The following translation is a work in progress. I am offering here only the first twelve paragraphs of this oration; later, I will add other sections, and will eventually, for ease of access, publish the whole thing as a page on the side bar of this blog. I began translating Blemmydes during the depths of the recent covid lockdowns; his influence upon Bekkos is indisputable, although there is a large debate over the question of whether Bekkos read him correctly. According to Pachymeres, Blemmydes’s two Orations on the Holy Spirit, written in the 1250’s, were given to Bekkos to read while he was in prison in 1273, when his answer opposing Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos’s plans for union with Rome incurred the wrath of the latter. These orations evidently played a large role in changing Bekkos’s mind and shaping his views about the procession of the Holy Spirit and about the legitimacy of the emperor’s proposed ecclesiastical union.

Blemmydes is a complex writer, and his comments at the beginning of this discourse might well lead one to think that he expresses his views on the subject at hand with some guardedness. For, on the one hand, he states very explicitly that the Latin teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit, the teaching that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, is wrong and even a heresy; on the other hand, he both states that the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son is a common teaching of the Fathers which none of them denied and that “from the Son” and “through the Son” are linguistically interchangeable. One should also observe that Blemmydes devotes some attention to the meaning of the patristic expression that the Spirit “appears through the Son”; Blemmydes explicitly says that “appears” implies existence (note the very end of this translation: “‘to appear’ and ‘to proceed’ mean the same thing”). At any rate, I am not convinced, as are some contemporary commentators (e.g., M. Stavrou, Th. Alexopoulos, D. Makarov), that Bekkos thoroughly misread Blemmydes, and that the most authentic and accurate interpretation of Blemmydes’ pneumatological thought was that which was given by Gregory of Cyprus, with his doctrine of an eternal, non-hypostatic, non-existential manifestation of the Spirit through or from the Son.

I translated the following from Laemmer’s 1864 edition, which is readily available online (the bracketed numbers give Laemmer’s pagination, with links to the pages). Later, I consulted Michel Stavrou’s recent Sources Chrétiennes edition of the discourse: Nicéphore Blemmydès: Oeuvres Théologiques, Tome II (Paris 2013), pp. 74-153. In the enumeration of paragraphs, I follow Laemmer, who himself is reprinting the 1652 edition of Leo Allatius (which can be read here).

Note: Early in this discourse, Blemmydes makes extended quotations from two earlier works, the Sacred Arsenal of Andronikos Kamateros and the Dialogues of Nicetas of Maroneia. Both of these works have now appeared in critical editions by Alessandra Bucossi, which unfortunately are not available to me.

One further comment: Because Blemmydes is a very subtle writer, and may possibly be observing some distinction in his use of different terms for “from,” I have tried here to reflect this usage by consistently translating the Greek word ἐκ as “out of,” reserving “from” for other words like παρά. Although this results in occasionally unidiomatic English, it seemed to me worth doing, for the sake of accuracy.

From the most holy and most philosophical among monastics, the presbyter Sir Nikephoros Blemmydes, to Jacob, Archbishop of Bulgaria: First Oration, demonstrating through patristic texts the theological teaching that the Holy Spirit is through the Son and from the Son


There is an ailment which afflicts me, which I shall relate; for in fact my address is directed to a sacred healer, and to as many as share with him the same science. I shall speak freely to the wise, and no fear shall cause me to hide my train of thought; for either a confirmation or a correction would be brought to the things I am about to say by your irreproachable judgment. But I hesitate [L109] when speaking to the unwise, and especially when I make some pronouncement concerning God; for I fear that they will misconstrue it, and will, for this reason, view my discourse with some dangerous suspicion. And if the unwise should also possess a love of contention, in that case I am utterly reluctant and hesitant to speak. For just as no one should give heed to a man who speaks about divine things boastfully and without due consideration (for it is necessary that theology be handled with fear, so that precarious matters be not pushed towards destruction), in a similar way one should oppose and dismiss anyone who hears a matter just for the sake of arguing against it, and with naysaying as his sole aim. For acrimony, an evil joy, muddies and mixes up the truth. Moreover, if many tongues agree in making the same point, how would they not, in their multitude, appear to prevail over one that says something different? And again, if some of them are in positions of authority, how would it go well with someone who, for the truth’s sake, contradicts them, and that openly?

2. Given that my attitude and feelings on these matters are such, and since the present address is directed towards wise men who seek and pursue the peace which is in Christ, I shall speak freely and openly concerning the proposed matter of inquiry. And this is, whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, [L110] or is instead directly from the Father, not through the Son. Now the fact that many of our august teachers handed down the first of these as a tradition, but none of them the second, I suppose will be acknowledged by every man familiar with the sacred writers, who is guided by them in uprightness. And it is no less than this about which we have already made some preliminary remarks in three epistles.

3. But while the lack of a clear occurrence of this expression in the gospels is taken by many people as a ready excuse for opposing it, this absence by no means implies that the dogma is unacceptable; the high [L111] credibility of those who have asserted it in their theological statements proves this. For, as the Theologian states in his Invectives, “we are not permitted to disbelieve the things said by godbearing men, but we must take their trustworthiness as a demonstration stronger than any rational or antirational power.” For the same one who inspired the evangelists inspired also the rest of the divine teachers, and the writings of the saints are utterances of God.

➔ Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 4.102; PG 35, 637 B.

4. But the claim that these writings have been corrupted by the Pneumatomachians is stupid, since the confession that the Holy Spirit is, by way of emanation, from the Father through the Son in no way at all gives support to that heresy; rather, quite the contrary, it both overthrows it and demolishes it. For, by the one teaching, the Spirit is blasphemed [L112] as a creature, but, by the other, the Spirit is proclaimed to be out of the very substance of the Son, and consubstantial with the Father and the Son. And what likelihood would there be that so great mischief should befall, simultaneously, the sacred books of so many of the saints throughout the world, and that thus there should have come about a universal corruption of the writings of the great fathers, and that no one of former times should have made mention of this outrage? No, no, it is not so. Such an idea is the invention of a sick mind.

5. And why is it that all those who, after the schism and the separation, polemicized against the Romans opposed, as far as they were able, the claim that the Spirit is substantially out of the Son, but not at all the claim that he is from the Father through the Son? Rather, indeed, the more learned among them both manifestly promoted this claim and, on the grounds of this, sought to refute the teaching “out of the Son.” And that this is in fact the case we learn from the book The Sacred Arsenal; and that this book was held in high esteem by the experts among the learned men of that time, [L113] and that it was much in demand afterwards, even to the present, and that no one, not even among those who are completely shameless, has ever dared to wag his tongue against it, since it very forcefully opposes the Spirit’s emanation from the Son — all these things the facts themselves clearly proclaim.

In this book, the Romans, following the rules of debate, introduce a saying from the most wise Cyril, presenting it in support of their own dogma; it goes like this:

“The Spirit is in no way changeable, or, if he is so infirm as to change, the mockery will reflect back upon the very divine nature itself, since of the God and Father and, indeed, also of the Son is the Spirit who comes forth substantially out of both, that is, out of the Father through the Son.”

➔ Cyril of Alexandria, De adoratione, I, PG 68, 148 A.

So then, let us carefully observe what reply is made to the Romans.

This blessed father Cyril, cutting off beforehand the many pretexts of our speeches, brought a clarification to the sense of an ambiguous locution. [L114] For, in saying that the Spirit comes forth substantially out of both, he straightway added the clause, “that is, out of the Father, through the Son.” Now, the term “through” included in this supplementary clause [implies] nothing else than that the Spirit comes forth out of the Father, not also out of the Son. For if the latter were the case, there would have been no need for the saint to make such an addition.

In response to this, the men of Rome say:

Then neither are we in error when, in line with this divine father, we say that the Spirit proceeds out of the Father and out of the Son, although we understand and interpret “out of” as standing in place of “through” with reference to the Son.

But (they say, moving on to refute these men) the conjunction “and,” added by you with reference to the Son, does not allow you to say such things; for it plainly demonstrates that, when you say that the Spirit proceeds out of the Father and out of the Son, in whatever sense you take “out of” in the case of the Father, you both understand and speak this term in the same sense in the case of the Son. Therefore, either you are claiming that the same meaning “out of” applies with reference to “both” (that is, to the Father and to the Son) — and how are you not in opposition to the divine father, who expressly takes “out of” as applying to the Father, and “through” as applying to the Son — or else with reference to “both,” you are taking “out of” as equivalent to “through,” and are saying that the Spirit proceeds through the Father and through the Son; and, accordingly, you imply that there is someone else out of whom the Spirit is said to proceed through these two. For since the same preposition is to be employed in one sense in the case of the Father and in another sense in the case of the Son, you are forbidden from taking this unitive conjunction in a violent way, as we said before. For to say or to write, without any conjunction, “out of the Father, out of the Son,” is something you yourselves reject as barbarous and unintelligible.

➔ Andronikos Kamateros, Sacred Arsenal, Monac. gr. 229, f. 25.

So much, then, out of the Sacred Arsenal.

[L115] 6. But another of those who are distinguished and who was himself involved in dialogue with the men of Rome, since he had made it his intention to prove that the statements made by the saints are, according to the truth, in no way opposed to each other, even if they appear to be to those who are inconsiderate, said:

“They would be opposed if, while referring to the same thing, in the same respect and at the same time [cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics Γ.3, 1005b19-20], they were rejected by some of them and approved of by others.” Among such, therefore, is also Christ’s statement that the Spirit proceeds out of the Father (Jn 15:26); and perhaps all [L116] [the patristic texts would take Christ to be] referring [here] to the Father as to the first cause, and attribute the Spirit’s procession to him. And Athanasius the Great spoke in this way:

“The Spirit [is] out of the Father, as proceeding from the Word who is out of the Father.”

[Probably a paraphrase of a text which is cited more fully below, Athanasius, Epistola I ad Serapionem 20, PG 26, 577C – 580A. Same text had been cited by Andronicus Camaterus, Sacrum armamentarium, ch. 1, secs. 72, 73.]

And after the bishop of Nyssa said

“The Son is immediately out of the first, that is to say, the Father,”

he thereupon says:

“the Spirit is through the one who is immediately out of the first.”

➔ Gregory of Nyssa, Ad Ablabium quod non sint tres dei, GNO vol. 3,1 p. 56; PG 45, 133 B-C.

The wise Cyril plainly has said “out of both” (namely, the Father and the Son). But, going on to clarify in what sense he said “out of both,” he added, “that is, out of the Father through the Son.”

➔ Cyril of Alexandria, De Adoratione et Cultu in Spiritu et Veritate, lib. I, PG 68, 148A.

As for John of Damascus, who uses the expression “out of the Father” in the sense of out of the primal origin and the first cause, he says that [we do not say] “out of the Son” in the sense of out of the first cause, and he does not prohibit the expression “out of the Son” in the sense of out of him who is immediate, or through him who is immediate. For the preposition “through” (διά) and [L117] the preposition “out of” (ἐκ) have an identical force. And this is both a habitual usage of Scripture itself, and something that was not unknown to the holy fathers.

➔ John of Damascus, De fide orthodoxa I.8 (PG 94, 832 B).

If then [one can say that the Spirit is] “out of the Son,” in the sense that he is out of the Father through the Son, and, similarly, [that he is] “out of both,” and [that he is] on the one hand out of the first cause, the Father, and on the other hand out of him who is immediate, the Son, which things are said by Athanasius the Great, by Cyril the Great, and by Gregory of Nyssa, then the wise John would not be contradicting them, but would himself also say that, in this sense, the Spirit is out of the Son. For he himself likewise says that [the Spirit is] through the Son, insofar as [the terms] “through” and “out of” are equivalent. But if someone were to say that [the Spirit] is “out of the Son” as out of the first cause, something which not one of the saints has said, he, too, would speak against this, and with a loud voice.

➔ Nicetas of Maroneia, Sixth Dialogue between a Greek and a Latin on the Procession of the Holy Spirit, ed. V. Giorgetti, pp. 379-381.

So much, then, for these matters.

7. Furthermore, we find many other more recent writers who, while they oppose the teaching “out of the Son,” postulate, in a very noble way, the teaching “through the Son,” in keeping with the account which we provided earlier. For this reason, I fail to understand what is the matter now with some people who do not uphold the Spirit’s coming-forth from the Father through the Son. But let us observe what sort of things Athanasius, worthy of his name (“Immortality”), [L118] teaches the bishop Serapion on this matter, by way of an epistle.

“Just as the Son is an only-begotten offspring, so, too, the Spirit, who is given and sent from the Son, is himself also one and not many, nor one out of many, but a unique, selfsame Spirit. For the sanctifying and illuminating Life of the one living Word, who is the Son, must be one, perfect and complete, being his energy and gift, which indeed is said to proceed out of the Father, since from the Word who is out of the Father it confessedly shines forth and is sent and is given.”

➔ Athanasius, Epistola I ad Serapionem 20, PG 26, 577C – 580A.

8. Some people cling to the expression “shines forth,” and say that it is indicative of manifestation, not of existence: for, they say, the term “proceed” had already indicated existence. So then, since it is on the grounds that the Spirit is manifested from the Word that he is said to proceed from the Father, it would follow that, if there were not this manifestation, he would not be said to proceed out of the Father. What then? Prior to the coming-into-being of the creation (whether the sensible creation or the noetic one), to which the Holy Spirit had been manifested by the [L119] Word, would it not have been said that the Spirit proceeds out of the Father? For just as, if someone were to say that man is a sentient being possessing a soul because he is an animal, then, if someone else were to remove the cause, this would simultaneously remove what is inferred from it: in the same manner, if one were to dismiss the hypothesis of these people, then the inference from it, to the extent that it depends thereon, would also be destroyed.

9. And let these people still seek out a reason why the Spirit is said to proceed from the Father; but, as for us, arguing on the basis of the word’s true significance, we shall reason as follows. The Spirit comes forth from the Word, that is, through the Word, out of the Father, just as an illuminating radiance, through [a beam] of light, comes out of the sun. And, since this is the case, and the Word is confessed to be out of the Father, through this [Word] also the Spirit is said to proceed from the Father. And the teacher has employed the term “shine forth,” as corresponding to the illuminating Life. For this reason the saint has also named the Holy Spirit the living and subsisting energy of the Word, knowing as he does that the Word and Son is the subsistent power of God. But since energy is through power, and the power is confessedly out of God, for this reason the energy is out of God. For this is what the teacher [L120] has in mind when he says, “he is said to proceed,” since the procession of the Spirit is said and proclaimed to be out of the Father on account of its reference to the first cause. Therefore, as the energy of the Son and Word of God, the Holy Spirit eternally shines forth from him, which is the same as to say, through him, out of the Father; and as a gift he is naturally both sent and given.

10. But that “manifestation” in theology is indicative of passionless and timeless existence, Basil the Great also shows when he speaks in this way in the second book of his Antirrhetics:

“There similarly exists a presupposition common to all Christians, among those who are truly worthy of this title, concerning the fact that the begotten Son is shone forth out of the unbegotten light.”

➔ Basil, Adv. Eunomium II.25; PG 29, 629 A-B.

And again:

“From a good Father [there shone forth] a good Son, and from the unbegotten there shone forth the eternal light.”

➔ Basil, Adv. Eunomium II.27; PG 29, 636 A.

And Gregory the wise hierarch of the people of Nyssa speaks thus in the first book of his Antirrhetics:

“The Father is understood to be beginningless and unbegotten and always Father. And from him, in an immediate way without interval, [L121] the Only-begotten Son is understood together with the Father. And through him and with him, before any vain and non-subsisting concept interposes through the midst, straightaway the Holy Spirit is conjointly understood, not coming in second place after the Son according to his existence, as though the Son might be thought of without the Spirit, but being from, on the one hand, the God of all things, and having the cause of his being from the same source whence also the Only-begotten is a light, but shining forth through the true Light, he is not cut off from the Father or the Only-begotten by either interval or otherness of nature.”

➔ Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium I, 1 § 378; PG 45, 369.

Again, Basil the Great writes to him concerning the difference between hypostasis and ousia:

“But the Son, knowing through himself and with himself the Spirit who proceeds from the Father, [L122] and shining forth from the unbegotten light alone in an Only-begotten way, has no sharing with the Father with respect to any particularizing characteristic, or [L123] with the Holy Spirit.”

➔ Ps.-Basil (= Gregory of Nyssa), ep. 38.4, 29-34; ed. Courtonne, vol. 1, p. 85.

John the wise Poet in hymns to the most holy Mother of God:

“You, Mother of God, [L124] without conjugal intercourse gave birth to him who shone forth from the incorrupt Father.”

➔ Beginning of the theotokion of the 3rd ode of the canon for Sunday Orthros, 1st plagal mode (or, Tone 5).

[L125] On which the interpreter, held in admiration by many, who is also the first expositor of the sacred canons, says:

“The term ‘who shone forth’ [L126] indicates the supernal, passionless begetting of the Son. For as the brilliance comes forth passionlessly out of the sun, in the same way also the Son has passionlessly been begotten by the Father; and the Poet teaches, through the ‘shining forth,’ the Son’s being eternal and, in this respect, beginningless. For just as a light and the brilliance that comes from it are both simultaneous, in the same way, simultaneously with the thought of the Father, there is the thought also of the Son that accompanies it.”

➔ John Zonaras, an unpublished commentary on the Sunday canons of John of Damascus.

But these things, perhaps, go beyond what is necessary. For wherever a word is seen to admit of a well-considered and well adapted meaning, when taken in one sense, but is suspected of another meaning, one which involves much irrationality and lack of harmony, what need is there to seek any more for an explication of the truth in the latter?

11. But the claim that it is in order that no one should suppose that it is as an origin of the Spirit that the Son manifests the Spirit through his teaching and gives him as one connatural with himself [and] that, for this reason, the Spirit is said to proceed from the Father, is beside the point, but is easy enough to refute. For what kind of suspicion of “origin” would [the terms] “manifest” and “give,” as such, introduce? Or why, given that the Word has [L127] confessedly “appeared out of the Father,” should not all things that the Word possesses be confessedly out of the Father? And why, finally, should the Word be considered an origin of the Spirit? I know that, to such a vain disputer, you yourself might say, “Away with such misrepresentations!” Now as for the fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, Basil the Great also asserts this in many places, and in fact also in his Antirrhetics, where he says:

“How then should inseparable things be separated, the Word of God and the Spirit, who is out of God through the Son? If the Spirit is not believed in, then the Word also is not believed in.”

➔ Ps.-Basil, Adv. Eunomium V, PG 29, 737 B.

Concerning this also the most perceptive Epiphanius in his Ancoratus expresses himself in this way:

“Therefore the blessed Peter says to those who were with Ananias, ‘Why has Satan tempted you, that you should lie to the Holy Ghost?’ And he said, ‘You have not lied to a man, but to God.’ There the Spirit, who had been lied to by those who had purloined a portion of the tribute money, is God, out of the Father and the Son.”

➔ Epiphanius, Ancoratus 9, 2-3, ed. Karl Holl, p. 16 (PG 43, 32 C).

And again:

“The Father is Father of a true Son, who is wholly Light, and Son of a true Father, Light [L128] out of Light. Nor is it in the manner of a handiwork or creature that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, a third Light from the Father and the Son. But all other things are by position or opposition or appellation.”

➔ Epiphanius, Ancoratus 71, 2, ed. Holl, p. 88 (PG 43, 148 B).

These things, then, are said by the most perceptive Epiphanius, who employs the phrase “out of the Father and the Son” instead of “out of the Father through the Son.”

Likewise also the most wise Cyril in his Thesaurus is observed to speak in this manner:

“That which the blessed Moses maintained to have been breathed by God into the man, the same thing did Christ, renewing it in us according to his revivification out of the dead, breathe into his own disciples saying, ‘Receive the Spirit,’ so that, having been formed anew into the image that was from the beginning, we might appear conformed with our Creator through the participation of the Spirit. Since therefore the Holy Spirit, when he has come to be in us, shows us to be conformed with God and, again, comes forth out of the Father and the Son, it is manifest that he is of the divine substance, coming forth substantially in it and out of it.”

➔ Cyril of Alexandria, Thesaurus 34; PG 75, 585 A.

He comes forth, he says, out of the Father and the Son, that is, from the Father through the Son. [L129] And that beacon light of the people of Nyssa and of the whole world, in how many different ways does he clearly show that the Holy Spirit is out of the Father through the Son? To begin with, in the first book of his Antirrhetics, he says these things concerning the Spirit:

“Being again joined to the Father in respect of his being uncreated, he is separated in not being, like him, a Father; and, while joined with the Son in respect of being uncreated and in that he has the cause of his existence out of the God of all things, he stands apart, again, in that which is unique to him, in that he exists out of the Father not in an only-begotten way, and in that it is through the Son himself that he has appeared. And again, since the creation exists through the Only-begotten, in order that the Spirit might not be thought to have something in common with it by reason of the fact that he has appeared through the Son, the Spirit is distinguished from the creation in respect of his invariability and unchangeableness and his lack of need of any external goodness.”

➔ Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium I, 1, 280-281, ed. W. Jaeger, vol. I, pp. 108-109 (PG 45, 336).

12. Some people are puzzled about the expression “to appear,” saying, Perhaps it indicates manifestation, not hypostasis. Now in point of fact, even if they had failed to notice that the word is active both in voice and in meaning, they ought to have comprehended the signification of the word on the basis of [L130] other patristic texts, and not to have set themselves up as calumniators of the truth to no purpose. For, to begin with, Basil the Great says these things about the Spirit:

“… possessing in himself nothing extrinsically acquired, but eternally possessing all things as Spirit of God, and as having appeared out of him.”

➔ Basil of Caesarea, Adversus Eunomium PG 29, 772

And the most wise Cyril, concerning Christ:

“We say that the mediator of God and men is compounded, according to the scriptures, of our own humanity, which is possessed by him in his own unique way, and of him who appeared from God as Son according to nature, that is to say, the Only-begotten.”

➔ Cyril of Alexandria, De Incarnatione, PG 75, 1208 CD.

And again:

“The Spirit is proper to the Son, not only inasmuch as he is the Word that has appeared from the Father; but even if he is understood as having become man like us, it is manifest that the Spirit is God, the one who chiefly and naturally [receives] from him as God. But other things, as creatures, have appeared in an improper sense from the one from whom they are said to be, as from a Maker and Creator.”

➔ Cyril of Alexandria, De Incarnatione, PG 75, 1241 B.

So that, plainly, “to appear” is indicative of existence, the Scripture thus narrating concerning the Spirit that,

“just as the creator Word established the heavens, so also [did] the Spirit of God who proceeds from the Father, that is to say, from his mouth.”

➔ Basil of Caesarea, Homilia in Ps. 32; PG 29, 333 B.

And again:

“Nor is the Spirit, having appeared in an ineffable way from an ineffable mouth, foreign to the glory of God.”

➔ Ps-Basil of Caesarea, Homilia de Spiritu Sancto, PG 31, 1433 BC.

Does this not clearly show that, in the case of the Spirit, the words “to appear” and “to proceed” mean the same thing?

Interview with Erick Ybarra

November 28, 2022

I had a discussion yesterday evening with the Catholic blogger and author Erick Ybarra on his YouTube channel, mostly about John Bekkos. The interview can be watched at the link below.

I made the following translation of St. Gregory the Theologian’s oration On moderation in debates (often referred to by the Latin title, De moderatione in disputando) some 30 years ago, around the time I was writing my dissertation on St. Gregory’s poems. I was under the impression that I had published it earlier on this blog, but, it appears, I didn’t, or, if I did, I can no longer find it; if it is in fact hiding somewhere here among these miscellaneous pages and posts, it will not hurt anyone to have it appear again in public, in a somewhat revised, corrected form. I have spent the past few days checking the translation and adding biblical references. The oration was delivered by St. Gregory at some point during his ministry at Constantinople (379-381); the reference in §14 to his “presiding here in high pomp” and “legislating” on behalf of the people suggests that he had already been installed as archbishop, something which followed shortly upon Theodosius’s entry into the city (November 380).

Jean Plagneiux, in his book Saint Grégoire de Nazianze Théologien (Paris 1951)—a book which I regard as one of the best things on St. Gregory ever written—sees moderation, a sense of measure, as perhaps the saint’s defining characteristic: “Le sens de la mesure (μετριότης), tel est sans doute le trait caractéristique de la pensée de saint Grégoire : c’est l’esprit même de sa théologie” (Plagneiux, p. 214). And Oration 32 is the place in his writings where he is most focused upon developing and expounding this idea. The things he says here about moderating one’s speech in debates, and especially in theological debates, have lost none of their force or applicability to the human condition in the course of some 1,640 years; if anything, the advent of the internet and of social media has made St. Gregory’s admonitions in this sermon all the more timely.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 32: Concerning moderation in debates, and that not all persons, nor all times, are suited for theological disputation. (Text in PG 36, 173 A – 212 C.)

[173] 1. Since you have assembled yourselves eagerly, and the festival is full of people, and, for this reason especially, it is time to get down to business, come, let us spread out our cargo here before you; and if it is not worthy of your collective enthusiasm, at least it is no poorer than our abilities. For your enthusiasm calls for things great, while our abilities produce only what is moderate; yet it is better to bring forth what one can than to leave everything undone. For, in such matters, he who lacks ability is not taken to task, but he who resolves nothing is viewed as blameworthy, as much in divine affairs as in things human. I am a small, poor shepherd, with whom the other shepherds aren’t yet pleased (this, at least, is the moderate thing to say), though whether this is out of benevolence and right doctrine or out of mean-spiritedness and strife, I don’t know; “God knows,” [176] says the divine Apostle (2 Cor 12:2), and the day of revelation and the last day’s fire, in which all things of ours shall be judged and purified (cf. 1 Cor 3:13), shall manifest this clearly. Nevertheless, I shall try, as far as I am able, not to conceal my gift, nor to place my candlestick under a bushel (cf. Mt 5:15), nor bury my talent (cf. Mt 25:18), which is what I’ve often heard from you, reproaching me for inaction, and irritated at my silence; but, instead, I shall instruct you with words of truth, and put you straight in line with the Spirit. 

2. Where, then, shall I begin your preparation, brethren? And with what words shall I honor the athletes, whose feast is being held this day? What’s the first thing to say, and the most important? What is most beneficial to your souls? or what, at the present time, is most needful? Let us understand it in this way: what is the most beautiful thing in our doctrine? Peace. And I will also add that it is that which is most advantageous. But what thing is most shameful, and does most harm? Discord. And, having asked this question and given this answer, I will ask again a second one: What is it, above all, that destroys peace and brings on discord? In this way, just as in the case of illnesses, when we have cut off the causes and stopped up the ailments’ sources, or dried them up, we shall cut off also their running issues and their consequences. For it is impossible to know anything aright about a thing’s end, without having correctly examined its beginning. Do you then want to speak and make known the cause yourselves? Or will you let me, the physician, expose this thing and cure it? For I’m prepared, in fact, to speak with those who are willing, and am even more prepared to listen to those who have something to say. You do allow us, yes I know: for you do not, in fact, take us to be a worthless doctor in such matters, or an uneducated physician of souls—whether you conceive this thing wrongly or rightly. Do not be surprised if I shall speak to you a perplexing sermon: for it is indeed perplexing, but it’s true, as I may state; and you shall concur, if you stay and listen till the end, and don’t get all worked up (this is an accusation I lay against you), and get up and walk out on my talk, on account of your hot temper. 

3. Natures hot and mighty: that is the cause of all this trouble. Not fiery and mighty simply, however—for we should not denigrate fervor, without which nothing gets accomplished, whether with regard to piety or for the sake of any other virtue—, but noble natures, combined with unreason and [177] ignorance and that kindred evil, arrogance. For arrogance is ignorance’s child. For weakly natures, being sluggish and slow-moving towards both virtue and vice, do not incline much in either direction, as happens with the movements of people on narcotics. But noble natures, if reason educates and corrects them, are of great value towards virtue; but, when knowledge and reason are lacking, they are found to tend to the same degree towards vice. For a horse, too, must be of a fiery and noble kind if he’s to be victorious, whether in battle or at the racecourse; but he would be useless if he had not been broken in by the rein and, by a training sufficiently arduous, learned docility. 

4. And this it is, for the most part, which has torn limbs asunder, separated brothers, convulsed cities, enraged populations, roused up kings, set priests against laity and against each other, the laity against themselves and against the priests, parents against children, children against parents, men against women, women against men, disrupting everything that went by the name of kindness—pitting against each other servants and masters, teachers and students, the old and the young. And we have become, not one tribe and another, set apart, as Israel of olden times was reproached for being; nor Israel and Judah, two segments of one nation (and that a small one); but we’ve been separated by houses and by necessary associations and, so to speak, each against each, the whole settled world and the whole race of men, in every place through which the divine word has sped. And polyarchy has turned to anarchy, and “our bones have been strewn at the mouth of Hades” (Ps 141:7), and, since we had overcome our enemies without, we have had to be demolished by one another, and, like raving maniacs, who bite their own flesh without feeling it, be more gratified with evil than others are at peacemaking; it was necessary for us to regard misery as profit, and reckon destruction as “offering service unto God” (cf. Jn 16:2), and that we should be severed apart, swallowed up in flame—not the severing that is praiseworthy, but the deplorable kind, not the flame which purifies, but that which destroys. For it isn’t the piercing word, the sword of Christ (cf. Rev 1:16; Heb 4:12), which separates the faithful from the faithless; neither is it the fire which repels and sets alight—that is to say, faith, and fervor of spirit, consuming and devouring what is material—: but, in a different manner than of old, we are consumed and divided. 

[180] 5. It is this that has made, of the one Church, many parts, and has separated it, not into one Paul, one Cephas, one Apollos (cf. 1 Cor 3:4), here one who plants, there one who waters—but has placed in exhibition many Pauls and Apolloses and Cephases, from whom we get our names, rather than from Christ (that great and common name), and to whom we are said to belong. And if only that were all there was to say! but (I shudder to speak this) there are many Christs instead of one: the one who is begotten; the one who is created; the one who takes his origin from Mary; the one who gets absorbed back into that from whence he came so that he might exist; the man without a mind; the existing one; the one who is an appearance. Likewise there are many Spirits: the uncreated; the equal-in-honor; the creature; the force; the mere name. What we must acknowledge is one God, the Father, without beginning, and unbegotten; and one unique Son, begotten of the Father; and one unique Spirit, having his existence from God, who leaves being unbegotten to the Father, and being begotten to the Son—who are, in all other respects, of a common nature, of a common throne, of the same glory, and of the same honor, one with another. This is what is to be known; these are the things we must confess; and at this we should hold still, and leave the multitudinous nonsense and “vain and profane babblings” (1 Tim 6:26) to those who have time to kill. What is it that has stirred up these things? Hotheadedness lacking reason and ungovernable by knowledge and a ship of faith without a pilot. 

6. Since then, brethren, we know these things, let us not be sluggish towards the good, but “let us be fervent in the Spirit,” lest, little by little, we should “fall asleep in death,” or that, while we sleep, the enemy should sow in evil seed amongst our own (cf. Mt 13:25). For sluggishness is the housemate of sleep. Let us not be inflamed with senselessness and self-love, lest we become carried away, and fall outside the royal path. In both cases, we do one thing amiss, either lacking drive by reason of our sluggishness, or speeding out of control on account of hotheadedness. But, from both the one and the other of these dispositions, let us take all that is profitable; from the one, meekness, from the other, zeal; and may we avoid, in either case, everything destructive; do-nothingness, on the one hand, on the other hand, arrogance. That way, neither shall we be fruitless by falling short, nor shall we be in danger of going overboard. For both of these are equally useless, he who, out of lethargy, does nothing, and he who, on account of his hotheadedness, refuses to learn. The one does not draw near to the good, the other overshoots it and would be more correct than is correct. This, again, is something the divine Solomon well appreciated: “Decline not,” he says, “to the right hand, nor to the left” (Prov 4:27), lest via contraries you fall into the identical evil, sin. Nevertheless, what is by nature on the right he praises: “For God knows,” he says, “the ways that are on the right hand: [181] but those which are on the left are perverse.” How is it that he praises what is on the right and, again, leads away from what is on the right? It is from what seems to be on the right, and isn’t, clearly, that he means to lead us away. This is what he has in mind in another passage: “Do not be righteous to excess,” he says, “neither be overmuch wise” (Eccl 7:16). For, in the cases both of righteousness and of wisdom, the malady is the same: a warmth in action and in word which, because of excess, falls outside of good and virtue. Deficiency and excess cause an equivalent harm, just as addition and subtraction do to the canon [of Scripture] (cf. Rev 22:18-19). 

7. So let no one be wiser than is good, nor more legalistic than the law, nor more shining than the light, nor stricter than the canon, nor loftier than the commandment. And how shall this be? If we understand what is becoming, and commend the law of nature, and follow after reason, and do not scorn good order. “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath” (cf. Is 51:6), and consider how, and out of what, this universe came into being, and what it was before this fashioning, and what is the name (“kosmos”) we give to this all. In order all things were set in place, and he who placed them is the Word; all the same, it was possible that all things should have received their subsistence together and in a lump—for he who gave being to those who were not, and forms and features to those things which had come into being, was not unable to display and order the universe all at once—but a first thing and then a second is counted, and a third and all the rest, for this reason, so that order should enter in immediately, along with the creatures. 

8. Order, then, has established the universe. It is order that holds together both what is heavenly and what is earthly. There is order in intelligible things, and order in perceptible things; order among angels, order among stars, likewise in motion and in size and in the relations of things and in brightness. “There is one glory of the sun and another glory of the moon and another glory of stars” (1 Cor 15:41). There is order in times and seasons, which regularly come and go and by moderation make bearable what is harsh; there is order in the measures and intervals of day and night. Order is found in the elements which go to make up bodies; order has borne round the heavens, it has diffused the air, it has set loose the winds without releasing them utterly, it has bound up water in the clouds, not locking it there, but shedding it upon the face of all the [184] earth, in an orderly and equable manner; and these things are so not only temporarily, or for one time or one season, but, from beginning to end, these elements are guided and turned about upon the same route, being both fixed and mobile—fixed because of Reason (“Logos”), mobile because of flux. “He established them forever and ever: he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away” (Ps 148:6). So much as for what is fixed; and if something has come into being or will come into being, this pertains to flux. And, since order prevails, it is a kosmos, this universe, and its beauty doesn’t change. From disorder and disharmony, by contrast, have come thunderbolts in the air, earthquakes on land, at sea, tsunamis, in cities and houses, wars, in bodies, diseases, in souls, sins. All these are names, neither of order nor of peace, but of disturbance and of disorderliness. And the much-talked-about dissolution, which we await, let us not represent it to ourselves, brethren, otherwise than as a multiplication of disorder. For, as order unites, disorder will dissolve, when the universe is dissolved or transformed at the presence of him who put it together. 

9. It is order also which has fixed for all living creatures their generation, nourishment, and the habitation proper to each. No one has ever seen a dolphin plowing a field, or an ox gliding through the waters: just as no one has seen the sun at night, waning or growing full, or the moon burning brightly during the day. “The high mountains are for the badgers, the rocks are a refuge for the conies. He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows the time of its setting” (Ps 104:18-19). Night comes, man tucks himself in for sleep, the wild beasts roam about freely, seeking each that meat which is given to it by its Creator. Day comes, the wild beasts draw together, and man hastens unto his work (cf. Ps 104:20-23); and each of us makes room for one another according to a lawful order and by the reasonableness of nature. I will add what is greatest and most pertinent to ourselves. Order, by a compounding of the rational and the irrational, has constituted man a rational animal, and mystically and ineffably joined dust to mind and mind to spirit. And, so as to work a yet greater wonder in the thing which it has formed, it both preserves it and destroys it. For it introduces one thing, and leads out another, as with flowing waters; and in the mortal being it brings about immortality by way of decomposition. It has, again, distinguished us from animals [185] without reason, and has settled cities, and laid down laws, and honored virtue, and rebuked wickedness, and discovered arts, and fitted together marriages, and made our life kinder through our affection for the newborn, and (what is greater than the longing which is below and fleshly) it has instilled the longing for God. 

10. And what need is there to discuss each thing individually? Order is the mother of beings, and their safety; and it alone, supposing it could get a voice, would be able to speak rightly of the Word, the maker of all things. When all things were given being and subsistence from God, “I was beside him, fitting all together” (Prov 8:30); likewise when he prepared his throne upon the winds, and made strong the clouds on high, when he set the foundations of the earth and put the sources which are above the heavens stably into place (cf. Prov 27:29); and when, with the breath of his mouth, he bestowed upon them all power (cf. Ps 33:6). But within the churches, too, there is order—it is for the sake of this that I’ve made all this enumeration, and for a long time my discourse has been hurrying towards this point. Order has appointed it that some should be the flock and others the shepherds; that some command, and others be commanded; that one be, so to speak, the head, others the feet, others the hands, others the eyes, others another bodily part, for the good harmony and advantage of the whole: whether of those above, or of those below. And, just as with bodies, the members are not disconnected from each other, but the totality is one single body, composed of different members: all do not have the same activity, even though all, in the same way, have need of one another, bearing in mind the need of good will and concord, and hence also the equal value of unequal things: the eye does not walk, but it indicates the route; the foot does not see before itself, but passes from place to place and makes one change one’s position; the tongue does not receive sounds, for that is the ear’s job, and the ear does not speak, for that is the role of the tongue; the nose is sensitive to odors; the throat tastes food, as Job says (cf. Job 34:3); the hand is the organ which serves to give and receive; and the mind directs all. It is the same with us, who are the common body of Christ. 

11. For we are all one single body in Christ, each a member of Christ, and members of each other (cf. Rom 12:5). Some command and preside, others are led and directed; and these and those become one in the one sole Christ, and are fitted together by the same Spirit. Moreover, among those who are commanded, what a diversity there is! They are distinguished from one another by instruction, by ascetic endeavor, and [188] by age. And among those who guide, what a difference is observed! “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32)—it is Paul who says this, don’t doubt it—and God has placed certain people in his Church, in the first place, he says, as apostles, in the second place as prophets, in the third place as pastors and teachers (1 Cor 12:28): the first, on account of the truth, the second, by reason of the shadow, the third, by reason of the proper measure of usefulness and illumination. And the Spirit is one; but the gifts are not equal, because neither are the receptacles of the Spirit. To one, in truth, the Spirit gives a word of wisdom and of contemplation; to another, a word of knowledge or of revelation; to another, faith (cf. 1 Cor 12:8), steadfast, and knowing no doubt; to another, the gift of healing; the gift of aiding, that is to say defending; the gift of governing, that is, of disciplining the flesh; diversity of tongues; the interpretation of tongues (cf. 1 Cor 12:28). Behold the gifts, the greatest, and those which come second, according to the proportion of faith. 

12. Let us respect this order, brethren. Let us keep it. Let one be the ear, another the tongue, another a hand, another some other member. Let one teach, let another learn; let someone else “labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need” (cf. Eph 4:28) and who ask of him. Let one be first and be so designated; let another be reckoned righteous on account of his service; and he who teaches, let him do so fittingly. For it says, “Let two or three prophets speak” each in their turn, “and let one interpret. If another is enlightened, let the first give place to him” (cf. 1 Cor 14:29-30). “And he who learns, let him do so in obedience;” and he who provides for others, “let him do so with joy;” and he who serves, let him do so willingly. Let us not all be the tongue, what we are all most eager to be; let us not all be prophets, let us not all be apostles, let not all of us interpret (cf. 1 Cor 12:29-30). Is it a great thing to speak of God? It is a greater thing to cleanse oneself for God, inasmuch as “into a malicious soul wisdom will not enter” (Wisd 1:4). And we have been ordered to “sow unto righteousness and reap the fruit of life” (cf. Hos 10:12), so that we may be enlightened with the light of knowledge. And Paul wills that we be known to the Lord because of our love for the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 8:3), and be taught on account of being known; and this he knows is a better road to knowledge than opinion which puffs up (cf. 1 Cor 8:1). 

13. Is teaching a great thing? Nevertheless, there’s no danger in learning. Why do you set yourself up as a shepherd, when you are a sheep? Why do you become a head, when your part is to be a foot? Why do you seek the large but uncertain profits of the sea when, without risk, you can cultivate the land, even though your earnings [189] may be less? If you are a man according to Christ, if your senses are exercised, and if the light of knowledge burns in you, speak that wisdom of God which is spoken among the perfect (cf. 1 Cor 2:6), and is hidden in a mystery; and do this when it is your time to do so and it has been entrusted to you. What, in fact, do you have in yourself that has not been given to you, that you did not receive (1 Cor 4:7)? If, on the other hand, you are still a child, if your thought is not above ground level and you are unable to advance towards things that are highest, be a Corinthian! Be fed with milk (cf. 1 Cor 3:2)! What need do you have for more solid food, which your members, owing to their weakness, are unable to digest and transform into nourishment? Speak, if you have something better to say than silence (indeed, putting your lips in order is a thing that’s praised, as you know) (cf. Prov 10:19), but love quietness (cf. 1 Thes 4:11), when silence is more valuable than speech. Love saying certain things and hearing certain others, praising certain things and rejecting, without bitterness, certain others. 

14. You are unaware of what a struggle we are faced with, brethren, we who preside here in high pomp and who legislate for you, the multitude. Perhaps—and this is a thing worthy of lamentation—most of us ourselves fail to understand how every thought, every word and deed, is weighed by God: and not by God only, but by the mass of mankind as well, who judge lightly their own doings, but are exacting inquisitors of others’ affairs; they pardon more easily others’ worst crimes than our smallest blunders; and, though greatly unlearned, they find it easier to accuse us of impiety than to acknowledge their own considerable ignorance. You do not know what a gift from God silence is, and not to be under an obligation for every word, so that, as you please, you may choose to say one thing, avoid saying another, and treasure up or pay out speech and silence ad libitum. In fact, all speech is by nature weak, mutable, and lacking freedom because of the opposing argument; but when the question has to do with God, this applies all the more, insofar as the subject is greater, zeal is stronger, and the danger is more extreme. And how should we support our fear, or on what should we place our confidence? On our mind? our speech? our hearers? On all three rides danger. For it is hard to understand God, it is impossible to explain him, and to come across purified listeners is exceedingly difficult. 

15. “God is light” (1 Jn 1:8), and the most high Light; of it there reaches down to us only a small effluence, [192] a ray; this is the whole of our light, even if it seems to us surpassingly bright. But observe: he treads upon our mist, “he made darkness his covering” (Ps 18:11), setting it in-between himself and us, just as of old Moses placed the veil between himself and hardened Israel (cf. Exod 34:33): so that the darkened nature might not too easily see the hidden beauty, of which few only are worthy, and that we might not, having easily attained it, easily toss it away because of the ease of acquisition. Our light should consort with that Light which forever attracts, by desire, towards what is highest; and our mind, having been purified, should draw near to that which is most pure: some of it appearing now, some of it later, as a prize for virtue and for one’s inclining to it, or rather, being likened to it, here below. “For,” it says, “now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part, but then I shall know even as also I am known” (1 Cor 13:12). How great is our lowliness, and what manner of promise this is, to know God just as we are known! It is Paul who says these things, that great herald of the truth, that teacher of faith to the Gentiles (cf. 2 Tim 1:11), he who filled the vast circuit of his travels with the Gospel (cf. Rom 15:19), who lived for no one else but Christ (cf. Gal 2:20), who attained even to the third heaven, who viewed paradise (cf. 2 Cor 12:2,4), who yearned to be released, in order to attain to perfection (cf. Phil 1:23). 

16. Again, Moses saw but the back parts of God, through the rock (cf. Exod 33:22-23)—whatever these back parts were, and whatever was the rock—, and for these he importuned greatly, and then attained the promise: for he saw more than he had asked for, but there was more that escaped him than appeared to him. Now, this was Moses, who was a God to Pharaoh (cf. Exod 7:1), who was leader of so great a people, who displayed so awesome a power of signs. But as for you, what people have you fed from heaven (cf. Exod 16:13-14)? What water have you given out of a rock (cf. Exod 17:6-7)? What sea have you divided with your staff? What nation have you led through the deep, as over dry land? What enemies have you drowned in the sea (cf. Exod 14:16)? Whom have you guided by a pillar of fire and cloud (cf. Exod 13:21)? What Amalek have you defeated by prayer and by hands outstretched (cf. Exod 17:10)—a distant and mysterious prefiguration of the cross—so that your imperfect understanding of God should seem to you so useful and, for that reason, all things should be in commotion and carried up and down? And since I have mentioned Moses, haven’t you learned from him the fixed sequence of gifts and the rule of order? If then you are a Moses, advance with him into the interior of the cloud, speak with God, hear his voice, receive the law and be a [193] lawgiver (cf. Exod 19:3 ff.). If you are Aaron, go up with him, but stand nearby, outside the cloud (cf. Exod 24:1-2). If you are an Ithamar or an Eleazar, third in place after Moses, or one of the elders and of the seventy, stand yet further off, even though you are of the third rank. If you are one of the people and of the crowd, the mountain does not let you draw near: if a beast but touches it, it shall be stoned (cf. Exod 19:13). Stay below and hear the mere voice, and do this when you have sanctified and purified yourself, as it has been prescribed. 

17. And so that I may teach you by way of further examples, who was it who consecrated the hands of the priests? Moses. Who was the first of them to be consecrated? Aaron. And even before these things, who had to deal with matters in God’s presence? Who acted as his voice in the presence of the people? (Cf. Lev 16:2; Heb 9:7.) And who was it who entered into the holy of holies, but a single person? And did he go in all the time? No, not at all, but once a year, and when it was time to do so. Who bore the tabernacle, except the Levites? And these did so as it had been prescribed for them: some for the most precious things, some for things in second place, according to the worthiness of those who did the porting. And as it was necessary to guard this same tabernacle, who guarded it, and how? Some on this side, and some on the other; and there was nothing ill-defined or disorderly, not even in the smallest things. But as for us, if we happen to have gained a little reputation, or often not so much even as this, but, it may be, we have conned over two or three words of scripture, and done even this in a piecemeal and woolyminded fashion—there you have it, instant wisdom, and that tower in the land of the Chaldeans which so wonderfully divided the tongues; and in our insanity, we must set ourselves against Moses and become Dathans and Abirams, godless and arrogant (cf. Num ch. 16). Let us flee from the self-will of these men, and not imitate their mindlessness, nor receive their end. 

18. Would you like me to present you with another order, one which is to be praised, and is worthy of serving as a reminder and an admonition for the present? You see that, among Christ’s disciples, all of whom were exalted and worthy of election, one of them is called Peter and has the Church’s foundations entrusted to him (cf. Mt 16:18); another is the more beloved, and rests upon Jesus’ bosom (cf. Jn 13:25); and the others accept this preference. And there was need of three to go up into the mountain, so that Christ might be radiant in form and his divinity might be displayed and what was hidden by the flesh might appear naked. Who then went up with him? for it wasn’t all of them who beheld the miracle. Peter and James and John, who both were and were counted before the rest. And present at Christ’s agony and his withdrawing a bit [196] before his passion and praying, who were they? Again, the same. Such then is Christ’s preferment. But as for the rest, how much decency and order do we see! Here Peter asks a question, there Philip, there Judas, there Thomas, then again someone else, and neither do all ask the same question nor is everything asked by one, but each asks in part and one by one.—For that which he himself had need of, maybe you’ll say. But even then, how does it seem to you? Philip wishes to say something, and he doesn’t venture to do so on his own, but he goes and takes Andrew with him (cf. Jn 12:22). Peter needs to ask a question, and gives a nod to John, putting him forward (cf. Jn 13:24). What is there that’s harsh in this? Where is ambition? How could they have better showed themselves to be the disciples of Christ, the meek and lowly of heart, who became a servant on account of us his servants, and in all things rendered all glory to the Father, so that he might give us an example of right order and moderation? This is something we are so far from holding in honor that I would be content if only we were not the most arrogant of people, we who, no doubt, in matters great and ceremonious, make a display of this quality. 

19. Do you not know that humility is judged not so much in little matters—it could happen that someone could do it in little things by showing off, and by a false appearance of virtue—as much as it reveals itself in big ones. The humble man is, to my mind, not him who speaks about himself modestly in the presence of a few persons, and upon few occasions, nor again him who speaks humbly to his inferior; but he that speaks about God in due measure. He knows how to say certain things, while refraining from others, and acknowledging his ignorance upon yet others. He gives place in the word to someone to whom this mission has been confided; and he accepts that there should be somebody more filled with the Holy Spirit than himself, and more advanced in contemplation. He would be ashamed that, having chosen the simplest garb and diet instead of the fanciest, that when calluses on the knees, abundance of tears, fasts, vigils, sleeping on hard ground, weariness, and all kinds of macerations manifest our humility and our acknowledgment of our own feebleness—then, at that point, we should be tyrannical despots when it comes to speaking about God, that we should give way to absolutely no one, and arch our brows more than all the doctors of the law. In this area, it is humility which preserves safety, with good report.

20. “What then? Shall we keep quiet about God? Is it that which you are commanding?”—Let us thus insert one of these persons of excessive fervor. —“And on what should we speak more often than upon him? And what do we do with the text, ‘Your praise is always on my mouth,’ and ‘I shall bless the Lord at all [197] times’ (Ps 34:1), and ‘My gullet shall be occupied with truth’ (Prov 8:7), and ‘Behold, I will not restrain my lips’ (Ps 40:9)?” And our man will cite other words that have been proclaimed and defined, in the same manner. We need to come before this man with mild words, without harshness, and teach him good order, starting from that point. I do not invite you to remain mute, O man full of wisdom, but to maintain an attitude free of rancor. I do not invite you to hide the truth, but to teach it in a way that does not contradict the law. As for me, I am the first among those who praise Wisdom, who occupy themselves with divine words, or at least have a desire to be occupied therein; and I constrain myself to place nothing before this preoccupation, lest I should hear myself be called miserable by Wisdom herself, because I have scorned wisdom and instruction (cf. Wisd 3:11). Nevertheless, I shun unmeasuredness, and reprove insatiability. I accept being more than necessarily inactive, rather than being too active, if it is not possible to avoid both and to attain to the right measure. I accept being more lenient than is necessary, rather than being too harsh. As for you, you act a little as though, if I had forbidden you to overeat, you should say I had forbidden you to eat anything; or again, as though you should accuse me of praising blindness, because I had advised you to be careful where you look. 

21. If you have a word of understanding, answer, says the scripture, and no one will conceal you. If not, let a door of enclosure be placed on your lips (cf. Ecclus 5:12). How much more applicable are these texts to those who are eager to teach. If the moment has come for you, teach; if not, lock up your tongue, and open your ears. Apply yourself to divine things, but stay within limits. Utter the words of the Spirit, and, if possible, none others; indeed, utter them more often than you breathe. For it is beautiful and divine to stir ourselves ceaselessly towards God by the remembrance of divine things. But do this, bearing in mind what has been prescribed for you. Do not preoccupy yourself with the nature of the Father, with the origination* of him who is Unique, with the glory and power of the Spirit, with the unique divinity and unique splendor of the three, with the indivisibility of the nature, with the glory and hope of believers. Hold to those words on which you’ve been nourished; let disputation be the business of those who are wiser. It is enough that you have the foundation; let the architect build upon it. It is enough for your heart that it be strengthened with bread: leave gourmet foods to the rich. No one, if they have any sense, will blame you if you do not feed them with delicacies, but only if you do not set aside your bread or give a disciple of Christ or someone else a cup of water, when that is as far as you can go. Do not be quick to speak—that is Wisdom’s advice to you (cf. Ecclus 4:29)—do not compete with the rich, if you are poor, and do not seek to be wiser [200] than the wise. This also is wisdom: to know oneself, instead of lifting oneself up too high, such that one suffers the same thing as do those people who yell unrestrainedly, until their voices totally fail. Even if one is wise, it is better to show moderation and give place to another, rather than foolishly to overstretch yourself through arrogance. Let your zeal extend to the point of confessing your faith, if anyone asks you for this; but, for something beyond this, be more timid. In the former instance it is procrastination that is dangerous; in the latter case, it is being too quick. 

* οὐσίωσιν: more literally, substantializing.

22. Why do you find it so terrible if you do not prevail in every argument and have first place regarding every problem and in every single question, but if others show themselves to be wiser or bolder than you? Thanks be to God, that he both makes special exceptions, and knows how to save by those things which are common. And this is a marvel that pertains not just to matters of speech, but to the very fashioning of the world (if you have ever observed this). Precedence is seen not only in some creatures, but in all, while common is the gift of the one creation; in faith as well, what saves is not the property of the powerful, but of those who are willing. What is lovelier than air, fire, water, earth, the rains, sweet fruits and wild fruits, houses, clothing? Participation in these goods is common to all: to some more fully, to others partially. Yet, no one is such a tyrant as to exclude to himself enjoyment of these common blessings. “God makes his sun to rise equally upon all,” “he makes the rain to fall” upon the rich and the poor (cf. Mt 5:45). Common to all is the alternation of night and day; common is the gift of health; common is the end of life; common the proportions and gracefulness of the body; common the power of the senses. And perhaps the poor has more: in this sense, that he is more thankful for these things, and enjoys these common blessings with more pleasure than the powerful do, for all their superfluity. These things, then, are what is common, of equal value, making known God’s justice. But gold, and translucent stones, so much sought-after, and whatever is effete and fashionable in clothing, and the table, enflaming and maddening, and, in short, excess of belongings, a genuine pain for those who own them: this is the adornment of only the few. 

23. I see, again, the same thing to apply in the case of faith. Common are the Law, the Prophets, the oracles of the testaments, grace, being under tutors, perfection, Christ’s sufferings, the new creation, the apostles, the evangelists, the distribution of the Spirit, [201] faith, hope, charity which both reaches to God and comes from God: all these are given without measure, like the manna which once came to the thankless and unresponsive Israel (cf. Exod 16:14-15); but other gifts are given according to each one’s willing: elevation, illumination, here to a small extent, more fully in the hoped-for future. And the greatest thing: knowledge of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the confession of our first hope. What is greater than these? or what is more common? But if anything goes beyond this, even though, on account of rarity, it may be more precious, it nevertheless is only secondary from the point of view of its necessity. For that which is indispensable for living as a Christian is more useful than that which is the portion of only the few. 

24. One person is rich in contemplation, he lifts himself up above the multitude, he compares spiritual things with spiritual, he inscribes upon the tables of his heart the word which edifies all men: or rather, both that which edifies many, and that which edifies only a few, instead of everyone. He is not satisfied with being poor, and he penetrates into the depths. Let him go up, let him guide others, let him be lifted up in his spirit, even, if he wishes, to the third heaven as was Paul (cf. 2 Cor 12:2). Only let him do this with reason and knowledge, and let him not fall because of his elevation, nor find his wings melting away on account of the loftiness of his flight. What jealousy can attach to an exaltation worthy of praise? But again, what fall is comparable to that of someone who is carried away by his own elevation? He did not understand the fragility of this human uplifting; he did not know how much, having come to be highest, he is still far removed from the true heights. 

25. Another, by contrast, is of only a mediocre intelligence; his tongue is poor, he is ignorant of the by-ways of language, the sentences and enigmas of the sages, Pyrrho’s objections, or suspensions of judgment, or oppositions of propositions; the syllogistic solutions of Chryssipus; Aristotle’s fraudulent use of the art of oratory, or Plato’s counterfeit of beautiful language—which things have all been introduced perniciously into the Church, like the plagues of Egypt. The man of whom I speak has also something by which he may be saved. And thanks to what words is this? Nothing is wealthier than grace. “There is no need for you,” the scripture says, “to ascend into heaven, to bring Christ down from there; nor to descend into the abyss, to haul him up from among the dead” (cf. Rom 10:6-7) in making indiscreet enquiries, whether about the original nature or the final economy. “The word,” it says, “is near you” (Rom 10:8), this treasure is possessed both by mind and by tongue: the one by believing, the other by confessing. [204] What is more concentrated than this wealth? What is easier to put to use than this gift? Confess Jesus Christ, and believe that he is risen from the dead, and you shall be saved (cf. Rom 10:9). Righteousness, to be sure, is in faith, by itself; but complete salvation involves also confession, and adding freedom of speech to one’s recognition. As for you, you seek something greater than salvation. You look for glory, and the splendor of the hereafter. As for me, the greatest thing of all is precisely to be saved, and to avoid the punishments of the hereafter. As for you, you tread an unbeaten path, inaccessible. As for me, I walk upon the beaten path, that which saves many. 

26. Brethren, nothing would be more unjust than our faith if it were something that came only to the wise and to those skilled in speaking and in logical proofs; it would then be necessary that the common people should go without it, just as they go without gold and silver and all the other high-priced items here below which the crowd so hotly covets. Thus, what is out of reach and attainable only to a minority would be agreeable and acceptable to God, while that which is closer by and which the majority can grasp would be spurned and rejected by him. Even among human beings, people of true moderation would hardly allow such a thing, asking payment not according to ability, but satisfied only with things extraordinary. So much the less so God. For, among the many attributes which he holds before our admiration, none is so proper to him as that of being the benefactor of all. Do not belittle what is in common use; do not go chasing after novelties with the intention of making yourself admired by the crowd. “Better a small portion, with security, than a great one that is unsound” (cf. Prov 15:16): let Solomon teach you with this piece of advice; again, “Better the poor man who walks in his simplicity” (cf. Prov 28:6): this also is a proverb full of wisdom. The man who is poor in speech and in knowledge should apply himself to simple words: and if he holds to this, as to a small raft, he comes to salvation better than the one who, besotted with his crooked talk, unlearnedly boasts in the demonstrations of reason, by dialectical prowess “making void the cross of Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 1:17), a thing stronger than reason, because by the weakness of a demonstration the truth becomes devalued. 

27. Why do you fly towards the sky, when you are walking upon the soil? Why do you construct a tower, without having the means to finish it (cf. Lk 14:28)? Why do you measure the water in your hand, heaven in a span, and all the earth by a handful (cf. Is 40:12)? These immense elements: they cannot be measured, except by him who made them. Understand first of all yourself. Begin by understanding well what is at your disposal: who you are, how you were fashioned, and how you were composed so as to be the image [205] of God, and to be linked to what is inferior; who it was that set you in motion; what is the wisdom which is manifested in you, and what is the mystery of your nature; how it is that you are measured in a place, and yet your spirit is not trapped within boundaries, but, staying in one place, traverses all things; how the eye, which is so small, grasps so much, whether by admitting into itself, as it were, the perceived object, or by passing into this object; how the same being, thanks to the impulse of will, is both the principle of movement and the end of movement; moreover, what is movement’s cessation, what is the differentiation of the senses, and how does the spirit, by them, enter into contact with what is without and receive exterior things; how does the spirit perceive forms, and what is this ability to retain that which it has received (that is to say, the memory); what is the power of finding again what is gone (that is, recollection); how does a word, produced by one mind, beget a word in another mind, and how does a word communicate thought; how is the body nourished by the soul, while, by means of the body, the soul participates in the passions; how does fear stiffen, courage expand, anger tighten, and pleasure relax, envy consume, pride puff up, and hope make light; how does anger cause fury, and shame blushing, by means of the blood which in the one case boils and in the other case flows away; how do the passions imprint their marks upon the body; what preeminence is exercised by reason, and how does it direct everything and calm the movements of the passions; how do blood and breath hold sway over what is incorporeal, and how does the defection of these elements cause the soul to depart? Begin, O man, by understanding these things, or at least a part of them. And this is to say nothing about nature, the movements of the heavens, the order of stars, the co-mixture of the elements, the diversity of living things, the higher and the lower celestial powers, all that, in short, upon which the creating Word diversifies his activity, and the reasons for providence and for the world’s governance. And even then, I do not say, Be bold; but still, beware of letting yourself approach what is highest and surpasses your powers. 

28. All talk that is contentious and desirous of esteem: this is what leads most to quarrels over things that are greatest. And just as, with children, we correct their habits in their early years, so that they might shun wickedness later on, in the same way let us not appear boastful and uneducable in talking about little things, lest we make it a habit and get destroyed when we discuss things that are great. For it is easier to keep oneself from following wickedness from the start, and to avoid it when it first presents itself, than it is to cut it back and show oneself victorious over it once it has progressed: just as it is easier, also, to pick up a rock and hold it up than it is to lift up a rock when it is falling. And if you are insatiable, someone incapable of restraining [208] your own sickness, “practice these things, immerse yourself in them” (1 Tim 4:15): let your ambition spend itself on matters which are not dangerous. 

29. You won’t accept this, your tongue has no bridle, you cannot master your impulse; you have to be wholly mindless, and not submit to those who are foremost in power—even if their knowledge is beyond measure—and be greater than is good for you. But at least don’t condemn your brother or call his shyness impiety, or go off impetuously, insulting him or disowning him, you who claim to have the right attitude. But here, I ask you, show yourself to be as humble as you can be; here give precedence to your brother, without doing injury to yourself; for, in this case, to condemn and revile him is to cast him out from Christ and the one hope, and to cut away with the tares the hidden wheat—a wheat perhaps more precious than you yourself. But first set him straight, and do this mildly and with sympathy, not as an overzealous doctor nor one who knows only how to burn and cut; rather, reproach yourself and your own weakness. For, if you are jaundiced or suffer some other eye trouble, why do you regard the sun as obscure? Why, if you are seasick perhaps or drunk, and everything appears to be spinning, do you suppose that others suffer from the same delusion? It is necessary to face many vicissitudes, and endure a great deal, before one may condemn another person for impiety. 

30. It is not the same thing to lop off a plant, or an ephemeral flower, and a human being. You are the image of God, and you speak to an image of God: you who judge will be judged yourself (cf. Mt 7:1). Furthermore, you judge another’s servant (cf. Rom 14:4): it is another who gives him his orders. Examine your brother in this way, as one who himself is judged by the same standards. For this reason, do not be quick to cut off and reject the member; it is not clear whether by doing so you will not somehow wound the healthy part; but “reprove, rebuke, exhort” (2 Tim 4:2). You know the guidelines of healing. You are the disciple of Christ, the meek, the lover of man, who bore our own frailties (cf. Is 53:4; 1 Pet 2:24). If someone resists you once, show long-suffering; if again, don’t give up hope, there is still time for a cure; if a third time, do with human beings as would a compassionate farmer: continue to beg the Master not to cut off [209] or abhor his fruitless and useless fig-tree, but that he should change it and tend it and dung it round about (cf. Lk 13:8): that is, so that, by acknowledgment of faults and by manifest shame and a less honored way of life, the man may be set straight. Who knows if he won’t change and bear fruit, so that, on Jesus’ return from Bethany, he may feed him? 

31. Bear a bit with your brother’s bad odor—whether real or imagined—you who, with him, have been chrismated with the spiritual myrrh, which was compounded by the myrrh-maker’s art, so that you may impart to him something of your own good odor. This evil is not a serpent’s venom, so as to envelop you in pangs the moment you are struck, or thoroughly waste you, thereby giving you the excuse to flee the beast or kill it. But if it is possible for you, tend even to him; otherwise, you are at least secure in this, that you yourself take no part in his waywardness. His sickness is an unpleasant odor which your own good aroma may perhaps overcome and dispel. You might have quickly accepted something of this sort for friendship’s and consanguinity’s sake, just as Paul in his zeal dared both to reason and to speak: If it were possible, let Israel be drawn to Christ in place of himself (cf. Rom 9:3), because of his compassion. And often, truly, it’s from a mere suspicion that you would cut your brother off, and him whom you might have gained by your generosity, you destroy by your arrogance, that is, your own member, for whom Christ died. If then you are strong, says Paul when discoursing of meats (cf. Rom 14:15), and you take courage in the word and in genuineness of faith: all the same, edify your brother. Don’t destroy with meats him whom Christ honored with his common passion. For, though the present matter may be different, the word of exhortation is equally applicable. 

32. There is need that a law be established among us, as there was among the wise ones of the Hebrews of old, whereby certain of the holy books should not be made available to the young, as being unprofitable to them while their souls are yet unstable and too sensitive; just so, not to everyone nor at all times, but on certain occasions, and before certain people, should discourse about faith be permitted: to those, I would say, who are not totally small-minded and torpid in their reasoning, nor to those, again, who are too insatiable, who crave honors and are hotter than is fitting for religion. These should be set somewhere where, in that situation, they shall harm [212] neither themselves nor others; but liberty of speech should be had by those who are moderate in speech, who, in all reality, are well-ordered and wise. As for the multitude, they should be guided out of this road, away from the glossomania and the sickness which prevails nowadays, and be turned towards another, less dangerous kind of virtue, where both small-mindedness is less harmful and insatiability is more pious. 

33. If it were the case that, just as “there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, the Father of all, who is through all, and in all” (Eph 4:5-6), so there were one unique road of salvation, that, namely, through reason and contemplation, so that those who fell from this way would necessarily sin in everything and be cast away from God and from the hope that lies beyond, nothing would be riskier than to give such counsels or to follow them. But if, as in human affairs there are many different stations of life and careers, some greater, some lesser, some more splendid and others more invisible—if likewise in divine matters there is not one means alone of salvation, nor one sole way of virtue, but many, and, as it is said, “With God there are many mansions” (cf. Jn 14:2)—this dictum on everyone’s mouth—which is nothing else than to say, there exist many roads that lead there, some more dangerous and splendid, others humbler and safer: why then do we leave the safer routes and turn to this one alone, which is so risky and slippery and leads us who knows where? 

“But isn’t the same food appropriate for everybody, or do you set one kind for one and another kind for another according to the difference of ages and of habits? And isn’t the selfsame kind of life and discussion advantageous to all?”—It’s not I myself, surely, who would say such a thing or place myself on the side of those who speak thus. If therefore, young men and old ones, leaders of peoples and the led, single and married, you credit me at all, stop taking pleasure in excessive and useless quests for honor. But rather, when you draw near to God by your life, by your conduct, and by words that are not hazardous, you shall be fashioned by the truth and the contemplation that are to be found there in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory to all ages. Amen. 

Peace on Earth

December 18, 2021

I wrote the following on Facebook today, and thought it would be worth sharing here.

It is a week till Christmas; I am busy wrapping presents and writing cards. One thing I have repeatedly put in these cards is a wish for peace on earth, which the angels proclaimed at the birth of the Messiah (Luke 2:14). I would like to hope that peace may prevail in the coming year; but signs increasingly point to the probability of war, perhaps with Russia, perhaps with China, perhaps with both. Anyone who can view this possibility with equanimity or, worse, who supports such a war, is mad. And, in spite of much propaganda to the contrary, I am persuaded that the main cause of conflict is western expansionism, a desire among elites to seize global power while the West still has a tactical advantage. Those of you who know how to pray should be praying very hard, because a war between nuclear-armed nations would be a disaster without parallel that would eclipse all our current worries about COVID-19, and leave us little time to mourn our folly.

It was a foregone conclusion that the US will never agree to a security treaty of the kind Russia has proposed, because the NATO expansion — in contravention of the assurances given to Mikhail Gorbachev at the time of German unification that the alliance would not expand “an inch” beyond the Cold War era level in the late 1980s — is a long-term US strategy to gain unilateral advantage over Russia and tilt the global strategic balance in favour of the West, which would put Moscow on the defensive in its foreign and security policies.

M. K. Bhadhrakumar, “Spectre of war is haunting Europe,”, December 17, 2021.

There are perhaps worse ways of spending one’s time than making recordings of Holy Scripture. At some point, I hope to put more of these recordings together and post them on the blog; but, for the present, accept this as an offering for Advent or, if you prefer, for the Nativity fast.

Gregory of Cyprus’s doctrine of an eternal manifestation of the Holy Spirit through or from the Son is viewed by writers like Aristides Papadakis and Michel Stavrou as Orthodoxy’s definitive answer to Western pneumatology. John Bekkos, against whom this doctrine was explicitly formulated, not surprisingly saw it as incoherent. Since the question of the meaning of this doctrine is much discussed these days on online forums, I have translated this passage from John Bekkos’s Refutation of the book of George of Cyprus in hopes of making clearer what are some of his objections to it. The book critiques Gregory of Cyprus’s Exposition of the Tome of Faith against Bekkos; it probably dates to 1286 or 1287; Papadakis (Crisis in Byzantium, p. 143) says it was “written at the Cosmidion [monastery] before [Bekkos] was sent into exile.”

On a different subject: At some point during the past year, WordPress adopted a completely redesigned editor; presumably this was done in order to make posts more readable across different platforms (desktop, tablet, smartphone); however, it has made it much more difficult for me to typeset posts in the way I have previously done, using various fonts and sometimes two columns. I ask readers’ indulgence if the visual aspects of this blog are compromised while I attempt to learn the new system.

Translation of John Bekkos, Refutatio libri Georgii Cyprii 9; PG 141, 877B – 880B.

9. “For,” he says,

“the text of some of the Fathers which states that the Spirit exists through the Son and from the Son indicates in fact his shining-forth and manifestation thence; for, it may be acknowledged, the Paraclete himself eternally shines forth and is exhibited through the Son, in the same way as the light which, through a ray, shines forth from the sun. On the other hand, this also indicates the furnishing and gift and sending of him to us; but it does not at all indicate that he subsists through the Son and from the Son, and that it is through him and from him that he has existence.”
❖ Gregory of Cyprus, Ἔκθεσις τοῦ τόμου τῆς πίστεως κατὰ τοῦ Βέκκου, PG 142, 240 B-C.

Tell me, all you people, who that has a theological background has ever heard, from anyone who has gone before us, such a notion, that the Holy Spirit’s existing through the Son and from the Son should be taken in such a sense? He admits that the Spirit exists through the Son, he confirms that there is a textual witness which states that the Spirit exists from the Son; and, because he recognizes that the true sense of these texts lends us much aid in support of that peace of the Churches on account of which he has raised implacable war against us, he deems it in no way tolerable if he does not pervert them into an unhallowed sense.

First, as for what he says concerning the eternal manifestation through the Son, I am unable to discern if the eternal shining-forth of the Spirit through the Son means anything different than his eternal existence through the Son. Next, even if I should admit a distinction between these terms, I do not regard them as opposed in the way he says they are, in keeping with his own view. For since the chief end he has in view is the unmediated existence of the Spirit from the Father, if the shining-forth of the Spirit through the Son is something other than his existence through the Son — for example, his being bestowed upon us through the Son — then why would the Holy Spirit be thought to shine forth through the Son eternally, if it is not the case that, through the Son, he has existence? If on the one hand, according to the man who teaches these things, the Spirit has been given to us as by means of a servile instrument, then we shall refrain from commenting; but if, on the other hand, it is with the Son naturally mediating this shining-forth or manifestation, and the bestowal and gift and sending, then this natural mediation serves above all other things to confirm his existence from the Father through the Son; and whoever would deny the Spirit’s existence through the Son on account of his innovation concerning the [trinitarian] order, brings about both the removal of [the Trinity’s] very existence and a complete denial of the faith, according to the statement of the great and divine Basil; this is because, according to this hypothesis, all these things are bestowed through the Son in a servile and ministerial way, I mean the bestowal and the gift and the sending and the illumination and the manifestation; and, if anyone wishes to say anything else along these lines, he plainly separates the Son from the Father with respect to substance and nature. Meanwhile, how does it not exceed all irrationality to confess that the Spirit exists through the Son and from the Son, even specifying these things with the term “to exist” along with the terms “naturally” and “substantially,” and at the same time to deny the Spirit’s existence through the Son and from the Son?

❖ Basil of Caesarea, Epistola 52.4; PG 32, 396 C; cited by Bekkos at Epigraph 4:21.

I have on my bookshelves at home a multi-volume work which I purchased many years ago, the Opus de Theologicis Dogmatibus of Dionysius Petavius, S.J. (Denis Pétau, 1583-1652). This monumental work has been described as “the first systematic attempt ever made to treat the development of Christian doctrine from the historical point of view.” It is the size of moderately large encyclopedia, and, indeed, if one takes the word “encyclopedia” in its root sense to mean a complete course of studies, that is exactly what it is, a complete course of studies in dogmatic theology. Unlike the medieval summae, however, this is not a work of speculation; Petavius’s main concern is to make clear what was the authoritative teaching of the Fathers of the Church, both Greek and Latin. Because it is such a huge work, and because it is written in fairly elaborate Latin, it is not easy to read; so far as I know, it has never been translated into English. But it occurred to me today that it can be found these days on Google Books, and that it might be useful to provide links to it. So that is what I am doing here; it would have been possible to go into even greater detail, linking to the various chapters of the work, but that would have been a much larger labor; for the present, I think it sufficient to link to the six tomes and the various books into which those tomes are divided. These links, I know, will help me to navigate this work, and allow me to consult it when I am not at home; perhaps they may be of use also to others.

Tomus Primus: In quo de Deo Deique proprietatibus agitur

  • Prolegomena: In quibus de theologia ipsa eiusque principiis atque natura disputatur.
  • Liber Primus: In quo de Dei essentia eiusque proprietatibus generatim agitur.
  • Liber Secundus: In quo de attributis quae negativa dicuntur singillatim agi incipit ac nominatim de iis quae ad ipsam Dei substantiam pertinent.
  • Liber Tertius: Qui proprietates Dei negantes explicare pergit.
  • Liber Quartus: In quo de divinis proprietatibus agitur quae affirmantes vocantur et ad Dei scientiam spectant.
  • Liber Quintus: In quo de voluntate Dei, potentia et operatione agitur.
  • Liber Sextus: In quo de Dei bonitate, deque summo bono agitur : necnon de malo : tum de Dei impeccabilitate: deque eius perfectione ac pulchritudine.
  • Liber Septimus: In quo de Dei visione agitur.
  • Liber Octavus: In quo de providentia et Dei nominibus agitur.

Tomus Secundus: In quo, primum de praedestinatione, post[ea] de Trinitate agitur

  • Liber Nonus: Qui est primus de praedestinatione ac reprobatione.
  • Liber Decimus: Qui est de praedestinatione secundus.
  • In tomum secundum operis Theologicorum dogmatum Praefatio.
  • Liber Primus: In quo mysterii illius, hoc est opinionem de eo τὰ ἱστορούμενα traduntur.
  • Liber Secundus. [Haereticorum argumenta … et catholicorum ad ea responsa….]
  • Liber Tertius.
  • Liber Quartus: In quo communes personis tribus notiones propriatetesque declarantur.
  • Index.

Tomus Tertius: In quo primum de Trinitate, postea de angelis agitur

Tomus Quartus: In quo rursum de angelis, de sex priorum mundi dierum opificio, de Pelagianorum Semipelagianorumque haeresi et quibusdam aliis agitur

  • Liber Secundus: In quo de ordinibus, et officiis bonorum angelorum agitur.
  • Liber Tertius: Qui est de diabolo, et angelis eius.
  • Liber Primus de sex primorum mundi dierum opificio.
  • Prooemium.
  • Liber Secundus: Qui est de hominis opificio.
  • Liber Tertius: In quo de libero arbitrio agitur.
  • Liber Quartus: In quo ex Augustini sententia liberi arbitrii natura constituitur.
  • Liber Quintus: In quo libertatis vera ratio ex latinis Augustino posterioribus expenditur.
  • Appendix ad Librum II de opificio sex dierum, seu R. P. Antonii Casini e Societate Jesu controversia de statu purae naturae.
  • Liber Unus de Pelagianorum et Semipelagianorum dogmatum historia.
  • Liber Unus de Tridentini Concilii interpretatione, et S. Augustini doctrina.
  • Index.

Tomus Quintus: In quo rursum de lege et gratia, postea de incarnatione agitur

  • Liber Primus de lege et gratia.
  • Liber Secundus de lege et gratia.
  • Elenchus Theriacae Vincentii Lenis.
  • De Incarnatione Praefatio.
  • Liber Primus: In quo haeresum omnium, quae catholicae de incarnatione fidei adversatae sunt, historia describitur.
  • Liber Secundus: Qui est de causis incarnati Verbi, maxime de ea quam finalem vocant.
  • Liber Tertius: In quo de naturarum duarum conjunctione, sive unitione agitur.
  • Liber Quartus: In quo de generalibus naturarum in Christo duarum affectionibus agitur, quae ex unitione consequuntur.
  • Liber Quintus: In quo de naturis Christi duabus separatim agitur.
  • Index.

Tomus Sextus: In quo rursum de incarnatione Verbi agitur

  • Liber Sextus: In quo ab haeretici nuperi calumniis, Cyrilli, et Ephesinae synodi integritas fidei, et auctoritas defenditur; ac Nestorius, quem ille catholicum fuisse dicit, recte pro haeretico damnatus ostenditur.
  • Liber Septimus: In quo de eo genere dignitatis, et ornamenti agitur, quod absolutum, et οὐσιῶδες id est substantivum, in humanam Christi naturam fluxit et divinae conjunctione.
  • Liber Octavus: In quo de ἐνεργείᾳ, id est operatione Christi, agitur.
  • Liber Nonus: In quo de voluntate Christi disseritur.
  • Liber Decimus: In quo humanae in Christo naturae proprietates explicantur, quas ἐπιγεννηματικὰς Graeci, Latini accidentes, et consectarias vocant : et imprimis eae quae ad corpus propius attinent.
  • Liber Undecimus: Qui est de animi Christi propriis ornamentis.
  • Liber Duodecimus: In quo de eo genere accidentium proprietatum dissertitur, quae morales appellantur.
  • Liber Decimus Tertius: In quo de officio Christi mediatoris, sive salvatoris erga homines potissimum agitur: hoc est quatenus ad omnes vis illius benefica pertineat.
  • Index.

The following is a translation of one of the chapters of John Bekkos’s treatise On the Procession of the Holy Spirit. Bekkos here treats of an important text from Book Two of St. Basil’s early work Against Eunomius (Adv. Eun. II.34); the text is in fact the first patristic text cited by Bekkos in his treatise On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome, at least in its original form (he later made a revision of this work, and the Basil citation was moved to a different place in the narrative). The prominent place given to the citation is no doubt a reflection of the importance, for Bekkos, of the theological principle Basil therein spells out: that any causality ascribed to the Son is referred back to the Father, in such a way that there is no “polyarchy” in God, no division of the ultimate divine source or “monarchy.” For Bekkos, that principle applies both to the economy (God’s dealings with the creation) and to theology in the strict sense, that is, to an understanding of eternal trinitarian relationships. In both cases, Bekkos argues, the Father is able to exercise his causality through the Son, without there being any division of the principle of divine monarchy, rooted in the person of the Father. Bekkos thinks that Basil, in the passage cited, supports this claim.

To be sure, others argued in Bekkos’s own day, and have argued subsequently, that St. Basil is not saying this. They maintain that Basil, in the passage in question, takes Eunomius’s own supposition that the Holy Spirit is a creature of the Son’s as a basis for his refutation of Eunomius’s position, and that his argument cannot be extended back into trinitarian theology properly speaking. Most of Bekkos’s concern, in the chapter translated below, is to refute that counter-claim.

The treatise On the Procession of the Holy Spirit (De processione Spiritus sancti, PG 141, 157B – 276A) was initially conceived by Bekkos as a series of eleven self-contained essays dealing with disputed questions surrounding the interpretation of particular patristic texts; to this series a twelfth chapter was later added, that originally had stood independently. The work dates to the period of Bekkos’s patriarchate (1275-1282); beyond that, it is impossible to specify more precisely the date and occasion of its composition.

Whatever else may be said about the text translated below, I think it shows clearly, as I have argued elsewhere, that Bekkos was no mere “anthologist,” clumsily stringing patristic texts together without any insight into their meaning or regard for their context. Bekkos is a serious reader of the fathers, and he gives below a close reading of Basil’s text, relating the citation in question to what came before and after it, and expounding Basil’s intention in a pretty convincing manner. He points out the obvious, that, if Basil’s aim were specifically to defeat Eunomius’s view that the Holy Spirit is a creature of the Son’s, he could have done so most simply and effectively by telling Eunomius that the Holy Spirit is not from the Son at all. The fact that he doesn’t take this approach, Bekkos says, is a sign that Basil does not feel that that option is open to him; it is not in respect of holding that the Holy Spirit is, in some sense, from the Son that Basil and Eunomius differ. (Both of them, I would claim, are intellectually the great-grandchildren of Origen, and their quarrel is largely framed within the terms of that theological inheritance.) Instead, Basil focuses on Eunomius’s claim that the Holy Spirit is from the Son alone. Towards the end of the chapter, Bekkos makes an astute comment, noting that Basil saw, in Eunomius’s claim about the Spirit being the creature of the Son, an attempt to demean the Son in relation to the Father, to deny to the Son any equality of rank; by contrast, Basil’s connecting of whatever is from the Son back to the Father, the first cause, shows that Father and Son share the same divine nature and rank. Arguably, Bekkos’s exposition illuminates, not only his own thought about the Trinity, but St. Basil’s thought as well. His claim that Adversus Eunomium II.34 shows that Basil saw the Spirit as, in some sense, from the Son is founded on a serious reading of the text, and is not easily dismissed.

John Bekkos, De processione Spiritus Sancti, ch. 4 (PG 141, 200C – 208C).

Against those who raise doubts as to whether the expression “to be through the Son” carries a reference to the Father 

1. But again, those who are disputatious raise doubts and attempt to contradict the statements of the saints which show that the Spirit is from and out of the Son, and say, “And in what way shall we be able to learn that the phrase ‘from the Son’ carries a reference to the Father?” In reply to this, since we have nothing that better serves to demonstrate the things whereof they demand an explanation than those things which Basil the Great said towards the end of Book Two of his Against Eunomius, we shall here set them forth; they go like this:

But to whom [200D] 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’ (John 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 [201A] we do not deprive the God of the universe of being the cause of all things.”
Basil of Caesarea, Adv. Eunomium, II.34; PG 29b, 652 A-B. 

The reason why we present this passage here in our treatise is to make it clear that “the cause of the Spirit” refers back to the Father, even if the Spirit is said to be “from the Son.” 

2. But again they hound us with objections, and say: “But, so far as can be gathered from the words quoted, Basil the Great did not say these things in a theological sense about the Spirit’s Godhead, so that the text should provide a resolution of the matter in question. But since Eunomius was blaspheming the Spirit, calling him a creature of the Son’s, and saying that he was a creature of the Son’s alone so as to separate him from the Father, for this reason the saint first sets forth the premise that ‘No activity of the Son’s is separated from the Father, nor is there anything, among [201B] those things which exist in the Son, that is foreign to the Father’; then, on this basis, he infers that Eunomius wickedly and clumsily ascribes the cause of the Spirit to the Only-begotten alone, and takes his creation as a reproach against his nature.” When they give such a reply to our teaching, we in turn say: And what do you suppose, gentlemen? Was it really for this reason that the most wicked Eunomius seemed to our father Basil to be saying that the Spirit is from the Son alone, because he said that the Spirit is a creature of the Son’s? And so, for this reason, according to you, the unstated, unambiguous consequence would follow that, if Eunomius had said that the Spirit is from the Son alone while he took him to be, not a creature, but God, then our father Basil would not have [201C] criticized him. For either, according to Eunomius, the Spirit is a creature, and it is on that point that the blasphemy turns, or else, in line with the truth of theology, the Spirit is not a creature; and if it is on account of his doctrine of the Spirit’s creaturehood that Eunomius is to be condemned when he says that the Spirit is from the Son alone, then, manifestly, someone who thinks that the Spirit is God is not to be condemned if he says that he is from the Son alone. And take care lest, in running from the smoke, you fall into the fire. For while you contend that the Spirit is from the Father alone (as though you forget that he is not the Spirit of the Father alone), observe how you oppose Basil in his refutation of Eunomius when, [on your reading,] he affirms the Spirit to be from the Son alone according to his divine substance.

3. For I say once again that if, according to your reading, it was because [201D] Eunomius took the view that the Spirit is a creature that his statement that the Spirit is from the Son alone was denounced, then plainly he would not have been criticized for saying that the Spirit is from the Son alone if he had thought that the Spirit is God; and it fails to occur to those who maintain that the Spirit is from the Father alone that, when their interpretation of this text is extended to its unspoken implications, they end up affirming that the Spirit is from the Son alone. But if the absurdity and contradiction thereby revealed shows plainly that, when Basil the Great takes the heretic Eunomius to task for saying that the Spirit is from the Son alone, it was not because of Eunomius’s opinion about the Spirit’s creaturehood, but, rather, specifically for his claim that the Spirit was from one and from one alone — whether as a creature, as blasphemously alleged by Eunomius, or else [204A] as God (since, in line with true theology, the Holy Spirit is God) — then there remains no pretext of ambiguity: as you can see, the saint appears to be virtually saying to Eunomius that, though in fact the Holy Spirit is, in his divine nature, not from the Son alone, separated from the Father, nevertheless even supposing that the Spirit were a creature of the Son’s, in accordance with your view, Eunomius, you should not even in that case have ascribed the cause of him to the Only-begotten alone and separated him from the Father, on account of the fact that “everything which is made by the Son carries a reference to the Father, the first cause.” And as it has been unambiguously shown that it was not for his view of the Spirit’s creaturehood that Eunomius was taken to task by Basil the Great for saying that the Spirit is from the Son alone, but solely for his claim that the Spirit is from [204B] the Son alone and from no one else, this likewise clearly refutes those who raise doubts as to whether the expression “to be from the Son” carries a reference to the Father. 

4. But if this refutation does not seem sufficiently clear to you, nevertheless, by carefully examining the things which the saint goes on to say following the above-cited passage, you will still be able to comprehend what the argument has already plainly shown you through many cited texts. For after refuting Eunomius, and virtually saying to him that, even if the Spirit were a creature of the Son’s, in accordance with your view, Eunomius, all the same you should not have ascribed the cause of him to the Son alone, on account of the fact that everything created through the Son has reference back to the Father, the first cause, [204C] the saint interjects some remarks concerning the divinity of the Spirit and, desiring to show that, according to his divinity, the Spirit exists from the Father and the Son, as proceeding ineffably from the Father through the Son, he says the following things: 

“And why is it not manifestly dangerous to separate the Spirit from God? since the Apostle has passed this thing down to us in a connected way, at one time calling him ‘of Christ,’ at another time ‘of God,’ where he writes, ‘If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his’ (Rom 8:9), and again, ‘But ye have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God’ (1 Cor 2:12). Again, the Lord calls him the ‘Spirit of Truth’ (Jn 15:26), since he himself is the Truth (Jn 14:6), and he proceeds from the Father (Jn 15:26).”
Basil of Caesarea, Adv. Eunomium, II.34; PG 29b, 652 B-C. 

That is what the saint says, word for word. But [204D] note the phrase, “Why is it not manifestly dangerous to separate the Spirit from God?” For the saint did not say, “Why is it not manifestly dangerous to connect the Spirit to the Son, when he exists neither through him nor from him, but from the Father alone?” But he said, “Why is it not manifestly dangerous to separate the Spirit from God?” such that his entire concern was how he might show the Spirit to be connected to the Father when, according to Eunomius, he was separated from him. And this is clear from the testimonies which he then subjoins from both the Apostle and the Gospels, from which he shows the Spirit to be likewise “of the Son” and “of the Father,” and that it is not the case that, because he is “of the Son,” he is therefore not also “of the Father,” nor that, because he is from the Father, he is therefore not [205A] through the Son or from the Son. For the saint exhibits the gospel statements, both the one which says “the Spirit of Truth” and the one which says “he proceeds from the Father,” as a testimony to the connection about which he has just been speaking, knowing as he does very definitely that, just as the term ἐκπορεύεται (proceeds) is able to shed light upon the natural relationship and affinity of the Spirit with the Father, so also the phrase “Spirit of Truth” is able to shed light upon the natural relationship and affinity of the Spirit with the Son. 

And if anyone may still be doubtful about the equivalence of these expressions, which Basil the Great has presented as a testimony in order to show that the Spirit is jointly of the Son and of the Father, let such a person seek out those passages in Basil the Great’s [205B] writings, in which he is observed to say, “I acknowledge his affinity with the Father, since he ‘proceeds from the Father,’ and likewise with the Son, since I hear, ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.’” And this defense of ours to those who raise doubts as to whether the statement that he is “from the Son” carries a reference back to the Father has now, I trust, been sufficiently given. 

But it is necessary to add those things which are still to be said, as a kind of corollary to those things which have been said already. For since the saint was devoting all his care to demonstrating that the Spirit is not a creature of the Son’s, if in fact he had demonstrated that he is not from the Son at all, he would at the same time have been able to demonstrate that he is also not the Son’s creature. For in the case of that which in no way at all exists from some other thing, what reason could there be for saying that it is its creature? For [205C] Eunomius had no other pretext for saying that the Spirit is the Son’s creature apart from the fact that it was affirmed by the theologians of that time that the Spirit is from the Father through the Son and, for that reason, also from the Son. For it is not as from a first cause and principle that the Spirit is from the Son, but as existing from the Father through the Son.

And if the saint had been able to demonstrate that the Spirit is not from the Son, his argument would not have carried this force alone, that it should be possible to draw the inference that the Spirit is not a creature of the Son’s. But it would also have been possible for some other, deeper inference to be observed there by those who study things closely. For when Eunomius says that the Spirit is a creature of the Son’s and less than the Only-begotten, taking the belittling of the Holy Spirit as something already granted, he uses this as grounds for [205D] demonstrating the lesser nature of the Son, as Basil the Great testifies in a passage occurring a little before the one we earlier examined, where he says the following things:

“Now the Lord says concerning the Paraclete, ‘He shall glorify me’ (Jn 16:14), but the accusatory tongue asserts this to be an obstacle against the Son’s being compared with the Father. For since, he says, the Son is the Spirit’s creator (have mercy on us, Lord, for uttering such a thing), and the latter is of such a kind as to add no dignity to his creator, for this reason neither is the Son worthy of being compared with the Father, on account of the [relative] worthlessness of those things which he has created, and has been deprived of equality of rank.”
Basil of Caesarea, Adv. Eunomium, II.33; PG 29b, 649C.

[208A] This is what the saint says, word for word; and, after parading and presenting Eunomius’s blasphemy — that Eunomius intends, from the Spirit’s being created by the Son, to destroy, on that account, the Son’s equality with the Father — he thereupon adds the oft-cited passage, saying: “But to whom of all people is it not apparent, that no activity of the Son is separated from the Father?” and so on. Since therefore the saint understands that, if Eunomius says that the Spirit has been created by the Son, it is for the purpose of lessening the glory of the Only-begotten, and to obstruct his co-equal honor with the Father, if in fact he were able to prove from the Scriptures that the Spirit does not exist from the Son, what other refutation of Eunomius’s blasphemies would be have found necessary [208B], aside from demonstrating that in no way at all does the Spirit exist from the Son? For had it been demonstrated that the Spirit in no way exists from the Son, such a demonstration would have stopped Eunomius’s accusatory mouth when he says that the [relative] worthlessness of the Spirit, created by the Son, does not allow the Son to be of equal honor with the Father. So useful, then, would it have been for the saint to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit in no way at all exists from the Son, in order to defeat Eunomius’s blasphemies; but since the saint was unable to demonstrate this, he does not dispute Eunomius when the latter says that the Spirit is from the Son, since Basil himself makes this same point clear countless times in his own writings; instead, he disputes this most wicked and ungodly man only on one sole point, that Eunomius claims that the Spirit is from the Son alone. [208C] But given that it is not against the claim that the Holy Spirit is from the Son, but against the claim that the Holy Spirit is from the Son alone that the saint directs his argument, how is it not manifest that he confirms the claim that he is from both? For surely no one will say that, in saying that the Spirit is not from the Son alone, the saint proves that he is from the Father alone; nor ought one to reason that, if the Spirit is not from the Son alone, it therefore follows that he is from the Father alone; but one should understand that he who says that the Spirit is not from the Son alone clearly confirms the claim that he is from both. But if someone wants to demonstrate that the Spirit is from the Father alone, he will have no ready means for such a demonstration if he will not undertake to overthrow entirely the claim that the Spirit is from the Son. For this, and nothing but this, will be able to confirm the claim that the Spirit is from the Father alone.

I was asked today by my church’s youth director to give a talk on Zoom to some youth. Not knowing what to say, I put together some thoughts. Here are the thoughts that occurred to me.

In your lives, if you are like most people, you will sometimes fall, and perhaps you may even fall so hard that it will feel difficult to get up again. You may not remember this, but you did the same thing when you were very small. Most of the time your parents were watching you, yet they did not always hold you up; they allowed you sometimes to fall. Why did they do this? Because they wanted you to learn how to walk. It is the same thing with us now: God, our heavenly Father, is watching us all the time, he loves us, and yet he allows us to fall. He does this, not out of anger, not to destroy us, but to keep us from destroying ourselves; sometimes it is only by experiencing the pain of falling that we realize how foolish we are, how bad the way is we are going, and that we still need to learn how to walk in the Spirit, in the way of God’s commandments.

Indeed, God wants us eventually to learn, not only to walk, but to run. We call the people who run in the way of God’s commandments, and who win a heavenly crown, saints; these are the people who are most successful in the race of life, even if most people consider them failures. These are the people of whom it can be truly said that they are happy; and God wants us, in fact, to be happy. Yet it should be remembered, even when we are not happy, even when we fall and feel miserable and are far from being saints, that God loves us. We should remember the story of the Prodigal, a son who not only did not run in the way of his father’s commandments, but ran away from his father and rejected him; yet, when he came to himself, when he turned back to ask his father’s forgiveness, his father not only did not reject him, but ran to him, fell on his neck and kissed him, and put on him a precious robe to cover his nakedness. Jesus gives us this story of the Prodigal because it tells us what God is like, and what we, often, are like: sometimes we are like the son who runs away and acts self-destructively, and sometimes we are like the other son, who does not run away, who stays at home and serves his father, but who does so coldly, and who has no real love, either for his long-lost brother or for his father himself; it is all, to him, a matter of self-interest and cold calculation, and at the end of the story we are left not knowing whether the older brother ever comes indoors and celebrates his brother’s return or, instead, stays outside, hardening his heart against the possibility of love. We need to be aware that both of these sons are examples for us of the kinds of mistakes we can easily fall into. And in both cases, the father is patient, and waits for us to return to our senses.

So that is what, God willing, we are doing during this time of Lent which is given to us as a way of preparing for the great celebration of Christ’s resurrection, Christ’s great triumph over sin and death. We are given an opportunity to return to our senses; we are given a course of preparation, of spring training, to encourage us to run again after our many falls and stumblings. We have a Physician on hand who is ready to bind up our wounds; but we also need to recognize our need to bind up the wounds of others; so we start this spring training by asking others forgiveness for the times we have wounded them. Jesus is on hand: not only as our coach, not only as our example, not even only as our Physician, but as someone who will be with us and run with us every step of the way. He wants us to learn how to run, and we only need to trust in him in order to start doing it. We may think of ourselves as complete failures in the race of life; that is not how Jesus thinks of us. He only wants us to get up again, and start running.

Lewis Ayres teaches at Durham University, and is one of the most accomplished patristic scholars currently writing in English. The lecture, linked to below, was delivered at the University of Edinburgh on November 10, 2020; I think it deserves a wide hearing, therefore I am sharing it.