previous next

Pa'lamas, Grego'rius or Grego'rius Acindynus

Γρηγόριος Παλαμᾶς), an eminent Greek ecclesiastic of the fourteenth century. He was born in the Asiatic portion of the now reduced Byzantine empire, and was educated at the court of Constantinople, apparently during the reign of Andronicus Palaeologus the elder. Despising, however, all the prospects of worldly greatness, of which his parentage and wealth, and the imperial favour gave him the prospect, he, with his two brothers, while yet very young, became monks in one of the monasteries of Mount Athos. Here the youngest of the three died; and upon the death of the superior of the monastery in which the brothers were, which followed soon after the death of the youngest brother, the two survivors placed themselves under another superior, with whom they remained eight years, and on whose death Gregory Palamas withdrew to Scete, near Berrhoea, where he built himself a cell, and gave himself up entirely, for ten years, to divine contemplation and spiritual exercises. Here the severity of his regimen and the coldness of his cell, induced an illness which almost occasioned his death; and the urgent recommendation of the other monks of the place induced him then to leave Scete, and return to Mount Athos; but this change not sufficing for his recovery, he removed to Thessalonica (Cantacuzen. Hist. 2.39).

It was apparently while at Thessalonica, that his controversy began with Barlaam, a Calabrian monk, who having visited Constantinople soon after the accession of the emperor Andronicus Palaeologus the younger in A. D. 1328 (ANDRONICUS III.), and professed himself an adherent of the Greek church, and a convert from and an opponent of the Latin church, against which he wrote several works, obtained the favour and patronage of the emperor. Barlaam appears to have been a conceited man, and to have sought opportunities of decrying the usages of the Byzantine Greeks. To this supercilions humour the wild fanaticism of the monks of Athos presented an admirable subject. Those of them who aimed at the highest spiritual attainments were accustomed to shut themselves up for days and nights together in a corner of their cell, and abstracting their thoughts from all worldly objects, and resting their beards on their chest, and fixing their eyes on their bellies, imagined that the seat of the soul, previously unknown, was revealed to them by a mystical light, at the discovery of which they were rapt into a state of extatic enjoyment. The existence of this light, well described by Gibbon as "the creature of an empty stomach and an empty brain," appears to have been kept secret by the monks, and was only revealed to Barlaam by an incautious monk, whom Cantacuzenus abuses for his communicativeness, as being scarcely above the level of the brutes. Barlaum eagerly laid hold of the opportunity afforded by the discovery to assail with bitter reproaches the fanaticism of these Hesychasts (ἡσυχάζοντες) or Quietists, calling them Ὀμφαλόψυχοι, Omphalopsychi, "men with souls in their navels," and identifying them with the Massalians or Euchites of the fourth century. The monks were roused by these attacks, and as Gregory Palamas was eminent among them for his intellectual powers and attainments, they put him forward as their champion, both with his tongue and pen, against the attacks of the sarcastic Calabrian. (Cantacuz. 1. c.; Niceph. Greg. Hist. Byz. 11.10; Mosheim, Eccles. Hist. by Murdoch and Soames, book iii. cent. xiv. pt. ii. ch. 5.1, &c.; Gibbon, Dec. and Fall, 100.63.

Palamas and his friends tried first of all to silence the reproaches of Barlaam by friendly remonstrance, and affirmed that as to the mystical light which beamed round the saints in their seasons of contemplation, there had been various similar instances in the history of the church of a divine lustre surrounding the saints in time of persecution; and that Sacred History recorded the appearance of a divine and uncreated light at the Saviour's transfiguration on mount Tabor. Barlaam caught at the mention of this light as uncreated, and affirmed that nothing was uncreated but God, and that inasmuch as God was invisible while the light of Mount Tabor was visible to the bodily eye, the monks must have two Gods, one the Creator of all things, confessedly invisible; the other, this visible yet uncreated light. This serious charge gave to the controversy a fresh impulse, until, after two or three years, Barlaam, fearing that his infuriated opponents, who flocked to the scene of conflict from all the monasteries about Thessalonica and Constantinople, would offer him personal violence, appealed to the Patriarch of Constantinople and the bishops there, and charged Palamas not only with sharing the fanaticism of the Omphalopsychi, and with the use of defective prayers, but also with holding blasphemous views of God, and with introducing new terms into the theology of the church. A council was consequently convened in the church of St. Sophia at Constantinople (A. D. 1341) in the presence of the emperor, the chief senators, the learned, and a vast multitude of the common people. As it was not thought advisable to discuss the mysteries of theology before a promiscuous multitude, the charge against Palamas and the monks of blasphemous notions respecting God was suppressed, and only the charge of holding the old Massalian heresy respecting prayer, and of using defective prayers, was proceeded with. Barlaam first addressed the council in support of his charge, then Palamas replied retorting upon Barlaam the charge of blasphemy and perverseness. In the end the council decided in favour of the monks, and Barlaam, according to Cantacuzenus, acknowledged his errors, and was reconciled to his adversaries. Mortified, however, at his public defeat, he returned to Italy, and reconciled himself to the Latin church. Nicephorus Gregoras states, that the decision of the council on the question of the Massalian heresy charged against the monks, was deferred, that Barlaam was convicted of malignity and arrogance, and that the heresy of Palamas and his party would probably have been condemned also, had not the completion of the business of the council been prevented by the emperor's death, A. D. 1341. (Cantacuz. 100.40 ; Niceph. Gregor. 100.11.)

The cause which Barlaam had forsaken was taken up by another Gregory, surnamed Acindynus [ACINDYNUS, GREGORIUS]; but the party of the monks continued in the ascendant, and Palamas enjoyed the favour of John Cantacuzenus, who then exercised the chief influence at the court of the emperor. John Palaeologus, a minor [JOANNES V. CANTACUTZENUS; JOANNES VI. PALAEOLOGUS], to such a degree that it was reported that Cantacuzenus intended to procure the deposition of the patriarch of Constantinople, Joannes or John Calecas or Aprenus [CALECAS, JOANNES], and to elevate Palamas to his seat (Cantacuz. Hist. 3.17). In the civil war which followed (A. D. 1342-1347), between Cantacuzenus and the court (where the Admiral Apocaucus had supplanted him), Palamas, as a friend of Cantacuzenus, was imprisoned (A. n. 1346), not however on any political charge, but on the ground of his religious opinions; for the patriarch now supported Gregory Acindynus and the Barlaamites against the monks of Athos, who were favourable to Cantacuzenus. The Barlaamites consequently gained the ascendancy, and in a council at Constantinople the Palamites, as their opponents were called, were condemned. The patriarch and the court were, however, especially anxious to clear themselves from the suspicion of acting from political feeling in the imprisonment of Palamas. When the entrance of Cantacuzenus into Constantinople, in January 1347, obliged the court to submit, Palamas was released, and sent to make terms with the conqueror. (Cantacuz. Hist. 3.98; Niceph. Greg. Hist. Byz. 15.7, 9.) The patriarch Calecas had been deposed by the influence of the empress mother, Anna, just before the triumph of Cantacuzenus, and Gregory Palamas persuaded Cantnacuzenus to assemble a synod, by which the deposition was confirmed, and to banish Calecas to Didymotichum. Acindynus and the Barlaamites were now in turn condemned, and the Palaamites became once more predominant. Isidore, one of their number, was chosen patriarch. (Cantac. Hist. 4.3; Niceph. Greg. 15.10, 11.) Palamas himself was soon after appointed archbishop of Thessalonica; though, as that city was in the hands of some of the nobility who were hostile to Cantactzenus, he was refused admittance, and obliged to retire to the isle of Lemnos, but he obtained admittance after a time. This was in A. D. 1349. (Cantac. 100.15; Niceph. Greg. 100.12.) Meanwhile, the ecclesiastical troubles continued: the Barlaamites withdrew from the communion of the church; their ranks received continual increase, and Nicephorus Gregoras, the historian, adroitly drew over to their side the empress Irene, wife of Cantacuzenus, by persuading her that the recent death of her younger son, Andronicus (A. D. 1347), was a sign of the Divine displeasure at the favour shown by the emperor Cantacuzenus to the Palamites. To restore peace, if possible, to the church, a synod was summoned, after various conferences had been held between the emperor, the patriarch Isidore, Palamas, and Nicephorus Gregoras. Isidore died A. D. 1349, before the meeting of the synod, over which Callistus, his successor, presided. When it met (A. D. 1351) Nicephorus Gregoras was the champion of the Barlaamites, who numbered among their supporters the archbishop of Ephesus and the bishop of Ganus or Gannus the archbishop of Tyre, who was present, appears to have been on the same side. Palamas was the leader of the opposite party, who having a large majority and the support of the emperor, carried every thing their own way; the archbishop of Ephesus and the bishop of Ganus were deposed, Barlaam and Acindynus (neither of whom was present) were declared to be excommunicated, and their followers were forbidden to propagate their sentiments by speech or writing. (Cantacuz. Hist. 4.23; Niceph. Gregor. Hist. Byz. 16.5, 18.3-8, xix., xx.) The populace, however, favoured the vanquished party, and Palamas narrowly escaped their violence. Of his subsequent history and death nothing appears to be known.

The leading tenets of the Palamites were the existence of the mystical light discovered by the more eminent monks and recluses, in their long exercise of abstract contemplation and prayer, and the uncreated nature of the light of Mount Tabor, seen at the transfiguration of Christ. The first attracted the notice and animadversion of their opponents, but the second, with the consequences really or apparently deducible from it, was the great object of attack. The last seven books (xviii.--xxiv.) of the Historia Byzantina of Nicephorus Gregoras are taken up with the Palamite controversy: and in the bitterness of his polemic spirit he charges Palamas with polytheism (18.2.4); with converting the attributes of the deity into so many distinct and independent deities (22.4.9); with affirming that the Holy Spirit was not one alone, or even one of seven (an evident allusion to Revel. 1.4), but one of "seventy times seven" (23.3.4); with placing in an intermediate rank between God and angels a new and peculiar class of untreated powers (καινόν τι καὶ ἴδιον ἀκτίς ἐνεργειῶν) which he (Palamas) called "the brightness (λαμπρότητα) of God and the ineffable light" (φῶς ἄρρητον) with holding that any man by partaking of the stream of this light flowing from its inexhaustible source, could at will become uncreated and without beginning (ἀκτίστῳ ἐθέλοντι γίνεσθαι καὶ ἀνάρχῳ (23.3); and with other errors which our limits do not allow us to enumerate (ibid.). It is plain, however, that these alleged errors were for the most part, if not altogether, the inferences deduced by Nicephorus Gregoras and other opponents from the Palamite dogma of the uncreated light, and not the acknowledged tenets of the Palamite party. The rise, continuance, and vehemence of the controversy is a singular manifestation of the subtilty and misdirection of the Greek intellect of the period. The dogma of the untreated light of Mount Tabor has apparently continued to be the recognised orthodox doctrine of the Greek Church (Capperonnerius, Not. ad Niceph Gregor. vol. ii. p. 1321, ed. Bonn), though probably now neglected or forgotten.


Palamas was a copious writer; many of his works are extant in MS., and are enumerated by Wharton and Gery in the Appendix to Cave, and by Fabricius. Nicephorus Gregoras says (23.3.3) that he wrote more than sixty λόγοι, orationes; and Boivin, in a note on the passage (vol. ii. p. 1317, ed. Bonn), states that one MS. in the king's library at Paris contained more than seventy homilies or other short pieces. So that the statement of Gregoras must refer only to pieces written on occasion of Palamas' controversy with him, or must be very much below the mark.

Published Works

The following have been published.

1. s. s.


Published under the editorial care of Adr. Turnebus, 4to. Paris, 1553, and given in a Latin version in many editions of the Bibliotheca Patrum, e. g. in vol. xxvi. p. 199, &c., ed. Lyon, 1677.

2. Εἰς τὴν σεπτὴν μεταμόρφωσν τοῦ Κυρίου καὶ Θεοῦ καὶ Σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ: ἐν παράστασις ὅτι κατ᾽ αὐτὴν φῶς ἀκτιστόν ἐστιν. λόγος α#, Ὁμιλία εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν τθῦ Κυρίου σεπτὴν μεταμόρφωσιν ἐν παράστασις ὡς εἰ καὶ ἄκτιστόν ἐστι τὸ κατ᾽ αὐτὴν Θειότατον φῶς, ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἔστιν οὐσία Θεοῦ, λόγυς β#.


These two orations were published with a Latin version by Combéfis in his Auctarium Novissimum, fol. Paris, 1672, pars ii. p. 106, &c. The Latin version was given in the Lyon edition of the Bibliotheca Patrum, fol. 1677, vol. xxvi. p. 209, &c.

3. Λόγοι β#, ἀποδεικτικοὶ ὅτι οὐχὶ καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ μόνου τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον,


These were published, 4to. London, without date (but stated by some of our authorities to be 1624), together with a number of other pieces of Barlaam the Calabrian, Gabriel Severus of Philadelphia, Meletens Pega of Alexandria, Maximus Margunius of Cerigo, Nilus, and Georgius Scholarius [GENNADIUS of Constantinople, No. 2], Greek writers of comparatively recent period. This volume was dedicated to the four patriarchs of the Greek Church, Cyrillus Lucaris of Constantinople, Gerasimus Spartaliotes of Alexandria, Athanasius III. of Antioch, and Theophanes IV. of Jerusalem.

4. Ἀντεπιγραφαὶ, s.


Published with a Confutatio by Cardinal Bessarion [JOANNES, No. 21] in the Opuscula Aurea of Petrus Arcudius, 4to. Rome, 1630, and again 1671.

5. (s. )


Published with a Latin version, introduction, and notes, by Conrad. Janningus, in the Acta Sanctorum, Junii, a. d. xii. vol. ii. p. 535, §c.

6. Ἐπὶ Λατίνων συντοιμία


printed from a MS. in the royal library at Turin in the Codices MSti Biblioth. Reg. Taurin. pars i. p. 281-2.

7. Ἐπιστολὴ πρὸς την Θεοστεφῆ βασιλίδα κυρὰν Ἄνναν τὴν Παιολορίναν.


printed by Boivin in his notes to the Hist. Byzant. of Nicephornus Gregoras, fol. Paris, 1702, p. 787; vol. ii. p. 1282, ed. Bonn.



Boivin has also given two extracts, one of some length, from a writing of Palamas, Adversus Jomannem Calecam (p. 789, ed. Paris, p. 1285, ed. Paris, p. 1285, ed. Bonn); the other, very brief, from an Epistola ad Joannem Gabram (p. 1275, ed. Bonn).

Various citations from his works, but without further specification, are given by Nicephorus Gregoras (Hist. Byzant. 23.3.2, p. 697, &c., ed. Paris; p. 1112, &c., ed. Bonn).


It is probable that the Tomus or declaration issued by the synod of Constantinople, A. D. 1351, against the Barlaamites was drawn up by Palamas or under his inspection.


It is given with a Latin version by Combéfis in his Auctarium Novissimum, fol. Paris, 1672, pars ii. p. 135, &c., and is entitled Τόμος ἐκτεθεὶς παρὰ τῆς θείας καὶ ἱερᾶς συνόδου τοῦ συγκροτηθείσης κατὰ τῶν φρονούντων τὰ Βαρλαάμ τε καὶ Ἀκινδύνου ἐπὶ τῆς βασιλείας τῶν εὐσεβῶν καὶ ὀρθυδόξων βασιλέων ἡμῶν Καντακουζηνοῦ καὶ Παλαιολόγου, Tomus a divina sacrqaue Synodo adversus eos coacta qui Barlaam et Acindyni opinionis sunt, Cantacuzeno ac Palaeologo religiosis orthodoxisque Imperatoribus nosiris, editius ac eapositus.

Abused by those belonging to the Romish Church, praised by Orthodox Greeks

The Greek writers belonging to the Romish Church, as Allatius, Nicolaus Comnenus Papadopoli, and others, heap on Palamas every term of reproach: on the other hand, the orthodox Greeks extol him highly, and ascribe miraculous efficacy to his relics.

Further Information

Cave, Hist. Litt., fol. Oxford, 1740-43, vol. ii. Appendix, by Wharton and Gery, pp. 54, 55; Fabric. Biblioth. Graec. vol. x. pp. 454-462, and 790, ed. vet.; vol. xi. p. 494, &c., ed. Harles; Oudin, De Scriptorib. Eccles. vol. iii. col. 843.


hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1351 AD (2)
1349 AD (2)
1341 AD (2)
1347 AD (1)
1342 AD (1)
1328 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: