Freedom of being/existence and us

A number of years ago having completed a course on Philosophy of Religion being exposed to western arguments for the existence of God, I was of the opinion that even if these arguments were only true at a theoretical level and not at an ontological level it was better to believe in God who was theoretically necessary than only in a system without God and without any reason to be. However, since then my opinion has evolved to realise that God does not exist by any necessity because such a necessity must preexist, or at least coexist with God, whether it be a greater God or some logical principle and thus limit God. Here are some thoughts regarding the existence of God, freedom and our existence.

God is all existence and all life. This statement must not be understood as pantheism, our existence is truly other than his existence, but that everything about us is an image of who He is, or more specifically we are a created, ex nihilo, image as the Son is the uncreated image of God; as the Fathers say all our logoi are in the Logos. (This idea sets orthodox Christian thought apart from those who conceive God, or gods, in man’s image as “other” in human terms such as the pagan Greeks, Mormons or some Protestants tend to inadvertently do and from those who see man as God, even if only partially, yet not as truly “other” such as in Buddhism or Platonism.) There is no truly independent existence apart from God in any form, such as matter, energy or even principle, logic or space/emptiness. So nothing could be said to cause God’s existence other than himself. Thus, God is completely free from any necessity upon himself; His existence and life is truly free.

Does God’s nature necessitate his existence? This can only happen if one can say that God necessitates himself otherwise one must put God’s nature prior to himself to be effectively a prior external principle, which would contradict it being God’s nature. God necessitating himself would mean that God causes his own existence, yet because God is free then his causing of himself must also be free. Thus, one cannot say that God’s nature necessitates his existence; nature is also free and does not necessitate.

To say that God freely causes himself seems to imply that God exists before himself. This would be true if cause and effect where purely sequential but if the cause and effect are simultaneous and eternal then there is no logical contradiction. Also, this understanding of God’s existence means there must be a priority of person over essence, as only a person can be said to freely cause his own existence.

If God freely exists then one could say that God exists because he wants to exist, else it would not be free, and because he knows himself to exist; if he is ignorant of his existence then he can’t be said to cause his existence. If he knows himself then this process must eternally generate an exact living image of himself that is enhypostasised distinct from himself. Without an image there would be no knowledge and hence no knowing. The knowing is not merely conceptual but experiential and so the image is not merely an abstract but a living image; a distinct hypostasis/person. This person is properly called the Son of God as being generated and caused by and out of God, who thus is the Father, and yet is also with God, in God and is God being everything that God is. It is inconceivable to consider that God was ever without the Son, else God would not be, yet because God freely exists the Son is also freely generated. The Son is both out of God and yet in God. This seems to be a contradiction as being out and in at once would require two contradictory states and raise the questions of how can he be out of and yet not divided or in and yet not confused there being nothing to distinguish the Son from the Father other than being generated? These problems cease to exist once it is understood that there is a third person, the Spirit. The Spirit both unites and distinguishes the Son so that the Son can be understood to be both out of and in God without contradiction, division or confusion. The Spirit shows that the Son is out of God by proceeding into him, thus ‘moving’ from God, the Father, to the Son. This procession is only possible should the Son truly be out of the Father, which means having his own hypostasis because there is no possibility of being spatially outside God. Yet, the Spirit also shows that the Son is in God and united to God because he shares the same Spirit as the Father, he does not have another Spirit of his own. The Spirit must also be God, else his procession to rest in the Son could not be said to show that the Son is in God; God cannot be divided into parts and connect only in part, He is simple and is always present completely. Also, the Spirit must have a distinct hypostasis, else he could not be truly said to proceed distinctly into the Son from, or out of, the Father. Thus, one cannot conceive of the generation of the Son without the procession of the Spirit nor the procession of the Spirit without the generation of the Son. Nor can one conceive of the Father without the Son and Spirit. Nor can one consider the three without returning to the One and the ‘monarchy’ of the Father, because the Son is the image of the Father; the manifested Word of the thought of God about himself.

Does the logic expressed above necessitate God’s existence in some way? Because logic “demands” that God has a Son and Spirit and yet freely causes himself, does this not mean that the logic is external to God? Couldn’t God just be anything? Firstly, the logic we use exists only because God exists in a particular way. Thus, if God was not true or truth then there could be no logic to validate truth. If God did not know himself then we could not know ourselves, let alone anything at all about him. Because he knows himself then we have a possibility to know him, although only so far as our limited created being allows. Although God is free to exist without any logic necessitating his existence, this does not mean that God can exist in any way whatsoever. This is because God cannot deny himself, else he would cease to exist. If God was to exist in a form that couldn’t exist in and of itself, such as a banana, then he would effectively deny himself. We can quickly see that he couldn’t exist as any other created thing, material or immaterial. If God was to deny anything about himself then he would deny himself because although we can speak of many distinct energies or operations of God they cannot be divided and denied independently from each other else He would not be simple. God cannot exist of parts else it must be said that the parts existed prior to God for him to be composed of them and/or one must imply space/time to God to separate the parts from each other. Neither is God absolutely simple else he couldn’t exist because existing must be distinguishable from creating and from willing and also if God is equated to existence then we would come to a meaningless situation of saying that existence exists without there being something to exist which is no different than saying nothing exists; the something must be distinct from its act of existence to truly speak of it existing. Also, because there is distinction without division in God we can have logic and truth. If the distinct are contradictory then they could not be united without denying themselves. Nor could they be divided without denying their being of God. Thus, it is because God freely wants to be that we can have logic and truth, with all other things, and can use the logic to confirm who God is. These things don’t exist apart or above him of their own right. (Note: the logic about God and his existence is not knowing God. Knowing God is experiential not merely conceptual. Knowing God is only possible by experiencing his life from within, that is in practicing the virtues and in prayer, which only pertains to knowing his energies/operations and not his essence, which is impossible to know/experience without eternally being God.)

If we are to share in the existence and life of God, then we too must share in the freedom of this existence. Thus, our existence cannot be necessitated by external power but must be free. This freedom is expressed most clearly in our free will. We are to exist united God only if we freely want to exist united to him. If our existence is not free then it would not be the image and likeness of God’s existence and incapable of being united to him and of sharing his existence. Yet, we too must exist as God exists, that is in his energies/operations. We are not free to exist as we want to exist because this would imply that there is sustainable existence apart from God, which would imply that this existence would have its energy from a source other than God implying another god or eternally self-existing something. While we have a certain amount of energy given to us by God, of itself, because it is limited, it cannot sustain us eternally and so we must necessarily spiral into non-existence or death apart from God. We end up denying ourselves as God would deny himself if he were to exist other than he does.

Also, without the Son we could not exist because without the generation of the eternal image of God there could be no created image of God. If the image of God was only conceptual and not generated ‘out of’ God then creation could only be conceptual and not created other than God. If there was no Spirit then creation, being other than God, could have no means of coming into God; it would remain estranged from God and fall into non-existence; rather it could never exist because there can be no existence totally apart from God. We can only come to God in the Son because all knowledge/experience of God is in the Son else we would deny the Son is God, divide God, or say that God does not know/experience himself and hence deny God. Without the Spirit is it impossible to be a son of God because one cannot exist as son without the Spirit. God must be all in all for us to exist eternally and yet we do not lose our unique personal existence as both other and in God due to the reality of the tri-hypostatic/personal God.

Finally, we do not revere, bless, and praise God because of some external standard of meetness and rightness but because God is worthy and just in himself of our reverence, blessing and praise and this is correct for us because we are in his image and likeness.


  1. Fr Patrick,
    The relative distinctions I made were to help clarify what I was trying express and that’s why I said they at least existed in my mind… they break down at certain points. I don’t think we are too far off in that I know what you are saying and I agree for the most part.

    When I said Gods essence is what it is, it was in reference to the issue or question of freedom and necessity. Since an essence doesn’t choose it is an issue that can only be directed towards the persons.

    I don’t think that Christ is two persons, but one person with two natures and thus two intellects or minds. When operating through the human nature he is limited to the abilities of that mind. I am a bit confused though because it seems that you are saying his person knows about himself, but I am not sure if you are also saying he knows his person directly through his human mind.

    What I am trying to avoid is a post-modern messiah in that there is no subject for his human mind to apprehend or know because his person is beyond being and unknowable.

  2. Androgen,

    Things that exist have some form of being because ‘to have being’ and ‘to have existence’ in this context mean nearly, if not exactly, the same thing. It doesn’t make sense to say that one exists yet does not have being. To say God has no being is a statement of his being relative to created being and it this is quite consistent with saying God is a being, God has being or, simply, God is; to say that God has not being absolutely would be equivalent to saying the God does not exist absolutely, atheism.

    God’s essence is not only what is unless you are stating a tautology in that something is what it [referring to that something] is. God is as a tri-hypostatic person/being; we cannot speak about the existence of the essence separately from the person of God nor his energies, which also are.

    A person is free to choose to be, although in God’s case this cannot be understood in a temporal manner because God eternally chooses to be; there is no before or after in the choice. In our case other persons chose for us to be and, while not able to affect our absolute existence, we can choose to continue to be or not to be. This freedom underlies our salvation that God leaves us free to choose to be in him. This freedom is expressed in our actions that is virtues and sins thus showing that to be is not merely the existence of an essence but the existence of energies/operations/activity. It is by our energies in acting virtuously that we ’cause/permit’ our existence. Acting in sin causes our ‘non-existence’. Unlike God, who freely ‘generates/causes’ his own essence, thus the Son, who is eternally God by nature, our essence is generated/caused by the will of others, parents and God in time, and is not in our own power to negate, even if we will so.

    Existence is an energy but its effects are not only necessarily energies. That is we are created by God’s energy but we have an essence and are not merely energies/operations. There is a difference knowing other persons in that we know them via their energies and, having a common nature, share the knowledge of their nature, but we cannot know them as being them in terms of person; the experience of being me as a person is unique to me. I understand that we are our persons; it is the person that is what is accessing, our person is not part of us but it is who we are. It is the person of Jesus, who is himself, and he knows himself as having a divine and a human nature, divine and human energies. He knows himself as having the two natures united. From this perspective your question seems to me to suggest that you effectively think of Christ as a union of two persons, human and divine, and that his human person cannot know his divine person/nature if we cannot know the divine nature/person. If however we consider that he is one person and it is as this person that he knows himself, then there is no difficulty in understanding that he knows himself completely as God and man.

    If something has absolutely no being that it must also be unknowable, if it is a case of relative no being then there may be room for knowing, although with limits. So, with our knowing God, his essence is unknowable but his energies are knowable, although not completely because these also transcend our capacity.

  3. Fr Patrick,

    I know its easy to misunderstand what someone is saying with terms like being, non-being, existing, and existing yet not being. I will try to explain myself a little better because I think you are misreading me. Ill try to make some distinctions that at least exist in my mind 🙂

    There are existences and all but one of these existences have being ,and the existence that does not have being is God, or Gods essence. God exists but does not have being. Gods essence is what it is (or is not :), there is no necessity because it does not do anything.

    When I said the persons are not necessarily non-being I was playing against the Western idea that natures determine personal choices. Saying the persons can not have being or must not “be” shows that one is still stuck in a Western paradigm…the only difference is that he puts “non” in front of being.

    Are the person free to chose to be? If not why? I am not asking if they have the possibility to not exist for that would be in opposition to their nature.

    Is to “be” only to be an energy? Is there a difference between how we know other persons and how we know ourselves? Do we have direct access to our own persons? Did Jesus have direct and infallible knowledge of himself through his human nature? Can man know or apprehend things that do not be?

  4. Androgen,

    Your comment about necessarily non-being touches on why I cannot accept a worldview without God. There cannot necessarily be no-being or nothing or non-existence else something would need to exist to necessitate non-existence. Non-existence cannot be a positive attribute and so it cannot be said to ‘be’ at all; it only has meaning in relation to existence. Existence is also not the essence of something but an energy. As an energy it requires a distinct essence because energies cannot exist divorced from essence. Thus, to say that nothing or no being exists would require an essence to exist as nothing or no being or non-being and hence contradict itself. Things such as nothing, non-being and no being only “exist” in terms of negation from being or something; they cannot exist or be existence.

    The physical universe is defined by limits on existence which requires the existence of something else, nothing or non-existence beyond the limit. Non-existence or nothing cannot ‘be’ beyond physical existence, so physical existence cannot be the only existence; something must exist that has no limits within which physical existence exists. So, physical existence must in a sense reside in God and space must be limited, it cannot be infinite in extent (which is confirmed by present mathematical/scientific models). Physical existence must also be freely created ex nihilo and have a beginning in time (confirmed by ‘big-bang’ evidence). What is eternal cannot exist by necessity, else one has a self-contradictory infinite chain of necessity for which no initial necessity can exist which means that the entire chain fails, and so what is eternal must freely self-exist without limits. Physical existence has limits and is not able to self-exist, else it would not be subjectable to change and decay, so it cannot be eternal but must begin in time and be created by another because it cannot self-create in time. It cannot be created by necessity both because a freely self-existing being cannot be said to be under necessity to create another and because being necessary would mean being eternal yet this would mean being free and so self-contradicatory.

  5. Tsunami,

    From what I understand, the Western claim that God ‘is’ his necessity is coupled with a rejection of the distinction of essence and energies and thus all attributes of God equate to God’s being or essence leading to the ‘is’. Since Orthodox make a distinction between essence and energies, the Western claim is not very helpful for Orthodox thinking because we are effectively not speaking of the same God, unless it can be shown that the claim is based on what is common in both theologies.

  6. It seems to me that if the persons chose to be, then it would be an example of libertarian free will in that they are not necessarily non-being. I would also say that being and non-being are not opposed or we would be in opposition to God. If the persons be, then they are not bound by their nature nor opposed to it.

  7. Perry,

    No Being as Communion? On reflection I can see how this may have possible implications of necessity in God. Maybe Trinitarian perichoresis is beyond communion and beyond independence.

  8. How would you address the Western claim that God *is* His very necessity (as well as His goodness, His truth, etc) simply? Would it not then “coexist” with Him, in that He would BE it?

  9. Perry,

    I understand and agree that there is a distinction between person and activities, just as there is a distinction between person and nature.

    The problem with the incarnation is not about knowledge of other persons, but self knowledge.

    Did Jesus intuitively (without deliberation) know himself personally, though not exhaustively, through his human nature?

    I don’t see a problem with saying that the divine person, acting through the human nature, was limited in knowledge and was absolutely incapable of knowing that which does not be (Essence). Yet, if his person does not be, then all is lost.

  10. Robert,

    I think that what pertains to the person of God also in some manner pertains to his essence or nature. If we participate in the energies/operations of God then we are in some manner partaking of the nature of God because the energies/operations are united to the essence/nature and this is how I would read the Apostle Peter speaking of partaking of the divine nature. Where I would see a definite limit to participation of the nature/essence of God is where this nature/essence was to become our essence/nature in either of two ways: one that the divine nature replaces our human/created name and we become God by essence and cease to be human; or two we unite the divine nature with our human nature in one human person/hypostasis. The Incarnation is asymmetrical; a divine person can take on human nature but a human person cannot take on divine nature. Also, I believe it is impossible to approach the essence or nature of God naked of its energies/operations as it would be impossible to approach the sun naked of its light, heat, mass, location, speed, spots and gravity.

  11. Androgen,

    We can know a person by means of his energies even if you cannot know his essence; person and essence are not equivalent and I think that knowing a person via energies/operations is genuine knowledge of the person. Knowing a person via energies is not just experiencing abstract energies that could come from any person and cannot be said to be of a particular person. I think that via energies/operations we can experience a unique hypostasis/person without this necessitating knowing/participating in the essence of that unique hypostasis/person. (This does not limit that we can know both God and a unique saint simultaneously in knowing that saint and this is borne out that each saint retains his unique ‘character’ even in union with God.)

    When God, as person, is said to be beyond being or not to be this does not mean that he has absolutely no existence but that he exists in a manner that is completely other to the existence of any created being. St Gregory Palamas says: if all other things are beings then the God is not a being or if God is being then all other things are not beings. Yet St Gregory rejects the notion that God has absolutely no existence whatsoever as “uttermost impiety”.

    What is your logic regarding a potential issue with being self-aware? How are you thinking about this is regards to one divine person with two united but unconfused natures and energies? Does the union of the two natures necessitate the participation and/or knowledge of the human nature in/of the divine nature and if so how does this avoid confusing the natures? If one cannot explain how the union takes place or how Jesus perceives himself does this negate the truth of the union? Even if the human mind of Jesus is unable to know the divine essence then does this necessarily negate the possibility of the union of his divinity and humanity?

  12. Fr. Patrick,

    It is my reading of the referenced Saints (and other works as well) that prompts my comments here.

    I meant “pertain also to the essence” – and if it does pertain to the essence, are we then not participation in something which is categorically not particible?

  13. Just want to be clear what I mean by absolute being. I am not saying that there are three absolute beings, but that the persons are the ultimate basis for all things and their existence defines what it is to be.

  14. Androgen,

    The persons are beyond being as well, just as your person is distinct from your behavior, which is why Skinnerite behaviorism is false.

    We can’t know the persons unless they reveal themselves in their actions/activities.

    If you think there is a specific problem with the incarnation, then articulate it and we can discuss it.

    I think the persons meet the conditions on libertarian free will. I don’t think it requires making the persons being. if you did so, you’d likely end up with the kind of tri-theism you get with contemporary “Social Trinitarianism” and towards that I am quite anti-social.

    As Athanasius and others indicate God is beyond necessity and contingency, but is eternal.

    I think you are on the right track with respect to transcendental arguments, which is in part what motivated my shift away from Reformed theology.

  15. Did the divine person know himself through his human mind? Was he self aware through his human nature? I always get confused when EO talk about only knowing God through his energies as if we can not know the persons anymore then we can know the essence. I know the essence is beyond being, or does not be, but don’t you have to say the persons be? If the persons do not be, then I would like to see how you can account for the incarnation.

    I know this may seem off topic but I don’t think it is. As I last stated, if prime, absolute or whatever being (to be) you want to call it pertains to the essence then I think you lose personal freedom. If it pertains to the person, then I think you have divine libertarian free will. In other words, move the concept of absolute being from the essence to the person.

    Also, I think any argument that tries to show the necessity of the existence of the divine persons is inconsistent with EO theology. If the persons exist freely then you cannot consistently argue that they must exist. I think the only necessary type agruement that an EO can use is presuppositional or transcendental

  16. Robert,

    When you say “pertain to the essence” are you meaning by this “pertain only to the essence”?

    I see apophaticism applying to the person of God rather than the essence. The essence is unknowable and unparticipatable. We can say “God has an essence” with some degree of truth and can say that it is not like any created essence and beyond essence.

    Have you read St Dionysios the Areopagite, St Maximus the confessor or St Gregory Palamas?

  17. Fr. Patrick,

    Of course the essence and energies are not divided (I make no such claim), however they are absolutely distinct as to their ability to be participated in (to be known, experienced, and so forth).

    It seems to me, Fr. Patrick, that when we speak of God’s existence, the nature of God’s existence, the cause of or for such, God’s knowledge of His own existence and so forth, that these matters would pertain to the essence, no? I suppose my question is, where do you see that the apophaticism of the essence begins and ends?

  18. To say that God necessarily exists doesn’t always mean that there is some principle that compelled his existence, but that his existence is a necessary presupposition for all things. In other words, the only way to account for the world we live in is to presuppose a divine being…in that sense God necessarily exists.

    I think for one to say Gods nature necessitates his existence then one must assume he is pure being and therefore he is not personally free to choose otherwise.

    It seems to me that for those who say God is beyond being and yet freely exists, they must explain in what sense God freely exists.

    From my own non-Orthodox thoughts, it seems that if Gods essence is beyond being and unknowable, then his freedom to exist must be according to his transcendent person or persons. In other words, we know there are three persons because the persons chose to participate in being through personhood from all eternity. To ask what the Father was before his personhood would be like asking what was the Father was before the Son. Just as the Father was free to generate, so he was free to be the Father and in that that he feely chose to exist or participate in being. Since we can say the Son was eternally begotten, it would seem we would be justified in saying the persons eternally participate in being or define what it is to be, and therefore we can account for their knowablity.

  19. “Thus, one cannot conceive of the generation of the Son without the procession of the Spirit nor the procession of the Spirit without the generation of the Son.”

    This statement, in my mind, shows both the imprecision (and thus inadequacy) of the filioque as well as condemning those who so impiously suggest that the procession of the Spirit occurs without reference to the Son. I for one like Dr. Liccione’s suggestion that the creed be amended ecumenically to state “who proceeds from the Father according to the Son” as a way to clarify both the implied truth intended by the filioque as well as the truth stated by our rejection of it.

  20. Robert,

    I agree that writing about these matters does bring out the inadequacies of language and I have undoubtedly not written things in the most precise manner. Although, hopefully, I have written well enough to get some helpful comments to develop thinking.

    To clarify your first point, I am not using “want” in terms of desire but in terms of will, that is if God freely exists then it would be inconsistent if he did not will to exist.

    Most of my reflection is about the person of God rather than about his essence/nature or energies on their own unless I specified otherwise. I speak of God being in terms of his being a person of essence and energies and I don’t think that making a careful demarcation of essence and energies is needed because I don’t see essence and energies existing apart from each other.

  21. Writing about these matters brings out the inadequacies of using language, and things become problematic quite easily.

    When you write that, “because God freely wants to be that we can have logic and truth” – I do not think it correct to speak of desire pertaining to God’s being or existence. Or at least it needs to be clarified. This could be misconstrued to mean that He is lacking something that He needs in order to be, or to become (becoming in itself is problematic) to be or to exist, at all or in some wanted form or mode of existence (in contradistinction to the unwanted)

    It is not clear to me what in your reflection concerns the essence and what to the energies. When you write about God’s being as He is to Himself, isn’t this pertaining the essence of which we claim to know nothing? We make a big fuss about the E/E distinction (as rightly we should), however I fail to see a clear demarcation, it is quite indistinguishable.

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