Compendium of Church History - Notre Dame

Ninth Century
The Century of the Greek Schism

Every branch of the history of Europe meets and blends in the story of Charlemagne. This German Prince, one of the greatest rulers the world has ever known, was the son of Pepin the Short.

The Teutonic nations of Northern Europe had been gradually brought under the power of the Frankish kings. The last of the great tribes to hold out against Carlovingian arms were the Saxons, and Charlemagne had many a struggle with them during the first eleven years of his reign. At last they yielded, and became faithful subjects of the empire. At the accession of Charlemagne all these tribes were separate nations. Charlemagne made them one people, though he permitted each country to keep its own laws.

Object of Charlemagne's Conquests.
Conquests were undertaken by Charlemagne mainly with a view to spreading the blessings of Christianity and civilization. The conversion of a nation speedily followed its conquest. The whole of the vast territory which he governed was mapped out into dioceses. Churches were built everywhere, assemblies of clergy, monks, and learned laymen were held twice a year, to regulate matters of law and order, both spiritual and temporal. The decrees formulated by these assemblies were known as the "Capitularies of Charlemagne."

Charlemagne's Coronation.
At the end of the year 800 Charlemagne went to Rome. While praying after the midnight Mass of Christmas Day, in St. Peter's, he was crowned by Pope Leo III, who placed on his head the imperial diadem and saluted him as Charles the First, Caesar Augustus, Emperor of the West.

Charlemagne's Attitude to the Church.
Throughout his reign Charlemagne treated the Sovereign Pontiff with unvarying affection, esteem, and submission. He went to Rome four times to aid or consult the Pope, and twice he received the Holy Father in Germany. One of his chief glories was the union he brought about between Church and State.

The grand character of Charlemagne was not without blemish. His early years were marked by some disgraceful acts, but his sincere penitence in later life amply atoned for them. He died in 814, after a reign of forty-eight years.

The Greek Schism

In the ninth century the Greek Schism severed the faithful of the Greek Empire from the unity of the Catholic Church. No point of doctrine was attacked, so the dispute ended, not in heresy but in schism; that is, in a revolt against the government of the Church and a breaking away from Catholic unity.


  1. During the many heresies to which the East gave birth, ill-feeling grew up among the Greeks against the Holy See.
  2. Since Constantinople was the chief city of the Empire, the Patriarchs of Constantinople thought that the chief pastor of the Church ought to preside over that city rather than over Rome.
  3. When the Western Empire was restored by the coronation of Charlemagne, another cause of animosity was added to those already existing.
  4. The real question at issue was, "Who is the lawful Patriarch of Constantinople?"

History of the Schism.
The court of Michael III was the scene of shocking misconduct, the principal leader in iniquity being the young sovereign's uncle, Bardas. The Patriarch of Constantinople, St. Ignatius, excommunicated Bardas, publicly refusing him Holy Communion. Bardas, in revenge, induced the weak Emperor to imprison Ignatius and to name Photius, a clever but wicked layman, in his place. Photius consented to the crime, and received Orders, contrary to canon law.

Both parties appealed to Pope Nicholas I. He upheld St. Ignatius and condemned Photius. The latter rebelled and the schism began. Photius had the boldness to condemn the Roman Church as having departed from the faith and discipline of the Fathers, Michael III died, and was succeeded by the Emperor Basil, who, from political motives, turned out Photius and brought back Ignatius. A general council was called to settle the dispute, and in its sessions at Constantinople decided:

  1. That Ignatius was lawful Patriarch.
  2. Photius was to be deprived of his See.
  3. Constantinople was recognized as second in rank after Rome.

Jealousy of the Holy See and the Latin Church continued even after the death of Photius and Ignatius, and in 1043, when the ambitious Michael Cerularius was raised to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, he revived the old charges against Rome and renewed the schism. Pope Leo IX excommunicated the Patriarch, and the separation between the Eastern Church and the Western was complete.

In the year 1439 the Greek bishops submitted to the Council of Florence and were received into the Church. A few years later the schism was renewed, and God gave the Greeks into the hands of the Turks and made the Greek Church. a slave to the Turkish Sultan.

The Greek Church is at present stagnant and barren; like. a cut-off branch, it lies withering, while the parent tree grows and spreads over the world.

Conversion of the Northern Nations

Nothing contributed to the establishment of peace and order in Europe more than the conversion of the Nations of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. God chose as His Apostle to these people the holy monk Ansgar, afterwards Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. He was indefatigable in his labor to establish the Church throughout all the countries over which his authority extended.

The Greek monks, Methodius and Cyrillus, converted the Slavonic races about the year 87o. These Apostles of the Slays were brothers, who labored as missionaries in Moravia. Despite their success, they were distrusted by the Germans first because they had come from Constantinople where schism was rife, and secondly because they held the Church services in the Slavonic language.

Pope Adrian II, convinced of their orthodoxy, commended their missionary zeal, sanctioned the Slavonic Liturgy, and consecrated Cyrillus and Methodius bishops.