The Orthodox Schism

By Raymond Taouk

The Orthodox church is the Body of Eastern Schismatics that separated them selves from the Catholic Church in the year 1054, which was brought about by what is today known as the Eastern Schism.

The schism itself however was due to a number of contributing factors such as Iconoclasts who sought the destruction of Catholic images and other issues such as that of the "Photian Schism" of Patriarch of Constantinople, in the ninth Century, but was finally consummated in the eleventh Century, by the ambition of Michael Cerularius, one of his successors, in 1054.

Schisms Prior to 1054

leading up to 1054 there were various events which took place only to eventualise in schism by the East. Yet, it is undeniably true that the West (and especially the Roman See) had a much more solid and consistent record of orthodoxy. For example, the Eastern Church split off from Rome and the Catholic Church on at least six occasions before 1054:

This adds up to 231 out of 500 years in schism (46% of the time)! In every case, Rome was on the right side of the debate in terms of what was later considered "orthodox" by both sides. Thus, the East clearly needed the West and the papacy and Rome in order to be ushered back to orthodoxy.

However to understand the events that lead up to the Schism of the East it must be understood that before Constantine had chosen Byzantium as his new capital ,the Episcopal see of that city depended upon the Metropolitan of Heraclea. But no sooner had that city received from the great emperor the title of "The second Rome, eldest and beloved daughter of the old Rome," (Constantine was referring to the Old Pagan Rome, which was the Center of the Roman Empire) than ambition arose in the hearts of its Bishops, proud of the favor which they enjoyed at Court and twisting to their advantage the third Canon of the first Council of Constantinople (381), which conferred upon the Bishop of Byzantium "the primacy of honor second to that of the Bishop of Rome," they did not wait long until they claimed to possess over the Eastern Church also the primacy of jurisdiction which had always belonged to the Roman Pontiffs. Claiming that Constantinople should b as exalted in ecclesiastical as it was in political matters.

Already in the fifth century, the Pope, St. Leo, who had occasion to protest against the usurpation of the rights of the Church of Rome, had said with much truth: "the presence of the Emperor may make a royal residence, but he cannot create an Apostolic See, divine things not being patterned after human concerns.

Nevertheless despite the ever-increasing ambition of the Bishops of Constantinople, the confirmation of every new Patriarch by the Poe continued, before and after Photius, to be considered, if not indispensable, at least of great importance for the newly-elected Bishop, to increase his prestige and as a proof of his orthodoxy. Thus Photius himself, though he had usurped the See of Constantinople, did not fail to send to Rome an embassy to request confirmation from Pope Nicholas I. The confirmation was, however, refused, and in a Roman Council the usurper was excommunicated. It was only after reconciliation, followed by a second excommunication, fulminated by Pope John VIII, that Photius threw away the mask and revealed himself for what he really was. Yet despite this the East and West continued to be united up to the time of Michael Cerularius, who renewed the claims previously put forth by Photius against the Roman Church, and who consummated the separation from the Church.

This final schism was the result of the clash of two powerful personalities, of Pope Leo IX and Michael Cerularius. In 1024 the Emperor had asked Pope John XIX for the recognition of the independence of the Church of Constantinople in her own sphere. This was refused since the Church of Christ is universal and the Popes being the Supreme Shepard has influence over the whole and not simply part of the Church (Matt 16:18, John 21:15-17). In 1053 Cerularius, fearing an alliance between the Emperor and Pope, which might result in the transfer of the Greek province in S. Italy from his jurisdiction, and perhaps in other infringements of his authority, decided upon schism. He ordered the closing of all churches of the Latin rite in Constantinople. In 1054, in spite of the Emperor’s efforts at mediation, the Roman legates at Constantinople excommunicated the patriarch. Cerularius anathematized them in reply and Schism was complete. However previous to this Pope Leo had already written to Michael Cerularius stating as follows:

“ . . . . You are said to have publicly condemned the Apostolic and Latin Church, without either a hearing or a conviction. And the Chief reason for this condemnation, which displays and unexampled presumption and an unbelievable effrontery, is that the Latin Church dares to celebrate the commemoration of the Lord’s passion with unleavened bread. What an unguarded accusation is this of yours, what an evil piece of arrogance! You place your mouth in heaven, while your tongue, going the world, strives with human arguments and conjectures to undermine and subvert the ancient faith . . .

….. In prejudging the case of the highest See, the see on which no judgment may be passed by any man, you have received the anathema from all the Fathers of all the venerable Councils.

….. As a hinge, remaining unmoved, opens and shuts a door, so Peter and his successors have an unfettered jurisdiction over the whole Church, since no one ought to interfere with their position, because the highest See is judged by none” – In Terra Pax hominibus, September 1053. Manzi, xix. 638 B sqq.

It has often been said that no great dogmatic differences separate the Orthodox people from the Church of Rome. We would like to believe this were true, however the reality reveals only the contrary. Unfortunately, heresy, modern unbelief, and irreligion has found its way among the Orthodox Eastern churches. The people themselves scarcely realize this. They do not understand the difference between schism and heresy. The great majority do not even realize that they should be united to the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ on earth. The teaching of the Orthodox Church denies the supremacy and infallibility of the Pope thus rejecting the monarchial structure of the Church (founded on Peter - Matt 16:18; Luke 22:31; John 21; 15-17), while claiming that their Patriarch is infallible also and that there is no single visible head of the Christian Church since they affirm the Church to be aristocratic (a body without a head is termed a monster!).

There is no unanimity or agreement in the teachings of the various Orthodox churches (some have adopted Calvinistic and Lutheran views) except, perhaps, they recognize the infallible authority of the first seven councils (all held in the East) since they claim that this is when the whole authoritative Church (the East and West) were united together. Yet on this same point we must clearly note the contradiction, as either the Church never had the power to clarify her teaching and if so then the Orthodox can not refer to the first seven councils, but only to Apostolic times; however if the Church had this power and has lost it; then you have a substantial change, which amounts to saying that the Church established by Christ has defected and no longer exists. Christ made it clear however that he would be with his Church "all days even to the consummation of the world" (Matt 28:20) and that the same gospel he proclaimed would be that proclaimed by his Apostles and their lawful successors (Matt 24:14 - "THIS GOSPEL" shall be preached in the whole world", and not another gospel). It suffices from this alone to show indeed that the Orthodox have not only become schismatics but have over time become heretics denying Catholic teachings which were well affirm for the first nine centuries in the Eastern Church. While they seem to hold that the bond of marriage is indissoluble, they allow divorce for marital infidelity and for other reasons which is contrary to the words of Christ " whosever shall put away his and marry another commits adultery with her" (Mark 10:11 see also Luke 16:18; Matt 5:32 ; 19:9).

It is clear from the Eastern Schism that these Churches (now called Orthodox) have placed themselves outside the Church instituted by Christ and have become almost no different to any other protestant sect for today they deny a number of Catholic doctrines (i.e. Purgatory, the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son) which were affirmed by their own Church fathers!

In fact this is one of the most evident signs of the Orthodox being in heresy, in that they deny the very truth's as found in the works of the Fathers and saints they claim to venerate and honor. What is more is that they often forget that the Roman See, with its bishop, the pope, was the supreme arbiter of orthodoxy in the early centuries of the Church. There is abundant historical evidence for this, but suffice it to say that even many of the East's most revered Church Fathers and Patriarchs sought refuge in Rome (theologically and/or geographically), for example: St. Athanasius (339 to 342), St. Basil the Great (371), St. John Chrysostom (404), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (430), and St. Flavian of Constantinople (449).The East all too frequently treated its greatest figures much like the ancient Jews did their prophets, often expelling and exiling them, while Rome welcomed them unambiguously, and restored them to office by the authority of papal or conciliar decree.

Many of these venerable saints (particularly St. John Chysostom), and other Eastern saints such as (most notably) St. Ephraim, St. Maximus the Confessor, and St. Theodore of Studios, also explicitly affirmed papal supremacy. The popes functioned as the "supreme court" of the Church, and they presided over (personally or through papal legates) and ratified the Ecumenical Councils of the Church.

The Schism of the East should not be so suprising if we considering the great number of Bishops and Priests of the Eastern Church which had fallen away from the faith by heresy prior to 1054. Let us just take a look at some of them:

A Chart of Heretical Eastern Patriarchs

Patriarchal See / Patriarch / Years / Heresy

Brief Summary:

These historical facts may be briefly summarized as follows: All three of the great Eastern sees were under the jurisdiction of heretical patriarchs simultaneously during five different periods: 357-60 (Arian), 475-77, 482-96, and 512-17 (all Monophysite), and 640-42 (Monothelite): a total of 26 years, or 9% of the time from 357 to 642. At least two out of three of the sees suffered under the yoke of a heterodox "shepherd" simultaneously for 112 years, or 33% of the period from 341 to 681 (or, two-thirds heretical for one-third of the time), and at least 248 of these same years saw one or more of the sees burdened with sub-orthodox ecclesiastical leaders: an astonishing 73% rate (277 years, or 53% from 190 to 715). Thus the East, as represented by its three greatest bishops, was at least one-third heretical for nearly three-quarters of the time over a 340-year span. If we examine each city separately, we find, for example, that between 475 and 675, the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch were outside the Catholic orthodox faith for 41%, 55%, and 58% of the time respectively. Furthermore, these deplorable conditions often manifested themselves for long, unbroken terms: Antioch and Alexandria were Monophysite for 49 and 63 straight years (542-91 and 475-538 respectively), while Constantinople, the seat of the Byzantine Empire and the "New Rome," was embroiled in the Monothelite heresy for 54 consecutive years (610-64). There were at least 42 heretical Patriarchs of these sees between 190 and 711.

Steadfastness of Rome

No such scandal occurred in Rome, where, as we have seen, heresy was vigilantly attacked by the popes and local Synods, and never took hold of the papacy (not even in the ubiquitous "hard cases" of Honorius, Vigilius, and Liberius - none having defined heretical doctrines infallibly for the entire Church to believe). Rome never succumbed to heresy. It experienced barbarian invasions, periodic moral decadence, a few weak or decadent popes, the Protestant Revolt, the "Enlightenment," Modernism, etc., but always survived and rejuvenated itself. Thus, Rome has far and away the most plausible claim for apostolic faithfulness, and its history is a striking confirmation of the Catholic claims.

The Robber Synod (449) and the Henoticon (482)

Furthermore, essentially the entire Eastern Church seriously missed the mark doctrinally on at least two occasions: the "Robber Synod" at Ephesus in 449, and in the signing of the Monophysite Henoticon of Emperor Zeno in 482. The record of heresy in the East, then, could scarcely be more sobering for those Orthodox polemicists who are deliberately and proudly anti-Catholic.

Cardinal Newman's - A Convert from Prostestantism gives an Analysis of 5th-Century Eastern Apostasy

John Henry Cardinal Newman commented on these two (thankfully temporary) massive Eastern apostasies, in a striking and eloquent passage from his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1878 ed., Part II, chap. 6, sec. 3;):

"Eutyches [a Monophysite] was supported by the Imperial Court, and by Dioscorus the Patriarch of Alexandria . . . A general Council was summoned for the ensuing summer at Ephesus [in 449] . . . It was attended by sixty metropolitans, ten from each of the great divisions of the East; the whole number of bishops assembled amounted to one hundred and thirty-five . . . St. Leo [the Great, Pope], dissatisfied with the measure altogether, nevertheless sent his legates, but with the object . . . of "condemning the heresy, and reinstating Eutyches if he retracted" . . .

The proceedings which followed were of so violent a character, that the Council has gone down to posterity under the name of the Latrocinium or "Gang of Robbers." Eutyches was honourably acquitted, and his doctrine received . . . which seems to have been the spontaneous act of the assembled Fathers. The proceedings ended by Dioscorus excommunicating the Pope, and the Emperor issuing an edict in approval of the decision of the Council . . .

The Council seems to have been unanimous, with the exception of the Pope's legates, in the restoration of Eutyches; a more complete decision can hardly be imagined. It is true the whole number of signatures now extant, one hundred and eight, may seem small out of a thousand, the number of Sees in the East; but the attendance of Councils always bore a representative character. The whole number of East and West was about eighteen hundred, yet the second Ecumenical Council was attended by only one hundred and fifty, which is but a twelfth part of the whole number; the Third Council by about two hundred, or a ninth; the Council of Nicaea itself numbered only three hundred and eighteen Bishops.

Moreover, when we look through the names subscribed to the Synodal decision, we find that the misbelief, or misapprehension, or weakness, to which this great offence must be attributed, was no local phenomenon, but the unanimous sin of Bishops in every patriarchate and of every school of the East. Three out of the four patriarchs were in favour of the heresiarch, the fourth being on his trial. Of these Domnus of Antioch and Juvenal of Jerusalem acquitted him, on the ground of his confessing the faith of Nicaea and Ephesus . . . Dioscorus . . . was on this occasion supported by those Churches which had so nobly stood by their patriarch Athanasius in the great Arian conflict. These three Patriarchs were supported by the Exarchs of Ephesus and Caesarea in Cappadocia; and both of these as well as Domnus and Juvenal, were supported in turn by their subordinate Metropolitans. Even the Sees under the influence of Constantinople, which was the remaining sixth division of the East, took part with Eutyches . . .

Such was the state of Eastern Christendom in the year 449; a heresy, appealing to the Fathers, to the Creed, and, above all, to Scripture, was by a general Council, professing to be Ecumenical, received as true in the person of its promulgator. If the East could determine a matter of faith independently of the West, certainly the Monophysite heresy was established as Apostolic truth in all its provinces from Macedonia to Egypt . . .

At length the Imperial Government, . . . came to the conclusion that the only way of restoring peace to the Church was to abandon the Council of Chalcedon. In the year 482 was published the famous Henoticon or Pacification of Zeno, in which the Emperor took upon himself to determine a matter of faith. The Henoticon declared that no symbol of faith but that of the Nicene Creed, commonly so called, should be received in the Churches; it anathematized the opposite heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches, and it was silent on the question of the "One" or "Two Natures" after the Incarnation . . . All the Eastern Bishops signed this Imperial formulary. But this unanimity of the East was purchased by a breach with the West; for the Popes cut off the communication between Greeks and Latins for thirty-five years . . .

Dreary and waste was the condition of the Church, and forlorn her prospects, at the period which we have been reviewing . . . There was but one spot in the whole of Christendom, one voice in the whole Episcopate, to which the faithful turned in hope in that miserable day. In the year 493, in the Pontificate of Gelasius, the whole of the East was in the hands of traitors to Chalcedon, and the whole of the West under the tyranny of the open enemies of Nicaea . . .

A formula which the Creed did not contain [Leo's Tome at the Council of Chalcedon in 451], which the Fathers did not unanimously witness, and which some eminent Saints had almost in set terms opposed, which the whole East refused as a symbol, not once, but twice, patriarch by patriarch, metropolitan by metropolitan, first by the mouth of above a hundred, then by the mouth of above six hundred of its Bishops, and refused upon the grounds of its being an addition to the Creed, was forced upon the Council . . . by the resolution of the Pope of the day, acting through his Legates and supported by the civil power. "


The return of the Schismatics to the faith is indeed something that Catholics have always worked toward. In fact some years after the Schism of 1054 a reconciliation was brought about and solemnly proclaimed at the Council of Florence, held in 1438 under the Pontificate of Eugenius IV; but the ill will of the clergy of Constantinople almost completely annulled the effect of this reunion. This Council shows us the clear dishonesty of the Eastern Schismatic clergy who freely signed the document of reconciliation only to later repudiate it. Yet despite this let us observe that the duty of a reunion of the Orthodox with the Catholic Church (as decreed and proclaimed by Ecumenical Council and recognized by the Orthodox as legitimate), still remains today.

No later Council having abrogated or modified this solemn act, spontaneously signed by all, it still preserves its legal canonical force; consequently, in the eyes of every enlightened and sincere Greek, the Sovereign Pontiff, successor of Peter, ought to be acknowledged as the lawful and Supreme Head of the Eastern as well as the Western Church.