Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we tell the story of the “schism before the schism” between Eastern and Western churches.

It is the 28th of March 2023 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Well, I’ll be…. There is a Chik-Fil-A in Hawaii- at the Ala Moana center, the second largest mall in the country behind the Mall of America. Thanks, Bo from the Bronx, for that!

Also- thanks for the nice words about the mailbag for Walt and Dean, the boys in Bentonville. I want to put together a weekend show of questions for kids- so if you are or know a kid with a question about church history, you can send them to me at Danv@1517.org- I think it could be a fun show for young and older alike.

So- last weekend’s show on the Crusades mentioned the schism between the Eastern and Western churches in 1054- and this schism has kept the churches separate up to the present day. But it wasn’t the first schism between the East and the West- they almost split for 500 years prior during the Acacian schism- a 35-year split between churches that were coming to terms with the new geopolitical world with the fall of Rome.

The first bit of context we need to remember is the Christological debates of the early church and councils. This was THE question in the early church (and could be today as well) “who is Jesus?” That is, is he God? Man? And how does that work in one person? The early creeds and councils up to the 4th council of Chalcedon in 451 affirmed that Jesus had two natures- divine and human- part of it read: Jesus is “the same perfect in the godhead, the same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man… acknowledged in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”


Some in the East- from Edessa (in modern Turkey) and Antioch (in Syria) and Alexandria (in Egypt) were Miaphysites- that is, they held that Jesus had one nature that was both Human and Divine (some people call them monophysites which I think is usually unfair, but that’s for another time).  

And the second bit of context for this schism was the fall of Rome. With no Roman emperor in the West, the Eastern emperor in Constantinople had to consider his allies. And many were in powerful centers like Edessa, Antioch, and Alexandria.

And then, in the West, we have the rise of the Germanic king Clovis. He will be baptized with his subjects into the church- and his wife was a Western Christian, so now we have a powerful king supporting the Bishop of Rome.

So, the Eastern emperor near the end of the 400s, Zeno had to balance two centers of power to the West and East of him. He had his bishop, Acacius compose a work called the “Henotikon”- it tried to walk the line between Chalcedon and the Miaphysites.

The Bishop of Rome (aka the Pope), bolstered by the support of Clovis, refused to recognize it as the document didn’t affirm the Chalcedonian work of the former Pope Leo the Great. He excommunicated Acacius, and thus the Acacian schism separated the Eastern and Western churches for 35 years. It was only with the death of Acacius and Zeno that Justin I would come to be Eastern Emperor- he was keen to unite the Eastern and Western churches, and it was on this, the 28th of March in 518, that agreed to a formula drawn up by the Bishop of Rome- in it he also affirmed that the see of St. Peter was in Rome- setting up arguments for the supremacy of the Pope in Rome that would lead to division 500 years later. It would further separate those churches farther east, sometimes called “Oriental Orthodox” from the Eastern Orthodox- another remaining division.

Perhaps the importance is in the question of how Jesus is both God and man and how political power can sometimes power theological schisms- something we see with this sometimes overlooked schism- the Acacian schism, which ended on this day in 518.


The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- a text I recently spoke on at a youth camp from Ephesians 2:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of March 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite “Mia’s” include the Physites, Farrow, Hamm, and Mamma- the musical based on the songs of Abba- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who likes a good Jukebox musical- maybe not Mamma Mia, but definitely Blinded by the Light- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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