Because I am trying to put together an article on Bekkos and George Moschabar, I have of late been reading Martin Jugie again; he seems to have read virtually everything in Byzantine theological literature. In particular, he has a lot of information, and very definite opinions, on the issue of how far Byzantine writers understood there to be an indwelling of the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit in the souls of the just; this is an issue on which John Bekkos and George Moschabar were entirely opposed. Specifically, Bekkos sees it as the clear consensus of Scripture and the Fathers that the Holy Spirit himself — i.e., the person or hypostasis — is given by Christ to the faithful, and he sees this giving as implying something about the eternal, inner-trinitarian relationships of these two persons; Moschabar, by contrast, sees Scripture to use the term “Holy Spirit” in an ambiguous way, sometimes referring to the third person of the Trinity, sometimes to that person’s gift of grace — or, to put it differently, to an “energy” — and he lays it down as a kind of exegetical first principle that, whenever Holy Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit being given or sent or flowing forth from the Son, the “Holy Spirit” referred to is an energy, not the person. In teaching this, I think that Moschabar anticipated, in important ways, the doctrine of Gregory Palamas; in fact, it seems quite likely to me that Palamas was directly influenced by Moschabar’s writings.

Jugie is not an ecumenically sensitive writer; he is a Catholic apologist of the old school, and his references to Orthodox Christians as “Graeco-Russians” are bound to be offensive. Nevertheless, he is a clear thinker, and he backs up his assertions with evidence. As such, his historical judgments deserve serious consideration; it is for this reason that I present him here in English. I do not want to claim that Jugie is giving here a balanced, complete assessment of Orthodox spiritual tradition. But it does seem to me that some of the most important Orthodox writers of the past century, in particular the late Fr. John Meyendorff, were engaged in a tacit debate with Jugie over the significance of St. Gregory Palamas and his theology; if one reads Meyendorff as replying to Jugie, I think it opens one’s eyes as to what is at stake.

I would only add that what is given below is not a complete translation of Jugie’s chapter; I break off at the point where Jugie begins treating of more recent Orthodox writers.

Translated from Martin Jugie, A.A., Theologia Dogmatica Christanorum Orientalium ab Ecclesia Catholica Dissidentium, Tomus II (Paris 1933), pp. 233-242.


Article 3: On the notion of divine mission and of the relation between eternal procession and temporal mission

The doctrine of the Graeco-Russians on divine missions differs from the doctrine held in common among Catholic theologians in no small way. First of all, among dissident theologians you will not find the subtle distinctions and accurate definitions that are found among ours; for example, they do not clearly distinguish between visible mission and invisible mission; the aim or scope of the missions is not discerned by them with precision. All of their speculation concerning the nature of the missions has had a polemical origin — as though, when they take up the question of divine missions, they had almost solely this end in view, to weaken the force of the argument based upon missions which Catholic theologians employ to prove that the Holy Spirit proceeds and has existence from the Son. In this, Photius himself was their predecessor, not in fact in those writings where his explicit purpose is to treat of the procession of the Holy Spirit, but in his Amphilochian questions nos. 159 and 188, where he seeks to overturn the grounds of the Latins’ argument by teaching that each person of the Trinity, not excepting the Father, both sends the others and by the others is sent, indiscriminately. To establish this point, he appeals to certain texts of Scripture: Isa 48:16, “And now the Lord, and his Spirit, has sent me”; Isa 61 and Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … he has sent me to preach the good news to the poor.” After him, Byzantine theologians commonly held the same view on persons sent and sending, relying upon the same scriptural texts; nor do most of the moderns veer from this position.

Gravely, therefore, do the Graeco-Russians adulterate the notion of mission, insofar as they deny that mission implies a necessary connection with procession ad intra, that it imitates, manifests, and, as it were, reproduces this ad extra. They indeed commonly distinguish a double procession, one kind ad intra, which is from eternity, from which the divine persons are constituted in their hypostatic being; the other kind ad extra, which they call temporal, which is mission itself. The temporal procession is common to the three persons. The terminus ad quem of this procession is that temporal effect produced in creatures, which indeed is common to the three persons, as is any operation ad extra. But as for the terminus a quo, temporal procession or mission signifies a simple external manifestation of the person sent from the person sending. This external manifestation bears no necessary relation to a procession ad intra; it is something altogether accidental and extrinsic, pertaining to the historical order.

Moreover, as regards the form itself of this external manifestation, they do not agree among themselves. Does such a manifestation include a real bestowal of the person sent, made by the person sending to the creature, such that, beyond the gift of grace conferred upon the justified creature, there would be also a communication of an uncreated gift, that is, of a divine person himself, who in a new manner and on new terms would begin to exist within the creature? To this question they do not give one unanimous response. Before the Palamite controversy, most, not all, taught that, in mission, an actual divine person is communicated to the creature. After this controversy, most, not all, have held that a divine person is by no means given or communicated, and they have seen in mission nothing else than an operation common to the three persons, by which grace is communicated to the creature, grace which, according to the system of Palamas expounded above, is pronounced to be uncreated, and is regarded as a sort of eternal and uncreated outpouring from the divine essence. This very operation [or: energy] is a manifestation of Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and not just of the person sent or the person sending.

The earliest polemical writers after Photius and Michael Cerularius had no more common pastime than to reproach the Latins with confusing the eternal procession with a temporal procession or mission; nevertheless, most of them did not deny what the Greek fathers teach so plainly, namely, that in mission, besides grace and gifts, an actual divine person is communicated to human beings. See in volume one of this work the words of Nicetas the philosopher (pp. 291-292), Euthymius the patriarch (p. 298), the author of the tract Against the Franks (p. 300), Michael Psellus (p. 303), and especially Theophylact, who properly distinguishes between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s very person. For, in order to overthrow the argument of the Latins that is based upon Christ’s breathing upon his disciples after the resurrection, he wrote the following:

He breathes upon them, then, and gives them the Holy Spirit, not now granting them the perfect gift of the Holy Spirit (for this he was going to give at Pentecost), but rendering them suitable for receiving that Spirit … But after the ascension, when the Spirit himself had descended, and had bestowed upon them the power of miracles and other gifts …. If then he gave the disciples the Spirit when he breathed upon them, how was it that he later said to them, “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit, who will come upon you not many days hence”; or why is it that we believe that, at Pentecost, the Spirit is made to descend, if in fact he gave him on the evening of the day of the resurrection?

[Comment. in Joannem, xx, 19-23, PG 124, 297; Epist. ad Nicolaum, 4, PG 126, 228; In Joan., c. iii, 32-34, PG 123, 1224. Cf. tom. I, pp. 306-307, 309-310.]

During the twelfth century, many polemical writers repeated Theophylact’s words. Thus, for example, Eustratius of Nicaea, Nicholas of Methone, Nicetas of Nicomedia, Michael Glykas; in the thirteenth century, Germanus II. Mystical writers frequently say the same thing concerning the bestowal of the person of the Holy Spirit and the dwelling of the divine persons in the soul of the just, among whom should be mentioned Symeon the New Theologian, who not only teaches that the soul of a holy person is a temple of the Holy Spirit, but, in addition, contends that the soul necessarily is aware of this indwelling, and that it is impossible for anyone to have the persons of the Trinity within himself without intimately experiencing their presence.

Nevertheless, certain polemical writers, even before Palamas, begin already to deny that the person of the Holy Spirit is really given to the soul of the just according to that special mode which accompanies an infusion of charity and grace. If one were to believe them, it is not a divine person, but solely the person’s gifts, which are communicated, and they interpret the term “Spirit,” in those passages of Scripture or of the Fathers which have to do with the sending, giving, and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to mean the spiritual gifts themselves. They support their opinion by the testimony of pseudo-Chrysostom who, in a certain discourse On the Holy Spirit, previously cited by Photius himself, says the following:

But if you should hear him say, “I will send you the Holy Spirit,” do not interpret this to mean the godhead: for God is not sent. These are names signifying operation, in that everyone who sends, sends to those places where he is not…. Therefore when he says, “I will send you the Holy Spirit,” he means the gift of the Spirit. And, so that you may learn that the gift is sent, but the Spirit is not sent, the Savior says to the apostles, “Remain in Jerusalem, until you are clothed with power from on high.” The scripture says, “God poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It is not the godhead that is poured out, but the gift. For this reason, so that it might be demonstrated that that which is poured out is not the Holy Spirit, but the grace of the Spirit of God, David says to Christ, “Grace is poured out by your lips.” Grace is poured out, not he who bestows the grace. (PG 52, 825-826.)

In the twelfth century, these words are applauded by Andronicus Camaterus in his Ἱερᾷ Ὁπλοθήκῃ (Sacred Treasury), wherein he means to show that it is not the person of the Spirit but only his charisms that are bestowed upon men. As for Camaterus, John Bekkos refutes him by citing against him, at one time Christ the Savior’s clear words in the gospel, at another time testimonies from other Greek fathers, especially Cyril of Alexandria; the perspicuity of these testimonies is clearer than light. (John Bekkos, In Camateri animadversiones, PG 141, 419-428.) To this same question Bekkos devotes also his eighth Epigraph, which he prefaces with the following notice:

Since some people, when they hear that the Holy Spirit “exists” and “fountains” and “emanates” from the Son, give the strange account that it is not the divine nature of the Spirit which springs forth and fountains from the divine substance and nature of the Son, but rather the spiritual gift which comes to those who are worthy … because they take it that such a gift must be understood as something divided and disjoined from the Spirit’s divine substance, the following patristic citations have been gathered, from which one may apprehend … that it is the Holy Spirit himself, one of the Trinity and him who completes it and who is himself divine nature and perfect God, just like the Father and the Son, who is meant when one says that the Holy Spirit “emanates” and “fountains” and “exists” from the Son.

[PG 141, 673. If Philotheos Kokkinos is to be trusted (Contra Gregoram Antirrhet., vi, PG 151, 915-920), George the Cypriot, Patriarch of Constantinople, held the same opinion as Camaterus about the sending of the Holy Spirit — which however does not appear true from his published writings. Gregory was, nevertheless, in a certain respect the precursor of Palamas, by reason of his teaching concerning the eternal manifestation of the Spirit through the Son. See B. De Rubeis, Dissertatio I in Georgium Cyprium, PG 142, 109-110.]

Gregory Palamas and his disciples apply his teaching about a real distinction between God’s essence and his operation (= energy) to the divine missions in the following manner: Since the divine essence and the divine persons themselves are, of themselves, utterly inaccessible, imparticipable, and incommunicable, the mission of a divine person can be understood only of a common operation of the Trinity, in particular of that operation which has the name grace. Since then this operation, just like all the other operations of God, is something divine, uncreated, and eternal, really distinct, indeed, from the divine nature, but in fact truly inseparable from it, it follows that a mission can, in a certain way, be called an eternal procession (πρόοδον). However, an eternal procession of this kind, which is manifested in time, is solely according to operation, κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν, not according to nature, κατὰ τὴν φύσιν, nor according to hypostases or persons, κατὰ τὰς ὑποστάσεις. It has creatures in view, it is ad extra; it does not have in view the persons nor the processions ad intra. Therefore differentiation has to be made between a two-fold eternal procession, one kind according to the subsisting of the persons in the divine essence, the other kind according to an operation of the essence which is common to the three divine persons. Where Scripture says that one person is sent by another, this in no way signifies that the person sent is communicated to the creature, that it indwells the creature in a special manner and on special terms — for this is altogether impossible. Such a mission indicates nothing other than an external and temporal manifestation of that eternal and uncreated operation which is called grace or the gifts of the Spirit, which is in fact common to the three persons, and is communicated to worthy souls, or rather, reaches to them, extends itself to them, like the light of some eternal sun which, at a certain moment in time, illuminates a new region, illuminates new things which earlier lay in darkness.

According to this speculation or conception, the following expressions of Scripture or of the Fathers — “the Holy Spirit is sent by the Son, is put forth, poured forth or shed forth by the Son, is from the Son, shines out from the Son,” etc. — signify in fact a certain eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, but not one ordered to the Spirit’s personal existence. Such a procession occurs solely according to operation, κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν, ordered to the sanctification of the creature, or insofar as it is directed towards a terminus ad quem, it can even be said to be a temporal procession. In it is beheld, in truth, a certain showing and manifestation of the three Persons under an aspect whereby the persons are able to be manifested and known, namely by their eternal operation, which extends to the creatures and sanctifies them.

This is the genuine notion of divine mission in Palamite theology. Hear Palamas describing the mission of the Holy Spirit in his Confession of Faith:

The Spirit, subsisting in himself, proceeding from the Father and sent — that is, manifested — through the Son, himself also cause of all the creatures, as indeed it is in him that they have been brought to perfection, himself equal to the Father and the Son except in respect of unbegottenness and begottenness. He was sent by the Son to his disciples — that is, he was manifested. For in what other manner would he have been sent, since he was not separated from him? Or in what other way would he be able to draw near to me, since he is everywhere present? Wherefore he is sent, not only from the Son, but from the Father and through the Son; and he comes being manifested also from himself. For the sending, that is the manifesting, of the Spirit is a common work. But he is manifested, not according to essence (for no one ever has seen or declared God’s nature), but according to grace and power and operation (= energy), which is common to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

[PG 151, 766 A-B. Cf. the same author’s Homilia viii de fide, PG 151, 100 D.]

In his second treatise On the Procession of the Holy Spirit, against the Latins, he says these things:

The Son gives the Holy Spirit, but according to gift and grace and operation (= energy); he does not give the very person of the Holy Spirit, for this can be received by no one…. To be sent and to be given, when applied to God, means nothing else than to be manifested.

[Λόγος δεύτερος περὶ τῆς ἐκπορεύσεως τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος, Constantinople, 1627, pp. 54, 61: Δίδωσι Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὴν δωρεὰν καὶ τὴν χάριν καὶ τὴν ἐνέργειαν, οὐκ αὐτὴν τὴν ὑπόστασιν τοῦ παναγίου Πνεύματος· παρ᾽ οὐδενὸς γὰρ αὕτη λαμβάνεσθαι δύναται … Οὐδὲν ἄλλο τὸ πέμπεσθαί τε καὶ δίδοσθαι ἐπὶ Θεοῦ ἢ τὸ φανεροῦσθαι.]

Palamas’s genuine disciples hold the same doctrine. Philotheus Kokkinos expounds it at length in his Antirrheticus vi contra Nicephorum Gregoram (Gregoras, by contrast, teaches that the three persons of the Trinity indwell the soul of the just):

If the three divine hypostases, as you say, indwell every one of those who are worthy of God, then each one of those who are made deiform will possess in himself more than did that divine temple which for our sake, in a manner surpassing reason, the Only-begotten Son of God indwelled, insofar as that [temple] held in itself [only] one of the Trinity, united with it according to hypostasis.” (PG 151, 893 A.) … “The Spirit is participated in, not according to essence, nor according to hypostasis — for this is altogether foreign to theology — but according to the divine charisms and operations (energies)…. From all these things you have been taught that the Holy Spirit inhabits those who are worthy energetically, not hypostatically. That is, his energy, not his hypostasis, dwells in them, and makes them to be temples of God; and through the divine energy and grace they have dwelling in them the whole Spirit. For in each gift (charism) the whole Spirit, as working, is analogically present.” (PG 151, 901 C, 902 C.)

In his Tractatus contra Latinos, Macarius Ancyranus devotes four chapters to the present question; their titles sufficiently express the doctrine defended in them:

Ch. 76: That the Holy Spirit, poured out upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, was not the divine person himself, but his gift and grace and operation, which also is called “Holy Spirit.”

Ch. 77: That the Holy Spirit, a person of the Holy Trinity, is one thing, and his bestowal and grace and power and operation — or rather, the common bestowal and grace and power and operation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is another.

Ch. 78: Concerning the discrepancy which some people find in the prayers of Basil the Great which are read on the day of Pentecost, and that the Spirit poured out at Pentecost was not a person of the Trinity, but his gift and grace: for it is “divided.”

Ch. 79: Moreover, that the Holy Spirit, one person of the Most Holy Trinity, both is always identical with himself, and is invisible and incommunicable to others; and that, just as his gift and grace is called “Holy Spirit,” so also it is called “God,” whenever it is seen and divided and participated in by all.

[Κατὰ Λατίνων. In Dositheus, Τόμος καταλλαγῆς, pp. 132-139:
«Ὅτι τὸ κατὰ τὴν Πεντηκοστὴν ἐκχυθὲν Πνεῦμα ἅγιον εἰς τοὺς ἀποστόλους οὐκ αὐτὸ ἦν τὸ θεαρχικὸν πρόσωπον, ἀλλ᾽ ἡ δωρεὰ καὶ χάρις καὶ ἐνέργεια αὐτοῦ, Πνεῦμα ἅγιον καὶ αὐτὴ λεγομένη.
«Ὅτι ἄλλο Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, τὸ ἓν πρόσωπον τῆς Τριάδος, καὶ ἄλλο ἡ τούτου, μᾶλλον δὲ ἡ κοινὴ Πατρὸς, Υἱοῦ καὶ ἁγίου Πνεύματος δωρεὰ καὶ χάρις καὶ δύναμις καὶ ἐνέργεια.
«Περὶ τῆς δοκούσης τισὶ διαφωνίας ἐν ταῖς κατὰ τὴν Πεντηκοστὴν εὐχαῖς τοῦ μεγάλου Βασιλείου, καὶ ὅτι τὸ κατὰ τὴν Πεντηκοστὴν ἐκχυθὲν Πνεῦμα οὐ τὸ ἓν πρόσωπον τῆς Τριάδος, ἀλλ᾽ ἡ τούτου δωρεὰ καὶ χάρις· αὐτὴ γὰρ καὶ μερίζεται.
«Ἕτι, ὅτι τὸ μὲν Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, τὸ ἓν πρόσωπον τῆς ἁγίας Τριάδος, ἀεί τε ταὐτὸν αὐτό ἐστιν ἑαυτῷ, ἀόρατόν τε καὶ πρὸς τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀκοινώνητον· ἡ δὲ τούτου χάρις καὶ δωρεά, ὡς Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, οὕτω καὶ Θεὸς λεγομένη, ἔστιν ὅτε καὶ ὁρᾶται καὶ μερίζεται καὶ παρὰ πάντων μετέχεται.»]

On this question, Joseph Bryennius plainly agrees with Palamas:

No one of sound mind (he says), whether he thinks the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Son, or from both, holds the opinion that the person of the Spirit takes up his abode among men; for since he is God by nature, not only is he invisible, in this respect, to every created nature, but even to the Cherubim themselves he is by nature imparticipable.

[Λόγος η´ περὶ τῆς ἁγίας Τριάδος. Opera omnia, ed. E. Bulgaris, tome 1, Leipzig, 1768, p. 344: «Οὐδεὶς ὑγιαίνων τὰς φρένας δοξάζει τὴν τοῦ Πνεύματος ὑπόστασιν … ἐπιδημεῖν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις.»]

As for theologians and polemical writers of the modern era, the greatest part of them accept this Palamite view, even those who in other matters contradict the theologian of the hesychasts….

Translation of: Jean-Philippe Houdret, O.C.D., “Palamas et les Cappadociens,” Istina 19 (1974), pp. 260-271.

In the course of this brief article, our aim is to bring up the vast problem of the relations that exist between the thought of Gregory Palamas and that of the Cappadocian fathers. The celebrated Byzantine theologian sought to be a faithful follower of the teaching of the saints, and the great Cappadocians are among the godbearing fathers to whom he frequently refers in his writings. This is why we prefer to limit ourselves here to the examination of a precise but fundamental question: Do we already find, among the Cappadocian fathers, the beginnings of the distinction in God between essence and energies, such as Gregory Palamas later would understand and defend it?
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Gregory Palamas, Antepigraphae, with rebuttals by Bessarion of Nicaea

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

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


Palamas: Refutation of Bekkos’s first Epigraph

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following passage is translated from Juan Nadal Cañellas, La résistance d’Akindynos à Grégoire Palamas. Enquête historique, avec traduction et commentaire de quatre traités édités récemment. Volume 2: Commentaire historique. (Leuven 2006), pp. 93-96. Nadal Cañellas’s book gives an historical introduction to his translation of Gregory Akindynos’s four Apodictic Treatises against Gregory Palamas (the Greek text of which he also edited, Corpus Christianorum series graeca, vol. 31). The book, a work of great erudition, deserves to be better known in the English-speaking world. Nadal Cañellas frequently takes issue with the late Archpriest John Meyendorff’s reading of the Palamite controversy; the following paragraphs are presented as a brief specimen of his argumentation.

For many authors, the climactic moment of opposition between the humanists and those who have come to be called hesychasts coincides with the polemics surrounding Gregory Palamas. The person who insisted most strongly upon this opposition, presenting it as two permanently irreconcilable positions, was Fr. John Meyendorff. His intention was clear: to reassert the value of the theology of Gregory Palamas, the inheritor and possessor, in his view, of the great spiritual values of the Christian East, faced with what Meyendorff at least took to be the rational, nominalist, paganizing thought of the Byzantine humanists, precursors of a laicizing thought which, in the West, led to the Italian renaissance:

“Byzantine humanism, if it had been free to develop, would probably have carried Byzantine culture in the same direction as that followed by Italian and thereafter all Western culture. It was the fate of this humanism to nourish the Renaissance in Italy, but, at Byzantium, to run up against the fierce opposition of the monks.” [1] “Moreover, Byzantine humanism was not completely drowned under the Palamite waves, and it was able to produce in the fifteenth century such an astonishing phenomenon as the neo-paganism of Gemisthos Plethon. Nevertheless, there were at stake principles already heralding the advent of the modern world in the dispute between Barlaam and Palamas, and, very often, it was those principles which divided the supporters of Palamism from his adversaries. The humanists, in fact, started from the assumption of a sort of autonomy for human reason, and its independence in relation to a God whom they conceived as some impenetrable and inaccessible Essence. The union of God and man, realized once for all in the person of Christ, and divine action, effective and real, among humanity regenerated by baptism, played no decisive part in their thought. The hesychasts, [on the other hand,] were defending a conception of Christianity inherited from the Fathers, which left no form of human activity outside the sphere of God’s action. The idea of a complete ‘collaboration’ (συνεργία) between these two activities was indeed the special message of Palamism.” [2]

While we do not disregard the real conflict between the two spiritualities in question, we nevertheless do not believe that such categorical assertions can command assent. We are convinced that the truth obliges us to differentiate shades of meaning. Once again, it is Fr. Meyendorff who asserts:

“Akindynos’s letters give us a vivid picture of the … adversaries of Palamism; … none of them was a Latinophron, still less a Byzantine Thomist. As we shall show later, they were recruited partly from the advocates of profane humanism, and partly from the defenders of a Byzantine neo-scholasticism; for the latter every living expression and every dynamic thought, even if it had a solid Patristic basis, was suspect of heresy. Barlaam and Akindynos were very characteristic representatives of these two attitudes.” [3]

Many authors have taken an interest in the Palamite dispute and have spoken about it without having gained a deep acquaintance with it; on this unstable basis, Meyendorff’s apodictic assertions have seemed to carry considerable authority. It is nevertheless dangerous to speak ex cathedra when one’s assertions cannot be sustained in the light of the facts. For Meyendorff, for example, the humanists’ characteristic trait, as we have just heard him say, was to start from “the assumption of a sort of autonomy for human reason, and its independence in relation to a God whom they conceived as some impenetrable and inaccessible Essence” [4]; “the union of God and man, realized once for all in the person of Christ, … played no decisive part in their thought.” [5] One may ask if traits such as these truly characterize Akindynos or even Barlaam. How well-founded, in fact, are Palamas’s accusations against them, and Meyendorff’s more recent ones, which charge them with being quintessential representatives of these attitudes?

Antonio Fyrigos, in the introduction to his edition of Barlaam’s Letters to Palamas, already noted that there are prejudices that are difficult to overturn. [6] It does not seem possible to affirm, purely and simply, that Barlaam placed reason above revelation or that he accorded more authority to pagan authors than to the Fathers of the Church. It was Palamas who said this, and it was a calumny; Barlaam, in reply, wrote to him:

“The wrongs of which you accuse me, most unjustly — and I fail to understand how your priestly soul was able to contrive such things against a Christian and a friend — are the following: while, for my own part, I spoke about divine things with all devotion, veneration, and godly fear, as befits all those who know themselves, and while, in particular, all things I spoke concerning demonstration were spoken in defense of the Fathers, since I found it hard to bear if anyone placed a higher value on demonstrations than on [the Fathers’] words, you, for your part, interpreted my whole discourse as though, having premised a comparison between our holy Fathers and the philosophers and asked which of them one ought to follow, I had preferred to devote my mind to the pagans, whereas you had thought it necessary that argument be made on behalf of the Fathers, giving the view that one must hold to them more than to anyone else. And, because of these things, on the one hand you place me among the ranks of the pagans whom you condemn, on the other hand you represent me as being opposed to those Fathers for whom you claim to fight, and you make pretense of being moved with divine zeal to anger for their sake, as though they had been injured by me. Having interpreted in this way my whole discourse, from start to finish, as far as in you lay you removed from me all possibility of appearing a pious man. For all those who have been won over to an opinion of your righteousness, when they read your letter and have not yet bothered to examine my own writings, will be led to believe deplorable things about me as far as concerns my faith. In fact, even now, upon my arrival in Thessalonica, I have found no small number who, upon your word, have been persuaded to condemn me as an enemy of religion.” [7] “In saying these things, you are well aware that all those who, in the future, will read your treatise will have of me the idea that this Italian Barlaam was an oddball who, pretending to believe in the Christian doctrines, was in reality a pure pagan, since he considered the thesis of the Greeks concerning the indemonstrability of the divine as more devout and pious than the view of its demonstrability maintained by the Fathers.” [8]

Barlaam can hardly be accused of profane humanism or of rationalism and neo-scholasticism; Akindynos and the Princess Irene-Eulogia and, in turn, their disciples and all those who were unwilling to accept Palamas’s doctrines were even less deserving of this accusation.

NOTES

[1] J. Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, 2nd ed. (Crestwood, NY, 1974), p. 27.

[2] Ibid.; translation slightly revised.

[3] Op. cit., p. 48.

[4] Op. cit., p. 27.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “In fact the greatness of Gregory Palamas creates, for someone who would approach questions concerning Barlaam, prejudices against the Calabrian philosopher, which only now are beginning to be overcome through objective research. Among these prejudices, one of the most undying ones holds that Barlaam was an odd personality who, preferring the pagan philosophers to the Fathers of the Church, fell into a radical agnosticism.” A. Fyrigos, ed., Barlaam Calabro: Epistole a Palamas (Rome 1975), p. v.

[7] Second Letter to Palamas, 24; Fyrigos, Epistole a Palamas, 124, 501 – 126, 520.

[8] Ibid., 27; Fyrigos, Epistole a Palamas, 132, 602-607.

I apologize for neglecting this blog over the past couple of weeks; in part, this has been due to family business (a funeral), and, in part, it may be ascribed to the fact that I need to start making a living, and have been looking at various ways of doing that; I took on a small editing job this past week, which is likely to preoccupy me for much of the coming month. But I have been meaning in particular to reply to the postings of the authors of the Energies of the Trinity blog, which have been accumulating for some time now at the bottom of my notes about St. Maximus on the filioque. The great question on my mind, in considering how to reply to them, is how to avoid empty polemics. The authors of this blog, Photios Jones and Perry Robinson, present a Photian and Palamite reading of the fathers, and argue that anyone who reads the fathers differently has misread them; I disagree with them. The grounds of my disagreement are complex, because the fathers are complex and their meaning is often difficult to unravel; at the same time, these complex grounds of disagreement center upon the question of divine simplicity. The claim made by Jones and Robinson is that a doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, such as one finds it in St. Augustine and later in Aquinas, is inconsistent with the traditional trinitarian teaching of the Church and in fact represents a surreptitious importation of pagan emanationism into Christian theology. To put it in other words, if Augustine and Aquinas are right in what they say about divine simplicity, then (according to the Neo-Palamite critique) God is not free, and the world is not contingent.

Defenders of the Palamite doctrine, who maintain an eternal, real distinction in God between essence and energies and assert that this provides the only true ontological basis for understanding divine freedom, routinely appeal to the witness of certain patristic texts. Of these texts, probably the most famous is that of St. Basil in his Letter 234 to Amphilochius of Iconium. In this letter, St. Basil answers a dilemma of the radical Arian Eunomius (“Do you worship what you know, or what you don’t know?” Compare Plato’s Meno) by distinguishing between God’s essence, which remains beyond our comprehension, and the activities or “energies” of God, on the basis of which we predicate of God that he is wise, good, powerful, just, and so on. Basil says:

“The activities are various, and the essence simple; but we say that we know God from his activities, but do not undertake to approach near to his essence. His activities (“energies”) come down to us, but his essence remains beyond our reach.” Ἀλλ᾽ αἱ μὲν ἐνέργειαι ποικίλαι, ἡ δὲ οὐσία ἁπλῆ. Ἡμεῖς δὲ ἐκ μὲν τῶν ἐνεργειῶν γνωρίζειν λέγομεν τὸν Θεὸν ἡμῶν, τῇ δὲ οὐσίᾳ αὐτῇ προσεγγίζειν οὐχ ὑπισχνούμεθα. Αἱ μὲν γὰρ ἐνέργειαι αὐτοῦ πρὸς ἡμᾶς καταβαίνουσιν, ἡ δὲ οὐσία αὐτοῦ μένει ἀπρόσιτος (PG 32, 869 A-B).

The fact that St. Basil distinguishes here between essence and energies is plain; what he means by this distinction, and how far he is pushing it into the heart of divine being itself, is debatable. My own considered opinion, as a student of the fathers, is that the basic Palamite reading of this text, which arose from the concern to defend the ascetic practices of hesychast monks, bears little relationship to the ends to which St. Basil is directing his argument in this letter. Basil is not denying divine simplicity in this or the subsequent letter, but he does deny the adequacy of our complex, discursive reason to express and know that simple God in his inmost reality. His account of how we know God in Letters 234 and 235 says nothing about mystical visions of light, and a lot about making valid inferences from everyday experience. (Not that Basil would deny mystical visions of light, but that is not, in any obvious sense, what he is talking about here.) And there is absolutely no assertion, whether in these letters or, to my knowledge, in any other text of the Cappadocian fathers, that a strong doctrine of divine simplicity compromises divine freedom and creaturely contingency.

Rather than pursue this argument further, since, unlike Messers. Jones and Robinson, I am not writing a dissertation on divine simplicity and I have other business to attend to, I thought it would be useful, and shed more light upon the subject, to present in this blog the analysis of someone more learned than me, who has looked into this matter in some detail. So yesterday I translated a few pages from an encyclopedia article written in French about a hundred years ago by a man named X. Le Bachelet, about whom I know next to nothing, but whose account of the theological issues at stake in the Cappadocian debate with Eunomius is as succinct and insightful as any I have come across in my years of studying this subject. It should be read as a balance (if not a corrective) to those recent books, like David Bradshaw’s Aristotle East and West, that give the Cappadocians a strictly Palamite reading. In any case, I give this translation below; I would only note that it is part of a much larger article, and does not comprise the whole even of Le Bachelet’s treatment of the Cappadocian critique of Eunomius. But something of the essentials is there, and something, I think, that is missing from most internet polemics.


X. Le Bachelet

God: His Nature According to the Fathers. The Cappadocians.

Translated from X. Le Bachelet, “Dieu: Sa nature d’après les pères,” in: A. Vacant et al., eds., Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, tome IV (Paris 1911), 1023-1152 (translation of cols. 1082-1085).

d) Cappadocian fathers: St. Basil (✝ 379); St. Gregory of Nazianzus (✝ 389 or 390); St. Gregory of Nyssa (✝ c. 395). –– The special importance of these three doctors of the Church is tied to the role they played in the Anomoean controversy over the divine names and our knowledge of God here in this life. They supplement and complement each another, for there occurred a development in the opposing attack. The adversary was Eunomius, bishop of Cyzicus (✝ 396), the leader of the Anomoeans. (See vol. I, cols. 1322 ff.) Around 360, he published his Ἀπολογητικός (PG 30, 837 ff.) in defense of the fundamental Arian thesis regarding the difference of nature or of essence between the Father and the Son. He takes as his point of departure these opening words of his creed: Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, πατέρα παντοκράτορα, ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα [“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, from whom are all things”] (§ 5, col. 840). But to the confession of one God he then attaches — expressly invoking natural reason and the doctrine of the fathers, κατά τε φυσικὴν ἔννοιαν καὶ κατὰ τὴν τῶν Πατέρων διδασκαλίαν — this qualification: μήτε παρ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ, μήτε παρ᾽ ἑτέρου γενόμενος, “who came into being neither by himself nor by someone else” (§ 7, col. 841). This is, periphrastically, the famous term ἀγέννητος, which he introduces with the goal of establishing that this notion expresses the very essence of God. It is not a mere verbal appellation, like those which correspond to conceptions of the human mind, κατ᾽ ἐπίνοιαν; prior to all our conceptions, and independently of them, God is in reality that which is, ὅ ἐστιν. It is not a privative name; the idea of privation does not accord with God and, besides, presupposes something positive. This term cannot be taken to mean a determinate part, different from some other, in God, who is simple and indivisible. This is why it expresses God’s very essence (§ 8, cols. 841 ff.).

Eunomius next opposes the γεννητὸς Son to the ἀγέννητος Father, alleging that simplicity, immutability, incorruptibility and other properties of the uncreated nature do not allow for the generation of the Son to be understood otherwise than as a creation or production, properly so called (§§ 9 ff., cols. 844 ff.). From this point on, the cause of Arianism is won. If ἀγεννησία, if the fact of being innascible, constitutes the very essence of the Father, the Son, who is not innascible, is necessarily differentiated from the Father, who is; he cannot be God in the same sense. The diversity of names makes manifest the diversity of nature (§ 12, col. 848). Further on in his book (§ 20, col. 856), Eunomius endeavors to support this conclusion with the help of the two distinct methods we possess for judging beings, the first of which consists in considering their essences, the second, in examining their operations [activities, “energies”]. This is not to say that words that differ materially cannot signify the same thing, as, for example, when one says “Being” and “the only true God,” ὡς τὸ ὂν καὶ μόνος ἀληθινὸς Θεός (§ 17, col. 852). Inversely, words which have the same sound are able not to signify the same thing; so, e.g., the words “light,” “life,” or “power,” applied to the Father (uncreated light, etc.) or to the Son (created light, etc.) (§ 19, col. 853).

From this analysis of that which, in Eunomius’s apology, relates most directly to the nature and the knowledge of God, we can see what his fundamental thesis was, and what were its consequences. The thesis was found in this affirmation, that innascibility or aseity, τὸ ἀγέννητον εἶναι, constitutes the very essence of God and that, consequently, the word ἀγέννητος is the true name of God, that which expresses adequately his essence. It would follow that, in knowing this name, one would fully know the divine essence; and this in fact was, as we have seen, the Anomoeans’ pretension. (Cf. Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica, IV.7, PG 67, 473.) As regards the names we give to God, we are faced with the following alternative: either they can truly signify him only by being synonymous with ἀγέννητος, or else, being founded upon conceptions of reason, they are nothing but mere subjective or verbal appellations, without any objective application. On this latter score, Eunomius prefigures the nominalism of the Middle Ages, as Schwane remarks (Histoire des dogmes, tr. Degert, vol. 2, Paris 1904, p. 40). But nothing, whether in the Apology of this heresiarch or in the refutation by St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa, justifies the claim of Cardinal Franzelin, Tractatus de Deo uno, th. X, §1 (Rome, 1876), p. 129, refuted elsewhere by Fr. J. M. Piccirelli, De Deo uno et trino (Naples, 1902), p. 335, namely, that Eunomius’s error was ultimately rooted in a confusion of God with abstract, universal being. The contrary seems rather to follow from the fact that this heretic admitted in God the positive perfections that are found in Holy Scripture, e.g., those of light, life, power, etc., although he did so, as we have seen, while co-opting them into his own conception of things, by adjoining his favorite epithet: uncreated light, uncreated life, uncreated power.

Around the year 364 or 365, St. Basil responded to Eunomius’s Apology with his Ἀνατρεπτικὸς τοῦ Ἀπολογητικοῦ τοῦ δυσσεβοῦς Εὐνομίου λόγος, Adversus Eunomium libri tres (PG 29, 497-669). Ten years later, in 375, he wrote to St. Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium, a number of letters, two in particular, which stand as a complement to the earlier work. Eunomius in turn replied with a new apology, Ἀπολογία ὑπὲρ ἀπολογίας, published probably shortly before St. Basil’s death (1 January 379). It is known only by the fragments cited by St. Gregory of Nyssa in the refutation he immediately made of it, Contra Eunomium libri duodecim (PG 45, 243-1122); the fragments are collected, for the most part, by C. H. G. Rettberg, Marcelliana (Göttingen, 1794), pp. 125 ff. They are apologetic in tenor and add few new elements to the doctrine expounded above; but they provide the bishop of Nyssa an occasion for defending the teachings of his venerated brother, and for explaining them more fully on certain points. Finally, around the same period, St. Gregory of Nazianzus pronounced at Constantinople, in 381, his famous Theological Orations, of which the second treats of God and relates directly to the Anomoean controversy. The doctrine that results from this collection of documents can be grouped around four points, touched on successively by St. Basil in his Ἀνατρεπτικός.

a) Ἐπίνοια. “Conceptions” and rational distinctions in God. —— Eunomius had opposed the name innascible (ἀγέννητος) to appellations κατ᾽ ἐπίνοιαν, that is to say, founded upon the conceptions of the human mind. He denied to these appellations all objective value; purely verbal, they have no real existence except in the sounds produced. St. Basil finds himself forced to elucidate the delicate question of conceptions or notions of reason (Adv. Eunom., bk. I, §§ 5 ff., cols. 520 ff.). He starts by asking his adversary what he means by this operation of the mind that is called ἐπίνοια [epinoia]. Does he mean the imagination that creates unreal fictions, like centaurs or chimeras? Even then, Eunomius’s claim would be excessive, since these gross fictions, these beings of pure reason, do not necessarily pass away with the production of their sounds; the memory of them can remain in the mind. Furthermore, one sees here only an imperfect and inferior acceptation of ἐπίνοια; in the usual, and more relevant, sense of the word, it is understood of an operation of the mind that applies itself to a real object, so as to consider it in a more penetrating and more precise manner, τὴν λεπτοτέραν καὶ ἀκριβεστέραν τοῦ νοηθέντος ἐπενθύμησιν (col. 524). It turns out, in fact, that, when presented with an object that first appears to us simple in its concrete reality, our mind then perceives multiple aspects; in a body, for example, it perceives color, form, duration, size, etc. Whence the conceptions and the distinctions of reason, κατ᾽ ἐπίνοιαν (§ 6, cols. 522 ff.). Thus, in the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself is named door, way, bread, vine, shepherd, and light — notions distinct in their signification, distinct likewise in their foundation according to the diversity of the operations which they presuppose, and according to the Savior’s manifold relationship with the beings that have enjoyed his benefits (§ 7, cols. 524 ff.).

It is these principles which St. Basil applies to the divine names: first to ἀγέννητος, then to the terms “incorruptible,” “infinite,” “immense,” showing the different aspects under which divinity is thus conceived. “Why then deny that one may legitimately form such names, and that they correspond to something real in God,” καὶ ὁμολογίαν εἶναι τοῦ κατ᾽ ἀλήθειαν τῷ Θεῷ προσόντος (ibid., col. 525)? If one rejects these conceptions and these distinctions of reason, it will be necessary to say that all the appellations attributed to God signify equally his substance; that the idea of immutability suggests immediately to the mind that of innascibility, or the idea of indivisibility that of creative power. What could be more absurd than such a confusion? What more opposed to common sense and to revealed doctrine (§ 8, col. 528)?

Divine simplicity would be impaired if, by these multiple names, one claimed to designate diverse parts of God; but we know that, for his own part, God is entirely life, entirely light, entirely goodness. It is therefore only a question of expressing the properties of the divine nature, which is otherwise simple in itself. Otherwise, everything that we speak about God in a distinct manner, in calling him invisible, incorruptible, immutable, creator, just, etc., would all backfire and become an argument against his own proper simplicity (bk. II, § 29, col. 640). Elsewhere, St. Basil insists upon the unity of the [divine] subject, τὸν αὐτὸν ἐνεδείξω, but without taking anything away from the proper notion which attaches to each of the divine names, διὰ τῆς ἑκάστοις ἐνθεωρουμένης ἐμφάσεως (Epist. 189, 5; PG 32, 689). Such is also the teaching of St. Gregory of Nyssa, when one abstracts from certain ad hominem arguments, as discussed in Petavius, De Deo Deique proprietatibus, bk. I, ch. 7, §§ 5 ff. The unity and the absolute simplicity of the divine nature are not in question; but this nature, which is one and simple in itself, is beyond our power immediately to grasp, nor can we conceive of it or express it by a single notion. Multiplicity arises therefore directly from our mode of understanding, but it has its basis in the eminence and the ineffability of the object (Contra Eunomium, bk. XII; PG 45, cols. 1069, 1077, 1104 f.).

The reply of the heresiarch forced the bishop of Nyssa to revisit certain other points, in particular the concept of ἐπίνοια. Eunomius agreed that it was possible for there to be something else besides simple sounds in the designations of reason, but he limited the force of ἐπίνοια to the mind’s imaginary creations, in its ability to frame for itself monstrosities, pygmies, centaurs (ibid., col. 969). Gregory, taking advantage of this concession, had no difficulty in showing the arbitrariness and illegitimacy of the restriction. Is not ἐπίνοια, above all, this noble and fecund faculty of the mind (a comprehending or interpreting faculty, ἢ τῆς καταληπτικῆς διανοίας, ἢ τῆς ἑρμηνευτικῆς δυνάμεως, col. 1104), which allows one “to discover what one does not know, taking as the starting point for further knowledge that which is associated, by connection or by consequence, to the initial notion one has of a thing?” (col. 970). Thus, when we observe that God, the first cause, cannot come from another, we form a term to express this idea, and we say, concerning that which has no cause above itself, that it exists “without beginning” or “without being produced,” ἀνάρχως εἴτουν ἀγεννήτως (col. 973). Similarly with the other divine names: they correspond to the multiple and various conceptions that we form in order to acquire the knowledge of that which we seek, πρὸς τὴν κατανόησιν τοῦ ζητουμένου θηρεύοντες (col. 957). If these names are without meaning or have but one identical signification, why do the Holy Scriptures give these enumerations where God is called judge, just, good, longsuffering, trustworthy, merciful, and so on? (col. 1069; cf. bk. I, col. 396). Is it not that the Holy Spirit willed that, by this variety and this multiplicity, the sacred writers should guide us to the knowledge of the incorruptible nature? (De professione christiana, PG 46, 241).

These testimonies, whose number it would be easy to augment, give us grounds for taking issue with an assertion advanced by W. Meyer, (Die Gotteslehre des Gregor von Nyssa, p. 16), according to which all our appellations pertaining to God can only be, for the Cappadocian doctor, subjective reflections of the human mind, without metaphysical significance. The passage appealed to, Quod non sint tres dii, PG 45, 121, far from proving this assertion, establishes the opposite. The bishop of Nyssa there maintains, in truth, that none of these names signifies the divine nature itself, but he says at the same time that these names, whether they be of human institution or be furnished to us by Holy Scripture, express one or another of the things one can conceive regarding the divine nature, τῶν τι περὶ τὴν θείαν φύσιν νοουμένῳ ἑρμηνευτικὸν εἶναι λέγομεν, that they have the goal of conducting us to the knowledge of God, and that to each of them attaches a particular meaning, a meaning that concerns what has to do with the divine nature, ἀλλά τι τῶν περὶ αὐτῆς διὰ τῶν λεγομένων γνωρίζεσθαι.

In sum, who would not recognize, in this doctrine of St. Basil and his brother, that which would later, in the language of the scholastics, be called distinctio rationis ratiocinatae or virtualis, cum fundamento in re? And, in Eunomius’s attempt to turn back upon the divine essence itself the formal distinction which is found in our rational conceptions, who would not recognize the error of Plato, noted by St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, Ia, q. 84, a. 1, that the form of the concept is the same as that of the object known? Cf. Petavius, op. cit., bk. I, chs. 7-9.