The total separation of the Greek and Roman churches occurred in AD 1054 where it is recorded on the Biblical Timeline with World History. This was after Humbert, the Cardinal of Silva Candida, excommunicated Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople in his own turf, the Hagia Sophia. Patriarch Michael answered this excommunication with his own condemnation of Cardinal Humbert. This event marked the separation of the path of the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
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East-West Schism of 1054
The separation of the Greek and Roman churches did not even start in the middle of the eleventh century. However, the breakdown of the relationship between the two churches started many years before with the Photian Schism and other such incidents. The friction between the two churches only intensified starting in the late tenth century when the German Ottonian rulers intervened directly in the papal elections. This was an act which cemented the alliance between the Roman Church and the northern Europeans. This did not sit well with the rulers of the church in Constantinople as they still considered the Germans as “barbarians” and not Romans.
The German clergy contributed some innovations to the church which the Byzantine patriarchs opposed. Including the supposedly unauthorized introduction of the Filioque into the original creed chanted in Rome during the coronation of the Ottonian Emperor Henry II and the use of azymes (unleavened bread) in the Eucharist. Additional issues, such as the wearing of beards of the Greek patriarchs (Latin priests needed to shave) and the celibacy of Roman Church priests (Greek patriarchs were allowed to marry) were also bones of contention for both sides.
In 1048, the German Bishop Bruno of Egisheim-Dagsburg was elected as Pope Leo IX and Michael I Cerularius was appointed as Patriarch of Constantinople. Both were controversial figures, with Pope Leo fully backed by the Holy Roman Emperor and zealous with the reforms he wanted to implement, while the powerful and ambitious Patriarch Michael was just as rigid and zealous in keeping Constantinople independent from the German-backed papacy.
The issue worsened when the Norman warriors invaded southern Italy and started to grab, one by one, the Byzantine territories. The Normans had converted to Roman Christianity earlier. They imposed the Latin rites to the former Byzantine territories they conquered. When the Patriarch Michael heard about this, he retaliated by closing down Latin rite churches in Constantinople and compelling the affected clergy to follow Greek rites or risk being excommunicated. Michael also ordered Leo, Archbishop of Ochrid, to compose a letter which condemned some of the Latin practices, such as celibacy and the use of unleavened bread.
Pope Leo IX decided to send Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida (along with two other papal legates) to Constantinople in 1054 with two missives. The first letter contained Leo’s disapproval of the condemnation composed by Leo of Ochrid against the Roman Church. The second contained the pope’s acceptance of the Byzantine alliance against the Romans (it also included a not-so-subtle put-down on the Patriarch’s authority). The situation worsened when both parties attacked each other during a discussion and refused to give in. Pope Leo died on April 19, 1054. The office remained vacant for a year until the election of Pope Victory II.
Patriarch Michael continued his defiance, and on the 15th of July, 1054. The papal legates led by Cardinal Humbert entered the Hagia Sophia while a daily service was being celebrated. They condemned the Greek church in front of the attendees and denounced the patriarch. After this public condemnation, Humbert handed over a papal bull of excommunication on the altar, stormed out of Hagia Sophia, and the legates shook the dust off their feet. Insulted, the patriarch also issued his own anathematization of the Roman Church which marked the separation of the Greek from its Latin counterpart.
Picture By Vicente Juan Masip – , Public Domain, Link
Bury, John Bagnell, J.R. Tanner, C.W. Previte-Orton, and Z.N. Brooke, eds. The Cambridge Medieval History: The Eastern Roman Empire. Vol. IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1923.
Noble, Thomas F. X., Julia M. H. Smith, and Roberta A. Baranowski, eds. The Cambridge History of Christianity: Early Medieval Christianities, c. 600–c. 1100. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Streeter, Tom. The Church and Western Culture: An Introduction to Church History. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006.
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