Because I am trying to put together an article on Bekkos and George Moschabar, I have of late been reading Martin Jugie again; he seems to have read virtually everything in Byzantine theological literature. In particular, he has a lot of information, and very definite opinions, on the issue of how far Byzantine writers understood there to be an indwelling of the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit in the souls of the just; this is an issue on which John Bekkos and George Moschabar were entirely opposed. Specifically, Bekkos sees it as the clear consensus of Scripture and the Fathers that the Holy Spirit himself — i.e., the person or hypostasis — is given by Christ to the faithful, and he sees this giving as implying something about the eternal, inner-trinitarian relationships of these two persons; Moschabar, by contrast, sees Scripture to use the term “Holy Spirit” in an ambiguous way, sometimes referring to the third person of the Trinity, sometimes to that person’s gift of grace — or, to put it differently, to an “energy” — and he lays it down as a kind of exegetical first principle that, whenever Holy Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit being given or sent or flowing forth from the Son, the “Holy Spirit” referred to is an energy, not the person. In teaching this, I think that Moschabar anticipated, in important ways, the doctrine of Gregory Palamas; in fact, it seems quite likely to me that Palamas was directly influenced by Moschabar’s writings.

Jugie is not an ecumenically sensitive writer; he is a Catholic apologist of the old school, and his references to Orthodox Christians as “Graeco-Russians” are bound to be offensive. Nevertheless, he is a clear thinker, and he backs up his assertions with evidence. As such, his historical judgments deserve serious consideration; it is for this reason that I present him here in English. I do not want to claim that Jugie is giving here a balanced, complete assessment of Orthodox spiritual tradition. But it does seem to me that some of the most important Orthodox writers of the past century, in particular the late Fr. John Meyendorff, were engaged in a tacit debate with Jugie over the significance of St. Gregory Palamas and his theology; if one reads Meyendorff as replying to Jugie, I think it opens one’s eyes as to what is at stake.

I would only add that what is given below is not a complete translation of Jugie’s chapter; I break off at the point where Jugie begins treating of more recent Orthodox writers.

Translated from Martin Jugie, A.A., Theologia Dogmatica Christanorum Orientalium ab Ecclesia Catholica Dissidentium, Tomus II (Paris 1933), pp. 233-242.

Article 3: On the notion of divine mission and of the relation between eternal procession and temporal mission

The doctrine of the Graeco-Russians on divine missions differs from the doctrine held in common among Catholic theologians in no small way. First of all, among dissident theologians you will not find the subtle distinctions and accurate definitions that are found among ours; for example, they do not clearly distinguish between visible mission and invisible mission; the aim or scope of the missions is not discerned by them with precision. All of their speculation concerning the nature of the missions has had a polemical origin — as though, when they take up the question of divine missions, they had almost solely this end in view, to weaken the force of the argument based upon missions which Catholic theologians employ to prove that the Holy Spirit proceeds and has existence from the Son. In this, Photius himself was their predecessor, not in fact in those writings where his explicit purpose is to treat of the procession of the Holy Spirit, but in his Amphilochian questions nos. 159 and 188, where he seeks to overturn the grounds of the Latins’ argument by teaching that each person of the Trinity, not excepting the Father, both sends the others and by the others is sent, indiscriminately. To establish this point, he appeals to certain texts of Scripture: Isa 48:16, “And now the Lord, and his Spirit, has sent me”; Isa 61 and Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … he has sent me to preach the good news to the poor.” After him, Byzantine theologians commonly held the same view on persons sent and sending, relying upon the same scriptural texts; nor do most of the moderns veer from this position.

Gravely, therefore, do the Graeco-Russians adulterate the notion of mission, insofar as they deny that mission implies a necessary connection with procession ad intra, that it imitates, manifests, and, as it were, reproduces this ad extra. They indeed commonly distinguish a double procession, one kind ad intra, which is from eternity, from which the divine persons are constituted in their hypostatic being; the other kind ad extra, which they call temporal, which is mission itself. The temporal procession is common to the three persons. The terminus ad quem of this procession is that temporal effect produced in creatures, which indeed is common to the three persons, as is any operation ad extra. But as for the terminus a quo, temporal procession or mission signifies a simple external manifestation of the person sent from the person sending. This external manifestation bears no necessary relation to a procession ad intra; it is something altogether accidental and extrinsic, pertaining to the historical order.

Moreover, as regards the form itself of this external manifestation, they do not agree among themselves. Does such a manifestation include a real bestowal of the person sent, made by the person sending to the creature, such that, beyond the gift of grace conferred upon the justified creature, there would be also a communication of an uncreated gift, that is, of a divine person himself, who in a new manner and on new terms would begin to exist within the creature? To this question they do not give one unanimous response. Before the Palamite controversy, most, not all, taught that, in mission, an actual divine person is communicated to the creature. After this controversy, most, not all, have held that a divine person is by no means given or communicated, and they have seen in mission nothing else than an operation common to the three persons, by which grace is communicated to the creature, grace which, according to the system of Palamas expounded above, is pronounced to be uncreated, and is regarded as a sort of eternal and uncreated outpouring from the divine essence. This very operation [or: energy] is a manifestation of Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and not just of the person sent or the person sending.

The earliest polemical writers after Photius and Michael Cerularius had no more common pastime than to reproach the Latins with confusing the eternal procession with a temporal procession or mission; nevertheless, most of them did not deny what the Greek fathers teach so plainly, namely, that in mission, besides grace and gifts, an actual divine person is communicated to human beings. See in volume one of this work the words of Nicetas the philosopher (pp. 291-292), Euthymius the patriarch (p. 298), the author of the tract Against the Franks (p. 300), Michael Psellus (p. 303), and especially Theophylact, who properly distinguishes between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s very person. For, in order to overthrow the argument of the Latins that is based upon Christ’s breathing upon his disciples after the resurrection, he wrote the following:

He breathes upon them, then, and gives them the Holy Spirit, not now granting them the perfect gift of the Holy Spirit (for this he was going to give at Pentecost), but rendering them suitable for receiving that Spirit … But after the ascension, when the Spirit himself had descended, and had bestowed upon them the power of miracles and other gifts …. If then he gave the disciples the Spirit when he breathed upon them, how was it that he later said to them, “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit, who will come upon you not many days hence”; or why is it that we believe that, at Pentecost, the Spirit is made to descend, if in fact he gave him on the evening of the day of the resurrection?

[Comment. in Joannem, xx, 19-23, PG 124, 297; Epist. ad Nicolaum, 4, PG 126, 228; In Joan., c. iii, 32-34, PG 123, 1224. Cf. tom. I, pp. 306-307, 309-310.]

During the twelfth century, many polemical writers repeated Theophylact’s words. Thus, for example, Eustratius of Nicaea, Nicholas of Methone, Nicetas of Nicomedia, Michael Glykas; in the thirteenth century, Germanus II. Mystical writers frequently say the same thing concerning the bestowal of the person of the Holy Spirit and the dwelling of the divine persons in the soul of the just, among whom should be mentioned Symeon the New Theologian, who not only teaches that the soul of a holy person is a temple of the Holy Spirit, but, in addition, contends that the soul necessarily is aware of this indwelling, and that it is impossible for anyone to have the persons of the Trinity within himself without intimately experiencing their presence.

Nevertheless, certain polemical writers, even before Palamas, begin already to deny that the person of the Holy Spirit is really given to the soul of the just according to that special mode which accompanies an infusion of charity and grace. If one were to believe them, it is not a divine person, but solely the person’s gifts, which are communicated, and they interpret the term “Spirit,” in those passages of Scripture or of the Fathers which have to do with the sending, giving, and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to mean the spiritual gifts themselves. They support their opinion by the testimony of pseudo-Chrysostom who, in a certain discourse On the Holy Spirit, previously cited by Photius himself, says the following:

But if you should hear him say, “I will send you the Holy Spirit,” do not interpret this to mean the godhead: for God is not sent. These are names signifying operation, in that everyone who sends, sends to those places where he is not…. Therefore when he says, “I will send you the Holy Spirit,” he means the gift of the Spirit. And, so that you may learn that the gift is sent, but the Spirit is not sent, the Savior says to the apostles, “Remain in Jerusalem, until you are clothed with power from on high.” The scripture says, “God poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It is not the godhead that is poured out, but the gift. For this reason, so that it might be demonstrated that that which is poured out is not the Holy Spirit, but the grace of the Spirit of God, David says to Christ, “Grace is poured out by your lips.” Grace is poured out, not he who bestows the grace. (PG 52, 825-826.)

In the twelfth century, these words are applauded by Andronicus Camaterus in his Ἱερᾷ Ὁπλοθήκῃ (Sacred Treasury), wherein he means to show that it is not the person of the Spirit but only his charisms that are bestowed upon men. As for Camaterus, John Bekkos refutes him by citing against him, at one time Christ the Savior’s clear words in the gospel, at another time testimonies from other Greek fathers, especially Cyril of Alexandria; the perspicuity of these testimonies is clearer than light. (John Bekkos, In Camateri animadversiones, PG 141, 419-428.) To this same question Bekkos devotes also his eighth Epigraph, which he prefaces with the following notice:

Since some people, when they hear that the Holy Spirit “exists” and “fountains” and “emanates” from the Son, give the strange account that it is not the divine nature of the Spirit which springs forth and fountains from the divine substance and nature of the Son, but rather the spiritual gift which comes to those who are worthy … because they take it that such a gift must be understood as something divided and disjoined from the Spirit’s divine substance, the following patristic citations have been gathered, from which one may apprehend … that it is the Holy Spirit himself, one of the Trinity and him who completes it and who is himself divine nature and perfect God, just like the Father and the Son, who is meant when one says that the Holy Spirit “emanates” and “fountains” and “exists” from the Son.

[PG 141, 673. If Philotheos Kokkinos is to be trusted (Contra Gregoram Antirrhet., vi, PG 151, 915-920), George the Cypriot, Patriarch of Constantinople, held the same opinion as Camaterus about the sending of the Holy Spirit — which however does not appear true from his published writings. Gregory was, nevertheless, in a certain respect the precursor of Palamas, by reason of his teaching concerning the eternal manifestation of the Spirit through the Son. See B. De Rubeis, Dissertatio I in Georgium Cyprium, PG 142, 109-110.]

Gregory Palamas and his disciples apply his teaching about a real distinction between God’s essence and his operation (= energy) to the divine missions in the following manner: Since the divine essence and the divine persons themselves are, of themselves, utterly inaccessible, imparticipable, and incommunicable, the mission of a divine person can be understood only of a common operation of the Trinity, in particular of that operation which has the name grace. Since then this operation, just like all the other operations of God, is something divine, uncreated, and eternal, really distinct, indeed, from the divine nature, but in fact truly inseparable from it, it follows that a mission can, in a certain way, be called an eternal procession (πρόοδον). However, an eternal procession of this kind, which is manifested in time, is solely according to operation, κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν, not according to nature, κατὰ τὴν φύσιν, nor according to hypostases or persons, κατὰ τὰς ὑποστάσεις. It has creatures in view, it is ad extra; it does not have in view the persons nor the processions ad intra. Therefore differentiation has to be made between a two-fold eternal procession, one kind according to the subsisting of the persons in the divine essence, the other kind according to an operation of the essence which is common to the three divine persons. Where Scripture says that one person is sent by another, this in no way signifies that the person sent is communicated to the creature, that it indwells the creature in a special manner and on special terms — for this is altogether impossible. Such a mission indicates nothing other than an external and temporal manifestation of that eternal and uncreated operation which is called grace or the gifts of the Spirit, which is in fact common to the three persons, and is communicated to worthy souls, or rather, reaches to them, extends itself to them, like the light of some eternal sun which, at a certain moment in time, illuminates a new region, illuminates new things which earlier lay in darkness.

According to this speculation or conception, the following expressions of Scripture or of the Fathers — “the Holy Spirit is sent by the Son, is put forth, poured forth or shed forth by the Son, is from the Son, shines out from the Son,” etc. — signify in fact a certain eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, but not one ordered to the Spirit’s personal existence. Such a procession occurs solely according to operation, κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν, ordered to the sanctification of the creature, or insofar as it is directed towards a terminus ad quem, it can even be said to be a temporal procession. In it is beheld, in truth, a certain showing and manifestation of the three Persons under an aspect whereby the persons are able to be manifested and known, namely by their eternal operation, which extends to the creatures and sanctifies them.

This is the genuine notion of divine mission in Palamite theology. Hear Palamas describing the mission of the Holy Spirit in his Confession of Faith:

The Spirit, subsisting in himself, proceeding from the Father and sent — that is, manifested — through the Son, himself also cause of all the creatures, as indeed it is in him that they have been brought to perfection, himself equal to the Father and the Son except in respect of unbegottenness and begottenness. He was sent by the Son to his disciples — that is, he was manifested. For in what other manner would he have been sent, since he was not separated from him? Or in what other way would he be able to draw near to me, since he is everywhere present? Wherefore he is sent, not only from the Son, but from the Father and through the Son; and he comes being manifested also from himself. For the sending, that is the manifesting, of the Spirit is a common work. But he is manifested, not according to essence (for no one ever has seen or declared God’s nature), but according to grace and power and operation (= energy), which is common to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

[PG 151, 766 A-B. Cf. the same author’s Homilia viii de fide, PG 151, 100 D.]

In his second treatise On the Procession of the Holy Spirit, against the Latins, he says these things:

The Son gives the Holy Spirit, but according to gift and grace and operation (= energy); he does not give the very person of the Holy Spirit, for this can be received by no one…. To be sent and to be given, when applied to God, means nothing else than to be manifested.

[Λόγος δεύτερος περὶ τῆς ἐκπορεύσεως τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος, Constantinople, 1627, pp. 54, 61: Δίδωσι Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὴν δωρεὰν καὶ τὴν χάριν καὶ τὴν ἐνέργειαν, οὐκ αὐτὴν τὴν ὑπόστασιν τοῦ παναγίου Πνεύματος· παρ᾽ οὐδενὸς γὰρ αὕτη λαμβάνεσθαι δύναται … Οὐδὲν ἄλλο τὸ πέμπεσθαί τε καὶ δίδοσθαι ἐπὶ Θεοῦ ἢ τὸ φανεροῦσθαι.]

Palamas’s genuine disciples hold the same doctrine. Philotheus Kokkinos expounds it at length in his Antirrheticus vi contra Nicephorum Gregoram (Gregoras, by contrast, teaches that the three persons of the Trinity indwell the soul of the just):

If the three divine hypostases, as you say, indwell every one of those who are worthy of God, then each one of those who are made deiform will possess in himself more than did that divine temple which for our sake, in a manner surpassing reason, the Only-begotten Son of God indwelled, insofar as that [temple] held in itself [only] one of the Trinity, united with it according to hypostasis.” (PG 151, 893 A.) … “The Spirit is participated in, not according to essence, nor according to hypostasis — for this is altogether foreign to theology — but according to the divine charisms and operations (energies)…. From all these things you have been taught that the Holy Spirit inhabits those who are worthy energetically, not hypostatically. That is, his energy, not his hypostasis, dwells in them, and makes them to be temples of God; and through the divine energy and grace they have dwelling in them the whole Spirit. For in each gift (charism) the whole Spirit, as working, is analogically present.” (PG 151, 901 C, 902 C.)

In his Tractatus contra Latinos, Macarius Ancyranus devotes four chapters to the present question; their titles sufficiently express the doctrine defended in them:

Ch. 76: That the Holy Spirit, poured out upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, was not the divine person himself, but his gift and grace and operation, which also is called “Holy Spirit.”

Ch. 77: That the Holy Spirit, a person of the Holy Trinity, is one thing, and his bestowal and grace and power and operation — or rather, the common bestowal and grace and power and operation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is another.

Ch. 78: Concerning the discrepancy which some people find in the prayers of Basil the Great which are read on the day of Pentecost, and that the Spirit poured out at Pentecost was not a person of the Trinity, but his gift and grace: for it is “divided.”

Ch. 79: Moreover, that the Holy Spirit, one person of the Most Holy Trinity, both is always identical with himself, and is invisible and incommunicable to others; and that, just as his gift and grace is called “Holy Spirit,” so also it is called “God,” whenever it is seen and divided and participated in by all.

[Κατὰ Λατίνων. In Dositheus, Τόμος καταλλαγῆς, pp. 132-139:
«Ὅτι τὸ κατὰ τὴν Πεντηκοστὴν ἐκχυθὲν Πνεῦμα ἅγιον εἰς τοὺς ἀποστόλους οὐκ αὐτὸ ἦν τὸ θεαρχικὸν πρόσωπον, ἀλλ᾽ ἡ δωρεὰ καὶ χάρις καὶ ἐνέργεια αὐτοῦ, Πνεῦμα ἅγιον καὶ αὐτὴ λεγομένη.
«Ὅτι ἄλλο Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, τὸ ἓν πρόσωπον τῆς Τριάδος, καὶ ἄλλο ἡ τούτου, μᾶλλον δὲ ἡ κοινὴ Πατρὸς, Υἱοῦ καὶ ἁγίου Πνεύματος δωρεὰ καὶ χάρις καὶ δύναμις καὶ ἐνέργεια.
«Περὶ τῆς δοκούσης τισὶ διαφωνίας ἐν ταῖς κατὰ τὴν Πεντηκοστὴν εὐχαῖς τοῦ μεγάλου Βασιλείου, καὶ ὅτι τὸ κατὰ τὴν Πεντηκοστὴν ἐκχυθὲν Πνεῦμα οὐ τὸ ἓν πρόσωπον τῆς Τριάδος, ἀλλ᾽ ἡ τούτου δωρεὰ καὶ χάρις· αὐτὴ γὰρ καὶ μερίζεται.
«Ἕτι, ὅτι τὸ μὲν Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, τὸ ἓν πρόσωπον τῆς ἁγίας Τριάδος, ἀεί τε ταὐτὸν αὐτό ἐστιν ἑαυτῷ, ἀόρατόν τε καὶ πρὸς τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀκοινώνητον· ἡ δὲ τούτου χάρις καὶ δωρεά, ὡς Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, οὕτω καὶ Θεὸς λεγομένη, ἔστιν ὅτε καὶ ὁρᾶται καὶ μερίζεται καὶ παρὰ πάντων μετέχεται.»]

On this question, Joseph Bryennius plainly agrees with Palamas:

No one of sound mind (he says), whether he thinks the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Son, or from both, holds the opinion that the person of the Spirit takes up his abode among men; for since he is God by nature, not only is he invisible, in this respect, to every created nature, but even to the Cherubim themselves he is by nature imparticipable.

[Λόγος η´ περὶ τῆς ἁγίας Τριάδος. Opera omnia, ed. E. Bulgaris, tome 1, Leipzig, 1768, p. 344: «Οὐδεὶς ὑγιαίνων τὰς φρένας δοξάζει τὴν τοῦ Πνεύματος ὑπόστασιν … ἐπιδημεῖν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις.»]

As for theologians and polemical writers of the modern era, the greatest part of them accept this Palamite view, even those who in other matters contradict the theologian of the hesychasts….

There is not much on George Moschabar in English; the following brief sketch of his life may help, in a small way, to remedy that lack. It is translated, somewhat loosely, from the German summary of a recent dissertation in Greek, Δήμητρα Ἰ Μονίου, Γεώργιος Μοσχάμπαρ: Ὁ βασικός ἀντιρρητικός θεολόγος τῆς πρώϊμης παλαιολογείου περιόδου, βίος καί ἔργο (Athens 2009), pp. 368-370. For anyone interested, the dissertation can be read online: see the above link.

George Moschabar was, without question, an important and gifted author of religious works, who was born most likely between the years 1230 and 1240 and, in the earliest years of his life, must have lived in Islamic territory, as may be inferred from his surname or, rather, his pseudonym.

After this, he left his parents and betook himself to Nicaea, a city which at that time was a popular destination for ambitious youths. There, although of middle class origins, he had the opportunity to receive a higher education alongside Theodore II Laskaris (1254-1258) and to study under the care of renowned, significant figures of his time. He completed his studies in the year 1271. Within ten years, the theologian had made a name for himself as a teacher of the gospel and had begun working actively within the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Concurrently with this, he took a stance favoring the opposition to ecclesiastical union, at a time when the emperor Michael VIII and his patriarch John XI Bekkos were doing everything in their power to implement the Union of the Churches. As officer of Hagia Sophia and a titled official at the Patriarch’s court, Moschabar had no opportunity to uphold his anti-latin positions openly; therefore he confined himself, for the time being, to authoring anonymous circular letters against the Patriarch so as not to have to bear open responsibility for his published opinions.

Later, that is, in the year 1282, when Andronikos II had ascended the imperial throne, the situation in Constantinople changed radically: the opponents of ecclesiastical union emerged from the background and assumed an active role and a decisive, influential position in framing ecclesiastical-political developments. Gregory II the Cypriot (= “Cyprius”) was appointed as new patriarch; he appointed Moschabar as chartophylax of the Great Church and set him at his side as a trusted aide. As a titled official, the theologian now acknowledged his earlier writings as his own and openly pursued his polemic against the Union of the Churches.

Being convinced that the Western Church had perpetrated and supported a fraud, he published numerous dogmatic works: some were newly composed writings, others, reworked editions of the anonymous circular letters he had published previously. Consequently, the literary production of the theologian is found to be very considerable: his works extend to at least 1100 pages in manuscript, preserved in 26 manuscripts in eighteen different libraries. They may be classified as follows: either they appear as chapters, belonging to the branch of theology that is termed “antirrhetic” or refutatory, and having as content those differences which divide the Christian churches (107 in total); or else they appear as dialogues or are composed as Logoi (treatises, discourses) against the Latins. In all cases, they have as their scope the same central recurring theme, that of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father solely and alone.

Parallel to his extensive literary activity, Moschabar not surprisingly took part in the disputes which erupted within the Church, and had a most far-reaching influence among his contemporaries. He participated in the synod of Constantinople and signed the Tome of Blachernae in which John Bekkos, Constantine Meliteniotes and George Metochites were stigmatized and condemned as heretics. Later, oddly enough, he turned against Patriarch Cyprius and even had doubts about the Tome which he himself had signed and thus, as to its contents, had legitimized. Subsequently he took the lead of that group which had arisen within ecclesiastical circles and which maintained the position that Cyprius should be viewed as no less of a heretic than John Bekkos. Among its adherents were Michael Eskammatismenos and John Pentecclesiotes, who sought to support this position and to elaborate its dogmatic significance. Although Cyprius reproached [Moschabar] with organizing a propaganda campaign against him with the aim of removing him from office, nevertheless Emperor Andronikos summoned Cyprius before a tribunal and constrained him to renounce his title to office, after first [agreeing] that the orthodoxy of [Cyprius’s] faith would be clearly affirmed and recognized by a procedure which had been proposed by Moschabar himself, who, last but not least, had also written the text acknowledging the εὐσέβεια [piety] of the former patriarch. This text by Moschabar represents the last testimony that has come down to us concerning the antiunionist theologian.

From the year 1289 onward, other traces of him are lost and his other activities remain hidden from us to this day. We do not know whether he continued composing anti-latin treatises or withdrew from this work entirely. Whatever the activities of the last years of his life may have been, we can take it as certain that Moschabar must have been a remarkable person, who influenced his own era as profoundly as he did subsequent centuries. His works in later years would be continually reused, whether identified as his own or taken as anonymous, in such a way that (not least) many important personalities did not hesitate to adopt them as their own. Maximos Margunios may be taken as a most characteristic example of this — a scholar who, some three hundred years later, would present and publish a dialogue by Moschabar as his own composition. But numerous were those scholars who were capable of appreciating Moschabar’s literary legacy and for whom this legacy served as a model for their own writing.

However scholars may have met with the antiunionist theologian’s texts, the fact is clear that George Moschabar was a significant personality who gave expression to the theology of the thirteenth century against the Union of the Churches and found numerous followers, both during his own lifetime and during the following centuries.

I began rereading Hegel this afternoon, after coming across a note in the book Geist oder Energie by Dorothea Wendebourg (Münich 1980). Wendebourg (p. 7) says that the point stressed as an axiom by some modern theologians (Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, et al.) that the only way to a knowledge of God in his eternal being is through God’s self-revelation in his economy, was made by Hegel some two hundred years ago in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. 3. That axiom is important, not only in itself, but also for the work I am currently doing on Bekkos: in his book Against George Moschabar which I have edited, one of the main criticisms Bekkos makes against his adversary is that the latter, by claiming that grace, or divine energy, is separate from the person of the Holy Spirit and denying that what Christ sends is the Holy Spirit himself, the third person of the Trinity, undercuts the whole basis for our understanding God to be a Trinity. Wendebourg (who has evidently not read this book by Bekkos) makes essentially the same point as Bekkos in a short English summary of her book, titled “From the Cappadocian Fathers to Gregory Palamas: The Defeat of Trinitarian Theology,” in: Elizabeth A. Livingstone, ed., Studia Patristica, vol. XVII, part one (Oxford 1982), pp. 194-198.

Anyway, those who have read Kierkegaard, who criticizes Hegel as a proponent of a soulless historicist approach to faith, may find the following passage from Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion fairly shocking. Although Hegel held an extreme view on the ability of reason to comprehend the truths of faith, he was, on matters of basic Christian dogma, an orthodox Christian. And his criticisms of a purely historical approach to dogma that, because of its indifference to the content of what is studied, remains spiritually dead, still deserve to be taken to heart.

From J. Glenn Gray, ed., G. W. F. Hegel on Art, Religion, and Philosophy (New York 1970), pp. 163-166.

“Christ still indeed continues to be made the central point of faith, as Mediator, Reconciler, and Redeemer; but what was known as the work of redemption has received a very prosaic and merely psychological signification, so that although the edifying words have been retained, the very thing that was essential in the old doctrine of the Church has been expunged….

“Even though Christ be for many the central point of faith and devotion in the deeper sense, yet Christian life as a whole restricts itself to this devotional bent, and the weighty doctrines of the Trinity, of the resurrection of the body, as also the miracles in the Old and New Testaments, are neglected as matters of indifference, and have lost their importance. The divinity of Christ, dogma, what is peculiar to the Christian religion is set aside, or else reduced to something of merely general nature. It is not only by the Enlightenment that Christianity has been thus treated, but even by pious theologians themselves. These latter join with the men of the Enlightenment in saying that the Trinity was brought into Christian doctrine by the Alexandrian school, by the neo-Platonists. But even if it must be conceded that the fathers of the Church studied Greek philosophy, it is in the first instance a matter of no importance whence that doctrine may have come; the only question is whether it be essentially, inherently, true; but that is a point which is not examined into, and yet that doctrine is the keynote of the Christian religion….

“The strongest indication, however, that the importance of these dogmas has declined, is to be perceived in the fact that they are treated principally in a historical manner, and are regarded in the light of convictions which belong to others, as matters of history, which do not go on in our own mind as such, and which do not concern the needs of our spirit. The real interest here is to find out how the matter stands so far as others are concerned, what part others have played, and centres in this accidental origin and appearance of doctrine. The question as to what is a man’s own personal conviction only excites astonishment. The absolute manner of the origin of these doctrines out of the depth of spirit, and thus the necessity, the truth, which they have for our spirits too, is shoved on one side by this historical treatment. It brings much zeal and erudition to bear on these doctrines. It is not with their essential substance, however, that it is occupied, but with the externalities of the controversies about them, and with the passions which have gathered around this external mode of the origin of truth. Thus theology is by her own act put in a low enough position.

“If the philosophical knowledge of religion is conceived of as something to be reached historically only, then we should have to regard the theologians who have brought it to this point as clerks in a mercantile house, who have only to keep an account of the wealth of strangers, who only act for others without obtaining any property for themselves. They do, indeed, receive salary, but their reward is only to serve, and to register that which is the property of others. Theology of this kind has no longer a place at all within the domain of thought; it has no longer to do with infinite thought in and for itself, but only with it as a finite fact, as opinion, ordinary thought, and so on. History occupies itself with truths which were truths—namely, for others, not with such as would come to be the possession of those who are occupied with them. With the true content, with the knowledge of God, such theologians have no concern. They know as little of God as a blind man sees of a painting, even though he handles the frame. They know how a certain dogma was established by this or that council; what grounds those present at such a council had for establishing it, and how this or that opinion came to predominate. And in all this, it is indeed religion that is in question, and yet it is not religion which here comes under consideration. Much is told us of the history of the painter of the picture, and of the fate of the picture itself, what price it had at different times, into what hands it came, but we are never permitted to see anything of the picture itself.

“It is essential in philosophy and religion, however, that the spirit should itself enter with supreme interest into an inner relation, should not only occupy itself with a thing that is foreign to it, but should draw its content from that which is essential, and should regard itself as worthy of such knowledge. For here man is concerned with the value of his own spirit, and he is not at liberty humbly to remain outside and to wander about at a distance.”

This story is ten years old, and the current pope has said similar things; but the text is relevant for an ongoing debate at the school where I teach. From the Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog:

I notice that in Germany, but also in the United States, a pretty hot debate is going on which pits so-called creationism against evolutionism. Creation and evolution are presented as if they were alternatives which logically exclude one another. The one who believes in the Creator is not supposed to be able to think in evolutionary terms, and the one who affirms evolution is supposed to be a non-believer in God by definition. This contraposition is an absurdity, because, on the one hand, there are many lines of scientific evidence in favor of evolution, which appears to be a reality we cannot help but see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.

On the other hand, the theory of evolution does not respond to all questions. In particular, it does not respond to the great philosophical question: what is the origin of all things? And how does the whole take a direction whose point of arrival is humanity? It’s very important, I think, and I was trying to say this at Regensburg in my lecture, that reason needs to open itself up more, so that, yes, it sees the physical and biological data, but also that these data are not sufficient to explain all of reality.

I’m reposting here an article published today by Moon of Alabama, which I think deserves the widest possible readership. The article makes it absolutely clear that ISIS, which is currently attempting to capture the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor from Syrian government control, has the support of the United States military, and that the US lied when it claimed that its air attack upon Syrian army positions in Deir ez-Zor last September, in which over 100 Syrian soldiers were killed, was a mistake.

How The U.S. Enabled ISIS To Take Deir Ezzor

The city of Deir Ezzor (Deir ez-Zur) in east-Syria is on the verge of falling into the hands of the Takfiris of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). More than 100,000 civilian inhabitants of Deir Ezzor and thousands of soldiers defending them are in immediate danger of being murdered by the savage ISIS forces. The current situation is a direct consequence of U.S. military action against the SAA and non-action against ISIS.

Deir Ezzor is besieged by ISIS since September 2015. But the city was well defended by its garrison of Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and all further attacks by ISIS were repelled. Supply to the city was hauled in by air through the Deir Ezzor airport and through air drops by the Syrian and Russian airforces. Relief by ground forces and ground supplies are not possible as Deir Ezzor is more than 100 km away from the nearest SAA positions west of Palmyra and as the desert in between is under the control of ISIS.

Four days ago a new attack by ISIS on Deir Ezzor was launched and has since continued. ISIS reinforcements and resupplies had come over months despite air interdiction from the Russian and Syrian airforces. Yesterday ISIS managed to cut off the airport, where the local SAA command and its main supplies are hosted, from the city proper. It is now attacking in full force from all sides. Bad weather makes air support from the outside sporadic and difficult. Unless some unforeseen happens it is only a question of time until the airport and the city fall to ISIS.

The U.S. has condoned and/or even actively supported the imminent ISIS taking of Deir Ezzor by (at least) three measures:

  • a massive U.S. air attack on SAA forces in September 2016 enabled ISIS to take a controlling position and to cut off SAA resupplies
  • a U.S. attack against a power station in January disabled the last electricity supplies to the city
  • U.S. non-intervention enabled ISIS reinforcements from Mosul and west Iraq to Deir Ezzor in east-Syria

On September 16 2016 an hour long U.S. led air attack on SAA positions on the Tharda hills to the south of the airport killed over 100 SAA soldiers, destroyed a big SAA supply dump and several SAA tanks and artillery pieces. Immediately after the U.S. attack ISIS took the hills and has since held them. The positions allow for fire control over the airport of Deir Ezzor.

The U.S. military claimed that the attack was a mistake but a thorough reading of the investigation report of that “mistake” shows that the U.S. military attack was intentionally targeting the SAA to make a political point against an announced U.S.-Russian cooperation agreement to fight ISIS. (Danish airforce F-16 planes and drones under U.S. command had taken part in the attack. After the report was published, the Danish government pulled all air elements from its participation in the U.S. coalition against ISIS.)

Since the U.S. attack in September no significant air supplies have reached Deir Ezzor. Even helicopter landing at the airport is only possible at night and by taking very high risks. The city inhabitants and their defenders are completely cut off.

Early January U.S. airforce attacks destroyed the electricity plant at the Omar oilfield near Deir Ezzor. The plant was the last one to supply the city of Deir Ezzor. Since then only a few military generators and dwindling fuel supplies are left for medical and communication equipment.

When the Iraqi Army plans for retaking the ISIS held city of Mosul were developed and commenced in October the U.S. insisted on leaving a western corridor open for ISIS forces inclined to flee from Mosul into the direction of Deir Ezzor. Hundreds if not thousands of ISIS fighters used the corridor. The U.S. controlled Kurdish forces in north Iraq let ISIS pass from Iraq to Syria. Fearing (correctly) that an ISIS move out of Mosul towards Deir Ezzor would mean the fall of Deir Ezzor Russia and Iran intervened with the Iraqi government. Despite U.S. wishes the Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi ordered his Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) to cut off the western exit:

Iran was not the only country pressing for the escape to be closed west of Mosul. Russia, another powerful Assad ally, also wanted to block any possible movement of militants into Syria, said Hashemi. The Russian defence ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.One of Assad’s biggest enemies, France, was also concerned that hundreds of fighters linked to attacks in Paris and Brussels might escape. The French have contributed ground and air support to the Mosul campaign.

Still, the battle plan did not foresee closing the road to the west of Mosul until Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi agreed in late October to despatch the Popular Mobilisation militias.

Despite a fast advance by the PMU from the south against Tal Afar to cut off the escape road many ISIS fighters in west Iraq were able to flee across the border and towards Deir Ezzor with their equipment in tact. They reinforced the ISIS troops now attacking Deir Ezzor. The U.S. has uncontested air superiority over west Iraq and east Syria but did not once intervene against the large scale move.

If ISIS takes Deir Ezzor it will likely kill (as it did on other occasions) all captured SAA troops and anyone it believes to have cooperated with them. The soldiers know this. They will fight down to the last bullet. But without any reinforcements and resupplies their chances are slim.

When the Syrian government besieged al-Qaeda forces in east-Aleppo the “western” media and the various “Syrian opposition” propaganda outlets were running an all out campaign in support of the besieged Takfiris. There is no such campaign in support of the civilians and soldiers in Deir Ezzor. In their few reports about the imminent fall of Deir Ezzor “western” publications even resort to outright lying. Thus claims the Daily Telegraph:

The US-led coalition, as well as the Russians, have been bombing the jihadists in Deir Ezzor for the last 18 months but have been unable to dislodge them.

No significant U.S. air attacks have been flown against ISIS forces around Deir Ezzor at all. All attacks flown by the U.S. in the area have been against Syrian government troops or their supporting infrastructure.

The U.S. official rhetoric about fighting ISIS is not supported by observable facts on the battle field. One can only conclude that the U.S. military does not only condone but supports ISIS in gaining control over Deir Ezzor despite the extreme high risk for anyone left in the city.

This [is] likely to further the larger long term plan of installing a “Salafist principality” in western Iraq and eastern Syria that creates a justification for the U.S. military to stay in the area to “fight ISIS” and which can be activated against the Syrian and Iraqi government whenever convenient. U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have both admitted that they earlier allowed ISIS to grow in Iraq and Syria for exactly such political purposes.

Above is a link to a document, released yesterday by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, titled Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution. I’ve skimmed through it; although the document asserts, without presenting any evidence, that Russia engaged in cyber espionage against US political organizations and hacked state and local electoral boards (see pp. 2-3), most of the document actually consists of a diatribe against the network RT, which it blames for consistently and publicly favoring Mr. Trump’s candidacy over Mrs. Clinton’s. E.g., on p. 4, it notes that “On 6 August, RT published an English-language video called ‘Julian Assange Special: Do WikiLeaks Have the E-mail That’ll Put Clinton in Prison?’ and an exclusive interview with Assange entitled ‘Clinton and ISIS Funded by the Same Money.'” The document says nothing as to whether it is true that Mrs. Clinton and ISIS are funded by the same money, that is, by Saudi Arabia and Qatar; it simply presents RT’s reporting this as evidence of unfair bias. Nor does it argue that e-mails possessed by WikiLeaks do not contain evidence of criminal activity by Mrs. Clinton; instead, it insinuates that a Russian media outlet has no business reporting on this possibility.

Surely most Americans who choose to watch RT are aware that that news outlet is funded by the Russian government, just as Americans who choose to watch the BBC are aware that that outlet is funded by the government of Great Britain. If in fact many Americans do find the reporting on RT of interest, it may be because they see America’s mainstream media as, in important ways, failing to do their job of keeping the public informed. Or, to put it more simply, a lot of Americans are tired of being “entertained” and lied to by news organizations that should be telling them plainly what their own government is doing; if they can get better information from abroad, so be it. In fact, the CIA has a long tradition of attempting to shape the way news is presented in this country (do a search on “Operation Mockingbird“). Read in the light of that history, Clapper’s document can be seen as expressing chagrin at the US intelligence community’s inability to shape the public narrative in ways that it used to.

Perhaps it is even the case that some Americans, reflecting on our foreign policy, are unhappy with what our government has been doing in recent years in places like Syria, Libya, and Ukraine, and would like to see a change in direction. Perhaps some Americans, seeing a choice between favoring Saudi Arabia and its jihadist proxy troops on the one hand, and a practical cooperation with Russia on the other, favor the latter policy. It is remarkable that this document nowhere considers that as a real possibility — that is, that the American public are educated enough to make up their own minds on things that matter, and might actually favor a cooperation with Russia.

The following is another extract from a Facebook discussion. I had originally posted an article by Stephen Gowans titled “How an evidence-free CIA finding alleging Russian interference in the US election was turned into an indisputable ‘truth’“; this raised objections from an old friend of mine; then (after much spilling of ink) another friend in New Jersey, who is a teacher, remarked that some of the sources I was citing would be rejected by her in her Freshman writing class as unreliable. This was my response to her.


First, I would point out that, of those sources which you say would not stand the test of credibility in your freshman writing class, one of them (the consortiumnews document) was written by a group of retired intelligence professionals whose credentials include “former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA,” … “former United States Senator,” … “Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East, CIA,” and so on; another source is a journal called the Belfast Telegraph, which basically reports the personal testimony of a career UK diplomat, Craig Murray, who says that he met the person who leaked the DNC documents to Wikileaks and that that person is an insider, not a foreigner, an American, not a Russian; if you don’t trust the Belfast Telegraph’s account of this, you can go to Craig Murray’s own webpage, and read what he has to say about it:…/cias-absence-conviction/ If what you tell your Freshman writing students is that statements made by former senators, ambassadors, and members of the intelligence community are not to be trusted when those statements conflict with declarations made by the CIA and the consensus opinion presented by the New York Times and NPR, then I would submit that you are teaching your Freshman students to be dutiful parrots of an officially sanctioned narrative and not critical thinkers.

I appreciate your attempt to understand where I am coming from here, and I do not generally unfriend people unless they have a habit of being egregiously unfriendly. I think that, if you look through my Facebook page over a number of years, you will find that, from the beginning of the Syrian war, I was skeptical of the official American position, namely, that Assad is a tyrant and that the people trying to depose him are democracy-loving freedom fighters. One reason why I was skeptical of this is that, having worked in Albania and having known people who visited Syria in the past, I know that that country was, at least until this war began, the religiously most tolerant country in the Arab world. Very early in that war, two Orthodox bishops were abducted; they haven’t been heard from since, and have presumably been killed. This abduction was done by the people my government has been supporting and touting as freedom-fighters — people who also happen to be supported and funded by Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive, religiously intolerant countries in the world and a major US ally. It is one incident, but, for me, it had a certain decisive effect; it helped bring home to me the extent to which the American humanitarian rationale to this war is a lie. Virtually everything I have learned about the war since then has confirmed for me the utter falsity of the narrative about this war which most people accept as fact: that we are virtuous humanitarians, that the Russians, coming to the aid of the Syrian government, are bloodthirsty murderers, that we are genuinely committed to destroying ISIS, etc., etc. It’s all lies and propaganda, and most people, yourself included, seem quite oblivious of the extent to which so-called reputable media outlets like the New York Times and NPR feed their readers a steady diet of propaganda on issues like this.

That is perhaps why I am inclined to be skeptical towards the pronouncement by Mr. Obama and the CIA and the FBI that Mr. Trump’s presidential victory was due to the work of “Russian hackers.” I have learned, by long experience, that most of what comes out of the mouths of people like John Kirby, Samantha Powers, John Kerry and the like is (if you’ll pardon the expression) bullshit, and that Mr. Obama, who has hired these career liars to spread this manure far and wide, is himself a consummate liar and generally not to be trusted when he pontificates on American virtue and Russian perfidy.

Of course, you don’t have to believe me, and probably won’t. But the claim that people who do report on these things, who present other points of view differing from the approved narrative of the mainstream are, by definition, mere peddlers of “fake news,” or that, because a number of sources report a narrative that differs radically from the approved one, they “harbor biases” (perhaps they are biased towards the truth) is simply insulting to one’s intelligence. It supposes that educated people cannot make their own decisions, on the basis of reason and experience, about what sources of information they should trust; they need to have someone else make these decisions for them. If that is the attitude you are teaching your students, you are doing them a disservice.