Martin Jugie, A.A. (1878-1954), was a redoubtable Catholic controversialist and one of the great Byzantine scholars of the twentieth century. His works are not much in fashion these days, but much can still be learned from them. I am presenting here an on-going translation of one of his most important essays, his study of the Palamite Controversy that was published in the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique in 1932. Although Fr. John Meyendorff disagreed with Jugie on virtually everything he had to say about Gregory Palamas, his own studies owed a great debt to those of Jugie’s; it is worthwhile comparing their two accounts of the historical evidence.
The Palamite Controversy
Translated from Martin Jugie, “Palamite (Controverse),” in: M. Vacant et al., eds., Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, tome XI/2 (Paris 1932), cols. 1777-1818.
I. Preliminary considerations (col. 1777)
II. Conciliar acts and documents (col. 1778)
III. Palamism, official doctrine of the Byzantine Church (col. 1793)
IV. Principal defenders of Palamism in the XIV-XVth centuries. Moderate Palamism (col. 1795)
V. Palamism’s principal opponents. Their doctrine on the light of Tabor (col. 1802)
VI. Palamism and the Catholic West (col. 1809)
VII. Palamism in the Græco-Russian Church, from the XVIth century to our own times (col. 1811)
VIII. The Palamite controversy and Catholic apologetics (col. 1817)
I. PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS.
We spoke, in the article “Palamas,” of the remote origins and of what could be called the first phase of the Hesychast or Palamite controversy. Its origins are to be found in the false mysticism which began to seep into Byzantine monasticism roughly about the time when the Byzantine Church itself broke the last links which had connected it to the Roman Church and which, for better or worse, had preserved the very weak union to which, for several centuries, people had become accustomed. Its more immediate occasion was the polemics between Barlaam and the Athonite hesychasts represented by Gregory Palamas. We showed how the hesychasts’ defender, being provoked by the Calabrian monk’s strict logic, had been led to invent a new theology concerning the essence of God and his operation, to differentiate within the divine Being a primary and a secondary element, to imagine a divine light, eternal and uncreated, but really distinct from the essence of God. This first phase of the controversy, which lasted about four years (1338 – 1341), came to an end at the council held in Constantinople at Saint Sophia on June 10th, 1341. We have scarcely mentioned this council. It is necessary to speak about it at somewhat greater length, since it is of prime importance for understanding the events which followed.
Following this council, the history of the quarrel becomes, in fact, highly complicated and rather obscure. The debate, which had been a purely religious one, from this point onwards takes on also a political complexion. On June 15th, four days after the synod, the Emperor Andronikos III died, leaving as his successor a child. The ambitious John Kantakouzenos, not satisfied with his title of Megas Domestikos, wanted to take in hand the reins of the government; on this, the Empress-mother and the Patriarch, John Kalekas, opposed him. He dreamed of making himself co-partner to the imperial throne, and he soon allowed himself to be proclaimed basileus at Didymoteichon (October 26, 1341). The better to succeed in his designs and to counteract the influence of the patriarch — who, shortly after the council, was obliged to crack down on Palamas — he relied upon the faction of the hesychasts and upon all the discontented prelates. He himself had become a fervent partisan of the new theology, which he soon caused to triumph by force. Finally, when he was forced to withdraw from politics, he undertook to write a history of the events in which he had been the principal agent, and he did this with a skillfully disguised partiality, which has fooled quite a few historians.
The Antipalamite faction also found its historian, in the person of Nikephoros Gregoras; but neither from him should one look for an impartial account, so tainted is he by egocentricity. It is, nevertheless, principally upon his statements, along with those of Kantakouzenos, that, to date, the historical account of the Palamite controversy has been based. This historical account needs to be completely rewritten with the support of yet-unpublished documents: these documents, preserved in excellent manuscripts from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, exist in such abundance as to constitute a whole library. Of this mass of documents we have been able to consult some choice fragments, patiently collected by Mgr. Louis Petit. These works provide a key to numerous puzzles, and reveal to us by what route Palamism succeeded in becoming the official doctrine of the Byzantine Church.
The paucity of published documents — the only documents made use of by most of those who, to date, have attempted to write the history of this quarrel — should serve as a warning to avoid quick generalizations, panoramic overviews and systematic constructions. Nevertheless, many scholars have not had that prudence. They have spoken to us about a struggle between two philosophical movements, baptized under the names of Aristotelianism and Platonism, or nominalism and realism; or about an opposition between two cultures, Latin culture represented by Barlaam and those who, after him, opposed Palamas, and Byzantine culture per se, represented by the Palamites; or about an antagonism between two ecclesiastical parties, the party of the monks and that of the secular clergy; or, finally, about a rivalry between opponents of union with the Latins and those who were called Latinophrones, i.e., those who had unionist tendencies. About these generalizations it can be said that none of them is completely true and none of them completely false. As the various phases of the conflict and the various persons who were involved in it succeeded each other by turn, one or another of these perspectives predominated, though not to the complete exclusion of the others. Fundamentally, as we stated above in the article “Palamas,” cols. 1750 f., the quarrel was, first and foremost, theological. Two methods of arriving at the knowledge of God and of divine things stood opposed: the scientific and rational method, which took its principles, not only in the authentic data of tradition, represented by the doctrine of the fathers and the definitions of the ecumenical councils, but also, equally, in the insights afforded by reason; and, on the other hand, the experiential, mystical method, which claimed to arrive at the knowledge of God, and at union with him, by ascetical practices and interior illuminations of grace, and which interpreted the data of tradition according to mystical experience. It was for this reason that Palamism, as we have shown by certain suggestive texts, did not hesitate to present itself as a development and a manifestation of truths implicitly and obscurely contained in the deposit of tradition. This is what explains the tenacious resistance it encountered in an environment which, for centuries, had been hostile to all innovation or development in matters of doctrine, a resistance which could be overcome in no way except by means of brute force.