Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sainthood of Photius the Great of Constantinople: Concluding Thoughts

Update 10/7/2009: to be revised soon
There is nothing wrong with venerating Patriarch Photius I the Great of Constantinople as a saint, or else Rome would not have expressly permitted his veneration by Greek Byzantine Catholics every February 6 (see the Byzantine Menaion). We must trust the judgments of the Magisterium and preach the reasons why they are prudent and right. St. Photius the Great committed several grievous sins, like daring to try to excommunicate Pope St. Nicholas I the Great and pouring his bitter anti-Latin polemics into his falsehood-riddled Mystagogy, a refutation of which I hope to post before the summer is over. However, by the time he died in an Armenian monastery he had already reconciled with Patriarch St. Ignatius I of Constantinople and was in communion with the Catholic Church, in agreement with what he had said earlier: "On Peter repose the foundations of the faith" [Epist. 99 and Niceph., PG 102:909A]. His repentance (think of the glorious martyr St. Paul the Apostle who as Saul was a persecutor of Christians and enemy of truth) is not the only thing that makes him suitable for veneration by Catholics, however. His career, while significantly tainted by his sins against unity (of which he sincerely repented or else the Vatican would not condone his veneration), was otherwise a good model for living:

(1) St. Photius negotiated with the Muslim Khalifa so that Christians under Muslim political rule and the Holy Places would be protected.
(2) He disputed with Eastern heretics, including Armenians, Manicheans, and Paulicians, among other groups cut off from the Body of Christ.
(3) While doing all these things to help his fellow Christians he still made time to write his invaluable works on dogma, Bible criticism, canon law, sermons, the famous Bibliotheca, and epistles on all the questions asked and issues raised during his time.
(4) No one doubted that his private life was very virtuous and free of scandal.
(5) While exiled and struggling with myriad problems he acted with great fortitude.
(6) He dispatched St. Cyril and St. Methodius to evangelize the Slavs, thus facilitating the salvation of countless souls!
(7) Even Pope St. Nicholas I the Great mentioned St. Photius's "great virtues and universal knowledge."
God bless Francis Dvornik, for he has made an excellent contribution to Photian research, but it must be kept in mind that the council of 879-880 was not ecumenical.{1}

St. Photius the Great of Constantinople, pray for us!

Notes and References
{1} Huysman, Will R. "The Photian Robber Council of 879-880." The Banana Republican. 27 Oct. 2009 <>.


givan2009 said...

There is no rational basis for accusing Photius of grevious sins. His condemnation of Pope Nicholas was fully justified by the traditions of the church. Nicholas asserted supremacy over the churches of the east contrary to practice established in the time of the apostles. Rome was always first in honor among the Patriarchs of the church, but never had a right to interfere in their internal affairs, Roman forgeries such as the Donation of Constantine to the contrary notwithstanding. The totalitarian control of the papacy over the bishops of the west was and remains a scandal.

Secondly, Photius' grasp of the theological issue of the procession of the Holy Spirit was far superior to that of the backward and ignorant western theologians of the time. The reconciliation you mention was due to the results of negotiations between John VIII and Photius in which Rome conceded all points in Photius' critique. The temporary abandonment of the filioque by Rome and Rome's interference in the east were what made the restoration of communion possible.

Will R. Huysman said...

Dear Givan2009,
I've responded to your comment at

God bless you and yours,
Will R. Huysman