Demetra Moniou on George Moschabar: synopsis of her dissertation

July 7, 2017

There is not much on George Moschabar in English; the following brief sketch of his life may help, in a small way, to remedy that lack. It is translated, somewhat loosely, from the German summary of a recent dissertation in Greek, Δήμητρα Ἰ Μονίου, Γεώργιος Μοσχάμπαρ: Ὁ βασικός ἀντιρρητικός θεολόγος τῆς πρώϊμης παλαιολογείου περιόδου, βίος καί ἔργο (Athens 2009), pp. 368-370. For anyone interested, the dissertation can be read online: see the above link.


George Moschabar was, without question, an important and gifted author of religious works, who was born most likely between the years 1230 and 1240 and, in the earliest years of his life, must have lived in Islamic territory, as may be inferred from his surname or, rather, his pseudonym.

After this, he left his parents and betook himself to Nicaea, a city which at that time was a popular destination for ambitious youths. There, although of middle class origins, he had the opportunity to receive a higher education alongside Theodore II Laskaris (1254-1258) and to study under the care of renowned, significant figures of his time. He completed his studies in the year 1271. Within ten years, the theologian had made a name for himself as a teacher of the gospel and had begun working actively within the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Concurrently with this, he took a stance favoring the opposition to ecclesiastical union, at a time when the emperor Michael VIII and his patriarch John XI Bekkos were doing everything in their power to implement the Union of the Churches. As officer of Hagia Sophia and a titled official at the Patriarch’s court, Moschabar had no opportunity to uphold his anti-latin positions openly; therefore he confined himself, for the time being, to authoring anonymous circular letters against the Patriarch so as not to have to bear open responsibility for his published opinions.

Later, that is, in the year 1282, when Andronikos II had ascended the imperial throne, the situation in Constantinople changed radically: the opponents of ecclesiastical union emerged from the background and assumed an active role and a decisive, influential position in framing ecclesiastical-political developments. Gregory II the Cypriot (= “Cyprius”) was appointed as new patriarch; he appointed Moschabar as chartophylax of the Great Church and set him at his side as a trusted aide. As a titled official, the theologian now acknowledged his earlier writings as his own and openly pursued his polemic against the Union of the Churches.

Being convinced that the Western Church had perpetrated and supported a fraud, he published numerous dogmatic works: some were newly composed writings, others, reworked editions of the anonymous circular letters he had published previously. Consequently, the literary production of the theologian is found to be very considerable: his works extend to at least 1100 pages in manuscript, preserved in 26 manuscripts in eighteen different libraries. They may be classified as follows: either they appear as chapters, belonging to the branch of theology that is termed “antirrhetic” or refutatory, and having as content those differences which divide the Christian churches (107 in total); or else they appear as dialogues or are composed as Logoi (treatises, discourses) against the Latins. In all cases, they have as their scope the same central recurring theme, that of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father solely and alone.

Parallel to his extensive literary activity, Moschabar not surprisingly took part in the disputes which erupted within the Church, and had a most far-reaching influence among his contemporaries. He participated in the synod of Constantinople and signed the Tome of Blachernae in which John Bekkos, Constantine Meliteniotes and George Metochites were stigmatized and condemned as heretics. Later, oddly enough, he turned against Patriarch Cyprius and even had doubts about the Tome which he himself had signed and thus, as to its contents, had legitimized. Subsequently he took the lead of that group which had arisen within ecclesiastical circles and which maintained the position that Cyprius should be viewed as no less of a heretic than John Bekkos. Among its adherents were Michael Eskammatismenos and John Pentecclesiotes, who sought to support this position and to elaborate its dogmatic significance. Although Cyprius reproached [Moschabar] with organizing a propaganda campaign against him with the aim of removing him from office, nevertheless Emperor Andronikos summoned Cyprius before a tribunal and constrained him to renounce his title to office, after first [agreeing] that the orthodoxy of [Cyprius’s] faith would be clearly affirmed and recognized by a procedure which had been proposed by Moschabar himself, who, last but not least, had also written the text acknowledging the εὐσέβεια [piety] of the former patriarch. This text by Moschabar represents the last testimony that has come down to us concerning the antiunionist theologian.

From the year 1289 onward, other traces of him are lost and his other activities remain hidden from us to this day. We do not know whether he continued composing anti-latin treatises or withdrew from this work entirely. Whatever the activities of the last years of his life may have been, we can take it as certain that Moschabar must have been a remarkable person, who influenced his own era as profoundly as he did subsequent centuries. His works in later years would be continually reused, whether identified as his own or taken as anonymous, in such a way that (not least) many important personalities did not hesitate to adopt them as their own. Maximos Margunios may be taken as a most characteristic example of this — a scholar who, some three hundred years later, would present and publish a dialogue by Moschabar as his own composition. But numerous were those scholars who were capable of appreciating Moschabar’s literary legacy and for whom this legacy served as a model for their own writing.

However scholars may have met with the antiunionist theologian’s texts, the fact is clear that George Moschabar was a significant personality who gave expression to the theology of the thirteenth century against the Union of the Churches and found numerous followers, both during his own lifetime and during the following centuries.

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