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Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics

Part I

by Fr. John S. Romanides

Note about the name Latin. The Romans gave the name Latin to those Italian tribes who revolted demanding Roman citizenship. Instead they were given the Latin name in 85 BC. The name Latin had belonged to the ancient Greek-speaking Latins who had been absorbed into the Roman nation along with the Greek-speaking Sabines. The Italian Latins of 85 BC were given the Roman name in 212. Finally various Germano-Frankish tribes took or were given the name Latin. We use the name Franco-Latins for these Germano-Frankish tribes in order to distinguish them from the Greek speaking and Italian speaking Latins of Roman history.

The occasion of this paper is the recent publication (I) of the book entitled Introduction ? l’ Etude de Gregoire Palamas, [1] and (II) of the Greek texts with French translation of St. Gregory Palamas HYPER TON HIEROS ISICHAZONTON (D?fense des Saints H?sychastes), [2] both by Father John Meyendorff, Professor of Church History at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, and Lecturer in Byzantine Theology at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. Almost a decade was spent preparing this work for a doctorate. Father John makes an admirable attempt to describe an extremely important segment of the religious intellectual history of the Byzantine Empire.

The primary purpose of this article is not to describe the contents of these publications, but to discuss the author’s presentation of the Palamite Controversy and theology in relation to Franco-Latin and East Roman theology generally. The translation of the texts in question will be dealt with only in so far as it reflects the success or failure of the author to understand the issues at hand. An evaluation of Father Meyendorff’s contribution to the history of Byzantine theology will follow this discussion.

For several years Father Meyendorff has been contending, in various articles, that the debate between St. Gregory Palamas and Barlaam the Calabrian does not represent a clash between Franco-Latin and East Roman theology, as has been generally believed, but rather a domestic quarrel between certain Byzantine humanists and a large segment of Byzantine monastics and their adherents. [3] Meyendorff frequently refers to Barlaam as a humanist, a Platonist, and a nominalist [4] and seems to think that the Neo-Platonism of the Areopagite is the basis of his nomilalism. [5] He claims that an Occamistic kind of thinking was somehow in the Byzantine atmosphere, [6] and that in the person of Barlaam such thinking represented a kind of naturalistic theology with an overemphasis on natural revelation [7] and on man’s share in the soteriological process. [8] Father John contends that the controversy revolved around the interpretation of Pseudo-Dionysius, and claims that Palamas applied correctives to the Neo-Platonism of the Areopagite, with the implication, as it seems, that Barlaam was not far wrong in his reading of the texts. In accordance with this kind of analysis, Palamas is represented as a thinker with originality, as opposed to the theology of ‘formal repetition’ which characterized such persons as Akindynos and Gregoras.

These and other topics will be dealt with in two parts: (I) the theology of Barlaam, [9] and (II) the theology of St. Gregory Palamas.

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Perhaps the most amazing and most revolutionary claim of Father Meyendorff is that Barlaam was both a nominalist and a Neo-Platonist or Platonist. Until now the histories of philosophy and theology have been presenting these traditions as mutually exclusive. It was commonly agreed that William of Occam destroyed the Platonic basis of mediaeval scholasticism by his denial of the objective existence of universals both in the essence of God and in creation, undercutting thereby the very basis of analogia entis and its natural theology and law, and preparing the way for an exclusive emphasis on analogia fidei – characteristic of a large bulk of the Protestant tradition. Had Father Meyendorff explained how it is possible for one and the same person to be both a nominalist and a Platonist he would have revolutionized our knowledge of the intellectual history of Europe. Unfortunately, he never attempts to do so, and leaves one bewildered with the question of how and why he could make such an extraordinary (and certainly original) claim. [10]

That Barlaam was indeed a Christian Platonist and not a nominalist is obvious from a reading of the quotations from his works to be found in the condemnation of 1341 and in the texts of Palamas translated by Meyendorff. Barlaam claims that in the divine and creative mind there are ‘logoi’ of which ‘images’ (EIKONES) exist within the human soul. [11] Elsewhere he speaks of universals placed by God within the soul from its creation. [12] He also speaks clearly of an analogical knowledge of the ‘divine ideas’ or ‘forms’ (THEOEIDON). [13] Both the existence of the uncreated divine ideas in the essence of God reflected in created images, and the analogical method of arriving at a knowledge of God based on the existence of these ideas and their reflections, are exactly what William of Occam rejected in favor of an exclusive emphasis on revelation as the proper source of knowledge of God. In direct contrast to Occam, Barlaam insists on the place of universals in constructing an adequate theology about God. He claims that knowledge of universals is superior to knowledge of individuals. [14] Although Palamas does not reject natural theology in principle, he firmly attacks the Calabrian on this point by insisting that the use of universals in the quest for knowledge about God is the very source of Greek philosophical errors. [15] He further claims that any dialectical method derived from such principles is forbidden by the Fathers in matters concerning God. [16] It is, therefore, very strange that Meyendorff, who published texts of this debate, can make Barlaam out to be a nominalist and Palamas an Aristotelian on the question of demonstrative knowledge concerning God. [17] Had he said the reverse he would have been closer to the truth.

At least in their common rejection of a knowledge of God based on a Platonic intuition of static divine ideas or universals, there is much more similarity between Occam and Palamas than between Occam and Barlaam. In the common refusal of Occam and Palamas to identify any universal ideas with the essence of God, the intent is partly the same – to protect the divine nature from all forms of determinism. Both agree that creatures are not copies of uncreated universal ideas, since the latter do not exist, and since for both only individuals are real; nor are creatures copies of any proper single ideas which are either identical with the divine essence or different from the will of God. The fundamental difference between Occam and Palamas is that Occam identifies the divine will with the divine essence, and simply rejects the very existence of uncreated ideas; whereas Palamas goes a step further than the Scotistic formal distinction and makes the patristic real distinction between the essence and attributes or energies of God, insisting on the volitional and formless character of the uncreated energies by calling them ANEIDEOI (an obvious attack on Plato), ASCHIMATISTOI, and THIA THELIMATA. In this connection, Meyendorff has neglected to mention that Palamas further rejects the existence of uncreated universal ideas by insisting that each creature, and not each species or genus, has its corresponding uncreated, divine energy or will. [18] Another important difference is that Occam follows the common Western principle of not generally admitting a prophetic knowledge of God, in this life, to be in terms of an immediate vision of anything uncreated.

A further proof that Barlaam cannot be classified as a nominalist is the fact that he criticizes the Latins and Thomas Aquinas for identifying all things in God with the divine essence. [19] This criticism, plus Barlaam’s rejection of Palamas’ real distinction between essence and energy in God, means that the Calabrian is most probably making the Scotistic formal distinction. If he were a nominalist, he would not criticize the Latins for identifying all things in God with the divine essence, but would take them to task for making even a Thomistic virtual distinction, since the Occamists refused to make any distinction whatever. That Barlaam is making the Scotistic formal distinction is strongly indicated by Cardinal Bessarion’s claim that the Calabrian introduced Scotistic anti-Thomistic arguments into Byzantine theology. [20] This fact does not mean, however, that Barlaam was a strict Scotist, since he accepts the doctrine of innate ideas in the human soul – another indication that he is no nominalist.

Meyendorff seems to be under the impression that what he takes to be Barlaam’s nominalism is due to one-sided adherence to the principles of Neo-Platonic Areopagite apophaticism. [21] This adherence is presented as the general philosophical background which Barlaam applied to the Filioque question and by means of which he concluded that both East Romans and Latins are wrong in believing that they can demonstrate their own positions. [22] However, Father John’s starting point is incorrect.

What Barlaam is actually saying is that there are two ways of arriving at a knowledge of God – through TA MATHIMATA (the philosophical sciences) and through revelation. Both are gifts of God. [23] What it is not given in the one or the other, transcends the powers of human reason and cannot, therefore, be known, at least decisively. However, when a truth is given in either the one or the other, then the soul is sufficient for it. [24] Therefore, when given in revelation, even the spiritual things do not transcend human reason – OYDE TA PNEYMATIKA TON ANTHROPINON HYPERVENEI LOGISMON. [25] This is not the apophaticism which Father John reads into the Calabrian’s thinking.

The Filioque question, for Barlaam, cannot be settled by demonstration, because the arguments of both sides cannot be deduced from any principle given by God either in philosophy or revelation. Therefore such a question as the Procession of the Holy Spirit transcends human reason and cannot be demonstrated. If it were revealed, there would be no need of demonstration, since it would be a first principle, and it would not transcend human reason. Father John makes the mistake of deducing from Barlaam’s specific skepticism regarding demonstrative proof on the question of Filioque a universal skepticism concerning the Knowability of God. [26]

Barlaam’s starting-point makes it possible for him to contend that in the patristic tradition there is a third position on the Filioque question which is not that of the mediaeval Franco-Latins or East Romans. He maintains that this third position, which puts the issue beyond the reaches of reason and therefore of demonstrative proof, is the key to union. Barlaam’s starting-point also explains why Palamas accuses him of reducing what in Patristic theology are the suprarational experiences of faith to the level of rational inquiry. For Barlaam, knowledge of God is rational, and only things not known of God are suprarational. For Palamas, knowledge of God is based on the suprarational experience of the prophets, apostles, and saints; it transcends all rational knowledge and cannot, therefore, be understood or defined in rational categories, or dealt with dialectically and syllogistically, taking non-existent universals as a starting-point. These observations indicate strongly that in the persons of Barlaam and Palamas one is confronted with a real clash between the credo ut intelligam tradition of the post-Augustinian West and the apophatic theology of the East Roman Fathers. One cannot doubt the sincerity with which Barlaam believed himself to be Orthodox. Yet this sincerity in no way proves that upon coming East he left his Franco-Latin presuppositions in the West, or simply came, as Father John contends, as a non-Latin Byzantine theologian and philosopher.

These preliminary observations raise serious questions concerning Father Meyendorff’s success in dealing with and understanding Barlaam’s philosophical and theological background – certainly a most important key to understanding not only St. Gregory’s reaction to the Calabrian, but also that his friend Akindynos, his enemy Gregoras, and the Patriarch Calecas. The fact that these three last-mentioned opposed St. Gregory’s version of Orthodox doctrine undoubtedly speaks of a definite division within the Byzantine theological camp; but the fact that they also at first publicly either opposed or avoided open support of Barlaam – especially on the question of the createdness/uncreatedness of the revealed glory of God – is a strong indication that the Italo-Greek from Calabria did not belong, as Father John thinks, to any well-established theological or philosophical tradition in Byzantium. This fact explains why he could not easily be defended by those who in substance agreed with him theologically. Had there been an East Roman tradition in his favor, he would have been openly supported from the very outset. East Roman philosophers and theologians were not such as to shy away from a good debate. As it was, it took some time for those who finally agreed with Barlaam’s theology to speak up and be counted.

The mere fact that much of the debate revolved around the interpretation of Pseudo-Dionysius does not prove the Byzantine character of Barlaam’s thought, especially when one realizes the Areopagite’s place of authority in the Franco-Latin West. That Barlaam attacks Aquinas is also no proof that the Calabrian is anti-scholastic, since Thomas was still under strong attack from even non-nominalist quarters. On the contrary, the Calabrian’s intimacy with the thought of Aquinas (who had not as yet been translated into Greek), Duns Scotus, and Augustine (who had been partially translated) points strongly to his being chez lui with Franco-Latin scholastic categories. The very fact that he went East to study Aristotle further in the original, even though he was already a master of the Aristotelian Categories and Physics (having studied them in Latin translation), [27] points strongly in this direction. Father John’s assumption that Barlaam is a Byzantine rather than a Western Platonist and humanist is only stated and never demonstrated. Perhaps Father John will eventually produce a monograph demonstrating Barlaam’s Byzantine humanism by tracing his lineage. Such a work would render a tremendous service to the current East-West dialogue, since it would prove that certain peculiarities of Franco-Latin theology have deep roots in the Eastern tradition. That this is the only possible road to making Barlaam out to be a Byzantine rather than a Latin Platonist and humanist, is necessitated by the fact that he has definite Latin peculiarities in his theology quite unknown to the Eastern Patristic tradition; and these peculiarities partly explain why even those in Constantinople who wished to support him found it impossible to do so. Later, when some did speak out, certain of them did so by insisting that they complied with the Calabrian’s condemnation, and that it was Palamas who had betrayed the decisions of 1341.

In the course of this paper it will become clear that Father John was over-impressed by Barlaam’s ‘anti-Latin’ works and did not take seriously the fact that the Calabrian was aiming at a pre-scholastic position – especially on the Filioque question, which he believed was the key to union, and which he heroically maintained in spite of all opposition until his condemnation and subsequent return to the Franco-Latin Church, where he became a bishop. On the other hand, it seems never to have occurred to Father John that Barlaam at first shared the sentiments of other Latin writers of his time on the question of papal authority vs. the Imperium and Ecumenical Synods, a question which was not finally settled for almost a century after Barlaam’s statement on the case. Perhaps he was not the ‘mauvais th?ologien’ that he is made out to be. He may rather have been a good conciliar Latin who got involved in ‘cross-talk’ with people whose theology he did not really understand and who could not comprehend the basic position from which he spoke. Father John never adequately answers the question why Barlaam came East and then worked for union with the West, especially in view of Barlaam’s acting as though the Christians of Byzantium were plunged in ignorance. At first the Calabrian gave the impression that he came East convinced that the Greek speaking East Romans possessed the true faith; but then he worked hard and passionately for union by way of compromise. An explanation of these two facts, either in terms of the traditional Byzantine suspicion that Barlaam was a Latin spy, or in some other terms, is certainly to be expected in such a study. His failure to explore these facts casts some doubt on the historicity of Father John’s interpretation of the events he undertakes to describe, and explains his inability to separate Barlaam’s teachings from Palamas’ accusations against, and evaluation of, his position. If one takes Barlaam’s Latin theological background seriously, one can see that on certain issues Palamas simply argued past the point, exactly because he did not fully understand the Calabrian’s Latin point-of-departure. As we shall see, this last contention is clearly demonstrated by Palamas’ initial arguments against Barlaam concerning the uncreatedness of that glory of God revealed to the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and saints while they were still on this side of death.

Following the Augustinian tradition of the West, Barlaam took it for granted and passionately argued that the glory of God revealed in this life to the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles was a created glory, and that in each separate case of revelation this glory came into existence and passed out of existence, being of only a short duration. Having been theologically formed by such works as Augustine’s De Trinitate, [28] the Calabrian knew quite well that it was not the uncreated Divinity itself which was revealed in the Old and New Testaments, but temporarily-existing creatures which symbolized divinity, and thereby elevated the minds of those who were the objects of revelation to various levels of the comprehension of ultimate truth. Only later in his life did St. Augustine make what became the classical Latin exception of an ecstatic vision of the divine essence in this life in the cases of Moses and St. Paul. The fact that Barlaam was shocked when he realized that heretics similar to those fought by Augustine were tolerated by the Byzantine Church, points directly to his Latin formation. It was quite to be expected that, being ignorant of East Roman Church life, he very confidently accused the monks of heresy and of having not divine, but satanic, visions and experiences. [29]

Palamas believed that the Old and New Testament visions of the glory of God were real visions of the uncreated God, in which visions the body participated; whereas Barlaam excluded not only the body, but also the intellect itself from any such vision, and claimed that this glory revealed was in each case a creature which only symbolized divinity. In this view, the whole question of Macarian and Evagrian anthropologies is not so fundamental to the issues in question as Meyendorff thinks. [30] Allowing, for a moment, this distinction within the East Roman Patristic tradition, - Which of the ‘Platonising’ Roman Fathers agrees with Barlaam in denying the reality of the vision of the uncreated glory of God not only to be body, but to the intellect also? Which of the ‘Platonising’ Fathers ever says that there is any such thing as a created glory of God? This writer knows of none. However, the whole Franco-Latin, post-Augustinian scholastic tradition agrees with Barlaam.

This is the historical setting within which the beginnings of the so-called Palamite Controversy must be studied and appreciated.. Only when one realizes the zeal with which St. Augustine argued against the Hesychasts of his own age can one appreciate Barlaam’s explosion and hysteria on learning about the Byzantine Church’s toleration of claims to visions of the uncreated glory of God in this life. His passionate self-confidence and zeal cannot be explained otherwise than in terms of the fact that he was Latin in his formation, and never suspected that the Eastern Church differed from the Augustinian West on this point. Why did a supposedly humanist Barlaam, who was willing to compromise in the Filioque, become so hysterical over claims to visions of the Uncreated? [31] If, as Father John contends, Barlaam was a Pelagianizing Neo-Platonist, why did he go heresy-hunting over such a question? Meyendorff’s contention that Barlaam’s dualistic anthropology was the basis of his objection to the Hesychasts prayer-practices [32] certainly cannot explain the fanaticism and persistence with which he attacked the monks. Furthermore, it is one thing to say that Barlaam’s understanding of the body’s place in salvation was for Palamas no salvation at all, and it is quite another thing to claim that the Calabrian himself believed the body to be outside the soteriological process. Actually, in view of the Hesychasts insistence that the body participates by grace in the vision of the uncreated glory of God – which for them is an integral part of the prophetic and apostolic experience, and of the final salvation and deification of the body – it is obvious that most Franco-Latin theologians, and especially those of the highest repute, would have reacted exactly as Barlaam did, and would have been accused by Palamas of excluding the body from salvation. Thus one can appreciate the reason why the Calabrian believed with a passion that he was defending, like Augustine before him, the purity of the Christian faith now plunged in a sea of monastic ignorance. One can understand his amazement when even the enlightened humanists of Byzantium not only failed at first to comprehend and appreciate his hysterical insistence on defending what he took to be Christendom’s common heritage, but even lost patience with him and finally abandoned him.

In view of the obvious similarities which have been and will be indicated between Barlaam and the Augustinian tradition, Father Meyendorff’s repeated mention of the alleged Augustinianism of Palamas on certain doctrines is indeed very strange. As a key to understanding the principles involved in the controversy over the ways to knowledge about God, Father Meyendorff discusses Palamas’ understanding of fallen man deprived of grace, and thus demonstrates how and why Palamas could not accept Barlaam’s alleged ‘natural way’ to knowledge and salvation. [33] St. Gregory is pessimistic about man’s natural ability to know and to reach God, and this pessimism is very correctly attributed to his understanding of creatureliness and sin. On this point he is supposed to be “l’ un des auteurs les plus ‘augustiniens’ de l’ Orient chr?tien.” [34]

Actually, Father John is making a basic confusion. Exactly in contrast to Palamas, Augustine is quite optimistic about man’s natural ability to come (intellectually) to a knowledge of God through the study of creatures, and never abandoned the opinion that the Platonists believed in the Holy Trinity. [35] Augustinian pessimism does not manifest itself primarily in the realm of man’s natural ability (or inability) to know the truth, but rather in the realm of the human will: Man without grace can know God, but cannot love God, and therefore cannot overcome pride and be saved. Without grace man cannot even have the initial desire to do the will of God. However, once captured by irresistible prevenient grace, he is led, if predestined, by habitus and persevering grace irresistibly. In contrast to this, Palamas is relatively pessimistic on the philosophical level as well as in regard to man’s doing good; but he is not pessimistic in regard to man’s desire to do the will of God. Father John very ably describes Palamas’ attack on Barlaam’s philosophical optimism, without, however, appreciating this optimism’s connection with the general Augustinian tradition; and this lack of appreciation is no doubt due to his failure to notice the Calabrian’s Augustinian definition of habitus grace and his Latin understanding of the lumen gloria... Having initially confused philosophical optimism with Pelagian tendencies, Father John’s oversight is at least partly understandable.

In reconstructing the elements of Barlaam’s thought from his debate with Palamas, one is at a double disadvantage. Not merely do we possess for this purpose only those fragments of the Calabrian’s lost works quoted by Palamas, but we have them already interpreted by their very selection, since they have been placed out of their own context into the polemical thought-structure of St. Gregory. In this situation, every single fragment becomes immensely important, especially isolated phrases which may indicate a whole series of theological presuppositions perhaps misunderstood or underestimated by the writer who is doing the quoting. Palamas is primarily interested in pointing out the irreconcilability of Barlaam’s position with the patristic tradition, and only guesses at the total position from which the Calabrian speaks. Father Meyendorff correctly points out that for Palamas all talk of created saving and deifying grace is a denial of grace’s supernatural character, since for him the supernatural can only be uncreated. [36] One can, therefore, appreciate why Palamas accuses Barlaam of teaching a natural way to salvation. This fact does not mean, however, that grace is really natural for Barlaam, as Father John thinks, since in the Latin tradition ‘participated supernatural grace’ is something created, there being no direct or real participation in the uncreated divine essence.

Another good example of the ‘cross-talk’ between Palamas and Barlaam is the debate over the created/uncreated glory of God. Arguing against Barlaam’s Augustinian position, Palamas goes to much trouble to prove that the glory revealed to the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and saint in this life is identical with the eternal light of the future glory in which the saints will participate. [37] Thus it is not the glory which ceases to exist with each revelation; it is, rather, the visionary experience had by those who are the objects of revelation which is temporarily terminated. Palamas takes it for granted that the glory of God in which the saints will participate in the future age is uncreated. Therefore he thinks that to demonstrate the identity of the glory of God that is revealed in the Old and New Testaments with the glory of the future age, is automatically to prove this glory’s uncreatedness. But for Barlaam this is no argument at all, because for him there are two glories, the created ‘lumen gloria’ of Latin theology ‘by which’ or ‘in which’ the elect will see the divine essence, and the uncreated glory which is the very same divine essence. Palamas quotes Barlaam as having written, ‘the incommunicable glory of God, being eternal, is none other than the essence of God; but the communicable (glory) is other than the essence of God, and indeed is not eternal, for the cause of this (glory) is the cause of all things.’ [38] That Barlaam is here referring to the Latin created ‘lumen gloria’ is obvious from his refusal to call that glory which is revealed to the prophets and apostles a deifying gift, THEOPOION DORON. [39] Actually, for Barlaam the knowledge derived from seeing the Old and New Testament glory of God is inferior to intellection. Being Latin in his formation, Barlaam could never speak of any deifying or communicable glory or grace in the Old Testament, or, for that matter, of any deifying glory or grace at any time before the Crucifixion. There can be no doubt that Barlaam pointed out two glories in order to refute Palamas’ argument, already mentioned, which was based on the assumption that the future glory can only be uncreated. This fact is strongly indicated by Palamas’ exasperation on realizing that for Barlaam all the energies and powers of God distinct from the divine essence are created; and it is in trying to show this realization to his readers that he quotes Barlaam’s statement about two glories. At this stage Palamas meets the new challenge by proving that the uncreated glory of God is not the divine essence and is participated in by the elect.

Barlaam’s teaching concerning the double glory of God is not only a very strong indication of his Latin provenance, but is also proof that he did not believe in any natural process of salvation – at least as far as the Latin Church was concerned, since without the supernatural gift of the created ‘lumen gloria’ it is impossible for the human intellect to see the divine essence. If Barlaam did believe in a natural salvation, there would be no need of any communicable created glory. That this is his actual position on grace is further indicated by his definition of ceaseless prayer. Barlaam rejects outright the very idea that a monk should pray uninterruptedly, and ridicules the claim that during such prayer one may have a vision of the uncreated glory of God, since in this life God may be experienced only in ecstasy – which leaves no room for any discursive thought, even the short Jesus-prayer. Faced by the need to interpret I Thess. v. 17, the Calabrian came up with the answer that St. Paul here means the habitus (EXIS) of prayer: ‘This habitus of prayer is to be able to do, think, and bring to pass nothing which God does not will. He, therefore, who has this habitus prays incessantly.’ [40] Since Barlaam defines the term habitus (EXIS) as grace the other times Palamas quotes him using it, it is quite obvious that the Calabrian is using the Augustinian definition of irresistible habitus grace for purposes of defining St. Paul’s mind on prayer. This rejection of actual uninterrupted prayer in favor of a ‘ceaseless prayer’ conceived as a state-of-grace activism expressed in good works, is typical of post-Augustinian Latin theology. In this passage Barlaam is not speaking of prayer as a ‘passive state’ opposed to conscious activity, as Father John thinks. [41] Barlaam is not saying that in this state man can simply do nothing, but that he can do nothing which God does not will. Actually, Barlaam is going to much trouble to prove that discursive prayer is far from ecstasy, which is for him the only true form of mystical contemplation. From Barlaam’s own definition of ecstasy in terms of a denudation of sense and discursive thought, there could be no question of ‘doing’, ‘thinking’, and ‘bringing to pass.’

A further proof of Barlaam’s Latin provenance is his claim that one definition of a contemplative man is a person who thinks he has visions of the divine essence. [42] He goes to much trouble to explain why such people believe they see the divine essence, and to interpret the possible alternative experiences they do have, whereby they actually see created reflections of the uncreated. [43] Palamas ridicules the very idea that a contemplative could be defined as a man who has any kind of visions of the divine essence. [44] One must bear in mind that whereas in the Latin West there is a strong mystical tradition which claims visions of the divine essence in this life (e.g..., the Eckhartians), there is certainly no such tradition in the Patristic and Byzantine literature of the Orthodox East. The Fathers are emphatic in denying the possibility of any vision of the divine essence not only in this life but also in the next. The East Roman Fathers deny vision of the divine essence even to angels. This denial of course means that the Latin notion of beatific vision is rejected outright. [45] It is clear that Barlaam had in mind certain Western mystics and at first took it for granted that he was faced with a similar tradition among the Hesychasts, who claimed visions of the uncreated. Here again we are faced with a good example of ‘cross-talk’... In arguing against an Eckhartian kind of mysticism, Barlaam thought at first that he was adequately answering the Hesychasts claims; and, of course, Palamas is amazed at the idea that the Hesychasts claims to visions of the uncreated glory of God should in any way be distorted into immediate or mediated visions of the divine essence.

One of the clearest indications of Barlaam’s Latin theological provenance in his claim that the prophetic visions by way of symbolic creatures and imaginary visions are inferior to intellection (CHEIRO NOISEOS). [46] The vision of the Old and New Testament glory of God – being for Barlaam, as for the Latin West generally, a creature which symbolizes a truth being revealed – is inferior to the revelation of truth which comes directly to the intellect. In view of Barlaam’s insistence, wherever else he is quoted by Palamas, that there can be no knowledge of God which does not come through knowledge of creatures, there seems to be here a contradiction. If all knowledge of God comes through the media of creatures, why is a revelation by means of such creatures as the glory of God inferior to intellection? If one were to remain faithfull to the basic epistemological principle set forth by Barlaam, how can there be intellection apart from the senses and the imagination? Either Barlaam is contadicting his basic epistemological principle of knowledge of God by means of creatures, or else he is making an exception.

For background material on Barlaam’s opinions, one may turn to Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of the ‘Division of Prophecy’ in his Summa Theologica, pt. II-ii, q. 174, art. 1-6. In art. 2 he quotes a gloss from the beginning of the Psalter which says that ‘the most excellent manner of prophecy is when a man prophesies by the mere inspiration of the Holy Ghost, apart from any outward assistance of deed, word, vision, or dream.’ He goes on to say, ‘it is evident that the manifestation of divine truth by means of the bare contemplation of the truth itself, is more effective than that which is conveyed under the similitude of corporeal things, for it approaches neare to the heavenly vision whereby the truth is seen in God’s essence. Hence it follows that the prophecy whereby a supernatural truth is seen by intellectual vision, is more excellent than that in which a supernatural truth is manifested by means of the similitudes of corporeal things in the vision of the imagination.’ It is obvious that Barlaam holds similar opinions concerning prophecy and revelation. Father John is therefore wrong in accusing Barlaam of teaching natural revelation to the detriment of a supernatural knowledge of God. [47] The very fact that Barlaam accepts revelation by means of momentarily-existing creatures, such as the Old and New Testament glory of God, should itself have convinced Meyendorff of this point. That Barlaam believes revelation by intellection to be superior to that be means of creatures and imagination is proof (I) the high Latin regard he has for revelation through means transcending the order of those natural laws he and other Latins set concerning the knowledge of God, and (II) his Latin theology.

In view of Father John’s articles on the Filioque, one would take it for granted that he has studied St. Augustine’s De Trinitate and is, therefore, familiar with the first four books, which devote so much space to a refutation of what seems clearly to be a IVth-Vth century hesychast tradition in North Africa. [48] Yet Father Meyendorff avoids discussing any possible connection between Barlaam and the Augustinian Latin tradition on this point. Instead he goes to much trouble to invent a special Byzantine Areopagite tradition in which to place Barlaam. However, to trace Barlaam’s symbolism to St. Dionysious the Areopagite by way of a Byzantine interpretive tradition is not a matter of simply comparing the two. One must prove that Barlaam’s interpretation of Dionysius is similar in nature to that of other theologians of the Roman East, beginning from the age of the Areopagite himself, and ending before Franco-Latin influences began penetrating certain Byzantine circles. The question is not, as Father John thinks, to determine what one thinks the Areopagite is realy saying, and then to compare this interpretation to Barlaam’s. What one imagines to be the real teaching of the Areopagite is not important in this case. What is alone important here is to find out whether there actually is in the East an interpretive tradition in regard to the Areopagite which is essentially that of Barlaam. Besides not doing so, Father John dismisses with a wave of the hand the possibility that Barlaam’s interpretation of the Areopagite is essentially conditioned by Latin presuppositions. Also he never once asks what influence Augustine himself may have had on certain Byzantine cirles, especially after the translation into Greek of part of his De Trinitate by Maximus Planudes in the second half of the XIIIth century. In view of these definite possibilities, it is impossible simply to quote Barlaamite principles concerning revelation by means of created symbols from Akindynos and Gregoras, and take it for granted that they represent an old and well-established Byzantine school of thought, based on ‘formal repetition’ or stemming from an Evagrian Platonic or some such tradition.

Father John makes much ado about the Platonic symbolism of Pseudo-Dionysius as represented within a Byzantine tradition as the key to Barlaam’s ‘nominalistic’ thought, [49] and thus makes a fundamental mistake similar to that concerning the Evagrian and Macarian antropologies and their importance to the controversy in question. At this point one may ask again: Is there an Eastern patristic tradition which interprets Dionysius as saying (or which simply claims, as Barlaam does) that the glory of God revealed in the Old and New Testastaments is created and merely symbolizes the uncreated divinity? And that vision of this glory is inferior to revelation by intellection? Or that in the future age there are two glories, one created and communicable and the other uncreated and incommunicable? Or that in Old Testament revelations, angels symbolized divinity? Or that divine grace is a created EXIS? Or that this habitus operates irresistibly? Or that a contemplative is one who somehow has visions of the divine essence? Hypothetically admitting for a moment that the Areopagite does agree with Barlaam on any of these points, is there any East Roman Father or even East Roman humanist, before Franco-Latin theological infiltration into the East, who interprets St. Dionysius as the Calabrian does?

After describing ‘Le symbolisme Barlaamite,’ [50] which in reality is that of Augustine and every last scholastic of the West, and after quoting passages demonstrating an identity of opinion on this point between Barlaam on the one hand and Akindynos and Gregoras on the other, Father John expects the reader to appreciate from such symbolism ‘le danger que faisait courir au christianism byzantin la th?ologie nominaliste.’ [51] Then, by claiming that this revelation through created symbols reduces the Eucharist to something ‘purement symbolique,’ [52] he sees a danger which has never occurred to and has never worried the Latins, since for them there was no communicable sacramental grace before the Crucifixion, and since for them the light of the Transfiguration has never been associated with the sacraments. And after describing this ‘revelation by created symbols’ which became common to the whole Latin West after Augustine prevailed, Father John concludes, ‘Il s’ agissait donc d’ un mouvement fort semblable a celui que suscita en Occident la pens?e de Guillaume d’ Okham et don’t l’un des aboutissements fut la r?forme protestante.’ [53] For some reason Father John seems to think that William of Occam invented the Augustinian explanation of revelation by created symbols such as the Old and New Testament glory of God, and in his struggle against this Platonic-‘nominalistic’ symbolism Palamas would seem to have saved the Orthodox East from Protestantism. Basing himself on such observations, Father John goes on, a few pages later, to an amazing conclusion which makes Palamas and the Latin anti-’nominalistic Scholastics defenders of essentially the same truths. ‘Sur beaucoup de points, l’ enjeu de la controverse que l’ opposait ? ses adversaires ?tait au fond identique ? celui qui, depuis le XVI si?cle, oppose en Occident R?formateurs et Contre-R?formateurs. La diff?rence ?ssentielle est qu’en Orient les d?fenseurs du sacramentalisme r?aliste ignoraient les cat?gories philosophiques, h?rit?es de la Scholastique, et n’ opposaient aux nominalistes que des formules bibliques et patristiques traditionnelles.’ [54] It seems that for Father John the Orthodox insistence on the uncreatedness of sacramental sanctifying grace and the Roman insistence on the createdness of infused sacramental grace are essentially the same, and that both doctrines are of equal value against the general Protestant position. He comes to this conclusion partly by thinking that the Latin West generally, and scholasticism particularly, are of one accord with Palamas in rejecting Barlaam’s and Protestantism’s general denial of the vision of God to the viator. And this denial, according to Father John, reduces the sacraments to mere symbols. So he would have it that Palamas and the Latin scholastics were struggling against a common enemy, nominalism, which prepared the way for a future common enemy, Protestantism.

Endnotes

[1] Vol. III of Patristica Sorbonensia, edited by H. I. Marrou and published by Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1959. Hereinafter cited as Introduction.

[2] Vols. xxx and xxxi of Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense: Etudes et Documents, Louvain, 1959. Hereinafter cited as D?fense.

[3] ‘Les debuts de la controverse h?sychaste,’ in Byzantion, xxiii, 1953. ‘Un mauvais th?ologien de l’ unit?,’ in L’ Eglise et les Eglises, II, Chevetogne, 1955. Introduction, pp. 74, 282. ‘Humanisme nominaliste et mystique chr?tienne ? Byzance au xiv si?cle,’ in Nouvelle Revue Th?ologique, Vol. LXXIX, 1957.

[4] Introduction, pp. 67, 70, 84, 85, 173, 195, 201, 205, 212, 216, 221 n. 115, 223, 224, 252, 253, 259, 261, 269, 281, 282, 286, 288, 289, 290, 323, 347, 348, 350, 356, 357.

[5] Introduction, pp. 193, 323.

[6] Introduction, pp. 173, 175, 323-324. Since Occam is the only nominalist mentioned by Meyendorff, it seems clear that by ‘nominalism’ he means Occamistic nominalism.

[7] Introduction, pp. 186, 223, 258, 259.

[8] Ibid., p.186.

[9] For a recent discussion on Barlaam’s philosophy see G. Shiro, ‘O VARLAAM KAI H FILOSOFIA EIS TIN THESSALONIKI KATA TON DEKATON TETARTON AIONA’, Thessalonica, 1959.

[10] Prof. P. Christou of the University of Thessalonica, in his article PERI TA AITIA THS HESYCHASTIKIS ERIDOS, in GREGORIOS PALAMAS, 1956, admirably develops his reasons why he believes Gregoras and possibly Barlaam should be considered nominalists. Apart from a bibliographical notice, Meyendorff avoids any reference to the view of this important article.

[11] D?fense, Tr. I, quest. I, pp. 5-7.

[12] D?fense, Tr. II, 1, 27, p. 279.

[13] Within a text condemned by the Council of 1341. J. Karmiris, Dogmatic and Symbolic Monuments, Athens, 1952, p. 302.

[14] D?fense, Tr. II, 3, 34, p. 445.

[15] Text edited by Meyendorff, La premi?re lettre de Palamas ? Akindynos, in THEOLOGIA, Vol. KST, Athens, 1955, p. 85. See also First letter of Palamas to Barlaam ed. G. Papamichael, in EKKLISIASTIKOS FAROS, Vol. XIII, 1914, pp. 249 ff.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Introduction, p. 174. We will return to this important question in Part II.

[18] D?fense, Tr. III, 2, 25, p. 687.

[19] Quoted by Meyendorff (‘La premi?re lettre de Palamas ? Akindynos’, in THEOLOGIA, Vol. KE, Athens, 1954, p. 607) without the realization that this criticism indicates that Aquinas himself is much closer to the nominalist position than Barlaam could ever be.

[20] Ibid., p. 605 n. 1.

[21] See note 5 above.

[22] Introduction, pp. 67, 173 ff. For a development of approximately the same ideas see G. Shiro, op. cit.

[23] D?fense, Tr. II, 1, 27, p. 279; II, 1, 26, p. 277.

[24] “KAI AI ARCHAI TON MATHIMATON KAI H PROFITEIA KAI ITISOYN APOKALIPSIS, TIAFTA ESTIN, OIA MH DOTHENTA MEN, HYPERVAINEIN ANTHROPINON LOGISMON, DOTHENTA DE, EXIKNEISTHO AYTON THN PSYCHIN.” D?fense, Tr. II, 1, 26, p. 277.

[25] D?fense, Tr. II, 1, 28, ?. 279.

[26] G. Shiro ably describes Barlaam’s syllogistic method at arriving at these conclusions, but makes the same mistake as Meyendorff in generalizing his Filioque skepticism into a universal principle for all theological matters. Op. cit., p. 14.

[27] G. Shiro, op. cit., p. 8.

[28] For a primitive form of Barlaam’s views, see Augustine’s De Trinitate, II, v, 10; vi, 11; viii, 14; ix, 16; x, 17, 18; xiii, 23; xiv, 24; xv, 25, 26; xvi, 26; xvii, 32; xviii, 35; III, pref., 3; iv, 10; x, 21-xi, 22, 24, 26, 27. For remarks on Barlaam’s Augustinian Latin background see my article ‘Debate Over Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Christology,’ in Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. V, No. 2, 1959-60, p. 180 ff., especially notes 144 and 145. As is to be expected, Barlaam does not quote St. Augustine on this question, and perhaps this explains Father Meyendorff’s failure to look into a possible connection between the two. After so many years of debate over the Filioque question a reference to the authority of St. Augustine could not be decisive for the Greeks, unless supported by the Greek Patristic tradition.

[29] Palamas reports that Barlaam changed his former accusation of ‘satanic’ to ‘natural’ upon the publication of his work. D?fense, Tr. II, 1, 3, p. 231. See note 46 below.

[30] Introduction, pp. 196 ff. One gets the impression that this distinction is the crux of Meyendorff’s approach.

[31] For description of Barlaam’s frenzy (EMANI) over claims to vision see D?fense, Tr. II, 3, 58, p. 509.

[32] Introduction, pp. 70 ff., 195-222.

[33] Introduction, pp. 175 ff.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Confessions, VII, 9. Compare this to St. John Chrysostom, quoted in J. S. Romanides, TO PROPATORIKON AMARTIMA, Athens, 1957, p. 99.

[36] Introduction, p. 230.

[37] D?fense, Tr. I, 3, 43 ff., p. 203 ff.; II, 3, 20:50, p. 429, 489.

[38] D?fense, Tr. III, 2, 13, p. 667. This text is quoted by Meyendorff without notice of its possible Latin derivation. Introduction, p. 283.

[39] D?fense, Tr. III, 1, 31, p. 617.

[40] D?fense, Tr. II, 1, 30, p. 283.

[41] Introduction, p. 204.

[42] D?fense, Tr. II, 3, 7:12, pp. 399, 409.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] It is interesting to note that about the tome Barlaam went to Avignon (1339) on a mission for unity on behalf of the Emperor, Benedict XII, the Pope who received him, was not very far from issuing his Condemnation of Armenian Errors, among which was the Greek Patristic teaching that in the next life the saints do not see and will not see the divine essence, but rather the uncreated glory of God. A study of the bearing this may have on Barlaam’s KATA MASSALIANON may help in understanding the Calabrian’s renewed zeal against the Hesychasts, in spite of the fervent appeals of his friends and Palamas to drop the matter and his promises to do so.

[46] D?fense, Tr. II, 3, 58:59, pp. 509, 511; III, 1, 23 ff., p. 601; III, 3, 2, p. 697. In this last passage Palamas is attempting to prove that for Barlaam the prophetic visions of the Old Testament are demonic. This attempt can be understood only in the light of Palamas’ claim that in the original text shown to him by Barlaam the Hesychasts religious experiences were described as demonic and the Hesychasts prayer practices as OMFALOPSYCHIA. Tr. II, 1, 3. On the basis of the original text Palamas wrote his First Triad. Evidently Palamas was embarrassed upon the circulation of Barlaam’s work, since not only the caricature of OMFALOPSYCHIA, was missing, but also the accusation of demonic experiences. Hence his attempt in Tr. III, 3, 2. Palamas is at a loss to explain the change. A clue to Barlaam’s conduct, however, may be seen in Palamas’ claim that in the Calabrian’s original work there were no references to the prophetic revelations or to the essence of God. Tr. II, 3, 13, p. 413. At first Barlaam obviously did not associate the Hesychasts tradition with the prophetic experiences and, therefore, felt free to describe them as demonic. When he was forced, however, by Palamas and the Hesychasts to make this association, he evidently then realized that he could best argue by refuting his opponents with what he believed to be the universal teaching of Christendom concerning prophetic revelations. Hence his shift from caricature to serious theological debate. This explains why he dropped the term OMFALOPSYCHIA and exchanged the term FYSIKA for that of DAIMONIODH. That the change in Barlaam’s tactics began with his personal contact with Palamas is evident from the fact that St. Gregory already refers to the Calabrian’s teaching about the prophetic experience in Tr. !, 3, quest. (pp. 103-105), in spite of the fact that he informs us that Barlaam’s original manuscript contained nothing on this topic.

[47] See note 7 above.

[48] See note 28 above.

[49] Introduction, pp. 257 ff.

[50] Introduction, pp. 259 ff.

[51] Introduction, p. 261.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid. See also p. 350.

[54] Introduction, p. 269.

From the The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Volume VI, Number 2, Winter, 1960-61. Published by the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School Press, Brookline, Massachusetts. It has been mirrored from the author's website at http://www.romanity.org.