with doctrinal issues. The split occurred over a long period
of time and formally came to a head in 1054 in what is known
as the Great Schism.
While the Church was unified for almost a thousand years,
there developed differences in doctrine and practice that
separated them. While Orthodoxy has preserved the teachings
of the first Seven Councils without change, there have been
changes introduced in the other groups who call themselves
Christians. We will briefly take a look at how this split
occurred. Why is it important to know about this? Because
this history affirms that the fundamental nature of
Orthodoxy is that its doctrines do not change and that it
holds the truths as proclaimed in the Seven Ecumenical
Councils of the Church.
The Great Schism must not be conceived as the result of only
one specific quarrel. There were political and cultural
differences that arose along
Political and Cultural
If we go back to the time of the Apostles there was a
political and cultural unity because of the
Roman Empire. The Empire
many different national groups, often with languages and
dialects of their own. But all these groups were governed by
the same Emperor. The
Romans had assimilated the Hellenic
culture so there was a broad Greco-Roman civilization in
which educated people throughout the Empire shared. Both
Greek and Latin was understood throughout the Empire with
Greek being the common language of commerce at that time.
These facts greatly assisted the early Church in her
This unity gradually disappeared. In the third century the
empire was divided into two parts, East and West with two
emperors. Constantine furthered this process of separation
by establishing a second imperial capital in the east,
Constantinople. Then came the barbarian invasions at the
start of the fifth century: apart from Italy, the west was
carved up among barbarian chiefs.
The separation was carried a stage further by the rise of
Islam. The Mediterranean, which the
Romans once called "our
sea," (Mare Nostrum) passed largely into Arab control. Cultural and
economic contacts between the eastern and western
Mediterranean became far more difficult.
Being isolated from Byzantium, the west proceeded to set up
a "Roman" Empire of its own. On Christmas Day in the year
800 the Pope crowned Charles the Great, King of the Franks,
as Emperor. Charlemagne sought recognition from the ruler at
Byzantium, but without success. The
Charlemagne as an intruder and the Papal coronation as an
act of schism within the Empire.
Matters were made more difficult by problems of language.
Educated men were no longer bilingual. By the year 450 there
were very few in western Europe who could read Greek, and
after 600, although Byzantium still called itself the
Empire, it was rare for a
Byzantine to speak Latin. Photius,
the greatest scholar in ninth century Constantinople, could
not read Latin; and in 864 a "Roman" Emperor at
Michael III, even called the language in which Virgil once
wrote (Latin) "a barbarian and Scythic tongue."
Charlemagne’s Court was marked at its outset by a strong
anti-Greek prejudice. Men of letters in Charlemagne’s
entourage were not prepared to copy
sought to create a new Christian civilization of their own.
Perhaps it is in the reign of Charlemagne that the schism of
civilizations first becomes clearly apparent.
Charlemagne, rejected by the
Byzantine Emperor, was quick to
retaliate with a charge of heresy against the
Church. He denounced the Greeks for not using the filioque
in the Creed and he declined to accept the decisions of the
seventh Ecumenical Council.
The barbarian invasions and the consequent breakdown of the
Empire in the west also strengthened the autocratic
structure of the western Church. In the east there was a
strong secular head, the Emperor, to uphold the civilized
order and to enforce law. In the west, after the advent of
the barbarians, there was only a plurality of warring chiefs,
all more or less usurpers. For the most part it was the
Papacy alone, which could act as a center of unity, as an
element of continuity and stability in the spiritual and
political life of western Europe. By force of circumstances,
the Pope became an autocrat, an absolute monarch set up over
the Church, issuing commands — in a way that few if any
eastern bishops have ever done — not only to his
ecclesiastical subordinates, but to secular rulers as well.
The western Church became centralized to a degree unknown
anywhere in the four Patriarchates of the east. There
developed monarchy in the west and collegiality in the east.
There were differences in world views and how they thought.
The Latin approach was more practical, the Greek more
speculative. Latin thought was influenced by juridical ideas,
by the concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks understood
theology in the context of worship and in the light of the
Holy Liturgy. When thinking about the Trinity, Latins
started with the unity of the Godhead, Greeks with the
threeness of the persons. When reflecting on the Crucifixion,
Latins thought primarily of Christ the Victim, Greeks of
Christ the Victor. Latins talked more of redemption and
Greeks of deification.
Role of the Pope
As suggested, these factors led to a different role for the
Pope than the traditional role of a Patriarch. The Pope
became an absolute authority over all of the Western church,
while in the East there was still the sense of a conciliar
approach. The Orthodox held that any doctrine difference had
to include the entire Church and that no single person had
the ability to make changes in doctrine. The absolute
authority rested with the Ecumenical
as it had since the council of Jerusalem held by the
The second great difficulty was the filioque. The dispute
involved the words about the Holy Spirit in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan
Creed. Originally the Creed ran:
"I believe... in the Holy
Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the
Father, who with the Father and the Son together is
worshipped and together glorified."
This, the original form,
is recited unchanged by the east to this day.
But, the West
inserted an extra phrase
"and from the Son"
filioque), so that their Creed now reads
"who proceeds from the Father
It is not certain when and where
this addition was first made, but it seems to have
originated in Spain, as a safeguard against Arianism. At any
rate the Spanish Church interpolated the filioque at the
third Council of Toledo (589), if not before. From Spain the
addition spread to France and thence to Germany, where it
was welcomed by Charlemagne and adopted at the semi-Iconoclast
Council of Frankfort (794).
It was writers at Charlemagne’s Court who first made the
filioque into an issue of controversy,
accusing the Greeks of heresy because they recited the Creed
in its original form.
But Rome, with typical conservatism, continued to use the
Creed without the filioque until the start of the eleventh
century. In 808 Pope Leo III wrote in a letter to
Charlemagne that, although he himself believed the filioque
to be doctrinally sound, yet he considered it a mistake to
tamper with the wording of the Creed. Leo deliberately had
the Creed, without the filioque, inscribed on silver plaques
and set up in Saint Peter’s. For the time being Rome acted
as mediator between Germany and
It was not until after 850 that the Greeks paid much
attention to the filioque, but once they did so, their
reaction was sharply critical.
Orthodoxy objected (and still objects) to this addition in
for two reasons. First, the Ecumenical Councils specifically
forbade any changes to be introduced into the Creed; and if
an addition has to be made, certainly nothing short of
another Ecumenical Council is competent to make it. The
Creed is the common possession of the whole Church, and a
part of the Church has no right to tamper with it. In the
second place, Orthodox believe the filioque to be
theologically untrue. They hold that the Spirit proceeds
from the Father alone, and consider it a heresy to say that
He proceeds from the Son as well. It may seem to many that
the point at issue is so abstruse as to be unimportant. But
Orthodox would say that since the doctrine of the Trinity
stands at the heart of the Christian faith, a small change
of emphasis in Trinitarian theology has far-reaching
consequences in many other fields.
Not only does the filioque destroy the balance between the
three persons of the Holy Trinity: it leads also to a false
understanding of the work of the Spirit in the world, and so
encourages a false doctrine of the Church.
Besides the issues of the role of the Papacy and the
filioque, there are certain lesser matters regarding Church
worship and discipline which have caused trouble between
east and west: the Greeks allowed married clergy while the
Latins insisted on priestly celibacy; there are different
rules of fasting; the Greeks used leavened bread in the
Eucharist and the Latins use unleavened bread or "azymes."
Formal Schism 1054
The formal break came when Michael Cerularius was Patriarch
of Constantinople and St. Leo Pope in Rome. In 1053,
Cerularius circulated a treatise criticizing in strong terms
the practices of the Western church. Cerularius said the
fact that Catholics did not allow their clergy to marry was
contrary to scripture and tradition. He objected to the
Catholics' use of unleavened bread in their Eucharist. But
his most serious concern was that the Latin Church had added
the word "filioque" to the Nicene Creed, saying the Holy
Spirit proceeded from both Father and Son.
Cerularius excommunicated all bishops of Constantinople who
used the Western ritual and closed down their churches. This
incensed Leo. He demanded that Cerularius submit to the Pope.
Any church which refused to recognize the pontiff as supreme
was an assembly of heretics, he said - a synagogue of Satan.
The Eastern patriarch wasn't about to accept this
characterization. The five patriarchs, Antioch, Jerusalem,
Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome were equals in his eyes.
The bishop of Rome, as patriarch of the West, was given the
courtesy title of "first among equals" and in a tie vote he
could make the final determination according to tradition.
Rome's growing claims to authority were deemed unacceptable
to the other patriarchs, who believed (and who still believe)
that Christ alone is the head of the Church.
Leo sent legates, headed by an unyielding man, Cardinal
Humbert, to discuss the issues. Before they could complete
their mission, Leo died. Humbert was so rude to Cerularius
that Cerularius refused to speak with him. Aggravated by
this treatment, the legates marched into St. Sophia on July
6, 1054, and placed a bull on the altar, excommunicating
Cerularius. After this act, Humbert made a grand exit,
shaking the dust off his feet and calling on God to judge.
Cerularius convoked a council and once more blasted Western
practices. Humbert was anathematized. The Orthodox condemned
all who had drawn up the bull. There was now no chance of
reconciliation between the factions. The once united Church
was now divided into two: Eastern Orthodox and Roman
In more recent times there have been further differences.
In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced the new, Gregorian
calendar and the East still uses the old Julian calendar to
determine the date of Pascha. Consequently, East and West
celebrate Pascha on different dates.
In the 1800’s the Roman Catholic Church established both
Papal Infallibility and Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be
dogmas of the universal Church.
They also brought numerous Byzantine Rite communities in
Eastern Europe and the Ukraine into communion with Rome,
forming the greater part of the Byzantine Catholic Church.
In 1950 the Pope defined Mary’s Assumption (aka Dormition)
as a dogma.