On Line Library of the Church of Greece
Double Knowledge According to Gregory Palamas
Από: Π. Κ. Χρήστου, Θεολογικά Μελετήματα, τ. 3 (Νηπτικά και Ησυχαστικά), Θεσσαλονίκη 1977.
his sojourn in Byzantium Barlaam of Calabria, a distinguished theologian
and philosopher of the 14th century, took an active part in the
discussions corcerning two great problems, namely those of the procession
of the Holy Spirit and of the monastic hesychia. As regards the former he
opposed the Roman Catholic view and as regards the latter opposed the
Hesychasts. Since in both cases he employed gnostic criteria, equating
philosophy with theology, he provoked strong oposition from Gregory
argumentation in this controversy included a series of dual distinctions,
among which theory of double knowledge holds a notable place. In this
theory we may note three aspects: the distinction between philisophy and
theology; the distinction within theology of two ways of knowing God; and
finally the distinction between theology and the vision of God or
first distinction is a result of the conflict between Christianity and
Greek philosophy, of which the beginnings go back to apostolic times. This
conflict reappaers from time to time and during the years of the
Renaissance dominated the entire intellectual field. The further
humanistic studies advanced, the greater was the importance given to the
human factor for the knowledge divine; consequently philosophy was
appreciated the more.
one of the pioneers of the Renaissance, reached the point of identifying
the objects, the method and the achievements of philosophy and theology,
supporting his endavour with arguments to the effect that every human good
is a gift of God and therefore all are of high quality. [i]
Just as, he used to say, there are not two kinds of health-the one
provided by God and the other secured by physicians, -in the same way,
there are not two kinds of knowledge-the human and the divine-but only
one. Philisophy and theology, as gifts of God, are of equal worth.
this analogy, the Greek philosophers were raised to the same level as
Moses and the prophets; and this tendency was later extended to the point
of introducing such persons as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other sages
to the iconographical cicle of Greek Orthodox Churches. Barlaam maintained
that «Both the sayings of the divine men with the wisdom that is within
them and profane philosophy aim at a unique object and therefore have a
common purpose, the finding of truth; for truth existing in all these is
but one. This truth was given to the apostles at the beginning by God; by
ourselves, however, it is found through diligence and purity.
Philosophical studies naturally contribute to the truth given to the
apostles by God and assist greatly in reaching out to the first immaterial
maintaining ths argument Barlaam should not be considered as a
rationalistic philosopher; on the contrary, by futher elaboration of this
thoughts he reaches conclusions that approach agnosticism. Indeed, he
points out the complete inability of man in his natural state to
understand the divine and, like Plato and Dionysios the Areopagite, seeks
for purification and escape from the material body in other to achieve the
vision of God in a condition of ecstasy.
complete constrast to these, Palamas draws a sharp distinction between
philosophy and theology. Certainly this division is not a unique
phenomenon during those times. The Averroists of the West were accused and
condamned in 1277 because among other teachings they maintained that
things may be true according to philosophy and erroneous according to
catholic faith, as if there were two contradictory truths. [iii]
It is a matter of controversy nowadays what position was reached by the
Averroists, and especially by Siger of Brabant, in the distinction they
made between the two wisdoms and truths. But it is obvious that they at
last had a definite predeliction for such a distinction which appears
again in Ockham’s philosophy. [iv]
is extremely unlikely that Palamas had any knowledge of the views of these
western theologians. His presuppositions and purposes were entirely
different from theirs. When he was obliged to undertake work on this
subject, he had recourse to Greek theology before his time and found
satisfactory support for his position.
Paul, addressing himself primarily to the intellectuals of Athens and
Corinth-the sages, the scribes and the debaters of the age-marked the
chasm between the two philosophies, the wisdom of the world which as
foolishness was abolished and that wisdom of God which is eternal and
brings salvation. [v]
Similarly, James described worldly wisdom as sensual and Satanic, and that
coming from above he calls full of virtue and pure. [vi]
The attitude of these two apostles, dictated by missionary needs of the
time, did not allow a distinction between two kinds of knowledge, because
it entirely rejected the value of worldly wisdom. Naturally this manner of
dealing with the matter had serious consequences for the evolution of
theological thought up to the end of the second century and also
influenced it in some degree in later times. For about a century no
attention whatever was paid to the foolish wisdom of the world.
of the apologists, who came from a different background and acted under
different circumstances, adopted a different attitude. Our attention is
especially called to the position which Clement of Alexandria took towards
the problem. He perceived that the initial truth was one, but later
dismebered by philosophical schools as that unfortunate Pentheus was
dismembered by Bacchae. Although several schools maintain that they posses
the whole truth, in reality they posess only a part of it. From this last
observation it already appears that philosophy is not entirely valueless,
but that the difference between it and theology is fundamental because
philosophy has to do with names, i. e. the outward cover, while theology
has to do with things, i. e. with essentials. «Thus, since there are two
kinds of truth, he says, -one of names and the other of things, -some
people prefer the names, viz. Those that are engaged in the beauty of
speech, i. e. the Greek philosophers, while the things are investigated by
us, the barbarians». [vii]
Nevertheless knowledge constitutes a chain in which the elementary lessons
serve philosophy as their mistress, while philosophy itself serves
theology as its mistress. [viii]
Borrowing from Philo, [ix]he
employs as representative types Agar the slave and Sarah her mistress,
both of whom in turn gave Abraham lovable children but of unequal worth. [x]
To Sarah burning with jealousy Abraham says, »although I embrace the
worldly paideia both as younger and as your handmaid on one hand, on the
other hand I honour and respect your science as a perfect lady»[xi].
It is obvious that, according to Clement, whereas the philosophical
systems possess a part of the truth, theology possesses the whole of it.
Diadochos of Photiκe,
examining this dismemberment from a different point of view, attributes it
to the fall of man and considers it as a division between truth and error.
By his fall man «was divided in the doubleness of knowledge»[xii]
the Great links the two kinds of knowledge with the conditions of life
which they serve. Worldly wisdom provides understanding of the present
transitory life and facilitates a successful passage through it. Divine
wisdom provides the weapons for the attainment of the blessed life of the
Not being contradictory to each other, they form, as it were, a tree in
which the one provides the leaves and the other the fruits. [xiv]
back to Gregory Palamas, we observe that he does not disagree with
Barlaam’s contention that everything that is good is a gift of God and
every gift of His is perfect, but he also remarks that every gift is not
necessarily completely perfect. [xv]
So long as the gifts of God are divided into natural and spiritual,
philosophy is a natural gift[xvi]
and as such under the influance of evil it has gone astray and changed and
in some cases turned to foolishness. [xvii]
Of course, under certain conditions philosophy adds to the knowledge of
beings. But, since this knowledge cannot be indentified with or accounted
equal to the divine wisdom, [xviii]it
becomes obvions that neither is ignorance always something bad, nor
knowledge always good. [xix]
For the same reason devotion to philosophy should not be hindered, though
its abuse should be strongly critized. [xx]
objects of the two disciplines are clearly distinguished. Philosophy aims
on the one hand at the exploration of the nature and movement of beings,
and on the other hand at the definition of principles of social life. If
it moves within these boundaries, it is «a dissertation of truth»;if it
looks for something beyond them, it becomes an absurd, useless and
dangerous occupation; because it belongs to theology, or philosophy
according to Christ, to aim at the invisible and the eternal. [xxi]
Now, since the objects of the two disciplines are distinct, the
conclusions of both may be true.
examination shows that according to Palamas’ teaching worldly knowledge
and theological knowledge are clearly distinguished and proceed on
parallel paths. The destination of each determines its value. The one
intended for this transient life is a useful handmaid, but is not
indispensable for salvation; the other intended for the eternal life is
more precious and is absolutely indispensable for spiritual perfection and
This is the only distinction for which Palamas firmy uses the term «double
[i] Defensio Hesychastarum 2,1,4. .
[ii] Op. cit. 2,1,5.
[iii] P. MANDONNET, Siger de Brabant et l’ averoisme latin au XIIIe s. ,2ème éd. ,Louvain 1911,V. II, 175.
[iv] Sent. I, prol. ed. P. Bohner, σ. 13-15.
[v] I Cor. 1,18-31; 2, 6-10;II Cor. 1,12.
[vi] Jac. 3, 13-17.
[vii] Stromata 6,17.
[viii] Op. Cit. 1,5.
[ix] De congr. 14,71ff.
[x] Stromata 1,5.
[xii] Capita 88, E. DES PLACES, p. 148,17.
[xiii] In Psalmos, 14, PG 29,256.
[xiv] Ad juniores, 2.
[xv] Defensio hesychastarum, 2,2,11.
[xvi] Op. cit. 2,1,28.
[xvii] Op. cit. 1,1,19.
[xviii] Op. Cit. 2,1,7.
[xix] Op. Cit. 1,3,14.
[xx] Op. Cit. 2,1,2.
[xxi] Contra Acindynum, 6,1, Cod. Coisl. Gr. 98,149/149v.
[xxii] Defensio Hesychastarum, 2,1,5.