Does Maximus’ Doctrine of Theosis Collapse Collapse without Gregory Palamas’ Doctrine of ‘Divine Energies’? Emma C J Brown, University of Edinburgh
Within the last twenty years there has been much debate over the development of the doctrine of the ‘divine energies’ and the tracing of the concept through the works of the Byzantine and Early Church Fathers.1 In particular, attention has been given to St Maximus the Confessor as a forerunner of Palamite theology and the extent to which a distinction already exists between God’ God’ss essence and energies within his thought. There is a tendency within this area of study, study, Louth believes, to assume a terminological homogeneity between the Palamite and Confessor that did not exist. exist.2 Thus, a more valid question would seem to be, regardless of how precise the essence/energies essence/energies divide is within St Maximus’ thought, how necessary is it for that divide to exist in order for his theology to be consistent. In this inquiry I will illustrate Maximus’ theology of final rest and theosis, demonstrate the relevance of Gregory Palamas’ doctrine doctrine of ‘divine energies’, and then, in a synthesis of the two, ask whether Maximus’ doctrine of theosis can exist without Gregory’s distinction between essence and energies. The purpose of such an inquiry is to ascertain how necessary the development of the doctrine of the ‘divine ‘ divine energies’ is and judge its merit upon that fact, rather than assuming its value on the basis of how far its roots can be traced back through the Greek Fathers.
According to St Maximus the Confessor, Confessor, all creatures move towards God. This is a natural desire of all creatures, since they have their origin in God. “Through himself,” God “draws into one what is divided, and abolishes war between beings, and binds everything into peaceful friendship and undivided harmony”.3 All creatures come from God and will return to Him, but do not lose their personal identity.4 Despite coming to rest in God, a distinction still remains between God and His creation: 1
A. Torrance, ‘Precedents for Palamas’ P alamas’ Essence-Energies Essence-Energies Theology in the Cappadocian Fathers’ Vigiliae Christianae 63, 1 (2009): 47-70; D. Bradshaw, Bradshaw, The Concept of the Divine Energies', Energies', www.uky.edu/~dbradsh [accessed 22.03.2013]; T. Tollefsen, The Christocentric Cosmology of St Maximus the Confessor. Confessor. (Oxford: Oxford University Choice in St Maximus the Confessor Confessor.. (Pennsulvania: St Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2008), p139-169; J. Farrell, Free Choice Press, 1989), p141; V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 1957), p71-80. A. Louth, email correspondence (07.03.2013); though Torrance is more wary of this trap and provides a more careful analysis of the history of the term energeia in the Cappadocians. Confessor. (London: Routledge, 1996), p162 [1313B]. Maximus, ‘Ambiguum 41’ in A. Louth, Maximus the Confessor.
Maximus, ‘Mystagogia’ in Maximus the Confessor Confessor,, Selected Writings. Writings. G. Berthold, (trans.) (London: SPCK, 1985), p186.
It belongs to creatures to be moved toward that end which is without beginning, and to come to rest in the perfect end that is without end, and to experience that which is without definition, but not to be such or to become such in essence. For whatever comes into being and is created is certainly not absolute.5
The human person in particular is tasked to draw together creation for God after the way of Christ: ...the human person unites the created nature with the uncreated through love (O the wonder of God’s God’s love for us human beings!), showing them to be one and the same through the possession of grace, the whole [of creation] wholly interpenetrated [ perichor perichoresis esis] by God, and become completely whatever God is, save at the level of being, and receiving to itself the whole of God himself, and acquiring as a kind of prize for its ascent to God the most unique God himself, as the end of the movement of everything that is carried towards it...6
In this way, “by constant straining toward God, he[the human person] becomes God and is called a ‘portion of God’ because he has become fit to participate in God.”7 Thus we see Maximus’ understanding of theosis summarised as such:
Hence the whole man, as the object of divine action, is divinised by being made God by the grace of God who became man. He remains wholly man in soul(φυχὴν) and body(σῶμα) by nature(φύσιν), and becomes wholly God in body and soul by grace(χάριν) and the unparalleled divine radiance of blessed glory appropriate appropriate to him.8
Within Maximus’ understanding understanding of final rest and theosis, it is important to note the following: Firstly, creatures participate in God, become a portion of God and experience God. Secondly,, this union occurs through the possession of grace and the interpenetration (περιχώρησις ) Secondly of creation by God. Thirdly, despite becoming a portion of God, creatures do not become God in essence or at a level of being; creatures creatures always remain distinct from the Creator Creator.. Lastly, Lastly, at no point within this union with God do we lose our unique personhood. How is it that we can remain who we are (ταυτότητα... ὑπάρξεως ἀδιάφθορον καὶ
ἀσύγχυτον), and what we are (in our οὐσία) and yet become God (Θεὸς γίνεται), participate in Him 5
Maximus, ‘Ambiguum 7’ in Maximus the Confessor, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ. P. Blowers & R. Wilken, (trans.) (New York: York: St Vladimir’s Vladimir ’s Seminary Press, 2003.), p50 [1073B]. Maximus, Ambiguum 41, p158 [1308B-C].
( μετέχειν μετέχειν Θεοῦ ) and be considered a portion of Him ( μοῖρα Θεοῦ ))?? In terms of what is technically happening in Maximus’ understandin understanding g of final fi nal rest, our personal identity and and humanity remain intact, intact, our ousia remains distinct from God and yet, by grace, we are able to participate in Him. It is unclear exactly what we are able to participate in, but it is apparent that this participation is real enough that we may be called God or gods. We We may say for certain that Maximus’ doctrine of theosis stands on three main principles which occur simultaneously: God is unknowable; God is participable; both God and each creature remain who they are. To jeopardise these facts would be to imply pantheism, or atheism. We are human; we are God by grace; but we are not God in God’s essence. This paradox really seems to be where Maximus stops. An accepta acceptance nce of the paradox as it stands might be preferable, but it leaves some questions dangerously unanswered. How can we be God and not God? What is the difference between the deified human and God? Is God really still transcendent and unknowable? What What are we participating in? Are we many mini-gods existing on the outskirts of God? How is this still monotheistic? If we really do participate in God, has God become mutable to incorporate us? The polytheistic question especially looks like one that can not be left unanswered, unanswered, and whilst undoubtedly we can report that Maximus would not concur that this introduces polytheism, it remains that as it stands, Maximus’ doctrine of theosis could be read to construe this possibility. possibility.
Whilst these questions were not raised during Maximus’ time time,, they came to be of great importance i mportance during the life Gregory Palamas. His work was composed precisely to answer these questions in relation to theosis and the human experience of God. Palamas argues for a distinction in God between His essence essence and his energies. Prior to Gregory Palamas, energeia had a mixed meaning in Byzantine theology. theology. In the work of Maximus, energeia is used fairly interchangeably with the words dunamis and kinesis,9 and denotes movement, operation, and activity. activity. God acts and operates in different ways, but still has one operation and is one operator. This one operation is separate from and necessary to God in his essence, but does not constitute a second bit of God. God’s energy is the manifestation and activity of his unknowable nature. In very basic terms, these ‘energies’, these different operations of God, are all that we know about Him. They are known to us by participation, but not in essence:
Even more are divine things recognised by participation only only,, since no one... knows what they the y are in their ground of being and principle of existence; for our part, we are certainly far from knowing these 9
As seen earlier in Maximus, Mystagogia, p186.
God’ss goodness, simplicity, God’ simplicity, immutability and other attributes are all activities that are never divorced from God, but neither are they descriptions of His essence.11 As we will see later, this means that God’s God’s activities are still God, but when inviting others to participate in them,12 the unknowability of God’s essence is not compromised. Following the reasoning of Maximus in his argument for dyothelitsm and dyoergianism in Christ, Palamas writes that if God has a nature, He must therefore have an activity, activity, since every nature is known by the things that it does in the world:
‘Only the essence of God is uncreated and unoriginate’, he [Barlaam] says, ‘but every energy is created.’ What impiety! It follows from this that God has no natural and essential energies. This amounts to openly denying the existence of God – for the saints clearly state, in conformity with St Maximu Max imus, s, that that no nature nature can exist exist or be known, known, unless unless it posses possesss an ess essenti ential al energy energy ( μήτε
γινώσκεσθαι, χωρὶς τῆς οὐσιώδους αὐτῆς ἐνεργείας τὴν οἱανδήποτε φύσιν ).13 Maxi Ma ximu muss ar argu gues es,, “I “Iff he he[C [Chr hris ist] t] ha hass two two na natu ture res( s(φύ φύσε σεις ις), ), th then en He su sure rely ly must must have have two two wills(θ wil ls(θελή ελήματ ματα), α), the wills wills and and es essen sentia tiall operat operation ions(ἐ s(ἐνέρ νέργει γειαι) αι) being being equal equal in numbe numberr to the natures”.14 The logic is that if something has a nature but no will and no operation of its own, that thing has no way of expressing itself or existing in accordance with that nature, and therefore has no real existence. In Maximus’ example, Christ is not really human if he does not think and act like one, neither is he really God if he does not think and act after the manner of God. Hence the argument follows that every nature must have a will and activity. 15 So, God must have an energy, Palamas argues, and that energy must be uncreated, like God’s God’s nature. If this were not the case, then there would be a time when God’s nature had no energy, and thus did not exist. There are unknowable things preserved in God’s essence that we can never know about, but there are also revelations of God, past, present and future, which we know and experience. 16 All 17 these the se experie experience ncess are of God. God. They They are direct experiences of God, Palamas wants to affirm. 17 10 11 12 13 14 15
Palamas, The Triads. N. Gendle, (trans.) (London: SPCK, 1983), p79-80 [III,1,21]. Palamas, Triads, p95 [III,2,7]. Palamas, Triads, p95-6 [III,2,7]. Palamas, Triads, p104. [III,3,6]. Maximus, Disputation with Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus. Farrel, J. (trans.) (Pennsylvania: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1990), p4 . I use the term ‘activity’ and ‘operation’ when translating ἐνέργεια within Maximus’ work as it best reflects his usage of the word. When Gregory Palamas uses the word I translate it as ‘energy’, to indicate a more technical and standardised usage of the word than that found in Maximus. For Gregory Palamas reading Maximus, he understands instances of the word ἐνέργεια to reflect his own usage.
Through Christ we have come to know God, and are able to see God through grace (for Palamas, most prominently through hesychast prayer and the purification of the passions), and are promised participation in Him through theosis.18 These experiences must be just as real and true as God’s mystery and transcendence. Without space for God’s mystery and transcendence, we do not allow for God to be God, but without space for real experience of God, we do not allow for any relationality between Creator and created, and might as well be talking about an imaginary concept that never has any bearing upon the world or our lives. The knowability of God is explained by Gregory within the essence/energies essence/energies distinction. The energies possess no hypostasis of their own,19 and are never a mediating being between Creator and created. God is them and is in them, but also remains who He is in His essence and His hypostases. To experience the energies of God is not to see just a bit of God. Palamas writes:
That which is manifest, that which makes itself accessible to intellection or participation, is not a part of God, for God is not thus subject to partition for our benefit; complete he manifests himself and doess not manife doe manifest st himsel himself, f, complet completee he is concei conceived ved and is inconc inconceiv eivabl ablee by the intell intellige igence nce,, 20
complete he is shared and is imparticipable.
“Hence “He nce,” ,” Meyend Meyendorf orf clarifi clarifies, es, “each “each divine divine power power and each each ener energy gy is God himsel himself.” f.”21 God’s simplicity is retained because He is the sole actor. 22 He is fully manifest in his actions, but is still a single essence who remains unknowable in this regard. The promise of theosis is made possible through the gift of grace.23 Through it we are able to draw near to God’s energies – to participate in His attributes. 24 This does not imply a mixture of essences, or hypostases. We remain human and who we are as people, yet are gathered to God and
become God by participating in all his activities: “Those who attain it become thereby uncreated, 25 unoriginat unori ginatee and indescribable indescribable,, although although in their their own nature, they derive derive from nothingness” nothingness”.. 25
Personal relation, divine participation and the preservation of unique personhood and respective created/uncreated natures all become possible. This for Palamas is an essential step in theological doctrine: we must affirm the essence/energies distinction not only for our understanding of theosis, 18 19
20 21 22
Palamas, Triads, p69 [III,3,68]. Palamas, Triads, p78 [III,1,18]; Palamas, P alamas, ‘Apology’ [Coisl. 99, fol. 13] in J. Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Gregory Palamas. Lawrence, G. (trans.). (London: The Faith Press, 1959), p216. Palamas, Triads, [II, 2, 7], this translation from in Meyendorf, p214. Meyendorf, p214. Palamas, ‘Against Akindynos’ [V, 13, Coisl. 98, fol. 128v] in Meyendorf, p215. cf. Meyendorf’s analysis analysis on same page. Palamas, Triads, p50 [II,2,9].
but for our entire concept concept of theodicy, theodicy, prayer and real relation relation with God.
We can return now to Maximus’ main principles of theosis: God is unknowable; God is participable; both God and each each creature remain remain who they are. In Palamas’ doctrine of ‘divine energies’ we can see each of these principles are held in tension. God’s unknowability is retained within the divine essence, which is beyond all comprehension and human thought. God is participable in his activity which he invites all of creation to join and enables through the gift of His grace. W Wee are never assimilated to God’s hypostases or to God’s essence, and in partaking of the ‘divine energies’ who we are as people is never forfeit. In so far as it offers a viable way for these otherwise tautological statements to coexist, the doctrine of ‘divine energies’ successfully clarifies and resolves resolves the difficulties within Maximus’ doctrine of theosis. Is it true tr ue though that Maximus’ doctrine of theosis collapses without Palamas’ d doctrine octrine of ‘divine energies’? Without becoming embroiled in a debate about whether the essence/energies essence/energies distinction already exists in Maximus, the question can be reformed to assess whether the essence/energies essence/ene rgies distinction is indispensable to theosis as Maximus’ frames it. According to Mantzaridis, without the essence/energies distinction, one would be left to confess the following
If one rejects the distinction between essence and energy in God, then one must either view even the created world as an effulgence of the divine nature, and consequently as ‘one in essence with God’, or one must reduce the other two persons of the Trinity to the level of created beings, because in such a case ‘creation’ differs in no way from ‘generation’ or ‘procession’.26
The heart of the distinction as it is proposed here is to do with God’s God’s act of creating. Mantzaridis’ proposition is that God’s God’s act act of creating things other than Himself is either either all attributed to God’s God’s essence, so that God’s activity (including creating) is contained within his essence and creation itself is therefore no different from God on a level of essence; or God’ God’ss activity is completely separate from His essence, so that all of his activity (including creating, but also including procession and and generation) happens happens outside of the nature of God. The simplified extremes extremes of the dichotomy stand thus: God’s activity is part of His essence; God’ God’ss activity is created. Both of these statements are very problematic for any Christian theology: the former affirms pantheism, the latter that there is no Trinity and that Christ and the Holy Spirit are part of creation (Subordinationism). Purely on this logical level then, it would appear that the essence/energies distinction is 26
G. Mantzaridis, Deification Seminary Press,The 1984), p107. of
York: St Vladimir’s Man: St Gregory Palamas and the Orthodox Tradition. (New York:
absolutely necessary to Maximus’ doctrine of theosis. There is however a way in which Maximus’ doctrine of theosis might not collapse without a formal distinction between essence and energies. This is after the manner of something I want to call the ‘Maximian Paradox’, modelled on the theme of ‘union and distinction’ as presented presented by Törönen in his book by that name.27 In a review of Törönen’s Törönen’s book, McCosker suggested that
not infrequently, infrequently, Maximus describes the entities which join in a differentiated unity as ‘extremities’ (for instance, 139), and this implies one of a number of senses of opposition. This makes me wonder whether Törönen's chosen heuristic principle of ‘union and distinction’ or differentiated differentiated unity is in fact still too blunt, and whether a model which involves a sense of opposition, like paradox, might be a productive avenue to explore in Maximus's thought.28
Maximus’ thought is actually well suited to the presence of paradox. He continuously holds tensions between extremes extremes that coexist in a balance without implying implying absurdity absurdity.. This balance balance is achieved, achieved, according to Törönen, by understanding number as difference rather than division. For example in Maximus’ argument for dyotheletism in Christ, Christ is one union with difference of number in nature, activity and will, which does not amount to a division within his person.29 Similarly, Maximus talks of a spiritual realm and a material realm r ealm and yet “one world and it is not divided by its parts”,30 or again in Scripture and the way that “as man who is ourselves mortal in what is visible and immortal in the invisible, so also does holy Scripture, which contains a visible letter which is passing and a hidden spirit underneath underneath the letter which never never ceases to exist”.31 Maximus’ thought is filled with instances in which difference in number may coinhere in unity. unity. Things interpenetrate yet remain distinct. Things have seemingly irreconcilable difference such as visible and invisible, mortal and immortal, nave and sanctuary, sanctuary, spiritual and material, hypostasis and nature, and yet within Maximus’ thought thought not only do these things maintain a unity, unity, but they complete one another and mutually coexist in one another. Why then could the problem in his doctrine of theosis not be another instance of this Maximian Paradox? Why can we not say the created and the uncreated are one and different, and leave it at that? The difference is that the boundary between created and uncreated is utterly unlike any other 27
M. Törönen, Union and Distinction in the Thought of St Maximus the Confessor. Confessor. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). Confessor,, by Törönen, M.’ in P. McCosker, ‘Review of Union an Distinction in the Thought of St Maximus the Confessor Reviews in Religion and Theology Theology.. 15, 2 (2008): 251-7 (p256-7). Törönen, p87-89.
Maximus, Maximus, Mystagogia, p188. p195.
that exists within the world. In the Mystagogia, we can come to know spiritual things through material, and material things through the spiritual;32 there is a balance and a completion because there is one world. Christ is not divided by having a human and divine nature because he is one person. The The Scriptures are not split split up into spiritual meaning meaning and ink on a page because because they form one book. But there is only one God, and it is not us. Even were we to consider the reliance of the material on the spiritual, there is a degree of completion and unity in that relationship that is not shared between God and creation. We We do not complete God and we do not balance God. This is not an instance of Maximian Paradox. If we can ever be called ‘God’ it is only through grace. It is in our nature to be perfected by Him, but it is not in His nature to be perfected by us. There must be be a clarification of this paradox that sets out how it is we can achieve theosis, whilst reflecting the irreconcilable dichotomy of God and not-God; created and uncreated. The only remaining way in which one might argue that Maximus’ doctrine of theosis does not collapse without Gregory Palamas’ doctrine of ‘divine energies’, is if the solution in the doctrine of the ‘divine energies’ itself were insufficient or defective. One of the concerns often voiced as arising from the doctrine of ‘divine energies’ is that they imply pantheism. The primary way in which I foresee this problem arising is in the relationship r elationship we are affirming between nature and activity ( physis physis and energeia). God is known to creation through his energies, and we can not know any more of Him than what we experience through those energies. Therefore, when we participate in the energies, do we not become all that we know God in totality to be? In I n effect, because we only know God’s energeia, it is only by looking at them that we can identify His nature – that we recognise Him as God. Since natures must necessarily have energeia does the distinction between the two, so far as we are concerned, disappear? disappear? As far as we can ever be aware, do we not partake in the nature of God, and become everything everything we know God to be? And surely in so doing, have we not affirmed polytheism polytheism – many beings that are by nature God? The resolution of this difficulty takes us back to the origin of the word ‘ energeia’. Bradshaw writes that The term ‘energy’ comes from the Greek energeia , a term ter m coined by Aristotle. Aristotle’s Aristotle’s earliest works use it to mean the active exercise of a capacity, such as that for sight or thought, thought, as distinct from the mere possession of the capacity.33
When we talk of energeia, it really refers this t his ‘active exercise of a capacity’. These are not tangible 32 33
Maximus, Concept, p3. p189. Bradshaw, Mystagogia,
things, but realisations of ways in which it is possible for God to act, through which we can truly know Him. God always possesses a capacity to act; the energeia are the freely chosen manifestations of that capacity. capacity. We We know God through them, but we also know that the actor Himself exists even if His essence remains undisclosed. It is not as if, on seeing an action, we assume that there is no actor, or that in partaking in that action ourselves, we become the actor in its entirety.. That said, whilst we acknowledge the distinction here between nature and energy, entirety energy, it is also important to note that God as He reveals Himself to us is no less God than His unknowable essence. It is not as if we only see a surrogate, false or dim reflection of God’s God’s essence – contact with His energies is still real contact with God. As Bradshaw puts it the relevant distinction is rather that t hat between God as he exists within himself and is known only to
himself , and God as he manifests himself to others . The former is the divine ousia, the latter the ‘divine energies’. It is important to note that both are God, but differently conceived: God as unknowable and as knowable, as wholly beyond us and as within our reach.
Hence we return to the paradox of Maximus, save with clarified distinctions that fully enable us to say God is participable and God is not participable without the dangers that Maximus himself would want to avoid. The ‘divine energies’ do what it was intended they do. They clarify a paradox without eliminating its extremes (much after the fashion of Maximus himself). In the process they also resolve such difficulties as: how can God both be all his attributes and not be them by necessity necessity,, and how can God create, but not need always to be creating or need not have created the way He did. So we also witness how he might elevate His creatures to participate in Himself without crushing their personhood or their their reality as created beings beings with freedoms of of their own independent independent from Him. We We are able to be good, simple, eternal, loving, etc. without being God in Godself. In light of the arguments above we may return to the question ‘does Maximus’ doc doctrine trine of theosis collapse without Gregory Palamas’ doctrine doctrine of ‘divine energies’’? energies’’? It is difficult to say that Maximus’ doctrine of theosis would collapse without Palamas’ doctrine of ‘divine energies’, as it is still being contested that Maximus may have developed a similar dogma within his own thought (and thus the doctrine might not necessarily rely on a later Palamite exposition). It is possible to say however that the exposition Palamas makes, regardless of how developed it may be in Maximus, is a necessary addendum to the doctrine of theosis as it stands in regard r egard to the paradox: we can not participate in God/we participate participate in God. It has has been concluded concluded that leaving this paradox as it stands stands
is insufficient and resolving it to conclude that God’s energies are uncreated or part of his essence implies either pantheism or Subordinationism. We We may thus affirm that the essence/energies essence/energies distinction in its clarified rendition by Gregory Palamas is necessary in order to understand Maximus’ doctrine of theosis, and in so far as Maximian cosmology is useful, so is the doctrine of ‘divine energies’ espoused espoused by Palamas. As such, without a distinction like that espoused in Palamas’ ‘divine energies’, Maximus’ doctrine of theosis would collapse.
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