Theosis and the Palamite Distinction: Questions & Concerns

by Fr Aidan Kimel

That there exists in God a real distinction between his essence and his energies, theologians assure us, is an irreformable dogma of the Orthodox Church. If so, it is a curious dogma, originating in a question that most ordinary believers today would find arcane and probably irrelevant to their lives: Is the light experienced by those who practice the hesychastic method created or uncreated? In this short article I raise four questions that urgently need to be addressed by Orthodox theologians and scholars.

1) How is dogma established in the Orthodox Church?

The distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies was asserted in the 14th century by a series of local synods, the two most important being the 1341 and 1351 Synods of Constantinople. Their Tomes were subsequently received as expressing authentic Orthodox doctrine; but precisely what level of authority do they enjoy? The question is not easily answered. Some claim that they possess an infallible authority equivalent to that of the first-millennium Ecumenical Councils and name the hesychastic synods collectively as the 9th Ecumenical Council; but this is private opinion, lacking consensual and conciliar support. The 2016 Holy and Great Council describes them as possessing “universal authority,” along with several other 2nd-millennium synods; yet given the refusal of several Churches to attend the Council, the authority of Crete remains a matter of dispute. But the real issue is broader and more challenging. How is dogma established within Orthodoxy? Orthodox Christians agree that the dogmatic definitions of the seven Great Councils of the first millenium are binding and irreformable, having been universally received into the consciousness of the Church; but these definitions do not comprehend the whole of Orthodox doctrinal teaching. At which point and by what process does a teaching that has not been promulgated by an Ecumenical Council achieve definitive, irreformable status? What criteria must be fulfilled, and do the Orthodox universally agree on these criteria?

The relevance of these questions to the question of the divine essence and energies is obvious. Since the days of Florovsky and Lossky, Orthodox theologians have asserted the Palamite distinction as possessing dogmatic authority in the Church catholic. If this is the case, then we should also find Orthodox bishops and theologians in the 15th through the 19th centuries consistently making this claim. Do we? We need convincing documentation. The Roman Catholic Church has enshrined the following in its canon law: “No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident” (749.3). Makes sense to me.

2) How are dogmatic statements properly interpreted within Orthodoxy?

This question is pressing and has hardly been addressed by modern Orthodox theologians. The significance of a dogmatic definition is not self-evident, as evinced by the history of doctrine within the Church. The Council of Ephesus needed to be clarified by the Council of Chalcedon, which in turn needed to be clarified by the Second Council of Constantinople. Dogmatic definitions are promulgated within the conditions and limitations of history and therefore must be interpreted within the whole of the Orthodox faith.

It is sometimes asserted by theologians that the Orthodox Church has dogmatically defined a real distinction within God between the divine essence and the divine energies, akin to the distinction between the divine hypostases, as opposed to either a formal or notional distinction (see, e.g., Kallistos Ware and David Bradshaw); but this assumption is borne out neither by a close reading of the 1351 Synodal Tome nor by subsequent Orthodox reflection. 14th and 15th century theologians did not merely reiterate the views of St Gregory Palamas nor interpret them uniformly. The precise nature of the distinction continued to be debated right up to the Turkish conquest. As St Philotheos Kokkinos, a strong supporter of Palamas, wrote in the mid-14th century: “According to the theologians and the Fathers, the divine essence and the divine energy are two things in the sense that it is proclaimed that they differ from each other not really, but conceptually, and that these two things are one thing, their unity in its turn being taken and proclaimed as existent not conceptually but really.” In the 15th century St Gennadios Scholarios appears to have arrived at a position eerily similar to the formal distinction of Duns Scotus. “Palamas Transformed” by John Demetracopoulos is essential reading here. Deeper metaphysical, theological, and historical analysis is needed. Orthodox theology did not stop in 1351. Theological reflection and the refinement of dogmatic formulation is an ongoing work in the Church.

3) What is the theological import of the Palamite distinction?

On the assumption that dogmas are best read apophatically and regulatively, the distinction between the divine essence and energies may, I tentatively suggest, be understood as affirming maximal creaturely participation in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while at the same time denying apotheosis into new hypostases of the Godhead. In Jesus Christ we are incorporated into the Trinity; but we do not become Persons of the Trinity, nor do we achieve comprehension of the divine nature, nor we do not become ontologically self-sufficient, nor do we cease to be human beings. We do not metamorphize into the transcendent and ineffable Deity; the difference between Creator and creature is maintained. This minimalist description of deification may be deemed inadequate by the Neo-Palamite school (or perhaps not), but I believe it is consonant with early patristic teaching. As Rowan William observes, for the early Fathers theosis was fundamentally sacramental, moral, personal, relational, signifying the enjoyment of “the divine relation of Son to Father, sharing the divine life” (The Wound of Knowledge, p. 59).

Does such participation in the Godhead require an ontological distinction between the divine essence and energies? Might there be other ways, perhaps even more helpful ways, to speak of the deification of humanity in Christ? St Athanasius, the Cappadocians, and St Cyril of Alexandria boldly affirmed theosis, without availing themselves of the distinction (see Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification; Alexis Torrance, “Precedents for Palamas’ Essence-Energies Theology”)—likewise Sergius Bulgakov in the first-half of the 20th century. More recently, Met John Zizioulas has proposed a personalist construal of theosis that avoids the conceptuality of essence and energies.

But given that the essence-energies distinction was initially advanced to protect the authenticity of Christian mystical experience, we need to add one further statement to the above interpretation of the 14th century dogma: in Jesus Christ and by the Spirit, God gives God; thus so, we experience God and not just created realities. On the Mount of Transfiguration, St Gregory Palamas declares, the disciples truly saw Christ Jesus in his uncreated Light and Glory: “We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine.” This assertion became a point of contention in medieval Byzantine/Latin debate regarding the Beatific Vision and participation in the divine essence. That this contention continues today suggests that the question may be ill-formed. Thus David Bentley Hart:

In considering the God of Nicene theology, we discover that the knowledge of the Father granted in Christ is not an external apprehension of an unknown cause, not the remote epiphenomenon of something infinitely greater than the medium of its revelation, and not merely a glimpse into the “antechamber of the essence”; rather, it is a mysterious knowledge of the Father himself within the very limitlessness of his unknowability. But, then again, the God who is the infinite source of all cannot be an object of knowledge contained within the whole; and if the Logos is equal to the Father, how can he truly reveal the Father to finite minds? And if—as became clear following the resolution of the Eunomian controversy—the Spirit too is not the econom­ically limited medium of God’s self-disclosure, but is also coequal with the Father and the Son, and is indeed the very Spirit by which God’s life is made complete as knowledge and love, power and life, how can he reveal to us the Father in the Son?

These questions are made all the more acute, obviously, by the quite pronounced apophatic strictures that all post-Nicene theologians—Augustine no less than his Greek counterparts—were anxious to impose upon their language. As Augustine repeatedly affirms, every kind of vision of God in himself is impossible for finite creatures; none can ever know him as he is; nothing the mind can possibly comprehend is God; God is incomprehensible to anyone except himself; we are impotent even to conceive of God; and so when speaking of God we are really able to do so properly only through negation. And yet he also wants to say that, even in failing to comprehend God in himself, we are led by the Spirit truly to see and know and touch God. Similarly, Gregory of Nyssa denies that any creature is capable of any theoria of the divine essence, and yet  wants also to say that, in stretching out in desire toward God, the soul somehow sees God and attains to a theoria ton atheoreton, a vision of the invisible. … Maximus, who raises the “Greek” delight in extravagant declarations of apophatic ignorance to its most theatrical pitch, nonetheless makes it clear that his is an apophaticism of intimacy, born not from the poverty of the soul’s knowledge of God, but from the overwhelming and superconceptual intimacy of that knowledge. The mind rises to God, he says, by negating its knowledge of what lies below, in order to receive true knowledge of God as a gift, and to come ultimately—beyond all finite negations—to rest in the inconceivable and ineffable reality of God. When the mind has passed beyond cognition, reflection, cogitation, and imagination, and discovers that God is not an object of human comprehension, it is able to know him directly, through union, and so rushes into that embrace in which God shares himself as a gift with the creature, and in which no separation can be introduced between the mind and its first cause in God. …

Whatever distinction may be drawn in the thought of, say, Gregory or Maximus between, on the one hand, the divine essence and, on the other, the divine energies or processions or “things around God” (assuming these are nearly equivalent terms), it is not a fixed distinction, but a kind of receding horizon, because God, in his operations toward creatures, reveals ever more of himself and yet always infinitely exceeds what he reveals. Whether, however, this is how Palamas understood the distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies is more than a little debatable. What is beyond debate is that, for many contemporary Palamites—I have in mind especially Vladimir Lossky—the distinction is something altogether more (for want of a better term) dialectical, and altogether more inviolable.

Even all of this, however, is rather beside the point, for the simple reason that both traditions, when they talk about the knowability or unknowability of the divine ousia or essentia, are for the most part talking pious nonsense. There is no such ‘thing’ as the divine essence; there is no such discrete object, whether of knowledge or ignorance. It is ultimately immaterial whether we prefer to use the term ousia to indicate the transcendence and incomprehen­sibility of God in himself or to use the term “incomprehen­sibility of the essence” instead. God is essentially Father, Son, and Spirit, and … there is no other reality prior to, apart from, or more original than the paternal archē, which perfectly reveals itself in an eternal and coequal Logos and communicates itself by the Spirit who searches the deep things of God and makes Christ known to us. There is no divine essence understood as a discrete object unto itself, then, into the vision of which the souls of the saved will ultimately be admitted, nor even from the knowledge of which human minds are eternally excluded, and any language that suggests otherwise—whether patristic, Thomist, or Palamite—is an empty reification. The question of the knowledge of God, properly conceived—conceived, that is, in the terms provided by Scripture and the best of patristic dogmatic reflection—is the question of how we know the Father in the Son through the Spirit, even as the Father infinitely exceeds our knowledge; it is, that is to say, an intrinsically Trinitarian question, to which none but a truly Trinitarian answer is adequate. (Hidden and Manifest, pp. 150-154)

When the transcendence of the Creator is rightly conceived as a transcendence of our dualistic categories—distance and nearness, material and immaterial, visibility and invisibility, form and substance, one and many, being and nothingness, participable and imparticipable—we find ourselves immersed in an unknowing beyond knowing, an unknowing beyond unknowing. Our language apophatically points beyond itself. Do we really understand what we are talking about, therefore, when we speak of a metaphysical distinction between the divine ousia and energeia? Is the distinction meaningful and clarifying? As Hart reminds us, the reality, the only reality that matters, is the Father who communicates himself to humanity in his Son by the illuminating and sanctifying work of his Holy Spirit. We participate God through God and in God. Yet it remains unclear to me how Hart would answer the hesychastic concern regarding the vision of the uncreated Light. “In your light we see light,” sings the psalmist (Ps 36:9). Palamas believed that the Light of Tabor is the uncreated activity of the Trinity and thus is God, made visible through noetic transformation. Would Hart disagree?

4) Should the Palamite Distinction be preached?

Speaking solely as a priest and pastor, my answer is a firm no. Deification in Christ most certainly should be preached, and frequently, but I see few reasons why the preacher should ever move beyond the primary language of Scripture and liturgy when speaking of theosis. Union with Christ, filial adoption, regeneration in the Spirit, indwelling the Trinity—these  images, and many others, are sufficient for our homiletical and catechetical purposes, as classically confirmed by St Nicholas Cabasilas’s The Life in Christ. The specific concerns that animated the hesychastic controversy are alien to our congregations. Perhaps some believers pray to see the Light of Tabor, but most do not expect to receive this gift in this life, not because they are Barlaamites but because they are not monks. The parish is not Mt Athos. We partake of the Holy Mysteries, we say our prayers and make our confessions, we grow in the life of the Spirit. The Lord is pleased.

I am particularly concerned about the depersonalization of theosis the language of energies inevitably seems to generate. Grace becomes something other than the one God personally bestowing himself in the living fullness of his Trinitarian reality, a power akin to electricity or the force of the Jedi. This is not the intent of the doctrine, yet the danger is real. Just visit an Orthodox forum on the internet. Solution: substitute the term “activity” for “energy.” Torstein Tollefsen maintains that “activity” more accurately expresses the meaning of the Greek term energeia, particularly as used in the Eastern theological and spiritual tradition. “Nowadays,” he comments, “it seems that ‘energy’ has become the established translation of the Greek energeia in spiritual literature and whenever the topic is related to Orthodox spirituality and ‘Palamism’. One can live with this … However, now and then one gets the impression that energy is a kind of quasi-material force almost flowing into the human recipient” (Activity and Participation in Late Antique and Early Christian Thought, p. 5). Andrew Louth concurs: “‘activity’ seems to me a much better translation of the Greek energeia” (Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, p. 40). To speak of the activities of God immediately draws our attention back to the one God who is Person subsisting in three Persons. All persons are mysterious, indeed apophatic, and are perceived only through their acts. Whereas energy is easily imagined as an independent entity, an activity is intrinsically correlated to the agent who performs it. We naturally speak of a person’s energy (“She has so much energy, I get tired just watching her perform”), just as we speak of a person’s power (“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” [Acts 1:8]). A suggestion for Orthodox preachers: leave the “essence” and “energies” to the philosophers.

Contrast the more biblical and patristic statement by Zizioulas: “Theosis is not simply a matter of participating in God’s glory and other natural qualities, common to all three persons of the Trinity; it is also, or rather above all, our recognition and acceptance by the Father as his sons by grace, in and through our incorporation into his only-begotten Son by nature” (Communion and Otherness, p. 31, n. 51). Eucharistic existence is Trinitarian in substance and structure: by and in the Spirit, through and with Jesus Christ, we offer our praise, prayer, sacrifice, and service to the all-holy Father. Life in the Trinity is the heart and content of our transfiguration in Jesus Christ. Theosis is not only the unmerited reward of our ascetical labors; it is the ground and envelopment of such labors. The baptized live in God and thus know God and experience God. Perhaps we might call this the personalist mysticism of the parochial hoi polloi.

The Palamite distinction between the divine essence and energies undoubtedly served the indispensable service of protecting the doctrine of theosis within the framework of 14th century Byzantine theology. But is it an adequate formulation for today?

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This article is a revision and expansion of an article that was published last week on Orthodoxy in Dialogue.

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22 Responses to Theosis and the Palamite Distinction: Questions & Concerns

  1. Lee faber says:

    For Scotists, at least, the formal distinction is a sub-distinction of the ‘ex natura rei’ distinction, the general class for distinctions that obtain prior to any activity of a comparative power (intellect or will); in other words, non-mind dependent. I don’t know orthodox theologians define formal, but for Scotists the essence-entergies distinction would be a formal distnction.

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  2. apoloniolatariii says:

    If I may exaggerate a bit here, I think the way some people conceive of Palamite theology as THE theology of EO, the theology that differentiates it from the West, is a bit ridiculous. Not to take away from the intelligence of Gregory, but I think he’s overrated. The movement of Florovsky, Lossky, etc. that tried to insert Palamite theology into the Fathers has somehow made people think that the root of all problems come from the rejection of the real distinction between essence and energies, and that anyone who rejects this is somehow Arian. I don’t know. I prefer Soloviev, Florensky, and Bulgajov. Although at times helpful, I sometimes just think that the work the theologians are doing in England are boring.

    On a bit of a positive note, maybe the Balthasarian (Goethian) notion of Gestalt can help express what some of these EO Palamites are trying to convey.

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  3. Hello Fr. Kimel,

    It’s a pleasure to read your blog, as always. I agree with the comment above to the effect that the Palamite distinction feels held against the Roman Catholic Church, condemning Thomistic-Scholastic theology as somehow less than complete. From my point of view, this is a bit strange. I think it would be largely inappropriate for Roman Catholics to judge the Orthodox Church by its rejection of Vatican I. Why would the Orthodox accept a council promulgated by a See from which they have long been estranged? Similarly, why should the West incorporate as dogma the teaching of a Athonite monk that has frequently been used in contradisdiction to the Angelic Doctor of the West?

    My aforementioned personal feelings aside, I greatly benefited from reading this article. Thank you for writing it. I always enjoy the quotes from David Hart and John Zizioulas that you have such a gift for sharing at strangely appropriate times. In this article, I especially enjoyed the following explanation of yours:

    “…the distinction between the divine essence and energies may, I tentatively suggest, be understood as affirming the maximal creaturely participation in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while at the same time denying apotheosis into new hypostases of the Godhead. In Jesus Christ we are incorporated into the Trinity, but we do not become constitutive Persons of the Trinity: we do not become the transcendent and ineffable Deity.”

    These things having been said, I do have a question. You seem to say that the Palamite distinction — and that it is a “real” and not merely nominal distinction between essence and activity — is dogmatic in the Orthodox Church. However, the statements that you make later in the article seem to call this point into question. For instance, you say that it is a difficult question whether something can be called dogmatic or not. You also say that the authority of Crete is unclear. Given these statements, would it not be more correct to say that it is possible, given certain interpretations of the nature of various councils, that the Palamite distinction might be considered dogmatic? Based on your comments on the nature of dogma in the Orthodox Church, it is difficult for me to see how it can be authoritatively claimed that the Palamite distinction is dogmatic.

    As always, thank you for running this wonderful blog. I learn a tremendous amount of theological nuance that is all-too absent in most circles today.

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  4. Hi Fr. Kimel,

    As always, thank you for the blog. I have a question, though. If it is true that determining dogma is as difficult as you say it is, then how certain is it that a real Palamite distinction between God’s essence and activities is an “irreformable” dogma in the Orthodox Church?

    Questions aside, I always love that you incorporate so many great quotes from Hart and Zizioulas. You run what is by far one of my favorite Theo-blogs.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      “How certain is it that a real Palamite distinction between God’s essence and activities is an ‘irreformable’ dogma in the Orthodox Church?”

      Good question. Lots and lots of opinions about that. At the moment the “real” distinction position is dominant, due largely to Lossky and Florovsky; but it’s all opinion. If you had asked the question 150-200 years ago, you would have received a very different answer (at least so I’m told).

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Dale Crakes says:

    When I was transitioning to Orthodoxy (Antiochian Western Rite) I read quite a bit on this question by Mascal, Dom Illtyd Trethowan and Dom Mark Pontifex. And I forget the Jesuit, Fr Maloney, who became Orthodox and wrote A Theology of Uncreated Energies which basically, at least to my mind, by in large equated energies with grace. I remember I found the idea satisfying.

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  6. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    How does the notion of a real distinction between God’s essence and energies relate to divine simplicity? To me, it appears prima facie to be a denial of metaphysical simplicity. Yet I believe Met. Kallistos Ware affirmed both in The Orthodox Way (I’ll try to find the reference). I think I can wrap my head around a contrast between “God as He is”, and “God as we experience him”; however, the distinction seems to be purportedly within God. I guess my main question is can one simultaneously hold to the Palamite distinction and divine simplicity?

    I’m sure that this would require multiple posts (probably books) to really answer, but it’s a question that has perplexed me for a while so even a rough sketch or a link would be great.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Matthew, it all depends on which and which—which version of the distinction and which version of divine simplicity. 🙂

      Thomists and Palamites generally believe that the strong version of the distinction is incompatible with a strong Thomistic version of simplicity. As a result, the former reject the real distinction and the latter reject Thomistic simplicity.

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      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        That’s about what I expected. With most of these debates, there are more than just 2 possible sides to be on. That being said, I don’t understand how there can be a weaker version of divine simplicity. That God is not composed of metaphysical parts seems like an all-or-nothing thing to me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Perhaps Lee Faber can help us here. I’ve been told that Duns Scotus’s view of divine simplicity is stronger than Aquinas’s, but I sure can’t explain it.

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          • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

            I’m going to assume it probably comes down to what would count as “parts,” but I’m already in over my head so I’ll wait to see if anyone has something to say about it.

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  7. My amateur opinions:
    In response to #1: if I am not mistaken, there is nothing odd about a synod receiving ecumenical approval long after it was held. I believe this is what happened with Constantinople I (originally a general council of the East, only later accepted in the West) and Nicaea II (the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (879-880) responded to some doubts about its full ecumenical character by affirming it).

    In #2, you wrote:
    It is sometimes asserted by theologians that the Orthodox Church has fully embraced the assertion of a real, or ontological, distinction within God between the divine essence and the divine energies, as opposed to either a formal or notional distinction (e.g., Kallistos Ware and David Bradshaw); but this assumption is not borne out by a close reading of the 1351 Synodal Tome or by subsequent Orthodox reflection.

    I am a little confused here. A formal distinction is, as Lee Faber says, a sub-type of real/ontological distinction, namely one where the things distinguished are inseparable. So, when you contrast ‘formal’ distinction with ‘real’ distinction, it sounds like some Orthodox theologians think that the divine essence is separable from the divine energies. I know Orthodox theologians love to exaggerate, but I don’t think anyone has been so foolish to affirm something that Palamas explicitly denies. ‘Notional distinction’ also deserves some clarification. It is often not kept in mind that, while it is often used to mean a distinction with no basis in the thing itself, it can also mean a distinction with a basis in the thing itself, but what is distinguished are inseparable (i.e., a formal distinction as defined above). This is how it is used by St. Justinian in the Confessio rectae fidei (PG 86:1006, 1011), and further, at Constantinople II (in the acts it is said that the distinction between Christ’s human and divine natures is “only of the intellect”). It is good to keep this in mind.

    To Matthew Hryniewicz: not every distinction with a basis in the thing compromises simplicity. Simplicity is about there being no distinctions in God where one of the things distinguished actualizes the other (Summa contra gentiles, I, 18, 2: “in every composite there must be act and potency”). I think Palamites and Scotists argue that a formal distinction does not introduce a potency-act relationship into God. Lee might be able to explain this more fully.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, Georgios. Welcome back and thanks for your comments.

      I do not wish to push the three interpretations of the distinction (viz., real, formal, and notional) too hard and certainly do not wish to map them onto the categories of Latin scholasticism. The key point, I think, is the diversity of views about the essence/energies distinction that were present within 14th & 15th century Byzantine theology. Which, if any, interpretation was “received” by the Orthodox Church? Part of the difficulty here is pinning down exactly what St Gregory Palamas taught about the distinction. Demetracopoulos certainly believes that Palamas taught a stronger construal of the distinction than did others who affirmed the doctrine. Perhaps he’s wrong about that. Whether the views of these “others” are best characterized by the term “formal” or by some other term, I’m not sure. Perhaps I should have chosen another word. I’m open to suggestions. I suspect that this section needs to be strengthened. I was content simply to pointing folks to some of the scholarly resources on the topic.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. MJH says:

    Reblogged this on the pocket scroll and commented:
    Important thoughts on Palamism (which occasionally appears on this blog).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. hsamuelking says:

    You write
    “I am particularly concerned about the depersonalization of theosis the language of energies inevitably seems to generate. Grace becomes something other than the one God personally bestowing himself in the living fullness of his Trinitarian reality, a power akin to electricity or the force of the Jedi.”

    I see a parallel as a Catholic to the depersonalisation of the concept of ‘sanctifying grace’. Which still often gets talked about as if it were some substance or invisible ‘stuff’ glued to a person which isnt really human and isnt really God and is not personal in any way. While this is not the nature of the doctrine itself it does often come across that way.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. apoloniolatariii says:

    I don’t know if anyone has read it, but Nick Healy’s “The Eschatology of Hans Urs von Balthasar” discusses Aquinas and Palamas on deification, and offers Balthasar’s approach, pgs. 163-190. His notion of Christ as the analogy of being is very helpful.

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  11. Andrew says:

    Not strictly related to the topic, but do you really think Constantinople II clarified anything other than the state’s power over the Church? (Or in the case of the non-Chalcedonians, its impotence?)

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  12. C W Kappes says:

    Dear Al,

    Thanks for inviting me to comment. I will likely agree very much with Lee Faber, since he has been no small help to me in things Scotus…But the real problem—that I have (in vain) attempted to alert—is that persons on whatever side or team don’t seem to know what their own dogmatic parameters are for dogmatic simplicity in God. I would not that **neither church provides a descriptive and dogmatic definition of divine simplicity in an ecumenical council or (for Catholics) by a magisterial document.**

    Accordingly, we are forced to rely on ecumenically approved Fathers and doctors to proffer our reader a reasonable, likely, or quantitative count of Fathers who describe simplicity according to our mind. BUT, I cannot name you one monograph or study that I have ran across named “Divine simplicity according to St. _____” or “The elements required for and excluded from an o/Orthodox definition of simplicity.” The reality is that the opponents of Palamas (Barlaam, Akindynos, Gregoras, Prochoros & Demetrios Kydones, et al) set the terms of argument from appeals mainly to Aristotle’s categories, prior & posterior analytics, and metaphysics. Furthermore, Palamas draws quite a bit from Neo-Platonist (e.g., Proclus) commentators. So, we would expect to see something like: “Neo-Platonic” definitions of simplicity or Aristotelian parameters for simplicity in beings and substance. Again, we have nothing that I have seen in monograph or a professed article to speak to thee exact positions that these Byzantine philosophr-theologians espouse.

    My own investigation in to Palamas’ post-1355 (i..e, mature) doctrine is that he is conscious of Aristotelian categories and especially the Metaphysica. He appeals to texts of scholiasts (e.g., Proclus) to resolve questions of simplicity. From a purely Thomist point of view the kind of simplicity that Palamas affirms is only shared by Franciscan-prone theologians by the mid-14th century, while Thomists typically class both Franciscan and Palamas’ descriptions as non-simple and real (according to Thomist-internal categorization). Boldly, celebrated Franciscans like Francis Mayron professed that the nature of Scotus’ distinction is “real” (meaning ontological and in the thing independent of mind). Real distinctions between essence&energies do not threaten unity of Godhead because of various considerations (divine infinity of attributes, absolute non-separability between natural energies in a divine essence, etc.). Palamas, as interpreted (correctly) by Scholarios, has these same forms of argument since both Franciscans and Palamas prioritize infinity questions and multiplicity questions according to Proclean (vs. purely Aristotelian-categorical/logical) standards.

    This conversation will never advance until the interlocutor tells us: “My definition and description of simplicity is a, b, c and in a, b, c the meaning of these terms is taken from Proclus in passage x, or Aristotle in passage y, or Maximus in passage z.” Now, we can talk to each other. For a Franciscan and for a Palamite, “real distinctions” that are “ontological” in the Godhead are not threatening, for Thomists based on Thomistic texts post-1258, real distinctions in divine attributes and between attribute and essence are not possible.

    However, I realize this challenge requires time, reading, discipline, nuance, and willingness to find a common term, definition, and agreed ancient author that my interlocutor/objector will accept. Pardon me Fr. Al, but despite the unusual courtesy and by and large open-minded nature of your readership, this kind of study would probably be the death of your readership in dry lexical, etymological, and minutiae studies on words and propositions. You’d be more likely to close shop than get a team via a blog to cooperate on a boring project like this.

    However, what this perhaps endorses is your proposition that the essence-energies distinction (in God) is not really helpful to preach and to teach. Only questions of divinization have a practical application. I don’t think I will satisfy people who don’t want to be pigeonholed in defining and justifying their personal parameters of simplicity…too fun and easy to react to other people’s “misguided” and “erroneous” positions…Just cite some random authority and then run for virtual cover after winning a species of rhetorical victory.

    My two cents,
    christiaan kappes

    Liked by 3 people

  13. hecalattic says:

    It is a great pity that modern parishioners should think that they are unlikely to experince the gift of the Light of Tabor because they are not monks. Although monks devote more of their days and nights to it than householders, religious practice is open to all and every parish can live in the spirit of Mt Athos.

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  14. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    I didn’t realize that some of my questions were already discussed by Fr. Kappes and others Here.

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  15. Jeff says:

    From Met. Visilios (from the book Divine E/E), the distinction makes sense

    “The works which do not begin in time are those in which the works which begin in time participate. These works are: goodness, and all that term implies that is, life, immortality, simplicity, immutability, infinity, and all those works of the essence of God which are uncreated because they do not begin in time.

    All those works which did not begin in time are first and foremost works but they do not have proper essence. They are timeless, eternal and they are participated by those works which do have a beginning in time for the affirmation of the latter. Through these eternal, timeless works we also recognise and confirm divine energies. Although the timeless and eternal works are participated in, by works which have a chronological beginning, this does not affect their timeless character. The divine energies which are eternal, timeless and uncreated cannot be associated with time because time is not ‘older’ than them. This is because God, who is eternal, timeless and uncreated, is the only ‘begetter’ (γεννήτωρ) of these divine energies. For those works created in time Maximus uses the term γένεσις (genesis) which comes from the verb γίγνομαι, meaning to make, to create, because he wants to describe the creation of the world from nothing. For those works without a beginning in time he uses the term γεννήτωρ (begetter) from the verb γεννάομαι-ῶμαι, which means to give birth or beget, to show that they are born out of God and have their origin in Him and not in divine energies. Maximus in this way introduces the ontological distinction between essence and energies of God which are ontologically different from the created works of God. The created works owe their creation and their very being to the uncreated divine energies of God. As noted above, this text was used by Palamas in his Hagioreitikos Tomos to support his theological position of the real distinction between the energy and essence of God and his doctrine on the uncreated divine energy. Although these energies are of the essence they are not the entire essence but rather only the participating part of God. The essence remains unintelligible, unknown and uninvolved. The ontological and real distinction between the participated divine energy of the known part of God and the unknown, unintelligible and non participated divine essence is explained in the following text: “God infinitely transcends all things which participate or are participated. For everything claiming to have the term attributed to it happens to be a work of God, even if some begin their existence through becoming in time and others are implanted by grace in creatures, for example, an infused power which clearly proclaims that God is in all things”.

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