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Schism of 1054, also called East-West Schism, event that precipitated the final separation between the Eastern Christian churches, led by the patriarch of Constantinople, and the Western church. Tensions had been building up to this event, due to the constant theological disputes in the east, as well as Rome's continuing insistence on being the head of christendom. This ultimately led the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople to excommunicate each other.

Over the next few centuries, Rome became more powerful and rich. Indulgences, outlandish and expensive buildings devoted to art, and offices being bought and sold led to an increasingly decadent church. This ultimately culminated into another schism, when various churches broke off from Catholicism.

I would like history to play out differently for this setting. The eastern and western churches never splintered, but remained unified into the 20th century. The Bishop of Rome would maintain a similar standing with his brother patriarchs, but would be considered 1st among equals. In this way, Rome's power would be kept in check and prevent the rise of Protestantism. How can I make this result come to pass?

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    $\begingroup$ Power is a monster that feeds itself. Why do you think that a bigger church would be less hungry for power? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 12 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch the individual churches would keep the others in check and prevent them from centralizing power. $\endgroup$ – Incognito Jan 12 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ The actual breaking point was the sack and capture of Constantinople by the Latins in 1204. The events of 1054 did not introduce any doctrinal differences between the Church of Rome and the Church of Greece; without the bad blood caused the hated Frankocracy the several efforts to heal the rift may have succeeded. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 12 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I'm not so sure of this. The churches started drifting apart when Constantine split the empire into de facto a Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking empires, it got worse when the Latin empire fell and the Greek empire tried to reconquer it. And the East basically ignoring Augustine didn't help. Centuries of Moslem piracy making sea travel difficult took things further. No argument about the unwisdom of the 4th Crusade, but I suspect it was already far too late. They were effectively schismatic quite early -- doctrinal differences could have been overcome if the will to do so existed. $\endgroup$ – Mark Olson Jan 12 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkOlson: The doctrinal differences actually were overcome, twice, first at the 2nd Council of Lyon and then at the Council of Florence. The bishops and the respective emperors signed on the dotted line, the Popes issued bulls, but they could not make the conciliation work -- the population was very firmly of the opinion that any reunion with the barbarian Latin butchers was out of the question. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 12 at 23:06
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I would have Alexios IV Angelos die in infancy. Without him, the Fourth Crusade doesn’t capture and sack Constantinople, the eastern and western churches don’t distrust each other so much, and the theological compromise of the Second Council of Lyon is accepted to allow the eastern and western churches to remain in communion with each other. In our history, the compromise was accepted by the Byzantine Emperor but rejected by the people because of the events in the Crusade seventy years earlier.

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    $\begingroup$ The deleterious effects for the relationship between the Church of Rome and the Church of Greece of the idiotically stupid Fourth Crusade cannot be overestimated. The terrible memory of the sack of Constantinople by the Latins and the subsequent Frankocracy undermined the acceptance of the compromise of the Second Council of Lyon; two hundred years later, scuppered the results of the {Council of Florence](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Florence), the second attempt at re-unification; and the memories still linger. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 12 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Mike Scott It would be better to have his uncle Alexios III Angelos die in infancy or young adulthood and never usurp the throne in the first place, thus giving Alexios IV no need to seek outsiders to overthrow Alexios III. That would eliminate the 4th crusade just as well and also eliminate 8 years of rule by Alexios III. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Jan 12 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ That's 200 years after the event this question is trying to prevent. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. 2 days ago
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    $\begingroup$ @T.E.D. As mentioned in the comments on the question, the actual final schism was considerably later than is assumed in the question. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott 2 days ago
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AD 850: Muslim conquerors enter Rome.


1: 476: The end of the Western Roman Empire. Rome remains important for Christians.

2: ~540: The Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565) presides over the ecumenical councils that divide governance of the Christian church into 5 sees – Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Under this system, Constantinople was second only to Rome.

3: ~650-750. The Byzantine empire loses Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem to the Muslim caliphates. In our timeline, the isolation of Constantinople by the forces of Islam allowed Rome to grow without interference, taking precedence in continental European matters. This led to the ability of Rome to later challenge Constatinople in matters of church governance, ultimately leading to the spilt the OP wishes to avoid.

4: 827 Muslims enter Sicily. This is the point where our timelines diverge.

5: In the new timeline, the muslims proceed into Italy, adding it to their empire. Italy becomes like Spain. The muslims allow Christians to practice their religion but the Pope is too much like a king and he is deposed. As with the Christian centers in the other sees now governed by muslims, Rome retains its status as a center of the religion but never grows in power.

6: Constantinople is the remaining center of Christianity under Christian rule. However, Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne is the Holy Roman Emperor. As happened in our timeline, his forces stop the further spread of Islam into Europe. With Rome out of commission, remaining Christian sites in continental Europe grow in importance – Aachen, capital of the Holy Roman Empire and also Canterbury* in England and later Kiev and then Moscow in Russia.

Christianity remains established in Europe, but now with Constantinople the last remaining center of Christian civilization. Rome returns to Christian rule centuries later, humbled. The decentralization of power and lack of a Pope means that Christianity forward follows the Eastern model of a confederacy of semiautonomous regions.

*thanks @Mike Scott for correction; see comments.

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    $\begingroup$ In the 9th century, after the Arab conquest of Sicily, the (Eastern) Roman Empire moved swiftly decisively and took extensive territory in southern Italy. In order to take Rome, the Arabs would have to go through the Greeks who called themselves Romans; by that time, the empire had recovered sufficiently to give the Arabs a good fight. The point is that if the Greeks won the Arabs would not take Rome, and if the Greeks lost the Arabs would have a good chance of taking New Rome. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 12 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP - why did it take the Arabs so long to get to Sicily and Italy? It seems like it would have been a quick hop across from Alexandria and in the 600s they had the Byzantines reeling. As far as places ripe for the taking it seems like a better bet than the rest of North Africa and then Spain. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 12 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ They invested a lot of blood, sweat and treasure trying to take Constantinople itself, twice, first time in 674–678 and the second time in 717–718, and lost bigly on both occasions. Not to mention that they had a lot of work to do organizing and stabilizing their newly acquired empire. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 12 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP: thanks for the answer. I suppose all of the first rate loot in Rome was lost in the earlier sackings. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 12 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ It would be Canterbury in England, not York. It has the longer history, and is much closer to continental Europe. In the couple of centuries after 827 AD, York was repeatedly invaded and little is known about its ecclesiastical affairs, but it didn’t have a cathedral. (As it happens, I live in Canterbury, but I’m sure that doesn’t mean I’m biased.) $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Jan 13 at 10:08
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I responded to Mike Scott's answer to prevent the 4th crusade by having Alexios IV Angelos die as a child with:

It would be better to have his uncle Alexios III Angelos die in infancy or young adulthood and never usurp the throne in the first place, thus giving Alexios IV no need to seek outsiders to overthrow Alexios III. That would eliminate the 4th crusade just as well and also eliminate 8 years of rule by Alexios III.

Note 01-13-2019. Alexios III is blamed for squandering the imperial treasury and leaving the government unable to find the money that Alexios IV promised the Crusaders, thus leading to their second siege of Constantinople and takeover.

What would be better still would be if Andronikos I gets executed for treason sometime in the reign of Manuel I and never usurps the throne in 1183, and thus is never overthrown by Isaac II Angelos in 1185 who thus is never overthrown by Alexios III Angelos in 1195, thus preventing the 4th crusade, the reign of terror of Andronikos, and 20 years of misrule by Angelos Emperors.

Added Jan 13, 2019 And the change could happen earlier for even better effects.

1) Prevent the defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, thus leaving the eastern Roman Empire much more powerful than it was at even the height of the Komnenos Dynasty about 1175, let alone in 1203/04, and thus a much less tempting target for the 4th crusade. And it should certainly be rich enough to pay the 4th crusaders everything that Alexios IV promised and send them on their way to the holy land.

2) Or Manzikert happens and also Alexios I Komnenos never becomes emperor in 1081. The Seljuk Turks continue to conquer Asia Minor and then begin to conquer lands in Europe about 250 years before the Ottomans did. The situation becomes desperate and the eastern emperors force the Patriarchs of Constantinople to end the schism with Rome in order to make getting help from western Europe easier.

3) Prevent the church reform movement in the west in the 10th and 11th centuries, since many reformers sought to make the Catholic Church and the Pope the secular ruler of Europe and the world. This would prevent crusades and power-hungry popes.

4) Keep Venice part of the eastern Roman Empire and too dependent to ever lead a crusade against Constantinople.

5) Prevent the Lombard invasion of Italy and the Slav invasions of the Balkans in the 6th and 7th centuries, thus leaving the eastern Roman Empire in firm control of Italy and Rome, and preventing the Patriarch of Rome from becoming any more powerful than the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, or Alexandria.

6) Prevent the Arab-Islamic conquests in the 7th century, thus keeping the eastern Roman Empire larger and more powerful and less likely to be a target of western adventurers.

7) Prevent the great Plague in the reign of Justinian and/or the Ostrogothic resistance under Totila (reigned 541-552) that devastated Italy. Thus the Empire as a whole will be more powerful and able to hold onto Italy, and Italy will be much more desirable for the Empire to hold onto, and the Patriarchs of Rome will never get much political power or influence or cause any schisms with the Patriarchs of Constantinople.

I think that a combination of one or more of these should prevent the Catholic-Orthodox schism.

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  • Charlemagne's Empire does not splinter
    The successors to Charlemagne keep the Empire united, even growing slightly, and get into a power struggle with the Papacy in Rome. The emperors of the Holy Roman Empire win and make Rome one of their capitals. The Pope has much less temporal power and becomes less political. The doctrinal differences are papered over because a split would cost the Papacy too much of the remaining power.
  • Constantinople falls early
    The obvious one, if Constantinople is overrun and Christianity becomes a more-or-less-tolerated minority, they will not be in a position to cause a schism. Minor doctrinal differences are papered over because the Patriarchate is busy with survival.
  • The Crusades come early and Jerusalem holds
    Christianity is sufficiently united and organized that religious orders and lay knights from the West, together with those from the East, manage to defend Jerusalem. This is an ongoing struggle over centuries, putting warriors from all parts of Christianity into battle next to each other.
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I am sorry to report that none of these lesser proposals would succeed. There is no juncture point to prevent the schism or the Protestant Reformation (and both must be prevented for a unified Church). These were driven with overwhelming power because they had their roots in the corruption of the Catholic church.

Here are the hitpoints. You must change all of them or the schism will happen, probably not where it happened but it will surely occur.

  • In the second century, Pope Victor I must not attempt to excommunicate Polycrates. We note this attempt failed but set the precedent that such a move was possible which Pope Leo IX. Today we have better wisdom and another church may share a building with a Seventh-day Adventist church.
  • The Popes must not gain the power to install kings.
  • The attacks on communion by Leo of Ochrid must be stopped.
  • Pope Leo IX must not claim Papal Authority over the archbishop of Constantinople in 1054.
  • Pope Leo X must yield to Martin Luther in 1520 over the practice of the sale of indulgences.
  • The Catholic church must yield to William Tyndale in 1526 over the teaching of the Bible in the native tongue and furthermore must yield the authoritative text is in Greek not Latin.

What is not on the list: the debate of subtle meaning that broke the council of Florence. I'm not even sure the translation from Latin into English is correct. One side or the other had to be proclaiming a false teaching but the level of damage appears survivable.

The debate over celibacy must be settled, but if it settles in favor of local control that would work well enough.

Many of the other plays for Power by the Popes simply cannot exist if the Pope does not have the authority to override the other archbishops. In particular, this would end up meaning Constantinople, as the other three archbishops would play only a minor role through the rest of history.

Each of these hitpoints is pointed at the same thing, limiting the power and the potential of corruption of the Pope. The first one could be patched elsewhere, but has to be patched somewhere. The second makes the Pope not a target for the Germanic Emperors. The last two limit the corruption to a tolerable level, and kind of permit the Protestant reformation to win without actually breaking the authority of the Pope. The teaching of the Bible in the native tongue would permanently check the power of the Church from that point as corrupt misbehavior is open for all to see and oppressing the people becomes all the more stupid, as they will cry out to the monarch and the monarch will interfere.

If you chose instead hitpoints such as defeat Martin Luther or William Tyndale early, you will simply cause other champions to rise after. William Tyndale actually lost in 1526 but shortly thereafter king James rose up and ordered his work completed. If you patch out Martin Luther's lightning bolt, another champion will appear in his place and another and another until his work is done.

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I'd like to throw in my two cents, since it relates to something that I've been thinking about for a while. The primary idea, in my view, (which has been touched on but not in detail) is ensure that the job of church leader (at any level) is not especially lucrative. If your bishops and popes and clergy and such lead the church because they love it, then they should be able to settle differences.

Power corrupts. Money corrupts.

As a Protestant Christian myself (with lots of Catholic friends) I can say that church leadership almost always remains clean of wrongdoing and/or division until money and power come with their roles. That attracts a bunch of politician types and narcissists (but I repeat myself).

So create some sort of adversity against the church (you have a lot of options that have already been mentioned - and then some!) that keeps it from wielding economic and political power.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hey man. You found the root cause. Now how to patch it? I can't find a simple change that does what you state. $\endgroup$ – Joshua 2 days ago
  • $\begingroup$ @Joshua Yes, this is the root cause. However, the workaround seems next to impossible: Power is too much of a chameleon to keep it from church leadership. It suffices that the word of the <insert title here> is considered with greater respect than the bible, and that happens very quickly. I've heard people telling me that one must never criticize a mere pastor, which already gives the pastor allowance to basically preach any bullshit they desire. From that point it's not far away to a corrupt pastor, imho. $\endgroup$ – cmaster 2 days ago
  • $\begingroup$ Basically, the only workaround that seems to work is this: a) Everybody has access to the bible, and b) every congregation lives by their own donations. That way, when a pastor starts preaching nonsense, people will generally start to move away from his congregation, removing the congregations' inflow of money. Maybe he presses on with his teaching, but his impact is kept in check. However, that's not a unified church, it's a church splintered into fully autonomous local congregations, the exact opposite of what the OP wants to achieve. $\endgroup$ – cmaster 2 days ago
  • $\begingroup$ @cmaster: And has its own problem of the rich end up dictating to the pulpit. :( Well sometimes we can avoid it but then we get the honeyed lips instead which is hardly any better. $\endgroup$ – Joshua 2 days ago
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A silly possibility that should be familiar to anyone who's been on /r/CrusaderKings recently: Charlemagne, rather than allow himself to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor, decided that a better way to address the issues with a woman at the head of the Byzantine Empire would be to swear fealty to Irene, bringing his whole chunk of Western Europe under actual Roman control, and to then make a bid for the throne himself, eventually leading to something that could approximate the Roman Empire of old and giving the Pope no opposite side from it to choose.

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