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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261)

Ecclesiastical relations with the Nicene and Latin empires 


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The taking of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1204 took place against the will of Pope Innocent III. But after the foundation of the Latin Empire the pope clearly realized that the new state of things in the Near East, however disagreeable it might have been at first to the papal dignity, nevertheless had opened wide horizons for the further strengthening of Catholicism and the papacy. The main ecclesiastical problem of the epoch consisted in establishing intercourse between the eastern and western churches in connection with the political changes which had taken place in the Christian East.

In the Latin dominions established by the crusaders on the territory of the Byzantine Empire, Catholicism was to be planted. The first task of the papacy was to organize the Catholic church in the regions conquered by the Latins, and then to clear up its relation to the secular power and to the local Greek population, both laic and ecclesiastic. The second task was to render subject to Rome, as far as ecclesiastical matters were concerned, the Greek regions which after 1204 had remained independent and at the head of which stood the state of Nicaea. In a word, the problem of the union with the Greeks became the keystone of all ecclesiastical relations of the thirteenth century.

At the beginning of the political existence of the Latin Empire the position of the pope was very complicated and delicate. According to the treaty concluded between the crusaders and Venice it was stipulated that, if the Emperor had been elected from the Franks, the Latin patriarch should be elected from the Venetian clergy. The interests of the Roman curia were not taken into consideration, for in the treaty there was no suggestion either that the pope should participate in the election of the patriarch or that any revenues should go into the treasury of the curia. In the letter of the first Latin Emperor to the pope, Baldwin wrote of the miraculous success of the crusaders, of the fall of Constantinople, of the lawlessness of the Greeks, who were producing nausea in God himself, of a hope to go on a crusade to the Holy Land in the future, etc., but he did not mention the election of the patriarch. And when the new clergy of St. Sophia, consisting of Venetians, had elected to the patriarchate a Venetian noble, Thomas Morosini, the pope, though he at first proclaimed the election un-canonical, nevertheless was forced to yield and, at his own initiative, confirmed this choice.

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