Photius

c.820-c.895. Patriarch of Constantinople. Born into an aristocratic iconodule family which had suffered persecution, he attained learning renowned in his own day for its breadth and depth, and confirmed by modern research. He taught in the imperial university and also, as was customary, functioned as a civil servant and diplomat. In 855 he was a member of a diplomatic mission to the Arabs, concerned with exchange of prisoners. After his return, palace intrigues between Theodora and Michael III led to the deposition of Ignatius from the patriarchate in 858. Photius, still a layman, was elected his successor, receiving the ecclesiastical orders within the space of one week, a procedure not without precedent. He was consecrated by Gregory Asbestas, whom Ignatius had deposed.

The whole history of what followed is vitiated by much misrepresentation, about which there is still debate. Photius had been accepted only by way of compromise and, when dissension broke out, canonically deposed Ignatius by a synod. Papal legates, present for a council in 861 dealing primarily with the residual problems of Iconoclasm, reopened the case of Ignatius and confirmed his deposition. But Pope Nicholas I would not accept the action and asked for a further investigation of the Ignatian case. Behind this lay some claims to jurisdiction over Sicily, Calabria, and Illyricum. A synod in Rome in 863 condemned Photius and declared Ignatius patriarch.

Although in 865 reconciliation might have come about, it was prevented by the new problem of the Christianization of Bulgaria, where the khan Boris* upon his conversion had requested missionaries from the West. The differences between East and West in matters of practice came to the fore with the result that Photius in an encyclical letter condemned Latin practices and especially the added phrase Filioque in the Nicene Creed,* and a council at Constantinople in 867 deposed and excommunicated the pope. But in the same year, Byzantine politics led to the murder of Michael and the accession of Basil. Photius was deposed, Ignatius restored. Yet the schism with Rome continued, as Ignatius stood firm about the Bulgarian issue. After some years and with papal changes, reconciliation might once more have been effected, but in 877 Ignatius died and Basil reinstated Photius. The legates of John VIII in the synod of 879-80 acknowledged Photius and reversed the earlier condemnations.

Controversy broke out again for obscure reasons. On his accession Emperor Leo VI deposed Photius (886), and Pope Formosus may have excommunicated him in 892. Photius's last years are unrecorded; he died in exile in the last decade of the century. He was a complex character, sometimes high-handed, but he remained on friendly terms with Ignatius, and after his death canonized him. The monuments of his scholarship are the Amphilochia, dealing with doctrinal and exegetical questions; the Bibliotheke, in which his reading is recorded and from which knowledge of many lost works can be gained; the Lexicon, of which the full text has lately come to light; and the books against the Manichaeans, of which the authenticity has been doubted. Photius is recognized as a saint in the Orthodox Church.

Edition: Migne, PG, pp. 101-4; J. Hergenroether, Photius, patriarch von Konstantinopel (3 vols., 1867-69); F. Dvornik, The Photian Schism (1948) and The Patriarch Photius in the light of recent research (Berichte zum XI. Internationalen Byzantinisten-Kongress, 1958); L. Politis, Die Handschriftsammlung des Klosters Zavorda u. die neuaufgefundene Photios-Handschrift (1961).