Conflict between Constantinople
A serious split between Rome and Constantinople took place
in the ninth century. Its immediate cause was the irregular appointment
of a new Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius (in 898) but its
real origin lay in the great political conflict which occurred
at the beginning of the century, when in the year 800, Charlemagne
restored the Western Roman Empire. In the eyes of the Greeks,
the Pope had committed a serious breach of faith when he consented
to crown a barbarian like Charlemagne as Emperor of the West.
It is true that the Byzantine ruler was obliged to recognise
the intruder as his brother-sovereign, since he had no power
to oppose him, but the Greeks strongly resented this concession.
Thus two rival political powers had been set up, both claiming
to be the only lawful successor the Roman Empire, and it was
merely a matter of time before one or other had to be destroyed.
The bitter conflict between these two competitors, which ended
with the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the fifteenth century,
involved the Church also, and was thus the root cause of the
schism between the Christian East and West.
The leading roles in the ever-growing struggle fell to
the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople. Under the
strong political influence of the rival Emperors, the occupants
of the most important sees of Christendom started a feud, seizing
on every pretext in a campaign of mutual calumny and recrimination.
The Patriarch Photius first produced a catalogue of Western heresies
- fasting on Saturdays in Lent;
- beginning Lent on Ash-Wednesday instead of on a Monday;
- disapproval of married priests;
- objection to confirmation administered by a priest;
- the unlawful addition to the Greek of the words"and
the Son", when describing the "procession of the Holy
The Latin Church retorted by producing a similar list of
Eastern heresies. A lively controversy arose which gradually
increased in bitterness and volume till the catalogue of heresies
included more than fifty topics. Every difference in customs
and teaching, which had been treated in the past as a legitimate
expression in religion of the differing Eastern and Western outlooks,
was now treated as an outrage. The most debated of these divergences
- the question of the Filioque clause (see above);
- the belief in a Purgatory distinct from Hell;
- the use of leavened or unleavened bread at the Eucharist.
It would, however, be a great mistake to think that these
disputes between Pope and Patriarch had seriously affected the
bulk of Christians. Their sense of oneness was so strong that
it took more than 400 years to destroy it. The first breach between
Pope Nicholas and Patriarch Photius was eventually healed: the
quarrels of their successors were also brought to a peaceful
end; and when, on July 16, 1054, the Papal Legate excommunicated
the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, no one had
any idea that this was the beginning of a schism which would
last for many centuries. Its immediate cause was a trivial local
dispute over the control of Latin monasteries in Constantinople.
Much bad feeling was displayed on both sides, but neither was
yet ready for permanent schism. The way was prepared for this,
during the next two centuries, by the coming of the Crusaders.