Saturday, December 16, 2006

Two Ways About It

I've been doing a little bit of (minor) reading about the controversial figure, Photios of Constantinople; it's an interesting thing to read about since it gives you a vivid sense of just how much 'competent' and 'tendentious' can go together in historical work on controversial figures. Photios, of course, is regarded as a saint by the Orthodox and a schismatic by the Catholics. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on him is fairly good; but you can tell straightforwardly that it's a Catholic account. An Orthodox account, for instance, would talk about Nicholas's failed attempt to restore the Sicilian Calabrian patrimonies, and insist that the papal legates found Photios to be legally elevated to the patriarchy, suggesting that Nicholas rejected the reasonable conclusions of the legates out of angry disappointment about the patrimonies. The disputes over whether Bulgaria fell within Roman or Byzantine jurisdiction would play a much larger role in the summary, as would the iconoclasm controversy -- which latter, although it's almost the whole point for the Orthodox, gets only a casual mention in the Catholic Encyclopedia article. In the Catholic summary, Photios is a member, indeed, a leader, of the extremist anti-Roman party; in an Orthodox summary, discussing exactly the same group of people, they would be called the moderates, the ones opposing the extremist pro-Roman party. It would be funny if it weren't so serious.

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