"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Christiaan Kappes on the Epiclesis Debate at Florence

The author of this most impressive new book is, indeed, an impressive fellow, both in writing and in person, where he wears his considerable learning lightly and cheerfully.

His is the kind of book you buy not just to support good scholarship and not just because you are interested in history, ecumenism, and theology, but also because you are, naturellement, the sort of person who luxuriates in the kind of rich footnotes this volume has aplenty, and the kind of even richer historical narratives it sets forth while simultaneously challenging, untwisting, and revising earlier narratives which were often entangled with and corrupted by apologetic agendas. Meet the priest and scholar Christiaan Kappes, author of the fascinating new book The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence, just released from the University of Notre Dame Press (2019), xxii + 418pp.

Following my usual practice, I sent him some questions about the book, and here are his thoughts.

AD: Tell us a bit about your background

CK: I've been a priest since 2002 and have had the fortune of serving in a variety of different apostolates, both pastoral and academic. My bishops have assigned me to work in Ecuador, Mexico, the Vatican, and Greece. These last several years I've spent my time as the academic dean of Ss Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary, which is a theological graduate school offering two kinds of Master degrees in theology to about 35 students who are mainly Eastern Christians, though we do have other denominations and ritual churches represented.

AD: When we were last met together on here, it was to discuss your book on the Immaculate Conception. Are there connections between that book and your new one? 

Hmmm...On the thematic level there is practically no overlap.

While (surprisingly) the conception by the Theotokos of Jesus in utero is the major analogy among pre-Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers of both Greekdom and Latindom for talking about the manner or process to analogize Eucharistic change, this analogy is based upon the Holy Spirit changing the substance of an ovum (in today’s language) into an hypostasis or new personal-substance. So, as the Spirit changed ovum-into-person miraculously, Greek and Latin Fathers explained that the Spirit changed an item from a bread-substance or wine-substance into an hypostasis (without getting to detailed into the classification and modality of this change), Jesus Christ. So, the process of Mary's conception within the womb of Anna is fairly irrelevant to these kinds of analogies.

On the other hand, the historical timing of the epiclesis debate between Greeks and Latins (1390s-1439) nearly coincides with the first known Greek awareness of the question of Mary's status in grace at her conception (c. 1343), where Dominicans were notable in the East for trying to convince Orthodox, just as other Latins, that Aquinas was correct so that Mary was born with some sort of lack of grace, or taint, otherwise referred to as original sin. Even so, there is no reason or occasion in the present monograph to go into the Immaculate Conception at Florence, even if it was the talk of the town since the rebellious and contemporary Latin Council of Basil (opposing Florence) declared about this time that Mary was immaculately conceived, which annoyed not a few Dominicans present and representing Pope Eugene IV at his council (which sat successively at the cities of Ferrara and Florence, Italy).
AD: More generally, can you tell us what led to the writing of The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence?

CK: Two young scholars Charles Yost and Nicholas Kamas (both of whom have recently graduated from Notre Dame) were kind enough to extend an invite to me to participate in a Notre-Dame (IN) sponsored session at the Congress of Medieval Studies (held every year in Kalamazoo, MI). The theme of that particular session was on Eucharistic controversies of the period. As such, I took some odds and ends that I had begun to notice in Mark of Ephesus's works and compiled them into a paper. Afterwards, I was so impressed by what I found that I was excited to keep researching in order to share with a wider audience my findings.

AD: Not all of our readers will know what your title refers to. Could you give us a one-sentence summary of what the "epiclesis debate" was about, and a summary of the significance of Florence, too? 

CK: The title refers to a long-standing disagreement between churches of the Eastern Orthodox communion with the Roman Catholic Church over the moment of the Eucharistic prayer when the bread is changed into the body and wine is changed into the blood of Christ. Secondly, in a sentence, the Council of Florence was the last bilateral attempt of the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic church to overcome major areas of doctrinal differences that kept them out of Eucharistic communion with one another.

AD: Immediately in your introduction we're off to the races in which we find the conventional narratives seriously complicated if not overturned. Thus we hear, e.g., of radical differences within and among Greek and Dominican scholars, not least over the roles played by Palamas and Palamite thought, whose influence, you say, has been overlooked. Why the neglect, and why is it important to bring this to the surface? 

CK: First of all, all the documents of the Council of Florence were only completely published in 1976 with the publishing of the Slavonic Acts of the Council. What is more the documents and records of Palamism had only begun to be investigated with a certain degree of scientific accuracy starting in the 1910s and a complete edition of all the actors from Palamas until Florence is still yet to be published (though we are getting much much closer!). Finally, in addition to the important lack of documentation, there was the problem of the methodological divide between traditional Roman Catholic theologians (systematicians/dogmaticians) and historical theologians (also medievalists); the former naturally feel the onus to believe that past polemical narrative of past scholars and churchmen somehow carry on the correct spirit of looking at history and theology that requires no or very little nuance for a contemporary church, while the latter began to spend their time mythbusting the Neo-Thomistic (late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century) narrative of a purported dominance, unity, and internal coherence of Thomistic and Dominican thought during the whole of the middle ages and renaissance until modernity. These narratives –even if the best Neo-Scholastics were always aware of the intramural debates among their own for centuries – were only beginning to fall apart in the 1960s (as far as the publication of academic challenges to such commonplace meta-narratives goes).

AD: Your book, noting the "grossly skewed portrait" that has been common among Catholics considering Mark of Ephesus, gives us a very different picture of him, especially in chs. 2 and 3. Give us a thumb-nail sketch of how you see him and how he has been used and abused by modern Catholics and Orthodox apologists. 

CK: Given the stakes and the perspectives of the time, it would have been quite unusual, perhaps just short of impossible, for popes, cardinals, and theologians to objectively engage Mark when so much of what the papalists were doing at Florence was vested in opposing anti-papal Conciliarists in nearby Basel, who were contesting the pope's claims to supreme jurisdiction and his claims to a rather vague doctrinal immunity in contrast to that any other clergyman in the church.

Understandably, any jot or tittle whereby Mark was perceived in a western politico-religious context to contribute to this political opposition of princes and prelates against the pope was an immediate threat to the politico-religious order that was desired by pope and papalists. Here, people and God are, as per usual, subjected to political and cultural expediencies. In fact, Mark of Ephesus was never canonically disciplined by any "uniate" Constantinopolitan authority, nor by a decree by a pope of Rome. Yet, he has been the object of constant invective over the centuries principally for undermining a triumphalistic narrative of Florence. Yet, Mark's communion of Orthodox churchmen only begged to renegotiate Florence and enter into new discussions toward a lasting union by means of a new conjoint council (hardly the actions of a schismatic). Of course, his Holy Synaxis (or group of friends) was rejected after the emperor solemnly declared the union of Florence in 1452 after papal threats to withhold military aid.

I do not wish to demonize these characters responsible for this programme, but rather underline that--like the lessons learned by Dvornik's immortal book on the Photian Schism rehabilitating Photius (it would seem) for ever--Renaissance literature provided an imaginative construct for demonizing Eugenicus that remained in full force well after Dvornik's challenge to sectarian scholars to exercise tolerance, fairness, and non-partisanship.

Joseph Gill's The Council of Florence is a sad tribute to once celebrated intolerance of Petit, Grumel, and Jugie (even while I admit all their merits when speaking on many a topic not related to Mark Eugenicus). Perhaps dreams and images of world peace, religious unity, or even Roman Catholic hegemony, seemed especially by these authors to be symbolically frustrated by Mark (thus meriting their animus). Take a look at the constant barrage of scholarly quotations up to and beyond the turning point in Dvornik. L. Petit referred to Mark thus:
“Every man of good faith would agree on it [previously mentioned: Mark’s hardline, savage hatred of the Council]. For Mark’s part, if his kind of argument seems insidious –nay, even serious– the lion’s share of his arguments are of an astonishingly puerile nature […] Incidentally, he passes over his adversaries [in an apologetic letter]: all these things, from the point of view of this intransigent fanatic, constitute a series of unpardonable misleading comments […] The attack directed against the august assembly [of Florence] by the archbishop of Ephesus was rude, impassioned, hateful”[1] V. Grumel writes:“The Archbishop of Ephesus is far from giving us the impression of being a great genius. He had the appearance of impotence to elevate his thought above the manner of existence of created things […] This metaphysical impotence grants nothing honorific to this ‘hero of Orthodoxy’.”[2].
Again Martin Jugie wrote: “Note, after the separation [of Greeks and Latins], the Latins always appealed to the Greeks by employing the authority of the Greek Fathers. All the same (just as Mark Eugenicus himself had done at the Council on this score), the Greeks were either entirely ignorant of the Latin Fathers, or contended babylike that Latin works were corrupted by the Latins themselves”[3].

Finally, in a style entirely bereft of the spirit of Dvornik, Gill writes:
“In the meetings about Purgatory, conciliatory at the beginning, Mark hardened in his opposition the more he went on […] Quite arbitrarily, he treated the Constantinopolitan Creed as if it were the original Nicene […] Mark was impervious to argument […] Mark’s obstinacy would not have mattered so much if all the Greek prelates, or the most of them, had been of a high intellectual calibre […] He had the strength of character to follow a single-minded, indeed a narrow-minded, purpose at any cost.”[4]
Elsewhere, Gill remarks sarcastically: “Mark of Ephesus, it is true, was unpersuaded [by the Latins], indeed, if anything, more than ever confirmed in his belief of the unassailability of the Greek position, convinced by his own eloquence.”[5]

Perhaps, at the opposite end, Mark is imagined by eighteenth-century Orthodox authors to be a symbol of burgeoning Greek self-identity, styling him the Anti-Papas who single-handedly defeated empires and popes and saw the Greek Church as the only society or organization in which Greeks under the Turkish yoke could preserve their national/ethnic identity. In stark contrast to the original office (akolouthy) written by Mark's sibling in the fifteenth century for his sanctification, the eighteenth-century liturgical office written by Nikodemos Hagioritis speaks of Mark's trampling on tiaras and, effectively, of him overturning papal government. The style of the akolouthy is completely absorbed in Greek politico-religious aspirations of the period.

In reality, Mark was above all a Palamite monk who wanted solitude and who had no desire to go to Florence because he would be taken out of monastic retreat. Because he was devoted to his ordaining patriarch Joseph II (the alleged uniate) and because the emperor pressured him, he caved to their demands and represented his church as the emperor’s personal champion. He prepared for the Council by reading Latin-Scholastic literature, including Aquinas and Scotus, and used creatively some of their ideas for his positive writings, though tending to be cautious toward Aquinas overall.

Mark mainly citing Duns Scotus as a foil to Aquinas on religious questions, where Franciscans and Greeks agreed, but Dominicans dissented. Mark loved Renaissance art – writing a treatise in praise of what he saw in Italy – he spent money on Augustine’s works in Italy, whom he quoted more than any other Eastern theologian up to this point in Orthodox history for dogma.

He initially complimented the theological dialogue with Latins at the council and praised their acuity but ultimately was brought to frustration and turned against the council after a series of shenanigans at Florence, where thin-skinned clerics were trying to control each and every word that he uttered during the council and prevent him in numerous ways from discussing anything from Ecumenical Councils’ canons to finishing his speeches by raucous interruptions. He bore solemnly and politely each and every interruption until the filioque debates, whereupon a single Latin theologian was entrusted to speak on behalf of all of Latindom but who used neither Aquinas’s nor anybody else’s discernible argument for the filioque but instead employed a hodgepodge series of texts including a subordinationist text of Ps.-Basil’s Contre Eunomium. This finally exasperated the patience of Mark. He then retreated from the council, for which absence his serious health issues provided him a legitimate excuse in the eyes of his emperor.

AD: You document the relative neglect of Mark's role in the epiclesis debate, saying that to the extent modern Orthodoxy pays him any attention it is for his "theological conclusions" rather than his "method" (37). I confess that mention of theological method is often a trigger for me, awakening immediate overpowering fatigue from having been forced as an undergraduate to slog my way through Lonergan on method! Tell us why attending to Mark's method is in fact important.  

Yes, I’m with you, for I studied at the shrine to Lonerganian studies (Seton Hall). I must confess that I did not leave Seton Hall carrying any amulets with Lonergan’s name etched on them!

The method whereby Mark arrived at his conclusions--by which he also objected to Latins--included ranking of theological authorities by their intrinsic merit, denying a priori any per se infallibility of saints’ writings, and arguing that human reason needed to enter into the debates. One instance would be with the appeals by Latins to the visions of their saints of purgatorial fire. Among other things, he demanded a philosophical explanation on how material fire affected a non-material entity, the soul (alleged by Thomists to contain no material at all). Secondly, he argued that one cannot move from the topical and local experience of saints, to generalize dogma for the whole church based upon mystical visions that are in no wise found in anyone else’s legitimate tradition. This kind of discussion was jolting for the Latins, who begged Mark to stop saying the saints aren’t per se infallible! Who’s the rationalist in this vignette?

AD: Following on from this, you note (p.187) that part of Mark's objection in the end to Florence came from its failure (in Mark's eyes) to follow the reforming work and theology of the "Photian Council of 879-80." What was so important about that earlier council? Was his view of its significance shared by others at Florence?  

The Photian Council was conjoint; all major patriarchates (including popes) officially signed and sealed the decrees. What is more, under the next pope, John VIII, the cancellation of a first or former (anti-)Photian synod (870) was declared cancelled and Pope John’s decrees or decretal entered into Latin canonical collections (e.g. St. Ivo of Chartres) until it was superseded by Gratian’s canons called the Decretum (c. 1150), but which was devoid of references to the 880 synod.

The cooperation between Rome and Constantinople and the admission of the Greek righteousness on the question of the filioque by Rome itself needed to be acknowledged in Mark’s mind before any move forward toward union could happen. After all, the council of 880 called itself and was canonized as “ecumenical.” Due to Latins trusting a Greek-convert as their posthumous expert or peritus on these canons, Manuel Kalekas’s works--celebrated at the time--convinced the Latins to dismiss out of hand the validity of the acts of this council, preventing introduction of its acts at Florence.

AD: Another figure of whom we get a very different portrait from your work is Torquemada. Give us a sketch of him and his importance to these debates. 

Torquemada was styled a genius by Roman apologists, of course, since he was allegedly Neo-Thomist and due to the fact that he (after Florence) was to coin the first acceptable notion of papal infallibility. Historiography during the ultramontane period of Roman Catholic history apotheosized Torquemada for all but making the pope’s favorite color dogmatic…

In reality, Torquemada was a professional, rather cold, and faithful Dominican who was somewhat eclectic like many Dominicans of the day. He was not a papal absolutist but (in comparison to ultramontanes) a rather weak if not heretical (vis-à-vis Vatican I) papalist.

What is more, he was not a really good philosopher and Thomas Izbicki has shown in his monograph on Torquemada that he had a number of limitations in his understanding of canon law at the time of Ferrara-Florence. Among the Dominicans, he was certainly no slouch, but much of his energy and ire was being directed at Franciscan theology during his career; specifically he tried to get Franciscans condemned by an ecumenical council for believing in the Immaculate Conception.

I have found too that his methods were not faithful to Thomas Aquinas when he thought that he would fare better in forensic debate by saying something other than the Common Doctor or Angelic Doctor on the question. Furthermore – to no fault of his own – he was forced to invent an entire theology of the Eucharist and an anti-epiclesis theology against Greek dogmatics and liturgy in the space of about three days. I show that he simply cut and pasted what he could hastily put together at the Dominican convent in town and that the quality of the document reflects the urgency, his unreasonable timetable, and his lack of knowledge of Greek liturgy and Fathers (not to mention some of the Latin Fathers).

AD: At the end of chapter 8 we are confronted with several papal documents treating issues of the sacraments, and note that their "peculiar definitions were capable of being reformulated" (p. 221). At the end of ch. 9, you note that we see such a reformulation, building on Mark of Ephesus, in the revisions to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to take account of the role of the epiclesis. Does the Catholic Church need to make some kind of official recognition of Mark's role and even his sainthood, both as an ecumenical gesture to the East but also as a way of correcting the sometimes shoddy and tendentious ways in which he was used and abused by such Catholics as Louis Petit and Martin Jugie? 

It is a strange and entirely delicious question! Already so-called uniates or Melkite Catholics can be found with icons of Mark even in their churches.

What is most amusing is that St. Pius X sent the Melkites a rather nasty circular letter in the 1900s telling them to stop repeating and teaching what was essentially Mark of Ephesus’s position on the epiclesis! The fact is, however, that only historiographers and individual theologians have condemned Mark as a heretic. There is not a single canonical sentence, East or West, ever issued against him. Mark, as an editor of the acts and decrees of no less than three ecumenical councils, correctly told Pope Eugene at the end of Florence that his refusal to sign the document called “the definition” was in fact – in our language – the refusal to sign a “joint theological declaration.” Mark’s canonical point was that the entire Florentine council never officially impugned the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Churches on any dogmatic subject (remember that the minutes of Ecumenical Councils are not its canons or decrees).

Secondly, Florence issued no canons or decrees, nor did it attach to its acts any anathemas. So, given the reality of this, Mark asked how can Pope Eugene legally condemn him for not signing a joint declaration that has no disciplinary measures attached to it for not signing? What is more, since this style of council simply tried to declare that Greeks and Latins mean the same thing, Mark protested that for Latins Mark was already orthodox. Mark simply disagreed that the Latins were canonically correct in their assertion of unilateral powers to change ecumenical canons without consulting any other church and that the Greek word “through the Spirit” did mean the same thing as the Latin “from the Spirit” as the insufficiently-Thomist theologian at Florence had attempted to argue in his debate with Mark.

Allowing the Eastern Catholic Churches to add an appendix to their Menaion (along with the existing one of Palamas who wrote two treatises against the Dominican position on the Holy Spirit) is to me a fine way to express the reality of Mark. He certainly has nothing standing in the way of his local cultus. His canonical status in the Catholic Church is higher than Blessed Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and any other host of theologians with a messy but nonetheless Catholic identity. His sanctity is due, I think, to his sincerity and ascetical life that was unencumbered by the political machinations on both sides of the Adriatic at his time. He desired a lasting union not a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

AD: As an overall comment on the book, and much of your work more generally, is it fair to say (as David Bentley Hart did in an essay more than a decade ago now) that much of Christian division turns on, and is propagated still by, bad history, making careful and painstaking scholarly works as your own all the more important? 

Yes, I must agree. I spend so much time in manuscripts and critical editions of the primary texts and the sources used by the Medievals for their own arguments that it becomes a sad story for me. If they worked sometimes sincerely but were disadvantaged by a limited access to authentic sources, we poor contemporary Christians have at our fingertips the largest database in the history of Christianity and we come to the same conclusions with entirely different evidence.

We can see how much of theological fluff and theological opinion that was once upon a time asserted as dogma for cultural, ethnic, and political reasons, is clearly non-essential and yet our modern and even (shockingly) contemporary theologians (some of whom are good linguists and philologists) cling in an infantile manner to old narratives, by and large, written by non-saints and non-magisterial authors but which give the individual ego a feeling of belonging to a club with no cultural, linguistic, or ethnic membership with a single defect.

The psychological need for every personal or corporate action and personage of note in one’s church to perfectly contribute to a narrative of superiority or institutional infallibility is placing a ton of weight on every notable-historical member in one communion of churches that s/he will never be able to bear. Sinners sin and their post-lapsarian ignorance plays itself out like anybody else. Fairness, tolerance, and truthfulness, as the aims of a theologians with the largest database in world history, could have already resulted in solving the lion’s share of problems by now. However, on the bright side, look at the good accomplished by just one Dvornik and but one Taft. I’m hopeful that there are many, many more of these to come to overcome this silly-ongoing dialectic of otherness and opposition.

AD: Having finished the book, what other projects are you at work on now? 

I am working on a similar project with regard to the Filioque (to show how the Latin multiple-personality syndrome of filioquism, each of which personalities had little in common with each other but all iterations of the theory simply contributed to the fact that Greeks must be the bad guys). Of course, on the other side, I’m working on Mark of Ephesus’s and Gennadius Scholarius’s agreement with some aspects of the Latins’ position on “from the Son” gleaned from Palamas’s Apodictic Treatises on the Holy Spirit; wherein we see a perfectly coherent sense of “from the Son” that was even admitted at times (but sidelined at others) in the progression of thought by Aquinas. The irrational hatred of any mention of the Son in regard to immanent Trinity and his “essential” role (versus personal role) in production of the Son is fanatically opposed by anti-intellectual Orthodox without realizing that this position was endorse by Palamas, Eugenicus, and Scholarius.

The net result is that Aquinas’s theological opinion (though valid for Catholics of today) is one hypothesis, a drop in an historical sea and can be read in two different ways; one that is the majority reading of today and is unacceptable to Greeks; the other that is entirely in line with Palamas but that is unlikely to get a hearing from Dominicans, since it dares to agree with inimical Franciscan readings of Augustine’s Trinitarian productions that de-emphasize Aquinas’s famous Anselmian development of relations in favor of Augustine’s theory of psychological productions (more than mere metaphor) so that the Trinity is principally about a producing-person (viz., the Father) not about relating (with no real reason to rank the Father as first in a taxis or mere relatedness between three items). Anyway, this narrative already encountered stiff opposition from Dominicans against Franciscans (and nowadays medievalists) but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

In other news, I’m trying to put the finishing touches on my PhD thesis, written under Archbishop Elpidoforos of America, which outlines the Palamite background to the debates at Florence that resulted in the essence-energies research by Scholarios post-Florence and his publication of three separate treatise on the question.

AD: Sum up your hopes for the book, and who should read it.

I would hope that both Catholic theologians knowledgeable of Scholasticism and Orthodox theologians knowledgeable of patristics or Palamism can each appreciate the in-depth research into every source used by both Eugenicus and Torquemada and that each can agree that too many human elements intervened into what ought to have been serene and bilateral series of studies at Florence in order to come up with a truly bilateral agreement.

The lesson I hope that all readers might draw from the study is humility with regard to what we think we know and how much evidence we think we have for our positions and summarizing the positions of our church. Without interlocutors to talk us down from our Ivory Towers (which I am blessed to have at our Seminary) we are all potentially liable, due to pride and prejudice, to fall into the same unchristian temptations as Mark’s interlocutors at Florence who prevented the realization of a lasting union of minds and hearts that Mark desired at the onset of the Council. While Mark’s reputation will likely require decades to rehabilitate – given the quantity of anti-Eugenican literature in nineteenth and twentieth centuries – I hope ultimately that a modicum of respect and of admiration may be in store for Mark, the result of an open-minded reading of the monograph, no matter the theological perspective with which the reader may enter into my text.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...