Monday, May 26, 2008

The Unchanging yet Creative God, Part 4

So far in this series, we have seen that if God were pure Essence, it would be impossible for Him to have created anything in the manner our Faith teaches us He did it, namely: directly, personally, freely, alone, by His Word, and giving a definite beginning to things, as we are also taught He shall give a definite end to things. The problem is that He cannot have made a new decision which He had not made before and did not know He was going to make - otherwise we have imported temporality and mutability into our concept of God. For the same reason, neither can God ever have done a new thing which He had not done before. Furthermore, if it belonged to the Divine Essence to create, then creation would be a necessity, and an eternal necessity, too. God would have to create. Otherwise He would not be God. God’s very Being would be dependent upon His own creatures.

We have seen how pantheism accounts for the material order, by denying creation ex nihilo and saying instead that this world is simply a conglomeration of changing forms divinity is taking.

We have seen how Thomas Aquinas, and following him all of Western Christendom in varying degrees, has tried to solve the problem in ways the Orthodox find ruinous for spiritual life (and sound theology, too). They introduce created things (exemplars, or eternal ideas) into their concept of the Divine Essence. They say God only created the world indirectly. They say God cannot be really related to the created order. They locate reality outside of the material world, which for us is entirely real. And they resort to ideas completely foreign to revelation, not found in Holy Tradition or in Holy Scripture, such as created exemplars in the divine Essence which do the actual, direct, impersonal creating of the material world.

And these two answers, that of the Orient and that of the Christian West, are the only two, other than the Orthodox teaching, that historically have found any widespread acceptance in the world, or had much widespread influence. No other way has been found or at least much embraced, except in Orthodox Christianity.

The Orthodox doctrine, then, is that God is “bigger than” Pure Essence. Or His Essence (Being) “overflows” into his Powers, or Energies. By these powers we mean such things as His will, His foreknowledge, His omnipresence (being everywhere simultaneously), His creativity, His Justice, His Grace, His sanctifying powers, and so forth. We mean roughly what Westerners mean when they speak of God’s “attributes,” with perhaps some small exceptions and one enormous one: for us, these Powers (or “Energies”) are uncreated and eternal.

Unlike God’s Essence, the Powers are not ingenerate, for the Holy Trinity eternally generates them, but they are uncreated and eternal.

Neither are the Energies to be thought of as “the fringes of the Deity,” while the Essence is the core; rather, while they are distinct from the Essence, yet they are filled with it. They are fully God. They are the workings of the Holy Trinity in the world, and God is as fully God within the world, within time and space, as He is outside of them. The immanent God and the transcendent God are one and the same Holy Trinity.

As one blogger wrote, “an energy is never apersonal. The energies of God are communicated only through the persons of the Trinity…”

The Uncreated Energies do not infringe the divine simplicity, either, any more than the distinctions among the Three Persons do, or the distinction between Essence and Persons. They are neither "parts" of God nor limitations upon God.  And they are distinct from that which is called simple, namely the Divine Essence.

And because these Powers or Energies are distinct from God’s Essence, there is no theological problem with saying that in them, God does whatever He wants, whenever He wants, starting and stopping at will, His Being remaining all the while unaffected and unchanged.

We create no quandaries in asserting that God, in or as His Energies, created the world around us just as the biblical witness says He did – directly, personally, and freely. Furthermore, the world He created is not some shabby copy of some Eternal Idea. Instead, He created it exactly as He had always envisioned it, exactly as He had eternally intended to, and pronounced it, “Very good.”

With the Energy/Essence distinction, there is no logical or theological contradiction in affirming what we in fact already know from living it, namely, a direct, personal, real relationship with God, deepening into communion and finally into theosis, deification. For we know that our communion with Him is communion in His Uncreated Energies and that we can never acquire His Essence. (That would be a contradiction in terms, since acquired isn’t applicable to the eternal Essence of God! You either have it from all eternity or never.)

God’s relations with and in the world, in His Uncreated Energies, necessarily have a beginning, because the world itself has. (And the fact that they do have a beginning shows they are not included in God’s Essence.) The workings of God’s Energies in the world can have an end, too. “The prescience of God has no beginning, but after the things that He foreknows come to pass, it has an end.” (St. Basil the Great, P.G. 29, 680) No problem.

The problem of how an unchanging God creates is only one of numerous theological issues solved or rather avoided, in the East, by the distinction between God as Essence and God as Energy. God willing, I shall list some of the others in another part of this series. But before that, I want to address the frequently-heard but entirely false charge that the Essence-Energies distinction is a 14th Century, Eastern innovation.



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