Volume. XXX, No. 24
Sunday, 13 December 2015

From the Pastors Heart: Great Schism

We, Protestant believers, are not familiar with certain parts of church history, especially about Eastern Orthodox churches.  Because of Reformation history in the 16th century, we have sporadically studied about the Church of Rome and Papacy, but we have not had opportunities to learn about Eastern Orthodox Churches (largely, I am talking about Greek, Russian, and all other churches known as Orthodox churches).  Though the forms of worship in Eastern Orthodox churches are not really much different from the Church of Rome, we have very little knowledge of Orthodox churches.  The main reason is because these two branches of Christian churches were formerly divided in 1054, which has been known as Great Schism, or the East-West Schism.  This breakup was a result of gradual deterioration of the relationships between the two parties. They had conflicts, could not resolve them peaceably, and ended up in schism. 


We should not say that they should be blamed for conflicts.  It is because we cannot deny that their initial conflicts were theological, and that they misunderstood each other because of different languages (Greek and Latin), which subsequently affected their ways of thinking.  As not all conflicts are bad, their initial conflicts were rather constructive, and both parties were charged with zeal for the defense of biblical doctrines.  I would not go into their theological controversies since the fourth century.  They began to grow apart and to develop their own ways of thinking without fully understanding what the other party was doing.  And finally, there was the Great Schism that sealed their already broken relationship to be formal.  We want to know what actually happened in AD 1054. 


Let me give you a brief sketch of the event by quoting an article from Encyclopedia Britannica: It was an “event that precipitated the final separation between the Eastern Christian churches (led by the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius) and the Western Church (led by Pope Leo IX).  The mutual excommunications by the Pope and the Patriarch that year became a watershed in church history.  The excommunications were not lifted until 1965, when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, following their historic meeting in Jerusalem in 1964, presided over simultaneous ceremonies that revoked the excommunication decrees.  The relation of the Byzantine Church to the Roman may be described as one of growing estrangement from the 5th to the 11th century.  In the early church three bishops stood forth prominently, principally from the political eminence of the cities in which they ruled - the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch.  The transfer of the seat of empire from Rome to Constantinople and the later eclipse of Alexandria and Antioch as battlegrounds of Islam and Christianity promoted the importance of Constantinople.  Concurrently, the theological calmness of the West, in contrast to the often violent theological disputes that troubled the Eastern patriarchates, strengthened the position of the Roman popes, who made increasing claims to preeminence.  But this preeminence, or rather the Roman idea of what was involved in it, was never acknowledged in the East.  To press it upon the Eastern patriarchs was to prepare the way for separation; to insist upon it in times of irritation was to cause a schism.  The theological genius of the East was different from that of the West.  The Eastern theology had its roots in Greek philosophy, whereas a great deal of Western theology was based on Roman law.  This gave rise to misunderstandings and at last led to two widely separate ways of regarding and defining one important doctrine - the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father or from the Father and the Son - with the Roman churches, without consulting the East, incorporating the Son into their creed.  The Eastern churches also resented the Roman enforcement of clerical celibacy, the limitation of the right of confirmation to the bishop, and the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist.  Political jealousies and interests intensified the disputes; and at last, after many premonitory symptoms, the final break came in 1054, when Pope Leo IX struck at Michael Cerularius and his followers with an excommunication and when the Patriarch retaliated with a similar excommunication.  There had been mutual excommunications before, but they had not resulted in permanent schisms.  At the time there seemed possibilities of reconciliation, but the rift grew wider; in particular, the Greeks were bitterly antagonized by such events as the Latin capture of Constantinople in 1204.  Western pleas for reunion (on Western terms), such as those at the Council of Lyon (1274) or the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1439), were rejected by the Byzantines. The schism has never been healed.”


Henry III (a Holy Roman Empire emperor between 1039-56) was personally pious and came to Rome in 1046 only to find out that the papacy was enmeshed and beset by local politics.  Though he came to be formally crowned by a pope, he immediately took actions to reform the papacy by removing three rival claimants for the papal chair.  He eventually saw that Bishop Bruno of Toul became Pope Leo IX (1048-54).  They worked together to remove simony (the sale of church offices) and to enforce the ideal of celibacy among the European priesthood.  In the meanwhile, the rupture between Eastern and Western churches began to grow bigger.  Henry III, Pope Leo IX and the Eastern (or Byzantine) emperor, Constantine IX (1024), had entered negotiations to stand against Norman knights invading southern Italy and threatening property and authority belonging to all three of them.  Agreements were made amongst them to deter the invasion of the Normans.  Some of the agreements included Pope’s authority over a few Greek churches in Rome and the Byzantine emperor’s persuasion of the Eastern patriarch, Michael Cerularis (1043-59) to send Leo a “synodical Letter” traditionally sent after the election of a new patriarch.  Michael Cerularius was not happy with the demands from the Western church.  In return, he demanded the Western churches in Constantinople to conform to Greek rites.  There were more of political squabbles between the two sides. 


During some crises, both parties were encouraged to find a reconciliatory way to improve their relationships and cooperation.  Leo IX appointed a three-man legation to visit Constantinople to negotiate for better relationship with the Eastern Church.  Cardinal Humbert headed the legation, and he was not in happy mood, and Patriarch Cerularius was not a happy man either.  Mark A. Noll wrote about the subsequent development in his book, Turning Point: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity as following: “No sooner did the Roman legation arrive in Constantinople than word also came that Leo IX had unexpectedly died.  Not daunted, Humbert thrust a stiff papal letter (that he had written himself) onto Cerularius.  That letter reminded the patriarch in no uncertain terms that ‘as a hinge, remaining unmoved opens and shuts a door, so Peter and his successors [at Rome] have an unfettered jurisdiction over the whole Church, since no one ought to interfere with their position, because the highest See (A term derived from the enthronement-ceremony of the bishops of Rome) is judged by none’ . . . . Cerularius responded in kind by rejecting the letter and by questioning whether now, since the pope was dead, Humbert was even a properly credentialed legate.  Humbert was offended and resolved to leave Constantinople at once.  But before he did so, he entered the great church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), placed on the altar a bull (official paper letter or document) excommunicating Cerularius, shook the dust off his feet, and left.  It is reported that an Eastern deacon hastened after Humbert, trying to return the bull, but the overture was rebuffed, whereupon the paper was dropped in the street. Soon thereafter Cerularius excommunicated the papal legation.”  A few centuries later, the Eastern emperor, Constantine XI, tried to save the unity between the two sides.  Here is what Noll continues to say, “When the Turks attacked Constantinople in April 1453, this crisis brought all Christians in the city together.  Early in the morning on May 29, Constantine attended a united service for Orthodox and Catholics in the Hagia Sophia.  Then he went out to battle, where he met his death.  The same day the Turks captured the city and transformed Hagia Sophia into a mosque.  With Emperor Constantine XI died not only the Byzantine Empire but also the last serious effort to repair the Orthodox–Catholic schism (until, that is, the 1960s).”  I do not write this article from theological point of view, but desire to show you the destruction of unresolved conflicts.  Forgive and be forgiven.  Be reconciled.



Your Pastor


More Lively Hope



*Catered Fellowship Lunch is $3 per person. FREE for primary & pre-primary school children.

*From Jan 2016 Catered Fellowship Lunch will be on the 1st & 3rd Sundays of the month.

*Special 5th Christmas Fellowship Lunch will be held after Christmas Service, starting at 12:30 - 1:00 pm. This Lunch is open to ALL worshippers.


Praise & Thanksgiving

1. Journey mercies: all who have arrived safely at their destinations.

2. Church activities in the past week.

3. Visitors & new worshippers.

4. God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.


Prayer Items

1. Health & God’s healing - Pastor Ki; Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev Patrick Tan (S’pore) & George van Buuren; Rev Edward & Sis Lehia Paauwe; & others in affliction.

2. iSketch & Tell Ministry: Pr Hai Seng Lim’s ministry in Melbourne.

3. Cambodia Missions.

4. Batam Missions.

5. New Life BPC (London) - Dr Carl Martin; God’s guidance & encouragement for congregation.

6. Providence B-P Church, Mawson Lakes - Ps David & Sis Susan Weng, & congregation.

7. Youth & Assistant Pastor for Hope B-P Church.

8. Journey mercies: all those who are travelling during the summer vacation.

9. Good health in pregnancy.

10. Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.

11. Jobs: Those seeking for jobs in Adelaide.

12. Persecuted believers in Islamic countries & Communist countries (N Korea, China & Vietnam).

13. God’s guidance & provision of new church property for worship, office & fellowship activities.



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