Great Schism

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The Great Schism of 1054 caused a split between the See of Rome (now the Roman Catholic Church) and the other Christian Patriarchates (now the Eastern Orthodox Church). This division is the subject of many talks between Western and Eastern Christians.

The Name of the Event

"The Great Ecumenical Schism" is the preferred term to succinctly explain what happened and to capture the complexity of the event itself. This is especially so because in the West the term "The Great Schism" is often used to refer to a 14th century schism involving the Avignon Papacy (an event also sometimes called the "Babylonian Captivity").

Doctrinal Issues: The Filioque

While there were many other factors at work in the split, the central idea that caused a separation in the place was dogmatic. As soon as the See of Rome endorsed the idea of the Filioque, there is a split between the true faith and a schismatic faith. Also, as long as the See of Rome continues to make it official dogma, there is still a schism.

To summarize an already extensive article on the matter, the Filioque is a word that changes the Nicene Creed into "Spiritus Sanctus ex Patre Filioque procedit" or "Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son." The first appearance into the Creed happened in Spain when Latin theologians were trying to refute a brand of the Arian heresy. The theologians had better access to the writings of Latin theologians, particularly of St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine had the notion that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son but that neither were subordinate to each other. So the Creed was changed by a local synod of bishops and the justification was that it both asserts the divinity of Christ (refuting Arianism) and the unity of the Trinity.

Ecclesiological Issues: The Bishop of Rome

The Patriarchate of Constantinople had been elevated, through the years, into a position of equality with the Patriarchate of Rome. This did not sit well with the Western Christians who viewed their See as having been established by Saint Peter himself with the Popes being his successors and hence the legitimate leaders of all Christians on Earth.

Other Doctrinal Issues

There are various other issues some of which are:

  • Celibacy of the clergy
  • Icons v. Statues
  • Allowing priests to shave

Extra-Ecclesial Factors

  • Constantinople was the seat of the Byzantine Emperor as well as the Patriarch. Oftentimes emperors could and would influence the selection of the Patriarch whereas Rome was outside of their jurisdiction fairly early in the history of the empire. This contributed to the Pope having secular power and influence in worldly matters whereas, the reverse was true in the East: the emperor often had power and influence in the religious realm.
  • The Western church had adopted Latin in their liturgy whereas Greek was used by the Eastern church in the Byzantine Empire and the local Slavonic language in Russia and other Slavic lands.

Dating the Schism

The Great Schism was a gradual estrangement to which no specific date can be assigned although it has been conventionally dated to the year 1054. This date is misleading since it seems to imply that there was peace and unity before 1054, animosity and division afterward. The schism actually took several centuries to crystalize. Some would place the split in the time of Saint Photios, for example -- or even earlier -- or as late as 1204, the year of the Fourth Crusade.

Related Articles


  • Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church
  • Philip Sherrard, Church, Papacy and Schism
  • Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church