Table of Contents | Words: Alphabetical - Frequency - Inverse - Length - Statistics | Help | IntraText Library
Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

IntraText CT - Text

  • Part I: History.
    • Byzantium: The Great Schism
      • The estrangement of Eastern and Western Christendom
Previous - Next

Click here to hide the links to concordance

The estrangement of Eastern and Western Christendom

  One summer afternoon in the year 1054, as a service was about to begin in the Church of

the Holy Wisdom (in Greek, .Hagia Sophia.; often called .Saint Sophia. or .Sancta Sophia. by English writers)

at Constantinople, Cardinal Humbert and two other legates of the Pope entered the building and

made their way up to the sanctuary. They had not come to pray. They placed a Bull of Excom-

munication upon the altar and marched out once more. As he passed through the western door,

the Cardinal shook the dust from his feet with the words: .Let God look and judge.. A deacon

ran out after him in great distress and begged him to take back the Bull. Humbert refused; and it

was dropped in the street.

  It is this incident which has conventionally been taken to mark the beginning of the great

schism between the Orthodox east and the Latin west. But the schism, as historians now gener-

ally recognize, is not really an event whose beginning can be exactly dated. It was something that

came  about  gradually, as the result of  along and complicated process, starting well before the

eleventh century and not completed until some time after.

  In this long and complicated process, many different influences were at work. The schism

was conditioned by cultural, political, and economic factors; yet its fundamental cause was not

secular but theological. In the last resort it was over matters of doctrine that east and west quar-

reled . two matters in particular: the Papal claims and the filioque. But before we look more

closely at these two major differences, and before we consider the actual course of the schism,


something must be said about the wider background. Long before there was an open and formal

schism between east and west, the two sides had become strangers to one another; and in at-

tempting to understand how and why the communion of Christendom was broken, we must start

with this fact of increasing estrangement.

  When Paul and the other Apostles traveled  around the Mediterranean world, they moved

within  a  closely-knit  political  and  cultural  unity:  the  Roman  Empire.  This  Empire  embraced

many different national groups, often with languages and dialects of their own. But all these

groups  were  governed by  the same Emperor; there was a broad Greco-Roman civilization in

which educated people throughout the Empire shared; either Greek or Latin was understood al-

most everywhere in the Empire, and many could speak both languages. These facts greatly as-

sisted the early Church in its missionary work.

  But  in  the  centuries  that  followed,  the  unity  of  the Mediterranean  world  gradually  disap-

peared.  The  political  unity  was  the  first  to  go.  From  the  end  of  the  third  century  the  Empire,

while still theoretically one, was usually divided into two parts, an eastern and a western, each

under its own Emperor. Constantine furthered this process of separation by founding a second

imperial capital in the east, alongside Old Rome in Italy. Then came the barbarian invasions at

the  start  of  the  fifth  centuryapart  from Italy, much  of  which  remained  within  the  Empire  for

some time longer, the west was carved up among barbarian chiefs. The Byzantines never forgot

the ideals of Rome under Augustus and Trajan, and still regarded their Empire as in theory uni-

versal;  but  Justinian was  the  last Emperor who seriously  attempted  to  bridge  the gulf  between

theory and fact, and his conquests in the west were soon abandoned. The political unity of the

Greek east and the Latin west was destroyed by the barbarian invasions, and never permanently


  The severance was carried a stage further by the rise of Islam: the Mediterranean, which the

Romans once called mare nostrum, .our sea,. now passed largely into Arab control. Cultural and

economic contacts between the eastern and western Mediterranean never entirely  ceased, but

they became far more difficult.

  Cut off from Byzantium, the west proceeded to  set up a .Roman. Empire of its own. On

Christmas Day in the year 800 the Pope crowned Charles the Great, King of the Franks, as Em-

peror. Charlemagne sought recognition from the ruler at Byzantium, but without success; for the

Byzantines, still adhering to the principle of imperial unity, regarded Charlemagne as an intruder

and the Papal coronation as an act of schism within the Empire. The creation of a Holy Roman

Empire in the west, instead of drawing Europe closer together, only served to alienate east and

west more than before.

  The cultural unity lingered on, but in a greatly attenuated form. Both in east and west, men

of learning still lived within the classical tradition which the Church had taken over and made its

own; but as time went on they began to interpret this tradition in increasingly divergent ways.

Matters were made more difficult by problems of language. The days when educated men were

bilingual were over. By the  year 450 there were very few in western Europe who could read

Greek, and after 600, although Byzantium still called itself the Roman Empire, it was rare for a

Byzantine to speak Latin, the language of the Romans. Photius, the greatest scholar in ninth cen-

tury Constantinople, could not read Latin; and in 864 a .Roman. Emperor at Byzantium, Mi-

chael III, even called the language in which Virgil once wrote .a barbarian and Scythic tongue..

If Greeks wished to read Latin works or vice versa, they could do go only in translation, and usu-

ally they did not trouble to do even that: Psellus, an eminent Greek savant of the eleventh cen-

tury,  had  so  sketchy  a  knowledge  of Latin  literature  that  he  confused Caesar  with Cicero. Be-


cause they no longer drew upon the same sources nor read the same books, Greek east and Latin

west drifted more and more apart.

  It was an ominous but significant precedent that the cultural renaissance in Charlemagne.s

Court should have been marked at its outset by a strong anti-Greek prejudice. The hostility and

defiance which the new Roman Empire of the west felt towards Constantinople extended beyond

the political field to the cultural. Men of letters in Charlemagne.s entourage were not prepared to

copy Byzantium, but sought to create a new Christian civilization of their own. In fourth-century

Europe there had been one Christian civilization, in thirteenth-century Europe there were two;

perhaps  it  is  in  the  reign  of Charlemagne  that  the  schism of  civilizations  first  becomes  clearly


  The Byzantines for their part remained enclosed in their own world of ideas, and did little to

meet the west half way. Alike in the ninth and in later centuries they usually failed to take west-

ern learning as seriously as it deserved. They dismissed all .Franks. as barbarians and nothing


  These political and cultural factors could not but affect the life of the Church, and make it

harder to maintain religious unity. Cultural and political estrangement can lead only too easily to

ecclesiastical disputes, as may be seen from the case of Charlemagne. Refused recognition in the

political  sphere  by  the Byzantine  Emperor,  he  was  quick  to  retaliate  with  a  charge  of  heresy

against the Byzantine Church: he denounced the Greeks for not using the filioque in the Creed

(of this we shall say more in a moment) and he declined to accept the decisions of the seventh

Ecumenical Council. It is true that Charlemagne only knew of these decisions through a faulty

translation which seriously distorted their true meaning; but he seems in any case to have been

semi-Iconoclast in his views.

  The different political situations in east and west made the Church assume different outward

forms, so that men came gradually to think of Church order in conflicting ways. From the start

there had been a  certain difference of emphasis  here between  east  and  west.  In the  east there

were many Churches whose foundation went back to the Apostles; there was a strong sense of

the equality of all bishops, of the collegial and conciliar nature of the Church. The east acknowl-

edged the Pope as the first bishop in the Church, but saw him as the first among equals. In the

west, on the other hand, there was only one great see claiming Apostolic foundation . Rome .

so that Rome came to be regarded as the Apostolic see. The west, while it accepted the decisions

of the Ecumenical Councils, did not play  a very  active part in the Councils themselves; the

Church was seen less as a college and more as a monarchy . the monarchy of the Pope.

  This initial divergence in outlook was made more acute by political developments. As was

only natural, the barbarian invasions and the consequent breakdown of the Empire in the west

served greatly to strengthen the autocratic structure of the western Church. In the east there was a

strong secular head, the Emperor, to uphold the civilized order and to enforce law. In the west,

after the advent of the barbarians, there was only a plurality of warring chiefs, all more or less

usurpers. For the most part it was the Papacy alone which could act as a center of unity, as an

element of continuity and stability in the spiritual and political life of western Europe. By force

of circumstances, the Pope assumed a part which the Greek Patriarchs were not called to play: he

became an autocrat, an absolute monarch set up over the Church, issuing commands . in a way

that few if any eastern bishops have ever done . not only to his ecclesiastical subordinates but

to secular rulers as well. The western Church became centralized to a degree unknown anywhere

in the four Patriarchates of the east (except possibly in Egypt). Monarchy in the west; in the east



  Nor was this the only effect which the barbarian invasions had upon the life of the Church.

In Byzantium there were many educated laymen who took an active interest in theology. The

.lay theologian. has always been an accepted  figure in Orthodoxy: some of the most  learned

Byzantine PatriarchsPhotius, for example . were laymen before their appointment to the

Patriarchate. But in the west the only effective education which survived through the Dark Ages

was provided by the Church for its clergy. Theology became the preserve of the priests, since

most of the laity could not even read, much less comprehend the technicalities of theological dis-

cussion. Orthodoxy, while assigning to the episcopate a special teaching office, has never known

this sharp division between clergy and laity which arose in the western Middle Ages.

  Relations between eastern and western Christendom were also made more difficult by the

lack of a common language. Because the two sides could no longer communicate easily with one

another, and  each could no longer read what the other wrote, theological misunderstandings

arose more easily; and these were often made worse by mistranslation . at times, one fears, de-

liberate and malicious mistranslation.

  East and west were becoming strangers to one another, and this was something from which

both were likely to suffer. In the early Church there had been unity in the faith, but a diversity of

theological schools. From the start Greeks and Latins had each approached the Christian Mystery

in  their  own  way.  The Latin  approach  was  more  practical,  the  Greek  more  speculative; Latin

thought was influenced by juridical ideas, by the concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks un-

derstood theology in the context of worship and in the light of the Holy Liturgy. When thinking

about the Trinity, Latins started with the unity of the Godhead, Greeks with the threeness of the

persons; when  reflecting on the CrucifixionLatins thought primarily  of Christ the Victim,

Greeks of Christ the Victor; Latins talked more of redemption, Greeks of deification; and so on.

Like the schools of Antioch and Alexandria within the east, these two  distinctive approaches

were not in themselves contradictory; each served to supplement the other, and each had its place

in the fullness of Catholic tradition. But now that the two sides were becoming strangers to one

another . with no political and little cultural unity, with no common language . there was a

danger that each side would follow its own approach in isolation and push it to extremes, forget-

ting the value in the opposite point of view.

  We have spoken of the different doctrinal approaches in east and west; but there were two

points of doctrine where the two sides no longer supplemented one another, but entered into di-

rect conflict . the Papal claims and the filioque. The factors which we have mentioned in previ-

ous paragraphs were sufficient in themselves to place a serious strain upon the unity of Christen-

dom. Yet for all that, unity might still have been maintained, had there not been these two further

points of difficulty. To them we must now turn. It was not until the middle of the ninth century

that the full extent of the disagreement first came properly into the open, but the two differences

themselves date back considerably earlier.

  We have already had occasion to mention the Papacy when speaking of the different politi-

cal situations in east and west; and we have seen how the centralized and monarchical structure

of the western Church was reinforced by the barbarian invasions. Now so long as the Pope

claimed an absolute power only in the west, Byzantium raised no objections. The Byzantines did

not mind if the western Church was centralized, so long as the Papacy did not interfere in the

east. The Pope, however, believed his immediate power of jurisdiction to extend to the east as

well as to the west; and as soon as he tried to enforce this claim within the eastern Patriarchates,

trouble was bound to arise. The Greeks assigned to the Pope a primacy of honor, but not the uni-

versal  supremacy which  he  regarded  as  his  due. The Pope  viewed  infallibility  as  his  own  pre-


rogative, the Greeks held that in matters of the faith the final decision rested not with the Pope

alone, but with a Council representing all the bishops of the Church. Here we have two different

conceptions of the visible organization of the Church.

  The Orthodox attitude to the Papacy is admirably expressed by a twelfth-century writer, Ni-

cetas, Archbishop of Nicomedia:


My dearest brother, we do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy amongst

the five sister Patriarchates; and we recognize her right to the most honorable seat

at an Ecumenical Council. But she has separated herself from us by her own

deeds, when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her

office... How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without con-

sulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman Pontiff, seated on the

lofty throne of his glory, wishes to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his man-

dates at us from on high, and if he wishes to judge us and even to rule us and our

Churches, not by taking  counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure, what

kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be

the slaves, not the sons, of such a Church, and the Roman See would not be the

pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves (Quoted in S. Run-

ciman, The Eastern Schism, p. 116).


That was how an Orthodox felt in the twelfth century, when the whole question had come out

into  the open.  In  earlier  centuries  the  Greek  attitude  to  the Papacy was  basically  the  same,  al-

though not yet sharpened by controversy. Up to 850, Rome and the east avoided an open conflict

over the Papal claims, but the divergence of views was not the less serious for being partially


  The second great difficulty was the filioque. The dispute involved the words about the Holy

Spirit in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Originally the Creed ran: .I believe... in the Holy

Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the

Son together is worshipped and together glorified.. This, the original form, is recited unchanged

by the east to this day. But the west inserted an extra phrase .and from the Son. (in Latin, filio-

que), so that the Creed now reads .who proceeds from the Father and the Son.. It is not certain

when and where this addition was first made, but it seems to have originated in Spain, as a safe-

guard against Arianism. At any rate the Spanish Church interpolated the  filioque  at  the  third

Council of Toledo (589), if not before. From Spain the addition spread to France and thence to

Germany, where it was welcomed by Charlemagne and adopted at the semi-Iconoclast Council

of Frankfort (794). It was writers at Charlemagne.s Court who first made the filioque into an is-

sue of controversy, accusing the Greeks of heresy because they recited the Creed in its original

form. But Rome, with typical conservatism, continued to use the Creed without the filioque until

the start of the eleventh century. In 808 Pope Leo III wrote in a letter to Charlemagne that, al-

though he himself believed the filioque to be doctrinally sound, yet he considered it a mistake to

tamper with the wording of the Creed. Leo deliberately had the Creed, without the filioque, in-

scribed on silver plaques and set up in Saint Peter.s. For the time being Rome acted as mediator

between Germany and Byzantium.

  It was not until after 850 that the Greeks paid much attention to the filioque, but once they

did so, their reaction was sharply critical. Orthodoxy objected (and still objects) to this addition

in the Creed, for two reasons. First, the Ecumenical Councils specifically forbade any changes to

be introduced into the Creed; and if an  addition has to be made, certainly  nothing short of an-


other Ecumenical Council is competent to make it. The Creed is the common possession of the

whole Church, and a part of the Church has no right to tamper with it. The west, in arbitrarily

altering the Creed without consulting the east, is guilty (as Khomiakov put it) of moral fratricide,

of a sin against the unity of the Church. In the second place, Orthodox believe the filioque to be

theologically untrue. They hold that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, and consider it a

heresy to say that He proceeds from the Son as well. It may seem to many that the point at issue

is so abstruse as to be unimportant. But Orthodox would say that since the doctrine of the Trinity

stands at the heart of the Christian faith, a small change of emphasis in Trinitarian theology has

far-reaching consequences in many other fields. Not only does the filioque destroy the balance

between the three persons of the Holy Trinity: it leads also to a false understanding of the work

of the Spirit in the world, and so encourages a false doctrine of the Church. (I have given here the

standard Orthodox view of the filioque; it should be noted, however, that certain Orthodox theologians consider the

filioque merely an unauthorized addition to the Creed, not necessarily heretical in itself.).

  Besides these two major issues, the Papacy and the filioque, there were certain lesser mat-

ters of Church worship and discipline which caused trouble between east and west: the Greeks

allowed married clergy, the Latins insisted on priestly celibacy; the two sides had different rules

of fasting; the  Greeks used leavened bread in the Eucharist, the  Latins unleavened bread or



  Around 850 east and west were still in full communion with one another and still formed

one  ChurchCultural  and  political  divisions  had  combined  to  bring  about  an  increasing  es-

trangement, but there was no open schism. The two sides had different conceptions of Papal au-

thority and recited the  Creed in different forms, but these questions had not  yet been brought

fully into the open.

  But in 1190 Theodore Balsamon, Patriarch of Antioch and a great authority on Canon Law,

looked at matters very differently:


For many years [he does not say how many] the western Church has been divided

in spiritual communion from the other four Patriarchates and has become alien to

the Orthodox.. So no Latin should be given communion unless he first declares

that he will abstain from the doctrines and customs that separate him from us, and

that he will be subject to the Canons of the Church, in union with the Orthodox

(Quoted in Runciman, The Eastern Schism, p. 139).


In Balsamon.s eyes, communion had been broken; there was a definite schism between east and

west. The two no longer formed one visible Church.

  In this transition from estrangement to schism, four incidents are of particular importance:

the quarrel between Photius and Pope Nicholas  I (usually  known as the  .Photian schism.: the

east would prefer to call it the schism of Nicholas); the incident of the Diptychs in 1009; the at-

tempt at reconciliation in 1053-1054 and its disastrous sequel; and the Crusades.


Previous - Next

Table of Contents | Words: Alphabetical - Frequency - Inverse - Length - Statistics | Help | IntraText Library

Best viewed with any browser at 800x600 or 768x1024 on Tablet PC
IntraText® (V89) - Some rights reserved by EuloTech SRL - 1996-2007. Content in this page is licensed under a Creative Commons License