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The Church Fathers and the essence/energies distinction


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#1 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 10:26 PM

Did the Church Fathers, particularly the Cappadocians, teach the essence/energies distinction as formulated by St Gregory Palamas? This is a fascinating question that has divided patristic scholars. I'd like to bring to everyone's attention two articles addressing this question I recently discovered on the internet:

Alexis Torrance, "Precedents for Palamas’ Essence-Energies Theology in the Cappadocian Fathers"

J. P. Houdret, "Palamas and the Cappadocians"

#2 Edith M. Humphrey

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Posted 31 January 2011 - 02:24 AM

Dear Fr. KimeL

How about this selection from St. Gregory Nyssa, Sermon 6 on the Beatitudes?

"…Since such is He whose nature is above every nature, the Invisible and the Incomprehensible is seen … in another manner. Many are the modes of such perception. For it is possible to see Him…by way of inference through the wisdom that appears in the universe…When we look at the order of creation, we form in our mind an image not of the essence, but of the wisdom of Him who has made all things wisely. And if we consider …that He came to create man not from necessity, but from the free decision of His Goodness, we say that we have contemplated God by this way, that we have apprehended His Goodness—though again not His Essence, but His Goodness…Hence it is clear …that the Lord speaks the truth when he promises that God will be seen by those who have a pure heart…For he…becomes visible in His energies…"

Then, after describing how it is that God can be seen by his general workings in creation, St. Gregory goes on to hint at a more intimate manner of “beholding” God, made accessible to those who are in Christ: "For He who made you …imprinted on [you] the likeness of the glories of His own Nature, as if moulding the form of a carving into a wax….Hence, if a man who is pure of heart sees himself, he sees in himself what he desires, and thus he becomes blessed, because when he looks at his own purity, he sees the archetype in the image…Though men who see the sun in a mirror do not gaze at the sky itself, yet they see the sun in the reflection of the mirror no less than those who look at its very orb."

This move from talking about God's energies to talking the pure of heart "seeing in" themselves the object of our desire (God), surely laid the foundation for Palamas' later work?

What do you think?

I look forward to reading the articles you have indicated when I am on the school network tomorrow!

Edith

Edited by Archimandrite Irenei, 31 January 2011 - 04:55 AM.
Returned font to normal size throughout


#3 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 31 January 2011 - 04:38 PM

What do you think?


I honestly do not know enough to even have an opinion! :)

I am fascinated, though, by the question of the unknowability and knowability of God. Clearly we need to affirm, with the Cappadocians, the mystery and incomprehensibility of the transcendent Creator. But do we not also want to affirm that in the incarnate Jesus Christ God has truly made himself known? What is the difference between knowing God in Jesus Christ and knowing God through contemplation of his energies/operations?

Just asking questions. :)

#4 Georgianna

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Posted 31 January 2011 - 08:57 PM

What is the difference between knowing God in Jesus Christ and knowing God through contemplation of his energies/operations?


Although I'm too ignorant to contribute in any fashion to this thread, I, nevertheless, stumbled across the following and found it to be pertinent.

Philokalia Vol 2 - St Maximos the Confessor (whose memory will be celebrated on Thursday Jan 21/Feb 3).

Second Century on Theology

76. The Apostle Paul says that he had a partial knowledge of the Logos (cf. 1 Cor 13:9). The Evangelist John states that he has seen His glory: 'For we beheld His glory,' he says, 'the glory as of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth' (John 1:14). Perhaps St Paul says that he has but a partial knowledge of the divine Logos because the Logos is known from His energies only to a limited degree, while knowledge of Him as He is in essence and person is altogether inaccessible to all angels and men alike. St John, who was initiated as perfectly as a man can be into the mystery of the incarnation of the Logos, said that he saw the glory of the Logos as flesh, that is, he saw the purpose for which God, full of grace and truth, became man. For not as God in His essence and as coessential with God the Father was the only-begotten Son given to us; only inasmuch as by virtue of God's providential dispensation He became man by nature and, for our sakes made coessential with us, He was given to us who have need of such grace. And from His fulness we always receive the grace which corresponds to each step we take along the spiritual path. Thus he who has kept the inner principle of things perfectly pure within himself will acquire the glory, full of grace and truth, of the Logos of God made flesh for us, who through His coming glorified and sanctified Himself in His human nature for our sake. For 'when He appears,' says Scripture, 'we shall be like Him' (1 John 3:2).

Fifth Century on Various Texts

69. When the intellect wants to apprehend something, it descends from its own level to the level of intellection. For intellections are inferior to the subject that apprehends, since they are the means through which apprehension and understanding take place; and they disperse and divide the intellect's unity. The intellect is simple and integral, while intellections are multiple and dispersive: they are, so to speak, the forms of the intellect. For this reason intellective subjects - beings endowed with intellect - are inferior to intelligible realities that are the objects of apprehension. It is by virtue of its unity that the intellect reaches out to what is beyond its natural scope and attains the contemplation of God. This it does by transcending all that belongs to the sensible and intelligible worlds, and even its own activity; for only thus may it receive the ray of divine knowledge.


Edited by Georgianna, 31 January 2011 - 09:26 PM.
Corrected Typo


#5 Deacon John Martin

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 04:08 PM

I honestly do not know enough to even have an opinion! :)

I am fascinated, though, by the question of the unknowability and knowability of God. Clearly we need to affirm, with the Cappadocians, the mystery and incomprehensibility of the transcendent Creator. But do we not also want to affirm that in the incarnate Jesus Christ God has truly made himself known? What is the difference between knowing God in Jesus Christ and knowing God through contemplation of his energies/operations?

Just asking questions. :)


We know the Father through the Son, in the grace of the Holy Spirit. That's divine energy.

What do you mean by "contemplation" of divine energies?

#6 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 04:25 PM

I can spend my time contemplating some idealized abstraction of my wife, or I can spend time WITH my wife. Contemplation is relatively easy (for some people at least), Actually living with and dealing with a real Person can sometimes be challenging. This is true even with Christ, with all that talk about yokes and crosses and such which can be downright inconvenient at times. Abstractions don't really require anything from me, real Persons do. That seems like a difference, at least to this bear of little brain.

Herman the Pooh

#7 Georgianna

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 06:27 PM

Contemplation is relatively easy (for some people at least).


Please forgive me as one with the most miniscule of brains, but "contemplation" in the patristic sense seems to require great attention and spiritual maturity. If embarked upon through one's personal will, without guidance of a spiritual father, and without the appropriate spiritual foundation, a soul can be deceived and fall under great delusion. I pray this meager post will not derail the focus of the thread regarding the essence/energies distinction as found in the Church Fathers.

As explained in the glossary of the Philokalia:

Contemplation (theoria): the perception or vision of the intellect (nous) through which one attains spiritual knowledge (gnosis). It may be contrasted with the practice of virtues (praktiki) which designates the more external aspect of the ascetic life - purification and the keeping of the commandments - but which is an indispensable prerequisite of contemplation. Depending on the level of personal spiritual growth, contemplation has two main stages: it may be either of the inner essences or principles (logoi) of created beings or, at a higher stage, of God Himself.



In "The Three Methods of Prayer," St Symeon the New Theologian includes contemplation as the final rung on the ladder:

Question: Why cannot the monk attain perfection by means of the first and second form of keeping guard?

Answer: Because he does not embark on them in the proper order. St John Klimakos likens these methods to a ladder, saying, 'Some curtail their passions; other practise psalmody, perservering most of the time in this; others devote themselves to prayer; and others turn their gaze to the depths of contemplation. When examining this question let us use the analogy of the ladder.' Now those who want to ascend a ladder do not start at the top and climb down, but start at the bottom and climb up. They ascend the first step, then the second, and so the rest in turn. In this way we can ascend from earth to heaven. If, then, we wish to attain the perfect stature of the fulness of Christ, like children who are growing up we must start to climb the ladder set before us, until progressing step by step we reach the level of a full-grown age and then of an old man.

The first age in the monastic state is to curtail the passions. This is the stage of beginners.

The second rung or stage whereby a person grows up spiritually from adolescence to youth is assiduously to practise psalmody. For when the passions have been curtailed and laid to rest, psalmody brings delight to the tongue and is welcomed by God, since it is not possible to sing to the Lord in a strange land (cf. Ps 137:4), that is to say, from an impassioned heart. This is the mark of those who are beginning to make progress.

The third rung or stage in life, marking the spiritual transition from youth to manhood, is to persevere in prayer. This is the stage of those who are well advanced. Prayer differs from psalmody just as the full-grown man differs from the youth and the adolescent, according to the scheme that we are following.

... there is a fourth rung or stage in spiritual life, that of the old man with grey hairs. This signifies undeviating absorption in contemplation, and this is the state of the perfect. So the journey is complete and the top of the ladder has been reached.

Since this is the way in which matters have been appointed and arranged by the Spirit, it is not possible for a child to grow up to manhood and to attain old age except by mounting the first rung of the ladder and so climbing up to perfection by the four steps in succession. ...

God asks only this of us, that our heart be purified through watchfulness. As St Paul says, if the root is holy, so also will the branches and the fruit be holy (cf. Rom 11:16). But if without following the sequence of which we have spoken you raise eyes and intellect to heaven in the hope of envisaging noetic realities you will see fantasies rather than the truth. ...When we build a house we do not put on the roof before laying the foundations - this is impossible. We must do the same in relation to spiritual matters. First we must lay the spiritual foundations of the house, that is to say, we must watch over the heart and curtail the passions arising from it. Then we must build the walls of the spiritual house, that is to say, through the second form of attentiveness we must repulse the turbulence of the evil spirits that fight us by means of the external senses, and must free ourselves as quickly as possilbe from their attacks. Then we must put on the roof, that is to say, detach ourselves entirely from all things and give ourselves wholly to God. In this way we complete our spiritual house in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory throughout all the ages. Amen.



#8 Anna Stickles

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 07:04 PM

What is the difference between knowing God in Jesus Christ and knowing God through contemplation of his energies/operations?


As noted in some of the quotes above there is a difference between the rational mind - seat of memory and imagination, and the noetic mind seat of spiritual knowledge.

Are you meaning by "knowing God in Jesus Christ" the knowledge we get of Him in our rational mind as historical knowledge of his character and actions when reading the Gospel? and comparing this to the knowledge of God we get through a combination of our rational mind, emotions and senses by which we for instance see the grandeur of a mountain and feel a sense of awe and then take this as a way to analogically know God's grandeur and beauty?

Or by "knowing God in Jesus Christ" are you asking about the difference between knowing God in Jesus Christ noetically which is a type of contemplation of God in His energies? And wondering about the difference between thia and the noetic knowledge of God in His creation which is another type of contemplation of God in His energies?

the question is not real clear on what you are wanting to compare or what you are asking about.

#9 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 09:50 PM

Regarding my use of the word "contemplation," I have no special understanding of what this word means. I simply used it because St Gregory used it in the citation provided by Dr Humphrey. I could just as easily have written "What is the difference between knowing God in Jesus Christ and knowing God in his energies/operations?" I refer everyone to that quotation and reiterate my question.

#10 Deacon John Martin

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 01:47 PM

Regarding my use of the word "contemplation," I have no special understanding of what this word means. I simply used it because St Gregory used it in the citation provided by Dr Humphrey. I could just as easily have written "What is the difference between knowing God in Jesus Christ and knowing God in his energies/operations?" I refer everyone to that quotation and reiterate my question.


St Gregory moves from contemplating creation to contemplating our own nature. Through Christ all things were made. We were also created according to the Image of God, which is Christ. So, in both cases contemplation is directly linked to Christ. So knowing God in Christ and knowing God in His energies are not two alternate ways of knowing: we know Christ through His uncreated energies.

#11 Deacon John Martin

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 01:49 PM

Also, the question is a little unclear. To ask how we know God in Jesus Christ implies a distinction between God and Christ. It would be better to phrase the question as knowing the Father through the Son.

#12 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 02:57 PM

Regarding my use of the word "contemplation," I have no special understanding of what this word means. I simply used it because St Gregory used it in the citation provided by Dr Humphrey. I could just as easily have written "What is the difference between knowing God in Jesus Christ and knowing God in his energies/operations?" I refer everyone to that quotation and reiterate my question.


I get the sense that knowing God in His energies and operations encompasses knowing God in Jesus Christ. Only through knowing God & through grace, can we really know Christ.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#13 Georgianna

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 06:44 PM

Please forgive me for daring to post regarding matters about which I lack the spiritual maturity and discernment to discuss appropriately.

In "Topics of Natural and Theological Science," St Gregory Palamas describes a "composite form of knowledge" in which the nous "enthrones itself on the soul's imaginative faculty and thereby associated with the senses." It appears to fall under knowledge of the reason (dianoia).

Reason (dianoia): the discursive, conceptualizing and logical faculty in man, the function of which is to draw conclusions or formulate concepts deriving from data provided either by revelation or spiritual knowledge (gnosis) or by sense-observation. The knowledge of the reason is consequently of a lower order than spiritual knowledge and does not imply any direct apprehension or perception of the inner essence or principles (logoi) of created beings, still less of divine truth itself. Indeed, such apprehension or perception, which is the function of the nous is beyond the scope of reason.


In my ignorance, the separation between knowing God in His energies and operations and knowing God in Jesus Christ is impossible when "knowing" is through the nous in theoria (gnosis) - opposed to knowledge derived from reason (dianoia).

In The Life of Moses, St Gregory of Nyssa states:

15. Entering the Dark Cloud

But what now is the meaning of Moses' entry into the darkness and of the vision of God that he enjoyed in it? The present text (Exod 24:15) would seem to be somewhat contradictory to the divine apparition he has seen before. There he saw God in the light, whereas here he sees Him in the darkness. ... the sacred text is here teaching us that spiritual knowledge first occurs as an illumination in those who experience it. Indeed, all that is opposed to piety is conceived of as darkness; to shun the darkness is to share in the light. But as the soul makes progress, and by a greater and more perfect concentration comes to appreciate what the knowledge of truth is, the more it approaches this vision, and so much the more does it see that the divine nature is invisible. It thus leaves all surface appearances, not only those that can be grasped by the senses but also those which the mind (nous) itself seems to see, and it keeps on going deeper until by the operation of the spirit it penetrates the invisible and incomprehensible, and it is there that it sees God. The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility. Thus that profound evangelist, John, who penetrated into this luminous darkness, tells us that "no man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18), teaching us by this negation that no man - indeed, no created intellect - can attain a knowledge of God.



#14 Owen Jones

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 01:54 PM

Dear Fr. Kimmel,

In the Roman Catholic tradition, at least since the Schism, knowing is not like seeing. In Orthodoxy, knowing is seeing, as a number of the above posts demonstrate. I think this is the essential difference between the two. In Anselm, for example, faith exists for the purpose of deepening our understanding. In Orthodoxy, faith, and the other virtues, exist in order to transform our sense perception, both physical and spiritual faculties of perception, so that we can see God in the things He has made. The ascetic fathers say that you do not begin with God, you begin with meditating on things. In the liturgy, we say, "we have SEEN the true light... This is not intended as a metaphor, I am fairly confident in asserting.




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