The Great Schism of 1054


The Great Schism happened in the one and whole Christian church on 16 July 1054 AD, was the separation of the church in the Eastern Roman Empire and the church in the Western part of the Empire. It is also known as the East-West Schism of 1054. The decisive incident in the Schism was the excommunication of Michael I Cerularius, the Patriarch of Constantinople by the Roman Catholic Pope St. Leo IX. In turn Cerularius excommunicated the legates of the Pope on 20 July 1054. This incident was not the beginning of the schism, neither was it the end of it. The result of this schism was the separation of the single Christian church into two major branches: the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Though the Schism was fueled by political ambition in the East, there were cultural, theological and ecclesiastical reasons behind the Schism. The Church in the Western Roman Empire and the other half in the Eastern Roman Empire was influenced by different philosophies that developed different approaches to theological and ecclesiastical doctrines. They understood the same scripture in two different level. All these led the Christian Church to the Great Schism.

Historical background

The Roman Empire was one large empire during the time of Jesus and the Apostles. But later it was divided into two. This historical event affected the unity of the Church too.

The Empire encompassed almost 2 million square miles and controlled geographical area in 3 continents. The Empire grew too large to rule effectively from a capital city by an Emperor. The outer provinces were totally out of the control and was attacked by other people. So by the 3rd Century, in 285 AD, Emperor Diocletian decided to divide the empire into 2 halves. But practically, the empire was divided into 4 regions. This arrangement was known as Tetrarchy. But later, Constantine and Licinus took control of the 2 halves, each ruling one half. By 312 Constantine converted to Christianity and Licinus agreed to declare Christianity as the official religion. But later, it seems, Licinus failed with this agreement and Constantine turned against him. Eventually Constantine won and he reunited the two halves of the Roman Empire. He became the sole emperor of Rome.

After his conversion, Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of the Empire in 313. Thus Christianity spread to every corner of the Empire. He also formally moved the capital from Rome to the Greek city Byzantium, in modern-day Turkey. Byzantium was in the Eastern part of the Empire. He renamed the city to Constantinople in his honor.

But the Roman Empire was once again divided into two halves in 395. The Emperor Theodosius I, divided the Roman Empire into two independent empires. Western part was given go his younger son, Honorius. Eastern part was given to his older son, Arcadius. Both sections were known equally as `The Roman Empire’ and the Western Empire was also known as the Holy Roman Empire. The East was known as the Byzantine Empire. Capitals were Rome and Constantinople.

Unfortunately, Theodosius’ sons weren’t very good leaders. Rome was taken over by Visigoths in 410 for a while and then by Vandals in 455. Barbarians entered into Western Empire’s territory and formed their own kingdoms. In 479 AD, the Visigoths sacked the western part of the Rome and it fell. By 480 AD, Odoacer of the Visigoths defeated the 15 year old Romulus Augustulus. Flavius Odoacer declared himself as the king of the Western Rome. He did not take the title of Empire. Thus ended the Western Roman Empire.

However, the Eastern Roman Empire lasted for another 1,000 years, till 1453 AD, until the fall of Constantinople. The Eastern Empire defended its European regions from threats from Persians and Arabs. But ultimately, it was by Ottoman Empire which was led by Sultan Mehmet II on Tuesday, May 29, 1453. Constantine XI was the last Emperor.

Religious background

Traditionally it is believed that, the Church at Rome was established by apostles Peter or Paul. But there is no historical evidence to prove it. Textual evidence prove that, the book of Romans by Apostle Paul was clearly written to an existing church that Paul did not plant. The letter contains no reference the Apostle Peter. So it is likely that the church was planted by Jews who believed in Jesus as Messiah by hearing the preaching of St. Peter on the day of Pentecost. The church was a mixture of Jewish and gentle Christians. Both the apostles had association with the church later on. Though it is not totally denied, there is no clear evidence that Peter resided in Rome. The tradition developed that Peter lived in Rome, only by the end of the first century. The early evidence for this tradition is found in the Letter to the Romans by St. Ignatius who was the early 2nd-century bishop of Antioch. Anyway, on the tradition that Apostle Peter founded the Church in Rome, Peter is considered as the first Pope of the Roman church.

After the division of the united Roman Empire, the Western Church and the Eastern Church started to estrange from each other. This started in the 5th century and culminated in the Great Schism in the 11 century. The fall of the Empire intensified the differences in the beliefs and practices among them. The Latin-speaking Rome began to claim superiority over Greek-speaking Constantinople.

The Christian Church was governed by five Patriarchates. They were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. These Patriarchates each had a Patriarch, who had religious authority over his particular region. But Rome tried to assert authority over all churches. The Orthodox Church did not accept the authority of the Roman papacy. By 4th century, the Byzantine emperors gradually took control over the church affairs in the East. This imperial interference was opposed by the Popes.

The theological genius of the East was different from that of the West. The Eastern theology was influenced by Egyptian, Jewish and Greek philosophy. The Western theology was based on the Roman culture and laws. The Roman culture was further influenced by people they have conquered and amalgamated into their empire. The West spoke Latin and the east Greek. They faced different challenges from other faiths. And so they had to find different answers to them. These linguistic and cultural background caused the development of slightly different Christian doctrines and liturgies in both parts of the Empire. And gradually Western Roman Church and the Eastern Byzantine church moved apart in many concepts. The conflict lasted for six centuries without finding an amicable settlement.

The History of the Schism in 1054

Quartodeciman controversy (2 - 8 centuries)

Many Christian scholars think that the seeds of the schism was in the Quartodeciman controversy at the time of Pope Victor I of Rome. It is Pope Victor who declared Latin as the official language of the Roman Church.

The Quartodeciman Controversy was the question whether to celebrate Easter concurrently with the Jewish Passover or on the following Sunday. The controversy existed in the early Christianity as early as the 2th century AD and lasted up to 8th century AD.  

The Christians in the Roman province of Asia celebrated it concurrently with the Jewish Passover, in the evening of the 14 of Nisan. Nisan is the first month in the Jewish calendar. It was not necessarily a Sunday. But the synods held in other Eastern provinces, like Palestine and Pontus, decreed to celebrate it on the following Sunday. This decree was in effect in Rome also at the time of Pope Victor I. So he asserted Sunday as the date for Easter. Victor threatened to excommunicate Polycrates (/pəˈlɪkrəˌtiːz/), the Bishop of Ephesus and other bishops in Asia Minor, if they continued their practice. But some bishops in Rome rebuked him for doing so. And the excommunication was never executed.

The historical importance of Victor’s threat is that it was the first papal act to influence and control the ecclesiastical affairs of the Eastern Patriarchs. Victor was asserting the papal authority over all Christian Churches. None of the Bishops challenged his right to excommunicate but instead questioned the wisdom and charity of his action.

Constantine and the Church

The Church remained small and was persecuted, under tyrannical Roman emperors from the beginning to the early years of the 4th century. Constantine I turned the tide. Constantine was Roman emperor from 306 to 337. When he was a Roman soldier, Constantine, won victory over his rival in battle. He attributed his success to the Christian God and immediately proclaimed his conversion to Christianity, in 312 AD. In 313 AD, Constantine jointly with Licinius of the Eastern Empire made a proclamation of religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire. The proclamation is known as the Edict of Milan. Constantine made the declaration in February 313 and Licinius in June of the same year.

Council of Nicaea (325 AD)

In 325 Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. The purpose was to codify the faith and practices of the Christian Church. By this time, a heretic doctrine known as Arianism spread through the early Christian Churches. Arius was an Alexandrian priest, born in Libya. He argued that, Christ did not possess the divine essence of the Father but was rather a primordial creation. Christ had a created, finite nature. He had no equal divinity with God the Father. Hence Christ was an entity subordinate to God. This heretic doctrine was main topic of discussion in the Council of Nicaea.


The council rejected Arianism and declared that Christ is the "true God" and "of one essence with the Father.”  The council produced the original text of the Nicene Creed. However, controversies within the Church did not end with Nicaea.


The bishops at the council confirmed the position of the metropolitan sees of Rome and Alexandria as having authority outside their own province, and also the existing privileges of the churches in Antioch. These sees were later called Patriarchates. These were given an order of precedence: Rome, as the capital of the empire, was naturally given first place, then came Alexandria and Antioch. In a separate canon the Council also approved the special honor given to Jerusalem over other sees.

Claims of the See of Constantinople

As I said before, in 330 AD, Emperor Constantine moved the imperial capital to Byzantium, which was later renamed as Constantinople. Thus the center of gravity in the empire was fully shifted to Byzantium. Rome lost its status and gravitas as imperial capital.

The bishop of Byzantium was under the see of the metropolitan of Heraclea, a Greek city, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) west of the Constantinople. But after the shifting the Roman capital to Constantinople, the bishop of Byzantium could establish better connection with the imperial court. So gradually, the bishop of Constantinople moved away from the Patriarchate of Heraclea to an independent status.

Edict of Thessalonica

By 379, Theodosius I became the Emperor. By this time, Arianism was widespread in the eastern half of the Empire. But the Western Rome remained steadfastly Nicene. To sort out the issue, the Edict of Thessalonica was issued on 27 February 380. It was jointly issued by Theodosius I, Emperor of the East, Gratian, the Emperor of the West and Gratian’s junior co-ruler Valentinian II. It was issued under the influence of Ascholius, the Bishop of Thessalonica (AD 379 – 384) and Pope Damasus I (366 - 384).


The Edict declared the Nicene Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire. It condemned other Christian creeds such as Arianism as heresies of madmen, and authorized their persecution. It declared the belief in one deity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. It ordered Christians to accept the name of Catholic Christians meaning universal. It also stated that all Christians should follow the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria.

First Council of Constantinople

In the East, there was a closer relationship between church and state than the West. The Bishop of Constantinople wanted more authority and prestige. So in 381, Emperor Theodosius I convened the Fist Council of Constantinople. It is also known as the second ecumenical council. The council elevated the see of Constantinople to a position ahead of the other chief metropolitan sees, except that of Rome. Because Constantinople is the New Rome, it is above the sees of Alexandria and Antioch.

This decision sowed the seed for the ecclesiastical rivalry between Constantinople and Rome that lead to the schism between East and West. No Western bishops attended the First Council of Constantinople and no legate of the bishop of Rome was present. The Latin Church recognized the council as ecumenical only after 150 years, in the mid-6th century.

The see of Constantinople became so important because it had more political power than Rome. Rome’s argued that, the religious authority come from Apostle Peter and is not related to any political power. Constantinople was not established by any apostolic and hence is not an apostolic see. Constantinople argued that it was founded by St. Andrew. According to John 1: 40, Andrew is the first disciple called by Jesus. He was a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew introduced Jesus to Simon. So the Byzantine Church honors Andrew as "the first called". The claim of the Constantinople Church that it was established by Apostle Andrew is only a traditional belief which have no reliable biblical or historical documentation.

The patriarchs of Constantinople often tried to adopt a commanding position over the other patriarchs. This provoked them. The patriarch of Alexandria openly raised objections to Constantinople’s promotion to an eminent position. This caused a struggle between them in the first half of the 5th  century, which was supported by the pope of Rome. Rome accepted only the three Petrine patriarchs, which were the patriarchs of Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. The pope placed Rome in the first place.

The Council of Constantinople also declared finally the Trinitarian doctrine.

Council of Chalcedon

In 451 AD, the Eastern Roman Emperor, Marcian convened the Council of Chalcedon (kal-si-don). It was the last council held whilst the Roman Empire was intact. About 520 bishops or their representatives attended the council.  The council gave final approval to the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is used to this day by Christians to proclaim their belief in God, Christ and his church.

The Nicene Creed was originally written in Greek. It was first presented in the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Additions were made in the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. And it was accepted in the final form in the Council of Chalcedon.

It also approved two letters of St. Cyril of Alexandria and Pope Leo I, against the heresy of Nestorius. Both these letters insisted that Jesus Christ has two natures, human and divine, united in one divine person of the Son of God. But the Tome of Leo was not universally accepted. It was called "impious" and "blasphemous" by those who condemned the council that approved it. The next ecumenical council corrected a possible imbalance in Pope Leo's presentation.

It also declared Jerusalem and Constantinople as patriarchates in addition to the existing patriarchates.

There were now five patriarchs presiding over the Church, in the following order of precedence: the Patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

The canon 28 of the Council confirmed the authority already held by Constantinople and granted its jurisdiction over Pontus, Thrace and over the dioceses "among the barbarians". This has been interpreted as the authority over all areas outside the Byzantine Empire or as the authority only over Pontus, Asia, Thrace and non-Greeks within the empire.

Pope Leo I recognized the council as ecumenical and confirmed its doctrinal decrees, but he rejected the canon 28. He argued that it infringed the rights of Alexandria and Antioch. And this canon remained a constant source of friction between East and West.

The power of the patriarch of Constantinople continued to grow. He constituted a permanent synod of bishops who resided in Constantinople. This synod became the real governing body of the church.

In 476 the last emperor of the western part of the Roman Empire was deposed. The imperial insignia were sent to Constantinople. And there was once again a single Roman Emperor. So the Eastern Emperor had no power in the West. The number of people who could speak both Latin and Greek decreased. Thus the linguistic unity and cultural unity crumbled. All these events influenced the thought process of the church on both sides.  

Acacian schism

The Western Church stood publicly against the Eastern Church for the first time during the Acacian Schism (əˈkeɪʃn). It started with an edict of the Byzantine patriarch Acacius in 482 AD. In the edict, the patriarch recognized Christ’s divinity, but it omitted any reference to the distinction of Christ’s human and divine essences, as enunciated by the Council of Chalcedon. He was attempting to secure unity between Chalcedonian Christians and Miaphysites. The Miaphysitism or single nature doctrine, also was known as Monophysitism. The followers of this doctrine believed that in the one person of Jesus Christ, divinity and humanity are united in one “nature”, the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration.

The Council of Chalcedon adopted the doctrine of dyophysitism. It stated that Christ has two natures, but emphasizes that they are not separated: Christ is fully one person. Following the Edict, Acacius was deposed in 484 by Pope Felix III.  This excommunication was reaffirmed and broadened in 485 to extending to all supporters of Acacius. The condemnation by Pope Felix precipitated the Acacian Schism. The schism lasted for 35 years, until it was resolved in 519, with acceptance of a declaration insisted on by Pope Hormisdas (514–523).

Justinian I

Justinian I, also known as Justinian the Great, was the Byzantine emperor from 527 to 565. In the areas under his control, Justinian I established Caesaropapism as the constitution of the Church. According to Caesaropapism, the head of the state is also the head of the church and supreme judge in religious matters. The emperor had the right and duty of regulating the minutest detail of worship and discipline. He also has the authority to dictate theological opinions to be held in the Church. But many historians believe that, practically there was only an interdependence between the State and the Church. No Empire exercised a unilateral authority over the Christian Church. The king was never considered infallible; he never possessed priestly powers. Caesaropapism was a major issue between Rome and Constantinople, which also contributed to the schism of 1054".

Patriarch John IV of Constantinople, who died in 595, claimed that primacy of the church was transferred from Rome to Constantinople with the transfer of the imperial capital from Rome to Constantinople. So he assumed the title of "Ecumenical Patriarch". Constantinople, as the seat of the ruler of the empire and therefore of the world, was the highest among the patriarchates. So the emperor had the right to govern the churches also.

Decline of three patriarchates

From 637 onwards, the three patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem started to decline in power and prominence. The cities of Alexandria and Antioch became the battlegrounds of Islam and Christianity. And also these cites suffered a series of catastrophes during the sixth century like, fire and earthquakes. Antioch was conquered by the Persians in June 540. By 661, Muslim Arabs conquered the territories assigned to the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Those territories were never fully recovered. All these caused the gradual eclipse of the sees of Alexandria and Antioch.

The Constantinople Patriarchate expanded eastward to Pontus and the Roman province of Asia and also equally to the west.

Council in Trullo (Quinisext)


The Quinisext Ecumenical Council or the Council in Trullo was held in Constantinople, most likely between 1 September and 31 December, probably in October 691. This was considered as an ecumenical council, that is, a gathering of bishops or their representatives from the five main patriarchates.


The fifth and sixth Ecumenical Councils held in Constantinople in 553 and 680 did not issue any disciplinary canons or decrees. So Justinian II (685-695 and 705-711) convened the Quinisext Council. The council is regarded as supplementing the fifth and sixth councils. It ratified 102 canons and decisions.


215 bishops attended the council, but all were from the Eastern Roman Empire. One among them was Basil of Gortyna in Illyria/Crete. He belonged to the Roman patriarchate and called himself the papal legate. But there is no evidence to prove that he was officially delegated by the Pope to attend the council as his representative.


The canons ratified in the council were largely in accord with the disciplinary rules of Constantinople. They were different from the customs of the Western Church. Many Western customs were condemned in the council. They include, celebrating liturgies on week days in Lent (rather than having Pre-Sanctified Liturgies); fasting on Saturdays throughout the year, omitting the “Alleluia” in Lent, depicting Christ as a lamb, using unleavened bread, and the discipline of celibacy for all bishops, priests and deacons. The Council affirmed the right of married men to become priests, but forbade priests to marry and bishops to live with their wives. And it prohibited any attempt to separate a clergyman other than bishop from his wife or any cleric other than bishop to dismiss his wife.


Justinian wanted the Pope as well as the Eastern bishops to sign the canons. Pope Sergius I (687–701) refused to sign, and the canons were never fully accepted by the Western Church. So, Emperor Justinian II ordered to arrest Pope Sergius I, but this was thwarted. 


But the Eastern Orthodox churches added its canons to the decrees of the fifth and sixth councils. The Byzantine church exhibited intolerance of all other customs and wish to make the whole Christian world conform to its own local practices.

Photian schism

The Photian Schism was a four-year (863–867) schism between the episcopal sees of Rome and Constantinople. The issue centered on the right of the Byzantine Emperor to depose and appoint a patriarch without approval from the papacy.

Ignatios was the Patriarch of Constantinople from about 798-877. During his patriarchy, he refused give holy communion to a Bardas, who was an important government official. So Emperor Michael III deposed Ignatios in 857. Photios, a layman, replaced Ignatios as Patriarch in 858 after going through the necessary steps in only six days. The case was brought before Pope Nicholas I (858–867). Nicholas favored Ignatios. He deposed Photios and reinstated Ignatios.

In 867, Photius called a council and excommunicated Nicholas and the entire western Church. That same year, a high ranking courtier Basil I usurped the imperial throne from Michael III. Basil reinstated Ignatius as patriarch. After Ignatius died in 877, Photius was brought back. But an agreement between him and Pope John VIII prevented a second schism.

The main problem was the papal claim to jurisdiction in the East, not accusations of heresy. The Photian Schism polarized the East and West for centuries.

Normans and Rome

The Normans in the 11th century attacked many territories of the papal state. They plundered and devastated many churches and monasteries. So the pope Leo decided to undertake a military campaign against the Normans with the aid of the Emperor Henry III. But Henry withdrew his support at a crucial moment. So Leo went against the Normans alone, with a weak and inexperienced army. Normans defeated the papal army and on June 18, 1053, they took they imprisoned the pope. He was nevertheless allowed to maintain contact with the outside world and to receive visitors. He was released after nine months. The withdrawal of support in the war by Emperor Henry added fire to the conflict between the pope and the East.

The Eastern Church had been exercising jurisdiction over large areas of southern Italy, Sicily and Bulgaria. Pope Leo’s insistence on the primacy of Rome in all these areas complicated the relations.  The patriarch of Constantinople, Michael I Cerularius, considered this sheer provocation. In retaliation the Patriarch Cerularius closed the Latin (Western) churches in Constantinople. He raised serious dogmatic charges against the Roman church, notably in connection with the Eucharist. Cardinal Humbert of the Western church attacked the patriarch in a vitriolic and passionate manner by arguing the case for Roman primacy. He quoted extensively from the “Donation of Constantine”.

Donation of Constantine

The “Donation of Constantine” is a document which claims the bestowal of vast territory and spiritual and temporal power on Pope Sylvester I (reigned 314–335) and his successors, by the Roman emperor Constantine. The Donation of Constantine was a document of great importance in the Middle Ages. The document is also known simply as the Donation. It has two parts. The first part is a testimony of Constantine and the second is a description of the land and other powers the Emperor gifted to the pope.

The testimony of Constantine narrates a different story of his conversion to Christianity than the historical records. According to this story, Constantine was converted to Christianity because he was miraculously healed of leprosy, while Sylvester baptized him. Constantine then understood the importance of Rome to the Church because it is the city of the apostles Peter and Paul. So Constantine relocated his capital from Rome to Byzantium. And he granted pope Sylvester and therefore the Roman Church, dominion over all Italy, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch. The Emperor also gave the control of the imperial palace in Rome and all the regions of the Western Empire. The Emperor bestowed the papacy supreme control over all clergy and great deal of political power. The pope will have the right to appoint secular rulers in the West. But, the document says that, Sylvester humbly refused to accept the Imperial Crown. So the king gave him a white crown.

It had only limited impact at the time of its compilation. It was not mentioned in 9 or 10 centuries, even during the controversies with the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Empire) over matters of papal primacy. But it exercised great influence on political and religious affairs in the medieval Europe. This document was used by the Roman Church to claim supreme authority over all churches and even earthly powers.

The earliest known reference to the Donation is in a letter of Pope Hadrian I, written in 778. In this letter he reminds Charlemagne about the “Donation of Pippin”. Pippin III (the Short) was the father of Charlemagne. In 756, Pippin entered into an alliance with Pope Stephen II agreeing to protect Rome in return for papal sanction of the right of Pippin’s dynasty to the Frankish throne. According to the agreement, Pippin bestowed on the papacy a block of territory stretching across central Italy with political authority over it. This was later turned into the Papal state, over which the pope ruled. But no boundaries were specified and pope’s political status was not clearly defined. This caused friction during the reign of Charlemagne. So, in his letter to Charlemagne, Pope Hadrian reminded him about the Donation of Pepin and exhorted him to follow his father’s example. Later Charlemagne also reaffirmed the Papal State and continued a positive relationship with the Pope. 

In the 11, 12 and 13 centuries, the Donation of Constantinople was often cited in the conflicts between the papacy and the secular powers in the West, claiming the political authority of the papacy. During that time, no opponents questioned its authenticity. 

The first pope to exercise the Donation of Constantine was Pope Leo IX. He claimed primacy over all other patriarchates, in a letter sent in 1054 to Michael I Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople. Pope Leo cited a large portion of the document, claiming it as an authoritative document.

But the Donation of Constantine is a forged document.  Doubts about the authenticity of the document were voiced about the year 1000 by Emperor Otto III, (born July 980—died Jan. 23, 1002, near Viterbo, Italy) and his supporters. But they could not substantiate their arguments.

In the 15th century Nicholas of Cusa, a German cardinal and scholar proved that it is a forgery. In 1441, another Catholic priest, Lorenzo Valla (c. 1406–1457) proved that the Latin used in the document was not that of the 4th century. Valla believed that Church knew that the document was inauthentic. In the same century, Reginald Pecocke, Bishop of Chichester (1450–57) also raised similar arguments. Later, scholars found that the story of Sylvester's curing of Constantine is a fable that developed at a later time, based on the legends of Sylvester, popular in the 5th century. Still the Roman Church continued to consider it as authentic until Caesar Baronius in his Annales Ecclesiastici (published 1588–1607) admitted that it was a forgery. After that it was almost universally accepted as a forgery.

The document might have been written only in the 8th or 9the century. It might have been occasioned by the political situation in Rome. The pope was trying to protect the freedom of the western church from the claims of the Eastern Church and the Byzantine Empire. And also the church was in a power struggle with the Carolingian rules, especially the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. The Church at Rome, seeing its power threatened, produced the document.

Mutual excommunication of 1054

As we have already understood, from 300 AD, the Eastern and Western churches moved in different directions, because of their distinct cultures and languages, liturgical or worship practices and theological understandings. They were politically under different power and autonomy. Their ecclesiastical leaders were different, the patriarch and the pope. The schism of 1054 was not a sudden happening, but it was an outcome of a series of controversies. Finally, the Great schism happened in 1054, during the Emperor Constantine IX (11 June 1042 – 11 January 1055).

In 1053, Pope Leo IX (1049–1054) ordered the Greek churches in southern Italy to conform to Latin practices or close them. In retaliation, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Michael I Cerularius ordered the closure of all Latin churches in Constantinople. Cerularius also condemned the Western practice of using leavened bread for the Eucharist.

The use of unleavened or leavened bread for Eucharist has been a controversy among the churches in the two realms. The Roman Catholic Church used unleavened bread and the Eastern Orthodox Church used leavened bread. In 1053, Leo of Ohrid, who was the Archbishop of Ohrid wrote a letter to Bishop John of Trani condemning the Western practices of using unleavened bread for the Eucharist, and fasting rules that differed from those in Constantinople. The letter was written at the instigation of Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople. It was intended for all the Latin bishops including the pope. 

Most liturgical scholars from West and East believe that the church used leavened bread until 7th  century. However the Armenian Church did use unleavened bread from the early times. After 7th  century, the Western church started using unleavened bread and gradually it became their general custom. This was intended to be more close to the celebration of the final Passover Supper of Christ.  

But the Easter Church continued to use leavened bread. In the Byzantine tradition, unleavened bread was associated with lifelessness, while the rising of leavened bread was associated with resurrection. Moreover they wanted the Eucharist to be different from the Jewish Passover.

There we some minor objections were raised in West against the practice in the East. But no major authorities of the west did object the use of leavened bread in the East. But the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius made it a big issue.

In response to the letter Pope Leo IX wrote a letter on 2 September 1053, addressed to Cerularius and Leo of Ohrid, in which he speaks at length of the privileges granted through Saint Peter to the see of Rome. In one of the 41 sections of his letter he also speaks of privileges granted by emperors, quoting from the Donation of Constantine document. Some scholars say that this letter was never actually dispatched, but he sent another softer letter on January 1054 to the Eastern Emperor and the Eastern Patriarch Cerularius.

In this letter Pope Leo complained about the arrogance of Cerularius. Pope upbraided him for trying to subject the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch to himself. Pope also complained about adopting the title of Ecumenical Patriarch by Cerularius. Pope further insisted on the primacy of the see of Rome.

These two letters were entrusted to a delegation of three legates, headed by the undiplomatic cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida, Frederick of Lorraine, the papal secretary and Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica, and Peter, Archbishop of Amalfi. They were given warm welcome by the emperor but the patriarch neglected them. The purpose of the legates was to ensure the assistance of the Byzantine Emperor to fight against the Normans, to take away the title "Ecumenical Patriarch" from Cerularius and to establish the claim of the pope as the supreme head of all churches.

But these diplomatic efforts failed miserably. Cerularius refused to accept the demands of the pope and his legation. So on July 16, 1054, the chief among Leo’s legate, Cardinal Humbert entered into the Hagia Sophia Church which was the seat of the Eastern Patriarch and placed a papal bull of excommunication of Cerularius, on the high altar.

In return Cerularius convened a council of bishops on 20 July 1054 and condemned Pope Leo IX and his church. The council excommunicated the legates. The main reason the council cited for condemning the Papal Church was the filioque clause.

In Latin, filioque means “and the Son”. The Roman Church believed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. Whereas the Eastern Church argued that the Nicene Creed explicitly says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. This was the teaching of the early church fathers. Eastern Orthodox Church also argued that the Council of Ephesus held in 431 explicitly prohibited any modification of the Nicene Creed.

The sentence in the Nicene Creed which was altered by the West reads: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” They have inserted “and the Son” after “who proceeds from the Father”. This phrase, “and the Son” is called “filioque” in Latin. This was gradually introduced as a part of the creed in the Western church in the beginning of the 6th century and was finally accepted by the pope in 11th century.

Cerularius argued that The Western church, amended the Nicene Creed to add the filioque clause in it. But, in fact, the filioque clause was used by the Eastern Church as a convenient hook to hang their contention and disagreement with the Roman Church. Cerularius further argued that the Eastern Church had remained pure and true. So they called themselves, Orthodox.

Thus, on July 16, 1054, the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, divided into two. They became the Roman Catholic Church in the Western Rome and Orthodox Church in the Eastern Rome. The Church split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographical lines.

The legal validity of the excommunication by both sides is doubtful. The bull was placed in Hagia Sophia Church, three months after the death of Pope Leo and nine months before the next pope took office. So it is clear that, the papal bull was prepared even before the legation left Rome. And in reality, only Michel Cerularius and his then-living adherents were excommunicated. And Cerularius excommunicated only the members of the legate. But some scholars think that all these are merely technical problems. The excommunication was a measure of the reigning pontiff and so valid.

After 1054

Many contemporary historians, including Byzantine chroniclers, did not consider the event significant or final. Total alienation came a century and a half later. In 1204, during the fourth Crusade, the crusaders attacked Constantinople. They murdered thousands of Orthodox Christians, churches and icons were desecrated, and undying hostility developed between East and West.

Efforts were made in subsequent centuries by emperors, popes and patriarchs to heal the rift between the churches. But the fundamental breach has never been healed. Old wounds never heal.

To conclude, let us remember that, though there are many denominations among the Christians today, all churches universally are united by the one, true mystical church that is the bride and the body of Christ. This unity is the unity of the gospel of the Kingdom of God that believe and preach. Unity is not the assertion of jurisdiction by popes or patriarchs. Unity comes only by the common union of the saints with one another. We are all under the jurisdiction of our Lord Jesus Christ. Since Jesus is our one and only Lord, we are all united in Him.

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