Category: Essence and Energies

The Submerged Reality: Sophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics

by Andrea Elizabeth

by Michael Martin

To me it sounds like a personalization of the Divine Energies, perichoresis, or even the Holy Spirit, whom I think is often neglected, so I’m giving this a shot.

“What emerges from [Martin’s] synthetic reading of this tradition is the sense that divine wisdom is the supreme cosmic power – a personal agent that mediates grace and helps each creature fulfill its being. Instead of lapsing into pantheism or panentheism, Romantic sophiology articulates the analogical co-inherence of Creator and creation whereby the invisible, mysteriously appearing through the visible, discloses God’s presence in the world.” (Forward by Adrian Pabst, p.v)

“Most importantly of all, wisdom is neither a tertium quid nor a fourth divine person, but rather the very middle between divine transcendence and created immanence – as the Russian tradition of sophiology teaches. For nothing can subsist outside God, whether between humanity and God, or between God who was made man and mankind that is destined to be deified. Likewise, Sophia is no third term between the three divine persons or between the essence of the Godhead and the persons of the Trinity – for otherwise persons, relations, and essences would be specific instances of something more general and fundamental than God.

At the same time, there is a middle or metaxu (the term used by Sergei Bulgakov), because without mediation the relations within the Trinitarian Godhead would dissolve either into independent univocal substances or into a self-founded monism. Moreover, mediation cannot be an endless dialectical oscillation, either between such substances or within a monistic ground of being, for dialectics would then be reducible to the opposing poles or an ontological extra that too remains unexplained. Therefore, sophianic mediation is best understood as something that is coextensive wit the divine essence, the persons and their substantive relations – an ineffable communication between them that exceeds the grasp of human cognition and is accessed experientially.” (p. vii)

Essence and energies, fatherhood and baseball

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have explored the idea that the essence/energies distinction enables multiple objects to co-exist. One thing doesn’t get totally absorbed or annihilated in union with another. One popular way of self-preservation is to place oneself as preeminent. This has the effect of annihilating the other instead. Or one can disappear, so to speak, in order to let the other have a place. But is this spoiling the other? Or does it place too great a burden on the other to take turns so that they don’t feel selfish. Ideally both feel fulfilled in relationship. This is where needs are met without selfishness. Is a child selfish when it is receiving food and shelter from its parents? They shouldn’t feel that way. Parents seem to hold that over their head as a manipulative tool though when they imply that the children owe them for it. When someone is in need, we owe them to help fulfill it. To not do so is neglect. To do so doesn’t mean that more is owed back. “Each according to their need” is provided by the Father with human cooperation. To not cooperate is to be in a person’s debt. “Forgive us our debts,” in Orthodox teaching, is about when we don’t give to others according to their need when it was ours to fulfill it, not necessarily for a breach of voluntary contract. Selfishness is when needs are met in sinful ways. When we take things that aren’t ours.

I just saw a PBS documentary about a sperm donor and his “children”, who as older teenagers have sought him out after he revealed his donor number. He is basically a beach hippie who had been an “exotic dancer” and was also somewhat of a philosopher. He believed most things weren’t real and wouldn’t last (annihilation), but also in “I”ness (everything but me will be annihilated). He also had an icon of Mary who he considered the cosmic mother, and he regularly prayed for and blessed, after he smoked something out of a pop bottle contraption, the mothers and all the countless souls that had emanated from him. Four of the donor siblings (a fifth didn’t want to go) said they felt a positive energy after they arranged a reunion with him. And they also knew not to expect anything from him (except honesty), but felt good that he was there, nice spirited, if paranoid about conspiracy theories, and not some disembodied liquid in a frozen test tube. If he believed in the I-ness of himself and other souls and animals, it seems he did not believe in cosmic re-absorption. Maybe he believed in the beatific vision of essences that does not share energies. Regarding other things being of limited existence, he may have somewhat of a point. The children that he spawned are eternal beings whom he helped bring into the world. They have grown up with the physical gap of the lack of his presence, but did seem to have somewhat of his spirit about them, which they commented on. The California donor facility also played a part in their conception, including the rooms with the visual aids. I tried to observe any affect that had on the kids, and it’s hard to sort out if the way the girls dressed was a result of that or because almost all available clothing is of that type these days. Yet to have that be such an exaggerated aspect of their origination must do something. However, I got the sense that 20 years later, it had been diluted, if not annihilated altogether.

Regarding the mothers, they had entered into an agreed-upon contract with him to preserve his anonymity with no expectations, and desired no continued involvement. All but one, the one whose daughter had initiated the reunions, appeared at least hesitant about their children’s curiosity and subsequent actions. That same daughter was the most open to subsequent involvement while the others kept a safe, “oh, so that’s who he is” attitude.

I didn’t post this the other day when I wrote it, and now, after watching the exhausting game 6 of the World Series, I’ll tie this post into baseball. The pitcher is like the father. The best ones put a lot of action on the ball. It is not a piece of trash that they are getting rid of and don’t care about after it leaves their possession. Some pray over it, some talk to it, but all have a committed interest in how it leaves their hand and how what they do to it will affect its future. The batter is like the mother, very tuned into the pitcher and how they can best receive and also guide the ball. The outfielders are like the community who want the ball properly placed and guided back to the pitcher. Homeruns, well I guess they go to heaven. In the world, that would be that they are able to transcend all obstacles and reach new heights of achievement. It’s sad that the pitcher and batter are often on different teams. That could be like divorce or even the situation above. Teams oppose each other because of the fall and ultimately the battle with demons. Both those in your own team and those in the other’s. Either way, nothing is annihilated. Everything has eternal significance in that it influences the course of the game, even if some things are forgotten, or are very distant, for now.

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.

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)

The divine energies of pleasure, beauty, and rest in Aristotle

by Andrea Elizabeth

On eternal energies as distinct from temporal kenesis, (the means to an eternal or stable end). I find it interesting that pleasure is singled out as an energy in this section. Aristotle says it is a measure of completion.

For it [pleasure {Bradshaw’s brackets}] is a whole, and at no time can one find a pleasure whose form will be completed if the pleasure lasts longer. For this reason, too, it is not a movement. For every movement (e.g., that of building) takes time and is for the sake of an end and is complete when it has made what it aims at. It is complete, therefore, only in the whole time or at the final moment. In their parts and during the time they occupy, all movements are incomplete, and are different in kind from the whole movement and from each other. (Metaphysics; Aristotle East and West, p. 10)

Sight is another example of completion.

In the part on the actuality-potentiality distinction, I believe he is saying that a tree exists before an acorn not only by means of parenthood, but also in the prior idea of a tree. I suppose that would make a tree an eternal concept. It seems he means something in addition to this understanding in the following mention of “substance”,

The fact that eternal things are prior in substance to perishable things therefore means that actuality is prior in substance to potentiality in quite a general and sweeping way.

In making this argument Aristotle has isolated a stricter version of the actuality-potentiality distinction than any we have previously encountered. The actuality he now holds to be prior is not that of anything which happens at the moment to be real; it is exclusively that of necessary and eternal entities. As the remainder of the chapter makes plain, the eternal existents he has in mind include the sun, the stars, and the heaven, which are in potency in respect to motion, though not in respect to existence. Nonetheless, the way is now open for him to isolate a yet stricter kind of actuality, one that excludes potency altogether, and to give it a special place at the heart of his ontology. (AE&W, p. 22)

The next chapter is on the Prime Mover. Dr. Bradshaw seems to have a little fun critiquing Aristotle’s logic in making the Prime Mover the object of desire, such as beauty, more than the cause of all things. I think the argument is about the difficulty of the immovable mover actually moving (which would entail potency rather than actuality) in order to move something.

But on such grounds even Aristotle’s own attribution to the Mover of contemplation must appear suspect. Perhaps a more important consideration was simply that additional activities would threaten the self-sufficiency and freedom from care which are for Aristotle, as for the Greek philosophical tradition generally, an essential aspect of the divine life. This is worth noting, for it indicates one way in which Aristotle’s theory of the Prime Mover, grounded though it is in philosophical argument, also rests on unstated theological assumptions.

However that may be, in the following chapter even the activity of the Mover in causing the motion of the heaven seems to be forgotten. In order to explain how it is possible to move without being moved, Aristotle cites the case of objects of thought and desire, which clearly do just that. He adds that the primary object of thought and the primary object of desire are the same: primary simple substance existing in actuality. In this identification of simple substance existing in actuality with the primary object of desire there resurfaces a thread we noted in Metaphysics, the assumption that actuality as such is good and that pure actuality is supremely good. The argument Aristotle gives for this idea in the present chapter is based on an adaptation of the Pythagorean table of opposites. One column of the table contains the fundamental positive qualities such as being, unity, and rest, and the other the corresponding negative qualities such as non-being, multiplicity, and motion. Simple substance existing in actuality is the first element in the positive column, for as substance it exists par excellence, and being simple it possesses unity. Furthermore, since this column also represents that which is intelligible, such substance is the primary object of thought. The object of desire, meanwhile, is the beautiful. Beauty also belongs in the positive column, so that the primary object of desire must be that which is first in this column – namely, simple substance, the primary object of thought. (p.26,27)

Then makes this conciliatory statement,

In light of these difficulties there can be little doubt that, other things being equal, an interpretation that makes the Mover as efficient as well as final cause is preferable to one that takes it as final cause alone. The challenge is to construct an interpretation along these lines that is faithful to the text and leaves Aristotle with a reasonably plausible and intelligent position. (p. 32)

The ever entertaining Mr. Hart

by Andrea Elizabeth

As I’ve concluded before, David B. Hart is decidedly a fun read. Decidedly, because that is how I have chosen to take him with my all too emphasized modern free will/volantarism (not). Now that I’ve read his First Things article, Believe it or Not, linked both by Mr. Orr and Ariston, with respective commentary, I would like to back away from Mr. Hart’s “purple prose” and examine the main point of departure that keeps me from promoting him as an Orthodox apologist. Well this and the criticism with a certain consensus that his dismissals are too scathing. But scathe can be a guilty pleasure as long as one’s own toes aren’t being scalded. Even then, scalded people have the option of developing thicker skin and joining the fun.

Where I theologically diverge is with his belief in Divine Simplicity. To be authoritative about this I would need to read St. Gregory Palamas’ debate with Barlaam, but I have listened to an hour long lecture by the accurate philosophical Orthodox apologist, Professor David Bradshaw (another video lecture is linked) explaining how the Greek philosophers were corrected by the Church Fathers on this issue. I have also read from this essay list, and I own an unread copy of his Aristotle East and West. Additionally I have picked up helpful understandings from Energetic Procession and other less direct sources about the essence/energies distinction. And St. Athanasius’ Incarnation can be read with an emphasis on the essence/energies explanation of our salvation.

Here is the quote from the article where Mr. Hart brings up, but is too disgusted to explain in detail, Divine Simplicity,

But something worse than mere misunderstanding lies at the base of Dawkins’ own special version of the argument from infinite regress—a version in which he takes a pride of almost maternal fierceness. Any “being,” he asserts, capable of exercising total control over the universe would have to be an extremely complex being, and because we know that complex beings must evolve from simpler beings and that the probability of a being as complex as that evolving is vanishingly minute, it is almost certain that no God exists. Q.E.D. But, of course, this scarcely rises to the level of nonsense. We can all happily concede that no complex, ubiquitous, omniscient, and omnipotent superbeing, inhabiting the physical cosmos and subject to the rules of evolution, exists. But who has ever suggested the contrary?

Numerous attempts have been made, by the way, to apprise Dawkins of what the traditional definition of divine simplicity implies, and of how it logically follows from the very idea of transcendence, and to explain to him what it means to speak of God as the transcendent fullness of actuality, and how this differs in kind from talk of quantitative degrees of composite complexity. But all the evidence suggests that Dawkins has never understood the point being made, and it is his unfortunate habit contemptuously to dismiss as meaningless concepts whose meanings elude him. Frankly, going solely on the record of his published work, it would be rash to assume that Dawkins has ever learned how to reason his way to the end of a simple syllogism.

Apparently contemptuous dismissals should at least be informed. Anyway. The essence energies distinction does maintain that God’s essence is simple and one, to my understanding, but this has to do with his stability and immutability. His overarching energy is goodness in which His other energies consist such as love, creativity, justice, beauty, etc. The energies do not exist outside of God but flow in and out and between the persons of the Trinity. Mr. Hart rightly says that God does not have to have evolved, but he resolves this by saying God is not complex. Orthodox theologians however say that His many various energies are also eternal as well as many. I would like to see more of a critique about the fallacy of the necessity of evolution, which isn’t provided here. I have never believed in evolution as I was brought up a young earth creationist. Since becoming Orthodox I suppose I am more open to old earth creation but am still doubtful of evolutionary changes. Changes in size and other adaptations have been shown to occur much more rapidly than previously supposed. I like what I’ve read from Fr. Seraphim Rose, who denies evolution, so far the best. Therefore I believe that complexity can be eternal just as the separate members of the Trinity are.

Unity and Difference

by Andrea Elizabeth

Dr. Jones further states in his Introduction to St. Dionysius’ The Divine Names and Mystical Theology,

We can express this matter [B. Divine Unity and Difference] in terms of the language of participation. For example, for Pseudo-Dionysius, a living being as such is a participant in life itself. It participates in life itself in order to be living. Life itself is what is participated in by living beings. Further, the life of each living being – its liv-ing – is its participating or participation in life itself. The liv-ing (having life) of a living being is a part of that being; it is a way in which that being is. Now one should note that life itself as such is not an aspect or part of any living being even though it is participated in by every living being. Further, no living being is a part of life itself although every living being is a manifestation of life itself. (p.28)

I would make one preliminary observation. Pseudo-Dionysius speaks about (“statements” about God) which are unified and differenced. Consequently [certain Greek] terms are frequently translated as “statements or names which are unified” and “statements or names which are differenced.” This translation serves to restrict the question of what is unified and differenced to a problem about language. However, this is not at all the case. For it is the name and (“thing named”) of Father, Son and Spirit which are differenced; it is the gifts of being and life which are unified. Thus the terms refer both to logia and also to that to which logia refer. Hence, it seems preferable to translate these simply as “what is unified” and “what is differenced.”

Psuedo-Dionysius’ discussion of this matter is contained in Divine Names, II.3-5. Divine Names, II.3 contains an initial characterization of what is unified and what is differenced. Divine Names, II.4-5 offers an expanded discussion of these by referring to the divine unity and difference. In Divine Names, II.3 our author gives two “classes” of what is unified: first, whatever is said by way of preeminent denial such as beyond good or beyond being; second, logia that pertain to causality such as good, be-ing, and whatever marks the gifts which proceed out of the divinity. In contrast to these, the Father, Son and Spirit are said to be differentiated.

In Divine Names, II.4-5 Pseudo-Dionysius again explains what he considers to be unified and differenced although his explanation proceeds with reference to the divine unity and difference. Here the divine unities are “the hidden and non-wandering supreme foundations of the more than ineffable and more than unknown steadfastness.” However, the divine differences are “the good formed processions and manifestations of the godhead.” That is, the divine difference is “the good showing procession of the divine unity which makes itself many and multiplies itself, beyond every way of unity, by its goodness.” (p.33, 34)

John Scottus Eriugena, the last.

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have now completed half the book, and that is probably as far as I will go. John Scottus Eriugena, istm, has come up with a syncretic hybrid of eastern and western theology and ancient philosophy. None of the sources would recognize their work in what he came up with. Carabine even admits, “Of course, Eriugena’s thought was not simply a reproduction of what he had encountered in his reading of the fathers of East and West; rather, he molded their theology into his own to reveal a new pattern of thought in relation to an understanding of the transcendence and immanence of God.” (p. 45) I probably should have stopped reading right there. Innovation is definitely rejected by traditional, St. Vincent’s Rule, theologians.

Most of his ideas conform more with Platonic ideas of Absolute Divine Simplicity, which can be traced in western theology, not eastern, where everything emanates from the One, dialectically diverges, and then returns to the One. While this can sound similar to St. Maximus’ doctrine of Recapitulation, it differs in several ways (I quote St. Maximus extensively in the Categories bearing his name, “Recapitulation”, and the book, The Cosmic Mystery of Christ). Eriugena’s view of God, the source of all, is taken from numeric, Pythagorian ideas of the “Monad” (p. 32). Then it gets weird – meaning I’ve not read anything like it from any Church Father, not that I’m that well-read.

Eriugena presents us with a wonderfully different slant on this familiar understanding. Strictly speaking, God is uncreated, yet in the act of creating, God creates God’s self.

[…] The simultaneous timeless and time-bound character of creation depends on the fact that all things were created in the Word by God at the same time because God could not have existed before God created. (p.34)

Further, he does not have a concept of essence and energy, or a distinction between created and uncreated, but everything is God’s essence, as in ADS, and will return again, I suppose, to “n0-thing”ness.

God is both maker of all things and is made in all things (P.I454C; III 650C-D) (p.37)

He gives a nod to St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Dionysius in some of his descriptions of God being beyond being and in all things (p.38), but I do not believe that when they wrote before the 5th Century that the distinctions between essence and energies where formally categorized. Therefore “nature” and “essence” were sometimes used when later “energies” would be used to denote distinction between God, creation, and participation by grace. St. Maximus’ writings should have cleared that up for the 9th century Eriugena.

This seems like Total Depravity, “The fifth mode concerns human nature itself, which, through the fall from paradise, lost its divine image, its true being, and can, therefore, be said not to be. When human nature is restored through the grace of God, it is reestablished in its image and begins to be.” (p. 40)

This next premise seems to deny the activity of God in making Himself known through His uncreated energies, “Thus the logic of negative theology becomes clear: God, as the essence of all, is known only from created things, but this is knowledge not of what God is but simply that God is. Given the primary understanding that the ousia of any thing is unknowable, it stands to reason that the essence of all things is unknowable since that very essence is God.” (p. 42)

At least she’s honest, “While it is certain that he took much from Gregory of Nyssa and the Pseudo-Dionysius [btw, there is some controversy as to St. Dionysius’s identity and his neoplatonism], Eriugena’s own unique perspective can be seen in his continual straining toward that which is truly no thing.” (p. 42,3) He does seem to have a very negative opinion of God.

More weirdness,

God can be known as creator but remains unknowable as uncreated, even to God’s self, a theme I discuss hereafter. (p.45)

I believe this next part describes his slant on what is known as “natural theology”, “According to Eriugena, creation is the fundamental starting point for any attempt to understand divine reality (Romans 1:20), and it constitutes the one great mystery that focuses his thought as he attempts to set down, in an orderly fashion, sure definitions and right knowledge of the things that are.” (p. 46)

This segues into what seems to me to be a heretical view of the Trinity, “all things are at the same time eternal and are made in the Word: eternal things are made and made things are eternal (P.III 646C). […] God is the Maker of all things and is made in all things; and when He is looked for above all things He is found in no essence (P.III 683A). (p.48)

Not understanding participation by grace through God’s energies also gets him into trouble here, “Creation is not something apart from God [though he says it does exist on a different ontological level], but is, as I will show, the ontological participation of the creature in God. In this sense we can say that creation is already God, already deified because its very identity is God.”

But it is his explanation of the Trinity that makes me put the book down. Again it is admitted,

“Although Eriugena relies heavily [?] on the patristic sources of both East and West (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine feature most in Eriugena’s reviews of previous exegeses of the text of Genesis 1), Eriugena’s own ideas are clearly seen in realtion to the mysterious nature of the creative activity of the triune divine nature.” (p. 50,1)

It is not clear if he believes that the Son is a distinct person, or if He has always existed, I don’t think he does on either count, at least not in the traditional sense:

God the Father before the secular ages (began), brought forth His Word, in Whom and through Whom He created in their full perfection the primordial causes of all natures (P. II 560A-B). The Word, therrefore is the principle through whom the father “speaks” the creation of all things (P. III 642B) and is the first principle of divisoria running through all things that they may be OP.III 642D), just as the Word is also the first principle of resolutiva (P. II 526B-C). In this sense, the logical method of dialectic – division and resolution [ADS]– is prefigured in the activity of the Word itself. However, Eriugena is very clear that the causal activity of the Trinity does not imply that the Trinity is one and one and one; rather, it is a simple and indivisible one, multiple in power, not in number (P.III 687C-D). (p.53)

I have seen John Scottus Eriugena’s name mentioned in lists with many of the early Greek Church Fathers, all thrown together under the label, Neoplatonism. While some of the concepts may share similar descriptions, I do not believe that the contexts or basic conclusions are the same at all. I do not believe these men belong together in the same grouping, especially since Eriugena, who lived 500 years later, had access to the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils who clarified the Church’s position on these matters based on evidence of where heretical views lead. John Scottus Eriugena is an innovative Maverick.

St. Gregory Palamas Sunday

by Andrea Elizabeth

On the Importance of Prayer
– by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Today, on the second Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, who lived in the fourteenth century. He is known for his defense of the Hesychasm of Athonite monks and the Orthodox understanding of prayer against the attacks of theologians who were influenced by Western scholasticism.

Most of us, living in the world as we do, know very little about the Hesychast controversy, the works of Saint Gregory, or about the practice of Hesychasm. This is not because Orthodox theology and praxis is somehow more complicated than other areas of human knowledge and experience. We are often very successful at learning highly complex subject-matters, mastering very sophisticated skills, and becoming experts in our area of work or study. Yet, when it comes to prayer, too many Christians spend very little time and effort to learn about it and to practice it. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that among the multitude of very accomplished experts on a variety of subjects that attend our churches, very few are experts in prayer.

We often think of prayer as a compilation of formulas that have to be pronounced or tasks that have to be fulfilled: certain prayers in the morning, others in the evening, and different ones before communion. The goal of such exercises is rarely very lofty—usually people say prayers to quiet their own conscience: “I have fulfilled my morning obligation or “I have fulfilled my pre-communion obligation”—and they feel better about themselves. When prayers are missed, we feel guilty: “I have not done what I was supposed to do.” Prayer becomes a life-long conversation with one’s own self, but not with God.

Sometimes we want something, so we remember that there is a God, and we decide to make a deal with Him. We say a certain formula and expect that God will feel obliged to deliver. If it is something that we really want and we are not sure that He will feel obliged enough, we may lengthen our plea by putting in some extra prayers and readings, by doing a little extra to get something a little bigger. We try to manipulate God in the same way that a dog tries to manipulate its owner into throwing an extra biscuit or two by doing an extra trick. The only problem is that God did not die on the cross in order to get Himself a pet.

Prayer is not a formula to manipulate God into doing something for us, nor is it an obligation that was placed on us to fulfill. God knows what we need for our salvation much better than we do, and He delivered us from all bondage, including the burdens and obligations of the Law. Yet we see that the saints of both the Old and New Testaments prayed to God, Christ Himself spent time in prayer every chance He had, and the Church teaches us to do the same. Why is prayer so important?

In the same way that we cannot manipulate God, He does not want to manipulate us. He wants us to enter into communion with Him; He wants to live in us (Gal. 2:20), and us to live for Him (2 Cor. 5:15) and with Him (Rom. 6:8); “the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei 54). He wants our hearts, not our tricks aimed at getting a few extra biscuits. He needs us to be co-laborers with Him in the task of our salvation (1 Cor. 3:9). He wants to give us life abundantly (John 10:10), but He needs us to live it. And the breath of life in God is prayer.

Prayer is the communion of the Person of God with the person of man; and without our participation in it, this communion becomes impossible. Just as a close relationship between two people is impossible when one gives all, but the other in only interested in exchanging Christmas cards, a life with God is impossible when He gives us all of Himself, but we are only interested in giving Him a few minutes of recitations each day. Prayer is not what is written on a page in a book, but that which is written in our hearts. Perhaps this is why the most common and most meaningful prayer has always been the simple Jesus prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

Prayer is not a mindless recitation of printed symbols, but a devotion of mind and heart. When we read or hear about the prayer of the mind that enters the heart, we are faced with the rejection of a purely mechanical recitation of words. We would find it unacceptable to offer a mindless recitation of words to our friends and loved ones; how dare we offer it to God day after day?!

The experience of the Athonite Hesychasts shows that through prayer we enter into communion with the very uncreated energies of God, or the direct way that God relates to the world and acts in it—not through created mediators, but directly enters into a relationship with us. And it is our response that makes this relationship possible. Look at the prayers that the Church offers to us as the morning and evening rules. Pay close attention to the words. They were composed by people whose hearts were ablaze with love for God, who responded to God’s gift of life with giving their own lives to God. Their prayers are not offered to us for recitations, but to guide our hearts and lives in the same direction, in the footsteps of the Fathers. We are to take these words written by other people and make them our own, coming directly from our hearts.

But this is not yet the life of prayer. If prayer is the breath of life, then it is impossible to live just by breathing for a few minutes twice a day. Apostle Paul instructs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Many have said that this is impossible: how can one do anything without ceasing? But do we not breathe without ceasing? The saints who devoted their lives to God found that not only it is possible to pray without ceasing, but that it is unceasing prayer that makes life in God possible. The more we allow our soul to breathe prayer, the more alive in God it becomes.

Perhaps we cannot expect to spend our lives in solitude and contemplation, as do the Athonite Hesychasts. But we can and should make prayer both a state of our being and an active way of life in God. We do not have to study the works of Saint Gregory Palamas to make the simple Jesus prayer—“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—a part of everything we do throughout the day. We can apply effort to pay more attention to every word in our morning and evening prayers, to make them our own, and to try to pattern our own spiritual life after the model offered to us by the Fathers.

The breath of prayer is just as vital to the spiritual life as the breath of air is to the physical life. But just as a physical illness takes time and effort to heal, the spiritual illness caused by the lack of prayer will also take time and effort to recover. That is why it is so important to begin immediately, not tonight or tomorrow, but right now. When the Ethiopian eunuch learnt about Christ, he exclaimed to Philip: “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36) What hinders us from taking a breath of life this very moment?—“If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37).
H/T to Sophocles and Maxim

Perelandra 2 and Patristic Theology 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have said before that I am a disillusioned optimist. I keep believing that there is an answer and a fix to all the mess. I can’t help myself. And I have found answers, and when I do, like in Out of the Silent Planet, I hitch my wagon to the horse from whose mouth it came. Every time. I can’t help myself. Then the horse stumbles – how could he not? C.S. Lewis did not become an Orthodox Christian, but I so wanted someone in the western tradition to speak Orthodox, and I think he comes close many times because Orthodoxy is the language we were all meant to speak and lies in potential in all of us. What is not Orthodox is foreign, and sometimes we develop foreign habits. In Perelandra, Lewis shows his Protestantism in that he believes that Christ was incarnated because of the Fall, instead of the Orthodox belief that Christ’s intention in creation was to join with us in the Incarnation from the beginning and would have happened without the Fall. So on Perelandra when the unfallen Green Lady and the King get married, it is seen as a less great thing than what happened on earth as a result of the Fall.

Then Ransom’s sacrifice is seen as an unmeritorious act I assume because of the Protestant creed of Glory to God Alone. But this causes him confusion when he sees the King’s face who is created in the image of “Maleldil”.

“You might ask how it was possible to look upon it and not to commit idolatry, not to mistake it for that of which it was the likeness. For the resemblance was, in its own fashion, infinite, so that almost you could wonder at finding no sorrows in his brow and no wounds in his hands and feet. Yet there was no danger of mistaking, not one moment of confusion, no least sally of the will towards forbidden reverence. Where likeness was greatest, mistake was least possible.”

He continues to struggle with idolatry when he talks about man-made images,

“A clever wax-work can be made so like a man that for a moment it deceives us: the great portrait which is far more deeply like him does not. Plaster images of the Holy One may before now have drawn to themselves the adoration they were meant to arouse for the reality. But here, where His live image, like Him within and without, made by His own bare hands out of the depth of divine artistry, His masterpiece of self-portraiture coming forth from His workshop to delight all worlds, walked and spoke before Ransom’s eyes, it could never be taken for more than an image. Nay, the very beauty of it lay in the certainty that it was a copy, like and not the same, an echo, a rhyme, an exquisite reverberation of the uncreated music prolonged in a created medium.”

His iconoclasm is showing, but he knows that there is something to marvel at in humanity. It is so hard when converting from Protestantism to be able to make peace between the Creator and the created. We have been so conditioned to believe that it is a sin to appreciate the greatness of creation. Proper veneration has become foreign. We are more afraid of committing idolatry than to venerate man’s intended end, and that which represents and communicates those who have accomplished deification, or theosis – icons.

But it is because of Christ’s and the Saint’s union with God that venerating them is not idolatry. God is in them, unseparated, unmixed, distinct, and undivided. To venerate the Saints is to worship God and His intention in Incarnation. Perelandra is full of What Would Jesus Do? Instead of God filling His Saints so that they can reach their potential – deification. Lewis presents a copy, but not the real thing.

Back to disillusioned optimism, less than perfect people can still impart improvements to where we are at present, so I’ll not give up on Professor Lewis. And I’ll not give up on Father John Romanides who has also let me down with this unsubstantiated ad hominem on page 90 of Patristic Theology, “If we use the criteria of the Apostle Paul and the Church Fathers such as St. Symeon the New Theologian regarding who is truly a theologian, we will see that contemporary modern Orthodox theology, under the influence of Russian theology, is not Patristic theology, but a distortion of Patristic theology, because it is written by people who do not have the above-mentioned spiritual prerequisites [that they be in theosis].” This is all he says about Russian “theologians”. I’m very disappointed and now will have to force myself to finish this book as I did with Perelandra.

I struggle with disillusionment a lot, but I know I can’t keep retreating forever from the less than perfect. Part of it is dealing with being offended and learning to forgive and have a humble attitude about how much I fail myself and require patience and forgiveness from others. But also I have read that love requires perfection, so it is ok to notice when something is not perfect and to bring it to attention when it is presented as the truth. We are easily deceived and must fight it in ourselves and others. Father John Romanides is motivating me to seek theosis through purification and illumination by prayer and repentance, so I will keep reading him even though he must be one of those ethnocentric Greek Orthodox. It just takes some of the fun out of it is all.