At The Origins Of The Byzantine Greco-Slav Schism:
Patriarchs of Constantinople

Photius (858-867; 877-886), and Michael Cerularius (1043-1059)

The greatest and most lamentable schism in the history of the Catholic Church is that between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine rite which would follow the See of Constantinople in breaking communion with the See of Rome, "head of all the churches of God" as acknowledged during the First Millennium by all those who would be truly orthodox in faith.

True, there were earlier major schisms affecting the Eastern Churches. There was the Nestorian heresy which spread after the rejection of the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) and lead to the formation of the Assyrian Church of the East centered in what is now Iraq, Then there was the even more widespread heresy of the Monophysites which saw large numbers of Egyptians, Ethiopians, Syrians, and Armenians torn away from the Catholic Unity of the Church with their rejection of the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.).

The view of Eastern Orthodox writers who identify the "Eastern Church" with themselves is certainly simplistic in ignoring the presence of other venerable Eastern communities in the Middle East. By the famous year 1054 when Michael Cerularius was the patriarch of Constantinople , large portions of Eastern Christendom were no longer in communion with Rome and Constantinople, the two most important Sees of the great ecclesiastical body called the Catholic Church. These two great patriarchates, along with those of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, were struggling to preserve the doctrinal orthodoxy proclaimed by the first seven ecumenical Councils (all held in the East) against heretical rivals who claimed the patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch.

Tensions between the Eastern and Western parts of the Catholic Church had already been felt in the centuries before 1054, as linguistic, political, and cultural differences became exacerbated by ecclesiastical divergences touching upon liturgical and doctrinal issues. These may be said to reveal themselves first in the controversies which would surround the famous patriarch of Constantinople Photius in the 9th century and even more dramatically in the controversies involving the patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius from 1043 to 1059.

The famous date 1054 saw the mutual excommunications exchanged between the patriarch Michael Cerularius and the Roman legates led by Cardinal Humbert of Silva-Candida – a date marking a fissure in ecclesiastical relations between Rome and Byzantium – an estrangement that would lead to a formal schism between Latins and Byzantine Greeks during the 13th century.

As noted, it was during the reign of the 9th c. patriarch Photius that liturgical and doctrinal differences unfortunately emerged between the Eastern patriarchal Churches dominated by the Imperial patriarch Photius at Constantinople and the great Latin Church in the West. Such differences fueled by mutual suspicion, distrust, as well as political ambitions and rivalries over ecclesiastical and political control of the newly converted Bulgarians led to quarrels that would threaten the ecclesiastical harmony between Latins and Greeks.

Moreover, from the view of the Roman Popes, the situation became further complicated and confusing due to the Byzantine Church's suffering an internal schism as to who was the legitimate patriarch of Constantinople, the patriarch Ignatius or his replacement, the erudite scholar Photius, described by one Orthodox scholar as:

"an intimate of the powerful, a courtier, an intellectual, an encyclopedist, a teacher, and a voracious student of anything that books could offer".
(D.S. White)

As another writer noted concerning his erudition which made him one of the most famous scholars of all the Middle Ages:

"his natural aptitude for learning must have been extraordinary; his industry was colossal... It is curious [added Fr. Adrian Fortescue in the older Catholic Encyclopedia], that so learned a man never knew Latin".

In fact, the ignorance of Latins and Byzantine Greeks of each other's language (with some honorable exceptions) would inhibit understanding of theological positions throughout the medieval period. For Fr. Fortescue and many other Catholic scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries, Photius was seen as "the chief author of the great schism between East and West", the "Luther of the Eastern Church" who denounced the universal authority of the Pope in the Church, and who as the defender of orthodoxy rejected the "blasphemous heresy" expressed in the Western formulation of the Filioque, i.e., which taught the procession of the Holy Spirit "from the Father and the Son."

The "Photian Affair" in its complexities, confusing and contradictory accounts by biased contemporaries and tainted sources would seriously mislead Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox scholars who would portray Photius as either the worst possible enemy of the Roman Church or as an unblemished Saint who broke "the horns of Roman pride and heresy". The distinguished Byzantine scholar, the Czech priest Francis Dvornik, had noted that:

"the history of the patriarch Photius stood as the greatest stumbling block barring the way to a better understanding between eastern and western Christendom."

Taking advantage of the great progress in Byzantine studies, his monumental work "The Photian Schism" (1948) did much to correct the impression held in the Christian West for centuries that Photius was "the father of the great schism, a prevaricator who falsified papal letters and conciliar Acts, and a symbol of pride and lust for ecclesiastical domination" – a view influenced by previous historians' uncritical reliance on the anti-Photian writings of his enemies, Studite monks who had fled to Rome to avoid persecution. The Ignatian party would not accept Photius as a legitimate patriarch and Rome upheld the patriarch Ignatius in his contest with Photius.

The intricacies of the "Photian Affair" were complicated by palace intrigues for control of the empire with Basil murdering the co-emperor Bardas and then murdering the Emperor Michael to establish his rule. Then followed the Emperor Basil immediately banishing Photius and reinstating the patriarch Ignatius in the see of Constantinople after 10 years of imprisonment. The result was further enmity among Byzantium's political-religious factions involved in what had become a serious internal schism in the Byzantine church. Though the Photian party was not pleased with Rome's questioning the canonical legitimacy of his elevation to the patriarchate and its interference in the internal affairs of the Byzantine church, nevertheless the Petrine supremacy embodied in the Roman Church was duly honored and acknowledged.

Photius himself had read the letters of Popes Nicholas, Hadrian II, and John VIII with their unequivocal expression of Papal power resulting from Christ's words to Peter, the Chief of His Apostles. Contrary to various Protestant and Orthodox writers to this day, Photius never formally denied that Primacy despite his calling a Council in 867 A.D. to declare Pope Nicholas deposed and excommunicated. What the Church of the 9th century believed concerning papal supremacy may be said to have been spelled out in magisterial terms by Pope Nicholas the Great in his reply (867 A.D.) to an insolent letter from the Emperor Michael III that is lost but must have registered objections to Rome's intrusion into Byzantine affairs:

"Would you know what these privileges [of the Roman Church] are through us, as the Minister of Christ and Dispenser of His mysteries, we will prove them to you in most certain manner. But, if you care but little to know them, if your efforts are directed only against the Roman Church's privileges, take care lest they turn against you. It is dangerous to fight against the current of a river, to kick against the goad. For if you do not listen to us, we shall regard you as Our Lord has ordered us to regard those who do not hear the Church.

The privileges of this See are perpetual: they were planted and rooted in by God Himself. They may be beaten against, but not changed: they may be attacked but not destroyed. Before your accession to the empire, they were, and they still, thanks be to God, are intact. They will be when you are not, and while the name of Christ is preached, they will never cease to be immutable.

These privileges were established by the very mouth of Christ Himself. It was not Councils that accorded them; they only have honored and preserved them... Neither the Council of Nicaea, nor any other synod ever gave a single privilege to the Church of Rome. This was because they knew that in Peter, this See had obtained the plenitude of all power, and received the direction of all the sheep of Christ... Such are some of the reasons among others of the same order, which make us interest ourselves in the fate of all the Churches: reasons that vehemently urge us to be indefatigable in our care of the Church of Constantinople, and oblige us to help, as a brother, the Patriarch Ignatius, dispossessed of his See against all law and every canonical rule.

It is these privileges of our Church, which under divine inspiration, have also commanded us that, Ignatius being still alive, we must remove Photius - who has unjustly introduced himself into the Lord's sheepfold, driven out the Shepherd and scattered the sheep - from the honorable See he has usurped unjustly, and must exclude him from the communion of Christians".

Modern historians in the wake of Fr. Dvornik have presented a truer portrait of a truly remarkable man, the Patriarch Photius. Certain aspects of his character and facts concerning the controversies that took place during his two patriarchates remain obscure and debated. But the following remain clear regarding his role in the origins of the Byzantine-Greek Schism:

  1. Despite the excommunications he suffered from Rome, he was reconciled with Pope John VIII and died in communion with Rome.
  2. He never denied the Roman Primacy. His changes to papal letters were done to facilitate the ending of quarrels and left untouched the vigorous affirmations of Pope John VIII concerning the Roman Primacy. That Pope John VIII's successors had broken with Photius was proved by Dvornik to be a legend.
  3. In his quarrels with Latin missionaries in Bulgaria, he attacked Latin liturgical customs and discipline. The Latins were accused of fasting on Saturday, repeating the Chrismation administered by Byzantine priests; forbidding married priests, and most seriously of corrupting the doctrine of the Trinity by inserting the Filioque into the Creed. These grievances were also incorporated in his 867 Encyclical to all the Eastern patriarchs which condemned such innovations. A Council was held in Constantinople to deal with the Bulgarian situation; as previously mentioned, it declared the deposition of Pope Nicholas which was accompanied by an anathema. It also proposed to the German Louis II that his title as emperor would be acknowledged in Constantinople if he would remove Pope Nicholas from his throne. Pope Nicholas died unaware of the action of this "Robber Council" of 867 A.D. in Constantinople but his successor Pope Hadrian II (867-872) held a Roman synod declaring Photius, his consecrator Gregory Asbestas, and all those Photius had ordained, to be deposed and required to make reparation. All this would lead to the holding of the 8th Ecumenical Council (869-870) in Constantinople presided over by Pope Hadrian II's legates and which declared Photius a "second Dioscorus" (the 5th c. arch-heretic who had dared to excommunicate Pope Leo the Great). This 8th Ecumenical Council "suspended and excommunicated Photius and his followers". These penalties were later lifted by Pope John VIII who rehabilitated Photius as patriarch in order to put an end to the internal schism afflicting the Byzantine Church. Moreover, as Dvornik showed, there was no "Second Schism of Photius" as previous historians believed.
  4. Though peace was restored between Rome and Byzantium, the liturgical intolerance exhibited by the Byzantine Greeks towards Latin customs and usages would bedevil Latin-Greek relations throughout the medieval period culminating in the charge still held by anti-Western Orthodox today that Catholic sacraments are "without grace".
  5. Lastly, Photius' "theological assault" on the Filioque as "heretical" (especially in his treatise "Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit") would be revived in the patriarchate of Michael Cerularius. Photius' arguments would become staple theological fare for centuries of polemicists who would make the "Filioque" the major dogmatic issue between Catholics and Orthodox. Cerularius would proceed to make additional attacks on Latin liturgical usages and declare the Latins' use of unleavened bread ("azymes") for the Holy Eucharist "heretical" (the continued belief of some extremist Orthodox today!). Photius had no quarrel with unleavened bread.

§    WHO was Michael Cerularius (1043-1059)?    §
and What Really Happened in 1054?

Aside from the famous 9th c. Patriarch Photius who was involved in various quarrels with Pope Nicholas I and the Franks, and who developed the classical Byzantine Greek theological case against the Filioque formulation of the doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Spirit, Cerularius is the best-known of the medieval patriarchs of Constantinople. This is because he is associated with the famous date 1054, which supposedly marked a formal schism between Rome and Constantinople. As one modern historian has noted, Cerularius was "perhaps the most ambitious and strong-willed prelate in Byzantine history".

From the accounts left by his contemporary Michael Psellus, it is clear that the character of Cerularius was typified by a "savage reserve, vindictiveness, and unbounded pride" and that he behaved as if "he held the first place in Christendom" (Fr. Adrian Fortescue). He was to prove more a politician than a churchman, and one who despised and hated the Latins of the West. We shall see, however, that the events of 1054 did not result in a formal schism with Rome, but it did involve a quarrelsome break in relations with Rome with future grave consequences.

Other Eastern patriarchs would follow Constantinople's lead in a formal schism by the beginning of the 13th century. Throughout the 12th century , it should be emphasized, many Byzantines remained in communion with Rome, but with hatred of the Latins fueled by the Crusaders' shameful sack of Constantinople in 1204 and the rejection of the Reunion Council of Lyons in 1274, much of the Byzantine Greek Church was clearly no longer in full communion with Rome. For many of the Byzantines, after 1274 the Latins (Italians and "Franks") were barbarian schismatics and heretics.

Cerularius was certainly a monk when he was enthroned as the "Ecumenical Patriarch" on March 25, 1043. He had earlier involved himself in a political plot against the Emperor Michael IV, apparently hoping to replace him on the throne. When made Patriarch, he fulfilled his long-held desire for a lofty career in the Church. Throughout his long life, Cerularius proved to be "arrogant and overbearing" in devoting his energies to exalting the prestige and power of the Byzantine patriarchate. He tried to bring the separated Monophysite Churches under his control, and regarded himself as the superior of the three other Eastern patriarchs, those of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

His political ambitions, moreover, led him into the very un-Byzantine posture of criticizing Imperial policy and stressing the superiority of his own position as Ecumenical Patriarch, claiming the right to reprove and discipline Emperors. Not only did he confuse the spheres of Imperial and Patriarchal authority, but he even usurped some of the symbols of Imperial rank, such as the wearing of purple shoes.

All four of the emperors who ruled during his patriarchate found his attitude and activities disruptive and intolerable. They saw him competing with them for the loyalty of the people of Constantinople, among whom he was more popular as the defender of orthodoxy against the Latin "azymites". His character is important to recall as he would come into sharp conflict with another strong-willed and powerful ecclesiastic, Cardinal Humbert of Silva-Candida.

It is also important to note at this point the "Byzantine Political Theory of State-Church Relations":

"In the Byzantine mind, the idea of a general superiority of the sacerdotium over the imperium was incredible and unnatural."
(George Every)

In contrast, the ecclesiology of the great Gregorian reformer churchmen in the West like Pope St. Leo IX, the Roman Pontiff who opposed Cerularius, insisted upon the superiority of the spiritual power over the temporal in order to protect the freedom and independence of the Church.

Regarding Church-State relations in Byzantium, historian Michael Angold noted that the emperor dominated the administration of the Church, and did not distinguish between ecclesiastical and political jurisdiction. Indeed, interference with either was looked upon as an act of treason. Another historian, Milton V. Anastos has observed regarding the Byzantine political theory of "absolutist power of the Roman Emperor" that there can be no question that the Emperor:

"dominated and controlled the entire life of the empire in its most significant manifestations... and even exerted control over dogma."

Cerularius, who had imperial ambitions of his own, no doubt shared in the common convictions of his contemporaries:

"The patriarch may well have looked upon the people of Constantinople as a 'plebs sancta'. The [Byzantines] were the new Israel: they were the citizens of a City guarded by the Mother of God. Constantinople as the New Sion was a popular theme of the mid-11th century".

Moreover, the patriarch of Constantinople vied with the Emperor as the defender of that orthodoxy in the Christian religion which was identified with the fortunes of Byzantium itself.

§    Pope St. Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius    §

The climactic events of 1053 and 1054:

"cannot be truly understood without constant recollection of the position of the Pope [St. Leo IX] during them. When Cerularius' first hostile actions came to his attention, he was a prisoner at the hands of the Normans. When they reached their shattering climax, he was dead... Pope St. Leo IX, more than any other man, brought into being the renewed, reformed, spiritually invigorated Western Christendom which created the glories of the Middle Ages; but because of the rupture leading to Schism, it did not include the Greek-speaking East with all its rich Christian heritage."
(Warren Carroll)

It is to be noted that this Pope's Letters to the Byzantine patriarch contain vigorous affirmations of the universal jurisdiction of the successor of Peter over the entire Church, East and West.

§    Background of the ensuing conflict    §

Late in 1052, Argyros, the Byzantine governor of Southern Italy, who was a Latin and a Lombard, proposed a Byzantine-Papal alliance against the Normans, who were endangering the Byzantines' attempted recovery of Sicily from the Arabs. Cerularius, always biased against the Latins and violently opposed to Argyros whom he considered an enemy, was determined to oppose the alliance and to strengthen his own ecclesiastical authority in Byzantine Italy (which had been taken from Papal jurisdiction in the 8th century).

Learning that the Normans were replacing Greek liturgical customs with Latin ones in Byzantine Italy, Cerularius proceeded to order all Latin-rite churches and monasteries to follow the Byzantine liturgical practice by celebrating the Eucharist in leavened bread. If they did not comply, they were to be closed, even the chapel of the papal legate. There were reports that Cerularius' chancellor, Nicephoros, had burst open the Latin tabernacles and trampled on the Holy Eucharist, because it was consecrated in unleavened bread. This was not the first time that Byzantine Greek intolerance of Latin customs and usages had troubled ecclesiastical relations between Rome and Constantinople. This occurred, as was noted, during the first patriarchate of the celebrated Photius, though the same Photius later sanctioned tolerance for canonical and ritual differences maintaining that each Church had the right to maintain its own cherished traditions. With Cerularius, Byzantine liturgical intolerance and ethnic and political animosity would greatly increase.

During the patriarchate of Cerularius, it was Leo, the Byzantine Greek Archbishop of Ochrida (Ochrid in Bulgaria) who addressed a Letter (probably at the order of Cerularius) to John of Trani, the Latin bishop of Apulia, in which he attacked a number of Latin customs (the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, fasting on Saturdays, eating strangled meat, and not singing "Alleluia" during fast days – all of which were said to constitute "Jewish superstitions"). The effect of the Bulgarian bishop's letter was to spread anti-Latin sentiments among the Greeks in South Italy, causing protests by the Abbot of Monte Cassino and the Archbishop of Bari. After reading the letter which declared the Latin Eucharist was not a genuine sacrament, Bishop John sent it to Cardinal Humbert of Silva-Candida (the former "Archbishop of all Sicily"), who was among the few Westerners who could read Greek. Humbert translated the letter and showed it to the Pope who directed him to draft a reply which focused on Papal Primacy and attempted to allay some Byzantine grievances by noting that:

"At Rome and outside of Rome, Greek churches and monasteries are present, and no one stops them from following their traditional rites and usages. Quite to the contrary they are counselled and encouraged to observe them".

Unfortunately, as Catholic historian Warren Carroll observed, at some points the letter drafted by Humbert:

"descended into sheer polemic and threat... Humbert, though a man of far nobler motivation than Michael Cerularius, was even more vehement, rash, and headstrong than the ambitious Patriarch. He had much more zeal than judgment."

As events were to prove, he was the wrong man for delicate negotiations, or to be sent on the fatal embassy to Constantinople that would result in mutual excommunications between the Patriarch and the Roman legates.

Patriarch Michael's anti-Latin campaign continued when he sent to the other Eastern patriarchs a treatise by the Studite monk Nicetas Stethatos ("Stethatos" meaning "courageous", but which Cardinal Humbert would render "Pectoratus", meaning "the beast that crawls on its belly". Nicetas (obviously a member of the anti-Latin extremists in the capital) proceeded to denounce such "horrible infirmities" as azyme bread, fasting on Saturday, eating strangled meats, not singing the Alleluia, and priestly celibacy.

This last point was especially offensive to a Pope who was struggling for the celibacy of clerics with all his might. Nicetas' polite reference to the Latins as the "wisest and noblest of all races" was followed by his applying to them St. Paul's epithets "dogs, bad workmen, schismatics, hypocrites and liars."

It was the dispute about the Eucharistic bread which moved Pope Leo IX to send to Constantinople a small legation led by Cardinal Humbert, who would be described by a modern historian as "by nature pugnacious and expected any patriarch of Constantinople to be devious and untrustworthy" (Henry Chadwick). He was assisted by Frederick, chancellor of the holy Roman Church, and by Peter, Archbishop of Amalfi. Humbert carried with him the notice of excommunication of the Patriarch should he not repent, but the final text appears to have been framed at Constantinople, probably by Humbert himself.

Before arriving in the imperial capital, the papal legates had conferred in South Italy with the Byzantine governor, the general Argyros. He had earned the gratitude of the Emperor by saving his life, but being of the Latin rite he had made an enemy of the Patriarch. Not only had he urged the Byzantine-Papal alliance which Cerularius vigorously opposed, but had also defended, while in Constantinople, the case for unleavened bread.

Cerularius had refused him Holy Communion several times for not abandoning the Latin rite. Argyros must have assured the legates of the Emperor's support. When the legates arrived in the capital, they paid due deference to the Emperor, but were offended when Cerularius declared that he would receive them only under the condition that they took their places behind all the Metropolitans and made obeisance to him. The angry legates refused to pay any deference to him, but simply handed over the Papal Letter addressed to him and left. Cerularius observed that the seal had been broken, and suspected that the letter was not an authentic papal text. Believing that his old enemy Argyros was conspiring with Cardinal Humbert against him, he declared the letter a forgery by Argyros.

At this juncture, Cardinal Humbert thought it would be an effective move to debate openly the question of the use of unleavened bread by engaging his "smoking pen" in a violent pamphlet war with Nicetas Stethatos. Nicetas, interestingly, was a disciple of the monk-mystic Symeon the New Theologian, and had written a treatise refuting one of Humbert's writings. Fr. Adrian Fortescue would write that Humbert's:

"answer is not temperate. He writes as violently as any byzantine and heaps up abusive epithets. Nicetas is no monk, but an epicure, who ought to live in a circus or brothel, a dog, an abominable cynic, and is made of the same stuff as the Mohammedans. Incredible, as it seems, this language converted Nicetas. He publicly retracts his book and curses all the enemies of the Roman Church, becoming, henceforth, as Humbert put it, 'henceforth our friend'. There seems no doubt that the Emperor [Constantine] made him do so."

Cerularius now refused to see or deal with the legates and would have nothing more to deal with them. Humbert noticed that Cerularius had struck the Pope's name from his diptychs, and took this as signifying a breach of communion with Rome, and schism.

Though he was gratified by his victory over Nicetas, Cardinal Humbert had blundered badly by raising the question of the Filioque in the dispute. The Emperor was deeply disturbed, more so than he had been after reading the charges against Cerularius in the Papal letter:

"He did not want a schism in the least; he did not care what sort of bread the Latins use, nor what they eat on Saturday; he wanted the Pope to help him fight the Normans."

He asked for an explanation concerning this new issue. The Cardinal gave it by writing before June 25, 1054, his "opuscule" on the Procession of the Holy Spirit, in which he quoted a discourse of Pope Leo IX in defence of the Filioque given at the Council of Bari in 1053. The Cardinal mistakenly accused the Greeks of suppressing the Filioque in the Creed, whereas it was the Latins who had added the word to the Creed. He thereby revived the old 9th century quarrel of the patriarch Photius against the alleged "heresy" of the Filioque, which the Byzantines had thoroughly forgotten. Cerularius, no theologian, avowed that he had not even been aware of this doctrinal issue. But later, after his Synod condemned the legates for their theatrical action in the church of Santa Sophia, the Photian writings were unearthed, beginning a thousand years of polemic against the Catholic doctrine of the Eternal Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and [or through] the Son.

Curiously, in the theological note attached to the July 24 synodal condemnation of the papal legates who came from the West ("the region of darkness") there is no mention of the "Photian thesis that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father alone." The note merely stated the traditional Scriptural doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father. What is absolutely astonishing is the synod's complete silence on the Latin use of azymes, which was the central theological dispute of the period and the cause celebre "proving" the Latins heretics and alien to orthodoxy.

§   The Dramatic Scene at the Altar of Santa Sophia (16 July, 1054)   §

Exasperated beyond measure by his failure to gain the support of the clergy of the imperial city against the Patriarch whom he sought to discredit, and aware of the growing hostility of the people, Cardinal Humbert took the final step. On 16 July, 1054, at 9 a.m., the time the sacred liturgy was about to begin in the presence of all the clergy and people, the legates advanced toward the altar of the magnificent church of Santa Sophia, and solemnly placed upon it the sentence of excommunication against Michael Cerularius and his supporters. Then they departed, shaking the dust from their feet and declaring, "Videat Deus et judicat!" ("May God be our witness and our judge").

The legates' action has been characterized, rightly, as grossly mistaken and exaggerated in attributing various heresies to the Byzantine followers of the Patriarch, as well as haughty, shameful, a wasted effort, and productive of more anti-Latin animosity among the clergy and people. Various historians have summed up well the nature and the contents of the fateful sentence of excommunication, which Cerularius cleverly used to strengthen his position vis-a-vis the emperor, now much embarrassed, and to foment popular fury against the legates, who had soon to flee for their lives. After noting that the citizens and the city of Constantinople were "very Christian and orthodox". The sentence of excommunication declared that Michael, who had abused the title of Patriarch, and the partisans of his folly, had sown "a great deal of the cockle of heresies... in the midst of this city."

It should be noted that in his synod's condemnation of the papal legates, Cerularius was careful to exempt the Pope from any censure, preferring to regard the legates as impostors and emissaries of his enemy Argyros, and the Pope's letter as a forgery by Argyros.

It is clear that if Pope Leo IX had seen the text of the excommunication against Cerularius, with its errors, wild exaggerations, and unfortunate tone, he would never have approved it. The Pope had died just as the embassy reached the imperial city, and so could not prevent the consequent scandals and the resultant harm to Latin-Byzantine relations. Cerularius burnt the notice of excommunication and presided over a synod that proceeded to condemn the impostor-legates in phrases taken from the famous encyclical letter of Photius to the Eastern patriarchs. [Recall that in his quarrels with the Franks, Photius had declared the Latins "impious men" and compared them to "wild boars" muddying the waters of true religion].

Cerularius not only revived liturgical and doctrinal grievances (especially concerning the Filioque) but falsely accused the legates of condemning the entire Byzantine Orthodox world. In his second letter to Peter, the irenic and tolerant patriarch of Antioch, Cerularius clearly sought to justify his persecution of Latins in the capital and a renewed campaign against the Latins by such means of such falsehoods as that the Pope's name had not appeared in the Byzantine diptychs since the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680).

He piled up more grievances than the traditional Photian ones (azymes, fasting on Saturdays, and celibacy), adding such issues as the shaving of beards, eating unclean foods, the Filioque, and alleged Latin refusal to venerate the relics of the Saints or pray to the great Greek Fathers of the Church. Peter replied to Cerularius, agreeing about the Filioque, but refuted other accusations. He urged forbearance and understanding towards the Latins, calling them "our brothers" and saying that "we should not expect from these barbarians the same manners as we find among our civilized people." He went on, prophetically, to plead with Cerularius:

"I beg you, I implore you, and in spirit I embrace your sacred feet and entreat your Divine Beatitude to give way and to accommodate itself to circumstances. For it is to be feared that you, in trying to heal these differences, may only make a schism, which is worse, and that in trying to lift them up you may cause a great calamity... I would not ask for more than the correction of the Creed... Consider what would certainly happen if that great first and Apostolic See be divided from our holy Churches – wickedness would spread everywhere, and the whole world would be upset, the kingdoms of all the earth would be shaken, everywhere would be much woe, everywhere tears."

Modern historians agree that visible communion between Rome and various patriarchs and bishops in the East continued until a "real schism" came into place after the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, and the fatal rejection of the "Reunion Council of Lyons" (1274).

Curiously, as the distinguished Byzantine scholar J.M. Hussey noted:

"the Humbert-Cerularius quarrel [as resulting in a formal schism] made virtually no impact at that time on Byzantine society and gets hardly a mention in contemporary writings."

The judgment of another great Byzantine scholar seems to me to sum up fairly well the Humbert-Cerularius fracas:

"Great as the responsibility of Cardinal Humbert seems to us, it was nevertheless far from measuring up to that of Michael Cerularius. It is quite evident that Humbert was concerned about achieving Christian unity. He thought that by acting as he did a strengthening of ecclesiastical ties would be the result. The arrogancy of his comportment may be partially explained by the conventions of the age. No one at least can cast aspersions upon his upright intentions.

One cannot, unfortunately, say as much for his adversary who endeavored in every way to obstruct reconciliation. The responsibility for the first attack must be laid at his door; and it was he also who, profiting by the hostility created by a century of political friction, raised up as an impassible wall between the two Churches their theological, disciplinary, and liturgical differences. What was essentially but a separation on the political plane, Cerularius turned into a breach that could easily turn into a schism in the proper sense of the term, that is, a division of an ecclesiastical and religious nature. It is for this reason that the date 1054 has always been identified with the name of Michael Cerularius".

(Fr. Venance Grumel)

§    CONCLUSION    §

One cannot underestimate the grave harm done the Unity of the Church by Cerularius' fixation on the "heresy" of the use of unleavened bread. For centuries, and even among some Eastern Orthodox to the present day, it was maintained that "the Latins, by maintaining a different Eucharist, did not partake of the same Body of Christ, and hence were not a part of the same Church" (John H. Erickson).

With Cerularius and his anti-Latin party, one already sees the unleashing of a flurry of polemics, underlying which can be seen the beginning of an eclipse of the Roman Primacy in the East and a violent dispute concerning the Procession of the Holy Spirit. In Peter's second letter to Cerularius also appears an exaggerated theory of "pentarchy" in the Church wherein the Church is envisioned as governed by a majority rule of five patriarchs (with the four eastern patriarchs dominated by an "Ecumenical Patriarch" of the imperial city assuming the role as the Church's chief "defender of orthodoxy".


— Historians on the Byzantine Greco-Slav Schism —

Emile Amann–
Histoire de L'Eglise: VI L'Epoque carolingienne (757-881), VII L'Eglise au pouvoir des laiques (888-1057)
Milton V. Anastos–
Aspects of the Mind of Byzantium
Michael Angold–
Church and Society in Byzantium Under the Comneni (1081-1261)
Louis Brehier–
Le Schisme Orientale du XIe Siecle
Warren H. Carroll–
A History of Christendom: Vol 2 (The Building of Christendom)
Henry Chadwick–
East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church: From Apostolic Times until the Council of Florence
Francis Dvornik–
Photius and Byzantine Ecclesiastical Studies
Adrian Fortescue–
article 'Photius' in older Catholic Encyclopedia "The Orthodox Eastern Church"
Deno J. Geanakoplos–
Byzantine East and Latin West: Two Worlds of Christendom in Middle Ages and Renaissance: Studies in Ecclesiastical and Cultural History
Venance Grumel, A,A.–
The Schism of Michael Cerularius in 1054 (Pamphlet-excerpt from the ecumenical review UNITAS)
Bernard Leib–
Rome, Kiev et Byzance a la fin du XIe Siecle
Adrian Nichols, O.P.–
Rome and the Eastern Churches: A Study in Schism
Stephen Runciman–
The Eastern Schism: A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches During the XIe and XIIe CenturieS

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage