Black Friday

November 27, 2007

The shopping hordes attack the malls
with plastic cards in hand,
a modern rite of capital
which nothing may withstand.
As proof of our depravity
what more is there to say?
Now Christmas in America
begins on a black day.


Occasional writing

November 24, 2007

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My cousin Maureen

November 15, 2007

My cousin Maureen is dying. I went up to Boston to visit her earlier this week, after receiving a phone call on Saturday evening from my aunt, who told me that, after falling out of bed one morning last week and being too weak to get up, Maureen was found to have a brain tumor, and that the cancer had already metastasized and spread throughout her body.

I spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights getting poor sleep, fighting a strange mix of toxic feelings, and thinking of all the pious and edifying things I would say when I saw her, none of which, thank God, I actually said. I sat in the room while other relatives talked mostly about the weather, the beautiful view from the hospital window, and cooking.

Maureen celebrated her sixtieth birthday this past September. Her family threw a birthday party for her at the historic Wayside Inn in Sudbury; I asked if I could attend, and was told I could. Later that evening I wrote a poem, which I subjoin.

Maureen never married. She taught nursing for some years at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, until chronic health problems forced her to discontinue. For nearly two decades she rented an apartment downstairs at my aunt and uncle’s home in Brookline; for awhile, during the late 1980’s when I was working on my dissertation, I lived upstairs from her, and it was at that time that I began to know her better. A strongly independent woman with a large heart and a sharp intellect, fiercely loyal to her friends and long nursing, along with her physical wounds, the wounds of real or perceived slights.

I had sent Maureen a copy of the following poem and had not heard back from her, so, when I saw her on Tuesday, I asked her if she liked it. She broke into a big smile, and said she loved it; she said it captured the mood of the occasion very well.

That is the best critical review I could have asked for. I reckon it is a sufficient imprimatur for me to reproduce the poem here.

Please remember Maureen in your prayers.

* * *

The city as an artifact of time
is what each tree that lines the boulevard
embodies in itself, and what the stones
declare, which speak the generations past
and present which have had their being here,
who are as much a part now of the place
as are the stones and trees and autumn weather,
a part of its inestimable wealth.
From the Wayside Inn we drove this night
along the old Post Road, then down Route 30
into the city, past Regis College
and Boston College, then onto Beacon Street.
Upon our left the T showed its new cars:
green, glassy, angular. Upon the right
a church where I once sang, then Star Market
being refurbished, where my uncle turned
(hitting the curb) onto a road that took us
down past the high school where my mother went,
then round a bend to the Sioras home.
It was a tracing backward of the route
of Paul Revere, at least in part. The cause
of this journey was a celebration
of my cousin’s sixtieth birthday, my
cousin Maureen. Her mother and siblings
were there, with niece and nephew, aunts, uncles,
and me. A lithograph of Longfellow
hung on the wall behind my aunt Theresa.
Maureen, pale and fragile, but dignified,
wore a corsage, a white dress and sweater,
a red and orange kerchief. Her sisters
laughed and chatted, joking with their brother;
the niece and nephew bantered with each other
and with their parents; my uncle spoke to me
about how people used to buy postcards
instead of taking pictures, and how he once
bought someone’s postcards for a bargain price,
and what those postcards said. Yet Maureen
was all the while the center of attention,
the reason for our being there, a kind
of silent witness to the mystery
of life and death. Her niece tied the ribbons
of opened presents upon her left arm.
The food was good. Maureen thanked everyone,
and smiled upon receiving certain books.
We showed our love as best we could, and she
appreciated it graciously.
She looked a little stronger than when I’d
last seen her, and she seemed, upon the whole,
to enjoy the whole thing immensely.

Bekkos, or Vekkos?

November 10, 2007

The question, “How do you spell the name ‘Bekkos’?” may sound like a superfluous and silly question to ask, since, if the person asking it asks it in writing, he attests that he already has a knowledge of how it is spelled. If only things were that simple. I confess that the question of how to spell Bekkos’s name is something I have spent long hours pondering over, and it would be well for me to clarify this issue and get it out of the way so that I could then move on to matters of perhaps greater theological importance.

There is, unfortunately, no single, commonly accepted way of spelling John Bekkos’s name in English. Reasons for this are complicated. John Bekkos, as readers of this blog by now probably know, did not write in English, but in Greek, and the Greek language uses a different alphabet than the Latin one on which English writing has been based since English began to be written. Moreover, the sounds of the Greek language shifted over time, as, apparently, the sounds of all languages do; this produced a certain lack of correspondence between the Latin and Greek alphabets and a confusion in representing Greek words in Latin dress: did one opt for historical continuity, representing, e.g., the Greek B (beta) by the Latin B, or did one attempt, instead, to represent the Greek word by the closest equivalent Latin sounds? Since probably the early middle ages, the Greek letter beta has taken on a sound that we now represent by the letter V (bear in mind that V earlier had a “W” sound — the letter W, and the differentiation between V and U, are later inventions).

For the name “Bekkos,” there are other complications. The Romans, in their alphabet, used two different letters to indicate the gutteral “K” sound: both C and K. (The letter C originally had a “G” sound, e.g., the name spelled “Caius” was originally pronounced “Gaius.” By the late third century B.C. a sound shift had occurred, C took on the sound of the Greek K (kappa), and, since the “G” sound had not actually disappeared, people felt the need for a new letter to represent it. Hence the letter G was invented, and Latin was left with two ways of representing the “K” sound, namely, the letters C and K. The letter K was employed almost exclusively in Latin words of Greek origin.)

Furthermore, the Greek name Βέκκος is a second declension Greek noun, and it was represented in Latin as a second declension Latin noun, with the nominative ending -us.

Add to this the fact that “Bekkos” is a relatively short name, with only five different letters. Of these, three of them, B, K, and O, have variants. It is only the letters E and S that are unambiguous, i.e., that show a simple, one-to-one correspondence between Greek and Latin.

β -> b, v
ε -> e
κ -> c, k
ο -> u, o
ς -> s

Thus, you begin to get a sense of why spelling Bekkos’s name becomes a headache.

(Note that, for the name “Palamas,” there is no such ambiguity: all five letters of his name have a simple, one-to-one correspondence between Greek and Latin:

π -> p
α -> a
λ -> l
μ -> m
ς -> s.)

(In Russian, there is no such confusion. Because the Cyrillic alphabet is based on the Greek one, there is a simple Russian spelling of the name which both looks right and sounds right, Иоанн Векк, pronounced “Vekk.” Веккос, pronounced “Vekkos,” is given as a variant.)

In medieval Latin texts and inscriptions, both the forms “Beccus” and “Veccus” occur. This variability is reflected later on in published Latin texts: e.g., in J.-P. Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, vol. 141, which reprints the Greek texts of most of Bekkos’s works together with the Latin translations of Leo Allatius, the form “Veccus” is used; in volume 142 of the same series, both “Beccus” and “Veccus” are found. Fr. Martin Jugie, in his Theologia Dogmatica Christianorum Orientalium, published in the early 1930’s, uses “Veccus”; Fr. Jacek Benedykt Huculak, in a Latin dissertation published in 1989 (Graeca indoles doctrinae Constantini Meliteniotae de processione Spiritus Sancti ex Patre Filioque), uses “Beccus.”

Originally, English writers adopted both of these forms directly from the Latin. Gibbon, in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. LXII, uses the form “Veccus” (he describes him, fairly, as “an ecclesiastic of learning and moderation”). Through much of the twentieth century, “Beccus” was the usual English form: it is what one finds, for instance, in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, and (I think), in the first edition of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1967; it is also the way the name was spelled by Fr. Joseph Gill, S.J. in his various studies (including the only substantial article ever written on Bekkos in the English language), and by Prof. Aristeides Papadakis in his book Crisis in Byzantium. And, in fact, when I began my own studies of Bekkos, that is how I generally spelled his name, “Beccus.”

Why then the new spelling?

Beginning perhaps in the late 1950’s or early 60’s, and acquiring greater force thereafter, there came about, in various academic disciplines, a movement to de-latinize the English spelling of Greek names. People are by now probably used to hearing “Odysseus” instead of “Ulysses”; they are probably less comfortable with “Akhilleus” instead of “Achilles,” or “Sokrates” instead of “Socrates,” and, although “Vasilios” is a perfectly good Modern Greek name, few people would say that that is how one ought to pronounce the name of St. Basil when speaking of him in English. That is probably because “Basil” is already a fairly common English name. Those Greeks whose names are not widely known in English are seen as fair game for linguistic revision.

Perhaps behind this linguistic revision there is a philosophical stance. Heidegger famously thought that medieval Latin philosophy had covered up the real meanings of Greek philosophical terms, turning concrete realities into abstractions, and that it was the task of modern philosophy to uncover the original meanings of words and their attendent experiences, that philosophy, in other words, at least at the present time, is a project of “desedimentation.” (In keeping with this project, there are translations of Aristotle entirely devoted to removing the traditional, latinate ontological language in which Aristotle’s thought has hitherto been rendered into English. See, e.g., the translations of Joe Sachs.) This philosophical background may have had something to do with the movement to make English look less like Latin when representing Greek names.

It is also possible, of course, that the pressures of identity politics have had some effect. A person demanding that the names “Maximus,” “Photius,” and “Ignatius” be represented as “Maximos,” “Photios,” “Ignatios” seems to be engaged in simply a different version of the project of him who would represent “Isaac” as “Yitzaak” when speaking of the biblical patriarch: he is asserting, through linguistic means, a form of ownership of the history.

(I should add that the name has been consistently spelled “Bekkos” in German since at least the late nineteenth century.)

For whatever reasons, the forms “Bekkos” and “Vekkos” have become more prominent in English, and indeed in other languages, since the 1960’s, to the point where it does seem that “Bekkos” is now the commonest English spelling. It is the spelling, for instance, used by Henry Chadwick in the passage I quoted a few days ago; and it is the spelling one finds in the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, as well as in many other scholarly articles. For this reason, and because someone who read my translations expressed to me a worry that “Beccus” might be taken as too latinate, I began using the more common recent form around the middle of last year. Since there are no other translations of Bekkos available in English, my guess is that the spelling I employ in the book will have some impact upon how his name is spelled in the future. That is why I am puzzling over this.

One of the ironies is that, of all people, John Bekkos would no doubt be supremely unconcerned about how one spelled his name. His constant theological refrain is that it is the underlying reality that matters, not the words used to express it.

Incidentally, in an earlier draft of this posting, I mistakenly assumed that “Bekkos” is not a common Greek name. I was wrong. Through the wonders of internet search engines, I find that there is, at this time, a podiatrist named Vekkos who practices in Naperville, Illinois, and a botanist named Vekkos in Greece; there are also many Vekkoses in the Athens telephone directory. Still, the name is not based upon any evident Greek roots, which raises for me the question of its etymology.

There is a word “beccus,” found in late Latin, meaning “beak”; it is a borrowing from the French “bec.” Although it is possible that some ancestor of Bekkos’s could have been called “Mr. Beak” from the shape of his nose, it seems to me unlikely that that is the source of the Bekkos/Vekkos family name: for one thing, if there had been this French origin to the family, Bekkos’s detractors would certainly have made much of the fact; secondly, the French “B” would probably not have been represented by the Greek beta, which had already taken on the “V” sound.

Another etymology seems to me more likely. Tertullian, in his work Ad nationes, relates the story of a curious experiment, made by a man named Psammetichus.

“Psammetichus thought that he had hit upon the ingenious discovery of the primeval man. He is said to have removed certain new-born infants from all human intercourse, and to have entrusted them to a nurse, whom he had previously deprived of her tongue, in order that, being completely exiled from all sound of the human voice, they might form their speech without hearing it; and thus, deriving it from themselves alone, might indicate what that first nation was whose speech was dictated by nature. Their first utterance was BEKKOS, a word which means ‘bread’ in the language of Phrygia: the Phrygians, therefore, are supposed to be the first of the human race.” (Ad nationes 8.15.)

Compare the Albanian word for bread, “bukë,” apparently cognate with the English “bake.”

So far as anyone knows, Bekkos’s family had its roots in Asia Minor; they owned some property near Nicaea, and the way Bekkos speaks of himself, and others speak about him, suggests that, while not a family of the greatest wealth, they had lived in Constantinople for quite some time. Given these Anatolian connections, the Phrygian etymology seems to me to make the most sense. In other words, the Bekkos/Vekkos family is probably descended from someone in Asia Minor whom his neighbors referred to, in their own language, as “Mr. Baker.”

Henry Chadwick on Bekkos

November 8, 2007

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

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

Ibid., pp. 252 f.

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

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

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

A note on Dvornik

November 8, 2007

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

Ney on the dollar

November 7, 2007

Bill Ney, at his blog The New Combat, has a posting today on China and the dollar, which I recommend.