The separation between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches (see eastern churches) traces its origins to different ecclesiastical, theological, political and cultural developments in the western and eastern halves of the former Roman Empire. These differences provoked occasional schisms before the 11th century, but between the 11th and 13th centuries a definitive rupture between the two occurred.
From earliest times, Christianity experienced a flexible tension between unity and diversity. When serious disagreements in doctrine or discipline arose, local church councils were convened, following the precedent of the apostolic council described in Acts 15. After their legal recognition of Christianity in the 4th century, Roman emperors convoked general councils in order to address various heresies that threatened to disrupt the unity of the Church. Besides defining normative doctrine, these councils also enacted canons concerning discipline and administration. Seven of these councils held between the 4th and 8th centuries were accepted as ecumenical, meaning that they were considered binding on the entire Church. These are today recognized as authoritative by both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, as well as by some Protestants. Significant populations in the Christian East rejected two of these councils, ephesus (431) and chalcedon (451), resulting in the schism of the so-called Nestorian and Monophysite (Oriental Orthodox) Churches, respectively.
As Christianity established itself throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, the churches and the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch were especially esteemed for their leadership. Besides representing the Christian populations of three of the most important cities of the empire, their prestige derived from the apostolic foundation and succession of their sees. The Council of nicaea i (325) granted similar honor to the See of Jerusalem, in recognition of its apostolic origins, and the Councils of constantinople i (381) and Chalcedon raised the See of Constantinople to second in honor after Rome. The government of the empire had been transferred from Rome to Constantinople in 330, so it was thought fitting to recognize the importance of the new imperial city. The establishment of the patriarchate of Constantinople laid the foundation for ecclesiastical rivalry between "old" Rome and the "new Rome," Constantinople. Rome objected to the rationale behind the elevation of Constantinople because it emphasized the political importance of the leading sees rather than their apostolic associations, and for this reason also disapproved of Constantinople's use of the title "Ecumenical Patriarch." The Roman popes cultivated their identity as the heirs to Saint Peter, and their see as the location of the martyrdoms of both Peter and Paul. The five bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, in that order of precedence, came to be recognized as a "pentarchy" of patriarchs, with leadership responsibility for the churches in their territories.
Rome was both the highest ranking see in honor and also the sole patriarchate in the Latin-speaking West. The eventual Eastern Schism entailed the separation of the Latin-speaking churches of the West, under the leadership of Rome, from the Greek-speaking churches of the East, under the leadership of Constantinople. This split was facilitated by the collapse of Roman political authority and the establishment of the Germanic kingdoms in the West, the rise of Islam in the East, and the settlement of the Slavs in the Balkans. These factors resulted in decreased familiarity and contact between East and West, especially as knowledge of Greek in the West and Latin in the East declined. The schism of the Monophysite and Nestorian Churches, as well as the Islamic conquest of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, diminished the wider influence of those sees and increased that of Constantinople.
Being the seat of civil government, Constantinople was particularly vulnerable to imperial pressures. The churches of Rome and Constantinople were temporarily split during the acacian schism (482–519), named for Acacius, patriarch of Constantinople (471–89). In an attempt to win back the Monophysites, Emperor Zeno (474–91) issued the henoticon (482), a compromise formula on the two natures of Christ. Rome rejected this compromise, instead upholding the definition of the Council of Chalcedon. With the exception of Pope honorius i (625–38) during the Monothelite controversy, the Roman see was distinguished by its adherence to orthodoxy during the period of Trinitarian and Christological controversy. Its prestige as the leading see was further enhanced when the heresy of iconoclasm was introduced by Emperor Leo III in 726. Rome rejected the Iconoclast Council of Hieria (754) and supported the Iconophile Council of nicaea ii (787), which became the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
The Iconoclastic controversy drove a wedge between the papacy and the Roman emperors. Emperor leo iii punished the Roman see for its opposition to Iconoclasm by removing Calabria, Sicily, and Illyricum (including Greece) from papal jurisdiction and placing them under the patriarchate of Constantinople. Confronted by the Lombard military threat and unable to rely on help from the East, Pope stephen ii (752–57) requested aid from the Frankish ruler, Pepin III. The Franks defeated the Lombards and established the papacy as the temporal ruler of lands in Italy. Papal estrangement from the empire reached its height when Pope leo iii (795–816) declared Charlemagne the emperor of the Romans on Christmas of the year 800, creating a "Holy Roman Empire" of the West to rival the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire.
After the empress Theodora restored icon veneration in 843, communion was reestablished between Rome and Constantinople. The Eastern church remained unsettled, however, as the bishops who had acquiesced to Iconoclasm were deposed, and rival factions quarreled over the application of canonical strictness. Then, in 856, Theodora was overthrown by her brother, Bardas, on behalf of her adolescent son, Emperor michael iii (842–67). Ignatius, patriarch of Constantinople (847–58; 867–77), was loyal to Theodora and resigned his office. As his replacement, the rival ecclesiastical parties selected a compromise candidate—photius (858–67; 877–86), a learned layman and civil servant. Unfortunately, one of the three bishops who consecrated Photius, Gregory Asbestas of Syracuse, had been deposed by Ignatius. Gregory appealed to the pope, but a decision had not yet been returned. The Constantinopolitan synod rehabilitated Gregory and appeared to have reconciled the opposing parties. Shortly afterwards, however, the extreme followers of Ignatius rejected Photius.
Pope nicholas i (858–67) became involved in the situation when Photius sent him the customary announcement of his elevation as patriarch. Nicholas understood papal primacy to mean that he had jurisdiction over the entire Church, not just within the Western patriarchate. He believed that he had the right to adjudicate the internal affairs of the Byzantine church, and so in 863 he declared Photius's elevation uncanonical, excommunicated him, and recognized Ignatius as patriarch. Thus began the socalled Photian Schism between Rome and Constantinople.
Complicating matters was rivalry between the two sees over the conversion of Bulgaria. Frankish and Byzantine missionaries there criticized each other's ecclesiastical customs, provoking Nicholas and Photius's involvement in the production of the first polemical literature between Latins and Greeks. Particularly noteworthy was conflict over the use of the filioque in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which would remain a major issue dividing East and West. At a synod in 867, the emperor Michael III, Photius, and the other Eastern patriarchs condemned Pope Nicholas and asked the Western emperor, Louis II, to depose him. But rather Photius himself was deposed when the co-emperor, Basil I (867–86), succeeded to the Byzantine throne after having murdered Michael III.
The legates of Nicholas's successor, Adrian II, attended the Council of constantinople iv (869–70), confirming the condemnation of Photius and the legitimacy of Ignatius. Jurisdiction over Bulgaria, however, was awarded to Constantinople. This council was accepted by the Roman church as the Eighth Ecumenical later in the 11th century. Ignatius and Photius eventually reconciled with each other, and Photius succeeded to the patriarchate upon Ignatius's death. Photius was recognized by Pope John VIII, who sent his legates to the "Union Synod" of 879–80. The Council of Constantinople IV's condemnation of Photius was at that time annulled.
The Photian Schism was resolved with the understanding that each church would continue to observe its own traditions. But the conflict revealed that East and West had developed different notions of authority in the Church, and no longer shared the same culture of one universal Church coterminous with one universal empire. Their spheres of influence were now clearly two, and they competed for authority in the borderlands of Byzantine southern Italy, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe. As Nicholas I demonstrated, the popes understood papal primacy in a monarchical sense, linked to Peter's primacy, and meaning that they exercised jurisdictional and teaching authority over all bishops in the universal church, including the eastern patriarchs. They also viewed themselves in a position superior to emperors and all other temporal authorities. In the 11th century, the Gregorian reform in the Western church further strengthened this self-conception of the papacy. In contrast, although the Eastern church recognized it as the leading see and had on occasion appealed to Rome over disciplinary or doctrinal matters, the East understood authority in the Church in a collegial sense. Rome was the "first among equals" in the pentarchy of patriarchs. Doctrine was properly defined by the ecumenical councils, which required the participation or consent of all five patriarchs.
The filioque had also emerged as a point of controversy during the Photian Schism. This phrase was added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in the 6th century by the church in Spain in order to combat Arianism. The creed, as originally formulated by the Council of Constantinople I (381), stated that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father." The addition of the filioque changed the text to read "who proceeds from the Father and the Son. " This reflected the development of Trinitarian theology in the West, which stressed the unity of the three Persons in the Trinity. The East had rather tended to emphasize the personal distinction among the three, understanding the Father as the unique source of the other two Persons. The Franks spread the use of the filioque throughout the West. Although Pope Leo III had objected to altering the words of the creed and omitted the filioque from the inscription he commissioned for Saint Peter's basilica, no pope ever objected to the doctrine that it taught. The filioque was adopted in Rome at the time of Pope Benedict VIII (1014–15), under German influence. The East objected both to the doctrine, which seemed to them to posit two sources within the Godhead, and to the fact that the West had unilaterally changed the wording of the universal creed of the Church, which had been approved by the Second and Fourth Ecumenical Councils (Constantinople I and Chalcedon, respectively).
Following the Photian Schism, Rome and Constantinople were again briefly out of communion from 912–23. Defying the decision of Patriarch Nicholas I to forbid a fourth marriage intended to legitimize his son, Constantine VII, as heir to the throne, Emperor Leo VI (886–912) appealed to Pope Sergius III and to the eastern patriarchs for approval. A Constantinopolitan synod accepted Sergius's grant of dispensation for the emperor, provoking the resignation of Nicholas and a schism within the Byzantine church. Nicholas was reinstated as patriarch after the death of Leo VI in 912, and asked that Pope Anastasius III (911–13) condemn his predecessor's action. After receiving no reply, Nicholas removed the pope's name from the diptychs, indicating that the two sees were not in communion. This schism was repaired in 923, when Pope John X accepted the decision of the council held in Constantinople in 920, which anathematized fourth marriages.
The year 1054 has conventionally been given as the starting date of the (Great) Eastern Schism, because of the conflict at that time between Pope Leo IX (1049–54) and Patriarch Michael Cerularius (1043–58). But the precise date of the final schism has eluded scholars. Because contemporaries did not recognize a definitive time at which schism occurred, it has been argued that there was no formal schism in the 11th century at all, and other, later, dates for the final break are suggested. Most scholars see the events of 1054 as one significant occasion in the gradual formation and solidification of the schism, which culminated during the Crusades. Others consider the negotiations between Byzantium and Rome that followed this episode to indicate that a break had occurred. Regardless, it is clear that relations between Rome and Constantinople were extremely tenuous during the 11th century. In 1009 Pope Sergius IV (1009–12) sent a letter to Constantinople, announcing his elevation to the Roman see. It was rejected by Patriarch Sergius II (999–1019) because it contained the filioque. Sergius IV's predecessor, John XVIII (1004–9), was the last pope to be commemorated in the Constantinopolitan diptychs.
The conflict between Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Cerularius began when the Synod of Siponto (1050), reflecting the concerns of the reform papacy, condemned Greek religious practices in southern Italy. In response, the patriarch imposed the Greek rite on Latin churches in Constantinople. Differences over the filioque, fasting, celibacy of the clergy, and the Eucharistic use of leavened or unleavened bread (azymes ) were the focus of polemicists on both sides. This last issue was seen as particularly scandalous, because it was a visible sign of Latin and Greek divergence in the sacrament of Christian unity par excellence, and reflected different theological interpretations of this primary act of Christian worship.
In spite of the religious controversy, Emperor Constantine IX (1042–55) arranged an alliance with the papacy against the Normans in southern Italy. Leo IX sent a delegation to Constantinople, headed by Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida and including Frederick of Lorraine, the future Pope Stephen IX. Patriarch Cerularius took offense to the pope's letter to him, which belittled the position of the Constantinopolitan see and questioned his legitimacy as patriarch, and so refused to receive it. This provoked Humbert to publish a response to Archbishop Leo of Ochrid's anti-Latin letter and to engage in a disputation with Nicetas Stethatos. The papal delegation's visit served only to worsen tension between the two churches. On July 16, 1054, Humbert issued a bull of excommunication directed against Cerularius and his followers and placed it on the altar of Hagia Sophia. Ironically, among his complaints, Humbert accused the Byzantines of omitting the filioque from the creed. The patriarch in turn held a synod that refuted Humbert's charges and excommunicated the legates. It is important to note that the excommunications were limited to the people involved, and were not directed by the one church against the other as such. Humbert had acted on his own authority, and in the meantime Pope Leo IX had died. In recognition of these facts, in 1965 Pope Paul VI (1963–78) and Patriarch Athenagoras (1948–72) revoked the excommunications of 1054 as a first step towards healing the schism between the churches; it was not an act that resolved the schism itself.
Efforts to normalize ecclesiastical relations between Rome and Constantinople began shortly after 1054. These negotiations were between the popes and the Byzantine emperors, rather than with the patriarchs of Constantinople, as they were governed by the diplomatic and military concerns of the papacy and the empire. In 1071 the empire was dealt a double blow: a devastating defeat by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert in Anatolia, and the seizure by the Normans of its last remaining territories in Italy. The Byzantines sought an alliance with the papacy against both the Turks and the Normans. After Emperor Michael VII (1071–78) was overthrown in a palace coup, Pope Gregory VII aligned himself with the Normans and excommunicated the next two emperors. Pope Urban II (1088–99) reversed the excommunication of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118). Alexius convoked a synod in 1089 that concluded that there was no evidence of a formal schism between the two churches. Patriarch Nicholas III (1084–1111) offered to commemorate the pope in the diptychs, provided that he would agree to either come to Constantinople to discuss their religious differences or send a statement of faith. Urban declined to respond, and so his name was not inscribed in the diptychs. Nevertheless, it appears that while Latins and Greeks were conscious of their differences and continued to debate them, there was no general acknowledgement of schism, particularly at the popular level.
In 1095 Urban called on Western Christians to help the Byzantines recover the Holy Land from the Turks. He had hoped thereby to improve relations between the churches, but the resulting Crusades had, unfortunately, the opposite results. The Latins passed through the empire on their way to the East, and the strain of provisioning the troops provoked Latins and Greeks against each other. Complicating matters, the Normans, sworn enemies of Byzantium, were prominent among the Crusaders. Rather than turning their conquests over to the emperor, as they had promised, the Latins established their own principalities. Latin patriarchs were installed at Jerusalem in 1099 and at Antioch in 1100; rival Greek lines of succession existed in exile. At Jerusalem, the Latin hierarch was recognized as legitimate by both Latins and Greeks, until the Latins were expelled and the Greek line restored following Saladin's conquest of the city in 1187. At Antioch, however, the legitimate Greek line was forced out by the Latins, creating two competing hierarchies and an open schism in that see.
Tension between Latins and Greeks escalated in the years leading up to the Fourth Crusade. In 1182 rioters in Constantinople, resentful of the political and economic privileges granted to the Latins, massacred the city's Latin inhabitants. The Norman king of Sicily, William II, then invaded Byzantium, massacred the Greeks of Thessalonica in 1185, and intended to reach Constantinople before being defeated. The immediate pretext for the diversion of the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople was, among others, the promise of a claimant to the Byzantine throne to unite the churches, if the Latins would help install him as emperor. The result was the crusader conquest of that city and the subsequent creation of the Latin empire of Constantinople (1204). The crusaders' sack of Constantinople was particularly brutal and sacrilegious, and the Greeks in the Latin-occupied territories were forced to accept the humiliating "church union" of religious submission to their conquerors, the bitterness of which would linger for years to come. As in the Holy Land, the Latins established their own patriarchate, while the Greek patriarchate joined the Byzantine government in exile at Nicaea. The schism was now complete.
While still in exile, Emperor John III Vatatzes (1222–54) began negotiations for church union as a means of returning Byzantine rule to Constantinople. Although these efforts failed, michael viii palaeologus (1259–82) succeeded in retaking Constantinople in 1261. Michael pursued union, hoping that the papacy could dissuade the Latin powers from attempting a reconquest. In 1274 the emperor's representatives attended the Council of Lyons II, presided over by Pope Gregory X (1271–76). There they agreed to accept the Latin faith, recognizing the primacy of the pope as understood by Rome, the Latin doctrine on the Procession of the Holy Spirit, and the filioque addition to the creed. Michael had requested that the Greeks be allowed to preserve their rites, including the use of leavened bread in the Eucharist, and that the only change in their worship be the commemoration of the pope. The Roman church, however, continually pressed Michael to enforce the union by requiring the recitation of the filioque in the liturgy. Faced with the opposition of the great majority of the Byzantine clergy and laity, Michael refused to alter the rites of his church, but did cruelly persecute the anti-unionists. Unfortunately, he lost his alliance with the papacy upon the election of Martin IV (1281–85), a Frenchman. Martin was an ally of Charles of Anjou, who hoped to restore the Latin empire of Constantinople. Michael remained faithful to the union, even after Martin excommunicated him in 1281. Charles of Anjou ceased to be a threat to the empire after the Sicilian Vespers uprising in 1282. Emperor Andronicus II (1282–1328) repudiated the union of Lyons immediately following his father's death.
Ironically, Andronicus II reopened union negotiations in the latter years of his reign, as the empire again sought military aid from the West, this time against the Ottoman Turks. Andronicus III (1328–41) continued these discussions, sending the Italian Greek theologian Barlaam of Calabria to France in 1339, to visit both the king and Pope Benedict XII (1334–42). Barlaam explained that the Greeks had rejected the union of Lyons because only the representatives of the emperor, not those of the four Eastern patriarchs or of the laity were present at the council, and even they were not allowed to negotiate—rather, they were forced to submit to the Roman church. Although Barlaam's mission failed to produce results, he had articulated the requirements necessary for the Orthodox to accept any union agreement: negotiation of differences at an ecumenical council, by representatives of all five patriarchs and with the consent of the laity. Contrary to Western notions of Byzantine "caesaropapism," union could not be enforced through the will of the emperor alone.
The papacy saw no reason for calling yet another council to debate questions that had already been defined by the Roman church. Nor was it interested in facilitating military assistance to the schismatic (or heretical) Greeks, before they submitted to its authority. In spite of this stalemate, discussions continued throughout the 14th century. In 1369 at Rome, Emperor John V Palaeologus (1341–91) personally converted to the Roman faith. No union of the churches or military aid resulted from his conversion.
As the Ottomans advanced into southeastern Europe, the Western powers grew alarmed. In 1396 a crusading army led by Sigismund of Hungary was defeated at the battle of Nicopolis. The French king, Charles VI, sent Emperor Manuel II (1391–1425) some troops for Constantinople's defense in 1399. Europe was divided at that time over the Great Schism of the West, in which the Roman and Avignonese lines of the papacy fought for recognition, while the Conciliar Movement challenged papal authority itself. The West was at last motivated to negotiate with the East over terms for convoking an ecumenical council.
The Byzantines were invited by Sigismund, now the Western emperor, to send ambassadors to the Council of Constance (1414–17). This council repaired the Western schism by electing Martin V (1417–31) as sole pope. Discussions begun with Martin came to fruition when Pope Eugenius IV (1431–47) and Emperor John VIII (1425–48) agreed to convene a union council designed to meet Byzantine requirements for ecumenicity. The Greeks chose to negotiate with Eugenius rather than with his rival, the Council of Basel. Although they had desired to hold the council in Constantinople, the Turkish threat made that impossible. The Byzantine delegation to the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–39) included Patriarch Joseph II (1416–39), representatives of the three Eastern patriarchs and from the churches of Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldo-Wallachia, and Russia, and distinguished lay philosophers. The papacy pledged economic support for the Orthodox delegation and some military aid for the defense of Constantinople, with more help from the Western powers to follow upon the successful conclusion of union.
Negotiations at the council dragged on, as the emperor hoped for the arrival of official embassies from the Western princes, whose allegiances were split between Eugenius and Basel. In the end, the Greeks accepted the union decree, which defined the controversial points in favor of the Latin doctrine. It declared that the Latin and Greek teachings on the Procession of the Holy Spirit were the same, interpreting the patristic Greek use of the phrase "through the Son" as the equivalent in meaning of the Latin "and the Son." The filioque was defended as having been rightfully added to the creed, but no mention was made of the Greeks being required to add it. It was also agreed that the Eucharist could be celebrated with either leavened or unleavened bread, each church retaining its own custom. Because the Greeks had not speculated much themselves concerning the intermediate state of the soul after death and before the final judgment, they were required to accept the doctrine of purgatory. Finally, the decree asserted the primacy of the pope as teacher and ruler of the Church, while assuring the rights and privileges of the other four patriarchs.
Although church union was the official policy of the Byzantine emperors and the patriarchs of Constantinople from 1439 until the conquest of the city by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the union was rejected by the Eastern patriarchs, Russia, and the majority of Byzantines, as a betrayal of their traditional faith. In their view, the Roman church had not given up anything that had caused the schism in the first place. Some military help for the defense of Constantinople was indeed deployed (most notably the Crusade of Varna in 1444), but failed to be successful. The church of Constantinople officially repudiated the Florentine union in 1484.
The agreement at Florence was, however, used as a basis for other reunions with the Roman Catholic Church, most notably that of Brest-Litovsk in 1596 with the Ruthenians of Eastern Europe. Today, the status of the Eastern Catholics is a problem in the ongoing ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The issues of papal primacy (and since Vatican I, infallibility), as well as the filioque, remain major stumbling blocks in the path of union.
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