Gregorios Akindynos was a Byzantine theologian of the fourteenth century (ca. 1300–1348), learned in patristic literature and Greek philosophy, and leader of the anti-Palamite party in the second phase of Hesychast Controversy (1341–1347). Based on his interpretation of the Greek patristic tradition, he wrote extensive refutations of Gregorios Palamas’ works and especially of the Hesychast theological justification of the essence-energies distinction within God. For Akindynos simplicity is a major attribute of the tripartite God, and everything separated from God’s essence is created; so there can be no distinction between incomprehensible uncreated divine essence and comprehensible and inferior uncreated divine energies. Any such theory subverts the unity of the Trinity and leads to ditheism, for which he accused Palamas. Divine names do not correspond to energies but just denote divine nature. Regarding man’s participation in God as a means for deification, Akindynos refuses Hesychast’s claim that man is capable of participating in divine energies and even seeing them in a spiritual manner. The divine light which humans experience is a symbol and, together with the created world and reason, a way to the knowledge of God. Given this kind of knowledge, it is only in divine love that the inexplicable union of man and God occurs and deification is possible. Akindynos influenced anti-Palamite writers, and his works have been severely criticized by Hesychast theologians.
KeywordsFourteenth Century Greek Philosophy Patristic Literature Divine Nature Divine Love
Gregorios (his baptismal name is unknown) was born in Prilapos, Northern Macedonia, at ca. 1300. He studied in Thessaloniki under the humanist Thomas Magistros and the monk Bryennios, and he was trained in theology and secular learning. Between 1326 and 1330 he met Gregorios Palamas who appreciated his talents and guided him to monastic spirituality though finally he was not accepted in Mount Athos. He returned to Thessaloniki (1332), where he met Barlaam of Calabria, and before 1334 he dwelled in Constantinople.
When the Hesychast Controversy started, Akindynos, being a friend of both Palamas and Barlaam (the leaders of the rival sides), tried to reconcile them and to bring peace to the Orthodox Church. Putting aside his theological disagreement with Palamas, Akindynos attempted to persuade Barlaam not to insult the psychosomatic technique of monks and defended Palamas from Barlaam’s accusations for heresy. But when an ecclesiastical Council (1341) condemned Barlaam and accepted the essence-energies distinction in God, he entered the anti-Hesychast party.
At the second phase of the Controversy, after Barlaam departed for Italy (1341), theology was mixed with politics: Akindynos became himself the leader of the anti-Palamite party, and during the Civil War (1341–1347), he took the part of Emperor John V Palaiologos against John VI Kantakouzenos, the co-emperor and theologian who had supported Palamas. He cooperated with Patriarch John Kalekas and started to gain ecclesiastical power; he charged Palamas for ditheism and a Council (1344) condemned his once friend. When John VI got back to power (1347), Akindynos lost the Court’s favor and left the capital, while a new Council restored Palamas. He died soon after (1348) and he was officially condemned together with Barlaam (1351).
Akindynos had a fair knowledge of Greek philosophy and of the patristic literature as it can be attested in his theological works and the numerous letters written in a short period of time. He is a competent writer although sometimes his argumentative style is loose and unmethodical mostly because of its polemical tone and the intentional repetitions.
Hesychast writers created a totally negative picture of a heretic Akindynos insensitive to monastic spirituality, influenced by Greek philosophy and exponent of erroneous or even pagan beliefs. Palamas presents him as an agnosticist and some modern scholars as a rationalist who is more concerned with secular wisdom and is using its tools to comprehend theological issues and especially the triadic dogma. Akindynos’ self-image is quite different: he does not claim personal originality but inscribes himself within the patristic tradition, and he constantly relies on patristic texts and recurs to their authority while accusing Palamas for dangerous theological renovations on account of textual misinterpretations.
His opus magnum is the Antirrhetics against what he calls Palamite heresy. He is methodically citing by paragraph Palamas’ text and then comments on it. The main problem of the Controversy was not (as it was in its first phase) the dispute over the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit and filioque but the possibility and the nature of man’s participation in God as a means for deification (theosis).
The first thesis puts in question the very nature of God in himself. For Akindynos and all those who take simplicity to be a major attribute of the tripartite God, such a distinction undermines the unity of the Trinity and lets to intrude a substantial separation and hence inferiority in God; so he accuses Palamas for ditheism and Messalianism, as if the Hesychast was influenced by the dualist heresy of Bogomils.
The second issue about man’s participation in God has serious impact on anthropological and ethical matters. If we suppose that man acquires the uncreated grace and thus participates in the divine essence, then man is uncreated and coeternal with the Creator, something absurd. It is only in divine love that the union of man with God occurs – something inexplicable to human reason.
As for the experience of the divine light (the Taborian light of transfiguration), Akindynos calls it mysterious and beyond human explanation, but Palamas argues that for Akindynos it is created (ktiston). This light is sensible; in fact it is a symbol. And such symbols, as well as the created world and reason, are ways to the knowledge of God. This knowledge is what man should pursue and not an unattainable view of God; it is a means to deification made possible by God himself and incarnation.
Akindynos’ views had influenced the anti-Palamite writers of the fourteenth century, and his works have been criticized or refuted in detail by numerous Hesychast theologians as his friend Gregorios Palamas, Matthaios Blastares, Patriarch Theophilos Kokkinos, David Disypatos, and Joseph Kalothetos.
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