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Author Topic: Oriental Orthodoxy and the essence-energies distinction  (Read 1076 times) Average Rating: 0
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Cyrillic
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« on: November 02, 2012, 04:13:04 AM »

Do the Oriental Orthodox believe in the essence-energies distinction? This and this article of the Coptic diocese of the Southern US says they do. The latter article going as far as to quote Sts. Palamas, John Damascene and Maximus the Confessor as authorities. Is it true that the OO believe in the same thing as the EO about the essence-energies distinction?
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« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2012, 08:13:39 AM »

Do the Oriental Orthodox believe in the essence-energies distinction? This and this article of the Coptic diocese of the Southern US says they do. The latter article going as far as to quote Sts. Palamas, John Damascene and Maximus the Confessor as authorities. Is it true that the OO believe in the same thing as the EO about the essence-energies distinction?

This language developed after the split and is foreign to our tradition. Whether or not it is compatibile is something that needs serious scholarly study. Many have concerns over this type of development, and especially over hesychasm and uncreated light. Certainly these types of approaches are not necessary, and the monastic spirituality of St. Antony, St. Pachomius, St. Macarius, etc, who knew nothing of this experience of uncreated light, is good enough for us. It certainly seems inappropriate to quote St. Gregory Palamas as an authority in answering a question from the point of view of our tradition without considerably more dialogue on the matter than has happened to date.

As for essences vs energy, any Orthodox priest will tell you that it is impossible to know God in His essence, we only know Him by His working in us and in creation. So the core of the concept is certainly the same, whether there is anything problematic in the specific definitions of energy and essence is a bigger question. The equating of energies with attributes of God in the link you provided seems strange.
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« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2012, 08:16:56 AM »

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A Coptic Orthodox is a member of the whole body of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Therefore, if we are all one body we have to all believe in the same dogmas and doctrine of this body otherwise there would be divisions between the members of the same body. When one is baptized in the Coptic Church he/she proclaim their acceptance of all the dogmas of this Church with no exceptions

This statement from the article you linked is highly problematic. I don't remember the baptismal liturgy at any point referring to "The Coptic Orthodox Church" or being baptised into the "whole body of the Coptic Orthodox Church", or accepting the dogmas of "this Church". I remember being Baptised into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Such language of this Church or that Church makes Christ a polygamist.
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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2012, 09:20:14 AM »

From what I understand, the essence-energy distinction actually comes from the Cappadocian fathers.  It was St Gregory Palamas who described these energies as "uncreated."

What we can say is that it is impossible for my created being to partake of the divine nature in its essence.  Nevertheless, the Coptic tradition places particular importance on the incarnation, where Christ's flesh imparts on us what was imparted on it, that is divine attributes as well as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Certain poetic language and analogies in our tradition can be shown to have an implication that these attributes have an ontological existence as well as being uncreated.

For instance, 10th Century Coptic bishop and theologian Bulus el Bushi described partaking of the Eucharist not partaking of mere flesh and blood, but of Christ in the wholeness of his person and nature, where we cannot separate His divinity from His humanity.  Elsewhere he also mentions that humanity cannot be in communion with the divine nature directly, which is why the incarnation took place, so that the attributes of the divine nature may be imparted on us.  In this case, we can see that if this indeed corroborates with the Palamite distinction, then we have no problems with the language, and in fact this becomes a natural evolution of how these mysteries can be explained.
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« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2012, 12:01:38 PM »

Quote
A Coptic Orthodox is a member of the whole body of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Therefore, if we are all one body we have to all believe in the same dogmas and doctrine of this body otherwise there would be divisions between the members of the same body. When one is baptized in the Coptic Church he/she proclaim their acceptance of all the dogmas of this Church with no exceptions

This statement from the article you linked is highly problematic. I don't remember the baptismal liturgy at any point referring to "The Coptic Orthodox Church" or being baptised into the "whole body of the Coptic Orthodox Church", or accepting the dogmas of "this Church". I remember being Baptised into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Such language of this Church or that Church makes Christ a polygamist.

Yes, I noticed that. Also quoting Chalcedonian fathers as an authority seems like a strange thing to do for a Coptic website so that's why I wanted to ask the OO here whether the content is correct.

So, the language of essence and energies is foreign to the OO and the articles are faulty?

The equating of energies with attributes of God in the link you provided seems strange.

 Huh
« Last Edit: November 02, 2012, 12:11:03 PM by Cyrillic » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2012, 12:57:17 PM »

Yeah, I have heard a few Copts talk about this distinction (not just the HG Bishop Youssef, but also a priest on CTV), but honestly it didn't really seem like they understood it 100%, or at least not like Byzantines do. It seems like a Byzantine thing that Copts picked up somewhere, and probably fairly recently. HG Bishop Youssef is my bishop, I have met him and I respect him greatly, but I must confess that I am not very happy with his answers here. As Mina points out, it is a distinction that we can make without using the Cappadocians who are not really a part of our tradition (though St. Basil certainly is, and is quoted in one of those links; that's nice to see), but it's not really something that is as explicit in OO tradition as it is in EO, because it is such a late development. So respectfully I think that sources like the one you've found are in unfamiliar territory, and hence are more likely to make mistakes or phrase things in awkward ways that lead to potentially troubling understandings. As someone here (I can't remember who) once posted in the last thread started on this topic (I can't remember the exact title, but it was started by user "Gorazd"), it is not necessary or perhaps not even appropriate that the Copts or other OO adopt this distinction in such explicit terms as the EO, because our spirituality shows experience of it anyway. I believe the exact example was about hesychasm: You are unlikely, outside of this board in the real world, to find very many Copts familiar with the hesychastic practices so well-known and described by the EO, but that doesn't mean that our monks, for instance, don't practice the same. We just don't have a developed literature or theory around them, or whatever you'd call it. But that's because it isn't necessary in order to just do it.  Smiley (i.e., the EO had to, in a sense, "codify" such things in the face of challenges from the likes of Barlaam of Calabria, who was of course a Byzantine problem, not an OO one, so we never developed such language and ideas to the degree that the Byzantines did.)

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« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2012, 01:09:08 PM »

we... know Him by His working in us and in creation.... The equating of energies with attributes of God in the link you provided seems strange.
Is it?

Love, Wrath, Mercy, Faithfulness.

These are not "static states" or "feelings". They are dynamic realities in action. Love, wrath, mercy, faithfulness, they are energeia, they are actions, the very workings you spoke about.

How do love and mercy exist, if not in the doing?

When God loves, gives wrath, shows mercy and faithfulness, he isn't just feeling good feelings toward creation and His inner life; he is actually giving those realities, and they're authentically God.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2012, 01:09:40 PM by NicholasMyra » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2012, 03:39:06 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Do the Oriental Orthodox believe in the essence-energies distinction? This and this article of the Coptic diocese of the Southern US says they do. The latter article going as far as to quote Sts. Palamas, John Damascene and Maximus the Confessor as authorities. Is it true that the OO believe in the same thing as the EO about the essence-energies distinction?

This language developed after the split and is foreign to our tradition. Whether or not it is compatibile is something that needs serious scholarly study. Many have concerns over this type of development, and especially over hesychasm and uncreated light. Certainly these types of approaches are not necessary, and the monastic spirituality of St. Antony, St. Pachomius, St. Macarius, etc, who knew nothing of this experience of uncreated light, is good enough for us. It certainly seems inappropriate to quote St. Gregory Palamas as an authority in answering a question from the point of view of our tradition without considerably more dialogue on the matter than has happened to date.

As for essences vs energy, any Orthodox priest will tell you that it is impossible to know God in His essence, we only know Him by His working in us and in creation. So the core of the concept is certainly the same, whether there is anything problematic in the specific definitions of energy and essence is a bigger question. The equating of energies with attributes of God in the link you provided seems strange.

I agree, when I asked my Ethiopian priests about this matter, they told me, "No, its nothing like that."  Aspects of Palamite theology are compatible with Tewahedo tradition, but others are not.  Some Ethiopian folks assert Palamite theologies, others do not.  In this regard I understand it to be doctrine rather than dogma. I would feel uncomfortable with Oriental fathers quoting or relying on Fr. Gregory Palamas because he is not mutually on of our fathers, neither our saint, so it is theological and historically inconsistent. Yes, Palamite theology quotes Cappadocian fathers, however it is the specific way in which this theology interprets these fathers that I understand is different from the way Tewahedo and other Oriental fathers read these same Patristics.  Just saying, "The distinction is Cappadocian" is a bit disingenuous, because while Fr. Palamas quoted these fathers, such references were not found in Orthodox until this father pieced them together.  Fathers had not been teaching this almost dichotomy until post-Palamas theology. A fundamental question to ask is did the Cappadocian fathers use diastole or heteron? when they mention distinction?

Further I agree with Father Peter here from a similar thread

The issue I do have is with some modern EO with whom I have corresponded who seem to treat the energies of God as if they were separate from God and not God at all. They seem to be thinking that when we say we know God by means of His energies we don't actually experience God, but some intermediary.






We indeed do not know God by His essence, but this should not suddenly suggest that there is a tangible distinction between what God is, and what God does, just like in our own human lives, we are not existentially separated from our actions (i.e. energies) because we (e.g. existing by Essence) are the very source and manifestation of those actions.

stay blessed,
habte selassie
« Last Edit: November 02, 2012, 04:02:07 PM by HabteSelassie » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2012, 04:00:55 PM »

Well said, Habte. Could it then be argued (for the purposes of clarification, not conflict) that those people in the EOTC who advance Palamite theologies are recognizing that we as OO make that essential distinction without going into the detail of the EO, i.e., Palamas is okay on account of making this distinction (as we also make it), but maybe not in every detail he elaborated on in the process? (which might go places where we don't need it to or don't agree with)
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« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2012, 04:34:28 PM »

Well said, Habte. Could it then be argued (for the purposes of clarification, not conflict) that those people in the EOTC who advance Palamite theologies are recognizing that we as OO make that essential distinction without going into the detail of the EO, i.e., Palamas is okay on account of making this distinction (as we also make it), but maybe not in every detail he elaborated on in the process? (which might go places where we don't need it to or don't agree with)

Admittedly, all I know about Palamite theology is no more than understanding a distinction between how we can say that we partake of God in truth (which he calls energy), and not God in equality with Him (which he calls essence).  I do believe that distinction is implied in OO theology.  Anything further than that, I do not fully understand.  What is it did St. Palamas say that might raise brows?
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« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2012, 05:20:10 PM »

I don't know. I'm taking it on faith that Habte has something particular in mind when he writes that some aspects of Palamas' theology are not acceptable. That's why I wrote "might" in the parenthetical clarification. I'm hoping he'll fill us in on this.
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« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2012, 05:44:59 PM »

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« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2012, 05:58:54 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Do the Oriental Orthodox believe in the essence-energies distinction? This and this article of the Coptic diocese of the Southern US says they do. The latter article going as far as to quote Sts. Palamas, John Damascene and Maximus the Confessor as authorities. Is it true that the OO believe in the same thing as the EO about the essence-energies distinction?

This language developed after the split and is foreign to our tradition. Whether or not it is compatibile is something that needs serious scholarly study. Many have concerns over this type of development, and especially over hesychasm and uncreated light. Certainly these types of approaches are not necessary, and the monastic spirituality of St. Antony, St. Pachomius, St. Macarius, etc, who knew nothing of this experience of uncreated light, is good enough for us. It certainly seems inappropriate to quote St. Gregory Palamas as an authority in answering a question from the point of view of our tradition without considerably more dialogue on the matter than has happened to date.

As for essences vs energy, any Orthodox priest will tell you that it is impossible to know God in His essence, we only know Him by His working in us and in creation. So the core of the concept is certainly the same, whether there is anything problematic in the specific definitions of energy and essence is a bigger question. The equating of energies with attributes of God in the link you provided seems strange.

I agree, when I asked my Ethiopian priests about this matter, they told me, "No, its nothing like that."  Aspects of Palamite theology are compatible with Tewahedo tradition, but others are not.  Some Ethiopian folks assert Palamite theologies, others do not.  In this regard I understand it to be doctrine rather than dogma. I would feel uncomfortable with Oriental fathers quoting or relying on Fr. Gregory Palamas because he is not mutually on of our fathers, neither our saint, so it is theological and historically inconsistent. Yes, Palamite theology quotes Cappadocian fathers, however it is the specific way in which this theology interprets these fathers that I understand is different from the way Tewahedo and other Oriental fathers read these same Patristics.  Just saying, "The distinction is Cappadocian" is a bit disingenuous, because while Fr. Palamas quoted these fathers, such references were not found in Orthodox until this father pieced them together.  Fathers had not been teaching this almost dichotomy until post-Palamas theology. A fundamental question to ask is did the Cappadocian fathers use diastole or heteron? when they mention distinction?

Could you give the context in which Gregory Palamas uses those terms?

By the way, I understand if you would hesitate to call Gregory Palamas a saint, but could you please not refer to him as Fr. Gregory Palamas? Certainly you would never refer to an Archbishop simply as Fr. so-and-so. If you must give him a title (and you certainly don't have to, it is perfectly acceptable to use the academic standard of omitting titles), surely the title archbishop would be more fitting.

Further I agree with Father Peter here from a similar thread

The issue I do have is with some modern EO with whom I have corresponded who seem to treat the energies of God as if they were separate from God and not God at all. They seem to be thinking that when we say we know God by means of His energies we don't actually experience God, but some intermediary.






We indeed do not know God by His essence, but this should not suddenly suggest that there is a tangible distinction between what God is, and what God does, just like in our own human lives, we are not existentially separated from our actions (i.e. energies) because we (e.g. existing by Essence) are the very source and manifestation of those actions.

stay blessed,
habte selassie

But Father Peter is arguing the Palamite position there. The energies are truly God. It was Barlaam who argued that they were merely effects, such that real knowledge of God would be impossible impassible.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2012, 06:05:53 PM by Cavaradossi » Logged

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