Over the past weeks I have continued to study and discuss and read up on Church history, particularly as it relates to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. I have studied all of this before, but at that point I took it for granted that all I was being told was true, so it went in one ear and out the other. Now I look at Church history differently.
So - why the interest in the Great Schism? Well, as I look at the Catholic Church I continue to realize that for Catholics, doctrinal disagreements are really side issues. The most important issue is the belief that the Roman Catholic Church is THE Church led by the Pope, whose authority is directly descended through the line of Popes from Peter. If you believe this is true, then all doctrine is wrestled through from WITHIN the church, and at some points you just have to say that you may not understand, but you trust the leaders that have been sanctioned by God to guide the Church.
Okay, so... this means that for me, I want to look back to the earliest Christianity again and attempt to understand how the Catholic Church can make this claim of authority, particularly over and above the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is just as old.
Please understand. I DO NOT mean to attack or destroy the faith of Roman Catholics. I mean to examine, to attempt to understand. Even if I do not believe in the absolute authority of the Roman Catholic Church, I still believe that it is an orthodox church that seeks to follow God, and so in that it is not so different than my own faith. Oh, and a note of full disclosure to those who don't know me - my husband is currently getting a graduate degree in Early Church History, so we talk about this stuff a lot. And he most definitely helps inform my thinking on this subject.
So - back to the Early Church and the Great Schism.
The Five Patriarchates of the Early Church
As early church spread like a wildfire from Jerusalem through the Roman world (above), the need for organized leadership eventually led to Bishops being appointed in the five leading cities with Christian populations (all appointments happened in the first 150 years of the church). As we see in Acts, initially the disciples were based in Jerusalem (see the Council of Jerusalem in Acts), but perhaps because of persecution the leadership quickly moved to Antioch. The church in Antioch is said to have been founded by Peter.
The other early Bishops were in Alexandria (center of Hellenistic culture and learning for a long period of time - and the early heritage of African Christianity), and Rome. Roman was the capitol of the Roman world and Paul refers to a growing church there. History tells of the great persecution of the Christians under Nero. Initially these were the three governing church patriarchates: Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. The patriarchates were each led by a Bishop. Rome did not lead the other Patriarchates - each Bishop was the Patriarch who led his own Patriarchate.
At the time of the early council of Nicaea and Chalcedon, Constantinople and then finally Jerusalem were accepted as patriarchates. Constantinople, was the head of the Byzantine empire, and with this growing political leverage it began to go head to head with Rome in terms of pure influence in the Church as a whole. The council of Constantinople confirmed this growing authority, and a quiet power struggle between the two Bishops began. To quote the Catholic New Advent website: "So we have the new order of five patriarchs — Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem — " [see (ibid., 46-47) the letter of Peter III of Antioch, c. 1054]. (The photo below is of the Council of Nicaea - I wonder if those are the five Patriarchs? There were some others at different times, but those were the main five).
As the church grew and spread things became more complicated. Theology was developed, councils began to publicly define doctrine and condemn heresy. Christianity spread to distant lands out of the direct reach of the patriarchates (what Patriarchate heads up the suprisingly early rise of Christianity in Ireland??). There was also a growing cultural rift between the East and the West. The Latin-speaking Western church was generally under the leadership and influence of Rome. The Greek-speaking East included all of the other Bishops, with Constantinople as the largest. They began to develop seperate traditions and practices. Rome had long thought of itself as the leader of the other Patriarchates, though this is not always clear or shared by others.
Eventually Islam grew and Muslim rulers took over the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria, leaving the Church with Bishops in Constantinople and Rome. Thus... the stage is set for a clash of power.
Some distinct differences that led up to the Great Schism between the East and the West, drawn from the New World Encyclopedia:
- The Filioque—Traditionally, the Nicene Creed spoke of the Holy Spirit "proceeding" from the Father only, but the Western Church began using the filioque clause—"and the Son"—an innovation rejected by the East and later declared by the Orthodox Church to be a heresy.
- Iconoclasm—The Eastern Emperor outlawed the veneration of icons, which was accepted by some and resisted by others in the East. Rome firmly objected to this policy.
- Jurisdiction—Disputes in the Balkans, Southern Italy, and Sicily over whether the Western or Eastern Church had jurisdiction.
- Authority and Power—Disputes over whether the Patriarch of Rome, the Pope, should be considered a higher authority than the other Patriarchs, or whether he should be considered merely primus inter pares, "the first among equals." Rome objected to the Patriarch of Constantinople calling himself the Ecumenical Patriarch, which Rome felt insinuated his leadership of all Patriarchates.
- Ceasaropapism - initially the Emperor of Byzantium was in Constantinople and exercized heavy influence over the Church, which Rome objected to. This is ironic because eventually Constantinople fell and the Church became counter-cultural in the East, whereas in Rome the Church became THE political power and became deeply entertwined with the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages.
- Liturgical practices—The East objected to Western changes in the liturgy, such as the Western Athanasian Creed, with its use of the filioque.
- Clerical celibacy—The practice of celibacy began to be required for all clergy in the West, as opposed to the Eastern discipline whereby parish priests could be married if their marriage had taken place when they were still laymen.
Eventually, the underlying tension came out into the open as the Bishop of Rome (now known as the Pope) demanded that the Bishop of Constantinople recognize Rome as the head of all of the Church, and the Bishop of Constantinople (now known as the Patriarch) refused. In fits of anger and resentment, both Bishops excommunicated the other, and so in 1054 the Church ceased interacting as a single body. Thus... the Great Schism.
So. How do we perceive this? There are side issues involved, but the real core is that Rome wanted authoritative supremacy and Constantinople wouldn't give it. It comes down to ecclesiology. Rome believes that authority was given by Jesus to Peter to rule the Church, and Peter as the first Bishop passed his authority from Bishop to Bishop (which eventually became known as Pope in Rome). Constantinople, on the other hand, believes that all of the Bishops are ontological equals, and the Bishop of Rome is merely the "first among equals". To give full authority of the whole church to one man was not okay with them.
Okay. I have to be honest and say that as I read history, the claims of the Bishop of Rome do not sound reasonable. If Peter was given the keys to rule the Church, why does Rome conclude that authority was passed directly to Rome, despite the fact that Peter also started the Church in Antioch and Jerusalem? If the church should have one supreme leader, why not have it be the Bishop of Antioch? To me, it doesn't make sense - and it hints at a hunger for power.
Perhaps it's just that I'm an American and I have that "balance of power" idea built into me, so the Eastern Orthodox idea of "first among equals" sounds much better than the supreme authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
There's also the filioque clause, which was the theological disagreement that sort of was the straw that broke the camel's back and began the final separation. The Pope decided to insert a new clause into the Nicene Creed. He changed it from "The Holy Spirit... who proceeds from the Father" to " the Holy Spirit... who proceeds from the Father and the Son." It's a small or large point, depending on how you look at it. The Eastern Orthodox have never accepted this change, and although it seems to be a fuzzy line, I find it rather difficult to argue with the Eastern position, considering it is nearly a direct quote from John 15:26.
The Fourth Crusade
In any case, my discomfort with the demands of the Pope that caused the Great Schism are sort of exacerbated by the actions of Rome following the Schism. Although the East and the West were officially separated in 1054, they were still thrown together as Christian people and lands against the massive threat of Islam. There were friendly relations between the two Churches, they simply existed as two separate bodies and reunion attempts were made several tiems. What is really horrifying is what happened in the Fourth Crusade. Generally the Crusades were seen as a broadly "Christian" project (of course, very misguided). During the Fourth Crusade the troops recruited by the Pope planned to invade Jerusalem but instead (without the Pope's instructions) switched tracks and sacked Constantinople.
Did you hear that? Western Christians sacked the capitol city and center of the church of their allies. When I was marveling over this to Isaac he said that it would be like American troops heading to Europe in WWII to help fight the Germans, and instead sacking and taking over London. Just horrible, unthinkable violence. What had been separate churches with friendly relations and and attempts for reunification became two enemy churches with deep grievances between them.
It's such a shame. These are the words of the Pope during the ill-fated Fourth Crusade, Innocent III.
"How, indeed, will the church of the Greeks...return into ecclesiastical union and to a devotion for the Apostolic See, when she has seen in the Latins only an example of perdition and the works of darkness, so that she now, and with reason, detests the Latins more than dogs? As for those who were supposed to be seeking the ends of Jesus Christ, not their own ends, who made their swords, which they were supposed to use against the pagans, drip with Christian blood, they have spared neither religion, nor age, nor sex. They have committed incest, adultery, and fornication before the eyes of men. They have exposed both matrons and virgins, even those dedicated to God, to the sordid lusts of boys. Not satisfied with breaking open the imperial treasury and plundering the goods of princes and lesser men, they also laid their hands on the treasures of the churches and, what is more serious, on their very possessions. They have even ripped silver plates from the altars and have hacked them to pieces among themselves. They violated the holy places and have carried off crosses and relics."
So - ultimately after having looked at that history, I do not understand how the Catholic Church can claim to be the ONE holy apostolic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church has equal if not greater stake in this claim, at least from what I see.
Oh, and in defense of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II finally reestablished a line of communication with the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch and formally apologized for the Fourth Crusade.