V. Palamism’s principal opponents. Their doctrine on the light of Tabor

Originally posted 11/9/2009.

Here is an ongoing rough translation of part of Fr. Martin Jugie, A.A. (1878-1954), “Palamite (Controverse),” in: M. Vacant et al., eds., Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, tome XI/2 (Paris 1932), cols. 1777-1818. Many thanks to Dr. Peter Gilbert of De Unione Ecclesiarum for sending me the French text. N.B. I know a very small amount of Greek, and I have trouble distinguishing the diacritical marks due to the printing quality of the DTC. If something strikes you as nonsensical, please help me correct any mistakes.

V. Palamism’s principal opponents. Their doctrine on the light of Tabor (col. 1802)

If Palamism recruited fervent adherents in 14th century Byzantium, it also picked up numerous and formidable adversaries, who would have undoubtedly triumphed without the intervention of the secular arm. A list of these adversaries, athough incomplete, has been conserved in the Vatic. græc, 1096, fol. 29 vº, which is from the end of the 14th century. We note, among other names, the following, who took an active part in the controversy: Barlaam, Gregory Acindynus, Nicephorus Gregoras, the hieromonk Niphon, the philosopher Georges Lapithes, John Calecas, Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch, Matthew of Ephesus, the hieromonk Prochorus Cydones. Cf. Giovanni Mercati, op. cit. It is necessary to add: [Theodore] Atouemes, Theodore Dexios, Isaac Argyros and the unionists Demetrius Cydones, John Cyparissiotes and Manuel Calecas.

Of Barlaam we have already spoken enough. We showed how, from the beginning of the quarrel, he had been abandoned by everyone, even by Acindynus, and by the monks less because of the substance of his doctrine about the Taboric Light than for the way he had expressed it. Palamites, as well, did not stop at these superficial differences, and they treated as Barlaamites all those who do not admit a real distinction between the essence of God and His operation, and the existence of an eternal divine light and uncreated grace.

Before speaking of the principle defenders of orthodoxy and sound philosophy against the innovations of Palamas, let us point out that one should not judge their true doctrine according to the statements of the Palamite theologians. If we believe them, Acindynus, John Calecas, Gregoras and the others taught pure nominalism. They made an inert nature; or else they lowered the action of God and all His relative and operative attributes. All these imputations are attributable to unfair accounts of the debate, which, to better crush the enemy, lend themselves to insanities. We do not mean that all the anti-Palamites were blameless in their way of speaking about God and His attributes: all had enough sense to make necessary distinctions and to reduce to null the sometimes subtle and embarrassing objections of Palamas and of his disciples. Most of the Byzantines were not introduced to the Scholastic method of the West, and were so equivocal that a doctor in Sorbonne should have torn like a spider web by an appropriate distinction that could leave a Nicephorus Gregoras silent. [???] But the adversaries of Palamism had enough philosophy and theology to maintain the absolute simplicity of the divine Being and deny everything else but Him the epithets of uncreated and eternal.

There is still a marked difference between the attitude of anti-Palamites of the first period and the one the polemicists of the second phase of the controversy had. The first, that is to say Acindynus, John Calecas, Theodore Dexios, Matthew of Ephesus and even Nicephorus Gregoras, are preoccupied with avoiding any doctrinal innovation and stick to, in matters of dogma, the teachings of the Symbol and the seven ecumenical councils. This attitude is commanded of them and by the defense made by the τόμος συνoδικὸς and by the pretension of Palamas and his followers to develop and explain the ancient definitions. They are resolute conservatives, who do not even want to pose the question of the nature of the Taboric light. Asked about this point, or they refuse to answer, as they did at the council of 1351; or they say: “If the light of Tabor is uncreated, it must be identified with God Himself, because God alone is uncreated; nothing is uncreated except Him. If you posit a light really distinct from the divine essence, it must necessarily be ranked among created things.” By virtue of this same principle, they declare that divine grace and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are created. They identify between the divine essence and the divine operation considered as a terminus a quo, and say it is created, if it is considered as a terminus ad quem, that is to say, in its effects. The Palamites show themselves to be unable to grasp this distinction, however so simple, and they accuse their adversaries of fickleness and contradiction; teaching sometimes that the Taboric Light is created, other times that it is uncreated; of reducing the divine operation to the status of a creature, or eradicating it by identifying it with the essence.

1. The attitude of which we speak has always been that of Acindynus. We still have from him, besides a number of letters, three Confessions of Faith, one addressed to the Empress Anna Palaeologus. 2. A short exposition of the detestable heresies of Palamas, Ἕκθεσις ἐπίτoμος τῶν τoῦ ∏αλαµᾶ πoνηρoτάτων αἱρέεσων. 3. A refutation of the Confession of Faith of Gregory Palamas, Ἡ τoῦ ∏αλαµᾶ ὁµoλoγία ἀνεσκευασµένη. This refutation is not the confession of faith Palamas presented to the Council of 1351, but another previous formula. 4. A Refutation of the Letter of Palamas to Acindynus sent from Thessalonica shortly before the Council of 1341, Ἐπιστoλὴ τoῦ ∏αλαµᾶ ἀνεσκευκσμενη, ἢν ἀπὁ Θεσσαλονἰχκης ἀπἐστειλεν τῷ Ἀχινδὐνῳ, or the Hesychast theologian expounds his system with the most audacious formulas. 5. A Report to the Patriarch John and his synod recounting the origins of the controversy between Barlaam and Palamas, Λόγος πρὸς τὸν μακαριώταταον πατριάρχην κῦρ Ἰωάννην καὶ τὴν περὶ αὐτὸν σὐνοδον, διεξιὼν ὄπως ἡ τοῦ Παλαμᾶ καὶ Βαρλαὰμ φιλονεικὶα τὴν ἀρχὴν ουνέστη. This report, probably written before the excommunication of Palamas (November 4, 1344), is very interesting for the history of the origins of the controversy, and we put it to good use in our study. 6. Another Exposition and refutation of the heresies of Palamas, Ἐτέρα ἕκθεσις καὶ ἀναρσκευὴ τῶν τοῦ Παλαμᾶ πονηροτάτων αἱρέσεων. 7. Five other antirrhetical discourses against Palamas. All these writings, except the Profession of Faith addressed to Anna Palaeologus, which is in Barberinus 291, fol. 218-222 vº, are found in Monacensis 223, 363 fol. (15th century). They are all unedited.

A false judgment has heretofore been brought on the theology of Acindynus due to the attribution which was made to him of the work De essentia et operatione, which belongs to Prochoros Cydones. Far from being Latinophrone, penetrated by Thomistic doctrine, he is a Byzantine in rigid conservatism, just as much an enemy of the Latins as Palamas, and who sticks to the traditional faith. All his formulas, all his expressions are derived from the Greek Fathers. The major thesis he supports against Palamas is this: God is an absolutely simple being, in Whom everything is really identified with the exception of the hypostatic properties: Tαὐτότης µόνη ὲν τῶ Θεῶ καὶ ἀπαραλλαξία πλὴν τῶν κατὰ τὰς τρεῖς Θεαρχικὰς ὐπoστἀσεις ἰδιoτήτῶν, Monac. 223, fol. 19 vº. In Him, there is no primary element and secondary element. Nothing outside of Him is uncreated. He is the first; everything that comes after is a creature; there is no intermediary between the Creator and the creature. There is nothing eternal outside of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: πᾶν τὸ ἕλαττον τοῦ Θεοῦ κτίσμα καὶ Θεὸς µόνoν τὸ Θεῖoν ἅκτιστιόν τε καὶ ᾶναρχoν καὶ Θεὸς µὲν πρῶτoν, µετὰ δὲ τοῦτον κτίσις, διὰ µεσου δὲ τὸ σύµπαν oύὀέν, καὶ µόυη τῆς κτίσεως ὑπέρκειται ἡ Θεία τε καὶ ἅκτιστoς φύσις, καὶ oὐδὲν πρoαιώνιoν πλὴν ∏ατρὸς καὶ Υῖoῦ καὶ ἁγίoυ ∏νεύµατoς. Ibid., fol. 18 vº. Based on this principle, he consequently rejects all the theses of Palamas: the divine light is not uncreated, unless one identifies it with the essence; the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not uncreated, since they are numerous; grace is not uncreated, since it is an effect produced in the creature. Regarding the object of the beatific vision, it is God Himself, that is to say His nature, His essence, which enters into communion with the sanctified creature in an incomprehensible manner and without the slightest change: τoῖς θεοφόρος πατρἀσιν ἐπόµενoι καὶ ἀναλλοιώτως καὶ ὐπὲρ αῖσθησιν καὶ διὰνoιαν δὲχεσθαι φρονοῦµεν τoὐς ἁγίoυς τὴν καὶ µακαρίαν oὐσίαν εις κoινωνίαν ἁγιασµoῦ. Ibid., fol. 31 vº-32.

2. The patriarch John Calecas, who was not a theologian by profession, approved and endorsed the doctrine of Acindynus. The work that he presented to the empress by way of apology (see above, col. 1787) was a collection of writings composed by Acindynus and by confessors and professors appointed by him. The tome of the synod of February 13 that deposed him has preserved some of anathematisms he threw against the Palamites: “Anathema to those who dare say that the glory of the deity of Christ is different from the essence of God. — Anathema to those who dare say that the divine grace is uncreated and yet differs from the essence of God. — Anathema to those who dare say that the uncreated divinity can be seen by the eyes of the body: Toῖς ἀπoτoλµῶσι καὶ λέγoυσι τὴν θείαν χάριν ἅκτιστoν µὲν εἷναι έτέραν δὲ παρα τὴν oὐσίαν τoῦ Θεoῦ, ἀνάθεµα.” Cf. P. G., t. CLII, col. 1280A.

3. Theodore Dexios belongs equally to the school of Acindynus and, even more than [Acindynus], shows himself an enemy of curious speculation about everything that the ancients did not clarify. He does not want to figure out or decide anything on the nature of the Taboric Light. This agnostic attitude is well-marked in the drama of Philotheus of Silivri. There Dexios seems to insist on the incomprehensibility of the divine essence and blames the foolhardy who dare to stir up insoluble problems on this subject. The chorus of sophists replied ironically, Palamas being present: ᾽Υπέρευνε ὁ καλὸς καὶ παράριστος Δεξιός. Cod. Palm. 366, fol. 393 vº. On Dexios, G. Mercati, op. cit., p. 226 sq., and 270-271, who just discovered a long treatise against Cantacuzene and his Council of 1351, in Vatic. 1111, part. 4, fol. 223-321, and three short apologies at the prompting of the anti-Palamites, in Vatic. 1823, fol. 258-280. In the first work, this theologian takes a stand against the injustice of the decisions of 1351 and their innovative character. Why, he says, agitate the question of the nature of the Taboric Light, which none of the ancient councils clarified? For him, the light that shone on Tabor, is the Incarnate Word Himself, one of the Trinity, Who was not revealed to the Apostles as He is manifested to the elect in Heaven, but in an imperfect way, which only He knows. What the Apostles beheld with their eyes was not the divine essence, but the humanity of the Savior shining like the sun: Λάμϕαν φῶς ἐπὶ τοῦ ὄρους Θαβὼρ αὐτὸν τὸν ἕνα Τριάδος, τὸν τὴν καθ᾽ἡμᾶς ἀνει ληφότα φύσιν Λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ Πατρὸς οἴδαμεν. Vatic. 1111. Cf. also the first apology in Vatic. 1823, fol. 258: ὃ γὰν ῶπται τοῖς αὐτοπταῖς Χριστοῦ σωματικοῖς ὄμμασι κτιστὸν ἀληθῶς καὶ αἴσθητον ἧν. ἧν δ᾽ᾶρα οὐχ ἔτερον ἣ τὸ θεῖον πρόσλημμα μεταμορφωθὲν καὶ ὠς δ ἤλιοσ λάμϕαν. It is precisely this singular opinion on the Taboric Light, an opinion from which he would not depart, which pitted him against his anti-Palamite friends, with Isaac Argyros among others, and made him write his three short apologies. To justify himself, he said that we should not seek to specify more than the Gospels do, and appealed to the authority of Nicephorus Gregoras and Matthew of Ephesus.

4. Gregoras, in effect, also follows traces of Acindynus, and we have in him another representative of conservative Byzantinism, an enemy of all novelty. Like Aciyndus, he teaches the real identity, in God, of the essence and the operation, and demonstrates well that the divine simplicity is unique and no example can be found in creatures, every creature is composed of essence and quality: ἐκείνη µόνη τῆ θεία καὶ ἁπλoυστάτη φύσει πρoσήκει, ἑτέρα δὲ oὐδεµιᾶ τῶν κτιστῶν ἁπασῶν… πᾶσα κτίσις σύνθετός ὲστι ἐξ οὐσίας καὶ πoιότητoς. Hist. Byzant., l. XXXI (ὁ δεύτερoς δoγµατικός), P. G., t. CXLIX, col. 321 D, 324 A. However, whatever Dexios says about it, Nicephorus has a very definite theory on the light of Tabor. According to him, that light could only be created, since it was seen by mortal eyes, and there is nothing uncreated except for the divine essence. It was a symbolic manifestation of the enigmatic and uncreated light, analogous to the light that appeared in other theophanies. On Tabor, the Apostles beheld not the uncreated divinity, not God, but a visible reality, that is to say something created: oἱ ἀπὀστoλoι τὸ ἐν τῶ Θαὅωρἰω λἁµψαν τότε θεασάµενοι φῶς, oύτε θεότητα εῖδoν ἅκτιστoν, oὕτε Θεόν, ἀλλἀ τι τῶν ὅντων καὶ γινωσκoµένων. Op. cit., l. XXXIII, c. XIII, P. G., loc. cit., col. 384385. He also denies that such light can be the object of Heavenly beatitude. Ibid., col. 376380. Moreover, many points remain obscure in the theology of the monk of Chora. We see western Scholasticism has not rubbed off on him and he is a novice in the art of making clear distinctions that dispel the ambiguities.

5. What is missing from Nicephorus Gregoras, Prochoros Cydones, the Brother of Demetrius, possesses to an unusual degree. In his work ∏ερὶ οὐσίας καὶ ἐνεργεἱας, in six books (cf. Vatic. græc. 1435, and the study quoted by G. Mercati), we hear a true disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas, who assimilated his doctrine well, and brings full light on the issues debated between Palamites and anti-Palamites and by the appropriate distinctions. He rightly begins by noting that those before him, in Byzantium, addressed the question of God’s essence and His operation, ἐνὲργεια. From their uncertain pace in the discussion, their lack of confidence in the fight: διὸ καὶ άκριτ ἐστινός αὐτοῖς ὁ ἀγών, καὶ σκιαµαχία τὸ δλον. De essentia et operatione, l. I, c. I, P. G, t. CLI, col. 11921193. The criticism is particularly true for Gregoras, who professed such contempt for Latin theologians. With imperturbable coolness and a very sure hand, Prochoros walks the iron from Aristotelian and Thomistic dialectic in the Palamite plague, and bursts all the blisters of falsehood. Philotheus is also stunned by such audacity and does not tread there. The devil, he says, speaks through the mouth of Prochoros. Barlaam was nothing compared to him! The disciples of Palamas could not follow him in his relentless deductions. The sun and its rays disappeared before the infinite transcendence of the pure Act, and the θεότητες of Palamas melted before it like snow in the sun. See the interesting excerpts of Prochoros in the synodal tome of 1368 reported earlier. The reading of this tome shows well the confusion into which the Thomistic hieromonk threw his Palamite opponents. On his works, see G. Mercati, op. cit.

7. Among the opponents of Palamism, John Cyparissiotes certainly occupies the first place both for the thoroughness and the sharpness of his refutation and for the abundance and variety of the arguments produced. He unites positive theology and speculative theology in a harmonious proportion. He refutes the whole of Palamas and his disciples and lets nothing pass. We have two great works from him: 1. The Ἔχθεσις στοιχειώδης ῤὴσειωμ θεολογικῶν [Elementary Exposition of Theological Texts], divided into ten decades, a comprehensive treatise De Deo uno and trino of which Francis Torrés (Turrianus) published, in 1581, a Latin translation reproduced in P.G., t. CLII, col. 737-992. Palamism is not directly targeted, but the true doctrine is explained, using mainly Patristic texts in order turn all the Palamite theses upside down. There is considerable discussion of the Tabor Light in the sixth decade, P.G., loc. cit., 839-864. Cyparissiotes is of the same opinion as Isaac Argyros on this question. Here is his conclusion: “In divinis luminibus symbolicis præcipua est apparitio luminis facta in divinissima transfiguratione vultus Domini, quæ decorem corporis Christi post resurrectionem gloriosi facti tanquam in imagine repræsentabat, et symbolum erat divinitatis, quæ in eo latebat, pulchritudinemque Adæ ante peccatum significabat eamque jam naturam nostram in humanitate Christi récupérasse ; quo lumine justi post resurrectionem resplendebunt.” Ibid., col. 864. 2. The Παλαμιτικαὶ παραβάσεις [Palamite Transgressions], an enormous polemical treatise, divided into five books, in which the whole of Palamism is reviewed and masterfully refuted. The first book, containing four dissertations or λόγοι, explains the Palamite system, points out the multiple errors, recounts the genesis [of the errors], and shows how the Palamite Church cannot be the true Church of Christ. Combefis has published the first and fourth discourses of the first book; cf. P.G., t. CLII, col. 663-778. The second book refutes the Synodal Tome of 1351 and has eight discourses. The third book also includes eight discourses, exhausts the question of the Taboric Light. The fourth book, in three discourses, treats of the anathemas of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Finally, in the fifth book, divided into five discourses, Cyparissiotes refutes Nilus Cabasilas at length, who came to posit four natures [φύσεις] in God: namely, the common essence [οὐσία κοινή], hypostasis [ὑπόστασις], energy [ἐνέργεια], and finally God Himself, the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit [αὐτὸς ὁ Θεός, ὁ Πατὴρ καὶ ὁ Υἱὸς καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα]. This fifth book, the longest of all, was written before the others. It is entirely speculative. Unlike Ἔχθεσις στοιχειώδης, which is mostly positive, the lion’s share of The Palamite Transgressions is speculative theology. All subterfuge, all sophistry, all the arguments of Palamite theologians are clearly exposed and masterfully refuted. Needless to say, the polemical work of Cyparissiotes leaves the lion behind the dissertations of Gregoras [???!]. We add that Cyparissiotes was Unionist, at least in the last period of his life, and spent some time at the papal court of Gregory XI, who gave him a pension (1376-1377). This was demonstrated recently by Angelo Mercati, in a note given in Byzantinische Zeitschrift (Mélanges Heisenberg), t. XXX, p. 496-501: Giovanni Ciparissiota alla corte di Gregorio XI (November 1376-December 1377).

8. Let us finally note among the adversaries of Palamism the Dominican Manuel Calecas (†1410), a Greek who converted to Catholicism, who left us a short but excellent refutation of the synodal tome of 1351, in his work ∏ερὶ οὐσίας καὶ ἐνεργεἱας, P. G., t. CLII, col. 283428. Manuel especially uses positive arguments from Scripture and tradition but he knows St. Thomas well, and it gives him an incontestable superiority over the polemicists who have drawn from Greek sources.


7 Responses to V. Palamism’s principal opponents. Their doctrine on the light of Tabor

  1. Tap says:

    By any chance do you have is there is an English translation of Manuel Kalekas work? Or do you plan on doing a translation yourself?

  2. Will Huysman says:

    Dear Tap,
    Forgive me, a wicked man, for my delay in getting back to you.

    I’m not aware of any English translation of Manuel’s work Concerning Essence and Energies, but I will attempt to translate it by the end of this year.

    God bless you and yours,
    Will Raphael Huysman

  3. Tap says:

    No worries about delay, just let us know when you’ve done the translation. Thanks.

  4. Will Huysman says:

    Hey Tap,
    I’m working on the translation of this part of Fr. Jugies article tonight and should have it up by this time tomorrow.

    God bless you and yours,
    Will Raphael Huysman

  5. […] light of Tabor.” Trans. Will R. Huysman. The Banana Republican. 9 Nov. 2009. 28 Jan. 2011 <https://thebananarepublican1.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/jugie-antipalamites-tabor-light/&gt;. {16} Ibid. {17} Ibid. {18} […]

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