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Gregory Palamas: Triads (Classics of Western Spirituality) Hardcover – 1 Aug 1982

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Paulist Pr (Aug. 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809103281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809103287
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.7 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,791,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

John Meyendorff, Professor Byzantine and Eastern European History at Fordham University, is an Orthodox priest, a holder of the D. es L. (Sorbonne), and the author of several books on Orthodoxy.

John Meyendorff, Professor Byzantine and Eastern European History at Fordham University, is an Orthodox priest, a holder of the D. es L. (Sorbonne), and the author of several books on Orthodoxy. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have several volumes of this series from Paulist Press, "The Classics of Western Spirituality". Frankly, they are very hard to digest. I guess you need a mystic mind to understand the writings, let alone the mind, of another mystic. Perhaps I'm just too rational? Or rationalist, as it were.

Gregory Palamas wasn't easy either, but his "The Triads" is nevertheless the easiest text I've encountered in this series. Palamas (who died in 1359) was a leading Orthodox churchman in the Late Byzantine Empire. He is most well known, or notorious, for his defence of the hesychasts, a group of monks who practiced a form of prayer that involved body postures and controlled breathing. (Modern admirers and detractors have likened it to yoga exercises.) The hesychasts claimed that this gave them a direct, mystical experience of God himself. Their practices were roundly condemned by Barlaam of Calabria, another leading Orthodox churchman, who was inspired by Catholic scholasticism. (I believe he eventually became a Catholic.)

On one level, this was the perennial conflict between the mystic and the philosopher, with Palamas being the former, and Barlaam taking the role of the latter. To Barlaam, God is unknowable "in essence", and all human knowledge of God therefore either takes the form of philosophical propositions, or mental experiences of created spiritual realites. Barlaam didn't deny that mystical vision is possible. However, he believed that this isn't a direct vision of God himself, but of something lower, something created by God especially for the purpose. The light that shone around Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration was a created light, according to Barlaam. This light, moreover, is purely mental or immaterial. It can only be "seen" mentally, spiritually.
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Format: Paperback
Gregory Palamas THE TRIADS

In this classic work by a great formative Theologian and Church Leader written at a key moment in the history of the church, in powerful defence of the central significance for humanity of God's becoming human and entering into our life and death in the person of Jesus Christ, we can still today find a sense of excitement There is a luminous clarity in this great work of an outstanding Eastern Orthodox church leader. His strong and clear statement, written with force and clarity, of the heart of Christian faith was intended to counteract the vague and muddled humanism being propounded by a clever, western influenced critic. It is beautifully and clearly translated and introduced by a fine Orthodox writer, John Meyendorff, who explains its significance and whole backgound clearly and admirably.It moves rapidly and is a joy to read.
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Even if I ordered the item about a month ago, I haven't received my book yet; I sent them an email last week but no reply. Don't know where is the book yet, but the money had been taken out from my account about a month ago..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars 10 reviews
37 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Mystical Theologian 6 Mar. 2006
By Greg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Gregory Palamas is one of the most important figures in Eastern Orthodox Chrisitianity. First, a little history.

The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches split in about the 11th century over a fairly obscure disagreement over the nature of Christ. However, for many centuries before this, the Eastern Orthodox had taken a far less literalist approach to the Bible than the Latin West.

The result was the Eastern Orthodox tended to produce more mystics than the Latin West, perhaps because the Eastern Orthodox permitted more flexibility into their ideas of God. Catholic theologians from Augustine onwards generally regarded God as a 'Supreme Being' in the universe of beings, a schema borrowed largely from Neo-Platonism, while the Easterns believed God was beyond being itself. Save for a few thinkers on the fringe (i.e. Eriugena), Catholic theologians in the Middle Ages became obsessed with being and beings and proving God was the ultimate being and the maker of all other beings, something Aquinas did in great lengths in Summa Theologica.

The Easterns on the other hand, distinguished between God's infinite and unknowable nature (which was beyond being) and how God obviously manifested himself in the Bible. Gregory of Palamas distinguished between God's unknowable inner nature (somewhat like the Kantian thing in itself) and God's manifestations, his 'energies' which the Old Testament Prophets saw and who the Apostles saw on Mount Tabor in the 'Transfiguration' of Jesus.

Palamas is somewhat bigoted in some parts and writes with the polemical hostility of a Iraneus or a Tertullian. He dismisses Greek Philosophy as useless unless it agrees with theology, but not so much because he is a fundamentalist (as Tertullian was) but rather because like all mystics, he knew rational knowledge ultimately would fail in its attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible. He emphasized faith and unknowing, and patiently allowing God to mediate to us miniscule creatures according to our capacity to receieve his revelation, rather than trying to push into the mystery of the divine with our small minds and arrogantly affirming what God was, as his opponent Barlaam appeared to do.

While somewhat tedious and lacking in elegant style, and not really having the poetic beauty of some of Symeon the Theologian's mystical thoughts, Gregory remains an important thinker and any student of Christian mysticism will profit from a careful reading of his work.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, just missing a few things 26 April 2011
By Anonymous - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have only one complaint with this translation: some parts were taken out. Here, an excerpt from the Foreword:

"I have taken the liberty of occasionally eliminating passagesthat are of purely rhetorical and polemical nature, and such ommissions are indicated in our text by ellepsis point."

This saddened me while I read this, as many times when it was indicated there was an ommission at interesting points, of which would have been nice to know all of what he wished to say, regardless of what others think of how important it is. So, besides the somewhat frequent ommissions, it is a good book and I would recommend it to all who are interested in Christian Theology, specifically of the Orthodox.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Words and rules to appreciate the subtle messages of hesychasm 9 Mar. 2009
By Edward M. Freeman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Throughout "The Triads" from the 14th-century, St. Gregory Palamas is caught in a conundrum of apophatic silence and apodictic experiential observations. On the one hand, Palamas must describe the ineffible energy of the divine presence as manifest in a monk's hesychasm. By the same token, Palamas must avoid scholastic formulations about hesychasm, which were promulgated by Latin immigrees in Athos, chief among whom was one Latin monk Barlaam. Scholastic reasoning was formulaic and required every manifestation of God to fit into conditional sentences and quid-pro-quo logic.

This 110-page translation of "The Triads" gathers pastoral, theological didactic, and spiritual counsels to ascertain the major obstacles to knowing God according to Barlaam and his Calabrian brothers (from Italy). Liberal treatment of earlier hesychasts and iconodoules in this text, such as St. Maximos the Confessor, provide evidence that Palamas considered the task at hand not his alone, but instead the task of the collective Orthodox communion.

On a more practical side, Palamas and Barlaam go head to head with differences about planned insensibilities. Deprivations such as fasting from food and sleep, according to Palamas and the hesychasts, provide occasions for God to unfold his loving plans for us; Barlaam discredits these occasions as outside the realm of God's grace.

But for the Hesychast, the effort is to remove distractions from mind and body, such as comfort level, and instead focus all attention on the heart, awaiting the day when the Lord will restore the heart in divine grace. After having restored the heart in divine grace, Palamas quotes from the Apostle, "God has given His Spirit to cry in our hearts, Abba, Father (Gal. 4:6).

The "Classics of Western Spirituality" (Paulist Press) have gone far to bring eastern and western spiritual classics to a wide audience since the mid-to-late 1970's. Publications in the series now outnumber 50. This volume, although recent, bears witness to the mark that at least two team members left Western jurisdictions right around the time that this volume was released. Two publication-team members, a renowned Lutheran Reformation historian, Jaroslav Pelikan and wife, and the Jesuit-mystical theologian, George Maloney, S.J. were received into Holy Orthodoxy by chrismation.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MYSTICISM INVERTED? The strange case of Barlaam vs. Palamas 27 May 2009
By Ashtar Command - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I have several volumes of this series from Paulist Press, "The Classics of Western Spirituality". Frankly, they are very hard to digest. I guess you need a mystic mind to understand the writings, let alone the mind, of another mystic. Perhaps I'm just too rational? Or rationalist, as it were.

Gregory Palamas wasn't easy either, but his "The Triads" is nevertheless the easiest text I've encountered in this series. Palamas (who died in 1359) was a leading Orthodox churchman in the Late Byzantine Empire. He is most well known, or notorious, for his defence of the hesychasts, a group of monks who practiced a form of prayer that involved body postures and controlled breathing. (Modern admirers and detractors have likened it to yoga exercises.) The hesychasts claimed that this gave them a direct, mystical experience of God himself. Their practices were roundly condemned by Barlaam of Calabria, another leading Orthodox churchman, who was inspired by Catholic scholasticism. (I believe he eventually became a Catholic.)

On one level, this was the perennial conflict between the mystic and the philosopher, with Palamas being the former, and Barlaam taking the role of the latter. To Barlaam, God is unknowable "in essence", and all human knowledge of God therefore either takes the form of philosophical propositions, or mental experiences of created spiritual realites. Barlaam didn't deny that mystical vision is possible. However, he believed that this isn't a direct vision of God himself, but of something lower, something created by God especially for the purpose. The light that shone around Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration was a created light, according to Barlaam. This light, moreover, is purely mental or immaterial. It can only be "seen" mentally, spiritually. Since all other knowledge of God is philosophical, Barlaam and his followers naturally emphasized studies of Greek philosophy (presumably Plato and Aristotle). Barlaam seems to have been honestly shocked by the hesychasts. In his opinion, they denigrated formal learning in an obscurantist fashion, claiming that they could actually see God, and therefore didn't need Greek philosophy. Barlaam also suspected the hesychasts of heresy, since a Gnostic group known as Messalians claimed to have the ability to see God with their material eyes, using some kind of excessive prayer technique. The Messalians were connected to, or identical with, the Bogomils, a group similar to the Cathars. The editor of this volume, who is sympathetic to Palamas, believes that Barlaam might have encountered some kind of fringe groups among the hesyschasts, rather than the real thing. Barlaam also argued, basing himself on Pseudo-Dionysius, that we cannot say what God is, only what he is not. This apophatic theology he took to mean, that God is unknowable to man, unless God decides to reveal himself through created things.

"The Triads" was Palamas' defence of hesychasm. Palamas believed that the spiritual exercises of the monks were more important than Greek philosophy which, after all, was polytheist and "confused God with demons". He also believed that Barlaam had a Platonist and dualist view of the relation between soul and body, since to Barlaam, only our most refined mental faculties are involved in mystical vision. Palamas emphasized the traditional Christian position that body and soul are a unity, that God created both, and that the body will be glorified after the second advent. If this is true, then it cannot be wrong to combine prayer and mystical vision with bodily postures and exercises. Both soul and body is involved in prayer. Palamas further held that the hesychasts actually did see God, and he even suggested that they saw him in a kind of "material" way. In the mystical experience, God transforms not only the mind of the mystic, but also the body, somehow turning it into a glorified body, albeit temporarily. Thus, the mystic does see God with his (glorified or deified) material eyes. (At least this is my reading of Palamas. And yes, it does sound a bit extreme!) Just as Barlaam, Palamas also argued on the basis of Pseudo-Dionysius, but in his interpretation the apophatic theology of negation is only the first stepping stone to a positive vision of God, a vision that is ineffable, yet very real, not simply "nothingness".

For some reason, the main point of contention between Barlaam and Palamas was the idea of "God's essence". Barlaam believed that humans can't experience or behold God's essence. Hence, the light seen by mystics must be created. A created being can only see other created beings. Here, Palamas had a problem. On the one hand, he admitted that God's essence is beyond human comprehension. On the other hand, however, he nevertheless believed that the hesychasts actually see God himself. He also connected this to the Transfiguration, arguing that since Jesus was both God and man, the light seen by the disciples at Mount Tabor must have been divine and hence uncreated. Palamas attempted to solve this problem with the now famous (or infamous) distinction between God's essence and God's energies. The energies are uncreated and hence part of God, and yet they are not his essence. The mystics experience these uncreated energies. Barlaam accused Palamas of bitheism, but even a dispassionate observer can sense a problem here. If God's energies are uncreated, how can they *not* be his essence? If they aren't his essence, what on earth are they? Palamas solution is to claim that things such as God's providence, prescience, will and virtues are energies, but not his actual essence. God is always something more, something beyond, his energies. I'm not sure whether this is a satisfying answer, philosophically speaking, but then, Palamas wasn't really a philosopher to begin with, but rather a mystic arguing with a philosopher. This presumably forced Palamas to use the philosophical notion of "essence", trying to make it serve his own position.

What makes the confrontation between Barlaam of Calabria and Gregory Palamas so intriguing, is that the roles of mystic and philosopher are strangely inverted in their case. It's Palamas the mystic who takes the "corporeal" position, while Barlaam the philosopher takes the more "spiritual" position. Somehow, we would expect the opposite. Also, it's Palamas who takes the more overtly theological and "Biblical" position, while most mystics tend to oppose the orthodoxies of their respective faiths, in favour of a more free wheeling approach. Indeed, Palamas is the only mystic I'm aware of who sounds strangely "physical", and very consistently challenges Platonizing or Gnosticizing notions of the primacy of soul over body. At the same time, it also makes him more extreme than mystics of other traditions, who don't believe in the bestowing of heavenly bodies during the mystical experience. (Outside the Biblical religions, few believe in a physical resurrection to begin with!)

Finally, let me note that this volume doesn't contain all of "The Triads", but only selections. However, the main lines of argument are obvious, and there is both an introduction and lengthy footnotes to aid understanding of the text.

If you really can understand mysticism...
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contents 16 Nov. 2004
By J. Macdonald - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a translation of Gregory Palamas' "Triads" with an introduction by John Meyendorff. The popular level illustrated version of John Meyendorff's "Study of Gregory Palamas" mentioned above is "Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality".St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality The Triads is a major work of Gregory Palamas written about 1339/1340 defending the possibility of direct experience of God against Barlaam of Calabria.
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