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7-08-2015, 20:56

From the second council of nicaea (787) to the synodikon of orthodoxy (843)

The switch in imperial religious policy was the work of Irene and ofTarasios, the patriarch whom she had chosen after the death of his predecessor, Paul IV. Formerly head of the imperial chancellery (pr¯otasekr¯etis), on Christmas Day 784 Tarasios was elevated from layman to the patriarchal throne – a step frowned upon by Pope Hadrian I, as the Lateran council had banned this type of episcopal election.160 Irene and Tarasios sought to give their new policy a solemnity comparable to that of the council of Hieria by calling an ecumenical council, and they gained the support of the pope, who sent two legates.However, this abrupt change in position did not go unopposed. The council first assembled on 1August 786 in the church of theHolyApostles in Constantinople, but was dispersed by soldiers of the tagmata – the schools and excubitors – who had the backing of several of the bishops taking part.161 This did not discourage the empress. That autumn she tricked the soldiers of the tagmata into dispersing, by sending them to Asia Minor in response to an alleged Arab attack. She then had them disarmed, and reconstituted the City units with soldiers taken from the thematic army corps.162 Tarasios, for his part, disarmed episcopal opposition; his first, novel, strategy was to invite the monks – possibly a group opposed to the bishops – to participate in the council, while allowing the bishops to keep their posts only on condition that the most notorious iconoclasts among them made a public admission of error. He also passed off two eastern monks as official envoys from the patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria, so as to justify the council’s claim to ecumenical status.163 Finally, it was not in Constantinople but at Nicaea – a place full of symbolism for Christendom – that the 365 bishops and 132 monks assembled from 11 September to 1 October 787, and declared the making and venerating of religious images an article of faith.164 Christological arguments were abandoned in favour of other, less substantial ones, or even for unproven affirmations: the antiquity of icons and their cult; the impossibility of idolatry – necessarily pagan – after the coming of Christ; insistence on the incarnation of Christ, which rendered acceptable representation of that which had been seen; dismissal of the charge of idolatry by virtue of the name inscribed on the icon. The council’s ruling that icons should receive proskyn¯esis, after thirty years’ prohibition as idolatry, was not accepted as easily as iconodule propaganda would have us believe. The Libri Carolini mention civil war, and many of our early ninth-century sources – which are admittedly iconodule – deplore the number of people, clergymen included, who remained convinced iconoclasts, even if they stopped short of considering Constantine V a saint.165 During the reign ofMichael I (811–13), Theophanes’ Chronicle mentions the heretics known as Athinganoi in Phrygia – probably the successors of the Montanists whose forced conversion under Leo III had failed – as well as the Paulicians. The latter had been active in the region of the Pontus since the end of the seventh century and under Theophilos and especially under Michael III, they became a military threat to the empire on the borders with the caliphate.166 They were persecuted at the instigation of Patriarch Nikephoros, who pressed for capital punishment for them as well as for iconoclast abbots. Religious policy changed again in 815 when Leo V (813–20), raised to the throne to save the empire, reinstated iconoclasm.Much like Leo III before him, he was unable to convince his patriarch, who was sent into exile. The change in policy was formalised by a provincial council assembled after Easter by the new patriarch, Theodotos Kassiteras; Theodotos was of the Melissenoi family and, like his predecessor, was a layman promoted overnight to the patriarchal throne. Hieria was re-established and the second council of Nicaea overturned. The cult of icons was forbidden, but this new iconoclasm was less intransigent: there was no longer any question of idols or idolatry, and images which were not actively venerated, for example those suspended high up, were permitted. New emphasis was laid on the argument that, since man is made in the image of God, any additional material image is superfluous.167 In its preliminary stages between Christmas 814 and Easter 815, this new position initially met with staunch opposition from the patriarch, Nikephoros; from the bishops who had supported Tarasios or who had been trained by him, such as Euthymios of Sardis,Michael of Synada and Theophylact ofNikomedeia; and from many monks who had received their instruction during the iconodule interval. Foremost among the rebellious clergymen was Theodore, head of the great Constantinopolitan monastery of Stoudios. Theodore had already distinguished himself by his intransigence both to imperial power and to the patriarch, notably when Tarasios acceded to Constantine VI’s second marriage. Theodore went into exile for a second time in 815, and was followed by other bishops and abbots who rejected the return to iconoclasm, notably Theophanes the Confessor,Makarios of Pelekete and Niketas ofMedikion from Bithynia. This generation of anti-iconoclasts is well known, for it was celebrated in numerous saints’ Lives.168 Nevertheless, they were kept on the sidelines and iconoclasm remained the religious law of the empire under Michael II – who continued Leo V’s policies, despite arranging his murder – and Theophilos. Michael II recalled those who had been exiled, but did not restore them to their positions, and the persecution under Theophilos, denounced in the hagiographic texts, seems to have been motivated more by political than by religious considerations.169 Theophilos’ death when his son was barely two years old brought about a final change in religious policy, less well documented than the earlier ones. Yet again the patriarch was got rid of: John the Grammarian (837–42) was replaced by Methodios, an iconodule monk with so much influence that Theophilos had preferred to keep him close at hand in the palace. But this time the re-establishment of images was definitive; it was not only the result of a decision by an assembly of church authorities, but also took liturgical form on 11 March 843, the first Sunday of Lent. This Sunday became a celebration of the re-establishment of images and was soon named the Feast of orthodoxy, when the Synodikon of orthodoxy was read out. This document, celebrating the triumph over the iconoclasts’ heresy, has become the symbol of the orthodox faith, receiving successive additions over the centuries concerning other heresies.170 From the 850s iconoclasm belonged to the past in so far as Patriarch Methodios had purged the clergy, but the repeated ‘U-turns’ in religious policy over more than a century had lasting consequences.With the victory of iconodulism the patriarchate was able to affirm the church’s autonomy from imperial power, which was accused of encroaching on its domain by imposing religious norms, as encapsulated in the celebrated phrase put in Leo III’s mouth: ‘I am emperor and priest.’Moves towards an independent sphere for the church had begun in Rome in the seventh century with the monothelite crisis. The pope then affirmed his autonomy in the eighth century by associating himself with the Carolingians and creating his own temporal base. In the ninth century it was the patriarch of Constantinople who, through opposing the imperial policy of iconoclasm with the help of unprecedentedly vehement texts, excluded the emperor from questions of dogma and assumed the position of head of the church. This new equilibrium between church and imperial power – albeit unequal because the emperors still named the patriarchs – was expressed in the Eisag¯og¯e; probably drawn up by Photios, this described the patriarch as the ‘image of Christ’, whereas the emperor is only the ‘legitimate authority’.171 By the end of the iconoclast period the empire had been transformed. Henceforth it would be characterised by religious peace; by a neworthodoxy now fixed in liturgical and iconic repetition; by a provincial administration structured by war around the theme, which had become the sole civil and military administrative unit; and by a central administration regrouped around the emperor but divided into large departments. The shock of the invasions had passed and, owing in part to the survival of its capital, the empire metamorphosed into a great Balkano-Anatolian power, administered coherently and financed through an effective tax system. This transformation made possible the initiatives and achievements of the period that followed.