Natural and Theological Knowledge in Saint Maximus the Confessor and Saint Gregory Palamas

Alexandru Atanase Barna


This paper contains textual analyses of the concepts of natural knowledge and theological knowledge, as used in two texts which are included in the first Greek edition of the Philokalia, edited by Saint Nikodimos the Athonite and Saint Makarios of Corinth, in Venice, 1782, and in all subsequently available translations of this spiritual patristic collection. Those texts are: Saint Maximus the Confessor’s Two hundred Chapters on Theology and Iconomy, and Saint Gregory Palamas’ 150 Chapters on Natural (φυσικά) and Theological Science (θεολογικά) and on the Moral and Ascetic Life. The main purpose of the paper is to demonstrate that there is a continuity in the way that both natural and theological knowledge are expressed and understood in both works. Though the gnoseological approaches differ (i.e., for Saint Maximus, we see the prevalence of several Platonic sources, and for Saint Gregory Palamas, the connection to contemporary science is key), the editors of the collection understood that emphasizing the idea of natural knowledge – in according with the patristic sense and use of the term – would facilitate the progress of monastic and lay communities in their pursuit of a life of prayer and theological experience. While their approaches to natural and theological knowledge are patently distinct, there is also a clear and profound continuity between Saint Maximus and Saint Gregory. Exposing this continuity confirms the fact that natural knowledge as discussed by these two authors differs substantially from the Modern sense of natural knowledge. We can recognize, in fact, that patristic natural knowledge represents a kind of divine revelation of God by means of nature, yet at the same time wholly beyond nature. This gnoseological revelation is made possible by the process of divinization. The world is a treasure leading to God, but the voyage itself is permitted and enabled by God, the source and the target of all true human knowledge.

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How to Cite
BARNA, Alexandru Atanase. Natural and Theological Knowledge in Saint Maximus the Confessor and Saint Gregory Palamas. Annals of the University of Bucharest – Philosophy Series, [S.l.], v. 70, n. 1, p. 75-96, apr. 2022. ISSN 0068-3175.

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