Ohio lecture

December 7, 2009

Just a brief note, for those who had asked me to publish the lecture I delivered in Ohio this past weekend: the link to it will now be found on the sidebar of this blog; it is titled “The Filioque: a very basic introduction.”


4 Responses to “Ohio lecture”

  1. Panagiotis Dimitriadis Says:

    FYI: Patriarch Bartholomew gives the “Holy Koran” to Muslim head of Coca Cola…

    The link below is to the second half of the speech the Patriarch gave to the Coca Cola folks and to his personal friend and supporter, Mouchtar Kent – the president of the Coca Cola company. At the 3:50 point, the Patriarch gives his muslim friend a “small but important” gift: “the holy Koran”.

    This is the earlier part of the speech, in which the Patriarch identifies himself as a Turk, celebrates the national holiday which the Turks were celebrating that day – the removal of the Greeks from Asia Minor:

    Your comments are welcome.

    I hope you’ll agree that this is very disturbing and worthy of every condemnation, for its betrayal of Christ and His Divinity – since the “holy Koran” (as the Patriarch calls it) says that anyone who holds that Christ is God blasphemes.

    I know that this post if off-topic, but I am not sure how one can bring up a new topic on this site.

  2. bekkos Says:

    Dear Panagiotis,

    My computer unfortunately does not have a fast enough internet connection to enable me to watch the Patriarch bestowing a copy of the “holy Koran” to his friend, the president of Coca-Cola; I’ll have to take your word for it, that that is what he did, and what he called it. Yes, I would agree that this is disturbing; at the very least, it shows a lack of awareness, on Patriarch Bartholomew’s part, that, as a public figure who represents Orthodox Christianity to the world, his public words and actions are going to be scrutinized very carefully. More seriously, it suggests that the Patriarch’s legitimate desire to see peace between Christians and Muslims has left him susceptible to a certain theological relativism.

    Last October, I saw the Patriarch give a speech at Fordham University in New York; it was the first time I had ever seen the Patriarch in person, and, as it happened, I was able to record most of the speech using my camera. (The transcript of what I recorded was published on this blog; see the post from October 28th.) A number of things struck me when hearing this speech. One of them was that, while it is clear that the Patriarch does speak English, it is also clear that English is not his first language and that he probably had someone else polish up the text of his address. This is important, because it suggests that, if the Patriarch called the Koran a “holy” book when visiting Atlanta, Georgia, it may have been because he did not understand the nuances of the English language; in English, we often refer to the “sacred literature” of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and so on, without implying anything more than that these are texts which Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and so on hold to be sacred; by calling them “sacred,” we don’t usually mean to imply that we agree with all that is taught in them (especially if some of the things in these texts contradict our own holy books). But the word “holy,” in English, carries a stronger connotation; like Anglo-Saxon words generally, it means something more concrete. So, if the Patriarch publicly gives someone a Koran, and publicly calls it “holy,” he gives a much stronger impression of actually affirming the contents of that book. This might be, as I say, due to an inadequate familiarity with English on the Patriarch’s part, or it may be that that is precisely what he wanted to say — which would indeed be disturbing.

    Another of the things that struck me, when I heard the Patriarch speak in New York, was that he is definitely a twenty-first century Constantinopolitan. It may be that his first language is Greek, but I would not be surprised if he customarily thinks in Turkish; he lacks the kind of nervous excitability that one sometimes sees in speakers of the Greek language. It seemed clear that this is a man who understands that he is archbishop of a largely Turkish-speaking city in a predominantly Muslim land, and who has had to come to terms with that situation. One way he seems to have come to terms with that situation is by focusing much of his public activity upon matters that have little bearing on theological differences, e.g., his environmentalism. (I know that many Orthodox will say that environmental concern is a proper corollary of Orthodox theology, but, politically speaking, it is a much safer thing for a Christian bishop in a Muslim land to preoccupy himself with cleaning up polluted rivers than to draw attention to fundamental differences of dogma.)

    Here is a passage from the Patriarch’s speech in New York; it may possibly shed some light on this Koran-incident:

    “This is why the inter-religious gatherings, initiated by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, are crucial for paving the way toward peaceful coexistence between the world’s peoples. Such dialogue draws people of diverse religious beliefs and cultural traditions out of their isolation, instituting a process of mutual respect and meaningful communication. When we seek this kind of encounter, we discover ways of coexisting in spite of our differences. After all, historical conflicts between Christians and Moslems are normally rooted in politics, and not in religion. The tragic story of the Crusades is a telling example, bequeathing a legacy of cultural alienation and ethnic resentment. Speaking, then, of an inevitable and inexorable ‘Clash of Civilizations’ is incorrect and inappropriate, especially when such a theory posits religion as the principal battleground on which such conflict is doomed to occur. National leaders may provoke isolation and aggression between Christians and Moslems, or else demagogues may mobilize religions in order to reinforce national fanaticism and hostility. However, this is not to be confused with the true nature and purpose of religion. Christians and Moslems lived alongside each other during the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, usually supported by their political and religious authorities. In Andalusia, Spain, believers in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam coexisted peacefully for centuries. Such historical models reveal possibilities for our own pluralistic and globalized world.”

    Now I confess that, when I heard this, it made me uneasy. The Patriarch apparently sees the Ottoman Empire and the emirate of Al-Andalus as appropriate models for twenty-first century religious coexistence; what he failed to say was that these models presupposed the hegemony of an Islamic state — in the Ottoman example, an Islamic state in which the Christian population existed as a dhimmi subject to routine, degrading predation. Perhaps, in the Patriarch’s mind, the overarching political hegemony he envisions is more a secular than an Islamic one, e.g., the European Union. But I have to say that the Patriarch’s rosy picture of religious tolerance and harmony under Islamic governments seemed to me to contain a political message that I am not sure that I am willing to accept. He sounded, in brief, a bit too close to a Christian apologist for a non-Christian agenda, perhaps one forced upon him by his necessary dealings with the Turkish state. For myself, I would have been happier if the Patriarch had said more about unity among Christians, and less about “religion” in the generic sense. The Koran incident increases my questions about his theological stance and his political motivations.


  3. Lucian Says:

    If the Filioque is true, how come neither Orthodox, nor Monophysites, nor even Nestorians know anything of this doctrine? (universality?) How come the only ones to profess it are the ones descending from the Latin culture, whose language knew one word for two different terms? Doesn’t this strike You as being in any way similar to the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies, whose Semitic languages knew only one term to denote two different things (person and nature) ?

  4. bekkos Says:

    Dear Lucian,

    First, it is well to remember that the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies arose among people who spoke Greek, and were adopted by people speaking Semitic languages only later on (although, properly speaking, Coptic is not a Semitic language, nor is Armenian); the problems were not initially caused by linguistic differences between Greek and Syriac, or between Greek and Coptic, but by different understandings of terms like φύσις and πρόσωπον, ὑπόστασις and οὐσία amongst Greek speakers themselves, and perhaps by different understandings of the underlying theological mystery of the Lord’s incarnation.

    Secondly, you are wrong to suppose that Semitic speakers never professed anything like the Latin doctrine. In the year 410, a council, led by a St. Isaac and a St. Maruthas, was held in Seleucia, in what is nowadays Iraq; the council’s profession of faith is preserved in Syriac. It states: “We confess the Living and Holy Spirit, the Living Paraclete, Who is from the Father and the Son (ha min abba w-bara).” (See Swete, On the History of the Doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Spirit [Cambridge 1876], p. 135, who cites the text from Mansi, III, 1166.) On your own principles, why do you suppose these Syriac-speaking bishops said this?

    That the Nestorians should not know anything like the Filioque is not at all surprising, since Nestorius was a prominent representative of the Antiochene school of theology, which is where the doctrine that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone first came to be definitively formulated; the earliest explicit denial that the Spirit owes his existence in any way to the Son occurs in a creed of Theodore of Mopsuestia (οὔτε διὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ τὴν ὕπαρξιν εἰληφός, cf. Swete, op. cit., p. 140); Photius in the ninth century is, in a way, only reviving and sharpening the criticisms that were made by Theodoret of St. Cyril in the early fifth century. What is more puzzling, I think, is why the Monophysites do not know anything like the Latin doctrine, since they claim to be followers of St. Cyril, who does frequently use language that describes the Spirit as being through and from the Son. I have not studied the history of the Monophysite church, but my guess would be that the reason why this aspect of Cyril’s thought is lost by them has to do with politics, i.e., the East Roman Empire was much more willing to make compromises with the Monophysites than Old Rome was, and the alliance between Rome and Alexandria that existed in the late fourth and early fifth centuries was no longer effective after St. Leo’s Tome, so people in the Coptic Church may have wanted to distance themselves from what was perceived as a Western teaching.

    As for the Armenians, Pusey, in his letter to the Rev. H. P. Liddon On the Clause “And the Son”, pp. 165 f., reports a council which took place in Shiragvan in the year 862, in response to an epistle of Photius; the council, incidentally, condemned the heresy of Eutyches, so there is good reason to think that the characterization of the Armenians as “Monophysite heretics” is false. In its first Canon, the council states:

    “If anyone confess not the One Nature and Three Persons of the All-holy and life-giving Trinity, i.e., the Father from no Beginning, the Son from the Father, and the Holy Spirit from the same (i.e., the Father and the Son) in Essence, and Co-equal to Them, let him be anathema.”

    Thirdly, with regard to your point about Latin being unable to express the same things as Greek, and therefore that the Filioque is rightly to be considered a heresy, your conclusion does not follow from your premise. St. Gregory the Theologian, in the fourth century, pointed out that, “because of the poverty of their language,” Latin speakers find it hard to differentiate between οὐσία and ὑπόστασις; he does not infer from this that the Latins are heretics, but, rather, that the dispute that has arisen between them and the Greeks is a dispute over words; similarly, St. Maximus, in the seventh century, in his letter to the priest Marinus, acknowledges that it is not possible for people in Latin to state things in just the same way as they are stated in Greek, just as it is not possible for us (he says) to convey in our own language all the meaning of what is said when people say something in Latin; yet he denies that, when people like Pope Theodore teach that the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, this is a heresy and opposed to the traditional doctrine of the Greek Church. It seems to me that you are drawing the opposite conclusion from linguistic difference to the one these men drew; you are saying that, because the Latin language is poor, and knows only one word for two different realities, therefore what is taught in that language is not as true as what is taught in Greek. That is, I would submit, a conclusion which the fathers did not draw, and St. Maximus specifically denies it with respect to the teaching that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”; he says that this teaching admits of an acceptable Orthodox interpretation.

    So, in brief, your point about universality is ill-founded, and your point about linguistic difference is rebutted by the saints. For myself, I prefer to follow St. Maximus, who admits that the Latin doctrine is capable of bearing an Orthodox sense, and who chooses to read the doctrine in that way and not (like Photius) as though the Latins were asserting two causes or a Sabellian coalescence of Father and Son into one person.


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