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§ 70. The Patriarch and the Pope. Photius and Nicolas.

Comp. § 61, the Lit. in § 67, especially the letters of Photius and Nicolas.

Hergenröther: Photius (Regensb. 1867–69, vol. I. 373 sqq.; 505 sqq.; and the second vol.), and his Monumenta Graeca ad Photium ejusque historiam pertinentia (Ratisb. 1869, 181 pages). Milman: Hist. of Latin Christianity, bk. V. Ch. IV. Hefele IV. 224 sqq.; 384 sqq.; 436sqq. The chief documents are also given by Gieseler II. 213 sqq. (Am. ed.)

The doctrinal difference on the procession of the Holy Spirit will be considered in the chapter on the Theological Controversies. Although it existed before the schism, it assumed a practical importance only in connection with the broader ecclesiastical and political conflict between the patriarch and the pope, between Constantinople and Rome.

The first serious outbreak of this conflict took place after the middle of the ninth century, when Photius and Nicolas, two of the ablest representatives of the rival churches, came into collision. Photius is one of the greatest of patriarchs, as Nicolas is one of the greatest of popes. The former was superior in learning, the latter in statesmanship; while in moral integrity, official pride and obstinacy both were fairly matched, except that the papal ambition towered above the patriarchal dignity. Photius would tolerate no superior, Nicolas no equal; the one stood on the Council of Chalcedon, the other on Pseudo-Isidor.

The contest between them was at first personal. The deposition of Ignatius as patriarch of Constantinople, for rebuking the immorality of Caesar Bardas, and the election of Photius, then a mere layman, in his place (858), were arbitrary and uncanonical acts which created a temporary schism in the East, and prepared the way for a permanent schism between the East and the West. Nicolas, being appealed to as mediator by both parties (first by Photius), assumed the haughty air of supreme judge on the basis of the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, but was at first deceived by his own legates. The controversy was complicated by the Bulgarian quarrel. King Bogoris had been converted to Christianity by missionaries from Constantinople (861), but soon after applied to Rome for teachers, and the pope eagerly seized this opportunity to extend his jurisdiction (866).

Nicolas, in a Roman Synod (863), decided in favor of the innocent Ignatius, and pronounced sentence of deposition against Photius with a threat of excommunication in case of disobedience.307307    The Synod, claiming to be the infallible organ of the Holy Spirit, compared Photius with a robber and adulterer for obtruding himself into the see of Constantinople during the lifetime of Ignatius, deprived him of all priestly honors and functions “by authority of Almighty God, St. Peter and St. Paul, the princes of the apostles, of all saints, of the six [why not seven?] ecumenical councils, as also by the judgment of the Holy Ghost,” and threatened him and all his adherents with the anathema and excommunication from the eucharist till the moment of death, “that no one may dare hereafter from the state of the laity to break into the camp of the Lord, as has often been the case in the church of Constantinople.” See on this Synod Hergenröther, Phot. I. 519 sqq., and Hefele IV. 269 sqq. Photius, enraged by this conduct and the Bulgarian interference, held a counter-synod, and deposed in turn the successor of St. Peter (867). In his famous Encyclical Letter of invitation to the Eastern patriarchs, he charged the whole Western church with heresy and schism for interfering with the jurisdiction over the Bulgarians, for fasting on Saturday, for abridging the time of Lent by a week, for taking milk-food (milk, cheese, and butter) during the quadragesimal fast, for enforcing clerical celibacy, and despising priests who lived in virtuous matrimony, and, most of all, for corrupting the Nicene Creed by the insertion of the Filioque, and thereby introducing two principles into the Holy Trinity.308308    See the Encyclica ad Patriarchas Orientales in the original Greek in Photius, Opera II. 722-742 (ed. Migne), also in Gieseler II. 216 sq. Baronius (ad ann. 863 no. 34 sq.) gives it in Latin.

This letter clearly indicates all the doctrinal and ritual differences which caused and perpetuated the schism to this day. The subsequent history is only a renewal of the same charges aggravated by the misfortunes of the Greek church, and the arrogance and intolerance of old Rome.

Photius fell with the murder of his imperial patron, Michael III. (Sept. 23, 867). He was imprisoned in a convent, and deprived of society, even of books. He bore his misfortune with great dignity, and nearly all the Greek bishops remained faithful to him. Ignatius was restored after ten years of exile by the emperor Basil, the Macedonian (867–886), and entered into communication with Pope Hadrian II. (Dec. 867). He convened a general council in the church of St. Sophia (October, 869), which is numbered by the Latins as the Eighth Oecumenical Council. The pontifical legates presided and presented a formula of union which every bishop was required to sign before taking part in the proceedings, and which contained an anathema against all heresies, and against Photius and his adherents. But the council was poorly attended (the number of bishops being at first only eighteen). Photius was forced to appear in the fifth session (Oct. 20), but on being questioned he either kept silence, or answered in the words of Christ before Caiaphas and Pilate. In the tenth and last session, attended by the emperor and his sons, and one hundred and two bishops, the decrees of the pope against Photius and in favor of Ignatius were confirmed, and the anathemas against the Monothelites and Iconoclasts renewed. The papal delegates signed “with reservation of the revision of the pope.”

But the peace was artificial, and broken up again immediately, after the Synod by the Bulgarian question, which involved the political as well as the ecclesiastical power of Constantinople. Ignatius himself was unwilling to surrender that point, and refused to obey when the imperious Pope John VIII. commanded, on pain of suspension and excommunication, that he should recall all the Greek bishops and priests from Bulgaria. But death freed him from further controversy (Oct. 23, 877).

Photius was restored to the patriarchal see three days after the death of Ignatius, with whom he had been reconciled. He convened a council in November, 879, which lasted till March, 880, and is acknowledged by the Orientals as the Eighth Oecumenical Council,309309    Strictly speaking, however, the Orthodox Eastern Church counts only seven Œcumenical Councils. but denounced by the Latins as the Pseudo-Synodus Photiana. It was three times as large as the Council of Ignatius, and held with great pomp in St. Sophia under the presidency of Photius. It annulled the Council of 869 as a fraud; it readopted the Nicene Creed with an anathema against the Filioque, and all other changes by addition or omission, and it closed with a eulogy on the unrivalled virtues and learning of Photius. To the Greek acts was afterwards added a (pretended) letter of Pope John VIII. to Photius, declaring the Filioque to be an addition which is rejected by the church of Rome, and a blasphemy which must be abolished calmly and by, degrees.310310    The Roman Catholic historians regard this letter as a Greek fraud. ”Ich kann nicht glauben,“ says Hefele (IV. 482),dass je ein Papst seine Stellung so sehr vergessen habe, wie es Johann VIII. gethan haben müsste, wenn dieser Brief ächt wäre. Es ist in demselben auch keine Spur des Papalbewusstseins, vielmehr ist die Superiorität des Photius fast ausdrücklich anerkannt. The papal legates assented to all, and so deceived their master by false accounts of the surrender of Bulgaria that he thanked the emperor for the service he had done to the Church by this synod.

But when the pope’s eyes were opened, he sent the bishop Marinus to Constantinople to declare invalid what the legates had done contrary to his instructions. For this Marinus was shut up in prison for thirty days. After his return Pope John VIII. solemnly pronounced the anathema on Photius, who had dared to deceive and degrade the holy see, and had added new frauds to the old. Marinus renewed the anathema after he was elected pope (882). Photius denied the validity of his election, and developed an extraordinary, literary activity.

But after the death of the Emperor Basilius (886), he was again deposed by Leo VI., miscalled the Wise or the Philosopher, to make room for his youngest brother Stephen, at that time only sixteen years of age. Photius spent the last five years of his life in a cloister, and died 891. For learning, energy, position, and influence, he is one of the most remarkable men in the history of Eastern Christianity. He formulated the doctrinal basis of the schism, checked the papal despotism, and secured the independence of the Greek church. He announced in an Encyclical of 866: “God be praised for all time to come! The Russians have received a bishop, and show a lively zeal for Christian worship.” Roman writers have declared this to be a lie, but history has proved it to be an anticipation of an important fact, the conversion of a new nation which was to become the chief support of the Eastern church, and the most formidable rival of the papacy.

Greek and Roman historians are apt to trace the guilt of the schism exclusively to one party, and to charge the other with unholy ambition and intrigue; but we must acknowledge on the one hand the righteous zeal of Nicolas for the cause of the injured Ignatius, and on the other the many virtues of Photius tried in misfortune, as well as his brilliant learning in theology, philology, philosophy, and history; while we deplore and denounce the schism as a sin and disgrace of both churches.


The accounts of the Roman Catholic historians, even the best, are colored by sectarianism, and must be accepted with caution. Cardinal Hergenröther (Kirchengesch. I. 684) calls the Council of 879 a “Photianische Pseudo-Synode,” and its acts “ein aecht byzantinisches Machwerk ganz vom Geiste des verschmitzten Photius durchdrungen.” Bishop Hefele, in the revised edition of his Conciliengesch. (IV. 464 sqq.), treats this Aftersynode, as he calls it, no better. Both follow in the track of their old teacher, Dr. Döllinger who, in his History of the Church (translated by Dr. Edward Cox, London 1841, vol. III. p. 100), more than forty years ago, described this Synod “in all its parts as a worthy sister of the Council of Robbers of the year 449; with this difference, that in the earlier Synod violence and tyranny, in the later artifice, fraud, and falsehood were employed by wicked men to work out their wicked designs.” But when in 1870 the Vatican Council sanctioned the historical falsehood of papal infallibility, Döllinger, once the ablest advocate of Romanism in Germany, protested against Rome and was excommunicated. Whatever the Latins may say against the Synod of Photius, the Latin Synod of 869 was not a whit better, and Rome understood the arts of intrigue fully as well as Constantinople. The whole controversy between the Greek and the Roman churches is one of the most humiliating chapters in the history of Christianity, and both must humbly confess their share of sin and guilt before a reconciliation can take place.

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