History question

Does anyone know the date when the Byzantine Emperors started appointing the Patriarchs of Constantinople?

This might seem a bit of a arcane topic, but the question has arisen here on Cyprus, since the Pope Benedict XVI’s visit this summer (2010).:slight_smile:

Christianity wasn’t legal until around the time that the Roman Emperor transferred the Capitol of the Roman Empire to Byzantium so it would have to have been later than that.

Why would the Church would hand over the authority to appoint a Patriarch to the Roman/Byzantine Emperor in the first place? I don’t think that the Church ever did do that, do you?

Historically, in the early church the local synods appointed their own bishops and Metropolitans. The bishop of Rome, elected by his own synod, was not generally involved in episcopal appointments except as Metropolitan in central Italy.

Thus, such great luminaries as Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Saint Vincent of Lerins and Saint Augustine of Hippo were elected by the local synods of those places. This system lasted for several centuries.

Later, when pagan kings converted to Christianity, they (as first citizens and father of their countries :wink: ) tended to use their influence one way or another (one might call it bullying) to get bishops appointed whom they liked, or could work with. It isn’t clear how exactly this process developed in each area, but generally in Christian/Catholic countries the kings did start to plant their own men in church offices and this gave them and their successors effective control. So yes, Roman emperors did name Patriarchs of Constantinople but I don’t know when we can say it began.

Charlemagne and his successors controlled the appointments of bishops in his realm, which at the time was the lion’s share and core of western Christendom (considering the Moors had reached the Pyrenees and had taken Sicily too, while the North lands were still pagan in attack mode).

This phenomena of royal appointments happened to the Papacy as well.

The Roman emperors, either from Constantinople or Ravenna, appointed some Popes (which partly explains the “ten Greek Popes”), the Holy Roman emperors did the same in a later era, and there was a period when an interesting character named Theophylact controlled the appointments. During periods in between sometimes the great families of Italy contested for the Papacy.

This was just one of those ‘crosses’ the church had to bear.

Thanks for your answer. I definitely think an emperor (who is merely a military general) does not have the spiritual or legal right to appoint bishops/patriarchs/popes.

The fact that history does not record the first time a patriarch was appointed, might indicate some subterfuge was involved within the Byzantine Empire. It might also be just one more reason why the Schism took place in the 11th century.

If anyone has particular names of emperors who began this custom–please post!

Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio!


It is interesting that you are on Cyprus.

An ecumenical Council has stated very clearly that the church on that island is not to be controlled by any outside prelate. No Patriarch nor Pope (nor any king) has any right to appoint bishops to that country. That is reserved to the local synod as in the ancient church east and west.

Subterfuge in the Holy Roman empire (France - Germany - Austria) as well. Subterfuge in Italy as well.

Considering the bishops of the west were appointed by kings of the west, and bishops of the east were appointed by kings of the east, I would say there is a fair chance of that being a largely political problem.

After all, for lack of a better date, 1054 AD is often given. That year Cardinal Huberto and Cardinal Frederic went east and excommunicated the eastern Catholic Churches. This trip had a political agenda, the Cardinals were initially proposing an alliance between the Byzantine emperor and the Pope against the Normans (who were being dangerous renegades at this period, threatening Rome and, btw, appointing bishops). Somehow that political/military mission failed, and the patriarch of Constantinople (but not any other eastern Patriarchs) was excommunicated before they left.

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