Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The beatific vision, you see

The following is two comments I left in the same thread at Energetic Processions about "Drawing Near to God". They captures my latest understanding of man's final end pretty well, and, besides, the beatific vision is utterly beautiful to contemplate. Also, posting it here is just one more small part of my housekeeping measures in the blogosphere.

What I still have a hard time accepting is how such analogies [as some use to explain the essence-energies distinction in Palamism (e.g., the sun and its rays)] cut against Thomism (viz. the beatific vision). The analogies indicate not an inability to know God’s essence in principle but an inability, a handicap, on the part of the knowers. This is basically the Thomistic position as I understand it. No glorified saint is deprived of the vision of God but each one is illuminated with that divine light to different degrees based on one’s synergistic openness to divine grace as hypostasized in the Holy Spirit. The problem is not God’s essential self-enclosure, which He has disclosed (’apocalypticized’) in Christ anyway, but in the incapacity of human nature to fully “take in” that essence as revealed. In heaven, to borrow from your analogy, all dogs know their master but some dogs simply Him better. The problem is not God’s essence but the wounded blindness of our nous in the first Adam. We must have that inner eye cleansed and transformed into His image (Romans 12:1–2, Colossians 1:19–23, 3:9–10, Ephesians 1:17–18, , so that we may KNOW Him as fully as we are able. As is says in 1 John 3:2 (NAB): “we shall be like him, FOR we shall see him as he is.” Much the same is promised in 1 Corinthians 13:9–12:

“For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”

That is the essence (no pun intended) of the beatific vision: not simply a knowledge of God, which we can enjoy mediately in this life, but a face-to-face vision of God Himself in His own glory. The Father, Jesus promises us, will dwell with us, not apart from us, that we may see Him by grace, even if the radiance of His glory is too much for us to exhaustively “adjust to” even in eternity (1 Tim 6:15–16; CCC 1028, 1032, 1045). While we can know God (with dianoia) via the grace of natural revelation (Rom 1, Sir 13, etc.), one final Day, the analogies shall fall behind and we shall see God as His earlier manifestations intended to promise us by faith. Romans 8:24–25: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” indicates we hope for what we cannot now see but one day will see what we now believe in. That’s the beatific vision.

In John 15 Jesus describes our bond to Him as branches on a vine, which is analogy replete with imagery of natural union, not being touched or warmed at a distance. A vine’s branches exist intimately in union with the vine, ‘knowing’ it as its own being from the inside out. This is not an essential bond, since we are grafted in by grace, but it certainly more of a union than sun rays on leaves. Also in John 15:15 Jesus says His disciples are no longer servants, ignorant of their master’s business, His inner life, but are friends on intimate terms with what Jesus reveals of the Father.

I think what rubs me the wrong way about Palamite energies is how it seems to multiply God’s self-disclosing activities beyond the Holy Spirit. Someone left a comment on my blog about the fruits of the Spirit (in Galatians 5) being energies of God. What bothers me is how the term energies slips in between what Galatians 5, Romans 8, 2 Peter 1, etc. seem to teach above all: we do not merely have God’s gifts but God Himself in the inner gift of the Holy Spirit. By His hypostatic presence in our hearts, we are incorporated into the triune life of God, a life entirely constituted by relationship and self-giving. It is the case that we will never fully see the Father but in our ultimately total knowledge of Christ, the very image of God in whom all God’s pleroma dwells, we shall know God. The worries over seeing God’s essence seem to blur the issue of seeing the Father as monarchial source of the Trinity and seeing God in the face of Christ and in the inner light of the Spirit.

Photios interjected the following:

"John 15 is talking about two things that are homogenous in essence not heterogeneous. In other words, it speaks as us as Christ’s body, Christ’s Church, Christ’s consubstantiality with us. We are identified with his very Incarnate body. Our participation in Christ’s humanity is one of identity. A person’s participation in the divine energies is a heterogeneous relationship. You need to think of this in terms of Christology first. To make a homogenous relationship between two different kinds of natures is to confuse them. This is why we don’t partake of the divine essence, but we will know the operations of that essence."

To which I replied:

I want to note there are, strictly speaking, two currents in my line of inquiry, only one of which has become the central theme here. The first is what place theology about general revelation has in EO. I won’t call it natural theology in this setting, despite my qualifications of the term, since Perry objects to that as inadvertent obfuscation. I would still like to know how far against something like Thomistic natural theology this blog’s position against dialectical theology cuts. That’s all my questions about basic metaphysical categories were about. Is there not some level or metaphysical arena in which God and man do coinhabit, or is the infinite transcendence of God qua ousia hyperousia such to render all analogical talk meaningless and therefore pointless?

The second current is the matter of essence-energies and, in turn, the beatific vision. The reason I have trouble just rolling over and accepting the Palamite analogies and explanations here, is twofold. First, I don’t think the idea of “participation” is adequately clear in this discussion, which is much the same point Fr Patrick made. I find Perry’s frequent recourse to 2 Pet 1:4 as a proof of Palamism and a refutation of the beatific vision not at all as straightforward as he presents it. The word “partakers” in that verse is koinonoi, a word with a broad range of meaning, basically which means one who shares in something, a companion, a comrade, a FRIEND (cf. John 15).

What does a glorified saint share in in heaven? In the vision of God as He is by nature, without sensible, conceptual or analogical mediation. And what is God’s nature? Triune. God IS triune love. Hence the beatific vision is more about sharing in the triune fellowship of God AS Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, than about some overblown idea we fully “understand” the divine essence. Seeing God’s essence AS tri-hypostatic love is not in conflict with not being able to see all of it (or God’s incomprehensibility, as Benedict XII called it in Benedictus Deus). The beatific vision is not that we are pumped full of divine “essential oil” like a bag, but that we are fully welcomed into beholding, immediately, the divine persons in perichoresis, a vision limited only by our graced capacity to receive such light as God strengthens our nous for it. Thus we can partake of the divine nature as sharers, invited companions, in the TRIUNELY divine nature, which squares with 2 Pet 1:4, and its preceding verse. I have drawn the thrust of this point from Karl Rahner in his entry on the beatific vision in the Encyclopedia of Theology (Herder & Herder; big fat red book).

The second way I see in which participation can be amplified without Palamite gain or Thomistic loss is to look at Thomistic anthropology and how it plays out vis-à-vis the beatific vision. The beatific vision works in Thomism in two steps. First, the intellect knows the divine essence, beyond the order of faith and/or reason, and then the will is perfectly drawn to that infinite good as a concretely maximized good, not a mere intellectual abstraction. We can only love what we first know. If we cannot know God essentially, we cannot love Him essentially. Once, however, we see God in essentia, we can desire him (theletotropically, as it were) perfectly and eternally.

This latter fact takes care of the problem of a post-glorified lapse, since Adam and Eve enjoyed only a natural vision of God, whereas the glorified enjoy a perfect, albeit not exhaustive, vision of God, and therefore exist perfectly in a state, as Dominique Garrigou-Lagrange puts, beyond liberty. Transfixed by the unmediated, unfiltered beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12, Wis 13:3), we are incapable of lapsing back to a state of life beneath heavenly perfection (hence, non posse peccare). We see God as He sees Himself, albeit, again, not as completely. Seeing God perfectly entails we love Him perfectly AS the infinitely actual good which our nature desires. This is hardly a violation of freedom; it is a vindication of freedom towards its true telos. Freely loving God without equivocation or diminution becomes a permanent habitus of the soul, perfectly illumined as it is by an intellectual grasp of the essentia divina.

The confusion, I think, in the debate, is to hear that, in Thomism, the intellect “becomes” what it perceives and then to assume that because we shall perceive God in essentia, we shall become divine essentially. Rather, while our intellect does “become” divine by apprehending the divine essence, we still remain human by virtue of only our will being perpetually drawn to God. So, we partake of the divine nature intellectually (indeed, notice the emphasis on “knowledge”/epignoseos in 2 Pet 1:3) but not essentially. We are drawn, by the motion of our wills, into the divine glory (2 Pet 1:3) by sharing in a knowledge/vision of the essentia divina. I draw much of this from Garrigou-Lagrange’s Life Everlasting.

As I’ve said, I think the Trinity is adequate to describe and explain the same things energies are meant to explain. God is hypostatically immanent in us as the Holy Spirit, and thus grace is no mere created grace, EVEN THOUGH the effects He has in us, as created beings, resemble created entities. Further, the fundamental way in which we become koinonoi of the divine nature is by our sacramental union with Christ AS God. We can partake of the divine nature without becoming essentially divine because “part” of the divine nature includes the humanity of Christ. His glorified “one flesh” (mia sarx; cf. e.g. Colossians 1:22) is the ontological “antechamber” in which we dwell, which allows us, by nature, to partake in the divine nature qua tri-hypostatic love, EVEN THOUGH we cannot partake of the divine essence any more than intellectually so. The humanity of Christ fulfills what the energies are intended to do. We were buried IN the man Jesus Christ and thus we live IN the Lord God. Thus, we are homogenously joined to Christ and heterogenously joined to God IN Christ. We dwell with the Father IN the temple of Jesus Himself (God was IN Christ, etc.).

1 comment:

CrimsonCatholic said...

Sorry it took a bit of time to respond, but see my post here.