On cursing Bekkos
September 5, 2007
“The name of John Bekkos, hero to Henry Chadwick and ecumenists everywhere and Michael VIII’s patriarch, remains a curse in the mouths of many Greek Orthodox.” Daniel Larison, “Understanding Is Half The Battle” [http://larison.org/2006/12/02/understanding-is-half-the-battle/].
I am Greek Orthodox, and the name of John Bekkos is not a curse in my mouth.
It is true that Bekkos’s name is a curse in the mouth of many Orthodox, who follow in this the many Orthodox in whose mouths his name was a curse in the thirteenth century. What does that prove about Bekkos’s views being right or wrong? Since when is mob hatred a criterion for theological truth? If Bekkos’s writings persuaded some people of sound intelligence and clear conscience like Bessarion and Isidore of Kiev that the Latins were not heretics, it is because he presented patristic arguments which they found convincing. How many of the Orthodox for whom Bekkos’s name is a curse have ever examined his arguments?
“The reason why many Orthodox, especially Traditionalist Orthodox, tend to look down on ecumenist efforts is typically because these efforts are almost always bound to be just this kind of “false” ecumenism that pretends the differences are minor, semantic or culturally constructed and therefore of no deeper significance when they are anything but minor, semantic or the product of cultural misunderstanding.”
There is a thick begging of the question here. The claim that the differences between the Churches are “anything but minor, semantic or the product of cultural misunderstanding” is presented by Larison as a fundamental presupposition of faith, and a prerequisite for any genuine discussion between Orthodox and other Christians. Thus, any examination of evidence that might tend to cast doubt upon that claim is automatically ruled out as a “false ecumenism.” If evidence comes to light that suggests that the Cappadocians and other Greek fathers were not as far from Augustine in their thinking as the advocates of Orthodox exclusivity maintain, we are expected to throw that evidence out, it seems, so as not to be “false ecumenists.” If St. Gregory the Theologian, writing in the fourth century about division between Christians of East and West, said that “the pretext is the Trinity, but the reality is faithless hate” (poem 2.1.13, v.161; PG 37.1240), we must hold it as a point of faith that this observation has absolutely no applicability to our current millennial division, which St. Gregory already foresaw with foreboding because of its disastrous consequences for Christianity.
My own claim is that Bekkos is an honest man and a remarkably perceptive student of the Church Fathers, from whom we have yet much to learn. As a Christian, I find it a mark of stupidity to hold someone’s name as a curse in my mouth when I don’t know what he’s saying. If Bekkos is a hero to Henry Chadwick, it is to Chadwick’s credit and a mark of his competence as a church historian.