Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Great Catholic and Orthodox Divorce

The Great Divorce
For centuries Christians East and West lived as strangers to one another. Then Catholics violated the Orthodox.
Mark Galli (April 1, 1997)

One summer afternoon in the year 1054, as a service was about to begin in the great Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, Cardinal Humbert and two other legates of the Roman pope entered. They made their way to the sanctuary. They placed a sealed papal document—called a "bull"—on the altar and marched out. The bull proclaimed the patriarch of Constantinople and his associates excommunicated, no longer in communion with the church, no longer allowed to receive the grace of God through the sacraments.

When the cardinal passed through the western door, he shook the dust from his feet and said, "Let God look and judge." A deacon, guessing the contents of the bull, ran after Humbert in great distress and begged him to take it back. Humbert refused, and the deacon dropped the document in the street.

This incident is usually portrayed as the key moment in the Great Schism between the Orthodox East and the Latin West. But this incident is but one of many on the path to permanent schism—though surely the bloody events of 1204 put a seal on a break that lasts to this day.

The schism's causes are manifold and complex, and they reveal much of the uniqueness of what we now call the Eastern Orthodox Church—and how the Orthodox understand this chapter of Christian History…

From the sixth century on, a number of disputes erupted between Rome and Constantinople. One conflict in the middle of the ninth century revealed just how estranged East and West had become. The incident is usually known as the "Photian schism"—though the East would prefer to call it "the schism of Pope Nicholas."

It began in 858, when Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople was exiled by the Byzantine emperor (for criticizing the emperor's private life). Ignatius resigned his office under pressure, and a gifted layman named Photius was appointed patriarch of the capital city. Photius has been called "the most distinguished thinker, the most outstanding politician, and the most skillful diplomat ever to hold office as patriarch of Constantinople."

Photius, as was the custom, sent a letter to the bishop of Rome, Pope Nicholas I, announcing his accession. Normally the pope would immediately recognize a new patriarch. But Nicholas balked. He had heard that the former patriarch still had supporters who claimed Photius was a usurper. Pope Nicholas decided to look into the matter. In 861 he sent legates to Constantinople.
Photius wanted no dispute with the papacy, so he treated the legates with great deference; he even invited them to preside at a local council to settle the issue. The council decided Photius was the legitimate patriarch.

When the legates returned to Rome, though, Nicholas accused them of exceeding their powers. He retried the case himself at Rome. This council repudiated Photius's claims, deposed him of all priestly dignity, and recognized Ignatius as patriarch.

The Byzantines ignored this Roman council and refused to answer the pope's letters.

The dispute centered on the papal claims, which had become another growing issue between East and West. Among Eastern churches, there was a strong sense of equality among bishops because a number of city churches claimed to have been founded by an apostle. The East acknowledged the pope as the first bishop of the church but saw him as only the first among equals.

In the West, only one great city church claimed apostolic foundation—Rome—so that Rome came to be regarded as the apostolic see. The Western church was seen less as a college of equals and more as a monarchy with the pope at its head. But the Byzantines didn't care if the Western Church was centralized, as long as the papacy did not interfere in the East...

Read complete article here

Reading Christian history helps us understand what is happening in the world today and why we do the things we do.

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