Saint Cyril on Divine Simplicity

Bekkos over at De Unione Ecclesiarum has posted some citations from Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Since he has the Greek text there I won’t bother reproducing it here. Peter seems to think that Cyril’s position on simplicity, particularly with respect to the divine will and being are isomorphic with that of Aquinas rather than say Palamas. I don’t think that’s the case, but let’s take a look at the passages.

Hermias. And how, they say, is the divine simple if, in existence on the one hand and in will on the other, it is conceived of separately? For then it would be composite and as though it existed, in a way, out of parts that had come together into a closer unity.

Cyril. Therefore, since, in your view, the divine is simple and exists above all composition (and this view of yours is correct), his will is nothing other than he himself. And if someone says “will,” he indicates the nature of God the Father.

 Hermias. So it would appear.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Dialogues on the Trinity (Ad Hermiam), book V; SC 237 (de Durand, ed.), p. 290; PG 75, 945 C.

 With the first citation here I’d like to call your attention to a few things. First, the Palamite position doesn’t deny that God is simple, but rather denies a specific understanding of divine simplicity so that references employing terms such as those above will be inadequate until a demonstration is forthcoming showing what concept is picked out by said terms.

Second, Palamas, as well as Maximus while affirming a genuine plurality in God deny that this amounts to composition. So again, denials of composition of themselves are inadequate to demonstrate that Aquinas’ view in the main is being advocated.

Third, it isn’t Palamas’ contention that the divine will is separate from the divine essence. If fact, Palamas seems to stick fairly closely to Maximus’ view of the will as an aspect of the divine essence. This is why both writers affirm that the three divine persons share one will.

On the other hand Cyril seems to give pride of place with whatever kind of identity or sameness that the divine will has with the divine essence in terms of the essence of the Father. Cyril seems to be perfectly in line with the Cappadocians here so far as the text provided could indicate. It is important to note here that what Cyril does not say. Cyril does not say that the divine essence is identical or the same as the relations or persons. So far, there isn’t anything particularly Thomistic in the citation.

And now the second citation,

Cyril. How then can that by which and in which God accomplishes his operations with regard to the creation and makes himself known as Creator of all things be a creature, subject to becoming? For perhaps it is already time for us to make this claim. If they pretend that such is the state of things, they will be obliged, even unwillingly, to confess the created character of the divine energy. And what is the consequence? An odious blasphemy, opinions opposed to good sense, good for bringing an accusation of the height of stupidity. For if one is not too poorly endowed with the decency which befits wise men, one will say that the divine being is properly and primarily simple and incomposite; one will not, dear friend, venture to think that it is composed out of nature and energy, as though, in the case of the divine, these are naturally other; one will believe that it exists as entirely one thing with all that it substantially possesses. Thus, if anyone says that his energy, that is, his Spirit, is something created and made, even while it belongs to him in a proper sense, then the Deity, surely, will be a creature, given that his operation is no other thing than he himself. Isn’t the claim abominable and hateful, and one which has a great tendency towards practical impiety?

 St. Cyril, Dialogues on the Trinity, book VII; SC 246 (de Durand, ed.), pp. 200-202; PG 75, 1109 B-C.

 First, notice the question that is asked. How can the divine “operations” be something created? What are the divine operations? Are they energies and what for Cyril is an energy? Then Cyril goes on to state that those who mistakenly think that these “operations” are created will be forced to take the divine energy as created. Now this certainly doesn’t sound like Thomas to me or any Thomist that I have ever read. Now granted, I have not read everything of Thomas and I don’t claim to have done so. On its face though I’d wager that if one read the Triads and then read Prima Pars from the Summa, they’d take this kind of language and expressions to be far closer to Palamas than to Thomas. So Cyril then says that taking the divine operations “with regard to the created order” as creatures is “blasphemy.”

But then comes the supposedly offensive part where Cyril says that God is incomposite and simple, but this lines up quite well with a good number of passages from Palamas where he says the same thing.  Palamas doesn’t think that essence and energy amount to any composition in God because plurality doesn’t have its place by negating unity and unity is not achieved by reducing plurality to unity.

Then there is the curious statement by Cyril in reference to nature and energy that “as though, in the case of the divine, these are naturally other.” Here Cyril seems to be saying no more than that there isn’t any opposition between energy and nature as if they were two separate discrete substances. But neither Palamas nor Maximus think that the energies are “cut off” from the essence and this is not a point which should require much proof since it shows up even in non-Christian sources like Plotinus’ Enneads.  Energies are not separate substances or stand alone entities. All Cyril here is defending is essentially monotheism. There is only one God and not two. My activities are in a genuine and real sense me, which is why I can be responsible for them. They express me for I am in them. In like manner the divine energies are not some other deity contiguous with God. They express God and are divine. with Cyril, how can one blaspheme by thinking of them as created effects?

It is further important to keep in mind that simplicity itself is taken as an energy of God. Cyril seems to talk this way when he writes of simplicity in relation to energy and nature. Maximus and John of Damascus write this way as well. Maximus in Chapters on Knowledge 1. 47-48 and John in his exposition of the Orthodox Faith. Saint John writes for example,

“The Deity is simple and uncompound. But that which is composed of many and different elements is compound. If, then, we should speak of the qualities of being uncreate and without beginning and incorporeal and immortal and everlasting and good and creative and so forth as essential differences in the case of God, that which is composed of so many qualities will not be simple but must be compound. But this is impious in the extreme. Each then of the affirmations about God should be thought of as signifying not what He is in essence, but either something that it is impossible to make plain, or some relation to some of those things which are contrasts or some of those things that follow the nature, or an energy” On the Orthodox Faith 1.9

 “Therefore all these names must be understood as common to deity as a whole, and as containing the notions of sameness and simplicity and indivisibility and union: while the names Father, Son and Spirit, and causeless and caused, and unbegotten and begotten, and procession contain the idea of separation: for these terms do not explain His essence, but the mutual relationship and manner of existence.

 When, then, we have perceived these things and are conducted from these to the divine essence, we do not apprehend the essence itself but only the attributes of the essence: just as we have not apprehended the essence of the soul even when we have learnt that it is incorporeal and without magnitude and form: nor again, the essence of the body when we know that it is white or black, but only the attributes of the essence. Further, the true doctrine teacheth that the Deity is simple and has one simple energy, good and energising in all things, just as the sun’s ray, which warms all things and energises in each in harmony with its natural aptitude and receptive power, having obtained this form of energy from God, its Maker.” On the Orthodox Faith 1.10

 “Further the divine effulgence and energy, being one and simple and indivisible, assuming many varied forms in its goodness among what is divisible and allotting to each the component parts of its own nature, still remains simple and is multiplied without division among the divided, and gathers and converts the divided into its own simplicity. For all things long after it and have their existence in it. It gives also to all things being according to their several natures and it is itself the being of existing things, the life of living things, the reason of rational beings, the thought of thinking beings. But it is itself above mind and reason and life and essence.” On the Orthodox Faith 1.14

 Now these statements by John don’t seem to be saying anything more radical or out of line with Cyril, Maximus or Palamas for that matter. But they don’t sound like Thomas to me.


  1. Perhaps it would be helpful if, by pasting quotes from Aquinas, you demonstrated the contrast between Aquinas and the view you propose. Citations from third parties would be helpful as well.


  2. Notice the Dialetheism in St. John’s last comment. Is Aquinas going to affirm that? “The divinity is simple and is multiplied without division.”


  3. Nathanial,

    Yepit sure would but I was packing for a trip light last night and this morning and I didn’t have time. I just had enough time to put up what I did.


  4. Of course, Aquinas thinks that the divinity is multipled as CREATURES are the exemplary cause of divinity. So, the problem is dialectical, Aquinas thinks that unity is on the divine side and that diversity and multiplicity is on the created side, when he says,

    “Things which are opposed in idea, are themselves opposed to each other. But the idea of “one” consists in indivisibility; and the idea of “multitude” contains division. Therefore “one” and “many” are opposed to each other.”

    Summa Theologiae Ia. Q.11 A.2

    For Palamas the divinity so divided is not solely on the creature side, but actually in God according to Person and according to operation.

    Aquinas of course thinks that God is One except where an opposite relation exists, but the question arises if that is even consistent AT ALL with what he stated in Q. 11. I stated this somewhere else: if I’m Moses Maimonides, why can’t I stop with Q.11 and have satisfaction? Seems logical to me. Why posit a multitude of ‘relations of opposition’ when this is in fact OPPOSED to ONE as Aquinas says in Q. 11?



  5. Man, I wish I could bring back that conversation that Fr. Maximus and I had regarding this topic over at the Well of Questions…

    Anyways, in one sense yes and in another sense no. As it gives meaning to the sentence structure of what’s being said yes, it serves as a general rule and theological symbol.

    However, it doesn’t pour any *positive* philosophical content as to what this actually pertains to in reality. The Fathers use the phrase “ta peri thn theian physin” “what is around the divine nature”, meaning 1) what we say, we say first and foremost about a person, and 2) That none of our statements that we find of them IN COMMON do not-in reality-grasp or peri-graph (draw around) the Father’s essence.

    Perhaps Fr. Maximus will come on and we can replay that dialogue we had.



  6. Jay,

    It is not a positive statement about the nature. Will is an energy, and the energies manifest the nature. We make positive statements about the energies.


  7. Another way we can know this is by Christology and observing Christ. Just as the human will is rooted in the nature, by observing that it is applicable to multiple persons, so by way of ANALOGY (sounds scary for a moment) we know that it is the similar for the divine. Christ is our example since he unites these things in Him, but what kind of analogy? An analogy of being? No, rather an analogy of energy or operation:

    “[T]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 have 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.”

    –St. Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Beatitudes


  8. The key phrase there for me is when Gregory says that “it is the same as with human works of art” which implies that Gregory thinks there is a real analogy between God and man. Our operations have some similarity to them.

    The problem I see that needs to be ‘synthesized’ is how does this correspond with Hesychasm and Gregory of Nazianzus who says, “it is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him.” –St. Gregory the Theologian, Theological Orations, 2.4.

    Fr. John Romanides comments saying, “In other words there is no similarity whatsoever “between the created and the uncreated.” Anyone who thinks that Biblical expressions convey concepts about God is sadly mistaken. When used correctly Biblical words and concepts lead one to purification and illumination of the heart which lead to glorification but are not themselves glorification.”

    Does Fr. John here mean that by ‘uncreated’ the divine essence in commenting on St. Gregory the Theoloian or does he also mean the Hesychastic experience of the divine energy?

    If both, St. Gregory of Nyssa’s argument seems to fall apart.



  9. Photios,

    This is something that I have been thinking about, and I would like to pick up our conversation where we left off: i.e. at the energies. What Romanides (and St. Gregory) actually meant, I don’t know, but when I first read him I took him at face value to be referring to both the essence and energy. But if that is true it means that there is no reason to distinguish between His essence and energies at all, because we cannot speak about or know His energies any more than His essence. It also raises the question of on what level we experience God in theosis. Palamas indicates that the human mind does not have naturally the power of experiencing the divine energies (at least to see the divine light) – it is a gift from God which raises up the mind to a higher level in order to do this. But if God can elevate the mind so as to perceive the energies, why can He not do so so as to perceive the essence? The answer can only be that in a *certain* sense he does, namely, that the energies manifest the essence. The energies are true and authentic expressions of the essence, and are inseparable from it.

    This raises another question. There seem to be multiple ways for us to relate to the energies. I can think of at least three (incidentally corresponding to the three stages of the spiritual life according to St. Dionysios)

    1. On the level of purely human discursive reasoning, whereby our intellect understands truth about God by analogy, as Nyssa says.

    2. as the fruits of the Holy Spirit, whereby God’s energy energizes within us synergetically, performing (or maybe manifesting?) the virtues: God’s virtue and activity becomes our very own, without ceasing to be His by nature.

    3. as the uncreated light, whereby grace elevates or strengthens the mind – or maybe the whole person (by virtue of what? a faculty of reception of grace possessed by the mind, some other part of the soul, or the totality of the person?) – to behold God Himself in His energies.

    At this point I feel like the energies are converging onto the ineffability that is proper to the essence. The experience of the vision is indescribable and (almost?) cannot be spoken of, yet when we say it is light, we do not lie. And again, it is also darkness, truly so and yet beyond truly so – but not metaphorically. Is the darkness the essence into which we cannot see? Or if we know it is darkness, how can it be the inexpressible essence? Or are some aspects of the energies knowable and others unknowable, or at least we can only know that they are. And yet if the energies express the unknowable essence, to what extent are they an expression of that unknowableness, and hence in some way also unknowable?

    These are the questions I yearn to peer into.


  10. I think the context of Fr. John’s comment is rather within the discussion about the Platonic notion of Universal ideas in the essence of God, which is outright denied by Orthodoxy. So I don’t think it is within the contextual scope of Gregory of Nyssa’s thinking sense Gregory does not think that the operations or energies of God are static Platonic universals.

    On that ground I believe Fr. John is essentially correct. Any garnering of the idea of universals from creatures cannot be applied to God whatsoever. But that leaves wide open the question of similarity between energy and operation between God and man, i.e. Christ.

    That’s my stab at it.



  11. In your last paragraph you sound a lot like Fr. John: Words in the scriptures point to the reality, but they are not therefore to be reduced to “concepts” of that reality itself. The words do not circumscribe the reality, only seeing face-to-face do you truly know.

    For example, when I read in the text about Moses seeing the Christ as the Burning Bush, I ‘create’ a mental image in my mind of it being a fire. I have a concept of what fire is, because I’ve seen it, but my mental image and the REAL vision that Moses saw AND the biblical image are therefore not the same. So when I read the biblical image that ‘God is fire,’ I am creating a false image that is not true of God, but true of created reality. The biblical image is to carry me and point to that greater experience of God as fire.



  12. There are two issues here: speech about God and experience of Him. Neither of them are applicable to God’s essence in the strict sense, although, as we already discussed, language about the essence can be used as a self-referential pedagogical tool while the energies in which we partake are true expressions or manifestations of the essence. Obviously we experience the energies, but there are a lot of questions relating to that experience, which I mentioned above.

    It’s worth noting that although our conceptions of God are not strictly true, they are not therefore wrong, as long as they are the conceptions that God wants us to have about Him.


  13. I mean taken in a certain sense the image would be wrong. If I conceive God as fire and take this to be the same kind of image as me striking a match in the kitchen, I believe this to be a false one. I think the biblical image of God as fire goes far beyond any type of created reality I experience when I light a candle or burn something corporeal. I think that is the point Fr. John wishes to convey: there is quite a distinction between what I ‘imagine’ and the point of the biblical image. The former taken to be true of God as ‘I imagine’ would be idolatry.



  14. Greetings to all.

    I would like to thank and congratulate everyone that contributes to this nice blog.

    I am from Greece and not a native speaker and I apologise in advance for my English. Please bear with it.

    First I would like to ask you a question relevant to the current entry. Do you think that the result of the controversy over monoenergism can be anyhow related to the dispute over the energies of God? I mean that since we confess two energies in Christ, one human and one divine, and that is sanctioned by an ecumenical council that even Rome accepts, how can the papists deny the distinction between the essence and the energies of God? However I haven’t seen anywhere that argument put forth and I wonder whether it is a valid one or not.

    Thank you.


  15. Second, I would like to make a couple of remarks on the current topic. I think that it is just one of those usual cases with papists where passages have been taken out of their context and their meaning has been turned upside down. To start with, far from intending to remove any idea of plurality and distinction in the divinity, the purpose of that work of Saint Cyril, on the contrary, is to champion the multitude in the divinity. It is a work about the Holy Trinity and Saint Cyril explains how, although God is simple and incomposite, yet there are three divine persons and how the existence of those three persons deos not affect the simplicity of God. Cyril writes against those who see the triune God as incompatible with the idea of an incomposite God. Therefore Bekkos’ contention is against the overall spirit of the text.

    Second, in the first citation, the word “nature” rather means “hypostasis” as usually in Saint Cyril and not “essence”. If one reads some more of that text he will see that Cyril speaks there about the person of God the Father.

    Third, when Cyril says “his will is nothing other than he himself” that does not mean that he accepts it. It is just the opinion of Hermias, the man he is talking with. Cyril just makes explicit the opinion of his interlocutor in order to refute it. It is like saying:

    Cyril. Therefore, since, in your view, the divine is simple and exists above all composition (and this view of yours is correct), his will is nothing other than he himself (but this view of you is not correct and now you are going to see why).

    One has just to go the text and see for himself.


  16. Nathan,

    I would need a reason to think that person or hypostasis was the same thing as essence and its attending powers/faculties. Just because a hypostatis takes on the latter doesn’t entail that it takes on the former. Moreover, if essence and person are the same, then either there will be three gods or modalism is true.

    So I don’t think you can maintain that Jesus taking on human powers impies that he is a human person without also denying the Trinity. But I don’t think you wish to do that.

    If Jesus is a human person then his person qua person will be composite in a way that will leave unexplained what comprises the unity of the person. What unites the two, some third thing? And what could that possibly be?

    Even if the human person didn’t exist apart from the Logos, it would still imply a prosopic union. Nestorius didn’t think that the human nature pre-existed as some Apollinarians did and yet he still held to a prosopic union. If the Logos takes into himself human nature and the result is a human and divine person, then the composite entity is the result or product of the union as some new thing. There is then a single appearance put forward and that just is a prosopic union. Furthermore, if Jesus is a human and divine person without confusion, what comprises the union between the two? The only way to maintain a unity of two persons without confusion is by an extrinsic relation between them, namely one of thought or will where one subordinates the other and then we are right back to Nestorius.

    Sure teaching that Jesus is a man refers to his human nature. That of itself doesn’t imply that Jesus was a human person. If human nature = human person, then why doesn’t divine nature = divine person? Nature and person are not the same things. And on this point, this is not a point that I think any good Lutheran would fault me.

    You say that you have been saying the same thing as I have. I said that Jesus has two natures, and yet you reply that Jesus is a human and divine person, so no, we are not saying the samehing because person and nature are not the same. To put it another way, if Jesus having a divine nature = being a divine person, then either there will be three natures, and hence three gods or one person in the deity.

    I thought my comments on the person as distinct from the soul were clear, but let me take another crack at it. Jesus has a human soul, which implies that the person is not the soul since Jesus is not a human person. The person of the Son does not take the place of the soul in the human nature of Christ, for if it did, then no human soul could be redeemed.

    As I said before, we need a reason to think that taking human nature into the divine person changed or altered the person qua person into some new third thing, which seems to me to be what you are implying. There isn’t a real change of the divine person because it is a personal union. Taking humanity into his person doesn’t alter the person qua person.

    If you’re Lutheran, I’d recommend looking at Chemnitz’ Two Natures in Christ. The fundamental problem ISTM is that you are thinking of nature and person as the same thing.


  17. Ioannis,

    Greetings. Your English is far better my Greek so not to worry. As far as your question, I think your question is definately on the right track. If there is no robust distinction between essence and energy, then in Christology we will be forced into a species of monoenergism. I do not think that most people realize this. They most often think that dyotheletism merely requires that they affirm the presence of two wills, and that it does, but it requires a lot more. It requires that there are two activities respective to each nature which is something distinct from each nature. And it further requires that sometimes these two activities can be different as in the passion of Christ where Christ wills simultaneously two different things without sin. If we deny the distinction, then while there will be two natural wills, there will be only one activity in Christ which most often leads us to a subordianting relation with the divine predestinating the human will, and then we are off and running into some form of predestinarianism. Game over. Further, if we deny the e/e distinction we will be forced to deny for example the deification of Christ’s humanity unless we wish to embrace Eutychianism or some form of Monophysitism and then apthartodocetism along with it. Or we will be forced to think of the deification of Christ’s humanity (and our own) in terms of a created effect by virtue of efficient causality and thereby bear only some kind of resemblance relation between God and humanity. All of the theophanies of the OT then will not per se be manifestation of deity, but merely a created phenomenon or “sign.” And this seems to me to be how Augustin and Augustinians have thought of these matters.

    Monothelitism and Monoenergism took a variety of forms. In Honorius and then later Anselm, we have the view that Christ really doesn’t will otherwise in the garden, but merely expresses a human desire. The human desire for life never reaches the level of choice properly and fully speaking. So Christ merely expresses a human desire to live but this is subordinated by the divine will which subordinates the human will and hence the desire is subdued. The worry is that willing otherwise or differently would amount to willing contrary to and willing contrary to the good will of God would be sin and Christ can’t sin, so we have to metaphysically “downgrade” this from choice to desire. If the good is simple then to will other than the good is to will the evil. If there was genuine plurality in the good, this would not follow. This take of a human desire has a number of serious implications for the spiritual life, not the least of which is to see human survival and temporal existence as rather insignificant. As someone as devoted to Augustine as Etienne Gilson could write that for Augustine, temporal history is a “waste product” because the plurality intrinsic to temporal existence in successive moments could never be taken up into the simple simultaneous life of God.

    More directly, if Christ’s human nature is impeccable and he has this human desire, this raises all kinds of problems, not the least of which is that we have human nature in a pristine state that is now morally opposed to God. So then either God’s will is evil and the human good or vice versa. Human nature has to be bad in order for God to be good. Making human nature good will undermine the divine good and so human nature can then contribute nothing in salvation, but its proper role is to be passive and subordinate to God. Then as a consequence we have the whole problem of whether creation is inherently defective in its activity.

    That’s the long answer.

    The short answer. “Yes.”

    I am glad to have commentors from Greece and it is hope that you can help enrich our conversations here. So by all means continue to contribute and bring more informed Greeks to the convo. The same goes for Russians, Serbs, etc.


  18. “The biblical image is to carry me and point to that greater experience of God as fire.”

    Aquinas seems to say in his commentary on On Divine Names that the Scriptures are a ray from the hyperbeing into being. If that is so, Scriptures themselves are hyperbeing, or in the reading of the Scriptures the hyperbeing is present or some such, but that my concepts formed therein are necessarily false, and meant to direct me to the hyperbeing. Is this something you could agree with or not?


  19. Matthew,

    Aquinas’ view of “hyperbeing” is very different from the Patristic view. For him, it means an extremely great being; for the Fathers, not a being at all. The one word υπερούσιος is being used in two ways by two sets of people.

    The scriptures are not hyperbeing in any sense of the word. Rather, they are created verbal symbols which form concepts in our minds which lead us to the experience of God. I think it is dangerous to say that those concepts are false, unless they are heretical. The purpose of orthodoxy is to ensure that we use the proper symbols and concepts; i.e. those one which lead us towards God, and eschew improper ones (which are heresies) and lead away from God. Our language about God does not actually touch Him in the strict sense, but it is an internally consistent system which leads us to participate in Him. That is why although our language about God and the concepts behind that language are not true in the strict sense of actually describing God in any way, nevertheless it is not false nor can it be altered.


  20. “Thus, if anyone says that his energy, that is, his Spirit, is something created and made, even while it belongs to him in a proper sense, then the Deity, surely, will be a creature, given that his operation is no other thing than he himself. Isn’t the claim abominable and hateful, and one which has a great tendency towards practical impiety?”

    I think there’s a couple of ways to go about this:

    1) If we interpret Cyril in such a way as to make Him say that operations/energies are just the same thing as a Person, because the operation is one, then we might draw the conclusion that there is only one person in God. On the other hand, if we admit diverse operations, does this amount to multiple persons (beyond three)? Are operations the same as persons? Are persons the same as operations? The Trinity would seem to break down at such an inquiry.

    2) The other way to read Cyril here in a more Orthodox manner is that he is speaking about the economy. Notice the context:

    “How then can that by which and in which God accomplishes his operations with regard to the creation and makes himself known as Creator of all things be a creature, subject to becoming?”

    So the question is raised within the context of how God relates to us in the economy and if God is subject to becoming. When God comes and indwells us it is by His personal energy. Just as you participate in the activity of my voice when I make a speech, so it is with God as He brings forth his various energies to us. When you participate in my activity (the speech), I do not enhypostasize you AS person but rather as energy. My energies have an identification with me, the person, and not someone else. But if we make the philosophical reductions of my energies with my person, then all the problems stated in (1) apply.

    3) The other problem is that Alexandria is the haven of the Platonic revival. So we cannot, on that basis, exclude the possibility that Cyril’s use of terminology and the way he has phrased these things in doctrinal formulation is without any problematic whatsoever. I believe it was Theodoret (or it could have been Theodore) that picked on Cyril’s Triadology as implying that it denied the Monarchy of the Father as the sole source of divinity of the other Two Persons. Cyril went on to–possibly rethink–and correct his doctrinal formulation of what he meant. Cyril is not known for being entirely consistent across Christology to Triadology in terminology, and on that score the Cappadocians are far better or more consistent than the Alexandrians.



  21. “At this point I feel like the energies are converging onto the ineffability that is proper to the essence. The experience of the vision is indescribable and (almost?) cannot be spoken of, yet when we say it is light, we do not lie. And again, it is also darkness, truly so and yet beyond truly so – but not metaphorically. Is the darkness the essence into which we cannot see? Or if we know it is darkness, how can it be the inexpressible essence? Or are some aspects of the energies knowable and others unknowable, or at least we can only know that they are. And yet if the energies express the unknowable essence, to what extent are they an expression of that unknowableness, and hence in some way also unknowable?” – Fr.Maximus

    “According to the centuries-old Orthodox tradition, the power and energy of God is present in the holy name of Jesus. In the beginning of the twentieth century Monk Hilarion, a Caucasian hermit, wrote in his remarkable book On the Mountains of the Caucasus: ‘The Son of God… in the fullness of His divine nature is present both in the Holy Eucharist and in Christian churches. He is also fully and entirely present in His name, with all His perfection and with the entirety of His divinity’. Monk Hilarion quoted the following words of St John of Kronstadt: ‘Let the name of the Lord… be for you, instead of the Lord Himself… The name of the Lord is the Lord Himself…[in you]” – Taken from ‘Prayer and Monasticism in the Orthodox Tradition’ by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

    Try speaking His name…you could start with simply saying,’Jesus’.


  22. Hilarion’s book was the starting point for the heresy of Name-worshiping. To think that the fullness of the divinity is contained in the name Jesus is basically Eunomianism. This is the exact opposite of what we want.


    I would go with choice 2. If we can say that the many logoi are the one Logos, and in saying this we do not reduce the Logos to an energy, then perhaps we can say that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the Spirit, since God’s energies are Himself. The Spirit brings Christ into us, and energizes within us. On this gloss, St. Cyril’s statement is very true, although maybe not as clear as one would want.


  23. Perry, Photios, Father Maximus or whomever,

    My question is not directly related to this article but indirectly and it is this:

    A person(creature, me, us), though *composed* of body, soul and spirit, is not, however, strictly the sum of these components but rather person *encompasses* or even it can be said that these components are put to the use of the person and the how the person *uses* the components and spiritualizes his entire being through offering them up to God(organically) also determines in a sense that one’s personhood. Correct?


  24. Father,

    Thank you for that correction concerning false, not strictly true. I guess my question is: Are the Scriptures merely iconic; or are the Scriptures themselves a presence in this world of God, but the concepts which they form in our minds iconic.


  25. Father Maximus,

    You write:

    “It is not a positive statement about the nature. Will is an energy, and the energies manifest the nature. We make positive statements about the energies.”

    I understand that through ascetism and with living the Life of the Church, we may come to “know” God and through this, may also come to “know” ourselves. Is it right to understand your statement as implying that as with the Triune God, Who in His Essence cannot be known, but that we may “know” Him from His Energies so with us creatures, we cannot know in truth even our own nature and essence(are these two the same or different?) but we may begin to come to *understand* our nature and essence through the contemplating of the observation of our energies?

    I understand that the terms don’t equivocate between the Triune God and the creation, but I’m wondering if in “likeness” this is a correct understanding?

    Related to this, I’m also curious as to how knowable/unknowable is human nature and if you can point out any specific Fathers that speak on this subject?


  26. Sophocles,

    St. Gregory of Nyssa says the following:

    “”Who has known the mind of the Lord Romans 11:34?” the apostle asks; and I ask further, who has understood his own mind? Let those tell us who consider the nature of God to be within their comprehension, whether they understand themselves— if they know the nature of their own mind. “It is manifold and much compounded.” How then can that which is intelligible be composite? Or what is the mode of mixture of things that differ in kind? Or, “It is simple, and incomposite.” How then is it dispersed into the manifold divisions of the senses? How is there diversity in unity? How is unity maintained in diversity? But I find the solution of these difficulties by recourse to the very utterance of God; for He says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness Genesis 1:26 .” The image is properly an image so long as it fails in none of those attributes which we perceive in the archetype; but where it falls from its resemblance to the prototype it ceases in that respect to be an image; therefore, since one of theattributes we contemplate in the Divine nature is incomprehensibility of essence, it is clearly necessary that in this point the image should be able to show its imitation of the archetype. For if, while the archetype transcends comprehension, the nature of the image were comprehended, the contrary character of the attributes we behold in them would prove the defect of the image; but since the nature of our mind, which is the likeness of the Creator evades our knowledge, it has an accurate resemblance to the superior nature, figuring by its own unknowableness the incomprehensible Nature.”

    Now this refers to the human mind rather than human nature per se, bu the principle seems to hold. For Aristotle, to understand an essence is to be able to make a definition of it. This is done by combining the genus with the differentia. Now some Fathers, like St. John of Damascus, are willing to define man as a rational mortal animal, so that looking at it philosophically, one might say that he claims to understand the essence of man. But I do not think that is what the Fathers mean. Some later Western writers try to follow this up by making a distinction between essence and quiddity; the former referring to definition and the latter referring to a deeper knowledge.

    I seem to remember reading some Father (St. Basil? can’t remember) saying that in this world we cannot understand our essence, but in the world to come we will understand it. But maybe I am remembering falsely.


  27. Matthew,

    I am not sure in what way you are trying to make the scriptures themselves divine; that would seem to lead to a view of scripture similar to what the Moslems have toward the Koran.

    I think you might want to read Fr. John Romanides’ essay Empirical vs. Speculative Theology and his other works where he elaborates on the understanding that scripture itself is not revelation; rather, it is a means to revelation. True revelation is to partake of God’s uncreated energies.

    However, there is one sense in which the scriptures are directly connected with God’s energy, and that is through the logoi or inner principles of scripture. When a person is illumined by God, he understands the true meanings of scripture in a direct and intuitive way as events in his spiritual life. This understanding is the working of the Holy Spirit within us, and it simultaneously leads us upward and is delight in and of itself.

    St. Maximus says that if you don’t understand the logoi of scripture, you don’t really understand it at all.


  28. This may be tangential, but I was wondering if in EO theology the Son and the Spirit are energies of the Father?

    I ask because, given my understanding of what is written here, it would be impossible for them to be essence because they directly interact with us. Or, if they are essence, then their interaction is energy–which to me would raise questions about the Incarnation, because then the Incarnation would be about “what” more than “who”.


  29. “Now some Fathers, like St. John of Damascus, are willing to define man as a rational mortal animal, so that looking at it philosophically, one might say that he claims to understand the essence of man. But I do not think that is what the Fathers mean.

    Yes, it would seem that for St. John to define thus, he has in mind an understanding of man in mind that is not attempting to answer the question of St. Gregory of Nyssa who, in the text you cite above, seems to be putting the question, “What is Man?” before his opponents to draw out their foolishness in thinking to understand the nature of God.

    A beautiful text as well showing the relation of the archetype to the image and as the former is incomprehensible so the latter. But the incomprehensibility of the image is the same as the incomprehensibility of the archetype?

    I know you already said that:

    I seem to remember reading some Father (St. Basil? can’t remember) saying that in this world we cannot understand our essence, but in the world to come we will understand it.But maybe I am remembering falsely.”

    so sorry for the tough question but maybe someone else on here may have more insight.

    But this raises a further question: Is human nature in its essence as unknowable as the Divine nature in its essence? I remember reading somewhere that we, too, creatures, have uncreatedness as part of our nature or makeup which may therefore cause me to think that human nature because it too involves the uncreate is as well unknowable?


  30. Sophocles,

    I do not think the created and increate can be compared. The divine nature is radically unknowable, such that we cannot even speak of it.

    For the Fathers, the preoccupation is not with coming to an intellectual understanding of human nature or any thing else, but of contemplating the logoi of created natures.


  31. Ed,
    If the Son and Spirit are just energies of the Father then, either there is really one person in the “Trinity,” which is no Trinity, or rather the Father is also an energy of the essence as well along with the others. If so, the names of God can be swapped out with any other name such that Father, Son, Holy Spirit which designate Hypostases can now be confused with Operations. God is now Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier as some modern Protestants and Catholics wish to say. Such is possible with a Hellenistic Ordo Theologiae starting with essence and defining the divine essence by philosophical simplicity.



  32. One of the insidious things about the philosophical doctrine of simplicity is precisely what I stated above. If Persons and Operations are just the same thing in God, then the Patriarchal language in scripture of nouns and pronouns can be easily subverted. We can change out the names of God quite easily since all the names really designate the SAME thing given this view.



  33. Photios,

    I still have questions.

    If I understand you aright, The three hypostases of God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are in essence God. If they are energies, then there is really no distinction between them, as they would more or less be what God does, and not God as God. SO it would make no difference what we call them–Father, Son, Holy Ghost, tree or what ever.

    Is that a fair statement?


  34. Yeah exactly. Go read the Gnostics, that’s exactly what they were saying. As many different operations that could be conceived, that’s how many deities there were. These modern champions of some supposed “Christian” philosophical doctrine of divine simplicity just don’t see the connection with the transference of names (i.e. the pseudomorphosis of terms). This is not a biblical doctrine, nor one the Apostles handed to the episcopate. Though the thing that needs to be understood by us Orthodox is that the doctrine is VERY early (and really predates the New Testament), the struggle between Gnosticism and Christianity exists right there in the 1st Century. That’s why it is the OLD enemy.



  35. @ Perry: You wrote – “If we deny the distinction, then while there will be two natural wills, there will be only one activity in Christ which most often leads us to a subordianting relation with the divine predestinating the human will, and then we are off and running into some form of predestinarianism. Game over.”

    Question – what does the Damascene mean by the one theandric energy? And I still don’t understand why council 6 seems to say the human will “is subject to the divine.”


  36. And, Perry, you said: “The human desire for life never reaches the level of choice properly and fully speaking. So Christ merely expresses a human desire to live but this is subordinated by the divine will which subordinates the human will and hence the desire is subdued.”

    Question – But doesn’t it say: “And so we proclaim two natural wills in Him, and two natural operations indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, unfusedly according to the doctrine of the holy Father, and two natural wills not contrary, God forbid, according as impious heretics have asserted, but the **human will following and not resisting or hesitating, but rather even submitting to His divine and omnipotent will.** For, it is necessary that the will of the flesh act, but that it be **subject to the divine will** according to the most wise Athanasius.”


  37. What Perry has in mind with the human will being subordinated and subdued is that the divine will determines one and only one possible course of action for the human will.

    St. Maximus the Confessor indeed thinks that the human will is subject to the divine will and follows it and does not resist it, but that the psychology of willing in Christ and the Saints in the Eschaton is such that it is given a NEW set of circumstances. One that removes doubt, hesitancy, and opposition in the objects of choice. The objects of choice are determining the psychology of the will. Christ and the Saints indeed always and without failure will God, but that doesn’t remove the plurality of possibilities in the objects that are chosen.

    You have to look at the context of the quote as understood by the Church’s Theologian (in this case St. Maximus) and how he understood these things (in which he is the one they are attempting to follow). This is why Roman Catholics can skip right to the decree and affirm it without looking at the theological context FOR the decree (and give it a NEW context, which is another pseudomorphosis).



  38. OK, so the Logos is essentially God, and not an energy.

    Now I have a question about the Incarnation. How can the essence of God incarnate? How can the nature of God dwell in a human body?


  39. @Perry Robinson

    Thanks for the welcome and for the extant and very enlightening response.
    It would be my own pleasure if I was able to contribute to the conversations of this blog because I have learnt a lot and I am still always learning from it.


  40. Fr. Maximus,

    Greetings. Just a quick note: I’d take issue with the claim that for Aquinas God/hyperbeing is just “an extremely great being.” That doesn’t really take into account his important distinctions, his theory of analogy, and his appropriation of Denys.

    Pax Christi,


  41. X-Cathedra,

    Aquinas’ theory of analogy is exactly the problem: you are still working with being. And he does not so much appropriate St. Dionysius as misinterpret his fundamental line of thought.


  42. Though “An extremely great being,” is probably not the best way to describe Aquinas position, nevertheless there is a metaphysical and epistemological continuity between God and beings that is grounded in the analogy of being that extends to essences. God and beings are in some sense comparable to Aquinas. Without such an analogy, there would be no possibility of a science about God and an understanding of God as the first cause. Also, the human quest for happiness would be frustrated if God and beings as to their essences were not in some way comparable.

    “It is unfortunate that translations of Byzantine or Neoplatonic texts often tend to follow the Latin rendering of hyperousios as supersubstantiale or superessentiale. For while super can carry the same ambiguity in Latin as is found in hyper, the predominance in the West of a broadly entitative understanding of God that is grounded in an analogy of being inevitably flattens the double sense of hyper that we have noted. That is, the reference to the divine ousia as hyperousios is ultimately unnecessary and serves at best a kind of heuristic value. For, since the noun ousia refers to the divine ousia and the adjective, ousios, in huperousios, refers to the finite essence beyond which ( hyper-) the divine essence is supereminently founded, then huperousios ousia can be recast as divine “essence beyond essence” (ousia huper tên ousian). Hence, huperousios ousia can be rendered either as “essence beyond essence” or “supersessential essence.” But given what is involved in predicating “essence” of God, then the phrase “divine essence” implicitly contains “superessential” within it as a preeminent denial that the divine essence is like any finite essence. Hence, one can equivalently say “divine essence” or “divine superessential essence.” On this view, one can see why Aquinas observes that Dionysius often uses many words in a manner that seems to be superfluous. It is not at all surprising then that terms like supersubtantiale, superessentiale, superesse, superdeus, superbonum, which are so prominent in the Latin translation of Pseudo-Dionysius, are virtually absent from Aquinas’s own vocabulary. Rather, such terms appear for the most part in Aquinas’s works in the context of quoting or interpreting Dionysius. On this matter, I believe that Dionysius is fundamentally misread within the Scholastic framework and more broadly within the philosophical theology that is predominant in the West.” — John D. John, Manifesting Beyond be-ing Being (hyperousios ousia): The Divine Essence-Energies Distinction for Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite

    Of course, I don’t believe that the writer of The Divine Names, Mystical Theology, etc. is a Pseudo-Dionysios 5th Century writer coming from historical textual criticism from 19th century German scholars, but rather St. Paul’s actual convert in Acts as we hymn in the liturgy. That’s a seperate matter though, but it is an important one.



  43. If I could die sooner it might be to hear the story of how Dionysius’ work popped up in the 5th century! But such things might not matter then. I do hope I find out, though!

    By the way, I’m trying to follow this but am having some problems. If I read rightly, we know nothing of God from his energies, or from analogy from the created order, but does it not icon him? Or is it that by following the commandments we become partakers of the divine nature by some degree and then are able to see what is imaging him in the created things? Therefore just by observing the created things we cannot know anything of God (or, we cannot discern what is imaging God from our own imaginations.)

    Is this what is meant? And that the level of contemplation is based on the level of purification / illumination / union? As per Maximus, going from contemplating the logoi of created things, all the way up to contemplating God alone (which is sort of like, a non-contemplation?) But what then of the active and the contemplative man? Do they oppose one another because the first is the cattle-keeper and the second the shepherd? Does being an active man instead of a contemplative, I mean, mean still being attached to worldly things and thus ‘imperfect’, or does it actually reflect a different disposition, wherein on does not attach one’s self to the world, but yet lives within and lives actively? Or is that actually a contradiction?

    There seems such a tension sometimes, between the monastic and active. But that tension does not exist in Maximus, which makes me think that I do not understand him rightly.

    Thanks in advance, guys.


  44. Not really as difficult as you might imagine. If you recall some of Augustine’s lost sermons have popped up very recently, which means they have been lost for 16 centures.


  45. Oh, so we see something similar to those that claim that the Babylonian Jews *wrote* the Torah just because they were the ones who finally collected the works into the form we have today?

    Ah, I have seen at least one fellow get rot in the religious brain from this line of reasoning.


  46. Yep ironically there is a continuity between a Neoplatonist like Porphyry and the German scholars who say that Dionysios is a later author. Porphyry argued against Christians that parts of Daniel had to be of a later, present day author because of how accurate the descriptions were. Likewise, the German scholars use the same line of reasoning when they suppose that Dionysios lifted texts straight from Proclus. If Dionysios is as great as the Church says he is, it’s not a surprise at all that the influence would be the other way around.


  47. From St. Photios’ Myriobiblion:

    1 [Theodore the Presbyter, On the Genuineness of the works of Dionysius the Areopagite]

    Read the treatise of Theodore the Presbyter, in which he undertakes to prove the genuineness of the works of St. Dionysius. The following arguments against it are refuted: (1) I. they are genuine, how is it that none of the later Fathers cites them or quotes any passages from them? (2) How is it that Eusebius Pamphili, in his list of the writings of the Holy Fathers, does not mention them? (3) How is it that these treatises describe in detail rites and customs which only became established in the Church gradually and after a long time? The great Dionysius, as is clear from the Acts, was contemporary with the Apostles [whereas most of the institutions described only became established gradually and in later times]; it is therefore improbable (says the objector), or rather a clumsy fiction, to assert that Dionysius could have undertaken to describe institutions which were not fully developed till long after his death. (4) How is it that a letter of the divinely-inspired Ignatius is referred to? for Dionysius flourished in the time of the Apostles, whereas Ignatius suffered martyrdom during the reign of Trajan, and wrote the letter referred to shortly before his death. Theodore endeavours to solve these difficulties and does his best to prove the genuineness of the treatises.

    St. Photios himself seems strangely neutral on the question.


  48. Well, clearly, the Fathers can only cite works they have access to, so their citing or lack of citing only works in a limited context to prove or disprove authenticity.

    Also, I have always thought Dionysius vague in some places, so like with some parts of scripture, we tend to impose our own memories on the words to understand them.

    And I can also imagine that it is possible that some of those practices which came later into wide use started where Dion was. Without specific refutations – such as texts showing that where Dionysius was there were NO SUCH THINGS AT ALL you are left being led by your philosophical presuppositions to believe that the evidence is greater than it actually is.

    Anyway, I was most interested in hearing comments regarding my last question RE: knowing of God by analogy or by his Energies, (if at all?) and the contemplative versus the active.


  49. Fr. Maximus and Photios,

    I’m still unsure about that characterization of Thomas’s analogy. The notion of working “with being” seems to be fundamentally altered if you grant that being is analogously predicated: there is no univocal genus of being under which both God and creatures are lumped. Consequently, speaking of God in terms of being is intrinsically apophatic, since of course we never have “quidditative” knowledge of God’s being this side of the eschaton( obviously a point for more debate, but note how the first 11 or so questions of the Prima Pars is primarily an account of apophatic theology). Rather, the analogy reflects the judgment that however we may speak of God and whatever He may “be” (or “not be” if you prefer), we cannot mean by this language that He somehow lacks the perfections that creatures have; rather, he must possess them preeminently, in a manner that we cannot possibly conceive. This is simply implicit in the claim that God is the cause of finite beings. From this we can judge that while we cannot know precisely what we mean when we say that “God is” (or is “wise, good, etc”), it is at least a true judgment that these names apply most properly to God because the perfections that they name (res significata) “exist” in Him in a manner ineffably more perfect than in creatures; even though our manner of using these names (modus significandi) always reflects their finite mode in creatures.

    That distinction is something that Dionysios would not have recognized and, it seems to me, he would not have been able to distinguish between a true judgment about the primary application of the names (according to res significata) while denying the modus significandi of God. Dionysios’s understnading of being is in this sense seemingly bound to finitude in both the mode in which we signify and the mode in which it subsists.

    It is of course clear that Thomas brings Dionysios into a different conceptual context, and a different articulation of being (drawing also from Aristotle and the Muslim commentators, Augustine, Proclus and other Neoplatonic thinkers); and therefore he certainly steps beyond Dionysios on his own terms. Though I’m not yet convinced that Thomas’s appropriation somehow sacrifices apophaticism and renders his conception of being conceptually idolatrous.

    His conception is certainly not that of a Scotus.

    Pax Christi,


  50. Fr. Maximus,

    I believe that since Tarasius gave him the list to read and that is the first one on the list gives a sense of affirmation of what it is that he should believe about the matter. It seems that Photios believes those arguments are refuted in citing the problematic.



  51. x-cathedra,
    As I stated already, Aquinas flattens out the double sense of hyperousios. I don’t think that is making careful distinctions, but a lack of understanding greek. Eriugena (who did know greek) doesn’t make that mistake, so I take him to be a better read of the Fathers. Also, Aquinas rearranges his commentary on the divine names to imply that Dionysios is handing down a science, where actually Dionysios’ context of the divine names is hymnological and liturgical.

    Aquinas view of the via negativa is to correct all our true affirmations about God because God is one and simple. For Dionysios it is to hymn God’s being-producing processions, but for Aquinas it is to name the source, which is the divine essence.

    To make things analogous, they have to have a basis of comparison, so I guess I take Scotus to be more consistent than I do Aquinas.



  52. Father Maximus,

    Sorry it’s taken me a couple of days to get back to this conversation.

    Are you a priest or a monk? And I thank you for your wise answers.

    “I do not think the created and increate can be compared. The divine nature is radically unknowable, such that we cannot even speak of it.

    For the Fathers, the preoccupation is not with coming to an intellectual understanding of human nature or any thing else, but of contemplating the logoi of created natures.”


    But can we not say that, by dint of the Incarnation, the human nature our Lord joined Himself to and which He created ex nihilo is also, in a different sense, radically unknowable? For though The Second Person was joined to matter, it is matter that He Himself created and gave the breath of life to.

    And even though we may speak of human nature yet when we penetrate beyond words yet here again we are left speechless when contemplating God through the logoi of our created nature.

    And the point I was making about our nature is that it is both composed of the create but also the uncreate(I wish I could remember where I read this) and this is substantiated by what St. Gregory says above.

    And looking at the passage of St. Gregory a little more carefully, may we not also state that the Archetype took upon Himself image(if we follow St. Gregory’s thinking above)and the image was kept burnished and unblemished and therefore able to show forth the Divine perfectly and radiantly thereby expressly showing that the image is able to fully conform to the Divine and resplendently reflect and ever grow towards more fully showing forth the Divine from glory to glory?

    Forgive me, as I’m thinking out loud.

    [this is all your paper’s fault, Photios 🙂 ]


  53. Father Maximus and Photios,

    I want to re-ask my first question:

    A person(creature, me, us), though *composed* of body, soul and spirit, is not, however, strictly the sum of these components but rather person *encompasses* or even it can be said that these components are put to the use of the person and the how the person *uses* the components and spiritualizes his entire being through offering them up to God(organically) also determines in a sense that one’s personhood. Correct?”

    I wish to more firmly cement my thinking along the correct or Orthodox manner.


  54. Photios (or anyone),

    Intrigued by your mention of St. Dionysius’ The Divine Names, I have begun the translator’s Introduction, up to page 11, where he is explaining “superessence”, which I don’t think you would agree with completely, but I’m not sure. I am liking his explanation better than Deirdra Carabine’s in John Scotus Eriugena (half-finished), however. In the latter, I thought the explanation tended more towards negation as in absence, in describing “beyond being”. It always seemed to me that an atheist would like the way she described JSE’s works. That God’s being depended on creation, and didn’t exist without it, and didn’t give enough credence to God’s essence as being substantial(?)without it. Maybe it’s the language style, but in the Intro to The Divine Names, I prefer the way Rolt talks about God’s relationship to creation. But towards where I am now, he seems to be negating the Trinity (another problem I had with JSE) by saying they exist separately only in the realm of manifestation, but in superbeing, he seems to indicate that they merge into Absolute Divine Simplicity, which seems to be a reverse of the eastern Ordo Theologiae. Maybe I should skip the translator’s intro and go straight to St. Dionysius. Also, I wonder if you mind the term “neoplatonist”.


  55. Andrea,
    JSE isn’t teaching a different doctrine than St. Dionysios. God as hyperousios ousia is beyond any realm of affirmation and negation, including Trinity, because God as Trinity is to Person and not to Nature. The Trinity is not an attribute or even an operation of the essence beyond all names.

    Try John D. Jones’ translation and introduction of the divine names. Eerdsman addition is good, but it doesn’t quite grasp all the subtleties that Jones does. And on that score, I wish Dr. Farrell’s patristic class notes and lectures on St. Dionysios were published in GHD so everybody could see. It would clear up a lot of misunderstandings of both JSE and Dionysios. It was Farrell that taught me that Eriugena was the last great Orthodox theologian in the West. He was deeply misunderstood by the Germans and still is, because they do not have the same Theological presuppositions as JSE.



  56. Sophocles,
    Body and soul are given shape and particularization by the hypostasis or person. I would say that personhood, the uniqueness that we are, determines those things.



  57. “While very few people in Western Continental Europe could read or speak Greek by this time, there is “abundant” evidence for fairly widespread knowledge of Greek in Ireland. Moreover, that knowledge of Greek was concerned not with Homer but with Dionysios the Araeopagite; not with grammar, but with the Psalter; not with classical Greece but with the Byzantine Empire; not with the Attic but with the Holy Spirit.” John J. O’Meara, Eriugena (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 8.


  58. Photios,

    So you are saying God as essence/nature is above description, even Trinity? I was thinking God is person first (in three particularities), essence second, actually third, which may be my problem. Person is operator, not operation…
    I don’t think I have a problem with His essence being beyond description as it is Other than ours, and thus above our ability to relate. Then again, surely my idea of Person also falls short.

    I would love to read Dr. Farrell’s notes on both of them. Now that I’ve switched to a PC, I’ve been wanting to move the authorization of GHD to this computer so that I will be more likely to continue reading it. Please let us know if the notes are ever available as an upgrade.


  59. Sophocles,

    by the way, do you believe in the tripartite composition of man’s nature (body, spirit and soul)?

    I ‘m asking because that theory has been condemned in a local synod in Greece in the 19th century.


  60. Andrea (and Ioannis)

    Initially I was going to answer Ioannis in a little more depth.

    Not having seen this actual writing from the synod, I would have ventured to believe that what the synod was condemning was the reducing of the understanding of what constitutes a human being to strictly being the sum of body, soul and spirit.

    I have seen the Fathers use this terminology but what they mean by the terms is quite different from one using the terms that lacks the Orthodox worldview. Within an Orthodox worldview context, such terms could be understood as a framework of sorts to make statements of or make sense of humanity.

    But to say that the SUM of a person is the body, soul, and spirit is quite erroneous for the reasons Father Maximus states above. Such a view is also antithetical to what Photios is speaking of when he says that the person gives shape to body and soul.

    I think that when we REALLY start thinking about our being or related to this, our be-ing, it is so marvelous and we arrive at silence and awe at the wonder of our Creator.

    And this arriving to this awe is, it could be said, part and parcel of our theosis in which we struggle to purify ourselves that we may be illumined and to more fully partake of the Divine Nature and partaking we struggle to even more purification from which we are illumined yet more and are yet able to more fully partake of the Divine Nature and on and on, from glory to glory.

    St. Gregory’s text above can be very helpful for this understanding as the image(us) can more fully reflect the Divine as the mirror or image is cleansed or purified and being more purified(or cleansed) I can “see” God more fully in the logoi of creation or this can be stated as being illumined.


  61. Jay,
    BTW-how do you like Dr. Farrell’s Paleo-physics stuff? Did you ever read the Appendix to Chapter 9 in the Giza Death Star Destroyed? What is absolute divine simplicity to Heremeticism? 😉



  62. Interestingly, I’m beginning to believe that this *is truth* since it ultimately prevents us from mechanically reducing things into formulas and treating the image as the source. I.e. That God is trinity does not mean that ‘threeness’ is divinely special; we are not Pythagoreans. Therefore on the deepest level it seems to act as a final and unconquerable hammer against all superstition.

    What I mean is that since we don’t really know God’s essence or nature by observing the icons and things in and of themselves, none of the properties they have, the name ‘Jesus’ as a formation of letters and sounds, the color gold for heaven, the shape of the cross, and so forth, are fixedly divine; they are means by which God reveals himself. They are what they are because he chooses them, and chooses them freely. It is through the energies of He Himself that we come to see him reflected in them, and not simply by using reason to deduce their properties.

    If these energies are not God (i.e. the energies are created), then we know nothing at all of God, on pains of believing that the divinity is necessarily bound to certain forms or formulas, but even otherwise we know nothing of God’s essence, since it is absolutely nothing at all like the created things.

    Sorry to waste your time with my ramblings, guys. But is this what you were getting at, Fr. Maximus? Like how knowledge goes from man to man, and that you can’t learn a language by staring at the letters (since their inherent meanings do not rest in dead matter, but in the living energies of man!)

    Er, maybe ignore that last part.


  63. Photios,

    Yes, actually the paleo-physics is how I came into contact with his works a few years back when I first started reading the Eastern Fathers indepth. I had no idea who Dr. Farrell was until I came across you guys through a debate I had with PCA minister Pastor Kevin (an old friend of Perry’s).

    I love his paleo-stuff. I’ve posted several inteviews and lectures of Dr. Farrell’s on NT in the past 2 years that have garnered a lot of hits. So far I’ve read Unified Field and Nazi Bell – the Gizas are next on my list.



  64. Just wait till you hit the Giza series and Cosmic War. I can’t wait to hear your comments when you read the section about mathematical topology and Plato’s Cave in the first book in the series.

    I figured since you like esotericism and theology that you would like Farrell, you both have that in common.


  65. I noticed you commented on that to Prejean in that debate with Taylor. I suspected that was coming from something paleo-driven….


  66. I’ve thought for a while, btw – via Velikovsky and Garaham Hancock, that the universe looks like it’s been smashed to bits in some massive cosmic war.


  67. Right. I was pushing them to some form of idolatry in the belief of ADS. That it really didn’t have anything to do with theology but rather with physics.


  68. Sophocles,

    I am a hieromonk.


    Be careful not to confuse symbols with the energies. The energies are uncreated and God Himself; symbols are created means which signify the energies to us. By means of symbols we are able to form conceptions which are appropriate to leading the spiritual life correctly. The symbols and the conceptions which we make from them are not, however, participation in the energies. Participation in God’s energies is a divine experience, which nevertheless is natural to man.


  69. Photios,

    Thanks for the response. If it’s not too much trouble, I may have to ask you to elaborate a bit on how Aquinas “flattens” the “double sense” of huperousios. I read the quote from John D. John over a number of times and can’t quite see the problem, or at least not why in his difference from Dionysios Aquinas is obviously wrong. I may need a bit more. If we grant that Aquinas is using the terms like ousia in a different sense, in a different theological epistemology (one drawing from Aristotle and Augustine’s ontology on top of Dionysios), then I may need an additional premise to make the issue clearer.

    It’s also not clear to me how the contextual difference you note (science-liturgical) is, at least in form, relevant. St. Thomas’ account of how language is used of God is merely an analysis of what is implicit in all contexts, whenever we we speak of or to God, in worship or in reflection, etc. The distinction between the understandings of via negativa that you note is a bit too sharp a dichotomy to me: although the simplicity underlies much of the logic of negation (for instance, since acting like any attribute of God’s is an accident would imply created status), I fail to see how this is not as well a major concern of Dionysios. But then again your distinction gets into the more fundamental difference of the essence-energies distinction and not simply of analogy.

    For Aquinas there is indeed a way of understanding the processions of the divine Persons as energeia and as uncreated (processions the power of which does not terminate in anything ontologically external from God), and therefore a sense of understanding creation as the processions that are created. But it certainly wouldn’t make much sense for Thomas to sing a hymn to any power considered as created (though it would considered as creating; though this of course would for him have to be one with God’s substance).

    I digress. The more interesting question for me is that of analogy. David Bentley Hart has argued that the analogy is implied in any account of creation that does not contradict itself. I’d have to know more precisely how you mean “basis of comparison,” because again, how this is understood makes all the difference. So far I’ve pointed to the one option of treating God and creatures under a univocal genus (of, say, being), as two instantiations of it, with perfections differing in, perhaps, magnitude (God is just way bigger). This is what most would consider a basis of comparison, and this is ultimately what Scotus’ account boils down to. However, we might consider the alternative. To deny 1) univocal predication and 2) analogical predication (however we might figure it) would mean that all of our language about God is 3) entirely equivocal. This is ultimately a denial of any language about God, because there could be no intelligibility to our words, in liturgy or theology. When we say “we are good” and “God is good,” we know what we mean by the former, but we are forced to conclude that our use of the second is entirely arbitrary, bearing no relation to the former perfection (like “bat” is used of a wooden club and a flying mammal). All those words could express is the total failure of a logos of the Theos.

    But this is certainly not what we mean when we say God is good. We employ that word based on SOME relation to the perfection of Good we experience, even though the two are not at all the same nor equally accessible to us. For one thing, we know at the very least that when we say God is good, we mean “God is not evil/privation in the sense we experience.” That is a judgment very different from, and not possible with, equivocity.

    Any account of creation that includes participation is an account of an analogy of being, and any such account requires that the perfections creatures embody exist preeminently in God, even if in a mode infinitely beyond us or our quidditative knowledge. What we can conclude, at minimum, from the doctrine of creation is that God is not less than our limited perfections; and therefore, He must possess them in a far greater sense than we do.

    That is very different from acting as though God and creation are tied together by a blanket concept of being. Based on the above judgment, it’s entirely acceptable to use words like “being” “wisdom,” “Good,” etc. as primarily referring to God and secondarily referring to creatures (thus foregoing huper). Only in God is the reality the word signifies truly, perfectly present.

    Sorry to divert so much from the topic of the post. BTW, what do you think of David Hart? While Orthodox, the analogy is very central to his theology.

    Pax Christi,


  70. X-Cathedra,
    I don’t recognize Hart’s theology as Orthodox. I think Hart is in heresy, on most theological topics, save maybe his understanding of evil and sin. I’m interested in–very little–of what comes out of “academic Orthodoxy,” nor do I recognize much of it as such.

    You’ll have to go back and read my post further up. I believe that there is an analogy between God and man, not an analogy of being (or essence) but an analogy of operation. I thought I made that pretty clear already.

    I don’t think you understand the univocity of being though. Scotus’ view is not that God has ‘being’ bigger in a quantitative sense but qualitatively.



  71. Matthew

    The question would be the mode of presence Aquinas has in mind re hyperbeing. I’d need to see the text in question, but I don’t he has in mind what Palamas does on signification. Aquinas means that the terms that we use are taken from sensible experience but that mode of use isn’t appropriate for simple objects so that all of our language about God is skewed. I think there is a kind of analogical predication in Maximus and Palamas, but it isn’t what Aquinas has in mind.

    Fr. Maximus,

    I agree that there are passages like that in Cyril, but I don’t find them troubling for a few reasons. I don’t think Cyril has a hard or reductionistic view of identifying the Spirit with his works. In fact, I just read a passage from Cyril about a week ago where he clearly distinguishes them, but as I am away from my library now I can’t locate it. Perhaps when I get back home I will make a post out of it.


  72. Ed R,

    Whether the Son and the Spirit are energies of the Father, we’d need to be very careful in saying so if we were to say so. First because all of the energies or works of the persons includes all of the others. Some of the later Platonists like Plotinus for example spoke of an internal and an external energy or activity of the One. I suppose its possible to say that relative to internal energy or activity the Son and Spirit are such and this would comport well with Irenaeus who spoke of the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father, but I’d wish to be xtremely cautious in talking of the Son and the Spirit as energies.

    As to your question on the incarnation, the Chalcedonian view isn’t that the essence of God becomes incarnate, but that the divine person does. But neither the divine essence or person are strictly speaking bounded or circumscribed by the human nature which is united in the one divine person.


  73. Jay,

    The human will does in fact choose differently, but not contrary to the divine on Maximus’ view. On Aquinas’ view, Christ never chooses otherwise since his human will is predestined to be conformed to the divine. I firmly believe that Christ in his human will is subject to and submits to the divine will. That doesn’t mean that the divine predestines the human will in Christ. To be subject is not co-extensive with being subordinate. A woman may be subject to her husband, Christ may be subject to the Father, but that doesn’t mean they are subordinate to them.


  74. Jay,

    John of Damascus I think refers to theandric energy specifically in reference to the dual willings or energies which are in harmony. Maxmus speaks this way on a few occasions if I am not mistaken.


  75. Ed, not a fair statement. Here’s why. The energies are actions, doings of the persons. They are not the persons themselves. The persons are in their actions and the actions are actions of the persons, which is why the activities reveal or disclose the persons. The energies are deity, but they are not all that is deity. Furthermore, the reading you give of collapsing the persons into actions would just be Gnosticism, which is why the Fathers argued strenously against anhypostatic or non-personal actions, impersonal emanations as God. There are no non-Trinitarian activities, which is why the Orthodox have a problem with the project of natural theology.


  76. Fr. Maximus,

    I do think the created and uncreated can be compared at the level of energy in so far as the human logos is an energy and eternally in Christ. There is space or so far as I can see for a kind of analogy of being there, but it isn’t what Aquinas I think has in mind since these are not God ad intra.


  77. X-Cathedra

    The most significant difference between our position and Thomas is that we affirm that God is the formal cause of beings so that the line of perfections existing in God in a superior way of itself won’t really help since it will put the question of how simplicity is to be understood back on the table. The perfections for Thomas exist in God simply, but we don’t agree on simplicity and so we aren’t going to agree on the nature of the divine names and hence how to read Dionysius.

    I wouldn’t put the kind of apophatic gloss that Thomas gives as being beyond (pun!) Dionysius. There seems to be pretty much that idea present in plenty of Platonic writers, namely a difference between the thing signified and the mode of its signification.

    To paraphrase Jones’ reading of Dionysios, hyperousia for Dionysios is not super-essential being. It is not being at all. It is not being in a supreme way, but non-being. I don’t think that is what Albert or Thomas had in mind.


  78. RiverC,

    Whats the problem with 3? You don’t like Monty Python? “Three is the number and the number is three!”

    Yes I think you are on the right track. It prevents reudcing or subordinating persons to principles.

    I wouldn’t say that the divine activities aren’t fixidly divine, but rather would say that they don’t exhaust deity.


  79. “To paraphrase Jones’ reading of Dionysios, hyperousia for Dionysios is not super-essential being. It is not being at all. It is not being in a supreme way, but non-being. I don’t think that is what Albert or Thomas had in mind.”

    If I may borrow from Perry’s comment to X-Cathedra. This is what has me stuck with regard to St. Dionysios. “Non-being” sounds more like “I’m not” than the “I Am” found in Exodus. It also sounds contradictory to Person. A Person is. Is means be, which seems to indicate being to me. Essence is a positive statement, non-being is negative, but I believe it is His essence that is referred to. I’m fine with His not being human, or created, but to His not being, then I guess I also have a problem with “above being”. But I prefer “above being” than non-being. Just because we can’t know God in His essence, doesn’t mean that He isn’t. I am reading now on Felix Culpa’s blog that the early Church held St. Dionysius’ writings in high esteem, but Frs. Meyendorf and Schmemann questioned him. I wonder if the early Church was more friendly to Plotinus’s ideas. Even if so, it seems to me they didn’t make into the dogma’s of the Church, even if they did into some of the Saints’ writings. The Fathers related more to Greek thought that we moderns do.

    That said, I do think it is important to get rid of any anthropomorphic notions about God, though the Bible uses them, which I assume is because He wants to have a relationship with us. But if we take these for granted, or presume too much, we can have a skewed, self-made view of Him.


  80. Perry,

    Thanks for the reply. That really helps to clarify things. It seems as though in its minimal sense our understanding of the negative reasoning is the same: insofar as for Thomas simplicity is, at least primarily, a negative claim rather than a positive one. I mean that if you grant that perfections exist in God in a higher sense, all the conclusion to simplicity need mean so far is that perfections don’t exist in God in the same way they do in us, i.e. as accidents. Would that reasoning be consonant with an Orthodox approach?

    Indeed, the difference you note need not be original in Thomas; but with regard to the question of being, did the Neoplatonic thinkers make such a distinction? I thought not, because it seems that being was always equated with conditions of intelligibility, and thus in this epistemology it makes no sense to speak of being in excess of the limits of cognition. Hence, the discourse of “non-being.” So I suppose my question is: did any of these thinkers employing the discourse of non-being apply the res significata-modus significandi distinction to the concept of being?

    Your last comment brings up what I think was Thomas’ concern: if hyperousia does not signify or at least contain the perfection of being in an eminently higher sense, and we must say rather “it isn’t being at all,” are we forced to say that God lacks some perfection that creatures possess?


    Sorry, I didn’t read the earlier post you referred to. If you acknowledge any analogical reasoning, then we are not nearly as far apart as I assumed. Though I think we are still using different understandings of being and the analogia entis. Even an analogy of operation would imply an analogy of being from my perspective, insofar as being is primarily understood as actuality. Hence, if the operations considered analogous are actual operations and not merely potential ones, the analogy extends to being. But again, I think we are using different understandings of being.

    I didn’t mean to literally suggest Scotus’s understanding of univocity implies a quantitative difference. But I think if you grant a univocal concept of being, you don’t escape something like this, even qualitatively. In other words, I think it severely limits the extent to which a qualitative distinction succeeds.

    Pax Christi,


  81. “Even an analogy of operation would imply an analogy of being from my perspective, insofar as being is primarily understood as actuality”

    I understand that you want to say that, but it results in non-sense I think, language breaks down and has no meaning in the abyss of simplicity. Nouns are now the same thing as verbs. The ‘What’ is now the same thing as ‘Who is doing the act.’ Be-ing is now the same thing as Being, and so on. And this is where you err, operations are not the same thing as essence, operations are not he same thing as person, and person is not the same thing as essence. In fact, person isn’t a ‘thing’ at all.

    I’m not granting the Scotistic understanding of univocity. I’m just answering you on your own terms. Scottus doesn’t deny analogy, it’s just that he has a better explanation of how things really are analogous. It all goes back to the “as above, so below principle” from Hellenism and how the Philosophers understood analogy. So, really Scotus is on better ground I think.



  82. Fr. Maximus, it seems to me this view reduces the world to a mere moral lesson. Is that correct? Or is in this sense, the proper spiritual life not merely a moral thing, given that the purpose of the will is not simply to select between moral opposites?

    I was thinking of how Philosophy is supposed to begin with wonder and not doubt, and thought for a moment, that clearly wonder is an essential part of the proper spiritual life, and that indeed the world itself is great at teaching us to wonder, though wonder does not fall under the normal milieu of morality.

    Am I on the right track, or…?

    Comments appreciated, thanks!


  83. River,

    It seems you are making a distinction between creation being a tool to teach us morality and creating being a tool to teach us wonder, the latter seems more like contemplating God through nature.

    I wonder(ha)if this is still too utilitarian a view of creation. I believe God wants to redeem the entirety of creation, but am not sure how this is supposed to “be” if the earth is coming to an end. Unless it will experience some sort of resurrection too.

    I also wonder about writings that tend to lead us to shed or ascend beyond anything earthly when contemplating God. It can almost sound gnostic. But I think that learning to close our eyes in front of icons and to attain silence instead of repeating wrote prayers is a very advanced step. Most of us go astray when we try to do this and would do better to learn a correct view with the aid of external, more physical sources.


  84. Fr. Maximus,

    Sorry for lack of clarity.

    Be careful not to confuse symbols with the energies. The energies are uncreated and God Himself; symbols are created means which signify the energies to us. By means of symbols we are able to form conceptions which are appropriate to leading the spiritual life correctly. The symbols and the conceptions which we make from them are not, however, participation in the energies. Participation in God’s energies is a divine experience, which nevertheless is natural to man.

    So what you’re saying is that the creation is in some way set forth to teach us the right manner to live so that we may participate in the energies of God? If so, what sort of things does this entail? By that I mean, simply – for example – the Ten Commandments, or also more subtle and non-moral things such as wonder?


    I think… that ‘there will be a new Heaven and Earth’ (Revelation .. 22?) since we are both material and spiritual.

    Also, it seems to me that much of what is beautiful in the world is ‘purposeless’ from the standpoint of pure utilitarianism. But then, maybe it is a deficiency in my concept of utility?


  85. Andrea Elizabeth and all,

    It was somemone called Apostolos Makrakis ( who supported the tricomposite nature of man but the Synod insisted that the nature of man consists of body and soul as Christ’s human nature was described in the 4th Ecumenical Council and that the spirit of man is part of the human soul and not distinct to it. I do not know the theological and soteriological implications of that controvery, if there are any, that’s why I asked.

    I apologise for my delayed response.


  86. River,

    Actually, when I mentioned symbols, I was referring to the ones we create within for use in the Church, not to God’s creation of the world. I mean things like music (Byz. chant), art (icons), architecture (churches), poetry (hymnography), etc. I think that the contemplation of the logoi of created things can lead a person upwards in Christ, but that can only take place within the context of the life in Christ and purification from the passions. If you try to start out with nature and work yourself from there to God, you will almost inevitably fall into some sort of idolatry.


  87. River,

    After reading St. Maximus’ description of the logoi in all things, I wonder just how “new” the new earth will be. Will the tree in my back yard reach its telos in the eschaton? This also speaks to utilitarianism. Are the trees just materials to build icons and Churches out of so that I reach my telos, or tools to help me to seek God in contemplating how ‘I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree’, or wonders within themselves, hoping to fulfill their own telos? I’ve thought before that materials want to be treated a certain way, not like the Orcs do, but the way priests do. So I think that not only did God make trees to provide for our needs, but also in their beauty and wondrous composition, they lead us to contemplate beauty and goodness (not to go however far or short as Plato goes with that, but hopefully as far as the Saints do). And in some way they are fulfilled for their own sake, not just ours. But maybe that’s too tree-huggish. Fr. Seraphim Rose hugged trees.


  88. Ioannis,

    Thanks for that, I wasn’t aware of such an official statement. Makrakis seems another of those controversial, maybe too creative, yet compelling Orthodox.


  89. Photios,

    I see what you mean, but again I don’t think we are using the terms in the same sense. If the operations of God in any sense are actual operations, then they “are.” Hence, in this sense of being as the “actus” of existence, an analogy of operation implies an analogy of being. That doesn’t seem to me all that radical.

    In an earlier response you equated being with essence, and denied an analogy of essence. Yet is it theologically legitimate to refer to created “essences” and the divine “essence”; i.e. to use the term of both? Is this not an analogous predication? Surely this is not to deny the extreme, infinite difference between the created essences and the divine essence, but at the same time it doesn’t seem that we use the term “essence” of God completely arbitrarily, as if it has no intelligible relation to the way we use that term of creatures. Is this not analogy as well?

    Certainly the distinctions you note are important. But primarily simplicity is a negative predication in Aquinas’ philosophical theology: it means essentially “not composite” ontologically. That is, whatever God’s essence is like, His perfections and operations cannot stand to His essence as accidents to substance, which is precisely the mark of being a creature. Were this the case, it would follow that another Cause precedes and creates the Trinitarian God. Denying this reasoning would imply the more fundamental disagreements about metaphysics as such (which you may have no problem with).

    In your understanding of the difference between the essence and the energies, would you find the relationship of substance and accident to be satisfying?

    For Aquinas at least, simplicity does not imply the obliteration of real distinctions in God, because for Him the divine Persons are really distinct and not just logically distinct (his constant concern to avoid Sabellianism). They are, however, not metaphysically composite in the way we stand to our essences and operations.

    Scotus’s understanding of analogy, it seems to me, will always be reducible to a more primal univocity. I think this is problematic and what Thomas avoids. One can of course deny that analogy makes sense when not reducible to a preceding univocity, but I am far from convinced that this is the case.

    Pax Christi,


  90. Andrea Elizabeth,

    Concerning one of your previous comments, I am not sure that the idea that God is first person is incompatible with the fact that God ‘s essence is above description.

    In his third discourse against Arians, Saint Athanasius says about the Father that: “For as His own Subsistence is by His pleasure, so also the Son, being proper to His Essence, is not without His pleasure.” The Greek word translated here as “subsistence” is “hypostasis” which is used by St Athanasius in that text as synonym to “essence”. He seems to say that the Father is the cause of the divine essence.


  91. I hadn’t thought about how putting essence first leads to a god in general. Seemingly slight deviations from the proper order can result in pretty large distortions. Thanks again.


Comments are closed.