Essence and Energy

In a post at Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Fr. Gregory Hogg has compared the statement of St. Augustine in De Trinitate 1.1.3, that it is “difficult” to contemplate and have full knowledge of God’s substance, with the statement of Gregory the Theologian in Theological Orations 28.4 that is is “impossible” to express God and “yet more impossible” to know him. He attributes the difference in the two attitudes (if there really is a difference–more on this anon) to a general difference that he claims to exist between East and West on the question of whether God’s essence can be distinguished from his energies. What are we to make of this analysis?

In this context the word “energies” is just a (rather awkward, though standard) translation of the Greek word energeiai, a technical term in Greek philosophy since the time of Plato that refers to the actualized state of some capacity or other. In short, it refers to a property that something has in actuality. Aristotle, famously, distinguished between two kinds of actualities, what he called first and second actualities, of which only the latter were really energeiai in his argot, and it is this latter sense that is intended, too, in the Christian theological context. The difference between the two kinds may be illustrated with an example. When a human is born, it comes ready-equipped with a capacity for language, but that capacity is in no sense developed at birth. Aristotle calls this sort of capacity a first potentiality. When the child learns his native tongue, that first potentiality is actualized to a certain degree, but that “first actuality” (in which the child has learned his language) is not as complete as the stage at which the capacity for language is actually being used, that is, when the child is actually speaking his native tongue. Hence this first actuality is also called by Aristotle a “second potentiality”, because the faculty of language can be further actualized beyond merely having in one’s mind the vocabulary and grammatical rules of the language. This further actualization comes when the child actually speaks, which is the full actualization of the capacity, and it is this that Aristotle called the second actuality, or energeia.

Thus the properties that we have can be classified as either potentialities or actualities of a certain sort. A further distinction between properties can be drawn between those properties that are causally responsible for a thing being the sort of thing that it is, and those that are merely accidental to some thing. The former sort of properties are called essential properties: without them, the thing would not be thing that it is, but some other kind of thing. The latter are called accidental because any given thing can either have them or not have them while remaining the same kind of thing. So, for example, if we define a human being as a rational animal, then being rational is an essential property: anything that is a human will be rational, and if anything is not rational, it is not a human being. Having blue eyes, by contrast, is an accidental property: a human being may have blue eyes or not, and it will be as fully human as any other human regardless. Some accidental properties are accidental in the sense that they are sometimes true, sometimes not true, of the same thing. A human being may start his life not being a policeman, then get a job as a policeman and be a policeman, and then retire and no longer be a policeman, all the while remaining a human being in every respect.

Neither East nor West denies that God has properties. In the East they are traditionally called energies, while in the West they are usually just called properties. To the extent that God has a nature, God certainly has essential properties, because to have a nature is nothing more than to have essential properties, properties without which a thing would not be the thing that it is. God’s nature, then, just is the totality of the properties that God has. Does God have any accidental properties? Bear in mind that an accidental property is nothing more than a property that either may belong to a certain thing or not belong to that same thing without affecting what that thing essentially is. I may have a full head of hair one day, and then shave it off the next, and yet remain precisely the same thing that I was before my change in hirsuteness. If I have some accidental property as an actuality, necessarily I potentially lack that same property. For example, if I actually have hair, then I potentially lack hair as well; and if I lack hair, then I potentially am hairy. This is true even if I have gone bald: even though I no longer have the capacity to grow hair, it is a feature of the kind of thing I am (human) to be capable of growing hair. So I have a species-specific capacity that in my own peculiar case cannot be actualized due to a material difference between me and other humans. So to be “either-hairy-or-not-hairy”, the disjunctive property of being either the one or the other, may be said to be a property of the kind of thing I am, which raises the possiblity that it is an essential property of some kind, either of humans or of animals generally, but the specific disjunct that is manifested will itself always be an accidental property. Only the disjunction as a whole can be essential, if it is essential.

The principal complaint that Fr. Hogg refers to–that the West insists that there is no distinction between God’s essence and his energies–relies on an equivocation. The equivocation involves the usage of the term “distinction.” Fr. Hogg quotes from Aquinas in support of his claim that the West draws no distinction between God’s essence and his energies: “God is all the things that He has…” (On Spiritual Creatures article 11). Aquinas here uses what some metaphysicians call the language of Izzing and Having to mark the distinction between an essence and a property: what God is is his essence, what God has are his properties. Thus, if God is all the things that he has, his properties are identical to his essence, and the Eastern complaint would appear to be warranted. The equivocation here is this. If by “distinguishing” one thing, p, from another thing, q, we claim that p and q are ontologically distinct from one another, and that p can exist without q and q can exist without p, then there is one sense in which God is not all the things that he has, but there is another sense in which he is all the things that he has. Suppose we say, for example, with the Johannine corpus, that God is love, and with the Matthean tradition that God is mercy. Since love and mercy are not identical to each other, it would seem that God is not identical to himself, which seems absurd. But clearly what is intended here is that love is one of God’s properties and mercy is another, and the two properties are not the same property. Hence, on one way of understanding “distinguish”, we see that it is not true that God is all that he has: it is not the case that God is identical to love or identical to mercy. However, we do not want to say that it is possible for God not to be love or for God not to be mercy, since both claims would be heretical. And yet if “to be love” and “to be mercy” are energies that are not essential to God, then necessarily God can either have them or not have them. But this is impossible. Hence these properties are not accidental to God, they are essential. The same analysis would hold for all of the properties (energies) of God: none of them is accidental. In short, for any property, p, that is a property of God, p is included in God’s essence, and God’s essence just is the conjunction of all properties that God has. In this sense, God is all that he has, just so long as the emphasis is on the word “all”: God is not love, and God is not mercy, but he is “love+mercy+…+”. This (presumably very long) conjunctive property is similar to the disjunctive property I discussed above: although it is analyzable in terms of items that, in human beings at least, are separate, accidental properties, there is nothing other than God that has the whole conjunction of pure actualities as an essence, hence this conjunctive property is unique to God and is God’s essence. Since God cannot lack any of the various items into which we, from a human perspective, might be tempted to analyze the conjunction, the conjunction is a metaphysical unity insofar as it is an essence of something (namely God) that is metaphysically simple. Just as we can analyze the two sides of a bowl into two properties, convex and concave, and yet it is nevertheless impossible to separate the concavity of the one side form the convexity of the other, so too, in the case of God, we may, by analogy, talk of such things as “love” and “mercy” as properties of God, and yet it is nevertheless impossible to separate out all of the elements of that conjunction and assert that they could exist independently from one another qua properties of God (clearly the do exist separately qua human properties, but these properties are only analogous to God’s properties–the names do not mean exactly the same thing in the human case and the divine case).

Fr. Hogg concludes by suggesting that

if we make the distinction between God’s essence and his energies, which the East is committed to, then we can affirm both that we can know God even in this life, by knowing his energies; and that we can never know God in his essence, either in this life or in the age to come.

The West would not disagree that we can have some sort of knowledge of God by knowing his properties, but this passage is unclear as to whether what is meant is God’s properties qua properties of God, or God’s properties qua properties of non-God things to which we attach the same property name by analogy. For example, God is love, and we know what love is in our own case (and principally from Christ’s example), so we know God (a little) by virtue of knowing one of his properties, namely love. But as we have already seen, the property name “love” must mean something different when applied to humans, because no human being is love (except for the one human being who was also God). The West would also agree that we can never know God in his essence, if what is meant by that is to understand, in a non-analogous way, the full meaning of the massive conjunction that is God’s essence. As we have seen, every element of that conjunction can be given a separate property name, and we can have some knowledge of those properties, but (a) those properties all individually mean something else in God’s case than they do in our case and (b) God’s essence is in any event not those individual properties taken individually but rather the conjunction of all of them taken as a metaphysical unity, which is a little hard to get one’s mind around.

The West would agree, too, with the ordo theologiae that takes Christ to be the starting point for all such analysis as this. When Gregory writes “it is impossible to express him, and yet more impossible to conceive him,” we must be careful, since impossibility does not come in degrees. What must be meant is rather that it is easier to express than to conceive in God’s case, and this must be a reference to the fact that language is always a kind of analogy, whereas understanding may, in certain kinds of cases, be direct. Hence, it may be possible to express God in an analogous way, but this is not really to express him, since no analogy is the same as its object. But in the case of understanding, if what one has is analogous then it is not really understanding at all. We know love in the human form from our own experience, but Christ gave us a living example of love in God’s form. But to the extent that this revelation is mediated by the Incarnation, our understanding of God’s love is still analogical. Christ’s example transforms our flawed human sense of the property into something closer to the divine paradigm, but at present we see only darkly, as through a mirror. Only in the eschaton will we see him face to face, and know him as we are known by him.

55 Responses

  1. Scott:

    While I’m sympathetic to what you’re doing, I’m not thrilled with characterizing the divine essence as a “conjunction of properties.” I grant that, on the Thomistic account of analogous affirmation by “remotion” and “eminence,” it is possible to produce a bare description of the divine essence that consists, logically, of a conjunction. Thus, if God is A and God is B and so on., where the predicate-letters stand for essential properties of God ascribed by way of “remotion” and “eminence,” then the divine essence is what is describable by the conjunctive predicate ‘A & B.&..” etc. But I think rather misses the point of the Eastern distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies. For convenience, I’ll call it E/E.

    As I’ve come to understand it, ‘divine essence’ in that scheme means roughly ‘what-God-is-irrespective-of-what-God-does’. Now what-God-does is his “energies” in the sense of “second potentialities,” as you have explained; and also for reasons you give, we can know something about that. But from this point of view, it is easy to argue that the divine essence is strictly unknowable. For we can only know God with respect to what he does, such as creating and elevating us; indeed, all our activities depend on his. Therefore we cannot know what-God-is irrespective of what he does—the inner “God-ness” of God that would still be precisely what it is whatever he chooses to do. We can only know God by means of and in terms of his “energies.”

    The Thomistic use of ‘divine essence’, by contrast, is broader than that in E/E. For Aquinas, the divine essence is ‘what-God-is-eternally-and-unalterably’. That includes whatever it is about him in se that obtains just in virtue of what he freely does. Thus, God is love: the Persons love each other freely, eternally and infinitely, co-inhering in each other, and God loves us by creating us and calling us to be part of that eternal love. Thus God is eternally Creator, even thoiugh he didn’t create by necessity of nature; that must be the case if God’s esse is actus purus and identical with his essence. God is eternally and unalterably, and in that sense “essentially,” something he need not have been.

    For a variety of reasons, and as everybody knows, I prefer the Thomistic use of ‘divine essence’. It seems to me that the divine essence as invoked in E/E is only an abstraction from reality and has never obtained in its own right. But E/E can be understood and appreciated only when we recognize its narrower use of ‘divine essence’.

    Best,
    Mike

  2. Mike

    I think there is a possibility of confusing logical properties with ontological properties here.

    Consider the predicate “is God”. This seems to be a meaningful predicate because we can understand the claim “There is some entity, x, such that x is God”, which we can formalize as (Ex)(Gx). (Sorry, I’m too lazy to try to get that backwards E character in there, but you know what I mean.)

    Now, logically, we can say that, given any entity, x, either that entity is God or it isn’t, and we can formalize that as (x)(Gx v ~Gx). This is just the principle of bivalence applied to the property of being God. But I think you will agree with me that it is conceptually very muddled to suggest that the being that is God could either be God or not be God–that would be to treat being God as itself an accidental property. God cannot be other than what he essentially is, but we do not construe this logical constraint as an ontological constraint on God’s freedom.

    Now, if there is any property that is essential to God, surely it is goodness. God is good. I can imagine a being like God that is not good, but that being would not be God. It is not a constraint upon God’s freedom to say that he cannot be evil, it is simply to assert that God cannot fail to be what God essentially is and still be God.

    Now, if we are to accept Christ’s revelation, as I think we must, then we must believe that love is a manifestation of God’s goodness. Indeed, we are told that we must love even our enemies, hence to love is normatively better than to hate or to be indifferent. Hence, I can imagine a trinitarian being like God where the persons do not love one another, but that being would not be God, and yet to say this is not a constraint upon God’s freedom.

    Again, according to Christ’s revelation, to create is a manifestation of God’s love, hence to create is better than not to create. Hence I can imagine a being like God that did not create, but that being would not be God, and yet to say this is not a constraint upon God’s freedom.

    Thus there seems to be a sort of analog to Plato’s unity of the virtues in God’s properties, though instead of being unified as manifestations of wisdom, they are unified as manifestations of goodness. Hence, even though some of God’s properties are logically expressible as disjunctions (God is creator, God is not creator), I don’t see that it follows that which disjunct he is is accidental in the sense that he could have been the other disjunct. Although it is logically possible for a being that is a creator to not be a creator, it is not possible for a being that is goodness to be evil (either logically or ontologically) and yet remain God; hence, though it is logically possible for God not to have created, it does not seem to be ontologically possible, which is consistent with the claim that God is eternally creator (“eternally” just means “necessarily”, according to Hintikka, though I suppose that is a controversial claim; at any rate it seems a bit odd to apply the term “eternally” to a non-temporal being with some other sense in mind).

    It seems to me that there is some confusion in saying that a property, p, which is true “eternally and unalterably” of some entity is not an essential property. Logically such a thing is possible, but ontologically it seems that such a formulation destroys the distinction between essential and non-essential properties. There may be some properties that are true of God that did not have to be true, but I don’t see how these properties can be in se properties (though it might depend upon what you mean by in se–if it means something like per se, then those properties are essential; if it means something else, then those properties are not essential and, hence, not part of God’s essence).

    In short, when you write “God is eternally and unalterably, and in that sense ‘essentially'”, you suggest that there is some other sense of the term “essentially, but what would that sense be? Are you suggesting that there is a sense of “essentially” that includes more necessary and sufficient conditions than just “eternal and unalterable”? If so, then it seems like an equivocation, or a conflation of temporal constraints with ontological constraints.

    I’m sure I’ve completely muddled things, but that is, after all, my specialty.

    best
    Scott

  3. For the Fathers, there is no analogy of being between God and man, but there certainly is an analogy of operation:

    “the Divine nature, whatever It may be in Itself, surpasses every mental concept. For it is altogether inacessible to reasoning and conjecture, nor has there been found any human faculty capable of perceiving the incomprehensible; for we cannot devise a means of understanding inconceivable things. Therefore the great Apostle calls His ways unsearchable, meaning by this that the way that leads to the knowledge of the Divine Essence is inaccessible to thought. That is to say, none of those who hasve passed through life before us has made known to the intelligence so much as a trace by which might be known what is above knowledge…. the invisible and Incomprehensible is seen and apprehended in another manner. Many are the modes of such perception. For it is possible to see Him Who has made all things in wisdom by way of inference through the wisdom that appears in the universe. It is the same as with human works of art…. THus also when we look at the order of creation, we form in our mind an image not of the essence, but of the wisdom of Him Who has made all things wisely…. We say that we have contemplated God by this way, that we have apprehended His goodness—though again not His Essence but His Goodness…. He Who operates can be known by analogy through His operations.” (Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Beatitudes)

    The question I have with the Augustinian and Scholastic tradition is whether or not you can have any realized and unactualized energy in God given ADS? Can it adequately account for 1st and 2nd order actuality? Can the property divine property of love and the divine property of Creator be distinguished in terms of 1st and 2nd order actualization given ADS? Why, and what becomes of actus purus, i.e. the divine essence as pure activity?

    Photios

  4. Photios:

    In your quotation from Gregory of Nyssa, the term ‘Divine Essence’ is certainly being used as I have been saying it is used in the E/E distinction. But I don’t think it follows, from the E/E distinction so understood, that there are “unrealized” potentialities in God. All that follows is that, if God’s energies are eternal and unalterable realizations of his “first actuality,” they aren’t the only conceivable ones given that first actuality, which latter we can’t know anything else about anyhow. Hence, affirming that God’s esse is actus purus is compatible with affirming that not all of God’s acts or energies are absolutely necessary. Of course that leaves open the question how to work ADS in; but as I’ve often said, that doctrine is formulated with a use of the term ‘divine essence’ that is different from the one introduced in the 4th-century Eastern fathers and developed further in Gregory Palamas.

    The examples of love and creation actually help to explain why I prefer the Thomistic use of ‘divine essence’ . Ad intra, the divine hypostases necessarily love each other; both the hypostases and their being perichoretic with each other thus belong to the “divine essence,” in the sense that God is essentially not merely accidentally triune and perichoretic. That’s not something that can be said given the Byzantine sense of ‘divine essence’, but it’s something that I believe ought to be said anyhow. Now love is free as well as personal; so even assuming that the divine persons necessarily love each other, it cannot be the case that everything about that love is fully determined by some prior necessity of nature. That the persons love each other infinitely and perichoretically is absolutely necessary; but exactly how they do so cannot be, else their love cannot be said to be personal and free but only natural and necessitated. Thus the “first actuality” of love belongs to the divine essence and is fully realized in how the persons love one another, without its following that every aspect of that love is absolutely necessary.

    Something similar goes for creation. Whatever God’s “goodness” may be in itself, it befits that goodness to manifest and communicate itself ad extra, which means creation. That is not absolutely necessary, of course; for God’s goodness is already fully realized in the Trinitarian perichoresis. But given God’s free and intelligible choice to create, it belongs to the divine essence, in the Thomistic sense of that term, that God be Creator. That’s why it can be said that God’s essence is identical with his actus essendi, without its at all following that all none of his actions are free.

    Best,
    Mike

  5. Mike,
    “…Thus the “first actuality” of love belongs to the divine essence and is fully realized in how the persons love one another, without its following that every aspect of that love is absolutely necessary.”

    Would you say that there is some sort of contingency in (for lack of a better preposition) the divine essence?

  6. Mike,

    That God is Triune is a personal feature of the Father in His causality not a property of the divine essence.

    From the Fathers perspective, one wonders if there is such a thing as a ‘divine essence’ for the Thomistic account. It replaces essence with actuality. From the epistemic and metaphysical relation of:

    erga–> energeia–> dynamis –> ousia

    The Thomistic ‘essence’ seems to map either energy or dynamis, and given ADS, one wonders if the distinction between energeia and dynamis is anything in reality, but only conceptually so. Is God more than just actuality?

    Photios

  7. Photios:

    That God is Triune is a personal feature of the Father in His causality not a property of the divine essence.

    When I first saw that, my eyes almost popped out. Of course I agree that there are three divine persons if and only if the Father personally causes there to be two other persons. But by claiming that thus being triune is not a “property of the divine essence,” are you saying that there being a Trinity of persons is not essential to there being a God? That it’s somehow accidental to being God that there are three persons who are each the same God? Until we get clear about this, it’s hard to get much further with anything else,.

    The Thomistic ‘essence’ seems to map either energy or dynamis, and given ADS, one wonders if the distinction between energeia and dynamis is anything in reality, but only conceptually so. Is God more than just actuality?

    A fair question, to which the answer is “yes” in one respect and “no” in another. On the Thomistic account, God’s dynamis is completely and unalterably realized by his energies, without its following that each and every way in which that is so is the only way it could have been so. But given that it’s all eternally so, there is no “real” as distinct from “logical” possibility for it to be otherwise. Scott explained that well in his previous comment. So, the distinction between God’s dynamis and energeia is “notional” rather than “real” on the Thomistic account.

    Best,
    Mike

  8. Paul:

    Would you say that there is some sort of contingency in (for lack of a better preposition) the divine essence?

    I hope the second paragraph of my reply to Photios just above suffices as an answer to that question.

    Best,
    Mike

  9. Scott,

    You said,

    “Again, according to Christ’s revelation, to create is a manifestation of God’s love, hence to create is better than not to create.”

    I don’t see how this follows.

  10. “But by claiming that thus being triune is not a “property of the divine essence,” are you saying that there being a Trinity of persons is not essential to there being a God? That it’s somehow accidental to being God that there are three persons who are each the same God? Until we get clear about this, it’s hard to get much further with anything else.””

    According to Gregory Palamas are energies substantial or accidental? Or are they neither of those two aristotelian categories? The answer to that question is the hint of how I’d answer you.

    Photios

  11. Photios:

    Your reply points to the fact that the Palamite tradition uses some key terms and concepts differently from the Thomistic. We both knew that already. What I’m interested in is getting clear enough about the differences to create a logical map between the two traditions. I’ve done a bit of that already in how I’ve distinguished between the Palamite and Thomistic use of ‘divine essence’. I don’t say that the former is useless or senseless, but I have argued that the latter enables one to say something that I believe ought to be said. In that spirit, then, let me rephrase my question without using Aristotelian terminology: Was the Father free not to have caused the existence of the other two persons?

    Best,
    Mike

  12. Dr. Carson:

    “Again, according to Christ’s revelation, to create is a manifestation of God’s love, hence to create is better than not to create.”

    Doesn’t this imply though that unless God creates, he does not show his love? That is, in order to demonstrate love, God needs to create?

  13. Michael,

    The Father’s generation of the Son and the Spirit is free but beyond necessity and contingency as I think Athanasius argues. To ask the question you do rests on a category mistake, or so it seems to me.

    Another question is, is being creator a property of God? And hav eyou read Wolterstorf’s piece on the different ways contemporary analytic philosophers understand properties and the medievals?

    And the idea of a conjunctive property seems weaker than what Aquinas and Augustine have in mind and so it compromises ADS.

  14. Perry:

    If the generation of the Son can be said to be either “free” or not free in any meaningful sense, then modal language is applicable to it in a coordinate sense. I would claim that the Generation t is necessitated by the divine nature, which the Father possesses; thus, it is absolutely necessary. That the Father loves the Son infinitely and thus perichoretically is also necessary in the same sense; from whence, I would argue, derives the absolute necessity of the Spiration. But how the persons love one another is only conditionally not absolutely necessary. That is, given how they freely love one another, they do so eternally and unalterably; but it might have been the case that they love one another differently in some-or-other respect, in which case that would have been eternal and unalterable.

    Best,
    Mike

  15. Mike,

    If the nature is what the persons have in common, and it is part of the divine nature for the Father to generate, how is it not equally necessary for the Son and Spirit to generate as well, given that they share a common nature with the Father? There seems to be a confusion here between personal and essential properties which will lead first to the filioque and then to polytheism.

  16. Fr. Maximus:

    We agree that God is three hypostases or Persons who are each the same God as the others. To deny that each hypostasis is the same God as the others entails tritheism, which neither of us profess. Therefore, the “divine nature” is what each of the Persons is just by being the same God as the others. That’s what it means to say that the divine nature is what the Persons have in common. The divine nature is not a quaternum quid really distinct from the Persons. It is, rather, that which is constituted by the Persons and their interrelations.

    We also agree that the Persons are distinguished from each other by relations of origin, with only the Father being unoriginate. Given as much, there is nothing in the above, bare-bones definition of the divine nature from which it would follow that the Son and the Spirit are even capable of generating any divine person, much less that they do so necessarily. Given that definition, all that follows is that there are three hypostases, that only the Father generates, and that he does so necessarily. Thus, whatever the Persons have in common by each being the same God as the others, that presupposes their distinction by relations of origin.

    Best,
    Mike

  17. Mike,

    So let me put the two halves of your equation together: the Father necessarily generates the Son by virtue of the fact that He is the same God as the others? What does the first half of the sentence have to do with the second half? Again I ask: if the other persons are the same God as the Father, and it is by virtue of this sameness that the Father generates, what is to prevent the others from doing so as well? Bringing in the relations won’t help you because you have already implied that it is not by the relation but by the essence that the Father generates. In any case, to define the divine nature as being simply what each of the persons is just by being the same God as the others strikes me as rather vague. What specifically does it mean to be the same God? That is part of what the discussion turns on, since anyone from a Homoiousian to a Sabellian could agree that the persons are in some sense the same God.

  18. Fr Maximus:

    I am not saying that …the Father necessarily generates the Son by virtue of the fact that He is the same God as the others. Such a claim would be sheer muddle. I’m rather disappointed that you seem to think I’m making it, even though I don’t know and don’t care which of us is chiefly to blame for that. I’ll just try again to make myself clear.

    What I’m saying is this: the divine nature itself is, indeed must be, such that exactly three distinct hypostases share it: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s not as though, given the divine nature, there might be less or more than three hypostases sharing it, or even three hypostases different from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, from the fact that each hypostasis is the same God as the others, it does not follow that each of them is the same hypostasis as the others; quite the contrary. But if so, then there is no general principle according to which, if x is the same God as y, then whatever is true of x is true of y; all that follows is that each divine hypostasis must share whichever properties count simply toward being divine. In particular, from the fact that the Son and the Spirit are the same God as the Father, it does not follow that either of them does or could generate a hypostasis that is God. Generation is a personal property of the Father and only of the Father. But it belongs to the divine nature that there be the Father; and to be the Father is, precisely, to originate the Son and the Spirit, who are for all that the same God as he who originates them.

    Now if all that is so, then it is a necessity of the divine nature not merely that exactly three hypostases named ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Holy Spirit’ share it, but that those hypostases be interrelated as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit actually are. It would make no sense, therefore, to say that the Father might not have generated the Son or breathed forth the Holy Spirit. Generation and spiration by the Father are thus necessities of the divine nature.

    Best,
    Mike

  19. Mike,

    That clarifies things somewhat, but it still seems to me that you are either setting the essence above the persons or confusing the essence and persons. How does an essence necessitate that there be a certain number and type of persons which share it, and that they be related to each other in a particular manner?

  20. Fr. Maximus:

    The necessitation goes both ways. Necessarily, the divine nature is what it is if and only if exactly three hypostases share it and are interrelated just as they are. It is possible to approach this truth more from the standpoint of the nature, as the West is wont to do, or more from the standpoint of the persons, as the East is wont to do. That kind of complementarity is legitimate. But the result is, or ought to be, the same in this case.

    Best,
    Mike

  21. Mike,

    “A fair question, to which the answer is “yes” in one respect and “no” in another. On the Thomistic account, God’s dynamis is completely and unalterably realized by his energies, without its following that each and every way in which that is so is the only way it could have been so. But given that it’s all eternally so, there is no “real” as distinct from “logical” possibility for it to be otherwise. Scott explained that well in his previous comment. So, the distinction between God’s dynamis and energeia is “notional” rather than “real” on the Thomistic account.”

    Let’s see if I’ve understood you correctly. In one sense, God is contingent, in another sense He is not. God is contingent insofar as He could have chosen not to create if He wanted to. If this happened, then God would in every way be the same, except that He would lack the essential property “being the Creator.” In this sense, God is contingent.

    However, in another sense, He is not contingent. While it is logically possible that God could have chosen not to create, in reality God did choose to create. As such, God possesses the property “being the Creator” essentially and from eternity.

    I’m still trying to make sense out of, “On the Thomistic account, God’s dynamis is completely and unalterably realized by his energies, without its following that each and every way in which that is so is the only way it could have been so.” I guess my real question is to what “dynamis” refers.

  22. Paul:

    I think Scott’s post explains the difference pretty well. “Dynamis” is “first actuality; “energeia” is second actuality. It’s like the difference between a fetus’s distinctively human properties, such as reason and free will, and those properties as realized in the same person eight years later. One’s dynamis is what’s realized by one’s energeia. God’s dynamis is completely, eternally, and unalterably realized by his energeia.

    Best,
    Mike

  23. Mike,

    One irony of St. Thomas’s definition is that if the “energeia” of Aristotelian philosophy and later Byzantine theological and monastic usage correspondes to the Thomistic “actus purus,” it would seem to me that a good “shorthand” way of describing the Thomistic doctrine of divine simplicity would be to refer to God as “pure energy.” It is difficult for me to object to such a notion, even from an “Eastern” perspective.

    Peace,
    Drew

  24. Drew:

    It’s difficult for me to object to such a notion too, but I doubt it would be difficult for some Orthodox I know.

    They would insist that God is not simply “pure energy” or “his energy.” They would insist that the divine essence, or what Scott calls God’s “first actuality,” is not manifest in his energies in such wise as to enable us to infer anything about the divine essence, which remains strictly unknowable. Now as I’ve already said above, there is a sense of the term ‘divine essence’ on which that is true. But the reason I prefer the Thomistic use of ‘divine essence’ is precisely that it allows us to say something that ought to be said: namely, that what God is, his essence, is manifest in what he does, and is therefore knowable in some fashion without ever being fully comprehensible.

    Best,
    Mike

  25. Mike,

    Essence is descriptive, not prescriptive. It doesn’t say anything about personal properties, but only essential properties, I mean what is shared by several individuals. But the relations of the Persons are not shared: they are unique, and thus not essential. Now if you are redefining essential to mean not what the Persons share in common but what God is “eternally and unalterably” as you said above, then yes, you can say that since the personal properties are eternal and unalterable, they are essential, but this involves a confusion of person with essence and an abandonment of any basis for speaking of that which is common to the Persons. You could not say that what is common and what is eternal and unalterable are interchangable, because the personal characteristics are not common.
    What I am getting at is that God is what He is “eternally and unalterably” because of who the Father is, not what the essence is. Since the Father is the cause of the other two Persons, the Trinity depends on the Father, not on some necessitating essence.

  26. Fr Maximus:

    There is something that each and every human person has in common, namely what may be called humanity. Call that “the human essence.” But being human, i.e., an instance of humanity, entails being a person. The same goes for being God: any x that is God must eo ipso be a person. That is part of what I mean by saying that the divine essence necessitates the divine persons.

    Of course there are differences as well as similarities. One of the differences between the human and divine essence is that being God, and thus having the divine essence, entails being a person who is the same God as exactly two other persons. You and I are not the same human being as each other, but each of the divine persons is the same God as the others. Another difference is that how the divine essence is shared is specified by the relations of origin among the divine persons.

    So, far from excluding the personal, the divine essence necessarily involves it. What is personal certainly is distinct in certain respects from what is natural: that each divine person is the same God as the others does not mean they are each the same person as the others. But the persons and the essence are nonetheless inseparable in this respect: it is “natural” to God, or “of the divine essence,” that whatever hypostasis counts as “God” be a person related quite specifically to exactly two others.

    Admittedly, the above cannot be said on the Cappadocian/Palamite use of ‘divine essence’. On that use of the term, about all that can be said of the divine essence is that it’s what’s shared by the divine persons and is not, as such, personal. But Scott and I have given reasons why what what I’ve said ought to be said anyhow.

    Best,
    Mike

  27. “But being human, i.e., an instance of humanity, entails being a person. The same goes for being God: any x that is God must eo ipso be a person. That is part of what I mean by saying that the divine essence necessitates the divine persons.”

    That is the very confusion of person and nature we’ve been talking about for some time. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone over this. If an instance of humanity is a person, then Christ has a human person. This is why we *do not* agree on person and nature and why we do buy the explanations put forward by Roman Catholics that they maintain adequately, in a christian sense, the distinction between person and nature.

    And yes we do have the same “human being,” ref. Basil’s letter 38.

    “But the persons and the essence are nonetheless inseparable in this respect: it is “natural” to God, or “of the divine essence,” that whatever hypostasis counts as “God” be a person related quite specifically to exactly two others.”

    That doesn’t follow at all. Why not more? Why not relate to 30 or more?

    Photios

  28. err…do *not* buy

  29. Drew,

    You should object to God as pure energy even on the category of energeia, because God’s energies are not simple but complex.

    Photios

  30. “They would insist that God is not simply “pure energy” or “his energy.” They would insist that the divine essence, or what Scott calls God’s “first actuality,” is not manifest in his energies in such wise as to enable us to infer anything about the divine essence, which remains strictly unknowable.”

    From an Orthodox stand-point, this is also false because first and second actuality don’t capture what is the doctrine of Person. Person’s aren’t things and they aren’t actualities.

    Second, we can infer in an intellectual sense some things about the divine essence. On a comparative basis, the Father’s argue that the Father, Son, and Spirit have the same nature, or that *these* operations correspond to deity, based on the type of operation that is being done. What they deny is that the divine essence is unknowable in a participatable manner for Person’s of a heterogeneous nature. In an illustrative manner, my dog is able to participate in the operations of my voice, but he cannot participate in the logos of my voice. That is an impossibility for him because of his nature (otherwise he’d be able to perform the same kinds of operations). But he can and is able to participate in the energies of my voice in listening, learning, and following my commands. I recommend you read Yannaras on the “Essence – Energy distinction and its importance for theology.”

    Photios

  31. *deny* should say *affirm*

  32. Photios:

    That is the very confusion of person and nature we’ve been talking about for some time. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone over this. If an instance of humanity is a person, then Christ has a human person.

    You continue to address me as though I were a pupil of yours who keeps flunking basic catechism. In fact, the fallacy is your own. From the fact that all human beings are persons, which I affirm, it does not follow that all human beings are human persons, which I deny. That’s exactly what Chalcedonian orthodoxy obliges us to deny. I’m happy to do so and have done it before, even on your own blog.

    This is the third time in less than 24 hours that you have negatively misconstrued points I’ve made on this blog. In this instance, you have done so in a patronizing way for which there remains no excuse. Your final comment does the same, and other things. But given the attitude manifest in your comments of late, it’s not worth explaining myself further.

    For that reason, I am suspending further exchanges with you until such time as I am given reason to believe the outcome would be different. I will delete your comments if they continue in the same vein.

    Best,
    Mike

  33. That is the very confusion of person and nature we’ve been talking about for some time. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone over this. If an instance of humanity is a person, then Christ has a human person.

    Response:
    When I saw this, I was like, “Has this guy taken logic and argumentation class at all?”

    Well, Mike, you seem to have more patience than I do😉

  34. Fr. Maximus said:

    “Since the Father is the cause of the other two Persons, the Trinity depends on the Father, not on some necessitating essence.”

    How does the necessary primacy of the Father differ from that of a necessitating essence?

    You seem to be saying the ESSENCE of the Trinity is the dependence on the Father. Yet, in that case, the Father lacks the essence of the Trinity, since He does not depend on the Father. I think this indicates the divine nature must be predicated on something other than sheer dependence on the Father.

    If the divine nature is that which is shared by the divine Persons AS they correlate, then the hypostases are allowed to be “themselves” without sharing a common relation to one sourec, which the source itself cannot share. The hypostatic essence of the Son, as divine, is His intrinsic relation to the Father AS divine Father. And so for the Spirit. But what they share is precisely their mutual relations to each others apart from any necessity or extrinsic order. It is of the essence of God that the Father, Son, and Spirit relate to each other as they do AS divine Persons, not as if the divine nature were superimposed on them. Their personal divinity is but the common correlation of them at once to each other. Their proper intrinsic relations to each other, of course, are essential to each of them, but not essential to the divine nature. The way you phrase it, seems to suggests correlation to the Father is of the divine essence, in which case, however, the Father lacks divinity essentially, insofar as He does not and cannot relate to the Son and Spirit as they relate to Him.

    I am trying to write as humbly as the topic, our holy God, demands.

    Peace,

  35. Mike,

    “I think Scott’s post explains the difference pretty well. “Dynamis” is “first actuality; “energeia” is second actuality. It’s like the difference between a fetus’s distinctively human properties, such as reason and free will, and those properties as realized in the same person eight years later. One’s dynamis is what’s realized by one’s energeia. God’s dynamis is completely, eternally, and unalterably realized by his energeia.”

    Okay, that helps. Now that I read his post, I can see the distinction being made. He never uses the word ‘dynamis,’ so I wasn’t able to connect the dots completely.

    Thanks.

  36. Peace be with you too, Elliott.

    I think you are confusing essence with relation. Essence is what several hypostses share in common. Relation is what one hypostases is towards another. You said that “the hypostatic essence [an oxymoron] of the Son is His intrinsic relation to the Father.” Here you are either identifying essence with relation or abusing the word essence and making it mean hypostasis. But even if you substitute the word hypostasis for essence you still will be saying that the hypostasis of the Son is His relation to the Father which is also not true beacuse hypostasis and relation are different concepts.

    “Their personal divinity is but the common correlation of them at once to each other.”

    Then they are not each the whole divinity?

    The Father can necessitate because He is a person. An essence cannot necessate because it is not an agent. Essences don’t do anything. I am not saying that the essence of the Trinity is dependence on the Father: dependence is a relation, and the essence of the Trinity is not a relation.

  37. One person who has done some interesting work on this subject in recent years is the Oxford Duns Scotus scholar, Richard Cross. Arguing that the Greek Fathers held to an essentially Middle- or Neo-Platonist view of universals, such that they are existent “things” (i.e., have some kind of extramental reality) separable from their individual “instantiations,” it made intuitive sense to them to think of the divine essence as in some way distinct from the divine persons. It was equally natural for some to suppose that the divine essence was in some sense ontologically prior (viz., causally) because that is exactly the role played by the Forms in Middle- and Neo-Platonism (an interpretation which goes back to Plato himself). This may have been one reason why the Greek Fathers in general ascribed causation in the Godhead to one person rather than to the divine essence, though I confess that the Greek Fathers were likely more concerned about their fidelity to the apostolic tradition of confessing one God while simultaneously maintaining the (derivative, though numerically singular?) deity of the Son and the Spirit, than they were about building about a panoramic, internally-consistent philosophical system. The Aristotelian view of universals, which the West later adopted, would prove to be of help, denying as it does that there is a causal relationship between a universal and its particular instantiation. Indeed, there could be no such causal relationship if the universal exists apart from its instantiations only in the mind that abstracts them from the matter in which they inhere, without solipsism. On the flip side, the divine essence, even if not a universal, nonetheless is similar to a universal in that it is something had in common by multiple “incommunicable instances” (i.e., persons). The incomposite (i.e., simple) nature of the divine essence and its recognition in philosophical terms necessitates a strict identity between the persons and the essence in the Godhead, an identity that does not obtain in creatures as a result of their (1) materiality and (2) finitude. By this reckoning, there cannot be any meaningful talk of the essence being “over” the persons, as many Orthodox polemists are prone to do today, and the fact that the West completely rejected the hyper-realist view of universals would seem to remove them completely from the charge that the essence is in some unspecified sense “superior,” or “prior,” to the divine persons. I emphasize the word “unspecified” because it is still common to hear such stereotypes as “The Greeks ‘begin’ with the person of the Father, while the Latins ‘begin’ with the divine essence,” while it is a near certainty that those making such statements do not have a clear idea of what they mean by the word “begin.” While De Regnon asserted as a merely historical point, Rahner turned it into polemics. How ironic that so many prominent Orthodox would buy into the incoherent and self-serving argument of a liberal Jesuit to not only come up with new polemical weapons against Western theology, but also to advance and clarify their own self-understanding and interpretation of their own Tradition. This has necessarily produced a “warped” perspective, I think, to which the majority of Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians have been held captive for at least the past 50 years. The sooner we leave Rahner to history, the better off not only will Catholics be, but also the Orthodox.

  38. Drew:

    From what little I know as a non-specialist, the historical account you cite sounds right to me. Of course that and two bucks will get you a mediocre cup of coffee. But I say it anyhow because, if true, the account explains the difference between the definition of ‘divine essence’ customary in Orthodox theology and that customary in Catholic theology. The two definitions are not logically incompatible—the former could be called DE-1, the latter DE-2—but neither are they logically equivalent.

    Fr. Maximus’s responses in this thread make perfect sense if one restricts use of the term ‘divine essence’ to DE-1. But of course that doesn’t tell us whether or not we should acknowledge DE-2. I’ve given reasons to think we should.

    Best,
    Mike

  39. Drew,

    We are not Platonists: that is the charge we make against the West. Also, most Orthodox theologians don’t pay much attention to Rahner and certainly do not borrow their ideas from him.

    Mike,

    Could you state in a few words what are those reasons for preferring “DE-2?”

  40. Fr Maximus:

    See the first and fourth comments in this thread.

    Best,
    Mike

  41. Fr. Maximus,

    I’m afraid you may have misunderstood me, so allow me to clarify.

    Orthodox theology is certainly not Platonism. I merely stated that the philosphical milieu within which the early Greek Fathers thought and wrote tended to assume that essences (or universals) were existent things, separable from individuals, and having a sort of causal relationship with them. Identifying “God” simultaneously with “the Father” and “the First Cause,” the Greek Fathers were obviously not amenable to the idea that the divine essence (a universal) somehow “caused” the Father (a particular), so they tended to merge “the Father” with the divine essence. This “derivation theory” of the Trinity, which occurs throughout the writings of the Greek Fathers, is a theory and not formally the same as the dogma it intends to explain in some fashion. As such the derivation theory, whatever its merits, has the flaw of not being to explain the very thing its modern Orthodox exponents intend to defend: the monarchy of the Father.

    As I mentioned above, the Oxford theologian Richard Cross has written extensively on this issue from an analytic philosophical perspective. His objection to the derivation view is that it states, in so many words, that “there are no properties belonging to the divine essence that do not also belong to the Father.” This is exactly how it appears in such prominent Fathers as St. Athanasius. So, for the pre-Cappadocian Greek Fathers, God the Father = the divine essence, and God the Son = the divine essence + (passive) generation. If all properties that belong to the Father also belong to the divine essence, and if all properties that belong to the divine essence belong to the Son (but not vice versa), the Father will not have any properties that explain the Son’s generation from him. Later, the Arian controversy forced the Cappadocians and Augustine to see the persons in terms of their relations of origin, i.e., the Father is the begetter of the Son, the Son is begotten by the Father, etc., and this is the view that prevailed in both East and West, other divergences notwithstanding. So, in a nutshell, the early Greek Fathers lived and wrote within a philosophical era in which the predominant viewpoint was that universals were “causes” of particulars. Wishing to avoid this scenario in the case of the Godhead, they identified the “particular,” i.e., the Father, with the “universal” divine essence. Once the Arian controversy brought out the flaws in this model, the post-Nicene Fathers, primarily the Cappadocians, had to restructure the doctrine of God to view the perons in terms of their relations.

    In light of the fact that neither the Western Fathers nor the later Western Church accepted any Platonist view of universals, there is absolutely no meaningful way that the charge of “Platonism” can be made. The (primarily Aristotelian) view of universals that prevailed in the West absolutely precluded any kind of view that would place the divine essence in a causal relationship to the persons, since the divine essence was understood to be identified with all three persons in the first place. I hope this clarifies my original comment, and assures you that I was not arguing that Orthodoxy is a kind of “Christian Platonism” after the manner of the Italian Renaissance (which the Western Church opposed, by the way).

    Mike,

    You should check out Cross’s work in this area…it is really quite enlightening.

    Drew

  42. Drew:

    I don’t have access yet to the actual published works of Cross, but this blog post by a Christian philosopher summarizes Cross’ argument. That summary might be of interest to our readers.

    Best,
    Mike

  43. Drew,

    I doubt you would find many Orthodox theologians who would subscribe to this view of history. In any case, even if it is true, it is irrelevant to the current discussion if, as you said, the Cappadocians fixed the earlier model (which is actually Eunomianism.)

    The Orthodox charge of Platonism against the West revolves around the concept of absolute divine simplicity, as well as the method of doing theology.

  44. Fr. Maximus,

    I think the question of the role of Platonism and its often antagonistic relationship to Christian theology perhaps best illustrated by Origen and the dependent-yet-suspicious attitude displayed toward his thought by the Greek Fathers who lived after him. That the Arian controversy was in large part brought about (from a doctrinal perspective) as a result of latent ambiguities in the thought of Origen that needed to corrected is something that I think many Orthodox would unhesitatingly agree with.

    Regarding the charge of Platonism, it is simply too broad to be of any real use. If we take theology proper, for example, it cannot be demonstrated conclusively that Plato even believed in a personal God, let alone a Trinity of Persons. The Platonic corpus is quite unsystematic, and only rarely do the Dialogues actually provide the answers to the questions asked by their interlocutors. And there was certainly no room in Plato’s thought for anything like the Incarnation, which the West confesses just as wholeheartedly as the East. The manner of doing theology in St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, et al, is completely different from what we find in the Dialogues. Regarding divine simplicity (there is no need to employ the word “absolute” since simplicity is a quality, i.e., a thing cannot be “relatively simple” in metaphysical terms), I do not recall anything in the entire Platonic corpus that remotely deals with the subject. However, even if it could be demonstrated convincingly that Plato held to the same teaching on divine simplicity as, say, Anselm of Canterbury, it is a purely ad hominem argument to say that Anselm was wrong because he agreed with Plato. The Truth is what is really important, not who said it. What matters is if divine simplicity is true. Divisibility and composition are imperfections of created things. God is neither imperfect nor created, and thus neither is he divisible or composed, which is the same is to say he is simple. This does not mean that we can fully comprehend what that means in an eternal Being, but we can at least use words like “simple” to describe it for purposes of theological discourse. I do not see why so many of my Orthodox brethren have such a (seemingly unfounded) problem with this doctrine, especially since the noncomposition of God’s being was taught just as much by the Greek Fathers as it was by the Latin. And even if we suppose that the Greek Fathers never taught it, does that mean we cast aside the testimony of the Latin Fathers? Aren’t they just as much “Fathers of the Church” as the Greeks?

    Peace,
    Drew

  45. Drew,
    The charge of Platonism is only to broad to be of use if there is no further specification of what about Platonism one has a problem with. Specifically, the problems that Fr. Maximus mentions. Platonism taught that distinction necessarily implies opposition (See book 3 of Plotinus’s Enneads), which is why they hold that there can be no real distinctions in God because there can be no opposition in the Godhead. Unfortunately from this west, this type of logic is dogmatically rejected by the Church throughout the Councils (particularly in the 6th by means of the theology of St. Maximus the Confessor).

    Also, the West does theology the same way as Neo-Platonists, by moving from the General to Particulars. Once again, the theological method of the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils rejects this method, instead starting with the particular and moving to the general. See the theology of St. Gregory of Nyssa especially to see a rejection of the Neo-Platonic order of theology.

    As for the Divine Simplicity, the eastern fathers mean something completely different than the western fathers. They believed simplicity was an energy of God, not a property of His essence. They rejected that God was composite, but they did not accept the Augustinian thesis that there were no real distinctions in God. They thought that God’s energies were really distinct from each other and God’s essence without introducing any opposition whatsoever. See St. Gregory of Nyssa’s “On Not Three Gods” to see him make the opposite move of St. Augustine in regards to the attributes of God and their relation to God’s essence (Augustine reasons that because God’s essence must be simple than the attributes must all really be one while Nyssa reasons that since all the energies are really many than they must not be God’s essence).

    In so far as the Theology of the Eastern Fathers (St. Athanasius, the Cappedocians, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. John of Damascus, etc.) is basically dogmatized in the Ecumenical councils, their theological positions hold more weight than St. Augustine or anyone who agrees with him in his mistakes (i’m not sure St. Hillary was as Augustinian as you think but I’m not the man to make this argument because I might get caught talking out of my rear). Not all Fathers are created equal so to speak. They’re all fathers, but the theology of some represents the opinion of the Church more. This is why we designate only three ecumenical teachers: St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzus, and St. John Chrysostom.

  46. ***Correction, when I say “western fathers” in paragraph 3, I only mean those fathers who are particularly in agreement with St. Augustine about Absolute Divine Simplicity (which is arguably not all of the Western Fathers).

  47. Hi Krause,

    You wrote,
    “The charge of Platonism is only to broad to be of use if there is no further specification of what about Platonism one has a problem with. Specifically, the problems that Fr. Maximus mentions. Platonism taught that distinction necessarily implies opposition (See book 3 of Plotinus’s Enneads), which is why they hold that there can be no real distinctions in God because there can be no opposition in the Godhead. Unfortunately from this west, this type of logic is dogmatically rejected by the Church throughout the Councils (particularly in the 6th by means of the theology of St. Maximus the Confessor).

    “Also, the West does theology the same way as Neo-Platonists, by moving from the General to Particulars. Once again, the theological method of the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils rejects this method, instead starting with the particular and moving to the general. See the theology of St. Gregory of Nyssa especially to see a rejection of the Neo-Platonic order of theology.”

    That the Middle- and Neo-Platonists seemed to have a particular fascination for “dyadic progression,” I cannot deny. I am not sure that the Neo-Platonists thought that all distinction necessarily implied opposition, though I would be interested in looking at any texts you know of. Regarding the theology of Neo-Platonists, the cogency of the latter half of your second statement turns on the precise meaning of the words “God” and “Godhead.” Do we limit these words to “the One,” or should they also be applied to the “Mind” and the “World-Soul?” If the Neo-Platonists denied any distinction in God, this would place them squarely at odds with the Latin Tradition and especially High Scholasticism, which vigorously asserted the real (and not merely rational) distinction between the divine persons by relations of origin, which are forms of mutual opposition (in the metaphysical, but not ethical, sense). One thing is certain, though: the Scholastics did not hold that all distinction was by way of opposition. In the Summa, St. Thomas discusses all sorts of distinction in the chapter on the divine simplicity that are non-oppositional, e.g., between genus and species, between actuality and potentiality, between essence and existence. As St. Thomas notes later in his Treatise on the Trinity, opposition is by definition a relation, but relations can only obtain in terms of quantity, or action and passion (Cf. Aristotle’s Categories). Thus, oppositional distinction does not even apply to the other eight categories of predication, according to the foremost representative of High Scholasticism. But, even if it could be shown that the Neo-Platonists and the High Scholastics held identical views of the Godhead, this would not prove that either was in fact wrong. The Latin Fathers and High Scholastics are not automatically wrong if they just happen to agree with a pagan philosopher. As I recall, St. Gregory the Theologian quotes Plato’s Timaeus in his Theological Orations. Regarding logic, the Church has no authority to “ban” forms of logical argument, only the content of specific propositions that turn out to be heretical (the specific form of the argument is irrelevant), and even if it did, no Ecumenical decree that I am of aware has ever stated that certain forms of reasoning were inherently sinful and ought not to be practiced. Moving “from the particular to the general” would, in essence, be basic inductive reasoning, and moving “from the general to the particular” would of course be deduction. Which form one chooses to use will depend on what one is specifically trying to demonstrate, the available evidence, the rhetorical situation, etc., and a perusal of the polemical works of both the Greek and Latin Fathers will show that both methods are employed with equal appropriateness, depending on the occasion. A plethora of examples of deductive reasoning can be found in St. Athanasius’s Contra Arianos, when he deduces the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father from the philosophical notion of generation as the production of like from like, and from the revealed truth that the Father generates the Son. There was no single theological method that all the Fathers uniformly used. The reality is that there was so much variety in how the Fathers theologized that the overall cohesiveness and coherence of what they taught from century to century is a sure testimony to the fact that the Church was being guided by the Spirit, as our Lord promised.

    You wrote:
    “As for the Divine Simplicity, the eastern fathers mean something completely different than the western fathers. They believed simplicity was an energy of God, not a property of His essence. They rejected that God was composite, but they did not accept the Augustinian thesis that there were no real distinctions in God. They thought that God’s energies were really distinct from each other and God’s essence without introducing any opposition whatsoever. See St. Gregory of Nyssa’s “On Not Three Gods” to see him make the opposite move of St. Augustine in regards to the attributes of God and their relation to God’s essence (Augustine reasons that because God’s essence must be simple than the attributes must all really be one while Nyssa reasons that since all the energies are really many than they must not be God’s essence).”
    I would refer you back to the post where it was argued that “properties” have an analogous (though not precisely identical) meaning in the West that “energies” do in the East. As I mentioned above, the West most certainly did accept real distinctions: those based on relations of origin. To deny that simplicity is a property only to say instead that it is an energy sounds like “x is not a, as you say; rather, x is a, as we say.” Since there’ve been already been plenty of Western theologians who have clearly stated that they intend something similar by their use of the word “property” for “energy,” to continue to act as if the West is hopelessly confused by virtue of not already being Eastern is a needless logomachy resulting in a non-sequitur. Now, the distinction between these energies the divine essence is another matter. There are plenty of ways for entities to be distinct. However, many forms of distinctions are a product of the finitude, temporality, and materiality of creaturely existence, which of course do not apply to God. If Eastern Orthodoxy wishes to see Roman Catholics (and Protestants) returned to her fold, then part of that “missionary” effort must include an attempt to frame Orthodox teaching in terms that will actually make sense to them. So far, the only way I know of to defend the Neopalamite view of the essence and energies (defended in the last century primarily by V. Lossky and J. Meyendorff) is to see the that distinction as formal, rather than real, in way proposed by St. John Duns Scotus. However, significant objections have been raised against the formal distinction, and at this point I am not convinced that these objections are answerable. There are some Orthodox theologians out there, like David Hart (a self-proclaimed Platonist), who do not believe that St. Gregory Palamas ever intended for his teaching on the divine energies to be understood to entail a real distinction between them and the divine essence (cf. The Beauty of the Infinite).

    In conclusion, I reiterate that it cannot be conclusively demonstrated that the High Scholastics were in fact Platonists, or that the Church has ever stated that deductive reasoning cannot be used in theological, or that the Church even has the authority to make such a decree. The Church may differ with the conclusions reached and declare them to be heretical, or differ with the argument itself on either material or formal grounds, but the Church has no authority to ban the use of reason, or honest investigation into legitimate theological issues.

    Peace,
    Drew

  48. Please forgive the typos…Sorry!

    Drew

  49. Drew,
    First of all, deductive arguments do not always move from the general to the particular and inductive arguments do not always move from the particular to the general. However, that’s beside the point because I wasn’t referring to types of arguments. The real problem with the Scholastics is that they treat theology as a science. They begin by discussing the essence of God and what it must be like based on their own discursive reason.

    This is quite contrary to the way the Fathers of the Holy Ecumenical Councils did theology. They started with persons, not with an abstract notion of an essence. Revelation is personal. We know about God through experiencing the personal activities of the Trinity, not by sitting in a room and thinking really hard about what a perfect being would be like. Go back and look at the way Athanasius, the Cappedocians and the rest of the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils reason to the Trinity. They observe the personal activities of the three, note the distinctness of the three, and the reason from the type of actions each is engaged in that each must be God (because these activities are all Divine Activities). Basically, scholastics are basing their “theology” on their own discursive reasoning and not on the Rule of Faith handed down by the apostles. Because God is hyperousia, we can’t have any knowledge of God’s essence in the first place so to start by talking about God’s essence is completely wrongheaded in the first place.

    I don’t know what you mean when you say “’properties’ have an analogous (though not precisely identical) meaning in the West that ‘energies’ do in the East.” However, I do know this, whatever you mean by the statement, I’m quite certain that the two views are not compatible (however “analogous”). I think Bradshaw does a good job of showing this in “Aristotle East and West.”

    We don’t think that the distinctions in God are due to our vantage point. They’re real. Hart is a platonist, that’s why his theology is heterodox. If the distinctions weren’t real than St. Maximus’s theology on free will in the eschaton couldn’t get off the ground (not too mention that the arguments against the arians, and eunomians, and the doctrine of theosis wouldn’t work if the distinctions aren’t real). By way of the Sixth Council, we have to believe the theology of Maximus to be Orthodox.

    I too would love to see Prots. and Catholics back in the fold, but I’m not going to forsake the faith handed down by our Fathers to do it. Protestants and Catholics are heretics. To enter into the Church, they must be catechized, they must abandon their heresies, and they must be Chrismated. Unity is not more important than the true faith handed down by the Fathers.

    Once again, the Church doesn’t ban deductive reasoning, it bans viewing theology as a science in which we can operate by reasoning from abstract notions about the perfection of God’s being. God is beyond all being, and we can have no knowledge whatsoever of His essence. Our theology is based on the revelation of the Personal God and theology must start from this personal revelation.

  50. Krause,

    I’m having trouble following your response. I’m seeing a lot red herrings, non sequiturs, and ambiguities in your argument that seems to be little more than fist-slamming. I mean no disrespect toward you personally, but I see little point in continuing this exchange since we seem to be talking past each other. I dealt with your objections in my previous posts so I’m not sure why they came up yet again. The Western doctrine of the divine essence is anything but “abstract” and follows the same apophatic procedure found in the Ps-Dionysius, which were (thanks to St. Maximus) received in the East as orthodox as much as in the West. To say that they based their doctrine of God on their “own discursive reasoning” (whatever that even means) is question-begging at best. If revelation truly “reveals” God, then it means we can have some knowledge of Him, and this means we can know something about his essence, even if it is by way of remotion and the resulting concept in our intellect is not proportionate to its object as a result of our finitude.

    Sorry,
    Drew

    BTW, I wasn’t aware that any Orthodox hierarchs had censured David Hart for heterodoxy.

  51. Drew,
    I don’t mean to disrespect you personally, but that’s a bunch of condescending bs. Listing off a bunch of fallacies without substantiating where they are is not responding. It’s really no better than name calling.

    I showed that your objections rested on misunderstandings of the argument not to mention that you didn’t respond the points about St. Gregory of Nyssa’s completely anti-Augustinian statements in “On Not Three Gods” or the point about the incompatibility with a Western View of Simplicity with St. Maximus’s doctrine of Free choice in the Eschaton.

    Your blog says you’ve read Bradshaw. You should see then how the scholastics completely misread Denys. Where are you getting the idea that they’re compatible? Where are you getting the idea that we should view the distinction between God’s essence and His energies as a formal distinction?

    If Hart and you are right, then I wonder what the heck the Barlamite controversy was about anyways?

    Sorry,
    Krause

    PS: Someone can be heterodox regardless of whether or not they are censured for it by any hierarchs. What makes them heterodox is departing from the faith of the Fathers, not a formal statement by their bishop.

  52. “But to the extent that this revelation is mediated by the Incarnation, our understanding of God’s love is still analogical. Christ’s example transforms our flawed human sense of the property into something closer to the divine paradigm, but at present we see only darkly, as through a mirror. Only in the eschaton will we see him face to face, and know him as we are known by him.”

    Scott,
    Sorry to bring things back to the actual post, but I’d appreciate it if you explained what you meant by this. It seems like one could read what you’re saying as we have only experienced something analogous to God in the Incarnation, but not actually God. So, we can’t directly experience God through Jesus? I might agree that our understanding of God’s love still isn’t perfect, but that seems to be a problem within us, not the Incarnation. Men experienced Divine realities through Christ. Yes? Or do you think that all Christ’s activities were merely human ones?

  53. Scott:

    Take the sense of “distinguish” which is such that p and q are distinguished only when p can exist without q and q can exist without p. If the doctrine of divine simplicity simply claims that the divine attributes cannot be distinguished in this sense, the doctrine becomes fairly uncontroversial, but also anemic. Of course God’s mercy cannot exist without God’s justice, and vice versa. But that isn’t all that the doctrine of divine simplicity says.

    That x cannot exist without y or y cannot exist without x (or even both) does not say that x and y are in any interesting way the same or identical. Maybe it’s impossible for a mountain to exist without a valley and for a valley to exist without a mountain. But it sure doesn’t follow from this that valleys and mountains are the same thing. Likewise, it is impossible for divine promises to exist without their fulfillments existing (at some time). But the promise and the fulfillment seem to be different.

    Maybe the best way to see that this kind of modal inseparability can’t be all the doctrine of divine simplicity claims is to imagine someone who says: “I think God is a really big rock. I also think God is completely simple.” It seems that the person has contradicted himself–rocks have parts, and a simple being doesn’t have parts. But the tricky fellow says: “Ah, but I also believe God is a necessary being, and all his parts are necessary beings. Consequently, it is a necessary truth that all the parts of the rock exist. Thus, if p and q are parts of this divine rock, then it is impossible that p exist without q and it is impossible that q exist without p, simply because it is impossible that q not exist and it is impossible that p not exist.” This fellow has clearly missed the point of the doctrine of divine simplicity–his deity has parts, even though these parts are necessary co-existent.

    Of course, there are serious difficulties with the questions about God’s love, justice and mercy. I think one can maintain that God’s love = God’s justice = God’s mercy, without maintaining that love = justice = mercy. I defend this here: http://AlexanderPruss.com/papers/On3ProblemsOfDivineSimplicity.html (a revised version of this has just come out in the first volume of the Oxford Studies in the Phil of Rel). Jeff Brower on his website has some papers defending–even more ably–basically the same view.

  54. […] Byzantine sense): God as what He necessarily is irrespective of what He does ad extra, according to the definition of the erudite Dr. Mike Liccione. No creature can see ES-1 for the simple reason that we cannot know God except as He acts on us. […]

  55. […] 1. True: (A) Being human (having human nature) entails being a person, i.e., all persons that are human beings must have a human nature. This is what Dr. Michael Liccione says. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: