Martin Jugie, The Palamite Controversy (continued).

IV. The triumph of Palamism. Patriarchs Isidore and Kallistos (May 1347 – February 1354).

It was necessary to provide a successor to John XIV. This was not an easy thing to do. Kantakouzenos found himself faced with many ambitious churchmen who coveted the ecumenical see and expected it in repayment for their services towards the victor. As for him, he favored the candidacy of Palamas, but he dared not impose him by force, for the rebel monk had a bad reputation in public opinion, and he would have demanded that everyone be converted to his theology. In the end, the choice of the majority of electors was the famous Isidore of Monemvasia, who bore on his head numerous anathemas issued by the previous patriarch (May 17, 1347). Once named to the post, the new patriarch saw to the promotion of numerous bishops attached to the new doctrines. Thus it came about that Philotheos Kokkinos received the metropolitanate of Heraclea and Palamas that of Thessalonica.

The party of the discontented, with Neophytos of Philippi, Joseph of Ganos, and Matthew of Ephesus at their head, met in synod during the month of July of this year (1347). There were hardly more than about ten of them; but they had received letters of approbation from about a score of Antipalamite bishops from the provinces. From a doctrinal point of view, this synod of ten constituted a curious mix of longstanding Antipalamites and recent Palamites, and they must have had a difficult time coming up with a confession of faith. They nevertheless saw to it that they issued their own τόμος, as was then the fashion. The work has come down to us, and it gives a fairly clear reflection of the uncertain state of mind of these ambitious prelates. Published by Allatius, De perpetua consensione, etc., book II, ch. xvi, 4, it is reprinted in PG 150, 877-885. The doctrinal question is treated superficially and obscurely. The theology of Barlaam and of Akindynos is rejected as well as that of Palamas, and it is not easy to see what is the position of these opportunists. Their chief theme of reproach against Palamas is his terminology and his multitude of θεότητες. Nevertheless, they do not spend much time on this point. What matters most to them is to demonstrate that the election of Isidore, who had been chosen in preference to them, was uncanonical, and their task was easy. Isidore and Palamas were deposed and excommunicated. Palamas was styled the ἀρχηγὸς τῆς κακοδοξίας [the leader of bad doctrine], the inventor of different deities, superior and inferior, visible and invisible.

The response of Kantakouzenos’s episcopate to this audacious defiance was not long in waiting. Already in the following month of August, Isidore convened the bishops who were present in the capital and pronounced deposition and excommunication against the recalcitrants. A new tome was produced, with the inevitable preface concerning the heresy of Barlaam and Akindynos. It was published by Porphyrios Ouspenskii, The Christian East: Athos, vol. III, ed. Syrkov (Saint Petersburg 1892), pp. 728-736. Neophytos of Philippi and Joseph of Ganos were condemned as imbued with the heresy of Barlaam and Akindynos. As for Matthew of Ephesus, he was treated more as a schismatic and a perjurer, and the impression was given that it was hoped he would return to his senses. In fact, Kantakouzenos, in his work against Kyparissiotes, has preserved for us a letter of recantation by Matthew, dated April 22, 1350. The same document is preserved in Dionys. Athon. 147, fol. 276 vº – 277, and is vouched for by Philotheos as agreeing with the original. If it is authentic, the ambitious prelate’s return to Palamism did not last long, for, as early as the following year, at the Council of Blachernae, we find him seated among Palamas’s adversaries.

During the two and a half years in which he occupied the ecumenical see (May 1347 – December 1349), Isidore sought to have the whole Byzantine Church accept the Palamite dogmas. The bishops were chosen from among the partisans of the new theology. Stern measures were taken against the refractory. These opponents were found among all classes of society: among the clergy, among monastics, among the educated laity. It was at this period that the philosopher Nikephoros Gregoras entered resolutely into the battle and became the principal champion of the ancient orthodoxy. In 1348, he opposed Palamas for the first time (Hist. Byz. XVI, v, 11; PG 148, 1081). A group of faithful disciples popularized his teaching, and Palamism was visibly in decline. To raise it again, Kantakouzenos wanted to make him undergo the trial of a public disputation, in which complete liberty would be granted to his opponents to fight him and to expound their own doctrine. But, before this, he named to the ecumenical see, left vacant by the death of Isidore, the Athonite monk Kallistos, whom contemporary historians depict for us as a doctrinaire and brutal man whose persecuting zeal it was necessary to restrain (June 10, 1350). It was only one year later, on May 27, 1351, that the gathering occurred which, in Kantakouzenos’s mind, would bring the Byzantine Church’s internal schism to an end.

The council was held at the palace of Blachernae, in the triclinium of Alexis, and was presided over by the emperor Kantakouzenos in person. Many detailed accounts of it have come down to us, which are far from agreeing with each other. The longest, but not the most accurate nor the most complete, is that of Gregoras, who devotes no less than four books of his Byzantine History (books XVIII-XXI) to narrating the role which he played there. He counts only four sessions. The anonymous author of the tome of the patriarchate of Antioch provides a good summary, containing details which Gregoras lacks, but he distinguishes only three sessions. The clearest and most complete narrative, even if given from the Palamite point of view and passing over in silence discussions and incidents that did not favor that party, is, once again, the synodal tome, which was produced and signed two months after the close of the council (August 1351). According to this document, whose text may be found at PG 151, 717-763, there were five sessions, some of them separated by the interval of some days. The conclusion of the council took place on June 9th. The Palamites were represented at it by John Kantakouzenos, Patriarch Kallistos, and some thirty bishops, to judge by the signatures to the tome. Gregoras (op. cit., XVIII, iii; PG 148, 1141) speaks of only twenty-two bishops present, and tells us that most of them were uneducated rustics. As for the Antipalamites, the most noteworthy, apart from Gregoras, were the old metropolitan of Ganos, Joseph, the bishop of Tyre, Theodore Dexios (representing the Patriarch of Antioch), the hieromonk Athanasios, the monk Ignatios, and the still very young Theodore Atouemes. Gregoras’s students were also present; he adds that the populace in general was hostile towards Palamas.

The first session opened on May 27th with a speech by Kantakouzenos inviting those present to concord, but letting it be understood that such a state would have to be brought about by an acceptance of the Palamite dogmas. Gregoras replied, in the name of the opposition, that peace was impossible on those terms and that it was necessary to expel from the Church the polytheism of Palamas. Faced with this harsh attack, Palamas accused his adversaries of teaching the doctrines of Barlaam and Akindynos and proposed an examination of the works of those two figures. His opponents replied that it was neither Barlaam nor Akindynos that was under discussion, and, besides, they were ready to cast these men’s writings to the flames; the real question was to know if Palamas’s theology agreed with the traditional doctrine of the Church. It was his own works that it was necessary to examine. This demand provoked a stormy debate. Was the council to allow Palamas to appear before it in the position of the accused? Reluctantly, this solution was agreed to; and it was decided that, at the next session, Gregoras and his circle would have full liberty to declare their grievances.

The second session did not take place until May 30th. It was one of the most animated. Since, during the interval between the two sessions, the crowd had been voicing hostile cries against the Palamites, these demanded imperial protection. Kantakouzenos, at that point, had second thoughts about his having granted freedom to the other side to attack Palamas. Admission to the council was placed under severe control, and the emperor began the session with a speech full of threatenings against the recalcitrant. Faced with this violation of the promised terms, the Antipalamites walked out, and Palamas was able to read his confession of faith and have it approved without encountering opposition.

Nevertheless, a secession of the opposing side was not what Kantakouzenos wanted, and he would have failed to achieve the goal he had set for himself in convening the council if he were unable to bring them back to the table. He succeeded at this by way of flatteries and promises, and, over the course of two sessions, the Antipalamites were able to carry out their attacks against Palamas with relative freedom. The weapons employed were patristic texts. During the third session, Palamas appeared to make a concession concerning the use of the word θεότης [Godhead, divinity] as applied to the divine operations, a concession which was withdrawn during the subsequent sessions. Since the debate over Palamas’s chapters had not yet ended (the Antipalamites had collected sixty of them, intending to have them placed under review), at the fifth and last session Kantakouzenos proposed, as a way of concluding things, a series of five questions, summing up the hesychast theologian’s whole doctrine. Answers favoring Palamism were supported with the aid of numerous texts of the fathers. Opponents protested against their adversaries’ mythologizing exegesis and cited passages directly contradicting the innovating theses. They were ignored, and the order came down that they should adhere to the reigning orthodoxy, under the most severe penalties. The synod ended with the defrocking of the metropolitans of Ephesus and Ganos, which was brutally carried out, and with the excommunication of all those unwilling to change their minds. The former were carted off to the public jails; the latter, among them Nikephoros Gregoras, were kept under surveillance at their homes.

And so it was that Palamism triumphed by means of brute force. Already, before the synod of 1351, it had been introduced into the profession of faith of bishops on the day of their elevation. Nothing more remained than that it should be given a prominent place in the Synodikon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The patriarch Kallistos engineered this interpolation during a synod held, once again, at Blachernae in the triclinium of Alexis, during the month of July, 1352. A series of anathemas against Barlaam, Akindynos and their followers, and, with it, a series of acclamations in favor of Gregory Palamas and the adherents of his doctrine, were composed upon the model of customary, ritual anathemas and acclamations. Cod. Monacensis græc. 505, fol. 2 vº, attributes the writing of them to Philotheos. They provide a fair summary of Palamism, such as it is expressed in the tome of the council of 1351. We shall have occasion to speak of them again in due course. Cf. Porphyrios Ouspenskii, Athos, vol. III, pp. 781-785.

Continued …

One Response to “4. The triumph of Palamism (1347-1354)”

  1. Cristian Says:

    Jugie was much more convinced of the defining role of these doctrines for contemporary Orthodoxy, than were Fortescue and generally the English—speaking theologians from a century ago, who maintained implicitly or explicitly that Palamism is a footnote, something optional, a derivative school, etc.. Jugie writes about ‘a considerable time’ of resistance to the new doctrines; yet he shows afterwards that it was a question of (a few) decades in the 14th century. It’s interesting that there occurred a Kievan riposte.
    Thanks for reviving Jugie’s texts.


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