The split of 1054 between the Orthodox and Catholics

There is a long history leading up to the split of 1054, including the Filioque. The split of 1054 was not an isolated event, but kind of like the final split in a marriage that had become bad. We'll try to explain our perspective on the Catholic Orthodox split, having witnessed many bad marriages in my attempts to help Christian families. In Catholic theology we call a family, the "Domestic Church." It is a microcosm of the greater whole, and a model upon which the Church was built.

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands ... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:23-25)

But what happens if the husband acts in a way that is not becoming of his God-given role? What if he dominates too much? What happens if the wife is constantly seeking to usurp the God given authority of the husband? Then dysfunction results.

This might be a model of the marriage between east and west in the Church. The proclamation of Jesus to Peter is not unlike the proclamation of St. Paul to husbands. As a Catholic, it is difficult to affirm that Christ has appointed the Bishop of Rome to the very specific tasks of shepherding the flock and feeding the sheep (Jn 21:15). It is kind of like when God appointed the husband in a marriage to a very specific role of leading the household. (Eph 5:21-25)

Our modern minds would be much more comfortable if God had made marriages with no one as the head, and made the Church with no one as the head. But we choose to yield to his will, which ultimately will bring about much greater good than my modern ideas of equity and power sharing, which are partially responsible for the skyrocketing divorce rates. We pray for healing of the Church, just as we pray for the healing of the institution of modern marriages and families.

Here is the joint Catholic-Orthodox declaration, approved by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople. The declaration concerns the Catholic-Orthodox exchange of excommunications in 1054.

Among the obstacles along the road of the development of these fraternal relations of confidence and esteem, there is the memory of the decisions, actions and painful incidents which in 1054 resulted in the sentence of excommunication leveled against the Patriarch Michael Cerularius and two other persons by the legate of the Roman See under the leadership of Cardinal Humbertus, legates who then became the object of a similar sentence pronounced by the patriarch and the Synod of Constantinople.

Thus it is important to recognize the excesses which accompanied them and later led to consequences which, insofar as we can judge, went much further than their authors had intended and foreseen. They had directed their censures against the persons concerned and not the Churches. These censures were not intended to break ecclesiastical communion between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople.

What happened?

The excommunication of Cerularius

The Crusades began in the 1090’s, which was 40 years after the Orthodox desecrated the latin Eucharist and holy books (because they were in Latin rather than Greek). The Byzantine patriarch attacked the Latin churches in Constantinople - Latin-speaking churches which existed since the time of Constantine; and he declared that their Eucharist was invalid because the Romans use unleven (rather than leven) bread -- something that the Western Church (along with the Armenian Church) had always done since the time of the Apostles (Jesus Himself used unleven bread at the Last Supper, since it was a Passover feast and there would not have been any leven bread in Jerusalem at the time). But, the Eastern Patriarch Cerularius tried to force the Byzantine rite on the Romans living in the Eastern Empire. So, he took armed soldiers into the Latin churches in Constantinople, and had them open the Tabernacles and throw the consecreated Eucharist in the streets. This is a historical fact. It is discussed by both Kallistos Ware and by Meyendorff in their books. This is why Rome (a church which continued to permit and encourage Byzantine worship in its own city) served Cerularius with a bull of excommunication in 1054. Cerularius did this because the Franks who were vassals of the Roman Empire were gaining political power in the Balkans and so the Emperor and Patriarch wanted to brand them as heretics and thus reject their authority in the Balkans.   

Why did they excommunicate Cerularius in the middle of a Church service?

We got an email that said:

Did you know that when the Pope of Rome “excommunicated” the Patriarch he did it during a Church service?  He sent someone into the Church and slapped the paper down onto the altar.

That was over the top, an unecessary attempt to disgrace him for disgracing Christ in the Latin Eucharist.

Orthodox bishop Kallistos (formerly Timothy Ware) writes, that the choice of cardinal Humbert was unfortunate, for both he and Patriarch Michael I were men of stiff and intransigent temper... After [an initial, unfriendly encounter] the patriarch refused to have further dealings with the legates. Eventually Humbert lost patience, and laid a bull of excommunication against Patriarch Michael I on the altar of the Church of the Holy. (

The person this email is referring to, Cardinal Humbert, did this of his own accord after the Pope he answered to was dead. So, technically speaking, the Pope didn’t send him to do it, although he did authorize the excommunication if Patriarch Michael Cerularius refused to repent for throwing the Eucharist in the street!  Perhaps one reason was to show that an excommunicated bishop should not serve Mass. Cerularius defiled Christ in the Eucharist which is the worst thing anyone can do. (Hugh adds "We should know because, we are currently chasing down a YouTube guy who is publicly defiling the Eucharist and it is extrememly serious with the police involved.")

Cerularius died in isolation from the Church because he desecrated the Eucharist. He was (and died) a public sinner. Matt 18:17-18 applies to the situation. 

Cerularius claimed that no Eucharist that uses unleven bread is a true Eucharist. If this is so, then no Eucharist ever offered in the Western Church, or in Armenia, or the Last Supper itself, (which was a Passover feast, where only unleven bread was available) was ever a true Eucharist.

Did Rome have the right to excommunicate Cerularius?

We got an email that said:

Truth of this is- Rome had no right to [excommunicate Cerularius].

The question about whether Rome should have excommunicated Cerularius is a good one. Pope Paul VI thought not, given the choice of words for the mutual 1965 statement. We don't think an excummunication should have happened. There probably was a better way to handle the mess. However, the question about whether the Pope had the right to do it is an entirely different matter, because it calls into question the right of Rome to intervene in matters of extreme importance to the entire Church. It also challenges the primacy of the seat of Peter.

The Byzantine fathers affirm that Rome has the right and the duty to excommunicate heretics and schismatics. For example, St. Maximos the Confessor writes:

"If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus also anathematizes the See of Rome, that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church.  I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he is in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God ...Let him hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See, for if it is satisfied, all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox.  For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to pursuade or entrap persons like myself, and does not satisfy and implore the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which is from the incarnate of the Son of God Himself, and also all the holy synods, accodring to the holy canons and definitions has received universal and surpreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God throughout the whole world."  (Maximus, Letter to Peter, in Mansi x, 692). 

This is a Byzantine forefather –a SAINT of the Orthodox Church.  

It was not Rome’s authority to do so, he had not the office to be able to excommunicate. It is as unlawful  and silly as if a child were to cast his parents out of their own house.

The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, where over 500 Eastern bishops address Pope Leo the Great and declare:

 “Knowing that every success of the children rebounds to the parents, we therefore beg you to honor our decision by your assent, and as we have yielded agreement to the Head in noble things, so may the Head (Pope) also fulfill what is fitting for the children (other bishops)." --Chalcedon to Pope Leo, Ep. 98.

"Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod together with the thrice-blessed and all-glorious Peter the Apostle, who is the Rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, hath stripped him (i.e., PATRIARCH Dioscorus of Alexandria) of his episcopate, and hath alienated from him all hieratic worthiness" --Acts of Chalcedon, Session 3. 

According to the Ecumenical Council of Chalecedon, a Pope of Rome has the right and the power to excommunicate a patriarch (in this case, the Patriarch of Alexandria). So, the position that there was no right of excumminication is not only at odds with the fathers, but with the formal decree of an ECUMENICAL COUNCIL (Chalcedon), which recognizes the Pope of Rome’s authority to excommunicate a patriarch. This same canon of Chalcedon also says that Peter is the Rock of the Church. The idea of no right to excommunication is at odds with the fathers of this Ecumenical Council that Eastern Orthodoxy claims to accept and to be bound by.  

Was the excommunication against the whole Eastern Church?

Rome excommunicated Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople and all of his immediate clergy. It did not excommunicate the emperor, or the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, or Jerusalem, or the bishops of any of the other Eastern churches (especially not in the Slavonic north or Russia). Nor did the Slavs or any of the other patriarchs ever excommunicate Rome. So, strictly speaking, Romans are still technically in communion with most of the Eastern Orthodox Church. And this is especially true because we formally healed the schism at Lyon II in 1274 and at Ferrara-Florence in 1439. Our present schism dates from 1472, when the Greeks renounced the union of Ferraea-Florence -- something the Slavic Churches never formally did. Also, in 1965, Patriarch Atheneagorus of Constantinople and Pope Paul VI nullified the excommunications from 1472, which means that Romans are now technically in communion with Constantinople itself though most Greeks do not recognize this. But, technically, there is no reason why we should not be in full communion today. 

Wasn't Rome left alone after all the other Churches split

Our Orthodox friend continues:

And finally after many sad and heartbreaking arguments and decisions, the Church split in half: "The Great Schism occurred in 1054 A.D. which separated the Christian Church into two parts, the Western Church known as the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Church known as the Orthodox Church. The Roman Patriarch (Pope) headed the Western Roman Catholic Church. The other four Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople headed the Eastern Orthodox Church."

It was not really a 4 to 1 split. It was rather a 1 to 1 split -- a split between Constantinople and Rome alone. The patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem at this time were not the native bishops of these places, but rather Byzantine Greeks who were appointed by the Emperor of Constantinople. So, it was not like they had the freedom or incentive to remain in communion with Rome on their own. Rather, they followed the lead of the Patriarch of Constantinople and did whatever he said to do. They were not autocephalous patriarchs as they were in earlier centuries. In 1054, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria were Muslims cities; and the Christian communities there were (a) very tiny and (b) composed almost entirely of Byzantine Greeks who were vassals of Constantinople.     

Wasn't the Protestant split the fault of the Catholics the same as in 1054?

Our Orthodox friend continues:

Later, as you also know, people grew unhappy with the Catholic Church and a reform led by Martin Luther occurred

It's true we had some bad Popes around that time. But it was not really a reform, but an introduction of novel heresy at the hands of what we today would call a bunch of liberal university professors. Luther would never have succeeded if he was not backed by Prince Frederick of Saxony, who liked Luther's anti-Papal ideas because they served to undermine Prince Frederick's obligations to the King of Germany, who was also the Holy Roman Emperor. For, the authority to be Holy Roman Emperor came from the Pope (who had to crown him), and if Christ did not recognize a Papacy (as Luther said) then the Holy Roman Emperor / King of Germany had no authority over Prince Frederick to ask for taxes from him, and so Frederick could rule Saxony as he pleased. And many other German princes followed Frederick's example to gain their political independence from the German king as well, and THIS is how northern Germany (along with Sweden and Norway) became Lutheran. It was not the common people's idea. And the same is true of Protestant England. The common people in all these places wanted to remain Catholic, but were forced by law to become Protestants. Dr. Eamon Duffy, for example, has written an excellent and very well documented book about the Protestant take-over of England called "The Stipping of the Altars," which illustrates in great detail how the common people tried their best to remain Catholic.


We pray that we can come into unity once again. We are encouraged that this century has seen better cooperation than in many centuries.

Charis kai eirene / Slava Isusu Christu!

This article was written by Mark Bonocore and Hugh, of CatholicBridge.