The Great Schism (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.9)

Ever since the division of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western halves, Christians in the East and the West had grown apart. In the West, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Christians looked to the bishop of Rome, called the Pope, as their leader. The Pope had power even over kings and emperors in Europe. Christians in Europe also used Latin as the language for their worship, whereas Christians in the East used the Greek language. In the East, the Roman Empire continued and became known as the Byzantine Empire. There, emperor was the highest authority, not a bishop. The disputes over language and who was in charge eventually caused Christendom, the lands of Christianity, to split into two churches.

In the West, the Pope had decided to add another word to the Nicene Creed, the statement of the beliefs of all Christians. That word was a Latin word, filioque, which means “and the Son.” Whereas the original Nicene Creed had said that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father,” the Pope changed the Creed to say that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Christians in the Byzantine Empire, however, did not like this change and a fight erupted over it.

In 1054, the Pope sent messengers to Constantinople to discuss the issue with the Byzantine emperor and the bishop of Constantinople, called the Patriarch. Only a few minutes into the meeting, the discussion turned into an argument and the Pope’s messengers stormed out. The next day, a Sunday morning, the messengers of the Pope walked into the Hagia Sophia, a large cathedral in Constantinople, while the oatriarch, the emperor, and others were in the middle of their worship service. The leader of the messengers marched up to the altar of the church and slammed a piece of paper down on the altar. On the paper was an official decree excommunicating the emperor and the patriarch. The Pope had kicked the Byzantines out of the Christian Church!

Of course, the Byzantines insisted that the Pope did not have the authority to do something like this. While the Pope had grown powerful in Europe, they said that he did not have the power to make decisions like this in the Byzantine Empire. So they decided to excommunicate the Pope!

The result was that Christianity split into two churches. In the Western part of Europe was the Catholic Church, with the Pope as its head. In the Eastern part of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East was the Orthodox Church, with the Patriarch of Constantinople as its leader. The split between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, called the Great Schism, continues even today, almost 1000 years later.

 

 Review Questions

 1. What was the cause of the split between Christians in 1054?

2. What two churches did Christians divide into?

3. What is the name of the split between these two churches?

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