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Ninth Century

End of the Icon Debate

Fol­low­ing the coun­cil of 787 at which the ven­er­a­tion of the holy icons was for­mal­ly defend­ed in the Church, new impe­r­i­al rulers emerged who once again attacked both the ven­er­a­tion and the ven­er­a­tors of the holy images. When the Empress Irene died in 802, Leo the Armen­ian became the emper­or. In 815 he ordered the icons in the church­es to be placed beyond the reach of the faith­ful so that they could not be hon­ored and kissed. On Palm Sun­day in 815, Saint Theodore, the abbot of the great Stu­dion Monastery in Con­stan­tino­ple, led a pub­lic pro­ces­sion with the holy icons. This pro­ces­sion was met by impe­r­i­al attacks, tor­tures, and mur­ders. Only in 842, with the ascen­dan­cy of the Empress Theodo­ra, under the lead­er­ship of the Patri­arch Method­ius, were the holy icons returned once and for all to the Church. This for­mal return of the icons on the First Sun­day of Lent in that year marked the begin­ning of the annu­al cel­e­bra­tion of the Feast of the Tri­umph of Ortho­doxy still observed today.

Cyril and Methodius — The Mission to the Slavs

In the mid­dle of the ninth cen­tu­ry the patri­arch of Con­stan­tino­ple, Saint Photius, sent mis­sion­ar­ies into Moravia to bring the Chris­t­ian faith to the Slav­ic peo­ple. The Greek broth­ers, Con­stan­tine and Method­ius, arrived in Moravia in 863. Con­stan­tine had already cre­at­ed the Slav­ic alpha­bet — now called the Old Slavon­ic or Old Bul­gar­i­an — which the broth­ers used to trans­late church books into the Slav­ic lan­guage. Their work con­sist­ed of teach­ing the alpha­bet, intro­duc­ing the litur­gi­cal books and rit­u­al, and train­ing men for the priesthood.

The mis­sion of Con­stan­tine and Method­ius cre­at­ed hos­til­i­ties with the Frank­ish mis­sion­ar­ies from the Latin Church who had come to Moravia ear­li­er. They believed that the offi­cial lan­guages of the Church should be Hebrew, Latin, and Greek only. They did not believe that the Slav­ic lan­guage should be used in the Church ser­vices. Thus Con­stan­tine and Method­ius went to Rome in 869 to jus­ti­fy their work, par­tic­u­lar­ly the use of the native lan­guage in the litur­gy. Pope Hadri­an II blessed the Greek mis­sion­ar­ies for their work.

Con­stan­tine died in 869. Just before his death he became a monk, tak­ing the name of Cyril by which he is known as a saint of the Church, and from which his alpha­bet received the name Cyril­lic.

Method­ius was con­se­crat­ed as the arch­bish­op of Pan­non­ia. When he returned to his mis­sion­ary work, he was arrest­ed by the Frank­ish-Ger­man­ic cler­gy with the help of Louis the Ger­man. In 873 when Pope John dis­cov­ered what had hap­pened to Method­ius, he demand­ed his release. But, the Roman Church was unwill­ing to press too hard on this issue for fear of offend­ing the rapid­ly grow­ing Frank­ish and Ger­man­ic pow­ers. Method­ius died in 885 with his work all but total­ly ruined, as a result. Most of his dis­ci­ples were arrest­ed, exiled, or sold into slav­ery. Some escaped into Bul­gar­ia where Saints Clement and Naum did great mis­sion­ary work among the peo­ple there. The Bul­gar­i­ans by this time were receiv­ing the Chris­t­ian faith. They had been attached to the Church of Con­stan­tino­ple in 870. The work of Saints Cyril and Method­ius, the “evan­ge­liz­ers of the Slavs,” con­tin­ued on from Bul­gar­ia through the Ser­bian lands, and ulti­mate­ly into Kiev and North­ern Rus­sia in sub­se­quent centuries.

The Filioque Issue

The clash between the East and the West was not only over the mis­sion to the Slavs. It had deep­er roots in the role which the new Frank­ish and Ger­man­ic rulers were to play in West­ern Europe and in the West­ern Church.

In the year 800, on Christ­mas Day, Charle­magne was crowned emper­or by the Pope of Rome. In 792 this new ruler had already sent his Car­olin­gian Books (Lib­ri Car­oli­ni) to Pope Hadri­an I. The rea­son for Charlemagne’s attack against the East­ern Church was that this was the only way in which he could dis­cred­it the East­ern emper­or so that he him­self could be rec­og­nized as the sole ruler in Chris­ten­dom. In his vision of the new Holy Roman Empire Charle­magne want­ed to include all of the East togeth­er with all of the West.

In 808 Pope Leo III of Rome react­ed against the charges of Charle­magne against the East. He had the creed with­out the fil­ioque enshrined in gold­en tablets on the doors of St. Peter’s.

The Papacy

Although Charlemagne’s attempts to estab­lish rule over all Chris­ten­dom did not suc­ceed, the Roman popes began to extend their church­ly gov­er­nance over the, whole of the West. By the mid­dle of the ninth cen­tu­ry, Pope Nicholas I (858–867) suc­ceed­ed in gain­ing direct con­trol over the entire West­ern Church by sup­press­ing the local met­ro­pol­i­tans and mak­ing all bish­ops in the West direct­ly sub­ject to the Roman see. He also referred to the False Dec­re­tals, doc­u­ments lat­er proved to be forg­eries, which claimed that the Emper­or Con­stan­tine in the fourth cen­tu­ry had giv­en cer­tain pow­ers and priv­i­leges to the Roman bish­ops. It was claimed that the pow­ers includ­ed sec­u­lar con­trol over ter­ri­to­ries around Rome which lat­er came to be called the papal states. This was the so-called Dona­tion of Con­stan­tine.

From 861–886 the first open clash took place between the East­ern and West­ern Church­es. In Con­stan­tino­ple there were two polit­i­cal par­ties strug­gling for power.

To set­tle a dis­pute between these two par­ties and to pro­vide a church leader which both groups could respect and would accept, a lay­man named Photius was ele­vat­ed to the par­tri­ar­chal office. Although Photius was the one can­di­date upon whom both par­ties could agree, the extrem­ists of the so- called con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty were not sat­is­fied. They appealed to Rome, using the good name of the for­mer patri­arch Ignatius — who had peace­ably retired for the good of the Church — against Photius and the impe­r­i­al gov­ern­ment which con­firmed his elec­tion. Pope Nicholas seized the oppor­tu­ni­ty of this extrem­ist appeal to inter­fere in the affairs of the Con­stan­ti­nop­o­li­tan Church, call­ing a coun­cil in that city in 861 to set­tle the dis­pute. When the papal legates came to the coun­cil they saw that Photius was the right­ful patri­arch, and all was hap­pi­ly set­tled. How­ev­er, when the legates returned to Rome, Pope Nicholas reject­ed their deci­sion, and held anoth­er coun­cil, this time in Rome in 863, at which he pro­claimed Ignatius as the bish­op of Con­stan­tino­ple, thus depos­ing Photius. His actions were ignored.

In 866 and 867 the Bul­gar­i­an Church was fluc­tu­at­ing between Con­stan­tino­ple and Rome. In 867 Photius and a coun­cil of five hun­dred bish­ops in Con­stan­tino­ple con­demned Pope Nicholas for inter­fer­ing in the affairs of the Bul­gar­i­an Church. In this same year there was anoth­er inter­nal polit­i­cal con­flict in Con­stan­tino­ple. When Basil I became emper­or, Photius resigned as bish­op for the sake of uni­ty. For polit­i­cal rea­sons Ignatius was rein­stat­ed. In 869 Pope Hadri­an II, the suc­ces­sor of Nicholas, excom­mu­ni­cat­ed Photius again for his role in the Bul­gar­i­an affair. In 877 Photius, who was not in dis­fa­vor with the new emper­or, again became patri­arch when the ven­er­a­ble Ignatius died.

In 879 a huge coun­cil took place in Con­stan­tino­ple, once again with papal legates in atten­dance. At this coun­cil, presided over by Photius, the tra­di­tion­al priv­i­leges of the Pope of Rome in the East were clar­i­fied by Photius and accept­ed by John VIII who was the new pope. The coun­cils of 863 and 869 which con­demned Photius were declared null and void. The coun­cil of 787 was accept­ed as the sev­enth ecu­meni­cal coun­cil. The creed was affirmed with­out the filioque.

Photius was offi­cial­ly can­on­ized a saint by the Ortho­dox Church in the tenth cen­tu­ry. He was a man of many tal­ents. He was a great the­olo­gian who wrote exten­sive­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly on the ques­tion of the fil­ioque by defend­ing the pro­ces­sion of the Holy Spir­it from the Father alone. He was a com­pil­er of clas­si­cal and patris­tic writ­ings. He spon­sored the mis­sion to the Slavs. He defend­ed the authen­tic Church Tra­di­tion in con­fronta­tion with the Roman claims invent­ed by Nicholas, while ulti­mate­ly pre­serv­ing uni­ty with the Roman Church and Pope John VIII. He was an excel­lent diplo­mat in polit­i­cal affairs, with per­son­al humil­i­ty and wis­dom which earned him the respect of good-willed per­sons of all par­ties in East and West. Saint Photius was one of the tru­ly great bish­ops in Chris­t­ian Church history.

Liturgical Developments

In the ninth cen­tu­ry anoth­er great saint, Saint Theodore of Stu­dion was respon­si­ble for litur­gi­cal devel­op­ment. Saint Theodore was the abbot of the Stu­dion monastery in Con­stan­tino­ple who had, dur­ing his life­time, about a hun­dred thou­sand monks in his charge. He is known for his defense of the holy icons, and for his role in the devel­op­ment of Ortho­dox litur­gi­cal wor­ship. The litur­gi­cal typikon, the order pub­lic wor­ship in the Stu­dion monastery, has become the nor­ma­tive order of wor­ship for the entire Ortho­dox Church since the ninth cen­tu­ry. The ser­vice books for Great Lent and East­er, the Lenten Tri­o­di­on and the Flower Tri­o­di­on (also called the Pen­te­costar­i­on) are almost total­ly the work of the Stu­dite monks, among the most famous of whom is Saint Joseph the Hymno­g­ra­ph­er.

Also dat­ing from the ninth cen­tu­ry is a copy of the Divine Litur­gy of St. John Chrysos­tom which has the litur­gy of the faith­ful in vir­tu­al­ly the exact same form in which it is done in the Ortho­dox Church today.

Law Code

At the end of the ninth cen­tu­ry the famous law code called the Epana­goge was pub­lished by the emper­or Basil I. It reaf­firmed the sys­tem of the “sym­pho­ny” or uni­ty between the church and state.

Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, the ninth cen­tu­ry was one of the most sig­nif­i­cant cen­turies in Church his­to­ry. It was a peri­od of renais­sance in the East, while in the West it was one of increas­ing cen­tral­iza­tion around the Roman papa­cy. The only the­olo­gian of note in the West at this time was John Scot Eri­ge­na (d.877), who brought the strong influ­ence of the East­ern the­ol­o­gy of Diony­s­ios and St. Max­imus into the West­ern Church.