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For the 8th Catholic Ecumenical Council, see Fourth Council of Constantinople (Catholic)
Fourth Council of Constantinople (879-880)
Date 879 - 880
Accepted by Eastern Orthodoxy
Previous council Second Council of Nicaea
Next council Fifth Council of Constantinople
Convoked by Emperor Basil I
Attendance 383 bishops
Topics of discussion Photius' patriarchate
Documents and statements Restoration of Photius, protection of Nicene creed
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Fourth Council of Constantinople of 879-880 is believed to have been the Eighth Ecumenical Council by some Eastern Orthodox. Photios, a noble layman, had been appointed Patriarch of Constantinople but deposed by a Council of Constantinople called in 869 by Emperor Basil I the Macedonian and Pope Adrian II.[1] Called in 879, this Greek Fourth Council of Constantinople, held after Photios had been reinstated on order of the Emperor, annulled the earlier one.[1] Today, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the council in 869-870 as "Constantinople IV", while the Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize the councils in 879-880 as "Constantinople IV" and revere Photios as a saint. At the time that these councils were being held, this division was not entirely apparent.

These two councils represent a break between East and West. The previous seven ecumenical councils are recognized as ecumenical and authoritative by both Greek-literate Eastern Christians and Latin-literate Western Christians. This division led eventually to the East-West Schism of 1054.



In 858, Photius, a noble layman from a local family, was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople,[1] a position of authority second in importance to that of the Roman Pope. Emperor Michael III had deposed the previous patriarch, Ignatius.[1] Ignatius refused to abdicate, setting up a power struggle between the Emperor and the Pope.[1] In 867, another council in Constantinople deposed the pope, declared him anathema, and excommunicated him.[1] In addition Roman claims of Papal primacy and the Filioque clause were condemned[citation needed].

The Council of 879-880

After the death of Ignatius in 877, Photius mounted the See of Constantinople for a second time. A Council, comprising the representatives of all the five patriarchates, including that of Rome (all in all 383 bishops), was called in 879 and reinstated Photius as Ecumenical Patriarch.

The council also condemned any alteration whatsoever to the original Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, thereby condemning the addition of the Filioque clause to the creed as heretical[2][3] — a view strongly espoused by Photius in his polemics against Rome. Late on, Roman Catholics came to separate the two issues and insist on the theological orthodoxy of the clause. According to Philip Schaff, "To the Greek acts was afterwards added a (pretended) letter of Pope John VIII to Photius, declaring the Filioque to be an addition which is rejected by the church of Rome, and a blasphemy which must be abolished calmly, and by degrees."[4]

Whether the council was confirmed by Pope John VIII is also a matter of dispute: The council was held in the presence of papal legates, who approved of the proceedings, Roman Catholic historian Francis Dvornik argues that the Pope accepted the acts of the council and annulled those of the Council of 869-870. Other Roman Catholic historians, such as Warren Carroll, dispute this view, arguing that the pope rejected the council. Philipp Schaff opines that the Pope, deceived by his legates about the actual proceedings, first applauded the Emperor but later denounced the council.[4]

In any case, the Pope de facto accepted the reinstatement of Photius as Patriarch. However later, in the wake of further conflicts between East and West in the 11th century, the council was repudiated.

This council has been accepted by many Orthodox Christians as the "Eighth Ecumenical Council" and is referred to as such in the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848. But it has not been universally accepted as ecumenical, though it is held in high esteem at least as a local council.[citation needed]

The status of Photius as a Saint

Photius is now considered a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church; in part for having refused to acquiesce to the decision of the council of 869-870 and to what the Eastern Orthodox consider to have been arrogant monarchical aspirations on the part of Pope.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Photius." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  2. ^ "The Union: a method of Pope-centrist ecumenism" at
  3. ^ "Moscow-Bari-Rome" at
  4. ^ a b Philip Schaff, Conflict of the Eastern and Western Churches

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