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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part I: History.
    • Byzantium: The Great Schism
      • From estrangement to schism: 858-1204
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From estrangement to schism: 858-1204

  In 858, fifteen years after the triumph of icons under Theodora, a new Patriarch of Constan-

tinople was appointed . Photius, known to the Orthodox Church as Saint Photius the Great. He

has been termed .the most distinguished thinker, the most outstanding politician, and the most

skilful diplomat ever to  hold office as Patriarch  of Constantinople.  (GOstrogorsky, History  of  the

Byzantine State, p. 199). Soon after his accession he became involved in a dispute with Pope Nicho-


las I (858-867). The previous Patriarch, Saint Ignatius, had been exiled by the Emperor and while

in exile had resigned under pressure. The supporters of Ignatius, declining to regard this resigna-

tion as valid, considered Photius a usurper. When Photius sent a letter to the Pope announcing his

accession, Nicholas decided that before recognizing Photius he would look further into the quar-

rel between the new Patriarch and the Ignatian party. Accordingly in 861 he sent legates to Con-


  Photius had no desire to start a dispute with the Papacy. He treated the legates with great

deference, inviting them to preside at a council in Constantinople, which was to settle the issue

between Ignatius and himself. The legates agreed, and together with the rest of the council they

decided that Photius was the legitimate Patriarch. But when his legates returned to Rome, Nicho-

las declared that they had exceeded their powers, and he disowned their decision. He then pro-

ceeded to retry the case himself at Rome: a council held under his presidency in 863 recognized

Ignatius as Patriarch, and proclaimed Photius to be deposed from all priestly dignity. The Byzan-

tines took no notice of this condemnation, and sent no answers to the Pope.s letters. Thus an

open breach existed between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople.

  The dispute clearly involved the Papal claims. Nicholas was a great reforming Pope, with an

exalted idea of the prerogatives of his see, and he had already done much to establish an absolute

power over all bishops in the west. But he believed this absolute power to extend to the east also:

as he put it in a letter of 865, the Pope is endowed with authority .over all the earth, that is, over

every Church.. This was precisely what the Byzantines were not prepared to grant. Confronted

with the dispute between Photius and Ignatius, Nicholas thought that he saw a golden opportu-

nity to enforce his claim to universal jurisdiction: he would make both parties submit to his arbi-

tration. But he realized that Photius had submitted voluntarily to the inquiry by the Papal legates,

and that his action could not be taken as a recognition of Papal supremacy. This (among other

reasons) was why Nicholas had cancelled his legates. decisions. The Byzantines for their part

were willing to allow  appeals to Rome, but only under the specific  conditions laid down in

Canon III of the Council of Sardica (343). This Canon states that a bishop, if under sentence of

condemnation, can appeal to Rome, and the Pope, if he sees cause, can order a retrial; this retrial,

however, is not to be conducted by the Pope himself at Rome, but by the bishops of the prov-

inces adjacent to that of the condemned bishop. Nicholas, so the Byzantines felt, in reversing the

decisions of his legates and demanding a retrial at Rome itself, was going far beyond the terms of

this Canon. They regarded his behavior as an unwarrantable and uncanonical interference in the

affairs of another Patriarchate.

  Soon not only the Papal claims but the filioque became involved in the dispute. Byzantium

and the west (chiefly the Germans) were both launching great missionary offensives among the

Slavs (see pages 82-84). The two lines of missionary advance, from the east and from the west, soon

converged; and when Greek  and German missionaries found themselves at work in the same

land, it was difficult to avoid a conflict, since the two missions were run on widely different

principles. The clash naturally brought to the fore the question of the filioque, used by the Ger-

mans in the Creed, but not used by the Greeks. The chief point of trouble was Bulgaria, a country

which Rome and Constantinople alike were anxious to add to their sphere of jurisdiction. The

Khan Boris was at first  inclined to ask the German missionaries for baptism: threatened, how-

ever, with a Byzantine invasion, he changed his policy and around 865 accepted baptism from

Greek clergy. But Boris wanted the Church in Bulgaria to be independent, and when Constantin-

ople refused to grant autonomy, he turned to the west in hope of better terms. Given a fret hand

in Bulgaria, the Latin missionaries promptly launched a violent attack on the Greeks, singling out


the points where Byzantine practice differed from their own: married clergy, rules of fasting, and

above all the filioque. At Rome itself the filioque was still not in use, but Nicholas gave full sup-

port to the Germans when they insisted upon its insertion in Bulgaria. The Papacy, which in 808

had mediated between the Germans and the Greeks, was now neutral no longer.

  Photius was naturally alarmed by the extension of German influence in the Balkans, on the

very borders of the Byzantine Empire; but he was much more alarmed by the question of the

filioque, now brought forcibly to his attention.  In 867 he took action. He wrote an Encyclical

Letter  to  the  other  Patriarchs  of  the  eastdenouncing  the  filioque at length and charging those

who  used  it  with  heresyPhotius  has  often  been  blamed  for writing  this  letter:  even  the  great

Roman Catholic historian Francis Dvornik, who is in general highly sympathetic to Photius, calls

has action on this occasion a .futile attack,. and says .the lapse was inconsiderate, hasty, and big

with fatal consequences. (F. Dvornik, The Photian Schism, p. 433). But if Photius really considered the

filioque heretical, what else could he do except speak his mind? It must also be remembered that

it was not Photius who first made the filioque a matter of controversy, but Charlemagne and his

scholars seventy years before: the west was the original aggressor, not the east. Photius followed

up his letter by summoning a council to Constantinople, which declared Pope Nicholas excom-

municate, terming him .a heretic who ravages the vineyard of the Lord..

At this critical point in the dispute, the whole situation suddenly changed. In this same year (867)

Photius was deposed from the Patriarchate by  the EmperorIgnatius became Patriarch once

more, and communion with Rome was restored.  In 869-870 another Council was held at Con-

stantinople, known as the .Anti-Photian Council,. which condemned and anathematized Photius,

reversing the decisions of 867. This Council, later reckoned in the west as the eighth Ecumenical

Council, opened with the unimpressive total of 12 bishops, although numbers at subsequent ses-

sions rose to 103.

  But there were further changes to come. The 869-70 Council requested the Emperor to re-

solve the status of the Bulgarian Church, and not surprisingly he decided that it should be  as-

signed to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Realizing that Rome would allow him less inde-

pendence than Byzantium, Boris accepted this decision. From 870, then, the German missionar-

ies were expelled and the filioque was heard no more in the confines of Bulgaria. Nor was this

all. At Constantinople, Ignatius and Photius were reconciled to one another, and when Ignatius

died in 877, Photius once more succeeded him as Patriarch. In 879 yet another council was held

in Constantinople, attended by 383 bishops .  a notable contrast with the meager total at the

anti-Photian gathering ten years previously. The Council of 869 was anathematized and all con-

demnations of Photius were withdrawn; these decisions were accepted without protest at Rome.

So Photius ended victorious, recognized by Rome and ecclesiastically master of Bulgaria. Until

recently it was thought that there was a second .Photian schism,. but Dr. Dvornik has proved

with devastating conclusiveness that this second schism is a myth: in Photius. later period of of-

fice (877-886) communion between Constantinople and the Papacy remained unbroken. The

Pope at this time, John VIII (871-882), was no friend to the Germans and did not press the ques-

tion of the filioque, nor did he attempt to enforce the Papal claims in the east. Perhaps he recog-

nized how seriously the policy of Nicholas had endangered the unity of Christendom.

  Thus the schism was outwardly healed, but no real solution had been reached concerning

the two great points of  difference  which the dispute between Nicholas  and Photius had forced

into the open. Matters had been patched up, and that was all.

  Photius, always honored in the east as a saint, a leader of the Church, and a theologian, has

in the past been regarded by the west with less enthusiasm, as the author of a schism and little


else. His good qualities are now more widely appreciated. .If I am right in my conclusions,. so

Dr. Dvornik ends his monumental study, .we shall be free once more to recognize in Photius a

great Churchman, a learned humanist, and a genuine Christian, generous enough to forgive his

enemies, and to take the first step towards reconciliation. (The Photian Schism, p. 432). In the general

historical reappraisal of the schism by recent writers, nowhere has the change been so startling as

in the verdict on Saint Photius.

  At the beginning of the eleventh century there was fresh trouble over the filioque. The Pa-

pacy at last adopted the  addition: at the coronation of Emperor Henry  II at Rome in 1014, the

Creed was sung in its interpolated form. Five years earlier, in 1009, the newly-elected Pope Ser-

gius  IV sent a letter to Constantinople which may have  contained the filioque, although this is

not certain. Whatever the reason, the Patriarch of Constantinople, also called Sergius, did not in-

clude the new Pope.s name in the Diptychs: these are lists, kept by each Patriarch, which contain

the names of the other  Patriarchs, living and departed, whom he recognizes as orthodox. The

Diptychs  are  a  visible  sign  of  the  unity  of  the  Church,  and deliberately  to  omit  a man.s  name

from them is tantamount to a declaration that one is not in communion with him. After 1009 the

Pope.s name did not appear again in the Diptychs of Constantinople; technically, therefore, the

Churches of Rome and Constantinople were out of communion from that date. But it would be

unwise to press this technicality too far. Diptychs were frequently incomplete, and so do not

form an infallible guide to Church relations. The Constantinopolitan lists before 1009 often

lacked the Pope.s name, simply because new Popes at their accession failed to notify the east.

The omission in 1009 aroused no comment at Rome, and even  at Constantinople men quickly

forgot why and when the Pope.s name had first been dropped from the Diptychs.

  As the eleventh century proceeded, new factors brought relations between the Papacy and

the eastern Patriarchates to a further crisis. The previous century had been a period of grave in-

stability and confusion for the see of Rome, a century which Cardinal Baronius justly termed an

age of iron and lead in the history of the Papacy. But Rome now reformed itself, and under the

rule of men such  as Hildebrand (Pope  Gregory VII) it  gained  a position of power in the west

such as it had never before achieved. The reformed Papacy naturally revived the claims to uni-

versal jurisdiction which Nicholas had made. The Byzantines on their side had  grown  accus-

tomed to dealing with a Papacy that was for the most part weak and disorganized, and so they

found it difficult to adapt themselves to the new situation. Matters were made worse by political

factors, such as the military aggression of the Normans in Byzantine Italy, and the commercial

aggression  of  the  Italian  maritime  cities  in  the  eastern Mediterranean  during  the  eleventh  and

twelfth centuries.

  In 1054 there was a severe quarrel. The Normans had been forcing the Greeks in Byzantine

Italy to conform to Latin usages; the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, in return

demanded that the Latin churches at Constantinople should adopt Greek practices, and in 1052,

when they refused, he closed them. This was perhaps harsh, but as Patriarch he was fully entitled

to act in this manner. Among the practices to which Michael and his supporters particularly ob-

jected was the Latin use of .azymes. or unleavened bread in the Eucharist, an issue which had

not figured in the dispute of the ninth century. In 1053, however, Cerularius took up a more con-

ciliatory attitude and wrote to Pope Leo IX, offering to restore the Pope.s name to the Diptychs.

In response to this offer, and to settle the disputed questions of Greek and Latin usages, Leo in

1054 sent three legates to Constantinople, the chief of them being Humbert, Bishop of Silva

Candida. The choice of Cardinal Humbert was unfortunate, for both he and Cerularius were men

of stiff and intransigent  temper, whose mutual encounter was not likely  to promote good will


among Christians. The legates, when they called on Cerularius, did not  create a favorable im-

pression. Thrusting  a letter from the Pope at him, they retired without giving the usual saluta-

tions; the letter itself, although signed by Leo, had in fact been drafted by Humbert, and was dis-

tinctly unfriendly in tone. After this the Patriarch refused to have further dealings with the leg-

ates. Eventually Humbert lost patience, and laid a Bull of Excommunication against Cerularius

on the altar of the Church of the Holy Wisdom: among other ill-founded charges in this docu-

ment, Humbert accused the Greeks of omitting the filioque from the Creed! Humbert promptly

left Constantinople without offering any further explanation of his act, and on returning to Italy

he represented the whole incident as a  great victory for the see of Rome. Cerularius and his

synod retaliated by anathematizing Humbert (but not the Roman Church as such). The attempt at

reconciliation left matters worse than before.

  But even after 1054 friendly relations between east and west  continued.  The two parts of

Christendom were not yet conscious of a great gulf of separation between them, and men on both

sides still hoped that the misunderstandings could be cleared up without too much difficulty. The

dispute remained something of which ordinary Christians in east and west were largely unaware.

It was the Crusades which made the schism definitive: they introduced a new spirit of hatred and

bitterness, and they brought the whole issue down to the popular level.

  From the military point of view, however, the Crusades began with great éclat. Antioch was

captured from the Turks in 1098, Jerusalem in 1099:the first Crusade was a brilliant, if bloody,

success (.In the Temple and the porch of Solomon,. wrote Raymond of Argiles, .men rode in blood up to their

knees  and  bridle  reins....  The  city was  filled with  corpses  and blood. [Quoted  in A. C. Krey, The  First Crusade,

Princeton, 1921, p. 261]). Both at Antioch and Jerusalem the Crusaders proceeded to set up Latin Pa-

triarchs. At Jerusalem this was reasonable, since the see was vacant at the time; and although in

the years that followed there existed a succession of Greek Patriarchs of Jerusalem, living exiled

in Cyprus,  yet within Palestine itself the whole population, Greek as  well as Latin, at first ac-

cepted the Latin Patriarch as their head. A Russian pilgrim at Jerusalem  in 1106-1107, Abbot

Daniel of Tchernigov, found Greeks and Latins worshipping together in harmony  at the Holy

Places, though he noted with satisfaction that at the ceremony of the Holy Fire the Greek lamps

were lit miraculously while the Latin had to be lit from the Greek. But at Antioch the Crusaders

found a Greek Patriarch actually in residence: shortly afterwards, it is true, he withdrew to Con-

stantinople, but the local Greek population was unwilling to recognize the Latin Patriarch whom

the Crusaders set up in his place. Thus from 1100 there existed in effect a local schism at An-

tioch. After 1187, when Saladin captured Jerusalem, the situation in the Holy Land deteriorated:

two rivals, resident within Palestine itself, now  divided the Christian population between them

. a Latin Patriarch at Acre, a Greek at Jerusalem. These local schisms at Antioch and Jerusalem

were  a sinister development. Rome was very far away, and if Rome and Constantinople quar-

reled, what practical difference did it make to the average Christian in Syria or Palestine? But

when two rival bishops  claimed the same throne and two hostile congregations existed in  the

same city, the schism became an immediate reality in which simple believers were directly in-


  But worse was to follow in 1204, with the taking of Constantinople during the Fourth Cru-

sade. The Crusaders were originally bound for  Egypt, but were persuaded by Alexius, son of

Isaac Angelus, the dispossessed Emperor of Byzantium, to turn aside to Constantinople in order

to restore him and his father to the throne. This western intervention in Byzantine politics did not

go happily, and eventually the Crusaders, disgusted by what they regarded as Greek duplicity,

lost patience and sacked the city. Eastern Christendom has never forgotten those three appalling

days of pillage. .Even the Saracens are merciful and kind,. protested Nicetas Choniates, .com-


pared with these men who bear the Cross of Christ on their shoulders.. What shocked the Greeks

more than anything was the wanton and systematic sacrilege of the Crusaders. How could men

who had specially dedicated themselves to God.s service treat the things of God in such a way?

As the Byzantines watched the Crusaders tear to pieces the altar and icon screen in the Church of

the  Holy Wisdom, and  set  prostitutes  on  the  Patriarch.s  throne,  they must  have  felt  that  those

who did such things were not Christians in the same sense as themselves.


Constantinopolitana civitas diu profana . .City of Constantinople, so long ungodly.: so sang

the French Crusaders of Angers, as they carried home the relics which they had stolen. Can we

wonder if the Greeks after 1204 also looked on the Latins as profani? Christians in the west still

do not realize how deep is the disgust and how lasting the horror with which Orthodox regard

actions such as the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders.

  .The Crusaders brought not peace but a sword; and the sword was to sever Christendom. (S.

RuncimanThe  Eastern  Schismp101). The long-standing doctrinal disagreements were now  rein-

forced on the Greek side by an intense national hatred, by a feeling of resentment and indigna-

tion against western aggression and sacrilege. After 1204 there can be no doubt that Christian

east and Christian west were divided into two.

  In recounting the history of the schism recent writers have rightly emphasized the impor-

tance of .non-theological factors.. But vital dogmatic issues were also involved. When full al-

lowance has been made for all the cultural and political difficulties, it still remains true that in the

end it was differences of doctrine . the filioque and the Papal claims . which brought about

the separation between Rome and the Orthodox Church, just as it is differences of doctrine which

still prevent their reconciliation. The schism was for both parties .a spiritual commitment, a con-

scious taking of sides in a matter of faith. (Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 13).

  Orthodoxy and Rome each believes itself to have been right and its opponent wrong upon

these points of doctrine; and so Rome and Orthodoxy since the schism have each claimed to be

the true Church. Yet each, while believing in the rightness of its own cause, must look back at

the past with sorrow and repentance. Both sides must in honesty acknowledge that they could

and should have done more to prevent the schism. Both sides were guilty of mistakes on the hu-

man level. Orthodox, for example, must blame themselves for the pride and contempt with which

during  the Byzantine  period they  regarded  the west;  they  must  blame themselves  for  incidents

such as the riot of 1182, when many Latin residents at Constantinople were massacred by the

Byzantine populace. (None the less there is no action on the Byzantine side which can be com-

pared to the sack of 1204). And each side, while claiming to be the one true Church, must admit

that on the human level it has been grievously impoverished by the, separation. The Greek east

and  the  Latin  west  needed  and  still  need  one  another.  For  both  parties  the  great  schism  has

proved a great tragedy.


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