Bekkos on simplicity of faith

November 1, 2007

John Bekkos, De pace ecclesiastica, opening paragraphs. Translated from the Greek text in V. Laurent and J. Darrouzès, Dossier Grec de l’Union de Lyon (1273-1277) (Paris 1976), pp. 425-427.

It would have been truly a blessing if the preaching of the Gospel had forever shone brilliantly in Christ’s Church in all its unspeculative simplicity. It would have been genuinely salvific if the seal imprinted by the invocation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit upon those undergoing regeneration through baptism had been seen by all as the one and only seal of godliness. But since Sextuses and Pyrrhons (I mean those people who, at various times, have discredited the true teachings by their argumentation) have thrown ecclesiastical matters so far off center that, on the one hand, unspeculative simplicity of faith now appears as stupidity to our theological connoisseurs and religious intelligentsia, and those who know no more than their confession of faith in the Holy Trinity are scarcely counted as belonging to our religion, while, on the other hand, variety and hyper-speculation in doctrinal matters are considered a form of wisdom and of nearness to God, perished is the blessedness of simplicity of faith, perished is the common salvation which was expected to be enjoyed once and for all by all who are imprinted with the seal of baptism; for theological divergence over the Trinity, united above all reason, and theoretical variety over the Unity, ineffably made Three, have splintered the Christian people into competing denominations.

For if simplicity of faith had always prevailed, perhaps people throughout the world would have had no other identifying mark of their cultic, religious differences than the fact that some of them, through baptism, have been sealed with the seal of Christ while others remain unenlightened, with no participation in grace; thus, it would have sufficed that someone be called a Christian for that person to be known, by that very fact, to occupy the heights of godliness; between the name “Christian” and the summit of godliness, there would have been no gap. Such a supreme good would have been seen in all Christians, if multifarious differences over theology had not produced innovations, both in doctrine and in the Christian name, with each heresy offering, as a sort of common name for its adherents, the name of its founder. In this way, doctrinal variety has led to a loss of blessedness for many. For what is more blessed than that all who are called by the name of Christ be adorned with a single glory of faith? so that, as far as faith is concerned, the words “mine” and “yours” — those cold terms that banish godly concord — would not be known in the Church of Christ, neither this person belonging to Paul, that one to Apollos, that one to Cephas; but all would be of Christ and would consider each other as belonging to a single Body, joined and brought together into a common, connatural bond and referred together to a single Head, Christ.

8 Responses to “Bekkos on simplicity of faith”

  1. tizzidale Says:

    wow. that’s an awesome quote. how does it relate to his understanding of ‘catholicity’? it’s one thing to wish things were different, but how did he see ‘others’ outside orthodoxy – not just the Catholics.

  2. bekkos Says:

    Dear tizzidale,

    Your question deserves a longer and better answer than I am immediately able to give. For the present I’ll simply say this much: that this quotation from the work On Peace already shows that Bekkos is not a relativist, as some people make him out to be; he differentiates between orthodoxy and heresy, and he goes on in the book to specify what some of these heresies are. As for his understanding of catholicity, that is a more difficult question. The passage suggests that Bekkos identifies Christ’s Church, in some way, with the totality of the baptized. (St. Augustine, in his debates with the Donatists, said exactly the same thing.) There is a “common salvation, which was expected to be enjoyed once and for all by all who are imprinted with the seal of baptism.” Even though Bekkos says that this “common salvation” has “perished” (along with the “blessedness of simplicity of faith”), I sense that he is engaging in at least slight rhetorical exaggeration here. At the very least, he does not want to be too quick about defining the Church’s mystical boundaries. His business is to heal a division; he knows he cannot succeed in that task if he starts off by sharply differentiating between “us” and “them,” between what is “mine” and what is “yours,” employing “cold terms that banish godly concord.” He thinks that at least some of those differentiations have been made prematurely and stupidly, and that the Church has suffered because of it.

    I hope to address the issue of Bekkos’s understanding of the Church more fully in future postings to this blog. Nevertheless, it is a question that can be decided only on the basis of what he actually says in various places. That is one reason for buying the book, if it ever gets published.


  3. tizzidale Says:

    thanks for the response. I love the blog, btw. How influencial was Bekkos on the thought of Demetrios Kydones?

  4. bekkos Says:

    Dear tizzidale,

    I’m not completely sure. I’m pretty sure I once came across a reference that suggested that one of the extant manuscripts of Bekkos’s works had been owned by Kydones. I haven’t actually read any Kydones besides his “Apology for his Conversion,” translated in Jim Likoudis’s book Ending The Byzantine Greek Schism; he makes no mention of Bekkos there. There is also, I believe, a critical edition of Kydones’ letters, with a German translation; perhaps Bekkos is mentioned somewhere in those.

    In his “Apology,” Kydones says that he originally learned Latin for professional, business purposes: he had been assigned by the emperor (John VI Cantacuzenus) to look after the needs of Western visitors to the Byzantine court, and he was unhappy with having to work through a translator. It is pretty clear that his conversion was due, not to a reading of Bekkos, but to an encounter with the works of Thomas Aquinas, whom (together with his brother Prochoros) he soon set about translating into Greek.

    Like Bekkos, Kydones takes it as a fundamental presupposition of faith that the Fathers of the Church, both Greek and Latin, teach essentially the same doctrine. To set the Greek fathers in opposition to the Latin fathers, and to see all truth and light on the one side and mere ignorance and darkness on the other, is rejected by both of these men as a false, sectarian methodology. (It should be added, though, that, unlike Kydones, Bekkos knew no Latin; although he maintains the equality of the theological traditions, his arguments are based on Greek writings exclusively.)

    Like Bekkos, Kydones points to the language of the first Council of Nicaea, which speaks of the Son being εκ της ουσιας του Πατρος, from the substance of the Father. See Kydones’ work, On the Procession of the Holy Spirit, against those who say that the Son is not from the substance of the Father (PG 154, cols. 864 ff.). Already in Bekkos’s day, there were people who were saying that the Son is from the Father’s hypostasis, but not from the Father’s ousia, his substance. People were still making this argument two or three generations later, in Kydones’ day, only by then the argument had been extended (by the Palamites) to encompass a real distinction between God’s essence and his energies.

    Another way of stating this is that both Bekkos and Kydones are, in a way, “Old Nicenes.” Bekkos is an Old Nicene as a result of his reading of the early Greek fathers; Kydones is an Old Nicene largely through his direct exposure to Latin Christian thought. But, since I haven’t actually read much Kydones, I should probably leave any deeper theological analysis for some future date.


  5. […] the writings of Patriarch John XI (Bekkos) of Constantinople, in which the prelate considers the “unspeculative simplicity” of the Gospel.  It is, in my opinion, a searching piece for all those concerned with East-West […]

  6. […] – Patriarch John IX (Bekkos) of Constantinople (Read more here) […]

  7. […] – Patriarch John IX (Bekkos) of Constantinople (Read more here) […]

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