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The Schism: Grounds for Division, Grounds for Unity

Fr. Hugh Barbour

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The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies

“Overcoming the Schism,” Chicago, May 8-10, 1998

A LATIN'S LAMENTATION OVER GENNADIOS SCHOLARIOS

In August of 1994, I was happy to be one of the many Latin clerics who over the years, in divisa or in borghese, have made a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of Athos, the Garden of the Mother of God. On the feast of the Lord's Transfiguration I was able to set foot on that peninsula where souls and bodies hidden from the world, but known to God and His angels, share still in the bright glory of that mystery narrated in the Holy Gospels. I made this pilgrimage with the blessing of my abbot after attending an international meeting of some clergy. On Athos I expected to be refreshed and edified, and I was, after having had to breathe deeply the "schismatic" atmosphere of a sadly typical postconciliar gathering of ecclesiastics, some of whom were merely juridically Roman Catholic, for whom God and the things of God could scarcely be said to hold the primacy, and the Pope not at all.

In a shop by the docks at the little western port of the Mountain I found a postcard representation of an icon depicting a touching and curious scene: "The Lamentation over Constantine Palaiologos" written at the Old Calendarist hesychasterion of the Mother of God of the Myrtle Tree in Attica. In the icon the emperor reposes on a bier with a candle as two women mourn on either side, one kneeling, written as "Orthodoxy" and the other, "Hellas", standing with her hand to her mouth in a gesture of reverence, calling to mind the original sense of the imperial Roman adoratio. A touching scene, I say, because it brings to mind the magnificent "courage born of despair," as even the malicious Gibbon puts it, with which the last of the Roman emperors died leading the defense of his New Rome, yet still a curious one, since this Constantine XII died in communion with the see of Old Rome, having received the Eucharistic viaticum on the morning of the halosis at a uniate liturgy, the last to be served in the Church of Holy Wisdom.

Even more curious was the figure "Hellas" for nothing could be less Byzantine, less Orthodox, less imperial, than the use of this term to name the nation of Greek-speaking Romaioi. To Orthodox Byzantium "hellenic" meant secular, pagan, something worse than heterodox, to be anathematized in the synodikon on the first Sunday of Great Lent. At the time of the fall of the City a "hellene" was one who exceeded even the utilitarian impiety of the Florentine latinophrones by promoting the Florentine Platonic revival.

The figure of Orthodoxy, undoubtedly the most important in the image, was in very strange company indeed, with anomalies more than anachronistic. That this icon was the work of Old Calendarists who clearly intended it to be the expression of a rigorously Orthodox historical sensibility indicates a fact, more relevant than ever, which those of us -inter quos ego-who sympathize with the zealots, Catholic and Orthodox, must keep in mind. It is this: We must be vigilant to ensure that in our understanding and defense of right belief and right worship we do not adopt the ideological preoccupations of political and philosophical movements, sometimes those of our friends and allies, which are foreign to our faith and its tradition, lest we undermine the very thing we are striving to preserve. We must examine carefully the understanding and instincts of the best representatives of our twin tradition, Eastern and Western, especially at the points in history when they are explicitly opposing each other or together combating the same contemporary errors. The happy result of this can be a genuine ecumenism, an ecumenism of the "anti-ecumenical," innocent of ideology or indifferentism. Dom Gerard Calvet, abbot of the traditional Benedictine abbey of the Madeleine, Le Barroux in Provence has said: "The true ecumenism is that of Tradition ... the more I deepen my understanding of Tradition, the more I rediscover other men."[1]

After the pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain, I went to Serres in Macedonia near the Bulgarian border, to the monastery of the Holy Forerunner, to the tomb of Gennadios Scholarios, first Patriarch of Constantinople under Turkish domination, to pay a debt of gratitude to him by praying for the repose of his soul, just having completed in 1993 a study of his thought for a doctorate at a Roman university. The monastery which was the place of his retirement, from which he hoped (and hopes still!) to rise in the parousia, is now flourishing after many years without a monastic community. There are nuns there, the spiritual daughters of the great Father Ephraim, abbot of Philotheou on Athos, who has founded a number of observant communities in Greece and most recently in Arizona at a desert town ominously-for the Orthodox at least-named Florence.

Two kind nuns accompanied me to the katholikon where they were amazed and a bit reluctant to see me venerate the relics of the monastery, and stood by with a certain sceptical vigilance as I prayed a rosary more romano at the epitaph of the patriarch, one on each side, as I knelt there. They simply did not know what to expect from a Latin priest, but they were willing and charitable enough in their watchfulness. Here was another touching and curious scene. Yet it was a scene more truly indicative of the state of things past and present and future than that written on the postcard icon. This was a living icon of the clarity about Tradition just commended, with the tense, but kind-hearted akrivia which ought to characterize the relations between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. No one of us had made a compromise, but something true had really brought us together.

The nuns represented the living tradition of Orthodoxy, the kneeling priest, the faith of the Roman Catholic Thomist. What did the patriarch lying in death, surrounded by his modern mourners represent? We will now see. The rest of my conference will draw out the implications of this brief act of piety on behalf of the departed patriarch. Let it be a kind of historical-theological "Lamentation over Gennadios Scholarios," a threnos which may not only move us at the thought of the beauty and the possibilities that once were, but also shed light on our duties at the present hour.

Gennadios Scholarios was the handpicked successor of St. Mark of Ephesus as leader of the zealot opposition to the union council of Florence, at which they had both assisted. When the union decree of the council was promulgated by the emperor Constantine and the papal legate Cardinal Isidore of Kiev in Hagia Sophia in December 1452, just six months before the fall of the City, Gennadios published the following proclamation on the door of his cell in the monastery of Charsianeites nearby: "O miserable Romans, why will you abandon the truth; and why instead of confiding in God will you put your trust in the Italians? In losing your faith you will lose your city. Have mercy on me O Lord! I protest in your presence that I am innocent of the crime. O miserable Romans, consider, pause, and repent. At the same moment you renounce the religion of your fathers, by embracing impiety you submit to a foreign servitude." Later, after the fall of the City, Mehmet II brought Gennadios back from captivity to make him the patriarch of the Romans and the first ethnarch of the Greek-speaking Christians under the Turcocracy. Gennadios resigned in 1457 to go to Vatopedi on Athos, and was brought back again in 1462, and then resigned definitively in 1464 and went into retirement at the monastery of the Forerunner in Serres. There he continued a theological and philosophical production which had characterized his whole life since the conclusion of the Council of Florence.[2] He reposed in the Lord sometime the in the year 1472.

Surely Gennadios professed an Orthodoxy of the utmost purity, and possessed an anti-Latin animus firm enough to make him doctrinally acceptable to the saintly arch-zealot Mark of Ephesus and politically acceptible to the wily Sultan. One would expect his writings to reflect this. On examining them, then, one can only be struck with amazement to see that he is an enthusiastic follower and translator of St. Thomas Aquinas. Western Scholasticism is supposed to be the bane of both the ecumenically-minded and traditionalist Orthodox today, one of the only points they share in common. There is barely a point of heterodox Latin theology or liturgy which the zealots do not either trace to it or determine as its cause. There is barely an aspect of traditional Orthodox practice that the modernists want to change in favor of restoring and updating, in which they do not see some Latinizing scholastic or even - perish the thought - Augustinian influence. Both lament the influence of Latin scholasticism on some of the standard Orthodox theological manuals and catechisms in use until recently in Greece and in Slavic countries. Scholasticism, synonymous it would seem with rationalism, and the cause of secularism, is pernicious and fundamentally unorthodox, a foreign influence, an aberration. But let us hear what Gennadios, the patriarch, patriot, and anti-Latin zealot has to say in the preface to his summaries- of all things-the two Summae of St. Thomas Aquinas:

"The present book is a summary of two books, on of that against the Gentiles, or those heresies which oppose the truth, the other the first part of the Summa Theologiae of which there are three parts. We have taken up the labor of such a summary on account of our great love for these two books. We have put these things together which we had written out before our captivity, and later rediscovered in the diaspora. Since they are in no wise of an easily transportable size on account of the breadth and size of the chapters and questions, and of the fullness of the precise arguments contained in them, and since this our unfortunate life after our national disaster lavishes on us wanderings and distasteful goings and comings, and being unable to carry about so great a weight of books, of necessity and for no other ambition we have made a project of this summary so that it can suffice for us and for anyone else who is well versed in them, in place of the complete books. The author of these books is a Latin by birth and so he adheres to the dogma of that church as an inheritance; this is only human. But he is a wise man, and is inferior to none of those who are perfect in wisdom among men. He wrote most especially as a commentator of Aristotelian philosophy, and of the Old and New Testaments. Most of the principal conclusions of both Sacred Theology and philosophy are seen in his books, almost all of which we have studied, both the few which were translated by others into the Greek language, and their Latin originals, some of which we ourselves have translated into our own tongue. (But alas! All our labor was in vain, for we were about to suffer along with the fatherland which perished on account of our wickedness, the divine mercy being unable to hold out any longer against the divine justice.) In all the aforesaid areas this wise man is most excellent, as the best interpreter and synthesizer in those matters in which his church agrees with ours. In those things wherein that church and he differ from us-they are few in number-namely on the procession of the Holy Spirit and the divine essence and energies, in these not only do we observe the dogma of our fatherland, but we have even fought for it in many books. Our zeal even to the shedding of blood for our dogmas is evident to all men, both friends and enemies, and the whole world is filled with the books we have produced against those who deny them. Glory be to God in all things!"[3]

In a later summary of the Prima secundae of the Summa Theologiae, completed while in retirement at Serres, Gennadios sums up his attitude to the Angelic Doctor: "Would O excellent Thomas that you had not been born in the West. Then you would not have needed to defend the deviations of the church there ... you would have been as perfect in theology as you are in ethics."[4]

Gennadios' Thomism is not a sort of hapax in Orthodox thought, We are not dealing here with the idiosyncrasy of one thinker. He represents an already longstanding late Byzantine tradition of admiration and judicious use of Aquinas' works by theologians and apostles of the first rank. The emperor-monk John VI Joasaph Kantakuzenos, a fervent Palamite, in fact the imperial vindicator of the doctrine of Palamas, was a monk of the Charsianeites monastery where Gennadios was to enter almost a century later. As emperor he had sponsored the translation of Thomas' Summa contra gentiles by Demetrios Kydones, and he used this very translation to refute the latinizing doctrine of Demetrios' own brother Prochoros who was also a Thomist. Both the latinophron and the Palamite zealot appealed to the teaching of Aquinas. Gennadios' two teachers, also monks of the monastery of Charsianeites, Joseph Bryennios and Makarios Makres, whom the Orthodox venerate as blessed, used the writings of St. Thomas in their dialogue treatises against the Muslims, taking arguments verbatim, but without attribution, from the Contra gentiles in defense of the incarnation and of consecrated virginity. Bryennios, an anti-unionist missionary in Crete, and Makres were the most vigorous of opponents to union with Rome. In 1964 when the monks of Athos made a proclamation against the ecumenism of Patriarch Athenagoras, they used the words of Bryennios, the accomplished Latinist and admirer and student of St. Thomas Aquinas, as the peroration of their ardent declaration against uniatism: "We will never renounce you, beloved Orthodoxy! We will never betray you O Reverence of the Fathers! We will never abandon you Mother Piety! In you we were born, in you do we live, in you we shall repose. And if the times demand we will die a thousand times for you."[5]

The Christian use of Aristotle, the use of demonstrative argumentation in theology was practically identical with Orthodox Byzantine theology, even, or rather especially, as practiced by the mystics. When St. Mark of Ephesus reminisces in his deathbed speech to Gennadios, the very one in which he confers on him the onus of leading the fight against the union of Florence, and nostalgically reminds him of the days when he taught him about the different uses of modal propositions in argumentation, he is fully in the line of St. Maximos Confessor and St. Gregory Palamas, with the Kabasilas brothers, with the Patriarch Photios, St. John Damascene and the whole of Orthodox tradition.[6] Aquinas was recognized as eminently compatible with this tradition, its use of authority and logical discourse, and so there was every reason for even those most jealous of doctrinal purity to make use of him.

Another set of facts illustrates our point dramatically. At the end of Byzantine history there was a fierce polemic in which both Orthodox zealots and uniate Roman converts were allied and fervent participants. The Platonic doctrine of Gemistos Plethon, whom Cosimo de Medici had invited to speak in his circle during the time of the council of Florence, and at which conference Gennadios assisted, called for a restoration of paganism. The Thomists among the Greeks, both uniate and Orthodox ,began an attack on what they perceived to be a conspiracy for the subversion of Christendom by the Platonizing humanists. Their plot was not to undermine the faith directly, but to undermine it by attacking Aristotelian philosophy. Gennadios wrote copiously against the profane Hellenism of Plethon, and dedicated his works in defense of Aristotle to his teacher Mark of Ephesus. The uniate George Trapezountios hoped to convert Mehmet II after the fall of Constantinople to Christianity and Aristotelianism, and thus see the restored Roman emperor use his power to crush, not Orthodoxy, but the Platonic conspiracy. In a discourse presented to the Sultan while on a mission from Pius II , Trapezountios recommends that he consult Gennadios on these points as a learned and reliable guide.[7]

So why is it that the difference between the Latin scholastic tradition and the Eastern Orthodox tradition are seen today to be so irreducible, and precisely on account of their Latin-ness or Eastern-ness? Why is it that contemporary Orthodox thinkers as diverse as Meyendorff and Cavarnos insist that the best of Orthodox tradition is inherently unscholastic and Platonic? I will offer only one of the several possible reasons, but the one which is the most dangerous to the faith and practice of Catholics and Orthodox alike, and it is nothing less than the adoption of an anti-scholasticism inspired not by Platonism, but by modern ideologies, which imprison the faith in their categories. This will lead us to an appreciation of just what will serve us best to overcome the schism in a way which is truly Orthodox and Catholic and so endowed with the supernatural power of the true faith, which is the victory which the apostle tells us overcomes the world.[8]

The world, whether working in the church or outside it, inspired by the "philosophies of suspicion" as Pope John Paul II calls them, with the esoteric gnosis of dialectical historicism, wants to reduce the faith to some contingent fact of history determined by irreducible elements of race, language, political or economic forces, in other words to one ideology among others, not capable of fulfilling the doctrinal standard of St. Vincent of Lerins quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab ominibus, or of the First Vatican Council that the dogmas of the faith are held in every age in eodem sensu et significatu. For if there is a Byzantine outlook or a Latin one which determines dogma itself, if there is any human criterion which is the most formal explanation of the faith and practice of the Church , and not the fact of God revealing the faith "once for all delivered to the saints," and the human mind able to give its reasonable assent, then the faith is simply one stage in a dialectical progress which leaves it outmoded, and doctrinal differences are simply irreducible antitheses ready to be resolved into a higher synthesis which makes their truth or falsehood irrelevant. St. Pius X was nothing less than a prophet when he taught at the beginning of this century that scholasticism was the fortress of defence which maintains the integrity of doctrine in the face of modernist historicism, and that there is no clearer sign of the presence of this error than disdain for the traditional use of philosophy in the Church. We must beware. If one is Catholic or Orthodox solely because he is determined by certain cultural, ethnic and political forces, then when these forces are judged by the mighty of this world, within the church or without, to have fulfilled their purpose in the movement of perpetual progress, toward universal democratic capitalism for example, or renewal and updating, he must obediently give up the faith. What was once a tool in the process becomes its obstacle and so écraser l'infame becomes the motto of the lodge, seminar, or cabinet room. This happened to the Gallican French, is happening in the Irish republic and Poland now, as it has happened in Greece, and will happen in Russia, in Serbia and in Croatia. It also will happen here when the time comes when being a Catholic or Orthodox believer will not be able to be a profession of a "mere Christianity " which protects with its "family values" the rapaciousness of the elite few and so escapes their persecution. In the modern world, nationalist or statist romanticisms, inspiring as they may seem, carry in themselves the seeds of their own undoing.

Gennadios Scholarios was not Orthodox because that religion was the genius and defense of the Greek people, but rather he loved his nation because he was Orthodox , preferring its fall to its defection in its faith. He was Orthodox and so a patriot, because he heeded the injunction of of Moses to honor His father and mother and of St. Peter to love the brethren, to fear God, and honor the emperor. The Croatian and Serb and American must do the same. Countless pious Orthodox and Catholics have died and are dying in our dying century as victims of the arrangements of others who are the enemies of the faith and homeland of any man on any side. During the First World War the Pope of Rome, like a new Judas Maccabeus, took the vigorously supernatural initiative of giving to every Catholic priest the privilege of offering the sacrifice of the Mass twice more than the usual once on All Souls' Day for the repose of all the departed of both sides in the immense conflict.

Our century has only confirmed the urgency of his insight. Perhaps that is where we must begin an ecumenism of the anti-ecumenical, simply by praying for the dead. As Lance tells the wavering modernist priest in Walker Percy's novel: "So you pray for the dead. You know, something has changed in you." He who is in the world does not understand, or rather understands and hates such a scene as our little lamentation over Gennadios Scholarios in August of 1994. The nuns and I could not both be in the right about the primacy of Rome, but we were united by the truth which was in us, some aspect of it at least, and which was in the life of one man, and by our prayers, stands ready to be revealed at the last day.

In the meantime, though, the thought of St. Thomas is a rich and fruitful source of theological wisdom which I invite the Orthodox to study as belonging to them as surely as it belonged to Gennadios Scholarios, Joseph Bryennios, and Makarios Makres. They will thus give evidence that they understand that our differences are truly dogmatic and divine in origin and not ideological or ethnic, and they will provide themselves with a sure bulwark against the theological modernism which has already devastated the Latin church and has made great inroads in their own.

In order to bear this point out, I offer the Orthodox the same prophecy which Monsignor Romano Guardini addressed to Roman Catholics shortly after the Second World War in his work The End of the Modern World. He says:

The cultural deposit preserved by the Church thus far will not be able to endure against he general decay of tradition. Even when it does endure it will be shaken and threatened on all sides. Dogma in its very nature, however, surmounts the march of time because it is rooted in eternity, and we can surmise that the character and conduct of coming Christian life will reveal itself especially through its old dogmatic roots. Christianity will once again need to prove itself as a faith which is not self-evident; it will be forced to distinguish itself more sharply from a dominant non-Christian ethos. At that juncture the theological significance of dogma will begin a fresh advance; similarly will its practical and existential significance increase. I need not say that I imply no "modernization" here, no weakening of the content and effectiveness of Christian dogma, rather I emphasize its absoluteness, its unconditional demands and affirmations. These will be accentuated.

Before I conclude I will give an example of how the insights of St. Thomas can be in such deep harmony with Orthodoxy. In the Summa contra gentiles, in chapter 42 of the first book, St. Thomas demonstrates that there is only one God. At the end of the chapter, as is his method, he indicates the errors which the truth expounded contradicts. There he makes the illuminating observation that the truth that there is only one God is not contradicted so much by polytheism as by dualism. The polytheist, he says, usually holds that there is one supreme God from whom the others derive, and with whom he shares his power of wisdom, happiness, and the governance of the world. This manner of speaking is found frequently in Sacred Scripture, Thomas points out, where the holy angels and even men are called gods, in Psalms 81 and 85, and in many other places besides, since God does in fact share his knowledge, felicity, and power with his creatures. This is indeed the reason why creatures point to the unique existence of God, because they are secondary, but real causes dependent on the first cause. The dualist holds the greater error, that there are first principles which are irreducible. Later on in chapter 69 of Book III Aquinas uses an uncustomary severity characterizing as "ridiculous" the abuse of monotheism by the denying of the reality of secondary causality in order to exalt the omnipotence of God.

This insight, of the importance of secondary causes, is the key to an Orthodoxy of the concrete order, and it distinguishes it from Islam and Protestantism with their exaggerated monotheism, and from esoteric philosophical ideologies with their relativistic perpetual dialectic of opposites. The sacraments, the liturgy of the church, the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the veneration of icons and relics, the invocation of the Mother of God, the angels, and saints, ascetical practices, all are secondary causes whereby the divine grace and power of God One in the Holy Trinity are bestowed on the faithful. This is why the controversies over the holy images, the sign of the cross, the azymes, the calendar, are not in themselves absurd. The Orthodox Christian is intensely aware of the efficacy of secondary causes in the obtaining of supernatural goods. We have already indicated one such practice rooted in the doctrine of secondary causality, prayer for the departed. The ecumenism of the anti-ecumenical can continue on this level, by exalting the use of holy things and saving them from profanation, and sharing them with each other to the limited, but still considerable extent that doctrinal fidelity will allow. A popular song sung by the enslaved Orthodox after the fall of Constantinople shows the "ecumenical" power of this Thomistic insight into secondary causality:

"They took the City, they took her: they took Thessalonica:
They took even Saint Sophia, they took the great monastery,
which had three hundred semantra and seventy-two bells:
Every bell had a priest, and every priest a deacon.

In the Great Church where the holy gifts were revealed, the King of all,
there came to them a voice from heaven, from the mouth of the angels:

'Leave off your psalter, put away the holy gifts.
Send word to the land of the Franks to come and take them:
Let them come and take the golden cross and the holy gospel,
and the holy table, lest it be profaned.'

And when Our Lady heard this, the icons wept:
'Be still dear Mistress, do not weep, do not cry:
Again with the years, with time, again this place will be yours.'"

The ultimate overcoming of the schism is an eschatological fact, but still an historical one. It will happen, nolumus, volumus , if what we believe is true. The lamenting icons do not lie, not the ones in the Great Church, not even the one I bought on Athos, in spite of its ideological confusion. The use of holy persons, times, places, and things leads us here and now to that eternal City where the faithful departed of the Old and the New and the Third Rome hope to go, as we remember them. From their place they remind us in the words of the Purgatorio :

Qui sarai tu poco tempo silvano;
E sarai meco, sanza fine, cive

Di quella Roma onde Cristo è romano.[9]

NOTES

[1] Dom Gerard Calvet, Régard sur la Chrétienté (Le Barroux 1982) 27.

[2] His opera omnia were produced in a critical edition sponsored by the Augustinians of the Assumption. Oeuvres complètes de Georges Scholarios, ed. Petit, Sidéridès, Jugie (Paris 1928-1936).

[3] ibid., vol V, 1. (translation ours).

[4] ibid., vol VI, 1 (translation ours).

[5] Alexander Kalomiros, Against False Union trans. George Gabriel (Seattle 1967) 101-105.

[6] For an overview of Byzantine Orthodox Aristotelianism see my The Byzantine Thomism of Gennadios Scholarios (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1993) 13-39.

[7] On this too little studied point see E. Garin, "Il Platonismo come ideologia della sovversione di Europa: la polemica anti-platonica di Giorgio Trapezunzio," Studia Humanitatis: Ernesto Grassi zum 70 Geburtstag (Munich 1973) 113-120.

[8] Cf. I John 5:4.

[9] Canto xxxii, 100-102.

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