Photius

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Photius

Photius (fō´shəs), c.820–892?, Greek churchman and theologian, patriarch of Constantinople, b. Constantinople. He came of a noble Byzantine family. Photius was one of the most learned men of his time, a professor in the university at Constantinople and, under Byzantine Emperor Michael III, president of the imperial chancellery. When the head of the sterner orthodox faction, St. Ignatius of Constantinople was deposed (858) from the patriarchate, Photius, a layman, was rushed through the stages of the holy orders and installed in the position. In 861 the legates of Pope St. Nicholas I approved the election of Photius, but the pope refused to recognize him. In 867, Photius called a synod that challenged the rights of the pope in Bulgaria, questioned certain Latin practices, and challenged the pope's right to judge the canonicity of the election of the patriarch. Nicholas died without learning of the synod's work. When Basil I became Byzantine emperor (867), Photius was banished to Cyprus and St. Ignatius became patriarch again. Although Photius was condemned two years later (see Constantinople, Fourth Council of), he reconciled with Basil and Ignatius, and on the death of Ignatius he again became patriarch (877). Pope John VIII recognized him as patriarch and sent legates to a synod, held in 879–80, which the Orthodox Eastern Church regards as an ecumenical council. This synod affirmed that Photius had been legally elected, nullified those synods that had condemned him, ruled against the elevation of laymen to the episcopacy, and agreed that Constantinople would relinquish authority in Bulgaria. The acts of this council were apparently approved by Pope John VIII, but without any retraction of his predecessors' condemnations. Photius continued as patriarch until the accession of Byzantine Emperor Leo VI in 886, when he was forced to resign under imperial pressure; he died in exile. Photius is a figure of controversy. In later years the deep cleavage between East and West was reckoned from the schism of Photius, even though the formal schism did not occur until the 11th cent. Certainly Photius encouraged the growing self-consciousness in the Greek church, not only through his exposition of the theological differences between the two churches, but also through his humanist and scholarly works. He is venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Eastern Church. Many of his letters, homilies, and dogmatic and polemical works are extant. His writings include the Myriobyblion, or Bibliotheca, a collection of extracts from 280 volumes of classical authors, which contains many quotations from lost Greek writings; a Lexicon to assist in reading the works of older authors; and the Nomocanon, a collection of the acts and decrees of the councils and ecclesiastical laws of the emperors.

See J. H. Freese, The Library of Photius (1920); F. Dvornik, The Photian Schism (1948); A. Gerostergios, St. Photios the Great (1980).

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