25 February 2018

S Gregory Palamas

A kind friend has sent me a copy of the weekly newsletter of an American Melkite parish which observes the Gregorian Calendar and, today, the Second Sunday in Lent, is commemorating both S Gregory Palamas and the Holy Relics.

I regard S Gregory as one of the Church's greatest Doctors of Theosis, the vocation of every Christian to live out his share by adoptive filiation in the Divinity of the God-Man Himself. He was also one of the most forthright preachers I know of the Doctrine that the Most Holy Mother of God is the Mediatrix of all Graces. How can she not be?

He was not in canonical communion with the See of Rome!

His Commemoration was put onto this Sunday by a Patriarch of Constantinople a few years after his death and canonisation. Neither that Patriarch, nor the Synod which had canonised S Gregory, was canonically in communion with the See of Rome.

The lawful line of the Patriarchs of Antioch, successors of S Peter and of S Ignatius, happily came back into full communion with the other Petrine See in the 1700s; it is a jolly coincidence that, only a few days ago, we celebrated the old Roman festival of the Pontifical Chair of S Peter at Antioch. But, in the years that followed, S Gregory was an embarrassment. Latin theologians often deemed it their duty to call him a heretic. So, in the 1800s, Patriarch Maximos Mazloum, a great pontiff who had secured  from the Ottomans legal recognition of his Melkite people, placed the Commemoration of the Relics on this Sunday, displacing the remembrance of S Gregory Palamas.

I find it a matter of great joy that the Melkite Patriarchate of Antioch (etc.) now keeps both of these observances. Thus the commemoration of S Gregory has re-acquired full Petrine authority. Envious Latins may also observe that Byzantine liturgical instincts do not share the superstition that gripped the Vatican's monomaniac 'liturgical reformers' of the 1960s, the idea that any day may have only one strong liturgical theme.

Some silly games are currently being played by PF and others with increasingly liberal strands of Lutheranism. In reaction, some traditionalists have, perhaps naturally, taken refuge in rigorist attitudes towards shared Sacramental Communion with any Christians not in full and canonical communion with the See of Rome. But these attitudes cannot, without considerable violence to history, be made to apply to Sister Churches (that is to say, dioceses) with valid ministries and Sacraments, which are true (though wounded) Particular Churches. This fact, consistently asserted in the Magisterium of S John Paul II and of Benedict XVI (Communionis notio, Dominus Iesus), simply reflects what had been the realities of ecclesial life under the Magisterium of successive Roman Pontiffs throughout the previous five centuries, down to and including Blessed Pius IX and S Pius X.

I shall return to this later today.


fr. Thomas said...

Having read Martin Jugie's lengthy article on the Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique, I don't see how Palamas can be exculpated from the common charge of undermining diving simplicity. He speaks about an upper and lower godhead.

Unknown said...

Dear Father,

You may have seen the monks of Papa Stronsay's excellent series of posts on "communucatio in sacris, following the Pope Emeritus' Vespers with Dr Williams, during his Papal Visit to your Isle?

Here is the link: http://papastronsay.blogspot.ch/search/label/Communicatio in sacris?m=0

Woody said...

We Ruthenians (Byzantine Catholic Church) are also celebrating Saint Gregory today happily. One of the all time greats. Oh, and you did not know that my family name is really Jonesovich?

Jacob said...

FAther, you may find these interesting (if you haven't already seen them):

Rehabilitating a Patriarch, Byzantine Thomism, and Ecumenical Theology and The Essence/Energies Distinction in the Theology of St Gennadius Scholarios by Father Christiaan Kappes.

Matthew Celestine said...

St. Gregory Palamas made a valuable contribution indeed, though it must be said his distinction between the essence and energies of God is problematic, at least on the face of it.

Wolverine said...


According to Palamas, this transcendent God transcends the Divine Energies “to an infinite degree and an infinite number of times.” It is as though we have two Gods. To the first – the totally transcendent, ineffable, unknowable Divine – Palamas gives the Name God. But to the second – the Eternal, Uncreated “God outside God” – He only applies the Name “Divine.” How can we have two “Eternal Divines” without them being two Gods? His strange answer as to how this absolutely transcendent God can be connected to the energies runs as follows:

“Essence and energy are thus not totally identical in God [to say the least: we are certainly right to question how something which infinitely transcends something else, and then infinitely transcends it an infinite number of times, could be considered in any way identified with that which it transcends], even though He is entirely manifest in every energy, His essence being indivisible.”

In other words, Palamism presents to us an infinitely transcendent and unknowable God somehow un-transcending Himself and His transcendence in order to be entirely manifest in every energy. Again, we have the right to pose a question: How can a God Who is an infinity of infinities above His “Energies”, and is in no way to be identified with them, yet be “entirely manifest” in every one of them? It would thus appear that Palamism posits a God of Divine Self-contradiction as a logical and necessary consequence of the dualism which it has established in the Divine.

Liam Ronan said...

I recall the pious PM Tony Blair regularly received the Holy Eucharist while still a member of the C of E until, according to the Guardian, Cardinal Hume told him to knock it off in 1996. After initially remarking "I wonder what Jesus would have made of it?" Mr. Blair joined the Catholic Church and we are forever edified.


mark wauck said...

Thanks Fr. Thomas and Wolverine. Wolverine, I think that writer is correct in his assessment:

"Anyone who is familiar with the flavor of such systems of thought as Vedantic Hinduism, Platonism, Neo-Platonism, all the various forms of Gnosticism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and even the New Age movement should recognize the spirit of this passage. It is ascending gnosis by which one attains to enlightenment through a rending of the veils which conceal the Divine within creation, and especially within man."

It's worth noting that the Neoplatonic influence on Arianism is also well known.

Woody said...

Jugie is now discredited. See the extensive S Gregory Palamas resources collected here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2014/11/saint-gregory-palamas-resource-page.html?m=1

Woody said...

See also this: http://www.ecclesia.gr/greek/press/theologia/material/2012_3_3_Russell.pdf

Samuel J. Howard said...

Having read Martin Jugie's lengthy article on the Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique...

You may wish to read scholarship on Palamas published more recently than that of Father Jugie. The consensus has moved a bit since he died in 1954!

Not only the Melkite, but also the Ukrainian, Russian, and Byzantine (Ruthenian) Greek Catholic Churches celebrate Palamas on the 2nd Sunday of Lent. (I'm not saying that the other Byzantine-Rite Catholic Churches don't, I just don't know first hand.)

Josh Hood said...

I would note that the Ruthenians do NOT include the commemoration of S Gregory Palamas in the Divine Liturgy book published in 2007; there's some disagreement about whether it's appropriate to commemorate him. The troparia for his commemoration are, however, easily available and widely (though not universally) used.