This review article is a collective work of five scholars who have written their reviews and/or responses to the twelve chapters of the recently published Cambridge Intellectual History of Byzantium. These reviews discuss such issues as institutional settings, classical scholarship, rhetoric, political theory, literary criticism, historiography, logic, and philosophy in Byzantium. They also deal with the reception of the Neoplatonic ideas in Byzantium as well as with some individual figures such as Maximos the Confessor and Michael Psellos.
This new compendium of the Cambridge Intellectual History of Byzantium (CIHB) is so interesting and thought-provoking that several authors representing different approaches wrote reviews (or responses) from their own viewpoint on a number of chapters of it. The sections of this review article do not follow the order of the book’s chapters, since these sections reflect the personal approach and scholarly interests of each individual reviewer of the relevant corresponding chapters of the CIHB. Thus, we give a list of both the numbers of the review article sections and the reviewed chapters of the CIHB. This review article does not cover the whole of the compendium; it does not discuss the idea of the volume as such. It just deals with twelve out of its thirty-eight chapters.
The sections below are penned by Dmitry Chernoglazov (1 (review of the ch. 1), 2 (ch. 4), 3 (ch. 6), 4 (ch. 7), 5 (ch. 34), 6 (ch. 35)); Grigory Benevich (7 (ch. 16), 8 (ch. 20), 9 (ch. 24)); Arkadi Choufrine (10 (ch. 18)); Oksana Goncharko (11 (ch. 21); Timur Schukin with Dmitry Chernoglazov (12 (ch. 26)).
Chapter 1: Institutional Settings
Chapter 1, “Institutional Settings: The Court, Schools, Church”, written by Jonathan Harris, an outstanding expert in the history of Byzantium, is an important introduction to the CIHB. The task of the chapter is to characterize the centers and institutions where knowledge was transmitted and intellectual life flourished. The essay by Harris creates a clear and distinct picture of how the Byzantines received higher education, and in which settings intellectual activities were conducted. The problem is that this clarity is deceptive, and the picture turns out to be too unambiguous and simplistic. Studying the Byzantine system of education and intellectual life is an uneasy task. We have a lot of evidence at our disposal, but most of it is found in literary sources - letters, historical works, etc., which contain very few accurate documentary data. When Byzantine children went to school, how the educational process was organized, where the line between secondary and higher education was drawn, what libraries existed in Constantinople and how they functioned – we cannot answer any of these questions clearly and thoroughly. Presented by Harris, everything seems clearer than it really is.
Firstly, when the author speaks of “secular higher education”, he seems to be mixing the secondary education (ἐγκύκλιος παιδεία) and the third, higher stage, which can be conventionally called the University of Constantinople. The “University”, organized by Theodosios II, the school in Magnaura, founded by caesar Bardas and the schools of philosophy and law in the 11th c. are institutions of the third stage, although very different in their structure and function; education, which was “traditional and highly formalized” and “in practice ... involved in the study of the literature and philosophy of ancient Greece” (p. 29), is egkyklios paideia, secondary education, which was not interrupted even during the Dark Ages.1
Secondly, Harris contrasts secular and spiritual education: he argues that the “Patriarchal school” or “Patriarchal academy” was an alternative to secular education. This academy, as we are told, existed already since the 5th c., was restored by Herakleios in the 7th c., then by the patriarch Photios in the 9th c., and flourished in the 12th c. under the Komnenoi (p. 32). Meanwhile, the existence of the “Patriarchal school” until the 12th c. is denied by the most modern researchers. The hypothesis that it was founded in the early Byzantine period, and then restored under Michael III, was made by F. Dvornik,2 but convincingly refuted by P. Lemerle.3 As for the 12th c., it is possible to speak of the “Patriarchal School” only with certain reservations: if a school was attached to a church (for example, to the church of St. Apostles), it does not mean that it offered a spiritual education different from the secular curriculum; teachers were appointed and funded by the state.4 In general, in Byzantium (with the possible exception of the Paleologan period)5, there was no clear division into secular and ecclesiastical education. If the author still insists on the existence of a “Patriarchal Academy” throughout the whole Byzantine history, it should be pointed out that this issue remains problematic and subject to debate.
Thirdly, we are told that the centers of intellectual activity of the Byzantines were the imperial court and monasteries, which Harris considers in detail (p. 32-36). Meanwhile, since the 11th c., and especially in the 12th and 14th cc., the so-called θέατρα, circles of intellectuals gathered around the noble patrons become the focus of scholarship, literature and intellectual communication.6 These “theaters” (this key word is not mentioned by Harris at all) cannot be classified exclusively as “intellectual activity at the court”, since some of their founders, although being members of the highest nobility or even the imperial family (Anna Komnene, sebastokratorissa Irene etc.), stood in opposition to the court. The importance of “theaters” for the development of Byzantine science cannot be overestimated - their holders funded a huge number of the literary and scholarly texts which are known to us.
A somewhat simplified approach to the material is also evident in particular details. One example: Harris notes that “not all those who are educated in the university spent the rest of their careers in the imperial administration” (p. 31) and refers to examples of Photios, John Mauropous and Michael Choniates. It seems, however, that the cases of Michael Choniates and John Mauropous are essentially different: the former made a spiritual career from the very beginning and became indeed a “scholar-bishop”, whereas the latter, on the contrary, floruit at imperial court and was ordained metropolitan against his will, retiring to the Euchaita as an honorable exile.
Chapter 4: Classical Scholarship
Eleanor Dickey is a leading expert in the history of the ancient Greek language and ancient scholarship, and her essay on the Byzantine “grammar” (using the Byzantine term) is written from the viewpoint of a classical philologist. The chapter 4 “Classical scholarship: the Byzantine contribution” is a useful, concise and informative essay that shows the achievements of Byzantines in the field of philology: orthography, syntax, lexicography, epimerismoi (grammatical commentaries on ancient texts), lexika, editions and exegesis of ancient literature, etc. On the one hand, Dickey traditionally emphasizes the role of the Byzantines in the transmission of ancient texts, and on the other - which is more innovative - emphasizes that Byzantine scholarship is worth studying in itself, since the Byzantines “developed complex systems of exegesis and analysis that are, in many cases, completely unlike anything used today”. This area remains still unexplored, and “significant discoveries can still be made” (p. 64).
The first thing that raises questions in Dickey’s essay is the concept of “Byzantine classical scholarship” (p. 64, 66, 69), denoting the whole of material considered in this chapter. With regard to Byzantium, this term seems problematic. “Classical scholarship”, as the study of the language and culture of the “classical antiquity”, arose in Western Europe during the period of the Humanism. In Byzantium there was no concept of “antiquity” and “classics”, and therefore it is hardly productive to speak of “classical scholarship” in Byzantium. The introduction of this term would entail methodological difficulties. For example, Photios in his “Bibliotheke” retells and characterizes both ancient and medieval texts, proceeding from the same philological principles. If we introduced the notion of the “Byzantine classical scholarship”, it would have to be attributed not to all kodikes of “Bibliotheke” and, thereby, we would draw new and unnatural boundaries within the uniform treatise. In our opinion, it would be more appropriate to preserve the term “philology”, used in this respect by Herbert Hunger.7 This would expand the scope of the material in question: we would be able to take into account, for example, collections of excerpts from historiographers made on behalf of Constantine Porphyrogennetos, which covered both ancient and early Byzantine authors.
The second thing that seems problematic is the structure of the chapter. The first part gives a general chronological survey and refers to the “general works” (p. 71) of the main authors; then follows Byzantine scholarship concerning individual ancient authors - Homer, Sophocles, etc .; in the final part of the chapter, the author turns to “works on the Greek language” (p. 77), i.e, again to general works on syntax, dialects, etymologies and lexicons. As a result, the same works are mentioned twice - in the first and in the last part, which it would be reasonable to unite. In addition, the works on different branches of philology – such as grammar, syntax, dialects, lexicology, etc. – should be grouped thematically, as it has been done in Hunger’s handbook. In general, since this chapter treats not so much the transmission of knowledge as the achievements of Byzantine scholars, would not it be better to place it at the beginning of the second section – “Sciences of the Word”? Like in the Byzantine trivium, philology (or “grammar”) would be a gateway to rhetorical theory.
We can also cast doubt on some of Dickey’s particular assessments. Thus, speaking of the selectivity of the Byzantines with respect to the copying of ancient texts, she asserts that “in the early period the Byzantines were far more interested in prose than in poetry” (p. 63). It is not clear what she means by the “early period” here. Further (p. 69) the author notes that “significant shift from the early Byzantine period” occurs in 12th c., when John Tzetzes gives more attention to poets than to prose. Thus, if the “early period” means all the time from the 6th to the 11th c., it should be mentioned that interest in poetry is not lacking during this time – as an example we may recall the “Palatine anthology” and the earlier collections of epigrams on which it is based (e.g., the cycle of Agathias etc.)8. Another statement that raises questions is: “the most important role of the Byzantines” “in the propagation of scholarship” “had always been transmission rather than creation” (p. 69). This view, reducing the role of Byzantium to the transmission of ancient heritage and the mediation between Antiquity and the West European Renaissance - the locus communis of the 19th c. Byzantine studies – has been overcome and refuted. A lot of evidence to the opposite can be found in other chapters of this monograph and even in Dickey’s essay, where, as has already been mentioned, the originality of the Byzantine scholarship is emphasized.
Chapter 6: Rhetoric and Rhetorical Theory9
Rhetoric was an important component of Byzantine culture, and therefore the chapter on it is extremely important in the context of the intellectual history of Byzantium. The author of this essay, Stratis Papaioannou - a leading specialist in the field of Byzantine rhetoric and letter-writing, the editor of the letters of Michael Psellos - demonstrates close acquaintance with the Byzantine rhetorical theory.
In his chapter on rhetoric, the author limits himself to the analysis of rhetorical theory, because taking the rhetorical practice into consideration would force him to analyze the whole of Byzantine belles lettres. The general evolution of the rhetorical theory is traced, its main features are characterized. It is rightly asserted that the rhetorical theory of the Byzantines is more than sheer reception of ancient heritage and commenting on Corpus Hermogenianum (p. 106). The desideratum of the Byzantine studies is rightly indicated – to study in detail the rhetorical theory, embodied both in independent treatises, already long published, but not studied, and in numerous scholia to ancient texts (p. 104). Here, as well as in the sphere of Byzantine philology (see above), the study of notes on the margins of manuscripts can bring significant discoveries.
Papaioannou’s essay outlines the subject in general, but doing so, it clearly lacks some basic necessary information. It seems to be expected that the reader is familiar with the sources and research concerning the Late Antique and Byzantine rhetorical theory. Meanwhile, aiming at the reader who is not a specialist in this field,10 it would be reasonable to describe in more detail, what the progymnasmata are and what is the subject of each of the four parts of corpus Hermogenianum. In the section on the Late Antique theory, Menander of Laodikeia is not mentioned at all, whereas his treatises greatly influenced the rhetorical practice of the Byzantines and were used by the compilers of textbooks and compendia. In general, in this essay (unlike the other chapters of CIHB) there are few mentions of specific authors and their works - only the main stages of development are outlined. Besides, almost nothing is told about the contribution of scholars of the Paleologan period, although the 13th - the beginning of the 14th c. was a period of a genuine renaissance of the rhetorical theory: new editions with prolegomena were created (the well-known edition of Hermogenes and Aphthonios is connected with Maximos Planoudes), new textbooks and synopses were written, new progymnasmata were composed, etc.11 It would be important, in our opinion, to pay attention to the epistolary theory as well: the letter in Byzantium was perceived as a kind of rhetoric, and the epistolary theory was constructed and developed according to the same model as the rhetorical one: 40/41 epistolary types (or styles) of Pseudo-Libanios correspond to Aphthonios’ progymnasmata, both collections contain elementary models for imitation, accompanied by theoretical advice, both were apparently included in the school curriculum.12
Papaioannou’s statement that rhetorical theory had little effect on the practice also seems questionable: “… we may assume that rhetorical skill was often learned, transmitted, developed by apprenticeship and by imitation of master-rhetors ..., rather than by reading commentaries on the treatise On Forms” (p. 112). Does it mean that the Byzantines did not study Hermogenes at school, but immediately took up the speeches of Demosthenes or Libanios and so comprehended the rules of rhetoric? Of course, they might not have read the lengthy scholia of the Byzantine commentators (they could perceive such comments verbally, at school from their teacher of rhetoric), but they surely read Aphthonios’ and Hermogenes’ treatises, at least the synopses of Corpus Hermogenianum. For example, the structure of the enkomion prescribed by Aphthonios is easily revealed in a plenty of secular panegyrics and hagiographic encomia.13
There are also some minor inaccuracies in this chapter, of which we bring only one into focus. Talking about the concept of “rhetoric” and “rhetorician” in Byzantium, Papaioannou distinguishes the category of professional rhetoricians or sophists, for whom “rhetoric was the means by which they made their living” (p. 102). He gives two examples of such professionals – Eustathios of Thessalonike and Gregory of Nazianzos. Gregory of Nazianzos, as far we know, entered ascetic life immediately after completing his education in Athens, and it remains unclear why he is labeled as a “professional sophist” here. In addition, it could be noted that the “sophists” (teachers of rhetoric) of the 4th c. (e.g, Libanios) and professional rhetoricians of the 12th c., like Theodoros Prodromos or John Tzetzes, are completely different social categories.14
Chapter 7: Byzantine Literary Criticism and the Classical Heritage
Manolis Bourbouhakis’ essay on literary criticism is of particular interest, since its subject is far from being explored so thoroughly as, for example, Byzantine political theory, rhetoric or philology. In Hunger’s handbook there is not even a small chapter on literary criticism; the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium does not refer to any general monograph on this topic. The fact is that literary criticism of the Byzantines began to be studied relatively recently. Now we have at our disposal a number of articles and works on Byzantine literary criticism, but all this is research on individual authors. The creation of a general overview was the task of Bourbouhakis himself, and he performed it brilliantly. The literary criticism of the Byzantines is analyzed in chronological order, which allows us to trace its evolution. Attention is concentrated on the most important authors - Photios, Michael Psellos, John Tzetzes, Eustathios of Thessalonike and Theodore Metochites.
The only fundamental objection concerning this chapter is that Bourbouhakis - like Dickey in Chapter 4 - limits himself to the framework of the classical heritage. It shows both in the title of the chapter and in the selection of material: only those cases where Byzantine authors express their opinion about the ancient literature are taken into account. Meanwhile, as the philological studies of the Byzantines stretch far beyond the bounds of the ancient period, the object of their literary criticism is not only what we perceive as “classical antiquity”. Most importantly, the Byzantines apply the same criteria to both ancient and recent texts, since, as we argued above, they did not have the notion of “classical antiquity”, and a contemporary work written in proper rhetorical style and Attic language could also serve an example for mimesis. Therefore, the comparison between Euripides and Georgios Pisides undertaken by Michael Psellos did not probably seem to the Byzantines “bold and unexpected” (p. 119), as it seems to a modern researcher.
If the author did not limit himself to Byzantines’ criticism of the ancient heritage, the essay would have turned out much more complete. In that case, much more could be told about Michael Psellos as a literary critic.15 Psellos expresses judgments not only about the works of Homer or Euripides, but also about the writings of the Church fathers (primarily about the style of Gregory of Nazianzos), as well as about his contemporaries - John Mauropous, Constantine Lichoudes, John Italos, and others, even about himself. Psellos’ “Enkomion to Symeon Metaphrastes” is one of the most interesting examples of Byzantine literary criticism. Judgments about the style of contemporaries can be found also in the works of other authors, for example, John Tzetzes.
Chapter 34: Basileia: The Idea of Monarchy in Byzantium, 600-1200
Chapter 34 “Basileia: The Idea of Monarchy in Byzantium, 600-1200”, written by Paul Magdalino, is a brilliant essay on Byzantine political theory. The political theory of the Byzantines is a well explored subject. A significant contribution to its study was made by Magdalino himself, whose monograph on Manuel Komnenos16 is well known to any Byzantinist.
It is analyzed how the ideology of the imperial power changed with time, the main stages and trends are distinguished. The author limited himself to the period from 600 to 1200, i.e. from Herakleios to the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders. The choice of these dates is explained at the very beginning of the chapter by the fact that during this period the Byzantine empire “achieved its highest level of political cohesion and common identity” (p. 575). However, the breakdown of this ideology after 1204 does not make it less interesting, and it remains to be regretted that this period did not receive at least a brief description within the framework of this chapter. Many Byzantine intellectuals of the Paleologan period speculate on political theory and, most importantly, Theodore Metochites and George Gemistos Plephon. The latter even proposes a concept of constitutional monarchy, completely innovative for the Byzantine state. In general, the Paleologan period is interesting because the thinkers of this era, foreseeing the rapid collapse of the Roman power, reflect on the very foundations of Byzantine ideology and often re-evaluate them.
In Magdalino’s article, there are only a few statements that seem to be problematic.
Firstly, one could question the point of view expressed at the beginning of the chapter – that there survives only a small number of treatises on government and political theory of the Middle Byzantine period (p. 575). This statement is refuted by the author himself, considering a number of monuments of the 7th -12th centuries immediately related to political theory. Mirrors of princes and legislative sources of this period constitute a fairly extensive fund, allowing to trace the evolution of political thought.
Secondly, one can call in question Magdalino’s classification of the representations of the imperial power according to their sources. These representations are divided into 3 groups: 1) “those that are issued by the ruling monarch personally or in his or her name”; 2) official “representations of the emperor, that were produced on the initiative of some governmental or ecclesiastical office” ; 3) “the written output of private individuals and institutions who were writing and acting without any direct official authorization” (p. 576-577). Even if we divide surviving representations into these three groups (this can be a difficult task), such a classification will still be hardly relevant. Belonging to different groups will not mean different images. For example, the “Vita Basilii” obviously belongs to group 1, but the image of the emperor there is the same as in the “History of emperors” attributed to Genesios, which belongs to group 2. Anna Komnene’s “Alexiade” was written “without any direct official permission” and therefore can be attributed to group 3, but the image of Alexios I Komnenos, depicted by his daughter, is quite consistent with the official ideology.
Chapter 35: Historiography as Political Debate
The task of the chapter “Historiography as Political Debate”, written by Dimitris Krallis, was to give a brief outline of Byzantine historiography and show that the narrative of the events (both contemporary and of the distant past) was determined by the political views of their authors. Krallis shows that when writing history, Byzantine authors express the opinion of a particular social group or pursue their personal goals. Mainly, the period from the 9th to the 12th c. is considered (from Theophanes the Confessor to Niketas Choniates), but historical works of the authors of the 11th c., John Skylitzes, Michael Attaleiates and Michael Psellos, are analyzed in a most detailed way.
One could hardly dispute the fact that almost any historical work (antique, medieval or modern) is politically biased, and to reveal the political tendency of a historian is an important task of a researcher. However, to what extent is such a study appropriate within the framework of the intellectual history? In this context, it does not matter that historian A praised the present ruler B and criticized the overthrown C, because A was an approximate of B – it is important what criteria this author chooses for criticism and praise. The negative image of the emperor could be created in different ways: the emperor could be portrayed as the incarnation of Evil (Justinian by Procopius of Kaisareia), as a drunkard and lover of horseraces (Michael III by Theophanes Continuatus) or as a tyrant violating laws (Alexios I Komnenos by John Zonaras). The image of the ideal emperor and the criteria of Kaiserlob and Kaiserkritik (to refer to the well-known Magdalino’s article)17 changed in accordance with ideological principles, and it would be interesting to trace this evolution. Of course, the historiography of the Paleologan period should also be included in the review, for it is then that the “political debate” between the historians reached their climax - I mean, first of all, the controversy between two outstanding historians of the 14th c., Nikephoros Gregoras and John Kantakouzenos.
Another topic that should have been developed in this chapter is the influence of chronographers’ political views on their narrative about the distant past. This problem is stated by Krallis at the beginning of the chapter, but in fact he addresses it very rarely. As we know, Theophanes the Confessor and John Zonaras subjected their sources to ideological correction and viewed the past through the prism of modernity – this trend would be important to analyze.
In addition to these general remarks, it is possible to indicate a whole series of Krallis’s statements that seem to us controversial.
Analyzing John Zonaras’s political position, the author asserts: “In Zonaras’ republican reading of history, the emperor is but an instrument of the polity, the Roman res publica” (p. 611). To our opinion, attributing republican views to John Zonaras is hardly correct. Zonaras’s ideal was the legitimate ruler (ἔννομος βασιλεύς), preserving the laws, to which he opposed the tyrant, ruling at his own will. The antithesis “legitimate emperor – tyrant” was characteristic of early Byzantine political theory, which is reflected in many texts, such as, for example, the speech De regno by Synesios of Kyrene, who was by no means a supporter of republican ideas. The motive of the emperor’s responsibility to the laws (moral or political) often appears in Byzantine sources, and it would be wrong to label “republican” any author who insisted on this responsibility. Discovering “republican views” by Zonaras as well as by Michael Psellos (p. 610) is obviously consonant with the concept of A. Kaldellis,18 but the discussion of his monography is beyond the scope of this review.
Concerning the history of Leo Diakonos, Krallis notes: “His History is mostly focused on the feats and reign of the warrior emperor and quasi-usurper Nikephoros II Phokas” (p. 605). It is difficult to agree with this statement: Leo, as we know, pays equal attention to two rulers - Nikephoros II Phokas and John I Tzimiskes. One can also question the term “epic history” concerning the chronicle of Constantine Manasses (p. 612): Manasses’s chronicle is a long poem written in political verse, which does not belong to the ancient tradition of epic poems. The prosaic Alexiad is certainly closer to an epic genre than the versified Manasses’ chronicle. A series of similar examples of small inaccuracies could be continued.
Chapter 16: “Philosophy and the ‘Byzantine philosophy’” 19
Chapter 16, “Philosophy and the ‘Byzantine philosophy’”, jointly written by the renowned specialist in Arabic Medieval philosophy, Dimitri Gutas, and by one of the editors of the volume, Nikitas Siniossoglou, is perhaps one of the most important and stimulating chapters of the CIHB. This chapter challenges a widespread understanding of “Byzantine philosophy”,20 arguing that “philosophy” in the strict sense as it was conceptualised in Ancient Greece, as well as in the Arabic and Latin Middle Ages and in the modern period, differs radically from what is now called “Byzantine philosophy”. Indeed, it questions the use of the very term “Byzantine philosophy”.
The approach that Gutas and Siniossoglou have taken may well have an important impact on the field called “Byzantine philosophy” that has flourished during the last two decades. It is now time for the proponents of this field to reflect philosophically what it is that they study and on what grounds and with what legitimisation they study it.
Whereas volumes such as The Ways of Byzantine Philosophy 21 or Maximus the Confessor as a European Philosopher 22 have recently been published, the authors of the present chapter question the right of their authors to call patristic writers such as Maximos the Confessor, John of Damascus or Gregory Palamas “philosophers”. They are quite aware that some patristic writers, for example Maximos the Confessor, were called philosophers by the Byzantine Church tradition. However, they argue that the very meaning of philosophy, and the understanding of its place and its role within this tradition were so different from its traditional philosophical meaning, that from our point of view, (which is external to that of the Byzantine Christian world,) it would be wrong to accept this Byzantine terminology. Our secular philosophical and scholarly practice is quite different, and there is no ground for calling “a philosophy” that which was not really so from our point of view.
I will not repeat the arguments put forward by the authors of this chapter. In general, I find these arguments quite well formulated and thought-provoking, although their understanding of true philosophy as “an open-ended and critical inquiry” (p. 276) is perhaps somewhat utopian, especially as regards the Ancient and Medieval world, where some religious presuppositions could easily be found in the main schools of philosophy. However, it is true that for the most part these presuppositions were defended by rational, philosophical, open discussion in which generally their opponents’ arguments were treated with much more attention and reverence than Christian thinkers of the Byzantium used to pay to pagan philosophers when they polemicized against them.23 One cannot but agree that in general the ideologically and politically rigid world of Byzantium was for the most part (certainly with some exceptions) hostile, or at least indifferent, to true independent philosophical inquiry and “philosophers’ philosophy” (p. 282) as such.
However, although agreeing in many points with the main arguments of the authors of the reviewed chapter, I would like to discuss with some precision one of their statements about Maximos the Confessor, who perhaps had the most philosophical mind among the patristic writers: “It is particularly ironic that Maximos the Confessor (or, for that matter, Gregory Palamas) are seen as ‘Byzantine philosophers’ when, in reality, their main concern was to safeguard the autonomy of ecclesiastical experience rather than the autonomy of philosophical discourse. In fact, the distinction that they consistently drew was not between theology and philosophy, but between an inferior human or worldly philosophy and a higher type of ascetic or spiritual philosophy that is very different in essence from the former” (p. 284). I will not discuss at length the case of Gregory Palamas. However, in respect of Maximos, one important remark must be made that perhaps will permit us to take a new step in the investigation of the issue of the “Byzantine philosophy”.
Firstly, one could stress that Maximos was quite aware of the difference between philosophical and purely theological approaches in which arguments were taken from the Holy Scripture and tradition. For example, in his letter 6 to Bishop John, he wrote: “I accept without any disagreement your order that forces me to show through the natural demonstration (ἀποδεῖξαι), without the evidence from the Scripture and the Fathers, if a soul is created without a body”.24 Maximos used this method, which was based purely “on nature”,25 many times in his works. That approach in its turn was based on his theory that in one’s movement towards God one needed to use both, nature and the Holy Scripture, and that both independently led to one and the same God: “whoever wishes blamelessly to walk a straight way to God, stands in need of both the inherent spiritual knowledge of Scripture, and the natural contemplation of beings according to the spirit. In that way, anyone who desired to become a perfect lover of perfect wisdom would be able to show what was only reasonable, namely, that the two laws – the natural and the written – were of equal value and equal dignity, that both of them reciprocally taught the same things, and neither was superior or inferior to the other”.26 “A perfect lover of perfect wisdom” is surely a philosopher as Maximos understands him.
It is clear from this passage and from Maximos’ works in general, that for him philosophy, especially that part called natural contemplation, had as its main aim crossing over (διάβασις) through creation to God and viewing creation “in God”, particularly “in the Logos”. Certainly, this aim cannot be regarded as “philosophical” from the secular point of view (p. 283-284). However, one can easily find the same or an analogous “crossing over” through nature to God (or the One) in Plotinus and some other Neoplatonists. We may call that practice “theological”; nevertheless, it is also clear that some thinkers whom we call philosophers were engaged in that practice, as well as some philosophical patristic writers. Such philosophical patristic writers (Maximos is the greatest among them) certainly differ from those purely theological patristic authors who rely mainly on Scripture and the Fathers. Now, what is a right term for expressing this difference?
Calling that practice theological or philosophical is a matter of terminology. However, it is clear that it was important to the thinkers of Late Antiquity, both Christian and pagan. Maximos called it a “philosophy”, and stressed that the Greeks (i.e. pagan Greek philosophers) were as good at it as the Jews were good at theology, i.e. the interpretation of Scripture.27 There is no doubt that above all Maximos’ view of the pagan Greek philosophy was not hostile and that he greatly valued its role in the intellectual and spiritual history of humanity, even if he disagreed with some of the views of pagan philosophers, such as their teaching on the world’s eternity.
Speaking about natural contemplation in Maximos, following M. Harrington28 I must underline that unlike many other Byzantine Fathers Maximos treated natural contemplation as a necessary and obligatory part of Christian life. However, one point should be made here. There is certainly a difference between the contemplative, intuitive aspect of natural philosophy (I use Maximos’ terms) and its rational aspect. The later, in its philosophical sophisticated variant, cannot be considered obligatory for a Christian, because it demands a high philosophical culture and good education available only to a small elite. Not every person is called to this task. However, natural contemplation as a way to purify the mind and obtaining knowledge, is necessary for any true Christian. In other words, he or she is called to contemplate the spiritual basis of creation, which is rooted in the Logos; but only a few are called to the rational, accurate and slow work of ascension to God via creation and to rational clarification of the essence of the intuitive contemplation of the logoi of creation. Moreover, certainly, only few can participate in polemics with teachings that deform that essence.
There is a special question about the relationship between intuitive, spiritual contemplation and the rational argument of its essence. In the Ambigua to John, the most philosophical of Maximos’ works, he did not explicitly differentiate between intuitive contemplation and rational explications or proofs, calling both “natural contemplations” (see the title of the paragraph: “A natural contemplation that the world must necessarily come to an end”)29. Sometimes he underlined particularly the rational aspect of his approach, giving for example the following title to a paragraph: “Demonstration that it is not possible for anything whose existence is determined by numerical quantity to be infinite or, consequently, without beginning”.30 Usually his proofs were based on contemplations, and contemplations were supported by rational proofs. At the same time, Maximos clearly stated that there is a great difference between the slow approaching to God “through the rational logical methods (ταῖς διαιρετικαῖς …μεθόδοις)” (one type, or one phase of the natural philosophy) and the intuitive (“according to simple intuition; κατὰ ἁπλῆν προσβολὴν”) contemplation of the logoi of creation in the Logos in one’s soul after the union with Him,31 the highest type of the contemplation.
Having in mind all these observations I would say that Maximos’ approach to theological issues, though it must be called the approach of a theologian, of a Christian teacher, was marked by a strong presence of philosophy that was deeply absorbed into his discourse. He knew quite well about the difference between “natural” (i.e. philosophical) and purely theological arguments. Moreover, his understanding of natural law as an independent and equally authentic revelation of God and a way to God was very important for the understanding of his philosophical theology that from his point of view could equally be called theological philosophy.
Unfortunately, in the later Byzantine tradition these ideas of Maximos, expressed especially in Ambigua to John, were forgotten or marginalized. The place of natural philosophy was again discussed during the Palamite controversy, both sides of which tried to use Maximos as their authority and support. However, the importance of natural contemplation with reference to Maximos was stressed mainly by the party that tried to oppose that contemplation to the mystical Hesychast practices,32 while in Maximos there is no opposition between natural contemplation and mystical theology. Gregory Palamas, on the other hand, placed his main emphasis on the importance of the Hesychast practices and mystical union with God. As for natural contemplation and its importance for Christian life, Palamas in this polemics for the understandable reasons, did not give to it that important and necessary place that Maximos did.33
So, while I would agree in many points with Gutas an Siniossoglou with regard to the Byzantine tradition in general,34 (especially about the late Byzantine period), the case of Maximos the Confessor is more complicated. His ideas, especially his view of the law written in nature as an equally important for the Christian life as Scriptures and tradition may serve as an important meeting point of philosophy and Christian theology, a meeting point that was not for the most part used as such in Byzantium.
Chapter 20: “Fate, free choice and divine providence”
Chapter 20 of the CIHB, “Fate, free choice and divine providence from the Neoplatonists to John of Damascus” by Ken Parry, is an important part of the whole volume. As an author of A Brief History of ‘Providence’ from Plato to Maximus the Confessor 35 which also includes a chapter on John of Damascus, I was very pleased indeed by the fact that Parry’s chapter was included in the volume, since it underlines the importance of the debates around the themes of providence, fate and free choice in Late Antiquity and Byzantium. The intellectual history of Byzantium would be unthinkable without these themes, which were common to both pagan philosophers and Christian authors.
The chapter may well serve as a general introduction to the teachings on providence, fate and free choice by the main Neoplatonists and Christian authors of the period. It gives a broad overview of the theme, pays attention to many important authors and describes their views on the subject adequately. Perhaps, it could also have been important to pay more attention to the history of the relevant ideas that may throw some light on their true meaning, as well as the changes those ideas underwent in the writings of individual pagan or Christian authors. Parry rightly begins with relevant teachings of Plato and Aristotle However, I would also in addition have mentioned the teachings of the Stoics, who were the first to make the themes of providence and fate philosophical, and to discuss Aristotle’s ethical notions of what depends on us (ἐφ’ ἡμῖν), and what does not (οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν), within those themes. Middle Platonists and Later Platonist were engaged in polemics with the Stoics, and it is hard to understand their teaching without knowing those of the Stoics.
Particularly, I believe that it would be useful to mention how the Stoics’ identification of providence and fate was criticized by the Middle Platonists. On the basis of that criticism, they elaborated their own concept of providence understood as an intellection and a will of a transcended God that was different from God Himself but reflected His absolute goodness. Parry rightly emphasizes that the central problem for the teaching of providence was the problem of theodicy, that “both Platonists and Christians devised theodicies to safeguard the sovereignty of providence in response to the presence of evil and injustice” (p. 341). It would be important to stress here that already in polemics with the Stoics the Middle Platonists introduced the difference between providence and fate. The highest transcended and good, God must not be responsible for evil that occurred in the sphere of reality that was under the laws of fate. Fate itself was understood in ontological meaning as the World Soul or Nature, and in judicial meaning as laws in which violation entailed punishment.
The Middle Platonists’ theory of fate, (particularly their concept of “conditional” or “hypothetical” fate), was important not only for the Later Platonists as Parry puts it (p. 343), but also for Christian Byzantium (i.e. for John Chrysostom and John of Damascus, see below). Besides, it was a point of departure for Nemesios, who himself influenced greatly Maximos the Confessor (Maximos perhaps rediscovered his teaching). Nemesios criticized the Middle Platonists’ theory of fate.36 However, their understanding of providence as a will of absolutely good and transcended God37 was accepted by him. Furthermore, Nemesios’ definitions of providence38 were repeated by Maximos39 and John of Damascus40 and became fundamental for the Byzantine Christian tradition. Parry rightly speaks about the influence of Nemesios on Maximos (p. 552). One may add in this context that the very definitions of providence that Maximos and John of Damascus used came from Nemesios, and the history of these definitions and their origin can be traced to the Middle Platonists.
In the context of the CIHB, Parry understandably did not discuss the Early Christian Fathers. Nevertheless, if one addresses their teachings, one may notice that Christian attitudes toward “fate” were more complex than is usually acknowledged. It is true that “fate”, together with Astrology which was so popular in Late Antiquity, was entirely rejected by many Christian authors. However, Justin Martyr interpreted εἱμαρμένη41 and Minucius Felix interpreted fatum 42 in a positive sense of God’s judgment. Indeed, God’s judgment (κρίσις) was widely used in Maximos the Confessor, though it was not limited to punishment or reward. Apologists’ polemics against the limitation of God’s providence and their argument in favor of individual providence were a crucial aspect of Christian teaching. Having already been found in Justin Martyr43 and developed by Nemesios,44 they became an important part of Maximos’ teaching.
While Nemesios rejected the Middle Platonists’ judicial interpretation of “fate”, he gave a positive “physical” interpretation of it. He allowed that “fate” could be understood as the limits and borders of nature, “necessary limits” placed by God “on the universal and generic (τοῖς καθόλου καὶ γενικοῖς)”.45 However, he left open the question of God’s judgment (in the sense of punishment for violation of God’s rules and commandments). Thus, while in some Christian apologists there was a purely judicial meaning in which “fate” could be interpreted (i.e. God’s judgment), in Nemesios it was allowed only in the “physical” meaning of the limits and borders of natures. Later, Maximos the Confessor fulfilled the task of combining those two aspects.
Speaking about the Neoplatonist’s theory of providence and fate, Parry is certainly right in giving an important place not only to Plotinus and Proklos, but also to Hierocles of Alexandria (p. 342-343). After Hierocles, he also speaks at some length about Theodoret of Cyrrus (p. 343). One may also mention John Chrysostom in this context. An interesting comparison can be made here. Hierocles understood fate predominantly as God’s judgment.46 John Demetracopoulos47 stressed some parallels between Hierocles and John Chrysostom. Similarly to Hierocles and subsequently John of Damascus, Chrysosom developed the notion of God’s judgment in its purely moral, judicial sense, which was close to the sense of the pagan philosopher. Unlike all those thinkers, Maximos the Confessor elaborated his teaching on God’s judgment in a different perspective that was predominantly ontological.
Parry rightly gives an important place in his article to Maximos the Confessor’s teaching on God’s providence. Its sources in Evagrios, Nemesios and Ps-Dionysios are well and truly established (pp. 353-355). Among important items of Maximos’ teaching I would add several points related to the connection between his ethical teaching and his teaching on providence. It would be important to recall Maximos’ teaching on the act of volition, elaborated in the context of polemics against the Monotheletes studied along with his teaching on God’s providence and deification.48 According to Maximos, the state off deification was “the immediate union with providence of those whom this providence knew before”.49 In that state, God’s providence, identical with God’s will, was fulfilled; the very possibility to sin was abolished.
Another important point that must be mentioned in Maximos’ teaching on providence is its correlation with his teaching on God’s judgement. Parry deals with both teaching at some length (p. 354). It is to add several points to his generally accurate but too brief an observation. Maximos’ theory of providence and judgment (he called them two eyes or two wings of the Logos50 may be treated as a Christian alternative to theories on providence and fate found in pagan philosophy, especially that of the Platonists. Unlike many other Christian authors, Maximos understood God’s judgment not only as a moral judgment and punishment or reward, but predominantly as an act of ontological differentiation and a maintenance of individuals and species in their unique features and movement towards God. The moral aspect of providence and judgement in his teaching is related to rational creatures and comes from the ontology of the rational beings rooted in God’s logoi. Maximos’ theory of providence and judgment presupposed a dynamic view of a world order, which was a fulfilment of God’s plan. Unlike his pagan predecessors, particularly Hierocles and even more so Proklos, Maximos did not make God’s judgment and justice some “lower” deity or force in comparison with providence. In Maximos, both God’s providential care for the world and each human being and God’s judgment, (understood in its ontological dimension), equally and eternally belonged to the One Logos, as his two main forces directed towards the creation. In general, Maximos’ teaching on providence permeated all his theological and philosophical “system”. It played a crucial role in Christology, in his logoi theory, his ecclesiology, his anthropology, his ethics and his teaching on love.51
Comparing Maximos’ teaching with that of John of Damascus, it would be interesting to reflect upon the fact that both authors were influenced by Nemesios.52 Parry does not mention this influence, preferring to speak about Maximos’ influence on John (p. 358-359). In general, Parry’s description of John of Damascus’ teaching is good and detailed. The great advantage of his brief study of Damascene is that he addresses, not only the famous chapters of the Exposition of the Orthodox faith dedicated to the relevant issues, but also several of John’s other writings. As for comparison with Maximos, it might be useful to add that while Maximos’ teaching on providence was mystical and mystagogical, John’s main aim was theodicy and moral teaching. In his approach to providence and judgment, in his teaching on “God’s primary antecedent will and his secondary consequent will” (p. 358), like Chrysostom (perhaps under his influence), with some certain important Christian peculiarities he had much in common with Hierocles and the Middle Platonists, as I have mentioned above in a reference to Demetracopoulos, whose study was used by Parry (p. 358) though not at this point.
Chapter 24: Maximos the Confessor
Chapter 24 of the CIHB is dedicated to Maximos the Confessor. Before reviewing this chapter I would like to point out that Maximos is generally considered to be one of the main figures of the CIHB, and rightly so. The intellectual history of Byzantium is inseparable in modern scholarship from the heritage of this great theologian, thinker and outstanding personality. Maximos’ heritage is touched upon in the chapter dedicated to the genre of questions and answers (chapter 3, p. 51); his Chronicon Pascale is mentioned in chapter 11 (p. 196), dedicated to astronomy; his heritage is discussed in the chapter dedicated to the notion of “Byzantine philosophy” (chapter 16, p. 283-284; see my review of this chapter); he is certainly among the most outstanding Fathers mentioned in chapter 17, which is dedicated to the formation of the patristic tradition (p. 306, 310-311); Maximos evidently is the first author discussed in the chapter 19, “Platonism from Maximos the Confessor to the Palaiologian Period” by Andrew Louth (p. 327-329) (a brief history of Maximos’ “Platonic” ideas reception in Byzantium can be also found in this chapter, see p. 333, 335-340); Maximos’ theory of providence is referred to in chapter 20 by Ken Parry (p. 353-354, see my review); Maximos’ contribution to the development of logic in Byzantium is touched upon in chapter 21 (p. 366-367); in chapter 22, “The Presence of Aristotle in Byzantine Theology” by David Bradshaw, Maximos’ theory of volition and its Aristotelian roots is briefly discussed (p. 391) as well as its influence on John of Damascus; reception of Maximos’ heritage by the both sides of the Hesychast controversy is touched upon, albeit unfortunately too briefly, in chapter 29 (p. 499-500); Maximos’ mystical teaching, his mystagogia and his understanding of the Transfiguration is discussed at some length in chapter 30 by Louth (p. 519-522); Maximos is also mentioned in chapter 34, which is dedicated to the idea of monarchy in Byzantium as “denying that the emperor was both basileus and hiereus, emperor and priest” (p. 582).
Now, chapter 24 written by a remarkable Maximos scholar of the younger generation, Phil Booth, is for the most part dedicated to Maximos’ life, to his formation, to his role in the history of the Byzantine Church and Empire, to his struggle for Orthodox teaching and to his outstanding personality. This chapter opens the part of the CIHB called “Individuals in Context”. Thus, it focuses more on historical, and I would say personal issues, rather than on the theological or philosophical aspects of Maximos’ heritage, as discussed in the other chapters of the CIHB. One of the central points of Booth’s approach to Maximos’ life and personality can be seen from his conclusion: “Maximos represents both the sustained intellectual inventiveness of the period and the continued willingness of Christians to subvert and confront the religious culture of the Constantinopolitan court. The challenge is now to unveil further that same creativity, pluralism, and dissidence in subsequent centuries of Byzantine Christian thought” (p. 430). I appreciate this approach, as well as the energy and pathos of Booth’s article. Furthermore, I think that it is very important to address not only so-called “heretics” and “humanists”, but also the Church Fathers, seeing their individuality, their creativeness and the freedom they revealed during their life in their struggle for their course. Certainly, Maximos was not a political dissident in the modern sense of the word (see the part of Booth’s article entitled “The Making of a Dissident”, p. 418-420). He did not preoccupy himself with political or social struggle as such. His was the struggle for truth, for the independence of the Church and for faithfulness to the heritage and the spirit of the Church Fathers as he understood them. However, in the context of the Byzantine state of his time, that struggle for spiritual values inevitably meant involvement in political life. Booth brilliantly shows interdependence of the one with the other.
As regards the details of Maximos’ life and Church history of his time, Booth follows the general approach Marek Jankowiak and he elaborated53 in the wake of the famous article by Christian Boudignon54 and other scholars of the same tendency, energetically rejecting the main data of Maximos’ later Greek Lives (starting with Maximos’ origin) and relying mainly (though not entirely) on the Syriac Life, (I would have preferred to call it the Psogos), that came from Maximos’ contemporary, the Monothelete George of Resh‘aina. So, Maximos’ Palestinian (instead of Constantinopolitan) origin is stated along with his formation in Palestinian monasteries and strong connections to Palestinian monasticism throughout his whole life. Personally, I find the hypothesis of Maximos’ Palestinian origin quite probable, though one must acknowledge that the whole reconstruction of Maximos’ life made by Boudignon, Jankowiak and Booth is based on data that for the most part was known to scholars of previous generations. Already, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian scholar Sergei Epiphanovich knew the Syriac Psogos, although he (as well as many other scholars after him) drew different conclusions on the basis of almost identical data.55 Thus, one must acknowledge that this latest reconstruction of Maximos’ life and activity made by the next generation of scholars is for the most part a new interpretation of the same data, not some new important findings.
Among the hypotheses about Maximos’ life and the history of the Monothelete controversy I find the most problematic to be the statement about the so-called Council of Cyprus in 636 (p. 424). Jankowiak and Booth connect with that council the publication of the Ekthesis, which was later considered as “Monothelete” and rejected by Maximos and the Lateran Council. What was Maximos’ and Sophronios’ view of that Ekthesis before the beginning of the controversy in 640? If Sophronios died in 639, did he accept the Ekthesis? Was Maximos really isolated after the Council not only from other patriarchs but also from his abba, Sophronios as the Psogos put it? One may wonder, if all events at this Council were so positive for the course of the Monotheletes as described in the Psogos, and if that would be their strongest argument in the controversy. I believe that the first question that Arkadios of Cyprus (who was in touch with Maximos via Marinos during the controversy) would have asked Maximos, is a question about that Council and its role in the preparation of the Ekthesis. However, the letters to Marinos, all written after the date of this Council, contain many arguments pro et contra the Ekthesis, make no mention of this Council. One could expect that this Council might have been mentioned in the correspondence between the patriarchs and popes of the relevant period, in the documents of Maximos’ trials... Nothing! Perhaps, there was a kind of Council on Cyprus, but it was dedicated solely to the Trisagion issue and took place quite soon after Sophronios’ consecration. Perhaps, the theme of energies was touched in these meetings, but not officially, since Psephos silenced the whole issue?
One can only imagine such a serious objection to all these arguments: the Cypriote Council as described by Booth was effaced from the historical record precisely because Sophronios accepted the Ekthesis. Yes, the Monotheletes would have referred to it, but in fact, none of their writings survive (except the Syriac Life). All trial literature, Maximos’ letters, patriarchal correspondence came from the circle of Maximos and his disciples or their admirers, who would have had no interest in referring to it.56 In any case, the issue of the Cypriote Council is but one quite important example showing that the new reconstruction by Jankowiak and Booth of the controversy’s history and Maximos’ and Sophronios’ participation in it is a serious challenge to traditional reconstructions, and that a lot of problems will be raised by scholars as they wrestle with it.
A response to Tuomo Lankila, “The Byzantine Reception of Neoplatonism” (Chapter 18)
Lankila’s thesis, as I understand it, is triple: (1) Christianity (not any particular form of it but Christianity pure and simple) is incompatible with Neoplatonism (the latter being, in essence, a form of “paganism”);57 (2) a particular form of Christianity, the Byzantine one, did, nevertheless, undergo Neoplatonic influences; (3) this was possible solely due to the “cryptopagan” intrusion into it in the form of the Corpus Areopagiticum.
Before I respond to this thesis, I would address Lankila’s other claim, namely, that the “reception” indicated in the title of his article had a character of a “paradox” (p. 318) in that it was, in fact, a “repression” (p. 324), incurring, moreover, “not a natural” (but violent) “death” to the very thing received, namely, “Neoplatonism” (p. 323). Prima facie, this seems to be trivially true; hence the pertinence of Lankila’s proviso that the conclusion he arrives at is meant as a mere “reminder” (p. 323), that is, a restatement of the obvious. For who, indeed, could expect an ideological toleration from a political regime built on the presupposition that adherence to certain doctrines unprovable (and thus irrefutable) by reasoning is necessary for eternal bliss?
Yet the question remains why Lankila did not, then, entitle his article “The Byzantine Repression of Neoplatonism.” Or, to put it differently: does the term “Neoplatonism” when used by him to refer to what was “repressed” mean the same as when used by him to refer to what was “received” (that is: used univocally, as one might expect any technical term to be in a scholarly discourse)? A closer look at Lankila’s argument shows that this is not the case. In fact, the term is used it in at least three different senses, i.e., to refer to (1) the texts by certain authors, (2) the views of reality expressed (or implied) in those texts, and (3) the implementation of those views in theurgic observances (the case of Theodora of Emesa [p. 323]). Just as citing (or alluding to) Homer does not necessarily imply sharing his world view, the number of allusions to Proklos in the Corpus Areopagiticum, does not, pace Lankila,58 tell anything about the reception by its author of “Neoplatonism” in the sense in which Lankila explicitly “defines” the term in the first section of his article (on which see more below). In fact, in the whole of his article’s third section (pp. 318-323) – in which he turns to the topic of “reception” proper – Lankila deals with the reception of “Neoplatonism” mainly in the sense (1), using the texts by Proklos as a case study.
Thus, one might infer from Lankila’s article that it was “Neoplatonism” in the sense of cultic observances only that died a violent death, whereas “Neoplatonism” as a textual corpus was “paradoxically received,” i.e., partially survived due to the “cryptopagan plot” which, via the Dionysian forgery, opened Christianity up to “many ideas” contained in Neoplatonic texts (p. 319). But what “ideas” exactly? This question, which Lankila does not address, is pertinent not only because without answering it one cannot claim to have said anything about the reception of “Neoplatonism” in the sense (2) but, also, because Lankila claims (in his article’s second section) that some of the Neoplatonism’s major tenets are incompatible with Christianity (whose view of reality, on his account, is closer, rather to Middle Platonism see fn. 57 above.).
In particular, he claims that, whereas Christianity “posits a rigid dividing line between an uncreated and a created level,” Neoplatonism “sees reality as a continuum with stages and shades” and thus – as essentially “non-dual” (318, emphasis added). Is this meant as a hint that a non-dual view of reality was one of those “ideas” incompatible with Christianity that first entered the Byzantine theological tradition via the Corpus Areopagiticum? The reader is left to guess. In any case, the cited statement of contrast between Neoplatonism and Christianity imputes to the latter an inherent dualism. Such a construal of the Christian position appears to this reader as an oversimplification. The assumption that between created and uncreated being there is no intermediary was, indeed, shared by the theologians of the Empire, as was manifested, e.g., by the Arian controversy. Yet sharing this assumption did not prevent Gregory of Nyssa from considering material realm to be constituted by combinations of divine ideas.59 This suggests that the indicated assumption might have been taken by the Cappadocians to refer not to a reality divided in two but to the two incompatible views of the same reality, appearing as either wholly uncreated to the divine (or a deified) mind or as totally created to an impure one. It is, at any rate, this kind of non-duality, not the Neoplatonic one (found, indeed, in the Corpus Areopagiticum), that Maximos Confessor effectively asserts: if God “is,” the created world “is not,” and vice versa.60
This might support Lankila’s claim of the incompatibility of some of Neoplatonic ideas with the Christian doctrine untainted by the influence of the “cryptopagan” Corpus. The question, however, remains whether the ideas that are definitive of Neoplatonism are among them. With this question in mind, I turn to the first section of Lankila’s article, in which he attempts to define the latter.
He states that “the philosophy of the Neoplatonists shifted its hermeneutical focus from the Timaeus to the Parmenides and introduced...the doctrine of the One, the absolute unitary root of being beyond Being” (p. 314); which I take to imply that it is the metaphysical interpretation of the so-called “first hypothesis” of the Parmenides that Lankila believes (in my view, correctly) to be the doctrinal core of Neoplatonism. What he seems to overlook, however, is that “beyond Being” here means, also, beyond Mind, Neoplatonism thus being a metaphysics which Christianity was ready to receive due to its sense of God’s incomprehensibility, expressed already by Justin Martyr and conspicuous in the Byzantine liturgical anaphora ascribed to John Chrysostom. Still more controversially, Lankila proposes, then, to “take seriously” Proklos’ claim that it is Plotinos who “marks the birth of that chorus of philosophers who read Plato’s Parmenides as the summit of metaphysical theology” (p. 316). But why trust Proklos on an issue on which there is a solid evidence to the contrary? As has been long since established, the doctrine of a Source beyond Being, based on a metaphysical interpretation (akin to Plotinos’) of the “first hypothesis” of the Parmenides, is found in a Christian theologian living before Plotinos, namely, Clement of Alexandria (even if he was not the author of that interpretation).61 Christianity, pace Lankila, thus opened itself up to the Neoplatonic idea before not only Proklos but even Plotinos could influence it to that effect.
Chapter 21: “Logic in Byzantium” 62
The chapter “Logic in Byzantium” is written by Christophe Erismann, an outstanding scholar, one of the world leaders in the field of the history of the Byzantine logical tradition. The chapter is perfectly complete and detailed, covering all the stages and almost all the protagonists of the history, which is very hard to deal with due to the “incomplete state of our knowledge and the large amount of yet unedited texts” (p. 362). This chapter is also a successful survey of the origin and the development of Byzantine ideas and notions connected with the history of logic itself as well as with the history of other logically related intellectual dimensions in Byzantium. In this context it is very remarkable that author raises the question about our terminology: we should use the term logic in Byzantium insteadanother one, i.e., Byzantine logic. The former is defined as “how Byzantine thinkers received, read, commented upon, and sometimes supplemented ancient logic” (p. 362) and the latter as “a properly Byzantine form of logic” (p. 362). It is argued that the term Byzantine logic is not appropriate because it is a term without an object, and “a properly Byzantine form of logic … does not in fact exist” (p. 362). In general, I cannot but agree with the statement that the term Byzantine logic is problematic. But the question is more complicated in the case of its definition as “a properly Byzantine form of logic”. I will probably disagree with the author that the reason to abandon the term Byzantine logic is the same as the reason to abandon the term properly Byzantine form of logic. I think that the term Byzantine logic is not correct, although I can accept the expression properly Byzantine form of logic, because the former is ambiguous and can denote many different things (from the properly Byzantine form of logic to some peculiarities of Byzantine mentality or cultural, religious or social identity of the Byzantines), and the latter is unambiguous although somewhat questionable if we use it without any remark or explanation. In fact, we use the term logic in a narrow sense as purely logical technic (i.e., syllogistics or propositional calculus, or any other logical system). In this sense there is no properly Byzantine form of Aristotelian logic and we cannot say Byzantine syllogistics, or Byzantine propositional calculus, or scholastic propositional calculus, or even Byzantine theory of demonstration. But in a broader sense, we use the term logic to denote the philosophical and methodological background of building and applying logical systems. In this sense, there exists a properly Byzantine form of logic. And one can argue that there is some rather original and independent Greek Medieval logical tradition which is a properly Byzantine one in the sense in which we mark the Greek Medieval logical commentaries on Organon and Isagoge as Byzantine ones. In this sense, we can use even the term Byzantine logic in the same way as we use the terms the Byzantine history of logic (p. 362), or Byzantine thought (p. 363), or Byzantine contribution (p. 363), or Byzantine definition (p. 372).
When we speak about Byzantine logic in a broader sense (i.e., about Byzantine logic as a properly Byzantine form of thinking in general, which of course influenced the development of the commentary tradition on Aristotelian logic in Byzantium, too), we should take into account the broader context of Byzantine thought: the author mentions in the chapter two determining factors (i.e., the properly Byzantine background for the reception and the development of Aristotelian ideas) that formed the Byzantine course in logic (p. 364): they are the Neoplatonic school of Alexandria and the Christian tradition of logic (i.e., patristic tradition of logic). The chapter also provides an overview of “the original aspects of logical thought in Byzantium” (p. 366), and illustrates the specific usage and understanding of the logical and ideological (religious) content of such terms as “hypostases” (p. 365), “ousia”, “physis”, “enhypostaton” (p. 366), “authyparkton” (“the traditional Byzantine definition of substance based on its ontological independence, which understands substance as a self-subsisting reality in no need of others” (p. 372)). And many other examples of the original Byzantine aspects of thought and the original Byzantine solutions were mentioned in the chapter: the critical argumentation of Photios (p. 370), John Italos’ solution to the problem of universals (p. 374), Eustratios’ “interesting reflection on the distinction between genera and species” (p. 376). The list is not exhaustive. So, is it not enough to allow us to use the term Byzantine logic in a broader sense as a term that reflects the original and independent history of logical thought in Byzantium as a properly Byzantine one? In trying to answer this question, we should take into account that it is not yet time for general conclusions about what a properly Byzantine form of logic looks like, but we should not abandon the idea of discovering and reconstructing some specifically Byzantine approaches and solutions to some traditional logical issues. For example, Sten Ebbesen qualified the dialogue Xenedemos by Theodore Prodromos as unparalleled in the Latin logical tradition (“nor can I find anything in the West that really resembles Theodoros Prodromos’ Ξενέδημος”)63, though being in general a proponent of denying the Byzantine history of logic the status of an original and independent one. And Dmitry Chernoglazov has recently explained that Xenedemos is one, but not the only example of applying the genre of Platonic dialogue in Byzantium and that it is properly Byzantine form to perform the ideas in the history of Greek Medieval literature.64 Basil Lourié illustrates in a series of papers that there were some properly Byzantine (paraconsistent) ways of thinking in the works of Byzantine theologians.65 Stamatios Gerogiorgakis recently offered another interesting example of Byzantine scholia on the Liar Paradox which “suggest a change in the way in which Byzantine Logic is traditionally regarded in contemporary scholarship”.66 He also mentioned “the few Greek logicians of the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages who dealt with the Diodorean modalities”67 and one could argue that their solutions (that of Alexander of Aphrodisias, John Philoponos, and Michael Psellos) really represent some independent tradition and could be compared with the completely different Medieval tradition (i.e., the Latin one) of reconstructing the Diodorean Master Argument.68 The list of examples may be continued further.
To conclude, it should be mentioned that the Byzantine commentary tradition on Aristotelian logic could be regarded as the tip of the iceberg and only a hint or suggestion of a much larger or more complex issue of logical reconstruction of what the properly Byzantine form of logic could be.
Chapter 26: Michael Psellos69
Michael Psellos is one of the central figures in all Byzantine culture. This encyclopedist left a trace in all areas of scholarship, from medicine and physics to theology and logic, and a separate chapter about him is absolutely necessary in the intellectual history of Byzantium. In David Jenkins’s chapter about Michael Psellos, the main attention is paid to the Psellos’ views in the field of philosophy and logic. The general problem arising in connection with his philosophical and scientific heritage is correctly formulated: the volume of the written by Psellos is impressive, but after a careful study many of his works turn out to be a simple compilation of ancient, mostly Late Antique authors. The first task of the researcher in this situation is to reveal the degree of Psellos independence in each individual text.
Jenkins believes he has found the key to the philosophy of Michael Psellos, the point which constitutes the thinker’s originality. In his opinion, it is the Proclus’ triad “μονή – πρόοδος – ἐπιστροφή” (p. 450), which Michael Psellos has revised and tried to apply to all the levels of existence: from triadology to psychical life of individual human being (in particular, Michael Psellos himself) (p. 453). The image, however, differs significantly from the prototype. While Proclus emphasized the first element of the triad: μονή comes out to enrich itself, to get some new being due to the return of this being to him, for Psellos the middle term was much more important as a link that connects the higher and lower elements of the triad. The task of the philosopher by Michael Psellos and generally the task of man, as D. Jenkins suggests, is to detect that middle term, using it to explain both the higher and lower and to construct his life in accordance to it (p. 452). Compliant to Jenkins, by the means of this model Psellos could demonstrate the role of Christ in human salvation and the understanding of man’s ascent to God. The salvation and the ascent are not caused by connecting the higher and lower, but the person finds Christ as the middle element, and then discovers the middle element in his inner world (p. 457). This tendency to look for the middle explains the conformism and even the immorality of Michael Psellos (p. 460).
D. Jenkins suggested this idea in 2006.70 A new paper offers a lot of new data, which illustrates the key concept. Also there is a very important Jenkins’ consideration (more detailed than in the previous article) that the impossibility to find a universal measure for divisible items, and the inability to find a “middle” for such items as the amount, time or process of the soul’s ascent to God were extremely exciting for Michael Psellos (pp. 454-457). By the way, it should be noted that when Michael Psellos writes about the infinite divisibility, he is not talking about identifying a stable middle element. And when he tries to detect this item, he is not writing about the infinite divisibility. The only text where these two concepts meet is ‘An Improvised Answer to Andronikos Asking about the Purpose of Geometry’.71 In this small letter, the mathematical science is the halfway between the theology and the physics, because both the divisible and indivisible things are its objects. However, in this treatise Psellos retells the Proclus’ commentary on the first book of Euclid’s ‘Elements of Geometry’, and because the thesis is not supported by other examples, it is difficult to assume it as an expression of deep thoughts of Michael Psellos. Anyway, in our opinion, the Jenkins’ key idea should be a starting point for any study of Psellos’ philosophy.
The essay on Psellos as a scholar and philosopher is detailed, informative, but far from exhaustive. As has been already mentioned, Psellos engaged in many different disciplines. For example, it would be possible to analyze Psellos’ views in the field of rhetorical theory or the philosophy of history. Though not expressed in special treatises, these are scattered in ad hoc remarks in his numerous literary works.
About the higher education in Byzantium see: P. Speck, Die kaiserliche Universität von Konstantinopel: Präzisierungen zur Frage des höheren Schulwesens in Byzanz im 9. und 10. Jahrhundert, München, 1974; P. Lemerle, Le premier humanisme byzantin: Notes et remarques sur enseignement et culture à Byzance des origines au Xe siècle, Paris, 1971; A.P. Kazhdan, A.W. Epstein, Change in Byzantine culture in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Berkeley, 1985; C.N. Constantinides, Higher education in Byzantium in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries (1204 - ca. 1310), Nicosia, 1982.
Constantinides, Higher education in Byzantium in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries (1204 - ca. 1310).
Magdalino, The empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143-1180, pp. 335-356; И.П. Медведев, Византийский гуманизм XIV-XV веков [I.P. Medvedev, Byzantine Humanism of 14-15-th. centuries], Санкт-Петербург, 1997, сс. 16-27.
Al. Cameron, The Greek Anthology from Meleager to Planudes, Oxford, 1993; M. Lauxtermann, Byzantine Poetry from Pisides to Geometres. Texts and Contexts, vol. 1, Vienna, 2003.
The study on rhetoric and rhetorical theory in Byzantium is part of the research project Nr. 18-011-00669 funded by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research.
According to the principle, declared in the Introduction: “Our imagined readership consisted not primarily of experts in each topic but of students and scholars from adjacent fields (for example, Classical, Medieval, Islamic, Renaissance, and Early Modern Studies) who want to know more about this important aspect of Byzantium” (p. 21).
Constantinides, Higher education in Byzantium in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries (1204 - ca. 1310).
D. Chernoglazov, “Die Byzantinische Fassung des spätantiken Briefstellers: Überlieferung und Textgeschichte,” Philologia Classica 12(2), 2017, pp. 188-205.
Я. Любарский, “Михаил Пселл, личность и творчество: к истории византийского предгуманизма [Ja. Ljubarskij, “Michael Psellos, his Person and Writings; on the History of the Byzantine Protohumanism“]” in: Две книги о Михаиле Пселле [Two Books on Michael Psellos], Санкт-Петербург, 2001, сс. 378-390.
G.A. Kennedy, Greek Rhetoric under Christian Emperors, Princeton, NJ, 1983, pp. 133-179; Magdalino, The empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143-1180, pp. 335-356.
A thorough examination of Michael Psellos’ literary criticism see in: Любарский, “Михаил Пселл, личность и творчество,” сс. 348-374. The monography is available also in Modern Greek translation: Ja. Ljubarskij, Η προσωπικότητα και το έργο του Μιχαήλ Ψελλού: συνεισφορά στην ιστορία του Βυζαντινού ουμανισμού, Αθήνα, εκδ. Κανάκη, 2004.
P. Magdalino, “Aspects of Twelfth-Century Byzantine Kaiserkritik,” Speculum 58 (1983), pp. 326-346. Concerning this problem v. also the Franz Tinnefeld’s monography (F. Tinnefeld, Kategorien der Kaiserkritik in der byzantinischen Historiographie von Prokop bis Niketas Choniates, München, 1971) which is not used by Krallis.
I am grateful to Sally Vickery and Dirk Krausmüller who assisted me with the English expression in my three reviews, – Grigory Benevich.
As far as I know one of the first Byzantine scholars who used this notion, was the Russian Byzantine scholar Vladimir Valdenberg (see: V.J. Valdenberg, “Sur le caractère général de la philosophie byzantine,” Revue d’histoire de la philosophie et d’histoire générale de la civilization, 3 (1929), pp. 277-295; Idem, “La philosophie byzantine au IV-Ve siècle,” Byzantion, 4, (1929), pp. 237-268).
Eds. Sotiris Mitralexis, Georgios Steiris, Marcin Podbielski,Sebastian Lalla, Maximus the Confessor as a European Philosopher, Eugene, OR, 2017.
It may be noted, however, that pagan philosophers, particularly the Neoplatonists, were even more closed to the thinking and the discourses of the Christian thinkers than Christian authors were closed to theirs.
Maximos Confessor, Amb. 10: PG 91, col. 1128CD, trans. by N. Constas from: Maximos the Confessor. On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, ed. and tr. N. Constas, 2 vols, Cambridge, MA, 2014. Vol. 1, pp. 193, 195.
M. Harrington, “Creation and Natural Contemplation in Maximus the Confessor’s Ambiguum 10:19,” in eds. M. Treschow, W. Otten, and W. Hannam, Divine Creation in Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Thought: Essays Presented to the Rev’d Dr Robert D. Crouse, Leiden, 2007, pp. 191-212.
D. Krausmüller, “The Rise of Hesychasm,” in The Cambridge History of Eastern Christianity, Cambridge, M. Angold ed., 2006, pp. 101-126; Maximos Simonopetrites (N. Constas), “St Maximos the Confessor: The Reception of his Thought in East and West,” in Knowing the Purpose of Creation through the Resurrection, Bishop Maxim (Vasiljević) ed., Alhambra, CA, 2013, рp. 44-46.
Among late Byzantine authors, Kallistos Angelikoudes tried to follow Maximos in his teaching on natural contemplation combining it with the Hesychast theology and practices but this aspect of his heritage was not reflected in the CIHB.
I am not dealing here with the very interesting field of the development of logic in Byzantium (represented in the CIHB by the separate chapter). Modern studies of this field will perhaps allow us to gain a more positive view of this philosophical area of Byzantine thought and of its importance for the history of philosophy in general (see the review by Oksana Goncharko).
Г. Беневич, Краткая история «промысла» от Платона до Максима Исповедника [G. Benevich, A Brief History of ‘Providence’ from Plato to Maximos the Confessor], Санкт-Петербург, 2013.
J.A. Demetracopoulos, “In Search of the Pagan and Christian Sources of John of Damascus’ Theodicy: Ammonius, the Son of Hermeias, Stephanus of Athens and John Chrysostom on God’s Foreknowledge and Predestination and Man’s Freewill,” in Byzantine Theology and Its Philosophical Background, ed. A. Rigo (Studies in Byzantine History and Civilization, 4), Turnhout, 2012, pp. 79-81.
G. Benevich, “Maximus Confessor’s teaching on God’s Providence,” in eds. A. Lévy, P. Annala, O.Hallamaa and T. Lankila with the collaboration of D. Kaley, The Architecture of the Cosmos: St Maximus the Confessor. New Perspectives, Helsinki, 2015, p. 132.
On Nemesios’ influence on John’s teaching on providence see: A. Louth, St. John Damascene: Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology, Oxford, 2002, pp. 140-142.
M. Jankowiak, P. Booth, “A New Date-List of the Works of Maximus the Confessor,” in eds. P. Allen and B. Neil, The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor. Oxford, 2015, pp. 19-83; M. Jankowiak, ‘Essai d’histoire politique du monothélisme à partir de la correspondence entre les empereurs byzantins, les patriarches de Constantinople et les papes de Rome’, PhD diss., Paris–Varsovie 2009.
C. Boudignon, “Maxime le Confesseur: était-il constantinopolitain?,” in eds, B. Janssens, B. Rosen, and P. van Deun, Philomathestatos: Studies in Greek Patristic and Byzantine Texts presented to Jacques Noret, Louvain, 2004, pp. 11-43.
С.Л. Епифанович, Преподобный Максим Исповедник, его жизнь и творения [S.L. Epifanovich, Venerable Maximos the Confessor, his Life and Works], в 2 тт., ред. Ю. Черноморец, Д. Бирюков, т. 1, Санкт-Петербург, 2013 (Византийская философия 14), сс. 214-235; G. Benevich, “Maximus’ Heritage in Russia and Ukraine,” in eds. P. Allen and В. Neil, The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor, Oxford, 2015, pp. 464-465.
This argument one finds in P. Booth, Crisis of Empire: Doctrine and Dissent at the End of Late Antiquity, Berkeley, 2013, pp. 239-241.
Lankila does not fail to make clear that neither is Christianity, as he understands it, compatible with any other kind of Platonism; yet he claims that “while Christianity and Platonism are generally incompatible on a number of levels, Christianity is closer to the Middle Platonist position [than to the Neoplatonist one]” (pp. 316-317).
Lankila, as he adduces that number, claims that this is how many times “pseudo-Dionysios...refers to Proklos” (p. 321), which is rather unfortunate way of putting it. To allude to a text is not the same as to refer to its author. The author of the Corpus Areopagiticum does not “refer” to Proklos, and could not possibly do this without betraying his own pseudonymity
Cf. Maximos Confessor, Cap. theol. 1.6: PG 90, col. 1085B; Mystagogia, proem. 101-125, ed. R. Cantarella.
R. Mortley, Connaissance religieuse et herméneutique chez Clément d’Alexandrie, Leiden, 1973, pp. 70-73; J. Whittaker, “Philological Comments on the Neoplatonic Notion of Infinity,” in The Significance of Neoplatonism, ed. R. Harris, Norfolk, VA, 1976, pp. 155-172, 159; A. Choufrine, Gnosis, Theophany, Theosis: Studies in Clement of Alexandria’s Appropriation of His Background, NY, 2002, pp. 165-175.
The present study is a part of a larger project, Nr 18-011-00207, implemented with the financial support of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research.
S. Ebbesen, “Greek and Latin Medieval Logic,” Cahiers de l’Institut du Moyen-Âge grec et latin, 66 (1996), p. 81.
D. Chernoglazov, O. Goncharko, “Platonic Dialogue in Byzantium (4th – 12th centuries),” The Universe of Platonic Thought, 25 (2017), pp. 141-143.
B. Lourié, “Theodore the Studite and “Hypostasis” as a Paraconsistent Notion,” Theodore the Stoudite: Intellectual Context, Logic, and Theological Significance (Texts and Studies in Eastern Christianity), eds. C. Erismann and B. MacDougal (forthcoming); Idem, “Nicephorus Blemmydes on the Holy Trinity and the Paraconsistent Notion of Numbers: A Logical Analysis of a Byzantine Approach to the Filioque,” Studia Humana 5 (2016), pp. 40-54; Idem, What Means “Tri-” in “Trinity”? An Eastern Patristic Approach to the “Quasi-Ordinals”, Journal of Applied Logic (forthcoming); Idem, “A Logical Scheme and Paraconsistent Topological Separation in Byzantium: Inter-Trinitarian Relations according to Hieromonk Hierotheos and Joseph Bryennios,” in D. Bertini / D. Migliorini (eds.), Relations: Ontology and Philosophy of Religion, Milan, 2018, pp. 283-299.
S. Gerogiorgakis, “A Contribution to the Inﬂuences of the Diodorean Modalities from the Middle Ages to the Present,” <http://www.cs.ucy.ac.cy/conferences/pls4/Gerogiorgakis.doc.> O. Goncharko, “Byzantine period of the Diodorus Cronus Master Argument,” Smirnov Readings in Logic, 9 (2015), pp. 112-113.
P. Øhrstrøm, Per F. V. Hasle, Temporal Logic: From Ancient Ideas to Artificial Intelligence, Dordrecht, 1995.
This research was carried out with a financial support of the Russian Science Foundation, project 18-18-00134.
D. Jenkins, “Psellos’ Conceptual Precision,” in: C. Barber, D. Jenkins, Reading Michael Psellos, Leiden – Boston, 2006, pp. 131-151.