Sunday, February 06, 2011

VI. Palamism and the Catholic West (col. 1809)

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Many thanks to Dr. Peter Gilbert of De unione ecclesiarum for supplying the French text of Fr. Martin Jugie's DTC article.

I have changed some of Fr. Jugie's words to clarify the meaning (e.g., the sentence involving George Scholarius; turn the spotlight on --> make a laughingstock of).

Thanks be to God! This translation is done. Any revisions are most welcome.

VI. Palamism and the Catholic West (col. 1809)
During the acute phase of the Palamite controversy, that is to say, between the years 1341 and 1368, talks between the imperial court of Byzantium and the popes for a crusade against the Turks and the union of the Churches were virtually constant. Moreover, Latins were not lacking in the East, and some Greeks converted to Catholicism there also. It was therefore inevitable that the noise of the quarrel which divided the Byzantine Church into two rival factions did not reach the ears of Westerners and, in particular, that the papal legates had not one day or another to deal with it.

1. We see, in fact, in 1355, the pontifical legate, Paul of Smyrna, attending, in the company of John V Palaeologus, the debate between Nicephorus Gregoras and Gregory Palamas. What impression Paul had of this theological joust, we can conclude from a letter he wrote later, that is to say, after the death of Urban V (†1370), to the pope and the cardinals to render an account of the discussions he had had on Palamism with the former emperor John Cantacuzene around 1366-1367. In this letter, published by Arcudius in Greek and Latin in his work Opuscula aurea theologica circa processionem Spiritus Sancti, Rome, 1630, and reproduced in P.G., t. CLIV, col. 835-838, he tells us that, having been sent by Urban V to go with John V Palaeologus (1366), he had tried to form an opinion on the Palamite doctrine, and had not arrived at a clear idea of it: "Cum nosse verum hujus doctrinæ cuperem," he says, "Constantinopoli degens, quando ad imperatorem Palæologum a commemorato summo pontifice missus tui, quævisimus istud scire, non autem potuimus verbo vel re aliquid certi de hac opinione et impia doctrina comprehendere. Quapropter et coactus sum verbis asperis eos insectari et veluti quibusdam argumentis provocare." P.G., loc. cit., col. 838. If he still did not understand it in 1366, it is evident that in 1355, after the debate between the two protagonists, he did not understand it. But he thought, one moment, that he had grasped it, following his talks with Cantacuzene, who had conceded, for a moment, that between God's essence and attributes there was a distinction of reason, κατ ἐπίνοιαν. But he was soon disappointed by reading the report of these discussions written by Cantacuzene himself, a report that has reached us, and which we talked about earlier, col. 1797. In talking about the distinction κατ᾽ ἐπίνοιαν, the emperor, like the Palamite theologians, simply wanted to say that the attributes could be separated mentally, and not in reality. The διαίρεσις πραγματική, or even the διάκρισις πραγματικὴ, was denied, and only a διαίρεσις κατ᾽ ἐπίνοιαν was admitted; but, in fact, the real distinction, διαφορὰ πραγματική, was maintained, and Cantacuzene continued to say, "ἄλλο ὴ οὐσία, ἄλλο ὴ ἐνέργεια, ἄλλο τὸ ἕχον, ἄλλο τὸ ἐχόμενον." In addition, he proclaimed the existence of a divine uncreated light, which is not identified with the divine essence; this is absolutely unacceptable: "Deinde scripsit de lumine, quod apparuit in monte Thabor, asserens illud esse increatum, et non esse Dei essentiam, sed quandam divinam operationem, quod ne auditu quidem ferendum est; nihil enim est increatum præter divinam essentiam." P.G., t. cit., col. 838.

The same letter of Patriarch Paul tells us that some Greeks had made the pope aware of the Palamite error and had informed him that Cantacuzene shared this error: "Nonnulli Græci retulerunt commemoratum imperatorum Cantacuzenum et Ecclesiam Græcorum multas suo dogmate divinitates inducere supereminentes et remissas, eo quod asserunt quæ Deo insunt realiter inter se differe." Ibid.. They had to be better informed when Demetrius Cydones came to Rome in 1369, accompanying John V Palaeologus, and when, later, the great opponent of Palamas, John Cyparissiotes, appeared at the papal court. This was a new divergence, a most serious one, in addition to those already too numerous, which separated the two Churches.

When the Council of Florence opened, there was reason to fear that this question of God's essence and His energy would only come to aggravate the difficulty of reunion. Yet it did not happen, because the Greeks had the prudence to avoid discussion on this topic. At the 25th session, the Latins handed them a list of four questions that still remained to be clarified, namely, the primacy of the pope, the existence of three categories of the deceased, the use of unleavened and leavened bread, and distinction between God's essence and His energy: τέταρτον, ἴνα ζητνθὴ περὶ θείας οὐσίας καὶ ἐνεργείας ἐπὶ συνόδου; cf. Ἡ ἁγία καὶ οἰκουμενικὴ ἐν Φλωρεντία σύνοδος (the narrative of Dorotheus of Mytilene), edition of the Benedictine Nickes, Rome, 1864, p. 304. They replied that they were not authorized by the emperor to discuss it, but they agreed to share their private opinion on the first three points. However, they refused to talk about the fourth point: "τὸ δὲ περὶ τῆς θείασ οὐσίας καὶ ἐνεργείας οὐδόλως ἀπολογούμεθα." Ibid.. The Latins, it seems, did not insist on a subject that would probably lead to an interminable debate. Still, we do not hear more about it, and the decree of union was soon signed. Indirectly, however, the Greeks had renounced Palamism by declaring they believed that the souls of the saints in Heaven behold God's essence: "καὶ τὸ θεωρεὶν τὰς ϕυχὰς τὴν οὐσίαν τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀληθῶς προσιέμεθα." Ibid. And they signed the Decree of Union, which says, "animas in cælum mox recipi et intueri clare ipsum Deum trinum et unum. SICUTI EST." Mark of Ephesus, in his third discourse on Purgatory given at Ferrara, denied this crucial point: Neither the blessed angels nor the saints, according to him, enjoy the vision of God's essence; he tried to prove this with a large collection of Patristic texts. Asked about the object of beatitude, he responded that the elect enjoy the glory of God, δόξα, the brilliance that flows from His essence: "ὴ ἐκ Θεοῦ πεμπομένη αἴγλη." As for explaining what this glory is, he gave up, and referred the Latins to the definition given by St. John Climacus of divine illumination: "This is an ineffable energy, seen in an invisible manner and conceived in an inconceivable manner: Ἔλλαμϕίς ἐστιν ἐνέργεια ἄρρητος ὁρωμένη ἀοράτως καὶ νοουμένη ἀγνώστως." And he added: "You have heard the definition: seek nothing more." Cf. L. Petit, Documents relatifs au concile de Florence. La question de purgatoire à Ferrare, in Patrologia orientalis, t. XV, p. 157-162. In explaining it this way, Mark, who, as we have seen, was a strict Palamite, raised the question of the system of Palamas and the Taboric Light. We understand that when they went to Florence, on the doctrine of last things, the Latins would have liked to have some clarification on the object of beatitude and the Palamite theory of the divine essence and its energy. They seem to have been content with the answer [of the other Greeks] concerning the object of beatitude, an answer which categorically rejected the theory Mark maintained at Ferrara. It is likely that the emperor forbade his bishops to initiate a direct discussion on the divine essence and its energy. The Greeks themselves had sensed the danger of spreading the formulas and theories of Palamas before the Latin theologians, who were formidable logicians, and George Scholarius was there to advise them to keep to themselves such a childish theology, which, if exposed, would make the Greek nation a laughingstock. During the bitter controversy between Unionists and Anti-Unionists that followed the Council until the Capture of Constantinople, the question of Palamism, notwithstanding the definition given concerning the essence of beatitude, was not agitated. Instinctively, the more learned Greeks felt that they were not, with the theses of Palamas, on solid ground, and later polemicists very rarely dared to criticze the Latins for not admitting the Palamite theses.

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