The Catholic Church

What caused the East-West schism in the Catholic Church?

During the Middle Ages (500–1350) cultural, geographical, and even political differences caused an increasingly wide divide between East (the Catholic churches in eastern and southeastern Europe, as well as in parts of western Asia) and West (the Catholic churches of western Europe). In the 800s a series of theological disputes began between the highest authority of the Eastern (Byzantine) churches, called the patriarch of Constantinople (also called the ecumenical patriarch), and the pope—particularly about the pope’s authority over Christians in the East. Finally, in 1054, Pope Leo IX (1002–1054) issued an anathema (a formal curse) against the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius (c. 1000–1059), excommunicating him and his followers from the Roman Catholic Church. The church had officially split. Thereafter the Eastern Orthodox churches would accept the patriarch of Constantinople as the highest church authority (in other words, they did not acknowledge the primacy of the pope) and they would follow the Byzantine rite (ceremonies); in the West, Roman Catholics followed the Latin rite and continued to regard the pope as the Holy Father.

When the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) in 1453, Orthodox Christians in the East came under Muslim rule; this lasted into the 1800s. Though there are still differences between the Eastern Orthodox churches (the Greek Orthodox church, the Russian Orthodox church, etc.) and the Roman Catholic Church today, the rift between them was healed in 1964 when Pope Paul VI (1897–1978) met with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I (1886–1972) in Jerusalem. The following year, the two religious leaders lifted the mutual anathemas between their churches.


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