A passage at the end of Book II of Pope Gregory the Great’s Dialogues on the Life and Miracles of the Italian Fathers reads as follows (PL 66, 204B and 203B):

Cum enim constet quia Paracletus Spiritus a Patre semper procedat et Filio, cur se Filius recessurum dicit, ut ille veniat, qui a Filio nunquam recedit?

Φανερὸν οὖν ὑπάρχει, ὅτι τὸ παράκλητον πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς προέρχεται, καὶ ἐν τῷ Υἱῷ διαμένει. Τίνος οὖν χάριν ἑαυτὸν ὁ υἱὸς πορευθῆναι λέγει, ἵνα ἐκεῖνος ἔλθῃ ὅστις οὐδέποτε ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ ἐχωρίσθη;

The Latin text may be translated as follows:
“For since it is certain that the Spirit, the Paraclete, always proceeds from the Father and the Son, why does the Son say that he is going to go away, so that that one (the Paraclete) may come, who is never absent from the Son?”

The Greek translation presents a significantly different meaning:

“It therefore stands as clear that the Spirit, the Paraclete, comes forth from the Father, and rests in the Son. For what reason, therefore, does the Son say that he himself is going away so that that one (the Paraclete) may come, who is never separated from him?”
A note on this is found in Migne, loc. cit.:

Hoc loco animadvertat lector, verba illa, Φανερὸν οὖν ὑπάρχει, ὅτι τὸ παράκλητον πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς προέρχεται, καὶ ἐν τῷ Υἱῷ διαμένει, id est, Aperte igitur patet, quod Paracletus Spiritus a Patre procedit, et in Filio permanet, longe aliter legi apud Gregorium Latine, nempe : Cum enim constet, quia Paracletus Spiritus a Patre semper procedat et Filio. Ex quo manifeste apparet, a Græcis postea Zachariæ papæ versionem fuisse depravatam, ut bene notavit Joannes diaconus lib. IV de Vita ejusdem B. Gregorii, cap. 75, de Dialogis loquens, his verbis : Quos libros Zacharias, sanctæ Ecclesiæ Romanæ episcopus, Græco Latinoque sermone doctissimus, temporibus Constantini imperatoris, post annos ferme 175, in Græcam linguam convertens, Orientalibus Ecclesiis divulgavit : quamvis astuta Græcorum perversitas in commemoratione Spiritus sancti a Patre procedentis, nomen Filii radens, abstulerit. Hæc Joannes diaconus. Hanc censuram attexere curarunt Romani sub Sixto V editores, et alii deinceps. Vide quæ de hoc argumento in præfatione jam præmisimus num. 26. At this juncture let the reader note that these words, Φανερὸν οὖν ὑπάρχει, ὅτι τὸ παράκλητον πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς προέρχεται, καὶ ἐν τῷ Υἱῷ διαμένει, that is, It therefore stands as clear that the Spirit, the Paraclete, comes forth from the Father, and rests in the Son, are read in a far different way in Gregory’s Latin text, namely: Cum enim constet, quia Paracletus Spiritus a Patre semper procedat et Filio (“For since it is certain that the Spirit, the Paraclete, always proceeds from the Father and the Son…”). From this it clearly appears that Pope Zacharias’s translation was afterwards corrupted by the Greeks, as John the Deacon properly notes in Book IV of his Life of the same Blessed Gregory, ch. 75, where, speaking about the Dialogues, he says: “Zacharias, the bishop of the Holy Church of Rome, a man most learned in both Greek and Latin, during the time of the Emperor Constantine, about 175 years afterwards, turned these books into Greek and published them in the Eastern Churches; nevertheless, the crafty perversity of the Greeks, erasing a word, caused the Son’s name to be taken out when mention was made of the Spirit’s proceeding from the Father.” Thus John the Deacon. The Roman editors under Sixtus V, and others afterwards, took care to add this censure in a footnote. See what we have already said upon this subject in the preface, par. 26.

It should be noted that Martin Jugie disagreed with this assessment about a corruption of the text of Pope Zacharias’ translation. In his work De processione Spiritus Sancti (Rome 1936), pp. 222-227, Jugie argues that the text we have is what Pope Zacharias wrote. However, he thinks that Zacharias’s interpretation means essentially the same thing as what Pope Gregory wrote: that is, he sees “rests in the Son” as implying a proceeding from both. Here is Jugie:

Ergo ad hanc devenimus conclusionem, quae nobis videtur omnino certa, scilicet quod ipse Zacharias proprio motu formulam latinam Gregorii ita graece reddendam iudicavit. Nec de hoc triumphum agere habent Photius eiusque sequaces. Formula enim graeca a Zacharia usurpata apud plures Patres graecos occurrit, quos ut disertos doctrinae catholicae testes supra laudavimus, v. g., apud Athanasium, Didymum, Cyrillum Alexandrinum, Ioannem Damascenum. Et revera haec quoad sensum formulae latinae: A Patre Filioque procedit respondet, quamvis aliqua obscuritate involvatur. Significat enim Spiritum Sanctum ex Patre quidem tanquam ex fonte originali, ex principio primordiali oriri; at vero per Filium quasi transire ut ad existentiam prodeat, nec ultra vel extra illum progredi, sed in ipso et quasi in eius sinu permanere ac requiescere, sicut ipse Filius in Patris sinu quiescit. Est alius modus exprimendi conceptum Graecorum eorumque diagramma trinitarium. lmmerito ergo ad auctoritatem Gregorii et Zachariae Photius provocavit, ut suam sententiam haereticam de processione Spiritus Sancti a Patre solo firmaret. “Therefore we are led to this conclusion, which appears to us entirely certain, namely, that Zacharias himself, on his own initiative, deemed that Gregory’s Latin expression ought to be rendered in Greek in this way. Nor on this account do Photius and his followers have the right to celebrate. For the Greek formula borrowed by Zacharias occurs in numerous Greek fathers, whom we earlier praised as express witnesses to the Catholic doctrine, e.g., in Athanasius, Didymus, Cyril of Alexandria, John of Damascus. And, in fact, it corresponds to the Latin formula A Patre Filioque procedit so far as its sense goes, even though enveloped in a certain obscurity. For it indicates that the Holy Spirit arises from the Father as from an original fount, as from a primordial principle; but also, that he, as it were, goes forth through the Son so that he may come forth into existence, nor does he go forward any further or beyond him, but he remains and rests in him, as it were in his bosom, just as the Son rests in the bosom of the Father. This is another way of expressing the concept of the Greeks and their trinitarian diagram. Without justification, therefore, did Photius appeal to the authority of Gregory and of Zacharias, so that he might establish his heretical proposition concerning a procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone.” Op. cit., pp. 225 f.

What, one might ask, does Pope Zacharias’s translation imply for the Filioque debate?

One possible reading of it, perhaps the simplest reading, is that Zacharias, knowing that controversy had already arisen over this issue and that an accurate translation of the passage was likely to offend many Greek readers of Pope Gregory’s Dialogues, chose to tone down Gregory’s language; that is, he substituted a theologically milder statement for a theologically more forceful one, not with the intention of denying Pope Gregory’s original claim, but simply because he knew that that original claim would be poorly received. If that is in fact what happened, then the differences between the Greek translation and the Latin original are not, theologically, very significant, because the translator, while not denying the truth of the original text, simply chose to say something else. The translator, in this case, would have made a prudential judgment; or, to put it differently, he purposely fudged the text to avoid stirring up a controversy.

On another reading, Pope Zacharias would have translated Pope Gregory’s language in this way because he believed he was accurately representing his predecessor’s meaning and intention. That is, he would have understood St. Gregory the Great to have been speaking only about a temporal going-forth of the Spirit when he wrote that the Paraclete “always proceeds from the Father and the Son.” One may note that the Greek translation not only replaces the “from the Father and the Son” language, but it also drops the semper: it suppresses the implication that what is being spoken about is an eternal coming forth. (One may further note that nothing in the manuscript tradition, aside from Pope Zacharias’s translation, gives any grounds for thinking that Pope Gregory did not write semper.) This is the reading that Photius favored. Perhaps there is some merit to it; if I say that I always drive on the right-hand side of the road, it doesn’t imply that I eternally drive on the right-hand side of the road; “always” here must be understood within a certain frame of reference (during my lifetime, when I am driving, when I am not in England or Japan…). On the other hand, one would not normally restrict the meaning of “always” to a temporal frame of reference when this term is applied to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since they are, in fact, eternal, divine persons. It thus seems to me very unlikely that, when Pope Zacharias translated Pope Gregory’s text in this way, dropping the word “always” as well as modifying the language about the Spirit’s being from the Father and the Son, he did not know that he was subtly changing what his predecessor had said. He doubtless did not think he was saying something opposed and contradictory to what his predecessor had said. But, in his concern for ecclesiastical peace, he was willing to lay the more controversial language aside, at least for the purposes of his translation.

One other thought suggests itself. If Pope Zacharias is not simply fudging his translation to avoid a controversy, but if he actually wishes to make a doctrinal point, and is saying that, when the Latins say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, they mean precisely what the Greeks do when they say that the Holy Spirit comes forth from the Father and rests in the Son, then it would seem that, dogmatically, the Filioque amounts to the claim that the Son is logically implied when the Holy Spirit proceeds; the Son must already be present, as a recipient, if the Holy Spirit is to rest upon him. This would be like pointing out that, because the one from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds is called “Father,” the relationship to the Son is already presupposed. The likelihood of this interpretation satisfying both sides in the centuries-old debate may be doubted; but it is, at any rate, worth noting that this interpretation seems to have some measure of papal authority behind it.

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 771 B – 772 C.

Chapter Eight. That even the most eminent among theologians theologize on the basis of the creatures; and, as for the “back parts” of God, they are the creatures themselves, and their corresponding reasons.

Gregory the Theologian, in his Second Oration on Theology, says:

“I was disposed to lay hold on God, and thus I went up into the mount, and passed through the cloud.”

And a little after this:

“And when I looked a little closer, I saw, not* the first and unmingled nature, known to itself — to the Trinity, I mean; not that which abides within the first veil, and is hidden by the cherubim; but only that nature which at last even reaches to us. And that is, as far as I can learn, the majesty, or as holy David calls it, the glory which is manifested among the creatures, which it has produced and governs. For these are the back parts of God (Exod 33:23), which he leaves behind him, as tokens of himself, like the shadows and reflection of the sun in the water, which show the sun to our weak eyes, because we cannot look at the sun itself, for by its unmixed light it is too strong for our power of perception. In this way then you shall discourse of God; even if you were a Moses and a god to Pharaoh; even if you were caught up like Paul to the third heaven, and had heard unspeakable words; even if you were raised above them both, and exalted to angelic or archangelic place and dignity. For though a thing be all heavenly, or above heaven, and far higher in nature and nearer to God than we, yet it is farther distant from God, and from the complete comprehension of his nature, than it is lifted above our complex and lowly and earthward sinking composition.”

[2.8.1] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.3; PG 36, 29 A-B.

* Kyparissiotes actually has εἰς here, meaning "to" or "towards," rather than οὐ, "not." Torres, the Latin translator, takes this as a scribe's error, and I adopt his reading, since it is hard to make sense of the sentence otherwise.

And the great Athanasius says, as though inquiring:

“Given that God is bodiless and without shape, what were those ‘back parts’ which Moses saw?”

Then, resolving this, he says:

“We believe that the whole God is alone uncreated, [existing] before the ages and before all creatures. Whence it is apparent that the ‘back parts’ of God are the creatures and their reasons, which [God] looked to when setting [the creatures] forth. This is [what is meant by] the text, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

[2.8.2] Ps.-Athanasius, Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem, PG 28, 633 A-B.

And the divine Gregory of Nyssa, in his work On the Life of Moses, says:

“But the uncreated glory, that is to say, the divine nature, is, by itself, entirely ineffable and incomprehensible and invisible. Not one thing which that thing is in itself comes in its pure nakedness to the comprehension or the vision of bodily eyes in any way whatsoever, since it is uncreated, and what is uncreated is ungraspable by bodily eyes, even if a Moses or a Paul who ascends to the third heaven or an angel should be the one who catches hold of the divine vision. For that which is really real and existent is the true Life, and this, to angelic or human knowledge, is unattainable.”

[2.8.3] Not found. See below.

From these things it becomes clear that even the most eminent of theologians do not go beyond the creation in those things in which they see God, but what they have in view is this very thing — the creation — and the reasons proper to it. But if even men such as these theologize in this manner, it follows of necessity that apophatic theology is by far more valuable and more contemplative than the kataphatic kind.

Note on citation 2.8.3

As mentioned above, I was unable to trace this quotation back to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, or to any other known work. A general Thesaurus Linguae Graecae search failed to produce any results. Here are some possible explanations for this:

  • The passage actually is there in the present text of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, and I simply need to look harder. (TLG searches are notoriously temperamental.)
  • Kyparissiotes’s text of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis differs significantly from the current text.
  • Kyparissiotes is quoting from a third source which attributes the passage to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis, but attributes it to this work mistakenly; Kyparissiotes failed to check his quotation against the original source.
  • Kyparissiotes is quoting from memory, and attributes to Gregory of Nyssa a passage that he has in fact read elsewhere.
  • Kyparissiotes has made up the quotation.

I think the last possibility is unlikely. Kyparissiotes wrote his book for a Byzantine audience, to whom the works of the fathers were well known and readily available; surely he would not have wanted to compromise his argument by knowingly introducing corrupted texts.

Bear in mind the circumstances under which Kyparissiotes wrote this book: in his Introduction, he states that he wrote it while in exile, using books that he had brought with him for other reasons:

“Perhaps, with God’s help, if we should come across copies of the requisite books, we shall treat also of these matters. For now, however, since we have been driven from our home, and are the object of universal vilification, we lack the resources and leisure to treat of these things and to look into making this a better book. As for these texts which we now present to the public, it is with great labor that we have collected them, since we brought the books with us for other uses and other occasions. Because of these things, we have been deprived of many aids that would have brought this work to a more perfect state; but, in the meantime, we have not strayed from stating those things which were of the greatest necessity.”

Given that he was unable to consult a proper library, it seems quite possible that, in the case of citation 2.8.3, Kyparissiotes is either quoting from memory, or, more likely, quoting from a third source that attributes the text to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis, and he lacks the means to check up on the citation.

Here follows the Greek of the passage, from the manuscript Ottobon. gr. 99, fol. 126v:

Καὶ ὁ θεῖος Γρηγόριος Νύσσης ἐν τῷ εἰς τὸν βίον Μωσέως φησιν· ἡ δὲ ἄκτιστος δόξα ἤγουν ἡ θεία φύσις παντελῶς ἐστι καθ’ ἑαυτὴν ἄρρητος καὶ ἀκατάληπτος καὶ ἀόρατος. οὐδὲν ὅπερ ἐστιν αὐτὸ τοῦτο, καθ’ ἑαυτὸ γυμνὸν καθαρῶς εἰς κατάληψιν ἢ ὅρασιν ἔρχεται σωματικῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ὁπωσδήποτε, ἄκτιστον γάρ· τὸ δὲ ἄκτιστον σωματικοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἄληπτον, κἂν Μωσῆς κἂν Παῦλος ὁ εἰς τρίτον οὐρανὸν ἀνελθὼν κἂν ἄγγελος ἦ ὁ τῆς θείας θεωρίας ἁπτόμενος. τὸ γὰρ ὄντως ὄν, ἡ ἀληθής ἐστι ζωή, τοῦτο δὲ εἰς γνῶσιν ἀγγελικὴν ἢ ἀνθρωπίνην ἀνέφικτον.

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 769 B – 771 B.

Chapter Seven. Upon what basis, then, must we theologize, and out of what things?

Dionysius the Great, in chapter 7 of his On the Divine Names, says:

“In addition, we must examine how we know God, who is an object neither of intellectual nor of sensible perception, nor is absolutely any one of the things that are. We must examine, then, whether it is not true to say that we know God, not from his own nature (for that is unknown, and surpasses all reason and mind); but, from his ordering of all things that are, as being projected from himself, and as containing certain images and similitudes of his divine exemplars, we ascend to that which is beyond all, as far as lies in our power, by a way and by order, namely, by way of abstracting all things, and by his pre-eminence over all things, and by his being the cause of all things.”

[2.7.1] Ps.-Dionysius, De divinis nominibus VII.3; PG 3, 869 C - 872 A.

And Gregory the Theologian, in his Second Theological Oration, says:

“Thus reason that is from God, that is implanted in everything from the beginning and is the first law in us, and is bound up in all, leads us up to God through visible things.”

[2.7.2] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.16; PG 26, 48 B.

And again, the same author says that what is divine is

“only adumbrated by the mind, and that very dimly and scantily, not out of those things he is in himself, but out of those things that are around him, one image being got from one source and another from another, and combined into some sort of presentation of the truth.”

[2.7.3] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 38.7; PG 36, 317 B-C = or. 45.3; PG 36, 625 C.

And those who, after him, expound this passage say that

“God is not understood from those things which he is in himself, that is, from his substance, but from the things which are around him, that is, from the creatures.”

[2.7.4] Not found; but cf. Meletius Medicus, De natura hominis, ed. J. A. Cramer, Anecdota Graeca e codd. manuscriptis bibliothecarum Oxoniensium, vol. 3 (Oxford 1836; repr. Amsterdam 1963), p. 143: "Since 'No one has seen God at any time,' that is to say, according to his substance -- not from those things which he is in himself, but from those things which are around him. But the person who says that he has not seen God's substance does not confess that he does not know God; but he knows him out of his activities (or, energies, ἐνεργειῶν): as, that he is all-powerful," etc. And a little further down: "But, as for us, we confess that God exists, and we say that we recognize him out of his works; but, as for approaching his substance, we do not make it our business to do this."

And St. Maximus, in his Centuries on Theology, says that:

“[God] can in no way whatsoever be comprehended by anything that is; rather, he can only be known by faith; and this [is a knowledge] that he is, from the things that have been made; it is not a knowledge of him in respect of what he is.”

[2.7.5] Not yet found.

And again, the same father, in Century Three:

“That which exists, in an absolute sense, is known from that which exists in a non-absolute sense. It is not by the relation [it has] towards them that it is known that it exists — for how shall anyone in any way ever bring together what exists absolutely with things which do not exist absolutely? — but, in its incomparable superiority in respect of cause, it is known in an unknown way, since we can in no other way [know] what is beyond substance than by the obscure claim about it — that is, the mere claim that it exists — being demonstrated out of the things that are.”

[2.7.6] Not yet found.

And again, the same author, in the second century of his sayings on Love, in chapter 27:

“When you intend to speak about divinity, you should not seek for reasons according to [what it is] in itself, for no human mind can ever find this, nor can the mind of any other being that comes after God; but look carefully, so far as you are able, to those things that are around him: such as, the reasons concerning eternity and infinity and indefinability, and concerning goodness and power and wisdom, and concerning his abilities in creating and providing for and judging beings. For it is the person who finds out the reasons for these things, even if only to a limited extent, who is a great theologian among men.”

[2.7.7] Not yet found.

And again, the same author, in chapter 71 in his fourth Century:

“From the things that are, we know the cause of the things that are. And, from the diversity of the things that are, we are taught the enhypostatic Wisdom of He Who Is. And, from the natural motion of the things that are, we learn the enhypostatic Life of He Who Is, the life-creating power of the things that are, the Holy Spirit.”

[2.7.8] Not yet found.

From these things it becomes clear that God is known only from those things which are around him, which are the creatures, and that it is from this source also that he is theologized. Or, in other words, from images and likenesses of his divine exemplars, and those things which earlier were described as mirrors and enigmas. And so that no one may be at a loss to know how things which have the nature of images and likenesses and of things lacking in the real truth of being are fully suitable [bases] for theologizing of God, and lest anyone should go looking for greater things: it is necessary also, in the present investigation, to demonstrate that even those theologians who are most eminent do not go beyond that theology which is based upon the creation.

As many readers of this blog may already have heard, tomorrow, according to Family Radio (an Evangelical Christian radio network based in Oakland, California), is the end of the world. Or, more precisely, tomorrow, May 21, 2011, is predicted to be the date of Jesus’ Second Coming and the Rapture; the end of the world is not supposed to occur until October. These predictions, by 89-year-old Harold Camping, founder and president of Family Radio, have been broadcast repeatedly over Family Radio’s many stations, in this country and elsewhere, for many months now, and apparently the message is having an effect upon some people; one hears of anticipatory gatherings taking place in New York subway stations…. For myself, I intend to spend the day doing nothing extraordinary; I will be driving out to Long Island later today and, God willing, will celebrate my 52nd birthday on Sunday. I have heard enough of Mr. Camping to know that, on many points of theology and exegesis, he is simply wrong (e.g., his frequent claim that the Greek verb βαπτίζω means “sprinkle”); moreover, in the early 1990’s, he predicted that the end of the world would occur in the year 1994, which clearly did not happen. One might have thought that, after that, Camping’s followers would have inferred that he is a false prophet, and that his end-of-the-world predictions are not to be trusted; but, apparently, ownership of the means of mass communication is a great help for getting one’s opinions across.

What chiefly troubles me about these matters is that, for many people in America, Harold Camping is Christianity’s public voice; in the New York metropolitan area, Family Radio is one of the few radio stations broadcasting Christian content, and the same thing holds true throughout much of the urban Northeast. This, in spite of the fact that Camping now has no formal church affiliation — or, perhaps, that lack of church affiliation facilitates the spreading of his message: his radio station is his church. The likely effect of the likely non-occurrence of tomorrow’s predicted Rapture is a further discrediting of Christianity in the public eye. But perhaps it will cause some Christians to look elsewhere than Family Radio for a true understanding of the Gospel; one can only hope so.

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 767 A – 769 B.

Chapter Six. That God is neither discerned from a natural representation, nor is he one of those things that think or are thought, such that one might theologize of him out of those things which he is in himself.

The divine Maximus, in chapter one of his Centuries on Theology, says:

“There is one God, without beginning, incomprehensible, possessing absolutely the power of existing, who utterly excludes all notion of existing ‘when’ and ‘how,’ in such a way that none of the things that are has discerned him from a natural representation.”

[2.6.1] Maximus, Centuria I.1; PG 90, 1084 A.

And again, the same author:

“Just as every thought has its basis entirely in substance, as a quality, so also it possesses its motion as something that has been produced around substance. For it is impossible for something completely independent and simple, existing in itself, to admit of thought, since thought is not independent and simple. But God, who exists in both respects as entirely simple, both as a substance without anything in subject, and as thought possessing nothing at all as its object, is not one of the things that think or are thought, since, in fact, he exists above substance and thinking.”

[2.6.2] Maximus, Centuria II.3; PG 90, 1125 D.

And, yet again, the same author, in the eleventh chapter of his first Century:

“All beings are said to be objects of thought, possessing the demonstrable principles whereby they may be known. But God is not named as an object of thought, but it is out of those things which are objects of thought that he is believed to be; for which reason, none of the objects of thought may in any way be compared with him.”

[2.6.3] Maximus, Centuria I.8; PG 90, 1085 C.

And, once more, the same author in the second chapter of his second Century:

“Every thought involves things which think and things which are thought of. But God is not one of those things that think; for that which, qua thinking, is in need of a relationship with the object of thought, is circumscribed; or else, being thought of, it naturally falls subject to the one who thinks, given the terms of that relationship. It therefore follows that God neither thinks nor is thought. For thinking and being thought of naturally pertain to the things which come after him.”

[2.6.4] Maximus, Centuria II.2; PG 90, 1125 C.

And the most theological Dionysius says:

“For, as things intelligible cannot be comprehended and contemplated by things of sense, and things uncompounded and unformed [cannot be comprehended] by things compounded and formed, and the intangible and unshaped formlessness of bodiless things [cannot be comprehended] by things formed according to the shapes of bodies: according to the same analogy of the truth, the supersubstantial indefiniteness stands above substances, and the unity above mind is above minds; and the One above minds is unthinkable to all powers of thought; and the Good above word is unutterable by word — that Henad which makes every henad one, and supersubstantial Substance, and mindless Mind, and unspeakable Word, that irrationality and mindlessness and namelessness, which exists after the manner of no existent thing, and is cause of being to all, but itself is not, as being beyond all substance.”

[2.6.5] Ps.-Dionysius, De divinis nominibus, I.1; PG 3, 588 B.

From these things it becomes clear that no one who has ever been or will be may discern God out of a natural representation. For, in every way, he eludes any notion of being “when” or “how”; nor is God one of the things which think or are thought, for he is substance without anything standing to it as subject, and thinking never once having anything for an object. Upon what then might knowledge be based of that thing which in no way admits of an objective ground for being known? Therefore he is also, fittingly, a “supersubstantial indefiniteness,” and mind not thought by any thinking; or rather, he is “mindless Mind, and unspeakable Word,” being called “irrationality” and “mindlessness” on account of the excess of essence and cognition; just as, similarly, extreme light produces darkness, and extreme sound deafens.

Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.5

April 27, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 765 B – 767 A.

Chapter Five. That neither can we attain, or theologize with, a complete mental picture of God in this present age, nor can we do so with any other of those things which take shape in us by way of abstraction from images.

Gregory the Theologian, in his Second Theological Oration, says:

“Abraham, great patriarch though he was, was justified by faith, and offered a strange victim, the type of the great sacrifice. Yet he saw not God as God, but gave him food as a man. He was approved because he worshiped as far as he comprehended.”

[2.5.1] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.18; PG 36, 49 A-B.

And, in the same place, when speaking about Jacob, he says:

“And he wrestled with God as though with a man — whatever this wrestling of God with man may mean: possibly it refers to a comparison of human with divine virtue.”

[2.5.2] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.18; PG 36, 49 B.

Again, in the same place:

“And are you not amazed at Manoah the judge of yore, and at Peter the disciple in later days? Of these, the one was unable to endure the sight even of one in whom was a representation of God; and, for this reason, he said: ‘We are undone, O wife: we have seen God!’ — as though a divine apparition should not be visible to human beings, lest the nature should be [visible] as well. And the other [thought that] Christ, in his boat, should not be approached, and therefore bade him depart.”

[2.5.3] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.19; PG 36, 49 D (Kyparissiotes' text differs slightly from the text in Migne).

And again:

“Nor is there an accurate comprehension even of the creation. For even of this I would have you to know that you possess only a shadow when you hear the words, ‘I will consider the heavens, the works of thy fingers, the moon and the stars’ (Ps 8:3), and the rationality therein; as for this rationality, one sees it not now, but there will be [a time] when one will see it; and, even so, it is sketched out in shadows to the mind alone, and this in a very murky and qualified way.”

[2.5.4] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.5; PG 36, 32 B.

And Gregory of Nyssa says:

“How may that be discovered which is indicated by not one of the things that are known, not shape, not quantity, not quality, not place, not conjecture, not comparison, not analogy, but which is always found to lie outside every avenue leading to comprehension?”

[2.5.5] Gregory of Nyssa, In Canticum canticorum, sermo xii; GNO vol. 6, p. 357, lines 10 ff.; PG 44, 1028 B.

And again, the same author:

“For this is its most specific identifying mark, that its nature is above any identifying mark that might characterize it.”

[2.5.6] Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium, book 1, ch. 1, sec. 373, lines 6 ff.; PG 45 368 B.

And the most theological Dionysius:

“Therefore, it is not permitted to any of those who are lovers of the Truth above all Truth to hymn the primordially divine superessentiality (whatever may be the subsisting reality of its supergoodness) as word or power, or, again, as mind or essence or life; it is preeminently separated from every condition, movement, life, imagination, opinion, name, word, thought, conception, essence, position, stability, union, boundary, infinitude, all things whatever.”

[2.5.7] Ps.-Dionysius, De divinis nominibus, cap. 1, §5; PG 3, 593 C.

From these things it becomes clear that God is not comprehended or theologized by us according to a complete mental picture or by any abstraction from images [ἐπίνοια], but that he stands outside all such things. For every mental image is made use of in one or another of three ways. One way is as a depicter of perceptions: the image reproduces in the memory whatsoever things have been taken in by the senses; it, so to speak, articulates such percepts according to their several kinds in an orderly way; and they say that this mental image is also a “healthy offspring of a great nature.” In another way, a mental image serves to express certain vague resonances of things [αἰπηχημάτων], and in no way allows any abiding stability of the things that are imagined; but there is a mingling and a confusion of images, and, one after another, shifting images are put forth and, before they hardly appear before the mind, they fall away from the imagined objects, and are of no benefit towards imagining them; of this kind is the imagination that characterizes nightmares in one’s sleep, and aimless, irrational wanderings of daydream phantasies. A third kind of image is the imagined approbation that occurs in practical matters, which issues forth without a correct process of reasoning, and which, by phantasy, phantasizes that what is not actually is, and is pleased by things that are not pleasant, and, again, is grieved where it ought to be pleased. And, if it is convinced, it is convinced by what ought never to convince it, but it loves and accepts things conjured up by the imagination as though they were some sort of divinely inscribed laws. And it argues contentiously, turning others towards its own error, as though this error were something most plain and obvious, something before one’s very eyes; those who have fallen into this state suffer an incurable condition. And, if they belong to those in power, matters are set for the destruction of states; if they are among the less powerful, they will not desist until they have destroyed it so far as they are able. These two kinds of images, therefore, should not even be brought to mind among ideas about God that are acceptable; but even the praiseworthy kind of image lies incomparably behind those things that ought to be considered about God.

Christ is risen!

April 24, 2011

Christ is risen from the dead:
This is the primal faith
that overcomes a fallen world
immersed in ways of death.

This is the song the angels sang
when, standing at the tomb,
they saw an uncreated light
pierce through the heavy gloom.

This is what the apostles sang
when through the world they sped
attesting to the one they knew:
Christ risen from the dead.

This song is what the martyrs sang
when, hauled before the thrones
of princes, sultans, emperors,
they risked their lives and bones.

And, through all generations,
the Church has sung this hymn,
proclaiming Christ the king of kings
and triumphing in him.

Christ is risen! and the hosts
of demons quake with fear
to see within their gloomy realm
the lord of life appear.

Christ is risen, and has given
death a deadly blow,
and life and light have come to those
who languished deep below.

Christ is risen! sin and death
have lost their sovereignty,
for Christ the everlasting lord
has won the victory.

Christ is risen! grace and truth
to us are freely given,
for Christ has made a way for all
into the realm of heaven.

Christ is risen! let not fear
oppress us any more,
for Christ destroyed sin’s ancient curse
and settled that old score.

Christ is risen! may our tongues
with joy proclaim his name,
and may the countless hosts of heaven
echo with the same.

For Christ has risen from the dead
and trampled death by death,
and all who slumber in the tombs
shall waken at his breath.

Presented below is a chapter from an unpublished book, titled Light from the East, by the late Brother Robert Smith, FSC (1914-2006), longtime tutor at St. John’s College, Annapolis. It was a book he was working on during the last few years of his long life; when he left his house at Annapolis a few months before his death, he asked me to save the files of it onto my computer. I have cleaned up spelling and punctuation as best I can, but, as far as possible, have left Brother Robert’s wording intact; occasionally, what is presented here is a hypothetical reconstruction of the meaning of an unclear original passage.

The essay will give the reader, I hope, some idea of what sort of a man Brother Robert Smith was, and what sort of a God he worshiped. And it is also, I think, a most insightful reading of St. Andrew’s Canon, and an excellent lenten meditation.


This poem, beloved by the Eastern Church, lets us overhear a conversation between Christ and an old man, who knows he will soon die and then face judgment on all the deeds of his life.

Andrew asks renewed forgiveness for his known sins and light to uncover any hidden leanings still within him that, if uttered, would show how unfit he was to talk openly with his Lord.

Christ in words found in Scripture reminds Andrew of how all-inclusive the two commandments of love are, and how eager he is to greet prodigals when they return.

To many the mere thought of anyone having to face judgment will be terrifying.

Imagine: an all-knowing God coming to question us, weak from age, about things we did in youth, middle age, and later years!

When, however, we hear this poem read in Church, it will strike us as indeed grave, but still consoling because it shows Christ’s never-failing desire for us to become one in mind with himself. He wants to talk familiarly with us in the way God did with Adam in the coolness of the afternoon.

Andrew has a vivid sense of his own failings, but, despite this, the conversation between him and Christ is between people who love one another. Andrew is talking to his soon-to-arrive judge, but he knows him to be presently anxious to help him put on the wedding garment guests need to wear.

The old man grieves over his past wrongdoing, but expressions of this concern are interspersed with memories of his master trying to find lost sheep or search for lost coins that have the king’s image stamped on them. Even more to the point, Christ condemns our failings because he wants us to be better.

In listening to Andrew, Christ hears an old man who has spent his life seeking to find what his Master wants. Now, in these last days, that old man is striving to know whether there are unknown commands he has not heeded, or failings he has neither recognized nor confessed. From the bottom of his heart he is begging his Lord to help him become a good disciple; he fears being disowned by someone he loves and whom he knows wants him not to fail.

There is no better way for any of us to learn what God wants of us than meditating on the stories of good and bad men spoken of in Scripture. Andrew has been pondering on them during all the years of his monastic life. Now, in old age, he is going over in his mind texts grown dear to him and peering into them in hope of discovering lessons he has missed.

He does not, like some scholar, speak in an orderly way of all parts of Scripture simply because they are there to be read dispassionately. Instead Andrew will be listening for messages God set down for us to heed. In the light of those stories there is one more chance to find out how he falls short of thinking and feeling as God does.

Memories of past blindness renew his worry about wrong desires that may still be lurking in some corner of his mind. Therefore he keeps asking both forgiveness for failings he knows about and help for him to uncover still hidden ugliness.

The Great Canon shows us thoughts of someone who reads the Scriptures in an affective way. He knows stories about God’s interaction with outstanding men and women from the past, and, as he thinks about them, he uncovers their bearing on him.

So his approaching meeting with Christ is not something unlooked-for; on the contrary it is a culmination of many years spent talking with his Master about his actions and how to make them better.

The Church invites us to listen to this poem during Lent (1) because we too will have to face judgment and (2) Lent is a time for readying ourselves to rise into the newness of life made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Read the rest of this entry »

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 764 A – 765 B.

Chapter Four. That it is impossible for those in the body to theologize apart from bodily things.

Gregory the Theologian, in his Second Theological Oration, says:

“Just as it is impossible for a man to step over his own shadow, however fast he may move (for the shadow will always move on as fast as it is being overtaken) or … for a fish to glide about outside of the waters; so it is quite impracticable for those who are in the body to be conversant with objects of pure thought apart altogether from bodily objects. For something in our own environment is ever creeping in, even when the mind has most fully detached itself from the visible, and collected itself, and is attempting to apply itself to those invisible things which are akin to itself.”

[2.4.1] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.12; PG 36, 41 B.

Again, the same father, in the same oration, says:

“Shall we pause here, after discussing nothing further than matter and visible things? Or, since the Word knows the tabernacle of Moses to be a figure of the whole creation — I mean the entire system of things visible and invisible — shall we pass the first veil, and stepping beyond the realm of sense, shall we look into the holy place, the intellectual and celestial creation? But not even this can we see in an incorporeal way, though it is incorporeal, since it is called — or is — fire and spirit.”

[2.4.2] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.31; PG 36, 69 D - 72 A.

And a little before this:

“Are not spirit, and fire, and light names of the divine nature? What then? Can you conceive of spirit apart from motion and diffusion; or of fire without its fuel and its upward motion, and its proper color and form? Or of light unmingled with air, and loosed from that which is as it were its father and source?”

[2.4.3] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.13; PG 36, 41 C.

And again, a little further on, he says:

“Or are we rather to leave all these things, and to look at the deity absolutely, as best we can, collecting a fragmentary perception of it from its images?”

[2.4.4] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.13; PG 36, 44 A.

St. Maximus:

“All knowledge belonging to this world, even that which is exceedingly high and lofty, when compared to that knowledge which belongs to the world to come, is fragmentary (στοιχειώδης) and as it were an image of a living character, something which will no longer be when the true life and knowledge shall appear. For, he says, ‘knowledges shall cease, and prophecies shall be done away with’ (1 Cor 13:8).”

[2.4.5] Maximus the Confessor, Capitum quinquies centenorum centuria II, 47; PG 90, 1237 B. (The wording of Kyparissiotes' text differs towards the end from the text in Migne.)

Rightly, therefore, also Basil the Great has theologized:

“Even if you know something of those things that are beyond [the ages], they come below the Spirit.”

[2.4.6] Paraphrase of Basil, De Spiritu Sancto 19.49; PG 32, 156 D - 157 A. Thanks to Will Huysman for supplying this reference.

And the most theological Dionysius says:

“Since it is impossible for our mind to be drawn up to that immaterial imitation and contemplation of the celestial hierarchies unless it makes use of the material form of guidance which is proper to its own nature.”

[2.4.7] Ps.-Dionysius, De caelesti hierarchia 1.3; PG 3, 121 C-D.

And again, the same author:

“So long as we are in the body, it is not possible for the divine, primordial ray to shine upon us in any other way than anagogically [that is, by our engaging in a process of spiritual ascent], shrouded about by the variety of the sacred coverings — this ray which, by the Father’s providence, has been natively and properly adapted to those things that befit our nature.”

[2.4.8] Ps.-Dionysius, De caelesti hierarchia 1.2; PG 3, 121 B-C.

In commenting on this, the divine Maximus says:

“While we are in the body, it is impossible for us to gaze upon bodiless and immaterial things apart from types and symbols.”

[2.4.9] Maximus the Confessor, in librum De caelesti hierarchia, PG 4, 32 C.

From these things, then, it becomes clear that, given that our mind is unable, on its own, to feel its way forward and stretch towards the imitation and contemplation of angels, unless it makes use of the material and perceptible guidance which is adapted to its own nature — how then shall it encounter a contemplation of God that is free from matter and body? For this reason, moreover, it is impossible for those who are in the body to ascend to the contemplation of God apart from bodily things. And if, walking upon emptiness towards realities, whatever one supposes they are, that are above this temporal world (τὰ ὑπὲρ αἰῶνα), we should inquire what existed even before these things, neither in this case would we be standing apart from bodily things and from those things that are of the same order as the soul and which, as though by an utterly infinite measure, fall short of the supersubstantial Spirit.

Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.3

February 18, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 762 A – 764 A.

Chapter Three. That, through every kind of theology, reason progresses by way of “mirrors” and “enigmas.”

The great, divinely-speaking Apostle Paul says:

“We walk now in mirrors and enigmas.”

[2.3.1] 1 Cor 13:12.*

And again:

“We know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then also that which is in part shall be done away with.”

[2.3.2] 1 Cor 13:9-10.

And again:

“We walk by faith, and not by sight.”

[2.3.3] 2 Cor 5:7.

The brilliant Basil, who had thoroughly considered these things, says:

“As for the ‘face to face’ [vision] and the perfect knowledge, it is promised that they shall be given in the age to come to those who are worthy; but, for the present, even if someone is a Paul or a Peter, he truly sees those things which he sees, and does not err; nevertheless, he sees through a mirror and in an enigma. But he who now receives with thankfulness that which is in part awaits with brilliant expectation what is perfect in the future.”

[2.3.4] Not yet found.**

And with him also Gregory the Theologian says:

“Wherefore he estimates all knowledge here below as no more than mirrors and enigmas, as based upon little images of the truth.”

[2.3.5] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.20; PG 36, 52 C.

And again, the same author, in his oration Concerning the appointment of bishops:

“But what person is he who can be so lifted up as to attain to the measure of Paul? But, nevertheless, he sees ‘through an enigma,’ and [he says] a time will come when he shall see ‘face to face.'”

[2.3.6] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 20.12; PG 35, 1080 B.

And again, in the same oration:

“How is it that sense perception, while remaining in the same subject, is drawn to that which is outside it? How does mind remain within itself and beget a word in another mind? How, by a word, is a thought conveyed? … If you do not understand any of these things, O man — but perhaps you shall understand them one day, when you have attained what is perfect; for he says, ‘I shall behold the heavens, the works of thy fingers’ (Ps 8:3 LXX), as though conjecturing that those things that are now seen are not the truth, but truth’s images … — how then can you suppose that you have an exact knowledge of God, both of what and of how great he is?”

[2.3.7] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 20.11; PG 35, 1077 C - 1080 A.

And, besides these things, Dionysius the Great says:

“And indeed, in the celebrations of the most holy mysteries, neither our own hierophants, nor those of the tradition of the law, abstain from God-befitting symbols. Indeed, we see even the all-hallowed angels mystically advancing divine things through enigmas; and we see Jesus himself theologizing in parables, and transmitting the divinizing mysteries through the type of a table being spread. For it was fitting, not only that the holy of holies should be preserved undefiled by the multitude, but also that human life, which is at once indivisible and divisible, should be illuminated by divine knowledge in a manner suitable to itself; and that the passionless part of the soul should be devoted to simple and most inward visions of the godlike images, but that its impassioned part should serve, and at the same time strive upwards toward, things most divine, by the pre-arranged representations of symbolic types, since such coverings are, by nature, akin to it.”

[2.3.8] Ps.-Dionysius, Ep. ad Titum, 1; PG 3, 1105 D - 1108 B.

And the divine Maximus in his theological writings:

“The Lord sometimes is absent, and sometimes is present. He is absent with respect to the face-to-face vision; he is present with respect to the vision ‘in a mirror and enigmas.'”

[2.3.9] Maximus the Confessor, Capitum theol. et oecon. centuria II, 57; PG 90, 1149 B.

And again, the same father in his Third Century on Love says:

“We walk by faith, not by sight, and we possess knowledge in mirrors and enigmas. And, for this reason, we need to make these things our urgent business; so that, by our longstanding care for them and our familiar conversation with them, we may make it difficult for anything to deprive us of our habitual possession of the things we are contemplating.”

[2.3.10] Maximus the Confessor, Capitum de charitate centuria III, 69; PG 90, 1037 B-C.

From these things it becomes clear that our soul deals with all of theology in a way that is thoroughly natural to it, deriving impressions of types and concepts from things kindred to itself, things divisible. Whether these impressions are drawn from material formations or, instead, are derived from things which lie, without any [material] covering, solely where these present beauties are visible, they are not the truth itself, but truth’s images. Thus it is fitting, on account of both of these things, that all knowledge that characterizes [the soul] does not go beyond mirrors and enigmas — that is to say, it does not get beyond the soul’s own divisible and imperfect [nature]. But when in fact what is perfect shall come to it, then that thing in it which is in part, and its own divisibility, will be done away with, and it will see face to face; that is, it will see things immaterial immaterially, and things indivisible indivisibly.

* * *


*[On 2.3.1] Kyparissiotes may be citing from memory; his text (in Ottoboniensis gr. 99, fol. 120v) has ἄρτι ἐν ἐσόπτροις καὶ ἐν αἰνίγμασι περιπατοῦμεν. The reader may be more familiar with the translation, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” The word “enigma” comes from a Greek verb which means to hint, to speak in riddles; those connotations should be kept in mind when one reads the current Decade, which largely is concerned with the meaning of the vision of God “through a mirror, in an enigma.”

**[On 2.3.4] Torres states that the citation is from Basil’s oratio de confessione fidei; this title does not correspond exactly to any work of Basil’s that I know of; I checked the sermon De fide (PG 31, 464-472), and did not find the text there.