The following passage is translated from Juan Nadal Cañellas, La résistance d’Akindynos à Grégoire Palamas. Enquête historique, avec traduction et commentaire de quatre traités édités récemment. Volume 2: Commentaire historique. (Leuven 2006), pp. 93-96. Nadal Cañellas’s book gives an historical introduction to his translation of Gregory Akindynos’s four Antirrhetic Treatises against Gregory Palamas (the Greek text of which he also edited, Corpus Christianorum series graeca, vol. 31). The book, a work of great erudition, deserves to be better known in the English-speaking world. Nadal Cañellas frequently takes issue with the late Archpriest John Meyendorff’s reading of the Palamite controversy; the following paragraphs are presented as a brief specimen of his argumentation.

For many authors, the climactic moment of opposition between the humanists and those who have come to be called hesychasts coincides with the polemics surrounding Gregory Palamas. The person who insisted most strongly upon this opposition, presenting it as two permanently irreconcilable positions, was Fr. John Meyendorff. His intention was clear: to reassert the value of the theology of Gregory Palamas, the inheritor and possessor, in his view, of the great spiritual values of the Christian East, faced with what Meyendorff at least took to be the rational, nominalist, paganizing thought of the Byzantine humanists, precursors of a laicizing thought which, in the West, led to the Italian renaissance:

“Byzantine humanism, if it had been free to develop, would probably have carried Byzantine culture in the same direction as that followed by Italian and thereafter all Western culture. It was the fate of this humanism to nourish the Renaissance in Italy, but, at Byzantium, to run up against the fierce opposition of the monks.” [1] “Moreover, Byzantine humanism was not completely drowned under the Palamite waves, and it was able to produce in the fifteenth century such an astonishing phenomenon as the neo-paganism of Gemisthos Plethon. Nevertheless, there were at stake principles already heralding the advent of the modern world in the dispute between Barlaam and Palamas, and, very often, it was those principles which divided the supporters of Palamism from his adversaries. The humanists, in fact, started from the assumption of a sort of autonomy for human reason, and its independence in relation to a God whom they conceived as some impenetrable and inaccessible Essence. The union of God and man, realized once for all in the person of Christ, and divine action, effective and real, among humanity regenerated by baptism, played no decisive part in their thought. The hesychasts, [on the other hand,] were defending a conception of Christianity inherited from the Fathers, which left no form of human activity outside the sphere of God’s action. The idea of a complete ‘collaboration’ (συνεργία) between these two activities was indeed the special message of Palamism.” [2]

While we do not disregard the real conflict between the two spiritualities in question, we nevertheless do not believe that such categorical assertions can command assent. We are convinced that the truth obliges us to differentiate shades of meaning. Once again, it is Fr. Meyendorff who asserts:

“Akindynos’s letters give us a vivid picture of the … adversaries of Palamism; … none of them was a Latinophron, still less a Byzantine Thomist. As we shall show later, they were recruited partly from the advocates of profane humanism, and partly from the defenders of a Byzantine neo-scholasticism; for the latter every living expression and every dynamic thought, even if it had a solid Patristic basis, was suspect of heresy. Barlaam and Akindynos were very characteristic representatives of these two attitudes.” [3]

Many authors have taken an interest in the Palamite dispute and have spoken about it without having gained a deep acquaintance with it; on this unstable basis, Meyendorff’s apodictic assertions have seemed to carry considerable authority. It is nevertheless dangerous to speak ex cathedra when one’s assertions cannot be sustained in the light of the facts. For Meyendorff, for example, the humanists’ characteristic trait, as we have just heard him say, was to start from “the assumption of a sort of autonomy for human reason, and its independence in relation to a God whom they conceived as some impenetrable and inaccessible Essence” [4]; “the union of God and man, realized once for all in the person of Christ, … played no decisive part in their thought.” [5] One may ask if traits such as these truly characterize Akindynos or even Barlaam. How well-founded, in fact, are Palamas’s accusations against them, and Meyendorff’s more recent ones, which charge them with being quintessential representatives of these attitudes?

Antonio Fyrigos, in the introduction to his edition of Barlaam’s Letters to Palamas, already noted that there are prejudices that are difficult to overturn. [6] It does not seem possible to affirm, purely and simply, that Barlaam placed reason above revelation or that he accorded more authority to pagan authors than to the Fathers of the Church. It was Palamas who said this, and it was a calumny; Barlaam, in reply, wrote to him:

“The wrongs of which you accuse me, most unjustly — and I fail to understand how your priestly soul was able to contrive such things against a Christian and a friend — are the following: while, for my own part, I spoke about divine things with all devotion, veneration, and godly fear, as befits all those who know themselves, and while, in particular, all things I spoke concerning demonstration were spoken in defense of the Fathers, since I found it hard to bear if anyone placed a higher value on demonstrations than on [the Fathers’] words, you, for your part, interpreted my whole discourse as though, having premised a comparison between our holy Fathers and the philosophers and asked which of them one ought to follow, I had preferred to devote my mind to the pagans, whereas you had thought it necessary that argument be made on behalf of the Fathers, giving the view that one must hold to them more than to anyone else. And, because of these things, on the one hand you place me among the ranks of the pagans whom you condemn, on the other hand you represent me as being opposed to those Fathers for whom you claim to fight, and you make pretense of being moved with divine zeal to anger for their sake, as though they had been injured by me. Having interpreted in this way my whole discourse, from start to finish, as far as in you lay you removed from me all possibility of appearing a pious man. For all those who have been won over to an opinion of your righteousness, when they read your letter and have not yet bothered to examine my own writings, will be led to believe deplorable things about me as far as concerns my faith. In fact, even now, upon my arrival in Thessalonica, I have found no small number who, upon your word, have been persuaded to condemn me as an enemy of religion.” [7] “In saying these things, you are well aware that all those who, in the future, will read your treatise will have of me the idea that this Italian Barlaam was an oddball who, pretending to believe in the Christian doctrines, was in reality a pure pagan, since he considered the thesis of the Greeks concerning the indemonstrability of the divine as more devout and pious than the view of its demonstrability maintained by the Fathers.” [8]

Barlaam can hardly be accused of profane humanism or of rationalism and neo-scholasticism; Akindynos and the Princess Irene-Eulogia and, in turn, their disciples and all those who were unwilling to accept Palamas’s doctrines were even less deserving of this accusation.


[1] J. Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, 2nd ed. (Crestwood, NY, 1974), p. 27.

[2] Ibid.; translation slightly revised.

[3] Op. cit., p. 48.

[4] Op. cit., p. 27.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “In fact the greatness of Gregory Palamas creates, for someone who would approach questions concerning Barlaam, prejudices against the Calabrian philosopher, which only now are beginning to be overcome through objective research. Among these prejudices, one of the most undying ones holds that Barlaam was an odd personality who, preferring the pagan philosophers to the Fathers of the Church, fell into a radical agnosticism.” A. Fyrigos, ed., Barlaam Calabro: Epistole a Palamas (Rome 1975), p. v.

[7] Second Letter to Palamas, 24; Fyrigos, Epistole a Palamas, 124, 501 – 126, 520.

[8] Ibid., 27; Fyrigos, Epistole a Palamas, 132, 602-607.

A prayer of Moses

May 22, 2009

Psalm 90

 תפלה למשׁה אישׁ־האלהים א‍דני מעון אתה היית לנו בדר ודר׃
בטרם ׀ הרים ילדו ותחולל ארץ ותבל ומעולם עד־עולם אתה אל׃
תשׁב אנושׁ עד־דכא ותאמר שׁובו בני־אדם׃
כי אלף שׁנים בעיניך כיום אתמול כי יעבר ואשׁמורה בלילה׃
זרמתם שׁנה יהיו בבקר כחציר יחלף׃
בבקר יציץ וחלף לערב ימולל ויבשׁ׃
כי־כלינו באפך ובחמתך נבהלנו׃
[שׁת כ] (שׁתה ק) עונתינו לנגדך עלמנו למאור פניך׃
כי כל־ימינו פנו בעברתך כלינו שׁנינו כמו־הגה׃
ימי־שׁנותינו בהם שׁבעים שׁנה ואם בגבורת ׀ שׁמונים שׁנה ורהבם עמל ואון כי־גז חישׁ ונעפה׃
מי־יודע עז אפך וכיראתך עברתך׃
למנות ימינו כן הודע ונבא לבב חכמה׃
שׁובה יהוה עד־מתי והנחם על־עבדיך׃
שׂבענו בבקר חסדך ונרננה ונשׂמחה בכל־ימינו׃
שׂמחנו כימות עניתנו שׁנות ראינו רעה׃
יראה אל־עבדיך פעלך והדרך על־בניהם׃
ויהי ׀ נעם אדני אלהינו עלינו ומעשׂה ידינו כוננה עלינו ומעשׂה ידינו כוננהו׃

Προσευχὴ τοῦ Μωυσῆ ἀνθρώπου τοῦ θεοῦ

Κύριε, καταφυγὴ ἐγενήθης ἡμῖν ἐν γενεᾷ καὶ γενεᾷ·
πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναι
καὶ πλασθῆναι τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν οἰκουμένην
καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ.
μὴ ἀποστρέψης ἄνθρωπον εἰς ταπείνωσιν·
καὶ εἶπας Ἐπιστρέψατε, υἱοὶ ἀνθρώπων.
ὅτι χίλια ἔτη ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς σου
ὡς ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ ἐχθές, ἥτις διῆλθεν,
καὶ φυλακὴ ἐν νυκτί.
τὰ ἐξουδενώματα αὐτῶν ἔτη ἔσονται.
τὸ πρωὶ ὡσεὶ χλόη παρέλθοι,
τὸ πρωὶ ἀνθήσαι καὶ παρέλθοι.
τὸ ἑσπέρας ἀποπέσοι, σκληρυνθείη καὶ ξηρανθείη.
ὅτι ἐξελίπομεν ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ σου
καὶ ἐν τῷ θυμῷ σου ἐταράχθημεν.
ἔθου τὰς ἀνομίας ἡμῶν ἐνώπιόν σου·
ὁ αἰὼν ἡμῶν εἰς φωτισμὸν τοῦ προσώπου σου.
ὅτι πᾶσαι αἱ ἡμέραι ἡμῶν ἐξέλιπον,
καὶ ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ σου ἐξελίπομεν·
τὰ ἔτη ἡμῶν ὡς ἀράχνην ἐμελέτων.
αἱ ἡμέραι τῶν ἐτῶν ἡμῶν, ἐν αὐτοῖς ἑβδομήκοντα ἔτη,
ἐὰν δὲ ἐν δυναστείαις, ὀγδοήκοντα ἔτη,
καὶ τὸ πλεῖον αὐτῶν κόπος καὶ πόνος·
ὅτι ἐπῆλθεν πραΰτης ἐφ᾽ ἡμᾶς, καὶ παιδευθησόμεθα.
τίς γινώσκει τὸ κράτος τῆς ὀργῆς σου
καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ φόβου σου τὸν θυμόν σου;
ἐξαριθμήσασθαι τὴν δεξιάν σου οὕτως γνώρισον
καὶ τοὺς πεπεδημένους τῇ καρδίᾳ ἐν σοφίᾳ.
ἐπίστρεψον, κύριε· ἕως πότε;
καὶ παρακλήθητι ἐπὶ τοῖς δούλοις σου.
ἐνεπλήσθημεν τὸ πρωὶ τοῦ ἐλέους σου
καὶ ἠγαλλιασάμεθα καὶ εὐφράνθημεν
ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἡμῶν·
εὐφράνθημεν ἀνθ᾽ ὧν ἡμερῶν ἐταπείνωσας ἡμᾶς,
ἐτῶν, ὧν εἴδομεν κακά.
καὶ ἰδὲ ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους σου καὶ τὰ ἔργα σου
καὶ ὀδήγησον τοὺς υἱοὺς αὐτῶν,
καὶ ἔστω ἡ λαμπρότης κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν ἐφ᾽ ἡμᾶς,
καὶ τὰ ἔργα τῶν χειρῶν ἡμῶν κατεύθυνον ἐφ᾽ ἡμᾶς.

Oratio Moysi, hominis Dei.

Domine, refugium factus es nobis
A generatione in generationem.
Priusquam montes fierent,
Aut formaretur terra et orbis,
A saeculo et usque in saeculum tu es Deus.
Ne avertas hominem in humilitatem;
Et dixisti: Convertimini, filii hominum.
Quoniam mille anni ante oculos tuos
Tanquam dies hesterna quae praeteriit,
Et custodie in nocte;
Quae pro nihilo habentur eorum anni erunt.
Mane sicut herba transeat;
Mane floreat, et transeat;
Vespere decidat, induret, et arescat.
Quia defecimus in ira tua,
Et in furore tuo turbati sumus.
Posuisti iniquitates nostras in conspectu tuo,
Saeculum nostrum in illuminatione vultus tui.
Quoniam omnes dies nostri defecerunt;
Et in ira tua defecimus.
Anni nostri sicut aranea meditabuntur;
Dies annorum nostrorum in ipsis septuaginta anni.
Si autem in potentatibus octoginta anni,
Et amplius eorum labor et dolor;
Quoniam supervenit mansuetudo, et corripiemur.
Quis novit potestatem irae tuae,
Et prae timore tuo iram tuam dinumerare?
Dexteram tuam sic notam fac,
Et eruditos corde in sapientia.
Convertere, Domine; usquequo?
Et deprecabilis esto super servos tuos.
Repleti sumus mane misericordia tua;
Et exsultavimus, et delectati sumus omnibus diebus nostris.
Laetati sumus pro diebus quibus nos humiliasti,
Annis quibus vidimus mala.
Respice in servos tuos et in opera tua,
Et dirige filios eorum.
Et sit splendor Domini Dei nostri super nos;
Et opera manuum nostrarum dirige super nos,
Et opus manuum nostrarum dirige.

A Prayer of Moses the man of God.

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
Thou turnest man to destruction;
And sayest, Return, ye children of men.
For a thousand years in thy sight
Are but as yesterday when it is past,
And as a watch in the night.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep:
In the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up;
In the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
For we are consumed by thine anger,
And by thy wrath are we troubled.
Thou hast set our iniquities before thee,
Our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
For all our days are passed away in thy wrath:
We spend our years as a tale that is told.
The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
Yet is their strength labour and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Who knoweth the power of thine anger?
Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Return, O Lord, how long?
And let it repent thee concerning thy servants.
O satisfy us early with thy mercy;
That we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us,
And the years wherein we have seen evil.
Let thy work appear unto thy servants,
And thy glory unto their children.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us:
And establish thou the work of our hands upon us;
Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

James chapter 3

May 15, 2009

Given some things I wrote today to Photios Jones on another post on this blog, I realize now, to my sorrow, that this is another text upon which I need to meditate, for my own good.

My brethren, be not many masters [i.e., don’t all of you try to be teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

A week from tomorrow I will turn fifty. So far, I haven’t made any particular arrangements as to how to celebrate my birthday. The idea has been floating in my head to call some old friends and have them drop by the house, but so far I haven’t acted on that idea. Perhaps it’s a worry about spending money; perhaps it’s a realization that not many people would come.

Aristotle, in his Rhetoric, Book II, chapters 12-13, gives a notable description of the characters of the young and the old. Since the jubilee year is often seen as a milestone, a point at which youth is definitely over and old age is definitely fast approaching, it might be worth my while to reprint Aristotle’s reflections upon these two human states, for my own benefit if for no one else’s.

“Let us now consider the various types of human character, in relation to the emotions and moral qualities, showing how they correspond to our various ages and fortunes. By emotions I mean anger, desire, and the like; these we have discussed already. By moral qualities I mean virtues and vices; these also have been discussed already, as well as the various things that various types of men tend to will and to do. By ages I mean youth, the prime of life, and old age. By fortune I mean birth, wealth, power, and their opposites—in fact, good fortune and ill fortune.

“To begin with the Youthful type of character. Young men have strong passions, and tend to gratify them indiscriminately. Of the bodily desires, it is the sexual by which they are most swayed and in which they show absence of self-control. They are changeable and fickle in their desires, which are violent while they last, but quickly over: their impulses are keen but not deep-rooted, and are like sick people’s attacks of hunger and thirst. They are hot-tempered and quick-tempered, and apt to give way to their anger; bad temper often gets the better of them, for owing to their love of honor they cannot bear being slighted, and are indignant if they imagine themselves unfairly treated. While they love honor, they love victory still more; for youth is eager for superiority over others, and victory is one form of this. They love both more than they love money, which indeed they love very little, not having yet learnt what it means to be without it—this is the point of Pittacus’ remark about Amphiaraus. They look at the good side rather than the bad, not having yet witnessed many instances of wickedness. They trust others readily, because they have not yet often been cheated. They are sanguine; nature warms their blood as though with excess of wine; and besides that, they have as yet met with few disappointments. Their lives are mainly spend not in memory but in expectation; for expectation refers to the future, memory to the past, and youth has a long future before it and a short past behind it: on the first day of one’s life one has nothing at all to remember, and can only look forward. They are easily cheated, owing to the sanguine disposition just mentioned. Their hot tempers and hopeful dispositions make them more courageous than older men are; the hot temper prevents fear, and the hopeful disposition creates confidence; we cannot feel fear so long as we are feeling angry, and any expectation of good makes us confident. They are shy, accepting the rules of society in which they have been trained, and not yet believing in any other standard of honor. They have exalted notions, because they have not yet been humbled by life or learnt its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things—and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones; their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning; and whereas reasoning leads us to choose what is useful, moral goodness leads us to choose what is noble. They are fonder of their friends, intimates, and companions than older men are, because they like spending their days in the company of others, and have not yet come to value either their friends or anything else by their usefulness to themselves. All their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They disobey Chilon’s precept by overdoing everything; they love too much and hate too much, and the same with everything else. They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it; this, in fact, is why they overdo everything. If they do wrong to others, it is because they mean to insult them, not to do them actual harm. They are ready to pity others, because they think every one an honest man, or anyhow better than he is; they judge their neighbor by their own harmless natures, and so cannot think he deserves to be treated in that way. They are fond of fun and therefore witty, wit being well-bred insolence.

“Such, then, is the character of the Young. The character of the Elderly Men—men who are past their prime—may be said to be formed for the most part of elements that are the contrary of all these. They have lived many years; they have often been taken in, and often made mistakes; and life on the whole is a bad business. The result is that they are sure about nothing and under-do everything. They ‘think’, but they never ‘know’; and because of their hesitation they always add a ‘possibly’ or a ‘perhaps’, putting everything this way and nothing positively. They are cynical; that is, they tend to put the worse construction on everything. Further, their experience makes them distrustful and therefore suspicious of evil. Consequently they neither love warmly nor hate bitterly, but following the hint of Bias they love as though they will some day hate and hate as though they will some day love. They are small-minded, because they have been humbled by life: their desires are set upon nothing more exalted or unusual than what will help them to keep alive. They are not generous, because money is one of the things they must have, and at the same time their experience has taught them how hard it is to get and how easy to lose. They are cowardly, and are always anticipating danger; unlike that of the young, who are warm-blooded, their temperament is chilly; old age has paved the way for cowardice; fear is, in fact, a form of chill. They love life; and all the more when their last day has come, because the object of all desire is something we have not got, and also because we desire most strongly that which we need most urgently. They are too fond of themselves; this is one form that small-mindedness takes. Because of this, they guide their lives too much by considerations of what is useful and too little by what is noble—for the useful is what is good for oneself, and the noble what is good absolutely. They are not shy, but shameless rather; caring less for what is noble than for what is useful, they feel contempt for what people may think of them. They lack confidence in the future; partly through experience—for most things go wrong, or anyhow turn out worse than one expects; and partly because of their cowardice. They live by memory rather than by hope; for what is left to them of life is but little as compared with the long past; and hope is of the future, memory of the past. This, again, is the cause of their loquacity; they are continually talking of the past, because they enjoy remembering it. Their fits of anger are sudden but feeble. Their sensual passions have either altogether gone or have lost their vigor: consequently they do not feel their passions much, and their actions are inspired less by what they do feel than by the love of gain. Hence men at this time of life are often supposed to have a self-controlled character; the fact is that their passions have slackened, and they are slaves to the love of gain. They guide their lives by reasoning more than by moral feeling; reasoning being directed to utility and moral feeling to moral goodness. If they wrong others, they mean to injure them, not to insult them. Old men feel pity, as well as young men, but not for the same reason. Young men feel it out of kindness; old men out of weakness, imagining that anything that befalls anyone else might easily happen to them, which, as we saw, is a thought that excites pity. Hence they are querulous, and not disposed to jesting or laughter—the love of laughter being the very opposite of querulousness.

“Such are the characters of Young Men and Elderly Men. People always think well of speeches adapted to, and reflecting, their own character: and we can now see how to compose our speeches so as to adapt both them and ourselves to our audiences.”

Translation by W. Rhys Roberts; cited from Richard McKeon, ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle (New York, 1941), pp. 1403-1406.