image with the sign of Myriobiblos

Main Page | Library | Homage | Seminars | Book Reviews





Internet Dept.



Previous Page
Milton V. Anastos

Constantinople and Rome

A Survey of the Relations between the Byzantine and the Roman Churches.

M. Anastos, Aspects of the Mind of Byzantium (Political Theory, Theology, and Ecclesiastical Relations with the See of Rome), Ashgate Publications, Variorum Collected Studies Series, 2001. ISBN: 0 86078 840 7.

9. The dispute concerning the title "Oecumenical Patriarch"

Α few years later, however, Pope Pelagius II (579-90) proved to be less pliable
than his homonym, Pelagius Ι, and protested vigorously(114) when he discovered,
in the course of studying the transactions of a Constantinopolitan council held in 587 (or 588), that the Patriarch John IV the Faster (582-95) was there declared to be the Oecumenical Patriarch. Pelagius was scandalized by what he took to be an indication that the Byzantine patriarch was claiming to be head of the entire Church (for he translated "oecumenical" by "universal"), and called upon John to renounce this ambitious title. But neither John nor the Emperor Maurice (582-602), to whom Pelagius also appealed, were moved by the Pope's strictures, nor did they pay any more attention to the bit-ter protests of Pope Gregory Ι (590-604).

Phocas (602-610), on the other hand, who was, perhaps, the most vicious emperor in Byzantine history, proved more conciliatory.(115) The effigies of the Emperor and his wife were solemnly received by Pope Gregory Ι in 603, and in 607 Phocas gratified Pope Boniface III by declaring "the apostolic see of the blessed Apostle Peter" to be "the head of all the churches." This laudatory statement, which, however, did not go beyond what Justinian Ι had been willing to grant, was apparently intended to placate Boniface for the disquiet he suffered by reason of the Byzantine refusal to relinquish the high-sounding epithet of which the popes had been complaining. But Phocas never ordered the patriarchs of Constantinople to abandon it, as some authorities claim, nor did they ever do so. Still Phocas was highly regarded in Rome, and in 608, Smaragdus, the Byzantine Exarch of Ravenna, erected in the Roman Forum a statue of his sovereign, of which the pedestal, together with the Corinthian column that carried the figure of Phocas, can still be seen in situ. Ιn 609, Phocas continued to show favour to Rome by presenting Pope Boniface IV (608-15) with the Pantheon, which had not yet ceased to be a pagan temple, and authorizing its conversion into a Christian Church (S. Μaria ad Martires).

In point of fact, the adjective oecumenical did not at first imply usurpation of supreme power in the entire Church, as the popes feared. It seems to have been used of Bishop Dioscorus of Alexandria in 449, and of many other bishops and
patriarchs, including the Roman Popes Leo Ι, Hormisdas, and Agapetus, as well
as the Constantinopolitan patriarchs of the sixth century.

It probably lent an intensive force(116) to the title patriarch, which had not been restricted to the bishops of the major sees, even after the Council of Chalcedon had established the administrative division of the Church into five patriarchates (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem). But Justinian introduced a more precise usage, by which only the occupants of the five patriarchal thrones were to be known as "patriarchs:" Thereafter, the addition of the adjective oecumenical indicated no more than that the patriarch so designated (i.e., the archbishop of Constantinople) was the imperial patriarch and the supreme ecclesiastical officer within the borders of his οwn patriarchate.

Nevertheless, this designation, despite its frequent occurrence as the conventional
description of the patriarch of Constantinople, was not applied by the latter to himself until the Patriarch Photius (858-67, 877-86) adopted it in a few of his letters. It does not occur on the lead seals affixed to patriarchal documents before the time of the Patriarch Michael Ι Cerularius (1043-58), and it was first incorporated into the patriarchal signature by the Patriarch Manuel Ι (1217-22), whose successors, down to and including the present incumbent, Athenagoras Ι, continued this usage, except that during the Middle Ages they usually refrained from doing so when writing to the pope of Rome.

This abstention apparently reflects a deliberate effort to abstain from offending
Rome unnecessarily in the course of the delicate negotiations leading to the union of the two Churches, which was one of the major objectives of Byzantine diplomacy in the two hundred years preceding the fall of Constantinople in 1453. But the avoidance of this title by the patriarchs of Constantinople in missives directed to Rome also indicates that they did not seek or claim to rule the whole of Christendom, or to dispute with Rome control over any part of the Church except that which was included within the four Eastern patriarchates.(117)


114. - The chief texts are Pope Gregory's letters, critically edited in MGH Epist., 1-2 (superseding PL, 77, 431-1328), and summarized by F Homes Dudden, Gregory the Great, 2 vols. (London, 1905), 1, 473 f.; 2, 202 f., 209-24, 225 ff. For bibliography see L. Μ. Weber, "Gregor Ι.;" LThK, 4 (1960), 1177-80; Cyrille Vogel, Le liber pontificalis, ed. L. Duchesne, 3 (Paris, 1957), 93; Eugen Η. Fischer, "Gregor der Grosse und Byzanz," ZSavKan, 36 (1950), 15-144; Caspar, Geschichte, 2, 365-67, 452 ff.; Bertolini, Roma di fronte, 225-38; Carlo Μ. Patrono, "Studi bizantini: Dei conflitti tra l'imperatore Maurizio Tiberio e il papa Gregorio Magno," Rivista di storia antica, N.S. 13 (1909-10), 47-83, 169-88; Siméon Vailhé, "Le titre de patriarch oecuménique avant saint Grégoire le Grand," ΕΟ, 11 (1908), 65-69; idem, "Saint Grégoire le Grand et le titre de patriarch oecuménique," ibid., 161-71.

115. - MGH Epist., 2, 364; Liber Pontificalis, ed. L. Duchesne, 1, nos. 316 f.; Paulus Diaconus, Historia Langobardorum, 4, 36; George Ostrogorsky, History of the Βyzantine state, trans. Jοan Hussey (Oxford, 1956), 76-78; Dölger, Regesten, 1, nos. 155-56; Samuel Β. Platner and Thomas Ashby, Α topographical dictionary of ancient Rome (Oxford, 1929), 133 f., 385; Caspar, Geschichte, 2, 463 ff., 487 ff. The error about Phocas is repeated, e.g. in L. Bréhier-R. Aigrain, Grégoire le Grand, les états barbares et la conquête arabe (590-757) (Fliche~Martin, Histoire de l'Eglise, 5 [Paris, 1938]), 71, and probably goes back to Le Quien, Oriens Christianus, 1, 87; cf. Hartmann Grisar, "Oekumenischer Patriarch and Diener der Diener Gottes," Zeitschrift, für katholische Theologie, 4 (1880), 468-523, n.b. 521 .

116. - V. Laurent, "Le titre de patriarche oecuménique et la signature patriarcale," REB, 6 (1948), 5-26; V. Grumel, "Le titre de patriarche oecumenique sur les sceaux byzantins," REGr, 58 (1945), 212-18; Caspar, Geschichte, 2, 366 f., 452 ff; S. Vailhe, DTC, 3, 2, 1333 ff.; idem, DHGE, 12, 643-45; R. Vancourt, DTC, 11, 2, 2263-66. Grumel and Laurent have contributed greatly to our knowledge of this subject.

117. - Patriarch Isaac (1323-34), PG, 152, 1208BC; Callistus (1350-54, 1355-63), ibid., 1359Α, 1384BC; Philotheus (during his second patriarchate, 1364-76), ed. Miklosich and Müller, Acta et diplomata graeca medii aevi sacra et profana, 1 (Vienna, 1860), 516, 560; Jugie, Theologia dogmatica, 4, 428-30.

Previous Page