The Gradual Estrangement of the East and West –
laying the foundation for the schism between the Eastern and Western church. Submitted in partial fulfillment of assigned research paper for CHHI 520-D By
For more than nine hundred and fifty years, there has been a clear and deep division in Christianity resulting in two separate and distinct factions of the church – the East or Orthodox Church and the West or Catholic Church. In July of 1054, as part of the dispute over the pope's authority over Christians in the East, Cardinal Humbert from Rome entered the Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople and placed a Bull of Excommunication on the alter. Pope Leo IX of the church in Rome had excommunicated Patriarch Michael I of the Greek Church in Constantinople from the Catholic Church. After unsuccessful attempts at conferencing with the legates from Rome, Patriarch Michael I subsequently excommunicated Pope Leo IX from the Byzantine or Orthodox Church. (1) It should be difficult if not impossible to accept that this one action alone caused such a significant and tragic event in the history of the church. And indeed, such is not the case. Long before the open schism the two churches had become strangers to one another; and in attempting to understand why the communion of the churches in the East and the churches in the West was broken, we must look over the preceding centuries to identify and map the progression of factors that contributed to the misunderstanding and alienation of each faction from the other. (2) The Great Schism of 1054 truly is the result of a gradual estrangement of the churches in the East and in the West and the rivalry and hatred that rose from several causes of political, cultural, and doctrinal differences and attitudes which over time breached the unity of Christendom. Ignorance and misunderstanding with variance over liturgical practices and conflicting ideas regarding worship and discipline could not be vanquished. Indeed, the schism appears to be the acceptance of a situation by which each part of Christendom lives, behaves and judges without taking notice of the other. (3) Subsequent to examining the causes of the estrangement can there be a hope to mend these broken hearts and reunite Christ’s church? From the time of the Apostles there was a political unity of the churches due primarily to the Roman Empire. It was in the third century that the Roman Empire was divided in to two parts, East and West with two emperors. Unity began to gradually disappear. In 330, Constantine advanced the separation by establishing a second capital of the Empire in the East in Byzantium, later called Constantinople. Prior to the division of the empire, the special position of three bishops known as patriarchs within the church organization was recognized: the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Alexandria, and the Bishop of Antioch. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, two additional patriarchates were recognized: the Bishop of Constantinople and the Bishop of Jerusalem. These patriarchs held authority and jurisdiction over their fellow bishops in the Church. However, by virtue of his position as the successor of Saint Peter, the Bishop of Rome was held in a higher status and his see was of distinct importance since Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire. While regarded as first among equals in the hierarchy, the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) was not afforded any additional authority or powers. But the authority of the Roman Empire in the West collapsed in the fifth century when the last Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was definitively deposed by invading barbarians. The crumbling of the Roman Empire had given way to a mixture of regional governments and barbarian kingships, none of whom had Rome’s ability to cohesively construct the infrastructure of modern society. In this void, the Pope in Rome assumed a role in governing not only his ecclesiastical subordinates but...
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