The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas

The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas

The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas

The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas

Synopsis

This book attempts to resolve one of the oldest and bitterest controversies between the Eastern and Western Christian churches: namely, the dispute about the doctrine of deification. A. N. Williams examines two key thinkers, each of whom is championed as the authentic spokesman of his own tradition and reviled by the other. Taking Aquinas as representative of the West and Gregory Palamas for the East, she presents fresh readings of their work that both reinterpret each thinker and show an area of commonality between them much greater than has previously been acknowledged.

Excerpt

When Edward Gibbon pronounced Byzantine hesychasm the consummation of the "religious follies of the Greeks," he articulated no more than a commonplace judgment of the movement that has determined so much of subsequent Eastern Orthodox thought, not only in the realm of spirituality but also in dogmatic theology and theological method. Gibbon's remark is characteristic of both late medieval and modern Western appraisals of hesychasm and its chief proponent, Gregory Palamas. Ironically, it describes with equal accuracy the general tenor of Eastern estimations of the movement that revolutionized the medieval West as hesychasm galvanized the East: scholasticism. These two movements prove to be definitive moments in their respective traditions; they also occur during the period when the fracture between the two halves of Christendom hardened at last into a divide accepted by both sides as unbreachable until the midtwentieth century.

The traditional dating of the East-West schism--1054--has long been challenged. Instead, the divide is viewed as the culmination of a long, slow process of mutual misunderstanding and gradual estrangement. There is, however, a modern scholarly consensus that, while exact dating may be impossible, the divide may be viewed as fixed by some point between the high Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. The late Middle Ages, then, proves a decisive moment in the history of relations between the churches of East and West, the point to which any ecumenist must return if the cause of reconciliation, or even increased understanding, is to be advanced in our time. While in the views of some historians the root of the schism was political rather than religious, those political factors have long since become irrelevant to the separation of the churches. What we face now are first, actual theological differences between the churches, and second . . .

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