Some local rulers there welcomed their skills and knowledge. Jewish communities grew, experiencing times of relative tolerance and prosperity, as well as periods of persecution.

A map shows divisions within the Church in Europe.
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What part of Europe was influenced by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches?

The Christian Church Is Divided

During the Middle Ages, a growing divide split Christendom, as the Christian world was sometimes called. The divide opened up differences between Byzantine Christians in the east and Roman Catholics in lands to the west.

In general, Christians in both regions originally shared a common theology, or set of beliefs, and the same holy days in the Christian calendar, such as Christmas and Easter. Over time, however, the practices of Christians in the east and west grew apart. Long simmering controversies broke into open conflict, leading to a schism, or great divide, within the Christian world.

Differences East and West

Since early Christian times, differences had emerged over Church leadership. Although the Byzantine emperor was not a priest, he controlled Church affairs and appointed the patriarch, or highest Church official, in Constantinople. Byzantine Christians rejected the pope's claim to authority over all Christians.

Other differences emerged during the Middle Ages. While reform movements in the West ended up forbidding the clergy to marry, Byzantine priests were allowed to marry. Greek, not Latin, was the language of the Byzantine Church. As in the Roman Church, the most significant Byzantine holy day was Easter, celebrated as the day Jesus rose from the dead. However, Byzantine Christians placed somewhat less emphasis on Christmas—the celebration of the birth of Jesus—compared to Christians in the West.

Dispute Over Icons

Differences in customs and celebrations were a growing sign of the divide. A huge controversy erupted in the 700s over the issue of icons, or holy images. This dispute contributed further to the divide.

Many Byzantine Christians prayed to images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. In 730, however, a Byzantine emperor outlawed the veneration, or honoring, of icons, saying it violated God's commandment against worshiping “graven images.”

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments