On the late Fr. Juan Nadal Cañellas

August 23, 2017

Juan_Nadal_Cañellas
[source: De Onsoño – Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50496270]

I learned earlier this year about the death, a year and a half ago, of Juan Nadal Cañellas (7 October 1934 – 16 January 2016). He was a Spaniard, born in Mallorca, a Jesuit priest of the Byzantine rite, archimandrite of the Byzantine monastery of Santa Petronila de Orient in Mallorca, and one of the most important Byzantine scholars of the past generation. He was, it appears, the person who advocated to Pope Paul VI the removal of the filioque clause from Catholic churches of the Greek rite, a change which formally took place in the year 1972. His main field of research was the life and writings of Gregory Akindynos, an early friend of Gregory Palamas who later became one of his main opponents. Nadal Cañellas edited Akindynos’s major writings and wrote some important studies on Akindynos’s thought; one of the most notable results of his research is to have established that Akindynos actually was himself a practicing hesychast and the spiritual advisor to the Princess Irene-Eulogia Choumnia.

So far as I am aware, almost none of Nadal Cañellas’s writings are to be found in English. Back in 2009, I published on this blog an excerpt from his historical introduction to his French translation of Akindynos’s four Antirrhetic Treatises against Gregory Palamas, under the title Nadal Cañellas on Meyendorff. Today, I have posted to the blog a new page (see the sidebar). It contains a translation of an article by Nadal Cañellas titled “Le rôle de Grégoire Akindynos dans la controverse hésychaste du XIVe siècle à Byzance,” which was published in 2007 in the volume Eastern Crossroads: Essays on Medieval Christian Legacy edited by Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala, pp. 31-58. The article is a kind of abridgment and popularization of a book Nadal Cañellas published in 2006, the second volume of his study La résistance d’Akindynos à Grégoire Palamas. Enquête historique, avec traduction et commentaire de quatre traités édités récemment; it consists of a long historical commentary upon the works of which, in the first volume, he gave a translation.

Nadal Cañellas clearly had some major disagreements with the late Fr. John Meyendorff over matters both theological and historical. If Gregory Palamas is the great hero of Meyendorff’s historical researches, he is, for Nadal Cañellas, a much more questionable figure. To give one example: in his article, Nadal Cañellas gives two citations from Akindynos describing two occasions on which Palamas and his supporters sought to have Akindynos murdered. He also, near the end of the article, mentions that Akindynos died very soon after Kantakouzenos’s triumphant entry into Constantinople in the year 1347, a change in political circumstances which put the party of the Palamites in power; we have no explicit information about how Akindynos died, but, given the two previous murder attempts, it is difficult to refrain from speculating.

I never met Nadal Cañellas, and was sorry to learn that he had died; I had hoped one day to meet him. His photograph, in the Spanish Wikipedia article and in an obituary from the Diario de Mallorca, presents a bearded face that reminds me strangely of Don Quixote. Perhaps the idea of changing people’s minds about Akindynos is not unlike jousting with windmills.

Αἰωνία αὐτοῦ ἡ μνήμη.


(29.viii.17)

A postscript. I speculate above that Akindynos may have died at the hands of those who had tried to kill him before, the party of the Palamites. I should make it clear that that is in fact my own speculation, not that of Juan Nadal Cañellas; neither in the article which I have translated, nor in the monograph (La résistance d’Akindynos à Grégoire Palamas) of which this essay is an abridgment, does Nadal Cañellas speculate one way or the other as to how Akindynos died. In La résistance d’Akindynos à Grégoire Palamas, pp. 284-285, he provides the sole piece of definite information we possess about when and how Akindynos died: it occurs in a note in Philotheos Kokkinos’s Treatise VII against Gregoras. In the note, Philotheos states that, a year after his ordination as Metropolitan of Heraclea (which took place sometime between May and August 1347), he wanted to meet Gregoras, an opponent of Palamism about whom he had heard a great deal, “since Akindynos, the promoter and defender of the impiety after the first one (Barlaam), was already out of the way, having passed most wickedly from this life along with his heresy” (ὁ γὰρ τῆς δυσσεβείας μετὰ τὸν πρῶτον ἔξαρχος καὶ προστάτης Ἀκίνδυνος ἦν ἐκποδὼν ἤδη κάκιστα σὺν τῇ αἱρέσει τὸν βίον μετηλλαχώς). The English Wikipedia article on Akindynos suggests that Akindynos may have died as the result of the plague that broke out in 1348.

Secondly, since the blog format may not be an ideal way of reading Juan Nadal Cañellas’s article, I am supplying here a link to the same text, on Google Docs: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zQV60b6LP2Dj-u01xFoJoW-wTQBYkrw6_CHUczLkLaw/edit?usp=sharing

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2 Responses to “On the late Fr. Juan Nadal Cañellas”

  1. John Church Says:

    Dr. Gilbert,

    When you say “Palamas and his supporters” sought to murder Akindynos, are you actually inferring St. Palamas himself? For being a recognized saint of the Orthodox Church, this seems like a very bold assertion. I understand you are only reporting Fr. Cañellas’s conclusions, but I personally am a bit struck by the weight of such a claim.

    I had asked you previously on the Spirit’s hypostatic vs energetic indwelling on the Jugie article, where part of your answer concerned the validity of spiritual and ascetical disciplines of Hesychasm, though you do not prefer the Palamite understanding to the indwelling itself. (Thank you for a great answer, by the way.)

    All the best to you. I appreciate this blog of yours very much for its integrity, fidelity to seeking out truth, and its absense of polemicism. It is people like you where I find my hope in seeing Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox maybe coming to true Union. May God bless you and guide you.

  2. bekkos Says:

    Dear Mr. Church,

    Well, as mentioned, I would withdraw my speculation that Palamas’s friends finally had Akindynos murdered; Fr. Cañellas himself doesn’t say this, and we simply don’t have solid historical information as to how Akindynos died, although we do know that his death came within about a year of John Kantakouzenos’s victory in the Byzantine civil war and the establishment of the Palamites in positions of ecclesiastical authority. But that Palamas’s supporters had earlier twice attempted to murder him is, I think, an established historical fact; Akindynos himself speaks of it in his report to the Synod as something with which they were already familiar. And he clearly accuses Palamas himself of being behind the attempts: “he did all he could to have me murdered. He trusted that, were I to disappear, his affairs would prosper…. So it was that a certain Dorian, hired by them, came to assassinate me.” Also, as Cañellas reports, Palamas himself confirms the first attempted murder, “though in recounting the story he gives not a word of sympathy towards the victim who had been his friend and great protector.”

    Obviously, Akindynos’s word is not enough to prove that Palamas himself was personally behind the two murder attempts. Yet there is plausibility to the accusation, particularly since Palamas shows himself aware of what his followers were doing, and manifests no remorse concerning their actions.

    I do not mean to say that Cañellas’s account of this history is beyond criticism. Central to Cañellas’s argument is his claim that Palamas reneged on a verbal promise made to Akindynos to remove offensive phrases from his writings — offensive in the sense that they suggested a heresy; Cañellas stresses that it was, in fact, Akindynos’s silence about these phrases that allowed Palamas to defeat Barlaam at the synod of 1341. Akindynos reports that when, after the synod, he asked Palamas to keep his promise and remove the phrases, Palamas turned against him violently. That Palamas made such a promise to Akindynos may well be true. Yet Cañellas fails to mention that, sometime before the synod of 1341, the monks of Athos had already issued their Hagiorite Tome in support of Palamas’s theology. That means that, if Palamas had gone ahead and revised his writings in the way Akindynos wanted him to, he would at the same time have had to disown the Hagiorite Tome and the support of the Athonite monks. Was Palamas manipulating his younger friend Akindynos, who looked up to him as a spiritual father figure, and then dumping him when he had ceased to be politically useful? Possibly. But it is also conceivable that Akindynos had an exaggerated view of his own importance, and misunderstood what Palamas had said to him. It is hard to know, at this point, exactly what Palamas said to Akindynos, that the latter construed as a promise to revise his writings, and that Palamas construed differently.

    We get, with Cañellas, Akindynos’s side of the story. That is an important historical witness. Cañellas clearly sees Akindynos the way Akindynos sees himself, as the victim of an injustice, and as a defender of theological truth. Perhaps there is merit to this view. In any case, one can be grateful to Fr. Cañellas for allowing Akindynos a voice again, so that we can hear what he says, and make up our own minds.


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