A postscript

June 29, 2009

I wish to acknowledge publicly that my language towards Photios Jones in the exchange over my last post was intemperate and uncalled-for. I do not presume to know who is saved and who is damned; that is a judgment which belongs only to the Lord Jesus Christ to make. If I in fact believed that Mr. Jones were eternally reprobate, I would not pray for him, as I have done and shall continue to do. I do strongly reject his ecclesiastical position; but it may well be that the Lord will account him a more righteous man than myself. If he is in schism, it is possible that I am as well, and with less justification.

For some time now, I have come to think that Rome’s claims to Petrine authority are essentially legitimate. I also think that the Orthodox Church is a true Church, and in many ways preserves more of genuine Christian life and piety than I am able to perceive elsewhere. It has nurtured my life in Christ, and I am unwilling to leave it for something that I would only perceive as a pale substitute and that might leave me feeling spiritually lost. Such a position might be condemned as cowardly and hypocritical and inconsistent, and in fact is condemned as such by Photios Jones, and probably by others; but I hope that, at least, I have been up-front about it. I would like to see a union between the Churches, in truth and peace; I do not want to see a union that results in reducing the Orthodox Church to something it is not. I have thought that the approach John Bekkos took to this issue centuries ago deserves, at least, to be understood, and perhaps to be emulated.

Last year, around this time, I discontinued this blog for a period of several months; the thought has occurred now to do the same, or to hang it up altogether. I need to get a real job, and to finish this book on Bekkos; the discussions which I have had with Photios Jones, although they make for good spectator sport, are soul-destroying, and are largely a distraction from my real work. I will probably take some time off from the blog during the coming weeks; there is much sorting out of things I need to do. I ask the readers’ prayers.

22 Responses to “A postscript”

  1. vito Says:

    Dear Dr. Gilbert,

    Praying that you’ll enjoy satisfaction in your work and studies. The voices of those who yearn for the unity of the apostolic churches with such humility, knowledge and erudition are few and far between. I hope you’ll be posting again.


  2. sean Says:

    Dr Gilbert,

    I echo Vito’s comments.

    I never comment here, but your site is one I check daily. The ambivalence you describe above regarding the churches in one I share, but from the other side. Your field of scholarship is one (of the many) that I know very little about. I hope you will return at some point to continue to share what you’ve studied.

    Please take a look at this 8th century mural from Sta. Maria Antiqua in Rome where Greek saints and Latin saints flank the Lord: http://archeoroma.beniculturali.it/sar2000/sma/eng/zoom/history11.html


  3. photios Says:

    No hard feelings and I mean no ill will to you whatsoever. Forgive me if I have offended you whatsoever. I think it’s best that we not really engage each other at all–for our own good. The evidence of when we did discuss specifically the text in detail (Dionysios the Areopagite), showed precisely that there is no convergence between us (if at all). You are convinced of the legitimacy of Roman Catholic theology and I on the other hand am not (and rather think the opposite). I cannot go where you are going and you are not going where I am going. Best to live and let live.


  4. BJA Says:

    I agree with Vito and Sean. Yours is one of the few Orthodox blogs I can bear reading. I hope you continue to post; but if not, I suppose I’ll just have to wait to read your book on Bekkos. In any case, I do hope you leave the blog archives up.

    Also, I’d love to pick your brains about some things; is there any way that we could correspond by e-mail?

  5. evagrius Says:

    I’m disappointed that you feel the need to discontinue and perhaps even stop your blogging activity.
    There’s a dearth of websites regarding Christian theology that have an irenic, objective and scholarly tone.
    I’ve appreciated the information I’ve gleaned from your site and will certainly peruse the previous posts in order to deepen my scant knowledge of the history of theology, particularly Catholic/ Orthodox relations.
    It’s always much easier to be a contrarian than a unifier, ( my wife one told me that an anthropology professor stated there were two types of anthropologists; splitters and lumpers, ( those who see differences and those who see similarities betwen human societies)). Perhaps the same can be said with regards to theology.
    I’ve enjoyed your attempt, difficult as it is, to “lump” together Catholic and Orthodox theology.

  6. Veritas Says:


    Your decision to take time off(possibly altogether), while it does sadden me, really is something of a decision in which you know best. You know best your own spiritual situation, and your satisfaction with it; so, if time off is what you need, then I will surely pray for you; and ask that you do the same for me. It pleases me to know that, just maybe, some of those folks who read the majority of Orthodox blogs, have cast their eyes upon yours. It is certainly to their benefit, as it has been to mine. I do hope you at least keep up the archives; precisely because there are blogs like Photius’s — is the reason there is a real need for blogs like yours. But, of course, life has other things in mind sometimes, and I really do hope you finish your book; if your work is anything like what you have offered here, then I plan on buying a few copies to give out. In any case, I’d like to take the time now to say: Thank you for everything. And here’s hoping to the continuation of the blog. But, don’t forget about that book Mr. Gilbert! A lot of folks are looking forward to it. Good scholarship is one thing; good scholarship that can serve a higher purpose, is quite another.

    Peace to you and yours,


  7. bekkos Says:

    Just a note:

    I haven’t definitely decided to drop this blog; probably I won’t. But I do feel I need a break from theological disputation, which I have found to be detrimental to my spiritual health. Probably if I do post anything in the coming weeks, it will be on innocuous subjects, like trees, birds, insects, vegetables, and the like.

  8. Ben Mann Says:

    “It has nurtured my life in Christ, and I am unwilling to leave it for something that I would only perceive as a pale substitute and that might leave me feeling spiritually lost.”

    Am I wrong to interpret that as a dig, if not a malicious one, at the Eastern Catholic Churches? If so, I have to wonder whether a “pale substitute” is a just and adequate description of us.

    We are not, it is true, the Eastern Orthodox. Those who try to maintain that pretense usually find it painful, and opt in the long run for communion with Constantinople-Moscow. I empathize with them.

    We are what we are– Eastern and Catholic. We experience the feeling of being virtual “children of divorce”, and being the image of the one undivided Church, often simultaneously. We bear a burden.

    What we are is not optimal; but what is? I maintain that it is legitimate, and a better basis for eventual full union than endless ecumenical gamesmanship, especially of the modern(ist) sort.

    The Union of Florence –whatever anyone’s opinion may be as a scholar, priest, layman, or even bishop– is a dead letter within Eastern Orthodoxy. It survives among us. That is the fact of the matter.

    Maybe we should discuss this issue privately in one way or another. Plus, I just started work at Barnes and Noble! It’d be good to confer to you about all manner of stuff.

    In Christ,
    Ben Mann

  9. bekkos Says:

    Hello, Mr. Mann.

    It certainly was not meant as a dig. It was simply meant to state my perception that, were I to become an Eastern Catholic, I would undoubtedly feel spiritually homesick. That is not, I think, malicious, nor a denial of anyone’s ecclesiastical legitimacy. Nor is it necessarily an ultimate rationale for not becoming Eastern Catholic. But it is an honest perception, and, if it disagrees with an Eastern Catholic’s self-perception, I can’t help that. It is a recognition that, although there are various forms of Eastern Catholicism, with some of them closer in liturgical practice and spiritual discipline to the Orthodox Church and some further apart, it is, on the whole, a tertium quid; as you say, it is not Eastern Orthodoxy, and those who try to maintain that pretense usually find it painful. My sense is that, having lived as a Greek Orthodox Christian for 50 years, I would find not being one exceedingly painful. That is, essentially, all I meant.

    I would be very glad to correspond by e-mail; you know my address.


  10. Peter,

    I have no email for you so I will deposit my inquiry here. You referred to a statement by or from Palamas on superior and inferior deities.

    Is this from a document he wrote or something reported by others? In either case, where is the text located and can you provide either the text or a translation of the offending passage or both

    This would prove helpful. Thanks.

  11. bekkos Says:


    The “superior” and “inferior” Godhead language comes from Gregory Palamas’s Third Letter to Akindynos. This letter was first edited by Meyendorff in the 1950’s (“Une lettre inédite de Grégoire Palamas à Akindynos,” Θεολογία 24 [1953], 557-582), and a second edition of it was later published by Juan Sergio Nadal, as was noted in a comment to an earlier post by evagrios (“La rédaction première de la troisième lettre de Palamas à Akindynos,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 40 [1974], 233-285 [actual text of the letter: pp. 250-256]). I haven’t yet seen either of these. I do have the text of the letter in vol. I of Γρηγορίου τοῦ Παλαμᾶ Συγγράματα (Thessalonica 1962), pp. 296-312; this reprints the text of Meyendorff’s edition. Because I have not yet read Nadal’s article, I am not yet clear on what his criticisms of Meyendorff’s earlier edition are.

    Meyendorff’s edition does preserve the following passage:

    Ἔστιν ἄρα θεότης ὑφειμένη κατὰ τοὺς θεοσόφους θεολόγους, ὡς κἀνταῦθ᾽ εἶπεν ὁ μέγας Διονύσιος, ἡ θέωσις, δῶρον οὖσα τῆς ὑπερκειμένης οὐσίας τοῦ θεοῦ.

    “There is, therefore, an inferior Godhead according to the theologians who are wise in God, as the great Dionysios here states — namely, deification, which is a gift of God’s superior essence.” (Op. cit., p. 306, lines 18-20.)

    Just before this, Palamas had cited some passages from the Pseudo-Dionysius’s On the Divine Names 11.6 and his Letter to Gaius. He sees these passages, which speak of “the One who is superior to goodness and to divinity,” and of “divinity itself” as the name of “that gift which grants … divinity to created beings,” as refuting Barlaam’s claim that his own teaching is ditheistic; in effect he says that, if I am being ditheistic, so is St. Dionysios.

    Anyway, that is, I’m pretty sure, the passage in question, that seems to have elicited Akindynos’s frequent accusation that Palamas’s real distinction in God between essence and energies entails an “inferior” and a “superior Godhead,” and that Palamas himself employs such language.


  12. MG Says:


    That is an interesting quotation from St. Gregory. But I wonder if something along the following lines is true. The Father is greater than the Son according to person because the Father is the cause and source of the Son. Any chance that the same is going on here–namely that St. Gregory Palamas means that the energies are of/from the essence? So saying that the essence is superior would then just mean that the divine essence is the source of the energies and therefore beyond the energies. Does that seem plausible?

  13. bekkos Says:


    That St. Gregory Palamas sees the divine energies as being of/from the essence, and sees this being of/from as analogous to the Son’s being from the Father and caused by the Father, I do not doubt; he says so very often, and in various ways. What I do doubt is that that is the way the fathers of the Church, who wrote at a time when there was communion between the Churches of East and West, understood the relationship between God’s being and activity. Their general way of stating this relationship either presupposes some form of metaphysical simplicity or states this simplicity in express terms. When they state this metaphysical simplicity in express terms, it seems to me that their language is hard to reconcile with that of St. Gregory Palamas. I have mentioned things St. Cyril of Alexandria says; I could have presented many other statements of the fathers to the same effect, e.g., Didymus the Blind says that, in simple natures, being and activity do not differ; St. Maximus says similar things, as do St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa. It should be pointed out, furthermore, that many of the fathers’ explicit statements regarding divine simplicity were directed against the theology of Eunomius of Cyzicus, who, in the fourth century, taught a real, metaphysical distinction between divine essence and divine energy as a way of asserting that the Son, as a product of divine energy, is less than fully God; the fathers saw divine simplicity as a way of opposing that claim and a way of asserting that, in the Son, there is a genuine revelation of God the Father.

    Part of the difficulty of interpreting the fathers’ language about essence and energy is that the term “energy,” as many of the fathers pointed out, is ambiguous. St. John of Damascus gives three meanings of the term: it signifies either active power, or activity itself, or the product of the activity (PG 95, 172C); St. Anastasius of Antioch says basically the same thing (PG 89, 1332C). When St. Basil, in his Letter 234, says that God’s energies come down to us, but his essence remains beyond our reach, Palamas interprets this text as an assertion of a metaphysical, real distinction in God; I am virtually certain that that is a misreading of the text. What Basil means is that we know God by the effects of his activity, i.e., by his works. “We say that we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His providence over us, and the justness of His judgment; but not His very essence” (ep. 234.1); “But in our belief about God, first comes the idea that God is. This we gather from His works. For, as we perceive His wisdom, His goodness, and all His invisible things from the creation of the world, so we know Him” (ep. 235.1). There is no assertion here of a real, metaphysical distinction in God between being and activity; there is an assertion that we know God, to the extent that we know him, by his works. That is a claim St. Thomas Aquinas would have been very comfortable with; in fact, it is exactly what he says, over and over again.

    Since you have asked me a question, I will ask you one in return. In the case of Father and Son, although there is a metaphysical distinction between them, insofar as they are distinct persons, there is also, in Christian dogma, a metaphysical unity. The unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit consists in the fact that they share, and are, one single divine essence. If you are going to postulate a parallel metaphysical distinction in God between essence and energy, and if you are going to claim that this real difference in God does not result in ditheism, then please tell me what is the metaphysical basis of the unity of the energies with the essence that is “beyond” them. For, on the analogy with the persons of the Trinity, one would think that you were assuming some third thing, some super-essence, in which both essence and energies share, to account for their unity. And is the assertion of such a “super-essence,” distinct from the “essence,” traditional Christian doctrine, or some new form of gnosticism?


  14. Peter,

    When St. Maximus says that there are two energies in Christ, do you mean him to say that metaphysically, there are two natures in Christ and no more? Are essence and energy in Christ identical or the same as is the case with your reading of essence and energy in the Trinity? If this were so, then it should not have been conceptually possible for imperial monoenergists to affirm two wills but only one act of willing, but they did and to my knowledge of the source material there was no fault line there in terms of argument that they were committing some kind of logical error.

    As for Thomas, are the works of God deity?

    Eunomius takes energy to be really distinct in terms of being separable and extrinsically related to an essence. All activities for Eunomius are what Barnes has designated as secondary activities. So to say against Eunomius that essence and energy do not differ is a statement affirming energies as primary activities which bear an intrinsic relation to the essence. This is why Cyril can say both that essence and energy do not differ and that they are not the same without contradiction. Can Thomas say that?

  15. bekkos Says:


    I asked MG a question; it seems to me that, by not replying to that question, and by asking a number of other ones, you are trying to divert the discussion.


  16. Peter,

    I thought my questions were quite germane to the status of an energy. So no, I am trying to focus the discussion. One’s terminology should be consistent between triadology and christology.

    I will try to answer your quesiton directly, what is the basis of the energies with respect to the essence directly. My understanding in brief turns on the distinction between 1st actuality and 2nd actuality, an actual as yet unactualized power and a power brought to actualization, in this case by the divine persons. That seems sufficient to ground the actualization of the divine power in the divine essence without postulating any kind of separation between the essence and the activities while maintaining that the divine power qua 1st actuality is not exhausted or completely exemplified in the acts. Hence the divine power is still huperousia.

    That seems to me how Nyssa thinks of it and it forms a, if not the, hinge upon which his criticism of Eunomius turned. Of course my reading could be wrong but then I wouldn’t be alone in the misreading since Barnes (a Catholic btw) takes the same read. So here I have made a good faith attempt to address your question head on and directly. If you think it doesn’t map on to our question or doesn’t address the problem, please point out to me where you think it does not do so.

    In any case, if Palamas is wrong and THomas is correct, then the denial of a robust metaphysical distinction between essence and energy wlll have to be consistent with the Christology of Maximus in affirming not only two natures but two activities in Christ. If you think that it is, maybe you could sketch for me how your position can affirm two activities in Christ as exemplified in the prayer of Christ in the Passion where he wills by and in his human power of choice not to go to the cross yet without sin and without opposition to the divine will?

    Can Thomas say that? How do you take Thomas to read the prayer in the Garden along with John 6:38?

    In short, if Maximus is right and Thomas can’t say (not merely doesn’t) what Maximus says about the prayer and dual energies, then this seems to me to be a very strong reason for thinking that Palamas is right. I haven’t read everything of Thomas and I haven’t read all works by Thomists, but I haven’t read anything that looks like what Maximus says.

    Now, I have addressed your question, can you be kind enough to aadress mine?

  17. bekkos Says:


    Thanks, that goes some way towards answering my question, although it still seems to me that the basic point of it — that, if you take God’s essence and God’s energy/energies as two things, really existing and differing from each other, on the analogy of the persons of the Father and the Son, you then require some third thing to ground their unity — is not really addressed. The way you approach it is to assert a differentiation between first actuality and second actuality. On a first reading, what I took you to mean by “first actuality” was that, in the case where activity is essential, no explanation of the unity of essence and energy is required. If that is what you did mean, this would raise the question of how essence and energy are really distinct in this case, since, here, energy is completely essential and essence and energy do not have any separate existence. There is a “notional” distinction here, not a “real” one. On a second reading, however, it appears that that is perhaps not what you mean by “first actuality.”

    The term “first actuality” recalls a passage in Aristotle. In On the Soul, book II, ch. 1, Aristotle, in the process of arriving at a definition of “soul,” says:

    ”Now the word actuality has two senses corresponding respectively to the possession of knowledge and the actual exercise of knowledge. It is obvious that the soul is actuality in the first sense, viz. that of knowledge as possessed, for both sleeping and waking presuppose the existence of soul, and of these waking corresponds to actual knowing, sleeping to knowledge possessed but not employed, and, in the history of the individual, knowledge comes before its employment or exercise. That is why soul is the first grade of actuality of a natural body having life potentially in it.”

    A closer look at what you say leads me to think that, when you define “first actuality” as “an actual as yet unactualized power,” you have something like this passage in mind. I’ll quote what seems your essential statement:

    ”My understanding in brief turns on the distinction between 1st actuality and 2nd actuality, an actual as yet unactualized power and a power brought to actualization, in this case by the divine persons. That seems sufficient to ground the actualization of the divine power in the divine essence without postulating any kind of separation between the essence and the activities while maintaining that the divine power qua 1st actuality is not exhausted or completely exemplified in the acts. Hence the divine power is still huperousia.”

    The first question that this raises for me is, how does this notion of “first actuality” differ at all from potentiality? It supposes an actual power that is potential in its employment, like the rationality of a sleeping man. It seems to me one gets into real problems if one attempts to apply such a notion of actuality to God; whatever God’s activity is like, it is not like that of a sleeping man who has to wake himself up (in spite of Psalm 44:23).

    As I have pointed out in an earlier discussion, St. Maximus the Confessor (Quaestiones et dubia, q. 104) says that God, unlike other things, is not composed of essence and quality, that is, of essence and potentiality. And St. Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium book IX, opposes Eunomius’s claim that “God has dominion over His own power,” in a way that makes me think that your distinction between actualized and unactualized power in God cannot be what he has in mind:

    ”’God,’ he says, ‘has dominion over His own power.’ Tell me, what is He? over what has He dominion? Is He something else than His own power, and Lord of a power that is something else than Himself? Then power is overcome by the absence of power. For that which is something else than power is surely not power, and thus He is found to have dominion over power just in so far as He is not power. Or again, God, being power, has another power in Himself, and has dominion over the one by the other. And what contest or schism is there, that God should divide the power that exists in Himself, and overthrow one section of His power by the other…. Such is Eunomius’ God: a being with a double nature, dividing Himself against Himself, having one power out of harmony with another….” (NPNF ii.5, p. 212.)

    That is to say, if God is a being with potentiality, then he needs to actualize this potentiality by some other part of himself that is already actual. It seems quite clear to me that St. Gregory of Nyssa, in this passage, rejects such a division in God between the actual and the potential.

    You maintain that, unless there is such a reservoir of unused power in God, power not yet really actualized, then God ceases to be “huperousia.” Let me try to decipher what you are saying, because it is not entirely self-evident. One might read it to mean that, if God is entirely actual, then he cannot do anything else than he is already doing; he is unable to change. Well, it is a basic Christian theological postulate that God in fact does not change, although the effects of his activity, the world and all that is in it, are in constant motion and flux; this claim is so common in the Bible and the fathers that it hardly requires documentation; about the only people who deny it are process theologians. God’s not changing is not a defect or lack of being, but, on the contrary, it is an expression of his overflowing plenitude of being. As even Plato knew, if God changed, it would mean a change from what is best to something worse; on that point, the fathers agreed with him. — The fathers even maintain this divine unchangeableness in the face of what might seem to be the most pointed exception to it, i.e., the incarnation of the Son of God. If you expect a clear metaphysical explanation from me of how it can be that the Son of God, while taking on human nature and undergoing birth, youth, growth into manhood, passion, death, and resurrection, does not change in any way, nor is he changed in any way now that he has ascended into heaven and is seated, in his humanity, at the right hand of God the Father, then you expect something from me that I have never professed any ability to deliver; as a faithful Christian, I accept both Christ’s unchangeableness in his divinity and his changeableness in his humanity, and I acknowledge that the subject of all of Christ’s actions and experiences is the one divine hypostasis of the Son of God; but I have never claimed that this is a mystery that I have fathomed, and I rather think that those who boast of having fathomed such things and profess to be able to explain them have deeply deceived themselves. On the whole, when I try to give an account of such things, I do so by bearing in mind that God and man, the infinite and the finite, the eternal and the temporal are not “things” that can be put in the same scale and measured one against the other. They are strictly incomparable; as St. Gregory the Theologian says somewhere, “If God is, man is not” — not that he wants to deny the reality of either God or man, but he stresses that the meaning of “being” in the two cases is in no way univocal. As they are strictly incomparable with each other, so their co-presence in the one person of the God-Man is not contradictory, but an unfathomable mystery.

    Because I am not well-read in the Third Part of St. Thomas’s Summa Theologica, where he discusses christology, it would be premature of me to attempt to give a definitive answer to your question of how he reconciles Jesus’ statement, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me,” with his prayer in the Garden, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (although Jesus adds, immediately after this, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt”; he essentially says this twice, Matthew 26:39, 42). Given that Jesus qualifies his prayer in Gethsemane in the way he does, it is unclear to me what there really is in these passages that needs reconciliation; both at John 6 and at Matthew 26 and parallels, Jesus conforms his own will to the will of the Father and nevertheless acknowledges that, as human, he would rather avoid the painful death of the Cross. At ST III, q. 15, art. 7, Aquinas asks whether there was fear in Christ. He answers yes, but, as usual, he makes a distinction; there was not fear in him in the sense of uncertainty about the future event; but there was indeed fear in him in the sense of having a natural appetite to shrink from bodily hurt.

    I suppose that, in saying this, I am simply missing your point. You seem to think that an assertion of divine simplicity militates against the reality of Christ’s having two natural wills, a human one and a divine one. I guess I fail to see that, any more than I see why divine simplicity should militate against the reality of his being born and dying. As to why Aquinas thinks Christ’s human hesitation in the Garden does not amount to sin, read ST III, q. 15, art. 1.

    Probably that is enough of a reply, and, in any case, I need to go cook supper.


  18. evagrius Says:

    A fascinating discussion.

    I think the “problem” with the above discussion is that we humans have a problem in how we think, that is, we often mistake the concepts we form about reality or esperience for reality or experience itself. We take those concepts to be the final true expression of reality or experience when, in actuality, they are provisional in the sense that the reality or experience far excceds the concepts.

    This is where all the disputes originate.

  19. MG Says:


    My purpose in asking you the question was this. It seemed like you were making a rather big deal out of the fact that Palamas says the essence is superior. If he means only the essence is fully God and not the energies, and that the energies fail to manifest deity, then that would be a big deal. But on my proposed interpretation, the text is fairly innocuous. Perhaps Palamas is saying something that is no more troubling than any statement that the Father is greater than the Son. If there is reason to think that Palamas means something *troubling* by saying the essence is greater, then that’s a big deal; but if my interpretation is possible, then it seems to dissolve the suspicion that Palamas is saying something questionable. Would you deny that my interpretation is possible?

    Concerning your patristic sources: when Didymus and others say that “in simple natures, being and activity do not differ”, I am wondering three things:

    1. Does being here mean “actuality” or “essence”? Surely any Palamite would be comfortable with saying that the energies of God (and of creatures too) are actuality. It is saying essence and energy *are numerically identical* that is problematic.

    2. What is meant by “do not differ”? Does it mean “they are not opposite, cut-off, seperable things” or “they are numerically identical (one and the same exact specific thing)”? Difference can mean either “opposition, disagreement, disharmony, seperation, incompatibility” or “distinction, multiplicity, otherness, non-identity” but these two sets of respectively interdefinable terms do not express the same concept. A Palamite can be very comfortable with saying there is no difference between essence and energies in the sense that there is no “opposition, disagreement, disharmony, seperation, incompatibility”. But this does not imply that there is no “distinction, multiplicity, otherness, non-identity” between essence and energy.

    3. What are the “simple natures” referred to? Is it just talking about God, or are other things included? If other things are included, this would have significant implications for how these texts are interpreted.

    I thought that Eunomious’ problem was that he saw the energies of God as extrinsic to and cut-off from the essence of God—not that he saw a distinction. Wouldn’t he have in fact said the very things that you say—that the essence of God is absolutely simple, and his “workings” are created things related to him extrinsically?

    In answering Eunomious, the Fathers don’t seem to deny that there is a distinction between essence and energy. They seem to protect the deity of the Son by asserting that He is not a product of the activity of the divine essence, but has his source in the Person of the Father, with whom He shares all natural activities. The simplicity the Fathers seem to teach is the *complete, undiluted, non-composite* deity of each and every one of God’s activities. Each aspect of God is fully divine. This take on simplicity harmonizes the simplicity texts with the texts about the multiplicity of energies, doing violence to neither. It also seems to be what St. John of Damascus explicitly states simplicity is. Your way of interpreting the energies is problematic because it seems to go against the fact that the “workings” that the Fathers identify as divine seem to be aspects of God himself, not creatures. Furthermore, what you say calls into question the possibility of deification, a free creation, and the non-identity of God’s will and his knowledge (which is necessary in order for there to be free choice).

    In the patristic texts you cite, it seems to me like greatness, power, wisdom, goodness, providence, and judgment are uncreated, and therefore are aspects of God; they do not seem to be creatures of God. Furthermore, if these things “come down to us”, then surely it is possible to perceive them. It is interesting, also, that Basil speaks of “all His invisible things”, implying a multiplicity. This seems to get distinguished from “the creation of the world” which is *where* we perceive these things “from”. Sure seems like the “works” of God here are his *workings/actions*, not the *things he works on/his creations* (though in other contexts, “works” can mean his creations, the things he works on).

    I would see the essence as what unifies the distinct energies, and both essence and energies (nature) as what unify the Persons. The fact that the energies and essence are distinct does not seem to require a third unifying principle, any more than the distinction between my soul’s powers and its activities requires a third unifying principle. Why think that my intellect and its activity of thought need a unifying principle? And if they do not require such a principle, why does God need a principle to unify his powers and acts? Perhaps my intellect needs something to activate it and use its powers to act (namely me, the person) but it does not need a unifying principle with its actions.

    And if you say “any two distinct things need a principle of unity”, I would ask, “are the Father and his essence distinct? What unifies them?” Your worry seems to me to result in an infinite regress (“what unifies the essence to the unifying principle, and what unifies the unifying principle to the Father?”, etc., etc., etc. turtles all the way down).

  20. evagrius Says:

    There’s quite a bit of discussion on EP about St. Cyril on simplicity, most of which is just verbal coneptual jousting.

    Perhaps there should be an examination of the tetralemma and its application to all of these questions.


    Apply this to simplicity or the essence/ energy distinction.

  21. I want to advance a conceptual argument I’ve adumbrated before, rather than get bogged down in the interpretation of what various writers between the 4th and 13th centuries “really” meant, which I don’t think will ever be fully resolved.

    The phrase ‘divine essence’ taken in a roughly Byzantine sense means ‘what-God-is-irrespective-of-what-God-does’. Given such usage, the divine essence must always be both distinct from the divine energies and unknowable in itself by any creature. The essence must be distinct from the energies because, as Perry says, the latter do not “exhaust” the former. They are contingent in a specific sense: they are only one set among a much wider set of possible manifestations of the essence and are free as opposed to uniquely determined by the divine essence. Accordingly, the essence is unknowable in itself by any creature, because creatures can only know God through the divine energies. And the essence so understood contains unrealized potentialities.

    If, however, we take ‘divine essence’ in a roughly Latin sense, it means ‘what-God-eternally-and-unalterably-is’. Thus the divine “energies” or activities belong to the essence, since they are eternal and unalterable and, ex hypothesi, fully manifest whatever God is “beyond” them. In conjunction with ADS, that entails that God is actus purus and has no unrealized potentialities. So how can the two perspectives be reconciled?

    Perry et al think they can’t be, on the ground that the Latin perspective is incompatible with God’s freedom in creating, which the West affirms as well as the East. But the christology held in common shows that inference to be mistaken.

    East and West both profess that the Son or Logos is fully incarnate, and thus fully revealed, in the person of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it is logically possible that the Son have incarnated himself as a different man. Yet if the Son is fully revealed in Jesus Christ, then full manifestation in a single person must be compatible with a wider range of logically possible manifestations in other, single persons. If that is true on the level of the Incarnation, there is no reason to deny that it is also true at the level of creation too. In other words, from the fact that the divine activity or energies are not the only logically possible ones, given the “divine essence” in the Byzantine sense, it does not follow that the divine energies fail to manifest fully the divine essence in the Byzantine sense. All that follows is that there is a logically possible range of full manifestations.

    If that is so, then God’s being actus purus is compatible with the possibility that God’s energies might, in a logical sense of ‘might’, have been otherwise. And if that is so, then ADS as a negative property is also compatible with divine freedom. ADS simply means that God is not composed of any sort of parts, which is affirmed by both East and West. ADS must be affirmed because, if God were composed of any sort of parts, then something other than God would be necessary to account for the parts’ interrelations within the whole, which would be incompatible with divine aseity.

    ADS so understood is nonetheless compatible with affirming, in an analogical sense, some sort of plurality in God, such as the Persons of the Trinity or the essence/energies distinction. I say ‘analogically’ because such plurality cannot be thought to be numerical plurality, on pain of tritheism in the case of the Trinity. There are not three Gods; rather, three persons are each the same God. In the case of essence/energies, the energies are only notionally distinct from each other, and neither severally nor collectively are they numerically distinct from the divine essence.

  22. MG Says:

    Dr. Liccione–

    Which Eastern Christians teach that the Son is fully manifest in the person of Christ, and could have been manifested in other, single persons? Is this a conciliar teaching, a teaching of the fathers, or something else?

    I’m not an expert on ADS, but as it has been articulated by all its adherents in the West, doesn’t it amount to more than just the claim that there are no parts in God? It seems like the denial of parts is divine simplicity, which both sides affirm; it is uncontroversial. *Absolute* simplicity (it seems the West says) is more than just that; it entails an identification of all of God’s qualities with each other. Even if we refer to it by a different name than ADS, isn’t there a view in Western theology (I take it to be the dominant view) that identifies all of God’s qualities with each other, denying there is any real distinction between them? (hence Suarez’s use of the distinction between the divine attributes as an example of a distinction of reasoned reason)

    I don’t think the East is okay with saying the energies are notionally distinct; they are really distinct, not just in our minds. It sure seems like notional distinction isn’t enough to explain real divine freedom either. After all, if God’s energies couldn’t have been *really* different, then God isn’t *really* free (because his being powerful and creator would be the same thing, etc.). And if God’s qualities are only notionally distinct, they are not *really* different. Do you agree that there has to be a real distinction for God to be really free?

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