September 18, 2015

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Medieval Church: The East-West Schism of 1054

John F. Fink(Sixth in a series of columns)

Last week, I wrote about the problems between the Eastern and Western Churches during the ninth century, especially while Photius was Patriarch of Constantinople. However, the split that resulted in the distinction of the Orthodox churches of the East from the Roman Catholic Church of the West, which continues to this day, didn’t happen until the 11th century.

There were two fundamental differences between the Church of Rome and that of Constantinople. One was over papal claims regarding primacy, which ecumenical councils had accorded to Rome. The Eastern Church took “primacy” to mean first in honor, but did not grant the pope supremacy of teaching authority and jurisdiction. The popes, on the other hand, insisted on exerting both over the entire universal Church, in both east and west.

The two churches also disagreed on whether the Holy Spirit proceeded only from the Father, or from the Father and the Son. The original Nicene Creed said only “from the Father,” and this is what the Eastern Churches believed. The Western Church, though, thought that this did not emphasize Christ’s divinity and equality with the Father, so the phrase “and the Son” was added by a western council called by Charlemagne in 809-810.

Bitterness between the east and west reached its peak in 1009 when Patriarch Sergius II dropped the name of Pope Sergius IV from the Byzantine diptychs (the listing of persons prayed for during the liturgy). During the next few decades the split grew worse, especially after Michael Cerularius became Patriarch of Constantinople in 1043.

It was a time when the papacy in the west can only be described as a mess, which I’ll touch on in future columns. In 1053, Pope Leo IX was in prison. Patriarch Michael Cerularius picked that time to close the Latin churches in Constantinople, and he launched a violent attack on western religious practices, such as the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist.

From his prison, Pope Leo sent Archbishop Humbert of Sicily to Constantinople to attempt a reconciliation. This proved to be a complete failure and ended with Archbishop Humbert excommunicating Patriarch Michael and his supporters. Eight days later, on July 24, 1054, Patriarch Michael countered by excommunicating Pope Leo. The East-West Schism is dated from that time.

The schism was to have far-reaching effects. In Russia, for example, it meant that the principal Church was Orthodox instead of Catholic because it was in the sphere of influence of the Orthodox Churches.

Today in the east there are both Orthodox and Catholic Churches. The Catholic Churches include the Latin Church in the west and various Eastern Churches. Those Eastern Churches are similar to their Orthodox counterparts, the main difference being that the Orthodox do not recognize the authority of the pope while the Eastern Catholic churches do.

The Greek Orthodox Church today includes the ancient patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, but there are few Christians left in those places. Most Orthodox churches are national churches, with the Russian Orthodox Church by far the largest and most important. †

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