Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Unchaging yet Creative God, Part 6

Here is a quick summary of some of the major ramifications of the (lowercase-o) orthodox distinction between God’s Essence and His Uncreated, Divine Energies. Here is some of why it is so necessary, and why it makes such a vast difference.

1.) It means God is able to have genuine relations with His creation. He can relate to the world personally, directly, and really.

2.) This in turn means He is able to create the world as we have been taught He did: by His Word alone, without any intermediary, without any pre-existing materials, without any help, personally, directly, and at a specific beginning point.

3.) That God Himself created the material world, bringing it out of non-being, means the material world is real, not an emanation from or shadow of reality contained within God’s Essence (Scholasticism), and not a container of hidden reality (pantheism, panentheism).

4.) Thus, salvation does not consist in any kind of escape from the world. A Christian is not supposed to be of the world, but he remains in it.

5.) It also means the material world as originally created is good. It is not some highly imperfect copy of something good inside God. Instead, God made it just the way He wanted to, and successfully. Had the world been made imperfect, it would mean that God is imperfect. If God had caused evil, God would be evil.

6.) Unless God could have real relationships with us, as provided for the by Essence-Energies distinction, salvation as the Orthodox know it would be impossible. For us, salvation is God Himself coming to abide in us, and to make us abide in Him. Salvation is God progressively sanctifying and glorifying and finally deifying us, none of which He could do if He were unable to relate to us directly or really. Salvation is not simply being filled with some created thing called “grace,” but is being filled with, and made one with, God Himself.

7.) To be filled with, and made one with, God Himself , would be pantheism but for the Essence-Energy distinction.

8.) This distinction counters hosts of other heresies, including Arianism, Macedonianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and Gnosticism. Fr. John Romanides (The Ancestral Sin, p. 66) says, “…if God creates, foreknows, gives life, and saves through created means, then the Arians, Macedonians and Nestorians would be justified,” and, “Monophysitism and Monothelitism are heresies against the basic dogma of creation ex nihilo and of human freedom. Therefore, they are a rejection of the salvation of the whole man and of the world…”

9.) The Essence-Energy distinction means God is free; that is, His unchanging Essence does not dictate His workings or prevent Him from doing changing things. He can do whatever He pleases, and if what He does never contradicts His Essence, that, too, is by choice.

Though God is able to do all that He wills to do, He does not will to do all that he is able to do. To be is not the same as to will…if God creates in His being, it is by necessity that He creates whatever He creates. But if it is by will that He creates, he creates out of sovereignty. Creating out of sovereignty, then, He creates as much as He wills and whatever He wills and whenever He wills. If God creates in His being, His will serves no purpose and is altogether useless. (St. Justin Martyr, Christian Inquiries, III, 2)

Freedom in God, be it noted, is perfect. It isn’t corrupted or compromised or tempted by evil. Freedom, in God, is freedom to be infinitely good, infinitely loving. It does not imply freedom to be wicked, which is no freedom at all, but slavery.

10.) If God were not free, He could not bestow freedom upon men and angels. But for the Essence-Energies distinction, we would not be able to call ourselves free.

11.) Freedom in turn makes love possible. Christian love, by definition, is freely formed, freely chosen, freely given, freely accepted. Any other kind of “love” is a much inferior imposter. Thus, even love itself depends upon freedom, which depends upon the Essence-Energies distinction. Rejection of it by some others is one of the reasons Orthodoxy is the only religion in the world that consistently preaches (or even can consistently preach) a God of authentic, pure, unbounded, perfect, direct, personal, unconditional , self-sacrificial love.

12.) The Essence-Energies distinction forms a basic argument for the Holy Trinity: it is because we see the Three Persons exercising the very same uncreated Powers that we conclude they are one and the same God; i.e., have one and the same Essence.

13.) The Essence-Energies distinction describes the difference between creation on the one hand, and the Son and Holy Spirit on the other. St. Gregory Palamas says that if the divine Energy does not differ from the divine Essence,

Then neither would the making of things, which belongs to the energy, differ from the begetting and giving procession, which belong to the essence. And if the making of things did not differ from begetting and giving procession, then things made would not differ in any way from what is begotten and proceeds. If this is how things were, then the very Son of God and the Holy Spirit would be no different than creatures. (St. Gregory Palamas, Natural Chapters, 96, P.G. 150, 1189)

14.) Here’s a surprise: that God has direct relations with His creation means He governs it, as He created it, in person, directly, with nothing between Him and us. That means we do not believe in “natural law.” If the Sun rises every morning, it is because God faithfully keeps our planet revolving around it, because that is His gracious will. If there is order in the universe, it is because God is orderly. If things work logically, it is because they were created and are maintained by the Logos Himself. (We derive the English “logic” from logos. God’s Logos is His intellect, especially in the sense of articulate, hence conscious, intellect.)

15.) That there is no “natural law” intervening between God and His creation has an interesting implication for the phenomenon of miracles. It means a miracle is not the lifting, contravening or abrogating of any “law of nature”. It is simply God, in a given moment, doing something differently. (He couldn’t do that, were there no distinction between His Essence and His Energies.)

16.) That we do not believe in natural law in turn has several, large-scale implications for ecumenical dialogue with Catholicism, which lays heavy stress upon “natural law.”

17.) God’s saving and sanctifying Energies, His foreknowledge, and His will are each distinct from His Essence and from each other. He can foreknow without foreordaining. His will can “make room” for genuine human freedom, can allow us to make even choices that are, in a narrower sense, against His will. These distinctions enable us to deny predestination in the heterodox sense, which would otherwise become a logical necessity. (We deny it for other reasons, but these distinctions render our denial logically possible.)

There are yet more items I could have listed but didn’t because I’m not sure I understand them well enough or agree with them. Just these alone, however, are enough, I think, to demonstrate that the acceptance or rejection of the Essence-Energies distinction makes a whole world of difference, makes for completely different religions, even if they both bear Christ’s name. Christos Yannaras, a noted Greek theologian, writes:

The acceptance and rejection of this distinction represents two fundamentally different visions of truth. This does not mean simply two different theoretical views or interpretations, but two diametrically opposite ways of life, with concrete spiritual, historical, and cultural consequences.

The acceptance of this distinction between essence and energies means an understanding of truth as personal relationship, i.e., as an experience of life and of knowledge as participation in the truth and not as an understanding of meanings that result from intellectual abstract¬ion... That is to say, God is known only as a personal revelation (and not as an idea of active essence), only as a triune communion of persons, as an ecstatic self-offering of loving goodness…

On the contrary, the rejection of the distinction between essence and energy means exclusion of catholic-personal experience and priority of the intellect as the way of knowledge, reducing truth to a coincidence of thought with the object of thought.


JTKlopcic said...

Wow! Great stuff. You are answering questions that I didn't even know I had. Thanks!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...


I hope I'm answering ones you do have, or did!