Grumel on Dvornik

February 16, 2011

Because, in a recent discussion on this blog, a question arose concerning Francis Dvornik’s interpretation of the history of St. Photius, I am here presenting a translation of a review of Dvornik’s book The Photian Schism: History and Legend by Venance Grumel, himself a notable Photian scholar. The review originally appeared in the Revue des études byzantines, vol. 10 (1952), pp. 282-283; I found the text on-line yesterday at the French site Persée, a very useful site which I had not known of previously.

Dvornik (Fr.), The Photian Schism. History and Legend. Cambridge, University Press, 1948. In-8°, xiv-504 pages. Le schisme de Photius, Histoire et Légende, Paris, Les Éditions du Cerf, 1950. In-8°, 662 pages (Unam Sanctam XIX).

The author of this book had already distinguished himself by a most remarkable thesis, Les Slaves, Byzance et Rome au IXe siècle (Paris 1926). A later work, Les Légendes de Constantin et de Méthode vues de Byzance (Prague 1933), laid particular stress upon ninth-century Byzantine and Slavic history and the history of the two great missionaries. It was in the course of this, in treating of these missionaries’ relations with Photius, that Dvornik first brought up the Photian question. He has not ceased investigating this problem; one calls to mind his article published in Byzantion, “Une mystification historique: le second schisme de Photius,”[1] which was followed by many others bearing upon the same topic. What we are presented with in this new book is the outcome of much patient research. The book was long-awaited. Although ready by 1940 to appear in French and to take its place in one of the series of volumes organized by Henri Grégoire, it was delayed by the German invasion. The author brought his manuscript with him to London. It was there translated into English, and it appeared first of all in that language before finally being published in its original language at Paris.

The work is the fruit of extensive research and of a thoroughgoing labor of reflection, aimed at taking up again the Photian problem and thinking through it in a new way. The author’s erudition is considerable. One immediately evident testimony to this is the lengthy list of sources unearthed, of works examined, even of manuscripts consulted.

The author’s conclusions are well known. He hypothesized that the trial of Photius rested upon fake evidence, that Photius was someone misunderstood by historians, an object of slander, and that it was necessary to rehabilitate him. It is this hypothesis which he has endeavored to transform into a positive thesis and an historical certainty.

While recognizing that Photius is not as sinister as he has been depicted in the past, one may well ask oneself whether the author has not gone too far in the contrary direction. The dissertation maintains throughout a tone of special pleading which, in the end, harms the case it means to demonstrate. When one finds that, on every occasion, in every doubtful case, and even in those cases where evidence to the contrary is not wholly lacking, the interpretation given is the one that favors the hero, without any weight placed on the opposite scale, one is left with the impression of a unilateral vision of events, an impression that the proper middle viewpoint has not yet been found. It is not possible in a simple book review to enter very far into the points which demand discussion. I will merely take note here of the most important points upon which the author is far from having given a sufficient demonstration.

The first concerns the origin of the conflict; the author is absolutely unwilling to see Photius as responsible for it. I fail to understand how one can refuse to recognize the cause of the conflict in Photius’s ordination by Gregory Asbestas, the bishop deposed by Ignatius — still less, how one can conceive of presenting this affront as an act of moderation, something which is genuinely hard to swallow. The second point concerns the declaration concerning the Creed, a subject that has engaged my attention more than once.[2] I am indeed informed [in this book] that my proof of that declaration’s inauthenticity is inconclusive, but this has not been shown, and, moreover, no notice is taken of the article which appeared in this journal in 1947, in which I returned to this subject[3]; I would refer the author to it, awaiting his response. I ought nevertheless to reply to the new argument which I did not know of at the time I wrote that article, namely, the testimony of the patriarch Euthymius. It would certainly be a most telling point if the person in question were Euthymius I; but the manuscript is from the fifteenth century, and there is no reason to reject the possibility of an attribution to Euthymius II — quite the contrary, as I shall show hereafter.[4] It must be said that such a possibility seems not to have occurred to Dvornik.

The third and most important question is that which concerns the Eighth Ecumenical Council. Dvornik thinks he can prove that it was abrogated by John VIII. To this end, he makes use of documents transmitted by Yves of Chartres, not taking account of the fact that these fragments originated at the Photian council where the papal documents had been altered. He makes use also of the Western juridical tradition according to which the ecumenicity of this council did not appear until the end of the eleventh century. One should not forget that this council of 869, which produced no definition of faith, was convened solely to decide on matters relating to persons and that, after the Photian question had been settled at the council of 879, there was no reason to bring it up again, and the peace of the Church demanded that it not be. But between this and an abrogation there is quite a stretch. Furthermore, the complete letter from Pope Stephen I to Emperor Basil I (which we presented at the International Congresses of Byzantine Studies of Paris and of Bruxelles) shows clearly that no pope, up to Stephen’s time, had annulled the acts of the Eighth Council.

I shall leave aside, for the time being, the other points which are of lesser importance.

In spite of the disagreements which separate me from Francis Dvornik, I highly appreciate the value of his book, which I consider the most important work on the Photian schism to have appeared since Hergenröther and as essential reading for anyone who wishes to study this great historical problem.

* * *

[1] Byzantion, 8 (1933), 301-325.

[2] One article Grumel may be referring to is his “Le «Filioque» au Concile photien de 879-880 et le témoignage de Michel d’Anchialos,” Échos d’Orient 29 (1930), 257-264; another, perhaps, is his “Y eut-il un second schisme de Photius?” Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 22 (1933), 432-457.

[3] A reference to V. Grumel, “Photius et l’addition du Filioque au symbole de Nicée-Constantinople,” REB 5 (1947), 218-234.

[4] Euthymius I served as Patriarch of Constantinople from the year 908 to 911; Euthymius II, from 1410 to 1416. I do not know to which later study Grumel is here referring.

5 Responses to “Grumel on Dvornik”

  1. Michaël de Verteuil Says:

    The most astonishing thing to me is that until recently quite a few Catholic scholars actually came around to treating Dvornik’s thesis as the last word on this subject. It’s as if all critical faculties had been suspended for a syllogism that seems to run:

    1. Dvornik is Catholic;
    2. Dvornik says good things about the previously reviled “Orthodox” Photius;
    3. Ergo, since it goes against both grain and expectations, Dvornik’s portrayal of Photius must be true and impartial.

    And yet any secular historian with merely a passing familiarity with the period and subject matter would see, just from reading Dvornik’s work alone and checking no other sources, that it is shot through with what the reviewer quite rightly describes as “special pleading.” On these grounds alone, Dvornik did a great disservice to the scholarly credibility of Catholic historiography; but the greater offense was committed by the gullible “scholars” who lapped it all up so uncritically.

  2. William Tighe Says:

    I remember, but not well enough to recollect in detail and reproduce, a long verbal critique of *The Photian Schism* with which the late Fra Cyril Toumanoff, a onetime Professor of History at Georgetown University and later a Knight of Malta a the Casa dei Cavallieri di Malta in Rome, regaled me at a long leisurely supper we had together in Rome, either in 1981 or 1985. I do remember, though, that part of the critique dealt with the (bad and inconclusive, according to Fra Cyril) evidence of the abrogation of the 869 Eighth Council by John VIII.

  3. seraphim Says:

    You forgot to add that The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit is not the work of St. Photios! Don’t let him get away so easily!

  4. I suppose it is best to say that Photios is not the man that either side would like to think he was. But of course, the same could be said of someone like Cyril of Alexandria.

  5. Nick Says:

    I have heard people like Perry Robinson mention a council that was held AFTER the 869 council that condemned Photius, and he holds this later council up as the Church’s definitive stand that repealed 869 and even officially overturned Papal authority.

    I’ve eagerly sought information on this second council, but have never been able to track down anything more than a sentence or two here and there. Does anybody know where the decree of this council is to be found and any history on it?

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