Grumel on Dvornik

February 16, 2011

Because, in a recent discussion on this blog, a question arose concerning Francis Dvornik’s interpretation of the history of St. Photius, I am here presenting a translation of a review of Dvornik’s book The Photian Schism: History and Legend by Venance Grumel, himself a notable Photian scholar. The review originally appeared in the Revue des études byzantines, vol. 10 (1952), pp. 282-283; I found the text on-line yesterday at the French site Persée, a very useful site which I had not known of previously.

Dvornik (Fr.), The Photian Schism. History and Legend. Cambridge, University Press, 1948. In-8°, xiv-504 pages. Le schisme de Photius, Histoire et Légende, Paris, Les Éditions du Cerf, 1950. In-8°, 662 pages (Unam Sanctam XIX).

The author of this book had already distinguished himself by a most remarkable thesis, Les Slaves, Byzance et Rome au IXe siècle (Paris 1926). A later work, Les Légendes de Constantin et de Méthode vues de Byzance (Prague 1933), laid particular stress upon ninth-century Byzantine and Slavic history and the history of the two great missionaries. It was in the course of this, in treating of these missionaries’ relations with Photius, that Dvornik first brought up the Photian question. He has not ceased investigating this problem; one calls to mind his article published in Byzantion, “Une mystification historique: le second schisme de Photius,”[1] which was followed by many others bearing upon the same topic. What we are presented with in this new book is the outcome of much patient research. The book was long-awaited. Although ready by 1940 to appear in French and to take its place in one of the series of volumes organized by Henri Grégoire, it was delayed by the German invasion. The author brought his manuscript with him to London. It was there translated into English, and it appeared first of all in that language before finally being published in its original language at Paris.

The work is the fruit of extensive research and of a thoroughgoing labor of reflection, aimed at taking up again the Photian problem and thinking through it in a new way. The author’s erudition is considerable. One immediately evident testimony to this is the lengthy list of sources unearthed, of works examined, even of manuscripts consulted.

The author’s conclusions are well known. He hypothesized that the trial of Photius rested upon fake evidence, that Photius was someone misunderstood by historians, an object of slander, and that it was necessary to rehabilitate him. It is this hypothesis which he has endeavored to transform into a positive thesis and an historical certainty.

While recognizing that Photius is not as sinister as he has been depicted in the past, one may well ask oneself whether the author has not gone too far in the contrary direction. The dissertation maintains throughout a tone of special pleading which, in the end, harms the case it means to demonstrate. When one finds that, on every occasion, in every doubtful case, and even in those cases where evidence to the contrary is not wholly lacking, the interpretation given is the one that favors the hero, without any weight placed on the opposite scale, one is left with the impression of a unilateral vision of events, an impression that the proper middle viewpoint has not yet been found. It is not possible in a simple book review to enter very far into the points which demand discussion. I will merely take note here of the most important points upon which the author is far from having given a sufficient demonstration.

The first concerns the origin of the conflict; the author is absolutely unwilling to see Photius as responsible for it. I fail to understand how one can refuse to recognize the cause of the conflict in Photius’s ordination by Gregory Asbestas, the bishop deposed by Ignatius — still less, how one can conceive of presenting this affront as an act of moderation, something which is genuinely hard to swallow. The second point concerns the declaration concerning the Creed, a subject that has engaged my attention more than once.[2] I am indeed informed [in this book] that my proof of that declaration’s inauthenticity is inconclusive, but this has not been shown, and, moreover, no notice is taken of the article which appeared in this journal in 1947, in which I returned to this subject[3]; I would refer the author to it, awaiting his response. I ought nevertheless to reply to the new argument which I did not know of at the time I wrote that article, namely, the testimony of the patriarch Euthymius. It would certainly be a most telling point if the person in question were Euthymius I; but the manuscript is from the fifteenth century, and there is no reason to reject the possibility of an attribution to Euthymius II — quite the contrary, as I shall show hereafter.[4] It must be said that such a possibility seems not to have occurred to Dvornik.

The third and most important question is that which concerns the Eighth Ecumenical Council. Dvornik thinks he can prove that it was abrogated by John VIII. To this end, he makes use of documents transmitted by Yves of Chartres, not taking account of the fact that these fragments originated at the Photian council where the papal documents had been altered. He makes use also of the Western juridical tradition according to which the ecumenicity of this council did not appear until the end of the eleventh century. One should not forget that this council of 869, which produced no definition of faith, was convened solely to decide on matters relating to persons and that, after the Photian question had been settled at the council of 879, there was no reason to bring it up again, and the peace of the Church demanded that it not be. But between this and an abrogation there is quite a stretch. Furthermore, the complete letter from Pope Stephen I to Emperor Basil I (which we presented at the International Congresses of Byzantine Studies of Paris and of Bruxelles) shows clearly that no pope, up to Stephen’s time, had annulled the acts of the Eighth Council.

I shall leave aside, for the time being, the other points which are of lesser importance.

In spite of the disagreements which separate me from Francis Dvornik, I highly appreciate the value of his book, which I consider the most important work on the Photian schism to have appeared since Hergenröther and as essential reading for anyone who wishes to study this great historical problem.

* * *

[1] Byzantion, 8 (1933), 301-325.

[2] One article Grumel may be referring to is his “Le «Filioque» au Concile photien de 879-880 et le témoignage de Michel d’Anchialos,” Échos d’Orient 29 (1930), 257-264; another, perhaps, is his “Y eut-il un second schisme de Photius?” Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 22 (1933), 432-457.

[3] A reference to V. Grumel, “Photius et l’addition du Filioque au symbole de Nicée-Constantinople,” REB 5 (1947), 218-234.

[4] Euthymius I served as Patriarch of Constantinople from the year 908 to 911; Euthymius II, from 1410 to 1416. I do not know to which later study Grumel is here referring.

The Communio article

October 29, 2009

I finally have some good news to report. Today I received an e-mail from the Managing Editor of the journal Communio, informing me that the Summer 2009 issue is now, at last, in print, and that they have decided to feature my article on “John Bekkos as a Reader of the Fathers” on their website. A link to the website, showing the contents of their current issue, is http://www.communio-icr.com/latest.htm; a permanent link to the article, in PDF format, is http://www.communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/gilbert36-2.pdf.

I was away most of the past two weeks in Chicago and Washington, D.C., attending two conferences: in Chicago, the annual meeting of the Orthodox Theological Society in America (June 12-14); in Washington, D.C., the twelfth annual Orientale Lumen conference (June 16-19). There is much that could be said about these two conferences, and, since I took over 50 pages of notes at them, I have a fairly good recollection of what took place. But let me leave that for some other occasion.

During my absence, I found another comment from Photios Jones on the post St. Maximus on the filioque. In his comment, Mr. Jones supplies a link to a translation, on his blog, of a passage by Anastasius the Librarian (a ninth-century Latin writer, sometime papal librarian and translator of Greek, deeply involved in ecclesiastical politics at the time of Photius); he further informs me that Anastasius the Librarian supports his reading of St. Maximus’s passage as against mine, and that “it seems odd that he would contradict his own tradition if Maximus wasn’t quite getting them right.”

I should note that the passage from Anastasius the Librarian is also cited by Jean-Claude Larchet, in his critique of the 1995 Vatican “Clarification” on the Filioque (the “Clarification,” it seems, can no longer be found on the internet). It serves as the clinching text in support of Larchet’s claim that the common doctrine of the Churches, during the first millennium, was Photius’s: if the Holy Spirit can be said to “proceed,” in any way, “from the Son,” this refers strictly to a temporal sending.

I don’t agree with this reading of the patristic evidence. But that disagreement obliges me to give some account of why Anastasius the Librarian says what he does.

First, before I give my own reading of the evidence, let me translate a couple of passages from an old warhorse of Catholic polemic, Fr. Martin Jugie. He was one of the great scholars of Eastern Christianity of the twentieth century, although, by current-day standards, he would be judged insufferably hostile and condescending towards the Orthodox Church, which he routinely referred to as “ecclesia graeco-russa” since he denied that it was in fact theologically orthodox. He wrote in French and in Latin; except for a book on Purgatory, nothing of his has been translated into English. Perhaps that is just as well. But let me, in any case, render a couple of passages here, in which Jugie comments upon Anastasius the Librarian’s text.


Martin Jugie, De processione Spiritus Sancti ex fontibus revelationis et secundum Orientales dissidentes (Rome 1936), p. 185, n.:

By another method the Greeks and Russians [Graeco-Russi] endeavor to draw St. Maximus to their own side. For an interpretation of Maximus’s words in the Epistola ad Marinum has come down to us from Anastasius the Librarian, which, in the published editions, goes like this:

“Furthermore, we have translated, from the letter of the same St. Maximus addressed to the priest Marinus, a passage concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit, wherein he notes that the Greeks had brought up a charge against us to no purpose, since we do not claim that the Son is cause or principle of the Holy Spirit, as they suppose; but, being not unaware of the unity of substance of the Father and the Son, we say that, in just the way he proceeds from the Father, in that very same way he proceeds from the Son, taking ‘procession,’ doubtless, in the sense of ‘mission.’ By this pious interpretation Maximus instructs those who are unlearned* in the two languages to be at peace, since in fact he teaches both us and the Greeks that, in one way, the Holy Spirit does proceed from the Son, and, in another way, he doesn’t, while he points out the difficulty of expressing the idiom of one language in that of another.” Collectanea ad Joannem Diaconum, PL 129, 560-561 and PG 91, 133.

From Anastasius’s words, “taking ‘procession,’ doubtless, in the sense of ‘mission,’” certain Greek and Russian theologians infer: (1) the Latins at that time, namely, from the seventh to ninth centuries, understood the formula a Patre Filioque procedit not as applying to the Spirit’s eternal procession, but as speaking of his temporal mission; (2) Maximus himself accepted the formula a Patre per Filium in that very sense. In truth, so far as Maximus is concerned, his own words sufficiently cry out against such an interpretation. And, among the Latins, it is only Anastasius whose words lead him into danger, if in fact he is confusing procession and mission, which, from the aforecited passage, is in no way certain. For, from the things which he immediately subjoins, namely, “in one way, the Holy Spirit does proceed from the Son, and, in another way, he doesn’t,” he shows that he has understood St. Maximus’s own explanation correctly. For this reason Combefisius, the editor of Maximus’s works, conjectures that it is very likely that, in place of missionem (mission), one ought to read emissionem (emission), by which word Anastasius would have wished to render the Greek word προϊέναι, from which comes the word πρόοδος, corresponding to the Latin word processio.

*This is Jugie’s reading. The Migne text reads “learned.”


In his Theologia Dogmatica Christianorum Orientalium, vol. 2 (Paris 1933), p. 441, Jugie comments more simply: “Textus sane est obscurus et talis qui suspicionem ingere possit de scientia theologica Anastasii,” “the text indeed is obscure and such as might well raise a doubt about Anastasius’s theological competency.”

Jugie points out that the passage is cited by the early-modern Orthodox writers Theophanes Prokopovitch (Tractatus de processione Spiritus Sancti, Gotha, 1772) and Adam Zoernikavius (De processione Spiritus Sancti a Patre solo dissertationes theologicæ decem et novem, Königsberg 1774-1776); like the editors at Energetic Procession today, these men sought to infer from this ninth-century text the existence of a continuous, anti-Augustinian triadological tradition in the Latin West. Jugie thinks the evidence is inadequate to prove that claim; I agree.


To give my own reading of the evidence: I think it is worth pointing out, first of all, certain historical facts about Anastasius the Librarian. What is chiefly remarkable about Anastasius’s ecclesiastical career is that he combined deep erudition with utterly unscrupulous ambition; in that respect, he was not unlike his Greek contemporary, St. Photius the Great. He was the greatest Greek scholar in Rome of his day; and, although he had been excommunicated twice, once for having had himself elected antipope, and once on the charge of being an accomplice to a murder, he was nevertheless an indispensable man to the popes of the 860s and 870s, who had no one else they could turn to for maintaining diplomatically sensitive communications with the Byzantine Church and State. He took part in the anti-Photian council of Constantinople in 869-870, and his Latin translation of that council’s proceedings is the only version that has survived. He was, at first, a virulent opponent of Photius; but, when the political winds changed, and Pope John VIII proved willing to recognize Photius in order to solicit Byzantine help against the Arab threat upon the Italian mainland, Anastasius changed his tune, and maintained with Photius a friendly correspondence.

So the first thing to bear in mind, when assessing this text by Anastasius the Librarian, is that it is not a text by your average hoi polloi Latin. It is a text by a grecophone Latin, who had a fairly good knowledge of what contemporary Greeks thought of things. The second thing to bear in mind is that, according to Arthur Lapôtre, De Anastasio Bibliothecario sedis apostolicæ (Paris 1885), p. 332, the Collectanea ad Joannem Diaconum, from which this passage is taken, was written by Anastasius after the year 874. This was at a time when John VIII was already pope; presumably, attitudes towards the Greek Church were already changing.

The combination of these factors seems to me sufficient to account for Anastasius’s language in this letter. Anastasius is the representative here of those Latins at Rome who are concerned to patch things up with the Greek Church as soon as possible. It may be that Jugie is right, that Anastasius really wrote emissionem, to correspond to Maximus’s word προϊέναι. In that case, Anastasius would be simply glossing Maximus’s point, that προϊέναι (“coming-forth”) is how one should translate the Latin procedereprocedere, when used of the Spirit’s relationship with the Son, does not mean ἐκπορεύεσθαι, to “proceed” in the sense of deriving ultimate origin, but “proceed” in the sense of “existing through.” Or it may be that Anastasius in fact wrote missionem here. In that case, it seems to me, he is giving John the Deacon the current Greek interpretation of what is theologically acceptable: i.e., he is echoing Photius, with whom, by this time, he was on better terms.

In any case, the text from Anastasius the Librarian does not prove the existence of a longstanding body of Latin opinion that considered St. Augustine a trinitarian heretic. And if Anastasius were in fact condemning an Augustinian reading of the procession here, he would also be condemning all those popes who, for centuries, had on many occasions affirmed the Augustinian view. Here, for instance, is a text by St. Leo the Great:

“Spiritus Sanctus Patris Filiique … Spiritus non sicut quaecumque creatura quae et Patris et Filii est, sed sicut cum utroque vivens et potens, et sempiterne ex eo quod est Pater Filiusque subsistens.” “The Holy Spirit belongs to the Father and the Son… The Spirit is not like this or that creature which belongs to the Father and the Son, but [exists] as one who, with both of them, is living and powerful, and who exists eternally from that which the Father and the Son is.” (Sermo LXXVI, PL 54, 400).

In a letter to St. Turibius, bishop of Astorga in Spain, Pope Leo writes:

“…primo itaque capitulo demonstratur quam impie sentiant de Trinitate divina, qui et Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti unam atque eandem asserunt esse personam, tamquam idem Deus nunc Pater nunc Filius nunc Spiritus Sanctus nominetur; nec alius sit qui genuit, alius qui genitus est, alius qui de utroque procedit.” “Thus, in the first chapter it is shown what impious notions they hold concerning the divine Trinity, when they assert that there is one and the same person of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, as though the same God should at one time be named Father, at another time Son, at another time Holy Spirit; and as though there were not one who begat, another who is begotten, another who proceeds from both.” (Ep. xv; PL 54, 680).

Pope Leo III, at the beginning of the ninth century, writes the following to the Eastern churches:

“Leo episcopus servus servorum Dei omnibus orientalibus Ecclesiis. Hoc symbolum orthodoxae fidei vobis mittimus ut tam vos quam omnis mundus secundum Romanam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam rectam et inviolatam teneatis fidem. Credimus sanctam Trinitatem, id est, Patrem, Filium, et Spiritum Sanctum, unum Deum omnipotentem, unius substantiae, unius essentiae, unius potestatis, Creatorem omnium creaturarum, a quo omnia, per quem omnia, in quo omnia: Patrem a se ipso, non ab alio; Filium a Patre genitum, Deum verum de Deo vero, lumen verum de lumine vero, non tamen duo lumina, sed unum lumen; Spiritum Sanctum a Patre et a Filio aequaliter procedentem, consubstantialem, coaeternum Patri et Filio. Pater plenus Deus in se, Filius plenus Deus a Patre genitus, Spiritus Sanctus plenus Deus a Patre et Filio procedens….”
“The bishop Leo, servant of the servants of God, to all the Eastern Churches. We are sending you this symbol of Orthodox faith so that both you and all the rest of the world may hold to the right and inviolate faith in accordance with the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. We believe in the Holy Trinity, that is, Father Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, all-mighty, of a single substance, of a single essence, of a single power, Creator of all creatures, from whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things: the Father, from himself, not from any other; the Son, begotten of the Father, true God of true God, true light of true light, not two lights, however, but one light; the Holy Spirit, proceeding equally from the Father and from the Son, consubstantial, coeternal with the Father and the Son. The Father, complete God in himself, the Son, complete God begotten of the Father, the Holy Spirit, complete God proceeding from the Father and the Son….” (Cited from H. B. Swete, On the History of the Doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Apostolic Age to the Death of Charlemagne, Cambridge and London, 1876, p. 230.)

Texts like this could easily be multiplied. Thus, anyone who is going to maintain that Anastasius the Librarian counted St. Augustine as a trinitarian heretic is also going to have to admit that he counted Pope Leo the Great and many other subsequent popes as trinitarian heretics as well. Given the zeal with which the Roman Church guards its reputation for doctrinal purity, is it likely that, under those circumstances, Anastasius would have kept his job?

And the idea that the doctrine St. Maximus was defending in his letter to Marinus was a Photian one, not an Augustinian one, falls by the same token. If an eternal derivation of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son is the doctrine popes like St. Leo had been teaching, then that is the doctrine St. Maximus, who was defending Rome against its Eastern detractors, had to defend.

I would strongly recommend that those persons who continue to propose the thesis that Photian monopatrism was the universal and unquestioned doctrine of the undivided Church of the first millennium, except in those isolated places where the teaching of the impious Augustine muddied the pure streams of doctrine with heretical pravity, should read H. B. Swete’s aforementioned book, On the History of the Doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Apostolic Age to the Death of Charlemagne. Although it is nearly a century and a half old, it is still, in many ways, the best thing on the subject in the English language. It makes it very clear that the idea that the Son had some essential role in the eternal origination of the Holy Spirit from the Father was pretty much common currency among Christians, East and West, until about the middle of the fourth century. By the end of the fourth century, a differentiation was starting to occur in the Greek-speaking East: while an essential connection of the Spirit with the Son in the Spirit’s origination was being affirmed even more strongly than before among theologians connected with Alexandria, theologians of the school of Antioch, followers of Diodore of Tarsus, reacted against this, and began issuing statements directly denying that the Son was in any sense the origin of the Holy Spirit’s hypostasis. Photian monopatrism could be said to make its first unambiguous appearance in the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia. This is not theory; one simply has to look at the texts to see that this is true. Swete’s book gives a good, balanced collection of them; if one cannot read the Greek and Latin, then read instead his book The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church (London 1912), which gives most of the same texts in translation. But the theory that holds that the Latin West was latently anti-Augustinian, or that it was some anti-Augustinian “true believers” that St. Maximus was defending when he defended the Filioque usage in his Letter to Marinus, is about as empty-headed a reading of Christian history as any I have yet encountered, and the single testimony of Anastasius, the librarian, Greek interpreter, schemer, and would-be pope, does not suffice to change my mind.

Notes

January 10, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a little after this:

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

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

* * *

Footnotes :

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

Occasional writing

November 24, 2007

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry Chadwick on Bekkos

November 8, 2007

From: Henry Chadwick, East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church. From Apostolic Times Until the Council of Florence (Oxford 2003), pp. 250 f.

“Michael suddenly found himself a highly intelligent supporter and convert to his cause in John Bekkos, whose prison studies of Cyril of Alexandria showed him to have good authority in a Greek father of high standing using the language of Filioque. His florilegium defending the Filioque had 123 citations from Cyril. Against the anti-unionists’ appeal to the Mystagogia of Photius, Bekkos’ studies, especially in the Acts of the Council of 879 convinced him that Photius’ arguments against the Filioque were coloured by personal resentment against Nicolas I and Hadrian II (with some of their successors), and that his acceptance of communion with Rome in 879-80 without demanding of the papal legates any formal disavowal of western heresy betrayed recognition of this truth. For anti-unionists Photius was a heroic saint monstrously maligned, whose troubles were simply caused by Roman ambition in Bulgaria. Bekkos’ argument that Photius had been in the wrong in the displacement of Ignatius as patriarch and that his character was deeply flawed aroused profound anger; this was deemed worthy of synodical anathema (after the emperor Michael’s death). It was to become important to Orthodoxy to put Photius on a pedestal as faultless, so to repel the dangerously plausible thesis of Bekkos that the Filioque was no more than a pretext for wrongfooting Rome, and therefore that the schism had no justification.”

Ibid., pp. 252 f.

“…With Michael’s death (11 December 1282) and the accession of his son Andronicus, Bekkos’ fall was a matter of days. He was tried (unedifyingly) and imprisoned for the remaining fourteen years of his life. But political factors had already ruined the peace process of Lyon.

“The Filioque was the only dogma on which the Council of Lyon gave a ruling. Bekkos and his emperor had a strong case for contending that this issue was secondary or even marginal: was the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son or through the Son? But Bekkos was no Latinizing theologian; his ecclesiology was fully Byzantine. He regretted putting the Filioque into the liturgical creed, but thought it legitimate theology….

“A retrospective judgement on the exchanges before, at, and after the Council of Lyon has to notice the degree to which the Latins and Greeks could each conceive of union and communion only if the other were wholly converted to the ‘opposed’ standpoint. Except in the writings of Bekkos, Greek scrutiny of theological issues was almost trivial. Those willing to make concessions offered only those which in their view cost nothing or, at least on the Greek side, were worth granting in order to save the eastern empire. Bekkos himself felt that there could be no alteration of Greek customs such as chrism being given by presbyters, consecration by invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiklesis), and leavened bread in the eucharistic liturgy. The notion that the bishop of Rome’s Church is ‘more orthodox than ours’ he thought false. The Latin Filioque was capable of acceptable explanation, but Bekkos did not think it should be inserted into the creed at the Greek liturgy. The Latin purgatory was also unobjectionable. The crux for Bekkos lay in recognition that Latins and Greeks could share the same faith and express it in different idioms—not a widely held view on either side of the divide. Yet some such understanding was implicit in the shared proposition that the great Fathers of the ancient Church, both Greek and Latin, enjoyed consensus. A few years after the Council of Lyon, Duns Scotus (Ordinatio I d. II n. 9) could write that the contradiction between Greeks and Latins concerning the Filioque is more apparent than real. No one could treat the doctrines of Basil, Gregory, Cyril, Jerome, Augustine, and Hilary as heretical.”

A note on Dvornik

November 8, 2007

In response to a request for information from Susan Peterson, I posted yesterday a rather long discussion of Francis Dvornik’s interpretation of Photius, amounting almost to a short book review. If anyone wishes to read it, it is found among the Comments to the posting Bekkos on Photius’s motives.

John Bekkos, De pace ecclesiastica. Translated from the Greek text in V. Laurent and J. Darrouzès, eds., Dossier Grec de l’Union de Lyon (1273-1277) (Paris 1976), pp. 435-437.

As for the historical account, to speak of it concisely, the course of events went like this. The patriarchal throne was adorned by Ignatius, a man who had attained to such a state of holiness that, to this day, his memory is celebrated in the Church according to the dignity allotted to those who have been well-pleasing unto God. Photius had his eyes on the throne; but, although he was a man of eminent culture and not ignoble with respect to wisdom, still, he did not do well to thrust off him who sat upon the throne, and to install himself there. Ignatius refers an account of the violent act to Pope Nicholas, who at that time adorned the apostolic see. There followed the requisite defense of the wronged party by the holy defender, a defense of which the saint surely was in need. A letter came to Photius enjoining that he restore to the victimized man his honor and his see. The letter provokes Photius’s anger — and why wouldn’t it, since it did not allow him free enjoyment of the things he coveted? — he conceives a grudge against the Roman Church, but, nevertheless, he does not yet allow the birthpang to break forth, but he still holds the wicked embryo of dissention in his belly; and, while he remains suspended with hopes, he takes counsel with himself in this way: either, if he should attain his desires’ object, to let his heart’s embryo die unformed; otherwise, if he should fail of this, to let the baby loose and bring forth the offspring of strife unto the manifest division of the Churches — which in fact took place, to the destruction, alas! of our nation and our sovereignty.

For after he had sent Pope Nicholas his epistolary greetings, and had seen that the latter’s lionlike stance against injustice was not weakened by foxy stratagems, Photius roused himself to make a defense; and, since he had no means of defending himself before this pope who so troubled him — for what means had he to take action against the pope’s own person, when he could offer not the slightest resistence because of the immense distance? — he conceives a mutual war between the two Churches and kindles an unflagging conflict between them. And how was this to be done? Knowing that the Italians’ addition of a word to the Creed had taken place quite some time before, as the letter of the great Maximus to the priest Marinus of Cyprus testifies, and knowing, furthermore, all the other customs, adapted to their own society, wherein they appear to differ from us, and tacitly accepting all these things, not, perhaps, out of any generosity towards the Romans, but simply because it was right — if indeed it was right for him to follow in the steps of all those who, before him, welcomed peace with the Romans — after the outbreak of animosities (or rather, of this God-loathed mania, to give it its more proper name), he trots out all these matters as so many legal infractions, and, lumping them all together into a single, composite portrayal, by means of a circular letter he posts up this said, composite portrayal like a poster in the eyes of the churches throughout the civilized world.

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