Review of Aristotle East and West

Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom

David Bradshaw angered a lot of people with this, though when one looks at what is actually said, it’s hard to see how Bradshaw said anything new.   Even where he suggests new readings, he is not reconstructing the readings in any major way.

A few words beforehand:   this book cautions against reading later concepts into an earlier word.    Contrary to the nonsense at Credenda Agenda, the Eastern fathers’ use of “energies” stems not from Plotinus (since Plotinus did not invent either the word or the concept) but rather was an older word that was continually reinterpreted around increasingly Christian categories.

Aristotle was the first to use this word, energia (or any of its semantic cognates).   Aristotle’s use suggests something along the lines of actuality and activity.   Other thinkers took the word and gave it different applications, but the term itself did not have much of a philosophical impact until Middle Platonism (the biblical use of the term will be dealt with later).

Plotinus makes several interesting suggestions.  Plotinus expands energia from Aristotle’s actuality to the intrinsic productivity of all things (77).  Plotinus’ Two Acts:  Intellect comes from the One, leaving the one unchanged.  The lower hypostasis goes forth from the higher hypostasis and looks to that higher hypostasis to attain being (81).  The second act is the internal energia contemplating the return back to the higher hypostasis.

Palamas and Eastern theology in general have been accused of simply regurgitating Plotinus per salvation (cf. Doug Wilson’s moronic essay to this title).  But given that many Eastern writers were saying similar things before Proclus and Plotinus, and that later Eastern writers fundamentally changed key moves in Plotinus’ system, it’s hard to say that the Eastern view is simply neo-Platonic .

The highlight of Bradshaw’s book is the comparison between St Gregory Palamas and the Augustinian-Thomist synthesis.   Bradshaw got in a little trouble for this argument, but it’s hard to see why, since Western authors have said the same thing.  Bradshaw points out that for Augustine’s view of divine simplicity (and truth in general), a number of reductios entail:  if God’s will and God’s essence are identical, it’s hard to see how God could have willed otherwise (since God’s essence cannot be otherwise).  Hence, a most radical form of fatalism.  Thomas accepts this argument, but Bradshaw’s critique focuses mainly on Thomas’ inability to rise out of his presuppositions.  He wants to have a form of participatory metaphysics in the afterlife, but this cannot square with his emphasis on the beatific vision.

While it is true that Roman Catholicism espouses a form of synergism, it’s hard to see how.   Since Aquinas says that God wills all things in a single act of willing (which is identical with his essence), creatures cannot contribute anything to their salvation (or even spiritual life).  Thus, all that remains is the relationship of grace manifested in an extrinsic and causal way (254).

 

While inviting opprobrium from the academia (who do nothing in response but chant “De Regnon” and sneer “neo-Palamite”), Bradshaw has clearly outlined his case.   Even accepting that he has misread Proclus and Plotinus at places, it can no longer be gainsaid that the theological vision of Augustine and Aquinas is fundamentally at odds with the Eastern fathers.   And since Christianity came from the East, and developed its theological expression in the East; ergo….

 

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  1. […] David.  Aristotle East and West.  Analyzes the role the “essence/energies” model played in Eastern Christendom.  Clears away […]

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