Barlaam of Calabria

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Barlaam of Calabria, also known as Barlaam of Seminara was a humanist scholar and monastic heretic of the fourteenth century who is noted for his dispute with St. Gregory Palamas over the hesychast prayer and the doctrine behind it.


Barlaam was born about 1290 in a Greek community in Calabria, Southern Italy, in an area that then used the Eastern rite. Taking monastic vows, Barlaam was a monk on Mount Athos, and abbot of San Salvatore at Constantinople.

He was an opponent of the hesychast movement that had its origins on Mount Athos as a method of prayer and meditation. He was supported in his position by his fellow monks at Mount Athos. Barlaam's position was challenged by the Athonite monk Gregory Palamas who himself was a main formulator of the hesychast doctrine and who maintained that they were developing the practices and theology of a long and unbroken Tradition of Orthodox mysticism. In 1341, the dispute was examined by a council of bishops in Constantinople, led by Patriarch. On May 27, 1341, Barlaam's position was condemned as heresy, and then having been anathematized, he returned to Calabria.

Upon his return to Italy, Barlaam accepted the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and in 1342 was appointed Bishop of Gerace, a diocese in the province of Reggio in Calabria. He died in 1348.


In contrast to Palamas' teaching that the "glory of God" revealed in various episodes of Jewish and Christian Scripture (e.g., the burning bush seen by Moses) was the uncreated Energies of God, Barlaam held that they were created effects, because no part of God, whatsoever, could be viewed by humans.

The Zealots of Thessalonica were influenced by Barlaam's teachings. He was a master of Greek and the writings of Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio owe much to him as he was their initial instructor in the Greek language.

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