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Argyrus v. Cantacuzenus in the Palamite controversy

With his edition of three theological texts by Isaac Argyrus and of John Cantacuzenus' treatise against Argyrus (Corpus Christianorum. Series Graeca, vol. 93), Prof. Iohannis Polemis sheds light on an interesting chapter in the Palamite controversy.

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Isaac Argyros was a leading astronomer and theologian of the late 14th century, who spent most of his life at the Chora monastery in Constantinople. Besides several works on astronomy, he wrote a number of treatises against the Palamites in the tradition of his teacher and mentor Nicephorus Gregoras:


(1.) De quattuor modis participationis Dei:

Argyros distinguishes four ways of man's participation in God. The first way is unique: it is the Incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity, in which the divine and the human nature were united in one hypostasis. The second way refers to all creatures. The essence of God is present in all of them. The creatures participate in God in an imparticipable [ἀμέθεκτος] way. The third way refers to those men who prove themselves worthy of participating in God: God's essence is present in them, but this time it creates several spiritual gifts within them; these gifts should not be considered uncreated energies of God as the Palamites maintain. (...) The fourth and final way is almost identical to the third, the only difference being that in the third, God's essence is always present in the spiritual gifts distributed to the saints, while in the fourth this is no longer necessary.

(2.) De lumine Transfigurationis ad Gedeonem Zographum:

Theodore Dexios, a prominent friend of Nikephoros Gregoras, introduced a rather novel theory concerning the light of Thabor, which was unanimously rejected by the other anti-Palamites. Dexios argued that the light seen by the disciples during the Transfiguration was identical to Christ's human body. Although Dexios affirmed that this light was created, he was suspected by his anti-Palamite friends of having fallen into the trap of Palamas' followers. Argyros accused him of reviving the heresy of Eusebius of Caesarea, who in his letter to Constantia, wife of Licinius, argued that Christ's body was transformed into pure light during the transfiguration. Argyros wrote a letter to the monk Gedeon Zographos, a mutual friend of both himself and Dexios, in order to disprove this theory.

(3.) Solutio quaestionis cuiusdam Palamiticae, in which Argyrus rejects an argument made by Nilus Cabasilas, viz. that three hypostases of the Holy Trinity are somehow different from the divine essence:

Argyros's main argument is that while the terms "fatherhood" and "sonhood" are different ways of describing the inter-personal relations of the Trinity, there is no real distinction between them and the essence of God. Fatherhood and sonhood are identical to the divine essence, and their only difference consists in denoting different aspects of the godhead's relations to Itself.


Former emperor John Cantacuzenus composed a lenghty treatise against Argyrus (Contra Argyrum), in which he attacks the fact that Argyros and his followers deny three things: that the seven spirits referred to by Isaiah are uncreated; that the grace of God is uncreated; and that men receive gifts of God in an immediate manner:

Kantakouzenos attempted to find a compromise between the intransigent Palamite position regarding God's uncreated energies and the anti-Palamite objections by maintaining that only the seven spirits alluded to by Isaiah are truly uncreated, while all other divine activities are created.

Together, the four texts in this edition shed light on an interesting chapter in the palamite controversy.


Ioannis Polemis is full Professor of Byzantine Literature at the University of Athens, Department of Philology. He specializes in Byzantine philosophical and theological literature of the 14th century. Previously, in the Corpus Christianorum. Series Graeca, he published the Carmina of Theodore Metochites (CCSG, 83), three fourteenth-century theological texts (CCSG, 76), and Theodorus Dexius' Opera omnia (CCSG, 55).

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