Can non-monks be saved?

Hesychasts started to believe that whoever had not shared their special experience was not among the saved.   “Those who have not seen this Light, have not seen God; for God is light,” Symeon wrote.  “Those who have not yet received this this light have not yet received grace, for in receiving grace, one receives this divine light and God himself” (98).

William Placher, A History of Christian Theology.

St Symeon the New Theologian, Homily 129.2, quoted in Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 218.

No one can accuse me of quoting unrepresentative Orthodox texts.   St Symeon is one of the few Orthodox to receive the vaunted title “The Theologian.”  This means he is more representative and authoritative than other Orthodox.

Looking at all of this I have to ask, “Where is the Gospel?”   If this is how we are to be saved–meditating and achieving the divine light, then what need to Jesus have to die?  This is the difference between covenant religion and magic/chain of being/estrangement ontology.

A Clement-Plotinus connection?

Plotinus studied philosophy at Alexandria in the 230s, at a time when Clement’s works would have been well known among the city’s Christian scholars. Plotinus’ famous teacher, Ammonius Saccas, was either a Christian throughout his life (as believed by Eusebius) or had been raised a Christian and converted to paganism (as claimed by Porphyry). It thus is not unlikely that Plotinus encountered the Stromata in his studies. If so, could it have been from Clement that he derived the idea of using energeia as the key to his own theory of emanation?

David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West

Notes on Pannenberg, part two

The world as history of God and unity of the divine essence:

Existence and essence:

~Attributes: in the context of how to relate the unity to the plurality.  Notes that things are different only when external.

~Palamas:  much to commend his project; quite beautiful, really, when we see the energies as the power-glory and the kingdom of God.  Something like that should be retained, whatever critiques may follow.  However,

“how is it possible to ditinguish from God’s essence the light that radiates from it and yet at the same time to view them as inseparably linked, so t hat the qualities which are said to be God’s on the basis of energies radiating from him are really God himself?  The opponents of Palamas rightly argued that we either have (relating to God) qualities that are not independent but belong to the divine essence or we have a distinct sphere which involves positing a further divine hypostasis alongside Father, Son, and Spirit” (361-362).


“How can one speak of uncreated works of God?  Is this idea not self-contradictory?  Not to be created is to be essentially one, as in the case of the Trinitarian persons.  But if there is not to be this unity, and with it a fourth in God alongside the three persons, we must posit a distinction between the effects and the cause” (362 n. 55).

Is there a connection between Dionysius’s construction of the qualities via delimitation and elevation and the critique of Feuerbach that we are projecting our views onto God (363 n. 58; cf. Barth CD II/1, 339).

The God who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital

Wright, G. E.  The God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital

A very important work in 20th century biblical studies. Dissatisfied with the liberal gutting of the Faith, yet uncomfortable with actually affirming said Faith, Wright (not to be confused with NT Scholar NT Wright) and the Biblical Theology movement posited a God who makes himself known by his acts. We know God by what he does in the narrative.

On one level I agree. A narratival theology, indeed a narratival ontology, demands a God who acts. We know God by his saving work, not from our philosophizing about his essence (or if you are into hyperousia, the essence beyond the essence).

There is a problem with Wright’s proposal, though. As numerous neo-liberals have pointed out, Did God actually act in *this* space-time history? If Wright says no then how is he any different from old-school liberalism? If he says yes, how is he not a biblical conservative?

Even worse, by positing God’s acting in a different narrative than the real life narrative, we have a modalistic narrative behind the narrative, which is not so different from the hyper-ousia modalism of God behind God.  I’ve accused Eastern Orthodoxy’s essence/energy model as modalist.  It posits an Essence behind the Persons who are Behind the Energies which (no longer who?!) are behind the narrative.  One cannot miss the heavy irony:  EO vaunts itself on starting with the Persons of the Trinity (Or maybe the energies?) which gives it a dynamism that the West lacks.  In reality, though, by not identifying God with the God of Israel’s narrative–or rather, the identity of God is not connected to Israel’s narrative, but is rather an entity behind that narrative–the end result is the same.


Actually an enjoyable book. I really benefited from it and it probably stands a few rereadings. Still, one must note the author’s presuppositions.

Palamas: A Critique

Part One.

Some questions:

  1. If the breathing technique is so important to prayer, how come none of the apostles ever mentioned it?  Granted, one can agree that Scripture doesn’t say everything, but still, this is a rather important omission.  The disciples asked Jesus a very specific question on how to pray and Jesus gave them a very specific answer.  It didn’t include anything about breathing techniques.

  2. To the degree that the hesychasts follow in the best of the Evagrian tradition (Meyendorff, 2-3), one must ask if this would have ever gotten off of the ground were it not for Origen.  If this genealogy is true, then we are faced with the troubling implication that not only is this tradition of prayer not apostolic, but it comes from a rather suspect source!

  3. If both Persons and Nature are hyper-ousia (cf. Triads III.iii.17-20, which this text doesn’t include), precisely how is it possible to know them?

  4. If grace is already inherent in nature, then what was originally wrong or inadequate with nature that it required grace?  (And the distinction between prelapsarian and postlapsarian man is irrelevant.)

  5. How coherent is it to call the energies “hypostatic” (p. 57, II.iii.8) while insisting that hypostasis does not mean what hypostasis means when it refers to the Trinity?  I realize that Meyendorff glosses “hypostatic” to mean “real existence” (p. 131 n .2), but in the context of the Trinity we now have nature, hypostases, and hypostatic energies (which are not the same as hypostases.  Is it any wonder that Latin critics drew the inference of a “fourth hypostasis?”

    True, Palamas explains this by saying the light is “enhypostatic” .  Robert Jenson has suggested that Palamas places the divine energies outside the gospel narrative (Jenson 157).  I do not think Palamas’s move is as crass as Jenson suggests, but the problems are there. Following Maximus, it appears that Palamas sees the events in the gospel narratives as symbols of higher reality (3.i.13, p. 74).

  6. Does it really make sense to say that God is both beyond knowledge and beyond unknowing (p. 32; 1.iii.4)?   I realize Meyendorff glosses this as a Ps. Dionysian move, which it is, but that only raises further problems.  If God is ineffable (Meyendorff, 121 n.9), then what’s the point of even speaking of God?  I simply do not accept that the “knowledge-which-transcends” apophatic and cataphatic knowledge is not merely another form of cataphatic knowledge, for it ends with positive descriptions of God.  That’s not a problem, but we need to call it what it is.

  7. And a common criticism of Palamas:  If God’s essence is unknowable, how does Palamas know that it is unknowable (Lacugna)?  To be fair, Palamas does anticipate this criticism.  Palamas notes that any answer he gives must be “tentative.”  He then gives a very important answer–we know God “by the disposition of created things” (2.iii.68, p. 68).  In other words, we know God by his works, not by peering into his nature.   There is an important truth to this, and Palamas would have done well to finish the thought:  if we are truly to know God by his works then we must look to his covenant and to the finished work of Christ.   Of course, such a move is counter to any talk of apophaticism and essence-beyond-essence.  Palamas does not continue the thought.

  8. Can simplicity be maintained?   A common Thomist critique of Palamas is that it compromises God’s simplicity.   Palamites are quick to respond that they do not hold to the Thomistic version of simplicity.  However, Palamas himself thought he held (and one should hold) to simplicity.  He asserts, quoting Maximus:  “These realities, though numerous, in no way diminish the notion of simplicity.”  They may not, but it’s hard to see how they don’t beyond merely asserting it.

  9. Strangely, Palamas break with the Pseudo-Dionysian ontology at a key point:  Said model posits a number of descending hierarchies from The One.  Each hierarchy mediates to the one below it.  And for the most part Palamas, and much of East and West at this time, do not challenge this model (for a very beautiful application of it, see John Scotus Eriguena).  Barlaam raises an interesting question, though:  If the divine energies are fully God, then how can they appear to the saint without the mediation of hiearchies?  Palamas answers with an analogy:  An Emperor can speak to a common soldier without raising him to the rank of general (3.iii.5; p. 103).   Palamas’ analogy shows us that we can’t simply accuse the essence/energies distinction of being fully neo-Platonic.  It’s not.  Still, if Palamas is right, and I think he actually makes a perceptive point here, it’s hard to see how he can simultaneously affirm Pseudo-Dionysius’s model.  If fact, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t completely negate it.  This is indeed Colin Gunton’s argument in The Triune Creator.

  10. Now to the heart of the criticism:   ousias do not have “interiorities.”  In other words, there is not a subsection of ousia apart from the life of that ousia.   As Heidegger reminds us, “ousia” is always “par-ousia,” being present.  If Palamas wants to say that the energies make the ousia present, fine.   But if he says that, then one really doesn’t have warrant to speak of a superessential, ineffable ousia by itself, for the very point of the energies and of ousia in general is that it is not by itself.

  11. Perhaps the most damaging criticism of Palamas is the divorcing of economy and ontology. Related to this is that the energies seem to replace the role of the Persons in the divine economy.  For example, the energies are not unique to a single person but common to all three who act together.  This is not so different from the standard Western opera ad intra indivisible sunt.  Catherine Lacugna, quoting Wendebourg, notes, “the proprium of each person…fades into the background” (Lacugna, 195).  By contrast, the Cappadocians would say we distinguish the Persons by their propria–by their hypostatic idiomata.  In Palamas, though, this role has been moved to the energies.   This is further confirmed by the fact that Palamas has the persons as hyperousia.

  12. Apropos (11), and echoing Robert Jenson, if the Persons are eclipsed by the energies and remain in the realm of hyperousia and “above” the biblical narrative, in such case that we can no longer identity the persons by their hypostatic propria, we can only conclude that Palamism, despite its best intentions, is a more frozen form of modalism than anything Augustine or Aquinas ever dreamed of.

Without endorsing his theology, Paul Tillich made a pertinent comment regarding East and West.  For the former, reality and salvation is vertical–union with the divine.  For the latter it is horizontal–the kingdom of God in history.   Perhaps an overstatement, but certainly a warranted one.

Opening post on Palamas Series

I finished reading The Triads (or the Classics of Western Spirituality version).   Rather than doing a long, drawn out essay.  I am just going to post my observations.

Part 1:  Philosophy does not save.

In this first chapter (and by chapter that is the division that Pelikan and Meyendorrf are using, and so I will use) Palamas critiques the Baarlamite notion that we have to know in order to be saved.  Or more precisely and better put, we have to have a good grounding in philosophy before we can understand God.

Part 2: The Body and Prayer

Mostly good section on how the body is good.  I wish he would have taken it a step further and noted, if the body is good, and marriage is good, then is sexual intercourse a good?  Here the anchoretic tradition has struggled in giving a hearty “yes.”  The Orthodox writer Vladimir Moss capably documented the problem here.  I also agree with Palamas that the heart is the rational faculty (I.2.iii; p. 42).

Further, I also agree that “the divine” (my words, not his) has penetrated all of created reality (1.ii.6; 45).

Hyperousia:  The essence is beyond the Godhead (2.iii.8; p. 57).   This is key to his whole construction


Admittedly, Palamas does not go for a full apophatic theology.  He writes, “Let no one think that these great men are here referring to the ascent through the negative way” (p. 37; 1.iii.20).  This kind of makes sense.  Anybody can merely deny propositions of God with no view towards holiness.  Palamas is clear that apophatic theology is necessary to liberate the understanding, but it is not enough for union with the divine.

Palamas says the energies are en-hypostatic (3.i.9, p. 71).  This saves him from the immediate charge of Neo-Platonism.  It raises the question:  which hypostasis(es)?  He answers:  The Spirit sends it out in the hypostasis of another (ibid).

With which we agree with Palamas:

To a certain extent I can accept his conclusions about the reality of the divine light.  I just have problems with calling it a “hypostatic energy.” Further, he gives a very moving description of Paul’s own vision (p. 38; 1.iii.21).

We agree with Palamas, and contra Barlaam and the Thomists, that in the eschaton we will not know God by created intermediaries.

Potential problems:

transcending human nature:  Palamas is suggesting something akin to knowing God beyond sense perception and discursive reasoning.  The saints have “an organ of vision that is neither the senses nor the intellect” (p. 35, I.iii.17).

Open criticisms:

I don’t know how seriously I can take Palamas’s claim that he isn’t dependent on philosophy like the West is.  His doctrine of essence, energies, motion, salvation as transformation are all highly technical philosophical concepts.  Even if “hyper-ousia” is a valid theological concept, it is taken from Plato’s Republic (Plato 549b).  Further, on p. 105 Palamas refers to God as “Prime Mover.”   How is this not using Aristotle?  I am not saying he is an Aristotelian, but his project could not have gotten off of the ground were it not for Aristotle,

I listened to the Clark Carlton lecture on essence/energies

I have had several people email me and ask me to listen to Clark Carlton’s lectures on the Essence and Energies of God.  I did.  I’m glad I did.  For the most part it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.  If you’ve read Meyendorff, Bradshaw, and Farrell, you can see where it is going.  Plus, he had done several radio shows on these very points some years ago.   On the other hand, Carlton did highlight some finer points that I knew but hadn’t really reflected on.  There is some veiled “West-bashing” but he doesn’t dwell on it.

He correctly locates the discussion around our knowledge of God.  I still think Palamas’s claiming the persons are hyperousia, and basically are replaced by the energies, is deeply problematic, and Carlton should have focused more on that, but he does mention a few key points that are usually passed over.   I’ll do a summary and evaluation later.