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.”

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 http://www.communio-icr.com/latest.htm; a permanent link to the article, in PDF format, is http://www.communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/gilbert36-2.pdf.

I never met David J. Melling, the author of the following essay. He lived in Manchester, England, apparently taught at the university there, was a communicant at a Greek Orthodox church, and, besides authoring a lucid introduction to Plato and being one of the editors of The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, wrote a short, readable introduction to Byzantine Chant notation that is available online (http://www.scribd.com/doc/4766762/Reading-Psalmodia). For some years, he hosted an Orthodox webpage, titled Arimathea, that was notable for its sanity and unpretentious learning. A few years ago I learned of his death. A brief notice of his funeral is given on the webpage britishorthodox.org:

Abba Seraphim attended the funeral and burial of David John Melling (1943-2004) at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation of God at Salford, Manchester, on 28 September 2004, where His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira presided. Speaking afterwards, Abba Seraphim praised the indefatigable work of David Melling, who not only worked tirelessly to make the Orthodox faith and tradition accessible to British people, but was also an energetic and zealous worker for the Greek community in Manchester, among whom he was greatly loved and respected. “He was also a firm friend to the Coptic Orthodox Church as well as other Oriental Orthodox communities and he did much to give practical support to the implementation of the dialogue between the two families. With his own deep commitment to Orthodoxy as well as his expert knowledge and understanding of non-Christian faiths he promoted deep affection and mutual respect where, sadly, suspicion and hostility too often result.”

This past weekend, while working on my computer and examining old files, I found the following essay by him, which I had copied off the internet on June 16, 1997. Because David Melling’s Arimathea page is no longer up and running, and, more importantly, because the essay still deserves to be read, I publish it here.

(Photograph of David Melling; added, 8 September 2012, Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos. Thanks to Mr. Derek Jackson, of Manchester, England, for sharing this picture of his friend.)


Early in his ministry as a Non-Juror Anglican priest, the saintly William Law published a sequence of “Letters to a Lady inclined to enter the Church of Rome.” (1732-3) His advice to the Lady was that she, like other laymembers and junior clergy of the Anglican Church, was in no way responsible for the schism separating her and her fellow Anglicans from the Greek and Roman Churches. There is, he argued, no way of escaping the reality of schism, since every history determines that each of us is “necessarily forced into one externally divided part, because there is no part free from external division.” The divisions cannot be escaped by simply changing one’s ecclesiastical allegiance, he tells her, since that action resolves the schism with the Church entered at the price of schism with the Church abandoned. He counsels her to stay where she is, but to love the Greek and Roman Churches with the same love she has for her own Church. Law attributes the schism that divides the Churches to “the unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims of the governors on both sides.” He sees schism as caused by the failings and shortcomings of hierarchs, and as something affecting only the external reality of the Church’s life. Law is not, of course, writing of all kinds of schism. His position flows from the belief that the Roman, Greek and English Churches, whatever their differences in theological tradition and styles of worship, are alike in being effective means of attaining “christian holiness.” He does not have the same positive view of any Christian bodies which are merely human institutions and lack the full means of sanctification.

In Eastern Christian tradition, schism between ecclesial communities is not always read as William Law reads it. Eastern theology has tended to stress the intimate unity of faith and sacrament and to see schism as a sign of heresy. Roman Catholic theology, on the other hand, has generally distinguished more sharply between schism, in which both the separated communities may be fully orthodox and retain a full sacramental life, and formal heresy which involves the rejection of the Church’s dogmatic teaching. Roman Catholic sacramental theology has tended to regard heretical sacraments as invalid by reason of heresy only in those cases when the heresy explicitly denied the Church’s dogmatic teaching about the sacraments. The consequence of such a denial is obvious: a heretical priest who does not believe in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Real Presence or the Apostolic Succession can hardly be the presiding minister at a Divine Liturgy, consecrating this bread and this wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ, since that is precisely what he does not believe he is authorised to do and what he believes does not come about even when a Catholic or Orthodox priest celebrates the Mass. Roman Catholic tradition differs from Eastern Orthodox in the relative status it accords the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. In Catholic theology, the infallibility attaching to the dogmatic definitions of the Councils is sharply distinguished from the relative degree of authority accorded their disciplinary and legal decisions. Orthodox Christians would not normally go so far as to claim the disciplinary canons of the Ecumenical Councils are absolutely immutable and irreformable, but tend to see them as reformable only by the authority of another Ecumenical Council.

This attitude to the legislation of the Ecumenical Councils explains in part the bitterness of the schism between Old Calendarists and New Calendarists in the Greek world. The Old Calendarists have consistently and vehemently denied the right of Patriarchs, Hierarchs and local synods to alter the calendrical arrangements laid down in the canons of the Council of Nicaea. Given the nature of what they see as a grave breach of Orthodox ecclesiastical discipline, some, but not all, Old Calendarists have gone further, and invoking the authority of St. Basil the Great, have seen New Calendarists not only as schismatics, but as a religious body whose sacraments are devoid of grace. Interestingly, this schism as the Old Calendarists see it does indeed conform in part at least to William Law’s characterisation of schism, since what the Old Calendarists object to is precisely what they see as high-handed, unlawful and unreasonable action by the Church’s hierarchs. This was equally an issue in the schism between the Old Believers and the Russian Orthodox Church. In both cases, what was judged by their opponents to be the illegitimate use of Hierarchical authority to alter the calendar in the one case, the service books in the other, was interpreted not merely as imposing on the Church untraditional and objectionable legislation, but also as signifying a drift into heresy that made schism both inevitable and a matter of inescapable duty. William Law, however, in speaking of the schism between the Roman and English Churches emphasises that the “unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims of the governors” were on both sides. An authoritarian and assertive Papacy had found its own claims reflected in the distorting mirror of Henry VIII’s assertion of his own divine right to rule as “Supreme Head” of the English Church. The Old Believers and Old Calendarists reflect the position not of the Vatican in relation to the Church of England, but of the Catholic Recusants, loyal to the religion they inherited from their fathers and mothers, and unable to accept the changes imposed by state authority. Conservative dissent is always an embarrassment to church authorities. It is not obvious exactly how one can become a heretic by standing fast on yesterday’s orthodoxy.

Law’s argument that schism as such is fundamentally a matter of the external reality of the Church is of particular significance if we attempt to interpret the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The mutual excommunications of 1054, while furnishing a fine example of the “unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims” which Law identifies as the fundamental cause of schism, were neither the origin nor the legal basis of the schism. Had they been so, the lifting of the excommunications by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch would have brought the schism to an end. It continues. The schism between Catholics and Orthodox continues, yet the full ecclesial life of both Churches also continues. While the absence of external institutional unity may be a cause of suffering and something to deplore, it has not prevented either Church from producing a rich crop of saints, from engaging in Apostolic missionary work, from serving the needy, from finding within its own spiritual resources the means for renewal.

The notion that Western and Eastern Churches were ever identical in theology, ritual and social life, is pure fantasy. Theological differences existed in the days when the Church of the Roman Empire was a legal unity. The typically Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin as inherited guilt is to be found in the doctrinal canons of the early sixth century councils of Carthage and Orange, and the latter council even went so far as to condemn the typical Eastern view that what is inherited from Adam and Eve as a consequence of their sin is our mortality. The dogmatic canons of the latter council were confirmed by Pope Boniface II. Eastern and Western Churches had different rules concerning the bread to be used in the Eucharist, different rules for fasting, clerical celibacy, the ordination of eunuchs, and later, the legitimacy of fourth marriages and the permissibility of divorce even during the period when the Churches were in full communion.

The schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches did not begin, nor was it completed in 1054. Indeed, one wonders at exactly what point in history many communities realised they were in schism from the other church. The failed reunion councils, the intrusion of Latin bishops in the wake of the Crusades, the sack of Constantinople and the profanation of Hagia Sophia in 1208 and the consequences of the Fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks all helped crystallize out a pattern of relations that still managed to retain some fluidity even into the seventeenth century. The establishment of Eastern Catholic jurisdictions in the Patriarchate of Antioch and in the east of Poland helped considerably to confirm the external separation of the two Church institutions. The external separation spread and became firm. But what changed in the life of ordinary parishes? Some experienced a shift in hierarchical authority. Some experienced the arrival of new religious orders. In traditional Orthodox and Latin Catholic communities nothing took place. The life of the local Church carried on as before. Where things did change, it was not as a direct result of the schism, but as a result of the local changes taking place in the life of one Church or the other — e.g., the implementation of the reforms of the Council of Trent.

The heart of the life of every Catholic or Orthodox church, is the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. In the Liturgy we find ourselves called to communion with Our Lord, to eat mystically His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine, to become one with Him, to be incorporated in Him. Our communion with Christ draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity. It is by the Power of the Holy Spirit He became a human being; it is by the Power of the Holy Spirit that the mystery of the Eucharist incorporates us in Christ. The Liturgy we celebrate here in our churches is an image of the Eternal Liturgy of the Court of Heaven. The barriers between Heaven and Earth are broken as the power of the Holy Spirit makes this holy table the Throne where the Son of God becomes present amongst us. Christ is “a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek” [Heb.5, 6] the one true High Priest of all humanity. He is the Son and Word of God, Who has put on our humanity so that we may share His Divinity. He is the one perfect Sacrificial Victim who “has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” [Heb.9, 26] He offers Himself once and for all, not in the sanctuary of the earthly Temple, but entering “into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” [Heb.9, 24] His death on Calvary is the visible historical realisation of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In the Eucharistic Liturgy, the same High Priest is present offering Himself to the Father for us, and inviting us to the Mystic Feast where He Himself becomes our food and drink so that we become one with Him, becoming by His grace what He is by nature. The Son of God offers Himself to us to make us too children of God. But we stand in separate churches, hear different priests recite the ancient words of the anaphora, communicate from separate chalices. To that extent, precisely to that extent, the schism between Catholics and Orthodox is real. But we communicate together in the Body and Blood of the one Anointed, we put on the one Christ in Baptism and are incorporated in the one Anointed in the Mystical Supper. It is our communion with Him, and in Him with one another that is the fundamental basis of our relation to each other. In the most basic and the most important sense, we are in communion with one another and always have been. In Him we are in communion with each other in a sense far more important than that in which, because of the schism between the churches, we are separated. We are united in Christ by His Holy Spirit, and divided outwardly by the inherited habit of schism.

Understandably in this century of ecumenical politics and ecclesiastical bureaucracy, there is a broad pattern of exploratory discussions and negotiations underway aimed at the removal of the scandal of schism. Whatever may be agreed by such a path, for the Orthodox it will be necessary to find the consent of the Church in a way other than by Patriarchal or Synodical decree, unless the decree be that of what is recognised as an Ecumenical Council. The immediate response of the Monks of Mount Athos to the recent agreement between representatives of the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox makes clear exactly what problems such negotiations will face. The theologians and hierarchs involved in the Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox discussions have published a report that shows a true spirit of conciliation and mutual acceptance. Unfortunately, it proceeds from and addresses the mind-set of those who are prepared to see the proceedings of Ecumenical Councils in their historical and political relativity, and are ready to renegotiate relations amongst Churches without demanding formal acceptance of the dogmatic definitions of the Seven Councils. There may be many Orthodox who share such an outlook: they do not include the Holy Epistasia of Mount Athos or the many thousands who will stand in solidarity with the Athonite Community in seeing the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils as infallible and irreformable, as divinely inspired, and as the only possible basis for unity.

A process of growing together based on mutual trust and respect offers a much more realistic model for future developments than the repetition of ancient errors by the construction of eirenic but ambiguous documents and the validation of proposals for reunion by Patriarchal fiat or Synodical decree. Face to face, local communities can experience for themselves the reality of their oneness in Christ — or they can discover precisely the opposite. The zeal for full union will come from mutual knowledge, shared experience and profoundly respectful love: it can also come from the vivid awareness of the reality of our present communion with each other in Christ. That is not to say the hierarchs have no role in promoting the removal of schism. Pope John Paul II has made a major personal contribution in the last few months with the two letters Orientale Lumen and Ut Unum Sint. Sadly, the publicity given the second of these encyclicals has almost totally overshadowed the first, a document of immense importance for Catholic-Orthodox relations, emphasising, as it does, the need for Western clergy and theologians to become far better acquainted with the Eastern tradition of theology and Christian worship. Indeed, the Encyclical shows a warm sympathy for and a profound awareness of Eastern theology. It also offers an unusual opportunity for Orthodox and Eastern Catholics to co-operate in responding to the Pope in creating opportunities for Western brethren to learn more of our shared Eastern tradition. Co-operation between Orthodox and Eastern Catholics may seem an odd thing to recommend. For many Orthodox “Uniatism” remains an offensive and illegitimate method of Vatican proselytism. Whatever the truth of such a charge, there is a need for Orthodox Christians to face the challenge of the deep loyalty to Rome shown by many Eastern Catholic communities, even in the face of contemptuous treatment by Latins, even of appalling humiliations, the ultimate being that revealed by the late Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV when he disclosed, that in the aftermath of the then patriarch’s opposition to the definition of Papal infallibility at the first Vatican council, His Beatitude had been forced to the ground before the Papal throne while Pius IX placed his foot on his head. Loyalty in the face of such provocation merits at least astonished respect.

The draft agreement between Catholic and Orthodox theologians reached at Balamand in 1993 proposes a helpful way forward here, in proposing a formal rejection by the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Eastern, of “proselytizing among the Orthodox.” Once it becomes clear to the Orthodox that this commitment is serious, (and at the moment that is very far from clear) the possibility will grow of precisely the open and co-operative dialogue between Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that the Balamand agreement envisages. It has, however, to be recognised that in both Catholic and Orthodox Churches there remain zealots and integrists who will defend forever a maximalist ecclesiology which leaves no room for any ecumenical activity whatsoever, since it sees schism as defining the boundaries of the Church of Christ, outside of which there exist heretical conventicles devoid of sacramental grace. In the Orthodox Church such interests still have a powerful voice, as Patriarch Bartholomaeos has discovered to his cost, facing demonstrations protesting against his brotherly relationship with the Pope, and denunciation of him as trying to drag the Orthodox Church into union with Rome.

There are, indeed, specific problems in the relation of Catholic and Orthodox Churches that the present Ecumenical Patriarch’s very public role has made vividly evident to many Orthodox. The Ecumenical Patriarch’s role as senior hierarch of the Orthodox communion is far more fragile than his public image sometimes suggests. In Rome he may look like the Eastern counterpart of the Pope, and the vigour with which he has exercised and even developed his role in the Orthodox Church may give plausibility to that image, but the fact remains that he is not the linear superior of the chief hierarchs of other autocephalous Churches, but only the first among equals among them, and that is something very different. Orthodox tradition, moreover, has never recognised any hierarchical role above that of the local bishop as of divine authority. Any higher layer of authority and responsibility derives from Synodical or sometimes even state decision. There is nothing inevitable or immutable in the Primacy of Constantinople. Nor can the Ecumenical Patriarch assert his authority to guarantee the Orthodox Church’s acceptance of the policy he espouses. The same arguments that establish the ecclesiastical and human origin of the patriarchates are deployed by Orthodox to reject Catholic claims of divine institution for the Roman Papacy, and of course to reject any claims to Papal supremacy. (Not, of course, to the Primacy of Rome, that is a quite different and relatively uncontroversial matter.) It is, then, very helpful to see the Pope is clearly aware that his own office as interpreted by Vatican theologians and canonists is experienced by Christians of other traditions as a major obstacle to unity. In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint he calls for a “patient and fraternal dialogue” on the nature and exercise of his primacy. This is a welcome and helpful development.

Progress in extricating ourselves from the bad habit of schism involves a reappraisal of what is central to our Christian heritage and what is transitory and peripheral, what is essential and what is merely a matter of cultural tradition. When we return to the heart and centre of our faith, we find ourselves together in Christ. If we lose the living awareness of our oneness in Christ and identify ourselves simply in terms of a particular community’s history and interests, we find a chasm yawning at our feet. The full flourishing of the spirit of schism is not merely external separation and institutional rivalry, its fruit can be tasted at the point where religious identity becomes a means of justifying political and ethnic conflict.

In nativitatem Mariae

September 8, 2009

Today is celebrated the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. The following hymn is the eighth ode from a canon for the feast; the Greek text, given below, is found in Joseph Schirò, ed., Analecta Hymnica Graeca e codicibus eruta Italiae inferioris, vol. i, Canones Septembris (ed. Ada Debiasi Gonzato) (Rome 1966), pp. 154-156.

[Note: Is it not somewhat bizarre that there are two separate Wikipedia articles on this feast, one titled Nativity of Mary and the other Nativity of the Theotokos?]

Πῶς ἐβλάστησας, εἰπέ,
ἐν τῇ γαστρί σου, Ἄννα,
τὴν οὐράνιον
σκηνήν, ἐν ᾗ ὁ Λόγος
«Στεῖρα οὖσα ηὐξάμην
δι’ ἐπαγγελίας
Θεοῦ τεκεῖν μητέρα.»
Say, O Anna, how it was
that in your womb you caused to sprout
the tent celestial,
that tent wherein
the Word encamped.
“Being barren, I made prayer
that, by promise, I might bear
the Mother of God.”
Ὄντως θαῦμα φρικτόν,
τὴν ἐν γαστρὶ ἀφράστως
συλλαβοῦσάν σε
τὸν ποιητὴν τῶν ὅλων,
Ἄννα, τίκτουσαν
ἐξ ἀκάρπων λαγόνων
δι’ ἐπαγγελίας·
«Οὐκ ἔτι μένει στεῖρα.»
Verily a wonder strange:
that she who in her womb conceived
thee unspeakably,
the universe’s Maker,
should now be brought into the world
from the fruitless recesses
of Anna, through the promise that
she should no more be barren.
Ἀνοιγέσθω ὁ ναός,
τὸ ἱερὸν δονείσθω·
τὰ γὰρ ἅγια
τὰ τῶν ἁγίων νῶτα
ὑφαπλοῦντά σοι
Θεοτόκε, ἐν δόξῃ
ὑποδέχονταί σε
ἐν τῷ ἱλαστηρίῳ.
Let the temple open up;
let the sanctuary be shaken.
For the holy things
(the back-parts of the holy),
having spread a way for you,
now receive you, Theotokos,
in glory,
into the mercy seat.
Νῦν ἡ ἄμωμος ἀμνὰς
ἐκ σοῦ γεννᾶται, Ἄννα,
ἡ ἀμίαντος
περιστερὰ καὶ νύμφη
τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμῶν,
παρθένος καὶ μήτηρ
καὶ παστὰς καὶ δούλη
καὶ θρόνος καὶ νεφέλη.
Now the ewe-lamb without spot
is, O Anna, born from you,
the unpolluted
dove and bride
of our God,
at once virgin and a mother,
portico and handmaiden
and throne and cloud.
Ἐμεγάλυνας, Σωτήρ,
Ἰωακεὶμ καὶ Ἄνναν
τοὺς θεόφρονας,
τῆς ἀπαιδίας λύσας
τὴν ἀσθένειαν
καὶ ἐξάρας ἐκ γένους
καὶ ἐξ οἴκου Δαβὶδ
ὄνειδος εἰς αἰῶνας.
Thou hast magnified, O Savior,
Joachim along with Anna,
the godly-minded pair,
having freed them from
infirmity of childlessness,
and having from the race
and house of David
removed reproach forever.
Νῦν εὐφράνθητι Δαβίδ,
ὅτι ἠγέρθη κέρας
σωτηρίας σοι,
ἡ ἐκ φυλῆς καὶ ῥάβδος
ἡ βλαστήσασα
ἐκ κοιλίας τὸ ἄνθος,
Ἰησοῦν τὸν Χριστόν,
τὸν ζῶντα εἰς αἰῶνας.
Now let David’s heart rejoice,
for in you there has been raised
the horn of our salvation,
the horn from his own tribe, the rod
that budded forth
from her own womb the flower,
Jesus Christ,
the one who lives forever.
Οὐκ ἐκλείψει προειπὼν
ἐκ τοῦ Ἰούδα ἄρχων,
οὐχ ἡγούμενος
ἕως ἂν ἔλθῃ τοῦτο
ὃ ἀπόκειται,
τὸν ἐκ γένους Δαβίδ σε
προδηλῶν Ἰακώβ,
ἐθνῶν τὴν προσδοκίαν.
Jacob showed this long ago
and foretold that there should not
fail a ruler out of Judah
nor someone to lead the way
until that which is set in store
should finally come:
thou, of David’s family,
the Gentiles’ expectation.
Χαῖρε, ὄρος τοῦ Θεοῦ,
χαῖρε, παστὰς ἁγία,
χαῖρε, τράπεζα,
χαῖρε, χρυσῆ λυχνία,
χαῖρε, ἄνανδρε
παιδοτόκε Μαρία,
σέ, ἁγνή, ὑμνοῦμεν
εἰς πάντας τοὺς αἰῶνας.
Hail, O mountain-peak of God!
Hail, O holy portico!
Hail, O altar!
Hail, O lampstand made of gold!
Hail, Mary, who without a man
did bear a child!
O holy maid, we sing your praise
unto unending ages.

Gregory Palamas, Antepigraphae, with rebuttals by Bessarion of Nicaea

Translated from the text in Hugo Laemmer, ed., Scriptorum Graeciae Orthodoxae Bibliotheca Selecta, tomus primus (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1866), pp. 445-483.

The following comments by Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) and Bessarion of Nicaea (1403-1472) on John Bekkos’s first Epigraph were written something like a hundred years apart; Palamas wrote his criticism of Bekkos in the 1340s; Bessarion, most likely, wrote his defense of him in the 1440s, sometime after the Council of Florence. Bekkos put together his patristic dossier, the Epigraphs, in the mid-1270s. The three texts are often printed together; I have tried to do something like that here with the present translations, by providing a hypertext link. Note that I have only provided a translation here for the first of Bekkos’s thirteen Epigraphs, and the discussion connected with it; there are twelve more. But these three documents will, I hope, suffice as a brief introduction to the debate.

Palamas: Refutation of Bekkos’s first Epigraph

When, in theology, “from” and “through” are equivalent with each other, they indicate neither division nor difference in the Holy Trinity, but rather the Trinity’s unity and invariability which is according to nature and oneness of will; for from this it is shown that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of one and the same nature, and power, and energy, and will. But he who has here copied down the sayings of the saints, and thus prefaces them, attempts to demonstrate, wickedly and impiously, the difference of the divine hypostases through the equivalence of such prepositions and because the Holy Spirit, one of the three hypostases worthy of worship, has existence from two hypostases, and from each of them in a different way. Plainly, therefore, the statements of the saints are, in themselves, pious and good; but they are taken in a wicked and impious manner by the man who has collected them and introduced them here.

But that this preposition “through,” when it has the same force as “from,” indicates the union and inalterableness in everything, the divine Maximus shows clearly concerning certain people who were saying that the Spirit is from the Son, when, writing to Marinus, he demonstrated that they were not making the Son out to be a cause: “for they know one cause of the Son and Spirit, the Father; but so that they might show the coming forth through him, and might make clear by this the coherence and the inalterableness of the substance.” Therefore it is clear from this that this Bekkos takes such statements in an impious way; for he attempts to infer from these things, not the coherence and inalterableness of the hypostases, but their difference. Nor does he believe Basil the Great. For, in one of the chapters of his book to Amphilochius, he says, “The fact that the Father creates through the Son neither constitutes the Father’s creating as imperfect, nor does it signify the Son’s activity as inefficacious; but it shows forth the united character of their will. Thus, the expression ‘through the Son’ involves an acknowledgment of the primary cause; it is not assumed as an accusation against the creative cause.” He, therefore, who says that the Spirit comes forth from the Son and through the Son according to the bestowal and common counsel of the Father and the Son shows this rightly; for it is the good pleasure of the Father and the Son, and, with the common good pleasure of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is supplied to those who are worthy. But these Latinophrones, inferring in their drunkenmindedness that “through the Son” and “from the Son” indicate existence, impiously construe the Holy Spirit to exist necessarily as a work and creature of good pleasure and of will, but not as the fruit of the divine nature; for, according to the holy Damascene, the creation is a work of the divine will, but the Godhead is not, God forbid. For neither, again, are the preeternal and everlasting begetting and procession, according to him, of the divine will, but of the divine nature.

Bessarion, archbishop of Nicaea, against Palamas’s arguments against Bekkos

This fine gentleman is completely unable to look square in the face of these texts which affirm the Holy Spirit to be from the Son and to proceed from the Father through the Son, nor at what has been inferred from them. How could he, given that they are so many and of such clear truth? Wrongly and without any reason he gets stuck on the equivalence of “through” and “from”; and by constructing his refutation out of insults, he thinks that he has done something to the purpose, when all he has done is to give a “wicked and impious” interpretation of the mind of the saints, and to malign the wise man who collected these sayings and affixed to them their inscriptions. But, as for rendering a reason for what he says, of this he is incapable.

But, although he recognizes that, when the word “through” is equivalent to “from” in matters of theology, it makes known the union and invariableness and unanimity which are found in the Holy Trinity, he supposes that this word “through” cannot apply, in this sense, to the procession from the Father through the Son. Or else he presumes that we think the word does apply in this sense, but not for aforesaid reason, but, instead, to introduce discrimination and division and opposition and disharmony. From the things he says, it is pretty clear that that is what he thinks; or rather, he plainly states that he shows us, in this way, to hold the view that the Spirit has existence from the two hypostases, Father and Son, in different ways. I don’t know where and when he has heard this thing said, “in different ways.” (This is how he thinks he can attack us in theology.) But perhaps he thinks this thing himself, when he says that the world exists from the Father through the Son. For I fail to see the reason why, in the case of the creation, the word “through,” which carries the same force as “from,” exhibits the persons’ identity while at the same time manifesting their distinction — for this is something he himself will not deny — yet in the case of the Spirit the term indicates otherness and distinction, purely and simply.

And he lacks all shame when, in opposition to himself, he produces Basil the Great testifying that the expression “through the Son” involves an acknowledgment of the initial cause. But as for us, we most definitely affirm that the Holy Spirit possesses existence from these two hypostases, the Father and the Son. For nothing operates, except insofar as it is particular and individual; and, in respect of this, the Father and the Son are two. But that the Holy Spirit comes forth from them in different ways, this we will not admit, so long as we hear the saints calling the Spirit the “natural energy” of the Son, just as he is the energy of the Father. And by all means we believe that there is one energy of the Father and the Son; otherwise, he who says that the world exists from the Father and the Son and the Spirit — or, from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit — would not say that it has been created from the three hypostases in a single way; rather, he might well say that it has been created [in different] manners by each of the three.

But if he wonders why, if the term “through” makes known their identity and oneness of will, we wish to show through this term that the Son is cause of the Holy Spirit’s existence, let him first wonder at himself, why, when he says that the world has come to be through the Son, he then supposes the Son to be the cause of the world’s production, in view of the meaning of this word “through” — or else let him say that the Son is not cause of the things that are, and let one bad error cure another.

But then he brings in the testimony of the divine Maximus, a testimony without any bearing upon the subject at hand. For we, too, might say that the term “through” makes known the unity and the invariableness of the substance of the Father and the Son. For we know that a certain order and relationship is shown, and rightly shown, through the term “through,” which is the grounds for which the term is spoken, in addition to the grounds for which we use the term “from.” Now this very thing, the identity and invariableness, is the cause, both of the Son’s sharing this ability with the Father, and of the Spirit’s coming-forth through him. For according to the divine Cyril it is from both, i.e., from the Father through the Son — and according to this same Maximus, it is from the Father and the Son, and so accordingly from the Father through the Son — that the Spirit proceeds, that is, has existence [huparxis]. For he himself would say that “to proceed” means “to have existence,” and especially according to those who choose to apply this word for the existence of the Spirit. But if the teacher [i.e., Maximus] says he does not make the Son, but the Father, to be the Spirit’s cause, you would not be surprised if you would bear in mind the Greek language, and what it is that this language customarily means when it employs this word “cause.” For, plainly, it is the initial and primary cause and fountain and root of each thing which is chiefly called its “cause”; and that only the Father exists as such a cause, who would dispute? And this is clear from the following consideration: no mature Christian would deny that both the Son and the Spirit exist as cause of the creation. But Gregory the Theologian says:

“God subsists in three who are Supreme: in the Cause and the Creator and the Perfecter — I mean, in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit.”

But when you hear that the Father is the primary cause, do not then suppose that even those who do not wish to do so say that the Son puts forth the Spirit differently, because he is not the primary cause: for this is something that applies also in the case of the creation, and, absolutely, of all things which the Son possesses. For, although the Son is not the primary cause of the creation, nevertheless — if in fact all things that the Father possesses in a paternal, uncaused way the Son possesses in a caused way and filially— he himself is cause, and, together with the Father, one cause of the things that are; and the term “through” makes known his sameness and oneness of will, no less than it shows the distinction of the persons.

But as to what he says, that we say that the Spirit is a work of divine will and therefore a creature, because we present to the mind the identity of will, I cannot tell if anyone other than himself would be persuaded by this. For if he thinks that, because the word “through” indicates will, the Spirit will be inferred to be a creature, why will the Spirit not be rather a divine nature, and glorified by us, because the word “through” presents to the mind the identity of substance? And indeed, the expression, which he has taken from the great Maximus, teaches us to show rather their substantial identity; for he says, “so that they may exhibit before the mind the coherence and the invariability of the substance.” And even if “through” only showed the identity of their will, even in this case nothing absurd would follow, when it is understood that, in God, will and substance are the same. For no one would not agree that this power is more simple and higher than all others. And who does not know that every power so far is accounted the greater, by the degree to which it is simpler and higher? And from this, also, it follows that the will of God, in relation to the Son and the Spirit, has the character of nature, while, in relation to the creation, it has the character of will. For it is evident that every will, and the divine will itself, stands, as nature, in relation to an end, willing it in a definite way, just as nature also tends towards a single, definite thing which is proper to it. But the end of the willing of God the Father is the Son and the Spirit: towards these, as nature, it is necessarily directed. But, in the case of those things which exist in relation to the end, and especially those things without which the end can be reached, such as are the creatures (for these contribute nothing either to the being of God or to God’s being better), towards these the will is directed, not in a defined way, and for this reason it has, in this case, the status of will: for it can both will these things and not will them. Thus, both the things said by Damascene are preserved, and we are free from all accusation, and the argument against us states nothing necessary. Thus, in thinking that he says something, he ends up speaking against himself.

The following are two sets of miscellaneous notes on Alexandra Riebe’s doctoral dissertation, Rom in Gemeinschaft mit Konstantinopel: Patriarch Johannes XI. Bekkos als Verteidiger der Kirchenunion von Lyon (1274) (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag, 2005). (The title means: Rome in Communion with Constantinople: Patriarch John XI Bekkos as Defender of the Ecclesiastical Union of Lyons.) The notes were written at different times; they are tied together mostly by the question of whether, and how far, John Bekkos can be thought to have converted to Catholicism.

Historiographical assessments of the Union of Lyons have tended to be given along sharply contrasting confessional lines. John Bekkos, the main Byzantine defender of Lyons, is portrayed either as a hero (by Catholics) or as a villain (by Orthodox). In the process of defending him or demonizing him, Bekkos’s actual thought has tended to be overlooked. Alexandra Riebe’s study of John Bekkos (Rom in Gemeinschaft mit Konstantinopel: Patriarch Johannes XI. Bekkos als Verteidiger der Kirchenunion von Lyon (1274)) is more balanced than most. She attempts to give a genuinely theological appraisal of Bekkos’s work. And, in the process, she raises the question whether better terms of union could reasonably have been envisaged than those which the Greeks accepted at the Second Council of Lyons.

Even to state things thus is to misrepresent what she is saying. The situation was very complicated. To some extent, both the emperor and his patriarch John Bekkos were presenting different pictures of the terms of the union to a home audience and to the West. E.g., the bishops at Constantinople, when they agreed to support Michael’s overture to Rome in 1273, explicitly accorded the Bishop of Rome no greater authority than what was traditionally ascribed to him; the Emperor Michael, in his personal correspondence with Rome, represents things more according to the Roman point of view. Some (e.g., H. Evert-Kappasowa [1]) have seen this as duplicity on the emperor’s part. Riebe argues otherwise. She thinks that Pope Gregory X, at least, was aware of the Greeks’ limited acceptance of the papal terms, and nevertheless didn’t press the point; he also wanted the union to go through for political reasons (his desire for a crusade). It was when the movement for a crusade fell through in the West that the popes also began to back out of the agreement, applying conditions that the Greeks could not meet. Riebe argues that the failure of the union cannot be ascribed to Greek duplicity, or to worldly, political-minded popes succeeding upon an idealistic one. The union was a marriage of political convenience, on both sides, from the start.

It is in the context of this general environment of a failed marriage of political convenience that Dr. Riebe attempts to assess the theological significance of the work of John Bekkos, who, by all accounts, was sincerely convinced that the Union of Lyons embodied an important theological truth, and who made defense of that truth his life’s work.

Dr. Riebe does not think that the truth John Bekkos was defending can be rightly described as Catholicism. Her claim is that to call him “the Catholic patriarch of Constantinople” is a misnomer. That claim seems to me largely a matter of semantics. Bekkos believed that the Latin and Greek churches taught different, but equally valid, expressions of the same truth about God; their differences, he was convinced, lay at the linguistic and cultural level, not at the level of the things believed in. Because of this, he did not regard the union of the churches as necessitating that the Greek Church change either its traditional doctrine or its traditional practices. Far from relativism, this was, in Bekkos’s view, merely an application of the fathers’ own teaching about the relationship between doctrine and culture.[2]

* * *

On the whole, Alexandra Riebe’s monograph, Rom in Gemeinschaft mit Konstantinopel (Wiesbaden 2005) deserves to be regarded as the most in-depth theological study of John Bekkos that has appeared.

Riebe situates Bekkos’s theological work in its historical context, tracing the dependencies of his thought upon the writings of predecessors like Nikephoros Blemmydes, Niketas of Maroneia, and Hugo Etherianus.

Equally, she analyzes Bekkos’s thought in comparison with that of his contemporary, Gregory of Cyprus, and shows Bekkos to be at least as cogent a thinker as the latter. That is to say, she successfully puts to rest Aristeides Papadakis’s claim that Bekkos is not a theologian, but an “anthologist” (Crisis in Byzantium, 2nd ed., [Crestwood, NY, 1997], p. 50).

That being said, there are things in Riebe’s analysis that I find questionable.

I think the contrast she draws, in the English summary at the end of her book, between “union” and “communion” is overstated, or at least, needs to be read in its context (Riebe, p. 341: “Bekkos was an advocate not of union, but of communion of the churches.”). Undeniably, Bekkos sought to preserve the liturgical particularity of the Orthodox Church. Equally undeniable is his complete theological dependence upon the Greek-speaking fathers of the Church; he is not a Latinophron, not at least if that word implies a direct dependence upon Latin theological sources, as seen later, e.g., in the writings of the Kydones brothers. Probably it is best to quote the entirety of her paragraph:

“Bekkos, therefore, is no Latinophron. He is very far from being a Roman Catholic. The union of the churches which he defends is very far from the union the popes envisaged, and it is also very different from the union of the 14th century, which allowed Orthodox churches to retain their liturgical tradition if they submitted to the pope. The union which Bekkos defended was something quite different: It was the reconciliation of two churches which remained two churches, separate, but in full communion with each other, without any structural or institutional consequences beyond mutual acceptance and admittance to the Eucharist. Thus Bekkos was an advocate not of union, but of communion of the churches.” Riebe, loc. cit.

Dr. Riebe’s argument concerning Bekkos’s attitude towards the papacy is based, in large part, on a differentiation she draws between writings of his ad intra and writings ad extra, i.e., writings meant for a Byzantine audience, on the one hand, and official professions of faith sent to Rome, on the other. She stresses that explicit acknowledgments of Roman primacy largely fall in the latter category of writings, and may reflect the necessities of diplomacy rather than Bekkos’s true sentiments. That such a differentiation in the sources can be drawn I would not deny; however, it seems to me that Dr. Riebe may be overstating the degree to which Bekkos restricted his acknowledgment of Roman primacy to a foreign audience. For instance, in the synodal declaration of February 19, 1277 anathematizing opponents of the Union (a text that clearly had implications for a home audience), the bishop of Rome is described in the following terms:

“There was a time when, in a climate of discipline and truth, order, peace, and the voice of authority prevailed among those who bore the name of Christians, and the hereditary throne of the Apostolic, the supreme bishop of the older Rome, the shepherd of shepherds, the father of fathers, the very crown of all the Churches, the excellence of all priests, our common father, the oecumenical Pope, was in possession of all the prerogatives accorded him from of old. But when the enemy and foe of peace, having turned a malignant eye, put an end to this and substituted strife and enmity, which has prevailed now for a long time, deprivation of such privileges ensued for the pre-eminent apostolic throne.” (Cited from J. Gill, “The Church union of the Council of Lyons (1274) portrayed in Greek documents,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 40 (1974), pp. 23-25.)

Riebe (op. cit., pp. 200 f.) sees this language concerning “all the prerogatives accorded him from of old” as largely rhetorical, essentially conceding to the papacy no more than the three traditional prerogatives of primacy (with the important subtext: of honor), right of appeal, and commemoration in hierarchical liturgies. That is to say, she sees the synod of 1277 as acknowledging no more than the three explicit terms that had been agreed to four years earlier as the conditions for union with Rome. Cf. Bekkos’s own letter to Pope John XXI that accompanied this synodal statement: “Conceding to the apostolic throne the primacy, the right of appeal and the commemoration, we promise to preserve these unaltered also for the future, declaring that in no point and in no way at all will we instigate any change in their regard” (Gill, op. cit., p. 37). [3]

At the same time, Bekkos, in his book De unione ecclesiarum, §2 (PG 141, 17D), stresses that the Roman Church has not erred: “For, were we to demonstrate, by citations, that the Church of Rome has not erred in any point of religion, that would suffice to uphold the claim that its detractors are not speaking rightly; and, conversely, by a single demonstration that the partisans of schism have, in support of the schism, argued fallaciously, it would be made known that the Church of Rome has not erred at all in matters of faith.” Further, it seems clear that Bekkos thinks that Photius and his followers have erred in their interpretation of Christian doctrine; when he speaks of “the partisans of schism,” he evidently means them — although he does not, evidently, include in this category the entire Greek-speaking Church of his day. Bekkos also, in that book, uses phrases like “the peace of the Roman Church” and “being united to…” which suggest that self-standing independence might not be quite the ecclesiastical model he has in mind. Thirdly, perhaps most importantly, Dr. Riebe seems unaware of direct testimonies to papal primacy in George Metochites’ Historia Dogmatica I.5 and III.74-75 (cf. my notes on this work) and also in Constantine Meliteniotes’ De processione Spiritus Sancti; e.g., at De processione II.41 (PG 141, 1264B), Meliteniotes speaks of Photius’s “love of power,” φιλαρχία, as having caused him to deny the Roman Church’s traditional prerogatives; likewise, at De processione I.7 (PG 141, 1042D), Meliteniotes exclaims concerning the “inexpressible gifts of God” that are discerned in the Roman Church’s primacy. Metochites and Meliteniotes, Bekkos’s two archdeacons, are virtually always in agreement with their patriarch’s own teaching; would one want to claim that they disagree with Bekkos on this particular issue?

The debate over whether or not Bekkos “converted to Catholicism” seems fairly futile and verbal. It is clear that Bekkos did, in fact, change his mind with regard to the orthodoxy of the Roman Church; it also seems clear that that change in mind regarding its orthodoxy entailed some new thinking regarding its authority. It does not seem to me that the very clear and emphatic statements of papal authority that Bekkos gives in his letters to the popes should be taken as insincere or as meant only for foreign consumption; if Bekkos was an honest man, as by all indications he was, then it is altogether unlikely that he would have used duplicity on this point. On the other hand, it is equally clear that Bekkos did not wish to leave his own Church or to deny its ecclesiastical legitimacy; he speaks of the Church in which he was baptized as “the Catholic Church” (De depositione sua orat. I, §10, PG 141, 964A), and it is beyond doubt that he was baptized in the Greek Church long before any reunion was agreed to. The legitimacy of his own Church is seen in the truth of its fundamental theological traditions and, perhaps more importantly, in the reality of Christ’s presence in its sacramental life. Bekkos apparently sees a misunderstanding to have affected both sides, so that the Greeks think of the Latins as heretics, and the Latins think similarly about the Greeks (e.g., at De unione ecclesiarum §2, Bekkos says that the division has resulted from “… a certain petty variance of sound which actually does not impair orthodox belief, but which, all the same, has been taken on both sides to imply a difference of faith”). Bekkos finds evidence of similar misunderstandings having occurred in the past, and he sees it to be his Christian duty to follow the practice of the fathers of the Church by looking past apparent dogmatic disagreements to the substantial core of doctrine, on which, he has become convinced, the Latin and Greek traditions agree. For him, the interpretation of the fathers is key. He thinks Photius the Great has misrepresented them, has interpreted them in such a way as to make any original oneness of mind between the Latin and Greek churches unthinkable; he thinks Photius’s interpretation of the fathers essentially consigns all of Latin patristic tradition to oblivion, and that it does the same to much of the Greek patristic tradition as well. It retroactively excommunicates those who thought differently than him.

Bekkos seems to me to have tried to maintain two beliefs simultaneously: belief in the equal dignity and authenticity, and ultimate reconcilability, of the Greek and Latin theological traditions, and belief in the effective primacy of the pope. In writings like the De unione ecclesiarum, it is the first of these beliefs that is in the foreground, but the latter one is not entirely absent. If there is a tragic aspect to John Bekkos’s life, it must be seen, first of all, in his having to face a contradiction between these two beliefs. He had pledged, in the De unione ecclesiarum, always to say the Creed without the Filioque, although acknowledging the legitimacy of that term within the Latin idiom. He had also vowed to maintain the Greek Church’s liturgical customs, and solemnly cursed anyone who would claim that the Latin tradition is holier or more orthodox than the Greek one (De unione, §4). What was he to think when the series of popes following the death of Pope Gregory X began issuing demands that the Greek Church add the term Filioque to its text of the Creed and adopt unleavened bread in the Eucharist? What was he to think when one of these popes, Martin IV, excommunicated his emperor, Michael VIII (who was doing all he could to maintain the Union), and thereby gave leave to Charles of Anjou to launch a military assault against the Byzantine Empire? I think it is to Bekkos’s credit that, even while acknowledging papal authority, he did not accede to the demands of these popes. His belief in the equal dignity, in Christ, of all believers outweighed his belief in ecclesiastical order, strong as that latter belief was. When Riebe and other scholars discount Bekkos’s statements about papal authority as diplomatically-worded texts geared for an external audience, I think they fail to see that tragic contradiction. Bekkos had thought that one could return to the status quo ante, the state of things before the schism was consummated; he thought one could be Orthodox and Catholic at the same time. Events proved him wrong, or at least, proved him not yet right. As to the ultimate possibility of reconciling this contradiction, the jury is still out.


[1] Author of a series of important articles on the Union of Lyons which appeared in the late ’40’s and 1950’s: “La société byzantine et l’union de Lyon,” Byzantinoslavica 10 (1949), 28-41; “Le clergé byzantin et l’union de Lyon (1274-1282),” Byzantinoslavica 13 (1952-1953), 68-92; “Une page des relations byzantino-latines I: Byzance et le St. Siège,” Byzantinoslavica 16 (1955), 297-317; “Une page de l’histoire des relations byzantino-latines II: La fin de l’Union de Lyon,” Byzantinoslavica 16 (1956), 1-16. For the claim that the Emperor Michael was exercising duplicity, see esp. “Le clergé byzantin et l’union de Lyon,” p. 70:

“From that point on, [Michael Palaiologos] saw the union only as a political measure from which he expected certain advantages, leaving it to time to calm the centuries-old hostility which, at the moment, given the mutual intolerance, could only be augmented. Thus, he did not hesitate to play a double role, for, even while assuring the Roman pontiffs of his docility and his Catholic zeal, he was forced at the same time to deal with the Orthodox feelings of his subjects. Accordingly, to get his clergy to accept the union, he presented it to them under false colors. Infinitely profitable to the state (he said), the union would, all told, amount to three concessions on the part of the Greeks: commemoration of the popes, their right of jurisdiction, and their primacy — simple formalities from which all importance was removed by the great distance separating Constantinople from Rome. This was not true: besides these concessions, the popes required that the Byzantine Church accept Catholic teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit and on the existence of purgatory, and that it also adopt the use of azymes. Nevertheless, far from meeting the papal demands in matters of religion, Michael VIII assured his prelates, on the contrary, that no innovation would be introduced in the teaching and usages of the Greek Church — a promise which he confirmed shortly afterward by a solemn chrysobull.”

[2] The question how far John Bekkos is to be considered a “Catholic Patriarch of Constantinople” was first raised by Evert-Kappesowa, in the article previously cited, p. 75:

“Richly endowed by nature, with a rare intelligence, noble in stature, eloquent, learned — John Bekkos is incontestably one of the most remarkable figures of thirteenth-century Byzantium. A strange personality to whom Catholic writers have pledged their sympathy in view of his zeal for establishing the union, whereas Orthodox writers accuse him of having betrayed his religion for personal ends.

“Neither of these opinions seems to me entirely justified. One should note first of all that Bekkos never became a Catholic in the strict sense of the word: he never recognized the Latin teaching as having a superiority over the Orthodox one. By a close study of the texts, he came to conclude that the differences between the Greeks and the Latins were not essential and that, with mutual good will, they could be disregarded. Therefore, taking into consideration all the benefits of ecclesiastical peace, on the one hand, and all the dangers that would be incurred by its rejection, on the other, he became a supporter of the union. Others besides him did this; but what he was criticized for was his having, of his own free will, gone beyond the boundaries fixed by the emperor, in his maintaining that there was nothing heretical or worthy of condemnation in the Latin teaching concerning the Creed. Now (and this is a most interesting and characteristic trait), neither Bekkos nor his closest friends ever personally professed the Filioque nor attempted to impose it on the Greek Church. Gregoras even reports that he never concelebrated with the Latins (N. Gregoras, Byzantina Historia, vol. 1, cap. V, §2, Corpus Script. Hist. Byz., ed. Bonnæ, 1839). His Catholicism drew its source, not from a conversion, but from a tolerance that was altogether exceptional at that era. As for the longing for power that Orthodox writers claim determined Bekkos’s attitude, they do wrong to accuse him of this. To win the emperor’s good favor, it would have sufficed for Bekkos to have conformed to his orders. The very fact that he went beyond them proves his sincerity.”

[3] It should be added that, in a second letter to Pope John, Bekkos goes much further, acknowledging the Petrine foundations of the Roman claims, and even speaking of τὸ τῆς ἐξουσίας πλήρωμα, an exact Greek equivalent of the Latin phrase plenitudo potestatis. Text of this letter in A. Theiner and F. Miklosich, eds., Monumenta spectantia ad unionem Ecclesiarum græcæ et romanæ (Vienna 1872), pp. 21-28. On this letter, see Riebe, op. cit., pp. 203-206; on p. 207, she speculates that the strong language in this letter might be due to pressure from Roman legates in Constantinople; generally, she notes, Bekkos does not speak in these terms.

On Nicetas of Maroneia

January 28, 2009

Nicetas of Maroneia was a chartophylax (i.e., chancellor and archivist) of the Church of Constantinople who later served as Archbishop of Thessalonica, probably sometime during the first half of the twelfth century. Of his Dialogues on the Procession of the Holy Spirit, in six books, book one was edited by J. Hergenröther and published in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, vol. 139, cols. 169-202, along with excerpts from the other five books in cols. 201-222. An edition, with Latin translation, of books two, three, and four was made by Nicholas Festa and published in a series of articles in the journal Bessarione between the years 1912 and 1916. Books five and six have never, to my knowledge, been published, although there is a dissertation on them that I have not seen (C. Giorgetti, Nicetas de Maronée et ses dialogues V et VI sur la procession du Saint-Esprit, Lateran University, Rome, 1965). The entire work is contained in codex Vaticanus graecus 1115. It is significant as being the first known literary attempt, by a Greek and in the Greek language, to give an accurate and sympathetic account of the Latin position on the chief issue that divided the churches, the procession of the Holy Spirit. The “Greek” in Nicetas’s dialogue ends up acknowledging that the “Latin’s” position is orthodox, but he still insists that the offending term Filioque needs to be taken out of the Creed.

Nicetas’s Dialogues exercised a decisive influence upon both Nikephoros Blemmydes and John Bekkos. I am presenting an excerpt from them today, a passage which I think is especially significant for the claim it makes concerning the need to take substance and personal property in God together, and the inference it makes from this coherence, that it is legitimate to speak of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the substance of the Father and the Son, just as various Greek fathers in the fourth century had spoken of the Son being begotten from the Father’s substance. Both of these points are made repeatedly in John Bekkos’s writings. Indeed, this passage from Nicetas of Maroneia may have been, for Bekkos, the source of an insight that I believe is vital for understanding his theology. As I have said elsewhere, I think Bekkos’s theological position effectively reappropriates, in a thirteenth-century Byzantine context, the doctrine of those whom various patristic scholars have called “Old Nicenes.” Although Bekkos himself would not have called himself that, and would have said that he was simply giving the common and constant doctrine of the Church, I do think that, by exercising his own, thirteenth-century sort of ressourcement, he managed to bring into focus a view of substance that had deep roots, but had effectively been forgotten in the Christian East. He was, perhaps, a scribe bringing out of his treasury things old and new; in arguing for the harmony of the Latin and the Greek teachings on the procession, he certainly brought forth some things that were very old, and needed to be thought about again.

The Greek text of the following passage from Nicetas’s third Dialogue is transcribed from N. Festa, “Niceta di Maronea,” Bessarione 29 (1913), pp. 300-302. The translation is my own.

Third Discourse concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit

by Nicetas of Maroneia

(Greek) As we once again set forth on a new start of our discussion concerning the Holy Spirit, tell me, how is it not absurd to say that it is not from the Father alone, but also from the Son that he proceeds? For in fact it is necessary that what proceeds from the Father should be either from the Father’s substance or from his individuating property. But if it is from the substance, then, since the substance is common and the same to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, the Spirit will proceed, not from the Father and the Son alone, but also from himself: which thing is not true. But if it is from the individuating property, and property is not substance, but around the substance, how will what he is according to himself, that is, the Spirit, be from that which is not according to himself, but which is contemplated around another, that is to say from the property? Either then he simply does not proceed, or, if he does proceed, and proceeds from the Father and the Son, he will proceed also from himself — which is never the case.

(Latin) Your argument shows, not that the Spirit does not proceed from the Son, but that he neither proceeds from the Father, nor indeed proceeds at all. For, indeed, if it is necessary for the Spirit to proceed either from the substance of the Father or from his individuating property, then, since the substance of the three is one and the same, if he proceeds from the substance he will proceed also from himself; but, if he proceeds from the property, then what is properly his own will come from what is not properly his own but is around another. For, one might say, as is the Spirit, so is his property. On account of these things he will not proceed in any manner; but that is absurd. The argument, therefore, is invalid. For the absurdity you attempt to demonstrate from our doctrine which says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son, this very absurdity will follow also from your doctrine that says that he is from the Father alone.

For it might be said: Neither is he from the substance simply, nor from the individuating property alone. For neither is the property separated from the substance, nor is the substance without the property. Thus, he would be either from the substance according to the property, or from the property according to the substance. But to be from the property according to the substance is also absurd. For, in that case, what is substantial and subsisting would, again, be from what is around the substance, something which is impossible and is said by none of the fathers. Therefore he is from the substance; for the fathers in fact say this. But he is from the substance according to the individuating property; for this reason he will not be also from himself. Now the individuating property of the Father is to beget the Son from himself and, simultaneously, to emit the Spirit through the Son; just as it is the individuating property of the Son to emit the Spirit from himself immediately in his being begotten from the Father — that is to say, it is his property both to be begotten of the Father, and to emit the Spirit immediately from himself. For the Son is a mean between the Father and the Spirit, as John of Damascus says. But the individuating property of the Spirit is to proceed from the Father through the Son, which is as much as to say, from the Son or out of the Son. And, in this way, the Spirit comes forth from both, while the individuating property is preserved unchanging for each of the three — the property according to which each possesses, in a unique way, the existence of his own hypostasis.

But, for your part, bring on again your claim that I am introducing, as an absurd consequence, two origins of the Spirit, as though you were consigning the belief to the realm of absurdity, and were thinking you had therefore pushed it aside, as you are still not content with the things I earlier stated upon this subject. And, if you like, add on again your point about inferiority, and enumerate what is direct and immediate, and all the other things which seemed to you to follow in that case. But, as for me, avoiding all excessive, repetitive speech, I will give you a brief argument. Do you not say that the creation both exists from God, and by God the Father’s agency, having been brought out of nothingness into being through the very Word of God — who exists together with him and shines forth out of him — and in the Holy Spirit? But you also say that it is “from” the Son and by his agency that the world has taken its being, and “from” the Spirit and by the Spirit’s agency; and thus there is source and source and source for the world’s creation, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; and yet there are not three sources, but one source, and the Father, on the one hand, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit has created all things, while, on the other hand, the Spirit, co-creating with the Father and the Son, has brought to perfection the creation of all things. And there is no inferiority at all in any of the three, but each of them, in one nature, is recognized by right believers as activating each thing according to those properties which pertain to him. And as for the words “through” and “from” and “in,” these appellations neither divide the one source or origin into many, nor do they divide the nature into greater and less. But neither, again, does the term “through,” which introduces the notion of immediacy, distance the Spirit from the Father; nor does “greater,” nor “first,” nor “prior,” when taken in respect of the individuating characteristics, involve absurdity. But we shun absurdities, and we understand and interpret these things piously and, one might say, in the way the saints take these expressions in their own writings. Thus also understand in the case of the procession of the Holy Spirit, only this: that the Spirit is from the existing Father, through the coexisting Word, as from a single substantial, natural source in both, a source not manufacturing him or making him or creating him; nor again as though he had some beginning in time, but beginninglessly, as being eternal and above time, he proceeds from the Father and from the Son from before all ages; but the creatures are from without, out of nothingness, and have commenced their existence afterwards. As therefore, in the case of the creation of creatures, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are source, and source, and source, yet one single source of all things, so also in the case of the procession of the Spirit, the Father is source, the Son also is source, but there is one source. But it is one thing for things to be called later into being out of non-being; another thing is he who is always with the Father and the Son and always shining forth together with both of them, as substantially proceeding from both of them, that is, from the Father through the Son. If then you are able to refute this doctrine in some other way, give it a try. But, for the present, leave insults aside.

* * * * *

(Γρ.) Ἔτι ταύτην ἀρχὴν καὶ αὖθις τιθέμενος τῆς μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν περὶ τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος συζητήσεως, λέγε, πῶς οὐκ ἄτοπον τὸ λέγειν τοῦτο μὴ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ ἐκπορεύεσθαι. καὶ γὰρ ἀνάγκη ἢ ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας εἶναι τοῦ Πατρὸς τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον, ἢ ἐκ τῆς ἰδιότητος. ἀλλ᾽ εἰ μὲν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας, ἐπεὶ ἡ οὐσία κοινὴ καὶ ἡ αὐτὴ τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ Πνεύματος, οὐκ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ μόνον ἐκπορεύοιτ᾽ ἄν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ τὸ Πνεῦμα· ὅπερ οὐκ ἔστιν. εἰ δὲ ἐκ τῆς ἰδιότητος, ἡ δὲ ἰδιότης οὐκ οὐσία, ἀλλὰ περὶ τὴν οὐσίαν, πῶς τὸ καθ᾽ ἑαυτό, ἤγουν τὸ Πνεῦμα, ἔσται ἐκ τοῦ μὴ καθ᾽ ἑαυτό, ἀλλὰ περὶ ἕτερον θεωρουμένου, τουτέστι τῆς ἰδιότητος. ἢ οὖν οὐδὲ ἐκπορευ·τὸν ὅλως· ἢ εἰ ἐκπορευτόν, ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ ἐκπορευόμενον, ἔσται καὶ ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ ἐκπορευόμενον· ὅπερ οὐδέποτε.

(Λα.) Οὗτος ὁ λόγος δείκνυσιν οὐχ ὅτι μὴ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ, ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι μηδὲ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται, μηδὲ [ὅτι] ὅλως ἐκπορευτόν ἐστιν, εἰ γὰρ ἀνάγκη τὸ Πνεῦμα ἢ ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεσθαι ἢ ἐκ τῆς ἰδιότητος, εἰ μὲν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας, διότι αὕτη μία τῶν τριῶν καὶ ἡ αὐτή, καὶ ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ ἐκπορεύσεται· εἰ δὲ ἐκ τῆς ἰδιότητος, ἔσται τὸ καθ᾽ αὑτὸ ἐκ τοῦ μὴ καθ᾽ αὑτὸ ἀλλὰ περὶ ἕτερον. τοιοῦτον γὰρ ὡς εἰπεῖν τὸ Πνεῦμα· τοιοῦτον δὲ καὶ ἡ ἰδιότης. διὰ τὰ αὐτὰ δὲ οὐδὲ ἐκπορευτὸν ὅλως ἔσται· ἀλλ᾽ ἄτοπον τοῦτο. ἀνίσχυρος οὖν ὁ λόγος. ὃ γὰρ ἄτοπον ἐπιχειρεῖς δεῖξαι τῷ καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς δόγματι ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ λέγοντι τὸ Πνεῦμα ἐκπορεύεσθαι, τοῦτο ἕψεται καὶ τῷ ὑμετέρῳ λέγοντι ἐκ μόνου τοῦ Πατρός.

Φαίη γὰρ ἄν τις· ἀλλ᾽ οὔτε ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας ἁπλῶς, οὔτε ἐκ τῆς ἰδιότητος μόνης. οὔτε γὰρ ἡ ἰδιότης τῆς οὐσίας χωρίς, οὔτε ἡ οὐσία ἄνευ τῆς ἰδιότητος· λοιπὸν εἴη ἂν ἢ ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας κατὰ τὴν ἰδιότητα, ἢ ἐκ τῆς ἰδιότητος κατὰ τὴν οὐσίαν. ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν ἐκ τῆς ἰδιότητος κατὰ τὴν οὐσίαν καὶ ἄτοπον. ἐκ γὰρ τοῦ περὶ τὴν οὐσίαν πάλιν τὸ οὐσιῶδες καὶ ὑφεστηκός, ὅπερ ἀδύνατον καὶ παρ᾽ οὐδενὸς τῶν πατέρων ῥηθέν. ἐκ τῆς ούσίας ἄρα· τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ οἱ πατέρες εἶπον· ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὴν ἰδιότητα· διὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἔσται καὶ ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ. ἰδιότης δὲ τοῦ Πατρὸς τὸ γεννᾶν μὲν ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ τὸν Υἱόν, τὸ δὲ Πνεῦμα ἅμα προβάλλεσθαι διὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ· ὥσπερ ἰδιότης τοῦ Υἱοῦ πάλιν τὸ ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ ἀμέσως προβάλλεσθαι τὸ Πνεῦμα ἐν τῷ γεννᾶσθαι ἐκ τοῦ Πατρός, ἤγουν τὸ γεννᾶσθαι μὲν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρός, ἅμα δὲ καὶ ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ ἀμέσως τὸ Πνεῦμα προβάλλεσθαι. Μέσος γὰρ ὁ Υἱὸς τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Πνεύματος, καθώς φησιν ὁ ἐκ Δαμασκοῦ, τοῦ δὲ Πνεύματος ἡ ἰδιότης τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς διὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ, ταὐτὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν καὶ παρὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ ἢ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ, ἐκπορεύεσθαι· καὶ οὕτω πρόεισιν ἐξ ἀμφοῖν τὸ Πνεῦμα φυλαττομένης ἑκάστῳ τῶν τριῶν τῆς ἰδιότητος ἀκινήτου, καθ᾽ ἣν ἕκαστον ἰδιότροπον ἔχει τὴν ὕπαρξιν τῆς ἑαυτοῦ ὑποστάσεως.

Σὺ δέ μοι πάλιν τὸ δύο εἰσάγειν ἀρχὰς τοῦ Πνεύματος ὡς ἑπόμενον ἄτοπον ἔπαγε, ὡς εἰς ἄτοπον ἀπάγων τὴν δόξαν, καὶ διὰ τούτου δοκῶν ἀναιρεῖν· οὐκ ἀρκούμενος οἷς περὶ τούτου πρότερον διείλεγμαι. εἰ δὲ βούλει καὶ τὴν ὕφεσιν αὖθις προτίθει, καὶ τὸ προσεχὲς ἀπαρίθμει, καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ὅσα σοι ἐδόκει προσίστασθαι· ἐγὼ δὲ τὴν περιττολογίαν καὶ ταυτολογίαν ἐκκλίνων, σύντομον λόγον ἐρῶ σοι· ἆρα οὐ φὴς καὶ τὴν κτίσιν ὑπάρξαι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Πατρός, ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος εἰς τὸ εἶναι παραχθεῖσαν διὰ τοῦ συνόντος αὐτῷ καὶ ἐκλάμποντος ἐξ αὐτοῦ θεοῦ Λόγου καὶ ἐν ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι; ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ καὶ παρὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ λέγεις εἰληφέναι τὸ εἶναι αὐτὴν καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Πνεύματος καὶ παρὰ τοῦ Πνεύματος· καὶ ἔστιν ἀρχὴ καὶ ἀρχὴ καὶ ἀρχή, ὁ Πατήρ, ὁ Υἱὸς καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα πρὸς τὴν τῆς κτίσεως δημιουργίαν· ἀλλ᾽ οὐ τρεῖς ἀρχαί, ἀλλὰ μία ἀρχή· καὶ ὁ μὲν Πατὴρ διὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ ἐν ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι τὰ πάντα ἔκτισε· τὸ δὲ Πνεῦμα συνδημιουργοῦν τῷ Πατρὶ καὶ τῷ Υἱῷ τὴν τῶν πάντων ἐτελείωσε κτίσιν· καὶ ὕφεσις οὐδαμοῦ τῶν τριῶν οὐδενί, ἀλλ᾽ ἕκαστον ἐν μίᾷ φύσει κατὰ τὰς προσούσας ἰδιότητας ἐνεργοῦν ἕκαστα τοῖς εὐσεβέσι γνωρίζεται. καὶ τὸ διὰ καὶ ἐξ καὶ ἐν, αἱ προθέσεις αὖται οὔτε τὴν μίαν ἀρχὴν εἰς πολλὰς κατατέμνουσιν, οὔτε τὴν φύσιν εἰς μεῖζον καὶ ἔλαττον· ἀλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὸ διὰ πάλιν, τὸ προσεχὲς παρεισάγον, τὸ Πνεῦμα διίστησι τοῦ Πατρός· οὐδὲ τὸ μεῖζον, οὐδὲ τὸ πρῶτον οὐδὲ τὸ πρότερον, κατὰ τὰς ἰδιότητας ἐκλαμβανόμενον, ἔχει τὸ ἄτοπον· ἀλλὰ τὰ μὲν ἄτοπα φεύγομεν, εὐσεβῶς δὲ ταῦτα καὶ νοοῦμεν καὶ ἑρμηνεύομεν, καὶ καθὼς ἂν φαῖεν καὶ οἱ τὰς λέξεις ταύτας ἐν τοῖς οἰκείοις συγγράμμασι παραλαμβάνοντες ἅγιοι. οὕτω δὴ νόει καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος ἐκπορεύσεως, πλὴν ὅτι τὸ μὲν Πνεῦμα ἐξ ὄντος τοῦ Πατρὸς διὰ τοῦ συνόντος Λόγου ὡς ἐξ ἀρχῆς μιᾶς ἀμφοῖν οὐσιώδους καὶ φυσικῆς, οὐχὶ τεχνικῆς ἢ ποιητικῆς ἢ δημιουργικῆς, οὐκ ἀρχὴν ἔχον χρονικήν, ἀλλ᾽ ἀνάρχως ὡς ἄχρονον ὂν καὶ ὑπὲρ χρόνον ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ προαιωνίως ἐκπορευόμενον· τὰ δὲ κτίσματα ἔξωθεν ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος καὶ ὕστερον τοῦ εἶναι ἀρξάμενα. ὡς οὖν ἐπὶ τῆς τῶν κτισμάτων δημιουργίας ἀρχὴ καὶ ἀρχὴ καὶ ἀρχὴ ὁ Πατὴρ καὶ ὁ Υἱὸς καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα, ἀλλὰ μία ἀρχὴ πάντων, οὕτω καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς τοῦ Πνεύματος ἐκπορεύσεως ἀρχὴ ὁ Πατήρ, ἀρχὴ καὶ ὁ Υἱός, ἀλλὰ μία ἀρχή. ἕτερον δὲ τὸ τὰ μὲν ὕστερον εἰς τὸ εἶναι ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος κληθῆναι· τὸ δὲ ἀεὶ συνὸν Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ καὶ ἀεὶ συνεκλάμπον ἀμφοῖν, ὡς ἐξ ἀμφοῖν, ἤτοι ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς διὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ, οὐσιωδῶς ἐκπορευόμενον. οὐκοῦν εἰ ἄλλοθεν τουτὶ τὸ δόγμα ἐλέγχειν ἰσχύεις, ἐκεῖθεν ἐπιχείρει. Τῶν δὲ μέμψεων ἀπόσθητι τουτωνί.

Last May, an announcement was made on this blog that Holy Resurrection Monastery planned to move from its current location in Newberry Springs, California to a site in western New Jersey. It now turns out that this move is not to take place. Due largely to the current economic slowdown, the monks have been unable to finance it; however, they have already contracted to sell their property in Newberry Springs to a nearby Coptic monastery, and are therefore looking for another home. According to a recent post on the monastery’s website, they decided this past fall to remain in Southern California, in response to the urgent petitions of local supporters. At present, the monks seek to raise $200,000 to make a down payment on a property in Banning, California. They have set up a foundation to help them in this task. I would ask readers of this blog to consider supporting it and the monks’ mission.

Last week I was informed by one of the readers of this blog that he questions whether I “actually believe any exclusive claim to truth.” And, he says, because he suspects that it is the case that I do not “actually believe any exclusive claim to truth,” he sees no reconciliation between himself and me, and will always oppose me.

Let me simply say, first, that my love of truth, and my belief in its reality, ought to be sufficiently clear to any unbiased reader of this blog. Likewise, my belief in the articles of the Christian faith as enounced in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and my acceptance of the authority of Holy Scripture and of the teachings of the ecumenical councils cannot, I think, be seriously questioned by anyone who knows me. I endeavor to be a faithful Christian, and, at the same time, a thinking one. I do not think that having faith excludes asking pointed questions. I do not think that studying John Bekkos, and thinking that, on certain matters, he got things right, is inconsistent with being an Orthodox Christian. In truth, I do have questions about the origin of Christian divisions, and the justifiability of their continuation, and what implications these things have for me personally in my attempt to live a Christian life. If I did not have real questions, I would be, I think, a very poor scholar, and a pretty arrogant, small-minded human being. But those are issues I prefer to take up with my father-confessor rather than with the blogging public, and most Orthodox priests to whom I have asked the question have encouraged me to persevere with my studies.

As for believing in any “exclusive claim to truth”: it is true that those Orthodox hierarchs and theologians for whom I have the greatest respect — men like Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Archbishop Demetrios of New York, and Patriarch Bartholomew — do not generally go about, beating their breasts, affirming that the Orthodox Church possesses exclusive claims to truth, as though, by virtue of being Orthodox, one automatically regarded all Catholics and Protestants as heretics. Most of these aforesaid bishops tend rather to say that the Orthodox Church possesses the fulness of saving truth, that it possesses Jesus Christ, who is the truth, and that, where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic Church. Most of them would further affirm that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are, in some sense, sister Churches, that their separation has impoverished both of them and brought incalculable damage to Christianity, and that, just as the Catholics are asked, in charity, not to proselytize the Orthodox, so also the Orthodox ought not to present the Orthodox faith to Catholics in such a way as to imply that, unless they cease to be Catholics and become Orthodox, they cannot be saved. Most of these men would acknowledge that there is some legitimate sense in which the Bishop of Rome exercises a Petrine primacy; they would like to see that primacy clarified so that its exercise, at least with respect to the Christian East, corresponds more to the manner in which it was exercised during the first Christian millennium when the Churches were, for the most part, in communion. Most of them are understandably worried that, without such clarification, the Orthodox would, in any future union, be subject to the same sort of harassments and liturgical deformations as have been suffered by Eastern Catholics over the centuries in their various unions with the See of Rome. All of these bishops and theologians see Orthodoxy as revealing the truth of God, in a definitive and saving way that speaks directly to the human condition. All of them see Orthodox theology as possessing peculiarly valuable resources for addressing contemporary problems in areas like the environment; none of them, I suspect, would wholeheartedly agree with Cardinal George Pell of Sydney when he affirms that concern over issues like global warming is a manifestation of “pagan emptiness.” All of them see the fundamental emphasis of Orthodox theology on the truth and freedom of the person as essential and non-negotiable and as vital for authentic Christian life.

I agree with them on all of this. And, because I agree with them on all of this, I remain an Orthodox Christian. I remain an Orthodox Christian, in spite of the fact that, on many issues, I tend to think that the Catholics are probably right. I often find that my intellectual perception of agreement with the Catholic position is counterbalanced by a dislike of the spirituality, or at least, a sense of its foreignness. (This perception is, I should note, not less palapable in the case in most Eastern Catholic churches I have visited, and in some respects more so.) I do not think I could leave the Orthodox Church without experiencing permanent spiritual homesickness. By leaving, I might achieve a kind of intellectual consistency, and perhaps might even find a job, but I would be an unhappy man.

For reasons like this, I am content to allow the ecumenical process to take its glacial course, rather than to take the unilateral action of leaving the Orthodox communion, an action that would bring me no joy, but the deepest regret and misgivings. But I endeavor to speed up the glacial motion of ecumenical dialogue, if at all possible, by applying the heat of intellect to points of especial dogmatic frozenness. Perhaps foolishly, I retain some hope of a reconciliation.

The frozen dogmatic assumption to which I have sought to apply especial warmth is the assumption that the local Constantinopolitan synod of Blachernae of 1285 was right in condemning John Bekkos as a trinitarian heretic, a man who taught two causes in the Trinity. I am convinced that that synod misrepresented his actual views. At the same time, I would agree with those contemporary scholars, like Dr. Alexandra Riebe, who question the extent to which Bekkos can be said to have “converted” from Orthodoxy to Catholicism. That he changed his mind in some essential way about the justifiability of the division is undeniable; that he altered and transfered his fundamental ecclesiastical allegiance is not. I do not claim that Bekkos was faultless, or that the Orthodox Church should now be expected to discard its dogmatic teaching in order to accommodate his views. Yet I do think that Orthodox thinkers ought to be able to recognize that the Orthodox dogmatic teaching, to the extent that it crystallized around the views of Gregory of Cyprus, represents a fairly narrow interpretation of the patristic evidence, an interpretation that, whatever its current usefulness for ecumenical discussion, was originally meant to exclude Latin triadology, not to encompass it. Gregory the Cypriot made his own “exclusive claim to truth”; it was, effectively, that the Greeks had the truth, and the Latins could be damned. Bekkos’s claim was, rather, that the Greeks had the truth, and the Latins did too, and that there was therefore no reason, except for blind pigheadedness, why they should not be in communion with one another. Somehow I tend to think that Bekkos still deserves a hearing.

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible for you, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:17-18 )

I think it is important for me to recognize that St. Paul’s words here apply to bloggers as well as to other people. If I am unable to treat Photios Jones as a fellow Christian, what good is it for me to treat Catholics as such? Although I think his way of expressing his opinions is unnecessarily confrontational, and that it does constitute “badgering tactics,” I do not deny that he has some legitimate point. I should, in fact, read Siecienski’s dissertation, along with all the various other things I need to do. And that Orthodox Christians have the right and duty to proclaim the gospel, according to the traditional dogmatic understanding of the Orthodox Church, is not something I would want to deny. But there are different ways of understanding Orthodox dogmatic tradition, and different ways of proclaiming it, as a glance at contemporary Orthodox literature would quickly make apparent. Not all these ways exclude an honest attempt at understanding the theological positions of other Christians; indeed, some would say that, without such effort, the Orthodox position itself inevitably becomes falsified (as I think it was falsified in the case of Fr. Justin Popovic). At any rate, in my own scholarship, I have sought to engage in that effort at mutual understanding, and I don’t think it disqualifies me from being a faithful Orthodox Christian. If Mr. Jones thinks otherwise, he is entitled to his opinion; but he is no longer entitled to express that opinion freely on my blog.

A brief preface to the following post is in order. First, by now the news of Metropolitan Nicolae of Banat’s reception of communion at a Catholic liturgy in Timisoara this past weekend (first reported in English by Catholic World News) has become widely known. Secondly, some months ago I suggested to an English Catholic priest, now serving in Greece, who goes by the internet name of “Fr. Paul,” and who is also now working on John Bekkos, that he become a second author on this blog. In response to the controversy surrounding the incident in Timisoara, he has finally taken up that offer.

I would only add that, when Fr. Paul compares Metropolitan Nicolae’s actions, and the probable reasons behind them, with those of John Bekkos seven hundred years ago, I am fully in agreement with him. Bekkos saw the division between the Churches to be based on a reading of patristic tradition that, in the end, did not stand up to scrutiny; he did not see union as calling for a repudiation of his own Church or of its theological inheritance. He saw a continuation of the status quo as, first and foremost, an offense against God, and, secondly, disastrous to his own community. Doubtless Metropolitan Nicolae of Banat has come to some similar conclusions.


Some reflexions on the “Timisoara incident”

In choosing this title for this post I am reminded of an incident which shook the Anglican Communion in 1913. The “Kikuyu” incident, which led to the defection of very many Anglican clergymen of the High Church party for the Roman Catholic Church, involved the practice of “intercommunion” between Anglicans and non-conformists at a large gathering in what was then British East Africa. The High Church party saw this as a betrayal of the Anglican claim to catholicity and apostolicity in faith and Church order. A commission set up by the Archbishops of the Church of England to rule on the matter came to a conclusion which Ronald Knox, yet an Anglican, famously summarized in this satirical manner: “What happened at Kikuyu was eminently pleasing to Almighty God and must on no account be repeated”.

On 25th May, it appears that the Romanian Orthodox Bishop of Banat received Communion at a Greek Catholic Liturgy in Timisoara. Reading some internet reactions, one is led to think that both the confusion and the anger aroused by the Kikuyu incident are being repeated in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches today. On a much-read RC blog one can read that it is a “scandal” that “our” sacrament is being given to “heretics and schismatics”. I have not yet read some of the more extreme Orthodox internet zealots on the question, but even so fair-minded and irenical a commentator as the respected Fr Gregory Jensen says he finds the Metropolitan’s actions inappropriate. Perhaps it is appropriate, in this blog dedicated to the “union of the Churches”, to reflect on the meaning and implication of such a gesture for the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, and for the ecumenical dialogue between them.

First of all, it must be acknowledged that the event is of a great deal of significance, at least as far as it concerns the ecclesiological position of Metropolitan Nicolae himself. Those who have reacted in whatever manner to the incident have recognized at least the very grave (in the sense of “weighty” or “significant”) import of such an act. As they and the Anglicans who reacted to the Kikuyu incident realize, and as many – maybe most – of the practitioners and advocates of the more casual “intercommunion” we witness in much of Western Europe and North America, for example, fail to realize, it is not just a matter of being “nice”, or “tolerant” or “non-judgemental”, or of corresponding to any of the other fuzzy, touchy-feely catch phrases which muddy the ecumenical waters today.

It is not even a matter of “charity”, at least not in the vaguely sentimental acceptation of that word which has made it so suspect in the minds of many who today present themselves as champions of the truth. The latter will not fail to remind us that charity cannot be served at the expense of truth. Let us not forget however that – as the latter day zealots so often forget – abusus non tollit usum. The fact that charity is a much abused concept does not entitle us to presume that we may set aside all appearance of respect, courtesy and fairness to those with whom we disagree, on the pretext of combating indifferentism and the intellectual sloth and sleight-of-hand which are so often the latter’s companions in arms. We may – we must – suppose that the metropolitan of Banat is neither a knave nor a fool, and that he is aware of the ecclesiological implications of his gesture. We should suppose too, I think, that he is aware of its implications for himself personally, and that he is not only willing to face the controversy, dismay and indeed opprobrium which it will certainly bring upon him, but that he considers that these things are lesser evils in comparison with a greater evil which he believes that he may be helping to overcome.

First, as a Catholic, and before I venture on the less safe ground of speculating what this event might mean in the context of Orthodox involvement in ecumenical outreach with the Catholic Church, let me say some words on what it means from the Catholic point of view. Metrpolitan Nicolae was admitted to communion at a Liturgy celebrated by a bishop in communion with Rome, and indeed, by all accounts, in the presence of the Papal Nuncio to Romania. The Catholic Church has in recent years modified its discipline on “intercommunion”; under the 1917 code of Canon Law it was specified (Canon 731 §2) that no-one not in communion with the see of Rome could receive the Eucharist from a Catholic minister without first making a formal adhesion to the Catholic Church. The 1983 code (Canon 844 §3) admits to Communion (and to Penance and Anointing of the Sick) any Christian who is a member of an Eastern Church not in Communion with Rome, who spontaneously asks for it and is “properly disposed”. In the case of Christians belonging to ecclesial bodies which the Catholic Church considers not to have valid sacraments (apart from Baptism of course), they may be given Communion if they fulfil the afore-mentioned conditions, if there is “danger of death or some other, pressing need” and if they adhere to the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist (ibid. §4). It is forbidden to local hierarchies to draw up their own norms on this (as would be normal whenever universal norms require adaptation to local circumstances) without consulting the hierarchies of the separated Church or Churches concerned, at least at local level.

It is easy to see that the reception of Communion by Metropolitan Nicolae is within these norms. The Catholics who disagree with his having been given Communion cannot deny that. The good Metropolitan is a member of an Eastern Church, he spontaneously asked, and we must suppose that as an Orthodox bishop he was properly disposed to receive the sacrament, since he celebrates it for his own flock regularly. Since it was an isolated act, there is no necessity according to the letter of the law for the local Orthodox hierarchy to be consulted; but since he is the legitimate local Orthodox hierarch, we may even opine that the spirit of the law was perfectly observed. It is certainly within the rights of those Catholics who object to believe that Canon 844 is a bad law, but they cannot deny that it is the law of the Catholic Church, and that here it was applied.

They might, however, wish that the position of the 1917 Code had been maintained. That position is – in point of fact – also more or less the position of the Orthodox Church, whose Canons, as I understand it (but on this I am woefully ignorant and thus cannot quote them precisely – will readers please correct or complete my information here?), forbid not only an Orthodox receiving a sacrament from a non-Orthodox minister, but also any participation in non-Orthodox worship (forbidden also, mutatis mutandis, by the RC 1917 Code as communicatio in sacris).

All three of these canonical disciplines, of course, reflect an ecclesiology. The ecclesiology of the 1917 Code has it that there is on earth one visible Church of Christ, and you are either in or out of it, and that Church is formally identical with the Catholic Church – that it to say, with the Churches in communion with the bishop of Rome. There is only black and white. There are no shades of grey. This is the ecclesiology of the bull Unam Sanctam. It is the ecclesiology of Vatican I, and therefore quite logically of the Code of Canon Law promulgated almost fifty years after that Council.

The new Code was promulgated in the wake of another Council; and it is therefore quite logical that it should reflect the ecclesiology of Vatican II. Now, I am not at all an advocate of what Benedict XVI has called termed the “hermeneutic of discontinuity”. I do not believe that Vatican II was a “new Pentecost”, at least not if that means it was a new start which overthrows and obliterated all that went before. I am a Catholic priest, and I believe that I am intellectually honest, and so I will remain in the Catholic Church only as long as I believe it to be the Church of Christ. Since that Church is indeed one, and since it has to be visible on earth if Christ’s will is to have been efficacious, then you are either in it or you are not. The question, however, is how you are in it, and what makes you outside it.

I am convinced that the ecclesiology of Vatican II is in substantial continuity with the previous teaching, but that it is not identical with it. I believe that it preserves everything in it which is divinely revealed, while it renews it by bringing out better than was done for centuries its deeper and more authentic context in the wider Tradition. It does this notably by enriching an understanding of the Church which is incomplete, because excessively, indeed almost exclusively juridical. I believe that Christ wished there to be in His Church an authority of binding and losing, that that authority resides in the apostles and the college of bishops who are their successors, and that He wished the bishop of Rome to be the universal primate, exercising within that college a true authority as an indispensable reference point of unity and truth. I believe that this is what was implied by the practice of appeal to Rome as practiced in the first millennium, and that the language of universal jurisdiction and infallibility has been the historical expression of this truth in the second millennium – although not always an expression couched in the most felicitous terms. Lastly, I believe that if one did not believe at least this much, it would be dishonest to remain in the communion of the Roman Church.

What Vatican II does is to remind us that the juridical determination of ecclesiastical communion is logically and ontologically posterior to sacramental communion, and that this in turn presupposes a communion in Faith. If our Faith is substantially the same in Jesus Christ as God incarnate and in our salvation in Him, then we have already a certain communion, and if we are baptised then that communion has a firm sacramental basis. I believe in ONE Baptism we say; since there is only one, anyone who has received this Baptism in Faith is already in some sense a member of the Church. Since the Church is One, then anyone who belongs to it is already in an ontological sense in some sort of communion with the other members. If that person belongs to a community which has Priesthood through Apostolic Succession, then that communion is made ontologically much stronger through participation in the Eucharist, which is likewise one, although its celebrations may be divided by time and place, and indeed by schism.

Vatican II speaks of separated Christians as being in imperfect Communion, and teaches that they are not altogether cut off from the Body of Christ, even though this Body is perfectly realised only in the Catholic Church. It says that in the case of the Eastern churches, the reality of apostolic succession means that this communion is almost perfect. I do not think, by the way, that this teaching is in any way repudiated or rescinded by Dominus Jesus or even by the recent Roman clarification which says that the famous subsistit in of Lumen Gentium is not to be interpreted as denying that the RC Church is the Body of Christ. I regret that some opportunities were missed in these documents and some one-sided language used, there is nothing in it to which I cannot subscribe even as I write the above: the RC Church, for the Catholic who believes in His Church, is that Body in its fullness. This does not prevent other Churches from belonging to that Body in truth, even though they may lack all that is required for their belonging to be perfect.

I apologise for the length of the above. It may seem like a digression but it is necessary to understanding my point. Admitting Metropolitan Nicolae, or any other Orthodox Christian who asks for it, to the Holy Eucharist is the practical and sacramental expression of the ecclesiological convictions outlined above. As a Catholic who believes in ecumenism, and in the ecclesiology of Vatican II, which makes ecumenism a Christian imperative, I can only approve and applaud the fact that he was allowed to receive the Body of Christ from our altar. That Body does not belong to us, we belong to it; and so do our Orthodox brethren in Christ.

What then of those Orthodox who demure, who are shocked, maybe even scandalised. Are they wrong? Is their protestation of scandal even pharisaical? I have absolutely no right to chide them or to decry their adherence to the Canonical discipline of their own Church, venerable as it is. The Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church will doubtless be the right forum for discussion of the matter, and indeed for a ruling, at least in the first instance. What I can do is to speculate a little – it can only be that – on what the Metropolitan may have been trying to accomplish, and to express some hopes. I hope my Orthodox brothers will allow me to do so, and that they will afford me the kindness of giving these reflexions a thoughtful consideration.

I wrote above that a Church’s discipline on intercommunion reflects its ecclesiology. The discipline of the Orthodox Church reflects its self-understanding. It believes that it IS the Church of Christ, quite simply. There can be, in the context of this belief, no doubt that there exists no such thing as “intercommunion”. There is only communion. You are in the Church or you are outside it. But are we sure that the Orthodox Church has ever committed itself irrevocably as a Church to any opinion about who is in and who is out?

I will admit to have been a little irritated by some Orthodox reactions to the Roman documents mentioned above. I thought that they were indulging in a certain ad hominem type of argument, playing as it were to the gallery of the ambient relativism, by protesting outrage about the RC Church’s claim to be the one true Church, while failing to come clean about the fact that, mutatis mutandis, they make the same claim for their own Church. There is nothing outrageous about making this claim in fact. There must, as we have said, be a true Church, and it must be One. But the Orthodox Church, as far as I am aware, has never defined in an Ecumenical Council that we Latins are heretics. There exists schism between us, that much is an observable fact. The Latin doctrines of Filioque, Papal supremacy, et cetera are not accepted by the Orthodox Church. There is no doubt that the majority of her theologians, clergy and faithful have, throughout the second millennium, considered them as heresy. Does that suffice, however, to render them such?

This blog is dedicated in the first place to making known the thought of Patriarch John Bekkos. He believed that the schism between the Churches was not justified. He was not some sort of proto-uniate, even less a convert to Roman Catholicism. He did not believe he was leaving the Church of his baptism to join another Church. Quite simply, he became convinced that the arguments purporting to demonstrate that the Latin Church was heretical, for all that they had attained by his day the status of a truism for the immense majority of his countrymen, were unfounded. He was convinced that this conviction in turn implied that the broken communion should be restored, that it should be expressed liturgically through commemoration of the bishop of Rome, and juridically by recognition of the right of appeal to Rome as it had been practiced by his Church in the first Christian millennium. He was unable to convince his contemporaries of his case, and he died in prison rather than renounce his conviction.

Might it be that the gesture of the Romanian Metropolitan expresses a similar conviction? It goes doubtless against the Canons of his Church, but might it be meant to provoke discussion within Orthodoxy and raise the question, in a way which expresses more vividly than mere words could ever do, the same question as Bekkos raised? It does not imply that the Metropolitan has accepted the disputed Latin doctrines. In the present state of the case to do so would be tantamount to conversion to Roman Catholicism. Might it mean that he wishes to imply that one can remain Orthodox while considering that the Latin dogmas, while they might be considered eccentric, indeed erroneous opinions of the Western patriarchate, are not in se heretical? Would not such recognition imply the urgent necessity of restoring communion between us? (Catholic readers who may be incredulous about the feasibility of restored communion without Orthodox acceptance of Latin dogmas should be reminded that the present Pope suggested just such a path in a famous statement when he was Cardinal Ratzinger.)

It is plainly not realistic to hope that such an understanding of the nature of the schism admission be adopted as the official attitude of the Orthodox Church in any presently foreseeable future. Might it be nonetheless an acceptable opinion within Orthodoxy, one capable of being accepted by a significant and influential number of Orthodox thinkers?

To my fellow Catholics, especially those who are shocked or angered by the event at Timisoara, or by my own apologia for it, I will say the following. It is a significant fact, and indeed quite a curious one in its way, that the Catholic Church has never termed the Orthodox Church as heretical. In spite of the Filioque and Papal infallibility having been proclaimed by Councils deemed ecumenical, Rome has never accused our Eastern brethren of anything other than dissidence and schism. Is this mere ecclesiastical diplomacy, a reluctance to pour oil instead of water on the flames of conflict? Rome before Vatican II was not given to diplomacy, yet the “dissident” Eastern bishops were summoned to attend at Trent and Vatican I – recognition if ever there was one of their status as Churches. (Ironically, they were not summoned to Vatican II – because they made it clear beforehand that they would only send the observers which Rome solicited if she refrained from so peremptory an affirmation of her claim to primacy.) Are we sure we have appreciated fully the dogmatic implications of this fact?

Another question which “the Timisoara incident” brings to the fore, this time on the Orthodox side is that of their recognition of Catholic sacraments. In receiving a Catholic sacrament, Metropolitan Nicolae has unambiguously signalled that he, as an Orthodox bishop, recognises it as just that: a sacrament.

Ecumenically minded Orthodox and Catholics on internet are used to ironising about loaded protestations of the graceless character of the Latin Church. Orthodox in the diaspora are wont to see these as almost a prerogative of converts; residence in Greece has taught me that it is by no means considered an eccentric position by the mainstream clergy in Orthodox countries. Not only are converts wishing to join the Athonite communities obligatorily baptised, it is an almost routine practice in the Church of Greece. A senior university professor of theology in Greece a few years ago told a nationwide television audience that he had re-baptised his own Catholic mother. Recently in Giannitsa a young Greco-Catholic layman was re-baptised in view of his coming marriage to an Orthodox girl. Such incidents are not part of a marginal phenomenon. John Paul II was received in Greece only on condition he refrained from wearing any liturgical, priestly insignia in public.

I am aware that the theology of sacramental validity is not the same among Orthodox as among Catholics, and that it is in fact indissoluble from the question already posed about who is in the Church and who is outside. Is it too much to hope, however, that the practice of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and others in receiving convert Catholics without rebaptism might one day become the officially sanctioned practice of all the Orthodox Churches? I am not unaware of the difficulties currently surrounding the possibility of a pan-Orthodox position being defined on any issue at all; but it is difficult to imagine any real progress towards unity without there being recognition by all the mainstream Orthodox Churches that the Latin Church is a Church with true sacraments.

When the Pope was at the Phanar last year (where he was commemorated in a Litany as “bishop of Old Rome”, and received with honours which plainly showed he was viewed there as bishop of a true canonical Church with valid sacraments, as the Athonite community did not fail to notice and to protest at) Patriarch Bartholomew mentioned — almost furtively I thought — an unspecified, concrete initiative in favour of progress towards unity which he would shortly be putting forward. Might it be that the initiative in question is in some sense foreshadowed by the personal initiative of Metropolitan Nicolae? Is it too much to hope that, in spite of the difficulties posed by the internal tensions within Orthodoxy, there might be some progress towards a reciprocal agreement on some limited sacramental expression of our fundamental union in professing the Faith of the (first) Seven Ecumenical Councils, and mutual recognition of ministries?

This little essay is already too long on matters of its author’s opinions, as it has been too short on precise references. I have speculated on the intentions which may have led the Orthodox Metropolitan of Banat to do what he did at Timisoara. It has been my intention to suggest some ways in which his action has raised questions which need to be faced up to by both Catholic and Orthodox. I do not pretend to know if it was really the intention of bishop Nicolae to raise precisely these questions. Doubtless the Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church will want to hear his explanation; and perhaps if he is allowed to deliver it publicly it might become clear which questions he did intend to raise. There can, however, be no reasonable doubt that he did intend to raise questions.

It is not my place to say whether it was in the event helpful to the cause of ecumenism for the Metropolitan to choose this course of action. It is even less my place to say whether it was right from an Orthodox point of view to infringe the discipline of his Church in view of what, as I said at the beginning, we must presume he believed to be a greater good. I have said why, as a Catholic, I believe that it was right for his request to receive communion from a Catholic altar to be granted. Some will see his gesture as a prophetical sign destined one day to bear fruit by the very reason of its provocative nature. Others will say it is well-intentioned but in reality premature and counter-productive. Others still will think it scandalous and sacrilegious. It is not given to me to know which judgement is correct. Only let those who cry “scandal” remember that scandal in its theological meaning is not, as in common parlance, the shock which an action causes to our sensibilities and our comfortable presuppositions, but that which causes us to sin. And let them ask themselves whether complacency in the face of a divided Christendom is not a sin, however much it hides behind rhetoric about not sacrificing truth to gain unity. In the end, truth and unity are the same thing; sin against unity damages our ability to see the fullness of truth.

Maybe the upshot of it all will not be all that far from the wry summary which Ronny Knox gave of the Anglican archbishops’ verdict on Kikuyu. Perhaps the Metropolitan’s motives will be judged eminently pleasing to God, but his action on no account to be repeated, at least for the foreseeable future. If, in spite of this, it manages to make more of us ask ourselves whether our assumptions about the other need to be challenged, just as John Bekkos’ reading and reflection made him ask himself the same question more than seven hundred years ago, then it will not have been entirely fruitless. Similarly, if this reflexion of mine can help provoke a serene and gentlemanly conversation with some Orthodox friends and brethren, then it will have achieved its aim.

Fr Paul