Gods, demons, and theurgy

by Andrea Elizabeth

In turning to the development of energeia in the east, Dr. Bradshaw entitles his 6th chapter of Aristotle East and West, “Gods, demons, and theurgy”. His explanation of the writings of Iamblichus (pagan philosopher, 245 – 325 ad.) and Proclus (pagan neo-platonist 412-485) probably at least give pause to a person who is favorable to Orthodox theology. Orthodox have been called Neo-Platonists before, and so far I have heard defensive reactions against it. The descriptions of the role of divine energies in theurgy in this chapter, however, come pretty close to descriptions of a person’s union with God in Orthodox explanations of deification. So far, at the end of this chapter, this is all Dr. Bradshaw says about this similarity,

Faith is in fact the highest member of the so-called Chaldaean triad of love, truth, and faith. Just as love joins us to the divine qua beautiful, and truth to the divine qua wisdom, so faith joins us to the divine qua good. It is perhaps not very significant whether this highest condition of the soul is called an energeia. The important point is that the means of rejoining the One – and thereby sharing in the divine energeia – is in Proclus no longer conceived as a magical or theurgical rite, save in a very broad sense, but as reaching out to God in love and silent trust. The resemblance on this point between Proclus and Christianity can hardly fail to be noticed. Is it any wonder that Christians would soon, through Dionysius, find a way of making the Procline ascent their own? (p. 152)

I’m ambivalent about this un-defensive comparison. I like the idea of people’s deepest intuitions about God being trustworthy, Christian or not, but at the same time I want to see that Christianity is different, and am nervous about this not being brought out (yet?). Did the Church fathers just tweak the latest philosophical teachings about God instead of receive new information through revelation? Revelation can also be a component in learning how to tweak. And did these non-Christian philosophers receive divine revelation themselves? I already don’t believe that the Christians adopted paganism, unless paganism has a kernel of truth in it already, non-total-depravity adherent that I am.