The Split between Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

Aug 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The division of the church between East and West is rooted deep in church history.  First of all, early on leaders noticed the difference and discrepancies that language brought.  The Eastern Church spoke and wrote Greek, while the West began to speak and write in Latin.  This was perhaps the first sign that there was division within the church.  Several additional developments enhanced the linguistic and geographical separation.  First, when Pepin made his donation of land in central Italy to the papacy in 756, he caused the pope to fix his attention more to the West and basically ignore the East.  The pope was now the largest landholder in Italy, with an annual income of over one million dollars, and a recognized secular as well as religious leader.  Second, Pepin’s son, Charlemagne, came to Rome and on Christmas Day, 800, was formally crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III.  This act symbolized the division of East and West.

A doctrinal development further intensified the obvious East-West division.  The issue centered on the question of who sent the Holy Spirit–the Father or the Father and Son?  The great 5th century theologian Augustine (354-430) argued strongly that the Spirit was sent (“proceeded from”) both the Father and the Son.  In 589, at Western council that met in Toledo, Spain, Western theologians added to the Nicene Creed of 381 the language that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son (in Latin, filioque, “and from the Son”).  This controversy is hence called the filioque controversy.  The Eastern theologians strongly protested this addition.  Another theological controversy separating East and West was the dating of Easter.  During the first several centuries of the church, Eastern Christians celebrated Easter on Passover.  The West always celebrated Easter on a Sunday.  At the 325 Council of Nicea, the Eastern practice was condemned, thereby marking another divergence.  By the 4th century, Easter was being celebrated on different Sundays all over Christendom.  During the 6th century, a monk named Dionysius Exiguus, worked out a formula for dating Easter and created the B.C.-A.D. system for numbering years.  The West accepted his system; the East did not.  For Western Christians, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after 21 March (vernal equinox).  In the East, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after vernal equinox, but also the Sunday following Passover.  For that reason the East normally celebrates Easter about a week later.  The final break came in 1054 in what is known as the Great Schism.  On 16 June of that year, Pope Leo IX excommunicated Orthodox Patriarch Michael Cerularius for “trying to humiliate and crush the holy catholic and apostolic church.”  The Patriarch then excommunicated Pope Leo.  This mutual excommunication marks the formal break between Eastern and Western Christianity.  That break has never been healed.  The hostility and split were intensified when, during the 1204 Crusade, the crusaders sacked and pillaged Constantinople on Good Friday.  So horrific and inexcusable was this event that the break between Eastern and Western Christianity was final and complete.  Islam also had a devastating effect on the Eastern Church.  Major centers of the Eastern Church, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, fell into Muslim hands and after the 8th century theological development in these areas ceased.  Therefore, leadership of the Eastern Church gravitated to Constantinople’s patriarch.  When that city fell to the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453, leadership passed to the Russian Orthodox patriarch, who declared that Moscow would be the “Third Rome,” after historic Rome and Constantinople.  Today, in effect, there are thirteen self-governing and independent churches in Eastern Orthodoxy, each with its own head, a patriarch, archbishop or metropolitan. PRINT PDF

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15 Comments to “The Split between Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy”

  1. Benjamin says:

    It might be more accurate to say that the former legates of Pope Leo IX excommunicated Michael Cerularius, since Leo IX died on the previous 19 April 1054.

  2. Annie says:

    Brilliant! I’m currently studying the schism and it’s so rare to find a piece of text on the matter of religion that’s so blissfully unbiased. Thanks for being awesome.

  3. KGE says:

    One might argue that this account in not unbiased and is also quite incomplete. It speaks of the discrepancies that language brought does not mention that New Testament is in Greek and that regarding the filioque controversy, the West just added this filioque (and from the son) where it does not exist in the original Credo. This came from an attempt by a Frankish king to ruin Constantinople’s claim to universal jurisdiction after a project for the marriage of Charles and the reigning Byzantine empress fell through.
    This new version of the Creed spread to Gaul and the Frankish lands in the eighth century. It was not accepted by the Church of Rome, which opposed the interpolation until the eleventh century. Popes Hadrian I (772-795) and Leo III (795-816) defended the Council of Nicaea and formally rejected the interpolation in the Creed, and, thus, opposed the attack on Byzantium.
    The main reason for the schism was Rome’s insistence of the primacy of the Pope of Rome. This made some sense when Rome was the capital of the Empire, but the western part of the empire fell so Rome was no longer the capital. The pope of Rome was not willing to lose the position of power and fought the rise in the ranks of Constantinople, the new capital of the Empire and the first part of the empire to become Christian, and of Jerusalem, a place of undisputed importance to Christianity.
    The reasoning given for keeping the primacy of the Pope of Rome is that he is supposedly the heir to the primacy of St. Peter whom Christ had installed as head of the universal Church, and that he was the one who had founded the Christian Church of Rome. This is based on the passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, when Simon Peter answered “Thou art Christ the Son of the Living God” to Christ’s question “whom say ye that I am?” Pleased with this answer, Jesus said ” thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church”. The Eastern Orthodox feel that this should be read that the rock represents the truth that Peter just spoke rather than Peter himself. Also, in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, there is no evidence that Peter was in Rome or that he had established a Church there. On the contrary, it seems that he feels obliged to preach the gospel where no other Apostle taught so that he would not build upon the foundation laid by another. Actually, it seems, St. Peter served the Church for many years in Antioch, as verified by St. Jerome, and then went to Rome where he suffered martyrdom with St. Paul.
    The actual break resulted in part from an ill-fated military involvement of Pope Leo IX. He was in fear of the Normans who had settled in Sicily in the 1020s and led an army against them, but suffered total defeat at the battle of Civitate in June of 1053, and the Pope was taken prisoner. He was released after 9 months, but this incident brought the papacy into conflict with the Eastern church, which had jurisdiction over large areas of southern Italy and Sicily.
    Leo IX sent a letter to Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople, in 1054, that cited a large portion of the Donation of Constantine, a forged decree by which the emperor Constantine the Great supposedly transferred authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the Pope. The forcefully enunciated papal theme of primacy further deteriorated relations between Rome and Constantinople leading to the Pope sending a legatine mission under Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida to Constantinople to negotiate with Patriarch Michael I Cerularius.
    Frustrated by the theological stalemate and by the Greeks’ unwillingness to give in to his inflexible demands for submission to the Latin Church, Humbert walked up to the sanctuary of Hagia Sophia in full view of the congregation as service was about to begin and put a bull of excommunication of the patriarch Michael I Cerularius on the altar, then turned around and walked out. This occurred on July 16, 1054. Cerularius and his synod retaliated by anathematizing Humbert (but not the Roman Church as such). The attempt at reconciliation left matters worse than before. But the schism was not complete at this time and friendly relations between east and west continued.

    It was the crusades which made the schism definitive with the worst of it occurring in 1204 when the Crusaders from the west who were originally bound for Egypt, ended up sacking Constantinople. The Crusaders looted, terrorized and vandalized Constantinople for three days. many ancient and medieval Roman and Greek works were either taken or destroyed. Many priceless artworks made of bronze, including the statue of Hercules created by the legendary Lysippos, court sculptor to Alexander the Great, were melted down for their content by the Crusaders. The famous bronze horses from the Hippodrome were sent back to adorn the facade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. They are still in Venice in a museum. The Library of Constantinople was destroyed. The Crusaders violated the city’s holy sanctuaries, destroying or stealing all they could lay hands on. Thousands of civilians were killed in cold blood. Women, even nuns, were raped by the Crusader army. The very altars of these churches were smashed and torn to pieces for their gold and marble by the warriors who had sworn to fight in service of Christendom without question.

    The sack weakened the Byzantine Empire, which allowed the Ottoman Turks, to conquer the area and enslave the Greek Christian population for 400 years of terror.

    It’s easy to believe a writing is unbiased, or biased, based on your own or your culture’s biases. But the truth is more complicated and unbiased accounts are rare.

    • Maggie H says:

      I appreciate your informative article! I am an evangelical born again believer. My friend is a Greek Orthodox Christian woman. I have been witnessing to her for months because in spite of her stated faith, I saw no evidence of her having a personal relationship with Christ. So, I decided to learn more about her religion. Honestly, I was looking for the problems in her belief system versus mine! I was pleasantly surprised to find that doctrine seems identical on the surface! So, help me out here… My friend, Patty, said the “sinner’s prayer” to receive Jesus into her heart and life and I have been teaching her that Jesus requires nothing but a heartfelt statement of faith in Him to save her from hell! It’s nothing but FAITH! Not faith plus baptism, not faith plus works, it’s faith plus nothing! Naturally, that “faith” results in baptism and good works. We said the prayer together about 6 weeks ago and other than praying for her, I don’t know what else to do. I would appreciate any advice you can offer since you obviously have a great deal of insight on the subject!

      • Mary Reed says:

        I didn’t see you get a response yet, but if you will permit, I would just say you are to follow Christ’s instructions to his disciples to Go…baptizing them in the name of The Father – I Am, The Son-Jesus and The Holy Spirit-Rauch; and to teach them all That I have commanded you. You must not abandon her to return to the life she has been set free from. Read the commands and teach her how to study the Word of Covenants.

  4. Hi, I have been researching the topic of the Filioque and hence coming across this article. One point I would challenge is that the Third Council of Toledo 589 added the filioque to the nicene symbol.

    http://www.benedictus.mgh.de/quellen/chga/chga_045t.htm

    This is the url of a page containing the record of the council in latin from the vatican archive and as you can see the Nicene Symbol appears twice, one in Rescared’s confession and once in the record more generally and both times without the filioque.

  5. […] itself in a slightly different manner than the origin of the information had intended. Take the spread of Christianity or language, for example. Christianity was intended to be a universal religion, but the […]

  6. Hannah says:

    dont need your comment to consider a lie about world history

  7. Jana Alameddine says:

    the information provided is valid and very helpful, however when stating that ‘islam had a devastating effect’ on the eastern sector is not only racist but also questions the reliability of this text as it shows signs of bias. i understand that due to the introduction of islam in the east, it may have had an effect on the orthodox sect and they may have derived many concepts due to this. however to label it as ‘devastating’ is an attack towards the religion and is completely unnecessary.

    • Tiv says:

      Hardly. I was born in the USA but I can safely say that Americans in the 1700’s had a devastating effect on the indigenous population of that time. I don’t think that is rascist. It is merely a factual observation of what one culture did for another culture. The two ways of life are antithetical to each other and one became dominate over the next. If, G-D willing, the Natives ways reestablish on this continent, I would say the reverse. Best*

  8. […] “A doctrinal development further intensified the obvious East-West division. The issue centered on the question of who sent the Holy Spirit–the Father or the Father and Son? The great 5th century theologian Augustine (354-430) argued strongly that the Spirit was sent (“proceeded from”) both the Father and the Son. In 589, at Western council that met in Toledo, Spain, Western theologians added to the Nicene Creed of 381 the language that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son (in Latin, filioque, “and from the Son”). This controversy is hence called the filioque controversy. The Eastern theologians strongly protested this addition.” (https://graceuniversity.edu/iip/2011/08/11-08-20-2/) […]

  9. […] “A doctrinal development further intensified the obvious East-West division. The issue centered on the question of who sent the Holy Spirit–the Father or the Father and Son? The great 5th century theologian Augustine (354-430) argued strongly that the Spirit was sent (“proceeded from”) both the Father and the Son. In 589, at Western council that met in Toledo, Spain, Western theologians added to the Nicene Creed of 381 the language that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son (in Latin, filioque, “and from the Son”). This controversy is hence called the filioque controversy. The Eastern theologians strongly protested this addition.” (https://graceuniversity.edu/iip/2011/08/11-08-20-2/) […]

  10. […] This controversy is hence called the filioque controversy. The Eastern theologians strongly protested this addition.” (https://graceuniversity.edu/iip/2011/08/11-08-20-2/) […]

  11. […] This controversy is hence called the filioque controversy. The Eastern theologians strongly protested this addition.” (https://graceuniversity.edu/iip/2011/08/11-08-20-2/) […]

  12. Wade M. Nye says:

    Thank you for your concise summary. Controversies such as these dominated my studies of church history at Princeton. It was depressing to read how Christians fought and persecuted each other if they didn’t go along with their every jot and tittle.

    Isn’t it clear that rank and file believers didn’t divide the body of Christ?. Theologians, church rulers and even politicians did. Scripture is silent or not complete regarding many of these doctrinal issues such as when to celebrate Easter. When John the Apostle was asked by his disciples why his message was always, “Love one another as Christ loved you,” he answered, “Because, if you obey His one command, all else will follow.” St. Paul agreed. Romans 13:9). The consequences of disobeying Jesus’ new order for a new order, (recorded five times in John’s gospel and often in his letters), is a tragedy of Church history. It was the unity and mutual love for each other that made early believers the light to the pagan Roman world and transformed it, not it’s theology, creeds and propositions. Does it not follow that in the West today, the church of Jesus Christ, in all its forms, has lost the respect of the secular world? Worse, we have failed to reach three generations: X, Y and now the Millennials with Christ’s message of redemption. Yet, wasn’t reaching the lost very much on Jesus’ mind when he prayed urgently to the Father “May they be one…that the world will believe.” It’s tragic that His single most important doctrine of loving each other not only took a back seat to trivial matters, it was and is today virtually ignored. The 4th century fought over the date of Easter; the Reformers fought over how and how often to celebrate Holy Communion/Eucharist/Lord’s Supper, which further divided the church. This last controversy is the most troubling. Wasn’t it at the Lord’s Supper that Jesus ushered in his new covenant with his single command: “Love one another?” .