Saturday, 2 May 2015

Jennifer Jamer: St. Gregory Palamas' Soul: A Blend of Aristotelian and Patristic Anthropologies in the Triads

Frequently, scholars who study Gregory Palamas' theological anthropology focus on his understanding of theosis; however, this focus has created a blind spot in evaluating Gregory Palamas' theological anthropology more broadly.  In the Triads, Palamas' focused on the ability of the human person in the present life -- where the bodily senses are used to gather data -- to experience God.  In Palamas' anthropology, human persons experienced the mystical vision (the uncreated light) with their bodily eyes.  Palamas' opponents considered this madness or demonic influence; because the human mind could not comprehend the divine vision (a necessary step before the soul could process the information), the human body could not experience it.  These interlocutors often appealed to patristic models of mystical experience -- namely those of Symeon the New Theologian, the Cappadocian Fathers, and Evagrius of Pontus --  to justfiy their claims.
In response, Palamas creates a new theological anthropology that is an inventive synthesis of both Aristotelian philosophy and patristic insights.  Following  the Aristotelian tradition, Palamas argues that the human soul is capable of directly interacting with the bodily senses.  By allowing the bodily experience of the divine to be written directly on the soul, Palamas is able to bypass the rational mind.  This paper will investigate how Palamas needed to reinterrogate and adapt the models of his primary patristic interlocutors -- namely, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor -- in order to make this Aristotelian-influenced anthropology resonant for his audience.

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