1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Photius

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PHOTIUS (c. 820–891), patriarch of Constantinople (858–867 and 878–886). From his early years he displayed an extraordinary talent and appetite for knowledge, and as soon as he had completed his own education he began to teach with distinguished success grammar, rhetoric, divinity and philosophy. The way to public life was probably opened for him by the marriage of his brother Sergius to the princess Irene, sister of Theodora, who, upon the death of her husband Theophilus in 842, had assumed the regency of the empire Photius became captain of the guard and subsequently first imperial secretary. The dissensions between the patriarch Ignatius and Bardas, the uncle of the youthful Emperor Michael III, brought promotion to Photius. Ignatius was arrested and imprisoned (Nov. 858), and upon refusing to resign his office was illegally deposed, while Photius, although a layman, received all the necessary sacerdotal orders within six days, and was installed as patriarch in his place. Ignatius, continuing to refuse the abdication which could alone have given Photius's elevation a semblance of legality, was treated with extreme severity. His cause was subsequently espoused by Pope Nicholas in a manner highly offensive to the independent feeling of the Eastern Church. Photius felt himself the champion of Eastern Christianity against Latin pretensions; and when in 863 Nicholas finally anathematized and deposed him, he replied by a counter-excommunication. Meanwhile, the situation was suddenly changed by the murder of Photius's patron, Bardas, by order of the emperor Michael, who was himself assassinated by his colleague Basil in the following year (867). The fall of Photius immediately ensued; he was removed from his office and banished about the end of September 867, a few days after the accession of Basil, and Ignatius was reinstated on the 23rd of November. About 876 Photius was suddenly recalled to Constantinople and entrusted with the education of Basil's children. On the death of Ignatius, probably in October 878, Photius, after a decent show of reluctance, again filled the patriarchal throne. He then proceeded to obtain the formal recognition of the Christian world. In November 879 a synod was convened at Constantinople. The legates of Pope John VIII. attended, prepared to acknowledge Photius as legitimate patriarch, a concession for which John was much censured by Latin opinion. He stood firm, however, on the other two points which had long been contested between the Eastern and Western Churches, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Bulgaria and the introduction of the “filioque” clause into the creed. He disowned his legates, who had shown a tendency to yield, again excommunicated Photius, and thus aroused the open hostility which has never been appeased to this day. Strong in the support of the council, Photius simply ignored him. At the height of glory and success he was suddenly precipitated from his dignity by another palace revolution. After the death of Basil (886), his son and successor Leo, who had formerly been devoted to Photius, but in recent years displayed great hatred towards him, deprived him of his office and banished him to the monastery of Bordi in Armenia. From this time Photius disappears from history. No letters of this period of his life are extant, which leads to the inference that his imprisonment was severe. The precise date of his death is not known, but it is said to have occurred on the 6th of February 891.

For long after Photius's death his memory was held in no special honour by his countrymen. But when, in the crusading age, the Greek Church and state were alike in danger from Latin encroachments, Photius became a national hero, and is at present regarded as little short of a saint. To this character he has not the least pretension. Few men, it is probable, have been more atrociously calumniated; but, when every specific statement to his prejudice has been rejected, he still appears on a general review of his actions worldly, crafty and unscrupulous. Yet he shows to no little advantage as an ecclesiastical statesman. His firmness was heroic, his sagacity profound and far-seeing; he supported good and evil fortune with equal dignity; and his fall was on both occasions due to revolutions beyond his control. In erudition, literary power, and force and versatility of intellect he far surpassed every contemporary.

The most important of the works of Photius 1S his renowned Bibliotheca or Myriobiblon (ed. I. Bekker, 1824-1825), a collection of extracts from and abridgments of 280 volumes of classical authors (usually cited as Codices), the originals of which are now to a great extent lost. The work is specially rich in extracts from historical writers. To Photius we are inde ted for almost all we possess of Ctesias, Memnon, 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 notices are probably taken from the work of Hesychius of Miletus. They 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, The only MS. of the Lexicon is the Codex Galeanus, formerly in the possession of Thomas Gale (q.v.), and now in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge (ed. S. A. Naber, 1864, with introduction on the authorities, critical commentary, and valuable indexes) 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 (ed Sophocles Oeconomus, Athens, 1858). 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. His Epistles, political and private, addressed to high church and state dignitaries, are valuable for the light they throw upon the character and versatility of the writer (ed. J. Valettas, London, 1864). A large number of his speeches and homilies have been edited by S. Aristarches (1900). The only complete edition is Bishop Malou’s in Migne’s Patrologia graeca, ci.–cv. R. Reifzenstein (Der Anfang des Lexikons des Photius, 1907) has published a hitherto unedited MS. containing numerous fragments from various verse and prose authors.

After the allusions in his own writings the chief contemporary authority for the life of Photius is his bitter enemy, Nicetas the Paphlagonian, the biographer of his rival lgnatius. The standard modern work is that of Cardinal Hergenröther, Photius, Patriarch von Constannnopel (1867–1869). As a dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Hergenröther is inevitably biased against Photius as an ecclesiastic, but his natural candour and sympathy with intellectual eminence have made him just to the man.

See also article by F. Kattenbusch in Herzog-Hauck’s Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie (1904), containing full bibliographical details; J. A. Fabricius, Bibliotheca graeca, x. 670–776, xi. 1–37; C. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Litteratur, pp. 73–79, 515–524 (2nd ed., 1897); J. E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship (2nd ed., 1906).