Reviews - What do customers think about The Eastern Schism: A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches During the XIth and XIIth Centuries?
Wonderful! Dec 26, 2007
Many of us burdened with the Western perspective of history look to the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century as the shipwreck of Western Civilization. But, in fact, one could make a good case that the Schism between Eastern and Western Churches that occurred several centuries prior to the Reformation was of even greater importance. And herein, Steven Runciman describes that great event in truly remarkable and eminently readable fashion.
Runciman argues quite cogently that it was not the technical aspects of the procession of the Holy Spirit that led to the Schism, so much as the cultural and linguistic differences between the Greek and Latin survivals of the once unified Church. Most importantly, the Greeks, centered in Constantinople, believed that important matters of dispute ought to be settled in council among equals. Opposed to this view was the Latin perspective that one man, occupying the See of Saint Peter, ought to hold sway. Runciman is scrupulous in terms of not taking sides in this terrible collision of ideas. But, in the end, we must reasonably conclude, from the evidence provided, that the Orthodox is the more reasonable position with regard to this monumental issue.
The writing is great. And the subject matter is really terribly important. We strongly recommend this excellent book to all who would thoroughly understand these great matters.
A Crucial, Divisive Narrative Jul 13, 2007
Steve Runciman's book on the Eastern Schism has become something of a classic since its first publication nearly 50 years ago. Runciman's telling of this bitter tale - and it is a tale that spans not only the 11th and 12th centuries, but has roots going back far deeper - is both concise and lucid. Runciman clearly details this narrative that has proved debilitating to Christianity ever since - not only between the East and the West, but also between the umpteen gazillion Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic church.
Runciman does a wondeful job summarizing the various events of previous years (especially the Photian Schism, which occured in the 9th century) that helped to lay the "groundwork", so to speak, for the ultimate rending of Christendom. Yet, despite the great attention that is sometimes given to various events (especially to Cardinal Humbert's excommunicating Patriarch Michael Cerularius, who in turn excommunicated Humbert), Runciman's thesis is that the "schism" did not occur at a particular instant, but gradually over time. It was not until the middle of the 13th century that the received opinion of both clergy and layman was that the churches were no longer in communion with one another.
In fact, the mutual excommunications noted above, which occured in 1054, are really little more than a blip on the screen of East-West relations: Humbert did not have the power to excommunicate Cerularius, and Cerularius' excommunicating Humbert should not be understood as Cerularius excommunicating the whole Western church - something that the popular imagination of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy would do well to remember. So, the received thesis that the split occured in 1054 needs to be abandoned.
Runciman also does a wonderful job of appreciating and detailing the socio-theological and theological-political nature of the Church during the so-called "Middle" Ages. That the Church should have such a public presence, and that this public presence should be so important to both the popular mind and international relations may seem strange. It was, indeed, a different world, complete with its own pitfalls and glories. Yet, it is interesting to note that the most divisive theological issue - papal supremacy - also fueled the Crusades, which were more influential than anything else in breaking Christendom apart.
It is a shame that this book has gone out of print again. Perhaps on its 50th anniversary it will be printed yet again, and people will begin to appreciate the subtle differences that, given the fourth Crusade, were exacerbated into the greatest and most tragic split that the Church has ever known - and most likely will ever know. If you can find a copy of this book, I highly recommend picking it up. Although you will catch bits and pieces of this story in many other books, this volume will illuminate its complexities and clear away the myths surrounding it like other books - especially theological works - won't. It is, sadly, a crucial and divisive narrative.
The Eastern Schism and Its Consequences May 10, 2006
`It is an article of faith that the followers of Christ should form one united body on earth'...`The usual definition of a schism is that it is the emergence of a separate faction within the church, whereas heresy is associated with false doctrine.' So begins this gracious book on the split between Eastern and Western Christendom that formed an accumulative dispute over the nature of the trinity throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries and led to a contest for ultimate authority between the sees of Rome and Constantinople.
Runciman's erudition where theological matters are concerned gives us a greater perception and understanding into the respective mind sets of Orthodox and Catholic. Opposite views on the trinity...`The Western view is that the unity of God is absolute and the Persons of the Trinity are relative within it, while the Eastern view is that the three Persons have each a distinctive property but are joined in a hypostatic union'...were exacerbated by translation errors between Greek and Latin and the arrogance of some of the higher echelon churchman, until in 1099 a political dimension intervened: `The chief tragedy of the crusades was that they brought the misunderstandings between Eastern and Western Christians down to a popular level.' Western armies, `rapacious' and `unruly,' used Constantinople as a half way house en route to their bloody business in the holy land, while Byzantines `were eager for allies against the Turks...could not interest themselves in wars in Palestine.'
Antagonisms mounted with crusaders plundering Byzantine lands and accusing schismatic Greeks of perfidious dealings. The stage was becoming set for the Fourth Crusade and that most profane act; the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and temporary overthrow of the first Christian Empire by Christian crusaders would set a gruesome precedent that not even the sack of Rome in 1527 by Christian mercenaries could surpass. Although Venice bears the guilt for much of the impetus and logistical execution, infamy clung to Rome, who for one brief moment gleefully enjoyed its dominance until schisms of its own would contribute to the Reformation dawn. After the Fourth Crusade, division remained a bitter reality.
Runciman covers all points of contact in this judicious narrative and leaves us with a greater frame of reference for future developments.
Theological Disputes in a Larger Context Nov 4, 2005
Famous historian Steven Runciman shows how different cultural backgrounds and linguistic traditions, theological disputes rooted in differing concepts of the Trinity, and Papal insistence on papal authority and supremacy, all combined with several hundred years of strained relations to result in a permanent split in the Universal Church. Runciman's thesis is that the experience of the Crusades (and his three volume work on that topic is one of the current basic accounts) in which Western armies came to help the Christian east and stayed to help themselves (to Eastern property, lands, and church offices) was the real reason for the permanent division between Eastern and Western churches. But for the legacy of Western depradations in the East, especially the Fourth Crusade, the breach could have been healed.
I gave this a four star rating only because it is so good that in twice the length, Runciman could have given us even more background and detail which would have made his erudite narrative even more engaging.
Quick Review Jun 12, 2000
An interesting history for those who say the reformation was the most divisive split in church history.
A more popular level study of the Great Schism. Easy to read and grasp. Not too weighty.