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Great Schism of 1054

The Great Schism of 1054 was the breakup of the Christian church into two sections—the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Roots of the Schism

The schism occurred over religious differences, as well as political and social issues.

One of the big causes was the breakup of the Roman Empire, which had become too large to govern effectively. In 285, the Roman Emperor divided the empire into two parts.

By the beginning of the sixth century, the Western Roman Empire was declining while the Eastern Roman Empire did well.

Language also separated the two halves. The main language in the West was Latin, while the East spoke Greek. Communication between them was difficult.

Little Schisms

Many “little schisms” led up to the Great Schism.

Between the years 343 and 398 the Church split over the belief that Jesus was not equal to God and therefore was not divine. Many in the Eastern Church held this belief, rejected by the Western Church.

The Church had five patriarchs who held authority over bishops. There were disagreements over their authority. In 404 the Byzantine Emperor refused to accept the Roman-backed Patriarch of Constantinople.

In 482 the Byzantine Emperor tried to resolve differing view on Jesus. Some viewed Jesus as having two natures (human and divine) while others viewed Jesus as only divine. After almost 40 years the schism was solved, but the eastern patriarchs’ beliefs were moving away from those of the western patriarchs.

The Great Schism

Additional issues contributed to the Great Schism.

The Roman Catholic Church inserted extra words into the Nicene Creed, a Christian statement of faith.

A disagreement arose because both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church felt that they had authority over the Balkans.

There was a dispute over how much power the Patriarch of Rome (the Pope) had. The other patriarchs did not agree that the Pope had any authority over them.

The two halves of the Church developed different practices during worship. One practice related to the Eucharist (the rite where bread and wine are used to symbolize Christ’s body). The Roman Catholic Church started using unleavened bread for the ritual, and the Eastern Orthodox Church began dipping the bread in the wine. Both sides rejected the other’s practice.

The Official Break

The disagreements reached a boiling point in 1054. All attempts to reconcile their differences failed. In 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, Roman Christians attacked Constantinople on their way to the Holy Land. The break between the two halves became final.


Source: Great Schism of 1054
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