Pope St. Nicholas the Great (858-867 AD): Letter to Archbishop Hincmar of Reims and the Bishops of the West concerning Photius

Pope_Nicholas_I

Here is a portion of the letter written by Pope St. Nicholas the Great to the Western bishops in response to a condemnatory letter from Constantinople against the Latins. He writes:

“Inflamed with hate and envy against us, as we will specify later, they attempt to accuse us of heresy. With hatred indeed, for we not only disapproved but even condemned by deposition and anathematization the advancement attained by Photius, a neophyte, usurper, and adulterer of the Church of Constantinople…

Instead they wish, rather, eagerly to lead the Bulgarians from obedience to blessed Peter and to subject them shrewdly to their own authority under the pretext of the Christian religion….They strive particularly to find fault with our Church and generally with every Church which speaks Latin, because we fast on Saturdays and profess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, whereas they confess that He proceeds merely from the Father. Besides this, they claim that we detest marriage since we do not allow priests to marry…As regards the procession of the Holy Spirit – who does not know that distinguished men, especially among the Latins, have written much about this matter? Supported by their authority we can reply fully and reasonably to their senselessness. Does any custom demand that they should go un-refuted, or that we should not answer their yelps and disputatious tongues with reasonable argument? ..

Is it even strange that they should allege such things since they even glory in the assertion that when the Emperors moved from Rome to Constantinople the primacy of the Roman See also went to Constantinople, and with royal dignitaries even the privileges of the Roman Church were transferred? So that this same Photius, a usurper in the Church, even entitles himself in his writings, ‘Archbishop and Universal Patriarch‘”

Something that sticks out here in particular is that Nicholas understands Bulgaria to be under the jurisdiction of Peter. This sticks out because the sort of oversight that Rome had over Bulgaria was of the relationship of a Metropolitan (or perhaps supra-Metropolitan) to a Patriarch. Now, that is not how Constantinople related to Rome. Constantinople was its own jurisdiction and was not under the Roman Patriarchate. With that in mind, I’m curious if Nicholas would say that Constantinople was obliged to obey Peter in the same way. It is obvious from the letter that Nicholas believed Papal authority could not just anathematize Photius, but even depose him (or to have never lawfully occupied office). Also, Nicholas makes it clear that Constantinople is accusing Rome of heresy. That is not new, of course, but it wold call to mind the question of whether the Byzantines understood the Roman See to be indefectible in doctrine. Certainly, there are witnesses in that direction (see St. Theodore the Studite, for one example), but here in the 9th century still, there is both Emperor Michael and Photius ready to challenge any notion of Roman infallibility. Lastly, here all the way into the 9th century, the Popes are still seen contesting the privileges of the See of Constantinople as “equal” to the See of Rome. I don’t have at my disposal the translations of the letter originally sent to Nicholas (if anyone could point that to me, I’d be grateful), but I do know that Photius would eventually have to bite the dust on the supremacy of the Roman See, not least by the ensuing events that led to the Council of Constantinople 869-70, but also the Council which the Greeks tend to recognize with universal force held in Constantinople in 879-880 (see my small post on that).

(Translated by the Monks of St. John’s Abbey. From Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 1: From its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation, William C. Placher, page 92-93)

6 thoughts on “Pope St. Nicholas the Great (858-867 AD): Letter to Archbishop Hincmar of Reims and the Bishops of the West concerning Photius

  1. “This sticks out because the sort of oversight that Rome had over Bulgaria was of the relationship of a Metropolitan (or perhaps supra-Metropolitan) to a Patriarch.”

    Are you saying that Rome was the patriarchal church and Bulgaria was the metropolitanate/super-metropolitanate? What do you mean by the “super-“?

  2. Dear Erick Ybarra. Please email me at Scott Harrington scott1960h@gmail.com Please consider this agenda for dialogue: 1. From your point of view, whatever apologetic material you wish for your doctrinal position; my possible suggestion, consider focusing on Filioque issue and possible sources for you to quote 1] Saint Maximos the Confessor. 2] Saint John of Damascus. 3] Saint Epiphanius 4] Saint Didymus the Blind 5] Saint Basil the Great 6] Thomas Aquinas 7] Peter Lombard 8] Peter Damian 9] Anselm of Canterbury 10] Bonaventure 11] Duns Scotus 12] Gregory of Rimini 13] James Likoudis 14] James Keating 15] Scptt Hahn 16] Dave Armstong 17] Karl Keating 18] miscellaneous 19] Augustine of Hippo 2. From my point of view, St. Photius, Fr. Gillquist, Fr. Romanides, St. Mark of Ephesus, and so on. St. Gregory Palamas. See you.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  3. Erick: I think the most clear Latin argument for Filioque is not Augustine of Hippo De Trinitate, but Aquinas Contra Errores Graecorum. I think the weakest arguments of the Latins for Filioque are Peter Lombard, Sentences, Book I, On the Holy Trinity, and Anselm of Canterbury, De Processione Spiritus Sancti, and Peter Damian is also weak. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is also very weak. Lombard is the worst argument; the best Orthodox argument is Saint Photius, On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, Azkoul, trans. The Contra Errores Graecorum of Aquinas contains many quotes from the Fathers, but the weakness, serious weakness, in Likoudis’ edition of Aquinas in Ending the Byzantine-Greek Schism is that many of these citations of Fathers in Aquinas are listed by Likoudis as “not found”, so Likoudis himself are not sure these are genuine quotes from the Fathers indicated. This is a fatal flaw.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  4. “Inflamed with hate and envy against us, as we will specify later, they attempt to accuse us of heresy. With hatred indeed, for we not only disapproved but even condemned by deposition and anathematization the advancement attained by Photius, a neophyte, usurper, and adulterer of the Church of Constantinople…

    Instead they wish, rather, eagerly to lead the Bulgarians from obedience to blessed Peter and to subject them shrewdly to their own authority under the pretext of the Christian religion….They strive particularly to find fault with our Church and generally with every Church which speaks Latin, because we fast on Saturdays and profess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, whereas they confess that He proceeds merely from the Father. Besides this, they claim that we detest marriage since we do not allow priests to marry…As regards the procession of the Holy Spirit – who does not know that distinguished men, especially among the Latins, have written much about this matter? Supported by their authority we can reply fully and reasonably to their senselessness. Does any custom demand that they should go un-refuted, or that we should not answer their yelps and disputatious tongues with reasonable argument? ..THAT IS WHAT Pope Nicholas I said. 1. He gives no evidence that blessed Photius was inflamed with hate and envy, which is indicated by his words “specify later”. 2. He violates the rule of logic against ad hominem statements by falsely and without due process of sufficient legal evidence labels Photius 1) neophyte. 2) usurper 3) adulterer. There is no evidence this is so, and 4) no ecumenical council of the Catholic Church has pronounced any anathema against Photius or evidence for 1, 2, or 3.
    Secondly, having the Bulgarians obey Pope Nicholas I is not obeying blessed Peter, as the Popes of Rome, none of them, are the Apostle Peter, and Saint Peter was not the first Pope of Rome, he was an Apostle of Christ, nor did Saint Peter approve of Pope Nicholas I’s Filioque. Also, it does not follow that if “distinguished men” among the Latins wrote for the Filioque, that this proves, then, that the Filioque doctrine is the truth. Finally, Nicholas slanders with his own hatred against the innocent and blessed Saint Photius that he allegedly offers “yelps” like some wild animal and fox with an allegedly “disputatious tongue”. The disputatious tongue is from Pope Nicholas I, and all Nicholas I has for Filioque is a “reasonable” argument, whereas the Church Fathers, all of them, do not rely on mere “reason” (rationalism), but upon Scripture (Revelation) and Tradition (the Holy Spirit in the Church). Photius gets his view against Filioque from God (from Jesus Christ John 15:26 and Saint Luke Acts 2:33), whereas Nicholas I gets Filioque from Augustine of Hippo, and not from the New Testament or from the other Church Fathers, Cyril of Alexandria, John of Damascus, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius the Great, Gregory the Great.

  5. I believe the character of the Roman Papacy just like the character of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Constantinople), or the character of the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Moscow, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and all others, depends upon whether or not a specific individual Pope of Rome or Patriarch of the rest of the Church is an honest man, a man of good report, sound in doctrine and morals and orthodox in all things, and not heterodox or heretical, not teaching errors, or led astray by false passions. All humans are human, and are not without sins, but still I believe Catholics, too, can tell the difference between a great Pope like Saint Gregory I the great, and a disputed, disputable Pope like Nicholas I. Gregory and Nicholas were not the same kinds of Popes. Gregory is praised by all; Nicholas, not so much!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s