|Pope John VIII of Rome (872-882)|
3. The Issues Faced by the Eighth Ecumenical Synod
The Ecumenical Synod of 879-880, which is designated as the Eighth Ecumenical Synod, dealt with the issues which arose in the previous period, namely the ratification of the elevation of Photios to the Patriarchal Throne, the removal of the anathemas of the Synod of 869-870, the recognition of ecclesiastical traditions and customs of each Local Church (among which was the "all at once" ordination of Bishops), the validity of decisions of each Local Church, the place of the Bishop in the Church, the relationship between Bishops and monastics (as is shown in the sacred Canons drafted by this Ecumenical Synod), the canonical jurisdiction of the province of Bulgaria, and the condemnation of the heresy of the Filioque.
Below, however, we will highlight four important points which, in my opinion, are the quintessence of this important Synod.
a) The Two Forms of Ecclesiology, East and West
At the beginning of the Synod, during the initial discussions, it became clear that the ecclesiology of the Western Church conflicted with the ecclesiology of the Eastern Church. The Pope thought he was the head of the entire Church, that he had primacy of authority throughout the Church, while the Orthodox recognized the primacy of his ministry, without giving him authority into other ecclesiastical jurisdictions.
Western society had been affected by feudal conceptions which the Franks brought into Europe, according to which there is a pyramid organization to the State. This pyramid organization was adopted by the Church of Rome and the Pope regarded himself as the ecumenical Father and Governor over all the Local Churches, and he would either approve or not the decisions of Synods. We can trace this mindset and difference to the non-acceptance of the Pope of two basic Canons, namely the 34th Canon of the Holy Apostles and the 28th Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod.
The 34th Apostolic Canon establishes a synodal constitution of the Church, according to which in the basic doctrinal and ecclesiastical issues, the so-called "non-essentials", the Protos does not act independently from the other Bishops of the Province, and Bishops do not make decisions without the opinion of the Protos. What applies to the administration system of Metropolitans applies to the synodical Inter-Orthodox administration system of the Church. Also, the 28th Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod determined, among other things, that the Bishops of barbarian administrations should be ordained by the Throne of the most-holy Church of Constantinople.
In practice the Pope of Rome did not accept these two basic Canons, because he considered himself above Synods, and also considered that he was able as a leader of the universal Church to enter into the internal affairs of other ecclesiastical authorities, such as the issue of the election and restoration of Patriarch Photios, and in the ordinations of the Bishops of Bulgaria. The differences of these two ecclesiologies became clear in the discussions of the first Meeting, when the papal legates insisted on passing their own ecclesiology to the Synod, and this also appeared in the Meetings subsequent to the first. But as the discussions progressed and they were reaching their final decisions, the ecclesiology of the Eastern Church entirely prevailed.
We will list some characteristic excerpts from the dialogue of the initial days of the Meeting, where these differences are most intensely apparent.
After the first addresses of Peter, the Cardinal and Vicar of Pope John, he said to Photios: "Saint Peter is visiting us," which means that in the person of the Pope the Apostle Peter himself is visiting the Synod, the Pope being his successor and the deputy of Christ to the entire Church. Patriarch Photios responded: "May Christ our God, through the chief of the disciples Peter, whose memory you give reverence to, have mercy on all of us and show us worthy of His kingdom." Clearly Patriarch Photios here is speaking of the pontificate of Christ which is held by the Apostle Peter, just as it is with all of the Apostles, since the pontificate of each Apostle goes back to Christ.
Cardinal Peter continued by calling the Pope ecumenical: "The most-holy and ecumenical Pope John venerates your holiness." Patriarch Photios responded in a theological and spiritual way: "His veneration towards me is returned with heartfelt longing, and I entreat that he grant unto me his holy prayers and honorable love, and may this be a genuine love between us and sincere arrangement before our common Master."
The Cardinal continued the dialogue, referencing the decision of the Pope: "He wants to have your honorableness as a brother, co-liturgist and mutual priest." Patriarch Photios responded by referencing Christ Who fulfills all things and calls the Pope only a Spiritual Father by extension and not as a supervisor: "May He who fulfills all good things, Christ our God, complete His will by heavenly counsel, and we record him as being our brother, co-liturgist and our spiritual father."
Then the Cardinal tried to enforce the Primacy of the Pope over the entire Church, referring to the letter the Pope sent to Photios, so that all may recognize that the Pope has diligent care for the Church of Constantinople. It is a very clear allusion to the canonical rights the Pope thought he had over another ecclesiastical jurisdiction: "He sent your holiness a letter, that all may know through it the care and attention he procures for your holy Church of God, and for the love and faith he has for your holiness." Patriarch Photios appropriately responded that he knew of this care of the Pope before the letter, but now the letters "are not lessons, but an addition and verification of what had already been known." The pontifical interest of the Pope for the Church of Constantinople is found in his position as "father and carer", though he does not have a canonical right. The Pope imitated Christ, "the first and great high priest", Who emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant. Therefore the Pope took interest "as being absent from this predetermined schismatic error, all having as our common head Christ our true God glued by His one bread resulting in His body."
Then Photios asked about the health of the Pope. The Cardinal said: "He is well through your holy prayers." And then Photios asked about the Church of Rome that belonged to the Pope, apparently to confront the notion regarding the ecumenicity of the Pope and his intervention in other ecclesiastical jurisdictions: "How is his holy Church of God and all the pontiffs and priests he has?" The Cardinal understood the point of this question and turned the conversation over to the situation of Photios: "All is healthy through your holy prayers, but what do you have to say about the love and faith the most holy Pope has towards your holiness?" Then Photios referred to how love is expressed through works: "Words have authority when visible actions make them apparent, and with the most holy Pope, our spiritual father, his actions overthrow his words...." Here the Pope is described by the sacred Photios as a "spiritual father", and not as the Shepherd of the entire Church.
The Cardinal then turned towards the Bishops present at the Synod, and conveyed the greetings of the Pope, and that by his presence at the Synod, through his representative, "the most holy Pope visits us," conveying also the desire of the Pope for there to be peace and unity in the Church, recognizing Photios as Patriarch: "Brethren and co-liturgists, in a caring manner as a father towards his children he seeks this, as well as being a good shepherd of his sheep, through his letter and representatives admonishing and guiding and visiting us, wishing that the entire holy Church of God be united and become one flock and one shepherd." He is expressing clearly once again the Primacy of the Pope over the entire Church, considering himself the Shepherd of all Christians, who are his flock. With this authority he urges the Bishops to recognize Photios as Patriarch.
Metropolitan John of Heraclea then responded in the name of all the Bishops that the issue of recognizing Photios as Patriarch was solved by the very Church of Constantinople, which had the canonical competence to deal with this issue, and Photios was already restored to the Throne, wherefore he was their true Shepherd and Ecumenical Patriarch: "His holy prayers come forward to one flock, and we have one true Shepherd, who is venerable and blameless, Photios our most holy Master and Ecumenical Patriarch." Thus, in this manner, they denied the canonical authority of the Pope over the Church of Constantinople.
This happened during the First Session of the Synod. In the next one the Minutes record how the papal legates tried to pass the ecclesiastical views of the Pope, but eventually the position of the Eastern Church fully prevailed, since these papal views were not adopted by the Synod, as they were included in the "Commonitory", and thus was rejected the primacy of the authority of the Pope over all the Church.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.