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The essence–energies distinction is an Eastern Orthodox theological concept that states that there is a distinction between the essence ( ousia ) and the energies ( energeia ) of God. It was formulated by Gregory Palamas of Thessaloniki (1296–1359), as part of his defense of the Athonite monastic practice of hesychasmosagainst the charge of heresy brought by the humanist scholar and theologian Barlaam of Calabria.
Ousia is a philosophical and theological term, originally used in Ancient Greek philosophy, then later in Christian theology. It was used by various Ancient Greek philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle, as a primary designation for philosophical concepts of essence or substance. In contemporary philosophy, it is analogous to English concepts of being and ontic. In Christian theology, the concept of θεία ουσία is one of the most important doctrinal concepts, central to the development of trinitarian doctrine.
In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith. God is usually conceived as being omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (all-present) and as having an eternal and necessary existence. These attributes are used either in way of analogy or are taken literally. God is most often held to be incorporeal (immaterial). Incorporeality and corporeality of God are related to conceptions of transcendence and immanence of God, with positions of synthesis such as the "immanent transcendence".
Gregory Palamas was a prominent theologian and ecclesiastical figure of the late Byzantine period. A monk of Mount Athos and later archbishop of Thessaloniki, he is famous for his defense of hesychast spirituality, the uncreated character of the light of the Transfiguration, and the distinction between God's essence and energies. His teaching unfolded over the course of three major controversies, (1) with the Italo-Greek Barlaam between 1336 and 1341, (2) with the monk Gregory Akindynos between 1341 and 1347, and (3) with the philosopher Gregoras, from 1348 to 1355. His theological contributions are sometimes referred to as Palamism, and his followers as Palamites.
In layman's terms, God's essence is distinct from God's energies in the same manner as the sun's essence and energies are distinct. The sun's essence is a ball of burning gas, while the Orthodox hold that God's essence is incomprehensible.As the sun's essence is certainly unapproachable and unendurable, so the Orthodox hold of God's essence. As the sun's energies on Earth, however, can be experienced and are evidenced by changes they induce (ex. melting, hardening, growing, bleaching, etc.), the same is said of God's energies--though perhaps in a more spiritual sense (ex. melting of hearts or strength , hardening of hearts , spiritual growth , bleaching to be "white as snow," though more physical and psychological manifestations occur as well as in miracles, and inspiration, etc.). The important points being made are that while God is unknowable in His essence, He can be known (i.e. experienced) in His energies, and such experience changes neither who or what God is nor who or what the one experiencing God is. Just like a plant does not become the sun simply because it soaked up the light and warmth and grew. Nor does a person who soaks up the warmth and light of God and spiritually grows ever become God--though such may be called a child of God or "a god."
Orthodox theologians generally regard this distinction as a real distinction, and not just a conceptual distinction.Historically, Western Christian thought, since the time of the Great Schism, has tended to reject the essence–energies distinction as real in the case of God, characterizing the view as a heretical introduction of an unacceptable division in the Trinity and suggestive of polytheism.
Western Christianity is a religious category composed of the Latin Church and Protestantism, together with their offshoots such as Independent Catholicism and Restorationism. The large majority of the world's 2.4 billion Christians are Western Christians. The original and still major part, the Latin Church, developed under the bishop of Rome in the former Western Roman Empire in Antiquity. Out of the Latin Church emerged a wide variety of independent Protestant denominations, including Lutheranism and Anglicanism, starting from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, as did Independent Catholicism in the 19th century. Thus, the term "Western Christianity" does not describe a single communion or religious denomination, but is applied to distinguish all these denominations collectively from Eastern Christianity.
Polytheism is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals. In most religions which accept polytheism, the different gods and goddesses are representations of forces of nature or ancestral principles, and can be viewed either as autonomous or as aspects or emanations of a creator deity or transcendental absolute principle, which manifests immanently in nature. Most of the polytheistic deities of ancient religions, with the notable exceptions of the Ancient Egyptian and Hindu deities, were conceived as having physical bodies.
The essence–energy distinction was formulated by Gregory Palamas of Thessaloniki (1296–1359), as part of his defense of the Athonite monastic practice of hesychasmos , the mystical exercise of "stillness" to facilitate ceaseless inner prayer and noetic contemplation of God, against the charge of heresy brought by the humanist scholar and theologian Barlaam of Calabria.According to catholic-church.org,
Thessaloniki, also known as Thessalonica, Saloniki or Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece, with over 1 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, and the capital of Greek Macedonia, the administrative region of Central Macedonia and the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace. It is also known in Greek as η Συμπρωτεύουσα, literally "the co-capital", a reference to its historical status as the Συμβασιλεύουσα (Symvasilévousa) or "co-reigning" city of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, alongside Constantinople.
Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in northeastern Greece and an important centre of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. It is governed as an autonomous polity within the Greek Republic. Mount Athos is home to 20 monasteries under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules and, in modern times, the Canon law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek monachos "monk", itself from monos meaning "alone".
The Ultimate Reality and Meaning of the Palamite theology consists of the distinction between God’s Essence and Energy. This is a way of expressing the idea that the transcendent God remains eternally hidden in His Essence, but at the same time that God also seeks to communicate and The Distinction between God’s Essence and Energy unite Himself with us personally through His Energy.
The mystagogical teachings of hesychasm were approved in the Orthodox Church by a series of local Hesychast councils in the 14th century, and Gregory's commemoration during the liturgical season of Great Lent is seen as an extension of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
Mystical theology is the branch of theology that explains mystical practices and states, as induced by contemplative practices such as contemplative prayer.
Fifth Council of Constantinople is a name given to a series of six patriarchal councils held in the Byzantine capital Constantinople between 1341 and 1351, to deal with a dispute concerning the mystical doctrine of Hesychasm. These are referred to also as the Hesychast councils or the Palamite councils, since they discussed the theology of Gregory Palamas, whom Barlaam of Seminara opposed in the first of the series, and others in the succeeding five councils. The result of these councils is accepted as having the authority of an ecumenical council by Eastern Orthodox Christians, who sometimes call it the Ninth Ecumenical Council. Principal supporters of the view that this series of councils comprises the Ninth Ecumenical Council include Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, Fr. John S. Romanides, and Fr. George Metallinos.
Great Lent, or the Great Fast, is the most important fasting season in the church year in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Byzantine Rite Lutheran Churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches, which prepares Christians for the greatest feast of the church year, Pascha (Easter).
In Eastern Orthodox theology God's essence is called ousia , "all that subsists by itself and which has not its being in another", and is distinct from his energies ( energeia in Greek, actus in Latin) or activities as actualized in the world.
The ousia of God is God as God is. The essence, being, nature and substance of God as taught in Eastern Christianity is uncreated, and cannot be comprehended in words. According to Lossky, God's ousia is "that which finds no existence or subsistence in another or any other thing".God's ousia has no necessity or subsistence that needs or is dependent on anything other than itself.
It is the energies of God that enable us to experience something of the Divine, at first through sensory perception and then later intuitively or noetically. As St John Damascene states, "all that we say positively of God manifests not his nature but the things about his nature."
According to anti-Western polemicist John Romanides, Palamas considers the distinction between God's essence and his energies to be a "real distinction", as distinguished from the Thomistic "virtual distinction" and the Scotist "formal distinction". Romanides suspects that Barlaam accepted a "formal distinction" between God's essence and his energies.Other writers agree that Palamas views the distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies as "real".
According to Vladimir Lossky of the neopatristic school, if we deny the real distinction between essence and energy, we cannot fix any clear borderline between the procession of the divine persons (as existences and/or realities of God) and the creation of the world: both the one and the other will be equally acts of the divine nature (strictly uncreated from uncreated). The being and the action(s) of God then would appear identical, leading to the teaching of pantheism.
Some contemporary scholars argue against describing Palamas's essence–energies distinction in God as a metaphysically "real" distinction. Orthodox philosophical theologian David Bentley Hart expresses doubt "that Palamas ever intended to suggest a real distinction between God's essence and energies."G. Philips argues that Palamas's distinction is not an "ontological" distinction but, rather, analogous to a "formal distinction" in the Scotist sense of the term. According to Dominican Catholic theological historian Fr. Aidan Nichols, Palamas's essence–energies distinction is not a mere "formal" distinction "demanded by the limited operating capacities of human minds".
According to Anna N. Williams's study of Palamas, which is more recent than the assessments of Hart and Philips, in only two passages does Palamas state explicitly that God's energies are "as constitutively and ontologically distinct from the essence as are the three Hypostases," and in one place he makes explicit his view, repeatedly implied elsewhere, that the essence and the energies are not the same; but Williams contends that not even in these passages did Palamas intend to argue for an "ontological or fully real distinction," and that the interpretation of his teaching by certain polemical modern disciples of his is false.
Eastern Orthodox theologians have criticized Western theology, especially the traditional scholastic claim that God is actus purus , for its alleged incompatibility with the essence–energies distinction. Christos Yannaras writes, "The West confuses God's essence with his energy, regarding the energy as a property of the divine essence and interpreting the latter as "pure energy" (actus purus)"According to George C. Papademetriou, the essence–energies distinction "is contrary to the Western confusion of the uncreated essence with the uncreated energies and this is by the claim that God is Actus Purus".
The Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between doctrine, which is single and must be accepted by Roman Catholics, and theological elaborations of doctrine, about which Catholics may legitimately disagree. With respect to the Eastern and Western theological traditions, the Catholic Church recognizes that, at times, one tradition may "come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or [express] it to better advantage." In these situations, the Church views the various theological expressions "often as mutually complementary rather than conflicting."
According to Meyendorff, from Palamas's time until the twentieth century, Roman Catholic theologians [ who? ] generally rejected the idea that there is in God a real essence–energies distinction. In their view, a real distinction between the essence and the energies of God contradicted the teaching of the First Council of Nicaea on divine unity. Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott held that an absence of real distinction between the attributes of God and God's essence is a dogma of the Catholic Church.
In contrast, Jürgen Kuhlmann argues that the Roman Catholic Church never judged Palamism to be heretical, adding that Palamas did not consider that the distinction between essence and energies in God made God composite.According to Kuhlmann, "the denial of a real distinction between essence and energies is not an article of Catholic faith".
According to Meyendorff, the later twentieth century saw a change in the attitude of Roman Catholic theologians to Palamas, a "rehabilitation" of him that has led to increasing parts of the Western Church considering him a saint, even if uncanonized.Some Western scholars maintain that there is no conflict between the teaching of Palamas and Roman Catholic thought on the distinction. According to G. Philips, the essence–energies distinction of Palamas is "a typical example of a perfectly admissible theological pluralism" that is compatible with the Roman Catholic magisterium. Jeffrey D. Finch claims that "the future of East-West rapprochement appears to be overcoming the modern polemics of neo-scholasticism and neo-Palamism". Some Western theologians have incorporated the essence–energies distinction into their own thinking.
The Danish Lutheran philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, widely considered the father of existentialism, expressed (pseudonymously as Anti-Climacus) in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments an approach to God which holds that the Father's hypostasis (existence) has logical primacy over his ousia (essence or substance). Hence the teaching that the core of existentialist philosophy can be understood as the maxim, "existence before essence." This has caused many Western observers to see Eastern Orthodox Christian theology as existentialistic (since the Essence–Energies distinction also somewhat holds the view).This also accounts for other existentialist works such as Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground . In the case of Dostoevsky, his existentialist outlook would have drawn from his Russian Orthodox faith, but there is no record of Dostoevsky (and the Eastern Orthodox church in general) being exposed to or influenced by Kierkegaard's philosophical works.
Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of contemplative prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Based on Jesus's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew that "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray", hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God.
In Christian theology, divinization, or theopoesis or theosis, is the transforming effect of divine grace, the spirit of God, or the atonement of Christ. Although it literally means to become divine, or to become god, most Christian denominations do not interpret the doctrine as implying an overcoming of a fundamental metaphysical difference between God and humanity, for example John of the Cross had it: "it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before".
Barlaam of Seminara, c. 1290–1348, or Barlaam of Calabria was a southern Italian scholar and clergyman of the 14th century, as well as a Humanist, a philologist, and a theologian. When Gregory Palamas defended Hesychasm, Barlaam accused him of heresy. Three Orthodox synods ruled against him and in Palamas's favor.
John Savvas Romanides was an Orthodox Christian priest, author and professor who had a distinctive influence on post-war Greek Orthodox theology.
Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky was an Eastern Orthodox theologian in exile from Russia. He emphasized theosis as the main principle of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
Nikolay Onufriyevich Lossky, also known as N. O. Lossky, was a Russian philosopher, representative of Russian idealism, intuitionist epistemology, personalism, libertarianism, ethics and axiology. He gave his philosophical system the name intuitive-personalism. Born in Latvia, he spent his working life in St. Petersburg, New York, and Paris. He was the father of the influential Christian theologian Vladimir Lossky.
Eastern Orthodox theology is the theology particular to the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is characterized by monotheistic Trinitarianism, belief in the Incarnation of the essentially divine Logos or only-begotten Son of God, a balancing of cataphatic theology with apophatic theology, a hermeneutic defined by a polyvalent Sacred Tradition, a concretely catholic ecclesiology, a robust theology of the person, and a principally recapitulative and therapeutic soteriology.
In Eastern Orthodox Christian theology, the Tabor Light is the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul at his conversion.
Palamism or the Palamite theology comprises the teachings of Gregory Palamas (c.1296–1359), whose writings defended the Eastern Orthodox notion of Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam. Followers of Palamas are sometimes referred to as Palamites.
Emanation is a belief, found in Neoplatonism, that the cause of certain beings or states of being consists of an overflow from the essence of God or other higher spiritual beings, as opposed to a special act of creation. This overflow is usually conceived in a non-temporal way as a permanent relationship of causation rather than as an event causing an entity to come into existence at a given point in time. The word "emanation" can refer either to the process of emanation or to the thing emanated.
Neoplatonism was a major influence on Christian theology throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the West. This was due to St. Augustine of Hippo, who was influenced by the early Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry, as well as the works of the Christian writer Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who was influenced by later Neoplatonists, such as Proclus and Damascius.
The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have been in a state of official schism from one another since the East–West Schism of 1054. This schism was caused by historical and linguistic developments, and the ensuing theological differences between the Western and Eastern churches.
Theosis, or divinization, is a transformative process whose aim is likeness to or union with God, as taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches. As a process of transformation, theosis is brought about by the effects of catharsis and theoria. According to Eastern Christian teaching, theosis is very much the purpose of human life. It is considered achievable only through a synergy between human activity and God's uncreated energies.
The Triads of Gregory Palamas are a set of nine treatises entitled "Triads For The Defense of Those Who Practice Sacred Quietude" written by Gregory Palamas in response to attacks made by Barlaam. The treatises are called "Triads" because they were organized as three sets of three treatises.
The history of Eastern Orthodox Christian theology begins with the life of Jesus and the forming of the Christian Church. Major events include the Chalcedonian schism with the Oriental Orthodox miaphysites, the Iconoclast controversy, the Photian schism, the Great Schism between East and West, and the Hesychast controversy. The period after the Second World War saw a re-engagement with the Greek, and more recently Syriac, Fathers that included a rediscovery of the theological works of St. Gregory Palamas, which has resulted in a renewal of Orthodox theology in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Hesychast controversy was a theological dispute in the Byzantine Empire during the 14th century between supporters and opponents of Gregory Palamas. While not a primary driver of the Byzantine Civil War, it influenced and was influenced by the political forces in play during that war. The dispute concluded with the victory of the Palamists and the inclusion of Palamite doctrine as part of the dogma of the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the canonization of Palamas.
20th century Eastern Orthodox theology has been dominated by neo-Palamism, the revival of St. Palamas and hesychasm. John Behr characterizes Orthodox theology as having been "reborn in the twentieth century." Norman Russell describes Orthodox theology as having been dominated by an "arid scholasticism" for several centuries after the fall of Constantinople. Russell describes the postwar re-engagement of modern Greek theologians with the Greek Fathers, which occurred with the help of diaspora theologians and Western patristic scholars. A significant component of this re-engagement with the Greek Fathers has been a rediscovery of Palamas by Greek theologians; Palamas had previously been given less attention than the other Fathers.
The position of the Eastern Orthodox Church regarding the Filioque controversy is defined by the Bible, teachings of the Church Fathers, creeds and definitions of the seven Ecumenical Councils and decisions of several particular councils of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
In the study of revelation East and West have followed different methods, and have developed differently their understanding and confession of God's truth. It is hardly surprising, then, if from time to time one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed it to better advantage. In such cases, these various theological expressions are to be considered often as mutually complementary rather than conflicting.A concrete example of the application of this principle is the separate presentation in the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Blessed Trinity of the Church's doctrine on the Trinity as interpreted in Greek theology and in Latin theology, without denigrating either interpretation.