Drawing near to God

In light of recent discussions this quote from St Gregory Palamas may help provide some more patristic light on the issues.

Every created nature is far removed from and completely foreign to the divine nature. For if God is nature, other things are not nature; but if every other thing in nature, He is not nature, just as He is not a being if all other things are beings. And if He is a being, then other things are not beings. And if you accept this as true also for wisdom, goodness, and in general all things that pertain to God or are ascribed to Him, then your theology will be correct and in accordance with the saints. God both is and is said to be the nature of all beings, in so far as all partake of Him and subsist by means of this participation: not however by participation in His nature – far from it – but by participation in His energy. In this sense He is Being of all beings, the Form that is in all forms as the Author of form, the Wisdom of the wise and, simply, the All in all things. Moreover, He is not nature, because He transcends nature; He is not a being, because He transcends every being; and He is not nor does He possess a form because He transcends form. How, then, can we draw near to God? By drawing near to His nature? But not a single created being has or can have any communication with or proximity to the sublime nature. Thus if anyone has drawn close to God, he has evidently approached Him by means of His energy. In what way? By natural participation in that energy? But this is common to all created things. It is not, therefore, by virtue of natural qualities, but by virtue of what one achieves but virtue of free choice that one is close to or distant from God. But free choice pertains only to beings endowed with intelligence. So among all creatures only those endowed with intelligence can be far from or close to God, drawing close to Him through virtue or becoming distant through vice. Thus such beings alone are capable of wretchedness or blessedness. Let us strive to lay hold of blessedness.  

Thus when you hear the fathers saying that God’s essence is imparticipable, you should realise that they refer to the essence that does not depart from itself and is unmanifest. Again, when they say that it is participable, you should realise that they refer to the procession, manifestation and energy that are God’s natural attributes. When you accept both statements in this sense you will be in agreement with the fathers.

And St Maximos also says, ‘He who is deified through grace will be everything that God is, without possessing the identity of essence.’ Thus it is impossible to participate in God’s essence… It is, however, possible to participate in the divine energy.

St Gregory Palamas, “Topics of Natural and Theological Science” Philokalia Vol 4

St Gregory also calls omnipresence an energy of God. We must not confuse the attributes or properties of God with His essence. We can be united to God in His energies even if we cannot participate in His essence. We can participate in omnipresence, omnipotence and all God’s attributes by the grace of God through His energies without needing to attain to His unapproachable essence. Man is created in God’s image and likeness to participate in divinity and so God’s attributes are not opposed to man, even though man is limited. God has His attributes by nature but this does not mean that man can not participate in them and be deified by grace. The energies of God are uncreated, and divine and, unlike the essence, can be participated in part without negating participation in the divine.

Some say that the union of divine and human is impossible; Christ cannot be God Incarnate. However, the Fathers have proved this reasoning false centuries ago and they speak well on the matter so nothing of substance can be added to them. Man is created in time, man is limited by time and space, man is limited in all ways but this does not mean that God cannot make man transcend himself and live in the limitless life of God. What contradiction can there be between God and His image? What opposition can creation have with God when is created in Him? Only sin is opposed to God and this is the result of the free choice of the sinner. Only unbelief in the power of God can deny man to participate in the infinite life of God and for the Divine to be united to Man in one Person, the Son of God.

20 Responses to Drawing near to God

  1. Elliot,

    Here is what has turned out to be a rather long answer. In these matters I tread with fear and trembling being but a babe in these matters but here is how I understand things so far as reflecting the Faith of the Fathers, to whom I submit my thoughts.

    We cannot partake of the divine essence even intellectually because it is incomprehensible; it is impossible to grasp with the intellect. It is impossible to see, in any manner, because it is unmanifest. What we see and know are the attributes of that essence, that is the energies. Essence and nature are similar terms but not exactly the same. Nature has a wider scope and it can include the energies as being natural attributes of the essence. So, it is possible to say that we partake of the nature in the energies but that we do not partake of the essence.

    We don’t need to know the essence to love God because His love is an energy within which we participate; we love with God’s love. To be more precise we love as person owing God’s love personally without it ceasing to be God’s love nor it failing to be named our love, which we freely give. We love perfectly because God loves perfectly. His love is ours in Him.

    If any part of us would become divine in essence, e.g. the intellect then it would do so much more in Christ. This is leading to monophysitism because Christ’s humanity would have been swallowed by His divinity, if things are as you suggest. Rather He remains both God and man without confusion or parts becoming divine. Thus, man does not become in any part God by essence. How can one divide parts of man and claim them to have different essences? Either all of man is subsumed into divinity or in remains human. If man becomes God in essence, he would be destroyed and the whole creation and fall becomes a nonsensical joke. It would be meaningless unless man is to remain man eternally, each person uniquely themselves.

    The Thomistic approach that you portray focuses on the intellect and seems limited to this. Rather we know God holistically by experiential participation in all His life, not just by, with or in the intellect. The latter tends to place man outside of God and look at Him as separate from oneself. We experience God with our whole being without ceasing to be human. This experience is beyond words and concepts; it is beyond mind and intellect but known in a much deeper, personal and profound way, centred in the heart. The intellect certainly participates in this an sees knowledge etc beyond belief but knowing God is so much more than this and so much more within us than mental concepts or visual images; something beyond fallen human experience apart from Christ.

    We will not fall for a number of reasons that don’t require the will to be trapped. Firstly, sharing in God’s omniscience we will no longer be choosing by deliberation, gnomically, as we do now but with perfect knowledge. Evil thoughts will have no place because they are driven out by the fullness of goodness, evil is not a positive thing but a distortion or lack of good, neither of which will affect us. We will share in omnipotence and never fail to be able to exercise good. We will share God’s will and desire what He does as our own freely; we would deny ourselves to choose otherwise. We would participate in God’s timelessness and immutability thus be beyond time and change. In all these things, through participation in God’s energies we will quite “naturally” remain good without losing our humanity or unique personhood and without God having to entrap us or take away our free will, choices etc in some forced manner.

    In Christ we partake of His humanity and His humanity is not His divine energies nor why we partake of divine nature. Rather, it is about a very human aspect of our existence. Human flesh and bodies divide us and separate us in time in space but they also unite in a way unattainable to angels in familial relations of a common flesh. To partake of life in God which is perfectly united, becoming one as He is one, requires man to share in one flesh, one Body. Christ become the new Father of humanity, the new Adam. He is also the husband of the Church uniting with her in one flesh. By uniting with His flesh we are united in one with Him and able to participate in unity in the life of God. Outside of this unity of flesh, we remain separated and unable to partake of the life of God. Thus, without being born again in Baptism and partaking of the Eucharist, it is impossible to have life or to be saved. The humanity of Christ is about our humanity and not about the energies of God.

    The Holy Spirit is not a someone or something that just discloses God’s activities. He is the Spirit of God; it is the Spirit of Christ. He is the sign of sonship. Just as the Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son, so He also rests in us when we are united to the Son. (The filioque clause and doctrine denies us to be sons of God because we could be so only by being the cause of the Spirit, as the Son would be in such theology (to be Son would be to share in being cause with the Father, even if a cause in a subordinate way), which is impossible for man.) He is ours as sons just as He is of Christ. He manifests Christ by establishing and transforming us as sons of God into Christ. The Spirit unites us into the life of the Trinity. God, in Spirit, dwells in our hearts and He brings us to the Father and into the unity of the Trinity as sons. This is all about the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit. The energies of the Trinity are one and united. The Holy Spirit doesn’t provide different energies from the Father or the Son but manifests and provides in the particular manner of His hypostasis.

    The fullness of life is the Trinity and all life must participate in the Trinity. All creation is relates to the Father in and through the Son in the Holy Spirit. It must conform to the hypostatic existence of God, the Trinitarian existence. We must relate to the Father with the same relationship as the Son but by grace and not by nature. There is no life or relationship with God outside this. Man cannot stand apart from God and relate from outside but only from within, in Christ. Sinners, both live in Christ and apart. They remain eternally and receive His love but for them this is a burning fire consuming but never devouring. They are separate in heart because of their attachment to sin but they cannot exist separately. This tension becomes an eternal torment. Man does not consider God as an object to be known such as a stone apart from oneself but from within, in one’s heart when one realises that one’s whole life is in God and God is all in them. Not that this is in a pantheistic manner because man also realises that God’s essence is unobtainable but rather it is His energies that are the life of man. Man is not created of the essence of God but ex-nihilo but nevertheless, exists only in the energies of God. Otherwise, all things would be God by essence or forever apart from God but this is impossible because there is no apart from God, other than the effects of sin. Without energies there would be not creation.

  2. Elliot B says:

    Thank you, Photios, for your comments.

    I want to note there are, strictly speaking, two currents in my line of inquiry, only one of which has become the central theme here. The first is what place theology about general revelation has in EO. I won’t call it natural theology in this setting, despite my qualifications of the term, since Perry objects to that as inadvertent obfuscation. I would still like to know how far against something like Thomistic natural theology this blog’s position against dialectical theology cuts. That’s all my questions about basic metaphysical categories were about. Is there not some level or metaphysical arena in which God and man do coinhabit, or is the infinite transcendence of God qua ousia hyperousia such to render all analogical talk meaningless and therefore pointless?

    The second current is the matter of essence-energies and, in turn, the beatific vision. The reason I have trouble just rolling over and accepting the Palamite analogies and explanations here, is twofold. First, I don’t think the idea of “participation” is adequately clear in this discussion, which is much the same point Fr Patrick made. I find Perry’s frequent recourse to 2 Pet 1:4 as a proof of Palamism and a refutation of the beatific vision not at all as straightforward as he presents it. The word “partakers” in that verse is koinonoi, a word with a broad range of meaning, basically which means one who shares in something, a companion, a comrade, a FRIEND (cf. John 15).

    What does a glorified saint share in in heaven? In the vision of God as He is by nature, without sensible, conceptual or analogical mediation. And what is God’s nature? Triune. God IS triune love. Hence the beatific vision is more about sharing in the triune fellowship of God AS Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, than about some overblown idea we fully “understand” the divine essence. Seeing God’s essence AS tri-hypostatic love is not in conflict with not being able to see all of it (or God’s incomprehensibility, as Benedict XII called it in Benedictus Deus). The beatific vision is not that we are pumped full of divine “essential oil” like a bag, but that we are fully welcomed into beholding, immediately, the divine persons in perichoresis, a vision limited only by our graced capacity to receive such light as God strengthens our nous for it. Thus we can partake of the divine nature as sharers, invited companions, in the TRIUNELY divine nature, which squares with 2 Pet 1:4, and its preceding verse. I have drawn the thrust of this point from Karl Rahner in his entry on the beatific vision in the Encyclopedia of Theology (Herder & Herder; big fat red book).

    The second way I see in which participation can be amplified without Palamite gain or Thomistic loss is to look at Thomistic anthropology and how it plays out vis-à-vis the beatific vision. The beatific vision works in Thomism in two steps. First, the intellect knows the divine essence, beyond the order of faith and/or reason, and then the will is perfectly drawn to that infinite good as a concretely maximized good, not a mere intellectual abstraction. We can only love what we first know. If we cannot know God essentially, we cannot love Him essentially. Once, however, we see God in essentia, we can desire him (theletotropically, as it were) perfectly and eternally.

    This latter fact takes care of the problem of a post-glorified lapse, since Adam and Eve enjoyed only a natural vision of God, whereas the glorified enjoy a perfect, albeit not exhaustive, vision of God, and therefore exist perfectly in a state, as Dominique Garrigou-Lagrange puts, beyond liberty. Transfixed by the unmediated, unfiltered beatuy of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12, Wis 13:3), we are incapable of lapsing back to a state of life beneath heavenly perfection (hence, non posse peccare). Seeing God perfectly entails we love Him perfectly AS the infinitely actual good which our nature desires. This is hardly a violation of freedom, it is a vindication of freedom towards its true telos. Freely loving God without equivocation or diminution becomes a permanent habitus of the soul, perfectly illumined as it is by an intellectual grasp of the essentia divina.

    The confusion, I think, in the debate, is to hear that, in Thomism, the intellect “becomes” what it perceives and then to assume that because we shall perceive God in essentia, we shall become divine essentially. Rather, while our intellect does “become” divine by apprehending the divine essence, we still remain human by virtue of only our will being perpetually drawn to God. So, we partake of the divine nature intellectually (indeed, notice the emphasis on “knowledge”/ epignoseos in 2 Pet 1:3) but not essentially. We are drawn, by the motion of our wills, into the divine glory (2 Pet 1:3) by sharing in a knowledge/vision of the essentia divina. I draw much of this from Garrigou-Lagrange’s Life Everlasting.

    As I’ve said, I think the Trinity is adequate to describe and explain the same things energies are meant to explain. God is hypostatically immanent in us as the Holy Spirit, and thus grace is no mere created grace, EVEN THOUGH the effects He has in us, as created beings, resemble created entities. Further, the fundamental way in which we become koinonoi of the divine nature is by our sacramental union with Christ AS God. We can partake of the divine nature without becoming essentially divine because “part” of the divine nature includes the humanity of Christ. His glorified “one flesh” (mia sarx; cf. e.g. Colossians 1:22) is the ontological “antechamber” in which we dwell, which allows us, by nature, to partake in the divine nature qua tri-hypostatic love, EVEN THOUGH we cannot partake of the divine essence any more than intellectually so. The humanity of Christ fulfills what the energies are intended to do. We were buried IN the man Jesus Christ and thus we live IN the Lord God. Thus, we are homogenously joined to Christ and heterogenously joined to God IN Christ. We dwell with the Father IN the temple of Jesus Himself (God was IN Christ, etc.).

    I am stating my case as fairly and as clearly as I can. Pardon any and all errors and misrepresentations. Also, I only CAPS some words because italics are too troublesome and I want my own points to be made clearly, not because people hear can’t read.

    I will continue to study the matter, of course, but I really really appreciate this dialoguing, so I hope it can continue.


  3. Elliot,

    John 15 is talking about two things that are homogenous in essence not heterogeneous. In other words, it speaks as us as Christ’s body, Christ’s Church, Christ’s consubstantiality with us. We are identified with his very Incarnate body. Our participation in Christ’s humanity is one of identity. A person’s participation in the divine energies is a heterogeneous relationship.

    You need to think of this in terms of Christology first. To make a homogenous relationship between two different kinds of natures is to confuse them. This is why we don’t partake of the divine essence, but we will know the operations of that essence.


  4. Elliot B says:

    Thank you Fr. Patrick for these comments. Your analogies are helpful, though I admit taking some of them too far is disturbing –– sons of God as dogs and not friends? sons of God forever left in ignorance not in truth? –– but such is the risk of any analogy, so I’m not bickering with what are only meant as illustrations.

    What I still have a hard time accepting is how such analogies cut against Thomism (viz. the beatific vision). The analogies indicate not an inability to know God’s essence in principle but an inability, a handicap, on the part of the knowers. This is basically the Thomistic position as I understand it. No glorified saint is deprived of the vision of God but each one is illuminated with that divine light to different degrees based on one’s synergistic openness to divine grace as hypostasized in the Holy Spirit. The problem is not God’s essential self-enclosure, which He has disclosed (‘apocalypticized’ in Christ anyway) but in the incapacity of human nature to fully “take in” that essence as revealed. In heaven, to borrow from your analogy, all dogs know their master but some dogs simply Him better. The problem is not God’s essence but the wounded blindness of our nous in the first Adam. We must have that inner eye cleansed and transformed into His image (Romans 12:1–2, Colossians 1:19–23, 3:9–10, Ephesians 1:17–18, , so that we may KNOW Him as fully as we are able. As is says in 1 John 3:2 (NAB): “we shall be like him, FOR we shall see him as he is.” Much the same is promised in 1 Corinthians 13:9–12:

    “For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”

    That is the essence (no pun intended) of the beatific vision: not simply a knowledge of God, which we can enjoy mediately in this life, but a face-to-face vision of God Himself in His own glory. The Father, Jesus promises us, will dwell with us, not apart from us, that we may see Him by grace, even if the radiance of His glory is too much for us to exhaustively “adjust to” even in eternity (1 Tim 6:15–16; CCC 1028, 1032, 1045). While we can know God (with dianoia) via the grace of natural revelation (Rom 1, Sir 13, etc.), one final Day, the analogies shall fall behind and we shall see God as His earlier manifestations intended to promise us by faith. Romans 8:24–25: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” indicates we hope for what we cannot now see but one day will see what we now believe in. That’s the beatific vision.

    In John 15 Jesus describes our bond to Him as branches on a vine, which is analogy replete with imagery of natural union, not being touched or warmed at a distance. A vine’s branches exist intimately in union with the vine, ‘knowing’ it as its own being from the inside out. This is not an essential bond, since we are grafted in by grace, but it certainly more of a union than sun rays on leaves. Also in John 15:15 Jesus says His disciples are no longer servants, ignorant of their master’s business, His inner life, but are friends on intimate terms with what Jesus reveals of the Father.

    I think what rubs me the wrong way about Palamite energies is how it seems to multiply God’s self-disclosing activities beyond the Holy Spirit. Someone left a comment on my blog about the fruits of the Spirit (in Galatians 5) being energies of God. What bothers me is how the term energies slips in between what Galatians 5, Romans 8, 2 Peter 1, etc. seem to teach above all: we do not merely have God’s gifts but God Himself in the inner gift of the Holy Spirit. By His hypostatic presence in our hearts, we are incorporated into the triune life of God, a life entirely constituted by relationship and self-giving. It is the case that we will never fully see the Father but in our ultimately total knowledge of Christ, the very image of God in whom all God’s pleroma dwells, we shall know God. The worries over seeing God’s essence seem to blur the issue of seeing the Father as monarchial source of the Trinity and seeing God in the face of Christ and in the inner light of the Spirit.

  5. Elliot,

    Partaking of the energies doesn’t mean partaking of the essence, at least not in the sense that you are heading. To a degree there is some accuracy in what you say and this is why one can speak of partaking of the divine nature by participation of the energies. However, this is someway from saying that man becomes God in essence, which is what is impossible for man. To know God’s is to be God Himself; it is impossible to grasp otherwise because it is not something that can be known or even described. Can one even adequately know or describe the essence of humanity other than by the unexplainable experience of being human? Yet, as a person I exercise the energies of humanity in living.

    Animals can know human love yet they do not then partake of human essence. A puppet can be energised by a human without ceasing to be a puppet, yet it can act in a very human manner. Another analogy is the sun. We participate in its energies, especially noticeable in reptiles, and sun rays and its heat is certainly the sun, what else is meant by sun-burn and sun-light? Yet, such participation does not mean that we are the sun or partake of the essence of the sun as our own essence. A reptile can own the sun’s energies as its own, i.e. in a sense personally, as it runs around energised by the sun, yet in many ways it can be said that the energies do not cease being the sun’s. We can own the energies personally but this does not mean that they become ours by nature nor cease to be divine. Christ is personally both God and man; he owns both natures as His own. The divine does not become human nor the human divine in this because person is not essence. Although, the analogies do not properly equate to the divine human relationship but they do point to the understanding that knowing or participating in one’s energies does not mean participating in one’s essence. Yet the energies are very much of the essence and not another source or new temporary creation.

    Also, I have learnt to beware of applying opposition in God. The is no dichotomy between personal and impersonal or between essence and energies. Once, one finds oneself on this track one is missing something. I also think that the term partaking must be carefully used in reference to the relation between essence and energies and, although at the moment I cannot think of a better term, it is not to be understood as what is meant by humans partaking of the divine energy. Again, the rays of the sun don’t partake of the sun in the same way as we partake of the rays. The rays are the sun, or rays of the sun, yet we are not the sun, nor humans of the sun’s rays.

    Finally, all things are created in God; their logoi are all in the Logos. Even though there humanity was created from the earth which in turn was created ex nihilo, this creation added nothing to the knowledge or “vision” of God. Thus, it has no affect on God but is better understood as a reflection, in its limited way, of the life of God.

  6. Elliot B says:

    Thanks for this reply.

    Let me tread carefully now, lest I write hastily.

    QUOTE: “Yes in so far as God is dunamis or potentia, that is power, no in so far as these are impersonal emanations. The energies are the tri-hypostatic employment, bringing potentia to act, of divine power. So they are just as deity as the essence is. They are not lesser.”

    REPLY: Here’s the trouble I have. If God is personal (and I would say, essentially personal, being hypostatic), and his energies are impersonal (i.e., sub-hypostatic), then the divine Persons seem to exist with an essence different from the energies, such that God’s nature is somehow both personal (kata to ti en enai, which I recall is something like ‘essentially’ in Aristotelianism) and impersonal (kata energeian). If the divine essence is essentially personal and the energies are essentially divine, then they must be personal as well. Such is my fumbling with dialectical logic.

    I grasp that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are triunely and fully present in their tri-hypostatic energies, but what I fail to grasp is how humans can participate in the energies without thereby participating in the divine essence. For if the energies do not participate in the divine essence, they are not essentially divine, which gives away the whole game against Palamism.

    If however the energies do partake of the divine essence, and we participate in them, not *as* the divine hypostases, but as the immanent mode of God’s power, then we partake of the same essence as them, by virtue of partaking in their own divine essence *as* divine power. I’m having difficulty seeing how it is not a third-man paradox (Aristotle contra Plato) all over again.

    QUOTE: “The question isn’t if God is essentially this or that but personally so.”

    REPLY: I find this hard to parse. Can God be something personally, say, benevolent, without being so essentially? Can a person exist sine essentia? Is not essence essential to personal existence (much less existence as such)?

    Perhaps the energies are just a tertium quid, which I am handicapped from grasping at this stage, given my deep western bias, but they appear to function as a dynamic metaphysical buffer between us and God. I can’t help thinking of them, visually at least, as a sort of static field, which embraces us dynamically, generated by the tri-hypostatic life ad intra. If the problem is that equating nature with essence collapses into necessitarianism and that the beatific vision, Thomistic-style, entails essential ontological Borging into the divine nature, then I struggle to see how God would not “absorb” us by His vision of human essence. If grasping the divine essence absorbs us into God, how is He protected from a similar slippage by grasping non-divine essence(s)?

    I can work through the EO theology books I have to grapple with this, but it’s hard to find a good source for the level and specificity of my query, sort of like touch-tone operating versus a real person.

    QUOTE: “As to natural theology you still seem to be confusing that with natural revelation. The two are not the same. Any Moslem or pagan can do the former just fine.”

    REPLY: I grasp the difference between them but my questions is, assuming EO believes in natural revelation, what does it call its discussion of natural revelation, if not natural theology? If EO theology avoids the anthropocentric, cosmocentric natural theology of Muslims, pagans, and, presumably, neo-Scholastics, how does it go about calling non-believers to an awareness of general (natural) revelation? EO rejects natural theology, I gather from your distinction between them, but what does it do with natural revelation?

    Many thanks, I welcome others to help me as well. Heck, let’s have a discussion!

  7. Elliot,

    Yes in so far as God hs dunamis or potentia, that ispower, no in so far as these are impersonal emanations. The energies are the tri-hypostatic employment, bringing potentia to act, of divine power. So they are just as deity as the essence is. They are not lesser.

    The question isn’t if God is essentialy this or that but personally so.

    As to natural theology you still seem to be confusing that with natural revelation. The two are not the same. Any Moslem or pagan can do the former just fine.

  8. Elliot B says:

    Bottom line questions:

    Are the divine energies essentially divine? Is the divine essence essentially energetic?


  9. Elliot B says:

    Perry, let me rephrase things to avoid confusion. By natural theology I do not mean die Naturtheologie of the Enlightenment and Romantic movement. By it I mean “general revelation”, as adumbrated in Romans 1:18f, Wis. 13:1ff., Ps. 19 and Sir. 17:8, among others. I am speaking of the sensus divinitatis and the divinely ordained power of analogy to “trigger” in the created intellect recognition of God and man’s sense of sin. By natural theology I suppose I am speaking more of fundamental theology, theology that lays a framework for discussion of the general contents of reality which may hinder faith or promote it once revelation is presented and accepted.

  10. Elliot,

    If I may intrude. I am not versed in a lot of the terms you use, but my understanding is that God reveals Himself to us in our hearts through prayer, and our senses and mind bear this out. When we genuinely pray, we place our mind in our heart where the presence of God dwells. We are cut to the quick by His revelation of Himself in us. Though some like St. Paul get an external revelation first, but still He is recognized in his heart. Then as we seek to know Him better, we look outside ourselves to find echoing witnesses to who He is. And I think this is guided by our presuppositions. We find someone who has gone further down the road we have chosen than ourselves, though truly creative and bold people will try to be more special than anyone who ever came before them and invent something new.

    But assuming the Orthodox have maintained the Way to travel all the way down the road to as full a revelation of God as we can have this side of death, then nature becomes an offering up to God, not a source of revelation of itself. Fallen nature only indicates fallenness, but with traces of it’s origin, although its existence is sustained by God. It takes Christian priests acting synergistically with God to bring it back into its intended state. I think Churches and Monasteries demonstrate this most fully – creation consecrated and dedicated to God through offerings of love and continual maintenance through prayer in the Traditional, passed down, revealed manner established in the beginning. Then created nature will bestow most fully who God is. A place can be made more holy through man’s intervention in union with God.

    Is the desert a holy place before a dweller comes to fight the demons already there as well as the ones he brings to it?

  11. Elliot B says:

    Well, in this case, I return to my earlier Q: Is there a place in EO theology for natural revelation? Insofar as it is NATURAL, and therefore accommodated to man as a natural being, it seems inescapable to draw from sensation and reason. As for drawing from those things “alone”, I think that’s a defunct form of foundationalist rationalism which I don’t believe magisterial Catholic theology endorses. Every argument against natural theology, in the sense of it being a rational discourse on revelation (rather than a straw-man Socinianism or some such), itself uses the very tools it aims to refute (dialectical logic, categorical terms, etc.). The efforts to show the invalidity of reason vis-à-vis sheer revelation (i.e., by showing its categorically antinomial inapplicability to the divine essence qua hyperousia) strike me as inconsistent, since, as I say, the devices of rational thinking appear ineluctable even in its deconstruction in the greater light of God.

    Please help me understand whether EO has natural revelation and what it is. Thanks!

  12. Elliot,

    Natural theology is not an elucidation of natural revelation. It is rather something distinct. Natural theology is not reavealed but rather is our constyruct from sensation and reason alone. It is then elevated via revelation and perfected in Catholic thought.

    Kant’s perspective won’t map on to the Orthodox teaching. Th energies are known, at least some of them are and hence this is something Kant would not permit. The energies are not extrinsic to God since extrinsic relations do not constitute their object but the energies are deity.

    A phenomena for Kant, a determined one anyhow, is an appearnce that has been subjected to rules of understanding that we have constructed and achieved in order for it to be understandable to us. Energies aren’t mere appearances.

  13. Elliot B says:

    I see natural theology as the formal discussion and elucidation of natural revelation, the latter being a part of God’s total self-revelation. Natural theology only makes sense because theology, as a kerygmatic, liturgical, pneumatic reality, is primary; natural theology only “works”, when it does, because its bedrock is revelation.

    Okay, so, from a Kantian perspective (I’m not a Kantian, just keeping it in those measly terms for this thread), energies would be noumena for us, while essence would be hypernoumena. Would the powers and extrinsic actions of God (in der Heilsgeschichte) be suitably analogous to the Kantian phenomena (sans of course the epistemological scarefest of Kantianism and in an ontological rather than epistemological mode)? Further, would our energies in the synergy of salvation be a sort of phenomena (which we create)? I of course don’t mean to call energies or essence Kantian things, I’m just doing a terminological transformation to see how things play together.

  14. Elliot,

    What do you take the difference to be between natural theology and natural revelation?

    As for Kant, the analogy is mistaken because for Kant phenomenal experiences are constructed by and enriched by us,but the energies are a thing in and of itself.

  15. Elliot B says:


    “…but also *grim* as far as evangelization vis-à-vis general revelation goes. Is it the case that *EO* has no place for general revelation?”

    “If God is not somehow *metaphysically like us*,…”

  16. Elliot B says:

    Thanks for the NSHO (not-so-humble opinions, as you call them heheh!). Although the latter points you make do point towards addressing my inquiry, I am still looking for a more systematic elucidation of where the dialectical limits of theology can reasonably, coherently be said to end (for EO theology).

    As for the initial points you make, I admit I find them mildly troubling. First, I think it’s too simplistic to say “the West” (a monolith?) is “rooted in” anthropocentric theology. I don’t understand the various arguments you noted as working up to PROVE or DEMONSTRATE the contents and coherence of the Faith, but rather, given the faith and difficulties with it or objections to it, work ALONG WITH comprehensible human experience to help the intellect reach what grace provides by faith, namely a “grasp” on the Faith. A second worry I have is that by so radically dichotomizing man and God, you start to sound like a Calvinist. Is not the imago Dei still a viable, coherent reality in our lives? Do we not see the divine nature, and “echoes” of His goodness, wisdom, power, etc., in our very natures, as well as in the larger creation? Again, such insights are not the basis for faith, Western or Eastern, rather, the supplementary lenses we may need absent a purified nous. Such an utter dichotomization of divine-human relations seems not only blind to the role of analogy in theo-logizing, but also rim as far as evangelization vis-à-vis general revelation goes. Is it the case that has no place for general revelation?

    Probably the biggest problem I have with utterly de-humanizing theology is the little thing known as the Incarnation. God Himself “subsumed”, “subjected”, Himself to all relevant human categories. God became man. Certainly that compromises how blithely we dismiss the “co-inhabitation” of man and God in metaphysical/rational categories if theology is to remain a sound discourse.

    I realize God operates in a realm beyond our realms/categories. But the point of my inquiry is to see just how far this idea can be pressed. If God is not somehow, even by the faintest bonds of analogy, then it’s hard to see how He could make Himself known to us. I suspect the purpose of analogy in, say, Thomism is akin to the purpose of energies in Palamism: the immanent medium which allows us to know God without REALLY KNOWING God.

  17. trvalentine says:

    I’ll make an initial attempt to respond in the hopes that others may be prompted to improve on my speculations.

    Elliot B wrote:

    Is God subject to formal categories such as real distinction and opposition? Or is God completely beyond all metaphysical categories whatsoever? Is God subject to logical categories, such as the law of non-contradiction? Or is God utterly beyond such wee dialectical tools? Is God subsumable under any of the same metaphysical categories as humans? …
    For what I am trying to find out is how deep the rejection of dialectical thinking in EO theologia cuts.

    IMNSHO, the West’s typical concept of God is that of a super-man, i.e. having the human concept of love raised to the infinite degree, the human concept of wisdom raised to the infinite degree, the human concept of wisdom raised to the infinite degree, and so forth. Whether ‘proving’ God’s existence by the ‘ontological argument’ (which explicitly raises to the infinite degree that which is regarded by human considerations as good), by the ‘cosmological argument’ (which uses experiences of the created world to demonstrate the need for a ‘uncaused cause’, ‘prime mover’, etc.), by the ‘teleological argument’ (which uses realities of the created world such as entropy to demonstrate the need for a ‘designer’), by the ‘moral argument’ or various arguments from ‘special events’ or ‘experiences’ (which use human experiences – of the created realm – to demonstrate a source for these things, the Western concept of God is rooted in human experiences of the created world.

    OTOH, the Orthodox understanding of God is ‘Being beyond being’; if God has ‘being’, the created world lacks ‘being-ness’, but if the created world has ‘being’, God is ‘non-being’ (as the passage from St Gregory Palamas above explains). There is an insistence on an absolute divide between the Uncreated and the created realm. ISTM we have hints of this chasm between the Uncreated and the created in Divine Revelation:

    For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.


    For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

    It is my perception (and knowing next to nothing about physics, I may be completely off track) that the difference between classical mechanics and quantum mechanics may be analogous to the difference between the wisdom of the created realm (logic, metaphysics, dialectics, ratiocination, etc.) and the Uncreated: completely different systems for completely different realms. Just as a person applying classical mechanics in an exactly correct manner may obtain a ‘solution’ which is completely erroneous in the realm of quanta, one applying human wisdom from the created realm in an exactly correct manner may obtain a ‘solution’ which is completely erroneous in the realm of the Uncreated.


  18. Elliot B says:

    Lest I get lost in a tangle of text, let me try to boil my worries down to gizzards and wishbones:

    If we know God exists essentially as energies/essence, then we know of His essence, and it is not “unmanifest,” as Palamas claims.

    Hardly a refutation, and not meant to be one. Moreso a noetic itch I can’t scratch, an intellectual charley horse I can’t stretch, as I try to parse these things.

    Since I am only slightly less ignorant of modern philosophy than medieval, perhaps someone here could refract the issue through the Kantian problematic of noumena/phenomena, since that is how the issue breaks down in my mind. Essence : noumena :: energies : phenomena. How can these schemata be compared and contrasted?


  19. Elliot B says:

    Is God subject to formal categories such as real distinction and opposition? Or is God completely beyond all metaphysical categories whatsoever? Is God subject to logical categories, such as the law of non-contradiction? Or is God utterly beyond such wee dialectical tools? Is God subsumable under any of the same metaphysical categories as humans?

    These questions can be treated as three segments of one triptych of inquiry at an issue I cannot articulate adequately. Or they can be read independently of each other. I am really am asking genuinely, without guile. For what I am trying to find out is how deep the rejection of dialectical thinking in EO theologia cuts.

    What I am trying to get at is this: it seems God and man are both subject to at least some of the same ‘dialectical’ categories. Indeed, part of what makes man Man, in Palamite anthropology, is that he exists essentially as a compossible harmony (not sure HOW to put this in cataphatic terms) of an essence and energies which irreducibly and freely exists via his powers. This is the bedrock category to which humans are subject: we exist as a “blend” of two formally distinct “things” in our one hypostasis. But does not the same harmonized opposition hold for God? Does not the same formal distinction in the personhood of God hold for God as well? If so, then there seems to be at least a penumbra of dialectical opposition in the revealed God of energies. If not, then it is hard to understand how we can meaningfully argue there is such distinction, which is what Palamism is all about. If there *really* is a distinction, without reduction, between God’s energies and essence, then He seems to be just as subject to the categories (or at least one of them) in which man dialectically thrives.

    If it is the case that God *essentially* exists as a nonreducibly manifold agent so to speak “comprised” of essence and energies, and if it is the case that humans likewise *essentially* exist as essence-energies beings, then there seems to be at least one metaphysical category of being shared by God and humans, namely, the real ontological distinction between essences and energies. In which case, humans do seem capable of partaking of the essence of God, His essence being to exist as more than just His essence. If it is of God’s essence to exist not only in/as His essence, AND if it is of humans’ essence to exist not only in/as their essence, then there seems to be an essential identity of ontological ordering between God and humans. Humans and God, in other words, can at least essentially share, co-participate in, the real (and only therefore conceivable) DISTINCTION between essence and energies. Obviously this also seems to bleed over into another domain of mutual divine-human dialectical subjection, namely, the shared subjection to the metaphysical category of essentiality (which, implicitly, exists only in opposition to extrinsicality, contingency or some other metaphysical category).

    Or is it only an energy of God, and not His essence, to exist in His energies and essence? If it is not His essence to so exist, then the e/e distinction seems only conceptual, because contingent on its theoretical intelligibility, and not necessary to the revealed God in essentia.

  20. miki says:

    Wow what a great blog!!

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