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1054: The year Christianity finally split into two parts

Christianity currently has three major division: Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. Most Americans are familiar with the Catholic Church and Protestants, but few are as aware of the Orthodox Church. But this third branch of Christianity is the dominant Christian faith in some countries: for example, Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine. Orthodox Christians throughout the world number about 225 million. Yet, while the Protestants split from Catholicism in the 1500s with the Reformation, from where does Orthodoxy come? For that we have to go back to the year 1054 and the first church split.

Prior to that year Christianity was undivided. There were differences among Christians to be sure. After all, the church stretched from England, through Europe, to East Europe and Asia Minor. In that vast area differences within Christianity were bound to exist. Yet Christianity had been able to exist as a unified whole since the time of Christ.

Throughout the middle ages the church had two main centers, in Rome, Italy and Constantinople, Turkey. Rome was important since that was the old capital of the Roman Empire; because of that the early church developed one of its early centers of authority there. Constantinople was important since that is where the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of Roman Empire by 330; because of that the early church developed the other of its early centers of authority there. So throughout the middle ages the church had two centers: Rome and Constantinople. Yet the pope lived in Rome.

Therefore, for almost 700 years (since Constantine moved the capital) Rome had been the main seat of Christian authority and Constantinople had been the secondary authority. But other forces were at work. Europe developed as a single power (in large part to Charlemagne unifying most of Europe in the late 600s and early 700s) while Asia Minor (where Constantinople was) remained a number of independent countries. So, politically and probably economically, the two regions began to grow apart.

Yet it was the theology, or the understanding of God, and church authority which drove a wedge between the two. The main religious issue by the early 1000s was the makeup of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed, which had been around since the 400s, stated that the Holy Spirit "proceeded" or came out of the Father. Yet the idea developed within the European Christian community that this needed to be changed. Using such verses as John 16:13-15, Galatians 4:6, and Romans 8:9, those in Rome decided to add the phrase "and from the Son" when describing from where the Holy Spirit came. This is known as the "Double Procession," that the Holy Spirit comes out of the Father and the Son.

The Christians centered in Constantinople disagreed with this and did not want it added to the Creed. Those in Rome did not reject the new phrase. By 1054 both the Roman church and the Constantinople church had "declined communion to the other," in effect excommunicating the other. This was due do the regional differences mentioned at the top, but mainly to understandings of how God works and who gets to decide.

So began a new era of Christianity. For 1000 years the Church had been one; as of 1054 it was two: Catholic and Orthodox.

©2009 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved