Is the Palamite Distinction Ecumenical Dogma?

Over on Twitter, Dr George Demacopoulos has reported that the official Message of the Holy and Great Council now being held in Crete may declare the Synod of 879 and the Palamite Synods of the 1350s as “ecumenical.” If this happens, this might well be the most important action of the Council. Orthodoxy does not presently have a consensual understanding of what makes a council ecumenical and what does not. All it knows is that the great seven general councils of the first millennium are ecumenical and the 449 Robber Council and the 1439 Council of Florence are not. Beyond that there’s just lots and lots of opinion (see, e.g., Georges Florovsky’s essay “The Authority of the Ancient Councils“).

I’m not a historian, but I do not personally see how the 14th century Palamite synods can be accorded the same level of dogmatic authority as the great Ecumenical Councils. When did Orthodox bishops and theologians start thinking of the Palamite synods as being ecumenical? My impression is that this is a 20th century development, going hand in glove with the 20th century “rediscovery” of the essence/energies distinction, propelled in large part by the publication of Martin Jugie’s polemical critique of St Gregory Palamas in 1932 (someone please correct me if I’m wrong). At some point in the second half of the second millennium, the Palamite distinction ceased to be an important part of Orthodox theology and catechesis (again, someone please correct me if I’m wrong; but please don’t lecture me about the “Latin captivity” of the Orthodox Church, a 20th century polemical construct that should be discarded as unhelpful, misleading, and distorting). How can an infallible dogma of the Church be “forgotten” for four or five hundred years? “Forgotten” here is a relative term, of course. St Gregory Palamas has never been forgotten. Not only is he commemorated on the Second Sunday of Lent, but anathemas against his heretical opponents, Barlaam and Akyndynus, are proclaimed each year in the hierarchical recitation of the Synodikon on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Yet it’s one thing to annually recite a collection of anathemas and quite another thing to internalize them in catechesis and theological reflection. If the essence/energies distinction expresses a genuine and decisive insight into the dogmatic structure of the apostolic faith, then it can never, I suggest, be forgotten—at least not once it has been explicitly formulated, formally promulgated, and consensually received by the Faithful. Forgetfulness, in such a case, does not mean that the proposed dogma is necessarily false; but it does mean that it has not yet been incorporated into the dogmatic consciousness of the Church.

When does theological consensus, which apparently now exists among Orthodox theologians regarding the Palamite distinction, become dogmatically binding doctrine?

When does a council, particularly a local council, become an ecumenical council?

I do not have a dog in the Palamite hunt, though I do fear that a conciliar declaration affirming the ecumenical status of the Palamite distinction will create a serious obstacle in ecumenical discussions with the Catholic Church. The historical fact is, there has long existed within Orthodoxy a diversity of interpretations of the divine essence and energies distinction, dating back to at least the 15th century (see the important essay “Palamas Transformed” by John Demetracopoulos). Is the distinction real, formal, or nominal? Theologians disagree. The Lossky/Romanides interpretation of the distinction has (apparently) become dominant in contemporary Orthodox theology, but that may well only be because contemporary theologians have yet to submit this interpretation to proper analysis and critique. If anyone is interested in exploring the matter further, I recommend the important collection of essays entitled Divine Essence and Divine Energies.

In my very provisional opinion, the Lossky/Romanides understanding of the Palamite distinction enjoys its present status primarily because of the continuing desire within Orthodoxy to ideologically distinguish itself from Roman Catholicism. At some point Orthodox theology simply must transcend the polemical need to define itself over against the cultural West.

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73 Responses to Is the Palamite Distinction Ecumenical Dogma?

  1. Tom says:

    Fr Aidan: I do fear that a conciliar declaration affirming the ecumenical status of the Palamite distinction will create a serious obstacle in ecumenical discussions with the Catholic Church. The historical fact is, there has long existed within Orthodoxy a diversity of interpretations of the divine essence and energies distinction, dating back to at least the 15th century…

    Tom: Indeed. And the diversity within Orthodoxy over that distinction has been a good and productive thing, wouldn’t you agree? Does anyone understand the motivation here to make the distinction dogma? What’s gained?

    Tom

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    • William says:

      Making it dogma in itself wouldn’t preclude diversity of opinion over it, except in the sense of saying that there is, indeed, a distinction. How many Orthodox theologians deny that anyway?

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  2. Peregrinus says:

    I concur, Fr. Aidan. Recognizing the 879-880 council would be one thing, but recognizing any councils that have occurred within the second millennium will be utterly disastrous for Orthodox epistemology. Not only would it move a primarily de facto schism with Rome into the realm of de jure, but it accords ecumenical councils a place within our tradition which they simply do not deserve. I am at a loss as to how this is not somehow seen as, ironically, a Latinization of Orthodox tradition.

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  3. Mary Lanser says:

    It’s one way to guarantee that the Council would be ratified as universal…

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    • Peregrinus says:

      Yes, I thought of this too. It would be hard for the other local churches, especially those absent, not to want to “receive” at least the text in question if it can reinforce their sense of distinctness from all things “Western.” Although the churches of Russia and Antioch, I suspect, will not be so easily duped.

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  4. William says:

    I think your post makes too little of the yearly commemoration of Palamas during Lent. The fact that he’s there says a lot. You could make an argument that there is an implicit reception of the Palamite councils in the simple fact that all of the Orthodox churches have “received” the dedication of the second Sunday of Lent to Palamas, and in so doing have adopted a liturgical canon that affirms his teachings (including the essence/energies distinction, even if the distinction remains open to theological parsing) and his polemical positions. However, I understand your point about this being different from internalizing those teachings catechetically. I am not arguing “Latin captivity” here, but it doesn’t seem far-fetched to suggest that Palamas may have been de-emphasized, intentionally or not, during a period of history when many Orthodox theologians did have much contact with the Latin world and were not so concerned with setting themselves apart from Rome, and when most published material would have come from the West. Perhaps we nowadays aren’t rightly interpreting the essence/energies distinction, but the reception of this distinction as such seems to have been accepted by all the Orthodox churches and their hierarchs long before our current preoccupation with talking about it.

    As an aside, for what it’s worth, I have heard, on two rare occasions, speakers on Catholic radio alluding to the essence/energies distinction in such a way that suggests there may be a movement out there to “reappropriate” it for Catholic use. I just wish I could remember who the speakers were.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      William, what would Orthodox theologians and bishops have said 100, 200, 300 years ago?

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      • William says:

        I don’t know what they would have said precisely, but I suspect they would have been matter-of-fact about there being an essence-energies distinction. That’s not to say they would have a whole lot more to say about it than that or felt the need to write books about it. The language of God’s energies of course predates Palamas by many centuries, so I suspect they would speak of God’s energies, on any occasions they spoke of it at all, in similar fashion to that tradition (which is not to say that that tradition spoke of the energies in exactly the same way Palamas did, but the tradition after Palamas made a de facto link between Palamas and the previous tradition). In other words, they may not have gone out of their way to emphasize the essence-energies distinction, and they may not have seen any need to do so, but it would not have been foreign to any of them versed in the writings of certain church fathers (Basil, Maximos, Symeon). There’s no reason to think that the school of theologians of the past few hundred years who compiled and promulgated the Philokalia had forgotten this doctrine. This isn’t to say that these theologians constituted the majority line during their times. My comment above is not meant to suggest that the bishops and theologians of 100-300 years ago would speak or write on the subject like Lossky, Meyendorff, Romanides, et al. Doubtless they wouldn’t. But I suspect that even if all of them were unlikely to expound on the essence-energies distinction in modern fashion, there was some sort of basic awareness of and assent to the bare content of Palamas’ theology, particularly as it is outlined in basic form in the canon for the second Sunday of Lent. I’m trying to say that the fact that the second Sunday of Lent is dedicated to Palamas with praises for his teachings seems evidence in itself that during the past 100-300 years, there has been more or less continuous and uncontroversial assent throughout the church for the fundamental points of his doctrine. To say otherwise would seem to suggest that Orthodox bishops and theologians of those centuries were simply ignorant of what they were praising year in and year out. Even if they had truly “forgotten” during those centuries, the fact remains that they upheld the doctrine the whole time in spite of themselves.

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        • Tony says:

          Excellent post. The Church, it seems to me, has already pronounced St. Palamas’ teachings in this regard to be ecumenical and dogmatic regardless if this current Synod pronounces it, as evidenced by the heavily represented Councils of the 14th century which confirmed his teachings and condemned Baarlam’s, the theological writings since then from Orthodox scholars and heirarchs which defend these teachings (are there any which disagree?), and the liturgical traditions which exalt his teachings and witness, most obviously in the Second Sunday of Holy and Great Lent (Lex orandi, lex credendi).

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  5. Fr Aiden would you make the same argument about 1 Constantinople – that the Creed was forgotten between 381 until it was rediscovered in 451 at Chalcedon when the council was officially ratified as Ecumenical? I believe your article assumes too much and makes far too light the strong evidence of honouring St Gregory Palamas on the 2nd Sunday of Lent.

    The distinction between essence and energies was also present and an assumed truth in the Lateran Council of 649 under Pope St Martin and St Maximos. I believe yes – it is Ecumenical.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Three quick thoughts before retiring for the evening:

      (1) No, I would not make the same remark about the 381, as the situations are completely dissimilar. Even though the Creed of I Constantinople did not achieve ecumenical status until Chalcedon, it’s certainly not the case that the dogmatic decisions of that council remained unknown to the Church and were not assimilated by the Church. Quite the contrary.

      (2) If one were to ask Orthodox bishops in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries whether the Palamite distinction enjoyed ecumenical dogmatic status, what would they have said? Where is the distinction explicitly taught during this period and how is the distinction interpreted? If the distinction was recognized as irreformable dogma during this period, then one would expect to find it exploted by Orthodox apologetics during this period. Was it? I’m happy to be instructed on this historical question, but I need both primary and secondary sources.

      (3) It’s anachronistic to project the Palamite distinction back into the Lateran Council of 649. It’s even anachronistic to project it into III Constantinople. I do not deny that one does not find antecedents for the distinction in the patristic period—it didn’t just appear out of nowhere in the 14th century—but that is not the question. We are talking dogma here, not theological opinion.

      The real question is whether a real, as opposed to a nominal or formal, distinction between the divine essence and the divine operations is absolutely necessary to speak of the kind of deification that the Orthodox Church rightly wishes to affirm. St Cyril of Alexandria, for example, had no problem teaching a strong version of theosis without appeal to the divine energies, as did most of the early Fathers, including St Augustine. If a real distinction within the Godhead is indeed necessary for the experience of theosis, then of course the Orthodox Church must dogmatically affirm it. But she must also demonstrate why theosis cannot be equally asserted in different conceptualities, whether Thomistic, Bonaventuran, Rahnerian, or whatever. But I have yet to see anything like that from neo-Palamite theologians.

      Both Met John Zizioulas and David B. Hart believe they can affirm theosis in the strongest possible terms, without appealing to the divine energies. And I know that as a preacher, I can preach theosis without ever mentioning the divine energies even once. In fact, given the likelihood that our English-speaking hearers, upon hearing about the divine energy will immediately reify it and treat it as the Christian equivalent of the Force, it’s probably best to stick as closely as we can to the biblical language of the Holy Spirit. When St Peter preached to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, he didn’t promise them that they would receive the divine energies upon baptism; he promised them they would receive the Holy Spirit. Why is that not good enough for us today?

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      • William says:

        I know you addressed your responses to Edgar, but since I’ve already dared to enter the fray …

        On your point No. 2, is there any reason to think that the bishops of the 16th through 19th centuries would have thought the Palamite distinction was anything other than accepted teaching throughout the Orthodox world. Perhaps they have not referred to it has having “ecumenical dogmatic status,” but if it is taken to be true, it is taken to be true. Was it called dogma? I don’t know, but it was apparently accepted as truth right alongside everything that is dogma. If it is taken to be true by all the Orthodox, would that not make it “ecumenical”, at least in some sense?

        If it is true that the essence-energies distinction was not exploited by Orthodox apologetics during the 16th-19th centuries, maybe that is primarily because the theological threat that gave rise to Palamas’ polemics was no longer seen as a threat. The matter may have seemed settled and then taken for granted. Maybe new problems, discussions and preoccupations prompted by events such as the attempts to reunify with Rome (Florence), the demise of Byzantium and the dawn of the Reformation came to the forefront instead.

        Where is the distinction explicitly taught during the 16th-19th centuries? One could just as easily ask where was it explicitly disputed. The fact that these teachings were compiled in the Philokalia and thereafter recommended to others is in itself one example of an explicit endorsement of the teachings by the compilers and the promulgators, even if that constituted a small group in the larger Orthodox world. As the Philokalia circulated, I don’t think it encountered opposition. There’s also the second canon of the second Sunday of Orthodoxy, which unreservedly endorses St. Gregory and his teachings with such statements as “Earth and sea acknowledge thee (Gregory) as their common teacher, as the holy pillar of Orthodoxy and the sacred armory of divine dogmas …” and “… Hail, height impossible to climb, that tells us of God’s nature: Hail, depth hard to scan, that speaks of His energy …” and and other robust statements that all but equate Palamas’ writings with scripture. These endorsements were full-throatedly repeated by all the bishops and theologians yearly during past several centuries. Whatever they may have thought they were praising during that time, they were in fact giving their support to the writings of Palamas and his teachings. How they interpreted essence-energies would actually be a secondary question to the fact that they endorsed the distinction (even if they never gave the distinction a second thought), and that all of us Orthodox people endorse it to this day in practice, even if we don’t all agree on how to interpret it.

        Of course one can preach theosis without talking about the essence-energies distinction. And of course it is enough in general to speak of receiving the Holy Spirit. Speaking that way is of course far more basic. That is the kerygma. But that could be said of all kinds of theological talk that is not necessary to the ordinary preaching of the Gospel to most Christians. Palamas himself only makes occasional reference to this distinction in his homilies. It’s also of course possible to experience theosis without knowing this distinction, or at least without knowing it in these terms. It’s surely possible to experience theosis without knowing much theology at all. The essence-energies distinction serves more specialized needs, such as in the effort to explain **how** theosis can be possible without falling into the logical traps one is prone to encounter (and which Palamas catalogues) when one claims to participate in God and supposes it is God’s essence he is participating in, or when one insists on God’s transcendence in such a way that one consequently insists that there cannot be participation in God himself. As I see it, the necessity of the essence-energy distinction is not in its usefulness in affirming theosis (it’s true that there may be other ways to explain theosis); instead, the essence-energy distinction seems to me absolutely necessary to refute the troublesome implications that come with declaring that “we can also share in God’s supraessential essence and proclaim(ing) that this essence can be authoritatively named.” So yes, most people don’t need to fuss much over this distinction, but emphasizing the distinction clearly became necessary at a point in time to refute certain notions that apparently were only answerable by emphasizing and clarifying the distinction. In that sense, the distinction has proven itself to be necessary to Orthodox theology and indispensable to its identity. Whether the church calls it ecumenical dogma or not, this distinction can’t possibly cease being a part of the Orthodox experience. All this even if it is possible to preach theosis without it.

        I think it’s uncertain that Palamas himself considered the essence-energies distinction “real” as though essence and energies were separate things. For him, they were “indivisibly distinguished” and God is “entirely manifest in every energy.” For him insisting on the realness of the distinction is equivalent to insisting on the real existence of God’s essence. Saying the essence has real existence is the same as saying it has its energy. Its energy is its real existence. If that’s a right interpretation, then it’s a real distinction yet the distinction is not some real “thing.” If it were, then the energies would have their own essence, being essentially something else from the essence.

        I’m not sure St. Cyril did not appeal to the divine energy. St. Gregory cites him quite a bit, including a citation of Cyril’s statement that “nature and energy are not identical.”

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  6. Tony says:

    Why in the world would it not be ecumenical? Has any synod or consensus or majority number of Orthodox theologians or heirarchs (or even one revered Orthodox Saint) taught anything different in the past several centuries since the fifteen century which are contrary to the distinction explained by St. Gregory Palamas?

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  7. Tony says:

    ” I do fear that a conciliar declaration affirming the ecumenical status of the Palamite distinction will create a serious obstacle in ecumenical discussions with the Catholic Church.”

    I fear that as well Father because I truly wish there to be unity with the Roman Catholic Church, but not at the expense of such a (dare I say) dogmatic teaching as this regarding the economia of God in our salvation and participation in theosis, as elucidated by Saint Gregory Palamas, which is confirmed throughout the Orthodox world without apparent objection. If the Churches are to unite, it must address the obstacles which exist and not ignore them. And this goes for both sides of the debate. Historically, it seems the Roman Catholic Church has been much more comfortable and active in pronouncing ‘ecumenical’ doctrines which run counter to Orthodox (and Patristic) teachings. These too have created serious obstacles in the ecumenical discussions between the Churches. It is a sad affair all around, for sure.

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  8. From the ensuing conversation, and correct me if I’m wrong, this intra-Orthodox debate sounds similar to what the Latins did with the filioque–raising speculative theology to the level of dogma.

    Though I would be more interested precisely what the difference between energies and essence is when referring to these questions.

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  9. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Without going into too much detail here, due to time constrains, the question concerns how the EED distinction is to be understood (as Fr Aidan indicated – as reified, formal, or nominal), and how it is to be utilized – as sweeping identity polemic, as a theology of ascetic practice, as a theology of apophatic reserve. As to the former, one has to examine the motivating factors and ideological context of those who promulgated the ‘neo-Palamite’, ‘neo-patristic’ polemic in the 20th century. One Orthodox theologian astutely observed, “… the theological idiom to which Orthodox theology has been confined for the last fifty years or so has largely exhausted itself and has become tediously repetitive. It has also, to a very great extent, done much to distort the Orthodox understanding of the traditions of both East and West.”

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  10. One could argue (and I would) that, since the Eastern Rite Churches in communion with Rome celebrate the same liturgy as the Orthodox Churches which are not, that the authority of St Gregory Palamas and the validity of the essence/energies distinction is implicitly recognized by the Catholic Church as well. If this is the case then a Catholic such as myself would argue that the truth the distinction expresses must be compatible with dogma defined by Rome, and I think the best way to assure this is to understand the distinction as being a formal one (in the Scotistic sense), as I’ve argued for many years, which would imply that the divine essence and energies are *really* (prior to their conception by our intellect) distinct, but not in such a way as to be separable.

    As far as ecumenism goes the question of the validity of Palamite theology is an entirely different one from that of recognizing any given synod as Ecumenical. That seems like a much bigger pill for Rome to swallow.

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  11. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Top of the morning, everyone. I am not surprised to find that a number of excellent comments have appeared since I went to bed last night. I suspected that my post would generate traffic. And I appreciate the civil tone in which your comments and criticisms have been advanced. Thank you.

    To William:

    1) I agree with your central point that the Palamite distinction, however interpreted, was no doubt kept alive throughout the 16th-19th centuries in hesychastic circles. But that is not the same as saying that Orthodoxy during that period universally taught the distinction as dogmatically binding on the Orthodox conscience. The question of theological dogma—how it is established, how it is interpreted, how it is applied—that primarily concerns me (at least in my post). I do not question that Orthodoxy was right to side with Palamas over against Barlaam. Theosis and the experience of God absolutely needed to be reaffirmed in the 13th century. But it’s one thing to reject the theology of Barlaam, and it’s another to dogmatically impose a particular theological formulation. Please do read the essay I cited in my article, “Palamas Transformed.” It demonstrates the diversity of opinion that existed in Byzantium regarding the essence/energies distinction subsequent to the 14th century Constantinopolitan councils. Also see Norman Russell’s essay “Theosis and Gregory Palamas: Continuity or Doctrinal Change?

    2) Perhaps the historical work has yet to be done, but I am interested in the question how Orthodoxy regarded the Palamite distinction during its alleged “Latin captivity.” Who taught the distinction during this period and what did they say about it? Is it found, for example, in the symbolic books, which at one time enjoyed a high level of authority within Orthodoxy? Is it found in the systematic presentations of the Orthodox faith which were published during this period? For example, I’d really like to know what Christos Androutsos, whose Dogmatics were so influential in Greek theology for decades, taught about the topic. One problem we have as English-speaking Orthodox is that so much of the literature of that period has not been translated into English. All I really know is that 20th century scholars talk about a “rediscovery” of the distinction in the first-half of the 20th century, due in large part to Lossky, Florovsky, and Staniloae. A rediscovery implies a period of forgetfulness. Was it really forgotten or is that a scholarly fiction? I don’t know. But I think it’s crucial to know before the Church declares these 14th century councils as enjoying the authority of infallible dogma.

    3) When did people start clamoring for the Constantinople synods to be recognized as ecumenical councils? What is the motivation?

    Thank you, William, for your good comments.

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  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Here’s a new report on the draft “Message” that the council fathers are presently considering: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/94479.htm.

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  13. MJH says:

    Not wishing to enter the question of the status of Palamite theology, certainly the status of ecumenical councils post-787 is a problem. In fact, as Norman P. Tanner discusses in an excellent article, ‘The Book of the Councils’, in Studies in Church History 38, The Church and the Book, for most of the Western Middle Ages there were only seven ecumenical councils; the rest were western general councils of a different status; the two were conflated in the Early Modern period by dropping ‘ecumenical’ from the vocabulary of a lot of official, pontifical printings of the councils and binding the general and ecumenical councils together — it was only a matter of time before, without having to change canon law and reception, people simply assumed the western general councils were on the same level as the seven ecumenical ones. He uses this to argue that the basis of Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox reunion could find a canonical basis with Rome basically coming clean about this and acknowledging the distinction.

    If the small and holy council wishes to add eastern, non-ecumenical councils to the list of ecumenical councils, this is, thus, very dangerous territory that will only exacerbate many problems in the shaky relationship between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

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  14. Tom says:

    So interesting to observe. Can someone help answer a couple of questions for me?

    1) What makes a gathering of bishops and heirarchs “ecumenical”? Isn’t it the fact that all (in this case, 14, as in 787) autocephalous churches are in attendance/represented? If such attendance/representation is not what makes such a gathering ecumenical, then what constitutes its ecumenical identity? Could any plurality of autocephalous churches (2 or 3 such churches) constitute themselves as an “ecumenical” council that all Orthodox would be bound by?

    2) Given the incomplete attendance (4 churches, or 28.6 %, approaching a third, refused to attend) of the present gathering in Crete, is this gathering an ecumenical council?

    3) If the present gathering in Crete is not properly ecumenical, does it even have the authority to codify previous synods (or portions of their pronouncements) as ecumenical?

    Tom

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    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Tom,

      Terribly brief, but here we go:

      1.) Ecumenicity is not beforehand declared or decided, it is a historical process that bears out over time. Any council declaring itself ecumenical is a sure sign that it is not. Ratification by the faithful, over time, will have to bear this out. for *most* of the seven ecumenical councils (Nicaea I & II, Constantinople I & II, Ephesus) this historical process took many decades to bear out. In the case of the canons of ecumenicals councils, in some cases, the acceptance took centuries.

      2.) No it cannot be. For the reasons you state and the above.

      3.) No, not properly speaking. Sure, it could force things through, I suppose. But that will only cause a rift. Consensus cannot be forced.

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      • Tom says:

        Thanks ApoSpeak.

        So, if the present gathering in Crete codifies the proceedings of this or that previous synod or council and makes the Palamite distinction “dogma,” that distinction is only dogma for those 11 churches in attendance? i.e., an Orthodox Christian from, say, Alexandria or Greece cannot then deny the distinction without being consider in violation of Orthodox dogma, whereas a Russian or Bulgarian Orthodox believer is free to deny that distinction without being considered in violation of Orthodox dogma (however universally acknowledged that distinction may in fact be)? Different autocephalous churches (whether a single church acting locally or several acting in unison) can define “dogma” for themselves, i.e., dogma whose authority is limited to themselves but not other non-participating churches?

        Tom

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          I suppose it would be up to each Orthodox church to prescribe and enforce what it considers to be dogmatic and binding to its members. Nevertheless an Orthodox Christian, if she is so inclined, has the grounds to object and ignore accordingly, to question the ecumencity and authority of said dogma and prescription. The interesting thing is that the objection would not be in particular about the meaning and relevance of the earlier councils, so much as it calls in to question the authority of the present council to make a declaration about those councils.

          Dogma is not created or changed overnight.

          If these 10 Orthodox churches decide to push this through, without the other 4 sister churches present (which, by the way, represent some 70% to 80% of all the EO Christians worldwide!), it would only raise questions, cause objections, and possibly create a rift. I don’t see this happening, but it certainly wouldn’t be anything novel to church history. Declarations of councils have been rammed through, and ignored, at abandon. Nicaea II was declared, to be immediately set aside and (practically) nullified for some 70 years.

          I haven’t seen the details of the document, so much of this may just be, to use a Dutch colloquialism, “panic football” on our part. So I don’t know what it would establish or declare, particularly the meaning and definition of the E/E distinction.

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      • Ryan says:

        Met Hilarion Alfeyev speaks on this somewhere. Many of the Russian theologians of the period either rejected or were indifferent to Palamism. The Greek church had differing opinions, pro, con, or just ignorant of it altogether. But I think the fact that it has been enshrined in our universal hymnography for a while now makes it pretty well dogmatic at this point.

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Ryan,

          No one is pushing to erase St Palamas and his teachings from the record. The issue of contention is as to what the meaning of EED may be and its function in the larger body of revealed truth. Are we to use EED polemically as the distinguishing factor by which to live and understand the Orthodox tradition, as neo-palamite theologians contend that we should?
          The attempt is to pass of one particular interpretation of EED as unquestionable gospel truth. It is a fantastic rhetorical move, but in the end it will prove not able to stand up to scrutiny, that is my position on it.

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          • Ryan says:

            I agree with you that there seems to be something rather momentary and faddish in the drive to, so to speak, turn the Orthodox Church up to 11. Perhaps what is really being enshrined here is not Palamite theology or anything from these 4 new ecumenical councils but a peculiar 20th-21st century Orthodox apologetic advanced by Romanides and his camp. It seems very shiny and sharp now but it might seem rather quaint and silly in 50 years.

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        • Tony says:

          Can you point me to the source of where Metropolitan Hilarion says that the Russian theologians rejected ‘Palamism’? I would like to study his further.

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  15. David Bradshaw says:

    Interesting discussion. Returning to your original post, Fr. Aidan, it’s not correct that the revival of interest in Palamas in the 20th c. was due to Jugie or anti-RC polemics. It originated with the claim of the so-called Name-worshipers on Mt. Athos to be following Palamas, and was then carried into wider circles by Bulgakov and Florovsky. See the article by Stoyan Tanev here, http://orthodox-theology.com/pages/issues/21-2011.php.

    Second, I’d caution you against the idea that the EED must be declared real, formal, or nominal in order to be sufficiently clear. These are scholastic categories that even the scholastics themselves often interpreted in different ways. There’s no reason to assume that a distinction that grew up in a very different milieu should necessarily fit any of them. I’ve tried to emphasize in my own work the diversity of the divine energies (e.g., AEW, pp. 272-73). In light of this diversity I’d be surprised if any of the scholastic categories were really adequate to explicate the EED.

    Finally, in my opinion the best modern discussion of the EED is not to be found in Lossky or Romanides, but in Kallistos Ware’s 1975 article, “God Hidden and Revealed: The Apophatic Way and the Essence-Energies Distinction.” Speaking of the “Lossky/Romanides interpretation” makes it sound as if Lossky & Romanides propounded a view different from that of other Orthodox scholars, whereas in fact Florovsky, Krivocheine, Staniloae, Meyendorff, Ware, Yannaras, Martzelos, etc. – in fact, so far as I know, everyone who’s written at any length upon the issue – all propound essentially the same view.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      David, I’m delighted and honored you’ve visited my blog. Regarding your three points:

      1) Thanks for the historical clarification. Though I do not know very much about the Name-worship controversy, it sure sounds like a more plausible explanation for the renewal of Palamite studies than the alleged catalyst of the Jugie article.

      2) It may well be that St Gregory’s personal formulation of the EED does not fit well into any philosophical category, but that certainly does not mean that theologians and philosophers are thereby precluded from trying to better understand the distinction and seeking to find ways to better integrate into the whole of theological truth. Isn’t that what Byzantine theologians after Palamas sought to do? Isn’t that what we today should do?

      3) Thanks for the Ware citation. I may have read that years ago. Is that the article he wrote in response to Rowan Williams’s critique of EED? If so, I probably have it hidden in a box somewhere. (Blog readers may find this more recent essay by Ware of interest: “God Immanent Yet Transcendent.”)

      In any case, my short article was only intended to question the wisdom, both theologically and ecumenically, of elevating the 14th century formulation of EED to the level of ecumenical dogma.

      Like

      • David Bradshaw says:

        Thank you, Father. Re (2), I agree completely. In fact that’s the purpose of my own work. I just wouldn’t want the discussion to be shoehorned into the categories of real, formal, or nominal. These categories are unclear in their own right (at least until carefully defined) and there is no guarantee that they are exhaustive.

        Re (3), the article I mentioned antedated Williams’s, which appeared in 1977. Ware did write a reply to Williams but for some reason it is much weaker. The full citation is Eastern Churches Review 7 (1975), 125-36.

        Re the idea of declaring the 14th c. councils as ecumenical, I tend to agree. A council can be authoritative for the Orthodox without being “ecumenical,” whatever that means. But I’m not a theologian and I gladly defer to those who know more about this subject.

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    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      David,

      A few quick thoughts about this pesky topic:

      The absurd implications of a reified interpretation of EED is demonstrated by K. Ware in in that he apparently denies (or is willing to risk a denial of) the divine nature of the incarnate Christ: “… [T]he incarnate Christ transmits to us the life, glory or energies of God; yet it was neither the divine energies nor the divine essence that became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, but the second person of the Trinity, the hypostasis of the preeternal Logos. The incarnate Christ possesses as God a divine energy and will, and as man he possesses a human energy and will, but in neither case is the energy to be identified with his hypostasis.” (p 133). One is left to wonder – if the incarnate Christ as God does not possess a divine essence or nature, in what sense can we call Him God? Furthermore, He revealed to us merely His energies? This goes against scriptural witness, indeed the words of Christ God Himself.

      One of the chief reasons Ware provides for the necessity of a reified EED is the error of pantheism. This may well constitute an explaining away, a sublimation, of the supreme mystery of our faith – Emmanuel, God in our midst. A real distinction in God removes the scandal of God’s birth. The incarnation has never for the Church been an occasion to blurr the line between the Uncreate and the create nature, so I don’t see where and why Ware is going with this.

      So the energies are also called God’s grace, uncreated grace. Very good, that seems not very controversial, and as Ware admits this may or may not be a distinguishing mark with our western brothers.

      Like

      • Tom says:

        ApoSpeak, where is that Ware quote from?

        Like

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Hi Tom,

          It is from the article reference by Dr Bradshaw above, Kallistos Ware’s 1975 article, “God Hidden and Revealed: The Apophatic Way and the Essence-Energies Distinction.”

          I have read and re-read that passage in question and can’t read it any other way but having profound negative implications as to the meaning of the Incarnation. Of course we know Met Ware holds to Chalcedon (not accusing him of heresy!) but it signifies the absurdities to which a reified EED will lead.

          Liked by 1 person

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Tom.

            I should add that the same problematic as to the nature of revelation (e.g. what then is revealed by/in Christ) can be observed in Lossky. Aristotle Papanikolaou has a fairly decent treatment of this problematic aspect of Lossky’s extreme apophaticism, he examines this by way Met. Zizioulas’ theology. See: Being With God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion.

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          • Tom says:

            Thanks Apo. I loved AP’s book on Lossky/Zizioulas.

            I’ll stay out of the debate over whether and if so how the EED is reified. But just so far as Ware’s statement there goes (I’ll check it out in context when I can) regarding the abiding transcendence of the human by the divine even with respect to the Incarnation, I don’t see a problem. That’s how I’ve always understood Orthodoxy, i.e., it is not the divine essence/nature which becomes flesh, nor is the person/hypostasis reducible without remainder exclusively to either nature (divine or human). The ‘person’ is fully both (even if necessarily divine and only contingently human).

            Where do you see Ware (nice homonyms there!) denying (or coming close to denying) the divine nature of Christ? (In The Orthodox Way (Ch. 4) he writes: “There is thus a contrast in technical formulation between the doctrine of the Trinity and that of the Incarnation. In the case of the Trinity, we affirm one single, specific essence or nature in three persons; and by virtue of this specific unity of essence the three persons have only a single will or energy. In the case of the incarnate Christ, on the other hand, there are two natures, the one divine and the other human, but there is only a single person, the eternal Logos who has become man. And whereas the three divine persons of the Trinity have only a single will and energy, the one person of the Incarnate Christ has two wills and energies, depending respectively upon his two natures. Yet, although there are in the incarnate Christ two natures and two wills, this does not destroy the unity of his person: everything in the Gospels that is spoken, performed or suffered by Christ is to be ascribed to one and the same personal subject, the eternal Son of God who has now been born as man within space and time.”)

            Tom

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            The problem I see with this Tom, in short, is the notion of a non-hypostasized subsistence of essence/nature: as far as it is affirmed that the subject of the Incarnation is the divine person of the eternal Logos (as I affirm), and as far as it is affirmed that He who by reason (of the nature of) his being “has” a divine ousia/nature/essence) (as I affirm), it conflicts with the claim that it is not the divine essence/nature which becomes flesh. The what and the who, in other words, cannot be separated – the Logos never ceases to be divine (i.e. ceases to have a divine nature/essence/ousia), in particularly this is affirmed (as I affirm) in the Incarnation. This is the mystery of our faith. This is the Christian faith.

            The issue here then is about the understanding of how a person has an essence. As much as you are a human being you have a human ousia, which cannot be separated (i.e “non-hypostasized”) from you as a person (particular personal subsistence called Tom).

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          • Tom says:

            ApoSpeaking: The problem I see with this Tom, in short, is the notion of a non-hypostasized subsistence of essence/nature…

            Tom: Completely agree. But I don’t see in your quote of him where he’s suggesting that the divine nature of the Logos is not concretely hypostatized. It seems to me he’s granting that the divine way of personal-hypostatic existence (i.e., his divine nature) abides in its full actuality uninterrupted by the finite realities of his human way of personal existence.

            I’ll check out that article. Thanks again.

            Tom

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Tom,

            In the course of reifying the distinction of the essence and energies of God, Ware states that “…it was neither the divine energies nor the divine essence that became incarnate…” We are led to believe that only the energies are revealed in the incarnation, as Ware claims that “[T]he incarnate Christ transmits to us the life, glory or energies of God”. Note that Ware is completely silent about the divine nature of the incarnate Christ. My contention is that this is a false separation of nature from personal subsistence. Christ reveals God personally and perfectly (cf. Hebrews 1:3 for instance, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature”). God’s nature is is revealed (albeit not exhaustively), not merely the divine energies.

            One has to ask then – what is the purpose of the EED distinction? It only obfuscates matters. God has revealed himself in Christ, but we only see the energies, but not really who God is? Such absurdity!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Allow me 10 years to ponder this mystery and formulate an answer. 😀

            Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Apo, would you mind elaborating on what you mean by the reification of the divine energies, please. Thanks.

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Fr Aidan,

            Simply put, reification denotes a real distinction, over against a mere distinction in name or concept only.

            Like

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Ah I see, you asked me to elaborate 😉

            What is meant by reification is that the EED distinction is, and functions as, a real and absolute impermeable barrier – while energies are revealed, disclosure of nature is not permitted whatsoever. While I don’t deny that there is a difference between charis (grace or energies) and ousia (essence or nature) I don’t believe that these can be distinguished and separated in such a way that while one is disclosed the other remains wholly hidden. That is to say, in Christ the gift of grace is always a disclosure and gift of self, “… he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” John 14:21 In Christ we encounter God-self, true God of true God, “…being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” (Hebrews 1:3). Is this an exhaustive revelation of God? Of course not, this would require our consubstantiality with God. However, it is a true revelation of God as God, a gift and disclosure of divine charis, divine ousia, divine hypostasis.

            Liked by 1 person

      • 407kwac says:

        Forgive the intrusion, and I will add the caveat I’m completely out of my depth here, and I’m working without the surrounding context, but it seems to me Met. Kallistos (Ware) is simply affirming here the completely Orthodox (Calcedonian?) distinction between “nature” and “person/hypostasis”–not denying the Divine nature of Christ. He is pointing out that strictly-speaking, our communion/encounter is with the Person of God, the Word, in Christ, Who indeed possessing the Divine nature (as well as our human nature) transmits the Divine energies to us. This seems to be linked with the Orthodox understanding of the Icon as depicting not nature (per se), but hypostasis, and therefore allowable. Similarly, it is impossible to depict (or incarnate?) “human nature” (in the abstract), but only as instantiated in a particular person. Nevertheless, we all “participate” in human nature by virtue of our creation in the image of God, though we only encounter it instantiated in various human persons. Does this make sense?

        Karen

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Karen,

          Thank you for your input.

          It doesn’t follow from the affirmation (with which I am in full agreement) that a nature is always instantiated in a particular subsistence, that therefore nothing is disclosed of that nature, but only its energies. Does this bifurcation not appear contrary to the wholistic construal of person of the biblical and patristic record?

          Not to deride your choice of words, but “transmission of divine energies” – does this seem to jive with Christ’s words about His disclosure of himself (and His Father and the Holy Spirit) as recorded in the Gospel of John – “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” and “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” and so on, and so forth? The divine Self of Christ remains hidden that He merely transmits His energies to us, but does not give of himself? Don’t you find that “transmission of divine energies” is a subversion of the scandal of the Gospel, that is: God self took on flesh, the Uncreated taking on the created, in His person? Where do we learn that it was merely the energies that was incarnate, and that nothing about the divine nature is disclosed? This complete shrouding of God-self amounts to a subversion of the Gospel.

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          • 407kwac says:

            Thanks, Apo. I understand your concern given the wording (especially given our normative modern understanding and use of such terms, which I suspect is the real source of the hang-up, not the actual Palamite teaching), but it seems to me your questions ignore the Palamite teaching about what the “energies” denote, i.e., they denote the communicable aspects of the Divine nature. That is, the “energies” are, in fact, God-Self as He expresses Himself in Creation. I have had it explained to me that God’s “essence” refers to qualities of God that are not communicable to the creature (e.g. Self-existence), whereas God’s “energies” refer to His qualities that are communicable to us–His will, life, love, goodness, wisdom, etc. Here also, we can perhaps admit of a distinction, but not a true separation. If God is present, He is present both as essence and energies, but it is His energies that we perceive, and in which we participate, and this only because they are enhypostasized in God, the Word, become flesh. Maybe it would help if I turn the question around and ask would we be able to truly know and experience the love (the nature, the energies) of God as we do if that nature had never been enhypostasized in a Person, in the God-Man, Jesus Christ and if Christ, in turn, was not disclosed to us by the Person of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps this is what Ware means to communicate by the above statement, but that’s a guess without knowing the wider context of the quote. In any event, I don’t believe his intent could be to deny something as basic to Orthodox dogma as the Divine nature of Christ! Neither do i understand the essence-energies distinction to be a denial of the reality of which Christ spoke in John 15-17 and to which you allude, but rather its affirmation.

            Karen

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Karen,

            I believe we are in agreement, but not by way of my ignorance of St Palamas’ teaching – I contend that if the energies “denote the communicable aspects of the Divine nature” (as you say they are) then we cannot speak of a real, reified distinction between the essence and energy in God. Which is another way of saying that we must theologize analogically, that our words cannot be applied univocally to signify divine nature as they do to created nature. Speech of distinctions in God, if taken univocally, is a sure way of creating a being among beings, made in our image.

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          • 407kwac says:

            Apo, I’m certainly happy to defer to your superior understanding of Palamas (having pled my relative ignorance from the beginning). 🙂 I know what I “know” about Palamas only secondhand (and my secondhand source must not have been interpreting Palamite distinctions in the “reified” sense), and when in doubt about what the philosophical formulations might infer or mean, my preference is as yours to fall back on the language of the Scriptures. Do you believe Palamas was teaching a reified distinction between essence and energies in God, or is this just something perhaps unclear in Palamas that is being argued both ways amongst different of his interpreters? (Forgive my ignorance in perhaps making you restate something that may already be evident from this blog post and thread–I get a bit lost when I’m out of my depth!)

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Karen,

            I am by no means a Palamas expert (nor do I care to be, this topic is of no particular interest to me, only accidentally it does), but from my reading it is not altogether clear what his understanding is. At some points he clearly think of the distinction as real, at other points he seems to deny this. This may well be because he is speaking at cross purposes – from one perspective he speaks to the practicalities of spirituality (his chief concern), on the other hand he touches on metaphysical issues outside his wheelhouse and muddies the waters in the process.

            I do know that contrary to popular Orthodox opinion, this issue is far from simple nor a slam-dunk in the face of Western detractors. Such simplification is always already rhetoric, a power-play of sorts, not to speak of bad scholarship.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            My impression, Karen, is that most exegetes of Palamas believe that he intended his distinction between the divine essence and divine energies as real, as opposed to being notional, conceptual, or formal. That’s how Dr Demetracopoulos, e.g., reads him. Dr Bradshaw, on the other hand, suggests (see his comment above) that his distinction is not properly interpreted through scholastic categories. What makes this question all the more interesting is that many of the supporters of the EED apparently did precisely that. That they did so dramatically affects the way the EED was received into Orthodoxy and thus affects how we should read the dogmatic statements of the Palamite councils—hence my impatience with those who would dogmatically impose the real distinction on Orthodox theology, to the exclusion of other possibilities.

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    • Ryan says:

      Name-worship does seem to have persisted in some modern elders. Some people, like Met Hilarion, seem to think it didn’t get a fair hearing, that its opponents distorted it, and I am inclined to agree with him. Elder Sophrony is clearly sympathetic to imiaslavie which can be seen in his books On Prayer and His Life is Mine.

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  16. Alura says:

    “In my very provisional opinion, the Lossky/Romanides understanding of the Palamite distinction enjoys its present status primarily because of the continuing desire within Orthodoxy to ideologically distinguish itself from Roman Catholicism. At some point Orthodox theology simply must transcend the polemical need to define itself over against the cultural West.”

    Question though: Hasn’t the definition of dogma always worked this way? When Arianism, Adoptionism, Iconoclasm, etc. all arose, dogma was defined in reaction to those ideas. In fact, the terminology to define the Orthodox position became more and more established and less fluid. So isn’t this sort of characterization equally descriptive of all dogma?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Alura, I agree with you. All dogmas arise in response to false or distorted teaching. But I also point out that every dogma then requires further elaboration and clarification in order to properly integrate it into the whole of theological truth. The Church didn’t stop thinking about and debating the divinity of Christ after the Council of Nicaea, for example.

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      • Stephen says:

        “every dogma then requires further elaboration and clarification in order to properly integrate it into the whole of theological truth”. Newman’s essay on development haunts this whole, excellent thread. Newman, thou shouldst be living at this hour!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          You’re right! Newman has been very influential upon my understanding of the proper interpretation and application of dogmatic statements, as has George Lindbeck, Robert Jenson, Avery Dulles, and Francis Sullivan.

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  17. Tony says:

    I wonder how much of the relative “silence” of the EED during the centuries which followed after the ‘Palamas” Synods has to do with the Ottoman yoke (and resultant stunt in theological and academic opportunities) and the relatively little theological dialogue between east and west. I am currently reading an interesting book called “The Great Church in Captivity” by Sir Steven Runciman and it seems like there could have been several factors at play. Also the EED seemed to have been accepted fairly quickly within the ecumeni as evidenced by the Councils which condemned Baarlam’s teachings and also the quick recognition of Sainthood of St. Gregory Palamas just 9 years after his death. Is it possible that the theological arguments from both sides were even more refined and unadulterated than what the contemporary theologians make today? After all, we tend to look back in Church History to find the faith of the Fathers.

    It is clear that the contrast and distinction is great between Palamas’ teachings and Baarlam’s. Only by allowing a new innovation in thinking or definition of terms can there be anything but a wrong side on the matter and a right side. It does become polemic but only because there are appears to be two poles of distinction.

    Then we must seek to understand why there has come to be two poles. That is, what led into this divergence in theology and dogma between the East and West. After all, it is often one single change in dogma which, like two boats traveling just even a slight angle off course from another, eventually and in time leads to two different far away destinations. This then comes back, I believe, to the Filioque, for from it, in time, there arose between East and West a nuanced difference in the understanding of Grace and the economy of the Holy Spirit in man’s deification. The Palamite Synods seem to be an eventual consequence of the early doctrinal differences which were secondary (at least in part) to the Filioque. Just as it was pretty clear to the orthodox faithful soon after the First Ecumencial Council that the debate regarding Christ’s divinity was now over (as far as they concerned), so after the debate during the Synod of the 1350’s and subsequent canonization of St. Gregory, this teaching was considered clearly orthodox and according to the Fathers, and those of Baarlam’s were heretical and a symptom of the earlier divergences in belief.

    What would be interesting is to learn when the Second Sunday of Great and Holy Lent started to memorialize St. Gregory. I have searched but cannot find an answer. I vaguely recollect that the current liturgical practice started in the 1800’s but I am not sure. Does anyone know a source I can look up?

    Lastly, and wish to thank Father Aidan for initiating this interesting and relevant topic for discussion and for all those who have ireinically (?sp) contributed such great points and commentary.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Tony says:

    Ryan, thank you for the reference you provided regarding what Metropolitan Hilarion said at http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/11/1/2.aspx You quoted him:

    *
    He says: ‘until the late 19th century, Hesychasm was considered a heresy in Russia , and Palamas its main champion.’
    *

    Unfortunatley, Metropolitan Hilarion does not provide any sources for saying that (though I am not necessarily doubting him). I do think it also important also to quote his entire paragraph from the link you posted:

    “Translation and extensive study of such late-Byzantine theologians as St Gregory Palamas is essential. In his works, as well as that of his predecessors (Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory of Sinai, Gregory of Cyprus, Theoleptus of Philadelphia, Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople) and those who inherited his legacy (Patriarch Philotheus Coccinus, Nicholas Cabasilas), the theological doctrine of Hesychasm gained its complete and thorough expression, thus providing the Eastern Christian ascetic and mystical tradition with the amplest possible dogmatic interpretation. What is today quite conventionally named “Palamism” has been studied very little in Russia (until the late 19th century, Hesychasm was considered a heresy in Russia , and Palamas its main champion).[41] Yet I consider the theological current represented by St Gregory Palamas the most significant for contemporary Christians, as it gives access to the depth of a truly Orthodox dogmatic conscience founded upon mystical experience.”

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  19. Maximus says:

    I’m late to this discussion, but I wholly agree with Fr. Florovsky on this topic:

    [T]he distinction between “grace” and “essence”: he theia kai theopoios ellampsis kai charis ouk ousia, all’ energeia esti Theou [the Divine and Divinizing illumination and grace is not the essence, but the energy of God; St. Gregory Palamas Capita Phys., Theol., etc., 68-9]. This basic distinction was formally accepted and elaborated at the Great Councils in Constantinople, 1341 and 1351. Those who would deny this distinction were anathematized and excommunicated. The anathematisms of the council of 1351 were included in the Rite for the Sunday of Orthodoxy in the Triodion. Orthodox theologians are bound by this decision. (St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers)

    Fr Florovsky held that the distinction was explicitly taught by St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians. St. Cyril of Alexandria did address the energies of God and he was extensively quoted by the Western Fathers of the Lateran Synod of 649 (attended by Confessor Saints Pope Martin and Maximus):

    “We see many names predicated of God, but none of them seems to indicate what God is according to essence. Rather, they either show what He is not, or they indicate some condition distinct from another. For example, incorruptible and immortal indicate what He is not; but Father or Unbegotten, that He is the Begetter, which distinguishes Him from the Son, and that He is not produced; but neither of these is indicative of essence, as I said before, but indicates something of what surrounds the essence.” (Treasury of the Holy Trinity: Thesis 31)

    For it is, I think, clear and acknowledged by everyone that the properties of the Godhead are completely inaccessible to the created nature, and its natural attributes could never occur in any other existing thing in an equal and indistinguishable mode. (ibid. III.5, ed. Pusey, I, p. 448, 15-19)

    Theodosia Gray translates Pope St Gregory the Dialogist thusly: ‘Hence the Psalmist too says: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 118:105). Yet we know that our very lantern is dim for us unless Truth light it for our minds. So the Psalmist says a second time: “For Thou lights my lamp, O Lord: O my God, enlighten my darkness” (Ps. 17:29). For who is a burning lantern unless the light is there? But created light does not shine for us unless it is illumined by the Uncreated Light.’ (Homilies on Ezekiel, Homily 7.16-17)

    It’s simply a fact that the distinction was also upheld by Pope St Agatho. Fr Seraphim of Platina held that St Augustine’s piety was greater than his theologizing. I completely agree and I was shocked when I read the text below in his Confessions Book 7.10:

    “I entered into my inward self, Thou leading me on; and I was able to do it, for You had become my Helper. And I entered, and with the eye of my soul (such as it was) saw above the same eye of my soul, above my mind, the Unchangeable Light. Not this common light, which all flesh may look upon, nor, as it were, a greater one of the same kind, as though the brightness of this should be much more resplendent, and with its greatness fill up all things. Not like this was that light, but different, yea, very different from all these. Nor was it above my mind as oil is above water, nor as heaven above earth; but above it was, because it made me, and I below it, because I was made by it. He who knows the Truth knows that Light; and he that knows it knows eternity. Love knows it.”

    It was said of St. Columba of Iona ca. 521-597) that: “the grace of the Holy Ghost was communicated to him abundantly and unspeakably, and dwelt with him in a wonderful manner, so that for three whole days, and as many nights, without either eating or drinking, he allowed no one to approach him, and remained confined in a house which was filled with heavenly brightness… through the chinks of the doors and keyholes, rays of surpassing brilliancy were seen to issue during the night.”

    I would contend that the Eastern Fathers dogmatically defined this Light as the divine energies, however, it belongs to the heritage of the Western Church and need not be a dividing issue should Rome return to her patristic heritage.
    ____

    Pertaining to Hesychasm in post-Petrine Russia, there are other sources that agree with Met. Hilarion of Volokolamsk. In “Metropolitan Antonii (Khrapovitskii) Archpastor of Russian Diaspora: Conference Proceedings” on pg. 85:

    ‘One finds a stunning distortion of Hesychasm in the Nastol’naia Kniga, which has an entry on Hesychasm in a section dedicated to “Schisms, Heresies, Sects, Etc.” that informs us that the Hesychasts were “a group of monastic mystics in Greece in the fourteenth century distinguished by the strangest reveries. They honored the navel as the center of spiritual energies and, consequently, the center of contemplation; they thought that, by lowering their chin towards the chest and gazing at their navel, they would see the light of Paradise and rejoice in seeing celestial inhabitants”. The entry concludes by telling us that, happily, the “nonsensical opinion of the Hesychasts about the means of the apprehension of the uncreated light was soon given over to oblivion on its own.” ‘

    Nastol’naia Kniga dlia Sviashchenno-Tserkovno Sluzhitelei, third ed. (Kiev: Tipografia Kievo- Pecherskoi Uspenskoi Lavra, 1913), 1622.

    also on pg 87 of the same work: ‘As for the state of Hesychast practice in Russian monasteries at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, one need only recall the letters of Bishop Ignatii (Brianchininov) or the persecution endured by many of the Elders of Optina Pustyn’ for the perceived novelty of Eldership. The theology of the Hesychasts was not integrated into Russian academic theology unto well into the twentieth century by scholars of the Russian emigration…’

    The hostility mentioned above is reflected in Dostoyevsky’s Brother Karamazov; Elder Zosima was considered to be an innovator and many disliked him because the Startsi were “new” to Russia. In his “Acquisition of the Holy Spirit”, I.M. Kontzevich describes how Russian Holy Synod persecuted Russian Saints like Seraphim of Sarov and the Optina Elders for being hesychasts. Some have even stated that these are among the main reasons that Saints like Tikhon of Voronezh and Theophany the Recluse resigned from being active bishops.

    Archbishop Job of Telmessos (Archimandrite Job Getcha) is another source for hesychasm in Russia AND it’s importance for the spiritual life, Orthodox doctrine and the recent history of our Church: ‘The great Byzantine hesychast heritage in Russia was lost during the ecclesiastical reforms of Peter the Great (1694-1725) which had disastrous consequences for monasticism. Under Elizabeth (1741-1762), most monastic property was confiscated, and under Catherine the Great (1762-1796), more than half of the monasteries were closed and the number of monks limited. Those who were searching a genuine type of monastic life had to flee to the South with their elders.

    The renewal of the Byzantine Hesychast tradition in Russia in the XVIIIth century is linked with the great figure of starets Paissij Velichkovskij (1722-1794)… Finding the lectures too dry and scholastic, he quit the Theological Academy — perhaps the best theological school among the Slavs at that time — and entered the Kiev Caves Lavra with the desire of becoming a monk. But at that time, the monastic life in this very ancient urban monastery had more to do with promotion in the ecclesiastical hierarchy than with Hesychasm. In search for an elder and a more authentic monastic life, the young novice went to Valachia, to where the best Russian elders had fled the disastrous ecclesiastical reforms of Peter the Great. Here, he found his starets, a monk named Basil.

    With the help of the manuscripts of Nilus Sorski, he founded a living school of mental prayer, and decided to go to the Holy Mountain in order to familiarise himself with a living tradition. On Athos, his elder Basil tonsured him into the little monastic schema. He begins his major work in the different monastic libraries of collecting, compiling and translating into Slavonic texts of the major Fathers on prayer. But this was a great challenge, since Athos had also suffered a lot in this period due to the Ottoman occupation, and therefore, athonites of that time were not well educated and knew very little about the patristic writings on mental prayer… The hesychast renewal in Russia inaugurated by starets Paissij may be compared to the Hesychast revival in XVIIIth century Greece thanks to the Kollyvades, and especially Makarios of Corinth and Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. This renewal is closely linked with the edition and diffusion of the Philokalia, the great anthology of patristic texts on prayer which has become since then the manual of every Orthodox monk. Paissij was in fact the initiator of this major undertaking. Makarios and Nicodemus used in fact some of the texts which were already collected by Paissij while he was still on Athos for their version of the Philokalia published in 1782. But Paissij’s version, published in 1793, has fewer treatises than the Greek one.

    But this spiritual revival inspired by Paissij dealt not only with the practice of the Jesus prayer. It is also at the origin of the renewal of the tradition of spiritual fatherhood, “starchestvo”[46]. Paissij Velichkovskij became the father of Russian elders, and directly influenced Optina Pustyn’ and Sarov, two major centres of spiritual life in XIXth century Russia. The famous story called The Way of a Pilgrim (c. 1860) is testimony to the practice of mental prayer and obedience to a starets not only in monasteries, but also outside monastery walls, among lay pilgrims and solitary hermits. Among theologians, it initiated a “patristic renewal” which has led them to give up scholasticism and go back to the early sources.

    Thanks to Paissij, monastic life in Optina Pustyn’ was rooted in the ancient teaching of the Hesychasts, especially with regards to the practice of mental prayer. This monastic centre, which has provided Russia with great elders, is tightly linked with great Slavophile philosophers, such as I. Kireievskij[47], and inspired a great writer such as F. Dostoevski for his novel, The Brothers Karamazov.

    Sarov became famous with the figure of St. Seraphim (1759-1833) who “unsealed the seal which the Synod had placed on Russian sainthood” as once said Prof. Fedotov. He was a traditional hermit who lived with a bear in the forest, as many centuries before him St. Gerasimos lived with a lion in the Jordan Desert. Like St. Symeon the New Theologian or the athonite hesychasts of the XIVth century, he had an experience of the vision of the Thaboric light, of the uncreated divine energies, according to the testimony of his disciple Motovilov[49]. His spiritual weapons were the Jesus prayer, fasting and Holy Communion, which he considered as the only medicine for the healing of soul and body. Perhaps he has best summarised the whole Hesychast tradition by stating that the aim of human life is “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit”.’

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    • Tony says:

      Great information! Thanks for posting it!

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    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Maximus,

      That the charis is not the ousia is uncontroversial – what this means for revelation and epistemology is the question. How is this difference construed – as a true barrier which does not allow disclosure of God’s nature whatsover? What sort of revelation is the affirmation that “the Son is begotten and not made”? Is this not an affirmation, in part, of God-self, some disclosure not merely of charis, grace, energy, but of the divine nature? Is the affirmation that God’s nature is absolutely not known, as those that contend for a true reified EED distinction, not knowledge about God’s nature?

      We must be very careful, and aware of, reading EED back into the fathers. I don’t see how it is, for instance, that St Cyril can used to denote a reified EED from this quote: “the properties of the Godhead are completely inaccessible to the created nature, and its natural attributes could never occur in any other existing thing in an equal and indistinguishable mode.” St Cyril affirms that created nature is unlike uncreate nature, this is not a statement about the nature and limitation of revelation, and certainly not one about the nature of the distinction between the divine essence and the energy.

      My contention is quite uncontroversial, uncontroversial apparently for all but neo-Palamites, that in Christ God reveals himself, discloses to us of Himself, such that we can affirm in confidence, among other things, that the Holy Trinity’s uncreated nature is unlike any other nature, that is to say that God is not a being amongst beings by reason of the nature of its divine ousia.

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  20. Tony says:

    Hi Apophatically speaking,

    I don’t think anyone is saying that the Holy Trinity’s uncreated nature is not like any nature. Why do you say that? That God gives us Himself does not mean that His uncreated nature is like my other nature. This is a gift of Grace.

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  21. Tony says:

    I mean to say, “That God gives us Himself does not mean that His uncreated nature is like any other nature, This is a gift of Grace, and He is wonderous to our eyes.”

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    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Tony,

      I meant to point out that to understand EED in such a way to denote a true division within God so that absolute nothing can be known of or said about God’s essence is untenable as it is a contradiction – it requires knowledge about God’s essence to claim that nothing can be said about it.

      I am of the persuasion that this talk about God’s essence is, at the end of the day, non-sense. God’s nature is not something that can be seperated, divided, distinguished, and any talk about it as if it does, constitutes a reification.

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  22. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Top of the morning, everyone.

    Perusing through the comments over the past two days, I offer this contribution to the dialogue: concepts like “essence,” “energy,” “activity,” “property” are philosophically derived, based upon our reflection upon creatures. When we use them to refer to infinite, transcendent Creator, they must be interpreted analogically, not univocally, which means that we do not know how they effectively refer to him. It’s not as if God is an object that sits before us for our philosophical scrutiny. David B. Hart puts it this way:

    Both traditions [Eastern and Western], when they talk about the knowability or unknowability of the divine ousia or essentia, are for the most part talking pious nonsense. There is no such ‘thing’ as the divine essence; there is no such object, whether of knowledge or ignorance. It is ultimately immaterial whether we prefer to use the term ousia to indicate the transcendence and incomprehensibility of God in himself or to use the term ‘incomprehensibility of the essence’ instead. God is essentially Father, Son, and Spirit, and … there is no other reality prior to, apart from, or more original than the paternal arche, which perfectly reveals itself in an eternal and coequal Logos and communicates itself by the Spirit who searches the deep things of God and makes Christ known to us. There is no divine essence, then, into the vision of which the souls of the saved will ultimately be admitted, nor even from the knowledge of which human minds are eternally excluded, and any language that suggests otherwise—whether patristic, Thomist, or Palamite—is an empty reification. The question of the knowledge of God, properly conceived … is the question of how we know the Father in the Son through the Spirit, even as the Father infinitely exceeds our knowledge. (David B. Hart, “The Hidden and the Manifest,” in Orthodox Readings of Augustine, p. 214)

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  23. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    The Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council has been released. Here is the relevant paragraph:

    The Orthodox Church, in her unity and catholicity, is the Church of Councils, from the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15.5-29) to the present day. The Church in herself is a Council, established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, in accord with the apostolic words: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15.28). Through the Ecumenical and Local councils, the Church has proclaimed and continues to proclaim the mystery of the Holy Trinity, revealed through the incarnation of the Son and Word of God. The Conciliar work continues uninterrupted in history through the later councils of universal authority, such as, for example, the Great Council (879-880) convened at the time of St. Photios the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople, and also the Great Councils convened at the time of St. Gregory Palamas (1341, 1351, 1368), through which the same truth of faith was confirmed, most especially as concerns the procession of the Holy Spirit and as concerns the participation of human beings in the uncreated divine energies, and furthermore through the Holy and Great Councils convened in Constantinople, in 1484 to refute the unionist Council of Florence (1438-1439), in 1638, 1642, 1672 and 1691 to refute Protestant beliefs, and in 1872 to condemn ethno-phyletism as an ecclesiological heresy.

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    • Forgive me for being slow this morning, but I can’t quite tell whether or not this paragraph has just retroactively and definitively affirmed a whole bunch of historic EO councils as being ecumenical. It certainly seems that way to me, can someone confirm? The part which says “The Conciliar work continues uninterrupted in history through the later councils of universal authority, such as, for example ….” particularly catches my eye. Does saying these councils have universal authority amount to saying that they are ecumenical?

      If so I guess some would consider it to be disastrous for ecumenism. Personally I think it is necessary for true ecumenism to occur. Us Catholics who are hoping for full communion with the East can’t expect the Orthodox to simply ignore their Holy Tradition and assent to Western dogmas. This would be ecumenical surrender. What needs to happen is for the Orthodox to clearly define their dogmatic position in comparison to the West, so that both sides can analyse and appreciate each others official point of view. Then we will be able to proceed towards an ecumenical synthesis of dogma and theology, rather than an unstable compromise.

      I have an optimistic vision of a future in which both East and West understand each others perspective enough to affirm each others ecumenical councils as being truly ecumenical and binding on both parties. We will be able to come to a common dogmatic understanding, without any compromise by either party. I don’t know how it will happen, and I can’t imagine what new theological insights will need to occur on the way, but I know that this sort of thing is entirely achievable by the Holy Spirit, and it is the kind of unity worth praying for.

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      • “Universal authority” means what it says. Whether it implies ecumenical status or not is a non-issue for the Orthodox. And of course, the “authority” therein affirmed is primarily tautologous and diachronic: it’s authoritative because we still maintain it today. It’s really more or less a rubber stamp – if one prefers to read it that way. The problem: whether the 2016 council of Crete itself, which maintains the universal authority of said synods, bears the same universal authority remains to be seen.

        That said, I take the document to be more descriptive than prescriptive. The synods in question function as exemplary instances of the synodal function of our church in time. It’s simply a way of reminding the faithful that the church has not been silent, and that universal synodality *is* the Orthodox tradition.

        I suspect, and truly hope, that the paragraph in question will promote more discussion about these councils and their subject matter.

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    • Tom says:

      All Protestant beliefs? Some Protestant beliefs?

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