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Fr. George Dion. Dragas
This originally appeared in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 44, Nos. 1-4, 1999, pp. 357-369.
Typographical errors have been corrected.
Did the Eighth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (879/880) condemn the Filioque addition to the Ecumenical Creed as canonically unacceptable and theologically unsound? This is the question that this paper attempts to answer in light of recent discussions between Orthodox and Lutherans in America. It consists of three parts, a) clarifications concerning the "Eighth Ecumenical Council," b) the significance of the Horos of this Council for the Filioque controversy, and c) a fresh look at the Horos itself of this Council.
a) Clarifications concerning the Eighth Ecumenical Council
As far as Ecumenical Councils go the Greek Orthodox East and the Latin West appear to be divided at the point where the Eighth Ecumenical Council is introduced. Both Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics accept the first Seven Ecumenical Councils.1 Beyond these Seven Councils, however, the Roman Catholics enumerate several others, which bring the total number to 21 — Vatican II being the latest.2 The Orthodox Church does not enumerate any more beyond the Seven, although she accepts several Councils which occurred afterwards and call themselves "Ecumenical" (as their minutes show). One of them is the so-called Eighth Ecumenical or Constantinople IV (879-880).3
Roman Catholic scholars have repeatedly remarked that the Orthodox have not had — and for that matter, could not have had — any further Ecumenical Councils beyond the first Seven after their separation from the Roman See in 1054. This is totally unjustified and misleading. Lack of enumeration does not imply lack of application. Orthodox conciliar history and relevant conciliar documents, clearly indicate the existence of several Ecumenical Councils after the first Seven, which carry on the conciliar life of the Church in history in a way which is much more rigorous than that of the Latin Church. These Councils [including that of Constantinople 879/880, the "Eighth Ecumenical" as it is called in the Tomos Charsa (Τόμος Χαρᾶς) of Patriarch Dositheos who first published its proceedings in 17054 and also by Metropolitan Nilus Rhodi whose text is cited in Mansi's edition5] have not been enumerated in the East because of Orthodox anticipation of possible healing of the Schism of 1054, which was pursued by the Orthodox up to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453. There are other obvious reasons that prevented enumeration, most of which relate to the difficult years that the Orthodox Church had to face after the capture of Constantinople and the dissolution of the Roman Empire that supported it. This, however, is not a matter that needs to be discussed here.
The case of the Eighth Ecumenical Council provides the occasion not only for clarifying this divergence, but also for indicating the arbitrary conciliar development of the Church of Rome after its separation from the Eastern Orthodox Churches. For Roman Catholics the Eighth Ecumenical Council is a Council that was held in Constantinople in 869/870 — also known as the Ignatian Council, because it restored Ignatios to the Patriarchal throne — which among other matters procured the condemnation of Ecumenical Patriarch Photios.6 It is clearly confirmed by modern scholarship, however, that this Ignatian Council was rejected by another Constantinopolitan Council which was held exactly ten years later in 879/880. This Council is also known as the Photian Council, because it exonerated and restored to the Throne of Constantinople St. Photios and his fellow Hierarchs and was signed by both Easterners and Westerners.7 How did it happen that Roman Catholics came to ignore this conciliar fact? Following Papadopoulos Kerameus, Johan Meijer — author of a most thorough study of the Constantinopolitan Council of 879/880 — has pointed out that Roman Catholic canonists first referred to their Eighth Ecumenical Council (the Ignatian one) in the beginning of the twelfth century. In line with Dvornic and others, Meijer also explained that this was done deliberately because these canonists needed at that time canon 22 of that Council. In point of fact, however, they overlooked the fact that "this Council had been cancelled by another, the Photian Synod of 879-880 — the acts of which were also kept in the pontifical archives."8 It is interesting to note that later on the Roman Catholics called this Photian Council "Conciliabulum Oecumenicum Pseudooctavum", thereby acknowledging it implicitly as another Eighth Council rival to that of their own choice!9
The history of this Constantinopolitan Council, which has left its mark on the career of Ecumenical Patriarch Photios, one of the greatest Patriarchs of the Great Church of Christ, has been thoroughly researched by modern historians. Dvornic's pioneering work has restored the basic facts.10 Meijer in 1975,11 Phidas in 199412 and Siamakis in 199513 have refined these facts. There is no doubt to anyone who surveys this literature that the Roman Catholic position is untenable. The Photian Council of 879/880 is that which: i) annulled the Ignatian one (869/70), ii) enumerated the Seventh (787) adding it to the previous Six, iii) restored unity to the Church of Constantinople itself and to the Churches of Old and New Rome, which had been shattered by the arbitrary interference of the popes of Rome in the life of the Eastern Church especially through the Ignatian Council, and iv) laid down the canonical and theological basis of the union of the Church in East and West through its Horos.
b) The significance of the Horos of this Council for the Filioque controversy
It is with the theological basis of this Council that we are particularly concerned here. Did the Horos of faith of this Council, which was articulated at the sixth session in the presence of the King, have any bearings on the Filioque controversy? The Lutheran theologian Dr. Bruce Marshall has suggested that it did not. Indeed for him "the Filioque as a theological issue played virtually no role either in the breakdown of communion between Constantinople and Rome or in the restoration of communion; it was only much later that the theological issues surrounding the Filioque were even discussed between East and West."14 Furthermore, Dr. Marshall has claimed that it was only as a canonical issue that the Filioque played a role at that time, inasmuch as only its insertion into the Creed was considered to be unacceptable and constituted grounds for breaking communion. The implication of this argument, which is pursued by some Western scholars, is that contemporary discussions between Orthodox and Western Christians should not make the theological issue over the Filioque a criterion for restoring communion between them.
As a response to this thesis I want to recall the views of Orthodox scholars who have dealt with this Photian Council and more generally with the Councils of the 9th century which led to the overcoming of a big crisis in communion between East and West. By doing this I intend to convey that from an Orthodox point of view the distinction between what is "canonical" and what is "theological" is a juridical one and does not carry any real weight. Far from being helpful, it becomes an instrument for perpetuating an arbitrary situation that can only lead to unfruitful and precarious agreements.
In 1974 the American Orthodox scholar Richard Haugh, in a study of the history of the Trinitarian controversy between East and West with special reference to the Filioque, stated that "the sixth session of the Council of 879/880 had enormous bearings on the Triadological controversy."15 He defended this by citing and discussing the Horos of faith, which was formulated at that time.
Haugh examined the particular nuances of the Horos of this Council in the light of the subsequent writings of Photios relating to the Filioque doctrine16 — especially his Letter to the Patriarch of Aquileia17 and his Mystagogy on the Holy Spirit,18 both of which took the Horos as a powerful rebuff against the Frankish doctrine of the Filioque which formed the theological background to the theological controversy between Orthodox and Westerners at that time. Had the Horos of 879/880 not had any theological import on the Filioque then why does St. Photios refer to such an issue in these two documents? In no case, either before or after the Council of 879/880 did Photios reject the Filioque on just canonical grounds. Actually he explicitly stated that his grounds were both biblical and theological. They were biblical for they were based on the teaching of St. John's Gospel and on the explicit saying that the "Spirit proceeds from the Father" (full stop!). They were also theological in that the Filioque introduced two causes and two origins in the Trinity and thus utterly destroyed the monarchy of the Holy Trinity. Why would St. Photios write such a full theological critique as that of his Mystagogia only a few years later if his only concern were simply the preservation of the original wording of the Creed? Would it not have sufficed if he had simply referred to the canonical prohibition of the Horos of 879/880?
In 1975 Meijer published his thorough study of the Photian Council of 879/880 putting forward the thesis, as the title of his book stated, that this was "a successful Council of union." In part iii of this study, entitled "Reflection" he concluded: "the restoration of unity was the reason for the convocation of the Synod of 879-880. More precisely, perhaps, it celebrated peace once more in the Church of God."19 But he went on to explain that the basis of this unity was theological. In his own words, "this unity means first of all unity in the same faith. Photios was a strong defender of the purity of doctrine" [the italics are Meijer's]. Indeed, "where orthodoxy was concerned, Photios was the true spokesman of the Byzantine Bishops."20 And Meijer goes on, "the West also attached great value to the purity of faith, but in fact concentrated more on the question of devotion to the Church of Rome. At the Synod of 879-880 the Fathers' care for purity of doctrine emerged in the Horos (the formula of faith of the Synod) which they proclaimed. This Horos cannot be understood as a dogmatic definition ... but rather as the true expression of the ecclesiastical feeling of the Synod ... expressed by the conciliar Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople ... There is no doubt that Photios opposed the addition of the Filioque to the Creed on dogmatic grounds. In his famous encyclical to the oriental Patriarchs he complained about this addition by the Frankish missionaries working in Bulgaria, because he considered it theologically unacceptable. His whole argument is based on the conviction that this addition undermined the unity of God. We find the same reasoning in his Mystagogia and in his letter to the Archbishop of Aquileia."21 Photios knew, of course, that the Roman Church had not approved of the Frankish Filioque, and hence she agreed on the conciliar refusal of inserting it into the Creed. He also knew, however, that the Franks were striving to introduce the Filioque into the Creed on theological grounds — as they eventually did. Thus Meijer concludes: "there is no doubt that the Horos of the Photian Synod officially disapproved of the [theological and for that matter canonical] use of the Filioque by the Frankish missionaries in Bulgaria [cf. the phrase he cites here from the Horos τῇ διανοίᾳ καὶ γλώσσῃ στέγομεν, which is reminiscent of St. Photios' Encyclical of 867] and was not directed against the church of Rome which at that time did not use the addition either."22
In 1985 Dr. Constantine Siamakis stated in his extensive introduction to the new edition of Patriarch Dositheos' Τόμος Χαρᾶς the same point of view. "At this Ecumenical Synod the Filioque was condemned as teaching and as addition into the Symbol of the Faith."23 In his description of the 6th session of the Council he stated: "The Filioque is condemned ...etc." and further on, "without mentioning the Filioque, the emperor asks for an Horos of the Synod and the synodical members present at this meeting propose the Horos of the first two Ecumenical Councils, i.e. the Symbol of the Faith, but without any addition and with the stipulation that any addition or subtraction or alteration in it should incur the anathema of the Church. This is accepted by the emperor who signs it and the synodical members who express their satisfaction."24 It is important to note that Siamakis attempted a critical investigation of the text of the Minutes and exposed the intention of various Western manuscripts (e.g. Cod. Vaticanus Graecus 1892 of the 16th century) and of the various Western editors of the Acts of this Council (e.g. Rader's edition of 1604) to hide the fact that the Horos is in fact an implicit but clear condemnation of the Frankish Filioque.
More recently in 1994 Professor Phidas of Athens University stated the same point of view in his new and impressive manual of Church History. In his discussion of the Photian Council of 879/880 he wrote, that "the antithesis between the Old and the New Rome was also connected with the theological dispute over the "Filioque," which did not inhibit at that time the restoration of communion between Rome and Constantinople, since it had not been inserted into the Symbol of the Faith by the papal throne, but had acquired at that time a dogmatic character in the obvious tendency of diversification between East and West." Phidas also suggested, that "apparently the papal representatives may not have realized the scope of the suggestion of restating the traditional Creed in the Horos of the Council which was implicitly connected with the condemnation of the Filioque addition to this Creed, which had been already adopted in the West by the Franks ... Yet all the participating Bishops understood that this was meant to be a condemnation of the Filioque addition to the Creed."25 Furthermore Phidas determined that the acceptance of the Horos by Pope John VIII was due to the influence of Zachariah of Anagne, librarian of the Vatican, papal legate at the Council and a friend and sympathizer of St. Photios to whom the latter addressed an epistle as a vote of thanks.
The above references clearly indicate that contemporary Orthodox scholarly opinion is unanimous in understanding the Horos of the Photian Council of 879/880 as having a direct bearing on the Filioque controversy. It condemns the Filioque not only as an addition to the Creed but also as a doctrine. It is acknowledged, of course, that this condemnation is implicit and not explicit in the strong and vehement condemnation in the Horos of any kind of addition to the Creed. That this implication is unavoidable is based both on the historical context of this Council — the conflict between Photios and the Frankish theologians, which lies in the foreground and background to this Council. To restrict this implication to a mere "canonical issue" which has no theological bearing, is unwarranted by the text and the dogmengeschichtlich context which entails Photios' opposition to the Frankish doctrine on the Filioque. This may become more apparent by looking afresh at the Horos itself.
c) a fresh look at the Horos itself of the Eighth Ecumenical Council
The following text is, to my knowledge, the first complete translation of the Horos of the Eighth Ecumenical Council which appears in both the minutes of the sixth and the seventh acts:26
"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 judgement, 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, we expel those who removed themselves from the Church, and embrace and regard worthy of receiving those of the same faith or teachers of orthodoxy to whom honor and sacred respect is due as they themselves ordered. Thus, having in mind and declaring all these things, we embrace with mind and tongue (τῇ διανοίᾳ καὶ γλώσσῃ) and declare to all people with a loud voice the Horos (Rule) of the most pure faith of the Christians which has come down to us from above through the Fathers, subtracting nothing, adding nothing, falsifying nothing; for subtraction and addition, when no heresy is stirred up by the ingenious fabrications of the evil one, introduces disapprobation of those who are exempt from blame and inexcusable assault on the Fathers. As for the act of changing with falsified words the Horoi (Rules, Boundaries) of the Fathers is much worse that the previous one. Therefore, this holy and ecumenical Synod embracing whole-heartedly and declaring with divine desire and straightness of mind, and establishing and erecting on it the firm edifice of salvation, thus we think and loudly proclaim this message to all:
"I believe in One God, Father Almighty, ... and in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God... and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord ... who proceeds from the Father... [the whole Creed is cited here]
Thus we think, in this confession of faith we were we baptized, through this one the word of truth proved that every heresy is broken to pieces and canceled out. We enroll as brothers and fathers and coheirs of the heavenly city those who think thus. If anyone, however, dares to rewrite and call Rule of Faith some other exposition besides that of the sacred Symbol which has been spread abroad from above by our blessed and holy Fathers even as far as ourselves, and to snatch the authority of the confession of those divine men and impose on it his own invented phrases (ἰδίαις εὑρεσιολογίαις) and put this forth as a common lesson to the faithful or to those who return from some kind of heresy, and display the audacity to falsify completely (κατακιβδηλεῦσαι ἀποθρασυνθείη) the antiquity of this sacred and venerable Horos (Rule) with illegitimate words, or additions, or subtractions, such a person should, according to the vote of the holy and Ecumenical Synods, which has been already acclaimed before us, be subjected to complete defrocking if he happens to be one of the clergymen, or be sent away with an anathema if he happens to be one of the lay people."
The solemnity and severity of this statement is quite striking. The reference to the Lord, the Apostles and the Fathers as guardians of the true faith clearly imply that what is at stake here is a theological issue. The issue is not just words or language but thought and mind as well. The whole construction clearly implies that there is some serious problem in the air which, however, is not explicitly named. The focus is the Creed, which is said to be irreplaceable. It is totally unacceptable to replace it with anything else. It is worse, however, to tamper with it, to add or to subtract from it. The addition or subtraction is not merely a formal matter, but has to do with the substance of the faith into which one is baptized and on which salvation in the Church is established. To commit such a mistake can only mean rejection of the faith once delivered to the saints and therefore can only incur expulsion from the Church. What else could St. Photios have in mind but the Filioque? Was there any other threat to the Creed at that time?
The Filioque was the only problem, which he himself above every one else had detected and denounced earlier on when he became fully aware of its severity. This is also the creedal problem, which he will pinpoint again shortly after this Synod, and will produce his extensive treatise on it. The purpose of this Horos could not be anything else but a buffer against the coming storm, which he foresaw. The Frankish theologians had already committed this error and were pressing for it with the Popes. Rome had resisted it, but for how long? He must have thought that an Ecumenical Council's Horos, which included severe penalties on those who tampered with the ancient faith, would be respected and the danger would be averted. That this was not only the mind of Photios but of the whole Council becomes obvious in the reactions of the Bishops to the reading of the Horos.
We read in the minutes of the Sixth act that after reading the Horos the Bishops shouted:
"Thus we think, thus we believe, into this confession were we baptized and became worthy to enter the priestly orders. We regard, therefore, as enemies of God and of the truth those who think differently as compared to this. If one dares to rewrite another Symbol besides this one, or add to it, or subtract from it, or to remove anything from it, and to display the audacity to call it a Rule, he will be condemned and thrown out of the Christian Confession. For to subtract from, or to add to, the holy and consubstantial and undivided Trinity shows that the confession we have always had to this day is imperfect. [In other words the problem which is implied but not named has to do with the Trinitarian doctrine]. It condemns the Apostolic Tradition and the doctrine of the Fathers. If one, then having come to such a point of mindlessness as to dare do what we have said above, and set forth another Symbol and call it a Rule, or to add to or subtract from the one which has been handed down to us by the first great, holy and Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea, let him be Anathema."27
The minutes go on to record the approbation of this solemn statement by the representatives of the other Patriarchates and finally by the Emperor himself. The Emperor's statement and signature leave no doubt of the seriousness of this theological Horos which was issued by an ecumenical Council of the Church:
"In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Basil Emperor in Christ, faithful king of the Romans, agreeing in every way with this holy and ecumenical Synod in confirmation and sealing of the holy and ecumenical Seventh Synod, in confirmation and sealing of Photios the most holy Patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual father of mine, and in rejection of all that was written or spoken against him, 1 have duly signed with my own hand."28
By way of epilogue it may be pointed out that the image of St. Photios that emerges from the acts of the Eighth Ecumenical Council is one of moderation, sensitivity and maturity. Confrontation is avoided but without compromising firmness in matters that relate to the faith. Generosity towards others is displayed and maturity permeates everything. This is indeed the image, which Prof. Henry Chadwick has recently resolved to promote.29 This is the authentic image of the East. The Photian Council of 879/880 is indeed the Eighth Ecumenical of the Catholic Church, Eastern and Western and Orthodox. It is a Council of Unity — the last one before the storm of the great Schism — based on the common Holy Tradition and especially on the unadulterated faith of the Ecumenical Creed.
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