Constantinople IV (879/880): Catholic and Protestant Historical Amnesia

Regarding the Filioque, the council of both Eastern and Western represenatives wrote,

“Jointly sanctifying and preserving intact the venerable and divine teaching of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which has been established in the bosom of our mind, with unhesitating resolve and purity of faith, as well as the sacred ordinances and canonical stipulations of his holy disciples and Apostles with an unwavering judgement, and indeed, those Seven holy and ecumenical Synods which were directed by the inspiration of the one and the same Holy Spirit and effected the preaching, and jointly guarding with a most honest and unshakeable resolve the canonical institutions invulnerable and unfalsified, we expel those who removed themselves from the Church, and embrace and regard worthy of receiving those of the same faith or teachers of orthodoxy to whom honor and sacred respect is due as they themselves ordered. Thus, having in mind and declaring all these things, we embrace with mind and tongue and declare to all people with a loud voice the Horos (Rule) of the most pure faith of the Christians which has come down to us from above through the Fathers, subtracting nothing, adding nothing, falsifying nothing; for subtraction and addition, when no heresy is stirred up by the ingenious fabrications of the evil one, introduces disapprobation of those who are exempt from blame and inexcusable assault on the Fathers. As for the act of changing with falsified words the Horoi (Rules, Boundaries) of the Fathers is much worse that the previous one. Therefore, this holy and ecumenical Synod embracing whole-heartedly and declaring with divine desire and straightness of mind, and establishing and erecting on it the firm edifice of salvation, thus we think and loudly proclaim this message to all:

“I believe in One God, Father Almighty, … and in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God… and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord … who proceeds from the Father… [the whole Creed is cited here]

Thus we think, in this confession of faith we were we baptized, through this one the word of truth proved that every heresy is broken to pieces and canceled out. We enroll as brothers and fathers and coheirs of the heavenly city those who think thus. If anyone, however, dares to rewrite and call Rule of Faith some other exposition besides that of the sacred Symbol which has been spread abroad from above by our blessed and holy Fathers even as far as ourselves, and to snatch the authority of the confession of those divine men and impose on it his own invented phrases and put this forth as a common lesson to the faithful or to those who return from some kind of heresy, and display the audacity to falsify completely the antiquity of this sacred and venerable Horos (Rule) with illegitimate words, or additions, or subtractions, such a person should, according to the vote of the holy and Ecumenical Synods, which has been already acclaimed before us, be subjected to complete defrocking if he happens to be one of the clergymen, or be sent away with an anathema if he happens to be one of the lay people.”

After this, the bishops declared,

“Thus we think, thus we believe, into this confession were we baptized and became worthy to enter the priestly orders. We regard, therefore, as enemies of God and of the truth those who think differently as compared to this. If one dares to rewrite another Symbol besides this one, or add to it, or subtract from it, or to remove anything from it, and to display the audacity to call it a Rule, he will be condemned and thrown out of the Christian Confession. For to subtract from, or to add to, the holy and consubstantial and undivided Trinity shows that the confession we have always had to this day is imperfect. It condemns the Apostolic Tradition and the doctrine of the Fathers. If one, then having come to such a point of mindlessness as to dare do what we have said above, and set forth another Symbol and call it a Rule, or to add to or subtract from the one which has been handed down to us by the first great, holy and Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea, let him be Anathema.”

Pope John VIII’s Commonitorium or Mandatum ch. 10, which was read by the papal legates at the third Session of the same Council: “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 minutes at this point add: “The Holy Synod responded: We have denounced this by our actions and we eject it from the archives and anathematize the so-called [Eighth] Synod, being united to Photios our Most Holy Patriarch. We also anathematize those who fail to eject what was written or said against him by the aforementioned by yourselves, the so-called [Eighth] Synod.”

For more see:
Fr. George Dion Dragas’ essay


  1. If I were a bettin’ man, I would say that this is the epicenter of the Great Schism. The whole Undivided Church agrees on the decisions of 879/880, then Rome goes against it, then we have schism. So much for supposed conspiracy theories.


  2. Not only does Rome go against the Council, but long after the deliberation and acceptance of it. Worse yet, we now have contradictory theses. So, which Roman bishop should we accept as authoritative? John VIII or the later Roman Catholic canonists?


  3. To Michael Liccione over at

    The point of rejecting modification of the creed is that it can’t be modified with truths without deforming the truths contained therein and without implying that the faith of the council fathers was deficient. That is, modification of the creed implies a development of doctrine and that is what is being rejected in 880.

    Secondly, for supposedly being disciplinary only, the council’s decision certainly seems to have a lot of theological content. In fact they take the “disciplinary” matter to be theological. Moreover, the bishops, which included the papal legates, indicate that to profess other than the Creed is heretical, and this implies that to profess the Filioque is heretical. “We regard, therefore, as enemies of God and of the truth those who think differently as compared to this.”

    Moreover, the flavor of the council’s decision, along with the papal correspondence from John 8th reads like a theological matter, for not only were Photios’ patriarchal claims vindicated, but also his claims regarding the filioque which is why it was removed and why the Pope erected the two shields in Greek and Latin so that everyone would know the proper creed. It certainly doesn’t read like any of the canons about the various order of patriarchial sees or who can, if anyone, cohabitate with clergy, etc.

    If I am not mistaken, either Ephesus or Chalcedon or both decree that from that time forward, the Creed is unchangeable and perfect. One can only revoke Con 4’s statement by revoking Ephesus/Chalcedon. So my question is this, if Con 4 can be later revoked by Papal rights, why can’t Ephesus and Chalcedon also be revoked? On the Roman theory, can ecumenical councils with papal ratification be revoked at a later time? If so, why doesn’t the revocation of Con 4 therefore imply a revocation of Ephesus/Chalcedon on the unalterability of the Creed?

    Citing that the Creed was modified by Constantinople I seems like a red herring, for it was only after that council that the Creed was decreed by the Pope and ecumenical councils to be unchangeable.

    As for “perfect” language, I would argue that Michael Liccione’s gloss depends on his theory of ADS. For on the Eastern view, language may not be able to exhaust what God is, but this doesn’t imply that language about God qua energies can’t be “perfect.” And what is more, the whole church, including the Papacy declared the language to be “perfect” and “inspired by the Holy Spirit” just as the Apostles were so inspired in their preaching. That tradition goes as far back to Ephesus/Chalcedon. That seems to therefore be very strong grounds for declaring someone excommunicate for thinking that the Creed was “imperfect.” What has happened to the Roman concern for obeying authority of the church here?
    Per John 8th’s correspondence, it certainly reads as if he takes the alteration of the Creed to be a matter of faith. Why else go to all of the trouble to correct the Franks, to their embarrassment, by removing it and erecting the two shields in the Pope’s own church? Why such a public act for a “disciplinary” issue? The weight of actions of John 8th seem far too heavy for a “disciplinary issue.”


  4. This reminds me of the way in which the Jews tried to disparage the Septuagint after the Christians were using it against them to support their messianic claims.

    And another thing, its not like the council did not have in mind what Rome might have done, and subsequently did do, when the horus was drawn up in the first place.


  5. Liccione wrote, “Yet for reasons I’ve given before, I still think that was a bad move. Rome would have done better to work out the issue with the East over time instead of using it in a manner that only acclerated the mutual drift toward schism.”

    But isn’t that exactly what WAS done in 879? Wasn’t the issue worked out then? Unless of course “work out” for Liccione means work with the East to accept the Filioque. If that is the case, one wonders why Rome put its foot down in 880 or reversed itself later.

    The fact that it was “worked out” with the East in 880 explais why the Easterners thought that Rome caused the schism, because Rome changed and rejected 880. Certainly if the papal theory were true, the attitude of the East SHOULD have been something like “Well, it is only a disciplinary issue, and Rome isn’t bound by disciplines and so we should go along with it.”

    At that late of a date, if the Papal theory were true, the East should have known about it.


  6. Gentleman:

    I think Perry’s comment just above this one exhibits the main issue neatly. He writes: …if the papal theory were true, the attitude of the East SHOULD have been something like “Well, it is only a disciplinary issue, and Rome isn’t bound by disciplines and so we should go along with it.” I would change that only by substituting “…claims are…” for “…theory were…” That’s because I’m Catholic, not Orthodox. 😉 But there are a few red herrings to dispose of too.

    Regardless of how some Orthodox choose to construe Rome’s signing on in 879, one cannot deductively infer from the acta as written that Rome then, thus, or ever taught that the filioque is false. All one can legitimately infer is that Pope John agreed with Patriarch Photius that putting it into the Creed would constitute deforming the Creed in virtue of implying that the Creed of 381 was “imperfect” as used in the liturgy. Why do I say “the liturgy”? Well, Chalcedon had produced its own creed; it just forbade changing the creed used in the liturgy, i.e., the Creed of 381. So I don’t think it even remotely plausible to suggest, as Daniel does, that the truths expressed the Creed of 381 would have been deformed by adding any truth of faith that all parties accepted as such. That holds even though we all know quite well that Photius rejected and execrated the filioque.

    That it has never occurred to the Orthodox to condemn the Creed of Chalcedon, and rightly so, shows why, from the Catholic standpoint, this issue is primarily about the authority of the pope to change his mind about important questions of liturgy, and thus of discipline. It would have been a abrogation of the acta of 879 for the papacy to have introduced into the liturgical Creed any change, even one the Orthodox would have agreed is a truth. But there is another, even general consideration too: the development of doctrine.

    The doctrine of the papacy as it now stands in the Catholic Church is certainly a development, as was the filioque back in the first millennium. In discussing such matters with Orthodox folk, the question that intrigues me is this: do you guys think that one can assess the legitimacy of doctrinal developments independently of settling the particular question of authority? If so, why and how? If not, why not?


  7. “Do you guys think that one can assess the legitimacy of doctrinal developments independently of settling the particular question of authority?”

    Yes we believe that we can, because we have two very specific examples to follow here: St. Irenaeus of Lyons and St. Vincent of Lerins. Both men interact with the two movements of Hellenization. The first Gnostic system by the former and the 2nd “Augustinian” Gnosticism by the latter which became the interpretive grid which to read the Fathers.

    I would say that both of those men would be a paradigm of evaluating theological claims: both pressupose the recapitulational view of Christ and Ecclesiastical History. Your view requires reading back all kinds of anachronisms into documents that aren’t there.

    “So I don’t think it even remotely plausible to suggest, as Daniel does, that the truths expressed the Creed of 381 would have been deformed by adding any truth of faith that all parties accepted as such.”

    No, that’s not right. What I meant was that the Creed could be added to if it was done conciliary, if it was left to be open. That issue changed with Const I, Ephesus, and Chalcedon who closed any additions to the Creed. Const IV then reinforced this decision in the strongest terms. Can you give exegesis of the council that doesn’t do violence to the texts? That’s what we’d like to see.

    There is simply no higher authority, besides Christ himself, than an Ecumenical Council. I’d be interested to hear of at least one Bishop at Nicea who believed in anything remotely like papal infallibility.

    “That holds even though we all know quite well that Photius rejected and execrated the filioque.”

    He did more than this, he indicted this teaching as the great metaphysical sum of all heresy. The ‘relations of opposition’ implying Semi-Sabellianism and Polytheism, the “of” equals “from” argument implying Nestorianism and Origenism, and the ‘development of doctrine’ theory implying Gnosticism: old terms and phrases are given new meanings.

    “That it has never occurred to the Orthodox to condemn the Creed of Chalcedon.”

    That’s because Chalcedon did not produce a “creed.” It was a commentary on THE Creed, as was the 6th Ecumenical Council.



  8. Daniel:

    You assert, as is only natural for an Orthodox, that “there is simply no higher authority, besides Christ himself, than an Ecumenical Council.” If that is true, then my position is indefensible. But as I said at the beginning of my previous post, if the papal claims are true, then what we may infer is what Perry says. So let’s not just beg that question.

    Your discussion of doctrinal development is more interesting. I agree that Irenaeus of Lyons and Vincent of Lerins did what you say. But whether or not what they did is sufficient unto itself, or whether it is compatible with the development of the doctrine of the papacy, is another matter. Indeed, it is a matter of opinion. For that very reason, I do not think that appeals to such methods will do as a way of settling issues of doctrinal development definitively for the Church.

    As for the “commentary” of Chalcedon and your remaks thereon, I have a question: how, if Chalcedon had decided to augment the Creed of 381 with its “commentary”—which was more than a commentary, it was a profession of faith—as Constantinople had augmented the Apostles’ Creed, how would that have “deformed” the Creed?


  9. “So let’s not just beg that question.”

    Each side can claim that their opponent is begging the question. So what’s a tertium quid? Of course, one of us will be more likely to propose such a middle way based on Trinitarian models and methods.

    “For that very reason, I do not think that appeals to such methods will do as a way of settling issues of doctrinal development definitively for the Church.”

    What do you find as being insufficent about a recapitulational model of understanding history?



  10. Daniel:

    To answer your question, such a model does not tell us what a sound and successful application of it would be. Absent an account such criteria, its use can and does illuminate. But it doesn’t settle any dogmatic questions; thus, it doesn’t tell us that illuminating certain things with a recapitulational model rules out the papal claims in particular or a Catholic understanding of doctrinal development in general.

    It would interest me to think and write about how to use a recapitulational model to defend such Catholic idea. But the only people who would be interested either don’t need to hear it or wouldn’t agree with it. Sort of like the efforts of various Catholic theologians to answer objections to the filioque! 😉



  11. Mike,

    I think this shows how different we are. From our perspective, the recapitulational model is the only guarantee of theological truth and was and is the only conqueror of heresy. Any other method confesses another *Way, Truth, and Life* and is neither completely christian nor completely pagan. This might be rhetorical, but it is the program and mantra of this blog. Whether or not one’s model is successful depends on their faithfulness to that model.



  12. Michael,

    You admit that the papacy is a development, but the acceptance of this development as true is based on the development itself. The authority of the Pope of Rome is the basis for deeming the development of the authority of the Pope of Rome is true. No one else viewed this development in the same way as Rome did of herself, and no one else is allowed a valid opinion by this development.

    The great sin leading up to the Schism was the lack of regular contact with each other. Rome was not able to see clearly how she was regarded by the rest of the Church, and the East was never able to see how Rome regarded herself based on her authority as The Apostolic See, the only one in the West, unlike the hundreds of apostolic sees in the East. It reminds me of my days in LA where stars (friends of mine) began to believe their own PR due to being surrounded by yes-men and leeches – a good example is the recent meltdown of Tom Cruise.

    That being said, I always enjoy your well-thought our and clearly stated views on Roman Catholicism. Thank you.


  13. Daniel:

    I think the idea of recapitulation is true, and the recapitulational model is theologically very important. But it is neither self-interpreting nor self-applying. That’s why it cannot be used just by itself to settle any of our disagreements.


    I agree with you about “the great sin” leading up to the schism, but I’m not sure that an equally great sin could have been averted by regular contact. Shoulda-woulda-coulda is just too easy.

    I do not, however, agree with you that “the acceptance of [the papal] development as true is based on the development itself.” Certainly, if the Catholic doctrine of the papacy is true, then it is self-verifying. But that obviously doesn’t take us very far because it doesn’t tell us why we should entertain the possibility of its truth in the first place. Certainly such reasoning doesn’t accurately reflect the kind of thinking typical of converts to Catholicism, such as Newman. There are better reasons than that.

    At the end of the day, of course, no amount of scholarly disputation can compel the assent of faith to any dogma, that of the papacy included. It’s all a matter of what gestalt one finds more illuminating. As I’ve said many times and in many ways at Pontifications, I find the Catholic model of ecclesiastical authority more illuminating than the Orthodox in a variety of respects. I hope to have dispelled enough misunderstandings of it on your part to show why.



  14. A lot of your explanations of my misunderstandings on the papacy seem to narrow the scope of what “infallibility” means to almost nothing. One wonders why it is then even stated, when it seems no one knows when it is “really” used and when it obviously so scandlizes every single non-RC in the world.

    Then again, these are all matters of faith.


  15. Dear Photios,

    You mention a “recapitulational model of understanding history” and clearly consider this to be decisive in discerning correct or incorrect developments in our understanding of the doctrine we have received “once for all” (Jude 3). I am a newcomer to this blog, and trained according to Western modes of thinking. Where can I go and read up on this recapitulational model, or can you explain it to me in a brief post? I have been trying for years to discern which development (East or West) was more according to the will of Christ our God, and your concept sounds vitally important as a benchmark of authentic discernment.

    Thanks also for the references to the 880 Council and St. Photios.



  16. By the way, Photios, I have read the thread for June 9th, The Pathway to Truth, but I am unsure how one *applies* the concept of recapitulation to development of doctrine or even to the Filioque question.


  17. Also by the way, in the thread “Taylor Marshall Swims to Rome” in Pontifications, you never answered Diane’s question about the “reception by all the faithful” being the criterion for authenticity in Orthodoxy. If not reception by the faithful, then what is the criterion of authenticity? I am not a Roman Catholic and am asking this question in all honesty.


  18. Michael R,

    There are a number of conditions, many of them agreed to by Rome as well as to the what makes a council ecumenical.

    The call has to be open. participation has to be free from compulsion. Civil authorities cannot vote, adjudicate or otherwise direct the conversations. It has to be a council of bishops. The major patriarchates have to be involed either in person, legate or letter. There are others, but I think these are enough to get you off the ground.


  19. Many thanks, Perry Robinson!

    Can you tell me how the concept of recapitulation is applied to a doctrinal issue? Perhaps an example?


  20. Michael,

    What it means is that any theological model that doesn’t start with the person of Christ as its paradigm and presupposition is on its face, false. A perfect example is in the Western disputes on predestination. Why didn’t any of those theologians consider the operations of the Person of Christ and His mode of activity as a way to consider their anthropological problems since Christ is consubstantial with all of us?

    This also means that we have a certain order, not necessarily some ontological priority, but a type of order in which we ask questions in solving a certain theological problem. This means starting with the absolutely unique, irrepeatable, and irreducible. This is the christian doctrine of hypostasis, which can never be given a philosophical definition either of individuation of form and matter or tapestries of ‘relations,’ since none of these things are absolutely and truly unique.

    I’ll say more when I can find some time…



  21. I am wondering if the Papal theoryis self applying or not. It seems in light of the council of Constance that it isn’t.


  22. History is fairly clear that, during the 9th century struggles for control of the papacy between the Old Roman (Greco-Roman) Aristocracy and the Newly Ascendant Germanic potentates, Rome stayed with the Eastern understanding of the 8th Council, accordingly expressed the Creed sans filioque, and accounted the 8th Council as meaningful domgatic declaration against the Augstinian Germanic theology arising in the Barbarian West.

    But, once Germanic and Cluniac control over the papacy was established, the Far-Western Augustinian innovations took control in Rome, the filioque came in, and the 8th Council was quietly ignored. The schism was cemented by the subsequent papal ratification of the Fourth Crusade by setting up a parallel hierarchy (which continues to exist in Uniatism.)

    Hence, the real schism was and is motivated by Frankish/Germanic philetism (racism). Augustine was THE barbarian father (he knew Greek; he just didn’t exercise that capacity) of Franko-Gernamic Christianity. And, Karl the Barbarin and the subsequent “Holy Roman Empire” [what an joke] didn’t need any prissy (civilized) Greeks (actually Romans) telling them anythng.

    The stand-off is intractible. Is a racial thing — the descendants of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire versus those of the Byzantine Commonwealth. The former has dogmatized Augustine’s fundamental error that God is “ispe esse,” thereby creating a Rationalistic Gnostic near-Christian idol, and it won’t let go come hell or high water.



  23. Is it correct that the 879/880 Council also decreed that the pope of Rome had no jurisdiction in the East, though he did have primacy?


  24. As a Protestant who is in search of regaining his memory, I’m curious about some things. I had thought that Eastern Orthodox tradition only accepted seven ecumenical councils. I think I read that by Timothy Ware. Is this an eighth ecumenical council? If so, what is the general Orthodox perception of it? Is it regarded as ecumenical in the same sense as the other previous councils? Or if it is different could you explain how and why it is? Although I did say that I am Protestant I should say that I tend to agree with the Eastern view on both the filioque and on their rejection of original guilt. So please treat these questions as a thoroughly interested inquiry. Thanks!


  25. This is very valuable information. Please, where can we find this material? I need some primary sources of this as well as the letter the Pope sent to Patriarch Photios. (And is there an English translation of it anywhere, as I don’t know Latin?)

    Thank you!



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