Martin Jugie, The Palamite Controversy (continued).


Translated from the text in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, vol. 11 (Paris, 1931), cols. 1807-1810.

During the whole acute phase of the Palamite Controversy, that is to say between the years 1341 and 1368, negotiations between the Byzantine imperial court and the popes, aimed at bringing about a crusade against the Turks and a union of the Churches, were, so to speak, continuous. Further, there was no lack of Latins in the East, and one could also find there Greeks who had converted to Catholicism. It was hence inevitable that the noise of the quarrel which was dividing the Byzantine Church into two rival factions would reach the ears of Westerners and, in particular, that the pope’s legates would, one day or another, have to deal with it.

1. In fact, we see the pontifical legate, Paul of Smyrna, in the year 1355 attending, in company with John V Palaiologos, the public debate between Nikephoros Gregoras and Gregory Palamas. What impression Paul took away from this theological jousting match we can gather from a letter which, later, that is, after the death of Urban V († 1370), he wrote to the pope and cardinals to give them an account of the discussions he had had with the ex-emperor John Kantakouzenos around 1366-1367. In this letter, published by Arcudius in Greek and Latin in his work Opusclua aurea theologica circa processionem Spiritus Sancti (Rome, 1630) and reproduced in PG 154, 835-838, he tells us that, having been sent by Urban V to the court of John V Palaiologos (1366), he had attempted to form an opinion on the Palamite doctrine, and had not succeeded in attaining a clear view upon it:

Cum nosse verum huius doctrinae cuperem (he says), Constantinopoli degens, quando ad imperatorem Palaeologum a commemorato summo pontifice missus fui, quaesivimus istud scire, non autem potiumus verbo vel re aliquid certi de hac opinione et impia doctrina comprehendere. Quapropter et coactus sum verbis asperis eos insectari et veluti quibusdam argumentis provocare. (PG, loc. cit., col. 838.) When I was attempting to learn the truth about this doctrine (he says), while living at Constantinople, when I had been sent to the emperor Palaiologos by the aforementioned supreme pontiff, I sought to know what it is, but was unable either by word or action to comprehend anything certain regarding this opinion and impious doctrine. For this reason, again, I was forced to attack them with harsh words and to provoke them, as it were, using certain arguments.

If in 1366 he had not comprehended anything, it is clear that in 1355, after the dispute between the two protagonists, he was still very much in the dark about it. Nevertheless, he thought at one point that he had understood, after his conversations with Kantakouzenos, who had, at one point, conceded that between God’s essence and his attributes there is only a distinction of reason, κατ’ ἐπίνοιαν. But he was soon disappointed when he read the account of these discussions, written by Kantakouzenos himself, a report which has come down to us and about which we spoke earlier, col. 1797. In speaking about a distinction κατ’ ἐπίνοιαν, the emperor, like the Palamite theologians, merely intended to say that the essence and the attributes can be separated only mentally and not in reality. The διαίρεσις πραγματική [real division], or even the διάκρισις πραγματική [real distinction], had been denied, and only the διαίρεσις κατ’ ἐπίνοιαν [notional division] was admitted; but in fact a real difference, διαφορὰ πραγματική, was maintained. Kantakouzenos went on to say: ἄλλο ἡ οὐσία, ἄλλο ἡ ἐνέργεια, ἄλλο τὸ ἔχον, ἄλλο τὸ ἐχόμενον [the essence is one thing, the energy is another; that which has is one thing, that which is had is another]. Furthermore, he proclaimed the existence of a divine uncreated light, which was not identified with the divine essence: something which is absolutely unacceptable:

Deinde scripsit de lumine, quod apparuit in monte Thabor, asserens illud esse increatum, et non esse Dei essentiam, sed quandam divinam operationem, quod ne auditu quidem ferendum est; nihil enim est increatum praeter divinam essentiam. (PG 154, 838.) Then he wrote about the light which appeared upon Mt. Tabor, asserting that it was uncreated and [yet] was not God’s essence, but some sort of divine operation, which is a thing one cannot endure to hear: for nothing is uncreated apart from the divine essence.

The same letter of the patriarch Paul informs us that certain Greeks had kept the pope up to date about the Palamite error and had informed him that Kantakouzenos shared this error:

Nonnulli Graeci retulerunt commemoratum imperatorem Cantacuzenum et Ecclesiam Graecorum multas suo dogmate divinitates inducere supereminentes et remissas, eo quod asserunt quae Deo insunt realiter inter se differre. Ibid. Certain Greeks reported that the aforesaid emperor Kantakouzenos and the Church of the Greeks had introduced, into their doctrine, a multitude of divinities, superior and inferior, such that they claim that those things which are in God really differ among themselves.

People must have become even better informed when Demetrios Kydones came to Rome in 1369, accompanying John V Palaiologos, and when, a little later, John Kyparissiotes, the great adversary of Palamism, appeared at the papal court. This was a new, even graver disagreement, which was added to those, already too numerous, which divided the Churches.

2. When the Council of Florence opened, there was reason to fear that this question about the essence and operation of God might serve to aggravate the difficulty of a reunion. Nevertheless, it did not turn out that way, because the Greeks had the prudence to avoid a debate upon this subject. At the 25th session, the Latins sent them a list of four questions which still remained to be clarified, namely, the primacy of the pope, the existence of three categories of the deceased, the use of unleavened and of leavened bread, and the distinction between God’s essence and his operation: τέταρτον, ἵνα ζητηθῇ περὶ θείας οὐσίας καὶ ἐνεργείας ἐπὶ συνόδου [fourth, that, at the synod, there be an inquiry concerning divine essence and energy]; cf. Ἡ ἁγία καὶ οἰκουμενικὴ ἐν Φλωρεντίᾳ σύνοδος (report of Dorotheos of Mytilene), ed. by the Benedictine Nickes (Rome, 1864), p. 304. They replied that they were not authorized by the emperor to discuss the last of these, but they consented to make known their private opinion on the first three points. On the fourth, to the contrary, they refused to speak: τὸ δὲ περὶ τῆς οὐσίας καὶ ἐνεργείας οὐδόλως ἀπολογούμεθα. Ibid. The Latins, it would appear, did not insist upon a subject which would doubtless have led to an interminable debate. The fact remains that the issue was not brought up again, and that the declaration of union was soon signed. In any case, the Greeks had indirectly renounced Palamism in declaring that they believed that the souls of the saints in heaven have a vision of God’s essence: καὶ τὸ θεωρεῖν τὰς ψυχὰς τὴν οὐσίαν τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀληθῶς προσιέμεθα [and we (? further profess) that the souls truly behold the essence of God]. Ibid. And they signed the decree of union, in which it says: animas in caelum mox recipi et intueri clare ipsum Deum trinum et unum, SICUTI EST [that souls are immediately received into heaven and clearly behold God himself, threefold and one, AS HE IS]. Mark of Ephesus, in his third discourse on purgatory, pronounced at Ferrara, had denied this capital point: Neither the blessed angels, nor the saints, according to him, enjoy the vision of the essence of God, something he attempted to prove with the aid of a copious arsenal of patristic texts. When asked about the object of beatitude, he replied that the elect rejoice in the glory of God, δόξα, in the brightness which springs from his essence: ἡ ἐκ Θεοῦ πεμπομένη αἴγλη. As for explaining what this brightness is, he refused, and confined himself to referring the Latins to the definition of divine illumination given by St. John Climacus: “Illumination is an ineffable activity, invisibly visible and unknowably known,” Ἔλλαμψίς ἐστιν ἐνέργεια ἄρρητος ὁρωμένη ἀοράτως καὶ νοουμένη ἀγνώστως. Cf. L. Petit, Documents relatifs au Concile de Florence. La question de purgatoire à Ferrare, in Patrologia orientalis, vol. XV, pp. 157-162. In expressing himself in this manner, Mark — who was, as we have seen, a rigid Palamite — opened up the whole question about Palamas’s system and about the light of Tabor. It is understandable that when, at Florence, there was a return to the doctrine of the Last Things, the Latins had wanted to have some precision on the object of beatitude and on the Palamite theory about the divine essence and operation. They would appear to have been satisfied with the reply concerning the object of beatitude, a reply which categorically rejected the thesis Mark had maintained at Ferrara. It is likely that the emperor forbade his prelates to enter upon a direct discussion of God’s essence and his operations. The Greeks themselves may have sensed the danger there would have been in unfolding Palamas’s theories before such fearsome logicians as were the Latin theologians, and George Scholarios was there to counsel them to put aside an infantile theology, the exposition of which would not have redounded to the nation’s honor. Throughout the bitter controversy which pitted unionists and antiunionists against each other in the aftermath of the council, until Constantinople was captured, the question of Palamism was not raised, in spite of the council’s definition on the essence of beatitude. Instinctively, the most learned among the Greeks felt that, with the theses of Palamas, they were not on solid ground, and very rare were those polemicists who, later, reproached the Latins for not accepting those opinions.

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