Vladimir Lossky On the Patristic Understanding of the Light of Tabor

Originally posted 10/1/2009.

1. Vladimir Lossky says on page 222 of The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church:

Most of the Fathers who speak of the Transfiguration witness to the divine and uncreated nature of the light which appeared to the apostles. St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Maximus, St. Andrew of Crete, St. Symeon the New Theologian, Euthymius Zigabenus, all speak of it in this way, and it would be perverse in the extreme to interpret all the passages in question as mere figures of speech.{1}

2. The above list includes two saints who are formally recognized as Doctors of the Universal Church. The Church Doctor and Holy Hierarch St. Gregory the Theologian calls the Tabor Light uncreated divinity in Oration 40:6 [PG 36:365A].{2} St. Gregory Palamas makes use of other witnesses in his 150 Chapters. St. John of Damascus, another Doctor, said in his Homily on the Transfiguration of the Lord 12 [PG 96:564B] that the light of glory shining from Christ’s body on Mt. Tabor was the uncreated light of divinity.{3} So, too, does St. Symeon Metaphrastes say, in his Commentary on the Apostle John 1 [PG 116:685D], that the Tabor Light is the divinity of Christ manifested to the sons of thunder.{4}
3. Palamites further claimed that Sts. Athanasios the Great, John Chrysostom, and Basil the Great taught that the Tabor Light was uncreated.{5} Gregory Akindynos rejected the idea that the Tabor Light was uncreated and really distinct from the divine essence, yet visible to the corporeal eye.{6} So, too, was this thesis rejected by the Latin Patriarch Paul of Constantinople [PG 154:835838] in his letter to the caesaropapist usurper, Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos.{7} The Monk Isaac Argyros{8} and John the Cypriot [PG 152:864]{9} also rejected the theory.
4. The Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas, wonderworker and prince of theologians, quotes three Doctors when he argues that the Godhead cannot be seen by the corporeal eye: Sts. Ambrose the Great of Milan, Jerome the Great of Strido, and Augustine the Great of Hippo.{10} Catholic theologians use “essence” in a sense such that the divine essence and the divine energy are only notionally distinct,{11} and therefore when they say that the “essence” cannot be seen by the corporeal eye either in this life or the next, they also rule out the idea that the “energy” can be seen by the corporeal eye in this life. This might be why the saintly Pope John Paul II the Great says in reference to Hesychasm, “There was no lack of tension with the Catholic viewpoint on certain aspects of this practice.”{12} He nevertheless considered Palamas to be a saint.{13} Pope John Paul II the Great, pray for us!
Notes & References
{1} Lossky, Vladimir Nikolaievich. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976. 1 Oct. 2009 <http://books.google.com/books?id=dxqvWwPSCSwC&pg=PA222#v=onepage&q=&f=false>.
{2} Qtd. in St. Gregory Palamas, Physical, Theological, Moral, and Practical Chapters §146.
{3} Qtd. in Ibid.
{4} Qtd. in Ibid., §149.
{5} See p. 133 of Vol. 2 of Fr. Martin Jugie’s Theologia dogmatica Christianorum orientalium ab Ecclesia Catholica dissidentium. The very learned Fr. Jugie was a staunch opponent of Palamism.
{6} Ibid., p. 155. When the anti-Palamite writers argued against St. Gregory Palamas’s real distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies (operations), they may have been using the term “essence” in a different sense than St. Gregory Palamas. If so, then there is no real contradiction between the two theological systems with respect to the essence-energies distinction. If not, then the systems cannot be reconciled. But we have reason to believe that the theologians did use the term “essence” differently, since, thanks to the saintly Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, the Catholic Church regards Gregory Palamas as a saint.
{7} Qtd. in ibid., 138.
{8} Qtd. in ibid., 159.
{9} Qtd. in ibid., 160.
{10} Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologica III-S, q. 92, art. 2, corp.
{11} “Essence, Energy, and Uncreated and Created Grace.” The Banana Republican. 22 Aug. 2009. 3 Oct. 2009 <http://thebananarepublican.blogspot.com/2009/08/essence-energy-and-uncreated-and.html>.
{12} Pope John Paul II the Great. “Eastern Theology Has Enriched the Whole Church” §2. Eternal World Television Network. 11 Aug. 1996. 3 Oct. 2009 <http://motherofgodchurch.org/mog/documents/jp2_EASTERN_THEOLOGY_HAS_ENRICHED_THE_WHOLE_CHURCH.HTM>.
{13} Liles, Martha. “Saint Gregory Palamas.” Melkite Greek Catholic Information Center. 3 Oct. 2009 <http://www.mliles.com/melkite/stgregorypalamas.shtml>.


2 Responses to Vladimir Lossky On the Patristic Understanding of the Light of Tabor

  1. […] Perry, 1. The Apostles saw the Uncreated Light of His glory [Jn 1:14], but not by corporeal vision [Jn 1:18; 1 Tim 6:16]. With regard to the Transfiguration, […]

  2. […] in a scarlet robe [Mt 27:28]. May He make our scarlet souls as white as snow, pure and radiant like the light with which He shone in front of the three chief Apostles on Mt. Tabor. Sts. Moses and Elijah, pray for […]

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