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Gregory Palamas (1296-1359)- monk, archbishop and theologian -was a major figure in 14th-century Orthodox Byzantium. This, his greatest work, presents a defense in support of the monastic groups known as the hesychasts, the originators of the Jesus Prayer. 


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Gregory Palamas (1296-1359)- monk, archbishop and theologian -was a major figure in 14th-century Orthodox Byzantium. This, his greatest work, presents a defense in support of the monastic groups known as the hesychasts, the originators of the Jesus Prayer. 

30 review for The Triads (Classics of Western Spirituality Series)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    Part 1: Philosophy does not save. In this first chapter (and by chapter that is the division that Pelikan and Meyendorrf are using, and so I will use) Palamas critiques the Baarlamite notion that we have to know in order to be saved. Or more precisely and better put, we have to have a good grounding in philosophy before we can understand God. Part 2: The Body and Prayer Mostly good section on how the body is good. I wish he would have taken it a step further and noted, if the body is good, and marr Part 1: Philosophy does not save. In this first chapter (and by chapter that is the division that Pelikan and Meyendorrf are using, and so I will use) Palamas critiques the Baarlamite notion that we have to know in order to be saved. Or more precisely and better put, we have to have a good grounding in philosophy before we can understand God. Part 2: The Body and Prayer Mostly good section on how the body is good. I wish he would have taken it a step further and noted, if the body is good, and marriage is good, then is sexual intercourse a good? Here the anchoretic tradition has struggled in giving a hearty “yes.” The Orthodox writer Vladimir Moss capably documented the problem here. I also agree with Palamas that the heart is the rational faculty (I.2.iii; p. 42). Further, I also agree that “the divine” (my words, not his) has penetrated all of created reality (1.ii.6; 45). Hyperousia: The essence is beyond the Godhead (2.iii.8; p. 57). Clarifications: Admittedly, Palamas does not go for a full apophatic theology. He writes, “Let no one think that these great men are here referring to the ascent through the negative way” (p. 37; 1.iii.20). This kind of makes sense. Anybody can merely deny propositions of God with no view towards holiness. Palamas is clear that apophatic theology is necessary to liberate the understanding, but it is not enough for union with the divine. Palamas says the energies are en-hypostatic (3.i.9, p. 71). This saves him from the immediate charge of Neo-Platonism. It raises the question: which hypostasis(es)? He answers: The Spirit sends it out in the hypostasis of another (ibid). With which we agree with Palamas: To a certain extent I can accept his conclusions about the reality of the divine light. I just have problems with calling it a “hypostatic energy.” Further, he gives a very moving description of Paul’s own vision (p. 38; 1.iii.21). We agree with Palamas, and contra Barlaam and the Thomists, that in the eschaton we will not know God by created intermediaries. Potential problems: transcending human nature: Palamas is suggesting something akin to knowing God beyond sense perception and discursive reasoning. The saints have “an organ of vision that is neither the senses nor the intellect” (p. 35, I.iii.17). Open criticisms: I don’t know how seriously I can take Palamas’s claim that he isn’t dependent on philosophy like the West is. His doctrine of essence, energies, motion, salvation as transformation are all highly technical philosophical concepts. Even if “hyper-ousia” is a valid theological concept, it is taken from Plato’s Republic (Plato 549b). Further, on p. 105 Palamas refers to God as “Prime Mover.” How is this not using Aristotle? Some questions: If the breathing technique is so important to prayer, how come none of the apostles ever mentioned it? Granted, one can agree that Scripture doesn’t say everything, but still, this is a rather important omission. To the degree that the hesychasts follow in the best of the Evagrian tradition (Meyendorff, 2-3), one must ask if this would have ever gotten off of the ground were it not for Origen. If this genealogy is true, then we are faced with the troubling implication that not only is this tradition of prayer not apostolic, but it comes from a rather suspect source! If both Persons and Nature are hyper-ousia (cf. Triads III.iii.17-20, which this text doesn’t include), precisely how is it possible to know them? If grace is already inherent in nature, then what was originally wrong or inadequate with nature that it required grace? (And the distinction between prelapsarian and postlapsarian man is irrelevant.) How coherent is it to call the energies “hypostatic” (p. 57, II.iii.8) while insisting that hypostasis does not mean what hypostasis means when it refers to the Trinity? I realize that Meyendorff glosses “hypostatic” to mean “real existence” (p. 131 n .2), but in the context of the Trinity we now have nature, hypostases, and hypostatic energies (which are not the same as hypostases. Is it any wonder that Latin critics drew the inference of a “fourth hypostasis?” True, Palamas explains this by saying the light is “enhypostatic” . Robert Jenson has suggested that Palamas places the divine energies outside the gospel narrative (Jenson 157). I do not think Palamas’s move is as crass as Jenson suggests, but the problems are there. Following Maximus, it appears that Palamas sees the events in the gospel narratives as symbols of higher reality (3.i.13, p. 74). Does it really make sense to say that God is both beyond knowledge and beyond unknowing (p. 32; 1.iii.4)? I realize Meyendorff glosses this as a Ps. Dionysian move, which it is, but that only raises further problems. If God is ineffable (Meyendorff, 121 n.9), then what’s the point of even speaking of God? I simply do not accept that the “knowledge-which-transcends” apophatic and cataphatic knowledge is not merely another form of cataphatic knowledge, for it ends with positive descriptions of God. That’s not a problem, but we need to call it what it is. And a common criticism of Palamas: If God’s essence is unknowable, how does Palamas know that it is unknowable (Lacugna)? To be fair, Palamas does anticipate this criticism. Palamas notes that any answer he gives must be “tentative.” He then gives a very important answer--we know God “by the disposition of created things” (2.iii.68, p. 68). In other words, we know God by his works, not by peering into his nature. There is an important truth to this, and Palamas would have done well to finish the thought: if we are truly to know God by his works then we must look to his covenant and to the finished work of Christ. Of course, such a move is counter to any talk of apophaticism and essence-beyond-essence. Palamas does not continue the thought. Can simplicity be maintained? A common Thomist critique of Palamas is that it compromises God’s simplicity. Palamites are quick to respond that they do not hold to the Thomistic version of simplicity. However, Palamas himself thought he held (and one should hold) to simplicity. He asserts, quoting Maximus: “These realities, though numerous, in no way diminish the notion of simplicity.” They may not, but it’s hard to see how they don’t beyond merely asserting it. Strangely, Palamas break with the Pseudo-Dionysian ontology at a key point: Said model posits a number of descending hierarchies from The One. Each hierarchy mediates to the one below it. And for the most part Palamas, and much of East and West at this time, do not challenge this model (for a very beautiful application of it, see John Scotus Eriguena). Barlaam raises an interesting question, though: If the divine energies are fully God, then how can they appear to the saint without the mediation of hiearchies? Palamas answers with an analogy: An Emperor can speak to a common soldier without raising him to the rank of general (3.iii.5; p. 103). Palamas’ analogy shows us that we can’t simply accuse the essence/energies distinction of being fully neo-Platonic. It’s not. Still, if Palamas is right, and I think he actually makes a perceptive point here, it’s hard to see how he can simultaneously affirm Pseudo-Dionysius’s model. If fact, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t completely negate it. This is indeed Colin Gunton’s argument in The Triune Creator. Now to the heart of the criticism: ousias do not have “interiorities.” In other words, there is not a subsection of ousia apart from the life of that ousia. As Heidegger reminds us, “ousia” is always “par-ousia,” being present. If Palamas wants to say that the energies make the ousia present, fine. But if he says that, then one really doesn’t have warrant to speak of a superessential, ineffable ousia by itself, for the very point of the energies and of ousia in general is that it is not by itself. Perhaps the most damaging criticism of Palamas is the divorcing of economy and ontology. Related to this is that the energies seem to replace the role of the Persons in the divine economy. For example, the energies are not unique to a single person but common to all three who act together. This is not so different from the standard Western opera ad intra indivisible sunt. Catherine Lacugna, quoting Wendebourg, notes, “the proprium of each person...fades into the background” (Lacugna, 195). By contrast, the Cappadocians would say we distinguish the Persons by their propria--by their hypostatic idiomata. In Palamas, though, this role has been moved to the energies. This is further confirmed by the fact that Palamas has the persons as hyperousia. Apropos (11), and echoing Robert Jenson, if the Persons are eclipsed by the energies and remain in the realm of hyperousia and “above” the biblical narrative, in such case that we can no longer identity the persons by their hypostatic propria, we can only conclude that Palamism, despite its best intentions, is a more frozen form of modalism than anything Augustine or Aquinas ever dreamed of. Without endorsing his theology, Paul Tillich made a pertinent comment regarding East and West. For the former, reality and salvation is vertical--union with the divine. For the latter it is horizontal--the kingdom of God in history. Perhaps an overstatement, but certainly a warranted one.

  2. 4 out of 5

    M.G. Bianco

    I've got to admit I understood much less of this than I'd like to admit. Yet, I was moved by it at various points. I enjoyed reading how a Church Father would interact, apologetically, with someone whose theology was suspect. So, to that extent, the book was helpful for understanding the apologetic approach Gregory took with Barlaam. It was also helpful to read more about the hesychasts and what they were doing. Barlaam seems to take liberty with Dionysius and that liberty leads to him confusing I've got to admit I understood much less of this than I'd like to admit. Yet, I was moved by it at various points. I enjoyed reading how a Church Father would interact, apologetically, with someone whose theology was suspect. So, to that extent, the book was helpful for understanding the apologetic approach Gregory took with Barlaam. It was also helpful to read more about the hesychasts and what they were doing. Barlaam seems to take liberty with Dionysius and that liberty leads to him confusing who God is. Gregory, on the other hand, is essentially arguing that "The living God is accessible to personal experience, because He shared His own life with humanity" (John Meyendorff, pg. 1). It seems The Triads are more important today than we tend to think--all the more reason I need to wrestle through it again and improve my understanding of Palamas's work. I don't know how prevalent a discussion it is, but I know that I've encountered Christians who think that prayer (the kind the hesychasts engage in) is silly, superstitious, and too subjective. Yet, as St. Gregory argues, the kind of encounter the hesychasts have experienced is the kind of encounter that God offers to man, first and foremost at Mt. Tabor with the Transfiguration. Prayer. It's something I need to be better at, and something that St. Gregory has pushed me toward for sure, hence the five stars.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Duffy

    This only doesn't get a 5 because the edition redacts material deemed too polemical or otherwise 'inessential' to the main thrust of his argument. And because there are too many endnotes, many of them unnecessary. But the actual writing and thought of St. Gregory is tremendous, of course. This only doesn't get a 5 because the edition redacts material deemed too polemical or otherwise 'inessential' to the main thrust of his argument. And because there are too many endnotes, many of them unnecessary. But the actual writing and thought of St. Gregory is tremendous, of course.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Excellent. God is utterly transcendent in His essence yet completely immanent in His uncreated energies. Palamas' central thesis also makes sense of union with God (theosis). We are not united to God by His essence for then we would be "absorbed" into God or become a member of the Holy Trinity. We are also not united to mere created entities for this would make theosis impossible. We are united to Christ by the divine uncreated energies *in* the hypostatic union. Union is participation in the en Excellent. God is utterly transcendent in His essence yet completely immanent in His uncreated energies. Palamas' central thesis also makes sense of union with God (theosis). We are not united to God by His essence for then we would be "absorbed" into God or become a member of the Holy Trinity. We are also not united to mere created entities for this would make theosis impossible. We are united to Christ by the divine uncreated energies *in* the hypostatic union. Union is participation in the energies of God.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Akash Ahuja

    Not really sure if it’s fair to rate this book- I’m most of the way through writing a paper analyzing and critiquing the argument that Palamas puts forth in defending hesycham in the Orthodox Church in the 14th century. It was really insightful into Christian spirituality in the East, but it was also a fierce challenge to keep up with the logic and decipher the vocabulary. I’m happy I’ve been able to engage with this text and I have definitely learned from it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    The book that ultimately convinced me of the Orthodox worldview, the Triads of St Gregory Palamas defends the Hesychast tradition and the Essence/Energy distinction. Palamas' theology acts like an apex - linking the highest level of Divine Life and participation of Hesychasm to the unique E/E doctrine of the Eastern Christians and the early Western Christians. His opponent, Barlaam of Calabria, denied the uncreated energies of God, which logically reduces all level of participation with God as i The book that ultimately convinced me of the Orthodox worldview, the Triads of St Gregory Palamas defends the Hesychast tradition and the Essence/Energy distinction. Palamas' theology acts like an apex - linking the highest level of Divine Life and participation of Hesychasm to the unique E/E doctrine of the Eastern Christians and the early Western Christians. His opponent, Barlaam of Calabria, denied the uncreated energies of God, which logically reduces all level of participation with God as illusory created manifestations. Not only does Palamas rely on the rich tradition of the holy fathers to prove his claims, but systematically and logically refutes Barlaam on every point whilst communicating the purpose of the Divine Life. This book for me would be a five-star rating, if not for the fact that it is not a full translation. The remainder of the book Meyendorff did not translate addresses passages that Barlaam used from St Augustine, to which St Gregory frames them correctly within the Orthodox worldview. St Augustine is largely misunderstood amongst the writers of the 20th century. I wish to make it clear however that this book is great and is both theological and spiritual nectar for all Orthodox Christians.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Wyatt Graham

    Nicholas Gendle provides an excellent translation that clearly articulates the main concerns of Gregory Palamas in his theology discourse with Barlaam. Palamas articulates how God's grace can transform a believer fully and truly. And he attempts to demonstrate how the transforming grace of God (deification) comes to us not as created nor quite as uncreated but as something in between. It comes by a sort of spiritual vision. For God is superessential. So even if his deity comes to us to transform Nicholas Gendle provides an excellent translation that clearly articulates the main concerns of Gregory Palamas in his theology discourse with Barlaam. Palamas articulates how God's grace can transform a believer fully and truly. And he attempts to demonstrate how the transforming grace of God (deification) comes to us not as created nor quite as uncreated but as something in between. It comes by a sort of spiritual vision. For God is superessential. So even if his deity comes to us to transform us, we could never by nature be God. But we become like him. In Protestant talk, Palamas wants to show how the Spirit transforms us by faith. He wants to explain that we do truly change, and the supernational does exist. It's not merely notional knowledge that never changes us. We believe and we therefore become. We confess and then we do. For my part, I see Palamas and Symeon The New Theologian as laying the groundwork for reform. The former pushes for an experience of true conversion, the latter for a faith that is not merely nominal---God's grace does do something. It is my lament that the Protestant Reformation did not come to the East in force. The ground was fertile.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    Reading this book, my preconceived notions have been significantly overturned. I ventured to read this medieval treatise believing it will differ greatly from the early patristic literature in engaging Greek philosophical terms like (οὐσία) essence and (ἐνέργεια) energies, and an unnecessary complication of the simplicity of scriptural truth. What I found instead was pleasantly surprising. Gregory Palamas stays true to the principal of prima scriptura and distances himself from pagan philosophy Reading this book, my preconceived notions have been significantly overturned. I ventured to read this medieval treatise believing it will differ greatly from the early patristic literature in engaging Greek philosophical terms like (οὐσία) essence and (ἐνέργεια) energies, and an unnecessary complication of the simplicity of scriptural truth. What I found instead was pleasantly surprising. Gregory Palamas stays true to the principal of prima scriptura and distances himself from pagan philosophy which is evident in his allegory of extracting medicine from a serpent after separating the poison from it. According to Basil of Caesarea, as bees are attracted to the good where ever it may be found, we, likewise, need to find and acknowledge the good wherever we may find it. Palamas adds further precaution to this wisdom by introducing the need to separate the good from the bad in order that the medicine may benefit the sick and not harm them. The harm that he clearly believes Barlaam's views and the Latin doctrine to have incurred. The reliance upon scriptural and patristic witness is what makes his work maintain a similitude to the early patristic works. He harks back to the transfiguration narrative to drive home his point about the Divine energies being uncreated and at the same time visible to illumined eyes. Throughout his polemic he maintains the apophaticism of the East, using Dionysius the Areopagite, while defending the the mystical perception and union through the uncreated energies. This via media position that is characteristic of Orthodox theology is what I believe doesn't let it slip into a sort of Nestorianism that the Latin teaching on this issue risks but suggesting created grace. The fact that he was an ascetic and not just a scholar points to the fact that he wasn't merely philosophizing but had an intimate knowledge, maybe even a vision, of what he was describing. Palamas has been canonized and his Orthodoxy vindicated and integrated into the yearly liturgical cycle of ecclesial life of the East while Barlaam and his errors condemned and anathematized. This tells us that Palamas was no eloquent innovator in this matter, but has articulated the phronema of the East in his Triads, but the question remains if Barlaam had articulated the Latin position on this issue with all the nuance required to make this piece of history an irrevocable ecclesial event that strengthens the existing schism. The question of created or uncreated grace builds up another wall separating the East and the West alongside the Filioque clause and others, thus, preventing any real union in the future. Putting aside the unification issue, it is commendable that Palamas defends the most important union, Theosis, in arguing for the hesychastic practice of Athonites.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gregory

    About half way through and extremely involved in it... This citation is for this book, somehow got my titles mixed all the same it is worth the read. I am actually reading a different version, but John Meyendorff wrote the Intro. Gregroy Palamas presents some very exciting ideas here and much to contemplate and wonder about towards "Being". My translator is Nicholas Biddle if i remember correctly, St. Gregory Palamas helps us learn important ideas of today and of yesterday. Reminds me of a qoute, About half way through and extremely involved in it... This citation is for this book, somehow got my titles mixed all the same it is worth the read. I am actually reading a different version, but John Meyendorff wrote the Intro. Gregroy Palamas presents some very exciting ideas here and much to contemplate and wonder about towards "Being". My translator is Nicholas Biddle if i remember correctly, St. Gregory Palamas helps us learn important ideas of today and of yesterday. Reminds me of a qoute, "Wonder is a necessity when reading and studying nature"

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    In this classic work of Orthodox Christian theology St Gregory Palamas delves into the distinction between the Divine essence and energies by way of defending the use of the body as a vehicle for prayer.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Schmitt

    The letter format of Gregory makes the introduction to the book quite approachable. His theories about the Divine Energies and the Uncreated Light through the practice of the Jesus Prayer are quite profound. A must read for anyone seeking a serious approach to Prayer.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Olivares

    Amazing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Youssef

  14. 5 out of 5

    Clifton D. Healy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Karri

  16. 4 out of 5

    Milicevic Zikica

  17. 5 out of 5

    Donovan Symeon

  18. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Sokol

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chris Richardson

  20. 5 out of 5

    ERIC OKUNYA

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dimitri Rastoropov

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  23. 5 out of 5

    Abbé Regal

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  25. 5 out of 5

    Melbourne Bitter

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eric Ryniker

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Sevcik

  28. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Amis

  29. 4 out of 5

    David

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kadu

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