August 9, 2014
I know that I have neglected this blog for a long time: for that, I apologize. There are many reasons for this neglect, perhaps the main one being that my work as a teacher takes precedence. But I thought I would present readers of this blog with a translation I completed recently of a short work titled Apology, by John Bekkos. It was written during the mid to late 1270’s, perhaps circa 1276-77, and, as it takes the form of a public address, it may actually have been a sermon Bekkos delivered, whether publicly or, as some think, before a select audience of Constantinopolitan churchmen. In it, Bekkos rebuts the accusation that he means to add the Filioque to the Greek text of the Creed (though this was, in fact, what the popes who succeeded Gregory X were pressuring him to do, with increasing vehemence as the decade of the 1270’s wore on), and he defends his policy of détente with the West by appealing to the example of the Fathers of the Church, in whose steps he claims he is following. It is curious, and perhaps worth noting, that, in this work, Bekkos compares reconciliation with the West with the policy St. Basil directed in the late fourth century towards reconciling moderate Pneumatomachians, who, while acknowledging the Spirit’s divine attributes, were uneasy about applying to the Spirit the term “God”; the comparison cannot be seen as very flattering towards the Westerners.
Italicized numbers in brackets within the translation refer to pagination of the Greek text as given in Hugo Lämmer’s Scriptorum Graeciae Orthodoxae Bibliotheca Selecta (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1864). Lämmer republishes the text that was edited by Leo Allatius and originally published by him in 1659; that text is also to be found in Migne, Patrologia Graeca vol. 141, cols. 1009C-1020B. In one place, towards the end of this work, I have corrected a mistake in Allatius’s text by checking it against the earliest manuscript (Laurentianus plut. VIII.26).
I would only add that this translation, like all other materials on this blog, is copyrighted; if people want to quote from it, that is fine, but those who do so ought to cite their source and acknowledge the translator. I have had the unpleasant experience of finding my own translations quoted verbatim, without attribution, in at least one published academic book; those who do this should know that they risk legal action.
That an acceptance of the union of the Churches does not lead to the destruction of our traditions, but to peace in Christ, because the Churches agree in their understanding of doctrine.
 1. “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.” Today I call upon heaven and earth to hear my words. And how shall I succeed in uttering a voice that should make the ends of the earth resound? And if I fail to come by such a voice, how may I satisfy that desire which  has led me today to summon heaven and earth to hear my words? But he who chose the fishermen, and who so strengthened them in their weakness that “their sound went forth into all the earth, and their words were heard to the ends of the inhabited world,” shall strengthen my weakness by the overflowing abundance of his power, and shall prepare the hearts of all who may hear an echo of my discourse, making them open to receiving the truth. For if he is a God of truth, one who rejoices in being called “the truth” (for David also teaches me to address him as “truth”), he will cause our words to be communicated to the Christians throughout the inhabited world. And he will do this, because the promoter of lies has spread the nets of his slander against us upon the whole territory of those who are called by Christ’s name, not confining himself to specific peoples and towns, but ensnaring even those who dwell in caves and in mountains.
2. But what is the slander, and how do we make a defense of ourselves as to those things in which we have been slandered? Come and hear, all you nations; give ear, all you inhabitants of the world.  All of you certainly know, and none of you is unaware, how the longstanding hatred between the Churches of Christ, between, I mean, the elder Rome and our new Rome, turned back again into the good estate of that ancient peace, by the favor of Christ the prince of peace, who reunites and links those things that were sundered. But you also know how Satan, who forever eyes the good with malice, who substitutes his own hatred in place of Christ’s peace, who, again, is always plotting and warring against those who belong to Christ, was tireless in whipping up multitudes to oppose the peace; and, although he failed to find a way to circumvent the good of the peace itself, out of all evil stratagems he discovered one worthy of his wickedness. And the stratagem is this: he causes a rumor to sound in the hearings of all, a rumor concerning the addition made by the Romans to the Creed, alleging that the bishop of Constantinople has been co-opted by the Church of Rome to persuade the Church of the Greeks to read this Creed with the same addition. And, once this rumor had taken wing, and had flown with unchecked force throughout the world, it filled everyone’s hearing with the slander against us.
 3. That, then, is the slander. But our apology in response to it, on behalf of which we are summoning a world-wide hearing, will not be composed of plausible arguments of the sort used by those who attempt to win their case by showing off their expertise in employing human wisdom; but for demonstrating the truth it will make use of the things that were done and enacted by the luminaries and teachers of the Church; looking towards those things, as to a pattern, we came across those arguments which have been the occasion for the slander that everywhere resounds against us. For being ourselves simple, and wearing the simplicity of Christ as a coat, we shall make our apology with all plainness, once we have prepared the impartial judgment of the hearers to know and to assess, whether it is in line with the pattern handed down to the Church from the fathers that we advocate for the Church of Rome as regards the addition made by the Romans to the Creed or, instead, we are acting out of some privately adopted opinion and, as those who slander us say, with disrespect towards the fathers’ customs and institutions.
In the first place, then, we find that the most great Athanasius – that extraordinary man, the sun of the ecclesiastical firmament, whose word is unconquerable,  whose manner is inimitable – when in his days no minor scandal had broken out between these very same Churches which are the subject of our present discourse, brought about a reconciliation between them no otherwise than by acting as an advocate for the Roman Church (since the Easterners had judged those belonging to that Church to be their adversaries). And what was his advocacy? Let him be present here himself, and by the words expressed by his own tongue let him announce to us what it was. For in his Tome to the Antiochenes he speaks thus:
“For as to those whom some were blaming for speaking of three hypostases, on the ground that the phrase is unscriptural and therefore suspicious, we thought it right indeed to require nothing beyond the confession of Nicaea; but on account of the contention we made enquiry of them, whether they meant, like the Arian madmen, hypostases foreign and strange, and alien in essence from one another, … or whether, like other heretics, they meant three Beginnings and three Gods.”
And after the interpretation brought forward by them of the words, in an orthodox sense, he adds:
“Having accepted then those men’s  interpretation and defense of their language, we made enquiry of those blamed by them for speaking of one hypostasis, whether they use the expression in the sense of Sabellius, to the negation of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Then in his discourse he inserts also the apology these people made in response to this, and, in what follows, divinely adjuring [us] by the harmony of conception in the interchangeability of the words, he says:
“Well, thereupon they who had been blamed for saying there were three hypostases agreed with the others, while those who had spoken of one hypostasis also confessed the doctrine of the former as interpreted by them.”
And going forward, he adds to those things already said:
“Those things then being thus confessed, we exhort you not hastily to condemn those who so confess and so explain the phrases they use, nor reject them, but rather to accept them as they desire peace and defend themselves, while you check and rebuke, as of suspicious views, those who refuse so to confess and to explain their language. But while you refuse toleration to the latter, counsel the others also who explain and  hold aright, not to enquire further into each other’s opinions, nor to fight about words to no useful purpose, but to agree in the mind of piety. For they who are not thus minded, but only stir up strife with petty phrases, … do nothing except ‘give their neighbor turbid confusion to drink,’ like men who grudge peace and who love schisms.”
“Irreligiousness is utterly forbidden, though it be attempted to disguise it with artful expressions and plausible sophisms; but religiousness is confessed by all to be lawful, even though presented in strange phrases, provided only they are used with a religious view, and a wish to make them the expression of religious thoughts.”
And again, after some other things:
“Therefore if they … make an excuse that the terms are strange, let them consider the sense in which the Council so wrote…, that, even if the expressions are not in so many words in the Scriptures, yet, as was said before, they contain the sense of the Scriptures, and expressing it, they convey it to those who have their hearing unimpaired for religious doctrine.”
These, then,  are the echoing sounds that reverberate from Athanasius’s thunderous tongue. But, for our part, because we observed that that shining light of the inhabited earth effected a reconciliation of the Churches in his own days, using such acts of economy and such reasonings, and because we deemed it a great thing to walk in his footsteps and be illuminated, as by a guiding light, by those things which he effected for the edification of the Church, whose cornerstone and linking keystone is Christ God, we gave ourselves to the reconciliation with the Roman Church, despising empty logomachy and contentions over terms as utterly useless, given that we understood the Church of Rome to be in agreement with us in its conception of orthodoxy; we cast such logomachy away, so that we might not hear ourselves being called those who “stir up strife with petty phrases,” and who “give their neighbor turbid confusion to drink, like those who grudge peace and who stir up schisms.”
4. Come therefore, you hearers of my words, judge impartially before the Trinity itself, before every heavenly power, if those people who charge us with advocating for the Ro-  man Church, as though it were the greatest of accusations, cast their votes against us justly, given that that Church, as far as the meaning goes, confesses [the faith] in a most orthodox manner; for, although they are accused of thinking there are two origins and two causes in the blessed Trinity, they dispel that accusation insofar as they revere and confess one origin and one cause. Athanasius served as advocate for the Roman Church, although he had no pattern for his advocacy, and although, in advocating, he looked towards no other paradigm; and he did this when the Italians seemed to have erred with respect to the weightiest of matters. For their confession of “one hypostasis” in the Trinity presented a suspicion of Sabellianism. And, as for us, we are charged with transgressing the ordinances of the fathers, although we follow the teacher Athanasius as his disciple, and direct our actions by looking towards his, as to a paradigm and archetype.
Now I suppose no further arguments will be required of me to demonstrate that we did not act in error by advocating for the Roman Church, overlooking the lack of agreement in words, and grasping hold of the agreement in meaning, for the sake of the God-  beloved and legitimate good of peace. But if, on account of the gospel faith in what is said by two or three witnesses, I be required to produce yet other advocates among orthodoxy’s teachers, advocates who indeed did not go so far as to change the opposing side into that for which they made advocacy, but advocates who directed the whole point of their own position towards the peace of both parties, as imitators of Christ the prince of peace who joins and unites things separated – both Basil, great in divine things, will here be presented, and Gregory who rightly bears the name Theologian will show his agreement with the things that are said. As for Basil, then, great in divine things, he eagerly strives to reconcile those who do not say that the Spirit is God with those who, in explicit language, proclaim him to be God and consubstantial with the Father and the Son. And Gregory also, pursuing the same path of reconciliation between these parties, adds to the things that Basil says. For he says that he would not reject the Jewish people if they wished to be united with us but sought, for awhile, to use the term “Anointed” rather than “Christ.”  But neither did Athanasius, great in divine things, when advocating for those who said “one hypostasis,” advocate for them to the point that those who taught three hypostases should have adopted the confession of the others; nor did Basil the Great, when he was seeking a reconciliation between those who unequivocally confessed the Spirit to be God and those who did not say that he is God, hoping to effect a peace agreement by exhibiting the equality in other terms, so serve as advocate for those who did not call the Spirit God that he changed those who do call him God into adopting that other persuasion; but neither did he who is called the Theologian, when accepting, as far as it was up to him, the people of the Jews if they decided to be united with us but chose the word “Anointed” instead of “Christ,” so advocate for this word “Anointed” as though meaning to persuade those who did not yet say this to start employing this term. And therefore, when we advocate for the Church of Rome, we do not advocate for them to this point, that those who from the beginning and up till now have read in the Symbol of Faith that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father should change this and start saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  But just as those lights of the world showed their own zeal as advocates for peace by looking towards the harmony of meaning, so we too, as disciples following those teachers, make our whole advocacy for peace and reconciliation with the Church of Rome in this way, favoring not the word, but the concept. But as for those people who are eager to accuse, and are quick to slander all things, let them accuse, let them slander. There is a God who will judge. It is he, the ultimate arbiter, to whom we shall have to render account, both for our words and for our actions. But if we have spoken thus in making our present apology, it is so that those who are preaching nothing sound against us may place no stumbling-block in the way of the souls of simpler folk, who have been summoned by my discourse to give it a hearing. For, as stated at the outset of this present apologetic speech, we made our self-defense, not with plausible arguments of the sort used by those who attempt to win their case by showing off their human wisdom; but, in demonstration of the truth, we exhibited the things done and accomplished of old by the lights and teachers of the Church.  As for you, if, after receiving this apology of ours, you still require other witnesses beside the divine witness himself, may you not give heed to those who have readied their tongues for slander; but may you become discerning seekers of the truth, and may you hold to the peace of the Churches, knowing that a great reward is laid up for those who support it in the day of recompense from Christ, the prince of peace.
1) Deut 32:1; cf. Isa 1:2.
2) Ps 19:4.
3) Cf. Ps 31:5.
4) Cf. Joel 1:2.
5) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos 5, PG 26, 801A.
6) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos 6, PG 26, 801C.
7) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos, 6 PG 26, 801D.
8) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos 8, PG 26, 805 A-B; tr. NPNF ii.4, p. 485.
9) Athanasius, De Decretis 18; PG 25b, 448 B-C; tr. NPNF ii.4, p. 162.
10) Athanasius, De Decretis 21; PG 25b, 453 A-B; tr. NPNF ii.4, p. 164.
11) Cf. Mt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19.
12) See Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 43.68; PG 36, 588C. Two sentences before this, Bekkos appears to summarize St. Gregory’s account, in this same Funeral Oration on Basil, of Basil’s attempts to reconcile the Pneumatomachians.
13) Reading οὐκ ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον συνηγοροῦμεν, from the text at Laurentianus plut. viii.26, fol.45. Published editions lack the word οὐκ.
March 16, 2012
For those who are interested, I added to the Wikipedia today a short article on John Bekkos’s archdeacon Constantine Meliteniotes.
December 5, 2011
Yesterday evening I gave a lecture here in Cleveland at the Lyceum School before an audience of ten people. It is, I confess, a somewhat haphazard discussion, having been thrown together in the past few days in the midst of my work teaching six separate subjects; I could wish that it were better. The Q&A that followed the lecture was, however, excellent; some very important topics were raised. The following is the text of the address, with slight revisions.
My name is Peter Gilbert; I have been, for the past three months, a teacher here at the Lyceum School. Because the manner in which I came to be at this school is, in some ways, pertinent to the subject matter of this lecture, I shall very briefly provide you with some historical background. In 2005, at the time that I was still teaching at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but was preparing to leave, I made the acquaintance of Luke Macik, now the headmaster of this school; at that time, Mr. Macik served as a lawyer in Gallup, New Mexico. I had heard of him through a mutual acquaintance, Mr. Joe Cieszinski, manager and proprietor of Cornerstone Books, who one day told me about a project that was underway to found an Eastern Catholic great books college near Chicago; he mentioned Mr. Macik, a parishioner at his church in Albuquerque, as one of the men spearheading this endeavor. Through him I obtained Mr. Macik’s telephone number; I called him, then drove down to Gallup to visit him, and the rest, as they say, is history. Eventually I became closely involved in the project to found what was to be called Transfiguration College; unfortunately, for various reasons, including the downturn in the economy, the college never managed to become a reality. At the time, I found it striking how often people who heard about this college would say what a great idea it was, and how it filled a real need. I still think that such a college is a good idea, that there is a real, felt need for it, and that a marriage of the traditional, theological content of Eastern Christianity with the methodology of great books, liberal arts education makes inherent sense. It is doubtless because he knows that I think this that Mr. Macik asked me, some months ago, to deliver this lecture, to talk about why such an education makes sense.
But I have to preface this talk by stating that to attempt to talk about both liberal education and Eastern Christianity, and to accomplish this in the space of a half hour or 45 minutes, is to undertake a fairly impossible task. There are too many things that must be left undefined and unexamined. What do we mean by “Eastern Christianity”? What do we mean by “liberal education”? One could spend well over 45 minutes trying to define just one of these two entities; to attempt to speak of both is perhaps foolish.
So let me start by saying that it is not my intention this afternoon to spend the time allotted to me making an apologia for this or that brand of Eastern Christianity. I am, myself, an Orthodox Christian, and am grateful for my baptism in the Orthodox Church; but I am also an Orthodox Christian who is convinced that many Orthodox arguments commonly used to justify the continued separation of the Churches do not measure up to scrutiny. I am quite a newcomer to Cleveland, but I have lived here long enough to notice that there are various neighborhoods in town where one finds, at one end of the block, a large church with an onion dome on top of it and a sign on the front gate saying “Orthodox,” while, at the other end of the block or the street, one finds another large church, perhaps equally splendid and ornate, with perhaps even more onion domes on top and a sign on the front saying “Catholic.” I could wish that reasons of frugality, if not the better motives of Christian love and peace, might dictate an end to such unnecessary duplication. It is, indeed, distressing to see Eastern Christianity as a kind of permanent illustration of Jesus’ words about a house divided.
Much of my research over the past half decade or so has been devoted to reading and translating people who also were distressed by this division and who sought to do something to end it. In particular, I have translated some of the works of John Bekkos, who was Patriarch of Constantinople during the short-lived Union of Lyons (1275-1282); he supported that union, and argued at length that it was theologically sound. Most Orthodox do not like John Bekkos; in contemporary Greece, he is commonly portrayed as an arch-villain, a sort of Judas or Benedict Arnold who sold his priceless birthright of Orthodox truth for a mess of Frankish porridge; mythological stories are invented about him having descended upon Mount Athos with Latin mercenaries, wreaking destruction and slaughter upon the courageous monks who resisted his impious doctrines; one particularly strident commentator on my blog maintained last year that he had seen, with his own eyes, John Bekkos’s bones, preserved somewhere upon Mount Athos in some sort of liquid medium, perpetually boiling as a sure sign of his eternal damnation; how John Bekkos’s bones ended up on Mount Athos when he was buried hundreds of miles away in an unmarked grave in Asia Minor, inside a government fortress, the ardent commentator never saw fit to explain, nor how he recognized the bones as actually belonging to John Bekkos and not to some other individual.
For myself, I have no special revelation regarding the eternal destiny of John Bekkos’s soul, but I am persuaded that Bekkos was a sincere Christian and a man who loved peace and truth. Bekkos was, I think, not only a good man, but a good liberal artist; indeed, I suspect that these two things, being a good man and being a good liberal artist, have something to do with each other. What these two things have to do with each other is perhaps the most important thing we need to clarify today. But, to say a bit more about Bekkos: he accepted the Union of Lyons because he sought to inherit Christ’s blessing upon the peacemakers, because he believed it was right, and in accordance with God’s will, to seek the unity of God’s people, and because his studies of the fathers had led him to conclude that the Greek-speaking fathers of the ancient Church were not as dogmatically opposed to Latin Christian formulations of doctrine as were later Greek Christians like Photius and Michael Cerularius; he thought that the later theologians, under the pressure of nationalistic rivalry and dogmatic controversy, had emphasized those things in which the churches seemed to differ and had minimized those things that might allow those differences to be seen in a better light. Bekkos even thought that he could see, in Greek patristic literature, a teaching on the Holy Spirit akin to the Latin doctrine of the Filioque; he found evidence for this in writers like St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Epiphanius, but also in the Cappadocian fathers themselves, in St. Athanasius, in St. Maximus, and in many others. When St. Cyril says that the Holy Spirit is “poured forth substantially from both, that is to say, from the Father through the Son” (De adoratione et cultu in spiritu et veritate, lib. I; PG 68, 148 A), and that the Spirit is “both proper to [the Son of God] and in him and from him, just as, to be sure, the same thing is understood to hold true in the case of God the Father himself” (Commentarius in Joelem prophetam 35; PG 71, 377 D), and when St. Gregory of Nyssa says that the Son “is conceived of as before the Spirit’s hypostasis only in concept, with respect to causality” (Contra Eunomium I; PG 45, 464 B-C), or when he compares the Trinity to three candles, in which the flame of the first is communicated to the third through the second one (Adv. Macedonianos 6; PG 45, 1308 B), John Bekkos infers from these statements, and others like them, that the fathers in question knew of a certain mediation of being within the Holy Trinity, that the order of the persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not merely based upon the order of the persons’ manifestation in time, but it has a basis in an eternal order of relationships within the divine Trinity itself. Undoubtedly, there are those who disagree with this interpretation of the Greek fathers; each side has its own set of proof-texts, to which it invariably appeals. But, for the purposes of this lecture, my point is basically this: John Bekkos is one example of an Eastern Christian who is also a liberal artist, a man who makes use of his intellect in the pursuit and defense of truth. He is certainly not the only example, and probably is not even the best one, but he is one whom I happen to know pretty well. He knew that texts have more than one level of meaning, that you cannot always rely upon the currently fashionable interpretation of them, that it is important to go back to the original sources and see for yourself what they are actually saying, and that this activity is not only intellectually but also morally good; it is one of the ways in which Christ the Truth is served. In reading the texts in this way, I think he has some insight into the mind of the fathers; they also were liberal artists, who served the Truth with their intellects; they knew that, while reason cannot get us to faith and knowledge of the triune God, reason does have its proper place in defending faith and in differentiating truth from falsehood. It is not for nothing that St. Peter tells his readers to yearn after “sincere, logical milk” (1 Peter 2:2, τὸ λογικὸν ἄδολον γάλα).
Of course, someone may say that the fathers were much more than liberal artists; they were saints, and their speech about God proceeded, not merely from a mastery of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, but from prayer and spiritual experience. There is a saying commonly cited in works on Orthodox Christianity, a saying which, I think, goes back to the fourth century writer Evagrius of Pontus, to the effect that the theologian is not, primarily, the one who sets forth a propositional system, but the one who prays. The type of the theologian is Moses, the man who ascends Mount Sinai, enters the darkness there, and speaks with God face to face. It is perhaps dangerous to say this in a school called the Lyceum, but it must be acknowledged that Aristotle is not universally held in high esteem in the Christian East; there were various attempts to baptize him (much of St. John of Damascus’s work The Fount of Knowledge, for instance, consists of a summary presentation of Aristotelian philosophy), and the fathers often rely on Aristotelian categories more than they care to admit, but, by and large, the one whom St. Thomas refers to as “the Philosopher” is not, in the Christian East, presented as a model for emulation; St. Gregory the Theologian says that we need to speak of God ἁλιευτικῶς, μὴ ἀριστοτελικῶς, that is to say, like a fisherman, not like an Aristotelian. Greek Christian hymnology is full of lines like those found in the Akathist Hymn, where the Mother of God’s miraculous childbearing is said render eloquent orators as mute as fish, and to shred to pieces the “word-webs of the Athenians.” One may also recall the response of a certain Georgian delegate to the Council of Florence to the Aristotelian argumentation of the Dominican John of Montenero; he said: “What’s this about Aristotle, Aristotle? A fig for your fine Aristotle…. What is fine? St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Basil, Gregory the Theologian; a fig for your Aristotle, Aristotle.” (Cited by Joseph Gill, The Council of Florence , p. 227.) More particularly, the idea that theology should be thought of as a “science of revealed truth,” a rationally adumbrated propositional system, is almost universally looked upon within the Christian East with suspicion and misgivings; this, I think, probably holds true for many Eastern Catholics as well as for most Eastern Orthodox.
All of this makes one wonder whether the subject of Liberal Education and Eastern Christianity is genuinely a fruitful topic, whether these two phenomena can be related otherwise than by mere negation. I think that they can be, although we have to be careful not to misrepresent one or the other. I remember that, when we were having our discussions about a curriculum for Transfiguration College, a proposal was made that we should structure our whole theology curriculum around the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Probably the thought behind this was that some figure was needed comparable to the role St. Thomas plays in Western Catholic thought, that is, someone who gives the East a “Neo-Platonic” synthesis, parallel to the Aristotelian synthesis Thomas supplies the West; the fact that Thomas quotes Pseudo-Dionysius so frequently was probably an added benefit. I fervently sought to shoot down this trial balloon before it got too far off the ground. First, because I am not persuaded that the Dionysian corpus is all that representative of Eastern Christian theology; it probably arose in Monophysite circles, and only became fully accepted in the Byzantine world through the interpretations of St. Maximus. But, secondly, I don’t know how many of you have actually attempted to read the works of the Pseudo-Areopagite, but I have; they make Kant’s and Hegel’s writings appear as models of expository clarity by comparison. This does not mean that one should ignore them; they are in fact important. But, as in mountain-climbing, one should start on smaller hills, and only attempt the Matterhorn or Mount Everest after one has worked one’s way up and gained a certain facility, so likewise it seemed to me folly to be sentencing undergraduates to four years of prolonged exposure to the Pseudo-Dionysius, with his super-this and his hyper-that, and his paradoxical affirmations of God as not-Being and not-Love; I could think of no surer way to guarantee high attrition.
One way to approach this subject of Liberal Education and Eastern Christianity might be to give a brief historical survey of the kinds of education Eastern Christians have actually received over the years, in their various home countries. Such a survey would not be without interest, and perhaps it would help to balance exalted philosophical claims about what constitutes an ideal education; one would like to see such speculations grounded in facts and history. For instance, I find it somewhat curious that even the very expression “Liberal Education” [rather, the expression: “Liberal Arts Education”] seems to be confined mostly to American educational discourse: people in Europe do not seem to know what a “liberal arts college” is, or at least, they have very few institutions that would answer to that description. Earlier in my life, I spent two years studying in England; one of the things I observed there is that the British educational system directs young people into an academic specialization much earlier than the American system does; in America, most students do not choose a college major until about their Junior year; in Britain, students are already taking specialized tests, their “O-Levels” and “A-Levels,” in their mid-teens, at a time when most American students are muddling through high school. It seemed to me at that time that this British system, with its earlier specialization, reflects the fact that Britain is a smaller country, there are fewer openings within the economy and more competition to fill them; thus, the competition perforce starts earlier, and children are allowed a shorter time in which to grow up. They are forced earlier to decide who they are, and are given less opportunity to explore different possible futures. Perhaps that makes for a certain maturity, or perhaps it creates, in some cases, a certain grim acceptance of inevitability, an inability to imagine new possibilities. On this point, I prefer the American system, with all its faults; I like the fact that we allow ourselves a little more time to grow up, in spite of the danger this entails that some of us will never grow up at all.
Some of the early Christians of the second century went about in the habit of philosophers, like St. Justin Martyr; these men were generally recognized as teachers and accepted students. But it is not till nearly the beginning of the third century that we find the first Christian school, and we find this in Alexandria; the catechetical school there, founded by a man named Pantaenus, featured in time famous teachers like Clement and Origen, and, later, Didymus the Blind. Of Origen’s teaching methods we have a detailed description from his student St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, who gave a panegyric on Origen in the year 238; by this time, Origen had relocated to Caesarea in Palestine, but his teaching there probably followed the same pattern as at Alexandria. St. Gregory describes Origen as an inspired teacher who brought people to Christ, not by keeping secular knowledge from them, but precisely by engaging with it, accepting in it whatever was good and rejecting what was bad, but all the while subordinating all worldly knowledge to the inestimable prize of knowing Christ. At times, St. Gregory compares Origen to Socrates, probing the students’ ideas and cutting down anything of feeble growth, so that the ground could be cleared for genuinely worthy fruits. He says that, along with giving instruction in dialectic and in the mathematical and physical sciences, Origen also introduced his students to every school of Greek philosophy, “selecting and setting before us all that was useful and true in all the various philosophers, and putting aside all that was false.” “He deemed it right for us to study philosophy in such wise, that we should read with utmost diligence all that has been written, both by the philosophers and by the poets of old, rejecting nothing, and repudiating nothing (for, indeed, we did not yet possess the power of critical discernment), except only the productions of the atheists, who, in their conceits, lapse from the general intelligence of man, and deny that there is either a God or a providence.” (In Originem oratio panegyrica, 13; PG 10, 1088 A-B; tr., Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6, p. 34.)
Origen’s Christian school, nevertheless, was not widely emulated in later times. It cannot be stressed enough that, in the Christian East, the idea that Christians should avoid secular schools never obtained much currency; quite the opposite. In the fourth century, it was quite normal for Christian teachers to teach secular subjects, and numerous saints of the Church attended secular schools and had pagans among their teachers; this was the case, for instance, with St. John Chrysostom, who studied under the pagan rhetorician Libanius, as well as with St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian, who studied at Athens during the decade of the 340’s; one of their teachers of rhetoric was the Christian Prohaeresius; the other was a pagan named Himerius. Among their fellow students was a member of the imperial family, named Julian; while at Athens he became a secret pagan, and he openly espoused paganism at the time that he became emperor (360/361). One of Julian’s acts was to issue an edict commanding that all public teachers be approved by the emperor; the intention of this was to exclude Christians from the teaching profession. Julian’s reasoning was that the ancient classics are pagan literature, and do not belong to the Christians; Christians have no right to teach such things. St. Gregory of Nazianzus retorted that classical literature belongs to us in respect of our being human; letters are a gift from God, just as language is, and the proper cultivation of the mind cannot be rightfully withheld from any person. One result of Julian’s edict was that Christians increasingly sought to provide Christian substitutes for the classical literature that was the traditional basis for instruction; two men named Apollinarius, father and son, set to work translating the Bible into classical meters, St. Gregory the Theologian, likewise, composed great quantities of classical verse, and, in the Latin-speaking world, men like Pope Damasus and Prudentius and St. Ambrose wrote hymns and poems and epigrams; even St. Augustine tried his hand at this, producing some verses against the Donatists.
Nevertheless, in spite of all this literary work, the basic classical curriculum did not change much. Nearly a thousand years after the Cappadocians and St. John Chrysostom, John Bekkos, in the thirteenth century, still received basically the same kind of liberal education as these fathers did when he studied under his tutor George Babouskomites; he read Homer and the other Greek poets, studied grammar, logic, rhetoric, perhaps a bit of mathematics and the sciences; a similar kind of education was received by Bekkos’s chief adversary, George of Cyprus. Neither of them saw such an education as conflicting in any way with traditional Orthodox belief. One has to remember that, until the final capture of Constantinople by the forces of Mehmet the Conqueror in the year 1453, the Eastern Christian world had never known the same sort of extinction of classical learning that the West had undergone in the succession of barbarian invasions from the fifth century onward, until learning finally began to revive under Charlemagne. The East did not experience such a hiatus, and consequently the Church was not looked upon in the same way as the sole repository of knowledge — although later, during the Ottoman period, it was indeed the parish priest who was mainly responsible for keeping the Greek language alive.
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Is there, then, a specifically Eastern Christian form of education? Should there be? Or should an Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic believer simply receive the best education that is available, from whatever source, and leave the specific details of Christian doctrine to what can be picked up at home or in church?
As mentioned earlier, I still think that the idea of an Eastern Christian great books college, or some application of great books methodology to the study of Eastern Christianity, is a good idea. There have been at least two attempts that I know of to make that idea a reality; one of them, Transfiguration College, I have already spoken of; an earlier, Orthodox attempt, Rose Hill College, actually opened its doors in Aiken, South Carolina in the late 1990’s for about the space of a year; it finally had to close down because the president of the college, a man named Owen Jones, who had bankrolled the whole operation, had essentially spent all his fortune on it and was going broke. Currently, an Orthodox professor of philosophy named Bruce Foltz, who teaches in St. Petersburg, Florida, is one of the main people pushing the idea; he makes the claim that an Orthodox Christian, by virtue of being an Orthodox Christian, will be a better reader of the great books than other people, a claim which seems to me theoretically bold but not easily verifiable; it is not, in any case, a claim that I would be prepared to defend. Another man who still publicly argues in favor of Eastern Christian great books education is the sometime dean of Rose Hill College, Dr. James Cutzinger; my worry is that he seems a bit too enamored of the religious theosophy of Frithjof Schuon, whose works are sometimes to be seen in New Age bookstores and which teach the doctrine that all religions are one.
My own claims about the liberal arts and liberal education, claims that were embodied in the Transfiguration College Statement on Educational Policy and which I would still be prepared to defend, are the following:
Education is necessary for our humanity. Unlike frogs, which cannot be more or less frogs, or oak trees, which cannot be more or less oak trees, human beings can become more or less human; being human is a task to which we are called. We can fail to live up to our nature. One way of speaking about this difference is to say that, unlike frogs and oak trees, human beings are created in the image of God; we possess that image as our birthright, but we can also fail to live up to it, in which case we are judged by our Creator.
Part of our being made in the image of God consists in our ability to speak; the first thing we find Adam doing is that he gives names to the animals. We have what the Greeks call λόγος; we have reason. This reason pertains to our being in the image of God; just as God speaks, so do we, and we are, perhaps, most rational when we recognize God’s speech, echoing in manifold ways in the world around us, when we hear God’s word and do it.
In hearing and doing God’s word, all of us, children of Adam, have fallen short, all of us have in various ways disfigured the image of God that dwells within us. To restore that image, God sent his Image, his Word, his Son, into our midst, so that we, by believing in him, might again be rendered reasonable and be reckoned children of God.
Being restored to the image of God is not a thing which any liberal education, as such, is able to deliver. The only truly liberal education, that is able to free us and restore us to our proper humanity, is that education which is afforded in Christ’s Church, that school in which Christ is not only the Teacher, but the daily bread on which the students feed.
But this does not mean that liberal education, in the common sense of the term, is useless. Our nature as thinking, deliberating, moral beings has to be educated; we cannot make right choices if we deprive ourselves of the means of knowing what choices there are to make. We need to learn how to read, to weigh evidence, to test possibilities; this also is part of learning to recognize God’s word in the creation. And we need to learn how to speak, so as to persuade others of the truth and dissuade others from fallacy and wrong; this also is part of doing God’s word. We cannot do these things, or at least, cannot do them well, if we are illiterate and ignorant.
St. Paul is very clear: the world, by its wisdom, did not know God (1 Cor 1:21); and, he says, he does not come to the Corinthians with excellency of speech, or enticing words of man’s wisdom; he knows that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:25). Those of us who are in the business of education need to remember this, that there is no inherent guarantee that a person who studies the liberal arts, who has read all the Great Books backwards and forwards, who perhaps speaks with the tongue of men and of angels, may not turn out to be an utter scoundrel. It is a sad fact about the fallenness of our nature, that intellectual excellence is able to coexist with moral depravity. But St. Paul also says that “that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them: for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom 1:19-20). Even if the world, in its wisdom, did not know God, it had no excuse for not knowing God; God had, in fact, left sufficient evidence of himself in the world, for anyone who had eyes to see. It pertains to a Christian education to have the eyes to see, to point out the hand of God in his works, to remind those who might not see or hear that there is in fact a Creator who will judge us. If that is what a Christian education is supposed to do, then that is also what an Eastern Christian education is supposed to do.
I need to end this talk; there is much more that could be said about this subject; we have hardly touched at all upon large questions, like the meaning of “freedom” that is implied in the word “liberal” (what is it that liberal education purports to free us from?). And much could also be said about the ambiguous stance that various thinkers, both within Byzantium and in later Russia, took towards the value of the liberal arts; if Dostoevsky famously said that, “Two and two makes four; yes, but, ‘Two and two makes five’ is sometimes also very charming,” what does this tell us about his estimation of the claims of rationality? But these are eternal questions, and a lecture, fortunately, is not eternal, but has a time limit, so I shall herewith bring this talk to a close. Thank you.
June 2, 2011
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.
April 9, 2011
George Pachymeres, in his History of the reigns of Michael VIII and Andronikos II Palaiologos, relates the death of John Bekkos in the following way (Pachymeres, History IX, 29 [Failler, ed., Georges Pachymérès: Relations Historiques, III (Paris 1999), pp. 296 f.]):
At that time John, the chief of the Lazoi, who was also the emperor’s brother-in-law as was indicated earlier, finished his life, leaving two children: of these, the one, Alexis, inherited his father’s authority, while as for the younger of the two, his mother Eudokia took him and went to live in the city near her brother, the emperor.
John Bekkos, the former patriarch, died as well, in the prison at the fortress of St. Gregory, at the end of the month of Kronion [March]; he was buried there in some random spot in his own cell. But the news of this was one more source of grief for the emperor, since there had not been time to bring about what had been arranged between the emperor and Bekkos’s party, that is, to organize discussions aiming at agreement and peace, with wise and spiritual men (not your everyday random know-nothings) serving as judges. As for Meliteniotes, he was brought back from there and given lodging with Metochites, who was in the city; since it proved impossible to make peace with them, they were incarcerated, in keeping with the demands of the emperor’s people and the leaders of the Church, at the Great Palace, there where John Tarchaneiotes also, later, would be locked up.
In 1926, Vitalien Laurent published an article (V. Laurent, “La date de la mort de Jean Beccos,” Échos d’Orient 25 , 316-319) in which he conclusively argued that the year in which John Bekkos died was 1297. But what about the place of his death and burial, the prison where he spent the last twelve years of his life, this fortress of St. Gregory? Where was it? Does it still exist?
Those are questions I have been asking for a long time. Using Google Maps, I some time ago came to the conclusion that the prison must have been located on a jetty of land that sticks out into the Gulf of Nicomedia, close to the present-day town of Hersek (the ancient Helenopolis); Pachymeres notes that the fortress was on your right as you enter the gulf, and this, it seemed to me, was the landmark he must have been referring to. Recently, however, I came across an article that convinces me that I was wrong about this: not about this being the landmark to which Pachymeres was referring, but about the fortress being located directly on this strip of land. The article, written by the editor of the critical edition of Pachymeres’s History, Albert Failler, collects the various known facts about the fortress provided by the three Byzantine historians who mention it (Pachymeres, George Metochites, and Nikephoros Gregoras). The reason why the fortress is not to be sought on this strip of land is a simple one: this jetty is quite flat, while the fortress of St. Gregory is described by Metochites as having perched upon a high, inaccessible hilltop. Still, it could not have stood too far from this neck of land, since this is clearly the landmark that marks the entrance to the Gulf of Nicomedia. Failler narrows down the site to a hilly area between Hersek and the modern-day town of Karamürsel (a town whose old, Greek name was Prainetos).
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, Failler’s article, published in 1990 in the scholarly journal Revue des études byzantines, is now easily available: a link to it is given here in the following bibliographical information: Albert Failler, “Chronologie et composition dans l’Histoire de Georges Pachymérès (livres VII-XIII),” Revue des études byzantines, 48 (1990), 5-87. Below, I have translated a passage from pp. 21-23 of this article, where Failler discusses the location of the fortress.
Before continuing, it would be opportune to determine the site of the fortress of St. Gregory, which has often been confused, without any reason, with the fortress of St. George on the lake of Nicaea. George Pachymeres alone names the citadel, which, in George Metochites’ narrative, is indicated by the general name of “fortress”; moreover, he alone indicates its approximate location. The fortress of St. Gregory is mentioned three times in [Pachymeres'] History as a place of detention, of Irene-Eulogia Palaiologina and her daughter Theodora, in the first case, and of John Bekkos and his archdeacons in the two other cases. Only the second passage contains data concerning the site of St. Gregory’s: “the fortress that is found on one’s right when one enters the Gulf of Astakos”. The information is precise: the fortress is found upon the southern shore of the Gulf of Nicomedia (the Astakenos Gulf, or Gulf of Astakos). Without expressly stating this, George Pachymeres suggests that it was situated alongside the sea. In an otherwise vaguer account, Nikephoros Gregoras confirms the coastal position of the unionists’ place of detention: “Bekkos and his companions were sent to a fort on the shores of Bithynia”. Though he never supplies a name for the fortress, George Metochites stresses five times the isolation of this veritable eagle’s nest, perched upon a steep height, inaccessible to travelers. The itinerary followed by the emperor, who debarked at Helenopolis and went towards Nicaea, serves to complete these scant pieces of information. The fortress must necessarily be sought to the east of Helenopolis, upon the portion of mountainous coastline that extends for some twenty kilometers, of which about five are on this side of Prainetos (the contemporary Karamürsel) and fifteen beyond it, since the rest of the coastline is bounded by a coastal plain. In fact, the town of Prainetos is the normal point of call for the voyager who is traveling from Constantinople to Nicaea by crossing the Gulf of Nicomedia off the coast of Helenopolis. To my knowledge, one can supply no more precise location for the fortress of St. Gregory, which was doubtless situated to the west of Prainetos, even if one were not, properly speaking, “at the entrance of the Gulf” of Nicomedia.
In chapter 15 of Book III of his Dogmatic History, George Metochites gives a more detailed account of the negotiations between the emperor and the unionists and better traces the steps of the imperial journey, after having nevertheless omitted the first of these steps, that is, the emperor’s visit to John IV Laskaris; once he had arrived in the East, Andronikos II spent some time in a village which was found at the foot of the fortress in which John Bekkos and Constantine Meliteniotes were imprisoned. From there, he sent a message to the prisoners; they were allowed to come down to the village; they met with Theodore Mouzalon and with the emperor, and gave their agreement to the holding of a conference at Lopadion, to which George Metochites, from his own place of detention, would also come; after having received a kind reception, they returned to the fortress. As for Andronikos II and Theodore Mouzalon, they made their way to Nicaea, then to Lopadion, where the conference which had been expected did not take place. At the start of chapter 17, George Metochites notes that, after their stay at Lopadion, the sovereign and his entourage arrived at Nymphaeum.
 Bonn ed., vol. II, p. 15, line 9; p. 103, lines 4-6; p. 270, line 15.
 τὸ κατὰ δεξιὰ εἰσπλέοντι τὸν Ἀστακηνὸν κόλπον φρούριον (Bonn ed., vol. II, p. 103, lines 4-6). The formula may be an echo of Thucydides (I, 24,1): Ἐπίδαμνός ἐστι πόλις ἐν δεξιᾷ ἐσπλέοντι τὸν Ἰόνιον κόλπον.
 ἔς τι πολίχνιον τῶν περὶ Βιθυνίαν παραλίων πέμπεται ἅμα τοῖς ἀμφ’ αὐτῷ (Bonn ed., vol. I, p. 171, lines 2-3).
 Metochites, I, 122; III, 6, 9, 11, 15: Cozza-Luzi, p. 175; p. 322, 324, 325, 327. He is very specific that the prisoners were brought there by boat upon their departure from Constantinople (I, 122; p. 175), even if this information does not, of itself, imply that the trip was made by boat all the way to the end and that the fortress was situated alongside the sea.
 It is true that that the verb εἰσπλέειν does not have so precise a meaning. To preserve for it a sense of greater indetermination, one might translate it using some vaguer form of words: “to go in” (to the gulf), “to sail forward” (into the gulf). The fortress of St. Gregory probably was found in the vicinity of Kavak Iskelesi.
 Metochites, III, 15 (Cozza-Luzi, p. 327): κατασκηνοῖ μὲν ὁ κρατάρχης ἔν τινι κώμῃ περὶ τοὺς πρόποδας τοῦ ὄρους ἐφ’ οὗ περιίστατο τὸ πολίχνιον.
 Metochites, III.17; Cozza-Luzi, pp. 328-329.
Linked is a picture of some of the hill country above Karamürsel: indeed, the foreground of the picture shows what looks like the foundations of an old building. Perhaps the fortress of St. Gregory stood on some such spot as this.
February 4, 2011
Yesterday I discovered an on-line resource which, if it had been available some years earlier, would have made my studies of John Bekkos much easier. The resource is Hugo Laemmer’s Scriptorum Graeciae Orthodoxae Bibliotheca Selecta, published at Freiburg-im-Breisgau in sequential parts in the years 1864-65. I photocopied this book in, I believe, the year 2006 from a copy found at Harvard’s Widener Library (the copy which also, it seems, served as the basis of the Google Book); it is the text I mainly used when translating John Bekkos’s On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome, his Epigraphs, and the short work Sententia synodalis. The book is the first volume of a projected four-volume work; the other three volumes never appeared. It mostly consists of reprintings of texts of Greek authors favorable to ecclesiastical union which had been edited and translated into Latin by Leo Allatius in his Graeciae Orthodoxae Tomi II (Rome 1652-53); Laemmer adds to these texts various exegetical and polemical notes (at least some of which are also by Allatius); his actual revision of the texts on the basis of original manuscripts appears to have been minimal. In fact, Laemmer makes more typographical errors than Migne does (PG 141), although, because of the clearer typeface, Laemmer’s edition is much the easier to read.
The Greek text of Bekkos’s De unione ecclesiarum, with Allatius’s Latin translation, will be found in this book on pp. 197-406. Aside from the De unione and Bekkos’s Epigraphae (pp. 445-652), Sententia synodalis (pp. 411-422), and Apologia (pp. 426-438), the book also contains the text of Nikephoros Blemmydes’ two Orations on the subject of the procession of the Holy Spirit (pp. 108-186), as well as the debate between Gregory Palamas and Bessarion of Nicaea over Bekkos’s Epigraphae (published as running commentary under the text of that work).
July 6, 2010
Last week I attended a conference at Fordham University on the theme of “Orthodox Constructions of the West.” The conference took place at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, and lasted for three days, Monday through Wednesday, June 28-30. I drove in each day from my home in Northern New Jersey, and acted as a driver for two other scholars, one of whom lives in New Jersey, another of whom was visiting from Greece and stayed at my home during the conference. Because I woke up around 5:00-5:30 a.m. on the days of the conference, and nevertheless went to bed at my usual hour (midnight – 1:00), by the end of it I was thoroughly exhausted. But the conference was well worth the effort made to attend it.
The organizers, Drs. Aristotle Papanikolaou and George Demacopoulos, professors of theology at Fordham University, have managed to turn Fordham into a thriving center for Orthodox studies. Both of them are relatively young, probably not much past their mid-30’s. They are a dynamic pair of scholars, all evidence suggests that they strongly support Orthodox-Catholic ecumenism, and one can only expect further good things from them in the years to come. The themes of the two conferences they have hosted so far — Orthodox Readings of Augustine in 2007 and Orthodox Constructions of the West this year — point to a settled desire to foster a more positive Orthodox reception of the West and its theology, or at least, a more critical stance toward standard Orthodox portrayals of the West as irredeemably Other.
I took many notes at the conference, and made use of a small digital recording device, which will allow me to provide some extended, verbatim quotations. (I hope that that will not involve me in any legal difficulties.) At present, I expect to follow up this present post with at least one or two more on the conference’s proceedings.
(1) Fr. Taft’s address
The tone of the conference was ably set by the first speaker, Fr. Robert F. Taft, SJ, the world’s foremost living scholar on the Byzantine liturgy. (Dr. Demacopoulos, in introducing him, noted with amazement that he has over 800 publications to his name.) His keynote address, delivered on Monday morning, was titled, “Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future.” The title, phrased in such general terms, does not do his talk justice. It was, in fact, a passionately argued plea to both sides for historical objectivity and fairness when dealing with the problem of the continuing breach of communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Near the beginning of his talk, Fr. Taft stated the following:
I have on more than one occasion made clear in print the positions I am happy to repeat here: that I consider the Orthodox Churches the historic, apostolic Christianity of the East, and sister Churches of the Catholic Church; that I recognize and rejoice in the fact that Orthodox peoples remain Orthodox, that the Catholic Church should support and collaborate with the Orthodox Churches in every way, foster the most cordial relations with them, earnestly work to restore communion with them, recognize their legitimate interests, especially on their own ground, avoid all proselytism among their flocks there or elsewhere, not seek in any way to undercut them, nor rejoice in or exploit their weaknesses, nor fish in their pond, nor seek to convert their faithful to the Catholic Church. But I espouse with equal explicitness the view that it is counterproductive for the cause of Christian unity and ecumenism to roll over and play dead in the face of any Catholic or Orthodox misbehavior, misinformation, or outright lying with regard to our dolorous past or to the problems that exist between us in the present. On these issues I speak from a lifetime of personal experience and proven love for Orthodoxy and its tradition, as clearly demonstrated by over half a century of studies, scholarship, and innumerable publications, both scholarly and popular.
A large portion of Fr. Taft’s talk was devoted to showing that “misbehavior” in the dolorous past — the use of secular force in support of religious objectives, the suppression of ancient Christian traditions foreign to one’s own — had been a practice common to all sides, and no one, certainly not the Jesuits, and certainly not the Orthodox, could pretend that their own Church had not engaged in it. From listening to him, one gets the sense that Fr. Taft, in his long and distinguished academic and ecumenical career, has had considerable experience of Orthodox selective memory — the sort of mentality that recalls the Fourth Crusade as though it had happened yesterday, but completely blocks out other significant historical facts, e.g., the fact that, not many years before the Fourth Crusade, some thousands of Latins were slaughtered in Constantinople in cold blood, and the papal delegate’s severed head was tied to a dog’s tail and dragged through the streets. For Fr. Taft, the lies we tell about our own and each other’s histories are a more important source of estrangement than theological ideas as such. By uncovering those lies, genuine scholarship forces us to question our demonizing of the Other, our self-representation as mere victims of history and persons needing no repentance.
My overall thesis is quite simple. Contrary to what one might think, the main problem we Catholics and Orthodox face in our ecumenical dialogue is not doctrine, but behavior. The issue is not that Catholics and Orthodox do not know how to pray and believe and live Christianity in the right and true apostolic way; the problem is that we do not know how to act. Learning to do so will mean adopting what I call “ecumenical scholarship and theology.” Ecumenical scholarship is not content with the purely natural virtues of honesty and fairness, virtues one should be able to expect from any true scholar. Ecumenical scholarship is a new and specifically Christian way of studying Christian tradition in order to reconcile and unite, rather than to confute and dominate. Its deliberate intention is to emphasize the common tradition underlying our differences, which, though real, are usually the accidental product of history, culture, language, rather than essential differences in the doctrine of the common, apostolic faith. Of course, to remain scholarly this effort must be carried out realistically, without glossing over real differences. But even in recognizing differences, this ecumenical effort must remain a two-way street, with each side judging itself and its tradition by the exact same criteria and standards with which it judges the other. Eschewing all scapegoating and a double-standard, ecumenical scholarship seeks to describe the beliefs, traditions, and usages of other confessions in ways their own, objective spokespersons recognize as reliable and fair. So ecumenical scholarship seeks not confrontation, but agreement and understanding; it tries to enter into the other’s point of view, to understand it, in so far as possible, with sympathy and agreement. It takes seriously the other’s critique of one’s own tradition, seeking to incorporate its positive contributions into one’s own thinking. It is a contest in reverse, a contest of Christian love, one in which the parties seek to understand and justify not their own point of view, but that of their interlocutors. Such an effort and method is not baseless romanticism; its theological foundation is our common faith, and God’s Holy Spirit is always with his Church, protecting the integrity of its witness, especially in the millennium of its undivided unity. Since some of the issues that divide us go right back to the first millennium, one must ineluctably conclude that these differences do not affect the substance of the apostolic faith, for, if they did, then, contrary to Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16, the gates of hell would indeed have prevailed against his Church.
As for myself, I am not sure that I agree with Fr. Taft’s assessment, that behavior and not doctrine is the chief impediment to Christian unity. But I accept his fundamental claim, that a conversion of hearts is necessary, and that ecumenical scholarship, in the sense that he uses the term, must play an important role in any such a conversion. I hope that my own work on John Bekkos will eventually deserve to be seen as one manifestation of what he calls “a contest of Christian love.”
(2) Symposium I: Byzantium and Beyond
Before going on, I should mention that much of my own interest in the conference centered upon meeting various of the participants. One of them was an Englishman, a Catholic priest, who goes by the internet name of “Fr. Paul,” with whom I had in fact corresponded for two or three years, since both of us are currently working on John Bekkos. He was the scholar, mentioned above, who was visiting from Greece and who stayed at my house in New Jersey for the duration of the conference. I met him for the first time last Monday, after Fr. Taft’s address, and had lunch with him. On Thursday, after the conference was over, I brought him into New York City, and, after taking him to see the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the World Trade Center site, and the Strand Bookstore, put him onto a subway train headed for Grand Central Station. As I have not heard back from him yet, I hope he reached his intended destination.
When the conference reconvened after lunch, Aristotle Papanikolaou introduced Dr. Demetrios Katos of Hellenic College, who chaired the first symposium, devoted to readings of the West in Byzantium and afterwards.
Dr. Tia M. Kolbaba of Rutgers gave the first lecture of the symposium, titled “The Tenth Century: Orthodox Constructions of the West in the Golden Age of Byzantium.” She noted that she approaches this subject of Byzantium primarily as a historian, not as a theologian, and that her lecture would be chiefly historical in nature. The chief things I learned from hearing it are, first, that a concern with the question of “azymes” (i.e., the use of unleavened bread in the eucharist) formed no part of the Byzantine critique of the West prior to the eleventh century, and that it first occurred in polemics, not against the West, but against the Armenian Church. Secondly, I learned that certain scholars now believe that the quarrel on the Mount of Olives in the early ninth century between Greek and Latin monks that is usually seen as a significant milestone in the history of the Filioque controversy actually never took place, that it is the fabrication of a later Latin author. I asked Dr. Kolbaba about this later, and she referred me to two works:
- Claudia Sode, Jerusalem, Konstantinopel, Rom. Die Viten des Michael Synkellos und der Brüder Theodoros und Theophanes Graptoi (Stuttgart 2001), esp. pp. 171-187, “Excursus: Der sogenante Jerusalem Filioquestreit.”
- Daniel Callahan, “The Problem of the ‘Filioque’ and the letter from the Pilgrim Monks of the Mount of Olives to Pope Leo III and Charlemagne. Is the Letter another Forgery by Adhemar of Chabannes?” Revue bénédictine 102 (1992), 75-134.
Thirdly, I learned that Dr. Kolbaba thinks that the Mystagogy of St. Photius is not one work, and that at least part of it, or perhaps even the whole of it, is not by St. Photius himself. She argues this point in a new book of hers, Inventing Latin Heretics: Byzantines and the Filioque in the Ninth Century, which I have not yet seen. I am interested to read the book and assess her argument, but I confess that, until I am persuaded by evidence, I remain skeptical.
The next lecturer was Dr. Marcus Plested, Vice Principal of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge University, who will be spending the next year at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton here in New Jersey; he gave a talk titled, “‘Light from the West’: Byzantine Readings of Aquinas.” As a Greek Orthodox Christian who, in my undergraduate work and afterwards, has spent much time reading St. Thomas and who has a real admiration for him, I was predisposed to hear the lecture with great interest.
Perhaps the high point of the lecture, for me, was when Dr. Plested quoted, in translation, a Byzantine canon in honor of Aquinas, written by one Joseph of Methone. (Dr. Plested unfortunately neglected to mention that Joseph of Methone was a fifteenth-century Greek bishop who supported the Union of Florence.) The passage went something like this:
As a light from the West, he has illumined the Church of Christ,
the musical swan and subtle teacher, Thomas the All-Blessed,
Aquinas by name (Ἀκῖνος τῇ κλήσει), to whom, gathered together, we cry,
“Hail, O universal Teacher!”
If I were to sum up the theme of Dr. Plested’s lecture, it would be that the usual assumption that East and West operate with fundamentally different theological methodologies is “an assumption of relatively recent provenance”; it was by no means taken for granted in the late Byzantine empire that the kind of systematic analysis of theological questions displayed by Thomas in his writings is a form of theological reasoning that should be off-limits to Greek theologians. Not only was it emulated by the Kydones brothers, Demetrios and Prochoros, who translated numerous of Aquinas’s works into Greek, but it was also emulated by such Palamite, anti-unionist writers as Nilos Kabasilas and, later, George Gennadios Scholarios.
If I have a criticism of Dr. Plested’s lecture, it would chiefly be that his account of Thomas’s influence on the East was confined almost exclusively to questions of methodology, leaving out most questions of theological substance. It is all very well that a writer like Nilos Kabasilas (not to be confused with his nephew, Nicholas Kabasilas, who, though also a Palamite, eschewed theological controversy) uses scholastic method to undermine Thomas’s own postulates. From my own point of view, it is equally important to note that some Byzantines, like Manuel Kalekas and John Kyparissiotes, thought that Kabasilas was wrong, and they thought he was wrong, not on the basis of some abstract philosophical principles, but on the grounds that his theological postulates (e.g., the existence of four really existent “natures” in God) disagreed with the unanimous testimony of the fathers. In other words, a case could be made that Aquinas is himself a patristic theologian, and that that is how at least some of the Byzantines read him.
The next speaker was Dr. Norman Russell, now of London University. He gave a talk titled, “From the Shield of Orthodoxy to the Tome of Joy: the Anti-Western Stance of Dositheos II of Jerusalem (1641-1707).”
I had some slight acquaintance with Dr. Russell many years ago when I was a student at Oxford and he was living nearby at Campion Hall, and I confess that my first impressions centered less on the substance of his talk than on his marked change in appearance. His hair has gone mostly white, he now wears a close-cropped white beard that reminded me of someone I couldn’t quite place, probably some major literary figure from the late nineteenth century. But what most impressed me was his distinctly Orthodox appearance, Orthodox of a certain definite school or type. It would not surprise one, seeing him for the first time, to learn that this was a man who had written a major contemporary study of deification in the Greek fathers. When, at length, I spoke with him, he was very gracious to me; and, throughout the conference, he carried himself with a certain quiet dignity.
Near the beginning of his talk, Dr. Russell summed up the chief point of his argument in the following words:
What I wish to do in this paper is to suggest reasons why we should see Dositheos, not merely as an accomplished apologist, bound by the confessional mentality that characterized so many of his contemporaries, but as a man fired by a vision of Orthodoxy’s ecumenicity.
I will have to listen to the lecture again, to see if I can discern that point as emerging out of Dr. Russell’s narrative. Most of the actual notes I jotted down were more pedestrian in nature; I had known very little about Patriarch Dositheos II of Jerusalem before hearing this lecture, and so I wrote down whatever intriguing facts seemed to me worth remembering. I learned, for instance, that Dositheos wrote against one of my favorite authors, Leo Allatius, the original editor of most of Bekkos’s works, depicting him as someone who “uttered extreme blasphemies against the Eastern Church.” I learned that Dositheos’s Tome of Reconciliation was written against the Council of Florence, that his Tome of Love was written against Baronius, Bellarmine, and others, and that his Tome of Joy took a yet “more shrill” tone, in inveighing against Uniatism as the supreme danger for the Orthodox Church (this at a time when the Ottoman Turks had finally been turned back at the Battle of Vienna, and Western forces, having managed to take back some of Southeastern Europe, were imposing Western ecclesiastical jurisdiction in these territories, e.g., in Transylvania). He wrote a work against papal primacy, which was rebutted by the historian Le Quien (best known as the author of the work Oriens Christianus). He published a number of Palamite texts for the first time. He was pro-Russian, but disapproved of Peter the Great’s ecclesiastical policy. He was ordained a deacon at the age of eleven, and was raised to the office of Patriarch of Jerusalem at the age of 28. Finally, Dr. Russell said, Dositheos should be seen as standing in continuity with the Palamite, anti-unionist writers of the last Byzantine centuries. I suppose that that is a recommendation, though I cannot help thinking that the assessment given by Gerhard Podskalsky, cited by Dr. Russell early in his lecture, remains accurate: “Dositheos is remembered chiefly as a church politician of a high order, and an organizer and patron of Orthodox apologetics against the West.”
Because this is the hottest day New Jersey has seen in nearly a decade, with temperatures approaching 100º Fahrenheit, and there is no air conditioner in my home, I will now leave off reporting the proceedings from last week’s Fordham Conference, and will go seek shelter from the heat wave at the public library.