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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
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The problem of knowledge of God in the mind of Gregory Palamas / Проблема богопознания в мышлении Григория Паламы
Климков Олег Станиславович

кандидат философских наук

докторант, Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет

199034, Россия, г. Санкт-Петербург, Университетская наб., 7-9

Klimkov Oleg

PhD in Philosophy

Doctoral Candidate, the department of Russian Philosophy, St. Petersburg State University

199034, Russia, Saint Petersburg. Universitetskaya Naberezhnaya Street 7-9

ole823@yandex.ru
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Аннотация.

Объектом ислледования данной статьи является одна из наиболее значимых и актуальных проблем исихастской полемики, имевшей место в Византии XIV в., а именно разработка и осмысление православной теории богопознания в концепции ее главного представителя Григория Паламы. Предметом анализа служит конкретно-историческая дискуссия, в ходе которой формировались и кристаллизовались его воззрения на роль и место философского знания в духовном учении исихазма. Автор рассматривает также и взгляды оппонента Паламы Варлаама, в учении которого видны черты интеллектуализма античной философии. Используя феноменологически-аналитический метод, автор исследует проблему паламитской гносеологии. Анализируется принципиальное для Паламы различение между сущностью и энергией ума и его учение о теозисе. Автор подчеркивает тесную взаимосвязь гносеологической и антропологической проблематики, поскольку возможность богопознания и мистического видения ставится в прямую зависимость от способа человеческого существования, включающего не только интеллектуальные и эмоциональные его сферы, но и телесные практики. Отмечается доминирование экзистенциального подхода над эссенциалистской метафизикой в концепции Паламы.

Ключевые слова: гносеология, исихазм, паламизм, богопознание, аскетизм, безмолвие, православие, обожение, мистицизм, Григорий Палама

DOI:

10.25136/1339-3057.2018.1.25828

Дата направления в редакцию:

28-03-2018


Дата рецензирования:

26-03-2018


Дата публикации:

13-06-2018


Abstract.

The object of this research is one of the most significant and topical problems of the hesychast polemic that took place in Byzantium of XIV century, namely the development and comprehension of the Orthodox theory of the knowledge of God in the concept of its chief representative Gregory Palamas. The subject of this research is a concrete historical discussion, which has formed and settled his views upon the role and place of philosophical knowledge within the religious doctrine of hesychasm. The author also examines the views of Palama’s opponent Varlaam, whose doctrine contains the features of intellectualism of ancient philosophy. Using the phenomenological-analytical method, the author studies the problem of Palamite gnoseology. The fundamental for Palama difference between the essence and energy of the mind as well as his teaching on theosis are subjected to analysis. The author underlines the close link between the gnoseological and anthropological problematic, as the possibility of the knowledge of God is put in direct relation to the means of human existence, which includes not only its intellectual and emotional spheres, but the corporeal practices as well. An observation is made on the dominance of existential approach over existential metaphysics in Palama’s concept.

Keywords:

mysticism, theosis, orthodoxy, silence, asceticism, knowledge of God, palamism, hesychasm, gnoseology, Gregory Palamas

The problem of knowledge and vision of God has always been at the center of attention of Christian thinkers, but in the doctrine of Gregory Palamas it has acquired a fundamental importance. In the hesychast disputes in Byzantium of the 14th century, this topic received a serious philosophical and theological interpretation. "The discrepancy between the participants in the dispute belongs to the sphere of epistemology: is it possible for a person to directly perceive God? Is there a reliable and immediate knowledge that differs from the sensory?" [1, p. 166], J. Meyendorff notes. Palamas categorically maintains the fundamental inability of man to reach God only with his own strength. In this he is close to the position of Augustine, expressed in his anti-Pelagian works. The incomprehensibility of God stems from the fact that a person is separated from him by virtue of both his creature and, to a greater extent, the fall of man. Varlaam did not, according to Gregory, have such an experience, which led him to false conclusions. "All false “ego-like” autonomies Gregory wishes to set aside, so as to speak about “grace filling creation” to grant human life real authenticity – the eschatological hope of all of existence experienced in this life" [2, p. 18]. Thus, the criterion of experience is brought to the forefront, being a necessary prerequisite for the knowledge of God. The natural sciences and external philosophy are fully comprehended by the means of the mind alone, without requiring any special virtues and spirituality for its assimilation.

The whole point is to be able to correctly use various epistemological methods, applying them to the relevant fields of knowledge and not mixing the order of the natural with the order of the spiritual and mystical. "Theology for Palamas is a discourse on God and has as its objective to lead the human person to the vision of the divine light and the participation in the divine energies" [3, p. 74], G.C. Papademetriou notes. Without going into the complex problem of the correlation between philosophy and theology, let us note the need for a comprehensive approach to the study of the phenomena of the human spirit and thought, taking into account the specific historical and cultural-specific circumstances of each epoch. "Philosophers have been turning to theology for almost two millennia - D. Bradshaw writes - for help in overcoming difficulties, including, obviously, the existence of God and the relation of faith and reason, as well as such fundamental questions as the objectivity of morality, the meaning of our existence and the nature of being itself. Naturally, there were borrowings in the opposite direction, and often philosophers discovered in theology what theology itself took from philosophy many centuries ago" [4, p. 6].

Developing further his argument, Varlaam, referring to Dionysius the Areopagite, asserts that "it is impossible for a man to meet God except through the mediation of an angel, for the angels over us are sacred" (5, p. 375). Palamas categorically rejects this thesis, defending the possibility of direct communication between God and man. Perhaps this statement was true for the old mankind, but now after the incarnation of the eternal Logos, it has lost its relevance, and the speaker so pulls the Christians back, depriving them of the fruits of the coming of God in the flesh. That is, a worthy Christian is already available to the divinity, which does not need any mediation. But he can contemplate, of course, only divine glory, or energy, but not the essence of God. The Calabrian, however, does not recognize the Palamitic division into essence and energy, and expresses his understanding, reducing everything to one essence: "But hearing that grace and glory are supernatural, and if such things are known to them, they are like God, and therefore uncultured and without beginning, I call them the essence of God" [5, p. 377]. He argues that only with regard to the divine essence is the correct application of the terms "beginningless" and "uncreated", which means that if the energies are different from the essence, then they are necessarily created, if necessary. F.I. Uspensky notes that in the study of hesychast disputes there was not at all noticed "a philosophical basis that passes through all stages of the struggle and explains the opposite theological conclusions" [6, p. 225]. In the acts of the cathedral of 1348 this philosophical component clearly emerges. Hesychasts base their evidence on Scripture, and Varlaamites require evidence from the mind, based on Aristotelian syllogisms. "Even when the debate was not technically concerned with the usefullness of Plato and Aristotle in Christian theological thinking, – J. Meyendorff notes – it is clear that, for the hesychasts, the authentic, “natural” man – and therefore the whole complex of human faculties of knowledge – is the man “in Christ”, potentially transfigured, and “deified” through participation in Christ’s “Body”" [7, p. 55].

The philosopher continues to defend his views. "If, he says, to admit even that the divine energies are uncreated, still no one has seen them, if they have not become created" [5, p. 379]. The head of the hesychasts responds to this, that only the initiate can be created, but not in any way accessible, otherwise one will have to admit that the created is attached to the divine essence itself, which in principle is impossible. "Is it not clear," he asks, "that the saints, in surpassing themselves, see in God, by the power of the Spirit, the divine energies invisible by the created ability?" [5, p. 380]. That is, none of the people, of course, are able to know God by their natural forces; this knowledge is accomplished by the power of God himself, acting in the worthy. In support of his words Palamas quotes various texts of Maximus the Confessor, concluding that "in our opinion, those who are in God do not see ... when the power of the Holy Spirit is being introduced into their human condition, whose action they see that we can not do" [5, p. 381]. G.I. Mantzaridis notes that "thus man’s true knowledge of God is the fruit of his deification effected by God" [8, p. 115]. "The teacher of silence did after St. Maximus the Confessor is another step towards giving Corpus Areopagiticum a Christian meaning, freeing it from ambiguous concepts that became in the XIV century the more dangerous that they served as arguments in favor of the nominalism of humanists" [1, p. 186].

The Hesychast leader points out that Varlaam did not understand their teachings properly, failing to understand the difference between "sensual" and "supramental". He could not even grasp the distinction between "in him" and "in himself", which confirms the validity of his nickname "Latin-speaking". Meanwhile, this difference is very great and ignoring this fact necessarily leads to false conclusions, and "you hear the same thing here," writes St. Gregory, so that everything natural around God you consider to be in him" [5, p. 382], not having, moreover, an independent experience of the vision of light. Varlaam objects to him, saying that "even with regard to such light, I am struck blindness, yet ... I hear those who say that only the mind receives from the fact that under God, the shadow of its image, which so illuminates the leading part of the soul in us, yes and then only with the cleansed, how slow the lightning illuminates the gaze" [5, p. 383]. Palamas notes that he incorrectly interrupts the quotation he started from the creation of Gregory Nazianzin and suggests that he understand correctly. The meaning of the utterance changes dramatically, since the mind appears as the initial only stage of the communication of God. The enlightenment of the mind is called upon to draw a person to purification by God, which is not cleansed by the mind alone. After all, "the mind ... does not require much work for its purification, just as everything is easier to fall from purity, why it is purified without the divine attraction ... and such cleansing is available to beginners. Divine aspiration, purifying the whole arrangement and ability of the soul and body and delivering to the mind a more stable purification, makes man a receiver of the worshiping grace" [5, p. 383]. "The idea about the holistic nature of the knowledge of God, – Vasil (Krivoshein) notes, – is very typical of the whole teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. Here we meet for the first time in the field of asceticism and epistemology with such a characteristic St. Gregory Palamas is antinomism" [9, p. 144].

Palamas wants to say that not only one of his minds should be cleansed in man, but the whole man in the integral unity of the soul and body is called to the transformation. A man must open himself to meet God to give him the opportunity to know him. God knows man, man, in turn, knows God - this is how synergy takes place in the process of knowledge of God. Varlaam puts forward the thesis that the term "eternity" can be applied only to the divine essence and formulates the undoubted, as it seems to him, doctrine of the church on this issue, saying that "it is universally recognized and firmly established that the essence of the created God universe is only beginningless and infinite, outside of it all - the created nature, so that between the essence of God and the creature there is no other reality" [5, p. 347]. Palamas rejects this point of view which is neither a church dogma nor the truth in general. Referring to the Areopagite and Gregory Nazianzin, he accuses Calabrian of ignorance and inability to correctly understand the meaning of the church doctrine about this subject. He equates this doctrine of Varlaam with the worst of heresies, because from it the conclusion about the created character of hypostases in the Trinity follows logically. Palamas recognizes that only one of the essences - the essence of God - is without beginning. But it must have all kinds of powers, otherwise this essence can not be called God. These forces are inseparable from the divine essence, without possessing any special essences. That is, they themselves belong to the essence, being insubstantial. Among other divine powers, he calls the knower, the foreknowledge, the creative, the preservative, the godding, and the like forces.

Then Palamas begins to clarify the issue of the originality of not only the forces, but also the deeds of God. He says that vising and will, for example, are without beginning, but are not at the same time the essence of God. To such ancestral acts of God, one can also refer to existence, "because existence precedes not only the essence, but all existing, being the primary" [5, p. 350]. Here Palamas talks about the divine existence, but the ontological priority of existence before the essence and existing that we observe in his words allows us to recognize in his thinking the existence of elements of existential philosophizing that distinguishes him from the essentialist orientation of Varlaam's thinking. Analyzing the statements of contemporary Western critics of Palamism, J. Meyendorff concludes that "the problem is not the opposition of metaphysics to the need for theorizing, but the incompatibility of essentialist metaphysics, derived from Greek philosophy, with personal and existential metaphysics, the inherited St. Gregory from the Bible and the Church Fathers" [1, p. 308]. Based on the teachings of Maximus the Confessor on the contemplation of the forces of beings under God, Palamas comes to the following conclusion: "Neither uncreated goodness, nor eternal glory, nor life and the like will therefore not be directly super-existent essence of God. And above all this God rises as a cause. By life we call it, good and the like only on the discovering energies and forces of its super-essence" [5, p. 351]. In this case, the very name of God is based on the names of its energies. Without exhausting the depth of the divine nature, these names indicate the simplicity of the divine essence, which is above all of them and which in principle does not yield to any naming.

Varlaam believed that everything that has its beginning is already created, only the divine essence may have no beginning. The hesychast leader contrasts his belief with the idea that "all divine energies are uncreated, although not all are without beginning" [5, p. 352]. As an example, he points to the energy aimed at the creation of the world, which had a beginning and an end. That is, some of the uncreated energies can take their origin in God, without being without beginning. He also opposes the identification with the divine essence and the beginningless energies, since some of them may have an end. Thus the essence immeasurably exceeds all its energies and can not even be compared with them. This conclusion is not in any way contradicted by the notion of the simplicity and indivisibility of the divine essence and, "although because of the indivisibility of its essence, God is completely revealed in every energy, the essence and energy in it are in no way the same" [5, p. 353]. In other words, all energies are "not in God, but under God" [5, p. 354]. Here again the existential character of Gregory Palamas' thinking is recognized, which discover existence as the primary phenomenon, elevating it above the impersonal essence, taking its origin from it. Undoubtedly, this way of thinking has a certain consonance with the modern philosophical trends of personalism and religiously oriented existentialism. "In its opposition to Vaplaamite nominalism, Palamite thought is a solemn affirmation of divine immanence in history and in man. God does not reveal Himself to the world only “through creatures” but directly, in Jesus Christ" [10, p. 115].

Palamas accuses Varlaam of the fact that his philosophical position leads to the recognition of the creation of the divine forces and intends to prove this from his own words. The initial thesis of this point in the discussion is the phrase from the work of Areopagite (On divine names, 11, 6), where he calls "allowing self-existence, self-life and self-surrender, the unrequited mercenary forces emanating from God, to whom, in their own way, is and is called living, living and divine, which is why it is said that their first founder is Good" [5, p. 356-357]. Hence the philosopher concludes that these forces do not exist forever, since they have a founder. He argues as follows: "The unreported glory of God is eternal and not its other essence, but it is also part of the divine essence and is not eternal, for it has a hypostasis, a universal Cause" [5, p. 357]. Palamas insists that the divine glory, distinct from the essence, is eternal, although it is familiar. In support of his position, he quotes the words of Dionysius: "Divine minds move in a circular fashion, merging with the beginningless and endless sights of the Beautiful and Good" [5, p. 372] (On divine names, 4, 8). He points out that these sundials are completely different from the divine essence, although they are not separable from it. The reason for this conclusion is the fact that they are plural, while the essence is one, they are attached and are nothing more than the energies of a super-existent entity.

Palamas belives any union takes place by means of a touch - sensual, intelligent or spiritual. The essence of God is inviolable in principle. Since the union with the lights is a vision, they are visible. The essence is invisible. Hence, these sights are the very same light of the Tavor, which the hesychasts testify, but it can not be the essence of God. Gregory again repeats his conviction that uncreated light is not a knowledge that comes through a cataphatic or apophatic reasoning that he can not be used for evil and that he is not an intelligence. Investigating the reasons why Varlaam came to the conclusion about the created character of the divine forces, including light, he comes to the conclusion that it is his fault for the incorrect understanding of the Areopagite words that God made these forces (the "first founder"). In his opinion, this expression "only indicates their existence, and not at all the way of existence, and therefore is predictable and created and uncreatedly existing from God" [5, p. 361]. He points out that the philosopher did not even notice that in Dionysius these forces are called non-existent by excellence, which confirms their superiority over all that exists, that is, created.

If he means, under the essence, the very hidden and unreported super-essence, "then the supersuspicious essence of God as an associate comes out of him as the essentiality of all that has arisen" [5, p. 366]. This follows from the fact that any other materiality is excluded. That is, the unreproachable divine essence will be incorporated, for everything that has arisen with necessity must be included in the essentiality-being. "St. Gregory called the distinction between the essence of God and His energies a “real distinction” (pragmatike diakrisis), in contrast to the “real division” (pragmatike diairesis), which destroys unity and simplicity, and the “rational distinction” (diakrisis kat’ epinoian), which exists only in the mind" [3, p. 82]. Therefore, these logoses and paradigms must be located just between the uncompacted entity and all those who enter in, for there must necessarily be something whereby the communion with God takes place. "Here again once in Palamas aristotelian approach is manifested, incidentally, in this case, – Cyprian (Kern) notes, – absolutely correct, as referring not to the salvation of nonexistent outside the concrete personality of mankind, but of each of us. This is said to indicate once more the infidelity of the Varlaamites' stylization to the Aristotelian followers, which would mean the need for the unconditional Platonic coloring of Palamas" [11, p. 422].

The Christian theory of the knowledge of God as the most important of its problems comprehends the question of the possibility of knowing the divine essence. According to competent opinion of V.N. Lossky, "the different resolution of this problem by the Eastern and Western theologians gives us reason to assume that we have before us two different mystical epistemologies grounded in ontology, for the theology of the Byzantine East and the Latin West is not always identical" [12, p. 315]. This problem was particularly relevant in the XIV century in both halves of the already divided Christian world. In Byzantium, it was woven into the context of hesychast disputes, in particular, as the development of the problem of the difference in essence and energies in God. "Palamas’ thought, – concludes J. Meyendorff, – is very clear when he speaks of God as subject of action. He is closer to reality then than when he tries, more or less successfully, to conceptualize his thought in philosophical terms which inevitable lead to thinking of God as an object of knowledge" [10, p. 123].

D. Bradshaw, exploring the development of Christian philosophy and theology in the Western and Eastern traditions, notes that one possible way of understanding the Palamas doctrine is "to rethink the traditional approach to the categories that we are used to consider different - on the one hand, eternal, necessary divine attributes, and on the other hand, occasional, temporary divine deeds, and consider them as species within the framework of a more general genus that unites acts of self-manifestation" [13, p. 356]. S.S. Horuzhy argues that "the crisis of Aristotelian essentialism is not some fictitious fact, but the true reality to which European thought has led all of its evolution" [14, p. 271]. "According to Palamas and the early Church Fathers, Christ’s transfiguration, as the promise of a vision of God face to face, possesses a profound eschatological significance" [8, p. 123].

Thus, the problem of knowing of God is revealed in the thinking of Gregory Palamas at a conceptually higher level than in the tradition of Christian thought that preceded him. Following the spirit of Eastern Orthodoxy, he reveals the creative potential hidden in his dogma. The eschatological aspect of Palamas' thinking is especially important theologically. In the philosophical sense, the most actual topic is, I believe, the predominance of the existential approach over essentialist metaphysics. This approach opens new perspectives in the development of modern philosophy. So, in the teachings of St. Gregory we see a fruitful and optimistic solution to this problem. A person can and should strive for the knowledge of God and find it in his real life. Palamas, however, points to the pitfalls that lie in wait for an inexperienced and arrogant traveler heading to an unknown area of the spirit. A careful and profound reading of the writings of those who had experienced these dangers in their own experience and reached the divine light will help overcome them.

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