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§ 145. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople.


I. Photius: Opera omnia, in Migne, “Patrol. Gr.” Tom. CI.-CIV. (1860). Also Monumenta Graeca ad Photium ejusgue historiam pertinentia, ed. Hergenröther. Regensburg, 1869.

II. David Nicetas: Vita Ignatii, in Migne, CV., 488–573. The part which relates to Photius begins with col. 509; partly quoted in CI. iii. P. De H. E. (anonymous): Histoire de Photius. Paris, 1772. Jager: Histoire de Photius. Paris, 1845, 2d ed., 1854. L. Tosti: Storia dell’ origine dello scisma greco. Florence, 1856, 2 vols. A. Pichler: Geschichte der kirchlichen Trennung zwischen Orient und Occident. Munich, 1864–65, 2 vols. J. Hergenröther: Photius, Patriarch von Constantinopel. Sein Leben, seine Schriften und das griechische Schisma. Regensburg, 1867–69, 3 vols. (The Monumenta mentioned above forms part of the third vol.) Cf. Du Pin, VII., 105–110; Ceillier, XII., 719–734.


Photius was born in Constantinople in the first decade of the ninth century. He belonged to a rich and distinguished family. He had an insatiable thirst for learning, and included theology among his studies, but he was not originally a theologian. Rather he was a courtier and a diplomate. When Bardas chose him to succeed Ignatius as Patriarch of Constantinople he was captain of the Emperor’s body-guard. Gregory of Syracuse, a bitter enemy of Ignatius, in five days hurried him through the five orders of monk, lector, sub-deacon, deacon, and presbyter, and on the sixth consecrated him patriarch. He died an exile in an Armenian monastery, 891.

As the history of Photius after his elevation to the patriarchate has been already treated,908908    Cf. chapter V.§ 70. this section will be confined to a brief recital of his services to literature, sacred and secular.909909    Cf. the exhaustive analysis of his works by Hergenröther (vol. iii. pp. 3260.

The greatest of these was his so-called Library,910910    Bibliotheca or Μυριοβίβλιον, Migne, CIII., CIV. col. 9-356; Hergenröther, III. pp. 13-31. which is a unique work, being nothing less than notices, critiques and extracts of two hundred and eighty works of the most diverse kinds, which he had read. Of the authors quoted about eighty are known to us only through this work. The Library was the response to the wish of his brother Tarasius, and was composed while Photius was a layman. The majority of the works mentioned are theological, the rest are grammatical, lexical, rhetorical, imaginative, historical, philosophical, scientific and medical. No poets are mentioned or quoted, except the authors of three or four metrical paraphrases of portions of Scripture. The works are all in Greek, either as originals or, as in the case of a few, in Greek translations. Gregory the Great and Cassian are the only Latin ecclesiastical writers with whom Photius betrays any intimate acquaintance. As far as profane literature is concerned, the Library makes the best exhibit in history, and the poorest in grammar. Romances are mentioned, also miscellanies. In the religious part of his work Chrysostom and Athanasius are most prominent. Of the now lost works mentioned by Photius the most important is by an anonymous Constantinopolitan author of the first half of the seventh century, who in fifteen books presented testimonies in favor of Christianity by different Greek, Persian, Thracian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Chaldean and Jewish scholars.

Unique and invaluable as the Library is, it has been criticized because more attention is given to some minor works than to other important ones; the criticisms are not always fair or worthy; the works spoken of are really few, while a much larger anthology might have been made; and again there is no order or method in the selection. It is, however, to be borne in mind that the object of the work was to mention only those books which had been read in the circle to which he and his brother belonged, during the absence of the latter; that it was hastily prepared, and was to have been followed by a second.911911    Hergenröther, p. 14, 28-31. Taking these facts into consideration there is nothing but praise to be given to the great scholar who in a wholly undesigned fashion has laid posterity under heavy obligation by jotting down his criticisms upon or making excerpts of the more important works which came under his observation during a comparatively short space of time.

Among the Greek fathers, he esteems most highly Athanasius, Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Epiphanius, Ephraem, Cyril of Alexandria, the fictitious Dionysius the Areopagite, and Maximus; among the Latin fathers, Leo. I. and Gregory I. He recognizes also Ambrose, Augustin, and Jerome as fathers, but often disputes their views. Of the ante-Nicene writers he has a rather low opinion, because they did not come up to his standard of orthodoxy; he charges Origen with blasphemous errors, and Eusebius with Arianism.

One of the earlier works of Photius, perhaps his earliest, was his Greek Lexicon,912912    Best edition, by Dobrée, Φωτίου λέξεων συναγωγή. Photii Lexicon e codice Galeano descripsit R. Porsonus. London, 1822, 2 vols.; reprinted 1823 in Leipzig. which he began in his youth and completed before the Library, although he revised it from time to time. He made use of the glossaries and lexica of former workers, whose names he has preserved in his Library, and has been in turn used by later lexicographers, e.g. Suidas (ninth century). Photius designed to remove the difficulties in the reading of the earlier and classic Greek profane and sacred literature. To this end he paid particular attention to the explanation of the old Attic expressions and figures of speech.

The most important of the theological works of Photius is the Amphilochian Questions 913913    Migne, CI. col. 45-1172. — so called because these questions had been asked by his friend, Amphilochius, metropolitan of Lyzikus. The work consists of three hundred and twenty-four discussions, mostly in biblical exegesis, but also dogmatical, philosophical, mythological, grammatical, historical, medical, and scientific. Like the other works of Photius it displays rare learning and ability. It was composed during his first exile, and contains many complaints of lack of books and excerpts. It has no plan, is very disjointed, unequal, and evidently was written at different times. Many of the answers are taken literally from the works of others. The same question is sometimes repeatedly discussed in different ways.914914    Hergenröther (vol. iii., pp. 31 sqq. ) tells at length the curious story of the singular way in which the Amphilochia has gradually come to the knowledge of modern scholars.

Although it is doubtful whether Photius composed a complete commentary on any book of the Old Testament, it is very likely that he wrote on the Gospels and on Romans, Corinthians and Hebrews, since in the printed and unprinted catenae upon these books there are found many citations of Photius.915915    Collected in Migne, l.c. col. 1189-1253. No such commentary as a unit, however, now exists.

Two canonical works are attributed to Photius, “A Collection of Canons” and “A Collection of Ecclesiastical and Civil Laws.”916916    Commonly called Syntagma Canonum, Migne, CIV. col. 441-976, and Nomocanon, ibid. col. 976-1217. To these some add a third. The second of these works, the Nomocanon, is authoritative on canonical law in the Greek Church.917917    The Nomocanon is minutely discussed by Hergenröther, l.c. iii. 92-128. See also F. A. Biener, Geschichte der Novellen Justinians, Berlin, 1824; and De Collectionibus canonum ecclesiae Graecae. Schediasma litterarium. Berlin, 1827. Card. J. B. Pitra, Juris eccles. Graec. historia et monumenta. Rome, 1868. Hergenröther, Griech. Kirchenrecht bis zum Ende, des 9ten Jahrhunderts. Mainz, 1870. The word “Nomocanon” itself is the Greek name for a combination of ecclesiastical laws (kanovne”) and secular, especially imperial, law (novmoi). Photius made such a collection in 883, on the basis of earlier collections. It contains (1) the canons of the seven universally accepted oecumenical councils (325–787), of the Trullan council of 692 (Quinisexta), the synods of 861 and 879; and (2) the laws of Justinian relative to the Greek Church. Photius was not only a collector of canonical laws, but also a legislator and commentator. The canons of the councils held by him in 861 and 879, and his canonical letters or decretals had a great and permanent influence upon Greek canonical law. The Nomocanon was enlarged and commented on by Balsamon in the twelfth century, and is usually published in connection with these commentaries. It is used in the orthodox church of Russia under the name Kormczia Kniga, i.e., “The Book for the Pilot.” As in his other works, he builded upon the foundations of his predecessors.

The historical and dogmatico-polemical writings of Photius may be divided into two classes, those against the Paulicians or Manichaeans, and those against the Roman Church. In the first class are four books which bear in the editions the general title “Against the new Manichaeans.”918918    Διήγησις περὶ τῆς τῶν νεοφάντων Μανιχαίων ἀναβλαστήσεως, in Migne, CII. col. 16-264. Cf. Hergenröther, l.c. iii. 143-153. The first is a history of the old and new Manichaeans, written during Photius’ first patriarchate, and apparently largely borrowed from a contemporary author; the remaining three are polemical treatises upon the new Manichaeans, in which biblical rather than philosophical arguments are relied upon, and mostly those which had already been used against the Manichaeans.

The works against the Latin Church embrace (1) The Mystagogia, or doctrine of the Holy Spirit; his most important writing against the Latins.919919    Liber de S. Spiritus Mystagogia, first published by Hergenröther at Regensburg, 1857; Comp. his Photius, III. l54-160, and Migne, CII. 280-400. The word μυσταγωγίαis used in the same sense as ἱερολογίαor θεολογία, sacra doctrina, It is a discussion of the procession alone, not of the personality and divinity, of the Holy Spirit, for upon these latter points there was no difference between the Latin and Greek Churches. It appears to be entirely original with Photius.920920    Hergenröther, Photius, III. 157. It is characterized by acuteness and great dialectical skill. There exists an epitome of this book,921921    Ibid. 160-165. but it is doubtful whether Photius himself made it. (2) A collection922922    Συναγωγαὶ και ̀ἀπόδειξεις ἀκριβεῖς, in Migne, CIV. col. 1220-1232. of ten questions and answers upon such matters as, “In what respects have the Romans acted unjustly?” “How many and what true patriarchs are not recognized by the Romans, except compromisingly?” “Which emperor contends for the peace of the Church?” The collection has great historical interest, since it embraces materials which otherwise would be entirely lost. (3) Treatise against the Roman primacy. (4) Tractate against the Franks, from which there are extracts in the Kormczaia Kniga of the Oriental Slavs, which was extensively circulated in the thirteenth century, and enjoys among the Russians great authority as a book of canonical law. It has been attributed to Photius, but in its present shape is not his.923923    Hergenröther, l.c. p. 174. (5) His famous Encyclical Letter to the Eastern Patriarchs, written in 867.924924    See above, p. 314 sq.

The genuine works of Photius include besides those already mentioned three books of letters925925    Migne, CII., col. 585-989. They are analyzed by Du Pin, l.c. 106-109. of different contents, private and public, written generally in verbose style; homilies,926926    Migne, CII., col. 548-576. two printed entire and two in fragments and twenty unprinted; several poems927927    Ibid. col. 577-584. and moral sentences, probably a compilation. Several other works attributed to Photius are only of doubtful genuineness.



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