The Schism of 1054

Due to the reading I have been doing recently I wanted to write something about the schism of the church in 1054. The schism has been widely written about over the past several decades, but I find it still interesting to research.

First, some basic facts about the period. In 1054 there were several major powers in Europe and the East; Pope Leo IX, Michael Cerularius and Emperor Henry IV in what is now Germany. There are some notable minor names involved with the schism of 1054, such as Cardinal Humbert, Frederick, the chancellor of Rome and Peter, Archbishop of Amalfi. At this point in time there were several powerful bishoprics, two of which are closely linked to the schism; Rome and Constantinople.

Relations between the Eastern and Western churches had been tested before the events of 1054, primarily in connection with the theological disagreements between the two different centres of religion. The two different approaches to Christianity included the two arguments of filioque, the two approaches to the Eucharist and the restrictions placed on clerical roles (such as being allowed to marry).

The two arguments about the filioque are the ways in which the Holy Spirit proceeds from God to Jesus Christ. The Western church believed that Jesus was on the same level as God, meaning that the Holy Spirit travelled from God AND Jesus to the people. Whereas the Eastern Church believed that Jesus was on a lower level than God, meaning that the Holy Spirit travelled from God through Jesus and then to the people. While the Western church officially altered their approach to this question, making Jesus as high up as God, the Eastern Church did not accept what became known as the filioque clause.

This disagreement essentially boiled down to the two approaches to the Eucharist in 1054 when Pope Leo IX sent Cardinal Humbert, Frederick and Peter to Constantinople to lead discussions on the two approaches, and to reach a resolution on the disagreement. Cardinal Humbert was the logical choice on the part of Leo, as he had been trained in Greek and he had a healthy distrust of the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius. Leo was also smart in appointing Peter, the Archbishop of Amalfi, as the people of Amalfi had strong trading interests in the Byzantine Empire, therefore it would seem to the Byzantines that Leo was willing to be reasonable, and may not have wished to dominate the discussions.

The delegates to Constantinople met up with a Byzantine general called Argyros in Beneventum. This general had gained the approval of the patriarch of Constantinople by saving his life, however he had disagreed with him on several occasions, as he had Latin sympathies and was well versed in the argument concerning the Eucharist. Due to these disagreements the patriarch began to believe that Argyros and the delegates were plotting against him. His suspicions were only strengthened when the delegates gave the patriarch a letter sealed by the Pope, but it had clearly been opened and resealed. Due to this apparent deception Michael took an immediate disliking to Humbert and his companions.

A debate concerning the Eucharist was started, the main argument being the type of bread that was used. Humbert argued the use of unleavened bread, as it was this type that Jesus used in the last supper, however Michael, and many others, believed that this was too close to the Jewish tradition and preferred to used ordinary bread, as to distance themselves from the Jews. Neither side of the argument were willing to compromise in any way.

As the delegates were acting on the authority of Pope Leo IX and the Eastern Church was unwilling to agree to the demands of the Pope, Humbert and his companions felt it necessary to excommunicate Michael and his immediate followers. They did this in a spectacular fashion, by storming into the Church of St Sophia in Constantinople, handing over the notice of excommunication during the middle of a service and immediately leaving, proclaiming the excommunication of Michael and his followers.

Not long after this act Michael fought against it, claiming to the emperor that as Pope Leo IX had died not long after the delegation had reached Constantinople (and there was plenty of time for notice to have been sent to the delegation) the excommunication was not authorised by the actual Pope at the time. Eventually Michael felt compelled to excommunicate the Pope, thus causing the schism between the East and West.

It is worth noting that this schism was never truly healed, as the excommunications between the two churches were only lifted in 1965. There has been a lot of research done on this topic, discussing the possible reasons behind the initial excommunication given by Humbert, and why Michael acted as he did after Humbert left, rather than try to fight the excommunication politically.

I hope you have found this as interesting as I have!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s