VII. Palamism in the Græco-Russian Church, from the XVIth century to our own times (col. 1810)
We have seen that the Palamite doctrine had become, from the Council of 1351, the official teaching of the Byzantine Church and had been imposed as a dogma binding on all the faithful.
In order that this dogma was not forgotten, it was inserted in solemn expression in the Synodicon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy and also in the profession of faith of the bishops, on the day of their ordination. If the addition made to that document has disappeared, the anathemas against Barlaam, Acindynus, and their supporters, and acclamations to Gregory Palamas and his followers remained in the Synodicon, and can be read even in the Greek editions of the liturgical book called the Triodion, which contains the offices of Lent. Every year since 1352, these anathemas and these acclamations were repeated in the dissident Greek Church. Moreover, the feast of Gregory Palamas, placed on the second Sunday of Lent, does not cease to be celebrated until today, not only in the autocephalous Churches of the Greek language, but also in the Russian Church and other Churches of various languages detached from from the Byzantine trunk.
In these circumstances, it seems pointless to wonder what became of Palamism in the Graeco-Russian Church. Incorporated in the dogmatic of the Church in a manner so explicit and solemn, it could not, you will say a priori, but retain the character of immutable and inviolable truth which applies to dogmas properly speaking. In law, it should be so; in fact, it was otherwise. Today, despite the feast of Palamas and despite the list of anathemas contained in the Triodion, the Palamite dogma is almost dead throughout the Graeco-Russian Church. Not only is it forgotten, but it is overtly contradicted in official theological teaching.
1. It is from the 16th century that, under the influence of Catholic theology, a current is drawn that is hostile to the Palamite theses; that the Greek theologians of this era come to study at Western universities. In his book entitled, ᾽Ορθόδοξος διδασκαλία, published in Vilnius in 1596, Meletius Pigas quite openly contradicts the Palamas, when he says: 1. that each divine person is the whole divine essence with His respective hypostatic property, “ἑκάστη τῶν ὑποστάσεων ὅλη μὲν αὐτὴ οὐσία ἐστὶ μετὰ τοῦ ἰδιώματος”; 2. that the energy in God is the same thing as the essence, although there is a difference–he does not say “real”–between the essence and the hypostatic energy: “εἰ καὶ οὐσία ἡ ἐνέργεια, ἀλλ᾽ οὐ πάντως… Διαφέρει τῆς οὐσίας ἡ τῆς οὐσίας ἐνέργεια, οὐ πᾶσα δὲ ἐνέργεια ἀλλ᾽ ἡ ὑποστατική, ὡς τὸ γεννᾶν, τὸ ἐκπορεύσειν.” Op. cit., Jassy edition, 1769, p. 108-109. Speaking of the object of beatitude, he seems, at first, to explain it like Palamas, when he says that the divine essence is imparticipable to every creature, “ἡ οὐσία τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀμέθεκτός ἐστιν οὐσία πάσῃ κτιστῇ,” and that the blessed participate only in the divine attributes, which he calls the properties or graces of God, “Θεοῦ ἰδιότητες εἴτ᾽ οὖν χάριτες.” But he soon explains it more clearly and affirms that these attributes, these graces, are identified, in the last analysis, with the nature, the essence and reality of God, because of His extreme simplicity: “Θεοῦ μὲν οὐσία ὡς ἐνόντα ἐνθεωρεῖται, εἴτ᾽ οὗν ἕν ὄντα, καὶ ταὐτὸ φύσει καὶ οὐσία Θεοῦ καὶ ὀντότητι διὰ τὴν ἀχραιφνεστάτην άπλότητα.” Ibid., p. 224-225.
2. In the 17th century, there are many theologians who forget about Palamism. Metrophanes Critopoulus, in his Confession of Faith, c. I (ed. Kimmel, Monumenta fidei Ecclesiæ orientalis, t. II, Jena, 1851, p. 38), affirms that, apart from the hypostatic properties, all in God is indistinct: “τὰ τῆς θεότητος, πλὴν τῶν ἐνδοτέρων, ἀδιόριστά ἐστιν… πάντα κοινὰ καὶ ἀδιόριστα.” Nicholas Bulgaris is no less explicit on the same point, in his Holy Catechesis (1st. ed., Venice, 1681), still widespread today among the Greeks: God, he says, admits of no distinction that compares to that between the persons. He is entirely energy and energy surpassing all energy: “Θεὸς κατὰ μόνα τὰ πρόσωπα διαιρούμενοσ… εἴναι ὅλος ἐνέργεια καὶ ἐνέργεια πάσης ἐνεργείας ἐξηρῃμένη,” p. 81 and 127 of the 1681 Venice edition.
The Orthodox Confession of Peter Mogila, as the output of the corrections of Meletius Syrigus, says nothing clear about the Palamite theses. It overtly contradicts them in teaching that, just like the nature of God, His attributes are incomprehensible, “ἀκατάλγπτα,” part. I, q. VIII and XI, ed. Kimmel, op. cit., p. 62 and 68. It seems to approach Palamas where it says: “After the Last Judgment, a light will be given to us by God, with which we will see the light of God, μὲ τὸ ὁποῖον θέλομεν ἰδεῖν τὸ φῶς τοῦ Θεοῦ.” P. I, q. CXXVI, Kimmel, p. 202.
Dositheus, who was a Palamite, seems to have forgotten [Palamas] in writing his Confession of Faith. He writes, in fact, that the saints in Heaven “behold clearly the Holy Trinity; in Whose infinite light they know what concerns us: τῶν ἐσόπτρων λυθέντων, καθαρῶς ἐποπτεύουσι τὴν ἁγίαν Τριάδα. τὸ ἅπειρον ἐκείνης φῶς τούτων ἐν τῷ νῷ τίθησι τὰ ήμέτερα.” Confessio Dosithei, c. VIII, Kimmel, p. 435.
3. Today, there is no shortage of Greek theologians who contradict Palamism. We note: 1. Nectarius Cephalas, who considers the divine attributes as concepts of our intellect, by which we define the one idea, unknown to us, expressing the essence of God: “διὰ τῶν θείων λοιπὸν ἰδιωμάτων ὁρίζομεν διὰ πολλῶν ἐννοιῶν τὴν μίαν ἄγνωστον περὶ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Θεοῦ ἕννοιαν.” Holy Catechism, Athens, 1899, p. 30-31. — 2. Christos Androutsos, who declares that the divine attributes are only expressions of the divine essence, with which they are really identical. These distinctions are not in God’s essence itself. Yet these are not words devoid of meaning, as the Nominalists taught, but of subjective representations of the infinite God’s real relations with the finite world: “[GREEK].” Dogmas of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Athens, 1907, p. 44; cf. p. 46-47. — 3. The majority of contemporary Greek catechisms that, remaining silent on the question of divine attributes or the nature of grace, explicitly teach that the object of Heavenly beatitude is to see God one and three, as He is in Himself. That of Damascene Christopoulos, Orthodox Catechism, Athens, 1881, p. 24, even says that the essence of God, which neither angels nor men can see by natural powers, is manifested to us by Revelation, “ἐφανερώθη δὲ ἡμῖν διὰ τῆς ἀποκαλύϕεως.”
4. Among the Greek theologians, in modern times, who remained attached to the Palamism canonized in the 14th century, one must note:
1. Damascene of Thessalonica, called “the Studite” (†1577), in a discourse on the Transfiguration contained in the collection entitled Thesaurus, first edition, Venice, 1570; there are many reprints up until our time, cf. p. 133 of the Venice edition, 1848, and Allatius, De perpetua consensione, etc., p. 838.
2. Gabriel Severos (†1616), in his work: Περὶ τῶν πέντε διαφορῶν [On the Five Distinctions], Constantinople, 1627: περὶ τῆς α᾽ διαφορᾶς, p. 4-6, 9-10: “ἅλλο ἡ θεία ἐνέργεια καὶ ἅλλο ἡ θεία οὐσια. “
3. George Coressios, at the end of his book: On the Procession of the Holy Spirit, printed by Dositheos in the Τόμος καταλλαγῆς, Jassy, 1692, p. 368-410. This polemicist admits all of the theses of Palamas on the real distinction between the essence and the attributes; between the respective attributes; between the essence and each hypostatic property; on grace and the uncreated gifts of the Holy Spirit; on the uncreated Taboric Light, the object of beatitude. What is interesting is that what Coressios calls a distinction of reasoon, λόγου διαφορά, is what the Latin theologians call a real minor [distinction]. For him, a real distinction does not mean that there may be real separation of the realities distinguished in the thing. In God, there are many realities distinct from the essence, but none is separate or separable from the essence; that is why “one should call the distinction between these realities a distinction of reason, and the Scholastics are wrong to call it real: Ἡ διαφορὰ τῶν διαφόρων ὄντων ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ πράγματι λόγου διαφορὰ κέκληται, καὶ οὐ πράγματος, ὡς νομἰζοωσιν οἱ σχολαστικοί.” Op. cit., p. 374. This multiplicity of entities in God does not destroy the simplicity of His being and does not introduce composition in Him, because there is composition, σύνθεσις, where there is a reunion of separable essences, or a union of substance and accidents: διττὴ ὲστιν ὴ σύνθεσις, ἣ ἐς οὐσιῶν, ἣ ἐξ οὐσίας καὶ ουμδεδηκότος, τρἰτη δὲ οὐ δέδοται. However, there are no accidents in God, because He is immutable. Coressios understands by “accident” only a logical or predicable accident. For him, a physical or ontological accident is not an accident properly speaking, and there are many accidents of this sort in God, that is to say, a great many properties, ἰδιώματα, ἰδιότητες.
4. The majority of 18th century theologians. It is remarkable that in the 18th century, at the same time as the Russian Church, as we said earlier, was completely detached from Palamism, this doctrine revived in the Greek Church properly speaking. At the beginning of that century, Sebastos Kymenites composed a special treatise, still unpublished, on the divine essence and its energy. Cf. Papadopoulos Kerameus, Biographie de Sebastos Kyménitès in tome XIII of the Hurmuzaki collection, Teste greçcesti privitoare la historia românescá, Bucharest, 1909, p. λα´. In 1727, the Eastern Patriarchs, meeting at a council in Constantinople, drafted a Profession of Faith addressed to all the faithful, where we find two Palamite articles: Article 9: “The faithful must believe that the divine light manifested on Mount Tabor, at the Transfiguration of Christ, our God and Savior, was not something created, because no person has seen or described the essence and nature of God; they must believe and profess that it was a sort of uncreated natural brightness, an energy radiating from the divine essence, by which was manifested not all the divine glory of the God-man, but what the disciples could behold without dying.” Article 10: “They must profess that the grace common to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the light of the age to come, which the just shine with and which manifests Christ on the mountain, in a word, all the power and energy of the divinity in three hypostases, and all that in any manner whatsoever, differs from the divine nature, is uncreated. Nothing, in fact, of what exists naturally in God has had a beginning: τὸ θειότατον φῶς τῆς ἐν τῷ Θαβωρίῳ ὄρει μεταμορφώσεως… ὁμολογεῖν ὀφείλουσι μὴ χτίσμα εἶναι, ἀλλ᾽ οὐδὲ οὐσίαν ἁπλῶς τοῦ Θεοῦ…, ἀλλ᾽ ἅκτιστον καὶ φθσικῆν ἔλλαμϕιν καὶ ἐνέργειαν δι᾽ αὐτῆς προῖοῦσαν τῆς θείας οὐσιάς — πᾶν τὸ διαφέρον ὁπωσοῶν τῆς θείας φύσεως ἄκτστον εἷναι ὁμολογεῖν, ἄτε μηδενὸς ὄντος προσφάτου τῶν τῷ Θεῷ προσόντων φυσικῶς.” Mansi-Petit, Concil., t. XXXVII, col. 901.
Furthermore, we see the principal theologians of the second half of the century upholding the same doctrine in their manuals. This is the case with Vincent Damados and with his disciple, Eugene Bulgaris (cf. the Θεολογικόν of the latter, Venice, 1872, p. νβ᾽ and 92-122, 284), who renews the doctrine of Georges Coressios. Bulgaris himself believes in agreement with Duns Scotus, whom he did not understand, and who would reject the εἰδικὴν ἑτερότητα καὶ ἐκ τῆς φύσεως τοῦ πράγματος, that he attributes to him. He also, like Coressios, does not rule out predicating accidents of God, not the natural properties arising from the essence and distinct from it [???]. The disciples of Bulgaris, Theophilus of Campania, Treasury of Orthodoxy, Athenian edition of 1908, p. 207, and Athanasius of Paros, Epitome of Divine Dogmas, Leipzig, 1806, p. 59-65, 84-99, repeat the lessons of their master.
The second, Sylvester Lebedinski, is no less explicit: “Attributa divina,” he says, “prout conceptibus notris formantur, multiplicia sunt, et a se invicem […???…]; sed prout sunt in Deo, ab eo non differunt: unica enim essentia divina omnes illas perfectiones in se complectitur, sive est quælibet earum eminenter….. Nihil est in Deo quod non sit Deus [There is nothing in God that is not God].” Compendium theologiæ classicum, 2nd ed., Moscow, 1805, p. 112 and 865 [?].
Macarius Bulgakov, in his advanced course, talks about two extremes that should be avoided in the question of the essence of God compared to its attributes: on one hand, realism, positing a real distinction between the essence and attributes and between the respective attributes; on the other, nominalism, which sees as mere synonyms the words by which our intellect expresses the various perfections attributed to God: “The first opinion,” he adds in a note, “was supported in the West in the 12th century by Gilbert de la Porrée, Bishop of Poitiers, and in the East in the 14th century, by certain monks of Mount Athos.” We see with what disdain the famous Russian theologian speaks of Palamas, his doctrine, and his followers.
Regarding the nature of grace and the object of beatitude, the same theologian completely ignores the Palamite opinion and explains like a Catholic. Sylvester Malevanski, in his Essay on Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, t. I, Kiev, 1892, p. 6 sq., agrees with Macarius, and declares, p. 55-56, that St. Thomas Aquinas perfectly explains the true doctrine on this question.
One point remaining obscure among certain contemporary Russian theologians is that of the object of Heavenly beatitude. Influenced by the texts of certain ancient Fathers on the incomprehensibility of God, they appear to deny that the elect see the divine essence in itself, but neither do they say what the beatific vision consists in. Philaret of Moscow, in his Advanced Catechism, affirms, on one hand, that the essence of God is above the knowledge of humans and angels, without distinguishing between natural knowledge and supernatural knowledge; on the other hand, he declares that beatitude comes from the contemplation of God in His light and glory and that the bodies of the saints, at the resurrection, are embellished by the divine light, just like the body of Jesus Christ at the time of His Transfiguration on Tabor. I must admit that this is not very clear, and we could discover traces of Palamism in these expressions. Perhaps Philaret deliberately remained unclear to avoid offending too violently against the old Palamite dogma.
We guess speaking about Palamism is embarrassing for Russian theologians. They cannot be unaware of the false position found in the Graeco-Russian Church today compared to the old Byzantine orthodoxy of the fourteenth century.