Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Wilhelm de Vries on the Schism of 1724

To go along with the last post about the historiography of the 1724 schism, I thought I'd post a translation of one of the better summaries of the events of that time written from a self-consciously Roman Catholic perspective, which is often overlooked because it was published in German.

The following is translated from Wilhelm de Vries, Rom und die Patriarchate des Ostens (Freiburg and Munich: Karl Alber, 1963), 88-91.

The Melkite Patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria had been represented at the Council of Florence and had accepted the union there, although it had difficulty effectively coming through. Whether it was already renounced in 1443 at a synod of the three patriarchs in Jerusalem is debated.[1] In any case, the Union of Florence was expressly rejected at a council in Constantinople where the Eastern Patriarchates were also represented. Many Catholic Melkites today defend the thesis that the Melkites of the Patriarchate of Antioch have in fact never been schismatic. According to them, the schism first arose through the creation of the Catholic hierarchy in 1724. The opposition to this overly-strict binding to Rome would have led to the schism.[2] This thesis is unacceptable. Even more recently, Joseph Nasrallah has clearly shown that in the period between the Council of Florence and the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy, the Antiochian Church also tied to the undoubtedly schismatic Constantinople in the closest possible way. Such a bond does not agree with a true union with Rome.[3] This view is entirely compatible with that of of Charon (C. Korolevskij) that up to that time there had always been in the Patriarchate of Antioch a party favorable to union, which was also sometimes able to occupy the patriarchal throne.[4] The Apostolic Nuncio Leonardo Abel, who in the time of Gregory XIII also sought to win the Melkites for the union in any case saw them as schismatics.[5]

Serious work for union, however, also began among the Melkites first with the arrival of new missionaries after the foundation of the Propaganda. Over the course of the 17th century, the Latin missionaries were already able to win over one or another patriarch or bishop and many of the faithful for the union. Here too, those who converted to Catholicism remained within the framework of the previously generally schismatic community. A clear distinction between Catholics and non-Catholics only came about through the election of Cyril Tanas as patriarch in 1724. Rome’s ever-stricter regulations against liturgical fellowship with non-Catholics made this split necessary. Towards the end of the 17th century, Patriarch Athanasius III, who had already been elected with the support of the Catholics and the French consul in Aleppo, made a Catholic profession of faith (1687). He probably also did that in order to contend with his rival, Cyril V.[6] As a result, Rome recognized him without any further formalities as the legitimate pastor of his flock. This flock was partly made up of Catholics, but still probably to a greater extent of schismatics. When Cyril V also made a Catholic profession of faith in 1716, Rome preferred to have the Patriarch Athanasius resign, which he accepted in 1717. After Cyril’s death (1720), however, he became patriarch again, but now behaving in a very anti-Catholic manner. Cyril’s position was not clearly Catholic either. Both patriarchs, however, died as Catholics, Athanasius in 1724.

Much more important for the commencement of a real reunification than these patriarchs of dubious sentiment was the absolutely sincerely Catholic Archbishop of Tyre and Sidon, Euthymius Sayfi. Cyril V, who at the time was still undoubtedly schismatic, had elevated him to this dignity in 1683. Already in that year, Euthymius recognized the Pope as his head. In 1701, Rome gave this bishop jurisdiction over all the Catholics of the Patriarchate of Antioch who did not have their own bishop, which incidentally is also a sign that they did not have much trust in Athanasius in Rome. Probably under the influence of the missionaries, Euthymius demonstrated a strong inclination to transform the rite in a Latinizing manner. But Rome did not agree to this at all. Euthymius died in 1723.

After the death of Patriarch Athanasius in Aleppo the following year, the Catholics in Damascus saw that the moment had arrived to bring an undoubtably Catholic man to the top of the patriarchate. The clergy and people of Damascus elected the late Archbishop Euthymius’ nephew, Seraphim Tanas, who took the name Cyril. He was already from a Catholic family and had studied in Rome. After it was transferred from Antioch, Damascus was the patriarchal seat and so, according to ancient Eastern practice, the clergy and the people had the right to choose their bishop, who at the same time was also patriarch. None of the bishops took part in the election, since they had all been summoned to Aleppo following the death of Athanasius. In Damascus, they wanted to get ahead of the opponents of union and so wanted to elect a Catholic as head of the patriarchate as quickly as possible. The electors in now way intended to split the patriarchate and install a patriarch only for the Catholic part. That is clear from the fact that non-Catholics also took part in the election. Efforts were immediately made to have the sultan recognize Cyril as head of the entire patriarchate. Since the pasha of Damascus also supported the petition, there seemed to be a good hope of achieving their goal.

In fact, the opponents of union elected a nephew of the late Athanasius, who had been designated by him as his successor, as patriarch with the name Sylvester. He was consecrated in Constantinople, a week after Cyril’s consecration. Sylvester did not immediately show himself to be a clear opponent of the Catholics. This explains why he initially had followers among the Catholics, even among the missionaries in Aleppo; he had, after all, been designated by the dying Catholic Patriarch Athanasius. Also with the help of the British ambassador in Constantinople, Sylvester obtained the decree of recognition from the sultan and even won over the French ambassador to his side. He soon appeared as a persecutor of the Catholics and demanded that all sign an anti-Catholic profession of faith. Cyril could not remain in Damascus and found refuge in the mountains of Lebanon, from where he ran his patriarchate. Only for a short time did he obtain recognition from the sultan. Sylvester finally had the upper hand and at a synod in Constantinople in 1728, together with the patriarchs of Constanitople and Jerusalem, he hurled an excommunication at Cyril and his followers. Thus, the patriarchate was clearly split into Catholic and anti-Catholic halves, each with its own patriarch and bishops. The reason for this was the choice of the undoubtedly Catholic Cyril Tanas. In the long run, the clear division between Catholics and non-Catholics could not be avoided.

After some hesitation, Rome recognized Patriarch Cyril Tanas (1729). The basis for the hesitation was doubts about the validity of the election and inconvenient information about Cyril’s latinizing tendencies. Above all, he wanted to ease the Greeks’ hard fasts. Later developments proved him right about this. Easing of fasting rules was unstoppable in the long term. At the time, however, Rome did not want to know anything about it, so as not to create an obstacle for the reunification of those still separated. These difficulties delayed the granting of the pallium to Cyril until 1744.[7] With Cyril Tanas begins the unbroken line of undoubtedly Catholic Melkite patriarchs of Antioch. In 1772 the Holy See assigned all Catholics of the Byzantine Rite, including those of the Patriarchates of Jerusalem and Alexandria, to the Patriarchate of Antioch.[8]

[1] See J. Gill, The Council of Florence (Cambridge, 1959), 353-354. Also notes 1 and 2.

[2] B. Homsy, Les capitulations et la protection des chrétiens au Proche Orient au XVI, XVII, et XVIII siècles (Harissa, 1956), 361.

[3] J. Nasrallah, “Chronologie des Patriarches Melchites d’Antioche de 1500-1634,” Proche-Orient Chrétien 7 (1957), 26ff and continuations.

[4] J. Charon, “L’Eglise grecque melchite catholique,” Echos d’Orient 4 (1900-1901), 331.

[5] d’Avril, “Relation de l’évêque de Sidon,” ROC 3 (1898), 4ff.

[6] On the following, see: de Vries, “Der selige Papst Innozenz XI…” OCP 23 (1957), 45ff.

[7] Mansi 46, 37ff.

[8] Mansi 46, 581-582.


Monday, April 15, 2024

Serge Descy on the 20th Century Historiography of Cyril Tanas' Election

The following is taken from The Melkite Church: An Historical and Ecclesiological Approach, trans. Kenneth J. Mortimer, (Newton, MA: Sophia Press, 1993). The French original of this section is available here. While Descy, a Belgian Melkite Catholic priest, gives a very useful overview of positions taken by various authors, he himself ignores important facts about the Patriarch Sylvester that they mention, including that he was an Arabic-speaker (in addition to Greek), designated as successor by Athanasius III Dabbas, and requested from Constantinople by the people of Aleppo (where all members of the Holy Synod of Antioch, apart from those created by Euthymius Sayfi were located at the time). But more on that in future posts.

Most authors who have striven to grasp the ins and outs of this new Antiochian schism of 724 have, unfortunately, always presented it within the traditional framework of the canonical legality of the patriarchal elections. Thus it is that C.L. Spiessens[1] envisages only two canonical procedures for the patriarchal succession to Athanasius III Dabbas: either election by the Holy Synod of Antioch, presided over by the Metropolitan of Tyre, or the transfer of the election to the Synodos Endemousa of Constantinople.[2] As far as the latter is concerned, it is true that during the period of Ottoman domination the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was once again playing a preponderant role in the internal affairs of the Church of Antioch, proceeding with several depositions and elections of its patriarchs.[3]

After the Byzantine conquest of 969, the patriarchs were nearly all Byzantines, because they were designated by their colleagues of Constantinople. As we have already said in the first chapter, some patriarchs continued to reside at Constaintople during the occupation of the crusaders and even during that of the Ottomans. So there was nothing astonishing or exceptional about the intervention of Constantinople in 1724. But should we not see here an abuse, due to a privileged political situation, of the primatial right accorded to Constantinople once and for all at the Council in Trullo in 692, and a violation of the juridical autonomy of an apostolic see? In any case, in the Arabic Canonical Collection of the Melkites,[4] which has come down to us in the form of numerous manuscripts of the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries, there is to be found a paraphrase of the fourth Greek canon of the First Council of Nicaea, which considers the election of a patriarch as the right of the people of his diocese, of the metropolitans, and of the bishops, who should all be present at his installation.[5] It is a matter here of one of many variant texts that allow us to conclude that there was a unique canonical discipline in the Greek Church of Antioch. Although deeply influenced by Byzantine law from the eleventh century onward,[6] this clearly shows a particular form of autonomy[7] in which the election of patriarchs was an element of no mean importance. So of the alternatives proposed by Spiessens, we would rather turn our attention to the designation of the patriarch by the Holy Synod of Antioch, for this procedure seems more in accordance both with local tradition and with the general tradition of the Eastern Churches.[8] But on this basis the election of Sylvester, in which no Damascene and no Antiochian bishop took part, does not induce us to consider him, as Spiessens maintains, the one who “would continue the true line of Chalcedonian patriarchs before and after the Severian schism.”[9]

We are, however, also obliged to admit that neither does the election of Cyril VI satisfy the conditions required for canonical regularity and for his subsequent consecration. There was in fact no bishop present at his election nor any meeting of the Synod.[10] As for his consecration, the same author maintains that it was irregular, in view of the uncanonical nature of the consecrations of Basil Finan and of Euthymios Fadel, the absence of any consent from the bishops of the Synod, etc.[11]

Thus, from a canonical point of view, Cyril VI could hardly be the “legitimate successor of Peter at Antioch” as J. Nasrallah would have it in his well-known doctoral thesis, which takes just the opposite position from that of Spiessens.[12] The documentation that Nasrallah presents is certainly rich, convincing and historically founded, but his polemical method may well leave many a reader bewildered.[13]

In any case, the “canonical” interpretation of the schism is older. Of the many apologists of the Greek Catholic Church who took the side of Cyril VI, P. Bacel is the first Catholic historian we know of who openly questioned the legitimacy of his election, without going so far as to support his rival, Sylvester.[14] He is contradicted by the argument of the papal confirmation, needless to say from an entirely Catholicizing perspective.[15]

More surprising is the contribution of S. Gholam, representing the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch at a theological symposium organized in 1980 at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at Chambésy-Geneva.[16] Taking the side of Sylvester, he simply revives the old question without however bringing any new element into the case.[17]


[2] Spiessens, p. 427

[3] Some examples, among them that of the election of Athanasius Dabbas III, can be found in Delikanis, Patriarchal Writings (in Greek) (Constantinople 1905), vol. 2, pp. 155-159, 165, 172-177, 638-641; cited by Maximos, Metropolitan of Sardis, “Le Patriarcat Oecuménique dans l’Eglise Orthodoxe,” Théologie Historique, 32 (Paris, 1975), pp. 352-353. In fact, close ties had existed between the sees of Antioch and of Constantinople since the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) and even some time before. Later, in 702, under Arab doination the patriarchs of Antioch were forbidden to reside in Islamic territory and had to reside for forty years in the imperial city.

[4] The expression is taken from J. B. Darblade, La Collection Canonique Arabe des Melkites (XIIIème-XVIIème siècle) in Fonti Codif. Can. Orientale, 2nd Series, part 13 (Harissa, Lebanon, 1946).

[5] E. Jarawan, La Collection Canonique Arabe des Melkites et sa physionomie propre, daprès documents et textes en comparaison avec le droit byzantine, Corona Lateranensis, 15 (Rome, 1969), pp. 54-55.

[6] See P. Nabaa, “Influence du droit byzantine sur le droit melkite,” thesis, Oriental Pontifical Institute, Rome, 1947.

[7] Jarawan, p. 49

[8] Duprey, “La structure synodale de l’Eglise dans la théologie orientale,” P.O.C. 20 (1970), p. 4. We also refer the reader to the canonical rules in effect in the Greek Patriarchate of Antioch, for example, canons IV and XIV of Nicea I, and canons XIX and XIII of Antioch.

[9] Spiessens, “Les Patriarches d’Antioche,” p. 433.

[10] Spiessens, p. 428, finds only one precedent for this election of a patriarch by the community of Damascus alone, that of Mark of Saidnaya in 1451. Hoever, the election was subsequently confirmed by the Holy Synod of Antioch.

[11] Spiessens, pp. 428-429. The following studies can be usefully consulted: P. L’Huiller, “La pluralité des consécrateurs dans les chirotonies épiscopales,” Messager de l’exarchat du patriarcat russe en Europe occidentale 11:42-43 (1963), p. 102 ff. L. Mortari, Consacrazione episcopale e collegialita. La testamonianza della Chiesa antica (Florence, 1969).  

[12] See Nasrallah, Sa Béatitude IV et la succession apostolique du siège d’Antioche (Paris, 1963); and “Le Patriarcat d’Antioche est-il resté, après 1054, en communion avec Rome?” Istina 21 (1976), pp. 374-411

[13] The thesis developed by Nasrallah can be summarized thus: Cyril VI Thanas, unlike Sylvester of Cyprus, is the only legitimate patriarch on the throne of Antioch. So there is perfect continuity between the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and the Chalcedonian Church of Antioch. Throughout its history, this see has never been truly in a state of disunion with Rome. The Greek Orthodox, on the other hand, have the unhappy privilege of being “separated” from the authentic lineage of the see. In this way, since 1724, the Antiochian identity has gradually been lost; one part of the community turned towards Constantinople and became more Byzantine than Antiochian, and the other, subjugated to Vatican policy, became more Roman.

[16] S. Gholam, “Evolution et originalité de l’Eglise locale d’Antioche,” in Eglise locale et Eglise universelle, Etudes théologiques, 1 (Chambésy, 1981), pp. 45-68.

[17] This significant passage is worth quoting: “The first Greek Catholic Patriarch was Cyril Tanas, ordained in 1724 in a way contrary to the canons and laws in force in the Orthodox Church. Despite this, in 1729 Benedict XIII sent him the decree of confirmation accompanied by the pallium [NB: In fact, the 1729 confirmation was informal and the pallium was only sent in 1744. -Samn!]. He took possession of the patriarchal palace by force but had to abandon it when the Sublime Porte became aware of his intentions and of those of his protectors. The Orthodox then had a legitimate patriarch elected in the person of Sylvester I (1724-1766), who came from Mount Athos and was consecrated bishop at Constantinople at the demand of the Orthodox of Damascus [NB: this should be ‘Aleppo’. -Samn!] (Gholam, p. 62.