The Great Schism represents the break between the Eastern and Western churches. I know that a primary bone of contention that the East had with the West was Rome's insistence on Papal Supremacy. My understanding is that for a millennium there had been an understanding that Rome would be first among equals, and clearly this somehow fell apart.

I'd like to know

  • what was the proximate cause of the mutual anathema,
  • why they each anathematized the other (one would assume that one side could have denounced the other, but mutual allegations seem odd), and
  • why a simple governance question couldn't be resolved politically.

And, finally, for bonus points :) I understand that the Pope recently (like in the 1990s) has reconciled with the Orthodox. Is this true, and how did it come about?

Note: There is already a question about filioque so feel free to gloss over any details about that in particular. Per cwallenpoole, it is a fairly contentious thing.

Put another way, Can't we all just get along?


1 Answer 1


This site has a good overview of the history from a Catholic viewpoint.

Here is a high level overview based on that site and the article on Wikipedia (which currently stands in question of its neutrality).

  • After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the church headquartered at Constantinople began to have ongoing squabbles with Rome due in some part to the Emperor's meddling in Church affairs.

  • In 1054, after the Norman conquest of southern Italy, the friction escalated due to the imposition on the Greek colonies there of the practice of Eucharist using unleavened bread.

  • A Papal legate was sent to address the situation, but (apparently largely) personality issues caused the two delegates to mutually anathemize each other (but not their respective churches). This was not considered very momentous at the time, but in retrospect it marked the departure point between the two bodies.

  • Even after that, there were future attempts at reconciliation. The collapse of the Byzantine Empire, between 1450 and 1490, precipitated the enduring split.

With the last few popes, there have been renewed attempts at reunification. In fact there are a number of Eastern-Rite churches in communion with Rome (e.g. the Byzantine Catholic rite). But it seems that the laity of the Eastern Orthodox are more opposed to reunification than the leaders, at least in some ways.

An important aspect of this the differing views, from an early age, of the role of the Pope. Easterns regard him as "first among equals" or to have primacy, while Westerns, of course regard his role as one of authority.

The Filioque question was an early (sixth century) bone of contention between the East and the West. These days, Rome considers the two to be equivalent statements and it seems likely that it would be a small or nonexistent issue if serious reconciliation were ever to take place.

  • The unleavened bread thing keeps surprising me. Once I learned that the Jews considered leaven to be a symbol of sin, I started using matzah for Eucharist, precisely to show Christ had no sin. I had no idea was siding for or against Rome in that... Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 20:38
  • 3
    Technically, after 1439 you would not be siding with either :) The Council of Florence taught that leavened bread was licit for consecration, which opened the door for the practice in the Eastern churches in communion with Rome to continue using their leavened bread. It's not licit in the Roman rite, which I believe makes it a small-t tradition and not a dogma. The Eastern view is that the leaven in the bread is like the soul in the body. Catholic view is that unleavened is what Jesus used at the Last Supper and it also recalls the Feast of Unleavened Bread during which the passion happened.
    – Jason
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 21:52
  • 3
    Don't forget the sack of Constantinople in the 4th crusade (1204), that's one reason why most Orthodox laity oppose reunification. However, Pope John Paul II actually apologized for this a few years ago.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 5:37
  • The Catholic Communion does see the type of bread as something that should stall Eccumentical Communion.
    – Lucretius
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 23:19
  • Also, there wasn't a Pope in office at the time of the excommunication, so the representative was going action on his own.
    – Lucretius
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 23:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .