Post-classical history

Of Patriarchs and Plots


Not merely were they deluded into illegalities but, if there be any summit of error, to this they have raised themselves ... Who has ever heard such claims, bursting from the mouths of even the most abandoned, up to now? What tortuous serpent has belched his poison into their hearts?

Patriarch Photius, in a letter to the Eastern Patriarchs, summer 867

The combination of wise government at home and military successes abroad should - or so one might have thought - have been a recipe for a happy and harmonious state. But happiness and harmony were rare visitors to Byzantium, and among all the various creators of discord pride of place must go to the Christian Church. Diligent readers of this history will have no difficulty in citing occasions without number on which it was at least arguable that the Empire would have been better off had it remained pagan - had Julian the Apostate been right after all; and it is especially ironical that this time of spectacular upsurge in Byzantine fortunes should have coincided with the gravest crisis yet to arise in the unedifying story of relations between the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome.

The root of the trouble can be traced back to the death of the wise old Patriarch Methodius in 847 and his succession by Ignatius the eunuch, son of the deposed Emperor Michael I. Ignatius had other assets besides his imperial blood: in the darkest days of iconoclasm he had never wavered in his support for the holy images, and had made the monastery that he had founded on the island of Terebinthos - now Tavsan — in the Marmara a popular refuge for all who shared his views and who no longer felt safe in the capital. But where Methodius had been moderate and conciliatory in all his dealings with the former iconoclasts, Ignatius was a blinkered bigot who understood neither forgiveness nor compromise. He owed his promotion to the Empress alone, and did not even wait for the end of his own consecration in St Sophia before giving his colleagues a foretaste of what was in store. His victim on this occasion was Gregory Asbestas, Archbishop of Syracuse, leader of the moderate party and thus by definition the object of his vindictiveness. On some fabricated pretext he suddenly turned on Gregory in the middle of the service and ordered him out of the church. Nor was that the end of the affair: he continued his persecution of the unfortunate archbishop for the next six years, until finally in 853 Gregory was arraigned before a synod that had been overwhelmingly packed in the Patriarch's favour, deposed and excommunicated.

Gregory appealed to two successive Popes for reinstatement; but Ignatius, like all extreme iconodules, had always been a staunch upholder of papal supremacy and the Vatican had no wish to antagonize him. Meanwhile the former moderates had become most distinctly less so. United in their detestation of the Patriarch, they were determined somehow to get rid of him; and they were fortunate indeed to find, at the very moment that he was most needed, a stronger and more effective leader than Gregory could ever have been. His name was Photius. Though he could not, like his adversary, boast imperial descent, he too was an aristocrat and was connected to the Emperor — if somewhat tenuously - by marriage, his father's brother-in-law having married Theodora's sister. He could also claim to be the most learned scholar of his day, capable of running rings round Ignatius, whose mind was too narrow to encompass any but the simplest theological doctrines. In one particularly successful exercise in Patriarch-baiting he even went so far as to propound a new and deeply heretical theory that he had just thought up, according to which man possessed two separate souls, one liable to error, the other infallible. His own dazzling reputation as a scholar and intellectual ensured that he was taken seriously by many -including of course Ignatius - who should have known better, and after his doctrine had had its desired effect and made the Patriarch look thoroughly silly he cheerfully withdrew it. His friend Constantine — whose mission to the Slavs is soon to be described - is said to have reproached his old master for so deliberately corrupting the minds of the faithful; but Photius always maintained that he had done no serious harm. Nor had he: it is no bad thing for the pigeons to have the cat set among them from time to time. Photius was responsible for perhaps the only really satisfactory practical joke in the whole history of theology, and for that alone he deserves our gratitude.

For all his immense learning, however, he was not a churchman. He had chosen instead a political career in the imperial chancery, where his promotion had been predictably swift; and it was inevitable that when Bardas came to power Photius should soon become his closest friend and counsellor. To Patriarch Ignatius, few developments could have been more unwelcome. Any sensible man, however, wishing in such circumstances to protect his own position, would have kept a low profile and played his hand as discreetly as he could; it was entirely characteristic of Ignatius that he should have come out, fists flailing, to the attack. On the particular issue he chose he was, it must be admitted, on firm ground. Bardas had had the misfortune to fall in love with his own daughter-in-law, for whom he had abandoned his wife; and the ensuing scandal was, not surprisingly, the talk of Constantinople. Ignatius first administered a public rebuke; then, when Bardas took no notice, he excommunicated him and, on the Feast of the Epiphany 8j8, refused him the Sacrament.

It was a brave thing to do; but it was also disastrous. From that moment on, Bardas was watching for his opportunity to rid himself of the turbulent Patriarch once and for all. That opportunity came some months later when the Emperor - who had for some time been growing increasingly suspicious of his mother - finally decided to pack her off, together with his unmarried sisters, to the monastery of Karianos near Blachernae. To make doubly sure that they would remain there, he also resolved to have their heads shaved; but when he called upon Ignatius to perform the operation, he met with a point-blank refusal. Bardas had no difficulty in persuading Michael that this could mean only one thing: that Patriarch and Empress were in unholy alliance against him. Fortunately, too, an epileptic pretender named Gebeon made his appearance at about the same time, implausibly claiming to be the son of Theodora by a former marriage; it was the work of a moment to manufacture evidence that he also was receiving patriarchal support. On 23November Ignatius was put under arrest and banished, without trial, to his monastery on Terebinthos.

There was no question in Bardas's mind as to who his successor should be: Photius was the obvious candidate. Two obstacles, however, remained to be overcome. The first was that he was a layman; but that problem was easily solved. On 20 December he was tonsured; on the 21 st he was ordained lector; on the 22nd, subdeacon; on the 23 rd, deacon; on the 24th, priest; and on Christmas Day he was consecrated bishop by his friend Gregory Asbestas. His enthronement as Patriarch followed at once. The process may have been a trifle undignified, but there were plenty of precedents: Patriarch Tarasius - who had been Photius's uncle - and his successor Nicephorus had both acquired their ecclesiastical eminence in the same way. The second obstacle was more serious. No amount of pressure — and it was, we may be sure, considerable - would induce Ignatius to resign. Since the only other way of legally getting rid of him - canonical deposition by a Council of the Church - was manifestly impossible, the law would have to be set aside. Photius would occupy the patriarchal throne de facto; he could not hope to do so dejure, unless or until Ignatius changed his mind.

With his rival at least temporarily out of the way, he settled down to consolidate his position. His first step was to write to the Pope in Rome, giving official notice of his elevation. Such letters were usually little more than a formality, and received a formal reply; Pope Nicholas I, however, unlike the vast majority of his predecessors, took an active interest in the Eastern Church, over which he was determined to assert his authority. As a long-time member of the papal Curia he may well have been involved in the earlier correspondence with the Archbishop of Syracuse, and he had almost certainly heard of the events leading up to Photius's enthronement. Moreover, although the new Patriarch's letter was a model of tactful diplomacy, containing not one word against his predecessor, it was accompanied by another, ostensibly from the Emperor himself, in which Ignatius was said to have neglected his flock and to have been properly and canonically deposed — both of which claims the Pope rightly suspected of being untrue. He received the Byzantine legates with all due ceremony in S. Maria Maggiore and graciously accepted the presents they had brought with them;1 but he made it clear that he was not prepared to recognize Photius as Patriarch without further investigation. In his reply, therefore, he proposed a Council of inquiry, to be held the following year in Constantinople, to which he would send two commissioners who would report back personally to him. He also took the opportunity of reminding the Patriarch — and through him the Emperor himself - about the Sicilian

1 They included a golden paten set with precious stones, a golden chalice with jewels hanging from its rim by threads of gold, a gem-encrustcd golden shield and a gold-embroidered robe, featuring scenes from the Bible surrounded by a design of trees and roses.

and Calabrian bishoprics, the vicariate of Thessalonica and various other Balkan dioceses which in 732 had been removed by Leo III from the jurisdiction of Rome and placed under that of Constantinople;1 was it not time that they were returned to papal control? There was, of course, no overt suggestion of a quid pro quo; but the implication was clear enough.

In the high summer of the year 860, a year or so after Pope Nicholas had received the imperial envoys in Rome, the people of Constantinople underwent as terrifying an experience as any of them could ever remember. The Emperor and his uncle had recently set out with the army for another campaign against the Saracens when, suddenly and without warning on the afternoon of 18 June, a fleet of some 200 ships from the further reaches of the Black Sea appeared at the mouth of the Bosphorus and made its way slowly towards the city, plundering the wealthy monasteries that lined the banks, burning and pillaging every town and village it passed. Emerging at the southern end of the channel, some of the vessels continued into the Marmara to lay waste the Princes' Islands, while the majority cast anchor at the entrance to the Golden Horn. For the Byzantines it was their first true confrontation with a people whose future was over the centuries to be inextricably involved with their own: the Russians. Their leaders were, in all probability, not Slavs at all but Norsemen - warriors whose fathers had been part of that huge migration from Scandinavia which had begun towards the end of the eighth century and was to have a lasting impact on Europe, western Asia and even, ultimately, the New World. In about 830 they had established a principality or khaganate around the upper Volga; a quarter of a century later they were using that mighty river, together with the Dnieper and the Don, to carry their dreaded longships southward against the great trading cities of the Black Sea and the Caspian. With them came their Slav subjects, by whom they were soon to be completely absorbed: almost - but not quite - the last of the barbarian tribes to strike terror into the hearts of the citizens of Constantinople.

Individual Rus (as they called themselves) had been seen in the capital before - notably in 838-9, when a small group of them had arrived on an unspecified diplomatic mission to the court of Theophilus. There was, however, nothing diplomatic about the present occasion, and the

1 See Byzantium: The Early Centuries,

situation was made more serious still by the absence in Asia of the Emperor, his commander-in-chief and the bulk of his army. What happened at this point is not altogether clear;1 it seems virtually certain, however, that the Prefect Oryphas, who had been left in command of the capital, sent messengers after Michael to alert him to the emergency. He returned at once, but by the time he reached Constantinople the raiders had sailed back up the Bosphorus into the Black Sea and headed for their homes.

Why did they leave so soon? Photius, who preached two sermons on the raid — the first while it was still in progress, the second within a few days of the Russians' departure - paints a blood-curdling picture of the outrages and atrocities suffered by all who fell victim to the raiders, and ascribes the city's deliverance to the miraculous robe of the Virgin,2 its holiest relic, which was carried shoulder-high around the walls and provoked their immediate retreat. Other sources3 carry the supernatural element still further, claiming that the Patriarch dipped the robe in the sea, whereat there arose a dreadful tempest which dashed the Russian ships to pieces. This however seems highly unlikely, if only because had it been true Photius would surely have mentioned it. By far the most probable explanation is that the raiders, finding the city impregnable and having exhausted the possibilities of extra-mural plunder, simply decided to call it a day and return home.

Whatever the truth about the Russian withdrawal, there can be no doubt that the Patriarch emerged from the incident with his reputation if anything higher than before. His adversary Ignatius was less fortunate. Since his effective deposition he had suffered a degree of persecution that would have broken most men of his age. After some time on Terebinthos he had been removed to Hieria - site, ironically enough, of one of the most luxurious of imperial palaces — where he was lodged in a shed that had previously been occupied by goats. Sent back to the capital, he was then thrown into a prison in Promotos on the far side of the Golden Horn, where he was weighed down with heavy irons and subjected to such beatings that two of his teeth were knocked out. After a brief spell in another prison — that of the Numera, near the Palace - he

1 For the fullest discussion of the problems and probabilities, see C. Mango, The Homilies of Pbotius, Patriarch of Constantinople: English translation, introduction and commentary, Harvard, I9J8.

2 See p. 410.

3 The followers of Simeon Logothetes, including Leo Grammaticus, Theodosius Melitenus and others.

was transferred to the island of Lesbos (Mytilene) whence, six months later, he was allowed to return to his monastery. That, one might think, should have been enough; but now it was the turn of the Russians. Those of them who had sailed on to the Princes' Islands fell on Terebinthos with berserk fury, ravaging and plundering the monastic buildings and killing no less than twenty-two monks and domestic staff. Ignatius himself barely escaped with his life.

Predictably enough, the catastrophe was seen in Constantinople as a further sign of divine displeasure, and doubtless eliminated a number of Ignatius's remaining supporters. But it made no difference. The stubborn old eunuch held firm, resolved to accept whatever hardships, whatever ill-treatment his enemies might inflict upon him. His hour would come. Meanwhile he would bide his time - and would put his faith in Pope Nicholas, whose emissaries were confidently expected the following spring.

The papal commissioners, Zachary of Anagni and Rodoald of Porto, reached Constantinople in April 861. Whether or not they had been given firm instructions by the Pope, they can certainly have had no -doubts where his sympathies lay. From the moment of their arrival, however, they found themselves under formidable pressure from Photius; indeed, the first of the many presents that they were to receive -embroidered robes of unexampled richness — were delivered to them en route, before they had even completed their journey. Immediately they were swept up into a ceaseless round of Church ceremonies, receptions, banquets and entertainments of every kind, while the Patriarch himself remained constantly at their side, dazzling them with his erudition, captivating them with his charm. Their audiences with the Emperor, on the other hand, were distinctly less pleasant. He too treated them with perfect courtesy; but they were more than once reminded that their return home depended entirely on his benevolence towards them, and that a prolonged period of residence in a place celebrated for the voraciousness of its insect life might prove a most disagreeable alternative. Thus, by a judicious combination of bribery, cajolery and veiled threats, it was quickly made clear to Zachary and Rodoald which side they should support; and well before the Council held its opening session — just before Easter, in the Church of the Holy Apostles — Photius had satisfied himself that they would give no trouble. As for Ignatius, they were not allowed so much as to clap eyes on him until he was led into the church to give his evidence. His attempt to appear in full patriarchal regalia was unsuccessful, and it was in a simple monk's habit that he was obliged to listen while seventy-two witnesses testified that his former appointment was invalid, being due to the personal favour of the Empress Theodora rather than to any canonical election. At the close of the fourth session his deposition was confirmed by a formal document at the foot of which, prominent among the signatories, were the names of Zachary of Anagni and Rodoald of Porto.

Pope Nicholas, as might have been expected, was furious, and when the unfortunate prelates returned to Rome in the autumn he left them in no doubt of his displeasure. Their task, he reminded them, had been to discover the facts; they had no authority to appoint themselves judges. By exceeding their instructions in so unwarrantable a fashion they had not only been guilty of grave insubordination; they had betrayed the interests of the entire Church and had succumbed to Byzantine blandishments in a manner more in keeping with the ways of innocent children than with those of senior ecclesiastics. Worse still, they had done so without obtaining a single concession in return. If, as seemed likely, the Bulgar Kingdom was shortly to adopt Christianity it was of vital importance that the Illyrian bishoprics should return to the Roman obedience as soon as possible, and this would have been the perfect opportunity of ensuring that they did so. Had the wretched envoys even mentioned such a possibility in their conversations with Photius? They had not. They had allowed themselves to be made his dupes, and in doing so had shown themselves utterly unworthy of their rank and position. He would consider their futures later. Meanwhile they could go.

Trembling, they withdrew. But the Pope's anger was given no chance to abate; for there now arrived in Rome another delegation from Constantinople, bringing a full report of the proceedings of the Council together with a letter from Photius calculated to inflame his wrath still further. While remaining suavely polite throughout, it contained none of the expressions of reverence and respect appropriate in such communications. On the contrary, the Patriarch addressed the Pope as an equal, and although at no point did he specifically assert the independence of the see of Constantinople, such an assertion was implicit in every line. As for the disputed bishoprics, he pointed out that he himself would have asked nothing better than to see them returned to the authority of Rome; unfortunately this was a matter for the Emperor, and the Emperor did not at present consider the time ripe for any further changes.

By now it was clear to Nicholas that firm action must be taken; and his determination was strengthened by the sudden and unexpected appearance of a certain Theognostus who, apart from various high ecclesiastical distinctions - he was an archimandrite of the Roman Church, abbot of the monastery of Pegae, skeuophy/ax1 of St Sophia and Exarch of the monasteries of Constantinople - was also the senior and most vocal champion of the deposed Patriarch. Kept under close surveillance on the Emperor's orders, he had somehow managed to escape from the capital in disguise; and he now treated the Pope to a graphic account of the unfairness of the recent inquiry, the perfidy of the witnesses, the iniquity of Photius and his friends, the loyalty of Ignatius to Rome and, finally, all the tribulations that the old Patriarch had been called upon to endure. These, it appeared, had if anything increased in severity since the Council. In their efforts to force him into an abdication — not that this should have been any longer necessary - his tormentors had arrested him once again, subjected him to further repeated beatings, starved him for a fortnight and incarcerated him, naked except for a shirt, in the mortuary chapel of the Church of the Holy Apostles, where he had been stretched across what was left of the desecrated sarcophagus of the arch-iconoclast Constantine V, with heavy stones tied to his ankles. At last, when the poor man was barely conscious, a pen was thrust into his hand and guided to form a signature, above which Photius himself wrote an act of abdication.2

The Pope hesitated no longer. First he addressed an encyclical letter to the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, informing them that Ignatius had been illegally deposed and his place usurped by a base scoundrel, and calling upon them to do everything in their power to restore him to his rightful throne. (Since the sees of all three Patriarchs were now in Saracen hands, their chances of intervention were slim.) He then wrote to the Emperor and to Photius, setting out in no uncertain terms his own view of the matter and emphasizing once again the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff, without whose approval no Patriarch could assume or be deprived of office. When these letters remained unanswered he summoned a synod, which met at the Lateran in April 863. It divested Photius of all ecclesiastical status; declared him

1 Literally, Keeper of the Stores; but in fact a purely honorary title with no practical duties attached.

2 So, at least, avers the Vita Ignatii, but it is, like almost all works of hagiography, far too heavily biased in its subject's favour to be trustworthy.

excommunicate unless he immediately renounced all claims to the Patriarchate; pronounced a similar sentence on all other churchmen who owed their advancement to him; and restored Ignatius and all who had lost office in his cause to their former ranks and positions. Zachary of Anagni was condemned for his conduct at Constantinople and dismissed from his see. Surprisingly, no immediate action was taken against Rodoald.1

The Emperor and his Patriarch were no doubt intensely annoyed at the Pope's obduracy, but they were not unduly concerned. Michael in particular was in a bullish mood. The year 863 had proved, as we have seen, something of an annus mirabilis for Byzantine arms; and even in the field of religion there had been developments in the Balkan peninsula compared with which the whole Photian dispute must have seemed insignificant indeed.

The Slavs had constituted an unpleasant and unwelcome element in the Roman Empire ever since their first irruption into imperial territory in the sixth century; and the Russian raid of 860 had done little to increase their popularity with the Byzantines! Within another two years, however - at the very height of the quarrel between Patriarch Photius and Pope Nicholas I - there arrived a group of envoys from Rostislav, Prince of Moravia, on a very different mission. Their master, they explained, wished with all his subjects to embrace Christianity, but such Christian teachers as had previously come among them had all expounded contradictory doctrines. Would the Emperor therefore agree to send them trustworthy missionaries from whom the truth, and nothing but the truth, could be learned?

So, at least, runs the legend. There can be no question that the Moravians did indeed send a mission to Constantinople; it is unlikely, however, that their motives in sending it were quite as ingenuous as they are traditionally made out to be. Mass conversions of whole nations and peoples almost invariably have political undertones, and this was no exception to the rule. Rostislav was under severe pressure from the Franks beyond bis north-western border and when, early in 862, the Frankish King Lewis2 concluded a treaty of alliance with the Bulgar

1 At it turned out, the Bishop of Porto was also to receive his come-uppance, but at a later synod held in November 864.

2 The Emperor Lewis I (the Pious) had divided the Western Empire between his three sons. The youngest was Lewis, sumamed 'the German', who had been made King of the Eastern Franks.

Khan Boris, he found himself in desperate need of a strong ally. It seems virtually certain, therefore, that the main object of his mission was to alert the Byzantine Emperor to the dangers facing the peninsula and to persuade him, before it was too late, to take up arms against his Bulgar neighbours. His proposed adoption of Christianity - and Orthodox Christianity at that - was merely an additional inducement, particularly since it seemed likely that Boris might at any moment announce a mass conversion of his own people, and in such an event would almost certainly lead them into the Roman fold.

Patriarch Photius was not the man to let slip so golden an opportunity. Here was the prospect not only of spreading the Gospel among the heathen, but of extending the influence of Orthodoxy to the far northwest. Here too - still more satisfactory in the present circumstances - was a chance of striking a major blow at the Papacy, for he was fully aware of Nicholas's anxiety that all newly-converted Balkan peoples should be subject to papal authority. He had, moreover, a perfect candidate for the job: a monk from Thessalonica whose baptismal name was Constantine, but who is generally known to posterity by the Slavonic name of Cyril that he was to adopt on his deathbed a few years later. This young man - he was still only thirty-five - had attracted attention from an early age by his erudition and saintly character, with which he combined a remarkable flair for languages. Brought by Theoctistus to Constantinople, he had pursued his studies under Photius himself, who had been so impressed by him that he had made him his librarian. Subsequently Cyril had undertaken a mission to the Khazars, to whom he had preached in their own tongue and among whom he had made a number of conversions, gaining such favour with their ruler as to obtain the release of some 2,000 Christian prisoners.

Where military intervention was concerned, the Emperor Michael was initially unenthusiastic. On the eastern front his armies were scoring one success after another, and he was reluctant to interrupt this unprecedented succession of victories in favour of a distinctly more problematical campaign in the West. But he saw too — or, if he did not, Photius would have been quick to persuade him - that to allow Lewis a free hand in the Balkans would be to invite disaster. Several regiments were summoned back to Constantinople; meanwhile the fleet, most of which had been lying idle during the eastern campaigns, made ready for war. In the summer of 863 it sailed up the Bosphorus into the Black Sea and dropped anchor off the Bulgarian coast. At the same time the Emperor advanced across the frontier at the head of his army.

He could not have chosen a better moment. The Bulgar forces were away in the north, drawn up along the Moravian border, while the south was in the grip of the most severe famine of the century. Boris saw at once that resistance was impossible, and sent envoys to Michael to ask his terms. They proved simple enough: the Khan must give up his alliance with the Franks and adopt Christianity according to the Orthodox rite. Boris agreed with almost unseemly haste. In September 86j he travelled to Constantinople, where he was baptized into the Christian faith by the Patriarch in St Sophia and took the name of Michael, the Emperor himself standing sponsor at the font.

Meanwhile, in the spring of the previous year, Cyril had set off on his Moravian mission - accompanied by his brother Methodius, almost as well qualified as himself for the task that lay ahead. During an early career in government service he had been posted to a province with a largely Slav population, and he too had learned their language. Later, deciding on a life of contemplation, he had retired to a monastery on the Bithynian Mount Olympus; but when his brother invited him to share the burden of his new mission he had readily agreed to join him. The pair left Constantinople - as nearly as we can deduce — in the early summer of 864, and remained in Moravia for over three years. According to an ancient tradition, Cyril now invented a new alphabet with which to transcribe the hitherto unwritten Slavonic speech, and then proceeded to translate the Bible and parts of the liturgy. Oddly enough, however, the language he chose was Macedonian Slavonic - only distantly related to the Slovakian dialect spoken by the Moravians, few of whom could have understood a word of it; it therefore seems a good deal more likely that he had devised his alphabet with the Bulgars rather than the Moravians in mind, and that he later simply made his translations into the only Slav language he knew.1

In such circumstances, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Moravian experiment was to have extremely disappointing results. It remains true none the less that by providing the Slav peoples with an alphabet tailor-made, as it were, to the phonetic peculiarities of their various tongues, Cyril laid the foundations for their literary development;

1 It was long believed that the alphabet invented by Cyril was not the modern Cyrillic - as used by the Russians, Serbs, Bulgars and various other races today embraced by the Soviet Union - but another, far more ungainly and long fallen into disuse, known as the Glagolitic. This theory, however, seems no longer tenable. See Appendix IX to Sir Steven Runciman's A History of the First Bulgarian Empire, and the article 'St Cyril Really Knew Hebrew' by E. H. Minns, in Melange publie's en l’homeurr de M. Paul Boyer, Paris, 192;.

and it is perhaps for this benefaction, as much as for his and his brother's achievements in the missionary field, that the two scholar-saints are remembered and revered today.

In August 865 Pope Nicholas received a letter from the Byzantine Emperor. For three years the controversy had hung fire: three years during which Michael's successes in Bulgaria - political, military and religious - had made him more arrogant than ever. The two papal legates, he now pointed out, could consider themselves extremely fortunate to have been permitted even to attend a synod called to settle an internal problem which was no concern of theirs; but they were of no serious importance. The real responsibility for the quarrel lay with slanderers and trouble-makers like Theognostus, who were busy spreading their venom all over Rome. These men must be extradited forthwith and returned to Constantinople. If the Pope were to refuse, the Emperor himself would come to Rome and fetch them.

Nicholas, replying, gave as good as he got. He confined himself to a single major issue - the supremacy of Rome. There could be no question about this, and certainly no alternative: only twenty years before, had not both the Emperors and the Patriarchs of Constantinople been iconoclast heretics? Any council not authorized by the Pope was an illegal council, its actions automatically null and void. As for Theognostus and his friends, they were at liberty to remain at the papal court for as long as they wished. He himself would make one concession, and one only: if the two rival Patriarchs were to come to Rome and present themselves before him he would once more consider their respective claims. That was as far as he would go.

It is unlikely that Michael ever intended to carry out his threat, which was probably little more than a stylistic flourish to lend force to his arguments; but we shall never know for certain, owing to an unexpected development which put an entirely new complexion on the controversy, obliging Photius at least - for the Emperor, by now a hopeless alcoholic, was spending the greater part of the day in a drunken stupor - to take it far more seriously than he had done before. The Bulgar Khan, less than a year after his conversion, was growing dangerously restive. Suddenly he had found his Kingdom overrun with Greek and Armenian priests, more often than not at loggerheads with each other over abstruse points of doctrine incomprehensible to his bewildered subjects, most of whom had been perfectly happy in their former paganism and were far from pleased to discover that they were expected not only to take instruction from these unwelcome and discordant strangers but to feed and lodge them as well. And there was something else. The magnificent ceremony of his own baptism by Photius in St Sophia had impressed him deeply, and he now wished to have similar ceremonies performed among - and by - his own people. He had accordingly written to Constantinople asking for the appointment of a Bulgarian Patriarch.

It was at this point that Photius made perhaps the most disastrous miscalculation of his life. Determined to keep the Bulgarian Church firmly under his own control, he not only refused the request but dismissed it out of hand. Boris - in the interests of clarity he must keep his pagan name - had also mentioned various small points of Orthodox doctrine and social custom which in one way or another conflicted with local traditions, suggesting that if the latter could be permitted to continue much of the popular resistance to the new faith might be overcome; some of his proposals were rejected, the rest were simply ignored. The Khan was furious. He was happy to be the Emperor's godson, but he had no intention of being made his vassal. Fully aware of the state of affairs existing between Rome and Constantinople and the consequent possibility of playing one off against the other, in the summer of 866 he sent a delegation to Pope Nicholas with a list of all the points that Photius had so insultingly dismissed, adding a number of new ones for good measure and requesting the Pope's views on each.

For Nicholas, this was the chance he had been waiting for. At once he dispatched two more bishops - Paul of Populonia and Rodoald's successor Formosus of Porto - to the Bulgarian court as his own personal legates. They carried with them a remarkable document in which he gave thoughtful and meticulous answers to every one of the 106 items in Boris's questionnaire - showing consideration for all local susceptibilities, making all possible concessions that were not actually contrary to canon law and, where these could not be granted, explaining the reasons for his refusal. Trousers, he agreed, could certainly be worn, by men and women alike; turbans too, excepting only in church. When the Byzantines maintained that it was unlawful to wash on Wednesdays and Fridays, they were talking nonsense; nor was there any cause to abstain from milk or cheese during Lent. All pagan superstitions, on the other hand, must be strictly forbidden, as must the accepted Greek practice of divination by the random opening of the Bible. Bigamy, too, was out.

The Bulgars were disappointed about the bigamy, but on the whole more than satisfied with the Pope's answers and - perhaps equally important - by the obvious trouble that he had taken over them. Boris at once swore perpetual allegiance to St Peter and, with every sign of relief, expelled all Orthodox missionaries from his Kingdom; Paul and Formosus settled down to a year of almost constant preaching and baptizing, and were soon joined by a whole supplementary team of bishops and priests, by whom the good work was carried on.

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