It is the 21st of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1059.
It was just five years after 1054, but the church was not talking about the recent "East-West" schism. This is parallel to the way soldiers in 1914 did not refer to World War I as such. It wasn't called that at the time. Many of the helpful years that we use as pegs were not always seen at the time. It has taken the long slow churn of history to move far enough into the future to better reflect on that past.
In 1059 the Greek church had more than a handful of problems. While we stress 1054 as the breaking year, it is worth noting that the Eastern church would still refer to itself as Roman for a while.
The break was slow, and there are undoubtedly specific issues we might highlight. Usually, it's the filioque controversy and regional/national issues. But recent research has noted that the one issue that might be most important to the schism revolves around a character that we tend to skip over in our telling of the story. The critical figure is Michael Kerullarios, the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Michael Kerullarios was raised to be a politician, an abrupt change of heart led him to take up the clerical life, eventually making his way to the top spot of Patriarch. His Patriarch-ship came while Pope Leo IX was initiating a series of reform movements in the western church. In doing so, some of Leo's reforms led to a tightening of condoned practices, especially regarding belief in what was happening during the Sacrament of the Altar, i.e., communion. Leo acted in response to a popular doctrine circulating that communion did not partake in Christ's physical body. And if you are in a church tradition that considers this kind of argument paramount, you are firmly in the western Roman tradition.
Michael Kerullarios was the representative of not only all churches in Constantinople but of those who observed the Eastern rites as their liturgy. In the East, there were no such quarrels over how Christ's body is present. Instead, there were major issues regarding the nature of the bread itself.
Historic church practice used common leavened table bread until around the 8th or 9th century in the Western Roman church. There are various arguments about why the West began to use unleavened wafers. Perhaps most prominent is trying to distinguish the sacrament's sacred bread from the common bread of the table. Fair enough, I've taken that Styrofoam-ish wafer at communion for decades.
But for Michael Kerullarios, this marked a deformation in the church's practice. According to him and many in the Eastern Roman church, the leavened bread was important as a corollary to the Old Testament use of unleavened bread. In the shadows, they had to use that as a reminder of their hurried flight from Egypt. In the age of fulfillment, the bread was specifically leavened.
Kerullarios saw this as an issue that was both important theologically and for unifying those that practiced the Eastern rite. The famous ex-communications between Leo and Michael I were supercharged by this issue, a practical theological issue that could be understood by the laity touch and taste alone. Another strain of tensions led to ultimate dissolution, but it is often overlooked and that with its leading proponent in the East Patriarch Michael Kerullarios.
Kerullarios would pivot his attention towards the Emperor in the East after 1054 to quarrel with him over the ownership of church property. The Emperor sought to depose Michael when the Patriarch unexpectedly on this, the 21st of January in 1059.
The last word for today comes from Sören Kierkegaard, a prayer.
LORD Jesus Christ, let Thy Holy Spirit enlighten our minds and convince us thoroughly of our sin, so that, humbled and with downcast eyes, we may recognize that we stand far, far off and with a sigh, "God be merciful to me a sinner"; but then let it befall us by Thy grace as it befell that publican who went up to the Temple to pray and went down to his house justified.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 21st of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man with matzo opinions about the use of unleavened bread, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by 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.