On Recycling Old & Vapid Arguments: Timothy Flanders & the Orthodox Church

One has to be fairly impressed with the article by Timothy Flanders in OnePeterFive about a month ago titled, “I Left Eastern Orthodoxy for the Church Led by Pope Francis, and I don’t Regret It.” For an article whose title ostensibly promised to be an interesting story of personal experience and religious development, one finds a rather impoverished list of age-old stereotypical pop-apologetic arguments against Orthodoxy that says very little about the author’s own personal experience. In short, there is nothing really new or insightful here. The article is not written for people on the fence, but rather as something of a self-pat on the back. Perhaps that was not the intention, but I imagine that has largely been its effect.

To briefly sum up the article, here are the main points: 1.) the Roman Primacy/Supremacy is true; 2.) the papacy safeguards humility; 3.) that the Orthodox Church does not truly exist at an institutional level; and 4.) that Orthodoxy has a pathology against charity. To be brief, none of these I think are true. I will address the first three in varying detail. The final point is not worth answering.

The Roman Primacy

Flanders summons some interesting claims in support of his argument that the Roman primacy is historically and demonstrably true. To begin, he claims that the Eastern bishops during the first millennium were out of communion with the Roman bishop for at least 203 years, citing the eminent Louis Duchesne. I have no qualms about these claims, but one really has to question the implicit and broad assumption underlying Flanders’ presentation here, namely that the Christian East is already representative of a type of proto-Orthodoxy and therefore its previous errors highlight, prior to the events of 1054 and after, the fundamental inability of Eastern Orthodoxy to cope with protecting the Gospel. This view fundamentally misunderstands the actual position of Orthodoxy – which is that it is about correct practice and correct belief, not regional or ethnic affiliations. I think the string of publications by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press on the history of the Orthodox Church (the Church in History series) is quite indicative of this Orthodox view, precisely because it is a history of the Orthodox Church throughout the world, Latin (including the Church of Rome and the Latin churches outside Rome) and Greek, Roman and non-Roman. Even the most rabid anti-Latin Orthodox scholars over the past century, such as Fr. John Romanides, acknowledge and appreciate the times the Church of Rome stood up for correct belief and practice during the first millennium. And the reason they are able to argue this idea is because ostensibly, they do not limit Orthodoxy in their historical analyses to the bishops and laity of the Christian East.

Flanders also argues that it takes a rather special grace to observe the historical reality of papal supremacy as well. This argument is not serious, which isn’t to say that it is insincere. By this logic, if I am not Catholic or express some resistance to Catholicism on such and such grounds, then evidently I lack this special grace. Therefore, until I have this special grace, I cannot see the historical truth. I am not going to explicate some list of Catholic scholars who would disagree with such a position, because I find granting such credence to tribalisms in matter of scientific study (hard or soft) to be an extraordinary stupid act. Nor am I going to write some long detailed argument that “UTTERLY DESTROYS” (as petty YouTube titles are prone to say these days) the Catholic position. I have no interest in that and if I did, it would hardly be appropriate for the blogging medium. But if I wanted to suggest to my readers some scholarship, regardless of the authors’ religious affiliations or lack thereof, that is not largely confined to  some antiquated books on Archives.org or Google Books, then I would suggest reading:

George Demacopoulos’ The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity (2013)

Ralph W. Mathisen’s Ecclesiastical Factionalism and Religious Controversy in Fifth-Century Gaul (1989)

Thomas F. X. Noble’s Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians (2009)

J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen’s Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (2014)

Read those books and one quickly realizes that the historical argument surrounding the papacy (and not to mention many other issues) is far more complicated than Flanders suggests, which is not to say that these books are pro-Orthodox or anti-Catholic. They are neither of those, and rather are just called scholarship. But if one wants to surrender themselves to what amounts to a fairly conceited and arrogant solipsism cloaked in religious garb, be my guest.

Papal Humility & Orthodox Pride

Flanders argues that the papacy safeguards humility. That is quite the tough sell. Take a gander at the results of the Albigensian Crusade. Pope Innocent III certainly did not intend the mass slaughter of southern Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, but the the intentions do not matter so much to those who see their families and livelihoods destroyed before their very eyes. The fact of the matter is that Innocent’s pretensions and goals for a heavily centralized papacy and government all but guaranteed that these sorts of disasters would happen, regardless or whether the man at the helm abhorred these atrocities or not. I suggest reading R. I. Moore’s The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe (2012) on this subject.

There was certainly no humility from the papacy with regards to the Eastern Orthodox Christians of the Latin Crusader states in the Levant. Sure enough, the Latin Christians’ relations with the various Oriental Orthodox Christians and other factions were extremely cordial, at least during the first 90 years after the First Crusade, as Christopher MacEvitt’s The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (2008) well demonstrates. In terms of the Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, their treatment was quite grim and they were persecuted increasingly over time. For information on that, see the late Bernard Hamilton’s The Latin Church in the Crusader States: The Secular Church (1980).

I can go on with some more examples, but I will stop here. My central point is that, at the very least, as often as one can point to the humility that the papacy instills and represents, one can just as easily find a long history of bloodshed.

As for Orthodox pride, Flanders expresses discomfort that not all of his questions have simple answers in Orthodoxy. He is right, there are numerous conflicting opinions in Orthodoxy on contraception. I do not see these differences as a big deal, but if others do, well so be it. And yes, there is divergence over time and space within Orthodoxy concerning baptismal practices, namely rebaptism for converts. Flanders seems to forget, however, that the reason why rebaptism became so controversial in the North African Church to begin with is precisely because it led to schism and bitter controversies. In contrast, present-day Orthodoxy does not have schism on account of diverging baptismal practices. Therefore, I don’t see the issue.

As for the procession of the Holy Spirit and every other doctrine of the Catholic Church since its schism, there is no reason why the Orthodox Church must necessarily pronounce on everything in response to an organization that has split itself off from her centuries ago. And in point of fact, the Orthodox Church has responded to the filioque. Whether an Orthodox takes an extreme Photian view or the more full view (in my opinion) of the Synod of Blachernae (1285), the central point remains in either case – the Father is the sole cause of the Trinity. That is a fairly substantial position, at least from the Orthodox point of view, because it protects the monarchy of the Father and divine simplicity at both the essential and personal levels. To characterize this matter as a free-for-all or knee-jerk prejudice, like Flanders does, is grossly inaccurate.

Orthodoxy as a Church

Flanders here argues that the Orthodox Church suffers from many internal divisions that make it difficult to qualify it as a united institution. This claim is extraordinary and wrong. It is true, nationalism has wrecked havoc on Orthodoxy since its rise in the 19th century. Yet, Orthodoxy retains its liturgical traditions and has a healthy monastic movement – two things I would not credit the current Catholic Church with. I do not see how Flanders could say that these problems within current-day Orthodoxy are distinctly of a different category from the problems of Catholicism today, which is what OnePeterFive is dedicated to. If problems with nationalism disqualify Orthodoxy as a church and institution, then the very existence of OnePeterFive and the accusations of heresy against Pope Francis (whom I will not comment upon) should serve to weigh on the same scale for Catholicism. I think it is also worth pointing out that nationalism and traditional Catholicism have a fairly long history together. A good example is French historiography on King Clovis I from the 19th and early 20th centuries. I recommend perusing through M. Rouche’s Clovis: Histoire et memoire vol. 2 (1997) for more on that subject.

Furthermore, Orthodoxy agrees on a lot of common and essential doctrinal points. And while the disappearance of the position of the Roman emperor makes it difficult to gain consensus on any modern controversy that might arise in the foreseeable future, I don’t think there has yet to be over the course of many centuries since the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire an equivalent to say Arianism to plague the Church. The nearest we have come to that is the Hesychasm Controversy (which is prior to the empire’s fall, but a very weakened empire), which the Palamite councils resolved. And while few Orthodox regard these councils as ecumenical, they all agree that they got the question and answer at the time right. And if something were to arise today, who is to say that Orthodoxy will not triumph? After all, from the Orthodox view, it triumphed in spite of emperor, pope, and most bishops at Florence. Disarray and heresy are everywhere, as Tertullian acknowledged in his De praescriptione haereticorum. Problems such as these aren’t some marks that one willy nilly uses to decide which church is the true one. They are marks that we live in a fallen world.

At any rate, to conclude, I think it is quite telling that Flanders writes, “Even during the current crisis, the Roman Church is united in potency — the pope has the real power to bind all in unity.” This quote here really shows what Flanders’ main concern here is – government and power, not faith.


J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen, Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2014)

George Demacopoulos, The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013)

Timothy Flanders, “I Left Eastern Orthodoxy for the Church Led by Pope Francis, and I don’t Regret It.” OnePeterFive June 11, 2019. https://onepeterfive.com/left-orthodoxy-regret/

Bernard Hamilton, The Latin Church in the Crusader States: The Secular Church (New York: Routledge, 1980)

Christopher MacEvitt, The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)

Ralph W. Mathisen, Ecclesiastical Factionalism and Religious Controversy in Fifth-Century Gaul (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press,1989)

R. I. Moore, The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe (London: Profile Books, 2012)

Thomas F. X. Noble, Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009)

M. Rouche ed., Clovis: Histoire et memoire, vol. 2 (Paris: Presses de l’Université
de Paris-Sorbonne, 1997)

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Final Fantasy Tactics: The Meaning of Good and the Tragedy of Princess Ovelia


I recently finished my second playthrough of Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT: Complete Mod in particular this time) and since it has been so many years since last playing it, I had forgotten how much the ending left me feeling gutted. For those of you who have not played it and do not mind spoilers, the story has two primary characters – Ramza Beoulve, the youngest of a prestigious noble house, and Delita Heiral, a commoner and lifelong friend of Ramza. Due to historical circumstances and the fortunes of their births, Ramza and Delita are foisted in diverging paths in what is called the War of the Lions (loosely inspired by the War of the Roses), a civil war in the kingdom of Ivalice. The splitting of their paths occurs when in a military operation against rebel forces prior to the civil war, Delita’s sister (Tietra) – a hostage of said rebels – is killed due to the rash orders of Ramza’s brothers. For Ramza’s elder siblings, the casualty of a commoner is of no consequence for putting down a rebellion. For Delita, it revealed that no matter how good his social relations might be with particular nobles, the social structure around him was innately set against him and all commoners. For Ramza, however, the moment signaled the betrayal of what it really meant to be a noble and the ideals of his late father – that is to uphold honor, truth, and justice. Three different worldviews are then explicated throughout the game – 1.) that nobles and commoners live totally different lives and should remain in their separate spheres (the status quo); 2.) that nobles have for far too long mistreated the commoners and must be brought low by any means necessary (Delita’s position); and 3.) that nobles have neglected their duties to the commoners and have thereby jeopardized their position. The true nature of nobility, whether in commoner or in nobleman, must be promulgated (Ramza’s position).

The game then leaps forward many years to when the War of the Lions has broken out. It is during this war that both Delita and Ramza seek to work out separately their own ideals. Delita wishes to change the whole kingdom of Ivalice and to bring about a better world. Meanwhile, Ramza seeks to live by a stringent code of honor, even if it means tossing aside his own rank (and eventually being branded a heretic). At the center of this war is the person of Princess Ovelia, a contender for the throne for which the war is being fought. Ovelia does not fight for the throne on her own account, but is rather being used as a puppet by both the Church of Glabados and Duke Goltanna (two different parties in this story). More yet, Ovelia is revealed to not even be the real Ovelia, who had in reality died years ago. Rather the Princess Ovelia in the game is but a body double who was raised to believe she was the legitimate princess so she could be used by a faction of nobles to contest the throne. This revelation comes as a shock to Ovelia and weakens her resistance to political manipulation:

Knowing this sad story, Delita promises to build a better world for Ovelia on his dead sister’s soul:

Long story short, Delita successfully plays off (and betrays) every side in the civil war (Duke Goltanna, the Church, and Duke Larg) using everyone (including his childhood friend Ramza) as well as every trick in the book, marries Ovelia, and becomes king, thus bringing about a golden age for all the people of Ivalice. Ramza, on the other hand, either dies or lives on in obscurity after successfully thwarting a demonic invasion of Ivalice. Furthermore, Ramza was branded a heretic by the Church of Glabados and anyone who dared to tell his full story for the next several centuries was silenced (burning at the stake included). But most importantly Ramza lived by his code of honor and forged many memorable friendships. But the most important aspect of the ending of this game is the final scene, when King Delita comes to bring Queen Ovelia a gift of flowers:

After killing Ovelia, it is only then that Delita finally questions the worth that he has been doing this whole time. He looks up at the sky and asks his friend Ramza what did his life path get him and then says that his own choices got him a throne and a dead Ovelia. While there are a number of different readings of Delita, I myself think that he was a true idealist and stuck to his ideals till the end. He wanted a better world and by all accounts he brought one about. He did not lose himself to power, even if he became king. But Delita sought out his ideals in the manner of the ends justify the means – all for the sake of all of the people of Ivalice. It is because of this extreme self-sacrifice, to the extent of compromising his own integrity, that Delita winds up simultaneously losing himself despite accomplishing his goals and becoming one of the great figures of history. And that is why he feels so hollow in the end. The contrast between his accomplishments and his own conscience is too great. Meanwhile, Ramza, who by all accounts made Delita’s success possible, lived a proud, moral, and honorable life, even if history was to damn his memory. Nonetheless, despite the perversity of Delita and his actions, because he acted out of the desire to bring about a better world and also because he did actually bring about a better world (something that Ramza’s isolated personal righteousness could never have hoped to accomplish), there is something noble in his character. And it is this nobility that remains at the forefront of Delita’s character – a character guilty of some of the most despicable crimes – that makes him one of the more morally troubling figures.

As for Ovelia, her story is probably the most tragic ever told thus far in the Final Fantasy franchise. Tactics most certainly shows its age in basing an entire plot around a woman in distress who never truly acts as an agent in her own story – a diametrically different dynamic than what is told in say Final Fantasy XIII. But Ovelia’s character stands in for one of the darker themes of Final Fantasy Tactics – fate and the inability to change one’s stars. Delita and Ramza both face tragedy as society foists its supposed destiny upon them – Ramza having his vision of the nobility shattered and Delita losing his sister because she was but a commoner. Both of them set out to change their fates that their births had assigned to them and they both succeeded. Ovelia faced the same challenge, but failed. She was a puppet throughout the story and probably until her death, if her account of Delita is accurate. Could she have changed it? Who knows? Nonetheless, she serves as a reminder that those who don’t rise to the circumstances placed before them, those who don’t rise to the occasion, should be viewed with just as much empathy that Ramza had for the innocent and as much as Delita had for the people of Ivalice.

Note: None of the videos linked in this post are my own. Also, the best version of this game that is easily accessible can be found on iOS/Apple Store.

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The Filioque: A Response to Critics


St. Augustine of Hippo, The Lateran, 6th century CE

In my previous blog post, I argued that the filioque as initially formulated by Saint Augustine of Hippo was perfectly orthodox. While I expected a great deal of criticism for making this case, I thought most critics would attack both the verbal distinctions I made as well as my lack of Greek knowledge. My lack of Greek, after all, is why I rarely tackle issues that deal with subjects that have their primary sources written in Greek (the Nicene Creed in this case). Nonetheless, I decided to write about the filioque in both a limited fashion and as someone who depends heavily on secondary scholarship for my discussion of the Greek language. Therefore, it was to my surprise that virtually none of the criticisms waged against me were on these fronts. Rather, the criticisms were pertained to Augustine’s exegesis and the scope of my initial post.

The first major criticism that I received was against Augustine’s exegesis of John 16:15, which says, “All things that the Father has are mine.” This critic argues that if this verse is used to argue that the Son must have a causal role in the procession, because such is a property of the Father, then so too the argument runs that the Son must have a role in his own begetting, because that too is a property of the Father. Such a conclusion, however, no Christian would endorse. It is too ridiculous on its face.

What this first critic has failed to realize, as I argued at length, is that Augustine does not understand this verse as pertaining to hypostatic causal origin. Augustine used this verse to justify the claim that there is an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit. Now Augustine framed this relationship by saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father and communitively from both the Father and the Son. To briefly recapitulate what I explained in much more detail in my previous post (see here), when Augustine says that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father, he is using the Latin verb for procession (procedere) to denote the ultimate and sole cause of the Holy Spirit – in this case the Father alone. Meanwhile, when he says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son communitively, he is using the Latin verb procedere to denote an eternal sending or manifestation of the Holy Spirit that carries no ultimate causal sense whatsoever. This point becomes evermore clear in another passage of the De Trinitate:

Si enim quidquid habet, de Patre habet Filius; de Patre habet utique ut et de illo procedat Spiritus sanctus…. Pater enim solus non est de alio, ideo solus appellatur ingenitus, non quidem in Scipturis, sed in consuetudine disputantium, et de re tanta sermonem qualem valuerint proferentium. Filius autem de Patre natus est: et Spiritus sanctus de Patre principaliter, et ipso sine ullo temporis intervallo dante, communiter de utroque procedit.

Indeed, if whatever the Son has he has from the Father (John 16:15), then certainly the Son has from the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds from he the Son himself…. Indeed, the Father alone is not from another, and therefore He alone is called unbegotten, not indeed in the Scriptures, but in the usage of disputants, who employ such language as they can on so great a subject. And the Son is begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father principally (principaliter), and without giving any interval of time, the Holy Spirit proceeds from both communitively (communiter).

Note: This translation is borrowed from New Advent and I have slightly modified its translation.

Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book XV, Chapter 26, Section 47 PL 42: 1094-1095

Here Augustine distinguishes the Father as the sole cause of the Holy Spirit by using the adverb principaliter. The procession from both the Father and the Son is a separate matter because this procession occurs communitively (communiter). One must remember that the Latin verb procedere has a wide variation of meanings, whereas the original Greek verb of ἐκπόρευσις has one specific meaning denoting ultimate causal origin. For this reason, Augustine used the two adverbs – principaliter and communiter – to specify his intended meanings. What Augustine means by this communitive procession is that in a relative perspective, not an absolute causal perspective, the Holy Spirit progresses forth from both. It is this communitive procession that the filioque formula specifically denotes and none other. The filioque does not specifically denote the causal origin of the divine person of the Holy Spirit (see my handy-dandy filioque chart below). To briefly stray from St. Augustine, this distinction, which I ask that my Orthodox readers strain in charity to understand, is all the more clear in the personal commentary of Christian Stavelot on the Gospel of John, in which he says:

A patre procedit, et ego mittam. Unum est, quia procedit a Patre et Filio.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and I will send the Holy Spirit.” (John 15:16) The Holy Spirit is one because the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Christian Stavelot, Expositiuncula in Joannem evangelistam PL 106: 1519A-1519B

Here Christian quotes John 15:16, which details the causal origin (procedere) of the Holy Spirit and then the sending (mittere) of Holy Spirit by Jesus. Now, keep in mind that in Latin, the verb procedere has multiple definitions. It can denote cause (procedere) or it can simply denote a progression or a sending forth (procedere) just like the verb mittere means specifically and only. The point that both Christian and Augustine are trying to highlight is that there is an eternal relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Son, hence a relationship between all three divine persons beyond just their essence, and therefore further highlighting the unity of the Godhead.

With this brief summary and clarification of Augustine’s position in mind, the first critic’s argument does not carry weight. The first critic’s argument relies on the assumption that Augustine is reading John 16:15 as pertaining to the causal origin of the divine persons. But Augustine is not reading it in the causal sense, he is reading it in a relational sense. So the argument – that Augustine is arguing that the Son is a second cause and therefore by such logic the Son must also be a second cause in his own begetting – holds no water whatsoever, because John 16:15 is not speaking about causes. This point is further demonstrated elsewhere in Augustine’s writings, as I detail in my previous post on the matter (see here), where Augustine clearly denotes the Father as the sole cause of the divine persons of the Holy Spirit and the Son. Now I realize that this point is difficult to follow because most people tend to lack basic Latin comprehension and reading skills. It is because of this lack of Latin comprehension on the part of so many, Catholics and Orthodox included, that I firmly believe in using the per Filium formula endorsed by Patriarch Tarasius of Constantinople at the Second Council of Nicaea (787) or using the formula endorsed by the Orthodox Synod of Blachernae (1285) under Patriarch Gregory II of Constantinople, which said that the Holy Spirit proceeds (ἐκπόρευσις) from the Father and is eternally manifested through the Son (ἀΐδιον ἔκφανσιν) (Siecienski, 140-143). By using either of these formulas, both the eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit, which is what the filioque was solely denoting in Augustine’s framework (and having nothing to do with cause), and the Father as the ultimate sole cause of the Holy Spirit, which is what the Nicene Creed was denoting originally before the Latin churches modified it, are both clearly articulated without making anymore confusion.

To repeat: What the Son has, according to Augustine, is not the Father’s ability to cause the divine person of the Holy Spirit. That property belongs to the Father alone, hence Augustine uses the adverb principaliter in conjunction with the verb procedere. What the Son actually has, according to John 16:15 is an eternal relationship with the Holy Spirit – a pouring forth if you will, which the Father also has (hence the adverb communiter in conjunction with the verb procedere). To use an analogy, as imperfect as they may be, like a spring with a stream, water can be said to flow forth from both the spring and the stream (communiter). However, water cannot be said to have its cause from both the the spring and the stream. Rather, only the spring can be said to be the cause of the water (principaliter).

As the eminent Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart notes, the core idea here is the exact same as that articulated by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who wrote:

… while confessing the immutability of the [divine] nature, we do not deny difference in regard to cause and that which is caused, by which alone we discern the difference of each Person from the other, in that we believe one to be the cause and another to be from the cause; and again we conceive of another difference within that which is from the cause: between the one who, on the one hand, comes directly from the principle and the one who, on the other, comes from the principle through the one who arises directly; thus it unquestionably remains peculiar to the Son to be the Only Begotten, while at the same time it is not to be doubted that the Spirit is of the Father, by virtue of the mediation of the Son that safeguards the Son’s character as Only Begotten, and thus the Spirit is not excluded from his natural relation to the Father.

Note: This excerpt is taken from David Bentley Hart’s article, “The Myth of Schism.”

– Gregory of Nyssa, Ad Ablabium, 55-56

Hart goes on to say, “This is the very argument—made by Augustine in De Trinitate—that scores of Orthodox theologians in recent decades have denounced as entirely alien to Eastern tradition.”  This opinion I entirely agree with.

Now, a second critic has argued that I was remarkably selective with my sources – that is I only really discussed St. Augustine’s articulation of the filioque and not the countless other Latin articulations of it. I believe I addressed this concern in my initial post. To quote what I said:

I am going to be very precise and narrow in my treatment of this issue here, because after all to treat such a massive issue in a single blog post would be too great a task for me and demand too much time – time which I do not have. For those who desire a more expansive overview of the subject with more history than I offer here, I suggest reading Michael Lofton’s blog post on some of the major divisions between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism or A. Edward Siecienski’s The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy. The parameters of this brief address will pertain solely to what Saint Augustine of Hippo said concerning the matter.

This second critic then went on to add the following, saying:

And yet regardless of Augustine or Aquinas, this is the dogma of the Roman Church as per the 6th session of Florence, 6 July 1439 AD: “that the holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, and has his essence and his subsistent being from the Father together with the Son, and proceeds from both eternally as from one principle and a single spiration. We declare that when holy doctors and fathers say that the holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, this bears the sense that thereby also the Son should be signified, according to the Greeks indeed as cause, and according to the Latins as principle of the subsistence of the holy Spirit, just like the Father. And since the Father gave to his only-begotten Son in begetting him everything the Father has, except to be the Father, so the Son has eternally from the Father, by whom he was eternally begotten, this also, namely that the holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.”

I am not going to comment on the problems I have with the Council of Florence (1439), which are numerous. Why? Because, as I said before, I do not have that much time. But again, I anticipated this general point and wrote: 

Third, there remains the question that even if Augustine’s Trinitarian formula is Orthodox, whether if all of the other Latin theologians and council’s understandings of the filioque are orthodox. To this question, I will not comment any further, other than the fact that I think it is incumbent upon Orthodox to be charitable and presume at first glance that any proclamation of filioque in a Latin author’s work should be read in a precise Augustinian sense. Only when there is language that seems to indicate otherwise, should suspicion begin to arise.

A Quick Handy-Dandy Filioque Formula Chart

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father principally (principaliter), and without giving any interval of time, the Holy Spirit proceeds from both communitively (communiter). What it denotes: In two separate thoughts, it denotes the causal origin of the Holy Spirit, then it denotes the relationship between the divine persons of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit between one another without referring specifically to cause.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. What it denotes: In a single thought, it denotes both the cause of the Holy Spirit as well as the Holy Spirit’s non-causal relationship with the Son.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. (ie: traditional filioque clause later inserted into the Nicene Creed). What it denotes: In a single thought, it refers to the eternal relationship between the divine persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – specifically showing that there is an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit. It emphatically does not refer to any cause, because that is not the intention whatsoever of this formula. It carries the same weight and meaning as St. Augustine’s communitive procession (communiter).

Bibliography & Further Reading

David Bentley Hart, “The Myth of Schism,” Clarion Journal, June 13, 2014, https://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2014/06/the-myth-of-schism-david-bentley-hart.html

A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

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The Filioque: A Brief Opinion


St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek MS 382, p. 10 – Nicene Creed in Greek and Latin (mid-tenth or early eleventh century)

My position on the filioque, a clause that a number of Latin churches added to the Nicene Creed over the course of five centuries and which many Latin writers and saints had professed in other genres of writing for many centuries prior to its insertion anywhere, is that I do not think it is unorthodox, because precisely what the filioque expresses, unlike the Nicene Creed in its original Greek, is not a matter of God the Father being the ultimate cause of the Trinity. I am going to be very precise and narrow in my treatment of this issue here, because after all to treat such a massive issue in a single blog post would be too great a task for me and demand too much time – time which I do not have. For those who desire a more expansive overview of the subject with more history than I offer here, I suggest reading Michael Lofton’s blog post on some of the major divisions between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism or A. Edward Siecienski’s The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy. The parameters of this brief address will pertain solely to what Saint Augustine of Hippo said concerning the matter.

In his De Trinitate, Augustine said the following about the Holy Trinity:

Principium quomodo in Trinitate relative dicatur. Dicitur ergo relative Pater, idemque relative dicitur principium, et si quid forte aliud: sed Pater ad Filium dicitur, principium vero ad omnia quae ab ipso sunt. Item dicitur relative Filius, relative dicitur et Verbum et Imago; et in omnibus his vocabulis ad Patrem refertur: nihil autem horum Pater dicitur. Et principium dicitur Filius: cum enim diceretur ei, Tu quis es? respondit, Principium, qui et loquor vobis (Joan. VIII, 25). Sed numquid Patris principium? Creatorem se quippe ostendere voluit, cum se dixit esse principium; sicut et Pater principium est creaturae, eo quod ab ipso sunt omnia. Nam et creator relative dicitur ad creaturam, sicut dominus ad servum. Et ideo cum dicimus, et Patrem principium, et Filium principium, non duo principia creaturae dicimus; quia et Pater et Filius simul ad creaturam unum principium est, sicut unus creator, sicut unus Deus.

The Father is called so, therefore, relatively, and He is also relatively said to be the Principle, and whatever else there may be of the kind; but He is called the Father in relation to the Son, the Principle in relation to all things, which are from Him. So the Son is relatively so called; He is called also relatively the Word and the Image. And in all these appellations He is referred to the Father, but the Father is called by none of them. And the Son is also called the Principle; for when it was said to Him, Who are You?” He replied, Even the Principle, who also speak to you.” (John 8:25) But is He, pray, the Principle of the Father? For He intended to show Himself to be the Creator when He said that He was the Principle, as the Father also is the Principle of the creature in that all things are from Him. For creator, too, is spoken relatively to creature, as master to servant. And so when we say, both that the Father is the Principle, and that the Son is the Principle, we do not speak of two principles of the creature; since both the Father and the Son together is one principle in respect to the creature, as one Creator, as one God.

Note: This translation is borrowed from New Advent and I have slightly revised its translation.

– Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book V, Chapter 13, Section 14 PL 42: 0920

Now, the main point to highlight here is that Augustine is speaking of principle in relative terms. That is to say, God the Father and God the Son are both the same principle relative to creation, for as John says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. And the word was God. This Word was in the beginning with God. Everything was made through Him and without Him there was nothing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) It is in this relative sense then, that God the Father and God the Son are both, relative to creation, one principle.

Now elsewhere Augustine speaks of principle in an absolute sense, not a relative sense, as he does in the segment above. It is in this absolute sense that Augustine identifies the Father as the sole and ultimate cause of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. He says:

Et tamen non frustra in hac Trinitate non dicitur Verbum Dei nisi Filius, nec Donum Dei nisi Spiritus sanctus, nec de quo genitum est Verbum et de quo procedit principaliter Spiritus sanctus nisi Deus Pater. Ideo autem addidi, Principaliter, quia et de Filio Spiritus sanctus procedere reperitur. Sed hoc quoque illi Pater dedit, non jam existenti et nondum habenti: sed quidquid unigenito Verbo dedit, gignendo dedit.

And yet it is not to no purpose that in this Trinity that none except the Son is called the Word of God, and that none except the Holy Spirit is called the Gift of God, and that none except God the Father is He from whom the Word is begotten as well as from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds. And therefore I have added the word principally, because we find that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him. (John 16:15)

Note: This translation is borrowed from New Advent and I have slightly modified its translation.

Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book XV, Chapter 17, Section 29 PL 42: 1081

Augustine here argues that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, but it is only from the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally. In short, the Holy Spirit has its ultimate cause from the Father alone, whereas it proceeds from the Son relatively because the Son was begotten of the Father and has what the Father has. This idea, at least in this passage, is implicitly based upon John 16:15, where Christ says, “All things that the Father has are mine.” Augustine, perhaps more clearly, argues this relative procession from both the Father and the Son later again:

Filius autem de Patre natus est: et Spiritus sanctus de Patre principaliter, et ipso sine ullo temporis intervallo dante, communiter de utroque procedit.

But the Son is begotten from the Father: and the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father, and without any intervening rendering of time itself, the Holy Spirit proceeds communitively from both.

Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book XV, Chapter 26, Section 47 PL 42: 1095

To be clear, Augustine here is not claiming the Son to be the absolute sole cause or even a secondary cause to the Trinity. When he speaks of the Holy Spirit as proceeding principally from the Father, he is speaking in an absolute sense in that the Father is the ultimate and sole cause of the Holy Spirit. But when he turns to the communitive/relative procession (communiter), he is not speaking of an ultimate or sole cause whatsoever. Rather, he is saying that the Holy Spirit has its hypostatic origin most perfectly from the Father alone, but that the Holy Spirit also proceeds in a communitive/relative sense from both, because what the Father has the Son has and thus there is by necessity an eternal joint progression from the Father and the Son – a progression that is quite distinct in its intent and meaning from a procession of ultimate and sole cause. It is only in this communitive/relative sense that the Father and the Son can be understood to be one principle. In an absolute sense, however, they cannot be understood to be one principle. Only the Father is the principle in the absolute sense. To misunderstand this point is to commit a linguistic error, a tragedy of poor Latin skills.

Now there are a multitude of remaining issues with Augustine’s formulation. First, there is the issue of Latin theology’s use of procedere, that is the verb for procession. Procedere has a much wider range in meaning in Latin than any of the near equivalent verbs in Greek, as A. Siecienski well argues in his book (Note: My arguments here depend heavily upon Siecienski’s verbal distinctions, as I have no knowledge of Greek). The Greek verb ἐκπόρευσις used in the Nicene Creed came to denote solely the ultimate hypostatic origin of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, procedere can mean either what ἐκπόρευσις means or denote a relative relationship or a mere sending (mittere). So when Latin Christians began to speak of ex Patre et Filio procedentem or, as they later add to the Nicene Creed, ex Patre Filioque procedit, they necessarily changed the original intent of the Nicene Creed. They changed this passage of the Nicene Creed from the intent of defining the sole hypostatic cause of the Holy Spirit to the intent of showing the relative divine and personal relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From an Eastern Orthodox perspective, this shift is strange indeed, especially since just a few lines prior in the Nicene Creed, the Son’s begotteness, that is Filium Dei unigenitum, remains concerned with the original intent of establishing God the Father as the ultimate and sole cause of the Son. Nonetheless, the Latins made this change to suit their own theological and liturgical concerns, namely against various forms of lingering Arianism.

Now it bears worth mentioning that many Latin Orthodox Christians, just as how many of their fellow Greek Orthodox Christians, probably did not fully realize this change in intent, as the manuscript image from St. Gall above containing both the Latin and Greek versions of the Nicene Creed indicates. In this particular manuscript, the Latin scribe translated the Latin filioque formula into the Greek but he kept the Greek verb ἐκπόρευσις for the procession. This usage is clearly unorthodox, as it technically describes a double procession from both the Father and the Son as the ultimate causes of the Holy Spirit. I do not think the scribe intended this meaning. It is more probable that his Greek was not up to snuff to grasp what the original intent of the Nicene Creed was in Greek. As the work of Bernice M. Kaczynski demonstrates, the degree of Greek knowledge that the monks at St. Gall had did not go beyond mere vocabulary lists. They rarely had intimate knowledge of basic Greek grammar (Kaczynski, 115-116). The scribe probably thought ἐκπόρευσις had the same variation of meanings as procedere, which by this time it most certainly did not. I am being charitable here for a reason. After all, centuries prior, Saint Maximus the Confessor defended Pope Saint Theodore I of Rome, a native Greek no less, from accusers for making a similar mistranslation in his creedal statement (Siecienski, 78-84).

Second, there is the issue of whether the Son’s relationship with the Holy Spirit defined as proceeding/sending (procedere/mittere) relates to the economy of salvation only, that is within time, or if it relates to the eternal and timeless dynamic between the divine persons. In the former case, the Holy Spirit can only be said to be sent by the Son just before his ascension in John 20:22, where he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” Many Eastern Orthodox have traditionally interpreted this verse as having only pertained to the economic/temporal sending of the Holy Spirit and have been reluctant to read an economic description of the Trinity into an eternal/theological description of the Trinity. I myself do not share these concerns, primarily for the same reasons that the Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart does not share them. Many other Orthodox writers have argued that there is indeed an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit, although perhaps not using John 20:22 as their basis. One such example is Patriarch Gregory II of Constantinople, who in his writings and through the Synod of Blachernae (1285) argued that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone (ἐκπόρευσις) and is manifested eternally through the Son (Siecienski, 140-143). This formulation is substantially the same as Saint Augustine’s, although it might be argued it is more clear and less prone to confusion.

Third, there remains the question that even if Augustine’s Trinitarian formula is Orthodox, whether if all of the other Latin theologians and council’s understandings of the filioque are orthodox. To this question, I will not comment any further, other than the fact that I think it is incumbent upon Orthodox to be charitable and presume at first glance that any proclamation of filioque in a Latin author’s work should be read in a precise Augustinian sense. Only when there is language that seems to indicate otherwise, should suspicion begin to arise.

Lastly, there is the problem that the Latin churches added the filioque unilaterally. No one denies this fact. The Church of Rome adding it in the eleventh century by far had the most significant impact upon the relationship between the Latin and Eastern churches. Ostensibly, Rome added it because of its developing self-understanding of papal supremacy. In the papal supremacist view, the pope of Rome could add it unilaterally without consulting an ecumenical council. However, the Visigothic and Frankish churches had long added the filioque many centuries prior, regardless of the objections of the Eastern churches and the Church of Rome. This much is certain, as exhibited in the plethora of baptismal formulas found in the early ninth century (see Keefe) – whether it be professed in a modified Nicene Creed or the so-called Athanasian Creed. Those additions and professions were not the result of papal supremacy, and often ran against papal wishes. Therefore, in the event of a reunion between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, Eastern Orthodox face a tough question pertaining to the filioque. If the Orthodox were demand that it be removed from the Latin version of the Nicene Creed, then it would certainly be a rebuttal of papal unilateralism, but it would also be a rejection of a Latin liturgical tradition that long predates 1054 and the gradual schism. As argued above, I do not think the content of the filioque is heretical, but rather orthodox. So to alter a long-held liturgical and theological tradition on the basis of technical violations of canon law, which had occurred for centuries prior to the beginnings of the schism, seems to me to be against the spirit of Orthodoxy’s liturgical and theological conservatism, and possibly even an implicit proclamation that only the Greek tradition of Orthodoxy is Orthodox. There are no good answers to this dilemma. If anything, it might be possible to remove the filioque from the Latin version of the Nicene Creed and to add to both creeds the ex Patre per Filium procedentem formula to both the Latin and Greek versions of the Nicene Creed. Patriarch Tarasius of Consantinople used the per Filium formula at the Second Council of Nicaea (787) to describe his own faith. In that sense, the Orthodox find the exactitude and precision that that would have prevented this mess to begin with, while the Catholics get to keep their liturgical and theological tradition. This measure would mean changing the language of both traditions, but at the same time it would keep the spirit of the two traditions under the umbrella of Orthodoxy.

Bibliography & Further Reading

David Bentley Hart, “The Myth of Schism,” Clarion Journal, June 13, 2014, https://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2014/06/the-myth-of-schism-david-bentley-hart.html

Bernice M. Kaczynski, Greek in the Carolingian Age: The St. Gall Manuscripts (Cambridge, MA: The Medieval Academy of America, 1988)

Susan A. Keefe, Water and the Word: Baptism and the Education of the Clergy in the Carolingian Empire, vol. 2 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002)

Michael Lofton, “The Road to Unity: The Obstacles to Full Unity between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians,” Reason and Theology, February 14, 2019, https://reasonandtheology.com/2019/02/14/the-road-to-unity-the-obstacles-to-full-unity-between-roman-catholics-and-eastern-orthodox-christians/

John Mendham, trans., The Seventh General Council (London: William Edward Painter, 1850)

A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

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Brief Comments on David Bentley Hart’s Article Concerning the Lord’s Prayer

Recently Professor David Bentley Hart has published an article on the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. I quite enjoyed the article for its thought-provoking critique of the many present-day Christians, who do not adequately acknowledge the historical economic factors it speaks to and its continuing moral relevance to today’s conditions of the poor. Hart attributes this lack of consciousness of many present-day Christians to either translation errors or habits of interpretation. I am inclined to agree, although my own lack of knowledge of Greek prevents me from fully grasping the depth of Hart’s argument. Yet I am also inclined to disagree on some points. First, Hart seems to dismiss the legitimacy of the spiritual readings of the text. He goes as far to refer to these interpretations as “‘spiritualized'”. At first it is difficult understand what Hart exactly means to convey by putting “spiritualized” in quotation marks. However, towards the end of the article it seems apparent that he does not grant them much credence whatsoever. He writes:

It is easy to understand, obviously, how it is that over the centuries the Lord’s Prayer should have come to be something else in the Christian imagination—something less specific, less concrete, more comprehensive, more unrelated to any specific economic conditions or any particular station in society.

It could scarcely have served as a model of Christian supplication for all the baptized if its social provocations had remained too transparent, or if it had remained too obviously an epitome of Christ’s “preferential option” for the destitute and disenfranchised. After all, the consciences of the rich require protection too. How else could the banker who has just foreclosed on a family home recite the Lord’s Prayer in church without being made to feel uncomfortable?

Even so, it was originally, and remains, a prayer for the poor—a prayer, that is, for the poor alone to pray. Down the centuries, wealthy Christians have prayed it as well, of course, or at least have prayed a rough simulacrum of it. God bless them for their faithfulness. But, to be honest, it was never meant for them. Quite—one has to be honest here—the opposite.

In short, only the historical or literal understanding of the prayer is its true meaning. All of the spiritual exegeses on this prayer were the outcomes of appeasing the rich or, to put it more nicely, acts of pastoral condescension. This point leads him, therefore, to the second point of my disagreement – that the Lord’s prayer is exclusively intended for the poor. There is much fruit to these spiritual readings of the Lord’s Prayer and in light of Galatians 3:28, which declares an obliteration of the boundaries between slaves and freemen – positions framed by both economic and legal factors – , it would seem unlikely that God ever would have given such an important prayer, central to the liturgical life of the Church, to the poor alone. Furthermore, let it be said, the prayer does include the presumption that those who have debtors should forgive their debtors. That mandate would include the rich as well. Again, I am not rejecting Hart’s argument that this prayer spoke to the economic conditions of the poor during Christ’s time and continues to have moral and economic ramifications for us today. But what I am advocating is that the prayer can be understood in many different ways. While one might find these different understandings to be impoverished or lacking, I think it is well-worth the time to take a brief look at what these different interpretations were and to examine their scopes and limitations.

David Graeber, whom Hart praises in the beginning of his article, briefly discusses the Lord’s Prayer and Christ’s language on debt and debtors as potentially both literal and allegorical. Indeed, Graeber writes:

The parable has long been a challenge to theologians. It’s normally interpreted as a comment on the endless bounty of God’s grace and how little He demands of us in comparison – and thus, by implication, as a way of suggesting that torturing us in hell for all eternity is not as unreasonable as it might seem. Certainly, the unforgiving servant is a genuinely odious character. Still, what is even more striking to me is the tacit suggestion that forgiveness, in this world, is ultimately impossible. Christians practically say as much every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer and ask God to “forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” It repeats the story of the parable almost exactly, and the implications are similarly dire. After all, most Christians reciting the prayer are aware that they do not generally forgive their debtors. Why then should God forgive them their sins?

What’s more, there is the lingering suggestion that we really couldn’t live up to those standards even if we tried. One of the things that makes the Jesus of the New Testament such a tantalizing character is that it’s never clear what he’s telling us. Everything can be read two ways. When he calls on his followers to forgive all debts, refuse to case the first stone, turn the other cheek, love their enemies, to hand over their possessions to the poor – is he really expecting them to do this? Or are such demands just a way of throwing in their faces that, since we are clearly not prepared to act this way, we are all sinners whose salvation can only come in another world – a position that can be (and has been) used to justify almost anything? This is a vision of human life as inherently corrupt, but it also frames even the spiritual affairs in commercial terms: with calculations of sins, penance, and absolution, the Devil and St. Peter with their rival ledger books, usually accompanied by the creeping feeling that it’s all a charade because the very fact that we are reduced to playing such a game of tabulating sins reveals us to be fundamentally unworthy of forgiveness.

– David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2011), 84

Graeber’s willingness to permit multiple interpretations of Christ’s mandate echoes how the Church Fathers interpreted it the first millennium. During the fourth century, St. Jerome understood the Lord’s Prayer in a spiritual and literal sense. He based his spiritual interpretation of the text on his own reasons of translations, having knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He wrote the following:

Give us today our supersubstantial bread. And dismiss our debts from us!; just as also we dismiss our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil!” (Matthew 6:11-13) What we have expressed with “supersubstantial,” in Greek is called ἐπιούσιον – a word that the Septuagint translators most frequently translated as περιούσιον. Therefore, we have considered [this] in Hebrew, and everywhere that they have expressed περιούσιον, we have found SOGOLLA, which Symmachus translated as ἐξαίρετον, that is, “especial” or “distinguished,” although in a certain place it has been understood as “private.” Therefore, when we ask that God gives us especial or distinguished bread, we seek that which he calls, “I am the living bread which descends from heaven (John 6:51).” In the Gospel, which is called According to the Hebrews, for supersubstantial bread, MAAR is found, which is called “tomorrow;” so that it is understood [as], “Our tomorrow-bread,” that is the future, “give us today.” We are able to understand the bread also in another way – what is above all substances and what surpasses all creatures. Others simply think according to the words of the Apostles concerning some present food that the saints bear a consideration, saying, “We, having sustenance and clothes, are satisfied with these things” (1 Timothy 6:8). And whence in the following things, it has been advised, “Do not wish to think about tomorrow!” (Matthew 6:34).

Jerome, Commentariorum in evangelium Matthaei libri quattuor, PL 26: 0043A-0043C

– Jerome, Commentarii in euangelium Matthaei, edited by D. Hurst and M. Adriaen, CCSL 77 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1969), 37.769-787

I am in no position to scrutinize the accuracy of Jerome’s Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic. Such matters I leave to others. However, what is abundantly clear is that Jerome never concerned himself with sparing the feelings of the rich when he considered the various interpretations and translations of the Lord’s Prayer. For Jerome, the choice between a literal or historical understanding of the text and a spiritual understanding of the text is not an either-or decision. Both are valid. In terms of the spiritual understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, much of his reasoning is based primarily on translation considerations alone. But there is also another component to his decision making here insofar that he is referencing how the word is used, not in its contemporary context, but in the scriptures as a whole – namely the translators of the Septuagint from the third and second centuries BCE and Symmachus’ second-century CE translation of the Old Testament into Greek from the Hebrew. It is true that Jerome misses the historical circumstances of which Jesus is speaking to and which Hart has highlighted. Nevertheless, Jerome still highlights the moral necessity of living modestly, taking only what we need to live for today, although he himself says nothing about the subject of forgiving debts nor does his literal understanding of the prayer align perfectly with the historical understanding that Hart highlights. In this sense, Jerome falls short of the radical message Hart highlights in his article.

Writing in the early eighth century, St. Bede also made the same general distinction as St. Jerome – that the Lord’s Prayer has both a literal and a spiritual meaning. He wrote:

With the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord’s Prayer seems to contain seven petitions, of which three are sought in eternal matters, the remaining four in temporal matters, which, notwithstanding eternal matters, must be followed by necessity. For the fact that we say, “Let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done just as in heaven and on the earth.” This no one has absurdly understood as that these prayers must be retained altogether without any limit in spirit and body [i.e. spiritually and literally], and in which case these interpretations are unfinished, and as much as we profit [from them], they are magnified in us by means of having been completed. But what ought to be hoped for in another life, will be possessed forever. But the fact [is] that we say, “Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts! And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!” Does no one see that it pertains to the want (indigentiam) of the present life? And thus in that eternal life, when we always hope for future things, the sanctification of God’s name, the sanctification of his kingdom, and his will will remain perfectly and immortally in our spirit and body. But therefore, the bread has been called daily, because this [bread], which is to be given to the soul and body, is necessary. Let it be understood either spiritually, corporeally [i.e. literally], or in both ways.

Bede, In Lucae evangelium expositio, PL 92: 0472B-0472D

– Bede, In Lucae euangelium expositio, edited by D. Hurst, CCSL 120 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

Bede here is clearly more interested in the spiritual understanding of the Lord’s Prayer. Nonetheless, he openly acknowledges its literal meaning. When considering the words, “Give us today our daily bread,” he argues that it pertains to the need or indigentia of our earthly existence. This indigentia he argues can be understood at the literal level as our bodily needs, such as food, or at the spiritual level as our present need of our desire and hope for spiritual solace as well as a better life. By perfectly encapsulating the consequences of the Fall in both body and spirit with the term indigentia, Bede perhaps meshes together the spiritual and literal reading of the text more than any other Latin commentator.

Writing in the ninth century, St. Hrabanus Maurus returns to the more bifurcated spiritual and literal readings of the text that Jerome had embraced. Yet, he distinguishes himself from Jerome by adding further comments specifically on the notion of debts. He wrote:

Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Daily bread has been said [to be] either for all things which sustain the necessity of this [earthly] life concerning which he instructs when he says, “Do not wish think about tomorrow!” (Matthew 6:34); or for the sacrament of the body of Christ, which we receive daily; or for the spiritual food, concerning which the Lord says, “Toil for food, which is not corrupted!” (John 6:27). And [he also says] this: “I am the bread of life, which descends from heaven” (John 6:41)…. “And dismiss our debts from us!; just as we dismiss our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  After the assistance of food is sought, the mercy for having transgressed is sought in order that he, who is fed by God, lives in God. If sins should be remitted, not only [something]of the present and temporal life would be consulted, but also [something] of the eternal [life], towards which he is capable of being made to come, would be consulted. What the Lord calls debts [are sins], just as in his Gospel he says, “I forgave you the entire debt, because you sought me” (Matthew 18:32).

Hrabanus Maurus, Commentariorum in Matthaeum libri octo, PL 107: 0819C-0820B

– Hrabanus Maurus, Commentarius in Matthaeum I-IV, edited by B. Löfstedt, CCCM 174 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

What is interesting about Hrabanus’ commentary is that although he acknowledges both a literal and spiritual understanding of the daily bread like Jerome and Bede before him, he only acknowledges a spiritual understanding of the forgiveness of debts, which he interprets as meaning sins. Here the economic message is lost. Nonetheless, Hrabanus still acknowledges, just as Jerome, Christ’s admonishment against luxurious living and gluttony. It is for this reason that he repeats Matthew 6:34, “Do not wish to think about tomorrow!,” as if saying that one should not have too much and take only what they need. I say “as if” because Hrabanus leaves out Jerome’s quotation of 1 Timothy 6:8, but it is quite clear that he is following in Jerome’s footsteps. Just as in the case with Jerome, however, Hrabanus’ literal understanding of the text differs from Hart’s.

The last example I wish to highlight is St. Paschasius Radbertus’ ninth-century commentary. He follows the track of Jerome more closely than either Bede or Hrabanus, and even takes in an interest in the Greek word ἐπιούσιον that Jerome mentions. But he also adds significant expansions to the exegesis, most of which I will have to pass on highlighting. But for the purposes of this post, what is most interesting in his exegesis is his explicit acknowledgement of debts actually pertaining as much to money as it does to sins. He wrote the following:

However here if it is thought [to be] unclear – about what is called debts or what is called debtors – the stuff of an excuse must be cast away, and that “from every debt” should be fully understood as for committing crimes [against God] as well as for owing a severity of money, with the result that in whatever way your brother has become a debtor to you, this debt you should release. For often as the presumption of those having failed shows us as having been seized by many more slaveries on account of debts, [so too does] pecuniary dishonesty and the theft of avarice. Therefore, just as the means of taking action is present for everyone, individuals ought to loosen the burden of possibilities for their debtors, whom are bound to be oppressed by debts…. But most importantly, the burden of sin, if it is deemed to pertain to us, let us remit spontaneously. Although since legally we occasionally renew the debt of money, we never reject the debt of those having failed for seeking to be freed from our condemnation. Whence it has been commanded in this very Gospel, “When you stand to pray, remit if you have anything against anyone so that your Father, who is in heaven, remits your sins!” (Mark 11:25).

Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in evangelium Matthaei, PL 120: 0295A-0295C

– Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in Matheo I-IV, edited by B. Paulus, CCCM 56 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1984), 400.1259-1267.

Paschasius understands the burden of crushing debt to run contrary to the principle of viewing one’s neighbor as a brother. In a sense, perhaps he is acknowledging that such a disparity in a relationship undermines the intended equality that it is supposed to uphold. Therefore, such profit seeking from the denigration of one’s brother is described as a theft of avarice (contrectatio lucri). In this way, Paschasius’ position closely resembles Graeber’s, in which the latter argues that notions of debt are originally intended to be framed as a commercial transaction between equals but in practice often are not or result in a disproportionate inequality. Therefore, some moral boundary is felt to have been transgressed by those subjected to debt (Graeber, 86). He also draws on the implicit idea highlighted by Graeber that because we are unwilling to totally forgive the debts of our brothers, whether they be pecuniary or moral, we are fundamentally unworthy of forgiveness. In short, only God’s grace can redeem us.

Hart is certainly correct that the socio-economic conditions that Christ spoke to when he first uttered the Lord’s Prayer faded in some sense in the Church’s tradition. Nevertheless, to proceed to the assumption that the concern for economic injustice faded too or that the spiritual interpretations were cynical ploys to make the rich feel more comfortable is a bridge too far. Although none of the Church Fathers and saints above precisely grasped the historical and literal context that Hart so eloquently highlights in his recent article, they did nonetheless show a concern for avarice and living modestly. At the same time, they also understood the Lord’s Prayer to pertain to all Christians through a variety of spiritual interpretations. It is on account of these various understandings that one can say or affirm that the Lord’s Prayer is for everyone.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Bede, In Lucae euangelium expositio, edited by D. Hurst, CCSL 120 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

Bede, In Lucae evangelium expositio, PL 92: 0301-634D.

David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2011).

David Bentley Hart, “A Prayer for the Poor,” Church Life Journal, June 5, 2018, https://churchlife.nd.edu/2018/06/05/a-prayer-for-the-poor/.

Hrabanus Maurus, Commentariorum in Matthaeum libri octo, PL 107: 0727-1156B.

Hrabanus Maurus, Commentarius in Matthaeum I-IV, edited by B. Löfstedt, CCCM 174 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

Jerome, Commentarii in euangelium Matthaei, edited by D. Hurst and M. Adriaen, CCSL 77 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1969).

Jerome, Commentariorum in evangelium Matthaei libri quattuor, PL 26: 0015-218D.

Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in evangelium Matthaei, PL 120: 0031A-0994C.

Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in Matheo I-IV, edited by B. Paulus, CCCM 56 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1984).

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Grace, Free Will, & Synergy in Orthodoxy: A Brief Excerpt from St. Faustus of Riez

Saints Vincent and John Cassian

Over a year ago, I wrote a series of posts concerning Pelagius, St. Augustine, and St. John Cassian’s teachings on grace and free will. As do many Orthodox commentators on this Latin doctrinal debate in the early history of the Church, I held St. John Cassian up as the one teaching the Orthodox position on this subject. Since then, however, I have noticed that Cassian’s work, the Conferences, is neither a succinct work or highly systematic work. Furthermore, the work deals with many other issues besides free will and grace. Therefore, he is relatively easy to misread and accuse of Semipelagianism. Those who accuse him of heresy tend to be either Calvinist or Catholic. Orthodox, of course, reject these charges and argue that they have misunderstood the Orthodox position of synergy. In order to find a more succinct and clear Orthodox discussion of this subject, I have examined the work of St. Faustus, bishop of Riez. St. Faustus came from the monastery of Lérins, which is associated with both St. John Cassian and St. Vincent of Lérins. Commissioned by the Council of Arles in 473, Faustus wrote a most excellent work concerning the synergy between free will and God’s grace in the salvation of humanity. This work, De gratia libri duo, is succinct and is directly concerned about Augustinianism and Pelagianism. Therefore, I have taken the liberty of translating some excerpts from it below. Faustus’ position can be summed up briefly as follows: 1.) humanity did not become totally depraved after the Fall, but merely damaged and inclined towards evil; 2.) that God’s grace is far and above superior to the works of any person; 3.) that free will itself is a form of general grace implanted in all human beings. As one should be able to see, this formulation precludes any accusation of Semipelagianism on account that the dichotomy between grace and free will is non-existent. Both are grace in this framework. However, what this framework affords, unlike its strict Augustinian counterpart, is an avoidance of the extreme doctrine of predestination that Augustine held as well as some intelligible affordment for personal agency. Translated below are two chapters from De gratia as well as the canons from the Council of Arles (473), which is recorded in one of St. Faustus’ letters.

Book I, Chapter VII: Against this Idea Which They Declare that Free Will Has Suffered Completely

The promoter of this wicked conviction supposes that humanity – having been enriched with respect to understanding, furnished with respect to reason, graced with respect to the honor of the divine image – ought to be compared to brutish animals and senseless beasts of burden, with the result that they rightly are brought to [eternal] life not by their own conduct, but only by the violent command of the [divine] Author. By which sort, they even contend to compare humanity to the senseless elements: with the result that, just as from the nature of the lands, they bring about nothing of fruitfulness by means of their will, are ignorant of their own fruitfulness for which of any sense neither freedom nor the will support, [and] moreover the yields of [these] fruits are taken from these lands by a cultivator at work. Therefore, the desired and successful fruits of justice and of good things are claimed from humanity’s idle exercise of every virtue by the persevering God alone. And as if in nothing they either agree or consent, thus, whoever has sought after or has produced [anything], in nothing are they deemed to have pursued an endeavor and desire. And just like the great sea, which hither and thither is tossed about by means of raging winds, thus the human mind is whirled about to whatever good or deed, without any of their own influence, by the impulse of divine power alone. Be that as it may, if the intellect does not admonish the human away from the perversity of evil, if desire does not rouse [one] towards the right choice (dexteram) of the good, they will already be held not by the condition of humanity, but of cattle.

Behold! The heretical one, under the pretext of grace, wishes to be such a human after grace. And thus, if the free will perished entirely, which by all means consists in the love of innocence or the working of justice or the sanctification of the body, [again] if this [free will] has suffered completely in the fall of the first human, why then do we read, “Acquire justice, you who inhabit the earth!” (Isaiah 26:9). And again, “But the righteous one lives by my faith” (Hebrews 10:38). And, “The just will posses the earth by means of inheritance” (Psalms 36:29 Vulgate). And, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the just and his ears up to their prayers” (Psalms 33:16 Vulgate). Was innocence utterly lost, because its owner neglected to stand firm on his original path? I do not think so, because it was written, “The innocent and the righteous have adhered to me” (Psalms 24:21 Vulgate). And again, “Because who will stand in His holy place? The innocent with respect to their hands and the clean with respect to their heart!” (Psalms 23:3-4 Vulgate). And again, “The Lord will not deprive those walking in innocence from good things” (Psalms 83:13 Vulgate). Should it be believed that the sanctification of the body was lost entirely, because of its slavery to its members in service of rebellion [against God] and that the dignity of the original purity was shattered? Not by any means, because we read, “Be holy, because I am holy!” (Leviticus 19:2). Thus on account of this origin of good things – of which the inhabitant of paradise having badly secured what they had received from the benign Author – agency did not perish, although perfection was lost. I am not saying that the purity of these virtues perish, although their maidenly integrity was desecrated.

Book I, Chapter VIII: How the Weakness of Free Will Ought to Be Understood

But you may ask and say: “How should the weakened will of the human mind be understood?” One’s weakened will requires more help, just like a human made very weak needs more supports and consolations on account of their stumbling steps. Therefore, just as right after the long standing custom of wantonness, the repair of continence will consist of much work, and just as one is seized with excessive enjoyment of drunkenness, sobriety with the violence of a rigid cross is received with difficulty. Formerly sobriety, because it was being held without harm, was preserved with little difficulty. Indeed, the inviolate conscience is possessed with a certain pleasure. And as, after many delights of the carnal vices – the vices which a person retaining their condition from youth would have had easily been able to trample upon – one is returned to the path of virtue as though climbing against a steep mountain. Thus the freedom of the human will granted by God ruined the flower and vigor of its grace, but it did not perish, in order that one supposes that the divine gifts are not so much as forbidden from themselves, as that they understand that the divine gifts ought to be renewed for themselves with the greatest effort and labor through the patronage of assistance.

Listen to the calculating law giver concerning the will of freedom, when he says: “I have placed before your face life and death, good and evil. Choose life, so that you live (Deuteronomy 30:19).” And again, “I have chosen the way of truth. Your judgments I have not forgotten” (Psalms 118:30 Vulgate). You see here that he forces upon no one a necessity of either a fate or an imposed perdition, when the power of choosing takes action. Nor does predestination incline towards one decision, when the choice of both decisions is granted. Again, “Let your hand do, so that it might save me, because I have chosen your commandments” (Psalms 118:173 Vulgate). This is to say, “Indeed, the ruinous pleasure of the world was inciting me towards the sinister choice (sinistram), but the utility of your commandments inclined me towards the right choice (dexteram).” And thus, when these very pagans are led to a judgment of good or evil by their implanted will, how much greater is a humble Christian – a Christian who is fixed in the virtue of God’s help, to which it is said, “If you wish to be perfected, go, sell what you own” (Matthew 19:21); and again, “Do you wish to be made whole?” (John 5:6) – able to direct the freedom of their will towards a good choice? A knowledgeable person, to the extent that the capable agent has imparted [the individual free will] to the human heart, questions their will, which is ready to be well. For also, elsewhere [in the Scriptures] it shows the wondering people with a given freedom of the will as thus, “Bring forth the people that are blind and have eyes, and those that are deaf and have ears” (Isaiah 43:8). Here, whoever is deaf and whoever is blind is understood to be so out of arrogance, not out of nature. And in the Gospel, it clearly shows that the affect of good will was implanted: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This is to say, “It is characteristic of my mercy, when you call out, but it is the commitment of your will, when you follow.”

Let us see if God invites a human to Himself through leisure. He says, “Let them deny themselves” (Luke 9:23). That is [to say], he who is evil strives to be good and begging says, “And I will confess Him from my will” (Psalms 27:7 Vulgate). Everyone is ordered to be converted out of their will, lest the sinner perhaps have no hope that they are able to be changed into something better. He says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let them deny themselves,” (Luke 9:23). That is [to say] one is influenced out of the other. Let patience conquer irascibility, let temperance restrain concupiscence, let humility drive away pride, let the cross grind away desire. Does anyone suppose that their sleeping selves are united through grace alone without the labor of the heart, without the affliction of either the flesh, or without the great toil of the human? “Let him deny himself” (Luke 9:23). This is to say, “Oh human! Do not think that you are so made by your [divine] author that you are unable to be just rather than wicked, chaste rather than wanton, kind rather than malevolent!” What is changed in you, so that you might follow, is not the work, but is life. Now, after saying these things, we do not equate work with grace, but we entirely place grace above all without comparison.

Council of Arles (473)

Canon 1. Therefore, anathema against that person, who – among the impious remnants of Pelagius – have argued that a human is born without sin and that through work alone he is able to be saved from the presumption of being damned; and who have believed that he is able to be freed without the grace of God.

Canon 2. Again, anathema against that person, who has asserted that a human solemnly baptized with the faithful confession, who declares the universal faith, and a little afterwards has fallen through many reproaches of this world, has perished in Adam and in Original Sin.

Canon 3. Again, anathema against that person, who has said that through the foreknowledge of God a human is forced unto [spiritual] death.

Canon 4. Again, anathema against that person who has said that he, who has perished, was not received [at all by God] so that he was able to be saved – that is [to say], in the case of a baptized person or even a pagan of the same age, who was able to believe and did not wish to do so.

Canon 5. Again, anathema against that person who has said that a vessel of indignity is unable to rise in order that it may become a vessel unto honor.

Canon 6. Again, anathema against that person who has said that Christ did not die for all nor did he wish for all humans to be saved.


I, Bishop Auxanius, have read and signed in the name of Christ.

I, Faustus, have read and signed the exemplar of my letter.

I, Bishop Paul, have read and signed in the name of Christ.

I, Bishop Eutropius, have read and signed in the name of Christ.

I, Bishop Pragmatius, have read and signed in the name of Christ.

I, Bishop Patiens, have read and signed in the name of Christ.

I, Euphronius, have read and admired the sanctified fullness.

I, Bishop Megethius, have read and signed.

I, Bishop Claudius, have read and signed in the name of Christ.

I, Bishop Leucadius, have read and signed in the name of Christ.

I, Bishop Julianus, have read and signed in the name of Christ.

I, Presbyter Lucidus, have read and signed.

Note: It should also be said that among these signatories, in addition to Faustus, Archbishop Patiens of Lyons is a saint.

Primary Sources:

Faustus of Riez, De gratia libri duo, edited by Augustus Engelbrecht CSEL 21 (Prague: Bibliopola Academiae Litterarum Caesareae Vindobonensis, 1891).

Giovanni Domenico Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collection 7 (Florence, 1762), 1007-1012.

Suggested Readings:

John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions: The Church AD 450-680 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989), 130-139.

Thomas A. Smith, De gratia: Faustus of Riez’s Treatise on Grace and Its Place in the History of Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990).

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Orthodoxy in Contemporary America

A very fine talk from David Bentley Hart at Fordham University, whereby he discusses the current state of Orthodoxy in America regarding the challenges its faces, and the potential solutions, & the risks of those solutions. He begins speaking around 10-11 minutes in. Some things he talks about: the growing contingent of converts in American Orthodoxy, the tendency of converts (particularly from an Evangelical background) to convince themselves that they are “Greek,” the need, challenges, & risk of American Orthodoxy to grow out of its ethnic preservationism, and the need for a unified jurisdiction in America.

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I Have Created a Facebook Page

Since my blog is a little over a year old now, I figured that I might as well start a Facebook page for it. I do not want to dabble too much into social media, but I saw this month that my blog experienced an enormous amount of traffic, compared to what it I am used to, directed mainly from Facebook. So it caught my interest and I figured that I put my toe in the water and see what it is like. The page is located here: https://www.facebook.com/shamelessorthodoxy/

I will be putting this information in my About page as well.

Edit/Note: I no longer have a Facebook page, as I have decided to take it down.

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Colin McGinn’s Inborn Knowledge: The Mystery Within

Inborn Knowledge

Colin McGinn’s Inborn Knowledge: The Mystery Within is an excellent monograph concerning the merits of rationalism in area of philosophy of mind, particularly concerning whether the mind is either a blank slate, or if it has innate ideas. Clocking in, so-to-speak, at around a mere one-hundred pages, one could easily be deceived into thinking that McGinn’s book probably does not offer many new insights or clarity for those predisposed towards rationalism, rather than empiricism. Yet such an assumption could not be any further from the truth. McGinn divides his book into four chapters, offering an extremely quick overview of the traditional debate between empiricists and rationalists, an analysis of the problems with empiricism, a positive case for nativism (rationalism), and some quick thoughts on the broader implications of nativism, if true. Despite his convincing argumentation, however, McGinn’s brevity imposes an obscurity on some of his finer points, especially those against empiricism.

While the reader will not find much hard data or scientific studies to support the thesis of nativism, they will discover compelling logical arguments. To begin, McGinn divides empiricism into two camps: the external empiricists and the internal empiricists. The external empiricists are those who believe that ideas derive from external objects themselves, while the internal empiricists are those who hold that ideas derives not from the external objects, but rather from subjective impressions. To refute the former, McGinn runs a thought experiment where an individual hallucinates an experience of new colors or shades of colors which they have never seen before (imagine taking acid or LSD). McGinn argues that the very fact that someone could hallucinate a color in the absence of an actual external object proves that the external objects could not possibly provide by its intrinsic nature the idea to the human brain of that said color or color shade. Therefore, external empiricism must be false. But McGinn also asserts that this thought experiment disproves internal empiricism as well, and it is here that McGinn’s penchant for brevity hinders him. Does not the hallucinatory impression imprint the idea of the color or color shade onto the brain? Why does McGinn rule this possibility out? Crucial to this argument is McGinn’s distinction between impression and stimulus. Unfortunately this distinction is only briefly mentioned during the thought experiment, and only clarified (and emphasized) much later in the book. External objects are properly called stimuli. Meanwhile, the experience that these external objects elicit are properly called impressions. In the circumstances of a hallucination, there are no stimuli, only impressions. These impressions are necessarily produced within the internal structure of the brain. Therefore, the brain must be using its innate structure and ideas to form the impression of these never-experience-before colors or color shades.

Other interesting notions that McGinn proposes is the distinction between two types of innate knowledge. “Unlearned knowledge” and “learned knowledge.” For the former, McGinn proposes that mathematical concepts are innate, but can remain dormant. It is only over time within specific contexts that this “unlearned knowledge” becomes “learned knowledge.” McGinn also references this latter category as “acquired knowledge” which he says is equivalent to Bertrand Russell’s idea of “knowledge by acquaintance.” Towards the end of his book, he makes room for one more category called “creativity” in which he entertains the idea that the mind is capable of generating ideas that did not exist prior. McGinn believes creativity to be quite mysterious, but he is adamant that creativity cannot account for the origin of simple ideas, because the base brain or “blank slate” would simply be too impoverished to exercise this creative faculty to do anything. Therefore, he concludes that creativity can only be accounted for in the formation of complex ideas, although he refrains from going into too many details on how exactly this framework might work.

The creativity category brings up a few slight criticisms. In one of his endnotes, McGinn seems to contradict his thought experiment regarding the missing shade of a color. He asks whether an individual can experience a shade of blue that they have never experienced before AND if the “innate stock of impressions does not include the missing shade.” He continues, “So it appears possible for the mind to generate an impression type of a quality that has been neither observed in external objects nor anticipated by the innate perceptual categories. As I say: puzzling” (pg. 68; fn. 18). Indeed it is puzzling, and it threatens to blur the border between creativity and innate ideas once again. The question can rightly be asked, could not this missing shade which is neither acquired nor innate qualify as a simple idea? Again, later in the book McGinn excludes such a possibility for some compelling reasons, but then why present a scenario where this could be the case? I am not entirely certain why x-shade of blue is necessarily a complex idea. Would it not be just as sensible to argue that the generic category of blue is the more complex one derived from the similarities between the countless shades? Perhaps this quibble is due only to my own ignorance as an amateur and layman, nevertheless, I find the obscurity frustrating. One final criticism is that there could be more evidence in terms of scientific studies for his arguments. I do not think that there is anything particularly wrong with McGinn excluding much of the evidence of the sort, but I think it would have behooved many of his thought experiments if he had done so.

Inborn Knowledge is a fascinating, quick, and dense read on the philosophy of mind from a rationalist perspective. McGinn succinctly lists a number of serious arguments, new and old, against empiricism, while outlining some areas for further study, such as the faculty of creativity. Yet, there are a number of arguments prone to confusion, sometimes never being clarified.  In any case, it is a book well worth reading.

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Tychonius of Africa: His Exegesis & Ecclesiology

One of the most underappreciated Latin theologians and Church Fathers today is Tychonius of Africa, who lived during the late fourth century AD. This fact is surprising considering the that Tychonius’ two works, The Book of Rules (Liber regularum) and Exposition on the Apocalypse (Expositio Apocalypseos), which has recently been reconstructed from surviving fragments, wielded an enormous influence on Latin biblical commentary for the rest of the millennium, especially with regards to exegeses on Revelations. His importance cannot be underestimated, for it was due entirely to Tychonius that the Latin West accepted the Book of Revelation as canonical much sooner than the Greek East in the post-Nicene era (Gryson, 7). Although he himself was Donatist heretic, Tychonius was an oddball who disputed his fellow Donatists’ assertion that the Church was only located in Donatist Church of North Africa. For his maverick-like positions, Tychonius was excommunicated by his fellow Donatists. Yet it seems that Tychonius never left the Donatist Church. Despite his schismatic ties, Tychonius earned the praise and recommendation of Augustine of Hippo in Chapters 30-37 of his On Christian Doctrine. For a quick overview of Tychonius’ life and work, see the encyclopedic entry by Paula Fredricksen. My main focus here will not be on Tychonius’ commentary on Revelation, which was only recently reconstructed from various fragments, but mostly on his Book of Rules. In it, Tychonius lays out a set of seven rules that he believes will help readers of scripture gain a fuller and more mystical understanding of God’s word. He hopes that with a combination of both reason (ratio) and grace of God (Dei gratia) the inner mysteries of the scriptures will become clear, especially in places were a literalist interpretation yields an unacceptable result. His seven rules are the following:

1.) The Lord and His Body

2.) The Lord’s Bipartite Body

3.) The Promises and the Law

4.) The Particular (specie) and the General (genere)

5.) Times

6.) Recapitulation

7.) The Devil and His Body

I hope to give a brief overview of some of his rules here, mostly those pertaining to his ecclesiology. For those who are curious and would like to read more, I suggest the following translation of this work by William S. Babcock, which has the Latin on the left-hand and the English on the right-hand pages:

Tychonius, Tyconius: The Book of Rules, translated by William S. Babcock (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1989).

I also make use of the following primary and secondary sources as well:

Tyconius, Expositio Apocalypseos: Accedvnt eivsdem expositionis a qvodam retractatae fragmenta tavrinensia, edited by Roger Gryson, CCSL 107A (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2011). For a recent translation, which I did not use, click here.

Tyconius, The Book of Rules, edited by F. C. Burkitt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1894). Note: This is strictly the edited Latin text with some introductory notes.

Pamela Bright, The Book of Rules of Tyconius: Its Purpose and Inner Logic (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988).

Traugott Hahn, Tyconius-Studien: Ein Beitrag zur Kirchen- und Dogmengesichcte des vierten Jahrhunderts (Leipzig: 1900).

Joseph Ratzinger, “Beobachtungen zum Kirchenbegriff des Tyconius im ‘Liber regularum,'” Revue des Études Augustinniennes 2 (1956): 173-185.

Rule 1: The Lord and His Body

Tychonius’ first rule deals with various areas of scripture that concern seemingly confusing or contradictory passages and reconciling them. For example, Isaiah 53:4-6 reads as the following:

He bears our sins and knows sorrow on our behalf; he was wounded for our iniquities and God delivered him up for our sins…

Tychonius states that this is universally regarded as referencing Christ. But then he goes on to consider later portions of the passage, particularly Isaiah 53:10-11:

And God wishes to free him from affliction, and God wishes to take away his sorrow, to show him the light and to form him with prudence.

Tychonius has trouble believing that this verse could possible be referencing Christ, although it is still part of the same context and passage. He asks, “Does God ‘wish to show the light’ to the same one whom ‘he delivered up for our sins’ or wish ‘to form him with prudence,’ especially when that one is himself the very light and wisdom of God” (Babcock, 2-3; Burkitt, 2)? Tychonius declares the negative and argues that these latter verses must be referring to the Lord’s Body, that is the Church. It is from this that Tychonius categorizes scriptural speech concerning Christ in two ways: the speech concerning Christ alone (the Head) and the speech concerning his Church (the Body).

Another exemplary instance of this rule is Daniel 2:34-35, which says:

Thus you saw while a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and ground them to powder. Then at once the clay, the iron, the copper, the silver, and the gold were like dust from the summer threshing floor, and a great force of wind blew them away; and their place was not to be found. Then the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled all the earth.

Traditionally, many Church Fathers have understood this statue of iron, clay, copper, etc. as representing various kingdoms and empires of times past. Tychonius accepts this understanding and argues that the stone represents the Lord (Babcock, 4-5; Burkitt, 2).  And from this small stone, the Body of Christ grows by degrees to encompass the whole world, as if a small stone became a mountain.

Rule 2: The Bipartite Body of the Lord

In his second rule, Tychonius outlines what would be familiar to anyone who has read Augustine’s works – the idea of the mixed church. However, it should be stressed that Tychonius does not use the phrase “mixed church,” but simply uses the term “bipartite” (bipertito). This line of thought can roughly be summarized as thus: the Body of Christ here on Earth contains two parts – those who are truly committed to God and those who make up the Devil’s Body.

To support the idea of a bipartite church, Tychonius considers Isaiah 45:3-5, which says:

And I will give you hidden treasures, and the concealed riches of secret places so that you may know that I am the Lord who calls you by your name, the God of Israel. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my elect, I have even called thee by your name. I have made a likeness of you, and you have not known me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. There is no God besides me. I girded you and you have not known me.

Tychonius believes these verses must be speaking about two individuals or two peoples. For how else would someone who has hidden secrets revealed to them by God not know God? As a result of this seeming contradiction, Tychonius posits that the person who has the hidden treasures revealed to them is the elect part of Christ’s Body. Meanwhile, the one who remains in ignorance is part of the Devil’s Body (Babcock, 14-15; Burkitt, . It should be emphasized that Tychonius does not adhere to the idea of predestination, unlike Augustine, when he says:

This saying, “if you had obeyed me” (Isaiah 48:18-19), is a reminder of God’s justice and a configuration of the promises designed to keep anyone from thinking that it is by divine disposition, rather than by free will, that some are made for death, some for life.

Babcock, 46-49; Burkitt, 8

Another portion of Tychonius argument in favor of the bipartite Church is worth quoting in full:

Again, the bipartite character of Christ’s body is indicated in brief: “I am black and beautiful” (Song 1:5). By no means is the church – “which has no spot or wrinkle,” (Ephesians 5:27) which the Lord cleanses by his own blood – black in any part, except in the left-hand part through which “the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles” (Romans 2:24). Otherwise it is wholly beautiful, as he says: “you are wholly beautiful, my love, and there is no fault in you” (Song 4:7). And indeed she says why it is that she is both black and beautiful: “like the tent of Kedar, like the tent-curtain of Solomon” (Song 1:5). She shows that there are two tents, one royal and one servile. Yet both spring from Abraham, for Kedar is Ishmael’s son. And furthermore, in another passage, the church groans that it has dwelt so long with this Kedar, i.e., with the servant descended from Abraham: “Who is to me that my sojourn has been so lengthy, that I have lived among the tents of Kedar. Too long has my soul been on sojourn. With those who hate peace, I was peaceful; when I spoke to them, they made war against me” (Psalms 119:5-7). Yet we cannot claim that the tent of Kedar is outside the church. She herself mentions the “tent of Kedar” and “of Solomon;” and that is why she says, “I am black and beautiful.” Those who are outside the church do not make it black. It is in virtue of this mystery that, in the Apocalypse, the Lord now calls the seven angels (i.e., the septiform church) holy and keepers of his precepts and now shows the same angels to be guilty of many crimes and in need of repentance (Revelation 2-3).

Babcock, 18-19; Burkitt, 10-11

In short, Tychonius believes that the Body of Christ or the Church consists of both sheep and wolves so-to-speak. This outlook fits quite nicely with Matthew 13:24-30, in which Christ articulates the idea that the Church consists of both wheat and weeds that will only be separated in the end of days.

Rule 7: The Devil and His Body

Just as with the Body of Christ, Tychonius applies the logic that the Devil too is composed of a head and a main body. He then concerns himself with the interaction between the elect and the Devil’s body (the reprobate). Referencing both Song 1:7 and Joel 2:20, he concludes metaphorically that the Lord resides in the south, while the Devil resides in the north. But then Tychonius makes a peculiar statement, saying:

And in Jeremiah we read that the sinners of Israel are assembled in the north, when the Lord says, “go and read out these words to the north and say: turn back to me, house of Israel, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:12). The southern part, certainly, is the Lord’s, as it is also written in Job: “from the southern part will your life sprout forth;” (Job 11:17) the north is the devil’s. And both parts appear in all the world.

Babcock, 122-125; Burkitt, 74-75

What exactly does Tychonius mean by this statement, “And both parts appear in all the world.” At first, one understands Tychonius’ framework as pertaining to the institutional and earthly Church, whereby both good and bad people are mixed within. But is he suggesting that the Body of the Devil exists solely within the Body of Christ, that is the Church? If this is so, then Tychonius’ ecclesiological framework lends itself to the idea of an invisible church, although even if it does, it does not necessarily exclude a visible institutional church. Joseph Ratzinger, now better known as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, argued nearly sixty years ago that Tychonius thought there was very little need for visible institutions for the Church (Ratzinger, 183). Pamela Bright posits that the question, so hotly debated between St. Optatus and Parmenian, was simply of little interest to Tychonius (Bright, 86; 189-190). Traugott Hahn echoes this sentiment, arguing that Tychonius believed that the evaluation of external institutions should not replace the importance of personal life and conduct (Hahn, 45). He probably had strong reservations for both parties, the Donatist because of their theological heresies and the Orthodox because of their willingness to use the imperial Roman army to persecute the Donatists (Bright, 82). Again, the visible Church was not particularly important for Tychonius. This worldview would certainly explain why Tychonius never joined the Orthodox after both rejecting key Donatist doctrines and being excommunicated by his fellow Donatists. But does Tychonius’ emphasis on the true nature of believers, that is the content of their hearts rather than their formal institutional affiliation, necessarily dismiss the idea of a visible institutional Church? It is at this juncture that it might be worth looking at Tychonius’ Exposition on the Apocalypse, which was recently reconstructed in the following:

In any case, a clear answer is easily found in Tychonius’ commentary on Revelations 6:7-8, in which he says:

“Et cum apervisset quartum sigillum, audiui quartum animal dicens: Veni et vide. Et ecce equus pallidus, et qui sedebat super eum, nomen ei erat mors, et infernus sequebatur eum, et data est ei potestas super quartam partem terrae interficere gladio et fame et morte et bestiis terrae.” Duae partes sunt in mundo, populus dei et populus diaboli. Nam et populus diaboli in duas diuisus est partes, quae contra unam pugnant. Propterea ecclesia uocata est “tertia pars” (Zachariah 13:8), et falsi fratres altera tertia, et gentilitas tertia. Antequam autem ubique homo peccati reuelatur et publice manifestetur filius perditionis, iam ex parte reuelatus est, et ubi tres partes uidebantur, iam quarta manifestata est. Non enim omnem malum uomet ecclesia, sed aliquos ad ostendendum orbi genus nouissimae persecutionis. Ceteros uero unanimiter tolerat; licet spiritaliter foris sint, tamen intus operari uidentur. In illis ergo locis in quibus duae partes uidentur, id est ecclesia et gentilitas, apud aliquos tres partes sunt, apud nos autem quattuor, id est ecclesia gentilitas schisma et falsi fratres. Non ideo hypocrisis pars diaboli non erit, quia ecclesiam non aperte deuastat, cum apostolus dicat totam uim diaboli contra sanctos in spiritali nequitia consistere (Ephesians 6:12), et dominus de eadem: “Exsurgent,” inquit, “pseudochristi et pseudoprophetae, et dabunt signa magna et prodigia, ita ut errant, si fieri potest, etiam electi; uos autem cauete, ecce praedixi uobis” (Matthew 24:24-25; Mark 13:23).

“And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard a fourth animal saying, ‘Come and see.’ And behold I saw a white horse and he who sat upon him was named Death. And Hell was following him. And given unto him was the power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword, with famine, with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:7-8). There are two parts in the world, the people of God and the people of the Devil. For the people of the Devil were divided into two parts, who fought against the one [people of God]. Therefore, the Church was called the “third part” (Zechariah 13:8), the false brethren another third, and the pagans another third. But before the man of sin is revealed and the son of perdition is publicly shown everywhere, hitherto [the man] was revealed from a part, and where the three parts were being seen, then after a fourth part was shown. Indeed, the Church will not vomit up all the evil, but only some for the purpose of showing to the world a type (genus) of final persecution. But [the Church] tolerates the rest unanimously. Spiritually, they are outside [the Church], but they are seen to work within. Therefore, in these places in which two parts are seen, that is the Church and the [spiritual] pagans, among some there are three parts, but among us there are four, which are the church, pagans, schismatics, and false brothers. On account of hypocrisy, there will part of the Devil, because [the Devil] does not devastate the Church from without, since as the apostle says all the power of the Devil consists of the wickedness of spirit against the saints (Ephesians 6:12), and the Lord says much the same: “Pseudo-christs and pseudo-prophets will arise, and they will give great signs and wonders, so that even the elect may err, if it is possible. But you have taken heed, for behold I have forewarned you” (Matthew 24:24-25; Mark 13:23).

Tyconius, Expositio Apocalypseos: Accedvnt eivsdem expositionis a qvodam retractatae fragmenta tavrinensia, edited by Roger Gryson, CCSL 107A (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2011), 139-140.1-25

In this passage, Tychonius presents the world as divided into two parts – the people of God and the people of the Devil. The people of the Devil are further divided into two parts: those who call themselves Christians but are not and those who are outright unbelievers (i.e. the pagans). The Church is identified as the people of God thereby making a total of three parts. But Tychonius affirms the belief that this bipartite nature is not to last. In the end-times, he believes that Christ will separate the wheat from the weeds. He terms this eventuality as the Church “leaving from the midst.” Thus the institutional Church will vomit up some of those who are not part of the Church in spirit. Therefore, they will no longer be seen to have been part of the Church, but will be outside it formally, although many of those who are bad will still remain in the Church. But Tychonius calls this interpretation a type or genus. In this respect, he is referencing his fourth rule of scriptural interpretation on the species and genus prophecies. The genus prophecies serve a double function of describing the end-times but also the continuous process unto which the Church is subjected (Bright, 73-76). In short, the vomiting of the Church has a eschatological case in the future, but also a real and present process in the here and now.

The next question that can be asked is how does Tychonius arrive at the conclusion that there are four parts? It is clear that he adds a fourth part known as schismatics. But where do the schismatics come from? Tychonius never specifies and thus there is a serious ambiguity regarding his own institutional affiliation that he never resolves, possibly for two reasons: 1.) he was more concerned with spiritual rather than formal institutional matters; or 2.) perhaps he never arrived at a conclusion for whom he should (re)join (Donatist or Orthodox) no matter how hard he thought about it.


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