Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.10.26 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.10.26

Denis Michael Searby (ed.), Never the Twain Shall Meet? Latins and Greeks Learning from Each Other in Byzantium. Byzantinisches Archiv. Series Philosophica, 2.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2018.  Pp. xi, 358.  ISBN 9783110559583.  €99,95.  


Reviewed by Tia M. Kolbaba, Rutgers University (kolbaba@religion.rutgers.edu)

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[Authors and titles are listed at the end of this review.]

Although the fifteen well-crafted chapters of Never the Twain Shall Meet? are diverse in both form and content, they share a foundation in the difficult, painstaking work of those who study translations from Latin to Greek in the late Byzantine period. Some of the authors participate in the Thomas de Aquino Byzantinus project, which is producing editions of the Byzantine Greek translations of Aquinas' works as well as editions of Byzantine authors who responded and reacted to Aquinas' thought. The chapters also contribute to the demolition of two ideas that have dominated discussion of Latins and Greeks for far too long. First, the authors demonstrate convincingly that there is no fundamental incompatibility between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic thought, in spite of common claims to the contrary that western, "Augustinian" theology cannot be reconciled with the thought of the Cappadocian Fathers and their successors in Byzantium. Second, the authors reveal a real dialogue between Greek and Latin theologians in the late Byzantine period that belies the widely assumed and often stated idea that some sort of methodological difference between Orthodox theology and Roman Catholic theology, especially after the development of Latin Scholasticism, rendered attempts at communication between the two sides an exercise in futility. There was, as Denis Searby puts it in his Foreword, "a dialogue, . . . that is, a genuine exchange of ideas and scholarship" (1).

Franz Tinnefeld's chapter, "Translations from Latin to Greek: A contribution to late Byzantine intellectual history" (9-19), is a concise and clear sketch of the history of the kind of translation that, implicitly or explicitly, provides the foundation for the later chapters. In the late Byzantine period (1261-1453), a relatively small number of translators sought out and translated important Latin Scholastic texts into Greek. As Tinnefeld notes, "The importance of their reception may to some extent be measured by the number of extant manuscript copies but to a much greater extent by the documented reaction of the readers" (17). Especially relevant to this volume, and important in general, are the fifteen treatises of Thomas Aquinas translated by Demetrios and Prochoros Kydones between 1354 and 1370, as noted in Marie-Hélène Blanchet's "The Two Byzantine Translations of Thomas Aquinas' De Rationibus Fidei: Remarks in view of their on-going editio princeps" (115-128). Blanchet's article, part of her continuing work on the Thomas de Aquino Byzantinus project, further demonstrates the intense interest in Aquinas' thought among Byzantine intellectuals. Other chapters also directly address issues of translation. Antoine Levy's chapter, "Translatable and Untranslatable Aquinas: The soft cosmological revolution of scholasticism's golden age and the rejection of Aquinas by the first Palamite circles" (63- 75), is a sophisticated discussion of how late Greek authors who read the works of Aquinas experienced "the Greek Fathers through lenses borrowed from the Latin World." For Aquinas himself had, of course, read the Greek Fathers in a Latin thought-world, a "transposition into the theological language of the West of the Greek sources" used by Byzantine theologians (64). The chapter by Michail Konstantinos-Rizos, "Prochoros Cydones' Translation of Thomas Aquinas' Quaestiones disputatae de potentia and Quaestio disputata de spiritualibus creaturis" (259-274) is another notable contribution to our understanding of late Byzantine translations of Aquinas. Irini Balcoyiannopoulou unpacks George Scholarius' In 'De interpretatione' and demonstrates that most of it is a translation of Latin texts by Thomas Aquinas, Radulphus Brito, and others ("New Evidence on the Manuscript Tradition and on the Latin and Greek Background to George Scholarius' In 'De Interpretatione'," 93-113). John Demetracopoulos tells us how the same Scholarius could pass off a translation of a quaestio of Thomas Aquinas as his own sermon ("Scholarios' On Almsgiving, or How to Convert a Scholastic 'Quaestio' into a Sermon," 129-177).

In sum, late Byzantine intellectuals could not avoid—and indeed did not try to avoid—the developments in Latin theology and philosophy that became accessible to them through these translations. The rest of this volume of essays proves this conclusively, as scholars who work on Greek translations of Augustine, Aquinas, and others reveal a late medieval world in which everyone—from Greeks who eventually converted to the Roman Church to Greeks who resisted reunion of the churches—had to reckon with Latin Scholastic authors from Aquinas to Scotus.

The openness of Greeks to Scholastic thought may come as a surprise because it has long been a central tenet of theology courses that there are essential differences in substance between Greco-Slavic Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Generations of students have learned that there was an essential difference between Augustine's explanation of the persons and essence of the Trinity and the explanation of the Cappadocian Fathers; that Augustine's pessimistic anthropology, including his idea of Original Sin, was foreign to the eastern churches; and so on. As for Scholasticism and its most eminent representative, Thomas Aquinas, it was alleged that the Orthodox world reacted to Scholastic theology, especially to the use of Aristotelian philosophy, with horror and rejection. Marcus Plested's chapter, "Reconfiguring East and West in Byzantine and Modern Orthodox Theology" (21-45), elegantly sketches the history of these ideas, which are a product not of the Middle Ages but of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Orthodox theologians. Developed in the traumatic aftermath of the Russian Revolution and during the bipartite world order of the Cold War, the idea of a fundamental difference between eastern and western Christians resonated; the idea "made sense" of a contemporary solution, even if its historical roots were not deep. However, as Plested puts it, "The assumption of theological dichotomy between Christian East and West has long passed its sell-by date" (40). In the late 1990s Reinhard Flogaus and John Demetracopoulos demonstrated conclusively that the work of Gregorios Palamas, who was often held up as the quintessential theologian of the mystical and apophatic East, was deeply influenced by the writings of Augustine of Hippo, the allegedly quintessential representative of the overly rational West.

One of the longer articles in this volume, Christian W. Kappes, "Gregorios Palamas' Reception of Augustine's Doctrine of the Original Sin and Nicholas Kabasilas' Rejection of Aquinas' Maculism as the Background to Scholarios' Immaculism" (207-257), explicitly addresses the Augustinian influence on Palamas, suggesting that "Palamas cautiously (if unwittingly) adopted Augustine's legalistic language and his North African and (perhaps) Manichean associations surrounding human reproduction with infectious sin" (224). Many of the other articles, including some of those already mentioned, also analyze the reception of and reaction to philosophical ideas from the West: Pantelis Golitsis, "ἐσέντζια, ὀντότης, οὐσία. George Scholarios' philosophical understanding of Thomas Aquinas' De ente et essentia and his use of Armandus de Bellovisu's commentary" (179-196); Sergei Mariev, "Nature as instrumentum Dei: Some aspects of Bessarion's reception of Thomas Aquinas" (275-289); and Tikhon Alexander Pino, "Hylomorphism East and West: Thomas Aquinas and Mark of Ephesos on the Body-Soul Relationship" (291-307). These chapters show again and again that even some of the Orthodox churchmen who vehemently opposed reunion of the churches of Constantinople and Rome nevertheless expressed admiration for the ideas of Aquinas or some other Latin author, seeing them as expressions of a universal Christian tradition.

Panagiotis C. Athanasopoulos demonstrates that Mark Eugenicus, the most famous opponent of the church union of the Council of Florence, used arguments of Scotus to oppose arguments of Aquinas, revealing a deep knowledge of Greek translations of each. He also "developed his reasoning in the mode of a Scholastic quaestio" ("Bessarion of Nicaea vs. Mark Eugenicus," 77-91). Two chapters that may seem anomalous for reasons of chronology or geography still reinforce the general message, that there was no unbridgeable gap between Greek and Latin ways of thinking. Brian M. Jensen's "Hugo Eterianus and his Two Treatises in the Demetrius of Lampe Affair" (197-205) concerns a twelfth-century theological dispute, but reaches similar conclusions about the ability of Latins and Greeks to understand one another. John Monfasani's "George of Trebizond, Thomas Aquinas, and Latin Scholasticism" (47-61) concisely and convincingly destroys the artificial boundaries scholars have built not only between Greeks and Latins but also between Scholastics and humanists. Finally, on a perhaps less surprising but nonetheless interesting note, Georgios Steiris finds that even some of the late Byzantine authors who were most open to the West had no interest in or substantial knowledge of Arabic philosophy, in his chapter, "Pletho, Scholarios and Arabic Philosophy" (309-334).

This volume contains an abundance of information for specialists on late Byzantine thought or on theological dialogue between Latin and Greek churches. It also contains chapters—most notably those by Tinnefeld and Plested—that should be read by anyone who is interested in the history of interaction among the various branches of the Christian tradition.

Table of Contents

Denis M. Searby, "Foreword" – 1
Franz Tinnefeld, "Translations from Latin to Greek" – 9
Marcus Plested, "Reconfiguring East and West in Byzantine and Modern Orthodox Theology" – 21
John Monfasani, "George of Trebizond, Thomas Aquinas, and Latin Scholasticism" – 47
Antoine Levy, "Translatable and Untranslatable Aquinas" – 63
Panagiotis C. Athanasopoulos, "Bessarion of Nicaea vs. Mark Eugenicus" – 77
Irini Balcoyiannopoulou, "New Evidence on the Manuscript Tradition and on the Latin and Greek Background to George Scholarius' In 'De Interpretatione'" – 93
Marie-Hélène Blanchet, "The Two Byzantine Translations of Thomas Aquinas' De Rationibus Fidei" – 115
John A. Demetracopoulos, "Scholarios' On Almsgiving, or How to Convert a Scholastic 'Quaestio' into a Sermon" – 129
Pantelis Golitsis, "ἐσέντζια, ὀντότης, οὐσία. George Scholarios' philosophical understanding of Thomas Aquinas' De ente et essentia and His use of Armandus de Bellovisu's commentary" – 179 Brian M. Jensen, "Hugo Eterianus and His Two Treatises on the Demetrius of Lampe Affair" – 197
Christian W. Kappes, "Gregorios Palamas' Reception of Augustine's Doctrine of the Original Sin and Nicholas Kabasilas' Rejection of Aquinas' Maculism as the Background to Scholarios' Immaculism" – 207
Michail Konstantinos-Rizos, "Prochoros Cydones' Translation of Thomas Aquinas' Quaestiones disputatae de potentia and Quaestio disputata de spiritualibus creaturis" – 259
Sergei Mariev, "Nature as instrumentum Dei. Some aspects of Bessarion's reception of Thomas Aquinas" – 275
Tikhon Alexander Pino, "Hylomorphism East and West" – 291
Georgios Steiris, "Pletho, Scholarios, and Arabic Philosophy" – 309
Selected Bibliography – 335
Index – 355
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