The Photian schism. History and Legend

Francis Dvornik





The personality of the Patriarch Photius has attracted the attention of almost all Church historians ever since the Reformation, and their verdict has in most cases been unfavourable. This traditional view was confirmed by the researches of J. Hergenröther in the second half of the nineteenth century, and it was generally agreed that his judgement was based on sound historical evidence. When in 1895 the French Jesuit A. Lapôtre ventured to propose a few exonerating circumstances to mitigate the indictment, his voice failed to carry weight and his plea was rejected by many as being too daring. However, the great advances in Byzantine studies in the first decades of the twentieth century tended to modify this unfavourable opinion, though not to any considerable extent. Even that great and critical Byzantinist, J. B. Bury, after making a promising start towards a revision of the conventional estimate of the Patriarch, was unable to dispose of the formidable array of arguments advanced by the Western historians against him. The same may be said about the French Church historian E. Amann, though he was on the whole on the right way to a solution.


Ever since I began to study the many problems arising from the chequered history of the ninth century in East and West, especially the lives and works of the Slavonic apostles SS. Constantine-Cyril and Methodius, I gradually realized that the history of the unfortunate Patriarch required to be rewritten and that the documents on which his condemnation was based demanded thorough revision. As soon as I had completed my study of the two Greek founders of Slavonic letters I proceeded to examine the Collection of anti-Photian documents and pamphlets. Being the work of contemporary writers, and undoubtedly authentic, they had been used as an incontrovertible dossier against Photius. The first result of my researches was the discovery that the sources on which the history of the second schism was based were valueless, and that whatever had been written about a second rupture between Photius and Rome was not only inaccurate, but pure mystification (Byzantion, vol. viii, 1933). This finding was confirmed to a certain extent by V. Grumel, who, in a study published in the Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Thêologiques (vol. XII, 1933), came independently to a similar conclusion.


But other problems remained unsolved, one of them being the oecumenicity of the Ignatian synod (869-70) in Western medieval tradition.





Moreover, it would have been impossible to reassess Photius’ character and career unless it were first made clear how the primitive Photian tradition came to be forgotten in the West and obscured in the East. This tradition was easily reconstructed when once the trustworthiness of the Photian Collection had been seriously challenged. I accordingly began to trace in detail the development of what may be called the Photian Legend in the Middle Ages.


As the results of my researches clashed with conventional opinion, I made a point of communicating them to the specialists in Byzantine history at the last two international congresses of Byzantine studies at Sofia in 1934 and at Rome in 1936. In 1938 I summarized some of my researches in a lecture at the Royal Academy of Brussels, and Professor H. Grégoire, of the University of Brussels, who had been kept informed of the progress of my work, did the same at the Academy of Athens. Furthermore, in order to afford experts and Church authorities every opportunity to check my arguments I published the main results of my inquiry in various periodicals. The present work embodies those studies, with the addition of more evidence and the necessary historical setting.


It had been my original intention to publish in a separate volume some relevant documents, chiefly bearing on the Latin and Greek conciliar tradition; but present difficulties interfered with the project and forced me to limit myself to short quotations from the most important manuscript sources. The same reasons prevented me from completing my researches in the manuscript departments of important European libraries. I particularly regret that a prolonged stay in Rome, where I intended to consult some specialists and complete my study of Greek and Latin manuscripts in the Vatican Library, as had been planned in 1939, was made impossible by political events. I trust, however, that the evidence I was able to gather before 1939, incomplete as it is in some details, is amply sufficient to substantiate my statements.


I am therefore well aware of the deficiencies in the present work, but the times have been hard on writers, and in order not to tax the reader’s patience I have restricted myself to such facts as I deemed essential. If the narrative be considered too long at times, historians who know the difficulty of eradicating century-old legends will recognize the necessity of elaborating certain points that may seem obvious to others.


This book was originally written in French, and my first intention was to publish it in the Corpus Bruxellense, as was announced in Byzantion (vol. xiv, 1939) by Professor H. Grégoire. He took the MS.





to Paris a week before the invasion of Belgium and I brought it safely to London, where it was rewritten in English.


The work was completed under trying circumstances, and I should like to express my gratitude to all who helped me to bring my researches to a satisfactory conclusion. I am grateful to my colleagues of the Charles IV University, who granted me special leave in June 1938 to prosecute my research work. When after the occupation of my country I declined to return to my post, losing both salary and government grant, I found hospitality at St George’s Cathedral House, then administered by my friend Father J. J. Farrell, with the kind permission of His Grace the Archbishop P. Amigo; and again in 1940, after the collapse of France.


The French Government also offered me in 1939, for the purpose of facilitating my research work, the post of Charge des Recherches, and the professors of the Collège de France elected me, on the advice of Professor André Mazon and G. Millet, to the Schlumberger Lectureship for 1940. The École des Hautes Études, on the suggestion of Charles Diehl and G. Millet, invited me to lecture on Early Christian and Byzantine History and Literature.


In preparing the English text of my work I was greatly assisted by the Rev. A. Gille, who also kindly undertook the compilation of the index. I am indebted to the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press, who agreed to publish my work in spite of the difficulties that hamper the publishing of scholarly books in these days, and I have been happy in the aid that I have received from Mr S. C. Roberts, who personally undertook to revise the manuscript in the matter of language and style.


In the course of my researches I received encouragement and valuable advice from several competent scholars, especially from Professor H. Grégoire, from the Bollandists P. Peeters and the late H. Delehaye. I am especially grateful to Professor Norman H. Baynes, who read the manuscript and gave me invaluable advice on many matters. I was most courteously treated in all the libraries where I worked, particularly in the MSS. Department of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, at the Vatican, in Brussels, Prague and in Vienna. I must specially thank the Superintendents and Staff of the Reading Room at the British Museum, where the greater part of this book was written.


I am dedicating this work to the memory of my illustrious teacher, Professor Charles Diehl, who took a personal interest in the progress of my researches, encouraged me never to be deterred by the difficulty of finding and telling the whole historical truth, and gave invaluable





advice on many details. He accepted the dedication shortly before his death. It is my tribute to the memory of a great teacher, a distinguished Byzantine scholar and a trusted friend, who towards the close of his life offered his students and admirers a noble example in bearing the greatest misfortune that could befall a scholar—blindness—with Christian fortitude and patience.





August 15, 1947



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