By Andrew J. Ekonomou, 347 pages hardcover, Lexington Books.
This scholarly book examines a little-known area of papal history and thereby accomplishes the important task of adding to our ecumenical self-consciousness. Ekonomou clearly shows just how closely East and West worked in the sixth to eighth centuries.
First, the papacy had not yet fully developed a sense of political independence. Often, for instance, the Byzantine emperor's political man in Ravenna, its Italian capital, would have the last word on the bishop of Rome's appointment of other bishops. The papal fight for the right to appoint its own bishops in the West was to be fought later in the Middle Ages with the Germanic emperors and French kings.
The pope therefore paid close attention to the happenings of the court in Constantinople. The future Pope Gregory the Great was sent there for a number of years to try to increase imperial support of Rome actacles into the religious rites and practices of the Roman church. Nowhere was this attraction to Eastern ceremonial more evident than in the elaborate papal processions that took7s cause before the emperor, there seems to have been little left for him to do once imperial policy toward Italy became evident. Papal representatives who pressed their claims with excessive vigor could quickly become a nuisance and find themselves excluded from the imperial presence altogether.”
Second, the Latin West, through the conduit of the papacy, became greatly enriched by Byzantine spiritual practices:
“[I]t was in Constantinople during the first half of the sixth century...that the cult of the Theotokos [a Greek name for the Virgin Mary] began to develop with what has been justifiably described as 'an astonishing rapidity.'” Emperors ruling a besieged empire “invoked the patronage of the Virgin Mary as the special protector and guardian of the empire generally and of the city of Constantinople in particular.”
Third, Greek liturgical practices spread to Rome because the clergy of Rome and many parts of Italy at this time contained an important Greek contingent, including in the monasteries of Italy:
“The oriental popes also absorbed Constantinople's fascination with great liturgical ceremonies and spectacles into the religious rites and practices of the Roman church. Nowhere was this attraction to Eastern ceremonial more evident than in the elaborate papal processions that took place on great feast days. In a manner nearly identical to that of the emperor processing with great pomp from the imperial palace to the Great Church of St. Sophia to attend the Divine Liturgy on major ecclesiastical holidays in Constantinople, the pontiff would depart from the Lateran patriarchum and proceed through the city to one of Rome's titular basilicas to preside at mass.”
This dense book contains an amazing amount of information on a poorly-understood era of Christian history.