The Photian Robber Council of 879-880

Originally posted 10/27/2009.

Pope John VIII mercifully reinstated Patriarch St. Photios the Great of Constantinople, but this was the extent of his approval of the acts of the 879-880 Council of Constantinople (Mann 270).{1} I don’t know how people like Fr. George Dion Dragas can seriously maintain that this fraud-riddled council is a fully binding ecumenical council.


1. False Legates
(1) There were Eastern “legates” from sees unmentioned in any other council (266-267). (2) There is extreme doubt as to whether Cosmas and the other purported legates of the Eastern Patriarchates were duly credentialed representatives of those sees (267).

2. Alterations to Pope John VIII’s Letter to Basil
(1) Photios embellishes Pope John VIII’s praise of the emperors and changes the letter to say that the emperor consults Rome merely “for the sake of union” (Mann 258). (2) Photios omits everything about St. Ignatios and “the circumstances of the time,” pretends Pope John VIII was yearning to restore him, and pretends that he was unwillingly restored by the emperor (259). (3) He eliminates the letter’s statements that he has to ask for forgiveness before a council, and omits Pope John VIII’s mention that he, as the supreme pastor with the plenitude of power, absolves Photios and all those condemned with him (259). (4) Photios adds self-praise and makes John condemn all the councils, including the Eighth Ecumenical Council, that condemned him (259). (5) Photios palliates John’s conditions that after Photios dies, a Constantinopolitan cardinal priest or deacon (but not layman or court member) is elected Patriarch, that clerics are not to be speedily elevated, and that Photios relinquishes his pretensions to have jurisdiction over Bulgaria (260). (6) Photios omits John VIII’s threat to excommunicate him should he receive any bishops the pope has condemned (260).

3. Alterations to Pope John VIII’s Letter to Photios
(1) The Patriarch changes Pope VIII’s praises of God to praises of Photios (261). (2) Photios makes Pope John VIII explicitly condemn the Eighth Ecumenical Council of 869-870 (261).

4. Alterations to Pope John VIII’s Instructions to the Legates
(1) Photios changes the instructions to simply Require Photios to appear in a council to be acknowledged by everyone (262). (2) Photios pretends that Pope John VIII recommends that the Ignatian bishops consecrated before the first Patriarchate of Photios should retain their sees, while the Ignatian bishops consecrated during the second Patriarchate of St. Ignatios should only get support from the bishops in possession (262). (3) Photios pretends that Pope John VIII instructed the legates to have Photios to preside along with them (262). (4) Photios pretends that the legates are to ask Photios not to interfere with Bulgaria (262). (5) Photios pretends that the legates are to annul the anti-Photian councils, including the Eighth Ecumenical Council (262).

5. Broken Promises
(1) Photios and the council promised they would obey Pope John VIII’s instructions on the Bulgarian jurisdiction, but later said that the boundary-marking was up to the emperor (268).

6. Absurd Statements About the Primacy of Constantinople
(1) The first of three canons from the council’s fifth session said that the council did not mean to innovate concerning the prerogatives of the See of Rome, but this same canon and the rest of the acts of the council refer to the pope as a mere patriarch of the West with the same rank as the rest of the patriarchs (267). (2) In session five, Metropolitan Basil of Martyropolis, who allegedly represented the See of Antioch, said that Photios was the highest bishop by divine right (267). The acts record no one, not even the papal legates, protesting at this novelty (268). (3) The seventh session said that Photios “had the spiritual priority over the whole Church” (269).

7. False Quotes
(1) In session one, the papal legate Eugenius says, “The soul of the Pope was so intimately united to that of Photius as to form, as it were, but one soul with it; and just as he desired to be united with God, so he desired to become one with Photius” (268). It is incredible that Eugenius would have said that (268).

8. Association with an Entirely Forged Letter
(1) A forged anti-Filioque letter ascribed to Pope John VIII was added to the acts of the 879-880 council (269).

9. Very Limited Papal Approbation
(1) Pope John VIII said that he does not approve of whatever his legates have done against his instructions (270), yet, if the acts of the council give a reliable record of what the papal legates did, they in fact acted against his instructions (270).

10. Later Actions of Photios Inexplicable if Rome Annulled 869-870 Council
(1) In his ca. 885-886 letter to Emperor Basil I, Pope Stephen V says that Photios was still trying to have the 869-870 Council annulled, which would not make sense if Pope John VIII in fact abrogated the 869-870 Council.{2}

Notes & References
{1} Mann, Rev. Horace Kinder. The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages vol. III, 2nd ed. London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., Ltd., 1925. 1 Nov. 2009 <http://www.archive.org/details/livesofpopes03mannuoft>. Although the Rev. Mann of pious memory wrongly says that Pope John VIII excommunicated St. Photios in 881 (Fr. Francis Dvornik effectively disproves this), his other points about the atrocious fraud of the 879-880 council remain valid.
{2} Venance Grumel, “La Lettre du pape Étienne V à l’empereur Basile Ier,” Revue des études byzantines 11 (1953) 129–55.

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6 Responses to The Photian Robber Council of 879-880

  1. […] End Result So, even if Eastern Orthodox writers want to claim that the Photian reunion synod of 879-880 is Constant…,{1} they have to admit that the matter was not settled in the ninth century. What was the deciding […]

  2. The legates agreed to the changes. Ivo of Chartres thought of 880 council as the “Eighth Ecumenical Council.” He’s hardly some Photios devotee. Photios wasn’t in a position to relinuqish Bulgaria and what he in fact says is that he would relinuqish it IF the Emperor gives him permission to do so. Your gloss is misleading.

    The rest of this spin or fiction is handled in Dvornik, Simeonova, et al.

  3. Will Huysman says:

    Dear Perry,
    I am grateful for your feedback; pardon me for the delay in getting back to you. I hope everything’s going well for you. I have Fr. Francis Dvornik’s The Photian Schism, but I haven’t read any of Liliana Simeonova; what works by her do you recommend?

    I’ve been too busy to give a detailed response to Fr. Dvornik’s detailed response, but I’ll probably have time to address Fr. Dvornik’s points over Thanksgiving break. In the meantime, here are the page numbers for what he has to say on the above points, from the 12/2008 paperback edition by Cambridge University Press:
    1. I didn’t find anything on 1:1 and 1:2.
    2. He justifies the alterations (cf. 2:1-3,5,6) on 182-185.
    3. He addresses 2:4,6; 3:2; and, at least broadly, 4:1-5 on 175-177.
    4. I don’t remember page numbers for 3:1, 5:1, or 6:1.
    5. He indirectly addresses 6:2-3 and 7:1 on 201.
    6. He discusses 8:1 on 197-198.
    7. He addresses 9:1 on 193-194.
    8. 10:1 is from a work that came out after Fr. Dvornik published his magnum opus. I found it in the Fordham Library the other day, but didn’t get a chance to transcribe it and translate it.

    God bless you and yours,
    Will R. Huysman

  4. Will Huysman says:

    Dear Perry,
    I’ll try to address things bit by bit as time permits. Dvornik 201 says, regarding 6:2-3, 7:1:

    One may be shocked by the extravagance of some of the compliments paid to Photius, but the legates had sufficient perception to see that they were dealing with a really extraordinary man and that the Patriarch had actually conquered the hearts of the whole Empire and of the whole Byzantine Church.

    Anyone will readily perceive that this is a grossly inadequate response to 6:2-3, 7:1.

    The documents/fragments related by St. Ivo of Chartres come from the Photian Council where the papal documents were altered, so they are of little weight.{1}

    Fr. Dvornik does not deal with Venance Grumel’s evidence for the genuineness of the letter of Stephen V to the Emperor Basil I (point 10:1 above). The manuscript is Sinaiticus gr. 1117, 326v-328v.{2} The letter cited by Grumel shows that no pope had suppressed the acts of the Eighth Council.{3} Nor, to the best of my knowledge, does Fr. Dvornik address the grave questions on the regularity of the 879-880 council mentioned in 1:1 and 1:2.

    Fr. Dvornik casually dismisses Daniel Stiernon’s important 1967 Revue des Études Byzantines article “Autour de Constantinople IV (869-870)” as “biased,” instead of addressing Stiernon’s points that are very damaging to his thesis on the degree of Pope John VIII’s acceptance of the acts of the 879-880 council.

    {1} Venance Grumel in Revue des Études Byzantines, X, 282-283.
    {2} Idem., Revue des Études Byzantines, XI, 137.
    {3} Idem., Revue des Études Byzantines, X, 283.

    God bless you and yours,
    Will R. Huysman

  5. […] Palamas *Response to Givan2009 on St. Photios *St. Photios the Great Died in Communion with Rome *The Photian Robber Council of 879-880 *Venance Grumel’s Review of Francis Dvornik’s The Photian […]

  6. The Robber council of Photios is a contradiction….

    The Horos of Photian council states:

    “Jointly sanctifying and preserving intact the venerable and divine teaching of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which has been established in the bosom of our mind, with unhesitating resolve and purity of faith, as well as the sacred ordinances and canonical stipulations of his holy disciples and Apostles with an unwavering judgment, and indeed, those “”Seven holy and ecumenical Synods”” which were directed by the inspiration of the one and the same Holy Spirit and effected the [Christian] preaching, and jointly guarding with a most honest and unshakeable resolve the canonical institutions invulnerable and unfalsified,”
    – ( Horos of Photian council 879)

    However the problem is that, the Council of Toledo of 589 adopts the Filioque doctrine…

    and in the 7th Ecumenical council Canon 1, all Regional councils are considered valid and INFALLIBLE.

    ” Seeing these things are so, being thus well-testified unto us, we rejoice over them as he that hath found great spoil, and press to our bosom with gladness the divine canons, holding fast all the precepts of the same, complete and without change, whether they have been set forth by the holy trumpets of the Spirit, the renowned Apostles, or by the Six Ecumenical Councils, or by Councils locally assembled for promulgating the decrees of the said Ecumenical Councils, or by our holy Fathers. For all these, being illumined by the same Spirit, defined such things as were expedient. ”

    It will be a contradiction on the the part of Photious to try to preserve the 7 general councils as intact and at the same time condemn the fiilioque…. for this reason, the Photian council is a contradiction and does not have force and effect….

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