(*Copy of my Historical Foundations paper on the Eastern Schism. Not my best work, but an interesting concept)
The goal of this paper is to review the historical event of the Eastern Schism as well as the factors that contributed to the tension between East and West for hundreds of years before the schism. I will explain the events themselves, the catholic response to the events, the individuals involved, as well as the effects that they had on the Church. Due to the complexity of this event and the numerous issues involved, I will be brief in detail in order to touch on all of the major aspects that created this painful division in the Church.
The issue of the Eastern Schism has become a well-published topic recently with the release of two documents focusing on the filioque controversy. The Greek and Latin Traditions Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit (often called the “Clarification”) by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and The filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation. The intention of the Clarification was to provide a “contribution to the dialog which is carried out by the Joint International Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church” and to clarify the “traditional doctrine of the filioque, present in the liturgical version of the Latin Credo.” This was done at the request of Pope John Paul II, in order to highlight the Church’s full harmony with what the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople confesses in its Creed: the Father is the source of the whole Trinity, the one origin both of Son and Holy Spirit.”
The fruit of these documents has been in providing numerous theologians a chance to open up a debate that has long been seen as a figurehead of the disunity between the churches. While the issue of the filioque is important, I believe that the reason for division is at its roots one of ecclesiology and not of theology. The filioque is simply an example of how the East and West with different cultures, language, and models of theology were unwilling to talk as brothers about this issue. This is what St. Maximus the confessor believed was the root of the problem.
It is impossible for them to express their thought adequately in another formulation, in another language, in the same way that they do in their own language, their mother tongue, we, after all, are in the same situation with our own language!
It is my belief that the East does not respond negatively to the filioque for what the filioque is, but rather the perceived heresies that it implies which has been taught through generations since before the time of the schism. This is contributed to by several aspects: the lack of Eastern theological consideration by Western teachers when explaining the filioque, a legitimate and underdeveloped language issue, and the emotional barrier caused by years of tension and schism.
There is a simple concept here. Either the filioque is an apostolic truth in the West (thus if looked at in its proper light it would complement the apostolic tradition of the East), or the filioque is fundamentally at odds with the Eastern apostolic understanding and thus a heresy. That being said, the story of the Eastern Schism is not about theological error, but rival politics and nations that grew apart.
The first reference to the Eastern Schism found in Fr. Laux’s Church History is the foundation of Constantinople in 326, almost 700 years before the actual schism. This event is where he believes the moving of the secular power had a deep and profound effect on the dynamic between east and west hundreds of years before the eventual schism. By moving the political center of power from Rome in the west to Constantinople in the East, the Pope was free to lead the faithful without direct interference from a secular power. The Church in the west grew, while the Eastern Church found herself under the pressures of Emperors interfering with religious controversies. The result was a Church that constantly battled heresy without any resemblance of independence from the emperor. This intense difference in political dynamic caused the east and west to drift apart from each other.
“It is not too much to say that the estrangement between the East and the West, which culminated in the great Eastern Schism, was begun on the day when Constantine laid the foundation-stone of New Rome on the shores of the Bosporus.”
From this event we see the beginnings of the major factor that led to the Eastern Schism. The constant interference of an emperor in religious matters that would lead the Eastern Church into numerous heretical controversies, but also left her virtually ineffective in dealing with them.
The first of these problems with lingering heresy was the Arian Controversy and the influence Eusebius had over Constantine. Although the Council of Nicaea spoke out against Arianism, and pronounced a clear-cut statement of the Catholic faith in the Divinity of Christ, the Arian controversy was hardly dead in the East. Without spending too much time on the Arian controversy, a topic that would need its own paper, we know that Arianism maintained a strong hold on the East. It was not necessarily the theology that furthered the division of East and west, but rather the politics when exercising authority. The East resented the Roman claim of doctrinal authority, a resentment that would inspire Caesaro-papism over the next several hundreds of years. The Arian Eusebius baptized Constantine on his deathbed signifying that the role of the emperor in the east would keep the east in heresy. This was a very unfortunate event that was unexpected considering it was in the East that St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians were such passionate defenders of the faith that the Nicene Creed expressed. I do not believe Arianism would have maintained its strong hold if the issue of Roman authority was not in question.
It is this misunderstanding of power that was the core of the problem in the East. The problem manifested itself in time as the monster known as Caesaro-Papism. Whenever there was a heretical controversy the Church would come together under the authority of the Bishop of Rome and have a universal decision. This spiritual authority was something that the Emperors wanted for themselves. In the pagan structure that existed in the Roman Empire before Christianity, the Emperor was supreme in spiritual matters as well as the civic matters . With the foundation of Constantinople in the East, the Pope was free from this constant interference in Rome, but the eastern church constantly fought against an Emperor eager to leave his mark on Christianity.
“These Arian, Monophysite, Monothelete, and Iconoclast Emperors found the pope of Rome very irritating to their pride; for his condemnations in the end always triumphed over their pet heresies. ”
Although these Eastern Emperors would lead their church into heretical controversies, the Pope would always be there to exercise spiritual authority. Once again the East and West grew farther apart not from theological reasons, but political pride. This view is seen when Charles the Great (768 to 814) wrote the Pope and told him that “it was the pope’s job to pray for the Church, but his job, as emperor to rule it. ” This pride continued when in the sixth century the Bishops of Constantinople began to declare themselves the “Ecumenical (universal) Patriarch” despite the protests of Rome . Although Rome protested, Constantinople possessed too much power too far away for Rome to enforce its objection, which fell on deaf ears.
The final factors of the schism involve many issues that represent the greater tensions that have existed for years. I do not believe that these individual things would have created the schism if the East and West were not already hostile due to the issues of authority. Without communication these issues became the final straw that broke the unity of east and west.
Along with the issues of authority, the East and West were growing apart due to the diversity in national character, language, rites and discipline . The East was very traditional and held onto the ancient rites and customs of her past. While there is nothing wrong with this, she felt that to not follow these rites was contrary to the apostolic faith. “Any ritual and disciplinary practice not in harmony with those in vogue in the East she declared contrary to the apostolic tradition, and therefore to be abolished. ”
The west has moved and adapted to the various cultures that were converting to Christianity, but the East used this as an occasion to rebuke the Bishop of Rome. With the Council of Trullo, the East condemns the customs of fasting that were different in the West.
“We have learned that in the city of the Romans, people fast on the Saturdays of Lent contrary to ecclesiastical tradition: if hath accordingly seemed good to this Holy Synod to decree that amongst the Romans also the canon should be enforced which says: if a cleric be found to fast on Sunday or Saturday he shall be deposed; if a layman be guilty of the same offense, he shall be excommunicated! ”
The Eastern Church exercised a false authority in condemning the western Church. Instead of appealing to the Pope to work towards a unified declaration of rites and fasting, the Eastern council condemns the actions of the west including the Pope.
The next crisis that weakened the unity of the Church was the Iconoclast heresy. Perhaps influenced by Muslim and Jewish ideology, Byzantine Emperor Leo III in 730 A.D. forbid the veneration of icons. This practice was a very important aspect of the worship life in the early Church and as a result Pope Gregory II and many Eastern Christians protested the decision by Emperor Leo III. During this struggle many of the icons in the Church were destroyed, and the Emperor threatened to take the Pope captive and destroy the image of St. Peter in Rome. In the end, this controversy was settled at the Seventh Ecumenical council, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. Which clarified the difference in veneration of an object and worship, which is only for God.
The next event is second only to the foundation of Constantinople in contributing to the Eastern Schism. That event is the Coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas 800 A.D. “No single event, some historians claim, alienated the East so forcibly from the West. ” This event took hundreds of years of tension and alienation and moved it towards hatred. By putting a “barbarian” at the throne, the Church of Rome cut herself off from her Roman roots. The Eastern Church viewed obeying Rome as obeying the “barbarians” that the empire fought for so long. “The Eastern rulers and ecclesiastics never forgave the popes for having conferred the title of Roman Emperors on the Frankish and Saxon barbarians. ” Any respect that remained for the Roman authority disappeared with this act. (*flesh out more)
It only took a spark in the form of Photius to light this mess on fire. In the middle of the ninth century, the Patriarch of Constantinople Photius appealed to the pride of his nation and made the first formal attempt to break the Eastern Church from the West. It was Photius that charged the Western Church with wrongdoing for reciting the filioque in the creed, as well as believing in the doctrine of purgatory. It was not these issues that truly upset Photius, but rather it was the years of tension between the nations that were growing further and further apart.
In our times the filioque is often the mascot that people think about first when discussing the Eastern schism, but this is very inaccurate. The problems were always at their roots about authority and the exercise of Papal primacy over the Eastern Church not about theological questions or practices. Those issues could be settled if the tension did not exist with our leadership. There are even some who believe the theological issues will never be fully solved until agreements can be made on the issue of Papal primacy. That the foundation of the problems with the filioque is not a matter of theology, but rather a misunderstanding that exists in the unclear wording when we translate from Greek to Latin.
Photius was not concerned with coming to an agreement with the filioque, but was looking for a reason to cut ties with the Western Church.
“In a letter addressed to all the patriarchs and bishops of the East he railed against all claim to spiritual authority on the part of the Holy see, declaring it intolerable, above all, since the imperial crown of the West had been set by Leo III on the head of Charlemagne, a barbarian Frank. ”
Although Photius does accuse the West with heresy for the Filioque, and is upset with many of the disciplines, it is clear that the issue of Charlemagne is the key reason why he excommunicates the Western Church. This was something that nobody before him had dared to do. His ruling was short lived, as he was himself excommunicated, but the effects are seen in the next hundred years before the schism.
Although there was communion between the East and west, there was no real peace or resolution of the issues. The secular state in which Rome had begun to fall into only harmed the relationship between East and West. “Feudalism had made the Church rich and powerful, but it had also enslaved her. ” It was the rich and the kings that were appointing leadership within the Church. Simony infected the clergy and this clearly had an effect on the eventual schism with the East. Perhaps if the leadership was concerned with holiness rather than secular matters we could have attracted the East to unity rather than inspire them to schism. This is a matter of pure speculation, but the connection between the schism and the Church’s weakness of simony cannot be ignored as coincidence.
The final official schism occurred in 1054, when Patriarch Caerularius of Constantinople was very vocal against western practices of fasting, as well as the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist. Going as far as to consider the western Eucharist invalid in a letter written with Bishop Leo of Achrida to the West. The growing tensions caused the Eastern Empire to request add from Pope St. Leo IX.
“Caerularius closed the Latin Churches in Constantinople and impiously ordered the Blessed Sacrament to be cast out and trodden under foot as invalid. At the request of the Emperor, who desired peace, Pope St. Leo IX sent three legates to Constantiniple, but Caerularius refused to receive them. Thereupon they laid the document containing his excommunication on the altar of St. Sophia in the presence of the clergy and the people with the words” Let God be the Judge,” and immediately left the city. ”
Caerularius responded by excommunicating the legates and the Pope himself. The image of the legates laying down the documents of excommunication and the words “Let God be the judge” is a haunting end to the unified tension of East and West and the beginning of our separations. These excommunications held until 1965 when the Pope and Patriarch met, embraced, and removed them.
During my undergraduate program I elected to do a senior research project on the filioque debate. I had a limited understanding of the causes of the debate and I assumed it was simply a matter of differing theology. During that study I came to understand that there is a deeper barrier to this issue than the trinitarian formula. In my honest opinion, the unity between East and West is not pending a formulation that will reconcile the Orthodox and Catholic theology of the Trinity. Rather it is a debate on tradition and eccesiology and how we understand those sacred things that is at the heart of the dispute.
“the problem of the filioque will not be entirely solved until agreement is also reached on the implications of pneumatological doctrine regarding the structures of the Church and the Papal primacy.”
In this debate we have seen a unexcusable justification of un-Christian behavior from both sides. There are Eastern believers that would reject any explanation of the filioque, even if we were able to explain it with an Eastern meaning of articulation just because it is a “Roman.” At the surface this seems foolish, but it can be understood as a response to the “latinazation” that the East sees numerous Catholics attempting to inflict, a liturgical, spiritual and theological submission. The idea that the East should “submit” to Roman authority is nothing more than a lack of respect for the apostolic Eastern theology and the influence of a blind pride. Yet we see this message historically, and even today.
So there is a constant source of pain where the East appears to be completely blinded by its contempt for Papal Authority and the validity of Western theology, but in reality I believe that they see this assimulation as a direct attack to their faith and are defending it just as we would. Sadly, this has turned into a prideful issue as well, leading me to believe that this issue and the schism in general; will remain until the hardened hearts are healed and we look to the very Spirit that is debated to lead us back as one. Until than we will be unable to accept any doctrine or theology, not from its own merit, but rather a sort-of religious prejudice against each other that has tainted the Christian history.
The filioque thus is not a single issue as it is a “Symbol of difference, a classic token of what each side of divided Christendom has found lacking or distorted in the other.”
This leads me to believe that even if an ecumenical movement was able to produce the dialogue that provides a solution, and it was fully endorsed from all authorities, it would still take many generations for the public to embrace it and before there was a true reconcilation that would see the any fruition. In this, it could be considered that the filioque could be a distraction to the real issues, or at least a cover up to what is all left to do. If in this we are able to come together on the filioque, we will be able to move on and heal the other issues that leave us in schism. The filioque often gets moved beyond a theological disagreement and becomes a very symbol of our disunity. The tension started with the foundation of Constantiniple and the East and West growing apart. It was fueled by the sinfulness of nationalism prejudice and the West’s tempataion of simony. The theological issues are important, but they have always been secondary to the bitterness between us. Dialogue is needed but not to resolve the theology, but rather to start seeing each other as brethren in the faith. Only then can we work towards the unity that Christ prayed for in the garden before his passion: Ut Unum Sint.
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