Eighth Ecumenical Council - Differing Roman Catholic and Orthodox perspectives

I’ve been researching the Great Schism for a bit, and the fact that the RCC and EOC recognize two different “8th ecumenical councils” is particularly interesting. There was a council in 869-70 AD, in which Photios was condemned and Ignatius I was confirmed as the legitimate Patriarch of Constantinople; today Catholics accept this as an ecumenical council. In 879-80, there was another council, which reversed the first and declared Photios the lawful Patriarch. The Orthodox hold this council as ecumenical, and declare the previous one to be a “robber council.”

Anyways, to get to the point, while I was doing some reading on orthodoxwiki.org, I came across this article. In it, the claim is made that the Catholic Church (particularly the Pope) originally recognized the second council as ecumenical, but it was later “repudiated by Rome in the 11th century, retroactively regarding the robber council of 869-870 to be ecumenical.” However, the Catholic Encyclopedia on newadvent.com (in their article “Photius of Constantinople”) makes the opposite claim: “The legates, like their predecessors in 861, agreed to everything the majority desired (Mansi, XVII, 374 sq.). As soon as they had returned to Rome, Photius sent the Acts to the pope for his confirmation. Instead John, naturally, again excommunicated him.

So basically, I’d like to know if anyone has any additional evidence to support either of these claims. I’m especially interested in hearing from any Orthodox Christians on here as to why they support the second council and not the first :slight_smile: Thanks!

From the letter of Pope John VIII to the Council of 879-80

“We [Pope John VIII] wish that it is declared before the Synod, that the Synod which took place against the aforementioned Patriarch Photios at the time of Hadrian, the Most holy Pope in Rome, and [the Synod] in Constantinople [869/70] should be ostracized from this present moment and be regarded as annulled and groundless, and should not be co-enumerated with any other holy Synods.”


The reference is in the footnotes from the article. I recommend you take the time to read the entire piece.

As to Pope John excommunicating St Photios, there are conflicting reports. Metropolitan Kallistos says that it has been proven by Dr Francis Dvornik in his book The Photian Schism that it never happened.

Until recently it was thought that there was a second ‘Photian schism’, but Dr Dvornik has proved with devastating conclusiveness that this second schism is a myth: in Photius’ later period of office (877-86) communion between Constantinople and the Papacy remained unbroken.

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, pg 56

See HERE for the Catholic perspective. Scroll down to Photius and Caerularius for greater detail.

Excerpts below:

Ignatius was the rightful bishop without any question; he had reigned peaceably for eleven years. Then he refused Communion to a man guilty of open incest (857). But that man was the regent Bardas, so the Government professed to depose Ignatius and intruded Photius into his see. Pope Nicholas I had no quarrel against the Eastern Church; he had no quarrel against the Byzantine see. He stood out for the rights of the lawful bishop. Both Ignatius and Photius had formally appealed to him. It was only when Photius found that he had lost his case that he and the Government preferred schism to submission (867). It is even doubtful how far this time there was any general Eastern schism at all. In the council that restored Ignatius (869) the other patriarchs declared that they had at once accepted the pope’s former verdict.

Certainly from the time of Photius hatred and scorn of Latins was an inheritance of the mass of the Byzantine clergy. How deeply rooted and far-spread it was, is shown by the absolutely gratuitous outburst 150 years later under Michael Caerularius (1043-58). For this time there was not even the shadow of a pretext. No one had disputed Caerularius’s right as patriarch; the pope had not interfered with him in any way at all. And suddenly in 1053 he sends off a declaration of war, then shuts up the Latin churches at Constantinople, hurls a string of wild accusations, and shows in every possible way that he wants a schism, apparently for the mere pleasure of not being in communion with the West. He got his wish. After a series of wanton aggressions, unparalleled in church history, after he had begun by striking the pope’s name from his diptychs, the Roman legates excommunicated him (16 July, 1054). But still there was no idea of a general excommunication of the Byzantine Church, still less of all the East. The legates carefully provided against that in their Bull. They acknowledged that the emperor (Constantine IX, who was excessively annoyed at the whole quarrel), the Senate, and the majority of the inhabitants of the city were “most pious and orthodox”. They excommunicated Caerularius, Leo of Achrida, and their adherents.

Very good article…

FTR, no council is listed with the dates 879-80 in Latin Catholic records, but that does not mean that there was no council at that time.

Year: 869
Summary: The Fourth General Council of Constantinople, under Pope Adrian II and Emperor Basil numbering 102 bishops, 3 papal legates, and 4 patriarchs, consigned to the flames the Acts of an irregular council (conciliabulum) brought together by Photius against Pope Nicholas and Ignatius the legitimate Patriarch of Constantinople; it condemned Photius who had unlawfully seized the patriarchal dignity. The Photian Schism, however, triumphed in the Greek Church, and no other general council took place in the East.

based on what criteria?

It was listed until the 11th century. You only need to look through the old records as historians like Dvornik have done.

Have you read this article and related links?


Dear Friends,

Catholic and Orthodox theologians engage in the ecumenical commissions between their two Churches tend to see the issue of the 8th Ecumenical Council as something that both sides could agree on upon reunion.

That St Photios died in union with Rome - of this there cannot be any question and previous Western perspectives were coloured by a former imperative to single out the Patriarch as the “bad guy” who caused the schism that has persisted ever since - Dvornik showed conclusively that nothing could be further from the truth.

I believe it is time for both sides to lay down their respective excommunicative hatchets and come to a mutual understanding of this time period in the Church’s history.


And all time periods. And a mutual understanding that is rigoroulsy true.

Let’s start the letter of the Pope to the 879 council. Can we agree that there is serious doubt - even Dvornik - of the authenticity of this document?

Then Prodromos says:

[The 879 council] was listed until the 11th century. You only need to look through the old records as historians like Dvornik have done

This claim surprises me in light of other writings by Dvornik. Is there really a paper trail (if so, please list the documents) - or is there an argument from silence? And what do we make of the letter of Stephen V to the Emperor Basil I? thebananarepublican1.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/dvornik-photian-schism-book-review-by-grumel/

My own.

See dvdjs above…

Remember the whole “Priory of Scion” debacle as one instance…

Catholic websites are so lame.Check out goarch.org, acrod.org , oca.org, ocf.org

My old post


He is wrong in stating that the Constantinople council of 879 is “Constantinople IV”

What the Catholic Church called “the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople” or “Constantinople IV,” which is the eight ecumenical council, was held on 869.

The Constantinople Council of 879 is a different council. And Orthodox would like to think that this is the eight ecumenical council and that this council annulled the one held at 869.

The reason/explanation behind this is very complex.

Here it goes: When Photius went bad the pope, John VIII, sent legates to Constantinople. A council was held there and Photius was condemned along with his errors [which he promulgated on a council in 867]. THIS IS “THE FOURTH ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE” OR “CONSTANTINOPLE IV.” Now after the council, Ignatius was reinstated as Patriach. A few years later Ignatius died. To cut long story short [and an interesting story it is] Photius was then installed as the Patriach. The legates reported this to the Pope. The legates were also sent to ask the emperor’s favor for Rome was in danger. Beside reporting about the new patriach, the legates also report that the emperor was sympathetic to Rome (eventually he sent army). The Pope was in a good mood and hope that by acknowledging Photius all will ends well. All censure against Photius was removed. Then on 879 Photius asked the pope to send legates for another council, which he said will clear up matter. …


Story A: In that council Photius repeated his all accusation against the Latin. Including the filioque. He also wanted Bulgaria back to Byzantine (there’s a long story about this, it’s enough to say that both Rome and Constantinople wanted Bulagria). The legates were pressured and bribed. They yield. Photius sent the act of this council to Rome. John VIII re-excommunicated Photius.

Story B: During the Constantinople Council of 879, “Photius was now all that any pope could desire” (say +Philip Hughes). He promised to repent and back off from Bulgaria. About the filioque, he diplomatically sidestepped it. The legates crowned him with a handsome vestment complimentary from the Pope.

Catholic Historian Father Francis Dvornik wrote books building his case for story B. He says that the source of Story A are documents forged by anti-Photius party [the remnant of pro-Ignatius party who hated Photius with a passion]. He goes on to cite many other letter to support his case (I got a headache reading his books on google.books). Naturally, many Orthodox loves him and they will point out times and times how that is now the Catholic position.

But the point is the Church today recognizes the 869 as the ecumenical one, not the 879. So, as far as infallibility of the Church goes, 869 is the ecumenical one.

“So, what about his comment about flipping +400 years later?”

Well, Orthodox would like to believe that before 1100, Rome recognizes 879 as the ecumenical one. Only after that did Rome switch position and consider the 869 one as ecumenical. Well, to make long answer short, they’re wrong.[/list]

To be continue below

Here’s the rest,

Also read Dr. Philip Blosser:


My hunch is that such misinformation [the Orthodox opinion that Rome got it wrong on the 8th ecumenical council] stems from the incestuous reliance of Anti-Western Orthodox writers exclusively on schalarship slanted to their cause, in this case, even reliance upon the otherwise excellent pioneering work of Francis Dvornic, which is highly problematic in certain respects, as well as those who have relied on his tendentious assumptions (such as Meijer, Phidas, Siamakis, etc.).


The ecumenical status of the Fourth Council of Constantinople of 869-870 has long been contested by the Anti-Western Orthodox. During the ecumenically-charged milieu leading up to and following the Second Vatican Council, many Roman Catholic scholars and ecumenists, eager to mend relations with their Eastern Orthodox brethren, have been back-pedaling and down-playing their former criticisms of Photius, amending and revising their accounts of the Photian Schism. In this process, some further details have been brought to light, but in some instances earlier details have been obfiscated and covered over. One of the most prominent Catholic scholars during this period has been Francis Dvornik (or Dvornic), whose books, The Photian Schism: History and Legend (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948; rpt. 1970) and Byzantium and the Roman Primacy (New York: Fordham University Press, 1966; rpt. 1979) have been viewed by Anti-Western Orthodox scholars as having come a significant way towards accommodating some of their interpretations. To their delight, Dvornik accepts, for example, their claim that the belief that the successors of John VIII–Marinus I, Stephen V, and Formosus–had broken with Photius is a legendary invention. It must be conceded, in fact, that Photius did die in communion with Rome. Dvornik’s claim that Photius never actually questioned Roman primacy seems well-attested. However, the notion that the ecumenical status of the Fourth Council of Constantinople in 869-870 is fundamentally compromised by the acts of the Photian Council of 879-880 cannot be seriously maintained. First, the matter is ultimately a question of authority, and whether the matter was immediately settled in the ninth century or not is in the final analysis irrelevant. Second, the Council claimed for itself an ecumenical status by calling itself the universalis octava synodus; and it had at least the necessary geographical characteristics because of the authority of all the heads of the Church who were either present or represented.

Was it recognized as ecumenical by the Holy See? Three facts are certain and incontestable. First, Adrian II had already approved it in his letter of Nov. 10, 871, as well as in his letter to the faithful of Salerno and Amalfi in 875; and John VIII called it sancta octava synodus, thereby formally recognizing its ecumenical status. Second, the Council has been listed among the ecumenical councils recognized by the Roman Catholic Church since the beginning of the 12th century. Third, the Byzantine Church itself accepted the Council as ecumenical until the Photian Synod of 879-880, which is thought to have abrogated its Acts; and those portions of the Byzantine Church that reunited with Rome since that time have considered it as ecumenical.

The crux of debate is reducible to the question whether Pope John VIII, by means of his supreme power of binding and loosing, actually annulled the acts of the Council of 869-870, thus depriving it of ecumenical status. This is of course what is claimed by Anti-Western Orthodox scholars, who have a curious (if convenient) interest at this point in the Roman primacy of John VIII. The answer is affirmative if the Greek text of the last two sessions of the Photian Synod are considered authentic, which may be doubted, not least because of Photius’s history of altering the letters sent to him, to the Emperor Basil, and to the Byzantine Church by Pope John VIII, before having them read at the Photian Synod of 879-880. The answer is negative if takes into consideration other documents, such as the letter of Pope Stephen V to Emperor Basil I in 885-886. This letter states, in fact, that 20 years after the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870), Photius was still trying to have it annulled, a step that would be inexplicable if prior to this time John VIII had already taken the initiative in this matter.

While ecumenically-minded scholars such as Dvornik have written irenically in support of the thesis of abrogation by John VIII, others such as Venance Grumel and Martin Jugie have defended the thesis of non-abrogation and ecumenicity of the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870) as the Eighth Ecumenical Council of the Church. Ultimately, however, the issue is one of ecclesiastical authority, in testimony of which stands the record of decrees of the Holy See.[/list]

Also read this important review of Fr. Dvornik work by another Catholic historian, Fr. Venance Grumel (Catholic). While commending Fr. Dvornik’s work, Fr. Grumel highlight some flaws.

I stopped reading at “When Photius went bad”.

Wow, I’m glad to have you to tell me that:rolleyes: I guess this forum is lame too:rolleyes:
God Bless, Pakesh

It seems that Saint Photios, devout Catholic that he was, is still the one people like to kick around for their own polemical reasons.

Dear Friends,

Really, we can attack or praise Fr. Francis Dvornik and other Catholic scholars who agree with him and come to the same conclusions.

The point is that these matters can come to a mutally-agreed upon conclusion at a future union Council between Rome and Orthodoxy.

Until then, Roman Catholic writers are free to attack at will. But what would the point be? Unless both Churches agree to repent of previous attitudes toward each other, division will continue to reign supreme, period.

Triumphalism should be a thing of the past.


Grumel simply highlights some points of personal disagreement with Fr. Dvornik - as all scholars like to do.

He STILL underlines the importance and far-reaching implications of Fr. Dvornik’s encyclopedic work.

Certain Latin Catholics may not like those implications, but ecumenical historical reflections do tend to challenge fondly held assumptions.

That’s what it’s supposed to do!


I may not be near as knowledgeable about this subject as the lot of you are. I’ve read about Photios here and there, but I can’t remember a lot without looking it all up again. As far as your post, I’m inclined to agree. I can’t comment on the statement “devout Catholic”, but in my mind, if Photios died in Communion with the Western Church, what’s ultimately the issue:confused:
Also, the fact he’s venerated by Eastern Catholics (I can picture his Icon in the local Melkite Catholic Church near me) just makes the controversy around him more puzzling. There was bad blood and politics on both sides during his time it seems.
God Bless, Pakesh

The point will be, that if Catholics grant Orthodox’s assertion that we got it wrong on the eight ecumenical council, that means that we are wrong on a DOGMATIC FACT. Thus the gates of hell hath prevailed.

It’s not about triumphalism. Let’s not be so easily offended.

Certain Latin Catholics may not like those implications, but ecumenical historical reflections do tend to challenge fondly held assumptions.

That’s what it’s supposed to do!


Because if they (historian) doesn’t challenge fondly held assumptions, then their work is bland, plain, un-cool. This mentality leads to the chaos that is modern Catholic Church. Based on this mentality theologians challenge every traditional teachings, thus modernism was born.

I’m just saying.

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