How the Christian Church split

Pope Leo IX and Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Kerularius.

The main event in the church life of Europe was the final split of the churches, Eastern and Western, into Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic in 1054. This split ended nearly two centuries of church-political disputes. The Great Schism has become the main cause of many wars and other conflicts.

Why the Great Schism happened

Even before 1054, there were many disputes between the two capitals of Christendom, Rome and Constantinople. And not all of them were caused by the actions of the popes, who in the first millennium of the new era were considered the legitimate heirs of Ancient Rome, the supreme apostle Peter. Church hierarchs of Constantinople more than once fell into heresy (deviation from the norms and rules of the dominant religion). In particular, in Monophysitism – the recognition of Jesus Christ only by God and the non-recognition of the human principle in him. The author is considered to be Archimandrite Eutykhiy of Constantinople (about 378-454). Or iconoclasm – a religious movement in Byzantium in the 8th – early 9th centuries, directed against the veneration of icons and other church images (mosaics, frescoes, statues of saints, etc.). Iconoclastic heretics considered church images to be idols, and the cult of venerating icons as idolatry, referring to the Old Testament. Iconoclasts actively smashed religious images. Emperor Leo III the Isaurian in 726 and 730 forbade the veneration of religious images. Iconoclasm was banned by the Second Council of Nicea in 787, resumed at the beginning of the 9th century and finally banned in 843.

Meanwhile, in Rome, reasons for a future split were ripening. They were based on the “papal primacy”, which put the popes on an almost divine level. Popes were considered the direct heirs of the Apostle Peter and were not “the first among equals.” They were the “governors of Christ” and considered themselves the head of the entire church. The Roman throne strove for undivided not only church-ideological, but also political power. In particular, in Rome they relied on a forged donation act – the Konstantin’s Gift, made in the 8th or 9th century. The gift of Constantine spoke of the transfer by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (IV century) of supreme power over the Roman Empire to the head of the Roman Church, Sylvester. This act served as one of the main grounds for the claims of the popes to supreme power both in the church and the supreme power in Europe.

In addition to papism, an exorbitant lust for power, there were also religious reasons. Thus, in Rome, the Creed was changed (the so-called filioque question). Even at the IV Ecumenical Council in 451, in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, it was said that it comes only from God the Father. The Romans willfully added “and from the Son.” This formula was finally adopted in Rome in 1014. In the East, this was not accepted and Rome was accused of heresy. Later, Rome will add other innovations that Constantinople will not accept: the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the dogma of purgatory, the infallibility (infallibility) of the Pope in matters of faith (a continuation of the idea of ​​papal primacy), etc. All this will intensify the strife.

Fotie’s feud

The first schism between the Western and Eastern Churches occurred as early as 863-867. This is the so-called. Fotiev’s schism. The conflict took place between Pope Nicholas and Patriarch Photius of Constantinople. Formally, both hierarchs were equal – they headed two Local Churches. However, the Pope tried to extend his power to the dioceses of the Balkan Peninsula, which were traditionally subordinate to the Church of Constantinople. As a result, both sides excommunicated each other.

It all started as an internal conflict in the Constantinople ruling elite and the church. There was a struggle between conservatives and liberals. In the struggle for power between Emperor Michael III and his mother Theodora, Patriarch Ignatius, who represented the Conservatives, sided with the Empress and was deposed. The scientist Photius was elected in his place. Liberal circles supported him. Supporters of Ignatius declared Photius an illegal patriarch and turned to the Pope for help. Rome used the situation to reinforce the doctrine of “papal primacy”, trying to become the supreme arbiter in the dispute. Pope Nicholas refused to recognize Photius as patriarch. Photius raised the question of the heresy of the Romans (the question of the filioque). Both sides exchanged curses.

In 867, the Byzantine Basileus Michael, who supported Photius, was killed. The throne was seized by Basil the Macedonian (co-ruler of Michael), the founder of the Macedonian dynasty. Basil deposed Photius and restored Ignatius to the patriarchal throne. Thus, Vasily wanted to gain a foothold on the captured throne: to get the support of the Pope and the people, in which Ignatius was popular. Emperor Basil and Patriarch Ignatius, in their letters to the Pope, recognized the power and influence of the latter on the affairs of the Eastern Church. The patriarch even summoned Roman vicars (assistant to the bishop) to “arrange the church with them kindly and properly.” It seemed that this was the complete victory of Rome over Constantinople. At councils in Rome and then, in the presence of papal envoys, in Constantinople (869), Photius was deposed and, together with his followers, was condemned.

However, if in matters of Byzantine church life, Constantinople yielded to Rome, then in matters of control over the dioceses, the situation was different. Under Michael, the Latin clergy began to dominate in Bulgaria. Under Basil, despite the protests of the Romans, the Latin priests were removed from Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Tsar Boris again joined the Eastern Church. In addition, soon Tsar Vasily changed his attitude towards the betrayed disgrace of Photius. He brought him back from captivity, settled him in a palace and entrusted him with the education of his children. And when Ignatius died, Photius again took the patriarchal throne (877-886). In 879, a council was convened in Constantinople, which surpassed some of the Ecumenical Councils in terms of the number of hierarchs gathered and the splendor of the furnishings. The Roman legates had not only to agree to the removal of the condemnation from Photius, to listen to the Niceo-Constantinople Creed (without the filioque added in the West), but also to glorify it.

Pope John VIII, angered by the decisions of the Council of Constantinople, sent his legate to the East, who was supposed to insist on the destruction of the council’s decisions that were objectionable to Rome and to achieve concessions on Bulgaria. Emperor Basil and Patriarch Photius did not yield to Rome. As a result, the relationship between the Byzantine Empire and Rome became cold. Then both sides tried to reconcile and made a number of mutual concessions.

The schism of the Christian church

In the 10th century, the status quo remained, but on the whole, the gap became inevitable. The Byzantine emperors achieved complete control over the Eastern Church. In the meantime, the question of control over the dioceses (that is, the question of property and income) arose again. Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas (963-969) strengthened Byzantine church organizations in southern Italy (Apulia and Calabria), where papal and Western influence began to penetrate strongly – the German sovereign Otto received the imperial Roman crown, plus pressure from the Normans. Nicephorus Foka banned the Latin rite in southern Italy and ordered to adhere to the Greek. This became a new reason for the cooling of relations between Rome and Constantinople. In addition, the pope began to call Nicephorus the emperor of the Greeks, and the title of emperor of the Romans (Romans), as the Byzantine Basileus were officially called, transferred to the German emperor Otto.

Gradually, the contradictions grew, both ideological and political. So, after Nicephorus Phocas, the Romans resumed their expansion in southern Italy. In the middle of XI, Leo IX sat on the papal throne, who was not only a religious hierarch, but also a politician. He supported the Cluny movement – his supporters advocated the reform of monastic life in the Western Church. The center of the movement was the Cluny Abbey in Burgundy. The reformers demanded the restoration of fallen morals and discipline, the abolition of secular customs rooted in the church, a ban on the sale of church offices, marriages of priests, etc. This movement was very popular in southern Italy, which caused discontent in the Eastern Church. Pope Leo planned to establish himself in southern Italy.

Patriarch Michael Kerularius of Constantinople, irritated by the growing influence of the Romans in the western possessions of the Eastern Church, closed all Latin monasteries and churches in Byzantium. In particular, the churches argued about communion: the Latins used unleavened bread (unleavened bread) for the Eucharist, and the Greeks – leavened bread. Messages were exchanged between Pope Leo and Patriarch Michael. Michael criticized the claims of the Roman high priests to complete authority in Christendom. The Pope in his letter referred to the Gift of Constantine. Roman envoys arrived in the capital of the Byzantine Empire, among whom was Cardinal Humbert, known for his haughty disposition. The Roman legates behaved proudly and arrogantly, did not compromise. Patriarch Michael also took a tough stance. Then in the summer of 1054, the Romans put on the altar of the church of St. Sofia’s excommunication letter. Mikhail and his supporters were anathematized. For such an insult, the people wanted to break the Romans, but the Emperor Constantine Monomakh stood up for them. In response, Michael Kerularius gathered a council and cursed the Roman legates and those close to them.

Thus, the final split of the Western and Eastern churches took place. Three other Eastern patriarchs (Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria) supported Constantinople. The Patriarchate of Constantinople became independent from Rome. Byzantium confirmed the position of a civilization independent from the West. On the other hand, Constantinople lost the political support of Rome (in the whole of the West). During the Crusades, Western knights took and plundered the capital of Byzantium. In the future, the West did not support Constantinople when it was attacked by the Turks, and then fell under the pressure of the Ottoman Turks.

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