Theology and Natural Sciences in St Gregory Palamas

  1. Lemma
  2. Theology and Natural Sciences in St Gregory Palamas
  3. English
  4. Tampakis, Kostas
  5. Patristic studies
  6. 2012
  7. Theology and Natural Sciences in St Gregory Palamas
  8. God, Freedom and Nature : Proceedings of the 2008 Biennial Conference in Philosophy Religion and Culture
  9. St. Gregory Palamas - One Hundred and Fifty Chapters - Hierarhical Epistemology - Aristotelian Universe
    1. This article is mainly an exploration of the first section of the St. Gregory Palamas’ One Hundred and Fifty Chapters. It aims to outline the scriptural background of Palamas’ thinking in relation to his views on the various competencies of theology and the natural sciences. It also aims to underscore the relevance of St. Gregory Palamas for the contemporary dialogue between science and theology. The paper begins with a description and a summary of the first section. The author notes that the first two chapters appear to constitute a prologue to the first section, while the chapters 3 to 14 explore the Aristotelian Universe. Two subgroups are identified: Chapters 3 to 7 and chapters 8 to 14. The first subgroup explores the astronomical domain, endeavoring to combat the notion of a ‘world soul’ or a ‘universal soul’. The second subgroup deals with geometry and the physics of the terrestrial and the water sphere. Along those lines, the author identifies a third group of chapters, from 15 to 29, which he also divides in three subgroups, from 15 to 20, from 21 to 24 and from 25 to 29. This third group is taken to collectively analyze the different ways natural philosophy on the one hand, and theology on the other, depict reality. More specifically, the first subgroup considers in a neutral and expositive manner the way natural knowledge is achieved through complex interactions between external objects, human senses and our capacity to represent objects. The second subgroup reiterates the biblical narrative of Genesis 1-2, pointing out the character of the theological approach towards reality, while bringing a series of cultural elements into this picture, such as the concentric Aristotelian-Ptolemaic universe. Finally, the third subgroup addresses the main difference between natural epistemology and the God-inspired theology. If secular knowledge adds to the understanding of the natural function of beings, theological knowledge is essentially salvific. Ultimately, only theological knowledge reveals humankind’s majesty as irreducible to any aspect of physical world. In the next three sections of the paper, the author discusses St. Gregory’s biblical framework, his use of science and his hierarchical epistemology. The paper emphasizes how St Gregory’s thinking remains thoroughly biblical. Palamas makes clear that he is aware of the intrinsic limitations pertaining to scientific epistemology and the indisputable competence of scriptural revelation for all theological and spiritual matters. While pointing out the general agreement between nature, culture and Scripture, he also emphasizes the superiority of the biblical worldview. This kind of approach avoids any syncretism and ideological speculation. Adopting the traditional ‘apologetic’ method of early fathers, St Gregory systematically endeavors to assimilate Hellenistic cosmography by grounding it in the Scriptures. On the use of science, the author underlines how St. Gregory, contra what many modern commentators would have him, displays a surprisingly proficient command of scientific issues and seems to simply enjoy dealing with scientific matters. In fact, Palamas proceeds to demonstrate the Christian faith’s superiority in matters pertaining to the spiritual experience only after presenting in detail the scientific and philosophical viewpoints. Finally, in terms of epistemology, St Gregory describes the natural realm taking what today we would consider an interdisciplinary approach even though his purpose remains pastoral. Without ever implying a confusion of domains, Palamas apparently aims to dismantle the hypocritical designation of theology as the queen of the sciences. Since theology’s aim is to know God, and since God is uncreated and infinitely transcending both created nature and the tools designed to explore the cosmos, maintaining the idea of one epistemology applicable to all levels of reality is inaccurate, simplistic and ultimately utopian. Far from representing the culmination of natural knowledge, theology is an ecclesial function designed both to interpret everything in light of divine revelation and to explore the mystical levels of reality such as the uncreated life and the deifying participation of science, logic and metaphysics. The article concludes by saying that St. Gregory ‘s discourse presents the complex interactions between theology and science in a surprisingly balanced manner and within a holistic perspective that anticipates the contemporary transdisciplinary approach. Precisely his division between theology and natural sciences allowed him to construe their rapports in a preferable manner to the redundant classic scheme.