Milpitas Christian Church

The Great Schism of 1054

The break between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

Previous Schisms & Controversies

  • Over centuries the Greek-speaking Eastern Orthodox / Byzantine Church and the Latin-speaking Roman Catholic Church had steadily grown further and further apart, with different liturgies, different organizations, and somewhat different theologies. They would declare themselves the same church spiritually, but in practical matters were different organizations. However, there were several crises over time that split them apart

  • Iconoclasm

    • The controversy over the use of images of Jesus and saints made the Roman Catholics decide that the Eastern Orthodox Church was just a puppet church ruled by the emperor, so the West lost respect for the East
  • Muslim conquests in the east and barbarian invasions in the north and west

    • Without a strong western empire, all the western European lands were vulnerable to repeated invasions by the likes of Germanic tribes, Magyars, Vikings, etc. The Roman pope was often the only figure regarded as a universal leader in the west, and so the popes did whatever they could to protect western Europe from invasions.

    • The popes would appeal to the Byzantines to defend them, since the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople claimed jurisdiction over Rome and the Roman church.

    • But the Byzantines were now too busy fighting the Muslim invasions in the east, and they simply did next to nothing to defend the west

    • So Rome stopped counting on Byzantium for help, and turned instead to the Christian Franks up north for help.

    • This further separated East and West

  • 9th-10th centuries – possibly the lowest point ever for the Roman papacy, as the office of pope was traded politically, popes were murdered by their successors, popes had mistresses, and one pope even began his reign by toasting the devil.

    • These popes also continued to argue for their supremacy over the entire Christian Church worldwide, but that was always flatly refused by the East, who had less and less reason to respect the popes
  • However, theologically the East continued to be more turbulent and violent than the West. The West tended to hold steadily to old orthodox theology, and while they didn’t produce many brilliant theologians, they also produced fewer heretics and controversies. Meanwhile, the East could barely claim any kind of unity. Their patriarchs weren’t as powerful as popes were in Rome, but they were still the victims of ugly politics

  • The Nicene Creed and the filioque clause

    • The original Nicene Creed had stated that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father” only. Subsequent ecumenical councils had declared that the Creed should never be altered

    • But theology continued to develop, and in the West it was being taught that the Holy Spirit should proceed from the Son as well as the Father, in order to maintain equality among the Trinity.

      • Somewhere in Spain, the Nicene Creed was altered to say that the Holy Spirit proceeded “from the Father and the Son” – filioque is Latin for “and the son”

      • Meanwhile the Eastern Orthodox Church asserted that the Spirit proceeds “from the Father, through the Son”

    • Slowly this spread throughout Roman Catholicism. By Charlemagne’s time the Creed recited in his capital already had the filioque clause

    • The East was barely aware that this had happened but was furious when they heard

  • 867 - Photian Schism

    • Political scheming in Constantinople replaced Patriarch Ignatius with Patriarch Photius, who was a lay scholar and brilliant theologian. However, Pope Nicholas didn’t understand how important lay theologians were to Eastern theology and was offended that Photius had never before been a clergyman. There was a further dispute between Photius and Nicholas over who had jurisdiction over certain dioceses

    • Both patriarchs appealed to Pope Nicholas of Rome for support, and the pope sided with Ignatius

    • Photius was incensed and convened an Eastern council in which he excommunicated Pope Nicholas and characterized him as an enemy of the Byzantine Church. He also called the Roman Catholic Church heretical because it had dared to change the Nicene Creed, without even consulting the East and calling a council

    • Political changes in Constantinople ended up restoring Ignatius as patriarch, and Pope Nicholas died and was replaced by Pope Adrian II who wanted to heal the schism. However they were unable to find a compromise.

    • By 878 however Patriarch Ignatius had died and Photius was appointed to be patriarch again. Yet another pope was now in Rome, and this pope needed Byzantine naval help against Muslim raiders, and so they finally managed to work out a compromise and the schism officially ended.

    • The popes, exasperated and not wanting to alienate Byzantium any more nor to offend the Franks (who recited the filioque clause), started dropping the Nicene Creed altogether in favor of the old Apostles’ Creed, which had largely been forgotten until then

    • But the bitterness over the schism remained

Great Schism of 1054

  • Final official schism between East and West, although there were later events that cemented it even more

  • A Bulgarian archbishop accused Roman Catholicism of error because they refused to let clergymen marry and because they conducted communion with unleavened bread. He provoked this into a major controversy

  • Pope Leo IX sent an ambassador to Constantinople to resolve the issue, but he chose Cardinal Humbert, who was vehemently anti-Eastern and didn’t care to learn Greek

    • Cardinal Humbert’s personal reform policy included expanding clerical celibacy and keeping the Church away from the influence of secular rulers, so naturally he was disgusted with the Eastern Orthodox Church that was under the emperor’s authority and allowed priests and bishops to marry
  • Cardinal Humbert and Patriarch Michael Cerularius argued and insulted each other in Constantinople

  • June 16, 1054 – as the patriarch was preparing a communion service, Cardinal Humbert entered the Hagia Sophia and, in the name of the pope, delivered a letter (written by himself) in which he excommunicated the patriarch and declared the entire Eastern Orthodox Church heretical. As he left the building, someone begged him to reconsider, but he just kept walking and left for Rome

Further breaks

  • Various attempts were made to heal the Schism of 1054, but none were successful until 1965.

  • The Crusades did further damage to the relationship. The Crusades were launched almost entirely by medieval Catholic Europe and did not much benefit the East. In fact, the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople in 1204 and Westerners ruled the city and much of Byzantine territory until 1261, when the Byzantine emperor finally reclaimed the old capitol. But the Byzantine empire never recovered from the blow, and this also had a huge negative impact on the Eastern Orthodox Church.

  • 1965 - Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I met in Jerusalem and formally restored each other to communion. Many on either side have since hoped for the two organizations to actually unite, but so far the differences that developed over some 1700 years have proven too big to overcome. But official relations have gotten friendlier.