Practising Consubstantiality: The Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary between Synergy and Sophia in St Nicholas Cabasilas and Sergius Bulgakov, and in a Postmodern Perspective

This paper examines the in-depth way Nicholas Cabasilas assimilated Palamite Hesychastic theological anthropology, transforming it into a Mariological humanism of theological provenance, which responds to the humanism of the Western Renaissance. Then it compares it with an analogous tendency in Bulgakov’s thought, putting this theological humanism in dialogue with the self-sufficient humanism of the post-modern kingdom of man.


A Long Introduction: Byzantine Individualism and Hesychasm

According to the experts, the conflict between the iconoclasts and the iconophiles, which ended in the victory of the latter, seems to present a key to the interpretation for the understanding of the spiritual state of Byzantium in the period that Paul Lemerle refers to as the ‘first Byzantine humanism’ in his eponymous book.1 This era spiritually preceded and somehow inaugurated the period that Steven Runciman calls the ‘second (or last) Byzantine Renaissance/Humanism’,2  the period during which St Nicholas Cabasilas lived. The essence of the matter is that the icon defends the completeness of human nature and of the world against the likelihood of an Eastern (Semitic and Asian) ‘blending’ of this nature in the ocean of the divine nature. In this sense, the spiritual purview of icon veneration (apart from being the locus where a distinctive eschatological ontology was consolidated, the significant theological and philosophical consequences of which have yet to be studied) also provided a home for a humanism which, apart from anything else, preserved certain fundamental requirements of classical Greek education as well as the whole of medieval ‘Greek’ Aristotelianism.


1. In the ‘historical’ pages which follow an attempt is made to construct a critique of the works of specialists. See particularly P. Lemerle, Le premier humanisme byzantine. Notes et remarques sur enseignement et culture à Byzance des origines au Xe siècle (Paris: P.U.F., 1971); C. Mango, Byzantium, The Empire of New Rome (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980); H. G. Beck, Das Byzantinische Jahrtausend (München: O. Beck, 1978); S. Runciman, Byzantine Civilization (London: Edward Arnold, 1959); S. Runciman, The Last Byzantine Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970; H. Ahrweiler, L’ideologie politique de l’Empire Byzantin (Paris: P.U.F., 1975).

2. This also, not coincidentally, functions as the title of his book, The Last Byzantine Renaissance.

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