I was reading about the Council of Florence on wikipedia (yes I know, but I just wanted some basic info) and it mentioned that the Byzantine Emperor attended and he represented the Orthodox Church just as the Pope represents the Catholic Church. So, is the Emperor basically the Othodox ‘Pope’? I am aware that Emperors have has huge influence in the Orthodox Church (Russian Tsars in the Russian Orthodox Church), and have also heard that only the emperor can call an ecumenical council in the Orthodox Church. Is this true? Otherwise, who can call an ecumenical council in the Orthodox Church?
No, the Emperor was not the equivalent of the Pope in the Orthodox Church. He was a temporal authority.
Don’lt forget that Consantine was instrumental in calling the council of Nicea many centuries before. It dos not mean he was acting with ecclesial authority, merely temporal authority.
Right this is common thread which weaves through East-West in subject to Kingdoms which converted to Christianity, and often these temporal rulers thought they should run the churchs, or impose their will on the Elect of the Churchs. Not uncommon. The Zigs and Zags of Apostolic Churchs
The Roman Catholic prelates were trying to do a deal, and they were taking advantage of the emperors’ need of military aid in the hopes that he could persuade or force the Orthodox to comply. The whole thing was under duress.
In other words it was a big political game. The western church trying to manipulate the eastern church through the king. This is saddening because they western church had already gone through hundreds of years with that sort of meddling of kings and suffered greatly for it, one would think they would not have chosen to use such a tactic on someone else, but they did. Quid Pro Quo.
The thing is, it didn’t work, because eastern Roman emperors no longer had that kind of influence and the church at large across the east was not willing to accept communion with the west, whom most considered heretics at some level.
Royalty and other higher nobility were always a problem in the church east and west. This is not something unique to the east. Have you heard of the ‘Byzantine Period’ of Roman history? It was when the East Roman emperors had control of the naming of Popes of Rome. Later this prerogative passed over to the Holy Roman emperors for a time, and there was also a long period when the noble families of central Italy controlled the papacy, and one particularly scandalous person by the name of Theophylact, as I recall…
This same problem happened all over Europe, in the east and the west.
This is why St Joan of Arc was condemned to death by Roman Catholic bishops. These bishops were controlled by the king of England. When she was safely within the area controlled by the king of France the Catholic bishops under that king would not have even considered bringing her up on charges. She was the same person, doing all the same things, but when she crossed the border the same church treated her as a heretic because of politics.
The church was not neutral and free, it suffered mightily under pressure from worldly powers. Even very early in church history the fathers were aware of the dangers of this happening and warned against it.
That is not true. The fact is the emperors did call councils, because they wanted the church to solve empire-wide problems and they hoped this would help. These same seven councils are binding on the Roman Catholic church, but they were not called by Roman Catholic Popes, they were called by Roman emperors.
In fact, the very first major council in the western church was called by the emperor, at Arles. It resolved the Donatist controversy and should be counted as a General Council of the West.
I recently read where Saint Ambrose of Milan (Metropolitan of Milan) had written an emperor of his day asking him to convoke a Council to over some religious matter. What makes this interesting is that Rome was just a few hundred miles down the road, but he was writing the emperor.
These are facts of history.
The early church, east and west, was organized by synods. The head of a synod is a Metropolitan, but he is not a ‘ruler’ or a boss. He has the highest place of honor and is the most respected, and he will chair any meeting of the bishops in his synod. He will break ties in votes and give final approval of decisions of the synod. It is an important position. Normally, gatherings of the synod are regularly scheduled, but for serious other reasons special meetings of a local synod can be called. Bishops from other neighboring synods can be invited (and often are), and if other bishops are already passing through the area they would almost certainly expect to attend, even perhaps allowed a vote. There are quite a few records of this in history.
When a general Council meets, it is analogous to several church synods meeting at the same time in the same place. There are a lot of advantages to this, most especially that communication problems are eliminated and they can all cut to the chase. When a council of several synods meets simultaneously, they can hopefully arrive at a consensus quickly. Then all they have to do is go home and meet with all the bishops and clergy to (hopefully) ratify it. It works sort of like a modern treaty process.
Any synods that did not attend or were not well represented (like churches far away in Africa or Asia) would be sent records of the meeting and be asked to also ratify or approve the findings of the Council for their own churches (they might also send back critiques or objections), in the interest of all being of a common mind. This is how the early church worked.
Local councils happen all the time. From the early church to the present day.
When the emperors called general councils the emperors acted as sponsors, they did not chair the councils (this was reserved to a bishop), but they paid for the food and lodging, perhaps also the transportation. The First Ecumenical Council, at Nicea, was held at the emperors palace complex, because his new capital city was still under construction and was not ready.
Today, the Orthodox call their general councils ‘Pan-Orthodox’ councils, and they meet by mutual agreement. There have been several important ones, and one will meet in the near future.