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Thirteenth Century

The Fourth Crusade

The thir­teenth cen­tu­ry began with what has been con­sid­ered the final con­fir­ma­tion of the schism between East and West, the fourth cru­sade. In 1204 the cru­saders sacked Con­stan­tino­ple. They destroyed and pil­laged the church­es. They des­e­crat­ed the altars. They stole the holy objects. A Latin, Thomas Morosi­ni, was named patri­arch of Con­stan­tino­ple, and a Frank was named emper­or. Now, for the first time, the Latin West became an open, ene­my in the minds of the Greek peo­ple. Writ­ings were direct­ed against the papa­cy and the Latin Church as such. From this peri­od the famous Byzan­tine slo­gan pre­fer­ring the “tur­ban of the sul­tan” to the “tiara of the pope” became pop­u­lar. The Latin rule of Con­stan­tino­ple last­ed until 1261 when the emper­or Michael Pale­ol­o­gos recov­ered the city.

Michael III was in the unbear­able sit­u­a­tion of being attacked on the East by the Turks, and hav­ing no assur­ance that the West­ern Latins would not return again. For polit­i­cal rea­sons, there­fore, he sent a del­e­ga­tion of bish­ops to the coun­cil of the West­ern Church in Lyons in 1274 hop­ing to gain sym­pa­thy, and mil­i­tary and eco­nom­ic aid for his crum­bling empire. The West­ern­ers pro­posed to the legates of Michael what was to become a clas­si­cal for­mu­la of church union in sub­se­quent cen­turies. They pro­posed that the East could keep its litur­gi­cal rites. The use of the word fil­ioque in the creed could be option­al as long as the doc­trine it pro­fessed was not denied as hereti­cal. The pope was to be rec­og­nized as supreme.

Michael’s legates at the coun­cil of Lyons went fur­ther than was asked of them. They offi­cial­ly accept­ed the Roman for­mu­la of the papa­cy, and the Roman doc­trine of the fil­ioque — the first time in his­to­ry it was required. The peace and help from the West which Michael desired, last­ed until his death in 1282.

When Michael died the acts of the union of Lyons were imme­di­ate­ly reject­ed by the East­ern bish­ops. The emper­or was buried with­out the funer­al rites of the Church.


In 1217 Sava went to Nicea to obtain the bless­ing of the church of Con­stan­tino­ple for an inde­pen­dent nation­al church for,the Ser­bians. In 1219 Sava him­self was con­se­crat­ed as the first “arch­bish­op of the Ser­bian lands” by Manuel, patri­arch of Con­stan­tino­ple, in the pres­ence of the emper­or Theodore. On Ascen­sion Day in 1220, at an assem­bly of the Ser­bians at the Zitcha monastery, the new­ly-con­se­crat­ed arch­bish­op Sava crowned his broth­er Stephan, the grand zhu­pan, as the first “king of all the Ser­bian lands.”

After a life of out­stand­ing lead­er­ship, after pass­ing through many grave tri­als and dif­fi­cul­ties, after trav­el­ing exten­sive­ly through­out the Chris­t­ian East, Sava died on Jan­u­ary 14, 1235. Sava was suc­ceed­ed in office by Arse­nios, a man of his own choos­ing who was ele­vat­ed to the epis­co­pal rank by Sava him­self. Arch­bish­op Sava, the founder and father of the Ser­bian Ortho­dox Church and one of the tru­ly out­stand­ing per­son­al­i­ties in Ortho­dox Church his­to­ry, has been can­on­ized a saint of the Church, togeth­er with his father, Saint Sime­on, his broth­er, Saint Stephan the First-Crowned, and his suc­ces­sor, Saint Arse­nios.


The thir­teenth cen­tu­ry wit­nessed the found­ing of the nation­al church for the Bul­gar­i­ans with the recog­ni­tion of the arch­bish­op of Tmo­vo as the head of the church in the Bul­gar­i­an lands.


Rus­sia in the thir­teenth cen­tu­ry was over­come by the Mon­go­lian inva­sion. The Tatar Yoke fell over the land when the Khan Batu led four hun­dred thou­sand men against the Rus­sians in 1237. The Kievan state col­lapsed in 1240.

In 1231 Alexan­der Nevsky became the prince of Nov­gorod. This city-repub­lic in the North had its own unique form of repub­li­can gov­ern­ment as well as its own par­tic­u­lar spir­i­tu­al, archi­tec­tur­al, and icono­graph­ic tra­di­tion. In 1240 Alexan­der led the Rus­sians in a vic­to­ri­ous bat­tle against the Roman Catholic Swedes. In 1242 he once again led the Russ­ian peo­ple to vic­to­ry over the Teu­ton­ic knights who were attack­ing the Russ­ian lands. Alexan­der then trav­eled to Khan Batu’s head­quar­ters in 1247, seek­ing mer­cy for the Russ­ian peo­ples under the Tatar Yoke. Alexan­der agreed to pay trib­ute to the Khan in order to have peace for his peo­ple. He returned from Mon­go­lia with the title of Grand Prince of Kiev. He died at the age of forty-two in 1263. In 1380 he was can­on­ized a saint by the Church for his per­son­al holi­ness, his mil­i­tary brav­ery, and his prac­ti­cal wis­dom and diplo­ma­cy — all of which he ded­i­cat­ed self­less­ly to the ser­vice of his peo­ple as a true Chris­t­ian statesman.

Alexan­der Nevsky’s son Daniel went north to Moscow, beyond the Tatar Yoke, where he served as prince from 1263 until the end of the cen­tu­ry. Saint Cyril (1242–1281) and Saint Peter (1281–1326), Met­ro­pol­i­tans of Kiev, who were resid­ing in the Mus­covite prin­ci­pal­i­ty, were the out­stand­ing hier­ar­chs of the period.

The West

The thir­teenth cen­tu­ry has been called the “great­est of cen­turies” in the West­ern Church. Inno­cent III suc­ceed­ed in uphold­ing the pres­tige and pow­er of the papa­cy. The Fourth Lat­er­an Coun­cil in 1215 defined the offi­cial doc­trines of the West­ern Church. Fran­cis of Assisi (d.1226) found­ed his Fran­cis­can Order with its first great mem­bers Antho­ny of Pad­ua (d.1231) and the the­olo­gians Bonaven­ture (d.1274) and Duns Sco­tus (d.1308). The Span­ish Dominic found­ed the Domini­can Order of preach­ers with its great the­olo­gian Alber­tus Mag­nus (d.1280) and his famous dis­ci­ple Thomas Aquinas (d.1274) who wrote the the­o­log­i­cal “sum­mae” which dom­i­nat­ed offi­cial Roman Catholic the­ol­o­gy until the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil of the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. The mys­tic the­olo­gian Meis­ter Eick­hart (d.1339) was also a mem­ber of the Domini­can order. The Carmelite order, togeth­er with a num­ber of small­er reli­gious groups, emerged at this time in the Latin Church.