ASH Honors Blog: The Great Schism of 1054

The Great Schism of 1054

 The Great Schism was the split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. 1054 is the recorded date of the separation, but there is evidence of discord as early as the fifth century. The two churches of the Eastern Roman Empire were the Roman and the Byzantine churches. The first barrier to develop between the two churches was language. As both churches grew, they became rooted in their own languages, and knowledge of their partnering churches’ languages were lost. This not only separated the leaders of the church but also the patrons, beginning the political and religious strife between the Romans and the Byzantines.

There were also three tradition-based differences between the Eastern and Western churches. The first difference stems from problems in the West with the clerics’ inheritance. In the Roman church, there were problems with clerics marrying and leaving the land of the church to their children. As a solution, the church banned marriage and demanded celibacy of their clerics, reasoning that it’s a gift of God. 

On the other hand, this problem was not as common in the Eastern church, and to this day Orthodox priests are still allowed to marry

The next difference was the Byzantines’ contempt regarding the Roman church’s use of unleavened bread during communion. It is common knowledge among Christians that unleavened bread was used during the first Passover meal. The Byzantine church believes that God leavens our lives as flour leavens bread, while the Roman church believes that Communion should be a recreation of the Passover meal. 

Finally, the most cataclysmic difference was one word in the Nicene Creed: Filioque. Filioque is a Latin word that means “and the son.” The Roman church added this word at the end of a sentence in the Nicene Creed about the Holy Spirit: “He proceeds from the Father and the Son.” By adding filioque to the end of this sentence, the Roman church made it clear that they believe the Holy Spirit is made from the love of the Father and the Son while the Byzantine church believes it comes from only the Father. The filioque was formally accepted by the bishop of Rome in the eleventh century. Uncoincidentally, the eleventh century is also the year that the churches separated.

The last element of the schism to discuss is power. Popes and patriarchs were often at each other’s throats as they attempted to “honorably” unite the churches under one man. The year 1054 is the year that the pope of the West and the patriarch of the East excommunicated each other. After the destruction of Constantinople during the fourth crusade, there was no hope for reconciliation, and it is unlikely that there ever will be.