Palamite Studies

Originally posted 1/20/2011.

Update: Saturday, 1/22/2011: Right now I’m reading the Orthodox Dr. Joost van Rossum’s 1985 Fordham dissertation, Palamism and Church Tradition (I’m about halfway through) and I’ll let you know any groundbreaking points he makes.
Update: Sunday, 1/30/2011: Check out Dr. Peter Gilbert’s translation of Jean-Philippe Houdret, O.C.D., “Palamas et les Cappadociens,” Istina 19 (1974), pp. 260-271.

1. While Gregory Palamas’s views on Filioque were indisputably heretical,{1} his essence-energies distinction seems compatible with Catholic dogma on the simplicity of God, provided that it is not a real distinction.{2} Gerry Russo,{3} Dr. Joost van Rossum,{4} and Fr. Georges Florovsky,{5} and ex-Catholic Fr. Gabriel Bunge{6} say that Palamas posited a “real” distinction, in God Himself, between His essence and His energies. Such a distinction would contradict God’s absolute simplicity,{7} but some of Gregory’s statements support the theory that he taught a formal distinction.{8}

2. In his Dialogue Between an Orthodox and a Barlaamite 32, he says that the saints “call [God’s essence and energies] one, but not indifferent, i.e., the same and not the same in different manners. … you will find them saying in one place ‘the same’ and in another ‘different,’ because, in their view, they are both.”{9} Since the divine names are not synonyms{10} and the divine attributes are virtually or even formally distinct,{11} the only identity left between (1) the attributes among themselves and (2) the essence and attributes is real identity.{12}

3. The other text that lends support to this friendly interpretation of Palamas is Chapter 34 [PG 150:1141D-1144A]{13}:

the supreme mind is itself life, for life is a good and life in it is goodness. Wisdom too is found in it; or rather, it is itself wisdom, for wisdom is a good and wisdom in it is goodness; and similarly with eternity and blessedness and in general any good that one might conceive of. And there is no distinction there between life and wisdom and goodness and the like, for that goodness embraces all things collectively, unitively, and in utter simplicity.

4. The third text supporting the thesis that Palamas did not make a real distinction, in God Himself, between the Almighty’s essence and energies, is his Letter to Daniel [Coislin 99, fol. 95]: “In a certain sense, essence and energy are identical in God, but, in another sense, they are different.”{14}

Anti-Palamites on the Tabor Light
5. Gregory Acindynus (1300-1348) taught that unless the Tabor Light is really identical to God’s essence, the Tabor Light is created.{15} Patriarch John XIV Calecas of Constantinople (1334-1347) approved the teaching of Acindynus and denied absolutely that bodily eyes can see the Godhead.{16} Nicephorus Gregoras (1295-1360) said the Tabor Light is created because the Apostles beheld it with their bodily eyes, and that that the Tabor Light is not the object of the beatific vision.{17} John Cyparissiotes (1310-1378) discusses the Tabor Light exhaustively in Decades V:1-10 [PG 152:839-864].{18}

Palamite Language Savoring of a Heretical Real Distinction
6. Despite the above three texts that point to Palamas‘ making a formal rather than real distinction, Palamas uses scandalous expressions that seem to teach the heresy of a real distinction, in God Himself, between His essence and energy.{19} This quote comes from Chapter 126:

For they do not understand that just as God the Father is called Father in relation to His own Son and being Father belongs to Him as an uncreated reality even though “Father” does not denote the substance, so too God possesses also the energy as an uncreated reality even though the energy is distinct from the substance.{20}

7. In Chapter 135, he says, “God also possesses that which is not substance. … And, to speak in accord with all the theologians, if God creates by will and not simply by nature, then willing is one thing and natural being is another. If this is true, the divine will is other than the divine nature. … Therefore, God possesses both what is substance and what is not substance, even if it should be called an accident, namely, the divine will and energy.”{21}

8. In Chapter 75, Palamas says, There are three realities in God, namely, substance [essence], energy, and a Trinity of divine hypostases.”{22}
Notes & References
{1} Although Palamas conceded that the Holy Spirit eternally energetically proceeds from the Father and the Son, he categorically rejects the dogma that the Holy Spirit proceeds hypostatically from the Father and the Son (Against the Latins I:Prologue), or even from the Father through the Son (Against the Latins I:26; II:45). He repeats the standard Photian fallacies against Filioque: Filioque leads to two sources of divinity (I:30) and necessitates that the Holy Spirit originates another hypostasis lest He lack a property that is common to the Father and the Son (I:15).
{2} According to Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma pp. 28-29, it is heresy to hold that the attributes of God are really distinct from one another, that is, that God’s justice is distinct from His mercy as a thing (res) differs from another thing, as if it was logically possible for His justice to exist without His mercy.
{3} Rahner and Palamas: A Unity of Grace, pp. 175, 178.
{4} Deification in Palamas and Aquinas, pp. 371, 373.
{5} Saint Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, p. 130.
{6} The Rublev Trinity, p. 75.
{7} Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma pp. 28-29, cites the following as bases for the dogma that “The Divine Attributes are really identical among themselves and with the Divine Essence.”
Denzinger 389, Council of Rheims under Bl. Pope Eugene III of Rome in 1148, Confession of Faith in the Trinity: “We believe and confess that God is the simple nature of divinity, and that it cannot be denied in any Catholic sense that God is divinity, and divinity is God. Moreover, if it is said that God is wise by wisdom, great by magnitude, eternal by eternity, one by oneness, God by divinity, and other such things, we believe that He is wise only by that wisdom which is God Himself; that He is great only by that magnitude which is God Himself; that He is eternal only by that eternity which is God Himself; that He is one only by the oneness which is God Himself; that He is God only by that divinity which He is Himself; that is, that He is wise, great, eternal, one God of Himself.”
D703, 17th Ecumenical Council on 2/4/1442 (Florence under Pope Eugene IV of Rome), A Decree in Behalf of the Jacobites: “These three persons are one God, and not three gods, because the three have one substance, one essence, one nature, one divinity, one immensity, one eternity, and all these things are one where no opposition of relationship interferes.” Latin: “omniaque sunt unum, ubi non obviat relationis oppositio.”
{8} This is the thesis of Mgr. Gérard Philips of happy memory in “La grâce chez les Orientaux,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, 48 (1972): 38, 43, 47.
{9} Trans. Rein Ferwerda, p. 71.
{10} “Although the names applied to God signify one thing, still because they signify that under many and different aspects, they are not synonymous.” — St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I, q. 13, art. 4, corp.
{12} Cf. Lee Faber, “Cornelisse on the Formal Distinction I.” The Smithy. 6 Apr. 2008. 20 Jan. 2011 <>.
{13} Trans. Robert Edward Sinkewicz, pp. 117-119.
{14} Trans. Fr. John Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, p. 225.
{15} Fr. Martin Jugie, A.A. “Palamism’s principal opponents. Their doctrine on the light of Tabor.” The Banana Republican. 9 Nov. 2009. 28 Jan. 2011 <>.
{16} Ibid.
{17} Ibid.
{18} Ibid.
{19} On the heretical character of positing a real distinction, in God Himself, between His essence and energies, see notes 2 and 7, above.
{20} Trans. Sinkewicz, p. 231.
{21} Trans. Sinkewicz, p. 241.
{22} Trans. Sinkewicz, p. 171.


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