A mono-dyo-thelite observation

This is not arguing for or against mono(dyo) theletism.  It is simply pointing out a difficulty for anyone who adheres to older substance-based ontologies.  The chief gains of the dyothelites was to argue that will is a faculty of nature, not person.   This is in line with the standard fare of mind falling within the orbit of nature, not person.  All that is well and good, but that is not how we talk today.   Person (and mind) is associated with self-consciousness–at least in today’s discourse.   This would seem to suggest that “will” should be placed within the orbit of “person” not “nature.”  Of course, I am not necessarily arguing that position.

Perhaps more problematically, and as Colin Gunton argued in Act and Being, nature is an object.  If will is part of nature, then “will” is an object.  Yet, isn’t will something that a subject does?

A difficulty with ancient Christologies

One of the initial charms of reading guys like Maximus the Confessor, Cyril, and others is that they offered a fairly neat way of tying in human nature, Christology, and soteriology.  It runs something like this, “Christ assumed all of human nature (because he is consubstantial with humanity) and the rejection of which entails something like Nestorianism.”  Four years ago I liked the argument, but even then I suspected some tensions.  I’ll list them:

  1. Where exactly does the Bible say Christ assumed the universal of humanity?  Yes, it says he took the form of a servant, but that’s a far cry from the standard Alexandrian line.  I know they’ll respond, “You have to read the Bible in light of the Fathers et al.”  Fair enough, but the Bible also counts for tradition and the absence of any such line of reasoning is fairly telling.
  2. If Christ assumed all of human nature (which includes a human will along with a divine will), and recapitulated it in his death and and raised it in his resurrection (Farrell, 223), then why isn’t all human nature saved?  Keep in mind that human nature is continually united to the Logos:  when Christ, on their gloss, locally descended into hell were the united-to-him-human-natures also in hell?
  3. It’s not surprising that Origen opted for the universalist route.
  4. Maximus rejected the universalist route, but posited yet another type of will.  He called this the gnomic will, or a mode of a mode. So practically speaking, we have 3 wills of Christ:  human, divine, and gnomie.
  5. This distinction, incoherent as it may be, allowed Maximus to keep the point in (2) above, yet also ascribe a personal willing to the human subjects which would avoid the trap in (3) above.

Triadic Truth Claims Trump All

A position should be accepted or rejected based on whether it is true or not.  While some do apply that dictum in overly simplistic ways and one should be aware of importing other categories into the discussion, there seems something intuitive about accepting or rejecting a position based on whether it is true or false.   To put it negatively:  the human brain is probably not wired to knowingly believe as true what one knows to be false.

This is applicable when one evaluates various theological positions.  To reject a position based on “cultural” reasons is inadequate, for example, especially if its own truth claims have not been tested.  The following issues are what I—and others to whom I have consulted for advice—call “dealbreakers.”  They function similarly to “defeaters”[1] in philosophy. If I can show that one system of beliefs (B1) is incompatible with another system of beliefs (B2; the conclusions reached by the church concerning the Trinity and Christology), then either B1 or B2 has to go.


The early church reasoned that nature has a will and thus an energy.  Therefore, since Christ has two natures, Christ also has two wills and two energies.    The heresy of monotheletism, though, said Christ only had one will.  Taking it a step further, a more specific heresy said Christ only had one energy.  This heresy is known as…mono-energism, or monergism.

Someone could respond, “But that’s not how monergism is being used today.   All that this monergism connotes is that God is sovereign in salvation—we, too, believe that Christ has two wills and two energies.[2]”  However, as Demetrios Bathrellos notes in The Byzantine Christ, some adherents of mono-energism also held to two energies in Christ; they simply subsume Christ’s human energy under the work of the divine energy.   Does this sound familiar?  Does this not sound like the claim that “God makes my will willing to will God”?  Isn’t this a form of “effectual calling”?  In any case, there is no true synergism, not only in our salvation, but in Christ himself.

The Son Becomes the Father…or Arian

Triadic reasoning says that whatever is common to the divine essence is applicable to all.   Whatever is particular to the person is particular to that person.   The three persons of the Trinity do not share the divine essence, but rather each person fully possesses the divine essence.

In light of the above, we should briefly return to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Against Eunomius.  Eunomius had, in a move similar to Arius, identified causality and generation, not with the hypostasis of the Father, but with the divine essence.   This had several consequences:  the Son was not of the same essence as the Father since the Son does not generate a Son.[3] Modern day Filioquists reject that conclusion but accept the same form of reasoning. In this sense with regard to the Filioque we see a “transfer of hypostatic properties.”  In other words, the ancients had spoken of the Father’s properties as generation, but with the Filioque both Son and Father have the same hypostatic properties.

The Bond of the Church is the…Pope?

If the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, and if analogies between the eternal Trinity are valid in the temporal realm (which most defenders of the Filioque, both Protestant and Catholic, affirm), then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Holy Spirit and grace proceed from the Pope.  Of course, Protestants reject the claim that the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, but instead of one pope one often sees many popes from whom the Holy Spirit, as well as binding decisions on the church, proceed.

You Can’t Use the Referee to Score Points for Your Team…

(Unless you umpire freshman baseball games in high school).  I’ve dealt with the epistemological problems with sola scriptura elsewhere.   The argument runs along these lines:  One cannot know the contents of Scripture simply by using Scripture—there is no scriptural argument for the Table of Contents page.   Secondly, you cannot interpret “Scripture by the clearer parts of Scripture” because you cannot know which parts are the clearer parts of Scripture except by an arbitrary appeal to a certain passage.

Saying the argument another way:  if you and another believer disagree about a biblical passage, who (or what) is the referee?  It will not do to appeal to the Bible, for that is the very issue under contention.  Some might say the court of appeal is the methods of historical-grammatical interpretation.   The problem with this method is that the Bible itself uses other methods of interpretation[4], and that this knowledge is not acquired by “scripture alone.”  It is, if you will, a “tradition of men.”  It is a prestigious tradition, but simply that.


Simply saying that such and such group is ethnic and phyletist may be true in your particular experience (though it is funny how the most crass forms of American evangelical phyletism are perfectly acceptable), but that charge is utterly irrelevant concerning the truth claims at stake.  Saying that the Reformers were thinking new thoughts biblically is commendable for them, but if their particular thoughts contradict with what the church has concluded about Triad and Christ (see the point on defeaters above), too bad for them.  It does not matter what they get right.   Heresies tend to have deconstruct themselves along the dialectic.

To be fair, there are still some problems for me—problems I cannot yet address, but at least I am trying to pursue them along epistemological and truth-claim lines.

[1] A defeater is a belief (B1) that is held to be incompatible with another belief (B2), or it can be any form of evidence to undercut a position, if not outright refuting it.

[2] On the other hand, though, many Reformed are not affirming that.   They only pick and choose which councils they accept.  For example, they like the Third Council, except where it venerates the Theotokos.

[3] Unfortunately, Eunomius’ trap had thus been set.  Later theologians would indeed reason that if the Son did not cause another person he was not fully God.

[4] In fact, using a strict historical-grammatical method would rule out much of Galatians 4.

Review of A Eucharistic Ontology

Nikolaos Loudonikos (hereafter NL) offers a new facet on St Maximus’ theology.   NL maintains that the structure of Christian ontology is both eschatological and Eucharistic.  It is eschatological because of Maximus’ insight of “becoming and motion.”   Ontology is not static or closed.  All things begin, have motion, and are in a state of becoming.  They are teleologically oriented towards God.  Likewise, ontology is not closed.   It opens up in the Eucharist as nature receives and moves outside itself (ek-stasis), not to escape nature, but to open itself even more.   Further, the Eucharist is eschatological:  it points ahead to the time when God will be all in all.

Like all writers on St Maximus, NL gives an extended discussion of the “logos/logoi.”  It is similar to what other standard treatises have said on St Maximus, albeit NL works it within his larger thesis.   NL gives an extended discussion of what other Maximian scholars have said on the logoi (55-56).  NL will call them the basic principles of God (though of course, he is aware of the many connotations of logoi).  Logoi are also the divine wills in God, which will have eschatological and Eucharistic overtones.  The logoi interpenetrate one another and thus provide the basis for communion:  communion between God and creation and communion between Christians in the Eucharist.

NL gives a short but helpful discussion on both person/hypostasis and the uncreated energies of God.  Nature exists in a “mode of existence,” which is the hypostasi (93ff).  NL gives a careful discussion of the energies, correcting some Orthodox scholars and rebutting many Thomist and Protestant claims.  Contra to what some think, the “logoi” of creation are not synonymous with the divine energies (99ff).  Every nature has an energy, and the energy is constituted by the principle of nature itself.  Each energy reveals God in his entirety in each entity in accordance with the logos of its existence.  Thus, the doctrine of the uncreated energies imply the doctrine of the logoi.  The distinction between essence and energy (this time with Palamas) promotes the distinction between essence and will in God made by Athanasius and the Cappadocians.

Entities commune with one another through their logoi.   Here NL (and St Maximus) confront an age-old philosophical problem still present to us:  how do entities commune with one another?  Hellenism said a nature can never commune with another nature (see also John Locke, Hegel, Descartes, Hume, American worldview).  This raises the famous problem of St Maximus’s “Five Divisions.’  Maximus acknowledges the reality of the problem: given the fall and the divisions of nature, inter-entity communion is not likely by itself, and thus the truth would seem to lie with John Locke.[i] How does St Maximus bridge the Five Divisions?  He does so with “a Eucharistic Dialectic” (what a perfect phrase coined by NL!).  Christ in his recapitulatory work (Ephesians 1:10) heals the divisions of nature.  Thus, the “rifts become gifts.”  The person of Christ is the locus of the mystery of en-hypostatization.   The person of Christ becomes the mode of authentic communion among beings.  The Eucharist solidifies this love for us and we are given a share in the divine life (p. 128).

NL gives a helpful, if perhaps not always careful, discussion of the wills in Christ.  He first returns to St Maximus’ theology of motion:   Maximus inverts the Origenist triad to read:  becoming/motion/stasis.   All things have motion because they are created.  Entities move via their logoi.  “Becoming” is seen as the movement of a created order to its goal—the natural “middle term” justifying the genesis of things within their fixity in God.

Free will is the lawful dominion over actions within our power.  “Gnome” is defined as the innate appetite for things within our power.  It gives rise to choice.   Natural will is the movement of a particular person through the gnome.  The gnomic will actualizes the natural will’s desire per its logos.  The “mode of movement” is the process whereby movement is activated in a personal way (169).

NL has an interesting footnote to this (admittedly) dense discussion.   Having will by nature is not the same as the act of “willing.”  The former is a natural; the latter is modal and hypostatic.  The distinction between natural and gnomic is analogous to the distinction between logos and tropos.   However, we should not press the distinction too far:   Christ has two natural wills but he does not have a gnomic will (or more precisely, he does not “will” (verb) in a gnomic way, since the latter implies uncertainty.

NL ends the main argument of his thesis with an extended meditation and eventual rejection of Heidegger’s discussion on “being.”   He shows how Denis the Areopagite had already anticipated Heidegger’s (correct) deconstruction of Western philosophy, and provides the solution (against Heidegger) in the Eucharist.   In the Eucharist we stand outside of ourselves (ek-static) and give to the “other.”

Conclusion:  the book starts off slowly and will put off many readers.   The present reviewer is quite familiar with most of the literature on St Maximus (e.g., von Balthasar, Cooper, Bathrellos, Blowers, Louth, and Farrell), yet found the introductory sections of the book difficult to follow.   It seemed (at first) that NL was stretching texts to make his thesis (eschatology and Eucharist) fit, and maybe he was.  Fortunately, the book is meticulously outlined and easy to follow, once one gets past the first forty pages.   I read the book with a notebook, and the outlines made it easy to follow without losing track of the main argument.

Another positive to the book is that NL interacts with most of the current theological and philosophical literature on the topics in the book.   He even deals with practical problems raised by the study of St Maximus (thus making him useful, separating him from 90% of academics in the world).    The book is good, though there are numerous typographical errors and since the book was translated from Greek, the syntax is occasionally choppy.

[i] And thus American democracy would appear to be legitimate, but we know this is not the case.


Monotheletism in the formation of the canon?

Restorationist sects and even respectable Calvinists like John Piper will say the early church had it completely wrong.  Yet at the same time, these guys have no trouble accepting the canon/table of contents page in the Bible.  The problem is that the table of contents page is not Scripture.  It is man’s tradition about Scripture (which presumably dictates how you are to interpret Scripture.  If Scripture interprets Scripture, but we only know the outliers of interpretation by a man-made tradition–the table of contents–then we are not really interpreting Scripture by Scripture, but by tradition).  But I digress.

The point is that these theologically errant men with bad theology, which Piper and Co., affirm, formed the canon.  How then do we know they did not screw it up?   They had bad theology.  They venerated relics, icons, burned incense, had bishops, took the Lord’s Supper frequently, and Constantine.  By all restorationists’ accounts they were the most rank of heretics.  Yet they happened to get the canon correct.  How did that happen?

People will then say the Holy Spirit guided the canon process.  In other words, the Holy Spirit’s will overrode the bishop’s will.   This, unfortunately, is another form of monoenergism (a corollary of monotheletism), which is heresy.   Demetrios Bathrellos makes it clear in The Byzantine Christ (quite likely the authoritative book on monotheletism) that the heresy didn’t simply say that Christ had one will, but that Christ’s divine will overrides human will(s).  In other words, there is no room for synergy, human cooperation with God.

What did the apostles say?  “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” That’s a much healthier approach to take to the formation of the canon.

The Two Energies of Christ

Person operates by will. Will is a property of nature and energy is operation proper to that nature. So in Christ Incarnate there are two will and two operations proper to each nature, but the divine energeia deifies the human will and energy.


The raising of the dead was a willed operation proper to the divine energy, while eating food was a willed operation proper to the human energy, albeit both are willed by one divine Person – the Logos.
And if Absolute Divine Simplicity were true, That means that any actions proper to the divinity in Christ were also the divine essence and the same as all the other attributes. So Christ raising the dead was literally the same as foreknowledge and the act of creating the world, as well as destroying it – and all those actions are the divine

Western Opposition in positing Christ’s wills

Uber thanks to Ancient Christian Defender for reposting this Farrell piece.   It is a deep sorrow that this book went out of print.  While I don’t understand why St Tikhon’s Monastery Seminary let this go out of print, I do understand Dr Farrell’s reasons.  In any case, below

The opposition of Christ’s human will to the divine will was seen to occur for two reasons: one, because of the confusion of person and nature implied in the Augustinian understanding of original guilt; and two, because fallen humanity is the same humanity to be found in Christ, inclusive of its opposing will. Christ’s predestination is therefore the same as ours because it is by grace: the divine will overcomes Christ’s human will in an irresistible manner, much as the divine will overcomes the human will in the case of those predestined to salvation. But this led the Spanish Adoptionists to assume two sons, one of nature, the other of grace. And this in turn implied that they confused a personal characteristic, that of sonship, with that of nature and have thus come full circle back to the confusion which began the process. It is this whole vast and intricate matrix which related Spanish Adoptionism and its underlying predestinational Christology to the filioquist controversies of the ninth century. This would suggest that the Spanish Adoptionist predestinational Christology and the filioque share a common ancestry. That ancestry is Neoplatonism, and it is this consideration which incites, indeed, compels, comparison between St. Maximus and St. Augustine. The filioque is ultimately derived from the philosophical and neoplatonic definition of simplicity and its accompanying dialectic of oppositions. Each of the problems that attended Neoplatonism – the identity of being and will and its consequences of an eternal generation of the Son indistinguishable and indivisible from an eternal creation, the dialectical opposition of the simplicity and the dialectic in collapsing into an infinite series of beings as in the neoplatonic system of Iamblichus, or in erasing all distinctions between beings as in the Neoplatonic Pantheists, the structural subordination of all pluralities to the One-all these implications are to some extent present in the trinitarian theology of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine assumed that if there could be common ground between theology and philosophy there could be common definitions as well. He found this common definition in the neoplatonic definition of the simplicity of the One. Appropriating this definition as an understanding of the divine essence of the Christian Trinity, as a definition of the unity of the Christian God, he made of it the ultimate basis of his attempted synthesis. Consequently it is at the Augustinian doctrine of God that the point of contact between theology and philosophy occurs, and it is through this doctrine of God that the Augustinian conception of predestination must be approached. A proper understanding of Augustine Triadology will yield a proper understanding of the logic and structure behind its predestinational doctrine.

When he appropriated the definition of simplicity as a definition of the divine essence of the Trinity, he accepted it uncritically, and thus made his “philosophical first principle one with his religious first principle” to such an extent that as the French Roman Catholic Etienne Gilson observed, even his notion of divine being “remained greek,” that is, ultimately pagan. Therefore, insofar as his doctrine of predestination is derived from this pagan definition of the divine essence, it is to that extent that it is pagan in its roots. It is at the point of this definition that the divine essence begins to be abstracted from the plurality of attributes and persons as a prolegomenon to theology. In other words, once he had assumed the simplicity as a definition of the divine essence in its full Neoplatonic sense, the essence becomes increasingly singled out ans strictly distinguished from all the divine “pluralities,” the attributes and the persons. The dialectic of opposition between the One and the many is already in evidence in this step, and two things occur because of it. First, the unity of God is seen in impersonal and abstract terms. St. Augustine states it this way: “The divinity is the unity of the Trinity.” But more important is the fact that, at this stage at least, the persons and the attributes are accorded the same logical status. And thus St. Augustine can say that

He is called in respect to Himself both God, and great, and good, and just, and anything else of the kind; and just as to Him to be is the same as to be God, or as to be great, or as to be good, so it is the same thing to Him to be as to be person.

Underlying these mutual identities is the simplicity, once again functioning as a great metaphysical “equals” (=) sign, and consequently the conclusion that the person are attributes or that the attributes are persons is inescapable.

But when he turns to consider the attributes themselves, they become identical with the divine essence and alternative names for it: “The Godhead,” he writes, “is absolutely simple essence, and therefore to be is there the same as to be wise. And this leads to the further implication that since the attributes are identical to the essence, they are identical to each other: “In regards to the essence of truth, to be true is the same as to be and to be is the same as to be great….therefore to be great is the same as to be true.” A=B and B=C, ergo A=C. Reason, logic, and simplicity are the very essence of the divine essence. It is this identity of attributes amongst themselves which led to three very different conclusions, conclusions which are nevertheless related, for they depend upon this identification of the attributes amongst themselves.

First, it is this identity of the attributes with themselves and with the divine essence that allowed Thomas Aquinas, who inherited this definitional understanding of the divine simplicity from St. Augustine, to assert the identity of the divine essence with the divine will. The simplicity is absolute; therefore God’s will is not other than His essence,” a proposition common with Plotinus, and a proposition at the root of the Origenist problematic. Unlike the Athanasian response to this problematic, which depended upon the distinction between essence and attributes being a formal one, this understanding of the simplicity is a definitional one, and it is this which is the ultimate root of the Western difficulties with Palamism: there cannot be ultimate and equal goods which are really distinct from the divine essence as well as being really distinct from each other.

Second, the Augustine doctrine of predestination must, to a great degree, be referred to this identity of attributes amongst themselves, in other words, to this identity of attributes amongst themselves, in other words, to predestinate is the same as to foreknow. If God foreknows the damned and the elect, He also predestines them. The evaluation of Jaroslav Pelikan is therefore not entirely correct. It is in regard to this identification of the attributes of predestination and foreknowledge that he wrote “what was needed to correct and clarify the Augustinian doctrine was a more precise definition of predestination that would distinquish it from grace.” But since the deterministic aspects of Augustinism appear to be not so much biblical as neoplatonic and logical, as they are rooted in a particular dialectically-derived definition of the divine essence, it would appear that what is needed is precisely not another definition, but a non-definitional understanding of the divine simplicity, one which would not permit the term to function as an “equals” (=) sign which identifies the pluralities of attributes.

Finally, this identification of the attributes amongst themselves plays an important role in the derivation of the filioque. Because the categories of the persons and attributes, as multiplicites contrasted to the simple essence, all serve as logically interchangeable definitions of the simple divine “something”, the question for St. Augustine then became one of securely maintaining the real distinction of persons in the face of a simplicity which had already nullified the real quality and distinctions of the attributes amongst themselves. Here the subordination of the persons and attributes to the essence in the ordo theologiae also provides St. Augustine with the means to attempt to distinction the persons from each other. Having assumed an absolute, definitional simplicity, the person can no longer be absolute hypostases, but are merely relations, since the names Father, Son, and Spirit are terms relative to each other. Here again there is a subtle but nevertheless real play of the dialectic of oppositions. One no longer begins with the three persons (since one has already began theology at the divine essence) and then moves to consider their relations, but begins more with their relative quality, with the relation between the persons, itself. In other words, there is an artificial opposition of any given person to the other two. It is at this point that the flexibility of St. Augustine’s neoplatonic basis begins to surface in a more acute form.”