John Bekkos on unity of cause in the Trinity

January 5, 2008

The following passage stands at the beginning of the theological part of John Bekkos’s treatise On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome. After first rejecting the opinion that one should continue with the status quo simply because it is the status quo, he goes on to address the more serious charge, first stated by Photius in the ninth century, that the Latin Filioque doctrine corrupts divine monarchy, i.e., that it implies a doctrine of two ultimate causes in God, a teaching like that of the early Marcionite and Manichaean heresies.

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John Bekkos, De unione ecclesiarum §§ 7-9 (Lämmer ed., pp. 208-215; PG 141, 24A – 28B).

7. What do you say, men and brethren? Why does the schism of the Churches appear to us a thing worth fighting over? They say, Because of the length of time already passed since this schism came into being: for this reason we take it to be something worth fighting over, because it is of long standing. Then, is what we should care about the fact that we are divided, or is it how we have become divided that we should look into? The fact that we are divided, they say. But as for me, and I think the same thing holds for anyone of good sense, it is not this, but the how that matters. And even if we should find that our predecessors who backed the schism, who accused the Church of Rome of having seriously erred in matters of dogma, actually examined and thoroughly tested those things of which they accused the Romans — accusations from which the Romans defended and acquitted themselves, and said, judging fairly, that, if their accusers spoke rightly, they should be followed and praised and blessed, but that, if they did not, one should hold them as having transgressed, with regard to this scandal, by succumbing to a human transgression — as for us, we should dismiss what arose among them as something blameworthy, and substitute what we praise, or else, for the time being, and out of respect for these people’s seniority, we should speak nothing about them, which may at least serve to dispose them well towards us, and bring a two-fold benefit, because, on the one hand, we have not followed them in their error, and, on the other hand, we have set a good example to the younger generation and to those who shall come after us. But to me, and I suppose to anyone else who hates unthinking intransigence, there is pleasure to be found in what is well-researched, and in the enquiry into how we became divided. But even though some people, because of our former division, may judge it best to adhere to the schism without examining its causes, all the same I myself utterly turn from the irrational policy of preceding generations.

8. But directly there comes along someone who doesn’t hold to this unthinking view based on length of time, but who nevertheless, although of a more rational disposition, rushes to oppose the more rational way: “And what are you saying?” he says to us. “Do you actually think we should embrace ecclesiastical peace with the Latins, when they acknowledge two causes and two principles of the one Spirit in the blessed Trinity?” No, by the Trinity, my good man. In this way I forestall your objection, lest you should entertain even the least suspicion of such a thing about us. It is not like that that we say that peace with the Roman Church is to be concluded. For we invoke a falling away from the blessed Trinity upon anyone who would want to conclude peace with such people as speak of two principles in the consubstantial Trinity. For such are the teachings of those who, by closing their eyes to the light of Truth, walked in the darkness of their own wickedness. But as for us, when we read that Symbol of Faith that has been passed down to us from the holy fathers, we cry aloud clearly: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” And thus we read this text, and thus we shall read it until our last breath, and thus thinking we shall be presented before the Trinity. But the Italians, when they add to the reading of the Creed the phrase, “and from the Son,” do not say that there are two causes of the one Spirit, since they do not assert the Spirit to be from the Father and the Son in any dyarchic, dualistic way. For, among the ancient heretics, some, namely the Manichaeans and the Marcionites, honoring a dualistic principle, supposed there to be one principle of good and another principle of evil; while, besides these people, there were others — namely, those of the sect of Eunomius — who held to the teaching that, as the Son is from the Father alone, so also is the Holy Spirit only from the Son. But the Church of the Romans, once and for all dismissing all such as ridiculous and deserving of laughter, has remained unshakable and inalterable in the definitions of orthodoxy; it neither has held at any time to a teaching of one origin of good and another origin of evil, nor has it ever adhered to Eunomius’s party, so as to have dared to say that the Father is the source of the Son alone, while the Son alone is a different origin of the Spirit, and thereby to appear to worship two origins or principles.

9. But taking its stand upon the doctrines of the great saints, and following their conceptions, it proclaims the Son to be from the Father alone, while it says that the Holy Spirit is also from the Son. Nevertheless it truly honors and confesses one principle in the Holy Trinity, because, from the teaching of the fathers, it knows how to refer all that belongs to the Son back to the Father, the first cause. For the ability both to say that the Spirit is from the Father and the Son and at the same time not to honor two causes of the Spirit arises from this consideration and this alone, that everything, as was said, that belongs to the Son is to be referred back to the Father, the first cause. But if you require testimonies from recognized theologians, so that from them you might have a pledge for these assertions and may know that the Father and the Son neither are nor are said to be two causes of the Spirit because of the Spirit’s being from the Father and from the Son, since it is to the Father, the first cause, that all that belongs to the Son is referred, we may produce Basil the Great as a reliable witness. For because he had found Eunomius, in his writings, dogmatizing concerning the cause of the Spirit and maintaining that the Spirit is from the Son alone, Basil — a man mighty in divine things, unconquerable in word and invincible in manner — towards the end of his second discourse Against Eunomius speaks in this way:

“But to whom of all people is it not apparent, that no activity of the Son is separated from the Father, nor does there exist anything among the things in the Son that is alien from the Father? For, he says, ‘all that are mine are thine, and thine are mine’ (Jn 17:10). Why then does Eunomius ascribe the cause of the Spirit to the Son alone, and take the making of him as a reproach against his nature? If then, in saying these things, he sets two causes in opposition to each other, he will be the comrade of Mani and Marcion; but if the statement that ‘all things came to be through’ the Son connects existing things to a single cause, it implies a reference back to the first cause. So that, even though we believe that all things were brought into being through the Word of God, nevertheless we do not deprive the God of the universe of being the cause of all things.” [1]

To the testimony of this lofty herald of truth will be added that of Gregory, called the “Theologian,” who, in his Oration on Pentecost, which begins with the words, “Let us reason a little about the Festival,” says this:

“For it was not ever fitting that either the Son should be wanting to the Father, or the Spirit to the Son.” [2]

And a little after this:

“Therefore He was ever being partaken, but not partaking … invisible, eternal, … All-powerful (even though all that is of the Spirit is referable to the First Cause, just as is all that is of the Only-Begotten).” [3]

Accordingly, since these important witnesses, these great fathers, have made it plain that all that belongs to the Son has reference back to the first cause, the Father, we were right to maintain that, when the Italians add to the reading of the Creed the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds “also from the Son,” they do not assert that the one Spirit has two causes.

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Footnotes :

  1. Basil of Caesarea, Adv. Eunomium, II.34; PG 29, 652 A-B.
  2. Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 41.9; PG 36, 441 B; tr. NPNF ii.7, p. 382.
  3. Ibid.

One Response to “John Bekkos on unity of cause in the Trinity”

  1. A worthy and erudite meditation! I praise your scholarship and blog, and I look forward to your published works.

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