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The anthropology of Saint Gregory Palamas is the nerve centre of
his theology. His entire system aims at nothing else than the description
and definition of the relations among men and of each individual man’s
relation with God. He follows man in his striving between the worldly and
the divine, the created and the uncreated, and shows the way by which he
may reach the state of the uncreated. And it is just this state that
becomes man since he is not only a recapitulation and an ornament of the
whole creation [i];
but also image of the Triune God for whom the uncreated kingdom was
prepared since the foundation of the world [ii].
All physical life and existence is a created result of the divine
energy. But the fact that even man is likewise such a created result does
not equate him with the other animals. In man, elements of the
ultramundane were added and finally the divine uncreated breath [iii]
The human body, consisting of matter, belongs to the category of
material creatures. The human soul, consisting of ultramundane elements,
differs from the soul of animals in that it is firstly essence and then
energy; whereas the soul of animals is a simple operation which does not
exist in itself but dies together with the body.[iv]
As an independent essence the human soul is not dissolved with the body,
but lives by itself after the separation; as a spiritual ,essence even
though created, it is immortal.[v]
A variety of opinions is found among the fathers as to the manner
in which the soul is linked to the body. Gregory, in spite of his repeated
reference to the Macarian opinion that it seats in the heart, seems to
prefer the opinion of ,Gregory of Nyssa, according to which the soul is
dispersed throughout the whole body as a dynamic element which holds the
body together, contains its providential powers and vivifies it [vi].
The main powers of the soul: nous, logos. and pneuma (intellect,
reason, and spirit) are simple functions, expressing it as a unique whole.[vii]
They are not essences. Whenever Gregory speaks of the intellect as an
he evidently means the soul itself. His use of Macarian terms seems to
influence some of his anthropological formulations and such an influence [ix]a
may explain his insistence on the opinion that the main fleshly organ of
the intellect is the heart. But of course this formulation also served
other aims. It emphasises the close connection between the two elements of
the human organism since the bodily element is biologically nourished by
the heart. Such an emphasis serves to avoiding the predomination of
scholastic intellectualism in theology. In any case, Gregory's occasional
use of the word 'heart' in a broader sense must not be overlooked. In
interpreting Psalm 32, 15, he says, "let us take here the expression
'heart created by Him' as meaning the inner man.[x]
Reason is closely connected with the intellect, from which it is
derived, and is sometimes identified with it [xi];
so that to distinguish one from the other, as Gregory does, seems some
kind of technical enterprise. Lastly, the spirit comes forth from both
intellect and the reason, and exists within both. It is the eros of the
intellect towards the reason which vivifies the body[xii].
Gregory gives a broad and dynamic character to the much discussed
expression "according to the image". He finds image in the whole
existence of man and refers it to the Trinity. Man is a creature according
to the image not vaguely of God, but concretely of the Triune God, since
he has been created by the energy of the whole Trinity and may receive the
divine light emitted from the whole Trinity, His intellect, reason and
spirit constitute an inherent unity, corresponding to the unity of the
persons of the divine Trinity, i.e. Nous, Logos, and pneuma (Intellect,
Reason, and Spirit). As within divinity the Nous begets the Logos, and the
Pneuma precedes as the eros of the Nous towards the Logos, so within man,
` the intellect bears the reason, and the spirit is projected as the eros
of the intellect towards the reason. And as the Holy Spirit vivifies the
world; so the human spirit vivifies the body[xiii].
Thus the image is extended to the whole man, including the body. The real
meaning of Gregory’s teaching on this point is: the capability of man to
be elevated into a genuine spiritual personality, as an image and symbol
of the personality of God. One could call this image microtheos rather
than microcosmos. This is the
natural state of man.
Moreover the first man had received another gift: the divine spirit
which is not a created thing, as are the rest of man’s elements, but an
ineffable uncreated divine energy. The final destination of man is to be
assimilated with the divine archetype[xiv]
and united with God in one substance,[xv]
so that he may be called "another God"[xvi]
Now this destination could be achieved only through that infusion of the
divine spirit, by which man was clothed with the divine glory and became a
participant of the divine splendour.
This is the supernatural state of man. Whether man abides near or
far from God depends, as it does for the rest of the reasonable beings, in
his will, which means that it is a voluntary, not a natural condition [xvii]
He is receptive of contrary spiritual qualities, goodness and evil, and
may turn towards either[xviii].
Abiding in goodness means preservation of the divine spirit and of
participation in God. Turning towards evil means moving away from God, and
such a movement is equal to the death of the soul [xix]
God neither created nor caused the death of the soul and of the body[xx]
Death is the fruit of sin which was produced by the will of man.[xxi]
Man received from the beginning the gift and the duty to live
eternally in both soul and body. But life is worthless leas, except when
it springs from participation in the life of God .[xxii]
Life to the body is granted by the human spirit and real life to the soul
is granted by the divine spirit. That is why the abandonment of the soul
by the vivifying divine spirit causes its spiritual death, just as the
abandonment of the body by the vivifying human spirit causes its physical
The soul, when removed from God, only technically preserves its
The devil, having first, moved away from God, was also the first to
be subjected to spiritual death. And he succeded in seducing man to
disobedience therefore to spiritual death.[xxv]
The death of the body is an inevitable consequence of the spiritual
death of the soul, which is extended to the human spirit: the power which
vivifies the body. But while this death seems natural under these
conditions it is at the same time a beneficial concession of God to man,
which aims at cancelling the perpetuation of evil and sin.[xxvi]
All descendants of Adam are subject to death, because the
whole of mankind submitted itself to sin. We must not read into the fall
as formation of inheritable guilt, or collective responsibility. The fact
of the fall has effected the whole structure and state of man, the natural
as well as the supernatural. And this is the reason why the fall of first
man becomes the fall of all men.
The fall withdrew from man the divine spirit which was infused in
him and consequently his likeness to God. It ended his participation in
the glory of the life of God. But the image of God remained untouched[xxvii]
.The fact that it, appears now somewhat dim is due to that loss of
likeness, which once rendered it completely clear and gave to it its full
This is the non-natural state of man.
Gregory, without being pessimistic about the abilities of the
fallen man, considers them as limited. Man can serve himself in respect to
his worldly needs, but cannot serve himself spiritually. He has the will
to perform the commandments of God and can know Him partially through the
observation of creation through his intellectual reflection. But, he is
unable to know God completely and to meet Him, which is the final object
of his life. This good is granted only by the uncreated light [xxviii]which
is unapproachable to the fallen man.
The untreated light is divine grace. Meyendorff [xxix]connects
the teaching of Gregory on the operation of grace with the incarnation of
the Logos. Romanides[xxx]
refutes this thesis and maintains that grace operated even in Old
Testament times, as the classical example of Moses proves Certainly,
grace, which proceeds not from Christ alone but from the whole Trinity,
existed and operated at all times. It did not however become a possession
of fallen man until after the incarnation of Logos. In Old Testament times
grace, operated incidentally and apocalyptically. Fallen man having
already lost the divine spirit, could not participate in it permanently.
Since the incarnation grace operates permanently and becomes subject to
participation by man, if he receives the divine spirit anew.
Only a renovation and a restoration of human nature according to
its archetype [xxxi]
could bring the necessary radical change in the course of mankind. And
this change was realised through an unprecedented event : the incarnation
of God. "The most excellent of all, Gregory says, or rather the
incomparably excellent event is the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and especially its last episodes: the salutary passion and the
The nature which was assumed by Christ is not that of the species,
i.e. the entire human nature, but that of an individual which did not
exist by itself previously, but took existence in the hypostasis of the
Logos and was united to Him in one hypostasis,[xxxiii]
It was only this individual nature which contained the fullness of
And it was transubstantiated and deified as a first fruit of our kind [xxxv].
So a new root was created, capable of imparting life to its offshoots. The
transubstantiation of the human nature of Christ is physical. The change
brought about in man by the renovation is also physical; but the
connection of men to that root is not physical as is the connection with
the old root of Adam. The connection to the new root is secured by willing
participation in the renovation.[xxxvi]
Thus we find ourselves before a new state of man, a state which
supersedes the simple restoration to the conditions before the fall, for
it constitutes a transference to heaven [xxxvii].
Man before the fall certainly possessed the enlightenment of the divine
light; but now the human nature assumed by Christ was seated on the throne
of God and thence attracts men to Itself. The archetype of males is now
John the Forerunner, and that of females, the Virgin Mary[xxxviii].
If physical life is a result of the divine energy according to
Gregory, then the god-like life of man is a participation in the divine
a participation which leads to theosis, deification.
The first of the basic factors which determine the course of
theosis is the concentration of the intellect. Here lies one of the main
points around which the acute polemics between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam
Calabros was concentrated. The latter, though not a thoroughgoing
platonist in all his anthropology, put forth a strictly neoplatinic thesis
concerning prayer. -He called for removal of the intellect from the body
and mortification of the passive part of the soul, so that the intellect
could be devoted to ecstatic prayer and communion with God. This was the
only way to attain the true light; since the attachment of the intellect
to the common operation of the body and the passive part of the soul fills
it with darkness instead of light[xl].
Barlaam considers such an ecstatic condition as well as the grace of
deification as thoroughly natural[xli]
Gregory, on the contrary, caracterizes this opinion as the source of all
error, both philosophical and theological [xlii].He
calls for concentration of the operation of the intellect inside the body[xliii];or
rather inside man as a whole.The body is not something worthless. Why that
which may becomes a dwelling ; place of God, should not be worthy of
having the intellect, as dweller? Such are the presuppositions with which
the Hesychasts cast out the law of sin and introduced the power of the
intellect into man. They gave to each function whatever is proper to it:
to the sensitive, temperance; to the passive, love; and to the reasonable,
The concentration of the aims neither at acquisition of learning
nor at mere theologizing. To Gregory, theology is an insufficient means
for approaching God, because it is "word" or "reason"
about. God, while he himself seeks for contemplation of God above
"word" and "reason". Theology in its positive and
scholastic form, as knowledge and understanding of God, cannot be the goal
of the movement of the intellect towards God. Nor in its apophatic form as
submersion in the divine darkens should it be the only path for a
Christian to pursue. In either form it must be superseded. A man may think
of a city as much as he likes, but he will never acquire an exact picture
of its structure, unless he visits it. A man may think of gold all the
time but he will never possess gold, unless he takes it in his hands.
Likewise, no matter how much one reflects on God, one can not acquire the
divine treasures. One can acquire these only by experiencing the divine
by reaching the vision of God-the theoptia-which surpasses theology just
as the possession of an object surpasses the mere knowledge [xlvi]of
Here a second factor is introduced: unceasing mental prayer.
Gregory does not altogether reject ecstasy but gives to it its appropriate
content. Since he considers even material things as gifts of God, he
cannot refuse to give to the body a place in the spiritual experience.
This is a thesis of eastern spirituality which may be traced back to
Diadochos and Macarios. Gregory sees the exaltation of man to be brought
about by an intense effort of the intellect, while the whole man
participates in the divine gifts. The peak of this exaltation is communion
with God, during which the human powers continue to function. In this
sense, ecstasy is an operation by wich the hõçéáç powers are elevated
above their standard and which proceeds to the divine condescension.
Indeed just as God condescends to man, so man ascends to God, in order
that their meeting might be achieved[xlvii].
Prayer is the condition of ecstasy. It possesses the power to
elevate man from earth to heaven and to bring him before God[xlviii].
The question is here not one of mere emotion. The whole man is seized by
abundant light, the uncreated light of the divine glory which is eternally
emitted from the Trinity. The light of mount Tabor, the light which is
seen now by the Hesychasts, and the substance of the blessings of the life
to come are three phases of one and the same spiritual event composed in a
timeless reality [xlix].
The uncreated light is not an object which can be sensually
perceived. It exceeds both sense and understanding. But in spite of this,
both soul and body participate in its vision. How does this become
possible? Gregory, following of Photius [l],
expounds a theory according to which the intellect in its elevation
acquires a new spiritual sense; and this sense is the light itself. The
intellect, when it is seized by the divine light and enters into it,
becomes itself light. Therefore in reality it is the light that sees the
'Thus man surpasses the state of ecstasy and reaches union with God
and theosis. In this new condition there is beginning and progress but no
end. Progress is endless[lii].
Although the element of the endless includes in itself the notion of
imperfection, just and pure men may be called "gods", since they
participate in God. They are, however, imperfect gods, and ones not
identified or assimilated with the one God in essence [liii]
That which is participated in is not His essence. Any thing which is
participated in is divided, while the divine essence as a simple entity is
indivisible; therefore, that which is here participated in is God's
divisible energy [liv].
In order to understand Gregory’s thought correctly, we may use a
comparison. Man has the soul as an essence, whose functions are, as we
said before, the intellect, the reason and the spirit.. If we now posit
that a man participates in the intellect, the reason and the spirit of
another man, then the functions of these two men are identified; but this
does not bring about as well an identification of the essence of the souls
of the two men. Such a thing is impossible. Thus on a higher level the
spiritual man attains to the energies of God, but remains alienated from
his unapproachable essence.
Whenever man does not participate actively in uncreated divinizing
grace, he remains a created result of the creative energy of God. His sole
relation with God is that of a creature to the creator. But whenever he
participates in divinizing grace, he acquires supernatural qualities and,
without ceasing to be a created being by nature, he is transferred from
the category of creatures to another position. God and man have then life
as a common uncreated energy, the former as the natural source, the latter
as a vessel of grace .So each man becomes a being without beginning and,
end; anarchos and ateleutetos, in the words of Gregory [lv],which
go back to Maximos the Homologetes, he enters into the untreated kingdom
which is the glory of God [lvi]
The establishment of the kingdom has already begun in this world.
The soul of man, having been raised by the acquisition of the divine
spirit anew, tastes the experience of participation in the divine light
and glory. This is an actual experience which makes man a member of the
kingdom of God.
However, this participation will be completed only after the second
which will abolish the death of the body. The connection of the new man
with God remains indissoluble even after the separation of the soul from
the body, as the divinity of Christ remained inseparable from his humanity
even in his death. Whatever happened to God-Man may be repeated in man.
The body will be raised in order that man might be renovated wholly[lviii]
and assumed into heaven.[lix]
It is the assumption and not the resurrection that is the divinizing gift
par excellence to the just.
[i] Hom. 26,1,ΕΠΕ 10,152.
[ii] Cap. 24,Chrestou ,V 48.
[iii] Op. Cit.
[iv] Cap. 31,Chrestou V, 51f.
[v] Cap. 45, Chrestou V61.
[vi] Cap. 61, Defense of Hesychasts, 3, 2, 22, Chrestou I ,P. 673. This is the view of Gregory of Nyssa and Dionysius Areopagita.
[vii] Apodicticos 2, 9, Chrestou I, p. 397.
[viii] Defense of Hesychasts 1, 2, 5, Chrestou I,p. 85.
[ix] Cf. MAKARIUS, Hom. 15,20, PG 29, 589 B.
[x] Defense of Hesychasts 2, 3, 62, Chrestou I, p. 595.
[xi] Cf. Cap. 33, Chrestou, V 52: «the reasonable and intellectual soul has life as essence». Also Defense of Hesychasts 1, 2, 3, CHRESTOU I p.396.
[xii] Cap. 38, Chrestou,V 56.
[xiii] Cap. 35-39, Chrestou V 53-57.
[xiv] Defense of Hesychasts 1, 1, 22, Chrestou I,p.386.
[xv] Cap. 24,Chrestou,V 48.
[xvi] Apodicticos 2, 9, CHRESTOU I p. 85.
[xvii] Cap. 51, Chrestou,V 65.
[xviii] Cap. 33, Chrestou, V52.
[xix] On Divine Participation 8, Chrestou II, p.144.
[xx] Cap. 47, Chrestou, V 62.
[xxi] Cap. 51, Chrestou,V65.
[xxii] Antirreticos against Acindynos 2,7,18, Chrestou III,18.
[xxiii] Hom. 16, 7,ΕΠΕ 9,432.
[xxiv] To Xene, 9, Chrestou V,197.
[xxv] Hom. 16, 7 ΕΠΕ 9, 432.
[xxvi] On Divine Participation 8, Chrestou II, p. 144.
[xxvii] Cap. 39, Chrestou,V 56f.
[xxviii] Defence of Hesychasts 2, 3, 66, Chrestou I ,p.598.
[xxix] J. MEYENDORFF, Introduction à l’ étude de Grégoire Palamas, Patristica Sorbonensia 3,Paris 1959,p.213 ff.
[xxx] J. ROMANIDES, «Notes on Palamite Controversly» Greek Orthodox Theological Review 9 (1963-1964) 236 ff.
[xxxi] Defensw of Hesychasts 1, 1, 5, Chrestou I, p.365.
[xxxii] Hom. 41,II, επε 10,57.
[xxxiii] Hom. 5,2, ΕΠΕ.9, 144.
[xxxiv] Defense of Hesychasts 3, 1, 15, Crestou I, p.646.
[xxxv] Op. Cit. 3, 1, 15, Chrestou I, p. 629.
[xxxvi] Hom. 16, ΕΠΕ 9,422-481.
[xxxvii] Cap. 54, Chrestou, V67.
[xxxviii] Defense of Hesychasts, 1, 1, 4, Crestou I, 364.Hom. 53, OECONOMOS P.170.
[xxxix] On Divine Participation 19, Chrestou II,p. 154.
[xl] Defense of Hesychasts 2, 2, 17, Chrestou I, p. 524-525.
[xli] Op. Cit. 3, 1, 26, Chrestou I, p.638.
[xlii] Op. Cit. 1, 2, 4, Chrestou I,p.397.
[xliii] Cf.Basil the Great, Epist. 2, PG. 32,228A.
[xliv] Defense of Hesychasts 1, 2, 2, Chrestou I, p. 394.
[xlv] Op. Cit. 1, 3, 15, Chrestou I, p.445.
[xlvi] Op. Cit. 1, 3, 42, Chrestou I, p. 453.
[xlvii] Op. Cit. 1, 3, 47, Chrestou I, p. 458.
[xlviii] Hom. 2, 3, ΕΠΕ 9,49.
[xlix] Defense of Hesychasts 1, 3, 43, Chrestou I, p. 455.
[l] Cap. Gnostica 40. Cf. Dionysius Areopagita, De Nom. 4, 9, PG 3, 705.
[li] Defense of Hesychasts 1, 3, 9, Chrestou I, p. 419
[lii] Op. Cit. 2, 3, 35, Chrestou I, p.596.
[liii] Theophanes 16, Chrestou II, p. 241.
[liv] Op. Cit. 21, Chrestou II, p. 247.
[lv] Defense of Hesychsts 3, 3, 8, Chrestou I, p. 686.MAXIMOS, Capita de charitate 3, 25, PG 90, 1024 C.
[lvi] On Divine Participation 20, Chrestou II, p. 154.
[lvii] Hom. 26, 12, ΕΠΕ 10, 166.
[lviii] To Xene 14, Chrestou V 199.
[lix] Hom. 22, 15-16, ΕΠΕ10-16.