The Communio article

October 29, 2009

I finally have some good news to report. Today I received an e-mail from the Managing Editor of the journal Communio, informing me that the Summer 2009 issue is now, at last, in print, and that they have decided to feature my article on “John Bekkos as a Reader of the Fathers” on their website. A link to the website, showing the contents of their current issue, is; a permanent link to the article, in PDF format, is

24 Responses to “The Communio article”

  1. ochlophobist Says:

    I just today restarted my Communio subscription in order to read your essay. I did not realize that there was a link to it.

  2. vito Says:

    Congratulations! I look forward to reading the essay.
    Pace e bene, Vito

  3. […] 30, 2009 by Irenaeus From my favorite Orthodox blog, Prof. Peter Gilbert’s De Unione Ecclesiarum – I finally have some good news to report. Today I received an e-mail from the Managing Editor of […]

  4. diane Says:

    Yay! Congratulations, Dr. Gilbert!

  5. Veritas Says:


    Congrats on the article; I hope that scholars take note of it, as I’m sure they will. It makes a strong case for itself.

    I see the editors didn’t let the argument for the authenticity of Basil’s A.E. III, 1, pass. I felt you had a very strong argument for it, and I hope your words hold true in the Bekkos article (p. 290, note 81) to publish this argument in a subsequent article.


  6. Ted K Says:

    Dr Gilbert, do you mind commenting on some of the objections raised by some on the Eirenikon site. i realize you might not be interested in back and forth Squabbles with some of them, so if you can post a response here on your own site. That would be helpful. Thanks! and Congrats.

  7. Veritas Says:

    Hello, Ted K,

    I looked over the discussions happening at Eirenikon. It seems to that the posters there (“Lucian” in particular) have not taken Irenaeus’s warning to heart: to read the article in its entirety before commenting. Or, perhaps, they have read the article; in which, they just seem to have glossed over the points that really do directly address their concerns. Either way, the participants that do have concerns with Peter’s article do not seem to be too open to learning by exchange of dialogue; rather, what I see is a gratuitously uncharitable posture being employed. In other words, a willful neglect to understand the words of others as they have given and explained those words.

    It would be my suggestion to Peter to not get involved with such engagements, as the article speaks for itself. No need to explain over and over again what is already on paper for anyone to study. It’s just a shame that those who do say that they have theological concerns with the article, don’t seem to notice (because of their willful prejudice) that they fall into that same Photain axiom as Photius himself. In other words, the article challenges the Photianites to step outside the box, and to at least ask themselves the question: Is Photius’ reading of the Cappadocians the end-all-be-all of their theology? I think that any honest truth-seeking Christian will have to at least ask themselves this question, and to read the article with an open mind. Something, in my opnion at least, that doesn’t seem to be the case.


  8. bekkos Says:

    Veritas and Ted K.:

    On this question of commenting on the objections raised to the article by people on the Eirenikon site, I will merely say that I would rather not do so right now. That is not because I think those objections are unanswerable; rather, it is, first, because I think the other parties in that debate have done a sufficiently good job of answering these objections themselves, and, secondly, because I am seriously behind in my work here, and I have found by experience that engaging in public internet contests is a huge distraction from necessary business. I will state here that I am grateful to Irenaeus of the Eirenikon site for citing long extracts of my article, and for providing a forum where such interaction can occur. Beyond that, I will not comment, and would hope that the article speaks sufficiently well for itself.


  9. evagrius Says:

    It would be nice to read a response from you on the latest posts on Eirenikon from Perry Robinson.

    He seems quite sure that your argument regarding Maximus is erroneous.

  10. bekkos Says:


    You are asking me to come wrestle in a snake-pit. All in all, I would rather not; and, as mentioned above, I have other work to do.


  11. evagrius Says:


    I understand. There’s something strange, in a sense, in arguing with someone who will not or cannot, acknowledge that one’s own viewpoint, carefully stated, might have some validity.

  12. Fr. Gregory Wassen Says:

    Dr. Peter,

    That was an excellent article! Please continue to write about and translate from this inspiring man of God.

    Fr. Gregory +

  13. bedwere Says:

    I started reading it last night. Congratulations, Dr. Gilbert!

  14. Matthew Says:

    Dear Dr. Gilbert,

    I have folloewd your blog on and off for some time, and now read your recent very fine article on Bekkos. I deeply appreciate your choice of topic and your scholarship, to which we are all in debt.

    I am a ThM student at Holy Cross presently writing my thesis. Certain aspects of my research interests, though more systematic than historical, cross strangely with your own. Would you be willing to send me a personal email? I have some things I like to share which I think might interest you, as well as a couple questions.


  15. mpm Says:


    I’m very happy for you. Congratulations on the publication of your article.

    The fact that I agree with your conclusions, of course, has nothing to do with it! ;>

    I hope it has a major beneficial impact among all Christians in our attempts at mutual understanding and respect.


  16. Tap Says:

    Dr. Gilbert,

    Ignore this question if it will reveal too much of what you’re trying to put in the book.

    i was reading the various comments on Roger Pearce’s blog, and saw your comment about Bekkos quoting words he thought where from John Chrysostom, but which you found out where those of Severian of Gabala.

    Given your statement in the article that that Bekkos as a chartophylax: “had to be a church lawyer, secretary, and scholar, someone who could produce and interpret complex, precise texts on a regular basis and judge the authenticity of various kinds of documents.”

    How does one square the apparent contradiction?, or have a lot of scholars been mislabeling these texts as Ps. Chrys. when in fact they were authentic Chrysostom ‘sermons’ all along?

  17. bekkos Says:


    I don’t think it is all that much of a contradiction. My claim in the article is not that Bekkos is clairvoyant, or that he anticipates all the patristic research of the ensuing seven centuries. Like everyone else who read these sermons in his day, Bekkos attributed them to St. John Chrysostom; perhaps, in another seven hundred years, some yet-unborn patristics scholar, speaking perhaps a yet-unspoken language, may successfully argue that that earlier attribution was right after all, and that the people who attribute these sermons to Severian of Gabala are wrong. For the sake of my claim that Bekkos was a better reader of the fathers than he has been generally given credit for, the point about authorship is fairly unimportant. Someone at the time St. John Chrysostom was archbishop of Constantinople, in the early fifth century, was also giving sermons in Constantinople, and, in these sermons, he was speaking about the Holy Spirit in a way that was not too dissimilar from the way St. Augustine was speaking about the Holy Spirit in the West, and the way the Council of Seleucia was speaking about the Holy Spirit further to the East. And the people who heard these sermons delivered in Constantinople in St. John Chrysostom’s day did not immediately jump up and accuse this person (Severian) of rank heresy; in fact, by a curious irony of fate or providence, most of his sermons were passed down to subsequent generations under John Chrysostom’s own name, even though he had a disastrous falling out with St. John Chrysostom and became one of his chief accusers at the Synod of the Oak (A.D. 403). It may be that that falling out is a sign of irascibility and vanity on the part of Severian of Gabala; so far as I know, however, no one ever accused Severian of heresy, and the fact that his sermons got passed down under St. John Chrysostom’s name, and people in the middle ages accepted that attribution, shows that subsequent generations did not see anything doctrinally objectionable in them.

    My point in the article is that Bekkos correctly sees a substantial body of Greek patristic literature (Orthodox literature, not Gnostic or otherwise heretical) as being hard to square with the Photian position that the Son’s role in the Holy Spirit’s eternal procession is essentially negligible, or at most a kind of passive reception. Bekkos thinks that what he has found is a unanimous consensus of the Greek fathers that the Son’s participation in the Spirit’s eternal procession is active, an active mediation; I never claim in the article that Bekkos is right to see such a consensus as unanimous. My claim in the article is that Bekkos belongs within a particular lineage of Greek patristic thought; he is an Old Nicene, although he never calls himself this and could not have done so since the historical categorization was not invented until the late nineteenth century. He takes the trinitarian doctrine of people like St. Athanasius, St. Epiphanius (another of St. John Chrysostom’s accusers), and St. Cyril as theologically normative, and he is able to find things in the Cappadocians, St. Maximus, and others that agree with that normative interpretation. He does not take the pneumatology of Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus as theologically normative; I believe one could make a strong case for the claim that St. Photius does take this Antiochene view as normative for the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit. St. John Chrysostom is himself an Antiochene writer; to what extent he shares the views of the aforementioned Antiochenes on the doctrine of the procession, I do not know. Not long after him, another Antiochene writer, Nestorius of Constantinople, would also push this view of the relationship of the Spirit to the Son, and St. Cyril of Alexandria criticized it sharply, seeing it as based on a theologically defective view of the person of Christ. The Antiochene view, if pushed to extremes, would imply that Christ’s temporal actions imply nothing about his eternal, divine being and relationships; St. Cyril, on the contrary, thought that Christ’s breathing of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples after his resurrection does reveal something about his eternal being and relationships; it indicates that the Spirit is properly the Son’s own Spirit, and that he exists from the Son in an essential way, just as he exists from the Father.

    Bekkos is a Greek theologian, not a Latin one. He is a Greek theologian who sees things in the Greek fathers that make him think that the Greek and Latin traditions on the procession of the Holy Spirit are ultimately compatible, but he thinks in Greek terms, not Latin ones. Yesterday, I heard someone give a lecture in which he gave what seemed to me a kind of crass and debased reading of Augustinian trinitarian theology: the key to understanding the Christian God, the lecturer stated, is the experience of being “madly in love”; the Father shows this sort of love towards the Son, the Son shows the same towards the Father, and the resulting love is the Holy Spirit himself. Bekkos never talks in this way, and my guess is that he would have found such language offensive, as I did.

    If one takes any trinitarian image too literally, then anything can be presented as a heresy. Someone could be accused of thinking that God is literally a fountain of water, or a tree, or a man of war, or a consuming fire, or three men with wings sitting around a table, or a young man and an old man sitting on clouds, with a little bird fluttering between them. It seems to me that Orthodox fathers like St. Maximus were careful to point out that our human ideas of love fall infinitely short of the divine reality, that most of our ideas of love are distorted, to a greater or lesser degree, by selfishness, and that one therefore has to be very careful before projecting one’s ideas of human love onto the divine. I wish that the lecturer I heard yesterday had qualified his remarks about the Trinity in some such way; he did not, and the result, it seemed to me, was sentimental bathos, and the sort of thing that rightly drives Orthodox Christians crazy.

    But I have strayed somewhat from the original point I was making, and perhaps I have already said enough in response to your question about Bekkos, Severian, and St. John Chrysostom, so I’ll leave it at that.


  18. Tap Says:

    Thanks for the thorough response. It clarifies things as usual.

    I too would have been offended by the language used by whomever was giving that talk. I wouldn’t have a problem describing the Holy Spirit as being the love between the Father & Son, but i agree that crass phrases like “madly in love” should have no place in very important matters.

    By the way, are you getting Lewis Ayres, new book Augustine and the Trinity ?

  19. Veritas Says:


    I have been aware of Ayres’s new book on Augustine for some time; what I wasn’t aware of was A. Edward Siecienski’s treatment of the Filioque, due to be released in May, if I’m not mistaken.


    Was not this the fellow that Photios Jones, some time back, figured for his ally on the topic of St. Maximus and the Filioque? I’ll have to pick up a copy and see for myself.


  20. bekkos Says:

    Tap and Veritas,

    Thanks for the book recommendations. I was not, in fact, aware of either of these books, and both of them are things I’ll want to read, although I have to be careful about multiplying expenditures on a limited budget. Dr. Siecienski’s dissertation was, indeed, recommended to me many times by Photius Jones; I still haven’t read it, so I probably should make a point of buying his book, which, as a history of the Filioque Controversy, is very much within my field of interests.


  21. Tap Says:


    I didn’t about the Siecienski book, thanks for the heads-up.

  22. Ed Siecienski Says:

    I am looking forward to reading the article on Bekkos (congrats by the way). Regardless of what one thinks of his views on the filioque, any work that corrects the erroneous belief that he was one of the (so-called) “latin-minded” is welcome.

  23. bekkos Says:

    Dr. Siecenski,

    Many thanks, and congratulations on your book, which I very much look forward to reading.


  24. Ed Siecienski Says:

    Please call me Ed, and let me know what you think of the book (esp. the bits on the 13th century). If I can ask, how is work on the translations coming? I know of some who are translating many of the 9th century texts, but it would be wonderful to see the later texts (Blemmydes included)in English as well.

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