Academic Papers,  Catholic Theology,  History

The Great Schism of 1054

The Great Schism of 1054 was of a long time in the making. For one the language used was different, as well the culture and beliefs of both sides. The one way that they were alike, is that they were unmovable when they believed that they were right.

By the 7th century the official language of the Byzantine Empire was Greek, were as Latin was the primary language of Western Europe. The differences in language led to many misunderstandings, as well as difficulties. When the Normans invaded parts of Southern Italy in 1040s, they “replaced Greek bishops with Latin ones. People were confused, and they argued about the proper form of the liturgy and other external matters”[1]. When Cerularius heard what the Normans were doing, he retaliated by shutting down the Latin Churches.[2]

The Roman Church was intolerant of the idea of using any language, but Latin for religious purposes. And the Byzantine Church was headstrong in the idea that the Patriarchs should independently control their areas, that the pope should not have administrative control over the whole Christian Church, just that of his area. As neither side was willing to give up what it thought was right, discussions became heated, which caused the final break in 1054 with Pope Leo IX and Cerularius excommunicating each other.

There were many issues involving doctrine that separated the East from the West. The West taught that the priests were not to marry, the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist and that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son. The Orthadox Churches allows their priests to marry, the use of leavened bread for the Eucharist, and that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father. The first two were minor disagreements, however, the West incorporating the word Filioque, meaning “and from the son”, into the Nicaean-Constantinople Creed was considered unforgiveable.[3]

The final breaking point between the two sides was the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The Fourth Crusade was called by Pope Innocent III to free Jerusalem from Muslim control. At this time the current Emperor, Isaac II, was removed from the throne by his elder brother, Alexios III. Isaac was blinded, and was imprisoned with his son Alexios Angelos. Alexios III eventually let his nephew go, who in turn fled Constantinople to the West. Alexios Angelos tried in vain to get Pope Innocent III to help him regain his throne, so he set off to beseech the leaders of the Fourth Crusade for assistance. The leaders of the Crusades were having financial difficulties in securing passage to Egypt. The amount that was agreed upon was 85.000 marks, yet when the army arrived in Venice they were short 3.,000 marks. The Venetians allowed the Crusaders to postpone payment if they assist in reclaiming the town Zara. At this point Alexios Angelos arrived with a way to solve the Crusaders financial problems, assist him in placing his father back on the throne of the Byzantine Empire, and he will provide 200.000 silver marks and supplies for the army. The leaders of the Crusade agreed to the conditions and in August of 1203, Isaac III was placed back on the throne, and Alexios Angelos was crowned as co-emperor, Alexios IX Angelos. However, Alexios IX defaulted on his promise, as he had ran out of money. The leaders of the Crusades demanded that he hold to his promise made at Zara. Thus on April 13, 1204, after many refusals to honor the original agreement, the Crusaders attacked and looted Constantinople.[4]

The Fourth Crusade did effectively cut the Church into two distance groups and made it all but impossible the reunite the East with the West, however it was not the cause of the Great Schism. Instead it was a lack of communication, and arrogance on both parties, that caused the eventual Schism between the two. The Great Schism was a forgone conclusion when the two sides would not accept that the other, though different, may be right. It has taken almost 800 years to begin to close the gulf between the Roman and Orthodox Churches.




Dennis, George T. “1054 The East-West Schism.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Accessed July 20, 2018.

“East-West Schism.” The Great Schism. Accessed July 20, 2018.

Kerrinckx, Hans. “The Eastern Roman Empire and the Crusades (1050 – 1204). (Essay).” LinkedIn. March 21, 2016. Accessed July 20, 2018.

Stefon, Matt, and Ernst Wilhelm Benz. “Christianity.” Encyclopædia Britannica. July 13, 2018. Accessed July 20, 2018.


[1] George T. Dennis, “1054 The East-West Schism,” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, , accessed July 20, 2018,

[2] Ibid.

[3] “East-West Schism,” The Great Schism, , accessed July 20, 2018,; Hans Kerrinckx, “The Eastern Roman Empire and the Crusades (1050 – 1204). (Essay).,” LinkedIn, March 21, 2016, , accessed July 20, 2018,

[4] Hans Kerrinckx, “The Eastern Roman Empire and the Crusades (1050 – 1204). (Essay).,” LinkedIn, March 21, 2016, , accessed July 20, 2018,

Frances Lejeune is a student at Catholic Distance University and is a Theology Major. She is expected to receive her Associates June of 2019. She also writes about day to day life about living with depression, anxiety and loss.

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