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
- Dion. Areop., On Divine Names, III, P.G. 3, 869C.
- Maximus the Confessor, Theological and Polemical Chapters, P.G. 91, 32BC.
- Basil the Great, quoted by St. Gregory Palamas, Physical and Theological Chapters, P.G. 150, 1220D.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.