Augustine in Ottoman Greece and Tsarist Russia

P & D also show that Augustine continued to be held as an authority in the Eastern churches throughout the Ottoman empire and in Russia.  They point out that St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite “included Augustine’s name among the saints to be commemorated on June 15, when he completed his monumental revision of the Synaxarion (a calendar of saint’s feast days) between 1805 and 1807.”

The authors also explain that in Russian under Peter I (1672-1725) and Catherine II (1729-1796) there were strong movements to Westernize the Russian church.  Latin replaced Greek and old Slavonic as the intellectual language, and western books were brought in.  In response to this Westernization at the orders of the Tsars, the Slavophile movement arose which did condemn Augustine as the father of Western theology, but this was not a dominant intellectual movement.  P & D note, “For the most part, however, the Russian intellectual response to Augustine was a generous critical engagement.”  A footnote says, “In fact, the Orthodox Theological Encyclopedia (St. Petersburg, 1900), 108, asserted that ‘the teaching of Augustine cane be accepted as the image of true Orthodox Christian teaching'” (20-21).

Papanikolaou and Demacopoulos also note that Bulgakov, in the late 19th and early 20th century, warmly embraced Augustine as a true and better development from the Cappadocians.


Augustine in Late Byzantium

I’ve already blogged on Photius’ appreciation of Augustine, as well as Michael Palaiologos’ desire to Westernize the Byzantine Church.  In the same article Papanikolaou and Demacopoulos also show that Augustine was read on Mt. Athos and held as an authority by Mark of Ephesus.  P & D write:

Mark of Ephesus, the fifteenth-century leader of the anti-unionist cause, accepted the authority of Augustine at the Council of Florence (1438-39) and even quoted from his Epistulae Soliloquiorum, and De Trinitate during debates on purgatory.  Mark repeatedly referred to Augustine as ho makarios Augoustinos (Blessed Augustine) and conlcudes one lengthy collection of proof-texts (which include several references to Augustine) by noting that all of these statements were offered by teachers of the Church.

~ pg. 16

Michael VIII Palaiologos

In their survey of Augustine and Byzantium, Papanikolaou and Demacopoulos give a handy sketch of Emperor Michael VIII.  Here’s what they have to say:

Michael assumed the throne of the Empire of Nicaea in 1261 and of Byzantium (upon his successful capture of Constantinople) in 1263.  He held that position until his death in 1282.  As one of the stipulations for lasting union pronounced at the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, the Latin fathers were to be translated into Greek so that the eastern Church could conform to the teachings of the West.

~pg. 15

Michael VIII was not necessarily a charming fellow.  The Byzantine elite loved to humiliate those beneath them, especially their enemies, and Michael was no different.  Elizabeth Fisher, another contributor to Orthodox Readings of Augustine, has this to say about one of Michael’s less noble acts:

Michael VIII ordered ten opponents of the union to be roped together, laden with sheep entrails and dung, and led through the city, with [Manuel] Holobolos [a rhetorician and critic of Michael VIII] as their leader.  Holobolos was further humiliated by blows to the mouth with sheep’s livers.

~pg. 47

You gotta love those golden ages.

Augustine and Photius

Papanikolaou and Demacopoulos continue with their survey of Augustine’s role in the East.  They move to the high point of controversy, with Photius and the filioque:

There may be no better example of the Byzantine Church’s high regard for Augustine than Photius’ defense of him in the midst of the filioque controversy.  Photius entered the trinitarian maelstrom in the late 860s when he included an attack on the filioque as part of a larger campaign to protect the Byzantine Church (and his own position as patriarch) from the encroachments of Pope Nicholas I…

Because he did not have the actual Latin texts at his disposal, Photius relied upon alternative methods when he addressed the fact that the Franks claimed to ground their position in the teachings of Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine.  For example, he proposed that the original texts of these saints might have been corrupted or that more pressing reasons, now unknown, required these fathers temporarily to resort to an exaggeration of the Orthodox teaching in order to prevent some other, more dangerous, alternative.  Another of his strategies, however, might be the most compelling for modern readers.  Photius argued that if Augustine taught something only slightly divergent from the rule of faith, without any malicious intent and without the foreknowledge of a subsequent error, he cannot be held accountable for the later provocateurs of heresy who would use his teachings illegitimately to promote their own error.  He also insisted that the conscientious Christian is the one who hides the human flaws of their “fathers” (like the sons of Noah who covered their father’s nakedness) rather than expose them for their own purposes.

~ Orthodox Readings of Augustine pg. 14

I suppose I should refrain from calling anyone a son of Ham at this point.  It is remarkable that even Photius, perhaps the most contentiously anti-Western Byzantine leader, still regarded Augustine as a father of the Church.

I think Photius’ arguments are wrong, and I think it is pretty bad form to make some of those excuses, but nevertheless, it is worth remembering that he is not on the neo-Palamites’ side when it comes to the historical narrative.  It seems that no one prior to the middle of the 20th century is.

Augustine in Byzantium

I’ve been excitedly reading through Orthodox Readings of Augustine.  I attended the conference a year and a half ago, but I have to confess, I did not know much of what I was listening to.  I’ve had time to catch up between then and now, and I can see that these papers are brilliant and important.  The first article in the book is by the editors, Aristotle Papinikolaou and George Demacopoulos, and it surveys the history of Augustine in the East.  Not to give away the whole thing, but they maintain that Augustine did not become a “bad guy” until the 1950s.

They cover Augustine’s place in the East by historical epochs.  The first of these is Byzantium, and it is clear that Augustine is considered a theological authority (though not the primary one) and a doctor of the Church:

There is little doubt that pockets within the Byzantine vaguely remained aware of the theological contributions of Augsutine.  The acta of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (meeting in Constantinople in 553) acknowledges Augustine in three ways: it lists him among the “holy fathers and doctors of the Church”; it includes excerpts from his writings among the florilegia; and it documents that some of his letters were read publicly during hte deliberations of the fifth session.  What is perhaps ironic with respect to the present East/West dichotomy concerning Augustine is that this appropriation of the bishop of Hippo in 553 was used to convince Pope Vigilius to accept the condemnation of the Three Chapters.  In other words, the Greek and African delegates at the council used the authority of Augustine to convince Pope Vigilius to accept the consensus of the assembly!  Subsequent eastern councils similarly acknowledge the authority of Augustine and, in at least one case, cited a florilegium taken from the In Evangelium Johannis tractatus (Tractates on the Gospel of John).

pg. 13

More to come.