Iconoclasm (Eikonoklasmos, “Image-breaking”) is the name of the heresy that in the eighth and ninth centuries disturbed the peace of the Eastern Church, caused the last of the many breaches with Rome that prepared the way for the schism of Photius, and was echoed on a smaller scale in the Frankish kingdom in the West. The story in the East is divided into two separate persecutions of the Catholics, at the end of each of which stands the figure of an image-worshipping Empress (Irene and Theodora).
I. THE FIRST ICONOCLAST PERSECUTION.—The origin of the movement against the worship (for the use of this word see Veneration of Images) of images has been much discussed. It has been represented as an effect of Moslem influence. To Moslems, any kind of picture, statue, or representation of the human form is an abominable idol. It is true that, in a sense, the Khalif a at Damascus began the whole disturbance, and that the Iconoclast emperors were warmly applauded and encouraged in their campaign by their rivals at Damascus. On the other hand it is not likely that the chief cause of the emperor’s zeal against pictures was the example of his bitter enemy, the head of the rival religion. A more probable origin will be found in the opposition to pictures that had existed for some time among Christians. There seems to have been a dislike of holy pictures, a suspicion that their use was, or might become, idolatrous, among certain Christians for many centuries before the Iconoclast persecution began (see Veneration of Images). The Paulicians as part of their heresy held that all matter (especially the human body) is bad, that all external religious forms, sacraments, rites, especially material pictures and relics, should be abolished. To honor the Cross was specially reprehensible, since Christ had not really been crucified. Since the seventh century these heretics had been allowed to have occasional great influence at Constantinople, intermittently with suffering very cruel persecution (see Paulicians). But some Catholics, too, shared their dislike of pictures and relics. In the beginning of the eighth century several bishops, Constantine of Nacolia in Phrygia, Theodosius of Ephesus, Thomas of Claudiopolis, and others are mentioned as having these views. A Nestorian bishop, Xenieas of Hierapolis, was a conspicuous forerunner of the Iconoclasts (Hardouin, IV, 306). It was when this party got the ear of the Emperor Leo III (the Isaurian, 716-41) that the persecution began.
The first act in the story is a similar persecution in the domain of the Khalifa at Damascus. Yezid I (680-683) and his successors, especially Yezid II (720-24), thinking, like good Moslems, that all pictures are idols, tried to prevent their use among even their Christian subjects. But this Moslem persecution, in itself only one of many such intermittent annoyances to the Christians of Syria, is unimportant except as the forerunner of the troubles in the empire. Leo the Isaurian was a valiant soldier with an autocratic temper. Any movement that excited his sympathy was sure to be enforced sternly and cruelly. He had already cruelly persecuted the Jews and Paulicians. He was also suspected of leanings towards Islam. The Khalifa Omar II (717-20) tried to convert him, without success, except as, far as persuading him that pictures are idols. The Christian enemies of images, notably Constantine of Nacolia, then easily gained his ear. The emperor came to the conclusion that images were the chief hindrance to the conversion of Jews and Moslems, the cause of superstition, weakness, and division in his empire, and opposed to the First Commandment. The campaign against images was part of a general reformation of the Church and State. Leo III’s idea was to purify the Church, centralize it as much as possible under the Patriarch of Constantinople, and thereby strengthen and centralize the State of the empire. There was also a strong rationalistic tendency among these Iconoclast emperors, a reaction against the forms of Byzantine piety that became more pronounced each century. This rationalism helps to explain their hatred of monks. (For Leo III’s reform of the empire see J. Bury, “History of the Later Roman Empire”, London, 1889, bk. VI, ch. ii.) Once persuaded, Leo began to enforce his idea ruthlessly. Constantine of Nacolia came to the capital in the early part of his reign; at the same time John of Synnada wrote to the patriarch Germanus I (715-30), warning him that Constantine had made a disturbance among the other bishops of the province by preaching against the use of holy pictures. Germanus, the first of the heroes of the image-worshippers (his letters in Hardouin, IV, 239-62), then wrote a defense of the practice of the Church addressed to another Iconoclast, Thomas of Claudiopolis (I. c., 245-62). But Constantine and Thomas had the emperor on their side. In 726 Leo III published an edict declaring images to be idols, forbidden by Exodus, xx, 4, 5, and commanding all such images in churches to be destroyed. At once the soldiers began to carry out his orders, whereby disturbances were provoked throughout the empire. There was a famous picture of Christ, called Christos antiphonetes, over the gate of the palace at Constantinople. The destruction of this picture provoked a serious riot among the people. Germanus, the patriarch, protested against the edict and appealed to the pope (729). But the emperor deposed him as a traitor (730) and had Anastasius (730-54), formerly syncellus of the patriarchal Court, and a willing instrument of the Government, appointed in his place. The most steadfast opponents of the Iconoclasts through-out this story were the monks. It is true that there were some who took the side of the emperor, but as a body Eastern monasticism was steadfastly loyal to the old custom of the Church. Leo therefore joined with his Iconoclasm a fierce persecution of monasteries, and eventually tried to suppress monasticism altogether.
The pope at that time was Gregory II (715-31). Even before he had received the appeal of Germanus a letter came from the emperor commanding him to accept the edict, destroy images at Rome, and summon a general council to forbid their use. Gregory answered, in 727, by a long defense of the pictures. He explains the difference between them and idols, with some surprise that Leo does not already understand it. He describes the lawful use of, and reverence paid to, pictures by Christians. He blames the emperor’s interference in ecclesiastical matters and his persecution of image-worshippers. A council is not wanted; all Leo has to do is to stop disturbing the peace of the Church. As for Leo’s threat that he will come to Rome, break the statue of St. Peter (apparently the famous bronze statue in St. Peter’s), and take the pope prisoner, Gregory answers it by pointing out that he can easily escape into the Campagna, and reminding the emperor how futile and now abhorrent to all Christians was Constans’s persecution of Martin I. He also says that all people in the West detest the emperor’s action and will never consent to destroy their images at his command (Greg. II, “Ep. I ad Leonem”; Jaffe, “Reg.”, n. 2180). The emperor answered, continuing his argument, by saying that no general council had yet said a word in favor of images, that he himself is emperor and priest (basileus kai iereus) in one, and therefore has a right to make decrees about such matters. Gregory writes back regretting that Leo does not yet see the error of his ways. As for the former general Councils, they did not pretend to discuss every point of the faith; it was unnecessary in those days to defend what no one attacked. The title Emperor and Priest had been conceded as a compliment to some sovereigns because of their zeal in defending the very faith that Leo now attacked. The pope declares himself determined to withstand the emperor’s tyranny at any cost, though he has no defense but to pray that Christ may send a demon to torture the emperor’s body that his soul be saved, according to I Cor., v, 5 (Jaffe, 1. c., n. 2162).
Meanwhile the persecution raged in the East. Monasteries were destroyed, monks put to death, tortured, or banished. The Iconoclasts began to apply their principle to relics also, to break open shrines and burn the bodies of saints buried in churches. Some of them rejected all intercession of saints. These two other points (destruction of relics and rejection of prayers to saints), though not necessarily involved in the original program, are from this time generally (not quite always) added to Iconoclasm. Meanwhile, St. John Damascene (d. 754), safe from the emperor’s anger under the rule of the Khalifa, was writing, at the monastery of Mar Saba, his famous apologies “against those who destroy the holy icons”. In the West, at Rome, Ravenna, and Naples, the people rose against the emperor’s law. This anti-imperial movement is one of the factors of the breach between Italy and the old empire, the independence of the papacy, and the beginning of the Papal States. Gregory II already refused to send taxes to Constantinople and himself appointed the imperial dux in the Ducatus Romanus. From this time the pope becomes practically sovereign of the Ducatus. The emperor’s anger against image-worshippers was strengthened by a revolt that broke out about this time in Hellas, ostensibly in favor of the icons. A certain Cosmas was set up as emperor by the rebels. The insurrection was soon crushed (727), and Cosmas was beheaded. After this a new and severer edict against images was published (730), and the fury of the persecution was redoubled.
Pope Gregory II died in 731. He was succeeded at once by Gregory III, who carried on the defense of holy images in exactly the spirit of his predecessor. The new pope sent a priest, George, with letters against Iconoclasm to Constantinople. But George, when he arrived, was afraid to present them, and came back without having accomplished his mission. He was sent a second time on the same errand, but was arrested and imprisoned in Sicily by the imperial governor. The emperor now proceeded with his policy of enlarging and strengthening his own patriarchate at Constantinople. He conceived the idea of making it as great as all the empire over which he still: Actually ruled. Isauria, Leo’s birthplace, was taken from Antioch by an imperial edict and added to the Byzantine patriarchate, increasing it by the Metropolis, Seleucia, and about twenty other sees. Leo further pretended to withdraw Illyricum from the Roman patriarchate and to add it to that of Constantinople (Duchesne, “L’Illyricum ecclesiastique”, in his “Eglises separees”, Paris, 1905, pp. 229-79), and confiscated all the property of the Roman See on which he could lay his hands, in Sicily and Southern Italy. This naturally increased the enmity between Eastern and Western Christendom. In 731 Gregory III held a synod of ninety-three bishops at St. Peter’s, in which all persons who broke, defiled, or took away images of Christ, of His Mother, the Apostles, or other saints, were declared excommunicate. Another legate, Constantine, was sent with a copy of this decree and of its application to the emperor, but was again arrested and imprisoned in Sicily. Leo then sent a fleet to Italy to punish the pope; but it was wrecked and dispersed by a storm. Meanwhile every kind of calamity afflicted the empire; earthquakes, pestilence, and famine devastated the provinces, while the Moslems continued their victorious career and conquered further territory.
Leo III died in June, 741, in the midst of these troubles, without having changed his policy. His work was carried on by his son Constantine V (Copronymus, 741-775), who became an even greater persecutor of image-worshippers than had been his father. As soon as Leo III was dead, Artabasdus (who had married Leo’s daughter) seized the opportunity and took advantage of the unpopularity of the Iconoclast Government to raise a rebellion. Declaring himself the protector of the holy icons he took possession of the capital, had himself crowned emperor by the pliant patriarch Anastasius, and immediately restored the images. Anastasius, who had been intruded in the place of Germanus as the Iconoclast candidate, now veered round in the usual Byzantine way, helped the restoration of the images and excommunicated Constantine V as a heretic and denier of Christ. But Constantine marched on the city, took it, blinded Artabasdus and began a furious revenge on all rebels and image-worshippers (743). His treatment of Anastasius is a typical example of the way these later emperors behaved towards the patriarchs through whom they tried to govern the Church. Anastasius was flogged in public, blinded, driven shamefully through the streets, made to return to his Iconoclasm and finally reinstated as patriarch. The wretched man lived on till 754. The pictures restored by Artabasdus were again removed. In 754 Constantine, taking up his father’s original idea summoned a great synod at Constantinople that was to count as the Seventh General Council. About 340 bishops attended; as the See of Constantinople was vacant by the death of Anastasius, Theodosius of Ephesus and Pastilias of Perge presided. Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem refused to send legates, since it was clear that the bishops were summoned merely to carry out the emperor’s commands. The event showed that the patriarchs had judged rightly. The bishops at the synod servilely agreed to all Constantine’s demands. They decreed that images of Christ are either Monophysite or Nestorian, for—since it is impossible to represent His Divinity—they either confound or divorce His two natures. The only lawful representation of Christ is the Holy Eucharist. Images of saints are equally to be abhorred; it is blasphemous to represent by dead wood or stone those who live with God. All images are an invention of the pagans—are in fact idols, as is shown by Ex. xx, 4, 5; Deut., v, 8; John, iv, 24; Rom., i, 23-25. Certain texts of the Fathers are also quoted in support of Iconoclasm. Image-worshippers are idolaters, adorers of wood and stone; the Emperors Leo and Constantine are lights of the Orthodox Faith, our saviors from idolatry. A special curse is pronounced against three chief defenders of images—Germanus, the former Patriarch of Constantinople, John Damascene, and a monk, George of Cyprus. The synod declares that “the Trinity has destroyed these three” (“Acts of the Iconoclast Synod of 754″ in Mansi, XIII, 205 sq.).
The bishops finally elected a successor to the vacant see of Constantinople, Constantine, Bishop of Sylaeum (Constantine II, 754-66), who was of course a creature of the Government, prepared to carry on its campaign. The decrees were published in the Forum on August 27, 754. After this the destruction of pictures went on with renewed zeal. All the bishops of the empire were required to sign the Acts of the synod and to swear to do away with icons in their dioceses. The Paulicians were now treated well, while image-worshippers and monks were fiercely persecuted. Instead of paintings of saints the churches were decorated with pictures of flowers, fruit, and birds, so that the people said that they looked like grocers’ stores and bird shops. A monk Peter was scourged to death on May 16, 761; the Abbot of Monagria, John, who refused to trample on an icon, was tied up in a sack and thrown into the sea on June 7, 761; in 767 Andrew, a Cretan monk, was flogged and lacerated till he died (see the Acta SS., October 8; Roman Martyrology for October 17; and Nilles, “Kalendarium manuale”, 2nd ed., Innsbruck, 1906, p. 303); in November of the same year a great number of monks were tortured to death in various ways (Martyrology, November 28; Nilles, op. cit., p. 336). The emperor tried to abolish monasticism (always the center of the defense of images); monasteries were turned into barracks; the monastic habit was forbidden; the patriarch Constantine II was made to swear in the ambo of his church that, although formerly a monk, he had now joined the secular clergy. Relics were dug up and thrown into the sea, the invocation of saints was forbidden. In 766 the emperor fell foul of his patriarch, had him scourged and beheaded and replaced by Nicetas I (766-80), who was, naturally, also an obedient servant of the Iconoclast Government. Meanwhile, the countries which the emperor’s power did not reach kept the old custom and broke communion with the Iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople and his bishops. Cosmas of Alexandria, Theodore of Antioch, and Theodore of Jerusalem were all defenders of the holy icons in communion with Rome. The Emperor Constantine V died in 775. His son Leo IV (775-80), although he did not repeal the Iconoclast laws, was much milder in enforcing them. He allowed the exiled monks to come back, tolerated at least the inter-cession of saints, and tried to reconcile all parties. When the patriarch Nicetas I died in 780 he was succeeded by Paul IV (780-84), a Cypriote monk, who carried on a half-hearted Iconoclast policy only through fear of the Government. But Leo IV’s wife Irene was always a steadfast image-worshipper. Even during her husband’s life she concealed holy icons in her rooms. At the end of his reign Leo had a burst of fiercer Iconoclasm. He punished the courtiers who had replaced images in their apartments and was about to banish the empress when he died, September 8, 780. At once a complete reaction set in.
II. THE SEVENTH GENERAL COUNCIL (Second of Nicea, 787).—The Empress Irene was regent for her son Constantine VI (780-97), who was nine years old when his father died. She immediately set about undoing the work of the Iconoclast emperors. Pictures and relics were restored to the churches; monasteries were reopened. Fear of the army, now fanatically Iconoclast, kept her for a time from repealing the laws; but she only waited for an opportunity to do so and to restore the broken communion with Rome and the other patriarchates. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Paul IV, resigned, and retired to a monastery, giving openly as his reason repentance for his former concessions to the Iconoclast Government. He was succeeded by a pronounced image-worshipper, Tarasius (784-806, “Vita Tarasii”, ed. Heikel, 1889). Tarasius and the empress now opened negotiations with Rome. They sent an embassy to Pope Adrian I (772-95) acknowledging the primacy and begging him to come himself, or at least to send legates, to a council that should undo the work of the Iconoclast synod of 754 (Mansi, XII, pp. 984-86; Hefele, “Conciliengeschichte”, 2nd ed., III,446-47). The pope answered by two letters, one for the empress and one for the patriarch. In these he repeats the arguments for the worship of images, agrees to the proposed council, insists on the authority of the Holy See, and demands the restitution of the property confiscated by Leo III. He blames the sudden elevation of Tarasius (who from being a layman had suddenly become patriarch), and rejects his title of Ecumenical Patriarch, but he praises his orthodoxy and zeal for the holy images. Finally, he commits all these matters to the judgment of his legates (Jaffe, “Reg.”, 2448 and 2449; Hefele, 1. c., 448-4.52). These legates were an archpriest Peter and the abbot Peter of St. Saba near Rome. The other three patriarchs were unable to answer, they did not even receive Tarasius’s letters, because of the disturbance at that time in the Moslem state. But two monks, Thomas, abbot of an Egyptian monastery, and John Syncellus of Antioch, appeared with letters from their communities explaining the state of things and showing that the patriarchs had always remained faithful to the images. These two seem to have acted in some sort as legates for Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
Tarasius opened the synod in the church of the Apostles at Constantinople, in August, 786; but it was at once dispersed by the Iconoclast soldiers. The empress disbanded those troops and replaced them by others; it was arranged that the synod should meet at Nicaea in Bithynia, the place of the first general council. The bishops met here in the summer of 787, about 300 in number. The council lasted from September 24 to October 23. The Roman legates were present; they signed the Acts first and always had the first place in the list of members (Mansi, XII, 993; XIII, 366, 379, etc.), but Tarasius conducted the proceedings, apparently because the legates could not speak Greek. In the first three sessions Tarasius gave an account of the events that had led up to the Council, the papal and other letters were read out, and many repentant Iconoclast bishops were reconciled. The fathers accepted the pope’s letters as true formulae of the Catholic Faith. Tarasius, when he read the letters, left out the passages about the restitution of the confiscated papal property, the reproaches against his own sudden elevation, and use of the title Ecumenical Patriarch, and modified (but not essentially) the assertions of the primacy (Mansi, XII, 1077-1084). The fourth session established the reasons for which the use of holy images is lawful, quoting from the Old Testament passages about images in the temple (Ex., xxv, 18-22; Num., vii, 89; Ezech., xli, 18-19; Hebr., ix, 5), and also citing a great number of the Fathers. Euthymius of Sardes at the end of the session read a profession of faith in this sense. In the fifth session Tarasius explained that Iconoclasm came from Jews, Saracens, and heretics; some Iconoclast misquotations were exposed, their books burnt, and an icon set up in the hall in the midst of the fathers. The sixth session was occupied with the Iconoclast synod of 754; its claim to be a general council was denied, because neither the pope nor the three other patriarchs had had a share in it. The decree of that synod (see above) was refuted clause by clause. The seventh session drew up the symbol (oros) of the council, in which, after repeating the Nicene Creed and renewing the condemnation of all manner of former heretics, from Arians to Monothelites, the fathers make their definition. Images are to receive veneration (proskunesis), not adoration (latreia); the honor paid to them is only relative (schetike), for the sake of their prototype (for the text of this, the essential definition of the council, see Veneration of Images). Anathemas are pronounced against the Iconoclast leaders; Germanus, John Damascene, and George of Cyprus are praised. In opposition to the formula of the Iconoclast synod the fathers declare: “The Trinity has made these three glorious” (e Trias tous treis edoksasen). A deputation was sent to the empress with the Acts of the synod; a letter to the clergy of Constantinople acquainted them with its decision. Twenty-two canons were drawn up, of which these are the chief: canons i and ii confirm the canons of all former general councils; canon iii forbids the appointment of ecclesiastical persons by the State; only bishops may elect other bishops; canons iv and v are against simony; canon vi insists on yearly provincial synods; canon vii forbids bishops, under penalty of deposition, to consecrate churches without relics; canon x forbids priests to change their parishes without their bishop’s consent; canon xiii commands all desecrated monasteries to be restored; canons xviii-xx regulate abuses in monasteries (see these canons in Mansi, XII, 417-40). An eighth and last session was held on October 23 at Constantinople, in the presence of Irene and her son. After a discourse by Tarasius the Acts were read out and signed by all, including the empress and the emperor. The synod was closed with the usual Polychronia or formal acclamation (see the full text of the Acts in Hardouin, IV, pp. 27-502; Mansi, XII, pp. 992; XIII, p. 440; also Hefele, op. cit., III, pp. 441 sq.), and Epiphanius, a deacon of Catania in Sicily, preached a sermon to the assembled fathers (Mansi, XII, 441-58).
Tarasius sent to Pope Adrian an account of all that had happened (“Ep. ad Adrianum”, Mansi, 1. c., 458), and Adrian approved the Acts (letter to Charles the Great, Hardouin, IV, 773-820) and had them translated into Latin. But the question of the property of the Holy See in Southern Italy and the friendship of the pope towards the Franks still caused bad feeling between East and West; moreover an Iconoclast party still existed at Constantinople, especially in the army.
III. THE SECOND ICONOCLAST PERSECUTION.—Twenty-seven years after the Synod of Nica Iconoclasm broke out again. Again the holy pictures were destroyed, and their defenders fiercely persecuted. For twenty-eight years the former story was repeated with wonderful exactness. The places of Leo III, Constantine V, and Leo IV are taken by a new line of Iconoclast emperors—Leo V, Michael II, Theophilus. Pope Paschal I acts just as did Gregory II, the faithful Patriarch Nicephorus stands for Germanus I, St. John Damascene lives again in St. Theodore the Studite. Again one synod rejects icons, and another, following it, defends them. Again an empress, regent for her young son, puts an end to the storm and restores the old custom—this time finally.
The origin of this second outbreak is not far to seek. There had remained, especially in the army, a considerable Iconoclast party. Constantine V, their hero, had been a valiant and successful general against the Moslems, Michael I (811-13), who kept the Faith of the Second Council of Nica, was singularly unfortunate in his attempt to defend the empire. The Iconoclasts looked back regretfully to the glorious campaigns of his predecessor, they evolved the amazing conception of Constantine as a saint, they went in pilgrimage to his grave and cried out to him: “Arise, come back and save the perishing empire!” When Michael I, in June, 813, was utterly defeated by the Bulgars and fled to his capital, the soldiers forced him to resign his crown and set up one of the generals, Leo the Armenian (Leo V, 813-20) in his place. An officer (Theodotus Cassiteras) and a monk (the Abbot John Grammaticus) persuaded the new emperor that all the misfortunes of the empire were a judgment of God on the idolatry of image-worship. Leo, once persuaded, used all his power to put down the icons, and so all the trouble began again.
In 814 the Iconoclasts assembled at the palace and prepared an elaborate attack against images, repeating almost exactly the arguments of the synod of 754. The Patriarch of Constantinople was Nicephorus I (806-15), who became one of the chief defenders of images in this second persecution. The emperor invited him to a discussion of the question with the Iconoclasts; he refused, since it had been already settled by the Seventh General Council. The work of demolishing images began again. The picture of Christ, restored by Irene over the iron door of the palace, was again removed. In 815 the patriarch was summoned to the emperor’s presence. He came surrounded by bishops, abbots, and monks, and held a. long discussion with Leo and his Iconoclast followers. In the same year the emperor summoned a synod of bishops, who, obeying his orders, deposed the patriarch and elected Theodotus Cassiteras (Theodotus I, 815-21) to succeed him. Nicephorus was banished across the Bosporus. Till his death, in 829, he defended the cause of the images by controversial writings (the “Lesser Apology”, “Antirrhetikoi”, “Greater Apology”, etc., in P.G., C, 201-850; Pitra, “Spicileg. Solesm.”, I, 302-503; IV, 233, 380), wrote a history of his own time (Istoria suntomos), P.G., C, 876-994) and a general chronography from Adam (chronographikon suntomon), in P.G., C, 995-1060). See the “Vita Nicephori patriarchie auctore Ignatio diacono” (ed. de Door, Leipzig, 1880); and Krumbacher, “Byzantinische Litteratur” (Munich, 1897), 71-73, 349-352. Among the monks who accompanied Nicephorus to the emperor’s presence in 815 was Theodore, Abbot of the Studium monastery at Constantinople (d. 826). Throughout this second Iconoclast persecution St. Theodore (Theodorus Studita) was the leader of the faithful monks, the chief defender of the icons. He comforted and encouraged Nicephorus in his resistance to the emperor, was three times banished by the Government, wrote a great number of treatises, controversial letters, and apologies in various forms for the images. His chief point is that Iconoclasts are Christological heretics, since they deny an essential element of Christ’s human nature, namely, that it can be represented graphically. This amounts to a denial of its reality and material quality, whereby Iconoclasts revive the old Monophysite heresy. Ehrhard judges St. Theodore to be “perhaps the most ingenious [der scharfsinnigste] of the defenders of the cult of images” (in Krumbacher’s “Byz. Litt.”, p. 150). In any case his position can be rivaled only by that of St. John Damascene. (See his works in P.G., XCIX; for an account of them see Krumbacher, op. cit., 147-151, 712-715; his life by a contemporary monk, P.G., XCIX, 9 sq.; Alice Gardner, “Theodore of Studium”, London, 1905. His feast is on November 11 in the Byzantine Rite, November 12 in the Roman Martyrology. See Nilles, “Kai. Man.”, I, 321-327.)
The first thing the new patriarch Theodotus did was to hold a synod which condemned the council of 787 (the Second Nicene) and declared its adherence to that of 754. Bishops, abbots, clergy, and even officers of the Government, who would not accept its decree, were deposed, banished, tortured. Theodore of Studium refused communion with the Iconoclast patriarch, and went into exile. A number of persons of all ranks were put to death at this time (Nilles, “Kai. Man.”, II, 515-18, and his references); pictures of all kinds were destroyed everywhere. Theodore appealed to the pope (Paschal I, 817-824) in the name of the persecuted Eastern image-worshippers. At the same time Theodotus, the Iconoclast patriarch, sent legates to Rome, who were, however, not admitted by the pope, since Theodotus was a schismatical intruder in the see of which Nicephorus was still lawful bishop. But Paschal received the monks sent by Theodore, and gave up the monastery of St. Praxedes to them and others who had fled from the persecution in the East. In 818 the pope sent legates to the emperor with a letter defending the icons and once more refuting the Iconoclast accusation of idolatry. In this letter he insists chiefly on our need of exterior signs for invisible things; sacraments, words, the sign of the Cross, and all tangible signs of this kind; how, then, can people who admit these reject images? (The fragment of this letter that has been preserved is published in Pitra, “Spicileg. Solesm.”, II, p. xi sq.) The letter did not have any effect on the emperor; but it is from this time especially that the Catholics in the East turn with more loyalty than ever to Rome as their leader, their last refuge in the persecution. The well-known texts of St. Theodore in which he defends the primacy in the strongest possible language—e.g., “Whatever novelty is brought into the Church by those who wander from the truth must certainly be referred to Peter or to his successor.. Save us, chief pastor of the Church under heaven” (Ep. i, 33, P.G., XCIX, 1018); “Arrange that a decision be received from old Rome as the custom has been handed down from the beginning by the tradition of our fathers” (Ep. ii, 36; ibid., 1331—were written during this persecution).
The protestations of loyalty to old Rome made by the Orthodox and Catholic Christians of the Byzantine Church at this time are her last witness immediately before the Great Schism. There were then two separate parties in the East having no communion with each other: the Iconoclast persecutors under the emperor, with their anti-patriarch Theodotus, and the Catholics led by Theodore the Studite, acknowledging the lawful patriarch Nicephorus and above him the distant Latin bishop who was to them the “chief pastor of the Church under heaven”. On Christmas Day, 820, Leo V ended his tyrannical reign by being murdered in a palace revolution that set up one of his generals, Michael II (the Stammerer, 820-29), as emperor. Michael was also an Iconoclast and continued his predecessor’s policy, though at first he was anxious not to persecute but to conciliate every one. But he changed nothing of the Iconoclast laws, and when Theodotus the anti-patriarch died (821) he refused to restore Nicephorus and set up another usurper, Antony, formerly Bishop of Sylaeum (Antony I, 821-32). In 822 a certain general of Slav race, Thomas, set up a dangerous revolution with the help of the Arabs. It does not seem that this revolution had anything to do with the question of images. Thomas represented rather the party of the murdered emperor, Leo V. But after it was put down, in 824, Michael became much more severe towards the image-worshippers. A great number of monks fled to the West, and Michael wrote a famous letter full of bitter accusations of their idolatry to his rival Louis the Pious (814-20) to persuade him to hand over these exiles to Byzantine justice (in Mansi, XIV, 417-22). Other Catholics who had not escaped were imprisoned and tortured, among whom were Methodius of Syracuse and Euthymius, Metropolitan of Sardes. The deaths of St. Theodore the Studite (November 11, 826) and of the lawful patriarch Nicephorus (June 2, 828) were a great loss to the orthodox at this time. Michael’s son and successor, Theophilus (829-42), continued the persecution still more fiercely. A monk, Lazarus, was scourged till he nearly died; another monk, Methodius, was shut up in prison with common ruffians for seven years; Michael, Syncellus of Jerusalem, and Joseph, a famous writer of hymns, were tortured. The two brothers Theophanes and Theodore were scourged with 200 strokes and branded in the face with hot irons as idolaters (Martyrol. Rom., December 27; Nilles, “Kal. Man.” I, 369). By this time all images had been removed from the churches and public places, the prisons were filled with their defenders, the faithful Catholics were reduced to a sect hiding about the empire and a crowd of exiles in the West. But the emperor’s wife Theodora and her mother Theoctista were faithful to the Second Nicene Synod and waited for better times.
Those times came as soon as Theophilus died (January 20, 842). He left a son, three years old, Michael III (the Drunkard, who lived to cause the Great Schism of Photius, 842-67), and the regent was Michael’s mother, Theodora. Like Irene at the end of the first persecution, Theodora at once began to change the situation. She opened the prisons, let out the confessors who were shut up for defending images, and recalled the exiles. For a time she hesitated to revoke the Iconoclast laws, but soon she made up her mind, and everything was brought back to the conditions of the Second Council of Nica. The patriarch John VII (832-42), who had succeeded Antony I, was given his choice between restoring the images and retiring. He preferred to retire, and his place was taken by Methodius, the monk who had already suffered years of imprisonment for the cause of the icons (Methodius I, 842-46). In the same year (842) a synod at Constantinople approved of John VII’s deposition, renewed the decree of the Second Council of Nica, and excommunicated Iconoclasts. This is the last act in the story of this heresy. On the first Sunday of Lent (February 19, 842) the icons were brought back to the churches in solemn procession. That day (the first Sunday of Lent) was made into a perpetual memory of the triumph of Orthodoxy at the end of the long Iconoclast persecution. It is the “Feast of Orthodoxy” of the Byzantine Church, still kept very solemnly by both Uniats and Orthodox. Twenty years later the Great Schism began. So large has this, the last of the old heresies, loomed in the eyes of Eastern Christians that the Byzantine Church looks upon it as a kind of type of heresy in general. The Feast of Orthodoxy, founded to commemorate the defeat of Iconoclasm, has become a feast of the triumph of the Church over all heresies. It is in this sense that it is now kept. The great Synodikon read out on that day anathematizes all heretics (in Russia rebels and nihilists also), among whom the Iconoclasts appear only as one fraction of a large and varied class (for the text of the Synodikon see Nilles, “Kal. Man.”, II, 109-18). After the restoration of the icons in 842, there still remained an Iconoclast party in the East, but it never again got the ear of an emperor, and so gradually dwindled and eventually died out.
IV. ICONOCLASM IN THE WEST.—There was an echo of these troubles in the Frankish kingdom, chiefly through misunderstanding of the meaning of Greek expressions used by the Second Council of Nici a. As early as 767 Constantine V had tried to secure the sympathy of the Frankish bishops for his campaign against images, this time without success. A synod at Gentilly sent a declaration to Pope Paul I (757-67) which quite satisfied him (Hefele, “Conciliengeschichte”, III, 431). The trouble began when Adrian I (772-95) sent a very imperfect translation of the Acts of the Second Council of Nica to Charles the Great (Charlemagne, 768-814). The errors of this Latin version are obvious from the quotations made from it by the Frankish bishops. For instance, in the third session of the council, Constantine, Bishop of Constantia, in Cyprus, had said: “I receive the holy and venerable images; and I give worship which is according to real adoration [Kara Xarpetav] only to the consubstantial and life-giving Trinity” (Mansi, XII, 1148). This phrase had been translated: “I receive the holy and venerable images with the adoration which I give to the consubstantial and life-giving Trinity” (“Libri Carolini”, III, 17, P.L., XCVIII, 1148; Hefele, 1. c., 705). There were other reasons why these Frankish bishops objected to the decrees of the council. Their people had only just been converted from idolatry, and so they were suspicious of anything that might seem like a return to it. Germans knew nothing of Byzantine elaborate forms of respect; prostrations, kisses, incense, and such signs that Greeks used constantly towards their emperors, even towards the emperor’s statues? and therefore applied naturally to holy pictures, seemed to these Franks servile, degrading, even idolatrous. The Franks saw the word 71poo’K6VTIvir (which meant worship only in the sense of reverence and veneration) translated adoratio and understood it as meaning the homage due only to God. Lastly, there was their indignation against the political conduct of the Empress Irene, the state of friction that led to the coronation of Charlemagne at Rome and the establishment of a rival empire. Suspicion of everything done by Greeks, dislike of all their customs, led to the rejection of the council by the Frankish Church. But it should be noted that this rejection of the council did not mean that the Frankish bishops and Charlemagne sided with the Iconoclasts. If they refused to accept the Nicene Council they equally rejected the Iconoclast synod of 754. They had holy images and kept them; but they thought that the Fathers of Nicaea had gone too far, had encouraged what would be real idolatry.
The answer to the decrees of the Second Council of Nicaea sent in this faulty translation by Adrian I was a refutation in eighty-five chapters brought to the pope in 790 by a Frankish abbot, Angilbert. This refutation, later expanded, and fortified with quotations from the Fathers and other arguments, became the famous “Libri Carolini” or “Capitulare de Imaginibus” in which Charlemagne is represented as declaring his convictions (first published at Paris by Jean du Tillet, Bishop of St-Brieux, 1549, in P.L., XCVIII, 990-1248). The authenticity of this work, some time disputed, is now established (Hefele, “Conciliengeschichte”, III, 694-717). In it the bishops reject the synods both of 787 and of 754. They admit that pictures of saints should be kept as ornaments in churches and—as well as relics and the saints themselves—should receive a certain proper veneration (opportuna veneratio); but they declare that God only can receive adoration (meaning adoratio, proskunesis); pictures are in themselves indifferent, have no necessary connection with the Faith, are in any case inferior to relics, the Cross, and the Bible. The pope, in 794, answered these eighty-five chapters by a long exposition and defense of the cult of images (“Hadriani ep. ad Carol. Reg.” in Jaffe, “Regesta”, n. 2483; Mansi, XIII, 759-810; P.L., XCVIII, 1247-92), in which he mentions, among other points, that twelve Frankish bishops were present at, and had agreed to, the Roman synod of 731. Before the letter arrived the Frankish bishops held the Synod of Frankfort (794) in the presence of two papal legates, Theophylactus and Stephen, who do not seem to have done anything to clear up the misunderstanding. This synod formally condemns the Second Council of Nica, showing, at the same time, that it altogether misunderstands the decision of Nicaea. The essence of the decree at Frankfort is its second canon: “A question has been brought forward concerning the new synod of the Greeks which they held at Constantinople [the Franks do not even know where the synod they condemn was held] in connection with the adoration of images, in which synod it was written that those who do not give service and adoration to pictures of saints just as much as to the Divine Trinity are to be anathematized. But our most holy Fathers, whose names are above, refusing this adoration and service despise and condemn [that synod]” (Mansi, XIII, 909). Charlemagne sent these Acts to Rome and demanded the condemnation of Irene and Constantine VI. The pope of course refused to do so, and matters remained for a time as they were, the Second Council of Nicaea being rejected in the Frankish kingdom.
During the second Iconoclast persecution, in 824, the Emperor Michael II wrote to Louis the Pious the letter which, besides demanding that the Byzantine monks who had escaped to the West should be handed over to him, entered into the whole question of image-worship at length and contained vehement accusations against its defenders. Part of the letter is quoted in Leclercq-Hefele, “Histoire des conciles”, III, 1, p. 612. Louis begged the pope (Eugene II, 824-27) to receive a document to be drawn up by the Frankish bishops in which texts of the Fathers bearing on the subject should be collected. Eugene agreed, and the bishops met in 825 at Paris. This meeting followed the example of the Synod of Frankfort exactly. The bishops try to propose a middle way, but decidedly lean towards the Iconoclasts. They produce some texts against these, many more against image-worship. Pictures may be tolerated only as mere ornaments. Adrian I is blamed for his assent to Nicaea II. Two bishops, Jeremias of Sens and Jonas of Orleans, are sent to Rome with this document; they are especially warned to treat the pope with every possible reverence and humility, and to efface any passages that might offend him. Louis, also, wrote to the pope, protesting that he only proposed to help him with some useful quotations in his discussions with the Byzantine Court; that he had no idea of dictating to the Holy See (Hefele, 1. c.). Nothing is known of Eugene’s answer, or of the further developments of this incident. The correspondence about images continued for some time between the Holy See and the Frankish Church; gradually the decrees of the Second Council of Nicaea were accepted throughout the Western Empire. Pope John VIII (872-82) sent a better translation of the Acts of the council, which helped very much to remove misunderstanding.
There are a few more isolated cases of Iconoclasm in the West. Claudius, Bishop of Turin (d. 840), in 824 destroyed all pictures and crosses in his diocese, forbade pilgrimages, recourse to intercession of saints, veneration of relics, even lighted candles, except for practical purposes. Many bishops of the empire and a Frankish abbot, Theodomir, wrote against him (P.L., CV); he was condemned by a local synod. (See “Claudii Taurin. De cultu imaginum” in the Cologne “Bibl. Patrum”, IX, 2.) Agobard of Lyons at the same time thought that no external signs of reverence should be paid to images; but he had few followers. Walafrid Strabo (“De eccles. rerum exordiis et incrementis” in P.L., CXIV, 916-66) and Hincmar of Reims (“Opusc. c. Hincmarum Lauden.”, xx, in P.L., CXXVI) defended the Catholic practice and contributed to put an end to the exceptional principles of Frankish bishops. But as late as the eleventh century Bishop Jocelin of Bordeaux still had Iconoclast ideas, for which he was severely reprimanded by Pope Alexander II.