free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Γρηγόριος ὁ Παλαμᾶς ), an eminent Greek ecclesiastic of the: 14th century, was born in the Asiatic portion of the then reduced Byzantine empire, and was educated at the court of Constantinople, apparently during the reign of Andronicus Palaeologus the elder. He ignored the opportunity of Worldly greatness, of which his parentage and wealth and the imperial favor gave him the prospect, and with his two brothers became, while yet very young, an inmate of one of the monasteries of Mount Athos. Here the youngest of the three died; and, upon the death of the superior of the monastery soon after, the two surviving brothers placed themselves under another superior. With him they remained eight years; and on his death Gregory Palamas withdrew to Scete, near Berrhea, where he built a cell, and gave himself up entirely, for ten years, to divine contemplation and spiritual exercises. The severity of his regimen and the coldness of his cell produced an illness which nearly occasioned his death. The urgent recommendation of the other monks of the place induced him then to leave Scete and to return to Mount Athos; but this change did not suffice for his recovery, and he removed to Thessalonica (Cantacuzenus, History, 2, 39). It was apparently while at Thessalonica that his controversy began with Barlaam, a Calabrian monk, who visited Constantinople soon after the accession of the emperor Andronicus Paleologus the younger, A.D. 1328, and, professing himself an adherent of the Greek Church and a convert from the Latin Church, against which he also wrote several works, obtained the favor and patronage of the emperor Barlaam appears to have been a conceited man, and to have sought opportunities for decrying the usages of the Byzantine Greeks. For his supercilious humor the wild fanaticism of the monks of Mount Athos presented an admirable subject. Those of them who aimed at the highest spiritual attainments were accustomed to shut themselves up for days and nights together in a corner of a cell, and there abstract their thoughts from all worldly objects. Resting their beards on their chests, and fixing their eyes on their bellies, they imagined that the seat of the soul, previously unknown, was revealed to them by a mystical light, and at its discovery they were rapt into a state of ecstatic enjoyment. The existence of this light, described by Gibbon as "the creature of an empty stomach and an empty brain," appears to have been kept secret, and was only revealed to Barlaam by an incautious monk, whom Cantacuzenus abuses for his communicativeness. Barlaam eagerly seized the opportunity afforded by this discovery to assail with bitter reproaches the fanaticism of these Hesychasts (ἡσυχάζοντες ), (See HESYCHASTS), or Quietists, calling them Ο᾿μφαλόψυχοι (Omphalopsychi), "men with their souls in their navels," and he identified them with the Massilians or Euchites of the 4th century.
The monks were roused by these attacks, and as Gregory Palamas was the most able and learned among them, they put him forward as their champion, and employed both his tongue and pen against the attacks of the sarcastic Calabrian. Palamas and his friends tried at first to silence the reproaches of Barlaam by kindly remonstrance, and affirmed, as to the mystical light, that there had been various similar instances in the history of the Church of a divine lustre surrounding the saints in time of persecution, and. that sacred history recorded the appearance of a divine and uncreated light at the Saviour's transfiguration. Barlaam caught at the mention of this light as uncreated, and affirmed that nothing was uncreated but God. and that inasmuch as God was invisible, while the light of Mount Tabor was visible to the bodily eye, the monks must have two gods, one the Creator of all things, confessedly invisible, the other this visible yet uncreated light. This serious charge gave to the controversy a fresh impulse, until two or three years later Barlaam, fearing that his infuriated opponents, who flocked to the scene of the conflict from all the monasteries about Thessalonica and Constantinople, would offer him personal violence, appealed to the patriarch of Constantinople and the bishops there, and charged Palamas not only with sharing the fanaticism of the Omphalopsychi, and with the use of defective prayers, but also with holding blasphemous views of God, and with introducing new terms. into the theology of the Church. A council was consequently convened in the church of St. Sophia, at Constantinople, in 1341, in the presence of the emperor, the chief senators, the learned, and a vast concourse of the common people. As it was not thought advisable to discuss the mysteries of theology before a promiscuous multitude, the charge against Palamas and the monks of blasphemous notions respecting God was suppressed, and only the charge of holding the old Massilian heresy respecting prayer, and of using defective prayers, was proceeded With. Barlaam first addressed the council in support of his charge; then Palamas replied, retorting upon Barlaam the charge of blasphemy and perverseness.
The council decided in favor of the monks, and Barlaam, according to Cantacuzenus, acknowledged his errors and became reconciled to his adversaries. Mortified, however, at his public defeat, he returned to Italy, and reconciled himself to the Latin Church. Nicephorus Gregoras states that the decision of the council on the question of the Massilian heresy charged against the monks was deferred, that Barlaam was convicted of malignity and arrogance, and that the heresy of Palamas and his party would probably have been condemned also, had not the proceedings of the council been cut short by the emperor's death in 1341. The cause forsaken by Barlaam was taken up by another Gregory, surnamed Acindynus; but the party of the monks continued in the ascendant, and Palamas enjoyed the favor of John Cantacuzenus, who then exercised the chief influence at the court of the emperor John Palaeologus, a minor. It was even reported that Cantacuzenus intended to procure the deposition of the patriarch of Constantinople and the elevation of Palamas. In the civil war which followed (1342-1347) between Cantacuzenus and the court (where the admiral Apocaucus had supplanted him), Palamas, on account of his friendship for Cantacuzenus, was imprisoned in 1346, not on any political charge, but on the ground of his religious views; for, the patriarch now supported Gregory Acindynus and the Barlaamites against the monks of Mount Athos, who were favorable to Cantacuzenus. The Barlaamites thus gained the ascendency, and in a council at Constantinople the Palamites. as their opponents called them, were condemned. The patriarch and the court were, however, especially anxious to clear themselves from the suspicion of acting from political motives in the imprisonment of Palamas. When the successful entrance of Cantacuzenus into Constantinople, in January, 1347, obliged the court to submit, Palamas was released, and sent to make terms with. the conqueror. The patriarch Calecas had been deposed by the influence of the empress-mother, Anna, just before the triumph of Cantacuzenus, and Gregory Palamas persuaded Cantacuzenus to assemble a synod, by which the deposition was confirmed, and Calecas banished to Didvmotichum. Acindyntus and the Barlaamites were now in turn condemned, and the Palamites once more gained the ascendency. Isidore, one of their number, was chosen patriarch. Palamas himself was soon afterwards appointed archbishop of Thessalonica; though, as that city was in the hands of some of the nobility Whos were hostile to Cantacuzenus, he was refused admittance, and obliged to retire to the island of Lemnos; but he obtained admittance after a time. This was in 1349.
Meanwhile the ecclesiastical troubles continued the Barlaamites withdrew from the communion of the Church; their ranks received continual increase, and Nicephorus Gregoras, the historian, adroitly drew over to their side the empress Irene, wife of Cantacuzenus, by persuading her that the recent death of her younger son, Andronicus, in 1347, was a sign of the ‘ divine displeasure at the favor shown by the emperor Cantacuzenus to the Palamites. To restore peace, if possible, to the Church, a synod was summoned after various conferences had been held between the emperor, the patriarch Isidore, Palamas, and Nicephorus Gregoras. Isidore died in 1349, before the meeting of the synod, over which Callistus, his successor, presided. When it met, in 1351, Nicephorus Gregoras was the champion of the Barlaamites, who numbered among their supporters the archbishop of Ephesus and the bishop of Ganus or Gaunus;. the archbishop of Tyre, who was present, appears to have been on the same side. Palamas was the leader of the opposite party, who, having a large majority and the support of the emperor, carried everything their own way. The archbishop of Ephesus and the bishop of Ganus were deposed. Barlaam and Acindynus (neither of whom was present) were declared excommunicated, and their followers were forbidden to propagate their sentiments. The populace, however, favored the vanquished Barlaamites, and Palamas narrowly escaped violence. Of his subsequent history and death nothing seems to be known.
The peculiar leading tenets of the Palamites were the existence of the mystical light discovered by the more eminent monks and recluses in their long exercises of abstract contemplation and prayer, and the uncreated nature of the light of Mount Tabor seen at the transfiguration of Christ. The first attracted the, notice and animadversion of their opponents; but the second; with the consequences really or apparently deducible from it, was the great object of attack. The last seven books (18-24) of the Historia Byzantina of Nicephorus Gregoras are devoted to a history of this controversy; and in the bitterness of his polemic spirit he charges Palamas with polytheism; with converting the attributes of the Deity into so many- distinct and independent deities; with affirming that the Holy Spirit was not one alone, or even one of seven, but one of "seventy times seven;" with placing in an intermediate rank between God and angels a new and peculiar class of uncreated powers (καινόν τι καὶ ἴδιον ἀκτίστων γένος ἐνεργειῶν ), which Palamas called "the brightness (λαμπρότητα ) of God and the ineffable light" (φῶς ἄῤῥητον ); with holding that any man by partaking of the stream of this light, flowing from its inexhaustible source, could at will become uncreated and without beginning (ἀκτίστῳ ἐθέλοντι γίνεσθαι καὶ ἀνάρχῳ ); and with numerous other errors. These alleged heresies were, however, mostly, if not altogether, the inferences deduced by Nicephorus Gregoras and other opponents from the Palamite dogma of uncreated light, and not the acknowledged tenets of the Palamite party. The rise, continuance, and vehemence of the controversy is a singular manifestation of the subtilty and misdirection of the Greek intellect of the, period. The dogma of the uncreated light of Mount Tabor has apparently continued to be the recognised orthodox doctrine of the Greek Church (Capperonnerius, Not. ad Niceph.- Gregor. ii, 1821, ed. Bonn), though probably now neglected or forgotten.
Palamas was a copious writer; many of his works are extant in MS., and are enumerated by Wharton and Gery in the Appendix to Cave, and by Fabricius. Nicephorus says that he wrote more than sixty, orationes; and Boivin states that one MS. in the king's library at Paris contained more than seventy homilies or other short pieces. The statement of Gregoras, therefore, must refer only to pieces written on occasion of Palamas's controversy with him, or must be much too low an estimate. The following have been published: Prosopopceia, s. Prosopopceia, s. Orationes duce judiciales, Mentis Corpus accusantis, et Corporis sese defendetis, una cum Judicum: Seentntia (Paris, 1553): — Εἰς τὴν σεπτὴν μεταμόρφωσιν τοῦ Κυρίου καὶ Θεοῦ καὶ Σωτῆρος ἡμῶν ῾Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ· ἐν ῃ παράστασις ὅτι τὸ κατ᾿ αὐτὴν φῶς ἄκτιστόν ἐστιν . λόγος ά , In venerabilem Domini et Dei ac Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi Transformationem, ubi probatur quod in ea est lumen increatum esse. Oratio Prima. ῾Ομιλία εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν τοῦ Κυρίου σεπτὴν μεταμόρφωσιν ἐν ῃ παράστασις ὡς εἰ καὶ ἄκτιστόν ἐστι τὸ κατ᾿ αὐτὴν θειότατον φῶς, ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἔστιν οὐσία Θεοῦ . λόγος β᾿, Tractatus in eandem venerandam Domini Transjfrmationem; in uo probatur, qulangquam increatum est illius divinissimum Lumen, haud tamen Dei. Essentiiam esse. Oratio Secunda. These two orations were published with a Latin version by Combefis in his Auctarium Novissimum (Paris, 1672), ii, 106: Λόγοι β᾿, ἀποδεικτικοἱ ὅτι οὐχὶ καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ ἀλλ᾿ ἐκ μόνου τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκοπεύεται τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ ῞Αγιον, Orationes duce demonstrativce qudd non ex Filio, sed ex solo Patre procedat Spiritus Sanctus. These were published in London without date (but probably in 1624), together with a number of other pieces of Barsaam, the Calabrian, and several Greek writers of a comparatively recent period: — Ἀντεπιγραφαί , Refutatio Expositionum, s. Epigrapharum Joannis Vecci, published, with a Confutatio by cardinal Bessarion, in the Opuscula Aurea of Petrus Arcudius (Rome, 1630, 1671): — S. Petri Athonitee (s. de Monte Atho) Encomium (in Acta Sanctorum, Junii, a. d. 12:ii, 535): — - Ε᾿πὶ Λατίνων συντομία, Adversus Latinos -Confessio: Ε᾿πιστολὴ πρὸς τὴν θεοστεφῆ βασιλίδα κυρὰν ῎Ανναν τὴν Παλαιολογίναν , Epistola ad divinitus coronatam Augustam Annam Palceologinam, printed by Boivin in his notes to the Hist. Byzant. of Nicephorus Gregoras (Paris, 1702), p. 787. Boivin has also given two extracts from a writing of Palamas, one of some length, Adversus Joannem Calecam; the other very brief, from an Epistola ad Joannem Gatram. Various citations from his works are given. by Nicephorus Gregoras. It is probable that the Tomus or declaration issued by the synod of Constantinople, in 1351, against the Barlaamites was drawn up by Palamas, or under his inspection. It is given by Combefis, with a Latin version, in his Auctarium Novissimum -(Paris, 1672), 2, 135,and is entitled Τόμος ἐκτεθεὶς παρὰ τῆς θείας καὶ ἱερᾶς συνόδου τοῦ συγκροτηθείσης κατὰ τῶν φρονούντων τὰ Βαρλαάμ τε καὶ Ἀκινδύνου ἐπὶ τῆς βασιλείας τῶν εὐσεβῶν καὶ ὀρθοδόξων βασιλέων ἡμῶν Καντακουζενοῦ καὶ Παλαιολόγου, Tomus a divina sacracque Synodo adversus eos coacta qui Barlaam et Acindyni opinionis sunt, Cantatcuzeno ac Palceologo religiosis orthodoxisque Imperatoribus nostris, editus ac expositus. The Greek writers belonging to the Romish Church, as Allatius, Nicolaus Comnenus, Papadopoli, and others, heap on Palamas every term of reproach; on the other hand the orthodox Greeks extol him highly, and ascribe miraculous effects to his relics. See Cave, Hist. Litter. (Oxford, 1740-1743); Appendix, vol. 2, by Wharton and Gery, p. 54 sq.; Fabricius, Biblioth. Graeca, 10:454-462, 790; ed. vet. 11:494 sq. ed. Harles; Oudin, De Scriptoribus Eccles. vol. 3, col. 843; Cantacuzenus, HIist.; Nicephorus Gregoras, Hist. Byzant. See Smith, Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Biog. and Mythot, s. v; comp. Neale, Hist. of the Eastern Church, Introd. ii, 745, 746.
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Palamas, Gregorius'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/palamas-gregorius.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.