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© John S. Romanides




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It seems that somehow in accordance with his thesis that Barlaam the Calabrian is a Byzantine humanist, Platonist, and nominalist, Father John Meyendorff develops the peculiar theory that both Barlaam and Palamas belongs to hesychast traditions,[ 1 ] with the difference that the Calabrian is a member of an Origenistic, Evagrian, Nyssan, Pseudo-Dionysian, Platonic dualistic anthropological tradition, while St. Gregory Palamas is heir mainly to a Macarian, Stoic, biblical monistic anthropological tradition,[ 2 ] although he makes full use of the terminology of the other group.[ 3 ] According to Father John, both, therefore, accepted the hesychast practice of uninterrupted prayer, with the difference, however, that the Calabrian conceived this as a passive disincarnation of the intellect (NOYS), during which state the passive faculties of soul and body have no part, whereas for St. Gregory it is an active state in which the total man, body and soul, fully participates.[ 4 ]

First it should be pointed out again that Barlaam does not understand St. Paul's admonition to pray unceasingly as a passive disincarnation, but rather in terms of being under the guidance of irresistible habitus grace, whereby 'one can do, think and bring to pass nothing which God does not will.'[ 5 ] This, as was pointed out in the first part of this paper,[ 6 ] is a rejection of actual unceasing prayer in favor of an interpretation of St. Paul's uninterrupted prayer in terms of a state-of-grace activism which became common to post-Augustinian Latin Christianity. This explains why Palamas writes that Barlaam attacks St. Paul's 'commandment concerning prayer by claiming that unceasing prayer is impossible unless we accept it in the manner he interprets it … What, therefore,' asks St. Gregory, 'can one say to this unceasingly and never praying philosopher?'[ 7 ] This is a very strong indication that Barlaam does not belong to any kind of hesychast tradition, not even to any of the Evagrian kind. The basic question here is not whether or not the body participates in uninterrupted prayer, but rather whether or not there is such a thing as actual ceaseless prayer.

Evidently Father John confused two things: (I) the fact that Barlaam defines St. Paul's unceasing prayer in terms of Augustinian irresistible habitus grace, which could be understood as a sort of passive state, with (II) the fact that the Calabrian formally accepts the hesychast term 'noetic prayer' (NOERA PROSEYCHI), but tries to force it into the categories of the wordless prayer of non-discursive intuitive ecstasy which in certain Western mystical circles is considered to be the highest form of prayer. In order to understand the basic issue at hand, one must keep in mind that Barlaam is making a clear distinction between unceasing prayer in terms of a state-of-grace activism on the one hand, and noetic prayer in terms of mystical non-discursive ecstatic experience on the other. Now for Palamas both the gift of unceasing prayer and noetic prayer are one identical reality not in any way to be confused with non-discursive ecstatic intuition of ultimate reality. On the question of the existence of uninterrupted prayer or noetic prayer, Palamas and the Evagrian tradition are on common ground as over against Barlaam, who is no hesychast.

When these distinctions are made, one can appreciate Barlaam's insistence that in his understanding of noetic prayer in terms of non-discursive ecstatic intuition the faculties of the body and the passive faculties of the soul have no participation. This does not mean, however, as Father John thinks, that Barlaam simply denied to the body any participation in both actual discursive prayer and what he takes to be the activistic uninterrupted prayer of good works produced by habitus grace. Barlaam says 'it is better for the soul to be beyond the senses in prayer rather than to work in any way according to the senses.'[ 8 ] Thus in approaching Barlaam's noetic prayer one must be denuded of those activities which are common to body and soul. He insists that 'to love the activities which are common to the body and the passive part of the soul, fixes the soul to the body and fills it with darkness.'[ 9 ] When God finally graces the mystic with Barlaam's ecstatic state, there is room neither for discursive prayer nor those experiences common to the irascible and concupiscent passions. Having defined noetic prayer in this manner, Barlaam proceeds to argue that it is impossible to describe the hesychast uninterrupted prayer and the accompanying physical and spiritual experiences as gifts of God. Since noetic prayer is accompanied by a forgetfulness or unawareness of the activities of the body and the passive and discursive faculties of the soul, it would be in vain that God give such gifts during this prayer, and God does nothing in vain.[ 10 ]

Father John seems to have been misled into making Barlaam out to be a hesychast by the Calabrian's use of hesychast texts for his own polemical purposes. Actually, however, in his exposition on prayer, Barlaam is quoted by Palamas as using only two texts from the Areopagite and two from St. Maximus the Confessor. Nevertheless, Meyendorff goes so far as to claim that Barlaam was 'assez au courant de la tradition hIsychaste et de la mystique des PTHres en gInIral.[ 11 ] As an indication of the Calabrian's hesychasm, Father John quotes a passage from Maximus the Confessor used by Barlaam to prove (actually againts Meyendorff's thesis) that noetic prayer and non-discursive ecstatic intuition are identical and therefore not to be associated with uninterrupted prayer. This passage, for Father John, is supposed to be one of the most Evagrian in St. Maximus. However, a more carefull examination of the text of Maximus reveals the real issue between Barlaam and Palamas, which Meyendorff never mentions and seems not to be aware of.

In order to prove his point concerning noetic prayer, Barlaam quotes the above-mentioned passage from Maximus, which sounds very much like a description of a supra-discursive intuitive ecstatic experience of the intellect. Maximus writes that 'the highest state of prayer consists in the "noetic faculty" (NOYS) being outside of the body and the world, becoming completely immaterial and formless while praying.'[ 12 ] Barlaam concludes from this that the mind 'is, therefore, in such a state as to be beyond the bodily passions of which they [the hesychasts] speak.'[ 13 ] Palamas' rejoinder is quite sarcastic because Maximus in the very next sentence describes this as a state of uninterrupted prayer: 'He, therefore, who preserves this state intact prays without ceasing.'[ 14 ] So having the whole context of this Maximus passage in mind, Palamas reminds Barlaam that no one in this life can attain to uninterrupted or ceaseless ecstasy. 'No one in the body can attain to such a state uninterruptedly, as far as we know, unless it is this new (beyond all doubt) teacher of prayer, but even those who rarely attain to it are exceedingly scarce.'[ 15 ]

From this misquotation of Maximus it is quite clear that Barlaam does not speak authoritatively from within the depths of the Eastern monastic tradition, with which he became superficially acquainted only in his quest for patristic support against the hesychast prayer practices. Judging from the scantiness of his patristic quotations about prayer, it would seem that the so-called Evagrianizing Fathers were not much help to him.

Yet from this same quotation of Maximus it is quite obvious that in the practice of noetic or uninterrupted prayer there is a kind of ecstasy which made it very possible for Barlaam to make its association with the non-discursive ecstatic intuitions of the mysticism with which he was familiar, and which also made it possible for Meyendorff to imagine that something of an Evagrian tradition, which supposedly understood uninterrupted prayer as a passive state of disincarnation of the intellect, is somehow involved in the debate. Let us demonstrate this fact by an examination of 'noetic prayer' as interpreted by the hesychast tradition.

According to this tradition, the noetic faculty is liberated by the power of the Holy Spirit from the influences of both the body and the discursive intellect and engages uninterruptedly and ceaselessly with prayer alone. The fascinating thing about this state of actual prayer, as described very clearly by Palamas,[ 16 ] is that, although the physical and intellectual faculties no longer exercise any influence whatsoever on the noetic faculty, they are themselves, however, dominated by the noetic faculty's unceasing prayer in such a fashion that they are spiritually cleansed and inspired and at the same time may engage in their normal activities. It is exactly this position that upset Barlaam and which he bent all his energies to discredit, both by ridicule and by trying to prove that the patristic texts are really making reference to his understanding of noetic prayer. This is the very heart of the debate over prayer between Barlaam and Palamas. Yet one searches in vain the many pages written by Meyendorff for any description of it. The closest he comes to doing so is on pages 219-220 of his book, where he quotes, and paraphrases Palamas without any notice or explanation of the simultaneous operation of the noetic faculty in prayer on the one hand and of the discursive intellect and the body in their normal activities on the other. Instead, somewhat like Barlaam, Meyendorff understood such references to an ecstatic type state of the noetic faculty in terms of neo-Platonic disincarnation of the intellect and on the basis of this becomes repeatedly very apologetic about Palamas' faithfulness to Evagrian terminology. He keeps insisting that St. Gregory was really an adherent to a monistic Macarian anthropology, but was too Byzantine to make a formal repudiation of the Platoniv patristic tradition and so used this tradition's anthropological language also.

The clear distinction made by the hesychasts between the noetic and intellectual faculties of the soul undoubtedly strikes a very familiar neo-Platonic note. Nevertheless, the very sharp difference between (I) the Palamite noetic faculty (NOYS) engaging uninterruptedly in the Jesus prayer alone, while the faculties of the body and the discursive intellect both (a) participate in the fruits of, but without influencing, this uninterrupted prayer, and (b) act simultaneously in their normal capacities, and (II) the neo-Platonic noetic faculty (NOYS) in the state of non-discursive ecstasy, wherein the passions and the discursive intellect have no participation whatsoever, is obvious, especially when one takes into account that the hesychast noetic prayer itself is discursive. Once attained to, hesychast spirituality makes it possible for one to go about engaging in his daily physical and mental activities while the noetic faculty, circumscribed within the body (and in another sense outside physical and discursive rational activity) is occupied uninterruptedly in prayer alone, even during sleep.

This very fundamental difference between hesychast spirituality and mysticisms of the neo-Platonic kind brings out one of the most fundamental differences between the spiritualities of Eastern and Western Christendom. Whereas in the West a distinction is made between the contemplative and the active states of the Christian life, in the East there is no such distinction. The quest for and the gift of uninterrupted prayer is not a life of contemplation and is not a seeking after ecstatic experiences, and it in no way hinders, but rather makes possible, a very high level of inspired spiritual activism. Thus in traditional Eastern spirituality it is not the administrator as over against the contemplative who makes for the ideal bishop, but rather the hesychast. Such is the bishop, e. g.., as described by Dionysius the Areopagite. The greatest bishops of the Orthodox Church were ascetics.

On the other hand, an Orthodox monk does not go into a monastery or into the desert in order to lead a life of contemplation, but rather in order to fight the devil by engaging in 'praxis' and meditation on Scripture, which, by the gift of the Spirit, may lead to THEORIAS EPIVASIN (vision of the uncreated light), which, however, is not to be confused with the contemplations of mystics. In a very real sense, one may say that there are no mystics in the Orthodox Church, since one is warned clearly to stick to praxis (prayer, fasting, attention, vigils) and guided meditation of Scripture, and carefully to avoid contemplation and the seeking of visions by keeping the noetic faculty from engaging in anything but prayer. In contrast to this, Father John seems to be under the impression that a hesychast engages in spiritual exercises because he is seeking contemplation.[ 17 ]

It should be mentioned at this point that Palamas, somewhat like Barlaam, also believes that in an ecstatic union with, or vision of, God not only are the activities of both body and soul transcended, but noetic prayer itself ceases. However, unlike Barlaam, Palamas refuses to list this under the heading of prayer.[ 18 ] So apart from the name to be applied to this state the difference between the two is verbal. Both believe that in ecstasy the faculties of the body and the soul are transcended. However, Barlaam understands this as an experience of the intellect itself, which becomes non-discursive, whereas Palamas believes that this experience is supra-intellectual. Nevertheless, this similarity of their respective positions in regard to the transcendence of discursive prayer in ecstasy is further proof of the fact that the bone of contention between them is not over the nature of uninterrupted prayer (that is, whether it is some disincarnation of the intellect due to an anthropological dualism or a psychosomatic prayer prayer due to a monistic anthropology), but rather over the very existence of hesychast uninterrupted prayer.

It seems that Father Meyendorff was misled into spending much effort in trying to describe, as one of the very essential differences between the Calabrian and St. Gregory, a clash between dualistic and monistic anthropologies by (I) his initial misunderstanding of the nature of the debate over prayer; (II) his failure to grasp the nature of Barlaam's theories concerning (a) uninterrupted prayer, and (b) noetic prayer; (III) his failure to grasp the meaning of noetic prayer in Palamas himself; and (IV) the fact that there actually was a lively debate over anthropology between our protagonists. However, this debate was neither over dualistic and monistic anthropologies, nor over the part of man which prays unceasingly, as Father John thinks, but rather over the mode of union between body and soul.

The occasion of the argument between Palamas and Barlaam over the question of the soul's mode of union with the body was supplied by the hesychast claim that the noetic faculty must be circumscribed within the body. Barlaam caricatured the hesychasts as people who were trying to get the essence of the intellect into the body and ridicules them on the ground that it is already united to the body.[ 19 ] In keeping with his definition of noetic prayer, he claims that this state can be reached only by doing the opposite of what the hesychasts claimed. The mystic must rather get the intellect beyond the activities of the body and discursive thought.[ 20 ] Why Father Meyendorff takes no notice of this setting for the debate over anthropology is difficult to understand.

Following such Fathers as St. Basil the Great, Palamas explains that the noetic faculty is not the essence of the soul, but an energy.[ 21 ] Barlaam is, therefore, misrepresenting the hesychasts. It is the noetic faculty as an energy of the soul which must be circumscribed within the body and thus guarded against the wanderings of contemplation by being occupied with prayer alone. To Barlaam's claim that one should force the intellect to separate itself from bodily activities in noetic prayer, Palamas retorts that 'to cause the noetic faculty to wander outside the body in order to seek intelligible visions is the source and root of Greek errors and all heresies, an invention of demons.'[ 22 ] Needless to say, this is a strong condemnation of both Platonic and non-Orthodox Christian mysticism in general, and one is surprised that Father John took no notice of this aspect of the debate. Instead, he restricted himself to a very elementary discussion of the meaning of 'returning to oneself'[ 23 ] without mentioning Palamas' definition of the noetic faculty and without taking notice of Barlaam's contention that the mind should be forced out of the body and of Palamas' answer. Instead he invented a peculiar theory according to which the Palamite hesychasts are supposed to be concentrating their attention within the body because by virtue of baptismal grace they seek the kingdom of God and Jesus in their hearts.[ 24 ]

The fact that Barlaam argues that the essence of the intellect is already within the body, plus the fact that the Calabrian uses St. Gregory of Nyssa against Palamas on the question of the mode of union between body and soul, plus the further fact that Barlaam never says that the body is the prison of the soul, or that there will be no resurrection, are indications that Barlaam is not to be identified with Platonic anthropological dualism. Thus the question at hand is not an opposition between two anthropologies, a monistic and dualistic, but rather a debate over three Christian theories concerning the mode of union between body and soul.

Since Palamas and Barlaam chose one apiece, the third theory was not debated, and perhaps it is for this reason that Meyendorff either did not notice it or simply did not mention it.

St. Gregory Palamas,[ 25 ] in imitation of St. Gregory of Nyssa,[ 26 ] discusses three theories. Some, like Macarius, believe that the soul is attached to and rules the body by means of the heart. Others, like St. Athanasius the Great, believe that this is done by means of the brain; and St. Gregory of Nyssa, rejecting both of these theories, although not completely, believes that the soul is united to and rules every part of the body at once. St. Gregory Palamas agrees with Macarius and Barlaam agrees with St. Gregory of Nyssa, at least for purposes of attacking the hesychasts. When one keeps in mind that both Barlaam and Palamas believed the soul to be incorporeal, and in this sense not contained by the body, or any one part of the body, although united to all of it at once, or especially to one part of it, one is led to the conclusion that Barlaam's anthropology is more monistic than that of Palamas.

Nevertheless, in his eagerness to demonstrate that Palamas is really an adherent of a Biblical monistic anthropology, Father Meyendorff seems to go overboard. He insists that for St. Gregory the heart is 'the center of all physical and spiritual life…(The heart) is in no way a metaphor for designating the affective center of man, but indeed it is a Biblical term which Macarius adopted to designate mainly the primary (or first) organ of life. It is certain … that … this mysticism corresponds to a physiological conception which has the heart as center. According to this conception, "the heart is the ruling part; it possesses the hegemony of the body, etc. …"'[ 27 ] It is very peculiar that Meyendorff understands Palamite anthropology in almost the same way that Barlaam did. Palamas had written in the First Triad, Part 2, no. 3,[ 28 ] that the heart is 'the primary fleshly reasonable organ.' Barlaam, however, misquoted Palamas by dropping the word 'fleshly,' and thereby accused St. Gregory Palamas of saying that the intellect is directly united to the heart as to its primary organ, thereby contradicting, as Barlaam points out, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who believes that the intellect is united to the body not directly but by means of 'the subtle and light-like (FOTOEIDES) part of the sensitive nature.'[ 29 ] So the sensitive nature and not the heart or body is for Nyssa the primary organ used by the intellect. Palamas accepts Barlaam's interpretation of Nyssa and complains of having been misrepresented. Palamas answers Barlaam by saying, 'But if you add the word "fleshly," O sophist, as we have said, you would completely remove the slanderous opposition and see the saints agreeing with each other and us with them, having been taught by them. For the light-like (FOTOEIDES) sense of man is not flesh.'[ 30 ] In other words, Palamas agrees with Barlaam's interpretation of Nyssa that the primary organ of the intellect is not the heart, but the light-like (FOTOEIDES) sensitive nature of man. Palamas is, therefore, saying very clearly that the heart is not the primary organ, as Meyendorff thinks, but the primary fleshly organ.. It seems that Father John was misled not only because of his commitment to his monism-dualism theories, but also because he understood this section of the debate as a quarrel over the mode of union between God and man instead of between soul and body.

For some peculiar reason (perhaps on the basis of his monistic-dualistic distinctions, or maybe because of his extraordinary persistence in trying to demonstrate the incarnational and sacramental nature of Palamas' mysticism), Father John attempts to describe the present controversy in terms of an opposition between a neo-Platonic 'intellectual mysticism' and a biblico-Stoic 'mysticism of the heart.'[ 31 ] According to Father John this is suggested by Barlaam's quotation of the passage from St. Gregory of Nyssa with which we dealt in the last paragraph. Father John writes that {Barlaam} quotes Gregory of Nyssa in order to show that {what follows is the quotation from Nyssa} "the intellectual essence, that is to say God (c'est-à-dire Dieu - Meyendorff's own addition to the text), unites Himself (or is united) to the subtle and light-like (FOTOEIDES) part of the sensible nature,"[ 32 ] whereas Palamas, in order to defend Nicephorus, bases himself on Pseudo-Macarius…'[ 33 ] Father John goes on to quote a text from Macarius, much used by Palamas, as an example of 'heart mysticism.' Supposing that his Macarian text is brought in to serve the same purpose as the text quoted by Barlaam from Nyssa, 'heart mysticism' is God uniting Himself to the heart as opposed to 'intellectual mysticism,' which is God uniting Himself to the intellect alone. So we are asked to believe that Barlaam and Palamas were here arguing over the question of what part of human nature God unites Himself to, the intellect alone, or the heart also. This seems to be another aspect of Meyendorff's mistaken contention that for Barlaam uninterrupted prayer is an experience which belongs to the intellect alone.

Now how Father John ever came to believe that these passages from Nyssa and Macarius, within the context of the debate in question, could be used as any demonstration of an opposition between 'intellectual' and 'heart mysticism' is difficult to understand. As we saw, Barlaam and Palamas are not arguing over the manner of union between God and man, but rather the mode of union between body and soul. Here is the passage from Nyssa within context: '(man) is nourished by the vegetative kind of soul, and to the faculty of growth was added that of sense, which stands midway, if we regard its peculiar nature, between the intellectual and the more material essence, being as much coarser than the one as it is more refined than the other: (here follows the passage in question) there takes place a certain alliance and commixture of the intellectual essence (of man, not of God) with the subtle and light-like (FOTOEIDES) part of the sensitive nature, so that man consists of these three.'[ 34 ] Even if Nyssa or Barlaam were speaking here about the union between man and God, as intellectual essence (in itself an impossibility from the Palamite viewpoint), it would not be between God and 'human intellect,' but between God and 'sensitive nature.' This would have put Barlaam quite close to Meyendorff's understanding of Palamite piety and at least in a midway position between his Macarian and Evagrian mysticism. Thus, since he did understand this text in terms of union between God and man, Father John should have spoken of three types of mysticism, Macarian 'heart mysticism,' Evagrian 'intellectual mysticism,' and Barlaamite 'sense mysticism.'

After having informed his readers of the importance of the anthropological issues to the debate in question, and having dealt with them as if he meant it,[ 35 ] Father John makes what may seem to be an about-face by admitting that they are not essential to Palamas' argument.[ 36 ] This is clearly decided for him by Palamas himself when he states in so many words that there are no dogmas concerning the mode of union between body and soul.[ 37 ]

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Nevertheless, this apparent about-face affords Father John the opportunity to switch the discussion from 'heart and intellectual mysticisms' to 'an Incarnation mysticism'[ 38 ] according to which all hesychast practices become tied to the Incarnation and baptismal grace. Thus Palamas supposedly applies Christological correctives to the Platonic Patristic tradition and its religious experiences and visions of the Divine independently of the Incarnate Son of God. This position is the heart and core of Meyendorff's attempt to describe the differences between the supposed Evagrianism of Barlaam and the Macarian tradition of Palamas.

Evidently Father John is embarrassed by the Greek Patristic insistence that the Old Testament prophets had reached high levels of spiritual perfection and in many instances had direct visions of God independently of the salvation-event of the Incarnation. This interpretation of the Old Testament prophetic experiences is sometimes referred to by scholars as an example of Greek Patristic Platonism which mitigates the significance of the unique revelation brought to the world in the historical person of Christ. In accordance with what seems to be a complex created in him by this kind of interpretation of the Greek Fathers, Meyendorff attempts to show that Palamas is much more like what some modern scholars want a theologian to be. Thus, according to Father John, Palamas 'leads the contemplative life not toward a simple vision of the Divine (as is done by the Platonizing Fathers who use the example of Moses to describe the spiritual ascent), but to the corporeal and intimate contact of the Incarnation.'[ 39 ] This is put forward as a reason why Palamas is supposed to prefer the Virgin Mary to Moses in his description of the spiritual ascent.

Using his Virgin Mary-Moses theory as a stepping-off point, Father Meyendorff states his case. He writes that 'this superiority of the Christian fact over all psychological aspiration or mysticism, outside the grace of the Incarnation, is certainly the essential idea underlying the whole theology of Palamas. More than the spiritual doctors who preceded him, he felt the reality of the radical change introduced into the relationship between God and man following the Incarnation; he thus gave to Christian mysticism an objective foundation independent of all psychology, and, even more, of all spiritual "technique." It is Christ, and more precisely His Body, i.e., His full humanity, conceived in the virginal womb, which is our unique point of contact with God; it is He, the Mediator of sanctifying and deifying grace, and His presence is objectively real in the Church. Palamas integrates monastic spirituality into the history of salvation and thus liberates it from the last vestiges of Platonic idealism.'[ 40 ]

Having stated his thesis, Father John goes on to speak of the true hesychast sense of 'returning to oneself' in terms of seeking the kingdom of God and Christ within the body now made possible because of the corporeal union between God and man effected by the Incarnation and baptismal grace.[ 41 ] Thus Palamas is supposed to justify 'the mystique of the prayer of Jesus and the physical method of prayer by means of a sacramental theology.[ 42 ] Likewise,' continues Meyendorff, 'it is in his sacramental theology and his ecclesiology that one finds the basis of his doctrine concerning deification… The thought of Palamas is, therefore, perfectly clear on this subject: redemptive, sanctifying, and deifying grace is united to baptism and the Eucharist.'[ 43 ] 'Finally,' we read further on, 'it is always the reality of the Incarnation which Palamas defends and it is a doctrine of Church, Body of Christ, which determines his thought concerning deification… As we have been able to notice in many texts, the Palamite doctrine concerning the knowledge of God presupposes the deification of man, accorded from the day of baptism, in the form of first fruits (prémices - ARRAVON) and realized more perfectly in the spiritual life.'[ 44 ] The Palamite claim that man is to become 'uncreated by grace' is also justified be 'sacramental mysticism.'[ 45 ] Even Palamas' use of Maximus the Confessor's formula of Melchisedek having become 'without beginning' by grace is supposed to be understood in this way.[ 46 ]

In order to prove his thesis concerning Incarnational and sacramental mysticism, Father Meyendorff makes use of a series of texts which he again either mistranslates or misinterprets.

The first of these texts[ 47 ] is to be found within the context of the above-mentioned debate concerning Barlaam's accusation that the hesychasts were trying to get the essence of the mind back into the body and Palamas' answer that it is not the essence but the noetic faculty as energy that must be circumscribed within the body. In proving this position, Palamas quotes St. John of the Ladder, who says that an 'hesychast is one who hastens to circumscribe the incorporeal within the body.'[ 48 ] For some reason Father Meyendorff seems to think that the 'incorporeal' here is a reference to either the kingdom of God or to Christ.[ 49 ] In accordance with this misinterpretation, Father John translates the ensuing section in such a way that he makes Palamas say that a hesychast is one who makes Christ enter within his body. 'If the hesychast does not circumscribe it (the incorporeal) within his body, how will he make enter within himself Him who has put on the body and who permeates … all organized matter?'[ 50 ] In his edition of the text Father John continues to mistranslate as follows: 'The exterior side and the division of this matter are incompatible with the essence of the mind, but only until such time when the matter begins to live, having acquired an aspect of life in conformity to the union (with Christ).'[ 51 ] However, neither in the total context of this discussion between Palamas and Barlaam, nor in this passage is there any talk about the union between any part of man and Christ. In this section Palamas is pointing out that it is impossible to interpret the aforementioned quotation from St. John of the Ladder as a description of an hesychast as one who hastens to get the essence of the mind into the body. Thus Palamas asks (and here is the correct translation of this section), 'For if he (the hesychast) should not confine (the noetic faculty as energy) within the body, how should he make that which is clad in the body and which permeates, as natural form, the entirety of (its) informed matter, be in himself? - of which (informed matter, i.e., the body) the outside and beyond would not receive the essence of the mind, for so long as the former (the body) lives, when it breaks the form of life proper to the union.'[ 52 ] In other words, Palamas is saying that if the noetic faculty as energy is not that which must be circumscribed within the body and if it is the essence of the mind which is outside of the body, then there could be no question of getting it united to the body since in such a case the body would be dead. There is nothing here even remotely related to any hint of an Incarnational and sacramental mysticism.

In moving on to the second text Father John claims that 'the thought of Palamas is also completely clear in another passage of the Triads.'[ 53 ] The context within which the passage in question is found is the quarrel between Palamas and Barlaam concerning the nature of the light which the apostles saw on the Mount of Transfiguration. Palamas argued that this light is uncreated, while Barlaam argued that it is created. A very basic argument used by Barlaam is one based on the Augustinian tradition, which claimed that proof of its createdness is that it traveled to the senses by means of the air and only by the process of abstraction from the imagination did the intellect become aware of it.[ 54 ] As we pointed out in Part I,[ 55 ] this corresponds to the lowest form of revelation in the Western Latin tradition. In view of this basic argument of Barlaam, one is puzzled by Meyendorff's use of the quotation we are now to examine in support of his theory concerning Incarnational sacramental mysticism. Before we proceed to the text itself, let us take a closer look at the main issue of the context within which it is found.

Having been opposed by Barlaam's contention that the light of the Transfiguration flashed from the body of Christ and traveled through the air to the senses of the apostles, Palamas retorts by going to great trouble to prove that the light in question is not subject to the sense (nor for that manner to the intellectual) experience of man and neither travels through, nor is visible by means of, the air. In proof of this, Palamas quotes St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who claims that in the future age 'we shall be illuminated by the visible Theophany of Christ, as were the disciples in the Transfiguration…'[ 56 ] For Palamas, at least, there can be no question of this light's being visible in the future age by means of air or any created light.[ 57 ] Thus Palamas contends that the same must be true of the light of the Transfiguration, since St. Dionysius writes that both illuminations are the same. Also, if the light of the Transfiguration is created and made visible by means of the air, then, argues Palamas, the degree of visibility of this light would depend on the cleanliness and transparency of the air and not on the spiritual preparation of man.[ 58 ] How then does one explain the invisibility of this light to sinners and the fact that not everyone present at times of revelation saw this light, as for example in the cases of the three apostles on Mount Thabor,[ 59 ] and of the shepherds[ 60 ] who alone saw the glory of Christ? Then Palamas climaxes his arguments by pointing out that it is not by any created means that the apostles saw the glory of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, but by the power of the omnipotent Spirit. Thus the elect apostles saw the light on Mount Thabor, 'not only flashing from the flesh bearing within itself the Son, but also from the Cloud bearing within itself the Father of Christ.'[ 61 ] This is in keeping with the basic epistemological principle of the Greek Patristic tradition that only when within the uncreated light (in this case called cloud) can one see the uncreated light. Thus there can be no question of the glory of the Transfiguration traveling from the body of Christ through the air and into the minds of the apostles by means of the senses. The body of Christ illumined the apostles from without only because the same illuminating light of the body was already illuminating them from within. This is also true, as we shall see, for the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament who saw the glory of the fleshless Christ, being themselves, by deifying or divinizing grace, in glory. This is the basic argument of Palamas against Barlaam's Augustinian contention that the glory of the Old Testament also traveled to the senses of the prophets by means of the air and was therefore created.

In view of the fact that Barlaam's contention that the glory of God revealed in the Old and New Testaments and to certain of the saints is created was the immediate cause of his synodical condemnation as a heretic, and also in view of the fact that the correct approach to this question is an important key to understanding the theology of Palamas, one would have expected that Meyendorff would have taken serious notice of these epistemological principles underlying the debate. Instead he presents an explanation based on his theories concerning Dionysius the Areopagite and the Platonic nominalistic humanism of Barlaam.[ 62 ] He further confuses this issue of the createdness/uncreatedness of the Light of Thabor with an imaginary question concerning sacramental symbolism.[ 63 ] Apart from this, Father John takes especial notice of a single passage which he thinks supports his theory concerning Incarnational and sacramental mysticism. In actuality, however, Meyendorff interprets this passage in such a way that he turns it against Palamas' whole defense of hesychast theology and in favor of Barlaam's refutation of this same position.

The passage in question is the climax of Palamas' argument in answer to Barlaam's claim that this glory of the body of Christ was revealed directly to the senses only and is therefore inferior to revelation made directly to the intellect. Palamas is quite indignant at the idea that the uncreated light should be seen by the senses alone and argues that this vision is proper neither to the senses nor to the intellect, but rather transcends both, being at the same time a knowing and an unknowing[ 64 ] in which the whole man participates, having thus been divinized in body and soul by this same light of grace. To the lengthy exposition of these ideas, Palamas adds the information that on Mount Thabor the body of Christ, source of glory by virtue of the Incarnation, illumined the apostles from without, whereas now this same body illumines Christians from within.[ 65 ] This information is presented as part of the general refutation of Barlaam's contention that this glory was directly experienced by the senses alone. Thus it is to be understood as proof that this same Body, by virtue of being now within us, shines forth its glory directly to the mind. Barlaam is, therefore, wrong in his contention that this light from the body of Christ can be experienced directly by the senses alone. Furthermore, this passage cannot be understood in isolation from the context of the debate, and especially from Palamas' defense of the uncreatedness of the light, by pointing out that it shone not only from the body of Christ but also flashed from the cloud and was not seen by means of the air.

By ignoring the whole context within which Palamas speaks of the body of Christ illuminating the apostles from without on Mount Thabor and later from within, and by ignoring the fact that the cloud which descended upon the apostles was also source of this same glory, and by ignoring all the references in Palamas to the illumination, sanctification, and deification or divinization of the prophets from within, prior to the Incarnation, Father John thinks that this passage proves that for Palamas the hesychast prayer practices and theology of grace, sanctification, and deification or divinization have as their source the Incarnation and the sacraments of the Church.

Five years prior to the publication of his major work on Palamas, Father John wrote an article[ 66 ] in which he developed his theory concerning incarnational and sacramental mysticism. Since the theories of his major work are to a large extent an outgrowth of this article, it may be instructive to extract some of its main ideas. After quoting[ 67 ] the passage of Palamas concerning the body of Christ which shone upon the apostles from without on Mount Thabor and later from within those who became members of His Body,[ 68 ] Father John goes on to say[ 69 ] that, 'The apostles themselves, the day of the Transfiguration, were not favored by the true vision[ 70 ] which is accessible to ourselves after the death and resurrection of Christ (NIN), after His Body and our bodies have entered into an ineffable communion. This spirituality is, therefore, centered totally on the Body of Christ: "Certain saints," writes Palamas in another place, "after the coming of Christ in the flesh, have seen this light as a sea without end, flowing miraculously from a unique sun, that is to say this adored Body."[ 71 ] This Christocentric and eucharistic spirituality,' continues Meyendorff, 'gives a very clear significance to the precepts of the Method: the hesychasts do not search for God outside of themselves, as the apostles had still done on Mount Thabor, but they find Him in themselves, in their own bodies, since these bodies are members of the unique Body, by virtue of the communion made accessible in the Church…. Hesychast spirituality, in the Palamite perspective, is not, therefore, a sickly esotericism, but finds its basis in an altogether Pauline perspective of the human body as "temple of the Holy Spirit" and "member of Christ" (I Cor. Vi. 15-19). It is thus that certain passages of Palamas concerning the "discernment of spirits" are to be explained.' As an example, Father John quotes the following passage from the First Letter of Palamas to Barlaam:[ 72 ] 'Wherefore the light of error standing aside is always seen as being outside. It is not in accord with the rolling up and return of the noetic faculty unto itself. For this (rolling up and return) always guides without error toward the divine.'[ 73 ]

In view of what we saw of the debate between Palamas and Barlaam, Meyendorff's lack of touch with the realities of the issue is odd. No one could be more in agreement with Meyendorff's claim that the apostles on Mount Thabor searched for God outside of themselves than Barlaam, since this would be sure proof that the light of the Transfiguration is created. Barlaam would also agree that on Mount, the apostles 'were not favored by the true vision.' What is truly amazing is the fact that Palamas' description of any light standing outside of man as demonic did not lead Meyendorff to suspect that perhaps his sacramental mysticism theory is wrong.. Instead, he intimates that it is in the light of such things as the apostles' search for God outside of themselves on Mount Thabor that Palamas' warning about demonic visions of light from without is to be understood. It is difficult for this writer to believe that Father John is actually saying that the apostles on Mount Thabor had a demonic experience, but how does one avoid this conclusion? Palamas says that all visions of light outside oneself are demonic. Meyendorff says that for Palamas the apostles on Mount Thabor had a vision of light outside themselves. Therefore the vision of light of the apostles on Mount Thabor was - demonic? Meyendorff clearly accepts both the major and minor premises as descriptions of Palamas' theology. Does he accept the conclusion? If not, how does he avoid it? This difficulty does not exist for Palamas, since the minor premise is not his, but that of Barlaam.

It is interesting to note that within the context of his exposition of his theories on the difference between the light shining from the body of Christ from without on Mount Thabor and from within after the death and resurrection of Christ, Father John had used the aforementioned passage concerning the vision had by certain saints after the coming of Christ in the flesh who saw 'this light as an open sea without end, flowing paradoxically from a disc, that is from the adorable Body…'[ 74 ] But Father John omitted to quote the rest of this sentence, which says, 'as the apostles (saw) on the Mount.' Palamas, therefore, seems to be identifying these visions of the saints, members by baptism of the Body of Christ, with that of the apostles on Thabor, rather than setting them off from each other in a Meyendorffian manner. That Meyendorff is mistaken is also obvious from the above-mentioned use by Palamas of the Areopagitic identification of the vision in the future age with the experience of the apostles on Thabor.[ 75 ] This becomes even more obvious when Palamas claims that even the angels 'become participants and contemplators not only of the Triadic glory, but also of the manifestation of the light of Jesus, which was also revealed to the disciples on Thabor.'[ 76 ] That this light, even before the Incarnation, was not visible to the senses from without is proven, according to Palamas, by the fact that Elijah saw God while covered with a mantle.[ 77 ] Palamas claims further that the face of Moses shone with the glory of God because 'the inner illumination of the noetic faculty had saturated the body…'[ 78 ] St. Gregory goes on to say that this is exactly what happened to St. Stephen.[ 79 ] Palamas, therefore, is identifying the revelatory experiences of the uncreated light before and after the Incarnation as well as before and after the formation of the Church as Body of Christ.

In defending the doctrine of uncreatedness of the glory of Christ and the Trinity revealed to the Old Testament prophets and to the apostles on Thabor, Palamas, as we saw, argued that this light is not subject to the experiences of either the senses or the intellect; it is not seen by means of the air or any other creature and it cannot be seen or known by man's natural faculties. As Meyendorff himself points out very correctly by quoting some important passages,[ 80 ] for Palamas the only possible means by which both the body and the soul can have a vision of the uncreated light is by both being deified or divinized. The uncreated light is invisible to the senses and the intellect, but not invisible to itself. So, in being divinized in revelation, man receives the self-seeing uncreated light and thus, having acquired this 'divine eye,' which he did not have before, he, the whole man, body and soul, sees God in His glory. Thus the Uncreated Light is for man both the Means and the Object of vision, That Which in man sees itself, and That by Which man becomes by grace God. However, as we saw, Meyendorff restricts this divinization not only to the Incarnation, but also to the sacraments of the Church,[ 81 ] thus excluding from it even the apostles at the time of the Transfiguration on Mount Thabor. In such a case, Meyendorff is under obligation to explain how Palamas defended the reality of the vision of God in the Old Testament and on Mount Thabor against the attacks of Barlaam.

Palamas clearly points out that the apostles on Thabor could not have seen the uncreated light 'had they not received eyes which they did not have before…so that even though it (the light) became accessible to the eyes, yet to such as had become above eyes and perceived by the spiritual power of the spiritual light.'[ 82 ] In his refutation of Barlaam's contention that for Dionysius the Areopagite vision of the GNOFOS (darkness) is higher than vision of the hesychast light, and that this darkness is to be identified with his version of apophatic theology,[ 83 ] Palamas points out that apophatic theology is the job of every pious man, but union in the divine darkness, which is identical with the divine light, belongs only to Moses and his like.[ 84 ] Because this union transcends all human categories and experiences, it is called 'darkness and light, seeing and not seeing, knowing and unknowing.'[ 85 ] 'How,' asks Palamas, 'while seeing does he (Moses and his like) not see?' The answer is by 'having become better than that which is human and by grace already being God and being united to God and seeing God by means of God.'[ 86 ] Thus Moses and his like saw God because they became God by grace. Elsewhere Palamas identifies the experiences of Moses and Paul.[ 87 ] Again, Palamas speaks of Moses suffering the transfiguration on Mount Sinai, in contrast to Christ, Who worked the transfiguration, being Himself the source of glory.[ 88 ]

One of the clearest statements by Palamas on the existence of deifying grace in the Old Testament is to be found in his Third Letter to Akindynus[ 89 ] in which he speaks of both St. Paul and Melchisedek becoming uncreated by deifying grace. 'For according to the divine Maximus,' writes Palamas, 'the Logos of well-being, by grace is present unto the worthy, bearing God, Who is by nature above all beginning and end, Who makes those who by nature have a beginning and an end become by grace without beginning and without end, because the Great Paul also, no longer living the life in time, but the divine and eternal life of the indwelling Logos, became by grace without beginning and without end; and Melchisedek had neither beginning of days, nor end of life, not because of (his) created nature, according to which he began and ceased to exist, but because of the divine and uncreated and eternal grace which is above all nature and time, being from the eternal God. Paul, therefore, was created only as long as he lived the life created from non-being by the command of God. But when he no longer lived this (life), but that which is present by the indwelling of God, he became uncreated by grace, as did also Melchisedek and everyone who comes to possess the Logos of God, alone living and acting within himself.'[ 90 ]

According to Palamas' interpretation of St. Dionysius the Areopagite, the terms THEOSIS (divinization or deification) and ENOSIS (union) and ORASIS (vision) are synonymous.[ 91 ] This means that everywhere Palamas speaks of union between the prophets of the Old Testament and the glory of God or an Old Testament prophet's vision of the glory of God he is actually speaking of divinization. For Palamas it is only by becoming God by grace that one can see God by means of God, not only in the future age, or in the next life, but also in this life, both before and after the Incarnation and formation of the Church.

In his attempt to demonstrate the Incarnation-centered nature of Palamas' theology, Meyendorff even goes so far as to claim that St. Gregory restricts the immediate vision of the uncreated light in the Old Testament to 'certain isolated elect, like Moses …'[ 92 ] However, Palamas claims exactly the opposite when he writes that 'the prophets and patriarchs were not deprived of tasting of this light, but rather, apart from a few, all their visions, and indeed the most divine, were not lacking in this light.'[ 93 ]

One may also point out that in his defense of the simultaneity of uninterrupted noetic prayer and intellectual and physical activity, Palamas appeals as an example to Moses.[ 94 ] Thus even on the question of noetic prayer, Palamas does not accommodate Meyendorff's theories concerning incarnational and sacramental mysticism.

In making his distinctions between 'the knowledge which comes from without (EKSOTHEN) - a human and purely symbolic knowledge - and the "intellectual" knowledge which comes from within (ENDOTHEN),' Meyendorff points out correctly that one finds these distinctions already in Pseudo-Dionysius.[ 95 ] In support of this, however, he quotes the following passage from the Areopagite: 'for it is not from without (EKSOTHEN) that God moves them toward the divine (at this point in a footnote Father John comments 'this concerns deified men having become "intelligences" in the future age'), but noetically, by their being illuminated in a pure and immaterial light from within (ENDOTHEN) by the most divine will.'[ 96 ] Meyendorff continues: 'It is evident that Palamas knew this passage and was inspired by it, but he understood Dionysius in a Christological sense and rid him of his intellectualism: ENDOTHEN does not designate for him the purely intellectual reality of man -his NOYS- , but refers to the whole human composition. It is within our bodies, grafted to the Body of Christ by baptism and the Eucharist, that the divine light shines.'[ 97 ]

However, in this passage quoted by Meyendorff from St. Dionysius there is nothing about deified men in the future age. This passage is simply speaking of angels, who are illumined from within and have a knowledge higher and more immediate than Biblical knowledge, which illumines believers from without by its symbolic theology. That Meyendorff is wrong in his reading of this text is borne out by the context and by the interpretations of this passage found in both St. Maximus[ 98 ] and Pachymeres.[ 99 ]

In concluding this section it becomes clear that Father John has seriously confused the Christocentric theology of the Greek Fathers with the Incarnation and the sacraments of the Church. For the Greek Fathers the Old Testament is Christocentric to such a degree that it is Trinitarian. Palamas represents a primitive Christian tradition when he asks, 'Which of the angels was he who said to Moses, "I am He Who is, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob," if not the Son of God? …'[ 100 ] What is new in the New Testament is not the doctrine of the Trinity, but the Incarnation and salvation event whereby the power of the devil is abolished once and for all, and the Body of Christ, the Church, is delivered from death (Hades) and made inviolate against its gates. Now in Christ there is the first resurrection, that of the soul, and in the day of judgment there shall be the second resurrection, that of the body. Those who have a share in the first shall have a share in the second. It is within this context that the grace of union, vision, and deification according to Palamas must be viewed. This grace operates in both the Old and New Testaments, with the difference that now in Christ it became and can become for the just and repentant, before and after the earthly life of Christ, a permanent gift of the soul which is not lost at the death of the body. It is only in this sense that God in Christ dwells by the grace of the Holy Spirit in Christians in a new way. That this is the correct approach to Palamite theology is clearly indicated by the fact that St. Gregory takes very seriously the existence of friends of God and reconciliation in the Old Testament,[ 101 ] a rather important point that Father John overlooked. Also Meyendorff never takes seriously the fact that for Palamas the deifying saving grace of God is His very uncreated glory and kingdom revealed to the prophets of the Old Testament as well as to the apostles and saints of the Church.

[ Return ]


Father Meyendorff's imaginative theories concerning Palamite monistic prayer and anthropology, and Incarnational and sacramental heart mysticism, are part of what seems to be not so much an objective attempt, but 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 Apophaticism and its supposed linear descendants, the Byzantine Platonic-nominalistic humanists.[ 102 ] Since Dionysius the Areopagite is supposed to be the big bad boy of Patristic Platonism which produced Barlaamite nominalism, Father John is forced into a peculiar position by Palamas' obvious and, one may say, even unconditional acceptance of Pseudo-Dionysian authority. To counteract this difficulty, Meyendorff pictures Palamas as constantly (whether consciously or unconsciously is not always clear) applying to the theology of St. Dionysius Christological correctives, some of which we have already dealt with. In contrast to this, Meyendorff, strangely enough, does not point out those cases in which Barlaam misrepresents the Areopagite. Nor does he ever point out those instances in which Palamas interprets St. Dionysius more accurately than Barlaam. For that matter, he never once demonstrates a single case in which Barlaam's interpretation of Dionysius is more accurate than that of Palamas. He merely presents us with an untested theory.

In order to get an idea of how Father Meyendorff deals with his Dionysian problem, one may turn to his handling of Barlaam's claim that on Mount Thabor the disciples saw 'a sensible light, which is visible by means of the air, created (GEGONOS) then in order to impress and immediately decreated (APOGENOMENON), and which is called deity because a symbol of deity.'[ 103 ] After quoting this passage Father John continues: 'if one refuses this last very material interpretation, the Calabrian sees no other possibility than to consider the light as "imaginary" (FANTASTIKON), and, in this case, it is a vision "inferior to intellection" (CHEIRON NOISEOS). In the liturgy of the Church, Barlaam sees no more than a symbolic means of acceding to "immaterial archetypes." (Tr.. II, 1, 9, pp. 243-245.) At every point,' continues Meyendorff, 'the Calabrian philosopher was thus a disciple of Pseudo-Dionysius, whom he cites abundantly…'[ 104 ]

Now in Triad II, 1, 9, Palamas says nothing about Barlaam seeing in liturgy of he Church no more than a symbolic means of acceding to 'immaterial archetypes.' The liturgy is not mentioned here. The MERISTA HIERA SIMVOLA refer to scripture, as is clear from the following paragraph and in accordance with Dionysian usage.

Also Barlaam believes that the light of Thabor is inferior to intellection not only when it is described as imaginary, but also when it is described as sensible. Nowhere is Barlaam represented by Palamas as saying that the Thaboric light or the visions of the prophets are inferior to intellection only when imaginary. It seems that Father John was forced into this distinction by the fact that he describes Barlaam as claiming that the only possible knowledge of God in this life is through creatures.[ 105 ]

Now we may go on to ask why Meyendorff believes that Barlaam's theory concerning the levels of revelation by means of a created and sensible or imaginary Thaboric light, which temporarily came into existence and passed out of existence, is supposed to be identical with the teaching of St. Dionysius the Areopagite.

As we have already noticed, one of St. Gregory's strongest arguments for the uncreatedness of the Thaboric light is the fact that Saint Dionysius identifies this light with that of the future age.[ 106 ] Although Father John takes notice of this identity in the thought of Palamas for purposes of his own theories on eschatology,[ 107 ] he does not seem to realize the significance of this fact for the debate in question. The amazing thing is that in commenting on the traditionality of 'the eschatological interpretation of the miracle of the Transfiguration' in Patristic literature, he notes in a footnote that this is especially true of Pseudo-Dionysius.[ 108 ]

In such a case why does Father John believe that Barlaam is following Dionysius? The fact that Dionysius identifies the Thaboric experience with that to be had in the future age should have given Father John reason enough to realize that for Dionysius this light has neither passed out of existence nor was it imaginary, unless of course, he is prepared to prove that for Dionysius those visions of light in the next life will be imaginary.

We may further ask why Meyendorff believes that St. Dionysius is the source of Barlaam's claim that the Thaboric light is called deity by the Fathers because it is supposed to be a created symbol of deity. Even a superficial reading of the context within which Dionysius speaks of the Thaboric light would reveal that he is saying in so many words exactly the opposite.

The topic of the context in question concerns the degrees of knowledge concerning God and the use of symbols for this purpose. St. Dionysius points out that in the future age man will not need symbols because his union with or vision of the glory of God will be immediate and similar to that had by the angels. Now, however, because of the lack of this direct vision, man is in need of symbols and concepts when speaking of and approaching the divine. It is within this context that he points out the identity of the visions on Thabor with those of the future age. Thus the vision of the Thaboric light cannot be for Dionysius a vision of a created symbol. Let us look at the passage in question.

'At that time (TOTE),' writes Dionysius, 'when we become incorruptible... we shall always be with the Lord...in the most pure visions, filled with His visible theophany, which will illumine us by the most brilliant rays, as (the visible theophany illumined) the disciples in the most divine transfiguration, participating with passionless and immaterial noetic faculty in His noetic light-giving, and in the union surpassing the noetic faculty within the unknown and blessed coverings of the rays above manifestation in a more divine imitation of the supra-celestial intelligences. For we will be equal to the angels, as the truth of scripture says, sons of God and sons of the resurrection. But now (NIN DE), as much as is for us possible, we use for things divine familiar symbols, from which we accordingly then reach upwards toward the simple and unified truth of noetic visions...'[ 109 ]

In this passage St. Dionysius is clearly saying that in the future age the visible theophany (the human nature of Christ according to St. Maximus and Pachymeres) will be illuminating the elect with its glory as it did the apostles on Mount Thabor. But they who do not yet have this immediate vision of Mount Thabor and the future age are in need of symbols which serve as pointers to this reality. By thus defining those two degrees of knowledge, (I) the immediate which belongs to both angels and men who see the glory of God and (II) the mediated Biblical expressed in symbols, St. Dionysius goes on to develop his understanding of Biblical symbolic theology, which is not to be confused with reducing history and sacraments to mere symbols, as Father John imagines, but rather is an explanation of the nature of the names of God found in scripture. We shall return to this question of symbolic theology shortly. Suffice it to point out for now that for St. Dionysius the Biblical symbols of God are not what those who had visions of God saw, but are rather the concepts and imagery used by those who had these visions in order to give expression to this immediate knowledge of God which transcends concepts, imagery, and even knowledge and vision itself, being an unknowing and unseeing, not because it is not a real experience, but because it transcends all categories of human experience and must therefore be expressed by opposites. Thus vision of God is at the same time a knowing and an unknowing, an experience of light and darkness, a seeing and a not seeing, etc. Regardless of what image or concept or word or symbol one may use concerning God, God is beyond these, and this we know only by the infallible authority of those who have been graced by God with this revelation of His uncreated glory.

Evidently without realizing the implications of what he is actually saying, Father Meyendorff has presented the necessary presuppositions for one to conclude that had the Orthodox Church of the XIVth century remained faithful to St. Dionysius the Areopagite, Barlaam and not Palamas would now be a saint and Father of the Church. That this did not happen was apparently due to Meyendorff's fancy that St. Gregory Palamas fooled everyone into thinking that this interpretation of Pseudo-Dionysius was the correct one. On the other hand, Father John's thesis would mean that Barlaam was unjustly condemned, since St. Dionysius, whoever he may actually have been, has always been a greater authority for the Church than Palamas.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to get involved in a detailed examination of Meyendorff's handling of the Dionysian problem, but after studying each case of differing interpretation between Palamas and Barlaam, it seems obvious enough that Barlaam cannot claim one instance in which his own interpretation is decisive. In contrast to this, Palamas decisively demonstrates the erroneousness of Barlaam's interpretations of Dionysius over and over again. Let us add to the Dionysian questions already dealt with a few points in which Palamas decisively demonstrates Barlaam's misinterpretation of St. Dionysius.

In Part I of this paper we have demonstrated that Meyendorff is mistaken in his contention that Barlaam is an adherent to what he calls an extreme nominalistic form of Platonic apophaticism by indicating the very high improbability that one and the same person could be both a Platonist and a nominalist, and by also pointing out that the Calabrian is more probably within the Augustinian credo ut intelligam tradition of Latin Christianity. Barlaam insisted that knowledge of God is rational, and only those things concerning God not known by means of philosophy and revelation are beyond reason. In accordance with this position , Barlaam refused to admit that there could be any illumination or light revealed to the prophets, apostles, saints, and hesychasts, or, for that matter, any vision of God, which transcends intellectual knowledge.[ 110 ] The Calabrian attempts to prove that the highest form of knowledge possible to man in this life is not the supposedly supra-rational and supra-sentient vision of light, but rather the leaving behind of this light and entering into the Dionysian darkness which is none other than the apophatic form of intellectual knowledge.[ 111 ] The Calabrian went so far as to claim that knowledge of God is a species of knowledge in general.[ 112 ] In order to prove his position, the Calabrian tries to show that he is in perfect agreement with St. Dionysius.

Palamas agrees with Barlaam that apophatic theology itself is rational in nature,[ 113 ] but goes on to prove that for St. Dionysius darkness is another name for the unapproachable light in which God dwells, that this darkness is not apophatic theology, that vision of God is a supra-sentient and supra-rational experience which is both a knowing and an unknowing, a seeing and not seeing and therefore not a species of knowledge in general.

Palamas demonstrates his case on each of these points by the use of decisive passages from St. Dionysius, of which we quote the following from the Areopagite's letter to Dorotheus.[ 114 ]

'The divine darkness is the unapproachable light in which it is said that God dwells (I Tim. Vi, 16). For it is invisible because of its transcendent brilliance, and the same is unapproachable because of the excess of its supra-essential effusion of light. Into it (the light of darkness) enter all who are worthy to know and see God, truly entering into that which is above seeing and knowing, by means of that which neither sees nor knows, (the worthy) knowing the same (light or darkness), as being beyond all sensible and intelligible things…'

Palamas goes on to comment that St. Dionysius 'says here … that the darkness and the light, seeing and not seeing, knowing and not knowing, are identical.'[ 115 ] Now who can deny that Palamas and not Barlaam is here correct in his interpretation of Dionysius? This passage clearly shows that for the Areopagite the divine darkness and the divine light are one identical reality, that this is beyond sensible and intellectual things, that this is beyond sensible and intellectual knowledge, and by no means can it be s species of knowledge in general, since it can just as well be described as an unknowing,[ 116 ] not because of a lack of knowledge, but because it transcends knowledge.

In view of these debated points, it is not by any means clear what Meyendorff means by claiming that Palamas applied Christological correctives to the visions of God[ 117 ] and even to the apophatic theology of the Areopagite.[ 118 ] Just as incomprehensible is Father John's claim that there is an 'absence of all Christology … in the Corpus Areopagiticum.'[ 119 ] Not only does St. Dionysius speak distinctly about the Incarnation and the hypostatic union,[ 120 ] but he says clearly, as we saw, that the Thaboric experience will be normative for the life of the future age as it has become for the angels, and it is this experience which makes man equal to angels.[ 121 ]

It seems that a key to Meyendorff's proof-system for demonstrating Palamas' application of Christological correctives to Dionysius is based on the claim that St. Gregory upset the Dionysian hierarchy of the process of revelation from higher to lower orders of angels by his claim that Gabriel, although a member of the lowest order, was the first to be initiated into the mystery of Incarnation. According to Meyendorff, then, St. Dionysius should be saying that the highest orders were first initiated directly by God and they in turn initiated the second order of angels and the second the third of which Gabriel was a member. However, contrary to Meyendorff's theory, it is St. Dionysius himself who claimed before Palamas that the lowest order of angels was the first to be initiated into the mystery of the Incarnation. 'But I see,' writes Dionysius, 'that the angels were the first to be initiated into the divine mystery of the love toward man of Jesus, and through them the knowledge of grace came to us. Thus then the most divine Gabriel initiated Zachary … then Mary … etc.'[ 122 ]

It is obvious that Meyendorff, in support of his theory concerning Christological correctives, has found differences between Palamas and Dionysius and similarities between Barlaam and Dionysius which do not exist, and at the same time has exaggerated the differences which may exist between Palamas and Dionysius all out of proportion to their actual importance for support of his thesis. One could go so far as to claim that Meyendorff fails to demonstrate even one point on which Palamas and Dionysius differ.

In his general presentation of the Christological correctives theory, Father John seems to have overlooked some of the most important features of a Greek Patristic approach to Dionysius and followed himself to accept some of the usual opinions concerning the Areopagite common to the Latinized mind of the modern West. Thus he overlooks the fact that both Dionysius and Palamas belong to the same tradition, which believes that one can be initiated into the mystery of union with God and vision of God only by competent spiritual Fathers who by experience know the ways of purification and are at a higher level of perfection and union with God. At all levels of progress toward a more intimate union, from the newly baptized to the first order of angels, there is a real and immediate communion with God, so that in this sense there are no intermediaries between God and man, as Meyendorff thinks.[ 123 ] Rather, there are only spiritual guides who direct those spiritually below them to either a more intimate union or to union, vision, and deification. Thus, although angels participate by grace in the mysteries of God, even they are being further initiated by those spiritually higher. Yet at every level angels see and participate in the glory of God. Amongst men, there are those of the Old and New Testaments, including certain saints, who have had visions of God at various levels similar to that of angels and these men are the highest spiritual guides and authoritative teachers of those who are striving for union with God. Neither for Dionysius nor for Palamas is baptism and sacramental participation in the Body of Christ yet union, because union is equivalent to vision of God and deification. Neither among angels, nor among men, is there any lack of direct communion with God, even among those who have been baptized and have not yet reached union or divinization. The Dionysian celestial and ecclesiastical hierarchy is not a closed system, as Father Meyendorff thinks. The most amazing thing about it is the fact that perfection is an eternal process which never comes to an end, even for the highest orders, since there can be no expulsion of motion and change and history by the actualization of every potentiality as happens with Neo-Platonic and Latin beatific visions. Had Meyendorff paid attention to these principles of Greek Patristic thought, he would have hit upon a real vindication of the eternal dimensions of history and motion.

[ Return ]


Out of the debate between Palamas and Barlaam, Father Meyendorff manages to carve a chapter concerning the meaning of history. Evidently his misunderstanding of the nature of the debate over prayer and anthropology, which in his mind gives rise to his theories concerning Palamite monistic and Barlaamite dualistic pieties, is here combined with the question concerning immediate visions of God and visions mediated by created symbols of divinity, and his combination is supposed to have something to do with a supposed distinction between a Palamite linear history and a Barlaamite form of cyclical history.[ 124 ] For some vague reason, the difference between immediate revelations of God and mediated revelations is supposed to be connected with either maintaining the reality of history or reducing history to symbols of a closed and analogical Dionysian universe, which I take to mean a metaphysical hierarchy of immutable transcendental Platonic realities. Then these issues are confused with an extremely imaginary question of a Palamite-Orthodox-Roman Catholic sacramental realism versus a Barlaamite-nominalistic-Platonic sacramental symbolism. Then by some miracle of logic the condemnation of Barlaam is presented as a victory of Orthodox-Roman Catholic interests over Barlaamite nominalism, which threatened to plunge the Greek Orthodox Church into a form of Protestantism.

We have already pointed out in Part I of this paper the impossibility of associating the question of revelation by means of symbols with sacramental realism or symbolism, or with the conflict between nominalism and Augustinian Latin Platonism, since both traditions accept Augustine's understanding of revelation by means of symbols. The whole Latin tradition understands revelation by means of created symbols in terms very similar, if not identical, to those of Barlaam. Yet the whole Roman branch of the Latin West believes itself committed to sacramental realism.

Meyendorff claims that for Palamas, as opposed to Barlaam and Dionysius, the category of symbol, except in certain isolated cases like Moses, is applicable to the Old Testament alone.[ 125 ] However, we have noticed that Palamas claims the exact opposite, when insisting that, except for a few, all the visions of the patriarchs and prophets were of the uncreated light, which is not a symbol.[ 126 ] Nevertheless, Meyendorff goes on to say that, 'Today, after the Incarnation, this "supra-rational knowledge" which before benefited Moses alone "is common to all those who believe in Christ,"[ 127 ] on condition, of course, that they cultivate the fruits of their baptism by their "practice of the commandments" and the prayer. Christ is really present in them and is accessible to them without symbolic intermediaries.'[ 128 ]

However, Meyendorff, as is apparent throughout his study, fails to grasp the contextual outline within which the whole question of symbols is discussed by Palamas and Dionysius on the one hand and Barlaam and his like on the other.

For Palamas and Dionysius the need of symbols in one's knowledge of God is done away with only during the supra-rational union with and vision of God by deification. In such cases the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and saints who see the uncreated glory of God have an immediate knowledge of God similar to that of angels. However, those same prophets, apostles, and saints may be initiated into the meaning of their immediate vision of the glory of God by angels. But these angels never produce the vision of God, nor do they become symbolic substitutes for God as happens for Augustine and the Latin West. Now the experience of those men who are taken up into God's glory is expressed to their fellow men by means of symbolic words and imagery, and these symbols become the basis of our Biblical tradition and are called symbolic theology, or the theology of Divine Names, and are by no means to be confused with reducing historical events to symbols of eternal truths as happens with allegory. It must be clearly borne in mind that the prophets, apostles, and saints in seeing the uncreated light or glory of God did not see symbols, but were sometimes initiated into the meaning of their experience by angels and expressed the will of God to their fellow men by means of symbols familiar to the society in which they lived.

In view of this, Meyendorff makes two crucial mistakes which do not allow him to penetrate into the realities of his subject matter. He confuses the whole question of symbols with sacramental realism and the abolishment of symbols with the Incarnation. In order to clear up this confusion one should distinguish clearly sacramental union with God through Christ in the Church, which belongs to all baptized and practising Christians, from the union which for the Fourth Gospel, St. Paul, and the Greek Fathers is vision of the glory of God by glorification or divinization. Thus sacramental union with God through Christ in the Church is a hidden reality known only by faith, which does not do away with the need of symbols as guides in one's progress toward the union of vision by deification or glorification. When one translates Father Meyendorff's claim that the need of symbols has been for Palamas abolished because of the Incarnation and sacramental union with God into the language of the Greek Fathers, one comes up with the claim that after baptism one no longer needs the Bible.

The core of the debate between Palamas and Barlaam was not over the symbolism of the Divine Names contained in Scripture, although this was a secondary aspect of the problem, but rather over the question of what was seen by the prophets of the Old Testament and by the apostles on Thabor and generally by the apostles, saints, and hesychasts. Palamas, following Dionysius and the Greek Fathers, insisted that they had an immediate vision of the uncreated glory of God, and Barlaam, following an Augustinian-type tradition, insisted that they saw a momentarily existing or imaginary created symbol of divinity. Meyendorff obviously confused the question of Biblical symbolic language in Dionysius with the question of immediate or mediated revelation by means of symbols and was thus unable to understand the nature of the debate in question. He accordingly confused the Dionysian understanding of the symbolic Biblical names of God with Barlaam's understanding of revelation by means of symbols of divinity and came to the conclusion that the Calabrian is a follower of the Areopagite and that Palamas applied Christological correctives to St. Dionysius by doing away with symbols after the Incarnation.

It may be profitable to point out at this time that for those of the Barlaamite-Augustinian tradition, symbols and concepts and rational knowledge become the only means by which man can come to know God. Both those who are immediate recipients of revelation, such as prophets and apostles, and those whose contact with revelation is mediated by the Bible, come to know God by means of symbols and the concepts contained therein. It is obvious that within such a tradition there can be no supra-conceptual and supra-rational knowledge of God, since the very purpose of a revealed symbol is to convey concepts. For Latin Christians there is, of course, non-discursive ecstatic intuition of immutable truth as well as beatific vision, but these are still forms of rational knowledge, even though made possible by supernatural grace and the lumen gloriae.. This belief that every level of knowledge concerning God is rational is the very basis of all credo ut intelligam theologies of the Latin West and makes possible either the naive confidence that one can understand the Bible by just reading it with the aid of the Holy Spirit or the foolish notion that the Church can gradually deepen its understanding of revelation and dogmatic truths with the passage of time, even with the aid of philosophical categories.

Now the fact that the highest knowledge of God for Palamas and Dionysius is immediate vision of the uncreated glory of God even in this life, plus the fact that this vision and knowledge is above all categories of vision and knowledge because God remains a mystery even when unknowingly known, means that the Biblical symbols of the divine names can never become part of any credo ut intelligam method of theologizing, and that the very idea of Theologians or the Church getting a deeper understanding of revealed or dogmatic truth with the passage of time is nonsense, especially when these theologians not only have not seen the uncreated glory of God, but claim that those prophets, apostles, and saints who did see it saw either a creature or something imaginary.

Between Palamas and Akindynos there is an extremely interesting discussion about immediate and mediated revelations which has a direct bearing on our exposition, and which Meyendorff reports in a confused and contradictory manner. On the other hand Father John correctly points out that Akindynos, like Barlaam, insists that all revelations of God take place by means of symbols. Thus for Akindynos the light revealed on Thabor is perhaps not a created symbol of divinity, as Barlaam taught (Akindynos tried very hard to avoid repeating what Barlaam had been condemned for), but it is nevertheless symbolic of the knowledge of the divinity of Christ to which the apostles attained by faith. Akindynos claimed that the body of Christ was, on the Mount, the symbol of the uncreated divinity or essence (he identified the two) which the apostles could not see, but came to know by faith. Palamas answers that, 'If they saw (the light) of the adorable body, and in such a manner that it remained invisible, they in no way saw it.'[ 129 ] However, Meyendorff reports this theory of vision by faith from the very same chapter as that of Palamas. 'Again it is by faith,' writes Father John, 'that the apostles discerned the divinity of Christ on Mount Thabor.'[ 130 ]

In order to substantiate this claim that the hesychasts may be having demonic visions, Akindynos appeals to the Fathers, who warn against visions which appear in shapes and forms and advise that the mind must be kept immaterial and formless. Palamas is quick to take advantage of this blunder to remind Akindynos that this would make his revelations to the prophets and apostles by means of real or imaginary symbols demonic. Nevertheless, Akindynos claims that at the baptism of Christ, St. John saw a dove which symbolized the Holy Spirit, but he did not see God. Palamas ridicules the idea that a dove could ever take the place of the Holy Spirit in St. John's vision and insists that there was no bird in the revelation. What St. John saw transcends human reason and is expressed by the dove symbol. Akindynos returns to the Thaboric experience and claims that the body of Christ was there the symbol of divinity which the apostles discerned by faith.

Meyendorff reports Palamas' ideas on all this as follows: 'The theophanies could be symbolic, but not the Incarnation: Thus the Holy Spirit appears, but is not incarnated; the dove which manifested it (the Spirit) was a symbol, but "the body of Christ is truly body of God and not a symbol."'[ 131 ] But the whole point of the debate is that Palamas rejects the idea that the theophanies are symbolic and strongly refutes Akindynos' claim that a dove manifested the Spirit to St. John at the baptism of Christ. Because Palamas believed that the reported Biblical apparitions of fire, light, cloud, and dove were not created symbols, but the linguistic symbols by which supra-rational revelations were reported, Akindynos accused Palamas of worshipping creatures. Here again Palamas is being very faithful to St. Dionysius.[ 132 ]

[ Return ]


In his attempt to demonstrate the meaning of history for Palamas, Father John claims that 'that which the Christian seeks in the spiritual life, is not a spatial or immaterial "beyond," but a future, the kingdom of God, already present in the sacramental mystery.'[ 133 ] It seems that Meyendorff paid very little attention to the fact that for Palamas and the whole Greek Patristic tradition the kingdom of God, or the VASILEIA TOY THEOY, which has caused an endless and conflicting debate in the West, is the uncreated glory and unapproachable light and darkness in which God dwells, as well as the divinizing or glorifying grace which makes the elect one in glory as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in this same glory, which is man's by grace and God's by nature. This kingdom or ruling power of God is not only immaterial,[ 134 ] but also beyond all creaturely existence and beyond all sensible and intelligible categories. It is in the future[ 135 ] only in the sense that participation in it is consummated in the future for either the body or the soul or nature as a whole. This uncreated glory or kingdom of God (rule of God would be the correct translation of VASILEIA TOY THEOY) is present in a very special way in the sacraments of the Church through the human nature of Christ for our participation in the first resurrection. This rule or glory of God is the justifying, life-giving, glorifying (or divinizing) uncreated grace of God, the temple in which both God and now humanity in Christ dwell, and the same which was seen by the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament,[ 136 ] and which Christ had by nature before the world came into existence. Meyendorff's claim that for Palamas the kingdom of God is not immaterial and transcendent and his talk about 'the eschatological nature of this light' indicate that he has not grasped the very nerve-center of both the debate between Barlaam and Palamas and the theology of Palamas.

It is probably not fair to criticize an author for not dealing with certain aspects of his subject matter, and thus we hesitate to mention Meyendorff's failure to shed light upon the problem of the kingdom of God which has vexed New Testament scholars for so many years. However, since he does use C. H. Dodd's realized eschatology and O. Cullman's name and theory concerning Biblical time in order to set up his own treatment of Palamite and Barlaamite understanding of time, plus the fact that his study is shot through with such phrases as humanist, nominalist, Platonist, symbolism, realism, essentialist and existentialist, which show an obvious attempt to make Palamas appealing to the modern theologian, one would have expected at least a brief statement of how the Greek Patristic tradition in the person of Palamas could perhaps shed some light on the actual meaning of the kingdom of God both in the Old and New Testaments.[ 137 ] However, Meyendorff is evidently neither aware of the problem nor does he understand Palamas himself on the question of the kingdom. Had he understood the problem and Palamas' answer to it he would undoubtedly not have avoided addressing himself to it. He speaks separately of glory and deifying uncreated grace on the one hand, and then of some kind of material, non-transcendental, futuristic, already-realized kingdom of God on the other, without realizing that they are different names of the same reality. Had he realized this he could not represent Palamas' victory over Barlaam as a common Orthodox-Roman Catholic victory over an early form of Protestantism. Traditionally the Latin Church came to believe that the Church is the kingdom of God and that communicable grace is a created quality of the soul, while uncreated causal grace is the divine essence. For the Orthodox, the kingdom of God is not the Church, but the uncreated glory and divinizing grace of God in which the Church participates, and this uncreated glory or grace or kingdom (rule) is not the divine essence. Meyendorff's failure to realize the identity of deifying grace, glory, and kingdom or rule of God partly explains why he everywhere makes a valiant attempt to depreciate the meaning of the Old Testament in the theology of Palamas, and in this respect, especially, makes him out to be an Eastern Augustine, which he is not.

[ Return ]


Father John's exposition of Palamas' Christology is well done and typical of the general understanding of Christology among modern Orthodox theologians. However, because of a mistranslation of an important text, he misses an essential aspect of Palamas' Christology which our modern theologians usually omit from their expositions.

Palamas in this passage is speaking of the different principles of deification in Christ and in the rest of humanity. Christ receives His deification from His vision of the divine essence which because of the hypostatic union becomes visible to both His intellect and body, whereas angels and men are deified by their vision of and union with the energy of God. According to Palamas, the supra-essential essence of God 'is invisible in itself both to the sense and intellect, to those without body (angels) and those united to a body (men), even though one of these were to go out of himself (KAN EKSTI EAYTOY) for the better, having been deified. For it (the divine essence) is believed to be and becomes visible only to Him who is united hypostatically to intellect and body (MONO GAR TO KATH' HYPOSTASIN INOMENO NO KAI SOMATI), even though not according to their (body's and intellect's) proper nature. Only they (the intellect and body of Christ) "by the presence of the whole one who chrismates" have been deified by and have received the same energy as the deifying essence, containing it all completely and revealing it through themselves….. But the divinization of the divinized angels and men is not the supra-essential essence of God, but the energy of the supra-essential essence of God, existing in those deified, not as the art in the object of art (as happens with the cause and effect of Latin and Barlaamite understanding of grace) … but "as the art in him who acquires it," according to Basil the Great. Thus the saints are organs of the Holy Spirit, having received the same energy as He.'[ 138 ]

Meyendorff had translated this passage to say that the divinity 'is therefore not in itself accessible to any sensation and to any intelligence, to any incorporeal or corporeal being; it is only when one or the other of these beings goes out of itself (a translation of KAN EKSTI EAYTOY TI TOYTON) and acquires a superior state that it is deified; for it is only to an intelligence and to a body united to it in their very hypostasis (a translation of MONO GAR TO KATH' HYPOSTASIN INOMENO) that, according to our faith, the Divinity is and becomes visible, even though this vision is not of the domain of their proper nature.'

[ Return ]


When he follows lines already established by other Orthodox scholars in general Patristic studies and in the study of Palamas specifically, Father John's exposition of Palamas' doctrine of God is fairly well done. However, one must overlook his theories concerning Christological correctives and the Palamite originalities which he tries to find everywhere.

For example, Father John notices that Palamas applies to God only the categories of 'relation and action' (TO PROS TI TE KAI TO POIEIN) and goes on to make the following remarks: 'again these two categories do not define God except on condition of not introducing in Him any "confusion," that is to say of a manner distinct from other beings. In thus trying - very imperfectly - to define the divine Being in Aristotelian terms more accessible to his adversaries than the Biblical and Patristic expressions, Palamas chose two categories which, for Aristotle, designate the manifestation ad extra of a being, and again he accompanies this choice with reserves which limit that meaning.'[ 139 ]

However, the categories of relation and action could not be 'more accessible' to Palamas' adversaries than Patristic terminology, as Father John claims, for the simple reason that these two categories belong to the Holy of Holies of Patristic terminology, having being sanctified by centuries of usage by the Greek, and for that matter Latin Fathers. The categories of PROS TI or SCHESEIS on the one hand and ENERGEIA or POIEIN on the other were used during the Arian and Eunomean controversies and are traditional Patristic terms.[ 140 ]

Also Meyendorff's belief that both these terms were used by Palamas to signify God's manifestation ad extra is wholly incorrect.[ 141 ] Palamas follows the Patristic tradition which uses the term PROS TI or SCHESEIS to designate the essential internal relations of the Holy Trinity and ENERGEIA or POIEIN to designate the relationship of God ad extra as established by the eternal divine will. This is very clear from the context of the section from Palamas quoted by Meyendorff. Just after Father John's quotation[ 142 ] Palamas goes on to saythat, 'They who say that God is only essence, having nothing viewed within it, fashion a God who has neither making and act, nor relation. If He Who they think is God does not have these, then there is neither energy, nor creator …. But together {with this} is also abolished (SINANAIREITAI) the three hypostases of divinity, if the PROS TI (relation) is not viewed in God's essence.'[ 143 ] So without the POIEIN and ENERGEIN there would be no ad extra manifestation of God, and without the internal PROS TI or SCHESEIS there would be no Holy Trinity. Thus in the Patristic tradition and Palamas the incommunicable hypostatic properties of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or of unbegotten cause and source of divinity (Father), of the effect receiving its existence by the mode of begetting (Son), and of the effect receiving its existence by the mode of procession (the Holy Spirit), are neither names of the divine essence nor definitions of the three hypostases, but names of their relations which are known by revelation and at the same time inexplicable because beyond the categories of human reason.

We have already noted that not only the nameless supraessential essence of God is beyond the participation of both deified angels and men, but even participation in the divine darkness or light in which God dwells is for Palamas a knowing which is beyond knowing, God remaining a mystery even when man is united to Him and unknowingly knows Him. Yet Meyendorff insists that Palamas' understanding of God is personalistic in contrast to essentialistic, and this is supposed to put Palamas in the camp of existentialism. It seems to me, however, that since for Palamas man transcends himself in his union with God, Who transcends all categories of human and creaturely existence, being non-being because transcending being itself, and non-existent because transcending existence itself, it is very doubtful that such categories as personalism/impersonalism, essentialsim/existentialism can be applied to Him. This is why one can apply personal names to God, such as Father and Son, but also impersonal names such as Holy Spirit, Cloud, Light, Darkness, Rock, Fire, etc.

Nevertheless, Meyendorff's theory,[ 144 ] evidently taken from S. Verhovskoy, that it is the Personalistic understanding of God, giving primacy to the three Persons (hypostases) over the divine essence, which made the Greeks look with suspicion on the Latin theory that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the (impersonal) essence of the Father and Son is completely unfounded. Even more unfounded is Meyendorff's suggestion that it was against Arius that the Church insisted on the Father's being source of divinity, not as essence, but as person or hypostasis.[ 145 ]

Contrary to Meyendorff's claim, it was Arius' teaching which was much more personalistic than that of Athanasius. Arius insisted that the Father is related to and generates the Son not by nature, but by will. Athanasius insisted that the Father is related to and generates the Son not by will, but by nature.[ 146 ] In this respect the Augustinian tradition is also more personalistic than the Orthodox when it claims that the Son proceeds from the Father by mode of intellection and the Holy Spirit by the mode of will. Athanasius was accused by Arius of destroying the freedom of God by introducing a necessity of nature into the relations between Father and Son. So the Church followed an Athanasian form of essentialism as over against an Arian form of voluntaristic personalism. Thus, according to the Creed of Nicaea, the Son is not from the will, but from the hypostasis and the essence of the Father.

The Eunomeans seized upon the idea, suggested by the Orthodox themselves, that the Father as essence (or hypostasis, which for all practical purposes meant for them the same thing) begets the Son and threw this back at the Orthodox as an argument against the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. However, in order to do this they obviously had to modify Arius, who agreed with Athanasius on the distinction between essence and energy or will of God.[ 147 ] The Eunomeans simply identified essence and energy and claimed that the essence of God is the source and cause of the existence of the Son, and that such terms as Father and unbegottenness are names of the divine essence. Therefore what is a Son and begotten must be another essence.[ 148 ]

In order, therefore, to meet the Eunomean attack, the Fathers of the Church made a very clear distinction between (1) essence; (2) hypostases; and (3) energy or will. Against Arius, the Church insisted that the will does not generate. Against the Eunomeans, the Church insisted that the essence does not generate or cause the existence of the Son. Thus only the hypostasi of the Father can be considered the cause and source of the other hypostases. Therefore, it was not personalism which made it impossible for the Greeks to accept the Council of Lyon's tanquam ab uno principio, but rather the principles of Trinitarian theology as developed in the East in opposition to various heresies, in this case especially to Eunomeanism.

In support of this theory concerning Palamite personalism, Father Meyendorff also quotes St. Gregory who insists against Barlaam that God did not say to Moses, ' "I am the essence," but "I am He Who is." For He Who is is not from the essence, but the essence is from Him Who is.'[ 149 ] For Father John this is supposed to demonstate the priority of hypostasis or person over essence, and therefore Palamite personalism. However, Meyendorff quotes this passage out of context. Palamas is here using the term 'essence' in the Dionysian sense of 'essence-making power (OYSIOPOIOS DINAMIS),' and not in the Dionysian sense of 'super-essential hiddenness (HYPEROYSIOS KRIFIOTIS),' which would be equivalent to Meyendorff's use of the word essence or nature in developing his theory concerning personalism. This is very clear from the prior paragraph in which Palamas quotes Dionysius' use of the term essence in order to prove wrong Barlaam's contention that the essence of God is alone without beginning. 'For Dionysius the essence of God is alone without beginning. 'For Dionysius the Areopagite says,' writes Palamas, ' "If we call the super-essential hiddenness God, or life, or essence (OYSIAN), or light, or reason, we mean nothing else than those divinizing, or essence-making (OYSIOPOIOYS), or vivifying, or wisdom-giving powers which come to us from it {the super-essential hiddenness}."' [ 150 ] So the name essence is here one of the eternal powers of God grounded in but not identical with the super-essential essence which has no name. Together with this one should also keep in mind that for Palamas and the whole Eastern Patristic tradition it was the Logos Who said to Moses 'I am He Who is.' Thus Palamas is saying that the essence as essence-making power is from the super-essential essence and from the Logos. He is not saying, as Father John thinks, that the super-essential essence is from an hypostasis or person.

| Part 1 | - | Part 2 |





[ 1 ] Introduction à L' Etude de Grégoire Palamas, Patristica Sorbonesia 3, edited by H. I. Marrou and published by Editions du Seuil (Paris, 1959). Hereinafter cited as Introduction.

[ 2 ] Ibid., pp. 195 ff.

[ 3 ] Ibid., pp. 219-220.

[ 4 ] Ibid., pp. 195 ff.

[ 5 ] Défense des Saints Hésychastes, vols. xxx and xxxi of Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense: Etudes et Documents (Louvain, 1959), Tr. II, 1, 30, p. 283. Hereinafter cited as Défense.

[ 6 ] Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. Vi, no. 2, pp. 199-200.

[ 7 ] Défense, Tr. II, 1, 30, p. 283.

[ 8 ] Défense, Tr. II, 2, 11, p. 339.

[ 9 ] Défense, Tr. II, 2, 12, p. 341.

[ 10 ] Défense, Tr. II, 2, 4, pp. 325-327; 8, p. 333; 11, p. 339; 13, p. 345; 14, p. 349; 16, pp. 353-355; 19, p.361.

[ 11 ] Introduction, p. 201.

[ 12 ] PERI AGAPIS EKATONTAS DEYTERA, KSA', "FILOKALIA" (Athens, 1958), vol. II, p. 22; P.G., XC, 1004C.

[ 13 ] Défense, Tr. II, 2, 17, pp. 355-357.

[ 14 ] Op. cit.

[ 15 ] Op. cit.

[ 16 ] Défense, Tr. II, 2, 9, p. 335.

[ 17 ] Introduction, pp. 203 ff. 213-220 and article referred to below in note 66.

[ 18 ] Défense, Tr. I, 3, 21, p. 155.

[ 19 ] Défense, Tr. I, 2, quest., pp. 71-73; II, 2, 25, pp. 373-375.

[ 20 ] Ibid.

[ 21 ] Défense, Tr. II, 2, 25-26, pp. 373 ff.

[ 22 ] Défense, Tr. I, 2, 4, p. 83.

[ 23 ] Introduction, p. 215.

[ 24 ] Ibid., pp. 213-220.

[ 25 ] Hagioritic Tome, P. G., CL, 1232AB; Défense, Tr. I, 2, 3, pp. 79-81.

[ 26 ] De opif., XII.

[ 27 ] Introduction, p. 211.

[ 28 ] P. 81.

[ 29 ] Défense, Tr. II, 2, 27, p. 337; St. Gregory Nyssa, De opif., VIII, 5.

[ 30 ] Ibid.

[ 31 ] Introduction, p. 211.

[ 32 ] See above notes 29 and 30.

[ 33 ] Introduction, pp. 210-211.

[ 34 ] Op. cit.

[ 35 ] Introduction, pp. 205-213.

[ 36 ] Ibid., p. 213.

[ 37 ] Défense, Tr. II, 2, 30, p. 381.

[ 38 ] Introduction, pp. 213 ff.

[ 39 ] Ibid., p. 213.

[ 40 ] Ibid., p. 214.

[ 41 ] Ibid.., pp. 215-221.

[ 42 ] Ibid., p. 227; cf. 266.

[ 43 ] Ibid., pp. 227-228.

[ 44 ] Ibid., pp. 242-243; cf. Pp. 249 ff.

[ 45 ] Ibid., p. 247.

[ 46 ] Ibid., p. 249.

[ 47 ] Introduction, pp. 215-216.

[ 48 ] Scala, XXVII, P.G., LXXXVIII, 1097B.

[ 49 ] Introduction, pp. 215-216.

[ 50 ] Introduction, p. 216; Défense, Tr. I, 2, 6, pp. 86-87.


[ 52 ] Ibid.

[ 53 ] Introduction, p. 216.

[ 54 ] Défense, Tr. I, 3, quest.; II, 3, 5, p. 395; 12, p. 409; III, 1, 11, p. 557.

[ 55 ] Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. VI, no. 2 (1960-61), pp. 201 ff.

[ 56 ] De Divinis Nominibus, I, 4, P.G., III, 592C; Défense, Tr. I, 3, 26, p. 167; 35, pp. 185-187; 43, pp. 203-205; II, 3, 20, p. 429; 23,

[ 57 ] Barlaam evidently adhered to the Latin teaching concerning the vision of God in the future age by means of the supernatural created lumen gloria. See Part I, Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. VI, no. 2 (1960-61), pp. 198-199.

[ 58 ] Défense, Tr. I, 3, 35, pp. 187-189.

[ 59 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 22, p. 433.

[ 60 ] Défense, Tr. I, 3, 27, p. 169.

[ 61 ] Défense, Tr. I, 3, 36, p. 189. Cf. III, 1, 17, p. 591.

[ 62 ] Introduction, p. 259.

[ 63 ] Ibid.

[ 64 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 34, p. 455; 51-52, pp. 491 ff.

[ 65 ] Défense, Tr. I, 3, 38, pp. 191-193.

[ 66 ] 'Le thème du retour en soi dans la doctrine palamite du xiv siècle,' Revue d' histoire des religions, CXLV, no. 2, 1954, pp. 188-206.

[ 67 ] Ibid., p. 199.

[ 68 ] See note 65.

[ 69 ] Op. cit., pp. 200 ff.

[ 70 ] Italics are mine.

[ 71 ] Cf. Défense, Tr. III, 1, 33, p.621.

[ 72 ] Text published by G. Papamichael, in "EKKLISIASTIKOS FAROS", vol. XIII (Alexandria, Egypt, 1914), pp. 42-52, 245-255, 464-476.

[ 73 ] Ibid., p. 467.

[ 74 ] See notes 69 and 71 above.

[ 75 ] See above note 56.

[ 76 ] Défense, Tr. I, 3, 5, p. 117.

[ 77 ] Défense, Tr. I, 3, 24, pp. 161-163.

[ 78 ] Défense, Tr. I, 3, 31, p. 179.

[ 79 ] Ibid.

[ 80 ] Introduction, pp. 240-249.

[ 81 ] Ibid., pp. 242, 243, 244, 249.

[ 82 ] Défense, Tr. III, 1, 22, p. 599.

[ 83 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 50, pp. 487-489; 54, p. 497.

[ 84 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 51, 52, pp. 491-493.

[ 85 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3. 51, p. 491.

[ 86 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 52, pp. 491-493.

[ 87 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 56, pp. 503-505.

[ 88 ] Forty-one Homilies of St. Gregory (Jerusalem, 1857), Homily 34, p. 192.

[ 89 ] Edited by J. Meyendorff, Theologia, vol. 24 (Athens, 1953), pp. 568-582.

[ 90 ] Ibid., p. 579. Cf. Hagioriticos Tomos, P. G., CL, 1228D.

[ 91 ] Ibid., p. 575. "I MEN OYN ENOSIS … I THEOSIS ESTI …" St. Dionysius says exactly the same: "I DE THEOSIS ESTIN I PROS THEON, OS EFIKTON, AFOMOIOSIS TE KAI ENOSIS". De Ecc. Hierarch., I 3, P. G., III, 376A. Also St. Gregory says, "I DE TOY FOTOS ENOSIS, TI GE ALLO I ORASIS ESTIN;" Défense, Tr. II, 3, 36, p. 359.

[ 92 ] Introduction, p. 268.

[ 93 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 66, p. 527.

[ 94 ] Défense, Tr. II, 2, 14, pp. 349-351.

[ 95 ] Introduction, pp. 216-217.

[ 96 ] De Hier. Eccl., I, 4; P.G., III, 376B.

[ 97 ] Op. cit., p. 217.

[ 98 ] Scholia, P. G., IV, 120B.

[ 99 ] Paraphrasis, P. G., III, 388D, 389AB.

[ 100 ] Défense, Tr. III, 3, 5, p. 703. This understanding of revelation by means of the Logos in the Old Testament, which is that even of St. Ambrose and especially of Tertullian (perhaps the most basic argument against modalism in his Contra Praxeam), was rejected for what seems to have been the first time by St. Augustine and subsequently by the whole Latin tradition.

[ 101 ] For key passages from Palamas on this subject see J. S. Romanides, Original Sin (in Greek), (Athens, 1957), p. 82, note 7.

[ 102 ] For his theory that Areopagite Platonic apophaticism gave rise to Barlaamite Platonic moninalism see his introduction, pp. 193, 281, 323, and the first part of this paper, vol. VI, no. 2, pp. 187-190.

[ 103 ] Défense, Tr. III, 1, 11, p. 577. We translate GEGONOS and APOGENOMENON as 'created' and 'decreated' in keeping with Palamas' interpretation according to which this deity of Barlaam is AISTHITI and GENITI (created) and exists only for a short time (ibid.). Perhaps part of Father John's difficulty with Barlaam's ideas about the Thaboric light is due to the fact that he translates these words as 'appearing' and 'disappearing,' in which case Barlaam's actual belief that the light for a short time came into and immediately passed out of existence may be overlooked. That for Barlaam the Thaboric light could also be imaginary puts beyond doubt the temporary nature of its existence.

[ 104 ] Introduction, p. 260.

[ 105 ] See Part I, Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. VI, no. 2, pp. 201 ff.

[ 106 ] See note 56 above.

[ 107 ] Ibid., p. 267.

[ 108 ] Ibid., note 41.

[ 109 ] De Div. Nom., I, 4; P. G., III, 592BCD.

[ 110 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 38, 39, pp. 465-467; 47, p.

[ 111 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 47, p. 483; 49, p. 487; 50, pp. 487-489; 54, p. 497.

[ 112 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 34, p. 455; 53, p. 493.

[ 113 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 47, p. 483; 52, p. 491.

[ 114 ] P.G., III, 1073A; Défense, Tr. II, 3, 51, p. 491.

[ 115 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 52, pp. 491 ff.

[ 116 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 34, p. 455.

[ 117 ] Introduction, p. 237.

[ 118 ] Introduction, p. 284.

[ 119 ] Introduction, p. 287.

[ 120 ] De Div. Nom., I, 4; P.G., III, 592A.

[ 121 ] Ibid., 592BCD.

[ 122 ] De Coel. Hier., IV, 4; P.G., III, 181B.

[ 123 ] Introduction, p. 262.

[ 124 ] Introduction, pp. 257-258.

[ 125 ] Introduction, p. 296.

[ 126 ] See above note 93; Défense, Tr. II, 3, 66, p. 527.

[ 127 ] Défense, Tr. II, 3, 66, p. 525.

[ 128 ] Introduction, pp. 269-270.

[ 129 ] Contra Akindynos, v, 9, Coislianus 98, fol. 123v.

[ 130 ] Introduction, p. 239, note 71 with same reference as note 129.

[ 131 ] Introduction, p. 270; Contra Akindynos, VII, 15 Coisl. 98, fol. 195v-196.

[ 132 ] De Div. Nom., I, 6; P.G., III, 596BC.

[ 133 ] Introduction, p. 267.

[ 134 ] Palamas states clearly that the light of the Transfiguration is the uncreated kingdom or rule of God and beyond time: "AYTOS O KATA TOYTO LAMPSAS, AKTISTON ON PROAPEDEIKSEN AYTO, VASILEIAN TOYTO KALESAS TOY THEOY. OY GAR ESTIN I VASILEIA TOY THEOY DOYLI KAI KTISTI. MONI GAR PANTON AVASILEYTOS KAI AITTITOS, KAI CHRONOY PANTOS KAI AIONOS EPEKEINA". Forty-one Homilies of St. Gregory (Jerusalem, 1857), Homily 34, p. 193.


[ 136 ] Ibid., p. 192

[ 137 ] For a preliminary attempt of this kind see J. S. Romanides, 'Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel,' The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. IV, no. 2 (1958-59), pp. 121-124.


[ 139 ] Introduction, p. 289.

[ 140 ] See J. S. Romanides, Original Sin (Athens 1957), p. 99, notes 5 and 7. Cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, Theological Orations, III, 16 and v, 9.

[ 141 ] Meyendorff nowhere draws any distinction between the two terms for either Palamas or Patristic theology.

[ 142 ] See Introduction, p. 289, note 43.

[ 143 ] Capita Physica, 134, P.G., CL, 1216AB.

[ 144 ] Introduction, pp. 311 ff.

[ 145 ] Ibid.

[ 146 ] See J. S. Romanides, 'The Debate Over Theodore of Mopsuestia's Christology,' in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. V, no. 2 (1959-1960), pp. 171 ff.

[ 147 ] Ibid.

[ 148 ] Ibid., pp. 162, 177.

[ 149 ] Introduction, p. 292; Défense, Tr. III, 2, 12, p. 665.

[ 150 ] Défense, Tr. III, 2, 11, p. 663; De Div. Nom., II, 7, P.G., III, 645A.



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