This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.


A fuller introduction to this text, as well as a full and accurate English translation, will be produced by Prof. John Duffy of Harvard. I had the pleasure of participating in Prof. Duffy's seminar at Dumbarton Oaks in spring 2003, and at that time produced a rough translation, part of which is reproduced below. The translation remains provisional, and will have been improved by suggestions made by Prof. Duffy and by other participants in the seminar, including Alice-Mary Talbot and Denis Sullivan.


Vita Ignatii

The life and struggle of our holy father Ignatios the archbishop of Constantinople written by Niketas David Paphlagon, servant of Jesus Christ

[... the first rhetorical passages are omitted]

To this blessed Michael [I Rangabe, emperor 811-13] who wondrously exchanged a terrestrial empire for that of heaven were born five children they all say. Of these two were female, the first named Georgo, and the youngest of all Theophano. Both lived their whole lives as virgins and monastics and died blessedly. Three were males: Theophylaktos, Staurakios and Niketas. Of these Theophylaktos was the first of all to be born, and he and Staurakios were both at first crowned with the imperial diadem. Then when still quite young Staurakios died, before the abdication. Theophylaktos was tonsured together with his imperial parents, and his name was changed to Eustratios. At first, they say, Niketas, aged ten, was appointed domestikos of the so-called Hikanatoi by his uncle Nikephoros, by whom that tagma was first established. But when he reached the age of fourteen, leaving behind mundane imperial affairs together with his good parent, he too was tonsured and his name changed to Ignatios.

Leo [V, emperor 813-20], therefore, that abominable beast, after he had conceived injustice which he brought forth <like a child>, the empire had been grasped by a tyrannical hand, gazed not at the all-seeing eye, had not a care for the meekness of the blessed exiles, nor for the magnitude of the good service which the blessed ones had deemed him worthy to receive even though he did not deserve it. So great was the deception of the malignant scheme by which they were ensnared, that they had appointed him as godfather at the spiritual font of the imperial children. None of these things shamed his cruel and beastly soul. Then having sent them away, he kept them separate from one another, restricting each to his own place on the islands, and repressing each under secure guard. The cruel man separated the sons from their generative organs, having sentenced them to become eunuchs.

Then he brought down a wicked start to his reign, and reinstituted an end worthy of that start. For he turned his hand to return again the heresy of Iconoclasm which had formerly been practised with evil and hatred for God, during the reigns of that impious Leo and his even more profane son Constantine, which had well and piously been put down and ended utterly by God’s providence and by the blessed seventh [ecumenical] council,* this abominable serpent and falsifier of truth. When immediately he had attacked the tower of orthodoxy – Nikephoros was then the guardian of piety and imperial hierarch [i.e. Patriarch of Constantinople] – bombarding it with flattery and threats, since it was stronger than his own mind, he fell upon it and drove from the throne with a tyrannical hand the man who had guided the Church apostolically for nine years, and the harsh man banished him to the right banks of the Strait [i.e. the Bosphorus] to a certain monastery, where that blessed man passed over to God after he had spent seventeen years in true confession.

The all-profane man places on the patriarchal throne a man he had tonsured as a cleric, namely one Theodotos from amongst those deceiving themselves with political honours, a man nourished with worldly habits and affairs, who had never partaken of an education or good instruction, believing only as a zealot in the Christian-betraying heresy of the Iconoclasts. After he <Leo> had instigated a dire and inhuman persecution of those wishing to act piously, he discovered on the very heels of that, that the wages of sin is death, for within a little more than seven years his imperial rule was cut short. For in the midst of the sanctuary of the Church of the Mother of God, which they call the Pharos in the palace, the unfortunate man was cut down and killed with swords like a dog. Therefore he who had in this manner emulously sown the seeds of impiety, accordingly reaped the fruits of his labours. For Michael, who is also known as the Stammerer [Psellos], who was then the Domestikos of the Exkoubitai, who had been slandered as planning usurpation and locked up, was himself proclaimed <emperor> immediately after his conspirators and comrades had killed the tyrant, having entered the palace unnoticed before sunrise by donning clerical costumes. Throwing the cut-up <body of Leo> into a sack he commanded that it be buried without honour on the island called Prote, and that <Leo’s> sons be castrated and tonsured. As Scripture states: “One’s labours return on one’s head” and “One’s injustice comes down on one’s head”.

This same Michael the Amorion, who was Sabbatian in respect of heresy, handles the ruling sceptre for nine and a half years, spared not one concern for orthodoxy, but nor did he use force against those wishing to act piously. When the aforementioned Theodotos Kassiteras had died, this very Michael, having taken into his hands the former metropolitan of Pege Antonios with the nick-name “the Tanner”, a partner in heresy, appoints him patriarch of Constantinople.

After Michael his son Theophilos became master of the empire for thirteen years. And on the one hand he was in other matters, so they say, not bad nor an opponent of righteous judgement; but on the other hand, in respect of the destruction of holy icons and the persecution of the orthodox, it is said, that he was considered lighter than none of the persecutors before him. And this it is believed was a came about by the admonition especially of John whom after Antony he placed on the partiarchal throne.

With political and ecclesiastical affairs appearing in this situation, and for thirty years the Church sundered and associated with a myriad such perils and deaths and oppressions, while the impious trampled the blessed with profane feet and administered the sacraments with unclean hands, Niketas also called Ignatios, that most noble shoot planted in the house of God, bloomed in the halls of the solitary way of life, and was not about to be seen as barren in what he had brought forth, nor plumed only with leaves or tasteless garments or cloaks like that accursed fig tree (Mark XI:13, 20-1). Abiding by the divine and most bounteous waters and streams of the [Holy] Spirit, and learning perfectly the whole Old Testament and the whole New [Testament], having devoted himself to learning laboriously all the words of the Holy Fathers and emulating their actions, and absorbing their wisdom and enriching the inner man wholly in these ways and growing strong, he bore fruit, to God the sweet fruit of virtue. The first fruit he bore was fasting, vigil and vehement chanting of psalms, and callouses on the knees from prayers and tears, and beating his chest, and the patient mastery of the tongue in the face of all insults of the harsh abbot whose mind was obdurate in satisfying the Iconoclasts and was instructing him; in addition to these things <he brought forth as fruit> gentleness and humility and complete obedience to all the brotherhood before the Lord. First partaking of these things by his actions the blessed one educated himself in these matters and teaching himself beautiful things accordingly prospered as he grew in body size and spiritual development. Then he bore riper fruits for God, I mean faith and hope and love: perfect faith attained from perfect and complete understanding of perfect God; unfeigned faith, unashamed hope and pure love from a pure heart towards God and his neighbour according to correct command. The divine Ignatios, bringing forth these fruits and living from his early youth by such correct actions during the whole time when the impious profaned God, brought himself successfully to perfect piety.

 

Note

* Convened in 787, now rescinded by an Iconoclast council. Note that Leo was very conscious of the parallels to the earlier Leo, and had his own son renamed Constantine upon associating him in his rule.

 


Paul Stephenson, November 2006; January 2012