Jerusalem and Athens

“Thus, as briefly as possible I have set forth for you our love of wisdom, which is dogmatical and not dialectical, in the manner of the fishermen and not of Aristotle, spiritually and not cleverly woven, according to the rules of the Church and not of the marketplace.” 

Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Homily 22

58 Responses to Jerusalem and Athens

  1. MG says:

    Nevermind. No one else is on this post anymore 🙂 and I found somewhere else where Eric gives the dissertation’s title.

  2. MG says:

    Jack–what books/journals do you suggest for Eric Perl’s articulation of essence/energies?

  3. Jack says:


    Skip Bradshaw’s history and read philosopher Eric Perl’s articulation of Palamas. You will aviod some of the confusions that often crop up on this blog. God’s creative activity “never began” as Maximus says because it is timeless. A timeless act doesn’t begin nor does it end. However, a timeless act can manifest itself at a particular time. Your baptism is God’s timeless birthing of you, but he determines, timelessly, that it happens on a particular day. See the paradox?

  4. MG says:


    Thank you for attempting to explain that. I am not sure I understand how (or if) this is at all distinct from (at least some) western theology in anything other than laguage. I think I will take some more time to research this subject privately, seeing as how my friend just loaned me David Bradshaw’s book “Aristotle East and West” which seems to discuss the nature of energies. Hopefully that will help me understand thsi better.

  5. Jack says:


    As we read in Palamas, being itself is a divine uncreated activity. We exist. Therefore, these eternal divine uncreated activities like Being do have created effects. As activites or causes, they exist in relation to effects. A cause without an effect is not a cause. To the extent that you are, you are manifesting God’s eternal divine uncreated activity temporally. As Dionysius puts it, the being of beings is the divinity beyond being. I believe Palamas also includes Life, Reason, and Deification with Being.

  6. MG says:


    So far that makes sense. I’m wondering, though, what participation in energies means then. Does it mean

    1. God causes an effect in a person (so you participate in God’s omnipotence by having his omnipotence cause a new state of affairs in you)
    2. God gives you the property in question (so you participate in God’s omnipotence become omnipotent–assuming omnipotence is an energy)
    3. Something else?

  7. “I’d still maintain that divine acts are not created but uncreated which is why participating in them the Fathers say we become uncreated.”

    I was erroneously thinking works or acts are created themselves, but if they aren’t, works sound determined or predestined regardless of our will to cooperatively or synergistically participate in them. Though what you say is supported by:

    Eph 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

    Maybe it’s more like voluntarily catching the inevitable wave or current which will lead to our becoming uncreated along with them… I was focusing too much on God becoming created, rather than the purpose, to make us uncreated. That’s better.

    Uniting essence and energy into nature also helps me not make them dialectically or spatially opposed.

    So the fall made creation opposed to God, though I think Orthodox theology says that creation wasn’t deified yet either and that was part of Adam’s work, and that the Incarnation was still necessary.

  8. acolyte says:


    The purpose of the blog is not to have people agree with me. The purpose is to try to articulate as best I can the Orthodox perspective, to help people understand by clearing away conceptual obstacles and to get the ideas in the market place. I think a lot of people spiritually suffer from plenty of false ideas out there. I know that when I read Farrell’s book I became much happier.

  9. acolyte says:


    By latent, I mean potentia or potential. By Potentia I mean it in terms of 2nd potentiality. 1st potentiality can be thought of as a complete lack whereas 2nd potentiality is an actual power as yet unactualized, that is, not yet brought to completion.

    So God always has the power to create, but until it is brought to actualization by the persons of the Trinity, it is a potency. This is why Orthodoxy doesn’t adhere to the doctrine of God as pure actuality, and why the Latin adherence to it precludes them from admitting any potency in God.

    So God is never without these logoi or powers. Those logoi brought to actualization are energies, or activities.

    Hows that?

  10. acolyte says:


    I’d still maintain that divine acts are not created but uncreated which is why participating n them the Fathers say we become uncreated.

    It should be uncontroversial that God’s Persons are different than the essence. The essence is one, the persons are three. When I use “nature” usually I use it to denote essence and energy, rather than just essence as is the common way of speaking in Latin theology, since there God is primarily and exclusively essence.

    As for matter, you are correct to see how dialectical opposition grounded the distinction between God and the world. Consequently a true Christian theology doesn’t distinguish the two by opposition.

    Person includes what one does because persons are the things doing it. Persons use their faculties, will, intellect, etc. in the doing.

  11. Perry,

    “To clarify further, energia is a biblical term. It just sounds weird because you probably don’t read Greek.”

    C’est vrai.

    ” Energy means activity or act. It is what God does. He redeems, saves, creates, etc. Those are all actions of persons, three in fact.”

    The activities and acts of God stood out to me more as I listened to St. Basil’s Liturgy today. Interesting how learning about something makes you recognize it more in other places. Part of relieving my frustration (Lord have mercy) due to my incomplete understanding of Apophatic Theology is 1, having more respect for the differences between God’s essence and me, and that the gap doesn’t mean silence, withdrawal, and darkness, but that listening is a way of learning and participating despite some perhaps silent and dark times which are no doubt due to my sinfulness, distractedness, and immaturity, and 2, Seeing the energies/Mysteries/icons/creation etc. as God’s powerful effort to communicate and to transform us – commonly known as grace which is also complicated to understand as far as the difference between it and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    “The energies that we enjoy in the eschaton are not created, but uncreated.”

    It seems that acts are created expressions of His uncreated nature of being loving, creative, etc through which the uncreated, tangible energies of love are communicated to and received by us.

    “Christ makes the Father known, but the Father is a person. So revealing the divine person doesn’t imply revealing the divine essence.”

    Now I’m surprised to hear that His personhood is different than His essence. And in “The Cross and the Incarnation” entry, “nature” gets added to the mix.

    “In sin is introduced an opposition between person and nature for the person wills contrary to the goodness of their nature. This act of opposition branches out to include the subordination and opposition of creation to humanity, woman to man, and Gentile to Jew. Sin brings about the dissolution of what God united. By annihilating humanity, the devil can frustrate that image of God from ever becoming incarnate and thereby show his will to be greater than God’s…

    Can God be united to matter? Can matter be deified? Not if the One is opposed to the Many, which was necessary for their distinction, lest God be absorbed into matter or the world become an extension of God.” (But God was united to matter and so is the world an extension of God? – probably by His energies.)

    I’m thinking “person” includes what one does, or wills, with what one has, their nature included. Still not sure how essence fits in unless it is similar to nature.

    I’ve decided not to apologize for being scattered, and not comprehending and remembering exactly everything you’ve already stated in this blog because it is all such wonderful food for thought and my responses have been part of my digestion. Thank you for yours.

  12. Jack says:

    If divine energia is adequately translatable into English as divine activity, it would seem like a very good thing to do. Divine energia can sound like a magic word to English speakers.

    Is it possible that the arguments over uncreated vs. created grace are a lot of hot air? The divine activity of faith of which I participate in is uncreated, but it does have created effects, no?

    As I understand divine activities, they are from the Father, through the Word, and in the Spirit. To talk of them as the activities of three divine people sounds untraditional.

  13. MG says:


    You say the energies are latent powers of God. Could you clarify what this means and what it means to participate in them?

  14. acolyte says:


    To clarify further, energia is a biblical term. It just sounds weird because you probably don’t read Greek. Energy means activity or act. It is what God does. He redeems, saves, creates, etc. Those are all actions of persons, three in fact. The energies that we enjoy in the eschaton are not created, but uncreated.

    Christ makes the Father known, but the Father is a person. So revealing the divine person doesn’t imply revealing the divine essence.

  15. Perry,

    “Yes the energies or activities are deity, but they are not persons and they are not the essence. I am using these terms to denote occupiers of logical space to give a consistent model and not because I have a fully or complete analysis of those terms. I am attempting to give the “mechanics” of Orthodox theology, if you will.”

    I think I still have some Protestant, God is my personal friend, hangups about the idea of energies. It feels impersonal, but I am starting to open up to the idea that Heaven isn’t just being in God’s physical presence in a state of awed stupor, but that we will be consciously living among “good” options created by God, interacting with others, and going other places to do other things.

    “The energies are latent powers in God brought to act by the divine Persons. Some powers of God, everyone does participate in, but this doesn’t imply theosis since that requires personal and free participation, which not all will do. So while all will exist eternally, not all will exist eternally well. Since the powers of God in the eschaton will preclude personal misuse, none of the good things available, of which there is an infinite number, will be able to be enjoyed by the wicked. So their existence is perpetual boredom. So universalism is ruled out.”

    Or the voluntarily, though probably also deceived, wicked will be perpetually, and possibly unknowingly boring. And will they be around for “the righteous” to be mercifully and compassionately patient with, (though this will probably drive them crazy and they will voluntarily depart to the outer darkness)?

    “Energy does not negate real presence but is in part the basis for it. This is why the doctrine of energies is a key not only to the sacraments but also iconography, fasting, Christology, etc. Christ is the power of God, as Paul says but it is a mistake to interpret power in terms of an external relationship, as if there is something between Father and Son, namely a relation of will. All of the powers made actual by will are not the Son, though they are in the Son. All of the many logoi are in the one Logos, which is why the Son reveals the Father. You might find Barnes, The Power of God, CUP, quite helpful in sorting out the Trinitarian theology on this point. Or you could read Daniel’s paper, Breaking Dialectic.”

    Today I read Daniel’s paper and the comments to your “Perry’s Logical Argument” under “Creation and Necessity”. I did not know there are so many options regarding thinking of God’s essence, energies, will and creation. I like how Daniel pointed out the apophatic approach to faith and Liturgy – where truth seems more cataphatically expressed – in his paper. I still need to think about God’s essence being unknowable though, as it seems Christ worked pretty hard to make Him knowable. Later I’ll read the entries on the Incarnation and I also want to read more about Maximus the Confessor and St. Athanasius. That said, the Eastern comments regarding these things make me feel more at home, hopefully not because of my personal bias.

    Another avenue I want to explore is how the energies and creations are “in Christ”. I believe you both have said something to the effect God’s energies being around Him, as if they go out from Him, so then creation isn’t contained in Him, but that He is sort of supporting it (?). This is either a dialectical opposition to Christ uniting Himself to all creation and raising it up with Him, where it all collapses into the simplicity of God, or perhaps it falls into the differences between the persons of the Father and the Son.

    And your comments about a relationship of wills vs. essence between the Father and the Son are intriguing as well. I need to think about that some more. Thanks for the book recommendation.

  16. Jack says:


    You may be right, I can’t say, but you and Perl agree in your conviction of Aquinas and Scotus. They both put God on the scale of bieing, even if at the apex, which, as I mentioned earlier, makes orthodox Christology absolutely opaque rather than pardigmatic.

    Perl contends that Plotinus puts God beyond being. He knows Plotinus better than I. However, I am not fundamentally interested in defending Platonism.

    With regard to will, I do believe that Perl makes it a natural property rather than a hypostatic one. Like yourself, he is a close reader of Maximus. I doubt the lesson of ConIII is lost on him. But, again, I am not fundamentally interested in defending Perl.

    I greatly apperciate your blog, even if I don’t always find myself in agreement with your opinions.


  17. “That is true, but it is also true that creation was already made for the eternal, so it is not something super added to it.”

    Perry (?),

    Wonderful distinction. So not being in theosis is un-natural. Why have I been spinning my wheels then? lol! Or rather, keeping them from spinning.

    And Adam must not have been spinning at full speed, or he wouldn’t have desired to do so prematurely.

  18. Jack,

    I’m aware that we don’t count up the hypostases in a sequential order of 1 —> + 2 —-> + 3. Gregory the Theologian argued against this the strongest I’ve seen. But at the same time, he states that when he contemplates One hypostasis he immediately considers the Three and vice versa. Never a step of two-ness. Both unity and plurality are preserved without one having some ontological primacy over the other.

    Basil states the same:
    “For we do not count by way of addition, gradually making increase from unity to plurality, saying ‘one, two, three’ or ‘first, second, third.’ ‘I am the first and I am the last,’ says God (Isaiah 44:6). And we have never, even unto our own days, heard of a second God. For in worshipping ‘God of God’ we both confess the distinction of persons and abide by the Monarchy.” De spiritu sancto 18; P.G. 32, col. 149B


  19. acolyte says:


    Yes the energies or activities are deity, but they are not persons and they are not the essence. I am using these terms to denote occupiers of logical space to give a consistent model and not because I have a fully or complete analysis of those terms. I am attempting to give the “mechanics” of Orthodox theology, if you will.

    The energies are latent powers in God brought to act by the divine Persons. Some powers of God, everyone does participate in, but this doesn’t imply theosis since that requires personal and free participation, which not all will do. So while all will exist eternally, not all will exist eternally well. Since the powers of God in the eschaton will preclude personal misuse, none of the good things available, of which there is an infinite number, will be able to be enjoyed by the wicked. So their existence is perpetual boredom. So universalism is ruled out.

    Energy does not negate real presence but is in part the basis for it. This is why the doctrine of energies is a key not only to the sacraments but also iconography, fasting, Christology, etc. Christ is the power of God, as Paul says but it is a mistake to interpret power in terms of an external relationship, as if there is something between Father and Son, namely a relation of will. All of the powers made actual by will are not the Son, though they are in the Son. All of the many logoi are in the one Logos, which is why the Son reveals the Father. You might find Barnes, The Power of God, CUP, quite helpful in sorting out the Trinitarian theology on this point. Or you could read Daniel’s paper, Breaking Dialectic.

  20. acolyte says:



    The god of Plato, if it is a god at all, is not beyond being. It is beyond what the scholastics would come to call, common being, which is to be in a divided way. Reading the Platonic corpus I think makes this clear. The One of Plotinus is just as much the subject of dialectic. First because there is a dialectic between its inner activity and its external activity. Second, because it forms one end of the overall dialectic of the divided line. Third, because the generation of Nous could not ever be explained apart from dialectic, which is why Plotinus has an exceedingly hard time explaining the generation of Nous from the One. The infinity of the One consequently doesn’t place it beyond dialectic or beyond being, just beyond a specific mode of it. This is why Plotinus says that the One is its own energia or being.

    As far as Gilson is concerned, I think he is wrong and not a few major scholars agree. He wants to distance Aquinas to show that Aquinas makes some major achievement and I think that Aquinas is simply part of a tradition. Where Gilson sees novelty in Aquinas, I see standard Platonic metaphysics. Hankey’s stuff on this is excellent. Thomas’ notion of adding being to form, where form is a limiting function is quite Plotinian. This is why the One is beyond being because for creatures being requires form, whereas for God for Aquinas and the One for Plotinus, they are beyond being because they simply are their own form and that form is unlimited activity. This is why infinity is no answer to the problems I raise about simplicity in the Latin tradition. Making something beyond limit doesn’t imply that it is free and a person.

    Theology, whatever it is, is not the construction of concepts and their arrangement by us. Theology is life with the Trinity.

    You are quite right to note for Plotinus there is no ultimate difference between particulars and the One. This is why Platonism won’t do for Christian theology. And if there were a personal logos of you, either God would be evil or it would be impossible for you to sin. This is why the idea of haecceities in Molinism isn’t particularly helpful in glossing free will since it still entails determinism. A person is determined to perform their actions because of their nature. This is why Molinists must give up the Libertarian ghost somewhere a long the way. They are making a fundamental category mistake in giving an analysis of persons in terms of nature. So Jack are you I think. I don’t mean to be unfriendly, but I can’t see how you can maintain freedom for persons on Perl’s gloss, which means that Perl is doing Platonism and not Christianity. On his gloss the will, will be entirely hypostatic. So I would not be surprised to see him proffering predestinarianism soon, if he hasn’t done so already. That is a mark of a fundamental misstep.

    All of that said, I think you are reading Thomas like Scotus. For Scotus God is a member on a scale of being and is distinguished from creatures in terms of the intensity of being. For Thomas, God is not on the scale of being, even though that is the best name for God. Why? Is it because God is absolutely beyond energia or being? No, because God’s being is pure and simple, whereas creatures on the scale of common being is always mixed. God for Aquinas doesn’t fall within the spectrum of being but is rather the apex of that scale. That doesn’t make God any less being, just more so. Neither of them though can conceive of God as not being being in any sense whasoever. Aquinas it is God is not being qua plurality and Scotus, God is not being qua causal deficiency.

  21. acolyte says:


    It seems much more Orthodox to say that God has the eternal power to create but not that he is eternally creator. What then will be the difference between the Son’s generation and creation’s?

    Secondly, what then is grace? Is it a created and temporal effect?

    And I simply must disagree per Plotinus, Proclus, et all. They most certainly do identify the One with Being, for being is energia. That is why creation is eternal. Plotinus is explicit in Ennead 6 in doing so. The One is its own activity, its own be-ing. The problem is that people tend to think of being as aa noun and not a verb.

  22. acolyte says:


    That is true, but it is also true that creation was already made for the eternal, so it is not something super added to it.

  23. Michael says:

    Andrea Elizabeth had some interesting questions in her first response. Does your website deal — or will it deal more — with both the incarnation of Christ our God, how the Divine energies play into that reality in His life among us, and our experience of Theosis and how that looks?

  24. Perhaps in Christ’s uniting with creation, He elevates it to the eternal. I believe the Orthodox view of Resurrection and the new earth is that the physical is transformed, not annihilated. And Christ’s being slain before the foundation of the world indicates that creation can transcend time backwards as well. Not that Origin was right in thinking we were little stars before we were born, but that our very birth has always been.

    Another thing about Origin’s view of the Trinity as being like the sun, it’s rays and it’s heat – that seems too disconnected in it’s relation to the earth. While perhaps the earth used to be a part of the sun, and organic life is sustained by the sun, I believe the union possible, and maybe more actual, at least in a potential or dormant sense, between us and God is more intimate. He became the earth, so that we might become the sun, to paraphrase St. Athanasius. And to paraphrase Dr. McCoy, “I’m a thinker, not a scholar or a philosopher or even a theologian! (though I play one on the internet) Unless you take my priest’s definition which I think he got elsewhere, a theologian is one who prays, which I don’t do enough either. Thanks for letting me think out loud. : )

  25. Jack says:


    Perhaps you are right. However, I think Perl is spot on with regard to the relation between eternal “activities” and temporal and created effects, contra Lossky. An enternal activity, qua eternal, neither begins nor ends, but its temporal effects certianly do. I think our confusion about the eternality or temporality of creation often stems from our inablity to think through this issue. God is eternally a creator. However, God’s creation is temporal. It is a paradox, not a dialectical conflict of oppositions.

    Also, with regard to divine persons, I think Behr’s analysis of Nyssa and criticism of Zizoulas is pretty important to note as well. As St. Dionysius notes, God is beyond counting, this includes both three and one. Father + Son + Spirit = ?

  26. Jack,

    Don’t get me wrong, the majority of his essay is pretty tight, and his stuff on participation is stellar. If the analysis would’ve stopped there on Palamas, I would’ve shaken my head: Amen! I just think as most of these philosopher types they just don’t think in terms of Person first. Most of these One-Many problems that these philosophers fabricate or that somehow we need to figure out how we get plurality from unity is really wrong-headed, because the doctrine of the Trinity cuts against such a dialectical “problem.” As Lossky said, we understand a simultaneous both/and Three and One right from the get-go.


  27. Jack says:


    I think Perl’s article on Palamas is worthy of an Energetic Procession.

  28. Jack,

    Pointing me to “On Not Three Gods,” is like pointing a competent mechanic to the service manual. It’s one of my favorite texts. What’s your point?

    My point is this, Perl construes the One-many dialectical problem as located at the point of the act of God creating, in which He multiplies Himself through His natural energy, saturating creation. The problem with this is that Perl is still a product of the dialectical Origenistic problematic. God is one, creation is multiple, etc. When in actuality God is both One and Many irrespective of creating at all. God is multiple in hypostases and multiple in energy. God never ceases from good things, because He never began them.


  29. Jack says:


    That is what I am doing. Whether it is historically accurate or not is beyond me. As for God not being multiple, I draw your attention to “Not Three Gods.” See, e.g., Behr Vol. 2, Part 2. See also Behr, Trinitarian nature of the Church. I think your judgment of Perl is rash, but I love you anyway.


  30. Jack says:


    Check out Gerson’s first chapter (I believe) in his book “Plotinus.” I agree that modernist scholarly material tends to point in the other direction. Plotinus’s famous put-down comes to mind: “He’s a scholar, not a philosopher.”

    I would be wary of most scholarly attempts to limn such distinctions as divine essence, will, power, energy, activity, This is an extraordinarily slippery business. Eric Perl’s article on Palamas might be a good place to start.

    With regard to divine simplicity, as Plotinus tells us, we have to negate that to. The One is beyond complexity AND simplicity, and even beyond “One.” Niether positive nor negative propositions circunscribe the Plotinian uncircumscribable.

    Neither Plotinus, nor Iamblichus, nor Proclus would have any part of identifying the divine essence with “being” or the “supreme being” or “absolutely simple divine essence.” Such postiive definitions do lead to a dialectic of opposition which destroy orthodox Christology, making the enfleshment of the Word to be a cenataur and not the paradigm, the arche and telos, of all enfleshment.

  31. STK,

    He’s reading Eric David Perl on Plotinus, which is being read through the lense of St. Dionysios. EDP makes Plotinus look a whole better than what he really is. An interesting idea, I guess, but I’m not really persuaded.

    Perl is pretty much correct on his reading of Dionysios and Palamas, except that he seems to ignore Persons in his analysis, along with construing as making the very act of creation as the breaking point of the One-Many dialectic. In other words, God is not really multiple except at the point of creating and subsequent. Ugh, Persons?

    On Plotinus, worthy but I think wrong. He’s a philosopher so I guess I can only *sigh.*


  32. Jack,

    You have a right to your opinion, but I’ve never read anything that supports what you’re saying about the Nous not emanating necessarily from the One. Nevertheless, I would be interested in reading the scholarly works that support your viewpoint. So, by all means, list the works by Gerson that support what you are saying, and I would appreciate it if you could also provide the texts by the other scholars that confirm his position, and I will check them out.

    God bless,

  33. Jack says:


    I didn’t read the entire blurb, but I was dissatisfied with what I did read.

    Despite popular views to the contrary, the Platonic One does not “emanate” necessarily, for that necessity would then itself be above the One and the One would not be the One. This is a common red herring. See, e.g., Gerson.

    Nor is the Platonic One dialectically opposed to created particulars. The author, like many others, fails to understand the neoplatonic doctrine of divine simplicity. It doesn’t mean that there is something called “god” that has the property of “simplicity.” It means, simply, that the One is not finite.

    The not-finite and the finite are not opposed. They don’t even exist at “different ontological levels.” The “wholly other” has no otherness because to be not finite is to be everywhere present and filling all things. As Palamas might put it, if the One is then we are not. The Platonic One and a creature are not two things. I do, however, agree that this dialectical opposition between God and man that is oft bemoaned on this website does crop up in latin scholasticism. I would agree that this is the central problem with Western Christianity. As Florovsky put it, it is quasi-Nestorian. The Western mind flips back and forth from pantheism to nestorianism to atheism.

    Yes, the Platonic ideas are the eternal forms of the pre-eternal Good, so are the logoi or energies in which we participate. Ask St. Maximus about when God began being good.

    “The Fathers” view on and appropriation of Platonism is a notoriously mixed bag. The meaning of the anathema of Orthodoxy with regard to Platonism must, like scripture itself, be interpreted, not spooftexted. I am not a Platonist, I am a Christian, but I believe that many of the modern distinctions drawn between the “philosophical theology” of Platonism and Christianity a tad overdone. There is an eternal idea of me of which I ought to be working out with fear and trembling.

  34. from Photius in

    “Do you become the form of God in the eschaton? Is this the divine essence? Given Rome’s view of simplicity, it’s either the divine essence or something other than God, since God is an absolutely simple essence. If it is ‘other’ than God, it’s a creature by definition. The former precludes a real union with God, and the latter allows it only with another created effect. The early Latin tradition before Augustine is okay, but it is an inchoate and ill-defined concept”

    I’m gleaning from this meat-filled (during Lent no less!) blog that the Orthodox position is that God’s energies are Him, or at least emanate from Him, in a consumable/relatable form. His energies are present in His creation, but are themselves not created.

    Everyone participates in His energies to some extent, so does that mean that everyone is on the path to Theosis? The ones being saved keep progressing, but I suppose there is degeneration or stagnation in those who are not being saved, if there is such a person – don’t want to transgress into universalist marketplace heresy or get off topic.

    And would it be against Tradition to say that Christ’s Incarnation is creation in perfect alignment with and an unfolding manifestation of God’s essence. It gets sticky in trying to ascribe energies to Christ Himself and how He reveals God, because that would take away from His being God in essence. And then I have trouble with our union with Him enabling less of a relationship with God the Father than He had, because He came to give us the same relationship, no? But this relationship is possible through the Holy Spirit, who is also God in essence, and I believe it is taught that even Christ’s relationship with God was through the Holy Spirit (this could go into Christ’s nature vs. communion before His baptism hmmm).

    In other words, “energies” confuses me as it seems to negate Real Presence.

    Sorry if this is not the direction this blog is intended to go.

  35. “I agree. None of the metaphysical speculation done in philosophy can transcend the diastema; instead, only God Himself, through His energies, can transgress the boundary between uncreated and created.”

    And didn’t He do just that in Christ?

    The implications of this are very interesting. Just how one with creation is God through Christ and through His eternal will and activities?

  36. Photios,

    I agree. None of the metaphysical speculation done in philosophy can transcend the diastema; instead, only God Himself, through His energies, can transgress the boundary between uncreated and created.

    God bless,

  37. STK,

    The man who wrote the article knows Neo-platonism and knows what he is talking about. What he states is nothing new.

    For patristic theologians, general categories or natures are distinguished by considering the types of operations that are being done by a particular agent, very “empirical,” observational, and apodictic, and not through a process of dialectic. The Fathers argue against such a process and call it blasphemous. The Fathers saw Christianity as a complete break with Hellenistic ideas and principles, even St. Augustine did where his champions did not (even if he thought at one time Platonism and Christianity were reconcilable). This is one of the many things that is celebrated on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Don’t like that view? Don’t know what to tell you then, but that is what we believe.


  38. I apologize, I forgot to give the title of the article. It is called: “Neoplatonism, the Filioque and Photios’ Mystagogy.”

  39. Actually, the One is placed in opposition to those things that necessarily emanate from it; and, as a consequence, it is subject to dialectic.

    Philip Zymaris addressed this issue in an article that he wrote for the Greek Orthodox Theological Review (46:3-4; 2001), and here is what he said:

    “Ancient Greek philosophy sought to answer the dilemma of the ontology or true being of things and Plato and Aristotle represent two pinnacles in the working out of these questions. For Plato the true being or reality of things was to be found in his so called immaterial universals, i.e., the perfect prototypes that the material particulars imitated. Within this scheme God is seen as the universal above all the particular universals, a ‘Universal’ universal, the infinite One which, in order to be distinguished from the multitude of particulars, was defined as being ‘simple,’ that is to say, having no composition, and thus transcending both the plurality of immaterial universals as well as the plethora of particular material finite beings. This definition of the One as simple implies also that essence, will and activity are wholly indistinguishable in the One . . . .

    Interestingly enough, this definition of the One as ‘simple,’ which purports to set the One above all other finite beings, in the end actually brings it down to the same level as the multitude of finite things. The fact that the One is no particular finite being means that it has being only in opposition to those very finite things and thus cannot exist without them – the One cannot exist by itself; as long as the One exists the multitude of finite beings necessarily also exist. This does two things: a) it causes created things to be eternally created, which means that these eternal particulars are in fact eternal gods in themselves, emanations from the divine essence (since there is no distinction here between essence and energies) which leads to pagan polytheism; and b) it puts the One under necessity: to exist it must necessarily create the multitude of particulars. Plato does indeed talk of a creation in time, but his God had no choice but to use the pre-existing eternal ideas or universals and was compelled to comply with the physical laws of the cosmos of which he was also a part; he was therefore not absolutely free to create ‘ex nihilo.’ The God of Plato, and later of Neoplatonism, therefore, is certainly not the same as the biblical, personal God who freely created the world ex nihilo as an act of love. The God of the Bible has no need of the world in order to exist and there was a time when the world or cosmos did not exist.

    In any case, Platonism in time developed into Neoplatonism due mainly to the work of the philosopher Plotinus (205- 270) and his disciple Porphyry (234-305). These developments, however, could not make the Platonic God a free God and could not release the system from degenerating into polytheism. For, according to the Neoplatonic scheme, the One God necessarily creates two finite particulars, which ultimately lead to all the others: he produces the Nous, which, in turn together with the One, produces the World-soul. Because will and activity are identified with the essence, these acts of creation, as well as the creation of all finite particulars which follow, are acts of the essence. Thus, creation is understood as a series of emanations ‘ad infinitum’ from the divine essence, since there is no distinction in this system between essence and energies and between theology and economy; rather, all things are seen as pieces of the divine essence, and therefore all things are gods in themselves. The further one moves away from the One the more particulars there are – there is here an obvious priority of unity over diversity, of simplicity over composition, of spirit over matter. Thus, the increased diversity, composition and matter seen in the emanations as one moves farther and farther from the One is seen as a form of degeneration.” [GOTR, 46:3-4, 2001, pages 346-348]

  40. Don Bradley says:

    I should have stated that the goodness of God is not circumscribable to even our highest concepts of what good is. Pelikan goes over this in his chapter on ‘The Language of Negation’.

  41. Jack says:

    The One beyond being is not subject to dialectic for an infinte is not distinguishable. The One and a man are not two things.

  42. Jack says:

    A paradox, which neoplatonists are famous for, does not violate the principle of noncontradiction. That the Platonic One is both infinite and finite is not a contradiction because the One is so in different ways. I am no philosopher but methinks you draw the wrong lines.

  43. Jack says:


    As a great theologian once said. which has been repeated for over a thousand years, God is even beyond negation. Let all creation be silent.

  44. Jack says:


    A dog and a man are dialectically distinguishable but they are not hot or cold. Dog is not opposed to man. Platonic dialetics are not nearly so simple. Ever read a dialogue? Me thinks you spoof text Plotinus, a notoriously difficult thinker.

    Could Plotinus say God was both infinite and finite? Of course, because he held that every thing was the manifestation of the One nonthing. Ergo, the One is both infinite in its nonthing essence and finite in its thingy effects. Plotinus has no problem with paradox. The distinguishing mark of Christianity is Christ and his passover, not some arcane philosophical doctrine.

  45. Jim says:


    Thanks for the clarification. That is actually the definition I originally had in mind when I posted (that’s what I get for discussing the issue with a grad student in English literary criticism 🙂 ). So why is it that the quote that forms the basis of this post is not an example of such?

    I didn’t quite grasp Photios’ points.

    and BTW – I LOVED the statement “[this] contradicts the Hellenistic principle of non-contradiction.” … Kinda reminded me of an old Star Trek episode. 🙂

  46. acolyte says:


    I’d say that cataphatically we do speak of God, for God in his energies is known. So he can be compared to everything in creation qua energies. And I don’t want to say that our conception of goodness is inadeuqate for it is derived from God’s constant work and presence in his world. This is how we know that the Calvinist view of God determining persons to specific ends is not good. The Reformed reply that we are measuring God by a deformed notion of Good implies not only divine absence but also a more Manichean view of the world. So I wish to maintain that yes, we do have an adequate conception of Good. I don’t need biblical revelation to recognize that exterminating people is bad. Why? The imago dei wasn’t altered or obliterated at the fall.

  47. acolyte says:


    No, dialectic is not a tension. Dialectic is the distinguishing by opposite properties-the hot from the cold, etc. In Reformed thought humanity is distinguished from God in terms of opposite properties. That is why say Presuppositional apologetics speaks in terms of Antithesis.

  48. Don Bradley says:

    When you had the title “Jerusalem and Athens” my mind went straight to Jaroslav Pelikan’s ‘Christianity and Classical Culture’. The book is fairly intense; I had to drag around a dictionary with me wherever I went while I read it like 3 times.

    The book is about Hellenism and Christianity, specifically Sts. Gregory Nazianzen, Macrina, Basil, and Gregory of Nyssa. He quotes Florovsky on pg. 8 as saying, “Basil did not so much adapt Neoplatonism as overcome it.” Of Nazianzus he says, “the idea which he expresses in Platonic language is not itself Platonic.” Of Nyssa he says, “Gregory’s enthusiasm for secular learning was only temporary….. However, he always remained a Hellenist.”

    Let me put this in my truck-driver vernacular. The Cappadocians (I would toss Athanasius in also) used the neoplatonic and hellenistic language and forms of the day because that was what was handy, but that doesn’t make them neoplatonists. They took the form, gutted it of all the crap they didn’t agree with, and then used that form. Pelikan takes the first half of the book explaining the Cappadocian usage of natural theology as apologetics to define their methods, and then uses the second half to explain how that same natural theology is used as a presupposition to explain God and His relation to creation, salvation, redemption, essence, etc.

    As I watch Jim and Perry swipe back and forth on dialectic I see them talking past each other. I think one of the differences lies in cataphatic vs. apophatic theology. We speak of some things cataphatically, but not God. Since we only know Him as He has revealed Himself and He can’t be compared to anything in creation, even the metaphors and examples we use for Him aren’t adequete. We speak of Him by what He is not; and even when we appear to be speaking of Him cataphatically we are still thinking in terms of negation and not positive affirmations. Language, even the words of scripture, are a condescension of God towards our weakness. So when we say God is good, our conception of goodness is inadequete when we apply the term to God. When we say God is love our conceptions of love are inadequete. His attributes are greater than our minds circumscribe the terms to mean, so we speak and think of God by what He is not.

  49. Jim,

    Ever read any Orthodox hymnography? It is chalkful of dialectic, but it is a both/and type: If you say Christ is God, I shall say He is man. If you say He is infinite, I shall say He is finite. If you say He is the Vine, I shall say He is the vinedresser.

    Notice that the predicate is true according to scripture regardless of what is said contradicts the Hellenistic principle of non-contradiction. Would Plotinus be comfortable in saying that the One is finite in the same sense that The Theologian says that Christ is finite. Of course not. To say that we discriminate between the marketplace and the scriptures, is to evaluate the source of the predicate. One is the source of our doctrine, the other is erroneous to draw from when considering theology. To consider the predicates up for dialectic, one needs to grab the correct source first. Otherwise, why isn’t Christ a budhist or muslim? When I say I’m a Christian and NOT an Arian, is that evaluation through the process of dialectical thinking? No, its rather through demonstration, or apodictic.

    Here’s how I understand the term dialectic or rather dialectic of opposition: Enneads I:3:4:2-9, “[Dialectic] is the science which can speak about everything in a reasoned and orderly way, and say what it is and how it differs from other things and what it has in common with them; in what class each thing is and where it stands in that class, and if it really is what it is, and how many really existing things there are, and again how many non-existing things, different from real beings. It discusses good and not good, and the things that are classed under good and its opposite, and what is eternal and not eternal, with certain knowledge about everything and not mere opinion.”


  50. Jim says:


    “… nor defined in a dialectical [emphasis mine] fashion as you find in say the Reformed tradition. God is good, free and powerful, man is bad, a slave and weak.” – Perry Robinson

    So, I take it he’s using the term as he did there. A dialectic is the internal tension between two opposing positions – kind of like – oh, I dont know: dogmatical and not dialectical, in the manner of the fishermen and not of Aristotle, spiritually and not cleverly woven, according to the rules of the Church and not of the marketplace, good and bad, free and slave, powerful and weak.

    Of course, it would help to define the terms … but that approach would be so … like … dialectical (in the even older sense … 🙂 ).

  51. Jim,

    Gregory’s text is precisely not dialectical, but of true and false predication. Otherwise, we could end up saying Christ is a buddhist, etc. The source of what we say about Christ is taken from revelation.

    Even worse. Dialectic is a description of a “fallen” world, not even nature as it was originally constituted, but rather a “fall” into dialectic per St. Maximos.

    Still trying to read Plotinus as a quasi-Christian metaphysician eh? The man speak out of both sides of his mouth.


  52. “Everything is limited by its own nature as long as it exists and stays within its own bounds. If anything created goes outside itself, it will lose its own essence just like the senses which cannot transgress their natural functions. The eye does not function like the ear nor does our sense of touch speak; hearing does not taste, but each sense is limited by the power natural to it. Thus all creation cannot transgress its natural limitations by a comprehensive insight; it always remains within its own bounds and whatever it may view, it sees itself. Should creation think it beholds anything which transcends it, this cannot be because it lacks the capacity to look beyond its own nature.

    The contemplation of beings is restricted by a certain notion of temporal interval which cannot be transgressed. Indeed, for every conception which the mind gives birth an interval of time is considered along with the substance of that which had thought it; an interval of time is nothing other than creation. The good which we strongly encourage to seek, guard, to unite ourselves and cling to transcends creation and thought. Our mind functions by using intervals within time, so how can it grasp [God’s] nature which is not subject to temporal extension? Through the medium of time the inquisitive [mind] always leaves behind any thought older than what it just discovered. The mind also busily searches through all kinds of knowledge yet never discovers the means to grasp eternity in order to transcend both itself and what we earlier considered, namely, the eternal existence of beings. This effort resembles a person standing on a precipice (Let a smooth, precipitous rock which abruptly falls off to a limitless distance suggest this transcendence whose prominence reaches on high while also falls to the gaping deep below). A person’s foot can touch that ridge falling off to the depths below and find neither step nor support for his hand. To me, this example pertains to the soul’s passage through intervals of time in its search for [God’s] nature which exists before eternity and is not subject to time. His nature cannot be grasped because it lacks space, time, measure and anything else we can apprehend; instead, our mind is overcome with dizziness and stumbles all over the place because it cannot lay hold of transcendent reality. Being powerless, it returns to its connatural state. Our minds love to know only about God’s transcendence of which they are persuaded because his nature differs from anything we know.

    When reason confronts that which transcends reason, it is time to be silent and marvel at his unutterable power which cannot be explained since it is hidden in one’s consciousness. It knows that the great prophets speak of God’s works, not of God himself. “Who can tell of the Lord’s power” [Ps 105.2]?; “I will tell of all your works” [Ps 9.2] and “Generation after generation will praise your deeds” [Ps 144.4]. These words explain what our human voice can utter, but silence becomes the norm with regard to him who utterly transcends any conception. We therefore say that “the glorious majesty of his holiness” [Ps 144.5] has no end. Oh, how marvelous! What reverence the text shows when contemplating the divine nature when it cannot comprehend such a transcendent wonder! The text did not say that the divine essence is boundless and claimed to be so audacious as to comprehend it; rather, it marvels at God’s glorious majesty. Once again the text is unable to see the glory of God’s essence but is struck dumb before the glory of his holiness. Therefore God’s nature is far removed from our curious inquiries, and even the loftiest of manifestations cannot admire it. The text does not admire his sanctity nor the glory of his holiness but stresses only the glorious majesty of his holiness. We cannot grasp the object of admiration, and so the psalm says that “the glorious majesty of his holiness” has no end.

    When it to comes to words about God and searching his essence there is a time for silence, but when it concerns some good operation of which we have knowledge, it is time to speak of God’s power, miracles and works which necessitate words. A creature should not overstep its bounds with regard to transcendent matters but remain content with knowledge of himself. If, in my opinion, he does not know himself, he as a creature cannot comprehend the soul’s essence, the body’s nature, the origin of created beings, how generations spring into existence from one another, how beings come into existence from nothing, how they dissolve into nothing and the harmony created from opposing tensions which constitute this world. If a created person does not know himself, how can he speak of transcendent matters? Thus there is a time to keep silence about such matters, and this silence is better. There is also a time to speak of those things which make our lives grow in virtue in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power forever. Amen.”

    [St. Gregory of Nyssa, “Commentaries on Ecclesiastes,” Homily Seven]

  53. MG says:


    How are you defining dialectic and how are you defining theology?

  54. Jack says:


    Perhaps you would be willing to define “theology”? Despite what you often seem to imply, Platonists cannot have a dialetical theology. Their god is “beyond being.” A beyond being or non-finite god is not a god who is subject to dialectics, which is the art of de-finit-ion. Aristotle’s god, on the other hand, is so subject. This was Plotinus’s critique, correctly understood. A self-thinking thought is still subject to the dialectic of self and thought. Plotinus insisted that the ground and cause of form and dialectic must be entirely beyond dialectic, which is what he means by divine simplicity. I would be loathe to place all talk about “divine simplicity,” Aquinas, Plotinus, Maximus, in the same box. As Gilson correctly observed, Aquinas is not a Plotinian.

    That being said, I greatly appreciate St. Gregory the Theologian’s point. The orthodox Christians proclaim that God is not a philosophical abstraction. Even if one believes, with some Church Fathers, that the Platonists are by leaps and bounds the best “natural” theologians out there, they are not Orthodox Christians. The Christian God is Father because he has a divine Son infleshed for us whose Body we can become.

  55. Jim says:


    Of course you know that was “tounge in cheek” – but I kind of laughed as I wrote it for two reasons … one I thought of it as a conclusion to the post itself. Think about what he wrote for a minute:

    dogmatical …. not dialectical, …
    in the manner of the fishermen … not of Aristotle
    spiritually … not cleverly woven,
    according to the rules of the Church … not of the marketplace

    He formulated his ENTIRE statment in terms of … A DIALECTIC … 🙂

  56. Don Cointin says:

    This quotations summarizes a realization I came to several years ago that Christianity was not a philosophical system (which is how I had been treating it). Dogma is an explanation of the experience of God. The Church recognizes some of these as normnative, which form our “canon”, but does not deny the validty of others. This realization led me to reconsider my spiritual life, my “experience of God”, and found that it was (and is) woefully lacking. I honestly feel that I’ve only now begun to know what it is to be a Christian; perhaps one day I’ll learn to do it as well 😉

  57. acolyte says:


    Dialectical is fine for finding truth about some eathly things. It just isn’t adequate for theology. So the better statement would be, Gregory was a membe f Jerusalem and not Athens.

    The point is to illustrate and function as evidence for claims I have made concerning dialectic and the Fathers. i want to show people the material and not just make passing reference so that they can see it for themselves.

  58. Jim says:

    I guess St Gregory was either right … or he wasn’t ….

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