Taking as his starting point Romanity by Father John Romanides of blessed memory, the author attempts to trace the roots of the historic clash between Hellenism and the West, which appears in different forms up to the present. Although the rift hardened with the Schism and the Crusades, its origins go back to the eighth century with the founding of Charlemagne’s Empire and the misappropriation of the title ‘Roman’ by the Franks. In order to legitimise Frankish claims, relentless propaganda was set in motion that denied the free Romans their own name, calling them Greeks initially, then, when their state disappeared, Byzantines. As a result of Frankish propaganda the same people have been called by four names (Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Hellenes) over the last 600 years.
The first part of the book provides a brief survey of the problem of the Greek nation’s names, with examples of the fierce struggle waged between intellectuals from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. The problem of naming the nation reflected deeper conflicts and choices in the newly-formed Greek state, such as the issue of language, the issue of national continuity and the issue of Greece’s orientation in foreign affairs. Even more significantly, the choice of the nation’s name signalled the end of the supranational consciousness that had distinguished our civilisation for many centuries.
In the second part of the book there is an examination of how the Roman (supra)national consciousness, which is radically different from the tribal ethnic ideologies of Western countries, took shape. The two components of this consciousness are the supranational form of the state and Christianity. Understanding Roman national ideology is an essential step to understanding the special character of Romanity compared to the West. Already in the multi-ethnic classical Roman state, where various nationalities were proud to share in the concept of ‘Roman identity’, any former barbarian could become a Roman, provided that he accepted the Helleno-Roman culture and tradition. This consciousness expanded thanks to the Christian teaching on the brotherhood of all human beings, and was preserved for centuries in the ‘Byzantine’ Empire. Christianity gave a new meaning to the Empire by teaching that national divisions were a result of man’s sin and arrogance. With the coming of Christ and the founding of the Church, the faithful have the potential (and destiny) to transcend national divisions.
Using the extant sources, the author examines the preservation of ‘Roman identity’ among the Romans of the West after their conquest by barbarian Germanic tribes. The difference in cultural level, as well as religious and legal differences, prevented the integration of Romans and barbarians for centuries, as the line of argument used by Liutprand the Lombard in the tenth century demonstrates. The vanquished Romans were simply reduced to serfs of a militaristic minority of Frankish conquerors, and remained so until the eighteenth century. It is in this bitter realisation of impotence in the face of the objectives of foreign conquerors that we should look for the seeds of ‘Romanity’s yearning’, which defined modern Greeks up to the twentieth century.
The new character of the Roman Empire after its adoption of Christianity has often been misinterpreted by recent Western historians, who sometimes called its regime caesaropapist and sometimes the opposite: theocratic. The author examines these two viewpoints and rejects them. In particular, the notion of ‘theocratic Byzantium’, which is very widespread in our day, has no historical basis and in fact reflects ideological positions of the eighteenth century.
The third part of the book analyses the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ (c. 600-800 AD), at the end of which the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne arose. It is emphasised that even after the introduction of the Filioque by the Frankish Church, the Pope of Rome remained Orthodox, until the Franks expelled the Romans from the Papal throne. Consequently, when the Filioque appeared it was not presented as a difference in dogma between the Eastern and Western Church, but as a political means used by the Franks to differentiate themselves from the Orthodox Romans. From the time of Charlemagne onwards, Western Europe acquired self-awareness and defined itself in opposition to the Christian Roman Empire of Constantinople.
The author stresses that, ever since Charlemagne, Western European civilisation has been distinct from Orthodox Helleno-Roman civilisation. Consequently contemporary Orthodox Greeks have no reason to identify with the Western cultural tradition, which is burdened with innumerable crimes against many of the world’s peoples. On the contrary, they should put forward their own tradition as a source of hope for all humanity.