Photios I (Greek: Φώτιος Phōtios), (c. 810/820 – 6 February
893), [a] also spelled Photius (/ˈfoʊʃəs/) or Fotios, was the
Ecumenical Patriarch of
Constantinople from 858 to 867 and from 877 to
886; He is recognized in the
Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church as St. Photios
Photios is widely regarded as the most powerful and influential church
Constantinople subsequent to John Chrysostom's archbishopric
around the turn of the fifth century. He is also viewed as the most
important intellectual of his time – "the leading light of the
ninth-century renaissance". He was a central figure in both the
conversion of the Slavs to
Christianity and the Photian schism, and
is considered "[t]he great systematic compiler of the Eastern Church,
who occupies a similar position to that of Gratian in the West," and
whose "collection in two parts...formed and still forms the classic
source of ancient Church Law for the Greek Church."
Photios was a well-educated man from a noble Constantinopolitan
family. Photius's great uncle was a previous Patriarch of
Constantinople, Saint Tarasius. He intended to be a monk, but chose
to be a scholar and statesman instead. In 858, Emperor
Michael III (r.
842–867) deposed Saint Ignatius, and Photios, still a layman, was
appointed in his place. Amid power struggles between the pope and
the Byzantine emperor, Ignatius was reinstated. Photios resumed the
position when Ignatius died (877), by order of the Byzantine
emperor. The new pope, John VIII, approved Photios's
reinstatement. Catholics regard as legitimate a Fourth Council of
Constantinople (Roman Catholic) anathematizing Photios, while
Eastern Orthodox regard as legitimate a subsequent Fourth Council of
Constantinople (Eastern Orthodox), reversing the former. The
contested councils mark the end of unity represented by the first
seven Ecumenical Councils.
Studies show that Photios was venerated as a saint as early as the 9th
century, and by the Roman Church as late as the 12th century.
Nonetheless, Photios was formally canonized by the Orthodox Church in
1.1 Secular life
1.2 Patriarch of Constantinople
4 See also
8 External links
Most of the primary sources treating Photios's life are written by
persons hostile to him. Modern scholars are thus cautious when
assessing the accuracy of the information these sources provide.[b]
Little is known of Photios's origin and early years. It is known that
he was born into a notable family and that his uncle Saint Tarasius
had been the Patriarch of
Constantinople from 784–806 under both
Empress Irene (r. 797–802) and Emperor
Nikephoros I (r.
802–811). During the second Iconoclasm, which began in 814, his
family suffered persecution since his father, Sergios, was a prominent
iconophile. Sergios's family returned to favor only after the
restoration of the icons in 842. Certain scholars assert that
Photios was, at least in part, of Armenian descent[c] while other
scholars merely refer to him as a "Greek Byzantine". Byzantine
writers also report that Emperor
Michael III (r. 842–867) once
angrily called Photios "Khazar-faced", but whether this was a generic
insult or a reference to his ethnicity is unclear.
Although Photios had an excellent education, we have no information
about how he received this education. The famous library he possessed
attests to his enormous erudition (theology, history, grammar,
philosophy, law, the natural sciences, and medicine). Most
scholars believe that he never taught at Magnaura or at any other
university; Vasileios N. Tatakes asserts that, even while he was
patriarch, Photios taught "young students passionately eager for
knowledge" at his home, which "was a center of learning". He was a
friend of the renowned Byzantine scholar and teacher Leo the
Photios says that, when he was young, he had an inclination for the
monastic life, but instead he started a secular career. The way to
public life was probably opened for him by (according to one account)
the marriage of his brother Sergios to Irene, a sister of the Empress
Theodora, who upon the death of her husband Emperor Theophilos (r.
829–842) in 842, had assumed the regency of the Byzantine Empire.
Photios became a captain of the guard (prōtospatharios) and
subsequently chief imperial secretary (protasēkrētis). At an
uncertain date, Photios participated in an embassy to the
Patriarch of Constantinople
Photios's ecclesiastical career took off spectacularly after Caesar
Bardas and his nephew, the youthful Emperor Michael, put an end to the
administration of the regent Theodora and the logothete of the drome
Theoktistos in 856. In 858,
Bardas found himself opposed by the then
Patriarch Ignatios, who refused to admit him into Hagia Sophia, since
it was believed that he was having an affair with his widowed
daughter-in-law. In response,
Bardas and Michael engineered Ignatios's
deposition and confinement on the charge of treason, thus leaving the
patriarchal throne empty. The throne was soon filled with a kinsman of
Bardas, Photios himself, who was tonsured a monk on December 20, 858,
and on the four following days was successively ordained lector,
sub-deacon, deacon and priest, and then on Christmas Day, the patronal
feast of Constantinople's cathedral, Hagia Sophia, Photius was
consecrated as patriarch.
Photios baptising the king of
Bulgaria and the Bulgarians.
The deposition of Ignatios and the sudden promotion of Photios caused
scandal and ecclesiastical division on an ecumenical scale as the Pope
and the rest of the western bishops took up the cause of Ignatios. The
latter's deposition without a formal ecclesiastical trial meant that
Photios's election was uncanonical, and eventually
Pope Nicholas I
sought to involve himself in determining the legitimacy of the
succession. His legates were dispatched to
instructions to investigate, but finding Photios well ensconced, they
acquiesced in the confirmation of his election at a synod in 861. On
their return to Rome, they discovered that this was not at all what
Nicholas had intended, and in 863 at a synod in Rome the pope deposed
Photios, and reappointed Ignatius as the rightful patriarch,
triggering a schism. Four years later, Photios was to respond on his
own part by calling a Council and excommunicating the pope on grounds
of heresy – over the question of the double procession of the Holy
Spirit. The situation was additionally complicated by the question
of papal authority over the entire Church and by disputed jurisdiction
over newly converted Bulgaria.
This state of affairs changed with the murder of Photios's patron
Bardas in 866 and of Emperor
Michael III in 867, by his colleague
Basil the Macedonian, who now usurped the throne. Photios was deposed
as patriarch, not so much because he was a protégé of
Michael, but because Basil I was seeking an alliance with the
the western emperor. Photios was removed from his office and banished
about the end of September 867, and Ignatios was reinstated on
November 23. Photios was condemned by the Council of 869–870, thus
putting an end to the schism. During his second patriarchate, however,
Ignatios followed a policy not very different from that of Photios.
Not long after his condemnation, Photios had reingratiated himself
with Basil, and became tutor to the Byzantine emperor's children. From
surviving letters of Photios written during his exile at the Skepi
monastery, it appears that the ex-patriarch brought pressure to bear
on the Byzantine emperor to restore him. Ignatios's biographer argues
that Photios forged a document relating to the genealogy and rule of
Basil's family, and had it placed in the imperial library where a
friend of his was a librarian. According to this document, the
Byzantine emperor's ancestors were not mere peasants as everyone
believed but descendants of the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia. True
or not, this story does reveal Basil's dependence on Photios for
literary and ideological matters. Following Photios's recall, Ignatios
and the ex-patriarch met, and publicly expressed their reconciliation.
When Ignatios died on October 23, 877, it was a matter of course that
his old opponent replaced him on the patriarchal throne three days
later. Shaun Tougher asserts that from this point on Basil no longer
simply depended on Photios, but in fact he was dominated by him.
Photios now obtained the formal recognition of the Christian world in
a council convened at
Constantinople in November 879. The legates of
Pope John VIII
Pope John VIII attended, prepared to acknowledge Photios as legitimate
patriarch, a concession for which the pope was much censured by Latin
opinion. The patriarch stood firm on the main points contested between
the Eastern and Western Churches: the demand of an apology to the
Pope, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Bulgaria, and the addition
of the filioque to the
Nicene creed by the Western church. Eventually,
Photios refused to apologize or accept the filioque, and the papal
legates made do with his return of
Bulgaria to Rome. This concession,
however, was purely nominal, as Bulgaria's return to the Byzantine
rite in 870 had already secured for it an autocephalous church.
Without the consent of Boris I of
Bulgaria (r. 852–889), the papacy
was unable to enforce its claims.
During the altercations between Emperor Basil I and his heir Leo VI,
Photios took the side of the Byzantine emperor. In 883, Basil accused
Leo of conspiracy and confined the prince to the palace; he would have
even have Leo blinded had he not been dissuaded by Photios and
Stylianos Zaoutzes, the father of Zoe Zaoutzaina, Leo's mistress.
In 886, Basil discovered and punished a conspiracy by the domestic of
Hikanatoi John Kourkouas the Elder and many other officials. In
this conspiracy, Leo was not implicated, but Photios was possibly one
of the conspirators against Basil's authority.
Basil died in 886 injured while hunting, according to the official
story. Warren T. Treadgold believes that this time the evidence points
to a plot on behalf of Leo VI, who became emperor, and deposed
Photios, although the latter had been his tutor. Photios was
replaced by the Byzantine emperor's brother Stephen, and sent into
exile to the monastery of Bordi in Armenia. It is confirmed from
letters to and from
Pope Stephen that Leo extracted a resignation from
Photios. In 887, Photios and his protégé, Theodore Santabarenos,
were put on trial for treason before a tribunal headed by senior
officials, headed by Andrew the Scythian. Although the sources
sympathetic to Photios give the impression that the trial ended
without a conviction, the chronicle of Pseudo-Symeon clearly states
that Photios was banished to the monastery of Gordon, where he later
died. Yet it appears that he did not remain reviled for the remainder
of his life.
Photios continued his career as a writer throughout his exile, and Leo
probably rehabilitated his reputation within the next few years; in
his Epitaphios on his brothers, a text probably written in 888, the
Emperor presents Photios favorably, portraying him as the legitimate
archbishop, and the instrument of ultimate unity, an image that jars
with his attitude to the patriarch in the previous year.
Confirmation that Photios was rehabilitated comes upon his death:
according to some chronicles, his body was permitted to be buried in
Constantinople. In addition, according to the anti-Photian biographer
of Ignatius, partisans of the ex-patriarch after his death endeavored
to claim for him the "honor of sainthood". Furthermore, a leading
member of Leo's court, Leo Choirosphaktes, wrote poems commemorating
the memory of several prominent contemporary figures, such as Leo the
Mathematician and the Patriarch Stephen, and he also wrote one on
Photios. Shaun Tougher notes, however, that "yet Photios's passing
does seem rather muted for a great figure of Byzantine history [...]
Leo [...] certainly did not allow him back into the sphere of
politics, and it is surely his absence from this arena that accounts
for his quiet passing."
Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church venerates Photios as a saint; his feast
day is February 6.
Photios is one of the most famous figures not only of 9th-century
Byzantium but of the entire history of the Byzantine Empire. One of
the most learned men of his age, and revered – even by some of his
opponents and detractors – as the most prolific theologian of his
time, he has earned his fame due to his part in ecclesiastical
conflicts, and also for his intellect and literary works.
Analyzing his intellectual work, Tatakes regards Photios as "mind
turned more to practice than to theory". He believes that, thanks to
Photios, humanism was added to
Orthodoxy as a basic element of the
national consciousness of the medieval Byzantines, returning it to the
place it had had in the late Roman (early Byzantine) period. Tatakes
also argues that, having understood this national consciousness,
Photios emerged as a defender of the Greek nation and its spiritual
independence in his debates with the Western Church. Adrian
Fortescue regards him as "the most wonderful man of all the Middle
Ages", and stresses that "had [he] not given his name to the great
schism, he would always be remembered as the greatest scholar of his
The most important of the works of Photios is his renowned Bibliotheca
or Myriobiblon, a collection of extracts and abridgements of 280
volumes of classical authors (usually cited as Codices), the originals
of which are now to a great extent lost. The work is especially rich
in extracts from historical writers.
Some older scholarship speculated that the Bibliotheca was in fact
Baghdad at the time of Photius's embassy to the Abbasid
court, since many of the mentioned works were rarely cited during the
so-called Byzantine Dark Ages c. 630 – c. 800, and it was known that
Abbasids were interested in works of Greek science and
philosophy. However, specialists of this period of Byzantine
history, such as Paul Lemerle, have shown that Photius could not have
compiled his Bibliotheca in
Baghdad because he clearly states in both
his introduction and his postscript that when he learned of his
appointment to the embassy, he sent his brother a summary of books
that he read previously, "since the time I learned how to understand
and evaluate literature" i.e. since his youth. Moreover, the
Abbasids were interested only in Greek science, philosophy and
medicine; they did not have Greek history, rhetoric, or other literary
works translated; nor did they have Christian patristic writers
translated. Yet the majority of works in Bibliotheca are by
Christian patristic authors, and most of the secular texts in
Bibliotheca are histories, grammars or literary works, usually
rhetoric, rather than science, medicine or philosophy. This further
indicates that the majority of the works cannot have been read while
Photius was in the
To Photios, we are indebted for almost all we possess of Ctesias,
Memnon of Heraclea, Conon, the lost books of Diodorus Siculus, and the
lost writings of Arrian. Theology and ecclesiastical history are also
very fully represented, but poetry and ancient philosophy are almost
entirely ignored. It seems that he did not think it necessary to deal
with those authors with whom every well-educated man would naturally
be familiar. The literary criticisms, generally distinguished by keen
and independent judgment, and the excerpts vary considerably in
length. The numerous biographical notes are probably taken from the
work of Hesychius of Miletus.
The Lexicon (Λέξεων Συναγωγή), published later than the
Bibliotheca, was probably in the main the work of some of his pupils.
It was intended as a book of reference to facilitate the reading of
old classical and sacred authors, whose language and vocabulary were
out of date. For a long time, the only manuscripts of the Lexicon were
the Codex Galeanus, which passed into the library of Trinity College,
Cambridge and Berolinensis graec. oct. 22, both of which were
incomplete. But in 1959, Linos Politis of the University of
Thessaloniki discovered a complete manuscript, codex Zavordensis 95,
in the Zavorda Monastery (Greek: Ζάβορδα) in Grevena, Greece,
where it still resides.
His most important theological work is the Amphilochia, a collection
of some 300 questions and answers on difficult points in Scripture,
addressed to Amphilochius, archbishop of Cyzicus. Other similar works
are his treatise in four books against the Manichaeans and Paulicians,
and his controversy with the Latins on the Procession of the Holy
Spirit. Photios also addressed a long letter of theological advice to
the newly converted Boris I of Bulgaria. Numerous other Epistles also
Photios is also the writer of two "mirrors of princes", addressed to
Bulgaria (Epistula 1, ed. Terzaghi) and to Leo VI the
Wise (Admonitory Chapters of Basil I).
The chief contemporary authority for the life of Photios is his bitter
enemy, Nicetas the Paphlagonian, the biographer of his rival Ignatios.
The first English translation, by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, of
the "Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit" by Photios was published in
1983. Another translation was published in 1987 with a preface by
Archimandrite (now Archbishop) Chrysostomos of Etna.
University of Magnaura
^ The exact dates of Photios's birth and death are not known. Most
sources list circa 810 and others circa 820 as his year of birth. He
died some time between 890 and 895 (probably 891 or 893).
^ The case of pseudo-Simeon's Chronicle is characteristic: the author
argues that Photios was educated after an agreement he concluded with
a Jewish magician who offered him knowledge and secular recognition,
in case he renounced his faith.
^ David Marshall Lang argues that "Photius [...] was only one of many
Byzantine scholars of Armenian descent".
Peter Charanis notes that
"John the Grammarian, Photius, Caesar
Bardas and Leo the Philosopher
seem to have been the prime movers. All four were, at least in part,
of Armenian descent [...] as for Photius, the fact is that his mother
Irene, was the sister of Arshavir, the
Arshavir who had married
Calomaria the sister of
Bardas and the empress Theodora." Nicholas
Adontz stresses that "Arshavir, Photius' uncle, must not be confused
with Arshavir, the brother of John the Grammarian".
Cite error: A list-defined reference has no name (see the help page).
^ "Photius the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople". Online Chapel. The
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
^ Mango 1980, p. 169; Plexidas 2007, "Introduction", p. 15.
^ a b Fr. Justin Taylor, essay "Canon Law in the Age of the Fathers"
(published in Jordan Hite, T.O.R., & Daniel J. Ward, O.S.B.,
"Readings, Cases, Materials in Canon Law: A Textbook for Ministerial
Students, Revised Edition" [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press,
1990]), p. 61
^ White, Despina Stratoudaki. "The Life of Patriarch Photios".
Patriarch Photios of Constantinople, His Life, Scholarly
Contributions, and Correspondence, Together with a Translation of
Fifty-two of His Letters. ISBN 978-0-91658626-3. Retrieved
^ Louth 2007, Chapter Seven: "Renaissance of Learning: East and West",
p. 159; Mango 1980, p. 168.
^ Treadgold 1983, p. 1100
^ Jenkins 1987, Chapter Thirteen: "Ignatius, Photius, and Pope
Nicholas I", p. 168.
^ a b c d Cross & Livingstone 2005, "Photius".
^ Durant 1972, p. 529.
^ И. Византийский. Святѣйшій Фотій,
патріархъ Константинопольскій (The Most
Holy Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople) // «Церковныя
Вѣдомости, издаваемыя при Святѣйшемъ
Правительствующемъ Сѵнодѣ» («Ecclesiastical
leaflets of the Most Holy Governing Synod»). 29 January 1900, № 5,
^ Symeon Metaphrastes (?). Chronicle, PG 109, 732 BC; Plexidas 2007,
"Introduction", p. 15.
^ Photios. Epistola II, CII, 609; Tougher 1997, p. 68.
^ Tougher 1997, p. 68.
^ Lang 1988, p. 54.
^ Charanis 1963, pp. 27–28.
^ Adontz 1950, p. 66.
^ Gren 2002, p. 110: "Something of it, though, has been saved for
posterity in the extracts made later by the Greek Byzantine patriarch
^ Dunlop 1954, p. 194; Fortescue 2001, Chapter IV: "The Schism of
Photius", pp. 146–147.
^ a b Tatakes & Moutafakis 2003, p. 102.
^ Mango 1980, pp. 168–169; Treadgold 1983, p. 1100.
^ Vlasto, A. P. (1970). The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom: An
Introduction to the Medieval History of the Slavs. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. p. 33.
^ Plexidas 2007, "Introduction", p. 17; Shepard 2002, p. 235.
^ Janin, Raymond (1953). La Géographie Ecclésiastique de l'Empire
Byzantin. 1. Part: Le Siège de
Constantinople et le Patriarcat
Oecuménique. 3rd Vol. : Les Églises et les Monastères. Paris:
Institut Français d'Etudes Byzantines.
^ Tougher 1997, p. 69
^ Fortescue 2001, pp. 147–148; Louth 2007, p. 171; Tougher
1997, p. 69.
^ Chadwick 2003, Chapter 3: "Early Christian Diversity: The Quest for
Coherence", p. 146.
^ Treadgold 1997, Chapter Fourteen: "External Gains, 842–912", p.
^ Tougher 1997, pp. 70–71.
^ Treadgold 1997, p. 460.
^ Vlyssidou 1997, p. 33.
^ Treadgold 1997, p. 461.
^ Tougher 1997, pp. 73–76, 84.
^ Tougher 1997, pp. 85–86.
^ Tougher 1997, pp. 87–88.
^ Tougher 1997, p. 88.
^ Louth 2007, Chapter Seven: "Renaissance of Learning: East and West",
^ Tougher 1997, p. 68.
^ Tatakes & Moutafakis 2003, p. 103.
^ Fortescue 2001, p. 138.
^ Jokisch 2007, pp. 365–386.
^ Jokisch 2007, pp. 365–386; Lemerle 1986, p. 40.
^ Lemerle 1986, pp. 26–27.
^ "The Lexicon of Photius" by Roger Pearse, January 15, 2011.
^ Paidas 2005, passim.
^ Photius (1983). On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit. Studion
Publishers. ISBN 0-943670-00-4.
^ Photius; Joseph P. Farrell (1987). The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Cross Orthodox Press. ISBN 0-916586-88-X.
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Photius".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 21 (11th ed.). Cambridge University
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Titles of Chalcedonian Christianity
Patriarch of Constantinople
Patriarch of Constantinople
Byzantium and Patriarchs of Constantinople
Bishops of Heraclea/Byzantium
(to 330 AD)
Archbishops of Constantinople
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Patriarchs of Constantinople
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† in exile at Nicaea
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