SCHUKIN T.A. ‘The Chapters on Physics’ by Gregory Palamas: Historical Context, the Motivation of the Author, Addressee


Timur A. Schukin

Associate Research Fellow,

Sociological Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences,

7-ya Krasnoarmeyskaya St, 25/14, 190005 Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation;

Postgraduate Student,

Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia,

Reki Moyki Emb., 48, 191186 Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Abstract. Introduction. In spite of the fact that major researchers of Gregory Palamas’ theology, Robert Sinkewicz and John Demetracopoulos, offered detailed explanations of when and for what ‘The chapters on physics’ of Gregory Palamas were written, it seems that this issue was not finally resolved.

Methods. This article, therefore, has two goals. The first is to answer the question why in ‘The chapters on physics’ the polemic against Barlaam and Akindynos, although it occupies a large part of the treatise, is presented as a part of the broader theological and philosophical program of Palamas, and what role does the cosmological part (1–14 chapters) play in the structure of the treatise. In the author’s opinion, such a statement of the question will allow us to understand what Gregory Palamas was guided by when writing the text. The second objective is to offer a social portrait of the addressee of this treatise, delivering some of representatives of the stratum on which the Palamas was oriented.

Analysis. In answering the first question, special attention is paid to chapter 81 of the treatise, which, in the author’s opinion, reflects the intent of the entire text, namely, to demonstrate that the logic according to which something indivisible can be thought of as divisible without ceasing to be indivisible, works not only in the case of essence and energy, that is, in theology, but also in cosmology and anthropology. In answering the second question, the focus is on the figure of Matthew Kantakouzenos, who was at the time of writing the treatise in conflict with his father, emperor John VI Kantakouzenos, thereby causing discord in the political party, which at that time was a defender of the ideas of Hesychasm. It was Matthew Kantakouzenos, in the author’s opinion, or the social stratum behind him, who could be the recipients of the treatise.

Results. The analysis of the treatise and its historical context shows that it was written largely for political reasons as a program text of Hesychasm, equipped with natural science and philosophical tools, since its recipients were both the broad educated strata of Byzantine society and direct participants in political life in the middle of the 14th century.

Key words: Gregory Palamas, Hesychasm, essence and energy, cosmology, anthropology, Matthew Kantakouzenos, Nicholas Kabasilas, Nicephorus Gregoras.

Citation. Schukin T.A. ‘The Chapters on Physics’ by Gregory Palamas: Historical Context, the Motivation of the Author, Addressee. Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seriya 4. Istoriya. Regionovedenie. Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya [Science journal of Volgograd State University. History. Area Studies. International Relations], 2020, vol. 25, no. 6, pp. 259-273. (inRussian). DOI:

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