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.

Martin Jugie

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)


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.

Continued …

12 Responses to “Martin Jugie : The Palamite Controversy”

  1. Georgios Martzelos, who writes about the thesis of Dorothea Wendebourg, B. Schultze, E.von Ivanka, mentions Fr. Jugie only in passing; anyway, it is rather funny that Martzelos denounces the Roman Catholics’ aggressiveness– which reminds one of Lossky who, in an essay about palamism, firstly asked that the non–Orthodox at least treat with consideration S Gregory’s doctrines; then, on the next page, Lossky himself began trashing Thomism, whith the usual self–sufficiency.

  2. Dumitru Popescu, a Romanian priest and professor, takes a broader view, seeing the Palamism in accord and nice harmony with Moltmann’s theology. (And I think that the Augustinian author, Fr. Jugie, would he have lived to read both Moltmann and Fr. Popescu, would have agreed heartily!).

  3. If it be of any interest here, the same Fr. Dumitru Popescu has the ‘antinomic thought’ as device; which the leads to the conclusion that Palamism is rather antinomic expression, than antinomic thought (I find the notion of ‘antinomic thought’ to be rather careless and sloppy). Otherwise, for Popescu the Palamism says that the energy or manifestation belongs to the being and only abstractly do we thought of a being without ‘works’–as if the Catholics were affirming the contrary (‘lucrarea nu face compusa fiinta, ci e o manifestare necesara a ei, fiindca manifestarea sau lucrarea tine de fiinta. Numai in abstract cugetam la o fiinta fara lucrari. Natura fara putere si lucrare nu poate exista, fiindca fiinta ar deveni neputincioasa. Nu s-a vazut nicaieri vreo fiinta fara sa stea sau sa se miste, adica fara puterea de a sta sau de a se misca. si precum starea nu introduce compozitia in fiinta, la fel nici miscarea nu face fiinta compusa. Nu poate fi compus ceva cu propria sa lucrare, asa cum nu e compus soarele cu raza care lumineaza. Energiile nu sunt efecte care raman exterioare fiintei, ci o manifestare a fiintei care ramane mai presus de orice manifestare’)–which is in fact moving the target.

  4. Veritas Says:

    Hello Cristian,

    Just wondering if you’ve read E.von Ivanka before; and what you think of his thesis. I have yet to read him — as I do not know if he is translated in English anywhere — but from what I hear of him, he seems to suggest that there does not exist a distinction in God and His essence and energies; rather, it is us who see it as this because we can only conceive this in distinctions. Anyhow, just wondering your thoughts on the issue.



  5. bekkos Says:


    I once borrowed a copy of von Ivanka’s Plato Christianus that was translated out of German into French; I confess that I only gave it a cursory reading, although I read enough of it to confirm what you say, that he denies the real distinction in God between essence and energies, and sees Palamas as misreading the statements of the fathers. The following comment, from a footnote in Lowell Clucas’s 1975 dissertation (The Hesychast Controversy in Byzantium in the Fourteenth Century: A Consideration of the Basic Evidence), pp. 550 f., might be helpful to you:

    “Endré von Ivanka, in his important study, Plato Christianus (Einsiedeln, 1964), while he clearly recognizes the emanationist Platonic aspects of Palamism as a theology, does not appear to draw the necessary conclusion, which is that the energies are the Platonic ideas in a Christian context, and that Palamas gives himself away as an extreme ‘realist’ on the issue of universals in the texts quoted from Maximum Confessor (sic); Ivanka seems to react to the ‘divine energies’ of Palamas as though they were somehow marked Platonic tendencies, and then pursues the strategy of criticizing them by showing that Patristic theology did not accept the essence-energy distinction as Palamas applied it; see ‘Hesychasmus und Palamismus,’ pp. 389-487.”

    The claim that Palamas’s “energies” are effectively the Platonic ideas, a claim which Clucas sees as correct, was already made in Palamas’s own day by Nikephoros Gregoras. And I am now finding that a similar criticism was made a generation earlier against Palamas’s predecessor, Gregory of Cyprus, by Bekkos’s friends, Constantine Meliteniotes and George Metochites.


  6. Hello, Veritas.

    I follow my thanks for your questions with several casual remarks on the issues involved by the metaphysics of the divine simplicity.
    My apologies for the delayed answer. I should state firstly that my idea of the divine simplicity is not mine, but the Church’s as expressed in bimillenary doctrine; and that I do not conceive it as in counterpoint to what I perceive to be a Ditheist slapdash (i.e., the Es—En distinction). It would be improper, and also anachronistic.
    This is not a polemic material, but written as some casual remarks on several articulations of the said doctrine. Doctor Gilbert’s wise writings accompanied me on my path of reflections.
    I will not enter the game and define what is a first—hand tenet of the Christianity (the divine simplicity) as a riposte to the Ditheist dogmatics, though in the lines the follow I will address their usual objections and, more to the point, what I perceive as being their mute assumptions; discussions about the nature of the One Who holds the being in His merciful hand ought not to look like a quiz show. I beg Him for everything I need; how could I treat His nature as a quiz show topic?
    It would be wrong to define the orthodox position as a reply or as a counterargument to the Ditheist position. It is the Ditheism of the ‘real distinction’ that took birth in this convoluted way—as a slapdash reordering of the Patristic material to suit a misunderstanding (–to be short and open, I have to say I honor S Gregory of Thessalonika as a saint, and I believe he is used by the anti—Latins as a pretext for their attacks, and I receive the canonizations the Orthodox Churches considered opportune to effectuate; I am a papist Orthodox the way there are papist Anglicans–). However, the Ditheists’ absurdities made it necessary for the Monotheist to ‘defend’ the thesis of the divine simplicity.
    Divine simplicity is necessary in a primary way, because simplicity is the highest perfection—or, composition surely isn’t. For me, it is not about arguing how could God be conceived as described by a real distinction as the one you mentioned; it is about how could God not be absolutely simple. My perspective here is not a patrological, but a philosophical one; according to Vatican I, such questions belong to the metaphysics (–or natural theology, or philosophical analysis–) and are knowable by reason, not by Revelation. They must not be made to depend upon testimonies; they must not be turned into a quiz show. The dogmatic constitution de fide of the holy Council Vatican I defines the Christian doctrine about God. [–From this side of the fence, both Trent and Vatican I appear as councils of an incredible richness and dogmatic altitude, truly comparable to the 1st millennium holy councils.–]
    The divine simplicity does not make the creation necessary. The creation is a free act of God, and not a necessity or a constraint. As Tresmontant wrote, ‘God does not create out of necessity, out of need, out of lack’. In this sense is the creation free; otherwise, it is not arbitrary or absurd, on the contrary—it is rational and willed by God. The creation is a free and willed, intended, reasoned, thought out, act of God. It is not an arbitrary gesture. In God, freedom is not arbitrariness or unreason. I, we do not live in the universe of Muhammad, Occam and Calvin; no.
    But I have already brought out too many subjects.
    Tresmontant:–‘ si la création ne résulte pas d’un besoin, d’une nécessité inhérente à la nature de Dieu, c’est qu’elle est un don’—‘if the creation doesn’t result out of a need, out of a necessity inherent to the nature of God, this is because it is a gift’.
    Let us choose one aspect.
    I think we firstly need to purify, to cleanse our notion of ‘necessity’.
    What does necessity mean here?
    Seen from God, the creation is not necessary in the sense it is not needed by God, it does not answer a need within God, the way the actions of the created spirits appear as answers to their needs—and we mustn’t imagine God as forced or obliged or constrained to do something; but the creation isn’t an arbitrary act.
    Seen from us, the creation is not a fortuitous act. It is meaningful, it tells us something about God (–though God is of course more unlike anything created by Him, than alike–). But his creative act tells us something real about Him. He ‘didn’t have’ to create; but His creation tells us something about Him. Perhaps less so to our notions, and more to our thirsty heart. His creative act isn’t fortuitous, arbitrary, absurd; it is, we say, fatherly (–though, again, more unlike than alike any created reality we can come to know …–).
    The fact that the creation of the universe unseen and also seen is not necessary means that God is not compelled to do it; but we must pay attention not to suppose a psychological or anthropomorphic pattern here and imagine that the creation of the world comes after a process of deliberation or decision in the psychological, time—contained way. Also, there are writers who, eager to emphasize God’s sovereign freedom, conceive it as arbitrariness, as God not being ‘constrained’ by any rules—they say that God created the world this way, but he might have created a very different world as well. This deprives, I think, the created world of its meaningful character. The present Metropolitan of Rome, Benedict the 16th, addressed the issue in very wise terms in his interventions about the rationality of the created world.
    Reason is ‘within’ God, He is not ‘bound’ by reason.
    We must not substitute the notion of freedom as applied to the perfect Being with the notion as ‘freedom’ as applied to imperfect, limited, fallen beings. We mustn’t attribute to God our imperfect freedom.
    Once again, the reason of God is more unlike than alike the reason of men; this is a fact. Also, some resemblance subsists; that’s also a fact.
    It is vital to avoid the psychological model. God is not compelled to create anything; yet we mustn’t figure God as deliberating, going through a process of deciding whether to create the universe, or not.
    Now the strict Palamists conceive the creation as necessary whether divine simplicity is granted. This is what these theological babes are saying. But what they mean is that the creation would be eternal, ‘from always’, and not free. The creation is free, but not arbitrary; instead, it is reasoned, wanted, desired by God. On the other hand, to conceive the creation as existing ‘from always’ is naïve because it represents God Himself as existing and deciding in time, after the mode of the time. There was no ‘before’ of the creating act. Time itself was created with the world. God did not desire ‘at a certain moment’ to create the world—as opposed to desiring ‘from always’ to create it; for Him, there is no before and after. The divine simplicity does not imply that God ‘ought to have created the world from always’, as opposed to ‘at a certain moment’. In God there is no time, no temporality, no process, no cognitive process, no volitional process, no phases—as here, under the Moon. The Ditheists say:’’—divine simplicity makes it impossible for God to have created the unseen and seen world freely, i.e. at a certain moment (–he would have created it ‘from always’)’. Of course it does. God’s will and knowledge doesn’t know moments, phases. The time is a dimension of the created world; processuality also.
    God created the world freely. He did not create it at a certain moment. There is no time in God, no change, no transformation. There ‘was’ no time ‘anywhere’ before He created the unseen and seen world. The time is a character of the gift, of the world—gift. Creation is free in the sense that nothing compelled God to create something; but it is not absurd or irrational, because freedom is a characteristic of the spiritual nature and not the arbitrariness of Stavroghin or of Luther and Occam.
    God did not create the world ‘after’ deciding something, at a certain moment, or after doing something else. Time and processuality began with the world and are a dimension of the created. Nothing ‘preceded’ in God His creative decision, because there are no before and after in Him.
    When the numerous Patristic places upholding the divine simplicity are simply explained away and one Patristic place is overused to ‘prove’ the distinction essence/ energies, we are, dear Veritas, in a weird, loony situation.
    There are those who believe that the Neoplatonists did prove that, if divine simplicity is granted, then necessary creation follows. But you can’t stop midway; if you accept that the Neoplatonists proved the necessity of the creation (given divine simplicity)—then by the same shot you have accepted their proof of the divine simplicity. You can’t have it both ways. Both Neoplatonic demonstrations stand or fall. You can’t use only the logic of the 2nd part of the demonstration. If their 2nd judgment is valid (i.e., that creation is necessary), then the 1st was valid too (i.e., that the divine simplicity is real). So, I would not call upon the Neoplatonist to arbitrate a question of Christian ontology.

    May the love of our God, Jesus, be ever with you and yours.

  7. We perceive, or may perceive, various traits in God—reason or goodness. They do not ‘define’ God, they do not exhaust Him notionally, but they are not really distinct from Him. Our mind belongs to a subordinated being, i.e., the human being. The inferior cannot seize the superior. We do not know properly God by His works not because they are uncreated but distinct from His ousia; but because our mind is inferior to its object, God. Knowledge is existential; knowledge of God, imperfect as it is, is the highest good of the human, and it cannot be overseen by a 2nd degree explanatory knowledge; we don’t have a complete theory of the way the human knowledge of God is imperfect, because we don’t ‘have’ both the terms of a needed comparison—i.e., both the complete and the incomplete knowledge, to compare. We do have an abstract formulation of the fact. The highest conceivable of the imperfect sublunar knowledge of God is a superior threshold, and it remains in specula aenigmata. Abstract knowledge can give an idea of what is highest in humans—knowledge of God, love, etc.; but it cannot circumscribe or oversee them.

    Veritas, as now you got me started, please follow here for further thoughts–

    I now, getting ready for a week-end with books by trochu, Seewald and the Life of S Benedict.

  8. [The last line ought to read:’I’m now getting ready for a week–end with books by Trochu …’.

  9. Veritas Says:


    Thanks for the information Peter. I read the little I know of von Ivanka’s work also in a footnote, that of Congar’s in his third volume of “I Believe in the Holy Spirit”.


    Thanks a bunch for your reply — a far more deserving reply than I could have hoped for. I am a bit pressed for time at the moment, so I gotta run; but I am eagerly looking forward to reading the post that you have provided on your site. Thanks again.

    Peace and God bless to both of you,


  10. […] Here is an ongoing rough translation of part of Fr. Martin Jugie, A.A. (1878-1954), “Palamite (Controverse),” in: M. Vacant et al., eds., Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, tome XI/2 (Paris 1932), […]

  11. […] Many thanks to Dr. Peter Gilbert of De unione ecclesiarum for supplying the French text of Fr. Martin Jugie’s DTC article. […]

  12. […] Many thanks to Dr. Peter Gilbert of De unione ecclesiarum for supplying the French text of Fr. Martin Jugie’s DTC article. […]

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