Today In Fact, 16 July

The day of splits. Two schisms of a very different sort and just under 900 years apart, mark this day. The first involved two friends from Lorraine, one was Cardinal Frederick the brother of the Duke of Lorraine and the other the abbot of a local Benedictine monastery who was made Cardinal Humbert.

They were sent as legates to Constantinople to try and patch-up the growing theological and governance differences between the eastern and western branches of Christendom. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Cerularius refused any attempts at peace between the two branches. He went so far as to shut all the Roman rite churches in Constantinople to ensure no peace.

Eventually on this day in 1054 on the high altar of Santa Sophia Church, the papal legates placed a bull of excommunication against Cerularius thereby officially initiating the schism between eastern and western Christendom.

The split remains today as wide as ever but perhaps with less venom. One of the biggest points of disagreement was around the nature of one member of the Trinity; the Holy Spirit. The eastern Churches believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father while the Roman Churches believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Known as the Filioque controversy, this tiny difference remains the primary source of schism between these two branches of Christendom.

After the Excommunication, Patriarch Cerularius responeded with an excommunication of his own and the legates left for home. Cerularius however proved a power-hungry man and eventually was exiled by one of the many Emperors, dying before he could be put to trial for heresy.

Cardinal Frederick went on to become Pope Stephen IX which is a good thing I guess because the bull of excommunication was certainly not legally binding as the pope in whose name it was written was dead by then. Humbert was the brains behind Frederick and is credited with initiating the Gregorian reform of the Church and the creation of a system for electing a pope with a College of Cardinals.

Almost 900 years later in 1945 in the deserts of New Mexico a tiny atom was split that changed the world. The first atom bomb test, appropriately perhaps codenamed “trinity” was the culmination of the secret Manhattan project.

Preparations for the test included the building of a steel tower that would suspend the bomb one hundred feet above ground. Many were apprehensive – there were concerns that the blast might launch a cataclysmic reaction in the upper atmosphere leading to world destruction. Some feared the consequences of radio-active fallout on civilian populations surrounding the test site. Still others feared the test would be an outright dud. Observers were sent to surrounding towns to monitor the results of the blast and medical teams were kept on alert.

Finally, the rains that had delayed the test for almost two weeks subsided and in the darkness of this July morning tour civilization signed its own death warrant. When the dust of our civilization is finally settled, I think the second epoch-making event of this day involving the split of a tiny atom will prove to be the seed of our destruction. How might we undo what this witnessed?

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (