INTRODUCTION: THE RISE
From the Hajira in 622, Islam rose seemingly out of the nowhere of the deserts of Arabia and achieved previously untold military victory in its conquering of Byzantine and Persian territory. Within twenty years of the death of Mohammed, Persia lay in waste. Before Europe even knew the shape of their enemy, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria had been lost. Constantinople held out against sieges in 674 and 717 but territories were lost across the Mediterranean. Within a century, the ummah spread from the Atlantic in the west to the Himalayas in the east.
Arguably, if either Persia or Byzantium had met the Islamic onslaught 100 years before or later then they would have been able to hold out. But both lay in exhausted states when faced with this new third party, in part by their own decline, their own fighting of each other and in the case of Constantinople, the ongoing weakening effect of the Justianic plagues of 540.
By the early 8th century, the Jihad had run its course. Unable to expand further, diplomatic relations were opened up with their neighbours. Much Byzantine territory was lost however and a geographical divide was now introduced between East and West. In fact, the rise of Islam led to the heightening of tensions between the two centres of Christianity. In the aftermath of the Islamic successes, Christian mission was changed utterly and irrevocably. One of the major expressions of this change was the ongoing division between East and West.
Now at the point that the Muslim forces began their expansion, the situation between east and west was fraught if not fractious. While Rome claimed superiority in matters of faith and ongoing Christological and other theological disputes rumbled on, they acknowledged the civic authority of the Empire forces. The Emperor had (at least theoretically) a veto on the appointment of Popes and in return, Rome could rely on the Emperor for military protection. In all cases, Islam’s rise would alter this relationship status quo.
LOMBARDS AND TAX REVOLT
Initially brought into Northern Italy as a guard against Barbarian attacks, the Lombards had become a perpetual thorn in the foot of Rome. When they appealed to the Emperor for help they found that he was too busy fighting back Muslims across his boundaries to concern himself with the disputes within his borders. Rome is left to her own devices.
Fighting back against a siege on Constantinople in 717, the Emperor called for a tax hike. After decades of perceived neglect in the face of Lombard harassment, Rome staged a tax revolt.
In 751, the Lombards took control of the city of Ravenna and deposed the Exarch, (the Empire’s chief authority in the west). This prompted Stephen III to create an alliance with the Frankish leader Pepin. He took back Ravenna in 756. Yet he did not hand the city back to the Emperor but to Rome. Thus, through the Donation of Pepin, the Papal States are formed. The divisions between the Lombards and Rome went unattended because of the Muslim threat. Eventually this worked out with Rome finding support amongst the Franks and being gifted land that put them in some senses, in direct competition with the Empire.
In 726, Yazzid, the Caliph of Syria, declared an iconoclasm and set about destroying images. In the early 730s, the Emperor joined in! In part because of his exposure to Jews and Muslims in his Syrian childhood, in part because he had fallen under the influence of the Paulicians, a heretical sect in Armenia who denied the humanity of Christ (and hence depictions of him as a man) and in part to curb the growing political and cultural cachet that the iconophile monks (like John the Damascene) were gathering.
Iconoclasts were strengthened in their convictions by the apparent judgment of God that was being brought to bear against complacent and corrupt Christian religion through the Muslim victories. The baroque burden, it was felt, was holding the church away from God. Better to be like the image-less Muslims and austere in our faith than descend into the paganistic worship of idols. An earthquake and tsumani in the Aegean was explicitly interpreted by Leo III as a sign of judgment from God. Hence he supported the iconoclasm.
A Roman synod in 751 sided with the iconophiles and they excommunicated the emperor over his stance. At the 2nd Nicean Council under Empress Irene in 787 restored icons as legitimate. Thus, the rise of Islam informed and accelerated the division between East and West even though the issue they disputed was at base, a profound question of Christology.
CHARLEMAGNE AND THE FILIOQUE CLAUSE
With the rise of Charlemagne and the Carolingian dynasty in 800AD, a new factor in the effects of the rise of Islam was introduced. With tensions reaching crisis point between east and west, it was in Charlemagne’s benefit to broaden the gap and thus create more space for him to thrive. Whether as a reaction to the radical monotheism of Islam, out of true devotion, cynical politics or a combination of the three. Charlemagne advocated the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed that modified the theology considerably with elevated Christology. In this he was making explicit what Augustine had argued from back in De Trinitas- that it was “with the son” that the Father worked, not just “through the son”. The Gloria Patri was also modified in a similar fashion. The Creed of Toledo saw Spanish Christians (who had been warm towards Arianism in the past) accept this new formula.
While Rome agreed with this theologically, they resented the way in which Charlemagne decreed that across his territories, everyone should adopt it. In protest, the Pope placed a brass plaque on the very tomb of Peter with the Creed, sans Filioque clause. In 808, pilgrims from Carolingian territory arrived in Jerusalem saying this modified Creed for the first time. Yet more dispute followed.
It was not until 1014 that Rome finally formally accepted the filioque clause. In 1054, the long anticipated final schism occurred. In 1071, Constantinople was defeated in battle by the Muslims. Emperor Alexis I called on Pope Urban II to launch his first crusade in 1095. In 1204, European crusaders ransacked Constantinople, thinking the Eastern Christians no better than Muslims. Any hope of a healed schism died. East and West were divided and remain so since. And yet we can chart the acceleration of this process from possibility to eventuality from the rise of the first followers of Mohammed in the deserts of Arabia 500 years before.
Your Correspondent, Chicken and Peace