A Bad Theologian of Unity in the Fourteenth Century: Barlaam of Calabria

By Jean Meyendorff

Translated and edited by Steven Bigham, originally published as “Un mauvais théologien de l’unité au XIVe siècle : Barlaam le Calabrais,” 1054–1954. L’Église et les Églises. Études et travaux offerts à Dom Lambert Baudouin, vol. 2, Chevetogne, 1955, pp. 47-64.
With permission from Éditions de Chevetogne ([email protected]) October 30, 2023

I. Introduction

After some hesitations in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Christian West embarked on a new synthesis between revealed truth and the rediscovered and reappraised ancient philosophy. It is extremely striking to note that in Byzantium, which is generally considered to be the quintessential heir of Greek antiquity, the Church vehemently opposed, from the ninth century onwards, the “wisdom from outside” that was increasingly attracting some of the best minds in the society. In the eleventh century, a formal heresy trial was brought against the philosopher John Italos,1 a brilliant student of Michael Psellos, who had attempted to apply his master’s Platonic ideas to theology. The philosopher was condemned by a synod, and paragraphs were added to the Sunday Office of Orthodoxy—a text which is read in all the cathedral churches of the Eastern Patriarchates to this day—which practically closed off any possibility of creating a new synthesis between Hellenism and Christianity, after the one carried out by the Fathers of the fourth century: “To them who undertake Greek studies not only for purposes of education but also of following after their vain opinions, and are so thoroughly convinced of their truth and validity that they shamelessly introduce them and teach them to others, sometimes secretly and sometimes openly, Anathema.”2

Therefore, it is not surprising that in these circumstances, Byzantine humanists increasingly turned to the West, to the Italy of the Renaissance, where their aspirations were better understood and where their knowledge of the Greek language and classical antiquity alone garnered general respect.

However, around 1330, we see a Greek from Southern Italy, Barlaam the Calabrian, “abandoning his homeland out of love for true piety,”3 but also to study Aristotle in the original, as he could only find it in Constantinople at that time. He soon gained great success, not only for his profane knowledge but also in theology. Between 1333 and 1334, he was even entrusted with the task of engaging, on behalf of the Greek Church, in a dialogue on the procession of the Holy Spirit with two Dominican theologians, papal legates who had arrived in the capital to negotiate a union of the Churches. On this occasion, he wrote about twenty small anti-Latin treatises, all unpublished except for one, and we will examine some viewpoints below.4

These treatises were vehemently criticized by Gregory Palamas, the spokesman for the theology of the monks, and thus became the pretext for the specifically dogmatic aspect of the Palamite controversy. However, Barlaam did not lose credibility at the imperial court and the patriarchate since, in 1339, he was chosen to present a plan for Church union to the synod of Constantinople and received a special mission to negotiate with Pope Benedict XII in Avignon.5

Barlaam’s views on the question of Church union, as we find them in his project and in his speeches before the pope, essentially involved ignoring dogmatic difficulties. The filioque was to be considered a Western theologumenon,6 and the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist was theoretically accepted. However, for the sake of unity, the pope should remove the Western addition to the creed and adopt leavened bread!

According to Barlaam, these are the two nomoi (laws) of unity, and he did not lack eloquence and genuine sincerity when he made this urgent appeal to the pope: “If these two principles are proclaimed by the magnificent Throne of Your Majesty, they will encircle the entire world, and all will willingly submit to your rule and voluntarily obey your power; they will then clearly become one flock, and you—the sole shepherd. …”7 In stating these principles, the Calabrian philosopher is undoubtedly very Byzantine. Far from being, as has sometimes been thought, a representative of Western scholasticism, he displays a rather naive ignorance of the Roman concept of dogmatic definitions. He believes it is sufficient, for a union scheme, to address the issues of the filioque and the use of unleavened bread, without even delving into the problem of primacy in its relation to the infallibility of the Church.

In Avignon, Barlaam was informed that, on the one hand, the Roman Church had no intention of considering the filioque as a theologumenon since “it has been solemnly and universally determined and defined that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son, as from one principle and spiration, and any contrary opinion has been rejected and condemned.”8 On the other hand, the essential question was ecclesiological, and it involved the Greeks “returning to obedience, unity, and devotion to the Roman Church.”9

However, it is particularly interesting to note that Barlaam’s unionist views encountered equally categorical opposition in the East, on the same ecclesiological grounds: his opponents did not refer to dogmatic definitions regarding the filioque, but to the very foundations of his conception of the relationship between God and humanity in the New Testament; those concepts found a severe critic in the person of Palamas. In summary, we will attempt to provide the views of the Calabrian philosopher on the knowledge of God, which led him to distinctly relativistic concepts, linked to his attitude toward secular philosophy and to his interpretation of Pseudo-Dionysius. The Palamite controversy thus began with a dispute over the exegesis of Dionysius the Areopagite, to whom both parties constantly referred.

II. God is Indemonstrable10

Here is one of the passages from Barlaam that triggered Palamas’s reaction and sparked the controversy:

We say, therefore, concerning the proposed question [the filioque], that they [the Latins] must use either apodictic reasoning11 or dialectical reasoning12 against us. Otherwise, they will argue in a sophistical and false manner. But if we can demonstrate that the problem in question is not subject to apodictic reasoning, and, furthermore, that it is absolutely impossible to prove it to us through dialectical reasoning, it is evident that they will not be able to produce any reasoned arguments on this subject at all. But this will show us that it is impossible to use demonstration here: all demonstrations are demonstrated from what is naturally prior; the principles of demonstration are constituted by definitions, hypotheses, axioms, and they are naturally prior to what is concluded from them. The things concerning God, on the other hand, whether you speak of generation, procession, or any other truth, are the most prior and original things there are, and it is not permissible to say that they are subsequent to these common conceptions, hypotheses, and definitions that arise in our souls from particular experiences. Therefore, things concerning God are not demonstrated. On the other hand, all demonstrated things are linked to causes, definitions, and axioms from which they have been demonstrated, while no definition, no axiom conceived by men, can be the cause of what is within the Trinity: therefore, the things within the Trinity are not to be demonstrated.13

Barlaam supports his opinion on God’s “indemonstrability” by citing both Aristotle and Pseudo-Dionysius at different times. We can see that he is firmly in line with Byzantine medieval philosophy, which often sought to combine Neoplatonically influenced metaphysics with Aristotle’s logical methods.

Following the classical principles of this logic, every argument must proceed from axioms accepted by the “common reason,” that is, by both parties involved in the discussion.14 Barlaam reproaches Palamas, as well as the Latins, and especially Thomistic theology, for demonstrating theological truths from premises that the opponent does not accept. “If the Latins wish to engage in a discussion with the Greeks on the procession of the Holy Spirit, they must, to prove their proposition, put forward what is accepted by all Greeks, or by most of them, or by those among them who are the most renowned for their wisdom.”15

But how to find common theological axioms? For Barlaam, only Scripture and the Fathers can provide them: “If in the reasoning there is no premise drawn from the sacred Scriptures, we will naturally not believe it.”16 Moreover, the Calabrian often insists in his works on the necessarily absolute character that scriptural authority must have for true theologians: they [the Scriptures] constitute the principles of all reasoning. When Palamas accuses him of abandoning the tradition of the Fathers, he defends himself by quoting long passages from his works that emphasize his reverence for the great doctors.

Like any logical axiom, scriptural or patristic texts are indemonstrable for Barlaam. Their assertions must be accepted in their entirety by a docile reason, even if they formally contradict the laws of logic and generally accepted conceptions. Barlaam remains firmly within the formally conservative tradition that was often predominating in Byzantium starting in the ninth century and had as a corollary and consequence the emergence of a secular humanism, where many brilliant minds, including Barlaam himself, employed the creative power of their intellect.

In the domain where Scripture and the Fathers are not explicit, Barlaam admits the possibility of human reasoning, but this reasoning can never have an absolute and apodictic character. He writes the following to Palamas:

Not even the writings inspired by the Spirit, and what follows from them, persuade me to apply apodictic reasoning to God. First, because we need a lot of sobriety and vigilance, and perhaps divine illumination, to be able to properly embrace each of the revelations contained in these writings concerning God, and to see at the same time and without error the truths that follow from them. For people, understanding these revelations in different ways and, when they agreed on their content, not seeing in the same way the consequences that can be drawn from them, split into countless deviations and heresies, unable to think the same thing about theology and the economy of salvation. Then, even when we manage to consider them correctly, as well as their consequence, the reasoning does not become apodictic just for that, since we must add to it the higher premises based on our natural reason.17

Barlaam therefore shows an absolute lack of confidence in human reason to know God. We have already seen that for him divine transcendence excluded, according to the principles of Aristotle’s logic, any possibility of applying the laws of demonstration to theology. However, the Calabrian philosopher does not deny the very existence of divine realities to the extent that they exclude any logical explanation; on the contrary, he criticizes St. Thomas, who, according to him, fell into this error. “Thomas, and anyone who would reason like him, thinks that everything inaccessible to the intellect does not exist at all, but we believe that this opinion comes from a soul not foreign to a cunning and proud demon; for most divine things escape human knowledge.”18

Barlaam always seeks to base his ideas on the theology of Pseudo-Dionysius whom he admires very much. Quotations from the “divine Dionysius” constantly appear in his writings when he wants to affirm that theological truths have fundamentally nothing to do with everything that is the subject of profane sciences, governed by Aristotle’s logic. He always attacks Thomas, “who subjected to the same axioms and concepts the created and the uncreated, the material and the immaterial, being and non-being, essence and super-essence, the Principle anterior to all things and the last of the objects derived from them.”19 On the contrary, “the divine Dionysius, having understood that it is impossible to understand anything about questions related to God through human reasoning, says this when he begins his treatise on The Divine Names: ‘In general, we must not dare to say or even think anything about the super-essential and hidden Divinity, apart from what has been divinely revealed to us by the sacred Scriptures.’”20 In texts about divine transcendence, Dionysian vocabulary is continually found (autoen, huperousios ontotés), as well as the negative qualifiers that the author of the The Divine Names popularized. Barlaam thus becomes the advocate of a mystical and irrational [sic, non-rational?] theology; he exclaims: “Do you want to become a theologian worthy of Divinity? Reject vain syllogisms and distinctions; keep within yourself the indivisible commandments. ”21 Among the “vain distinctions,” he cites the one that contemplates God by separating essence and accidents and arrives at seeing in God only the Essence, whereas God is above essence. In created essences, some demonstrations are possible “about” these essences, but in theology, it cannot be the case since the divine Essence is beyond all contact and intellection. And if the Fathers speak of certain realities “around God,” it is, according to Barlaam, only the natural properties of the Essence, which, since they have no existence other than that of the essence, are also indemonstrable. It is with these assertions of Barlaam that the controversy with Palamas will touch upon the issue of divine energies.

Since the super-essential Divinity cannot be the object of demonstrations, human reason must be content with dialectical reasoning, not pretending to reach Truth itself and avoiding any absolute conclusion. Moreover, these reasonings are not an end in themselves and only appear where there is a dispute on a point of doctrine: theological reasoning for Barlaam is therefore not contemplation but a means of polemics, when the latter is necessary, and cannot, by definition, lead to any real conclusion. He does not hesitate to cite himself as an example to affirm the following: “I, who have often produced many reasonings on divine things, have not been able to produce up to now a single one that is apodictic, but every time I construct one, I see spontaneously, to the extent that I believe I have constructed it well and correctly, that it lacks many elements proper to apodictic reasonings.”22 The Calabrian thus comes to confess a formal nominalism23 that explains his dogmatic relativism well: “When you say that God is one and three, do you come into contact with any reality? . . . How can you prove anything in this domain? Because demonstration applies only to realities and not to words that do not mean anything.”24 Barlaam would not feel wounded if his treatises against the Latins were treated as “nonsense,” since the insult would affect only himself and not the truth that he does not claim to attain.

Thus, the core of Barlaam’s argument against the Latins, as well as against Palamas, consists of rejecting any apodictic and absolute assertion about God that is not a textual reproduction of the sacred Scriptures. All speculative theology will have only a nominal character [just about words] and can lead to no obligatory conclusion, since it cannot, by definition, come into contact with the Inaccessible. As we have already noted, Barlaam thus adheres, along with the entire Byzantine humanistic tradition, to a formally conservative theological traditionalism that does not admit any “dogmatic development” after the end of the patristic period. It is only during this period that the Holy Spirit truly guided the human spirit to the knowledge of God. Since that time, the Tradition has in some way become a petrified series of formulas which, by their limited character, leave intelligence only two possibilities: obedient passivity or activity foreign to theology. One of the elements that underlie this conception and intrinsically link it to humanism is the absence of a true sacramental ecclesiology, within which the knowledge of God should find a place not as an intellectual revelation granted to individuals, but as a reality constantly present in its fullness and in full truth within the sacramental community that is the Church, at any moment in time. This aspect of Barlaam’s thought can be illustrated by his attitude toward the philosophers of antiquity.

III. The Church Fathers and Pagan Philosophers

Barlaam explicitly asserts that certain important elements of his theological method are borrowed from Greek philosophers. We have already seen that the principles of Aristotelian logic served him to define the limits of these principles and, consequently, the inexpressible and indemonstrable nature of Divinity. But this latter characteristic itself, he borrows from the philosophers—especially the Neoplatonists—whom he readily acknowledges; he indeed declares them “admirable” because they “have understood human weakness and the transcendence of God.”25 Apophatic theology26 thus has its origin in Greek philosophy, and Barlaam is grateful to it for that.

He goes even further. According to him, the merit of the philosophers also lies in the fact that they clearly distinguished between those who have a true and personal experience of the divine and those who—the majority—can only claim to be faithful disciples of these privileged mystics. It is necessary to distinguish between theologians “of experience” and those who have only “opinions” about God. A direct and individual experience is required to become a true theologian, and there is no other theology than that which reflects a personal revelation given to an individual.

I say that the apostles, the prophets, and those like them had a vision from above; . . . for this reason, I consider them theologians of experience. As for those for whom it was not so, but who, having received by faith the divine revelations of these divine men, hold them firmly, I believe that they too deserve praise and admiration but do not have the experience of intelligible things.27

But these particular revelations were not the exclusive privilege of the mystics of the New Testament: the Greek sages also benefited from them. He writes the following to Palamas:

You seem to disparage the Ancients who have prohibited demonstration in the realm of divine matters. But I do not see why I should not consider them admirable, those who have so nobly recognized human impotence and the transcendence of God; and when I see them including among the inner elements of the soul the methods of demonstration and analysis, of definition and distinction, as well as all the science of division and transition, and declaring that, in the realm that surpasses us, those who have had a vision from above and the radiance of an intelligible light that allows them to unite with divine things contemplate the Transcendent better than through demonstration . . ., when I hear them say these things, I cannot help but presume that they too, to some extent, were enlightened by God and surpassed the masses of men.28

In the face of Palamas’s violent reaction against these ideas, Barlaam, in his second letter addressed to the Hesychast doctor, only confirms and develops his views on the matter.29

The wisdom of the philosophers undoubtedly constitutes a gift from God, who is the origin of all good: there is therefore no reason not to believe that they were “enlightened by God.”30 Obviously, for those of us who have not been the subject of any particular illumination, we cannot make a definitive judgment about the true nature of these revelations, but we have a criterion in the works of the Fathers, especially in the great Dionysius, where we discover the same ideas as in the philosophers, while Palamas claims to be the equal of the great mystics, pretending to judge the validity of their visions.31 The Areopagite has already resolved the question: the revelations made to the Ancients are true since he borrows the essential of his teaching—negative theology—from them.

If you want to know if the Greeks have also accepted that the Supersubstantial and anonymous Good transcends intelligence, science, and any other attainment, read the works of the Pythagoreans Pantenus, Brotinos, Philolaus, Charmidas, and Philoxenus,32 dedicated to this subject; you will find the very words that the great Dionysius uses in the last chapter of his Mystical Theology.33

Barlaam also refers to passages from Plato where the idea of the sovereign Good is declared transcendent to all knowledge, especially in Book VI of The Republic where the Good is considered the cause of the true existence of knowable objects.34 In this field, he considers Plato and the Pythagoreans as his true masters, while Aristotle has limited himself to tracing the paths of natural thought. Faced with Palamas’s accusations of abandoning revealed knowledge for pagan philosophy,35 he always insists on the agreement that, in his view, exists between the philosophers and the Fathers, especially in the field of apophatic theology. If God has revealed his truth to the apostles, this same truth has also been introduced by the philosophers. Moreover, the mystical spirituality that Palamas champions also has its origins in Neoplatonic writings, where we find the theory of a “mystical marriage” between two natures linked by “relations,” as well as the idea of “fusion” with God. Therefore, Palamas himself depends on it without knowing it.36

The apostles, the Church Fathers, and even pagan philosophers have, according to Barlaam, received divine revelations that make them “theologians of experience” and allow the rest of us to have “opinions” about the Divinity. Barlaam also specifies that these revelations essentially consist of an illumination of the intellect that enables access to a certain gnosis: the knowledge of Christian dogmas among the Fathers, and the knowledge of the laws of human reason and divine transcendence among the philosophers. In both cases, it involves purely intellectual revelation, although in some cases, it may be independent of the laws of logic. The illumination pertains to “the gnostic power of the intellect.”

When Barlaam hears about irrational [non-rational?] illumination among the Hesychasts, he vehemently objects and seeks to downplay the meaning of the term illumination that he had used himself. He says the following:

If the term illumination is figuratively applied to the gift of wisdom, knowledge, reason, and other virtues conferred by God on those who are worthy, I only desire this gift and ask to benefit from it. But I do not like virtues other than those I have mentioned, conferred by other illuminations, which are spoken of or actually exist; I think there is no advantage for a soul devoid of reason, full of folly, forgetfulness, error, stupidity, and foolish opinions, to be plunged into the light and fused into it; I think it [that soul] has not purified itself from these passions, and that it lacks the knowledge of the paths leading to the realities of the One.37

We see that, for Barlaam, there is no other mode of relationship between God and humanity than natural reason, which receives revelations without being thereby transfigured or transformed. According to him, the difference between Christian thought and that of the philosophers is only a matter of degree or object, while the human subject, the knower, remains essentially the same and possesses the same very limited means. In his polemic with Barlaam, Palamas always attacked this essential point. Barlaam believed that divine things are known through the same knowledge that relates to creatures. Their discussion often turns into a dispute between exegetes of the Pseudo-Dionysius, to whom both like to refer, and in whom Barlaam finds a basis for his agnosticism. Palamas is then obliged to provide a Christological correction to the Areopagite, which amounts to relegating a good part of Pseudo-Dionysius’s thought to the realm of natural theology, where dependence on profane philosophy becomes acceptable. For Palamas, the sacramental life of the Church and the grace of the Spirit granted in the New Testament to humanity, entirely independent of natural thought and profane philosophy, enable the Christian to live in the Truth itself. The Palamite controversy, in its early stages, essentially constitutes opposition between Barlaam’s humanistic nominalism and the theology of grace of Byzantine monks.

IV. Barlaam in Italy

In June 1341, Barlaam was condemned by a council in Constantinople and fled to the West, became the bishop of Gerace in Italy and spent his leisure time teaching Greek to Petrarch. Those Byzantine monks were far away: the ones who were “without instruction or education” and claimed to condemn him for his preference for ancient philosophers. He still had friends in Greece, including the Greek translator of the Angelic Doctor [Thomas Aquinus], Demetrius Cydones. Demetrius did not fail to be surprised by Barlaam’s sudden conversion to the Roman Church, which Barlaam had previously opposed. During his stay in Avignon, he encountered doctrinal rigidity that was just as strict as in the East, and it did not align well with his doctrinal agnosticism. In letters to his friends, the Calabrian once again confesses his convictions, based on the same principles he had outlined in his anti-Latin writings:

I knew neither before whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, nor do I think I know now. I believe that such a problem is beyond all human knowledge and intellect, method and demonstration, both now and then, just as you, in your letter, seem to say very well. But previously, I believed that He proceeds from the Father alone, and now, however, I believe that He proceeds from the Son as well.38

Human reasoning is incapable of attaining truths concerning God, so both Latins and Greeks would do better to avoid it in these matters. The only valid theological argument, according to Barlaam, is the argument from authority, which he identifies with “faith.”39 Since the Church Fathers are the ultimate authorities, it is appropriate to refer to them.

Since his departure to the West, Barlaam observed that on the question of the filioque, the Fathers were divided into two groups: those who have no clear expressions on this matter and those who affirm the double procession. St. John of Damascus is the only one who seems to formally deny the procession “from the Son.” Therefore, Latin doctrine is better founded.

However, it is highly unlikely that this small probability calculation led Barlaam to convert to the Roman Church. His conversion was most certainly a consequence of the humiliation he suffered at the 1341 council. When he described to his Greek friends the four signs that distinguish the true Church from the “schismatic” East, he appeared to be embittered by his failure and intellectually misunderstood by a mass that he considered fanatical and ignorant. According to him, these four signs are as follows:40

  • the discipline and order in the Roman Church
  • the education of its clergy
  • the presence of a visible and universal leader
  • the political power of Western peoples

The first two arguments are evidently determined by his personal circumstances: the prestige of the Hesychast monks in Byzantium, which was decisive in his condemnation, seemed abnormal and shocking to him, given that these doctors of spirituality were not invested with institutional authority. As for the third argument, it is curious to note that Barlaam’s ideas on the question of the “visible leader” do not significantly coincide with the official doctrine of the Church of Rome, and he has not essentially modified them since his departure to the West. He continues to admit the possibility that the Church’s head could fall into error41 and simply notes that God has not raised another in the East, which, for him, is proof of God’s fidelity to the first.42 Furthermore, when he speaks of Roman Primacy, he uses a decidedly utilitarian language. Lastly, the classic argument of the Byzantines against the perpetuation of Peter’s succession in Rome, to the exclusion of other Churches, retains its full force for him: in his anti-Latin treatises, he himself strongly contested that the bishop of Rome is the sole successor of Peter and the sole vicar of Christ since the other bishops also possess this dual role.43 And we see him, already “converted,” writing to his Greek friends: “In many different places and parts of the world, bishops were created by St. Peter, . . . and it is possible to name all his successors.”44 What is the evidence of Peter’s succession in Rome only? An apocryphal letter from Clement to James45 that Barlaam could not have known when he was in Byzantium. This Roman Primacy was also confirmed and determined by the emperors. Here, Barlaam does not fail to use a very Byzantine language.46

V. Conclusion

Without delving further into the analysis of Barlaam’s works, we can see that the Calabrian philosopher was primarily a brilliant representative of fourteenth-century Greek humanism, misunderstood in Constantinople, and disappointed by the monks’ “obscurantism.” A sincere advocate and promoter of Church union, he saw no other path to it than doctrinal relativism. His ideas, shared by many Byzantine humanists of the time, explain why, in the eyes of contemporaries, a strong interest in secular studies often led to practical Latinophrony.47 It is not within our scope to study here the profound influence that Barlaam and his writings had on subsequent generations of Latinophrones, as well as on Greek anti-Latin polemicists which continued to draw inspiration from his treatises against the Latins; they were often copied and widely disseminated throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The key feature of this influence is a certain sterilization of theological arguments that were opposed to the adversary without believing in their apodictic value. The filioque dispute descended into dialectics, which did not prevent a certain number of Greeks from changing their convictions when “more real” factors, such as nationalism, drove them to want to save their homeland with the help of the West. The dialogue they maintained with the Latins was no longer a theological one. A true dialogue between the East and the West could only begin with the sincere and free participation of the traditional party, of which the monks were the spokesmen. This dialogue, which could have been fruitful, did not begin. The attitude of the Palamite Mark of Ephesus at the Council of Florence is a vivid testament to this. It is our duty today to initiate and continue it.

Appendix 1: Apodictic Reasoning

Apodictic reasoning is a form of deductive reasoning or argumentation that is characterized by its conclusiveness and certainty. The following syllogism is an example of apodictic reasoning: the first, or major, premise is “All men are mortal”; the second, or minor, premise is “Socrates is a man”; the conclusion is “therefore Socrates is mortal.” In apodictic reasoning, the conclusion is considered to be absolutely and necessarily true given the premises. The key characteristic of apomictic reasoning are listed below.

Certainty: Apodictic reasoning provides conclusions that are considered to be certain and indubitable. The reasoning is typically based on premises that are self-evident, axiomatic, or established through rigorous proof.

Deductiveness: Apodictic reasoning is deductive in nature, meaning that the conclusion logically follows from the premises. There is no room for uncertainty or ambiguity in the process.

Formalization: The conclusions derived from apodictic reasoning are not contingent on specific conditions or circumstances; they are held to be true in all cases and under all conditions.

Necessity: The conclusions derived from apodictic reasoning are not contingent on specific conditions or circumstances; they are held to be true in all cases and under all conditions.

Rigor: In apodictic reasoning, the premises are typically carefully chosen to be indisputable or well-established truths, and the logical steps to reach the conclusion are meticulously scrutinized for validity.

Appendix 2: Dialectical Reasoning

Dialectical reasoning, often referred to simply as dialectics, is a method of argument or discussion where two or more parties engage in a process of reasoned debate and dialogue in order to better understand, resolve, or explore a particular subject or question. Dialectics is characterized by its emphasis on dialogue, contrasting perspectives, and the search for truth through conversation and reasoning.

Key characteristics of dialectical reasoning include:

Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis: Dialectics often involves the presentation of a thesis (an initial statement or position), followed by the presentation of an antithesis (a contrasting or opposing viewpoint), and then an attempt to reach a synthesis (a resolution or a new understanding that reconciles the opposing perspectives). This process is sometimes referred to as the dialectical triad.

Opposition and Contradiction: Dialectics thrives on opposition and contradiction. It encourages participants to challenge and question each other’s ideas, leading to a deeper exploration of the topic.

Continuous Process: Dialectics is seen as an ongoing and iterative process. It does not necessarily result in a final or absolute truth but often leads to a more refined or nuanced understanding of the subject at hand.

Socratic Method: The Socratic method, named after the Greek philosopher Socrates, is an example of dialectical reasoning. It involves asking a series of open-ended questions to stimulate critical thinking and expose contradictions or inconsistencies in an argument.

Historical Significance: Dialectics has a rich history in philosophy, with notable use by philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Marx, and many others. It has also been applied in fields beyond philosophy, including psychology, social sciences, and rhetoric.

Practical Application: Dialectical reasoning is often used in disciplines like law, where opposing arguments are presented and debated in a court of law, as well as in public discourse and political debates.

Dialectical reasoning is a method that aims to promote a deeper and more nuanced understanding of complex issues by encouraging open, critical, and constructive dialogue. It is often associated with the pursuit of truth through the clash and reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.

Appendix 3: Apophatic Theology

Apophatic theology, also known as negative theology, is a theological approach that emphasizes the ineffability and unknowability of the divine, particularly when it comes to describing the nature or attributes of God. In apophatic theology, understanding God is approached by negation, where God is defined by what God is not, rather than by positive attributes or descriptions.

Key features of apophatic theology include the following:

Via Negativa: Apophatic theology follows the via negativa, or the negative way. Instead of making positive statements about the nature of God, it focuses on denying or negating human concepts and attributes that are inadequate to describe the divine. For example, instead of saying “God is all-powerful,” one might say, “God is not limited in power.”

Mystical and Transcendent: Apophatic theology often finds expression in mystical and contemplative traditions, as it seeks to approach the divine through direct spiritual experience and encounter. It acknowledges the transcendence of God, emphasizing that God is beyond human comprehension.

Historical Roots: Apophatic theology has deep historical roots in various religious traditions, including Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and Neoplatonic philosophies. Early Christian theologians such as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite . . . have engaged with apophatic theology.

Limitations of Language: Apophatic theology acknowledges the limitations of human language and concepts when trying to describe the divine. It often asserts that any human language or concept used to describe God falls short and is inadequate.

Appendix 4: The Pythagorean Philosophers 

The Pythagoreans were followers of Pythagoras, the ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher. They were known for their contributions to mathematics, music theory, and various philosophical beliefs. Pythagoras founded a school or community in Croton, Italy, where he taught his principles, which included mathematical and moral teachings.

Pantenus: Pantenus was a Christian theologian and philosopher, not a Pythagorean. He was a significant figure in the early Christian Church and was one of the earliest-known leaders of the Christian school in Alexandria.

Brotinos: Brotinos is not a widely recognized historical figure. There is no significant information available about an individual named Brotinos in the context of Pythagoreanism or any other field.

Philolaus: Philolaus was indeed a Pythagorean philosopher and mathematician. He is known for his contributions to Pythagorean thought and is often credited with formulating important ideas related to numbers, geometry, and the concept of the “central fire” in the cosmos.

Charmidas: Charmidas is not typically associated with Pythagoreanism or other significant historical or philosophical movements. It is possible that you [AI actually addresses the questioner in the 2nd person] might be referring to a less-known figure or that there is some confusion in the name.

Philoxenus: Philoxenus is not a well-known Pythagorean or philosopher from ancient Greece. It is possible that you are referring to another individual with a similar-sounding name, or there may be limited historical information available about this person.


1 For information about the character and work of John Italos, see E. Stephanou, “Jean Italos, philosophe et humaniste,” Orientalia Christ. Analecta 134, 1949, as well as Katerina Ierodiakonou, “John Italos,” Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy, pp. 623–625. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/302883512_John_Italos.

2 The Synodikon of Orthodoxy, Section on John Italos. https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/02/synodicon-of-orthodoxy.html.

3 We have this information from Palamas, before the beginning of the controversy, in his first letter, unpublished, to Akindynos (ἀκριβοῦς εὐσεβείας πόθῳ τὴν ἐνεγκοῦσαν ἀπολιπόντος; Codex Coislinianus 100, fol. 70).

4 The titles of these works have been reproduced, following Fabricius-Harlem, in PG 151, 1250–1252. A treatise against the Roman primacy has been published in PG 151, 1255–1280.

5 This plan, as Palamas tells us, was kept secret (the Hesychast theologian mentions it in his third Triade against Barlaam: τούς γε μὴν περὶ μελλούσης κολάσεως μυστικοὺς αὐτῷ λόγους, λεγέτωσαν οἱ αὐτήκοοι; Codex Coislinianus 100, f. 199) but was exposed in a speech and a written project presented to the synod of Constantinople. Gianelli, “Un progetto di Barlaam per l’unione delle Chiese,” Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati, III, Studi e testi, 123, Vatican, 1946, pp. 167 ff.

6 Theologumenon: a theological opinion or current of opinion, not a dogma, which Orthodox Christians can debate and disagree about without having their Orthodoxy questioned.

7 Gianelli, p. 199.

8 PG 151, 1337 AB.

9 PG 151, 1340 D.

10 The phrase “God is indemonstrable,” “means that the existence or nature of God cannot be proven or demonstrated through empirical evidence or logical arguments. It suggests that the concept of God is beyond the scope of what can be definitively proven or disproven using human reasoning or scientific methods.” Answer given by AI to the question, “What is the meaning of ‘God is indemonstrable’?”

11 Please see Appendix 1 for a detailed definition of apodictic reasoning as given by AI in answering the question, “What is apodictic reasoning?”

12 Please see Appendix 2 for a detailed definition of dialectical reasoning as given by AI in answering the question, “What is dialectical reasoning?”

13 Paris. Gr. 1278, f. 77 r-v.

14 Paris. Gr. 1278, f. 78v, 82–83 (with references to the Topics which “is one of his [Aristotle’s] many works on logic and argumentation, and it is a key text in the study of dialectics and argumentation”).

15 This is a reference to one of Aristotle’s principles, Topics I, 10, quoted from Paris. Gr. f. 82 r-v.

16 Paris. Gr., 8v.

17 Barlaam’s Response I to Palamas Archivio storico per la Calabria e la Lucania [ASCL],Schirò, ed., 1936, III-IV, pp. 306–308. Barlaam speaks here of the sobriety (népsis), the vigilance (egrégorsis) and the illumination (ellampsis) that constitute, for oriental spiritual masters, and notably for Palamas, the conditions for any true theology. If Barlaam accepts in principle the necessity of having these virtues, he speaks about them with a not very well-concealed skepticism.

18 Paris. Gr. 1278, f. 137.

19 Paris. Gr., f. 141.

20 Paris. Gr., f. 78 r-v. Reference to The Divine Names I, 1: “This is why we must not dare to resort to words or conceptions concerning that hidden divinity which transcends being, apart from what the sacred scriptures have divinely revealed.” Dionysius the Areopagite, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works Paulist Press, New York, 1987, p.  49.

21 Paris. Gr., f. 153v.

22 Response II to Palamas, Marc. gr. 132, f. 131.

23 “Formal nominalism is a philosophical position that primarily concerns abstract objects and universals. Nominalism, in general, is the view that abstract entities, such as universals and numbers, do not have an independent existence apart from particular instances. Instead, nominalists argue that these abstract concepts are merely names (or ‘nomina’) that we assign to groups of particular things sharing common features. Formal nominalism specifically emphasizes the idea that universal or abstract terms are nothing more than names or labels for collections of individual, concrete objects. In other words, the universals or abstract concepts do not possess any objective reality beyond being convenient linguistic tools to describe similarities among individual instances. Formal nominalists reject the notion that there is a realm of abstract entities that exist independently of the particulars. This position contrasts with realism, which posits the existence of objective, mind-independent universals or abstract objects.” The answer given by AI to the question, “What is formal nominalism?”

24 Schirò, p. 310.

25 Schirò, p. 318.

26 Please see Appendix 3 for a detailed definition of dialectical reasoning as given by AI in answering the question, “What is apophatic theology?”

27 Response II to Palamas, Marc. gr., f. 128.

28 Schirò, p. 318.

29 In Fr. John’s French text, the section “The wisdom . . . from them.” is not put in quotes which indicates that he did not consider it to be a quote from Barlaam’s work. However, we read “of us” which does not refer to Fr. John but to Barlaam and people like him. Therefore, I am considering the text to be Barlaam’s words and have treated it like a long quotation.

30 Response II to Palamas, Marc. gr. 332, f 129. In his Triades, when defending the Hesychasts, Palamas quotes other similar passages taken from Barlaam’s lost works (Codex Coislinianus 100, 144,149 v, 153 v).

31 Marc. gr. 322, f. 129 v-130.

32 Please see Appendix 4 for a detailed definition of apophatic theology as given by AI in answering the question, “What is apophatic theology?”

33 Response II to Palamas, f. 132 v-133. “The supreme Cause of every conceptual thing is not itself conceptual. It is not soul or mind, nor does it possess imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding. Nor is it speech per se, understanding per se. It cannot be spoken of and it cannot be grasped by understanding. It is not number or order, greatness or smallness, equality or inequality, similarity or dissimilarity. It is not immovable, moving, or at rest. It has no power; it is not power nor is it light. It does not live nor is it life. It is not a substance, nor is it eternity or time. It cannot be grasped by the understanding since it is neither knowledge nor truth. It is not kingship. It is not wisdom. It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness. Nor is it a spirit, in the sense in which we understand that term. It is not sonship or fatherhood, and it is nothing known to us or to any other being. It falls neither within the predicate of nonbeing nor of being. Existing beings do not know it as it actually is, and it does not know them as they are. There is no speaking of it, nor name nor knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth—it is none of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation; it is also beyond every denial.” PseudoDionysius, The Mystical Theology, ch. 5, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, p. 141.

34 Plato, The Republic 6: “This reality, then, that gives their truth to the objects of knowledge and the power of knowing to the knower, you must say is the idea of good, and you must conceive it as being the cause of knowledge, and of truth in so far as known.” https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D6&force=y#note-link327.

35 According to Barlaam, Palamas was wrong to believe that “Barlaam, the Italian, was a somewhat peculiar individual, pretending to be a Christian but being purely Greek [pagan].” Marc. gr. 332, f. 138.

36 Marc. gr., f. 133 v-134.

37 Marc. gr., f. 135.

38 Barlaam of Calabria, Letter to Demetrius Cydones, PG 151, 1301 C.

39 Barlaam of Calabria, 1304 A: “Behold, it is common now to reason with the human mind about that matter, about which St. Dionysius says that the negations of all that we say and understand are more verifiable than affirmations, [this way of thinking] is now a common matter for both the Latins and those defending the Greeks who are in opposition. Faith, however, is by no means common.”

40 PG 151:1); 1259 B; 2) 1259—1260; 3) 1261–1262; 4) 1263–1264.

41 Barlaam of Calabria, 1310 BC: “Therefore, if that (Roman) Church were to falter, which God forbid, in the matter of heresy, those who abstain from it are free from blame; the separation is blameless.”

42 Barlaam of Calabria, 1266 A: “If the head of the entire Church at the beginning had fallen, it would have been necessary, indeed, for the Lord to raise up another head for the sound portion of the Church, so that the great and mystical body of Christ would not remain without a head, and that it might not be irregular, disordered, and deformed.”

43 Barlaam of Calabria, PG 151, 1263 C: “For whoever spoke of Peter as bishop of Rome or Clement as the chief bishop? And when many bishops were appointed in various cities by the chief Peter himself, what law commands that only the bishop of Rome should be called his successor, and the rest to be subordinate? What reason can prevent Alexandria from also having its own successor to Peter?”
Paris. gr. 1278, f 105v: “All the high priests, ordained by the Apostle Peter and the other Apostles, are equally vicars of our Lord Christ, and they share the same authority and status as successors of all the Apostles.”

44 Barlaam of Calabria, PG 151, 1275 A.

45 Barlaam of Calabria, 1275 B-1276 A. Letter of Clement to James. biblical.ie/page.php?fl=Apocrypha/Clementine_Letters#_Toc20208121.

46 Barlaam of Calabria, 1277 A.

47 Latinophrony, Latinophrones: those who had a Latin theological mindset; those favorable to Catholic theology; those who tended to relegate Greek patristic theology to an inferior status.

Partager sur les médias sociaux

Laisser un commentaire