Venance Grumel’s Review of Francis Dvornik’s The Photian Schism

Originally posted 12/1/2009.

A rough translation of the French from Revue des Études Byzantines, X, 282-283.

The author of this book has already distinguished himself with his remarkable thesis: The Slavs, Byzantium and Rome in the ninth century, Paris (1926). A later work: The legends of Constantine and Methodius in Byzantine views (Prague, 1933), focused particularly on ninth century Byzantine-Slavic history, and the history of the two great missionaries. It was because of their relationships with Photius that Fr. Dvornik addressed the Photian issue. He has continued go deeper into the problem and we have not forgotten the article published in Byzantion: The Second Schism of Photius: An Historical Mystification, followed by several others in connection with the same subject. This is the result of painstaking research that is presented to us in this new place, in one of the collections directed by Mr. Henri Grégoire; it was delayed by the German invasion. The author took his manuscript to London. It was translated to English and first appeared in that language before appearing in its original language in Paris.

The book is the fruit of extensive research and of a reflective return to the whole Photian problem and new thinking. The author’s erudition is considerable. This is evidenced in the first place in the remarkable list of sources scanned, books reviewed, and even manuscripts consulted.

We know the results at which the author arrived. He hypothesized that the trial of Photius was based on a fabricated dossier, that Photius was misunderstood by historians, was calumnied, and that he should be rehabilitated. It is this hypothesis that he tried to transform from a thesis to a historical certainty.

In recognizing that Photius is not as black as he was made to be in the past, one wonders if the author did not exaggerate in the opposite direction. The dissertation still maintains a tone of argument that ultimately harms the demonstration. One sees that with every opportunity, in each case doubtful, and even in cases where there is all but contrary evidence, it is the sense favorable to the hero, and without counterweight, that is selective, it gives the impression of a one-sided vision of the events, and that he has not found the right balance. This is a simple summary in which it is not possible to expand elegantly on points that would require discussion. Let me just point out the most important on which the author is far from having made a sufficient demonstration. The first concerns the origin of the conflict for which he insists that Photius is not responsible. I cannot understand his refusal to recognize the cause of the conflict in the ordination of Photius by Gregory Asbestas, the bishop deposed by Ignatius, still less his idea to present this outrage as an act of moderation, this is a real paradox. The second concerns the decree on the symbol of faith, which I’ve already engaged more than once. He tells me that my demonstration of its inauthenticity is not conclusive, but he does not show, and the rest he does not know of the study published in this journal in 1947, when I started on this subject; I refer to that in the meantime. However, I must respond to the new argument of which I was ignorant then, namely the testimony of Patriarch Euthymius. It would certainly be crucial if it was enacted by Euthymius I, but the manuscript is from the fifteenth century, and there is no reason to deny the possibility of an attribution to Euthymius II, quite the contrary, as I will show later. It must be said that F.D. does not seem to have thought of such a possibility.

The third question, the most important, is that which concerns the Eighth Ecumenical Council. F. D. thinks he can prove that it was abrogated by John VIII. He uses, to that end, the documents transmitted by Ivo of Chartes, without taking into account that these fragments come from the Photian Council where the papal documents were altered. He also uses the Western legal tradition of the ecumenicity of that council appearing at the end of the eleventh century. He forgets that the Council of 869, which put forth no definition of faith, had met for only personal matters and that, the Photian question having been liquidated at the Council of 899, there was no reason to call attention to it again, and the peace of the Church demanded not doing so. Hence there was far from an abrogation. Moreover, the integral letter of Stephen V to the Emperor Basil I that I presented to International Congress of Byzantine Studies in Paris and Brussels, shows that no pope had suppressed the acts of the Eighth Council.

I leave aside for now the other minor points.

Despite the differences that separate me from F. D., I highly appreciate the value of his work, which I consider the most important work published on the Photian Schism since Hergenröther and essential for anyone who wants to study this major historical problem.


One Response to Venance Grumel’s Review of Francis Dvornik’s The Photian Schism

  1. […] Pillars of Orthodoxy *Cardinal Josyf Slipyj of Blessed Memory on the Appropriateness of Catholic Veneration of St. Gregory Palamas *On Gregory 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 Schism […]

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