Occasional writing

November 24, 2007

My apologies for not writing much recently — much family and personal business to attend to. The following paragraphs on Bekkos were written about a year ago, and they seem perhaps worth posting to the blog.

* * *

Observations about Truth are not out of place in considering the life and thought of John Bekkos. His life’s work revolved around the problem of identifying the eternal source of the Spirit of Truth. His own Church taught that the eternal source of the Spirit of Truth is the Father alone. Bekkos saw that this claim itself had a history, and not an unproblematic one. He saw that, if one looked past the Photian polemics of the ninth century, there was much evidence, in the earlier patristic record, of a Greek theological position that saw the Son’s role in the Holy Spirit’s eternal production to be necessary and unavoidable. The Son, who is Truth, is himself the source of the Spirit of Truth: not in such a way that he and the Father are two sources of the one Spirit, but because all that is from the Father is through the Son. The meaning of this through is what John Bekkos sought to recover and to clarify.

Perhaps one could state it in this way: the eternal Son comes to be in time, and it is only through the Son, who comes to be in time, that we have any knowledge of the Spirit’s eternal being. It may not be accidental that a strong reading of the Son’s mediation of the Spirit of Truth focuses upon history in a way that a weak reading of this mediation does not.

Both monopatrism and filioquism are claims about the ontology of Truth. And it seems correct to say that, for the filioquist position, history figures in the ontology of Truth in a way that, for the monopatrist position, it does not. For Bekkos, and for the West generally, one has no access to the Spirit of Truth, nor to the being of the Spirit of Truth, except through the eternal Son who has come to be in time. This does not mean that time determines the being of the Spirit of Truth; Bekkos is not a relativist, any more than St. Augustine is. It means a recognition that we, ourselves, are in time, and that we have no access to the Spirit of Truth unless the eternal one takes on our nature and, through himself, gives us that divine Gift which, of ourselves, we are powerless to acquire.

The monopatrist claim is that this sort of language shows the ontological confusion into which the filioquists fall. It shows a confusion between the conditions of the Spirit’s being and the conditions of our knowing him. Although we only know the Spirit through the Son who bestows the Spirit upon us, what the Son declares to us is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). He does not declare that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from himself. But monopatrism goes beyond this, and claims that a procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son is ontologically impossible: it results either in two causes of the Spirit, or in a confusion of the persons of the Father and the Son. It was this stronger claim against the Filioque that was first stated by Photius in the second half of the ninth century, and that has remained a cornerstone of Eastern polemics against Western Christianity ever since.

John Bekkos responds to this Photian dilemma by comparing it to the testimony of the Church’s authoritative texts, especially, the texts of the Church fathers who lived prior to the outbreak of the controversy. Judged by that standard, the dilemma is seen to be based on presuppositions that, according to Bekkos, the fathers themselves do not share. One of those presuppositions, a claim that recurs repeatedly in Photius’s Mystagogy, is the idea that there is nothing said about God that applies solely to two persons and not to three. Bekkos points out that this idea contradicts the teaching of fathers like St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Both of them see “being from the Father” as a common characteristic of the Son and Holy Spirit, and as not applying (obviously) to the Father himself; likewise, “sending the Spirit” is a common characteristic of the Father and the Son, and does not apply to the Spirit himself. These common characteristics do not cause the persons of the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the first case, or of the Father and the Son, in the second, to become confused; why then, Bekkos asks, should this be so if the Father and the Son together are the source of the Holy Spirit’s proceeding?

More directly, Bekkos shows that, for many of the Fathers, it was legitimate to speak of the Holy Spirit being “from” the Son. The monopatrist claim is that, when the fathers said this, they were referring merely to a sending of the Spirit in time, not to the Spirit’s eternal being. But Bekkos shows patristic texts that clearly cannot bear that interpretation. His inference is that, while the Latin doctrine that holds that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son is not as exact as the Greek fathers’ teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, it is compatible with it; and the fathers, who put realities before the terms in which realities are expressed, would have recognized and accepted this compatibility, for the sake of the peace and unity of the Church. Bekkos claims that, in supporting the Union agreed to at the Second Council of Lyons (1274), he is imitating fathers like St. Athanasius, St. Gregory the Theologian and others, and is doing what they would have done in the same situation.

Of course, the last claim, that the fathers would have acted this way, stands or falls upon the previous claim, that holds that the teaching of the Latin Church is not heretical, but merely a different way of expressing what the Greek Church traditionally holds.

When Bekkos speaks of the Latin doctrine being compatible with what the Greek Church traditionally holds, he plainly means by this, not that it is compatible with the anti-Latin tradition that has obtained since Photius, but with the tradition that predates that, the tradition of the fathers. As mentioned above, Bekkos is not a relativist; although there is such a thing as linguistic variability, there is also such a thing as right doctrine and wrong doctrine, and, as far as Bekkos is concerned, Photius’s doctrine on the procession of the Holy Spirit is wrong on several important counts….

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5 Responses to “Occasional writing”

  1. Michael McDonough Says:

    Peter,

    You speak (or Bekkos speaks) of common characteristic pairings:

    1) “being from the Father”: Son & Holy Spirt:
    Applies to the Father? No.

    2) “sending the Spirit”: Father & Son:
    Applies to the Holy Spirit? No.

    Does Bekkos speak of a third? To my simplistic mind there occurs the following:

    3) “revealed by the Son”: Father & Holy Spirit:
    Applies to the Son? Yes and no.

    Thanks to the Incarnation, though, the Son’s is a self-revelation as well as a revelation of the Father and the Holy Spirit. And one might respond “no” in a certain sense: i.e., the Eternal Word is revealed in and through the words and deeds of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

  2. bekkos Says:

    Michael,

    So far as I know, Bekkos does not speak of “revealed by the Son” as a common characteristic of the Father and Holy Spirit, perhaps because it possesses the ambiguities you note.

    In his De unione ecclesiarum §42, in response to an objection by Photius (“If the Son shares the production of the Spirit with the Father, the distinguishing character of the production will be common to them; and how can what is common be what distinguishes?”), Bekkos writes the following:

    “I say in reply, why do you find it totally absurd for there to be something common to the Father and the Son, something, I mean, peculiar to them and not common also to the Spirit? For there is, in fact, something the Father and Son share which is not common also to the Spirit. Now, because such a thing belongs not to one but to two persons, it is, and is said to be, common; but because this is observed to be peculiar to them, and not something held in common by the Spirit, it is said to be a distinguishing characteristic of theirs, with respect to which the Spirit is completely other. For in these two persons is observed the common attribute of possessing one undivided Spirit, because the Spirit is said to be the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. But since the Spirit is not also the Spirit of the Spirit, the Father and Son’s possessing one, undivided Spirit is, to them, a distinguishing characteristic; and the Father and the Son’s sharing in this characteristic, which is eternally observed in two persons only, disposes of the conundrum you put forward when you say, How can something common be what distinguishes?

    “Again, the attribute of being not unbegotten pertains in common to the Son and the Spirit, as does their being from a cause, a thing which is not of such a nature as to be observed in the Father.”

    Bekkos goes on to quote St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Lord’s Prayer), who states that being from a cause is common to the Son and Holy Spirit, and who adds that therefore some further attribute must be sought if those two persons are to be distinguished from one another.

    I confess that at times the finding of such shared attributes, common to two persons but not to three, seems like a kind of trivial game. But when one sees how much of the Photian polemic against Western triadology logically rests upon a denial of their existence, one can appreciate why it is important to point out such counterexamples.

    Peter

  3. Michael McDonough Says:

    Peter,

    Thanks. My suggestion lacks the “eternal” character of the other common characteristics tout court.

    “… at times the finding of such shared attributes, common to two persons but not to three, seems like a kind of trivial game.”

    Maybe, but when one does “see” even one of these insights, it is very helpful, since the sum total of them appears to be so slight!

    Michael

  4. joe Says:

    >The monopatrist claim is that this sort of language shows the ontological confusion into which the filioquists fall. It shows a confusion between the conditions of the Spirit’s being and the conditions of our knowing him. Although we only know the Spirit through the Son who bestows the Spirit upon us, what the Son declares to us is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). He does not declare that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from himself. But monopatrism goes beyond this, and claims that a procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son is ontologically impossible: it results either in two causes of the Spirit, or in a confusion of the persons of the Father and the Son. It was this stronger claim against the Filioque that was first stated by Photius in the second half of the ninth century, and that has remained a cornerstone of Eastern polemics against Western Christianity ever since.

    Well, from the viewpoint of this Eastern Catholic, the “stronger” claim against the Filioque, if it is indeed “a cornerstone of the Eastern polemics…” is both unworthy of the East, and an unworthy target (i.e. a strawman) for the West. The “monopatrist” claims of the first part of the paragraph are, in my view, more than sufficient against any view of an eternal sense of the Filioque. And it’s those claims that need to be dealt with by the West.

    >The Son, who is Truth, is himself the source of the Spirit of Truth:

    Where does Scripture say that the Son *qua* the Son is Truth? Joe

  5. bekkos Says:

    Joe,

    >Where does Scripture say that the Son *qua* the Son is Truth?

    As you probably know, the word *qua* appears in no English translation of Holy Scripture. As you probably also know, at John 14:6 Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Many of the fathers of the Church read this statement, when taken together with the Gospel of John’s frequent characterization of the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of Truth,” to imply that the Holy Spirit belongs to the Son in a particular way. Here are a couple of examples, one Greek, one Latin:

    St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Gospel of John, book 10 (PG 74, 417C):

    «Ἰδοὺ γάρ, ἰδοὺ Πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, τουτέστιν ἑαυτοῦ, τὸν Παράκλητον εἰπών, παρὰ τοῦ Πατρὸς αὐτὸν ἐκπορεύεσθαί φησιν. Ὥσπερ γάρ ἐστιν ἴδιον Πνεῦμα τοῦ Ὑἱοῦ φυσικῶς, ἐν αὐτῷ τε ὑπάρχον καὶ δι᾽ αὐτοῦ προϊόν, οὕτω καὶ τοῦ Πατρός.»

    “For behold, behold, in calling the Comforter the Spirit of truth, that is, his own Spirit, he says that he proceeds from the Father. For just as he is naturally the Son’s own proper Spirit, existing in him and coming forth through him, so also is he the proper Spirit of the Father.”

    Fulgentius of Ruspe (6th c.), De fide ad Petrum, c. XI (PL 65, 696):

    «Firmissime tene et nullatenus dubites eumdem Spiritum Sanctum, qui Patris et Filii unus Spiritus est, de Patre et Filio procedere. Dicit enim Filius: Cum venerit Spiritus veritatis, qui a Patre procedit: ubi suum Spiritum esse docuit, quia ipse est veritas.»

    “You should hold most firmly and in no way doubt that that same Holy Spirit, who is the one Spirit of the Father and the Son, proceeds from the Father and the Son. For the Son says: ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, who proceeds from the Father….’ In saying this, he teaches that he is his own Spirit, since he himself is the Truth.”

    Now, it is true, these fathers do not say, in so many words, that the Son “qua the Son” is Truth when speaking of the Son as the Truth; to do so might have implied to some unthinking persons that the Father and the Holy Spirit are not also Truth (just as the characterization of the Son as “Wisdom” does not imply that the Father and the Holy Spirit are not also Wisdom and wise, and Scripture’s statement that the Father “alone hath immortality” cannot be taken to deny the immortality of the Son and Holy Spirit). “Truth” is a name of God as such, and as such belongs to all the persons of the Trinity. But there is a legitimate sense in which this name is appropriated to the Son. The Church throughout all ages has recognized that legitimate sense, and it was in that sense that I endeavored to use the word when I said above (summarizing the view of many early Christian fathers), that “the Son, who is Truth, is himself the source of the Spirit of Truth.”

    Peter


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