called Moesia. So did his predecessor Diocletian, who is given as “ Duke of Moesia” in Byzantine chronicles, and whose palace can still be seen in Split, today in Croatia.
The common idea that Constantinople is a pale copy of Rome is therefore singularly lacking in historical perspective. Constantinople was the daughter of Athens, not Rome. Its philosophical, scientific, poetic, mythological and artistic traditions came directly from classical Greece, without any Roman contribution. It was Constantinople that transmitted the cultural wealth of Greece to Rome. Without the conservation work of the Imperial Library of Constantinople, we would not know Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, or Euclid. In Constantinople, the light of classical Greece has never suffered an eclipse. While Constantinople knows the conflict between Christianity and humanism, the dual culture has never been questioned, and it was Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople from 858 to 867, who became the best advocate of the Macedonian Renaissance by his work of conservation of ancient Greek books.
Greek culture radiated from Constantinople to the confines of the known world, from Persia to Egypt and from Ireland to Spain. The eleventh and twelfth centuries saw a vast movement of translation from Greek into Latin of philosophical and scientific works (medicine, mathematics, geography, astronomy, etc.). In Aristote au mont Saint-Michel. Les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne (translated in German and Greek, but not in English), historian Sylvain Gouguenheim debunks the common opinion that the spread of Greek philosophy and science in the Middle Ages is to be credited mostly to Muslims. The Greek heritage was transmitted to Italian cities directly from Constantinople. Between the fifth and thirteenth centuries, Europe gravitated towards Constantinople.
If this reality escapes us today, it is because of our incurable eurocentrism, that Oswald Spengler denounced, but in vain:
The ground of West Europe is treated as a steady pole, a unique patch chosen on the surface of the sphere for no better reason, it seems, than because we live on it — and great histories of millennial duration and mighty far-away Cultures are made to revolve around this pole in all modesty. It is a quaintly conceived system of sun and planets. We select a single bit of ground as the natural centre of the historical system, and make it the central sun. From it all the events of history receive their real light, from it their importance is judged in perspective. But it is in our own West-European conceit alone that this phantom “world-history,” which a breath of scepticism would dissipate, is acted out.
To understand what separated Constantinople from Rome, let’s first keep in mind that Constantinople was born Christian, while in Rome, Christianity was an imported Oriental cult. It was Constantinople that gave Christianity to Rome, not the other way around. The doctrinal unity of the Church was elaborated and agreed near Constantinople, through the so-called “ecumenical councils” (connecting the Oikoumene, that is, the world placed under the authority of the emperor), whose participants were almost exclusively Easterners. Christopher Dawson reminds us of this evidence in Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (1950), and insists:
Thus, unlike Christian Byzantium, Christian Rome represents only a brief interlude between paganism and barbarism. There were only eighteen years between Theodosius’ closing of the temples and the first sack of the Eternal City by the barbarians. The great age of the Western Fathers from Ambrose to Augustin was crammed into a single generation, and St. Augustine died with the Vandals at the gate.”
The political structure of Constantinople is also very different from that of Rome. The Latin military terms of imperium and imperator are inadequate to describe the Byzantine world. What we now call the Byzantine Empire called itself a basiliea, a kingdom, headed by a basileus, a king — a Persian-style “king of kings” of sorts. Byzantium scholars describe the Byzantine world as a “Commonwealth”, that is, in the words of Dimitry Obolensky, “the supra-national idea of an association of Christian peoples, to which the emperor and the ‘ecumenical patriarch’ of Constantinople provided a symbolic leadership — even if each of these peoples was fully independent politically and economically.” Contrary to Romans, says Anthony Kaldellis, “The Byzantines were not a warlike people. […] Money, silk, and titles were the empire’s preferred instruments of governance and foreign policy, over swords and armies.”
Byzantine power has a two-headed structure, which Western historians pejoratively call “Caesaropapism”, but which Byzantines defined as a symphonia, a harmonious collaboration; supreme authority is held by the basileus, but on the condition of the blessing of the patriarch of Constantinople. The patriarch is the protector of orthodoxy, but the basileus is the keeper of all Christians. This balance of political and spiritual power means that, while the patriarch may occasionally play a diplomatic role, he does not exercise direct political power, and has never called for a “holy war”, nor for the burning of heretics. Thus coexist, on the margins of the Orthodox Church, a variety of independent Churches, such as the Armenian or the Maronite Churches. Even fully “Orthodox” churches still maintain a strong national identity, like the Serbians, with for example their family feast of Slava, a survival of ancestor worship.
The Great Schism
During the period called the “Byzantine Papacy” (537-752). Rome was a declining town, while Ravenna, taken back from the Ostrogoths by Justinian (527-565), was the western capital of the Byzantine Empire, ruled by the representative of the emperor called the “exarch”. The bishop of Rome (who shared with all bishops the affectionate Greek title of pappas) was directly appointed by the Byzantine emperor or his exarch, usually from among the “apocrisiaries” (ambassadors in Constantinople) of his predecessor.
Ravenna is a Byzantine city, as evidenced by its Basilica of San Vitale, with its mosaics. The reason icons of the emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora are displayed there is because a basilica means a “royal” (basilikos) building intended to house public meetings under the authority of the basileus. Etymology betrays what textbook history is hiding.
Justinian and dignitaries, mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna
The first serious crisis in the conciliar unity of the Church was initiated by Pope Gregory I (590-604), notoriously Hellenophobic like his mentor Augustine. He challenged the Patriarch of Constantinople on the use of the title “ecumenical”, then, in 602, when the Emperor Maurice was slaughtered with all his family by a factious general named Phocas, he congratulated the usurper. The latter, shunned by the patriarch, seized the hand extended by Rome and issued an imperial proclamation officially placing the Church of Rome at “the head of all the Churches”.
In 751, the Lombards captured Ravenna and, twenty years later, marched on Rome. Charlemagne subdued the Lombards and exploited the supremacist claims of the bishop of Rome for his own imperial ambition. On the ground that the Franks were absent from the Second Council of Nicaea (787), he ignored it and sparked a liturgical dispute by defending a version of the Creed different from the Nicene Creed; according to the latter, the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” (ex Patre procedit), but a different formula originating from the Visigoths affirmed that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and of the Son” (ex Patre Filioque procedit). The variant, although unquestionably heterodox, did not arouse serious controversy until Charlemagne decided that it would be the only authorized and compulsory one. The Filioque became the pretext for the Frankish emperors and popes to undermine the authority of Constantinople, and for the schism of 1054.
In 1048, the Germanic Emperor Henry III (1017-1056) appointed as pope his cousin Bruno of Eguisheim-Dagsbourg. But after the death of Henry III, popes and emperors (all Franks) entered into a power struggle. This started the Gregorian Reform, named after Gregory VII, whose project was to make the papacy the seat of a new imperial power. He proclaimed himself the sole head of the universal Church and postulated, in his Dictatus Papae in 27 proposition:
2. That only the Bishop of Rome is by law called universal. 3. That he alone can depose or reinstate bishops. […] 8. That he alone may use the imperial insignia. 9. That the Pope is the only man whose feet shall be kissed by all princes. […] 12. That he may depose Emperors. […] 19. That he must not be judged by anyone. […] 22. That the Roman church has never erred, nor, as witness Scripture, will ever do so.
The new psychological weapon of excommunication, by which the pope could stir popular unrest and release the subjects of the emperor from their oath of loyalty, forced Henry IV to kneel before the pope at Canossa (1077).
As they gained ascendancy over emperors and kings, popes conspired against Constantinople, with not only theological weapons, but also military might, by mobilizing the formidable Frankish warrior class in holy wars. Byzantines were justifiably worried when, in 1095, they saw the coming of the army raised by Pope Urban II for the “liberation” of Jerusalem, under the command of a papal legate. “[Emperor] Alexios and his advisers saw the approaching crusade not as the arrival of long-awaited allies but rather as a potential threat to the Oikoumene,” writes Jonathan Harris.
The First Crusade resulted in the establishment of four Latin states in Syria and Palestine, which formed the basis of a Frankish presence which lasted until 1291. In 1198, Jerusalem having been recaptured by Saladin, the young Pope Innocent III proclaimed a new crusade, the fourth according to modern numbering. This time, the Byzantines’ fear of a hidden agenda proved fully justified. In 1204, instead of going to Jerusalem via Alexandria as officially announced, the Frankish knights moved toward Constantinople, took it by force and sacked it during three days. Palaces, churches, monasteries, libraries were systematically pillaged, and the city became a shambles. British historian Steven Runciman wrote:
There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade. Not only did it cause the destruction or dispersal of all the treasures of the past that Byzantium had devotedly stored, and the mortal wounding of a civilization that was still active and great ; but it was also an act of gigantic political folly. It brought no help to the Christians in Palestine. Instead it robbed them of potential helpers. And it upset the whole defense of Christendom … In the wide sweep of world history the effects were wholly disastrous. Since the inception of its Empire Byzantium had been the guardian of Europe against the infidel East and the barbarian North. She had opposed them with her armies and tamed them with her civilization. She had passed through many anxious periods when it had seemed that her doom had come, but hitherto she had survived them.
As a whole, the Crusades not only dealt a mortal blow to the Eastern Christian empire they claimed to save. They have also dug an unbridgeable divide between the Muslim world and the Christian world. The crusaders’s massacre in Jerusalem in 1099, in particular, left an incurable wound, as Runciman noted:
It was this bloodthirsty proof of Christian fanaticism that recreated the fanaticism of Islam. When, later, wiser Latins in the East sought to find some basis on which Christian and Moslem could work together, the memory of the massacre stood always in their way.
The Franco-Latin Empire of the East, built on the smoking ruins of Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade, lasted only half a century. The Byzantines, entrenched in Nicaea (Iznik), slowly regained part of their former territory and, in 1261, under the command of Michael VIII Palaiologos, drove the Franks and Latins from Constantinople. But the city was only the ghost of her former self. Pope Urban IV immediately preached a new crusade, this time directed explicitly against the Byzantines. His call aroused few vocations. But in 1281, Pope Martin IV supported the project of Charles of Anjou to retake Constantinople to found a new Catholic empire. Ultimately, Constantinople would fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
The falsification of history
Although the Fourth Crusade caused the destruction of priceless treasures (two thirds of the books mentioned by Photios in his Bibliotheca are lost forever), it was the starting point of a cultural transfer that culminated in the Council of Florence in 1438. “Culturally,” writes Jerry Brotton in The Renaissance Bazaar, “the transmission of classical texts, ideas, and art objects from east to west that took place at the Council was to have a decisive effect on the art and scholarship of late 15th-century Italy.” And when, after 1453, the last byzantine scholars and artists fled the Ottoman domination, many came to contribute to the Italian Renaissance.
But at the same time as they appropriated the Greek heritage, the Italian humanists and clerics affected to ignore their debt to Constantinople, even using philhellenism to denigrate the Byzantines. As Runciman writes:
Western Europe, with ancestral memories of jealousy of Byzantine civilization, with its spiritual advisers denouncing the Orthodox as sinful schismatics, and with a haunting sense of guilt that it had failed the city at the end, chose to forget about Byzantium. It could not forget the debt that it owed to the Greeks; but it saw the debt as being owed only to the Classical age.
There was not only a denial of the debt to Constantinople, but a systematic falsification of history. Even today, the sack of Constantinople in 1204 is commonly blamed on an unfortunate series of unforeseen events which drew the crusaders to Constantinople against their will; or else the Venetian bankers, creditors of the crusaders, are designated as the sole instigators of this diversion. Applied to contemporary history, the first theory would amount to asserting that the United States destroyed Iraq, Libya and Syria inadvertently, while trying to bring them Democracy. The second theory, on the other hand, forgets that it was mainly Franks who destroyed Constantinople, and that even Western chronicles admit that the papal legates embarked with the Crusaders did nothing to discourage them. All of Latin Christendom was in fact invited to rejoice in Rome’s victory, and hymns were sung to celebrate the fall of the impious city, likened to the Biblical Babylon.
Concerning the First Crusade, we are still taught that it was the generous response of the Roman Church to a desperate appeal from the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos struggling against the Seljuk Turks. This is indeed how Latin chroniclers presented it, quoting a letter from Alexios to the Count of Flanders in which the first humbly implored the help of the second. This letter is now considered a forgery. The thesis that “the first crusade did not have as its initial goal the constitution of organized states in the Holy Land [but] delivering the Holy Places,” to quote a recent book on the subject, is utterly naive and does not stand up to even superficial scrutiny. The truth is that, just like today, the holy war against Islam hid a project of destabilization and conquest of the Middle East. To take just one example: one of the main crusading leaders, Bohemond of Taranto, was the son of the Norman Robert Guiscard who, with the blessing of the pope, had already tried to seize Constantinople in 1081. During a diplomatic tour of Europe in 1105-1107, Bohemond raised funds and troops for a new expedition directed expressly against Constantinople, by distributing copies of the Gesta Francorum, an account of the crusade written for his own glorification and presenting “the Abominable Emperor” Alexios as a traitor whose every action was motivated solely by the destruction of the Crusader army. This seminal text of the historiography of the Crusades, which contributed more than any other to the negative image of the Byzantines, effeminate and deceitful, and to the heroic image of the Franks, is a good example of medieval propaganda.
Crusades were not only directed to the East. In the wake of the Fourth Crusade, Innocent III decreed a new holy war against all heretics (meaning Christians who rejected his absolute authority) in the South of France. With unheard of cruelty, Simon de Montfort, a petty lord of Île-de-France, grabbed huge parts of the vast County of Toulouse, and forced the population to attend Catholic mass “in its entirety” every Sunday (Statuts de Pamiers, 1212). Several crusades were also directed against the Baltic region, and one against Orthodox Russia itself, led by the Teutonic Knights, repelled by Alexander Nevsky (1221-1263), today a national saint.
The falsification of medieval history goes far beyond the Crusades. The Catholic version of the doctrinal controversies that preceded them is singularly biased. It is founded on a forgery of industrial scale. The first biographies of Roman popes included in the Liber Pontificalis, presenting them as occupying the “throne of Saint Peter” in an unbroken chain going back to the first apostle of Christ, are now considered fictitious, and so is the Acta Petri, which transposed in Rome the contest between Peter and Simon Magus located in Samaria in Acts 8:9-23. The legend of Peter in Rome tells us nothing about real events, but rather informs us about the propaganda deployed by the papacy to claim precedence over the Eastern Church. (Constantinople responded by claiming, as founding bishop, Peter’s brother Andrew, whom the Gospels designate as the first to have responded to the call of Christ.)
The most famous medieval forgery of the Frankish popes is the Donation of Constantine the Great, by which the Emperor supposedly ceded to the “Pope of the Universe” all “the western provinces”, and entrusted him with the government of “all the churches of God throughout the world”. This forgery was the centerpiece of a hundred other forged decrees or synodal acts, attributed to early popes or other dignitaries of the Church, and known today as the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals . The main purpose of these forged documents was to invent precedents for the exercise of the sovereign authority of the Bishop of Rome over all bishops, on the one hand, and over all sovereigns, on the other. We must also mention the Symmachians Forgeries, fictitious legal precedents used to immunize the pope against any accusation. Charlemagne’s father was also put to use with the false Donation of Pepin.
It was not until 1440, when Byzantium was besieged by the Ottomans and had just surrendered at the Council of Florence, that the fraudulent nature of the Donation of Constantine was recognized. But nothing changed fundamentally in the Western narrative, marked by an almost total amnesia concerning Byzantium, by an incurable Eurocentrism, and by a willful blindness to the enormity of Roman fraud.
To repeat: Constantinople’s near-complete obliteration from the European history books is arguably the greatest deception in all of European history. The reasons for this concealment have changed, but have not disappeared. For, as I said, our ignorance and prejudice about Constantinople feeds our ignorance, prejudice, and hostility toward her spiritual heir: Orthodox Russia. History repeats itself.
The story that the bishop of Rome created for himself as the head of Christendom needs some serious work of revisionism. This is a work that Greek historians have naturally taken up. Jean Meyendorff and Aristeides Papadakis remind us that before the twelfth century, “the pope’s fragile hold upon Western Christendom was largely imaginary. The parochial world of Roman politics was actually the papacy’s only domain.”
Roman Catholicism has now come full circle. Who listens to the pope, nowadays? It turns out that the Catholic church, by deliberately sabotaging the conciliar organism of the Church, has ultimately failed in her hegemonic plan and now finds herself cut off from the Orthodox revival.
Roman Catholicism, as a belief system and as a worship practice, is almost dead. The same is true of its Protestant offshoots. Oswald Spengler wrote in Prussian Socialism (1919):
For us citizens of the Western world, religion is finished. In our urban souls what was once true religiosity has long since been intellectualized to “problematics.” The Church reached its fulfillment at the Council of Trent. Puritanism has turned into capitalism, and Pietism is now socialism. The Anglo-American sects represent merely the nervous businessman’s need for theological pastimes.
On the other hand, Russian Orthodoxy is full of life, and breathes a vigorous soul into Russian society. So it seems to me that Europe can only be pulled out of its current spiritual and moral crisis by entering into Russia’s orbit. Therefore, Catholics should work with humility toward the reconciliation of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. For that, they need a history lesson, which I just gave them. French Catholics, in particular, must understand that their roman national (France as the eldest daughter of the Church) is, just like the papal narrative on which it is dependent, a construction that borders on falsification and, in the eyes of the Orthodox, the sign of a diabolical arrogance. It is a sterile and dangerous delusion.
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