The Special Bishop of Caesar

An excellent excerpt from “The Patriarchs of Constantinople” (Cambridge, 1911), pg 21-35

A notable piece:

” So we find that the advance of the Byzantine see is always as desirable an object to the emperor as to his bishop. The advance came quickly now. But we may notice that at every step there is no concealment as to its motive. No one in those days thought of claiming any other reason for the high place given to the bishop except the fact that the imperial court sat in his city. There was no pretense of an apostolic foundation, no question of St Andrew, no claim to a glorious past, no record of martyrs, doctors nor saints who had adorned the see of this new city; she had taken no part in spreading the faith, had been of no importance to anyone till Constantine noticed what a splendid site the Bosphorus and Golden Horn offer. This little bishop was a parvenu of the parvenus; he knew it and everyone knew it. His one argument—and for four centuries he was never tired of repeating it—was that he was the emperor’s bishop, his see was New Rome. New Rome was civilly equal to Old Rome, so why should he not be as great, or nearly as great, as that distant patriarch now left alone where the weeds choked ruined gates by the Tiber? Now that the splendor of Caesar and his court have gone to that dim world where linger the ghosts of Pharaoh and Cyrus we realize how weak was the foundation of this claim from the beginning”

Orthodox Synaxis

While criticism of the close relationship between the Russian Church and state is (with good justification!) common, less attention is paid to the fact that the Patriarchate of Constantinople exists and claims primacy solely due to its relationship with now-extinct civil authorities. But it is only this history that can explain much of Constantinople’s modern-day behavior. There is, to put it bluntly, an emperor-shaped (or, more accurately, a sultan-shaped) hole in Constantinople’s heart that forces Ecumenical Patriarchs to court the support of the most unexpected worldly powers, from Harry Truman in Athenagoras’ day to Petro Poroshenko today. Writing in 1911, the English Roman Catholic scholar Adrian Fortescue sketched the pathos of Constantinople’s role as ‘the special bishop of Caesar’ with equal erudition and acerbity:

The rise of the see of Constantinople, the ‘Great Church of Christ,’ is the most curious development in the history of Eastern Christendom. For many centuries…

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