Photius

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Photius

The Byzantine scholar and writer Photius (ca. 820-891) was patriarch of Constantinople and leader of the Orthodox Byzantine Renaissance.

Photius was trained from his early years to be a philosopher and scholar. He taught at the Imperial Academy at Constantinople. He became known to the imperial court when his brother Sergius married the sister of Empress Theodora. Appointments followed. He was put in charge of the Chancellery and became a member of the Senate. While he was absent on a diplomatic mission to the Arabian caliph in 855, there was a palace revolt. Empress Theodora was deposed by her brother Bardas. Photius was recalled, ordained priest and bishop within 6 days, and then appointed patriarch to replace Ignatius, who had been forced to resign by the new regent, Bardas.

Pope Nicholas I confirmed all these actions except the nomination of Photius, in spite of the fact that all the bishops of the Church acknowledged Photius as patriarch. Photius was excommunicated by Nicholas, and he responded by summoning a synod in 867 and proposing to condemn all papal interference in the Eastern Church. The new emperor, Michael III, a supporter of Photius, requested Louis II of France to depose Pope Nicholas. Michael, however, was assassinated by Basil I, his coemperor. The latter became emperor and reinstated Patriarch Ignatius in November 867. Furthermore, a council called for the occasion and sitting from 867 to 870 condemned and excommunicated Photius, who then went into exile.

But the new emperor found that Photius remained the choice of the vast majority of the clergy, and eventually he was recalled from exile, reconciled with Patriarch Ignatius, and succeeded the latter when he died in 877. Photius's troubles, however, were not over. Emperor Leo VI, probably under strong pressure from the Pope and also because of palace intrigues, forced Photius to resign in 886. He retired to a monastery and died there in the spring of 891.

Photius is an important figure both in the history of relations between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church and in the literature and learning of Eastern Christianity. He was a forewarning to Rome and the papacy of the coming schism between Western and Eastern Christianity. Between the 9th and the 11th centuries, when the final schism took place, Photius was one of those whose views helped to fashion the antipapal view which finally triumphed. Photius, in fact, labored against any final ecclesiastical rupture, and he died in communion with Rome. As a churchman, he was responsible for the spread of Byzantine religion to Bulgaria, Russia, and Moravia. As a scholar, he has left some works of immense value: his Biblioteca, a bibliography of 280 works with his comments; his Lexicon; and his Amphilochia, which is a catechetical question-and-answer discussion of religion. His Mystagogia is a theological work concerning the Trinity. There are numerous letters, sermons, homilies, and treatises of his extant.

Further Reading

The most complete studies of Photius in English are Francis Dvorniks, The Photian Schism, History and Legend (1948) and The Patriarch Photius in the Light of Recent Research (1958). For extensive background on the Byzantine Empire during the time of Photius see George Ostrogorski, History of the Byzantine State (1940; trans. 1954; rev. ed. 1969), and Romilly Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries A.D. 610-1071 (1967). □

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Photius (sometimes called ‘ The Great’, c.810–c.895). Patriarch of Constantinople. A high official at the Byzantine court, Photius succeeded the patriarch Ignatius who was deposed by the emperor in 858. His election, at first endorsed by the legates of Pope Nicholas I, was then (863) annulled by the pope and a schism ensued. Divisions were sharpened by an encyclical of 867 in which Photius attacked the filioque in the W. creed, and by the rival claims of Rome and Constantinople to the newly evangelized territory of Bulgaria. The Photian schism anticipated the final East–West schism of the 11th cent., and Photius is remembered in the E. Church as a champion against Rome.

Photius' learning was amazing. His most important work, his Biblioteca, describes several hundred books and is a mine of information.