Yannaras on the ordo theologiae

This problematic of essence in itself [from the Thomistic perspective] implies a definite status of man over and against the truth about God: The first foundation of the truth of God is not achieved through the experience of the Church, which is an experience of personal relationship with the person of the Incarnate Logos, a relationship which is realized in the Holy Spirit and which reveals the Logos as witnessing to the Father. Rather, this first foundation is entirely anthropocentric, with an intellectual leap seeking to understand the divine essence in itself, its attributes and its objective relationships. And this rationalistic conception of essence not only obliges one to an ontic understanding of essence which overlooks the mode of being of the essence, but also leads by logical necessity either to the identification of essence and energy or to the essential separation of nature from the energies. The problematic of energy is reduced to a procedure of logical proof which refers the mystery of divine existence to the syllogistically necessary idea of a creating and moving cause of creation or a causal grace (causalité de Grâce) which contributes to the moral improvement of man.

In Orthodox theology, on the other hand, the problem of the energies is put exclusively in terms of existential experience. The experience of the Church is the knowledge of God as an event of personal relationship, and the question raised is one of witness to and defense of that event, the question of how we come to know God, who is neither intelligible nor sensible, nor at all a being among the other beings.1 The knowledge of God as an event of personal relationship reveals the priority of the truth of the person in the realm of theological knowledge. There is no room for bypassing the reality of the person by means of an intellectual leap directly to the essence: Truth for us is in realities, not in names.2 The person recapitulates the mode of existence of nature; we know the essence or nature only as the content of the person. This unique possibility of knowing nature presupposes its ecstatic recapitulation in terms of a personal reference, i.e. the possibility for nature to stand outside of itself, to become accessible and communicable not as an idea, but as personal uniqueness and dissimilarity. The ecstasis of nature, however, cannot be identified with nature itself, since the experience of relation is itself an experience of non-identification: the ecstasy is the mode, the manner by which nature becomes accessible and known in terms of personal otherness; it is the energy of nature which is identified neither with its bearer nor with its result: The energy is neither the active cause nor the resultant effect.3

It is not possible, of course, to know the energy except through the one who acts; and, again, only through the natural energy can one know the one who acts as personal otherness as well as nature and essence. The will, for example, is an energy of nature. However it is accessible to us only through its personal bearer; we refer to the what of the will only because we know the how of its personal expression.4 The what of the will reveals to us the nature which has the possibility to will, while the how of the will reveals the personal otherness of its bearer.5 The will itself, however, is not identified either with the nature which has the possibility to will or with the person who wills, always in a unique, dissimilar and unrepeatable manner. For this reason we recognize in the will an energy of nature, ontologically (but not ontically) distinguishable from the nature as well as from the person. Even though we distinguish the energy from the nature and the nature from the persons, we do not attribute any synthetic character to nature itself; we do not divide and we do not fragment the nature into persons and energies: the persons and the energies are neither parts nor components nor passions nor accidents of nature, but the mode of being of nature. The personal expression of each energy recapitulates impartially and wholely the entire nature; it is the existence of nature. The how of the energy of will (or the energy of creativity or of love or whatever other energy) recapitulates the what of the natural energy of will; the possibility of nature to will exists and is expressed only through the otherness of the personal will. Painting, music, sculpture are creative energies of the human nature, but they do not exist except as expressions of personal otherness: as music of Mozart, as painting of Van Gogh, as sculpture of Rodin. Nor is there any other manner of expressing and defining essence or nature outside its active ecstasis in terms of personal otherness. The only way we can name nature is in the personally expressed energy of nature; energy signifies nature: Essence and energy can both receive the same name (λόγος).6

  1. Dion. Areop., On Divine Names, III, P.G. 3, 869C.
  2. Maximus the Confessor, Theological and Polemical Chapters, P.G. 91, 32BC.
  3. Basil the Great, quoted by St. Gregory Palamas, Physical and Theological Chapters, P.G. 150, 1220D.
  4. To want and how to want is not the same; nor is to see and how to see the same. For to want and to see belong to nature, and it is a qualification of all who have the same nature and belong to the same species. But how to want and how to see … are manners by which the reality of wanting or seeing is used; it is a qualification that belongs only to the subject who wants and sees and distinguishes him from others according to the commonly accepted category of difference. Maximus the Confessor, Dialogue with Pyrrhus, P.G. 91, 292D.
  5. The will of all can be demonstrated to be one in reference to nature; but the manner of movement is different. Maximus the Confessor, Theological and Polemical Chapters, P.G. 91, 25A.
  6. Basil the Great, Letters, 189, P.G. 32, 696B; see also St. Maximus: While energy belongs to the one who acts, nature belongs to the one who exists, Theological Chapters, P.G. 91, 200D.

19 Responses to Yannaras on the ordo theologiae

  1. Mark Downham says:

    The whole Eastern Orthodox equation on Essence and Energies set out by Basil of Caesaria or Basil the Great -one of the three Cappadocian Church Fathers – is WRONG:

    St. Basil the Great: “God may be known by His energies, but His essence remains inaccessible to human beings.” There is a distinction between God’s essence and His “uncreated energies”.

    There is a place on earth where all essence and all energies converge and where we are simultaneously united with GOD in HIS essence and HIS energies, called Calvary, because we have died with Christ and risen with Christ through the Work of the Cross and this is Evangelical Truth.

  2. Yes, I draw out just why in my paper on Gregory of Nyssa.

  3. “And this rationalistic conception of essence not only obliges one to an ontic understanding of essence which overlooks the mode of being of the essence, but also leads by logical necessity either to the identification of essence and energy or to the essential separation of nature from the energies.”


  4. Photios Jones says:

    never mind: photius at sbcglobal dot net

  5. Photios Jones says:

    click my name.

  6. aaron says:

    Photios, would you mind e-mailing me. I can’t seem to find a contact on your site.

    Thank you.

  7. Rob Grano says:

    Perry, I’m sure you’ve seen this but I thought I’d put the link here anyways. Any confererence where you’d get to hear Louth, Behr, and Hart would be worth checking out!


  8. AH says:

    c’mon guys…

  9. Andrew says:

    I have an off-topic query for Daniel Jones after reading his fascinating essay on Synergy in Christ in Maximus. Could you please send me an email so I can ask you a couple of questions, Daniel?
    Thanks very much.

  10. Jonathan,

    I took away your comments because of their mocking tone. Your name might have been used, but nobody was insulting or mocking you or your ideas. You, however, are mocking the ordo theologiae, where I and not a few Orthodox theologians would identify as the root paradigm and starting cause of our differences. Furthermore, you make unintelligible all the Orthodox critigues of the ancient heresies (both ancient and modern critigues), including gnosticism. Not only that, you mock our own Bishop of Rome who stated to clarify his Tome that, “…the actions were of one Person all the time…but we perceive from the character of the acts what belongs to either form.” Obviously, for Leo, Persons are the most concrete and real, very empirical and observational. Only in hypostatization is nature have any existence. And only then do we distinguish what is general based on the type of operations that are being done. I’ll take that one statement by St. Leo over any mountains of logic and summas for the existence of God. Right there, in that statement, I have the keys to unlock the mystery of the scriptures.

    Even someone like Dr. Carson, who I thought would never get this stuff, even sees the soundness and just why much of the argument is bound up in the ordo theologiae after he read Farrell’s book on Free Choice, which is why it seems he spent some time mentioning in his analysis. This isn’t some BS that the east is trying to pull on you. The whole basis of whether to be Roman Catholic or Orthodox is couched right here. This is where it is at for us, take it or leave it.


  11. There is a great article by Joost van Rossum entitled, “Deification in Palamas and Aquinas,” which compares the Eastern and Western understanding of theosis; and another article written by Norman Russell called “Theosis and Gregory Palamas: Continuity or Doctrinal Change?,” which addresses the topic of “doctrinal development” in connection with Palamas’ teaching, and which views his terminology as an “anaptyxis” (an unfolding) of what the Sixth Ecumenical Council had already taught about Christ’s two energies. Both articles appeared in “St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly” (Joost van Rossum’s article was in vol. 47, nos. 3-4, 2003; and Norman Russell’s essay appeared in vol. 50, no. 4, 2006) and are well worth reading.

    God bless,

  12. Jonathon:

    I’m afraid that proving Palamism wrong by way of Thomistic critiques begs a ton of questions and makes for some interesting category mistakes.

    But that’s just me.

  13. Hey, it’s your living room. Far be it from me to impose. Only said something because my name came up.

  14. –post removed by Photios

    Come back and comment after you learn not to insult people. Pissing me off on my blog is like pissing off the police when you get pulled over.

  15. What are you talking about Jonathan? I can’t make a hell of any sense of what you say son.

  16. I do sense some anger, but not from Perry or “his apprentice.”

  17. It’s funny that you said that, because when I first read the article, my impression was “Wow! A slow, fat pitch right in the middle of the wheelhouse….” Yannaras carves out knowledge of existence as such from metaphysical knowledge proper. Note “ontic knowledge” is opposed to “mode of existence/being,” which is just the same old prejudice that only essence is knowable by metaphysics. If that prejudice isn’t accepted, however, there’s no question of “bypassing the reality of the person” (which, incidentally, calls into question the very coherence of an “ordo theologiae” concept). Same problem I had with Yannaras’s read on Heidegger BTW (which has finally been released in paperback). He’s all tied up with inauthentic existentialism, i.e., one that denies metaphysical knowledge of existence.

    Sorry. Still not impressed. System’s still broken. You’re just letting your anger, fear, and hatred of the West cloud your mind!

    “But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight with Calvinists. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Perry’s apprentice”

  18. This post seems ready made to rebut Jonathon Prejean’s assertions over on the DD post at Dr. L’s blog.

  19. William B says:

    I just have trouble sometimes distinguishing the order of knowing from the order of being. All discussion about natures & essences presupposes the knowledge and reality of the *person,* who is absolutely unique, cannot be defined but only *indicated* with a name. What if we were to attempt to find out the distinguishing characteristics of humanity-in-general apart from and prior to consideration of specific persons (or their activities, properties, etc.)? It all begins with the activities, properties and intentions OF persons. If

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