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.

Liturgy in Service of Imperial Authority

As an integral part of the Church ritual, liturgical hymns provide what is possibly the most effective means of communicating dogmatic truths and conveying ethical ideals to the congregation. Combining words and music, hymns can produce a strong impression upon the minds of the faithful and play an important role in their spiritual edification. However, it would not be correct to assume that their content is exclusively spiritual. Rather, due to a specific relationship between the state and the church in the Eastern Roman Empire, better known as Byzantium (330-1453), it is not surprising that liturgical hymns contain many references to the emperor. In the aftermath of the legalisation of Christianity with the issuance of the Edict of Milan in 313 CE, and especially when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 CE, the liturgy was regularly used to support imperial authority.

The promulgation of the Edict of Milan and the conversion of the emperor Constantine the Great (d. 337) to Christianity completely changed the position of the Church in the empire. After a period of persecutions, the Church became the second most important pillar of society, with the imperial power being the first. Especially important for the construction of this new reality was the production of the discourse surrounding Constantine’s conversion. This discourse was based on the cross, the supreme Christian symbol, and on several prominent Old Testament leaders of the chosen people, especially Moses, David, and later Joshua. The contribution of Eusebius (d. 339), sometimes characterised as “court theologian,” to the creation and dissemination of this discourse was enormous, and this laid the foundation for what would be later known as a ‘symphony’ or the harmonious coexistence of state and church.

The cross, initially understood as a symbol of Christ’s victory over the Devil and death, became closely related to the emperor and transformed into a symbol of imperial victories and prosperity of the empire with divine assistance after Constantine’s victory under that sign against Maxentius (Eusebius, VC 1.27-39).

The Vision of the Cross. Apostolic Palace, Vatican. Circle of Raphael (1520-1524).

This idea, after being developed in various literary genres, especially panegyrics, found its way into liturgical hymns. Hymnographers frequently eulogise the cross as a powerful weapon, which brings victories to the emperor and secures peace in the empire. Liturgical hymns for the Exaltation of the True Cross (14 September), the central annual feast of the cross in the Byzantine tradition, repeatedly stress not only the spiritual dimension of the cross in Christian life but also its military and triumphant functions. The best example is probably the apolytikion, as the main celebratory hymn for each feast is called, for the feast of the Exaltation: “O Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance, grant victory to the emperor against the barbarians, and guard your empire through your cross” (Festal Menaion, September 14). The hymn strongly emphasises the close interrelation between the cross, the empire and the church community. The community prays to God to save and protect the subjects of the empire through his cross, which secures imperial victories against the barbarian enemies (cf. Demacopoulos, 123). Similar references to the cross abound in hymns for this feast. However, for this occasion I will include only two more examples, both taken from an unpublished hymn attributed to Germanos I, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 740), and preserved in an eleventh-century manuscript from the collection of Mount Sinai. The first one reads as follows:

“We pray, grant to the most pious emperor your power, through your life-giving cross, O Christ; he boasts about you and, placing his hopes in you, will be saved.”

Sinait. gr. 552, f. 129

In the second one, the invocation of the cross’s might is not phrased in generic terms; rather, the hymnographer makes specific references to the power of the cross against the Arab Muslims.

“Let us bow before the wood of the Cross, which provides the power to the most pious emperor against enemies, and subjects to him the foolish offspring of Hagar.”

Sinait. gr. 552, f. 128v

The cited example shows how a reference to the cross becomes part of inter-religious polemics. The author praises the cross as a source of power for the emperor to defeat his foes who are denoted as descendants of Hagar. The word “Hagarenes”, designating the offspring of Abraham’s slave Hagar in its biblical usage (Gen. 16; Chr. 5:19, and Ps. 82:7), was commonly employed by Christian authors to denote the Arabs both before and after the appearance of Islam, as they were believed to be the offshoot of Hagar’s son Ishmael.

In Byzantium, the emperor was also frequently related to distinguished Old Testament figures, especially to prominent leaders of the Israelites. Byzantine rhetorical treatises, such as the tenth-century On the Eight Parts of Rhetorical Speech, provide clear instructions to panegyrists to compare the emperor with Moses, David and Joshua the son of Nun. This practice gradually found its way to liturgical hymns. The aforementioned manuscript from the Mount Sinai collection transmits a hymn for the annual celebration of Joshua the son of Nun. Intriguingly, in the Christian tradition of the first millennium, Joshua was rarely regarded as a model warrior or related to the emperor. This perception changed from the ninth century onwards, especially at the time when Byzantine emperors attempted to recapture Palestine from the Arabs.

Joshua. Hosios Loukas Monastery, Greece, 11th c.

Having as the point of departure Joshua’s accomplishments and military exploits against the Amalekites, and especially the narrative that he led the Israelites into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:1-14), the author of the hymn from the Sinai manuscript puts Joshua’s leadership and military exploits in the foreground, directly associating him with the emperor.  Thus in one of the stanzas, the poet appeals to God as follows:

“You who were fellow-general of your servant Joshua against his opponents in the past, now in a similar way be fellow-general of the emperors against [their] enemies.”

Sinait. gr. 552, f. 11

There is little doubt that this and other references to Joshua need to be seen within the broader historical context of the Middle Byzantine period, especially in relation to the Byzantine-Arab wars during the reign of the emperors from the Macedonian dynasty (867-1056) who sought to return Palestine to Byzantine control. Joshua’s leadership skills and military prowess, which he demonstrated in warfare against the native population of the Promised Land, became a source of inspiration for Byzantine authors and artists during the same period. As a result, visual representations of Joshua appear with some frequency in monumental painting and on portable objects produced during the so-called Macedonian Renaissance.

The Joshua Roll, 10th century, Tempera and gold on vellum, Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Pal. gr. 431.

Hymnographic texts, addressed to a wide audience, could also be effectively mobilised to reinforce imperial authority among imperial subjects. Even more so when a good opportunity was available, as in the present case, namely on the feast day of one of the most prominent leaders of God’s chosen people. Since the Byzantines regarded themselves as the New Israel, with the pious emperor as their leader comparable to the Old Testament leaders, the author of the kanon exploited this to relate the emperor to Joshua. In this respect, the hymn can be compared to other genres of Byzantine literature whose main purpose was to glorify the emperor.

Scenes from an Ivory Casket with Scenes of the Story of Joshua, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (10th c.).

As a conclusion, it can be said that the New Testament commandment to pray for those in power (1 Tim 2: 1-2) from the time of Constantine developed into the concept that the emperor is the chief protector of the church and orthodoxy and has to be glorified in liturgy. In addition, imperial success in wars against those of a different religion was understood as a guarantee for the freedom of the Christian faith in the empire. Moreover, by comparing the warfare between the Eastern Roman Empire and their enemies, particularly against the Persians and Arabs, with the wars that the biblical chosen people of ancient Israel waged against the Amalekites, Byzantine authors situated those wars within the biblical context attaching a sacred character to them. In that way, the Byzantines became the New Israel, and their emperors were understood as the successors of the Israelite leaders. Consequently, their inclusion in liturgical texts and the ritual was considered legitimate.

Kosta Simic
Byzantine Postdoctoral Fellow, Medieval Institute
University of Notre Dame (2021-2022)

Further Reading:

Eusebios, Eusebius Werke I. Über das Leben Constantins. Constantins Rede an die Heilige Versammlung. Tricennatsrede an Constantin, GCS 7, edited by I. A. Heikel, Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1902. English translation: Life of Constantine, trans. A. Cameron and S. Hall, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.

Demacopoulos, George. “The Eusebian Valorization of Violence and Constantine’s Wars for God”. In Constantine: Religious Faith and Imperial Policy, edited by Edward Siecienski, 115-128. London: Routledge, 2017.

Schapiro, Meyer. “The Place of the Joshua Roll in Byzantine History,” Gazette des beaux-arts 35 (1949) 161–176.

Rapp, Claudia. “Old Testament Models for Emperors in Early Byzantium”. In The Old Testament in Byzantium, edited by P. Magdalino and R. Nelson, 175-197. Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, 2010.

Simic, Kosta. “Remembering the Damned. Byzantine Liturgical Hymns as Instruments of Religious Polemics”. In Memories of Utopia: The Revision of Histories and Landscapes in Late Antiquity, edited by Bronwen Neil and Kosta Simic, 156-170. London: Routledge, 2020.

The Festal Menaion, trans. Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, London: Faber and Faber, 1969.

Thierry, Nicole. “Le culte de la croix dans l’empire byzantine du VIIe siècle au Xe dans les rapports avec la guerre contre l’infidèle”. Rivista di studi bizantini e slavi 1 (1980/81) 205-228.