Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867)

The restoration of Orthodoxy. The separation of churches in the ninth century 


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 2

A quarter of a century had elapsed since the time Irene had restored image-worship, but the iconoclastic movement was still alive in the eastern provinces of Asia Minor and in the ranks of the army. In 813, Leo, a military chief of Armenian birth, assumed the imperial title. In the time of his predecessors Leo enjoyed great authority as a gifted general and was careful to conceal his iconoclastic views; but as soon as he deposed Michael Rangabe and strengthened his own position on the throne he began to advance openly an iconoclastic policy. One source credits the Emperor with these words: You see that all emperors who had accepted images and worshiped them died either in exile or in battle. Only those who had not adored images died a natural death while they still bore their imperial rank. These emperors were all placed in imperial sepulchers with high honors and buried in the temple of the Apostles. I want to follow their example and destroy images, so that, after my long life and the life of my son are over, our rule shall continue until the fourth and fifth generation.

The iconoclastic measures of Leo V were vehemently opposed by Patriarch Nicephorus, who was later deposed by the Emperor. The rank of archbishop of Constantinople was conferred upon Theodotus, who was in complete agreement with Leo's religious policy. In the year 815 a second iconoclastic council was gathered in the temple of St. Sophia in Constantinople. The acts of this council were destroyed after the restoration of icon worship, but its decree has been preserved in one of the apologetic works of Patriarch Nicephorus, and has been published.

Having established and confirmed the divinely accepted doctrine of the Holy Fathers and in accordance with the six Holy Ecumenical Councils, this council condemned the unprofitable practice, unwarranted by tradition, of making and adoring images, preferring worship in spirit and truth. The decree further indicated that with the change of masculine rule to feminine (Irene), female simplicity restored the adoration of dead figures and lifeless icons, the lighting of candles and burning of incense. The council prohibited the unauthorized manufacture of pseudonymous icons of the catholic church, rejected the adoration of images as confirmed by Patriarch Tarasius, and condemned the lighting of candles and lamps, as well as the offering of incense before images. Essentially this decree was a repetition of the basic ideas of the iconoclastic council of 754, whose acts it confirmed. The council stated that it was prohibited to adore images and useless to produce them. Since this council abstained from calling images idols, because there are degrees of evil, it has sometimes been regarded as more tolerant than the first iconoclastic council. But the opinion has recently been advanced that the second iconoclastic movement, particularly under Leo V and Theophilus, was neither more moderate nor more tolerant than that under Leo III and Constantine V, but only spiritually poorer.

First / Next Page of this section

Peter Damascene 

A History of the Byzantine Empire - Table of Contents

Next Chapter : Literature, learning, and art

Previous Chapter : The first Russian attack on Constantinople. [Arabs and Bulgarians.]



Medieval West * The Making of Europe
Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Learned Freeware

Reference address :