History of a Dialogue
Christiaan Kappes*

Towards a theological reconciliation between East and West

In the annals of history, theological dialogue has been a fairly regular occurrence between the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. It is worthwhile to recall that bishops and theologians were often sent from both Rome and Byzantium to enter into theological discussions, especially following the cause célèbre, known as the "Schism of 1054". From that period until present it is true that there were only two "success" stories of a corporate reunion between the two Churches as recorded in the annals of the Catholic Church's biographers. Yet, the principle of the theological dialogue with the Orthodox Church was never in question. The first "successful" reunion of Churches was accomplished at the Second Council of Lyons (1274). Tragically, St Thomas Aquinas died on his way to the Council, despite his invitation to attend as a theologian. His fellow doctor, St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, was perhaps the most notable theologian present. Due to a minimal Greek presence and over-reliance on the will of the Byzantine Emperor, the Union effected by the Council has been commonly described as a "dead letter". No sooner had Emperor Michael VIII returned to Constantinople, than the Greek Church refused en masse to make the Union effectual.

More serious theological debates and overtures were subsequently sponsored by the Byzantine Court at various times following the ineffectual Council of Lyons. These public debates and theological discussions familiarized Latins with Greek Fathers and Synods. The theological exchange was also an occasion for some erudite Greeks to become familiar with and even translate Latin Fathers and Scholastic authors into the Greek idiom. Especially following the translation of St Augustine (De Trinitate) and St Thomas Aquinas (Summa contra Gentiles), Greek theologians began to absorb Latin patristic insights and even Scholastic ideas into their own corpus theologicum during the Palaeologian dynasty. Even famous authors like Gregory Palamas and Mark Eugenicus (two of the three "Pillars of Orthodoxy") employed Latin learning within their own works. Many of these discoveries have escaped even specialists' notice until recent times. At present, there is a burgeoning group of scholars who have dedicated themselves to exploring Latin and Scholastic influences in 14th and 15th century Byzantine theology.

In the early 20th century, Cardinal Joseph Dyčlovskyj wrote an inspiring article noting that — even in the East — the study of St Thomas Aquinas in se has always tended toward Catholic unity. Undoubtedly, there are both philosophical and theological reasons for the Cardinal's thesis. Due to the natural exposition of the universal principles of reasoning and correct thinking as espoused by St Thomas, the Doctor Communis secured for himself the perennial value of his works. Each person, insofar as he is rational, can grasp the fundamental ideas and loci upon which Scholasticism bases its arguments. Secondly, due to St Thomas' profound grasp of Christian doctrine, he was able to reflect the mens Ecclesiae in nearly every major area of importance to the Roman Magisterium. The vast majority of the theological propositions explained and promoted by St Thomas were held in common with Byzantine Orthodoxy. On this score, a former Patriarch of Constantinople, the hand-picked successor of Mark of Ephesus to oppose Florence, wrote: "O excellent Thomas would that you had not been born in the West such that you would have need to advocate the differences of that [Roman] Church! You were influenced by it with regard to both the procession of the Holy Spirit as well as by the difference with respect to the divine essence and energy. For surely, then, you would have been infallible in your theological doctrines, just as you are so too inerrant in these matters of ethics (S. Th. Prol., 17-19)"!1

Following Thomas' sweeping influence in Byzantium, a sort of "first Scholasticism" penetrated the confines of the Byzantine East. The list of admirers and imitators of both St Thomas and/or Scholastic method (vel in parte vel in toto) continues to grow as Byzantine theologians of the Medieval and Renaissance period are studied and their sources are uncovered.

It is true that St Thomas' doctrine was a fertile soil that ultimately paved the way for the Council of Florence, but it must also be admitted that he was cause for polemics in Byzantium. The question of St Thomas' intrinsic value vis-à-vis Greek Orthodoxy is a hotly debated issue. Historically, Orthodox of the late 14th century often psychologically associated Aquinas with anti-Palamism, i.e. a theology tending to reject the mystical theology of Gregory Palamas. Gregory's distinctions between the essence and energy of God, the notion of the "uncreated light" seen by saints, and his understanding of divinization were all subject to scrutiny by the very first Byzantine Thomists, Demetrius and Prochorus Cydones. Their opposition to Gregory Palamas and their "Latin-minded" way of theologizing sealed a negative fate of "first Scholasticism (c. 1398)" in Byzantium.

The question of St Thomas' intrinsic value in East-West dialogue remains. He was understood and utilized positively and negatively by many celebrated Byzantine divines (e.g. Macarius Makres and Gennadius Scholarius). Perhaps the most learned theologian of his time, Gennadius Scholarius (d. c. 1472), was able to give a balanced and philosophically well-founded presentation of Catholic and Orthodox differ-
ences because of his sound knowledge of Latin theology and Scholastic philosophy. Ultimately, both Churches have adopted their champions from this period. Therefore, it is only fitting and proper that these theological giants should be understood before any serious attempt is made to speak about "commonalities" and "divergencies" between East and West. Following Florence (1439), additional theological developments have increased the points of discussion between the two Churches at present. Nonetheless, any history of theology should be deemed questionable if it does not recognize what Aquinas, Palamas, and Mark of Ephesus recognized as real doctrinal stumbling blocks towards unity. If these (and other "doctors" of both respective Churches) are not read as the foundational sources for understanding East-West divisions theologically, one risks positing too many or too few points of disharmony between the two Churches.

This fundamental importance of understanding the classic and perennial theology of each Church is incumbent on both Eastern and Western theologians. Taking the example of both St Thomas and (St) Mark of Ephesus, both were willing to be in theological dialogue with their opponents. Thomas' very educational system depended on the professor being a skilled debater. Holding quodlibetal disputations required a thick skin and willingness to work through each objection from one's interlocutor. The professorial task was to reconcile the areas of substantial agreement and focus on the areas of fundamental irreconcilability of any proposition with Christian doctrine. Mark was on friendly terms with Latins aiding the scholarly pursuits of men like Nicholas of Cusa. He did not refuse to enter into dialogue with the Latins and came freely to Florence. His addresses to the Pontiff in Italy were respectful and sincere. He asked the members of the Council to remember that debates sometimes contain strong language. He apprized his Roman interlocutors that anything that sounded harsh was said in charity and that such mishaps should be excused as peculiarities of cultural expression.

This traditional task of theological dialogue and mutual theological understanding has not ceased. Following Blessed John XXIII's establishment of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity In 1960 and his Successors' emphasis on Christian unity, scholars are still attempting to understand better all aspects of the traditional Catholic-Orthodox debate. This summer, an opportunity for better mutual understanding will take place in London. The Institute of Classical Studies 2012 Byzantine Colloquium "When East met West: the Reception of Latin Theological and Philosophical Thought in Late Byzantium", to be held in Senate House, University of London, between 11-12 June 2012, will explore some important aspects of the theological dialogue between the two sides.2 The contributors, both eminent and younger scholars, hope to present a scholarly and objective look at Latin patristic and Scholastic influence on Byzantine theology. An exciting part of this colloquium will be devoted to reports on the progress and utilization of texts of "Thomas de Aquino Byzantinus",3 an international research project aiming at providing new critical editions of translations of, and commentaries on, Thomas Aquinas' opera omnia by Byzantine authors.4 The influence of Thomas on Byzantine writers and saints is only gradually coming to light. These editions will help the theological world secure Thomas' factual place within Byzantine theology. In order to illustrate the depth of influence that Thomas graecus exercised, presentations will focus on the sources used by Byzantine theologians like Matthaios Blastares, Demetrios Chrysoloras, and Gennadios Scholarios. There will also be presentations on the role of Augustine in Eastern theology and the Latin authorities employed for discussions at the Council of Florence. Contributors come from both Catholic and Orthodox backgrounds (inter alia). Also, in small part, the conference represents a happy result of efforts initiated under the Vatican's Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States. Among the contributors will be a participant under the auspices of the Holy See's venture with the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs.5 The joint venture is a scholarship program to provide Catholics with an opportunity to study Orthodox theology in Greece in order to increase mutual understanding between Orthodox and Catholic theologians.6

*Fr Kappes holds a licentiate in philosophy and a doctorate in Sacred Liturgy

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1 Gennadius Scholarius, "Résumé de la Prima Secundae de la Somme théologique de sanit Thomas d'Aquin", in Oeuvres Completes de Georges Scholarios 5, ed. L. Petit -X. Siderides -M. Jugie, Paris, Maison de la Bonne Presse 1933, 1.

2 http://www.rhul.ac.uk/Hellenic-Institute/Research/Reception.html.

3 http://www.elemedu.upatras.g/labart /dimitr/index1.html

4 http ://www. rhul ac.uk/Hellenic-Institute/Research/Reception html

5 For further information on this program, go to: http://www2.mfa. gr/www.mfa.gr/en-us.

6 Dr Charalambos Dendrinos, Director of the Hellenic Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London, who is co-organizing the colloquium, may be contacted for reservations: Ch.Dendrinos@rhul.ac.uk


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
13 June 2012, page 9

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