Photios I of Constantinople

Infobox Saint
birth_date=c. 820
death_date= February 6, 893
feast_day=February 6/19
venerated_in=Eastern Orthodoxy
Eastern Catholicism

caption=Greek Icon : St. Photios
death_place=Bordi, Armenia
titles=The Great

Photios I ( _el. Φώτιος, "Phōtios"; c. 810 – c. 893cref|a) also spelled Photius or Fotios and known by the Eastern Orthodox Church as St. Photios the Great, was Patriarch of Constantinople from 858 to 867 and from 877 to 886. Photios is widely regarded as the most powerful and influential Patriarch of Constantinople since John Chrysostom, and as the most important intellectual of his time, "the leading light of the ninth-century renaissance". [A. Louth, "Greek East", 159; C. Mango, "Byzantium", 168] He was a central figure in both the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity and the estrangement of the Eastern and Western Churches. [W.T. Treadgold, "Review", 1100] Photios is recognized as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church and some of the Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine tradition. His feast is celebrated on 6 February.

Photios was a well-educated man from a noble Constantinopolitan family. He intended to be a monk, but chose to be a scholar and statesman instead. In 858, Emperor Michael III deposed Ignatius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Photios, still a layman, was appointed in his place."Photius." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005] Amid power struggles between the Pope and the Emperor, Ignatius was reinstated. Photios resumed the position when Ignatius died (877), by order of the Emperor. Roman Catholics regard an Ecumenical Council anathematizing Photios as legitimate. Eastern Orthodox regard a second council, reversing the first, as legitimate. The contested Ecumenical Councils mark the end of unity represented by the first seven Ecumenical Councils.


ecular life

Most of the primary sources treating Photios' life are written by persons hostile to him. Modern scholars are thus cautious, when assessing the accuracy of the information these sources provide.cref|b Little is known of Photios' and origin and early years. We do know that he was born into a notable family; his uncle Tarasios had been patriarch from 784–806 under both Irene and Nikephoros I. [Photios, "Epistola II", CII, 609 * S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 68] During the second Iconoclasm 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. [S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 68] Certain scholars assert that Photios was, at least in part, of Armenian descent.cref|c Byzantine writers also report that Emperor Michael III once angrily called Photios "Khazar-faced", but whether this was a generic insult or a reference to his ethnicity is unclear. [D.M. Dunlop, "History of the Jewish Khazars", 194; A. Fortescue, "The Orthodox Eastern Church", 146-147]

Although Photios had an excellent education, we have no information about how he received this education.cref|d The famous library he possessed attests to his enormous erudition (theology, philosophy, grammar, law, the natural sciences, and medicine).V.N. Tatakis, "Byzantine Philosophy", 102] Most scholars believe that he never taught at Magnaura or at any other university; [C. Mango, "Byzantium", 168-169; W.T. Treadgold, "Review", 1100] Vasileios N. Tatakis asserts that, even while he was patriarch, Photios taught "young students passionately eager for knowledge" at his home, which "was a center of learning".

Photius 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 Theophilos in 842, had assumed the regency of the empire. Photios became a captain of the guard (πρωτοσπαθάριος, prōtospatharios) and subsequently chief imperial secretary (πρωτασηκρήτης, prōtasēkrētis). At an uncertain date, Photios participated in an embassy to the Abbasids of Baghdad. [I. Plexidas, "Introduction", 17; J. Shepard, "Spreading the World", 235]

Patriarch of Constantinople

Photios' ecclesiastical career took on 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 drom 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 Bardas's kinsman, Photios himself; he was tonsured on December 20, 858, and on the four following days he was successively ordained lector, sub-deacon, deacon and priest. He was consecrated as Patriarch of Constantinople on Christmas. [S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 69]

The deposition of Ignatios and the sudden promotion of Photios caused scandal and ecclesiastical division on an oecumenical scale, for Rome took up the cause of Ignatios. The latter's deposition without a formal ecclesiastical trial meant that Photios election was uncanonical, and eventualle Pope Nicholas I, as senior patriarch, sought to involve himself in determining the legitimacy of the succession. His legated were dispatched to Constantinople with 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. Four years later, Photios was to respond on his own part, excommunicating the pope on grounds of heresy—over the question of the double procession of the Holy Spirit. [A. Fortescue, "The Orthodox Eastern Church", 147-148; A. Louth, "Greek East and Latin West", 171; S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 69] 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' patron Bardas in 866 and of the emperor Michael 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 protegé of Bardas and Michael, but because Basil I was seeking an alliance with the Pope and 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. During his second patriarchate, Ignatios followed a policy not very different from that of Photios.

Not long after his condemnation Photios had reingratiated himself with the Basil, and became tutor to the 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 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 librarian. According to this documents, the emperor's ancestors were not mere peasants as everyone believed but descendants of the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia. [W. Treadgold, "History of the Byzantine State", 457] True or not this story does reveal Basil's dependence on Photios for literary and ideological matters. Photios is even said to have prepared a genealogy, showing the emperor's ancestors were not peasants as everyone had thought butFollowing 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. [S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 70-71]

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 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 demanded apology to the Pope, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Bulgaria, and the introduction of the filioque clause into the creed. 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, the papacy was unable to enforce its claims.

During the altercations between Basil I and his heir Leo VI, Photios took the side of the emperor. In 883 Basil accused Leo of conspiracy and confined the prince to the palace; he would have even blinded him had he not been dissuaded by Photios and Stylianos Zautzes, the father of Zoe Zaoutzaina, Leo's mistress. [W. Treadgold, "History of the Byzantine State", 460] In 886 Basil discovered and punished a conspiracy by the domestic of the Hicanati John Kourkouas and many other officials. In this conspiracy Leo was not implicated, but Photios was possibly one of the conspirators against Basil's authority. [V.N. Vlyssidou, "Nicholas Mystikos' Deposition", 33]

Basil died in 886 injured while hunting, according to the official storry. Warren T. Treadgold believes that this time the evidence points to a plot on behalf of Leo, who became emperor, and dismissed Photios, although the latter had been his tutor. [W. Treadgold, "History of the Byzantine State", 461] He was replaced by the 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 Leo was put on trial for treason, but no conviction against the ex-patriarch had been secured; the main witness, Theodore Santabarenos, refused to testify that Photios was behind Leo's removal from power in 883, and faced after the trial the emperor's wrath. As a "persona non grata" Photios probably returned to his enforced monastic retirement. Yet it appears that he did not remain reviled for the remainder of his life. [S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 84]

Photios continued his career as a writer in the reign of Leo who 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 886–887. [S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 85-86] 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". Further, a leading member of Leo's court, Leo Choirospaktes, 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. [S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 87-88] 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." [S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 88]

For the Eastern Orthodox, Photios was long the standard-bearer of their church in its disagreements with the pope of Rome; to Catholics, he was a proud and ambitious schismatic: the relevant work of scholars over the past generation has somewhat modified partisan judgments. All agree on the virtue of his personal life and his remarkable talents, even genius, and the wide range of his intellectual aptitudes. Pope Nicholas himself referred to his "great virtues and universal knowledge." It may be noted, however, that some anti-papal writings attributed to Photios were apparently composed by other writers about the time of the East-West Schism of 1054 and attributed to Photios as the champion of the independence of the Eastern Church.

The Eastern Orthodox Church venerates Photios as a saint; he is also included in the liturgical calendar of Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Rite, though not in the calendars of other Eastern Catholic Churches. His feast day is February 6.


Photios is one of the most famous figures not only of the ninth-century Byzantium but of the entire history of the Byzantine Empire. One of the most learned men of his age, he has earned his fame due to his part in ecclesiastical conflicts, and also for his intellect and literary works [A Louth, "Greek East and Latin West", 171; S. Tougher, "The Reign of Leo VI", 68] Analyzing his intellectual work, Tatakis 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 Byzantines. Tatakis 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.V.N. Tatakis, "Byzantine Philosophy", 103] Adrian Fortescue regards him as "the most wonderful man of all the Middle Ages", and stresses that "had not given his name to the great schism, he would always be remembered as the greatest scholar of his time". [A. Fortescue, "The Orthodox Eastern Church", 138]


The most important of the works of Photios is his renowned "Bibliotheca" or "Myriobiblon", a collection of extracts 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 especially rich in extracts from historical writers.

There has been discussions on whether the Bibliotheca was in fact compiled in Baghdad at the time of Photius' embassy to the Abbasid court in Samarra in June 845, since many of the mentioned works - the majority by secular authors - seems to have been virtually nonexistent in both contemporary and later Byzantium. The Abbasids showed great interest in classical Greek works and Photius might have studied them during his years in exile in Baghdad. [Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture; Jokisch, Islamic Imperial Law (2007), with discussions on the earlier standpoints of Threadgold and Lemerle (pp 364-386)]

To Photios we are indebted 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 notes are probably taken from the work of Hesychius of Miletus..

The "Lexicon", 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 manuscript of the Lexicon is the "Codex Galeanus", which passed into the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.

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 survive.

The chief contemporary authority for the life of Photios is his bitter enemy, Niketas David Paphlagon, the biographer of his rival Ignatios.




Primary sources

*Symeon Metaphrastes (?), "Chronicle". See original text in [ Documenta Catholica Omnia] .

econdary sources

*cite journal |last=Adontz|first=Nicholas|authorlink=Nicholas Adontz|year=1950|title=Role of the Armenians in Byzantine Science|journal= Armenian Review|volume=3 |issue=3 |pages=55-73|accessdate=2008-07-22
*cite book |title=The Armenians in the Byzantine Empire|last=Charanis|first=Peter|authorlink=Peter Charanis|year=1963 |location=Lisboa|publisher=Rutgers University
* Dunlop, D.M. "History of the Jewish Khazars". Princeton Univ. Press, 1954.
*cite book |title=The Orthodox Eastern Church|last=Fortescue|first=Adrian|authorlink=Adrian Fortescue (priest)|year=2001|publisher=Gorgias Press LLC|chapter=The Schism of Photius|isbn=0-971-59861-4|url=,+Photius,+Khazar,+face&lr=&as_brr=3&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0
*cite book |title=Greek East And Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071 |last=Louth |first=Andrew |year=2007 |publisher=St Vladimir's Seminary Press |url=,+Photios&lr=&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 |isbn=0-881-41320-8 |chapter=Renaissance of Learning: East and West
*cite book |title=The Armenians: A People in Exile|last=Lang|first=David Marshall|year=1989 |publisher=Routledge|isbn=0-044-40289-9
*cite book |title=The First Byzantine Humanism (translated in Greek by Maria Pelekidou-Nystazopoulou) |last=Lemerle|first=Paul|year=1985—Reprint edition|publisher=Cultural Institute of the National Bank of Greece|location=Athens
*cite book |title=Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome (translated in Greek by Dimitris Tsoungarakis) |last=Mango|first=Cyril|authorlink=Cyril Mango|year=2007—1980 for the first English edition |publisher=Cultural Institute of the National Bank of Greece|location=Athens|isbn=9-789-60250-003-3
*cite book |title=Greek East And Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071 |last=Plexidas|first=Ioannis|year=2007 |publisher=Armos|location=Athens|title=The Prince of Photios|isbn=9-789-60527-396-5|language=Greek|chapter=Introduction
*cite book |title=The Oxford History of Byzantium|last=Shepard|first=Jonathan|editor=Cyril Mango|year=2002 |publisher=Oxford University Press|isbn=0-198-14098-3|url=,+Baghdad,+Cyril&as_brr=3&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0|chapter=Spreading the World: Byzantine Missions
*cite book|last=Tatakis|first=Vasileios N. (translated by Nicolas J. Moutafakis)|title=Byzantine Philosophy|year=2003|publisher=Hackett Publishing|isbn=0-872-20563-0|url=,+Photios&as_brr=3&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0
*cite book |title=The Reign of Leo VI (886-912): Politics and People|last=Toupher|first=Shaun|year=1997 |publisher=BRILL|isbn=9-004-10811-4|url=,+Sergios&as_brr=3&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0|chapter=The End of Photios
*cite book|last=Treadgold|first=Warren|title=A History of the Byzantine State and Society|publisher=Stanford University Press|year=1997|isbn=0-804-72630-2|chapter=External Gains 842–912|url=,+Photios,+Basil&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0
*cite journal |last=Treadgold |first=Warren T. |year=1983 |month=October |title=Review:Patriarch Photios of Constantinople: His Life, Scholarly Contributions, and Correspondence together with a Translation of Fifty-Two of His Letters by Despina Stratoudaki White; The Patriarch and the Prince: The Letter of Patriarch Photios of Constantinople to Khan Boris of Bulgaria by Despina Stratoudaki White; Joseph R. Berrigan, Jr. |journal= Speculum|volume=58 |issue=4 |pages=1100-1102 |id= |url= |accessdate=2008-07-19
*cite journal |last=Vlyssidou|first=Vassiliki N.|year=1997|title=About the Deposition of Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos (907)|language=Greek|journal=Byzantine Symnmeikta|volume=11 |pages=23–36|accessdate=2008-07-23|url=

External links

* [ Patriarch Photios of Constantinople] Life and translations of his works
* [ The Myrobiblion at Tertullian.Org]
* [ Catholic Encyclopedia article]
* [ Greek Opera Omnia by Migne Patrologia Graeca with analytical indexes]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Photios ier de constantinople — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Photios. Icône de Photios I …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Photios ii de constantinople — Photios II (en grec Φώτιος Β , né en 1874 mort en 1935) fut patriarche de Constantinople du 7 octobre 1929 au 29 décembre 1935. Voir aussi Articles connexes Église orthodoxe de Constantinople Patriarche œcuménique Liens externes …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Photios II de Constantinople — (en grec Φώτιος Β , né en 1874 et mort en 1935) fut patriarche de Constantinople du 7 octobre 1929 au 29 décembre 1935. Articles connexes Patriarcat œcuménique de Constantinople Précédé par : Basile III …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Photios Ier de Constantinople — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Photios. Icône de Photios Ier Photios ou Photius Ier de Constantinople (en …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Patriarch Photios II of Constantinople — Photios II (or Fotios II) was Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 7 October 1929 until 26 December 1935. Biography He was born in 1874. His real name was Dimitrios Maniatis. After finishing elementary education he attended Zarifeio High… …   Wikipedia

  • Photios de Constantinople — Photios Ier de Constantinople Pour les articles homonymes, voir Photios. Icône de Photios I …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Photios — is a Greek name that notably refers to two patriarchs of Constantinople. Persons with this name * Saint Photius the Martyr early Christian martyr of Diocletian persecution. * Photius, Metropolitan of Moscow * Photios I of Constantinople *… …   Wikipedia

  • Photios I. — Ikone des Photios Photios I. der Große (griechisch Photios ho Megas Φώτιος ὁ Mέγας, * etwa 820 in Konstantinopel; † 6. Februar 891 in Bordi, Armenien) war 858–867 und 878–886 Patriarch von Konstantinopel und gilt bis heute in der östlich ort …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Photios — Sur les autres projets Wikimedia : « Photios », sur le Wiktionnaire (dictionnaire universel)  Cette page de paronymie regroupe plusieurs sujets et articles ayant des noms aux graphies très similaires. Photios (Φώτιος) est un… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Photios —    Controversial patriarch of Constantinople (qq.v.) from 858 867, and again from 877 886. The controversy began when he was made patriarch in 858 while still a layman. The deposed Ignatios (q.v.) garnered much sympathy, including the support of… …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.