The schism between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

By Paul Shunamon

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Since the beginning, in each Church founded and taught by an apostle, the bishops always considered themselves autocephalous (equal independent leaders), and in matters where questions arose they would get together and discuss, and by the Scriptures and their traditions they would come to agreement, but none of these (considered to be servants of servants) ever assumed sole authority over all. Even Peter had taught not to lord it over one another as the Gentiles do (1 Peter 5:3). Victor then threw the first historically recorded anathema, allegedly ex-communicating Polycrates. Irenaeus and others interceded on Polycrates' behalf against Victor, and the issue for a time was resolved (Eusibius, History of the Church, Vol. 24, 10-11).

The issue of Peter's alleged primacy became a matter of dispute between Rome and the rest of the bishops. Though Peter was in Rome later with Paul, and died there, there is no evidence or indication he was ever the 1st Bishop there. Paul, who only went where no other Apostle had previously been, went to Rome; Priscilla and Aquila were already there fellowshipping with other Christians who regularly met in house churches on the first day of the week. Peter came later. The official 1st Bishop of Rome (appointed by Paul and Peter) was Linus.

Peter, on the other hand, had been a bishop of a church years before coming to Rome (he arrived in Rome around 60 AD). In fact, he was their first bishop. It is a matter of history that Peter was actually the first Bishop of Antioch (in Syria) around 50 AD for around two years, where he taught and appointed Evodius, who then appointed Ignatius (a student of St. John) in 100 AD. All the apostles (including Peter) looked to Jerusalem as the true mother church, if one wishes to use such a term, and saw James (the brother of our Lord) as the actual first Bishop of the Church ever. Even Peter was under the general authority of James until James was martyred (though, as I indicated, real authority was in the council not in the final word of one man).

In time, by the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries, the Church recognized five primary centers, and their bishops were looked up to as sources of true guidance. These five autocephalous Patriarchates were Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Rome, and Alexandria in Egypt.

Politically/secularly, Rome was still the capital of the Empire — and then came Constantine. Soon after he became emperor he moved the capital of the Empire to Turkey, naming Byzantium as the new capital and renaming it Constantinople (after himself). This made many Romans (and Roman bishops who, after Victor, assumed authority over all others) very angry. The Council of Nicea was ordered by the Emperor to foster unity, and the original Nicene Creed was formed (around 325-330 AD).

Shortly after, there was a new dispute (called the Filioque). The original creed says, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. Who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified." In this case, because Jesus can be said and shown to also direct and send the Spirit they insisted on changing it to say, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, AND THE SON. Who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified." Whether it was just because it was Rome or because they relied on what had been agreed to by all the bishops at the Council, the bishops of the East now enjoying their place in relation to the political authority, refused to change it. As you can see the wedge widening even as far back as this.

Later still (a few centuries) a question of the bread to be used at the Pashca arose (and in communion weekly) for allegedly (they still claim this) the East had always used a consecrated loaf of leavened bread (for Christ the bread of life had now risen and His Spirit now leavens the whole lump, ie., the Church). But Rome and other centers under their See (North Africa, France, and some of the Balkan states) maintained that this bread should be unleavened according to Scripture and tradition.

So you can see that by the time of 1054 AD the divisions were manifold, and by this time they were quite irresolvable; neither side was going to budge, and cross anathemas broke "Communion" on what seemed to be on a permanent basis. But the true absolute break up (in my opinion) was finalized with the attack of 1204 AD. Baldwin of Flanders entered the Hagia Sophia and declared himself Baldwin I emperor of the Latin Empire. The split was sealed.

Image Credit: BRJ INC.; "Title"; Creative Commons

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Published 1-10-17