Monday, December 3, 2007

Ambling in Palamite fields…

I left some comments and questions on Energetic Processions (in the post "Drawing Near to God"), but, despite some feedback from Perry, they got little play, so I will post the relevant bits here for the record and my own future reference, if needed.

Before I do so, however, For the record, let me state in brief what my inquiry boils down to, and why I think it's significant:

If the energies are ESSENTIALLY divine, then they partake of the divine essence. If our own energies participate in our essence, then they partake of our own essence. If we are fully present in our energies, then how can we not be in them essentially (or they in us essentially)? Likewise for God. If His energies are fully divine, how are they not essentially divine? If we––or at least our energies––partake of the divine energies, how can we not thereby partake of the divine essence in which they themselves participate?

Are the divine energies essentially divine? If the divine energies are not essentially divine, then they are only accidentally divine, which means no matter how deeply we participate in them, we are still only partaking in an accidental, and therefore not essentially divine, emanation from (creation of?) God.

Moreover, is the divine essence essentially energetic? If it is––if, that is, God is essentially a hypostatic unity of essence and energies––then His essence is not utterly inscrutable to the human intellect, in which case it is possible for humans to enjoy vision of the divine essence in the beatific vision. If we can do so in some degree even now, surely we can do so to a full(er) extent in heaven.

Suffice to say, from my hobbled perspective, these seem like problems for Palamism.

I prefer a theory in which we partake of the essence of God, in the intellectual union of the beatific vision, without thereby becoming God any more than knowing the essence of an orange or a formal operation converts us into an orange or a formal operation.

§ § §

On November 20, 2007 at 12:16 pm, I began:

Is God subject to formal categories such as real distinction and opposition? Or is God completely beyond all metaphysical categories whatsoever? Is God subject to logical categories, such as the law of non-contradiction? Or is God utterly beyond such wee dialectical tools? Is God subsumable under any of the same metaphysical categories as humans?

These questions can be treated as three segments of one triptych of inquiry at an issue I cannot articulate adequately. Or they can be read independently of each other. I am really am asking genuinely, without guile. For what I am trying to find out is how deep the rejection of dialectical thinking in EO theologia cuts.

What I am trying to get at is this: it seems God and man are both subject to at least some of the same ‘dialectical’ categories. Indeed, part of what makes man Man, in Palamite anthropology, is that he exists essentially as a compossible harmony (not sure HOW to put this in cataphatic terms) of an essence and energies which irreducibly and freely exists via his powers. This is the bedrock category to which humans are subject: we exist as a “blend” of two formally distinct “things” in our one hypostasis. But does not the same harmonized opposition hold for God? Does not the same formal distinction in the personhood of God hold for God as well? If so, then there seems to be at least a penumbra of dialectical opposition in the revealed God of energies. If not, then it is hard to understand how we can meaningfully argue there is such distinction, which is what Palamism is all about. If there *really* is a distinction, without reduction, between God’s energies and essence, then He seems to be just as subject to the categories (or at least one of them) in which man dialectically thrives.

If it is the case that God *essentially* exists as a nonreducibly manifold agent so to speak “comprised” of essence and energies, and if it is the case that humans likewise *essentially* exist as essence-energies beings, then there seems to be at least one metaphysical category of being shared by God and humans, namely, the real ontological distinction between essences and energies. In which case, humans do seem capable of partaking of the essence of God, His essence being to exist as more than just His essence. If it is of God’s essence to exist not only in/as His essence, AND if it is of humans’ essence to exist not only in/as their essence, then there seems to be an essential identity of ontological ordering between God and humans. Humans and God, in other words, can at least essentially share, co-participate in, the real (and only therefore conceivable) DISTINCTION between essence and energies. Obviously this also seems to bleed over into another domain of mutual divine-human dialectical subjection, namely, the shared subjection to the metaphysical category of essentiality (which, implicitly, exists only in opposition to extrinsicality, contingency or some other metaphysical category).

Or is it only an energy of God, and not His essence, to exist in His energies and essence? If it is not His essence to so exist, then the e/e distinction seems only conceptual, because contingent on its theoretical intelligibility, and not necessary to the revealed God in essentia.

Lest I get lost in a tangle of text, let me try to boil my worries down to gizzards and wishbones:

If we know God exists essentially as energies/essence, then we know of His essence, and it is not “unmanifest,” as Palamas claims.

Hardly a refutation, and not meant to be one. Moreso a noetic itch I can’t scratch, an intellectual charley horse I can’t stretch, as I try to parse these things.

Since I am only slightly less ignorant of modern philosophy than medieval, perhaps someone here could refract the issue through the Kantian problematic of noumena/phenomena, since that is how the issue breaks down in my mind. Essence : noumena :: energies : phenomena. How can these schemata be compared and contrasted?

November 22, 2007 at 4:29 pm, trvalentine said:

… IMNSHO, the West’s typical concept of God is that of a super-man, i.e. having the human concept of love raised to the infinite degree, the human concept of wisdom raised to the infinite degree, the human concept of wisdom raised to the infinite degree, and so forth. Whether ‘proving’ God’s existence by the ‘ontological argument’ (which explicitly raises to the infinite degree that which is regarded by human considerations as good), by the ‘cosmological argument’ (which uses experiences of the created world to demonstrate the need for a ‘uncaused cause’, ‘prime mover’, etc.), by the ‘teleological argument’ (which uses realities of the created world such as entropy to demonstrate the need for a ‘designer’), by the ‘moral argument’ or various arguments from ‘special events’ or ‘experiences’ (which use human experiences – of the created realm – to demonstrate a source for these things, the Western concept of God is rooted in human experiences of the created world.

OTOH, the Orthodox understanding of God is ‘Being beyond being’; if God has ‘being’, the created world lacks ‘being-ness’, but if the created world has ‘being’, God is ‘non-being’ (as the passage from St Gregory Palamas above explains). There is an insistence on an absolute divide between the Uncreated and the created realm. ISTM we have hints of this chasm between the Uncreated and the created in Divine Revelation:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.


For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

It is my perception (and knowing next to nothing about physics, I may be completely off track) that the difference between classical mechanics and quantum mechanics may be analogous to the difference between the wisdom of the created realm (logic, metaphysics, dialectics, ratiocination, etc.) and the Uncreated: completely different systems for completely different realms. Just as a person applying classical mechanics in an exactly correct manner may obtain a ‘solution’ which is completely erroneous in the realm of quanta, one applying human wisdom from the created realm in an exactly correct manner may obtain a ‘solution’ which is completely erroneous in the realm of the Uncreated.

November 24, 2007 at 11:47 am, Elliot B Says:

… Although the latter points you make do point towards addressing my inquiry, I am still looking for a more systematic elucidation of where the dialectical limits of theology can reasonably, coherently be said to end (for EO theology).

As for the initial points you make, I admit I find them mildly troubling. First, I think it’s too simplistic to say “the West” (a monolith?) is “rooted in” anthropocentric theology. I don’t understand the various arguments you noted as working up to PROVE or DEMONSTRATE the contents and coherence of the Faith, but rather, given the faith and difficulties with it or objections to it, work ALONG WITH comprehensible human experience to help the intellect reach what grace provides by faith, namely a “grasp” on the Faith. A second worry I have is that by so radically dichotomizing man and God, you start to sound like a Calvinist. Is not the imago Dei still a viable, coherent reality in our lives? Do we not see the divine nature, and “echoes” of His goodness, wisdom, power, etc., in our very natures, as well as in the larger creation? Again, such insights are not the basis for faith, Western or Eastern, rather, the supplementary lenses we may need absent a purified nous. Such an utter dichotomization of divine-human relations seems not only blind to the role of analogy in theo-logizing, but also grim as far as evangelization vis-à-vis general revelation goes. Is it the case that EO has no place for general revelation?

Probably the biggest problem I have with utterly de-humanizing theology is the little thing known as the Incarnation. God Himself “subsumed”, “subjected”, Himself to all relevant human categories. God became man. Certainly that compromises how blithely we dismiss the “co-inhabitation” of man and God in metaphysical/rational categories if theology is to remain a sound discourse.

I realize God operates in a realm beyond our realms/categories. But the point of my inquiry is to see just how far this idea can be pressed. “If God is not somehow metaphysically essentially like us, even by the faintest bonds of analogy, then it’s hard to see how He could make Himself known to us. I suspect the purpose of analogy in, say, Thomism is akin to the purpose of energies in Palamism: the immanent medium which allows us to know God without REALLY KNOWING God.

November 24, 2007 at 3:47 pm, Perry Robinson Says:


What do you take the difference to be between natural theology and natural revelation?

As for Kant, the analogy is mistaken because for Kant phenomenal experiences are constructed by and enriched by us,but the energies are a thing in and of itself.

November 25, 2007 at 1:03 pm, Elliot B Says:

I see natural theology as the formal discussion and elucidation of natural revelation, the latter being a part of God’s total self-revelation. Natural theology only makes sense because theology, as a kerygmatic, liturgical, pneumatic reality, is primary; natural theology only “works”, when it does, because its bedrock is revelation.

Okay, so, from a Kantian perspective (I’m not a Kantian, just keeping it in those measly terms for this thread), energies would be noumena for us, while essence would be hypernoumena. Would the powers and extrinsic actions of God (in der Heilsgeschichte) be suitably analogous to the Kantian phenomena (sans of course the epistemological scarefest of Kantianism and in an ontological rather than epistemological mode)? Further, would our energies in the synergy of salvation be a sort of phenomena (which we create)? I of course don’t mean to call energies or essence Kantian things, I’m just doing a terminological transformation to see how things play together.

November 25, 2007 at 10:42 pm, Perry Robinson Says:


Natural theology is not an elucidation of natural revelation. It is rather something distinct. Natural theology is not reavealed but rather is our constyruct from sensation and reason alone. It is then elevated via revelation and perfected in Catholic thought.

Kant’s perspective won’t map on to the Orthodox teaching. Th energies are known, at least some of them are and hence this is something Kant would not permit. The energies are not extrinsic to God since extrinsic relations do not constitute their object but the energies are deity.

A phenomena for Kant, a determined one anyhow, is an appearnce that has been subjected to rules of understanding that we have constructed and achieved in order for it to be understandable to us. Energies aren’t mere appearances.

November 26, 2007 at 7:00 am, Elliot B Says:

Well, in this case, I return to my earlier Q: Is there a place in EO theology for natural revelation? Insofar as it is NATURAL, and therefore accommodated to man as a natural being, it seems inescapable to draw from sensation and reason. As for drawing from those things “alone”, I think that’s a defunct form of foundationalist rationalism which I don’t believe magisterial Catholic theology endorses. Every argument against natural theology, in the sense of it being a rational discourse on revelation (rather than a straw-man Socinianism or some such), itself uses the very tools it aims to refute (dialectical logic, categorical terms, etc.). The efforts to show the invalidity of reason vis-à-vis sheer revelation (i.e., by showing its categorically antinomial inapplicability to the divine essence qua hyperousia) strike me as inconsistent, since, as I say, the devices of rational thinking appear ineluctable even in its deconstruction in the greater light of God.

Please help me understand whether EO has natural revelation and what it is. Thanks!

November 27, 2007 at 4:54 am, Elliot B Says:

Perry, let me rephrase things to avoid confusion. By natural theology I do not mean die Naturtheologie of the Enlightenment and Romantic movement. By it I mean “general revelation”, as adumbrated in Romans 1:18f, Wis. 13:1ff., Ps. 19 and Sir. 17:8, among others. I am speaking of the sensus divinitatis and the divinely ordained power of analogy to “trigger” in the created intellect recognition of God and man’s sense of sin. By natural theology I suppose I am speaking more of fundamental theology, theology that lays a framework for discussion of the general contents of reality which may hinder faith or promote it once revelation is presented and accepted.

At that point I suppose Perry decided his family and studies were more important than my Papist aporia heheh.

1 comment:

Lucian said...

Galatians 5:19-26 enumerates many of God's Energies or Graces. "God is Love" also comes to mind. Needless to say, we DO participate in them, and we're CALLED TO participate in them by BOTH Testaments: "be holy EVEN AS I am holy" ... but we don't become gods or demigods by doing so ... And as to the essence not being energies is cleared up very simply and beautifully by Damascene in his "Dogmatic": the Divine Essence is simple and uncompounded; therefore the many, many logoi of God cannot be the same as His Essence (since they are different from each-other, their unity is of a compunded nature: like the rays of the Sun's crown of light; or like grapes in a cluster).

Hope this helps.