Huperousia in John of Damascus

“As regards what God is, it is impossible to say what he is in his essence, so it is better to discuss him by abstraction from all things. For he does not belong to the class of existing things, not because he does not exist, but because he transcends all existing things, even existence itself. For if all forms of knowing have to do with what exists, certainly that which transcends knowledge must certainly also transcend essence: and so conversely that which transcends essence will also transcend knowledge.”

An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 1.4

8 Responses to Huperousia in John of Damascus

  1. Abob,

    Well, try it this way. Does the concept of an event horizon do any work in physics? Huperousia is akin to an event horizon but in theology and philosophy. The general idea is found in lots of philosophers.Take Wittgenstein’s Tractatus-of that which we cannot speak, we must be silent. Reason has a limit.

    So I agree that there is no obvious sense in which he transcends being, because then that which transcended being would be being since sense would be applicable to it.

    And I don’t think existence is a bare particular or if it were that that constitutes a reason to think God has it. Making existence anatomic doesn’t really seem to help.

    Some of the work it does it precluding the ascription of necessity to God. As Athanasius and others wrote, God is beyond necessity and contingency.

  2. Abob says:

    I’ve always been puzzled by this sort of claim – I don’t see what sort of work it does, and to be honest, I don’t understand what it could possibly mean. I grant that God doesn’t exist the way we exist, in that he is necessary, we are contingent, he has all these essential properties we don’t, he is not confined in space or time and we are, etc., but we can spell all these things out. Why not say existence or being is what is left when we take all these things away – it’s just a simple property that can’t be explained in terms of any other. Again, there’s an obvious sense in which he transcends all beingS, but to say that he transcends all being…I just don’t get it.

  3. MG says:

    “For if all forms of knowing have to do with what exists, certainly that which transcends knowledge must certainly also transcend essence: and so conversely that which transcends essence will also transcend knowledge.”

    If this principle is correct (and it seems to be) then it is pretty easy to argue that very many Fathers (including many that Western Christians would say *don’t teach* hyperousia, or *don’t seem to teach* hyperousia) at least *implied* God was beyond-being. And given that much of their ontology was shared in common and inherited from the same Hebraic and hellenistic sources, it makes it plausible that they not just implied but in fact *believed* God was beyond-being.

  4. Joseph,

    Aquinas means that God is not the being of creatures or of ens commune, but that he is self subsisting being such that what God is, is that God is. God is therefore fully actual or completely active.

  5. Perry,
    Doesn’t Aquinas talk about God being “beyond being”? What does Aquinas mean by this?

  6. Nathaniel Brown says:

    It seems to me that most, if not all, of the categories that we have come up with to order our view of the world don’t apply to God (why would they, He’s not part of the world in the way that we are, and everything else for that matter). Essence, accident, place, etc. are useful tools to help us understand existence as we experience it. However, it also seems as though various theologians/philosophers have used these categories to discuss God and develop greater understanding. Perry, what do you think the limits are of such a project? Are any of our philosophical tools useful in perceiving truth? Clearly such tools can help us decide which arguments are better than others, and in this sense they can help us reject bad ideas about God (given certain starting assumptions, of course), but can they help us to achieve a deeper understanding of God? I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure. What are your thoughts?

  7. Will,

    Well, I suppose we could start with the question of whether Thomas could say that God is beyond existence itself? John Scotus Erugena seems to take that line as well as Maximus.

  8. Will Huysman says:

    How does St. John’s definition of “divine essence” compare to St. Thomas Aquinas’s definition of “divine essence”? Given the nuances of each saint’s definition, are they making mutually exclusive claims?

    God bless you and yours!

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