Review of Crisis in Byzantium

Aristeides Papadakis (hereafter AP) sets out to solve a thorny theological problem. The problem has several fronts: 1) basic Trinitarian reasoning and 2) interpreting several apparent anomalies in some patristic texts. AP gives us a short overview of the brief career of Patriarch Gregory II of Cyprus. The immediate context was responding to the Council of Lyons where Byzantine Unionists sought Papal political aid against the Muslims in return for acknowledging several papal claims. The Unionists had interpreted “through the Son” to mean “from the Son,” with respect to the Holy Spirit’s origin. Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church clarified what it meant in the Filioque by insisting that the Father and the Son do not constitute a “double cause” for the existence of the Holy Spirit, which would have been absurd.

Thus, Gregory II’s response. AP gives a brief overview of the differences between Cappadocian and Augustinian Trinitarianism. For the Cappadocian’s the hypostasis of the Father is the unique cause and principle of unity of the Son and the Holy Spirit (83). The characteristic of causality is applied to the Father alone (also see Gregory of Nazianzus’s Oratio 34). AP notes, “What is said of the consubstantiality of the three persons cannot be said of their attributes–causality, unbegotteness, and procession. These are what differentiate the one from the other. These are their incommunicable modes of origin” (118).

The problem is that while most of the Fathers either reject Filioque or simply opt for the Cappadocian view, a few Fathers–Sts Hilary of Poitiers, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus–appear to say things that look a little like a Filioquist view. Traditionally, Byzantine thought said that the Spirit is only from the Son in terms of an economic sending. He is from the Father a patre solo but from the Son in terms of the divine Economy. This was the view of St Photius. It was also the view of Gregory’s conservative Byzantine opponents. It’s essentially correct but it does not solve the hard questions raised.

St John of Damascus said that the Father “projects the Spirit through the Son.” Unionists took this to mean the Filioque, arguing that “through” means the same as “from.” Conservative Byzantines argued that “through” means “economic sending.” It was Gregory II’s genius to point out that both are wrong, and to show how both are wrong.

Gregory argued, contra the Unionists, that through doesn’t mean “from.” He also argued that the Filioquist interpretation renders St John Damascene contradictory for John elsewhere says in the same chapter that the Spirit comes from the Father alone. Finally, Gregory clinched the case against the Unionists by appealing to a Father the Roman West accepts as doctor and saint: Gregory Nazianzus. Nazianzus said that the “Son hath all the Father has except causality.” If the argument were simply up to the Fathers, the Unionists must bow out at this point, which in all likelihood they did.

But Gregory’s task was not finished. He had to answer his conservative opponents and also demonstrate what he means by saying the Spirit is eternally manifested in the Son. While St Photius was correct to say that John 15:26ff can only mean an economic sending of the Spirit, one must be honest and realize that is not what some fathers like Damascene meant. Nor does that show the relation between Son and Spirit.

Gregory argues that the Spirit exists from the Father but has existence through the Son. The former denotes mode of origin. The latter denotes the eternal manifestation. The former is the internal life of the Trinity. The latter is the external self-revelation of God (123ff). Thus, God exists not only in his essence but outside his essence. It is not the internal essence that is revealed but rather the divine life. Further, the Spirit goes forth and shines in the Son independent of mode of origin.

In saying all of this Gregory II anticipated St Gregory Palamas. The divine energies is God’s sanctifying grace which comes from the Father and from the Son in the Spirit (127). AP notes, “This manifestation, however, Gregory hastens to emphasize, is separate from God’s person and essence, for the divine is alone participable through its energies and manifestation. That is to say, God is unparticiable apart from his external revelation, or energies, or charismata, through which he is exclusively known. Otherwise, Christ, in breathing on his apostles, would have given them the very essence and hypostasis of the Spirit (127-128).

Conclusions and Reflections:

  • St Photius’s essential insight remains correct and the Cappadocian view is vindicated, yet Gregory II complements it by pointing out the eternal relation between Son and Spirit.
  • By pointing out the eternal relationship between Son and Spirit, AP/Gregory II has given us a strong argument to modern day liberals who actually use the denial of the Filioque to argue that men (presumably pagans, Muslims, or Jews) can receive the Spirit without Christ. Denying the Filioque in no way entails that, for as Gregory points out, Christ always and eternally manifests the Spirit. You can’t have the Spirit without Christ. (Incidentally, this is a strong counter to Gerald Bray’s argument in The Doctrine of God).

One other word: This book isn’t the easiest book to read. AP often moves back and forth from historical analysis to theological reflection, with little or no warning to the reader. Secondly, unless the book is read in one or two sittings (not an easy feat!), many theological insights that were mentioned on pp. 80-125 will be missed or forgotten by the end of the book. Fortunately, AP does give a helpful summary in the last chapter.

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3 comments on “Review of Crisis in Byzantium

  1. […] in addressing this I believe I can shed some more light on the above paragraph).  According to Gregory II of Cyprus, The Spirit exists from the Father but has existence through the Son. The former denotes mode of […]

  2. […] point.  However, that’s not all the East says on the matter.   The East says the Spirit is eternally manifested by the Son.  He exists from the Father but has existence from the Son.  The former denotes mode […]

  3. […] Aristeides, Crisis in Byzantium: The Filioque Crisis in the Patriarchate of the Gregory II of Cyprus (1283-1289…, SVS.  Gives the definitive answer to the charge that “of = from” per the Spirit’s relation […]

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