Sunday, March 20, 2011

Second Sunday of Lent: Saint Gregory Palamas, Apophatic Theology, and the Essence vs. Energies Distinction

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware talks about Saint Gregory Palamas, Apophatic Theology,
and the Essence vs. Energies Distinction

Apophatic Theology


St. Gregory Palamas - 2nd Sunday of Lent, by Fr. Thomas Hopko

God: Essence and Energies, by Kevin Allen, Steve McMeans, and Dr. David Bradshaw, professor of Philosophy and the Philosophy of Religion at the University of Kentucky.


The Bradshaw Papers, by Dr. David Bradshaw

The Concept of Divine Energies, by Dr. David Bradshaw

The Distinction Between Essence and Energies and its Importance for Theology, by Christos Yannaras

Chapters 68-76 from the One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, by St. Gregory Palamas

Notes on the Palamite Controversy, by John S. Romanides


Odysseus said...

Awesome, our Easters are on the same day this year!

Wesley said...

God can be both transcendent and imminent simultaneously without the creation being an ontological part of God and God being an ontological part of creation. We can make distinctions between the divine attributes and the divine actions, the former being unknowable or incomprehensible in themselves, the latter being knowable or comprehensible in themselves (at least in part) and yielding true yet indirect or mediate or derivative knowledge of the unknowable attributes.

We don't have to go so far as to embrace panentheism. That position may be a nice Greek concept, but it isn't Hebraic. The Hebrew thought-matrix or worldview is the fabric from which the New Testament doctrine of God is cut, and the potting soil out of which the New Testament theology proper naturally grows.

Panentheism is not a Christian option. There shouldn't even be a question about that. Panentheism is gnostic and neo-plantonic. I mean, when the speaker quotes a Gnostic gospel to describe and explain his position, I think that is a clear indication that we're not talking about a Christian option.

phyzics said...


While I haven't watched the video, I thought that panentheism means that God dwells in all things, but not that those things are God. In other words, panentheism =! pantheism.

Wesley said...

Well, I think panentheism stresses that while God is not completely identical with the finite world, as in pantheism, the finite world is a part of God, and God is a part of the world. In other words, God is the world and then some. God may be above and beyond the world (transcendence), but he is certainly not less than the world. All the world is a part of God.

The word "panentheism" itself most literally means "all in God." So the stress is on everything's being part of God, and thereby God's thoroughgoing habitation and indwelling within the world is emphasized. That is drastically different from God's merely indwelling the world.

Now, that's my understanding of panentheism, namely, as only a modified form of pantheism that posits a via media between classical theism on the one hand, and full blown pantheism on the other. If God's indwelling the world while remaining ontologically independent from the world is also another form or variety of panentheism, I'm not aware of it. It very well may be; I'm not saying it isn't. I'd be happy to be corrected on whatever I may have said amiss.

But I've never heard of the doctrine of divine imminence (God's inhabiting and working within the world) being called panentheism. If that is a proper form of panentheism, and that is all the speaker meant to say, then I don't have a problem with it. I suspect, however, that the speaker meant something more than that. And in any case, I would urge that we refrain from calling it panentheism (if it really isn't) so as to avoid all confusion.

Lvka said...

I'm afraid Wesley is quite right in saying that the word has MANY interpretations, and its basic meaning is NOT the Orthodox one.

But -then again- this is neither the first, nor the last time when Orthodoxy changes, baptizes, transforms, transfigures, and transubstantiates [pun intended] otherwise pagan and/or heretical terms (like Logos and homoousios, for instance) to express its unadulterated, eternal truths.

In the Orthodox context, the term refers to God's omnipresence, and the fact that the Divine Energies not only inhabit creation, but also sustain its very existence. Their presence there is not optional, but an ontological necessity. Without it, everything would return to chaos and non-existence.

Wesley said...

I guess my question is this: how is it that God's workings or actions or activity within the world, which permeates all things, identical to God himself?

Is God's energies merely his presence and power that indwells the world, or is it also his workings in the world? If the former alternative, I can see how energies is identical with God, but then how is energies any different from his essence? Is it not the presence of his essence that indwells the world? If the latter alternative, I don't see how energies could be identical with God.

I may not be understanding the position correctly here. Help me out.

Lvka said...

God is love (for instance). Is love, then, not a divine energy that is obviously present within the world, within our very hearts and souls? It most certainly is! But is love divine essence? No! (Man, how I like answering my own questions! Feels good; you should try it as well!) Divine essence is what makes God God. Only the three Persons of the Holy Trinity share it: and no one else. A person that loves does not become the "fourth" member of the Trinity.

Wesley said...

God is love, true enough. But love is not God. The statement isn't convertible like that. "God is love" is not an ontological statement, in my opinion, but a moral statement. If I deeply and truly love God, whatever ontological status that very real affection has, it is not divine. The love I feel and express and act upon towards God is not itself the divine being. The divine being is the object of the love, not the love itself.

So I still don't see the distinction.

Lvka said...

No. God is love, and love is divine, being one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). God always existed as love, because God is a Trinity of divine Persons. Love (and all other virtues) are not extrinsic to Him, but internal, being an eternal part of His very being. [Think also of God's Wisdom: Proverbs 8:22-30]. Our God is the living God, and, as such, always had Life in Himself: the life-giving Spirit of God is NOT a creature. Nor is His Logos (logic, reason, and wisdom) created: the Son is NOT a creature. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are uncreated because the divine Spirit itself is uncreated. The logoi [that's how the Fathers call the divine energies of God's grace] are eternal and divine because the only-begotten Logos is itself uncreated and divine. God's attributes, character, features, or properties are as eternal, unchanging, divine and uncreated as God Himself is; they're not external to His being, but part of it.

Jnorm said...


I will agree that there is confusion when using the word "Panentheism". But if understood correctly within an Orthodox Christian context, then it can be used. We can see a similar confusion with terms like Logos, homoousios, and other words. We obviously don't mean what others mean by the term. One of the main differences between Western Classical Theism and Eastern Christian Theism is our emphasis on the Eminence of God. This is why some make use of the term Panentheism. The word shouldn't be feared. The Apostle John wasn't scared to use greek words in his Gospel. Alot of those words can have different meanings and did have a variety of meanings. Also, the New Testament borrows heavily from the LXX family of texts and the Hellenistic Jewish tradition in general and so the Christian fabric is cut from that. That is what the Apostles mostly used when dealing with gentile believers and even in Palestine Hebraic jews had greek names and other greek influences and so everything greek isn't bad.





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