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Energies of the Spirit (Duncan Reid)


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#21 Anna Stickles

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 09:24 PM

Fr Alvin,

I appreciate all the work you put into the above posts in explaining Reid's position. I will admit that in places I have a hard time following his thought, and in other places it seems to me that he has misunderstood what some of the writers are saying. In others, from what Fr Raphael has said, it seems that some of the modern Orthodox writers that he is commenting on are not fully within tradition. In the end I think I will follow C.S. Lewis's advice and bow out of this thread, sticking with reading the saints themselves.

C.S. Lewis "On Old Books"
"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.
Posted ImageThis mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.
Posted ImageNow this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light.

#22 Evan

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 09:56 PM

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.



Oh, I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. However, how our created nature shapes our experience of the life of the Trinity is I think of core importance to St. Gregory in his articulation of the essence-energy distinction. Because we can't get past this state of dependence, there is indeed something in God to which we have no access, even if there's no inconsistency between what we can and can't experience and even if what we can experience is nothing less than God Himself, His being. At least, that's how I read his homilies on the transfiguration. Thus, we participate in the life of Christ, but will never know just what it is to BE the God-Man. That difference will remain.

I should stress that I'm not trying to deny that there's an understanding of this in the West. One can't read the fourteenth chapter of "City of God" and claim that the West doesn't "get" theosis. And I'm all for knocking down straw men-- I'm a convert from Roman Catholicism myself, and it's indeed frustrating to wade through some of the polemical nonsense you've referenced above and elsewhere (if one must wade through it at all). Of course, you'd know better than I do where Reid's interests lie.

Incidentally, so long as we're talking about such matters: Hieromonk Irenei's talk on divine darkness and uncreated light, as witnessed to in the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Gregory Palamas might be of interest. I know I've plugged it before, but, well... it's worth plugging again.



In Christ,
Evan

Edited by Evan, 15 December 2010 - 10:16 PM.


#23 IoanC

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 12:40 PM

I am sorry, I will reply with another post here, even though I realize it may be off topic. The reason I am doing it is because I believe these thought patterns are quite common (not just for me). It is written, "you are gods". Now, I believe this to be a statement regarding who we are, not what we are. I feel that God puts great emphasis on who we are and how we relate to one another. Discussions about essence can get too materialistic and in the end will become strictly scientific, thus having no bearing on the soul. We can't even fully understand our own essence and that of the physical world around us, let alone that of the Angels, and God Himself. Somehow, this "incapacity" does not really prevent our Salvation, but over-emphasizing it does seem like a way for Satan to get a bit too much attention.

#24 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 04:17 PM

Anna, you are giving up too quickly. :) I do not, of course, know whether Duncan Reid as accurately presented the views of Barth, Rahner, Florovsky, and Lossky; and I confess I have probably only understood half of what I have read--hence my decision to simply quote Reid as much as possible. But I do not want the conversation to conclude. It's far too interesting. :)

Let me return to one of your earlier comments:

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. 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. Barlaam's view would have something created be our source of these things.


I wonder what Barlaam actually believed and taught. Scholars disagree. Matters are complicated by the fact that we principally know the views of Barlaam through the writings of Palamas. I seriously doubt, though, that Barlaam believed that a created something is the source of all things. That Palamas interpreted him in this way says something important about Palamas's fundamental understanding of deity. It's important for us to remember that the dispute between Barlaam and Palamas began with Barlaam's rejection of the hesychasts' claim that they saw the uncreated light of God. The essence/energies distinction gets deployed in the controversy precisely to protect the hesychastic experience and the Church's teaching on theosis.

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.



Push comes to shove, I am more comfortable speaking of participation in God than of identification with God. I have certainly quoted in more than one sermon St Athanasius's famous words "God became man so that man might become God"; but I have always interpreted it as participation in the shared life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which of course is a life of love, light, peace, and joy. I prefer to stick close to the language of Scripture--specifically, the language of adoption, union, and life in the Holy Spirit. I have found that this language is accessible to all believers, as we experience the realities signified by these words in the Holy Eucharist itself. But I have never personally experienced identity with God. I have not yet seen his uncreated light, nor have I known anyone who has, and therefore I cannot speak intelligibly or meaningfully on this. Perhaps I need to start hanging out with Orthodox monks, but given that I have been a consistent ascetical and moral failure through all of my adult Christian life, I am doubtful that God will ever give me the graces of which the mystics speak.

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.



I am curious, Anna, by your choice of language here. Does St Gregory actually say in his Triads that we become essentially God? It's my understanding that the essence/energies distinction was advanced by Palamas precisely to avoid saying this: we are given to see the divine energies but not the divine essence. Hence Fr Raphael's important qualification: "Deification does not mean that we become identical to the nature of God, which is what would be if God communicated by His essence." Am I misunderstanding Palamas?

#25 Anna Stickles

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 09:25 PM

I am curious, Anna, by your choice of language here. Does St Gregory actually say in his Triads that we become essentially God?

Uhhh, this might be what I ended up saying but I don't think that this is what St Gregory was saying.

"Deification does not mean that we become identical to the nature of God, which is what would be if God communicated by His essence." Am I misunderstanding Palamas?

I don't know, we all agree we don't become identical to the nature of God, but have we really understood what St Gregory is saying?

Looking back and trying to get a better grasp on this, I notice that at times he uses "essence" in the sense of that in the Trinity which is beyond any division or name or knowledge. He is really using it as a synonym for nature.

You can see this in this quote.

"The Holy Father unanimously affirm that it is impossible to find a name to manifest the nature of the uncreated Trinity, but that the names belong to the energies…He who is beyond every name is not identical with what He is named; for the essence and energy of God are not identical. (this is just an excerpt and doesn't show the whole context, but most of pg 97 is dedicated to this.)"

I think that here he is yielding to Barlaam's understanding of "essence" in order to set forth the arguments for the distinctions within God between the energies and God's nature/essence. (He also seems to use the word superessential when speaking of the fact that there is that within the Trinity which is beyond the reach of all created nature - but I don't have enough context to really come to grips with what he is trying to say by using superessential.)

But later he redefines essence -- "Indeed, even this name "essence" designates one of the powers in God." (He then defines it as the substance creating power) p 98 -- and what I was trying to work through was why he did this, and what his main point is.

But after your question, as I thought about this, I realized that this must go back to what he said earlier.

…there is only one single essence without beginning - the essence of God and the essences other then it are seen to be of created nature, and come to be through this sole unoriginate essence…

In other words if there are created essences dependent on God's essence, then essence must be a participable energy and not that in God which transcends all created being.

Many of the ancient spiritual theologians talk about contemplating the essences of created things. With all the books and testimonies we have today from modern spiritual teachers, it becomes a bit clearer that for the Orthodox contemplative, essence is an energy that they somehow perceive or experience. Thus in their writings when they use the word "essence" what they are trying to do is describe the experience of this energy -- not describe an abstract idea of what makes a thing that thing.

The Orthodox approach is different from the scholastic approach which identifies essence as the core identity of objects when all their sensible accidents are removed. This philosophical approach is really just an abstraction in the mind when one can't see what one is talking about. But as I mentioned in another thread, if one rejects the experience and vision of the mystics in the Church as being false, then one gives one's own abstractions a reality and a supremacy they don't deserve. This attitude, it seems, is part of what Barlaam brought from the west, combined with his own unbelief.

So part of what St Gregory in this section is trying to do is to put the word "essence" back into it's patristic context, taking it out of the context that Barlaam was trying to advance. Here he is defending the Hesychast's experience against the abstracted idea of essence that Barlaam had brought back from the west. You can see as you follow his argument, that St Gregory's redefinition of essence is part of a move to get back to the Patristic articulation and vision, "There is one God, unoriginate by nature." (btm pg 98) As opposed to Balaam's "One unoriginate essence" which contained within it both a distorted idea of simplicity and an abstracted and misplaced understanding of essence.

(I don't know, maybe reading lots of science fiction books has made me overly comfortable in dealing with experiences different then my own and maybe I am way over my head trying to comment on this. But at least to me, I don't think it takes being able to experience this oneself to at least get the general drift of what they are trying to say. It is just a matter of being willing to accept that what they are talking about is their own experience, not an abstraction that they have come to through logical reason, and that this experience is a real experience of God and creation as they are. )

Edited by Anna Stickles, 19 December 2010 - 09:43 PM.





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