Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Unchanging yet Creative God, Part 7

The Unknowable Divine Essence

God’s Essence is totally, absolutely, uncompromisingly unknowable. This is not due only to any limitation in us, as for instance that our intellects are too small, although that is obviously also true. To know God as He knows Himself, one would have to be God, which means to have been God eternally. But there’s more than that. That the Divine Essence is radically unknowable comes also from that fact that it is unique in the proper sense, that is, absolutely. It has no parallel, no cognate. There is nothing comparable to it, nothing analogous to it. “I am God; and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me.” (Isaiah 46:9) There is nothing to which we could even relate Him.

We can’t even know the Divine Essence by extrapolating backwards from the Powers (Energies) because they are not the same. We can no more do that than scientists can extrapolate backward from the “Big Bang” they postulate to whatever existed before it the "singularity" they say exploded.

There is, indeed, much to say about the unspeakable Divine Essence, such as that it is eternal, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each possess it in full, that it is distinct from the Divine Powers, and so forth. But what cannot be said at all, not a single world, even equivocally, even analogously, even in shadows, is what the Divine Essence actually is. What is it that all three Persons possess in full? What is it that is eternal? What is it that “makes God God”? We have no idea. And any idea we form is automatically an idol. And any doctrine based upon someone’s idea of the Divine Essence is automatically wrong.

Not even in heaven shall we behold the Divine Essence (Catholic doctrine notwithstanding), much less understand it.

But is this supposed to be a privation? If we love God, it is the Person we yearn to see, the Possessor of the Essence. Not the Essence itself and not the Powers either, but Him who IS the Essence and manifests Himself in the Powers. It’s the Person we love and long to see and to know; in fact, it is the One who is brimming with not just one, but two essences, divine and human. For a Christian to hanker after the beholding and comprehending of the Essence itself, besides being blasphemous and presumptuous, is a strange perversion! We cannot behold or comprehend any essence whatsoever, not even our own, human essence.

The only case I can think of in which one might long to behold “the Being of the Deity”, whatever that is, rather than the Person, might be if one believes in an impersonal deity. But still the motive would be a self-serving one: the ultimate gratification of ones intellectual curiosity by learning “the secret of the universe.” That could never happen, for all the reasons already mentioned. But this should be very far from any disappointment for Christians! Because of course we already know “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, … now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27) Christ Himself is the Secret of the Universe, and specifically, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And Christ in us is the most glorious, most splendid, most profound, most challenging, most thrilling Mystery there could ever be. That’s what it is all, all, all about. And this Mystery, the Mystery, we can indeed know, not conceptually, not academically, but – what is far better, far more intimate! – by communion in Him.



JTKlopcic said...

So much to chew on ... thanks for the feast!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Did this series take care of whatever questions you and/or Mairs had? Because if not, please ask.

JTKlopcic said...

Honestly, I have never really pondered this aspect, so I'm still formulating and answering questions. Give me a few weeks and I'll see what I come up with!

I'm listening to the Our Life series right now -- I'm not sure if that will help or not.... :^)

JTKlopcic said...

In my research of the topic, I'm finding that I have to challenge a number of my fundamental understandings of Christianity! This is slow going, indeed.

In the course of all this, I've come across some almost inflammatory writings of Fr John Romanides. Is he on the level? A lot of what he writes is so different from what I have read elsewhere that it really overturns the applecart. Still, it's a fascinating read...

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Romanides is sometimes very much on the level and other times, particularly when he is being inflammatory, I can't even decipher what he's saying, much less decide what I think of it. Exc ept that I can't think the really inflammatory stuff Spirit-inspired.

What, in particular, are you reading of his? If it's The Ancestral Sin, yes, that hits the nail on the head.

JTKlopcic said...

Well, I've been reading a number of essays and things that are scattered around the Web - mostly following a rabbit trail trying to get at some of his underlying assertions. I started reading about Palamas, then diverted to get a better understanding of the implications of the Filioque, then ended up trying to decipher Romanides' interpretation of medieval European history. It's a wild ride -- he bounces all over the place!