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The Great Schism and Icons - History of Christian Spirituality, 7th-15th Century

April 15th, 2008 | 7 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

I have the privilege of taking "The History & Traditions of Christian Spirituality" with Dr. Greg Peters, a terribly sensible junior faculty member of the Torrey Honors Institute.Christ by Andrei Rublev

In good classical education fashion, rather than simply lecturing to us for three hours a week, he lectures for two hours, and forces us students to do a  presentation on large chunks of history and spirituality.

He doesn't do this in order to relieve his teaching load, but because, as they say, "teaching is the best way to learn." This has proved true, yet again, and I had the joy of researching some of the history of the Byzantine era, the 7th-15th century medeival eastern church.

The two events of greatest historical significance are the Great Schism and the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Those of us raised Protestant may often discuss the Reformation, wherein Protestants separated from the erroneous medieval Roman Catholic Church, but rarely (if ever) do we discuss the Great Schism, wherein the Roman Catholic Church from which we so violently separated, separated itself from the other four great patriarchates.

Also significant is the 7th Ecumenical council, which took place (to my surprise) before the Schism. Despite their disagreements, East and West were of one mind and spirit and purpose about the use of "holy images" in Christian worship, if it is done carefully and with proper understanding of the distinction between creation and Creator.

Here is a teaser, necessarily brief and inadequate, by way of introducing to these two great issues, from an angle admittedly sympathetic to pre-schism Christianity. I would encourage Christian scholars, pastors, and laypeople to begin looking into this period of history and these issues, which remain central to our Christian faith today.

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