David Bradshaw and Jared Goff Discuss the Essence/Energies Distinction

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24 Responses to David Bradshaw and Jared Goff Discuss the Essence/Energies Distinction

  1. johnjlamb says:

    I think the distinction is trying to answer the question of the one and the many, the absolute and the relative. Between the Thomistic idea that God’s essence is an absolutely static One, and the Process Theology idea that God is in constant flux – there must be a way of reconciling both principles, so that God is both eternally One and also really present in the many things of creation. I think Aquinas says somewhere that in the relations between God and creatures, these relations are real in the creature but not real in God (since then God would be changing as creatures change). I think the essence-energies distinction is denying this proposition, instead saying: yes, God’s relations to creatures are real in God, but by way of His energies not His essence. God is infinitely static & unchanging in His essence and infinitely adaptive & changing in His energies.

    The monks of Zen Buddhism came to some sort of understanding of this problem. Here’s John C. H. Wu (a Chinese convert to Christianity) in his book “Golden Age of Zen”,
    Quote:
    But no one can be more slippery than Chao-chou. Once a monk asked him, “It is said that all things return to the One. Where does the One return to?” The master said, “When I was in Ch’ing-chou, I made a robe of cotton cloth, weighing seven catties.” What an irrelevant answer! This dialogue has been used in the succeeding generations as a typical kung-an to tease the minds of neophytes. But we must remember that to Chao-chou the One and many are relative and interpenetrated. If the many return to the One, the One returns to the many, so that any particular event, however trivial it may appear, is inseparably connected with the One and may therefore serve as a pointer to it. Now, nothing could be more particular than the fact that when he was in Ch’ing-chou he had a robe of cotton made for him, which weighed seven catties. On the other hand, nothing could be more universal than the One. Yet, in none of the infinite number of particulars is the One ever absent!

    But did Chao-chou equate the One with Tao [the Way]? By no means! If he did, Tao itself would have been conceived as relative. The truth is that in his view, Tao is absolutely beyond one and many. This seems to be the pivotal point in his philosophy. Even in his early days, when he was with Nan-chüan, he already had a clear grasp of the utter transcendence of Tao. After quoting to his master the popular saying: “Tao is not outside the realm of things; outside of the realm of things there is no Tao,” he asked, “What about the transcendent Tao?” Nan-chüan struck him. Catching hold of the cane, Chao-chou said, “Hereafter, take care not to hit the wrong person!” This won from Nan-chüan a wholehearted commendation: “It is easy to distinguish the dragon from the snake, but it is next to impossible to deceive a true monk.”

    Tao is not only beyond the one and many, but also beyond yu and wu, or the phenomenal and the noumenal. Chao-chou’s extreme flexibility in handling all relative terms springs directly from his constant awareness of the utter transcendence of Tao. Once he was asked if the dog possessed Buddha-Nature. He answered, “No!” This flatly contradicts an essential tenet of Buddhism. So the questioner further asked, “There is Buddha-Nature in all beings, from the Buddhas to the ants. How can you say that the dog has no Buddha-Nature?” The master replied, “Because of its habit of discrimination.” On another occasion, when exactly the same question was put to him, he answered, “Yes”, but the questioner said, “Since the dog has Buddha-Nature, how did he come to assume the body of a dog?” “He acted against his better knowledge,” the master replied.
    End-Quote.

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    • johnjlamb says:

      It follows from the insights of the Zen Buddhist masters that God Himself, the Tao as they called Him, transcends and is above the essence-energies distinction (doesn’t Pseudo-Dionysius say that God both is and is not His essence?).

      Here’s another passage from the same book,
      Quote:
      Later, when Tung-shan bade farewell to his master, the latter remarked affectionately, “After this separation, it will be hard for us to see each other.” “Rather it will be heard for us not to see each other!” replied the disciple. Again he asked the master, “After you have completed this life, what shall I say if anyone asks, ‘Can you still recall your master’s true face?'” The master remained silent for a long while and then replied, “Just this one is.” This set the disciple to musing. Finally, the master said, “In carrying out his[!] charge, exercise your utmost circumspection and care.”

      While on his journey, Tung-shan continued to muse on the cryptic words of the master: “Just this one is.” Later on, in crossing a stream, he happened to see his own reflection in the water, and right on the spot he was thoroughly awakened to the real meaning of “Just this one is.” He epitomized the experience in a gatha:

      “Do not see him anywhere else!
      Or he will run away from you!
      Now that I go on all alone,
      I meet him everywhere.
      He is even now what I am.
      I am even now not what he is.
      Only by understanding this way
      Can there be a true union with the Self-So.”

      The term I have rendered here as “Self-So” is ju-ju, which is the same as chen-ju, the Chinese for the Sanskrit Bhutatathata. It is “self subsistent Suchness,” or “Thusness,” or “Eternal That.” It corresponds to the “eternal Tao” of the Tao-Teh-Ching, to the “Brahman” in Hinduism, and to the “I-Am-That-I-Am” of the Old Testament. The most significant couplet of this remarkable gatha is:

      “He is even now what I am.
      I am even now not what he is.”

      Clearly there is a subtle distinction between the “I” and the “He.” He is I, but I am not He. This is like saying that God is more myself than myself, although I am not God. There is the same relation between the “I” and the “He” as between Atman and Brahman, and between the True Man of Tao and Eternal Tao.

      This gatha is one of the most precious gems, not only in Buddhism, but in the spiritual literature of the whole world. It presents a vision, a living experience, with authenticity written all over its face. Transparent yet profound, it reminds us of Tu Fu’s:

      “How limpid the autumn waters, and with no bottom.”
      End-Quote.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      John, I’m skeptical (though open to persuasion) that the Byzantine distinction between the divine essence and energies was designed to resolve the perennial problem of the One and the Many. It gets developed by Palamas and his followers, first, to explain how it is possible for human beings to be taken up into the life and nature of the Holy Trinity and therefore “see” the uncreated Light and Glory without becoming new hypostases of the Godhead; and second, to explain how it is possible for the infinite and transcendent Deity to be free in his acts of creation and salvation without introducing complexity and contingency into the divine essence.

      Perhaps you could elaborate further.

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      • johnjlamb says:

        I’m not any more likely than you to be able to elaborate it, Father. I do think what you said about the distinction is very much related to the One-Many problem though. How many human creatures are taken up into the one life and nature of God; how the transcendent God operates among the multitude of creatures – isn’t this precisely the problem of the One and the Many?

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  2. Robert Fortuin says:

    Two hours of beating about the bush as to the nature of the distinction – is it real or formal?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, Robert, but Bradshaw doesn’t give us a clear answer on this, despite Goff’s winkling. I received the impression that he found the Franciscan approach intriguing with genuine ecumenical possibilities.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        No clear answer at all – which is a real (not a formal) problem! It is either a real or formal distinction – it can’t be both. And it isn’t a difficult question.

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    • Maximus says:

      I wanted the same answer. It seems Bradshaw hesitates to systematize the distinction because of the diverse range of God’s energeiai: some are eternal, others temporal; some are contingent, others necessary; some are conceived as attributes; etc. There is no perfect conceptual box. Bradshaw has an article on this issue on Academia called, “Essence and Energies: What Kind of Distinction.” I’m also starting to read the article he mentioned at the very end of this broadcast.

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  3. Kappes and Goff and Plested have convinced me. Bradshaw seems so difficult to convince that Palamism and Scotism are compatible that by the time he’s convinced, there will be no question then, that this issue has been resolved.

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  4. John H says:

    Bradshaw’s discussion regarding the logoi being supposedly contingent really puzzled me. As purportedly a manifestation of God’s uncreated energies, how then can the logoi–or Divine Names–be contingent? And if indeed they are construed as contingent, doesn’t this negate both Divine Simplicity and/or Impassibility? I may be misunderstanding Bradshaw on this point, so any light that anyone might be able to shed on this would be appreciated.

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  5. apoloniolatariii says:

    I don’t see how Goff’s answer to Bradshaw’s question about why the logoi and the essence of God can’t be a real distinction if the logoi can’t exist without the essence and the essence can exist without the logoi. Maybe I’m misinterpreting him, but Goff’s answer about the the assymetrical relationship between the Father and the Son are analogous to that doesn’t work: there *is* a real distinction between the Father and the Son. Why isn’t there a real distinction in this assume relationship between the essence and logoi?

    I also don’t know why we have to say that the essence can exist without the logoi. That’s actually hard for me to fathom.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Are you suggesting the logoi are eternally within the Godhead? Or perhaps that God the Father, and the Son, and tje Holy Spirit, are not (also) the essence, i.e. something other than the essence? What are we talking about here? Essence with, or without, logoi?? God + this that or the other?

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    • J Goff says:

      You raise a good question. It’s likely I didn’t express myself clearly. I was trying to express that the logoi are because of the divine essence, expressing them eternally. Not vice versa. It seems here there is a kind of asymmetry between essence and logoi. I wouldn’t say that the essence and the logoi could exist separately or that the essence could exist apart from the logoi. I haven’t watched the discussion. If I expressed this, I misspoke. The issue it seems that was being hinted at is the question of contingency and its relation to divine perfection, divine freedom, and the created order.

      The analogy between essence-logoi and Father-Son, understood in a non-analogical manner, would imply as you note an inconsistency because I was claiming the essence-logoi distinction is merely something like a formal distinction while the distinction between persons is real. I was trying to express an analogical point about asymmetry. Here I would note that the logoi, taken singly or together, do not, as terms of “expressing” the essential truth of the divine being, equal a real distinction. In Bonaventure’s account, this is because the logoi-exemplars as distinct from one another and from the divine essence don’t coextend, leaving aside here his technical language, as such the divine essence itself and hence cannot be a perfect termination or communication of the divine being which would produce a distinct and independent hypostatic communication-termination of the divine being from one person to another, which would be the condition for a real distinction in God. While the logoi-examplars are the same res as the essence, they are sufficiently and objectively distinct from one another to realize what Bonaventure called a differentia minima, which scholars have argued persuasively functions like Scotus’ later formal distinction.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Necessary reading on the Palamite Distinction: “St Gregory Palamas and Divine Simplicity” by Marcus Plested.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Calls the distinction “actual” and not “real”. I wonder, “actual” to whom? If actual to us then how would this differ from a conceptual or an epistemic distinction? If actual to or in God, then one wonders as to what this may mean – actual in what sense, as in a real distinction? I don’t see how this is coherent at all.

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      • Thomas says:

        After reading Plested, it’s clear that Gregory Palamas wanted to affirm both divine simplicity and an energies essence distinction. Even with his excellent scholarship, it’s still not entirely evident to me precisely what the term “simplicity” means here, what kind of distinction is being used, or even what the similarities and differences between the Trinitarian distinction and the essence-energies distinction would be.

        For instance, a Thomist would say that the Trinitarian distinction does not violate divine simplicity because the persons are subsistent relations: one cannot understand any of the persons without understanding all of them. That is to say, in knowing any one of the persons, one grasps the Trinity as a whole, because the persons are entirely relational.

        By contrast, when one understands, say, that a person has mastered calculus, it takes a further act of understanding to know whether he or she is doing calculus right now. As a result, the power to do calculus and its actual operation are related as potency to act.

        Both distinctions are real, but the calculus example involves potentiality and actuality, while the Trinitarian example does not, for in grasping one person, there is nothing left to be known about the others. As one who knows quite little about Gregory Palamas, the energies look a lot more like the calculus example — in fully grasping an operation, there remains something further to be known about God, which would entail composition were the energies not ad extra.

        Liked by 1 person

        • David says:

          “the Trinitarian distinction does not violate divine simplicity because the persons are subsistent relations: one cannot understand any of the persons without understanding all of them.”

          I can see how Father, Son and Spirit, taken together, are absolutely identical with the divine essence, but it is harder to see how any individual person is also absolutely identical with the essence, when that person is also really distinct from the other persons.

          I can see that, as there are no accidents in God, the Father just *is* the fathering of the Son and the active spirating of the Spirit without remainder, and that therefore as you say, ‘in knowing [the Father], one grasps the Trinity as a whole’. But surely the fact that, for us finite beings, our finite act of *knowing* the father is really identical with the act of *knowing* the trinity… well, that in itself doesn’t necessarily mean that the Father just *is* identical with the trinity (the divine essence) does it? I don’t understand how the coincidence of human knowledge of the father with human knowledge of the essence, prooves the coincidence of the father with the divine essence.

          Sorry that this doesn’t touch directly on the essence-energies distinction, but in order to understand what a ‘real’ distinction between essence and energy would imply, it would be helpful to come to a better understanding of what is meant by ‘real’ distinctions between the persons.

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          • Thomas says:

            But we cannot understand the Father without being divine ourselves. I am not arguing from human “knowledge” of the Father.

            To understand God is to be God – the act of understanding must comprehend what is understood. The act of understanding God the same as God’s infinite act.

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          • David says:

            Thanks Thomas. Apologies for misunderstanding. You do seem to claim that the idea that ‘the Trinitarian distinction does not violate divine simplicity” is related to the idea that ‘in knowing any one of the persons, one grasps the Trinity as a whole’, but I don’t see the relationship between this idea that, say, the Father is identical to the trinity/essence (as I thought is required by divine simplicity)

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          • Thomas says:

            David:

            This is where the psychological analogy comes in. When we know something, we have a single act of knowledge with several internally related moments.

            Take Newton’s system. Newton comes to an understanding of why apples fall and planets orbit. From that understanding proceeds a concept (i.e,. a theory), which must adequately express that initial flash of insight. In Aquinas’ language, there is the procession of an inner word. But then, in addition to formulating a theory, the theory must be judged true or false. It is true to the degree that it would not be replaced by a more comprehensive understanding. Thus, in addition to understanding there is judgment. (Understanding obviously cannot suffice for knowing the truth — Newton’s system was in fact displaced by a more comprehensive physics).

            The point is to see that what is known in such a case is the essence, but there are several constitutive factors in the single act of knowing the single essence. In our case, these are related as potency to act — our every theory requires validation. But this is because our acts of knowing are restricted. Our restricted acts of knowing must be affirmed through judgment precisely to the extent that there are more comprehensive (i.e., less restricted) acts of knowledge.

            But, in God’s case, he is an unrestricted act of knowing. Therefore, if there is an intelligible procession of a word or concept expressing the divine act of understanding (i.e., the essence of God) and that concept is affirmed, the concept/word cannot be in potency to the judgment, for there is no possibility of supercession by a more complete explanation. So by distinguishing the moments of intelligible procession (concept formation) and affirmation (judgment) in a single act of understanding, on the one hand, and the distinction between restricted and unrestricted acts of understanding, we can get some notion of why God is not composite. And the relations between the act of knowing and its various internal structures can then be used as an analogy for the relations between the unity and diversity of the Trinity.

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          • David says:

            Thanks Thomas. Do I understand you right in thinking that, with respect to the divine will, you’d say that there is but one simple act of willing, within which are enfolded distinct ‘intelligible moments’ – by which I take you mean the different ends of relations within God’s eternal act of willing himself. God’s act is self-reflexive, which implies relations of origin, but both ends of the relation are identical to God with respect to a substance (they are the same substantial act) and so in a sense are identical to one another in terms of substance also (i.e. they are all God), but that they are *not* identical to one another in terms of relation… hence the real distinction?

            No idea whether this is helpful or not, but it makes me think of those funny drawings which look both like an old woman and a young woman at the same time… or the one which looks like two faces staring at each other one moment and a vase the next. So there is but one figure, one physical substance, but this intrinsically includes two pictures/images/ideas. There is a real distinction between the picture of the faces and the picture of the vase with respect to image/relation but there is no distinction between them with respect to substance/figure. The picture of the face, considered in itself, is identical with the substantial figure; the picture of the vase, considered in itself, is identical with the substantial figure; and the two pictures considered together are also identical to the substantial figure; and yet with respect to each other they are not identical: there is a real relation.

            On the energies point, on my analogy, if the energies are considered ‘uncreated’ then surely they must just be God and are just another way for naming the ‘figure’ without implying a real distinction of any kind… but if the energies are ad extra or created, then they’re just a different figure altogether 🙂

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Right Thomas, it all remains terribly unclear, and when one follows the explanations of neo-Palamist (Lossky, Bradshaw, et al) it stays as muddied as ever as to the precise nature of the distinction, and how this may then not affect simplicity.

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