Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy
by Fr. Viktor Potapov
III. The Western Church and the Culture of Rome
The Roman Church was formed and developed on the foundations of Latin culture, which came out of the Roman pagan religion. The pagan religion of Rome was based on the worship of the souls of the dead, and fear before their supernatural power was the main motive for worship. This religious fear imparted a serious and even gloomy tint to Roman religion and led to the instilling of formalism into the Roman pagan cult.
The peculiarities of the Roman state system exerted an even greater influence on the Roman Church. The state had an enormous, overwhelming significance on the psyche and in the life of the Romans: the main virtue was patriotism. The Romans were able to subordinate all the forces of man to state discipline and to turn them toward one end the exaltation of the state. In the greatness and prosperity of the Roman state, the Roman citizen saw the pledge of the wellbeing and prosperity of Roman citizens and the peoples of the whole world. Hence, the conviction that the Romans ought to be the lords and masters of the world. All peoples ought to submit and enter into the makeup of the Roman state, in order to make use of the good things of the "Pax Romana" and Roman governance. The requirements for building a worldwide state and organization, a union of numerous peoples, led to the development of juridical thought in the Romans. The fusion of Roman religion and the Roman state system attained its highest degree when the Emperor Augustus and his successors were deified: divine honors were rendered to them during their life, temples were built in their honor and after their death they were numbered among the assembly of the gods.
The spirit of the Roman people, which was formed on the basis of the peculiarities of its religion and its state system, defined the character of the direction of Church life in the West after the acceptance of Christianity. Here they were little interested in dogmatic questions about the Holy Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ which agitated the East. The Western Christian people, in conformity with the cast of its mind, was occupied with the practical and external the ritual and legislative side of Church life. It turned its attention to discipline and governance in the Church, to relations between Church and state. The representatives of the Western Church were not lofty theologians, but were good politicians and administrators. In particular, the national traditions bound up with the might of ancient Rome inevitably remained with the Romans even after the acceptance of Christianity. Under the influence of these traditions, the Romans came to think that mighty Rome ought to have the same significance in Church matters that it had in matters of state.
Especially powerful and vital in the Roman people was the idea of the monarchical absolutism of the Roman emperors, which went as far as their deification in the literal sense of this word. This idea of the unlimited supremacy of one person over the whole world became a Church idea in the West. It was transferred from the emperor to the Roman pope. Even the title "Pontifex Maximus" which the Roman emperors bore, was taken by the popes. Hence, in time, a striving for selfexaltation took possession of the Roman popes.
However, as regards the first eight centuries of the existence of the Universal Church, one may speak of all these phenomena in the Roman Church only as tendencies, as moods, as a psychological cast, as sporadic manifestations. In general, then, the differences in interests, strivings and psychological cast between the Churches of the East and West during the first eight centuries were for the Church as a whole beneficial rather than harmful, since they promoted the fullness of the elucidation and incarnation in life of the principles of Christianity, leaving the Church one. In actual fact, in conformity with their own national peculiarities, the Christians of the East, as was already mentioned, discovered in full one side of Christianity dogmatic teaching. And the Western Christians, in conformity with their own peculiarities, developed another side of Christianity ecclesiastical organization. It was required of the Churches of the East and the West only that they remain in mutual ecclesiastical communion between themselves and that they not leave the bosom of the one Universal Church.
Unfortunately, the Western Church broke this communion, and in this rift is contained the cause of its entry on the path of error.