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Pembroke College : Treatise on papal primacy

Barlaam Calabro, approximately 1290-1348

Pembroke College

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript, probably copied in the 17th century, contains a treatise on papal primacy by Barlaam of Calabria, a 14th-century Orthodox monk from Seminara in Calabria, and a native of the Greek-speaking communities of southern Italy who later moved to Constantinople. Barlaam is best known for igniting the most serious internal theological controversy in the Orthodox Church during the last centuries of Byzantium, through his criticism of the theories of Gregory Palamas, which impinged on the theological underpinning of the meditative practice known as hesychasm.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Following the official condemnation of his views in the Palamite controversy, Barlaam returned to Italy, and later converted to Catholicism. However, he had previously written polemical works against the Catholic Church, reflecting the ongoing schism between East and West, and it was his attacks on the role of Aristotelian logic in Latin theology that indirectly sparked Barlaam's dispute with Palamas and the hesychast controversy. These works included three treatises refuting papal claims to supreme ecclesiastical authority. The longest of these is the one copied here, which incorporates all the arguments found in the other two and is structured as a dialogue.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Elegantly written on English paper, this manuscript may well have been produced in England, in which case its reproduction perhaps reflects the usefulness of arguments against papal authority for the polemical purposes of English Protestantism.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Unusually, the scribe has filled any space between the end of the text of each line and the ruling line delineating the margin with an ornamental curved stroke, seemingly as an aesthetic device to avoid any unevenness in the length of lines. A more peculiar detail is that the last line of text on most pages ends with a substantial space of varying extent, likewise filled with a horizontal stroke. There is no obvious logic to the point at which the text breaks off on each occasion, since this often occurs in the middle of a phrase. This arrangement may reflect a desire to maintain the page-breaks of the manuscript's exemplar.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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