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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
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John Beccus

Patriarch of Constantinople, and one of the few Greek ecclesiastics

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Beccus (Gr. Bekkos), JOHN, Patriarch of Constantinople in the second half of the thirteenth century, one of the few Greek ecclesiastics who were sincerely in favor of reunion with the Church of Rome. He was born in the early part of the thirteenth century in Constantinople, where he joined the ranks of the clergy. His ability, learning, and moral qualities marked him for advancement, and he was soon promoted to the office of chartophylax. The Patriarch Arsenius (1255-66) held him in high esteem, and defended him against the emperor's displeasure which he had incurred by suspending a priest who blessed a marriage in the church of an imperial palace without permission. Beccus, however, recovered the imperial favor, and gradually gained the confidence of Michael Palologus (1259-82). He was selected repeatedly to conduct delicate or difficult negotiations with foreign potentates. His sentiments towards the Christians of Western Europe, or the Latins, were not at all friendly at the beginning. When, after the destruction of the Latin Empire in Constantinople, the Emperor Michael Palologus conceived the plan of reuniting the Greek and the Latin Churches, the Patriarch Joseph (1268-75) and his chartophylax, John Beccus, were strongly opposed to it. In a meeting of the ecclesiastics of Constantinople held about the year 1273, Beccus declared in the presence of the emperor that the Latins were in reality heretics, although they were not called thus. His audacity was punished with imprisonment. In his enforced retirement Beccus found leisure to study the points of difference between the Greeks and Latins. The emperor, anxious to win him over, sent such writings to him as were favorable to the views of the Latin Church, among them the works of Nicephorus Blemmida or Blemmydes. From the works of Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, and others he learned that the Greek and the Latin Fathers substantially agreed on matters of Christian faith. The only difference was, that while the Latin writers considered the Holy Ghost to proceed from Father and Son, the Greeks preferred to state that He proceeds from the Father through the Son. Once satisfied on this subject, he became actively interested in the work of reunion, and retained these sentiments to the end. Meanwhile the union was happily concluded in the council held at Lyons (1274) and proclaimed at Constantinople (January, 1275). The Patriarch Joseph could not be induced to accept it, and was removed from his office according to a previous understanding. John Beccus was elected in his place. On the 2d of June, Pentecost Sunday, 1275, he received the episcopal consecration.

After his elevation to the patriarchal see one of his main objects was to convince of the lawfulness of the union those of the Greeks who were either partisans of the schism or else had renounced it only in a half-hearted way. In April, 1277, a synod was held in Constantinople, where the union was again approved; a letter was also written to Pope John XXI (1276-77), which acknowledged the papal primacy and the orthodoxy of the Latin doctrine on the Procession of the Holy Ghost. When a faction of the schismatics rebelled against the emperor, John Beecus excommunicated them (July, 1277), while Michael Palieologus defeated their armies. In 1279, Beccus assured the legates of Pope Nicholas III (1277-80), then in Constantinople that the Greek Church entirely agreed with Rome in matters of doctrine. Several synods were held shortly afterwards, all with the same object in view; and in one of them it was discovered that a certain Penteclesiota had tampered with a passage of St. Gregory of Nyssa, where testimony was rendered to the procession of the Holy Ghost from Father and Son. Finally, he tried also to defend in writing the doctrines of the Latin Church, although at first lie had resolved not to notice the many pamphlets of the schismatics, lest he should make the dissensions even greater.

The intercourse of Beccus with the emperor was not always pleasant. The patriarch pleaded much with his imperial master for the needy and for those unjustly condemned by the officers of the law. But the emperor grew weary of these importunities and restricted the patriarch's liberty of access to him. Matters were aggravated by the enemies of the union, who purposely calumniated Beccus, as if his conduct were immoral, as if he misused the treasures of the Church, and insulted or even cursed the emperor. Such accusations were not altogether unwelcome; and the emperor, to show his indignation, curtailed the patriarch's jurisdiction over all the sacred places that were outside of Constantinople. Thereupon Beccus grew tired of his office, resigned, and withdrew to a monastery in March, 1279. But as the papal legates arrived soon after, he was induced to resume his duties and to treat with the representatives of the pope, which he did as related before. After the death of Michael Palaeologus, which occurred December 11, 1282, the union with Rome was at once denounced by the new Emperor Andronicus (1282-1328); and Beccus was forced to resign. In a synod held in 1283, he was forced to sign his name to a creed prepared by his enemies, and to abdicate the patriarchal office, after which he was banished to the city of Prusa in Bithynia. In 1284, he was again summoned to a synod in Constantinople; but he defended energetically the doctrines of the Western Church, for which he was confined to the fortress of St. Gregory on the Black Sea, where he underwent many privations. Nothing, however, could induce him to sacrifice his convictions. He still continued to write in favor of the Latin Church. Death brought an end to his sufferings about the year 1298.

The principal works of John Beccus (in P.G., CXLI) are the following: "Concerning the Union and Peace of the Churches of Ancient and New Rome"; "The Epigraphle", a collection of passages from the Fathers; "On the Procession of the Holy Ghost"; the polemical works against Photius, Andronicus Camateros, and Gregory of Cyprus; the works addressed to his friends Theodore, Bishop of Sugda in Moesia, and a certain Constantine; a letter to Agallianos Alexios, a deacon of Constantinople; several orations and an "Apologia"; his "Testamentum" written while in prison. In all of these writings there is a sincere conviction of the truth defended by him, and great enthusiasm for the peace of the Church through union with Rome, among whose Greek adherents Beccus holds easily the first place.

FRANCIS J. SCHAEFER


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