Papist Orthodoxy

September 21, 2009

The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas. By A.N. Williams

I’ve been asserting this for years. Now someone has done a scholarly work supporting it. God bless A.N. Williams! — Antiochian-Thomist


THE GROUND OF UNION: DEIFICATION IN AQUINAS AND PALAMAS. By A.N. Williams. New York: Oxford University, 1999. Pp. 222.

(Partial Review)

Any effort toward understanding and union between Christian Churches of the East and the West involves an objective examination of the central issues and theological concepts. Williams explores the main writings of two representative medieval thinkers and theological spokesmen whose image and method have generally been misinterpreted or misused, whether out of sincere ignorance or deliberate polemics. Conventional academic scholarship and ecumenical dialogue have sharply differentiated between the “Palamite” and “Scholastic” ways.

From an Orthodox perspective, it is improper that certain authors employ the term “heart” as a stick to brandish against the allegedly “rationalistic” West. Aquinas contrasts “cordis affectus” with “intellectus,” but it would be unfair to attribute to him a narrow use of “affectus.” Furthermore his use of “intellectus” implies the Greek “noesis,” which is certainly not identical with discursive reasoning. Whether the heart is or is not neglected in the West, it should not be used as an antonym for “reason.” The charge of “rationalism” leveled against Western theology, in contrast to the alleged “heartfulness” of Eastern theology, is as tenuous as it is paradoxical. Any simplistic condemnation or justification of one theological method over or against another will invariably reveal deeper complexities and essential exceptions.

W. obliges both Orthodox and Western theologians to review their critical attitude and apologetic approach toward one another’s methodology. She offers a sharp criticism of contemporary writers whose tone is negative, even “bitter,” often “determined to misread the texts and authors [they] purport to analyze” (14). She is even critical of “more nuanced and sophisticated [theologians, who are] no less hostile to what they suppose to be Western theological method” (18). She has read and researched numerous monographs and articles by modern theologians, and her access to more remote writers and publications is admirable.

W.’s purpose is to address in a comparative fashion, even to challenge “the charges of opposition of East and West in the doctrine of deification” (33). She has selected one or more major texts from each of her authors: the Summa theologiae of Aquinas, and the Triads and Capita physica of Palamas. Though aware of the dangers of a selective …



“Williams makes a significant contribution [towards] enabling [. . .] a recognition of the extent to which the theme and sometimes the language of deification recur throughout the history of Christian theology. [This] could prove to be a major step in overcoming misunderstanding between East and West, [. . .] an invaluable service [. . .] well worth the effort of careful reading.”–St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly

Product Description
This book attempts to resolve one of the oldest and bitterest controversies between the Eastern and Western Christian churches: namely, the dispute about the doctrine of deification. A. N. Williams examines two key thinkers, each of whom is championed as the authentic spokesman of his own tradition and reviled by the other. Taking Aquinas as representative of the West and Gregory Palamas for the East, she presents fresh readings of their work that both reinterpret each thinker and sho an area of commonality between them much greater than has previously been acknowledged.

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