Old and New Rome - The Great Schism referat

The Great Schism

(Old and New Rome)


The Great Schism is one of the most important events in the history of the Church, and lead to the split between Eastern and Western Christianity.

Its causes are not simple, as some historians have stated. To understand these causes we have to go back in time, many centuries before its completion.

First of all we should consider the structure of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was a great one stretching from Europe to Asia and Africa, having as its centre the Mediterranean Sea , called by the Romans “Mare Nostrum” (“Our sea”). In this empire there were many peoples, each one with different traditions and mentality. But, in this multitude of peoples there were two predominant cultures: the Greek one and the Latin one, and even these two were different. The Greek culture was present in the Eastern part of the Empire while the Latin one predominated in the Western part. This contributed to the creation of two different mentalities, two different worlds in one. The Greek language was used in culture, education and Latin in administration. Beginning with the third century the Empire was divided and this situation worsened things. The emperor did this having in mind a better administration of the Empire.

Moving the capital from Rome to Constantinople (330) was an obvious sign that the Roman emperor ( Constantine the Great) wanted to renew the Empire, to strengthen it, and this could be done only by getting rid of the past, with its mentality. By this time Rome had already collapsed. This collapse was seen as the vengeance of God upon Rome, which for centuries had persecuted Christianity ( E. Benz - “The Eastern Orthodox Church” p.176). The court and all the administration were transferred to Costantinople, leaving Rome “deserted”. From now on the old capital was seen as a memory of a glorious past, while Constantinople was seen as the new heart of the Empire. The only authority left in Rome was papacy; not being under the constant surveillance of the emperor the popes gained more and more power, which, unfortunately was not only religious , but also political. And so their power spread in the whole West.

With the creation of the new capital another question arises: How important should the See of Constantinople be? It was logical that no other see could be more important than the See of Constantinople, because it was the capital of the Empire. So it had to be equal to the see of the old capital. Of course, this did not please the popes.

The alienation between East and West was also due to linguistic errors. Theological writings were misinterpreted by both sides, and letters were not translated correctly.

The most important cause of the schism was the religious one. In the East religious education was opened to everybody. Anyone could take part in theological debates, and even in the liturgy the laity had its role. In the West religious education was offered by clergy and for clergy and the liturgy was sung in a Latin which most of the laity could not understand. So, as we can see, these elements contributed to the maintenance of the true faith in the East.

Before the schism of 1054 there had been several temporary schism between the East and the West. One of those was when the patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster named himself “ecumenical patriarch”, in 595. Since Constantinople was the ecumenical capital, its patriarchate was ecumenical too.But this was more an honorific title. This upset pope Gregory I , who called himself “servus servorum Dei” which means “servant of God’s servants” (I.Ramureanu -“Istoria Bisericeasca Universala” p. 231). As we can see this is a debate over primacy.

Another argument for the schism is the introduction of the “Filioque” in the Creed. It was first mentioned at the first synod in Toledo (447) and than at the third synod of Toledo (589); after this it was introduced in France, Germany, England and Northern Italy. But, at first, the popes rejected it. Pope Leo III (795-816) ordered that the Creed, without the “Filioque” , should be written on two silver tables, in Greek and in Latin , and put at the entrance of St. Peter’s cathedral. Under them he wrote: “I, Leo, have put these out of love and care for the orthodox faith”. “Filioque” was officially introduced in the Roman-Catholic Church by pope Benedict VIII, in 1014.

Another cause for the schism was the use of unleavened bread by the Latins. The Greeks used as an argument against this the fact that during the Last Supper, Jesus used Leavened bread as mentioned in the Bible. But there were a lot of minor causes related to liturgical and dogmatic differences. Metropolitan Ilarion mentioned in his “Podil Jedenoiy Hrestovoiy Tserkve” other causes, such as: the lack of Christian love among the Latins and the Greeks, and the utilization of false documents (“Donatio Constantini”) by the Latins.

To better understand the events that lead to the Great Schism we have to take a look at the situation of the Church in Constantinople at the beginning of the ninth century . At this time there were two religious parties: the conservatives and the radicals. The conservatives were mostly monks. The radicals were more open-minded than the conservatives. These two parties were in constant conflict. Such a conflict was the one between patriarchs Ignatius(846-857; 867-877) - a representative of the conservatives- and Photius (858-867; 877-886)-a representative of the radicals.

Ignatius was appointed patriarch of Constantinople by empress Theodora. He was the leader of the conservatives and considered education as a barrier towards religion. A Greek writer, contemporary to Ignatius, Economos, characterized him as follows: “Optimus monachus, non optimus patriarcha”(Metropolitan Ilarion- “Podil…” p.107) which means “The best monk, but not the best patriarch”. Thus he was not much loved. In 857 he refused to offer communion to the emperor’s uncle, Vardas, because of some rumours according to which the latter was living with his son’s widow. So he was deposed from the patriarchal see. In his place was appointed Photius, the chief secretary of the state, and , at the same time, the most educated person in the Byzantine Empire. In his writings, Photius says that he was named patriarch of Constantinople against his will. Between 20-25 December 857, he went through all the orders, from monk to patriarch. The Ignatians, supporters of Ignatius, did not recognize the newly-elected patriarch, and appealed to pope Nicholas I (858-867) to make justice. In 860 , the pope sent legates to Constantinople to examine the situation. These legates brought with them a letter for emperor Michael III , in which the pope asks for his approval to be mediator between Photius and Ignatius, as he is the head of the Church. In 861 Photius called a synod. The Roman legates took part in it as well. The synod condemned Ignatius, recognized Photius as patriarch of Constantinople, but does not accept the pope as the head of the Church. Pope Nicholas I, not being satisfied with the decisions of that council , called another synod in Rome, in 863. This synod recognized Ignatius as the patriarch of Constantinople, anathemizing Photius and declared Rome’s primacy over the other patriarchates. One of the arguments the Latins used to anathemize Photius was his being appointed patriarch although he was a layman. This appointment was not completely correct, but there had been similar cases before Photius.

In 866, the pope sent legates to Constantinople with letters from him for the emperor and the patriarch, in which he asked them to recognize his primacy. But these legates were not allowed to enter Constantinople. In fact, the emperor and Photius asked Nicholas I not to interfere in the See of Constantinople.

This situation was worsened by the situation of Bulgaria. Being a neighbour state of the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria wanted to accept Christianity. So, Constantinople sent bishops and priests to convert the Bulgarians. But when they asked for a bishop of their own and authonomy, and Byzantium does not accept this, they turn their attention to Rome. The pope gladly sent his men to re-baptize Bulgaria. As a reaction to this , Photius sent an encyclical letter to all the eastern patriarchs, in 867, in which he condemns the Latins for the re-baptizing Bulgarians, just because they had been baptized by married priests, but mostly for the introduction of “Filioque” in the Creed. In the summer of the same year, Photius called a council at Constantinople which anathemized Nicholas I and condemned “Filioque’. It was also this year that Nicholas I died and was replaced by Adrian II (867-872), emperor Michael III was killed and Basil I the Macedonian (867-886) became emperor. He wanted Rome and Constantinople to reconcile, so he deposed Photius and re-installed Ignatius.

In 869-870 there was a synod in Constantinople, called by the Catholics “The eight ecumenical council”. It was presided by the pope’s legates and, out of 500 bishops from the See of Constantinople only 109 were present. Before the council started the pope’s legates presented a document (“Libellus satisfactionis”) which mentioned pope’s primacy and anathemized Photius. The participants had to sign it with the Eucharistic blood. Three days after the end of the council some Bulgarian legates came to solve their problem. Unlike the majority, the pope’s legates suggested that Bulgaria should be under the jurisdiction of Rome and forbade Ignatius to interfere there. But, eventually, he consecrated a Bulgarian archbishop and ten bishops.

Due to the misunderstandings between Photius and Ignatius, chaos predominated in the Greek Church. Ignatius asked for the pope’s advice, but the latter was only interested in getting Bulgaria under his jurisdiction.

In 877 Ignatius died, but after reconciling with Photius, who was re-installed patriarch . In 879-880, Photius called a synod in Constantinople. The new pope, John VIII (872-882) sent legates to this council. The council acknowledged Photius as the patriarch of Constantinople, but not pope’s primacy, or his right over Bulgaria, and also rejects “Filioque”. In 886 Photius was deposed by the new emperor, Leo (886-911).

In the eleventh century the tensions between the East and the West revived. In Constantinople, at this time, Latin influences regarding doctrine and practice began to more frequent. Because of this, patriarch Michael Cerularius (1043- 1058) asked the Latin monasteries and churches in Constantinople to respect Greek tradition. Due to their refusal to do so, he closed them down. He also told Leo, archbishop of Ochrida (head of the Bulgaria Church) to write a letter to the patriarchal representative in Italy, who had to pass it to the pope. This letter condemned the use of azymes (unleavened bread), fasting on Saturdays, eating strangled meat, and other Latin habits which were not in accordance with the Orthodox faith. Pope Leo IX (1048-1054) replies with two letters: the first one addressed to Michael Cerularius and Leo of Ochrida in which he declared the primacy of the Roman See, based on arguments taken from the “Donation of Constantine”. The second letter, having no address, defends the Latin habits. Before the letters were sent the pope received two other letters from the emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1054) and from the patriarch of Constantinople on a more ‘friendly” tone. Leo IX decided to send some legates to Constantinople to clarify the situation. These legates were: Humbert of Mourmoutiers, cardinal of Silva Candida, Frederick, archbishop of Lorraine and chancellor to the Papal office and Peter, bishop of Amalfi. They had letters for the emperor and the patriarch. At Constantinople the legates were not “friendly” at all. They talked only to the emperor and did not even salute the patriarch.

In April 1054, pope Leo IX died, and the legates should have stopped their activities until the election of a new pope. But they continued with their demands, mainly that the Greeks should recognize pope’s primacy. The newly-elected pope, Victor II, being in Germany, did not pay much attention to these legates, or he even did not know of their existence.

Finally the legates decided that they should end their negotiations with the Byzantines and on 16 July 1054, entered St. Sophia while the liturgy was being celebrated and put a Bull of excommunication on the altar table. This Bull refused to acknowledge Michael Cerularius as the patriarch of Constantinople and accused the Greeks of: re-baptizing the Latins (untrue at that time), allowing priests to marry, refusing to offer communion to men that had shaved their beards, omitting “Filioque”. It also complains about closing the Latin churches in Constantinople and about the Greeks’ disobedience to the pope. And, finally, the Bull anathemized Cerularius. After this the legates left Constantinople in a hurry and nothing could be done to change the situation.

On 24July 1054 Michael Cerularius called a council in St. Sophia cathedral and excommunicated pope Leo IX, cardinal Humbert and the other legates.

After the events of 1054, the relationship between the East and the West was still a good one; people did not give much attention to those events, hoping that everything would turn for the better.

Despite these events, the schism between the East and the West was completed during the Crusades, especially after the first four ones. Pope Urban II (1088-1099) had the idea of the Crusades to free the Holy Land from the hand of the Muslims. By helping the Christians here he hoped for their obedience to the pope. But the crusaders were not soldiers. Most of them were robbers, killers, low people.

In 1098 the crusaders conquered Antioch and robbed it after that and killed all those who would not become Catholics. Here, like in every city they conquered, they appointed a Latin patriarch, Antioch being seen as “the Eastern see of St. Peter”. In 1099 they conquered Jerusalem. A Greek historian, who lived in that period said that Christians were treated better by the Muslims than the crusaders. Beginning with the conquest of Thessalonica (1185) and Constantinople(1204) the crusaders began to rob even the churches; they destroyed icons, and all that was in the churches. In Constantinople Latin priests and monks were the first to rob orthodox churches. Even the Greeks who obeyed them were not treated as human beings.

Even though the popes “condemned” the crusaders’ behaviour, Inocent III wrote: “God took the Byzantine Empire from the proud and gave it to the meek, from the schismatics to the faithful sons of the Church, that is from the Greeks to the Latins”(Metr. Ilarion- “Podil…” p. 233).

The result of the crusades is that they only increased Greeks’ hatered towards the Latins, putting another obstacle in the way of the union of the two parts of the Christian Church.

In conclusion, the Great Schism was a great tragedy in the history of Christianity, and we have to admit that it could have been prevented. Human mistakes and human pride made it an unavoidable event, but maybe Christian love and understanding will bring again the unity of the Christian Church.


Benz, E. - “The Eastern Orthodox Church” - Anchor

Books Garden City N.Y.- 1963

Callinikos, C. - “History of the Orthodox Church”

The Greek Archdiocese of North and South

America - 1963

Ilarion, metropolitan - “Podil Jedenoiy Hrestovoiy

Tserkve” Winnipeg - 1952

Nicozisin, G. - “The Orthodox Church” 1988

Ramureanu, I. - “Istoria Bisericeasca Universala”

Editura Institutului Biblic si de Misiune al

B.O.R.    Bucuresti - 1992

Runciman, S. - “The Eastern Schism” - Oxford at the

Clarendon Press - 1971

Ware, T. - “Istoria Bisericii Ortodoxe” - Aldo Press

Bucuresti - 1997

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