East-West Schism

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Religious disputes

Part of the series on
Eastern Christianity

Eastern Christianity Portal

Byzantine Empire
Ecumenical council
Great Schism

Assyrian Church of the East
Oriental Orthodoxy
Syriac Christianity
Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Rite Catholics

Liturgy and Worship
Divine Liturgy

Apophaticism - Filioque clause
Miaphysitism - Monophysitism
Nestorianism - Panentheism

The East-West Schism, known also as the Great Schism (though this latter term sometimes refers to the later Western Schism), was the event that divided Chalcedonian Christianity into Latin Western Catholicism and Greek-Byzantine Eastern Orthodoxy. Though normally dated to 1054, the East-West Schism was actually the result of an extended period of estrangement between the two Churches. The primary causes of the Schism were disputes over papal authority—the Pope claimed he held authority over the four Eastern Greek-speaking patriarchs, and over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed. Eastern Orthodox today claim that the primacy of the Patriarch of Rome was only honorary, and thus he had authority only over Western Christians and does not have the authority to change the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. There were other, less significant catalysts for the Schism, including variance over liturgical practices and conflicting claims of jurisdiction.

The Church split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographic lines, and the fundamental breach has never been healed. It might be alleged that the two churches actually reunited in 1274 (by the Second Council of Lyon) and in 1439 (by the Council of Basel), but in each case the councils were repudiated by the Orthodox as a whole, given that the hierarchs had overstepped their authority in consenting to these so-called "unions". Further attempts to reconcile the two bodies have failed; however, several ecclesiastical communities that originally sided with the East changed their loyalties, and are now called Eastern Rite Catholic Churches. For the most part, however, the Western and the Eastern Churches are separate. Each takes the view that it is the " One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church", implying that the other group left the true church during the Schism.


Since its earliest days, the Church recognized the special positions of three bishops, who were known as patriarchs: the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Alexandria, and the Bishop of Antioch. They were joined by the Bishop of Constantinople and by the Bishop of Jerusalem, both confirmed as patriarchates by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (see Pentarchy). The patriarchs held both authority and precedence over fellow bishops in the Church. Among them, the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople were deemed to hold a higher status; Rome, because of its imperial status (or, for some, because it was regarded as the seat of St Peter), and Constantinople (regarded as the seat of Saint Andrew, the first bishop of Byzantium and Saint Peter's brother) by virtue of its importance as the " New Rome" and capital of the Roman Empire-Byzantine Empire.

Disunion in the Roman Empire further contributed to disunion in the Church. Theodosius the Great, who died in 395, was the last Emperor to rule over a united Roman Empire; after his death, his territory was divided into western and eastern halves, each under its own Emperor. By the end of the 5th century, the Western Roman Empire had been destroyed by the barbarians, while the Eastern Roman Empire (known also as the Byzantine Empire) continued to thrive. Thus, the political unity of the Roman Empire was the first to fall.

Many other factors caused the East and West to drift further apart. The dominant language of the West was Latin, whilst that of the East was Greek. Soon after the fall of the Western Empire, the number of individuals who spoke both Latin and Greek began to dwindle, and communication between East and West grew much more difficult. With linguistic unity gone, cultural unity began to crumble as well. The two halves of the Church were naturally divided along similar lines; they used different rites and had different approaches to religious doctrines. Although the Great Schism was still centuries away, its outlines were already perceptible.

Great Schism


There are many catalysts which caused tensions.

  • The insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed.
  • Disputes in the Balkans, Southern Italy, and Sicily over whether the Western or Eastern church had jurisdiction.
  • The designation of the Patriarch of Constantinople as ecumenical patriarch (which was understood by Rome as universal patriarch and therefore disputed).
  • Disputes over whether the Patriarch of Rome, the Pope, should be considered a higher authority than the other Patriarchs.
  • The concept of Caesaropapism, a tying together in some way of the ultimate political and religious authorities, which were physically separated much earlier when the capital of the empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople.
  • Following the rise of Islam, the relative weakening of the influence of the patiarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, leading to internal church politics increasingly being seen as Rome versus Constantinople.
  • Certain liturgical practices in the West that the East believed represented innovation: the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, for example. .

Excommunications and final break

The direct causes of the Great Schism are, however, far less grandiose than the famous filioque. The relations between the papacy and the Byzantine court were good in the years leading up to 1054. The emperor Constantine IX and the pope Leo IX were allied through the mediation of the Lombard catepan of Italy, Argyrus, who had spent years in Constantinople, originally as a political prisoner. Recently, Leo and Argyrus had led armies against the ravaging Normans, but the papal forces were defeated at the Battle of Civitate in 1053, which resulted in the pope being imprisoned at Benevento, where he took it upon himself to learn Greek. Argyrus had not arrived at Civitate and his absence caused a rift in papal-imperial relations just at the time when the patriarch was set to open up a Pandora's box.

Meanwhile, the Normans were busy imposing Latin customs, including the unleavened bread—with papal approval. This riled the patriarch Cerularius, who ordered the Latin churches of Constantinople to adopt Eastern usages and when they refused, he shut them down (although this piece of information is questionable for many historians today; it seems that several Latin churches were still open even years later) . He then ordered Leo, Archbishop of Ochrid, leader of the Bulgarian church, to write a letter to the bishop of Trani, John, an Easterner, in which he attacked the "Judaistic" practices of the West. The letter was to be sent by John to all the bishops of the West, Pope included. John promptly complied and the letter was passed to one Humbert of Mourmoutiers, the cardinal- bishop of Silva Candida, who was then in John's diocese. Humbert translated the letter into Latin and brought it to the pope, who ordered a reply to be made to each charge and a defence of papal supremacy to be laid out in a response.

Although he was hot-headed, Cerularius was convinced, probably by the Emperor and the bishop of Trani, to cool the debate and prevent the impending breach. However, Humbert and the pope made no concessions and the former was sent with legatine powers to the imperial capital to solve the questions raised once and for all. Humbert, Frederick of Lorraine, and Peter, archbishop of Amalfi set out in early spring and arrived in April 1054. Their welcome was not to their liking, however, and they stormed out of the palace, leaving the papal response with Cerularius, whose anger exceeded even theirs. The seals on the letter had been tampered with and the legates had published, in Greek, an earlier, far less civil, draft of the letter for the entire populace to read. The patriarch determined that the legates were worse than mere barbarous Westerners, they were liars and crooks. He refused to recognise their authority or, practically, their existence.

When pope Leo died on April 19, 1054 the legates' authority legally ceased, but they did not seem to notice. The patriarch's refusal to address the issues at hand drove the legatine mission to extremes: on July 16, the three legates entered the church of the Hagia Sophia during mass on a Saturday afternoon and placed a papal Bull of Excommunication (1054) on the altar. The legates left for Rome two days later, leaving behind a city near riots. The patriarch had the immense support of the people against the Emperor, who had supported the legates to his own detriment, and Argyrus, who was seen still as a papal ally. To assuage popular anger, Argyrus' family in Constantinople was arrested, the bull was burnt, and the legates were anathematised—the Great Schism had begun.

Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware (formerly Timothy Ware) writes, "The choice of Cardinal Humbert was unfortunate, for both he and Cerularius were men of stiff and intransigent temper. . . . After [an initial, unfriendly encounter] the patriarch refused to have further dealings with the legates. Eventually Humbert lost patience, and laid a bull of excommunication against Cerularius on the altar of the Church of the Holy Wisdom. . . . Cerularius and his synod retaliated by anathematizing Humbert (but not the Roman Church as such)" (The Orthodox Church, 67).

The New Catholic Encyclopedia says, "The consummation of the schism is generally dated from the year 1054, when this unfortunate sequence of events took place. This conclusion, however, is not correct, because in the bull composed by Humbert, only Patriarch Cerularius was excommunicated. The validity of the bull is questioned because Pope Leo IX was already dead at that time. On the other side, the Byzantine synod excommunicated only the legates and abstained from any attack on the pope or the Latin Church."

Early attempts at reconciliation

"Even after 1054 friendly relations between East and West continued. The two parts of Christendom were not yet conscious of a great gulf of separation between them. . . . The dispute remained something of which ordinary Christians in East and West were largely unaware" (Ware, 67).

There was no single event that marked the break, but rather a sliding into and out of schism during a period of several centuries, punctuated with temporary reconciliations. During the Fourth Crusade, however, Latin crusaders sacked Constantinople itself on their way eastward, and defiled the Hagia Sophia. A period of chaotic rule over the sacked and looted lands of the Byzantine Empire ensued, still known among Eastern Christians as Fragkokratia. After that, the break became permanent. Somewhat later attempts at reconciliation, such as Second Council of Lyon, met with little to no success.


During the 12th century the Maronite Church in Lebanon and Syria reconciled with the Church of Rome, while preserving most of its own Syriac liturgy. During the next centuries up to the 20th century many Eastern (but not significantly many), and even Oriental, Orthodox converted or, rather, entered into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, thereby establishing the Eastern Catholic Church under control of, but also liturgically and hierarchically separate from, the Holy See.

The Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965 was read out on 7 December 1965, simultaneously at a public meeting of the Second Vatican Council in Rome and at a special ceremony in Constantinople. It addressed an exchange of excommunications between prominent ecclesiastics in the Roman see and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1054. It did not end the East-West Schism but showed a desire for greater reconciliation between the two churches, represented by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I.

May 7- May 9, 1999: invited by Teoctist, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Pope John Paul II visited Romania. It was the first visit of a Pope to an Eastern Orthodox country since the Great Schism. After the mass officiated in Izvor Park, Bucharest, the crowd (both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) chanted "Unity!" Despite the fact that Pope John Paul II did not participate as an officiant, but only assisted at the Orthodox liturgy officiated by the Romanian Patriarch, the Greek monks of Mount Athos refused to admit Romanian priests and hieromonks as co-officiants at their liturgies for a few years afterwards.

October 7- October 14, 2002: invited by Pope John Paul II, Teoctist, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, visited the Vatican City.

On November 27, 2004, in an attempt to "promote Christian unity", Pope John Paul II returned the relics of the Ecumenical Patriarchs John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). Chrysostom's remains were taken-among others- as war booty from Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, and many believe that Nazianzen's were taken then as well.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, together with Patriarchs and Archibishops of other Eastern Orthodox Churches, was present at the funeral of Pope John Paul II on April 8, 2005. He was standing in the honorary first seat. The special and increased role of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs in Pope John Paul's funeral along with the fact that this was the first time for many centuries that an Ecumenical Patriarch has attended the funeral of a Pope, is considered by many a serious sign that dialogue towards reconciliation might have started.

On May 29, 2005 in Bari, Italy, Pope Benedict XVI cited reconciliation as a commitment of his papacy, saying, "I want to repeat my willingness to assume as a fundamental commitment working to reconstitute the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ, with all my energy."

Pope Benedict XVI was invited to visit Turkey in November 2006 by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, is scheduled to visit Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in December 2006. It will be the first official visit by a Greek church leader to the Vatican.

Retrieved from " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East-West_Schism"