From my favorite Orthodox blog, Prof. Peter Gilbert’s De Unione Ecclesiarum –
I finally have some good news to report. Today I received an e-mail from the Managing Editor of the journal Communio, informing me that the Summer 2009 issue is now, at last, in print, and that they have decided to feature my article on “John Bekkos as a Reader of the Fathers” on their website. A link to the website, showing the contents of their current issue, is http://www.communio-icr.com/latest.htm; a permanent link to the article, in PDF format, is http://www.communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/gilbert36-2.pdf
A few choice bits from the article, emphasis mine (but please read the whole thing before commenting) –
John Bekkos, who served as Patriarch of Constantinople during the years of the Union of Lyons (1275–1282) and who not merely accepted that union as a practical political necessity but defended it on the grounds of its theological truth, is not a popular man in much of the Christian East; many people view him as a traitor to Orthodoxy. He earns this reputation by virtue of having defended the view that the Latin doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit, the teaching that the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son as from a single principle, is reconcilable and compatible with Greek patristic tradition.
… How far John Bekkos did or did not convert to Catholicism is a legitimate question; but it is not the question I chiefly wish to ask in this paper. I mention it here merely to give one specimen of new thinking about John Bekkos, thinking that presents some hope that long-entrenched views about him—the automatic assumption of his estrangement from the mind and heart of Orthodoxy—might be due for reassessment. Bekkos is increasingly being recognized as an early practitioner of what is now called “ecumenism.” The word “ecumenism” did not exist in Bekkos’s day, and it may be doubted whether he would have looked favorably on all modern varieties of it—whatever people may say about him, John Bekkos was not a doctrinal relativist—but that Bekkos was, in some sense, a thirteenth-century Orthodox ecumenist can hardly be denied. What is vital to note is that Bekkos consciously modeled his “ecumenism” upon the practice of the fathers of the Church. He saw the effort to move beyond verbal differences to a recognition of fundamental doctrinal agreement, where such agreement in truth existed, as an essential part of the fathers’ theological work. Christian faith is, in the final analysis, a faith not in words, but in things—and intellectual effort is sometimes needed to get beyond mere words to the realities that words signify. The fathers were willing to engage in that intellectual effort in order to preserve the unity of the Church; Bekkos saw himself as following in their footsteps.
… I would contend that his reading of the fathers of the Church provides real insight into what the fathers, or some of them at least, were saying. To dismiss John Bekkos as an “anthologist,” a man who “juggles texts” or collects them mechanically without any genuine insight into their meaning, is to perpetrate a gross misrepresentation. Bekkos was a theologian; and his continuing ecumenical significance has to be based on the very real possibility that some of his readings of the patristic evidence are true.
The central part of the present article attempts to substantiate the claim that Bekkos’s patristic interpretation is an insightful one, that is, that he sees important aspects of the fathers’ teaching that others have missed. In particular, I shall argue (a) that Bekkos rediscovers something that may be called “Old Nicene” theology, (b) that, in line with this theology, Bekkos identifies a certain “logic” to the way the fathers speak about divine substance, (c) that crucial to Bekkos’s understanding of the trinitarian doctrine of the fathers is a recognition of what I would call “referential causality,” and (d) that, contrary to the claims of some, the reliability of most of Bekkos’s patristic citations is not in doubt, and that, for those texts whose genuineness is in doubt, there is reason to think that at least some of them are authentic.
… Whether or not one calls John Bekkos’s change of mind regarding the orthodoxy of the Latin Church a “conversion,” it seems undeniable that John Bekkos did, in fact, change his mind about the orthodoxy of the Latin Church as a result of the things he read while in prison in 1273 and immediately after his release from jail—basically, as a result of an intense study of the Greek Church fathers and of the interpretations of the fathers given by men like Niketas of Maroneia and Nikephoros Blemmydes. After publicly stating that the Latins were heretics, he came to see them as orthodox Christians, differing from Christians of the Greek Church, not in the essentials of their belief, but in the manner in which the one, common faith was expressed.
… John Bekkos was not a juggler of texts or an anthologist, but a man who was concerned to state the logical coherence of traditional Christian belief in the Trinity, and to state it in such a way as to show that the insights of the Latin and Greek Christian traditions are ultimately harmonious. He saw, and I think saw correctly, that the Filioque debate had deep historical roots; this debate arose out of earlier misunderstandings concerning person and substance in God. Bekkos sees Photius and Gregory of Cyprus as teaching, not Cappadocian theology pure and simple, but a kind of neo-Cappadocianism that, by radicalizing the person/substance distinction through logical premises which the Cappadocians themselves do not state, draws from this distinction consequences which the Cappadocians themselves do not draw. They could not have drawn these consequences, because to do so would have disallowed much of their own stated thought; they would not have done so, because they recognized that those who spoke differently than they did nevertheless shared with them one faith.
The Cappadocians practiced a kind of ecumenism; John Bekkos, in his role as bishop and teacher, thinks that he is authorized and obliged to do the same in the circumstances of his own time. The Cappadocians, in their day, articulated the mystery of the Trinity in a way that differed, in some significant respects, from the way St. Athanasius or St. Epiphanius or Pope St. Damasus articulated it; yet the Cappadocians strove to maintain communion with St. Athanasius and St. Epiphanius and Pope St. Damasus. Similarly, St. Maximus, in his day, recognized that the Latin-speaking Church articulated the mystery of the Holy Spirit’s procession in a way that differed from the way most Greek-speaking Christians did; yet he strove to maintain the bonds of communion, and said that he had never known the fathers to disagree with each other in thought, even though, very often, they disagree with one another verbally. John Bekkos thinks that reasons of Christian truth and love oblige him to imitate these holy men.
… Trinitarian language becomes meaningless if it loses its concrete moorings in the revelation of God in Christ. John Bekkos understood that, as there is no approaching the Father except through the Son, so there is no knowing the Holy Spirit’s eternal relation to the Father except, implicitly or explicitly, through the Son. The Spirit does not lead to the Father except through the Son, nor does the Spirit come forth from the Father to us except through the Son. When theologians deny a mediation of divine being, when they confidently assert an ontology that makes the Son’s mediation of the Spirit’s ousia impossible, one must ask how they have acquired this mystical knowledge of the Father that shunts the Son off to the side.
John Bekkos did not shunt off the Son. He worshiped God the Logos, and logic played a role in how he worshiped him. He had no use for a “spirituality” that was not true rationality, just as he had no use for any new Spirit who is not through the Son. He was a diligent, painstaking researcher who cared about fact, because he cared about truth; but he did not worship the status quo. Pachymeres and others testify to Bekkos’s faith that, even if his own generation failed to appreciate what he had tried to do, future generations would understand. Time may yet prove him right.