November 15, 2016

Gregory Palamas in Eastern and Western Theological Thought: A Summary

By John Sanidopoulos

Nine years after the repose of Gregory Palamas in 1359, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate listed him among the Saints of the Orthodox Church in 1368, and proclaimed him "the greatest among the Fathers of the Church." His legacy survived the Ottoman occupation, following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, primarily through the monastic tradition of Mount Athos, which helped elevate its status as the spiritual center of the Orthodox world, and influenced the monastic life of the Balkans and Russia.

From 1453 through the 19th Century in the East

Since the early years of Ottoman rule, Palamas was completely suppressed in various official theological texts, as well as in popular and pastoral texts of the Orthodox. Nikephoros Theotokis, Elias Meniates and Meletios Pegas do not mention him at all in their homilies for the Second Sunday of Great Lent, which was the liturgical commemoration of Palamas. There was complete ignorance of him in Orthodox Russia, but there were exceptions among Greek-speaking Orthodox: Maximos the Greek, Gregory Severos, Metrophanes Kritopoulos, Nikodemos Metaxas, Nektarios of Jerusalem, Gerasimos Vlachos the Cretan, Dositheos II of Jerusalem, Vikentios Damodos, Eugenios Voulgaris, Athanasios of Paros, Makarios Notaras of Corinth and Nikodemos the Hagiorite. Dositheos II of Jerusalem and Nikodemos Metaxas attempted to publish the works of Palamas, as well as Nikodemos the Hagiorite who copied by hand all the manuscripts of Palamas found in Athonite monasteries. None of these attempts went through due to the actions of the Latin propoganda, since the responsibility of the publication of these texts took place in Italy, who "lost" these manuscripts. However there were works of Palamas included in the Philokalia of Makarios Notaras and Nikodemos the Hagiorite, as well as in earlier publications of Nikodemos Metaxas and Athanasios of Paros. Paisius Velichkovsky translated the Philokalia into Slavonic, and had it published in Russia in 1793, making Palamas more widely known to the Slavs.

In the 20th Century in the East

While the acceptance of the theological teachings of Gregory Palamas seems almost universal in the Orthodox world, there are some isolated cases of criticism or blatant ignorance by some Orthodox theologians and thinkers. Greek academic Orthodox theology views the thought of Palamas in various ways, ranging from complete ignorance to serious theological reflection. Gregory Papamichael wrote the first scientific treatise on the personality and thought of Palamas in 1911, though he did this primarily through a Western point of view. The dogmatic manuels of Zikos Rhosis and Christos Androutsos make no reference to Palamas and his theology. It wasn't until 1952 with the publication of John Karmiris' The Dogmatic and Symbolic Monuments of the Orthodox Catholic Church that a dogmatic manuel first recognized the theology of Palamas. Two works of Palamas were published in the Neo Ellenomnemona in 1922, while before this in 1917 the Metropolis of Thessaloniki began publishing the periodical titled Gregorios Palamas. Basil Krivocheine wrote a study on Palamas in 1938 from an Orthodox perspective in both Russian and English, and Dumitru Staniloae produced the first major monograph on Palamas in Romanian in 1938 titled The Life and Work of Saint Gregory Palamas. Staniloae wrote his monograph as a reaction to reading Papamichael, being astonished by the bad treatment Palamas was receiving by Orthodox theologians, and in response to Western treatments of Palamas, such as that of Jugie. However, since it has not been translated into a Western language, Staniloae's monograph has received little attention. The Patrologist Demetrios Balanos described hesychasm as a futile or pointless dispute that conflicts with reason. In his Dogmatics Panagiotis Trembelas made no reference to Palamas, though he is critical of him in a later work he wrote in 1974 titled Mystical, Apophatic and Cataphatic Theology, which Christos Yannaras said tarnished his entire theological career. In 1957 John Romanides submitted his doctoral thesis to the University of Athens on the Ancestral Sin, where Trembelas taught, which made use of the theological thought of Palamas in light of early Christian theology, causing much theological controversy in Greek academic circles at the time, especially with Trembelas. On the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Repose of Saint Gregory Palamas in 1959, the University of Thessaloniki held a conference in his honor, with the the first speaker and writer about Palamas being a member of the Zoe Movement Demetrios Koutroumpis. It was at this time that the University of Thessaloniki conferred upon George Florovsky an honorary doctorate in theology, and he delivered the lecture titled "St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers." An important stage in the study of Palamas took place in 1962, when at the initiative and diligence of the Patrologist at the University of Thessaloniki Panagiotis Chrestou, all the works of Gregory Palamas were for the first time published together. For the biblical theologian Savvas Agouridis, Palamism was nothing other than Byzantine Neoplatonic theology, while the distinction between essence and energies was the result of the attempted annihilation of the meaning of creation against the Renaissance and Western Humanism. For Agouridis, Palamas developed a theology of uncreated energies to escape the harsh realities of his time. Regarding the Neo-Palamist Russian theologians together with the Greeks of the same thinking, Agourides viewed them as an elitist movement within monastic circles and an individualistic escape from historical facts.

Gregory Palamas in Russian Theological Thought

Although Russian academic thought until the 19th century did not attribute due importance to Palamas, emphasizing the discontinuity of his thought from the thought of the 8th century, Russian theologians of the diaspora actively engaged with his theology. The works of Palamas became known in the West during the 20th century, thanks to the Russian theologians of the diaspora, who after the October Revolution settled in the West and especially in France. The main representatives of this shift were Vladimir Lossky, George Florovsky and John Meyendorff. Palamas' theology became the basis for an articulation of an Orthodox theological identity apart from Roman Catholic and Protestant influences. Florovsky and Lossky opposed the efforts of the Slavophile movement to identify a uniquely Russian approach to Orthodox theology. They advocated instead a return to the Greek Fathers in what Florovsky called a "Neo-Patristic Synthesis." Meyendorff produced a major study on Palamas in 1959, but certain uses of terminology and conclusions of his were immediately challenged by John Romanides, setting the tone for a conflict in Palamite theology among the Orthodox in the 1960's and 1970's. Romanides argued that Meyendorff's entire characterization of Palamas' teachings was erroneous, criticizing what he called Meyendorff's "imaginative theories concerning Palamite monistic prayer and anthropology, and Incarnational and sacramental heart mysticism." He also had problems with the use of terms that were foreign to Orthodoxy, such as personalism, impersonalism, essentialism and existentialism. According to Duncan Reid, the theme of the debate between Meyendorff and Romanides centered on the relationship between nominalism and Palamite theology. Romanides characterized Meyendorff as engaged in an "obsessed struggle to depict Palamas as an heroic Biblical theologian putting to the sword of Christological Correctives the last remnants of Greek Patristic Platonic Aphophaticism and its supposed linear descendants, the Byzantine Platonic-nominalistic humanists."

From 1453 through the 19th Century in the West

During this time the Roman Catholic missionaries who operated in the East were very critical of Palamas. The Jesuit Francois Richard translated into Greek his work titled The Works of Faith of the Roman Church in the Heartland of Orthodoxy, in which he accuses Palamas of heresy. He calls on Orthodox Christians to burn his Triads as well as the Service to Palamas. Gerasimos Vlachos wrote a response to this anti-Palamite polemic in his Skotodini. In 1635 Denis Petau called the teachings of Palamas redicula dogmata (ridiculous doctrines), and among those that agreed with him were the Latin-minded and the Uniates such as John Karyophyllos, Peter Arkoudios and Leo Allatios. Meanwhile the Greek students at the College of Saint Athanasius in Rome were pushed to anathematize the anti-Latin Saints of the Orthodox Church, such as Palamas. Arriving in the 19th century, we find Jacques Paul Migne who apologized to his readers because he included among the Latin and anti-hesychast works of the Patrologia the works of Gregory Palamas, claiming he did this for historical reasons.

In the 20th Century in the West

In the thirty years between 1920-1950, a group of Catholic theological researchers led by Martin Jugie began issuing anti-hesychast polemical works that reproached Palamas on various issues such as Platonism, that he and his disciples interpreted the previous patristic tradition sophistically and subjectively, that he violated the doctrine of the absolute simplicity of God with anthropomorphic constructions, that he never dealt with Ecclesiology, that he cultivated a pseudo-mysticism, and while the Orthodox Church accepts Palamite teachings (ex. the distinction between essence and energies, the ascetic and hesychastic experience of the vision of the divine light) it introduces innovations. Meyendorff's study in 1959 was a direct rebuttal to Jugie's assessment in 1931. But there were also some positive readings of Palamism by Catholics, without constituting a particular movement, which exceeded the traditional neo-scholastic perception of it as a heretical doctrine that was unrelated to the previous theological and ascetic tradition of the Greek Fathers, while due to the patristic movement that Western theology came to know with the appearance of Nouvelle Theologie, new readings were undertaken, such as the correlation between Palamas and Thomas Aquinas or Palamas and Augustine of Hippo. Western theological research has since started to employ aspects of Palamite theology, such as in Pneumatology, Mariology, his ascetic mysticism, his teaching on theosis, as well as his teaching on redemption. Finally in 1970 there was founded in Italy the Institute of Orthodox Theological Studies of Saint Gregory Palamas which issued in Italian the corpus of Palamas' works.

In Protestant Theology

Until the 1980's Protestant theology did not deal systematically with Palamite theology. The German Protestant theologian Dorothea Wendenburg says that Palamas with his teaching on the salvific role of the hypostases of the Holy Trinity made the hypostases of the Holy Trinity to be without special salvific importance for Orthodox theological teaching. She also admits that the distinction between essence and energies made by Palamas is also located in pre-Palamite theology, which is why there is a unity between them.

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