Disagreeable 8th Church Council
Paul had to plead with two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche to stop quarreling. Squabbles among Christians happen. You’ve seen it yourself. But if left unattended they may harm the church. Often they lead to outright rupture. In the 9th century, storm clouds banked over the church. Its Latin and Greek branches were quarreling.
On this day, October 5, 869 the eighth general church council opened in Constantinople. This was the fourth council held in the leading city of Byzantium. Although the council was called by emperor Basil and Pope Adrian II, only 102 bishops showed up.
The council dealt with several controversial issues. For instance, it decided that it was wrong for Christians to smash icons. Many Christians viewed the use of icons as idolatry and removed them from churches or wrecked them. Controversial as that decision was, the main task of the council was even more troublesome. It deposed Patriarch Photius of Constantinople, saying he had usurped his ecclesiastical position.
This had come about because Ignatius, patriarch of Constantinople, protested an incestuous relationship between “Caesar” Bardas and his daughter in law, Eudocia. Bardas ousted Ignatius and replaced him with Photius. Photius appealed to Rome to confirm his ordination. Rome refused. One thing led to another, and Photius condemned the Roman church over several issues, including the way it handled Lent, its refusal to allow priests to marry, and for unilaterally changing the words of the creed where it spoke of the Holy Spirit.
To clear up these issues the council of Constantinople was called. This was the last of the general councils held in the east–and it is not accepted by the Eastern Orthodox church. If the problems had been addressed fairly, the council might have succeeded. But at Constantinople, Photius wasn’t allowed to present his full defense. Naturally, he refused to sign the condemnation the council issued against him and so he was excommunicated.
In a council held in 879-80, Photius was restored as the patriarch of Constantinople. Pope John VIII agreed with the decision. But Photius renewed his charges against the Latin church. Soon, however, he was exiled by a new emperor and vanished from the scene.
The Photius affair showed how much misunderstanding had crept into relations between the eastern and western halves of the Roman empire. The Latin and Greek churches split a century and a half later.
Dan Graves, MSL
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- Oman. Story of the Byzantine Empire. New York: Putnam, 1892. Source of the image.
- Raab, Clement. The Twenty Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church. Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1959.