St Gennadios Scholarios on Prayer and God’s Providence

by Matthew C. Briel, Ph.D.

A couple of weeks ago I had a late night discussion with two senior colleagues who asked me about my work on Gennadios Scholarios (1400-1472) and his reconciliation of the Thomistic and Palamite accounts of God and the concommitent ideas of providence. I argued that, ba­sically, Scholarios’ and Thomas’ accounts of providence come down to primary and secon­dary causality. If God is being itself, or, in Dionysius’ language, the cause of being itself, then God is involved in every action, for every action involves being. And yet, God wants creatures to be true causes. In this account, unlike some medieval Muslim and later Christian accounts of causality, the natural world is respected by God and creaturely causes are true secondary or instrumental causes.

Thomas’ idea of secondary causality is based on his concept of the analogy of being, which itself depends on divine simplicity and the complexity of all creatures, in which their essence is not their existence. A problem arises, however, when a Palamite such as Scholarios wants to make use of Thomas’ analogy of being, for the Palamite distinction between the divine essence and energies cannot be understood simply as a notional distinction, and this would seem to present a different notion of the divinity than that presupposed by the analogy of being. Scholarios overcomes this impasse by suggesting that the distinction be understood as one that is notional but with a foundation in reality. Consider, for instance, the distinction between the intellect and the will in the soul. The two, intellect and will, seem to be different in the same way that two faces of the same mountain differ, yet are still the same mountain. The two thinglets (realitates) exist in one thing (res).

Scholarios’ modified Palamism allowed him to maintain the Thomistic analogy of being that undergirds his notion of providence. When this framework is applied to the question of providence over human affairs, it is possible, in a way, to preserve the antinomies of divine providence in a strong sense and human freedom. God really is the cause of all things, but he does not cause human actions stemming from the will in a way that forces human actions, even if he causes them in a necessary way. And so all things are predeter­mined to such an extent that Scholarios, following Aquinas, can say that it is appropriate, in a way, to call God’s providence fate, although the term, according to both theologians, is misleading because it implies that God forces human beings to actions when, in fact, we are free creatures.

Scholarios briefly addresses the question of the role of prayer in his fifth tract on provi­dence in volume one of his complete works (1928). This tract has not been translated into any language and has been overlooked by scholars and therefore the broader. My brief analysis furthers the work in my forthcoming book from UND Press, A Greek Thomist, in which I track the development of Scholarios’s theology of providence from his earliest writings through his first tract on providence.

Grounded in the analogy of being, Scholarios’ account is similar to Aquinas’ in Summa contra Gentiles 3.95. Let me now walk through Scholarios’ treatise on prayer, highlighting the most salient points.

In his first paragraph Scholarios clarifies that although some think that the fulfillment of prayers (and he has in mind here probably healings of the all-too-common Byzantine illnesses) are random on God’s part, in fact not all prayer is equal, for the prayers of the unjust are not heard by God, and he explained in earlier tracts that this is because the unjust (or the unprepared to participate in grace) do not cooperate with God’s providence.

Next, in paragraph 2, Scholarios repeats the metaphysical presupposition for his under­standing of providence, namely, that beings other than God do not have their being from themselves, for only one being is self-generating. All creatures have their being from God.

And foreknowing is to arrange [things] for the good end that is proper to foreseeing and thus to be foreknown is to be arranged towards the good. And if it is not the case beings come into being and exist in vain [randomly], then each being must be arranged towards its proper end, and consequent­ly towards the last end that is common to all, which is the most com­mon and final end [namely, God]. But we do not need to examine the final end here except to say that it is necessary that all beings be arranged towards their proper good, and as such an end it is the source of their coming to be and their existence, but it did not come about from them, nor are they driven by themselves towards their proper end, but rather they are arranged by the God who created them.

All things, then, are directed towards God (paragraph 3). Indeed, “divine foreknowledge embraces all the works of God” (paragraph 4). God foreknows even sins and the actions of sinners, but does not will them. Divine providence, in the sense of both God’s foreknowl­edge and his loving kindness, is especially shown towards the just, and less so to the unjust:

Only those who have been formed by faith and manner of life receive the benefit of providence properly so called, for to them who use the body as an instrument and tool is there an important concern for eternal life and use the present life like a passage. For God foreknows them according to their own proper inclinations, collaborating in everything with them towards the end, co-preparing them without overlooking their lives and, further­more, God considers their proper end which they seek. (paragraph 5)

Human beings determine their lives, and if they determine their lives in a good way, God acts in their life. God, foreknowing human action and the good collaboration that a human being will do (for God exists outside of time and so when he acts he is predetermining all actions of collaboration) is involved in every good action. And here Scholarios uses the language of logoi in the mind of the one who is both creator and foreknower:

For clearly the pre-establishment of all the creatures that do not yet exist are eternally present as eternal logoi in the intellect of the one who is both the creator and the foreknower. (paragraph 5)

Scholarios continues in paragraph 6:

And so it is clear how the divine predetermination is a part of divine fore­knowledge, for it runs through all human beings but distinguishes them according to the order and worthiness of each of them, and predetermi­nation concerns only those who are predetermined for eternal life, which is the goal of this life here below, and they are determined by their own zeal and divine assistance, and just as providence concerning human beings is a part of the providence concerning all beings, and just as they are some part of the totality of beings, all of which are known (for the logos of [God’s] own foreknowledge concerning them [human beings] eminently comprehends the foreknowledge that concerns the other creatures), and in the same way providence concerning those who are predetermined for eternal life is a part of the providence concerning all human beings, but it [providence regarding human beings] is not a lesser and circumscribed part of that [providence more generally] because it is the skopos and end of the entire foreknowledge of God for all of the other beings came into being and exist for the sake of human beings, and human beings exist for the sake of being predetermined and saved. But those creatures that lack a will by the divine skopos render service unto human beings since they are set apart by nature for such a service, while human beings are honored on account of free will, which is the greatest of the gifts [given] to them. While the great refusal is a withdrawal from God, which is their proper end according to both nature and grace, nevertheless few are the predetermined and saved in juxtapo­sition with those who are rejected, except that it is greater simply and conquers in terms of the complete number.

In paragraph 7 Scholarios states that God organizes our life here below to bring us to our goal, which is heaven. Our prayer to God to grant us his aid is a kind of collaboration in his accomplishing our salvation and since God always knows what he does (and he exists outside of time), our prayers and their fulfillment are predetermined from our perspective, but from the divine perspective simply are determined, and not forced.

In paragraph 8 Scholarios concludes that real prayer is for the kingdom both in the next world and in this world. Real prayer is doxology, not prayer for freedom from temptation, for temptations serve a purpose in that they strengthen us and prepare us for salvation.

After this brief summary, it seems appropriate to circle back to that late night discussion from two weeks ago. It seems that Scholarios’ account of prayer and divine providence evades my friend Paul’s critique. But is it an honest evasion? Ultimately, for Scholarios, prayer does not change God’s providence but rather is a way to participate in that provi­dence, the goal of which is our salvation. Both Thomas and Scholarios argue, basically, the prayer does not move the immutable God. However, as with all secondary causes, human prayer is a participation in being, and real prayer, directed towards our end, is a participa­tion in God’s guidance of our lives and the world. In the case of grace and divine provi­dence, human beings can refuse to participate in this grace, and we can fall into non-being and away from our goal, union with God in heaven. In the end, God fulfills the desires of a rational creature only to the extent that they are good. Perhaps, ultimately, this is an eva­sion of Paul’s question. But then, Scholarios’ answer is a theological answer rather than a strictly philosophical one. Scholarios must maintain the seeming contradiction of human freedom and divine omnipotence and omniscience. In Scholarios’ account the two dimen­sions of providence and prayer, namely, the human and the divine, may be seen as two different perspectives on the same reality of the human participation in divine grace, which is, of course, theosis for Scholarios.

* * *

Matthew C. Briel is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He received his Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University in 2016 where he benefited from his time with the Orthodox Christian Studies Center. He specializes in Byzantine theology, especially in its relationship to Roman Catholic theology, and has a book on Gennadios Scholarios, A Greek Thomist, forthcoming from University of Notre Dame Press.

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18 Responses to St Gennadios Scholarios on Prayer and God’s Providence

  1. Maximus says:

    Dr. Briel, thank you for an interesting post. From this brief introduction, it seems to me that Scholarios was much more interested in accommodating Aquinas than preserving Palamas. Do you think that was his general tendency? I was glad to read the statement that “the Palamite [real] distinction between the divine essence and energies…would seem to present a different notion of the divinity than that presupposed by the analogy of being.” Indeed, I agree that it definitely does. But does the solution given by Scholarios—namely “that the distinction be understood as one that is notional but with a foundation in reality”—really bridge the impasse?

    I’ve heard Thomists offer this same terminology when describing God’s attributes, particularly when defending against the assertion that all the attributes are just synonymous (since the Thomistic God is pure act and absolutely simple). They argue that the distinction between God’s activities/attributes is a notional distinction but is (somehow) grounded in reality, rooted in God Himself. Personally, I find this explanation lacking: either the distinctions truly exist in reality, i.e., in God (the Palamite solution), or they are created effects and not *God’s* attributes at all.

    Based on this, could you elaborate more on how the analogies offered by Scholarios (intellect and will in the soul; two faces of the same mountain) might solve this difficulty?


    • Matt Briel says:

      Dear Maximus,
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. It’s interesting what you say about Gennadios’ fidelity to Thomas rather than Palamas. Gennadios was clear that the Palamite distinction, which must in some sense be real, was the doctrine of the Church. So I think that he really wants to be faithful to that doctrine. Other Palamites in the two generations after Palamas were trying to work out just what the nature of the distinction might be. There is an excellent article on this by Antoine Levy, O.P. “Lost in Translatio?: Diakrisis kat’epinoian as a Main Issue in the Discussions between Fourteenth-Century Palamites and Thomists” in the Thomist, Volume 76, Number 3, July 2012
      pp. 431-471.

      The second generation of Palamites, who accepted Gregory’s doctrine disagreed on the nature of the distinction, the nature of the distinction, as far as I know, was never codified in a council but rather was only in the mid 20th century proposed as necessarily a real distinction in the strict sense by Vladimir Lossky and others. It seems clear that the distinction can’t be merely notional and faithful to Palamas, but I don’t think it’s a settled question that Scholarios’ distinction of notional with a basis in reality (διαφόρα κατ᾽ἐπίνοιαν ἐν τῷ πράγματι, or a distinctio formalis a parte rei) is not a valid account of the distinction.

      I see your concern that Scholarios seems more Thomistic (or Scotistic) than Palamite. I suppose that Scholarios would argue that if the distinction is not taken with some kind of qualification it starts to resemble Eunomius’ account of the Trinity. (Fr. Kimel has a great post about this).

      I’m afraid that I misled you about the analogy. Scholarios does not give those analogies but rather I take them from Duns Scotus.

      Does this help?

      In Christ,


      • Maximus says:

        Dr. Briel, thank you for this answer and for the article you mentioned. Full disclosure, I actually agree with Vladimir Lossky (and others) concerning the Palamite distinction being a real distinction. Not a popular ecumenical stance to take, but I think it’s correct. 🙂 Maybe the Palamite distinction is indeed closer to something like a formal, Scotistic distinction. In my estimation, however, a formal distinction—a distinction that has a foundation in reality and so is mind-independent, and yet does not imply real separability—still boils down to a real one. I see a distinction along similar lines made by the Greek fathers from Athanasius on and implicitly in St. Paul’s teaching on the divine energies, a notion which likely became blurred in the Latin West. Without compromising what seems to be the biblical and patristic teaching, however, I am certainly open to hear possibilities that may truly bridge the impasse. Thanks again for your response and for your hard work in this area of study.


    • Thomas says:


      > either the distinctions truly exist in reality, i.e., in God (the Palamite solution), or they are created effects and not *God’s* attributes at all.

      Is the objection to notional distinctions in general, or only notional distinctions in the case of God?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maximus says:

        Thomas, thanks for the question. I do not object to the notional distinction in general. I think it’s a valid metaphysical category. It seems distinctions either really exist in the object or only exist in our conception of the object, the latter option being a notional distinction. So, if distinctions between God’s attributes/activities exist only in our conception of Him, then we are conceiving of distinct created realities and not God Himself. My own concerns move beyond intellectual conceptions, however, and into the realm of experience. Direct experience of God is vitally important because Christ promises, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And I believe this promise pertains to the here and now, via the purified perception of the nous.

        Within a theology that attests only to a notional distinction between God’s attributes/activities and not to a real one, I find little room for any direct experience of God Himself in His distinct activities among/in us. Such a paradigm (of actus purus) seems to put God at a remove from us, as a Cause who eternally *acted* but not a personal Lord who *acts.* Please pardon the temporal metaphors, but it’s just a way of emphasizing singularity vs. plurality. If God’s existence is identical with His essence, then He cannot reveal *Himself* in a plurality within creation. Yet that’s how we experience Him, in multiple activities: healing the sick, walking on water, raising the dead, etc. A mere notional distinction doesn’t do justice to this reality, if it is indeed God *Himself* we are experiencing in this multiplicity.


        • Thomas says:

          Well, most Thomists would agree that there is no experience of God, though for different reasons. What is known by experience is material; what is grasped by apprehension is form; and what is affirmed or denied in judgement is existence. God is not material, and so he cannot be the the content of an experience. Quite a different thing than saying he cannot be known through experience.

          Non-material beings such as angels and God are immaterial, so they are not subjects of experience. As Lonergan strikingly put it: “there are no data on God”. Anything that can be experienced is spatio-temporal: it is a “this-here-now”. God and the angels are not spatio-temporal, and human souls are in principle independent of space-time.

          And Thomists don’t deny that God acts, they just hold that God’s (or any agent’s) action with respect to things is really identical with something in the effect (its existence, in the case of God) rather than with something in the agent.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Maximus says:

            That’s helpful, Thomas, thank you. So, it seems the difference here is between a mediated and an unmediated experience of God. I wonder if these two views don’t relate directly to distinct views of anthropology, in the East a tripartite understanding and in the West a bipartite view. Do Thomists have a teaching analogous to the perceptive power of the nous in Orthodox theology?


        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Maximus, what does it mean to “experience” God? And what is the difference between a nonmediated experience of God and a mediated experience?

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Matt, thank you for submitting this article to Eclectic Orthodoxy. I know you have whetted the appetite of several readers, including myself, for your soon-to-be-published book.

    Question on predestination and free will: How does Scholarios differ (if he does) from Aquinas?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Matthew Briel says:

    Dear Fr. Al,

    Thanks for your question. In brief, Scholarios is less Augustinian than Aquinas and more in line with the Greek theological tradition on the question of predestination. He argues that God foreknows what a person will do and then gives the person more grace. He also says, in line with, say, Maximus Confessor, that a person needs to prepare himself to receive grace. You can see how different this is from Augustine! This is all in his first tract on providence.

    I translated the five treatises years ago but need to revise them. I’m afraid that in the meantime my Greek has gotten rusty. I’m teaching Greek this year and hope to work on the texts again this summer. So, some day those texts with commentary should be published. My book only goes up through the first tract on providence. I should write an article on the development of Scholarios’ theology of providence in the last four tracts, written in the last ten years of his life.



  4. Thomas says:

    > Scholarios overcomes this impasse by suggesting that the distinction be understood as one that is notional but with a foundation in reality. Consider, for instance, the distinction between the intellect and the will in the soul. The two, intellect and will, seem to be different in the same way that two faces of the same mountain differ, yet are still the same mountain. The two thinglets (realitates) exist in one thing (res).

    For St. Thomas, human intellect and will are really distinct, while a mountain viewed from two perspectives is one thing. (The two acts of perceiving are two distinct realities though.) Two realities in one thing (whether will and intellect, essence and existence, etc) are really distinct (albeit a minor real distinction).

    However, God’s intellect and will are not distinct, because being simple, he does not have distinct faculties or powers. The ground of the distinction arises from our concepts, not from God; though they are true in virtue of God, not the concepts.


  5. Maximus says:

    “Maximus, what does it mean to “experience” God? And what is the difference between a nonmediated experience of God and a mediated experience?”

    Fr Aidan, you ask difficult questions! So, my answer will definitely not be original to me. Fr Dumitru Stăniloae covers these sort of things beautifully in his Dogmatic Theology Vol. 1, The Experience of God and in his volume Orthodox Spirituality. He’s my go-to source on these teachings. Based on his writings, then, I’ll do my best to answer in my own, brief words.

    The experience of God is conceived in Orthodox theology as a kind of heart vision or spiritual sight. St. Paul refers to this reality when he prays “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” As the light of God’s glory shines forth, the soul exercises its capacity of spiritual receptivity. According to St. Maximus, this knowledge-receiving faculty is sometimes termed the nous (mind) and sometimes termed the spirit (pneuma). Thus, to experience God is to know Him, mystically, with a “knowledge above understanding,” to use the term of St. Gregory Palamas. This kind of knowledge is a form of apophaticism—not in the sense of *intellectual* negation, but a “dazzling darkness” which is positively filled with a sense of God’s bright, overwhelming presence.

    Man gains knowledge of God in stages, variously named but with a discernible progress from mediated to unmediated knowledge. The order of this spiritual ascent moves from virtue (i.e. doing), through natural contemplation, and finally finding a (never-ending) terminus in mystical theology. The second of these stages refers to contemplation of created things. The object here is the logoi of created phenomena which man perceives by spiritual sight. In this way, nature becomes a guide and teacher, mediating knowledge of God. The third stage, mystical contemplation, is directed toward God in unmediated way. This unmediated experience transcends natural knowledge; it goes beyond all rational knowledge, both cataphatic and apophatic, though the terminology of these rational modes of knowing can be used to (dimly) express the mystical experience.

    Fr Stăniloae describes this conscious experience of God as a “personal presence” that “exerts pressure” upon the human person. It begins in simple faith and develops into higher levels. It doesn’t exclude the rational knowledge of God (e.g. as cause), but the content of what (Who) is known transcends both sense experience and rational categories, either positively or negatively defined. Moreover, the vision/experience includes an awareness that, in His essence, God transcends the vision/experience. As God told Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you…But you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” Thus, an eternal progress ensues. While intellectual knowledge and theoretical reflection are of great use, the relational (intuitive, existential) experience of God, perceived by the eyes of the heart in an unmediated way, proves more profound than rational and/or sentimental aspects, as the human person directly perceives the ineffable Personal mystery who is God.


    • Thomas says:

      From my perspective, this sounds like several category errors. (Not to say it is, since it would be hasty to do that from a couple paragraphs.)

      I’d maintain that any experience is necessarily of the material. Its object is a “this-here-now”. So to speak of an “experience of God” is inaccurate, because there can be no experiential data on spiritual beings. This is not a theological conclusion, but stems from the nature of cognition. Every experience of is a “this-here-now”, and God is not in the spatio-temporal continuum.

      But it also seems to prioritize experience as the privileged conduit to divine reality. That is, God transcends our categories, and the capacity of our intellect, but we have a “higher” or more direct way to him: spiritual experience. I’d object to this not only because there are no experiences of immaterial beings, but also because it supposes that experience is a better conduit to know realities (at least the divine reality) than a rational faculty.

      But reality, divine or otherwise, is what can be understood in some way and affirmed. Experience of itself is neither true nor false, it only leads to the truth because it happens to used as an instrument in rational animals by the rational faculties in their effort to know. There is in fact no reality that in an absolute sense requires experience to be known, else divine knowledge would be missing something available to men.

      That’s not to say religious experience is irrelevant, any more than to say that Newton’s experience of the fall of an apple was irrelevant to his formulation of universal gravitation. It is to say that what is experienced is not God. God is a transcendent reality because he utterly transcends experience, not because he transcends understanding. If he were beyond understanding, there could be no Divine Word, nor, for that matter, would there be God.

      As I said, I am likely somewhat off track with Fr. Stăniloae’s actual position, so take this as a primitive attempt at intellectual cartography.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maximus says:

        Thomas, thanks for the feedback. Rather than a category error on Fr. Stăniloae’s part, I sense instead that there is a fundamental disagreement here between theological traditions, each holding forth a different set of categories as valid. I can see how, in the Thomist way of thinking, Fr. Stăniloae’s approach would make little sense. But within Orthodoxy, the mystical approach is generally prized, not to the denigration of the rational but with, I believe, a healthy acknowledgement of its limitations.

        This is sometimes simplistically phrased in a contrast between “knowing” and “knowing about.” To know God in an interpersonal way is different, and I would say, more important, than to know about God. (I would guess you generally agree with that statement.) Moreover, following the Orthodox tradition, I believe God has equipped human beings to know/experience Him in this interpersonal way by means of a certain spiritual capacity of the soul (the nous or pneuma).

        You may have missed it, but above I asked if Thomists have a teaching analogous to the perceptive power of the nous found in Orthodox theology. Does the Latin distinction between ratio and intellectus reflect a similar sort of anthropological view? My understanding is that ratio actively engages in discursive cognitive processes, while intellectus receives what is offered to the mind’s eye, resulting in a more spiritual, intuitive knowledge of the truth. Would you agree?

        My favorite Thomist author, Josef Pieper, writes the following, and maybe you could comment. In his book, Leisure the Basis of Culture, he states, “man participates in the angelic faculty of non-discursive vision, which is the capacity to apprehend the spiritual in the same manner that our eye apprehends light or our ear sound. Our knowledge in fact includes an element of non-activity, of purely receptive vision—though it is certainly not essentially human; it is rather the fulfillment of the highest promise in man, and thus, again, truly human” (10). Do you think this resonates with Fr. Stăniloae’s view articulated above?


      • Thomas says:


        I wasn’t intending to argue that Stăniloae’s argument is a category error because he mixes up concepts from a different theological tradition, but because his conceptual scheme (as I tenuously understand it) mixes up the activities he has to perform any time he knows anything. It’s not, at root, a theological disagreement, but a gnoseological difference — a difference in cognitional theory.

        The question is not resolved by comparing traditions, but by understanding what we already do (must do) when we know–an issue that can be resolved with certainty. Were you to hold that looking can suffice for knowing, than I could simply read the words in your comment without even attempting to understand it, and I need to nothing more to understand it.

        I do think that quote from Pieper tends to construe knowing as taking a look or beholding, which conflicts with the Aristotelian view of knowing by identity and the Thomist view that knowing is the immaterial act of an intelligibility. Angels neither see nor have imaginative representations (St. Thomas is pretty clear about this), they know by what they are. I don’t know Pieper well enough to know if he’s merely speaking loosely here, if he’s promulgating his own view, or if he’s misattributing this.

        So the critical distinction I would draw is not between knowing and knowing about, but between knowing and looking. Knowing and knowing about are both activities of intelligence and rationality, the former being distinguished from the latter by the degree to which it reaches its objective. Both seek to know, and they differ only in how successful they are.

        But knowing and looking (intuiting, beholding, seeing) differ not in degree but in kind. Humans, angels, and God know. Humans and animals look and imagine. Humans look because they are animals. Looking (intuiting, beholding) is not knowing, and is intrinsically limited to the material order, but looking is instrumental to come to knowledge in rational animals, because we start out not knowing anything.

        There are Thomists who have Platonic or (especially) Scotist theories of knowledge, and reject (intentionally or unintentionally) the gnoseological principles of Aristotle and Aquinas (W.N. Clarke comes to mind). So when I say “Thomist” I am employing it more normatively than descriptively.


        • Maximus says:

          As always, Thomas, your comments are helpful and instructive to me. I suppose I’m still wondering exactly how *spiritual* beholding, or contemplative sight, works out in your understanding. What does Paul mean when he refers to the Ephesians as having the eyes of their hearts enlightened (1:18)? To what sort of light is Paul referring, and what kind of eyes does he assume people have? It seems to me that spiritual vision precisely does behold the divine light, and the result is a transformative kind of knowledge—a knowing like Adam “knew” Eve, like Christ knows the Church, i.e. an interpersonal knowledge of participation and spiritual union (see 1 Cor 6:17). Indeed, this kind of deifying knowledge is promised to believers when Christ appears again: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Seeing the glorified Christ will glorify us, in order to forever experience an inseverable face-to-face communion. This is the kind of experiential knowledge to which I’m referring, a knowledge of union and communion.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you, Maximus, for the summary of Staniloae. I too have a high regard for his book Orthodox Spirituality.

      My question about experience of God was provoked by your claim that if God is absolute and infinite plenitude being (actus purus) disallows genuine experience of God. I find the claim unconvincing. I would argue that a proper understanding of divine transcendence, as we find, e.g., in David Hart, opens up the possibility of God’s gracious self-communication to his creatures, and thus of our experience of God. Hence I do not—at least at the present moment—see why we need to posit a real distinction in God to ground our knowledge and experience of our Creator. God’s gift of himself in and by the Spirit demonstrates just the opposite.

      I find the notion of mediated and unmediated experience of God confusing. I do not know what this means. Thomas, e.g., seems to believe that experience of God is impossible because of our materiality. I disagree. If all of creation is theophany, and therefore sacramental, as the Eastern liturgical tradition witnesses, then we do truly and genuinely experience God in our experience of creation. Matter is not an obstacle to God’s self-communication—just the opposite. God, after all, has brought matter into his trinitarian life precisely by his assumption of matter in the Incarnation. To eat the consecrated bread (Christ’s body) and drink the consecrated wine (Christ’s blood) is to experience God in the fullness of his divine reality—in and through Jesus Christ into whom we have been baptized. All Christian living, in other words, is theosis, for all Christian living is an indwelling and participation in, and contemplation of, the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Let’s call this the mysticism of the baptized hoi poloi.

      For this reason I do not see a decisive difference between Eastern and Western catholic Christianity.

      As I have noted in our previous conversations, it’s important to remember that what Western scholastics mean by divine essence is not identical to what Palamas mean by the same terminology. Palamas was concerned to protect the imparticipability of the divine essence—hence the need to insist that we do not and cannot participate in it: if we could, we would become new members of the Godhead. Latin scholastics, on the other hand, have no problem asserting that we do apprehend and are united in the divine essence in the beatific vision, without in any way believing that we thereby become members of the Godhead. Clearly two different meanings of essence is at work here. Given that two different philosophical conceptualities are being employed, we need to be careful about positing incompatibility between the two systems. Instead we should focus our attention on the deep convictions of Eastern and Western Christians. When we do that we discover that we are united in our deepest convictions. We can then argue which philosophical system is most adept at coherently expressing our shared beliefs. I suspect that we will end up concluding that all of our philosophical categories are ultimately inadequate. Our concepts break down before the divine Mystery.


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