Gregory of Cyprus

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GREGORY OF CYPRUS (12411290), known as Gregory II, was a patriarch of Constantinople. Born in Frankish-occupied Cyprus, Gregory traveled to Ephesus, Nicaea, and finally Constantinople, where he studied under Gregory Akropolites. His exceptional proclivity toward humanism gained for him a place in the select circle of academicians at the patriarchal school where he lectured on the Pauline letters. As one of the more creative personalities of the late thirteenth century, he was the very embodiment of the Paleologian renaissance that synthesized a renewal of ascetic spirituality and classical learning.

Upon his ascendancy to the patriarchate in 1283, Gregory inherited the political and religious problems that had been festering since the Fourth Crusade (1204) and the Council of Lyons (1274). Under the aggressive unionist attempts of Emperor Michael VIII and Patriarch John XI Beccus (r. 12751282), these issues became entangled with the filioque controversy.

The Synod of Blachernae (spring 1285) proved to be a short-lived victory for Gregory in his efforts to reconcile the Arsenites (the hard-line conservatives) with the unionists. The importance of this synod, however, was, by way of its condemnation of Beccus, its reaction to and rejection of the 1274 Roman formulation. Gregory's role was pivotal because of his synodal paper (Tome), which, however, was not subsequently recognized for what it wasthe definitive refutation of Beccus's theological innovation. Gregory's subsequent writings (among them the Pittakion, which was addressed to his benefactor and supporter, Andronicus II Palaeologus) constitute a defense of his stand against the filioque.

Gregory's theological contribution offered an insightful solution to the filioque debate. Rather than being one of provisional accommodation (Beccus) or of rigorous adherence to the formulations of Photios and Athanasius, his solution worked out the implications of the Cappadocians and of John of Damascus on the procession of the Holy Spirit. For Gregory, it was not enough to accept the authenticity of a particular scriptural or patristic reference; its correct interpretation was essential as well.

Gregory addressed Photios's thesis that the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father alone by raising the question of the relationship of the Spirit and the Son outside of time, as expressed in the formula "through the Son." His argument distinguishes between the essence and energies of God, or between God's unknowability and his perceivable manifestation in the world. By emphasizing the notion of energetic revelation in Greek patristic thought, Gregory remained, indeed, in the mainstream of Byzantine apophatism and also became the forerunner of fourteenth-century Palamite theology.

The impact of Gregory's insights on the Palamite synthesis as well as his solution to the filioque debate is increasingly recognized by scholars as being far more valuable and genuine than the theology of unionism. Unfortunately, Gregory's contemporaries, unlike his successors, did not share the same sentiments toward their prelate. Even though they tacitly accepted his orthodoxy, they insisted that he resign and solemnly removed his name from the hierarchical list of the sunodikon. Was his self-imposed abdication from the patriarchate the most prudent action to take against a small yet influential band of opponents? That he did so proves not his weakness but his pastoral sensitivity to the importance of healing the political divisions that had torn the church during his lifetime.


The published works of Gregory II can be found in Patrologia Graeca, edited by J.-P. Migne, vol. 142 (Paris, 1865). Of note is his autobiography, translated into French by William Lameere in La tradition manuscrite de la correspondance de Grégoire de Chypre (Brussels, 1937), pp. 176191.

The most definitive work on Gregory, with an extensive bibliography, is Aristeides Papadakis's Crisis in Byzantium: The Filioque Controversy in the Patriarchate of Gregory II of Cyprus 12831289 (New York, 1983). For a critical approach to Gregory's analysis in light of Gregory Palamas (fourteenth century) and Joseph Bryennios (fifteenth century), see Dumitru Staniloae's "Trinitarian Relations and the Life of the Church" (in Romanian), Ortodoxia (Bucharest) 16 (1964): 503525, reprinted in Theology and the Church (New York, 1980), pp. 1144.

John Travis (1987)

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Gregory of Cyprus

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