Friday, March 29, 2013

Blog Note

A kind friend pointed out to me that one of my recent posts had been hacked in a major way. As I began deleting the offending comments, a new one would immediately appear for each one I deleted. I have therefore had to delete the entire post with its dozens of comments and to reinstate that terrible word verification feature, in which you try to decipher some very hard-to-read code and type it. Sorry about that. If this prevents similar problems in future, I will at least be able to avoid putting comments on a moderated basis. And I apologize to anyone who may have read the bad language someone posted.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An Astonishing Message from a Gay Sister in Christ, by Hunter Baker

Pastor Hall posted this on Facebook, and I thought it so excellent!  (You must make it to the third paragraph in order to understand.)

Posted on March 18, 2013 by Hunter Baker

To the churches concerning homosexuals and lesbians:

Many of you believe that we do not exist within your walls, your schools, your neighborhoods. You believe that we are few and easily recognized. I tell you we are many. We are your teachers, doctors, accountants, high school athletes. We are all colors, shapes, sizes. We are single, married, mothers, fathers. We are your sons, your daughters, your nieces, your nephews, your grandchildren. We are in your Sunday School classes, pews, choirs, and pulpits. You choose not to see us out of ignorance or because it might upset your congregation. We ARE your congregation. We enter your doors weekly seeking guidance and some glimmer of hope that we can change. Like you, we have invited Jesus into our hearts. Like you, we want to be all that Christ wants us to be. Like you, we pray daily for guidance. Like you, we often fail.

When the word “homosexual” is mentioned in the church, we hold our breaths and sit in fear. Most often this word is followed with condemnation, laughter, hatred, or jokes. Rarely do we hear any words of hope. At least we recognize our sin. Does the church as a whole see theirs? Do you see the sin of pride, that you are better than or more acceptable to Jesus than we are? Have you been Christ-like in your relationships with us? Would you meet us at the well, or restaurant, for a cup of water, or coffee? Would you touch us even if we showed signs of leprosy, or aids? Would you call us down from our trees, as Christ did Zacchaeus, and invite yourself to be our guest? Would you allow us to sit at your table and break bread? Can you love us unconditionally and support us as Christ works in our lives, as He works in yours, to help us all to overcome?

To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God’s word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not what we shall be, but thank God, we are not what we were. Let us work together to see that we all arrive safely home.

A Sister in Christ

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Without Buddha I Could Not be a Christian, Part II


The author of Without Buddha I Could Not be a Christian, Dr. Paul Knitter, having detailed his problems with God as Transcendent Other, moves on to his problems with God as Transcendent Person.  Here are the first three of several problems he mentions.

From page 25:
In picturing or approaching the Divine as a “you,” I somehow feel I’m being inappropriate, or disrespectful, or offensive – something like talking loudly in the midst of the hushed beauty of a New Zealand forest. I think my problems gravitate around what the experts call “anthropomorphisms.” Using human forms or putting a human face on the Divine may be something we humans can’t avoid doing. But it’s fundamentally inappropriate – something like a kitschy painting of the Grand Canyon!

Jesus Christ puts the human face to God, and would be the solution to this difficulty, but the author has long since given up belief in Jesus as Divine.

Knitter's next problem is that he doesn't want to be someone God is not. From page 26:

And when I try to get at what sparks the problems that flare up when I bring together “God” and “you,” I think it has to do with the tension, if not contradiction, between inherent qualities of “the Divine” and inherent qualities of a “you.” The divine qualities I’m referring to are . . . the non-dual, right-here God in whom we live and move and have our being, the God who acts as me and at the same time is more than me. When God becomes a “you” who stands opposite me or outside me, there’s a danger, I sense, of losing these qualities of the God within, the God experienced as animating energy. For me, when God becomes part of an “I – Thou relationship,” this God-as-Thou takes on a degree of otherness that just doesn’t fit the intimacy that I feel, or hope to feel, with the Divine. I guess I’m saying that God-as-Thou so easily slips back into the dualism of God-as-Other.

Again, it seems Dr. Knitter did not need to resort to Buddhism to resolve this issue; the Orthodox teaching of theosis would have served, assuming the professor would have been willing to be divine only by grace and not by nature (a factor that disappointed me when I first heard the doctrine).

There are definite, and indeed needed, differences between the Infinite and finite, between Source and expression, between field and the elements in the field. But it has to be a relationship of authentic mutuality, one in which I exercise genuine responsibility, which means a relationship in which I make a difference for and can really affect the Divine. I feel it has to be not just God’s show but our show.

Yet again, there's a one-word answer to this within Orthodox Christianity: synergy.

I've no idea whether Professor Knitter (or his wife, who has converted to Buddhism) ever did any thorough investigation of Orthodox Christianity. It seems that as a teacher of comparative religion, he ought to have, but if so, one wonders why he still has all these theological quandaries that Orthodoxy solves, or rather, avoids.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Without Buddha, I Could Not be a Christian

To be fair, I have not read this book, only the pages available at  Specifically, the following excerpts are from pages 3 -5, which you can read in their entirety here.

God is the totaliter aliter – the totally Other, infinitely beyond all that we are as human and finite beings. In his transcendence, God is, we were taught, infinitely perfect, infinitely complete, happy unto himself, in need of nothing.” … God is “Self-subsistent Being,” being who originates from himself, who is dependent solely on himself, and could be happy all by himself.

An Other in need of no other

… When I thought of this, I realized that this means that God is an Other who really doesn’t need others, and so in his self-sufficiency cannot really be affected by others. … God does not have any needs that would make him dependent on creatures – needs that would tarnish the perfection and self-sufficiency of God. Theologians through the centuries … have acted as bodyguards around God, making sure that no one really touches him. To be touched and changed by something that is not God – that woud be, as it were, a weakness that is not permitted by God’s infinite otherness.

But wait a minute. This is only half of the picture of God in Christian doctrine. The God of Abraham and Moses and Jesus is also a God of love. Christianity affirms that the God who is infinitely other … is also a God who infinitely loves. Creation is the supreme sign and expression of that love … precisely because this God, who in his self-sufficiency and perfection didn’t have to create, did so! To do something that one doesn’t have to do, to give of oneself even when one in no way needs to – that, say the theologians, is love at its finest.

But is it? …

To start with, if we believe that God is love and that creation is the expression of this love, but then immediately add that God did not have to create, it sounds like God did not have to express his love. But what kind of a love is that? …Theologians respond by explaining that God’s inherent, infinite love is expressed within himself, between the relations that make up the Trinity. So God’s love could be satisfied with being only an internal, self-love? Hmm. We have words for such love. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I have to be honest. A love that doesn’t need to be expressed just doesn’t make sense – or it’s a bit sick.

. . .

A one-way street

It’s one way because given the Christian insistence on the perfection and unchageability of God, God can certainly make a difference in the world. But the world can never make any difference for God. … God’s influence on the world is real, but the world’s influence on God is … only figments of our mind’s imagination. If the world could affect God… it would tarnish his perfection and independence.

So God’s action in history is a one-way street.

Such are some of the difficulties with Christianity Dr. Knitter has encountered (as should anybody) for resolutions to which, he has turned to Buddhism.

All I am going to note here is that there was no need for the professor to go so far afield.  All he needed to do was adopt the biblical and patristic teaching of the distinction between the Divine Essence and the Uncreated, Divine Energy.  That would have resolved all the above issues, and more.

I once wrote a series of blog posts on that subject.  Since then, I've put them all together as one post; click here if you care to read or re-read that essay.

Divine Essence, Divine Energies, a reprint

The Problem

Ask yourself: how is God able to do anything new, such as create the universe? No, I mean really! It isn’t as irrelevant as it sounds. To the contrary, whole spiritualities and cultures actually depend upon the answer to that initially stupid-sounding but most fundamental question. This is because our answer determines how we relate to God; indeed, how it is possible to relate to Him.

It’s a thorny question because, after all, God’s Being (a.k.a. His “Essence”) is eternal. Eternal means timeless. God’s Being/Essence is neither time-bound nor time-conditioned.

Time is the measure of duration. Time measures how long before change occurs. If no change of any kind ever happens, you have nothing to measure, no time. You have eternity instead.

Now God’s Being, or Essence, is what He alone "possesses" (or is) such that if He didn’t, He would not be God. More precisely, He wouldn’t be, period. That means that whatever it is, God must always have had or been it, from all eternity, else He wasn’t God from all eternity. (Goodness! Two tautologies yet, in one short paragraph!)

So if God’s Essence or Being is eternal, meaning changeless, and no novelty may be introduced into it, how does He create anything? For that matter, how does He do anything at all, such as answer our prayers, unless it is something He has always done, changelessly? How does He ever stop doing anything?

There are only three basic answers to this quandary that have ever been taken seriously in this world, each giving rise to its own distinct spirituality and culture.

An Oriental Answer

So how does a God whose being is eternal and therefore (by definition of "eternal") changeless, manage to do anything new? I've already mentioned that more is at stake in this question than simply how an unchanging God does new and different things. Whole religious methodologies are at stake, whole worldviews, whole ways of relating to God and the world. But one particular issue within these wholes is God's freedom. The question is whether God is really free or whether His own Being compels and constrains Him. Human freedom is also at stake here, because obviously a God who is not free can never bestow true freedom upon His children, either. So how can it be that He, Who never changes, created the universe and then, after "six days", rested from that task?

One answer is, in short, that He didn’t. In this view, the universe is not something created at all. Instead, it is simply God Himself taking on ever-changing forms. Put another way, God made the world using, as the “raw material,” Himself. The universe is God’s “body,” His material form. The universe is made from God’s own Being and is co-eternal with Him. God's only "freedom" is to take on whatever forms He will, whenever He will, for as long as He will. Or in some variants of this worldview, God is an impersonal force, so that the issue of freedom does not even arise.

In this worldview, nothing that exists has any being (or essence, or nature) of its own. Instead, everything shares the one, divine nature. The secret of this life is to realize this. Man needs not redemption but awakening. If you will but realize that your sense of being not-God is illusory, and if you can deeply know yourself as divine, then you will have escaped suffering. You will realize that nothing that happens in this illusory world can harm the real you, the divine you. You will have peace, experiencing yourself as bigger than any suffering life can throw at you, knowing it is all illusion. (How divine beings came to be prey to such illusion, we do not ask.) And in your bliss, you will simply “go with the flow.” And as you realize at that deep level that everyone and everything else is also divine, you will find yourself at one with all that is.

To accomplish this shift of your psychological identity, you practice the art of meditation for many years. You seek to empty your mind of absolutely everything, because it is in that emptiness that the divine dimension of being becomes perceptible.

This of course is pantheism, and such is the religious practice it engenders. The way of life it encourages is exemplified (but not exhausted) by all the specific cultures of the Orient.

It is, however, very different from the Judeo-Christian tradition, in whose teachings the world has both a beginning and an end and is therefore not divine.

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, “ (Genesis 2:4)

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…” (Revelation 21:1)

For Jews and Christians, God shares His Being (Essence) with nothing and no one. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One."

For us, God begins and ends the world. He brings things into being from non-being, simply by forming the intention of doing so. (He doesn’t literally speak His intention, of course, because He has no vocal chords or tongue, but when we read, “and God said ‘Let there be light,’” it means He formed, in an intelligible way, the intention that light should henceforth exist.)

The question still remains for the Christian: how is it possible for Him to do that, to form an intention, since God is changeless? How can He say His creative, “Let there be…” without having said it from all eternity; that is, without the world being co-eternal with Him and therefore divine? Or if He did speak it forever (if He had that intention forever), why do things have a beginning and an end? If God is Creator by nature and if He is eternal, doesn’t He, to continue being God, have to have been creating forever and continue creating forever? (But if so, then isn't His very Being dependent upon His own creation? All this just keeps getting more and more complicated! There aren't any good answers, either, outside of Orthodox teaching.)

For that matter, on the same principle, how is it possible for an eternal, unchanging God to have any interaction with His changing world?

A Western Answer

The question before us remains: if we are not allowed to introduce change into our concept of God’s Being, or time either, how can God ever do anything He wasn’t doing from all eternity? How can He “one day” start to create the world? How can He, having once begun creating, stop doing so and rest on the seventh day? In fact, how is it He can stop or start any activity, such as responding to my prayers? How is it He hasn’t already judged me, and either saved or rejected me, from before all time, as the Calvinists believe? How is it even possible to have a genuine, person-to-person relationship with an absolutely unchanging God?

The Scholastics said it wasn’t. In that system of thought, exemplified by Thomas Aquinas, God only indirectly creates the world we know.

For Aquinas, what God does is eternally create, within His own Being (Essence), “exemplars,” or patterns, or ideas of the creation. This, for the Orthodox, is Problem One: that we have, within the very Essence of the Godhead, created things! Remember that God’s Essence is whatever He has that He can’t not have and still be God. If God did have created things within His Being, then His own creation would be part of what is required for God to be God!

It is natural for these “exemplars” or blueprints to radiate outward from God. God doesn’t directly cause them to do this; they just do it naturally. And these emanations, projected into time and space, create the material world. (How time and space got there to receive these emanations I do not know. I also do not understand why these eternal ideas emanating from God didn’t eternally have the effect of creating the world we know, making the universe beginningless.)

In Aquinas’ thought, God, to create, doesn’t have to change. Rather, the change is in us. We change in relation to Him as we come into being from non-being. Aquinas compares this to a hypothetical relationship between an animal, analogous to us, and a column, analogous to God. If the position of the column relative to the animal changes, it is because the animal moved, not the column.

All this makes Problems Two, Three, and Four for the Orthodox.

Problem Two: Is this biblical? Is it anywhere in Holy Tradition?

Problem Three: the exemplars become intermediaries between God and creation. Although Aquinas tries to uphold the doctrine of creation without any “raw materials,” (ex nihilo), yet here he compromises it. The exemplars are created things which in turn create the material world. This, in opposition to the Judeo-Christian doctrine that God creates the world alone, without intermediaries, with no help, especially not with help from created things, by His Word (Christ), not by emanations.

Problem Four: The created Ideas within God have more and greater reality than their emanations outside of God. This devalues the material world, telling us reality is to be found outside it. The world is but a shadow cast by the true reality, or a ray shining forth from the reality. This undoes or at least severely undermines the entire sacramental worldview, in which the world is very real indeed, and is in fact meant to be the sacrament of communion between God and man and is the (real) meeting place between God and Man.

Still, Aquinas preserves us from pantheism while insulating his concept of God from temporality and change, which is no small feat. But that’s Problem Five, because in the process, Aquinas also has to insulate his concept of God from any real relationship with us! Yes, it’s true. He asserts that while our relationship to God is real, although indirect (via the exemplars within His Essence), yet His relationship to us is not real! Actually, God only relates to His eternal ideas of us.
In the thought of Western Christendom in general (not just in Aquinas), for the sake of protecting God’s changelessness without resorting to pantheism, the notion that God cannot relate to us really or directly is unavoidable to anyone who gives serious thought to it. (Fortunately, the average man in the pew doesn’t.) There really is no known way out of it. It is therefore implicit in Western theology.

This is why, generally speaking, grace is assumed to be a created thing. This is why, in the West, knowledge of God is pursued by means of the intellect more than with the core self, truth is when your thought accurately reflects or coincides with what you are thinking about, and revelation is primarily a matter of words. This is why the things of God (together with God Himself) are dealt with as concepts, concepts, concepts and faith involves cognitive thinking and “theology” is so abstract, so theoretical, something you learn by academic study more than from your own communion with God. That is why catechizing is usually about imparting concepts instead of holiness, teaching ideas instead of asceticism and the art of prayer. And ideas, to which God relates instead of to us, are also our mode of relating to the world and to each other. Even that most personal relationship, marriage, is cast as a legal contract, complete with solemn vows. (There are no vows in an Orthodox wedding.) That is why, in the West the goal of man is not theosis, deification, but something called "The Beatific Vision," that is, beholding the very Essence of God.

Now the devastating idea that God has no real relationship to the created order not only spawns the impersonal sort of culture we see collapsing around us, but also and absolutely rules out anything recognizable to the Orthodox as spirituality.

But here’s the sad yet wonderful joke: near the end of the life of this man who had said God does not have real relations with us, God came to Thomas Aquinas in Person. It was for Thomas a direct, intense, and undeniably real encounter. Of course this upset the very foundation upon which he had built his thought and shook him up badly. No wonder then, that afterward, Thomas called all he had written “straw”. It was a "theology" by a man who had never even met God, had never known Him at all. Afterwards, Thomas never attempted to write a single sentence more of theology - just when he had finally begun to be qualified to do it.

The Orthodox Answer

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. The “simplicity”They are neither "parts" of God nor limitations upon God. In any case, what is called simple is only 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 Essence 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. I shall list some of the others a bit further on. 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.

No New Doctrine

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear the distinction between God’s Essence and God’s Energies derided as “Palamism,” after St. Gregory Palamas, who championed the orthodox Christian teaching when it became controversial. The implication, sometimes an outright charge, is that the distinction is a 14th-Century, Eastern innovation. I do not know whether this falsehood is the result of ignorance or of something worse, but in either case it is curious, since in addition to the biblical witness, we have the witness of several saints and Fathers who far pre-date St. Gregory Palamas.

The Essence-Energies distinction is (like all Orthodox doctrine) first of all an interpretation of Christian experience. Bishop Kallistos, in The Orthodox Way, writes:

The traveller upon the spiritual Way, the further he advances, becomes increasingly conscious of two contrasting facts – of the otherness yet nearness of the Eternal. In the first place, he realizes more and more that God is mystery. God is ‘the wholly Other’, invisible, inconceivable, radically transcendent, beyond all words, beyond all understanding…

Yet, in the second place, this God of mystery is at the same time uniquely close to us, filling all things, present everywhere around us and within us. And he is present, not merely as an atmosphere or nameless force, but in a personal way. The God who is infinitely beyond our understanding reveals himself to us as person: he calls us each by our name and we answer him.

Further, since the Bible bears witness to Christian experience (a.k.a. revelation in history), the Essence-Energies distinction is also an interpretation of Holy Scripture, which speaks of God as unapproachable, yet nearer to each man than his own heart. Here is a very small sampling of the sorts of verses I mean.

Never will man see My face and live. (Exodus 33:20).

The secret [things belong] unto the LORD our God: but those [things which are] revealed [belong] unto us and to our children for ever, that [we] may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Truly You are God, who hide Yourself,
O God of Israel, the Savior! ( Isaiah 45:25)

"Am I only God near at hand," says the LORD,
"And not a God afar off?” (Jeremiah 23:23)

Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom [be] honour and power everlasting. Amen. (I Timothy 6:16)
As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. . . . you may be partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3, 4).
(Here we need to note that the word used for “nature” is not “ousia,” which means essence, but “physis,” which among other things means “the sum of innate properties and powers by which one person differs from others, distinctive native peculiarities, natural characteristics: the natural strength, ferocity, and intractability of beasts." In other words, "physis" is what God is like as Energies.)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely his eternal power and Deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).
Note the distinction: his eternal power and his Deity. Everybody can know that these exist.

He rules by His power forever. (Psalm 66:7)
And then we have Jesus in John 17 (and elsewhere) speaking rather at length of abiding in us as the Father abides in Him, and He in the Father.

The Fathers, too, bear witness to the Essence-Energies distinction from more than a thousand years before St. Gregory Palamas. That is why St. Gregory quotes some of them:

The Great Basil says, “He who acts is not the same as the act’s energy and neither is the recipient of the energy” And the divine Cyril, too, forming a passage about God, theologizes, “Thus, to create is of the energy, but to beget is of the nature, for nature and energy are not identical.” (St. Gregory Palamas, Natural Chapters, 143, P.G. 150, 1220)

Here are some more saints teaching or referring to this doctrine.

St. Athanasios (298-373)
He is in everything by his love, but outside of everything by his own nature (De Decretis II)
‘He is outside all things according to his essence’, writes St Athanasius, ‘but he is in all things through his acts of power.” “We know the essence through the energy’, St Basil affirms. ‘No one has ever seen the essence of God, but we believe in the essence because we experience the energy.’ (Ware, The Orthodox Way)
St. Basil the Great (born c. 330)
Is it not ridiculous to say that the creative power is an essence, and similarly, that providence is an essence, and foreknowledge, simply taking every energy as essence?” (Contra Eunomius, I.8, PG 29, 528B)
“The energies are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His energies, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His energies come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach.” (Epistle 234)

We say that we know our God from his energies (activities), but we do not profess to approach his essence—for his energies descend to us, but his essence remains inaccessible (Epist. 234, ad Amphilochium)
St. Cyril of Alexandria (circa. 378 - 444)
“Essence and energy are not identical.” (Thesaurus 18, PG 75:312c)
St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407)
Nor does He have anything in common with us but is separated from communion with created things, I mean as to essence, though, not as to relation. (Commentary on John, Homily 2, Chapter 7, PG 59:33-34)
St. Maximos the Confessor (ca. 580-662)
We do not know God in his essence. We know him rather from the grandeur of his creation and from his providential care for all creatures. For by this means, as if using a mirror, we attain insight into his infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.” ( On Love, i, 96)
“The man divinized by grace will be everything that God is, apart from identity of essence.” (Ad Thalassium 22, PG 90:320a)
Gregory of Nyssa, (d. circa 386)
And if we may reckon that the Cause of our existence did not come to the creation of man out of necessity but by benevolent choice, once more we say that we have seen God in this way too, arriving at an understanding of his goodness, not of his being…He who is by nature invisible becomes visible in his operations, being seen in certain cases by the properties he possesses. (Homily on the Beatitudes, VI)
St. Justin Martyr (d. 165)
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. (Christian Inquiries, III, 2)

St. Irenaeus, (c. 130-202)
As regards His greatness, therefore, it is not possible to know God, for it is impossible that the Father can be measured; but as regards His love (for this it is which leads us to God by His Word), when we obey Him, we do always learn that there is so great a God, and that it is He who by Himself has established, and selected, and adorned, and contains all things; and among the all things, both ourselves and this our world.

But in respect to His greatness, and His wonderful glory, “no man shall see God and live, for the Father is incomprehensible; but in regard to His love, and kindness, and as to His infinite power, even this He grants to those who love Him, that is, to see God, which thing the prophets did also predict. (Adversus Haereses, 4, 20,5)

Note that although the priest-martyr St. Irenaeus came from Asia Minor, he was the bishop of Lyons. That’s Lyons, France, or Gaul as it was at the time. Thus, not only is he a very early witness to the Essence-Energies distinction, but he is also a Western witness to it. This is the true doctrine of the entire, ecumenical church, East and West. How it came to be forgotten, or dropped, and finally rejected in the West I can only speculate. But the Essence-Energies distinction is the authentic heritage of every Christian — for excellent and most necessary reasons.

Implications and Ramifications

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.

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 did 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.) 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.

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.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Day of the Wolves

When Spring is almost here but not quite, when you can go outdoors without your winter coat but you still need a jacket, when the sun shines bravely but giving weak warmth, when tiny, bright clouds like toy sailboats fly through the ocean overhead, I'm reminded of a special day when I was a toddler.

We lived In Ford Ord, which was near Monterey, California. Mom, in her pinafore, was hanging out laundry behind our quarters. I, in my pinafore, was sitting on a tricycle, watching.

(You do remember what a pinafore was, don't you?)

From over in some far hills was coming a sound like growling. Mom had already mentioned to me that wolves lived in those hills, so I asked her if that’s what the sounds were. “Oh, no,” she said. “Those are bulldozers.”

I decided, however, that it was definitely wolves growling. And this evidence of distant but real danger added a certain tang to the day I’ve never forgotten, that thrills me even now, on days like that one, like this one.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

For the Record

Recently I posted something about a book entitled No Other Name? by Dr. Paul Knitter, a Catholic theologian of religious pluralism.  Speaking of other names, my other name (pre-Orthodox, pre-marriage to Demetrios) is in his book.  Professor Knitter, in his Preface, has acknowledged the assistance I provided.  (He told me back in 1981 he was going to, but life moved on and I never got around to buying the book or looking to see whether he had, until six weeks ago, when curiosity struck.)

Well, I used to agree with him pretty much, back in the days when I was an Episco-Buddha-Hindu-palian, but it's uncomfortable for me now, as obviously I disagree with most of what he has written.  My first thought was that it was incumbent upon me to write detailed responses to the book in order dissociate myself from it. 

But now that I've read it all, I have no heart for discussing very much about it.
Interestingly enough, it appears he hasn't, either.  I've written him a Facebook message and have sent the same cordial message by e-mail as well and have had no response during these six weeks.  Seems surprising from a man who has dedicated himself and his career to interreligious dialogue, so much so that for the sake of that dialogue has even been willing to "reinterpret" both the Incarnation and the Resurrection.  (His point is, Jesus must not be considered the definitive or normative savior, the last word, the ultimate, because that would mean His followers could not enter into dialogue as equal partners with followers of other religions.  Where does one even start?)

Professor Knitter wants Christian thinking to move from church-centered to Christ-centered and from there to God-centered.  So he attempts to knock out the theological underpinnings that support the claim that  Jesus is the one-and-only incarnation of God or Savior of human beings.  He is only able to accept the Christian teachings thus radically reinterpreted.  In other words, these are the terms upon which he is able to remain within the Catholic fold.  Which ironically makes the whole enterprise sound to me ecclesiocentric, church-centered! 

And I think that's enough said on this book.  I will have a small something to say about his next-to-newest book, though, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Benedict XVI

There are rumors (of course!) that more scandal is about to emerge, which will be quite damaging to the Pope Emeritus.  I don't know about that.  We shall see.

Meanwhile, there's a very significant thing that ought to be said in his favor.  And that is that this pope, unlike his predecessor(s), never made any moves against the Orthodox Church or against Orthodox people. 

Let's pray that his successor may be as benign.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Strict Orthodox"

Someone earlier this week commented, in my daugher's hearing, that I was "still a strict Orthodox".  That phrase struck me as very strange.  Not offensive, mind, but weird.  My daughter said it expressed her view of me, as well. 

The strangeness of it, I think, is another example of how the same words can sometimes mean different things, East and West.  For us Orthodox Christians ourselves, a "strict Orthodox" is one who is in church at least twice a week, every week, keeps the fasts perfectly or nearly so, perhaps takes on other ascetical practices; in short, one who is strict with himself.  Unfortunately, I am not a strict Orthodox.

Being a "strict Orthodox" does not mean what Westerners usually mean: thinking, believing, and doing exactly as you are told, because those who tell you are God's appointed authorities and deviation is spiritual shipwreck.  No, emphatically no!  If we toe the doctrinal line, that is not why.  Rather, it's because we have come to understand that every practice, every teaching, turns out to be a tried and true way of guarding, nourishing, cultivating something infinitely precious:  the  life of Christ in us.

To be "strict Orthodox" doesn't mean we don't "think outside the box" (except when that means making up our own religion) or that we are not freethinkers.  I was raised to be a free-thinker and always have been.  I have wrestled with and once or twice rebelled at things within Orthodoxy - only to understand, eventually, that I was wrong, and why.

It doesn't mean we do not ask questions, even tough questions.  It just means that in Christ, we have found answers.