St. Cyril on divine simplicity

June 22, 2009

In the discussion to a recent post (The debate on Bekkos’s Epigraphs), some skepticism has been expressed concerning an identification, made by theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Bessarion of Nicaea, between God’s will and God’s being. For this reason, I thought I would present here a couple of passages which show St. Cyril of Alexandria asserting this very identification; i.e., he explicitly states that God is whatever he has, and that will and being in God are the same. A strong view of divine simplicity is traditional Christian theology, not a medieval, Latin invention or a Platonizing corruption.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Dialogues on the Trinity (Ad Hermiam), book V; SC 237 (de Durand, ed.), p. 290; PG 75, 945 C.

Hermias. And how, they say, is the divine simple if, in existence on the one hand and in will on the other, it is conceived of separately? For then it would be composite and as though it existed, in a way, out of parts that had come together into a closer unity. Β. Καὶ πῶς ἂν εἴη τὸ θεῖον ἁπλοῦν εἰ καὶ ἐν ὑπάρξει νοοῖτο, φησί, καὶ ἐν θελήσει διωρισμένους; Σύνθετον γὰρ ἤδη καὶ οἱονεί πως ἐκ μερῶν εἱς ἓν τὸ ἀρτίως ἔχον συνδεδραμηκότοιν.
Cyril. Therefore, since, in your view, the divine is simple and exists above all composition (and this view of yours is correct), his will is nothing other than he himself. And if someone says “will,” he indicates the nature of God the Father. Α. Οὐκοῦν, ἐπειδήπερ ἁπλοῦν τὸ θεῖον καὶ ἄμεινον ἢ κατὰ σύνθεσιν εἶναί σοι δοκεῖ (δοκεῖ δὲ ὀρθῶς), οὐχ ἑτέρα παρ᾽ αὐτὸ εἴη ἂν ἡ βούλησις αὐτοῦ. Θέλησιν δέ τις εἰπών, τὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ Πατρὸς κατεσήμηνε φύσιν.
Hermias. So it would appear. Β. Ἔοικεν.
* * *

St. Cyril, Dialogues on the Trinity, book VII; SC 246 (de Durand, ed.), pp. 200-202; PG 75, 1109 B-C.

Cyril. How then can that by which and in which God accomplishes his operations with regard to the creation and makes himself known as Creator of all things be a creature, subject to becoming? For perhaps it is already time for us to make this claim. If they pretend that such is the state of things, they will be obliged, even unwillingly, to confess the created character of the divine energy. And what is the consequence? An odious blasphemy, opinions opposed to good sense, good for bringing an accusation of the height of stupidity. For if one is not too poorly endowed with the decency which befits wise men, one will say that the divine being is properly and primarily simple and incomposite; one will not, dear friend, venture to think that it is composed out of nature and energy, as though, in the case of the divine, these are naturally other; one will believe that it exists as entirely one thing with all that it substantially possesses. Thus, if anyone says that his energy, that is, his Spirit, is something created and made, even while it belongs to him in a proper sense, then the Deity, surely, will be a creature, given that his operation is no other thing than he himself. Isn’t the claim abominable and hateful, and one which has a great tendency towards practical impiety? Α. Πῶς οὖν ἄρα τὸ δι᾽ οὗ καὶ ἐν ῷ Θεὸς ἐνεργὸς περὶ τὴν κτίσιν καὶ τῶν ὅλων ὁρᾶται δημιουργὸς γενητὸν ἂν εἴη καὶ ἐκτισμένον; Ὥρα γὰρ ἤδη πως ἡμᾶς εἰπεῖν ὡς, εἴπερ ὧδε ἔχειν ἐροῦσι τὸ χρῆμα, κτιστὴν εἶναι τοῦ Θεοῦ τὴν ἐνέργειαν καὶ οὐχ ἑκόντες ὁμολογήσουσι. Καὶ τί τὸ ἐντεῦθεν; Θεομισὴς δυσφημία, παλίμφημοι δόξαι, καὶ τῆς εἰς ἄκρον ἡκούσης ἀμαθίας ἐγκλήματα. Ἐρεῖ γάρ, οἶμαι, τὶς τῆς ἀνδράσι πρεπούσης σοφοῖς εὐκοσμίας ἠφειδηκὼς ἁπλοῦν καὶ ἀσύνθετον κυρίως τε καὶ πρώτως τὸ Θεῖον, ὦ τᾶν, οὐκ ἐκ φύσεως καὶ ἐνεργείας ὡς παρ᾽ αὐτὸ φυσικῶς ἑτέρας συντεθεῖσθαι νοούμενον, ἀλλ᾽ ἕν τι τὸ σύμπαν ὑπάρχειν μεθ᾽ ὧν ἂν οὐσιωδῶς ἔχοι πεπιστευμένον. Οὐκοῦν εἰ λέγοιτο κτιστὴν καὶ πεποιημένην τὴν ἐνέργειαν ἔχειν, ἰδίαν οὖσαν αὐτοῦ, τουτέστι τὸ Πνεῦμα, καὶ αὐτό που πάντως ἔσται κτιστόν, ἐπεὶ μὴ ἕτερόν τι παρ᾽ αὐτὸ τὸ ἐνεργὲς αὐτοῦ. Ἆρ᾽ οὐ στυγητὸς καὶ ἀπεχθὴς ὁ λόγος, καὶ πολὺ διανενευκὼς εἰς τὸ πεποιῆσθαι δυσσεβῶς;

20 Responses to “St. Cyril on divine simplicity”

  1. Thanks for this. I’ve never understood how the EP guys can think that regarding God as the same as his energies is a heretical innovation.

  2. Jay Dyer Says:

    Interesting. As you are aware, though, the Eastern criticism of the West is not that there is no simplicity, nor that God’s will is some composite “thing” along with His nature. St. Cyril is responding, it seems, to “composition” as errorneous, and so does Palamas – Palamas also says in the debate with Barlaam that God is simple in essence and not composite.

    And, further, God’s will is not some “other thing” than God, as if again, there were compostition. God is wholly manifested in His energies, and not something else. Also, St. Cyril taught the essence/energy distinction:

    “Essence and energy are not identical.” Cyril of Alexandria Thesaurus 18, PG 75:312c

    In the second quote, it doesn’t appear to be our the debates we are having on E/E, since the “energy” St. Cyril is talking about there is the Holy Spirit, as he says:

    “Thus, if anyone says that his energy, that is, his Spirit, is something created and made,…”

  3. photios Says:

    They do NOT get it and won’t. They have a program of ecumenism and that is major driving force.

  4. evagrius Says:

    Is there something wrong with ecumenism?

    Part of the problem is basically linguistic. Concepts with all their nuances are difficult to translate from one language to another.

    Of course God is “in” His energies just as “in” grace.

    So…what’s the problem? Only people creating one where there isn’t one.

  5. bekkos Says:


    The whole issue of what constitutes “real distinction” and “real identity” in God seems to demand much more careful study and reflection than any of us seem to be capable of giving it at present. A father like St. Cyril of Alexandria is able both to say that the divine being is not composed of nature and energy, on the one hand, and to say that essence and energy are not identical, on the other. When he says that essence and energy are not identical, he does so specifically to deny the claim that begetting and creating are the same thing. Is the claim that begetting and creating are the same thing a claim that any Christian of sound mind would wish to affirm? Does Aquinas, who teaches a doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, affirm this? I don’t think so. Given therefore that St. Cyril says that the divine being is not composed of nature and energy, and that God’s will is nothing other than God’s own being, I don’t assume that, when St. Cyril states that essence and energy are not identical, he is doing anything more than Aquinas does when he similarly differentiates operations like creation and providence from God’s essence, although he affirms God’s absolute simplicity. When people like Mr. Jones allege that Aquinas, and others who affirm a strong doctrine of divine simplicity, really teach that begetting and creating are one and the same thing, even if they themselves deny that they teach this, I tend to suspect that Mr. Jones and his friends have misread these people. If that makes me an ecumenist, there are worse things to be.

    I do not claim to have fully understood St. Gregory Palamas. But, although it is no doubt true that Palamas, in his debate with Barlaam, says that God is simple in essence and not composite, Palamas also says, in his third letter to Akindynos, that the divine ousia is a superior deity and the divine energies an inferior deity, an inferior deity which he elsewhere describes as being less than the ousia to an infinitely infinite degree. Such statements, and others like them, caused many Christians in his own day and afterwards to wonder how true to the ancient deposit of Christian faith Gregory Palamas actually was. Frankly, that is a living question for me, and that is why I raise these issues on my blog.

    As for the second quote, the fact that St. Cyril identifies the divine energy there with the Holy Spirit does not seem to me to lessen the force of what he is saying. If someone identified “life” with the divine substance, as for instance St. Basil does, it would not lessen the force of this identification if one then pointed out that Jesus himself is “the Life.” So also, St. Cyril’s speaking of the Holy Spirit as God’s “Energy” does not lessen the significance of what he had just said, that energy and nature in God are not naturally other, and that God is entirely one thing with what he substantially possesses.

    Thanks for commenting on the blog.


  6. bekkos Says:


    I am not a “they”, and this blog is not being written by anyone other than me. To the extent that I have an agenda, it is to discern and make clear, to myself and others, what the fathers do and do not teach. I have some real questions about the fathers’ teaching; but the answers you supply consistently fail to impress me as answering fully to the evidence of the patristic texts. As by now I have said to you many times, I think you give the fathers a kind of ideological misreading. If I can raise questions about that ideological misreading of the evidence in at least some readers’ minds, I think I am serving the cause of truth. As for changing anything in your own mind, I have lost all hope.


  7. photios Says:

    You’re not going to convince me of anything that you are giving because I had the privilege of learning these things at the feet of someone far greater than any one here arguing these points. In fact, as far as debate is concerned I think people are more impressed by my presentation of the data. I can solve questions that have plaqued western christianity, like the Problem of Evil, Predestination/Free-Will, and a Free Creation. (Care to argue some of those points to?) With your presentation, your just another symptom of the problem I have to solve. That being said, I see you as quoting the Fathers like a modern American attorney. You don’t see or CANNOT seee the DEEP implications of your view, nor do I see a concern for a consistent and well thought out biblical world-view. If I thought you’re reading of the texts were correct, I would have NOTHING to do with Christianity, and in fact I would look at as Plotinus did as nothing but gnosticism. As I said, if you want to take that approach and read the text THAT way, well then Plotinus has the better arguments for a more consistent and thought out world-view. In that regard, Plotinus is much more perceptive in being a “thinker” and not a “scholar” (i.e. footnoting takes the place of good thinking).

    What do I *need* of a “Trinity” if I have philosophical simplicity? The answer is I don’t. And the non-christian medieval scholars were very astute and correct in pointing that out.


  8. evagrius Says:

    “I can solve questions that have plaqued western christianity, like the Problem of Evil, Predestination/Free-Will, and a Free Creation.”

    Wow! I’m impressed.

    The one greater than any one here is Joseph P. Farrell, right?

  9. Jay Dyer Says:


    Where is this Letter to Akindynos available?


  10. evagrius Says:

    Juan Sergio Nadal“La rédaction première de la
    Troisième lettre de Palamas à Akindynos,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 40/2
    (1974): 233–85;

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  11. Fr Alvin Kimel Says:

    Egads, Daniel. Your comments are absolutely incredible. YOU can solve all the problems that have plagued Western Christianity–good and evil, predestination and free will, a free creation. YOU? Who are you? What are your academic credentials? Where do you teach? In what peer-reviewed academic journals have you been published? What books have you written?

    You are neither a true theologian nor true philosopher. You are an convert and zealot who has committed his brilliant intellect to defending a narrow ideological construct of Orthodoxy. Your judgments and opinions are not to be trusted, no matter how many texts and scholars you claim to have read. Your shallow arrogance is breathtaking! You remind me of those Pharisees who traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, only to succeed in making him twice as much a child of Hell as themselves.

    The ironic thing is that the sectarian religion you espouse is nothing like the Orthodoxy I know and have experienced. You are too fresh in your conversion. You have not lived and prayed Orthodoxy long enough to take on an Orthodox mind. Ironically, in all truly important matters, you remain so very Western and scholastic, yet you lack the one virtue that Thomas Aquinas possessed–humility and a desire to know only the truth. You have set yourself up as a one-man Orthodox magisterium. Did you abandon the Pope only to set yourself up as a pope?

    Peter Gilbert is a true scholar. He is also a humble Christian and a lover of Christ Jesus and the Orthodox Church. You should be ashamed of yourself for the comments you have left on Peter’s blog. I am incensed.

    If I were your spiritual director, I would command you to stop all blogging and internet debates and simply to pray and read for ten years. Repent, Daniel. Apologize to Peter, put aside your zealotry, purify your heart, and try to become an authentic Orthodox theologian. Theology is not just a matter of reading books. It is first and foremost humble submission to the living God. At the very least please stop these uncharitable attacks on Peter and his work. You do great disservice to your Church.

  12. photios Says:

    “Fr.” Kimel,
    I do not consider Peter, You, Michael Liccione, or any other person engaged in the pan-heresy of ecumenism as a “brother in Christ.” So please, keep your self-serving “correction” (i.e. we will silence you so as to further your agenda) of me to yourself. I have in no wise insulted Peter personally. This is very much an unbloddy WAR. This is a war fought by Modernists and Traditionalists. I suggest if you wish to engage me and to engage me with any intellectual rigor that you stop the very hypocracy that drips from your keyboard. If your expecting a dialogue where I view your RC views as equally valid or that I respect Dr. Gilbert views AS ‘Orthodox,’ you will be gravely disappointed. I do not believe the SCOBAdox agenda to be an Orthodox one, but rather a disease and infected with folks like Dr. Gilbert serving as one, among many, exemplars.

    Your plea for me to “stop” is nothing short of the gnostic ad hominem of the prohibition of questions.

    My director? I take my advisor to be my Bishop: +Photius Farrell. He pleads with me that I am simply wasting my time with even arguing the issues with you folks, based on the fact you folks are engaged in the ‘pattern of apostacy.’ But because I love people and because these blogs are public and because the fact that Dr. Peter Gilbert is publically misleading people and attacking the integrity of Holy Orthodoxy I do so. One wonders what this man does on Sunday following the “Sunday of Orthodoxy” commemorating the anathemas against the anti-Palamites. I suspect that Modern “Orthodoxy” will follow suit as Rome does and begin the gnostic ‘re-interpretation’ and pseudomorphosis of texts as time goes on…who knows…Don’t want a thing to do with it.

    It doesn’t really matter how long I have been Orthodox. What matters is that if *I* am Orthodox and COMMITTED to that Orthodoxy. I don’t have to spend YEARS to understand and recognize that Gilbert is disobedient to the faith he pretends to confess. Besides, I do as Fr. John Romanides suggests: seek out a competent teacher. I did that, a LONG time ago.

    I can just imagine you saying similar remarks to the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the Galatians. But because Paul loved people and loved the gospel, he rebuked them, for the very sake of the gospel. He recognized that the Judaizers believed a fasle gospel and he did not mix words in stating that fact.

    You believe a false gospel Mr. Kimel and have been sold a ill bill of goods in embracing Roman Catholic papacy. Repent, Mr. Kimel.

    Now if this is “insulting” to you, I can only think that you are a part of that post-modernist thinking that will, no doubt, find little comfort in my thoughts.

    Now when I say that I can solve problems, I am using myself simply as an instrument of “Orthodoxy” and the fact that I have been “instructed” not as if I have solved these things out of thin air of my own intellect. In other words, if I didn’t think Orthodoxy were true religion and actually did solve these things, then it probably is not true religion, but rather just symptomatic of man’s religions. But I do think it is true religion and does solve these problems and not just another religion of the world.

    You bring up things about my personality. Yeah, I’m tenaciously competitive to the core. And I can be cocky. So was Maximos the Confessor with heretics. Don’t like that fact about my personality? Tough. I know too much about the kind of psychological games your playing. So go try that on someone else.

    Lest it be forgotten, this man came to my blog and challenged me. I do as I do and I ‘finish the fight.’ I have a readership and they want to know the end result of that fight.

    The day I stop being a “zealot” of the faith, is the day I stop being a Christian and Orthodox.


  13. Veritas Says:


    I will leave aside my personal opinion of you as a man, most importantly, because we all get hot-blodded at times here on the internet; especially when speaking over such subjects that carry our heavy convictions. And as you rightly pointed out, many saints carry this strong personality and vigour. However, I am unable to find quite the perfect parallel with you and the saints. Perhaps your own words serve as a good example: “I do as I do and I ‘finish the fight.’”

    While I cannot speak for Peter(nor would I want to), I suspect he may view this “fight” in a different manner. Seems to me, you have the over-ambitious energy to simply “win” the argument; often enough, this sort of thing can blind us to the whole point of the matter. Peter, on the other hand, may wish to delve more deeply into the Christian tradition, and seek a common faith confessed(a faith that may not seem so compatible at first). St. Athanasius seen this common faith through the thick brushes of words; St. Maximus seen the same, but I guess you’ve had that conversation already.

    One thing I would like to point out, the Orthodox Church has never Ecumenically sanctioned the Filioque, the papacy, or the Catholic Church itself, heretical. Nor has the Catholic Church deemed the Orthodox as a heretical body; for this I am eternally joyful, and believe it nothing other than the Holy Spirit leaving open the possibility of reunion. Or, to look at it another way(a way which you may not find desirable), is that Photius or Palamas is not the last definitive word on the matter. However, that does NOT mean that all of their theology is anti-Catholic, and you will find some Catholic scholars arguing the point. I believe it was Congar himself(no slouch) who said that he would not “knee-jerkingly” outright reject all of Palamas’s teachings. JP II said, regarding the Petrine office, that the Catholic Church cannot lose or blur what is fundamental to it, but nevertheless must be open to a new situation. Most Orthodox(and some Catholics) may wish to deem this sort of view as “heretical”, saying that he has turned his back on the Ecumenical teachings of the Catholic Church; I, for one, think the good pope seen something that some still haven’t — that maybe to allow our schism and separation to subsist and augment, is the gravest sin of all.

    You see, Photius, we must strive to at least FIND OUT and SEE if we cannot mend our two great communions; otherwise, what will we say before our Lord when he asks us why we did not at least try to see if our brothers in Christ were speaking along the same lines of faith? What will we say when he asks why we did not share His body and blood together in mutual communion, when we were so close?

    You seem to profess that you have all the answers, and can “prove” all the wrong with Western Christianity; perhaps you can, but I myself remain unconvinced. I may be a little green here, but, for my part, I would tend to be more leaning to the fellow who knows he doesn’t know all there is to know, but nevertheless tries to study the traditions that are common to his company, and here’s the fine point: with a truthful heart. Speaking scholarly, I hope you can one day grow to appreciate the man that raises good, pointed questions; rather than the man who will give you a quick, forceful answer, no matter how well-thoughtout he thinks his answer to be.

    I hope you have not taken anything I’ve said in an attacking way Photius. It’s clear you know your stuff, and I commend you in that regard; sometimes we need to look more at our inner-self, than the material we are studying, perhaps after such a thing is done, we will find the things we have read are seen in a quite different light, while not being different at all. I sure know that I am in dire need of an inner search for deeper peace, and strength in the Spirit to follow more closely the words of our common Lord.

    Peace in Christ,


  14. Veritas,

    I very much appreciate your concern and you’re very astute to my polemic. However, what I mean by “fight” is not ad hominem, insults, prohibition, or even profanity (much less blows), but rather the precarious nature that souls are at stake in this “mess,” and to win those Souls for Christ, not a ‘relation of opposition’ of the philosophical simplicity that somehow, whatever that would mean, became “Incarnate.”

    All things considered, you are not in a situation (or at least it doesn’t appear to me) to judge the historical pedigree of the claims that the Orthodox HAS made in condemning Roman Catholicism. The Orthodox Church, conciliarly, has answered as what is the “final answer” to Rome on the questions you suppose (e.g. the filioque). If you wish to contact me personally, and judge for yourself, be obliged.

    All things being fair, I am a seasoned and hardened veteran to this whole type of exchange with these ‘modernist’ types. I was battling this type of modernism as a Traditionalist Roman Catholic, so it is by no mistake or accident that I scratched and sniffed my way into Traditional Orthodoxy. That is to say, I do not go along with the program of Ecumenism that comes out of the pan-heresy of Ecumenism of many (though not all) present “Orthodox” patriarchates (starting with the subversion of the New Calendar, the lifting of the anathemas of Athenagoras of unhappy memory against Rome, and the agreed Christological statements with the Severists (monophysites)). Just to give you a hint of my Ecclesiastical allegiance.

    And much to Kimel’s ado, I submit myself to an authority: an apostolic bishop. I’m just very careful and perceptive in my selection (as we all should be). Confessing right doctrine is very important to me.

    Even without the current theological mess, Rome is a highly compromised body, from Freemasonry run amuck in its butchered liturgy to the compromises it has made with the International Banking Cartel (well attested to by Hans Kung and Malachi Martin; folks who knew the continental figures and internal workings of the Vatican all too well). To be honest with you, and I mean this all sincerely, I could not walk into that place (the Vatican) without some realization that I am in a synagogue of Satan.

    Now, this does not mean that I do not regard the pious traditional Roman Catholic lay person, or a person that I have the most deepest respect for the late Fr. Malachi Martin of memory, as not being Trinitarian in their faith. I most certainly, and sympathetically, DO. But this is also to say that the folks I debate here have almost nothing to do with the simple faith of christianity I once embraced and do embrace now. It is a careful technique of subversion that is being employed.


  15. evagrius Says:

    It’s one thing to win arguments, another to win hearts.

    Mr. Photios is undoubtedly quite a learned person but it strikes me that the learning is only formal.
    As Fr. Kimel points out, he is rather “scholastic”, ( in the pejorative sense- the great scholastic theologians were not, let us say, as pugnacious).

    I’m at present reading Hidden Holiness by Fr. Michael Plekon. It’s a refreshing change of pace, a book written by an Orthodox priest dealing with holiness in the contemporary world.

    Perhaps if Mr. Photios could stop awhile, rest in stillness, ( hesychia), he might be able to formulate his thought without inciting rancor because he will have learned, if that is the word, something about the heart.

    Of course, the same advice applies to me.

  16. bekkos Says:

    Mr. Jones,

    As I stated once before on this blog, I will state now again, this time with no apologies or regrets: God keep me from your form of religion. You write: “If I thought you’re reading of the texts were correct, I would have NOTHING to do with Christianity.” It seems to me you have nothing to do with Christianity already.

    Perhaps I should be grieved at that, as Fr. Kimel, whom you gratuitously insult, is clearly grieved about your state of soul. But, as Dante learned in the deeper regions of hell, to show sympathy for the damned is sin. There is danger in arguing with demons, danger of being sucked into their own self-revolving whirlpool of hate and delusion. I think you have exchanged Christ for a potent demon that you call by his name. Farrell, indeed, has made you into twice the child of hell as he himself; Fr. Kimel is simply being honest to you about that, and you are too dead in conscience to listen.

    You are in schism, Mr. Jones. The bizarre little sect you belong to is not the Church of Christ, any more than were the followers of Tertullian in the third century. You speak about me misleading people. Nowhere have I claimed to be an authoritative spokesman for Orthodoxy. I am a student of the fathers, and I think Bekkos is a better reader of the fathers than either you or your namesake, St. Photius the Great. I think his argument as to why the schism happened is essentially correct, and I publish his arguments here out of a desire to see the ancient division end. I admit that openly, and any reader of this blog can figure that out. If the proper ecclesiastical authorities of the Orthodox Church deem that, because of the opinions I express on this blog, I should be excluded from the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ, they can effect that. But you are not an ecclesiastical authority, and I will no longer listen to any of your rantings; nor will I attempt to engage any longer in conversation with a man who admits from the start that he has nothing to learn.

    Peter Gilbert

  17. Nick Says:


    Thank you for your work, I’ve learned a lot and I especially appreciate the desire to seek unity without watering down the truth or genuine difficulties.

    This is a bit off topic, but I would like the EO response to a question I’ve had for a while (and I’m sure I’m not the first to ask this). When it comes to the issue of “generation,” specifically the issues of “beget” versus “proceed,” I see the following issues arise:

    1)It would seem that “beget” and “proceed” don’t mean the same thing (otherwise why use two different terms), yet this leads to two options: (a) that there are two types of begetting (in the sense there are different styles of apples), or (b) that there is a filioque type nature to “proceed” but not to “beget” (in the sense of apples versus oranges). It seems the EO would lean towards option A while Catholics would lean towards option B. To me, Option A seems less likely due to the fact it is basically assigning two names (for book keeping purposes) to what is essentially the same concept (like using red vs. black copper wires in electrical work just to avoid confusion).

    2)Even if it is agreed that “beget” and “proceed” are not the same, without a specific definition of each there are really no grounds to condemn the other side. Otherwise we are just working with two variables, X and Y, admitting they are not equal, but NOT addressing the key issue of whether they are related/dependent in any way. If they are related/dependent, then there is a genuine orthodox understanding of a Filioque.

    3) By denying a concept like the Filioque, doesn’t that mean there is no direct relationship between the Son and the Spirit? That sounds absurd to me.

    What are your thoughts on these points? I don’t ask for anything long, a short response to each is fine.

  18. photios Says:

    Against the First Ecumenism of the Monothelites of Byzantium:

    “Christ the Lord called that Church the Catholic Church which ***maintains the true and saving confession of the Faith.*** It was for this confession that He called Peter blessed, and He declared that He would found His Church upon **this confession.** However, I wish to know the contents of your confession, on the basis of which all churches, as you say, have entered into communion. If it is not opposed to the truth, then neither will I be separated from it.”

    “When all the people in Babylon were worshipping the golden idol, the Three Holy Children did not condemn anyone to perdition. They did not concern themselves with the doings of others, but ***took care only for themselves,*** lest they should fall away from true piety. In precisely the same way, when Daniel was cast into the lion’s den, he did not condemn any of those who, fulfilling the law of Darius, did not wish to pray to God, but he kept in mind his own duty, and desired rather to die than to sin against his conscience by transgressing the Law of God. God forbid that I should condemn anyone or say that I alone am being saved! However, I shall sooner agree to die than to apostatize in any way from the true Faith and thereby suffer torments of conscience.”

    “Even if the whole universe holds communion with the Patriarch, I will not communicate with him. For I know from the writings of the holy Apostle Paul: the Holy Spirit declares that even the angels would be anathema if they should begin to preach another Gospel, introducing some new teaching.”

    –St. Maximus the Confessor

    Good day and I will leave you to your own. I can see now much to the wiseness of my mentor that this is a wate of my time and your time.


  19. bekkos Says:


    In the fourth century, when the trinitarian debate was at its height, a branch of the Arian heresy called “Pneumatomachians” (Spirit-fighters) made the following argument against holding the Holy Spirit to be one God with the Father and the Son: they said that, if the Holy Spirit truly shared in the one divine nature, then, if he were from the Father, he would be another Son; if he were from the Son, he would be a Grandson. There were basically two ways the Church came to answer this argument; one of them prevailed more in the East, the other prevailed more in the West. The Eastern answer found a classic expression in the writings of St. Gregory the Theologian: the three persons of the Trinity are known by their eternal personal characteristics of unbegottenness, begottenness, and procession. The difference between begottenness and procession is real, but cannot be exactly defined, and the attempt to do so is likely to drive a person into madness. Nevertheless, the logical possibility of such a difference in personal origination is illustrated by the example of Adam, Eve, and Seth: both Eve and Seth are from Adam, and both share Adam’s nature, but only Seth is begotten; Eve is from Adam’s rib. For St. Gregory the Theologian, that real, but indefinable, difference between begetting and procession is a logically sufficient basis for differentiating the persons of the Son and Holy Spirit, and he clearly thinks that attempts to define this relationship more precisely are spiritually dangerous.

    A close friend of Gregory’s, St. Gregory of Nyssa, seems to have been less than fully satisfied with that solution. Like his brother, St. Basil, he viewed it to be part of the Church’s traditional teaching that the Holy Spirit is through the Son, and he saw this being “through the Son” as an important part of what differentiates the Son and the Spirit: in one place he speaks of the Son being from the Father immediately, the Spirit being from the Father in a mediated way; in another place he speaks of both Son and Spirit as caused from the Father, or as existing from the Father “in a not-ungenerated way,” and as requiring, for their mutual differentiation, some further identifying marks: the fact that the Spirit is “of the Son” (or, in one reading of the text, “from the Son”), while the Son is not “of the Spirit,” provides for that further differentiation. Elsewhere he compares Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to three torches sharing a single flame; the first torch communicates the flame to the second torch directly, and communicates the flame to the third torch via the second one. In all of this, he accepts the qualitative distinction between “begottenness” and “procession,” but tries to give some further content to it by stating an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit. If memory serves me correctly, he may actually say at one point that it is because the Spirit is through the Son that he is not another Son.

    The Latin-speaking West already was more inclined to state the Spirit’s origination as being from both the Father and the Son before St. Augustine — it was partly a linguistic difference, and partly due to their taking a more unitary, concrete view of the divine nature — but it was Augustine who first stated the doctrine in a systematic way. For him, and for later Latin theologians like Thomas Aquinas, the term “procession” is taken, first of all, as a general term for any personal origination in God, any form of “being-from”; only secondarily is it a specific term denoting the Spirit’s proper mode of origination. If there is a difference between the “being-from” of the Son and the “being-from” of the Spirit, that difference has to be understood in terms of their differing relationships, what Aquinas calls “relations of origin” or rather “relations of opposition”: if the Spirit is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit, Aquinas argues, one has to posit some real relationship between the two, a relationship that has to be based on origination; since the Spirit is Spirit “of the Son” and not vice versa and since the Son sends the Spirit upon his disciples after his ascension, Aquinas says, it is necessary to see the Spirit as being “from the Son,” rather than the Son being “from the Spirit.” (From Origen’s day, some people questioned this reasoning, and pointed out that the Spirit also sends the Son into the wilderness, and brings the Son into the world by producing his conception of the Virgin Mary. The Orthodox theologian Metropolitan John Zizioulas sees the one-sidedness of this reasoning, the lack of attention to the Spirit’s role in forming Christ’s body, as having bad ecclesiastical consequences — a kind of overemphasis on the administrative side of the Church at the expense of its sacramental reality.)

    Like Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine seems to think that the Pneumatomachians’ argument, that, if the Spirit is from the Son, he is a Grandson, is sufficiently refuted by pointing out that the Spirit is from both the Father and the Son. But it does seem to me that Catholic theology, to the extent that I understand it, does rather grudgingly admit that the “relations of opposition” discourse does not give an entirely satisfactory answer to why the Spirit is not another Son or Grandson, and one has to allow, as one of one’s premises, that begottenness and procession are qualitatively different.

    I should add that later Orthodox theology, when it tried to answer some of your points about the lack of an explicit relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit, did so by positing an eternal “manifestation” of the Spirit by or from the Son. This was the chief subject of debate between John Bekkos and his successor as Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory of Cyprus: Bekkos thought that the language of Gregory of Nyssa and other fathers, when they spoke of the Spirit’s being through or from the Son, clearly referred to the Spirit’s hypostatic existence; Gregory of Cyprus argued that it could not refer to this. For my own part, I would like to try to understand the fathers’ texts in abstraction from this later debate, and see what they say on their own terms; I am not sure that either Bekkos or Gregory of Cyprus understood the fathers fully. I do think that Bekkos’s criticisms of his predecessor, Photius, are largely accurate. I also think that the Western Church’s repeated attempts, in the Middle Ages and afterwards, to impose on the East its way of understanding trinitarian doctrine, encapsulated in the little addition to the creed Filioque, has been one of the main causes of distrust and outrage that have struck such deep roots in people. It cannot be stressed too much that Bekkos, while he thought the Latin way of looking at the Trinity was orthodox, did not confess the Filioque and in fact did what he could to resist the pressure that was being exerted, in the wake of the Second Council of Lyons, to have that word added to the text of the Greek creed.

    The main purpose of my research is to shed light on these things, by making texts available and allowing people to come to their own conclusions. I think that that sort of historical, textual research is necessary if there is to be any common understanding of why the division between the Churches happened and if there is to be any way forward towards healing it. I am sorry that Photios Jones sees that kind of research, or the way I have carried it out, as inconsistent with Orthodox faith. But about him I have surely said enough, and there are other, more important things to deal with.


  20. […] 2009 I wish to acknowledge publicly that my language towards Photios Jones in the exchange over my last post was intemperate and uncalled-for. I do not presume to know who is saved and who is damned; that is […]

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