Why did the original Christian church split into the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church?

Orthodox Christianity 101
By Orthodoxy Christianity 101
May 12, 2024

The split between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church is a complex and multifaceted event that took place over a period of several centuries. While there are many factors that contributed to the split, one of the main causes was a series of disputes over theological and doctrinal issues, as well as differences in cultural and political practices.

The roots of the split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches can be traced back to the early centuries of Christianity. In the 4th century, the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion, and the bishop of Rome (the pope) became an important political and spiritual leader. However, despite their shared faith, the Roman and Eastern churches (which later became the Orthodox Church) began to develop differences in their practices and beliefs.

One of the main issues that contributed to the split was the use of Latin in the Western (Roman) Church, while Greek was used in the Eastern (Orthodox) Church. This led to a linguistic divide that exacerbated other cultural and political differences between the two churches.

Another major factor in the split was the concept of papal authority. The pope claimed authority over all other bishops, including those in the Eastern Church. This led to a series of disputes over the power and authority of the pope, and many in the Eastern Church saw this as an attempt by the Western Church to exert control over them.

The final straw came in 1054, when Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I excommunicated each other, officially splitting the two churches. This event, known as the Great Schism, marked the formal division between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

In the centuries that followed, the two churches continued to develop along separate paths, with the Catholic Church becoming more centralized and hierarchical, while the Orthodox Church maintained a more decentralized and autonomous structure. Today, the Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world, with over 1.3 billion members, while the Orthodox Church is made up of a number of smaller, independent churches that are united by their common beliefs and practices.

Despite the formal split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, there have been efforts over the years to bridge the divide and bring the two churches closer together. In 1965, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church issued a joint statement, known as the "Balamand Declaration," in which they affirmed their shared beliefs and committed to working towards unity. While significant progress has been made in recent years, there are still many differences that need to be addressed before the two churches can be fully reunited.

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