John XI Beccus, Patriarch of Constantinople
JOHN XI BECCUS, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE
Artisan of the union of Oriental and Western churches; b. Nicaea between 1230 and 1240; d. St. George, Bithynia, March 1297.
Recipient of an excellent Byzantine education, John became a functionary in the Constantinopolitan patriarchate in 1263 and was named chartophylax (archivist and assistant chancellor) by Patriarch Arsenius (1254–66), then the great skeuophylax or sacristan of the patriarchate. In the dispute between Patriarch Arsenius and Emperor michael palaeologus, Beccus followed Arsenius but eventually was won over to the emperor's side. Michael entrusted him with important diplomatic missions, sending him in 1268 to Kral (King) Stephen Uroš of Serbia, and to St. louis ix at Tunis on the eve of the crusading French king's death (1270).
When Pope gregory x accepted the emperor's overtures toward a union of the Greek and Latin Churches and assembled the bishops in a synod to demonstrate the advantages of such a move, Beccus opposed the project and was imprisoned on charges that he eventually proved to be calumnious. In prison, however, he made a study of the Greek and Latin theology, particularly with regard to the filioque or the double procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, in keeping with the opinions of nicephorus Blemmydes. As a consquence he recognized the primacy of the Bishop of Rome as well as the orthodoxy of the filioque and found himself bound in conscience to work for the reunion of the Churches. This union was solemnly proclaimed at the Council of lyons in 1274 in the presence of Pope Gregory X and the Greek ambassadors. The patriarch of Constantinople opposed the move and abdicated; and John Beccus, returned to imperial favor, was elected patriarch in 1275.
Kindly and charitable, he used his office to care for the poor while working feverishly to have the union achieved at Lyons accepted in the Greek churches; and in a synod, he, with his clergy, abjured the schism, recognized the pope's jurisdiction over the universal Church while respecting Byzantine rites and customs, and admitted the double procession of the Holy Spirit. However, he was opposed by members of his clergy and the imperial family and particularly by the violently anti-Latin monasteries. To counter this opposition he called a second synod in which he excommunicated whoever would not recognize "the Roman Church as mother and head of all the Churches, and the mistress who teaches the orthodox faith."
The demands of Pope nicholas iii (1277–80) for an unconditional submission of the Greek Church to Rome provoked a new and grave crisis in the already difficult relations between Rome and Byzantium.
Abandoned by both the emperor and the higher clergy, Beccus abdicated in 1279. He was recalled by the emperor to participate in negotiations relative to the union with ambassadors of the pope; he was reinstated in 1280, but found the task of imposing the union most difficult, particularly when the emperor attempted to achieve it by force. In 1282 Pope martin iv (1281–85) denounced the union for political motives and excommunicated both the emperor and the Greek Church. Michael Palaeologus died that same year, and the rise of andronicus ii and the rupture of relations with Rome forced Beccus to resign once more. He was exiled to Broussa and gave himself over to a violent polemic particularly against his successor, George of Cyprus, who took the name Gregory. At the Synod of Blachernae in 1284 he upheld the double procession of the Holy Spirit and attacked Gregory violently. He was deported to the fortress of St. George on the Gulf of Nicomedia, but continued his attacks on Gregory, eventually securing his abdication (1289). Though reduced to poverty, he steadfastly refused to buy his liberty by compromise and died in exile.
Among his writings, which are mainly polemical and circumstantial, are a letter to Pope John XXI (1277) and another to Pope Nicholas III (1278) ; a profession of faith; Epigraphai, or a collection of patristic texts on the procession of the Holy Spirit, later controverted by Gregory palamas; a tract on the peace and union of the ancient and new Roman Churches, which deals with the theological thought of authors of the patristic age and later writers, including photius, John Phurnes, and Nicholas of Methone (revised several times) ; three books on the procession of the Holy Spirit and four books addressed to Constantine Meliteniotes; and Antirrhetikos against George Moschampar and one encyclical letter against gregory ii cyprius. His writings bring a new historical viewpoint into play. Of all the Greek theologians he manifested the greatest erudition and constraining logic in dealing with theological arguments favoring the union of the Churches and the antiquity of the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit. Spread widely by his followers at the end of the 13th century, his writings occasioned a movement that prepared the way for the reunion at the Council of florence in 1439.
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