As we hare suggested, recovery to Christianity from the disasters which accompanied the disintegration of the Roman Empire began in the Eastern branch of the Catholic Church in the ninth century. It was well under way by 950, when the decisive upswing in the Western branch of the Catholic Church was about to become noticeable. The revival in the Byzantine Church was associated with the period which was spanned by the Macedonian dynasty, 867 to 1056, a period of about two centuries. The iconoclastic controversy which had so long wrought internal turmoil in the Church was ended, and external foes were less of a menace than they had been or were to be later. The capital of the Caliphate had been moved from Damascus to Baghdad, so that the threat from the Arabs to Asia Minor was not as acute as formerly. On the eastern border, Armenia, a professedly Christian state, was under strong rulers and was having its golden age. To be sure, external dangers had not passed, for in 904 the second city in the Empire, Salonika, was sacked by Moslem corsairs from Crete, in 910 a Byzantine expedition against Crete was defeated, and in the fore part of the tenth century Bulgaria, a near rival, had its great day. But, as we are to see, the height of Bulgarian power was under a Christian ruler and was evidence of the triumph of Christianity in that realm. In the second half of the tenth and the first half of the eleventh century Byzantine power attained its highest point since the beginning of the Arab conquest. The Church shared in the prosperity.
In the first half of the tenth century, that is, the last fifty years of the period with which we are here dealing, before the rise of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, the Byzantine Empire was the strongest state in Europe. However, neither it nor that German state which bore the Roman name was nearly as wealthy or as extensive as the Roman Empire had been in its prime, and in territory and population both were very minor powers as compared with China, united as that great land was by the Sung dynasty which came into being in 960.
The resurgence of the Byzantine realm and church was accompanied by renewed strains between the Eastern and Western wings of the Catholic Church.
An outstanding figure in the vigorous life of the Byzantine Church in the second half of the ninth century and one who became a storm centre in the relations between the Eastern and Western wings of the Catholic Church was Photius. Photius came from an eminent Byzantine family of ancient Greek stock and was related to Emperors. During the iconoclastic controversy his father had suffered persecution because of his loyalty to the icons. His uncle, Tarasius, had been the Patriarch who presided at the Council of Nicsa in 787. Photius was a distinguished scholar, the centre of the intellectual renaissance which was one of the features of the revival in Byzantine life. In his house the intelligentsia gathered for the reading and discussion of ancient and recent Greek literature, pagan and Christian. He was a favourite at court and, a civil official, was president of the imperial chancellery when, in 858, he was made Patriarch of Constantinople in succession to Ignatius, who had resigned. Like Tarasius, therefore, he came to the post from civil office.
Ignatius, the son of an Emperor and made a eunuch in his youth by political enemies, had been brought to power in the midst of bitter division in the Church by Theodora, whose part in the restoration of the icons we have already noted. Ignatius was almost immediately a centre of controversy. Honest and zealous, revered by later generations as a saint, he seems to have proved tactless and not to have been worldly-wise. Certainly he alienated many and was regarded by the intellectuals as both ignorant and contemptuous of Greek philosophy. Soon after being made Patriarch he committed, perhaps out of ignorance, the serious faux pas of sending a pallium to the Pope, implying that he had the right to invest the latter with that symbol of his office. The Pope, quite understandably, replied that he gave the pallium to bishops but did not receive it from others.
In the controversies between Ignatius and his opponents appeal was made to Rome by both parties, for in theory the Latin and the Greek Church were both in the Catholic Church and the Pope was recognized as having great even if not supreme authority. Among others, Ignatius had as antagonists the young Emperor, Michael III, and the latter's uncle and most influential minister, Bardas, the successful rival of Theodora for the control of that pleasure-loving monarch. Ignatius publicly refused the communion to Bardas, alleging, perhaps on insufficient grounds, that the latter was guilty of incest. Bardas had Ignatius deported to a convenient island and the latter abdicated and urged his friends to join in electing a new Patriarch.
Photius seems to have been chosen because he was acceptable both to the opponents and to the friends of Ignatius. He was regularly elected by a synod of bishops called for that purpose. A layman, he was hurried through all the degrees of the priesthood in one week. This was contrary to canon law, but for it there was much precedent. Bishops from both the friends and opponents of Ignatius joined in consecrating the new Patriarch. His elevation seemed to have brought peace to the Church.
The concord had lasted only a few weeks when the conflict between the parties in the Church broke out more furiously than ever. Some of the prelates revolted against Photius, Bardas, and Michael III and insisted on the restoration of Ignatius. They were replaced by men who were friendly to Photius, but the vast majority of the monks would not recognize the latter's authority. The monastery of Studius, so active in advocacy of the icons, led in the opposition. In 861 a synod was held in Constantinople at which Papal legates were present, instructed by their master to investigate. Here Ignatius appeared, denied that he had appealed to Rome, and challenged the competence of the Roman representatives. The latter ratified the deposition of Ignatius. The action of Rome was based on the claim that, as recognized by a much earlier council at Sardica, the Pope had the right to re-try a case against any bishop. The synod also passed acts designed to control some of the abuses in the monasteries, and thus confirmed the enmity of many monks against Photius and his supporters.
The Pope, who was the vigorous Nicholas I, while not at first repudiating his legates in joining in the confirmation of the deposition of Ignatius, did not yet recognize
Photius or enter into communion with him. He was eager to extend the control of Rome over the Bulgarians who, as we are to see, were about to be converted, and also to restore to his direct jurisdiction Illyricum, which had been transferred to the Patriarch of Constantinople by Byzantine monarchs who, as Roman Emperors, claimed that right. The Pope, presumably, would have recognized Photius had the latter acceded to his territorial desires, but this Photius would not do. In 863 the Pope held a synod in Rome which, acting on the conviction that the Papal legates had exceeded their authority in 861, stripped Photius of all ecclesiastical dignity and restored Ignatius to the Patriarchate. The Emperor, Michael III, refused to admit the competence of Rome in such matters and said so frankly to the Pope.
In replying, Nicholas I asserted in no uncertain terms what he held to be the prerogatives of the Papal see and declared that through the clear words of Christ himself the Popes had power "over all the earth, that is, over the entire Church" and insisted that no council of the Church could be called without the Pope's consent — conveniently disregarding the fact that earlier ecumenical councils had been called by the Emperor and had been presided over either by him or his representative. Here was an assertion by the Pope of the Church's independence of the power of the state and of his authority in the Church. The latter was not new and practice, even in Constantinople, had been tending in the direction of the former.
The situation was stilt further complicated by developments in Bulgaria. There the king, Boris, under pressure from Constantinople, had accepted baptism from the hands of Greek clergy sent by Photius, Greeks, Armenians, and Paulicians poured into the country instructing the populace in the new faith. Boris wished to have his church free from both Rome and Constantinople, and in an effort to gain as favourable terms as possible played off each against the other. He wished a patriarch of his own but might compromise on an archbishop. Rome sent two bishops who engaged in instruction and baptism. Missionaries also came from the Franks, who adhered to the Latin form of Christianity.
The close juxtaposition of missionaries from the two wings of the Church brought into sharp relief the differences which had developed across the years. The Latins had a celibate clergy and confirmation was only by a bishop. The Greek priests were married (to them, as we have noted, the Roman insistence on a celibate clergy smacked of Manichsism) and confirmation was by the priest. Moreover, the Latins were putting filioque into the creed which is usually called Nicene, saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, whereas the original of the formula spoke of the Holy Spirit only as proceeding from the Father. The insertion had developed in the West in conflict with Arian Christianity, the faith of the Goths who ruled in Spain and part of Italy. To state their position as against the Arians the Catholic Latin clergy had framed a creed (possibly, as we have seen, originally a hymn) which was commonly given the name of Athanasius, because the Arians called the Catholics Athanasians. That creed had filioique. The Latins added the phrase to the Nicene Symbol, presumably to bring that and the Athanasian Symbol into accord. This seems to have been done first at Toledo in Spain in 589 or 653 to signalize the conversion of the Visigoths from Arianism to Catholicism. While in St. Peter's in Rome the Popes did not use filioque until early in the eleventh century, the custom had gradually spread through the West and in 809 under Charlemagne a synod at Aachen had given its approval. The Greeks were not averse to saying that the
Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, but objected to saying "and the Son." Then, too, in contrast with Greek custom, the Latins fasted on Saturdays and used milk, butter, and cheese in Lent.
The struggle for Bulgaria continued. At first Boris seemed to have been won by the Pope's envoys. Partly to offset this success, in 867 Photius called a synod in Constantinople which condemned Pope Nicholas and tried to wean the Franks from him by acclaiming, with the consent of Michael and Bardas, the Carolingian Louis II of that people as joint Emperor.
Then came a sudden reversal. Basil "the Macedonian," of humble Armenian origin, murdered Bardas (866), was made joint Emperor with Michael, and in 867 had the latter assassinated while drunk. These deaths deprived Photius of his two most powerful backers and freed Ignatius, who was still living, from his most influential enemies. Basil had the support of the party of Ignatius. Under the circumstances, Photius resigned and Ignatius was reinstated as Patriarch.
Hoping to bring unity in the Byzantine Church, Basil now referred to the Pope the whole tangled issue of Ignatius and Photius. A new pontiff, Hadrian II, was now on the chair of Peter. At a synod in Rome in 869 Hadrian decided against Photius and for Ignatius. In 869-870 a poorly attended synod was held in Constantinople, some members of which assented to the Papal condemnation of Photius. However, there was no enthusiasm for conforming with Rome and in spite of the protest of the Pope's representatives, by action of Basil, to whom the synod referred the question, Bulgaria was placed under the Patriarch of Constantinople. Ignatius then consecrated an archbishop and several bishops for Bulgaria. This angered the Pope, who held that his recognition of Ignatius had been conditional upon the latter's assent to the Roman claims in Bulgaria.
A reconciliation was effected between Basil and Photius and the latter returned to court as a tutor to the Emperor's sons. Ignatius and Photius also seem to have made peace with each other. When the former died, in 877, the latter quietly succeeded him as Patriarch. From then until 886 his influence in Church and state was at its height.
In 879-880 a largely attended council met in Constantinople. Photius presided. The Papal legates, in the name of the Pope, John VIII, joined with the council and the representatives of the three other Patriarchs — Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria — in recognizing Photius as the legitimate and canonically elected Patriarch. The action taken against Photius by Pope Hadrian II was repudiated by Pope John's representative. Nothing was said about filioque, for in Rome that had not yet been added to the creed. Pope John VIII, although admonishing Photius for his lack of humility, confirmed his reinstatement. The breach between the Western and Eastern wings of the Catholic Church was technically healed. Yet differences remained and were to come again to the fore.
As to Photius, some of the partisans of Ignatius remained recalcitrant. On the death of the Emperor Basil, in 886, the latter's son, Leo, who came to the throne, was hostile and Photius resigned. He lived on, but how long we do not know. Within a few decades after his death he was canonized by the Byzantine Church.
We have devoted to Photius and the events associated with him a much larger amount of space than may at first sight seem warranted. We have done so for several reasons. Photius himself is important, for he was one of the ablest ecclesiastics produced by the Byzantine Church. His career provides a window by which we may gain insight into that church, its politics, the fashion in which it was related to the state, and a little of its life. From it we can also glean some understanding of the state of the Catholic Church in the ninth century. We see it as continuing to think of itself as one and as intimately related to the Roman Empire. That Empire, although sadly diminished in area since the days of Constantine or even Justinian, was still regarded as inseparable from the Catholic Church. In theory there was a Christian society of which the Roman Empire was the civil phase and the Catholic Church, which included all true Christians, cared for what might be called the religious side. The Emperor had power in the Church, although that was being challenged in the West and now and then was being questioned in the East. In the Catholic Church the Pope asserted his primacy and to some degree was so acknowledged in both East and West. Yet East and West were continuing to drift apart. Even before Photius, in 781, the Popes had ceased to date their documents by the regnal years of the Emperors in Constantinople and in 800 a Pope had crowned Charlemagne as Roman Emperor. This was followed in the ninth century by the coronation by the Popes of some of the successors of Charlemagne. Carolingian Emperors regarded themselves as the Western colleagues of the Eastern monarchs and held the Empire to be still one. Towards the end of the reign of Charlemagne the Emperors in Constantinople assented to that claim. In actuality division was in progress. Not only were strains chronic, but from time to time they became so acute that actual schisms appeared. Thus far these schisms were temporary, but from the vantage of the perspective of a later age we can now see that they would eventually become permanent.
In spite of protestations to the contrary, the only true Christian unity, that of love, was largely lacking and from time to time the administrative structure which presented to the world an impressive facade and provided an opportunity for unity broke down and at best only partially hid the basic conflicts. These were primarily in sectional loyalties, in ecclesiastical customs, and in the rivalry between the sees of Rome and Constantinople. Popes and Patriarchs stood up for the authority of their respective offices and, perhaps unconsciously, under the guise of adherence to principle were jealous for their personal prestige and power. As we have seen, the Catholic Church had grown up within the inclusive political framework provided by the Roman Empire. It survived that realm, but after the scaffolding of the Empire fell away its inherent cohesion was not strong enough to hold it permanently together.
Was this article helpful?
Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.