Short Catechism of Church History - J. Oechtering


And the Greek Schism

82. Q. What great dangers arose to threaten Christian civilization in the seventh century?

R. Mohammed, a native of Arabia, arose about the year 622 and taught a false religion, which he compiled from old pagan ideas and from the Christian and Jewish religions and embodied in the Koran. He was an impostor and an immoral man. He preached a blind ruling of fate, fanaticism, bloodshed, and the grossest immoralities. The great tenet of his faith is: "God alone is God, and Mohammed is his prophet."

83. Q. How did his religion succeed?

R. It preached bloody war against all nations, promised paradise to every Mohammedan who should fall in such a war, and thus his adherents conquered and plundered the countries of the East.

84. Q. How did they treat the Christian countries?

R. They took Palestine, Syria, Persia, Asia Minor, Northern Africa, and Spain, and reduced the Christian population to the lowest condition of poverty and oppression.

They would have conquered western Europe, had not the Franks under Charles Martel beaten their immense army in the battle of Tours ( A.D. 732).

They finally took Constantinople and the Balkan peninsula, and would have conquered Germany, had they not been overcome by Austria and Poland.

85. Q. What did the conquest of Jerusalem by the Mohammedans cause?

R. The conquest of Jerusalem caused the great crusades of European chivalry for the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre of Our Lord.

Mohammedanism with its conquests and oppression became a scourge to the countries of the East, that had rebelled so often by heresies and schism against the divinely instituted authority of the Church. At the same time Divine Providence used it as a means to unite the Christian nations of Europe and to direct their warlike energies from internal feuds to enterprises of heroic faith and charity.

86. Q. What is schism?

R. Schism is the separation from the Church through rebellion against the authority of the Pope; it differs from heresy in this, that it retains the doctrines of the Church.

87. Q. What schism happened in the Church?

R. About the middle of the ninth century, Photius, who, through intrigues, had become patriarch of Constantinople, refused allegiance to the papacy, and, supported by the emperors, drew the church of the Greek empire, of Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt into schism. After the twelfth century the Russian empire also became schismatic.

Ignatius, the saintly patriarch of Constantinople, had publicly refused holy communion to Bardas, uncle and adviser of Emperor Michael III., on account of his immoral and scandalous life. The angry courtier persuaded his weak nephew to depose Ignatius and appoint Photius, a layman, to the patriarchal dignity, contrary to canon law. Ignatius appealed to Rome and was upheld by the pope; but Photius rebelled and the schism began.

88. Q. Were the Greeks united again with the Church?

R. Yes, the Greeks were united again with the Church at the VIII. general council, held in Constantinople ( A.D. 870), and although Photius made another attempt at rebellion, they fully submitted to Pope Formosus.

89. Q. When did they relapse into schism?

R. Patriarch Michael Cerularius rebelled again and was excommunicated by Pope Leo IX. in the eleventh century. In the year 1439, at the general council of Florence, the Greek bishops submitted again and were received into the Church. But a few years later the schism was renewed. Then God gave them into the hands of the Turks, who took Constantinople in the year 1453 and made the Greek Church a slave to the Turkish Sultan.

The church of Russia separated from the patriarch of Constantinople in the 16th century, but was made a state church by the despotic czar Peter, the Great, who became its head ( A.D. 1721). Since then the czars direct its affairs through the Holy Synod, a council of bishops and laymen appointed by them.

90. Q. What does history teach about the patriarchs of Constantinople, who claimed equality with the Pope?

R. The patriarchs were involved in most of the heresies of the first 700 years,—for instance, Macedonius, Sergius, Nestorius. The popes, on the contrary, defended the truth and have never failed, because they are the infallible successors of St. Peter, to whom Christ had said: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not," and: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church."

NOTE.—Since the Greek Church has been separated from the centre of Catholic unity, it has become stagnant and barren. Subject to the state, with an ignorant, married clergy, it has languished within its old confines, has not evangelized or converted a single nation, nor produced an ecclesiastical literature. Like a cut-off branch it lies withering, while the parent tree, the Catholic Church, grows and spreads over the world with undiminished vigor.