Reconsidering the Sources of the Self in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Periods

The Hesychast Self: Interiority and embodied perfection in the anthropology of Gregory Palamas
Alexis Torrance, Notre Dame

The late Byzantine theologian and churchman Gregory Palamas (1296–1359) is perhaps best known for his ardent and wide-ranging defense of the monastic life of stillness (hesychia) against its detractors. What began as a rather insular discussion on a seemingly obscure matter quickly gripped the ecclesiastical and even political realities of Byzantium. Among the issues at stake was the identity and destiny of the embodied human self as it relates both upwards (to God) and downwards (towards its body and the material world as a whole). In the face of criticisms regarding the claim that hesychastic monks could experience God not only “intelligibly” in their souls but also in their bodies, Palamas attempts to build a synthetic account of biblical and patristic anthropology that counters these criticisms. In doing so, he offers a relatively detailed and influential account of the human self that both asserts several classical and patristic tropes (e.g. the tripartite soul, the primacy of the nous, the body as the lower “yokefellow” of the soul) while also deploying a range of philosophical and theological arguments to uphold the significance of the body as integral and even fundamental to the identity and destiny of the human self.

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