Thoughts on The Great Schism of 1054

The Apostles as the original church leaders never lorded their authority one over the other, but rather, our Lord Jesus Christ led them. They would only come together in a 'council' to articulate potentially confusing theology (Acts 15:6-24). This tradition continued throughout the early Church and we call these events the Ecumenical Councils (Synods). An Ecumenical Council of Bishops, to this day, remains the highest source of authority within the Orthodox Church.

The Christian Church, therefore, was ONE group of people led by ONE group of Bishops until about 1054 A.D. This is the date typically ascribed to the "Great Schism" when Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic) Christianity split over two main issues:

1. A denial of the Church of Rome to honor the title of Ecumenical Patriarch to the Bishop of Constantinople, and an insistence that the Ecumenical Patriarch recognize the Church of Rome as the head and mother of all the churches. The Patriarch refused, and so the Latin contingent excommunicated him, as a response, the Ecumenical Patriarch excommunicated the Latin contingent.

2. An alteration of both wording and theology in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed by the Roman Catholic Church (West) in direct opposition to the Third Ecumenical Council which forbade any future alterations to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

The Creed is the only Ecumenical and accepted version of the Creed in existence. The Third Ecumenical Council outlawed any alterations to it. Therefore, the first anomaly was as if one of the Apostles claimed superiority over the rest of the Apostles, and the second changed the western Christian's understanding of the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This was only the beginning of a multitude of other theological and liturgical changes by the Western Church since the Great Schism (i.e. immaculate conception, purgatory, original sin, mandatory celibacy of Priests, etc.).

The Last Straw

The Fourth Crusade lasted from 1201-1204. Although the Crusades were for the most part a Western European phenomenon this one affected the Eastern Church as the invading Crusaders had no intention of ‘liberating’ the Holy Lands.  Rather, they laid siege to Constantinople (the Christian capital of the Eastern Roman Empire) and on April 12, 1204 they conquered the city and shamefully looted, desecrated, and destroyed numerous churches, icons, and relics. After, they then established a Latin Patriarch based in Constantinople which lasted over 57 years until 1261 when Emperor Michael Palaeologus VIII recaptured the city. This ‘Crusade’ is widely regarded as the completion of the Great Schism, as much bitterness towards the West remained even after the restoration of Byzantium.

Since 1054 A.D. Eastern Orthodox Christianity has preserved the theological and liturgical traditions of the Apostolic Church. It has never experienced a 'Reformation,' a 'Dark Age,' or an 'Enlightenment' period as experienced by Western Christianity. It has tirelessly preserved the Oral, Liturgical, and Scriptural traditions of the Apostolic Church as a humble servant and guardian. Please see A Word About Church History for more information.


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