On the Eastern distinction between God’s essence and energies

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by SebastianClinciuJJ, Apr 13, 2019.

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  1. SebastianClinciuJJ

    SebastianClinciuJJ Puritan Board Freshman

    I recently had a discussion with an Eastern Orthodox priest on Hesychasm. The theology behind this practice made me think about the distinction between God’s essence and His energies, very important in Eastern Orthodox thought.

    One of the most important eastern theologian that defended this concept is Gregory Palamas. In the 14th the hesychast controversy aroused, in which Gregory Palamas stood up for this practice and taught the distinction mentioned above.

    Some say that it contradicts the western view of divine simplicity. What is the Reformed position in this controversy?

    Blessings in Christ,
    Sebastian


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  2. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    It contradicts the view of extreme Thomist simplicity, which I reject anyway. You'll find elements of it in the Cappadocians (Basil Letter 234).

    Michael Horton tried to use some of it but I dont' think he really got what it was talking about. Letham discusses it.

    My main problem with it is the claim that we relate to God only by the energies (since the essence is completely unknowable). The problem is that we relate to God via Jesus in the Holy Spirit. But that gets tricky, too. EO have some really good discussions on personhood, but they note that personhood is largely undefinable. So is essence. So we are left with a lot of agnosticism.

    So I disagree with it, but it's a lot better option than Thomism.
     
  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    There is a sense in which speaking of God's energies is quite legitimate. John of Damascus, whom Thomas Aquinas never got to read in the Greek, was very precise on this point. This is necessary for all good Christology (and I think Al Kimel for the relevant texts)

    From Book III of On the Orthodox Faith:

    One must know that operation (energia) is one thing, what is operative (energetikon) another, that which is operated (energema) another, and yet another the operator (energon). Operation, then, is the efficient and essential (ousiodes) motion of the nature (physeos). And that which is operative is the nature (physis) from which the operation proceeds. The operated is the effect of the operation. And the operator is the person (hypostasis) who performs the operation. (III.15, translation mine)

    There is much to note here but let’s focus on the four-fold distinction between

    1. energia
    2. energetikon
    3. energema
    4. energon
    Energia is the fecund activity proceeding from the energetikon, the potent nature which by its energetic activity produces energema, the offspring it brings forth into being. All this is done by the will of the energon, the hypostatic subsistence of the energetikon. We could summarize John to say in short, without losing too much in translation, that ‘a person’s essence activates essential energy which proceeds and thereby produces effects.’
     
  4. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Not sure I understand but it seems to be analogous to Dr. Horton's use of speech act theory. He's a reformed thinker but some criticize him for this. He does seem to link the two (speech act theory and the essence/energies distinction). But as an acetic practice, it seems weird and I don't see how it violates divine simplicity.
     
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    It doesn't violate divine simplicity. All Christians hold to some form of it. It rejects Thomist divine simplicity, and here's how. It maintains (correctly, I think) that Christians (in eternity for everyone) will see the uncreated light of God. Thomas is clear, though, that we cannot see the essence or share in it, since that would make us God. At best we will see and share in a created similitude.
     
  6. SebastianClinciuJJ

    SebastianClinciuJJ Puritan Board Freshman

    So it is safe to say that Palamism is right on this point?


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  7. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Only on this point. Obviously, I don't think it is a wise idea to practice their breathing techniques while chanting the Jesus Prayer so that you can see the divine light. That just doesn't seem like the way Jesus promised to meet with us.
     
  8. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    The only light of God we will see is the manifestation of The Son in my opinion. So if one thinks one will see the unveiled glory of God (light) how much will one see? Seems to me even the angels hide their faces in such situations. :)
     
  9. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    I have to say that even in glory we will still only experience God through some, albeit much greater than now, mediated form.
     
  10. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Jesus is the unveiled glory. In any case, I am pushing back against the idea that we will only see a created similitude.

    2 Cor. 3:18. Veil is taken away. Unveiled glory.
    2 Cor. 4. We have the light of the knowledge
     
  11. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't know what "seeing" an essence even means. It's a problem created by scholastics. I mean, I can't even see the essence of an apple. That's why the NT is more concerned about the person of Jesus than abstracting some unseen essence.
     
  12. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I would say we can only see the created similitude. For no one can see God (The uncreated nature) and live.
     
  13. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Is Jesus a created similitude?
     
  14. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I suppose we would have to define similitude within the hypostatic union of Jesus....right?
     
  15. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Yes but even in innocence Adam and Eve only "saw" God by walking with him. Hence he took on a finite form to interact with creation. We can assume that heaven will be no different, yet greater in quality. We cannot in this life know what that that will be.

    BTW this finite form in no way compromises his essence. But the essence/energies distinction seems analogous to the Creator/creature, archetypal/ectypal, distinction. Perhaps just different "emphases".
     
  16. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    The answer was supposed to be "no." Jesus is a divine person, not a created thing.

    I'll grant that we don't see the divine essence in heaven. The reason being is that you can't see the essence of any particular thing. An essence (or rather, a substance) is a property-bearer. I can see the properties of the essence of bread, for example, but I can't see breadness.
     
  17. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    So what exactly do you mean by saying we can see beyond the created similitude?
     
  18. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I never said that, since I don't buy into Thomist metaphysics, which means I don't need a created hologram of God. I see Jesus. Plain and simple.
     
  19. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I really doubt Thomas thought such.
     
  20. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Obviously he didn't use the word hologram, but he was really clear that we don't see/participate in the essence of God. He was right. On his strict view of simplicity, that would entail our being absorbed into the essence.That's why he posited a created similitude. Boersma's book on the Beatific Vision documents some of the difficulties Thomas had on this point.
     
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  21. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I can see where this could happen. In that in my opinion The Beatific Vision discussed in many instances treads into some type of tritheism.
     
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