The Great Schism, also referred to as the East-West Schism, was a culmination of events that resulted in the split between the Eastern Christian churches and the Western church. The Eastern churches were led by Michael Cerularius, the patriarch of Constantinople; while the western church was under the leadership of Pope Leo IX. These two excommunicated each other in 1054 in an event that became a watershed in the history of the church. This essay looks at the Great Schism in detail and why it happened. Although the Great Schism is recorded as having occurred in 1054, it was actually caused by a lengthy period of disharmony between the two church factions. Its main causes were disagreements to do with papal authority. For one, the Roman Pope believed that he had authority over the four patriarchs of the East. On the other hand, these four patriarchs were the primacy of the Roman Pope was merely honorary and that the only people he had authority over was the Western Christians. All in all, there were several other less weighty causes of the Schism, such as clashing claims of jurisdiction and differing liturgical practices.
The relationship between the Byzantine church and the Roman is perceived as having gradually deteriorated from the fifth up to the eleventh century. Three bishops yielded significant power in the early church, and acquired it mainly from the political prominence of their respective cities. These were the bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. The transfer of the Roman Empires throne from Rome to Constantinople boosted the importance of the latter, together with the later decline of Antioch and Alexandria as battlegrounds for battles between Christians and Muslims. At the same time, the West was religiously calm when compared to the often violent theological disagreements that plagued the East. Such a situation strengthened the Roman popes positions and encouraged them to make claims for preeminence. However, this preeminence was never recognized in the East. Any attempts at patronizing the Eastern patriarchs would trigger calls for separation. Insisting on it during times of times of disharmony was a recipe for a schism.
The eastern theology was quite different from the western one. For instance, the Western theology was derived from Roman law while the Eastern theology was based on Greek philosophy. This situation led to various misunderstandings and eventually caused two completely different ways of defining and perceiving the Holy Spirit. In addition, the Eastern churches did not like the way the Romans enforced clerical celibacy. They also resented the consumption of unleavened bread during the Eucharist, and a policy in which the right of confirmation was limited to the bishop.
The Great Schism split the church along theological, doctrinal, political, geographical, and linguistic lines, and this division has never healed. There may be allegations that the two factions may have come back together in 1274 and 1439. However, in each instance, the councils who tried to mediate were rebutted by the orthodox since the hierarchs involved had acted outside their authority. All in all, there was an improvement in relations between the two churches after the Second Vatican Council of between 1962 and 1965. This recognized that sacraments offered in Eastern churches were valid. Improved relations have been noted in modern times, with dialogue continued into the early twentieth century.
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