It appears that the great translator and commenter of Aquinas, Gennadios Scholarios, taught the Immaculate Conception in two works of his. Some Roman Catholic apologists imply (or explicitly claim) that he was expounding an eastern Christian view of the doctrine and that this is part of a “story arc” where Scholarios inherited the doctrine as it was developed over time from several earlier eastern saints. The east has, they allege, since stopped developing this doctrine because it has since been “lost” due to a prevailing anti-Latinism. This would make the more explicit and later teachings of Orthodox councils and saints (such as John Maximovitch and Paisios the Athonite) against the Immaculate Conception in effect betrayals of the earlier Byzantine heritage.
On this blog, it has been discussed in detail that the Roman Catholic doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception” is not part of the Orthodox heritage. It is nowhere to be found in the Saints Gregory Nazianzus, John of Damascus, Gregory Palamas, and Nicholas Cabasilas. Being that those who assert the Gennadios Scholarios “story arc”
are in fact incorrect about those aforementioned saints, it would seem that they must also be incorrect about Scholarios.
However, simply discounting their views because they have been repeatedly incorrect would not be compelling in of itself. They may still be correct in their assertion that Scholarios was in fact a proponent of the Immaculate Conception. And so, in this article we will treat this topic specifically and expound the most recent views of scholarship.
The origin of the “Scholarios taught the Immaculate Conception.” In 1954, Father Stephen G. Gulovich, a Uniate priest, wrote an article for the “Marian Studies” journal called “The Immaculate Conception in the Eastern Churches.” The article worked from the basic premise that because what Pope Pius IX taught on the Immaculate Conception was dogmatic, that this teaching was correct and its essential elements can be found in earlier eastern saints.
The article is decent overall though it is deficient in several respects. For example, it falsely accuses St Cyril of Alexandria of expounding an “origenistic interpretation of the prophecy of Simeon” and his Mariology betraying “the influence of Origen” (p. 152 and 161, an accusation eerily identical to Father Christaan Kappes’ later attack on Tsirplanis’ research). It also dwells upon Father Jugie’s theory that the Damascene teaching the Immaculate Conception and such.
Gulovich observes that Scholarios’ “thorough familiarity with the word of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Scotist Francis de Mayron, his works are characterized by a theological precision unknown to his predecessors.” (p. 177) In other words, Scholarios’ theology was distinctly western and “precise” in the sense that he spoke and thought the way western theologians do. The preceding are important details that later scholarship will concur with.
It is also interesting that nowhere does Gulovich call Scholarios a saint, though he elsewhere cites men who are canonized.
Whatever the article’s merits, it quotes two homilies from Scholarios as proof he taught the Immaculate Conception. The first homily that Gulovich asserts teaches the Immaculate Conception he dates to 1464. The following is quoted by Gulovich:
Thus, does a marvelous purity shone forth in both. However, in the Son this purity is more glorious, for by its very nature it was removed from all occasion of taint; but in the Mother this purity exists because of grace. In fact, by a reason inherent to her very nature, Mary should have contracted the taint of sin. However, as the future Mother of the Most Pure, she had to be all pure from the very first instant of her conception. As one can see, everything in the life of this mother was in harmony with the blessed purity which she among men was the first and the last to receive. (p. 178)
The passage is certainly consistent with the Immaculate Conception, though a wise interpreter would be careful to not necessarily jump to the conclusion that “all pure” literally means no original sin whatsoever. After all, Orthodox sing the following hymn celebrating the nativity of the Theotokos, but do not interpret to mean the Roman Catholic doctrine:
We hymn thy holy nativity and honor thine immaculate conception, O divinely chosen Bride and Virgin. And with the ranks of angels and the souls of the saints glorify thee. (Ode 7, Canon II, Par 4)
Even the very words “immaculate conception” mean something different in the Orthodox context than the Roman Catholic one. Orthodox understand “immaculate conception” to refer to the Theotokos’ parents conceiving her without the lust of passion—this is an extremely common idea in the writings of a plethora of saints, beginning in the seventh century.
Additionally, a careful reader of history would notice that Gulovich does not cite the Greek (which the book is printed in), but rather French (which means his article is in effect presenting a translation of a translation of a translation).
Nevertheless, Gulovich cites another passage from the second treatise of “On the Origin of the Human Soul,” which he dates to 1467. The passage also appears to teach the Immaculate Conception:
Because she was born in accordance with the common laws of nature, she was not immune of the original sin: for even though her parents possessed virtue in an incomparable degree they, too, were subject to the common heritage. However, the grace of God delivered her completely from the original sin, as if she was conceived in a virginal manner, in order that she might contribute a perfectly pure flesh to the incarnation of the Divine Word. Because she was completely delivered of the original culpability and punishment, a privilege she alone, among men, had received, her soul was completely inaccessible to the gloom of impure thoughts, and became in body and in soul the sanctuary of God. (p. 179)
In the above, it appears the Theotokos’ conception is being invoked and her conception is compared to that of Christ’s (“virginal”) conception. It also betrays a significant theological advance from Saint Augustine, who clearly juxtaposed both individuals on this point in his assertion that the Theotokos had original sin. It should be noted that the passage itself does not say when the Theotokos was delivered from original sin, as Saint Nicholas Cabasilas (and all earlier Orthodox theologians) located the deliverance from original sin to the annunciation. Contextually, “she might contribute a perfectly pure flesh to the incarnation of the Divine Word” points to a time at the annunciation.
And so, without more context, it would be difficult to jump to the conclusion that a literal Immaculate Conception is being taught by Scholarios in this passage. One would have to trust Gulovich’s reading of the context to be fundamentally accurate to allow for his framing of the quotes.
It must be said that Gulovich is not an impartial interpreter, as none of us completely are. In a surprising degree of candor to modern eyes (scholarship in his day did not have the pretense of impartiality), he concluded with the observation that the Orthodox Church has “lost contact with their own traditions, completely ignorant of the great strides made by their own theologians…which seems to be a special curse of the East.” (p. 182) In this, Gulovich betrays a Latin (as opposed to an Eastern) epistemology of Newmanian doctrinal development. Be that as it may, the fact remains he puts forward a compelling argument that Scholarios taught the Immaculate Conception, though it is not air tight.
The views of more recent scholarship. In 2006, Christopher Livanos wrote a short book published by Gorgios Press called, Greek Tradition and Latin Influence in the Work of George Scholarios: Alone Against All of Europe. Essentially, he concurred with Father Gulovich that Scholarios had presumed upon Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. Livanos added that Scholarios ignored the hymnographic and hagiographic traditions, and as a former “Unionist” he “did not represent the views of most Orthodox clergy or laity in late Byzantine society.” (p. 15 of original book, p. 155 of this book review)
Livanos concurs with Gulovich that Scholarios taught the Immaculate Conception. This, Livanos’ asserts similarly to Gulovich, was based upon his adherence to both Augustine and John Scotus Eriugena’s teachings. Scholarios himself, interestingly enough, credited Augustine as his singular influence, (p. 20, discussed on p. 226 of VHA Panel’s treatment of the subject) perhaps viewing later Latin thinkers as simply concurring with his thought. An astute observer would note that this means that Scholarios was knowingly innovating in one respect as he was admittedly not pulling from his own Byzantine tradition, but he was drawing (incorrectly) from a western saint. Scholarios may be forgiven because he felt that he was faithfully adapting the teachings of Augustine. It is with a sense of irony that a fuller reading of Augustine reveals his explicit opposition to any notion of the Immaculate Conception, but limited access to Latin manuscripts of the saint likely inhibited his reading.
Livanos’ research is especially important, because he provides updated dating to the aforementioned homilies that were quoted above. “On the Origin of the Soul” is dated to 1444-5 and the “Sermon on the Feast of the Presentation” to 1449-50. (p. 161, discussed on p. 155 of VHA Panel’s treatment of the subject) This significantly removes the rhetorical force of Gulovich’s argument, who claimed that the quotations represented the mature teachings of Scholarios near the end of his life. The correct dating is important, because it reveals that Scholarios’ writing on the Immaculate Conception (presuming Livanos and Gulovich are correct on this matter) immediately after his short Uniate phase subsequent to the Council of Florence in 1443.
Due to the homilies not being translated into English, I do not have firsthand knowledge of either homily. However, some information is available about “On the Origin of the Soul.” Patel asserts that it is a western-oriented document that cited “Western scholarship” (p. 226) and particularly Augustine. Its central thesis (which is coincidentally my own) was that Augustine’s “trinities of the soul” demonstrated an Orthodox Pneumatology as opposed to a Roman Catholic one. Patel asserts that the audience in which Scholarios’ teaching of the “Immaculate Conception” was directed towards was generally Roman Catholic. For example, “On the Origin of the Soul” had both an Italian (perhaps Bathelemy Lapacci) and Uniate audience.
And so, Scholarios was invoking a Roman Catholic doctrine within the context of winning an argument about the Filioque. Being that the audience was not Orthodox and its purpose was not Mariological, but Pneumatological, one must consider the possibility that Scholarios was invoking a Roman Catholic idea for rhetorical reasons. Without more context concerning the larger argument being presented (and without scholarship detailing how the “Immaculate Conception” passages fit into this), it cannot be ascertained whether Scholarios was seriously expounding the doctrine. Apologists often frame their opposition’s ideas in such a way in order to show how adhering to those same ideas would disallow for another one, here the Filioque. Hence, he may not be teaching Roman Catholic Mariology at all.
For all the aforementioned reasons, all can agree that Scholarios was not faithfully preserving the Mariological views of the Immaculate Conception as allegedly taught in earlier eastern saints (as Father Christaan Kappes and others assert). This is because Scholarios was knowingly expounding upon a western theological view which he credited (wrongly) to Augustine. This occurred immediately after an apostate stage in his life where Latin theological influence would have been significant. This influence’s significance would have endured throughout the 1440s, because of the Roman Catholic/Uniate presence in Constantinople he was countering. The context he was asserting Orthodox doctrines was with an audience that demanded proof from the Latin fathers, and so the “Immaculate Conception” would have in some respects demanded a Latinized treatment. In summation, scholarship recognizes he was not representing the native view of his Church and that his own writings betray that he knew this was so.
On top of all of the preceding, it is not even clear if Scholarios was actually asserting the western doctrine without the fuller context of the passages being translated. The passages may be little more than rhetorical talking points or simple speculation. More research or a translation into English would be necessary for wider scrutiny of the aforementioned passages.
Is Scholarios a saint? Someone may handwave the preceding and assert that it is irrelevant. The Orthodox have a view of doctrinal development and even if Scholarios was freely adapting scholastic Mariology and crediting it to Augustine, his synthesis of their thought would be legitimate and Orthodox because he is a saint of the Church.
There are two issues with the preceding. First, he is not a canonized saint. His veneration is a rather late development (in the late 20th century, notably after when Gulovich even wrote his article) locally within the Greek Orthodox Church. However, the fact that the Church of Greece locally has such veneration means it is not illegitimate to call him a “saint,” as long as one is somewhat agnostic whether this is absolutely the case. Personally, I have a “low bar” of what makes someone a saint and local veneration is sufficient. Nevertheless, others have a higher bar and would not accept him.
Second, Scholarios’ greatness within Orthodoxy is not predicated upon his output immediately after his Uniate phase, as this would be like endorsing all of Augustine’s musings immediately after his conversion (some of which contradict his later views, such as the salvation of the unbaptized). Rather, one would think Scholarios is venerated for his repentance, saving of Orthodoxy during novel Turkish domination, his attacks on the Filioque, and his apparent piety (he retired from the position as Patriarch instead of seeking to enrich and empower himself). His work as a theologian, which was what he was actually famous for, apparently was not so compelling that his veneration was not delayed for centuries.
Third, to trumpet Scholarios’ seemingly innovative Latinized views as representative of the Church is equivalent to asserting that Saint Peter Mogila’s Latinized views (which were rejected in a Pan-Orthodox synod when he was still alive) on Purgatory and the consecration of the Eucharist are representative of Orthodoxy. In fact, both men represent how saints may in the course of fighting a foreign heretical become so immersed in its views that they begin adopting seemingly less important details from the foreign group.
Some may complain that while Mogila’s views were clarified by a council, the same is not true of Scholarios. Though Scholarios was not the object in any way of the Pan-Orthodox Council of Jerusalem (1672) and the Council of Constantinople (1895), both of these councils teach against the doctrine and assert the Theotokos had original sin.
It is possible that many eastern thinkers, who were quite enamored with Scholarios’ writings, had passed over his seemingly problematic passages in silence similar to how many fathers treated Saints Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa for some of their apparent problematic views. And yet, both of these saints arguably did not even hold the incorrect views ascribed to them. This is why it is so important to have the entirety of Scholarios’ writings more widely disseminated.
Conclusion. To sum up this article, Gennadios Scholarios made in passing what likely were (though this is not certain) statements consistent with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception.” Uniate apologists appear to be the main proponents of this view.
Scholarship has shown that Scholarios felt that he was faithfully re-presenting Augustine and not, in fact, the views of his contemporary Orthodox or previous eastern fathers. Ironically, Scholarios was incorrect about Augustine to begin with, which calls into question whether he would have made the same statements if he had a fuller understanding of that saint.
Additionally, scholarship has identified that he was not pulling from eastern writers when he made the relevant comments. In fact, evidence shows that he was addressing Latins and Uniates specifically, largely within an apologetic context, on other topics. The informed reader would realize that the Mariological statements had a certain rhetorical force relevant to disputes of a different nature. When trying to convince someone of a different view, sometimes one will cite things that the other person believes and then detail internal contradictions for the sake of convincing him.
Without fuller context, it is difficult to determine whether or not this is indeed the case. Scholarios’ theology, though considered important and relevant to the Church for centuries, was never explicitly endorsed as evidenced by his lack of canonization. A recently canonized saint, Cyril Lukaris, had a heretical document widely attributed to him and the same document received conciliar condemnation. Yet, he had a public canonization. And so, Scholarios’ late-20th century veneration must be put into perspective. He can be venerated for reasons that have nothing to do explicitly with his theology. Nevertheless, Scholarios has recently become venerated, generating increased interest in the things he has said and done. For this reason, it is increasingly important that his works be translated and treated more widely so that what he wrote can be scrutinized more fully.