The Great Schism, also known as the East-West Schism, was the event that divided "Chalcedonian" Christianity into Western (Roman) Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.^^ Though normally dated to 1054, when Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I excommunicated each other, the East-West Schism was actually the result of an extended period of estrangement between the two bodies of churches. The primary causes of the Schism were disputes over papal authority -- the Roman Pope claimed he held authority over the four Eastern patriarchs, while the four eastern patriarchs claimed that the primacy of the Patriarch of Rome was only honorary, and thus he had authority only over Western Christians -- and over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed. 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 Lyons) 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. The patriarchs held both authority and precedence over fellow bishops in the Church. Among them, the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) was deemed to hold a higher status, by virtue of his position as the successor of Saint Peter. Moreover, the Pope's see was of particular importance, as Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire. Even after Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople in 330, the Pope retained his position as first among equals (primus inter pares) in the hierarchy, although this was not accompanied by any sort of veto or other monarchical powers over the other Patriarchs.
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 fifth century, the Western Roman Empire had been decimated by the barbarians, while the Eastern Roman Empire (known also as the Byzantine Empire) continued to thrive. Thus, the political unity in the Empire was the first to fall.
Other factors caused the East and West to drift further apart. The dominant language of the West was Latin, while 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.
The Great Schism was not the first schism between East and West; there had, in fact, been over two centuries of schism during the first millennium of the Church. From 343 to 398, the Church was split over Arianism, a doctrine supported by many in the East, though rejected by the Pope in the West. A new controversy arose in 404, when the Byzantine Emperor Arcadius deposed the Roman-backed Patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom. The Pope soon broke off communion with all the eastern patriarchates, for they had countenanced Chrysostom's banishment. The division was healed only in 415, when the eastern patriarchs retroactively recognised Chrysostom as legitimate.
Another conflict broke out when, in 482, the Byzantine Emperor Zeno issued an edict known as the Henotikon, which sought to reconcile the differences between most of the Church (which believed that Jesus Christ had two natures: human and divine) and the monophysites (who believed that Jesus Christ had only a divine nature). The edict, however, received the condemnation of Pope Felix III. In 484, the Pope excommunicated Acacius, the Patriarch of Constantinople who urged Zeno to issue the Henotikon. The schism was ended in 519 -- over thirty years later -- when the Byzantine Emperor Justin I recognised Acacius's excommunication. However, the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem now embraced Miaphysitism and rejected the Council of Chalcedon. Thus, although technically reunited, the Church was in actuality diverging.
The catalysts of the Great Schism included:
- the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed by the Roman church in direct violation of the command of the Council of Ephesus, an action called non-canonical by the Eastern church.
- disputes in the Balkans 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. All five Patriarchs of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church agreed that the Patriarch of Rome should receive higher honors than the other four; they disagreed about whether he had authority over the other four and, if he did, how extensive that authority might be.
- 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. There is controversy over just how much this so-called "Caesaropapism" actually existed and how much was a fanciful invention, centuries later, by western European historians.
- certain liturgical practices in the west that the East believed represented innovation: use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, for example. Eastern innovations, such as intinction (dipping) of the bread in the wine for Communion, were condemned several times by Rome but were never the occasion of schism.
This conflict led to the exchange of excommunications by the representative of Pope Leo IX and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, in 1054 (finally rescinded in 1965) and the separation of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches, each of which now claims to be "the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." It should be noted that at the time of the mutual excommunications, Pope Leo IX was dead. Therefore, the authority of Cardinal Humbertus, the Pope's legate, had ceased; therefore he could not legitimately excommunicate Patriarch Cerularius.
The final breach is often considered to have arisen after the sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. This Fourth Crusade had the Latin Church directly involved in a military assault against the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, and the Orthodox Patriarchate. The sacking of the Church of Holy Wisdom and establishment of the Latin Empire in 1204 is viewed with some rancor to the present day. In 2004, Pope John Paul II extended a formal apology for the sacking of Constantinople in 1204; the apology was formally accepted by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
On November 27, 2004, in an attempt to "promote Christian unity", Pope John Paul II returned the bones (relics) of Patriarchs John Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen to Istanbul. The former of the two relics was taken as war booty from Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204, and many believe the latter was taken then as well. However, the Vatican says the bones of the second saint were brought to Rome by Byzantine monks in the 8th Century.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I together with other heads of self-governed Eastern Churches were present at Pope John Paul II funeral on April 8, 2005. This is the first time for many centuries that an Ecumenical Patriarch has attended the funeral of a Pope and has been interpreted to mean that dialogue towards reconciliation might have started.^^^^
- ? "Great Schism" World Encyclopedia. Philip's, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. King County Library System. 17 March 2010 < http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t142.e4859>
- ? John Burger. "Archbishop Hilarion on Christian Unity". National Catholic Register: America's most complete Catholic news source. February 7, 2011 < http://www.ncregister.com/blog/archbishop-hilarion-on-christian-unity/>
- ? Jeffrey Donovan. "World: Pope's Dream Of Uniting Christianity Goes Unfulfilled". Radio Free Europe Free Liberty. April 8, 2005. < http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1058341.html>