The brothers Saint Cyril and Methodius from Thessaloniki
The brothers Saint Cyril and Methodius from Thessaloniki
Saint Methodius (Greek: Μεθόδιος; Church Slavonic Мефодии) (b. Thessaloniki, Byzantine Empire, 826; d. in Great Moravia, April 6, 885) was a Greek (i.e. Byzantine) scholar, archbishop of Great Moravia ("Moravia"), and the main translator of the Bible into Old Church Slavonic using the Glagolitic alphabet created by his brother and collaborator Saint Cyril.
Mission to the Slavs
Both brothers were now to enter upon the work which gives them their historical importance. An independent Slavonic principality had been established by Rastislav, the king of Great Moravia; and to maintain this independence it was necessary to assert also the ecclesiastical independence of his state, which had been, at least externally, Christianized from the German side. Hauck accepts the statement of Theotmar that Rastislav expelled the Teutonic clergy at the beginning of his contest with the Franks. He then turned to Constantinople to find teachers for his people. It is obvious that the opportunity to extend Byzantine influence among the Slavs would be there; and the task was entrusted to Cyril and Methodius. Their first work seems to have been the training of assistants. The assertion that Cyril now undertook his translation of part of the Bible contradicts the statement of the Legenda that it had already been made before his undertaking of the Great Moravian mission; and the oldest Slavonic documents have a southern character. Cyril is designated by both friends and opponents of contemporary date as the inventor of the Slavonic script. This would not exclude the possibility of his having made use of earlier letters, but implies only that before him the Slavs had no distinct script of their own for use in writing books. The so-called Glagolitic script can be traced back at least to the middle of the tenth century, possibly even into the ninth; it presupposes a man of some education as its originator, and is evidently derived principally from the Greek, but also partly from the Latin cursive. The Cyrillian script is undoubtedly later in origin, and apparently was first used in Bulgaria. It is impossible to determine with certainty what portions of the Bible the brothers translated. Apparently the New Testament and the Psalms were the first, followed by other lessons from the Old Testament. The Translatio speaks only of a version of the Gospels by Cyril, and the Vita Methodii only of the evangelium Slovenicum; but this does not prove that Cyril did not translate other liturgical selections (see BIBLE VERSIONS, B, XVI., § 1). The question has been much discussed which liturgy, that of Rome or that of Constantinople, they took as a source. Since, however, the opposition objected only to the liturgical use of the Slavonic language, not to any alleged departure from the Roman type of liturgy, it is probable that the Western source was used. This view is confirmed by the "Prague Fragments" and by certain Old Glagolitic liturgical fragments brought from Jerusalem to Kief and there discovered by Saresnewsky-- probably the oldest document for the Slavonic tongue; these adhere closely to the Latin type, as is shown by the words "mass", "preface", and the name of one Felicitas. In any case, the circumstances were such that the brothers could hope for no permanent success without obtaining the authorization of Rome.
Appeal to Rome
Accordingly, they went to Rome after three and a half years of labor, passing through Pannonia (the Balaton Principality), where they were well received by Prince Koceľ (Kocelj, Kozel). The account of a discussion in Venice on the use of Slavonic in the liturgy is doubtful. But there is no question of their welcome in Rome, due partly to their bringing with them the relics of Saint Clement; the rivalry with Constantinople, too, as to the jurisdiction over the territory of the Slavs would incline Rome to value the brothers and their influence. The learning of Cyril was also prized; Anastasius calls him not long after "the teacher of the Apostolic See". The ordination of the brothers' Slav disciples was performed by Formosus and Gauderic, two prominent bishops, and the newly made priests officiated in their own tongue at the altars of some of the principal churches. Feeling his end approaching, Cyril put on the monastic habit and died fifty days later (14 February 869). There is practically no basis for the assertion of the Translatio (ix.) that he was made a bishop; and the name of Cyril seems to have been given to him only after his death.
Methodius as Bishop
Methodius now continued the work among the Slavs alone; not at first in Great Moravia, but in Pannonia (in the Balaton Principality), owing to the political circumstances of the former country, where Rastislav had been taken captive by his nephew Svatopluk, then delivered over to Carloman, and condemned in a diet of the empire at the end of 870. Friendly relations, on the other hand, had been established with Koceľ on the journey to Rome. This activity in Pannonia, however, made a conflict inevitable with the German episcopate, and especially with the bishop of Salzburg, to whose jurisdiction Pannonia had belonged for seventy-five years. In 865 Bishop Adalwin is found exercising all episcopal rights there, and the administration under him was in the hands of the archpriest Riehbald. The latter was obliged to retire to Salzburg, but his superior was naturally disinclined to abandon his claims. Methodius sought support from Rome; the Vita asserts that Koceľ sent him thither with an honorable escort to receive episcopal consecration. The letter given as Adrian's in chap. viii., with its approval of the Slavonic mass, is a pure invention. It is noteworthy that the pope named Methodius not bishop of Pannonia, but archbishop of Sirmium, thus superseding the claims of Salzburg by an older title. The statement of the Vita that Methodius was made bishop in 870 and not raised to the dignity of an archbishop until 873 is contradicted by the brief of Pope John VIII, written in June, 879, according to which Adrian consecrated him archbishop; John includes in his jurisdiction not only Great Moravia and Pannonia, but Serbia as well.
Methodius and the Germans
The archiepiscopal claims of Methodius were considered such an injury to the rights of Salzburg that he was forced to answer for them at a synod held at Regensburg in the presence of King Louis. The assembly, after a heated discussion, declared the deposition of the intruder, and ordered him to be sent to Germany, where he was kept a prisoner for two years and a half. In spite of the strong representations of the Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum, written in 871 to influence the pope, though not avowing this purpose, Rome declared emphatically for Methodius, and sent a bishop, Paul of Ancons, to reinstate him and punish his enemies, after which both parties were commanded to appear in Rome with the legate. The papal will prevailed, and Methodius secured his freedom and his archiepiscopal authority over both Great Moravia and Pannonia, though the use of Slavonic for the mass was still denied to him. His authority was restricted in Pannonia when after Koceľ's death the principality was administered by German nobles; but Svatopluk now ruled with practical independence in Great Moravia, and expelled the German clergy. This apparently secured an undisturbed field of operation for Methodius; and the Vita (x.) depicts the next few years (873879) as a period of fruitful progress. Methodius seems to have disregarded, wholly or in part, the prohibition of the Slavonic liturgy; and when Frankish clerics again found their way into the country, and the archbishop's strictness had displeased the licentious Svatopluk, this was made a cause of complaint against him at Rome, coupled with charges regarding the Filioque. Methodius vindicated his orthodoxy at Rome, the more easily as the creed was still recited there without the Filioque clause, and promised to obey in regard to the liturgy. The other party was conciliated by giving him a Swabian, Wiching, as his coadjutor. When relations were strained between the two, John VIII steadfastly supported Methodius; but after his death (December 882) the archbishop's position became insecure, and his need of support induced Goetz to accept the statement of the Vita (xiii.) that he went to visit the Eastern emperor. It was not, however, until after his death, which is placed, though not certainly, on 8 April 885, an open conflict eventuated. Gorazd, whom he had designated as his successor, was not recognised by Pope Stephen VI, and was soon expelled, with the other followers of Methodius.
This article includes content derived from the public domain Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1914.
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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