Category: David Bradshaw

The beauty of precision

by Andrea Elizabeth

I made it to the epilogue in Aristotle East and West and I’m still not in the groove. I cannot explain his last comparison of Aquinas’ Absolute Divine Simplicity and Eastern energies with Dr. Bradshaw’s logical precision. I can sort of follow it and definitely appreciate it but in more of an impressionistic way. My version is, how cold and deterministic God’s essence and free will are to Aquinas. He tried to soften and warm it by using words such as “sweetly and promptly”, but the eastern view is so much more relational and respectful of God’s creation and love for His creatures, however unnecessary we are to His essence. Did He create just to communicate His goodness or to enjoy us too? Is it possible to selflessly enjoy?

Regarding precision, I’m trying to acquire it in pysanky designs. This lady’s mastery of it is unbelievable. I’ll not share my pale attempts to reproduce it.

the spiritual and material are the same reality

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ultimately the body and soul are deified together, each in the manner appropriate to it: “God embraces the whole of the soul, together with the body natural to it, and renders them like Him in due proportion.” [Maximus’ Ambigua]

Elsewhere Maximus extends this holistic view of body and soul to the whole of creation. In the Mystagogy he develops a number of symbolic interpretations of the physical structure of a church. On the one hand the church can be likened to a man, with its nave the body, its sanctuary the soul, and its altar the intellect. On the other hand it is like the entire cosmos, the nave representing the sensible world and the sanctuary the intelligible world. The two constitute an integral whole, the nave being the sanctuary in potency and the sanctuary being the nave in act. They are not two parts divided from one another, but two manners in which the single created world exists and can be apprehended.

The whole intelligible world seems mystically imprinted on the whole sensible world in symbolic forms, for those who are capable of seeing this, and conversely the whole sensible world subsists within the whole intelligible world, being rendered simple, spiritually and in accordance with intellect, in its rational principles. The sensible is in the intelligible in rational principles, and the intelligible is in the sensible in types. And their function is one, “a wheel within a wheel,” as says the marvelous seer of extraordinary things, Ezekial, in speaking, I think, of the two worlds.

The two “worlds” are not two worlds at all, but the same reality viewed in two different ways. To perceive them both is not something of which we are immediately capable, however; it requires (as Maximus goes on to say) “the symbolic contemplation of intelligible things by means of the visible.” (Aristotle East and West, p. 202, 203)

the heart of darkness

by Andrea Elizabeth

The coalescence of divine and human activities is thus, for Maximus, a way in which man is deified and God makes Himself present to the world. The root of this exchange is charity, and it is in charity that Maximus finds the real meaning of the Dionysian ascent into darkness. In his Epistle 2 (On Charity) Maximus infers the importance of charity from the principle that “like is known by like.” Much like Gregory of Nyssa, he uses the principle that like is known by like to insist that to know God requires becoming godlike. The divine characteristic he has in mind is, in the first place, freedom from the passions that fragment the psyche; this in turn is acquired only through the kind of love that “joins inclination to nature,” returning the soul to its natural and unified condition. It is precisely such love that manifests God to the world. (Aristotle East and West, p. 199)

Thank you, Dr. Bradshaw

by Andrea Elizabeth

In the next chapter of Aristotle East and West, “The formation of the eastern tradition”, Dr. Bradshaw shifts sources in his discussion of energeia from the Neoplatonists to the Old and New Testaments and the eastern Fathers, St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians: Sts. Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzen. Here’s the transition:

Most of the texts discussed in the previous chapter remained unknown to the West during the Middle Ages. It is not surprising that the magical papyri, Hermetica, and the works of Iamblichus and Proclus went untranslated; rather more surprising is that the same is true of the works of Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Clement, Origen, and Athansius, with the exception of Origen’s De Principiis and some exegetical treatises. All told, of the works we have discussed the only one that played a role in the formative stages of western thought was the New Testament, which of course was available in the Vulgate of Jerome. There we find energeia translated as operatio and energeia as operari. Although these renderings were probably the best available, they do not possess the same fluidity of meaning as the original. To think of the divine operations as forces or active powers that can be shared in by human activity would not normally occur to a Latin reader. This is not only because the major works in which the expansion of meaning took place were not translated into Latin; it is also because operatio does not share the association of energeia with actuality, much less with the fusion of activity and actuality that we have traced in earlier chapters. This is why, when the works of Aristotle were translated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, energeia had to be rendered in different contexts by three different terms: operatio, actus, and actualitas. Although this division was inescapable given the resources of Latin, it tended to obscure the unity of the single concept (or family of concepts) underlying these diverse terms.

Because of these limitations, the notion of participation in the divine energeia made little impression on western thought. In the Greek-speaking East, however, it took on increasing importance. This becomes particularly clear when it is viewed in conjunction with more directly metaphysical uses of the concept of energeia. We have already seen examples of the interplay between metaphysical and religious conceptions in the Hermetica, Iamblichus, and Proclus. The parallel developments among Christian authors are even more complex. They begin during the Trinitarian debates fo the fourth century. There we find energeia coming into prominence as a key term for understanding God’s activity in the world particularly in opposition to the divine ousia. At about the same time there is a renewed and more vigorous application of the Pauline teaching about participation in the divine energeia. Since this renewal occurs in a context established by the contrast between energeia and ousia, it takes on resonances not envisioned by St. Paul; in particular, to participate in the divine energeia comes to be understood as a kind of divinization. The union thus achieved between the more directly metaphysical (or Trinitarian) and religious (or Pauline) strands oof thought ultimately becomes a distinguishing work of Dionysius the Areopagite, who incorporates these themes from the fourth century into a hierarchical vision of reality derived largely from Proclus. (p. 154,155)

I have not done, nor intended to do justice to full explanations of any of the terms or teachings of those mentioned above. I commend this comprehensive book to anyone seeking to understand the divine energies, the divine essence, and in this chapter, the apophatic knowledge of the Trinity better. After discussing the neo-Arianism of Eunomius and St. Athanasius’ then the Cappadocian Fathers’ awesome responses in the section called ‘The Trinitarian Controversy’, ‘The Divine Names’ goes into these same Fathers’ explanations of how we know God, who is unknowable. For Gregory of Nyssa, “a name is not an arbitrary label but conveys a positive impression of the thing named. […] (p. 161) Again, he goes much deeper into this, but I can only give a glimpse. One of the things that has repeatedly puzzled me in studying the philosophical designation of God as above being in contrast to the “being verb” used in the burning bush is explained!

The question of whether and how God can be named is thus tantamount to the question of what can be known about God. Philo of Alexandria had already reached the conclusion that because God is unknowable He has no proper name, and a similar teaching may be found in the Hermetica. It is an idea with both Biblical and philosophical roots. Biblically, it is grounded in the mysterious nature of the divine name revealed in Exodus 3:14, “He Who Is,” as well as other passages that treat the divine name as a mystery. Philosophically, it is grounded in the principle that God as the source of being for other things must Himself be “beyond being,” and therefore has no form that would enable a name to gain descriptive purchase. Philo seems to have been particularly influenced by the statement of the Parmenides that the One which does not partake of being has no name. He understands the name revealed from the burning bush to Moses, not as an obstacle to this view, but as conferming [typo?] it: what this name indicates is that God alone has true (that is, underivative) being, and hence that He has no name. Among Christians prior to the Cappadocians, a similar view can be found in Clement of Alexandria, who devotes a chapter of his Stromata to the unknowability of God. Among his arguments is that since God is indivisible, He is without dimensions and has no limit, and is therefore “without form or name.” (p. 162)

Dr. Bradshaw just gets better after this in explaining the relationship to names and powers and essence and condescension. I’m not finished with this section yet, and in a few more pages there’s another section on “Participation Revisited” that I am looking forward to.

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.

The western progression

by Andrea Elizabeth

Before moving on to energeia in the East, I’ll jot down some quotes that somewhat subtly, in my mind, point to the emergence of Absolute Divine Simplicity and the filioque in the West.

Ultimately both Father and Son are esse and operari (or agere). The difference is that the Father is originally and purely esse, and agere in only a hidden and inward manner; the Son is esse in a secondary and derivative way, and principally and manifestly agere. Victorinus makes this commonality the basis for his central contention that the Father and Son are consubstantial, although distinct. (p. 111,112)

Victorinus’ more considered view is that the self-intellection of the Father has a kind of triadic structure involving life as well as intelligence, and that properly speaking it is the Holy Spirit who is intellegere while the Son is vivere. Commenting on John 16:14, where Christ says of the Spirit, “He shall glorify me, for He shall receive of me and shall announce it unto you,” Victorinus writes:

He says “He shall receive of me” because Christ and the Holy Spirit are one movement, that is, act which acts (actio agens). First there is vivere and from that which is vivere there is also intellegere; indeed, Christ is vivere and the Spirit is intellegere. Therefore the Spirit receives from Christ, Christ Himself from the Father. (p. 114)

As a footnote to the researches of Hadot, we may note one other way in which Boethius serves as a bridge between the Neoplatonism of Victorinus and medieval scholasticism. Near the end of De Hebdomadibus he states that “in Him (God) esse and agere are the same … But for us esse and agere are not the same, for we are not simple.” Although the simplicity of God was by the time of Boethius a firmly established point of Christian theology, Boethius seems to have been the first to explain that simplicity in terms of the identity in God of being and activity. In doing so he was merely extending to the Godhead a point Victorinus had established in relation to the Father and the Son. The identity of esse and agere in God became an integral aspect of the doctrine of divine simplicity in the Middle Ages. (Aristotle East and West, p. 117)

More Athens and Jerusalem

by Andrea Elizabeth

In the section, ‘Marius Victorinus’ of the chapter, “The Plotinian heritage in the West”, in Aristotle East and West, Dr. Bradshaw shows how this Christian philosopher understood the first two of the Triad including the One and the Intellect as a way to describe the Father and the Son, the first two persons of the Trinity. I’ll be looking to see if somehow the Soul or the World Soul gets compared to the Spirit, who as we sing is “everywhere present and fills all things”.

He also compares the Father/One to essence and the Son to One-Being.

What then is the relationship between the esse which is the Father and the öν[One-Being?] which is the Son? The answer lies in the second of the passages from the New Testament, the opening words of the Gospel of John: in principio erat verbum, et verbum erat apud deum. For Victorinus the verbum is of course the Son; more suprisingly, the principium is the Father, the beginning of all things. In saying that the verbum was in principio and apud deum (“in the bosom of the Father,” verse 18), St. John asserts that “initially” – that is, in the order of ontological priority – the Son  is present in potentiality in the Father. This potential öν comes forth as actual öν, and in so doing becomes the Logos. To say that the Logos is τò öν does not mean that the source of the Logos is not being (τò μη` öν) in any absolute sense, but only that it exists in a way other than that characteristic of τò öν. (p. 110)

So, does that mean that the voice coming from the burning bush to Moses was the pre-incarnate Word who is “I am”? This would solve the inconsistency regarding the existence of the Father who is above being, or beyond beingly being (Dr. John D. Jones), or now, being in another way, as Dr. Bradshaw put it above.

filled to overflowing

by Andrea Elizabeth

I don’t really get how the soul proceeds from the intellect or how the intellect proceeds from the One, but Plotinus’ statement that the soul “looks to its source and is filled,” (Aristotle East and West p. 81) rings true. This has some quotable elements too:

Now when anything else comes to perfection we see that it produces, and does not endure to remain by itself [not that God created out of necessity], but makes something else. This is true not only of things which have choice, but of things which grow and produce without choosing to do so, and even lifeless things, which impart themselves to others  as far as they can: as fire warms, snow cools, and drugs act on something else in a way corresponding to their own nature – all imitating the First Principle as far as they are able by tending to everlastingness and generosity. How then could the most perfect, the first Good, remain in itself as if it grudged to give of itself or was impotent, when it is the productive power of things? (Enneads, AE&W, p. 74 [as usual, content in brackets mine, parenthesis are usually contained in the text, except at the end when I source the material.])

The artistic and literary context of energeia

by Andrea Elizabeth

A slightly different nuance appears in his [Polybius] description of the people of Rome during the triumphal entry of Scipio: “they were reminded even more of their former peril by the vividness of the contents of the procession.” What the word conveys here is a sense of live, felt presence, a capacity to seize the attention of anyone within range to see or hear. This sense naturally lends itself to literary or artistic criticism. Alluding to the technique of sketching animals using stuffed bags as models, Polybius remarks that it adequately preserves their outlines but that “the clarity and vividness [italics mine instead of parenthetical Greek word for what I assume is energy] of the real animals is not present”. Later, describing the various types of writing to be found in Homer, he lays down as a rule: “Now the end aimed at by history is truth…, the end aimed at by rhetorical composition in vividness [same word], as when he introduces men fighting, while the aim of myth is to please or astonish”.

The use of the word in an aesthetic context can be paralleled from Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Chapter 111.10 of that work states as its purpose to describe “the way to devise lively and taking sayings.” After a brief discussion of metaphor and antithesis, it adds: “The words, too, ought to set the scene before our eyes; for events ought to be seen in progress rather than in prospect. (p.52,53)

The triad of essence, faculty, and activities

by Andrea Elizabeth

Energeia in the context of science according to Galen,

Galen thus recognizes a general distinction between the energeiai of bodily faculties or the soul, which we are in a position to know, and their ousiai, which we are not in a position to know. The triad consisting of a dunamis with its knowable energia and unknowable ousia is one that will later find wide application among the Neoplatonists and the Church Fathers. As the next section will demonstrate, the theological application of the triad had already been anticipated long before Galen by Philo of Alexandria. (Aristotle East and West, p. 59)