The Great Schism

The Great Schism


The Great Schism was the significant event in Medieval History that split Europe into two halves, Eastern Europe and Western Europe. This giant split in Europe was in the making for awhile, as it was mostly caused by centuries of political and religious disagreements. Most of the religious disagreements originated from the two major Patriarchates; Constantinople in Eastern Europe and Rome in Western Europe. Some of the causes for the split where different liturgies, political differences and language barriers, as the East spoke Latin and the West spoke Greek. However, the major reason for the split had to do with the Pope’s authority.

In Europe, there were five Patriarchs who were bishops that held jurisdiction in Patriarchates. The city of Rome was the first Patriarchate that held the most influence out of the other Patriarchates because Rome’s patriarch was the Pope. Over time, Constantinople, one of the Christian Patriarchates, became grander than Rome and made claims that it was superior to Rome because of Constantinople’s political influence in Europe. Rome rebuked Constantinople by saying that Rome held more influence because the Apostle Peter, Prince of the Apostles, symbolically received the “Keys of Heaven” from Jesus and founded the first Christian Church in Rome. Whoever became Peter’s successor would symbolically receive the “Keys of Heaven” and the successors became known as the Popes. The Pope is the Patriarch of Rome, so Rome held the “Keys of Heaven”, which made them more influential.

Constantinople could not stand the fact that Rome, a city that had lost political power and significance over the centuries, was as influential over the other Patriarchates as it was. As a result, Constantinople began to despise the Pope’s authority because they were not being recognized for their political influence. Constantinople eventually started to ignore the Pope’s requests which started numerous events that would lead up to the split. The major event that caused the split was when Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 1043-1058 AD, shut down all of the Christian Churches in the East that were practicing Western liturgies. In response, the Pope sent Roman representatives to the East to reason with Michael, but the men ended up excommunicating Michael. The men probably did not know the consequences of their actions, but when the men excommunicated Michael they indirectly excommunicated everyone in Eastern Europe. Constantinople was shocked by this and retaliated by convincing the Byzantine Emperor and the other Eastern Patriarchates to religiously/politically split with Rome.

Ultimately, the Great Schism was the result of political and religious disagreements between the Patriarchates of Rome and Constantinople. The split resulted in Europe being divided religiously/politically and is still evident today. In modern times, Eastern European Christian Churches are not obliged to obey the Pope’s will. Therefore, one can see different liturgies between the orthodox Christians and unorthodox Christian Churches. Relations between the East and West have improved over the centuries, as there is now calm between the East and West.


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