Gregory Palamas,  Icon

GREGORY PALAMAS (c.1296–1359), Greek theologian and chief exponent of Hesychasm. He was born probably at Constantinople, of a noble Anatolian family. Attracted from his youth to the monastic ideal, he persuaded his brothers and sisters, as well as his widowed mother, to embrace the religious life. Around 1318 he went, with his two brothers, to Mt. Athos, where he became familiar at first hand with the Hesychast tradition of mystical prayer. The advance of the Turks forced him to flee to Thessalonica, where he was ordained priest in 1326; subsequently he retired as a hermit to a mountain near Beroea, whence he returned to Athos in 1331. In 1337 he became involved in controversy with Barlaam, a Greek monk from Calabria. Influenced by a one-sided interpretation of the writings of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, Barlaam stated the doctrine of God’s unknowability in an extreme form. When criticized by Gregory, he replied with a vigorous attack on the contemplative practices of the Hesychasts, and in answer Gregory composed his most important work, the Triads in defence of the Holy Hesychasts (c.1338). Gregory’s teaching was approved by his fellow monks, who met in synod on Mt. Athos during 1340–1 and put out a statement known as the ‘Hagioritic Tome’ (Ἁγιορειτικὸς Τόμος), supporting his views. A Council held at Constantinople in 1341 likewise took Palamas’ side in the dispute and condemned Barlaam. Although in 1344 Palamas’ opponents secured his conviction for heresy and his excommunication, the orthodoxy of his doctrines was reaffirmed by two further Councils at Constantinople in 1347 and 1351. Between these two Councils, Palamas produced a succinct exposition of his theology, the One Hundred and Fifty Chapters. In 1347 he was consecrated Abp. of Thessalonica, but political conditions made it impossible for him to take possession of his see until 1350. During a journey to Constantinople in 1354, he was captured by the Turks and remained in captivity for more than a year. He was canonized in 1368.

In his theological teaching Palamas stressed the biblical notion of man as a single and united whole, body and soul together; and in virtue of this he argued that the physical exercises used by the Hesychasts in prayer, as well as their claim to see the Divine Light with their bodily eyes, could be defended as legitimate. He distinguished between the essence and the energies of God: God’s essence remains unknowable, but His uncreated energies—which are God Himself—permeate all things and can be directly experienced by man in the form of deifying grace. Like St Simeon the New Theologian, Palamas laid great stress in his spiritual teaching upon the vision of Divine Light. Feast day in E., 14 Nov., and also the second Sunday in Lent.

The bulk of his work is still in MS. Various writings, in an inferior text, are repr. in J. P. Migne, PG 150. 771–1372, and 151. 9–678. Crit. edn. of his collected works by P. C. Chrestou (Thessalonica, 1962 ff). The Triads (Περὶ τῶν ἱερῶς ἡσυχαζόντων) ed., with Fr. tr., by J. Mcyendorff, Défense des saints hésychastes (SSL 30–1; 1959); partial Eng. tr. by [D. J.] N. Gendle (Classics of Western Spirituality, 1983). The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, ed., with Eng. tr., by R. E. Sinkewicz, CSB (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Studies and Texts, 83; Toronto [1988]). Substantial passages of his works were included in the Philocalia (q.v.); Eng. tr. by G. E. H. Palmer and others, 4 (1955), pp. 287–425. J. Meyendorff, Introduction à l’étude de Grégoire Palamas (Patristica Sorbonensia, 3 [1959]; abbreviated Eng. tr., 1964); id., St Grégoire Palamas et la mystique orthodoxe (Maîtres Spirituels [1959]; Eng. tr., New York, 1974); J. Lison, L’Esprit répandu: La pneumatologie de Grégoire Palamas (1994). R. E. Sinkewicz in C. G. Conticello and V. Conticello (eds.), La théologie byzantine et sa tradition, 2 (Turnhout, 2002), pp. 131–88, with bibl. M. Jugie, AA, in DTC 11 (pt. 2; 1932), cols. 1735–76; J. Meyendorff in Dict. Sp. 12 (pt. 1; 1984), cols. 81–107, s.v. ‘Palamas, Grégoire’.



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