WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today to a meeting of more than 400 Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America.

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Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Professors, Teachers and Educators,

“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news” (Rom 10:15-17). With these words of Isaiah quoted by Saint Paul, I warmly greet each of you — bearers of wisdom — and through you the staff, students and families of the many and varied institutions of learning that you represent. It is my great pleasure to meet you and to share with you some thoughts regarding the nature and identity of Catholic education today. I especially wish to thank Father David O’Connell, President and Rector of the Catholic University of America. Your kind words of welcome are much appreciated. Please extend my heartfelt gratitude to the entire community — faculty, staff and students — of this University.

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.

The dynamic between personal encounter, knowledge and Christian witness is integral to the diakonia of truth which the Church exercises in the midst of humanity. God’s revelation offers every generation the opportunity to discover the ultimate truth about its own life and the goal of history. This task is never easy; it involves the entire Christian community and motivates each generation of Christian educators to ensure that the power of God’s truth permeates every dimension of the institutions they serve. In this way, Christ’s Good News is set to work, guiding both teacher and student towards the objective truth which, in transcending the particular and the subjective, points to the universal and absolute that enables us to proclaim with confidence the hope which does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5:5). Set against personal struggles, moral confusion and fragmentation of knowledge, the noble goals of scholarship and education, founded on the unity of truth and in service of the person and the community, become an especially powerful instrument of hope.

Dear friends, the history of this nation includes many examples of the Church’s commitment in this regard. The Catholic community here has in fact made education one of its highest priorities. This undertaking has not come without great sacrifice. Towering figures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other founders and foundresses, with great tenacity and foresight, laid the foundations of what is today a remarkable network of parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being of the Church and the nation. Some, like Saint Katharine Drexel, devoted their lives to educating those whom others had neglected — in her case, African Americans and Native Americans. Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society.

This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.

Some today question the Church’s involvement in education, wondering whether her resources might be better placed elsewhere. Certainly in a nation such as this, the State provides ample opportunities for education and attracts committed and generous men and women to this honorable profession. It is timely, then, to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the Church’s primary mission of evangelization?

All the Church’s activities stem from her awareness that she is the bearer of a message which has its origin in God himself: in his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal himself and to make known the hidden purpose of his will (cf. Eph 1:9; Dei Verbum, 2). God’s desire to make himself known, and the innate desire of all human beings to know the truth, provide the context for human inquiry into the meaning of life. This unique encounter is sustained within our Christian community: the one who seeks the truth becomes the one who lives by faith (cf. Fides et Ratio, 31). It can be described as a move from “I” to “we”, leading the individual to be numbered among God’s people.

This same dynamic of communal identity — to whom do I belong? — vivifies the ethos of our Catholic institutions. A university or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction — do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self — intellect and will, mind and heart — to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.

From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary “crisis of truth” is rooted in a “crisis of faith”. Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God’s testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals. Again, we see why fostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to his loving truth is indispensable in Catholic institutions of learning. Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in — a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves. A particular responsibility therefore for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief. It is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth. In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the fullness of the life of faith which is given to us in the Church.

Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society. They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s “being for others” (cf. ibid., 28).

The Church’s primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation’s fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person’s dignity. At times, however, the value of the Church’s contribution to the public forum is questioned. It is important therefore to recall that the truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another (cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV: DS 3017; St. Augustine, Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43). The Church’s mission, in fact, involves her in humanity’s struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths. Drawing upon divine wisdom, she sheds light on the foundation of human morality and ethics, and reminds all groups in society that it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis of praxis. Far from undermining the tolerance of legitimate diversity, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus attainable, and helps to keep public debate rational, honest and accountable. Similarly the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board.

With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith. This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality which, in rejecting metaphysics, denies the foundations of faith and rejects the need for a moral vision. Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her the entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, God’s creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is revealed as Goodness itself. Far from being just a communication of factual data — “informative” — the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing — “performative” (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness. In this way you will also help to form their conscience which, enriched by faith, opens a sure path to inner peace and to respect for others.

It comes as no surprise, then, that not just our own ecclesial communities but society in general has high expectations of Catholic educators. This places upon you a responsibility and offers an opportunity. More and more people — parents in particular — recognize the need for excellence in the human formation of their children. As Mater et Magistra, the Church shares their concern. When nothing beyond the individual is recognized as definitive, the ultimate criterion of judgment becomes the self and the satisfaction of the individual’s immediate wishes. The objectivity and perspective, which can only come through a recognition of the essential transcendent dimension of the human person, can be lost. Within such a relativistic horizon the goals of education are inevitably curtailed. Slowly, a lowering of standards occurs. We observe today a timidity in the face of the category of the good and an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth and a reluctance to admit imperfection and mistakes. And particularly disturbing, is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of ‘risk’, bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love.

How might Christian educators respond? These harmful developments point to the particular urgency of what we might call “intellectual charity”. This aspect of charity calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love. Indeed, the dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated. In practice “intellectual charity” upholds the essential unity of knowledge against the fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth. It guides the young towards the deep satisfaction of exercising freedom in relation to truth, and it strives to articulate the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life. Once their passion for the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, young people will surely relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of what they ought to do. Here they will experience “in what” and “in whom” it is possible to hope, and be inspired to contribute to society in a way that engenders hope in others.

Dear friends, I wish to conclude by focusing our attention specifically on the paramount importance of your own professionalism and witness within our Catholic universities and schools. First, let me thank you for your dedication and generosity. I know from my own days as a professor, and I have heard from your Bishops and officials of the Congregation for Catholic Education, that the reputation of Catholic institutes of learning in this country is largely due to yourselves and your predecessors. Your selfless contributions — from outstanding research to the dedication of those working in inner-city schools — serve both your country and the Church. For this I express my profound gratitude.

In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church’s munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.

Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church’s Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.

I wish also to express a particular word of encouragement to both lay and Religious teachers of catechesis who strive to ensure that young people become daily more appreciative of the gift of faith. Religious education is a challenging apostolate, yet there are many signs of a desire among young people to learn about the faith and practice it with vigor. If this awakening is to grow, teachers require a clear and precise understanding of the specific nature and role of Catholic education. They must also be ready to lead the commitment made by the entire school community to assist our young people, and their families, to experience the harmony between faith, life and culture.

Here I wish to make a special appeal to Religious Brothers, Sisters and Priests: do not abandon the school apostolate; indeed, renew your commitment to schools especially those in poorer areas. In places where there are many hollow promises which lure young people away from the path of truth and genuine freedom, the consecrated person’s witness to the evangelical counsels is an irreplaceable gift. I encourage the Religious present to bring renewed enthusiasm to the promotion of vocations. Know that your witness to the ideal of consecration and mission among the young is a source of great inspiration in faith for them and their families.

To all of you I say: bear witness to hope. Nourish your witness with prayer. Account for the hope that characterizes your lives (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) by living the truth which you propose to your students. Help them to know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy. With Saint Augustine, let us say: “we who speak and you who listen acknowledge ourselves as fellow disciples of a single teacher” (Sermons, 23:2). With these sentiments of communion, I gladly impart to you, your colleagues and students, and to your families, my Apostolic Blessing.

© Copyright 2008 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana

To follow up on my last posting: I did make the trip to Washington, D.C. after all, and I did see the pope, although not upon his arrival at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as I had originally planned but earlier in the day, by waiting along the route of his motorcade. Having arrived on Tuesday too late to get a ticket from the Alumni Office of Catholic University, and having read in Wednesday morning’s Washington Post that Pope Benedict would be making a procession around noon from the White House to the Vatican Embassy at 3339 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., I took the Metro to Foggy Bottom near Washington Circle, and waited for an hour or so on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue near the corner of 21st Street, in front of George Washington University. Crowds had gathered, and continued to gather, along both sides of the road behind police barricades, with people of all physical and economic descriptions mingling peacefully, awaiting the pope’s appearance on a warm, sunny spring morning. Across the street, a child held a sign that wished Pope Benedict a Happy Birthday. I thought I saw, across the street, a former student of mine, now a nursing student at GWU, but was prevented by the barricades from making further enquiries. A little to my right, a group of students from the local Redemptorist seminary was chanting loudly and boisterously, in English and Spanish, to the accompaniment of Mexican drums, beneath a white banner with lettering that read, among other things, “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” (They looked a little like rabbinical students at first, because of their beards.) Also towards my right stood a man whose name I didn’t know but whom I was fairly certain I’d encountered many years before, looking very Washingtonian in his grey business suit and sunglasses, like some character from the comic strip Doonesbury; the presence of the crowds, and the expectation of seeing Pope Benedict, had evidently prevailed upon this man’s nature, too, to such an extent that, momentarily forgetting his studied nonchalance and self-possession, he had descended to the sidewalk to gaze down the avenue along with the women, the children, the tourists, the zealots, and the rest of the anonymous crowd. Behind me, salesmen passed back and forth selling commemorative tee-shirts, buttons, and white and yellow Vatican flags, the tee-shirts for $5, the flags (at least, the larger ones) for $10. At certain street-corners, other peddlers passed out free sectarian literature (“America: Superpower of Prophecy”; “National Sunday Law: A Shocking Glimpse Behind the Scenes”). In the glass office-buildings that lined the boulevard, people stood staring at the scene outside their windows, temporarily ignoring their paperwork. Finally, around 12 noon, helicopters began circling overhead, some cars and motorcycles and medical vehicles passed by very quickly, it became clear that something was happening, and a few minutes later the motorcade began to appear, proceeding slowly down the avenue; first, evidently, some Secret Service men inside an SUV, then other cars with important-looking persons in them, then, finally, the pope in his yellow and white popemobile. (At least, I recall it having been yellow and white; in the New York Times yesterday, there was a picture that showed it to be simply white, which is not how it seemed to me at the time. I had completely forgotten about the existence of the popemobile, and had been wondering how the pope would be protected from possible lunatics, of which my country unfortunately has a superabundance.) Pope Benedict was seated on a raised seat inside the popemobile’s tall glass enclosure, from which he could turn and bless the crowds; two other bishops, dressed in black, sat facing him. At length, the pope, in his vehicle, passed by the area where I was standing. It would probably be presumptuous of me to suppose that, among that teeming mass of American humanity, I stood out in any way, such that the Bishop of Rome should have taken any personal notice of me. Yet it seemed to me that he did. At any rate, I took the blessing that Pope Benedict gave in our direction as directed towards me personally, as well as directed personally towards the others who had come to receive it.

One may wonder what is the point of seeing someone in person from a distance of 15 or 20 or 30 yards when one has such a better view of him from a television set or from pictures in a book or newspaper or on a computer screen. A simple answer would be that all pictures produced by art or technology are merely copies and representations of the original thing, the unique human being, and can never replace him or her or fully communicate a personal presence. Art can never replace life. And life, as the title of one book truly states, is with people. However briefly and imperfectly, I did get some sense of Pope Benedict XVI this Wednesday, a sense of his presence as a person, which I don’t think I could have gotten otherwise than by seeing him and being seen, even if as part of a crowd.

After this, as the crowds were thinning and I was walking back towards the subway, it occurred to me to call an old friend who lives in the neighborhood of Washington Circle, whom I had not seen or heard from for some time. In fact, about fourteen years ago, I had offended this friend in a serious way, not by forethought but by selfishness and stupidity, such that, although I had seen him and spoken with him occasionally over the years since then, he had never really forgiven me. He agreed to meet me, although I judged by the sound of his voice that he felt no joy at the prospect; his face, when I saw him, fully confirmed my impression that he had consented to meet me only out of a sense of lugubrious duty. We walked to a coffee shop, my attempts to engage him in conversation all failing. He insisted upon buying the coffee, then stepped outside for awhile as though unsure whether he really wanted to sit down and talk. Eventually he did sit down and talk. Suffice it to say that, during the course of an often difficult conversation, which lasted about three hours, I began gradually to perceive again the truth of the proverb, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17). At the end of those three hours, he extended to me again the right hand of friendship. I am under no illusions as to that amicable feeling being irreversible or yet firmly grounded; nevertheless, I consider that change of heart no small miracle, and I credit it to Pope Benedict’s blessing. Those of you who may be gathering evidence to support the cause of Pope Benedict’s future beatification should make a note of this testimony.

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.

Gregory of Nazianzus, poem 2.1.78, Ad suam animam (To his own soul)

You have a job to do, soul, and a great one, if you like:
Examine yourself, what thing you are, and towards what you are turning;
Where do you come from, and where shall you end,
And is life this very life you’re living, or something else besides?

You have a job to do, soul; by these things cleanse your life.
Make me to know God and God’s mysteries.
What was before the universe, and why does the universe exist for you?
Where has it come from, and where is it going?

You have a job to do, soul, by these things cleanse your life.
How does God guide and turn the universe:
Or why are some things permanent, others transient,
And us especially, in this changing life?

You have a job to do, soul: look to God alone.
What was my glory once, and what this present hybris?
What my interweaving, and what the end of my life?
Of these things inform me, and check the mind from wandering.

You have a job to do, soul: may you suffer no injury in the labor.

Palamas in Italian

December 15, 2007

An Italian translation of the complete works of Gregory Palamas has appeared. The translation, in three thick volumes with the original Greek text on facing pages, advertises itself as the first complete translation of Palamas into a modern Western language. Its general editor is Ettore Perrella; according to his home page, Perrella was born in Gallipoli (near Constantinople) in 1952, studied psychoanalysis under Jacques Lacan, taught for some years at Padua where he currently lives, and has published a number of works on psychoanalysis and its philosophical and scientific significance. He describes his work on Palamas in the following way (if I have translated him correctly):

“From 2003 to 2006 he published, in three volumes, at l’Editore Bompiani in Milan, a complete translation of the works of the Greek theologian Gregory Palamas, a writer whose contribution appears to him unavoidable if one wants to confront the problem of the ethical status of the sciences.”

The three volumes are:

  • Gregorio Palamas: Atto e luce divina – Gli scritti filosofici e teologici (2003) (1500 pp.; € 35.00) [Gregory Palamas: Act and divine light: philosophical and theological writings]
  • Gregorio Palamas: Dal sovraessenziale all’essenza (2005) (cxxxv + 1570 pp.; € 36.00) [Gregory Palamas: From the superessential to the essence]
  • Gregorio Palamas: Che cos’e’ l’ortodossia (2006) (lvi + 1816 pp.; € 37.00) [Gregory Palamas: What is Orthodoxy?]
  • I purchased the second of these fat, hefty volumes a year or so ago, thinking that it was the whole of Palamas’s works; only later did I realize that I had gotten only volume two of a three-part work. Anyway, if one has any interest at all in Palamas or in Byzantine theology and can read a bit of Italian, or if one simply wants a handy edition of the Greek text, these books are worth acquiring. They are advertised on-line at the following URL: http://www.liberonweb.com/asp/lista.asp?D1=Autore&T1=Palamas&B1=+++Cerca+++&I1=1

    I confess that I have not yet worked through Perrella’s lengthy introduction. In general, it seems to present a view of Palamas very much like what one finds over at the Energies of the Trinity weblog: unless one fully understands what it means for God to be beyond essence — and, with that, accepts the real distinction in God between essence and energies — one falls into all kinds of deadly contradictions and ends up with a sterile abstraction in place of the living God of the Scriptures. At the present time, I would prefer not to enter into that discussion. I sometimes find that debates over “essence” and “energy,” like certain faculty discussions about matters of finance, make my head feel light and the room begin to disappear, as though the rarified nature of the subject matter had an immediate, rarifying influence upon the oxygen in my blood. Since I frequently need to operate a motor vehicle, it would not be safe for me to discuss Palamism at this time.

    Still, others may have hardier constitutions; therefore I am passing on to readers the information about these books. Consider your own frailties, and do not blame me if you become light-headed.

    A saying of Hillel’s

    December 13, 2007

    הוא היה אמור, אם אין אני לי מי לי. וכשאני לעצמי מה אני. ואם לא עכשו אימתי

    “He used to say,

    If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
    But, in being for my own self, what am I?
    And if not now, when?”

    Pirke Avoth (The Sayings of the Fathers), I.14.

    Bekkos, or Vekkos?

    November 10, 2007

    The question, “How do you spell the name ‘Bekkos’?” may sound like a superfluous and silly question to ask, since, if the person asking it asks it in writing, he attests that he already has a knowledge of how it is spelled. If only things were that simple. I confess that the question of how to spell Bekkos’s name is something I have spent long hours pondering over, and it would be well for me to clarify this issue and get it out of the way so that I could then move on to matters of perhaps greater theological importance.

    There is, unfortunately, no single, commonly accepted way of spelling John Bekkos’s name in English. Reasons for this are complicated. John Bekkos, as readers of this blog by now probably know, did not write in English, but in Greek, and the Greek language uses a different alphabet than the Latin one on which English writing has been based since English began to be written. Moreover, the sounds of the Greek language shifted over time, as, apparently, the sounds of all languages do; this produced a certain lack of correspondence between the Latin and Greek alphabets and a confusion in representing Greek words in Latin dress: did one opt for historical continuity, representing, e.g., the Greek B (beta) by the Latin B, or did one attempt, instead, to represent the Greek word by the closest equivalent Latin sounds? Since probably the early middle ages, the Greek letter beta has taken on a sound that we now represent by the letter V (bear in mind that V earlier had a “W” sound — the letter W, and the differentiation between V and U, are later inventions).

    For the name “Bekkos,” there are other complications. The Romans, in their alphabet, used two different letters to indicate the gutteral “K” sound: both C and K. (The letter C originally had a “G” sound, e.g., the name spelled “Caius” was originally pronounced “Gaius.” By the late third century B.C. a sound shift had occurred, C took on the sound of the Greek K (kappa), and, since the “G” sound had not actually disappeared, people felt the need for a new letter to represent it. Hence the letter G was invented, and Latin was left with two ways of representing the “K” sound, namely, the letters C and K. The letter K was employed almost exclusively in Latin words of Greek origin.)

    Furthermore, the Greek name Βέκκος is a second declension Greek noun, and it was represented in Latin as a second declension Latin noun, with the nominative ending -us.

    Add to this the fact that “Bekkos” is a relatively short name, with only five different letters. Of these, three of them, B, K, and O, have variants. It is only the letters E and S that are unambiguous, i.e., that show a simple, one-to-one correspondence between Greek and Latin.

    β -> b, v
    ε -> e
    κ -> c, k
    ο -> u, o
    ς -> s

    Thus, you begin to get a sense of why spelling Bekkos’s name becomes a headache.

    (Note that, for the name “Palamas,” there is no such ambiguity: all five letters of his name have a simple, one-to-one correspondence between Greek and Latin:

    π -> p
    α -> a
    λ -> l
    μ -> m
    ς -> s.)

    (In Russian, there is no such confusion. Because the Cyrillic alphabet is based on the Greek one, there is a simple Russian spelling of the name which both looks right and sounds right, Иоанн Векк, pronounced “Vekk.” Веккос, pronounced “Vekkos,” is given as a variant.)

    In medieval Latin texts and inscriptions, both the forms “Beccus” and “Veccus” occur. This variability is reflected later on in published Latin texts: e.g., in J.-P. Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, vol. 141, which reprints the Greek texts of most of Bekkos’s works together with the Latin translations of Leo Allatius, the form “Veccus” is used; in volume 142 of the same series, both “Beccus” and “Veccus” are found. Fr. Martin Jugie, in his Theologia Dogmatica Christianorum Orientalium, published in the early 1930’s, uses “Veccus”; Fr. Jacek Benedykt Huculak, in a Latin dissertation published in 1989 (Graeca indoles doctrinae Constantini Meliteniotae de processione Spiritus Sancti ex Patre Filioque), uses “Beccus.”

    Originally, English writers adopted both of these forms directly from the Latin. Gibbon, in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. LXII, uses the form “Veccus” (he describes him, fairly, as “an ecclesiastic of learning and moderation”). Through much of the twentieth century, “Beccus” was the usual English form: it is what one finds, for instance, in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, and (I think), in the first edition of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1967; it is also the way the name was spelled by Fr. Joseph Gill, S.J. in his various studies (including the only substantial article ever written on Bekkos in the English language), and by Prof. Aristeides Papadakis in his book Crisis in Byzantium. And, in fact, when I began my own studies of Bekkos, that is how I generally spelled his name, “Beccus.”

    Why then the new spelling?

    Beginning perhaps in the late 1950’s or early 60’s, and acquiring greater force thereafter, there came about, in various academic disciplines, a movement to de-latinize the English spelling of Greek names. People are by now probably used to hearing “Odysseus” instead of “Ulysses”; they are probably less comfortable with “Akhilleus” instead of “Achilles,” or “Sokrates” instead of “Socrates,” and, although “Vasilios” is a perfectly good Modern Greek name, few people would say that that is how one ought to pronounce the name of St. Basil when speaking of him in English. That is probably because “Basil” is already a fairly common English name. Those Greeks whose names are not widely known in English are seen as fair game for linguistic revision.

    Perhaps behind this linguistic revision there is a philosophical stance. Heidegger famously thought that medieval Latin philosophy had covered up the real meanings of Greek philosophical terms, turning concrete realities into abstractions, and that it was the task of modern philosophy to uncover the original meanings of words and their attendent experiences, that philosophy, in other words, at least at the present time, is a project of “desedimentation.” (In keeping with this project, there are translations of Aristotle entirely devoted to removing the traditional, latinate ontological language in which Aristotle’s thought has hitherto been rendered into English. See, e.g., the translations of Joe Sachs.) This philosophical background may have had something to do with the movement to make English look less like Latin when representing Greek names.

    It is also possible, of course, that the pressures of identity politics have had some effect. A person demanding that the names “Maximus,” “Photius,” and “Ignatius” be represented as “Maximos,” “Photios,” “Ignatios” seems to be engaged in simply a different version of the project of him who would represent “Isaac” as “Yitzaak” when speaking of the biblical patriarch: he is asserting, through linguistic means, a form of ownership of the history.

    (I should add that the name has been consistently spelled “Bekkos” in German since at least the late nineteenth century.)

    For whatever reasons, the forms “Bekkos” and “Vekkos” have become more prominent in English, and indeed in other languages, since the 1960’s, to the point where it does seem that “Bekkos” is now the commonest English spelling. It is the spelling, for instance, used by Henry Chadwick in the passage I quoted a few days ago; and it is the spelling one finds in the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, as well as in many other scholarly articles. For this reason, and because someone who read my translations expressed to me a worry that “Beccus” might be taken as too latinate, I began using the more common recent form around the middle of last year. Since there are no other translations of Bekkos available in English, my guess is that the spelling I employ in the book will have some impact upon how his name is spelled in the future. That is why I am puzzling over this.

    One of the ironies is that, of all people, John Bekkos would no doubt be supremely unconcerned about how one spelled his name. His constant theological refrain is that it is the underlying reality that matters, not the words used to express it.

    Incidentally, in an earlier draft of this posting, I mistakenly assumed that “Bekkos” is not a common Greek name. I was wrong. Through the wonders of internet search engines, I find that there is, at this time, a podiatrist named Vekkos who practices in Naperville, Illinois, and a botanist named Vekkos in Greece; there are also many Vekkoses in the Athens telephone directory. Still, the name is not based upon any evident Greek roots, which raises for me the question of its etymology.

    There is a word “beccus,” found in late Latin, meaning “beak”; it is a borrowing from the French “bec.” Although it is possible that some ancestor of Bekkos’s could have been called “Mr. Beak” from the shape of his nose, it seems to me unlikely that that is the source of the Bekkos/Vekkos family name: for one thing, if there had been this French origin to the family, Bekkos’s detractors would certainly have made much of the fact; secondly, the French “B” would probably not have been represented by the Greek beta, which had already taken on the “V” sound.

    Another etymology seems to me more likely. Tertullian, in his work Ad nationes, relates the story of a curious experiment, made by a man named Psammetichus.

    “Psammetichus thought that he had hit upon the ingenious discovery of the primeval man. He is said to have removed certain new-born infants from all human intercourse, and to have entrusted them to a nurse, whom he had previously deprived of her tongue, in order that, being completely exiled from all sound of the human voice, they might form their speech without hearing it; and thus, deriving it from themselves alone, might indicate what that first nation was whose speech was dictated by nature. Their first utterance was BEKKOS, a word which means ‘bread’ in the language of Phrygia: the Phrygians, therefore, are supposed to be the first of the human race.” (Ad nationes 8.15.)

    Compare the Albanian word for bread, “bukë,” apparently cognate with the English “bake.”

    So far as anyone knows, Bekkos’s family had its roots in Asia Minor; they owned some property near Nicaea, and the way Bekkos speaks of himself, and others speak about him, suggests that, while not a family of the greatest wealth, they had lived in Constantinople for quite some time. Given these Anatolian connections, the Phrygian etymology seems to me to make the most sense. In other words, the Bekkos/Vekkos family is probably descended from someone in Asia Minor whom his neighbors referred to, in their own language, as “Mr. Baker.”