The ban set off violent battles within the Byzantine empire. The pope took a hand in the dispute, excommunicating the Byzantine emperor. Although a later Byzantine ruler restored the use of icons, the conflict left great resentment against the pope.

The Great Schism

By 1054, other controversies had worsened the divide, leading to the Great Schism, or the permanent split between eastern and western Christianity. The Byzantine Christian Church became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the west, the Church became known as the Roman Catholic Church.

After the Great Schism, other differences grew between the two branches of Christianity. Popes in Rome had long asserted their claim to papal supremacy. The patriarchs in the eastern Christian Church continued to reject this claim. The Roman Catholic Church had a single leader, the pope, while the Eastern Orthodox Church recognized a number of patriarchs, or high-ranking clergy.

During the many controversies that erupted between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, popes and patriachs excommunicated each other. Although both churches still followed the same faith, the centers of power saw each other as rivals. During the Middle Ages and after, their contacts remained guarded and distant.

Orthodox Christianity as a Unifying Force

Within the Byzantine empire, Christianity was a strong unifying social and political factor, just as it had been in the western Roman empire. The people followed the same traditions, such as the use of icons, and celebrated holy days according to the Orthodox religious calendar. The use of Greek, the official language of the Byzantine church, was also a unifying factor, just as Latin unified the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe. The patriarch of Constantinople traditionally blessed the Byzantine emperor and the emperor took a strong hand in Church affairs, affirming the unity between political and religious authority.


  1. Support Ideas with Examples In what ways did the Church gain economic power during the Middle Ages?
  2. Identify Central Ideas What role did the Church play in daily life during the Middle Ages?
  3. Synthesize What were some of the effects of the Great Schism?
  4. Draw Conclusions How were Jews treated in Muslim Spain during the Middle Ages?
  5. Support Ideas with Examples What were Church attitudes towards women in medieval Europe?

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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