Saturday, March 19, 2011

Did Photius die in communion with the Holy See?

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Hail Joseph the just, Wisdom is with you; blessed are you among all men and blessed is Jesus, the fruit of Mary, your faithful spouse. Holy Joseph, worthy foster-father of Jesus Christ, pray for us sinners and obtain divine Wisdom for us from God, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. -- St. Louis de Montfort


Note: Photius is a "saint" of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church; see February Menaion (Diocese of Newton: Sophia Press, 2000), 69-84 <>.

Previously I answered with a resounding yes, and I hope this is the case. Yet I can't really be enthusiastic about Photius anymore, in light of the following observations of Fr. Venance Grumel, A.A. of happy memory in "New Light on the Photian Schism," Unitas 5 (1953), 147-148.

Did Photius die in communion with the Holy See?
The most striking result of this recent research on the Photian question is the disappearance of the presumed second Photian schism. For many people this conclusion takes the concrete form: Photius died in communion with the Holy See. Is the conclusion justified? To respond we must avoid hasty conclusions, and distinguish between the position in the eyes of the law and the conduct or personal conscience of the deposed patriarch.

We cannot pass over in silence the fact that the Council of 869 was omitted from official lists of ecumenical councils, even in the West, until the second half of the eleventh century. Dvornik has established this with great erudition, and concludes that this silence is equivalent to the annulment of the Council. But we claim that it is more reasonable to suppose that since the Council concerned itself only with a personal issue and not with any question of dogma there was no great reason for emphasizing its importance at the time, and that also it seemed diplomatic in the West to remain silent after the Photian affair was settled in 899.

If it is a question of the position of Photius in the eyes of the law, all that we can say is that Photius died in communion with the Church of Byzantium. If this was in communion with Rome at the time, the former patriarch died in communion with Rome; if it was in schism, he died in schism. We are faced with two uncertainties here—the date of Photius's death and the situation of the two Churches from the time of Formosus until the reunion council held under John IX in 899. We cannot give a reply to the main question until we can answer these two.

In regard to the personal attitude and the conscience of the ex-patriarch we are on even more difficult ground. Photius composed his two principal works against the doctrine of the Filioque after his re-establishment as patriarch under John VIII, his letter to the Archbishop of Aquilea and his Mystagoge. He was not manifesting a desire for reconciliation, and he even avoids the expression through the Son, used by the Second Council of Nicaea and current among the Greek Fathers. Would this latter have embarrassed him just as later it was to embarrass the adversaries of Johannes Beccos?

What of the genuine attitude of Photius towards the Roman Church? It is argued that he had different attitudes, and many of them, not so much against the Roman Church as against those who headed it. He spurned St. Nicholas I, he admired John VIII and Adrian III; the one had eyed him with disfavor, the other two with forgiveness. He measured the merit of those who occupied the Apostolic See by their treatment of himself. With this in mind we conclude that the question: "Did Photius die a Catholic?" is a strange one. We are even more fully convinced that in seeking a patron for works of Unity, we should not pause to consider the possibility of choosing Photius, as some others would suggest (19).

(19) Fr. Dvornik, "Photius, père du schisme ou apôtre de l’union" in Vie intellectuelle, Dec. 1945, pp. 16-28.

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