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Author Topic: If God's energies are God, are they personal just as his essence is?  (Read 6673 times) Average Rating: 0
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AlexanderOfBergamo
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« Reply #45 on: October 20, 2009, 08:27:04 AM »

I suggest you study a little bit the controversy of Barlaam, a former Orthodox who was condemned by the Fifth General (Ecumenical?) Council of Constantinople and embraced Catholicism for that reason. While there are RCs who did or do approve of the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of Hesychasm as explained by st. Gregory Palamas, the RCC has made no attempt to explain this and still continues to ignore the subject. Only recently, Pope John Paul II has recognized the problem of distinguishing between God's trascendence (His essence) and God's immanence (His energies) without breaking divine monism/simplicity as expressed in the Fourth Lateran Council. The theology of st. Gregory of Palamas, supported by Holy Orthodoxy, has already taken a stand on the matter from a dogmatic point of view, and can show to the RCC an alternative to a great variety of positions which vary from:
1) Understanding God without distinguishing His transcendence and immanence, as did Thomas Aquinas who said that Existence and Essence in God are one and the same thing. In Orthodoxy that would be admitting that God's ESSENCE contaminates with creation as in a sort of Pantheism.
2) Correcting the aforemantioned position saying that God's energies are created, as former Orthodox Barlaam did before and after becoming a RC bishop. This way, God sends His created energies - and thus grace - preserving His essence intact, but at the same time denying that God becomes present in the faithful (and in the saints especially) when He sends His grace. One of the conclusions of Barlaam was even that God's light, or glory, must have been created. This position implies that the mystics only see these energies, while the saints in heaven enjoy God's pure essence.
3) Preserving the Orthodox position which explains God as both unchangeable in His transcendental essence and dynamic in His immanent energies. This way, both the mystics and the saints in heaven have an experience of God's energies which are indeed God in his dynamis, what the Bible calls the "face of God". From a technical point of view, Moses saw God "face to face", but the Gospel of st. John says that "Nobody at any time has ever seen God: but the Unbegotten Son has revealed Him". From a Catholic perspective, as sanctioned in the writings of Augustine of Hippo, the light witnessed by Moses and by the three apostles at Transfiguration (which the Orthodox call "Tabor Light") was created, and thus the only light which will be visible is the Beatific Vision of God's essence. This could be used as the only defence of Barlaam's position, but the statement of John doesn't demonstrate anything, or better, it can easily be disproved by the words "but the Unbegotten Son, who is the bosom of the Father, has revealed Him". In fact, both the same apostle John with Peter and James, but also Moses himself, clearly saw God in His uncreated glory. This is possible because, from an Orthodox perspective, "the Son of God" has revealed to these men the Uncreated Glory of God before their deaths. In fact, the three apostles saw Jesus in His glory on Tabor, and Moses saw God as the "Angel of the Face (or "of the presence") of the Lord" which is Jesus before His incarnation.
As a Roman Catholic, you might have a choice to go against the major tendency (which is not dogmatized, but implied) of your Church and witness an uncreated Energy as distinct but inseparable from God's essence, preserving intact the monism/simplicity of God.

In Christ,   Alex
« Last Edit: October 20, 2009, 08:28:48 AM by AlexanderOfBergamo » Logged

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« Reply #46 on: October 20, 2009, 12:45:26 PM »

To be fair, I did hear of Roman Catholic hesychasts.  So this isn't just generally "implied."  Just as even though the Catholic Church may have people like Anselm and Aquinas on an extreme form of juridical salvation, there are others not condemned by the Catholic Church who take a more Eastern view.

So, as far as Catholicism is concerned, I see this as still an open question.  Perhaps, even Pope Benedict himself might be open to the idea of the energy/essence distinction, as he does have a sympathy to the East.
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« Reply #47 on: October 20, 2009, 12:54:24 PM »


As a Roman Catholic, you might have a choice to go against the major tendency (which is not dogmatized, but implied) of your Church and witness an uncreated Energy as distinct but inseparable from God's essence, preserving intact the monism/simplicity of God.

In Christ,   Alex
I am sympathetic to the idea of an essence/energies distinction that does not destroy the idea of Divine simplicity. I can see the distinction being one of relations. Essence: God relating to himself, Energies: God relationg to cretion. However, I would have to posit that essence is referring to two different things in the East and West.
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« Reply #48 on: October 20, 2009, 02:46:08 PM »


As a Roman Catholic, you might have a choice to go against the major tendency (which is not dogmatized, but implied) of your Church and witness an uncreated Energy as distinct but inseparable from God's essence, preserving intact the monism/simplicity of God.

In Christ,   Alex
I am sympathetic to the idea of an essence/energies distinction that does not destroy the idea of Divine simplicity. I can see the distinction being one of relations. Essence: God relating to himself, Energies: God relationg to cretion. However, I would have to posit that essence is referring to two different things in the East and West.

The question is always the same: language makes it more and more difficult. Human language is imprecise, and two different languages can be even more in difficulty to express similar concepts and find an agreement. I'd really like Pope Benedict overcoming the difference when he'll become a true dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy as it has just done with Anglo-Catholics. Despite it could seem a minor point, it is a very important point in a church which, like Orthodoxy, bases her sensibility mostly on mysticism.

In Christ,   Alex
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« Reply #49 on: January 10, 2010, 04:51:14 PM »

From the western point of view, what does it essentially mean to be "partakers of the Divine Nature"?

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« Reply #50 on: January 11, 2010, 12:15:56 AM »

From the western point of view, what does it essentially mean to be "partakers of the Divine Nature"?

There is no single "Western" view about what it means to partake of the Divine Nature.  Just like Eastern theologians, Western theologians have struggled to find ways to articulate the mystery of our participation by grace in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  How do we speak of our incorporation into God without compromising the fundamental distinction between Creator and creature?  This is no easy task.  Some "explanations" have proven more adequate than others.  For an accessible Catholic discussion of theosis, I recommend Daniel A. Keating, Deification and Grace.  For a scholarly comparison of the views of St Thomas Aquinas and St Gregory Palamas, see A. N. Williams, The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas.  For an irenic discussion of Eastern and Western views on grace, see The Theology of Grace and the Oecumenical Movement by Mœller and Philips:  http://pontifications.wordpress.com/grace-oecumenical/.

It is, I think, fair to say that Western theologians have had reservations about the Palamite distinction between the divine being and energies.  While they are willing to grant a nominal distinction between the divine being and energies, they have not seen how it is possible to assert a real distinction between them without abolishing the divine simplicity.  This is not just a Latin concern.  I understand it is also shared by Oriental Orthodox theologians, who certainly cannot be accused of being anti-theosis.  It's a difficult matter and should not be reduced to apologetic sound bytes.  Ultimately, what is crucial is the affirmation that in Christ we truly do partake of the Divine Nature.  On this Catholic and Orthodox theologians agree.

Fr Alvin Kimel

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« Reply #51 on: January 11, 2010, 12:36:42 AM »

Welcome to the forum, Fr. Alvin. Smiley
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« Reply #52 on: January 11, 2010, 12:49:01 AM »

Indeed, welcome! Thanks for the insight.  Smiley
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« Reply #53 on: January 11, 2010, 01:48:58 AM »

Welcome!
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« Reply #54 on: January 11, 2010, 10:45:37 AM »

From the western point of view, what does it essentially mean to be "partakers of the Divine Nature"?

There is no single "Western" view about what it means to partake of the Divine Nature.  Just like Eastern theologians, Western theologians have struggled to find ways to articulate the mystery of our participation by grace in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  How do we speak of our incorporation into God without compromising the fundamental distinction between Creator and creature?  This is no easy task.  Some "explanations" have proven more adequate than others.  For an accessible Catholic discussion of theosis, I recommend Daniel A. Keating, Deification and Grace.  For a scholarly comparison of the views of St Thomas Aquinas and St Gregory Palamas, see A. N. Williams, The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas.  For an irenic discussion of Eastern and Western views on grace, see The Theology of Grace and the Oecumenical Movement by Mœller and Philips:  http://pontifications.wordpress.com/grace-oecumenical/.

It is, I think, fair to say that Western theologians have had reservations about the Palamite distinction between the divine being and energies.  While they are willing to grant a nominal distinction between the divine being and energies, they have not seen how it is possible to assert a real distinction between them without abolishing the divine simplicity.  This is not just a Latin concern.  I understand it is also shared by Oriental Orthodox theologians, who certainly cannot be accused of being anti-theosis.  It's a difficult matter and should not be reduced to apologetic sound bytes.  Ultimately, what is crucial is the affirmation that in Christ we truly do partake of the Divine Nature.  On this Catholic and Orthodox theologians agree.

Fr Alvin Kimel


Thank you Father. Very well stated. I think I will have to read all three of these works. Smiley
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« Reply #55 on: January 11, 2010, 12:24:33 PM »

Thank you all for your kind welcome.

This is a thoughtful and informed thread and it demonstrates the complexity and difficulties of the topic.  On the one hand, the Church must preserve the fundamental difference between Creator and creature.  On the other hand, she wants to affirm as strongly as possible that in Christ the faithful are truly incorporated into the uncreated life of the Holy Trinity and partake of the divine nature. 

I have read a fair bit on this topic over the years, and I have to confess that it is really quite beyond my pathetic little intellect.  As several in this thread have already noted, theosis is mystery and all our theological formulations fall pathetically short of the reality.  My favorite book on this subject is St Nicholas Cabasilas's The Life in Christ
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« Reply #56 on: January 18, 2010, 01:45:14 AM »

I have a question relating to this topic.  God reveals Himself to us through His energies. However, we maintain that His nature/essence is unknowable. 

However, since it is the same God present in both (although perhaps in different modes), would His energies not reveal (at least) some information to us regarding his essence, albeit in an incomplete form? Is the knowledge regarding His essence and energies mutually exclusive, or does Orthodoxy distinguish between complete unknowability and partial unknowability?

A simple analogy I can come up with:

The sun emits rays of light.  Although the rays of light give us a far incomplete picture of the sun, it nevertheless gives us some information regarding the source.



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« Reply #57 on: January 18, 2010, 03:11:02 AM »

(misunderstood the question)
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« Reply #58 on: January 18, 2010, 04:09:39 PM »

Sorry. Simply put, do God's energies reveal any information to us about His nature?
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« Reply #59 on: January 19, 2010, 11:10:39 AM »

Sorry. Simply put, do God's energies reveal any information to us about His nature?
Eastern Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox) will say that we can make a sort of experience of this, even if this is a mediated touch with God's life. Anyway, when you look at the writings of the Eastern Fathers - who are so well used with mysticism - they tend to define God's nature in an apophatic way, i.e. saying what God isn't with respect to our nature. For example we are limited in our actions, so God is unlimited in his power (omnipotent); we are limited in our knowledge, so God is unlimited in His knowledge (omniscient); we are mortal, so God is eternal; we are sinners, so God is sinless; etc... While the same truths can be derived from the Bible and from reason alone (the typical approach of Scholasticism), the difference is that the mystics can make a direct experience and have a true knowledge and understanding of what this infinite gap between God an man really means. It is more or less the breathless sensation of looking at the vastity of an ocean or of a cloud-less night sky shining in billions stars: how do you feel comparing to that immensity? Everyone knows that the oceans and the sky are so wide, but you don't really feel "how much" they are until you make a direct experience with your own eyes. Well, a mystic goes even beyond this, comparing not to the immense - yet limited - universe, but to the infinity of our Creator.
Hope this helps.

In Christ,   Alex
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