Friday, January 5, 2024

Asad Rustom on the Era of Patriarch Cyril al-Za'im (IV): Cyril's Relations with Rome

Translated from: Asad Rustum, Kanisat Madinat Allah Antakya al-'Uzma [The Church of the Great City of God Antioch], Jounieh: Editions St. Paul (1988), vol. 3, pp. 119-125. 

Arabic original online here.

Part I here.

Part II here.

Part III here.

Cyril and the Catholics

Euthymius mentioned that Patriarch Cyril of Antioch was firm and unbending in his position, so he discussed and debated with him about the issue of union, to no avail. He then insisted that the French consul in Sidon, Monsieur Boulard, speak to the patriarch about this issue and he did so. Father Laurentius, the head of the Franciscans in Jerusalem, wrote a long letter to Cyril, informing him about what had been done in the name of the pope to return the patriarch of the Maronites, Ya'qub Awwad, to his see and to return all of his rights and dignity.  He then pointed out what the popes of Rome had done of this sort for the Eastern patriarchs and bishops. He reminded Cyril how his grandfather Macarius had complained to Pope Alexander VII about the oppression and arrogance of the Turks.

In 1716, the pope of Rome himself addressed Cyril inviting him to union. He said, "It has reached us that Your Brotherliness has a strong inclination toward union and we rejoiced and saw fit to exhort you in our paternal voice not to ignore this good inspiration. May you realize that so long as you are separated from the Roman Church, you remain in great and certain peril. You must exhort your brother bishops and your people to do like you. When it has been confirmed to us that you intend to firmly accept the faith of the pope of Rome, we will then explain to you what you must do."

Cyril explained to the head of the Franciscans: "The Eastern Church has held fast to her canonical conditions and obligations since ancient times. After a time, when rituals and customs not found in the seven greater or seven lesser councils, such as azymes, the filioque, purgatory and the merits of the saints appeared, the Eastern Church saw these things and that it was His Holiness our brother the pope who innovated them-- though they are not recorded in the law, the canons of the fathers, or the seven councils-- the Church renounced the Western Church. From the seventh council until now, the Eastern Church has held fast to her conditions and what she has received from the holy fathers, as they retain their ancient rituals and canons. As for what you say about the inclination of our late grandfather the Patriarch Macarius, in that his handwritten letter is in the archive in Rome, it is not that he wrote seeking confirmation. Rather, we understand that he wrote to inform our dear brother His Holiness the pope about the consul Picot and to testify to the good he had done in the year of hardship that occurred in Aleppo, because he spent seventy sacks of dirhams for the poor and destitute. We ask the Creator, may He be exalted, to inspire him [i.e., the pope] to bring together his brothers and his spiritual children and make the devil ashamed of both groups."

Then, in August 1716 Cyril sent a long letter to Clement XI, which some Catholic historians have regarded as an explicit confession of the authority of the See of Rome and a clear acceptance of all its teachings. We only see in it a confession of Rome's primacy on the condition that it holds to the canons of the seven ecumenical councils. Perhaps Cyril went overboard in his expression and his words were taken in a wider sense than he intended. Here it is to be noted that his letter to the head of the Franciscans must be taken into account because it is very close in time to the letter to the pope. Here is the text of Cyril's letter to Clement:

"Glory to God, may He be exalted, always. Cyril, by the grace of God, may He be exalted, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East to His Holiness brother Pope Clement XI, overseer of the great and ancient Church of Rome, may God protect him for a long time.

To His Holiness, the Father of Fathers, the Master of Masters, receiver of grace and giver of blessing, head of righteous hierarchs, successor of the Apostle Peter, chosen vessel, unique in his age, whose renown spreads to the corners of the earth, model of pure ascetics, treasury of teaching, pole of the four climes, Abraham in his pardon, Isaac in his meekness, Jacob in his obedience, Joseph in his chastity, the Prophet Elijah in his zeal, Isaiah in his eloquence, Daniel in his purity, Solomon in his wisdom, Zacharias in his priesthood, John the Theologian in his words, John the Baptist in his preaching and Chrysostom in his exegesis and admonishment.

Moreover, what we submit to Your Holiness is that your letter to us arrived and we read it, praising God, may He be exalted, for your good health and that Your Holiness is well. It has reached you from the missionaries that we strongly admire you and mention of you is constant among us at every prayer and divine liturgy. We ask the Lord to realize spiritual love between the elites and the common people, since without love there is no peace, for God knows our purpose is love. For it has reached us from the disciples of Your Holiness that your aim is for there to be love and peace with the brothers and spiritual children to one, holy, universal and apostolic Church, but the hater of good things never ceases and never calms from causing confusion in the Church, to the point that among his deeds he created the name of the eastern and western church. But at the first ecumenical council, in the presence of Pope Sylvester of Rome, they established "we believe in one God", the second ecumenical council was in the presence of Pope Damian of Rome, the third ecumenical council was in the presence of Pope Celestine of Rome, the fourth ecumenical council was in the presence of Pope Leo of Rome, the fifth ecumenical council was in the presence of Pope Vigilius of Rome, the sixth ecumenical council was in the presence of Pope Agatho of Rome, and the seventh ecumenical council was in the presence of Peter and Peter, the legates of Pope Adrian of Rome... an ecumenical council did not occur without the assent of the pope of Rome.

From that time until now, the Eastern Church always petitions and says, 'for the universal, holy, apostolic Church, let us ask of the Lord.' And we do not say 'eastern' and 'western' church, but rather we always ask for peace for the entire world, even those who hate us and those who oppress us. All of this is printed in the priests' books you have. And we thank God, may He be exalted, that our Church is according to our faith, which we hold from the seven ecumenical councils. And we pray for mercy for Pope Eugene, who sought peace and love in the time of the late Emperor John Palaiologos and held the eighth council, by which he sought love, peace and calm. But the hater of good things stirred up strife and the Greeks, who by nature are stubborn, did not accept. Afterwards the grace of the Holy Spirit moved Pope Nicholas,  everything in which Pope Eugene had toiled and labored having been destroyed by the Greeks, to sail himself toward Constantinople and to send his messengers to the emperor and clergy, but they did not accept his words and what had happened to us because of them happened to them.

We ask Christ God in every language and tongue that the Lord God may grant you to bring together the brothers and spiritual sons, whom our Master Jesus Christ purchased with His precious blood, into His true sheepfold. Then, our grandfather the late Patriarch Macarius, after having visited Moscow, his aim was to visit Rome to work love and peace. He kept saying "if brothers fight each other, than no one among them remains of sound mind. If we go to Rome, then the Greeks will say that the Patriarch Macarius has become a Frank. And previously, they treated the late Givalas[?], archbishop of Cyprus as a Frank for having visited Rome. May our Lord destroy all those who innovated these heresies and divided the brothers from their elder brother, since all people say that the larger container fits the smaller, but everyone who draws near to you openly is treated as an unbeliever by the western nations. Perhaps news has reached you of the Syriac patriarch [Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Gregory Peter IV Shahbaddin, d. 1702], how his community of heretics did him harm and he died in exile, though he was doubtless one of the saints, and only a few of the bishops and priests were saved. We have always sent letters to our disciples who are there to treat them with charity while they are in prison and to serve them in order to honor the Roman Church, and if the French consul in Aleppo had given five hundred qurush, this would not have happened to them.

But by the power of the Crucified, when the kapuji came to us in Damascus and the sultan's decree was read to us and he asked us about the followers of the pope among us, we replied for all and by the power of God we prevented him and did not let him abuse any monk, priest or Catholic, in so doing losing a large sum from our purse. God knows how much evil we kept away from them, fearing the bad treatment that occurs in other countries. But at this time their group is miserable. May God have mercy on consul Picot, in whose time Andrew became patriarch of the Syriacs, who stood by his campaign and in that year spent around seventy purses on the poor, because it was a year of great hardship. When they saw the great charity he [i.e., Picot] had done, my grandfather Patriarch Macarius, Patriarch Andrew of the Syriacs and the Armenian patriarch wrote to His Holiness the late pope, informing him of the good he had done. If the consul is well, may our Lord add to him blessings from your pure lips. And if he has reposed, may the Lord place his lot with the holy fathers. In this way, the consuls did good, people inclined toward them and their reputation was glorious.

Moreover, when it came between the late king of France and the English and they said to him, "We follow the Eastern Church," he wrote requesting the creed of the Eastern Church, so our grandfather the Patriarch Macarius wrote twenty chapters about the belief of the Eastern Church, during which time he died and Our Modesty was elected in his place. The letters had not yet been sent, so they wrote to us, so we sent them, confirming his statement.

God-willing, may the Eastern Church not deny the Church of Rome nor take her for being an innovator. This is recorded in our church books, and that the pope of Rome is the elder brother and there are commemorations of popes in their particular feats that exist in the Eastern Church.

Nevertheless, these issues that exist today at this time did not exist in ancient times. For when there appeared astronomers, these ten days [i.e., the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars at that time] became a cause for great division, since one Christian fasts while another does not fast. Likewise, the Maronites submitted to you that they are few in number and the Rum do not marry them, nor do the nations [i.e., the Muslims]. Because you are blessed and do not know the lie, you believed them, so they say, "His Holiness the pope has given us permission to marry within the fourth degree [i.e., first-cousin marriage]." Moreover, if a layman's wife dies, he marries another and they can make him a priest. For these reasons and others, we have become naked before the nations and the heretics, since one Christian remains fasting while another breaks the fast and one Christian marries at the seventh degree while another at the third degree. They lie to you and, because you are blessed people, you believe what they say and carry out their suggestion. They say, "The pope has given us permission for that." But we do not believe that this is issued from you. All of this has become a cause for division and for referring to the Western and the Eastern church.

However, we believe and affirm that the Church of Rome adheres to the seven great councils and the seven lesser councils and honor it for being the mother of the world's churches. We confess one Church and one baptism, and we bless what they [i.e., the councils] bless and anathematize what they anathematize. But when the nations see such unbelievable things-- and you have no report about them-- for this reason they flee from that and doubts occur, fulfilling the words of the Holy Gospel, 'Woe to the one through who doubts come!'

If a decree was issued by Your Holiness to eliminate these issues that exist and they were eliminated, then the Holy Spirit would truly be present with you, because we have become naked before the nations and the heretics. Even if the heretics are heretics, they have not changed their fasting, their ritual and their marriage rules, but rather they are according to the holy law. We ask Christ in every language and tongue that the Lord God may grant you to bring together the brothers and spiritual sons, whom our Master Jesus Christ purchased with His precious blood into His true sheepfold, and that the Lord God will grant to everyone who desires peace and love, as the Master said: "My peace I give to you, My peace I leave with you." He did not say strife, stubbornness and evil, and people say you have done this and people say that we are right and you are not right and so the words of the Holy Gospel are fulfilled in us: we leave the log that is in our eyes and tell our brother to remove the speck that is in his eye.

When we read the holy scriptures, we shy away from hearing them, as when the Evangelist John says, "If anyone loves God yet hates his brother, he is a liar, for how can you hate the one you see and love the one you do not see?" And our Lord, glory to Him, said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." And now all what we do is contrary to what He, may He be exalted, commanded us to do.

We ask for His tender mercies, by the blessing of your prayers, to cause us to listen obediently to what pleases Him and gives you reason to rejoice at the coming together of brothers and spiritual children, that you may say, "Those are the children that God has given me. Enter into the joy of your Lord." May this be for you by the intercession of the Virgin, the Apostle Saint Peter and all the saints, amen. This was written and issued on the twentieth day of the blessed month of August in the year 1716 in the God-protected city of Damascus by your brother in Christ, Cyril, patriarch of Antioch and all the East.

Furthermore, the patriarch of Antioch calls down God's wrath upon all those who add or remove [from this letter]. Sent with the Padre Blasius and the priest Seraphim was a humble present: a shell cane. If you hold it during the divine liturgy, you will remember Our Modesty and two vessels in which is a ratl of pure balsam-oil."

One should notice here that the patriarch of Antioch addresses the pope of Rome as a brother and indicates the patriarchs with the word "brothers" and that he confirms the adherence of the Orthodox church of which he is the head to the seven councils and its persistence in praying every day for the universal Church. He then alludes to the strife stirred up by the devil at the Council of Florence and the effect of that on the Greeks who are by nature stubborn. He thanks his brother the pope for his effort for union and points delicately and precisely to the position of his grandfather Macarius with regard to union, favoring the role he played as a reconciling mediator between the pope of Rome and the other primates. He then prays for "all" who desire love and peace and offers a cane made of shell as a gift to the pope. So where is the confession of Rome's authority and entrance into obedience to it? Especially if we read all of this in light of what is found in the letter of the very same patriarch to the head of the Franciscans. One should also notice that there is a very great difference between this patriarchal letter and the text that Athanasius prepared, which we have discussed above, as well as the one prepared by Gersasimus, bishop of Seidnaya in mid-July of 1716.

In our view, it cannot be said that Cyril entered into obedience to Rome merely because this story is stated in some of Euthymius' letters, since Euthymius had his own interests in what he recounted and so he cannot be regarded as a reliable witness. It can be deduced from Clement XI's letter to Cyril dated May 21, 1718 that was not satisfied with what was reported to him in Euthymius' accounts and Cyril's letters and he says, in Constantine Basha's translation: "We ask you to display openly to all in clear, continuous letters that you are united with this apostolic see with a sincere heart 'without hypocrisy' and that you have pledged submission to it and to the pope of Rome." Euthymius' statement that Cyril signed the confession of faith of Urban VIII, sealed it by his own hand, and sent it remains improbable until we come across this document in the archives of Rome. We must not forget that it is stated in the report sent by the priest Gabriel Finan  to the secretary of the Congregation of the Propaganda Fide on July 11, 1719 that he contacted Cyril, presented him with the pope's gift and stayed with him, speaking with him repeatedly about "the holy Roman faith" and sometimes he would yield to it and sometimes he would "argue with it lightly." He complained about "the Roman Church not having fulfilled his request to print the Euchologion and raised the issue of the harm caused by [Livornese and Maltese Catholic] pirates and the return of those following the Roman See to the Eastern calendar in calculating Easter." Finan goes on to state that what Cyril sent to Rome was either out of avarice on his part for worldly things or out of fear of troublemaking by Catholics in his diocese and that the patriarch "consecrated a schismatic for the See of Bayas," conceding to the wishes of the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

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