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I have called this talk The Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Council of Frankfurt and the Practice of Painting and my own main interest lies with the practice of painting. I am myself a painter, a disciple - the term is not too strong - of Albert Gleizes. I could claim that most of my serious intellectual interests turn in concentric circles round him. There is an Irish dimension to this interest since his pupils, and again we could say 'disciples', include the Irish painters Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone. In addition to his painting, Gleizes also wrote, mainly with a view to trying to understand and explain what was or ought to be permanent in the changes introduced through Cubism, and this led him to develop a broader historical view, understanding changes in painting styles as reflecting changes in the spiritual disposition of the wider society. In a couple of places - in his large study La Forme et l'Histoire published in 1932 and in his lecture Art et Religion, given about the same time -he evokes the Council of Frankfurt and expresses approval for its rejection of the veneration of icons. [2] Since I am also an Orthodox Christian and I venerate icons this poses a problem for me and it is largely my desire to explore this problem that has led to this talk. I shall begin with a brief and necessarily superficial account of the eighth century controversy between, on the one side the Eastern Empire and the Papacy and, on the other, the court of Charlemagne which was soon to become the court of the Western Empire. My account owes a great deal to Thomas F.X. Noble's book: Images, Iconoclasm and the Carolingians. [3]

[2]  Albert Gleizes: La Forme et l’Histoire, Jacques Povolozky, Paris, 1932. p.376; ibid: Art et Religion, Art et Science, Art et Production, Editions Présence, Chambéry, 1970. English translation with introduction and notes by Peter Brooke, as Art and Religion, Art and Science, Art and Production, Francis Boutle publishers, London, 1999. Reference to the Council of Frankfurt p.50 of the English translation.

[3] Thomas F.X.Noble: Images, Iconoclasm and the Carolingians, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2009.

The Seventh Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea in 787 AD (and therefore often referred to as Nicaea II) was the last generally recognised ecumenical council of the Roman Empire. It was also the last council held under the auspices of the Emperor at Constantinople at which all the great historical patriarchates of the original Roman Empire, including the Papacy, were represented. Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem sent representatives but they were already under Muslim rule and Rome was already engaged in the long process of detaching itself from the Eastern Empire in alliance with the Franks in the West.

The main business of the Council was to assert, or to re-assert, the validity of religious images and their veneration in reaction to the earlier Council of Hiereia, which also regarded itself as the 'Seventh Ecumenical Council' (though its findings had been vigourously opposed by Rome). The Council of Hiereia had been summoned in 754 by the Emperor Leo III whose policy of rejection of religious imagery was continued by his son, Constantine V. Nicaea II was summoned by Constantine V's widow, the Empress Irene, acting as regent for her son Constantine VI. Its canons are still regarded as authoritative within both Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy but in the event an iconoclast programme was renewed soon in the following century by Leo V. It was only with a council held in the Blachernai Palace in Constantinople in 843 - again under the auspices of an Empress acting as regent for her son - that religious imagery and the veneration of religious images were accepted definitively as part of the practise of the Orthodox Church. It is this event that the Orthodox Church celebrates on the first Sunday of Lent as the 'Triumph of Orthodoxy'.

The Council of Frankfurt was held in 794 under the auspices of Charlemagne, six years before he was crowned Emperor of the West. Canon 2 of the Council states:

'The question of the recent synod of the Greeks, which was held in Constantinople for the adoration of images, was entered into the discussion. One finds written there that they who do not pay to the images of Saints the same service or adoration as to the divine Trinity are bound by anathema; our above-mentioned holy fathers, utterly rejecting such adoration and service, hate it and agree in condemning it.' (Noble, p.170)

Of course the Seventh Ecumenical Council said no such thing. It seems that the very bad translation of the Acts of the Council in Nicaea which had been received by the Frankish court quoted the Greek Bishop Constantine of Constantia in Cyprus as saying: 'I receive and embrace honourably the holy and most venerable images according to the service of adoration which I pay to the consubstantial and life-giving Trinity.' In fact, in the original Greek text he had said that images should not be paid the service or adoration due to the Holy Trinity.

So if we were to confine ourselves to considering just the Council of Frankfurt we might say that the quarrel with the Council of Nicaea was based on a misunderstanding, and we might even say that all that was being condemned was a personal opinion expressed by one of the Bishops present at the Council, though the grammar of the Frankfurt canon suggests condemnation of the council as a whole. But in fact there is much more to it than that.

In 792, the court of Charlemagne sent the Pope - Hadrian I - a polemic against the Nicaean Council - the Capitulare adversus synodum. This can be seen as a first draft of a much more ambitious work, the Opus Caroli Regis contra Synodum which was in the course of preparation. The importance attached to the Opus Caroli can be seen in the very name - it was written as if written by Charles himself. There has been some dispute as to who actually did write it and for a long time it was ascribed to Alcuin of York, who may indeed have had a hand in it. But the consensus opinion is now that it was written by Theodulf who, some six years later, was to become Bishop of Orleans.

Before the Opus Caroli was finished, however, the Pope had sent Charlemagne a lengthy 'Responsum' to the Capitulare, defending the conclusions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Thomas Noble argues that the Responsum came as something of a blow to what was intended to be an ambitious assault on the theology of Constantinople. This is also the period in which the controversy over the Filioque was being prepared and part of Theodulf's argument was based on the Filioque in the form given it by Augustine of Hippo in his treatise on the Trinity. (Noble, pp. 175 and 195)

The Opus Caroli has four volumes. The first two volumes are tightly structured, the third less so, the fourth volume reads like a draft. The implication is that the project was abandoned, probably as a result of the Pope's intervention. Nonetheless, the Nicaean Council was condemned by the Council of Frankfurt, but in what Noble (p.158) calls 'an odd and ambiguous way'. None of the propositions defended in the Responsum were condemned, though many had been vigorously attacked in the Capitulare and in the Opus Caroli. None of the actual canons of the Nicaean Council were condemned. What was condemned was an eccentric proposition which the Latin translation had attributed - wrongly as it happens - to one of the participants in the Council. But this proposition was condemned as if it was a proposition of the whole Council. The determination to condemn the Council remained intact but it needed to be done in such a way as to avoid open conflict with the Pope. The Pope, who was represented at Frankfurt (as he had been at Nicaea) must have been fully conscious of what was happening and to have made a decision to let it pass (he too had an interest in avoiding open conflict with the Franks).

Obviously what is happening here is very political. We have been describing part - a major part - of the process by which a new Frankish Empire came into existence in full moral and intellectual independence from the Roman Empire whose political centre was Constantinople. You may have noticed that I have so far avoided using the term 'Byzantine'. I think the term 'Byzantine' is misleading, giving an impression of something exotic and oriental. Although the language of the Eastern Empire was Greek, its people called themselves 'Roman' - they saw themselves as the continuation of the Roman tradition politically and culturally. And this viewpoint would have been shared by old Rome, as represented by the papacy. It was only with reluctance that the papacy was turning to the Franks for protection. I shall indeed shortly be arguing that the art of the West was more exotic and foreign to our own presuppositions than the still classical art of Constantinople. [4]

[4] The 'Roman' character of 'Byzantium' is discussed in a polemical but nonetheless informative manner in John S. Romanides: Franks, Romans, Feudalism and Doctrine - An interplay between theology and society, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, 1981.

There had of course already been many quarrels, political and theological, between old Rome and new Rome - quarrels in which, on the theological side, whether it was a matter of Arianism, Monotheletism, or the use and veneration of images, Rome was usually on the side that both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions would eventually recognise as 'orthodox'. But there had been similar quarrels among all the historical patriarchates, quarrels that had already led to schism in the case of Alexandria. The papacy throughout the eighth century had consistently opposed the Imperial policy of refusing the use or veneration of religious images, notably in councils held in 731, under Gregory III, and 769, under Stephen III. Indeed, as Noble, points out (p. 123), the council of 731 was the first to impose an anathema on anyone who refused the veneration of holy images. The Nicaean Council did not go that far, merely authorising the veneration of images. Hadrian had written to Irene when she assumed the regency calling on her to restore the use of religious imagery. The Seventh Ecumenical Council could be seen as something of a triumph for the papacy. Hadrian's letter to Irene was published as part of its Acts and the canons included what could be construed as an acknowledgment of papal supremacy. In these circumstances, the Frankish rejection of the Council must have been extremely unwelcome.

Put very crudely, then, the Franks were determined to break completely with the Eastern Empire. The moral authority they claimed lay not in their continuity from the political tradition of Rome but in their faithfulness to the Christian idea. As such they had an interest in believing that Constantinople was not faithful to the Christian idea. I wonder in parenthesis if the Arianism of the Visigoths and Ostrogoths might have performed a similar role, enabling them to assert a new, Christian authority in opposition to the old Authority of Rome, continuous as it was from pagan Rome. Defenders of the veneration of images, as we shall see, used an analogy between the respect given to a saint through respect for the image of the saint with respect for the Emperor shown through respect for the image of the Emperor. The Opus Caroli argued that this type of veneration given to images of the Emperor should have been eliminated with the coming of Christ and in this context it quotes the Seven Books against the Pagans by the fifth century Paulus Orosius, arguing that Roman power was a continuation of Babylon. To quote Noble: 'When the passage drawn from Orosius about Rome's being the heir to Babylon was read out in Charlemagne's presence, a scribe recorded his reaction: "Wonderful!"' (Noble, p. 199) Orosius, it may be noted, was a friend of Augustine of Hippo, and a similar argument can be found in Augustine's City of God, which was one of Charlemagne's favourite books.

Clearly this desire for a clean break from Rome was complicated by the relations between the court of Charlemagne and the papacy. I don't want to get too involved in that immensely fraught topic but what is important for our present purpose is the determination of the Carolingian court to create around itself an intellectual life independent of the papacy - with Alcuin and Theoldulf as key players in the project. Although the support of the papacy was obviously helpful to establishing adherence to orthodox Christianity as the source of the court's authority, the Carolingians were far from endorsing anything resembling a doctrine of papal infallibility. Later, in the context of the revival of iconoclasm in Constantinople, a group of ecclesiastical counsellors were to advise Charlemagne's son, Louis the Pious, that:

'Furthermore, when your father of holy memory, had that same Synod [Nicaea II] read out in the presence of himself and his men and had criticised it in many places, as was fitting, and when he had particularly noted some passages that were especially open to severe censure, he sent them to Pope Hadrian through Abbot Angilbert, so that they could be corrected by his judgment and authority. The Pope himself, on the contrary, by favouring those who had at his instigation inserted both superstitious and ill-suited testimonials into the above-mentioned work, tried, in a not quite appropriate way, to offer individual chapters [the Responsum] that he wished to stand in their defence.' (Noble, p.268)

Far from withdrawing their criticism of Nicaea in deference to the Pope, this high-powered group of Frankish theologians were accusing Hadrian of heresy.