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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

October 23

St. Ignatius, Patriarch of Constantinople, Confessor

THE ORIGIN of the Greek schism, commenced by the usurper Photius, renders the life of this holy prelate an interesting part of the history of the Church. His birth was most illustrious; for his mother Procopia was daughter to the emperor Nicephorus, and his father Michael, surnamed Rangabè, was at first curopolates, or master of the household to the emperor; and on the death of his father-in-law, Nicephorus, who was slain by the Bulcarians, was himself raised to the imperial throne. His piety and mildness promised the greatest happiness both to the Church and State; but this was a blessing of which the sins of the people rendered them unworthy. Leo the Armenian, the impious and barbarous general of the army, revolting, the good emperor, to avert the calamity of a civil war, resigned to him the diadem after a reign of only one year and nine months. He had then two sons living, and two daughters, with whom and his wife he retired into the isle of the Princesses, where they all embraced a monastic state. Theophilactus, the elder son, took the name of Eustratus; and the younger, who is the saint who is here spoken of, changed his former name, Nicetas, into that of Ignatius: he was at that time fourteen years of age. The father was called in religion Athanasius, and survived thirty-two years—to 845. The new emperor, to secure to himself the dignity which he had got by injustice and treachery, parted all his family, banishing them into several islands, and keeping them under a strict guard; and the two sons he made eunuchs, that they might be rendered incapable of raising issue to their family. During the reigns of this Leo, of Michael Balbus, or the Stammerer, and Theophilus, they enjoyed a sweet tranquillity, which they consecrated with great fidelity to the exercises of devotion and penance; in which, by their fervour and love, calm resignation to all the appointments of heaven, and by the unction of divine grace, they found more solid pleasure than a court could afford; and by curbing the activity of their desires, and by the regulation of their passions enjoyed an interior peace which the whole world could not take from them. Ignatius, indeed, underwent a most severe trial, being placed in a monastery which was governed by a furious Iconoclast abbot, from whom he had daily much to suffer: but this very circumstance became to him a spur to watchfulness, and a continual exercise of patience and other Christian virtues, by which he learned daily to die more perfectly to himself. For it is not the tranquillity of monastic solitude, nor a distance from the busy scenes of the world, but the mastery over a man’s domestic passions, and the government of his own heart which is the source of that peace of mind which invites the Holy Ghost into a soul, and is the greatest blessing on this side heaven. So conspicuous was the virtue of our saint that, upon the death of his persecutor, he was unanimously chosen abbot. The prudence and meekness, zeal and charity with which he governed this house, and instructed and walked before his brethren in the paths of evangelical perfection, gained him universal love and veneration: and he founded three new monasteries in three little islands, and one called St. Michael’s, on the continent. In 842 the empress Theodora, by the death of her husband, Theophilus, became regent for her son Michael III. a minor, restored holy images, expelled John the Iconoclast, patriarch of Constantinople, and raised Saint Methodius to that dignity. After his death, in 846, St. Ignatius, who then led a monastic life in the islands of Hiatres and Terebinthus, which he had peopled with monks, was dragged out of his secure harbour into the stormy ocean of the world, and made patriarch.  1
  His spirit of mortification, his humility, charity, intrepidity, zeal, and other virtues shone forth in this public station with bright lustre; but the generous liberty which he used in opposing vice, and reprimanding public offenders, drew on him severe persecutions, the ordinary portion of the elect. Bardas Cæsar, brother to the empress, had a great share in the government, for which his great abilities would have qualified him if the corruption of his heart had not rendered him unfit to be a member of civil society, much more to be intrusted with the care of the republic, and the protection of the Church and people. For eloquence, he was superior to most of his contemporaries: he was well versed in all profane literature, and a great lover and promoter of learning; but withal false, crafty, cruel, and so scandalously debauched in his morals, that he put away his lawful wife, and incestuously took his own daughter-in-law to his bed, with whom he had fallen desperately in love. The patriarch could not bear such enormous scandals, and tenderly exhorted this hardened sinner to have pity on his own soul. But the miserable man was so far from giving ear to his charitable admonitions, as impudently to present himself to receive the holy communion in the great church on the feast of the Epiphany. The patriarch refused to admit him to the holy table, and declared him excommunicated. Bardas, stung with resentment, threatened to stab him; but the prelate remained firm, and set before his eyes the divine judgments. Bardas took an opportunity to seek revenge. The young emperor being of a depraved heart, suffered himself to be carried headlong down the precipice of vice; so that it was not hard for the wicked uncle, by flattering his passions, to gain an ascendant over him. Bardas, who for some time had made it his whole study to ruin the pastor of his soul, set himself first to remove his mother, who was the protectress of St. Ignatius, and moreover stood in his way, and often checked his ambitious and wicked designs. He therefore persuaded his nephew Michael, that it being time for him now to reign by himself, he ought to send away his mother and his sisters into some monastery. The unnatural and ungrateful son relished this advice, that he might be more at liberty to follow his vicious inclinations, sent for the patriarch, and ordered him to cut off the hair of his mother and three sisters as a mark of their engaging in a monastic life. His refusal to commit such an unjust and irreligious act of violence was represented by Bardas in the most odious colours, and the holy patriarch was charged with fomenting rebellions. Michael, in the mean time, caused his mother and sisters to be shaved, and shut up in a monastery: and on the 23d of November, by his order, St. Ignatius, when he had been patriarch eleven years, was driven from his see by Bardas, and banished to the isle of Terebinthus, where one of his monasteries stood. All means were used to extort from him a resignation of his dignity; but he refused by such an act to deliver up his flock to wolves: nor could his constancy be moved by artifices, persuasions, buffets, chains or dungeons. At last, however, Bardas declared Photius, the eunuch, patriarch, without so much as the formality of an election. This extraordinary man was of high birth, nephew to the patriarch Tarasius, and nearly related to the emperor and Bardas Cæsar. He was a prodigy of genius and learning, being well skilled in all the profane arts, and not altogether unacquainted with ecclesiastical matters, in which also, by application after his promotion, he acquired great knowledge. So passionately fond was he of books, that he often spent whole nights at his studies. But he was a mere layman, and had two considerable employments at court, being Protospatharius and Protosecretis, that is, master of the horse and chief secretary to the emperor. His great qualifications were debased by a consummate depravity of soul; for he was the most cunning and deceitful of men; and always ready to sacrifice every thing to an unbounded ambition. He was also a schismatic, and adhered to Gregory Abestas, bishop of Syracuse, in Sicily, who had raised a faction against St. Ignatius, from the time of his promotion to the patriarchate. The saint had endeavoured to reclaim this prelate, sparing neither words nor good turns, but in vain; so that at length in a council, in 854, he condemned and deposed him for his crimes. Photius continued to protect him, and being nominated patriarch by Bardas, was ordained bishop in six days; on the first, he was made a monk: on the second, reader: on the third, subdeacon; on the fourth, deacon; on the fifth, priest: and on the sixth, which was Christmas-day, patriarch. This was done in the year 858.  2
  The election of Photius having been made by Bardas alone, notoriously against the canons, no bishop could be prevailed upon to ordain him till he had gained some of them by promising to renounce the schism, which he had abetted, to embrace the communion of Ignatius, to acknowledge him as lawful patriarch, to honour him as his father, and to do nothing without his consent. Yet in less than two months after his ordination, in contempt of his oaths, he persecuted most outrageously all the clergy that adhered to Ignatius, and caused several to be scourged or otherwise tormented. In order to destroy Ignatius, he persuaded Bardas, and, through his means, the emperor, to commence an information against him as having secretly conspired against the state. Commissioners were sent to the isle of Terebinthus, and the saint’s servants put to the question to compel them to accuse their master; but nothing could be extorted from them. However, the saint was conveyed to the island Hieria, where a goat-house was his prison; thence he was removed to Prometa, a suburb near Constantinople, where two of his teeth were knocked out by a blow given him by a captain of the guards, and he was confined in a narrow dungeon with his feet put in the stocks, and fastened to two iron bars. Several bishops of the province of Constantinople assembled in the church of peace in that city, and excommunicated Photius. On the other side, Photius, supported by Bardas, in a council, pronounced a sentence of deposition and excommunication against Ignatius, who, in August, 859, with many of his adherents, was put on board a vessel, loaded with chains, and sent to Mitylene, in the isle of Lesbos. Photius sent messengers with a letter to Pope Nicholas I., in which he signified, that Ignatius had resigned his see by reason of his age and craziness, and had withdrawn into a monastery, where he lived in great esteem with the princes and the people; that himself had been chosen by the metropolitans, and compelled by the emperor to take upon him that dreadful burden, which he hypocritically lamented; but begged the pope to send two legates to ratify these proceedings, and condemn the Iconoclasts. 1 The emperor also sent an embassy, consisting of a patrician and four bishops, on the same errand, with rich presents to the church of St. Peter. The Pope received no messengers from Ignatius, whose enemies did not suffer him to send any. He therefore answered these letters very cautiously, and sent two legates to Constantinople, Rodoald, bishop of Porto, and Zachary, bishop of Anagnia, with orders to decide in council the questions concerning holy images, according to the definitions of the seventh general council. But as to the affair of Ignatius and Photius, the legates had orders only to take informations and to send them to the pope. In his answer to the emperor, he complains that Ignatius had been deposed without consulting the holy see, and that a layman had been chosen against the canons. In that to Photius he expresses his joy to find his confession of faith orthodox; but takes notice of the irregularities committed in his election. In the mean time Ignatius was brought back from Mitylene to the isle of Terebinthus, about the time that his monasteries with the neighbouring isles were all plundered, and twenty-three of his domestics massacred by a fleet of the Scythian nation, called Rossi or Russians. The pope’s two legates being arrived at Constantinople, Photius and the emperor found means to gain them after they had long resisted.  3
  A synod, therefore, was held at Constantinople in 861, in which the legates prevaricating and exceeding their power and commission, St. Ignatius was unjustly deposed, with much harsh and tyrannical usage, seventy-two false witnesses having been heard against him, who alleged that his election had not been canonical. 2 After this, Photius caused the saint to be shut up in the sepulchre of Constantine Copronymus, which was in the same church where the council had been held: here the prisoner was most cruelly beaten and tormented, kept for a fortnight always standing, and a whole week without meat or sleep. In the weak condition to which he was reduced, Theodorus, one of the three ruffians that tormented him, in order to compel him to sign his own condemnation, and the resignation of his see, took his hand by force, and made him sign a cross upon a paper which he held. This he carried to Photius, who caused an act of his renunciation to be written over it. This paper Photius delivered to the emperor, who thereupon sent an order that Ignatius should be released, and suffered to retire to the palace of Posa, his mother’s house, where he enjoyed a little respite, and had an opportunity of drawing up a petition to the pope. It was signed by ten metropolitans, fifteen bishops, and an infinite number of priests and monks. Theognostus, a monk archimandrite of Rome, and abbot at Constantinople, was the bearer, and informed the pope of all that had passed.  4
  Photius not thinking himself yet secure, advised the emperor to cause Ignatius to read his condemnation in the Ambo or pulpit of the church of the apostles; then to have his eyes pulled out, and his hand cut off. On Whit-Sunday Ignatius saw his house on a sudden encompassed with soldiers; and made his escape only by putting on the poor secular clothes of a slave, and carrying a great pole upon his shoulders, to which two baskets were hung. In this disguise he went out in the night-time, being taken by the guards for a porter. He walked weeping, and lived a long time, sometimes in one island, sometimes in another; often changing his habitation, and concealing himself in caves, mountains, and desert places, where he subsisted on alms, being reduced to beg, though he was patriarch, and the son of an emperor. Photius and the emperor had caused strict search to be every where made for him, and the Drongarius, or admiral of the fleet, was sent with six light vessels in quest of him. All the islands in the Archipelago, and all the coasts were narrowly searched: Ignatius was often met by the soldiers, but was so disguised as never to be known. The Drongarius had orders to kill him upon the spot wherever he should be found. A terrible earthquake, which shook Constantinople for forty days together, terrified the citizens, who cried out that it was a just punishment for the persecution Ignatius suffered. The emperor and Bardas were both alarmed, and both swore publicly, and caused it to be proclaimed that no harm should be done to Ignatius, and that he might with safety return to his own monastery; which he did. The pope, after the return of his legates, and after he had received the acts of the pretended council, and the informations that were sent him, expressed great affliction for the prevarication of his legates, and disowned what they had done, declaring he gave them no commission for the deposition of Ignatius, or for the promotion of Photius. 3 In his answers to the emperor and Photius he strongly shows that Ignatius was the only rightful patriarch, and that Photius’s election was every way irregular, nor does he address him otherwise than as a layman. In that to the emperor he says: 4 “We have in our hands your letters, as well to Leo our predecessor as to us, whereby you gave testimony to the virtue of Ignatius, and the regularity of his ordination: and now you allege his having usurped the see by the secular power,” &c. At the same time the pope sent a third letter, directed to all the faithful in the East, wherein he condemned the prevarication of his legates who had acted against his orders; and, directing his words to the three patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, to the metropolitans and bishops, he says: “We enjoin and order you, by the apostolical authority, to have the same sentiments with us in regard to Ignatius and Photius; and to publish this letter in your diocesses, that it may be known to all men.” 5 Photius, than whom there never was a more daring impostor, suppressed the letter he had received, and forged another in the name of the pope, as if of a later date than the rest, in which he intimates the pope to be in his interest, and to charge Ignatius with having imposed upon him. Eustratus, who pretended to have brought this letter from Rome, was convicted of the cheat, and condemned by Bardas himself to be severely scourged, notwithstanding the pressing solicitations of Photius, who, for his recompence procured him an honourable and lucrative employment. It was afterwards affirmed that Photius had contrived this whole cheat. All this while he connived at the impiety of the emperor, who ridiculed the sacred ceremonies of religion, and mimicked them with the companions of his parties of debauchery. Photius assiduously made his court to the emperor, and ate at his table with these sacrilegious jesters. One of these buffoons called Theophilus, used to act the part of the patriarch, and others that of the rest of the clergy, in a ludicrous manner, which was condemned in the eighth general council. The emperor rallied Photius for his want of religion, saying: “Theophilus (the buffoon) is my patriarch, Photius is Cæsar’s patriarch, and Ignatius is the patriarch of the Christians.” The two wicked princes were soon after cut off like Baltassar. Bardas was put to death by the emperor for conspiring against his life, in 866.  5
  Photius having in vain courted the pope to draw him to his side, resolved at length to be revenged of him, and having exasperated the impious emperor against him, with his concurrence, held a council at Constantinople in the same year, 866, in which he presumed to pronounce sentence of deposition and excommunication against Pope Nicholas: this was the first origin of the Greek schism. Photius had only twenty-one bishops who joined him in this council; but forged false acts as if it had been œcumenical, adding false subscriptions, as of deputies from the other three eastern patriarchs, and of about a thousand bishops. What much exasperated Photius was, that the Bulgarians having been lately converted to the faith, the legates which Pope Nicholas had sent among them, rejected the chrism which Photius had consecrated and sent thither, and they made a new chrism to confirm as well the great men as the people of that nation. Photius, therefore, resolved to keep no longer any measures with the pope; but held this pretended synod against him; and when it was over, drew up a circular letter which he sent to the other Oriental patriarchs and chief bishops, in which he trumped up a general charge against the Latin church. 6 But he soon after lost both his protector and his usurped dignity. The emperor, who had slain his uncle Bardas on the 29th of April, in 866, immediately adopted and declared master of the offices, Basil the Macedonian, a soldier of fortune who had a great share in the death of Bardas. And as Michael wanted both application and capacity for business, and could not do without another to govern for him, he soon after associated this Basil with him in the empire, and had him crowned in the church of St. Sophia on the 26th of May. But seeking soon after to depose him again, he was murdered by his guards while he was drunk, in September, 867.  6
  The emperor Basil no sooner saw himself at liberty and master of affairs, but the very next day he banished Photius into the isle of Scepe, and honourably restored St. Ignatius; who was conducted with great pomp to the imperial city, and reinstated in the patriarchal chair on the 3rd of November in 867, after a banishment of nine years. If pride makes men haughty and insolent, or fond of themselves and of the esteem of others in prosperity, it leaves them pusillanimous, abject, and fawning in adversity. But he who is master of himself and his passions, is the same in all vicissitudes: his heart, under the steady influence of reason and virtue, is neither darkened with clouds, nor agitated by violent storms, but preserves itself in an even state of tranquillity by a noble firmness which it derives from an interior sentiment of religion. Such was the character of this saint, who appeared not less magnanimous in the greatest disgraces, than humble amidst honours and applause. Having recovered his dignity, he solicited the emperor and the pope that a general council might be called. This was held at Constantinople in the church of St. Sophia, in 869, and is called the eighth. The legates of Pope Adrian II. who had succeeded Nicholas in 867, presided. The council held by Photius was here condemned: that schismatic himself, after a long hearing, was excommunicated, and those who had adhered to him were, upon confessing their fault, admitted to penance. Nicetas relates, that among Photius’s archives, which the emperor had seized, were found in sacks sealed with lead, two books in purple covers, adorned with gold and silver, the inside being curiously written in fair characters, with marks that they might appear ancient when they should be found by posterity. In the one, were contained forged acts of a pretended council against Ignatius (which never was held), in the other was a synodal letter against Pope Nicholas, “both full of outrageous slanders and invectives. Photius was banished by the emperor; but, eight years after this, by drawing a pedigree of that prince from Tiridates, king of Armenia, and certain old Thracian heroes, he pleased his vanity, and prevailed to be allowed to return to Constantinople, and to abide in his palace of Magnaurus. St. Ignatius applied himself to his pastoral functions with so much prudence, charity, zeal, and vigilance, as showed his sanctity and experience were much improved by his sufferings. He died on the 23rd of October, in the year 878, being near fourscore years old. His body, inclosed in a wooden coffin, was carried to the church of St. Sophia, where the usual prayers were offered for his soul. It was then removed to St. Menna’s, where two women possessed by devils were delivered in the presence of these relics. They were deposited in the church of St. Michael, which he had built near the Bosphorus, not far from the city. Both Latins and Greeks keep his festival on the day of his death. See his life written by the elegant Nicetas David, bishop of Paphlagonia, afterwards of Constantinople, who knew him; also Zoneras, Cedrenus, the eighth tome of the councils, Nat. Alexander diss. 4, in sæc. 9 et 10; Le Quien, Or. Chr. in Ign. et Phot, t. 1, p. 246, and especially Baronius, with notes and amendments, in the new edition published by Veturini at Lucca.  7
Note 1. Ap. Baron. ad an. 859. [back]
Note 2. Conc. t. 8. p. 1266. 1512. [back]
Note 3. Nic. 1, Ep. 10 et 13. [back]
Note 4. Ib. ep. 5. [back]
Note 5. Nic. 1, ep 4. [back]
Note 6. Photius at first commended all the doctrine and discipline of the Latin church, as is evident from his confession of faith in his first synodal letter, which he wrote to Pope Nicholas seven years before this; where he said that each church ought to follow its own customs, assigning for instances the custom in the West of fasting on Saturdays, and that among the Greeks of permitting priests who were married before their ordination to keep their wives, which they had practised since their council in Trullo, or the Quinisext council, held in 692, or 707; though they never allow such persons to be made bishops, or any one to take a wife after he is engaged in priest’s orders.
  The points which Photius objected to the Latins, when, out of resentment, and because they would not be gained over to approve his crimes, he resolved to keep no measures with them, are such as make it evident he sought only to make a breach. In his circular letter, in 866, he accuses the Latins first of cutting off the first week in Lent, and of fasting on Saturdays, which the Greeks do not, and allowing in it the eating of milk, butter, and cheese: secondly, of refusing to admit to the priesthood married men, who had not by mutual free consent engaged to live continent: thirdly, of rejecting chrism consecrated by priests, and reserving that function to bishops: fourthly, of an error in faith by teaching, and professing in the Creed, that the Holy Ghost proceeds not from the Father alone, but from the Father and the Son. On this he chiefly enlarges, in a transport of fury, calling this doctrine the height of impiety. Most of the Greek schismatics, by denying the procession of the Holy Ghost jointly from the Father and the Son, have added heresy to their schism; yet, as the separation began by schism, this name has been chiefly applied to them.
  Upon the death of St. Ignatius, in 878, Photius with armed men took possession of the church of St. Sophia; and the Emperor Basil solicited Pope John VIII. to consent to his restauration, for the good of peace, and the reunion of men’s minds. The pope assented, on condition that he begged pardon for his past crimes in a synod. His legates presided in a numerous council held at Constantinople in 879, which Photius called the eighth general council. In it the pope’s letters to the emperor and Photius were read; but falsified by Photius, who had erased all his holiness said concerning Ignatius, and his injunction to Photius to ask pardon; which passages were supplied with high commendations of the emperor and Photius, and the condemnation of St. Ignatius’s council. In this synod the said council was condemned, and Photius restored, without complying with the conditions required. When Pope John was informed hereof, he disowned what his legates had done; and, going to the church, fulminated an excommunication against Photius, deposed his legates, and sent Marinus legate into the East, who strenuously maintained what had been done by Pope Nicholas, and by the eighth council against Photius. This Marinus, who succeeded John VIII. in the pontificate, and his successors, Adrian III. and Stephen V., condemned Photius. The letters of this last arrived in the East after the death of Basil the Macedonian in 886, and were delivered to his son and successor, Leo the Wise, who immediately turned out Photius, and banished him into a monastery in Armenia, where he died after having lived thirty years in schism. The Greek schismatics substitute this false synod for the eighth general council: to which some Protestants, with the learned Bishop Beveridge, in his edition of the canons of the Greek church, willingly subscribe; though the chief articles of Protestantism were as certainly condemned by the Greeks and their synods in that age as by the popes. Against the Iconoclasts no stronger decrees could be framed than those of Photius and of the Greek councils of that age.
  Photius’s extensive and profound learning, the fineness of his wit, and some degree of delicacy of style are conspicuous in his two hundred and forty-eight letters, translated by Bishop Montague, and printed at London in 1651; in his theological tracts, (published in the additional fifth tome of Canisius, and in F. Combefis’s last supplement to the Bibliotheca Patrum;) in his Nomocanon, which is an excellent methodical collection of the canons of councils, canonical epistles, and some imperial laws concerning ecclesiastical matters: but chiefly in his Library, in which work, without observing any method or order, either of matter or time, he has left us abstracts of two hundred and seventy-nine volumes of ancient authors of all kinds, many of which are not now extant. In the first part of this work he sets down only the general arguments, or heads of books, with most judicious censures upon the character and style of the writers. Towards the end, his abstracts are long, he omits choice reflections, and falls short in exactness. This was composed at the request of his brother Tarasius, when he was yet a layman, in a public employment in Assyria. It must, however, be owned that the style of Photius is not altogether clear from the faults of the age in which he lived. The Greeks, who wrote after Bardas Cæsar, had revived the taste of polite literature, (which wars and revolutions had impaired,) but did not come up to a classical smoothness and elegance. Their style is declamatory, diffusive, and full of studied or strained figures, which are like the irregular ornaments with which Gothic buildings are loaded, and which, to a true taste, appear monstrous or ridiculous, when compared with the beautiful simplicity of nature. This we may observe in the best Greek writers of that epoch: as in the works of the Emperor Leo the Wise, or the philosopher, who wrote panegyrics on St. Chrysostom and St. Nicholas, and sermons on the chief feasts, of which some are published by Combefis, (Auctar. Bibl. Patr.) Gretser, &c. Others are preserved in MS. in the Vatican and other libraries, with his precepts, riddles, (or mysterious sayings,) Constitutions and Tactics, or treatise on the manner of ranging an army in battalia. The same faults in a less degree depreciate the voluminous writings of this Leo’s son, the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogeneta, though most useful in giving us an exact knowledge of the geography and state of the Greek empire in the middle ages. Nevertheless, the style of Nicetas David in that age is very good, and free from those blemishes; neither are they very remarkable in that of Photius: but the Latin translation is very inaccurate, though it bears the name of the learned Jesuit F. Andrew Scot. A complete edition of all his works is much wanted, many, said to be useful, being only extant in MS. See Histoire de Photius, par le P. Ch. F. Paris, 1772, one vol. 12mo.
  After the expulsion of Photius, the harmony was restored between the Latin and Greek churches for seventy years; though in several instances the Greeks betrayed a rancour, and it appeared that the Latins were hated and slighted by them. In 1053, the great schism was renewed by Michael Cerularius, who founded his separation upon the most frivolous pretences and notorious slanders imaginable; but added, that if these objections were answered he would make a thousand others, which words show a resolution bent obstinately to form a schism at all rates. [back]