“Yet they did not see the pure light itself nor the pure essence itself. What they saw was a condescension accommodated to their nature.”

Let us call upon him, then, as the ineffable God who is beyond our intelligence, invisible, incomprehensible, who transcends the power of mortal words. Let us call on him as the God who is inscrutable to the angels, unseen by the Seraphim, inconceivable to the Cherubim, invisible to the principalities, to the powers, and to the virtues, in fact, to all creatures without qualification, because he is known only by the Son and the Spirit. …

Therefore, let us call upon “the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no human being has ever seen nor can see. To him be honor and power forever Amen.” These are not my words. Paul spoke them. … However, he did not say: “Who dwells in incomprehensible light,” but: “in unapproachable light,” and this is much stronger than “incomprehensible.” A thing is said to be incomprehensible when those who seek after it fail to comprehend it, even after they have searched and sought to understand it. A thing is unapproachable which, from the start, cannot be investigated nor can anyone come near to it. We call the sea incomprehensible because, even when divers lower themselves into its waters and go down to a great depth, they cannot find the bottom. We call that thing unapproachable which, from the start, cannot be searched out or investigated. …

But to let you know that God is unapproachable not only for men but also for the powers above, listen to what Isaiah says. … “And it came to pass in the year in which King Isaiah died that I saw the Lord sitting on a high and lofty throne, and the Seraphim stood round about him. Each one had six wings; with two they covered their faces and with two they covered their feet. Why, tell me, do they stretch forth their wings and cover their faces? For what other reason than they cannot endure the sparkling flashes nor the lightning which shines from the throne? Yet they did not see the pure light itself nor the pure essence itself. What they saw was a condescension accommodated to their nature. What is this condescension? God condescends whenever he is not seen as he is, but in the way one incapable of beholding him is able to look upon him. In this way God reveals himself by accommodating what he reveals to the weakness of vision of those who behold him.

St John Chrysostom

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4 Responses to “Yet they did not see the pure light itself nor the pure essence itself. What they saw was a condescension accommodated to their nature.”

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Where is this from? Not homily 18 on 1 Timothy (with which it is interesting to compare it).

    And how does it sit with Palamite “Hesychasm”?

    Would St. John (and St. Gregory) say that the Jesus Christ Our True God never (according to His Humanitas) saw Himself as Son (according to His Divinitas: except ‘Energetically’ – if that’s a term)?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      The passage is from Homily 3 of St John’s homilies on the incomprehensible nature of God.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      David, I’m afraid I do not know the answer to your second question. I doubt they ever posed the question you ask.

      Regarding Palamism, clearly both the early Fathers and the hesychasts confessed the incomprehensibility of the divine nature, but it’s been two years since I read these homilies and I’m hesitant to offer an opinion on whether John approaches the Palamite distinction.

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