An apology

June 21, 2011

I would like to apologize to readers of this blog for my recent neglect of it; I have not posted anything to it for some time, nor answered any of the comments. Some explanation for this is called for.

Briefly, and simply, I am tired. I have spent four years writing it, and have not yet accomplished what I set out to do at the beginning, which is to finish and publish my work on John Bekkos. At the present time, my attentions are mostly focused upon the necessity of making a living somehow in the very straitened economic environment in which we live. To that end, I have taken up various teaching positions over the past year, and, in the fall, will be taking up another one. For various reasons, I have been asked not yet to make public the details regarding this new position; but it will entail my moving from New Jersey, after which my father intends to sell the house where I currently live, in which I grew up.

This blog was started in September 2007. At that time, I was unemployed, living by myself at the end of Long Island in a house where, for many days on end, I had little contact with anyone except crows, ants, oak trees, and, of course, John Bekkos, whom I was translating. Writing a blog initially provided me a means of connecting and communicating with the rest of the world; this was both a pleasant diversion and helpful for maintaining my sanity. Without doubt, this blog has seen its ups and downs; there have been times when I have been deeply engaged in it, and there have been times, like the present, when it has suffered neglect. But, on the whole, it has served to make John Bekkos better known to the public, and has allowed me to say various things that I thought needed saying. Whether I shall be able to continue writing it much longer appears doubtful; my expectation is that the responsibility of teaching new and difficult subjects, in a new and strange environment, is going to reduce the amount of time I can spend on this blog to zero.

All writing that is worth anything has something of the nature of a conversation. But not all conversations can be maintained indefinitely, or should be. The things about which conversations on this blog have tended to revolve — the Filioque, the essence/energies distinction, the schism — are not the only things in life worth knowing or thinking about. As a Christian, I believe and understand that the God who gave himself for our salvation in Jesus Christ is supremely worth knowing and thinking about; theology is a legitimate and worthy occupation of the mind, since God is the highest object of knowing. But I also believe and understand that thought about God properly issues in worship and praise of him, and in a godly life; if it does not, if it becomes a sort of end in itself and nervous habit, there is something wrong with it. To my thinking, the schism is one long, bad conversation, revolving endlessly upon itself. And it pains me to think that my blog has sometimes facilitated, and perhaps sometimes exemplified, that bad vortex, which moves nowhere but sucks in everything around it.

The latest Orientale Lumen conference opened yesterday in Washington, D.C.; I am not going to it. Partly, this is because I am too busy preparing to move, and, partly, because I did not feel like shelling out $300 for the conference and accommodations; but it is also because I have attended a few such conferences before, and have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware will treat the audience to an eloquent, informative lecture, constructed around three main points and punctuated with witty anecdotes, but, in the end, he will tell people there why nothing more can be done, and why no real movement towards a resolution of the separation between Orthodoxy and Rome can be expected in the foreseeable future. Metropolitan Jonah will perhaps explain to those present where he has been for the past few months, and what considerations have led him to place the governance of the O.C.A. temporarily into the hands of his synod of bishops — but, more likely, he will not explain this, and will, like Metropolitan Kallistos, give an apologia for maintaining the status quo indefinitely and until the eschaton. Others will say ecumenically pleasant things; DVDs will be sold; an excursion will be made to a nearby church or to a bookstore; people will leave at the end, carrying with them the pleasant feeling that they have accomplished something.

This past Sunday, my bishop (Bishop Michael of New York) presided at liturgy at my church here in New Jersey. Afterwards, at the luncheon held in his honor, he fielded questions from members of the parish. Someone asked him how long it would be before there was Orthodox unity, that is, a single, unified Orthodox Church, in America. His answer: “Not in my lifetime.” He went on to explain how the influx of people from Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union had complicated matters, and how the general expectation is very different now than it was in 1970 when the autocephaly of the O.C.A. was first proclaimed, and how some jurisdictions, e.g., the Antiochians, are more cooperative than others (presumably, the Greeks). It made me think of how, growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church in the 1960′s, one occasionally heard rumors about plans for a “Great, Upcoming Ecumenical Council” of the Orthodox Church which should resolve all problems, in particular, the problem of the ecclesiastical status of the “Diaspora” and the problem of conflicting claims of authority between Constantinople and Moscow. The reason why such a Great, Upcoming Ecumenical Council could not now take place, one was told in those days, was that so much of the Orthodox world lay under Communist rule. At this point, two decades after Communist rule in Eastern Europe collapsed, one hears no more about a Great, Upcoming Ecumenical Council which should resolve all problems. My guess is that, in a country like Greece, reeling under the effects of its own unwise borrowing and the predatory lending practices of companies like Goldman Sachs, a country where the privatization even of national assets like the Parthenon is now being seriously discussed, the calling of a Great, Ecumenical Council is probably the furthest thing from people’s minds.

Christian unity is not the answer to all questions; it does not magically supply a solution to global warming, poverty, unemployment, war, and the high price of gasoline; it does not even furnish an answer, directly, to some strictly theological questions of real importance, e.g., how to read the Book of Genesis in the light of earth science, genetics, and palaeontology. But it is a kind of prerequisite to any united, effective action by Christians in the world. Most importantly, it is Christ’s will. I confess that, when I hear a bishop answer “Not in my lifetime” to a question about unity, I must infer that something is deeply wrong, and that someone is not doing his job. If not in your lifetime, then in whose? To quote Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when?”

I would briefly note here that I have put a Table of Contents to John Kyparissiotes’s Decades on my blog as a page, with links to the separate articles; you will find it on the side bar.

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 771 B – 772 C.

Chapter Eight. That even the most eminent among theologians theologize on the basis of the creatures; and, as for the “back parts” of God, they are the creatures themselves, and their corresponding reasons.

Gregory the Theologian, in his Second Oration on Theology, says:

“I was disposed to lay hold on God, and thus I went up into the mount, and passed through the cloud.”

And a little after this:

“And when I looked a little closer, I saw, not* the first and unmingled nature, known to itself — to the Trinity, I mean; not that which abides within the first veil, and is hidden by the cherubim; but only that nature which at last even reaches to us. And that is, as far as I can learn, the majesty, or as holy David calls it, the glory which is manifested among the creatures, which it has produced and governs. For these are the back parts of God (Exod 33:23), which he leaves behind him, as tokens of himself, like the shadows and reflection of the sun in the water, which show the sun to our weak eyes, because we cannot look at the sun itself, for by its unmixed light it is too strong for our power of perception. In this way then you shall discourse of God; even if you were a Moses and a god to Pharaoh; even if you were caught up like Paul to the third heaven, and had heard unspeakable words; even if you were raised above them both, and exalted to angelic or archangelic place and dignity. For though a thing be all heavenly, or above heaven, and far higher in nature and nearer to God than we, yet it is farther distant from God, and from the complete comprehension of his nature, than it is lifted above our complex and lowly and earthward sinking composition.”

[2.8.1] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.3; PG 36, 29 A-B.

* Kyparissiotes actually has εἰς here, meaning "to" or "towards," rather than οὐ, "not." Torres, the Latin translator, takes this as a scribe's error, and I adopt his reading, since it is hard to make sense of the sentence otherwise.

And the great Athanasius says, as though inquiring:

“Given that God is bodiless and without shape, what were those ‘back parts’ which Moses saw?”

Then, resolving this, he says:

“We believe that the whole God is alone uncreated, [existing] before the ages and before all creatures. Whence it is apparent that the ‘back parts’ of God are the creatures and their reasons, which [God] looked to when setting [the creatures] forth. This is [what is meant by] the text, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

[2.8.2] Ps.-Athanasius, Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem, PG 28, 633 A-B.

And the divine Gregory of Nyssa, in his work On the Life of Moses, says:

“But the uncreated glory, that is to say, the divine nature, is, by itself, entirely ineffable and incomprehensible and invisible. Not one thing which that thing is in itself comes in its pure nakedness to the comprehension or the vision of bodily eyes in any way whatsoever, since it is uncreated, and what is uncreated is ungraspable by bodily eyes, even if a Moses or a Paul who ascends to the third heaven or an angel should be the one who catches hold of the divine vision. For that which is really real and existent is the true Life, and this, to angelic or human knowledge, is unattainable.”

[2.8.3] Not found. See below.

From these things it becomes clear that even the most eminent of theologians do not go beyond the creation in those things in which they see God, but what they have in view is this very thing — the creation — and the reasons proper to it. But if even men such as these theologize in this manner, it follows of necessity that apophatic theology is by far more valuable and more contemplative than the kataphatic kind.

Note on citation 2.8.3

As mentioned above, I was unable to trace this quotation back to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, or to any other known work. A general Thesaurus Linguae Graecae search failed to produce any results. Here are some possible explanations for this:

  • The passage actually is there in the present text of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, and I simply need to look harder. (TLG searches are notoriously temperamental.)
  • Kyparissiotes’s text of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis differs significantly from the current text.
  • Kyparissiotes is quoting from a third source which attributes the passage to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis, but attributes it to this work mistakenly; Kyparissiotes failed to check his quotation against the original source.
  • Kyparissiotes is quoting from memory, and attributes to Gregory of Nyssa a passage that he has in fact read elsewhere.
  • Kyparissiotes has made up the quotation.

I think the last possibility is unlikely. Kyparissiotes wrote his book for a Byzantine audience, to whom the works of the fathers were well known and readily available; surely he would not have wanted to compromise his argument by knowingly introducing corrupted texts.

Bear in mind the circumstances under which Kyparissiotes wrote this book: in his Introduction, he states that he wrote it while in exile, using books that he had brought with him for other reasons:

“Perhaps, with God’s help, if we should come across copies of the requisite books, we shall treat also of these matters. For now, however, since we have been driven from our home, and are the object of universal vilification, we lack the resources and leisure to treat of these things and to look into making this a better book. As for these texts which we now present to the public, it is with great labor that we have collected them, since we brought the books with us for other uses and other occasions. Because of these things, we have been deprived of many aids that would have brought this work to a more perfect state; but, in the meantime, we have not strayed from stating those things which were of the greatest necessity.”

Given that he was unable to consult a proper library, it seems quite possible that, in the case of citation 2.8.3, Kyparissiotes is either quoting from memory, or, more likely, quoting from a third source that attributes the text to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis, and he lacks the means to check up on the citation.

Here follows the Greek of the passage, from the manuscript Ottobon. gr. 99, fol. 126v:

Καὶ ὁ θεῖος Γρηγόριος Νύσσης ἐν τῷ εἰς τὸν βίον Μωσέως φησιν· ἡ δὲ ἄκτιστος δόξα ἤγουν ἡ θεία φύσις παντελῶς ἐστι καθ’ ἑαυτὴν ἄρρητος καὶ ἀκατάληπτος καὶ ἀόρατος. οὐδὲν ὅπερ ἐστιν αὐτὸ τοῦτο, καθ’ ἑαυτὸ γυμνὸν καθαρῶς εἰς κατάληψιν ἢ ὅρασιν ἔρχεται σωματικῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ὁπωσδήποτε, ἄκτιστον γάρ· τὸ δὲ ἄκτιστον σωματικοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἄληπτον, κἂν Μωσῆς κἂν Παῦλος ὁ εἰς τρίτον οὐρανὸν ἀνελθὼν κἂν ἄγγελος ἦ ὁ τῆς θείας θεωρίας ἁπτόμενος. τὸ γὰρ ὄντως ὄν, ἡ ἀληθής ἐστι ζωή, τοῦτο δὲ εἰς γνῶσιν ἀγγελικὴν ἢ ἀνθρωπίνην ἀνέφικτον.

Nearly four months ago, I pointed out that Hugo Laemmer’s 1864 edition of some of John Bekkos’s major writings (Scriptorum Graeciae Orthodoxae bibliotheca selecta) is now available on Google Books. Over the course of the past two weeks, I have discovered that some even older Bekkos resources, dating back to the seventeenth century, may be found on the same source. Below, I provide links to the three earliest printed versions of Bekkos’s writings, the editions that both Laemmer and Migne relied upon in their nineteenth-century reprintings of Bekkos’s works. These are, Leo Allatius’s Graeciae Orthodoxae, volumes 1 (1652) and 2 (1659), and Peter Arcudius’s Opuscula aurea theologica (1670; a reprint of the 1639 [1629?] edition). The last-mentioned book is especially interesting insofar as it contains, on pp. 98-159, an early work by Bekkos that was never again republished, a collection of patristic texts that, in Greek, is titled the Συναγωγὴ ῥήσεων γραφικῶν. In an article published in 1977, Vittorio Peri speculated that Bekkos, late in his life, may be alluding to this work when he states, in his work De libris suis, §4, that, at a certain, early point in his career, he defended the orthodoxy of the Filioque by speaking about the Holy Spirit being from the Father and the Son “as from one God” rather than by using the more controversial expression “as from one cause” (see V. Peri, “L’opuscolo di Giovanni Vekkos ‘sull’infondatezza storica dello scisma tra le chiese’ e la sua prima redazione,” Rivista dei Studi Bizantini e Neoellenici, new ser., 14-16 (1977-79), pp. 203-207, esp. p. 209).

The images of title pages below are links; if you click on any one of them, it will cause the corresponding Google Book to open in another window.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers