Martin Jugie, The Palamite Controversy (continued).


Once in control of the ecumenical patriarchate, the Palamites deployed an extraordinary activity in propagating their doctrines.

Even prior to the synod of Blachernae of 1351, they had inserted, in the formal statement of faith read by bishops at their ceremony of ordination, a passage in which the first Palamite councils were received as equal to the ancient ecumenical and local councils and in which anathema is pronounced against those who, with Barlaam and Akindynos, do not believe in the real distinction between God’s essence and his uncreated operations, and in particular in the uncreated light of Tabor. (Cf. tome of the council of 1351, PG 151, 721 C.) This addition, which subsequently disappeared — we do not know exactly when — is read in certain euchologia of the fifteenth century. Dmitrievskii, in his work Εὐχολόγια (Kiev 1901, pp. 622-623), gives the text of that which is found in the Sinaiticus 1006, fol. 42 vº. Every metropolitan elected in the patriarchate of Jerusalem had to recite it at his ordination: Πρὸς τούτοις στέργω καὶ ἀποδέχομαι καὶ τὰς κατὰ Κωνσταντινούπολιν συγκροτηθείσας συνόδους ἔν τε τῷ περιωνύμῳ ναῷ τῆς ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Λόγου σοφίας καὶ ἐν τῷ θεοφρουρήτῳ παλατίῳ ναῷ κατὰ τοῦ Καλαβροῦ Βαρλαὰμ καὶ τοῦ μετ᾽ ἐκεῖνον τὰ ἐκείνου φρονοῦντος … Ἀκινδύνου, etc. [Besides these things I embrace and accept also the synods that were held at Constantinople in the renowned church of the Holy Wisdom of the Word of God and in the God-protected chapel of the palace against Barlaam the Calabrian and against the one who later thought the same things, Akindynos.] Certain theologians of the sect went so far as to give the title of “ecumenical” to the council of June 1341 under Andronikos III, evidently on account of the τόμος συνοδικός whose origins we have recounted. This was done, e.g., by Nilos, metropolitan of Rhodes, in the second half of the fourteenth century. See his short work, De sanctis et œcumenicis synodis enarratio synoptica, ed. Woel and Justel, Bibliotheca juris canonici veteris, vol. II (Paris 1651), p. 1160.

The ecumenical patriarchs, beginning with Kallistos I, attempted to have the new doctrine accepted by the other Eastern patriarchates and by the most distant metropolitan sees subject to their jurisdiction. They did not succeed on their first attempt. For a considerable time, the patriarchate of Antioch remained rebellious against all innovation. Doubtless the condemnation pronounced against Palamas by Patriarch Ignatius in November 1344 had not escaped people’s memory. But, before the end of the fourteenth century, Palamism was already victorious there, as we see from the profession of faith of Michael II, dated February 7, 1395. (Cf. Miklosich and Müller, Acta patriarchatus Constantinopolitani, vol. II, Vienna 1862, pp. 248-249.) Nikephoros Gregoras informs us that the metropolitan of Kiev at first vigorously rejected the Palamite tomes which the patriarch Kallistos had sent him, and, in his reply refuted their doctrine (Histor. byzant., XXVI.22; PG 149, 96-97). Similar acts of resistance were seen in the metropolitan sees that were under the authority of the Latins and in certain autonomous ecclesiastical regions, like the Church of Cyprus. But, little by little, they diminished and, in the end, disappeared completely. Cases of return from the “Barlaamite heresy” to Palamite orthodoxy are fairly common in the second half of the fourteenth century. Cf. Miklosich and Müller, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 501-505, 530, 568, 574; vol. II, pp. 267, 295-296. where there are found seven cases of abjuration of this kind between the years 1369 and 1397. In the same anthology, we see that the ecumenical patriarchs of this period made a profession of Palamite faith upon taking possession of their see. Ibid., vol. II, pp. 112-114, 293-295. Cf. Porphyrios Ouspenskii, op. cit., vol. III, pp. 786-797.

The anathematisms and the acclamations inserted into the Synodikon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy are the expression of this official Palamism. There, the principal theses of Gregory Palamas are canonized:

  1. The light which shone at Tabor, during the Transfiguration of the Savior, is declared to be neither a creature nor the essence of God, but the uncreated and natural grace and illumination fountaining eternally and inseparably from the divine essence itself: μήτε κτίσμα εἶναι θειότατον ἐκεῖνο φῶς μήτε οὐσίαν Θεοῦ, ἀλλ᾽ ἄκτιστον καὶ φυσικὴν χάριν καὶ ἔλλαμψιν ἐξ αὐτῆς τῆς θείας οὐσίας ἀχωρίστως ἀεὶ προϊοῦσαν (1st anathema).
  2. There are in God two inseparable things: the essence and the natural and substantial operation flowing from the essence in line with the relationship of cause and effect. The essence is imparticipable, the operation is participable; both the one and the other are uncreated and eternal: κατὰ τὸ τῆς Ἐκκλησίας εὐσεβὲς φρόνημα ὁμολογοῦμεν οὐσίαν ἐπὶ Θεοῦ καὶ οὐσιώδε καὶ φυσικὴν τούτου ἐνέργειαν … εἶναι καὶ διαφορὰν ἀδιάστατον κατὰ τὰ ἄλλα καὶ μάλιστα τὰ αἴτιον καὶ αἰτιατόν, καὶ ἀμέθεκτον καὶ μεθεκτόν, τὸ μὲν τῆς οὐσίας, τὸ δὲ ἐνεργείας (2nd anathema).
  3. This real distinction between essence and operation does not destroy the simplicity of God, as the saints teach together with the pious mindset of the Church: κατὰ τὰς τῶν ἁγίων θεοπενύστους θεολογίας καὶ τὸ τῆς Ἐκκλησίας εὐσεβὲς φρόνημα, μετὰ τῆς θεοπρεποῦς ταύτης διαφορᾶς καὶ τὴν θείαν ἁπλότητα πάνυ καλῶς διασώζεσθαι (4th anathema).
  4. The word θεότης does not apply solely to the divine essence, but is said also of its operation, according to the inspired teaching of the saints and the mindset of the Church.
  5. The light of Tabor is the ineffable and eternal glory of the Son of God, the kingdom of heaven promised to the saints, the splendor in which he shall appear on the last day to judge the living and the dead: δόξαν ἀπόρρητον τῆς θεότητος, ἄχρονον τοῦ Υἱοῦ δόξαν καὶ βασιλείαν καὶ κάλλος ἀληθινὸν καὶ ἐράσμιον (6th acclamation).

Such is the doctrine, presented as a development and an explanation of the Sixth Council, that Gregory Palamas and his disciples succeeded in having adopted by the Byzantine Church, thanks to the intervention of the secular power represented by John Kantakouzenos. Only John V could, by force, have reestablished the ancient orthodoxy. Since he did not do so, the triumph of Palamism was fatal. The fact that the Latins and the Latinophrones were necessarily hostile to it, far from harming it, contributed to its success. Very soon Latinism and Antipalamism, in the minds of many, would come to be seen as one and the same thing.

Continued …

6 Responses to “6. Palamism as official Church doctrine”

  1. Will Huysman Says:

    Dear Dr. Gilbert,
    Happy Feast Day of St. Symeon the New Theologian! I hope everything’s going well; you are in my prayers always, and I look forward to your translation of the remainder of Fr. Jugie’s article. The Walsh library at Fordham (in which I was able to find certain volumes of the French Catholic dictionary, but not 11-2) hasn’t yet received Fr. Jugie’s “La controverse palamite (1341-1368): les faits et les documents conciliares” from Cornell via the (in this case sluggish) interlibrary loan process.

    In the meantime, would you be able to enlighten me on this question: What is the official Catholic position on the nature of the light of Tabor? Vladimir Lossky says that the Eastern Fathers say it is the uncreated light of divinity, and this can’t all be just figures of speech. One cannot simply gainsay all this explicit Eastern Patristic testimony, and the Fathers of the East and the Fathers of the West are of one mind. To me the position that the light is uncreated prima facie makes tons more sense than the contrary position (the light is that of the divine glory, which is uncreated, and the Transfiguration was not a transformation into something Christ had not been, but a manifestation of what He always was), but I just wondered if you knew whether the Catholic Church (abstracting from the polemics of, e.g., Demetrius Cydones and Nicephorus Gregoras) teaches that the light is uncreated. My on-campus inquiry has so far not been successful.

    Thanks for your time and help.

    God bless you and yours,
    Will R. Huysman

  2. bekkos Says:

    Dear Mr. Huysman,

    I am deeply grateful for your prayers.

    With regard to a translation of the rest of Fr. Jugie’s article, that is one of the many things that I intend to do at some point, when other, more urgent business has been attended to. The idea has occurred to me to take Jugie’s two articles (“Palamas, Grégoire” and “Palamite, Controverse”), translate both of them, and have them published somewhere as a small book. I don’t know that Jugie has said the last word on Palamas and Palamism; but he has said an important word, and it probably deserves still to be heard.

    As to your question “What is the official Catholic position on the nature of the light of Tabor?”, that is a question that I, too, have been asking, and to which I have so far not been able to find a definitive answer. As Jugie points out in the latter part of his article, the Greek Antipalamites were not all of one mind on that question. Some seem to have thought that it was the light of glory that Adam enjoyed before the fall; some apparently considered the light of Tabor divine to the extent that it was an extension of Christ’s divinized humanity. So far as I know, the question never arises in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas; if I am mistaken on that point, perhaps someone could correct me.

    I would agree with you that the patristic texts which speak of that light as uncreated are weighty and ought not to be lightly dismissed. The apostles, who saw Christ transfigured, were by no means being presented with a mere subjective, psychological spectacle, a sort of collective dream; rather, God opened their spiritual eyes to behold something objectively real. There was, in the Transfiguration, a real showing-forth of Jesus as the eternal Son of God.

    As I understand it, the chief disagreement between Gregory Palamas and a theologian like John Bekkos is not over the question of whether grace is created or uncreated. It is, I think, over the question of whether the uncreated grace of God is or is not a person. For Bekkos, and I think for Catholic theology, the uncreated grace of God is the Holy Spirit himself. That is why, e.g., the interpretation of texts like John 20:22 (where Jesus breathes on his disciples and says to them “Receive the Holy Spirit”) becomes so important both to Bekkos and to his opponents; the tendency of Antiochene theology was to interpret that as a breathing, not of the Holy Spirit himself, but of spiritual gifts; whereas Bekkos, following St. Cyril, insists that there is no divine action without the presence of the divine person, there is no imparting of spiritual gifts without an imparting of the Spirit himself.

    I think that that point may have some relevance for the question of the uncreated nature of the light of Tabor. I confess that the following is speculative, and has no official imprimatur to back it up. But, in reading the Synoptic Gospels, I am struck by the fact that there are two parallel theophanies; one occurs at the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry, when he is baptized by John in the Jordan, the heaven opens, the Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven declares “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:16-17); the other occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, when he takes his three chief disciples with him up to Mount Tabor, he is transfigured, his face shines like the sun, his clothes are white as light (“as no fuller on earth can white them,” Mk 9:3), Moses and Elijah appear talking with him, a cloud overshadows, and a voice from the cloud declares, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him” (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7 and Lk 9:35 lack the “in whom I am well pleased”). In both of these incidents, there is a voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be the beloved Son; these are the only occasions in the Synoptic Gospels when God the Father speaks directly. In the Transfiguration narrative, moreover, there is a kind of profusion of threes: there are the three disciples, there are Jesus, Moses, and Elijah who appear talking together. And, at least implicitly, one must assume, there is the Holy Trinity.

    This parallelism raises for me a question: Where, in the Transfiguration narrative, is the Holy Spirit? If there is a showing forth of the Holy Trinity in the earlier theophany, the theophany at the Jordan, why is there no showing forth of all three divine persons at this clearer, more explicit theophany, the one on Mount Tabor? In the earlier narrative, the Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Where is he in this second narrative?

    Some authors (I’m afraid I don’t have the references) would see the Spirit in the cloud that descends, out of which the Father speaks. The claim is that that symbolizes the divine Shekinah, and that the Shekinah is associated with the person of the Spirit. I don’t want to dismiss that possibility; I would, however, suggest a different one.

    Perhaps the Spirit is present in the very light that radiates from Christ’s face and garments. In the earlier narrative, the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ, anointing him in his humanity. Could it be that, in this second vision, a vision in which Christ’s divine nature is made clearer, it is made clearer also that Jesus is not only the recipient of divine life, but also, as God, is its source?

    The question seems to come down to this: when we speak of participable divine life, are we speaking about some sort of non-personal energy, or are we speaking of the Spirit himself? I would submit that there is much evidence, in Scripture and the fathers and the liturgical tradition of the Church, that suggests that we indeed understand the Holy Spirit to be God’s participable life and energy: not in the sense that we become him, but that we become his temples (1 Cor 6:19).

    So, in brief, I am suggesting the possible interpretation that the light of Tabor was uncreated insofar as the Spirit, of which that light was the visible manifestation (just as the dove was his visible manifestation in the earlier vision), is uncreated.

    That is the best answer I can currently give to your question.


  3. Michaël de Verteuil Says:

    My own understanding is that the Catholic Church has not dogmatized either view. My suspicion is that the reason the anti-Palamites could find a home in the Western Church was not so much that the Latins necessarily agreed with them, but rather that the West found the dispute too abstruse to focus on and as such accepted their anti-Palamite view as a legitimate theologoumenon.

    The Palamite view has since also been accepted in the West as a legitimate theologoumenon. There is an irony here as the anti-Palamites were not driven out of the Eastern Church so much for their beliefs as for their troublesome and obnoxious insistence that those who held the Palamite view were heretics. Whether they would have found as comfortable a home with Rome, if they had understood the West’s catholicity as also encompassing their opponents, remains an interesting question.

  4. Justin Gleesing Says:

    It is actually a formal dogma of the Catholic Church defined by Pope Eugene III at the synod of Rheims in 1148 that the Divine Attributes, i.e., Energies, are really identical amoung themselves and with the Divine Essence. That the Council of Florence did not address this issue in its ‘Decree for the Greeks’ (‘Laetentur coeli’) is a defect that contributed most signifagantly to the ultimate failure of the Council to effect a true reunion of Christondom. It is said the Mark of Ephesus wanted to debate the issue at the council but that Empoer John VIII Palaiologos angrily and strenuously forbade any of his bishops to broach the subject with the Latins. And thus, with a few exceptions, the Union of 1439 was in truth a false and superficial affair effected by the false ecumenists of those days who sought by sacrilegious omission to make spiritual truth the slave of temporal necessities as they saw them. A prototype for the ‘ecumenists’ of our time? –though today, unlike the much sounder Council of Florence Fathers, our churchman utilize not only omission in persuit of their erroneous ends but also deliberate ambiguity and captiousness if not the outright proclamation heresy.

  5. JJ Kotalik Says:


    I just came across these posts, and I am quite interested in seeing the rest translated. It looks like it has been some years since you worked on this. While you mention in the comments – nearly a decade old – that you hope to perhaps finish this work and publish it in a completed form, I am wondering if this is still the case.

    If not, I am wondering if give your work and the remainder of the French text to my godfather, who is a monk in Kosovo but fluent in French (as well as several other languages) and works as a translator there. I know that commenting a blog post is neither the most ideal nor most appropriate way to approach you about this, I cannot seem to find an email listed for you on this site.

    If this is something you might be interested in pursuing, please contact me at

    In Christ, with thanks,

  6. bekkos Says:


    Sorry to be slow in responding. Your comment led me to translate another chapter of Jugie’s article over the weekend; I posted it to the blog just now (see Jugie, The principal defenders of Palamism during the 14th and 15th centuries). Thank you for giving me the incentive to work on it.

    I believe that Will Huysman, who also commented on this post, translated parts of this article and published them to his blog, The Banana Republican, some years ago. However, that blog appears to be no longer on line.

    As for asking your godfather in Kosovo to translate the rest of the article: he is certainly welcome to work on it. I may translate one or two further sections of the article this summer (on the Antipalamites, and on the manner in which Palamism entered into the Byzantine Church’s negotiations with the West); however, the final two sections of the article, on the subsequent history of Palamas’s doctrine, are probably the most dated. Nothing is said in them about the revival of Palamite studies in the twentieth century and its effect on the Orthodox Church, a revival which Jugie’s own writings, ironically, may have had something to do with occasioning.

    I also should say that I am no longer realistically thinking about publishing Jugie’s two articles in book form. My free time these days is limited; I need to focus on completing and publishing my work on Bekkos.

    The original text of Jugie’s article is available at this link:

    Hoping the new translation is of some use to you.

    In Christ,
    Peter Gilbert

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