Church splits began with the Great Schism of 1054. Let’s look at this split and think how we Christians can avoid looking down on our brothers and sisters.
In first and second century Christianity, four great Cities of faith emerged. Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome. 3 were in the East and only one spoke Latin, Rome. All were equal. No one claimed anything special.
The Nicene Creed was published through consensus of the whole Christian world in 325. All were equal. The Bible was in Greek, and so was the Nicene Creed, but the West including Rome spoke Latin. Seventy some years later Jerome came out with the first excellent Bible translation into Latin, the Vulgate, 382-405. Further in 410 AD Rome got sacked while The Eastern Roman Empire endured till 1453. The fall of Rome and the chaos that followed in the West meant that learning went down and Greek ability in the West fell. The Latin Bible of Jerome became the main Bible for the West as monks and others stayed with their Latin under the bishop of Rome.
The Situation in Rome Changed
With the Fall of Rome in the West, all Earthly Kingdoms in the West became small and weak and transcient. Only the church and the monks kept up learning. This led to the Roman Bishop becoming more and more powerful in the West. Finally, he had little contact with the East as the Muslims took over those three Christian centers in the East and Constantinople became the key Christian city in the East. They called themselves Roman as were the Eastern Kingdom of Rome. Constantinople became the key city of the Eastern Empire and of the Eastern Church. However, the Eastern Empire became more Eastern and less Roman in the process. Eastern Christians now looked to the Bishop of Constantinople, called the Ecumenical Patriarch who is first among equals. He does not claim all power like the Pope does.
The Bishop of Rome had no equal in the West and had a lot of influence over the temporal leaders in the West. The Popes over hundreds of years gradually decided that they were the authoritative Leader of all Christians in the world! Clearly there was no internet.
Church Splits As One Side Gets Proud
Really everyone wanted one universal church, and so the Popes thought they could enforce good Christian ideas if they had more power. It really is a complicated understandable situation that developed, but too much power did lead to trouble. They never consulted with the patriarch in Constantinople. They did not like them. Western priests and monks had no beards or wives while Eastern (Orthodox) leaders had both. One spoke Latin and another spoke Greek. Finally, Rome is very picky about what bread to use at communion, and the Orthodox wanted real bread. The two sides were culturally different and physically far separated.
Things Started to Happen
All agreed on the Nicene Creed in 325, but some churches in the West changed the Nicene creed starting in late 6 century. By 1014 the Pope had accepted that change for all Latin Christians. He did not talk this through with Constantinople. It was far away and travel was not easy. It seems too bold to me to change the Nicene Creed. They added what is called the Filioque. They made the change as in Latin it seemed too much like Arianism without the change. A discussion could have done so much.
The phrase “the Spirit proceeds from the father” is original. The Latin change was “…from the Father and the Son.” They added “and the Son.” This change by the Romans without discussion with the Greek Christians was crazy.
No Communication and Things Get Bad
The Pope had been saying he was the universal leader of all Christians for hundreds of year and had no contact with the East. Who in the remaining Eastern Roman Empire could bow to the barbarians in Rome?
In 1053 the Pope forced the Orthodox in Italy to do things the Roman way. The Orthodox were miffed. The Patriarch then forced the Catholics in his area to become Orthodox.
Leo IX sent envoys to Constantinople to force them to bow to Rome. It takes a long time to travel there. Leo died while they were traveling.
Then two pig headed men met in Constantinople and the 1054 Great Schism was complete. The Envoys demanded that the Ecumenical Patriarch submit to the Pope, and he refused. He did not like or trust them, so why should he?
So the Envoys said the Patriarch was excommunicated, and the Patriarch excommunicated the Envoys. They went home mad, and no one ever tried to fix it.
Church splits like this really happen even today. Some small theological difference or difference in pratice with cultural differences and pig headed leaders, and you have a church split. Physical distance will help. Now church splits can be positive. Two churches can be better than one as they reach farther. However, each thinking they are better than the other is surely not healthy. Inability to cooperate damages the Kingdom. See also Why Are We Divided?
Church Splits Need More Thinking to Fix
Unfortunately, the Crusades was the way the two sides tried to make up by cooperating this way. It left them more separated and gave us a black eye with the Muslims.
God help us all to be a united Kingdom of love in the contexts we live in.