Pope Gregory the Great on the Holy Spirit’s procession

June 10, 2012

A passage at the end of Book II of Pope Gregory the Great’s Dialogues on the Life and Miracles of the Italian Fathers reads as follows (PL 66, 204B and 203B):

Cum enim constet quia Paracletus Spiritus a Patre semper procedat et Filio, cur se Filius recessurum dicit, ut ille veniat, qui a Filio nunquam recedit?

Φανερὸν οὖν ὑπάρχει, ὅτι τὸ παράκλητον πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς προέρχεται, καὶ ἐν τῷ Υἱῷ διαμένει. Τίνος οὖν χάριν ἑαυτὸν ὁ υἱὸς πορευθῆναι λέγει, ἵνα ἐκεῖνος ἔλθῃ ὅστις οὐδέποτε ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ ἐχωρίσθη;

The Latin text may be translated as follows:
“For since it is certain that the Spirit, the Paraclete, always proceeds from the Father and the Son, why does the Son say that he is going to go away, so that that one (the Paraclete) may come, who is never absent from the Son?”

The Greek translation presents a significantly different meaning:

“It therefore stands as clear that the Spirit, the Paraclete, comes forth from the Father, and rests in the Son. For what reason, therefore, does the Son say that he himself is going away so that that one (the Paraclete) may come, who is never separated from him?”
A note on this is found in Migne, loc. cit.:

Hoc loco animadvertat lector, verba illa, Φανερὸν οὖν ὑπάρχει, ὅτι τὸ παράκλητον πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς προέρχεται, καὶ ἐν τῷ Υἱῷ διαμένει, id est, Aperte igitur patet, quod Paracletus Spiritus a Patre procedit, et in Filio permanet, longe aliter legi apud Gregorium Latine, nempe : Cum enim constet, quia Paracletus Spiritus a Patre semper procedat et Filio. Ex quo manifeste apparet, a Græcis postea Zachariæ papæ versionem fuisse depravatam, ut bene notavit Joannes diaconus lib. IV de Vita ejusdem B. Gregorii, cap. 75, de Dialogis loquens, his verbis : Quos libros Zacharias, sanctæ Ecclesiæ Romanæ episcopus, Græco Latinoque sermone doctissimus, temporibus Constantini imperatoris, post annos ferme 175, in Græcam linguam convertens, Orientalibus Ecclesiis divulgavit : quamvis astuta Græcorum perversitas in commemoratione Spiritus sancti a Patre procedentis, nomen Filii radens, abstulerit. Hæc Joannes diaconus. Hanc censuram attexere curarunt Romani sub Sixto V editores, et alii deinceps. Vide quæ de hoc argumento in præfatione jam præmisimus num. 26. At this juncture let the reader note that these words, Φανερὸν οὖν ὑπάρχει, ὅτι τὸ παράκλητον πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς προέρχεται, καὶ ἐν τῷ Υἱῷ διαμένει, that is, It therefore stands as clear that the Spirit, the Paraclete, comes forth from the Father, and rests in the Son, are read in a far different way in Gregory’s Latin text, namely: Cum enim constet, quia Paracletus Spiritus a Patre semper procedat et Filio (“For since it is certain that the Spirit, the Paraclete, always proceeds from the Father and the Son…”). From this it clearly appears that Pope Zacharias’s translation was afterwards corrupted by the Greeks, as John the Deacon properly notes in Book IV of his Life of the same Blessed Gregory, ch. 75, where, speaking about the Dialogues, he says: “Zacharias, the bishop of the Holy Church of Rome, a man most learned in both Greek and Latin, during the time of the Emperor Constantine, about 175 years afterwards, turned these books into Greek and published them in the Eastern Churches; nevertheless, the crafty perversity of the Greeks, erasing a word, caused the Son’s name to be taken out when mention was made of the Spirit’s proceeding from the Father.” Thus John the Deacon. The Roman editors under Sixtus V, and others afterwards, took care to add this censure in a footnote. See what we have already said upon this subject in the preface, par. 26.

It should be noted that Martin Jugie disagreed with this assessment about a corruption of the text of Pope Zacharias’ translation. In his work De processione Spiritus Sancti (Rome 1936), pp. 222-227, Jugie argues that the text we have is what Pope Zacharias wrote. However, he thinks that Zacharias’s interpretation means essentially the same thing as what Pope Gregory wrote: that is, he sees “rests in the Son” as implying a proceeding from both. Here is Jugie:

Ergo ad hanc devenimus conclusionem, quae nobis videtur omnino certa, scilicet quod ipse Zacharias proprio motu formulam latinam Gregorii ita graece reddendam iudicavit. Nec de hoc triumphum agere habent Photius eiusque sequaces. Formula enim graeca a Zacharia usurpata apud plures Patres graecos occurrit, quos ut disertos doctrinae catholicae testes supra laudavimus, v. g., apud Athanasium, Didymum, Cyrillum Alexandrinum, Ioannem Damascenum. Et revera haec quoad sensum formulae latinae: A Patre Filioque procedit respondet, quamvis aliqua obscuritate involvatur. Significat enim Spiritum Sanctum ex Patre quidem tanquam ex fonte originali, ex principio primordiali oriri; at vero per Filium quasi transire ut ad existentiam prodeat, nec ultra vel extra illum progredi, sed in ipso et quasi in eius sinu permanere ac requiescere, sicut ipse Filius in Patris sinu quiescit. Est alius modus exprimendi conceptum Graecorum eorumque diagramma trinitarium. lmmerito ergo ad auctoritatem Gregorii et Zachariae Photius provocavit, ut suam sententiam haereticam de processione Spiritus Sancti a Patre solo firmaret. “Therefore we are led to this conclusion, which appears to us entirely certain, namely, that Zacharias himself, on his own initiative, deemed that Gregory’s Latin expression ought to be rendered in Greek in this way. Nor on this account do Photius and his followers have the right to celebrate. For the Greek formula borrowed by Zacharias occurs in numerous Greek fathers, whom we earlier praised as express witnesses to the Catholic doctrine, e.g., in Athanasius, Didymus, Cyril of Alexandria, John of Damascus. And, in fact, it corresponds to the Latin formula A Patre Filioque procedit so far as its sense goes, even though enveloped in a certain obscurity. For it indicates that the Holy Spirit arises from the Father as from an original fount, as from a primordial principle; but also, that he, as it were, goes forth through the Son so that he may come forth into existence, nor does he go forward any further or beyond him, but he remains and rests in him, as it were in his bosom, just as the Son rests in the bosom of the Father. This is another way of expressing the concept of the Greeks and their trinitarian diagram. Without justification, therefore, did Photius appeal to the authority of Gregory and of Zacharias, so that he might establish his heretical proposition concerning a procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone.” Op. cit., pp. 225 f.

What, one might ask, does Pope Zacharias’s translation imply for the Filioque debate?

One possible reading of it, perhaps the simplest reading, is that Zacharias, knowing that controversy had already arisen over this issue and that an accurate translation of the passage was likely to offend many Greek readers of Pope Gregory’s Dialogues, chose to tone down Gregory’s language; that is, he substituted a theologically milder statement for a theologically more forceful one, not with the intention of denying Pope Gregory’s original claim, but simply because he knew that that original claim would be poorly received. If that is in fact what happened, then the differences between the Greek translation and the Latin original are not, theologically, very significant, because the translator, while not denying the truth of the original text, simply chose to say something else. The translator, in this case, would have made a prudential judgment; or, to put it differently, he purposely fudged the text to avoid stirring up a controversy.

On another reading, Pope Zacharias would have translated Pope Gregory’s language in this way because he believed he was accurately representing his predecessor’s meaning and intention. That is, he would have understood St. Gregory the Great to have been speaking only about a temporal going-forth of the Spirit when he wrote that the Paraclete “always proceeds from the Father and the Son.” One may note that the Greek translation not only replaces the “from the Father and the Son” language, but it also drops the semper: it suppresses the implication that what is being spoken about is an eternal coming forth. (One may further note that nothing in the manuscript tradition, aside from Pope Zacharias’s translation, gives any grounds for thinking that Pope Gregory did not write semper.) This is the reading that Photius favored. Perhaps there is some merit to it; if I say that I always drive on the right-hand side of the road, it doesn’t imply that I eternally drive on the right-hand side of the road; “always” here must be understood within a certain frame of reference (during my lifetime, when I am driving, when I am not in England or Japan…). On the other hand, one would not normally restrict the meaning of “always” to a temporal frame of reference when this term is applied to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since they are, in fact, eternal, divine persons. It thus seems to me very unlikely that, when Pope Zacharias translated Pope Gregory’s text in this way, dropping the word “always” as well as modifying the language about the Spirit’s being from the Father and the Son, he did not know that he was subtly changing what his predecessor had said. He doubtless did not think he was saying something opposed and contradictory to what his predecessor had said. But, in his concern for ecclesiastical peace, he was willing to lay the more controversial language aside, at least for the purposes of his translation.

One other thought suggests itself. If Pope Zacharias is not simply fudging his translation to avoid a controversy, but if he actually wishes to make a doctrinal point, and is saying that, when the Latins say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, they mean precisely what the Greeks do when they say that the Holy Spirit comes forth from the Father and rests in the Son, then it would seem that, dogmatically, the Filioque amounts to the claim that the Son is logically implied when the Holy Spirit proceeds; the Son must already be present, as a recipient, if the Holy Spirit is to rest upon him. This would be like pointing out that, because the one from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds is called “Father,” the relationship to the Son is already presupposed. The likelihood of this interpretation satisfying both sides in the centuries-old debate may be doubted; but it is, at any rate, worth noting that this interpretation seems to have some measure of papal authority behind it.

7 Responses to “Pope Gregory the Great on the Holy Spirit’s procession”

  1. T. Chan Says:

    It is wonderful that you are blogging about these matters again!

  2. Michaël de Verteuil Says:

    “…when the Latins say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, they mean precisely what the Greeks do when they say that the Holy Spirit comes forth from the Father and rests in the Son, then it would seem that, dogmatically, the Filioque amounts to the claim that the Son is logically implied when the Holy Spirit proceeds; the Son must already be present, as a recipient, if the Holy Spirit is to rest upon him. This would be like pointing out that, because the one from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds is called “Father,” the relationship to the Son is already presupposed. The likelihood of this interpretation satisfying both sides in the centuries-old debate may be doubted; but it is, at any rate, worth noting that this interpretation seems to have some measure of papal authority behind it.”

    I have seen this argument from Western sources before, but surely this equivalence depends on what exactly the Greek fathers meant. I note that Zachary also avoided the fraught technical term “ekporeuetai” and opts for the vaguer and more substantially accurate rendering from the Latin of “proienai.”

    This does raise a question for me: do Orthodox scholars recognize any kind of direct hypostatic (as opposed to merely temporal) relationship between the Son and the Spirit, or is the relationship purely indirect and mediated by the Father?

  3. bekkos Says:

    Sort of depends on who you ask…

  4. Cristian Says:

    Many thanks to Dr. Gilbert for this essay and for the discussion of the facts; it was a very comforting, rewarding read.

  5. Cristian Says:

    S. Gregory’s relation with the Greeks—people and Church—was a multifaceted, i.e., life—like one, and interesting to summarize—Gregory seemed to have been impressed by what he had seen in the Greek Church, he imported the chant and at least one liturgical custom, didn’t learn Greek though he was nuncio for quite some time, clashed with Patriarch John, seemed to mistrust the Greeks, etc.—and also, in return, was credited by them with a Liturgy, enjoyed a theological reputation perhaps no other Latin Fathers ever got in the East, etc..
    If some of these are clichés, received notions, the history of the representations, in Church as otherwise, is partly a history of such clichés.
    The Byzantines heralded Gregory as THE Latin theologian, though perhaps for what seems to some as the most debatable side of his literature—the monastic legends, the very ‘medieval’ side of his legacy, the one which, in due time, made him quite unfashionable at home. Well, and there’s also the ethicist, the author of the Pastoral Rule.
    (‘As the godly shepherd of Rome, enlightened with deifying splendor, you taught the faithful the theology of the faith, divinely radiant Gregory: teacher of the church and initiate of the mysteries of the grace of God!
    From Christ you received the helm of the church of Rome, Bishop Gregory of great renown. You piloted its ship to the haven of salvation! Through the teaching of your divinely wise words, you saved it from the tempests of the enemy!’)
    In the wake of the theological modernity, some Western scholars got embarrassed by what they saw as his medieval bigotry, etc., the very traits that still gain him some acclaim in the East.

  6. Johnny R. (formerly Veritas) Says:

    Hello, Peter!

    It’s great to see you are blogging again. I always appreciated your Latin and Greek translations of texts such as these. As it happens, I’ve taken Latin for the last two years. I absolutely love the language! Although, I must stress, I have certainly not mastered the language in any respect. It seems the comments have been turned off in your earlier post, so I’ll try and have a go at the Latin sentence you have provided.

    Mundus servandus est pro postea vîcturis.

    The world must be saved for the next ones who are about to live.

    I guess a better rendering in English might be something like: The world ought to be maintained for the next generation.

    -Johnny R.

  7. bekkos Says:

    Thanks, Johnny. It’s good to hear from you, and good to hear about your studies.

    Your translation (esp., the second one) is essentially the one I hoped to get from my students. Some of them got it; most didn’t.

    Occasionally, I like to make up Latin sentences that actually say something I’d like to say. This was one of them.


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