Moechian Controversy

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The theological and political dispute caused by the adulterous marriage of Emperor Constantine VI (780797). It was designated from the Greek moicheia (Latinized, moechia ) for adultery. In 795 Constantine VI forced his wife into a convent and, with an Abbot Joseph officiating, entered into an adulterous union with his mother's lady-in-waiting, Theodote. The patriarch of Constantinople tarasius refused to bless the wedding, but tolerated the situation; he did not bar the emperor from the sacraments, nor take punitive measures against the abbot Joseph. This shocking neglect of his patriarchal responsibility scandalized the Studite monks, who not only condemned the emperor and his consort, as well as Abbot Joseph, but also broke off communion with Tarasius. Their leaders, the abbot theodore the Studite, and the monk Plato, were exiled and imprisoned, and the rest of the community were punished in a similar way. Two years later, Empress irene seized the throne and recalled the Studites from exile. The patriarch Tarasius then degraded Joseph and made peace with the Studites.

The issue was revived during the next reign. Emperor Nicephorus I (802811) asked Patriarch nicephorus i (806815) to reinstate Joseph for signal services to the state. Again Theodore and his monks broke off communion with Joseph, and though still retaining the names of the emperor and patriarch in the diptychs during the Liturgy or Mass, studiously avoided contact with the patriarch. Theodore did not object to restoring Joseph to his ecclesiastical post as oeconomus or business manager, but did deny his right to celebrate the Liturgy. The emperor decided to force the issue and insist that the Studites communicate with Joseph. On their refusal, they were condemned by a synod in 809, after which the emperor decided to make clear that he repudiated Constantine VI's adulterous union, and dissolved it posthumously. The dedicated Studites were exiled together with many other abbots and monks. Theodore appealed to Rome. Under Emperor Michael I Rangabe (811813) religious peace was reestablished. Through the good offices of Pope leo iii, the reforming monks were reconciled to the patriarch and returned to their monasteries, and the abbot Joseph was condemned once more.

Bibliography: h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinisch en Reich 491494, 515. p. j. alexander, The Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople (Oxford 1958).

[m. j. higgins]