Michael I Cerularius of Constantinople

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Michael I Cerularius, also known as Michael Keroularios or Patriarch Michael I, was the Patriarch of Constantinople from 1043 to 1059, during the times in which poor relations with the Papal see came to a head.


The future Patriarch Michael I Cerularius was born about the year 1000. His education was aimed for a career in the politically charged civil service, but in 1040, he was tonsured a monk. Three years later he was appointed patriarch of the Church of Constantinople by Emperor Constantine IX (Monomachus). Michael I Cerularius, with political pretensions, became patriarch during an era in which there were numerous tensions between the Churches in the east and west, including jurisdictional disputes in the Balkans, southern Italy, and Sicily. Added to this were disputes over differing church practices as well as the claims by the Patriarchs of Rome that they stand at a higher authority among the patriarchs than being primus inter pares, “first among equals”. Also, Michael I was noted for disputing with Pope Leo IX over church practices where the Roman Church differed from those of Constantinople, especially over the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist.[1]

During Michael’s reign the disputes deepened when the Roman see approved the use of Latin customs among the Norman Christians. Michael reacted by directing the Latin churches in Constantinople to use Eastern usages. In the ensuing correspondence, Pope Leo IX took issue with Patriarch Michael’s use of the title “ecumenical patriarch” in his correspondence and with addressing Leo IX as “brother’ instead of ”father”. Michael attempted to mediate the issues, but Leo would make no concessions in his objections.

In the spring of 1054, Leo sent a papal delegation headed by Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida to Constantinople to formally confront Michael. They arrived in Constantinople in April 1054. The legates’ welcome was not to their liking and they left the palace abruptly, leaving a papal letter with Michael whose anger exceeded even that of the papal delegation. Michael found the seals of the letter had been tampered with and with which was included a draft of a letter that was to be read to the Constantinople population. With that Patriarch Michael refused to recognize the authority of the delegation and completely ignored their mission. [2]

The refusal of Michael to deal with the papal delegation drove them to extreme measures. On July 16, 1054, Cardinal Humbert placed a notice of excommunication on the altar of the Great Church of the Hagia Sophia that he had prepared, and then two days later the papal delegation fled to Rome. As Pope Leo died on April 16, the excommunication was not a ‘’bull’’ as it wasn’t signed by a pope, and Leo had not seen or signed it. However, in return for their actions Patriarch Michael excommunicated Cardinal Humbert and the Pope, followed by removing the name of the pope from the diptychs, thus symbolicly creating the Great Schism.

Asserting his political pretensions Michael had confronted the emperors, especially asserting a position of superiority for the patriarch and church over the emperor and state. This led to his dethronement as patriarch in 1058 by Emperor Isaac I Comnenus. In exile, Patriarch Michael I Cerularius died suddenly on January 21, 1059 in Madytus, near Constantinople.

Succession box:
Michael I Cerularius of Constantinople
Preceded by:
Alexius I Studites
Patriarch of Constantinople
Succeeded by:
Constantine III Lichoudas
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  1. Michael Cærularius - Catholic Encyclopedia article
  2. John Julius Norwich. ‘‘The Normans in the South 1016-1130’’ (Longmans, Green and Co., Ltd., 1967), 102.


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