The Essence/Energies Distinction and the Myth of Byzantine Illogic

by Fr Christiaan Kappes

First of all, I heartily thank Fr. Aidan Kimel for inviting me to write a guest column on Palamism. Although, in the essence of the argument, it should not make a difference, I will start by revealing my sympathy with Palamas and my general agreement with him about the distinction in God into essence and energies. However, there are actually several issues, all of which are equally complicated. Not only is there the question of what kind of (1.) ingredients are in the primordial divine soup or essence of God, but (2.) about how those ingredients are perceived by you and me (3.) and whether these ingredients in the divine soup are somehow mediatory or means of arriving at their lesser imitations in the real peas and carrots at the real dinner table.

The first question is “What kind of items go together in God?” The second question is “What does God see when He looks at Himself, and what do I see when my mind’s eye looks at Him?” The third question is, “What kind of role do the ingredients or divine items play, albeit they are in God, but they are not exactly his underlying broth, stuff-essence.”

Any random but interested Orthodox believer (or Eastern Christian of a Byzantine tradition) will certainly want, even need, Palamas to reflect an ancient and continuous tradition in every possible way. I start by accepting this anticipated conclusion, since I have already spent a good deal of time looking into Palamas and the studies written on him. The fervent Orthodox (or aforementioned Eastern Christian) is often convinced in his bones that he “knows” this Palamite theory is absolutely not “Western” and not “Latin.” He tends to think that this means that Latins have had a different theological tradition of God-talk since the schism (whatever magical year his or her guru has said that to have happened). Herein, entire complex movements of history are presented in hugely convenient and contradictorily “digestible” chunks. Somehow, such persons suppose, all the Latins just became atheists/naughty-Augustinians in a privileged year when they all en masse embraced some or another error that somehow or another led their entire Latin church to become some other religion or something like that.

Instead, if we take a look at what Orthodox predecessors of Palamas were doing, they were doing a heck of a whole lot of logic. Their logic may have been simpler than the advances among the Schoolmen, even less refined than Aristotle, but everyone was using the same pagan logicians to justify their God-talk. The Orthodox scholar Vassa Kontouma has done Eastern Christians a great service by collecting the data that reveals St John Damascene and his Dialectics (logic), logically argued in On the Orthodox Faith, as the culmination of using logic as a handmaid of theology in the first millennium (see her John of Damascus). Earlier writers such as St. Anastasios the Sinaite represent influences on Damascene’s pro-logical way (in a wide … not specifically syllogistic sense) of doing theology. In the same manner that Palamas explicitly affirmed (against Barlaam), Damascene teaches the value of the syllogism in theological argument (though Damascene amusingly avoids theological syllogisms in practice!). What is especially helpful for us to see is Vassa’s cataloguing of the explosion of interest in Damascene’s logical works, and their copying and reading during the Palamite era. I myself suspect that polemics with Dominicans (Thomists) partially led to the need to rediscover sources that were able to aid Orthodox in defending themselves against the frightening logic of the Dominicans. Time will tell if this was in fact a main impetus for the explosion of interest in Damascene. However, we are already at a point where the self-styled Orthodox apologist feels uncomfortable. Though Palamas’ sermons (i.e., his mature work) affirmed the value and utility of logic and philosophy (albeit never able to overcome their intrinsic limitations vis-à-vis the divine light), Palamas ranks as the pro-logic guy vis-à-vis Barlaam. Antonis Fyrigos and his introduction to the critical edition of Barlaam’s epistles prove this sure enough.

What are we to make of this? Well, syllogistic logic and the hypothetical syllogism had been a big deal in the Near East after the miaphysite/monophysite, Severos of Antioch, wrote his lawyeresque and non-historically-sensitive theological treatises against Chalcedon. The responses by St. Leontios of Byzantium and St. Leontios of Jerusalem were heavy doses of logical distinctions and arguments that continue to bore to death my Christology students every year at SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary (PA). I like to make seminarians read both Damascene and the two Leontioses because these three saints categorically destroy the notion that Latins are OCD logicians and Greeks are spiritual anti-logical gurus. The fact is that Palamism’s main theologians were typically enthralled with logical distinctions, but Palamas himself shows no sign whatsoever of the more subtle logic (or new logic of the Latins), nor profuse use of the full corpus of Aristotle in comparison with Aquinas. However, St Mark of Ephesus, Gennadios Scholarios, as well as all the great theologians already mentioned by John Demetracopoulos in “Palamas Transformed,” seized upon the international language or lingua franca of logic as a way to speak clearly to any interested theologian (vs. mystic). Still, Palamites all bowed in reverence to the limitation preventing talk about the divine light and the essence of the divinity. Embarrassingly, the Latin west nursed its post-Aristotelian tendency to subject everything to logic … even the mystical life! Even thirteenth-century Latins complained of the growing irreverences in discussions of mystery and piety in preference to logical puzzling.

By the fourteenth century, (1.) nominalism, (2.) analogical concept of being, (3.) and the formal distinction ( [4.] not to mention the real distinction) of essence and perfections/attributes/energies in God represented standard ways of describing the limited thinkable approaches to imagine God and his perfections. Somehow these have become labeled as supposedly “western.” In this, I think that there is a tendency of wishful thinking. The sources: Aristotle, Porphyry, Damascene were exactly the same for Byzantines and Schoolmen. What significant differences were there between the two? One difference was that Latins mastered the entire logical corpus (instead of an uneven or disparate number of books). Secondly, Latins took the use of analogical talk, metaphorical talk, and univocal talk about God and creatures and tried to scientifically study the limits of human conceptualization. This means that Latins were very interested in the meaningfulness of a concept in my head. They were interested in how thoughts sprang up, what physical or non-physical status they had in the human mind, and whether these thoughts always reflected realities outside the person’s head. Finally, they wanted to know whether there could be degrees of similarity between what is in my head (e.g., yummy steak) and outside of my head (actually yummy steaks).

St Mark of EphesusBy and large, Byzantines of the Palamite era showed only passing interest in these discussions in the sense of academic pursuits. However, on the other hand, to confront the memory of Barlaam, Gregoras, Akindynos, and (later) the Thomists, the greatest names of 14th-15th century Orthodoxy happily engaged Latin advances in logic and felt that these were perfectly useful, adequate, and intelligible for the essence energies controversy (except talking about supra-rational mystical experience). This is exactly the position of Mark of Ephesus, which I consider authoritative enough for anyone to have to prove to me that he is wrong before further pontificating on the “incommensurability” between Western “categories” of logic and metaphysics versus Eastern modes of God-talk. The fact is both parties spoke the same language because Easterners read the same Greek sources, as well as Aquinas, Lombard, Scotus, and others. They selected out what was useful for Byzantine problems and controversies, or what was useful for an ad hoc treatise, and they ignored the rest of what the Latins had to say since it was not relevant for their needs.

All modes of doing logic are not the same. Nonetheless, logic was often enough acknowledged as good and useful (if used less in fact) in the East. However, yes, the limits of logic were best catalogued (above and beyond Byzantine logical commentators or scholiasts) by Schoolmen of the 1200s until advances in modern logic after Frege in the early 1900s. Schoolmen were simply the best at this science/study. Many saints and celebrated theologians of the East used logic, but typically in different degrees and mostly with a disinterest in the syllogism (with notable saintly exceptions). The fact is that logic is just making good distinctions to speak meaningfully about concepts and their ability to be combined into meaningful or consistent statements. So, the notion that somehow logic itself or “Latin” categories of thinking are “foreign to Orthodoxy” strikes me as strange, since we must now exclude Fathers who use the same logic and vocabulary (even if to a lesser extent), even Mark of Ephesus, from Orthodoxy, not to mention his disciple Gennadios Scholarios (whom Mark endorsed as the only Orthodox living, who was able to reform the Church to purity). Simply put, logic in theology anciently started in the East, was imitated in the West upon the Latin translation of John Damascene (first in around 1145 AD), and became even more subtle by the Latin absorption and mastery of the entire Aristotelian corpus in the thirteenth century. This mastery went beyond any former Byzantine’s wildest dreams, and eventually became—in my view—destructive to theology via a medieval obsession with puzzling over interpreting Scripture. Once the Bible and canons were subjected to puzzling games of inference, theology became an excuse to play logical games.

So, how are Palamas and Palamites different from “Latins” from the fourteenth through the fifteenth centuries? Well, whereas Byzantines made a cautious, willy-nilly, and more rare, generous use of Aristotelian metaphysics and/or logic, they tended to feel pretty free to call Aristotle names any time he could not—on the face of it—be reconciled to Christian Revelation in the Bible or Ecumenical Councils. This same caution marked Latin universitarian reception (early 1200s) of Aristotle and papal prohibitions on theology faculties, preventing them from absorbing wholesale the Stagyrite until theological “corrections” and commentaries could aid the Christian not to become a pagan by reading Aristotle in Latin. Still by the mid-1250s Aristotle was the craze. Using major figures to tell my Latin narrative, whereas the trend among Latins was to absorb Aristotle (almost as a thirteenth apostle), Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (a Franciscan) continuously lost interest in Aristotle, and may prove in the future my suspicions that he chose to prioritize the Latin version of John Damascene over and above Aristotle.

Duns ScotusBy the late 1200s I would like to claim that the Franciscan school—St Bonaventure and Blessed John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) being the major figures—preferred Damascene and his all-positive notion of divine infinity as their starting point on talking about God’s essence. For their part, the enthusiastic Aristotelians and those with sympathy toward St Thomas Aquinas’ theology, found themselves justifying and generously reading Aristotle—as much as possible—as the key to understanding God. The result was that Bonaventure and Scotus prioritized infinity and a certain distinction between God’s being and his attributes-perfections. For this reason, Martin Jugie styles Franciscans (in the image of Scotus) as “Palamism in a state of becoming” (Palamismus in fieri) in the early 1900s. Still, Jugie only repeated a long tradition in the Latin west of rejecting Gregory Palamas (from the 16th century on [e.g. Allatius]), based on the fact that Thomists adjudged Palamas as a less logical version of Scotus (see “Palamas Among the Scholastics“).

What are we, then, to make of the “Latin Tradition” of God-talk? Well, there never was a formal series of pitched battles (synods) as in Orthodoxy to favor the Dominicans over the Franciscans (let alone the nominalists) or vice versa. Instead, there was always a tension and competition among several major schools of God-talk. The post-Ockham or Ockhamists were “nominalists” (neither Thomist nor Bonaventuro-Scotist), the Dominicans were analogy-of-being-ists, and the Scotists were into the formal distinction. Lest we be tempted to reduce these schools to “western modes of thinking,” I would contest that these schools simply reflect the limits and possibilities open to the human mind when they try to say something meaningfully about the material and, especially, spiritual world. It is not a question of culture, but of making camps of the only possible options of meaningfully mapping reality outside of mystical experience. The fact is that, where a dogmatically Greek tradition existed in Byzantium from 1368 onward, no comparable Latin tradition ever existed. Even nowadays, Latins are free to embrace any number of approaches that can mainly be reduced either to a Thomist approach or to a Scotist approach. In contrast, since the 1960s, Orthodox authors of the 15th–20th centuries (who ostensibly overlapped with Thomism in their descriptions of God) have been marginalized in contemporary Orthodox literature, and “Palamism” has been almost exclusively embraced (NB, this is too often in popular and apologetic literature just an excuse for bad, or lazy, or ignorant Eastern Christians to refuse to study logic and metaphysics, and to pontificate a simplified theology according to what their unstudied mind can concoct). If the “true believer” will respond that I cannot possible know anything since I am bereft of the divine light, or that I am already dead in the water because I am trying to use “study” or “reason” to talk about Palamism, then I would be very interested to see how much of Mark of Ephesus’ work on Palamism he has studied. I do not speak here of the “experience” of the divine light, but of Palamites and their academic, erudite, and academic-literature-dependent treatises on the very question at hand. Yes, I admit it, I have not seen the divine light … so I appropriately limit myself to talking about the intellectual aspects of Palamism, which the Palamites themselves did, whether among themselves or with the Latins. Mark refused only to discuss academically the experience of the “knowledge above all rational understanding.” Mysticism, said he to the Latins at Florence, was not permissible to submit to logical scrutiny. I obey his canon here, so that the pious believer can read with no fear of treading where angels dare not go.

Doesn’t this mean that Scotism (as historically prior to Palamas [d. 1357]) represents that concentric doctrine in the Latin West?

Well, yes, but not exactly. Remember, there are three major questions, above, looking at: (1.) God from the inside, (2.) God from the outside, (3.) God’s being in relation to beings created by Him.

Scotists were only interested, by and large, in #1 and, partially, #2. It is in this manner that Roman Catholic medieval, Franciscan theologians and Palamites agreed. For fifteenth and sixteenth-century Thomists (and beyond), both Scotus and Palamas violated the parameters of Aristotle’s simplicity criteria: (1.) something ain’t simple if it is a whole coming from parts, (2.) if it is a substance with qualities, (3.) if it can really be separated into parts or pieces. Scotists and Palamites (from the 16th century on) were accused of being bad Aristotelians on #1 and #2. Of course, they responded by saying that divine being/s or items, about which they were speaking, were infinite, and so fell outside of these Aristotelian categories, valid for speaking only about beings that are limited by genus and species (or by being limited by matter and created form).

In response, both Palamas and Scotus (as per my review-essay “Palamas among the Scholastics”) tried to show that spiritual things can have more than one energy or active power. For example, the human soul can enliven, move, and think in a body. Each of these powers is in a simple soul (which simplicity Thomists also deny contra Franciscans). For Scotus and Palamas, willing, living, thinking are all operations that can be traced back to different kinds of powers in one non-material simple kind of being (= soul). When I “know” ice cream, it is not mentally and really the same thing as “wanting” ice cream. I know this well since, if I somehow hate ice cream, I “know” it in my mouth, but “want” to spit it out. The Thomists were willing to admit this distinction in the world of thinking and willing ice cream (and creation), but they claimed that a different rule existed on the other side of things; namely, in God’s dimension. Somehow, for the majority of Aquinas’ treatment of the question, God both “wanted” and “thought” and these were both the same thing and somehow different in him in a non-descript way. The Thomists were comfortable in not being able to explain how this was so. They were satisfied that the conclusion had to say just what they were affirming, however, since God must be simple in the relevant Aristotelian sense (additionally, for Thomists, even a will-wanting and an intellect-thinking were accidents or qualities making the substance of the soul complex … not simple). The end result of this debate shows that both Scotus and Palamas denied Thomist arguments, basing themselves instead on divine infinity as the ground of foundation for talking about everything God is. If He is infinite, so the argument goes, anything that is said of God is infinite by virtue of being in an infinite essence. If God really chooses, He must choose with some infinite power, not finite. Since, for Palamites and Scotists, God does really choose—which meaning “choose” is not the same in every way as his energy-attribute of “being good” or “thinking”—then there is a different level of being here. This level is a second level or non-essence-in-itself level of being. As my being, since it grounds my ability to be wise, so too in God’s being. For me, a creature, my really existent being is more “valuable” than my wisdom since it grounds my ability to be wise (if I didn’t exist, I couldn’t be wise). However, in God this is not a “more important” or higher attribute in the same sense, since by the fact that God is infinite, every activity of an infinite being presupposes an infinite-necessary power bringing it about. So, willing and thinking are done in an infinite mode. In our manner of thinking we have to think first “being” and then only do we add as an adjectival “willing-being.” Still, this is only because of our limited thinking. If, in God, all these energies are also infinite, then they possess the same radical value as being itself, but are merely less universal in their scope or application. So, every attribute-energy (goodness, wisdom, etc.) can be said to be founded on the reality of divine “being” and presupposes the thought thereof, but not everything can be said “to think” or “have intelligence.” Being is primary in God and all things, where other perfections are logically secondary and of less scope (e.g., thinking only happens in higher animals and angels).

Where do Scotus and Palamas differ? Well, Scotus and Palamas both thought that when God looked at himself in the mirror (when he contemplated Himself) he saw all of his outstanding thoughts, attributes, and being. Thomists thought that when God looked in a mirror he just saw being, and that he knew in himself the fact that all energies exist in his being, for He has an infinitely rich number of ingredients all boiled down into a simple, simple broth. For Franciscans and Palamites, the potatoes and carrots of divine essence-soup were visible and essential for the definition of “vegetable soup,” but that soup was primary founded upon being “broth-like” with ingredients, not vice versa.

What Scotists did not think much about was how seeing the divine light was—in some sense—seeing an energy or attribute of perfection of the essence of God. All Schoolmen agreed that being was “luminous” (light-giving) and that God was supremely luminous, but Thomists supposed that the human mind could see directly the divine essence, if only it were given a set of spiritual binoculars called the lumen gloriae or something like an accident (white to rice, where white is a quality). This accident elevated the human eye (with lenses) and, by analogy, the spiritual eye to see the divine essence. Scotists (and Palamites) rejected the lumen gloriae-spiritual binoculars, but Scotists were inclined to say nearly the same about “seeing the divine essence” but maybe less than Thomists. I say this thusly, because some passages of Scotus/Scotists suggest that the infinity of God (essence) could not really be seen. Currently, the majority of Scotistic experts likely hold that Scotus himself was closer to Aquinas’ than Palamas’ way of talking about seeing only and merely the attributes-energy of God with the human spiritual powers. For my part, I see that Scotus felt constrained to give this Latin way of speaking lip service, though he denied such an hypothesis as “illogical” in fact in other places. The problem was with the biblical notions of “seeing” God.

Here, Palamas was the clearest, the essence of God is entirely inaccessible to any human faculty or power, and only the energies-attributes are seen with the mind’s non-rational eye. The Franciscan tradition can be made to approach, even anticipate this, but ultimately it is Palamas who speaks such without the nuances typical of even Scotus. Lastly, so far as I know, no Latin-medieval thinker ever tried to take Ps.-Dionysius and his eternal processions from the essence of God as a means to speak about the connective tissue between the uncreated God and creation. As Demetracopoulos footnotes in his 100-page long essay, Palamas almost cites verbatim the pagan philosopher Proclus (over and above Ps.-Dionysius), to say that God has something like an emanation outside of himself that acts almost as a mediator between creation and the uncreated. The light itself is uncreated. While any patrologist and Scholastic would find this ostensibly pagan, Neo-Platonic assertion shocking, I have not as yet seen anyone do a monograph on this mediatory principle of emanation within the patristic tradition. For me, the jury is still out. What I would say, however, is that if Palamas proves pantheistic or nonsensical on this one point in the future, it does not mean that all his other points are wrong. His literary disciple, Mark of Ephesus, always reminded the Latins that even saints can err (citing Irenaeus’ millennarianism, Nyssa’s Origenism, et al) and that it is the consensus of the Fathers in a synod that makes something dogmatic.

So, where are we today? Well, just about everybody reading knows about Bradshaw’s book Aristotle East and West. In most ways it is a brilliant study of essence and energies. I recently critiqued only the historical presumptions of Bradshaw’s work (and his subsequent articles) based upon what I considered to be an oversimplifying of metaphysics in the Latin West. Still, the tendencies among Latins as a whole were to read Augustine as thinking of God’s essence as monolithic (at least in the 13th -14th century). Be that as it may, Scotism arguably reigned as the dominant theory thereafter until the 18th century. This would mean that both St Augustine (always referenced and combined with Damascene by Bonaventuro-Scotists) and Bonaventure were regularly held as the most appealing metaphysics among Latins at the university level. This would mean that there never was “opposition” between two worldviews (Orthodox vs. Roman Catholic) in Christendom. There was eclecticism in the West and there was short-lived fervor for Palamism in the East until the Fall of Constantinople. Palamas and Palamism (as I am tracing in my doctoral dissertation on Gennadios Scholarios for Aristotle University, Thessaloniki) were always valued but never clearly understood for all their subtleties. Even anti-Palamites of the 16th century had to admit that his cultus was alive and well (if not universal), and the very first treatises published in the 17th century by Greeks and their first-ever printing press included Palamas’ discourse on the Filioque along with Gennadios Scholarios in the same volume. Palamas’ sermons knew several editions in the 1700-1800s. Palamas was read, but the essence-energies debate demanded a rigorous understanding of Scholastic and patristic use of the Aristotelian corpus. One finds constant praises during these centuries of Palamas as a spiritual writer, anti-Filioquist, and even a phrase or two commending the essence-energies doctrine; but I have detected no interest in the Greek-speaking world surrounding an exposition of the essence-energies doctrine, though Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain knew of Mark of Ephesus’ accusation that Latins (= Thomists) rejected the doctrine. It is no surprise that the lack of Orthodox Universities in Orthodox countries under Islamic domination failed to offer intensive courses in Eastern metaphysics and approaches to Aristotle and Scholasticism. Anti-logical, and by and large apologetic, contemporary Orthodox and Eastern Christians will never be able to access the Palamite school until they sit down and study Damascene’s dialectic and, then, the masterful treatises of the Palamites employing logic (both ancient and Latin) in the service of God-talk in the essence-energies debate.

Gennadios ScholariosThe most subtle and most astute logician—whether among Latins or Greeks—was the Orthodox hand-picked disciple of Mark of Ephesus, Gennadios Scholarios. In his mixed commentary-translation on Aquinas’ De esse et essentia, Scholarios remarked that Thomists did not know of the formal distinction because Thomas himself never explicitly discovered it. However, he was confident that if Aquinas had only known the more subtle (and Orthodox!) metaphysics of Scotus, he would have placed the “formal distinction” between essence and energies as a “minor distinction” or “not-real” distinction. Effectively, Scholarios argued that a “reformed” Thomism would have affirmed Palamas’ insight. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of Dominicans that might agree with this today. They see that any step closer to the logic of Palamism is nothing less than raising the white flag to Scotus and his univocal or meaningful talk about the essence and attributes of God. I understand why Dominicans feel this way, with their long and saintly tradition of preferring analogy over univocity … even if early Thomists did sometimes just the opposite. Instead, as Gennadius notes, Thomists of his day considered the formal distinction to be a “major distinction” or “real” distinction and for that reason did they accuse Palamites of heresy and vice versa.

The reality of this debate is that there are three major issues (as I outline at the beginning of the article), of which Mark of Ephesus and Scholarios understood both sides of the argument. Catholics and Orthodox who cannot compare Palamas, Scotus, and Aquinas to each other will find themselves looking to authors who speak to their psychological need for one or the other position to be right, wrong, or caricatured, so that Palamas reigns/does not reign supreme no matter what. I have no problem with anyone holding pious trust in their saintly and theological tradition, only do I pick a fight with those who claim to understand Palamite metaphysics without studying Aquinas and Scotus in-depth and comparing such to the Palamite reception of Palamas; particularly when these Palamites are saints of the Orthodox Church. Palamites cited both Aquinas and (less so) Scotus, so one must understand why logically and metaphysically Palamites agree with them, or the ignoramus must simply pretend these citations do not exist (or some other primitive equivalent of psychological denial).

For my part, I am totally comfortable with Palamas on nos. 1-2 (above), and am willing to hear him speak more about #3. Bradshaw’s critique of Thomism also is relevant for my conclusion. So many interpretations of Aquinas exist, nowadays, it is difficult to know to whom we should turn. Still, Bradshaw is correct that it becomes increasingly difficult to make sense of God’s freely chosen creation by God’s free will, if—like Thomists—God’s will is in every thinkable and essential way the same as his intellect (= not an energy but essence in an unqualified sense), as God sees both in himself and acts in himself. All the more is this the case since knowledge in God (at least non-contingent knowledge, as an object of thought-production) is necessary while his will of something created chooses contingently. The eternity of the world would seem to follow on this strict identity equation of intellect and will, as is most popular among Thomists. Still Thomists correctly, as Christians, deny any heretical conclusions, but the question Bradshaw asks is about their premises! I cannot fault him in this.

Next, Thomism has enjoyed the benefit of papal propaganda since the late 19th century. The end result means that almost all major theologians of the 19th and 20th centuries until Vatican II (1962-65) at least had to make a pro-forma concession to Thomas being correct about everything (even when Thomas changes his mind 2 or 3x!). Historical theology really challenges non-historical Thomism in another fashion in our day. The former Roman Catholic narrative of Aquinas—even in modern, official papal pronouncements—had been to style Aquinas as the know-it-all, done-it-all, and invented-it-all of history. Aquinas had to be the best at everything. In the 1950s this eventually led to multiple celebrations of Aquinas’ philosophic acuity and genius. Of course, a modern genius “invents things” that others have never thought about. One of Aquinas’ “inventions” (making him better than everyone, of course!) was the real distinction between being & essence. The Orthodox reader should immediately see red flags: if nobody before Aquinas had this great insight, and if Aquinas is “original” on this thesis, how in the world does this have anything to do with Christian theology and tradition?! Eastern Christians and post-Golden Age Fathers would be horrified at the claim (albeit sometimes not really the case in substance) of innovation. To my knowledge, only Ralph McInerny of Notre Dame tried to defend Aquinas’ invention of Aristotelico-Thomistic metaphysics as somehow connected to the tradition (via reference to Boethius). Still, he is hardly the minority opinion … but a lonely voice. It becomes increasingly difficult to hold the position that the monolithic Thomism of the early 20th century, that tended to pretend that Aquinas was always consistent with himself, can be the main dialogue partner with Orthodox on the essence-energies question. Early Thomists were eclectic, famous Jesuit quasi-Thomists were eclectic, and not a few saintly theologians of the Roman Magisterium were Franciscans and eclectic. The solution to the problem on the Roman Catholic side would do well to emphasize that Catholics share the very same theological conclusions about God, his identity, and person as the Orthodox, but not about the premises of what does and does not constitute a valid system of non-religious logic to work out puzzles. Let logicians fight about puzzling and let theologians feel free to use that which most explains what they want to say for their theological dogmas-conclusions. The dyed-in-the-wool Thomist and zealot of Orthodoxy will find my suggestion entirely unacceptable. The former is willing to put (by implication, though shy of saying it formally) all Franciscan theologians in history (as now) in hell for heresy, while the latter is perfectly fine condemning generations of Greek, Slav and Orthodox theologians from the 15th-20th century for holding something more nuanced than their current read of Palamas’ distinction (some of whom now actually claim that the Palamite distinction is “real” in the contra-Aristotelian sense = God is non-simple [something Palamas does not want to say at all, nor his followers!]!).

However, we must also face the fact that the lion’s share of good, devout, believing, theologians in the Roman Catholic Church are assuredly Thomists. Instead of trying to consign them to some dustbin (an impossible suggestion), it is better to highlight Thomas’ own weakness and changes-of-mind, along with non-thomistic or even anti-thomistic teachings of the Magisterium that underline the fact that Thomas may be supremely relevant to study and contemplate on most theological questions (as he was even in some things for Palamites), but we must simply admit that he has often enough proved to be wrong, even vis-à-vis the Roman Church’s Magisterium (e.g., Immaculate Conception, Confession of Mortal Sins to a Layman for valid absolution in articulo mortis, etc.). For Orthodox, if only they are willing to concede that great and revered men, some now saints, made eclectic, selective, and cautious use of Thomas Aquinas from the period of the Palamite school and its saints until contemporary times, then toleration might be able to exist of two approaches without compromising O/orthodox conclusions on either side. Mark of Ephesus and Gennadios Scholarios serve as the patron saints of a bi-partisan approach to resolving the issue. Most do not know how much Mark of Ephesus praised the bi-lateral dialogue and study sessions with the Latins at the beginning of the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438):

O most revered periti and [Latin] Fathers, with regard to all disagreement that we discuss concerning one another’s positions, if this was alone the goal ahead of us and nothing else, then we would make arguments to win at any cost, neither would we argue usefully, nor indeed justly. . . . But nothing is the goal other than embracing the resplendent truth. . . . However many the controversies on dogmas that are yet bereft of investigation and inquiry, and while the positions on each side possess powerful and robust explanations, it is consequently quite profitable [for all] that someone is also found superior in the discussion, provided there is no contentiousness, but we then look together to the truth. Let us also be not zealous to win at all times, but it is for us to be bested and comport ourselves well. Now, indeed, it is a fact that this happens so not only on our part, for we all turn toward what is base and fall far in our digression from true wisdom, but this happened to the very apostles themselves, for whom Jesus is Lord, so do we both hear and believe to have occurred.

It was only an ex-Orthodox and Greek Dominican, Andrew Chrysoberges, with a chip on his shoulder against Orthodox for probably real injustices against Demetrius Cydones in the generation prior, who managed to almost single handedly derail the council by being a rude, name-calling, nasty fellow to his own compatriot. Andrew treated the insults to Demetrius Cydones and Manuel Calecas, OP (d 1410) as if they were to himself, holding on to insults of his predecessors of two generations prior as an excuse to be totally irreconcilable to his contemporaries. Though Mark was kind, docile, and obliging, he was treated is if he were the embodiment of insult to the Dominicans and their school, as if Mark were a present and living sacrilege during the debates on the floor at the Council of Florence. God save us from such men!

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Fr Christiaan Kappes, SLD, PhL, is the Academic Dean of Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius, as well as Professor of Liturgical Theology and
Professor of Dogmatic Theology

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66 Responses to The Essence/Energies Distinction and the Myth of Byzantine Illogic

  1. Tom says:

    This: “Bradshaw is correct that it becomes increasingly difficult to make sense of God’s freely chosen creation by God’s free will, if…God’s will is in every thinkable and essential way the same as his intellect (= not an energy but essence in an unqualified sense), as God sees both in himself and acts in himself. All the more is this the case since knowledge in God (at least non-contingent knowledge, as an object of thought-production) is necessary while his will of something created chooses contingently. The eternity of the world would seem to follow on this strict identity equation of intellect and will….” (italics mine)

    Been saying this for some time. Thank you.

    Very helpful piece Fr. Thanks, and Godspeed on your dissertation!

    Tom

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    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      I only see that problem come into the picture if we theologize along univocal/equivocal lines. What am I missing??

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      • DB Hart says:

        You are missing nothing. Bradshaw is of course wrong here. The problem arises from imagining that divine freedom, intellect, will…are all very large examples of the same things that human freedom, intellect, will must be–a property instantiated in either finite or infinite magnitude, but essentially univocal in acceptation–rather than the one eternal act of God freely and necessarily being God (since even the distinction between freedom and necessity applies only to contingent and finite beings). For this, the neo-Palamite way of thinking, freedom is a kind of power of choice made among alternative possibilities all somehow lying outside of or unrealized in God; which makes a logical nonsense of the very idea of God as the source and end of all being, for it reduces God to an agent within some order of being larger than himself. For us, of course, a free act is a movement from potentiality to actuality, as well as a reduction of the indeterminate variety of possibilities to one actuality; but that is because we are finite and therefore free only in a dependent and derivative way. Think rather of freedom as the infinite power of God to be fully God, without hindrance and without the limitation of unrealized potentiality.

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        • thomas says:

          We can also take autonomy itself as a component of freedom (a freedom, of course, ultimately governed by the end or ideal of humanity) that imitates God without needing to posit mutability or composition in God. The twin facts that a) creation does not follow from God by nature (that is, God, to be who he is, does not need to create), and yet b) God does in fact create the world, are sufficient to show that free will can be predicated of God. Both a) and b) can be affirmed without positing some psychological process or potency/act structure in God. And the fact that human autonomy must be subordinated to the ends of human nature reflects the way in which, in creating the world, God orders it to the Good (i.e., himself).

          So although the notion of freedom as ungoverned autonomy is not something to be endorsed, autonomy as a moment of an authentic freedom that is creatively directed toward the ends of human nature can still be something that reflects (albeit in a finite, imperfect way) God’s freedom.

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          • I think I would only add, that if this “freedom” has univocally conceptual components in its description between God and creature (conceding the different modes of finitude and infinity), then it would seem to be exactly what Palamas was asserting in his dialogue against the philosopher (Akindynos, as I remember) recorded by Phrakrases. This is effectively the same point made by Scotus; namely, once we are committed to saying there is something univocally used in our heads to consistently and meaningfully talk about both God and creature, this is exactly what univocity is.

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          • thomas says:

            Fr. Kappes:

            Not having read much Scotus, I don’t want to assume he meant the same thing by “univocity” as does, for instance, Aristotle or Aquinas. I’d agree that what Aquinas would call analogical truths can be literally true of God. For instance, if we say that freedom can be attributed to an agent that a) brings something about which does not follow necessarily from the agent’s nature and b) is oriented toward the agent’s good, this is literally true of both God and man. Yet, it is not univocally true (in Aquinas’ sense), because each subject makes that statement true in a different way.

            A metaphor helps to make this clearer. We might say that something is good in the sense that it flourishes as the sort of thing it is. This goodness is really in things. Both this plant and that person might be good. Yet, that by which a plant is good (for instance, by being solidly rooted in the ground, being brightly colored.) is wildly different from that by which a person is good (by exercising his capacity for love and discourse, by thinking, etc.) Both are literally called good, and goodness is really there in each, yet the what it is in plants and persons that make them good differs fundamentally in each case. They are not said to be good in the same way, that is, univocally.

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          • Dear Thomas,

            To your second point, classical Thomism (I refer to that version that believes in analogical concepts of being) I see as uncomfortable with your concession to me that out of say 3 items by which x and y might be univocally free, you admit that only 1 of the 3 is univocal, while (let’s say) two of the three do not mentally overlap perfectly when I conceptualize various kinds. If, as you say, the lack of necessity in an agent’s operation is shared by both creature y and creator x, for the Thomist, you have conceded (as I view things) too much. Since the human intellect and ens commune is so radicale different than esse or God, whatever it means to be free is somehow sufficiently true to have an analogy in angel or creature but nothing that perfectly overlaps since creature and creator are not two instances, one in a finite and the other in an infinite mode of an attribute, but one’s is real being and the other only in a diminished way, by participation or imitation of God to a degree making this “freedom-y” in no wise concentric by only proportionate (in comparison to the prime analog ate of God). There are various attempts (whether from causality or supposing that the being proved to be the first mover is sufficient as the primary analog ate) to ground the concept of esse as somehow accessible to use sufficiently to philosophically justify our thomist claim. I will not weigh in on those. What I would say is that Scotus is happy to admit that whatever the a barest concept that is shared univocally between God and creature with respect to a simple perfection automatically supposes a real access to some feature of God. This is very scary and smacks of pantheism for a Thomist.

            Although you have not identified yourself as such, and though there a numerous brands of Thomists, I cannot remember one ever conceding to me that there are basic concepts that are univocally said to be of God and creature in the theory of the analogical concept of being. by its nature there is a Being and being and never the twain shall meet, since human perfections are more akin to accidents inhering in a substance, so that comparing accident to substance is more what it is to compare manly attributes to godly attributes, or manly being to godly Being.

            Still, Scotus’ notion of univocity is different than thomists who typically held the standard view that the modus concipiendi and modus significandi enjoy totally accurate proportionality to the modus essendi. if a is conceived via finite concept and predicated of x by categorical language (God is good), then it means (strictly) God is good in the finite manner that Socrates is good. Clearly, this kind of univocity both Scotus and Thomists reject.

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          • thomas says:

            Again, I won’t try to comment on Scotus. I’ll just say that nothing in my response “conced[ed] … that there are basic concepts that are univocally said to be of God and creature ….” In fact, I deny that. I simply said that analogy does not exclude something being literally true, and gave an example in the world of that being so. There’s a distinction between something literally being true and its being univocally true that’s pretty critical to understanding the medieval understandings of analogy.

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          • Dear Thomas,

            My apologies, I have not run across “literal truth” vs. “univocity,” or if I have I must have skipped over it or forgotten it. Could you help me understand with your from your example of goodness in plants and people…Is that notion of goodness or the predicate “good” of plant and animal able to act as the middle term in a syllogism? I would suggest that if the answer is yes, then I may have difficulty understanding how that is not univocity or two “kinds” of good items with under one concept of good? Secondly, I would be very interested in the medievals who use this notion of “literal truth” vs. univocity. Might you direct me toward those you have in mind?

            Thanks for any tips,
            cwk

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            My understanding of Aquinas’s theory of analogy is that it is considered a form of literal speech, as opposed to metaphorical speech. I’ve been away from all of this a long time, but that’s how I remember it.

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          • thomas says:

            Summa Theologiae Part I, Question 13 is where you’d start. Article 3 concerns “whether any name can be applied to God in its literal sense?” (Aquinas answers yes, with certain qualifications), and Article 5 concerns “whether what is said of God and of creatures is univocally predicated of them?” (Aquinas answers no).

            As to whether you analogous terms prevent demonstrative arguments, the answer seems to be no. After all, analogous relations are used in geometric proofs. But for a real treatment of analogy and logic, I’d simply refer you to David Burrell’s work, who’s written quite a bit on the subject, often with Scotus in mind.

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          • Dear Thomas,

            Ah, thanks “literal sense” (ST I, q. 13). Pardon my slowness not making the association between “literal truth” and “literal sense of names”. I’d like to suggest that your translation might not have served you very well (I have not checked Benzinger, et al). As I have understood (and recently been taught), “literal” refers to syntax and grammar, not to transcendentals or to attributes (whether of creatures or of God).

            Indulge me, if you would be so kind, in practicing a little eutrapelia, in thomistic fashion, if you will. The great philosopher Vizzini of Princess bride (thought to have excelled Plato, Aristotle, Socrates), thought some items in the created universe to be “inconceivable”. I would respond, in a similar sense, along with Inigo Montoya: “literal truth”: “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

            A literal truth, if taken in some sort of logical sense, would seem more naturally, to me anyway, to mean that God is the subject of the proposition and good is the subject of the proposition and so, syntactically, they univocally enjoy the attribute of being a subject.
            At any rate, that is what I got out of “literal truth,” when you remarked: “I’d agree that what Aquinas would call analogical truths can be literally true of God.” I now see that we are speaking of the problem of the ambiguous English translation of “proprie” as “literal.” Might not the Latin “proprie” refer in Q. 13 to the term or referent more clearly and tie in the concept or name with the referent? Also I could suppose that the literal, however, be grammatically construed in a variety of ways that have more to do with the functions and use of language, and not necessarily with the mode in which the name or concept signifies. Would you agree?

            Someone remarked to me recently that when one reads “literal” in English, one thinks: “Man, this is serious God-talk. These words really refer to God.” If someone is so serious about these words, then they must be meaningful.

            Literal also seems rather determined by context. It can include allegory, metaphor, univocity, analogy, etc., according to dictates of the mode of discourse. Thomas opposes “proprie” to “metaphorice”. This seems to me to simply be stating that Goodness properly refers to God as in God is really good. As opposed to, e.g., “God is my rock.” My guess is that Thomas just follows Aristotle’s poetics and rhetoric. Metaphor simply means that x and y share in a, where ‘a’ is some genus. This genus might be essential or not essential. If we actually took this strictly, Thomas -Aristotelian-lover that he was- might be saying that “proprie” terms are more like unto a proper attribute, but metaphorical terms are more like a non-essential genus shared between to items.

            It’s interesting in the same respondeo how Thomas tackles the question of modus significandi, wherein he specifies, based on a glancing read, that modus significandi can be subdivided: proper by the eminence and greatness of God as referent, but not proper in precisely the mode of signification. This seems to be the place where analogy comes in and needs explaining.

            Consequently, might I infer that with analogical predication, as I asked prior, that you would say: “we cannot produce a valid syllogism with the term good if we are speaking of humans and plants as good” since they are good in reference to each other only “analogically,” as I take you to mean in the citation below? This is what I took you to mean where you said:

            “freedom can be attributed to an agent that a) brings something about which does not follow necessarily from the agent’s nature and b) is oriented toward the agent’s good, this is literally true of both God and man. Yet, it is not univocally true (in Aquinas’ sense), because each subject makes that statement true in a different way. A metaphor helps to make this clearer. We might say that something is good in the sense that it flourishes as the sort of thing it is. This goodness is really in things. Both this plant and that person might be good. Yet, that by which a plant is good (for instance, by being solidly rooted in the ground, being brightly colored.) is wildly different from that by which a person is good (by exercising his capacity for love and discourse, by thinking, etc.) Both are literally called good, and goodness is really there in each, yet the what it is in plants and persons that make them good differs fundamentally in each case. They are not said to be good in the same way, that is, univocally.”

            If I have understood correctly, there is no conceptual overlap in any respect (re, my proposition of what univocity -or a concentric concept- is; namely the simple concept-abstraction ‘a’ shared between, or common to, both an x and a y in predication and thought). So, per what I understood in your quote, if no basic concept of good remains that can be shared between man and plant, conceptually, then they do not enjoy any conceptual overlap in being called “good.” Hence, it would seem to follow from your example -if I have understood rightly- that a plant is only analogically (in the relevant sense) good in proportion to man. Hence, for the logician, this kind of 1 term referring to two different concepts, which signify two different things, is actually equivocal. Would it not follow that, consequently, all beings enjoy only an analogical goodness in comparison to all other higher beings that are somehow of a greater participation in the levels of good that you have presented? So, for example, as you say since plant-good is only analogically the same as human-good, as attributes, then angel-good functions as the primary analog ate of human-good, where good is said primarily of angel, and only analogically of man, and good is said only analogically of plant in reference to either man or angel, but in indifferent degrees with its own properly analogical concept that cannot do the work necessary to be human-good or angel-good in a syllogism without introducing 4 terms?

            This kind of makes me ponder, though, would not the thomistic emphasis on the utter interchangeability or convertibility of the transcendentals mean that in the logical order that a plant, only analogically is said to be true (as it is said good, or said to be), in comparison to man? So, as far as I can see, if there is no common concept of good-attribute shared exactly and concentrically between man and plant above, then I would think that they contain the attribute of truth, one only one analogically to another. For me, this would seem to be potentially multipliable ad infinitum so that as many grades of beings are created in the universe, so many the the grades of beings that are lesser in truth and goodness, since they all are of conceptually different notions of goodness, though with the same term (homonym) “good”?

            At any rate, if I did not guess correctly that you don’t believe this goodness in a man and in a plant is univocal or concentric in my relevant explanation, forgive me forI jumping the gun a little bit. If you do agree that good can be the middle term used in a syllogism in the relevant sense, then actually I think we might agree!

            Thanks very much for the tip on ST I.13!
            cwk

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          • thomas says:

            Fr. Kappes:

            I tend to think that you are seeing complications where they’re unnecessary, at least unnecessary given Aquinas’ framework. For one thing, for neither Aquinas nor Aristotle does “metaphor simply mean[] that x and y share in a, where ‘a’ is some genus.” If this were true, then calling man an animal would be metaphor. I am aware of the passage in Aristotle to which you are referring, but Aristotle’s supporting examples should make clear what he’s saying.

            Nor is there a problem translating proprie as “literal” when Aquianas says: “Quantum igitur ad id quod significant huiusmodi nomina, proprie competunt Deo, et magis proprie quam ipsis creaturis, et per prius dicuntur de eo.” In fact, a translator chosen “properly” instead, it would have invited just the confusion that I would suggest is present in your interpretation. Entry 6a of the OED offers this definition of literal: “That is (the thing specified) in a real or actual sense, without metaphor, exaggeration, or distortion.” And that’s what Aquinas means.

            Nor did I ever say that there is “no basic concept of good remains that can be shared between man and plant.” I said quite the contrary. The general concept of good is the same, although what makes that notion true differs in each case. If we take “good” to mean something like the end appropriate to a thing in light of its nature, then good is applied literally to both a plant and a man. However, what it is concretely in man and animal that constitute their good is quite different. To be firmly affixed to the ground is not good for man, but it is for a plant (at least certain plants). That doesn’t mean that it isn’t true to say “this plant is good” or “that woman is good” aren’t literally true; it’s just to say that how each makes the respective predication literally true differs.

            Take the example “God is a rock.” To be a rock means, necessarily, to be corporeal. It belongs to the definition of a rock to be corporeal. Thus, when we say that “God is my rock”, we use metaphor–because there is an element of the definition that is false if literally applied to God. However, we can say “God is alive”, taking life to be the activity due to oneself and not another. Nothing in that notion of life fails to be literally true of God, although the way that God is alive (namely, by being the infinite act of being, in which essence and existence coincide, and which therefore is not moved by another) is different than the way animals are alive (namely, by exercising characteristic faculties). Of course, if we were to take the specifically biological notion of life, that would entail temporality and corporeality, and would be metaphor.

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          • Dear Thomas,

            Thanks for the correction on metaphor. I apologize for being too complex.

            I was consoled with what sounded like you believe good can be said of man and beast with conceptual overlap, such that “good” in that item of overlap is conceptually the same. So, that is what I mean by univocal. Hence, from what I divined from your response, we actually agree. So we can both seemingly syllogize about goodness where the 1 term shares conceptual overlap between two kinds of objects that do many, many things in so many many different ways.

            Best wishes.
            cwk

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Thank you David,

          Yes, that is my understanding as well. The operative term here is the “one eternal act of God”: this touches on Divine Simplicity, of course, in which there is – for God – no difference between doing and being. It’s here that the infinite disjunctive interval between created and Uncreate seems to show itself most profoundly from our perspective, from temporal and spacial finitude. For us it is not possible for “doing and being” to perfectly coincide, be essentially the one and the same. As Nyssa is clear to point out frequently and emphatically , the created “becomes” whereas the the Uncreate simple “is”. Nyssa’s “is” is the simplicity of the “one eternal act of God” which is another way of expressing that the Infinite, He Who Is, does not extend – not in time, not in space, not in act, not in being. This is also why panentheism deserves another hard look – there is no place, no point in time, from whence creation came. The “en” is God, the Beginning, of whom St John speaks in the opening of his gospel, “In the Beginning was the Word”.

          Question – how do you see the infinitive disjunctive interval not dissolving into a complete anthithesis? Would you mind addressing this as it appears this question drives many to either reject or misunderstand Divine Simplicity.

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      • christiaan Kappes says:

        Dear AP,

        As far as the ancients go -Let’s use Damscene- if we are looking for “Christian Philosophy”, then Damascene might be reduced to the basic idea of equivocal and univocal terms. For my part, agreeing in Richard Cross’ global assessment of Damascene’s metaphysics, we ought not impose on him logical refinements that cannot be accounted for before Scholastics. Nonetheless, Damascene clearly knew of Aristotle’s notion of proportional analogies 1 is to 2 as 2 is to 4. For Damascene, there is in my read neither Aquinas’ analogical concept of being, nor Scotus’ claim about the real nature of theological analogy. Damscene wants to say, without overly complicating himself, that there is both a really meaningful referent for every divine perception (wisdom, goodness), but that it so exceeds the 10 categories of being that he either references infinity in some places or Ps.-Denys’ “super-” speak in others. I take it that infinity-talk is the Origen-Nyssa legacy and “super-” or super/beyond-all-goodness types of hyperbole are used in more or less the same way, as if the metaphysics of Ps.-Denys were complementary to Origen-Nyssa’s infinity. So, if we are looking for something beyond univocity or equivocity in Damascene, instead we find the language of both without a developed theory for either that can come close to the Schoolmen. However, I would argue, the Dionysian emphasis leads us toward analogy and the infinity talk towards univocity. The difficulty becomes that univocity for Bonaventure (arguably) and Scotus (non-arguably) has nothing to do with the object taken in isolation. If is see a widget, I abstract widget-ness. Scotus is going to draw my attention with univocity to the concept of widget-ness and talk about it as necessarily understood under the same mental-idea that we use to understand all other beings + whatever accidents go along with making a widget different from all other beings. However, the mental abstraction of being is also used by us for God talk. Scotus makes his point quite simply: if being, goodness, or something else doesn’t have sufficient unity between God and a creature in order to act as the middle term of a syllogism then it is too equivocal to say anything meaningful in a scientific sense. All beautiful items are good, God is a beautiful item, God is good. Scotus objects to Thomists that the want this both to be valid and non-applicable to God in the same syllogism. To put more practical meat on the bones … If I say All people who owe me 80 dollars must pay, you owe me 80 dollars, therefore you must pay. You respond, ah, “yes, I’ll pay you the ‘dollars’ but 1976 dollars!” Yes I lent you 2016 dollars. 1976 dollars and 2016 dollars have different buying power and aren’t really the same, since the buying power in each is quite different thought they are very much alike in so many ways. What we mean to say is that the kind of money you pay me has to be reducible to a univocal buy power that is the essence of what I want (though I and you cannot calculate inflation in everyday buddy-borrowing). Whatever analogy is supposed to be, it violates the proper 3-term limit of a syllogism such that anything said of God makes no real sense. We must take it on the testimony of the analogist-promoter that somehow the term has a reference “proportionally” to God, though the analogist cannot admit that there is a single concept in creation that can validly give me access to such an analogate. If the person is already a Christian and needs to believe that there is some point of reference, hurray, but if the person is a logician, one has to explain how the bigger spoon in the proportionate analogy is conceptually known since it is derived conceptually from no abstraction from any created being.

        So, the only alternative to univocity or equivocity seems to me to have insurmountable problems that even many Thomists admit that analogy is simply a “kind” of equivocation. Of course, their challenge is to then save the entire bible as something more meaningful than a bunch of neato metaphors that really don’t mean too much for God’s attributes. If being good, wise, etc., can just be reduced to “God is the cause of a, b, c” then, as Scotus would point out, God is equally the cause of a rock. Hence, God is super-rocky and rocky-beyond-all-rockiness. This kind of God-talk is, for me, fairly meaningless. Of course, the other alternative in the history of philosophy and theology is nominalism. There were some ancient Christians (and saints to boot!) that embraced this. I simply don’t know any Roman Catholic or Orthodox that actually hold this, so I consider it a non-entity for discussion.

        If, in effect, one says: “Well let’s just be apophatic.” This means to me: “Let’s be agnostic about God and his attributes.” When appeals are made to the Fathers, it doesn’t matter too much to me in this discussion, since the Palamites were clearly using analogy-of-being, univocity, along with the language of equivocity. If we are willing to throw out the Palamite school in order to throw out analogy and univocity, then, that’s fine, but I simply don’t see any alternatives in the East or West; certainly, none that either Heidegger, nor Nietzsche…for all their disparaging of logic…ever bothered to uncover.

        As a last point, scotistic univocity makes a claim (that is quite arguable) that it is doing something old, but just being honest (I would argue like Palamas). It claims that the going back and forth between univocity-talk and equivocity-talk is universal and the tradition (I would in general agree, whether Greek or Latin). Then he simply claims to give us the mental discipline to show that the commitments that the Fathers wanted to make were to mentally thinking God as being, saying and predicating being-attributes to God, but being agnostic or non-committal about the mode of their existence vs. total univocity or complete univocity, which wants to say that for every thinking & saying of an attribute there must be a 1 to 1 correspondence (old Aristotelian presumption of logic reflecting the real order of things in all its details). Scotus claims to simply say that there is no requirement that the mode of being correspond to our complex mode of thinking about it, only that our concepts get to some reality of the thing sufficiently to say something meaningful (vs. equivocal) about the same thing.

        I hope this helps

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        • christiaan Kappes says:

          Errata:

          First Para: that CANNOT be accounted for

          Syllogism conclusion = God is Good

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    • Dear Tom,

      You’ll see below that characteristic assertion are made to the contrary. Still, I hold that if there is any real meaning to choosing something that need not be (= contingent) and that it is chosen not because it is better than not to choose it but only because it has been chosen in freedom, then this description and the definition of freedom of choice and contingently choosing cannot be reduce to either the notion of “thinking” “contemplating” or mentally producing. This kind of activity is sufficiently incommensurate with “understanding” “intellecting” “contemplating” that it refers to a different kind of power doing a different kind of activity. If this kind of activity is simply (without description and explanation) proclaimed to be the same as “thinking” “cognizing” or whatever, then it follows that in God it is correct to say that there is not difference between: “God love me” and “God thinks me”. In fact, there is no difference in saying God thinks contingent x and God wills contingent y, since apparently they don’t enjoy non-concentric terms that are irreducibly diverse. If thinking and willing can be collapsed into one and the same act and into the term “being” (esse), then I still do not understand how it does not follow that the world is thought, therefore, the world is willed.

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    • Dear Tom,

      You’ll see below that characteristic assertion are made to the contrary. Still, I hold that if there is any real meaning to choosing something that need not be (= contingent) and that it is chosen not because it is better than not to choose it but only because it has been chosen in freedom, then this description and the definition of freedom of choice and contingently choosing cannot be reduce to either the notion of “thinking” “contemplating” or mentally producing. This kind of activity is sufficiently incommensurate with “understanding” “intellecting” “contemplating” that it refers to a different kind of power doing a different kind of activity. If this kind of activity is simply (without description and explanation) proclaimed to be the same as “thinking” “cognizing” or whatever, then it follows that in God it is correct to say that there is not difference between: “God love me” and “God thinks me”. In fact, there is no difference in saying God thinks contingent x and God wills contingent y, since apparently they don’t enjoy non-concentric terms that are irreducibly diverse. If thinking and willing can be collapsed into one and the same act and into the term “being” (esse), then I still do not understand how it does not follow that the world is thought, therefore, the world is willed.

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  2. That’s it. I am going to write my master’s thesis on Bonaventure.

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  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Fr Kappes, may I ask you to explain for us nonscholastics some of the relevant distinctions, viz., notional distinction, conceptual distinction, real distinction. Thanks.

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    • I have endeavored to write in metaphor and more fun language rather than dry Scholastic or Palamite metaphysics (though Palamites are usually good a decorating their discoursed better than Schoolmen).

      So, for the non-initiated…a mini-crash course might be something like this:

      A nominalist (of which Ps.-Cyril’s De Trinitate is said to be an early example), is one who doesn’t like the ghostly world of genus and species, or the notion of “generals”. So, when I see three dogs, standard Latin and Byzantine logicians will tells us: “Oh, I know each one is a dog, because when my mind compare ‘this’ dog to the general idea of dogginess, I see that ‘this’ dog is actually an instance of the general definition of dog that is good for any dog whatsoever.” Nominalists don’t buy into the existence of these intangible “generic” categories of “animality” and “humanity” as items which we compare because they have some sort of non-particular nature…instead I see this ‘a’ item that has part 1-5 and this ‘b’ items that has 1-5 and I notice that ‘a’ and ‘b’ share in nos. 1-4. I catalogue this bundle of items that are “similar” into dogs. The point is that there is a practical comparing function going on in the mind of “simultude” not correspondence with the great idea or universal of “dogginess.” Of course, the Schoolmen thought -that for all its convenience- nominalists were weakest in being able to explain how I know ‘a’ is similar to ‘b’ if not by some third mental item that knows that they are similar. This similar-making-judgment is based upon something that is neither ‘a’ nor ‘b’, though I have only seen ‘a’ and ‘b’ dog in my entire life.

      Old Univocity (the univocity that Gemistos Plethon was accused of by Scholarios), was the idea that the logical world inside my head only and the real world outside my head only were in perfect proportion. If I though “wisdom” in my head, then every instance of wisdom outside my head not only corresponded by fitting the definition of wisdom, but also existed in every instance in the same mode. Every generic concept in my head would then have its corresponding reality exist in only a finite mode in reality, since my mind can only think in finite concepts. So, using this kind of univocity, Aquinas and anti-pagans were correct to reject theologians who might say that: “God is a being”…meaning that I think of God as existing…If I claim this to be an accurate concept, and given the fact that my concept of God is limited (since my mind can only think in generic but limited concepts at best), then God really exists in a mode that is like creatures. This means that God and creatures both share in being that is an umbrella bigger than either one of them. This is classically one example of pantheism.

      New Univocity. Scotus claimed that the Fathers are always affirming that God’s wisdom and our wisdom do share enough to both be properly called wise. It is true to say God is wise, but it is not true to say “God is rocky”. God is the cause of wisdom and God is the cause of rocks; equally both come from him and need him for their continued created existence. Yes, the Fathers want to same more than just “cause,” they want to say God’s being is really something that produces wise notions. So, if I can boil down the bare essentials of a definition of wisdom (e.g., knowing all causes in the universe and what they shall effect), and I really claim that God knows all particular causes, whether himself or other causes in particular that are producible by himself, then this is sufficiently similar to me knowing causes of things to share a 1 to 1 correspondence only on that point. If the mode or operation or origin of his wisdom is infinite and always in act and from eternity, then these are the differences that do not call into question the shared concentric notions of boiled-down-wisdom. If boiled-down-wisdom is thinkable, without contradiction, to exist infinitely (it is not a contradiction to say that God knows all possible causes that might be created ever), then God really acts in this manner without threat to his simplicity since wisdom can exist in an infinite mode (logically) and, thus, is no threat to the simplicity of God’s need to always be in act, since anything infinite is, by definition, totally maximal in what it can possibly be.

      New Univocity also claims that the Fathers used equivocal language, while making univocal claims (God is wise), because the Fathers wanted to say that God really can will, know, love, but they needed to guard the transcendence of God such that he did not do these things in a created or limited mode. Hence, the need to appeal to beyond-wise wisdom or super-wisdom is the language of Dionysian reverence meant to dissuade the reader from OLD UNIVOCITY, which was the only univocity used among the ancient. Once NEW UNIVOCITY clarified the fact that there is both an infinite and finite mode by which many “absolute” perfections can exist (e.g., life, wisdom, knowledge, et al), then the human mind can understand that it does really grasp at something of the truth of divine properties-energies, but that it only conceives them in a rational, limited, mode since it is a finite organ for understanding finite modes. That there is nothing contradictory or impossible about infinitely existing modes for being and properties means that for any concept in logic, one must ask whether such a concept admits of a potentially infinite mode. If so, it can be predicated of divine being without contradiction. This means that God and his properties can be used in syllogisms, but only a limited notion of the infinite attribute-energy can be grasped.

      Analogy (particularly in Thomism) knows more than one form. I will go by a summary of what has become the preferred explanation of what is authentic. The classic example (which I think falls short) is health. Health is said of man principally, so it is only truly and wholly proper for health to be said of a subject (man, monkey, dog, plant, etc.) in which health can really exist as a perfection. However health can exist in a lesser or diminished way insofar as we admit that food is “healthy” because is is “cause of health in humans…monkeys…et al.” Also, for Aquinas, urine is a sign of health insofar as it is a sign of health. The question is whether or not we are like these lesser analogates (healthy in urine and food) in comparison to health in man. So I am good, in that I am the effect of the Good Itself. By my participation in some way in that Good Itself I am good in a diminished sense. Therefore, for the mainline Thomist, only God is “being” and I am being (ens commune) in a lesser sense. Notably, there was some traction for this distinction even in the Greek East, but not based upon the systematic Aristotelico-system of Aquinas (admitting that there is a push to upgrade Aquinas’ Neo-Platonic Pedgree these days).

      The question for the pro-univocity theologian is: “If the definition of health in urine is not univocal in any of its terms (viz., dictionary definition) to health in man, how in the world can I make a syllogism that has any meaning with at least two (if not three) different essential concepts for one term?”

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Thanks! I appreciate the mini-lesson. 🙂

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      • Thank you for the little primer. The New Univocity seems to make more sense to me than the Thomist Analogy.

        Let me see if I get this right, in non-technical language:

        According to the NU (Bonaventure and Scotus?), Wisdom in man and God are the same thing, but existing in two different modes – finite for man, infinite for God. The finite Wisdom in man can be apprehended in man because we have the ‘equipment’ to apprehend it – finite senses (for lack of a better word). The infinite Wisdom of God cannot be apprehended by man because we do not have the infinite apparatus to apprehend it.

        Am I getting it?

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        • Dear A Leo,

          Goff is still working out Bonaventure…but it is clear that Bonaventure is committed to a concept shared between God and creature in his most important metaphysical works. So, I will say “yes” on both counts: Bonaventure (in a primitive way) and Scotus (eventually in a bold way) hold very close to what you are saying. The only thing I would add is that even sense experience gets us to keep abstracting “essences” “accidents” etc. If we ask what is behind this essence or accident, however, we come to nothing else but “the thought of being.” This is the finite concept abstracted from finite sense impressions about which you speak. And yes, we don’t have the mental apparatus to understand the infinite directly, only prove that it is possible to exist by logical and metaphysical arguments and thus show that two modes of being are possible.

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          • Yay I mastered Scotism!

            Just kidding, of course.
            A tangential question – does St Augustine reflect Neo-Platonism in the structure of his thinking, and do St Bonaventure and Bl JD Scotus follow him in this respect, while addressing the Aristotelian challenges to the Faith in their times? And does St Thomas break from this by attempting to reconcile the Faith and Aristotelian thinking?
            That’s the common narrative I’ve read. Is there truth to it?

            Thank you Fr Kappes.

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          • David Bradshaw says:

            Thanks, Fr. Christiaan, for your long reply of July 6. I can see that on the issue that interests me most – that of Scotus’s approach to the simplicity/freedom problem – I need to reread chap. 4 of Cross. I see from my notes in the margin that I wasn’t satisfied the first time I read it, but maybe I missed something. I’ll read it again with your comments in mind.

            Yes, I’d be delighted to join such a conference. It would be most timely. Your work and that of Demetracopoulos et al. are making the Byzantines after Palamas much more accessible than they used to be. I’d be glad to hear the results of the latest research.

            Unfortunately I’ll have to write up something on all this before then, as I’ve agreed to deliver a chapter on the essence/energies distinction for the Oxford Handbook of EO Theology by the end of 2017. I’ll run it by you for your comments. I certainly want to represent these authors fairly even when I don’t agree with their general direction.

            I’ll forego other comments, as I must get along to other tasks. Thanks again for all the work you’re doing in this area. DB

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          • BTW, by Bonaventure be called “early”, I mean his university graduation and first works that pre-date Aquinas (even if not by so many years in the scheme of things).

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          • Dear David,

            It was delightful to engage you as well. It’s nice too when the blogosphere can see that very different perspectives cooperating together to get to the bottom of a question vs. canvassing for votes by using clever blog-rhetoric!

            I do agree that Cross was super-valuable for me on scotistic simplicity et al that you mention. I also forgot to affirm that another issue may in fact constitute a real difference, to my mind, in your interesting description of what appears to be a series of free choices by the divine mind (in Palamas’ works) in God’s creation of contingents. Although we always have to be cautious of his non-scientific presentations in anthropomorphic language, I will be reading your argument on the fathers and will and trying to see if they were dismissive or inattentive to a substantially Augustinian-Scholastic problem of total actuality in the divine will (constrained to one sole act). Scotus would fall outside any description the divinity making successive acts of the will in order to make things. So, this a second point (in addition to simplicity as a Palamas-God-attribute) you brought to my attention that might prove to be, in the end, a real difference between scotism and palamism (of course, I can hope for “no way” since I’d prefer for my own reasons that they be entirely parallel…but let’s see!). I thought of a final metaphor to illustrate Scotus: Let’s say my name is Okeanos, and I am a divine sea of being. So, when I see-produce a spitting image-vision of myself, looking at my infinite sea of being I simultaneously see all possble fish in my sea and boat on my sea. At the first structural or psychological moment of seeing, I am occasioned to choose to love my sea-being and simultaneously to select all the fish and boat that will love me or imitate me along with my own intrinsic acts of loving. Whatever possible-fish or possible-boats that I select to really love me along with loving myself are selected to exist really, yet they are distinct (thanks Jared for this point!) in that they are contingent-possible per se and so their contingency is primarily rooted in the kind of non-necessary reality that they represent (vs. the energies which are seen as real and operating when I look into my sea of being, as let’s say waves and crests that depend upon my watery-ness but are concomitant and necessary to me given the necessary operations of an ocean). Anyway, another direction.

            As far as the real story on Mark of Ephesus’ intellectual superiority over the Latins, along with Gennadius (contra old Neo-Thomistic narratives), I outline his use of the formal distinction against John Montenero in the section dedicated to debate (see the footnotes esp.) in:
            https://www.academia.edu/4912818/_A_Latin_Defense_of_Mark_of_Ephesus_at_the_Council_of_Ferrara-Florence_1438-1439_Greek_Orthodox_Theological_Review_59_2014_

            I’ll pass on the word on a future conference. Exciting on the EO Theology by Oxford. I myself will be putting out in 2017 Oxford chapter on Palamas’ Mariology…I too hope to learn more myself!

            Best wishes on your summer research!
            cwk

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        • Dear A Leo,

          Ha, amusing! By NeoPlatonism, I understand Augustine to be heavily influence by Plotinus. However, I too rely on the secondary literature in this one. I say this with caution since I am getting ready to submit a paper on Augustine and Original Sin and found that recent publishing is committed to pushing Augustine as in love with the word “fault/guilt” as regards the conception of a fetus. In reality, he never uses it and likely uses an alternative word because of his sensitivity to “culpa” in au courant Roman Law. From what I have read of Augustine’s metaphysics, I would say that he certainly has the concerns of NeoPlatonist to avoid act-potency in God. The “On the Trinity” (et al), though, might be considered beyond NeoPlatonism (as I vaguely remember Bradshaw) due to its attempt to compact all God’s attributes into the same space and permit no real or intrinsic distinctions between divine items, save (what Easterners often think of as weak) distinction of the persons.

          Just on the subject of God’s make-up, I think that Goff’s and my narrative is looking ever more that Aristotelian physics and metaphysics became successively less interesting for Bonaventure since it could not justify God’s plurality of thoughts, attributes, and knowing singulars as such (since knowing Bobby-Joe is an imperfection for God in an Aristotelian schema where only universal scientific knowledge has value). Bonaventure’s Sentences, as I have recently seen treated was read pretty much by everyone as a model of organization and source for thought. Scotus had them before his eyes and managed to prioritize Damascene and Dionsyius on some relevant God-metaphysics questions, where Augustine is relegated to someone who needs to fit a plurality of attributes-perfections model and to be explained away, not vice versa.

          I don’t mean this as an outright attack, but -in my view- Aquinas is simply a canonization of Aristotle. I think he had good strategic reasons as someone writing at the height of the new craze for all things Aristotelian (even stronger than Bonaventure’s time). So, I look at Aquinas as trying to take pesky Aristotelians in the arts faculty and adorers of Aristotle and meet them on their own turf. This is not unlike apologists who swallow whole the latest scientific theories and hypotheses in order to engage modern and argue for God or against evolution, etc. In this process, I have not come across even one citation where Aquinas has anything negative to say about Aristotle. I have seen him in the S.Th. call John Damascene a heretic, certainly Platonists erroneous, but not Aristotle (that doesn’t mean there doesn’t exist a passage somewhere). However, even if sometimes Aquinas must make Aristotle say something other than his Latin edition in order to not condemn him, or even if sometimes he must ignore a rather irreconcilable comment to Christianity, he always treats Aristotle like the star that he was at that time. This overly simple weighing in on Aquinas nonetheless anticipates my answer; namely, Aquinas is, for me, some acting as if he were Aristotle, and what he would need to think and say in order to be a Christian without substantially abandoning his own philosophy. Now, pro-Aquinas guys will naturally cite me his argument for creation, the immortality of the soul, the will, etc. However, going back to the texts, Aquinas skillfully leads his fellow exuberant Aristotelian interlocutor to believe Aristotle even held Aquinas’ position, was open to it, sympathized with enough of it to still be only full of merit and no reprobation. I would welcome counterexamples of this, since I have been looking for them!

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          • Very interesting. This whole comment section inclines me to want to study St Bonaventure and Bl JD Scotus more. Sadly, the English translations are lacking or prohibitively expensive (I need to learn Latin).

            So with St Augustine, would you say with regards to the fault/guilt thing that this is more projected onto him than what he actually holds? Is this related to the mis-translation of Trent on Original Sin, where ‘reatus’ was simply translated as ‘guilt’ or ‘fault’? And does he get less Neo-Platonic the further on he goes?

            And with St Bonaventure, were his Commentaries on the Sentences earlier, when he is trying to reconcile Aristotle, or later, after he stopped trying to do so?
            Also, were his Commentaries on the Sentences very popular with other theologians up until Thomism was ascendant?

            Lastly, do you know of a good English translation of the Sentences for free online, and is there a good English translation of St Bonaventure’s Commentaries on them?

            Thank you and appreciate your work!

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          • Dear A Leo,

            If you’d like to start reading Scotus for free, a place to start is here:
            http://aristotelophile.com/current.htm

            NB, one problem with Scotus is that there is a semantic shift and more distinctions on what terms like “nature” mean. So, for example what we might call non-temporal structural plans when looking at a being can be one way of thinking of nature that is quite refined for Scotus. Alan Wolter’s books can be helpful on this and are cheap as used books on either amazon.com or abebooks.com. As far as Latin goes, Reggie Foster -I think the uncontested master thereof- told us continuously that we only need about 8-9 years to seriously get Latin down!

            With Augustine, he uses reatus with respect to infants, and tends to emphasis loss, not punishment, but never imputes to them “culpa”. The Schoolmen messed this up unintentionally when Fulgentius of Ruspe (a guilt-monger) and Paschasius Radbertus began to be mis-identified as Augustine in the middle ages. Trent, indeed, needs to be studied in light of its sources and the discussions, but reatus and culpa are likely not the same since the Franciscans (for whom Trent is a compromise formula) tended to deemphasize that vocabulary by the early 14th century. As far as the ebbing/flowing of NeoPlatonism in Augustine…mmm…I will have to go to Wikipedia and tell you what to believe on that one!

            J. Goff’s “Caritas in primo” statistically shows Bonaventure’s exuberant enthusiasm for Aristotle in his earliest works (sort of like beer after prohibition ended) only to find that Aristotle was less and less interesting and useful for theology as the years advanced, to the point where Bonaventure effectively ignored him. Yes, Bonaventure’s commentaries were popular throughout the 1200s.

            But Thomism was never “ascendant.” If Thomism is taken as “the majority of the biggie doctrines of Thomas,” then nobody followed him. The Dominicans reverenced his memory and demanded consultation and respect for Thomas’ opinion and refused to accept his ecclesiastical condemnations. However, the most fervent defenders of Thomas didn’t buy in like Neo-Thomism to his ideas. It was only Capreolus who tried to really get that ball moving and to little effect until Cajetan provided what was apparently the manner that finally got everyone to jump on board. There are, I think, individual exceptions as in provinces influenced and reformed by Raymond of Capua.

            As far as Franciscan material, a good place to start is here:

            https://franciscan-archive.org/index2.html

            CWK

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  4. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Fr Kappes,

    Would you be so kind to show us references in St Palamas’ corpus from which you conclude that Palamas’ understanding of God’s self contemplation is that God sees “all of his outstanding thoughts, attributes, and being”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I figured I’d start out with a relatively early or primitive version of Palamas’ God-talk. Let’s use Meyendorff’s and Gendel’s version (The Classics of Western Spirituality) to start with and see if this is satisfactory.

      As I perused the edition this afternoon, per your question, I noticed something new for me, but that makes sense: Palamas is very concerned about talking about the experiences of human minds/souls and only works up to God’s self-vision. It was a pretty interesting feature in the first sections, that he seems to assume that we all hold that all God’s natural productions (characteristics) and his light (et al) are (besides essence) knowable to us in the degree to which we are purified and thus granted access to know the energies and divine light (also an energy). So, we must first accept the premise that God knows more than us. If we agree, then we see that all the “things around God” or his “characteristics” are known by the initiated, so a fortiori by God in himself. Secondly, if God is productive of the divine light, then I take it as obvious that he must know that light prior to and better than we who can clearly know it. I presume that we agree that Palamas is note speaking of the opaque, indistinguishable broth of divine being when he looks at himself, as does Aquinas. The only person I know of that seems to try to say otherwise -which I have read- is Fr. Loudivikos (who would claim that Palamas and Thomas are really the same).

      So, with that preamble, I invite you to explore the following:

      Triads, ed. Meyendorff, E.ii.i.23, p. 81 lists essential powers in the divinity that are essential but not the essence itself.

      Triads, E.ii.i.30, pp. 85-86 I take to mean that God gives knowledge as a perfection to man, and deifying grace (to contemplate the energies) to man. I take it as obvious that God knows these items before he gives them a perfections ad extra.

      Triads E.ii.i.34, p. 89 Supposes that the perfection of man to become God is to have the same lights to contemplate and by seeing these lights to become another sun. Thus we are using the models of God’s contemplation of himself.

      Triads F.ii.ii.6, p. 94: It explicitly breaks into the nature of divine self-contemplation that had no beginning and was from eternity (obviously the model for the hesychastic contemplation of the energies and light prior). Obviously, another item that must be contemplated by the divinity is his essence. Importantly, the items of contemplation are predefintions of things, foreknowledge, will, providence (in addition to the “natural energies”). What is clear here is that God needs contemplate particular items in his divine essence prior to choosing them out and that he contemplates in himself the items under investigation.

      I hope this example proves satisfactory.
      cwk

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      • apophaticallyspeaking says:

        Thank you Fr Kappes. I do not now have time to respond, but I will in due time.

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        • Dear AP,
          I decided to take a look at epoptike/epopteia as well. The Palamites inherited from Palamas the idea that ancient epoptike (or in one version, how God looks at a sees things in himself as a metaphysical inquiry). Note the following in Palamas, Contra Nic. Gregoram, 2.43:

          Καὶ μὴ μόνον τὴν ἀπεργαστικήν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν ἐποπτικὴν καὶ προνοητικὴν ἀϊδίως ἔχει
          δύναμιν, θεᾶται γὰρ ὡς Θεὸς τὰ πάντα πρὶν γενέσεως αὐτῶν.

          The individual items are viewed by the divine mind in the essence that will be selected out. These are seen clearly before the come about in the order of reality. This is exactly parallel in my read with the way Bonaventure and, more developed-ly, Scotus describe what God is doing when looking into a mirror. For Thomists, all these items, seen as distinct in the divine mind, threaten the simplicity of the act of pure esse.

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  5. thomas says:

    “It becomes increasingly difficult to make sense of God’s freely chosen creation by God’s free will, if–like Thomists–God’s will is in every thinkable and essential way the same as his intellect….”

    Aquinas, for one, didn’t say this. We draw our notion of will and intellect from our experience of finite beings in the world, and we apply them analogically to God. It is true God is simple, and that there is no real distinction between will and intellect in God. Yet what we signify about God by through the notions of intellect and will are distinct, and Aquinas clearly says so.

    It cannot be too often repeated that for Aquinas, despite the fact that we cannot comprehend God, we can understand what we say about God, and even have a pretty good idea about the limitations of what we say.

    As to the issue of God’s having a free will in the sense of a real capacity or faculty that is directed at the world, I cannot understand why anyone would affirm it. Acts of will are specified by their object. If I desire a glass of wine, my desire (indeed myself) is shaped and delimited by the wine in front of me. And my will depends for its fulfillment on the object of my desire.

    If God is free in that sense–that he has a discrete faculty capable of different particular actions–then he depends for who he now is on creation. God could not be concretely himself without the world. Not to mention the fact that such a God clearly could not be infinite (since he is potentially the creator of other worlds or no world and actually the creator of ours, there is something he is not.)

    The virtue of Aquinas’ reasoning on this point is its apophaticism: the primary moment of our understanding of God is realizing the inability of God to fall under any of our concepts.

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  6. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Fr Christiaan, as I understand the Palamas/Barlaam dispute, the initial catalyst was Barlaam’s public denial that hesychasts truly saw and experienced God (in his energies or glory). Was this also a matter of dispute between Palamites and Latin scholastics in their debates on the essence/energies distinction? How did the Latins respond to the hesychastic claim to see God in this life?

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    • Dear Fr. Aidan,

      There were different stages and different issues in those stages. Once Prochoros Kydones got Thomists involved, he made the light an issue. I still have not figured out all the positions on “the uncreated light.” Palamas is quite clearly demeaning of anyone who mistakes this light as visible to the eyes. However, Mark of Ephesus seems to think that Palamas had passages that imply the eye could be elevated to see this light. Whether this be pseudepigrapha or use of early writings (without the aid of the Homilies), I have not yet been able to study.

      For Prochoros, it was an issue in the 1360s and, by extension, for his brother Demetrius after he took up for his excommunicated and sequestered bro. For Calecas there seems to be a metaphysical turn (scriptsit 1396) to more interest in the essence-energies in a classical Thomist-Scotist debate about what the nature of God’s perfections are ad intra. Still, after he dies (d. 1410) both debates survive into Florence. In 1438, Torquemada and John Lei discover that the Palamites hold a different view of the beatific vision and seeing the divine essence. Amazingly, Mark (through Scholarios it seems) got a hold of the 14th century Dominican vs. Pope debates on the beatific vision, as well as passages from St. Bernard that clearly support the Palamite view on seeing God. This must have closed down the debate since we might suppose that there were still Franciscans arguing in a non-dominican fashion, and Pope Eugene did not likely want the 14th century scandal and controversy rehashed at Florence. Instead, an ambiguous commitment to seeing God was cited, but the Dominicans were teed off with the compromise, so that c. 1440-1 (after the july 06, 1439 end for the Greek) composed a treatise that blasted the Palamites for believing that the beatific vision consisted in in view an energy, light (fulgor), or some sort of entity outside the divine essence. Equally, as 2-3 other Dominicans at the Council, Torquemada condemned (in his “Apparatus”) the “real” distinction between the essence and energies. Dominicans were on to the Palamites on most of the issues that Gregoras and Akindynos were. I think that Manuel Calecas even cited from this literature when he was accusing Palamas, which got him in hot water with Mark of Ephesus, since some of the accusations were nonsense (e.g, That Palamas believe the incarnation was “the energy made flesh” not “the word made flesh”). I think I have found Calecas’ accusation in the Orthodox anti-Palamites that were not Thomists.

      In conclusion, the beatific vision and the nature of the divine light were officially debated at Florence, but the Pope and Emperor successfully avoided allowing Dominicans to keep the debate up…Mark of Ephesus was not wild about the debate (considering to be initially a Byzantine issue). However, when he saw the verve with which it was allowed to be introduced at Florence publicly, he later added to the items that he listed as “Latin erros”;namely that the “Latins” denied the essence-energies doctrine. While his experience at Florence (with most of the official debaters being Dominicans or sympathizers with Aquinas), he would have been left that impression. Still, Scholarios always maintained the proper insight and nuance that it was the Dominicans who were not like the Orthodox. I suppose that Mark’s broad brush was used in his Encyclical Epistle more for propaganda, since though he knew Scotism and read translations of Scotus (ad hoc from Gennadius) into Greek, he nonetheless was willing to fudge since the Latins certainly tolerated anti-Palamites and allowed them places of honor at Florence. So, the rest of the Latins could be imputed guilt by not excommunicating them or some other form of punishment.

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  7. Very interesting!

    A small point, on the lumen gloriae:

    This accident elevated the human eye (with lenses) and, by analogy, the spiritual eye to see the divine essence.

    This is somewhat misleading as a description of Aquinas. The lumen gloriae does not elevate the human mind to see the divine essence. It only prepares the mind for it, creates a disposition; seeing the divine being requires the mind not just to have the light of glory but to be made actually deiform by divine being. The lumen gloriae on its own doesn’t do anything fundamentally different in kind from the virtue of faith, which it replaces; the light of faith is just the incomplete form of what the light of glory will be the complete form of.

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  8. MJH says:

    Reblogged this on the pocket scroll and commented:
    One of the reasons I feature western poets and mystics on this blog — as I did yesterday with St Columba — is to disassemble the false dichotomy between eastern Christianity as solely mystical with mystery and western Christianity as solely interested in dogma and logic. Here is a great post by Christian Kappes, guest blogging at the excellent Eclectic Orthodoxy blog. He discusses the use of logic in the antecedents and successors of Palamas. And he even admits where there are convergences between different strands of eastern and western theology. Dogma is not the sole domain of the West; mysticism is not the sole domain of the East. Enjoy!

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  9. Joseph of Arimathea says:

    You wrote: “Lastly, so far as I know, no Latin-medieval thinker ever tried to take Ps.-Dionysius and his eternal processions from the essence of God as a means to speak about the connective tissue between the uncreated God and creation. As Demetracopoulos footnotes in his 100-page long essay, Palamas almost cites verbatim the pagan philosopher Proclus (over and above Ps.-Dionysius), to say that God has something like an emanation outside of himself that acts almost as a mediator between creation and the uncreated.”

    Do Eriugena and Cusanus not count?

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  10. Dear Joseph,

    Thanks for the inquiry. I would consider Cusanus a solidly Renaissance figure (since my point is that pre-Palamas there is no such tradition [of which I am aware]). Secondly, with respect to Eriugena, it is -to my non-specialist knowledge- still a matter of debate as to what the status of the emanations are for Eriugena. At least the scholar with whom I wrote “Palamas among the Scholastics” would hold that Eriugena’s notion of theophany is just such a case. However, so far as I am aware, his position is not dominant and the literature so far tends to connect Eriugena to Augustine in his sources and synthesis of OT theophany (the divine light). If this is indeed the case, scholars such as Bogdan Bucur et al have shown that Augustine represents an entirely different metaphysical outlook. I would agree that Eriugena’s God, ad intra, is very much reconcilable to Palamas and Maximus and Bonventuro-Scotism, but I am not sure that his notion of energies ad extra has been demonstrated as being a case of uncreated mediatory attributes, standing between the divine essence and creation as the very necessary contact point for creation to be possible. Secondly, I again believe that the question of the divine light ad extra is contested. If the scholarly literature has shifted solidly in the opposite direction of what I am saying, please do let me know the latest collections of studies or monograph that has settled the question since this would be very valuable to me personally and those of us who are trying to trace the origins of Bonaventuro-Scotism to Eriugena as an intellectual mediator!

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  11. Tom says:

    Fr Christiann,

    Would you be good (analogically or univocally, I have no idea) enough to recommend 2 or 3 works for beginning one’s journey into Scotus (either introductions of him by others or his own works)?

    Tom (univocally) 😛

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  12. David Bradshaw says:

    Hello Fr. Christiaan, and thanks for this post (which I have just now read). I appreciate your remarks about my book.

    I notice that the topic of divine freedom comes up several times in the comments. I’ve reviewed the evidence regarding the teaching of the Greek Fathers on this point at
    https://www.academia.edu/13288798/_Divine_Freedom_in_the_Greek_Patristic_Tradition._Quaestiones_Disputatae_2_2011_56-69.
    As one can see there, the Fathers do indeed draw an analogy between human and divine will. In fact this analogy forms a large part of their understanding of what it means for man to be made in God’s image.

    Interestingly, the Fathers even attribute deliberation (proboulia) to God, although they recognize that doing so raises philosophical difficulties. The reason is simply that Scripture itself portrays God as deliberating (e.g., Gen. 1:26), and they believe that this teaching contains an important truth. I’ve discussed St. Cyril’s strategy for addressing this issue here:
    https://www.academia.edu/8172503/_The_Philosophical_Theology_of_St._Cyrils_Against_Julian_Phronema_29_2014_21-39.

    As regards Scotus, I have to say that in my own reading of him I don’t see how the formal distinction between the divine will and essence is strong enough to sustain what he wants to say about divine freedom. As you know he wrestles with the problem in Bk. IV of De Primo Principio, but it doesn’t seem to me that he has an adequate answer. I’ve made this criticism more fully toward the end of this paper (where I also cite Richard Cross, who raises a similar problem regarding divine knowledge):
    https://www.academia.edu/13025427/_The_First_Cause_Creation_and_Emanation._Blackwell_History_of_Philosophy_in_the_Middle_Ages_ed._John_Inglis_Daniel_Frank_and_Taneli_Kukkonen_Blackwell_forthcoming_.

    Of course, Scotus is hardly alone in this regard. It’s a problem that bedevils medieval Aristotelianism in its Islamic, Jewish, & Christian versions. You seem to think that Scotus’s drawing the notion of positive divine infinity from Damascene gives him resources here that others lacked. Maybe so, but precisely how that’s relevant isn’t clear to me.

    If you could lay out precisely how divine infinity addresses the problem raised at the beginning of DPP 4.26, or cite someone who does, that would be helpful. But I don’t want to put you “on the spot” if you feel this is too much for a blog entry.

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  13. Dear David,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. Naturally, I need some time to reflect on the items that you have posted and to read the articles you mention. I am very interested in your reflections on Cross because, though medievalists are sometimes heavy-handed with what they think is a too modern slant on Scotus’ ideas, I simply don´t think anyone besides Giorgio Pini has explored in-depth so much of what Scotus is trying to relay.

    Of course, DPP is going to be heavily philosophical and I’ll need some time to return back to him after I have a chance to read your article. I appreciate your willingness to try to do a compare and contrast between these two thinkers. I’ll be interested in what ways your article zooms in on Scotus’ “Aristotelianism” in that Scotus is often quite happy (in contrast to other major figures like Aquinas) to simply see Aristotle as wrong or not the whole story.

    Again, thanks for the engagement. I will do my best to try to get to the relevant readings in short time. If it is too long of a response, or to many days to be relevant to this blog, then I will likely try to send you my thoughts on paper. I have to say, I’m a little excited to see if you have found something, since -for Thomists- both univocity and the formal distinction are real demons of the antichrist that “realiter” divide the essence and energies. Not that Thomists must be the only ones to understand the nature of Scotus´distinction (μὴ γένοιτο!), but rather that Scotists spend significant efforts showing that the distinction is not real in the Aristotelico-Thomistic sense, but is real enough that the object itself distinctly and intrinsically contains each such a distinction without division into separable properties or beings. I realize that you have already seen this numerous times till now, but I am supposing (for those who are still following -since I only knew about your response from an email of an interested blog-reader) that this kind of preamble is important for whatever I am about ready to walk into in your critique.

    We’ll see…best wishes until our next contact…
    cwk

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  14. Dear David,

    As I peruse your summary of Scotus’ argumentation, my compliments with being able to say much with little, and yet capture the essence of the proof. I ask this not as a criticism, but just to see if an answer is fresh in your mind. For the problem about the existence of contingently willed items and necessarily willed items in God you cited Scotus 1999. This is a great, but purely summary, assessment of Scotus’ doctrine. I am traveling these days so I don’t have access to my copy of Cross’, Duns Scotus On God. I thin there were only 3 pages addressing the issue in Cross 1999, did you have a chance to check his much more updated and thorough assessment of the problem in the book I just referenced? I hope to find the relevant section as part of me figuring out the who Cross 1999 (which I have here) relates to “On God.”

    Thanks again
    cwk

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    • David Bradshaw says:

      Yes, I checked Duns Scotus on God when I wrote this paper (in ’09) and didn’t find anything. I was surprised since he treated the problem prominently in the 1999 book. Maybe there’s something I missed. My own understanding of the formal distinction is formed mainly by Wolter’s essay on that topic, which of course is rather old … so I may be missing something there too.

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      • Thanks for letting me know!

        As I see it, from your linked article, your Scotus DPP 4.26 reference, and Cross 1999, I am zooming in on three issues:

        (1.) When -as you rightly call it- Aristotelian concerns predominate and philosophy is made to line up exactly with Aristotelian simplicity criteria the cost is to mash divine freedom into divine esse/being such that God doesn’t seem to coherently choose necessarily the necessary and contingently what is contingent in a coherent way.

        (2.) Cross and Scotus DPP 4.26, are notable for not giving a satisfactory logical and metaphysical account of the moving parts involved in God’s choice of contingent beings such that they exist non-necessarily.

        (3.) The interaction between Providence and freedom remain unresolved

        I would like to start by just *provisionally* suggesting that these are the areas said to challenge the “Palamas among the Scholastics” thesis that Palamas and Scotus operate in a parallel fashion. If I have missed the mark, I am happy to adjust to make sure that we are speaking with each other as dialogue partners.I would start by pointing out that, on # 1, we find already in the Triads, Meyendorff, F.III.ii.5, p. 93 ff. that the Palamas begins:

        “I should like to ask this man why he claims that only the divine essence is without beginning, whereas everything apart from it is of a created nature, and whether or not he thinks this essence is all-powerful”

        I take it as agreed that Palamas understands, as you have also supposed, that it is ultimately Aristotelian simplicity concerns that represent the very nature of question at hand in the intro here (BTW, I don’t want to characterize you for the sake of advancing argument, but am just highlighting areas that I am guessing we already agree on).

        For this reason, Palamas addresses the following concern: “indivisible and supernatural simplicity” (ibid F.III.ii.8, p. 96). I would submit that Mark of Ephesus’ (syllogistic chapters contra Akindynists; 2 antirrhetics against Calecas) and Scholarius both admit that the concern of the neo-Barlaamites (= Gregoras and Akindynos) are essentially the same, which at worst is nominalism and at best analogy of the concept of being. If you agree that their positions do not differ from the ranges of Thomism from the 13th-14th centuries, then we run into parallel reactions in both Scotus and Palamas that are similar. Neither seems to contend with their interlocutors that act vs. potency, parts vs. whole, division of items, are possible for a non-Barlaamitical description of God. As Cross does note with Scotus, however, Scotus’ likely failure is to convincingly hold a very strong sense of the contingently choosing divine will and to satisfactorily *reconcile* it with Aristotelian concerns of eternal acts-operations being able to choose possible items of the divine intellect in a contingent manner, all the while the will remains infinite and one.

        However, let us grant both Cross’ and your critique of his project as ultimately falling short of the mark, that -it seems to me- only means that he fails to convince his *Aristotelian* interlocutors who are embodied in Thomism. I can see no difference between Scotus and Palamas in this, per your linked-article. As you make the conclusion about Palamas that he must “sacrifice” divine unity-simplicity (in the relevant sense) in order to guard the absolutely free and non-determined choices of the divine will of contingent beings. Yet, as I read things (please feel free to adjust the parameters of the conversation to make sure I understood you correctly), this simply mean that Palamas admittedly (per your article) failed to satisfy Aristotelian simplicity concerns. *Even though per the citation, above, Palamas denied that he violated such simplicity concerns*, he cannot make Aristotelianism work to his favor on the question of contingent items. How is that different from a boiled down assessment that Cross and, if I have understood you well, you indicate. For our purposes, if I grant that Scotus *also* did not make his case, he is nonetheless trying to affirm two irreconcilable positions: (1.) He wants a personal God as robustly filled with really existing attributes ad intra as possible, (2.) He does not want to be found violating Aristotelian simplicity criteria. In effect, in addition to the parallels that I list in “Palamas among the Scholastics,” I would be tempted to add this very question as yet *another parallel*; namely, that neither Palamas nor Scotus satisfied predominantly Aristotelian concerns though they claimed to have addressed them in their opponents (for Palamas the nominalist-analogist Barlaam, Gregoras, and Akindynos and for Scotus, Henry of Ghent and Aquinas).

        #2 I think is much along the same lines. I do not want to claim that one line (in your linked-article on Palamas) tells the whole story…but if we can summarily say that Palamas sacrificed “simplicity” in order to guard divine freedom, why can’t we say the same (with more logical rigor with Scotus), only that we grant that neither Cross (nor yourself) are ultimately satisfied that he manages to satisfy both parties. The key here is, however, the fact that the controlling idea for Scotus is not simplicity but his strong assertion that God’s will is more like our will than it is like the divine will as a strict Aristotelian would want us to believe. Hence, Scotus’ “error” is to fall on the side of the argument that Palamas later takes. For all Scotus’ logical rigor, he cannot accomplish his task andy better than Palamas did (given our presumption of Scotus’ failure).

        #3 I will not address providence since I’m not sure that this is one of the items that you thought Scotus and Palamas need to be separated on. I do see that Scotus account does not fill in all the blanks. To my knowledge, however, this just puts him in the same camp with all Fathers and Schoolmen, in that he has not figured out the puzzle between human and divine freedom in such a way that both can be adequately accounted for with God as somehow the cause of each of man’s free acts (in whatever way and degree He is said to cause said act). Still, this debate was alive and well in Byzantium. You may know of Mark of Ephesus’ own opinio theologica -as a Palamite- that the literature records as holding (it is available in PG); namely, Mark seems to hold that God does not know “the death of the sinner.” Taken in the sense I read him, he only knows that and when he gives providential-predetermination-grace -which must have a positive and saving effect on whomever it is given, but that God does not will negatives or privations, he is so to speak Mr. Positive.

        Lastly, if Palamas is really an alternative to the formal distinction (though I read them above as both “failing” to defend simplicity in parallel fashion), what kind of distinction do we call this, since Palamas denies that he has made God complex? Secondly, why are the energies in Scotus’ God somehow less real than in Palamas’ God? Both being in the essence, and inseparable, and prior to the mind, and infinite, seems to mean they are natural pals.

        Please forgive the terse presentation of everything…As you noted…the blogosphere is not the best forum for very detailed questions. I don’t at all want to over simplify your position but am truly interested in the precise areas where you see the two somehow *not* overlapping.

        I think too that the elephant in the front room is the “Palamite School.” If there is some alternative distinction that does not -per Palamas’ own protests- violate his interlocutor’s notion of simplicity and is yet beyond analogy or univocity (scotistically speaking), then what do we call that “not-complex-making but simple-making decision”? What are the logical or metaphysical components of that distinction taken in isolation that are completely irreconcilable with Scotism? From what I can see, anyone from Kokkinos to Eugenicus and Scholarius among Orthodox churchmen and saints failed to discern that Palamas had found a brand-new, or rather ancient, alternative that could not be addressed in Scholastic jargon. I take Demetracopoulos’ study (not to mention my study on Scholarios in 2012) as 100 pages of solid reasons to think that Palamism worked withing the conceptual framework of its historical period in philosophy and theology. The Thomas de Aquino Byzantinus project is exploding in the number of citations (sometimes pro sometimes contra) in logic and metaphysics from Aquinas. Recently, Dr. P. Athanasopoulos and I have discovered yet another passage where Mark of Ephesus cited Scotus (ad hoc) for arguments against Aquinas on materia prima. There seems to be no reason to assert (within the historical context of Palamas) that he was doing something so radically different from the Latins that none of his followers seems to be aware of this, even though some of them are saints of the Orthodox Church and professed Palamites.

        That said, as a philosopher, I entire agree with you that Palamas is thinkable as doing something entirely new (meaning *not what his contemporaries and successors are doing*) and is reflecting some deep tradition of the East. But what is the distinction in that tradition called? What are its components? I think everyone reading needs to be open to the fact that you may be on to something. I think that the award winning work you wrote does mean that other intelligent thinkers see that you have had insights into a thinker that deserve greater attention. I am open to hearing this and must admit that I can accept (with my own studies in the diversity that existed in Palamism) that Palamas is the only one that maintained his position (in comparison to his school) with its pristine purity. However, I’m not yet convinced that his distinction amounted to much more than of what the Thomists accuse him; namely, a less logically rigorous Scotus (of course, I believe them to be wrong on both accounts!).

        In conclusion, please only select out anything you find germane to your actual positions. I fear misrepresenting you by reading to summarily or quickly. I am so grateful to have the chance to hash these things out with you that I risk oversimplifying your position for the sake of expediency!

        cwk

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        • David Bradshaw says:

          There are many issues here. First a minor point – I wouldn’t regard the understanding of divine simplicity prevalent among the scholastics as primarily Aristotelian. Aristotle actually says very little about the simplicity of the Prime Mover. The main influence on the scholastics in this regard were Augustine and the Arabic Aristotelians, especially Avicenna. Unlike Aristotle they explicitly speak of the divine will and identify that will with the divine essence. Note also that the major texts from Augustine on divine simplicity (cited in AEW, pp. 224-25) were included by Lombard in the Sentences, and so were widely known.

          If I understand you correctly, you concede that Scotus’s position does not reconcile divine freedom with this prevalent, Augustinian form of divine simplicity. I’m actually not 100% convinced of that, which is why I asked the question. Let me first briefly review my understanding of the formal distinction.

          There are two types, the pure and the modal. The pure formal distinction (PFD) obtains between two formal perfections. Wolter lists the following examples: (1) successive essential attributes, e.g., man, animal, living, etc.; (2) being and its transcendental attributes of unity, truth, and goodness; (3) the divine essence and its attributes; (4) the divine essence and the propria of the three Persons; (5) a common nature and a corresponding haecceity; (6) the soul and its faculties.

          The modal formal distinction (MFD) obtains between a form and its mode. Examples here include (1) wisdom and infinite in God; (2) being and finite in creatures; (3) (possibly) the essence and act of existence of an individual entity.

          My first question is, where within this taxonomy should we place the distinction between the divine essence and the specific act of will (not merely the faculty of will) involved in creating this particular world? The distinction between the divine essence and attributes is a PFD. Is willing this particular world an “attribute”? Or is it more like the mode of an attribute, in which case the MFD might be relevant?

          I’m also unsure precisely what is meant in saying that the distinction (whether PFD or MFD) obtains because the relata have distinct “formalities.” In some of the cases I think I understand this – e.g. I think (tentatively) that I understand what’s meant in speaking of different formalities of being, unity, truth, & goodness. However, what is the “formality” of the act that consists in willing this particular world? And how is it different from that of the faculty of will?

          This is where I’m hoping you can provide some clarification. Lacking it, I simply don’t see how Scotus has advanced the discussion beyond where Aquinas.

          As regards Palamas, he wasn’t faced with this problem because he didn’t subscribe to the Augustinian version of divine simplicity. In fact it was fundamental to the entire Greek tradition ever since Athanasius that the divine essence and will are *not* identical. Florovsky makes this point well in his essay on St. Athanasius’s concept of creation.

          Of course it’s true that the Greeks did think that God is simple, but they understood this simplicity in a less demanding way as entailing (a) no separable parts, and (b) no dependence upon another being for His essential attributes or propria (e.g., via participation). They did not understand it as requiring an identity between the essence and attributes, much less the divine essence and will.

          Ultimately simplicity came to be identified as one of the “things around God” like eternity, infinity, goodness, wisdom, and so on. See Maximus as quoted in AEW, p. 189 (who is here simply developing the thought of the Cappadocians). Palamas identifies the things around God as divine energies, so he naturally identifies simplicity too as a divine energy (AEW, p. 240). Whatever else one might think about such a view, it is plainly not the conception of simplicity that the scholastics had inherited from Augustine.

          Finally, as for the Byzantines after Palamas, my sense from reading Demetracopoulos is that they initially stayed quite close to his teaching but later began to water it down in efforts to achieve compromise with the Latins. This isn’t surprising. After all, they were writing at a time when the Empire was crumbling before their eyes and compromise was the only possible ray of hope.

          It’s also true that they were impressed by the sheer sophistication and complexity of scholastic discourse. John Erickson has a good essay in his book, The Challenge of the Past, describing this phenomenon among the Byzantine delegates to Florence. They came away with a serious case of intellectual inferiority – i.e., a worry that they had somehow missed the boat on important new developments. That’s how one naturally does feel when faced with a large, complex body of discourse of which one knows little. Such feelings too naturally led them to seek compromise.

          All of that’s very understandable, but it does lead me to look on their work with some suspicion. The late Byzantines simply were not in a position where they could examine their own tradition and explicate it with confidence. Of course that’s not to say that they may not have hit upon some useful ideas despite the pressures they were under.

          So far, however, people mainly seem to point to the idea that the essence/energies distinction is a kind of formal distinction. Until the formal distinction itself can be explained and shown to be philosophically helpful, as per my questions above, I don’t see much reason to think such a reading would be fruitful, even if it could be shown to be correct.

          Sorry to go on so long! DB

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Hi David,

            I share your suspicion re: the late Byzantines. I don’t see St Palamas as exempted from this intellectual insulation, however (his particular case of insulation may well have been more acute).

            As to formal vs real – since the real distinction is a novelty, the onus is on its promoters as to its usefulness and metaphysical tenability. I don’t think there’s much use, philosophically speaking, as to either the formal or real distinction.

            The Greek tradition is not quite as monolithic as it may appear in regards to the identity of the will, attributes, and essence, as St Gregory of Nyssa can be understood to do so (Contra Eunomium, Book 1, p 91, NPNF).

            As to the location of the specific act of creation in the taxonomy, I wouldn’t place it anywhere as the act cannot be distinguished from the faculty of the will.

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          • Dear David,

            Many thanks for your points. I would like to start by making an offer (requiring no commitment formally). J. Goff let me know that Fr. Aidan’s blog has quite a number of people interested in our discussions. Apparently, in sidebar conversations, some philosophers would love to see this discussion continue. Without putting the cart before the horse, Goff agreed that I could prudently reveal an, as yet, unofficial congress “in fieri.” This would not be debate, since I find apologetics not very conducive to studying together. Rather, some philosophers (of a University with whose journal you have already published) expressed delight in the possibility of their University hosting a forum for papers and panel among philosophers committed to deepening the discussion. Provisionally, 2018 (I would guess outside the academic seasons) is a goal to shoot for…Speaking for Goff and myself, I would be less enthusiastic if you yourself and some other Orthodox writers of note were unable to present their own research and opinions. If you would be open to a future symposium/congress on the subject, I might now corner main points that we have broached here for future study, without claiming to exhaust investigation on “Eclectic Orthodoxy.” So, more directly, would you be open to a joint academic discussion-invitation from a reputable University and peers with whom you might pose your own perspectives in a fraternal atmosphere? For the bloggers, used to online “challenges,” this is certainly not that…rather a project demanding specialized research study with a panel discussion among equals trying to converse together upon the presentation of our findings. I know too well, we sometimes book ourselves for more than a year out (for example, my school will announce a 2017 Byzantine Mariology symposium and I hope to participate in St. Bonaventure’s 2017 Scotus Congress). So, I am not so much asking for a commitment but about your enthusiasm to engage in these conversations with peer-philosophers? If so, we’ll pass the word along to University that you (whom I consider an essential interlocutor) might be available!

            [1.] In your first post, the central issue appeared thus: “I don’t see how the formal distinction between the divine will and essence is strong enough to sustain what he wants to say about divine freedom.” You cited Bk. IV of “De Primo Principio” (DDP). You mentioned that “to me that he has [not] an adequate answer.

            1* I would first note DDP was avoided in “Palamas among the Scholastics” for 2 reasons: (a.) The book is the job of an editor, not Scotus, (b.) there were some editorial liberties in the book that may depart from Scotus. A future symposium would be the occasion to determine how much of DPP (and other not totally “authentic” works) coincide with Scotus. To be honest, the largely unfinished nature of Scotus’ works, suggests that Antonius Andreas and Francis Mayron ought to be part of the discussion since the tradition of scotistic *reception* is stronger than Scotus. For example, Garrett Smith (my go to reigning expert on the MSS) notes that the entire medieval and Greek tradition with one exception (up to Scholarius’ 1437 reception of Scotus) agrees more with an interpolated Scotus of the Wadding vs. Vatican (ipsissima verba) tradition. Obviously, we have some work to do.

            [2] You then characterized Scotus’ apparent incapacity to solve contingent-choice and divine will thus: “It’s a problem that bedevils medieval Aristotelianism in its Islamic, Jewish, & Christian versions.” In your latest (5 July) post you expanded (and self-corrected?) on this per me running with it (where I agreeably write: “When -as you rightly call it- Aristotelian concerns predominate and philosophy is made to line up exactly with Aristotelian simplicity criteria”): “There are many issues here. First a minor point – I wouldn’t regard the understanding of divine simplicity prevalent among the scholastics as primarily Aristotelian. Aristotle actually says very little about the simplicity of the Prime Mover.” I have no desire to “lay a trap.” Instead, I take it that in the first sentence you mean that Aristotelianism is only “so-called” and in the second citation that you consider “Aristotelianism” as it really is re the Prime Mover. Still, I would respond that I think this is inconsistent for our purposes. I attribute this inconsistency to both of us trying to blog ourselves to wisdom. Just so I didn’t write with the same unevenness in my expressions, I actually took this post to Word.doc and spent time editing it! However, I would say that your follow up helps us clear this up: “The main influence on the scholastics in this regard were Augustine and the Arabic Aristotelians, especially Avicenna. Unlike Aristotle they explicitly speak of the divine will and identify that will with the divine essence. Note also that the major texts from Augustine on divine simplicity (cited in AEW, pp. 224-25) were included by Lombard in the Sentences, and so were widely known.”

            2* I think that the easiest way to nuance your description (since I too believe Augustine guided medieval reading of Aristotle), would be to say that Aristotle’s prime mover was adapted to Scholastic needs, but Aristotelian logic, physics, and metaphysics are gigantic concerns and guide every aspect of (our central figure) Aquinas. I don’t think I am pegged into calling “Aristotelians” those who adopt wholesale and limitedly Aristotle’s prime mover. In ST I, qq. 3-26, it is precisely Q & A about Aristotelian concerns of act&potency et al that had to be confronted. If you were given a chance to state your full position in an article, I am guessing this nuanced Aristotelianism that I describe would be a commonly held fact? Otherwise, if your summary position is accurate in every regard, then we would fervently disagree. My guess is that you alert me that Schoolmen aren’t really spitting images of the “the Philosopher,” but “Augustinians” were confronted with the Corpus Aristotelicum and buying in hook, line, and sinker (minus Bonaventure and, somewhat less, Scotus).

            [3.] On infinity you remarked: “You seem to think that Scotus’s drawing the notion of positive divine infinity from Damascene gives him resources here that others lacked. Maybe so, but precisely how that’s relevant isn’t clear to me.”

            3* This is sadly due to the space allotted, combined with the range of topics traversed. In “Palamas among the Scholastics.” (PAS) This would be another great topic for a symposium. Our argument runs thus: Nyssa appeals to a positive (vs. Aristotelian privative notion of infinity = no borders/limits), along with our citation of dividing being into disjuncts as in Jesus (infinite-finite, eternal-temporal), its adoption in Eastern tradition (e.g., Theodoret, et al.), have been argued in both thomistic and patristic articles well before our PAS to be the ground for univocity by recourse to disjuncts. Why is this not a valid observation among phil/theologians?

            [4] In you 5 July post, you asked for a clarification: “If I understand you correctly, you concede that Scotus’s position does not reconcile divine freedom with this prevalent, Augustinian form of divine simplicity. I’m actually not 100% convinced of that, which is why I asked the question.” Actually, though I noticed that I was not clear in one place, I was simply conceding what I took to be your agreement *for the sake of the argument* with Cross 1999 in your Blackwell 2016. I supposed this critique-argument as irrelevant to our PAS. I illustrate with a metaphor of Palamas cooking as Top Chef, where he gives a recipe that divine persons (sweet) and energies (sour) are two non-separable but distinct levels of items in one being/super-substance (soup). Our argument is that Palamas holds that God is really sweet & sour soup. Contra, Aquinas, Barlaam, Gregoras, and Akindynos all equally hold that God is just “soup” in an unqualified sense. Chef-Aquinas broth-soup is so rich and yummy that of course it contains the sweetness and sourness that are necessary to be a divine soup, but only as “soup itself”, not as “specifically” flavored. Along comes gourmet chef Scotus and says: ‘no God must really be sweet & sour soup despite the fact that you earlier chefs (Thomists) claim that God is just soup.’ In fact, human soup and divine soup share quite a bit in common, such that what we say of sweet & sour soup in my recipe of grandma’s soup sufficiently tastes like God-soup so that my taste buds accurately register (though not infinitely) that God is nothing less than sweet & sour soup. In response, I am hearing you say: “Well that doesn’t count because Scotus’ recipe to get to sweet & sour soup is different than Palamas’.” My rejoinder is: “Yes, that may be in some ingredients, but they fundamentally agree that God must be and only can be sweet & sour soup; if the bible and commensurate taste between grandma’s and God’s-soup have any meaning. So, in conclusion, I consider it irrelevant to PAS whether or not Scotus’ argument attains, but rather whether or not the conclusions he wants to reach and whether a good number of essential methods of reaching those goals are the same as Palamas (= sweet & sour soup). In this, all western literature of which I am awere, that was not ex professo scotistic, gives a resounding “yes” to this. Scotus has always been accused of the very thing you have concluded on Palamas; namely, Scotus has been constantly condemned for his “anthropomorphism” and his threatening of the divine unity by giving God real attributes (like a real will that can only do “willing” but can’t do “thinking”). In sum, I see no essential difference in any conclusion which Scotus wishes to prove.

            [4a.] Your next 5 July question is a good one. I highly commend the choice of Wolter (as Cross). Listing PFD pure-formal-distinction and modal-formal-distinction MFD, you ask:
            “My first question is, where within this taxonomy should we place the distinction between the divine essence and the specific act of will (not merely the faculty of will) involved in creating this particular world? The distinction between the divine essence and attributes is a PFD. Is willing this particular world an “attribute”? Or is it more like the mode of an attribute, in which case the MFD might be relevant?

            4a* Please see Cross, “Scotus on God,” 56-57 for the relevant discussion and the note that DPP does not treat contingency under the same notions. Ibid. 69-70, does touch on God’s contingent production of individual possible-contigent items (though the explanation of their being willed vs. not-willed is lacking). Ibid., 81-82 hits pay dirt. Scotus believes that the divine will, which really and only does the willing-thing (vs. intellect doing the thought-production-thing), chooses out all contingent-possibles, being as they are distinct mind-productions (heretical for Aquinas), though willing in one act. Your question might be summarily: “How does he demonstrate this to Aristotle/Augustine’s satisfaction?” My point, however, is Palamas would say precisely the same about will and intellect, even if he does not spend time talking about proofs of how the divine will can select each contingent-possible in the divine mind, only that such occurs. Scotus simply revamped metaphysical logic to exclude the modus essendi from needing to reflect the modus concpiendi of the logician. Palamas simply appeals to “hyper” or above-Aristotelian reality that makes his “logical” & “dialectical” princples non-applicable (which I take as potentially reconciliable to Scotus). Per your Blackwell 2016, I take it that Palamas has Scotus’ problem; namely, asserting a freely selecting will of contingents seems to sacrifice Aristotle/Augustine’s unity-simplicity criteria. So, I see Palamas and Scotus twins. Finally see Cross, “Duns Scotus on God,” 120-121 where Cross does exactly deal with the divine act of the eternal will in one act choosing his essence as the primary object as his intelligible productions (both necessary [=good] and contingent [=bananas]), which God sees explicitly and distinctly in himself, in which self-same act of willing encompasses the choice of these secondary-intrinsically-contained-contingents, which are able to be chosen in the first act of the divine will, in that contingents are seen in his essence immediately and clearly and are synchronously (so to speak) chosen along with himself, as when I chose a complex reality (to eat lunch, but only contingent on the fact that it will be noon). So God necessarily chooses to eat lunch (albeit freely, for the consequence is necessary as pertaining to his perfection, and as the only possible object that can maintain his perfection in free-choosing), but chooses to eat lunch at the arbitrary-indifferent time of 12:01. Let “lunch” be loving his essence and let “12:01” be four contigent-possibles that are selected in the same act to accompany the primary act of eating lunch, just ‘cause. Hence, the will is not “specified” such that there are a set of objects demanding a succession of will-acts. So, the problem that you suggest (choosing according to PFD or MFD) is too complex. The will is PFD with one formal act, in which God chooses indifferently among unlimited contingents which circumstances shall surround his eating lunch, where those circumstances require being created by the same will-act in order to accompany him freely eating lunch, which is necessarily the case for him to be perfect (this is my prima facie stab at justifying Scotus…though unnecessary for my overall thesis to obtain).

            [4b] You then follow up “I’m also unsure precisely what is meant in saying that the distinction (whether PFD or MFD) obtains because the relata have distinct ‘formalities.’ In some of the cases I think I understand this – e.g. I think (tentatively) that I understand what’s meant in speaking of different formalities of being, unity, truth, & goodness. However, what is the “formality” of the act that consists in willing this particular world? And how is it different from that of the faculty of will?”

            4b* Hopefully the references and answer above [4a + 4a*] start us down the right path!

            [5.] Re, above, you state: “As regards Palamas, he wasn’t faced with this problem because he didn’t subscribe to the Augustinian version of divine simplicity. In fact it was fundamental to the entire Greek tradition ever since Athanasius that the divine essence and will are *not* identical.”

            5* Yes, nobody, of whom I’m aware, ever cited Augustine against Palamas until the Thomists, but we should not anticipate how much of Augustine is still to be uncovered in Palamas. Rigotti, Demetracopulos, Flogaus, Plested, et al make it certain, for me, that Augustine’s Trinitarian theology was in Palamas’ mind on Trinitarian theology (at least from time to time). Secondly, my own recent discovery of several other oblique and short exact citation of Augustine in addition sermons and the CL increase Palamas’ Augustinian pedigree (this article is under review, though already receiving a placet by one editor = Demetracopoulos). I am more cautious about how much Palamas did or didn’t have Augustine in mind. Secondly, a cursory look at the TLG shows that –like Scholastics– Palamas battled against Aristotelians. In Palamas’ “Epistles to Akindynos and Barlaam” he rails against their use of Aristotelian criteria to talk of divine items. Multiply, elsewhere, he cites “Aristotelian physiology” as insufficient for his higher account of divine items (transcendental attributes?) and elsewhere writes against “Aristotelian logic” on God-talk and “Aristotelian dialectic” on the same. The debate matter is about “divine items” in context. I think Palamas had a very good notion of Aristotelian simplicity criteria (or at least his opponents writings thereupon) and –given the fact that both Palamites and moderns consider them nominalists and/or quasi-thomists-analogists– we are left with the terms of the debate being similar to the West in most fundamental ways. I wish I had access to Facrasi and his record of the debate between Palamas and Akindynos, which I remember as using Damascene to justify Palamism by noting –like Scotus– that there is meaningful predication of attributes to things, and that one conceptually considered attribute ‘x’ is not ‘y’ and when ‘x’ and ‘y’ are said of God they remain ‘x’ and ‘y’ in God.

            [6] Continuing the conversation you affirmed that Greeks affirmed some items that I have suggested as necessary for simplicity, but you note of Christian Greeks: “They did not understand it [simplicity] as requiring an identity between the essence and attributes, much less the divine essence and will. Ultimately simplicity came to be identified as one of the ‘things around God’ like eternity, infinity, goodness, wisdom, and so on. See Maximus as quoted in AEW, p. 189 (who is here simply developing the thought of the Cappadocians). Palamas identifies the things around God as divine energies, so he naturally identifies simplicity too as a divine energy (AEW, p. 240). Whatever else one might think about such a view, it is plainly not the conception of simplicity that the scholastics had inherited from Augustine.”

            6* Here I think you have brought up a great talking point. If simplicity is an operation, how can that be so for someone like Bonaventure/Scotus? This may be a real difference, which I myself did notice as odd but now you better draw it to my attention. But the question is, for me, does this one disagreement on but one attribute as an energy (since both Bonaventure/Scotus & Palamas consider these attributes as seemingly infinite in number) really threaten all the other parallels? I don’t see prima facie why that must follow. Also, on the question, of whether or not there is “identity” between will and essence. Of course, I would think of this –scotistically- as agreed. Scotus doesn’t believe there is “identity” in his sense. He only sees the energies compenetrating the divine essence in a sort of perichoresis, as with the persons (as do Palamites). So, I’m not seeing the disagreement here. For Scotus, essence is the foundation for energy, but energy cannot be the self-same as essence but only assumes essence to justify its actual and real operation.

            [7] You provisionally suggested: “Finally, as for the Byzantines after Palamas, my sense from reading Demetracopoulos is that they initially stayed quite close to his teaching but later began to water it down in efforts to achieve compromise with the Latins. This isn’t surprising. After all, they were writing at a time when the Empire was crumbling before their eyes and compromise was the only possible ray of hope.”

            7* I do not claim to know each Palamites order and hierarchy of principal motivations, but I would say that your modest suggestion might –at this point– only act like a scientific hypothesis, where counterexamples and diverse motivations found and clear in primary texts would be required to invalidate your provisional assessment. Naturally, unless there is a stringently unified goal expressed by all, as you suggest, it is very unlikely that each theologian’s motivations for arriving at what amounts to 2 very different Latin approaches (analogy, univocity) can be safely anticipated as homogenous. Still, this must be studied and investigate: “Why did Palamites go this route?”

            [8.] You suggest some support for your initial and provisional thesis: “It’s also true that they were impressed by the sheer sophistication and complexity of scholastic discourse. John Erickson has a good essay in his book, The Challenge of the Past, describing this phenomenon among the Byzantine delegates to Florence. They came away with a serious case of intellectual inferiority – i.e., a worry that they had somehow missed the boat on important new developments. That’s how one naturally does feel when faced with a large, complex body of discourse of which one knows little. Such feelings too naturally led them to seek compromise.”

            8* I will plan on reading this, and must embarrassingly confess that I did not consult it for my own studies. However, I would confidently say that Erickson cannot be correct on some major points: (a.) Although I might concede that the Orthodox on the whole were unable to grasp the arguments and return them, this is entirely untrue for Mark of Ephesus and Scholarius, (b.) I prove this in my two articles (and an upcoming monograph by ND press on Mark of Ephesus). Firstly, Mark and Gennadius had access to the Summa and other Scholastic works from 1430-2 c. on. The Dominicans had absolutely no surprises for them. Even the Florentine debate on the Filioque was a successful rhetorical and logical victory for Mark by having investigated Basil’s “Contra Eunomium” via N. Cabasilas. I cover Mark’s preparation and logical victory by recourse to a scotistic interpretation of the divinity contra John Montenero in my: “A Latin Defense of Mark of Ephesus.” Next, both Mark and Scholarius studied Scotus in 1437 (per John Monfasani, who I quote in “A Latin Defense”). Mark knew him well enough to lift Scotus in his arguments against Aquinas at Florence, including a citation of Scotus against Aquinas on the nature of prime matter. I think that, if Erickson is an historian, he will not have the capacity to see that neither Mark, nor Scholarius were intimidated by Latin logic, nor by Thomism. Scotus has always historically proved the foil to Thomism’s intellectual hegemony in the West. However, I would agree with your hypothesis to this extent, ‘Mark and Scholarius’ would have proved intellectually unequal to the task at Florence, had they not studied Scholasticism and exploited it against Thomism.’ That this means that they betrayed Palamas is, again, a point that needs quite a bit of study (for a congress!).

            [9] My favorite suggestion of yours is the last: “So far, however, people mainly seem to point to the idea that the essence/energies distinction is a kind of formal distinction. Until the formal distinction itself can be explained and shown to be philosophically helpful, as per my questions above, I don’t see much reason to think such a reading would be fruitful, even if it could be shown to be correct.”

            9* Although I would again say that this has no bearing on the way Scotus’ God operates and Palamas’ God operates, it is a very important point: “What can Scotus maximally be said to assert with the formal distinction vis-à-vis Palamas?” Lastly, because I have no texts with me, I think this also has to be studied to show whether and if both Palamas and Scotus see God as not only one, but the essence as somehow a container or foundation of the energies. Though the metaphor of “peri-surrounding,” as local, cannot really tell us much per se, we must be open to the fact that it might not mean for Palamas that the energies in every respect are “in” the essence or “compenetrate” the essence (though I have argued this is the case).

            You conclude: “Sorry to go on so long! DB” If you have to apologize for your engagement…a thousand pardon’s for the length of this monster of a post! I truly appreciate your willingness to engage, and invite you to comment on any desired items that catch your fancy above. However, if you think it wiser to anticipate a joint study and panel forum to better hone in on these issues, I would be quite willing to make that our new forum for continuing the conversation!

            All the best
            cwk

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Fr Kappes, I trust that this humble blogger will be invited to sit in the wings of your Byzantine/Franciscan colloquiuum and allowed to listen in to the papers and discussion. 🙂

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          • Dear Fr. Aidan,

            You wisely have asked to sit yourself in the lowest place according to Jesus’ instructions, so naturally we would move you into the throne room!

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  15. Fr Aidan Kimel says:
    • Well described overall description of Thomism. For all Thomas’ merits, and there are many, not having actually worked out a doctrine of analogy (by employing the tradition that he had received) created immense problems for Dominicans (and later Thomists). Understandibly, we have a tendency to dress up our heroes as the middle way. In the end, one has to accept the fact that somehow there is an accessible concept of the divinity that is not itself concentric with any human concept of being that acts as the point of reference for comparing all my possible concepts of being (if one believes being to be conceptually multiple or a confused idea). This claim to have access to Being as a point of comparison to every day being has ensured the survival of alternatives to date. We will likely see that this approach will continue to have many adherents in the future. For my part, I think it is fine for someone who already presumes the existence of God, and certain realities as revealed in Revelation, but I just don’t have any sense that I could do much natural theology with analogy. In the Roman Church we are free to disagree, and -I would contend- in Orthodoxy historical figures, now saints, were attracted wholly or partially to this explanation. Provided that they affirmed “Palamism,” their thomistico-sounding works seemed to have been unmolested I simply don’t see logical puzzling as anything either Cahtolic or Orthodox tradition has committed itself to. All arguments that I have encountered to the contrary base themselves on arguing logically why their way is better, since there is no Magisterial or Dogmatically Orthodox decision on what kind of logic is valid for talking about concepts of the divine. Just my thoughts.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Father, I didn’t post the article to particularly argue for Aquinas’s superiority (I lack the competence) but simply because I thought it might contribute to the discussion. It’s not at all clear to me whether much hangs on the debate between Thomists and Scotists on the nature of theological language, given that both sides agree that we may speak positively, and literally, about the divine perfections. What more can a preacher like me ask for? 🙂

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  16. Dear Al,

    Thanks for the apologia pro pace, but the fault is likely mine. I was simply doing my thinking-outloud-scholia on the article. I took the style as doing an appropriate apologetic for Thomas as “middle way.” The finest teachers in my education were historically sensitive Dominicans and the main ones had a training in logic and metaphysics that I still yearn to one day imitate. Still, alas, I can’t can’t imbibe a brew that just doesn’t taste right for me, since I think it only has the appearances of being able to fill my stomach (in my purely individual estimation). I very much respect devout Catholics who are historical Thomists…less so zealots…I have met too many people that were the victims of their internecine wars, where in addition to turning on each other, they have devoured the fledgling converts or open-minded inquirers. I think now of one ex-Thomist (now Byzantine-loving theologian) who expressed regrets of his mannerisms in the day, when he considered the local-zealot-thomists (himself included) responsible for a young philosopher-theologian at Oxford from never going from Anglicanism to Catholicism, because of the way he was intellectually treated for unintentional “dissent” and for not conforming to the local brand of Thomism. Instead, with the Dominicans at the Angelicum, I had a great sampling of open-minded and brilliant men who are more interested in adapting Aquinas to today to say something relevant for people who don’t believe in ether-planets, abiogenesis from the sun, and non-human fetuses that are somehow clothed with the dignity and rights of humans. I would love to see them update the Summa (seemingly called for or at least implied in Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris) to modern science and discoveries to give the philosopher and scientist something to contemplate. However, the danger with such a project is its potential irrelevance with the next big scientific discovery or paradigm shift. So, thanks for the article…I just think that the debate has more or less been accurately seen as irreconcilable and irresolvable since the schools hardened their positions on univocity (a la Scote) and analogy.

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  17. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Fr Christiaan, I know that my request will demonstrate that I am no more than a theological bumpkin … but heck, my readers already know that, so I’ll go ahead and ask anyway.

    I gather that whereas Aquinas begins his substantive reflections on God with his identification of the divine essence with the divine existence, you begin (with the John Damascene? with Scotus?) with the identification of God with divine infinity. On that basis you are able to argue for a core univocal theological discourse. Is that right so far? Now I know that I should go read the Cross book, but I probably won’t be able to get to it for a good while (so many other books to read first!). Is it possible for you to briefly explain for us how one gets from the infinite God to univocal theological speech?

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  18. Dear Fr. Aidan,

    If we sum up Scotus in “natural theology,” we will start -much like thomists- with the world of sensible. Scotus’ is much more interested in logical precision and being disciplined with the use of concepts in my head and not trying to go back and forth projecting them onto reality or thinking that they automatically apply thereto.

    But when I start parsing my abstractions…for instance…Fido my doggie…I might be able to quickly parse fido (in my head only mind you!) into his genus: animal, his species: canine, and even suppose that the property of barking betrays the principal activity of being a dog. What this property goes back to is what is most essential in making a dog participate in doggieness. Also, there is of course his 9 categories of being hairy, walking, 20 lbs., being petted, standing upright, being in Pennsylvania, wearing his doggie-sweater and so on. All of these properties are categorical. However, I can also come to a series of abstractions about dog’s that leads me to understand that as substance, each dog is a being, or in another route that each good or true abstraction of individual dogs presupposes the notion in my head that it is a “being.” When in my yoga stance and while thinking “being” that is such a simple and sufficient kind of concept that I can just think it and it doesn’t imply anything else. However, with goodness or wisdom, the immediate inference comes: “good what” “wise what”? Thus, though goodness and truth may be the simplest of attributes above the 10 categories in that they transcend them, even they presume a good-what? true-what? This of course is being. Now, if being is that most simple concept, such that even when I see red and hear movement I initially attribute being mentally to these items, though they aren’t the kinds of beings that my mind makes being-in-its-own right, but I experience every instance of red as being-in-something else in the second moment of intuition…after I experience “being” at every instance of redness. Through a conatural process of mental reduction I can see that this read cannot account for itself and does not give me itself a the sufficient explanation for its existence, but itself must be reduced to red-something. So, all my experiences, no matter how much dressing and spices on them, can be mentally boiled down into the notion in my head of being as the most simple of thoughts that undergirds every accident (as reducible to that notion) and every transcendental (as implying that notion). So, in the end, any concept formation about God in my human head simply employs that concept as well. The problem is that my head is limited in circumference and so too the thoughts inside my head in succession are limited, non-infinite kinds of thoughts. So, whatever is in my noggin’ is going to be conceived limitedly and as limited, even if the object that it seeks to grasp is unlimited. So, univocal concept simply mean that I can only conceptualize things in a finite mode and use language that speaks finite-talk even if it has ways to indirectly come to the intuition of the infinite or argue that “something infinite is possible.” I can’t actually conceptualize that infinite object with a concept proper to it, so I can however have a sense of it since being has two modes…every-day-experience mode (finite concept) and infinite mode…which I can only argue is logically possible and does not cause non-contradiciton. I can furthermore argue in natural theology the existence and some several properties of said infinite being. Nonetheless, though the mode of that being is infinite, I grasp some real sense (though not infinite) of what such a being must be like because being is said of it and of creatures sufficiently accurate that all proper and simple attributes of God refer meaningfully to him in a manner where a syllogism can use wise of man and God without risk of introducing a 4th term.

    Once we analyze this concept of being and see that it is indifferent to a finite or infinite mode, and that a mode is not a specific difference, species, genus, etc., since it done not denote a limit or barrier or contraction of being but merely the “how” that such a being is what it is vs. the “how” a finite being is the kind of being it is, we see that being is not a genus above God and creatures, but is rather said of both God and creatures because the mind conceives it as such conceptually, which although not sufficient to equal the infinite concept of God as he per se would be thought to think of himself, it nonetheless is sufficiently grounded and founded so as to say accurate and meaningful things of God where God may be accurately be called wise and good without issue, but may easily and naturally rejected for being called “stoney” “rocky” or “red” since only the most simple and infinitely multipliable concepts in this world can be applied to him, not those that suppose categories of quantity or quality, time, etc.

    This is a quick stab at it while fireworks continue to explode over my head.

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  19. christianhollums says:

    “Contrary to what many Orthodox seem to think, not only has St. Gregory Palamas and his theology never been condemned by the Catholic Church, but some highly respectable Catholic theologians like Andre de Halleux defend it’s Orthodoxy. Far from condemning Palamas, the official Vatican edition of the Greek Anthologion of liturgical offices for the whole year includes St. Gregory’s office for the Second Sunday for Lent. Furthermore, St. Gregory is studied at my Pontifical Oriental Institute with the same interest and respect given him in an Orthodox theological academy, and a recent doctoral dissertation on his spiritual doctrine by one of our Catholic priest-students has just been published.”

    -Robert F. Taft from his lecture “Orthodox Constructions of the West”

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