Bekkos on Photius’s motives
November 3, 2007
John Bekkos, De pace ecclesiastica. Translated from the Greek text in V. Laurent and J. Darrouzès, eds., Dossier Grec de l’Union de Lyon (1273-1277) (Paris 1976), pp. 435-437.
As for the historical account, to speak of it concisely, the course of events went like this. The patriarchal throne was adorned by Ignatius, a man who had attained to such a state of holiness that, to this day, his memory is celebrated in the Church according to the dignity allotted to those who have been well-pleasing unto God. Photius had his eyes on the throne; but, although he was a man of eminent culture and not ignoble with respect to wisdom, still, he did not do well to thrust off him who sat upon the throne, and to install himself there. Ignatius refers an account of the violent act to Pope Nicholas, who at that time adorned the apostolic see. There followed the requisite defense of the wronged party by the holy defender, a defense of which the saint surely was in need. A letter came to Photius enjoining that he restore to the victimized man his honor and his see. The letter provokes Photius’s anger — and why wouldn’t it, since it did not allow him free enjoyment of the things he coveted? — he conceives a grudge against the Roman Church, but, nevertheless, he does not yet allow the birthpang to break forth, but he still holds the wicked embryo of dissention in his belly; and, while he remains suspended with hopes, he takes counsel with himself in this way: either, if he should attain his desires’ object, to let his heart’s embryo die unformed; otherwise, if he should fail of this, to let the baby loose and bring forth the offspring of strife unto the manifest division of the Churches — which in fact took place, to the destruction, alas! of our nation and our sovereignty.
For after he had sent Pope Nicholas his epistolary greetings, and had seen that the latter’s lionlike stance against injustice was not weakened by foxy stratagems, Photius roused himself to make a defense; and, since he had no means of defending himself before this pope who so troubled him — for what means had he to take action against the pope’s own person, when he could offer not the slightest resistence because of the immense distance? — he conceives a mutual war between the two Churches and kindles an unflagging conflict between them. And how was this to be done? Knowing that the Italians’ addition of a word to the Creed had taken place quite some time before, as the letter of the great Maximus to the priest Marinus of Cyprus testifies, and knowing, furthermore, all the other customs, adapted to their own society, wherein they appear to differ from us, and tacitly accepting all these things, not, perhaps, out of any generosity towards the Romans, but simply because it was right — if indeed it was right for him to follow in the steps of all those who, before him, welcomed peace with the Romans — after the outbreak of animosities (or rather, of this God-loathed mania, to give it its more proper name), he trots out all these matters as so many legal infractions, and, lumping them all together into a single, composite portrayal, by means of a circular letter he posts up this said, composite portrayal like a poster in the eyes of the churches throughout the civilized world.