There is a debate concerning the significance of a letter from Pope Adrian I’s to the Byzantine emperors (JE 2448). Roman Catholic apologists assert that the Latin manuscript, which contains relatively muscular Papal claims, represents the document accepted by the Council of Nicea II. This proves, they say, that the conciliar fathers accepted a Vatican I-era Roman Catholic ecclesiology. However, the Greek manuscript tradition lacks these Papal claims, which is indicative of the conciliar fathers not accepting the Papacy on these terms.

To this, Roman Catholic apologists respond assert that there is allegedly a “consensus” of (two) historians that have “proven” the Greek renderings to be Photian forgeries and the Latin to be the authentic rendering of what was said at the council.

But, is this really the case?

This question will be explored in thorough detail by reviewing what textual evidence actually exists, what evidence is inferred by textual critics from Anastasius the Librarian’s writings, the arguments for and against the Greek minutes of Nicea 2’s reliability on this question, and finally a new theory will be suggested that asserts the strongest evidence of forgery implicates the Latin tradition of these minutes, not the Greek.

The Disputed Section of JE 2448. There are two significant differences between the Greek and Latin versions of JE 2448. First, the Latin version has a rather long ending which criticizes Taurius’ elevation to the status of Patriarch from that of a layman, inveighs against the title of “ecumenical Patriarch” as belonging to the Patriarch of Constantinople as it defies Rome’s prerogatives, and it makes note of jurisdictional demands in the Balkans. This whole ending is lacking in the Greek and it was so since Anastasius’ time, as he believed it to be missing since Nicea II. (Price, Nicea II, p. 146 and 169) Due to this being the case, there is no debate that by 870 the Latin and Greek were different on this point.

In any event, there is a section which precedes the end of the letter which in the Greek contains no Papal aggrandizements and in the Latin is chock full of them. So that the reader may understand what is under dispute between different scholars and apologists, they are repeated in the following.

Greek JE 2448:

And let your divinely received power give all honour to the most holy Roman Church of these chief Apostles [Peter and Paul] to whom power has been granted by God the Word Himself to loose and to bind sins in heaven and on earth for they will become the guardians of your kingdom and will subdue all the barbarian nations under your feet and wherever ye go they will make you victorious. Now these same holy and chief Apostles who laid the foundation of the Catholic and Orthodox faith have left a written law that all who ever should succeed to their thrones should maintain the same faith and should continue in it even unto the end and thus it is that our Church maintains and honours holy images.

Latin JE 2448:

For the proofs of his dignity are found in the sacred authors and in that unbounded veneration paid to him by all the faithful everywhere throughout the world for the Lord hath made him [Peter] who is keeper of the keys of heaven Prince over all and this privilege was conferred upon him by the same Divine Person by whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven were granted for He that was endued with such singular honour had before been honoured to make that confession of faith on which the Church of Christ is founded. A blessedness of reward followed this blessed confession by preaching of which the holy Catholic Church has been enlightened and from which other Churches have taken the documents of their faith, for the blessed Peter Prince of the Apostles who first presided in the Apostolic See bequeathed the Principality of the Apostleship and the pastoral care to his successors who throughout all ages should sit in his most holy chair to whom he left the power of authority for just as it was bestowed on him by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ so in the same way did he hand it down by divine command to the Pontiffs his successors by whose tradition it is that we venerate the holy images of Christ. (Latin JE 2448 in Mendham, p. 49)

The Greek and Latin Manuscripts of Nicea II, and Fragments, That Actually Exist. In wading through a complicated issue such as the histories of JE 2448 (Pope Adrian I’s letter to the Byzantine emperors) and its relevant counterpart, JE 2449 (Pope Adrian I’s letter to Saint Taurisius of Constantinople), it is good to start with what is uncontestable fact in the written historical record as compared to speculations and deductions from that evidence made by textual critics. The following manuscripts, and fragments, actually exist. Here they are in chronological order. Dates are approximated:

-Fragments quoted in Pope Adrian’s letter to Charlemagne. (Latin, late 8th century)

-Fragments quoted in the Caroline Books. (Latin, late 8th century)

-Fragments quoted in Synod of Paris. (Latin, early 9th century)

-Complete Latin manuscript that is largely, though not entirely, a translation from an earlier Greek manuscript by Anastasius Bibliothecarius (the Librarian). (Latin, mid-late 9th century; there are two actual manuscripts that predate the 11th century) [Note: All Latin witnesses follow Anastasius, there are no independent textual traditions.]

-17 Greek manuscripts comprised of four main traditions: “H”, “V,” “T,” and “M” with dates between the 11th to 13th centuries, their original dates of composition under dispute.

-Fragments of JE2449 exist with similar or identical* variant Latin renderings in the Collectio Britannica * which is substantially or entirely the same as Anastasius’ rendering. (11th century)

*Whether this rendering of JE2449 is entirely identical or similar, I do not know as I simply do not have access to enough scholarship on that question. If identical, it is simply quoting Anastasius’ translation. If somewhat variant, it represents a separate tradition. Erich Lamberz identifies that this tradition is “independent” of Anastasius and so the latter is most likely. (“Falsata Graecirum more”?, p. 217)

The fragments above do not actually quote the relevant (ecclesiastically disputed) parts of JE 2448 or JE 2449 in enough detail to definitively show how the Latin manuscripts of JE 2448 preceding Anastasius’ rendered the disputed sections. (See Mendham’s [1849] quotations of the Caroline Books and Wallach, The Greek and Latin Version of II Nicea and the “Synodica” of Hadiran I, p. 112) However, they contain enough details to show that the later Latin minutes rendered by Anastasius in fact contained different Latin wording, which is explained by Anastasius mostly retroverting the Greek into Latin (though he allegedly used “the original” Latin during his work when correcting “defects” in the Greek version of JE 2448, something suggested by the fact there is an independent Latin tradition preserved in fragments which varies from the Greek and by Anastasius himself in passing comments). Additionally, the Caroline Books contains a quotation from the ending of JE 2448 which is missing in the Greek so that it can be known with certainty that a section in Anastasius’ rendering of the same letter is certainly authentic.

The significance of undertaking such an odd endeavor (to make the Latin out of something that evidently already existed in Latin) will be discussed later. It suffices to say that in his preface to Nicea II (Mansi 12, p. 981) Anastasius asserted that his motivation was due to the original Latin translation from the Greek being, in the words of Catholic Encyclopedia, “very faulty…which the negligence of the Roman copyists disfigured still more.” It was so bad, in Anastasius’ own words, because the Latin:

merely was translated word for word and in such a fashion that is scarcely possible to know what it means; moreover nobody ever reads this translation and no copies of it are made. (emphasis added)

Anastasius also asserted in his comments that major differences between the manuscripts, specifically between the Latin and Greek of JE 2449, were sourced from the council itself. (Mansi XII, p. 1073-1074) From this, one may suppose the Greek traditions thereby to be fundamentally reliable, at least in Anastasius’ view. However, this is not the take of scholars Luitpold Wallach or Erich Lamberz.

Anastasius’ Claims Concerning the Manuscript Record. Why do Wallach and Lamberz distrust the Greek manuscript record as it pertains to JE 2448 and 2449 when Anastasius, at least officially in his own translation, does not? One would need to draw specific inferences about what allegedly existed in manuscripts by interpreting passing statements in Anastasius’ correspondence during the first Photian controversy of the 860s.

This is because nearly all of the relevant correspondence that has been preserved is only in Anastasius’ writings and in Papal letters which are popularly believed to be written by Anastasius himself. In other words, the history of the “dispute” over the renderings between the Greek and Latin of Nicea II effectively has been bequeathed to posterity by a single man whose credibility is incredibly important to establish if one depends upon his allegations when drawing conclusions.

In the 860s, the point under dispute was not specifically the Papal aggrandizements found in JE 2448, the letter to the Emperors. Rather, the elevation of a layman, Photius, to the office of Patriarch became a cause of dispute over what was rendered in a substantial portion of JE 2449, Adrian’s letter to Taurisius. This dispute reveals that Anastasius alleged that there was something within Nicea II between the Greek and Latin that did not match. As follows are the relevant textual comments:

Pope Nicholas’ Letter 82 to Emperor Michael III mentions that JE 2449 specifically contained a criticism of elevating laymen to the Patriarchate. (Wallach, p. 109) The controversy was over the absence of a mere few words in that letter, literally: “and your unlawful ordination.” It is interesting that no mention of JE 2448 is made as it is not explicitly mentioned in Letter 82, despite the fact that the Latin version today contains an arguably more extreme and drawn out criticism of Taurisius. Its conclusion verifiable predates this date as proven by the Caroline Books, but its unknown if its conclusion included such criticisms of Constantinople in the Latin of that time. This implies that the Latin minutes of JE 2448 did not at that time contain comments, even in the conclusion, that would be considered as relevant to the Photian dispute as it pertained to Taurisius. In any event, Letter 82 also made claims to Papal jurisdiction in the Balkans as being part of JE 2449. (Lamberz, p. 227) This is something that is mentioned not only at the very end of the Latin JE 2449, but also in Latin JE 2448. Again, this implies the Latin JE 2448 did not yet contain this section, as it would likely be cited. Letter 82, according to Wallach, acknowledges that this is a difference between the Latin and Greek of JE 2449, so the Papal chancery was explicitly aware that the Greek at this early stage was different on this point. (p. 109)

Letter 86 between Nicholas and Photius reiterates similar content, but it contains an interesting statement relevant to the now deepening dispute: “si sanctam quae apud vos tempore…Hadriani celebrata est synodum diligentius scrutati fueritis atque attentius intenderitis, invenietis quid in ea idem…decreverit…dcit enim.” In plain English, Nicholas is telling Photius if he “carefully searched diligently” and “paid more attention” to Adrian’s letter, he would find a “decree” against the elevation of laymen, presumably in the original Latin letter which should still be extant at that time. (Wallach, p. 109) The preceding implies that the Latin side became suspicious that the Greeks were tampering with the Latin section of the original Greek minutes for nefarious reasons or that the Papal partisans themselves had introduced a variant Latin letter which did not exist in Constantinople’s Imperial or Patriarchal archives (original Latin documents were retained in the original minutes, Ibid., p. 108). Hence, just as it is possible that the Greek of JE 2449 was different from the Latin because it was altered anytime from the council all the way to Letter 82, it is also possible that Anastasius’ claim (through Nicholas) was intended to deflect attention from the fact that Papal partisans had introduced a new Latin rendering under the convenient accusation that the Greeks were not looking “hard enough” for the “original.”

A 10th century gloss of the same letter (Letter 86) found in the Vatican identifies partisans of Taurisius as responsible for the anomaly between the Latin and Greek. (Wallach, p. 112) In other words, Papal partisans in the ninth and tenth centuries were not explicitly accusing Photius of falsifying JE 2449 specifically, as its alteration is only explicitly identified as occurring during the council itself.

Letter 82 already acknowledges a difference between the Greek and Latin, which means that if there was any “Photian forgery” it had to occur almost immediately preceding or after his ordination. That, or, the Greek variation long predated the controversy.

Additionally, the fact that Letter 82 acknowledged the difference between the Latin and Greek and Letter 86’s argument appears to be that the original Latin (not Greek) was tampered with, implies that the Papacy’s issue was not over a divergence in the Greek. Therefore, the official party line, in keeping with the aforementioned gloss and Anastasius’ frank assertion that JE 2449 in the Greek was altered in the council itself, was that the Greek was always different but that the “original” Latin, which contained their claims, had ultimate authority over the question.

Letter 88 between Nicholas and Michael III more curtly accuses the Greek itself of being falsified with ill intent, cursing whomever “in the process of translating the letter into Greek should change the text, or either omit from it or add to it.” Wallach asserts that this letter is probably written by Anastasius. (Ibid., p. 109-110) Interestingly, this curse permits the possibility that the Greek translation was improper since the council itself and does not explicitly condemn Photius, perhaps due to the theory (as the 10th century gloss and Anastasius himself expounded) that it was Taurisius’ partisans, not Photius, who were actually responsible for the deviation.

The preceding would be keeping with the aforementioned theory that the official party line was that the Greek and Latin always deviated, but the original Latin letter appended to the actual minutes would carry ultimate authority. And so, the altering of the Greek in Taurisius’ time is allegedly problematic specifically because the Photian party’s “cover-up” of the original Latin prevented proper recourse to that “original” document’s demands.

Anastasius, writing under his own name, makes two separate comments after the Council of Constantinople IV (869-870) that are relevant to the topic at hand. After a harrowing “escape” from Constantinople where “Dalmatian pirates” destroyed the Latin and Greek acts of that council, Anastasius alleges to have brought with him additional copies of its acts, as well as the Acts of Nicea II in the Greek. From this source material, assuming the story surrounding the contents is (somewhat) true, the following comments are made:

In his Preface to the Latin Acts of Constantinople IV, he asserts that the Greeks “suppose” there is no mention over the dispute concerning Taursius’ ordination within JE 2449 specifically. (“ita epistolam beatae recordationis papae Hadriani existimant transcribendam, ut nihil in ea ex his quae ad praedictum praesulem vel contra neophytos idem sanctissimus pontifex scripserat, vel scriptum vel translatum Grece repperiatur,” Wallach, p. 110) Both Wallach (Ibid.) and Lamberz (p. 215) consider this statement to explicitly accuse the Greeks of “mutilating” the actual letter. This document is dated to 871 AD. (Ibid., p. 227)

It should be noted that the accusation “vel scriptum vel translatum Grece repperiatur” roughly translates to “or written [in Latin] or translated in the Greek.” And so, the accusation is not explicitly that of Greek forgery, but of the Latin letter having nothing relevant in it due to some cover up and the Greek translation missing the relevant content.

The reason the preceding is important is because it retains the simple accusation that it is seemingly ridiculous that the Greeks do not have the relevant content in their own version of the Latin (“in writing”). The fact that the Greek lacks the content is a relative afterthought, consistent with the party line since Letter 82 of Pope Nicholas.

In his Preface to JE 2448 in Nicea II (Mansi XII, p. 1073-1074), Anastasius asserts that the divergences between the Latin and Greek of JE 2448 are the result of “consideration for Tarasios” and the excision “already happened when the letter was read out at the council itself and in the original acts.” (Lamberz, p. 215, cf Price, p. 146) Anastasius’ translation of Nicea II is dated to 873. (Ibid., p. 214) Therein he also acknowledged the differences in JE 2449 (Price, p. 179)

In all of the preceding documents, JE 2448 (despite the Latin version having a longer ending which covers the dispute in far more detail) is never cited as relevant to the question at hand. This is peculiar if both the Greek and Latin agreed with the post-Anastasius revision of Latin JE 2448 on the points of Taurisius’ elevation and jurisdiction in the Balkans. In other words, why dispute over JE 2449 if JE 2448 would have contained all the answers to the questions anyway? And, if JE 2448 was already altered too (both in the original Latin in Constantinople as well as the Greek minutes), why not make this accusation alongside accusations over JE 2449?

Whatever the reasons for the preceding, Lamberz infers that Anastasius is offering “different explanations” and that these “show clearly enough that Anastasius only expresses conjectures in this matter which can turn out differently depending on the current state of relations with Byzantium.” (Lamberz, p. 214) At the very least, Byzantine politics made Anastasius quite malleable in his own analyses and, in Lamberz’s analysis, willing to drop the accusations of forgery. However, if one infers that the real dispute was over the original Latin and that the difference in the Greek itself was of secondary importance, then Anastasius was consistent all along and merely malleable in his emphasis, changing emphases according to the political situation.

In any event, Anastasius avoided ever alleging Photius explicitly altered Nicea II and so his accusations against “the Greeks” altering Nicea II and Photius being a forger allowed for the interpretation, as explicitly stated in 873, that it was specifically Taurisius who was to blame for the differences between the Latin and Greek versions of JE 2449. Photius’ forgeries of other documents from the 860s would have been in keeping with a long tradition of Greek forgery, in Anastasius’ view.

When seeking to understand the history behind Anastasius’ Latin rendering of Nicea II in 873, it helps to look at the political situation outside of Byzantium as Photius at this point was mostly irrelevant due to his exile. Closer to home in Carolingian France, a series of jurisdictional disputes between local metropolitans and bishops, such as during the Synods at Troyes, had offered ample opportunity for Rome to interfere and boldly assert their own prerogatives. Chadwick observed that Carolingian bishops such as Hincmar of Reims asserted a muscular view of the rights of metropolitans vis a vis Rome, necessitating their own reception of ecumenical councils as necessary for them to be binding. Ironically, Hincmar was in fact a Papal ally.

Obviously more extreme than Hincmar, certain anti-Papal partisans asserted their prerogatives so forcefully that at the Synod of Douzy in 871 they taught that in Matt 16:18 “Peter answered for all” bishops and “the same function [of the keys] is given the whole Church in the bishops and the priests.” (Tavard, Episcopacy and Apostolic Succession According To Hincmar Of Reims, p. 618) It should be no surprise that it was from this tumultuous environment arose the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, with their trumped up Papal claims, just a little while beforehand. Papal partisans in present day France in their disputes against their own enemies found exaggerating Papal pretensions as highly useful.

Hence, the significance of Anastasius’ most recent stance on the issue of JE 2449 in 873, being the most chronologically distant from the controversy that arose with Photios and chronologically preceding the second Synod of Troyes in 878 (a pro-Papal council), will be discussed in a later section. However, it suffices to say that Anastasius was slow in accusing the Greeks of specifically corrupting sections of Nicea II and this accusation served a specific political purpose. When this political purpose was irrelevant, Anastasius appears to treat the issue more dispassionately, though he never fundamentally changed his actual stance. However, his emphasis on no longer impugning the Greek translation via guilt by association (with the supposedly tampered original Latin in Constantinople) was intended to buttress the authority of the Greek minutes so as to justify his enterprise in re-translating the Latin of Nicea II, potentially for a Carolingian audience.

The Traditional View of Textual Transmission Until (and After) Wallach. All scholarship until Wallach in 1966 had taken the view that JE 2448 (Adrian’s letter to the Emperors with the gratuitous Papal claims) in the Greek more accurately preserved what was originally read at the council. This includes A. Michel (1956), W. Levison (1948), G. Ostrogorsky (1933), Henry Percival (1900), and Reverend Mendham (1849). (See Wallach, p. 115; Lamberz, p. 226; Price, p. 50; Percival’s comments on L. and C., Concilia, Tom. VII., col. 117.; Mendham, p. 70) Even as late as 1988, M. Maccarrone asserted in “Il papa Adriano I eil concilio di Nicea del 787” that the Greek represented what was spoken at the council. (p. 72, 75–see Lamberz) He continued to publish into the 1990s and never rescinded this view.

There is some good reason for this earlier, and continuing, consensus. The Latin rendering of JE 2448 has only been explicitly preserved in the partial retroversion of the Greek Acts of Nicea II made by Anastasius. Anastasius explicitly notes that the Greek ends after the words “the unimpeachable Roman church.” (Price, Nicea II, p. 146 and 169) The divergent elements of JE 2448 thereafter (presuming the Latin divergences before and after this point were not a forgery by Anastasius himself) are where his rendering allegedly follows the “original” letter. Ultimately, where Anastasius retroverts the Greek into Latin and where he follows the “original” Latin is known only by him.

And so, mystery surrounds the Latin’s textual history all around. The contrast between the single rendering of the Latin tradition with the four different textual traditions in the Greek manuscript record which agree concerning their renderings of JE 2448 and JE 2449, is rather stark. Where there is verifiable reliability of JE 2448 and 2449 in the Greek record, the reliability of the Latin divergences cannot be tested against any independent traditions and the Latin fragments do not explicitly include divergent renderings on the specific parts of the passages with divergent claims actually under debate.

Additionally, as discussed beforehand, Anastasius himself in his comments on Nicea II’s acts agreed with the various aforementioned Greek witnesses that the longer-Latin rendition of JE 2448 was not originally read during the Acts. The concurring of a hostile witness with a more diverse textual tradition (as compared to a textual tradition which can only be located via a single source, which gives the text critic no independent verification of a rendering) gives enhanced credibility that the JE 2448 Greek rendering is original to the council itself.

Due to the preceding being the case, the credibility of the Greek in one point extends to other divergences, including those found in JE 2449. Even Anastasius himself found the Greek more accurate than the Latin renderings he allegedly had access to during his time. And so, the simplest explanation is that the Greek is fundamentally dependable and that any differences between the Greek and Latin would have to be sourced either from the actual council itself as Pope Nicholas’ letters 82, 86, and 88 imply (due to them not explicitly condemning the Greeks of presently forging Nicea II) and Anastasius’ explicit asserts in his comments on JE 2448 and 2449; or a later Latin forgery.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that the earlier historical consensus, which included a prominent champion after Wallach, treated the Greek as fundamentally reliable. As for Latin JE 2449, the only possibilities for its divergences with the Greek are that the Latin side later introduced interpolations to their own tradition or, in the creation of their retroversion from Greek into Latin in which the sole Latin version of JE 2449 derives from today, Anastasius was generally accurate in inserting what the earlier Latin stated.

Anastasius himself stated that he added after the Greek ended material which was “found in the archives of the Roman Church.” (Price, p. 179) This obviously indicates there was an original Latin letter which was sent to the council, but not accepted. If this is indeed the case, the retroversions found in JE 2449 today can potentially contain material from the “original” letters of Adrian that was agreed to be left out at the council by the Papal legates.

Diplomatic alteration was something standard during councils for centuries. The legates allegedly played a hand in altering their own letters during the Council of Constantinople IV 879-880 and Pope Nicholas’ Letter 82 makes reference to his letter being altered, possibly something a legate did in excess of his wishes (or a sense of “buyer’s remorse” set in). Nicholas’ Letter 91 placed under anathema anyone who would alter its contents, a tacit admission that the contents of these letters were regularly altered. No one warns about something that is not a common issue.

In fact, previous Papal letters exhibit Papal permissions to legates to have some flexibility, even to the point of changing explicit demands in their letters. Pope Saint Celestine gives his legates considerable latitude, telling them “you are to decide on the basis of the situation what you ought to do.” (Letter 17; quoted in Price, The Council of Ephesus, p. 206) Pope Saint Hormisdas explicitly advised his legates to pretend they cannot alter his formula:

…inform him that it is not in your power to remove anything from the formula of the Libellus, in which not only the condemned persons are mentioned, but also in a similar manner their followers (in qua sequaces damnatorum pariter continentur). But if you are not able to turn them aside from this proposal, at least insist on this much, namely, that Acacius be anathematised by name in accordance with the Libellus which we have given to you, and that the names of his successors be removed from the diptychs, and so be passed over in silence. (Hormisdas, Letter 158 in Collectio Avellana; quoted in Denny, Papalism, p. 472)

So much for Papal letters being written in stone. And so, the Popes themselves gave latitude for their legates to change wordings and to expunge sections. Evangelos Chrysos observes this was common knowledge:

some passages of papal letters that were recited at synods seem to have been consciously disregarded and/or left out when they were considered out of topic or inappropriate to the argument under particular circumstances…the blame of forgery was traditionally applied as an arrow in Rome’s quiver against the East, because the thought prevailed that their Byzantine counterparts were accustomed to forging papal letters. This atmosphere of suspicion and doubt should be explained as a signpost of a convert war that was going on between the chanceries. Meticulous research has shed light to the first appearances and the techniques of the actual instrumentalisation by the Roman chancery of the Collection of forgeries known as Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals that made their systematic appearance in the times of Nicholas I. (Imperium and Sacerdotium, p. 331)

In other words, diplomatic alterations (the kind euphemism) or forgeries (the less kind one) were common in both the east and west for a long time.

Additionally, an interesting episode preserved in the Vita of Hadrian II asserts that Anastasius “uncovered” that the Greeks altered the Acts of the 869-870 council by removing a letter from Adrian II to the German emperor. Supposedly, the Papal legates refused to subscribe unless this letter was restored. (Wallach, p. 117) This shows that strong arming over letters occurred in the councils themselves and the legates either would consent to changes, alterations, or omissions—or make an issue of it and assert their prerogatives. It suffices to say that councils were highly political and diplomacy, not textual purity, would always win the day. It is not for naught that Maccarrone argued this point. (Lamberz, p. 226) Anastasius’ comment that this is precisely what occurred during the reading of JE 2448 is thereby unexceptional in this regard.

In fact, the minutes of Nicea II themselves, after the reading of JE 2448, contain an interesting exchange which appears to tip off the reader that diplomatic alterations undertaken with that letter (or both JE 2448 and 2449):

Taurisius said to the Legates: ‘Did ye yourselves receive these* letters [both Greek and Latin] from the most Holy Pope which ye laid before our pious Sovereigns?’

Peter and Peter, the Legates, answered: ‘We ourselves having received from our Apostolic Father the letters,* [and] have brought them to your pious Lords. John, the most honourable Secretary, said: ‘Our most worth friends from Sicily can testify to this—I mean Theodore, most religious Bishop of Catana, and the most pious Deacon Epiphanius, who is here as Vicar of the Archbishop of Sardinia; for they both, at the command of our pious Sovereigns, went to Rome with the most pious Secretary of our most holy Patriarch. (p. 70-71, Mendham’s translation)

*Price’s translation says “this letter,” see p. 174. If so, it is a reference only to JE 2448. If “these letters,” this is a reference to both JE 2448 and JE 2449 as per “the Holy Council” which explicitly stated such immediately before the reading of the “interpretation of the Latin” into Greek by Nicerphorus, the Royal Secretary. In any event, the Greek was what was read and the authenticity of the Latin which the Greek is allegedly based upon is what is being discussed.

Such an emphasis, while explicitly affirming that what was read was correct, appears to hint that something in the letters had to be altered drastically. Why else would Taurisius himself demand witnesses as to the authenticity of the letters in the midst of a controversy over his ordination? His emphasis on the issue renders close to impossible that the letters were not altered, as he was too adamant about the authenticity of letters which otherwise (in the Latin version we have today) called his ordination illegitimate and opposed his jurisdiction in the Balkans.

And so, the Greek rendering of JE 2448 was up until the 1990s accepted as a legitimate textual tradition sourcing itself from the actual council. It makes the best sense of the evidence that actually exists in the manuscript record and it is the simplest explanation of the content found in the ninth century diplomatic letters which weigh in on the topic.

The Textual Critical Views of Wallach and Lamberz Concerning JE 2448 and JE 2449. Unbeknownst to many, the field of people scrutinizing JE 2448 and JE 2449 is quite small. Wallach was the first to call into question the Greek renderings as being reliable witnesses of what was read out at the council. Due to his theory revolving around Photius’ reputation as an expert forger of Constantinople IV’s (879-880) minutes (which was already well accepted at his time and not even rejected by Dvornik, though this theory has recently seemed to lose some popularity), Wallach’s theory (that Photius simply fudged Nicea II’s minutes in the Greek) had a receptive audience.

Nevertheless, Paul Speck made some waves with his theory that all of the minutes were forgeries made after the end of the iconoclast controversy. In other words, Nicea II never happened, period, it was entirely a literary invention from the early ninth century. While such an assertion sounds insane to the uninitiated, it is not all that different than Price’s (2019) recent assertion that the first seven sessions of Constantinople III are themselves literary fictions. (“Constantinople III and Constantinople IV,” p. 127-133)

In any event, the argument that Nicea II is entirely a literary invention is hard to square with the Latin manuscript tradition revolving around the council, as proved by fragments, beginning soon after its occurrence. The denunciation of Speck’s theory was championed by Lamberz in his research revolving around the creation of a critical edition for the council.

So, in some respects, Father Richard Price’s endorsing the approach of Lamberz is in fact a conservative move in the wake of Speck’s research, as Lamberz’s theory is a refined return to Wallach’s. However, in so doing, Price has endorsed Lamberz’s (and Wallach’s) minority view of the inauthenticity of the Greek renderings of the letters in question—making this the “consensus” of relevant, living scholarship (but not of scholarship categorically). And so, it is important to work out precisely what Lamberz’s and Wallach’s views are.

Wallach asserts that when JE 2448 (the letter to the Emperors) was sent to Constantinople, a copy was kept in Rome (785 AD). (Wallach, p. 113) Then, a dictated Latin (and Greek) version was made in 787 during Nicea II, with additional copies kept by the Patriarch/Emperor/Pope. (Ibid.) Then, a Latin translation of Greek JE 2448 was created in Rome amongst the other minutes of Nicea II after receiving a copy of its minutes in Greek. (Ibid.) Afterwards, a copy of that Latin translation was sent to Charlemagne. Lastly, “falsified Latin and Greek versions” were made by Photius during the 860s to cover up the original JE 2448. (Ibid.)

Due to the preceding, Wallach asserts that the “reliable” version of Nicea II has thereby been bequeathed to posterity through Anastasius, who fixed the deficient version of JE 2448 which allegedly lacked its entire ending paragraphs by “supplementing” it with “the original Latin version of the synodica [JE 2448].” (Ibid., p. 118, see also 108 and 114). “Anastasius’ supplementation,” which also included criticisms of Taurisius’ elevation and his title of ecumenical Patriarch, “deals with that part of the synodica in which Hadrian claims ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Illyricum, Calabria, and Sicily” (Ibid., p. 119) These were precisely the territories that were taken from Roman jurisdiction during the iconoclastic period and were not returned during Nicea II, much to Pope Adrian’s chagrin as revealed by a letter he wrote to Charlemagne. (Lamberz, p. 227) Any differences before the supplemented ending were allegedly made by Anastasius “correcting” differences in the Greek with the original Latin translation.

Wallach’s analysis betrays some chronological weaknesses, chief among them is that he asserts that the variant Greek version of JE 2448 was made during the first Photian controversy in the 860s. If this were so and Anastasius did in fact leave Constantinople with a version of the Greek from the 860s, if one ascribes to the Photian forgery/Trustworthy-Anasatasius hypothesis, why wouldn’t Anastasius make mention of the differences in JE 2448 between the Latin and Greek? In particular, why does he make no mention of the lack of Papal aggrandizements in the Greek which would have preceded the section which required the aforementioned supplementation? Wouldn’t he have identified and faithfully reported that the Greek was heavily altered in this section so that he had to correct it?

And so, if one imbibes in the Photius-the-forger theory, it makes sense to posit a second round of forgeries, with the ends of JE 2448 and JE 2449 being forged in the 860s, but the Papal aggrandizements earlier in JE 2448 being removed sometime after Anastasius returned from Constantinople in 870. Assuming Anastasius to be trustworthy, one may infer that his Latin translation of the Greek JE 2448 of his day was different than the Greek we have today specifically because the Greek allegedly was not yet forged. Otherwise, one leaves open the possibility that Anastasius was covering something up.

Of course, it is possible Anastasius could have corrected the relevant section JE 2448 in an unsaid manner with an older, more reliable Latin version. However, this may also identify Anastasius as the very source of the divergence of the manuscripts on this point. Why else would he leave such an “important” difference unsaid if the Greek of his day was not fundamentally reliable and he otherwise was very transparent about differences between the Latin and Greek? Why be silent about one thing if there were major issues, but not the other?

And so, Lamberz, in part, improves upon Wallach’s speculations as it addresses the preceding difficulties that arise from the latter’s hypothesis because he posits multiple rounds of Photian forgeries. As follows is how Lamberz’s theory unfolds:

Lamberz asserts that scholarship preceding himself worked without a critical edition of Nicea II’s minutes (as only he himself made it), so they generally relied exclusively upon the Mansi edition from 1612. (Ibid., p. 213) And so, their theories did not take into account the full range of evidence the manuscript records provide in the critical edition.

Lamberz’s reasoning as to why the Latin version of JE 2448 is more reliable than the Greek requires considering the differences between the Greek and Latin versions of JE 2449. He points out that the surviving Greek versions of JE 2449, even with sections which criticize Taurisius and demand the restoration of Papal jurisdiction in the Balkans missing, there is still a short criticism of Taurisius’ elevation. This “oversight” (though it would seem an able forger should have removed all evidence of criticism of an extra-canonical elevation if this was one of his motives for creating a forgery, alongside disputes over the Balkans) has preserved for interpreters evidence which indicates that the Greeks during the council itself lacked sufficient motive to change all of JE 2448 in the 860s. (Ibid., p. 215)

What precisely this lack of motive is Lamberz does not say, as clearly there was some motive to expunge all reference to extra-canonical ordinations if expunging had in fact occurred in the 860s. Additionally, being that Anastasius was emphatic that the end of JE 2448 in Greek was deliberately missing as a condition for its conciliar approval, it is safe to assume that since that time the ending did not exist in the Greek.

In any event, the existence of a short criticism of Taurisius’ elevation in JE 2449 really does not pertain to the debate as to whether the Papal aggrandizements in Latin JE 2448 are reliable. Nevertheless, it suffices to say that Lamberz asserts that the initial round of forgery in the 860s was not motivated enough to expunge all such references and so this lack of motivation (in Lamberz’s view) informed the initial treatment of JE 2448—it was allegedly left alone in the disputed section for a time.

The preceding analysis may appear convoluted to those who have not carefully considered both Wallach’s and Lamberz’s research on the topic, because they have a sort of internal logic which is set above what the documentary evidence actually bears out. Lamberz’s analysis of motives, as discussed above, poses some difficulties of its own. The aforementioned “oversight” could have very well been intentional during Nicea II itself, as the Latin legates may have compromised and permitted such excisions in the Greek, but may have demanded some reference somewhere to the issue with Taurisius’ elevation simply to save face. Lamberz does not consider this possibility in his analysis.

Nevertheless, Lamberz brings forward additional evidence, aside from that of motives, as to why he believes the Latin rendering of JE 2448 to be more reliable. Similar to the critique of Wallach above, Lamberz points out that Anastasius during the 860s does not mention differences in JE 2448 between the Greek and Latin, much unlike JE 2449. This means, he asserts, that Photius did not conduct any alterations on this text yet. (Ibid., p. 216) Therefore, in Lamberz’s view, all divergences between the Latin and Greek JE 2448 that exist today are the result of subsequent Photian forgeries. One must note that the whole argument literally hinges upon Anastasius’ silence.

In making his case, Lamberz makes an interesting concession. He asserts that Anastasius “has inserted the original version of both letters [JE 2448 and JE 2449] into his Latin version of the files dedicated to Pope John VIII in 873 (albeit with a few retouchings).” (Ibid., p. 213) Such an assertion implicates Anastasius with both introducing something new into the manuscript record and, in fact, permanently altering it.

Gathering information from Wallach and Lamberz, Price presupposes that because two of the Latin manuscripts (both sourced from Anastasius) are earlier than the earliest Greek manuscript, the Latin manuscripts’ more overall agreement vis a vis the 17 Greek manuscripts comprising of four different traditions*, “plus the slavishly literal character of the translation [by Anastasius], give them great value in deciding between variant readings in the Greek tradition.” (Price, Nicea II, Vol 1, p. 19) And so, according to Price, the original Greek acts were allegedly re-compiled in the early 9th century, and then revised again during the Photian controversy in the 860s. (Ibid., p. 20) A fourth version of the Greek Acts was made after “873” (when Anastasius re-translated Nicea II from the “the third edition,” though Anastasius may have acquired the “third edition” in 869 and edits could have been made, following Lamberz’s theory, at any time after that point; Ibid., 22)..

*One should note that this may actually inveigh against reliability, as one can be more sure of something being the same when there are divergences in non-essential points, as it precludes a centralized editing process where severe changes could have been made without any accountability from other interested parties. In other words, slight variations allow for independent corroboration from multiple sources. The textual transmission of the Quran versus the Scriptures is an analogous case. The former was allegedly codified by a singular court party of the Caliph Uthman. Contrarily, the Scriptures have numerous variances on many non-essentials as they suffered from no singular editing process. This betrays to textual critics their general reliability on essential points. And so, the Quran lacking such diversity, precludes textual critics from even discerning what the original text probably said. Hence, lack of diversity (within reason) actually makes a text tradition less reliable, not more.)

Pitfalls of Wallach’s and Lamberz’s Theories. While pitfalls found in the theories of Wallach and Lamberz were alluded to above, there are many more issues with their analyses that merit specific rebuttals.

The first key issue with the theories of Wallach and Lamberz is mainly methodological in that they call into question the only pieces of material evidence that are in fact available. In effect, they place their theories of textual transmission above what the material evidence actually contains. By replacing what actually exists with what is surmised to exist and not exist, one already should perceive that this should only be done if there is overwhelming evidence that the material evidence which actually exists is entirely unreliable and there are no plausible explanations for the divergent textual traditions.

For example, instead of positing multiple rounds of forgery of one or the other text tradition, a simpler explanation works best. Agreed upon divergences during the council itself would confirm, instead of impugn, most of the documentary evidence. Due to this being the most simple explanation of the evidence, it is the most compelling. If one wants to infer conspiracies, a single round of forgeries by Anastasius himself is far simpler and easier to prove out—as we will do in a bit.

The second key issue is that the actual Papal partisans from the 9th and 10th centuries that Wallach and Lamberz use as evidence for their conjecture do not explicitly allege that Photius is responsible for divergences. Implications aside, all of the explicit statements actually assert that Taurisius as the source of the deviation in the manuscripts of Nicea II. No other individual by name is ever blamed. The “Taurisius-done-it” theory makes sense considering the councils themselves were diplomatic, give and take processes. Further, Taurisius had the most to gain by removing criticisms of his person and Papal aggrandizements as they would have subjugated his Patriarchate to a foreign one in the midst of domestic instability and jurisdictional conflict. While indirectly Photius had something to gain, the situation was more immediate for Taurisius, especially considering he was explicitly named and experienced an “elevation controversy” before Photius. Additionally, it should be noted that Latin JE 2449 condemns the title of “ecumenical Patriarch,” something very unlikely to have been accepted by any Patriarch of Constantinople under any circumstance since at least the 510s, when the title was accorded to that bishop. And so, the motive for alterations at the council was a clear as day and it is inconceivable Taurisius would have allowed such an extreme denigration of his person and position to be accepted. A traditional textual view of Nicea II accords with this evidence is best.

The third key issue is that Wallach’s and Lamberz’s theories presume upon the truthfulness of Anastasius, which is considering what is known about the man, extremely questionable. His personal integrity, to put it likely, is of a low caliber. Anastasius was implicated in the murder of Pope Adrian II’s wife and children and was excommunicated for this. Just because Anastasius made relatively vague accusations of Greek forgery, simply crying wolf does not make him honest. It would seem that his claims merit a large degree of skepticism.

So, why have Wallach and Lamberz taken the word of an ex-con? Due to the Greek responses to Anastasius (and the Popes) generally not surviving the ravages of time, historians lack many of their words in response. And so, all they have is Anastasius and for some reason, they take him at his word but not the words of the varying traditions of Nicea II (which likewise are the only surviving evidence we have).

However, even from Anastasius’ own hand evidence of his malfeasance can be gleaned. Chrysos’ meticulous research has shown that in 22 of Pope Nicholas’ letters (written by Anastasius) sent to eastern audiences, the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals were quoted approximately 40 times, with the intention of substantiating “Rome’s primacy.” (Imperium and Sacerdotium, p. 333) These forgeries were of recent vintage (approximately 854 AD) and would have been missing from the Papal archives until their new appearance when Anastasius was first “employed” as a translator and ghost writer (he did not officially become the Papal librarian until Pope Adrian II).

Therefore, Anastasius knowingly used forgeries which arrived from “out of town” with the intent to deceive. It is with the utmost irony that one discredits the entire Greek manuscript record because of an ex-con forger makes accusations of forgery and relatively vague ones at that. Discrediting Anastasius even further is that in his more sober moments he seemingly “drops” his allegations (though to be fair he never explicitly said Photius actually forged the Greek minutes of Nicea II). And so, how could a historian infer anything from Anastasius with any degree of accuracy, let alone trust what he is saying?

Fourth, it is well known in the field of psychology that those who tenaciously accuse someone of a certain wrongdoing (aka “gaslighting”) are often themselves guilty of the specific accusations they make. (Sources: herehereand here) And so, it should be with only a high degree of suspicion that a politically-motivated, ex-con accuser who was known to use forgeries have his accusations accepted as fact by a historian if the empirical findings of other disciplines are to be integrated into one’s analysis.

Fifth, Wallach’s and Lamberz’s approaches in critiquing JE 2448 and JE 2449 in general “break the rules” of text criticism.* For example, Bruce Metzger (d. 2007, a popular translator and textual critic) summarized the popular views among text critics that “the more difficult,” “shorter,” and internally “divergent” renderings are most likely to be the most reliable. his is a common approach of text-critics when dealing with ancient texts, particularly the Scriptures. Yet, Wallach’s and Lamberz’s theses prefer the Latin traditions of JE 2448 and JE 2449 which are less difficult as they have uniformity as opposed to divergence, longer renderings than the Greek, and internal thematic consistency (Latin JE 2448’s ending contains reiterations of Roman primacy consistent with the disputed section before the ending). In asserting their theories, they (unintentionally) break every “rule” of text criticism. This is forgivable being that the study of history is not subjected to lab conditions determined by the laws of nature. However, it is a peculiar inconsistency in methodology, considering they are likely aware that the vast preponderance of their field derives their conclusions following rules like Metzger’s.

Out of full disclosure, I find text criticism commonly to be so radically skeptical of sources, that it leads to a sort of textual nihilism. Many of the claims of text criticism are worthy of consideration, but never to the point of delegitimizing the actual textual traditions barring an extremely high burden of proof.

Sixth, Lamberz’s summary of his arguments in favor of his textual theory, as the chief living expounder of the priority of the Latin minutes of Nicea II, have compelling rejoinders. For example, he asserts:

If one considers the content of the passage of the letter to Tarasios that is missing in the records (in addition to the sending of a sacra after the conclusion of the council and the security of the papal legates, it is about the return of the Patrimonia Petri and the restoration of papal jurisdiction over the dioceses in Calabria, Sicily and the Illyricum), the answer to the question of why the final part of the previous letter to the emperors is missing in the Greek tradition arises automatically: It is not about Tarasios, but about the reclamation of Patrimonia Petri and the question of Church jurisdiction. These two points come first and foremost as the reason for the shortening of the letters in question. (Ibid., p. 218-219)

In short, Lamberz infers that Photios would have had more of a motivation to oppose overarching Papal claims over jurisdiction than Taurisius. And so, the logic goes, the expunging of the end of JE 2449 more likely occurred under Photius. However, the fact of the matter is that both the meat of the critiques against Taurisius as well as the comments on jurisdiction would have been more relevant to Taurisius than Photios simply because the incident directly, instead of indirectly, implicated himself. Latin JE 2449 compromised Constantinopolitan jurisdiction and the integrity of their Patriarch. Why wouldn’t the Constantinopolitan party during Nicea II, which rejected Papal claims to jurisdiction in these localities, not push for excisions on both points? The fact that a short reference to Taurisius’ election was maintained appears to have been the “compromise” that was diplomatically reached during the council and serves as evidence not of a wholesale Photian coverup, but a deliberate, diplomatic re-rendering.

Another point of Lamberz is as follows:

A thorough comparison of the two letters shows that in the letter to Tarasios, in contrast to the letter to the emperors, there are only minor deviations between the Greek and Latin versions. The Greek version of the letter to Tarasios is consistently a faithful reproduction of the Latin text, and this is especially true of the parts that have their counterparts (to be discussed) in the first letter. (p. 219)

Supposedly, “[t]he Greek version of the letter Tarasios [JE 2449] is consistently a faithful reproduction of the Latin text,” as opposed to JE 2448. This means, in Lamberz’s view, that the original letters of JE 2448 and 2449 were tampered with at different times. However, such an analysis is a misleading handling of the actual letters. Both letters are consistent generally other than the large parts lopped off with the most extreme Papal claims in JE 2448, and the most powerful negations of Constantinopolitan claims in the ends of JE 2448 and 2449. And so, Lamberz’s assertion that there is some sort of radical discontinuity with how both letters were mutilated revealing a difference in date and motive for mutilation does not work. Both JE 2448 and JE 2449 evidence significant trimming consistent with an 8th century occasion for divergence, particularly Nicea II. Lamberz continues:

Even if the Greek text [of JE 2449] has to be recreated from the [Latin] tradition in some places, there can be no doubt that we are dealing here with a verbatim reproduction of the Latin original, in which nothing has been changed or embellished in terms of content [i.e. in the parts not expunged]. The quotation Mt. 16, 18-19 is reproduced in full, the claim to primacy of the Roman Church translated in all its sharpness and the request to Tarasios. (Ibid., p. 221)

In short, Lamberz posits that because JE 2449 contains some elementary Papal claims (similar to those found in Saint Pope Agatho’s letter in Constantinople III), the fact that these claims are missing in Greek JE 2448 evidences two different dates and motives for modification. However, the mere assertion of Papal prerogatives was hardly something new for ecumenical councils and it seems overtly sloppy (or lazy) for the Photian party to make excisions of Papal claims solely in JE 2448, but leave JE 2449 (as well as Papal letters in the minutes of other councils such as Constantinople III and Ephesus) unmolested when doing their alleged fourth round of revisions in the 870s.

Anyone who has read the divergent Latin rendering of JE 2448 (quoted above) should recognize two things. First, in the same paragraph where Greek JE 2448 asserts that the Pope is “Saints Peter and Paul[‘s]…vicar” and that they are “the foundation of the Catholic and Apostolic faith” (as opposed to the Latin rendering which only cites Peter), Adrian uses a specific proof text as evidence of the preceding and its relevance to icons: the Life of Saint Sylvester. In this life, it immediately begins in Adrian’s recounting with “the holy Apostles, Peter and Paul” speaking to Sylvester and sending the whole course of events into motion. Hence, evidence of tampering can be inferred in the scrubbing of Paul’s name from Latin JE 2448 when its inclusion would have been necessary for Adrian to effectively make his point.

However, presuming upon the letter original of the letter being internally inconsistent and thereby the authenticity of the Latin rendering, one may easily recognize how redundant to the point of nagging the Papal panegyric is. It makes sense that the whole section, being so extreme, would have demanded higher scrutiny in the actual council than JE 2449, where a minor Papal aggrandizement and slight smack at Taurisius would have been retained provided that Constantinople’s prerogatives were all conceded to.

In other words, the aspects in JE 2449 Lamberz is pointing to as evidence of it having a different date of modification would in of themselves have not drawn the attention that would have demanded correction when the council was in session in the same way as the debated section of JE 2448 would have due to its internal inconsistency and extreme pretense. 

The Greeks did not make their edits to save space. It should not be a surprise that though the Greek of JE 2448 (like JE 2449) is considerably shorter, it contains a divergence which predictably expands the prerogatives of the Byzantine emperors. Specifically, therein there is an “extended” quote when compared to the Latin “obviously… emphasize[s] the role of Constantine the Great and thus the Byzantine emperor.” (Ibid., p. 224) And so, the motive for the Byzantine empress to demand a diplomatic re-editing of the letter which expanded her own scope at the expense of the Pope’s would have been just as strong in the eighth century as the ninth. The Empress Irene was certainly notorious for her cut-throat nature.

Lamberz also argues that Anastasius retroverts a certain section of the Greek of JE 2449 (where it criticizes Taurisius for his elevation), at one point replacing “the more harsh formulation of the original [Latin] with the softened version of the Greek version.” (Ibid. p. 222) This indicates, in Lamberz’s view, that Anastasius supposedly lacked the motive to falsify his translation with the intent of artificially aggrandizing Papal claims. However, this hardly builds up Anastasius’ credibility because he had already at length asserted that the original letter contained criticisms of Taurisius’ elevation. So, while his translation notes that the Greek reads “our heart was distressed by the improper and longstanding divergence between us” while the “original” Latin allegedly read: “our heart was consumed by grief at your unlawful consecration,” (Price, p. 176) this hardly shows that Anastasius was so even handed that he “sided with the Greek even when it did not suit him” or some similar train of thought.

In any event, it reveals that Anastasius himself potentially distrusted the Latin source’s reliability at this juncture or he simply wanted to convey the idea (as he explicitly stated) that the older Latin was unreliable. Though Anastasius sometimes “took note of deviations in terms of content [between Greek and Latin] and noted them down,” (Ibid.) to assert he did so always, especially in the passages under dispute, is questionable. He left so much unsaid that it is impossible to discern much significance to his silence at any given juncture.

Lamberz rapid fires his points at the end of his article:

[W]hy does Anastasius Bibliothecarius, who, as we have seen, constantly look at the Greek version of the letters and carefully register such comparatively small deviations as the one mentioned above for the second letter, [but] does not utter a single word about these considerable divergences in the first letter? (Ibid., p. 226)

First, this is an argument from silence, which is never historically strong. Second, common sense would dictate that Anastasius does not comment on every jot and tittle of his work. Third, a reason why a subtle divergence in JE 2449’s was commented on while the disputed section of JE 2448 was not may be because JE 2449 was explicitly a subject of controversy amongst the Latins (as evidenced by his correspondence). Fourth, Anastasius had good reason not to continually call into question the integrity of the Greek in several points, as it would call into question his very enterprise and would have led to the rejection of his translation. More on this in a bit.

It should also be noted that while those in the 21st century are more concerned with the intellectual question of Vatican I Papal prerogatives and so JE 2448’s radical divergences in the disputed section appear more worthy of debate (and forgery), this may have not been as true more than 1,000 years ago, especially in the east where the Papacy had no viable means to project power. Where the rubber met the road in the 8th and 9th centuries had to do with the legitimacy of Patriarchs and their disputed jurisdictions. And so, Anastasius would have put more care in discussing the treatment of Taurisius’ elevation in JE 2448 and 2449 specifically as it actually pertained to the object of a relevant controversy. Grandiose Papal claims, though impressive sounding, were ultimately less important for all practical intents and purposes.

Arguing that Greek JE 2448 is less reliable than the Latin, Lamberz points out that it would have been odd for the council to approve of a document that lacked content which would have been non-controversial:

How could they have confirmed the authenticity of a letter that lacked the entire final section, including the blessings for the emperors and the date, which had been mutilated as a document? (p. 227)

First, letters read at councils did not always include dates in their conclusions. Both Latin and Greek JE 2449 lack a dating. It is possible, such as what one can find in the Latin minutes of the Council of Ephesus, that dating and such could have been added by a later editor to the Latin tradition in order to help the reader follow the history of the text. Ultimately, the inconsistency in both the Latin and Greek has no known reason. Second, the letter contains multiple blessings of the emperors, and so this could have been deemed as redundant and so its reinsertion was neglected. Third, the letter ends nicely in the Greek (which corresponds with the Latin on this point) with the Pope prostrating (figuratively) at the emperors’ feet. (Price, p. 169) It is obvious why a diplomatic expunging might have found it fitting to end the letter on that note.

Lamberz brings up another point in which he believes evidences that the original Greek minutes must have contained references to jurisdiction to the Balkans:

If the abbreviation [i.e. excisions as found in the Greek minutes] is postponed to editing the files [during Nicea II or immediately afterwards], new aporias arise: Why does Hadrian in his letter to Charlemagne (JE 2483) complain that his demands regarding patrimonia and jurisdiction have not been metbut does not say a word about the fact that his demands were not discussed during the council or were not recorded in the files? (Ibid.)

Adrian’s dissatisfaction may very well have been caused by the fact that when he received the minutes, the Greeks had obviously bypassed the issue of jurisdiction with his legates’ consent. The absence of such demands is greater grounds for disappointment than their approval, but a later (undocumented) reneging on the agreement which no one speaks of. Lamberz’s demand, that one must assume the minutes contained something because a contemporary did not explicitly say they did not, is unreasonable. The fact of the matter is that these claims were not assented to in the council itself as his complaint to Charlemagne would indicate and the textual tradition reflecting the lack of these claims’ acceptance (even by their absence in the written minutes) is more consistent with such a state of affairs.

Why does Nicholas I renew in his letter to Michael III. (ep. 82) from the year 860 with express reference to Hadrian and the acts of the Seventh Council the demands regarding patrimonia and jurisdiction, without objection to abbreviations of the letters in the files, whereas in his letters from 862 (ep. [228] 85 and 86) 55 protested against the falsification of his own letter (ep. 82) at the synod of 861. (Ibid.)

First, Lamberz’s assessment of Letter 82 contradicts Wallach’s:

Pope Nicholas’ Letter 82 to Emperor Michael III made mention that the Latin letter of People Adrian I to Taurisius was different than their copy of the Greek, which not coincidentally, contained a criticism of elevating laymen to the Patriarchate (like Photius), a criticism lacking in the Greek. (p. 109)

Second, presuming there was no tampering with Latin JE 2449 during this time by Anastasius, the answer is simple. Diplomatically, the dispute was not whether the Greek and Latin were different—this was uncontroversial. Rather, the argument was over the Greeks (feigned? legitimate?) ignorance of the “original” Latin rendering the Papal chancery claimed existed. As time transpired, either for the sake of leverage, a growing sense of the Photian party tampering with the “original” Latin, or both, more explicit accusations of forgery started to fly. As stated beforehand, diplomatic tampering with contents was common in the councils and so the growing explicit indignation in Nicholas’ letters served a political purpose. It is naïve to believe he was authentically surprised or offended that even the legates’ original letter in the Latin would have differences, let alone the Greek translations of these letters.

Lamberz continues:

Why does Photios in his answer (ep. 290) expressly recognize the demands of the Pope – at least in appearance – and does not refer to the fact that nothing of the kind can be found in the acts of the Seventh Council? (Ibid.)

Though Photius exhibited familiarity with Nicholas’ claims, he does not explicitly say they are in the minutes. This would in fact indicate they are not in the minutes, but that Roman dissatisfaction with their loss of jurisdiction was well known.

Lamberz continues:

[I]n his letter to Photios from 865 (ep. 88), the author of which is certainly none other than Anastasius, Nicholas I again refers to the now missing part of Hadrian’s letter, but adds in a parenthesis: si camouflage nonfalsata (scil . epistula) Graecorum more, sed sicut a sede missa est apostolica penes ecclesiam Constantinopolitanorum hactenus perseverat. In the Praefatio of Anastasius to the 8th Council from the year 871, the facts of the cuts are then clearly revealed for the first time. (Ibid.)

The preceding evidences that Rome’s stance is that the Greek minutes were altered, but it noticeably leaves absent when this occurred. Anastasius reiterates this muscular, but vague accusation. So, while Anastasius’ most pointed accusations against the Greeks and Photius occurred in 871, a mere two years later he had dropped any implication that Photius himself had actually forged Nicea II.

In summation, it appears that the textual critical theories of Wallach and Lamberz are simply not compelling enough to overturn the earlier consensus that the divergences of the manuscript record of Nicea II reflect a difference between the Greek and Latin in the actual council itself. However, there still remains one other intriguing possibility…

A New Theory Concerning JE 2448’s Textual History. As mentioned several times above, the simplest theories of JE 2448 (and JE 2449’s) history is either that Anastasius himself created the alterations or that the alterations themselves were made under Taurisius’ supervision during the council itself. While the latter was the mainstream view of scholarship until Lamberz and Price, and is a justifiable view, no one has yet seriously made the case that Anastasius is to blame for the radical divergences in the Latin tradition of Nicea II. This is something one must take seriously considering the whole Latin tradition relies upon him and the earlier Latin traditions have effectively disappeared outside of fragments.

As discussed beforehand, Anastasius was a known employer of forgeries. He was not a trustworthy fellow and the written record reveals he twists his history and accusations in order to suit the moment’s political considerations. Chrysos’ research has shown that Anastasius, ghost writing for the Pope, started inventing brash Papal claims “completely beyond any precedent known from the past.” (Imperium and Sacerdotium, p. 323) In the first letter to Emperor Michael III, it “moved directly to criticizing the emperor himself for convening a synod without papal authorization….Undoubtedly, it was the first time that a pope dared to challenge an emperor with such criticism.” (emphasis added, Ibid., p. 321-322) The letters altered a canon of Chalcedon (Ibid., p. 334), something that must have been intended to be obvious to Greek readers as they had access to this canon and Anastasius would have been aware was copied from a forgery. It predictably elicited a measured response from Photius that passed over the verbiage of the altered canon and simply asserted that Constantinople “never received” canons with such a rendering. (Ibid., p. 336) Being that Rome was outside of the ecumene, the Constantinopolitan party had every reason to try to gently bring Rome onto their side. Though they made threats of physical force, they had no realistic means to project this sort of power into Rome. Therefore, Rome had every reason to make outrageous demands for their cooperation. Constantinople could not play tough to get what they wanted and Rome, knowing this, diplomatically pressed the advantage.

Wallach and Lamberz have been laser focused on the Byzantine political situation as grounds for Greek alteration. As the preceding shows, they have ignored that Anastasius was lobbing accusations at the Greeks using obviously tampered documents, to which the Greeks politely responded that they have never seen such unprecedented claims. This would serve as evidence that the Latins, and not the Greeks, were in fact concocting and exploiting forgeries at this time.

But in any event, why has no one looked at the Carolingian political situation as grounds for Latin alteration of JE 2448 at minimal? After all, it was precisely Carolingian politics which led to Frankish clerics devising the subtly created Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. If forgeries of the highest order were part of Frankish ecclesiastical politics of the time, why wouldn’t Anastasius fight fire with fire when picking sides in their disputes?

In 871, Anastasius had returned from Constantinople and in writing the preface to the 869-870 council’s minutes had his most unflattering comments about Photius and the Greeks published. This represents the high-water mark for Anastasius’ posturing that the Greeks had altered the minutes of Nicea II. The same year, as mentioned beforehand, anti-Papal partisans asserted their prerogatives forcefully at the Synod of Douzy in 871. Piling on the Pope was also the Carolingian King, who wrote to Pope Adrian II that, “the privilege of Peter does not persist when judgment is not passed with equity.” (Tavard, p. 616)

Even contemporaries who were the Papacy’s allies, such as Hincmar, had an ecclesiology that was understandably more in keeping with Papal ecclesiology before the flurry of creative literary activity in the 860s which muscularly asserted unprecedented Papal prerogatives. According to Chadwick, in De Iure Metropolitanorum, Hincmar “defended the rights of Metropolitans” vis a vis direct Papal overreach “which provoked opponents to charge him with thinking the pope’s powers were no greater than a metropolitan’s.” (East and West, p. 104) And so, there existed the need to “update” the ecclesiology of not only enemies of the Papacy, but its allies within present-day France.

As mentioned beforehand, Anastasius employed forgeries in making his unprecedented Papal claims in his letters to the Greeks and he also made what appear to be unsubstantiated claims that the “real” minutes of Nicea II (revolving around JE 2449) were different than the Greek. If the Papacy wanted to assert similar claims to the Carolingians, invoking the “real” minutes of Nicea II by impugning the Greek copies would be a fool’s errand. After all, the Carolingians already had a Latin translation and it is plausible the original Latin translation sent to Charlemagne was still in their possession.

And so, what would convince Carolingian clergy to accept innovative Papal claims in the 860s as being, in fact, that of the entire Orthodox Catholic Church, leaving them as the odd men out? Appealing to Nicea II, the most recent ecumenical council, may have fit the bill. If only that council said something which asserted the unprecedented prerogatives that were so important to the Papacy in the 860s, perhaps proper precedent can be found to make the non-Papally aligned Carolingians heel…

So, how does one get people to accept a new Latin translation when one already exists? Simple—impugn the older Latin translation as being highly defective and extoling the reliability of the Greek in which the new translation was based upon. This is precisely what Anastasius did and this explains why in his discussion on JE 2448 he unequivocally defends the reliability of the Greek as being original to the council. Calling into question the reliability of the Greek would have rendered his whole enterprise as moot. Additionally, a forgery would be easy to cover up as, by Anastasius own admission, “nobody ever reads this [original Latin] translation and no copies of it are made.” Talk about a clean getaway.

What could serve as the motivation for “fixing” the old Latin translation with a whole new one from the Greek? While one may assert that Anastasius wanted to clear up the Latra-Dulia distinction so that it would read better in the Latin, this presumes an altruistic motive on Anastasius’ behalf which is not fitting with the demands of the Latin world’s political situation. Chances are, Anastasius knew that the older Latin translation, which was based on the original Greek minutes and not the original Latin letters, lacked the politically relevant sections which were so important to the Papacy at this juncture. A new translation based on the “superior” Greek minutes with Papally relevant sections slipped in, similar to how the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals slipped in invented statements in the midst of true documents, is a realistic enterprise for a character like Anastasius. Additionally, this was a more immediate motive as compared to pie-in-the-sky theological disputes over the veneration of icons.

Other than an argument from motive, is there any textual evidence of the preceding? Perhaps. First, the fact that JE 2449 was the only letter under dispute during the 860s, though the Latin ending to JE 2448 contained much more detail on the same question, implies that the original Latin translation of JE 2448 contained no relevant details to the dispute at hand and radical changes were made by Anastasius himself after dispute in the 860s.

Second, Pope Nicholas’ letter to Emperor Michael III in 865 contains a potentially “unprecedented” twist as to why the Pope has his prerogatives. It teaches that this is without the assent of the Church but by a charism from Christ. As follows is a block quote from the letter:

The privileges of the Roman church were founded by Christ upon Saint Peter and from antiquity were ordered and preserved, celebrated by the ecumenical councils and honored by the whole of Christendom. These privileges cannot be diminished, impaired or altered. No man’s effort can remove what God has founded […] We repeat, eternal are these privileges. Their root is in God who has planted them. One can thrust against them, but not shift them, one can hurt but not destroy them. They have been there before your Empire and with God’s grace they remain intact and they will remain after you […] These privileges were granted to our church by Christ, not by synods, which merely have celebrated and venerated them. (Chrysos, Imperium and Sacerdotium, p. 326-327)

Compare this (again) to the Latin version of JE 2448 missing in the Greek:

For the proofs of his dignity are found in the sacred authors and in that unbounded veneration paid to him by all the faithful everywhere throughout the world for the Lord hath made him [Peter] who is keeper of the keys of heaven Prince over all and this privilege was conferred upon him by the same Divine Person by whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven were granted for He that was endued with such singular honour had before been honoured to make that confession of faith on which the Church of Christ is founded. A blessedness of reward followed this blessed confession by preaching of which the holy Catholic Church has been enlightened and from which other Churches have taken the documents of their faith, for the blessed Peter Prince of the Apostles who first presided in the Apostolic See bequeathed the Principality of the Apostleship and the pastoral care to his successors who throughout all ages should sit in his most holy chair to whom he left the power of authority for just as it was bestowed on him by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ so in the same way did he hand it down by divine command to the Pontiffs his successors by whose tradition it is that we venerate the holy images of Christ. (Latin JE 2448 in Mendham, p. 49)

See also a short section in the longer Latin ending to JE 2448:

[Quotes Matt 16:18] His [Rome’s} see, which exercises primacy throughout the world, was set up as the head of all the churches of God, and has always held and retains the primacy which the blessed Peter the Apostle exercises through an injunction of the Lord’s and with the church no less assenting, to the effect that no see in the whole church ought to have a greater executive role than the first, which it confirms each synod by its authority and protects it by its continuing guidance. (Price, p. 171)

As one can see, the conceptual similarities are obvious. As Chrysos noted, such statements are “unprecedented” in their claims and are in obvious contradiction with earlier Papal posturing. While highly Papal statements, such as Saint Pope Agatho’s letter to Constantinople III invoke Petrine succession, they lacked overt claims to this being an divine and unalterable charism to the successor of Peter in Rome without respect to conciliar authority. In fact, Agatho delicately speaks of “this Apostolic Church” so as to plausibly allow for the reading that the whole Church, as opposed to Rome specifically, is being spoken of. However, even if one properly infers that Agatho is aggrandizing his own see, he asserts that his see’s exceptionalness is approved by “the whole Catholic Church, and the Ecumenical Synods have faithfully embraced [it].”

A letter from Pope Gelasius I’s, which Price cites as precedent for the latter statement in Latin JE 2448, likewise has an emphasis similar to Agatho’s: “No true Christian should be ignorant of the rule of each synod, one approved by the assent of the whole church, to the effect that no see ought to have a greater executive role [than Rome]…” (emphasis added, Price, p. 171) As one can see, the original muscular claim of Popes like Agatho and Gelasius was that Rome had primacy with the Church’s assent. Initially, Rome’s prerogative depended upon both a charism from God (for its origin) and subsequent assent.

However, this changed in the ninth century. The Decretum Gelasianum, a source which might precede the ninth century in some of its contents (most scholars think the majority of its contents are from the sixth century, see p. 951), but first “found” during the ninth century and “not a real Decretal of Gelasius or any other Pope,” asserts that “the holy Roman church is given first place by the rest of the churches without [the need for?] a synodical decision, but from the voice of the Lord.” (3.1) The preceding implies synodical assent (as seen in the brackets) is unnecessary. The fact this source likely took its final form at this time implies it may been altered at this point. What cannot be doubted is that all of the sudden in the 860s, Rome started explicitly asserting the assent of the Church was irrelevant as Rome sourced this charism from Christ Himself without the need for assent. The rest of the Church merely “celebrates” the fact. What are the chances that the Latin renderings of JE 2448, which themselves have been bequeathed to us by Anastasius, is the only authentic document that explicitly contains such an assertion before the appearance of the Decretum Gelasianum and letters written by Anastasius in the 860s? At the very least, Latin JE 2448 appears anachronistic.

Greek JE 2448, which opts for reassigning all the prerogatives to the Church at large, is thereby unsurprising in its rendering as surely this was the tenuous reading that the sixth ecumenical council had taken of Agatho’s letter. Though the Greeks were familiar with Roman claims like Gelasius’ and Agatho’s, the explicit Papal claims in Latin JE 2448 (which would be almost impossible to interpret in an acceptable way) would have been shocking and unacceptable in a conciliar context. It’s incredible that even the original Latin letters would have been that explicit until after the creation of the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals did, seemingly, any other Papal documents take such a tact.

There is one more pertinent point which demands consideration. If one considers that the political climate of the 870s was very different than the 860s, it would have demanded a different sort of creativity, not with the Greek acts, but with the Latin Acts of Nicea II. Anastasius’ “revision” of the Latin translation of Nicea II from the “original Greek” could have served the purpose of adding credibility to Papal claims over against the Carolingian partisans who were in opposition to the pro-Papal faction. The fact that such muscular Papal claims were unprecedented until the 860s identifies a time of composition for the Latin tradition of JE 2448 after this point in time. The timing of the translation coming after the Synod of Douzy, which would have demanded a fresh Papal forgery, is fitting.

An argument against Anastasian forgery. Now having made the preceding case, there is one crucial weakness in the theory: the Caroline Books begin with a peculiar pronouncement of Papal prerogatives eerily identical to those later espoused by Anastasias. Here is what Book 1, Chapter 6 states:

For as the Apostolic Sees in general are to be preferred to all the other dioceses of the world, much more is that see to be preferred which is placed over all the other apostolic sees. For just as the Apostles were exalted above the other disciples, and Peter was exalted above the other Apostles, so the apostolic sees are exalted above the other sees, and the Roman See is eminent over the other apostolic sees. And this exaltation arises from no synodical action of the other Churches, but she holds the primacy (primatum) by the authority of the Lord himself, when he said, ‘Thou art Peter…’

This statement is admittedly odd and out of place, especially considering that the books in detail (and ad nauseum) reject specific statements made by Pope Adrian himself, accusing some of “execrable error” and other such impugnations. According to Henry Percival:

Such is the doctrinal foundation of the Caroline books, viz.: the absolute authority of the Roman See in matters pertaining to the faith of the Church. It is certainly very difficult to understand how the author of these books could have known that the doctrinal decree of the Synod of Nice had received the approbation of this supreme power which it was so necessary to consult and defer to; and that the Synod which he denounces and rejects had been received by that chief of all the Apostolic Sees as the Seventh of the Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church. Whether the author [or authors] had ever seen the Pope’s letter or no, one thing is certain, he never read with any care even the imperfect translation [of Nicea II] with which he had been furnished…

Was a forgery introduced into the Caroline Books? In the Migne, the Caroline Books includes an ending that seems to betray tampering (Percival calls this “a very lame conclusion.”) Percival attributes all of the preceding to carelessness (and this is certainly possible). Scholars would have to pour over the existing Latin manuscripts of the Caroline Books to explore this question.

In my own analysis, it is an overused trope to accuse all inconvenient documents in history as forgeries. One can accept the odd passage from the Caroline Books’ authenticity, as well as the authenticity of Latin JE 2448, but conclude that the Petrine prerogatives would have not entailed to all Latin thinkers a literal, unconditional submission to the Pope. Rather, they were perceived as empty honorifics, as the Caroline Books treat them. As later Carolingian rulers understood matters, the privilege of Peter (and thereby the Pope) only applied when the Pope was correct. This would explain why the Caroline Books would make a confession like the above, and then dispute the Pope point by point afterward. Additionally, it is possible that “Charlemagne” believed it to be consistent to have a charism from God as a matter of its origin, but still uphold the necessity of assent for Petrine prerogatives. This may be in keeping with other contemporary Latin documents such as the Decretum Gelasianum, which lacks an explicit rejection of the need for synodal consent.


The idea that Anastasius is to blame for divergences between the Latin and Greek renderings of JE 2448 (and JE 2449) is questionable. However, it appears most unlikely that Photius is to blame for differences between the manuscripts. As follows are the key reasons:

No contemporary identified him as the offending party.

The accusations only named Taurisius.

The individual, Anastasius, making accusations (which merely implied Constantinopolitan malfeasance) was not a dispassionate observer. He was a hardened criminal, known to use forgeries, highly motivated (for diplomatic reasons) in the 860s to 871 to portray differences between the Latin and Greek manuscripts in the worst possible light. He is fundamentally not trustworthy.

Standard diplomacy allowed for the reading of altered documents. In fact, Taurisius’ comments during the council which sought to emphasize the validity of JE 2448 indicate that drastic alterations had already taken place.

Much of the actual dispute was actually over the original Latin document appended to the minutes, not the Greek translation as read and accepted by the council.

Standard rules of textual criticism (which emphasize that shorter, more divergent, internally inconsistent texts tend to be more reliable) support the conclusion of the majority of scholarship on the question of the reliability of the Greek renderings of JE 2448 and JE 2449 as opposed to the Photian-forgery theories revolving around these same letters as put forward by Wallach and Lamberz.

The inferences drawn out by Wallach and Lamberz over against the written historical record are not self-evident nor the simplest explanations of the evidence, and so the earlier scholarly consensus stands.

If the earlier scholarly consensus is to be questioned (that both the Latin and Greek are fundamentally reliable witnesses to what each side had wanted read in the council, the latter being read), it is that the Latin is reliable at all. It has arguably unprecedented, anachronistic renderings totally out of step with earlier Papal letters, but not so coincidentally identical in their claims with letters coming out of the Papal chancery from Anastasius’ hand. This same hand used recent forgeries, the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, to buttress these unheard-of prerogatives. Massive divergences mainly finding themselves in JE 2448 and not in JE 2449, the latter being the only letter under dispute during the controversy with the Byzantines, are inexplicable if they existed when JE 2449 was under dispute. This is especially true because Latin JE 2448 more strongly expounds upon relevant Papal claims during the 860s over Taurisius’ elevation and jurisdiction than JE 2449.

However, if divergences were introduced in JE 2448 in 873 as a response to the Synod in Douzy in 871, this would make sense of the excessively strong affirmations of Papal authority alongside the varying jurisdictional claims which were relevant to Frankish missionaries in the 870s. While it could be known with a fair degree of certainty that the original Latin letter did not agree verbatim with the Greek minutes (as evidenced by Taurisius’ curious comments after it was read and the Caroline Books quoting a part of JE 2448’s ending which exists in the present Latin version, but not the Greek) what precisely it said in the disputed sections (and what would have been specifically objectionable) at this point can only be guessed.

Lastly, it must be stated that allowing for the reliability of both the Latin and Greek traditions, the view that the Latin tradition “proves” a Vatican I-style Papacy is untenable as evidenced by (presuming its authenticity) a bizarre passage in Book 1, Chap 6 of the Caroline Books. Therein, the Papacy is exalted in words far grander and explicit than the Latin tradition of Nicea II, yet this same source rejects the conclusions of the living Pope repeatedly and without apology. Pope Adrian’s acceptance of Nicea II was something they were not ignorant of, in contradiction of Percival’s speculations on the matter, as Adrian himself had sent the Carolingians a copy of Nicea II.

Due to the preceding, one must conclude one of two things. Either both the Latin and Greek renderings of JE 2448 and JE 2449 are fundamentally dependable, but the Greek was read at the council; or the Greek most reliably preserves both the original Latin letters and their Greek translations, as the Latin tradition existing now was forged by Anastasius in 873. What cannot be asserted seriously on any consistent basis is that Anastasius’ rendering of the Latin is a more reliable witness of what was read during Nicea II than what is preserved today in the Greek. Additionally, any claim that the present Latin tradition, in of itself, would decisively prove anything of importance for Roman Catholics doggedly digging through history looking for precedents to Vatican I is untenable.