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Schism between East and West Began

Schism between East and West Began

The division of the Roman Empire into halves was eventually echoed in the church. The break came when Michael Cerularius was Patriarch of Constantinople and St. Leo pope in Rome. In 1053, Cerularius circulated a treatise criticizing in strong terms the practices of the Western church. Catholics did not allow their clergy to marry. This was contrary to scripture and tradition, said Cerularius. And Catholics used unleavened bread in their Eucharist. But the most serious concern was that the Latin church had added the word "filoque" to the Nicene creed, saying the Holy Spirit proceeded from both Father and Son.

It would seem that this was more political to Leo than religious, as it was pressed upon him by the Franks. Cerularius excommunicated all bishops of Constantinople who used the Western ritual and closed down their churches. This incensed Leo. He demanded that Cerularius submit to the pope. Any church which refused to recognize the pontiff as supreme was an assembly of heretics, he said--a synagogue of Satan. The Eastern patriarch wasn't about to accept this characterization. The five patriarchs, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome were equals in his eyes. The bishop of Rome, as patriarch of the West, was given the courtesy title of "first among equals" and in a tie vote he could make the final determination according to tradition. Rome's growing claims to authority were deemed unacceptable to the other patriarchs, who believed (and who still believe) that Christ alone is the head of the church.

Leo sent legates, headed by an unyielding man, Cardinal Humbert, to discuss the issues. Before they could complete their mission, Leo died. Humbert was so rude to Cerularius that Cerularius refused to speak with him. Aggravated by this treatment, the legates marched into St. Sophia on this day, July 6, 1054, and placed a bull on the altar, excommunicating Cerularius. After this act, Humbert made a grand exit, shaking the dust off his feet and calling on God to judge.

Cerularius convoked a council and once more blasted Western practices. Humbert was anathematized. The Orthodox condemned all who had drawn up the bull. There was no chance of reconciliation between the factions. The once-united Church was now divided into two: Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. In many areas, Orthodox churches submitted to Rome while maintaining many of their rites and traditions. These became the Byzantine rite or Uniate churches, which still exist in countries as distant in time and place as the United States.

The rift was inevitable. Traditions and doctrine had been diverging for hundreds of years. East and West would be even farther apart after the cruelties of the crusaders, whose violent acts were often against fellow-believers of the East whom, in ignorance they did not recognize as Christians. The unity of love which Christ had said should mark his followers was broken.


  1. Dawley, Powel Mills. Chapters in Church History. New York, The National Council, Protestant Episcopal Church, 1950.
  2. Durant, Will. The Age of Faith; A history of Medieval Civilization--Christian, Islamic and Judaic--from Constantine to Dante: AD 325 - 1300. The Story of Civilization, Part IV. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950.
  3. Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Press, 1964.

Last updated April, 2007.