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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 negotiations of 1214 held at Constantinople and in Asia Minor with the participation of Cardinal Pelagius, his delegates, and Nicholas Mesarites broke up without any result. Nicholas Mesarites, at that time metropolitan of Ephesus with the title of the exarch of all Asia, was profoundly discontented with the haughty reception accorded to him by Pelagius in Constantinople.

From the point of view of influence on the Latin clergy in the East, Innocent III, towards the end of his pontificate, obtained a brilliant victory: the Lateran Council, in 1215, recognized by the western church as an ecumenical council, proclaimed the pope the head of all the eastern Latin patriarchs, that is to say, those of Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Antioch, who from that time on were hierarchically under the jurisdiction of the Holy See.

But Innocent III was entirely disappointed in his idea that Constantinople would engage in the promised crusade. Secular, political, and international interests and problems absorbed the new Latin Empire to such an extent that the Latin rulers entirely put aside the plan of a crusade to the Holy Land and Innocent III began to aim at forming a new crusade from Europe, not through Constantinople.

The papal hopes were not satisfied by the external subjugation of the eastern Church to Rome; for complete victory a religious union was necessary, the spiritual subjugation of the Greek Orthodox population. But this could be attained neither by Innocent III nor by his successors.

The Empire of Nicaea had an Orthodox Greek patriarch of her own, who, residing at Nicaea, continued to bear the title of the patriarch of Constantinople. But the population of Nicaea regarded the patriarchal throne transferred to them as alien and annexed, and hoped that it would be later restored to its original place in Constantinople. The first Nicene ruler, Theodore Lascaris, was not recognized by Innocent III as emperor or even as despot and was called in his letter merely the noble man Theodore Lascaris (nobili viro Theodoro Lascari). In this letter to Lascaris, the pope, though he does not justify the violence of the crusaders at the taking of Constantinople, nevertheless refers to the fact that the Latins were the tool of Providence in punishing the Greeks for their refusal to accept the headship of the Roman church and that it would be desirable now for the Greeks to become obedient subjects of the Holy See and the Latin Emperor. But this papal admonition was of no avail.

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