Essence–energies distinction

The essence–energies distinction is an Eastern Orthodox theological concept that states that there is a distinction between the essence (ousia) and the energies (energeia) of God. It was formulated by Gregory Palamas of Thessaloniki (1296–1359), as part of his defense of the Athonite monastic practice of hesychasmos[note 1] against the charge of heresy brought by the humanist scholar and theologian Barlaam of Calabria.[1][2]

Orthodox theologians generally regard this distinction as a real distinction, and not just a conceptual distinction.[3] Historically, Western Christian thought has tended to reject the essence–energies distinction as real in the case of God, characterizing the view as a heretical introduction of an unacceptable division in the Trinity and suggestive of polytheism.[4][5]

Historical background

The essence–energy distinction was formulated by Gregory Palamas of Thessaloniki (1296–1359), as part of his defense of the Athonite monastic practice of hesychasmos, the mystical exercise of "stillness" to facilitate ceaseless inner prayer and noetic contemplation of God, against the charge of heresy brought by the humanist scholar and theologian Barlaam of Calabria.[1][2] According to,

The Ultimate Reality and Meaning of the Palamite theology consists of the distinction between God’s Essence and Energy. This is a way of expressing the idea that the transcendent God remains eternally hidden in His Essence, but at the same time that God also seeks to communicate and The Distinction between God’s Essence and Energy unite Himself with us personally through His Energy.[6]

The mystagogical teachings of hesychasm were approved in the Orthodox Church by a series of local Hesychast councils in the 14th century, and Gregory's commemoration during the liturgical season of Great Lent is seen as an extension of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.[7][4]

Orthodox views

Essence and energy

In Eastern Orthodox theology God's essence is called ousia, "all that subsists by itself and which has not its being in another", and is distinct from his energies (energeia in Greek, actus in Latin) or activities as actualized in the world.[8]

The ousia of God is God as God is. The essence, being, nature and substance of God as taught in Eastern Christianity is uncreated, and cannot be comprehended in words. According to Lossky, God's ousia is "that which finds no existence or subsistence in another or any other thing".[9] God's ousia has no necessity or subsistence that needs or is dependent on anything other than itself.[9]

It is the energies of God that enable us to experience something of the Divine, at first through sensory perception and then later intuitively or noetically. As St John Damascene states, "all that we say positively of God manifests not his nature but the things about his nature."[10]

Distinction between essence and energy

Real distinction

According to anti-Western polemicist John Romanides, Palamas considers the distinction between God's essence and his energies to be a "real distinction", as distinguished from the Thomistic "virtual distinction" and the Scotist "formal distinction". Romanides suspects that Barlaam accepted a "formal distinction" between God's essence and his energies.[11] Other writers agree that Palamas views the distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies as "real".[12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19]

According to Vladimir Lossky of the neopatristic school, if we deny the real distinction between essence and energy, we cannot fix any clear borderline between the procession of the divine persons (as existences and/or realities of God) and the creation of the world: both the one and the other will be equally acts of the divine nature (strictly uncreated from uncreated). The being and the action(s) of God then would appear identical, leading to the teaching of pantheism.[20]

Modern interpretation

Some contemporary scholars argue against describing Palamas's essence–energies distinction in God as a metaphysically "real" distinction. Orthodox philosophical theologian David Bentley Hart expresses doubt "that Palamas ever intended to suggest a real distinction between God's essence and energies."[21] G. Philips argues that Palamas's distinction is not an "ontological" distinction but, rather, analogous to a "formal distinction" in the Scotist sense of the term.[22] According to Dominican Catholic theological historian Fr. Aidan Nichols, Palamas's essence–energies distinction is not a mere "formal" distinction "demanded by the limited operating capacities of human minds".[3]

According to Anna N. Williams's study of Palamas, which is more recent than the assessments of Hart and Philips, in only two passages does Palamas state explicitly that God's energies are "as constitutively and ontologically distinct from the essence as are the three Hypostases," and in one place he makes explicit his view, repeatedly implied elsewhere, that the essence and the energies are not the same; but Williams contends that not even in these passages did Palamas intend to argue for an "ontological or fully real distinction," and that the interpretation of his teaching by certain polemical modern disciples of his is false.[22]

Orthodox criticism of Western theology

Eastern Orthodox theologians have criticized Western theology, especially the traditional scholastic claim that God is actus purus, for its alleged incompatibility with the essence–energies distinction. Christos Yannaras writes, "The West confuses God's essence with his energy, regarding the energy as a property of the divine essence and interpreting the latter as "pure energy" (actus purus)"[23] According to George C. Papademetriou, the essence–energies distinction "is contrary to the Western confusion of the uncreated essence with the uncreated energies and this is by the claim that God is Actus Purus".[24]

Roman Catholic perspectives

The Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between doctrine, which is single and must be accepted by Roman Catholics, and theological elaborations of doctrine, about which Catholics may legitimately disagree. With respect to the Eastern and Western theological traditions, the Catholic Church recognizes that, at times, one tradition may "come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or [express] it to better advantage." In these situations, the Church views the various theological expressions "often as mutually complementary rather than conflicting."[25]

According to Meyendorff, from Palamas's time until the twentieth century, Roman Catholic theologians generally rejected the idea that there is in God a real essence–energies distinction. In their view, a real distinction between the essence and the energies of God contradicted the teaching of the First Council of Nicaea[26] on divine unity.[4] Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott held that an absence of real distinction between the attributes of God and God's essence is a dogma of the Catholic Church.[27][28]

In contrast, Jürgen Kuhlmann argues that the Roman Catholic Church never judged Palamism to be heretical, adding that Palamas did not consider that the distinction between essence and energies in God made God composite.[22] According to Kuhlmann, "the denial of a real distinction between essence and energies is not an article of Catholic faith".[29]

According to Meyendorff, the later twentieth century saw a change in the attitude of Roman Catholic theologians to Palamas, a "rehabilitation" of him that has led to increasing parts of the Western Church considering him a saint, even if uncanonized.[26] Some Western scholars maintain that there is no conflict between the teaching of Palamas and Roman Catholic thought on the distinction.[22] According to G. Philips, the essence–energies distinction of Palamas is "a typical example of a perfectly admissible theological pluralism" that is compatible with the Roman Catholic magisterium.[22] Jeffrey D. Finch claims that "the future of East-West rapprochement appears to be overcoming the modern polemics of neo-scholasticism and neo-Palamism".[22] Some Western theologians have incorporated the essence–energies distinction into their own thinking.[30]

Protestant views

Kierkegaard and the relationship to existentialism

The Danish Lutheran philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, widely considered the father of existentialism, expressed (pseudonymously as Anti-Climacus) in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments an approach to God which holds that the Father's hypostasis (existence) has logical primacy over his ousia (essence or substance). Hence the teaching that the core of existentialist philosophy can be understood as the maxim, "existence before essence." This has caused many Western observers to see Eastern Orthodox Christian theology as existentialistic (since the Essence–Energies distinction also somewhat holds the view).[31] This also accounts for other existentialist works such as Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground. In the case of Dostoevsky, his existentialist outlook would have drawn from his Russian Orthodox faith, but there is no record of Dostoevsky (and the Eastern Orthodox church in general) being exposed to or influenced by Kierkegaard's philosophical works.

See also

Orthodox theology
Western philosophy


  1. ^ The mystical exercise of "stillness" to facilitate ceasless inner prayer and noetic contemplation of God.


  1. ^ a b "accusing Gregory Palamas of Messalianism" – Antonio Carile, Η Θεσσαλονίκη ως κέντρο Ορθοδόξου θεολογίας – προοπτικές στη σημερινή Ευρώπη Thessaloniki 2000, pp. 131–140, (English translation provided by the Apostoliki Diakonia of the Church of Greece).
  2. ^ a b Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics by John S. Romanides, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Volume VI, Number 2, Winter, 1960–61. Published by the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School Press, Brookline, Massachusetts.
  3. ^ a b Nichols, Aidan (1995). Light from the East: Authors and Themes in Orthodox Theology, Part 4. Sheed and Ward. p. 50.
  4. ^ a b c "No doubt the leaders of the party held aloof from these vulgar practices of the more ignorant monks, but on the other hand they scattered broadcast perilous theological theories. Palamas taught that by asceticism one could attain a corporal, i.e. a sense view, or perception, of the Divinity. He also held that in God there was a real distinction between the Divine Essence and Its attributes, and he identified grace as one of the Divine propria making it something uncreated and infinite. These monstrous errors were denounced by the Calabrian Barlaam, by Nicephorus Gregoras, and by Acthyndinus. The conflict began in 1338 and ended only in 1368, with the solemn canonization of Palamas and the official recognition of his heresies. He was declared the 'holy doctor' and 'one of the greatest among the Fathers of the Church', and his writings were proclaimed 'the infallible guide of the Christian Faith'. Thirty years of incessant controversy and discordant councils ended with a resurrection of polytheism" (Simon Vailhé, "Greek Church" in Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909)
  5. ^ John Meyendorff (editor), Gregory Palamas – The Triads, p. xi. Paulist Press, 1983, ISBN 978-0809124473, although that attitude has never been universally prevalent in the Catholic Church and has been even more widely criticised in the catholic theology for the last century (see section 3 of this article). Retrieved on 12 September 2014.
  6. ^, The Distinction between God’s Essence and Energy: Gregory Palamas’ idea of Ultimate Reality and Meaning
  7. ^ Fortescue, Adrian (1910), Hesychasm, VII, New York: Robert Appleton Company, retrieved 3 February 2008
  8. ^ Aristotle East and West by David Bradshaw, pp. 91, 95 Cambridge University Press (27 December 2004) ISBN 978-0-521-82865-9
  9. ^ a b The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky, SVS Press, 1997, pp. 50–55, ISBN 0-913836-31-1, (James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1991. ISBN 0-227-67919-9)
  10. ^ The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky, SVS Press, 1997. ISBN 0-913836-31-1 (James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1991, p. 73, ISBN 0-227-67919-9)
  11. ^ John S. Romanides, Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics. Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  12. ^ Joseph Pohle, Dogmatic Theology, "The Essence of God in Relation to His Attributes", vol. 1, p. 146
  13. ^ Erwin Fabhlbusch, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. 4, p. 13, ISBN 978-0802824165. Eerdmans. Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  14. ^ John Meyendorff (1979) Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, p. 59. Fordham University Press, ISBN 978-0823209675. Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  15. ^ John Farrelly (2005) The Trinity: Rediscovering the Central Christian Mystery, Rowman & Littlefield. p. 108. ISBN 978-0742532267. Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  16. ^ Cistercian Studies, vol. 7 (1990), Cistercian Publications, p. 258. Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  17. ^ Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pp. 73, 77. St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1976 ISBN 978-0913836316. Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  18. ^ Gabriel Bunge, The Rublev Trinity, p. 75. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1 January 2007, ISBN 978-0881413106, Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  19. ^ Karl Rahner, Encyclopedia of Theology: A Concise Sacramentum Mundi, p. 391. A&C Black, 1975, ISBN 978-0860120063. Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  20. ^ "If we deny the real distinction between essence and energy, we cannot fix any very clear borderline between the procession of the divine persons and the creation of the world: both the one and the other will be equally acts of divine nature. The being and the action of God would then appear to be identical and as having the same character of necessity, as is observed by St Mark of Ephesus (fifteenth century). We must then distinguish in God His nature, which is one; and three hypostases; and the uncreated energy which proceeds from and manifests forth the nature from which it is inseparable. If we participate in God in His energies, according to the measure of our capacity, this does not mean that in His procession ad extra God does not manifest Himself fully. God is in no way diminished in His energies; He is wholly present in each ray of His divinity." The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky, SVS Press, 1997, pp. 73–75 (ISBN 0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1991. (ISBN 0-227-67919-9)
  21. ^ David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 204, Eerdmans, 2004, ISBN 978-0802829214. Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  22. ^ a b c d e f Michael J. Christensen, Jeffery A. Wittung (editors), Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deificiation in the Christian Traditions (Associated University Presses 2007 ISBN 0-8386-4111-3), pp. 243–244, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 2007 ISBN 978-0838641118. Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
  23. ^ Christos Yannaras, Orthodoxy and the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2006), p. 36.
  24. ^ George C. Papademetriou, Introduction to St. Gregory Palamas (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2004), p. 61.
  25. ^ "UnitatisRedintegratio". Archived from the original on 6 March 2013. In the study of revelation East and West have followed different methods, and have developed differently their understanding and confession of God's truth. It is hardly surprising, then, if from time to time one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed it to better advantage. In such cases, these various theological expressions are to be considered often as mutually complementary rather than conflicting. A concrete example of the application of this principle is the separate presentation in the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Blessed Trinity of the Church's doctrine on the Trinity as interpreted in Greek theology and in Latin theology, without denigrating either interpretation.
  26. ^ a b John Meyendorff (editor), Gregory Palamas – The Triads, p. xi. Paulist Press, 1983, ISBN 978-0809124473. Retrieved on 12 September 2014.
  27. ^ "In distinguishing between God and His attributes, one is going against a doctrine of the faith: 'The Divine Attributes are really identical among themselves and with the Divine Essence' (De fide). The reason lies in the absolute simplicity of God. The acceptance of a real distinction (distinctio realis) would lead to acceptance of a composition in God, and with that to a dissolution of the Godhead. In the year 1148, a Synod at Rheims, in the presence of Pope Eugene III, condemned, on the instance of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the doctrine of Gilbert of Poitiers, who, according to the accusation of his opponents, posited a real difference between Deus and Divinitas, so that there would result a quaternity in God (Three Persons plus Godhead). This teaching, which is not obvious in Gilbert's writings, was rejected at the Council of Rheims (1148) in the presence of Pope Eugene III (D. 389 Archived 20 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine et seq.)" (James Bastible (editor)
  28. ^ Dr Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 28, Tan Books and Publishers, 1960, Retrieved 12 September 2014)
  29. ^ Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, p. 200. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, ISBN 9780060649128. Retrieved on 12 September 2014.
  30. ^ Kallistos Ware Oxford Companion to Christian Thought; (Oxford University Press 2000 ISBN 0-19-860024-0), p. 186. Retrieved on 21 January 2012.
  31. ^ The encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 5 By Erwin Fahlbusch p. 418. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008, ISBN 978-0802824172. Retrieved on 21 January 2012.


External links

Actus purus

In scholastic philosophy, actus purus ( literally "pure actuality") is the absolute perfection of God.

Created beings have potentiality that is not actuality, imperfections as well as perfection. Only God is simultaneously all that He can be, infinitely real and infinitely perfect: 'I am who I am' (Exodus 3:14). His attributes or His operations are really identical with His essence, and His essence necessitates His existence. (Contrast this understanding with the Essence–Energies distinction in Eastern Christian, particularly Palamite, theology).

In created beings, the state of potentiality precedes that of actuality; before being realized, a perfection must be capable of realization. But, absolutely speaking, actuality precedes potentiality. For in order to change, a thing must be acted upon, or actualized; change and potentiality presuppose, therefore, a being which is in actu. This actuality, if mixed with potentiality, presupposes another actuality, and so on, until we reach the actus purus.

According to Thomas Aquinas a thing which requires completion by another is said to be in potency to that other: realization of potency is called actuality. The universe is conceived of as a series of things arranged in an ascending order, or potency and act at once crowned and created by God, who alone is pure act. God is changeless because change means passage from potency to act, and so he is without beginning and end, since these demand change. Matter and form are necessary to the understanding of change, for change requires the union of that which becomes and that which it becomes. Matter is the first, and form the second. All physical things are composed of matter and form. The difference between a thing as form or character and the actual existence of it is denoted by the terms essence and being (or existence). It is only in God that there is no distinction between the two. Both pairs - matter & form and essence & being - are special cases of potency and act. They are also modes: modes do not add anything to the idea of being, but are ways of making explicit what is implicit in it.

Divinization (Christian)

In Christian theology, divinization ("divinization" may also refer to apotheosis, lit. "making divine"), or theopoesis c.q. theosis, is the transforming effect of divine grace, the spirit of God, or the atonement of Christ. Although it literally means to become divine, or to become god, most Christian denominations do not interpret the doctrine as implying an overcoming of a fundamental metaphysical difference between God and humanity, for example John of the Cross had it: "it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before".


Dyoenergism (derived from Greek as term for "two energies") is a particular Christological doctrine that teaches the existence of two energies (divine and human) in the person of Jesus Christ. Specifically, dyoenergism correlates the distinctiveness of two energies with the existence of two specific natures (divine and human) in the person of Jesus Christ (dyophysitism). Therefore, dyoenergism teaches that Jesus Christ acts through two energies, divine and human. The Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680-681 reaffirmed dyoenergism as church doctrine and at the same time rejected monoenergism.

Ein Sof

Ein Sof, or Eyn Sof (, Hebrew: אין סוף), in Kabbalah, is understood as God prior to any self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual realm, probably derived from Solomon ibn Gabirol's (c. 1021 – c. 1070) term, "the Endless One" (she-en lo tiklah). Ein Sof may be translated as "unending", "(there is) no end", or infinity. It was first used by Azriel (c. 1160 – c. 1238), who, sharing the Neoplatonic belief that God can have no desire, thought, word, or action, emphasized by it the negation of any attribute. Of the Ein Sof, nothing ("Ein") can be grasped ("Sof"-limitation). It is the origin of the Ohr Ein Sof, the "Infinite Light" of paradoxical divine self-knowledge, nullified within the Ein Sof prior to creation. In Lurianic Kabbalah, the first act of creation, the Tzimtzum self "withdrawal" of God to create an "empty space", takes place from there. In Hasidic Judaism, the Tzimtzum is only the illusionary concealment of the Ohr Ein Sof, giving rise to monistic panentheism. Consequently, Hasidism focuses on the Atzmus divine essence, rooted higher within the Godhead than the Ein Sof, which is limited to infinitude, and reflected in the essence (etzem) of the Torah and the soul.

Emanation in the Eastern Orthodox Church

Emanation (literally "dripping") is a belief, found in Neoplatonism, that the cause of certain beings or states of being consists of an overflow from the essence of God or other higher spiritual beings, as opposed to a special act of creation. This overflow is usually conceived in a non-temporal way as a permanent relationship of causation rather than as an event causing an entity to come into existence at a given point in time. The word "emanation" can refer either to the process of emanation or to the thing emanated.

Equivalent concepts are found in Gnosticism and in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). This article explores similar concepts in Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism.

Faith and rationality

Faith and rationality are two ideologies that exist in varying degrees of conflict or compatibility. Rationality is based on reason or facts. Faith is belief in inspiration, revelation, or authority. The word faith sometimes refers to a belief that is held with lack of reason or evidence, a belief that is held in spite of or against reason or evidence, or it can refer to belief based upon a degree of evidential warrant.

Although the words faith and belief are sometimes erroneously conflated and used as synonyms, faith properly refers to a particular type (or subset) of belief, as defined above.

Broadly speaking, there are two categories of views regarding the relationship between faith and rationality:

Rationalism holds that truth should be determined by reason and factual analysis, rather than faith, dogma, tradition or religious teaching.

Fideism holds that faith is necessary, and that beliefs may be held without any evidence or reason and even in conflict with evidence and reason.The Catholic Church also has taught that true faith and correct reason can and must work together, and, viewed properly, can never be in conflict with one another, as both have their origin in God, as stated in the Papal encyclical letter issued by Pope John Paul II, Fides et ratio ("[On] Faith and Reason").

Gregory Akindynos

Gregory Akindynos (Latinized as Gregorius Acindynus) (Greek: Γρηγόριος Ἀκίνδυνος) (ca. 1300 – 1348) was a Byzantine theologian of Bulgarian origin. A native of Prilep, he moved from Pelagonia to Thessaloniki and studied under Thomas Magistros and Gregory Bryennios. He became an admirer of Nikephoros Gregoras after he was shown an astronomical treatise of that scholar by his friend Balsamon in 1332, writing him a letter in which he calls him a "sea of wisdom". From Thessaloniki, he intended to move on to Mount Athos, but for reasons unknown, he was refused.

He was involved in the theological dispute surrounding the doctrine of Uncreated Light between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam of Calabria in the 1340s. As a student of Palamas', he mediated between the two from 1337, warning Barlaam in 1340 that his attempts against his doctrine would be futile, but from 1341 he became critical of Palamas' position, denouncing it as Messalianism, and came to be Palamas' most dangerous adversary after Barlaam's return to Calabria. He was excommunicated at the Council of Constantinople of 1347 and died in exile, apparently a victim of the plague of 1348.


Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of contemplative prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Based on Jesus's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew that "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray", hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God (see Theoria).

Hesychast controversy

The Hesychast controversy was a theological dispute in the Byzantine Empire during the 14th century between supporters and opponents of Gregory Palamas. While not a primary driver of the Byzantine Civil War, it influenced and was influenced by the political forces in play during that war. The dispute concluded with the victory of the Palamists and the inclusion of Palamite doctrine as part of the dogma of the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the canonization of Palamas.

About the year 1337, Hesychasm attracted the attention of a learned member of the Orthodox Church, Barlaam, a Calabrian monk who had come to Constantinople some seven years earlier. Reacting to criticisms of his theological writings that Gregory Palamas, an Athonite monk and exponent of hesychasm, had courteously communicated to him, Barlaam encountered Hesychasts and heard descriptions of their practices. Trained in Western Scholastic theology, Barlaam was scandalized by the descriptions that he heard and wrote several treatises ridiculing the practices. Barlaam took exception to, as heretical and blasphemous, the doctrine entertained by the Hesychasts as to the nature of the uncreated light, identical to that light which had been manifested to Jesus' disciples at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the experience of which was said to be the goal of Hesychast practice. His informants said that this light was not of the divine essence but was contemplated as another hypostasis. Barlaam held this concept to be polytheistic, inasmuch as it postulated two eternal beings, a visible (immanent) and an invisible (transcendent) God.

Gregory Palamas, afterwards Archbishop of Thessalonica, was asked by his fellow monks on Mt Athos to defend Hesychasm from Barlaam's attacks. Well-educated in Greek philosophy (dialectical method) and thus able to defend Hesychasm with methods in use also in the West, Palamas defended Hesychasm in the 1340s at a series of synods in Constantinople, and wrote a number of works in its defense.

In 1341 the dispute came before a synod held at Constantinople which, taking into account the regard in which the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius were held, condemned Barlaam, who recanted and almost immediately returned to Calabria, afterwards becoming bishop of a Byzantine-Rite diocese in communion with the Pope. Five other synods on the subject were held, at the third of which the opponents of Palamas gained a brief victory. However, in 1351, at a synod under the presidency of Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos, Palamas' real Essence-Energies distinction was established as the doctrine of the Orthodox Church.

Gregory Akindynos, who had been a disciple of Gregory's and had tried to mediate between him and Barlaam, became critical of Palamas after Barlaam's departure in 1341. Another opponent of Palamism was Manuel Kalekas who sought to reconcile the Eastern and Western Churches. Following the decision of 1351, there was strong repression against anti-Palamist thinkers. Kalekas reports on this repression as late as 1397, and for theologians in disagreement with Palamas, there was ultimately no choice but to emigrate and convert to union with the Latin Church, a path taken by Kalekas as well as Demetrios Kydones and John Kyparissiotes.

Mark of Ephesus

Mark of Ephesus (born Manuel Eugenikos) was a hesychast theologian of the late Palaiologan period of the Byzantine Empire who became famous for his rejection of the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–1439). As a monk in Constantinople, Mark was a prolific hymnographer and a devoted Palamite. As a theologian and a scholar, he was instrumental in the preparations for the Council of Ferrara-Florence, and as Metropolitan of Ephesus and delegate for the Patriarch of Alexandria, he was one of the most important voices at the synod. After renouncing the Council as a lost cause, Mark became the leader of the Orthodox opposition to the Union of Florence, thus sealing his reputation as a defender of Orthodoxy and pillar of the Church.


Monoenergism (Greek: μονοενεργητισμός) was a notion in early medieval Christian theology, representing the belief that Christ had only one "energy" (energeia). The teaching of one energy was propagated during the first half of the seventh century by Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople but opposition to Dyoenergism would persist until Dyoenergism was espoused as Orthodoxy at the Sixth Ecumenical Council. Ultimately, monoenergism was rejected as heresy, in favour of dyoenergism.

After the failure of Emperor Justinian I and the Second Council of Constantinople to mend the Chalcedonian schism and unify main Christian communities within the Byzantine Empire by a single Christology, similar efforts were renewed by Heraclius (610–641) who attempted to solve the schism between the Eastern Orthodox Chalcedonian party and the monophysite non-Chalcedonian party, suggesting the compromise of monoenergism. This compromise adopted the Chalcedonian dyophysite belief that Christ the Incarnate Logos of God is of and in two natures, but tried to address monophysite misgivings by the view that Christ had one "energy" (energeia), a term whose definition was left deliberately vague. Monoenergism was accepted by the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria, as well as by the Armenians and was not clearly criticized by Pope Honorius I of Rome in his 635 epistle. However, it was rejected by Athanasius I Gammolo and the strong opposition of Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem won wide support. This led Heraclius to abandon the teaching in 638 (though still condemning Dyoenergism) and to attempt to enforce instead the doctrine of monothelitism, opposed most notably by Maximus the Confessor. This too failed to heal the schism and theologically unite the empire.

Both monoenergism as well as monotheletism were condemned as heresies by the Sixth Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 680.

Neilos Kabasilas

Neilos Kabasilas (also Nilus Cabasilas; Greek: Νεῖλος Καβάσιλας Neilos Kavasilas), was a fourteenth-century Palamite theologian who succeeded St. Gregory Palamas as Metropolitan of Thessalonica (1357–1363). Neilos, who was called Nicholas as a layman, has often been confused with his nephew, the more famous Nicholas Kabasilas, best known for his Commentary on the Divine Liturgy

Neilos was a teacher of the famed translator of Thomas Aquinas into Greek, Demetrios Kydones. As a theologian, his most important works are a Theological Rule in defense of the essence-energies distinction and a series of discourses against the Filioque (the Latin teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit).


Ousia (; Greek: οὐσία) is a philosophical and theological term, originally used in Ancient Greek philosophy, and also in Christian theology. It was used by various Ancient Greek philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle, as a primary designation for philosophical concepts of essence or substance. In contemporary philosophy, it is analogous to English concepts of being and ontic. In Christian theology, the concept of θεία ουσία (divine essence) is one of the most important doctrinal concepts, central to the development of trinitarian doctrine.The Ancient Greek term Ousia was translated in Latin as essentia or substantia, and hence in English as essence or substance.


Palamism or the Palamite theology comprises the teachings of Gregory Palamas (c.1296–1359), whose writings defended the Orthodox notion of Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam. Followers of Palamas are sometimes referred to as Palamites.

Seeking to defend the assertion that humans can become like God through deification without compromising God's transcendence, Palamas distinguished between God's inaccessible essence and the energies through which he becomes known and enables to share his divine life. The central idea of the Palamite theology is a distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies that is not a merely conceptual distinction.Palamism is a central element of Eastern Orthodox theology, being made into dogma in the Eastern Orthodox Church by the Hesychast councils.

Palamism has been described as representing "the deepest assimilation of the monastic and dogmatic traditions, combined with a repudiation of the philosophical notion of the exterior wisdom".Historically, Western Christianity has tended to reject Palamism, especially the essence–energies distinction, characterizing it as a heretical introduction of an unacceptable division in the Trinity and suggestive of polytheism. Further, the associated practice of hesychasm used to achieve theosis was characterized as "magic". More recently, some Roman Catholic thinkers have taken a positive view of Palamas's teachings, including the essence–energies distinction, arguing that it does not represent an insurmountable theological division between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.The rejection of Palamism by the West and by those in the East who favoured union with the West (the "Latinophrones"), actually contributed to its acceptance in the East, according to Martin Jugie, who adds: "Very soon Latinism and Antipalamism, in the minds of many, would come to be seen as one and the same thing".

Reformed Orthodoxy (Eastern Christianity)

The term Reformed Orthodoxy is given to an attempted Protestant Reformation of the Orthodox Christian beliefs and practices of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches. Presently the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India, the Believers Eastern Church, the Evangelical Baptist Union of Georgia, Society for Eastern Rite Anglicanism, Evangelical Orthodox Church, Assyrian Evangelical Church, and the Assyrian Pentecostal Church are revised according to Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestant reforms, respectively.

Theological differences between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church

The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have been in a state of official schism from one another since the East–West Schism of 1054. This schism was caused by historical and linguistic developments, and the ensuing theological differences between the Western and Eastern churches.

Main points of discontent for the Catholic Church are the papal primacy and the filioque clause. For Eastern Orthodox the main point of discontent is voiced by neo-Palamism, which sees the essence-energy distinction, and the experiential vision of God as attained in theoria and theosis, as the main point of divergence between East and West.

Although the 20th century saw a growth of anti-western sentiments with the rise of neo-Palamism, "the future of East–West rapprochement appears to be overcoming the modern polemics of neo-scholasticism and neo-Palamism". Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has generally taken the approach that the schism is primarily ecclesiological in nature, that the doctrinal teachings of the Eastern Orthodox churches are generally sound, and that "the vision of the full communion to be sought is that of unity in legitimate diversity" as before the division.

Triads (Gregory Palamas)

The Triads of Gregory Palamas are a set of nine treatises entitled "Triads For The Defense of Those Who Practice Sacred Quietude" written by Gregory Palamas in response to attacks made by Barlaam. The treatises are called "Triads" because they were organized as three sets of three treatises.

Western Christianity

Western Christianity is a religious category composed of the Latin Church and Protestantism, together with their offshoots such as Independent Catholicism and Restorationism. The large majority of the world's 2.4 billion Christians are Western Christians (about 2 billion – 1.2 billion Latin Catholic and 800 million Protestant). The original and still major part, the Latin Church, developed under the bishop of Rome (the Patriarch of the West) in the former Western Roman Empire in Antiquity. Out of the Latin Church emerged a wide variety of independent Protestant denominations, including Lutheranism and Anglicanism, starting from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, as did Independent Catholicism in the 19th century. Thus, the term "Western Christianity" does not describe a single communion or religious denomination, but is applied to distinguish all these denominations collectively from Eastern Christianity.

The establishment of the distinct Latin Church, a particular church sui iuris of the Catholic Church (in contrast to the Eastern Catholic Churches, also in full communion with the Pope in Rome) coincided with the consolidation of the Holy See in Rome, where the bishop claimed a particular role since Antiquity. The terms "Western" and "Eastern" in this regard originated with geographical divisions mirroring the cultural divide between the Hellenistic east and Latin West, and the political divide between the Western and Eastern Roman empires. During the Middle Ages adherents of the Latin Church, irrespective of ethnicity, commonly referred to themselves as "Latins" to distinguish themselves from Eastern Christians.With the expansion of European colonialism from the Early Modern era, the Latin Church, in time along with its Protestant secessions, spread throughout the Americas, much of the Philippines, Southern Africa, pockets of West Africa, and throughout Australia, and New Zealand. Thus, when used for historical periods after the 16th century, the term "Western Christianity" does not refer to a particular geographical area, but is rather used as a collective term for the Latin Church, the Protestant denominations, and Independent Catholicism that trace their lineage to the original Latin Church in Western Europe.

Today, the geographical distinction between Western and Eastern Christianity is not nearly as absolute as in Antiquity or the Middle Ages, due to the spread of Christian missionaries, migrations, and globalisation. The adjectives "Western Christianity" and "Eastern Christianity" are typically used to refer to historical origins and differences in theology and liturgy, rather than present geographical locations.

While the Latin Church maintains the use of the Latin liturgical rites, Protestant denominations and Independent Catholicism use a wide variety of liturgical practices.

Christian theology by tradition

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