Humbert of Silva Candida

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The Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida, also Humbert of Moyenmoutier, was a Benedictine abbot and cardinal bishop of the Church of Rome in the eleventh century. He advocated a monarchical concept of the bishop and centralized authority in the papacy. His action as a papal legate in 1054 of excommunicating Patriarch Michael Cerularius as a heretic, followed by a general condemnation of the entire Eastern Church, crystallized what had been a gradual estrangement between Eastern and Western Christianity into a formal schism that is traditionally used to date the beginning of the Great Schism.


Cardinal Humbert was born about the year 1000 in Lorraine, France. At the age of fifteen, he was given by his parents to the Benedictine monastery of Moyenmoutier in the Vosges mountains of Lorraine, France as an oblate, intended for monastic life. At the monastery he became expert in Greek and Latin and concentrated his theological studies on the problem of church-state relations. After he became of age, Humbert entered the Benedictine Order and later was elected as its abbot.

At the monastery, Humbert developed a friendship with Bruno of Toul which resulted in his being invited to Rome in 1049 when Bruno became Pope Leo IX. After the Norman rulers of Sicily refused to accept him as Archbishop of Sicily, Humbert was named the Cardinal-bishop of Siva-Candida in 1051. In this position he developed as the major instrument in implementing papal policy during the reigns of Leo and his successors, Victor II, Stephen IX, and Nicholas II.

At this time as cardinal, Humbert was advocating a monarchical concept of the bishop and centralized authority in the papacy, Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople, held to a position of autonomy, positions that led to an impasse in negotiations by emperor Constantine IX Monomachus of Constantinople for an alliance with Rome. In response to a denunciation of the Latin rite by Patr. Michael, Humbert replied in 1053 with the tract Adversus Graecorum calumnias (“Against the Slanders of the Greeks”).

In 1054, Pope Leo IX sent Humbert, as part of group of legates, to Constantinople to determine the significance of the expression by emperor Constantine of his desire for Greek-Roman reunion. Upon his arrival in Constantinople, Humbert engaged leading theologians of Constantinople in public disputation. The theological discussions with the Greeks reached a stalemate as the Greeks repudiated his inflexible demands for submission to the Roman Church. In the meantime Pope Leo died. Frustrated, Humbert took advantage of the papal vacancy to retaliate against Patr. Michael. In the cathedral of Hagia Sophia, Humbert excommunicated Patr. Michael as a heretic on July 16, 1054. A general condemnation of the entire Orthodox Church followed.

Returning to Rome, Humbert continued to serve under Pope Victor II. He was appointed papal chancellor and librarian of the Roman Church when Frederick of Lorraine, a friend, became Pope Stephen IX in August 1057. Humbert took part in drafting the Papal Election Decree that diminished secular influence in the government of the church. He also took part in effecting the papal alliance of 1059 with the Normans. He wrote the tract Adversus simoniacos (“Against Simoniacs”) about those who bought spiritual benefices and offices. He proposed that the election of bishops be by the people and clergy, as practiced in early Christianity in order to abolish the rampant abuses of lay investiture, the practice of laymen conferring ecclesiastical offices.

While there are divergent views on the extent of Humbert’s influence on papal policy of this period, his actions at Hagia Sophia on July 16, 1054 have come down in history as the initiating act in the Great Schism between the Western and Eastern Churches.