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Energies of the Spirit (Duncan Reid)


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#1 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 11:20 PM

Title: Energies of the Spirit: Trinitarian Models in Eastern Orthodox and Western Theology
Author: Duncan Reid.
Publisher: Scholars Press, 1997.
ISBN: 0-7885-0345-6
Pages: 149
Sub-Genre: Trinitarian theology, Ecumenical theology
Price: $22-$75
Description: Amazon.com: "This book examines twentieth-century theological commentators (Brath, Rahner, Florovsky, Lossky) on the problem of the doctrine of energies in God. Counter to existing trends in western theology, the author gives a positive evaluation of this doctrine and seeks common ground between the eastern idea of essence and energies and the western identification of the inner and economic trinity. Though written from a clearly western perspective, the book argues the coherence of the eastern position, and that underlying both eastern and western positions is a common intention to say that the encounter with God is real, and that the primary ontological distinction is between God and creation. This book was originally presented as the author's thesis (doctoral)--Universität Tubingen, 1992, under the title: Die Lehre von den ungeschaffenen Energien: Ihre Bedeutung fur die okumenische Theologie."

Edited by Administrator, 13 January 2011 - 07:43 AM.


#2 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 11:24 PM

This book has sat on my bookshelf for years. I do not recall when I purchased it (8 years ago? 10? 13?), but like so many other books that I have bought, it has sat on my shelf waiting for to find its fulfillment in being read. Last week I re-discovered it while looking for a different book. I have not read much theology during the past several years, principally because of my own theological and spiritual crises. There was a time when I voraciously read books on Trinitarian theology, but eventually I realized that I really didn't understand anything, so what was the point?. But two questions continue to niggle at me: (1) Is the economic Trinity identical to the immanent Trinity? (2) What is the Palamite distinction between energies and essence really trying to say?

And then this little book caught my attention. I had completely forgotten that I owned it. Two and a half years ago I was compelled by the demands of reality to divest myself of three-quarters of my theological library, yet apparently Energies of the Spirit survived the Great Purge. I am grateful that it did.

I need to make my own prejudices and commitments clear. I have been formed by the Trinitarian reflections of two Protestant theologians: Thomas F. Torrance (Reformed) and Robert W. Jenson (Lutheran). Torrance taught me that all reflection on God must be governed by the homoousion, i.e., the identity of being between Jesus Christ and his Father. Jenson taught me that the history of God with Israel and her Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, must be taken with ultimate seriousness. Because of these two men, I have not been tempted to seek for a God who is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as revealed in the biblical story. And because of these two men, I am suspicious of any theologian who talks about God or the Trinity in abstraction from the particularities of the biblical story. I may be wrong, but these two points are so fundamental in my understanding of divinity that I find it impossible to think of God apart from Jesus Christ. As Martin Luther declared, "I know of no other God except the one called Jesus Christ."

Hence I have been hesitant about the Palamite distinction between God's essence and energies. At first glance it seems to divorce the being of God from the history of salvation. There's the God who is manifested in his energies and activities but there is also the ultimate God who is hidden in his divine essence. But who is the true God? A God who is not cross and resurrection is of absolutely no interest to me.

When one surveys internet discussion, one is hard put to find any consideration of this crucial question. It's all reduced to polemics and the assertion "My Trinitarian theology is better than yours." The Palamites tell us that Western theology rejects the freedom of God. The Thomists tell us that Eastern theology denies the simplicity of God. The Palamites tell us that the scholastic understanding of grace makes theosis impossible. The Thomists tell us that Palamism violates the creator/creature boundary. Yadayadayada. What is forgotten is the whole reason the Church formulated the doctrine of the Trinity to begin with.

And all of this brings me to this little book, Energies of the Spirit. Duncan Reid is an Australian Anglican who apparently loves Eastern Trinitarian theology. His goal is not to compare, say, Gregory Palamas and Thomas Aquinas, but rather to compare the best of 20th century Western reflection on the Trinity with the best of 20th century Eastern reflection on the Trinity--specifically as embodied in the theologies of Karl Barth and Karl Rahner (West) and Georges Florovsky and Vladimir Lossky (East). Reid's presentation is descriptive and ecumenical, written in a refreshingly irenic spirit.

Reid proposes that we understand contemporary Western and Eastern Trinitarian theologies as two contrasting, but hopefully complementary, ways to speak about the being of God: the divine being is identical with the divine activity (identity principle); the divine being is differentiated from the divine activity (doctrine of energies). What is crucial to understand is that soteriology drives both positions. For Rahner and Barth, it is imperative to affirm that the God whom we meet in the biblical narrative is identical to the real God. To deny this identity (however qualified) between the economic and essential Trintities is to call into question the history of salvation and our knowledge of God. There can be no "God" who is not the God revealed in the economy of salvation. For Florovsky and Lossky, it is imperative to affirm both the freedom of God relative to creation (God did not have to create and save the world) and the gift of theosis (by grace we are truly given to share in the Trinitarian life of God). The doctrine of energies was formulated to protect both concerns.

Are these two approaches reconcilable?

#3 Anna Stickles

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 01:49 PM

the divine being is identical with the divine activity (identity principle);the divine being is differentiated from the divine activity (doctrine of energies).

I remember a statement from Fr Raphael on simplicity from some time ago. "Simplcity then is a category that refers to being not structure. It means that the soul is irreducible in its reality; everything within it is an expression of itself; in this sense it is simple in image of its Creator. However the soul is also changable since it is created. In this sense then it is not simple. So the soul's simplicity refers to a specific aspect of its reality."

This is talking about the soul, but also about Eastern concepts of simplicity in general.

Maybe what is going on here is that the inflexibility and structured approach that exists within Scholastic logical way of expressing things makes the subtleties difficult to accurately express. Thus one is stuck with either the identity A is the same as B, or it's opposite B and A are different.

If the above is the understanding of simplicity then maybe the Eastern view doesn't differentiate being from activity as two different things - A and B, ( as opposed to an identity principle A is B) but rather what seems to be the point is that God's activity is a true expression of His being. He is and acts without separation or division or change.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 10 December 2010 - 02:05 PM.


#4 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 02:46 PM

We do not all use the same vocabulary in Orthodoxy, so we have to be careful here in trying to understand in what's being said. But at least as I was taught and as this influenced me, there are certain distinctions within the One God in essence. Looked at in this way, essence and persons, and essence and energy, are not separate parts of God but rather distinctions within the Divine simplicity of Who God Is. This also accounts for the economy, for this too is not something subsequent to Who God is (I think this is one of your fundamental points) but rather a distinct act of will on His part.

Now as for essence/energy, I think that the above description applies. However one of its crucial points is a much older point found in previous Fathers- that deification does not mean that we become identical to the nature of God, which is what would be if God communicated by His essence. Instead then God's communication with us is really God Himself sharing in Who He is with us- ie His energies. (This is the point that St Gregory is interested in). In other words this sharing is of a kind that leaves us distinct as creatures; deified, but still distinct as created.

I think though that the crucial point here, that is almost impossible to convey or fully understand, is that the activity of God's energy, while distinct from His essence, is not separate from it. It is really God Who communicates Himself to us; and yet this leaves us distinct as created.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#5 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 12:52 AM

I found Reid's presentation of Florovsky's Trinitarian theology especially illuminating. According to Reid, Florovsky interprets the developments in Trinitarian theology as advancing a real separation between economia and theologia: the Church's undertanding of God is purified of all economic motifs. Florovsky apparently believed that such purification was necessary in order to eliminate the subordinationist tendencies of the pre-Nicene Fathers and to secure the freedom of God relative to the creation of the world. Hence the ontological distinction between the divine essence and divine energies--that which is of God by essence is necessary; that which is of God by by free decision is energetic. "The ground of Trinitarian being is not in the economy or revelation of God ad extra," writes Florovsky. "The mystery of the intra-Divine life should be conceived in abstraction from the dispensation."

To the ears of modern Western theologians of the Trinity, this sounds like the kind of abstract Trinitarian theology against which they have so vigorously protested. If we may think of the immanent Trinity divorced from God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ, has not the doctrine of the Trinity become soteriologically irrelevant? Are we not left with two Gods--the God who is "for us" in Jesus Christ and the God who is utterly hidden and distant? Was not the whole point of the Nicene homoousion precisely to insist on the impossibility of separating Jesus of Nazareth from the inner reality of the Deity? Or as T. F. Torrance puts it:

What kind of God would we have, then, if Jesus Christ were not the self-revelation or self-communication of God, if God were not inherently and eternally in his own being what the Gospel tells us he is in Jesus Christ? Would 'God' then not be someone who does not care to reveal himself to us? Would it not mean that God has not condescended to impart himself to us in Jesus Christ, and his love has stopped shokrt of becoming one with us? It would surely mean that there is no ontological, and therefore no epistemological, connection between the love of Jesus and the love of God--in fact there would be no revelation of the love of God but, on the contrary, something that rather mocks us, for while God is said to manifest his love to us in Jesus, he is not actually that love in himself. (The Trinitarian Faith, p. 134)



Reid is very much aware of this Western concern. He notes, for example, that in Lossky's The Mystical Theology of the Church[i] that relations between the divine persons seem to be irrelevant to the question of [i]theosis. What is important is the divine energies. Has not the doctrine of the Trinity thus become soteriologically functionless, Reid asks? His answer is no:

This much we can concede, that there is a danger in Lossky that the doctrine of the trinity may be lost, especially … when the distinction between being and act, or between inner-trinitarian processions and outer missions, is polemically asserted. But we also have to say just as emphatically that the energy doctrine does not necessarily bring this danger in its train. A distinction between the trinitarian persons on the one hand and the common trinitarian energy on the other can be held without losing an effective doctrine of the trinity. The doctrine of energies need not replace the doctrine of the trinity. (p. 78)


Reid devotes several pages to the discussion of this matter and looks at it from several angles. If I have understood him correctly, his basic answer is that the Western concern is adequately protected in Orthodoxy's liturgical and ascetical experience of God: "our knowledge of God begins and ends with our actual experience of God--that is, the experience of the history of salvation as it is understood and appreciated for us and in our time" (p. 86). There is no inconsistency between God in himself and God as he gives himself to us.

#6 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 04:58 PM

Fr Alvin Kimel wrote:

I found Reid's presentation of Florovsky's Trinitarian theology especially illuminating. According to Reid, Florovsky interprets the developments in Trinitarian theology as advancing a real separation between economia and theologia: the Church's undertanding of God is purified of all economic motifs. Florovsky apparently believed that such purification was necessary in order to eliminate the subordinationist tendencies of the pre-Nicene Fathers and to secure the freedom of God relative to the creation of the world. Hence the ontological distinction between the divine essence and divine energies--that which is of God by essence is necessary; that which is of God by by free decision is energetic. "The ground of Trinitarian being is not in the economy or revelation of God ad extra," writes Florovsky. "The mystery of the intra-Divine life should be conceived in abstraction from the dispensation."


I didn't know this was in Fr Georges Florovsky's presentation also. I was more aware of Zizoulas and others of more recent times, where essence mistakenly equates with necessity and person equals freedom. This is very far off of the mark as far as Patristic theology goes, for essence and person should never be separated and pitted against each other in this manner. Plus, such a presentation makes absolutely no sense since it would present being as essentially self contradictory. It's almost as if the Persons or energies are the active hands of the mute essence.

In this as far as I could find, there is a lot of importation of early 20thc philosophy and concerns about freedom & person. Given the extreme turmoil of this time it's no surprise that people were preoccupied by such concerns right through the post War period and into the 60s. This is the time when the last refuge of dignity was found to be within the person, the last refuge of freedom and choice, against regimes that had the apparent power to crush all such dignity. It's easy to see then how such questions came to the fore and why even theology (and why not?) took up the challenge of where man could find his freedom & dignity.

This presentation was often combined with an attack on ancient Hellenistic philosophy. Apparently this was the source of much that was found in our theology concerning the simplicity of God. Not far behind this would be Origen who apparently believed that God's acts originate from the necessity of His nature. Obviously then in our own time, a 'purification' of our theology must occur to rescue it of all elements of 'necessity' in God. And here I think you see some of the more recent presentations where God is rescued from 'the necessity of His nature' by separating nature and economy in the way that it does.

Looking back on this, some of this is understandable. Many of the questions raised during this time are still very important and topical. Sadly though what was presented is also confused (eg it seems to accept the very same view of nature that it criticizes in Origen). In other words what was lost sight of was a true theological understanding of nature and Person; and of essence and energy- and of their relationship as well as their distinctions. And that these latter (whether Persons or energies) are not the 'free aspect' of a mute nature.

Of course the divine distinctions are also crucial to keep in mind. So much of our theology concerns these. But this should not get us to the point that we are almost thinking of God as acting beyond His own nature.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#7 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 01:14 PM

This is interesting. I was reading a small excerpt of St Gregory Palamas (ch IX) after this discussion started, and it was clear to me that one of his main purposes was to restore a proper conception of the unity of God in the face of a distortion that abstracted essence as something wholly other and untouchable.

His opponents view was that only the divine essence was unoriginate and without beginning, and that God's powers and attributes, ie all that in God which is participable, is created. I didn't read enough to get a full idea of Barlaam's view, but it seems he as concerned with protecting the division between creature and creator, and yet the way that he attempted to do this ended up creating a division within God Himself. Instead of separating the persons as in the early Trinitarian heresies, making Christ a creature, he separates the essence and the energies, making the energies created. Is it just that the same error keeps coming up in different ways?

I very much liked St Gregory's answer as it reminded me quite a bit of what I have read in St Gregory of Nyssa. The theologies are very similar.

If I am understanding him rightly, St Gregory goes on to say that even God's "essence" is participable (here he redefine's essence) He talks about the fact that superessential essence of God is not to be identified with the energies, even with those without beginning. it is not only transcendent to any energy whatsoever, it transcends them to an infinite degree. And yet affirms that their are saints who contemplate/participate in this superessential essence.

If I am reading this rightly what seems to be happening is that St Gregory's opponents are defining "that in God which is not participable" as "essence" but then making a separation or division setting this "essence" apart from creation in a way that is illegitimate and which in reality separates it from the rest of God Himself. Whereas St Gregory restores this by going back to a paradigm of created and uncreated that is based on dependency in all things. And redefines essence itself, not as something wholly other and untouchable, (like what's inside a closed room) but rather he starts talking in terms of a sun and it's rays and degrees of participation according to the state of the soul participating.

I have just reached the part in City of God where St Augustine starts talking about being and essence (bk 12 ch 1-2), and here too, one can see that paradigm of understanding the nature of God in terms of it's a seity, and createdness in terms of dependency and degree of likeness.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 14 December 2010 - 01:38 PM.


#8 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 02:56 PM

Anna Stickles wrote:

His opponents view was that only the divine essence was unoriginate and without beginning, and that God's powers and attributes, ie all that in God which is participable, is created. I didn't read enough to get a full idea of Barlaam's view, but it seems he as concerned with protecting the division between creature and creator, and yet the way that he attempted to do this ended up creating a division within God Himself. Instead of separating the persons as in the early Trinitarian heresies, making Christ a creature, he separates the essence and the energies, making the energies created. Is it just that the same error keeps coming up in different ways?


This is quite possible. The effort of Barlaam & co. seems to have been to protect the Divine simplicity by not allowing the co essential distinctions (ie energy/essence) as St Gregory Palamas understands this. In other words Barlaam would have misinterpreted St Gregory as teaching a kind of pantheism.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#9 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 03:04 PM

Here's another passage from Reid that may be of relevance to this discussion:

A solution to the problem of being and act is offered from an unlikely source, the Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel. According to Heschel, God, in prophetic thought, is not pure actuality (actus purus), because this would involve an incapacity to suffer. Rather, the God of the prophets is constantly active (semper agens) This means that in our experience there is no distinction between God's being and God's activity. "The God of Israel is a God who acts, a God of mighty deeds. The Bible does not say how He is, but how He acts." Being and act are identified with one another in the biblical understanding of God, but not in the way in which western theology has traditionally identified them with one another, that is, not as actus purus. Heschel argues that the biblical God is beyond any notion of being:

To Greek philosophy, being is the ultimate; to the Bible, God is the ultimate. There, the starting point of speculation is ontology; in the Bible, the starting point of thinking is God. Ontology maintains that being is the supreme concept. It asks about being as being. Theology finds it impossible to regard being as the supreme concept.


Thus--although in our experience, who God is, is identical to what God does--speech about God's presence is radically set over against speech about God's essence. God is inaccessible in God's holiness and, at the same time, accessible in the world. This is exactly the point that Palamite theology seeks to emphasize. God's being is experienced in God's activity in relation to us, that is, in God's energy. Being and act are in the context of existential encounter not to be distinguished. If the neo-Palamite authors seem at times to set up an unbiblical distinction between being and act in God, they are in fact seeking to emphasize thereby that God is essentially beyond any concepts, whether of act or being. This insight they try to protect through the use of the term superessentiality. The distinction between essence and energy intends no dualism between two layers of reality. On the contrary it emphasizes that the creation, and its historicity in co-operation with God, is totally contingent. There is nothing strictly necessary, says Florovsky, except the trinity. (pp. 97-98)

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 03:58 PM

Here's another passage from Reid that may be of relevance to this discussion:

Thus--although in our experience, who God is, is identical to what God does--speech about God's presence is radically set over against speech about God's essence. God is inaccessible in God's holiness and, at the same time, accessible in the world. This is exactly the point that Palamite theology seeks to emphasize. God's being is experienced in God's activity in relation to us, that is, in God's energy. Being and act are in the context of existential encounter not to be distinguished. If the neo-Palamite authors seem at times to set up an unbiblical distinction between being and act in God, they are in fact seeking to emphasize thereby that God is essentially beyond any concepts, whether of act or being. This insight they try to protect through the use of the term superessentiality. The distinction between essence and energy intends no dualism between two layers of reality. On the contrary it emphasizes that the creation, and its historicity in co-operation with God, is totally contingent. There is nothing strictly necessary, says Florovsky, except the trinity. (pp. 97-98)


I'm not sure if the neo-Palamite authors, (except for those like Met Hierotheos Vlachos), follow along with this. When we mention superessentiality then St Dionysios the Areopogite comes to mind. Indeed he had a profound influence on eastern Patristic theology not only or mainly in terms of God's unknowability (a stress which we see more in modern writers) but rather precisely in what we have been discussing here: the unity between God's nature and His activity. Thus:

We declare that the being for all beings and what is eternal, as well as every eternity and time, are from out of The Before being. The Before being is source and cause of every eternity, every time and every being whatever. All partake of It and there is no being which stands away from It. It is before all, having comprehended the all in Itself. If anything whatsoever is, it is, is thought of, and is conserved in It. (Divine Names, Chap 5, A).


And yet it is with St Dionysios (as well as Origen) that so much of the attack occurs to defend in modern writers the freedom of God in relation to His nature. Misinterpreting what they read in these two, they take unity for compulsion, because of the own framework from within which they think. In other words what is often misunderstood is that free will of the divine nature is exactly the source of the free will of the divine activity.

But in any case when we bring modern concepts connected to freedom into the discussion of God's nature (which is what I think some of the 20thc writers were doing) then we have to be very careful. By free will of the divine nature the Fathers did not mean freedom of will as we usually define this. They did not mean a will operating beyond its own parameters (contrary to its own nature) or just for the sake of exerting its will or to 'discover itself'. Rather the free will of the divine nature always corresponds to the life giving nature of God Himself. Thus in a sense it does have a kind of 'necessity' to it but which is not subject to compulsion.

What I suggest then is that many of the main preoccupations of 20thc Orthodox (and other) writers concerning freedom are most warranted. It's a shame in a way that we rarely hear this discussion anymore in the way that it was so actively pursued at one time within Christianity at large (that had something to do with the War, then the Cold War). But we need to bring the discussion back to a Patristic understanding of man's nature and of theology itself.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#11 Evan

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 06:23 PM

There is no inconsistency between God in himself and God as he gives himself to us.


Father Kimel,

I'm grateful that you've taken the time to make your way through this very dense material. May God reward you for your labors!

It's difficult for me to ascertain, not having studied Reid's work, what exactly he means by the above statement. Does it mean that we are not participating by grace in something that is incidental or "less than God?" Or that there is nothing at all in the Father to which we do not have access through His Son, in His Spirit?

In other words, for Reid, is there anything that we, because we are creatures, cannot know of God and have no access to but the three persons of the Trinity have from all eternity?

In Christ,
Evan

#12 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 08:03 PM

Evan, just to clarify, the sentence that you quote was written by me, not by Reid; it is my interpretation of Reid's reflections on the relationship between the immanent and economic Trinities within a Palamite construal of God. As far as what Reid personally believes about all of this, that is more difficult to determine, as his book is devoted to a comparison of contemporary Western approaches to the Trinity (represented principally by Barth and Rahner) and contemporary Eastern approaches to the Trinity (represented by Lossky and Florovsky). Clearly, though, Reid's sympathies lie with the East.

Now to your question: "Is there anything that we, because we are creatures, cannot know of God and have no access to but the three persons of the Trinity have from all eternity?"

Reid asserts that the Trinitarian theologies of both East and West implicitly recognize the following theological intention: "There is nothing behind the three hypostases whose activities are experienced in the history of salvation." Reid then comments:

For the identity principle, this intention is very clear. God the trinity is the three hypostases as they reveal and communicate themselves in the economy of salvation. This assertion is to be understood in the context of the unity model of western theology, a model that comes to expression historically in the psychological analogy of the trinity. In the modern era this tendency to a unity model developed into the virtual unitarianism we can see, for example, in Kant and Schleiermacher. For this reason, any doctrine of the trinity, if it is to be tenable, must be functional. That is, God must be experienced as trinitarian. It must be asserted, against any modalism, that there is no ultimate, hidden unity behind the three hypostases. …

The intention behind the doctrine of energies is also to insist that the trinitarian activities of God are experienced in the economy of salvation, and that God is not different from what we experience. But here the context, and thus the concerns, are rather different from those in the West. Here a social or plurality model of the trinity is presupposed. The need, then, is to affirm the divine unity, or the common divine identity, of the three hypostases. In the East there is an awareness of the dangers inherent in a purely functional trinity. If we understand the Son and the Spirit on the basis of their functions (that is, their energies) then they might easily be taken to be energies of an unknown God. Then either the Son would be subordinated to the Father or the Spirit regarded as a mere power or dynamism of the Father and the Son. Thus it becomes very important to free the trinity from any suggestion of what Florovsky calls "economic motifs."

The concerns of the two approaches, or the problems of which the two approaches are particularly aware, are, because of these different theological contexts and presuppositions, themselves quite different. The intention of the two approaches, however, is the same. It is to assert a proper doctrine of the trinity. Western theology does this by insisting that God reveals Godself as a triunity of modes of being (Barth), or modes of subsistence or givenness (Rahner), and God in Godself corresponds to this self-revelation. Eastern theology also seeks to secure the doctrine of the trinity against any hidden deity that may perhaps be different from the trinity we know. It does this by locating the trinitarian superessentiality of God beyond our knowledge, and asserting that God is known in God's activities. (pp. 124-125)


Does this address your concern, Evan?

#13 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 08:14 PM

This is quite possible. The effort of Barlaam & co. seems to have been to protect the Divine simplicity by not allowing the co essential distinctions (ie energy/essence) as St Gregory Palamas understands this. In other words Barlaam would have misinterpreted St Gregory as teaching a kind of pantheism.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Yes in chapter 9 of the book I link above, St Gregory's main point is to protect these co-essential distinctions within the Godhead as a way of protecting the unity of God as He is and as we know Him. In Barlaam's view as St Gregory points out in the quote below, God becomes a bare essence, but as the saint so clearly states a bare essence is not God.

"I should like to ask this man why he claims that only the divine essence is without beginning whereas everything apart from it is of a created nature, and whether or not he things this essence is all powerful. That is to say does it possess the faculties of knowing, of prescience, of creating, of embracing all things in itself. does it possess providence, the power of deification, and in a word all such faculties of not? For if it does not have them, this essence is not God, even though it alone is unoriginate. If it does possess these powers, but aquired them subsequently, then there was a time when it was imperfect, in other words was not God. However, if it possessed these faculties from eternity, it follows that not only is the divine essence unoriginate, but that each of its powers is also."

His main point throughout is to protect the unity and simplicity of God while also protecting the fact that God (not something created) is the source of all that we are and have. God is the unoriginate source and cause of providence, wisdom, power, life, virtue etc. for creation. Bqarlaam's view would have something created be our source of these things.

"For just as there is only one single essence without beginning, the essence of God, and the essences of other than it are seen to be of a created nature, and come to be through this sole unoriginate essence, the unique maker of essences - In the same way there is only y one single providential power without beginning, namely that of God, whereas all other powers apart from it are of a created nature; and it is the same with all the other natural powers of God. It is not true that the essence of God is the only unoriginate reality and that all realities other then it are of created nature."

Fr Alvin, maybe this answers at least to some extent your question #2 above?

(1) Is the economic Trinity identical to the immanent Trinity? (2) What is the Palamite distinction between energies and essence really trying to say?

Fr Raphael said:

However one of its crucial points is a much older point found in previous Fathers- that deification does not mean that we become identical to the nature of God, which is what would be if God communicated by His essence. Instead then God's communication with us is really God Himself sharing in Who He is with us- ie His energies. (This is the point that St Gregory is interested in). In other words this sharing is of a kind that leaves us distinct as creatures; deified, but still distinct as created.

I suppose I have issues coming out of a background that uses theological language differently, but I think I am finally starting to grasp some of the communication problems that go on here. I believe Fr Steenberg once stressed that the Fathers teach, not just that we become like God, but that we become God. I put this aside at the time because I had no context for understanding what was meant.

But I think I am starting to understand that it's this issue of identity. When you say that we do not become identical with the nature of God, I am thinking that this has to be clarified. Here I believe you are meaning that we do not become a source or cause of existence, essence, virtue, power, simplicity, etc. in ourselves. You are identifying God's nature with His self-existence. However, when Fr Steenberg was saying that we become God he is saying that we really do partake of what God has and is in Himself - not something different. Not an existence, essence, power, eternity, etc. that is merely like God's existence, essence, etc. but it is God's very being itself that we participate in and partake of. Thus we can say yes we do become God, and if we define God's nature as that essence, existence and energy which God has within Himself then it would be right to say that we become identical to God's nature. But this identity has to always be understood as a dependent identity. The creature does not exist within itself, the creature cannot say that "It Is" but the creature is always becoming. It has not the fullness of the existence of God. Nor is that existence it's own since it was made out of nothing but it gains it through participation in God.

Thus it is with essence too. Our essence is not full as God's is, and it is not our own because we gain it by participation, and yet it is still God's essence and so there is a sense in which we can say we are in essence God.

This is precisely one of the points that that St Gregory is trying to make (and he also quotes from St Dionysios the Areopogit) when he defends that the saints can contemplate God's essence and identifies this essence with the power that deifies us.

#14 IoanC

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 09:11 PM

I would like to add my own conviction, that even though we are created and we cannot know God by His essence, this has nothing to do with God withholding something from us, but rather He is granting us our own dignity, our own 'essence' capable of relating to Him on a level that is satisfactory to God Himself, and beneficial to us (as God always has our best interest in mind).

--just my own opinions

#15 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 10:39 PM

I would like to add my own conviction, that even though we are created and we cannot know God by His essence, this has nothing to do with God withholding something from us, but rather He is granting us our own dignity, our own 'essence' capable of relating to Him on a level that is satisfactory to God Himself, and beneficial to us (as God always has our best interest in mind).


Here's my opinion (not original with me): it's all about what it means to be loved (truly loved) by God. A divine Creator might treat his creatures kindly and generously, but is this is this the same as loving them? Yet the gospel proclaims that in Jesus Christ God loves us. If this is true, then does this not mean that in Christ by the Spirit, i.e., by grace, he makes us "equal" to himself, i.e., he truly communicates himself to us and brings us into his eternal Trinitarian life, i.e., he truly loves us?

#16 Evan

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 11:00 PM

Evan, just to clarify, the sentence that you quote was written by me, not by Reid; it is my interpretation of Reid's reflections on the relationship between the immanent and economic Trinities within a Palamite construal of God. As far as what Reid personally believes about all of this, that is more difficult to determine, as his book is devoted to a comparison of contemporary Western approaches to the Trinity (represented principally by Barth and Rahner) and contemporary Eastern approaches to the Trinity (represented by Lossky and Florovsky). Clearly, though, Reid's sympathies lie with the East.

Now to your question: "Is there anything that we, because we are creatures, cannot know of God and have no access to but the three persons of the Trinity have from all eternity?"

Reid asserts that the Trinitarian theologies of both East and West implicitly recognize the following theological intention: "There is nothing behind the three hypostases whose activities are experienced in the history of salvation." Reid then comments:



Does this address your concern, Evan?


Father Kimel,

To some degree, yes, but there's more that's still worth teasing out, I think. Certainly, there's nothing behind the three hypostases. There is no "divine substance" behind the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that somehow pre-exists or is prior to the three persons-- indeed, that sounds positively Hindu. The Father is Unoriginate-- He acts through His Son, in His Spirit. What I'm interested in is the question of access, which Anna well described in her latest post.

I am a creature. I will never be other. To the extent that I participate in the life of God and "become God," I do so as a branch of the True Vine. To the extent that I have access to the Unoriginate Father, I have it through His Only-Begotten Son, Who "handed over" the Holy Spirit on the cross to His Church and Whose very Body and Blood is kneaded into me. When I am raised up on the last day, I will be raised up through the Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead. My being is shaped by this utter and complete dependence on God's mighty acts in history and His continuing to act and shape and work for the good of those who love Him.

Does Reid have anything to say as to this question of dependence, and how it informs the way in which Eastern and Western theologians discuss the immanent/economic-essential/energetic Trinity? Or am I seizing on something that's not really the focus of his interest?

In Christ,
Evan

#17 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 11:07 PM

Father Kimel,

To some degree, yes, but there's more that's still worth teasing out, I think. Certainly, there's nothing behind the three hypostases. There is no "divine substance" behind the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that somehow pre-exists or is prior to the three persons-- indeed, that sounds positively Hindu. The Father is Unoriginate-- He acts through His Son, in His Spirit. What I'm interested in is the question of access, which Anna well described in her latest post.

I am a creature. I will never be other. To the extent that I participate in the life of God and "become God," I do so as a branch of the True Vine. To the extent that I have access to the Unoriginate Father, I have it through His Only-Begotten Son, Who "handed over" the Holy Spirit on the cross to His Church and Whose very Body and Blood is kneaded into me. When I am raised up on the last day, I will be raised up through the Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead. My being is shaped by this utter and complete dependence on God's mighty acts in history and His continuing to act and shape and work for the good of those who love Him.

Does Reid have anything to say as to this question of dependence, and how it informs the way in which Eastern and Western theologians discuss the immanent/economic-essential/energetic Trinity? Or am I seizing on something that's not really the focus of his interest?


Evan, though I probably would need to re-read his book, my guess is that your concern simply is not a focus of Reid's interest, as both both East and West confess the radical contingency of creation and humanity's total dependence upon God through Christ in the Spirit. This is simply not a matter of dispute.

#18 IoanC

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 11:33 PM

Here's my opinion (not original with me): it's all about what it means to be loved (truly loved) by God. A divine Creator might treat his creatures kindly and generously, but is this is this the same as loving them? Yet the gospel proclaims that in Jesus Christ God loves us. If this is true, then does this not mean that in Christ by the Spirit, i.e., by grace, he makes us "equal" to himself, i.e., he truly communicates himself to us and brings us into his eternal Trinitarian life, i.e., he truly loves us?


Yes, I truly believe that this is higher than what I've been thinking, as God does indeed consider us His "equals" and not just creatures with some "high capabilities" , as in ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matt. 25:40) --which comes to mind.

#19 Anna Stickles

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 01:26 PM

This means that in our experience there is no distinction between God's being and God's activity.

"Is there anything that we, because we are creatures, cannot know of God and have no access to but the three persons of the Trinity have from all eternity?"

Reid asserts that the Trinitarian theologies of both East and West implicitly recognize the following theological intention: "There is nothing behind the three hypostases whose activities are experienced in the history of salvation." Reid then comments:

I think that there is a point being missed here. Right intention doesn't necessarily imply a right articulation. And it is often the subtleties of the experiential aspect of theology that are missed in writers not familiar with the Eastern ascetical writings and the theological experience gained from this.

The contemplative tradition of the East certainly asserts that The God we experience in His activity is truly God. And yet there is also a progression of how we experience that God as we grow, such that as the mind is purified and grows it moves from contemplating God in his activity in history, to contemplating Him in a more essential way in creation, to contemplating Him in his essential powers, to contemplating Him to some degree in His unknowable essence. (This may not be exactly right, I don't have the quotes handy and am going by memory) Contemplative knowledge as taught in the Orthodox theology has to do with our actual state - We become like Him as we see Him as He is. Thus in our experience there is a distinction between experiencing God's presence/being in a fuller way and simply experiencing God in His activity.

There is something to be noted here in that a lack in our experience of God truly reflects a state of separation from God. Thus someone who is only contemplating God in His activity in history, is not yet participating in His holiness, or love or other powers and thus can only know these things as some piece of information about God, not as that reality in God. Thus a lack of knowledge reflects in a real way a lack of access, even if there is another sense in which God cannot be divided and the fullness of God exists within each of His energies.

I don't know, maybe a partial analogy here would be a beam of light striking something. The full spectrum of visible radiation exists in the light, but only part of that light is participated in, and thus we see distinctions in color.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 15 December 2010 - 01:47 PM.


#20 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 05:35 PM

Anna writes:

I think that there is a point being missed here. The contemplative tradition of the East certainly asserts that The God we experience in His activity is truly God. And yet there is also a progression of how we experience that God as we grow, such that as the mind is purified and grows it moves from contemplating God in his activity in history, to contemplating Him in a more essential way in creation, to contemplating Him in his essential powers, to contemplating Him to some degree in His unknowable essence. (This may not be exactly right, I don't have the quotes handy and am going by memory) Thus in our experience there is a distinction between experiencing God's presence/being in a fuller way and simply experiencing God in His activity.


Reid does not compare the Western and Eastern mystical traditions in his book, though he does discuss in length the critical importance of ascesis in the experience of God for both Florovsky and Lossky.

In chapter 2 Reid paraphrases Lossky's critique of the Western essentialist position, as it pertains to the vision of God. Can the saints in this life be given a vision of God in his essence? Apparently the Latin answer was yes. From the Western point of view, therefore, the Palamite distinction between essence and energies seemed to imply "a reduction or even a denial of the reality of the vision of God in mystical experience" (p. 52). "From the Eastern point of view," on the other hand, "the western position appeared to dissolve the proper distinction between theologia and oikonomia. The western position seemed, on the face of it, to allow a more intimate relationship to God, viz., the face-to-face encounter with God's inner being. But what this actually meant, according to Lossky, was that western theology remained on the level of the energy (because the vision of God is of God's glory, not God's inner being), without itself being aware of its own deficiency. Western theology is incapable of grasping the idea that God is bigger than what is revealed of God--so Lossky argues. The apophatic method has no place in western theology except as a corrective against the supposition that human speech could describe the Godhead. If we use the concepts of 'essence' or 'being' we reach the limits of this western apophatic corrective, according to Lossky, because the attempt is made to describe God precisely in terms of these concepts. Western theology has no room for a concept of superessentiality" (p. 52).

Reid elaborates:

The Palamite vision of God is, according to Lossky, no mere vision, no mere encounter with a two dimensional datum. This would in effect be an encounter with a "closed door." The doctrine of energies with its accompanying method of mystical praxis means that, on the contrary, a door is opened, an "infinite path beyond knowledge," and "existential communion." This stands in contrast to any mysticism in which God's glory is glimpsed face to face, and in which the beholder then rests satisfied because he or she mistakes this glory for the divine essence itself. The hesychast way, by contrast, sees the vision of glory as the beginning of an ever-deepening relationship of participation, a relationship that stretches beyond the limits of seeing and knowing. (p. 54)


One would think that Reid would probe Lossky's interpretation of the Western mystical tradition a bit further. I wonder if St Teresa of Avila would describe her experience of God as static. Is there no place for "growth" in the essentialist tradition? But Reid doesn't explore this question.

Reid does briefly compare Aquinas and Palamas in chapter 4. Both theologians are concerned to assert the vision of God and union with God, while at the same time protecting against the possibility of becoming God in his essence. He quotes Jurgen Kuhlmann:

We stand confronted by an apparent contradiction: Thomas made a differentiation between entitative and intentional participation (we will indeed see God's essence, but not become God's essence), while Palamas saw the two together (and therefore denied any vision of the essence). But now Palamas makes this other differentiation (knowledge is not the same as the vision of the [uncreated] light), but Thomas does not make this differentiation, rather declaring knowledge and the light to be one and the same.


Within the Latin scholastic tradition, theologians will thus speak of an intentional participation in the essence of God but refrain from speaking of an entitative participation, as that would imply the abolition of creaturehood and transformation into God in his essence. Within the Eastern tradition, theologians will speak of an entitative participation in the divine energies, but they refrain from speaking of a vision of the divine essence, as that would imply becoming an hypostasis in the Godhead.

Reid notes one way Lossky's critique does accurately touch the Western tradition: for both Aquinas and Rahner, seeing or not seeing God is definitive: we either see God or we do not. Similarly for Barth, we either hear God or we do not. "There is no question here of a growth or a progress in the relationship," writes Reid. "There is only the question of the either/or. Either we see/hear, or we fail to" (p. 71). But Reid rejects Lossky's claim that the western tradition remains on the level of the energies. "The very terms in which this critique is phrased, which assume different levels within the Godhead, is simply not the language of western theology" (p. 71). Moreover, one might even argue that the Western understanding of intentional participation in the divine essence offers even a fuller understanding of the Christian experience of God:

To some extent with have to agree [with Lossky]. "Intentional" participation without "entitative" participation is indeed something less than full participation. Barth's doctrine of reconciliation is indeed less ambitious than the "maximalism" of Lossky's doctrine of deification. At the same time, however, we have to notice that Lossky does not aim at entitative participation in the divine essence. It would be equally possible to argue that the claim to a vision of the divine essence is more "maximal" than a claim to a vision of God's glory. But the argument would be just as futile as the original critique. Both theologies use separate terminologies and make different distinctions. Both, however, seek to safeguard the same underlying intention--to praise God as the trinity, to regard human beings as beloved creatures of God, and to deepen the human relationship with God. (p. 72)


I am surprised that Reid does not discuss Rahner's understanding of the Beatific Vision and would judge this to be a serious weakness of his book. Of course, the Beatific Vision has no place in the theology of Karl Barth.




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