Great Schism

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The Great Schism is the historic sundering of eucharistic relations between the See of Rome (now the Roman Catholic Church) and the Eastern Orthodox Christian patriarchates. This division is the subject of many talks between Western and Eastern Christians.


In Western circles, the term Great Schism is often used to refer to the 14th century schism involving the Avignon Papacy (an event also sometimes called the "Western Schism" or "Papal Schism" or "Babylonian Captivity").

To distinguish from that event, some historians prefer the term Great Ecumenical Schism to explain succinctly what happened and to capture the complexity of the event itself.

Other more recent historians prefer the term "East-West Schism", because 'Ecumenical' properly means of Constantinople or of the Eastern Roman Empire. The schism involved more than just Constantinople, or the Byzantine Empire. It included both East and West, and was between East and West.

Doctrinal issues: the Filioque

Main article: Filioque

While there were many other factors at work in the split, the conventional view has been that the central cause of the separation was dogmatic. It is asserted by many Orthodox that as soon as Rome endorsed the idea of the Filioque, there was a split between the true faith and a schismatic faith. Further, as long as Rome continues to make this its official dogma, there is still a schism.

Filioque is a word that changes the Latin version of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed to include the wording [Spiritus Sanctus] qui ex Patre Filioque procedit or "[Holy Spirit] who proceeds from the Father and the Son."

The first appearance of this insertion into the Creed happened in Toledo, Spain, where Latin theologians were trying to refute a brand of the Arian heresy. Those theologians had better access to the writings of Latin theologians, particularly of St. Augustine of Hippo, than to Greek theologians. Augustine used the teaching from John 16:7 to emphasize that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and that neither is subordinate to the other.

So the Creed was changed by the local synod of bishops at Toledo with the justification that it asserts the divinity of Christ (refuting Arianism), and asserts the unity of the Trinity and the equality of each hypostasis of the Trinity.

It should also be noted that St.Leo the Great, and many of the Orthodox Pre-Schism Popes disagreed with the decision of the Toledo Council, one even going so far as to engraving the Creed without the Filioque on the doors of St. Peter's Basilica.

Ecclesiological issues: The Papacy

Additionally offensive to the Orthodox was that the Creed was changed without agreement of the whole Christian Church. The Creed had been agreed upon at an Ecumenical Council and revised at another, bearing universal authority within the Church.

For the Pope of Rome to change the Creed unilaterally without reference to an Ecumenical Council was highly offensive to the other four patriarchates and to all the Eastern bishops, as it undermined the collegiality of the episcopacy. It demeaned all the other bishops.

Events in AD 1054

AD 1054 is the date wrongly given in some publications for the split between East and West.

The trouble had started earlier with Normans forcing the Greek Churches in Northern Italy, to conform to Latin practices, which in turn caused the Greeks to do the same to Latin Churches in Constantinople.

In 1053, Patriarch Michael Celarius sent a letter to Pope Leo IX, offering to restore his name to the Diptychs, and suggesting that he send legates so that differences could be resolved between them. Unfortunately, the Pope chose to send Cardinal Humbert, a German who was not known for his tact, as one of the legates. Upon receiving an audience with the Patriarch, they acted rudely, giving him a letter from the Pope, which in fact had been drafted by Humbert himself. The letter demanded conformity from the Greeks, and so offended the Patriarch, that he refused to negotiate with them further.

On Palm Sunday, Cardinal Humbert entered the Church of the Holy Wisdom, (Hagia Sophia) and placed a Bull of Excommunication on the Altar. This Bull excommunicated Patriarch Michael Celarius. He then left the city immediately, before the angry crowds that were gathering could seize him.

Patriarch Michael Celarius then called a meeting of the Holy Synod, and excommunicated Humbert, though not the Latin Church.

Dating the schism

The Great Schism was a gradual estrangement to which no specific date can be assigned although it has been conventionally dated to the year 1054. This date is misleading since it seems to imply that there was peace and unity before 1054, animosity and division afterward.

The schism actually took centuries to crystalize. Some place the split in the time of Saint Photios, for example—or even earlier—or 1204, with the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, or even 1453, the fall of Constantinople, when the Latins gave no help to prevent it.

An alternate view

'If one wishes to find a villain on the Orthodox side for the development of the schism, [Absentee Greek Patriarch of Antioch] Balsamon is a far stronger candidate than either [Patriarchs of Constantinople] Photius or Cerularius. Hitherto the chief asset of the Orthodox in the controversy had been their doctrine of Economy, the charity that enabled them to overlook and even to condone divergences in the interest of peace and goodwill. But Balsamon was a lawyer; and lawyers like things to be cut and dried. Charity is not one of their characteristics.'

Steven Runciman, The Eastern Schism, Wipf & Stock, Oregon, 3/3/2005, p138

See also


  • Laurent Cleenewerck, His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (, 2008 ISBN 978-0615183619)
  • Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (SVS Press, 1997 ISBN 978-0913836316)
  • John Meyendorff, Living Tradition: Orthodox Witness in the Contemporary World esp. pp. 64-71 (SVS Press, 1997 ISBN 978-0913836484)
  • Aristeides Papadakis The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy (SVS Press, 1994 ISBN 978-0881410570)
  • Philip Sherrard, Church, Papacy and Schism: A Theological Inquiry (Harvey & Co., 1978 ISBN 978-9607120113)
  • Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, 2nd ed. (Penguin, 1993 ISBN 0140146563)

External links