The Cappadocians and the Divine Life

Notes Jenson:

According to Gregory of Nyssa, when we speak of God we may think first of the three identities*, each of whom is God.  Then there is the life among them, the complex of their energies, which, according to Nyssa, is the proper referent of phrases “such as the one God.”  And finally, there is the divine ousia, deity sheerly as such, the character by exemplification of which someone is called ‘God;’ in Gregory’s theology, this character is infinity.  The divine ousia is not an infinite something, or infinity as a something, but the infinity of the one God, that is, of the identities’ mutual life.

Jenson, Systematic Theology, 153.

Jenson quotes Against Eunomius, Opera, ed. W. Jaeger (Leiden: Brill, 1960), I:366.  Further, one should note that by “identities” Jenson means “hypostases” as commonly understood.  Jenson does that because “identity,” whatever its limitations, does not have the weaknesses that “person” has.

Steven Wedgeworth has helpfully summarized Gregory on this point.   Gregory writes,

We cannot separate one from the other and leave one behind by itself: but, when one mentions the energy, one comprehends in the idea that which is moved with the energy, and when one mentions the worker one implies at once the unmentioned energy

Against Eunomius 1.17.

We can draw a number of conclusions:

  1. Gregory does indeed speak of God’s energies, but he also defines them:  a complex of energies is the divine life.  A divine life = the energies.
  2. Ousia is deity.
  3. Deity is infinity.
  4. Infinity is the Identities’ mutual life.
  5. When we speak of the energies of God, we are pressed back upon the life of God, which brings us back to the nature of God.

So far, so good. Here the Cappadocians run into a problem of their own making.  According to Basil (Letter 234) we cannot know what God is, only who he is by his energies of operation.  However, it’s hard to say we don’t know what God is but we know that the deity = ousia = infinity = the divine life.    I wholeheartedly affirm the latter.

Further, the biblical narrative is quite clear that the Son and Spirit do in fact reveal the Father