by Ivana Noble
What kind of authority does the experience of the saints have? Can those who are close to God be wrong in assessing the world or in their understanding of other people’s lives? Looking at the lives of the saints, do we find a notion of infallibility at work? In today’s Orthodoxy, St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), a monk at Mount Athos and later Archbishop of Thessaloniki, belongs among the most frequently cited saints, so let us have a look at what he says on the subject.
St. Gregory Palamas is best known for his defense of the hesychast monks who were given the gift of unceasing prayer and a direct vision of God. He shared monasteries and even hermitages with them, learned ascetic practices from them, grew under their spiritual direction. In other words, Palamas had a long-term experience of a daily contact with those of whom he would say that the gift of grace transformed them into the likeness of God. But he also experienced that these people had their convictions which remained even after the transforming spiritual experience had arrived.
To use an example, St. Theoliptos of Philadelphia was a firm opponent of the Council of Lyons and of reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. Palamas did not see such a conviction as a consequence of the closeness to God. Rather, it belonged to the realm in which human faculties such as reason, emotions, or will operated. While this has not been a view unanimously agreed upon by the Fathers, for Palamas there was no direct continuity between the human faculties and divine illumination, not even when the human faculties were used in contemplation. Continue Reading…