Translation of: Jean-Philippe Houdret, O.C.D., “Palamas et les Cappadociens,” Istina 19 (1974), pp. 260-271.

In the course of this brief article, our aim is to bring up the vast problem of the relations that exist between the thought of Gregory Palamas and that of the Cappadocian fathers. The celebrated Byzantine theologian sought to be a faithful follower of the teaching of the saints, and the great Cappadocians are among the godbearing fathers to whom he frequently refers in his writings. This is why we prefer to limit ourselves here to the examination of a precise but fundamental question: Do we already find, among the Cappadocian fathers, the beginnings of the distinction in God between essence and energies, such as Gregory Palamas later would understand and defend it?
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Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.1

January 29, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 759C – 761B.

Decade Two: On Demonstrative Theology

Chapter One. That there are also two kinds of demonstrative theology.

The great Dionysius in chapter 2 of his Celestial Hierarchy says:

Sacred revelation [ἱερᾶς ἐκφαντορίας] occurs in a twofold manner. One kind, not surprisingly, proceeds through likenesses that are similar [to the divine] and describe something sacred; but the other kind uses forms that are dissimilar, which are fashioned into utter unlikeness and incongruity. For example, the mystical traditions of the revelatory texts sometimes extol the superessential Godhead’s august blessedness as “Word,” and “Mind,” and “Essence,” indicating its God-befitting rationality and wisdom — since it really is the existence and the true cause of the existence of things that are; and they describe it as “Light,” and call it “Life.” While such sacred descriptions are more reverent, and seem in a certain way to be superior to the material [προσύλων] images, all the same, they in reality fall short of similarity to that which is primordially divine. For it is above every essence and life. No light expresses its character; every word and mind falls incomparably short of likeness to it. But at other times the sacred texts themselves supermundanely hymn its praises through dissimilar revelations, when they affirm that it is “invisible,” and “infinite,” and “incomprehensible,” and such things as signify, not what it is, but what it is not.

[2.1.1] Ps.-Dionysius, Caelestis hierarchia 2.2-3; PG 3, 140 B-D.

From these things it comes about that demonstrative theology is twofold, one kind being expressed affirmatively and from effects, the other kind, negatively and by way of privation; and the former of these presents forms that are similar [to the divine], the latter, forms that are dissimilar. But this, nevertheless, is to be noted about affirmative theology, that it, too, proceeds by way of forms portrayed in sacred Scripture; but it does so more straightforwardly than in the case of those things which are said according to symbolic theology, in either of its two forms of representation (which things the fathers have called προσύλους [material], whereas we call them earthly). For, even if the other sort of theology, the symbolic kind, proceeds by way of words that are reinterpreted and sketched, nevertheless, many absurdities and incongruities remain in them. For what should one think, when one hears of drunkenness in God, and repentance, and swearings, and imprecations, and other things of this kind?

Poem 2.1.90 On his own and his parents’ death (PG 37, 1445-1446)

Πρῶτος Καισάριος, ξυνὸν ἄχος· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
Γοργόνιον· μετέπειτα πατὴρ φίλος· οὐ μετὰ δηρὸν
μήτηρ. Ὦ λυπρὴ παλάμη καὶ γράμματα πικρὰ
Γρηγορίου! γράψω καὶ ἐμοῦ μόρον, ὑστατίου περ.

First it was Caesarius, our common sorrow; then
Gorgonia; after this, my beloved Dad; and not long afterward,
Mom. O mournful hand and bitter writing
of Gregory! I shall write my own death, too, though last of all.

✜ ❉ ✜ ❉ ✜ ❉ ✜ ❉ ✜

Poem 2.1.98 Another (PG 37, 1450-1451)

Ἔκ με βρέφους ἐκάλεσσε Θεὸς νυχίοισιν ὀνείροις.
Ἤλυθον ἐς σοφίης πείρατα. Σάρκα Λόγῳ
Ἥγνισα καὶ κραδίην. Κόσμου φλόγα γυμνὸς ἄλυξα.
Ἔστην συνααρὼν Γρηγορίῳ γενέτῃ.

From childhood God called me by dreams of the night.
I arrived at the boundaries of wisdom. For the Word I hallowed
flesh and heart. Naked I fled the world’s flame.
I stood in Aaron’s order with Gregory my father.

✜ ❉ ✜ ❉ ✜ ❉ ✜ ❉ ✜

Poem 2.1.99 Another (PG 37, 1451-1452)

Ἄγγελοι αἰγλήεντες ἀπειρέσιον κατὰ κύκλον,
Τρισσοφαοῦς Θεότητος ὁμὸν σέλας ἀμφιέποντες,
Γρηγόριον δέξασθ’ ἀνάξιον, ἀλλ’ ἱερῆα.

Brilliant angels in your measureless circle
round and round attending the one light of thrice-shining Godhead:
receive Gregory, unworthy, but a priest.


January 25, 2011

I learned early this morning that longtime St. John’s College tutor David Starr was ordained to the priesthood on January 18, 2011 (January 5th, Old Calendar) by His Eminence Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America, at Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco. Fr. David will be serving as assistant priest at St. Juliana of Lazarevo Russian Orthodox Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Kyparissiotes: Decade 1.10

January 21, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 758 C – 760 B.

Chapter Ten. That, from both types of symbolic theology, whether the kind expressed in an outward form by angels or the kind expressed by words which, at first glance, seem incongruous, it is by all means necessary to have recourse to higher notions.

The great Dionysius says in his Letter to Titus:

For we should not suppose that such composite appearances have been formed for their own sake; but they shield the unutterable, invisible knowledge from the multitude, since things all-holy are inaccessible to the profane, but are made manifest only to those who are genuine lovers of piety, who reject all childish fancy respecting the holy symbols, and are capable of passing with simplicity of mind and aptitude of contemplative faculty to the simple and supernatural and elevated truth of the symbols.

[1.10.1] Dionysius, Ep. ad Titum; PG 3, 1105 C.

And, again, in chapter 2 of his Celestial Hierarchy the same author states:

Thus do all who are wise in God and interpreters of the secret inspiration separate, in an undefiled way, the holy of holies from the uninitiated and the unholy and prefer to represent holy things by way of things dissimilar, so that neither should the profane easily lay hands upon things divine, nor should those who diligently contemplate the divine imagery rest in the types as though they were the realities.

[1.10.2] Dionysius, Caelestis hierarchia, 2; PG 3, 145 A.

So likewise also Basil the Great says:

As for someone who does not ascend from the words to higher notions, but remains stuck at the level of those corporeal sketches that are made by compositions of words, such a person shall hear from Moses that God is a fire (Deut 4:24), and shall, by the wise Daniel, be turned aside to other opinions, so that as a result he will infer from these things, not only false thoughts, but thoughts that are mutually contradictory.

[1.10.3] Basil (passage not yet identified).

From the foregoing it is clear that one should not cling to forms symbolically expressed, by whatsoever means they are expressed, whether by an image falling under sense perception or by words which appear to possess much incongruity and absurdity; rather, one should, with all diligence, have recourse to higher thoughts.

To summarize, then, in a simple and clear recapitulation those matters of which I have treated: in chapter one it was shown, as it were in a general way, that theology may be basically divided into two kinds; concerning the one kind, that is, symbolic theology, it is further necessary to explain what and how many are the things which it makes known and declares (ch. 2); following this, there is a clarification of the nature of these things, namely, that they are bodily and fall under the senses (ch. 3); then, [a clarification] of what property they exhibit (ch. 4); following this, that not only are things concerning God represented in forms and images of this kind, but even things pertaining to angels (ch. 5); next, in how many modes these symbolic things appear and are perceived (ch. 6); next, by what word, when they are named, they are covered and clothed (ch. 7); furthermore, by what intermediaries they are effected (ch. 8); next it was shown that it is not possible for these things to be produced otherwise than through intermediaries, namely, through angels (ch. 9); finally, that one ought not to cling to types of this kind, whether they are effected by words alone or in forms and images (ch. 10). Thus, nothing more remains to be said on this subject, but this part of our discussion is finished. And, indeed, it is in keeping with this kind of theology that we should hear it called “arcane” and “mystical,” since it does not allow us to abide in visible things, but it forces people to go further, as many as have received from nature wings upon which to be carried up to the heights.

Kyparissiotes: Decade 1.9

January 19, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 757 A – 758 C.

Chapter Nine. That even our Lord Jesus Christ himself, in respect of his own divinely-primordial humanity, does not depart from the order befitting man, an order which he himself defined.

The great Dionysius, in chapter four of his Celestial Hierarchy, says:

But I observe that angels first were initiated into the divine mystery of the love of Jesus towards man, then, through them, the grace of knowledge passed to us. Thus, for example, the most divine Gabriel instructed the hierarch Zachariah that the son who, by divine grace and beyond hope, was to be born to him should be a prophet of Jesus’ manly and divine work, that work that was to be revealed to the world in a saving way, a way befitting the Good; and he revealed to Mary how, in her, should be born the divinely primordial mystery of the unutterable God-formation. Yet another angel instructed Joseph how, in truth, the things promised by God to his ancestor David should be fulfilled. Another declared glad tidings to the shepherds, as to men purified by their separation from the multitude and by their quiet life; and, with him, a multitude of the heavenly host announced to those on earth that often-sung doxology. Let us then ascend to the highest manifestations of light contained in the sacred texts; for I perceive that even Jesus himself, the superessential cause of the super-heavenly essences, when he, without change, had come to our condition, did not overstep the good order that befits mankind, which he himself had arranged and chosen, but he readily subjected himself to the dispositions which God the Father, through angels, had effected; and, through the angels’ mediation, the Son’s departure to Egypt, arranged by the Father, was announced to Joseph, and again the return from Egypt to Judaea. And through angels we see him subjecting himself to the Father’s decrees. For, as I am addressing someone who knows the things that are spoken about in our hieratic traditions, I forbear to speak concerning the angel who strengthened the Lord Jesus, him who was, indeed, the angel’s teacher and the light of the whole world.

[1.9.1] Dionysius, Caelestis hierarchia 4.4; PG 3, 181 B-D (note: part of the final sentence differs from the text in Migne).

And another has testified in a certain place, saying:

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honor; thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor.

[1.9.2] Heb 2:6-9.

From these things, therefore, it is established that, if our Lord Jesus Christ through the suffering of death was made a little lower than the angels, and we see him, who, through the angels, was subject to the paternal laws, not refusing to preserve the order befitting man, an order which he himself established and accepted, but, rather, showing himself obedient to those dispositions which God the Father, through the angels, put into effect: it is also manifest that the angels had previously been informed about all of Christ’s mysteries; later, through these angels, the grace of knowledge was extended to us. How then can anyone, even if he is a most capable and potent theologian, proudly refuse that those things formed by angels should, during his human lifetime, be signified to him, too, insofar as he is a man? and that, by them, he should become educated about divine things, and be divinely influenced, as is fitting. It follows, therefore, that it is not possible for anyone to be taught this part of symbolic and mystical theology unless, by things formed by angels and effected by angels, he is brought to visions of this kind.

Kyparissiotes: Decade 1.8

January 15, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 756 A – 757 A.

Chapter Eight. That these visions and theophanies have been sacredly effected in no other way than by means of the angelic powers.

The great Dionysius says in chapter four of his Celestial Hierarchy:

These, then, are those who, primarily and multifariously, participate in the divine, and, primarily and multifariously, manifest the divinely primordial hiddenness. Wherefore, beyond all others, they are deemed preeminently worthy of the appellation ‘angelic,’ since the divinely primordial illumination comes to them at first hand, and, through them, there pass to us the manifestations which are above us. Thus, then, the law, as theology affirms, was given to us through the ministration of angels (Acts 7:53); and angels led our illustrious fathers, both before the law and after the law, towards the divine, either by introducing them to what was to be done, and converting them from error and an unholy life to the straight way of truth, or else by making known to them sacred ordinances, or hidden visions of supermundane mysteries, or so as to interpret certain divine predictions. But if any one should say that divine manifestations were made directly and immediately to some holy men, let him learn, and learn clearly from the most holy oracles, that no one has seen or shall ever see that which is hidden of Almighty God as it is in itself. But divine showings were made to sainted men as befits manifestations of God, that is, through certain sacred visions, proportionately adapted to those who would see them. Now all-wise theology fittingly calls ‘theophany’ that particular vision which, by elevating the beholders to the divine, manifests the divine similitude, a similitude depicted as though sketched in itself in a shaping of things shapeless, since through it a divine illumination comes to the beholders, and something of things divine themselves undergoes sacred initiation. But our illustrious fathers were initiated into these divine visions through the mediation of the heavenly powers.

[1.8.1] Ps.-Dionysius, Caelestis hierarchia 4.2-3; PG 3, 180 A-C.

Furthermore, the great Athanasius says:

The angels take on various forms, for whatever purpose the Lord God wills; and they appear in that fashion to those who are worthy, and reveal to them divine mysteries.

[1.8.2] Ps.-Athanasius in quæstionibus ad Antiochum (passage not yet found).

From these things it can be clearly seen that a vision, a similitude, and an apparition of God represent the same thing; it also follows from this that such similitudes are formed by the mediation of angels who are clothed in forms in order to do God’s bidding.