The Great Schism 1054

  • It is often stated that the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church was founded at the time of this great schism. That is false. The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church was ruled by five patriarchs: those of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, each having authority over bishops in a specified geographic territory.
  • Each of the five groups took (and still today takes) the view that it is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and the other group left that church at the time of the schism. The Roman Church maintains that the Pope was the head of the entire Church before the split.
  • With movement of the Roman Emperor Constantine (306-337 CE) and thus political authority from Rome to Constantinople (modern Istanbul in Turkey), a division was formed in the religious climate of the empire. Because of the custom of the emperor having authority in both temporal and religious matters, this eventually caused a split between bishops following the Pope in Rome and those following the Emperor in Constantinople.

The principal catalysts of the schism in 1054 included:

  1. The insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed by the Roman church: stating that “the Son’ was as important as ‘the Father’.
  2. Disputes over whether the Patriarch of Rome, the Pope, should be considered a higher authority than the other Patriarchs. All five Patriarchs agreed that the Patriarch of Rome should receive higher honours than the other four; they disagreed about whether he had authority over the other four.
  • This conflict led to the exchange of excommunications (expulsion from the church) by Pope Leo IX and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, in 1054 (not rescinded until 1965) and the separation of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches, each of which now claims to be “the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

Eastern Orthodoxy 1054 onwards

  • After the Great Schism, the Eastern Orthodox sent missionaries into Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria and Rumania. These areas still follow Eastern Orthodoxy.
  • Eastern European migration has spread Orthodoxy to North America. Today there are over 225 million members around the world.
  • Eastern Orthodox churches are typically cross-shaped, and have a rounded central roof. The Orthodox services are usually very long, elaborate and steeped in early Christian traditions. Only men can be Orthodox priests.
  • There are several independent eastern Christian Churches besides Orthodox groups, the most unique being the Ethiopian Christians who have a curious blend of Judaeo-Christian beliefs.

The Western Schism: The Reformation

  • On October 31st 1517 CE, a German monk called Martin Luther inadvertently began a dramatic changed in Western Christian society. He proposed to debate 95 theses with the local Catholic leadership. Luther did not approve of certain financial practices that the German Catholic Church had been employing with the consent of the Pope at that time; Leo X.
  • Luther disapproved of financial contributions to ensure passage to heaven, believing that such passage was ensured by faith in Christianity alone. His ideas spread throughout Germany and beyond, thanks to the new printing technology that was becoming widespread.
  • ‘Lutheranism’ became a religion in its own right, referred to as ‘Protestantism’ as Luther had only ever intended to protest abuses in the Catholic Church.
  • Other theologians followed in Luther’s footsteps, although not always agreeing with him. The works of Ulrich Zwingli (Switzerland), Jean Calvin (France, Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands, South Africa & North America), John Knox (Scotland), Thomas Cramner    (England) spread Protestantism through the world.

The Catholic reaction: the Counter (or Catholic) Reformation

  • It took the Catholic Church leadership until 1545 to convene to respond to the growing threat of Protestantism at the Council of Trent. In a series of decisions, the Council reaffirmed Roman Catholicism and condemned many of the abuses that Luther had ‘protested’.
  • However, Protestantism was by now too well established and remains in existence in many forms to this day.
  • Roman Catholicism has also survived, boasting more than 1 billion members worldwide.

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