Thursday, July 6

The Great Schism

On this day in 1054, the Christian Church suffered a permanent schism when the four eastern Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch broke off fellowship with the one in the west, Rome.

The division came during the prelacies of Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople and Leo IX, Pope in Rome. The year before, Cerularius had circulated a treatise criticizing a number of the practices of the Roman church in unusually strong terms. Catholics did not allow their clergy to marry, for instance. This was contrary to both Scripture and tradition, according to Cerularius. In addition, Catholics used unleavened bread in their Eucharist, again in contradistinction to the long-held standards of church dogma.

But the most serious concern was that the Latin church had added the word filoque to the Nicene creed, asserting that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both Father and Son. This, it seemed to the hierarchs of the East, to be a heinous flirtation with heresy. Cerularius excommunicated all bishops of Constantinople who used the Western ritual and closed down their churches.

Both the criticisms and the actions incensed Leo. He demanded that Cerularius cease and desist--and then as if to add insult to injury, he demanded that each of the other patriarchs submit to the pope. Any church which refused to recognize the pontiff as supreme was an assembly of heretics, he said--a synagogue of Satan. The Eastern patriarchs wasn't about to accept this characterization. The five patriarchates had always been held to be equal.

In an effort to enforce his decrees, Leo sent a delegation to Constantinople. The legates were led by a brilliant, though unyielding man, Cardinal Humbert. But Humbert was so rude to Cerularius that the patriarch refused to speak with him. Aggravated by this treatment, the legates issued a series of anathamas. To make matters worse, before they could get any further direction from Rome, Leo died.

Thus, taking matters into his own hands, Humbert and his delegation marched into St. Sophia on July 6, 1054, and placed a bull on the altar, excommunicating Cerularius. After this act, Humbert made a grand exit, shaking the dust off his feet and calling on God to judge.

In turn, Cerularius convoked a council and once more blasted Western practices. Humbert was anathematized. The Orthodox condemned all who had drawn up the bull. There was no chance of reconciliation between the factions. The unity of fellowship, forbearance, and love which Christ had said should mark his followers was irrevocably broken. Before long it could be truely said that the Orthodox were no longer orthodox and the Catholic were no longer catholic.


Wesley Diggs said...

I may be ignorant in these matters, but I do enjoy the study of history and theology.

On the issue of the Great Schism I have come to understand that perhaps the greater problem lies not in the differences between Humbert/Leo and Cerularius, but in church governance. I am not a fan particularly of democracy as being a method of governing the church. So when we take the fact that the eastern dioceses departed from the western diocese of Rome, I do not think that 5 against 1 makes the five right.

It seems that there must be a form of primacy, if I may, within church governance for there to be any coherent leadership. Just as how in a family there are two leading parties, the husband and the wife, but one leader has particular leadership even over the other, just so should the church be governed? Should there not be a single figurehead that can be trusted with a sort of (temporal) patristic role in church government?

I ask these questions because I have recently been confronted with the classical argument in favor of Catholicism and the authority of the pope/church councils. It seems to me a logical line of thinking that there must be an undisputable temporal authority as far as church governance or canon law or else the opposite, that being equality and democratic style governance.

JNH said...

See here for an infantile, simplistic treatment of the RC claim to the need for earthly human primacy (that basically obfuscates a genuine belief in the current personhood of Jesus and His active rule in His church). To say that was the main issue in the schism is quite creative (read: poor) history.