F. Dvornik, art. "Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople." In: New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XI (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1967), pp. 326-329.



Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople


Patriarchate from Dec. 24, 858, to Sept. 25, 867, and from 878 to December 886; b. of a noble family in Constantinople, c. 820; d. in the monastery of Armeniakon, probably Feb. 6, 891.


Early Career. His father, Sergius, and his mother, Irene, were exiled by the Emperor Theophilus because of their opposition to his iconoclastic policy. In the Byzantine Synaxary the confessor Sergius and his wife, Irene, are commemorated on May 13 [Acta sanctorum, Propylaeum Novembris, ed. H. Delehay (Brussels 1902) 682]. Photius revealed in one of his letters that the whole family and his uncle, the former patriarch Tarasius, were anathematized by one of the iconoclastic synods (PG 102:877). In letters to his brother Tarasius and to the Oriental patriarchs, Photius also praised the piety of his parents and their sufferings for the true faith (PG 102:972, 1020). Although the property of his parents is said to have been confiscated, Photius and his brothers Sergius and Tarasius, who were left in Constantinople, were able to obtain a good education. In a letter addressed to the Oriental patriarchs Photius confessed that he was attracted in his youth by the monastic life but that he chose a secular career. Because of his learning, Theoctistus, the Prime Minister of the Empress Theodora, appointed Photius professor of philosophy at the University of Constantinople, which he had reorganized. Photius' brother Sergius married Irene, the sister of the Empress, and Photius became director of the imperial chancery and a member of the senate.


Despite his new functions Photius continued with his disciples to study philosophical and theological literature. In 855 he led an embassy to the Khalif Muttawakkil and was absent from Constantinople when Bardas, the brother of Theodora, in connivance with the young Emperor Michael III, terminated the regency of his sister after plotting the murder of prime minister Theoctistus and made himself regent. Bardas found support among liberals and intellectuals, but conservative circles favored Theodora, who had restored the cult of images in 843. The Patriarch Ignatius, who had been appointed by Theodora, lost the favor of the new government because he sided with the conservatives and gave credit to slanderous stories about Bardas's private life, circulated by his opponents. When an attempt was at the restoration of Theodora had failed, the Empress and her daughters were obliged to take monastic vows. Ignatius refused to bless their monastic garb. He resigned his office on the advice of bishops who were anxious to prevent a conflict between the Church and the government and asked his adherents to select a new patriarch. In a local synod the bishops of both parties recommended to the Emperor the layman Photius, avoiding the election of bishops from the rival parties. Photius was recognized as legitimate patriarch by all the bishops, even the five most faithful supporters of Ignatius, after he had given them certain guarantees concerning the position of Ignatius after his abdication. Because the new patriarch had to function during the feast of the Lord's Nativity, which was approaching, Photius obtained all the degrees of Holy Orders in a week. He was consecrated by Gregory Asbestas, leader of the liberals, and by two Ignatian bishops. This was a sort of compromise arranged at the synod. Gregory had been suspended by Ignatius and had appealed from Ignatius's judgment to Rome. As yet Rome had not decided about the justification of Ignatius' measure, and Gregory was rehabilitated by the synod.


First Patriarchate. About 2 months after Photius' ordination, the extreme followers of Ignatius, assembled in the church of St. Irene, refused obedience to the new patriarch and demanded the reestablishment of Ignatius. The reason for this action may have lain in differing interpretations of the nature of the guarantees given by Photius to the five leaders of the Ignatian party. Photius convoked a synod in the church of the Holy Apostles (859). The opposing party prevented their condemnation by provoking a riot (Zonaras, PG 137:1004-  ), which had a political background and which was suppressed with bloodshed by the imperial police. Photius protested against the cruelty of the police and threatened Bardas with his abdication. After peace had been established, the synod was reconvened in the church of the Blachernae palace. In order to deprive the opposition of any claim concerning the legitimacy of Ignatius' patriarchate, the synod declared, on the request of Bardas, that the whole patriarchate of Ignatius was illegitimate because he had not been elected by a synod, but had been simply appointed by Theodora. During the riots Ignatius and some of his followers were imprisoned. Ignatius was interned in various places, finally in a monastery on the island of Terebinthus. Bardas must, however, have convinced himself that Ignatius was not responsible for the riots, because he allowed him to stay (860) in the palace of Posis in Constantinople, which had been built by Ignatius' mother.


Because of these troubles, only in 860 was Photius able to send a letter to Pope Nicholas I regarding his enthronement. In this communication he announced that he had accepted his election unwillingly after Ignatius had abdicated. The Emperor Michael III and Photius also asked the Pope to send legates to a new council in Constantinople, which would once more condemn iconoclasm and confirm the decision made by Theodora in 843 concerning the reestablishment of the cult of images. In his answer to Photius, Nicholas objected to the elevation of a layman to the patriarchate and sent bishop Radoald of Porto and Zacharias of Anagni to the council with orders to reexamine the religious situation in Constantinople, while reserving to himself the definite decision concerning the legitimacy of Photius' elevation. According to the Byzantine practice, the case of Ignatius had been definitively settled by a local synod. The government and Photius were, however, willing to let the legates reexamine the whole affair on condition that they would pronounce their verdict in the name of the Pope during the council. The legates accepted this compromise, seeing in it the confirmation by the Byzantines of the supreme jurisdiction of the Pope over the Church. After the interrogation of Ignatius in the synod of 861, the legates confirmed the decision of the local synod of 859, suspending Ignatius and declaring his patriarchate illegitimate. The Acts of this synod are partly preserved in the collection of Canon Law by Cardinal Deusdedit. The declarations of the bishops and legates that the Byzantine Church, when allowing the legates to reexamine the affair, had accepted the canons of Sardica (343), showed their recognition of the right of the bishops to appeal to the Pope as the supreme judge in the Church. Ignatius, although protesting against the initiative of the legates, seems to have accepted the verdict of the synod when he declared: Romam non appellavi nec appello. Nicholas, not satisfied with the course of events, asked for more documentary evidence to justify the decision of the synod. Photius, regarding the case of Ignatius as closed, remained silent.


In the meantime, several extremely partisan monks led by Abbot Theognostus succeeded in reaching Rome and giving the Pope their own biased account of events in Constantinople. Theognostus even presented the Pope with an appeal in Ignatius' name although he was not authorized by Ignatius to do so. The Pope, resenting Photius' negative attitude to his request, gave credit to the account of Theognostus, who exaggerated the importance of the opposition to Photius. Disapproving the attitude of his legates at the synod of 861, Nicholas condemned and excommunicated Photius at a Roman synod of 863 and recognized Ignatius as the legitimate patriarch, announcing his decision to Photius and the Emperor. The Byzantines disregarded this decision, and in 865 Michael III protested bitterly against this intervention of the Pope in Byzantine ecclesiastical affairs in a letter that provoked a sharp reaction from the Pope.


The situation took a turn for the worse because of a new conflict between Rome and Byzantium over Bulgaria. The Bulgarian ruler Boris I (Michael) became discontented because Photius would send only missionaries to his country and refused to give him a patriarch or an archbishop. He therefore turned to the Franks and to Rome. Nicholas sent Boris a long pastoral letter and two bishops, Formosus and Paul. The latter succeeded in winning over Boris to the cause of the Pope and of Western Christianity. The Latin missionaries, in rivalry with the Greeks, criticized certain customs of the Byzantine Church and seem to have introduced the filioque into the Creed. The Emperor Michael invited all the Eastern patriarchs to a synod (867) to deal with this encroachment of Rome into the Byzantine sphere of interest and to condemn the innovations introduced by the Latins into Bulgaria, especially the filioque. Nicholas was condemned, and the German Emperor Louis II was asked to depose him. Alarmed by the hostile reaction that the conflict of interests in Bulgaria had provoked in Byzantium, the Pope requested several Western theologians to refute the Byzantine critics of Latin customs. This was the atmosphere in which the first Latin polemical treatises against the Greeks (by Aeneas of Paris, Ratramnus of Corbie) were written. Nicholas died before learning about the fateful decisions of the Eastern synod of 867, and the situation was changed by a political revolution in Byzantium.


Deposition and Second Patriarchate. The Emperor Basil I, whom Michael III had promoted to be co-emperor, murdered first Bardas, the Emperor's uncle and regent, and in September 867, also his benefactor Michael III. On becoming emperor, being anxious to win the support of the zealots, of conservative circles, and of Rome, he deposed Photius, reinstated Ignatius, and asked Pope Adrian II to send legates to Constantinople for a new council that should pacify the Byzantine Church.  Adrian II condemned Photius and his synods (869) and sent the bishops Donatus and Stephen and the deacon Marinus to the council in Constantinople. The legates were instructed to demand from the fathers the acceptance of the decision of the Roman synod. This angered Basil I, who wanted a new examination of the controversy by the synod, reserving the final decision to himself. Only 110 bishops attended the council (869-870), called the Council of Constantinople IV (eighth ecumenical) by the Latins. Photius and his followers were suspended and excommunicated, but the great majority of the hierarchy and the clergy remained faithful to Photius. This circumstance hampered Ignatius in the administration of the patriarchate. He soon became involved in a sharp conflict with Pope John VIII because he accepted the decision of the Eastern patriarchs made at the end of the council. At the request of Boris I, Bulgaria became a part of the patriarchate of Constantinople. Ignatius established a Greek hierarchy in Bulgaria and gave the new Church a certain degree of autonomy.


In the meantime Basil I revoked Photius' exile and entrusted him with the education of his sons. Ignatius was reconciled with Photius and asked Rome to send legates to a new council of union. Unfortunately, before the papal legates, Bps. Paul of Ancona and Eugenius of Ostia, had reached Constantinople, Ignatius was dead and Photius had been reinstated as patriarch. John VIII sent Cardinal Peter to Constantinople with instructions to recognize Photius as the legitimate patriarch after the latter expressed to the legates and the fathers his regret for his former behavior. Photius could not accept this condition because he had been elected by a synod after Ignatius had abdicated and could not be held responsible for the troubles caused by the zealots. The synod was to put an end to the strife between the two parties and give satisfaction to Photius and his followers for their unjust treatment. For this reason the letters sent by the Pope to Photius and to the council were changed, with the consent of the legates, who had become convinced that Rome had been wrongly informed about the true situation in Constantinople. All passages that did not correspond to the spirit of the union council were left out in the Greek version read to the fathers of the council (879-880). It should be stressed, however, that the main scriptural arguments by which the Pope confirmed his own primacy were left in the Greek version, a circumstance that shows that Photius, although defending the autonomy of his Church, did not deny the primacy of the Pope. The anti-Photian council of 869-870 was suppressed. Because of the canceling of this council by the union synod, the genuine Greek acts of this council are not preserved. We have only their Latin translation made by Anastasius the Librarian and an extract in Greek, preserved in the anti-Photianist collection. Consequently, the Orthodox Church accepts only the first seven councils as ecumenical, calling the Photian synod of 879-880 a union synod.


John VIII protested against the changes made in his letter by the Greeks, but he accepted the decisions of the union synod and recognized the rehabilitation of Photius. This explains the fact that in the West before the end of the 11th century the council of 869-870 was not counted among the ecumenical councils (see COUNCILS, GENERAL). It was given an ecumenical character by the canonists of the Gregorian reform who, during the investiture struggle, exploited for their cause canon 22 of this council, forbidding laymen to appoint bishops. The union synod was forgotten, and only Cardinal Deusdedit and Ivo of Chartres made some quotations from its Acts. So it happened that the Photian legend grew in the West, picturing the patriarch as the father of schism and the archenemy of papal primacy (see EASTERN SCHISM).


During his second patriarchate Photius endeavored to bring about a reconciliation with all his former enemies, especially with Marinus and Stylianus. He made concessions to Rome in Bulgaria, but Boris I refused to return to the Roman jurisdiction. According to a version of the Synodicon Vetus [MS Sinaiticus 482 (1117), fols. 357-365], Photius himself canonized Ignatius, whose feast (Oct. 23) is marked in the Typikon, which was revised under the second patriarchate of Photius. The Emperor Leo VI induced Photius to abdicate, probably because of his hostility to Theodore Santabarenus, promoted by Photius to be metropolitan of Euchaita, and appointed his brother Stephen as patriarch. The belief that the successors of John VIII — Marinus I, Stephen V, and Formosus — had broken with Photius is a legendary invention. Photius died in communion with Rome. His feast (Feb. 6) is noted in several Synaxaria from the end of the 10th and 11th centuries and is celebrated by all Orthodox Churches.


Churchman and Humanist. Photius was one of the leading figures in the Byzantine intellectual renaissance of the 9th century, and his learning commanded the respect of his bitterest enemies. His scholarly reputation is established through his Μυριόβιβλον (Bibliotheca), giving criticisms of and extracts from 280 works that Photius had studied, many of which are not preserved today. The other of his main works, the Ἀμφιλόχια, contains answers to more than 300 questions of a theological and profane nature. His writing against the filioque (Mystagogia Spiritus Sancti) was exploited by anti-Latin polemicists from the 12th century on. His 200 extant letters and his Homilies are written in an elegant style. In his Διήρησις he attacked the doctrine of the Paulicians. He reorganized the patriarchal academy for the education of the clergy and brought philosophical and theological speculation back to the foundation established by Aristotle. He manifested interest in philology by composing a Lexicon and an Etymologicum. The writing against the Roman primacy [M. Gordillo, "Photius et primatus Romanus," OrChrPer 6 (1940) 6-39] cannot be ascribed to Photius because the legendary tradition that St. Andrew the Apostle was the founder of the Byzantine bishopric, which this writing contains, had not yet been developed in the 9th century [F. Dvornik, The Idea of Apostolicity in Byzantium and the Legend of the Apostle Andrew (Cambridge 1958)]. He initiated the revision of the Typicon of Hagia Sophia and of a Nomocanon. Photius sent his disciple Constantine-Cyril and his brother Methodius to the Khazars for religious discussion and with the Emperor entrusted to them the mission to Moravia (see SLAVS). He also attempted to reunite the Armenian with the Orthodox Church (see ARMENIA).


Bibliography: ...