Kyparissiotes: Decade 1.2

January 3, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 747 B – 750 A.

Chapter 2: That there are two kinds of symbolic theology as well.

In the same letter to Titus, the great Dionysius says:

We deemed it therefore incumbent upon us, both for Timothy’s sake and for others, that, to the extent of our ability, we should unfold the multitudinous forms that characterize symbolic hieroplastia (that is, representation of holy things) concerning God. For, if one views this only externally, with what incredible, contrived abnormalities is it filled? For instance, as to the superessential divine begetting, it represents this as a womb of God bodily giving birth to God; and it describes [this as] a word flowing out into the air from a man’s heart, which belches it, and a breath, breathed forth from a mouth; and it hymns God-bearing bosoms embracing God’s Son, in a bodily way; or it represents these things botanically, and puts forth certain trees, and branches, and flowers, and roots; or it gushes forth with fountains of waters; or with advancing light productions of reflected splendors; or with various other affirmative, sacred depictions concerning matters of superessential theology. But with regard to Almighty God’s intelligible acts of providence, whether they be gifts, or manifestations, or powers, or properties, or repose, or abidings, or progressions, or distinctions, or unions, it clothes Almighty God in human form, and in the varied shape of wild beasts and of other living creatures, and of plants, and of stones; and it attributes to him ornaments of women, or weapons of savages; and it assigns to him working in clay, and in a furnace, as it were to a sort of artisan; and it places under him horses and chariots and thrones; and spreads before him certain dainty meats delicately cooked; and represents him as drinking, and drunken, and sleeping, and suffering from crapulence. What would anyone say concerning the angers, the griefs, the various oaths, the repentances, the curses, the revenges, the manifold and dubious excuses for the failure of promises, the battle of giants in Genesis, during which God is said to scheme against those powerful and great men (and this when they were contriving the building, not with a view to injustice towards other people, but on behalf of their own safety)? And that counsel devised in heaven to deceive and mislead Ahab; and those mundane and meritricious passions in the Song of Songs; and all the other sacred compositions which appear in the description of God, which stick at nothing, as projections, and multiplications of hidden things, and divisions of things one and undivided, and formative and manifold forms of the shapeless and unformed. But if anyone were able to see the inner hidden beauty of these things, he would find every one of them mystical and godlike, and filled with abundant theological light.

[1.2.1] Dionysius, Letter 9, PG 3, 1104 C - 1105 C; tr. John Parker (London 1897); much revised.

And there is also the saying: They shall walk in the light of thy countenance (Ps 89:15), and In thy light shall we see light (Ps 36:9).

From these things, it is clear that symbolic theology is a hieroplastia (ἱεροπλαστία), that is, a representation of holy things, which, by means of divine signs and indications given through things outlined in a bodily way, sketches and depicts those bodiless and formless realities which are hidden in God. Moreover, it is to be noted that symbolic theology itself has various divisions. For either it is formed of words, such as “to sleep,” “to awaken,” “to be drunk,” “to repent,” and whatever else is asserted by words like these in scripture in a simple way; or else it is formed out of bodily forms, such as that fire that appeared at the bush, the vision of God seated upon a throne, the dove at the Jordan, the tongues of fire, and suchlike.

Kyparissiotes: Decade 1.1

August 23, 2010

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 745 C – 747 B.

Decade One: On Symbolic Theology

Chapter I: That there are two kinds of theology

Dionysius, in his Letter to Bishop Titus, speaks as follows:

Besides, we must also consider this, that the teaching handed down by the Theologians is two-fold — one, secret and mystical — the other, open and better known — one, symbolical and initiative — the other, philosophic and demonstrative; — and the unspoken is intertwined with the spoken. The one persuades, and necessitates the truth of the things expressed, the other acts and implants one in God by instructions in mysteries not learnt by teaching.

[1.1.1] Dionysius, Ep. 9.1, PG 3, 1105 D; tr. John Parker (London 1897); revised.

St. Maximus and Dionysius of Alexandria comment upon this passage; Maximus calls that theology “symbolic” and “initiative”

which is accomplished through symbols, like those of the ritual service pertaining to the Law, and the mysteries of our own mystical, sacred rites, even if our own things are the higher and more spiritual of the two. But the philosophic, demonstrative kind of theology is that which comes about through observation of the creatures and of various divine dispensations, and through the contemplative interpretation of the things said about God in the Scriptures.

[1.1.2] Maximus the Confessor (or, perhaps, John of Scythopolis), Scholia in Epp. S. Dionysii, PG 4, 564 B.

As for Dionysius of Alexandria, he says that

the philosophical, demonstrative kind of theology produces certainty and necessitates the truth: that is, it stamps, as though with a seal, the truth of those things which are spoken, and binds them as though with a chain, and it causes those who hear to believe. Whereas the other kind of theology, that which is symbolic, joins one to God by things which take place, as it were by the very influence and inward shaping of the thing itself; such things Dionysius calls “untaught mysteries.”

[1.1.3] Not found.

Here, therefore, it is clear that theology, speaking generally and as a whole, is comprised of these two parts: one part is secret and mystical; it is not taught by arguments; its power is in its uniting [things] together, and it instills firmness in souls concerning those things which are perceived or heard; as for the other part, by rational inferences, and by the renowned authority of those who had earlier spoken such things, it produces certainty and compels those who hear to give their assent.

Severian of Gabala’s Sermon on the Epiphany, or, to give it its full title, In magna die luminum, Jerosolymis prolata. De fide, deque generatione Filii ex Patre, was delivered, in Greek, in the city of Jerusalem on the 6th of January, probably in either the year 390 or the year 396 (that is, at least, Martin Jugie’s reckoning, based on the fact that, in those years, January 6th fell on a Sunday). The original Greek text is lost; an Armenian translation is extant, dating from the fifth century; it was edited and published, with a Latin translation, by Jean-Baptiste Aucher in the volume Severiani sive Seberiani Gabalorum episcopi Emesensis homiliæ nunc primum editæ ex antiqua versione armena in latinum sermonem translatæ (Venice 1837) (as Roger Pearse recently reported, this book is now available on Google Books). Below is given a passage from this sermon; the Latin text is cited from pp. 196-197 of Martin Jugie’s “Sévérien de Gabala et le Symbole Athanasien,” Échos d’Orient 14 (1911), 193-204; Jugie, in turn, reproduces the passage from Aucher, op. cit., pp. 13-17; the English translation is my own.

In his article, written just under a century ago, Jugie maintains that the passage from Severian’s sermon translated below shows numerous parallels with the Quicumque vult, that is, the “Athanasian Creed” (specifically, with its first, trinitarian section), too many parallels, in his view, to be merely accidental. To show this, Jugie sets phrases from the sermon and the Athanasian creed in parallel columns. He notes that this sermon is probably the libellum de Epiphaniæ solemnitate of which Gennadius of Marseilles speaks in his Liber de scriptoribus ecclesiasticis, c. xxi (PL 18, 1075), and speculates that it was brought to southern Gaul by John Cassian after his departure from Constantinople at the time of St. John Chrysostom’s exile. Jugie, it should be stressed, does not think that Severian composed the “Athanasian Creed”; he does, however, think that this and other sermons of Severian’s provided a template for the kind of language one finds in the Quicumque vult — language which accentuates the equality and unity of the persons through a rhetorical accumulation of parallel clauses. He discusses various fifth-century Latin writers as possible authors of the Quicumque vult, including Gennadius of Marseilles, Faustus of Riez, and Marius Mercator, without settling conclusively on any one of them.

Finally, I should note that Jugie sees the absolute, legally-binding language of the Quicumque vult — “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith; which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly” — as rare among credal statements; one does not, for instance, encounter such language in the Nicene Creed itself, which begins simply “I believe” or “We believe.” There is, however, something of a parallel to such language in the late-fourth century Creed of Theodore of Mopsuestia, a creed that was in use among the Nestorians at the time of the Council of Ephesus. This leads Jugie to speculate that the Quicumque vult may have been originally intended as an antidote to Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Creed. That creed, it should be noted, laid particular stress on the idea that Holy Spirit was from the Father alone; the Quicumque vult lays equal stress on the idea that the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son. Since the popularity of the Quicumque vult in the West was without doubt one of the main causes for the eventual introduction of the word Filioque into the Western text of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, it is worth investigating what causes led to the Quicumque vult’s composition; if Jugie is right, one of those causes is to be seen in the writings of a Greek-speaking Syrian bishop named Severian of Gabala.


Erat Pater ingenitus, et Filius genitus, Ens ab illo Ente substantiali, vita e vita. Sicut, ait, Pater habet vitam in seipso, ita et Filio dedit habere vitam. Non quasi prius genuerit, et postmodum dederit ei vitam, sed Vivens viventem vitam genuit, et Creator creatorem, judicemque. Non enim improprie velut adscitiam habet Patris virtutem, sed ex natura æqualis ei fuit, juxta illud quod in Evangelio exponitur, quod: Omne quod Patris fuit, illud meum est. — Et: Ego et Pater meus unum sumus. — Et: Qui vidit me vidit Patrem. The Father is unbegotten, the Son is begotten, Being from that essential Being, Life from Life. For he says, “As the Father has life in himself, so he has given to the Son to have life” (Jn 5:26). Not as though he first begot him, and afterwards gave him life; but, as the Living One, he begot him, the Life, as Living, and, as Creator, he begot him as Creator and Judge. For [the Son] has the Father’s power, not improperly, as though it were a thing externally acquired, but he is equal to him by nature, according to that which is expressed in the Gospel, that “All that the Father has is mine” (Jn 16:15). And “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). And “he who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
Omnia quæcumque Patris sunt, eadem et Filii, nisi solum quod non est Pater; et omne quicquid Filius est, idem et Pater, nisi solummodo quod non est Filius, nec carnem sumpsit; atque omne quidquid Pater est et Filius, idem et Spiritus sanctus, præter quod non est Pater et Filius, neque homo factus est, sicut Filius. Vivit Pater: Vivo ego, inquit, Dominus virtutum. Vivit et Filius: Ego sum, ait, vita et lux et veritas. Vivit et Spiritus sanctus: Caro nihil juvat, sed Spiritus est qui vivificat. All things whatsoever are the Father’s, the same things are the Son’s, excepting only that he is not a Father; and whatsoever thing the Son is, the same is the Father, excepting only that he is not a Son, nor has taken on flesh; again, whatsoever thing are the Father and the Son, the same is the Holy Spirit, aside from the fact that he is not a Father nor a Son, nor has he, like the Son, become man. The Father lives: for, “I live,” he says, “the Lord of hosts” (cf. Jer 46:18; Zeph 2:9). The Son also lives: “I am,” he says, “the life, and the light, and the truth” (Jn 14:6 and 1:9). The Holy Spirit also lives: “The flesh profits nothing; it is the Spirit that gives life” (Jn 6:63).
Unus est etiam Dominus, et unus Deus, et unus Rex; non Dominos, nec Deos, neque Reges profitemur sanctam Trinitatem, secundum quod Seraphim clamabant in templo: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus; ter Sanctus et semel Dominus. Siquidem unus est Dominatus Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti. Unus Dominus et Deus, Pater; non est enim alius Deus Pater. Et unus Dominus et Deus, Filius; non est enim alius Filius. Et unus Dominus et Deus, Spiritus sanctus; non est enim alius Spiritus Deus, nisi Dei Spiritus. Unus est Deus Pater, ex quo omnia. Unus Dominus Jesus Christus, per quem omnia; et unus Spiritus sanctissimus, qui omnia renovat et sanctificat. Unum baptismum et unam Ecclesiam Paulus prædicat, non ipse, sed ille de quo dicebat: Si experimentum aliquod quæritis Christi, qui per me vobiscum loquitur. Again, there is one Lord, and one God, and one King; we do not profess the Holy Trinity to be Lords, or Gods, or Kings. This agrees with what the Seraphim cry in the Temple: “Holy, Holy, Holy” — thrice “Holy” and yet once “Lord” (Is 6:3). Since, indeed, there is one lordship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is one Lord and God, the Father; for there is no other God the Father. And there is one Lord and God, the Son; for there is no other Son. And there is one Lord and God, the Holy Spirit: for there is no other God the Spirit, aside from the Spirit of God. One is God the Father, from whom are all things. One is the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things. And one is the Most Holy Spirit, who renews and sanctifies all things. One baptism and one Church are preached by Paul, or rather, not by himself, but by him of whom he said, “If you seek some proof of Christ, who speaks to you through me” (2 Cor 13:3).
Genuit Pater Filium, non tamen in Genitum suum mutatus fuit; sed est Pater, Pater; et Filius, Filius; et Spiritus sanctus, Spiritus Dei. Genitus est Filius, nec tamen in Patrem mutatus est; non enim in opprobrium vel in explosionem est Patris Filius, sed ex scientia [Jugie: ex essentia] Ingeniti Genitus. Ne diffidamus de divina generatione. Ne contemnamus et ipsius carnalem nativitatem. Ne pessumdemus et voluntariam paupertatem. Dignitas angelorum, honor coram standi est; dignitas Unigeniti sedere a dextra Patris. Angeli vel nomen ipsum ministerii est, et archangeli principatus ministerii. Deum autem apud Deum dici, nomen Dei est. Deum, inquam apud Deum, non Dii. Non enim duos Ingenitos neque duos Genitos confitemur, sed unum Ingenitum et unum Genitum, et unum Spiritum veritatis ex Patre procedentem. The Father begot the Son, but he has not been changed into the one begotten by him; but the Father is Father; and the Son is Son; and the Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit. The Son is begotten, but has not been changed into a Father; for it is in no way to his shame or discredit to be Son of the Father, but he is begotten of the essence* of the Unbegotten. Let us not show little faith in the divine generation. Let us also not show contempt for his nativity in the flesh. Let us not put down his voluntary poverty. The dignity of the angels is the honor of standing in his presence; the dignity of the Only-begotten is to sit at the right hand of the Father. Even the name itself “angel” names a ministerial function, and the name “archangel” names a principal ministerial function. But to be called “God” alongside God — that names God. God, I say, alongside God, not “Gods.” For we do not confess two Unbegottens, nor two Begottens, but one Unbegotten, and one Begotten, and one Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father.
Tres et unus, unus et tres, quia unam essentiam sanctæ Trinitatis profitemur, in tribus hypostasibus perfectarum personarum. Non enim persona Patris est persona Filii, neque persona Filii aut Spiritus sancti est persona Patris, quamquam jam inde ex una ipsa essentia Patris est Filius et Spiritus sanctus. Quoniam Unigenitus Filius, qui ante sæcula est et ex Patre et apud Patrem, Deus apud Deum, et idem homo cum hominibus, non decidens a divinitate, etsi incarnatus comperitur, non deturbatus a prima sua nativitate, etsi per carnalem nativitatem ex Virgine apparuit in carne natus. Imo etiam dum in utero Virginis erat, non erant ab ipso vacui cœli et terra universaque creatura. Three and One, One and Three: for we profess one essence of the Holy Trinity, in three hypostases of perfect persons. For the person of the Father is not the person of the Son, nor is the person of the Son, or that of the Holy Spirit, the person of the Father, albeit it is, indeed, out of the one very essence of the Father that the Son and the Holy Spirit exist. For the Only-begotten Son, who before all ages exists both from the Father and with the Father, is God with God, and is, the very same, man with men, without any falling away from his divinity, even if he is found to have taken on manhood, nor is he cast down from his first nativity, even if, by his fleshly nativity from a virgin, he has appeared as one born in the flesh. Rather, even while he was in the Virgin’s womb, the heavens and the earth and the whole creation had not been emptied of him.
Ingenito Deo Patri, et Genito ab ipso Filio unigenito et Spiritui sancto procedenti ex illorum essentia, tribus in una substantia omnis gloria, nunc et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen. To God the Father, the Unbegotten, and to the Only-begotten Son, begotten from him, and to the Holy Spirit who proceeds† from their essence, to the Three in One substance, be all glory, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

*Reading, with Jugie, ex essentia instead of ex scientia.

†The Latin word procedere commonly translates a number of different Greek words; what the original word Severian used here is not clear. It might have been προϊέντι or προερχομένῳ, in which case the translation would read “who comes forth from their essence.”

Sententia synodalis

January 29, 2010

Below is presented a translation of a formal declaration made by a synod held in Constantinople on Friday, May 3rd, 1280 under the presidency of Patriarch John Bekkos. The synod dealt with the case of the referendarius Michael Eskammatismenos, who had erased the word ἐκ (“from”) from a theologically-significant passage of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Lord’s Prayer, found in an ancient manuscript belonging to his brother-in-law, Penteclesiotes (a modern, critical text of the passage is found in J. Callahan, ed., Gregorii Nysseni de oratione dominica; de beatitudinibus [Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992], pp. 42-43). Penteclesiotes’ manuscript originally read as follows: “Now the Spirit both is said to be from the Father, and is further testified to be from the Son” (Τὸ δὲ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς λέγεται, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ εἶναι προσμαρτυρεῖται). By erasing the second ἐκ, Eskammatismenos changed the sense of this to, “Now the Spirit both is said to be from the Father, and is further testified to be of the Son” (or, “to belong to the Son”). When Eskammatismenos later confessed to the erasure, it presented a dilemma to John Bekkos, who reasoned that, if the word were written back into the manuscript, the obvious difference in handwriting would raise suspicions as to the word’s genuineness. The synod decided to leave the passage as it stood, that is, lacking the second ἐκ, but to place the synodal act in the book as an annotation, declaring to future readers what had happened there to the text.

Many readers of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s sermon have doubted that the second ἐκ, the reading favored by Bekkos, was in fact what Gregory of Nyssa wrote. The general editor of Nyssa’s works, Werner Jaeger, devoted much attention to the subject, and concluded that the word doesn’t belong there. John Callahan, who produced the GNO edition of the work (Gregorii Nysseni Opera, VII/2), agrees with Jaeger that the word is probably not what Gregory of Nyssa wrote, but stresses that that is not a conclusion one would reach on palaeographical grounds alone. Comparing the Greek manuscripts with an early Syriac version of the text, Callahan sees the word ἐκ as already present in the earliest witnesses to the textual tradition; it was certainly there, in some manuscripts, before the eighth century, that is to say, well before the major conflicts between the Greek and Latin Churches over the Holy Spirit’s procession. Callahan writes:

“…regarding the text tradition itself, we must conclude that the ἐκ belongs in the text as far as we can be guided by strictly palaeographical evidence. But, in the second place, it is very difficult to justify its presence in the text from the standpoint of Gregory’s own line of argumentation, as Jaeger has indicated.” (Callahan, op. cit., p. xii.)

In his own edition of the work, Callahan retains the word, but places it within brackets to stress that he finds its presence in the text dubious.

One may note that Eskammatismenos later went back on his support for union; he was one of the signatories to the Tome that condemned John Bekkos in 1285; later, Gregory of Cyprus made him his chartophylax, that is, his archivist and secretary, although, apparently, he ultimately turned on him, too.

I have translated the following synodal act from the Greek text edited by Leo Allatius in the seventeenth century and reprinted by J.-P. Migne, Patrologia graeca 141, 281-290, and H. Laemmer, Scriptorum graeciae orthodoxae bibliotheca selecta I (Fribourg 1864), pp. 411-422.

Annotation by the synod

On the third day in the month of May, the sixth day of the week, [i.e., Friday], the eighth indiction [1280], with his All-Holiness, our most-holy master, Lord John, Patriarch of Constantinople, New Rome, presiding in his rooms adjacent to the church of St. Theophylact, and, meeting in synod with him, the most reverend high priests: the most honorable Nicholas of Chalcedon, the most honorable Meletios of Athens, the most honorable Nicander of Larissa, the most honorable Leo of Serrai, together with Theodore of Cherson, Theodore of Sougdaia, Nicholas of Proeconesus, and Leo of Berrhoea, as well as the imperial magistrates, most beloved of God, who were also present:

1. Even the tiniest of hairs, if it should fall into the eye, produces both a darkening of the eye itself and considerable damage to the rest of the body. For if the eye is the light of the body, when it is in a bad state it follows of simple necessity that the whole body must be in conformity with its bad condition, and, as the body’s light has been quenched, there must be an obscuring of its ability to direct its own steps, which it derived from that light. And in the same manner, if by chance Holy Scripture should be damaged, and should suffer either addition or subtraction even to one tittle (cf. Mt 5:18), no slight damage would accrue to the whole body of the Church. In fact, what else is reckoned to serve the order and function of the eyes in that Body whose head is Christ if not the writings of the holy fathers, which have gained, from that head, principles of [spiritual] vision, and which illuminate the way for those who encounter them? What then ought to be done in the case of the bodily eye, and what is to be understood in the case of this spiritual eye of which it is said that no one who lacks rightness in respect of it shall see the Lord (cf. Heb 12:14; Mt 5:8)? Undoubtedly, just as it is the custom of those who are skilled in such matters to cleanse that physical eye and restore it to its function of benefiting the whole constitution of the body, so also it is fitting to make sure, as far as possible, that whenever there may appear a mote or, more seriously, a very beam in this other eye, it should be taken away with a view to doctrinal propriety and authenticity, so that, this eye being again healthy and restored to its former state, the light may shine and darkness may be banished. And to whom else is such a business a matter of concern if not to us who, by the mercy of the God of the fathers, have been accorded administration over such matters and over all the other written and paternal traditions that have been passed down, so that we may be shown to be genuine sons who grieve when we see the fatherly testaments falsified, or rather when we see the injustice done to ourselves in respect of that truly great and ever-abiding inheritance which, from the fathers, we possess — and so much the more when, in these texts, we see the blessing of peace shining forth and the reconciliation of the Churches confirmed? And perhaps such injustice occurs exactly to the extent that these texts become corrupted. For there are many incidental consequences when people mangle the truth and alter texts to suit their purposes; as a result, not only is their sinning with regard to the truth left uncorrected for them, but it is even thought to be supported out of the divine writings. And if the one who is wronged is the light of the church of Nyssa, and the book which suffers falsification is old and reliable, how much anguish of soul does this cause to those who have been betrayed even as touching their own souls, since, for the sake of the peace of the Church, they would wish that no one should have had to face a stumbling-stone. And, again, how vital is it that this issue should be addressed, and how solicitous ought we to be that the truth may find open expression, and, in the future, may be completely secure in all respects. And how fitting it is that we should devote our energies to matters of this kind and, to our ability, bring them to a just conclusion. In what way, then, the matter unfolded, and what sort of origins it had, will be most clearly shown in the following sections of this report.

2. When with God’s help the ecclesiastical peace had now already been consummated, and the perennial scandal had been put aside by the grace of the Spirit (for it had to be that, at some point, such dark raving madness would be nullified, and the light of concord would again shine, and the God of peace would triumph in a great plenitude of victory), it was our own task to contribute to this peace to the extent of our abilities, and to support it out of the sacred Writings, as was proper, so that we should not be accused of speaking out of our own belly (cf. Isaiah 8:19 LXX), but out of rivers divinely struck, and from bellies that have been filled with living water (cf. Exod 17:6-7; John 7:38). Thus it was that, receiving into the hearing of the ear now this text and now that one, then again yet another, and, simply put, all of them, we were, by God’s mercy, while going through these one by one, granted a fair voyage towards the peace that has been consummated, and were pointing out to others the way. And if in some way there remained some scandal for these others, by reason of a commendable fear, we had no trouble in holding such people as lacking faith, and as bearing no serious opposition to us and to those who supported our position. But (O the envy and the cunning wiles of Satan!) even some of our own people took a stand with the opposing side, and, as they took it to be a good thing, and something glorious, if they should wage war against the peace, they separated themselves from our Church and became a sect unto themselves. It is true that, burdened at all times by the weight of those Holy Writings that make for peace, they were at some point going to come forward and put aside obstinacy and enmity, and would cherish peace with us and be joined to the whole body of the Church; that, in fact, took place later. But, at that time, as long as their obstinacy still held sway, and they set their own preferences before the wealth of truth, what else was left for them to do when faced with texts of this kind except to act as occasion presented itself to them? For these men were versatile in speech and understanding, able to reconstrue some texts, interpreting them in another sense, as though they accorded with their own position, while other texts they claimed were inauthentic; and again, in the case of some texts, although they admitted that they were written by the fathers (which was the sole point about them that they got right), they would bring forth the excuse — a miserable excuse indeed and wholly unworthy of the fathers’ purposes — that, since the fathers produced these writings in opposition to the arguments that were being circulated back then by the heretics, there exist places where the fathers fell short of what is fitting; although it fails to register with the people who make this claim that it is in no way to God’s glory and to the upholding of the truth when arguments are compounded of falsehoods and of things unworthy of the Spirit. But, as we were saying, these aforesaid men, being at that time entirely given over to their own will, acted cunningly against their own best interests, and were fearless in producing arguments that only aggravated their lack of what is beneficial, while the many and various things they spoke were all directed towards the same end, the impugning of peace and a warring against the truth of the Scriptures; so many were the ways in which they labored to procure their own ruin. But all these things were tolerable to us, that is to say, to the Truth, so long as the Scriptures were preserved whole and they merely gave them such false interpretations as they would. But when someone resorts to a piece of iron, and scrapes off writing, one immediately understands that this is done for no other reason than the soul’s mere appetite; and anyone who gives due consideration to this will discern that, since such people had no grounds upon which they could contradict so clear a truth, they decided to expunge it. In what manner this was done, and by whom, and how, our report will now relate.

3. Along with other books belonging to a certain son-in-law of the grand economos Xiphilinos, a man named Penteclesiotes, who, together with his fellow son-in-law, the referendarius of our Church, Eskammatismenos, at that time stood with the opposing party, there was a book that was much revered on account of its antiquity; in it were various divinely-wrought treatises by the great and wonderful father Gregory, the light of the people of Nyssa. One of the works contained in it was his sermon On the Lord’s Prayer, which begins, “When the great Moses had brought the people of Israel to the mystical initiation at the mountain.” At the point in this work where this father had come to speak about matters of theology and to teach concerning what is common and what is particular among the hypostases of the Godhead, he went on to say: “But the Holy Spirit both is said to be from the Father, and is further testified to be from the Son.” So then, when the aforesaid grand economos, Xiphilinos of blessed memory, had gone through this book and had arrived at this passage, after he had borrowed this book of Penteclesiotes’ in order to read it, he concluded by bringing this section of the discourse, and its agreement with the peace, into common awareness. And it became known to everyone, and known to us, too, as well as to the owner of the book, even though he was opposed to our position. And so it was that no little support for peace came about for the fulness of the Church on account of this, by the mercy of God. So when the referendarius, who was brother-in-law to the book’s owner and who shared the same opinions, had seen this text with his own eyes and had no other way of coping with it, since it was obvious, and its reliability was supported by many features of the book, he determined to erase this plain refutation, in his then-opposition to our views, and so he takes a piece of iron and scrapes off the word ἐκ (“from”), failing to take account of the fact that the same reading was given by still other copies of the book, that these likewise contained this text and supported the word ἐκ, and that the uncorrupted reading had escaped destruction.

4. But when at length his self-satisfied obstinacy had abated in him, and he had come to be on the side of peace, and had held communion with us, as many others also did, then did we, in our Mediocrity, frequently take counsel with him about various things. And it so happened that, on a certain occasion, we in our Mediocrity were reminded of the aforesaid book. But the referendarius, as though constrained by some inward pressure, praised the book, and said such things about it as seemed to him appropriate; but in the midst of this, while he was talking about the book, he confessed that, in the place where the text had read “and is further testified to be from the Son,” he had taken a knife and had scraped the word ἐκ (“from”) from the discourse [yielding the reading, “and is further testified to be of the Son”]. I don’t know just why he confessed this, or what cause impelled him. But, however it was, this came entirely from the Truth and from the God of the fathers. What then was to be done under these circumstances? An anxious consideration and a moth eating away at the bones befell us, in our Mediocrity, how it could have happened that this statement was corrupted, that this text, which had greatly contributed to the ecclesiastical peace, had lost its reliability, and how, although it had escaped damage for so long a time during the days when warfare was being waged against the Church of Old Rome, it had just now been debased by a slapdash cutting, so that henceforth neither would the text, left as it stands, give the authentic sense, nor would it still possess reliability and authenticity even if the word were put back in its place again, since people would conclude that the word had been added later on, given the suspicion engendered by the erasure.

5. We therefore, in our Mediocrity, conferred about this matter with our brothers and concelebrants, the most reverend high priests who were found near at hand, and sought to remedy the situation; with them, we considered how the Church’s rightful possession might be preserved for it. And there came about a common counsel and a synodal determination, that the place where the word ἐκ had lay should be left empty — for it would not be safe to write this word back in again, since this would raise suspicions for those who should come later, given the more recent character of the writing — but that notice should be made of the circumstances of the incident, and that there should be, in that place, a common testimony and certification, for the safety of future generations, explaining how the word that was written there had been erased. For thus, with the truth having been indicated in this way, there would not be cause for anyone to become distrustful on account of this passage, and to frame improper arguments against the authenticity of the text.

This thing seemed good to all, and now, this day, it is brought to pass by this present synodal act, while the referendarius confesses again, and makes not the least denial, that the word ἐκ (“from”) was crossed out by him, and he seeks pardon, for he did such a thing during the time when he was divided from us in schism. Whence also the present synodal act, which has come about for the sake of making clear what happened, has been entrusted to our chartophylax, for the security of those who shall come afterwards, and for a help to those who shall encounter the book, who, from this, may learn the pure and unadulterated truth.

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.

Fr. John Santor posted a question yesterday to my translation of St. Basil’s Sermon to the Rich, asking if I could direct him to the passage where Basil says something like the following, “You with a second coat in your closet, it does not belong to you. You have stolen it from the poor man who is shivering in the cold.” I looked for this passage today, and I think I have found it, not word for word, but very much the same thought. I post the text here, since it seems to me it deserves to be read by as many people as possible.


From St. Basil the Great, Homilia in illud dictum evangelii secundum Lucam: «Destruam horrea mea, et majora ædificabo:» itemque de avaritia (Homily on the saying of the Gospel According to Luke, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” and on greed), §7 (PG 31, 276B – 277A).

Οὐχὶ γυμνὸς ἐξέπεσες τῆς γαστρός; οὐ γυμνὸς πάλιν εἰς τὴν γὴν ὑποστρέψεις; Τὰ δὲ παρόντα σοι πόθεν; Εἰ μὲν ἀπὸ ταυτομάτου λέγεις, ἄθεος εἶ, μὴ γνωρίζων τὸν κτίσαντα, μηδὲ χάριν ἔχων τῷ δεδωκότι· εἰ δὲ ὁμολογεῖς εἶναι παρὰ Θεοῦ, εἰπὲ τὸν /276C/ λόγον ἡμῖν δι᾽ ὃν ἔλαβες. Μὴ ἄδικος ὁ Θεός, ὁ ἀνίσως ἡμῖν διαιρῶν τὰ τοῦ βίου; Διὰ τί σὺ μὲν πλουτεῖς, ἐκεῖνος δὲ πένεται; Ἢ πάντως, ἵνα καὶ σὺ χρηστότητος καὶ πιστῆς οἰκονομίας μισθὸν ὑποδέξῃ, κἀκεῖνος τοῖς μεγάλοις ἄθλοις τῆς ὑπομονῆς τιμηθῇ; Σὺ δέ, πάντα τοῖς ἀπληρώτοις τῆς πλεονεξίας κόλποις περιλαβών, οὐδένα οἴει ἀδικεῖν τοσούτους ἀποστερῶν; Τίς ἐστιν ὁ πλεονέκτης; Ὁ μὴ ἐμμένων τῇ αὐταρκεῖᾳ. Τίς δέ ἐστιν ὁ ἀποστερητής; Ὁ ἀφαιρούμενος τὰ ἑκάστου. Σὺ δὲ οὐ πλεονέκτης; σὺ δὲ οὐκ ἀποστερητής; ἃ πρὸς οἰκονομίαν ἐδέξω, ταῦτα ἴδια σεαυτοῦ ποιούμενος; Ἢ ὁ μὲν /277Α/ ἐνδεδυμένον ἀπογυμνῶν λωποδύτης ὀνομασθήσεται· ὁ δὲ τὸν γυμνὸν μὴ ἐνδύων, δυνάμενος τοῦτο ποιεῖν, ἄλλης τινὸς ἐστι προσηγορίας ἄξιος; Τοῦ πεινῶντός ἐστιν ὁ ἄρτος, ὃν σὺ κατέχεις· τοῦ γυμνητεύοντος τὸ ἱμάτιον, ὃ σὺ φυλάσσεις ἐν ἀποθήκαις· τοῦ ἀνυποδέτου τὸ ὑπόδημα, ὃ παρὰ σοὶ κατασήπεται· τοῦ χρῄζοντος τὸ ἀργύριον, ὃ κατορύξας ἔχεις. Ὥστε τοσούτους ἀδικεῖς, ὅσοις παρέχειν ἐδύνασο. Naked did you not drop from the womb? Shall you not return again naked to the earth? Where have the things you now possess come from? If you say they just spontaneously appeared, then you are an atheist, not acknowledging the Creator, nor showing any gratitude towards the one who gave them. But if you say that they are from God, declare to us the reason why you received them. Is God unjust, who divided to us the things of this life unequally? Why are you wealthy while that other man is poor? Is it, perhaps, in order that you may receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship, and in order that he may be honored with great prizes for his endurance? But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.

Below is presented a passage from an important letter of St. Augustine’s on the subject of the vision of God, epistola 147 To Paulina.* The letter, written probably in the year 413, often goes by the title de videndo Deo “On Seeing God”; with 54 enumerated paragraphs, it is long enough to be a small book. The letter deals largely with the question of how, if many people in the Old Testament had visions of God, and if it is promised that the Christian faithful shall “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2), it is nevertheless true that, as the Evangelist John says, “no man hath seen God at any time” (Jn 1:18). The selection here translated consists of §20 and the beginning of §21 of that letter (= chapter VIII and the beginning of chapter IX); the Latin text is taken from vol. XI of the Obras de San Agustin (Madrid, 1953; edited by Fr. Lope Cilleruelo, O.S.A.), pp. 218, 220; the translation is my own.

*For some reason, Frederick Van Fleteren, in an article on this letter in the encyclopedia titled Augustine through the Ages (Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., 1999, p. 869), speaks of it as though it were addressed to Paulinus of Nola; but the letter begins by addressing the famula Dei Paulina, the handmaid of God Paulina, who is clearly not the same person as that bishop and poet.

✜  ✜  ✜
20. Invisibilis est igitur natura Deus, non tantum Pater, sed et ipsa Trinitas, unus Deus. Et quia non tantum invisibilis, sed et ipsa Trinitas, unus Deus. Et quia non tantum invisibilis, verum etiam incommutabilis; sic apparet quibus voluerit, in qua voluerit specie, ut apud eum integra maneat eius invisibilis incommutabilisque natura. Desiderium autem veraciter piorum, quo videre Deum cupiunt, et inhianter ardescunt, non opinor, in eam speciem contuendam flagrat, qua ut vult apparet, quod ipse non est; sed in eam substantiam, qua ipse est quod est. Huius enim desiderii sui flammam sanctus Moyses, fidelis famulus eius ostendit, ubi ait Deo, cum quo ut amicus facie ad faciem loquebatur: Si inveni gratiam ante te, ostende mihi temetipsum. Quid ergo? ille non erat ipse? Si non esset ipse, non ei diceret, ostende mihi temetipsum; sed, Ostende mihi Deum: et tamen si eius naturam substantiamque conspiceret, multo minus diceret, ostende mihi temetipsum. Ipse ergo erat in ea specie qua apparere voluerat; non autem ipse apparebat in natura propria, quam Moyses videre cupiebat. Ea quippe promittitur sanctis in alia vita. Unde quod responsum est Moysi verum est, quia nemo potest faciem Dei videre, et vivere; id est, nemo potest eum in hac vita videre vivens sicuti est. Nam multi viderunt; sed quod voluntas elegit, non quod natura formavit. Et illud quod Ioannes ait, si recte intelligitur, Dilectissimi, nunc filii Dei sumus, et nondum apparuit quod erimus. Scimus quia cum apparuerit, similes ei erimus; quoniam videbimus eum sicuti est: non sicut eum homines viderunt, quando voluit, in specie qua voluit, non in natura, qua in semetipso, etiam cum videretur, latuit; sed sicuti est, quod ab eo petebatur, cum ei diceretur, ostende mihi temetipsum, ab eo qui cum illo facie ad faciem loquebatur. 20. Therefore God is by nature invisible, not only the Father, but the very Trinity itself, the one God. And because he is not only invisible, but also immutable, he thus appears to whom he wills, in whatever form he wills, in such a way that his invisible and immutable nature remains with him intact. Still, the desire of pious people who genuinely yearn to see God and are on fire for this with breathless longing does not, I think, burn to behold him in that form which, although he appears in it as he wills, he himself is not; rather, it longs to see him in that substance which itself is what he is. For the holy man Moses, his faithful servant, showed the flame of this desire for him when he said to God — with whom, as a friend, he was wont to speak face to face — “If I have found grace in thy sight, show me thyself” (Exod 33:13 LXX). What then? was it not he himself [with whom he spoke]? If it were not he himself, he would not have said to him, “show me thyself,” but, “show me God.” Yet, at the same time, if he had had clear sight of his nature and substance, much less would he have said “show me thyself.” He was, therefore, in that form in which he had willed to appear; he did not appear in that proper nature of his, which Moses yearned to see. That, in fact, is promised to the saints in another life. For this reason, what was said to Moses in reply is true, that no one can see God’s face and live (Exod 33:20): that is, no one, living in this life, can see him as he is. For many have seen; but they saw what the will chose, not what the nature has shaped. And that thing which John says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2) — that is, we shall see him, not in the way that people used to see him, when he willed, in whatever form he willed, not in his nature, in which, even when he was seen, he remained hidden in himself; but as he is — if this is rightly understood, that is what was requested of God when it was said to him “show me thyself” by the one with whom he used to speak face to face.
21. Non quia Dei plenitudinem quisquam, non solum oculis corporis, sed vel ipsa mente aliquando comprehendit. Aliud est enim videre, aliud est totum videndo comprehendere…. 21. Not that anyone ever comprehends the fulness of God, whether with the eyes of the body, or even with the mind itself. For it is one thing to see, and another thing, in seeing, to comprehend the whole….

In the discussion to a recent post (The debate on Bekkos’s Epigraphs), some skepticism has been expressed concerning an identification, made by theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Bessarion of Nicaea, between God’s will and God’s being. For this reason, I thought I would present here a couple of passages which show St. Cyril of Alexandria asserting this very identification; i.e., he explicitly states that God is whatever he has, and that will and being in God are the same. A strong view of divine simplicity is traditional Christian theology, not a medieval, Latin invention or a Platonizing corruption.


St. Cyril of Alexandria, Dialogues on the Trinity (Ad Hermiam), book V; SC 237 (de Durand, ed.), p. 290; PG 75, 945 C.

Hermias. And how, they say, is the divine simple if, in existence on the one hand and in will on the other, it is conceived of separately? For then it would be composite and as though it existed, in a way, out of parts that had come together into a closer unity. Β. Καὶ πῶς ἂν εἴη τὸ θεῖον ἁπλοῦν εἰ καὶ ἐν ὑπάρξει νοοῖτο, φησί, καὶ ἐν θελήσει διωρισμένους; Σύνθετον γὰρ ἤδη καὶ οἱονεί πως ἐκ μερῶν εἱς ἓν τὸ ἀρτίως ἔχον συνδεδραμηκότοιν.
Cyril. Therefore, since, in your view, the divine is simple and exists above all composition (and this view of yours is correct), his will is nothing other than he himself. And if someone says “will,” he indicates the nature of God the Father. Α. Οὐκοῦν, ἐπειδήπερ ἁπλοῦν τὸ θεῖον καὶ ἄμεινον ἢ κατὰ σύνθεσιν εἶναί σοι δοκεῖ (δοκεῖ δὲ ὀρθῶς), οὐχ ἑτέρα παρ᾽ αὐτὸ εἴη ἂν ἡ βούλησις αὐτοῦ. Θέλησιν δέ τις εἰπών, τὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ Πατρὸς κατεσήμηνε φύσιν.
Hermias. So it would appear. Β. Ἔοικεν.
* * *

St. Cyril, Dialogues on the Trinity, book VII; SC 246 (de Durand, ed.), pp. 200-202; PG 75, 1109 B-C.

Cyril. How then can that by which and in which God accomplishes his operations with regard to the creation and makes himself known as Creator of all things be a creature, subject to becoming? For perhaps it is already time for us to make this claim. If they pretend that such is the state of things, they will be obliged, even unwillingly, to confess the created character of the divine energy. And what is the consequence? An odious blasphemy, opinions opposed to good sense, good for bringing an accusation of the height of stupidity. For if one is not too poorly endowed with the decency which befits wise men, one will say that the divine being is properly and primarily simple and incomposite; one will not, dear friend, venture to think that it is composed out of nature and energy, as though, in the case of the divine, these are naturally other; one will believe that it exists as entirely one thing with all that it substantially possesses. Thus, if anyone says that his energy, that is, his Spirit, is something created and made, even while it belongs to him in a proper sense, then the Deity, surely, will be a creature, given that his operation is no other thing than he himself. Isn’t the claim abominable and hateful, and one which has a great tendency towards practical impiety? Α. Πῶς οὖν ἄρα τὸ δι᾽ οὗ καὶ ἐν ῷ Θεὸς ἐνεργὸς περὶ τὴν κτίσιν καὶ τῶν ὅλων ὁρᾶται δημιουργὸς γενητὸν ἂν εἴη καὶ ἐκτισμένον; Ὥρα γὰρ ἤδη πως ἡμᾶς εἰπεῖν ὡς, εἴπερ ὧδε ἔχειν ἐροῦσι τὸ χρῆμα, κτιστὴν εἶναι τοῦ Θεοῦ τὴν ἐνέργειαν καὶ οὐχ ἑκόντες ὁμολογήσουσι. Καὶ τί τὸ ἐντεῦθεν; Θεομισὴς δυσφημία, παλίμφημοι δόξαι, καὶ τῆς εἰς ἄκρον ἡκούσης ἀμαθίας ἐγκλήματα. Ἐρεῖ γάρ, οἶμαι, τὶς τῆς ἀνδράσι πρεπούσης σοφοῖς εὐκοσμίας ἠφειδηκὼς ἁπλοῦν καὶ ἀσύνθετον κυρίως τε καὶ πρώτως τὸ Θεῖον, ὦ τᾶν, οὐκ ἐκ φύσεως καὶ ἐνεργείας ὡς παρ᾽ αὐτὸ φυσικῶς ἑτέρας συντεθεῖσθαι νοούμενον, ἀλλ᾽ ἕν τι τὸ σύμπαν ὑπάρχειν μεθ᾽ ὧν ἂν οὐσιωδῶς ἔχοι πεπιστευμένον. Οὐκοῦν εἰ λέγοιτο κτιστὴν καὶ πεποιημένην τὴν ἐνέργειαν ἔχειν, ἰδίαν οὖσαν αὐτοῦ, τουτέστι τὸ Πνεῦμα, καὶ αὐτό που πάντως ἔσται κτιστόν, ἐπεὶ μὴ ἕτερόν τι παρ᾽ αὐτὸ τὸ ἐνεργὲς αὐτοῦ. Ἆρ᾽ οὐ στυγητὸς καὶ ἀπεχθὴς ὁ λόγος, καὶ πολὺ διανενευκὼς εἰς τὸ πεποιῆσθαι δυσσεβῶς;

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.

Work on St. Maximus

April 28, 2009

Since Easter, I have been busy working for a woman who has finished a translation of a work by St. Maximus the Confessor, and who plans to publish it; I have been hired to check the translation. It probably is best not to mention the name of the woman or of the work. I have been finding the text (mostly a series of biblical and patristic comments) extremely interesting, although the translation has needed a lot of correction, and Maximus’s Greek is notoriously difficult. The work makes clear Maximus’s deep indebtedness to the Greek philosophical tradition, showing the very subtle ways in which he integrates that tradition with Christian theology and with a reading of Scripture. For instance, in his understanding of spiritual progress, he continually draws upon the distinction between ethics, natural philosophy, and theology (ontology) that Aristotle had made some eight or nine centuries earlier. Natural philosophy corresponds to a specific stage in spiritual life: in one place Maximus says that, although we were created so that we should start with the cause of all things and descend from there to understand things of experience in the light of their cause, we became entranced by the things of sense perception and took them as ends in themselves, as things no longer implying a reference to their transcendent source. What Maximus calls “natural contemplation,” φυσικὴ θεωρία, is the process of raising up the mind, through the things of sense perception, to their cause; it is a way restoring to the senses their right use.

In one difficult passage I was reading yesterday, Maximus considers a text from St. Gregory the Theologian, which asks how a word is begotten in one mind and yet begets a word in another mind. Maximus approaches the question, first by noting that only God is perfectly free and simple; everything else, having its being from God, exists as a combination of essence and quality (or potentiality, or accident). Then Maximus seems to speak of mind as, in some sense, unbegotten (or ungenerated) and, in another sense, as begetting itself, or begetting a word in itself; the passage is sufficiently obscure that the editor proposes an alternative reading for part of the text. But it occurred to me, in reading it, that what Maximus may be speaking about in the passage is what Aristotle called “active” and “passive” mind. In De anima, III.5, Aristotle distinguishes a sense in which mind creates the forms from a sense in which mind receives the forms of things. I have never been entirely sure what Aristotle means by this distinction — it is at least clear that Aristotle does not mean that the perceptual world depends upon human subjectivity for its reality* — but it does seem to me that that is the thought that St. Gregory’s question has raised in St. Maximus’s mind.

Anyway, if I have not been posting much to this blog, it is because I am supposed to be getting this work done by the end of April, i.e., in two or three days, and I still have a long way to go.


*My guess is that what Aristotle means is that the common intelligibility of things, and the common intelligibility of language, implies a transcendent source, something actively making the world intelligible.