St Gregory Palamas on Eunomios and more

I am sure that this must have been posted before but as a refresher in the context of recent posts it may be helpful.

In refuting Eunomios, who claimed that the essence of God is revealed by created things, St Basil the Great writes that ‘created things manifest wisdom, art and power but not essence’. Thus the divine energy made manifest by created things is both uncreated and yet not God’s essence; and those who like Barlaam and Akindynos say that there is no difference between the divine essence and the divine energy are clearly Eunomians.

St Gregory Palamas Chapter 83: “Topics of Natural and Theological Science” in The Philokalia Vol 4. A few more quotes from the same source relating the distinction of essence and energies to will:

If the divine essence does not in any respect differ from the divine energy, then the act of generation and of procession will in no respect differ from the act of creating[,]… then neither does it differ from the divine will. Thus the Son who is begotten from the Father’s essence, is according to these people also created from the Father’s will[,]… and if the holy fathers testify that God has many energies – for… He has creative providences and goodnesses – then God also has many essences. This is a view that no member of the Christian race has ever uttered or entertained.


If the energies of God do not in any respect differ from the divine essence, then neither will they differ from one another. Therefore, God’s will is in no way different from His foreknowledge, and consequently either God does not foreknow all things – because He does not will all that occurs – or else He wills evil also, since He foreknows all. This means either that He does not foreknow all things which is the same as saying that He is not God, or that He is not good, which is also the same as saying He is not God. Thus God’s foreknowledge does differ from His will, and so both differ from the divine essence.


If the divine energies do not differ form one another, then God’s creative power is not distinct from His foreknowledge. But in that case, since God began to create at a particular moment, He also began to foreknow at a particular moment. Yet if God did not have foreknowledge of all things before the ages how could He be God? If God’s creative energy does not differ in any respect from divine foreknowledge, then created things are concurrent with God’s foreknowledge. Thus because God unoriginately has foreknowledge and what is foreknown is unoriginately foreknown, it follows that God creates unoriginiately, and therefore that created things will have been created unoriginately. But how shall He be God if His creatures are in no way subsequent to Him? If God’s creative energy in no respect differs from His foreknowledge, then the act of creating is not subject to His will, since His foreknowledge is not so subject. In that case God will create, not by an act of volition, but simply because it is His nature to create. But how will he be God if He creates without volition?

As St Gregory demonstrates, one gets into many difficulties holding absolute divine simplicity without distinguishing between essence and energies, or by trying to force the God of Revelation into pagan theistic models and categories, which I believe are insufficient to deal with the Trinity, the Incarnation and creation beginning by God’s volition at a particular moment from non-existence. It follows, in line with St Gregory, that only with the essence/energy distinction can one hope to be speaking of the Biblical God. Also, although not to be taken too far, we can see from our understanding of created energy that the uncreated divine energies tell against a static God but rather tell of a dynamic God. Of course God transcends human/created experience of dynamism and He is not subject to changing His mind nor to passions. These things in Scripture are not pointing to who God is but to our synergy in salvation. It tells of our freedom of will because God is unchanging in willing all men to be saved but yet few are chosen. Our choices bring different consequences, which can be described in human terms of God relenting or getting angry, but one should not ascribe these to God in a human way of changing His mind or becoming passionate.

36 Responses to St Gregory Palamas on Eunomios and more

  1. Jack,

    I do not see why the divine and human operation cannot be co-numerated, especially when Jesus says, “not my will.” That seems like sufficient proof of two wills, willing distinctly human things simultaneously. If that isn’t sufficient for co-numeration, what would be?

    Even on Platonic grounds per the Cratylus, word spoken is not what the act of speaking sounds like, even though they are analogically related through the concept of power. The sound is simply the same power though causally diminished in potency, since animals can make the same sounds but they do not speak words. Consequently, Platonism is not the philosophy of separate substances but of Parmendian Monism. So it is very hard for me to see what you are offering as in any way Christian, but just another brand of Monism. I can get what you have by just reading Spinoza and I don’t need Jesus at all if what you say is correct.

    And I disagree regarding Platonism. Platonism is quite plastic and it does offer a theology, it is just not theology as those of a Christianized age are accustomed to. In no way to I wish to imply that Christianity is merely rational, but barring Apollinarianism it is certainly not less than rational. What I am wondering is what is the fundamental difference between your view and Gnosticism because I can’t see it. I don’t mean to be polemical but I think this is a problem for your view. On it, there is no permanence or genuine distinction in the world. All is one and never many.

    So I do not think that freedom and personhood are ephemeral or amount to whim. You might find helpful to read some contemporary accounts of libertarianism, specifically of the Kane variety. Just because a choice isn’t determinable by natural causes doesn’t make it arbitrary or beyond the realm of explanation. It only implies that it cannot be accounted for by means of the explanation of essences which is just to say that persons aren’t essences, but we knew that already. Your view keeps subsuming person to essence and hence in your view of things there is no place for personhood. This is why your view seems to imply either Nestorianism or Eutychianism, persons are natures on either of those views.

    To make the Orthodox distinction between essence and energy, one does have to appeal to Christ, for as Daniel pointed out already, only in Christology is it possible to distinguish without opposition, which strikes me as fundamentally unplatonic. This is why while some of the matter and vocabulary of the e/e distinction occurs long before Christianity, the Christian version of it is distinctly Christian and owes fundamentally nothing to Platonism.

  2. […] which is why I didn’t try to put it in my own words. Thankfully I got some help at Energetic Procession in how to view this passage in light of the Saint’s activity or passivity in the eschaton. […]

  3. Jack,

    Pagans did not come up with the same essence-energy doctrine that the Orthodox do. Eunomius taught an Essence-Energy distinction too, and his was nothing like Gregory of Nyssa’s.


  4. Photios,

    I guess (notice the uncertainty) he is describing the process of becoming uncreated – I think you used that word a while back in regards to deification. The worthy Saints (shouldn’t have used 2nd person earlier, my bad) transcend their natural faculties and become supernatural.


    I really like ‘active reception’. Thanks.


    Thanks for doing the homework and providing the specifics! For some reason I feel so enlightened with each Ambigua or Q&R with Thallassium while I’m reading them, but when I try to recall what I read before I sort of draw a blank and so I didn’t remember the seemingly contradistinctive points, much less the passages that you so fittingly provided and felt I’d have to reread the previous 119 pages to find the specifics. I’m hoping that this fog is due to the concepts being new to me and that it is hard to overcome old habits of thought – like God’s presence enduces a perpetual though enraptured stupor – and not due to dilapidating mental faculties. This blog’s emphasis on being freely active in the eschaton, plus the impressive mental capacities of you contributors, motivates me to try to get my brain in gear, and that active participation in the mind of Christ is what God desires for us.

  5. […] brought to my attention through on a blog over at “Energetic Procession” in a post entitled: “St Gregory Palamas on Eunomios and more” the post ending something along these lines: “These things in Scripture are not pointing to […]

  6. JKC says:


    I think the quote you gave can be understood by other writing found in On the Cosmic Mystery Of Jesus Christ. I don’t have enough time to quote much of anything, but I will give you some pages for what I believe he is not saying in that quote.

    Actions proper to our nature are not taken away

    Page 91 Deification is not a change in nature, but an innovation which changes the mode and domain of action proper to the nature.

    We don’t lose the power of self-determination

    Page 92-93 (Ambiguum 42) Basically the power of self-movement and self-determination are inherent in human nature.

    We don’t lose the ability to exercise free will

    Page 52 (Ambiguum 7) That which is in our power, our free will, will freely surrender to God and in doing so we will have mastery over wills. We freely displace, or we voluntarily, through self determination, hand over our self determination

    On page 52 there is another quote of Maximus in note 19: “I do not do away with the natural activity of those who undergo this experience, as though it’s natural activity had ceased…”

    We are not inactive

    Page 126 (Ad, Thalassium 60) There is authentic knowledge gained by active engagement through experiential perception.

    What I do think he is basically saying is that we will be just like Christ when he said not my will, but your will (P. 52) I think it gets difficult to visualize the concepts that Maximus explains, but I believe we can look to Jesus’ actions and see what Maximus is saying in concrete form. Jesus was not standing in a field somewhere unable to move because he was unable to take his eyes off some great big ball of light. That’s the mental picture I get of the eschaton when I read Maximus. 🙂

  7. Jack says:

    To get back to the subject of the post, the real distinction between an essence and its activity, divine or otherwise, which does not thereby create a “two” nor “another God” as Palamas was charged with doing, is not peculiarly Orthodox, although it is wholly necessary to adequately articulate the facts that scripture present to us. It is not necessary to appeal to the orthodox economy of Christ in order to realize the absolute necessity of this distinction. A pagan philosopher could do so, and, arguably, did.

    This distintion also has nothing to do with the alleged absolute simplicity of God’s divine essence, a doctrine that I do not maintain, because it is explicitly a doctrine about God’s energy and NOT about his essence. (Because the essence is beyond predication, it is beyond the predication of the property of “simplicity.”) As others have more clearly indicated, the problem with some doctrines of God, namely “western Christian” ones ithat deny the distinction, is that, unknowingly, they thereby render God sterile, without divine activities, including but not at all limited to the activity of deification (“Being, Life, Wisdom, AND Deification”), which ultimately denies the existence of creation (“Being”) itself. As Palamas said, to deny the distinction would force to find “another [non-sterile dynamic] God” who has activities.

  8. Jack says:

    “One can only say Christ is God [and truly and wholly mean it with one’s entire being] by the power of the Spirit” not by the power of philosophy. Platonism, which, rightly understood, is philosophy, does not triumph over death, Jesus does.

  9. Jack says:


    As a start, I might suggest that passivity and activity need not be in fundamental opposition to one another. To actively receive something does not have to connote passivity. Men do not determine the Good, they are determined by it, but that does not make our existence passive in the conventional meaning of that word. We must still actively accept our determinations. Receiving the liturgy is a very active process, as any Orthodox will tell you. But, the liturgy is still God’s act which he allows us to participate in. To be passive to it means to not resist it, it does not mean to not do anything.

    Briefly glancing at Maximus’s statement, according to the translation he seems to be saying that in the eschaton we will no longer be able to refuse to recieve the deifiying energies of God. But, to be unable to refuse the Good does not necessarily entail that we are not still active, in the conventional sense of the word, but rather that we will no longer have ascetic struggles (known by the ancients as “the active life”) or disordered resistances and the like.


    My sincere apologies, but I do not understand much of your post. You are using terms that I do not have the ability to adequately grasp. That does not mean that you don’t score points against me. You may well have. I simply do not know. However, some of your criticisms seem to stem from misunderstandings, which, to the extent that I have cause them, again, my apologies.

    For instance, when I insist that there are not “two” operations in Christ, all that I am saying is that a divine operation and a human operation cannot be co-numerated, nor can divine and human nature, etc. That is all I am saying. What cannot be co-numerated is not comparable, not even analogically so. As an example, surely with its limitations, act of speaking and word spoken are ontologically distinct, but they are not thereby two anaologically similar things. Word spoken is what act of speaking sounds like. Similarly, essence and energy are not two even though they are ontologically distinct. Nor are cause and effect, image and archetype, etc. Any human activity that is truly good is rooted, and the expression of, divine activity. Not two. If it is not, then it is not truly good.

    I hope the above example also clarifies the misunderstandings evidenced by your comments about “pantheism” and “atheism,” common misreads of Platonism (see, e.g., peculiarly modern criticisms of Dionysius). Created nature and divine nature are ontologically distinct, but they are not thereby two, not even analogically so. Similiar to the fact that Christ has two natures which are not literally two, the Trinity is also not three, Each hypostasis is hypostatically unique. One singularity plus another singularity do not equal two singularities. To be singular means to be non co-numerable. Analogical predication does not work here. Begotten is not like Processed nor is it like Unbegotten. Wholly One, wholly Three, but beyond one and three.

    One thing I do want to be wholly clear about, and that is that Platonism is not a sufficient answer to the human problem, which is why we see that it’s mature conclusions tend to lead its practitioners into revealed religions like Intellectual paganism, Christianity, the Chaldean Oracles, Hermiticism, etc. As I said above, Platonism cannot and does not offer us a theology, properly speaking. As Maximus observ”es, our human nature has no faculty for grasping what is beyond nature,” reason cannot tell us anything about that which is the source of reason. As Plotinus reminds us, reason can’t even say “it” or “is” about “the source.” It can’t locate the perfect economy using only its own resources, which is part of the reason why some Platonists when into Chaldean theurgy and some into Christian liturgy.

    The first virtue of Christianity is faith, not the necessities of reason. Reason may point us home, but it does not get us there. But, if Christianity was merely irrational, as some of your comments tend to imply, then it is not worthy of our credence. It is merely a joke by a whimsical God intent on frustrating–rather than restoring, completing, and transcending–the unnatural powers that he arbitrarily gave us. That is actual gnosticism, which, as you can clearly see, is not what I am up to. Christ is the God of nature.

  10. Andrea,

    Thank you, I found the quote. That is a very problematic text. It seems to suggest that in one are that when we rest in God, we will purge all our natural faculties, but then in the same quote He says that motion, free choice or rational faculty, and activity are proper to our nature. In another part of the quote he seems to equate passivity with the type of psychological movement that is not restrictive of the divine movement. No more is understanding, judgement, inquiry, hestitancy, and uncertainty necessary in the psychological process. In other words, man’s choices are now conditioned by a new set of objects of will that changes his psychological make-up.

    To give a synthesis here I do not believe Maximus is entirely consistent and/or clear on the question until he writes the First Opuscula where the question of the free choice of the Saints in the Eschaton is addressed more directly in conjunction with the question of Monotheletism all within the same context of Christology.


  11. Sure, ironically I just posted this yesterday on my blog from The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ before I read Perry’s meaty comment (6 times so far). There’s more context here

    “…there is one principle of activity and another of passivity…in the past and future “ages”. Accordingly the ages of the flesh, in which we now live (for Scripture also knows the ages of time, as when it says that man toiled in this age and shall live until its end [Ps. 48:10]) are characterized by activity, while the future ages of the Spirit, which are to follow the present life, are characterized by the transformation of humanity in passivity. Existing her and now, we arrive at the end of the ages as active agents and reach the end of the exertion of our power and activity. But in the ages to come we shall undergo by grace the transformation unto deification and no longer be active but passive; and for this reason we shall not cease from being deified. At that point our passion will be supernatural, and there will be no principle restrictive of the divine activity in infinitely defying those who are passive to it. For we are active agents insofar as we have operative, by nature, a rational faculty for performing the virtues, and also a spiritual faculty, unlimited in its potential, capable of receiving all knowledge, capable of transcending the nature of all created beings and known things and even of leaving the “ages” of time behind it. But when in the future we are rendered passive (in deification), and have fully transcended the principles of beings created out of nothing, we will unwittingly enter into the true Cause of existent beings and terminate our proper faculties along with everything in our nature that has reached completion. We shall become that which in no way results from our natural ability, since our human nature has no faculty for grasping what transcends nature. For nothing created is by its nature capable of inducing deification, since it is incapable of comprehending God. Intrinsically it is only by the grace of God that deification is bestowed proportionately on created beings. Grace alone illuminates human nature with supernatural light, and, by the superiority of its glory, elevates our nature above its proper limits in excess of glory.” (There’s more context here

    Sometimes I get the impression from St. Maximus’ words that we will be swallowed up in a singularity, but there are other things that sound like we wont. I’m waiting till I read more to get a better idea.

  12. Andrea,

    Could please provide the full context of the quote? Thank you.


  13. If human activity isn’t subordinatd in passivity to the divine, and we have the same activities as God in a graced, energized humanity, then perhaps in the eschaton our rest isn’t exactly passive in the sense of being taken over by a totalitarian power. When in Ad Thallasium 22 St. Maximus says “passive”, perhaps he means without dialectical resistance.

  14. Jack,
    I am not sure why you would think that personal actions equate to acting on a whim as in being arbitrary. The fact that personalistic explanations reach a terminus with no jointly sufficiently antecedent causes only requires us to believe that persons aren’t essences, which being a person myself am quite happy to believe.
    An artist may produce a work by choice, but it doesn’t follow that the activity of the free choice renders the production unrelated to person producing it and this is so because activities are not cut off from their source, even though in the case of God, his activities are not metaphysically deficient in relation to the divine essence (anti-platonism here) which is just to say that the energies are deity, and that energies qua activities aren’t the essence even though they are manifestations of the power used by persons who subsist in that essence such that the essence is never exhausted by said activities.
    The problem that Augustine faced was with persons who were thinking of persons as natures such that if God is timeless and creator, then he must be timelessly creating so that the world is eternal. But God is creator by power which he retains even if the Trinity had not created, which is why it is true to say that there is a genuine potency in God in terms of actual but as yet unactualized power (2nd potentiality) as opposed to first potentiality, an absolute lack rendering a completely passive state, which I take all Christians reject. This is what I think your view can’t account for, a personal activation that has a beginning but isn’t a temporally circumscribed activity. It isn’t that God’s activity in creating implies a passivity logically prior in God, in terms of God being a recipient from other source of a causal act. This only follows if person and essence are identical, but they aren’t.
    Another problem is that you seem to be assuming that reasons are causes such that if God has a reason to create and eternally so then this must be an execution of a reason. But this is clearly not so. Reasons cause nothing since they are not activities and the same goes for desires. Decisions as the execution of an intention which may incorporate reasons and/or desires are actions. Possession of a reason doesn’t imply action on my part or God’s.
    Creation ex nihilo proposes the same problems for you as it did for the Platonists and other pagans. Even on philosophical grounds, we can begin by asking do you take non-being to be the contrary or contradictory of being? Is non-being nothing absolutely considered or only in relation to causal productivity? In other words, what is matter?
    Concerning the issue of God being “static” on other conceptions I don’t think positing God as esse or pure activity will help. Even glossing God’s activity in terms of antecedent and consequent conditions, this is a distinction ex hypothesi in us and not God. Second, it is difficult to see how God can be not only responsive, but how God could do otherwise if the modality of the divine essence is identical with the modality the activity. Different things cannot be absolutely identical and this seems to be to be a legitimate problem from which analogical predication and other proposals will not help for on this view, God is being and the law of contradiction, analogy or not will still hold since the latter only governs the use of terms while not making any metaphysical impossibility possible.

    Being moved of itself is true of not only non-voluntary but also non-free agents. Compulsives and addicts are moved of themselves and natural forces per secondary causes at the least have an intrinsic motion. Elevating that motion to a supreme level doesn’t of itself render it free. And this is why you ask if knowledge of self motion will yield the result that God is a Trinity. The answer is fairly clearly no, which indicates either that there is knowledge of God that is not Trinitarian, and hence God isn’t Trinitarian, or that it isn’t knowledge at all. And the reason for this is that the Platonism you are working with at best will get you three substances as with Plotinus, but not three persons and certainly not three free persons.
    For Plotinus there is no absolute division or separation between the One and Nous, but this isn’t going to help you much I should think for the reason that for Plotinus there are no separate substances of any kind and this is because in order to be, a thing has to be at least one thing so that the One is present at every level of being. So, everything is just a manifestation, an image of the One so that there aren’t separate substances at all. Substantial being is quite ephemeral for Plotinus as a consequence since everything is a simple manifestation of the One’s causal power and here we aren’t far at all from Parmenides’s Monism or what amounts to the same thing, Spinoza’s monism just in Yiddish.
    Plotinus’ One is and is not beyond simplicity. It is in so far as it is beyond the simplicity of caused being and this is because the One is all cause and in no way and effect. But in so far as the One is completely causal, it is being to the highest degree qua its internal activity. For it would not be being in any sense for Plotinus if it lacked activity or being. Consequently the One is self diffusive and its inner activity, that which characterizes it is a lack of a particular form that produces all manner of different things and this is why Plotinus thinks that the world has every kind of object to the uttermost degree of specification. The One’s form is its activity of production without limit since form is a limiting concept in Platonism.
    Palamas by contrast does not teach emanationism nor a platonic monism. The divine power is one because there is only one God, but the activities are many and both are non-dialectically related so that the energies are not metaphysically deficient.
    If we are dealing with bad philosophy as you suggest, I have to wonder, what makes philosophy Christian? Why claim to have by revelation what you could have gotten just as well with reason? Why do you think that we couldn’t have had a teaching of an incarnation and a Triad without revelation if as you seem to suggest that the pagans could have had and did have a Triad in the teaching of Plotinus’ three initial hypostases?
    I agree that a specific distinction between essence and energy is made by pagans and it has a long history, far older than Barnes and Bradshaw suggest. That said, it is unique in that Christians have reshaped it in a non-dialectical way. Let me be clear here. Plato very clearly thinks that effects have to be metaphysically deficient and causally weaker than the cause, for if they were not, it would be impossible to distinguish cause from effect. Cause and effect are dyadically related then through the concept of causal power-causes have more of it and effects less of it. Cause and effect are therefore distinguished in Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus by an opposition.
    In contradistinction, the energies in the Cappadocians, Maximus, Palamas, et al, are not less deity than the essence, though they are genuinely distinct. Consequently they are not dialectically related. This is why you can have them epirichoretically related without metaphysical identity or one becoming the other.
    Plenty of thoughtful Christians have disagreed with the claim that the cosmos has a beginning, and that not a mere temporal one but a logical one as well. Consequently Christians of all traditions practically have affirmed that God was free to not create. And your example of love is a mistake for not all energies are without beginning and Palamas is quite clear. While all of the energies are activities of the divine Trinity, it doesn’t follow that they are all identical nor that they all lack a beginning. God may be unable to fail to love, but he is certainly able not to create while always retaining that power. And that is not anything like a Nominalist or Voluntarist take since they will deny a divine essence along with the notion of natural or essential power.
    To curse a bit, the distinction you draw between philosophy and theology seems like Thomism. There is some knowledge of God that is non-Trinitarian, some generic deity. This I reject. Your idea is that reason gets us so far and then theology takes over. My idea is that reasons doesn’t get us far at all in terms of theology but that like divinity, theology takes hold of philosophy and sits in the drivers seat while philosophy gets a smacking in the back seat.
    If God lacks libertarian freedom and humans as you affirm have it, then is libertarian freedom per se an imperfection? If so, why would God qua human essence give us something evil? It is but a hop and a jump to the gnostic thesis that the God of this world is evil, not to mention implications legitimizing totalitarianism. Moreover, if libertarian freedom per se implies the ability to nullify oneself, then you have clearly chosen a view that defines free will as a choice between objects of moral value. In which case, one has to wonder if you believe in the moral impeccability of the saints or Christ’s humanity. And I have to further wonder, if you do believe the former, why isn’t it the case that God created us that way from the get go? Why evil?
    And I agree that a necessary creation doesn’t render creation independent, but it does seem to do other nasty things, like render God useless or imply pantheism. Which is why pantheism and atheism usually go hand in hand. Saying God is everything is the same as saying God is nothing.
    Moreover, if there is no crossover, one wonders why one needs the doctrine of the energies at all. And why one would think that religious language was meaningful in the slightest and not as the Logical Positivists of the last generation thought as simply gibberish. And this is the result of Eunomianism.
    The idea that the divided perfections of creatures are summed up in God requires us to think of God as simple and as being, energia. I deny that this is so. I deny that it is so because it turns on a causal theory that will imply a denial of Christian theology. Moreover, to affirm two natural energies in Christ is not nestorian. A comparison doesn’t imply a conflation nor a contiguity since creation is not genuinely related to God in those ways. If we take your notion of a theandric operation, one has to wonder, where do “I” come in at all? If my love is simply Christ’s love, why do I receive any reward, let alone why can it legitimated be said to be mine if my very identity seems eclipsed? The two can be compared because creatures are made after the eternal logoi and not being creaturely existence is another mode of divine being.
    This is why in your most recent post you speak of “allowing” God to move us, showing that implicitly that the human activity is subordinated in passivity to the divine, which isn’t Maximus’ teaching. Rather our activities and God’s can be the same without any passivity, which is just to say that Christ’s activities are thandric and that grace crowns our merits.

  15. Jack says:


    I just wrote a long response that was lost. Sorry. Let me respond to your proposal of an analogy of operation with an aphorism, “the divine activity of Being of the divinity who is essentially beyond Being is my being.”

    When God suffers in the flesh, there are not two sufferings. God’s operations are the ground of our operations. The distinction is real but nonetheless not a distinction between two comparable activites. We are moved movers. The operation “to move” is not analogical to the operation “to be moved,” unless we mean by that an analogy is one of participation or manifestation. This does not negate the truth of synergism in that we can either accept or refuse to be rightly moved. As Maximus observes, our final freedom comes when we are wholly and willingly moved only by the Good. We move ourselves by allowing ourselves to be moved by God. “Without you I can do nothing.”

    I don’t disentagle distinction and contradiction, but you and I do not agree on what they mean, ergo we are not in “dialectical opposition.” Contradiction does not mean opposition within Platonic onotology. That I am “not you” (contradiction) only means that I am distinguishable from you. However, I am also wholly identical to you in essence and thus we cannot be in ontological opposition. We are indivisibly divided. Similarly, heat is not oppposed to cold; without cold, heat is not hot. Hot and cold are both wholly identical and wholly distinct. Opposition is only relative. Platonic ontology is fundamentally paradoxical. Platonism is not opposed to Christianity, although it is distinction from it. Whatever is good and true is Orthodox, regardless of whether it’s source is Plato or Moses.

    Lastly, and this is not directed specifically to you, I can’t spend the time attempting to argue through “spoof-texts” of scripture, Fathers, or philosophers. To understand any part, i.e., statement, one must first try to see the whole, otherwise the part will be literalistically distorted. It works the same with creedal statements. Literalistically speaking, the Son does not “come down from heaven” because he never left. Likewise, the Son does not have “two natures” because the term nature or essence cannot cross the ontological distinction between divine and human. It is a distinction between that which can be named and that which is beyond name. Contingent and non-contingent are not two and thus not analogical. An archetype and an image are not two. If we read orthodox councils literalistically, as appears to have been done by some uber-supporters of Pope Leo, then we worship a Nestorian-istic unicorn.

    To others,

    If you are interested in the work of Dr. Perl, a Greek Orthodox philosopher, I recommend these essays in the following order:

    “That man might become God” from the book “Heaven on Earth.”
    His doctoral dissertation on Maximus, or his essay comparing Maximus and Eriugena.
    After that, read through his work on Plato and Plotinus, especially the essay on “The One.”
    Then check out his various essays on Dionysius.
    Lastly, read his book “Theophany.”
    Don’t read his book on Dionysius first or you will be in water way over your head. It is a rich and complex work.

  16. Rob,

    Ah, thanks for the clarification.

    The confusion that underlies Father and Creator is what underlies ‘Augustinism’ and that’s that certain definition of divine simplicity. It goes undetected and unchallenged because of the ingrained mind-set and at that point just seems “natural.”


  17. Rob G. says:

    I’ve always found it difficult to understand why those who wanted to equate ‘Father’ with ‘Creator’ do not get this seemingly elementary point once it’s explained to them. I could see this long before I became Orthodox, so it isn’t that. Any thoughts?

  18. Rob G. says:

    Agreed, Photios. That’s why I put “by nature” in quotes. I meant it only in a loose sense, not in a strictly philosophical/theological one.

  19. Rob,

    Excellent points. But one small quibble. God the Father is ‘Father’ by Hypostasis not by nature. Fatherhood is a unique property of a specific person, not of the nature. If it were a property of the nature, every Hypostasis of the Trinity would have the property of Fatherhood, which is an interesting reductio that St. Photios made of filioquism.

    God is Creator by nature in some sense that is true, because the term ‘Creator’ can be said about each of the Hypostases. One must then disentagle the natural faculty of will from the object of the will though. Or to use more western terms: an active potency vis-a-vis an actual personal employment of that power. The distinctions of Persons, Operations, and Essence is so crucial to a correct understanding.

    Rest of your observations are right on.


  20. Rob G. says:

    As Fr. Reardon and others have argued, it is improper and theologically inaccurate to call God “Creator” in the same way one calls him “Father,” or in the same way one says “God is love.” I first heard this subject come up some years ago when liberals in certain denominations were seeking to replace the Trinitarian name of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” with “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.”

    We can say that God is Father ‘by nature’ because the Son is eternally begotten; there was no time when the Son was not. We can say that God is love ‘by nature’ because of the eternal love between the members of the Trinity. But to say that God is creator ‘by nature’ would necessitate either an eternal creation or a created Son, because in this scenario creation wouldn’t be ontologically any different from His begetting of the Son. One would have to say either that the Son was created or the creation was begotten or “emanated.” Both are heretical.

  21. Creation is an altruistic choice of God to allow others to participate in His life.

    Monk Patrick,

    This characterization is making me pause on two counts. I’m having difficulty distinguishing want from need in my own mind as regards God’s choice to create. Secondly altruism implies to me almost a Calvinistic view of creation as totally depraved and worthless where He has to detatchedly condescend to us “others”. As if we were opposites in every way and He, like a rich benefactor, dolls out charity for our sustenance. Istm that “God becoming man so that man can become god” isn’t a continual condescension, but a more passionate desire to raise us up to His level. He also desires that we love Him back. I’m sure the difficulty is mine instead of yours.

    Father Hopko mentioned this poem by St. John of the Cross in one of his lectures where divine motives are poetically rendered. The main disagreement I have with it is that I sense the filioque in spades, but I think it protrays the Incarnation pretty well.

    Btw, I’ve ordered the book Perry highlighted a few threads back about God’s impassibility and look forward to understanding better how Christ’s Passion fits into that.

  22. Jack,

    Your definition of “arbtrarian choice” is pretty much identical with Maximus’ concept of gnomie: that there is real or potential sin due to the presence of hesitancy, uncertainty, and opposition. You state this when you say that your mother by an arbitrarian choice is to either to do God’s will, love you rightly or to love you independently from God. Implication: One will acting in either case, not a synergy of natural operations. This is Monotheletism, and monophysitism or nestorianism depending on where you cash out the nature of the union: at the level of the natural faculty or in the object of the will.

    Your attribution of an arbitrarily choosing God, to us, is evidence that you are framing these questions dialectically.

    I will restate this again, which you have not addressed whatsoever with a counter-argument or statement, you cannot disentangle the PRINCIPLE OF DISTINCTION from the PRINCIPLE OF NON-CONTRADICTION. I hope to see this remedied or addressed before you hit the submit button.


  23. Jack,

    Shall I quote the Disputation with Pyrrhus to state that the Operations of Man and Operations of God are two distinct things? Or is that not an authority for you?

    We understand the type of operations of a subject to then understand the kind of nature the subject has: Creating, rasing from the dead, forgiving sins are operations of God, which designate that the subject has a divine nature. Eating, sleeping, walking, are operations of man which designate a human nature.

    Love like will is a property of the nature. The divine properties are communicated to us by dent of the Incaranate Word. The Saints love is synergized with Christ’s love by dent of his own hypostasis through his habitual employment of such operations. Since his human nature is consubstantial with Christ’s human nature, such a synergy is possible. The Saint by such union with Christ, has two sets of properties that are realized through natural movement. This is no surprise since it looks almost identical to the Hypostatic model of Christ. The only difference, is that I cannot synergize with certain divine energies (simplicity, incomposite, Creator, etc.) due to my limitations of being a created hypostasis subject to movement, temporal succession, and becoming.

    You need to start solving these problems using the ordo theologiae of persons — operations — essence and christological paradigm that made such possible: Chalcedonian Christology, and not Perl and NeoPlatonism.

    You also need to get it out of your mind that Dionysius has anything to do with Proclus and Plotinus. One either reads him as a NeoPlatonist or as a Christian. If one reads him as a Christian, then perhaps it is Neoplatonism that is deconstructing St. Dionysios and not a 5th century author synthesizing Neoplatonism and Christianity. I’m not sold on the west’s reinterpretation and situating the time frame of those works–which all assume a gnostic and eunomian view of language: i.e. that exact phrases and words designate the essence of things of a singular author or source (i.e. in this case the west’s assumption that Proclus influenced a 5th century author “Dionysios” and perhaps not the other way around or even indpendently from one another). This is the same thing that is done with the documentary hypothesis in deconstructing the bible: the Mosaic texts are not of a singular author because different divine names are indicative of separate sources. That is the “essence” of Eunomianism.


  24. Mark Krause says:

    Dude, the essence energy distinction and synergism are all over scripture if you know where and how to look. It helps to know Greek of course. Look for variations of the word energia or energein. They’re all over the place, particularly in the writings of St. Paul, particularly Phillippians and Colossians. Go to David Bradshaw’s site and read his paper “The Divine Glory and the Divine Energies.” It’s a fairly easy read and it’ll provide some of the Biblical support you’re looking for.

  25. Jack says:

    Monk Patrick,

    I am not aware that I am refuting any orthodox creedal statment. What I am claiming is that the energies are not necessary to explain divine hypostatic differentiation, something which seemed to me to be implied above. They are rationally necessary to explain your existence and mine. As Palamas says, the names of the divine energies are “Being, Life, Wisdom, Deification.” This is not a matter of scripture vs. nature, or even Orthodox vs. Catholic. They are rationally necessary, not merely biblically or polemically so. (As an aside, when Platonists use the term nature, as in human nature, they are referring to an eternal formal activity, not created effects. This “nature” is the eternal platonic “cosmos.” Thus, when they say that nature is eternal, they are not saying that created effects are.)

    Creation ex nihilo means that the One creates from himself and not from anything else. The logoi are the Logos. God creates you out of his wisdom and love, not out of his nihilo. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) In all seriousness, our God is not an altruist. He is a jealous God. Nature is rooted in God, it is a natural, not a whimsical, activity.


    In Christ, whose Body we are, there is only one Person, not two. You and I are being incorporated into the one and only deified Body of that one divine Person. We are all called to to be impersonations of the One and only Son by receiving the divine and deifying energies. WWJD indeed!

    There can be no analogy of operation, at least as I am using that term. Such an analogy would destroy Christology. The operation of God and the operation of man are not two distinct yet similar things that can be compared to one another. That is, ultimately, Nestorian (of which I am not accusing you). All goodness comes down from the Father of lights. When we receive real pure love from each other, we are not receiving something other than God’s love for us. The love of a saint is Christ’s love, not like Christ’s love: The-andric. We know the fishyness of God by knowing fish, which true knowing requires our purification and illumination because we are sinners, but in knowing fish we do not know the unknowable essence of God.

    One way that God loves me is through my mom. He is a goog God. He graciously allows my Mom to participate in, or rather manifest, his love for me. Her arbitrarian choice is to either do God’s will, love me rightly, or to corrupt God’s will and attempt to love me from her own independent, and thus metaphysically non-existent, resources. Rightly-ordered human love is rooted in the divine. He is “the cause” not “a cause.” This is where the concept of “nihilo” has real purchase. Independent of our cause, we are uncaused nihilo.

    With love, my fellow orthodox brothers. The mistakes are entirely mine and not Dr. Perl’s. God be with ye.

  26. nathanwells says:

    “It follows, in line with St Gregory, that only with the essence/energy distinction can one hope to be speaking of the Biblical God.”

    It is interesting – are these terms ever used in the Bible? How can you say we must use them to be Biblical, if they are never used in the Bible?
    You might say we use the word “Trinity” and it is never in the Bible – but really it is only a word that means “three are one” which is something seen in Scripture (Matthew 28:19; John 10:30; 1 Corinthians 2:10; Hebrews 9:14).

    Where are these ideas from St. Gregory coming from? Why are those words (essence/energy) the ones he chose?

    “but yet few are chosen”

    Who chose? I don’t understand your reasoning – though I would like to. I don’t understand how “These things in Scripture are not pointing to who God is but to our synergy in salvation.”

    What things in Scripture? How exactly do they point our own “synergy” in salvation? Does “synergy” mean “work” to you? Or something else?

    I am more on the evangelical side – so that is why I don’t understand, but I am interested in trying to understand more where you are coming from.


  27. monkpatrick says:


    Regarding the Begetting of the Son, the Creed confesses true God of true God, Light of Light, of one essence with the Father, which tells us that the Son is begotten of the Father’s essence and not of something else or created ex nihilo. He is begotten by the Father not by the essence, i.e. the cause is the Father not the essence.

    I understand that before the beginning, as far as this can have any meaning, God was “doing” as He is now and will also “do” forever. God was not changed by the creation, which only affects creation. It adds nothing to God neither has Him do something else; this does not mean that creation is eternal but rather a “subset in time” of what He “does” eternally. Creation is the the participation in the life of God of something that “was not”. This life is complete in the Trinity. All of this life is eternally present in the relationship of the Father with the Son in the Spirit. The Father does not create outside the Son, thus creating new relationships but creates in the Son, who with the Spirit also creates. Creation is in the Son, logoi of the Logos. Creation participates through the Son in the Spirit in relation to the Father. It is the Son who Incarnates to bring creation in Himself to the Father, as it was always intended to be, because creation can only know God in the Son. God does not relate to creation apart from the Son. His relationship to the Son is manifest in creation in its various elements/logoi which are complete and undivided in the Son.

    Personally, I tend to think that the problems of creation regarding necessity and love come if one does not accept the Trinity. Only the Trinity is capable of creation ex nihilo because only in the Trinity is life complete in love without the need of creation for God to be active in love, thus also reinforcing the distinction of essence and energies, and that the energies are uncreated. Creation adds nothing to the life of God nor does it extend or increase His love. This is complete without creation. Creation is an altruistic choice of God to allow others to participate in His life.

    God didn’t suddenly make up His mind to create nor change His mind on some whim. There is no time before creation; time starts with creation; it is meaningless to talk of creating earlier or later or suddenly e.g. ‘He hasn’t yet decided to create but He may do so in the future’; or ‘Why did he suddenly choose to create?’. This is placing God within human limits of time (cf Photios’s comment). He choose to create without necessity that, I believe, is as far as we can comprehend the matter.

    The divine energy is indivisibly divided. Thus we may speak of the divine energy, showing the indivisibility, or divine energies, showing the divisions, without contradiction.

  28. Jack,

    Are there two different things in Christ? How about two different kinds of operations? Once again, you cannot distentangle the principle of distinction from the principle of non-contradiction.

    No analogy of being? True. No analogy of person? I find that problematic on christological grounds, that we can’t talk about subjects and what they are doing. And there is certainly an analogy of operation or energy as St. Gregory of Nyssa says so aptly while at the same time denying an analogy of being:

    “the Divine nature, whatever It may be in Itself, surpasses every mental concept. For it is altogether inacessible to reasoning and conjecture, nor has there been found any human faculty capable of perceiving the incomprehensible; for we cannot devise a means of understanding inconceivable things. Therefore the great Apostle calls His ways unsearchable, meaning by this that the way that leads to the knowledge of the Divine Essence is inaccessible to thought. That is to say, none of those who hasve passed through life before us has made known to the intelligence so much as a trace by which might be known what is above knowledge…. the invisible and Incomprehensible is seen and apprehended in another manner. Many are the modes of such perception. For it is possible to see Him Who has made all things in wisdom by way of inference through the wisdom that appears in the universe. It is the same as with human works of art…. THus also 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…. We say that we have contemplated God by this way, that we have apprehended His goodness—though again not His Essence but His Goodness…. He Who operates can be known by analogy through His operations.” (Sermon on the Beatitudes)

    Nobody here advocates an arbitrarily willing God. Nor does our view imply this. So you need to do away with that strawman. Your view is just a restatement of the Origenist Problematic: the divine property of Creator is indinstinguishable from God’s Essence.


  29. Jack says:


    You are right, my brother; that is what I am doing.


    Some Christians believe that the claim that God could not have not created would render God subject to a necessity, which, as I suggested above, it does not. He is the One. God does not have arbitrarian freedom, only humans have the ability to nullify themselves.

    The claim that “God is the only necessary being” is problematic on many grounds (sounds very Thomistic). The primarily problem with that statement is that God is not a being, rather he the source of being in which beings participate in. As the divine Dionysius says, with ontological precision, “the being of beings is the divinity beyond being.” That God creates because of what he is does not render creation in any way non-contingent or independent.

    God is not “personal” in any created sense, nor does to be a person require arbitrarian freedom. As there is absolutely no analogy of being between God and man because God is beyond being, there is also no analogy of person. No term crosses that distinction, not “is”, as Palamas observes, nor hypostatic. God and Photius are not two things. We are only hypostatic to the extent that we participate in the hypostasis of the Son.

  30. Mark,

    Jack’s reading David Perl, who does exactly what Dr. Farrell says not to do: He makes philosophy the handmaiden of theology. What is presented was NOT Orthodox theology, but, rather repackaged NeoPlatonism to be sold as Christian doctrine (rigghhhtt).

    Just because God has a choice to choose to create or not to create, doesn’t mean that God’s choice is arbitrary or on a “whim.” We cannot possibly understand the wisdom here in God’s choice. So, we shouldn’t be burdened by giving silly answers to bad questions about why our view would strike the Neplatonic Hellenist as arbitrary or whimsical.

    Notice the subtle dialectic framed by Jack. If God didn’t create, He somehow isn’t loving, or worse, He is hateful. All construing the objects of the divine will: dialectically. The principle of distinction, in this absurd view, is not disentagled from the principle of non-contradiction. This God MUST create since such an action is entagled with a moral AND metaphysical dialectic. I address the question of God’s love and How God’s “eternal energetic procession,” ironically for this blog’s namesake, fulfills the requirements of God’s love irrespective to a creation at all.

    Jack also screws up Maximus’ view of the energies being eternal and activity: “God never ceases from good things, because He never began them.” This is a clear confusion between two of the three distinctions about the will that Maximus makes: a confusion between the will as the ‘mode of employment’ of the will and the will as the ‘object of the will.’ It is quite easy to see that if the will as the ‘mode of the employment of will,’ which is cleary the use of something by the Person, is confused with the ‘object of the will’ then all objects that have their grounding or root in the divine essence (i.e. the divine energies) will NECESSARILY be manifested. The other distinction is the will as the factuly of will, the natural will. The natural will is directed towards the will as the ‘object of will,’ that being the recapitulated powers of the divine Logos, the divine logoi, that is the divine ideas. The purpose of the natural will is to present objects of will to the Person, who then uses the natural will towards whatever objects of will that are of His delight. This is the mode of employment of will which is personal or hypostatic. The psychological aspect for Christ, the Saints in the Eschaton is quite simple: Concept (the divine logoi), wish, and election or choice. God doesn’t deliberate nor is He uncertain about His concepts (the objects of will) or their outcome. Only when God makes a divine logoi active is it then manifested. Logoi qua logoi, they are active only as an active power. It must also be understand that we can only describe such in temporal terms being time bound createures. God’s choices are not construed in temporal succession, another paradox that we do not understand nor can describe.

    I hope that helps some.


  31. Mark Krause says:

    Why exactly should we say that God had to create? I’ve always been under the impression (as have most Christians I interact with) that necessary creation would be a problem. it would mean that God is not the only necessary being, or that God is not perfect because he is not complete in and of Himself.

    If your compatibilistic view of God’s freedom is right…how is God personal? What is a person? It seems like if all the actions of your God follow directly from His nature, but He has no choice in what his nature is, then He has no choice in his actions. He is a machine with no pilot. I look to personal actions of God and work from there. I know the Blessed Trinity by the personal actions of the three persons, not by concieving of God’s united essence (as if it were something that could be concieved).

  32. Jack says:

    I guess I believe three points to be fundamental:

    (1) The essence-energy activity was made by pagans without reference to scripture and is not peculiar to how God is described in the Bible. See, e.g., Plotinus. Nor does this distinction have anything to do with divine hypostatic differentiation. The essence-energy distinction is necessary to explain creation: namely that, to speak very imprecisely, there is something other than the divine essence.

    (2) Philosophical pagans would not be averse to the conclusion that the One is the sole source of reality (“bringing things out of non-being”) and that created effects are entirely dependent for whatever degree of reality they have on God’s activity. Again, see, e.g., Plotinus. Neither thoughtful Christians nor pagan philosphers would agree with the claim that there was a time when there was nothing. That is a contradition.

    Pagans would disagree, and so should Christians, with the claim God could have not created. Maybe the god of Mohammed or of the nominalists has arbitrarian freedom, but not the God of nature and scripture. To say that God could have not created is akin to saying that God can refuse to love. God is love, he can’t hate, but that does not make him subject to a necessity extrensic to himself. Rather, he is free because he is wholly moved by himself, making him impassible. God did not wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I have a great idea, let’s make something!” God never began his energies because they are eternal activites, even though their effects are temporal.

    (3) Pagan philosophy cannot go beyond the divine essence to the hypostatic differentations made fully manifest by Jesus. Here is where we begin to make the distinction between pagan philosophy and Christian thought. When Christians say that the One God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the pagan ought to acknowledge that he can’t disagree. He can only admit that he can’t know that other than by faith. Nor can pagan philosophy locate the Body of Christ as the fulfillment of the divine incarnation, although it will maintain that divine incarnation is the arche and telos of creation. See, e.g., Iamblichus.

  33. Joseph Patterson says:

    Dr. Bradshaw’s lecture titled “Christianity East and West: Some Philosophical differences” may be of some help to you. The written lecture may be read at


  34. Jack says:

    Unless I missed something, the Son is begotten from the Father, not from the Father’ essence, which is, identically, the essence of the Son and the Spirit. That the essence of the Trinity is essentially creative, and not whimsically so, says absolutely nothing about the generation of the Son or the procession of the Spirit. To confuse the Father with the essence is eunomian.

  35. Levi says:

    Is there anything for a lay person to read that will help him(me) understadn this distinction better, and why it is important?

  36. Jack says:

    Monk Patrick,

    An interesting post that raises many questions:

    Do Orthodox Christians teach that God created merely by whim? Is creation wholly opaque, qua arbitrary and whimsical, revealing to us nothing about the nature of God? Or, rather, is it opaque only qua fallen, failing to be what it is? When I see the Body of Christ, created nature restored, do I see the unseeable God? (I suggest that there is a paradox here, the unrevealable essence is revealed in the effects of its activities while remaining unrevealed, rather than a necessary choice between dialectical opposites.)

    As someone famously asked Augustine, what was God doing before the “particular moment” in which he arbitrarily (?) decided to create? What happened before “the beginning”? Is God’s creative will in time or supra-tenporal? If God’s creative will is eternal, then is God eternally creative rather than arbitrarily so? Is creation made out of God’s whim or his wisdom? If God is eternally creative, then, in a very impercise way, can we not say that creation, so to speak, is both eternal, qua divine activites or causes, and temporal, qua effects? (That effects have a beginning does not mean that their causes do. The temporal conditions of alleged eternal cause would not themselves be temporal.) Could there be such a thing as an “diviine activity” without an effect?

    What is the “nonexistence” out of which God made things? Does creation ex nihilo mean something more than that God is the sole source of being, or does it mean that God creates arbitrarily? Am I made out of divine whim or divine love?

    Is “static” an accurate depiction of the pagan notion of a “causeless cause”?

    If the One of pagan theism creates by nature, rather than whimsically, does that preclude the claim that creation is also free? Or, could it mean merely that the One is the One, moved only by itself, rather than moved something extrinsic to itself (like a whim)? If the One is naturally creative, that the energies are expressive of the essence, does that necessarily preclude the claim that the One is Triune, or does it merely mean that the One Trinity is naturally creative?

    If pagan theists claim that the One is God but that the Nous is also divine, do they teach absolute divine simplicity or do they teach that there is a inseparable distinction between the One, which is beyond categories and thus beyond the category of simplicity, and the uncreated nous or rational activites or forms, which are both simple and complex? Famously, Palamas refers to both the divine energy and the divine energies. Is it one, many, both?

    I’m not sure that at the level of pure reason there is a huge difference between Christian and philosophical theism. This may not be where the real distinction lies. Rather, what you may be contending with here is bad philosophy not philosophy itself. However, I would agree that the uniquely Christian claims that the body of Christ is God incarnate, where creation is fully realized, and that the One is Triune, while not wholly irrational, are not merely rational.

    Remember that philosophical theology is not, properly speaking, theology, because it does not claim to reach the essence of the One who, qua beyond being is beyond the reach of the categories of reason. Positive statements about the One, like trinitarian doxologies, are necessarily suprarational. A good philosopher cannot deny the Trinity. He also cannot, by merely philosophical means, deny the Christian location of the incarnation. To do either is to go beyond the limits of philosophy.

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