by Fr Christiaan Kappes
I begin my little contribution by noting the origin of the idea to write an article on George-Gennadios Scholarios (d. 1472) came from Fr. Aidan because of little kindnesses some of you are used to, whereby he thinks of contributors or (as I imagine) blog-followers and sends them little texts or items he thinks they would enjoy. In appreciation for his random acts of kindness, I let him know I’d be pleased to give him a little gift as a sign of my appreciation. My surprise was that he did not want some text or great theological treatise of the past, but wanted the goods on Georgie Scholarios!
Well, I must begin my tale (or rather explain the origin of the sorrowful tale told by others) by acknowledging the fact that a numerically small but influential cabal of Byzantine theologians were only in recent times responsible for essentially voting poor Georgie-boy out of Orthodoxy (only about 500 year post mortem!). Nowadays, with revisional histories exonerating or restoring Origen, Evagrius, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Blessed Theodoret, poor George is still being picked on, though he doesn’t have any theological albatross hanging around his neck like all the aforementioned (namely, little things we call dishonorable mention by either Ecumenical Councils or one of their saintly Fathers)!
So, let my initially happy history start in 1445, the year on which St Mark of Ephesus most likely passed from this world to the next. Near death, Mark issued a famous last testament where he appointed his once school-boyish pupil and intimate, George (Gennadius) Scholarios as the successor of his legacy.1 A short time before, the two had had (from 1439 to the early 1440s) their first falling out over the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439). As a lay theologian or peritus, Scholarios had recommended union for increasingly practical reasons and even designed a couple abortive attempts to introduce conciliatory formulas to accept a patristic and Byzantine notion of the filioque to achieve union in order to save Constantinople militarily through union with the Latins.
Mark himself held a strong desire for union, as in his opening speech and initial talks with the Latins, as recorded in the conciliar Acts. But, as I have thoroughly shown, Latins-acting-badly and Dominicans-gone-wild were eventually too much for Mark of Ephesus, so he locked himself in his room (since he was chronically ill anyway) in the last months of the council.2 By spring of 1439, George was fairly enthusiastic about reaching a compromise, but some, as yet unknown, disappointment seems to have led to him abandoning the council before the union. Naturally, this meant that he was not there to add any real moral support to the various compromises and formulas put together in summer 1439 leading to the 06 July signing date. The next few years proved to be regretful for Scholarius, for he hints that he simply remained silent about Florence and quietly continued in faithful service to the emperor as the main teacher of philosophy and theology in what was his official appointment to the main theological school of Constantinople under the Patriarchate.
At the Council, Mark was likely too sick too leave, had he wanted to, and the eye-witness reports noted the excruciating pain that was on his face from his illness (mixed with annoyance) at the signing ceremony. Still, Mark was willing to have a last respectful conversation (an audience) with the pope before he left, once he found out that the emperor had his back. It is interesting that Mark bedazzled the Latins in his last meeting—partially explaining the lack of a formal condemnation of him at Florence—since after Pope Eugene warned him that he could lose his bishopric and even be canonically anathematized for not signing the decree, Mark—an editor of editions of ecumenical councils in Constantinople—reminded Eugene that no canons had been issued at Florence and that Mark had already assented to the papal decrees of Pope John VIII (879-880) that forbade the filioque. So, as Mark styled himself in the meeting, he was walking away with the same faith that he and previous popes had held (Pope Eugene and his entourage were rather perplexed, since the Photian conciliar acts and decrees  were not available to them in Latin, so they had no idea what to say).
Anyway, Mark returned to Constantinople, and after a series of adventures he convinced Scholarius to resist the union as the Holy Synaxis was formed in the early 1450s, if not before; whereupon, Scholarios became the moral leader of anti-Florentine Byzantines in Constantinople by the time of Mark’s death. Mark remained in communion with this group of hierarchs, clerics, and layman who initially attempted to argue for convoking a mini-council in Constantinople, to which Latins were going to be invited to come and even to preside, in order to renegotiate the terms and secure an Orthodox and patristic language and content that would lead to lasting union. Hopes for such a “reinterpretive synod” were crushed by 1452, when Pope Nicholas V demanded that Florence be promulgated publicly by the emperor or face cancellation of papal support for a crusade. Once Florence became the law of the land, the Holy Synaxis turned from its strategy of a better-negotiated union (theologically) to outright opposition against imposition of the Latin terms (and its perceived content) of the Florentine decree. Ironically, however, the Confession or full Creed, which was published by the Holy Synaxis under Gennadius’ skillful editorial hand, confessed western-sounding commitments to our ears: for example, the necessity of seven sacraments! Even more amusing, the Creed of the Holy Synaxis—similar to Mark of Ephesus’ own citations of John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) in his works (one of which is in my study above)—cited Duns Scotus on the sacrament of penance in order to dish out a one-two knock out punch to the Thomist theologians at Florence, who had argued about Purgatory, necessitating an unbreakable link between sacramental confession and the necessity of doing a penitential work in order to accomplish “satisfaction” for sin. Aquinas’ traditional critic, ole Duns, was drafted into the service by Orthodox (likely by Gennadius)3 to show them Florentine Thomists a thing or two … different times, different Orthodox propensities!
Well, most Orthodox readers know the tragic story thereafter. Constantinople was besieged, the Crusade at Varna failed, Constantinople fell, and Mehmet II pressed Gennadius Scholarius (up to 3x) to serve as the Patriarch of Constantinople. Eventually Scholarius, after losing so many beloved family and friends in his life, died a humble monk in a monastery sometime after 1472.
His memory was revered in the monastic communities. I possess some leaves of manuscripts with his icon depicted along with the halo or aureola—a sort of popular canonization in Byzantine books. Still, he was neither honored with a liturgical office nor a formal canonization in later years. That said, when the first Greek printing press was brought from England to the Greek isles in the 1623, Orthodox Metropolitan Metrophanes of Alexandria was likely behind its first choice of publishing … And whom might you think that he chose to print? Well … St Gregory Palamas’ two discourses on the Holy Spirit and … yes … selections from Gennadius Scholarius’ works. In fact, we find that, whether in Greece or elsewhere, Scholarius works were better circulated and well-known among Orthodox than those of Palamas. It was Scholarios that had been responsible for the survival or Orthodoxy in recent times; and it was his great piety, learning, and honoring of Mark of Ephesus that made sure that he was preeminently represented at the Orthodox printery.
How did Scholarios’ pristine reputation and unbridled Orthodoxy come under attack in recent years? Well, it was not just some fanatical Orthodox sect of anti-Latin-minded holier than thous … but rather Roman Catholic apologetics that were increasingly putting pressure to bear on Orthodox intellectuals. After Martin Jugie began publishing critical editions (8 vols) of Scholarios’ works in the early 1900s, he also began seeing Scholarios’ eclecticism as a tool for Orthodox-Catholic reunion. Fellow Catholic scholars were in agreement, but it was Jugie who became the unrivalled expert on Scholarios. By the universal standards of the day, Jugie was less polemical than most but still was rather demeaning in his assessments of Byzantine theology and its personalities. The sliding scale of appreciation by most Latin theologians tended to base itself off of how much or how little a Greek imitated Thomas Aquinas. It was even the Latin custom to suppress orthodox Franciscan publishing and censor works that were deemed not-thomistic-enough in those days. Not a few Bonaventuran and Scotistic texts had to be published posthumously, since the culture of apologetics against modernity tended to view any diversity in the presentation of Roman Catholic philosophy-theology as a threat to its truth-apologetic-value and unity, and thus to weaken its claim to hegemony over the intellectual world of study and practical world of belief. In this context, scathing comments were made about Palamas and anyone associated with his ideas or influence. The main sympathies of Latin writers flowed down to a small rivulet of Byzantine laymen (e.g., Demetrios Kydones) and churchmen (e.g., Prochoros Kydones), as a newly-discovered well-spring to nourish the Orthodox in post-Byzantium. Yet these early anti-palamitico-thomists only found themselves crushed and persecuted following Prochoros Kydones’ debates and contentions with Palamites on Mt. Athos, coming to a head in 1366-1368. So the literature, published mainly in the West, was full of vitriol for the enemies of the Byzantine thomistic school and Dominican mission to the East.
For his part, Martin Jugie’s masterstroke was to use the greatest champion of Orthodox independence from Rome (Gennadius Scholarius) as the very personage to bring about Orthodox-Catholic unity because of Scholarios’ overt love for the works, method, and even philosophical commitments of Thomas Aquinas. I have already shown that Scholarios was no inventor, nor original in this fact; but rather he was the first to actually come out of the theological closet wherein Joseph Bryennios, Makarios Makres, and his other pious Orthodox teachers had already been doing theology.4 They were used to cherry picking Thomas’ works in their own monasteries for decades, for they found very useful arguments against Islam, in favor of some or other local question, or to make more precise their philosophical acumen. While all these teachers of Scholarios used a smaller sample of Aquinas than he to do theology, they had all preserved the custom of silence instead of openly referring to their source, an unofficial damnatio memoriae. Because Aquinas had been theologically wrong on highly contentious issues (e.g., filioque), they tended to want his name to disappear in order that others not get the idea that he was an “approved” author. Still, his volumes were just too tantalizing to put down and collect dust. Hence, Scholarios only broke the real taboo of mentioning his source (Aquinas!), but hardly any verifiable restriction can be shown to exist in Greek monasteries for being (to whatever degree) a Thomist.
Now, as we get closer to the essence-energies question or distinction in Scholarios, we should note that Scholarios thought of himself as the greatest devotee of Thomism ever!? But … isn’t Palamism diametrically opposed to the Thomist distinction of reason or to use of the analogical concept of being? Well, traditionally both Greek and Latin Dominicans of the Renaissance, post-Reformation, and Neo-Scholastic eras have resoundingly said “yes,” as I explain in great detail in a recently published article by citing their names and some of their statements.5 Also, Mark of Ephesus and not a few Palamites thought just like the Dominicans; namely, the other side of the Adriatic was saying just the opposite. In reality, Scholarios was just too good at philosophical distinctions not to see that other options existed for reconciliation between Thomism and Palamism on the essence-energies question. My future description is not meant to convince you (I for one think there are problems), but to let you know that Scholarios was the only man (Latin or Greek) of the day with the skill to even see the potential of Bonaventure and Scotus to mitigate Thomas Aquinas according to the example of early eclectic Thomists in the Dominican tradition, e.g, the famous Dominican doctor Hervaeus Natalis (aka Harvey Christmas!).
This is what makes Scholarios unique. Scholarios actually had a certain historical consciousness of Thomism and its changing views that was far superior to Neo-Scholastics of the 19th-20th centuries. When we read Scholarios, we get the impression that his mature work is of a polymath who had devoured every Latin and Greek text of learning that he could get his hands on. By far, he found that Thomas Aquinas had the most to offer him in overall mastery of theology. Like it or not, much of what we do in method of talking points in theology nowadays is also conditioned by Aquinas’ delightful way of organizing questions and sectioning out theological puzzles. At any rate, Scholarios knew that to be “a Thomist” didn’t mean you had to monkey Thomas! Those of us who have had the misfortune of running into a dyed-in-the-wool self-styled Thomist might have a different experience, more similar to a Carmelite saint, Bl. Baptist of Mantua, who is the patron saint of Catholics persecuted by annoying Thomists who are always right about everything:
Yet these [Thomists] are unmindful of both Apostle and reason and want to compel all [sacred doctors] “in Thomas’ sense” and in such manner that they prefer their own [Thomas] for nearly all groups of religious orders, even those by far more ancient, just as for our [Carmelites] and the Hermits of St. Augustine. In such a way they strive to prefer Thomas over howsoever many are the body of doctors who flourished from the beginning of the Church, the fact of which manifests a lack of probity and prudence. First they bring Thomas forward as they please, but only allowing that [other doctors] speak according to their own mind. They don’t permit a peep from other doctors, for they impose silence, they make judgments disdainfully [on other doctors] from their judicial benches and will only hear the testimony of Thomas and they regard all other witnesses to be insignificant perjurers. They regard Thomas to have arrived at the absolute culmination of all doctrines in every genus of dogma. They place him in the supreme rank of nature, and call him the very means of knowledge among men. Why do they spit with cocked eyebrow upon the other doctors as if they were bereft of both nature and grace? (Opus aureum, 139.4-18)
Now, as I was trained by Dominicans, I attribute pretty much the lion’s share of my good insights and method in philosophy and theology to the Angelicum in Rome. So, far be from me to jump on faithful lovers of St. Thomas. But if you’ve been in the blogosphere, or a Catholic university long enough, Bl. Baptist description of “Thomists” is as if he were writing the editorial column of the school newspaper about an annoying sect of polemicists-students who seem only attracted to people with whom they can start a fight and then sling some cognate of “heresy” toward their interlocutor in order to feel that something good has happened to them today. It pains me to admit it … a bit … but one of the more recent studies of Scholarios at the Angelicum more or less reflects this Neo-Scholastic outlook on life that was written impervious to the documented history of Thomism. In a doctoral dissertation that meritoriously found out that Scholarios had not-quite-plagiarized into Greek a Latin commentary on Aquinas’ On being and essence, a certain very intelligent writer severely limited the rest of his thesis by failing to contribute anything to understanding either Scholarios’ commentary or to explain the historical situation of Thomism in the East, and even in the West, at the time in which Scholarios made his not-totally-a-translation of Armandus of Bellovisu.6 I don’t want to delve too much into this dissertation, but only show you that the old mentality (= early 1900s) is alive and well on both the Thomist, as well as Orthodox, side, where there is a fundamental misunderstanding of Byzantine theology from 1354-1453. If you want to know how much of this dissertation does not agree with the facts, I treat much of its overlapping content and themes in a recent publication.7
In support of my worldview, I would draw our attention not to my single opinion only, but to the Thomas de Aquino Byzantinus project, headed by Orthodox specialists who have been uncovering Byzantine theologians’ citations of Thomas Aquinas (and other Latin Scholastics) used in the writings of great Orthodox saints and official documents from the first extant translation (1354) until the fall of Constantinople. If we were to peruse their well documented citations of Orthodox saints and theologians using Thomas Aquinas, Peter Lombard, etc., we would find that it is not merely a matter of interpretation that Orthodox theology was ecumenical in the 15th century, but it now appears that theologians who somehow avoided doing theology without recourse to Scholastic terminology, works, and methods were the exception! My point is not to convert you, reader, to be Scholastic (μὴ γένοιτο!). It is only to inform you about the fact that all serious and quantitative scholarship is moving solidly in this direction. Yes, there will be hold-outs … indubitably the old guard who have made their bread n’ butter on unsubstantiated claims that Scholasticism and Palamism are fundamentally at odds on so many profound questions of theology. However, Palamas’ ever-increasing cache of Augustinian citations (styled as the smoking gun for Scholastics’ decadence in theology), and saintly Palamite positive employment of wholesale terms, citations, and ideas from Aquinas, mean that the neo-zealot of “unadulterated” Orthodoxy will need to equip himself with a brand-new version of something like an ex novo Romanides-program to somehow distract us from the fact that almost all Palamites willingly absorbed significant chunks of St Augustine, St Thomas, and (increasingly) Bl. Duns Scotus to make Palamite theology the most latinophrôn or latin-minded group of theologians next to the Russian academies of the Enlightenment.
Am I to glory in this? Well, I don’t. I don’t find Aquinas to be my bread n’ butter, but I do enjoy seeing what other people had to say about him historically. Is my purpose to tell you that thinking latin-minded is “the Orthodox Way”? Nope, I think a lot of Scholastic puzzling is irrelevant and passé. However, my purpose is to let the real Scholarios stand up and be counted. Scholarios was the end term of the movement, as in the paragraph above.
When Meyendorff and others felt culturally pressured to go after Scholarios, to posthumously defrock him of his Orthodox habit, it was in the historical circumstances wherein so few of the Palamite works had been critically produced, that Scholarios’ works (available since the 1930s) seemed to betray an ugly duckling. All other Mallards and domesticated ducks of then au courant Orthodoxy waddled on over to pick on defenseless Georgie. Well, you know the story, now that scholarship has matured, it might just be that that ugly duckling actually turns out to be a beautiful swan. I don’t know how Mallards feel about that, after all Swans are larger than life threatening beauties that even a Canadian goose knows to avoid lest he be sunk when trying to enter the lake. By analogy, Scholarios’ towering command and exposition of theology never compromised Orthodoxy’s traditional commitments to its Creed, to Church rights, to Liturgy, nor to her Saints. What he did commit was the “crime” of allowing himself to appreciate people outside of Orthodoxy, who had better insights than ethno-centrics (who were not Palamites, by and large!) living in the ruins of a once great empire. Yes, I am making an apologia pro Scholario, but the fringe benefit for most readers is that I am also providing them with plan to save Palamism! What … a Latin to save Palamas? If the old narrative is maintained (Orthodoxy is the only way, Orthodoxy and Palamism are one, Palamism is the antithesis of the West), then Orthodoxy has put itself at war with itself by apotheosizing Palamite saints who gladly employed western theologians/theology in their theological projects. Instead, if we adopt Scholarios back into Orthodoxy as her hero, we allow Palamism to be what it historically was—an ecumenical theology of learned Byzantines who didn’t mind Aquinas if he said something useful to Orthodoxy.
Well, if you aren’t keeping up on our Thomas de Aquino Byzantinus project … that’s ok, we’ll do it all the same because it’s fun and rewarding (and, for some, it’s to eat 3 squares a day). Still, future publications will be citing Nicholas Cabasilas’ use of Augustine and Peter Lombard’s Sentences. Also, new discoveries have found Mark of Ephesus quoting Duns Scotus’ Sentences commentary in his arguments against Thomists on prime matter. Scholars have found a solid quotation of the Summa Contra Gentiles of Aquinas in St Nicholas Cabasilas’ Life of Christ,8 while others have shown that Augustine was ubiquitous, as Aquinas is gradually appearing to be. Now, there are quite a few disagreements with Aquinas among traditional Orthodox theologians of these last centuries of Byzantium. There is even the occasional name calling. Scholarios’ boldness merely consisted in publicly announcing what everyone else was already doing, albeit in a more limited way—namely, ecumenical theology.
In my next installment, I plan on jumping into the technical aspects of Scholarios’ actual teaching on the Palamite distinction. Stay tuned. If you psychologically need Patriarch Gennadios (and Palamas, for that matter) to fall into a simple category … I aim to disappoint!
￼ Address of St Mark of Ephesus on the Day of His Death
￼ Christiaan Kappes, “A Latin Defense of Mark of Ephesus at the Council of Ferrar-Florence (1438-1439)”
￼ Christiaan Kappes, “A New Narrative for the Reception of Seven Sacraments into Orthodoxy”
 Christiaan Kappes, “A Provisional Definition of Byzantine Theology contra “Pillars of Orthodoxy”
 Christiaan Kappes, “Palamas Among the Scholastics”
￼ Hugh Christopher Barbour, The Byzantine Thomism of Gennadios Scholarios
￼ Christiaan Kappes, “Latin Sources of the Palamite Theology of George-Gennadios Scholarios”
￼ De vita in Christo, which contains a latent but direct and faithful paraphrase of Aquinas’ Summa contra Gentiles III.63.7
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Fr Christiaan Kappes, SLD, PhL, is the Academic Dean of Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius, as well as Professor of Liturgical Theology and Professor of Dogmatic Theology