In early summer months of 1054 A.D., papal legates who represented a dead Pope (Leo IX, who expired not long after dispatching them) and a pharisaical Patriarch of Constantinople (Michael Cerularius) issued mutual anathemas and excommunications after weeks of petty bickering and blustering, much of it of a personal nature. The issues behind the catfight might have been weighty, but the triumph of egotism and invective over Christian charity and reasoned dissention was a moment of great triumph for the forces of darkness.
Because it was a moment in history that crystallized the tensions between the apostolic Churches, our “Discovery Channel/Reader’s Digest” (pick your generation) approach to history asserts that the separation of the undivided Church of the First Thousand Years can be marked at that point.
Not really. Few churchmen of that era saw it as such. Serious efforts at reunification did not end with that event. In fact, the Great Schism of 1054 itself was laid to rest in December 1965. Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I met and rescinded the specific excommunications issued by their dubious representatives in the 11th century.
Surprised? Does much of anything look different on the ground between the apostolic churches since the removal of the anathemas? Why do so many of the consequences of the schism remain unresolved over forty years later?
The New Testament call for unity could not be clearer; it was the focus of the last lessons of Christ as written in John’s Gospel.
Our own hardness of heart maintains our continued division. How would we act if we really believed that the barriers that divide the apostolic churches don’t reach all the way to Heaven?