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Christianity – The Great Schism

The Great Schism, also known as the East-West Schism, is an important event in the history of Christianity that forever changed the course of the Christian religion. A result of the division of the Chalcedonian Church – which was based on the doctrine that established that Jesus was both human and divine – into separate branches of Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek) Christianity, giving rise to two major denominations of the Christian faith that still flourish today: Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy.

Dated to the year 1054, the history of the Great Schism can be traced to the times of the late Roman Empire and was characterized by a breach that was theological and doctrinal in nature, as well as rooted in linguistic, political and geographical factors.

Origins and Causes of the Great Schism
There are a variety of factors that led to the Great Schism.

One central component of the discord between the western and eastern Churches was the authority of the bishop of Rome. Both churches originally recognized three bishops: the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Alexandria and the Bishop of Antioch. In 451, the Council of Chalcedon established two new bishops: that of Jerusalem and Constantinople. However, members of the western Church believed that the Bishop of Rome should hold greater power compared to the other bishops, as he was St. Peter’s successor. This led to tension as the members of the Eastern Church rejected the Bishop of Rome’s predominant authority.

In addition, the fall of the Roman Empire also contributed to the Great Schism. Theodosius the Great was the last Emperor of the unified Empire and his death in 395 signaled the division of the Empire into East and West. The western Empire fell in the fifth century to Germanic tribes, while the Eastern Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) continued to flourish. Conflicts in the Balkans, southern Italy and Sicily with regard to the authority of the western and Eastern Church

Also, linguistic differences played a role in growing conflict between east and west. As Latin and Greek began to dwindle, so too did the communication between clergy, and different religious customs, often conflicting, also created a rift in the Church. For example, members of what would become the Greek Orthodox Church rejected the western ritual of using unleavened bread for the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Another major factor that culminated in the Great Schism was the filioloque clause of the Nicene Creed, which attributed the elements of the Holy Spirit to both Father (God) and Son (Jesus), a clause that was rejected by members of the eastern churches. Furthermore, Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian’s prohibition of icon veneration (known as Iconoclasm) during the eighth century also led to growing tension as Popes of the western Church rejected Leo III’s law.

The Great Schism
The actual division between Latin and Greek churches is dated to the year 1054. Conflict arose between the Greek Orthodox patriarch Michael Cerularius and western ruler Pope Leo IX due to doctrinal differences. This tension resulted in mutual excommunications, firmly establishing the division between eastern and western churches.

Since the Great Schism, there have been many advances in the reconciliation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.

For example, during the twelfth century, the Manonite Church of Lebanon and Syria reconciled with the Catholic Church while still maintaining their own doctrines.

During the twentieth century, several eastern and oriental Orthodox churches, joined together to form the Eastern Catholic Churches.

In addition, the Second Vatican Council of 1965 led to the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration, which terminated the excommunications promulgated during the Great Schism, establishing a new platform of dialogue between the two Churches.

Jesus of Nazareth Mary Magdalene: Mariamne Early Christianity
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