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July 16, 2014

The Days of the Schism of 1054 (1 of 6)

By Anastasios Philippides

On the morning of Saturday 16 July 1054, shortly before the Divine Liturgy began in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, three strangers with strange clothes entered the Sacred Sanctuary and placed on the Holy Altar a document, and they distanced themselves. When they reached the narthex they yelled out in a loud voice: "Videat Deus et judicet" ("Let God see and judge"), and they left. The three strangers, led by Cardinal Humbert, were emissaries of the Pope and the document contained serious charges and an anathema against the Patriarch himself, Michael Cerularios. Four days later a Synod in Constantinople anathematized in order the authors of this document. On Sunday 24 July the anathema was officially read in Hagia Sophia.

These events were recorded in history as the definitive Schism between the Eastern and Western Church. As this year marks nine hundred and fifty years since 1054, we will dedicate a series of articles on the historical circumstances of the time, which sealed a divide that has not been bridged until today. As for the theological differences and the underlying causes of the Schism, others will certainly speak of this more appropriately. In these articles we will settle for a historical presentation of the time, in order to understand the context in which the Schism took place.

The first thing that makes an impression on the researcher who examines the sources for the decade of the 1050's is that none of the contemporary or slightly later historians of Byzantium who covered this time say anything about the Schism. Neither Psellos nor Attaliates nor Manasses nor Zonaras, no one. Especially Psellos, who wrote a voluminous and detailed history and had a fierce political antipathy towards Patriarch Michael Cerularios, and one would expect him to use these events to discredit his opponent. A reference only exists in the obituary for Cerularios given by Psellos where he speaks of the sedition of elder Rome against New Rome ("revolt" is the word used).

It seems that the contemporaries of the Schism evaluated very differently the event than the historians of the following centuries. To understand why this happened, we will need to transport ourselves to the eleventh century and the political and spiritual conditions that prevailed just before 1054.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.