Home Page

On Line Library of the Church of Greece

Walter Berschin  

From the Middle of the Eleven Century to the Latin Conquest of Constantinople

From: Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages.
From Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa.
Translated by Jerold C. Frakes.
Revised and expanded edition.
The Catholic University of America Press,  http://cuapress.cua.edu/


Go to next page Go to previous page Go to Text Index


5. The Metropolis Constantinople

More than once in the course of its history, the Byzantine Empire was so menaced that the emperor's domain consisted of little more than the capital. With Constantinople as the starting point, the Greeks repeatedly and with varying borders, reconquered their empire. At the beginning of the reign of Emperor Alexius Ι (1081-1118), the imperial capital was again in danger; initially, the first crusade was to bring relief for Constantinople from the Turkish and Petcheneg threat. At that time an enthusiastic Italian praised New Rome, which was defying the onslaught of barbarian nations, as the "Middle Kingdom" which was delaying the coming of the Antichrist: "Even if old Rome does lie in our domain -we who pride ourselves on our piety- it serves the barbarians and does not make use of its own laws. Only the empire of New Rome, Constantinople, which lies in the middle and concerning which the Apostle said, 'whoever holds it now, hold on to it, until it is removed from the middle,' has thus far resisted Medes and Persians, barbarians and Scythians, Vaginatai and Massagetai,  Huns  and Hungarians,  Goths and Normans,  Saracens and Moors."48  

Constantinople held its own, and the twelfth century became an especially important saeculum for the city and its expansion. The Latins now had their own districts, churches, and monasteries in the urbs regia;49 soon there were also multilingual Latin scholars in the Greek metropolis. What the Irish peregrini were to the Carolingian period and the Greek monks were to the Ottonian, the Italians living in Constantinople were to the twelfth century.  

Just as the Greeks in the West could attain to honors under the Ottonians, so it was also possible for the Latins at the imperial Greek court of the twelfth century to hold Greek offices -for instance, as a translator of the large imperial documents with which the maritime cities of Italy had their privileges chartered in Greek and Latin.50 The revived university attracted interest, and the ecclesiastical dignitaries in and around Constantinople, some of whom were associated with the university, were prepared for disputations. The burning controversies between East and West in theology and ecclesiastical politics continued on into the twelfth century in a more conciliatory manner; the same was true with respect to the conflict between the Western emperor and the papacy; a "knightly" element was at work here as well. Ιn 1112, the archbishop of Milan, Petrus Grosolanus, whom the Greeks called Chrysolanos, gave a speech before Emperor Alexius in Constantinople, De processione spiritus sancti.51 The emperor is supposed to have been so dissatisfied with the responses of his seven court theologians that he returned their libelli to them for revision and condensation into one text. A source from Monte Cassino reports that the emperor did not even want to deliver this text to Grosolanus.52 Ιn 1136, Emperor Lothar's legate, Bishop Anselm of Havelberg, disputed with Nicetas of Nicomedia; in 1154, he did the same with Basil of Achrida in Thessalonica. Especially under Emperor Manuel Ι (1143-80), who was sympathetic toward the West, the most populous city of Christendom became the second home of many educated Latins.  

Ιn his account of the debate of 1136, Bishop Anselm of Havelberg includes a description of the scholarly colony of Latins in Constantinople. This report is contained in the second and third books of his Dialogi, written down around 1149.

The work is called Dialogi in the edition printed by Migne (still to be used today: PL 188, cols. 1139-1248). But it follows from Anselm's remarks that the book should have a Greek title: "Incipit prologus Anselmi Havelbergensis episcopi in Αντικείμενον contrapositorum sub dialogo conscriptum ad venerabilem papam Eugenium" (Migne PL 188, col. 1139, n. 3); "... placuit sanctitati vestrae ...  quatenus ... Αντικειμένων, id est librum contrapositorum, sub dialogo conscriberem" (col. 1140); "... ea quae ego in hoc Aντικειμένων sub dialogo contexui, non subito ab aliquibus indicentur superflua" (col. 1142). This Greek title occurs in the early Latin Middle Ages one other time; see above, Chapter ΙΙ, sec.4. According to J. W. Braun, there is no manuscript evidence ("keine Quellengrundlage") to support the Greek title  Αντικείμενον or Αντικειμένων; "Studien zur Überlieferung der Werke Anselms von Havelberg Ι," DA 28 (1972), 133-209, here p. 137, n. 8. Ιn the same article, Braun refers to an "Überlieferungslucke von zweieinhalb Jahrhunderten" ("lacuna of two and a half centuries in the tradition"). Classen (Burgundio, p. 70) introduces an entirely new title -Diacimenon (?). Since the problem of the accurate rendering of the title does not yet seem to have been solved, I retain in the following discussion the already established and unproblematic (although certainly not original) title Dialogi.

As Emperor Lothar's ambassador in Constantinople, the German bishop broached the points of conflict between East and West. The emperor and patriarch thought it appropriate to organize an official disputation, for which Archbishop Nicetas of Nicomedia, one of the twelve didascali of the university, was appointed as the Greek representative. The assembly came together on 10 April 1136 in the church of St. Irene in the Pisan quarter of Constantinople. "Not a few Latins took part, among them three wise men, who knew both languages and were learned in literary matters; one was named Jacobus, a Venetian; another Burgundio, a Pisan; and the third and most distinguished, who was famous among the peoples of both nations because of his knowledge of both Greek and Latin literature, was named Moses, an Italian from Bergamo; he was chosen by everyone to be a faithful interpreter for both sides."53 Before the disputation began, an interesting question of form was posed: what was to be the nature of the "faithful" translation? The question is comprehensible only if one keeps in mind that there were two basic types of translations known to the Middle Ages: the close, literal translation, and the freer translation, which rendered the sense of the text. Nicetas was of the opinion that Moses should translate "word for word, faithfully," "for we can in this way understand each other better, and he himself can do this more easily." Anselm responded: "The translation should adopt a middle course; it should take up and interpret each speech as a contextual whole, reaching out from its middle course to both sides, rendering the full and collective meaning of the words; through this manner of speaking, or rather translating, we will seem to be not adherents of words, but investigators of ideas."54 "Non ... verborum observatores, sed sententiarum investigatores" -with this contrastive pair of concepts, Anselm elegantly alluded to the "blind obedience to the word" so little prized in the New Testament; his remark did not fail to have an effect; the cautious Nicetas, who knew (as did all the Greeks) from long theological experience that religious conflicts having to do with words and syllables were the most embittered, accepted this tenet, and thus from the very beginning the debate had a design of tolerance; philistine pedantry was avoided. According to Anselm, Nicetas conceded in the end that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and from the son ( filioque) and said that one of the ecumenical councils led by both emperors and the pope should define the doctrine of the Trinity once and for all. 

The debate was continued in Hagia Sophia in the week thereafter. The azymes and other differences between the Eastern and Western rites were discussed. Once again it was agreed that there should be a general council, "where," as Nicetas said, "everything which separates us and you from a single rite should be led back to a state of harmony through a unified form, so that Greeks and Latins become one people under the Lord Jesus Christ, in one faith, in one baptism, in one rite of the sacraments."  

Anselm assented and with great agitation expressed the wish that his adversary in the debate might also be the Greek spokesman at this council. Filled with inspiration, the audience celebrated this conclusion of the debate, which was great in both spiritual and human terms: "Doxa soi, o Theos, Doxa soi, o Theos, Doxa soi, o Theos, quod est Gloria sit Deo, Gloria sit Deo, Gloria sit Deo. Calos dialogos, quod est bonus dualis sermo. Holographi, holographi, quod est totum scribatur, totum scribatur" ("Glory be to God.... the dialogue is good.... let it all be written down. ... ").55  

The historic moment passed. Anselm of Havelberg did not write down his account of the debate until thirteen years later, at the wish of Pope Eugenius ΙΙΙ, the patron of Burgundio the translator. Anselm still held on to the hope that under this pope, who was quite open-minded toward the Greek world, the debate of Constantinople might still bear late fruit. But the rapprochement of 1136 was certainly due primarily to the fortunate circumstance that the conciliatory Nicetas of Nicomedia spoke for the East, and the German "symbolist," filled with a spiritual ecclesiology, for the West. Ιn the first book of his Dialogi, Anselm of Havelberg sets forth his understanding of theology and therewith demonstrates that the debate was possible only in the context of his nonjuridical comprehension of ecclesiastical matters. A second disputation between Anselm and Basil of Achrida in Thessalonica (in 1154) came to nothing.56 Upon his return from this journey, Anselm received the archbishop of Ravenna, and in 1158 he died in Frederick Barbarossa's retinue outside of Milan.

Of the "three wise men" of the debate in 1136, "who knew both languages and were learned in literary matters," Jacobus the Venetian has already been mentioned; moreover, the meticulous translator of Aristotle seemed to be the predestined choice to carry out the literal translation desired by Nicetas. Burgundio of Pisa must be dealt with in more detail; to judge by his other works, he also would have preferred to translate literally rather than by sentence and sense. Around 1136, Moses of Bergamo was more highly esteemed than either of them.57 He was in the service of the court in Constantinople (most likely as a translator), lived on the edge of the Venetian district, and had deposited his property in this district. He is the first Westerner in Constantinople -of whom we have any knowledge- to have collected Greek manuscripts.58 The brief Expositio in graecas dictiones quae inveniuntur in prologis S. Hieronymi became the best known of his works; it owes its existence to the inquiry by the English cleric Paganus about the significance of the Homerocentonae and Virgiliocentonae in Jerome's epist. 53 (Ad Paulinum).59 Other works by Moses are the Exceptio compendiosa de divinitus inspirata scriptura,60 translated from Greek, a didactic epistle on the oblique cases of ΧΑΡΑΚΤΗΡ and related topics,61 and a great panegyric of his native city of Bergamo, the Liber Pergaminus.62 Haskins remarks: "The literary reputation of Moses and the nature of his writings indicate that the works which have thus far come to light are only fragmentary remains of a many-sided activity. Α Latin poet, a translator from Greek, a grammarian and a collector of Greek manuscripts, he might almost hold his own three hundred years later."63  

Pascalis Romanus was a Western translator and author living in the environs of Constantinople; he is still not well known.64 Ιn 1158 or 1163, he translated the Disputatio Iudaeorum contra sanctum Anastasium, which has been attributed, no doubt erroneously, to Anastasius Sinaita; he dedicated the work to Patriarch Heinricus Dandalo of Grado (ca. 1130-86); his translation of the life of Mary by Epiphanius of Constantinople was also dedicated to Heinricus.65 Ιn 1169 he finished a translation of the Cyranides book on the medical and magical powers of animals, stones, and plants.66 The dream book Liber thesauri occulti (1165), Pascalis' own composition, compiled in part from Greek sources, has the same occult tendency.67 Ιn this book, as also in Leo Tuscus' translation of Achmet, the occult note of Greek culture at the court of Emperor Manuel Ι resounds. Ιn the later twelfth century, two brothers from Pisa played an important role in the capital of the Eastern Empire: Hugh Etherianus and Leo Tuscus.68 Hugh Etherianus, a layman, had studied in France during the fifth decade of the twelfth century; he emigrated to Constantinople probably around 1160, and there he immersed himself in Greek philosophy and theology; in his position as Latin advisor to Emperor Manuel Ι, he already exercised a decisive influence during the christological controversies at the Council of Constantinople in 1166.69 Subsequently, Hugh was the great theologian in controversial matters among the Greeks. He published a work on the issuance of the Holy Spirit in the Greek and Latin languages and translated the tract ΠΕΡΙ ΤΩΝ ΦΡΑΓΓΩΝ  ΚΑΙ ΤΩΝ ΛΟΙΠΩΝ ΛΑΤΙΝΩΝ, which stemmed from the period of conflict in the eleventh century, into Latin. His brother Leo was an interpreter in Byzantine service; he translated Achmet's book on dreams from Greek into Latin and dedicated the work to his brother (1176).70  

Hugh and Leo became the addressees of Western requests in Constantinople, just as Moses of Bergamo had been in earlier times. Ιn response to the request of a noble Western visitor in Constantinople, Count Raimund Ι of Tortosa, Leo Tuscus translated the liturgy of John Chrysostom.71 At the request of the Sacri Palatii diaconus and scholasticus Hugh of Honau (an island in the Rhine, near Strasbourg) and the scholasticus Peter of Vienna, Hugh Etherianus collected and translated a compilation of Greek patristic texts on trinitarian theology; Hugh of Honau, while a legate of Frederick Barbarossa in Constantinople in 1171, suggested the work and took it back with him to Germany from his second embassy to the Eastern capital in 1179; Liber de differentia naturae et personae.72 Hugh of Honau especially prized the work which he had brought from the urbs regia because he saw in it that the doctrine of Gilbert of Poitiers (d. 1154), who "knew neither the books nor the language of the Greeks," was fully in the mainstream of the Greek philosophical tradition, a tradition which Hugh of Honau esteemed as the source of all knowledge, "since all of the disciplines of the Latins derived from Greek sources." Hugh of Honau wrote these words in the preface to his Liber de diversitate naturae et personae proprietatumque personalium non tam Latinorum quam ex Graecorum auctoritatibus extractus;73 the preface provides important information on the relations between East and West under Emperors Manuel Ι and Frederick Ι. Ιn his compilation, Hugh of Honau used not only the Liber of Hugh of Etherianus, but also a compilation of patristic trinitarian theology which he had himself collected, the Liber de homoysion et homoeysion.74 

Three years after Hugh of Honau had returned, filled with gratitude, as a pilgrim whose wish had been granted, from his visit in the city of Constantinople with the Emperor Manuel and Hugh of Pisa, a massacre of Latins broke out in Constantinople (1182); Hugh Etherianus died in the same year. Emperor Manuel, who had opened wide the "imperial city" to Westerners, had already died in 1180. As the self-styled avengers of the pogrom of Constantinople, the Normans conquered Thessalonica, the second largest city of the empire (1185), and with this a mechanism of violence was set in motion, which culminated in the Latin conquest of Constantinople on 13 April 1204.  

The crusaders carried off untold treasures at that time from Constantinople's treasuries: the knight Heinrich of Uelmen, for example, took the famous staurotheque of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, which he presented to the convent of Stuben on the Mosel in 1208;75 Bishop Conrad (of Krosigk) of Halberstadt "stayed for some time in Greece with the emperor and received a treasure more dear than gold and topaz, namely, the relics of many saints, and in addition, a not at all trifling set of vestments; this he accomplished through familiar intercourse with the emperor and through his mercy, as well as through that of other princes, bishops, and abbots.76 These treasures of Constantinople continued to exercise an influence, both artistically and liturgically; the staurotheque mentioned above was copied by German goldsmiths, and the triumphant entrance of Bishop Conrad with the Greek liturgical vestments on 16 August 1205 was long celebrated as a separate feast day in St. Stephan's cathedral in Halberstadt, which, due to the vestments, became a storehouse of Byzantine treasures.77 But there was no longer any translatio studii associated with this translatio of artistic treasures and relics. The knights who conquered Constantinople may well have imagined the capital of the "emperor of Greece" more in the style of the epics "König Rother" and "Herzog Ernst" than of the translator's prologues and letters of the western scholars in Constantinople. With the plundering of this Christian metropolis by the crusader knights, an epoch of peaceful and fruitful relations between the Latins and Greeks was irrevocably brought to an end.

Those were the men with the brazen necks, the boastful wit, the raised eyebrows, the cheeks always clean-scraped like those of youths, the bloodthirsty right arms, the nostrils quivering with rage, the proud eye raised, the insatiable jawbone, with the unloving heart, the shrill, hurried babbling, -the only thing lacking was that the words dance on their lips!- yes, those were the intelligent, wise men, as they thought of themselves, the lovers of truth, who faithful to their oath hated all wickedness; those were the men who were so much more pious than we wretched Greeks, so much more just and precise in obeying the commandments of Christ; those were the men who -and this is even more important- wore the cross on their shoulders, who often falsely swore on this cross and the Holy Scriptures that they would pass through Christian lands without bloodshed, not straying to the right, not swerving to the left, since they had only taken up weapons against the Saracens and wished to stain their swords with nothing else but the blood of the destroyers of Jerusalem; those were the men who had vowed to touch no women as long as they marched as God's anointed troop in the service of the Most High! But they showed themselves in truth to be chatterers and fabricators of empty words. They wanted vengeance for the Holy Sepulchre and often raged against Christ! Ιn the name of the Cross, they impiously overturn the cross and do not shudder to trample that same symbol, which they wear on their shoulders, for a handful of gold and silver. They cram pearls into their pockets and discard Christ, the most valuable of all pearls. This, the purest and most holy they cast to the filthy beasts. 

The Ishmaelites are not like this! They behaved nothing short of philanthropically and gently in comparison with the countrymen of these Latins as they captured Zion. They did not attack Latin women with lustful belly laughs;. they did not turn the empty grave of Christ into a mass grave; they did not turn the entrance of life-giving places into a deadly gullet of Hades, or the resurrection of Christ to the downfall of many; but rather they granted the Latins the opportunity to depart, established a modest ransom for all men, and left everything else to the owners, even if it was numerous as the sands of the sea. Thus did the enemies of Christ deal with the Latins! Without the sword, without fire, hunger, persecution, robbery, beating, oppression, they generously came to meet them. But these good Christians treated us, their fellow believers, as Ι just described, and they could not even accuse us of any wrongdoing. 

O my city, my dear city, city of all cities! World-famous supernaturally beautiful, sublime city! Foster mother of the Church, ancestress of the faith, sage of the true doctrine, caretaker of scholarship, homestead of beauty! You who had to drink the cup of anger from the hand of the Lord, you who have become the booty of a flame which was more destructive than that which once fell from heaven on the Pentapolis. What should Ι say of you? With what should Ι compare you? For your affliction has become as great as the sea."78