There can be no question that the most serious and lamentable Schism in the history of the Church of Christ is that of the division that exists between the Catholic Church and the aggregate of Eastern Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine rite. There were, of course, previous major schisms that would shred the unity of the Church in the East which occurred with the spread of the Nestorian heresy after the rejection by the Assyrian Church of the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) and also the spread of the Monophysite heresy among the Egyptians (Coptic), Ethiopians, Syrians and Armenians with their rejection of the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.).
We see, therefore, large parts of Eastern Christendom which by the year 1054 A.D. were no longer in communion with either Rome or Constantinople, the two most important Sees of the great ecclesiastical body called the Catholic Church. This overwhelming great body saw its 5 great patriarchates (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) struggling to preserve the doctrinal orthodoxy proclaimed by the first 7 ecumenical Councils (all held in the East) with rival hertetical patriarchs competing for the control of Alexandria and Antioch.
Tensions between the Eastern and Western parts of the Catholic Church were already felt in the centuries before 1054 as linguistic, political, and cultural differences would become exacerbated by ecclesiastical divergences touching upon doctrinal and dogmatic issues revealing themselves in the controversies involving the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius (1043-1058).Who was Michael Cerularius?
Apart from the famous 9th c. Patriarch Photius who was involved in various quarrels with the Franks
and developed the classical Byzantine Greek theological case against the
"Filioque" doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, Cerularius is perhaps the best
known of the medieval patriarchs of Constantinople precisely because for generations he would be
associated with the famous date 1054 marking a supposed 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."
We shall see that 1054 did not result in a formal Schism with Rome but did involve a serious rupture with other Eastern patriarchs who would follow Constantinople’s lead in no longer commemorating the Pope in the dyptichs and later breaking visible communion with the Successor of Peter. It is by the end of the 13th century with the rejection of the Reunion Council of Lyons (1274) that much of the Byzantine Greek Church was clearly no longer in full communion with Rome. For many of the Byzantines, the Latins (the "Frangi" and "Italians") were savages, barbarians, schismatics and heretics.
The Patriarch Michael Cerularius did not come from the scholarly circles flourishing in the Imperial City, nor does it appear he had a real monastic vocation, though he certainly was a monk at the time he was enthroned on March 25, 1043 as the "ecumenical patriarch", i.e., the Imperial patriarch. He had earlier involved himself in a political plot against the Emperor Michael IV, apparently hoping to replace him on the imperial throne. He may have become a monk in order to escape the punishment for treason.
A fellow plotter and friend, Constantine IX Monomachus made him the protosyncellus (first secretary) to the patriarch Alexius. Upon Alexius’death Cerularius was made patriarch, thereby fulfilling 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, regarding himself as the superior of the three Eastern patriarchates, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
His political ambitions. moreover, led him to commit one of the unpardonable sins considered such by his fellow Byzantines, namely, criticism of Imperial policy while stressing the superiority of his own position as Imperial patriarch with the right to reprove and discipline Emperors. He seems not only to have confused the spheres of Imperial and patriarchal authority, but was seen to usurp some of the symbols of Imperial rank such as the wearing of purple shoes!
All four rulers during his patriarchate (Constantine IX, Theodora, Michael VII, Isaac I) found Cerularius’ attitude and activities disruptive and intolerable. They found him competing with the Emperor for the loyalties of the people of Constantinople who, in fact, would regard him as a more popular figure than the Emperor, and as we shall see, the defender of orthodoxy against the Latin "azymites".Byzantine Political Theory of State-Church Relations
It should be perhaps recalled here that "In the Byzantine mind the idea of a general superiority of the sacerdotium over the imperium was incredible and unnatural"(2). Contrast that with the ecclesiology of the great Roman Pontiff of the time, Pope St. Leo IX and other Gregorian reformer churchmen in the West who insisted upon the superiority of the spiritual power over the temporal power in order to protect the freedom and independence of the Church. As historian Michael Angold noted with regard to the Byzantine mentality regarding Church-State relations, 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.
Byzantine historian Milton V. Anastos has further observed regarding the Byzantine political theory
of the "absolutist power of the Byzantine Emperor." 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"(3).
"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"(4).
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 High Middle Ages; but because of the rupture leading to Schism, it did not include the Greek-speaking East with all its rich Christian heritage"(5).
It is to be noted, incidentally, that in this Pope’s Letters to the patriarch Michael Cerularius, there are found powerful affirmations of the universal jurisdiction of the Successor of Peter over the entire Church, East and West.
Late in 1052 the Latin Byzantine governor of South Italy, Argyros (he was a Lombard), proposed a Byzantine-Papal alliance against the Normans who were endangering the Byzantine recovery of Sicily from the Arabs. The Byzantines were attempting to recapture the island, and 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 in Constantinople 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 the ecclesiastical scene between Rome and Constantinople. This had occurred with serious consequences during the patriarchate of Photius in the 9th century which saw an internal schism in the church of Constantinople between the partisans of the patriarch Ignatius and those of the patriarch Photius.
It was this schism which resulted in the Popes’ intervention in the internal affairs of the church of Constantinople exercising their Petrine authority. Also angered by the activities of the Latin missionaries in the disputed territory of Bulgaria, Photius took issue with five customs of the Latins :
Later, Photius would sanction tolerance for canonical and ritual differences between the Roman and Byzantine Churches, with each having the right to maintain its own cherished customs handed down by tradition. Despite his quarrels with Rome, he died in communion with Rome, and it should be noted here that Photius, "one of the most wonderful [and scholarly] men of all the middle ages" (Fortescue, 138) had no trouble with the "unleavened bread" of the Latins. But Byzantine liturgical intolerance and ethnic and political animosity would only increase in the following years.
Writing in 968 A.D. the German bishop Liutuprand of Cremona recounted his mission to Constantinople at the behest of Otto the Great and son Otto II. He gave an unflattering physical description of the Byzantine Emperor Nicephoros:
"a monstrosity of a man, a pygmy, fat-headed and like a mole as to the smallness of his eyes; disgusting with his short, broad, thick and half-hoary beard; disgraced by a neck an inch long; in color like an Ethiopian, one whom it would not be pleasant to meet in the middle of the night; with extensive belly, lean of loin, very long of hip; clad in a garment costly but too old, and foul-smelling and faded through age; bold of tongue, a fox by nature, in perjury and lying like a Ulysses"(6).
It was this Nicephoros who threatened to subordinate Rome and the Roman Church to his imperial will. The German bishop proceeded to relate how
"Nicephoros, being a man who scorns all churches, on account of the wrath in which he abounds towards you [Western Emperors], has ordered the patriarch of Constantinople to raise the church of Hydronto to the rank of a bishropic, and not to permit any longer, throughout all Apulia and Calabria, that the divine mysteries be celebrated in Latin, but to have them celebrated in Greek... and so Polyeyeuctus, the patriarch of Constantinople, wrote a privilege for the Bishop of Hydronto to this effect, that he should by his authority have permission to consecrate bishops in Acerenza, Tursi, Gravina, Materia, and Tricarico, which, however, evidently belong to the jurisdiction of the lord Pope. By why need I say this when, indeed, the church at Constantinople itself is rightly subject to our holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome"(7).
During the patriarchate of Michael Cerularius, it was Leo, the Byzantine Archbishop of Achrida (Ochrid in present day Bulgaria), who addressed a Letter (probably at Cerularius’s order) to John of Trani, the Latin bishop of Apulia, in which were attacked a number of Latin customs (the use of azyme bread for the Eucharist and 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, and 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"(8), Bishop John sent it to Cardinal Humbert of Silva-Candida (the former "Archbishop of all Sicily") who was among the few who could read Greek and who translated it, showing it to the Pope who directed Cardinal Humbert to draft a reply which was to focus on Papal Primacy and attempt to allay some Byzantine grievances:
"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 counseled and encouraged to observe them."
Unfortunately, as Catholic historian Warren H. Carroll also observed, at some points the Letter drafted by Cardinal 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 judgement"(9).As events were to prove, he was also the wrong man to be involved in delicate negotiations and to send on that fatal embassy to Constantinople which would result in mutual excommunications between the patriarch and the Roman legates.
Cerularius’ anti-Latin campaign continued with his sending 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 capitol) proceeded to denounce such "horrible infirmities" as azyme bread, fasting on Saturday, eating strangled meats, not singing the Alleluia, and celibacy (this last point was especially offensive to a Pope who was standing out for the celibacy of the clergy with all his might)(10). Nicetas’ polite reference to the Latins as the "wisest and noblest of all races" was followed by applying to them St. Paul’s words: "dogs, bad workmen, schismatics, hypocrites and liars."Disputes And Grievances
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 "was by nature pugnacious and expected any patriarch of Constantinople to be devious and untrustworthy"(11). He was assisted by Frederick, chancellor of the 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 capitol, the papal legates had conferred with the Byzantine general Argyros charged with defending South Italy. He had earned the gratitude of the Emperor for saving his life but being of the Latin rite he had made an enemy of the patriarch not only by urging a Byzantine-Papal alliance which Cerularius vigorously opposed but by also urging while in Constantinople the case for unleavened bread. Cerularius had even refused him Holy Communion a number of times for not abandoning the Latin rite. Argyros must have assured the legates of the Emperor’s support.
When the legates arrived in the capitol, they paid due deference to the Emperor but were offended when Cerularius declared that he would receive them only on the condition they took their places behind all the metropolitans and made obeisance to him. The angered legates refused to pay any deference to him, simply handed over the Papal Letter addressed to him, and left. Cerularius noted to his alarm the seal had been broken. He suspected that the Letter was not an authentic text of the Pope, and believing that his old enemy Argyros was conspiring with Cardinal Humbert to personally attack him, declared the Letter a forgery by Argyros.
At this juncture, Cardinal Humbert thought it would be an effective move "to debate the question of the use of unleavened bread into the open" by engaging his "smoking pen" in a violent pamphlet war with Nicetas Stethatos who was a disciple of the mystic Symeon the New Theologian and who had written a treatise refuting one of Humbert’s writings. 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, as Humbert put it, ‘henceforth our friend’. There seems no doubt that the Emperor [Constantine] made him do so"(12).
Cerularius now refused to see or deal with the legates and would have nothing more to do with them. Humbert noticed that Cerularius had struck the Pope’s name off his diptych, and took this as signifying a breach of communion with Rome, and schism.
Gratified with his victory over Nicetas, Cardinal Humbert blundered badly, however, by raising the question of the Filioque in his dispute with Nicetas Stethatos. The Emperor was deeply disturbed, even more than after reading the charges against Cerularius in the Papal letters. 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(13). He asked for an explanation concerning this new issue of the "Filioque". The Cardinal gave it by writing before June 24, 1054 his opuscule on the Procession of the Holy Spirit where he quoted a discourse of Pope Leo IX in defense of the "Filioque" given at the 1053 Council of Bari. The Cardinal mistakenly accused the Greeks of suppressing the "Filioque" in the Creed whereas it was the Latins who had added it to the Creed. He thereby revived the old 9th c. quarrel undertaken by the patriarch Photius against the "heresy" of the "Filioque" but which the Byzantines had thoroughly forgotten.
Cerularius, no theologian, avowed he had not even been aware of this doctrinal issue, but after the synodal condemnation of the legates for their theatrical action in the great church of Santa Sophia, Photius’ writings were unearthed to begin 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 atttached 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. It merely stated the traditional Scriptural doctrine that the Spirit proceeded from the Father. What is absolutely astonishing is the complete silence by the permanent synod on the Latin use of Azymes which was the central theological dispute of the period and the ‘cause celebre’ to prove the Latins heretics and alien to orthodoxy.The Dramatic Scene at the Altar of Santa Sophia (July 16, 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 July 16, 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, and rightly so, as grossly mistaken and exaggerated in attributing various heresies to the Byzantine followers of the patriarch, and as haughty, shameful, a wasted effort, and resulting only in more anti-Latin animosity among the clergy and people. Various historians have summed up well the nature and the content of the fateful sentence of excommunication which Cerularius would cleverly use to strengthen his position against the embarrassed Emperor and to foment popular fury against the legates who soon had 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 Michael who had abused the title of patriarch, along with the partisans of his folly, of having sown "a great deal of the cockle of heresies... in the midst of this city"(14).
It is worth while examining the specific charges against the Patriarch and his partisans :
It is clear that if Pope Leo IX had seen the text of the sentence of excommunication with its wild exaggerations and errors and unfortunate tone, he would never have approved it. The Pope had died just when the embassy reached the imperial city, and could not prevent the consequent scandals and harm resulting to Latin/Byzantine relations. Cerularius burnt the notice of excommunication and presided over a synod which proceeded to condemn the imposter-legates in phrases taken from the famous Encyclical Letter of Photius to the Eastern patriarchates. One and a half decade earlier, in his quarrels with the Franks, Photius had declared the Latins "impious men" and compared them to "wild boars" muddying the pure waters of true religion.
Cerularius not only renewed liturgical and doctrinal grievances (especially that concerning the Filioque), but falsely accused the legates of condemning the entire Orthodox world. In his 2nd Letter letter to Peter, the irenic and tolerant patriarch of Antioch, Cerularius clearly sought to justify his renewed campaign against the Latins by uttering various falsehoods including the lie that the Pope’s name had not appeared on the Byzantine diptychs since the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680).
He piled up more grievances than the traditional ones (Azymes, fasting on Saturdays, and celibacy), adding such issues as the shaving of beards, eating unclean foods, the Latins saying the Filioque in the Creed, and refusing to venerate the relics of the Saints or pray to the great Greek Fathers of the Church. Peter agreed concerning the Filioque but refuted other mindless accusations , urging forbearance and understanding with the Latins who "are our brothers" and from whom "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"(15).Historical Reviews
The distinguished historian J.M. Hussey may be said to sum up in the following words the sorry facts surrounding the events of 1054:
"Viewed in their historical framework the events of 1054 have in a sense been magnified out of all proportion. It is true that at the time here was great strength of feeling on both sides. One has only to look at the documents to realize the deliberate provocation and discourtesy towards each other of both Humbert and Cerularius... Posterity has however read into this dramatic episode ‘a formal schism’ which did not yet exist. What the quarrel did was to being to the surface once again differences in doctrine and custom which had long been recognized and which were to be exaggerated and worked over in the bitter polemic of the later middle ages. But that time had not yet come. Once the Roman legates had left in July 1054 it was no doubt thought that normal relations between Rome and Constantinople and the Curia would eventually resume – particularly vital at this time as the Pope could be an important factor in a difficult political situation. [It was only after] the "intensified embitterment engendered by the Latin crusading movement and its culmination in [the sacking of Constantinople] in 1204"... [and consequent rejection of the Reunion Council of 1274] that "the real schism occurred"(16).
Dr. Hussey went on to state that:
"The Humbert-Cerularius quarrel made virtually no impact at the time on Byzantine society and gets hardly a mention in contemporary writings."
Similarly, other modern historians are in agreement that visible communion between Rome and other Byzantine patriarchs and Sees continued for some time after 1054. When the Emperor Alexis in 1089 inquired of the permanent Synod documentary evidence as to when the Church of Rome had become separated from the Byzantine Church, and exactly when the Pope’s name was removed from the diptychs, no attestation was forthcoming.
The Church historian G. Every would write:
"The schism between Greeks and Latins in Palestine should be placed after 1187 when the holy city was lost to the Latin Kingdom... and in Alexandria certainly after 1190, the year of the correspondence between Mark of Alexandria and Theodore Balsamon on conditions for communion for Latins in Eastern churches, most probably after 1215, when the patriarch Nicholas was represented at the council of the Lateran. The schism at Antioch on the other hand dates from 1100, but it was of a kind that did not prevent the Latins from receiving a Greek patriarch, not only in 1166, but as late as 1206. It was not therefore a staightforward schism between Greeks and Latins, but between pro-and-anti Latin parties among the Greeks and Syrians, in which, on occasion the party opposed to the Latin patriarch might enlist the services of Latin nobles. Even the schism between Rome and Constantinople was of a kind that did not exclude communications of a spiritual sort between Greeks under the Latins in Italy and Greeks of the Byzantine patriarchate, or between the Latins in Constantinople and Mount Athos and the Greeks of the local churches"(17).
The quarrel between two hot-heads did not result in a formal schism but rather in a suspension of relations between the 2 great Sees of Christendom. The confused situation for some time constituted what theologians would call a "material schism" (that is, separated Christians remained joined or linked to the Church because they continued to profess the orthodox faith and bore no guilt for the separation). It would last until such doctrinal issues as the Roman Primacy and the Procession of the Holy Spirit would prove far more intractable than the controversy over unleavened bread in the Eucharist, and lead to the formal schism which continues to exist to our day. In so far as Cerularius appears to have attempted in every way to prevent reconciliation between Latins and Greeks, to have exacerbated the theological dispute over the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, and to have revived all the arguments of the patriarch Photius over the "Filioque", he bears the greater part of the blame for what Catholics would come to term the "Byzantine-Greek Schism".
The Russian Orthodox writer John Erickson has affirmed:
"It was he [Cerularius] who profiting from the ethnic hostility created by a century of political and cultural friction raised up [even more than the earlier patriarch Photius] as an impassible wall between Rome and the Byzantine East theological, disciplinary, and liturgical differences, many of them puerile and foolish... For most Byzantine churchmen of the 11th and 12th century, the principal point of disagreement with the Latins was not papal primacy or Filioque but rather the use of leavened bread in the Eucharist. As one patriarch of Antioch wrote: ‘The chief and primary cause of division between them and us is in the matter of azymes... The matter of azymes involves in summary form the whole question of true piety’."Conclusion
It cannot be emphasized enough the 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 this
very day, "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"(19).
We see, therefore, how though Cerularius’ legacy did not involve a direct attack on the Petrine
authority of the Pope, it did involve the accusation of heresy against the Azymites (Latins) with the
most serious consequences for the future. Cerularius’ "favorite amenity" (pleasantry) for the Latin
Eucharist was "dry mud"(20).
It was on such false Cerularian doctrine concerning "unleavened bread" that the most tragic and irrational Schism in Christian history was founded and fueled.
This article appeared in the official organ of the Catholic Central Verein (Union) of America, "SOCIAL JUSTICE REVIEW", issue of July-August 2010.
James Likoudis is well known as a Catholic writer and has authored three books dealing with Eastern Orthodox theology and ecclesiology. For other articles of interest visit: James Likoudis' Homepage