1054 AD: A Turning Point for the Universal Church

Friday, May 27, 2011

Michael Cerularius I
It was there that the influence of the Western Church grew, ever since the Franks were Christianized, and the Normans in Italy were becoming powerful. The Byzantines noticed this.

The Normans in Italy were said to have been forcing the use of Latin in the liturgies of the Greeks. And it was then that the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius I forced the use of Greek in the liturgies of the Latins in the city.

A very significant fact, however, was Cerularius’s attack on the Latins’ use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, considering it to be a heresy.[1] Cerularius considered the use of unleavened bread to be Judaic, and symbolizes death rather than life. He also stated that it contradicts what is written in the synoptics, as Jesus said to have used bread, despite the fact that the Last Supper was a paschal meal. It is in the Jewish law that during Passover, unleavened bread or azyme was to be used. Cerularius’s opinions also do not even have any clear foundations at all.[2]

During that time, Byzantine bishops were in control of the Church in Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch. Since this is the case, Constantinople most likely had power over them.

Cerularius then declared war on the Western Church. His chancellor Nicephorus burst open the Latin tabernacles and trampled on the Eucharists, declaring them invalid, as they were consecrated in azyme. Cerularius himself threw the Eucharist on the streets. This was blasphemy—and the Latin Church had to deal with this sacrilege.

Although Cerularius was excommunicated for a different reason where he struck the name of the Pope from his diptychs, the excommunication was justifiable. No man is to desecrate the Eucharist. The hostility between the Latins and the Byzantines made matters worse.

It was then that the bull was laid down on Hagia Sophia’s altar on the 16th of July, 1054 by Cardinal Humbert, who issued the bull himself as the Pope he answered to was dead—this act of his was justifiable. The Roman [Holy] See had the power and the duty to excommunicate heretics and desecrators.[3] The Byzantine legates excommunicated Rome in return—invalidly.

This was the beginning of the schism.  The Byzantine bishops in the other three Churches followed the lead of Michael I, resulting in the split of the Eastern Churches from the Western Church; the Holy See, which had the power over the other bishops.

And until now, the East and the West are still trying to reconcile their differences.

But one thing is for sure. Michael Cerularius did not only die a sinner. He founded the schismatic Byzantine Church.

by Jared Dale Combista, contributor

[1] The Orthodox Church by Kallistos Ware
[2] Byzantine Theology by John Meyendorff
[3] "If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus also anathematizes the See of Rome, that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church.  I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he is in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God ...Let him hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See, for if it is satisfied, all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox.  For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to pursuade or entrap persons like myself, and does not satisfy and implore the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which is from the incarnate of the Son of God Himself, and also all the holy synods, accodring to the holy canons and definitions has received universal and surpreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God throughout the whole world."  (Maximus, Letter to Peter, in Mansi x, 692).


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