Effective evangelism requires Christian unity. Heresies and cults rend and tear Christ's body ruining Christian witness. In 1054, regional and doctrinal issues divided the church. The result is two of the three great Christian Church divisions: Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
The removal of the Roman capital from Rome to Constantinople planted seeds of division. After A.D. 325, tensions grew until Cardinal Humbert anathematized the eastern Patriarch on St. Sophia's high altar. The patriarch immediately responded by anathematizing the pope and his followers.
This section surveys four factors leading to this important but tragic division.
I. The claims to primacy by the Roman Bishop
Theoretically, all bishops were equal. Even with the rise of Metropolitans, this did not change. Nonetheless, bishops in Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria enjoyed greater prestige than bishops in smaller sees. As we noted, the Roman bishop consolidated as much power in his see as possible. At the Council of Constantinople in 381, we hear that "the bishop of Constantinople [is] to have the primacy of honour next after the Bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is New Rome."
Eastern patriarchs or metropolitans objected to Rome's meddling. In the ninth century Pope Nicholas I tried to interfere with the appointment of an eastern patriarch. Emperor Michael deposed Patriarch Ignatius for refusing to administer sacraments to one of Michael's relatives. He then appointed a man named Photius in his place. Pope Nicholas declared Photius deposed but Photius retained his position in spite of Nicholas's action. Arguably, moral issues justified Nicholas's action. The whole issue increased resentment between the two regions.
II. Differences in relationships of church and state
Constantine believed the state was the "bearer" of religion to the world. Therefore, the state should be Christian. He felt responsibility for keeping Christianity's message and content pure rested with the Emperor. Constantine set the stage for the relationship of church and state. We identify his concept with Caesaropapism in the east. Martin Marty describes this as follows:
The Emperor rather than pope or patriarch controlled the eastern church. The Imperial office represented a mixture of priest and king. It was a concept as old as the old Roman "pontifex maximus" as Constantine understood it -- the Emperor was head of all Roman religion. Thus as Harlie Gallatin says:
For all intents and purposes, the church in the east was "a department of state organization."
In the west, the church's power grew apart from the political structure. Tensions existed between the Roman Church and European Kings because the church attempted to control secular rulers.
III. Doctrinal controversies
Culture and attitude contributed to the church's division. The eastern church continued the Greek tradition. That is, their interests and controversies tended to be abstract, spiritual and metaphysical. Eastern Christians argued most about Jesus' nature. Western Christians tended to be more pragmatic. They argued more about man's nature than Christ's nature. There are specific problems I need to mention.
Historians see indications of the coming split as early as A.D. 200. Eastern and western churches differed over the date for Easter observance. Eastern Christians observed Easter according to the Jewish calendar. Jews observed Passover on Nisan 14. Eastern believers observed Easter on the "correct day" after Passover, regardless of the day. Those who insisted on this observance are the Quartodecimanians.
Western Christians observed Resurrection Day on the Sunday after Passover. Victor (189-199), Bishop of Rome, studied the issue and suggested a Sunday observance. Easterners refused.and Victor excommunicated them. Objections poured in protesting that Victor had no right to excommunicate Christians loyal to Church traditions. Victor retracted his excommunication. In 222, Hippolytus drew up a list of Easter dates based on a 112 year cycle. Finally, the Council of Nicea settled the issue. Christians generally agreed to observe Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
Eastern and western Christians also fought over the Filioque issue. A creed published by the Council of Constantinople in 381 referred to the Holy Spirit "who proceeds from the Father." A Spanish Council meeting at Toledo in 589 inserted "and the son" (Latin: filioque) into the creed. Charlemagne approved the clause at the Synod of Aachen in 809. Eastern Christians reacted by condemning western churches for inserting it without discussion or general agreement in ecumenical council. Western leaders chided eastern churches for omitting it.
Use of icons in worship provided another source of tension. Bruce Shelley maintains an understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy's use of icons is central to understanding their faith. Modern Roman Catholics dip their fingers into a font of holy water and genuflect before seating themselves for worship. Similarly, Orthodox believers go to the iconostasis, the wall of paintings separating the sanctuary from the nave, and kiss the icons.
No Orthodox believer thinks these icons represent Jesus and the saints. Rather, they are
Moslem invaders surrounded the Byzantine Empire by 700. Emperor Leo III (717-41) attacked the use of images because he knew Moslems avoided worshiping statues or other representations. In 726, Leo called for a council of bishops and senators to discuss the issue. The council forbade kneeling before icons. It also ordered all but the cross removed from churches to refute Moslem charges of idolatry. Most higher clergy supported the council's orders. Some, of course, refused. The Emperor tried to militarily enforce his orders. Eastern Christians took this as an insult; even the patriarch stood against the Emperor. Leo simply deposed him and continued his assault.
Had the Roman bishop remained out of the picture, the whole issue would have remained in the east. Pope Gregory II condemned and anathematized the iconoclasts. Gregory argued that God commanded the making of Cherubim and Seraphim. He also insisted that eyewitnesses made pictures of Christ, the apostles and the martyrs for instructional purposes. Gregory drew from an ancient tradition that Jesus, himself, sent a picture of himself to King Abgarus of Edessa.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council assembled at Nicea settled the issue in 787. The council reaffirmed the use of images but drew distinctions between bowing down before/kissing and worship.
IV. Pragmatic differences
So far, all of the issues are substantive. Other issues, none nearly so earth shaking, separated east from west.
Clerical celibacy. The western church demanded celibacy of bishops and clerics at all levels. Clergymen may and do marry in the eastern church.
Facial hair. Western clergymen could shave or not shave as they chose. Eastern clerics could not shave.
Other sore spots included, (1) the use of Latin rather than Greek in worship, (2) the type of bread used in communion, (3) the west's encouragement of fasting on Saturday, (4) the west's eating of meat from strangled animals in direct violation of the Jerusalem conference's decision recorded in Acts 15, (5) the west's forbidding of the singing of the choral Alleluia during Lent (eastern churches rejoice during Lent while western church mourn).
Of all the issues discussed, it was the western use of unleavened bread in communion which led to Cardinal Humbert's anathema in 1054. The pope sent Humbert and two papal delegates to end the dispute. Instead, differences widened until Humbert issued the decree on July 16.
Irreparable damage occurred with the split. The split cut off the eastern church from influences which strengthened the western church. When Moslem invaders entered the region in force, the eastern church stood weak and without influence. When Moslems invaded, thousands transferred allegiance from the New Jerusalem to Mecca.
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