Gregory Palamas

c.1296-1359. Greek theologian. After a broad education in Constantinople, at twenty years of age he became a monk on Mt. Athos in Greece. It was during his stay at Athos that Palamas developed much of his thinking on the subject of the mystical communion with God. He is reported to have excelled all his fellow monks in the area of asceticism. He was not able to isolate himself completely from the world, for he was called to be archbishop of Thessalonica after he became well known for his defense of Hesychasm.* The Hesychasts were attacked both for their mysticism and for their physical positions in relationship to prayer. Their opponents felt that God could not be known through mystical communion with God in intense meditation. They considered this as bordering on the deification of man. Some even thought the doctrine of Uncreated Light held by the Hesychasts was close to a doctrine of pantheism.

Gregory Palamas strongly defended the Hesychasts. He affirmed the theology of experience through meditation with God. God's essence could not be known, but His energies could. Palamas was not presenting something totally new, for Basil and the Cappadocian Fathers had earlier proposed this. By coming into contact with God's energies, man could have a direct relationship with God. Since God is light, the experience of God's energies takes the form of light. It is the same uncreated light of the Godhead which appeared on Mt. Tabor at the Transfiguration, according to Palamas. A council was held on this subject in Constantinople in 1341, and it sanctioned the doctrine of Uncreated Light relating it to the divine energy. It thus upheld the ideas of Gregory Palamas.