What is the “circular” or “threefold movement" of the Mind referred to in St. Gregory Palamas’ Triads?
The “circular” or “threefold movement” of the mind (Gk. νοῦς, nous), to which St. Gregory Palamas refers in his Triads (see refs. below), is a leitmotif or theme running throughout Patristic literature. Archimandrite Zacharias, in his The Enlargement of the Heart, pp. 77–78, and 141–142, refers to it in the following way:
“We have a “circular” movement, as St. Gregory Palamas says: in the first instance, the mind, through the fall into sin and the passions, moves towards creation, is scattered or dispersed over it and, as it were, becomes “stuck” to the world. We must bring the mind back to the heart, and when the mind is established in the heart and dominates the whole of our nature, it then turns our being towards God. Therefore, there is a triple movement: firstly, an outward movement, that of the fall; secondly, the return back to the heart, and thirdly, the movement from the heart to God.”
See Note 36 in Zacharias: I, ii, 5, in The Triads: Gregory Palamas, ed. J. Meyendorff, trans. N. Gendle, in the series Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), p. 44.
“All the gifts of the Holy Spirit came into the world through the descent of the only-begotten Son of God to earth and to the nethermost parts of the earth and, subsequently, through His ascension. Man repeats this “way” to a certain extent; he lowers his mind into the depths of his heart, and there discovers and meets God-the-Saviour. Once the mind has been strengthened by grace, it rules over the heart, that is to say, over man’s whole being, and directs all his existence Godward. Aside: This is the third movement, about which we talked previously. The first movement is outwards, because of the fall into sin and the passions. The second movement is when we “go down” and discover our heart. When the mind rules over the heart, that is, over man’s entire being, and directs all his existence towards God, that is the third movement. This is the “cyclical movement of the mind”, about which we read in the treatises of St. Gregory Palamas on the Holy Hesychasts.2 End of aside. When the mind is united to the heart all the powers of the human soul function harmoniously. However,
in order for the mind to manage this descent into the heart and be united there with it, the grace of God is needed. It does not descend by technical methods, as for example by bodily posture or through controlling one’s breathing – these are secondary.”
See Note 2 in Zacharias: The Triads: Gregory Palamas, loc. cit., and pp. 77–78 above.
Therefore, the threefold movement of the mind may be summarized as follows:
- The first movement is outward, when the mind is dispersed and unstable, and is characteristic of the Fall
- The second movement is when the mind is brought back to the heart through repentance and humility
- And the third movement is when the mind is established in the heart, and thus rules over one’s whole being, directing all of its energies towards God
Dr. Christopher Veniamin
The Mount Thabor Academy