1. The Times
In 1054 the Byzantine Empire was still living in its "golden age". Its boundaries stretched to the greatest extent it had known from the previous 300 years. Their strong opponents of the past centuries - Persians, Arabs, Franks, Bulgarians - were eliminated or weakened to a degree that they were no longer a threat. The Macedonian Dynasty led the Roman banner on consecutive triumphs, recovering areas such as Crete, Cyprus and Antioch. In the East, as noted by Haralambos Papasotiriou, Byzantium had imposed a "hegemonic peace". For the first time in four centuries the inhabitants of Asia Minor were safe from external invasions, and the borders reached once again beyond the Euphrates. From the tenth century the Arab Empire began to break apart and decline. Already from 929 the Emir of Spain became a self-proclaimed caliph, creating a rival political center in relation to Baghdad. During the tenth century Syria, Arabia and Egypt became autonomous. The largest of these states was founded by the Fatimids in Egypt installing a rival caliphate based in Cairo (969) who refused the legitimacy of Baghdad. With time, Cairo surpassed Baghdad in wealth and power, but was no threat to the Byzantine territories.
The same was true in the Balkans. With the conquest of the Bulgarian uprising in 1018, Constantinople had imposed its authority to the Danube and the Adriatic sea.
In Western Europe, the invasions of the Vikings and Magyars in the tenth century had destroyed every single residue of the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne. Countless dukes and kings became independent and imposed their rule on the land they occupied. Only gradually during the eleventh and twelfth century some of them will create stronger states.
In short, Byzantium had become the main superpower of the known world. As summarized by Emperor Constantine Monomachos (1042-1055): "Our opponents are calmed, our citizens live in peace, much tranquility reigns among the Romans and nothing is carrying us down with care." Indeed, the illusion of "lasting peace" that spread in Byzantine society allowed the demobilization of the population and led to the neglect of the army and the development of mercenary forces, with unpleasant consequences later.
It was a time of great prosperity and cultural growth. There were established new schools, such as the Law School of Constantinople with Xiphilinos as the first professor, new monasteries, old age homes, places to care for the poor, etc. Michael Psellos, one of the great polymaths of the Middle Ages, taught at the University of Constantinople. From this period there are preserved fine specimens of iconography in mosaics from the Monastery of the Venerable Luke in Boeotia, New Monastery in Chios and frescoes from Hagia Sophia in Ochrid. It is also the time of a great spiritual peak. From 963 the monasteries of Mount Athos began to be established and they will become the grand spiritual center of Orthodoxy. Saint Nilus founded the famous Monastery of Grottaferrata fifteen miles south of Rome. The figure of Saint Symeon the New Theologian dominated the first decades of the eleventh century. His disciple and biographer, Saint Niketas Stethatos, will take part in the discussions with the Latins in 1054.
This was unlike the West, where prior to the year 1050 it has been aptly called "the barbarization of Europe". The incessant raids by Vikings and Magyars in the tenth century destroyed not only the economy but also the few cities and transport networks. Populations accumulated in densely populated self-sufficient villages who cared only for their physical survival. One cannot speak of cultural creation. The Church in the West had fallen into utmost decay, with simony and immorality becoming the norm and many (official) celibate clergy cohabited with women. Across Frankish occupied Europe the Church was secularized.
Ecclesiastical property was confiscated since the time of Pepin and Charlemagne and was distributed to their trusted courtiers. With the inclusion of the feudal system, positions and properties were distributed by the local feudal lord, who also oversaw the ordinations of clergy of all ranks. A famous example of the debasement even of the episcopal throne is offered in the narrative of the Viscount of Narbonne (France), Berenger, at the Synod of Toulouse regarding the acquisition of the Archdiocese of Narbonne: "When my uncle the Archbishop of Narbonne died, Count Wilfred of Cerdanya, a relative of my wife, came to Narbonne and approached my parents and myself to gain the Archdiocese for his son who was then ten years old. And he offered a huge gift of one hundred thousand solidi to my father ... We gave it to his son Wilfred ... and he was installed in the cathedral and increased in age ... But then, unexpectedly, ... a fierce war was launched against me with a large army."
In light of these things, it is not at all strange that Constantinople showed indifference to the developments in the fragmented West. Even the papal office had become the subject of a bitter dispute between the aristocratic families of Rome (initially) and the Romans and Franks (afterwards), so that the alternations to the throne became so frequent that it reinforced the indifference of Constantinople. It is worth mentioning that a few years prior to 1054 there were in Rome at the same time three self-proclaimed Popes. Therefore, as authoritative historians have noted, it was probably impossible for the Patriarchate to handle very seriously the conduct of Cardinal Humbert in 1054.
The eleventh century, however, was a century of profound changes both in Byzantium and the West. Already in the middle of the century there began to materialize signs of great crisis that would lead to the final decline of the Byzantine Empire. Successive incompetent emperors squandered huge surpluses amassed by the Treasury of Basil II who died in 1025. New enemies came to replace the old and incurred heavy blows on the state. The initial invasions of nomadic Seljuks converted gradually into a more permanent presence on the borders of Byzantium. In 1054 they besieged the strategic city of Manzikert. They failed, but seventeen years later they were much more successful. In 1055 they occupied Baghdad, the historic capital of the Arabs, where they will consolidate their sovereignty and will cease to be an ordinary nomadic raider.
Similarly in the West there appeared an important new factor that will play a catalytic role in the events of 1054 - the Normans, who first came to southern Italy as mercenaries in 1016. In 1041 they captured Melfi and began to expand autonomously, threatening both papal dominions and Byzantine territories. (The greater part of southern Italy was still under the Byzantine Empire.)
In Rome, the eleventh century is remembered in history as the century of major papal reform, which defined the character of the Papal Church until today. The reform was the result of a wide movement implemented during the decade of 1070 by Pope Gregory VII. The reform ideas, however, had begun to grow twenty years earlier, when Gregory, who was then called Hildebrand, served as chief secretary to the Papal See. Among the ideas put forward by the reform was that the whole of Christendom be under allegiance to the Pope. This meant not only the subjugation of other patriarchates, but even the secular powers. When Gregory VII launched the last aspect, it led inevitably to conflict with the German ruler during the decade of 1070. The conflict, known as the "struggle of investiture", marked western European history, both as an event and in that it sparked complex considerations of political philosophy on the relationship between the State and the Church.
The full extent of papal aspirations had not occurred, however, in the decade of the 1050's. Initial reforms addressed ecclesiastical administration and the ethics of clergy. The administration was reorganized under the monarchical model, away from the synodal system, perhaps reflecting the fact that all the reformers were Germans and not Romans. The Pope demanded recognition of universal jurisdiction authority with an absolute nature. In a first embodiment of this authority, in 1050 he deposed the Archbishop of Siponto in Apulia, who belonged to Constantinople, and abolished the Archdiocese, putting it under papal jurisdiction. It was the first show of power of the reformers. Note that in the areas where there was extended the domination of the Pope, the estates of Orthodox churches and monasteries were expropriated in favor of the Latins and only Latin bishops settled there.
The reforms touched all aspects of ecclesiastical life in the West, even that of monasticism. It is characteristic that during this time the Benedictine monks, who followed the rule of Saint Benedict (also commemorated by Orthodox), were slandered, and there appeared new, exclusively western orders, such as the Cluniac, the Cistercian and later the Dominican which were completely removed from the hesychastic tradition of the East. The newest research, however, tends to restore the image of the Benedictines, who, apparently, fell victim to the propaganda of the reformers, after the conquest of the papal throne.
At the same time, the reform of ecclesiastical power became autonomous from society: the people of Rome were eliminated from the election of the Pope with the Dictatus Papae of Nicholas II in 1059, while it imposed strict celibacy on the clergy, thus creating a spiritual elite cut off from the people. The Schism of 1054 can be seen as the inevitable clash of reformers with the Eastern Church, when they sought to impose new claims throughout Christendom.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.