Saturday, 9 July 2011

Absolute Monarchs...

John over at Ad Orientem has alerted me to a new book about the Papacy. Absolute Monarchs it's called, written by an ''agnostic Protestant'' called John Julius Norwich. It is available in paperback at Amazon though it seems they don't have any in stock at the moment. I have added it to my Wish List.

I am not necessarily recommending the book (how could I possibly do so, since I have never read it?), but the title seems very apposite. I don't suppose any Traditionalists will be reading the book though. Two quotes spring to mind:

''Dark now fell the shadow on Beleriand, as is told hereafter; but in Angband Morgoth forged for himself a great crown of iron, and he called himself King of the World.'' (J.R.R Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Chapter IX).

''Receive the tiara adorned with three crowns and know that thou art the father of princes and kings, the ruler of the world, the vicar on earth of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, to Whom is honour and glory for ever and ever.'' (From the rite of Papal coronations).


  1. Never read any of Lord Norwich's other books, Patrick? The ones on Mount Athos and Venice, and the splendid trilogy on Byzantium in particular, are especially excellent. This should be interesting narrative history!

  2. No I haven't mystra. I am not as well-read as some people seem to think...

  3. It's just that you've read all the right books... ;)

  4. JJN's Byzantium trilogy is a rollicking good read, marred by the author's apparent lack of any real understanding of Orthodoxy (which is a bit of a failing in the context, you'll admit!).

    That quote from the Papal coronation rite chills me to the bone. It's absolutely horrible.

  5. Is this a rebranding of his book "The Popes"? For that book, his sole source for the reign of Pius XII was, apparently, John Cornwell. Putting aside the deficiencies of Cornwell's work, relying a secondary source as your sole support for such a crucial section is hardly exemplary scholarship...

    On the Papal coronation oath quoted there, I have a question: is "ruler of the world" a good translation of "rector orbis"? My (deficient, classical) Latin suggests "guide" as a better approximation of its meaning.

    I assume the part about being "father of princes and kings" refers to the Pope's role in crowning Western monarchs, and the mediaeval claim that all secular authority derived from God but was mediated through the Papacy.

    Certainly, the claims are outlandish, but I'm not sure they're worse than the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria's claims to be the 13th Apostle, Pillar and Defender of the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Faith, Father of Fathers, Shepherd of Shepherds, Bishop of Bishops, Hierarch of Hierarchs, Ecumenical Judge of the Holy, Apostolic, and Universal Church, and Arbitrator of the Universe.

    The last one in particular strikes me as just a little over-the-top!

    Query, for Orthodox posters: Why was there never an orthodox bishop of Rome appointed after the Great Schism? There is, after all, a Greek jurisdiction in Sees like Alexandria. I'm just curious as to why no similar structure was erected (or attempted) in Rome.

  6. Actually, Evagrius, ''ruler of the world'' is a more than adequate rendering of ''rector orbis.'' Rector (derived from rego, I rule) can be translated as guider, but it is most often used in Classical Latin to mean leader, master, or director. Virgil seems to use the word to mean tutor; Catullus refers to Jupiter as rector caelestum.

    Who was it that said: ''What is the bishop of Rome but our chaplain?''

  7. 'Receive the tiara adorned with three crowns and know that thou art the father of princes and kings, the ruler of the world, the vicar on earth of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, to Whom is honour and glory for ever and ever.''
    This Coronation oath has not been used since Paul VI was crowned Pope. Paul VI sold his tiara to the Archbishop of New York (if i am not wrong) and his successors didnot bother to be crowned. The tiara in italian is usually referred to as ''il triregno'', which literally means ''triple rule'', as the Pope is the supreme Teacher, Sanctifier and Governor within the Church. The claims made in the above coronation oath of the Roman Pontiff are indeed wild, yet tame when compared to the titles claimed by the Coptic Pope, as Evagrius points out. If I were Pope... i should revive the Tiara (it is, after all, an adaptation of the oriental episcopal crown), and revise the Coronation oath to leave out the phrases ''Pater regum'' and ''Rector orbis'' which refer to a no lonber existing papal right to wordly might, and substitute them with words referring to the Pope's purely religious office as Highest Priest of Christendom.

  8. Evagrius: it is a rebranding for the American market of his The Popes. I haven't read this book, but I think it is important not to take Viscount Norwich's history too seriously; he is attempting to give us an interesting, lively, opinionated view of the thing which is his subject (in this case the Papacy). He is more "gentleman scholar" than academic. (Though, I may say, I agree with Anagnostis, that he doesn't have as good an understanding of or respect for Orthodoxy as some of his exemplars, say, for instance, Steven Runciman).

    I would say the difference between the claims of the Popes of Rome versus those of the Popes of Alexandria (or indeed other Patriarchs) is that the Pope of Rome tend(ed) to believe literally in them.

  9. Evagrius - a very good question. I'll have a bash at responding tonight.

    The derivation of the papal tiara from the oriental crown is often asserted - but it's mistaken, I think. The early medieval tiara is conical (more like Paul VI's) and with two crowns; whereas Orthodox bishops have sported the Imperial crown and sakkos only from the second millenium. They're not really episcopal garb at all; they were adopted by bishops compelled to function also as ethnarchs under the Turkocratia. Personally, I wouldn't miss them, or the double-headed eagle rug, or any of that nonsense.

    I think it's the claim to be uniquely Vicar on Earth of an absent Christ that I find most horrifying. Every baptised Christian is Christ's vicar and (in the appropriate context) Peter's successor.

  10. Why are Coptic Patriarchs singled out here in the comments? I understand that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria has the same official style and title. Note also, that the Alexandrian bishop's tiara is markedly different from the general run of orthodox bishops' crowns*. Alexandria's claim to supervisory status over other bishops, was confirmed in the sixth Canon of the First Ecumenical Council, as was Rome's. This is consistent with both Orthodox and Roman practice today, but somehow, the Orthodox maintain a theory that all bishops are equal when denying Roman primacy....
    Regarding the non-appointment of an Orthodox Bishop of Rome after the schism, I think the answer to that lies in the fact that there was no greek population in Rome disagreeing with the Pope and subjecting itself to the Emperor in Constantinople. The Greek population in Alexandria was distinct from the ethnic Egyptians (the Copts), and was strong until dispossessed by Nasser following the revolution of 1952. The Emperor's writ did not run anywhere in the patriarchate of Rome, so that even those populations in Calabria, Sicily and elsewhere who were and are Orthodox and Byzantine in customs and Liturgy, remained in union with Rome as the Schism took root, and remain subject to Rome to this day.
    google images Patriarch of Alexandria. eg:

  11. Regarding the non-appointment of an Orthodox Bishop of Rome after the schism, I think the answer to that lies in the fact that there was no greek population in Rome disagreeing with the Pope and subjecting itself to the Emperor in Constantinople.

    Of course, that's not the way I'd have put it, but it makes the significant point (apart from the "caesaropapism" canard): no Orthodox population (for whatever reason), no Orthodox bishop. It's a "Roman Catholic" question, isn't it? It makes sense only under the presumption that a Bishop of Rome is a necessary, constituent element of the Church. He isn't, from the Orthodox point of view, any more than a Byzantine Emperor (we're not "caesaro-papists", in fact - we're not "papists" at all) - any more than a Bishop of Istanbul, or a Bishop of Moscow. There was the Church before there were any of these, and the Church might very well outlive them all.

    Following the peace of Constantine, and particularly in the era of Justinian, Catholic Christians developed all kinds of romantic narratives and canonical theories, some of which lodged more firmly than others in the popular consciousness and some of which coalesced into functional norms; however none of these belongs to the substance of the Church. The "pentarchy theory" is one such (compare Justinian's "five senses of the universe" with JPII's two lungs of the Church), the sinfonia another; to this category also belongs the developing idea of the Roman Papacy as the ontological presence of Peter in the Church, mingled with neo-platonistic notions of the "higher" supplying the validity of the lower, as its source and principle. None of this has anything really to do with the Roman presidency witnessed to by St Irenaeus or St Ignatius or St Cyprian...

  12. One often hears the objection, "But the Orthodox recognise ranks among the bishops!". So we do. So what? They're a matter of human institution and convenience, merely. No bishop is the recipient of anything ontologically peculiar or in any way different from that of any other bishop. There is only one episcopate - that of Christ - in which all participate equally. The ranks exist for the sake of order in the Church - that's all. Any bishop, with the agreement of his brethren acting synodically, could exercise presidency analagous to that of St Peter among the Apostles. The constitution of the Church is not determined or constrained by geography.

  13. ''The constitution of the Church is not determined or constrained by geography.''

    One can clearly see how ironic the term ''Roman Catholic'' is then. I fail to see how one's ''catholicity,'' or at least the measure thereof, is dispensed by one bishop living in the city and diocese of Rome.

  14. It was stated:

    "Regarding the non-appointment of an Orthodox Bishop of Rome after the schism, I think the answer to that lies in the fact that there was no Greek population in Rome disagreeing with the Pope and subjecting itself to the Emperor in Constantinople."

    Yes and no. There were large communities of Greeks in Rome during this time, with its religious centre at Grotaferrata Monastery founded in 1004. But during the schism between Rome and Constantinople, the Greeks and later waves of Albanian refugees tended to become Catholics of the Byzantine rite; and unlike the Greeks in the Byzantine Empire who reacted to the schism by closing the Latin parishes in Byzantium, the local Roman authorities simply let the Greek rite communities continue their traditions so long as they accepted, quite rightly in some way, the authority of the Pope as their local ecclesiastical superior.

    These communities still exist, and still use the Byzantine rite. The Italo-Greek rite parishes are a very interesting study. No such tradition of respecting the liturgical and cultural traditions of others was ever established in Byzantium.

    The erection of Greek occupying Patriarchates in the East was more an expression of the power of the Byzantine state than religious; although it is interesting to note that whilst the Byzantines make waves concerning what they feel are artificial Eastern rite Catholic Patriarchates in the East, their own such Byzantine imperial maneuverings are never mentioned. One does suspect that had the Byzantines enough political power to have established a Greek rite Patriarchate of Rome at the time of the schism, they would have done so, as they had done in Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria.

  15. Anagnostis,

    You wouldn't really want to see the end of Byzantine pontificalia would you? I have always found the sight of multiple mitres at Slav celebrations uplifting.

    Beyond Byzantium and its later 'colonies' I have always had the deepest admiration for the Armenians for giving mitres to their deacons: a deep hope is that I see, in the flesh, an Armenian deacon in his mitre before I leave this world.

  16. :0))

    No, I don't "want to see the end", particularly, of anything. I just think it's high time we all got over the Roman Empire, and the romantic narratives it constructed for itself.

  17. Anagnostis,

    Phew, relief! Your point taken.

  18. Emperor Franz Josef I, Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary, Patricius, is reputed to have said—at the time of the proposed annulment of his son’s marriage—something along the following lines. ‘The pope of Rome is but a chaplain to our family; even the Archbishop of Vienna is but a chaplain to our family’. This must have been in, something like, the 1890s.

  19. Patricius: thank you for the answer on "rector orbis" - very interesting examples. I take it the word has undergone little change by the time ecclesiastical Latin is in use? On Roman Catholicism as a term, I believe it now exists to mark Latin-Rite Catholics as opposed to Eastern-Rite types, or simply as a term of abuse from the sort of Protestant who claims we're all one happy family in Christ, even if none of us believe anything remotely similar.

    mystra: Sorry, that's a pretty weak argument. I'm far from convinced that the Roman Pontiff ever considered himself "father of princes and kings" (literally, one wonders, or figuratively?), let alone "ruler of the world".

    Anagnostis: "I think it's the claim to be uniquely Vicar on Earth of an absent Christ that I find most horrifying."
    And yet this is among the most ancient of Papal claims! I'm also not keen on this idea that we're all Christ's vicar. Sounds suspiciously like prophets-priests-and-kings stuff of the sort used to prop up priestesses or having no priesthood at all. Moreover, is the title "Vicar of Christ" really worse when given to the Successor to Peter than when given to the Successor to Constantine? As for your argument about pentarchy being a Roman theory, rubbish. It was promulgated in the East, and confirmed in the canons of the ecumenical councils.

    Don't think I've ever heard of this derivation of the tiara before from the crown, either. Sounds like specious tosh to me.

    As for all that Roman stuff which you are asking us to "get over", that is by-and-large Western culture of the last fifteen-hundred years. So no thank-you.

    B-flat: I singled out the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch because it was he I could find information on. The Greek Patriarchate is rather less easily looked-up. Thank you for the interesting response.

    Dale: As I've said before, there's a great deal of bluster to Byzantine ecumenical relations, and you often get the impression that most of the objections raised are, far from theological or ecclesiological problems, simply Greeks playing silly-buggers for the sake of it. The recent villification of St Augustine in Orthodox circles springs to mind.

  20. Even if ‘rector orbis’ were to be understood in the sense of ‘guide of the world’, let us not forget that in German ‘der Führer’ also means ‘guide’.

    I now realize that the reputed remark of Kaiser Franz Josef could only have been made between 1881 (when Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, married Princess Stéphanie of Belgium) and 1889 (when Rudolf committed suicide).

    The term ‘Roman Catholicism’ exists to differentiate the religion of papist heretics from that of members of the Catholic Church. To quote my own words, “[…] Orthodoxy—to this day—still asserts the sole right to be accorded the title ‘Catholic Church’. It was only after the Great East-West Schism that the Church began to be identified more with the term ‘Orthodox’. This distinguished Her from Roman Catholicism, the new religion that continued to call itself ‘Catholic’.”

    Quoting my own words again, “Over the course of time, certain sees grew in importance, so that the bishops of some major cities came to be given the title of archbishop. This established an order of precedence between bishops, not in terms of their episcopal jurisdiction—for every bishop remains equally a successor to the Apostles—, but rather deriving from the relative significance of their various sees. Any rights or privileges one bishop might have had over another were, and still remain, strictly honorary, extending to such matters as their order of dignity when celebrating together, or which of them had the right to convene or preside at a local synod. […]

    “Already by the fourth century, an administrative system had evolved, sanctioned by the First Council of Nicæa, whereby each civil province of the Roman Empire had a metropolitan bishop at the capital city of the province. He normally enjoyed certain privileges over the bishops and archbishops of the other cities in the province, who became known as suffragan bishops. The Council of Nicæa also recognized certain existing rights held by the bishops of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, even beyond the boundaries of their own provinces. In effect, these bishops—or, at least, those of Rome and Alexandria—had become metropolitans over several provinces. This trend continued, so that the Church in the Empire, in little more than a century, came to be administered according to a system of five large divisions. These were respectively headed by the bishops of Rome, Constantinople (the ‘New Rome’, which had become the capital of the Empire in A.D. 330), Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The Church in Cyprus remained independent of the Antioch division, according to a decision of the Council of Ephesus—the Third Œcumenical Council—in A.D. 431. Outside the Empire, where the administration of the five divisions did not extend, the Church in Armenia and, later, in Mesopotamia had already formed into separate catholicates, each under a catholicos; but, as we shall see, it was not long before these ceased to belong to the Orthodox Church.

    “Another hundred years later, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I conferred on the five bishops, respectively at the head of the five divisions, the title of patriarch, thus setting the bishops of these five sees on a level above that of metropolitans. Henceforth, the Church within the Empire became a pentarchy of five patriarchates.”

    The patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch deposed themselves by subscribing to heresy, thereby ceasing to be bishops; that is why Greek-speaking bishops were appointed to continue the line of Orthodox patriarchs and to administer, in those places, the Greek-speaking populations that remained faithful to Orthodoxy. Other contributors have already made that point.

  21. [Continued]

    The blasphemous claim of the Pope of Rome to be the “Vicar of Christ” only came to be used regularly at the time of Anti-Christ Innocent III.

    All baptized Christians (from whose number Roman Catholics are, necessarily, excluded) are, indeed, prophets, priests and kings; that does not detract from a ministerial priesthood; nor does it, somehow, imply the possibility of ordaining women to that priesthood. Papists who condemn this as, somehow, being a protestant notion rather confirm the fact that Popery and Protestantism are but two sides of the same coin.

    Finally, Augustine of Hippo is recognized as a saint in Orthodoxy; the Russian Church keeps the feast day of the Blessed Augustine on 15th June.