When Did the Schism Actually Occur?

The question has been asked elsewhere, but I thought I’d ask it again and look into a few striking particulars. While 1054 is commonly seen as the magic date there seems to be much in the way of evidence to contradict it.

The “theological differences” between Rome and Constantinople were nothing new in the 11th century and had been debated as far back as the 8th. Maximos the Confessor once wrote back to Constantinople that the perceived differences were nothing more than a difference of expression due to linguistics, and that the two Romes shared the same doctrines in essence. Photios would later – most likely due to ignorance – reject the “Roman heresies” and later calm down after being deposed and re-reinstated as patriarch. Michael Celarius began a cycle wherein Constantinople would be generally anti-Roman in its outlook but sometimes swing back to tolerating or befriending Rome at whim. The disaster of the Fourth Crusade solidified the anti-Roman sentiment that had existed for a few centuries and guaranteed that there would always be a strident and loud faction that saw Rome as the enemy.

In Rome, the Greeks were seen as the brother who one day decides he hates you and wants nothing to do with you for no good reason. When Pope Nicholas intervened in Constantinople it had nothing to do with theology, but was a move to restore the rightful patriarch from an imperial usurper (and Photios was acknowledged as rightful patriarch when he was reselected after Isidore’s death). The Fourth Lateran Council urged the Greeks to calm down and restore the unity, but interesting to note is that the council – without precedent – demanded the Greek submit themselves to the one Holy Roman Church. This strikes as nothing more than stepping up the rhetoric as Rome was in prior centuries often the most reasonable and reconciliatory of the patriarchates when differences arose. An overemphasis on submission probably occurred at Florence and threw some Greeks into a fit, causing many Orthodox today to remember it as the time when they were made to “kiss the Pope’s toe”.

Oft forgotten in the debate is the rest of Christianity. Outside of the West and Greece, few knew of this ongoing slap-fight and no one seems to have cared. Until Florence, the Rusyns (pre-occupied with surviving the Mongols and Tartars) do not appear to have involved themselves in it while the Melkite patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria were too busy surviving and Byzantinizing. The aftermath of Florence divided the Rus, but made no impact on the others. In fact, if one wants to put a date on the schism they should look to Florence and the controversy that surrounded it in Byzantium.

Even the Balkans, where Latin and Greek Rite Christians lived close together, do not seem to have thrown themselves into the conflict. An interesting counter-point to the idea of an instant schism is the Order of the Dragon, an alliance of the regional monarchs created to unite them against the enemies of Christianity (usually the Ottomans, but also “Heretics and Schismatics”). Its members included: the Prince of Wallachia (more famously known as Vlad Dracul), the Prince of Serbia, the King of Hungary, the Tsar of Bulgaria, the Ban of Croatia, the Duke of Bosnia, the King of Bohemia, and many Polish and Hungarian nobles. While not official members of the order, the kings of Poland and England and the Grand Duke of Lithuania allied themselves with the order. If the idea of a 1054 instant schism held any ground, such an alliance between “Catholic” and “Orthodox” should have been inconceivable.


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