John Bekkos on a text of St. Basil’s

September 22, 2021

The following is a translation of one of the chapters of John Bekkos’s treatise On the Procession of the Holy Spirit. Bekkos here treats of an important text from Book Two of St. Basil’s early work Against Eunomius (Adv. Eun. II.34); the text is in fact the first patristic text cited by Bekkos in his treatise On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome, at least in its original form (he later made a revision of this work, and the Basil citation was moved to a different place in the narrative). The prominent place given to the citation is no doubt a reflection of the importance, for Bekkos, of the theological principle Basil therein spells out: that any causality ascribed to the Son is referred back to the Father, in such a way that there is no “polyarchy” in God, no division of the ultimate divine source or “monarchy.” For Bekkos, that principle applies both to the economy (God’s dealings with the creation) and to theology in the strict sense, that is, to an understanding of eternal trinitarian relationships. In both cases, Bekkos argues, the Father is able to exercise his causality through the Son, without there being any division of the principle of divine monarchy, rooted in the person of the Father. Bekkos thinks that Basil, in the passage cited, supports this claim.

To be sure, others argued in Bekkos’s own day, and have argued subsequently, that St. Basil is not saying this. They maintain that Basil, in the passage in question, takes Eunomius’s own supposition that the Holy Spirit is a creature of the Son’s as a basis for his refutation of Eunomius’s position, and that his argument cannot be extended back into trinitarian theology properly speaking. Most of Bekkos’s concern, in the chapter translated below, is to refute that counter-claim.

The treatise On the Procession of the Holy Spirit (De processione Spiritus sancti, PG 141, 157B – 276A) was initially conceived by Bekkos as a series of eleven self-contained essays dealing with disputed questions surrounding the interpretation of particular patristic texts; to this series a twelfth chapter was later added, that originally had stood independently. The work dates to the period of Bekkos’s patriarchate (1275-1282); beyond that, it is impossible to specify more precisely the date and occasion of its composition.

Whatever else may be said about the text translated below, I think it shows clearly, as I have argued elsewhere, that Bekkos was no mere “anthologist,” clumsily stringing patristic texts together without any insight into their meaning or regard for their context. Bekkos is a serious reader of the fathers, and he gives below a close reading of Basil’s text, relating the citation in question to what came before and after it, and expounding Basil’s intention in a pretty convincing manner. He points out the obvious, that, if Basil’s aim were specifically to defeat Eunomius’s view that the Holy Spirit is a creature of the Son’s, he could have done so most simply and effectively by telling Eunomius that the Holy Spirit is not from the Son at all. The fact that he doesn’t take this approach, Bekkos says, is a sign that Basil does not feel that that option is open to him; it is not in respect of holding that the Holy Spirit is, in some sense, from the Son that Basil and Eunomius differ. (Both of them, I would claim, are intellectually the great-grandchildren of Origen, and their quarrel is largely framed within the terms of that theological inheritance.) Instead, Basil focuses on Eunomius’s claim that the Holy Spirit is from the Son alone. Towards the end of the chapter, Bekkos makes an astute comment, noting that Basil saw, in Eunomius’s claim about the Spirit being the creature of the Son, an attempt to demean the Son in relation to the Father, to deny to the Son any equality of rank; by contrast, Basil’s connecting of whatever is from the Son back to the Father, the first cause, shows that Father and Son share the same divine nature and rank. Arguably, Bekkos’s exposition illuminates, not only his own thought about the Trinity, but St. Basil’s thought as well. His claim that Adversus Eunomium II.34 shows that Basil saw the Spirit as, in some sense, from the Son is founded on a serious reading of the text, and is not easily dismissed.


John Bekkos, De processione Spiritus Sancti, ch. 4 (PG 141, 200C – 208C).

Against those who raise doubts as to whether the expression “to be through the Son” carries a reference to the Father 

1. But again, those who are disputatious raise doubts and attempt to contradict the statements of the saints which show that the Spirit is from and out of the Son, and say, “And in what way shall we be able to learn that the phrase ‘from the Son’ carries a reference to the Father?” In reply to this, since we have nothing that better serves to demonstrate the things whereof they demand an explanation than those things which Basil the Great said towards the end of Book Two of his Against Eunomius, we shall here set them forth; they go like this:

But to whom [200D] of all people is it not apparent, that no activity of the Son is separated from the Father, nor does there exist anything among the things in the Son that is alien from the Father? For, he says, ‘all that are mine are thine, and thine are mine’ (John 17:10). Why then does Eunomius ascribe the cause of the Spirit to the Son alone, and take the making of him as a reproach against his nature? If then, in saying these things, he sets two causes in opposition to each other, he will be the comrade of Mani and Marcion; but if the statement that ‘all things came to be through’ the Son connects existing things to a single cause, it implies a reference back to the first cause. So that, even though we believe that all things were brought into being through the Word of God, nevertheless [201A] we do not deprive the God of the universe of being the cause of all things.”
Basil of Caesarea, Adv. Eunomium, II.34; PG 29b, 652 A-B. 

The reason why we present this passage here in our treatise is to make it clear that “the cause of the Spirit” refers back to the Father, even if the Spirit is said to be “from the Son.” 

2. But again they hound us with objections, and say: “But, so far as can be gathered from the words quoted, Basil the Great did not say these things in a theological sense about the Spirit’s Godhead, so that the text should provide a resolution of the matter in question. But since Eunomius was blaspheming the Spirit, calling him a creature of the Son’s, and saying that he was a creature of the Son’s alone so as to separate him from the Father, for this reason the saint first sets forth the premise that ‘No activity of the Son’s is separated from the Father, nor is there anything, among [201B] those things which exist in the Son, that is foreign to the Father’; then, on this basis, he infers that Eunomius wickedly and clumsily ascribes the cause of the Spirit to the Only-begotten alone, and takes his creation as a reproach against his nature.” When they give such a reply to our teaching, we in turn say: And what do you suppose, gentlemen? Was it really for this reason that the most wicked Eunomius seemed to our father Basil to be saying that the Spirit is from the Son alone, because he said that the Spirit is a creature of the Son’s? And so, for this reason, according to you, the unstated, unambiguous consequence would follow that, if Eunomius had said that the Spirit is from the Son alone while he took him to be, not a creature, but God, then our father Basil would not have [201C] criticized him. For either, according to Eunomius, the Spirit is a creature, and it is on that point that the blasphemy turns, or else, in line with the truth of theology, the Spirit is not a creature; and if it is on account of his doctrine of the Spirit’s creaturehood that Eunomius is to be condemned when he says that the Spirit is from the Son alone, then, manifestly, someone who thinks that the Spirit is God is not to be condemned if he says that he is from the Son alone. And take care lest, in running from the smoke, you fall into the fire. For while you contend that the Spirit is from the Father alone (as though you forget that he is not the Spirit of the Father alone), observe how you oppose Basil in his refutation of Eunomius when, [on your reading,] he affirms the Spirit to be from the Son alone according to his divine substance.

3. For I say once again that if, according to your reading, it was because [201D] Eunomius took the view that the Spirit is a creature that his statement that the Spirit is from the Son alone was denounced, then plainly he would not have been criticized for saying that the Spirit is from the Son alone if he had thought that the Spirit is God; and it fails to occur to those who maintain that the Spirit is from the Father alone that, when their interpretation of this text is extended to its unspoken implications, they end up affirming that the Spirit is from the Son alone. But if the absurdity and contradiction thereby revealed shows plainly that, when Basil the Great takes the heretic Eunomius to task for saying that the Spirit is from the Son alone, it was not because of Eunomius’s opinion about the Spirit’s creaturehood, but, rather, specifically for his claim that the Spirit was from one and from one alone — whether as a creature, as blasphemously alleged by Eunomius, or else [204A] as God (since, in line with true theology, the Holy Spirit is God) — then there remains no pretext of ambiguity: as you can see, the saint appears to be virtually saying to Eunomius that, though in fact the Holy Spirit is, in his divine nature, not from the Son alone, separated from the Father, nevertheless even supposing that the Spirit were a creature of the Son’s, in accordance with your view, Eunomius, you should not even in that case have ascribed the cause of him to the Only-begotten alone and separated him from the Father, on account of the fact that “everything which is made by the Son carries a reference to the Father, the first cause.” And as it has been unambiguously shown that it was not for his view of the Spirit’s creaturehood that Eunomius was taken to task by Basil the Great for saying that the Spirit is from the Son alone, but solely for his claim that the Spirit is from [204B] the Son alone and from no one else, this likewise clearly refutes those who raise doubts as to whether the expression “to be from the Son” carries a reference to the Father. 

4. But if this refutation does not seem sufficiently clear to you, nevertheless, by carefully examining the things which the saint goes on to say following the above-cited passage, you will still be able to comprehend what the argument has already plainly shown you through many cited texts. For after refuting Eunomius, and virtually saying to him that, even if the Spirit were a creature of the Son’s, in accordance with your view, Eunomius, all the same you should not have ascribed the cause of him to the Son alone, on account of the fact that everything created through the Son has reference back to the Father, the first cause, [204C] the saint interjects some remarks concerning the divinity of the Spirit and, desiring to show that, according to his divinity, the Spirit exists from the Father and the Son, as proceeding ineffably from the Father through the Son, he says the following things: 

“And why is it not manifestly dangerous to separate the Spirit from God? since the Apostle has passed this thing down to us in a connected way, at one time calling him ‘of Christ,’ at another time ‘of God,’ where he writes, ‘If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his’ (Rom 8:9), and again, ‘But ye have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God’ (1 Cor 2:12). Again, the Lord calls him the ‘Spirit of Truth’ (Jn 15:26), since he himself is the Truth (Jn 14:6), and he proceeds from the Father (Jn 15:26).”
Basil of Caesarea, Adv. Eunomium, II.34; PG 29b, 652 B-C. 

That is what the saint says, word for word. But [204D] note the phrase, “Why is it not manifestly dangerous to separate the Spirit from God?” For the saint did not say, “Why is it not manifestly dangerous to connect the Spirit to the Son, when he exists neither through him nor from him, but from the Father alone?” But he said, “Why is it not manifestly dangerous to separate the Spirit from God?” such that his entire concern was how he might show the Spirit to be connected to the Father when, according to Eunomius, he was separated from him. And this is clear from the testimonies which he then subjoins from both the Apostle and the Gospels, from which he shows the Spirit to be likewise “of the Son” and “of the Father,” and that it is not the case that, because he is “of the Son,” he is therefore not also “of the Father,” nor that, because he is from the Father, he is therefore not [205A] through the Son or from the Son. For the saint exhibits the gospel statements, both the one which says “the Spirit of Truth” and the one which says “he proceeds from the Father,” as a testimony to the connection about which he has just been speaking, knowing as he does very definitely that, just as the term ἐκπορεύεται (proceeds) is able to shed light upon the natural relationship and affinity of the Spirit with the Father, so also the phrase “Spirit of Truth” is able to shed light upon the natural relationship and affinity of the Spirit with the Son. 

And if anyone may still be doubtful about the equivalence of these expressions, which Basil the Great has presented as a testimony in order to show that the Spirit is jointly of the Son and of the Father, let such a person seek out those passages in Basil the Great’s [205B] writings, in which he is observed to say, “I acknowledge his affinity with the Father, since he ‘proceeds from the Father,’ and likewise with the Son, since I hear, ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.’” And this defense of ours to those who raise doubts as to whether the statement that he is “from the Son” carries a reference back to the Father has now, I trust, been sufficiently given. 

But it is necessary to add those things which are still to be said, as a kind of corollary to those things which have been said already. For since the saint was devoting all his care to demonstrating that the Spirit is not a creature of the Son’s, if in fact he had demonstrated that he is not from the Son at all, he would at the same time have been able to demonstrate that he is also not the Son’s creature. For in the case of that which in no way at all exists from some other thing, what reason could there be for saying that it is its creature? For [205C] Eunomius had no other pretext for saying that the Spirit is the Son’s creature apart from the fact that it was affirmed by the theologians of that time that the Spirit is from the Father through the Son and, for that reason, also from the Son. For it is not as from a first cause and principle that the Spirit is from the Son, but as existing from the Father through the Son.

And if the saint had been able to demonstrate that the Spirit is not from the Son, his argument would not have carried this force alone, that it should be possible to draw the inference that the Spirit is not a creature of the Son’s. But it would also have been possible for some other, deeper inference to be observed there by those who study things closely. For when Eunomius says that the Spirit is a creature of the Son’s and less than the Only-begotten, taking the belittling of the Holy Spirit as something already granted, he uses this as grounds for [205D] demonstrating the lesser nature of the Son, as Basil the Great testifies in a passage occurring a little before the one we earlier examined, where he says the following things:

“Now the Lord says concerning the Paraclete, ‘He shall glorify me’ (Jn 16:14), but the accusatory tongue asserts this to be an obstacle against the Son’s being compared with the Father. For since, he says, the Son is the Spirit’s creator (have mercy on us, Lord, for uttering such a thing), and the latter is of such a kind as to add no dignity to his creator, for this reason neither is the Son worthy of being compared with the Father, on account of the [relative] worthlessness of those things which he has created, and has been deprived of equality of rank.”
Basil of Caesarea, Adv. Eunomium, II.33; PG 29b, 649C.

[208A] This is what the saint says, word for word; and, after parading and presenting Eunomius’s blasphemy — that Eunomius intends, from the Spirit’s being created by the Son, to destroy, on that account, the Son’s equality with the Father — he thereupon adds the oft-cited passage, saying: “But to whom of all people is it not apparent, that no activity of the Son is separated from the Father?” and so on. Since therefore the saint understands that, if Eunomius says that the Spirit has been created by the Son, it is for the purpose of lessening the glory of the Only-begotten, and to obstruct his co-equal honor with the Father, if in fact he were able to prove from the Scriptures that the Spirit does not exist from the Son, what other refutation of Eunomius’s blasphemies would be have found necessary [208B], aside from demonstrating that in no way at all does the Spirit exist from the Son? For had it been demonstrated that the Spirit in no way exists from the Son, such a demonstration would have stopped Eunomius’s accusatory mouth when he says that the [relative] worthlessness of the Spirit, created by the Son, does not allow the Son to be of equal honor with the Father. So useful, then, would it have been for the saint to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit in no way at all exists from the Son, in order to defeat Eunomius’s blasphemies; but since the saint was unable to demonstrate this, he does not dispute Eunomius when the latter says that the Spirit is from the Son, since Basil himself makes this same point clear countless times in his own writings; instead, he disputes this most wicked and ungodly man only on one sole point, that Eunomius claims that the Spirit is from the Son alone. [208C] But given that it is not against the claim that the Holy Spirit is from the Son, but against the claim that the Holy Spirit is from the Son alone that the saint directs his argument, how is it not manifest that he confirms the claim that he is from both? For surely no one will say that, in saying that the Spirit is not from the Son alone, the saint proves that he is from the Father alone; nor ought one to reason that, if the Spirit is not from the Son alone, it therefore follows that he is from the Father alone; but one should understand that he who says that the Spirit is not from the Son alone clearly confirms the claim that he is from both. But if someone wants to demonstrate that the Spirit is from the Father alone, he will have no ready means for such a demonstration if he will not undertake to overthrow entirely the claim that the Spirit is from the Son. For this, and nothing but this, will be able to confirm the claim that the Spirit is from the Father alone.

One Response to “John Bekkos on a text of St. Basil’s”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: