Term of reproach used by the schismatic Greeks against the Latins, who celebrate the Holy Eucharist with unleavened bread
Azymites (a privative and zume, leaven), a term of reproach used by the schismatic Greeks since the eleventh century against the Latins, who, together with the Armenians and the Maronites, celebrate the Holy Eucharist with unleavened bread. Since reviling is apt to beget reviling, some few Latin controversialists have retorted by assailing the Greeks as “Fermentarians” and “Prozymites”. There was, however, but little cause for bitterness on the Latin side, as the Western Church has always maintained the validity of consecration with either leavened or unleavened bread. Whether the bread which Our Lord took and blessed at the Last Supper was leavened or unleavened, is another question. Regarding the usage of the primitive Church, our knowledge is so scant, and the testimonies so apparently contradictory, that many theologians have pronounced the problem incapable of solution.
Certain it is that in the ninth century the use of unleavened bread had become universal and obligatory in the West, while the Greeks, desirous of emphasizing the distinction between the Jewish and the Christian Pasch, offered up leavened bread. Some surprise has been expressed that Photius, so alert in picking flaws in the Latin Liturgy, made no use of a point of attack which occupies so prominent a place in the polemics of the later schismatics. The obvious explanation is that Photius was shrewd and learned enough to see that the position of the Latins could not successfully be assailed. Two centuries later, the quarrel with Rome was resumed by a patriarch who was troubled with no learned scruples. As a visible symbol of Catholic unity, it had been the custom to maintain Greek churches and monasteries in Rome and some of Latin Rite in Constantinople. In 1053, Michael Caerularius ordered all the Latin churches in the Byzantine capital to be closed, and the Latin monks to be expelled. As a dogmatic justification of this violent rupture with the past, he advanced the novel tenet that the unleavened oblation of the “Franks” was not a valid Mass; and one of his chaplains, Constantine by name, with a fanaticism worthy of a Calvinist, trod the consecrated Host under his feet. The proclamation of war with the pope and the West was drawn up by his chief lieutenant, Leo of Aehrida, Metropolitan of the Bulgarians. It was in the form of a letter addressed to John, Bishop of Trani, in Apulia, at the time subject to the Byzantine emperor, and by decree of Leo the Isaurian attached to the Eastern Patriarchate. John was commanded to have the letter translated into Latin and communicated to the pope and the Western bishops. This was done by the learned Benedictine, Cardinal Humbert, who happened to be present in Trani when the letter arrived. Baronius has preserved the Latin version; Cardinal Hergenrother was so fortunate as to discover the original Greek text (Cornelius Will, Acta et Scripta, 51 sqq.). It is a curious sample of Greek logic. “The love of God and a feeling of friendliness impelled the writers to admonish the Bishops, clergy, monks and laymen of the Franks, and the Most Reverend Pope himself, concerning their azyms and Sabbaths, which were unbecoming, as being Jewish observances and instituted by Moses. But our Pasch is Christ. The Lord, indeed, obeyed the law by first celebrating the legal pasch; but, as we learn from the Gospel, he subsequently instituted the new pasch…. He took bread, etc., that is, a thing full of life and spirit and heat. You call bread panis; we call it artos. This from airoel (airo) to raise, signifies a something elevated, lifted up, being raised and warmed by the ferment and salt; the azym, on the other hand, is as lifeless as a stone or baked clay, fit only to symbolize affliction and suffering. But our Pasch is replete with joy; it elevates us from the earth to heaven even as the leaven raises and warms the bread”, etc. This etymological manipulation of artos from airo was about as valuable in deciding a theological controversy as Melanchthon’s discovery that the Greek for “penance” is metanoia. The Latin divines found an abundance of passages in Scripture where unleavened bread is designated as artos. Cardinal Humbert remembered immediately the places where the unleavened loaves of proposition are called artoi. If the writers of the letter had been familiar with the Septuagint, they would have recalled the artous azymous of Ex., xxix, 2.
To Cierularius the exegetical merit of the controversy was of minor importance. He had found an effective battle-cry, well calculated to infuse into the breasts of his unreasoning partisans that hatred and defiance of the Latins which filled his own breast. The flour and water wafers of the “Franks” were not bread; their sacrifices were invalid; they were Jews, not Christians. Their lifeless bread could only symbolize a soulless Christ; therefore, they had clearly fallen into the heresy of Apollinaris. By arts like these, the unfortunate Greeks were seduced from their allegiance to the center of Catholic unity; and a schism was precipitated which centuries have not yet healed. It is interesting to notice that this question of azyms, which brought forth a cloud of virulent pamphlets and made a deeper impression on the popular imagination than the abstruse controversy of the Filioque, caused little or no discussion among the theologians at the Councils of Lyons and Florence. At the latter Council the Greeks admitted the Latin contention that the consecration of the elements was equally valid with leavened and unleavened bread; it was decreed that the priests of either rite should conform to the custom of their respective Church. Modern Russians have claimed for their nation the dubious honor of having opened this crusade against azyms; but the treatises ascribed to Leontius, Bishop of Kiew, who lived a century earlier than Crularius, and in which all the well-known arguments of the Greeks are rehearsed, are judged to have proceeded from a later pen.
JAMES F. LOUGHLIN