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.

This entry was posted in augustine, orthodoxy by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

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