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Chapter 37
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 39

 p353  Chapter XXXVIII
New Effort Towards Church Unity

Contact with Latins

The Armenians, subject to incessant aggression and strain from all sides, looked for some support from other Christian nations. But though desirous of brotherly understanding and cooperation, they have always resisted all external attempts at religious domination or proselytizing. They often remained alone and isolated, yet cultivated friendships in the hope of making their own standing recognized and respected by others.

A series of unionist negotiations with the Greeks and Latins continued, sometimes simultaneously, during the existence of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia (1080‑1375). The Katholikos Grigor II (1065‑1105), in the course of his travels — undertaken for research in the history of martyrs — endeavored to procure an entente with the churches of Jerusalem, Constantinople and Alexandria. An unfounded account of his having made a trip to Rome arose from confusion of the names Rome and Roum, the latter referring to Hromkla, "the castle of Romans or Romians." A closer relation­ship with the Greeks happily put an end, at least temporarily, to imperial oppressions.

The first official contact between the Latin and Armenian churches took place in the Council of Antioch in 1141, held under the presidency of Cardinal Albericum, the papal legate. The Katholikos Grigor III (Pahlavouni) accompanied the Cardinal to Jerusalem in 1143, where another council was convoked. In reply to proposals for union with the Church of Rome, the Katholikos declared that nothing of vital importance separated the two churches. Pope Lucius II sent ecclesiastical gifts to the Katholikos, who in  p350 turn dispatched presents to him through a delegation. Doctrinal and ceremonial differences were made subjects of discussion at Viterbo, Italy, under the new pope, Eugenius III, who occupied the Papal throne in 1145. Eugenius wrote to the Katholikos, requesting him to adopt the usages of the Roman Church.

In 1165, Bishop Nerses Shnorhali, brother of the Katholikos, met Prince Alexis, the imperial governor-general, at Mopsuest (Missis) in Cilicia, to discuss reunion of the Greek and Armenian Churches. Both men were well versed in doctrinal matters.

After verbal conferences between the two, Bishop Nerses set down in writing the fundamentals of the Armenian faith and the liturgical practices of the Church, for presentation to the Emperor. The document was dignified in tone. Avoiding any criticism of the Chalcedonian doctrine, it explained that the term, "one nature," used by the Armenians, in the sense accepted by St. Athanasius and St. Cyril, was because of the "ineffable union" of the two natures with one another.

Nerses Writes to the Emperor

Some time after the receipt of the letter of Nerses, the Emperor invited him to Constantinople for an interview. Nerses, having meanwhile succeeded to the Patriarchal throne after Grigor's death, was unable to undertake the journey, but promised a visit later. In his answer, he again emphasized the desirability of mutual concessions;— "If God wills that we converse with one another, let it not be as the master with his servants and the servants with their master . . ."

Referring to the practices peculiar to the Armenian Church, such as the use of unleavened bread, wine without the admixture of water for the Communion, also the celebration of the feasts on different dates, Nerses said that the Armenians had retained the early customs.

The Emperor sends a Delegate to Katholikos

In 1170 Emperor Manuel I sent two delegates for a discussion with the Katholikos. They were Theorianus Magistros and John Utman, an Armenian, Abbot of the Monastery of Philippopolis. After the close of the discussion, Nerses wrote to the Emperor, saying that the Armenians admitted their error in thinking that the Greeks leaned towards Nestorianism, just as it was an erroneous belief of the Greeks that the Armenians followed Eutyches. At the request  p351 of the Imperial delegate, he again wrote out the profession of faith of the Armenians. On his return to Constantinople, Theorianus submitted a report to the Greek Emperor, ascribing to Nerses complete agreement with the Greek position.

Second Mission

In recognition of this (alleged) achievement, Theorianus, again accompanied by Utman, was sent to Cilicia on a second mission in 1172. On this occasion, they brought a memorandum comprising nine demands for the Armenians to accept.

Nerses sent letters of acknowledgment to the Emperor and the Patriarch, and promised to convene a synod, but died before it could meet. His successor, Grigor IV, Tgha (the Youth), was as desirous as Nerses of establishing peace between the Churches. In his acknowledgment of the letter of condolence sent by the Emperor, he begged him to lighten his demands. The emperors complied with this request when negotiations were resumed in 1177. He admitted that the Armenians did not confuse the two natures, and that their faith was orthodox. A letter signed by the Patriarch Michael and seventeen bishops and metropolitans also acknowledged the orthodoxy of the Armenian Church.

Dissensions among Clergy

The Katholikos Grigor summoned the bishops and abbots to Hromkla for a meeting. But the clergy of Greater Armenia were not in sympathy with the idea of any union. Headed by Barsegh, Bishop of Ani, the Abbots of the monasteries of Haghbat and Sanahin and others criticised the Katholikos for sending a profession of faith to the Emperor without consulting them. They insisted that confession of one nature of the Word God incarnate, as received from the Church Fathers, should be defended. They could not understand why these Greeks, while admitting that the Armenian dogma was orthodox, had sent a different formula for acceptance.

In reply to their opposition, the Katholikos reminded them of the precepts of love and charity, not to hate one another or insult and curse. He rebuked their criticism of the Greeks, saying, "The Greeks have invited us once and twice; should we not meet them courageously, and either agree with them or make them agree with us? If they insist on the two natures, we should refute and chide them. If they change, we shall gain brothers. Even if nothing is  p352 achieved, the Armenians will at least have shown their good will."

This appeal had only partial success. The Bishop of Ani and several other prelates of Greater Armenia came to the synod at Hromkla in 1179. The Synodal letter sent to Constantinople explained the Armenian faith without mentioning the two wills and operations, but accepting the formula of "two natures" and stating what had already been explained by Nerses regarding the human and divine wills and operations. The letter ends with an expression of willingness to bring about a union, "for truly we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father."

This letter reached the Capital after the death of Emperor Manuel. His successor rejected the policy of moderation, and reverted to the oppression of the Armenians. When negotiations were resumed in 1196, the Greeks insisted upon the imposition of all the nine points originally presented. The council which met at Tarsus displayed a spirit of goodwill and a desire for reasonable collaboration. But despite the concessions made by the Armenians, the Greeks remained obdurate. Even a visit to Constantinople by Bishop Nerses of Lambron did not relieve the situation.

Armenians Unyielding

A fundamental fact is that the Armenians were determined to preserve the independence of their church. In accordance with the ninth clause of the memorandum presented by Theorianus, the Katholikos was to be appointed by the Emperor; but the Armenians were not ready for such submission. How could they forget the bullying attitude of the Greeks? "Your clergy and your people," wrote Nerses to the Emperor, "consider it an act of justice . . . to hate and insult us. Order them to renounce such offensive actions and come to us in love and peace. . . . Let there be an end to the reasons for which, until now, our people have fled from you. Our churches and altars of God are ruined, our sacred objects are destroyed, our ministers are subjected to ill treatment and calumnies, the like of which we do not even suffer at the hands of the enemies of Christ who are our neighbors. Such deeds not only fail to unite those who are separated, but bring dissensions even among those who are united."

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