Last week I attended a conference at Fordham University on the theme of “Orthodox Constructions of the West.” The conference took place at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, and lasted for three days, Monday through Wednesday, June 28-30. I drove in each day from my home in Northern New Jersey, and acted as a driver for two other scholars, one of whom lives in New Jersey, another of whom was visiting from Greece and stayed at my home during the conference. Because I woke up around 5:00-5:30 a.m. on the days of the conference, and nevertheless went to bed at my usual hour (midnight – 1:00), by the end of it I was thoroughly exhausted. But the conference was well worth the effort made to attend it.

The organizers, Drs. Aristotle Papanikolaou and George Demacopoulos, professors of theology at Fordham University, have managed to turn Fordham into a thriving center for Orthodox studies. Both of them are relatively young, probably not much past their mid-30’s. They are a dynamic pair of scholars, all evidence suggests that they strongly support Orthodox-Catholic ecumenism, and one can only expect further good things from them in the years to come. The themes of the two conferences they have hosted so far — Orthodox Readings of Augustine in 2007 and Orthodox Constructions of the West this year — point to a settled desire to foster a more positive Orthodox reception of the West and its theology, or at least, a more critical stance toward standard Orthodox portrayals of the West as irredeemably Other.

I took many notes at the conference, and made use of a small digital recording device, which will allow me to provide some extended, verbatim quotations. (I hope that that will not involve me in any legal difficulties.) At present, I expect to follow up this present post with at least one or two more on the conference’s proceedings.

(1) Fr. Taft’s address

The tone of the conference was ably set by the first speaker, Fr. Robert F. Taft, SJ, the world’s foremost living scholar on the Byzantine liturgy. (Dr. Demacopoulos, in introducing him, noted with amazement that he has over 800 publications to his name.) His keynote address, delivered on Monday morning, was titled, “Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future.” The title, phrased in such general terms, does not do his talk justice. It was, in fact, a passionately argued plea to both sides for historical objectivity and fairness when dealing with the problem of the continuing breach of communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Near the beginning of his talk, Fr. Taft stated the following:

I have on more than one occasion made clear in print the positions I am happy to repeat here: that I consider the Orthodox Churches the historic, apostolic Christianity of the East, and sister Churches of the Catholic Church; that I recognize and rejoice in the fact that Orthodox peoples remain Orthodox, that the Catholic Church should support and collaborate with the Orthodox Churches in every way, foster the most cordial relations with them, earnestly work to restore communion with them, recognize their legitimate interests, especially on their own ground, avoid all proselytism among their flocks there or elsewhere, not seek in any way to undercut them, nor rejoice in or exploit their weaknesses, nor fish in their pond, nor seek to convert their faithful to the Catholic Church. But I espouse with equal explicitness the view that it is counterproductive for the cause of Christian unity and ecumenism to roll over and play dead in the face of any Catholic or Orthodox misbehavior, misinformation, or outright lying with regard to our dolorous past or to the problems that exist between us in the present. On these issues I speak from a lifetime of personal experience and proven love for Orthodoxy and its tradition, as clearly demonstrated by over half a century of studies, scholarship, and innumerable publications, both scholarly and popular.

A large portion of Fr. Taft’s talk was devoted to showing that “misbehavior” in the dolorous past — the use of secular force in support of religious objectives, the suppression of ancient Christian traditions foreign to one’s own — had been a practice common to all sides, and no one, certainly not the Jesuits, and certainly not the Orthodox, could pretend that their own Church had not engaged in it. From listening to him, one gets the sense that Fr. Taft, in his long and distinguished academic and ecumenical career, has had considerable experience of Orthodox selective memory — the sort of mentality that recalls the Fourth Crusade as though it had happened yesterday, but completely blocks out other significant historical facts, e.g., the fact that, not many years before the Fourth Crusade, some thousands of Latins were slaughtered in Constantinople in cold blood, and the papal delegate’s severed head was tied to a dog’s tail and dragged through the streets. For Fr. Taft, the lies we tell about our own and each other’s histories are a more important source of estrangement than theological ideas as such. By uncovering those lies, genuine scholarship forces us to question our demonizing of the Other, our self-representation as mere victims of history and persons needing no repentance.

My overall thesis is quite simple. Contrary to what one might think, the main problem we Catholics and Orthodox face in our ecumenical dialogue is not doctrine, but behavior. The issue is not that Catholics and Orthodox do not know how to pray and believe and live Christianity in the right and true apostolic way; the problem is that we do not know how to act. Learning to do so will mean adopting what I call “ecumenical scholarship and theology.” Ecumenical scholarship is not content with the purely natural virtues of honesty and fairness, virtues one should be able to expect from any true scholar. Ecumenical scholarship is a new and specifically Christian way of studying Christian tradition in order to reconcile and unite, rather than to confute and dominate. Its deliberate intention is to emphasize the common tradition underlying our differences, which, though real, are usually the accidental product of history, culture, language, rather than essential differences in the doctrine of the common, apostolic faith. Of course, to remain scholarly this effort must be carried out realistically, without glossing over real differences. But even in recognizing differences, this ecumenical effort must remain a two-way street, with each side judging itself and its tradition by the exact same criteria and standards with which it judges the other. Eschewing all scapegoating and a double-standard, ecumenical scholarship seeks to describe the beliefs, traditions, and usages of other confessions in ways their own, objective spokespersons recognize as reliable and fair. So ecumenical scholarship seeks not confrontation, but agreement and understanding; it tries to enter into the other’s point of view, to understand it, in so far as possible, with sympathy and agreement. It takes seriously the other’s critique of one’s own tradition, seeking to incorporate its positive contributions into one’s own thinking. It is a contest in reverse, a contest of Christian love, one in which the parties seek to understand and justify not their own point of view, but that of their interlocutors. Such an effort and method is not baseless romanticism; its theological foundation is our common faith, and God’s Holy Spirit is always with his Church, protecting the integrity of its witness, especially in the millennium of its undivided unity. Since some of the issues that divide us go right back to the first millennium, one must ineluctably conclude that these differences do not affect the substance of the apostolic faith, for, if they did, then, contrary to Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16, the gates of hell would indeed have prevailed against his Church.

As for myself, I am not sure that I agree with Fr. Taft’s assessment, that behavior and not doctrine is the chief impediment to Christian unity. But I accept his fundamental claim, that a conversion of hearts is necessary, and that ecumenical scholarship, in the sense that he uses the term, must play an important role in any such a conversion. I hope that my own work on John Bekkos will eventually deserve to be seen as one manifestation of what he calls “a contest of Christian love.”


(2) Symposium I: Byzantium and Beyond

Before going on, I should mention that much of my own interest in the conference centered upon meeting various of the participants. One of them was an Englishman, a Catholic priest, who goes by the internet name of “Fr. Paul,” with whom I had in fact corresponded for two or three years, since both of us are currently working on John Bekkos. He was the scholar, mentioned above, who was visiting from Greece and who stayed at my house in New Jersey for the duration of the conference. I met him for the first time last Monday, after Fr. Taft’s address, and had lunch with him. On Thursday, after the conference was over, I brought him into New York City, and, after taking him to see the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the World Trade Center site, and the Strand Bookstore, put him onto a subway train headed for Grand Central Station. As I have not heard back from him yet, I hope he reached his intended destination.

When the conference reconvened after lunch, Aristotle Papanikolaou introduced Dr. Demetrios Katos of Hellenic College, who chaired the first symposium, devoted to readings of the West in Byzantium and afterwards.

Dr. Tia M. Kolbaba of Rutgers gave the first lecture of the symposium, titled “The Tenth Century: Orthodox Constructions of the West in the Golden Age of Byzantium.” She noted that she approaches this subject of Byzantium primarily as a historian, not as a theologian, and that her lecture would be chiefly historical in nature. The chief things I learned from hearing it are, first, that a concern with the question of “azymes” (i.e., the use of unleavened bread in the eucharist) formed no part of the Byzantine critique of the West prior to the eleventh century, and that it first occurred in polemics, not against the West, but against the Armenian Church. Secondly, I learned that certain scholars now believe that the quarrel on the Mount of Olives in the early ninth century between Greek and Latin monks that is usually seen as a significant milestone in the history of the Filioque controversy actually never took place, that it is the fabrication of a later Latin author. I asked Dr. Kolbaba about this later, and she referred me to two works:

  • Claudia Sode, Jerusalem, Konstantinopel, Rom. Die Viten des Michael Synkellos und der Brüder Theodoros und Theophanes Graptoi (Stuttgart 2001), esp. pp. 171-187, “Excursus: Der sogenante Jerusalem Filioquestreit.”
  • Daniel Callahan, “The Problem of the ‘Filioque’ and the letter from the Pilgrim Monks of the Mount of Olives to Pope Leo III and Charlemagne. Is the Letter another Forgery by Adhemar of Chabannes?” Revue bénédictine 102 (1992), 75-134.

Thirdly, I learned that Dr. Kolbaba thinks that the Mystagogy of St. Photius is not one work, and that at least part of it, or perhaps even the whole of it, is not by St. Photius himself. She argues this point in a new book of hers, Inventing Latin Heretics: Byzantines and the Filioque in the Ninth Century, which I have not yet seen. I am interested to read the book and assess her argument, but I confess that, until I am persuaded by evidence, I remain skeptical.

* * *

The next lecturer was Dr. Marcus Plested, Vice Principal of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge University, who will be spending the next year at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton here in New Jersey; he gave a talk titled, “‘Light from the West’: Byzantine Readings of Aquinas.” As a Greek Orthodox Christian who, in my undergraduate work and afterwards, has spent much time reading St. Thomas and who has a real admiration for him, I was predisposed to hear the lecture with great interest.

Perhaps the high point of the lecture, for me, was when Dr. Plested quoted, in translation, a Byzantine canon in honor of Aquinas, written by one Joseph of Methone. (Dr. Plested unfortunately neglected to mention that Joseph of Methone was a fifteenth-century Greek bishop who supported the Union of Florence.) The passage went something like this:

As a light from the West, he has illumined the Church of Christ,
the musical swan and subtle teacher, Thomas the All-Blessed,
Aquinas by name (Ἀκῖνος τῇ κλήσει), to whom, gathered together, we cry,
“Hail, O universal Teacher!”

If I were to sum up the theme of Dr. Plested’s lecture, it would be that the usual assumption that East and West operate with fundamentally different theological methodologies is “an assumption of relatively recent provenance”; it was by no means taken for granted in the late Byzantine empire that the kind of systematic analysis of theological questions displayed by Thomas in his writings is a form of theological reasoning that should be off-limits to Greek theologians. Not only was it emulated by the Kydones brothers, Demetrios and Prochoros, who translated numerous of Aquinas’s works into Greek, but it was also emulated by such Palamite, anti-unionist writers as Nilos Kabasilas and, later, George Gennadios Scholarios.

If I have a criticism of Dr. Plested’s lecture, it would chiefly be that his account of Thomas’s influence on the East was confined almost exclusively to questions of methodology, leaving out most questions of theological substance. It is all very well that a writer like Nilos Kabasilas (not to be confused with his nephew, Nicholas Kabasilas, who, though also a Palamite, eschewed theological controversy) uses scholastic method to undermine Thomas’s own postulates. From my own point of view, it is equally important to note that some Byzantines, like Manuel Kalekas and John Kyparissiotes, thought that Kabasilas was wrong, and they thought he was wrong, not on the basis of some abstract philosophical principles, but on the grounds that his theological postulates (e.g., the existence of four really existent “natures” in God) disagreed with the unanimous testimony of the fathers. In other words, a case could be made that Aquinas is himself a patristic theologian, and that that is how at least some of the Byzantines read him.

* * *

The next speaker was Dr. Norman Russell, now of London University. He gave a talk titled, “From the Shield of Orthodoxy to the Tome of Joy: the Anti-Western Stance of Dositheos II of Jerusalem (1641-1707).”

I had some slight acquaintance with Dr. Russell many years ago when I was a student at Oxford and he was living nearby at Campion Hall, and I confess that my first impressions centered less on the substance of his talk than on his marked change in appearance. His hair has gone mostly white, he now wears a close-cropped white beard that reminded me of someone I couldn’t quite place, probably some major literary figure from the late nineteenth century. But what most impressed me was his distinctly Orthodox appearance, Orthodox of a certain definite school or type. It would not surprise one, seeing him for the first time, to learn that this was a man who had written a major contemporary study of deification in the Greek fathers. When, at length, I spoke with him, he was very gracious to me; and, throughout the conference, he carried himself with a certain quiet dignity.

Near the beginning of his talk, Dr. Russell summed up the chief point of his argument in the following words:

What I wish to do in this paper is to suggest reasons why we should see Dositheos, not merely as an accomplished apologist, bound by the confessional mentality that characterized so many of his contemporaries, but as a man fired by a vision of Orthodoxy’s ecumenicity.

I will have to listen to the lecture again, to see if I can discern that point as emerging out of Dr. Russell’s narrative. Most of the actual notes I jotted down were more pedestrian in nature; I had known very little about Patriarch Dositheos II of Jerusalem before hearing this lecture, and so I wrote down whatever intriguing facts seemed to me worth remembering. I learned, for instance, that Dositheos wrote against one of my favorite authors, Leo Allatius, the original editor of most of Bekkos’s works, depicting him as someone who “uttered extreme blasphemies against the Eastern Church.” I learned that Dositheos’s Tome of Reconciliation was written against the Council of Florence, that his Tome of Love was written against Baronius, Bellarmine, and others, and that his Tome of Joy took a yet “more shrill” tone, in inveighing against Uniatism as the supreme danger for the Orthodox Church (this at a time when the Ottoman Turks had finally been turned back at the Battle of Vienna, and Western forces, having managed to take back some of Southeastern Europe, were imposing Western ecclesiastical jurisdiction in these territories, e.g., in Transylvania). He wrote a work against papal primacy, which was rebutted by the historian Le Quien (best known as the author of the work Oriens Christianus). He published a number of Palamite texts for the first time. He was pro-Russian, but disapproved of Peter the Great’s ecclesiastical policy. He was ordained a deacon at the age of eleven, and was raised to the office of Patriarch of Jerusalem at the age of 28. Finally, Dr. Russell said, Dositheos should be seen as standing in continuity with the Palamite, anti-unionist writers of the last Byzantine centuries. I suppose that that is a recommendation, though I cannot help thinking that the assessment given by Gerhard Podskalsky, cited by Dr. Russell early in his lecture, remains accurate: “Dositheos is remembered chiefly as a church politician of a high order, and an organizer and patron of Orthodox apologetics against the West.”


Because this is the hottest day New Jersey has seen in nearly a decade, with temperatures approaching 100º Fahrenheit, and there is no air conditioner in my home, I will now leave off reporting the proceedings from last week’s Fordham Conference, and will go seek shelter from the heat wave at the public library.

Pages from a lost book

June 12, 2010

As mentioned in a recent post, I have lately been editing and translating a book by John Bekkos that has remained in manuscript for some seven hundred years. It was written around the year 1280 against an anonymous writer who, perhaps in the year 1279, had published against Bekkos, and against the union of the Churches, a collection of some 49 theological chapters. When the Emperor Michael VIII died in December 1282, and the political/ecclesiastical situation radically changed, the anonymous writer made himself known: he was George Moschabar, professor of exegesis at the patriarchal school. Informally, I will refer to the work Bekkos wrote in 1280 as Against George Moschabar instead of using the long, cumbersome title given by Bekkos himself (Refutations of the recently-discovered chapters which were written anonymously against the ecclesiastical peace). But it is worth bearing in mind that Bekkos later wrote yet another work against Moschabar, which has unfortunately not survived; perhaps I could refer to that later work as Against George Moschabar, Part II.

In any case, I have decided to present here a few paragraphs from the beginning of the book, including both the Greek text and my English translation. And, although I would like to think that no reader of this blog would be so unscrupulous as to lay claim to another person’s work, in this fallen world I cannot assume this; so I hereby assert copyright protection over these writings, as their translator and editor.

τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἀντιρρητικὰ τῶν κατὰ τῆς ἐκκλησιαστικῆς εἰρήνης ἀνεπιγράφων εὑρεθέντων κεφαλαίων :~ By the same author: Refutations of the recently-discovered chapters which were written anonymously against the ecclesiastical peace.
Πάλιν ἡμῖν ἀγῶνες καὶ πάλιν περὶ τὸ λέγειν ὁρμαί· ἂν δ’ οἱ νῦν ἀγῶνες τῶν προτέρων διάφοροι, οὐχὶ διάφορον καὶ τὸ ὑποκείμενον· ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν ὑποκείμενον ἕν· ἡ δὲ τῶν ἀγώνων χρῆσις διάφορος, ὅτι διαφόρως τῷ ἑνὶ τούτῳ ὑποκειμένῳ οἱ πρὸς οὓς ἡμεῖς τοὺς ἀγῶνας καὶ ἐποιησάμεθα καὶ ποιοῦμεν ἐχρήσαντο. ἀλλ᾽ εἰς τί μοι ταῦτα καὶ λέλεκται; τὴν διάστασιν τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν τῆς παλαιᾶς φημι Ῥώμης καὶ τῆς νέας τε καὶ ἡμετέρας, ἀγνοεῖ τῶν ἁπάντων ὅστις οὐδεῖς· ἀγνοεῖ δὲ ὡσαύτως οὐδείς, καὶ τὴν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἡμῶν μεταξὺ αὐτῶν γεγονυῖαν εἰρήνην. καὶ ὁ περὶ τῆς διαστάσεως ταύτης καὶ εἰρήνης τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν λόγος, τὸ τῶν ἀγώνων ἡμῖν ὑποκείμενον· ἡ δὲ τῶν ἀγώνων διάφορος χρῆσις, ὅτι τοῖς τῶν πρὸ ἡμῶν συγγράμμασιν ἐντυχόντες ἡμεῖς οἷς ἐπὶ συγκροτήσει τοῦ ἐκκλησιαστικοῦ ἐκεῖνοι ἐχρήσαντο σχίσματος, οὐκ ἐφ’ ὕβρει ἐκείνων καἰ καταφορᾷ ὡσπερεὶ μανιώδει, τοῖς κατ’ ἐκείνων ἀντιρρητικοῖς ἐχρησάμεθα· ἀλλὰ προσηνῶς καὶ ἡμέρως καὶ τὸ πᾶν εἰπεῖν ἀδελφικῶς, τὸν κατὰ τοῦ ψεύδους ἐκείνων ἀγῶνα ἐνευρησάμεθα. νῦν δὲ χρείας καλούσης κατὰ τῶν νῦν ἀντιλεγόντων διαγωνίσασθαι, οὐκ ἔχομεν μετὰ τῆς αὐτῆς τοῦτο μεταχειρίσασθαι διαθέσεως· καὶ τὸ αἴτιον, ὅτι οἱ πρὸ ἡμῶν τοῖς Ἰταλοῖς ἀντιλέγοντες ὑπὲρ ὧν ἡμεῖς τὸν τῆς ἀντιρρήσεως πρὸ μικροῦ ἐνεστησάμεθα, οὐχ οὕτω βλασφημίαις ἐκτόποις καὶ ἀλλοκάτοις κατὰ τῆς εὐσεβείας ἐχρήσαντο· οὐδ’ οὕτω τὰς θεολογικὰς φωνὰς τῶν ἁγίων παρεξηγήσαντο, ὡς οἱ τοῦ νῦν καιροῦ ἐπὶ τῷ ἐκκλησιαστικῷ σχίσματι ζηλωταί. καὶ παρὰ τὴν αἰτίαν ταύτην, φθάνομεν ἑαυτῶν ἐν τοῖς νῦν ἀγῶσιν ὑπεραπολογούμενοι, καὶ αἰτούμενοι, μηδένα τῶν τούτοις ἐντυγχανόντων σκαιᾶς τινος καὶ ἀπαιδεύτου γνώμης ἡμᾶς γράψασθαι, ἀπὸ τοῦ τοῖς ἡμετέροις ἐμφέρεσθαι γράμμασι παρ’ ἡμῶν τὰς ἀξίας τῆς κακονοίας αὐτῶν δυσφημίας. ἀνὴρ γάρ τις τῆς εὐσεβείας ὢν ζηλωτὴς καὶ ἀσεβὴς ἀκούων καὶ βλάσφημος παρὰ τοῦ ἀληθῶς βλασφημοῦντος καὶ κακῶς διαβάλλοντος τὴν ἀλήθειαν, πῶς ἂν ἄλλως ἢ κατὰ τὸν ὅμοιον τρόπον τοὺς τῆς ἀληθείας συκοφάντας ἀμείψαιτο; καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν ἡ ἐπὶ τῷ αὐτῷ ὑποκειμένῳ διάφορος χρῆσις τῶν ἀγώνων ἡμῶν ὑπὲρ ἧς ἡμᾶς δυσχεραίνομεν, ἀποτρόπαιόν τι νομίζοντες καὶ τῆς ἡμῶν προαιρέσεως ἀλλοτριώτατον τὸ δυσφήμως τοὺς προσδιαλεγομένους ἀμείβεσθαι· καὶ οὐκ ἄν ποτε εἰς τοῦτο ἔργον προήχθημεν, εἰ μὴ ἡ κατὰ τῆς εὐσεβείας λύττα καὶ μανιώδας τούτων παραφορὰ τὴν ἡμέτερον εἰς τοῦτο ζῆλον ἀνέκαυσαν· καὶ τὸ ἔτι κατ’ αὐτῶν ἐκκαῦσαι ἡμᾶς, ὅτι πάσης ἐρεσχελίας πλήρη ἀπερευγόμενοι καὶ ῥήματα καὶ νοήματα, ἀνεπιγράφης παραμεῖναι τῷ βίῳ τὰς αὐτῶν ἀντιρρήσεις ἐμηχανήσαντο· κακούργως διανοησάμενοι τὸ σατανικὸν τῆς κακίας κέρδος ἐντεῦθεν πορίσασθαι· ἔχει γάρ τε πρὸς τὴν σκοπὸν αὐτῶν τὸ ἀνύσιμον εἰ μὴ ἐξ ὀνομάτων τὰ βλάσφημα συγγράματα τούτων γινώσκοιντο· ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ μέχρις ὀνόματος ἔλαθον, ὁ δὲ δρασσόμενος τοὺς σοφοὺς ἐν τῇ πανουργίᾳ αὐτῶν, οὐχὶ καὶ αὐτὰ λαθεῖν ἀφῆκε τὰ τῆς πονηρᾶς αὐτῶν διανοίας ἐκτόκια, τῶν τῆς ἀληθείας ἐλέγχων ἀνώτερα· μήποτε τῷ ἀνεξελέγκτῳ, ἕξουσιν ἴσως ὀψὲ τοῦ χρόνου δόξαν ὑγιαινόντων ἔχειν δογμάτων. τοιγάρτοι χωροῦντες ἤδη ἐπὶ τῷ λέγειν, τοὺς ἐντευξομένους τοῖς παροῦσιν ἡμῶν ἀντιρρητικοῖς θερμῶς ἱκετεύομεν ἐν διανοίᾳ νηφούσῃ καὶ ἀπροσπαθεῖ διαγνώσει τοῖς ἑκατέρωθεν εἰρημένοις ἑαυτοὺς διανεῖμαι. Again we are faced with contests, and again there is the urge to speak. But our immediate contests differ from those which came earlier, although their subject matter differs not at all. But, whereas the subject matter is one and the same, the format of these contests differs, because our former combatants and our present ones have treated of this one subject matter in different ways. But what is it about which I am speaking? That it is the division between the churches, the churches of Old Rome, namely, and of our New Rome, that is in question, there is no one who is unaware. And, likewise, no one can be unaware of the peace which has come about between us and them in our own days. And the essential reason or rationale for the division and the peace of the churches — that constitutes the subject matter of our contests. But the reason why these contests take a different shape is that, when we came across the writings which were produced by those of earlier times in support of the schism, we did not, in our refutations of them, reply in kind to their hybris and violent, even maniacal language, but meekly and mildly and, in a word, in a brotherly way, we were found combating against their lie. But need now calls that, in confronting these present deniers, we cannot carry on in the same attitude; the reason is that those who, formerly, contradicted the Italians, and whom we earlier endeavored to refute, did not employ such bizarre and outlandish blasphemies against godly teaching, nor did they misinterpret the theological statements of the saints so brazenly as do the zealots for schism who are writing at this time. And, given this cause, we have been beforehand in this contest in making a self-defense, and in entreating all who may encounter these writings not to ascribe to us a perverse and uneducated frame of mind because of our allowing the rancorous character of these writers’ vindictiveness to be brought in by us into our own writings. For, when a man who is, in fact, zealous for orthodoxy hears himself being called “impious” and a “blasphemer” by someone who, in truth, blasphemes and wickedly maligns the truth, what other course ought he to follow than to answer those who attack the truth in a style like their own? And we would never have been led to undertake this work if our own zeal for orthodoxy had not been enflamed by these people’s fury and raving fanaticism against it. And if it still burns against them, it is because, when they belched forth words and notions full of sophistry, they contrived that their refutations be brought into the world with no indication of authorship, conceiving thereby wickedly to reap the satanic gain of malevolence: for there is, indeed, something effectual in these blasphemous writings towards accomplishing their goal, even if their authors are not known by name. But, although they are hidden as to their name, he who “takes the wise in their own craftiness” has not allowed the offspring of their wicked reasoning to remain hidden, so as to escape Truth’s refutations, lest, in the absence of a full rebuttal, their ideas should at some future time gain the reputation of being sound doctrines. However it may be, in commencing this discourse, we fervently entreat those who shall encounter these disputations to focus carefully, with sober reasoning and unbiased judgment, upon the things that have been said by both sides.
ὁ γάρ, καὶ οὐκ οἶδα τί ἂν αὐτὸν καὶ καλέσω, συκοφάντης δὲ ὅμως καὶ τῆς ἀληθείας ἐχθρὸς ὡς αὐτὰ παραστήσει τοῦτον αὐτοῦ τὰ συγγράματα, εἰς οὐκ ὀλίγα κεφάλαια τὰς ἑαυτοῦ διεῖλεν ἐρεχελίας· καὶ ὥσπερ δὴ νόμος τοῖς περιέργως πάντα καὶ φρονοῦσι καὶ πράττουσιν, ἄλλως καὶ ἄλλως περὶ τῶν αὐτῶν συνεγράψατο. ἐγώδε τὰ πάντων αὐτῶν ἀπολεγόμενος καιριώτερα καὶ οἷς ἂν καὶ ὁ τῶν σιωπωμένων συμπαρεκτείνοιτο ἔλεγχος, ἐπὶ τοῦ μέσου ἂν προτιθοίμην καὶ σαφῶς διασκευαζοίμην τὸν ἔλεγχον. For this man — for how I should address him, I don’t know, though that he is a caviller and an enemy of the truth is shown by these very writings of his — has divided his sophistry into not a few chapters. And, as is customary for those who act and think as perpetual busybodies, he has written over and over again about the same things, now in this way, now in that. But, for my part, I would structure my refutation in a clear manner and present it to the public in such a way as to reply only to those chapters that are most essential to his argument; thus, the refutation of these would apply also to those chapters which are passed over in silence.
ἐξ αὐτῆς γὰρ οὗτος αὐτίκα βαλβίδος, ἐπιγραφὴν τοῦ πρώτου κεφαλαίου ποιεῖται, ὅτι οὐ ταυτὸν ἐκπόρευσις καὶ χορηγία· ἔννοιαν ἐντεῦθεν ὑποτείνων τινὰ τοῦ λέγειν ἡμᾶς ταυτὸν εἶναι ἐκπόρευσιν καὶ χορηγίαν. μετὰ δὲ τὴν ἐπιγραφὴν τῶν λόγων ἀρχόμενος, οὕτως ἐπὶ λέξεων λέγει· Right from his point of departure, he composes this title for his first chapter: That procession and bestowal are not the same thing. In saying this, he implies that we in fact say that procession and bestowal are the same thing. Then, after beginning with this chapter heading, he goes on to say the following:
Οἱ τὴν τοῦ παναγίου πνεύματος ἐκπόρευσιν χορηγίαν εἶναι τιθέμενοι καὶ ἀποστολὴν ἢ πρόχυσιν ἢ πρόπεμψιν, ἀθετηταὶ ἂν εἶεν τῆς τούτου χαρακτηριστικῆς ἰδιότητος καὶ τῆς τοῦ Μακεδονίου δόξης ἀφιστάμενοι κατ’ οὐδέν· καὶ γὰρ ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνος τὴν ἐνυπόστατον τοῦ θείου πνεύματος ὕπαρξιν ἀθετῶν ἐνέργειαν χορηγουμένην ἐδογμάτιζε τοῦτο τοῖς μετειληφόσι καὶ δεκτικοῖς πρόσφορον καὶ εἰς ἀνυπαρξίαν κατῆγε τὴν πάσης οὐσίας καὶ ὑπάρξεως τοῦ θείου πνεύματος ὑπερούσιον οὐσίαν καὶ ὕπαρξιν, οὕτω καὶ οὗτοι τῆς ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑπὲρ αἰτίαν καὶ λόγον τοῦ θείου πνεύματος ὑπάρξεως ἀθετοῦσι τὴν ἀφοριστικὴν ἰδιότητα τὴν ἐκπόρευσιν ἣν ἡμεῖς καὶ δεδιδάγμεθα παρὰ τοῦ σωτῆρος Χριστοῦ καὶ πιστεύομεν· καὶ ὁμολογοῦμεν σημαντικὴν εἶναι τῆς τοῦ παρακλήτου θεοῦ ὑπάρξεως, ὅπως ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς ἔχει τὸ εἶναι ὅτι ἐκπορευτῶς ὥσπερ καὶ τὴν γέννησιν ἀφοριστικὴν τοῦ υἱοῦ ἰδιότητα· ὅπως καὶ οὗτος ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς ἔχει τὸ εἶναι καὶ γὰρ γεννητῶς. Those who would posit the All-Holy Spirit’s procession to be a bestowal and a mission or a shedding-forth or a sending-forth set aside his characteristic identifying feature and, without reason, take a stand with the doctrine of Macedonius; for in fact, just as Macedonius set aside the real, personal existence of the divine Spirit and taught that it is an activity (energy) bestowed upon participants and conveyed to its recipiants, and thereby reduced the superessential essence and existence of the divine Spirit, who transcends all essence and existence, to the rank of the non-existent, so also these people set aside the procession from the Father, which is the defining particularity of the divine Spirit’s existence, an existence which transcends cause and reason. We have been taught by Christ the Savior and we believe and confess that this defining particularity indicates God the Paraclete’s existence, so that he possesses being from the Father, which he has in a proceeding way — just as “begottenness” is the defining particularity of the Son, so that he also possesses being from the Father, having it in a begotten way.
Οὕτω μὲν οὖν ἀφανὴς οὗτος θεολόγος καὶ τῆς γωνίας ὄντως ἐπάξιος· ἡμεῖς δὲ διαφορὰν χορηγίας τε καὶ ἐκπορεύσεως ἐν πολλοῖς τῶν ἡμετέρων συγγραμάτων ἐκδηλότατα εἰρηκότες, οὐδενὸς ἄλλου λόγου ἐν τῷ παρόντι δεηθησάμεθα εἰς ἀποσκευὴν τῆς καθ’ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ τούτῳ διαβολῆς καὶ διὰ βραχέων οὕτω τὴν πρότασιν ἀνατρέποντες ἐξ ἧς ὁ γενναῖος οὗτος τῆς ἀληθείας ἀντίπαλος τὸ καθ’ ἡμῶν τῆς Μακεδονίου δόξης ἔγκλημα συνάγειν διενοήθη, ἐξ ἄλλων ἀναντιρρήτων καὶ ἀληθῶν ὑποθέσεων μᾶλλον ἂν αὐτὸν ἀποδείξαιμεν τὸ τοιοῦτον ἔγκλημα ἐπισυρόμενον ἑαυτῷ· ἅτε τὴν ἐνυπόστατον τοῦ θείου πνεύματος ὕπαρξιν ἐνέργειαν τοῖς μετειληφόσι χορηγουμένην δοξάζοντα καὶ εἰς ἀνυπαρξίαν κατάγοντα τὴν πάσης οὐσίας ὑπερούσιον τοῦ θείου πνεύματος ὕπαρξιν. ἐπεὶ γὰρ οἱ τῆς ἐκκλησίας φωστῆρες τῆς ἀκριβοῦς θεολογίας διδάσκαλοι τὰ τοῦ παρακλήτου πνεύματος θεία χαρίσματα τῇ τοῦ πνεύματος κλήσει καθ’ ὁμωνυμίαν καλεῖσθαι δογματίκασιν, ὁ γενναῖος οὑτοσὶ θεολόγος συνιέναι μὴ δυνηθεὶς ὅπως τὲ αὐτὸν τὸν ἐνυπόστατον παράκλητον δηλοῖ ὁ τοῖς δεκτικοῖς αὐτοῦ χογηγεῖσθαι λέγων αὐτόν· καὶ ὅπως ἡ χωρηγία εἰ καὶ μὴ ταυτὸν τῇ ἐκπορεύσει ἐστί, σχετικὴ γάρ ἐστι τοῦ χορηγουμένου ἐνοίκησις· ὅμως τὴν ἐκ τοῦ χορηγοῦντος παραστῆσαι δύναται ὕπαρξιν ὡς καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις ἀποδεδείχαμεν, θείας γραφῆς ἁπάσης καταυθεντῶν, νομοθετεῖ ὅποιπερ ἂν εὑρίσκηται πνεῦμα ἅγιον χορηγούμενον καὶ διδόμενον, τὸ σημαινόμενον ἐκεῖσε τοῦ πνεύματος μὴ τὸν παράκλητον εἶναι θεὸν· ἀλλὰ τὴν πνευματικὴν αὐτοῦ χάριν, καθ’ ὁμωνυμίαν πνεῦμα ἅγιον λεγομένην. καὶ ταῦτα λέγων ὁ παραπλὴξ καὶ ἐμωράντητος· καὶ τί γὰρ ἂν ἄλλο καλέσαιμι αὐτὸν προσφυέστερον, ἀγνοεῖ αὐτὸς εἶναι ὁ τῇ Μακεδονίου περιπίπτων δόξῃ κακῶς καὶ ἐπισφαλῶς· εἰ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος ἐνέργειαν ἀνυπόστατον τοῖς μετειληφόσι χορηγουμένην τὸ πανάγιον ἐδογμάτιζε πνεῦμα· καὶ οὗτος δὲ τοιαύτην διαβεβαιοῦται πνευματικὴν δηλοῦν ἐνέργειαν τὴν κλῆσιν τοῦ πνεύματος ὀπηνίκά τις λέγει πνεῦμα ἅγιον χορηγούμενον καὶ διδόμενον, πῶς οὐκ ἂν εἴη οὗτος Μακεδονιαστὴς ὡς νενομοθέτηκεν, ἐὰν ἡμεῖς μὲν αὐτὸν τὸν παράκλητον τοῖς δεκτικοῖς ἐνοικεῖν ἀποδείξωμεν, οὗτος δὲ κατὰ τὴν αὐτῷ προσοῦσαν ἀνοησίαν τὴν δηλοῦσαν αὐτὸν τὸν παράκλητον κλῆσιν τοῦ πνεύματος, ἀνυπόστατον εἶναι ἐνέργειαν τερατεύεται; Thus far our unseen theologian, someone truly worthy of a dark corner. But as for us, having most clearly stated, in numerous of our writings, that there is a difference between bestowal and procession, we shall be in need of no new argument, in the present work, to frame our response to the slander that is lodged against us on this point, and in this way we may briefly overthrow the premise which this eminent adversary of the truth has supposed he could use to draw down upon us the charge of holding to the view of Macedonius; rather, from other irrefutable, true postulates, we shall show that he has drawn this charge upon himself, forasmuch as he supposes the real, personal existence of the Holy Spirit to be an energy bestowed upon those who partake of him, and he has dragged the superessential existence of the divine Spirit, surpassing all essence, down to the level of non-existence. For since the luminaries of the Church, the teachers of exact theology, teach the doctrine that the divine gifts of the Paraclete Spirit are called, equivocally, by the title “Spirit,” this eminent theologian, in his inability to understand how it is the person itself of the Paraclete which is signified when he is said to be bestowed upon those who receive him, and how this bestowal, even if it is not the same thing as the procession — for it is the relational indwelling of the one who is bestowed — nevertheless is able to make known his existence from the one who bestows, as we have fully established in other writings — since, as I say, he is unable to understand this, he lays it down as a law that, wherever the Holy Spirit is found being bestowed and given, the object there signified by the word “Spirit” is not God the Paraclete, but his spiritual gift, which, by equivocation, is called “Holy Spirit.” And, when he says these things, this addle-pated ignoramus (for I am at a loss to know by what more apposite a title to call him), he fails to recognize that it is he himself who falls, wickedly and clumsily, into the mindset of Macedonius. For if Macedonius dogmatized that the All-Holy Spirit is an impersonal energy bestowed upon those who receive [him], and if he himself stoutly maintains that the title “Spirit” indicates just such a spiritual energy whenever anyone says that the Holy Spirit is bestowed and given, how is it not he himself who is the Macedonian, according to his own legislation, if, while we demonstrate that it is the Spirit himself who indwells those who receive him, he, on the contrary, talks prodigiously, in keeping with his own proper foolishness, that the title “Spirit” (which indicates the Paraclete himself) is an impersonal energy.
καὶ ἡ ἀπόδειξις, ἔχει μὲν τὴν ἰσχὺν καὶ ἐκ πολλῶν ῥήσεων πατερικῶν· ὡς καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις ἡμῶν συγγράμασι παρεστήσαμεν· ἔχει δὲ αὐτὴν βεβαιότερον ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν ἐν εὐαγγελίοις τοῦ κυρίου φωνῶν. ὁ γὰρ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμα πέμπειν ἐπαγγελλόμενος, οὐ χάριν τινὰ πέμπειν ἁπλῶς ἐπηγγείλατο· ἀλλ’ αὐτὸν ἔφη τὸν παράκλητον πέμπειν, αὐτὸ τῆς ἀληθείας πνεῦμα ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται· εἰ γοῦν ὁ παράκλητος τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται, ἐνέργειά τις ἐστὶν ἀνυπόστατος, εἴη ἂν κατὰ τὴν φλυαρίαν τοῦ εἰπόντος καὶ τὸ πεμπόμενον καὶ χορηγούμενον τοῖς πιστοῖς πνεῦμα, ἀνυπόστατός τις ἐνέργεια. εἰ δὲ πνεῦμα μὲν πεμπόμενον καὶ χορηγούμενον ἐστὶν ὁ παράκλητος, ἡ δὲ τοῖς δεκτικοῖς ἐγγινομένη σχετικὴ αὐτοῦ ἐνοίκησις πρὸς τὰς διαφόρους τῶν χαρισμάτων ἰδέας τὰς διαφόρους δέχεται κλήσεις πνεῦμα λεγομένη σοφίας ὅταν ὁ ἐνοικήσας τινὶ τῶν πιστῶν παράκλητος κύριος σοφίαν παράσχοι· καὶ πνεῦμα γνώσεως ὅταν γνῶσιν παράσχοι· καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ἅπερ διὰ τὸ μικροῦ πᾶσι κεῖσθαι εἰς γνῶσιν τῷ λόγῳ οὐ διαλαμβάνομεν, οὐδὲν ἄρα λειπόμενον ἔσται τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς καὶ εὐσυνειδήτοις διαγνῶναι, ἢ ὅτι ὡς ὁ μετὰ πολλῆς τῆς αὐθεντίας νομοθετῶν τὸ διδόμενον καὶ χορηγούμενον πνεῦμα, μὴ τὸν παράκλητον αὐτὸν εἶναι θεὸν ἀλλ’ ἐνέργειαν αὐτοῦ ἀνυπόστατον, καθ’ ἑαυτοῦ τὴν ψῆφον τῆς τοῦ Μακεδονίου δόξης ἀποίσεται. And the proof [of this] has force also out of many statements of the fathers, as we have also shown in other writings of ours. And it has this force most emphatically from the very things said by the Lord in the gospels. For, when the Lord promised to send the Spirit, he did not announce that he would send simply some grace, but he said that he would send the Paraclete himself, the very Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father. If, therefore, the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, is an impersonal energy, this would accord with the nonsense of him who states that the Spirit who is sent and bestowed upon the faithful is an impersonal energy. But if the Spirit who is sent and bestowed is the Paraclete, and his relational indwelling, which comes about in those who receive him, is given various names according to the various ideas of his gifts, being called a “spirit of wisdom” when the Lord the Paraclete, in indwelling one or another of the faithful, provides wisdom, and a “spirit of knowledge” when he provides knowledge, and so on with the rest of the titles which, because a knowledge of them may be easily had by anyone, we do not here recount word by word, then any honest person of good conscience will lack nothing to discern that he who legislates, with a great air of authority, that the Spirit who is given and bestowed is not God himself, the Paraclete, but his impersonal energy, takes the side of the viewpoint of Macedonius, his own protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Back to work

May 28, 2010

I have been on the road recently. Last week I drove down to Florida to visit my sister and her family and to attend my nephew Michael’s graduation from medical school, which occurred last Saturday in Gainesville; he was one of a class of 130 students, and received honors for research. The trip took me through parts of the country I had not been to before, and was, indeed, undertaken partly with a view towards seeing them, partly, also, to visit old friends, some of whom put me up on various stages of the journey. One of these previously unseen places was Charleston, South Carolina, the original home of states’ rights political philosophy, a major port of entry for the slave-trade, and the place where the Civil War began; I made a stop there on my way down, sat for awhile contemplating a statue of John C. Calhoun, which stands on top of a pillar at the edge of a public park, visited the old Marketplace and the museum of the Confederacy which sits above it, and made my way briefly down to the Battery, a rectangular sea wall enclosing a remarkably beautiful park lined with palm trees and old mansions, from which I was able to catch sight of Fort Sumter, faintly visible on the horizon. Animating all this sightseeing was a desire to understand the South, a world that remains quite foreign to me and to whose merits I generally give insufficient recognition; I am, in most ways, an archetypical Northerner, in my habits of mind and body and speech, and, like most of us, I take on such habits from my surroundings without fully understanding how the societal form which I instantiate got to be what it is.

After driving on Interstate 95 for twelve wearisome hours on Monday and spending most of Tuesday in the nation’s capital and Annapolis, I arrived back in New Jersey late Tuesday night, and have since been trying to resume my work on John Bekkos. Some readers of this blog may be wondering where this work currently stands, and why they haven’t heard more about it recently.

For much of the past three months, I have been transcribing the Greek text of John Bekkos’s unpublished work Against George Moschabar from a microfilm copy I acquired of a manuscript owned by the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence, Italy. On May 4th I completed a handwritten transcription, and since then I have been entering the text onto my computer, checking it against the microfilm as I go along. This is one of the few works of Bekkos that have never been edited, and it has, accordingly, remained largely unknown and unread for most of the past 700 years. I began reading it with the expectation that it might help clarify certain obscurities in Bekkos’s history; in particular, there are questions about exactly when John Bekkos began publishing books in defense of the Union of Lyons; from the evidence of the work Against George Moschabar, it is clear that there never was a hiatus in his writing, as might be supposed from the testimony of George Pachymeres’ History. (Pachymeres, Book V, ch. 28, states that Bekkos, probably around the year 1276, promised a friend of his, Theodore Xiphilinos, that he would not write in reply to the attacks that were being made against the Union in various tracts that were being circulated anonymously at the time. This testimony has generally been interpreted to mean a promise not to write at all in favor of the Union, a promise which, according to Pachymeres, Bekkos eventually broke, around the year 1280. But in his work Against George Moschabar, written around 1280, Bekkos refers repeatedly to other, earlier writings of his, and gives no indication that, in writing this new book, he is taking up his pen again after a long intermission; the only difference he indicates is a difference of manner: in this new book, he says, he will not be so deferential as in previous writings, but will give a plain counterattack to this new disseminator of lies.)

The work to which Bekkos’s book was a response was published by George Moschabar anonymously around the year 1279. Moschabar was, in fact, a member of Bekkos’s own clergy, a man who held the official position of professor of scriptural exegesis at the patriarchal school at Constantinople. Bekkos does not know the author of the work which had been written against him — he refers to the writer sarcastically as “the Philosopher” or “the Aristotelian”; later, he found out who had written it, and he cites it as Moschabar’s in his Notes on his own writings (written sometime around 1286-1288). In the Florentine manuscript, Bekkos’s work against Moschabar is titled as follows: τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἀντιρρητικὰ τῶν κατὰ τῆς ἐκκλησιαστικῆς εἰρήνης ἀνεπιγράφων εὑρεθέντων κεφαλαίων, By the same author: A refutation of the anonymous chapters that have been found, which were written against the ecclesiastical peace. The fact that this title gives no indication of Moschabar’s being the author of the opposing work, something that was later widely known, corroborates Vitalien Laurent’s view that the Florentine manuscript (Laurentianus pluteus VIII.26) is an official copy of Bekkos’s works dating from the time of his own patriarchate.

About the content of this work Against George Moschabar, I would prefer, for the time being, to remain reticent. But I hope soon to write an article about it; I think it is theologically an important work, which raises issues that would reappear over a half a century later during the Palamite Controversy. Indeed, I might make the claim that it is the earliest statement of Antipalamite theology that was ever written, appearing some sixteen years before Gregory Palamas was born. For this reason, if for no other, it deserves to be published; my guess is that it may shed an important light upon the origins of that later controversy.

On Physiognomy

March 17, 2010

Aristotle says that thinking does not occur without images (De Anima III.7, 431a17). In support of this observation, I would note my own curious habit, when reading, to form mental pictures of persons whom I have never seen and of whose appearance I actually have no notion. Often these mental pictures are later found to bear little resemblance to reality. Orthodox iconography appeals to this natural human tendency by presenting standard ways of representing people: St. Paul is always represented as balding and dark-haired, with a dark beard, a somewhat thin man, as befits a scholar; St. Peter is usually shown with a full head of greying, curly hair and a short, curly beard, a stocky, muscular man, as befits a fisherman. The Three Great Hierarchs have their own recognizable physiognomies; no one familiar with Orthodox iconography would confuse an image of St. Basil the Great with an image of St. Gregory the Theologian, or, again, an image of either of them with one of St. John Chrysostom. It is possible that these iconographic traditions go back to portraits drawn from life; it is also possible that, in some cases, they are imaginary representations. Whether the iconographic tradition of representing female saints is as well developed as this, I would not venture to say; I can recognize an image of St. Xenia of St. Petersburg from afar and can differentiate it from, say, an image of St. Mary of Egypt or from an icon of St. Macrina, more however because of their respective manners of dress than from their physiognomies as such.

So what do I imagine people like John Bekkos, Gregory of Cyprus, George Metochites, Constantine Meliteniotes, George Moschabar, the Emperor Michael Palaiologos, and all the rest of the characters I am engaged in studying looked like?

I used to think that Gregory of Cyprus looked like Vice President Dick Cheney with a beard. That is to say, someone with an ingrained scowl, someone whose long experience in secret dealings behind other’s backs to overthrow political and personal enemies had left recognizable traces upon the face that God gave him, leaving a kind of public testimony to a life shaped by arrogance and resentment. I have no way of demonstrating the truth of this intuition, and probably if I were better versed in the Cypriot’s own writings I would have to revise this picture in various ways, but I am simply stating for the record how I have imagined his appearance.

Is it not a remarkable thing how the mind shapes the body? If one looks at a picture of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy and compares it to a picture of Rush Limbaugh, does one not detect a certain spiritual resemblance: the pudginess of the face, the beadiness of the eyes? One would think that holding certain political views for long periods of time effected changes in one’s bodily structure: the eyes and brain shrink from lack of use, the jowls expand….

What about Bekkos? I am not sure. There is a representation of him made by an anonymous artist in the seventeenth century to accompany Jacques Goar’s Euchologion; some months ago I scanned this image and added it to the Wikipedia article on Bekkos. The image shows a medieval Greek bishop, holding the wide-brimmed hat then in use, leaning slightly backward on his episcopal staff, as if poised either to declaim against some injustice or perhaps to hurl the said episcopal staff down on the ground in a fit, as Bekkos once did in the presence of the Emperor Michael when the latter refused to pardon a man. The expression on his face is somewhat ambiguous, and might even be read as a smile, but more likely it is an expression of defiance in response to some affront or to some egregious statement of untruth. The dramatic poise suggests that the artist was acquainted with the acting conventions of seventeenth-century Italian opera.

I have no idea if this image looks anything like Bekkos’s actual appearance. It conveys a certain type: an image of a Greek bishop, forthrightly glaring at his foes, passionately rejecting the perpetuation of Christian division. In some ways, that is all that an image of a person one has never seen can be expected to do: to give a visual representation of the fundamental idea that shaped the person’s life. The image serves as a kind of play actor. One does not have to see a production of the play King Lear to know that the leading role has to be performed by a man who can convey both authority and instability at the same time. An image of King Lear is already present in our minds before we see Richard Burton or whoever else performs the role on stage take it upon himself for a certain season. And few people can actually perform this role convincingly because, quite simply, few of us have the internal resources of character to represent greatness. There are few things more pathetic than to see a convention of Lincoln impersonators, men who think that, by merely donning a beard and a stovepipe hat, they can cover the mediocrity of their own lives and represent this man to other people. One cannot put on a love of justice and truth quite so easily as a hat and a beard; without that, the external representation rings hollow.

Whatever the external lineaments of John Bekkos’s face, it is clear to me that a love of justice and truth formed part of the internal lineaments of his mind and heart; given the nature of things, these internal lineaments probably manifested themselves upon his countenance in some way eventually. It is also fairly clear that the man had his limitations: at the show trial of early 1283, he consented to sign a document condemning his own teaching, and much of the final years of his life are marked by an unmistakable sense of bitterness towards the man who succeeded him as Patriarch of Constantinople. For myself, I do not make Bekkos my “idol,” as one reader of this blog charged earlier this year. I see Bekkos as someone, first of all, whose thought I would like to understand, since the fundamental problem which he confronted, the problem of Christian division, has not gone away; I presume to think that, as he analyzed the causes of this problem carefully and at great length, I might learn something from him. I altogether doubt that the solution for all the problems faced by Christianity in the present world, or even for the specific problem of Christian disunion, is to be found in a reenactment of the Union of Lyons. And I similarly doubt that, for many of the spiritual issues that confront me personally, John Bekkos has all that much to say; anyone who thinks that one can receive adequate spiritual nourishment by reading a steady diet of polemics over the Filioque issue surely has some self-examination to do. But I believe that Bekkos was an honest man, and an intelligent reader of the fathers, who rightly, I think, pointed out that the position of most of the early Greek fathers of the Church on the subject of the Holy Spirit’s procession was not as absolutely inimical to the Latin Church’s position on this subject as Photius and his followers represented it, and continue to represent it. And I also think that the debate between Bekkos and his opponents had important implications for the direction Byzantine theology would take in the next generation; questions of how the divine presence and activity in us are to be understood were already being argued over by Bekkos, Melitentiotes, and Metochites, on the one hand, and men like George Moschabar and Gregory of Cyprus, on the other. Both as an historian and as a Christian, I would like to understand the terms of that debate, and see how it unfolded.

So, in brief, while I do not have in my mind a clear picture of what Bekkos looked like, a photographic image is not the point of my reading him. One reads authors in order to perceive the truth that they perceived, and to be shaped internally by it. It would of course help me in my studies if I had a clearer mental picture of the streets of Constantinople in the late thirteenth century, of daily life, of the ritual of the imperial court, of what it was like to attend a liturgy in Hagia Sophia in the days before it became a mosque. My understanding of these things is necessarily limited, in part by the fact that I live seven hundred years later. But perhaps it is just as well that we don’t see the past with perfect vision; perhaps it would cause us to forget that life is actually lived in the present, and one emulates the life of the righteous, not by wearing the same clothes, but by serving the same God, who is the ever-living source of life to all.

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.

On time passing

September 1, 2009

Today is the first day of the Byzantine year 7518 (see the post Happy New Year). It is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, a day that the current Patriarch of Constantinople has seen fit to consecrate as the Day for the Protection of the Environment. It also marks the seventieth anniversary of the start of World War II, and the second anniversary of the founding of this blog. I’d like to reflect briefly on some of these things, on the passing of time, and on the state of this blog and my other work.

When I was a child, I viewed the events of the 1930’s and 40’s as ancient history. They had occurred a quarter of a century before I was born. That seemed to me the distant past, a bygone era when cars had running boards and events unfolded in flickering, black-and-white newsreels. Now that I am fifty years old, a quarter of a century seems like a short blip in time, a nothing. The Great Depression, the rise of Nazism in Germany and of Stalinism in Russia, the Second World War, the beginnings of the Cold War, all occurred in a brief period comparable to the time from Reagan’s presidency to the present. Human memory is short, and plays tricks with perspective.

Hardly a day goes by when I do not read one or more of the Psalms. I do this so habitually that I tend to think of them simply as contemporary prayers, applicable to my own current situation. Yet, if one accepts the ascription of most of the Psalms to the historical person, King David, these writings are older than Homer, older than the oldest surviving literature in a Western, Indo-European language. All of Greek literature is, relatively speaking, new, as the Greeks themselves were aware (see Plato’s Timaeus 22b Ὦ Σόλων, Σόλων, Ἕλληνες ἀεὶ παῖδές ἐστε, γέρων δὲ Ἕλλην οὐκ ἔστιν). The Greeks learned their alphabet from a man named Cadmus, the founder of the city of Thebes; the name is a Semitic one; kedem in Hebrew means both “East” and “old.” Cadmus was the old man from the East.

I once came across a very strange book with the title Hebrew is Greek (see reviews of it on amazon.com). The author, Joseph Yahuda, presents the thesis that Hebrew is a variant of the Greek language (not, curiously, the other way around). My knowledge of Hebrew is not good, but I know enough to feel certain that the thesis is basically preposterous. Nevertheless, the author finds enough linguistic parallels to convince me that there were cultural contacts at a very early, pre-literary stage. A couple of the parallels that seem most persuasive: ἀγάπη and ahava, according to Yahuda, are cognate (both terms for “love”), and so are tsedekah, and δίκη/δικαιοσύνη (the DIK root, meaning “justice,” is common). When I was teaching in Albania, I was surprised to learn that the Albanian word for ship, anije, is the same as the Hebrew word אניה (öneey-yah, Jonah 1: 3, 4, 5, etc.) — probably a relic from the early days when the only ships the Illyrians came in contact with belonged to Phoenician traders.

A possibility suggests itself. The Philistines could have been Pelasgians, a people who were widely spread in the Eastern Mediterranean before the arrival of the Greeks; the names are sufficiently similar to warrant considering this possibility. If there are deeply rooted linguistic parallels between the Greek and Hebrew languages, the Pelasgians/Philistines could have been a mediating agent of this.

None of this is perhaps very important. Yet it helps give me a sense of perspective on current events. Two years, or twenty five years, or seventy years, is not a long time in historical terms, much less so in geological ones. Human life is very brief. But, by the same token, much can change in a very short time.

I confess that some days I find it hard to concentrate on John Bekkos and events of the thirteenth century; some days, I would rather concentrate upon things that are unfolding before my own eyes. I would like to say that I have a great confidence in the future of humanity, but, if I were to say that, I would be misrepresenting my own sentiments. I would like very much to think that the future is bright; but I do not actually or habitually think this. The visible prospects for the continuance of the human race on earth are, at best, obscure. It is no longer something one can simply take for granted, as a natural fact.

Why do I say that? Some reasons:

  1. I take global warming, and the substantial contribution to it by human activity, to be sufficiently well-established to deserve to be called facts. What is not yet clear is how far it will be allowed to progress; but anything beyond a rise of 4º C in global temperature, it is said, would be utterly catastrophic and perhaps irreversible, and such a scenario is well within the bounds of possibility.
  2. The possibility that we are at or near a peak in global oil production also appears very real. While this does not spell an end to human civilization as such, it does portend possibly catastrophic economic consequences, as a global economy predicated upon perpetual growth in production comes up against the natural limitations of the earth’s resources. As was seen two years ago before the recession hit, the price of oil affects the price and availability of everything else — in particular, food, but also all oil-based products, which nowadays means pretty much everything since plastics are so ubiquitous. The idea that there will be a single energy source that will replace oil is the sort of assumption made by people who are unacquainted with the constraints of physical reality; after not much more than a century, a resource that took hundreds of millions of years to come into being, and that is the life-blood of the modern global economy, has been largely used up. Just as American oil production peaked in the early 1970’s, so, inevitably, the production of oil in countries like Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, will also peak, probably in the not-too-distant future. And after that, who knows what kind of competition will take place over the remaining supplies?
  3. There is still the possibility of a nuclear war; in some ways, this possibility seems more imminent now given the nuclear ambitions of countries like Iran and North Korea. There is also the possibility that a nuclear weapon, or some similarly heinous weapon, could be made use of by a non-state organization like Al-Qaida.

There are other worries I have, but these are probably sufficient for showing that apprehensions about the long-term prospects of, at least, the current political order of things, if not of humanity itself, are rational.

What about the rationality of hope?

Hope is a Christian virtue, and, as it is founded in the ultimate reality, God himself, it cannot be false. But one must not confuse hope with rash confidence. As a Christian, I have hope that God will save me, in spite of my many sins, because of the blood of Christ; but if I conclude from this that I have no changes to make in my life to conform it to the will of God, then I delude myself, and my hope is found to be, not hope in God, but a rash, unfounded confidence in my own innate invincibility. So, similarly, when Christians claim to have a firm hope that God will see humanity through the hard times ahead, but then do nothing to address the present challenges they face, but instead pretend that things are fine and are going to remain just fine and that nothing in their lives needs to change, such Christians act irresponsibly; they show, not true Christian hope, but a rash confidence, what St. Paul calls a “confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3-4).

Of course, it is no part of Christian doctrine that the world should last eternally. But, as we are stewards of it, we have a duty to preserve it; we have no right to think that, in hastening its demise, we are doing God’s will.

I suppose that what I am advocating here is an end to the divisions between liberals and conservatives on some fundamental issues. Both sides should be able to acknowledge that abortion is a moral evil, and that irresponsible sexual practice corrupts both personal life and families and whole societies. So also, both sides should be able to acknowledge that the proper stewardship of the earth’s resources is a moral imperative, given the current human situation. It is a life issue. It is wrong to think that the one is a conservative issue and the other a liberal one: both are basic to the common good and to any long-term continuance of civil society. Indeed, any social platform or political agenda that does not look to the common good is inherently immoral and, for that reason, unchristian. If Christians cannot agree on such things, if we bicker and accuse each other, we are simply wasting our time, and might as well eat, drink, and be merry with the pagans, for we are no better than them.

The possession of a blog is a great temptation to being foolish, a kind of permanent soap-box onto which to climb and give speeches before an invisible public. It is all the more foolish when the speech-giver is unemployed and has nothing to show for himself. After two years of writing this blog, all I can say is that the work on John Bekkos continues. Perhaps I shall find useful things to say about him in the months ahead.

A brief notice

July 20, 2009

I just today received word from Communio concerning the essay I sent them in April; they want me to revise it, and they want the revision by next week. I think the criticisms that were made — essentially, that the essay, as it stands, is a bit too technical for the journal’s audience, and that I need to do more to explain to readers both who Bekkos is and why the underlying theological issues are important — are entirely well-taken. Because I will be completely preoccupied with this job until early next week, I would ask readers’ forbearance if I do not reply to comments for the time being, and if the discussion on divine simplicity that has recently emerged in the comments to my last post is temporarily put on hold.

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.

Exhausted

April 16, 2009

Sorry for not writing anything on this blog for the past three weeks. I just this morning finished a 15,000-word paper on John Bekkos for the journal Communio. Maybe they’ll actually publish it.

And now, to bed.