Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Great Schism (Eastern-Western) - This Week in Christian History for the week of July 14-20

The Great Schism (Eastern-Western) was when the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church split apart. The date that is chosen, 1054 July 16th, is when Pope Leo IX sent legates to deliver the excommunication of Michael Cærularius, Patriarch of Constantinople. The Patriarch, the head of the eastern church, reacted by excommunicating the legates. This was not the beginning of the story.

When Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, he gave more authority to the sees of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.  The Roman Empire was sometimes one country, but at other times it was divided into eastern and western halves. During his reign Constantine effectively moved the capital of Rome to Constantinople in the East.

In the fourth century the emperor took control of the church and the local bishop (in Constantinople) was made Patriarch. This title in time came to mean that his see was considered second, only behind Rome in eminence. The other sees protested this, especially Rome. During this time Rome increasingly saw itself as being the head of the other churches. Then the Roman Empire was permanently split and the former eastern portion of the Roman Empire became the Byzantine Empire. This helped create further differences between the two churches.

After the fall of the Roman Empire to Germanic tribes, the Byzantine Emperor declared to have complete authority over the church, but acknowledged he could not influence the church in the former western half of the empire. After the fall of the empire a greater language barrier grew. The western half spoke Latin and the eastern spoke Greek. Most educated men spoke both before the fall, but after the fall very few would learn both languages. Theology and rituals gradually drifted apart. Three of the original five sees fell to Muslim Arabs, thus leaving the two great sees of Rome and Constantinople.

Years after this happened the mutual excommunication took place. Afterwards the churches have largely gotten along, but did not recognize each other’s councils, which was not all that different than what it was like for years before the schism. In 1965 Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I met to declare an end to the schism.

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Thank you for reading.