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East-West Schism

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The East-West Schism, or the Great Schism, divided medieval Christendom into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches, which later became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, respectively. Relations between East and West had long been embittered by political and ecclesiastical differences and theological disputes. Pope Leo IX and Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius heightened the conflict by suppressing Greek and Latin in their respective domains. In 1054, Roman legates traveled to Cerularius to deny him the title Ecumenical Patriarch and to insist that he recognize the Church of Rome's claim to be the head and mother of the churches. Cerularius refused. The leader of the Latin contingent, Cardinal Humbert excommunicated Cerularius, while Cerularius in return excommunicated Cardinal Humbert and other legates.

The Western legates' acts might have been of doubtful validity because Leo had died, while Cerularius's excommunication applied only to the legates personally. Still, the Church split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographical lines, and the fundamental breach has never been healed. The Crusades, the Massacre of the Latins in 1182, the capture and sack of Constantinople in 1204, and the imposition of Latin Patriarchs made reconciliation more difficult. This included the taking of many precious religious artifacts and the destruction of the Library of Constantinople. On paper, the two churches actually reunited in 1274 (by the Second Council of Lyon) and in 1439 (by the Council of Florence), but in each case the councils were repudiated by the Orthodox as a whole.

In 1484, 31 years after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, a Synod of Constantinople repudiated the Union of Florence, making the breach between the Patriarchate of the West and the Patriarchate of Constantinople final. In 1965, the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople nullified the anathemas of 1054. Contacts between the two sides continue: every year a delegation from each joins in the other's celebration of its patronal feast, Saints Peter and Paul (29 June) for Rome and Saint Andrew (30 November) for Constantinople, and there have been a number of visits by the head of each to the other.


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