Last week I was informed by one of the readers of this blog that he questions whether I “actually believe any exclusive claim to truth.” And, he says, because he suspects that it is the case that I do not “actually believe any exclusive claim to truth,” he sees no reconciliation between himself and me, and will always oppose me.

Let me simply say, first, that my love of truth, and my belief in its reality, ought to be sufficiently clear to any unbiased reader of this blog. Likewise, my belief in the articles of the Christian faith as enounced in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and my acceptance of the authority of Holy Scripture and of the teachings of the ecumenical councils cannot, I think, be seriously questioned by anyone who knows me. I endeavor to be a faithful Christian, and, at the same time, a thinking one. I do not think that having faith excludes asking pointed questions. I do not think that studying John Bekkos, and thinking that, on certain matters, he got things right, is inconsistent with being an Orthodox Christian. In truth, I do have questions about the origin of Christian divisions, and the justifiability of their continuation, and what implications these things have for me personally in my attempt to live a Christian life. If I did not have real questions, I would be, I think, a very poor scholar, and a pretty arrogant, small-minded human being. But those are issues I prefer to take up with my father-confessor rather than with the blogging public, and most Orthodox priests to whom I have asked the question have encouraged me to persevere with my studies.

As for believing in any “exclusive claim to truth”: it is true that those Orthodox hierarchs and theologians for whom I have the greatest respect — men like Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Archbishop Demetrios of New York, and Patriarch Bartholomew — do not generally go about, beating their breasts, affirming that the Orthodox Church possesses exclusive claims to truth, as though, by virtue of being Orthodox, one automatically regarded all Catholics and Protestants as heretics. Most of these aforesaid bishops tend rather to say that the Orthodox Church possesses the fulness of saving truth, that it possesses Jesus Christ, who is the truth, and that, where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic Church. Most of them would further affirm that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are, in some sense, sister Churches, that their separation has impoverished both of them and brought incalculable damage to Christianity, and that, just as the Catholics are asked, in charity, not to proselytize the Orthodox, so also the Orthodox ought not to present the Orthodox faith to Catholics in such a way as to imply that, unless they cease to be Catholics and become Orthodox, they cannot be saved. Most of these men would acknowledge that there is some legitimate sense in which the Bishop of Rome exercises a Petrine primacy; they would like to see that primacy clarified so that its exercise, at least with respect to the Christian East, corresponds more to the manner in which it was exercised during the first Christian millennium when the Churches were, for the most part, in communion. Most of them are understandably worried that, without such clarification, the Orthodox would, in any future union, be subject to the same sort of harassments and liturgical deformations as have been suffered by Eastern Catholics over the centuries in their various unions with the See of Rome. All of these bishops and theologians see Orthodoxy as revealing the truth of God, in a definitive and saving way that speaks directly to the human condition. All of them see Orthodox theology as possessing peculiarly valuable resources for addressing contemporary problems in areas like the environment; none of them, I suspect, would wholeheartedly agree with Cardinal George Pell of Sydney when he affirms that concern over issues like global warming is a manifestation of “pagan emptiness.” All of them see the fundamental emphasis of Orthodox theology on the truth and freedom of the person as essential and non-negotiable and as vital for authentic Christian life.

I agree with them on all of this. And, because I agree with them on all of this, I remain an Orthodox Christian. I remain an Orthodox Christian, in spite of the fact that, on many issues, I tend to think that the Catholics are probably right. I often find that my intellectual perception of agreement with the Catholic position is counterbalanced by a dislike of the spirituality, or at least, a sense of its foreignness. (This perception is, I should note, not less palapable in the case in most Eastern Catholic churches I have visited, and in some respects more so.) I do not think I could leave the Orthodox Church without experiencing permanent spiritual homesickness. By leaving, I might achieve a kind of intellectual consistency, and perhaps might even find a job, but I would be an unhappy man.

For reasons like this, I am content to allow the ecumenical process to take its glacial course, rather than to take the unilateral action of leaving the Orthodox communion, an action that would bring me no joy, but the deepest regret and misgivings. But I endeavor to speed up the glacial motion of ecumenical dialogue, if at all possible, by applying the heat of intellect to points of especial dogmatic frozenness. Perhaps foolishly, I retain some hope of a reconciliation.

The frozen dogmatic assumption to which I have sought to apply especial warmth is the assumption that the local Constantinopolitan synod of Blachernae of 1285 was right in condemning John Bekkos as a trinitarian heretic, a man who taught two causes in the Trinity. I am convinced that that synod misrepresented his actual views. At the same time, I would agree with those contemporary scholars, like Dr. Alexandra Riebe, who question the extent to which Bekkos can be said to have “converted” from Orthodoxy to Catholicism. That he changed his mind in some essential way about the justifiability of the division is undeniable; that he altered and transfered his fundamental ecclesiastical allegiance is not. I do not claim that Bekkos was faultless, or that the Orthodox Church should now be expected to discard its dogmatic teaching in order to accommodate his views. Yet I do think that Orthodox thinkers ought to be able to recognize that the Orthodox dogmatic teaching, to the extent that it crystallized around the views of Gregory of Cyprus, represents a fairly narrow interpretation of the patristic evidence, an interpretation that, whatever its current usefulness for ecumenical discussion, was originally meant to exclude Latin triadology, not to encompass it. Gregory the Cypriot made his own “exclusive claim to truth”; it was, effectively, that the Greeks had the truth, and the Latins could be damned. Bekkos’s claim was, rather, that the Greeks had the truth, and the Latins did too, and that there was therefore no reason, except for blind pigheadedness, why they should not be in communion with one another. Somehow I tend to think that Bekkos still deserves a hearing.

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible for you, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:17-18 )

I think it is important for me to recognize that St. Paul’s words here apply to bloggers as well as to other people. If I am unable to treat Photios Jones as a fellow Christian, what good is it for me to treat Catholics as such? Although I think his way of expressing his opinions is unnecessarily confrontational, and that it does constitute “badgering tactics,” I do not deny that he has some legitimate point. I should, in fact, read Siecienski’s dissertation, along with all the various other things I need to do. And that Orthodox Christians have the right and duty to proclaim the gospel, according to the traditional dogmatic understanding of the Orthodox Church, is not something I would want to deny. But there are different ways of understanding Orthodox dogmatic tradition, and different ways of proclaiming it, as a glance at contemporary Orthodox literature would quickly make apparent. Not all these ways exclude an honest attempt at understanding the theological positions of other Christians; indeed, some would say that, without such effort, the Orthodox position itself inevitably becomes falsified (as I think it was falsified in the case of Fr. Justin Popovic). At any rate, in my own scholarship, I have sought to engage in that effort at mutual understanding, and I don’t think it disqualifies me from being a faithful Orthodox Christian. If Mr. Jones thinks otherwise, he is entitled to his opinion; but he is no longer entitled to express that opinion freely on my blog.


I was away most of the past two weeks in Chicago and Washington, D.C., attending two conferences: in Chicago, the annual meeting of the Orthodox Theological Society in America (June 12-14); in Washington, D.C., the twelfth annual Orientale Lumen conference (June 16-19). There is much that could be said about these two conferences, and, since I took over 50 pages of notes at them, I have a fairly good recollection of what took place. But let me leave that for some other occasion.

During my absence, I found another comment from Photios Jones on the post St. Maximus on the filioque. In his comment, Mr. Jones supplies a link to a translation, on his blog, of a passage by Anastasius the Librarian (a ninth-century Latin writer, sometime papal librarian and translator of Greek, deeply involved in ecclesiastical politics at the time of Photius); he further informs me that Anastasius the Librarian supports his reading of St. Maximus’s passage as against mine, and that “it seems odd that he would contradict his own tradition if Maximus wasn’t quite getting them right.”

I should note that the passage from Anastasius the Librarian is also cited by Jean-Claude Larchet, in his critique of the 1995 Vatican “Clarification” on the Filioque (the “Clarification,” it seems, can no longer be found on the internet). It serves as the clinching text in support of Larchet’s claim that the common doctrine of the Churches, during the first millennium, was Photius’s: if the Holy Spirit can be said to “proceed,” in any way, “from the Son,” this refers strictly to a temporal sending.

I don’t agree with this reading of the patristic evidence. But that disagreement obliges me to give some account of why Anastasius the Librarian says what he does.

First, before I give my own reading of the evidence, let me translate a couple of passages from an old warhorse of Catholic polemic, Fr. Martin Jugie. He was one of the great scholars of Eastern Christianity of the twentieth century, although, by current-day standards, he would be judged insufferably hostile and condescending towards the Orthodox Church, which he routinely referred to as “ecclesia graeco-russa” since he denied that it was in fact theologically orthodox. He wrote in French and in Latin; except for a book on Purgatory, nothing of his has been translated into English. Perhaps that is just as well. But let me, in any case, render a couple of passages here, in which Jugie comments upon Anastasius the Librarian’s text.

Martin Jugie, De processione Spiritus Sancti ex fontibus revelationis et secundum Orientales dissidentes (Rome 1936), p. 185, n.:

By another method the Greeks and Russians [Graeco-Russi] endeavor to draw St. Maximus to their own side. For an interpretation of Maximus’s words in the Epistola ad Marinum has come down to us from Anastasius the Librarian, which, in the published editions, goes like this:

“Furthermore, we have translated, from the letter of the same St. Maximus addressed to the priest Marinus, a passage concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit, wherein he notes that the Greeks had brought up a charge against us to no purpose, since we do not claim that the Son is cause or principle of the Holy Spirit, as they suppose; but, being not unaware of the unity of substance of the Father and the Son, we say that, in just the way he proceeds from the Father, in that very same way he proceeds from the Son, taking ‘procession,’ doubtless, in the sense of ‘mission.’ By this pious interpretation Maximus instructs those who are unlearned* in the two languages to be at peace, since in fact he teaches both us and the Greeks that, in one way, the Holy Spirit does proceed from the Son, and, in another way, he doesn’t, while he points out the difficulty of expressing the idiom of one language in that of another.” Collectanea ad Joannem Diaconum, PL 129, 560-561 and PG 91, 133.

From Anastasius’s words, “taking ‘procession,’ doubtless, in the sense of ‘mission,'” certain Greek and Russian theologians infer: (1) the Latins at that time, namely, from the seventh to ninth centuries, understood the formula a Patre Filioque procedit not as applying to the Spirit’s eternal procession, but as speaking of his temporal mission; (2) Maximus himself accepted the formula a Patre per Filium in that very sense. In truth, so far as Maximus is concerned, his own words sufficiently cry out against such an interpretation. And, among the Latins, it is only Anastasius whose words lead him into danger, if in fact he is confusing procession and mission, which, from the aforecited passage, is in no way certain. For, from the things which he immediately subjoins, namely, “in one way, the Holy Spirit does proceed from the Son, and, in another way, he doesn’t,” he shows that he has understood St. Maximus’s own explanation correctly. For this reason Combefisius, the editor of Maximus’s works, conjectures that it is very likely that, in place of missionem (mission), one ought to read emissionem (emission), by which word Anastasius would have wished to render the Greek word προϊέναι, from which comes the word πρόοδος, corresponding to the Latin word processio.

*This is Jugie’s reading. The Migne text reads “learned.”

In his Theologia Dogmatica Christianorum Orientalium, vol. 2 (Paris 1933), p. 441, Jugie comments more simply: “Textus sane est obscurus et talis qui suspicionem ingere possit de scientia theologica Anastasii,” “the text indeed is obscure and such as might well raise a doubt about Anastasius’s theological competency.”

Jugie points out that the passage is cited by the early-modern Orthodox writers Theophanes Prokopovitch (Tractatus de processione Spiritus Sancti, Gotha, 1772) and Adam Zoernikavius (De processione Spiritus Sancti a Patre solo dissertationes theologicæ decem et novem, Königsberg 1774-1776); like the editors at Energetic Procession today, these men sought to infer from this ninth-century text the existence of a continuous, anti-Augustinian triadological tradition in the Latin West. Jugie thinks the evidence is inadequate to prove that claim; I agree.

To give my own reading of the evidence: I think it is worth pointing out, first of all, certain historical facts about Anastasius the Librarian. What is chiefly remarkable about Anastasius’s ecclesiastical career is that he combined deep erudition with utterly unscrupulous ambition; in that respect, he was not unlike his Greek contemporary, St. Photius the Great. He was the greatest Greek scholar in Rome of his day; and, although he had been excommunicated twice, once for having had himself elected antipope, and once on the charge of being an accomplice to a murder, he was nevertheless an indispensable man to the popes of the 860s and 870s, who had no one else they could turn to for maintaining diplomatically sensitive communications with the Byzantine Church and State. He took part in the anti-Photian council of Constantinople in 869-870, and his Latin translation of that council’s proceedings is the only version that has survived. He was, at first, a virulent opponent of Photius; but, when the political winds changed, and Pope John VIII proved willing to recognize Photius in order to solicit Byzantine help against the Arab threat upon the Italian mainland, Anastasius changed his tune, and maintained with Photius a friendly correspondence.

So the first thing to bear in mind, when assessing this text by Anastasius the Librarian, is that it is not a text by your average hoi polloi Latin. It is a text by a grecophone Latin, who had a fairly good knowledge of what contemporary Greeks thought of things. The second thing to bear in mind is that, according to Arthur Lapôtre, De Anastasio Bibliothecario sedis apostolicæ (Paris 1885), p. 332, the Collectanea ad Joannem Diaconum, from which this passage is taken, was written by Anastasius after the year 874. This was at a time when John VIII was already pope; presumably, attitudes towards the Greek Church were already changing.

The combination of these factors seems to me sufficient to account for Anastasius’s language in this letter. Anastasius is the representative here of those Latins at Rome who are concerned to patch things up with the Greek Church as soon as possible. It may be that Jugie is right, that Anastasius really wrote emissionem, to correspond to Maximus’s word προϊέναι. In that case, Anastasius would be simply glossing Maximus’s point, that προϊέναι (“coming-forth”) is how one should translate the Latin procedereprocedere, when used of the Spirit’s relationship with the Son, does not mean ἐκπορεύεσθαι, to “proceed” in the sense of deriving ultimate origin, but “proceed” in the sense of “existing through.” Or it may be that Anastasius in fact wrote missionem here. In that case, it seems to me, he is giving John the Deacon the current Greek interpretation of what is theologically acceptable: i.e., he is echoing Photius, with whom, by this time, he was on better terms.

In any case, the text from Anastasius the Librarian does not prove the existence of a longstanding body of Latin opinion that considered St. Augustine a trinitarian heretic. And if Anastasius were in fact condemning an Augustinian reading of the procession here, he would also be condemning all those popes who, for centuries, had on many occasions affirmed the Augustinian view. Here, for instance, is a text by St. Leo the Great:

“Spiritus Sanctus Patris Filiique … Spiritus non sicut quaecumque creatura quae et Patris et Filii est, sed sicut cum utroque vivens et potens, et sempiterne ex eo quod est Pater Filiusque subsistens.” “The Holy Spirit belongs to the Father and the Son… The Spirit is not like this or that creature which belongs to the Father and the Son, but [exists] as one who, with both of them, is living and powerful, and who exists eternally from that which the Father and the Son is.” (Sermo LXXVI, PL 54, 400).

In a letter to St. Turibius, bishop of Astorga in Spain, Pope Leo writes:

“…primo itaque capitulo demonstratur quam impie sentiant de Trinitate divina, qui et Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti unam atque eandem asserunt esse personam, tamquam idem Deus nunc Pater nunc Filius nunc Spiritus Sanctus nominetur; nec alius sit qui genuit, alius qui genitus est, alius qui de utroque procedit.” “Thus, in the first chapter it is shown what impious notions they hold concerning the divine Trinity, when they assert that there is one and the same person of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, as though the same God should at one time be named Father, at another time Son, at another time Holy Spirit; and as though there were not one who begat, another who is begotten, another who proceeds from both.” (Ep. xv; PL 54, 680).

Pope Leo III, at the beginning of the ninth century, writes the following to the Eastern churches:

“Leo episcopus servus servorum Dei omnibus orientalibus Ecclesiis. Hoc symbolum orthodoxae fidei vobis mittimus ut tam vos quam omnis mundus secundum Romanam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam rectam et inviolatam teneatis fidem. Credimus sanctam Trinitatem, id est, Patrem, Filium, et Spiritum Sanctum, unum Deum omnipotentem, unius substantiae, unius essentiae, unius potestatis, Creatorem omnium creaturarum, a quo omnia, per quem omnia, in quo omnia: Patrem a se ipso, non ab alio; Filium a Patre genitum, Deum verum de Deo vero, lumen verum de lumine vero, non tamen duo lumina, sed unum lumen; Spiritum Sanctum a Patre et a Filio aequaliter procedentem, consubstantialem, coaeternum Patri et Filio. Pater plenus Deus in se, Filius plenus Deus a Patre genitus, Spiritus Sanctus plenus Deus a Patre et Filio procedens….”
“The bishop Leo, servant of the servants of God, to all the Eastern Churches. We are sending you this symbol of Orthodox faith so that both you and all the rest of the world may hold to the right and inviolate faith in accordance with the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. We believe in the Holy Trinity, that is, Father Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, all-mighty, of a single substance, of a single essence, of a single power, Creator of all creatures, from whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things: the Father, from himself, not from any other; the Son, begotten of the Father, true God of true God, true light of true light, not two lights, however, but one light; the Holy Spirit, proceeding equally from the Father and from the Son, consubstantial, coeternal with the Father and the Son. The Father, complete God in himself, the Son, complete God begotten of the Father, the Holy Spirit, complete God proceeding from the Father and the Son….” (Cited from H. B. Swete, On the History of the Doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Apostolic Age to the Death of Charlemagne, Cambridge and London, 1876, p. 230.)

Texts like this could easily be multiplied. Thus, anyone who is going to maintain that Anastasius the Librarian counted St. Augustine as a trinitarian heretic is also going to have to admit that he counted Pope Leo the Great and many other subsequent popes as trinitarian heretics as well. Given the zeal with which the Roman Church guards its reputation for doctrinal purity, is it likely that, under those circumstances, Anastasius would have kept his job?

And the idea that the doctrine St. Maximus was defending in his letter to Marinus was a Photian one, not an Augustinian one, falls by the same token. If an eternal derivation of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son is the doctrine popes like St. Leo had been teaching, then that is the doctrine St. Maximus, who was defending Rome against its Eastern detractors, had to defend.

I would strongly recommend that those persons who continue to propose the thesis that Photian monopatrism was the universal and unquestioned doctrine of the undivided Church of the first millennium, except in those isolated places where the teaching of the impious Augustine muddied the pure streams of doctrine with heretical pravity, should read H. B. Swete’s aforementioned book, On the History of the Doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Apostolic Age to the Death of Charlemagne. Although it is nearly a century and a half old, it is still, in many ways, the best thing on the subject in the English language. It makes it very clear that the idea that the Son had some essential role in the eternal origination of the Holy Spirit from the Father was pretty much common currency among Christians, East and West, until about the middle of the fourth century. By the end of the fourth century, a differentiation was starting to occur in the Greek-speaking East: while an essential connection of the Spirit with the Son in the Spirit’s origination was being affirmed even more strongly than before among theologians connected with Alexandria, theologians of the school of Antioch, followers of Diodore of Tarsus, reacted against this, and began issuing statements directly denying that the Son was in any sense the origin of the Holy Spirit’s hypostasis. Photian monopatrism could be said to make its first unambiguous appearance in the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia. This is not theory; one simply has to look at the texts to see that this is true. Swete’s book gives a good, balanced collection of them; if one cannot read the Greek and Latin, then read instead his book The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church (London 1912), which gives most of the same texts in translation. But the theory that holds that the Latin West was latently anti-Augustinian, or that it was some anti-Augustinian “true believers” that St. Maximus was defending when he defended the Filioque usage in his Letter to Marinus, is about as empty-headed a reading of Christian history as any I have yet encountered, and the single testimony of Anastasius, the librarian, Greek interpreter, schemer, and would-be pope, does not suffice to change my mind.

A brief notice

June 14, 2008

I have been in Chicago most of this week, and will be in Washington, D.C., most of next week, attending conferences. I did not bring a laptop, and my access to computers during this time is very limited. Accordingly, for the time being, I do not plan to post to this blog, or to answer comments, or to comment on anyone else’s blog; also, my e-mail correspondence will necessarily be at a minimum. I intend to celebrate Pentecost tomorrow at a Greek church in Aurora, Illinois, and to spend Sunday night and most of Monday on a train.

Wishing readers of this blog a blessed feast.

A bumper sticker

June 4, 2008

A bumper sticker, seen today in New Jersey:

Need a Weapon?
Pray the Rosary.

What is unclear to me is whether the owner of this car sees the rosary to be a weapon to be directed against anger or a weapon to be directed against the object of one’s anger. That is to say, was this driver advising me to pray the rosary so that I might more effectively get back at my enemies by enlisting, in my support, the Mother of God? Or was he or she telling me that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20), and that I need, accordingly, to beseech the Mother of God to remove from my soul this dangerous and destructive passion?

I did not have an opportunity to ask the driver of this car, since it turned onto an exit and headed south on Interstate 287.

Perhaps, because the Ave Maria, of which the rosary is largely composed, beseeches the Mother of God to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” the driver of this car was saying that, if I pray this prayer, I will get a two-fold cure of anger: on the one hand, the objective situation about which I am angry will be referred, through Mary, to the God of justice, who, whether by exacting vengeance upon the wicked or by bringing them to repentance, will one way or another rectify the situation about which I am aggrieved; on the other hand, by acknowledging that sin is a universal condition in which I too share, I remove my own grounds for feeling self-righteous and vindictive against my personal or political enemies. As St. Paul writes: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

I will assume that some such thing is the bumper sticker’s intended message.

A postscript. As I was exiting the parking lot in which I wrote down these notes, I heard, and then saw, on the train tracks below, some men scuffling. I drove slowly by the scene; looking back, I saw two young men walking away towards the rail yard; a Hispanic man stood yelling at them. I drove backwards and parked; the man walked over. I offered him the use of my cellphone, so he could call the police. He showed me his hand, which had a cut, and asked if I saw anything on his face; one side of it did look a little puffy, but no cuts. He returned the phone, and said, in broken English, that calling the police was not an option, which I took to mean that he was probably in the country illegally. He shook my hand, and I drove away.

Perhaps that man, or someone close to him, will pray the rosary this night. And who is to say what will happen, in God’s providence, to the thugs who beat him up, or to the country which cynically employs illegal workers as a way of avoiding paying minimum wage and benefits to the people who do its menial labor?

Prayer request

June 3, 2008

Please pray for the healing of my sister, Ann, who was recently found to have cancer on her liver. Pray also for her husband, Vinny, and their three sons, Michael, Nick, and Dan.