The Great Schism

In 1254 the Christian Church split into two. Find out about the reasons why this happened! You will need to look at their beliefs about the power of the Pope and the nature of who Jesus really was.

After it became legal in the 4th century there was a great deal of bickering about what Christians really believed and while this is interesting it’s more A-level material so let’s not worry too much about that!

Suffice to say that after a few initial squabbles and a lot of stern looks from the doctors of the Church (like St. Augustine, St. Jerome and so on) Christianity managed to settled down into a fairly stable set of beliefs for nearly 1000 years. However, two issues still remained unsettled:

popeThe Power of the Pope

The Pope is the nickname for the Bishop of Rome. St. Peter (Simon Peter – one of Jesus’ disciples) is supposed to have been the first Pope (from Papa, meaning father) and at the time of writing the current Pope is Benedict XVI, though he has just resigned so I’ll let you know! The Pope is now the head of the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, that is about half of all Christians in the world (just over 1 billion people!).

Roman Catholics believe in something called APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION, that is the succession (or passing on) of power from Jesus, to his apostles, to the Pope and the Priests of the Church today. Through the Pope and the priests the power of Christ is still able to be used in the world. As the head of this hierarchy the Pope has ultimate power in the church. If Jesus sits at God’s right hand then the Pope sits at his left!

st-sofia-orthodox-churchHowever, not all Christians were happy with this arrangement and the Roman Empire (who had moved its headquarters to Constantinople (now Istanbul) was worried about the power one man could have over the empire when he wasn’t actually it’s emperor! Many Christians wanted the Church to be lead by a group of bishops, called a synod. After the Great Schism this is how The ORTHODOX CHURCH was governed, by a group of bishops, and still is today. The ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, still remains headed by the Pope in Rome.

The Person of Jesus

This might sound like a silly thing for Christians to argue over but there was a huge amount of fighting over who Jesus really was; whether Mary had actually been a virgin when she gave birth to him and even whether he was resurrected in body or spirit. The ROMAN CATHOLICS thought that Jesus was God, but that he wasn’t God, and also that God was Jesus, and then He wasn’t. And they were both the Holy Spirit, but also they weren’t. Confused. Don’t worry about it. It’s called the DOCTRINE OF TRINITY and it’s very confusing. Basically God is three things (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and one thing (God) but also he’s not a thing at all and so really not any of these things. Got it? No. Oh dear…


The Orthodox Church thought all this might have been a little bit silly and chose not to worry too much about it but took the basic position that God was quite good and Jesus had said some really important things that might be worth listening to and did tell us a lot about God. It all sounds a bit silly now but it was taken very seriously at the time. Anyway, it led to the first major split (or schism) in the Church and while the Roman Catholics are still going strong the Orthodox Churches make up only a small part of Christianity today.



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