Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Kabasilas, Neilos

Born: 1300
Died: 1363
  • Michail MantzanasEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_139-1


Neilos Kabasilas was born in Thessaloniki. He was a supporter of hesychasm, and he was the first to attempt to disprove of Thomistic scholastic theology. He has been established as the greatest “polemic” writer, while his treatises on Holy Ghost illustrate his profound knowledge of the clerical tradition and his skills in articulating philosophical syllogisms.


Philosophical Thinking Divine Revelation Theological Teaching Holy Ghost Natural Idiom 
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Alternate Names


Kabasilas was an ecclesiastical author who was born in Thessaloniki at the end of the thirteenth century (1285) and died around 1363. He was a bishop, and he succeeded Gregory Palamas as archbishop of Thessalonica (1361–1363) and leader of the hesychast movement. Kabasilas was one of Demetrios Cydones’ teachers and one of the great theologians who opposed the alienation of the Orthodox dogma and Greek culture.

He has often been conflated with his nephew, Nicholas Kabasilas, who was also a theologian. Neilos descended from a noble family in Constantinople, studied classical Greek, and became a prominent professor of Greek studies.

During the religious and political crisis which took place in 1341, on a theological level, Kabasilas advocated the hesychast movement, after a period of skepticism toward hesychasm, and supported Ioannis VI Kantakouzenos on a political level. Kabasilas was mentioned in Ioannis VI’s memoirs entitled Historiai, as an interlocutor of the emperor in the fictive correspondence presented in the first book. Kabasilas’ theological and philosophical learning was highly respected even by his intellectual opponents, as he was extremely eloquent in the presentation of his philosophical thinking and he had a profound knowledge of patriarchical tradition. Demetrios Cydones commented on Neilos Kabasilas’ erudition stating that he is inferior to none of those who are perfect in wisdom.

A staunch advocate of Palamas’ ideas, he wrote a famous work related to the session of the council in 1351, which took place at the Monastery of Vlachernai. During the specific session, the council took issue with the views expressed by the theologians Barlaam of Calabria and Gregory Akindynos, who endorsed Western theology, as well as Nikiforos Gregoras against whom Kabasilas wrote the so-called Antigramma.

Innovative and Original Aspects

Most of Kabasilas’ writings that discuss ecclesiastical matters pertain to the great issues that separated the two Churches. Various sources mention that Kabasilas befriended Barlaam of Calabria. His relation with Barlaam enabled him to become acquainted with Western theological and philosophical thinking. Of particular interest are those of his writings which criticize the Latin tradition, especially those that discuss the reasons behind the disputes within the Church, as well as the supremacy of the Pope, which was considered by Neilos Kabasilas as the reason for both the schism between the two Churches, and the so-called purgatory fire. Kabasilas rejected the Latins’ claims that Rome was the only apostolic home and dismissed the Pope’s right to summon ecumenical councils: the Pope should not be designated as Peter’s successor, and it is the king or the emperor who is allowed to convene an ecumenical council. Furthermore, he examines 49 Latin phrases which he directly contradicts one by one. He also wrote other works which were translated into Latin and Slavic languages, but have not been translated yet. Kabasilas refuted the primacy of Rome by emphasizing the chronological priority of the mother of all Churches – that of Jerusalem – without specifying de facto or de jure the practical value of this fact. He also stated that Jesus Christ was the first and absolute head of the Church and that ecclesiastical conflicts should be resolved only by general ecumenical councils.

Neilos Kabasilas’ originality lies in the fact that he was the first who opposed to the Byzantine Thomists. More specifically, he sought to refute the following excerpts from the writing of Thomas Aquinas: three articles from the first chapter of the first part of Summa Theologiae, eleven chapters of the first and the fourth book of Summa contra Gentiles, and the entire second chapter from De rationibus fidei contra Saracenos, Graecos et Armenos ad Cantorem Antiochenum. Neilos raised objections to the Latin claim that the essence of God is identified with His energies and supported the view that God’s essence is beyond knowledge, while divine energies are the sole way to God. Kabasilas attempted to defend traditional orthodox theology and monastic spirituality, which was founded on the belief that divine essence is inaccessible and cannot be experienced, while divine energies are reachable and thus potentially communicable. He sought to elucidate the distinction between revealed knowledge and human knowledge, as this problem had not been discussed extensively in patristic literature. According to Thomas Aquinas, human intellect and divine revelation are the same, in the sense that they both emanate from the same source – God. This was a bond that was not ruptured in spite of the original sin, as the “image” (kat’ eikona), which is intellect and free will, remained intact. On the other hand, Kabasilas contends that the original sin obliterated man’s natural resemblance to the Creator and deformed the essence of the meaning of “image.” This is the reason why intellect is a human feature and it is not related to God who expelled man from paradise. Kabasilas utilized the teachings of Basil the Great and Ioannis Chrysostomus in order to point out that faith and syllogisms are not compatible. With regard to the origin of the Holy Spirit, he notes that Aquinas did take into consideration neither the definitions of ecumenical councils nor the texts of the Scriptures; instead, he developed arbitrary and unfounded reasoning, stating that the Holy Spirit appears as love and the Son as intellect. Therefore, the Holy Spirit emanates from the Son (filioque), in the same way that love emanates from intellect, as what is loved is first conceived by intelligence. Kabasilas’ aim was to disprove Thomas Aquinas’ scholastic line of thinking which extrapolated dogmatic truths through reflection. Kabasilas opposed Latins’ position that reason and love were considered as emerging from Son’s birth rather than as a projection of the Spirit, as these distorted views were dissenting from the content of Scriptures. Kabasilas’ contribution to hesychasm lies in the analysis of the concept of divine light and, more specifically, in the analysis of the terms divine nature, common substance of the three hypostases, and natural idioms. He sought to prove that the teachings of Akindynos, as well as those of his followers, were misunderstood and were incompatible with the Orthodox dogma. Furthermore, he tried to shed light on the issue of the source of the Holy Spirit. Kabasilas’ teachings related to the Holy Spirit are based on Holy Scripture, the imparting religious knowledge of the clergy, the definitions of ecumenical councils, as well as Palamas’ teachings about the distinction between God’s essence and energies. In his work Peri ekporeuseos tou Agiou pneumatos kata Latinon, which could be described as a holistic system of theological teaching, he remarkably enlightened and emphasized the fact that the mystery of God cannot be conceived through logical argument, but through experience. Kabasilas’ works can be classified into three categories: a) against the Latins, Apantisis pros Latinous or Egcheiridion to isagonizomenis pros Latinous, Peri tis Agias Oikoumenikis Synodou, Peri tis arhistou Papa, Peri kathartiriou Pyros, and Logos apodeiknisto tis diastaseos ton Latinon Ekklisias kai imon; b) in favor of the followers of Palamas, Logos sintomos pros tin kakos eklamvanomenin fonin para ton airetikon Akindynianon and Synodikos tomos kata Barlaam kai Akindynoutou 1351; and c) speeches, letters, and correspondence with his nephew Nicholas Kabasilas and Demetrios and Prochoros Cydones.

Impact and Legacy

Neilos Kabasilas exerted influence not only on major intellectuals and theologians of his time, namely, Demetrios Chrysoloras, the orator Nikiforos Houmnos, and lay theologian and nephew of his Nicholas Kabasilas, but also later generations Callistos Angelicoudis, Patriarch George Gennadios-Scholarios, as well as the writer of the proceedings of the Council of Ferrara-Florence Silvestros Syropoulos.


Primary Literature

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecclesiastical Academy of AthensAthensGreece