|The Great Schism
|Several events in history have been referred to
as the "Great Schism," but most people use the term in reference to the
East-West Split, a major event in the history of Christianity. It is
also common to hear the Western or Papal Schism of the 14th century
referred to as the Great Schism. In both cases, these schisms
represented a fundamental change in the nature of Christianity, and a
marked departure from the traditions and doctrinal beliefs which
existed prior to the schism.
The roots of the East-West Split are ancient, almost as old as Christianity itself. Many historians believe that this Great Schism can be dated back to the second century, although matters didn't build to a head until 1054. However, for observant Christians, especially in the higher ranks of the Church, the writing was on the wall, sometimes literally.
The fundamental split between the Roman and Orthodox Christian churches was triggered by several things. Obviously, doctrinal disputes played a huge rule, especially the filioque controversy. The filioque clause was, and still is, a controversy in the church in relation to the Holy Spirit. The question is, "from whom did the Holy Spirit proceed, the Father, or the Father and the Son?" The word filioque means "and son" in Latin. It is referred to as the "filioque clause" because the phrase "and son" was added to the Nicene Creed, indicating that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father "and Son." There was so much contention over this issue that it eventually led to the split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches in A. D. 1054.
John 14:26 tells us, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name..." John 15:26 tells us, "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about me." See also John 14:16 and Philippians 1:19. These Scriptures seem to indicate that the Spirit is sent out by both the Father and the Son. The essential matter in the filioque clause is a desire to protect the deity of the Holy Spirit. The Bible clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). Those who oppose the filioque clause object because they believe the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son makes the Holy Spirit "subservient" to the Father and Son. Those who uphold the filioque clause believe that the Holy Spirit proceeding from both the Father and the Son does not impact the Spirit being equally God with the Father and the Son.
The filioque clause controversy likely involves an aspect of God's person that we will never be able to fully grasp. God, who is an infinite being, is ultimately incomprehensible to our finite human minds. The Holy Spirit is God, and He was sent by God as Jesus Christ's "replacement" here on earth. The question of whether the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father, or by the Father and the Son, likely cannot be decisively answered, nor does it absolutely need to be. The filioque clause will perhaps have to remain a controversy. The two churches also faced a language gap, with Greek being spoken in much of the Orthodox world, while Latin was spoken in much of Europe. East and West also clashed over papal authority, the use of icons, and a number of religious issues.
In 1054, a deputation from Rome arrived in Constantinople to pressure Michael Cerularius, the Patriarch or religious leader of Constantinople. The goal was to force Cerularius to acknowledge papal authority, in the hopes of reconciling the widening gap between the East and the West. Cerularius, however, refused to accept the authority of Rome, so the legates handed him an order of excommunication written by Pope Leo IX in anticipation of this very situation. Cerularius responded by excommunicating the legates and the Pope, triggering the Great Schism.
Technically, only a handful of people were affected by the excommunications, but they summed up a larger dispute between the Churches, leading Christians to take sides. In the East, Christians sided with Constantinople, viewing it as a center of their faith and rejecting Roman authority, while in the West, Christians cleaved to the Pope, their traditional authority figure. Despite attempts at reconciliation, the Great Schism created a breach which could not be repaired.
Over the centuries, relations between East and West have varied considerably. In the 20th century especially, genuine reconciliation began to be widely reported, with Papal visits to Orthodox nations and other attempts to reach out. However, the fundamental chasm between the faiths created by the Great Schism is unlikely to be repaired, although both sides today may express mutual respect.