The great East-West Schism occurred when relations between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches broke down. Differences between Rome and Constantinople culminated in dueling excommunications in 1054. Several differences factored into the breach in relations. Cultural and theological differences played a role in the schism. However, in the end, the schism was a power struggle between east and west.
Rome and Constantinople served as the centers of Christianity in the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church filled the void in the west following the Roman Empire’s collapse. Meanwhile, the Eastern Roman Empire continued on for another millennium. The east came to view the west as barbaric and backward. Meanwhile, westerners thought the Byzantines effeminate and weak. As a result, each religious center felt it had the right to rule Christendom.
Duo power centers led to confusion and conflict over jurisdiction. Rome felt it had the authority over all churches. Meanwhile, Constantinople had evolved into the greatest city on Earth and the capital of civilization. The east was powerful while the west shattered and disunited. The power of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch grew during the period leading up to the Schism. Byzantines believed the religious capital should transfer to the east since Rome was no longer relevant.
The west disagreed with eastern claims of supremacy. The Papacy represented the western trump card. Rome claimed apostolic descent from St. Peter and St. Paul. In their view, the pope was directly descended from the apostles . They went as far as claiming Papal supremacy over Christendom which provided Rome the right to rule in the spiritual realm. Constantinople argued that the Patriarch and Pope were equals, but Pope Leo IX vehemently disagreed. He claimed he had absolute authority over Constantinople and their patriarchs.
The power struggle trumped all other issues. Although differences in language and culture exacerbated the problem, and canonical and theological differences angered both sides, power was the Great Schism’s root cause. The theocratic Byzantines did not want to take orders from the Italian pope. The Byzantine emperor ruled both in matters of state and religion. Papal claims threatened the emperor’s authority. In the end, both sides excommunicated one another rather than submit or surrender.
Hostility and distrust continued between east and west for centuries. Crusaders attacked Constantinople in 1204, Byzantines massacres Latins in 1182, and attempts to reunite the churches failed on more than one occasion. Over 900 years later, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Constantinople Athenagoras I reversed the excommunication orders. Efforts to better relations between the two entities have continued since 1965.