1. Papal Primacy and Patriarchal Authority
2. First Photian Controversy
3. Photius' Condemnation of the West
4. Council of Constantinople (869-870)
5. The Council's Condemnation of Photius
7. Second Photian Controversy
8. Photian Council of 879-880
The eighth ecumenical council presents an interesting problem, as the East and West disagree on its identity. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the council at Constantinople of 869-870 condemning the patriarch Photius has been regarded as ecumenical, while many of the Orthodox consider the Photian counter-synod of 879-880, which abrogated the earlier council, to be authentically ecumenical and binding. Partisans of both camps can produce subtle and erudite arguments in their favor, relying in part on accusations of forgery. Some modern Catholic historians, motivated by ecumenism or a desire to rehabilitate the reputation of Photius, have argued that the earlier Constantinopolitan synod was duly abrogated by the Pope. This thorny historical and canonical problem is not easily resolved.
To a certain extent, it does not really matter which council remains ecumenical and binding, since neither council advanced a new definition of faith, dealing instead with disciplinary matters. Although Photius was deposed and excommunicated by the first council as a usurper, he was later canonically elected as patriarch and apparently restored to communion with Rome. In any event, both councils were largely rendered moot by the death of Photius in the 890s. Accordingly, these councils were rarely mentioned for centuries afterward, in order not to revive a dead quarrel needlessly.
The identity of the eighth ecumenical synod acquires greater significance only in hindsight, in light of the eleventh-century schism between East and West. Photius may be invoked, positively or negatively, as an early precursor of the anti-Roman sentiment that arose among the Greeks. Later disputes about papal primacy of jurisdiction, the addition of filioque to the Latin creed, and differences in liturgical customs, all seem to be present in the Photian controversy. Adopting one or the other council, then, appears to entail taking a Catholic or Orthodox view of these matters.
Yet the question is further complicated by the fact that it is not clear if Photius really did question papal primacy, or if his council unequivocally condemned the doctrine implied by filioque. One might conceivably admit the validity of the Photian synod while still adhering to the Catholic position on these questions.
Before we can make sense of the claims regarding either council, we must have a fair assessment of the thinking of that time regarding papal and patriarchal jurisdiction, along with the particular circumstances that led to the Photian disputes.
The Roman Church had long claimed to be first among the churches, on account of its foundation by Peter, chief of the apostles. This primacy was never challenged in the West, where Rome was the only apostolic see and the imperial capital. The prelates of the East also showed a certain deference to Rome from the earliest Christian era. Even the patriarchate of Alexandria, then the highest ranking church of the East, would occasionally appeal to Rome to settle disputes about doctrinal or disciplinary matters.
At the ecumenical synods which began in the fourth century, the popes were acknowledged to have an indispensable role. Although the emperor at Constantinople assumed the role of convoking the council, inviting all bishops, and then promulgating its decrees to be binding throughout the empire, the actual deliberations and proceedings in each synod were left to ecclesiastics. The bishops of the East recognized that papal consent was a special, necessary condition for any definition of doctrine to be held by the universal church. Such consent was achieved by the attendance of papal legates during the synod, followed by the Pope’s ratification of the synodal acts. Without such participation, a synod was considered to be only local rather than ecumenical.
The second and fourth ecumenical synods included canons, rejected by Rome, that would raise the rank of Constantinople above the older Eastern patriarchates. These canons were not motivated by anti-Roman sentiment, but by a desire to counteract the ambitions of Alexandria toward Palestine and other parts of the East. In fact, the twenty-eighth canon of Chalcedon expressly maintains the primacy of Rome, and this same council received with acclaim the definition of faith put forth by Pope St. Leo.
The exact nature of papal primacy was never formally defined, but in practice the Pope served as an arbiter of last resort for disputes among bishops and patriarchs on disciplinary matters and definitions of doctrine. Apart from such appeals, his ordinary jurisdiction was effective only over the patriarchate of the West, which included Italy, Spain, Gaul, Germany, Illyria, and northwest Africa.
In the fifth and sixth centuries, the prelates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem were sometimes called “ecumenical patriarchs” by Emperor Justinian and others. This is because the five patriarchates (including Rome) collectively governed the Christian ecumene. In the late sixth century, the use of the title “ecumenical patriarch” at Constantinople led Pope Pelagius to believe that the patriarch John was denying Roman primacy. Pope Boniface III repeated the complaint, so, in 607, Emperor Phocas decreed that the see of Peter remained “head of all churches.” In fact, none of the Eastern patriarchs had ever pretended to claim universal jurisdiction by the title “ecumenical.”
In light of the above, we can address the specific controversies in jurisdiction between Rome and Constantinople that arose in the ninth century. We need not discuss the issue of papal infallibility, since no papal definition of doctrine is at stake in the disputes of this period.
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In 857, Patriarch St. Ignatius of Constantinople refused to give Holy Communion to the emperor regent Bardas, on account of the latter’s reportedly incestuous relationship with his daughter-in-law. He also refused the young emperor Michael’s demand (prompted by Bardas) to have his mother, the former empress Theodora, sent to a convent. In retaliation, Bardas deposed and exiled the patriarch as a traitor (Nov. 857 or 858), and appointed the imperial secretary Photius as a replacement. As Photius was a layman, he received all the clerical orders in five days (Dec. 20-24, 857 or 858), and finally received episcopal consecration from three bishops, one of whom was Gregory Asbestas, himself previously excommunicated by Ignatius. (See Appendix A.)
This was not the first time an emperor uncanonically appointed a layman as patriarch of Constantinople. The same had occurred with the patriarchs Paul III (687), Tarasius (784) and Nicephorus (806). Only the case of Nicephorus occurred after the Second Council of Nicaea (787), which condemned (second and third canons) the politically motivated appointment of laymen directly to high ecclesiastical office, as the iconoclast emperors had done. Consequently, many clerics and monks, notably St. Theodore the Stoudite, strenuously opposed recognition of Nicephorus, resulting in a response of imperial persecution.
Similar objections were raised to the nomination of Photius, which was an even worse affront to the independence of the Church, since it required the deposition of a living patriarch. The consecration of Photius by an excommunicate was especially deplored, as it seemed to imply a rejection of communion with Ignatius and therefore schism.
It is doubtful that Ignatius ever formally abdicated (see Appendix B); at any rate, his removal from office was certainly under duress. For fear of the emperor’s wrath, the bishops accepted that Ignatius was no longer patriarch, and nominated three candidates that they preferred over Photius. Eventually, they capitulated to the emperor’s choice, though five ardent supporters of Ignatius insisted that Photius sign a statement declaring himself to be in communion with his predecessor. Two months later, Photius reneged on the signed agreement and anathematized Ignatius, outraging many bishops, who in turn organized a synod (858 or 859) to anathematize Photius. Resistance was finally broken by imprisonment and banishment of dissenters. Ignatius, from exile, subsequently excommunicated Photius and his supporters. Photius, for his part, organized a synod of his supporters in 859, declaring himself canonical patriarch and rehabilitating Gregory Asbestas.
In 860, the emperor and Photius sent an impressive embassy with gifts to Pope St. Nicholas the Great, asking him to recognize Photius as patriarch and to send legates to a synod, ostensibly for the purpose of resolving some remnant iconoclast controversy. This was by no means an unusual request. Pope Nicholas, renowned for his learning and justice no less than his charity to the poor, heard many cases from around the world, as had his predecessors for centuries. The eastern Synod of Sardica (343) expressly mentions a right of appeal to the Pope for bishops who have been judged unjustly: “...honour the memory of Peter the Apostle, and let those who gave judgment write to Julius, the bishop of Rome, so that, if necessary, the case may be retried by the bishops of the neighbouring provinces and let him appoint arbiters...” During the iconoclast controversy, Theodore the Stoudite appealed to papal primacy as a bulwark against imperial domination of the Church. This attitude was still followed by many Eastern monks, including supporters of Ignatius. The current patriarch and emperor had no real respect for the pope’s primacy of jurisdiction, yet they recognized that their position was untenable without papal approval.
In his letters of reply (Sept. 25, 860), Pope Nicholas gave notice to Photius that he would not recognize him as patriarch until the return of his legates. He advised the emperor that Ignatius should not have been deposed “without consultation with the Roman pontiff,” nor should a layman have been made patriarch, contrary to the canons of Sardica and the decrees of the popes. Nicholas further noted that the iconoclast controversy had been settled long ago, so he surely understood that the real purpose of the synod was to legitimize Photius as patriarch. On this point, he would not “give the consent of his apostleship” until his legates had returned and informed him of the synod’s proceedings.
Pope Nicholas dispatched two legates to preside over the judicial synod of Greek bishops, with instructions to report the proceedings, not to pronounce judgment. The synod of 861 was dominated by the emperor’s party, which pressured everyone to denounce Ignatius. In a thoroughly one-sided case, all the witnesses were against Ignatius, with some even claiming that his original elevation had been invalid, since there was no canonical synod to elect nominees, so he was never lawful patriarch. This sudden insistence on legal formalities was clearly motivated by the present need to legitimize Photius, for the entire episcopate had submitted to Ignatius from his consecration. Despite the one-sidedness of the trial, Ignatius retained a significant following among the bishops, even though Photius had already made many episcopal appointments. Whether because of threats or bribes or plain lack of scruples, the legates exceeded their papal mandate by joining the synod majority in its judgment against Ignatius. The deposed patriarch rejected this verdict, claiming his right of appeal to the Pope.
The emperor and Photius sent letters to the Pope, asking him to give his assent to what had been ruled by the synod and his legates. Photius repeats the convenient novelty that Ignatius was unlawfully elected, and asks Nicholas, “who holds the primacy,” not to receive those who come from Constantinople without authorization; i.e., the Ignatian party.
When the legates returned to Rome in early 862, Pope Nicholas swiftly gathered that they had exceeded their mandate, and refused to consent to the judgment of the synod. He sent letters to that effect to the emperor and Photius. In these letters, he reproves the emperor, and states that he will not make a decision “until the truth is made clear in our presence.”
Towards the end of the year 862, the monk Theognostus secretly brought to Rome a letter from Ignatius, signed by ten metropolitans, fifteen bishops, and other clergy. Finally, the Pope learned the other side of the story, as well as the imprisonments and tortures to which Ignatius and his followers had been subjected. Even allowing for exaggeration, it is hardly contestable that the emperor Michael and the regent Bardas resorted to coercive measures throughout this affair. The Pope also learned that his legates had been fully complicit in the synodal show trial, assenting to whatever the emperor demanded.
In a new letter to Pope Nicholas, the emperor claimed that he had only asked the pope to send legates, not to pronounce judgment. This implausible claim, if true, would mean the pope was expected to be just an idle witness, not an arbiter. The emperor further claimed that the affair between Ignatius and Photius was a matter of internal discipline that could be handled locally. Since no issue of doctrine was at stake, intervention from Rome was not required. This claim, likewise, will not withstand scrutiny. If the emperor and the patriarchate really had sufficient authority in this matter, the issue would have been settled by the synod of 859. It is only because their authority was not universally accepted by the Greek bishops that the emperor and Photius sought the Pope’s participation. Thus they tacitly admitted that they needed his stamp of approval for their show trial of 861.
Now having heard both sides of the case, Pope Nicholas convened his own Roman synod in 863, examining the claims of both parties. He ruled that Ignatius remained lawful patriarch, while Photius was a usurper. The Pope excommunicated Photius, as well as his own legates, finding that they had accepted bribes. He sent letters to the East announcing this judgment. In an eloquent letter to the emperor, Pope Nicholas reiterated his primacy of jurisdiction and the uncanonical nature of the deposition of Ignatius, as he had done in his letters of 860. (This language was softened or omitted in the versions read by Photius at the synod of 861.) He gave a long discourse on the independence of the Church from civil authority, and sharply rebuked the emperor for violating canon and civil law. The emperor and Photius refused to comply. Ignatius was kept in prison and the Pope’s decree was never published. Meanwhile, Photius produced a patently forged letter from the Pope bestowing florid praise on the patriarch. Even in opposition, Photius and the emperor revealed that they recognized the primacy of the Pope.
Note that these events all took place before the Bulgar controversy, so Pope Nicholas’ judgment against Photius cannot be imputed to any desire for political aggrandizement. Nor can it be said that Pope Nicholas was moved to a negative opinion of Photius by the influence of Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims. The Pope was no slave of the opinions of Hincmar, as proved by his endorsement of the mission of Ss. Cyril and Methodius over the objections of the Frankish prelate. On the contrary, we find, from extant documents, that Pope Nicholas was consistent in his skepticism toward the validity of Photius’ accession and Ignatius’ deposition, and his assertions of papal primacy were no different from those made by his immediate predecessors. He claimed no greater jurisdiction than that of an arbiter of last resort, a role long recognized by numerous patriarchs of the East, including those of Constantinople. To deny that the Pope was lawful judge in this case would require us to accept that a local synod dominated by the emperor had supreme power in the Church, which, of course, is exactly what the emperor sought.
Pope St. Nicholas, acting as lawful judge, found that St. Ignatius had been unlawfully deposed by the emperor, and so remained the lawful patriarch. Photius was therefore invalidly elected to an already occupied see. He was further disqualified by being consecrated by an excommunicate, and by being a layman appointed directly as a prelate by a secular ruler, opposing the canons (e.g., the seventh ecumenical council). Photius and his followers were therefore in schism.
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The Photian schism intensified as a result of the dispute between East and West over the mission to the Bulgars. In 863, King Boris I of the Bulgars was converted by Greek missionaries, and he was baptized the following year. In 866, Boris requested teachers of Christian doctrine from Rome. When these were sent, he offered to make a papal legate the first archbishop of Bulgaria, but Pope Nicholas replied that it was uncanonical for a bishop to change sees. Boris’s goal was an autocephalous Bulgarian Church, while the Greeks wanted the patriarchate of Constantinople to have jurisdiction over Bulgaria.
The Latins, for their part, claimed that the Bulgar kingdom should belong to the Roman patriarchate, since Illyria, which overlapped with the western portion of Bulgaria, had historically been part of the Western Roman Empire. This was not a novel claim, as the popes had insisted on this prerogative in Illyria against the Greeks during the iconoclast period. At the same time, Pope Nicholas wished to hold in check the perceived expansionist ambitions of the emperor and patriarch of Constantinople.
Photius, in turn, was outraged by Bulgarian overtures to Rome, as well as Frankish opposition to the mission of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Moravia. In 865, the emperor, at Photius’ prompting, sent a harsh letter to Pope Nicholas, accusing him of heresy and condemning Latin customs, even the Latin language. The Pope replied with remarkable moderation, giving eloquent evidence of papal primacy, as recognized even by former patriarchs of Constantinople. He insisted that he would not refuse hospitality to those who had fled to Rome from the East. Most remarkably, despite the abuse he had received, Pope Nicholas offered to reopen the case of Ignatius and Photius, allowing both to appear in person or to send legates to Rome. He also requested a copy of the acts of the synod of 861.
The emperor and Photius refused to send legates or even copies of the synodal acts, proving that they had wished to use the Pope as a rubber stamp rather than reveal the true content of their show trial. Instead, they deflected attention from the patriarch’s dubious legitimacy by attacking the Roman Church as heretical. Incensed by Latin meddling in Bulgaria, Photius sent a letter to King Boris detailing all the supposedly heretical practices of the Latins. In response, Pope Nicholas instructed Hincmar of Rheims and his suffragans to prepare counter-arguments to the Greek accusations of heresy.
After Photius’ patron Bardas was murdered by Michael in 866, the patriarch, if anything, became more strident in his ambitions. In 867, he issued an encyclical to the Eastern patriarchs condemning Roman practices. The letter was clearly motivated by the Bulgar controversy, as indicated in its opening: “For the Bulgarians had not been baptised even two years when dishonourable men emerged out of the darkness...” He then proceeds to accuse the Latins of being heretics:
The first error of the Westerners was to compel the faithful to fast on Saturdays. (I mention this seemingly small point because the least departure from Tradition can lead to a scorning of every dogma of our Faith.) Next, they convinced the faithful to despise the marriage of priests, thereby sowing in their souls the seeds of the Manichean heresy. Likewise, they persuaded them that all who had been chrismated by priests had to be anointed again by bishops. In this way, they hoped to show that Chrismation by priests had no value, thereby ridiculing this divine and supernatural Christian Mystery.
These differences in discipline had existed for centuries, yet the great Eastern fathers, such as St. Cyril, St. Basil, and St. John Chrysostom, all remained in communion with the West, though they could not have been ignorant of Latin customs. (Latin rite liturgies were practiced in Constantinople and elsewhere in the East.) Clearly, Photius’ accusation of heresy is novel and unfounded. Still, the Council in Trullo more than a century earlier gave evidence that there was already much prejudice about the superiority of Greek customs and the dubious validity of Latin discipline. Photius’ invective would find many favorably disposed listeners.
He also finds fault with what Frankish clerics have done to the creed: “adding to it that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, as the Symbol declares, but from the Son also...” This filioque addition, he claims, contains a theological error: “What Christian can accept the introduction of two sources into the Holy Trinity; that is, that the Father is one source of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and that the Son is another source of the Holy Spirit, thereby transforming the monarchy of the Holy Trinity into a dual divinity?” This is a mischaracterization of the Western understanding of “procession from the Son.” To the Latins, it refers merely to the fact that Christ sends forth the Spirit, as is expressly indicated in the New Testament. It does not imply that Christ is the unbegotten origin (arche anarchos) of the Holy Spirit.
Photius asks the patriarchs to join him in an ecumenical synod to condemn the Latin heresies, so the Bulgars may be freed from this false religion and return to true Christianity. He also says that in Italy “the Orthodox there ask us to free them from [the Pope’s] great tyranny, for in that area sacred law is being scorned and Church order trampled.” Apparently, he would oppose Latin customs even in Italy, for the Orthodox there were already permitted to retain their rites.
Photius organized a pseudo-ecumenical synod to confirm the above judgments and excommunicate Pope Nicholas. He called for the Pope to be deposed, for neglecting the customs of the Byzantine Church and interfering unjustly in the patriarchate’s internal affairs. It is doubtful that the other Eastern patriarchs sent their lawful representatives, much less that they would agree to such an anathema against the widely revered Nicholas.
Photius’ self-declared victory was short-lived, however, as Emperor Michael III was murdered in 867. The new emperor, Basil I, deposed Photius along with other favorites of the dead monarch, and restored Ignatius as patriarch. Ignatius did not rely on imperial authority for his legitimacy, but on the judgment of Pope Nicholas and subsequent confirmation by an ecumenical council.
Ignatius asked Pope Adrian II, successor of Nicholas (who died in 867), to send legates to a new ecumenical synod, which would pass judgment on Photius and related controversies. This council assembled at Constantinople in September, 869. This is what Catholics generally recognize as the Eighth Ecumenical Council.
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The canonical lawfulness of the ecumenical council of 869 cannot be seriously questioned. Unlike so-called “robber councils,” this had the participation of all five lawful patriarchs, and was duly convoked by the emperor and presided by papal legates. These conditions suffice to make the Council ecumenical, as Christians of that time acknowledged that ecumenical authority resided in the patriarchates.
Nonetheless, the council did have markedly low attendance. Only eighteen bishops appeared at first, and by the end there were no more than 102 bishops. Previous ecumenical councils typically had over 300 attendees, out of the roughly 1000 bishops of the East. Usually, the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem were represented only by delegates of each patriarch, just as the hundreds of Latin bishops were represented only by the papal legates. This meant that a council’s attendance was determined primarily by turnout from the patriarchate of Constantinople. After a decade in office, Photius had won the support of most bishops in the capital and its environs.
Attendees were required to sign a formula of union and denunciation of Photius. While this predetermination of the council’s primary outcome was undemocratic, it was consonant with the proceedings of previous councils, which required prior denunciation of heresiarchs and other dissidents. This requirement further accounts for the low turnout, as there was naturally great reluctance among bishops to denounce their own patriarch.
Neither of these considerations militates against the canonicity of the Council. All bishops were invited, and attendance was not mandatory. Dissenting bishops not attending were subject to the authority of the lawful patriarch Ignatius, and were bound to assent to the ecumenical council’s decree on pain of anathema. None of this is novel to the Fourth Council of Constantinople, but was the common procedure for prior synods as well.
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After recapitulating the previous seven ecumenical councils, the synod of 869 declared its judgment against Photius in immoderate language:
This is what happened in recent times through the folly, cunning and evil machinations of the wretched Photius. He entered the sheepfold not through the door but through a window, and, like a thief or a robber, a destroyer of souls, as the Lord’s words indicate, has tried, on every occasion and by every means, to steal, slaughter and destroy the right-thinking sheep of Christ and, by engineering all manner of persecution, he has not ceased from contriving numerous arrests and imprisonments, confiscations of property, protracted periods of exile and, in addition to these, accusations, charges, false testimonies and forgeries against all who worked for true religion and fought for the truth. For he, like another Severus or Dioscorus, engineered the expulsion of the most just, lawful and canonically appointed high priest of the church of Constantinople, namely the most holy patriarch Ignatius, and like an adulterous robber, breaking into his see and repeatedly submitting him to a thousand charges involving dethronement and as many anathemas, he roused continuous turmoil and storms for all the churches of Christ our saviour, in a multiplicity of ways.
Photius is portrayed as the mastermind behind the deposition of Ignatius, and he is faulted for all the various persecutions against supporters of the former patriarch. Most of the invective directed against Photius is for his crime of replacing the lawful patriarch, and need not be construed as proof of great malice or cruelty in his intentions.
The Council recounts that Pope Nicholas had rightly judged against Photius, and had shown in his letters and speeches why the Photians were in error. Photius would not accept the Pope’s judgment, so “just as another Peter dealt with Ananias and Sapphira, who stole what belonged to God, by an anathema included as it were in his priestly dignity, he committed him to death.” Here is a clear indication that the Pope anathematized Photius.
Accordingly, the Council continues, the emperor rightly removed Photius and restored Ignatius to his see. The Council, after careful deliberation, concurs in this judgment, declaring: “we establish the truly innocent and most holy patriarch Ignatius in the controlling seat, while we condemn Photius, the interloper and illegal occupier with all his supporters and promoters of evil.”
The Council also condemns Photius’ anti-Roman campaign:
For Photius was lifted up to the heights of arrogance in attacking the most blessed pope of old Rome, Nicholas, and he vomited out the poison of his evil. He gathered together false vicars from three supposedly eastern sees, set up what was thought to be a synodical council, and, making lists of the names of accusers and witnesses, fashioning profiles and speeches which seemed to be suited to each person who plays a part in a synodical investigation, and making up, writing down and organizing forged records as accounts of those proceedings, he had the audacity to anathematize the aforementioned most blessed pope Nicholas and all those in communion with him.
As the Council notes, by making such an anathema, Photius was also wrongfully excommunicating those of the other Eastern patriarchates, since they too were in communion with the Pope.
Therefore, as regards the man who has acted in this way and has disturbed and shaken the whole holy, catholic and apostolic church with so many brazen attacks of this kind, has utterly refused to be converted and repent, and has refused to submit to the decrees and judgment of the holy patriarchal sees, just as long ago the most blessed pope Nicholas and then his successor, the most holy pope Hadrian, anathematized him, so too this holy and universal synod has reproved him and put him under an ever severer anathema while addressing to him, in the person of all God's people, the words of the prophet Isaiah: Just as a garment soiled in blood will not be clean, so you will not be clean, for you have defiled the church of Christ and have been a source of scandal and destruction to the people of God on many counts and in many ways. We command that those who do not share this view, but give Photius their willing support, if they are bishops or clerics, must be deposed for ever; we anathematize monks or lay people, until such time as they are converted from their false ways and wickedness.
The severity of language is on account of the effect of Photius’ crime, which threatened to tear the Church asunder. Note that he is never faulted with any heresy, nor with any act of personal immorality, save the acts related to his crimes of usurping the patriarchal see and defying the lawful judgment of the Roman pontiff. Recall that Photius himself at first did not deny the Pope’s right to judge his case, and even solicited such judgment. When it was not in his favor, he redacted the Pope’s letter, presenting only what was favorable to his cause before other Greeks. He then compounded his mischief by a counterattack against Rome, making novel accusations of heresy against the Latins, for customs which until then had been largely uncontroversial. These crimes, and no others, are the causes of judgment against Photius.
Since the Council deals with no heresy, it is passing a purely disciplinary judgment against Photius for his unlawful acts. All followers of Photius are anathematized, since they collaborate in the crime of refusing to respect the lawful patriarch. Naturally, this judgment would be reversible insofar as the dissenters were reconciled to the lawful patriarch, or at least rendered moot by the end of the dispute over the see of Constantinople. Such reconciliation would leave intact the solemn judgments of the Council that Ignatius was then the lawful patriarch, and that Photius at that time was a usurper.
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The canons of the ecumenical synod were designed to clean up some of the damage caused by the Photian schism, as well as to address disciplinary matters in order to prevent future scandal.
The second canon commands that the letters of Popes Nicholas and Hadrian regarding Ignatius and Photius are to be observed.
The third canon orders that the image of Christ is to be venerated with an honor equal to the book of the Gospels (and the Cross). “For, just as through the written words which are contained in the book, we all shall obtain salvation, so through the influence that colours in painting exercise on the imagination, all, both wise and simple, obtain benefit from what is before them...” This notion that icons are like a painted Gospel was indicated in the seventh ecumenical council.
The fourth canon declares that Photius was never a bishop, nor is he a bishop now. All consecrations by him are therefore invalid. Clergy, accordingly, need to be re-ordained and churches re-consecrated.
The invalidity of Photius’ episcopal consecration need not imply that he was invalidly ordained to the priesthood and lower orders. His ordinations, though uncanonical, could still be sacramentally valid. His consecration as bishop, however, was invalid, since the see was already occupied by Ignatius, and the designation of a see is essential to episcopal consecration.
The fifth canon, hoping to prevent a recurrence of the Photian schism, forbids laymen to become bishops directly: “...nobody, who is a neophyte in the faith or priestly office, should be made a bishop...” In particular, “...nobody of senatorial rank or a secular way of life, who has recently been admitted to the tonsure with the intention or expectation of the honour of becoming a bishop or patriarch, and who has been made a cleric or monk, should rise to such a level...” This is because the clerical state should be sought for its own sake, not for worldly ambition. Accordingly: “We exclude such people still more rigorously if they are pushed forward by imperial backing.”
Still, laymen are permitted to become bishops if they first spend an appropriate amount of time in the lower orders: “...so that he completes one year in the order of lector, two in that of subdeacon, three as deacon and four as priest...”
The sixth canon condemns the pseudo-ecumenical council held by Photius:
It appears that Photius, after the sentences and condemnations most justly pronounced against him by the most holy pope Nicholas for his criminal usurpation of the church of Constantinople, in addition to his other evil deeds, found some men of wicked and sycophantic character from the squares and streets of the city and proposed and designated them as vicars of the three most holy patriarchal sees in the east. He formed with these a church of evil-doers and a fraudulent council and set in motion accusations and charges entailing deposition against the most blessed pope Nicholas and repeatedly, impudently and boldly issued anathemas against him and all those in communion with him.
The Council accordingly condemns Photius and anyone else who uses false vicars and composes fraudulent documents for a synod. The true legates of the patriarchs of the East, in attendance at this ecumenical synod, confirmed the invalidity of the earlier Photian council. They also said that they had not condemned Photius earlier because the papal condemnation sufficed.
Interestingly, the seventh canon forbids those who are anathematized from painting holy images or teaching. Note that the function of icon-painting is considered equivalent to that of teaching.
The eighth canon forbids even legitimate patriarchs to demand written guarantees of adherence from clerics upon accepting appointments. A profession of orthodoxy may still be required of bishops, but no vow of loyalty to a patriarch. This guarantees that bishops and other clerics are loyal primarily to the faith, and not to the persons of their patriarchs.
The ninth canon nullifies the written contracts that Photius made with his adherents prior to his taking the see of Constantinople.
Notwithstanding the bad example of Photius, no one should dare to separate himself from communion with his patriarch or metropolitan before the latter is duly judged by a synod.
The eleventh canon anathematizes the doctrine that a human being has two souls. This refers to a doctrine promoted by Photius, that each man has two souls, one that is liable to error and another that is immune to error. Photius himself did not believe this doctrine, but gave arguments in its favor in order to prove that theologians could not afford to ignore philosophy. Many people took these arguments in earnest and believed the doctrine, requiring its repudiation here.
The twelfth canon declares that bishops consecrated as a result of government intrigues are to be deposed absolutely.
The thirteenth canon emphasizes that no one may leap from civil life into high clerical rank, but all must work their way up through the ranks over time.
The fourteenth canon, showing sensitivity regarding the recent arrogations of the civil power, teaches that bishops must not prostrate themselves before generals and state officials.
The fifteenth canon renders void the illegal sales of consecrated objects. Ecclesiastics are forbidden to sell agricultural properties, thereby damaging revenues. Church revenues are to be used for church purposes, feeding the poor, and assisting pilgrims. It is not allowable to build a monastery with church revenues. If this is done, it must be handed over to the church.
The sixteenth canon declares outrage that under the previous emperor (Michael), some senators would wear priestly hairdos and the dress of bishops, including the pallium. The canon says Photius himself practiced such mockery, though witnesses of the spectacles told the Council they had been forced by the emperor, who sought to discredit Ignatius.
The seventeenth canon requires that metropolitans must attend patriarchal synods when summoned. The non-cooperation of civil authorities is no excuse, for “...the sacred canons have never prescribed the presence of secular rulers at synods but only the presence of bishops. Hence we find that they have not been present at synods but only at universal councils.”
Canon 18 says that the goods and privileges of churches are not to be removed from the jurisdiction of the prelate by any secular person.
The nineteenth canon, in condemning greed, says that an archbishop should not make needless visits to churches, thereby consuming their revenues for feeding the poor. Exceptions are allowed for hospitality and necessary travel.
The twentieth canon forbids ecclesiastics to evict land renters without arbitration. Only after three years of unpaid rent may he bring a charge of default before civil authorities. Only then, after judgment, can the church reclaim its property. Any bishop or metropolitan who confiscates land on his own authority is to be suspended until he restores it.
The twenty-first canon describes the honor and reverence owed to patriarchs:
This applies in the first place to the most holy pope of old Rome, secondly to the patriarch of Constantinople, and then to the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Furthermore, nobody else should compose or edit writings or tracts against the most holy pope of old Rome, on the pretext of making incriminating charges, as Photius did recently and Dioscorus a long time ago. Whoever shows such great arrogance and audacity, after the manner of Photius and Dioscorus, and makes false accusations in writing or speech against the see of Peter, the chief of the apostles, let him receive a punishment equal to theirs.
Dioscorus was lawful patriarch of Alexandria, so it is clear that even patriarchs may not defame the Pope, on account of his primacy of honor. This canon, which is included in the Latin acts, possibly reflects the first time that the West acknowledged Constantinople as second in patriarchal dignity. This may have been to show that the papacy's treatment of Photius was not intended to diminish the Constantinopolitan see.
All the patriarchs are exempt from deposition by the secular authority.
Furthermore, if a universal synod is held and any question or controversy arises about the holy church of Rome, it should make inquiries with proper reverence and respect about the question raised and should find a profitable solution; it must on no account pronounce sentence rashly against the supreme pontiffs of old Rome.
Only an ecumenical synod might pronounce judgment against a pope. No patriarch or emperor may do so. Even the universal synod must make its inquiries reverently and attempt a peaceful solution before presuming to pronounce sentence against a pope. It is not clear what jurisdiction a council might have over a pope, except perhaps to resolve controversies about which person is lawful pope, in analogy with the case of Photius. The Greeks undoubtedly envisioned the possibility that even a lawfully reigning pope might be condemned by a universal council, as Honorius had been anathematized posthumously in 681. Rome, to be sure, had rejected the synodal judgment that Honorius taught heresy, but assented to the anathema. Thus it was commonly thought that a universal council might have at least some juridical authority over a living pope.
Anticipating the later lay investiture controversy in the West, the twenty-second canon states that the promotion of bishops is to be done solely through election by the college of bishops, with no lay interference.
The twenty-third canon forbids bishops to make gifts of properties belonging to other churches.
The twenty-fourth canon says metropolitans should not make other bishops do their liturgical services for them. Such metropolitans are lazy, and commit themselves only to secular affairs, while making bishops travel at their own expense to the metropolitan cathedral to do their liturgy.
The twenty-fifth canon, following the decree of Pope Nicholas, deposes and suspends those clergy who, even though they were consecrated by the earlier patriarchs Methodius and Ignatius, still support Photius and reject the Council.
On no account are such men to be readmitted into the ranks of the clergy, even if they wish in future to change their ways. An exception will be made in regard to receiving the means of holiness, and it is only our mercy which makes us think that they are worthy of this. They do not deserve to have the opportunity of being restored by their repentance to their former status, as is illustrated by the case of the odious Esau, though he begged in tears for that favour.
This judgment sternly applies the common rule of denying readmission of heretics and schismatics to the ranks of the clergy, though there had been many dispensations from this rule, most recently for the iconoclasts. In any event, this canon was practically unenforceable, since Photius was still supported by a majority of bishops in his patriarchate.
The twenty-sixth canon says that any priest or deacon who thinks he was wrongfully judged by his bishop has a right of recourse to the metropolitan. Bishops, in turn have recourse to the patriarch for complaints about their metropolitans.
Lastly, the twenty-seventh canon specifies that the pallium is to be worn by bishops only at prescribed occasions, not for vainglory. Bishops in monastic orders must keep their monastic habit and way of life.
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After the close of the Council, Ignatius served for another seven years as patriarch, until his death in 877. By all rights, this should have ended the matter of the Eighth Ecumenical Council, since there were no longer rival claimants to the patriarchate. Still, the harsh condemnation of Photius must have rankled his supporters, many of whom still remained in office, notwithstanding the twenty-fifth canon. Indeed, they were numerous enough to call for Photius to be nominated as Ignatius’ replacement, this time legitimately. Naturally, it would be necessary to revoke the excommunication of his person, if the Church were to remain whole.
Shortly after his accession to the patriarchal see, Photius, via a letter from the emperor, petitioned Pope John VIII to revoke the sentence of excommunication. At that time, Pope John was ill disposed toward the Greek church, on account of the Bulgar controversy. The Greeks continued to send missionaries into Bulgaria, ordaining priests there of their own rite, even during the restored rule of Ignatius. Pope John, in 878, sent a letter to King Boris (christened Michael), warning him of the Greek propensity toward heresy, schism and fraud. In the same year, he sent a letter to the Greek clergy, threatening excommunication of anyone who performed illicit ordinations in Bulgaria and did not vacate the region within thirty days. The Pope also petitioned Emperor Basil to intervene and stop the dissensions among Greek clergy, without explicitly mentioning the Bulgar issue. He sent a similar entreaty to Ignatius, not realizing that the patriarch had died. In 879, he reiterated to the Bulgar king that the Greeks had illegally usurped Roman dioceses.
Notwithstanding this dispute, Pope John responded favorably to the request for reconciliation by the Greeks. He sent a letter (ep. cclxiv) to the Constantinopolitans in 879, confirming that they and their patriarch Photius were received in communion. He sent similar letters to the emperor and to Photius, though their exact contents are matters of dispute. Still, it is clear that Pope John intended to forestall any schism that might be caused by the appointment of Photius as patriarch.
As was customary, the pope sent legates to Constantinople, in order to preside over a synod that would end the excommunication of Photius and bring peace to the Greek church, which still suffered from violence on account of the Photian controversy. This council is what some Greeks would come to regard as the eighth ecumenical synod.
Those who had supported Photius over Ignatius naturally rejected the Council of 869-70 as ecumenical, since it lacked the representation of the true patriarch of Constantinople, in their view. Accordingly, there was a generally perceived need for a follow-up council to end the schism with these dissenting bishops, much as St. Cyril achieved a union with the dissenter John of Antioch after the Council of Ephesus.
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The ecumenical status of the council that restored Photius has been questioned for several reasons. First, the supposed deputies of the Eastern patriarchs are men not named in any other council of the period, making it at least doubtful if those patriarchates were duly represented. Second, it is not clear if the Pope truly assented to all the acts of the council. We will treat these issues as we examine the council in some detail.
The council proceedings were dominated by Photius and his allies, and the papal legates appear to have approved of them. It is not immediately clear if the legates were complying with papal orders. This is an essential point, since the authority of legates is circumscribed by the Pope’s will, as expressed in his instructions. This is why it was always necessary for the Pope to ratify an ecumenical council’s acts after the fact, to confirm that he approved of what was done in his name by the legates. We do know that Photius presented altered versions of the Pope’s letters to the emperor and patriarch, and of his instructions to the legates, implying that the patriarch himself recognized that his position was at odds with the Pope’s will, at least in part.
The synod’s acts included the following judgments: (1) the judgment against Photius, and indeed, the entirety of the synod of 869-870, was null and void; (2) no one may add anything to the Creed; (3) Bulgaria would belong to the See of Rome, with a boundary to be drawn by the emperor; and (4) each church is guaranteed its own liturgical usages.
The revocation of the excommunication of Photius is relatively uncontroversial, since the Pope did freely assent to this in his letter, even before it was edited by Photius. It is less clear whether the Pope ever assented to a total repudiation of the earlier council. If he did, this would not impugn the ecumenical status of the 869 synod, since it dealt entirely with disciplinary matters (except for its uncontroversial condemnation of the doctrine of two souls). The lifting of the old anathema is not an admission that it was imposed unjustly, but only that it was no longer applicable to the present state of affairs.
The condemnation of those who add anything to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was clearly aimed at the Latin practice of adding the term filioque, though it is not mentioned.
If anyone, however, dares to rewrite and call Rule of Faith some other exposition besides that of the sacred Symbol which has been spread abroad from above by our blessed and holy Fathers even as far as ourselves, and to snatch the authority of the confession of those divine men and impose on it his own invented phrases (idiais euresiologiais) and put this forth as a common lesson to the faithful or to those who return from some kind of heresy, and display the audacity to falsify completely (katakibdeleusai apothrasuntheie) the antiquity of this sacred and venerable Horos (Rule) with illegitimate words, or additions, or subtractions, such a person should, according to the vote of the holy and Ecumenical Synods, which has been already acclaimed before us, be subjected to complete defrocking if he happens to be one of the clergymen, or be sent away with an anathema if he happens to be one of the lay people.
In support of this judgment, Photius supposedly presented a letter from Pope John VIII denouncing the practice of adding anything to the Creed. Yet even Dvornik admits that this letter is a clear forgery, and is unmentioned before the fourteenth century. Even if the Pope had really agreed with his legates’ assent to the above decree, there is nothing here that repudiates the Catholic doctrine that the Spirit proceeds from the Son. No doctrinal statement on divine procession is even presented. Though Photius certainly believed that procession from the Son was a heresy, he diplomatically refrained from including such a declaration in the council’s judgment. Thus we are left only with a general disciplinary rule against adding anything to the Creed, under pain of anathema. Yet the later popes, in their universal authority, could dispense from such a canon if they saw fit.
Pope John certainly assented to the resolution of the Bulgarian question in his favor, as is proved by his later letters to King Boris, entreating the latter to commit to the Roman church. That Bulgaria ultimately did not fall into the orbit of Rome was no fault of Photius or Basil, but the result of Bulgarian political ambitions.
Photius softened his earlier opposition to Roman liturgical practices, at least for the purpose of making peace, and demanded only that each church be guaranteed its own liturgical use. This had always been the policy of Rome, but the Greeks felt threatened by the ascent of the papacy in temporal power, and especially by its perceived encroachment into the East via the Bulgarian affair.
After the council was closed, the legates returned to Rome and misrepresented to the Pope what they had done. Accordingly, Pope John sent a letter to Constantinople, thanking the emperor and others for restoring peace through the synod. In this letter, he makes his real will known, and his conditions for acceptance.
Although Photius had behaved deceptively, it seems that he was lawfully restored to communion with Rome. Pope John zealously desired to end any pretext for schism, for the good of ecclesial unity, as well as to secure the support of the Byzantine emperor against the Saracens and other external enemies. In his letter to Basil prior to the council, he twice laid down the condition that Photius must request forgiveness from the synod for his prior crimes (usurpation of the patriarchate and calling for the deposition of Pope Nicholas). After the council, the Pope does not mention this condition (perhaps supposing, erroneously, that it had been met), but requires only that Photius must never again make any claim to Bulgaria.
Apart from the probable revocation of Photius’ excommunication, there is no evidence that Pope John ever assented to the content of the Photian synod of 879-880. He took no action, as far as we can tell from his numerous letters, against the addition of filioque to the Creed by Frankish clerics. He hardly can be said to have repudiated the Council of 869-870 as wrongfully condemning Photius; on the contrary, he had asked Photius to apologize for his past crimes. It is practically certain, from everything we know about John’s views on papal primacy (which show even in the edited letters accepted at the Photian synod) and his esteem for Nicholas, that he would not repudiate the previous council, and his ingratiating letter to Basil proves only that he was deceived as to the content of the Photian counter-synod.
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There are no more references to Photius in the letters and decrees of Pope John. A late ninth-century compiler of the acts of the Eighth Ecumenical Council (869-70) tells the following story. When the Pope learned what really happened at the Photian synod, he sent the cleric Marinus to Constantinople to declare invalid what the legates had done. Marinus was mistreated and imprisoned for thirty days. Upon Marinus’ return to Rome, Pope John stood on the pulpit and anathematized Photius and anyone who supports him. Marinus renewed the anathema when he became Pope in 882.
In support of this story, we find that Pope Stephen V (VI) wrote to Emperor Basil in 885-886 that Photius was still trying to get the Council (of 869-70) abrogated. Naturally, this does not make sense if John had already abrogated it. We have already noted that it is implausible that John would nullify or repudiate the Council, but acknowledge that he may have at least ended the excommunication of Photius in the interests of peace.
On the contrary supposition that the popes from John VIII through Stephen V were on friendly terms with Photius, we have only the claims of Photius himself, a known prevaricator on such matters, as proved in earlier controversies. Yet the exact nature of papal attitudes toward Photius from 880 to 885 is uncertain.
Pope Stephen, for his part, certainly denied the legitimacy of Photius as patriarch. When explaining to Basil why he did not write about a recently assembled Constantinopolitan synod, Pope Stephen says: “But to whom was the Roman Church to write? To the layman Photius? If you had a patriarch, our Church would often communicate with him by letter. But for our love for you, we should have been compelled to inflict on the prevaricator Photius more severe penalties than our predecessors have done.” Basil was dead when this letter arrived, and the new emperor Leo VI used it as justification to depose Photius in 886.
Some of the anti-Photian bishops would not accept Leo's new patriarch, Stephen, on account of the fact that he had been ordained by Photius. According to a Greek codex that includes Pope Stephen's letter, Emperor Leo wrote to these anti-Photians, saying:
But if, seeing that he was ordained deacon by Photius, you would rather not communicate with him until you have consulted with the Romans who condemned Photius, let us write and ask the Pope to grant a dispensation from censures to those ordained by Photius. Accordingly the emperor wrote to the Pope, as did also Stylian of Neocaesarea and his friends. (Labbe, ix, 368)
Evidently, Leo and various anti-Photians considered that the Roman anathemas against Photius had never been lifted, so that even those ordained by Photius should be kept out of communion.
Archbishop Stylianos of Neocaesarea, who had been a supporter of Ignatius, wrote the following in reply to Pope Stephen regarding the dispositions of Greek bishops. “Those who have written that Photius has renounced his See are those who have recognised him as a bishop. But we, who following the decisions of Popes Nicholas and Hadrian, do not consider that he possesses the least vestige of the priesthood, how could we write that he had renounced (the patriarchal See).” Although the Photian bishops accepted that their patriarch lawfully resigned at the behest of the emperor, some of the anti-Photians denied that Photius was ever patriarch, since he was never validly ordained as a cleric.
Stylianos says only that Photius was condemned by Popes Nicholas I and Adrian II (867-872). If Photius was condemned by any subsequent pope, the bishops of the East were not aware of it. Pope Stephen says that Photius was condemned by his predecessors, but he may only mean Nicholas and Adrian II. He might also intend John and Marinus when they assisted at the Council of 869-70. John was possibly an archdeacon at the Council, while Marinus was a deacon and papal legate.
It seems likely that the popes, from 880 to 885, thought ill of Photius and did not communicate with him, yet stopped short of formal excommunication in order to avoid schism with the East and losing the support of the emperor against the Saracens. Pope Stephen, in his letter to Basil, revealed his real attitude toward Photius, unexpectedly prompting the deposition of the patriarch by Leo.
Stylianos asked Pope Stephen to pardon those who had accepted ordinations by Photius out of fear of princes. This request was answered by Pope Formosus (891 or 892), since Stephen had died. Formosus granted pardon to lay followers of Photius, but insisted that clerics ordained by Photius would be examined on a case by case basis. This hard stance toward Photian ordinations shows that Formosus, like his predecessor, regarded Photius' lay status as permanent. A similar stance existed among the Greeks, as is proved by the Greek compilation of "anti-Photian" documents, which Dvornik dates definitively to the papacy of Formosus (891-96). Consequently, many would continue to doubt the validity of Stephen of Constantinople's consecration as patriarch.
Accordingly, an early biography of St. Antony Cauleas, who became patriarch in 893, says that he reunited East and West. It is not that any formal decree of reunion was issued, but rather now, for the first time since the death of Ignatius, Constantinople had a patriarch whose legitimacy was unquestionable, especially as Photius may have died in cloister by then.
Pope John IX (898-900) said he accepted the patriarchs Ignatius, Photius, Stephen and Antony "to the same extent as Popes Nicholas, John, Stephen and the whole Roman Church have done." We do not know what Pope John VIII's definitive attitude toward Photius was, but Popes Nicholas and Stephen had unequivocally negative judgments of that patriarch. John IX likely believed that John VIII also excommunicated Photius. Such opinion was already current during the reign of Formosus, as proved by the anti-Photian compilation.
The last loose ends of the second Photian controversy were resolved at a local Greek council in 899, attended by Roman legates. This synod formally legitimized the deposition of Photius by Leo, yet at the same time ruled that all of Photius' ordinations were valid, relaxing the harder stance of Popes Stephen and Formosus. There is no contradiction here, if it is accepted that Photius was a valid patriarch from his restoration until he was lawfully deposed in 886.
After this, we find little discussion of Photius for about a century. In the eleventh century, however, there was a revival of interest in Photius' written work, much of which is quite edifying and orthodox. Patriarch Sisinnios of Constantinople (996-998) added Photios to the list of saintly patriarchs (tomos tes Henoseos). [Martin Jugie, "Le Culte de Photius dans l'Église Byzantine," Revue de l'Orient Chrétien (1922-23), 3rd ser., v. III, p. 109.] Yet Sisinnios remained in communion with Rome. (The claim that he revived Photius' anti-Latin polemics is based on an unreliable late attribution.)
From the mid-eleventh century onward, the Greeks increasingly engaged in new controversies with the Latins over the filioque, papal primacy, and various liturgical matters. The recovery of interest in Photius works played at best a minor role in the gradual estrangement between East and West. Naturally, nonetheless, the esteem of Photius increased as his anti-Latin and pro-imperial views resonated with trends in Greek Orthodox thought. The Greeks acclaimed him as a doctor of the Church in the twelfth century, and his veneration as a saint was universally established by the sixteenth century, though he had a local cult long before then. As Photius' condemnation of Pope Nicholas was no longer considered a blot on his character, the Greeks could now focus on the patriarch's many authentic merits, expressed in his personal spirituality and in his theological writings.
In the West, early canonists, most notably St. Ivo of Chartres (late 11th cent.) and Gratian (12th cent.), considered the Photian synod of 879-880 to have been duly approved by Pope John VIII. We have already acknowledged that Pope John likely ended the excommunication of Photius, so the second Photian controversy was not properly a schism. However, the medieval canonists' view that the Council of 869-70 was completely abrogated seems to have been based on the forged papal letter and instructions to legates then in circulation among the Greek acts. (See Appendix C)
Later Catholic scholars, starting with Baronius in the sixteenth century, accepted the entirety of the ninth-century anti-Photian corpus as proof that John VIII repented of his decision and never lifted the excommunication of Photius. Thus the Eighth Ecumenical Council was properly that of 869-70, which had never been abrogated. This remained the dominant Catholic view through the early twentieth century.
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One's position on the Eighth Ecumenical Council is invariably informed by one's opinion on the actions and personality of Photius. While giving due regard for the Photian position, especially regarding the second controversy, it is impossible to paint Photius white without blackening the reputation of St. Nicholas the Great, Ignatius of Constantinople (a saint of the East and West), and practically every other ninth-century witness whose writings are extant. It is far more parsimonious to accept that Photius exceeded the limits of patriarchal authority in his anti-Roman acts.
In the 1940s, Fr. Francis Dvornik advanced his then peculiar thesis that Photius had been misunderstood by all Western scholars before him, and that in fact the Photians were in the right in both controversies. As scholars at the time noted, this was achieved only by presenting a relentlessly one-sided interpretation of every single document pertaining to the Photian controversies. Fr. Dvornik's opinion later became widely accepted through his articles in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, as well as for its compatibility with the anti-papal sentiment then burgeoning among modern Catholics and others. (It should be noted that Dvornik himself held that Photius acknowledged papal primacy.)
Yet for those of us who have researched the original source documents, it is evident that Dvornik's conclusions are often strained, and sometimes even at odds with the facts, as discussed above (and in Appendices). It is easy to prove a case when you dismiss all of the other side's evidence. For example, he justifies his disregard for much of the anti-Photian dossier accompanying the Greek acts of the Council of 869-70 by saying that the ninth-century "anti-Photian compiler" is unreliable. As supposed proof of this unreliability, he notes that the compiler claims that John VIII condemned Photius while an archdeacon at the synod of 869-70, when in fact Bishop Gauderich of Velletri was the spokesman. Yet we know from the synodal acts that there was indeed an archdeacon named John among the papal representation. Imprecision as to who actually spoke versus who concurred in the judgment is hardly grounds for accusing the compiler of inventing multiple facts out of whole cloth, as one must do to adopt Dvornik's theses. More likely, the compiler is considered unreliable merely for being anti-Photian, as seems evident in Dvornik's consistent dismissal of the Ignatians as mendacious and obstinate, in contrast with the reasonable and conciliatory Photius.
We have seen that Pope St. Nicholas consistently ruled according to his understanding of the canons, even before the Bulgar controversy. There is no ground, then, for accusing the pontiff, renowned throughout the world for his saintliness and justice even in his own time, of being a scheming manipulator in his handling of the Photian affair. Likewise, there is no ground for impugning the character of St. Ignatius, as even the Photians did not dare attempt this, instead arguing implausibly that he was unlawfully elected patriarch. Why, then, should we doubt his testimony that he never abdicated? To adopt Dvornik's position, we should have to believe that everyone except Photius was a chronic liar or exaggerator. Photius alone appears to be capable of speaking truthfully, though he is a known falsifier of documents even on the most generous interpretation of the facts.
Some of Dvornik's conclusions, however, have held up well. Notably, there was likely no formal schism during Photius' second patriarchate. This does not mean that Rome was on good terms with the patriarch, but it at least establishes that Photius died in communion with the church, and his valid clerical status was recognized posthumously.
More importantly, the subsequent schism between East and West in later centuries cannot be imputed to Photius, though he exemplified many views that would justify such estrangement. Photius' offenses were purely disciplinary, and mitigated by the fact that the Greeks had grown accustomed to the precedent that the bishop of Constantinople was the "emperor's patriarch." He seems to have repented of his more strident anti-Roman positions at the synod of 879-880, so there is little reason why the person of Photius should stand as an obstacle to unity between East and West.
As to the identity of the Eighth Ecumenical Council, we see no reason to deny that the council of 869-70 was ecumenical at the time it was in force. Yet its content was predominantly disciplinary and therefore reformable. Its main finding, that Ignatius was then lawful patriarch and Photius was unlawful, is not properly nullified by the later restoration of Photius. Indeed, were we to deny the correctness of this judgment, we should logically admit that Ignatius died as a usurper, yet he is recognized as a saint in the East and the West. It is more congruent with the juridical facts, and with the esteem accorded to both Ignatius and Photius, that Photius was duly deposed in 869-870 and duly restored in 879-880. Thus the earlier council was authentically ecumenical, though its sentence was later commuted and its canons fell into desuetude.
As for the ecumenical status of the Photian council, this is doubtful at best, for reasons discussed earlier. Still, some of its judgments were legally ratified, regardless of whether it was an ecumenical council or not. Whatever its status, there is no evidence that any Pope ever agreed to nullify the earlier council.
This being said, both councils had some degree of legal effectiveness, and the more offensive sentences of each were either commuted or never ratified. Photius was restored to communion in 879-880, while the condemnation of filioque and nullification of the 869 council were never ratified. Since all grievances were settled, even down to the recognition of Photian ordinations, we would do well to follow the example of the tenth-century Church, and consider the matter moot.
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