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The Triads (Gregory Palamas, tr. N. Gendle)

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#1 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 05 July 2008 - 11:20 AM

Title: The Triads
Author(s): St Gregory Palamas; tr. Nicholas Gendle, introduction by John Meyendorff, preface by Jaroslav Pelikan
Publisher: Paulist Press, The Classics of Western Spirituality, 1983
ISBN: 0-8091-2447-5 (paperback)
Pages: 172
Price: $19.95
Links: Amazon.com; limited preview contents on GoogleBooks
Description: From the back cover: "Gregory Palamas (1296-1659) - monk, archbishop, and eminent theologian - was a major figure in fourteenth-century Orthodox Byzantium. His greatest work, In Defense of the Holy Hesychasts (known commonly as The Triads) was written between 1338 and 1341 as a response to the charges of the Calabrian philosopher Barlaam against the monastic groups known as the hesychasts. Barlaam denied the legitimacy of their spiritual methods, which included the famous 'Jesus Prayer', and discredited their claims to experience the divine presence. Palamas devoted his career as a theologian to the defense of the truth central to hesychasm: God is accessible to personal experience, because he shared his own life with humanity. This book contains extensive excerpts from Palamas' famous work that, in the words of the book's distinguished editor John Meyendorff, 'introduce the reader into the very substance of the religious experience of the Christian east'."

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#2 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 05 July 2008 - 11:29 AM

Despite the 25 years that have elapsed since it was first published, this volume remains an essential standard in the study of St Gregory. It is not the complete text of the Defense of the Holy Hesychasts -- this is still absent in English -- but it is the core of that critical volume. John Meyendorff, one of the great scholars of Gregory in the last century, selected all the excerpts to be included in the volume, and they were well translated by Oxford-based independent scholar Nicholas Gendle. These are organised in the book into the following content areas (from the table of contents, p. vii):

  • Philosophy does not save
  • Apophatic theology as positive experience
  • The Hesychast method of prayer, and the transformation of the body
  • Deification in Christ
  • The uncreated glory
  • Essence and energies in God
The translation is accessible while also being precise. At times this means the English comes through as quite beautiful, reflecting the Greek of St Gregory; and at other times as quite dense and packed -- again reflecting the at times intricate language of Palamas himself. Yet the translation remains readable, and brings St Gregory's essential work into ready accessibility.

The volume itself is an excellent addition to the 'core' or even 'introductory library' of those interested in the life and thought of St Gregory. There is a multitude of introductory material, written by some of the most eminent scholars in the field (Meyendorff, Pelikan), and the volume is well annotated and includes ample indexes.

The primary deficiency of the volume is at times a focus of relating Byznatine / eastern theological terms and concepts in western language parallals -- which often works, but sometimes doesn't. Nonetheless, it remains an extremely solid, useful text worthy of reading by any with an interest in the subject matter. Reading Palamas is at times work -- the theological precision into which he was forced by the debates of his age make for some truly dense passages; but they well reward the time spent with them.

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