Photios I.

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Icon of Photios I from a fresco in St. Sophia Cathedral , Kiev

Photios I. the Great ( Central Greek Φώτιος ὁ Μέγας Photios ho Mégas * around 820 in Constantinople Opel ; † February 6 891 in Bordi, Armenia ) was 858-867 and 878-886 Patriarch of Constantinople Opel and is still in the Orthodox churches as one of the most important patriarchs and as a saint , while he is very critically viewed by the Roman Catholic Church. He was one of the most learned men of his time, was elected as a lay patriarch and was the initiator of the Slavic mission of Cyrillos and Methodius .

Circumstances of the time

Photios was born in the final phase of the Byzantine iconoclasm and was directly affected by it: a synod in 837 condemned him and his father together with the patriarch Tarasius . After the picture dispute was settled, there were two factions among the icon modules (picture admirers):

  • the moderates, which included the educated elite at court, and
  • the uncompromising radicals, mainly monks, who, with the support of regent Theodora II, also rejected any secular education and wanted to destroy the Paulikians .

The first patriarch after the iconoclasm, Methodios I , belonged to the moderate faction, his successor Ignatius I , the predecessor of Photios, was a radical. To the west were for 800 Charlemagne and his son Louis the Pious by the Pope to emperors were crowned. From the point of view of the highly cultivated imperial city of Byzantium, it was an absolute affront to crown an uneducated, uncultivated barbarian prince as parallel emperor. This was practically equivalent to a rebellion by the Pope against the Eastern Church, in which a bad opinion prevailed about the Church of Rome.

In the west, parallel to the Patriarchate of Photios, Pope Nicholas I (858–867) was in office, a staunch advocate of the papal primacy over all other patriarchs. A latent conflict between Rome and Constantinople smoldered over Illyria , Sicily and Calabria , the Emperor Leo III. in the 8th century under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, and Nicholas wanted to win back for Rome. Another conflict concerned the Slavic mission in the east, where missionaries on both sides claimed the same territory for their church.


Origin, youth and advancement

Photios came from a very good family: his father Sergios was part of the emperor's bodyguard, the patriarch Tarasios Nikephoros (784–806) was an uncle or older brother of his father, and one of his brothers married the sister of the regent Theodora.

He studied in Constantinople, the center of education at the time, and taught grammar , rhetoric , philosophy and theology himself at the university there at an early age , and he had the reputation of an exceptionally educated man. His students included Cyril, who later became the Slav apostle, and who later became Emperor Michael III. From his works it is evident that he was an excellent philologist , exegete and expert on patristics .

At the same time he made a career in the Byzantine government. He was the commander of the life guards and then the first imperial secretary. In the service of the regent Theodora II and her son Michael III. he stood on the side of the radical opponents of the iconoclasts and Paulicianism.

In 847 the radical Ignatios I, son of Emperor Michael I and abbot of a monastery, was appointed by Theodora II as the successor to the moderate Patriarch Methodios I, who died early. In a short period of time he caused a split between radical and moderate bishops. When in 856 Emperor Michael III. came of age, Ignatios fought with his uncle Bardas , who supported the educated moderate faction. It is historically not possible to determine how great the respective truthfulness of the mutual accusations was - in any case, the conflict ended on November 23, 858 with the more or less forced resignation of Ignatios.

First patriarchy

Emperor Michael and Bardas elected the layman Photios, who had distinguished himself through administrative and academic skills, as the new patriarch, who was ordained patriarch within a week. As usual, he informed his colleagues in Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem about his inauguration, whereby he recognized Rome's traditional honorary primacy.

There were no problems with the other eastern patriarchs. Pope Nicholas also replied in a friendly manner, but wanted to find out more about the speedy ordination. He therefore sent two legates whose second mission was to regain Illyria, Calabria and Sicily for the jurisdiction of Rome. The two legates came, took part in a council convened by Photios in 861, investigated the case, and found the resignation of Ignatios and the assumption of office of Photios as legal and canonical. However, they could not achieve the second goal.

Back in Rome, they reported back. Disappointed about the failure to regain the provinces, Pope Nicholas declared the results of the investigation null and void, excommunicated the two legates, and declared that the consecration of Photios was invalid, Photios had been deposed and Ignatios reinstated. Photios officially ignored this, but wrote a letter for the emperor in which Nicholas was addressed as a subject of the emperor, which - not surprisingly - resulted in a heated reply from Rome.

Meanwhile, open conflict had broken out in another area. Supported by Emperor Michael, Photios was involved in the mission with the Rus , Bulgarians , residents of Greater Moravia and Khazars . Photios played a decisive role in the Christianization of these peoples. With the Bulgarians there was another conflict with Rome, which also claimed jurisdiction over the Bulgarians. Here Photios was alarmed to learn that the Roman missionaries were teaching a creed extended to include the Filioque .

Now Photios officially struck back. In an encyclical to the Eastern Patriarchs , he in turn excommunicated the Pope. As a justification, he cited that the Latins - by which the church in the former Western Roman Empire is meant - had wrong customs, as they fast on Saturday, the Lent only begins on Ash Wednesday - instead of three days earlier as in the East - they do not allow priests to marry - Latin missionaries had invalidated baptisms of married priests in Bulgaria - not allow priests to give Confirmation - Latin missionaries in Bulgaria invalidated confirmations by priests - and, most importantly, a heretical doctrine attached by adding the Filioque to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed . He also counted the beard trimming of the Latin clergy among the deficiencies in religious customs. Because of these errors, he called the Pope and all Latins "harbingers of apostasy, servants of the Antichrist who deserve a thousand deaths, liars, fighters against God."

From an orthodox point of view, Photios defended the traditional doctrine and traditional patriarchal autonomy - he did not introduce anything new, but defended himself against the one-sided innovations on the part of Rome. However, this encyclical is viewed by the Roman Catholic Church as the cause of the schism .

At the Council of 867, Pope Nicholas' excommunication was officially confirmed. However, Pope Nicholas died without hearing of his excommunication.

Deposition, Rehabilitation, and Second Patriarchy

But now events in Byzantium too precipitated. Emperor Michael III. was murdered. Photios refused the murderer and usurper, Basil I the Macedonians, to take part in the worship service, who overthrew Photios and reinstated Ignatius I in order to simultaneously bring the radical faction in Byzantium and the new Pope Hadrian II on his side. Another council, which is now called the Fourth Council of Constantinople in the Catholic Church , took place with few participants. It was controlled by papal legates and excommunicated and exiled Photios.

However, he still had the support of the vast majority of the metropolitans and bishops - at the council against him, barely 20 bishops were initially willing to take part. He wisely abstained from political attack, but gave his supporters strong moral support by letter. Finally he was called back from exile and made the tutor of the future Emperor Leon VI. made. His popularity was so evident that he was reinstated as patriarch three days after Ignatios' death in 877.

In the meantime, a new Pope, John VIII, ruled Rome , who had problems with the Franks and therefore wanted good relations with Byzantium. The council of 879, referred to in the Eastern Church as the Fourth Council of Constantinople , which the Pope expressly recognized, repealed the Antiphotian council of 869 and completely rehabilitated Photios. For the west the Roman primacy including jurisdiction was recognized, for the east any papal jurisdiction was rejected. The original text of the Nicano-Constantinopolitanum without filioque was also confirmed. This ended the Photios schism for the time being.

882 Pope John VIII was replaced by Pope Marinus I ; this excommunicated Photios again, whereupon he published his treatise on the mystagogy of the Holy Spirit , in which, in addition to biblical interpretations and quotations from the eastern church fathers, he also specifically mentioned the most respected western fathers, namely Ambrose of Milan , Augustine of Hippo and Hieronymus as well as Popes of Damasus I. until Hadrian III. cited to support his arguments. This treatise is still a standard work in the Eastern Church on Filioque.

In August 886, Emperor Basil I died unexpectedly. His successor, Leon VI. , forced Photios to resign on September 29, 886 in favor of the sixteen-year-old Kaiserbrother Stefan. Photios spent the rest of his life in a monastery in Armenia.


The most important work of Photios is probably the Myriobiblone (also called library ). It is a collection of notes about the reading of ancient classics, both Christian and pagan writers. The works that Photios viewed (probably partly in libraries) were partly cited and partly summarized by him. Several of these texts have been lost today and their content is only known at least in their basics through the work of Photios, although it is unclear in individual cases how exactly Photios reproduced the content. The Myriobiblone is the only surviving Byzantine work on the history of literature, an essential testimony to the “ Byzantine humanism ” that began in the 9th century .

In addition, Photios wrote a lexicon, probably when he was still young, compiling older material. Among his numerous theological writings, the Amphilochia are the most important, a collection of over 300 questions and answers on difficult Bible passages, philosophical and theological problems, addressed to Archbishop Amphilochius, next to it the Mystagogy, a treatise on the Holy Spirit.

Only fragments of his extensive Bible commentaries have survived (especially Matthew and Romans). Over eighty sermons and around two hundred letters from all phases of his life have been preserved.

In addition, there are numerous pamphlets against the Filioque and the Pope's jurisdiction primacy, which are still part of the orthodox standard literature on the subject today, and works on canon law.

The nomocanon , the classic work of orthodox canon law, is also ascribed to Photios, but is probably older and was only revised by him.


In the Orthodox Church, Photios is recognized as a saint. His feast day is February 6th. On the Catholic side, his role as a distinguished opponent of the papal primacy led to negative reviews.

The library was first published by the Augsburg philologist David Höschel (1556–1617).

Current text editions and translations

  • Christos Theodoridis (Ed.): Photii Patriarchae Lexicon. De Gruyter, Berlin 1982 ff., ISBN 3-11-008530-5
    • Volume 1: A-D. 1982
    • Volume 2: E-M. 1998
    • Volume 3: N-Ph. 2013
  • Basil Laourdas , Leendert Gerrit Westerink (ed.): Photii patriarchae Constantinopolitani epistulae et amphilochia. 6 volumes (volume 6 in two sub-volumes). Teubner, Leipzig 1983–1988 (critical edition)
  • René Henry (Ed.): Photius: Bibliothèque ( Collection byzantine ) . 9 volumes. Les Belles Lettres, Paris 1959–1991 (critical edition with French translation)
  • Nigel Guy Wilson (Ed.): Photius: The Bibliotheca. A Selection. Duckworth, London 1994, ISBN 0-7156-2612-4 (English translation)


Overview representations


  • Francis Dvornik : The Photian Schism. History and Legend. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1948

Web links

Commons : Photios I of Constantinople  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Horst Balz, James K. Cameron, Stuart G. Hall, Brian L. Hebblethwaite, Wolfgang Janke, Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Joachim Mehlhausen, Knut Schaeferdiek, Henning Schroer, Gottfried Seebass, Hermann Spieckermann, Guenter Stemberger, Konrad Stock: Tre - Theological real encyclopedia: Study edition Part II: Catechumenate / Catechumens - Journalism / Press (=  De Gruyter Study Book Series ). Walter De Gruyter Incorporated, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-11-016295-4 , p. 587 (8175 p., Limited preview in Google Book search).
  2. partial text of the Myriobiblion (English)
  3. Hans Widmann : Author trouble of a scholar in the 16th century. In: Börsenblatt for the German book trade - Frankfurt edition. No. 89, (November 5) 1968, pp. 2929-2940, here: p. 2932.
predecessor Office successor
Ignatios I. Patriarch of Constantinople
Ignatios I.
Ignatios I. Patriarch of Constantinople
Stephanos I.