Why 1054? Dating the Schism for the Church of Constantinople

To the best of my knowledge, no serious historian or theologian working over the last century has been willing to date a definitive schism between the current Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches to the year 1054. This raises some obvious questions: what marks a schism in the first place? When did such a division occur between these two ecclesial bodies? And the topic partially addressed in this blog post: how did the year 1054 rise to such prominence that it appears in virtually every high school-level world history textbook in the present day?

It might be helpful to clarify what happened during the Latin legation to Constantinople in 1054. After a mutually unsatisfactory meeting and some debates over issues of liturgical and church disciplinary practice, the Latin legates excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Keroularios, but the expressly excluded the Eastern Roman emperor at the time, Constantine X Monomachos, as well as the city in general, from this breach in communion [1]. Patriarch Michael responded by convening a council to excommunicate the legates personally, but he took great pains to avoid condemning the bishop of Rome, on the grounds that the legates were imposters who hadn’t been sent by the pope at all. Still less was the whole of the Latin Church implicated in the Greek conciliar statement. It is abundantly clear from the surviving documents that no general division between the eastern and western halves of Chalcedonian Christianity was intended in the exchange of the excommunications, and there is no evidence from the time of the event itself that any such division was achieved.

This is confirmed by sources and events in the years immediately following 1054. In the immediate aftermath, Patriarch Michael Keroularios dispatched letters to the other eastern patriarchs complaining about the legates and about Latin liturgical and ritual practices, but he does so without any notion of a break in communion with the whole of western Christianity.  The encomium of Michael Psellos for Keroularios, who died in 1059, praises the late Patriarch’s resistance to the legates. Psellos, ever philosophically-minded, focused on the question of the filioque, which was, in fact, one of the issues least discussed by the respective parties in 1054 itself (rather, they were concerned with whether bread for the Eucharist should be leavened, whether priests could be married, etc.). While admitting that Old and New Rome were in disagreement, and that the Roman position was “impious,” there is again no indication of a formal split in communion [2]. In another example a few years later, this time primarily from Latin sources concerning the great pilgrimage of Gunther of Bamberg, we are told that the Greeks were excessively proud in their dealings with the pilgrims (not an uncommon complaint), but not that they considered each other to be heretics or schismatics [3].

Michael Keroularios
Enthronement of Michael Kerularios, from the Madrid Skylitzes, Biblioteca Nacional de España, fol. 225r
Unknown, 13th-century author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

So, then, why the significance of this date? If not in the first-hand accounts, was any significance ascribed to the year 1054 in the works of later theologians and polemicists? I am preceded in this examination by an especially helpful article by Tia Kolbaba, a Byzantinist working at Rutgers, who examined twelfth-century sources with the expectation that the increased political tension between the Latin kingdoms and the Eastern Empire would evoke the historical example of Michael Keroularios in the theological literature [4]. Her conclusion is surprising: she was able to find no firmly-datable sources that considered the role of Michael Keroularios in the schism at all, and only a handful of short texts plausibly belonging to the twelfth century that mention him in passing. In the latter group, there is an interpolation in the history of Scylitzes, a single text in Vat. grec. 2198, a paragraph attributed to a certain Nicetas the Chartophylax, and a handful of anonymous texts collected by Hergenröther. This last item, edited under the collective title “Opuscula de origine schismatis,” is the most substantial of these, and even these short texts mention the role of Keroularios in conflicting terms and only in passing, at the end of rather confused accounts about the supposed errors of the Church of Rome [5].

In virtually all of these texts, the cause of the schism (which is fully recognized by the twelfth century) is attributed to the Latins’ mistaken Trinitarian theology, and specifically the question of the filioque. Although it does get mentioned, much less attention is given to the question of (un)leavened bread, a complete reversal of the 1054 conflict in which ritual questions were given pride of place. This change of emphasis leads most, if not all, of these later commentators to draw upon source material from an earlier rupture between Rome and Constantinople: the ninth-century Patriarch Photios, although he did eventually restore communion with the See of Rome, left behind substantial writings and a strong tradition of critiquing the Latin position, especially in terms of its Trinitarian theology. And it is primarily to Photios, rather than to Keroularios, that later Greek church historians and polemicists turned.

And finally, it appears that this interpretation persisted into the early modern period, even among Greek clergy sympathetic to the Roman position. John Plousiadenos, a fifteenth-century Cretan Byzantine-rite priest in union with the Church of Rome, appears content to attribute the fundamental basis of the schism to Photios, whom he described as “the very maker and the demiurge of the schism and the division” [6]. Charles Yost, a fellow graduate of the Medieval Institute, pointed out in his 2019 dissertation that the historiography of Plousiadenos concerning the schism, as well as that of other high-profile Greek churchmen of his time, was rather garbled, with different authors presenting conflicting accounts of whether Photios, for example, was ever personally restored to communion with Rome. In nearly all accounts, however, Keroularios is conspicuous by his absence: Plousiadenos says nothing about him at all, and Manuel Kalekas, another unionist, downplays his role [7]. At the end of the Middle Ages, then, the Great Schism, to the extent that the Greeks were willing to date it at all, happened in the ninth century, and the examples of intercommunion in the centuries following were, ultimately, just failed attempts at reunion.

So where does this leave our starting question, and can we trace any part of the modern prominence given to the date 1054 to the Constantinopolitan/Greek historical or theological tradition? I think that the answer is no. None of the Greek sources following the events themselves are willing to date a definitive schism to that year. At most, the actions of Michael Keroularios are a (small) episode in a series of conflicts with the Church of Rome that began at least two centuries earlier. Otherwise, his name and his role are omitted entirely from the discourse of later commentors. I have found nothing akin to the modern celebrity given the 1054 conflict until the writings of the Athonite Kollyvades fathers around the turn of the nineteenth century. Other than that, it only within the Latin medieval tradition that we can possibly find a substantial reception of 1054. And these both are very much topics for separate posts.

Nick Kamas
PhD in Medieval Studies
University of Notre Dame

[1] The best edition for the documents cited here in relation to the 1054 legation remains Cornelius Will, ed., Acta et Scripta quae de controversiis ecclesiae graecae et latinae saeculo undecimo composita extant (Leipzig: N. G. Elwert, 1861).

[2] K. N. Sathas, ed., Μεσαιωνική Βιβλιοθήκη Δ‘ (Athens: Koromela, 1874), 348. “Στασιάζει πρὸς τὴν νεωτέραν Ρώμην ἡ πρεσβυτέρα, οὐ περὶ μικρῶν οὐδὲ παρορᾶσθαι ἀξίων, ἀλλὰ περὶ τοῦ πρώτου λόγου τῆς εὐσεβείας, καὶ τῆς περὶ τῆν ἁγίαν τριάδα θεολογίας […].”

[3] Annales Altahenses maiores, ed. altera, ed. E. L. B. von Oefele, MGH SS Rer. Germ. 4 (Hannover: impensis bibliopolii Hahniani, 1891), 67. “Constantinopolitanos vidimus [Latini episcopi] graece et imperialiter arrogantes.”

[4] Tia Kolbaba, “The Legacy of Humbert and Cerularius: The Tradition of the ‘Schism of 1054’ in Byzantine Texts and Manuscripts of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries,” in Porphyrogenita: Essays on the History and Literature of Byzantium and the Latin East in Honour of Julian Chrysostomides” (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), 47-61.

[5] “Opuscula de origine schismatis,” ed. J. Hergenröther in Monumenta graeca ad Photium ejusque historiam pertinentia, (Regensburg: G.J. Manz, 1869). The first of these texts is unusual in reporting (inaccurately) that Michael Keroularios excommunicated the whole of the Latin church (p. 163), but this is corrected by the second text, which follows Keroularios’s own account that Latin legation had been tampered with for political ends (p. 170). The third text does not mention him at all.

[6] Charles Yost, “The Thought and Ministry of a ‘Unionist Priest’ (ἙΝΩΤΙΚῸΣ ἹΕΡΕΎΣ): John Plousiadenos (†1500), the Council of Florence, and the Tradition of Byzantine Unionism” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Notre Dame, 2019), 649, esp. n. 480.

[7] Ibid., pp. 672, 674.

Bigger House: Cost of Living and Medieval Byzantium

Cost of living is a pressing issue faced by many people today. Inflation, gas prices, and housing costs all impact our quality of life. Recently these pressures have encouraged many people to move to areas where they hope to find better conditions. Large cities offer many conveniences. However, one’s home will not only be quite expensive, but also quite small. For the cost of a one bedroom condo in San Francisco, one could purchase a large house with a yard here in South Bend. Where one lives has a significant effect on the home they can have. This relationship between house size and location is not unique to today.

Those living in medieval Byzantium could not consult home listings from across the Empire. Nor was the freedom of movement that we have today in existence in the Middle Ages. However, there still existed significant variation in the size of village houses across regions. Villagers may not have simply been able to decide to move to an area that would provide their family with a larger house or greater resources, but clear differences in housing are preserved in the archaeological record.

Looking at the villages of the Byzantine Empire provides us with a fascinating glimpse of how location affected the houses of everyday people. Movement by villagers was restricted within Byzantium, but it did occur regularly. Most often this movement was spurred by necessity and not personal choice. After all, there was no simple way to compare houses from Anatolia and the Peloponnese. Further, the greatest impact on village houses was not the amount of money one could pay for them. The materials used to construct the house and local topography were the most significant factors. Most frequently, village houses were built by those who lived within them.

The physical location of one’s house would have a significant impact on its overall size. Often village houses were constructed on the slopes of hills or mountains. The steeper the incline, the smaller the house would be. Houses were most often rectangular in form and built perpendicular with the slope with the long sides of the house descending down slope. The short wall connecting these sides at the bottom of the slope served not just as a kind of retaining wall for the building, but needed to have a rather significant height in order to make a level platform for the second floor that was frequently included. If the incline on which the house was constructed was quite significant, this would limit the length that the house could be.

Holger Uwe Schmitt, The Byzantine ruined city of Mystras

For example, if the elevation along the slope changed by 5 meters after a 10 meter distance, then a house with 10 meter long walls would require a 5 meter high wall at the bottom in order to make a level area for second floor. That would be quite significant, and in some cases might be impossible to construct. Further, the short wall would need to be even higher to accommodate the height of the second floor and support the roof. A shorter house than would be required on the slope.

 Examples of how incline affects house size in the Byzantine village are found in the Mani peninsula. The Mani is the southernmost region of the Greek Peloponnese. The houses of the Byzantine village of Marathos are built along a steep mountainside. For the village of Sarania, the houses are built on a modest hill. While the houses of Marathos belong to a village that by all appearances had a longer and more prosperous life than Sarania, the houses here are generally smaller. In their original form, houses at Sarania are more than 10 m2 larger on average than houses at Marathos. Economic status of the settlements was not the determining factor in the size of the homes. Rather, it was topography that played the more significant role.

Camster, Modern village of Vathia in the Mani

In addition to their local topography, the physical material that houses were made from would impact their size as well. The houses of the Mani were built in the “megalithic” style. Large, roughly cut blocks of local limestone formed the walls of the house. Stone was even used to span the houses, forming support for additional floors or the roof. The use of stone for this purpose would limit the width of the village house. In theory, one could make their house as long as they wanted, but it would still be relatively narrow. Materials would limit size.

Moving across Byzantium to Cappadocia in central Anatolia, modern Turkey, we come to one of the most unique landscapes in the medieval world. Here, houses, churches, monasteries, and more are all carved into the volcanic rock of the region. Carving one’s house from stone would seemingly provide less limitations on the overall form and size. Building material did not need to be acquired and the physical limitations of built architecture were absent. There were other factors to consider however. While the volcanic stone of the region is considered soft as far as rock goes, it requires specialized tools and labor to carve. Different limitations then were placed on the houses of villagers here. It was not the building material that constrained the size of the houses, but the labor one could employ.

W. Bulach, Rock Carved settlement near Göreme in Cappadocia, Turkey

One can only imagine the thoughts that would go through the mind of a Byzantine villager who was able to observe the variation in housing within the Empire. How struck would they be by the different size of houses in one region compared to another? Would the rock carved homes of Cappadocia appear familiar or strange? Just as in the United States individuals working similar jobs can afford much different houses depending on their location, the housing of Byzantine villagers may be affected by similar dynamics. Other differences exist of course. Today, individuals working the same job may be paid differently based on where they live. However, anyone that has looked at house prices in the past year would see that these differences in pay are not proportional to the difference in the cost of housing. Villagers in one region of Byzantium may have had a better quality of life than those in another. The richness of Byzantine housing provides an important insight into these elements of daily life that reflect similarities of our experiences today.  

Mark James Pawlowski
Byzantine Studies Post-Doc
Medieval Institute
University of Notre Dame

Further Reading:

Pawlowski, Mark James. “Housing and the Village Landscape in the Byzantine Mani,” PhD Diss. (UCLA, 2019)

Ousterhout, Robert. Visualizing Community, Art, Material Culture, and Settlement in Byzantine Cappadocia (Washington D.C., 2017).

Bouras, C. 1983. Houses in Byzantium. Δελτίον τῆς Xριστιανικῆς ἀρχαιολογικῆς ἐταιρείας 11: 1-26

“To Hell or Heaven with the Greeks”: Common Apocalyptic Beliefs Between the Turks and the Greeks in the Late Middle Ages

        The expansion of the Oghuz Turks towards the Levant region in the early to mid- 11th century had crucial importance not only for the Middle eastern region but also world politics. The expansion of the Turkish political dominance in the region culminated in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 which paved the way for various Turkish-speaking groups to migrate to Anatolia in the hopes of finding a new financial resource for their nomadic economic structure. The Turks conquereed to the region by the force of arms; however, as time passed, they began to adapt to the cultural, ecologic, politic and socio-economic realities of their new homelands. Their close interactions with the neighboring communities not only reshaped their physical appearances, economic structures, administrative and bureaucratic practices but also introduced them to new spiritual and religious beliefs. Contemporary scholarship in the area of interfaith and several cross-cultural studies have recently demonstrated how the Turks actually borrowed eschatological ideas and notions with respect to the end of the world and the developments that are expected to take place prior to this cataclysmic event.  

        Although interfaith and cultural exchange began taking place between the Greeks and Turks immediately after 1071 (and perhaps even before then), I would argue these interactions noticeably increased alongside the Turkish political expansion towards western Anatolia and Thrace especially after the late 1200s and early 1300s. The missionary activities of Turkish holy men and the tolerant attitudes of the state officials in these Turkish-controlled regions created an environment for Christians and Muslims to discuss various spiritual matters and learn more about each other’s faiths. In fact, one of the most influential Orthodox clerics, Gregory Palamas, was invited by the Ottoman court to converse about religion with a Muslim spiritual figure in the 1340s. Referring to several striking similarities between the Jesus Prayer and Dhikr practice, some scholars even argue that the influence of Islamic Sufi ideology encourages the appearance of Hesychasm in the Byzantine spiritual environment in this period.[1] Besides the Islamic ideological influence over Orthodox Christianity, it seems that some Christian beliefs also disseminated among the Muslim believers.

Christ as the apocalyptic Lamb with the cross on the throne surrounded with seven candlesticks. Chancel mosaic, 6th century CE.

        A certain Ottoman Sufi by the name of Ahmed Bican who lived in fifteenth century Gallipoli seems to have possessed an extensive knowledge about the Byzantine apocalyptic traditions. In his book, Dürr-i Meknûn, not only he did refer to several Byzantine messianic beliefs, but he also refashioned them with an Islamized veneer. For example, although there is no certain date regarding the end of the world in the theology, adopting the Byzantine tradition, adopted the opinion that doomsday will take place in 1492. What is even more noteworthy is his familiarity with the Byzantine liturgical calendar. It seems that he was personally aware of the Byzantine system since he states that Byzantine scholars determined the era of humankind as 7000 years; however, since Muslims use a lunar calendar instead of solar calendar, he notes that it should be regarded as 7200 years by the Muslims. 

        Furthermore, a general belief about the blonde people in Byzantine apocalyptic and messianic expectations can be observed in Bican’s work too. According to these, the Byzantine peoples believed that their capital, the city of Constantinople, will fall to their enemies one day; however, a blonde nation from the northern regions will soon appear to help the Greeks to ‘liberate’ their previous possession, expelling the Muslims as far as Syria. In his work, Bican also stated that one of the “blonde peoples” from the northern regions will indeed recapture Constantinople and expel the Muslims soon but he also made some additions to the story. Attributing a messianic role to the Ottoman ruler, he argued that the sultan will appear in this desperate situation and be able to defeat the blonde people by recapturing Constantinople for the second time, glorifying the religion of Islam.

Georgios Klontzas, “The Last Judgement” (1540-1608).

         Yet lastly, Bican seems to have been aware of a Greek messianic tradition prophesizing “the return of the king” which promises a rightful ruler will reclaim the throne of Constantinople.  The Laskaris dynasty which came to power in Nicaea after 1204 had a special importance for western Anatolians since Laskarid rulers initiated an economic development program in the region and successfully protected the eastern borders against the Turcoman incursions in this period. When Michael Palaeologus usurped the Byzantine throne in 1261 by imprisoning and then blinding John, the last Laskarid ruler of the empire, the western Anatolian Byzantines began developing stories, predicting his expected return. Cyril Mango argues this belief even spread to the European half of the empire since a prophecy which was circulated in the 13th century tells about a civil war that would take place in Constantinople. According to this prophecy, he argues, at the end of the civil war, as an old and shabbily dressed man, John Laskaris would appear in Constantinople to be crowned by the angels. His shabbily dress and his old age refers to the imprisonment case and signals that a civil war will take place in his later years. After the enthronement, the angels will give him a sword, saying; “Take courage, John, vanquish the enemy!”

Depiction of a Deviant Dervish from the Early Ottoman Period (Abdal-i Rum), in The Nauigations, Peregrinations, and Voyages, Made into Turkie by Nicholas Nicholay Daulphinois, trans. T. Washington the Younger, 103r.

        In Bican’s work, I think, it is possible to observe several clues about this late Byzantine apocalyptic expectation since Bican also talks about a civil war that would wake place in Constantinople. According to his interpretation, the fighting parties will be led by two military figures who have these initials in their name: “M” and “S”. Although, I think, “M” might represent Michael Palaeologus, “S” does not match with John’s initial. However, I argue that this letter might be modified in a later period due to Bican’s concern with adjusting it to a specific contemporary ruler. It is also within the boundaries of possibility that “S” stands for the second and last consonants of the dynastic name of John: Laskaris. Although the events were given in a very fragmented nature in this work, Bican also points out an imprisonment case, saying that the imprisoned will soon take the throne by defeating his enemy which has a clear resemblance with John Laskaris’ imprisonment by Michael.

Depiction of a Heterodox Dervish Figure (Portrait of a Qalandar), Timurid, 9th-15th century. © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Cora Timken Burnett Collection, 57.51.30).

        Messianic and apocalyptical intellectual exchange constitute a small part of interactions between the various groups of Christians and Muslims, who have lived in the Middle East and the Balkans side by side for the centuries. There are many more cultural and religious interactions between these people in this regard including but not limited to spread of brotherhood (futuwwa) institutions from the crusader states to the Muslim world in the Levant region. Although scholars have begun turning their focus to these borrowings in the eastern Mediterranean in the last couple of decades, there are still a long way to traverse since western Anatolia and the Balkans have received less attention so far. Hopefully, as the winds of time are changing, more scholars and students will become curious about the relations, interactions and shared traditions between Christians and Muslims in Istanbul and beyond.

Husamettin Simsir
PhD Candidate in History
University of Notre Dame

Further Reading

Arnakis, G. Georgiades. “Gregory Palamas among the Turks and Documents of His Captivity as Historical Sources.” Speculum, Vol. 26, No. 1 (1951): 104-118.

Bican, Yazıcıoğlu Ahmed. Dürr-i Meknun. Trans. Necdet Sakaoğlu. İstanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 1999.

Karamustafa, Ahmet. God’s Unruly Friends. Utah: University of Utah Press, 1994.

Preiser-Kapeller, J. “Webs of conversion. An analysis of social networks of converts across Islamic-Christian borders in Anatolia, South-eastern Europe and the Black Sea from the 13th to the 15th cent.” Workshop Cross-cultural life-worlds, Institute for Byzantine Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Bamberg 2012.

Şahin, Kaya “Constantinople and the End Time: The Ottoman Conquest as a Portent of the Last Hour” Journal of Early Modern History 14 (2010): 317-354.

Shawcross, Teresa. “In the Name of the True Emperor: Politics of Resistance after the Palaiologan Usurpation” Byzantinoslavica 66 (2008): 203-229.

Spanos, Apostolos. “Imperial Sanctity in Byzantium: The case of the emperor John III Vatatzes” Research Gate 10.13140/RG.2.1.3635.6248.

[1] Nicol defines the prayer practice in the Eastern Christian tradition as follows: “in the solitude of his cell, the monk must sit with chin resting on his breast and eyes fixed upon his navel. Then, while carefully regulating his breathing, he must say over the Jesus-Prayer.” Donald M. Nicol, Church, and Society in the Last Centuries of Byzantium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) 38.