By the 11th century, the Byzantine and Latin halves of the Catholic world were to all intents and purposes separate entities, not only politically and culturally, but also ecclesiastically. For centuries the Eastern and Western Churches had been drifting ever farther apart, and behaving not simply as two rites within a single communion, but as rivals to each other - even though formally they still belonged to one Church.

[A bull promulgated in 1052 by Leo IX. To further his programme of reform, Leo appointed allies as cardinals and convened a consistory of advisors (forerunner of the College of Cardinals formed in the 12th century)]

The 'official' date of the Great Schism that divided the ancient Catholic Church into the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches is 1054: in that year, full communion between the sees of Constantinople and Rome was broken and — perhaps somewhat unexpectedly - never again restored. That said, communion between the Eastern and Western Churches was not entirely abrogated until much later, and then only by a very gradual process.


Papal Power and Papal Reform

As substantial as the theological and ritual differences between East andWest had become by the 11th century, and as great as the cultural distance was that separated the elaborate and somewhat decadent civilization of the Byzantines from the plainer and still somewhat barbarous warrior culture of the Franks, the Church might have remained united indefinitely but for the imperial and ecclesial politics of the time. During the latter half of the 11th century, the Latin Church was governed by a succession of formidable popes, all of whom were committed to reform of the Western Church, regularization of its practices and a greater centralization of its authority.

The first of these reforming popes was Leo IX (1002-54), who was especially concerned to purge the Latin Church of clerical abuses, such as the buying of ecclesiastical offices ('simony'), or the appointment of clergy by secular rulers ('lay investiture'). He also wanted to eliminate 'Nicolaitism' - that is, married priests, or priests keeping mistresses. (The prevailing preference in the Latin West for a celibate priesthood was many centuries old, but it was not shared by all Western bishops; and since the Greek and Syrian East had a married priesthood, Rome could not claim the custom of priestly celibacy as some sort of universally binding 'doctrine'.) Leo knew he would accomplish nothing, though, without first strengthening the papacy. One of the advisors he appointed was his old and trusted friend Humbert of Silva Candida (c. 1000—61), a scholar fluent in Greek, a Benedictine monk and preacher, and an implacable champion of universal papal jurisdiction.

The Emperor, the Pope, the Legate and the Patriarch

When Leo became pope in 1049, the throne in Constantinople was occupied by Constantine IX Monomachus (980—1055), a somewhat feckless man who had

[A mosaic from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, showing Christ flanked by the Empress Zoe and Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos. When she married Constantine, Zoe was already the influential widow of two former Byzantine rulers, Romanos III Argyros and Michael IV]

assumed power by marrying the Empress Zoe (c. 978—1042). His principal accomplishments as emperor were to expand the University in Constantinople and to foster a renaissance of Byzantine arts and letters. Yet he also squandered immense portions of the imperial treasury on lavish building projects and various other extravagances, for the catastrophic economic effects of which he attempted to compensate by drastically reducing the military. As a result, he was unprepared to respond effectively to the insurrections that his profligacy provoked, or to the advance of the Seljuq Turks into Byzantine Armenia, or to the Patzinak invasions of Macedonia and Bulgaria, or to the Norman conquest of Byzantine Calabria.

The last of these - the Norman rampage through the south of Italy - was also a problem for Leo, not only because of the damage it inflicted on the Italian Church, but also because of the threat it posed to Rome. Leo petitioned the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III (1017-56) for military assistance; but Henry provided nothing. Leo, though, was resolved to launch a campaign against the Normans, and so sent an entirely inadequate papal army, which was defeated in June 1053. Leo was seized by the Normans and held hostage for nine months. On his release, he decided to send a delegation to Constantinople to investigate the possibility of an alliance with the Byzantines; and, as part of this embassy, he sent Humbert.

Constantine had already attempted to strike an alliance with the pope against the Normans, and had shown himself willing to make considerable concessions to Rome. He had been impeded in his designs, however, by the extremely influential patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius (c.1000—59). As intent as Leo was upon asserting Rome's universal authority in the Catholic world, Cerularius was equally intent upon maintaining the autonomy of his see. In 1052, partly in response to the emperor's overtures to Rome, Cerularius had issued a number of public attacks upon the doctrinal 'errors' and 'innovations' of the Roman Church. He may also have suppressed the Latin rite in his diocesan territories, though historians are not entirely certain of this. To Cerularius' denunciations of the Latins, at any rate, Humbert had written a searingly rancorous response in 1053 entitled 'Against the Calumnies of the Greeks', in which he had argued vehemently for the authority of Rome over all Christian communions, as well as for papal sovereignty over all of the lands of the old Western empire (drawing, in the latter case, upon the 'Donation of Constantine', a forged document falsely ascribed to Constantine the Great). Leo's choice, then, of Humbert as his chief legate to Constantinople in 1054 was an act of either surpassing boldness or inconceivable folly (or perhaps both).

The Excommunications

When the papal legation arrived in Constantinople, Humbert and his two fellow legates delivered an insultingly imperious 'papal letter' to the patriarchal palace. The proud and irascible Cerularius took umbrage and refused thereafter to recognize or receive the legates. And Humbert - an intemperate and obstinate man at the best of times - made matters worse with his infantile antics during his public debates with the theologians of Constantinople: his method of debate consisted almost exclusively in strident demands for total submission by the Byzantines to the Roman pontiff and histrionic tirades against Greek doctrines and practices.

As it happened, Leo had died soon after dispatching the embassy to Constantinopole, and it is arguable that the legation's authority had expired with him; but he had also granted Humbert carte blanche in the form of a papal bull, to be used as the legates saw fit, and Humbert chose to exploit the papal interregnum to 'resolve' matters once and for all. Furious at the Byzantines for refusing to yield to his arguments either for papal supremacy or for any other of the Latin doctrines in dispute, and in a fit of pique over the patriarch's continued refusal to acknowledge the Latin embassy, he and his fellow legates strode into Hagia Sophia on Friday, 16 July 1054, during the Eucharistic celebration, and placed a bull on the altar 'excommunicating' Cerularius and his clergy.

Cerularius - already disposed to see the papal representatives as insolent barbarians — was predictably contemptuous of their behaviour, and simply 'excommunicated' the legates in turn. Such was his sway with the people, moreover, that Constantine IX had no choice but to assent to the patriarch's decision.

As for Humbert, he went on to serve as an advisor to several more popes, and in 1059 was partly responsible for forging a firm papal alliance with the Normans.

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The Aftermath

Communion between Eastern and Western Christians continued in some places, ceased in others, and gradually faded as the schism of 1054 became fixed in popular memory as some kind of defining event. Ultimately, of course, where Byzantine traditions prevailed — Greece, Syria and the Balkans - so did communion with Constantinople; where Latin traditions prevailed, so did communion with Rome. But the schism cannot really be located at any precise point in history; it is something that 'happened' but that never precisely 'occurred'. It came to pass in some ways much earlier, and in others much later, than 1054.



It was in the second half of the 11th century that the 'monarchical papacy' ofthe later Middle Ages emerged, as a result of the reforms inaugurated by Leo IX and continued by several of his successors. This would not in all likelihood have been possible had Rome not broken with the Eastern Church.

[Gregory VIVs resolve proved that so long as the pope was believed to hold the souls of all baptized persons in his power, no prince was wise to defy him]

One of the popes who did much to advance the project of a reformed papacy - though his pontificate lasted little more than half a year - was Leo's cousin (and one of the Constantinople legates in 1054) Stephen IX (c. 1000-58). He was a staunch advocate of priestly celibacy and the universal jurisdiction of the pope, and convened a synod to deal with the problem of simony.

The man who did the most to reform the Latin Church in the 11th century, however, was Pope Gregory VII (c. 1020-85) - better remembered, perhaps, by his given name, Hildebrand. His measures to eradicate simony were relentless, he did not hesitate to depute papal legates to overrule restive bishops in their own dioceses, and he strove to suppress all liturgical usages in the West other than the Roman rite.

His chief accomplishment, however, was to demonstrate the true extent of papal power.This he did in the course of the 'investiture controversy' that set Gregory at odds with the German King Henry (1050-1106), who later became the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. A papal synod of 1075 condemned the practice of lay investiture and excommunicated five of Henry's personal counsellors.

Backed by bishops from Germany and northern Italy, Henry defied the papal legates and convoked a synod of his own, which declared Gregory 'deposed.' Gregory responded not only by excommunicating Henry (and his synod), but by declaring Henry 'deposed' and his subjects absolved of all obedience to their monarch. Henry's support collapsed.

In January 1077, on his way to a meeting of nobles in Augsburg, Gregory heard that Henry had entered Italy, and so withdrew to the safety of the Tuscan castle of Canossa. Henry had come, however, as a penitent, and for three days stood, barefoot in the snow outside Canossa, imploring the pope for forgiveness. Gregory at last relented. Henry's act of penance has gone down in history as the 'walk to Canossa'.