The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia

The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia

By Sverrir Jakobsson

Byzantinoslavica:­ Revue internationale des Etudes Byzantines (2008)

Introduction: In general works on European medieval history there frequently appears a grand narrative about the friction and polarisation within Christianity which reached a climax with ’the great schism’ of 1054. As of that time, it has often been reiterated, Christians split into a western branch which subscribed to Roman Catholic Christianity and an eastern branch which came under the Greek Orthodox Church. Recently, historians have developed an interest in the genesis of Europe as a medieval phenomenon but this Europe is usually equated with Roman Catholicism. The powerful East Roman Empire is not regarded as a fully-fledged European state, but as on a divergent path leading eventually to a dead-end.

In the Middle Ages, many of those writing about the situation within the Church have viewed it in terms of a split. It could take on a cultural meaning, e.g. the term latinitas was sometimes used about the Roman-Catholic world in the 12th century. This word is found in writings about the appointment of the German Emperor and the potential consequences of this for the Latin world. Furthermore, at the time of the Crusades, various scholars in Western Europe were hostile towards the Greeks and some went so far as to say that Constantinople had ’no part in Christianity except in name’.

his view of the schism has been challenged in recent years, as early as in 1955 by Stephen Runciman who claimed that it was ’impossible to give a precise date for the schism’ and argued that the schism was not a matter of conflicting ecclesiastical traditions, but of mutual dislike between the peoples of Eastern and Western Christendom ’that arose out of the political events of the eleventh and twelfth centuries’. In the last 10-20 years this view has gained ground among scholars, although it has yet to become a part of the popular view of the past. For example, Joan M. Hussey states that ’the real schism ocurred’ as a result of the embitterment engendered by the Latin crusading movement and the assault on Constantinople in 1204.

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