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.”

One Response to “Henry Chadwick on Bekkos”

  1. Pontificator Says:

    Peter, please consider writing a post describing Bekkos on purgatory. Specifically, what did he believe about the intermediate state and post-mortem purification? TIA.


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