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Constantinople IV, Council of


This controversial council, considered by Western canonists as the eighth ecumenical council, convened in Constantinople, Oct. 5, 869, to Feb. 28, 870. As soon as he was master of the empire, Basil I (86786), whose grand design was endangered by current religious dissensions, demonstrated from the start his resolution to regulate the quarrel that was dividing the byzantine church and to normalize the relations of this Church with the Holy See. Circumstances seemed favorable to this plan. Pope nicholas i, whom photius had anathematized in a synod held in the summer of 867, had died on November 13 of that year, unaware of this condemnation. Photius for his part was soon deposed for having dared to censure Basil, the current ruler and the murderer of Emperor michael iii. It seemed likely that the new ecclesiastical dignitaries, Pope adrian ii at Rome and Patriarch ignatius of constantinople, should now be able to reach an accord.

Unfortunately, the conduct of Photius, which finally became known in Rome, appeared so offensive to the apostolic see that it seemed to warrant denunciation and eventual condemnation. This was done in the Roman Synod, held in St. Peter's Basilica on June 10, 869. The Photian Synod (867) was condemned, its acts burned, and Photius excommunicated. Thereafter Adrian deferred to the wish of the Byzantine Emperor and agreed to send a mission to Constantinople, but on condition that the council to be held limit itself to confirming the decisions of the Roman Synod.

Sessions. Armed with strict instructions, Donatus, Bishop of Ostia, Stephen, Bishop of Nepi, and especially the deacon Marinus, the most competent member of the mission, were soon on the Bosphorus, where the Council opened at hagia sophia. The early sessions were poorly attended (at the 5th session there were still only 21 bishops, and at the 10th and last, 103). But it has not been sufficiently noted that, although the suffragan bishops were conspicuously absent, almost all the metropolitans (37 out of 40) were present when the acts were signed. Photius was required to appear twice, on October 20 and 29. On the second appearance (the 7th session) he was anathematized together with his supporters, and a week later, at the 8th session, all his writings relating to the council of 867 were solemnly burned. Thereafter other meetings were held at intervals until on Feb. 28, 870, the crucial act of the Council took place: this was the publication of the definition (ρος), the homage to Pope Nicholas, whose Acts were again accorded the force of law, and the publication of 27 disciplinary canons, which in succeeding centuries had great importance in the West. The Acts were solemnly signed by the Emperor, the papal legates, the Patriarch Ignatius, the representatives (apocrisiarii ) of the three Eastern patriarchs, the 37 metropolitans, and 65 bishops. An imperial edict promulgated (870) the decisions of the Council as laws of the state. Never had the supremacy of the Roman See over the two great parts of Christendom been so solemnly proclaimed. Convoked essentially to regulate the affair of Photius, the assembly profited by the occasion to take action on several other questions of emergent importance: the liceity of the veneration of images, still under attack by latent icono clasm; interference by lay persons in episcopal nominations (c.22); and the hierarchy of the five patriarchates, sanctioning the theory of the pentarchy in the government of the universal Church (c.21).

The Acts. The Papal legates were captured and robbed by Slavic pirates on the return journey to Rome, and consequently the copy of the acts destined for Adrian II never reached him. anastasius the librarian, who had been present at the Council as a representative of the German Emperor Louis II, had better fortune and managed to carry back to Rome a complete copy of the authentic acts; but this copy also has been lost, so that the acts have been preserved only in the translation that the Pope commissioned Anastasius to prepare for him (J. D. Mansi, Sacorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 16:16207), preceded by a preface and a short account of the history of the sessions, composed by Anastasius (ibid. 116). All that remains of the original Greek is a long fragment abridged by an anonymous author (ibid. 308420).

Ecumenical Status. By calling itself the universalis octava synodus, the Council claimed for itself an ecumenical status; it had at least the necessary geographical characteristics because of the authority of all the heads of the Church who were either present or represented. Was it recognized as ecumenical by the Holy See? Three facts are certain and cannot be contested: (1) Adrian II had already approved it in his letter of Nov. 10, 871; in 875 in his letter (P. Jaffé, Regesta Pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198,3012) to the faithful of Salerno and Amalfi, john viii called it sancta octava synodus and thereby formally ascribing to it ecumenicity; (2) since the beginning of the 12th century this council has been listed among the ecumenical councils recognized by the Latin Church; (3) the Byzantine Church itself held this council to be ecumenical until the Photian Synod of 879 to 880, which is thought to have abrogated its Acts; moreover, those portions of the Byzantine Church that have been reunited with Rome in the course of centuries have accepted it and consider it as ecumenical. The problem is reducible to the question whether Pope John VIII, by making use of his supreme power of binding and loosing, actually annulled the acts of the council of 869, thus depriving it of its ecumenical status. The answer is affirmative if the Greek text of the last two sessions of the Photian Synod are considered authentic (Dvornik, Amann); it is negative if reference is had to other documents, especially to the letter (885886) of Pope stephen v to Emperor Basil I (Grumel). This letter states, in fact, that 20 years after the eighth ecumenical council, Photius was still trying to have it annulled, a step that would be inexplicable if prior to this time John VIII had already taken the initiative in this matter. The least that can be said is that the whole problem centering around the authenticity or nonauthenticity of the last two sessions of the Photian Synod is unresolved.

Bibliography: General. c. j. von hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originaux, tr. and continued by h. leclercq, 10 v. in 19 (Paris 190738) 4:481546. m. jugie, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. 15 v. (Paris 190350) 3:12731307. É. amann, ibid. 12:154982; 16:66667. a. fliche and v. martin, eds., Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1935) 6:49397. f. dvornik, The Photian Schism: History and Legend (Cambridge, Eng. 1948); The Patriarch Photius in the Light of Recent Research (Munich 1958). k. baus, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 6:49697, with recent literature. j. m. a. salles-dabadie, Les Conciles oecuméniques dans l'histoire (Paris 1962). Ecumenicity. (1) Favoring the thesis of abrogation by John VIII: f. dvornik, "L'Oecuménicité du VIIIe concile (869870) dans la tradition occidentale du moyen-âge," Bulletin de l'Académie Royale de Belgique, Section des Lettres 24 (1938) 44587, a study included also in The Photian Schism (see above). (2) Favoring nonabrogation, and hence ecumenicity: v. grumel, "La Lettre du pape Étienne V à l'empereur Basile Ier," Revue des études byzantines 11 (1953) 12955; "New Light on the Photian Schism," Unitas 5 (1953) 14048. m. jugie, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 3:130407. The canons. Extant in a double recension: the one, in 27 canons, in Latin, in the translation of Anastasius the Librarian; the other in a Greek compendium, numbering 14 canons. It has been correctly observed that the abbreviated Greek version, in retaining only the essentials of each article, indeed made a judicious choice. The texts are in j. d. mansi, Sacorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 31 v. (Florence-Venice 175798); reprinted and continued by l. petit and j. b. martin 53 v. in 60 (Paris 18891927; repr. Graz 1960) 16:16078 and in p. joannou, ed., Les Canons des conciles oecuméniques (Sacra Congregazione Orientale, Codificazione orientale, Fonti (Rome 1930); in 3d series, Pontificia Commissio ad redigendum Codicem iuris canonici orientalis, Fontes fasc. 9: Discipline générale antique (II eIX e s., v.1.1; 1962) 289342; the editor placed the acts of this council in appendix.

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