Martin Jugie, The Palamite Controversy (continued).


Translated from the text in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, vol. 11 (Paris, 1931), cols. 1802-1807.

If Palamism made fervent recruits in fourteenth century Byzantium, it also encountered numerous and terrible adversaries, who would no doubt have triumphed had it not been for the intervention of the secular arm. A list of these adversaries, albeit incomplete, has been preserved for us in the Vatic. graec. 1096, fol. 29v, which is from the last quarter of the fourteenth century. We meet there, along with others, the names of the following, who took an active part in the controversy: Barlaam, Gregory Akindynos, Nikephoros Gregoras, the hieromonk Niphon, the philosopher George Lapithes, John Kalekas, Ignatios, patriarch of Antioch, Matthew of Ephesus, the hieromonk Prochoros Kydones. Cf. Giovanni Mercati, op. cit. One should add to this: Atouemes, Theodore Dexios, Isaac Argyros, and the unionists Demetrios Kydones, John Kyparissiotes, and Manuel Kalekas.

About Barlaam we have already sufficiently spoken. We showed how, from the outset of the quarrel, he had been abandoned by everyone, even by Akindynos, and by him less because of his teaching on the nature of the light of Tabor than for the manner in which he had expressed it. In fact, the Palamites did not let these superficial differences stop them, and they treated as Barlaamites all those who did not acknowledge a real distinction between God’s essence and his operation (energy), as well as the existence of an eternal divine light and an uncreated grace.

Before speaking of the principal defenders of orthodoxy and of sound philosophy against the innovations of Palamas, let us remark that it would be a mistake to judge of their true teaching by the statements of the Palamite theologians. Were we to give credence to them, Akindynos, John Kalekas, Gregoras and the rest would be teachers of sheer nominalism. They would have denied God’s activity and operation and would have made of him an inert nature, or rather, they would have lowered God’s action and all his relative and operative attributes to the rank of created things. All these allegations need to be credited to the account of a dishonest polemic which, the better to crush one’s adversary, attributes to him insanities. By this, we do not mean to say that all the Antipalamites were irreproachable in the manner in which they expressed themselves on God and his attributes; that all of them had a mind sufficiently keen to draw the necessary distinctions and to reduce to nothing the at times subtle and perplexing objections of Palamas and his disciples. Most of the Byzantines had not been initiated into the scholastic method of the West, and the sort of equivocation that a doctor at the Sorbonne would have torn apart like a spider’s web by a suitable distinction was apt to leave a man like Nikephoros Gregoras speechless. But the adversaries of Palamism had learned enough philosophy and theology to maintain the absolute simplicity of the divine Being and to deny anything besides him the epithets of uncreated and eternal.

There is, moreover, a marked difference between the attitude of the Antipalamites of the first period and the attitude which characterized the polemicists of the second phase of the controversy. The earlier ones, that is to say Akindynos, John Kalekas, Theodore Dexios, Matthew of Ephesus, and even Nikephoros Gregoras himself, were preoccupied with avoiding all doctrinal innovation and with holding fast, in matters of dogma, to the teachings of the Creed and of the seven ecumenical councils. This attitude was demanded of them, both because of the way the τόμος συνοδικός had been defended and because of Palamas’ and his supporters’ pretension to develop and expound the ancient definitions. They were resolute conservatives, who preferred not even to bring up the question about the nature of the light of Tabor. When asked about this, they either refused to respond, as they did at the council of 1351; or else they said, “If the light of Tabor were uncreated, it would be necessary to identify it with God himself, since God alone is uncreated; there is nothing uncreated outside of him. If you posit a light really distinct from the divine essence, it must necessarily be ranked among created things.” By virtue of the same principle, they declared both divine grace and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to be created. They identify the divine operation, considered with regard to its terminus a quo, with the divine essence, and they declare this divine operation created if one considers it with reference to its terminus ad quem, that is to say in its effects. The Palamites showed themselves incapable of grasping this simple distinction, and they accuse their adversaries of fickleness and contradiction, of teaching, at one time, that the light of Tabor is created and, at another time, that it is uncreated, of reducing the divine operation to the status of a creature, or of abolishing it by identifying it with the essence.

1. The attitude we are describing was always that of Akindynos. From him there remain, aside from a certain number of letters:

  1. Three confessions of faith, one of which is addressed to the empress Anna Palaiologina.
  2. A Short Exposition of the Detestable Heresies of Palamas, Ἔκθεσις ἐπίτομος τῶν τοῦ Παλαμᾶ πονηροτάτων αἱρέσεων.
  3. A Refutation of the Confession of Faith of Gregory Palamas, Ἡ τοῦ Παλαμᾶ ὁμολογία ἀνεσκευασμένη. This refutation has in view, not the confession of faith which Palamas presented at the council of 1351, but an earlier formula.
  4. A Refutation of Palamas’s letter to Akindynos, sent from Thessalonica a little before the council of 1341, Ἐπιστολὴ τοῦ Παλαμᾶ ἀνεσκευασμένη, ἣν ἀπὸ Θεσσαλονίκης ἀπέστειλεν τῷ Ἀκινδύνῳ, in which the hesychast theologian expounds his system using the most audacious terminology.
  5. A Report to Patriarch John and to his synod recounting the origins of the quarrel between Barlaam and Palamas, Λόγος πρὸς τὸν μακαριώτατον πατριάρχην κῦρ Ἰωάννην καὶ τὴν περὶ αὐτοῦ σύνοδον, διεξιὼν ὅπως ἡ τοῦ Παλαμᾶ καὶ Βαρλαὰμ φιλονεικία τὴν ἀρχὴν συνέστη. This report, written probably before Palamas’s excommunication (4 November 1344), is very interesting for the history of the origins of the controversy, and we have made use of it as a source for the purposes of our study.
  6. Another exposition and refutation of the heresies of Palamas, Ἑτέρα ἔκθεσις καὶ ἀνασκευὴ τῶν τοῦ Παλαμᾶ πονηροτάτων αἱρέσεων.
  7. Five other Antirrhetic treatises against Palamas. All these writings, with the exception of the Profession of faith addressed to Anna Palaiologina, which is found in the Barberinus 291, fols. 218r-222v, are collected in the Monacensis 223, fols. 363 ff. (fifteenth century). They are all unedited.

Till now, a false judgment has been made of Akindynos’s theology due to the attribution to him of the work De essentia et operatione, which is actually by Prochoros Kydones. Far from being a Latinophrone, imbued with Thomist doctrine, he is a rigidly conservative Byzantine, as inimical to the Latins as he is to Palamas, someone who holds to the traditional faith. There is nothing in him that betrays any knowledge of Latin scholasticism. All of his formulas, all of his expressions derive from Greek patristic thought. The fundamental thesis which he maintains against Palamas is this: God is an absolutely simple being, in whom everything is really identified with the exception of the hypostatic properties: Ταὐτότης μόνη ἐν τῷ Θεῷ καὶ ἀπαραλλαξία πλὴν τῶν κατὰ τὰς τρεῖς θεαρχικὰς ἰδιοτήτων, Monac. 223, fol. 19v. In him, no primary element and secondary element. Nothing uncreated outside of him. He is the first; everything that comes after him is a creature; no intermediary between the creator and the creature. Nothing eternal except Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: πᾶν τὸ ἔλαττον τοῦ Θεοῦ κτίσμα, καὶ μόνον τὸ θεῖον ἄκτιστόν τε καὶ ἄναρχον· καὶ Θεὸς μὲν πρῶτον, μετὰ δὲ τοῦτον κτίσις, διὰ μέσου δὲ τὸ σύμπαν οὐδέν, καὶ μόνη τῆς κτίσεως ὑπέρκειται ἡ θεία τε καὶ ἄκτιστος φύσις, καὶ οὐδὲν προαιώνιον πλὴν Πατρὸς καὶ Υἱοῦ καὶ ἁγίου Πνεύματος. Ibid., fol. 18v. Basing himself upon this principle, he rejects, in consequence, all of Palamas’s theses: no divine uncreated light, none at least that is not identical with the divine essence; no uncreated gifts of the Holy Spirit, since they are multiple; no uncreated grace, since it is an effect produced in the creature. As for the object of beatitude, it is God himself, that is to say, his nature, his essence, which enters into communion with the sanctified creature in an incomprehensible manner and without suffering the least change: τοῖς θεοφόροις πατράσιν ἑπόμενοι καὶ ἀναλλοιώτως καὶ ὑπὲρ αἴσθησιν καὶ νοῦν καὶ διάνοιαν δέχεσθαι φρονοῦμεν τοὺς ἁγίους τὴν ἁγίαν καὶ μακαρίαν οὐσίαν εἰς κοινωνίαν ἁγιασμοῦ. Ibid., fols. 31v-32r. [Following the godbearing fathers, we think that the saints receive, in an unchanging way and above sense and mind and reason, the holy and blessed essence in a communion of sanctification.]

2. The patriarch John Kalekas, who was by no means a professional theologian, approved Akindynos’s doctrine and made it his own. The work which he presented to the empress by way of an apologia (cf. above, col. 1787) was a collection of writings composed by Akindynos and by the confessors and teachers named by him. The tome of the synod of February 1347, which deposed him, has preserved for us some of the anathematisms he pronounced against the Palamites: “Anathema to those who dare to say that the glory of the divinity of Christ is different than God’s essence. — Anathema to those who dare to say that divine grace is uncreated and that it differs, nevertheless, from the essence of God. — Anathema to those who say that the uncreated Godhead can be apprehended by bodily eyes: Τοῖς ἀποτολμῶσι καὶ λέγουσι τὴν θείαν χάριν ἄκτιστον μὲν εἶναι, ἑτέραν δὲ παρὰ τὴν οὐσίαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἀνάθεμα.” Cf. PG 152, 1280 A.

3. Theodore Dexios equally belongs to the school of Akindynos and, even more than him, shows himself an enemy of all curious speculation on everything that was not made clear by those of old. On the nature of the light of Tabor he desires neither to know nor to decide. This agnostic attitude is very pronounced in Philotheos of Selivri’s drama. Dexios there appears in order to insist upon the incomprehensibility of the divine essence and to blame those who have the temerity to raise, with regard to it, insoluble problems. The choir of sophists replies to him ironically, in Palamas’s presence: Ὑπέρευγε ὁ καλὸς καὶ πανάριστος Δεξιός. Cod. Patm. 366, fol. 393v. [Perhaps: Hooray for the good and all-excellent Dexios!] G. Mercati, op. cit., pp. 226 ff. and 270-271, just discovered a long treatise by Dexios against Kantakouzenos and his synod of 1351, in Vatic. 1111, part. 4, fols. 223r-321r, and three short apologies addressed to the Antipalamites, in Vatic.1823, fols. 258r-280r. In the first work, this theologian bestirs himself against the injustice of the decisions of 1351 and their innovating character. Why agitate the question about the light of Tabor, he says, which none of the ancient councils clarified? For him, the light which shone upon Tabor was the incarnate Word himself, one of the Trinity, who revealed himself to the apostles, not as he shall manifest himself in heaven to the elect, but in an imperfect manner, known only to himself. That which the apostles contemplated with their eyes was not at all the divine essence, but the Savior’s humanity shining like the sun: Λάμψαν φῶς ἐπὶ τοῦ ὄρους Θαβὼρ αὐτὸν τὸν ἕνα Τριάδος, τὸν τὴν καθ’ ἡμᾶς ἀνειληφότα φύσιν Λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ Πατρὸς οἴδαμεν. Vatic. 1111. [We know the light which shone upon Mt. Tabor (to be) him (who is) one of the Trinity, the Word of God the Father, who assumed our nature.] Cf. also his first apology in Vatic. 1823, fol. 258v: ὃ γὰρ ὦπται τοῖς αὐτοπταῖς Χριστοῦ σωματικοῖς ὄμμασι κτιστὸν ἀληθῶς καὶ αἴσθητον ἦν· ἦν δ’ ἄρα οὐχ ἕτερον ἢ τὸ θεῖον πρόσλημμα μεταμορφωθὲν καὶ ὡς ὁ ἥλιος λάμψαν. [For that which was seen by the eyewitnesses of Christ with their bodily eyes was, truly, created and perceptible; and it was, then, nothing other than what had been divinely assumed, [being now] transfigured and shining like the sun.] It was precisely this unusual opinion on the light of Tabor, an opinion which he was unwilling to give up, which set him at odds with his fellow Antipalamites, among them Isaac Argyros, and led him to write three short apologies. In his defense, he said that one ought not to seek to give greater clarity [to things] than the gospels themselves do, and he appealed to Nikephoros Gregoras and Matthew of Ephesus as authorities [for this view].

4. Gregoras himself, in fact, followed in Akindynos’s footsteps, and we find in him another representative of Byzantine conservatism, an enemy of all novelty. Like Akindynos, he teaches the real identity, in God, of essence and operation (energy), and is keen to show that the divine simplicity is unique in kind and that it is impossible to find any example of it among creatures, every creature being a composite of essence and quality: ἐκείνῃ μόνῃ τῇ θεῖᾳ καὶ ἁπλουστάτῃ φύσει προσήκει, ἑτέρᾳ δὲ οὐδεμίᾳ τῶν κτιστῶν ἁπασῶν … πᾶσα κτίσις σύνθετός ἐστι ἐξ οὐσίας καὶ ποιότητος. Historia Byzantina 31 (PG 149, 321D, 324A) (bk. 31, ὁ δεύτερος δογματικός). Nevertheless, whatever Dexios may have said about him, Nikephoros has a very firm doctrine on the light of Tabor. According to him, this light can only be created, because it was perceived by mortal eyes, and since there is nothing uncreated aside from the divine essence. It was only a symbolic, enigmatic manifestation of the uncreated light, analogous to the light which appeared in other theophanies. Upon Tabor, the apostles had a vision, not of the uncreated divinity, not of God, but of a knowable reality, that is to say, something created: οἱ ἀπόστολοι τὸ ἐν τῷ Θαβωρίῳ λάμψαν τότε θεασάμενοι φῶς, οὔτε θεότητα εἶδον ἄκτιστον, οὔτε Θεόν, ἀλλά τι τῶν ὄντων καὶ γινωσκομένων. Op. cit., book 33, ch. 13; PG 149, 384-385. He equally denies that a light of this kind could be the object of heavenly beatitude; ibid. cols. 376-380. For the rest, many points remain obscure in the theology of the monk of Chora. It is evident that he had nothing to do with Western scholasticism and that he was a novice at the art of making such luminous distinctions as dispel equivocation.

5. What Gregoras lacked, Prochoros Kydones, the brother of Demetrios, possessed to an uncommon degree. In his work Περὶ οὐσίας καὶ ἐνεργείας [On essence and energy], in six books (cf. Vatic. graec. 1435, and the cited study of G. Mercati), we hear a true disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas, who had thoroughly assimilated his doctrine, and shed a plain light upon the questions agitated between Palamites and Antipalamites by appropriate distinctions. He begins by remarking, very reasonably, that those before him in Byzantium who had treated of the question of God’s essence and his operation had forgotten to determine the various senses of the word operation, ἐνέργεια. Hence the uncertain course of their argumentation, their lack of confidence in battle: διὸ καὶ ἄκριτός ἐστιν αὐτοῖς ὁ ἀγών, καὶ σκιαμαχία τὸ ὅλον. De essentia et operatione, I.1; PG 151, 1192-1193. This criticism is especially just as applied to Gregoras, who professed so much scorn for Latin theologians. With an imperturbable calmness and a very sure hand, Prochoros applies the scalpel of Aristotelian and Thomistic dialectic to the Palamite wound, and breaks open all the swelling tumor of falsehood. Philotheos, in consequence, was stunned at the extent of his audacity and never recovered from it. The devil, he said, was speaking through Prochoros’s mouth. Barlaam was nothing compared to him! The sun and its rays were eclipsed before the infinite transcendence of the pure Act, and Palamas’s θεότητες melted before him like snow in the presence of the sun. See the interesting extracts of Prochoros in the synodal tome of 1368, mentioned earlier. A reading of this tome clearly shows the disarray into which the Thomist hieromonk had thrown his Palamite detractors. On his works, see G. Mercati, op. cit.

6. The monk Isaac Argyros had nothing of the Thomistic science of Prochoros, but he was a very perceptive, very clear-headed spirit, a true theologian versed in the knowledge of the Greek fathers, and his refutations of Palamism count among the best of those which have come down to us. G. Mercati, op. cit., pp. 236 ff., adduces excellent reasons for ascribing to him the long, anonymous refutation of a work by John Kantakouzenos; it is contained in Vatic. 1096, fols. 65r-147r, incipit, Ὡς ἀπόλοιτο, φησὶν ὁ θεολογικώτατος νοῦς. At the start of this work, Argyros, who wrote about the year 1370, informs us that he had earlier written a history of the Palamite controversy. This history has not yet been rediscovered. Argyros does not exhibit the reservations and hesitations of the first adversaries of Palamism. On the nature of the light of Tabor, he has a very settled teaching. This brilliance which shone upon the face of our Savior at the time of his transfiguration was a transitory phenomenon produced, at that moment, by way of creation around his humanity, by the omnipotence of the Word who inhabited it. This brilliance, this physical beauty, Adam had received from God at the moment of his creation. He lost it by sin. It will be restored to the bodies of the just at the general resurrection. The holy humanity of the Savior did not, in fact, receive this brilliance from the instant of his conception in the womb of Mary, since the Word took on a passible flesh like ours; but it was clothed again in it on the day of his resurrection. On Tabor, by a miracle and for an instant, this light enveloped Jesus, first of all to signify and symbolize his divinity, secondly to convince the apostles that, one day, the just would shine with the same brilliance: περὶ τὴν σάρκα, ἡνίκα μεταμεμόρφωται ὁ σωτήρ, δημιουργικῶς παρὰ τῆς ἡνωμένης αὐτῇ καθ’ ὑπόστασιν τοῦ Λόγου θεότητος γεγονός … Ἡ λαμπρότης ἦν καὶ τὸ ἀρχέτυπον καὶ φυσικὸν κάλλος, μεθ’ οὗ παρὰ Θεοῦ ὁ πρῶτος δεδημιούργηται ἄνθρωπος. Vatic. graec. 1096, fol. 71r. Argyros repeats the same teaching in another brief work which G. Mercati recently discovered in Vatic. 1102, fols. 35r-45v. Basically, it is Barlaam’s position, and, for this reason, Dexios rejected it. There is, nevertheless, a difference, which Argyros did not fail to point out. The Calabrian had had the temerity to say that the light of Tabor was inferior to our thought: τοῦτο τὸ φῶς ἧττον εἶναι εἶπεν καὶ χεῖρον νοήσεως ἡμῶν. Now this, says Argyros, does not square with the Holy Scriptures, according to which that which God does, especially when it is by way of a miracle, surpasses our intelligence, even if this miracle can be viewed with the corporeal eyes. How could one call inferior to our mind that which was visible only to those who were worthy of seeing it and for whose sake God had done it? ἃ γὰρ ὁ Θεὸς ποιεῖ, καὶ μάλιστα κατὰ λόγον θαυματουργίας, πάντα νοῦν ὑπερβαίνειν ἐξ αὐτῶν ἐδιδάχθημεν, εἰ καὶ ὁρατά εἰσι σωματικοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς. Cod Vatic. 1096, fol. 88r. It was, again, for the purpose of refuting the Palamites that two other opuscula were written by our monk; one of them is preserved in Vatic. 1096, fols. 171 ff., under the title: Περὶ διακρίσεως μετοχῆς Θεοῦ ἐν τέσσαρσι τρόποις; the other is in Vatic. 1102, fols. 25r-31r, addressed to the iconographer Gideon: Περὶ τῆς ἐν μακαρίᾳ Τριάδι λεγομένης πατρότητος καὶ υἱότητος. Cf. Mercati, op. cit. We know that Argyros persevered to the end in his hostility to Palamism, something which has caused him to be anathematized by name in the Synodikon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, at least in certain Churches.

7. Among the adversaries of Palamism, John Kyparissiotes occupies certainly the first place as much for the breadth and precision of his refutation as for the abundance and variety of the arguments he puts forth. Positive theology and speculative theology are combined in him in a harmonious proportion. From Palamas and his disciples he refutes everything, he allows nothing to get past him. We have from him two great works:

  1. The Ἔκθεσις στοιχειώδης ῥήσεων θεολογικῶν, divided into ten decades, a vast treatise De Deo uno et trino. A translation was made of it by Francesco Torres (Turrianus); it appeared in 1581, and is reproduced in PG 152, 737-992. In it, Palamism is not confronted directly, but the true doctrine is there expounded, chiefly with the aid of patristic texts, in such a way as to overturn the Palamite theses from their foundation. On the subject of the light of Tabor, there is a lengthy treatment in the sixth decade (PG 152, 839-864). On this question, Kyparissiotes hold the same opinion as Isaac Argyros. Here is his conclusion:In divinis luminibus symbolicis praecipua est apparitio luminis facta in divinissima transfiguratione vultus Domini, quae decorem corporis Christi post resurrectionem gloriosi facti tanquam in imagine repraesentabat, et symbolum erat divinitatis, quae in eo latebat, pulchritudinemque Adae ante peccatum significabat eamque jam naturam nostram in humanitate Christi recuperasse; quo lumine justi post resurrectionem resplendebunt. Ibid., col. 864.
    [“Among the divine symbolic lights, the chief is the appearance which occurred in the most divine transfiguration of the Lord, which represented the splendor of the glorified body of Christ after the resurrection, and was a symbol of the divinity which lay concealed within him, and signified that beauty which Adam had before his sin and which our nature has now recovered in Christ’s humanity. In that light, the just shall shine radiantly after the resurrection.”]
  2. The Παλαμιτικαὶ παραβάσεις [Palamite transgressions], an enormous polemical treatise, divided into five books, in which the whole of Palamism is made to pass in review and is magisterially refuted. Book One, consisting of four dissertations or λόγοι, expounds the Palamite system, points out its multiple errors, recounts its beginnings, and shows how the Palamite Church cannot be the true Church of Christ. Of this first book Combefis published discourses 1 and 4; cf. PG 152, 663-778. Book Two refutes the synodal tome of 1351 and numbers eight discourses. Book Three, also comprised of eight discourses, deals exhaustively with the question of the light of Tabor. Book Four, in three discourses, treats of the anathematisms of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Finally, in Book Five, divided into five discourses, Kyparissiotes refutes at length Nilos Kabasilas, who had gone so far as to posit in God four φύσεις, namely, the οὐσία κοινή, the ὑπόστασις, the ἐνέργεια, and finally αὐτὸς ὁ Θεός, ὁ Πατὴρ καὶ ὁ Υἱὸς καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα. This fifth book, the longest of them all, had been composed before the others. It is speculative from start to finish. In it, all the subterfuges, all the sophisms, all the arguments of the Palamite theologians are clearly expounded and magisterially debunked. It would be pointless to say how the polemical work of Kyparissiotes leaves the dissertations of Gregoras far behind it. Let us add that Kyparissiotes was a unionist, at least during the last period of his life, and he spent some time at the pontifical court under Gregory XI, who saw to it that he be paid a pension (1376-1377). That is what Angelo Mercati recently demonstrated in a note published in Byzantinische Zeitschrift (Mélanges Heisenberg), vol. 30, pp. 496-501: “Giovanni Ciparissiota alla corte di Gregorio XI” (November 1376-December 1377).

8. Finally, let us note among the adversaries of Palamism the Dominican Manuel Kalekas (†1410), a Greek convert to Catholicism, who has left us a short but excellent refutation of the synodal tome of 1351 in his opusculum Περὶ οὐσίας καὶ ἐνεργείας, PG 152, 283-428. Manuel appeals above all to the positive arguments of scripture and tradition, but he has a good knowledge of St. Thomas, and this gives him an incontestable superiority over the polemicists who drew only from Greek sources.


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