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John Meyendorff 

Theology in the Thirteenth Century: Methodological Contrasts* 

From: The 17th lnternational Byzantine Congress: Μajor Papers, ed. A.D. Caratzas, New Rochelle, Ν.Y. 1986. Reprinted by permission.


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2. Theological Encounters  

The establishment in 1204 of the Latin Empire of Constantinople and of the various Latin principalities in the Orient, as well as the expansion of the mercantile empires of the Italian city-republics, were hardly conducive to fraternal intellectual dialogues between Greeks and Latins(11). The Greek intellectuals, who possessed theological skills, left for either Nicea, or Epirus. The clergy remaining under Latin occupation struggled for the preservation of its Orthodox identity. Forced to engage in various forms of institutional and canonical compromises(12), it was not prepared for dialogue on academic competition. The unprecedented installation, formally confirmed by Innocent III, of a Latin patriarch, the Venetian Thomas Morosini, at St. Sophia provoked a renewed, and more articulate Greek polemics against the Latin interpretation of "Petrine" primacy(13), but still the Trinitarian problem connected with the Latin addition of the Filioque to the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed, remained as in the past, the focus of all theological debates, which would continue to take place within and beyond the borders of the Latin Empire.  

It is obviously impossible to review here all such encounteτs and episodes(14). The three most important ones are: 1) The meetings of Nicea and Nymphaeum in 1234, which witnessed an initial encounter between the Greeks and the new breed of Latin "scholastic" theologians, 2) The encounter in Nicea between a legate of Innocent IV, the Franciscan, John of Parma, and Nicephorus Blemmydes, and 3) The events connected with the Council of Lyons (1274). At that Council itself, no theological debate took place, but the formal decree of union was followed by a prolonged crisis within the Byzantine Church, resulting in a conciliar decision defining the position of the Byzantine Church on the Filioque issue.  

The debates of 1234 resulted from a correspondence between Pope Gregory IX and Patriarch Germanus II. The pope appointed two Dominicans and two Franciscans, as spokesmen for the Latin Church, whereas the Greek side was represented by the patriarch himself. The actual speakers for the Greek point of view were two laymen, Demetrios Karykes (the "consul of philosophers") and the young Nicephorus Blemmydes.  The Emperor John Vatatzes presided. 

Lasting over four months(15), the debates were concerned with the Filioque issue and, at the insistence of the Greeks, with the use of the unleavened bread in the Eucharist by the Latins. In oral argument with the Friars, the first Greek spokesman Karykes was totally confused, but a written document submitted by Blemmydes showed the two respective positions to be irreconcilable. 

The debates in Nicea between John of Parma and the Greeks (1250), as reported by the main Greek participant, the same Nicephorus Blemmydes -now a monk and a priest- also brought no agreement, but it focused the argument on Greek patristic texts, which describe the Holy Spirit as "acting through the Son" ι' υιού). The Latins used such texts to prove their point: acting "through the Son", they said, is the same as proceeding "through the Son", because "through", in this context, means the same as "from".  

In his public replies to the Latin theologians, Blemmydes tried to show that the problem is not in finding accommodating synonyms, but in preserving the hypostatic, or personal characteristics of each Divine Person. Indeed, as most scholars today would agree(16), the real difference between the Latin -Augustinian- view of the Trinity, as a single Essence, with personal characters understood as relations, and the Greek scheme, inherited from the Cappadocian Fathers, which considered the single divine Essence as totally transcendent, and the Persons, or hypostaseis -each with unique and unchangeable characteristics- as revealing in themselves the Tripersonal divine life, was the real issue behind the debates on the Filioque. The Greeks would not understand the Latin argument, which affirmed: the Father and the Son are One Essence; therefore they are the One source of the Spirit, proceeding "from both" (a Patre Filioque).  

Blemmydes did remain faithful to the Greek scheme of the Trinity. But, after his talks with the Latins in 1234 and 1250, he became personally strongly committed to the cause of church unity and defended the idea that the image of the Spirit's procession "through the Son", can serve as a bridge between the two theologies. In two short treatises addressed respectively to a friend, Jacob, archbishop of Ohrid and to Emperor Theodore II Lascaris (whom he had tutored and for whom he also wrote a book called Βασιλικός Aνδριάς -"the Model of an Emperor"), Blemmydes collected patristic texts using the formula "through the Son" and attacked those Greeks who out of anti-Latin zeal, were refusing to give it enough importance(17). In general, and already since Photius, the Greek position consisted in distinguishing the eternal procession of the Son from the Father, and the sending of the Spirit in time through the Son and by the Son. This distinction between the eternal processions and temporal manifestations was among the Byzantines the standard explanation for the numerous New Testament passages, where Christ is described as "giving" and "sending" the Spirit, and where the Spirit is spoken of as the "Spirit of the Son". In his letters to Archbishop Jacob and Emperor Theodore Lascaris, however, Blemmydes specifically avoided the distinction between eternity and time: the patristic formula "through the Son" reflected both the eternal relationships of the divine Persons and the level of the "economy" in time.  

Blemmydes hoped to satisfy both sides by his approach: "Our times call us to draw many people to concord in Christ", he wrote(18). He was challenging the stubborn defensiveness of Byzantine polemicists, who were calling in question the opposition between the "eternal" and the "temporal" in Trinitarian relations. Was not the coming of the Spirit through Christ a manifestation of the eternal life of God, and, therefore, manifested the eterna1 relationships of the divine Persons? But, then -some of his readers would ask- were not the Latins right in speaking of the eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son?  

Blemmydes himself always remained faithful to the Greek patristic vision of the personal relationships in the Trinity(9). But he was a searching mind, liked to take some risks. However, he had neither the time, nor the opportunity to draw all the conclusions of his search. Others will draw such conclusions, but in different directions.  

In 1274, Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus signed a Confession of faith, drafted, in full conformity with Latin theology, by four Dominican friars sent specially by Pope Gregory X to Constantinople. The signature, given in advance, made the emperor eligible to participate through delegates in the ecumenical council of Lyons, where a union of the churches was proclaimed without further discussion. It is unfortunate that the Confession, under the obvious influence of the new systematic approach to theology in Western Scholasticism, also included a new element, which had never before been debated formally between East and West: the Latin doctrine of the purgatory(20). The issue remained on the agenda until the council of Florence. 

It is obviously impossible to discuss here all the participants and the episodes of the debates spurred in Byzantium by the Union of Lyons. There is an abundant secondary literature on the subject(21). I would like simply to point at one fact: the decisive bifurcation between two main Greek protagonists -John Beccos and Gregory of Cyprus- was based on the views expressed by Nicephorus Blemmydes, from which they drew different conclusions. John Beccos, became convinced, after reading Blemmydes(22), that the formula "through the Son", since it designates the eternal procession of the Spirit, fully justifies the Latin Filioque. He was promoted to the patriarchate by Michael VIII and became the great defender of the Decree of Lyons. Gregory of Cyprus, the Orthodox successor of Beccos, a former partisan of the Union and, undoubtedly, also a reader of Blemmydes, accepted the latter's idea that the formula "through the Son" reflects eterna1 divine life. However, he refused to follow Beccos in the Latin camp: his resistance to the Latin conception of the Trinity was based on the distinction between the nature of God, and His charismata, or "eternal manifestation" (έκφανσις αΐδιoς): the eternal, divine charismata of the Spirit, he proclaimed, are indeed manifested "through the Son", but the personal "hypostatic" existence of the Spirit is from the Father, who is the unique personal source and origin of the Son and the Spirit, as persons(23). This theology of Gregory of Cyprus provoked quite some discussion in Constantinople, anticipating the debates between Palamas and his adversaries in the following century(24), but it was endorsed by the Council of Blachernae of 1285(25).