Nikodim Milaš

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Nikodim Milaš (Serbian Cyrillic: Никодим Милаш; 1845–1915) was a Serbian Orthodox Church bishop in Dalmatia (nowaday Croatia). He was a writer and perhaps the greatest Serbian expert on church law and the Slavic world.[citation needed] As a canon lawyer in Dalmatia, he defended the Serbian Orthodox Church against the State. He was a polyglot, fluent in German, Italian, Latin, Russian, Greek, and Old Slavonic, and an author of numerous books.


Bishop Nikodim Milaš was born at Šibenik in Dalmatia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) on 4 April 1845 to Trifun and Maria Milaš (Serbian father and Italian mother). He was baptized Nikola. After attending the Jesuit Gymnasium in Zadar and graduating from the Serbian Orthodox Theological School at Sremski Karlovci, he studied at the oldest college of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Kievan Theological Academy and Seminary (then part of Imperial Russia), and in 1871 took a master's degree in Canon Law and Church History, the fruit of which, his remarkable dissertation, Nomocanon of Patriarch Photius, brought him the golden cross of the Russian Orthodox Church. Upon his return home, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Stefan (Knežević) of Dalmatia appointed him professor of canon law at Zadar's Theological Orthodox Institute. In 1872, he published a study in which he criticized the Austro-Hungarian government for interfering in the life of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its faithful.

Professor Nikola Milaš was tonsured in 1873 and given the monastic name of Nikodim. Also, he was ordained deacon, and two years later, presbyter. He received the rank archimandrite in 1880. Under his administration the theological institute in Zadar became one of the best Orthodox schools. Nikodim corresponded with the greatest Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic canonists at the time: Alexis Stepanovich Pavloff (d. 1898), Alexander Theodorovich Lavroff, Vasili Vasilievich Bolotoff, Pietro Gasparri, Emil Albert Friedberg, Joseph Putzer, Friedrich Heinrich Vering. After the publication of his (hornbook), "Principles of Jurisdiction in the Eastern Orthodox Church," in which he again levelled criticism on the Austro-Hungarian authorities, he was forced to take refuge in Belgrade in late 1885. There for the next two years, he was the rector of the Belgrade Seminary (Bogoslovija). In early 1888 he was back in Zadar where he completed that same year two major works: "Roman Catholic Propaganda: its foundation and rules today" (1889) and his six-volume treatise on the Serbian Orthodox Church entitled "Orthodox Church and Canon Law" (1890). He liked Zadar, and the people would habe been glad to keep him; but the attraction of a Belgrade post carried him back there in the autumn of 1888. He was appointed Professor of Canon law and Church History at the Belgrade's Grande école (Velika škola) and Bogoslovija (Theological Seminary). Two years later, when Bishop Stefan Knezević of Dalmatia died, Nikodim was elected Bishop of Dalmatia on 10 July 1890 and consecrated on 16 September 1890. Throughout his tenure he was under pressure from anti-Serb Orthodox authorities and forced to endure aggressive Roman Catholic proselytism. Bishop Nikodim collaborated with politician Sava Bjelanović during that difficult period. He once wrote:

"Nije lak posao vladici u Dalmaciji i sa takozvanom pravoslavnom inteligencijom. Ovi i ovakvi ljudi prinudili su dalmatinske episkope Rajačića, Živkovića i Mutibarića da bježe iz Dalmacije u druge eparhije. ... Ali najteže je dalmatinskom episkopu sa Vladom, ako hoće da bude pravi pravoslavni episkop i čuvar vjere i crkve svoje. U Austriji od 1868. vlada zakon da pravoslavlje uživa jednaka prava kao i sve ostale priznate državne konfesije. Ali u samoj stvari ta je crkva u Austriji samo tolerirana."

"The bishop's job in Dalmatia is not an easy one and with a so-called Orthodox intelligentsia (many of whom were Roman Catholic, though declared themselves as Serbs). Those and like folk have caused Dalmatian bishops such as Josif Rajačić, Pantelejmon Živković and Jerotije Mutibarić to flee from Dalmatia and seek refuge in other diocese.... But what is really difficult for a bishop is to deal with State officials, if he wants to be a true Orthodox bishop and defender of his faith and church. In Austria there is a rule since 1868 that Orthodoxy has the same position as all other confessions in the State. But the truth of the matter is that the Church (Orthodox) is just tolerated."

In 1901 Nikodim published "Orthodoxy in Dalmatia" in answer to a papal encyclical in which Pope Leo XIII appealed for union. His book was criticized by the bishop of the Eparchy of Križevci, who wrote:

Nobody hates Union as much as Orthodox Dalmatians (meaning Serbs).

Nikodim also had problems with his superiors. He refused elevation to the Holy Synod (the executive body of the Serbian Orthodox Church) of Belgrade and later of Sarajevo because he was not elected according to canon law. Always under constant pressure from civil authorities and other enemies, Nikodim was forced to retire in early 1912. He was succeeded by Bishop Dimitrije Branković.

Bishop Nikodim died at Dubrovnik on 12 April 1915. The only copy of his new book -- "The Church and the State in the Austro-Hungarian Empire"—has since disappeared.


Nikodim Milaš grew up in a region where jurisprudence was founded on Roman and Byzantine law. His extensive and exact legal erudition, and the skill with which he wrote about the complex canonical laws, soon brought him a reputation never before equalled, and caused him to be universally recognized as the greatest Eastern Orthodox canon lawyer of his day. Most of his work was translated into Russian, German, Romanian, Bulgarian and Greek, and has greatly influenced modern Orthodox canonists, including I. Bogović, C. Metrović, Professor S. Troitsky (the Russian-Serbian canonist), Branko Cisarž (d. 1982), and Dimsho Perić (d. 2007), who wrote studies on the history of church-state relations in Serbia. Nikodim produced a number of collections of canonical texts, and was particularly interested in the churches of North Africa in the Roman period. He translated The Constitution (Syntagma) of the Divine and Sacred Canons by Rallis and Potlis, and placed his commentaries in the context of previous Biblical hermeneutic works. He was largely active on the matter of Church-State relations, a subject which preoccupied most of his work.

He is included in The 100 most prominent Serbs.

His Work[edit]

  • Historical-Canonical view on establishment of Serbo-Romanian Metropolis of Bukovina and Dalmatia (1873);
  • Clerical dignities in the Orthodox Church (1879);
  • Codex canonum ecclesiae africane (1881);
  • St. Sava's Kormchya Book (1884);
  • Das Synodal-Statut der orth. Oriental Metropolie der Bukowina i Dalmatien mit Erläuterungen (1885);
  • Orthodox Church and Canon Law in six volumes (first edition 1890; second revised edition 1890, translated in Russian 1897, in German 1897, in Bulgarian 1903);
  • Roman Catholic Propaganda, its foundation and rules today (1889; translated in Russian 1889, and in Bulgarian 1890);
  • Orthodoxy in Dalmatia, a historical perspective (1901);
  • Question of Eastern Church and task of Austria in it (1889; 1890 translated in Romanian and German);
  • Principles of jurisdiction in Orthodox Church
  • Orthodox Monasticism (Mostar 1902);
  • Slavic Apostles Ss. Cyril and Methodius
  • Rules (Κανόνες) of Orthodox Church with commentary (I 1895, II 1896)
  • Documenta spectantia historiam orthodoxae dioeceseos Dalmatiae et Istriae a XV usque ad XIX saeculum (I, 1899),

See also[edit]