Historic schisms and ecumenism today

By  Joshua Lowe, Catholic Register Special
  • January 15, 2009

{mosimage}Editor's Note: this is the first place winner of the seventh annual Friars’ Student Writing Award sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and The Catholic Register. Lowe, 16, is a Grade 11 student at St. Augustine Catholic High School in Markham, Ont.


“That they may be one in your hand” comes from the prophet Ezekiel and closely relates to the modern Christian goal of “ecumenism.” Ecumenism is a term used to describe “a movement promoting union between religions.”

In relation to Christianity, it explains the effort to develop unity between the churches: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant. To fully comprehend and apply the idea that the prophet Ezekiel was trying to convey, we must look at the past conflicts within Christianity, the present attempts to promote unity and the actions that we can take in order to make unity between churches a reality.

Throughout the history of Christianity there have been many schisms and conflicts that have created bitter divisions within the church. Possibly the most extreme event took place during the Great Schism in 1054. Although the split was a result of centuries filled with disputes between the east and west, there was one event that triggered the split. In short, Pope Leo IX sent legates to Constantinople to negotiate with Patriarch Michael Cerularius, but they were ignored.

Angered, the legates left a Bull of Excommunication on the altar of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. From here, the already chaotic situation escalated and the church separated into what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The main reasons for the split can be attributed to four differences: language, authority, the Filioque and the Eucharist.

The second historical event that would help us understand the strong need for ecumenism is the Protestant Reformation, which occurred in the 16th century. A key leader in the Reformation was a German monk named Martin Luther. He questioned and protested the Roman Catholic Church’s ideas and practices, including selling Indulgences, authority of the pope and clerical marriage.

People who shared the same views as him broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and formed the Protestant churches. Soon after the Council of Trent took place and the Roman Catholic Church addressed and corrected some of these issues, making some positive changes, but the Protestants still refused to come back.

These two schisms are the main historical events that divided Christianity and have, therefore, established the dire need for ecumenism.

In the modern day, Christianity remains fragmented and without union. There seems to be a slow, unproductive path to ecumenism between the Christian churches.

Roman Catholics and most Protestant groups have supported, but have only made small pushes towards ecumenism. Unfortunately, the Eastern Orthodox Church for the most part opposes it, simply because it feels it would compromise essential doctrinal standards. However, in recent years, many groups have taken the initiative to promote ecumenism.

An example of this would be the “United churches,” in which two or more denominations share the same church building and either have separate services or have services with elements from all of the denominations. Presently, very little progress is being made in implementing total ecumenism in the churches of Christianity.

So how can we change our present ways to achieve more progress towards ecumenism? I believe that we can make monumental strides towards ecumenism in a couple ways.

Firstly, we must increase and encourage communication between all of the Christian churches. An example of this would be to hold more productive councils of the pope, patriarchs, cardinals and bishops to focus solely on discussing ways to build ecumenism.

Secondly, as Christians, we must find ways to educate ourselves about other denominations. By doing so, we will be more willing to accept and welcome the ways other denominations practise.

Finally, we must participate together in religious events. Hosting events that incorporate tradition from each church will increase our understanding for each other and will inspire us to become more open to ecumenism. In the future, ecumenism could undoubtedly become a reality if we implement the ideas I have discussed above: communication, education, participation.

In conclusion, I believe that God is calling us to put aside all of our differences and come together as one united group of Christians.

The reality is that we share the same common beliefs that make Christianity: Jesus Christ resurrecting from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion and being the Messiah who will come again to judge the living and the dead.

It shouldn’t matter that Roman Catholics believe that the Eucharist should be unleavened when Eastern Orthodox believe it should be leavened, because it’s still the body of Christ and we are commemorating the Last Supper. Ecumenism will only become a reality when we realize that the way in which we celebrate the life and teachings of Jesus Christ are secondary to the unity of Christianity.

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