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When the Angelic Doctor Was More Eastern than Western

When Aquinas was translated into Greek and introduced in the East, he was beloved.

–          bionic mosquito

There’s one for you – starting off a post by quoting myself!  Well, in response to this line, a friend emailed me an article: Byzantine Thomism and the True Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue: “Breathing with Both Lungs”.  Coincidentally, it was published one day before my referenced post

This article offers some history regarding the Eastern love of Aquinas, and also introduces an institute working to expand this dialogue.

Many Catholics are unaware of the rich tradition of ‘Byzantine Thomism’ that budded in the two centuries prior to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and was critical to the successful, though short-lived, Union of Florence, healing the schism between East and West, in 1439.

Byzantine Thomism was characterized by a fruitful cross-pollination of St Thomas’ thought with the Greek Fathers….

I am guessing many Orthodox are also unaware of this – perhaps like keeping the crazy uncle hidden upstairs when guests come over.  As for Protestants, as I have written before, Luther was critical of Thomas and his Scholasticism without really having read or understood much of his work.

After the sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, “mendicant orders and the friars would…play a predominant role in the religious life of Latin Christians in the East.”  The author of this piece recognizes the sacking as “a great crime,” nevertheless he sees in it that through it “God may be affecting the good of reconciliation of East and West….”

We have such examples in the Bible, so I really don’t want to dive into this point any further.  I only raise it for the history – how Aquinas was introduced in the East.  The first Dominicans came to Constantinople in 1232.  Even after the Byzantine recapture of Constantinople, the Catholic community in the city flourished.  It was through this community – specifically the Dominicans – that Aquinas came to be known.

The man responsible for the translation of both the Summa contra gentiles and the Summa theologica from Latin into Greek was the noble-born Byzantine scholar Demetrios Kydones in the 1350s, who remarked that St Thomas knew Plato and Aristotle better than the Greeks themselves.

Demetrios would become Imperial Prime Minister under three emperors.  He was a strong advocate for re-union with the Latin Church. Of course, this movement for reunion was also propelled by political considerations for the defense of Christendom against the Ottoman Muslims.

The Byzantines were also particularly impressed by the apologetic skills of Aquinas, which they put in the service of their own disputes with Mohammedanism.

Aquinas would reach a standing in the East that he would not achieve in the West until the late nineteenth century.

Conclusion

Paradoxically, St Thomas Aquinas’ high reputation in Byzantium coincided with a low point in his reputation in Latin Christendom, partly because of the tragic rivalry between the different religious orders.

I am reminded of a lecture given by Fr. Michael Butler, an Orthodox priest, who better understood, and better advocated for, Thomistic natural law than most Catholic priests.  I reviewed his lecture here.

Epilogue

The Dialogos Institute is a theological institute founded in 2015 to help remedy this disaster by recovering the patristic heritage of the Church in the spirit of faithful Latin and Byzantine Thomism.

This Institute is mentioned several times in the article.  From the Institute’s website:

The Dialogos Institute is particularly devoted to the reintegration of the Byzantine and Latin traditions in theology, liturgy and spirituality. This is a delicate task in which it is important to preserve the distinction between the two traditions while allowing today’s faithful to drink deep from both streams in their purity.

The Dialogos Institute is a Romano-Byzantine theological institute devoted to the study of the patristic heritage in the spirit of Latin and Byzantine Thomism.

Returning to the sources of the faith through the Socratic method of disputation, the members of the Dialogos Institute seek to contribute to the renewal of Catholic Theology and Philosophy and an authentically Christian social order through fidelity to the united witness of the holy Fathers.

Sounds like worthwhile work to me.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.