The schism between the east and the west is a complex subject and should not be limited to political relations between the bishops and emperors but should emphasize the cultivating factors of the cultures at large and how the cultures infected the doctrines of Christendom. One major doctrinal difference between the Western church (Roman Catholic) and the Eastern Church (Eastern Orthodox) is the manner of which theology is organized, taught, and digested. Today, the Orthodox Church refers to much of western theology as “scholasticism.” Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos explains scholasticism as such in Orthodox Spirituality: A brief introduction:
“Scholastic theology tried to understand logically the Revelation of God and conform to philosophical methodology….The Scholastics acknowledged God at the outset and then endeavoured to prove His existence by logical arguments and rational categories. In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the Holy Fathers, faith is God revealing Himself to man. We accept faith by hearing it not so that we can understand it rationally, but so that we can cleanse our hearts, attain to faith by theoria and experience the Revelation of God.”
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev describes scholasticism in his book Orthodox Christianity, as originating from Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine was one of the primary writers of the west in the 5th century who organized his theology in much more systematic formats in order for the Germanic barbarians to understand. Augustine capitalized on terms in the Bible such as “justification” in order to explain the process of salvation in a more simplified manner. He did not teach justification as the 16th century Protestant, Martin Luther, taught it; that is in terms of legal status between man and God, but rather Augustine taught it in relation to our works combining with Christ’s works to become true works. This is a paradigm that the eastern side of the Church simply did not embrace and so a new type of system of theology was beginning to birth within the west, later to cause friction with the eastern more spiritual/mystical paradigm of thought that resisted placing all of theology in a rational and logical format, thus allowing the symbolic aspect of the faith to fill these supposed gaps of understanding.
One of the major contentions to form between the east and west that stem from Saint Augustine as well as other western fathers was their explanation of the Holy Trinity as formatted in the Nicene Creed. Instead of the original Trinitarian phrase in the Creed, “who proceeds from the Father,” the phrase “who proceeds from the Father and the Son [filioque]” was officially introduced in the west at the Council of Toledo in 589. The original phrase, “who proceeds from the Father” is based on the words of Christ in John 15:26 whereas the additional phrase, “and the Son” has no Scriptural or patrisitic theological warrant whatsoever. The west claimed that it was placed there to conquer the Arian heresy of the Trinity, but we can now see that this was a serious overcorrection.
The problem that the Orthodox have with the filioque inserted in the theology of the Trinity is that it spoils the teaching of the Father as the “monarchy” of the godhead, the “the sole principle source and cause of divinity.” Eastern Trinitarian thought as expressed by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory the Cypriot and Saint Gregory Palamas conceives of the Son as mediating, but not causing the Spirit’s procession from the Father.
Alexander Schmemann, in The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, page 248, states, “At the time of the final schism the subjects of dispute were not the questions of the papacy and the Holy Spirit, but ritual divergence between East and West as to the use of unleavened bread, fasting on Saturday, the singing of Alleluia at Easter, and so on.” There were other disputes between the east and the west regarding many different things such as what Schmemann mentions, as well as marriage laws, canonization of saints, and even veneration of icons (see Michael Cerularius’ letter to Patriarch Peter of Antioch), but one that seems to be a weighty one is what Schmemann mentions in regards to the Eucharist. By the eleventh century much attention was given to the fact that the west used unleavened bread and the east used leavened bread. To the Greeks this was an assault on eastern theology of deification, which was hardly known in the west. Certainly there was a lack of communication happening within Christendom (Islam began to control the Mediterranean sea, which caused difficulties between east and west) and by the time just before the high point of the Great Schism, said to be in 1054, these communication gaps had culminated to be quite aggressive.
According to Hussey, page 182 of The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, “The ability to resolve conflicts and differences, most of which were liturgical, was terminated when Rome established a monarchical form of church government.” Here are five historical facts surrounding the papacy:
1. The first conflict of the Church was not settled by a pontiff but by the Council of Jerusalem, led by St. James rather than Peter, the supposed first pontiff.
2. When the Bishop of Rome, Victor, in A.D. 196, on his own authority excommunicated the Asiatic churches, he was rebuked by other bishops.
3. The great Arian heresy which denied the divinity of God, was not settled by a pope, but by the council of Nicea which was called by the Emperor.
4. The heresy that denied the Holy Spirit (Macedonianism) was settled by the Council of Constantinople (381) in which neither the Roman bishop nor his delegates were present. This council was so important that it reaffirmed the Nicene Creed.
5. The name “pope” means “father” in Latin and has no reference to monarchial authority or ‘bishop of bishops.’ In fact, the first to use the title of Pope was the Patriarch of Alexandria, Heracleus (232–49 AD).
After the Patriarch Michael Cerularius began circulating the various heresies of Rome, including those mentioned earlier such as fasting, the issue of leavened bread in the Eucharist, Leo demanded that Cerularius submit to the bishop of Rome and that any church which refused to recognize the pontiff as supreme was an “assembly of heretics,” and “a synagogue of Satan.”
Leo died and was unable to reconcile these problems with Michael. On July 16, 1054 Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida delivered a notice of excommunication against Patriarch Michael, despite the death of Pope Leo three months prior (an invalid excommunication). Michael in turn excommunicated the cardinal and the Pope which led to the end of the alliance between the Emperor and the bishop of Rome.