16 March 2009

St Gregory Palamas at Café les Deux Magots

While looking for stuff on St Gregory Palamas, I came across the following comments of Archbishop Basil (Krivochein) translated and posted by Felix Culpa last year over at Ora et Labora:

This study [Fr Meyendorff’s A Study of Gregory Palamas], despite certain imprecisions, presents the most valuable part of the work of Fr J. Meyendorff. Fr Meyendorff lays out the theological views of St Gregory Palamas brilliantly and interestingly, although with insufficient attention to the ascetic-mystical aspect of his teaching. Unfortunately, however, the author, wishing to make the theology of Palamas more accessible to the contemporary reader, ‘modernizes’ his teaching and, pulling him out of his epoch, attempts to express it in terms of the most recent Western European philosophy. Especially irritating in this regard is the stubborn employment by the author through the length of the book of the expressions ‘existential,’ ‘existentialism,’ etc. for characterizing the teaching of St Gregory Palamas. The same, although to a lesser extent, may be said in regard to the application to Barlaam of the terms ‘nominalist,’ and ‘nominalism.’ It would be much more valuable (and, undoubtedly, ‘more scholarly’) had Fr John, instead of such modernism, studied more thoroughly the patristic roots of ‘palamism,’ as well as those of his opponents, in the theological and mystical tradition of Byzantium.

This immediately reminded me of the following little jewel of a footnote in Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin), ‘Hierarchy versus Anarchy? Dionysius Areopagita, Symeon the New Theologian, Nicetas Stethatos, and their common roots in ascetical tradition’ (St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 38,2 [1994], p. 153, n. 95), which I have already posted here, and which is available in PDF here:

‘Biblical’ versus ‘Platonist’ echoes altogether too clearly the reaction of Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars earlier this century to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century thesis of a ‘Hellenized’—and therefore corrupted—Christianity associated in particular with Adolph von Harnack. People such as Jean Cardinal Daniélou, Henri de Lubac, or indeed Vladimir Lossky fought Harnack a little too hard. While we all owe a great debt to these men, among whom Father John [Meyendorff] is certainly to be included, this does not mean that we are obliged to accept distinctions that do less than justice to the texts and thought of the ancients, or—worse—subject them often uncritically to the concerns of philosophies and movements that are quite alien to them. Modern existentialism comes to mind in this context. A Daniélou, for example, might have had an ear cocked to what was being said over the absinthe at Café les Deux Magots, but we need not. It is simply past time to have done with the exploded myth of a pure Hebrew, or ‘Semitic,’ tradition over and against a subversive ‘Hellenism.’

The image above is the cover of Fr Demetrios Koutsoures’s St Gregory Palamas: A Study of His Life and Work, featuring an icon of St Gregory by the hand of Giorgos Kordes.


Esteban Vázquez said...

Once a student of the late Fr Meyendorff said to me in a conversation, "Palamism is the Gospel." And that is certainly a defensible statement, but later I thought to myself, Just what is meant here by "Palamism"? St Gregory's alleged anti-nominalist "Christian existentialism"? If so, I'm afraid that puts some avowed and fervent "Palamites" in danger of preaching another Gospel.

aaronandbrighid said...

I know what you mean, particularly since Fr Meyendorff claims that this 'Gospel' corrects earlier Tradition, e.g., St Dionysius the Areopagite.