There were hidden depths to Palamas's stance against Barlaam. After a two-year vacancy the patriarchal throne went to John Kalekas (1334-47), a married man and a member of the imperial clergy. It was a political appointment, which aroused bitter resentment both among the bishops and in monastic circles.30 Coinciding as this appointment did with the reopening of dialogue with the papacy it could easily be construed as a return to the unionist strategy of Michael Palaiologos. This was an affront to the monks of Mount Athos, where the myth of their brave resistance to his persecution was taking shape. As spokesman in the debate with the Latin cardinal it was easy to cast Barlaam in the role of another Bekkos.
Barlaam objected to criticism, which he judged to be both unfair and ill informed. He also resented the way Palamas was turning friends and acquaintances against him. He expressed his indignation by ridiculing the exercises employed by some hesychasts - navel-gazers, as he called them - to facilitate a vision of the uncreated light. He went further: he accused them of Messalianism or seeking purification through prayer. This was a dangerous charge because of the prominence that repetition of the Jesus Prayer had assumed in hesychast practice. Gregory Palamas had now to defend practices and beliefs that had become central to the monastic ideal. As things stood, only the writings and intuitions of mystics, such as Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory of Sinai, supported a belief that the vision of the uncreated light vouchsafed mystics direct contact with the divine. Gregory Palamas began by making a distinction between the essence and the energies of the Godhead. God in his essence is unknowable, but in His infinite mercy He has manifested Himself in various ways to creation and mankind, most famously at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. This Gregory argued was only possible through the exercise of the divine energies. Realising that he would be accused of dividing the Godhead he invoked the analogy of the sun and its rays as proof that there was no necessary division. While Barlaam's agnostic approach threatened to divorce God from humankind, Gregory's theology did the opposite: it celebrated direct contact between God and man, but in such a way as to enhance the role of the mystic. Palamas mobilised support on Mount Athos for his theology, which was then approved by the patriarchal synod meeting on 10 June 1341 under the presidency ofthe emperor Andronikos III.
30 Ioannis Cantacuzeni eximperatoris Historiarum Libri IV, ed. L. Schopen (Bonn: Ed. Weber, 1828), 1, 432.
Was this article helpful?