St. Gregory on schism

January 25, 2008

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, poem 2.1.13, To the Bishops, vv. 151-163; PG 37, 1239-1240. Written about the year 382 AD.

Others, mutually divided, drive East and West
into confusion, and God has abandoned them to their flesh,
for which they make war, giving their name and their allegiance to others:
my god’s Paul, yours is Peter, his is Apollos.
But Christ is pierced with nails to no purpose.
For it’s not from Christ that we’re called, but from men,
we who possess his honor by hands and by blood.
So much have our eyes been clouded over by a love
of vain glory, or gain, or by bitter envy,
pining away, rejoicing in evil: these have a well-earned misery.
And the pretext is the Trinity, but the reality is faithless hate.
Each is two-faced, a wolf concealed against the sheep,
and a brass pot hiding a nasty food for the children.


St. Gregory the Theologian wrote the poem To the Bishops in the aftermath of the second ecumenical council, after he had left Constantinople in the middle of the council and returned to his native Cappadocia. The passage cited above reflects the bitterness he felt over the circumstances of his departure; after taking over the presidency of the council following the death of Meletius of Antioch, Gregory had tried to resolve the schism that existed at Antioch between the followers of Meletius and the followers of Paulinus, both of whom claimed to be bishop of the city. Meletius’s claims had been supported by most of the Eastern episcopacy; Paulinus’s claims had been supported by the Latin-speaking West and by Egypt. Gregory’s attempt to mediate the disagreement only brought him the disdain of both sides; the Eastern bishops rejected Gregory’s proposed solution to the schism, which was that Meletius’s followers should now recognize Paulinus as bishop; the Western bishops, when they arrived at the council, rejected Gregory’s appointment as archbishop of Constantinople on the technical point that he had already been appointed bishop of Sasima in Cappadocia (a see he had never occupied) and that his transfer to the see of Constantinople contravened a canon of the Council of Nicaea. Although Gregory pointed out that this canon had fallen completely out of observance, for the sake of maintaining peace between the churches he complied with the Westerners’ demands and resigned as archbishop of Constantinople.

Besides revealing Gregory’s bitter state of mind, the passage also reveals that Gregory understood the schism between the two groups to be based upon pretended theological grounds. “The pretext,” Gregory says, “is the Trinity, the reality is faithless hate.” What does he mean by this?

Besides the question of personalities, the Meletian and Paulinian factions were divided also over theological terminology. The Meletians, like most Christians in the East, spoke of God as three hypostases, one ousia, a usage that apparently goes back to the third-century theologian, Origen. The Paulinians spoke of God as one hypostasis or ousia, three prosopa (“persons”). The Paulinians’ linguistic usage was arguably closer to that of the Council of Nicaea of 325, which had taught that the Son is ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρός (“from the Father’s ousia) and had anathematized anyone who spoke of the Son as being “from another hypostasis or ousia” — other, that is, than the Father. This was also closer to the usage of the Latin-speaking West: the Greek word hypostasis is cognate with the Latin substantia. The Latins always felt the doctrine of three hypostases was implicitly tritheistic; the Greeks, similarly, suspected that the Western doctrine of three prosopa or personae was a mere cover for modalism, i.e., the idea that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely masks, temporary identities that the Godhead takes on for awhile and then lays aside.

St. Gregory, following St. Athanasius, regarded both of these terminologies as legitimate. He himself kept to the Eastern usage, but he accepted those who adopted the Western terminology, as though, when they spoke of one hypostasis, three prosopa, they meant the same thing he did when speaking of one ousia, three hypostases.

It is possible that, in assuming this identity of meaning on both sides, Gregory was being overly optimistic. My guess is that the differences actually went somewhat deeper than mere terminology, and that there were real differences in ontological understanding between the two groups. It further seems to me that these implicit ontological differences, i.e., different understandings of divine substance, soon returned to haunt Christianity in the interminable debate over the procession of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26). Yes, but (theologians of the Western school quickly pointed out) he also has a certain relation of receptivity towards the Son. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit “will receive of mine” (John 16:14), and “All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:15). Photius, in the ninth century, maintained that, when Jesus says “he shall receive of mine,” he means that the Holy Spirit shall receive from him that is mine, i.e., he shall receive from the Father. But it is quite clear that that is not how the line was interpreted by writers of the fourth century like Epiphanius, Apollinarius, Didymus the Blind, and St. Athanasius himself. They took Jesus’ words as meaning that the Holy Spirit receives from that which the Son himself possesses, which he possesses from the Father. In other words, they interpreted Jesus’ words in the passage to mean that the Holy Spirit receives from the Son the divine ousia, his actual being. This was the tradition St. Augustine received, and which he embodied in his trinitarian writings.

The logic of the Western position seems to have gone something like this. Just as the Son is ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρός, from the substance of the Father, so it is legitimate to say that the Holy Spirit is ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρός καὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ, from the substance of the Father and the Son.

How do the Cappadocians interpret John 16:14f.? Very curiously, they don’t. One looks in vain for the Cappadocians giving a theological interpretation to those verses; at least, to date, I have not found them doing so. This is very odd; especially since Origen, whom they frequently follow, himself had read this passage as implying a dependence of the Spirit upon the Son. This suggests to me that they were consciously avoiding something.

Actually, there is one place where one does find the Cappadocians quoting John 16:14f. But it occurs in a text whose authenticity is highly disputed. The text is St. Basil, Adv. Eunomium III.1. In one version of this text, Basil argues against Eunomius that, even though Christian tradition speaks of the Holy Spirit as coming third “in dignity and order,” this ordinal thirdness does not imply that the Spirit is “third in nature.” In speaking in this passage of the Spirit as coming after the Son in an ordinal way, the author gives reasons: it because “he has being from him, and receives from him and announces to us, and depends entirely upon this cause.” The authenticity of the passage was defended by Bekkos in the thirteenth century and Bessarion in the fifteenth; they pointed out that the manuscripts that contained this reading were among the oldest manuscripts of the text, and evidently predated the outbreak of hostilities at the time of Photius. The current scholarly consensus is that it is a forgery, perhaps dating to the seventh century. But scholarly consensuses are sometimes wrong, and, in this case, the arguments for dating it to the seventh century are not, I think, watertight.

I think it is possible that the text is, in fact, by St. Basil, from an early, more Origenistic stage of his career, and that, for one reason or another, he later became more reserved about asserting a direct causal dependence of the Holy Spirit upon the Son. My guess is that the reason for this could have been the change in his relationship with Eustathius of Sebaste, and a desire to distance himself from him. (Eustathius, around the year 370, began asserting that trinitarian order implied that the Spirit did not share the same, divine nature as the Father and the Son; Basil might well have begun to see any explicit acknowledgment of trinitarian order as potentially dangerous.) The passage could have been edited out by Basil himself, or it could have been done by his brother Gregory of Nyssa or his friend Gregory of Nazianzus. One of the editors of the Adv. Eunomium for Sources Chrétiennes suggests just a scenario as a possible explanation for the textual tradition; it is not a mere wild idea.

In any case, St. Gregory’s passage, quoted above, is worth reflecting on. Although he is not talking about the Filioque, he is talking, I think, about a situation that gave birth to the Filioque debate. Bekkos, in the thirteenth century, notes that there is a sort of historical, genetic relationship between this fourth-century schism and the schism in his own time: “Most remarkably, these peoples and Churches are none other than the ones we are dealing with in the present discourse” (De unione, §11). And, while Bekkos never cites this passage from a poem of St. Gregory’s, I am certain that, had he known of it, he would have seen it as confirming his own approach. Just as St. Gregory regarded the schism in his day as an empty logomachy fueled by national pride and ecclesiastical ambition, so Bekkos thought that Photius had raised the Filioque issue for precisely these reasons. He would have seen Gregory condemning the schism beforehand.

I do not know that Bekkos’s analysis of the theological issues is entirely correct. He seems to presume that there was a consensus about the Holy Spirit’s procession, a consensus that “through” implied “from,” which I doubt ever existed, or at least, was ever really general. The issue was raised in the debates between St. Cyril and Theodoret in the fifth century; arguably, it was not resolved then, and has not been resolved still. I doubt very much that Bekkos’s theological solution to the problem will ever serve as a generally acceptable formula for understanding the Holy Spirit’s procession. He is an Old Nicene, born out of time. The people of his day had no idea of what he was talking about.

Still, I think St. Gregory’s poem shows that Bekkos is not a shallow reader of the fathers, as some people claim him to be. He never read this poem, but the spirit that speaks through it is very much his. He saw through that piety that expresses itself in theological contempt for one’s brother; like Gregory, he recognized this form of speculative brilliance as hatred. There was a part of the fathers’ message that was not being heard, and perhaps is still not sufficiently being heard; Bekkos proclaimed it, loudly, and suffered for it. I believe he deserves some credit.

St. Maximus on the filioque

January 21, 2008

St. Maximus the Confessor, Ad Domnum Marinum Cypri presbyterum (Letter to the priest Marinus of Cyprus), PG 91, 134D-136C.

“Those of the Queen of cities have attacked the synodal letter of the present very holy Pope (Martin I), not in the case of all the chapters that he has written in it, but only in the case of two of them. One relates to theology, because it says he says that ‘the Holy Spirit proceeds (ἐκπορεύεσθαι) also from the Son.’

“The other has to do with the divine incarnation, because he has written, ‘The Lord, as man, is without original sin.’

“With regard to the first matter, they (the Romans) have produced the unanimous documentary evidence of the Latin fathers, and also of Cyril of Alexandria, from the sacred commentary he composed on the gospel of St. John. On the basis of these texts, they have shown that they have not made the Son the cause of the Spirit — they know in fact that the Father is the only cause of the Son and the Spirit, the one by begetting and the other by procession; but [they use this expression] in order to manifest the Spirit’s coming-forth (προϊέναι) through him and, in this way, to make clear the unity and identity of the essence….

“The Romans have therefore been accused of things of which it is wrong to accuse them, whereas of the things of which the Byzantines have quite rightly been accused (viz., Monothelitism), they have, to date, made no self-defense, because neither have they gotten rid of the things introduced by them.

“But, in accordance with your request, I have asked the Romans to translate what is peculiar to them in such a way that any obscurities that may result from it will be avoided. But since the practice of writing and sending (the synodal letters) has been observed, I wonder whether they will possibly agree to doing this. One should also keep in mind that they cannot express their meaning in a language and idiom that are foreign to them as precisely as they can in their own mother-tongue, any more than we can do.”


The passage translated above originally appeared on the Catholic website; this website apparently no longer exists, nor do I know the identity of the translator. I have revised the translation slightly.

St. Maximus the Confessor here denies that the Latin doctrine concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit — the teaching that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” — is heretical, as certain people in Constantinople, who held to the Monothelite heresy, were saying in his day. St. Maximus’s teaching here is not unambiguous, and both Orthodox and Catholics have claimed him as supporting their position; but at least this much seems clear: Maximus thinks that part of the reason why the Latin teaching sounds odd to Greek ears is that the Latin phrase has been translated into Greek in a misleading way; by using the Greek term ἐκπορεύεσθαι to translate the Latin procedere, the translators of Pope Martin’s document have given the impression to their Greek-speaking readers that the Latins regard the Son as an originating cause of the Spirit in the same sense that the Father is. In Maximus’s own restatement of the Latin teaching, the word προϊέναι (“coming-forth”) is used instead.

By using “coming-forth” instead of “proceed,” does Maximus intend to say that the Latin doctrine is true, provided that one understands “from the Son” as referring only to a temporal mission of the Spirit? That would be a Photian interpretation of what Maximus is saying here, but I think the passage can hardly bear that meaning: Maximus has lived in the West, and he doubtless knows that that is not what the Western Church, whose orthodoxy he is defending here, was saying.

What then about the claim that the Latin-speaking Church has not made the Son into a cause of the Spirit when it asserts that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son? How can that claim be squared with the decree of the Second Council of Lyons, that the Holy Spirit “æternaliter ex Patre & Filio, non tanquam ex duobus principiis, sed tanquam ex uno principio, non duabus spirationibus, sed unica spiratione procedit,” i.e., he “proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as though from two principles, but as though from a single principle; not with two spirations, but with a single spiration”? Some Orthodox claim that St. Maximus cannot really be defending the filioque in the sense in which that doctrine was understood in the medieval West, because Maximus explicitly affirms that the Father is the only cause in the Trinity; to speak of Father and Son together as constituting a single principle of the Holy Spirit’s procession, as the Council of Lyons does, seems to take away the Father’s position as sole cause.

Bessarion, in the fifteenth century, argued that, when St. Maximus says here that the Father is the “only cause,” he means “cause” in the sense of προκαταρκτικὴ αἰτία, that is, original, initial cause. By and large, that is Bekkos’s view, too; and I think that Bekkos is justified in seeing St. Maximus as supporting beforehand the position of the Greek unionists. For Bekkos, although Father and Son constitute a single principle of the Holy Spirit’s procession, the Father remains the sole cause, because all the Son’s causality gets referred back to the Father, according to St. Basil (see January 5th’s post, John Bekkos on unity of cause in the Trinity). Moreover, if one reads the minutes of St. Maximus’s final trial in Constantinople, it is very clear that one of the main reasons why the imperial government had St. Maximus’s tongue cut out was that he forthrightly upheld the authority of the Pope over that of the Emperor in deciding religious questions. To depict St. Maximus as anti-Western and anti-papal is to replace historical reality with a crude cartoon. All of that makes me think that the interpretation Bekkos and Bessarion give of this passage is essentially right, and that Mark of Ephesus‘s interpretation is basically wrong. St. Maximus, like John Bekkos, saw the filioque as orthodox.

Gregory of Nazianzus, poem 2.1.78, Ad suam animam (To his own soul)

You have a job to do, soul, and a great one, if you like:
Examine yourself, what thing you are, and towards what you are turning;
Where do you come from, and where shall you end,
And is life this very life you’re living, or something else besides?

You have a job to do, soul; by these things cleanse your life.
Make me to know God and God’s mysteries.
What was before the universe, and why does the universe exist for you?
Where has it come from, and where is it going?

You have a job to do, soul, by these things cleanse your life.
How does God guide and turn the universe:
Or why are some things permanent, others transient,
And us especially, in this changing life?

You have a job to do, soul: look to God alone.
What was my glory once, and what this present hybris?
What my interweaving, and what the end of my life?
Of these things inform me, and check the mind from wandering.

You have a job to do, soul: may you suffer no injury in the labor.


January 10, 2008

Last week I posted to the blog a fairly extended passage from John Bekkos’s On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome. Some readers may not immediately see why the passage is significant, or why they should bother to plough through Bekkos’s long sentences when life presents so many other matters worthy of attention. The text, in other words, calls out for commentary. That is what I shall attempt to provide here.

To get a sense of what Bekkos is saying in §§7-9 of the De unione ecclesiarum, one needs to bear in mind the situation in which he wrote. The book probably was published in the year 1275 or shortly thereafter; and, although the Council of Lyons had been officially approved and there was an official state of communion between the Churches (in that the Pope’s name had been restored to the diptychs, i.e., he was being commemorated, along with the other Orthodox patriarchs, in hierarchical liturgies at Constantinople), most people in Byzantium remained very uneasy about the whole idea of communion with the Church of Rome; if they agreed to it at all, it was from the idea of “economy,” that is, the notion, often encountered in Eastern canon law, that the stringency of ecclesiastical rules can be relaxed upon occasion with a view to a greater good — in this case, the greater good of forestalling another Latin assault upon Constantinople. Bekkos himself, only two years earlier, had been of the opinion that the Latins were in reality heretics, and that therefore communion with them, whatever pragmatic grounds might be advanced, was illicit. (See Pachymeres, De Michaele Palaeologo, book V, ch. 12: “Some people are in fact heretics and are said to be such; others neither are nor are said to be; others again are said to be but are not; whereas others are said not to be and are. Among these last the Italians should be classed.” [Gill, tr.] This was the line that caused Bekkos to be thrown in jail, not for the last time in his life.) If Bekkos later agreed to the Union of the Churches, and became in fact its most articulate advocate within the Greek-speaking world, it was because his mind had changed upon this very point: by studying the fathers, he had become convinced that the chief source of doctrinal contention between Eastern and Western Christians was founded upon a misunderstanding; that, although Greek and Latin Christians use somewhat different language when speaking about the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit, their essential belief is the same; that, when Latin Christians speak of the Holy Spirit being from the Father and the Son, they mean essentially no more than what Basil and other Eastern saints had meant when they said that the Holy Spirit is from the Father through the Son (and certainly no more than what some of these same Eastern saints, like Cyril of Alexandria and Epiphanius of Cyprus, had meant when they explicitly said that the Holy Spirit is “from the Father and the Son”); and that therefore the Latins were not in fact heretics after all and that it was right, and one’s Christian duty, to make peace with them.

Bekkos also knew that this very claim, that the Latin Church is not heretical, raised the issue of how to interpret the views of those Greek churchmen, from Photius onward, who had said that it is, and who had backed up this claim with argumentation. The majority of Bekkos’s writings are devoted to a detailed confrontation with that argumentation, what he refers to at one point as a “critiquing of the critics.” He carries on this critique in different ways in different works of his; for instance, in the work On Peace (De pace ecclesiastica), Bekkos presents documentary evidence to show that Photius’s attitude towards communion with the Church of Rome, his view of that Church’s orthodoxy, shifted back and forth according to whether or not the popes acknowledged him as legitimate Patriarch of Constantinople; when the question was still undecided, Photius paid Rome flatteries; when the question was decided against him, he declared Rome heretical; when a later pope decided in favor of him, he accepted communion with Rome, i.e., with the same people he had previously blacklisted as heretics. Bekkos infers from this behavior that, if there had not been a high ecclesiastical office at stake (and, he might have added, the ecclesiastical and political alliance of newly-Christianized Bulgaria), Photius would not have raised the dogmatic issue of the orthodoxy of the Latin Filioque teaching and of the legitimacy of the Western addition of this word to the text of the Creed. Bekkos commends Photius for having had the sense to patch things up with Rome at the synod of 879, he has high praise for Photius as a scholar and a writer, he does not deny Photius’s love of his country and his real Christian virtues; but, rightly or wrongly, he is convinced that the spirit that inspired Photius to turn the question of the Holy Spirit’s procession into a chronic, Church-dividing issue was not a spirit of truth.

In the book On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome, Bekkos takes a different approach, more dogmatic than historical; he is less concerned here to expose corruption of motives than to expose fallacy of reasoning. The first claim he controverts is the claim, or unspoken assumption, that the existing state of things must be defended and preserved at all costs simply because it is old, i.e., whatever is old, and is ours, is holy, and it is holy because it is old and because it is ours. Tradition is right automatically. We are right because we are us. Bekkos mentions this point of view and disposes of it pretty quickly: if one is going to get agitated over the division of the Churches, he says, one really ought to consider, not only the fact that there is a division, but how that division came about. One ought to examine its causes. Not to do so displays a lack of good sense. The long sentence that follows this (which starts, “And even if we should find that our predecessors …”) is admittedly obscure; I have tried to make the best sense of the original Greek that I can, but I am still not completely certain that I have translated it correctly. (Any readers of this blog who know Greek and would like to suggest alternative translations are encouraged to do so; the passage is found at PG 141, 24 B-C). Bekkos’s involved syntax at this point seems to reflect a certain anxiety about how to state what is on his mind: he plainly wants to condemn neither the Roman Church nor his own predecessors on the see of Constantinople; just as plainly, he thinks that the accusations against the Roman Church that some of his predecessors made were ill-founded and should be abandoned. He speaks, towards the end of the sentence, of two possible attitudes or responses to take towards this recent tradition of anti-Western polemics: one of them is to dismiss it openly, another is to say nothing about it and let it die out quietly from benign neglect. It is worth noting that it was precisely this latter approach that Theodore Xiphilinos, the Grand Economos, urged Bekkos to take; Xiphilinos, an old friend of Bekkos’s, told him that, by writing about doctrine, he would only stir up greater opposition (see Pachymeres, De Michaele Palaeologo, book V, ch. 28). The fact that Bekkos writes this book indicates that, whatever assent he may have given to Xiphilinos at the time, he could not remain satisfied with simply keeping quiet; perhaps that is why he speaks here of setting “a good example to the younger generation and to those who shall come after us” — evidently, he wants to set a good example to future generations, not by keeping silent, but by informing them of what was theologically at stake.

Towards the end of the paragraph, Bekkos uses a phrase, πεισμονὴν ἄλογον, which I have translated here as “unthinking intransigence.” Like most authors, Bekkos has certain characteristic phrases and modes of speaking; he uses both of these Greek words frequently, sometimes, as here, in combination, so it is worth considering what they mean. The word πεισμονή actually occurs in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, 5:8, where he says, regarding the view that circumcision is necessary for salvation, “This persuasion (πεισμονή) comes not from him who calls you.” Πεισμονή is derived from the verb πείθω (“to persuade”; in the middle voice, “to believe, obey”), as is alluded to by St. Paul in that very passage, where the middle infinitive πείθεσθαι directly precedes this word. So the word implies a certain belief; yet it is not πίστις, faith, but something else. Interestingly, a related word, πεῖσμα, has two senses: it can mean “confidence, persuasion,” or “a rope, a ship’s cable.” So, similarly, the word πεισμονή can refer to the quality of being confident, and it can also refer to the quality of being like a ship’s cable, “pertinacious,” latched tightly onto its moorings. Like St. Paul, Bekkos sees this “pertinacity” as an attitude one might easily mistake for faith, but one that it is really something else.

My guess is that the other word in this pair, ἄλογον, clarifies how a merely intransigent persuasion falls short of what one means by Christian faith. Faith is not ἄλογος, irrational. Faith is in a God who himself has Λόγος, in a Λόγος who is himself God. Christians are those, St. Peter says, who desire to drink and be fed by “the sincere milk of the word” (1 Pet 2:2), τὸ λογικὸν ἄδολον γάλα, a rational, or logical, milk. Christ the Word is the good shepherd, and Christian tradition often refers to Christians as λογικὰ πρόβατα, as rational, or logical, sheep. John Bekkos is a Byzantine Christian rationalist — not a rationalist in the modernist or postmodernist sense of someone who thinks reason is its own foundation and dispenses with the need for God, but a Christian rationalist, a man who sees faith as healing the human reason and who denies that faith means a leap into pure irrationality. Bekkos defends simplicity of faith, but reason is necessary precisely to defend faith from the various sophistic arguments that endeavor to complicate it. The fathers engaged in a rational defense of faith, and Bekkos sees himself as following them. He sees his work for the peace and unity of the Church as an extension and continuation of the fathers’ own efforts towards that end. That is a serious claim.

In any case, Bekkos here, and at the beginning of §8, hammers upon the words ἄλογον and λογικωτέρας (“more rational”) to such an extent that it is quite evident that he wants this idea to sink into the reader’s mind: that Christian faith is a faith of reasonable and thoughtful men and women who are willing to consider evidence fairly. That, as he says many times in his work, is how he wants his readers to assess the things he writes; undoubtedly he says this because he knows from experience the unlikelihood of his getting this response. Some years later, when the Union of Lyons had fallen to pieces and Bekkos was the object of general popular rage, he wrote of how

“the whole mass of our nation, men, women, old men, young men, young girls and matrons all took the view that peace is not peace, but war, not solidarity, but division. Then what? A few people, who for a time had control over the Church’s offerings, applied great labor towards inciting the whole common multitude against us; and in fact they were able to give such effective implementation to this counsel of theirs that, through the expectation of death, which was virtually hung up before our very eyes, we were compelled to withdraw from ecclesiastical office” (Bekkos, De depositione sua oratio i, §2; PG 141, 952D – 953A).

It is unlikely that, at the time Bekkos wrote the De unione ecclesiarum, he realized that that was how things were going to turn out. But he definitely understood that he had a hard case to make before his own people. In attempting to make that case, he stresses, here and elsewhere, something that, within a Byzantine context, is most remarkable: the idea that faith is the response to God of a reasoning being, and that God, before whose eyes we stand, wants us to think.

I think I have said enough here about §7, and will leave comments on §§8-9 to some future occasion.

The following passage stands at the beginning of the theological part of John Bekkos’s treatise On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome. After first rejecting the opinion that one should continue with the status quo simply because it is the status quo, he goes on to address the more serious charge, first stated by Photius in the ninth century, that the Latin Filioque doctrine corrupts divine monarchy, i.e., that it implies a doctrine of two ultimate causes in God, a teaching like that of the early Marcionite and Manichaean heresies.

* * *

John Bekkos, De unione ecclesiarum §§ 7-9 (Lämmer ed., pp. 208-215; PG 141, 24A – 28B).

7. What do you say, men and brethren? Why does the schism of the Churches appear to us a thing worth fighting over? They say, Because of the length of time already passed since this schism came into being: for this reason we take it to be something worth fighting over, because it is of long standing. Then, is what we should care about the fact that we are divided, or is it how we have become divided that we should look into? The fact that we are divided, they say. But as for me, and I think the same thing holds for anyone of good sense, it is not this, but the how that matters. And even if we should find that our predecessors who backed the schism, who accused the Church of Rome of having seriously erred in matters of dogma, actually examined and thoroughly tested those things of which they accused the Romans — accusations from which the Romans defended and acquitted themselves, and said, judging fairly, that, if their accusers spoke rightly, they should be followed and praised and blessed, but that, if they did not, one should hold them as having transgressed, with regard to this scandal, by succumbing to a human transgression — as for us, we should dismiss what arose among them as something blameworthy, and substitute what we praise, or else, for the time being, and out of respect for these people’s seniority, we should speak nothing about them, which may at least serve to dispose them well towards us, and bring a two-fold benefit, because, on the one hand, we have not followed them in their error, and, on the other hand, we have set a good example to the younger generation and to those who shall come after us. But to me, and I suppose to anyone else who hates unthinking intransigence, there is pleasure to be found in what is well-researched, and in the enquiry into how we became divided. But even though some people, because of our former division, may judge it best to adhere to the schism without examining its causes, all the same I myself utterly turn from the irrational policy of preceding generations.

8. But directly there comes along someone who doesn’t hold to this unthinking view based on length of time, but who nevertheless, although of a more rational disposition, rushes to oppose the more rational way: “And what are you saying?” he says to us. “Do you actually think we should embrace ecclesiastical peace with the Latins, when they acknowledge two causes and two principles of the one Spirit in the blessed Trinity?” No, by the Trinity, my good man. In this way I forestall your objection, lest you should entertain even the least suspicion of such a thing about us. It is not like that that we say that peace with the Roman Church is to be concluded. For we invoke a falling away from the blessed Trinity upon anyone who would want to conclude peace with such people as speak of two principles in the consubstantial Trinity. For such are the teachings of those who, by closing their eyes to the light of Truth, walked in the darkness of their own wickedness. But as for us, when we read that Symbol of Faith that has been passed down to us from the holy fathers, we cry aloud clearly: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” And thus we read this text, and thus we shall read it until our last breath, and thus thinking we shall be presented before the Trinity. But the Italians, when they add to the reading of the Creed the phrase, “and from the Son,” do not say that there are two causes of the one Spirit, since they do not assert the Spirit to be from the Father and the Son in any dyarchic, dualistic way. For, among the ancient heretics, some, namely the Manichaeans and the Marcionites, honoring a dualistic principle, supposed there to be one principle of good and another principle of evil; while, besides these people, there were others — namely, those of the sect of Eunomius — who held to the teaching that, as the Son is from the Father alone, so also is the Holy Spirit only from the Son. But the Church of the Romans, once and for all dismissing all such as ridiculous and deserving of laughter, has remained unshakable and inalterable in the definitions of orthodoxy; it neither has held at any time to a teaching of one origin of good and another origin of evil, nor has it ever adhered to Eunomius’s party, so as to have dared to say that the Father is the source of the Son alone, while the Son alone is a different origin of the Spirit, and thereby to appear to worship two origins or principles.

9. But taking its stand upon the doctrines of the great saints, and following their conceptions, it proclaims the Son to be from the Father alone, while it says that the Holy Spirit is also from the Son. Nevertheless it truly honors and confesses one principle in the Holy Trinity, because, from the teaching of the fathers, it knows how to refer all that belongs to the Son back to the Father, the first cause. For the ability both to say that the Spirit is from the Father and the Son and at the same time not to honor two causes of the Spirit arises from this consideration and this alone, that everything, as was said, that belongs to the Son is to be referred back to the Father, the first cause. But if you require testimonies from recognized theologians, so that from them you might have a pledge for these assertions and may know that the Father and the Son neither are nor are said to be two causes of the Spirit because of the Spirit’s being from the Father and from the Son, since it is to the Father, the first cause, that all that belongs to the Son is referred, we may produce Basil the Great as a reliable witness. For because he had found Eunomius, in his writings, dogmatizing concerning the cause of the Spirit and maintaining that the Spirit is from the Son alone, Basil — a man mighty in divine things, unconquerable in word and invincible in manner — towards the end of his second discourse Against Eunomius speaks in this way:

“But to whom of all people is it not apparent, that no activity of the Son is separated from the Father, nor does there exist anything among the things in the Son that is alien from the Father? For, he says, ‘all that are mine are thine, and thine are mine’ (Jn 17:10). Why then does Eunomius ascribe the cause of the Spirit to the Son alone, and take the making of him as a reproach against his nature? If then, in saying these things, he sets two causes in opposition to each other, he will be the comrade of Mani and Marcion; but if the statement that ‘all things came to be through’ the Son connects existing things to a single cause, it implies a reference back to the first cause. So that, even though we believe that all things were brought into being through the Word of God, nevertheless we do not deprive the God of the universe of being the cause of all things.” [1]

To the testimony of this lofty herald of truth will be added that of Gregory, called the “Theologian,” who, in his Oration on Pentecost, which begins with the words, “Let us reason a little about the Festival,” says this:

“For it was not ever fitting that either the Son should be wanting to the Father, or the Spirit to the Son.” [2]

And a little after this:

“Therefore He was ever being partaken, but not partaking … invisible, eternal, … All-powerful (even though all that is of the Spirit is referable to the First Cause, just as is all that is of the Only-Begotten).” [3]

Accordingly, since these important witnesses, these great fathers, have made it plain that all that belongs to the Son has reference back to the first cause, the Father, we were right to maintain that, when the Italians add to the reading of the Creed the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds “also from the Son,” they do not assert that the one Spirit has two causes.

* * *

Footnotes :

  1. Basil of Caesarea, Adv. Eunomium, II.34; PG 29, 652 A-B.
  2. Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 41.9; PG 36, 441 B; tr. NPNF ii.7, p. 382.
  3. Ibid.

Note: The main events described below occurred in the year 1273. The paragraphs follow directly upon a passage from Gregoras’s History that was posted in October; see Gregoras on Bekkos.

* * *

Nicephorus Gregoras, Byzantine History [Rhomaïke Historia], Book V, ch. 2, §§ 6-7; PG 148, 268C – 269B.

6. But, since the Emperor failed to realize his hopes by this method, he tried a different approach: and, after arresting him and virtually his whole family, he confined them in most fearful dungeons. So then, this is how matters stood. Then, at length, the Emperor called to mind how, twenty five years earlier, during the reign of John Dukas, more or less the same issue had been raised by the Latins, and there was at that time a wise man, most learned in the divine Scriptures, Nikephoros Blemmydes, who, having devoted himself to quiet studies, began to collect from the divine Scriptures numerous testimonies which appeared to be in accord with the Latins’ dogma, and to write commentary upon them; he did so discreetly, because of the commonly-held assumption; nevertheless, he did write such things. So the Emperor now finds them and sends them to Bekkos. When Bekkos had read them, with great presence of mind he requested those books of the saints from which Blemmydes had gathered his testimonies; and when he had received this allowance from the Emperor, who gave it very willingly, it was his work thereafter to go through them, tracking things down and observing them in their original contexts; so that, in a short time, he had amassed an array of testimonies so considerable as to suffice to fill up entire volumes. And he who was earlier a two-edged sword against the Latins, having once been put up in storage, now gives the victory to the other side.

7. By reason of these things, when he had been raised to the patriarchal throne, he was to the Emperor all things — tongue and hand and pen of a ready writer, in speaking and in writing and in discoursing on dogma; and he had as co-workers and assistants in this enterprise Meliteniotes and Metochites, who were archdeacons belonging to the clergy of the imperial chapel, as well as George, from Cyprus. Now, none of them in fact concelebrated liturgically with the Pope’s men, neither the patriarch himself nor any of the others, except that permission was given once to some of the Friars to hold a service in the church of the Blachernae palace so they could ordain one of their own men. But let us resume our narrative from where we left off.


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