Secular Aspects of Patriarch Photius’ Spiritual Legacy

Friday, 22 June 2012, 4:30pm - 6:00pm, IWM library
Patriarch Photius (c.810-c.893) holds a place apart in the centuries-long Byzantine tradition. He combines in his person the cleric and the erudite authority on “Hellenic” science. Secular and sacred held sway in different periods of his life but the interest in cultural heritage was present throughout his liefetime. This explains the diversity of centers of conceptual interest in his writings. His philosophical reflections do not always chime with his position of a patriarch. The most paradoxical example is perhaps the Christianized Aristotelian concept of God as actus purus, a tenet likewise influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy. It might appear that the patriarch who had initiated the schism of the Churches, was expressing a typical Catholic view, which was to be formulated centuries later by Thomas Aquinas and met with the implacable opposition of Byzantine theologians. To conceive of God as actus purus was a philosophical notion deeply alien to the Eastern tradition. It implied the integration of Aristotle’s philosophy and its teaching about substance and energies with Neoplatonism, which had given a systematic interpretation of energies as the mechanism of action of the First Cause in the hierarchy of being. This has remained a private opinion of Photius’s influenced by the scholarly quests from before his election as Patriarch and by his work during his first exile in 867-68. Thus, although the Patriarch’s acquaintance with Neoplatonic philosophy did not correspond to the wide scope given it in the Bibliotheca, Neoplatonism might help us to explain a conception so alien to Eastern Orthodox tradition as is the notion of God as actus purus.

Ivan Christov is Assoc.Prof. in Christian Philosophy, and Head of the Department of Historical and Systematical Theology, Sofia University.


With the kind support of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)