Patriarch John XI of Constantinople
John XI Bekkos (also, commonly, Beccus; name sometimes also spelled Veccus, Vekkos, or Beccos) (c. 1225 – March 1297) was Patriarch of Constantinople from June 2, 1275 to December 26, 1282, and the chief Greek advocate, in Byzantine times, of the reunion of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.
John Bekkos was born in Nicaea among the exiles from Constantinople during the period of Latin occupation of that city, and died in prison in the fortress of St. Gregory near the entrance to the Gulf of Nicomedia. Our knowledge of Bekkos’s life is derived from his own writings, from writings of Byzantine historians such as George Pachymeres and Nicephorus Gregoras, from writings against him by Gregory of Cyprus and others, and from defences of him by supporters of ecclesiastical union like Constantine Meliteniotes and George Metochites. Bekkos’s history is closely bound up with the fortunes of the Union of the Churches declared at the Second Council of Lyon (1274), a union promoted by Pope Gregory X in the West and Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus in the East. The union policy of Michael VIII was largely politically motivated, and Bekkos at first opposed it; but, after Michael VIII had had him imprisoned in the Tower of Anemas for speaking out against it, Bekkos changed his mind (1273); a reading of such Greek church fathers as St. Basil the Great, St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Epiphanius convinced Bekkos that theological differences between the Greek and Latin Churches had been exaggerated. After Patriarch Joseph I Galesiotes abdicated early in 1275 due to his opposition to the Council of Lyon, Bekkos was elected to replace him. His relationship with the emperor was sometimes stormy; although Michael VIII depended on Bekkos for maintaining his empire’s peace with the West, he was annoyed by Bekkos’s repeated intercessions on behalf of the poor. Michael was a crafty man, and knew how to make the Patriarch’s life miserable by sundry small humiliations, until, in March, 1279, Bekkos quit in disgust, and had to be coaxed back to undertake the job again (August 6, 1279). The final years of Michael VIII’s reign were entirely taken up with defending his empire against the threat posed by the Western king Charles of Anjou, and, in his anxiety to meet this threat, Michael enforced a "reign of terror" against opponents of union; but there is no convincing evidence that John Bekkos ever actively took part in or supported acts of violent persecution.
Although earlier in his patriarchate Bekkos had promised not to reply to the pamphlets that were being circulated against the ecclesiastical union, by the latter years of Michael's reign he had changed his mind about this, and began "holding numerous synods, calling all and sundry, and dug up books and published many others," defending the union on theological grounds, arguing the compatibility of the Latin doctrine with Greek patristic tradition. The effect of this was further to alienate most of the Greek clergy against him; it was this publishing activity that later served as the explicit grounds for the charges that were laid against him.
The ecclesial union engineered by Michael VIII was never popular in Byzantium, and, after his death (December 11, 1282), his son and successor, Andronicus II, repudiated it. On the day after Christmas, 1282, John Bekkos withdrew to a monastery; the former patriarch, Joseph I, was brought into the city on a stretcher, and a series of councils and public meetings ensued, led by a group of anti-unionist monks. Bekkos, in fear of violent death at the hands of a mob, was induced to sign a formal renunciation of his unionist opinions and of his priesthood (January, 1283), a renunciation which he afterwards disowned as extorted under duress, but which was used against him. After this, Bekkos spent some years under house arrest at a large monastery in Prusa in Asia Minor. From there, he began a literary campaign to exonerate himself, and succeeded in having a council called to reexamine his case; it took place at the imperial palace of Blachernae in Constantinople, meeting in several sessions from February to August in the year 1285. Although the Council of Blachernae reaffirmed Bekkos’s earlier condemnation, in the council’s aftermath Bekkos, by a series of writings, succeeded in bringing its dogmatic statement against him (the Tomus of 1285) into such disrepute that its principal author, the Patriarch Gregory II, resigned (1289). Bekkos saw this as vindicating his position. He spent the remaining years of his life in prison in the fortress of St. Gregory, revising his writings, maintaining friendly relations with the Emperor and prominent Byzantine churchmen, but unwilling to give up his unionist opinions; he died in 1297.
The basis of John Bekkos’s quarrel with his contemporaries was a disagreement with them over the implications of a traditional patristic formula, that states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (in Greek, διὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ). Already in the ninth century, this expression was being pushed in two different directions: Latin writers saw it as implying the Augustinian doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Filioque); Greek writers, especially from the time of Patriarch Photios onward, saw it as consistent with the view that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. Bekkos originally agreed with the Photian view, but his reading of the Greek fathers, and of medieval Greek writers like Nicephorus Blemmydes and Nicetas of Maroneia, caused him to change his mind. Much of John XI Bekkos’s debate with Gregory II was a debate over the meaning of texts from St. Cyril and other fathers, whose wording (the Spirit “exists from the Son”; the Spirit “fountains forth eternally” from the Son, etc.) Bekkos saw as consistent with the Latin doctrine, while Gregory of Cyprus interpreted such texts as necessarily referring to an eternal manifestation of the Holy Spirit through or from the Son. This thirteenth-century debate has considerable relevance for current-day ecumenical discussions between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
Most of Bekkos’s writings are found in vol. 141 of J.-P. Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, although some still remain unedited. Migne reprints the seventeenth century editions of Leo Allatius; a more reliable re-edition was produced by H. Laemmer in the nineteenth century (Scriptorum graeciae orthodoxae bibliotheca selecta, Freiburg, 1864), but even this edition lacks references for Bekkos’s many patristic citations. Only a few, short writings of Bekkos’s have received modern, critical editions. One of them is his work De pace ecclesiastica ("On Ecclesiastical Peace"), found in V. Laurent and J. Darrouzès, Dossier Grec de l’Union de Lyon, 1273–1277 (Paris, 1976); in it, Bekkos criticizes the foundations of the schism between the Churches on historical grounds alone, pointing out that the Patriarch Photios only chose to launch a campaign against the Latin doctrine after his claim to be rightful Patriarch of Constantinople was rejected by Pope Nicholas I. Some of Bekkos’s most important works are as follows:
- On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome (PG 141, 15–157): this work summarizes Bekkos’s main patristic arguments and rebuts the arguments of four Byzantine critics of Latin Christian theology (Photios, John Phurnes, Nicholas of Methone, Theophylact of Bulgaria). An English translation of this work is currently being prepared for publication.
- Epigraphs (PG 141, 613–724): an anthology of patristic texts arranged under thirteen "chapter headings," presenting a connected argument for the compatibility of the Greek and Latin doctrines of the procession of the Holy Spirit; 160 years later, it was instrumental in convincing Bessarion, at the Council of Florence, that the Latin doctrine was orthodox.
- Orations I and II On his own Deposition (PG 141, 949–1010): Bekkos’s own account of events during the tumultuous synods of early 1283.
- De libris suis ("On his own works") (PG 141, 1019–1028): a short work, but essential for the critical history of Bekkos’s texts. In it, Bekkos discusses the principles which governed his revision of his own works in an edition he wrote out by hand while he was in prison.
- Refutation of the ‘Tome’ of George of Cyprus (PG 141, 863–923) and Four Books to Constantine Meliteniotes (PG 141, 337–396): Bekkos’s critique of his antagonist Gregory II.
Little has been written on John XI Bekkos in English. But see esp.
- Gill, Joseph. "John Beccus, Patriarch of Constantinople, 1275–1282." Byzantina 7 (1975), 251–266.
- Idem, Byzantium and the Papacy, 1198–1400 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1979).
- Barbara Hartmann (1992). "Patriarch John XI of Constantinople". In Bautz, Friedrich Wilhelm. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 3. Herzberg: Bautz. cols. 281–284. ISBN 3-88309-035-2.
- Papadakis, Aristeides. Crisis in Byzantium: The Filioque Controversy in the Patriarchate of Gregory II of Cyprus (1283–1289). 2nd ed. (Crestwood, N.Y., 1997).
More has been written on Bekkos in other languages. Highly to be recommended is a new book in German:
- Riebe, Alexandra. Rom in Gemeinschaft mit Konstantinopel: Patriarch Johannes XI. Bekkos als Verteidiger der Kirchenunion von Lyon (1274) (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005).
- The site of Bekkos's place of captivity is mentioned by George Pachymeres, De Andronico Palaeologo I.35.
- Pachymeres, who knew and respected Bekkos though he disagreed with him on matters of theology, provides the basic historical framework for most accounts of Bekkos's life, e.g., the studies by Joseph Gill. See also Manuel Sotomayor, “El Patriarca Becos, según Jorge Paquimeres (Semblanza histórica),” Estudios Eclesiásticos 31 (1957), 327–358.
- "He entered on the project of Church union unquestionably from political motives. He achieved it and maintained it for the same ends in spite of opposition. But it seems to me that in the course of his negotiations he became sincerely convinced that it was justified also from the theological point of view." J. Gill, Byzantium and the Papacy, 1198–1400 (1979), p. 180.
- See Pachymeres, De Michaele Palaeologo, V.15; Gregoras, Rhomaïke Historia, V.2, §§6–7. Although it has been customary to view Bekkos's change of mind as a "conversion" from Orthodoxy to Catholicism, some recent scholars question this; see esp. Gerhard Richter, “Johannes Bekkos und sein Verhältnis zur römischen Kirche,” Byzantinische Forschungen 15 (1990), 167–217, and A. Riebe, Rom in Gemeinschaft mit Konstantinopel (2005), passim. On the other hand, Vitalien Laurent notes, with regard to a letter written by Bekkos to Pope John XXI in 1277, that "Byzantine literature in fact knows no other text in which the rights of the Roman pontiff are as solemnly and as explicitly acknowledged" (Laurent, Les regestes des actes du patriarcat de Constantinople, vol. I, fasc. IV [Paris 1971], pp. 255 f.).
- On Michael's "reign of terror," see Gill, op. cit., pp. 176 f. Riebe, Rom in Gemeinschaft mit Konstantinopel, p. 113, notes that neither Pachymeres nor Gregoras mention any participation by Bekkos in the emperor's campaign of violence, and that, furthermore, the general picture of Bekkos's character furnished by historians and by his own writings makes such participation unlikely. See also Ioannes Anastasiou, Ὁ θρυλούμενος διωγμὸς τῶν ἁγιορειτῶν ὑπὸ τοῦ Μιχαὴλ Η´ Παλαιολόγου καὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου Βέκκου, in: Ἀθωνικὴ πολιτεία (Thessaloniki, 1963), pp. 207–257; Anastasiou critically examines the claim that Michael and Bekkos descended upon Mt. Athos with a Latin army to persecute the monks; he rejects most of it as pious legend.
- Pachymeres, De Michaele Palaeologo, VI.23 (Bekker ed., p. 481).
- See J. Gill, "The Church union of the Council of Lyons (1274) portrayed in Greek documents," Orientalia Christiana Periodica 40 (1974), 5–45, esp. pp. 43 f.
- The text was incorporated in Gregory of Cyprus's Tomus, translated by Papadakis, Crisis in Byzantium (1997), pp. 216 f. Cf. also Gill, Byzantium and the Papacy, 1198–1400 (1979), p. 294: "Beccus later declared that he then bowed before the storm because there was no possibility of having a hearing for his defence, but with the firm intention, which he expressed at the time to Metochites, 'as soon as the storm had died down a little of coming into the open before those responsible and the instigators to defend the truth openly.'"
- For the date 1297, see especially V. Laurent, "Le date de la mort de Jean Beccos," Echos d'Orient 25 (1926), 316–319.
- Catholic Encyclopedia Article
- Peter Gilbert, Not an Anthologist: John Bekkos as a Reader of the Fathers
|Orthodox Church titles|
Joseph I Galesiotes
|Patriarch of Constantinople
Gregory II Cyprius