First of all, I heartily thank Fr. Aidan Kimel for inviting me to write a guest column on Palamism. Although, in the essence of the argument, it should not make a difference, I will start by revealing my sympathy with Palamas and my general agreement with him about the distinction in God into essence and energies. However, there are actually several issues, all of which are equally complicated. Not only is there the question of what kind of (1.) ingredients are in the primordial divine soup or essence of God, but (2.) about how those ingredients are perceived by you and me (3.) and whether these ingredients in the divine soup are somehow mediatory or means of arriving at their lesser imitations in the real peas and carrots at the real dinner table.
The first question is “What kind of items go together in God?” The second question is “What does God see when He looks at Himself, and what do I see when my mind’s eye looks at Him?” The third question is, “What kind of role do the ingredients or divine items play, albeit they are in God, but they are not exactly his underlying broth, stuff-essence.”
Any random but interested Orthodox believer (or Eastern Christian of a Byzantine tradition) will certainly want, even need, Palamas to reflect an ancient and continuous tradition in every possible way. I start by accepting this anticipated conclusion, since I have already spent a good deal of time looking into Palamas and the studies written on him. The fervent Orthodox (or aforementioned Eastern Christian) is often convinced in his bones that he “knows” this Palamite theory is absolutely not “Western” and not “Latin.” He tends to think that this means that Latins have had a different theological tradition of God-talk since the schism (whatever magical year his or her guru has said that to have happened). Herein, entire complex movements of history are presented in hugely convenient and contradictorily “digestible” chunks. Somehow, such persons suppose, all the Latins just became atheists/naughty-Augustinians in a privileged year when they all en masse embraced some or another error that somehow or another led their entire Latin church to become some other religion or something like that.
Instead, if we take a look at what Orthodox predecessors of Palamas were doing, they were doing a heck of a whole lot of logic. Their logic may have been simpler than the advances among the Schoolmen, even less refined than Aristotle, but everyone was using the same pagan logicians to justify their God-talk. The Orthodox scholar Vassa Kontouma has done Eastern Christians a great service by collecting the data that reveals St John Damascene and his Dialectics (logic), logically argued in On the Orthodox Faith, as the culmination of using logic as a handmaid of theology in the first millennium (see her John of Damascus). Earlier writers such as St. Anastasios the Sinaite represent influences on Damascene’s pro-logical way (in a wide … not specifically syllogistic sense) of doing theology. In the same manner that Palamas explicitly affirmed (against Barlaam), Damascene teaches the value of the syllogism in theological argument (though Damascene amusingly avoids theological syllogisms in practice!). What is especially helpful for us to see is Vassa’s cataloguing of the explosion of interest in Damascene’s logical works, and their copying and reading during the Palamite era. I myself suspect that polemics with Dominicans (Thomists) partially led to the need to rediscover sources that were able to aid Orthodox in defending themselves against the frightening logic of the Dominicans. Time will tell if this was in fact a main impetus for the explosion of interest in Damascene. However, we are already at a point where the self-styled Orthodox apologist feels uncomfortable. Though Palamas’ sermons (i.e., his mature work) affirmed the value and utility of logic and philosophy (albeit never able to overcome their intrinsic limitations vis-à-vis the divine light), Palamas ranks as the pro-logic guy vis-à-vis Barlaam. Antonis Fyrigos and his introduction to the critical edition of Barlaam’s epistles prove this sure enough.
What are we to make of this? Well, syllogistic logic and the hypothetical syllogism had been a big deal in the Near East after the miaphysite/monophysite, Severos of Antioch, wrote his lawyeresque and non-historically-sensitive theological treatises against Chalcedon. The responses by St. Leontios of Byzantium and St. Leontios of Jerusalem were heavy doses of logical distinctions and arguments that continue to bore to death my Christology students every year at SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary (PA). I like to make seminarians read both Damascene and the two Leontioses because these three saints categorically destroy the notion that Latins are OCD logicians and Greeks are spiritual anti-logical gurus. The fact is that Palamism’s main theologians were typically enthralled with logical distinctions, but Palamas himself shows no sign whatsoever of the more subtle logic (or new logic of the Latins), nor profuse use of the full corpus of Aristotle in comparison with Aquinas. However, St Mark of Ephesus, Gennadios Scholarios, as well as all the great theologians already mentioned by John Demetracopoulos in “Palamas Transformed,” seized upon the international language or lingua franca of logic as a way to speak clearly to any interested theologian (vs. mystic). Still, Palamites all bowed in reverence to the limitation preventing talk about the divine light and the essence of the divinity. Embarrassingly, the Latin west nursed its post-Aristotelian tendency to subject everything to logic … even the mystical life! Even thirteenth-century Latins complained of the growing irreverences in discussions of mystery and piety in preference to logical puzzling.
By the fourteenth century, (1.) nominalism, (2.) analogical concept of being, (3.) and the formal distinction ( [4.] not to mention the real distinction) of essence and perfections/attributes/energies in God represented standard ways of describing the limited thinkable approaches to imagine God and his perfections. Somehow these have become labeled as supposedly “western.” In this, I think that there is a tendency of wishful thinking. The sources: Aristotle, Porphyry, Damascene were exactly the same for Byzantines and Schoolmen. What significant differences were there between the two? One difference was that Latins mastered the entire logical corpus (instead of an uneven or disparate number of books). Secondly, Latins took the use of analogical talk, metaphorical talk, and univocal talk about God and creatures and tried to scientifically study the limits of human conceptualization. This means that Latins were very interested in the meaningfulness of a concept in my head. They were interested in how thoughts sprang up, what physical or non-physical status they had in the human mind, and whether these thoughts always reflected realities outside the person’s head. Finally, they wanted to know whether there could be degrees of similarity between what is in my head (e.g., yummy steak) and outside of my head (actually yummy steaks).
By and large, Byzantines of the Palamite era showed only passing interest in these discussions in the sense of academic pursuits. However, on the other hand, to confront the memory of Barlaam, Gregoras, Akindynos, and (later) the Thomists, the greatest names of 14th-15th century Orthodoxy happily engaged Latin advances in logic and felt that these were perfectly useful, adequate, and intelligible for the essence energies controversy (except talking about supra-rational mystical experience). This is exactly the position of Mark of Ephesus, which I consider authoritative enough for anyone to have to prove to me that he is wrong before further pontificating on the “incommensurability” between Western “categories” of logic and metaphysics versus Eastern modes of God-talk. The fact is both parties spoke the same language because Easterners read the same Greek sources, as well as Aquinas, Lombard, Scotus, and others. They selected out what was useful for Byzantine problems and controversies, or what was useful for an ad hoc treatise, and they ignored the rest of what the Latins had to say since it was not relevant for their needs.
All modes of doing logic are not the same. Nonetheless, logic was often enough acknowledged as good and useful (if used less in fact) in the East. However, yes, the limits of logic were best catalogued (above and beyond Byzantine logical commentators or scholiasts) by Schoolmen of the 1200s until advances in modern logic after Frege in the early 1900s. Schoolmen were simply the best at this science/study. Many saints and celebrated theologians of the East used logic, but typically in different degrees and mostly with a disinterest in the syllogism (with notable saintly exceptions). The fact is that logic is just making good distinctions to speak meaningfully about concepts and their ability to be combined into meaningful or consistent statements. So, the notion that somehow logic itself or “Latin” categories of thinking are “foreign to Orthodoxy” strikes me as strange, since we must now exclude Fathers who use the same logic and vocabulary (even if to a lesser extent), even Mark of Ephesus, from Orthodoxy, not to mention his disciple Gennadios Scholarios (whom Mark endorsed as the only Orthodox living, who was able to reform the Church to purity). Simply put, logic in theology anciently started in the East, was imitated in the West upon the Latin translation of John Damascene (first in around 1145 AD), and became even more subtle by the Latin absorption and mastery of the entire Aristotelian corpus in the thirteenth century. This mastery went beyond any former Byzantine’s wildest dreams, and eventually became—in my view—destructive to theology via a medieval obsession with puzzling over interpreting Scripture. Once the Bible and canons were subjected to puzzling games of inference, theology became an excuse to play logical games.
So, how are Palamas and Palamites different from “Latins” from the fourteenth through the fifteenth centuries? Well, whereas Byzantines made a cautious, willy-nilly, and more rare, generous use of Aristotelian metaphysics and/or logic, they tended to feel pretty free to call Aristotle names any time he could not—on the face of it—be reconciled to Christian Revelation in the Bible or Ecumenical Councils. This same caution marked Latin universitarian reception (early 1200s) of Aristotle and papal prohibitions on theology faculties, preventing them from absorbing wholesale the Stagyrite until theological “corrections” and commentaries could aid the Christian not to become a pagan by reading Aristotle in Latin. Still by the mid-1250s Aristotle was the craze. Using major figures to tell my Latin narrative, whereas the trend among Latins was to absorb Aristotle (almost as a thirteenth apostle), Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (a Franciscan) continuously lost interest in Aristotle, and may prove in the future my suspicions that he chose to prioritize the Latin version of John Damascene over and above Aristotle.
By the late 1200s I would like to claim that the Franciscan school—St Bonaventure and Blessed John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) being the major figures—preferred Damascene and his all-positive notion of divine infinity as their starting point on talking about God’s essence. For their part, the enthusiastic Aristotelians and those with sympathy toward St Thomas Aquinas’ theology, found themselves justifying and generously reading Aristotle—as much as possible—as the key to understanding God. The result was that Bonaventure and Scotus prioritized infinity and a certain distinction between God’s being and his attributes-perfections. For this reason, Martin Jugie styles Franciscans (in the image of Scotus) as “Palamism in a state of becoming” (Palamismus in fieri) in the early 1900s. Still, Jugie only repeated a long tradition in the Latin west of rejecting Gregory Palamas (from the 16th century on [e.g. Allatius]), based on the fact that Thomists adjudged Palamas as a less logical version of Scotus (see “Palamas Among the Scholastics“).
What are we, then, to make of the “Latin Tradition” of God-talk? Well, there never was a formal series of pitched battles (synods) as in Orthodoxy to favor the Dominicans over the Franciscans (let alone the nominalists) or vice versa. Instead, there was always a tension and competition among several major schools of God-talk. The post-Ockham or Ockhamists were “nominalists” (neither Thomist nor Bonaventuro-Scotist), the Dominicans were analogy-of-being-ists, and the Scotists were into the formal distinction. Lest we be tempted to reduce these schools to “western modes of thinking,” I would contest that these schools simply reflect the limits and possibilities open to the human mind when they try to say something meaningfully about the material and, especially, spiritual world. It is not a question of culture, but of making camps of the only possible options of meaningfully mapping reality outside of mystical experience. The fact is that, where a dogmatically Greek tradition existed in Byzantium from 1368 onward, no comparable Latin tradition ever existed. Even nowadays, Latins are free to embrace any number of approaches that can mainly be reduced either to a Thomist approach or to a Scotist approach. In contrast, since the 1960s, Orthodox authors of the 15th–20th centuries (who ostensibly overlapped with Thomism in their descriptions of God) have been marginalized in contemporary Orthodox literature, and “Palamism” has been almost exclusively embraced (NB, this is too often in popular and apologetic literature just an excuse for bad, or lazy, or ignorant Eastern Christians to refuse to study logic and metaphysics, and to pontificate a simplified theology according to what their unstudied mind can concoct). If the “true believer” will respond that I cannot possible know anything since I am bereft of the divine light, or that I am already dead in the water because I am trying to use “study” or “reason” to talk about Palamism, then I would be very interested to see how much of Mark of Ephesus’ work on Palamism he has studied. I do not speak here of the “experience” of the divine light, but of Palamites and their academic, erudite, and academic-literature-dependent treatises on the very question at hand. Yes, I admit it, I have not seen the divine light … so I appropriately limit myself to talking about the intellectual aspects of Palamism, which the Palamites themselves did, whether among themselves or with the Latins. Mark refused only to discuss academically the experience of the “knowledge above all rational understanding.” Mysticism, said he to the Latins at Florence, was not permissible to submit to logical scrutiny. I obey his canon here, so that the pious believer can read with no fear of treading where angels dare not go.
Doesn’t this mean that Scotism (as historically prior to Palamas [d. 1357]) represents that concentric doctrine in the Latin West?
Well, yes, but not exactly. Remember, there are three major questions, above, looking at: (1.) God from the inside, (2.) God from the outside, (3.) God’s being in relation to beings created by Him.
Scotists were only interested, by and large, in #1 and, partially, #2. It is in this manner that Roman Catholic medieval, Franciscan theologians and Palamites agreed. For fifteenth and sixteenth-century Thomists (and beyond), both Scotus and Palamas violated the parameters of Aristotle’s simplicity criteria: (1.) something ain’t simple if it is a whole coming from parts, (2.) if it is a substance with qualities, (3.) if it can really be separated into parts or pieces. Scotists and Palamites (from the 16th century on) were accused of being bad Aristotelians on #1 and #2. Of course, they responded by saying that divine being/s or items, about which they were speaking, were infinite, and so fell outside of these Aristotelian categories, valid for speaking only about beings that are limited by genus and species (or by being limited by matter and created form).
In response, both Palamas and Scotus (as per my review-essay “Palamas among the Scholastics”) tried to show that spiritual things can have more than one energy or active power. For example, the human soul can enliven, move, and think in a body. Each of these powers is in a simple soul (which simplicity Thomists also deny contra Franciscans). For Scotus and Palamas, willing, living, thinking are all operations that can be traced back to different kinds of powers in one non-material simple kind of being (= soul). When I “know” ice cream, it is not mentally and really the same thing as “wanting” ice cream. I know this well since, if I somehow hate ice cream, I “know” it in my mouth, but “want” to spit it out. The Thomists were willing to admit this distinction in the world of thinking and willing ice cream (and creation), but they claimed that a different rule existed on the other side of things; namely, in God’s dimension. Somehow, for the majority of Aquinas’ treatment of the question, God both “wanted” and “thought” and these were both the same thing and somehow different in him in a non-descript way. The Thomists were comfortable in not being able to explain how this was so. They were satisfied that the conclusion had to say just what they were affirming, however, since God must be simple in the relevant Aristotelian sense (additionally, for Thomists, even a will-wanting and an intellect-thinking were accidents or qualities making the substance of the soul complex … not simple). The end result of this debate shows that both Scotus and Palamas denied Thomist arguments, basing themselves instead on divine infinity as the ground of foundation for talking about everything God is. If He is infinite, so the argument goes, anything that is said of God is infinite by virtue of being in an infinite essence. If God really chooses, He must choose with some infinite power, not finite. Since, for Palamites and Scotists, God does really choose—which meaning “choose” is not the same in every way as his energy-attribute of “being good” or “thinking”—then there is a different level of being here. This level is a second level or non-essence-in-itself level of being. As my being, since it grounds my ability to be wise, so too in God’s being. For me, a creature, my really existent being is more “valuable” than my wisdom since it grounds my ability to be wise (if I didn’t exist, I couldn’t be wise). However, in God this is not a “more important” or higher attribute in the same sense, since by the fact that God is infinite, every activity of an infinite being presupposes an infinite-necessary power bringing it about. So, willing and thinking are done in an infinite mode. In our manner of thinking we have to think first “being” and then only do we add as an adjectival “willing-being.” Still, this is only because of our limited thinking. If, in God, all these energies are also infinite, then they possess the same radical value as being itself, but are merely less universal in their scope or application. So, every attribute-energy (goodness, wisdom, etc.) can be said to be founded on the reality of divine “being” and presupposes the thought thereof, but not everything can be said “to think” or “have intelligence.” Being is primary in God and all things, where other perfections are logically secondary and of less scope (e.g., thinking only happens in higher animals and angels).
Where do Scotus and Palamas differ? Well, Scotus and Palamas both thought that when God looked at himself in the mirror (when he contemplated Himself) he saw all of his outstanding thoughts, attributes, and being. Thomists thought that when God looked in a mirror he just saw being, and that he knew in himself the fact that all energies exist in his being, for He has an infinitely rich number of ingredients all boiled down into a simple, simple broth. For Franciscans and Palamites, the potatoes and carrots of divine essence-soup were visible and essential for the definition of “vegetable soup,” but that soup was primary founded upon being “broth-like” with ingredients, not vice versa.
What Scotists did not think much about was how seeing the divine light was—in some sense—seeing an energy or attribute of perfection of the essence of God. All Schoolmen agreed that being was “luminous” (light-giving) and that God was supremely luminous, but Thomists supposed that the human mind could see directly the divine essence, if only it were given a set of spiritual binoculars called the lumen gloriae or something like an accident (white to rice, where white is a quality). This accident elevated the human eye (with lenses) and, by analogy, the spiritual eye to see the divine essence. Scotists (and Palamites) rejected the lumen gloriae-spiritual binoculars, but Scotists were inclined to say nearly the same about “seeing the divine essence” but maybe less than Thomists. I say this thusly, because some passages of Scotus/Scotists suggest that the infinity of God (essence) could not really be seen. Currently, the majority of Scotistic experts likely hold that Scotus himself was closer to Aquinas’ than Palamas’ way of talking about seeing only and merely the attributes-energy of God with the human spiritual powers. For my part, I see that Scotus felt constrained to give this Latin way of speaking lip service, though he denied such an hypothesis as “illogical” in fact in other places. The problem was with the biblical notions of “seeing” God.
Here, Palamas was the clearest, the essence of God is entirely inaccessible to any human faculty or power, and only the energies-attributes are seen with the mind’s non-rational eye. The Franciscan tradition can be made to approach, even anticipate this, but ultimately it is Palamas who speaks such without the nuances typical of even Scotus. Lastly, so far as I know, no Latin-medieval thinker ever tried to take Ps.-Dionysius and his eternal processions from the essence of God as a means to speak about the connective tissue between the uncreated God and creation. As Demetracopoulos footnotes in his 100-page long essay, Palamas almost cites verbatim the pagan philosopher Proclus (over and above Ps.-Dionysius), to say that God has something like an emanation outside of himself that acts almost as a mediator between creation and the uncreated. The light itself is uncreated. While any patrologist and Scholastic would find this ostensibly pagan, Neo-Platonic assertion shocking, I have not as yet seen anyone do a monograph on this mediatory principle of emanation within the patristic tradition. For me, the jury is still out. What I would say, however, is that if Palamas proves pantheistic or nonsensical on this one point in the future, it does not mean that all his other points are wrong. His literary disciple, Mark of Ephesus, always reminded the Latins that even saints can err (citing Irenaeus’ millennarianism, Nyssa’s Origenism, et al) and that it is the consensus of the Fathers in a synod that makes something dogmatic.
So, where are we today? Well, just about everybody reading knows about Bradshaw’s book Aristotle East and West. In most ways it is a brilliant study of essence and energies. I recently critiqued only the historical presumptions of Bradshaw’s work (and his subsequent articles) based upon what I considered to be an oversimplifying of metaphysics in the Latin West. Still, the tendencies among Latins as a whole were to read Augustine as thinking of God’s essence as monolithic (at least in the 13th -14th century). Be that as it may, Scotism arguably reigned as the dominant theory thereafter until the 18th century. This would mean that both St Augustine (always referenced and combined with Damascene by Bonaventuro-Scotists) and Bonaventure were regularly held as the most appealing metaphysics among Latins at the university level. This would mean that there never was “opposition” between two worldviews (Orthodox vs. Roman Catholic) in Christendom. There was eclecticism in the West and there was short-lived fervor for Palamism in the East until the Fall of Constantinople. Palamas and Palamism (as I am tracing in my doctoral dissertation on Gennadios Scholarios for Aristotle University, Thessaloniki) were always valued but never clearly understood for all their subtleties. Even anti-Palamites of the 16th century had to admit that his cultus was alive and well (if not universal), and the very first treatises published in the 17th century by Greeks and their first-ever printing press included Palamas’ discourse on the Filioque along with Gennadios Scholarios in the same volume. Palamas’ sermons knew several editions in the 1700-1800s. Palamas was read, but the essence-energies debate demanded a rigorous understanding of Scholastic and patristic use of the Aristotelian corpus. One finds constant praises during these centuries of Palamas as a spiritual writer, anti-Filioquist, and even a phrase or two commending the essence-energies doctrine; but I have detected no interest in the Greek-speaking world surrounding an exposition of the essence-energies doctrine, though Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain knew of Mark of Ephesus’ accusation that Latins (= Thomists) rejected the doctrine. It is no surprise that the lack of Orthodox Universities in Orthodox countries under Islamic domination failed to offer intensive courses in Eastern metaphysics and approaches to Aristotle and Scholasticism. Anti-logical, and by and large apologetic, contemporary Orthodox and Eastern Christians will never be able to access the Palamite school until they sit down and study Damascene’s dialectic and, then, the masterful treatises of the Palamites employing logic (both ancient and Latin) in the service of God-talk in the essence-energies debate.
The most subtle and most astute logician—whether among Latins or Greeks—was the Orthodox hand-picked disciple of Mark of Ephesus, Gennadios Scholarios. In his mixed commentary-translation on Aquinas’ De esse et essentia, Scholarios remarked that Thomists did not know of the formal distinction because Thomas himself never explicitly discovered it. However, he was confident that if Aquinas had only known the more subtle (and Orthodox!) metaphysics of Scotus, he would have placed the “formal distinction” between essence and energies as a “minor distinction” or “not-real” distinction. Effectively, Scholarios argued that a “reformed” Thomism would have affirmed Palamas’ insight. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of Dominicans that might agree with this today. They see that any step closer to the logic of Palamism is nothing less than raising the white flag to Scotus and his univocal or meaningful talk about the essence and attributes of God. I understand why Dominicans feel this way, with their long and saintly tradition of preferring analogy over univocity … even if early Thomists did sometimes just the opposite. Instead, as Gennadius notes, Thomists of his day considered the formal distinction to be a “major distinction” or “real” distinction and for that reason did they accuse Palamites of heresy and vice versa.
The reality of this debate is that there are three major issues (as I outline at the beginning of the article), of which Mark of Ephesus and Scholarios understood both sides of the argument. Catholics and Orthodox who cannot compare Palamas, Scotus, and Aquinas to each other will find themselves looking to authors who speak to their psychological need for one or the other position to be right, wrong, or caricatured, so that Palamas reigns/does not reign supreme no matter what. I have no problem with anyone holding pious trust in their saintly and theological tradition, only do I pick a fight with those who claim to understand Palamite metaphysics without studying Aquinas and Scotus in-depth and comparing such to the Palamite reception of Palamas; particularly when these Palamites are saints of the Orthodox Church. Palamites cited both Aquinas and (less so) Scotus, so one must understand why logically and metaphysically Palamites agree with them, or the ignoramus must simply pretend these citations do not exist (or some other primitive equivalent of psychological denial).
For my part, I am totally comfortable with Palamas on nos. 1-2 (above), and am willing to hear him speak more about #3. Bradshaw’s critique of Thomism also is relevant for my conclusion. So many interpretations of Aquinas exist, nowadays, it is difficult to know to whom we should turn. Still, Bradshaw is correct that it becomes increasingly difficult to make sense of God’s freely chosen creation by God’s free will, if—like Thomists—God’s will is in every thinkable and essential way the same as his intellect (= not an energy but essence in an unqualified sense), as God sees both in himself and acts in himself. All the more is this the case since knowledge in God (at least non-contingent knowledge, as an object of thought-production) is necessary while his will of something created chooses contingently. The eternity of the world would seem to follow on this strict identity equation of intellect and will, as is most popular among Thomists. Still Thomists correctly, as Christians, deny any heretical conclusions, but the question Bradshaw asks is about their premises! I cannot fault him in this.
Next, Thomism has enjoyed the benefit of papal propaganda since the late 19th century. The end result means that almost all major theologians of the 19th and 20th centuries until Vatican II (1962-65) at least had to make a pro-forma concession to Thomas being correct about everything (even when Thomas changes his mind 2 or 3x!). Historical theology really challenges non-historical Thomism in another fashion in our day. The former Roman Catholic narrative of Aquinas—even in modern, official papal pronouncements—had been to style Aquinas as the know-it-all, done-it-all, and invented-it-all of history. Aquinas had to be the best at everything. In the 1950s this eventually led to multiple celebrations of Aquinas’ philosophic acuity and genius. Of course, a modern genius “invents things” that others have never thought about. One of Aquinas’ “inventions” (making him better than everyone, of course!) was the real distinction between being & essence. The Orthodox reader should immediately see red flags: if nobody before Aquinas had this great insight, and if Aquinas is “original” on this thesis, how in the world does this have anything to do with Christian theology and tradition?! Eastern Christians and post-Golden Age Fathers would be horrified at the claim (albeit sometimes not really the case in substance) of innovation. To my knowledge, only Ralph McInerny of Notre Dame tried to defend Aquinas’ invention of Aristotelico-Thomistic metaphysics as somehow connected to the tradition (via reference to Boethius). Still, he is hardly the minority opinion … but a lonely voice. It becomes increasingly difficult to hold the position that the monolithic Thomism of the early 20th century, that tended to pretend that Aquinas was always consistent with himself, can be the main dialogue partner with Orthodox on the essence-energies question. Early Thomists were eclectic, famous Jesuit quasi-Thomists were eclectic, and not a few saintly theologians of the Roman Magisterium were Franciscans and eclectic. The solution to the problem on the Roman Catholic side would do well to emphasize that Catholics share the very same theological conclusions about God, his identity, and person as the Orthodox, but not about the premises of what does and does not constitute a valid system of non-religious logic to work out puzzles. Let logicians fight about puzzling and let theologians feel free to use that which most explains what they want to say for their theological dogmas-conclusions. The dyed-in-the-wool Thomist and zealot of Orthodoxy will find my suggestion entirely unacceptable. The former is willing to put (by implication, though shy of saying it formally) all Franciscan theologians in history (as now) in hell for heresy, while the latter is perfectly fine condemning generations of Greek, Slav and Orthodox theologians from the 15th-20th century for holding something more nuanced than their current read of Palamas’ distinction (some of whom now actually claim that the Palamite distinction is “real” in the contra-Aristotelian sense = God is non-simple [something Palamas does not want to say at all, nor his followers!]!).
However, we must also face the fact that the lion’s share of good, devout, believing, theologians in the Roman Catholic Church are assuredly Thomists. Instead of trying to consign them to some dustbin (an impossible suggestion), it is better to highlight Thomas’ own weakness and changes-of-mind, along with non-thomistic or even anti-thomistic teachings of the Magisterium that underline the fact that Thomas may be supremely relevant to study and contemplate on most theological questions (as he was even in some things for Palamites), but we must simply admit that he has often enough proved to be wrong, even vis-à-vis the Roman Church’s Magisterium (e.g., Immaculate Conception, Confession of Mortal Sins to a Layman for valid absolution in articulo mortis, etc.). For Orthodox, if only they are willing to concede that great and revered men, some now saints, made eclectic, selective, and cautious use of Thomas Aquinas from the period of the Palamite school and its saints until contemporary times, then toleration might be able to exist of two approaches without compromising O/orthodox conclusions on either side. Mark of Ephesus and Gennadios Scholarios serve as the patron saints of a bi-partisan approach to resolving the issue. Most do not know how much Mark of Ephesus praised the bi-lateral dialogue and study sessions with the Latins at the beginning of the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438):
O most revered periti and [Latin] Fathers, with regard to all disagreement that we discuss concerning one another’s positions, if this was alone the goal ahead of us and nothing else, then we would make arguments to win at any cost, neither would we argue usefully, nor indeed justly. . . . But nothing is the goal other than embracing the resplendent truth. . . . However many the controversies on dogmas that are yet bereft of investigation and inquiry, and while the positions on each side possess powerful and robust explanations, it is consequently quite profitable [for all] that someone is also found superior in the discussion, provided there is no contentiousness, but we then look together to the truth. Let us also be not zealous to win at all times, but it is for us to be bested and comport ourselves well. Now, indeed, it is a fact that this happens so not only on our part, for we all turn toward what is base and fall far in our digression from true wisdom, but this happened to the very apostles themselves, for whom Jesus is Lord, so do we both hear and believe to have occurred.
It was only an ex-Orthodox and Greek Dominican, Andrew Chrysoberges, with a chip on his shoulder against Orthodox for probably real injustices against Demetrius Cydones in the generation prior, who managed to almost single handedly derail the council by being a rude, name-calling, nasty fellow to his own compatriot. Andrew treated the insults to Demetrius Cydones and Manuel Calecas, OP (d 1410) as if they were to himself, holding on to insults of his predecessors of two generations prior as an excuse to be totally irreconcilable to his contemporaries. Though Mark was kind, docile, and obliging, he was treated is if he were the embodiment of insult to the Dominicans and their school, as if Mark were a present and living sacrilege during the debates on the floor at the Council of Florence. God save us from such men!
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Fr Christiaan Kappes, SLD, PhL, is the Academic Dean of Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius, as well as Professor of Liturgical Theology and
Professor of Dogmatic Theology