Patriarch John XI of Constantinople

John XI Bekkos (also, commonly, Beccus; name sometimes also spelled Veccus, Vekkos, or Beccos) (c. 1225 - March 1297) was Patriarch of Constantinople from June 2, 1275 to December 26, 1282, and the chief Greek advocate, in Byzantine times, of the reunion of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.


John Bekkos was born in Nicaea among the exiles from Constantinople during the period of Latin occupation of that city, and died in prison in Nicomedia, in the fortress of St. Gregory near the Black Sea. Our knowledge of Bekkos’s life is derived from his own writings, from writings of Byzantine historians such as George Pachymeres and Nicephorus Gregoras, from writings against him by Gregory II Cyprius and others, and from defences of him by supporters of ecclesiastical union like Constantine Meliteniotes and George Metochites. Bekkos’s history is closely bound up with the fortunes of the Union of the Churches declared at the Second Council of Lyon (1274), a union promoted by Pope Gregory X in the West and Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus in the East. The union policy of Michael VIII was largely politically motivated, and Bekkos at first opposed it; but, after Michael VIII had had him imprisoned for speaking out against it, Bekkos changed his mind (1273); a reading of such Greek church fathers as St. Basil the Great, St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Epiphanius convinced Bekkos that theological differences between the Greek and Latin Churches had been exaggerated. After Patriarch Joseph I Galesiotes abdicated early in 1275 due to his opposition to the Council of Lyon, Bekkos was elected to replace him. His relationship with the emperor was sometimes stormy; although Michael VIII depended on Bekkos for maintaining his empire’s peace with the West, he was annoyed by Bekkos’s repeated intercessions on behalf of the poor. Michael was a crafty man, and knew how to make the Patriarch’s life miserable by sundry small humiliations, until, in March, 1279, Bekkos quit in disgust, and had to be coaxed back to undertake the job again (late 1279). The final years of Michael VIII’s reign were entirely taken up with defending his empire against the threat posed by the Western king Charles of Anjou, and, in his anxiety to meet this threat, Michael enforced a "reign of terror" against opponents of union; but there is no convincing evidence that John Bekkos ever actively took part in or supported acts of violent persecution.

The ecclesial union engineered by Michael VIII was never popular in Byzantium, and, after his death (December 11, 1282), his son and successor, Andronicus II, repudiated it. On the day after Christmas, 1282, John Bekkos withdrew to a monastery; the former patriarch, Joseph I, was brought into the city on a stretcher, and a series of councils and public meetings ensued, led by a group of anti-unionist monks. Bekkos, in fear of violent death at the hands of a mob, was induced to sign a formal renunciation of his unionist opinions and of his priesthood (January, 1283), a renunciation which he afterwards disowned as extorted under duress, but which was used against him. (See text of it in Papadakis, Crisis in Byzantium.) After this, Bekkos spent some years under house arrest at a large monastery in Prusa in Asia Minor. From there, he began a literary campaign to exonerate himself, and succeeded in having a council called to reexamine his case; it took place at the imperial palace of Blachernae in Constantinople in August, 1285. Although the Council of Blachernae reaffirmed Bekkos’s earlier condemnation, in the council’s aftermath Bekkos, by a series of writings, succeeded in bringing its dogmatic statement against him (the Tomus of 1285) into such disrepute that its principal author, the Patriarch Gregory II, resigned (1289). Bekkos saw this as vindicating his position. He spent the remaining years of his life in prison in the fortress of St. Gregory, revising his writings, maintaining friendly relations with the Emperor and leading Byzantine churchmen, but unwilling to give up his unionist opinions; he died in 1297.


The basis of John Bekkos’s quarrel with his contemporaries was a disagreement with them over the implications of a traditional patristic formula, that states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (in Greek, δια του Υιου). Already in the ninth century, this expression was being pushed in two different directions: Latin writers saw it as implying the Augustinian doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Filioque); Greek writers, especially from the time of Patriarch Photios onward, saw it as consistent with the view that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. Bekkos originally agreed with the Photian view, but his reading of the Greek fathers, and of medieval Greek writers like Nicephorus Blemmydes and Nicetas of Maroneia, caused him to change his mind. Much of John XI Bekkos’s debate with Gregory II was a debate over the meaning of texts from St. Cyril and other fathers, whose wording (the Spirit “exists from the Son”; the Spirit “fountains forth eternally” from the Father and the Son, etc.) Bekkos saw as consistent with the Latin doctrine, while Gregory of Cyprus interpreted such texts as necessarily referring to an eternal manifestation of the Holy Spirit through or from the Son. This thirteenth-century debate has considerable relevance for current-day ecumenical discussions between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.


Most of Bekkos’s writings are found in vol. 141 of J.-P. Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, although some still remain unedited. Migne reprints the seventeenth century editions of Leo Allatius; a more reliable re-edition was produced by H. Laemmer in the nineteenth century (Scriptorum graeciae orthodoxae bibliotheca selecta, Freiburg, 1864), but even this edition lacks references for Bekkos’s many patristic citations. Only a few, short writings of Bekkos’s have received modern, critical editions. One of them is his work De pace ecclesiastica ("On Ecclesiastical Peace"), found in V. Laurent and J. Darrouzès, Dossier Grec de l’Union de Lyon, 1273-1277 (Paris, 1976); in it, Bekkos criticizes the foundations of the schism between the Churches on historical grounds alone, pointing out that the Patriarch Photios only chose to launch a campaign against the Latin doctrine after his claim to be rightful Patriarch of Constantinople was rejected by Pope Nicholas I. Some of Bekkos’s most important works are as follows:

  • On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome (PG 141, 15-157): this work summarizes Bekkos’s main patristic arguments and rebuts the arguments of four Byzantine critics of Latin Christian theology (Photios, John Phurnes, Nicholas of Methone, Theophylact of Bulgaria). An English translation of this work is currently being prepared for publication.
  • Epigraphs (PG 141, 613-724): an anthology of patristic texts arranged under thirteen "chapter headings," presenting a connected argument for the compatibility of the Greek and Latin doctrines of the procession of the Holy Spirit; 160 years later, it was instrumental in convincing Bessarion, at the Council of Florence, that the Latin doctrine was orthodox.
  • Orations I and II On his own Deposition (PG 141, 949-1010): Bekkos’s own account of events during the tumultuous synods of early 1283.
  • De libris suis ("On his own works") (PG 141, 1019-1028): a short work, but essential for the critical history of Bekkos’s texts. In it, Bekkos discusses the principles which governed his revision of his own works in an edition he wrote out by hand while he was in prison.
  • Refutation of the ‘Tome’ of George of Cyprus (PG 141, 863-923) and Four Books to Constantine Meliteniotes (PG 141, 337-396): Bekkos’s critique of his antagonist Gregory II.


Little has been written on John XI Bekkos in English. But see esp.

  • Gill, Joseph. "John Beccus, Patriarch of Constantinople, 1275-1282." Byzantina 7 (1975), 251-266.
  • Idem, Byzantium and the Papacy, 1198-1400 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1979).
  • Papadakis, Aristeides. Crisis in Byzantium: The Filioque Controversy in the Patriarchate of Gregory II of Cyprus (1283-1289). 2nd ed. (Crestwood, N.Y., 1997).

More has been written on Bekkos in other languages. Highly to be recommended is a new book in German:

  • Riebe, Alexandra. Rom in Gemeinschaft mit Konstantinopel: Patriarch Johannes XI. Bekkos als Verteidiger der Kirchenunion von Lyon (1274) (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005).

See also the bibliography at the BBKL link below.


Preceded by Joseph I Galesiotes

Patriarch of Constantinople 1275–1282

Succeeded by Gregory II Cyprius

List of Patriarchs of Constantinople

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