The Great Schism was a divide within the Catholic Church that occurred in the 11th century and ultimately resulted in the separation of the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Western (Roman) Catholic Church. There are a few key events and theological differences that contributed to this monumental split in Christendom.
Leading up to the Schism
Tensions had been rising between the Eastern and Western churches for centuries prior to the official schism in 1054. Some of the key issues included:
- Ecclesiological differences: The Eastern church tended to give more authority to the local bishops and patriarchs, whereas the Western church emphasized the primacy and authority of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope).
- Liturgical differences: The Eastern church used Greek in their liturgy and liked ornate decorations, the Western church used Latin and favored simplicity.
- Theological differences: Debates over the filioque clause (regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit), leavened vs unleavened bread in the Eucharist, Saturday vs Sunday Sabbath, clerical celibacy, and more.
- Political differences: Tensions between the patriarchs of Constantinople and the popes in Rome over authority in the church.
These issues gradually strained the relationship between East and West. But the official split was sparked by two key events in the 11th century.
The Events of 1054
In 1054, Pope Leo IX sent delegates to Constantinople to insist the patriarch there accept the authority of the Pope. The patriarch, Michael Cerularius, refused and in turn excommunicated the Pope’s delegates. In response, the delegates excommunicated Cerularius. This mutual excommunication was essentially the formal declaration of a schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic churches.
Some key factors leading to this dramatic break in 1054:
- Pope Leo IX was determined to assert papal authority over Constantinople.
- Patriarch Cerularius was equally determined to maintain the independence of the Eastern church.
- Old ecclesiological, theological and political disputes came to a head.
- Misunderstandings and language differences worsened tensions.
Though mutual excommunications were issued in 1054, the event revealed an existing de facto schism rather than creating a brand new split. The relationship had been gradually deteriorating for centuries. 1054 was simply the formal declaration of a divide that had already been growing for a long time.
Aftermath of the Schism
In the centuries after 1054, the schism proved enduring and efforts at reconciliation have so far failed. Some key effects of the Great Schism include:
- The Eastern Orthodox Church and Western Catholic Church have remained divided ecclesiastically to this day.
- Later attempts to heal the breach (like the Council of Florence in 1439) ultimately failed.
- Crusader sacking of Constantinople in 1204 strained relations further.
- Doctrinal differences persisted and hardened after the split.
- Orthodox nations like Russia became culturally isolated from Western Europe.
Nearly a millennium after the events of 1054, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches remain estranged and divided on matters of ecclesiology, theology and church authority. Efforts at reconciliation occur, but significant hurdles still stand in the way of full unity and communion being restored.
Theological Differences Behind the Schism
At the heart of the Great Schism were several key theological disputes and differences between the Eastern and Western churches. These doctrinal controversies contributed to the growing divide.
One major difference was over the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. This was the debate over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds just from the Father (Eastern view) or from the Father and the Son (Western addition of “filioque”). The Eastern church opposed this alteration of the creed.
Eastern Orthodoxy emphasizes autocephaly (independence of bishops) whereas Roman Catholicism elevates papal supremacy and authority. This ecclesiological difference was a source of contention.
Related to papal authority was the governing structure of the church. Eastern Orthodoxy is more decentralized with power dispersed among bishops and patriarchs. Roman Catholicism centralizes more authority in the papacy.
The Catholic Church requires priests and bishops to be celibate. The Orthodox Church permits married priests and bishops. This was another point of disagreement.
Leavened vs Unleavened Bread in the Eucharist
The Orthodox Church uses leavened bread in celebrating the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper. The Catholic Church uses unleavened wafers. This liturgical difference reflected deeper theological divergences.
These and other theological variations (on original sin, the essence-energies distinction, etc) contributed to the gradually growing divide between Eastern and Western Christianity.
Hopes for Future Reconciliation
Despite centuries of schism, there are periodic efforts to work towards reconciliation between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Some examples include:
- Second Council of Lyon (1274) – a brief reunion
- Council of Florence (1439) – another temporary reconciliation
- Bilateral dialogues since the 1960s – ongoing efforts for rapprochement
- Removing of Anathemas in 1965 – Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I
These attempts illustrate a desire for unity, even if substantial hurdles remain. Issues like papal primacy and the filioque continue to divide East and West. But hope remains for reconciliation and an end to the Great Schism after nearly 1000 years of separation.
In summary, the Great Schism came about due to a complex mix of ecclesiological, liturgical, political, cultural and theological differences between the Eastern and Western churches. Tensions mounted for centuries and peaked in the events of 1054 when mutual excommunications were issued. Despite periodic reconciliation efforts, the split endures to this day. Nearly 10 centuries later, the divide remains, but with hopes that continued dialogue and understanding on both sides may someday heal the Great Schism.