Barlaam of Seminara (Bernardo Massari, as a layman[1][2]), ca. 1290-1348, or Barlaam of Calabria was a southern Italian scholar (Aristotelian scholastic) and clergyman of the 14th century. Humanist, philologist, and theologian. He brought an accusation of heresy against Gregory Palamas for the latter's defence of Hesychasm (the Eastern Orthodox Church's mystical teaching on prayer). Three Orthodox synods ruled against him and in Palamas's favor (two "Councils of Sophia" in June and August 1341, and a "Council of Blachernae" in 1351).

Life and teaching

Born in what is now the commune of Seminara, Calabria, he was made basilian monk at the monastery of Sant'Elia di Capassino and assumed the name Barlaam. His original name was Bernardo.[3]

Around 1330 he moved to Constantinople, where he soon gained entrance into ecclesiastical and political circles, especially those around the emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus, who gave him a teaching position at the university. Eventually, he was made the Hegumen (abbot) of the Monastery of Our Savior, and two confidential missions on behalf of the emperor were entrusted to him. During the years 1333–1334, Barlaam undertook to negotiate the union of churches with the representatives of Pope John XXII. In 1339, he was sent to the exiled Pope Benedict XII at Avignon to discuss the union of churches, but he was not successful. On this occasion he met Petrarch.

"Barlaam was not able to understand the mystical-ascetical tradition of the East, and therefore he criticized it."[4] 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, the Light on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration) was in fact the uncreated Energies of God (i.e., the grace of God), Barlaam held that they were created effects, because no part of God whatsoever could be directly perceived by humans. The Orthodox interpreted his position as denying the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, which, in the words of various Orthodox hymns, "made apostles out of fishermen" (i.e., makes saints even out of uneducated people). In his anti-hesychastic works Barlaam held that knowledge of worldly wisdom was necessary for the perfection of the monks and denied the possibility of the vision of the divine life.

In 1341 the dispute over Hesychasm came before a synod held at Constantinople and presided over by the emperor Andronicus; the assembly, influenced by the veneration in which the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius were held in the Eastern Church, condemned Barlaam, who recanted and returned to Calabria, where he would be consecrated Bishop of Gerace.


St. Gregory Palamas, with whom Barlaam engaged in his most famous theological controversy.

Barlaam, by his upbringing and philosophy, spanned the gap between the Christian East and West. Though he was never able to synthesize both traditions in a satisfactory manner, he did end up influencing both. The Zealots of Thessalonica were influenced by Barlaam's teachings, and his arguments effected the dogmatic definition of Hesychasm in the Eastern Church. A master of the Greek language, he taught Petrarch some rudiments of Greek.

Critics see Barlaam's elevation of philosophy above theology as being the reason for his condemnation by the Eastern Church:

Barlaam overestimated the significance of philosophy for theology, asserting that only through philosophy could humanity arrive at perfection. He thus denied the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, which makes saints even out of uneducated people, as it made the fishermen apostles. Being a humanist, Barlaam placed emphasis on created means of salvation (e.g., philosophy and knowledge) and reduced the role of the grace of the Holy Spirit.[4]

According to Fr. John Meyendorff, "Gregory Palamas orients his entire polemic against Barlaam the Calabrian on the issue of the 'Hellenic wisdom' which he considers to be the main source of Barlaam’s errors."[5] To this day, the issues which Barlaam raised are treated by Orthodox theologians:

Barlaam's views - that we cannot really know Who the Holy Spirit is exactly (an outgrowth of which is agnosticism), that the ancient Greek philosophers are superior to the Prophets and the Apostles (since reason is above the vision of the Apostles), that the light of the Transfiguration is something which is created and can be undone, that the hesychastic way of life (i.e. the purification of the heart and the unceasing noetic prayer) is not essential - are views which express a scholastic and, subsequently, a secularised point of view of theology. Saint Gregory Palamas foresaw the danger that these views held for Orthodoxy and through the power and energy of the Most Holy Spirit and the experience which he himself had acquired as a successor to the Holy Fathers, he confronted this great danger and preserved unadulterated the Orthodox Faith and Tradition.[6]


  2. Christopher Kleinhenz et al., Medieval Italy. An encyclopedia, I., Routledge, 1993, p. 97: "Barlaam the Calabrian (Bernardo Massari, c. 1290-1348 or c. 1350)."
  3. Giovanni Fiore da Cropani, Della Calabria illustrata, III., Rubbettino, 1999. See also: Eugenio Garin, "History of Italian Philosophy", vibs, 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd edition (Macmillan Reference Books, 2005, ISBN 978-0028657332), s.v. "Barlaam of Calabria."
  5. Fr. John Meyendorf. Byzantine Theology: Historical trends and doctrinal themes, 9Fordham University Press; 2 edition, 1987, ISBN 978-0823209675), accessed 2007-06-013.
  6. Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos). Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction, (Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Greece. 1994, ISBN 978-9607070203),, accessed 2007-06-13.


Works by Barlaam

  • Giannelli, Ciro. "Un progetto di Barlaam per l'unione delle chiese." In Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati, vol. 3, "Studi e Testi," no. 123. Vatican City, 1946. See pages 157–208 for excerpts from his writings.
  • Migne, J.-P., ed. Patrologia Graeca, vol. 151. Paris, 1857. Includes excerpts from the Discourse to Pope Benedict XII and the Advisory Discourse.
  • Schiro, Giuseppe, ed. Barlaam Calabro: Epistole greche. Palermo, 1954.

Works About Barlaam

  • Christou, Panagiotis C. "Barlaam." In Threskeutikē kai ēthikē enkuklopaideia, vol. 3, cols. 624–627. Athens, 1963.
  • Jugie, Martin. "Barlaam de Seminara." In Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, vol. 6, cols. 817–834. Paris, 1932.
  • Meyendorff, John. "Un mauvais théologien de l'unité au quatorzième siècle: Barlaam le Calabrais." In L'église et les églises, 1054–1954, vol. 2, pp. 47–65. Chevetogne, 1955.
  • "Barlaam the Calabrian" from Science and Its Times. Thomson Gale, 2005-2006.

See also

External links

la:Barlaam Calaber ru:Варлаам Калабрийский scn:Barlaam di Calabbria

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