Essence vs. Energies: Orthodox

This is a question for the Eastern Orthodox here. If as Eastern Orthodox have told me that they believe that God’s essence is completely and absolutely transcendent and that human nature can absolutely never behold the essence of God and that God only communicates through His energies – I have a number of questions:

  1. what is/are the energies of God? How exactly does it differ from His essence?

  2. how could God interact to create the world? Would he not, as the Greeks thought, need an intermediary - what they believed the Logos was (also called a demiure (sp?))?

  3. how could Jesus’ human nature abide with His divine nature, and even more by hypostatically united together?

Wow, those are great questions. I can wait to see the responses.

Sorry; it’s late. I meant I can’t wait.

Wow those are questions way above my pay grade! I’ll give it a shot nonetheless.

Gods’ Essence is what God is, His Energies is how He interacts with us and the world and they are uncreated. The Light on Mt Tabor was the Uncreated Energies of God.

He interacts through His Uncreated Energies. Remember, His Energies are not a created force, They are a part of God. That’s why we can have a direct experience of Him.

It’s a great mystery and miracle my friend. :slight_smile:

Yours in Christ
Joe

The best source would be St. Gregory Palamas.

The whole “energy/essence” discussion is tied in with hesychasm (Orthodox tradition of mystical prayer) and the vision of the Uncreated Light in this lifetime.

It’s way over MY head, I can assure you.

HEY! What about the Orientals? What are we, chopped liver? :smiley:

Orientals also have a theology regarding the Essence and Energies of God. However, it is slightly different from our Eastern brethren because Orientals generally also accept the concept of the simplicity of God. And since you specified that you wanted to hear from the Easterns, that’s all I’ll say.

Blessings,
Marduk

I’m not Eastern Orthodox, but I am Eastern Catholic and I’ve studied this very issue extensively, so I hope you don’t mind my jumping in.

The Divine Energy (yes, singular; the Divine Energy is pluralized only because the human mind can’t conceive of pure simplicity, not because there are really many Divine Energies per se) is the activity of God, both eternal and temporal. It differs from the Divine Essence because the Divine Essence is simply the abstract definition of what God is, while the Energy is the “being and doing”. This is very different from the Latin theological usage of “essence”, which includes “being and doing” in the definition (at least for God). So when it is said that Energy differs from Essence, this can only be understood in the Byzantine theological framework; it doesn’t apply in other theological approaches.

  1. how could God interact to create the world? Would he not, as the Greeks thought, need an intermediary - what they believed the Logos was (also called a demiure (sp?))?

This is where the difference in nuance between “essence” in Byzantine theology, and “essence” in Latin theology becomes very important. In Latin theology, since God is inherently “active”, is essentially active, the Divine Energy (activity/power/being) is regarded as the same as the Divine Essence (since it’s essential to being God). In Byzantine theology, however, the Divine Energy is understood as distinct from the Divine Essence because the Divine Essence is merely the “definition of God”, not necessarily “God being God”. Energy is the extension and being of an essence, a requisite for the essence really existing, and a very real manifestation of that essence. So God creates the world by the Divine Energy, which is not a mediator, but is in fact God. God does not create the world by the Divine Essence because the very definition of God doesn’t include the world, nor does the very definition of any created thing contain the definition of God.

In Latin terminology it can be said that God creates the world by His Essence, since Essence is taken to include what is defined as Energy in Byzantine theology.

  1. how could Jesus’ human nature abide with His divine nature, and even more by hypostatically united together?

The two natures don’t mingle or transform eachother, so there is no contradiction. The Divine Essence (Divine definition) doesn’t interact on an essential level with human nature, but rather the Divine Person assumes the human nature as well as having the Divine Nature; it is on the level of Person that there is a joining, not on the level of nature. Both natures remain distinct and pure, while one Person has both.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, in Byzantine theology, not only does the Divine Essence transcend all creaturely approach, but God also transcends Essence itself and is called “super-essential”. This is because Essence is typically understood (in Byzantine theology) to be a definition, but God is beyond limits, and therefore beyond definition.

As you can see it’s a very different terminological approach from the Latin, but it hits at the exact same points (especially if you follow St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on the subject). Hope that helps!

Peace and God bless!

orthodoxwiki.org/Grace
orthodoxwiki.org/God
orthodoxwiki.org/Incarnation
orthodoxwiki.org/Prayer
orthodoxwiki.org/Hesychasm

Mmmmm. This is very interesting and merits more study. Is there a basic text on Eastern Theology where these concepts are introduced?

No, Your Cheesiness, but there are many websites by and for Orthodox you can check out :wink:

Lossky, The Mystical Theology.

By all means respond. I was primarily directing this toward Eastern Orthodox because I’ve never heard Orientals make such a big deal out of this.

If “the Divine Essence is simply the abstract definition of what God is” then why do the Orthodox claim we cannot behold the Essence of God? I behold abstract definitions all the time – not much to them.

If you mean that the Essence is our definition of what God is, then how is this “is” different than the “being” you say is part of the Energy?

I have heard Orthodox claim that the Essence and the Energy are both God – then in the case of the Energy, how can it be God without it being Who He is (Essence)?

You’ve lost me again. How can a definition be God? My confusion wants to ask the silly question of how many other gods are in my Webster dictionary? :confused::stuck_out_tongue:

Of course there is no mingling of the natures. But, if the Orthodox are correct and our nature cannot behold God’s Essence (absolutely and without exception), then how could Jesus’ human nature behold His divine nature? How could the two natures be hypostatically united if one can’t look upon the other?

If “the Divine Essence is simply the abstract definition of what God is” then why do the Orthodox claim we cannot behold the Essence of God? I behold abstract definitions all the time – not much to them.

Because, in the Byzantine approach, to know the Essence of something is to comprehend it. The Essence, in this approach, is taken as a whole; the issue isn’t the abstractness, but the infinity of this nature. In Latin theology this is approached by saying that God’s Essence can be known, but not comprehended, and this is possibly because of a different nuance in what Essence means, and what knowing means. Latin theological language has more flexibility in this matter.

If you mean that the Essence is our definition of what God is, then how is this “is” different than the “being” you say is part of the Energy?

This is where the definition “super-essential” comes into play. In all other things, the essence is something other than their being, and the essence is prior to the being, and the Byzantine approach takes this as the model for the language. In God’s case, God’s being, which in created things is subsequent to the essence, is the reason for the essence. At the same time, however, energy follows from essence by definition, so there is a conundrum when it comes to God. Therefore God is said to be “super-essential” because His Essence follows from Him being.

Again this is different from the Latin theological approach, though both address the same issue and come to the same basic conclusion in their own manners.

I have heard Orthodox claim that the Essence and the Energy are both God – then in the case of the Energy, how can it be God without it being Who He is (Essence)?

The Divine Energy is, to use Latin terminology a bit, “God being God”. The Divine Energy can further be “broken down” to individual concepts, which themselves are the same in God but distinguished by us, such as Mercy and Justice and Living, ect. These are not the “super-essential Essence” because none of them contain the wholeness of God in the human mind, and because the “super-essential Essence” can’t be comprehended. The Energy is not “Who He is” because the Energy is not wholly transcendent, whereas transcendence is part of “Who He is”. To use a crude and limited example, when you touch my arm you truly touch me, but you do not truly touch my mind or will or soul by touching my arm with yours despite the fact that those things are indeed truly me as well. This example is crude and weak, however, because God is simple, while we are composite, but if you consider the mind and such as transcending the arm, and not merely being another part of me, the example might be more beneficial.

You are using the Latin theological language and approach with your question, which is perfectly valid (and in some respects more nuanced and preferred, IMO, though the Byzantine is better in other respects), but it doesn’t help in understanding what is meant by the Byzantine usage. In the Latin terminology the Essence encapsulates everything that is God, while in the Byzantine the term is less all-encompassing.

You’ve lost me again. How can a definition be God? My confusion wants to ask the silly question of how many other gods are in my Webster dictionary? :confused::stuck_out_tongue:

Definitions themselves aren’t God, but rather Divine Essence is the “definition of God”. If the infinity of God could be summed up in a Webster’s Dictionary entry, the Divine Essence would be what you would read when you looked up “God”. Now, the definition of, say, “deer” in Webster’s is not the wholeness of what it means to be a deer, because the definition itself is not actualized in a real deer being a deer.

Of course there is no mingling of the natures. But, if the Orthodox are correct and our nature cannot behold God’s Essence (absolutely and without exception), then how could Jesus’ human nature behold His divine nature? How could the two natures be hypostatically united if one can’t look upon the other?

They are hypostatically united because one Person encompasses and utilizes both natures. Similar to how we could say that our soul and body are hypostatically united, and our soul touches our body but our body does not touch our soul. Christ’s human nature, in this theological approach, does not behold the Divine Nature, any more than His eyes could look at His own soul. Again, in the Latin approach it is said that Christ’s human nature always beheld the Divine Essence, precisely because Divine Essence is used slightly differently, and includes what is called the Divine Energy in Byzantine theology.

Hope that helps!

Peace and God bless!

To put it simply as many Orthodox do, “it’s a mystery.” :smiley:

In Christ,
Andrew

Ghosty , can you be more clear with following?
But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new.

There is a story about St Anthony that tried to comprehend God, and he prayed, prayed and then one day he saw a child putting water form Ocean to a sand hole. He asked the Child, what are you doing? The child said, I am moving the Ocean to this sand hole. St Anthony understood that him trying to comprehend God with his understanding is equal with this child trying to move the Ocean in the sandhole. This does not mean that we cannot see God, or monks cannot speak from this life with God face to face.This does not mean that monks don’t find more about God asking God.

However, I would think that would be benefical for Catholics to send monks to the monasteries to learn the Jesus prayer and the path for speaking with God. This way Union would be much easier if both Churches would have people speaking with God. Elder Ephraim from Florence Arizona monastery would know where to send people that want to speak with God. Same for Protestants.

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**Fr. Ephraim’s monks would not allow the Melkite bishop into the monastery in Florence when he came to see it with a local Melkite priest.

What excactly IS he teaching his disciples?**

Dear brother JMJ_coder,

Oh OK.

Like brother Harpazo stated, it is a Mystery, and Orientals have a less defined understanding than the Easterns. This is because the Orientals did not go through anything like the Palamite controversy in the EOC.

The best way to state it is that Orientals do not view the Essence and Energies as an ontological distinction within the Godhead. It is a merely an epistemological or philosophical convention used by us mere mortals to understand the theological Truth that God is totally “Other.” So, of what we can experience of God, we call “Energy,” and what we can’t by virtue of God being totally “Other” is “Essence.”

As a concrete example of the distinction between the Oriental and Eastern understanding, if one says “God is among us,” then Orientals would understand this to mean that BOTH His Essence and Energy is among us, because God is one and undivided and simple. HOWEVER, we as creatures can only experience His Energy.

From my understanding of the Eastern teaching on the matter, the Easterns distinguish between Eternity (where only God can exist), Aeviternity (where created spiritual beings exist) and Creation (where we tactile beings exist). Only the Essence of God exists in Eternity separated from everything else - as his nature of being “other” requires - whereas the Energy of God exists everywhere else.

This difference is also highlighted in the everyday language Easterns use when speaking of the Essence and Energy. Easterns are comfortable with saying “the Essence IS God,” and “the Energy IS God.” You won’t find Orientals saying that, for, to us, it would cause an ontological distinction within the Godhead, and the only ontological distinction within the Godhead that Orientals accept is the distinction of Persons (it shouldn’t surprise you to find polemical Oriental Orthodox referring to the Eastern understanding of the Godhead as a Quinternity). Orientals are more comfortable speaking of the “Essence OF God,” or “the Energy OF God.”

I admit that when I was not in communion with Rome, I had a polemic understanding of the Eastern teaching on Essence and Energy. Having come into communion with Rome, I now view the Eastern teaching as a legitimate development that cannot be constructively maligned. In fact, before I was in communion with Rome, and even for a short while after I joined the Catholic communion, I could never bring myself to call Gregory Palamas “a Saint…” Now, after reading more of what he taught, I don’t mind considering him a “Saint” and have even called him such in discussions with my EO and EC brethren.

Blessings,
Marduk

I made some additions to my previous post which will hopefully help explain it more. The additions are highlighted

Oh OK.

Like brother Harpazo stated, it is a Mystery, and Orientals have a less defined understanding than the Easterns. This is because the Orientals did not go through anything like the Palamite controversy in the EOC.

The best way to state it is that Orientals do not view the Essence and Energies as an ontological distinction within the Godhead. It is a merely an epistemological or philosophical convention used by us mere mortals to understand the theological Truth that God is totally “Other.” So, of what we can experience of God, we call “Energy,” and what we can’t by virtue of God being totally “Other” is “Essence.”

As a concrete example of the distinction between the Oriental and Eastern understanding, if one says “God is among us,” then Orientals would understand this to mean that BOTH His Essence and Energy is among us, because God is one and undivided and simple. HOWEVER, we as creatures can only experience His Energy. In the Eastern understanding, Energy is viewed from the perspective of what God is. From the Oriental understanding, Energy is viewed merely from the perspective of what we can experience.

From my understanding of the Eastern teaching on the matter, the Easterns distinguish between Eternity (where only God can exist), Aeviternity (where created spiritual beings exist) and Creation (where we tactile beings exist). Only the Essence of God exists in Eternity separated from everything else - as his nature of being “other” requires - whereas the Energy of God exists everywhere else besides.

As an illiustration think of three concentric circles. From the Oriental perspective, the largest circle would be the Essence, encompassing all, the second circle would be the region of angels, and the inner circle would be creation, viewed from what of God each level can experience (the Energy). From the Eastern perspective, the inner circle would be the Essence, and Essence radiates from that inner circle to affect the outer circles (which are forever outside the Essence) as Energy.

This difference is also highlighted in the everyday language Easterns use when speaking of the Essence and Energy. Easterns are comfortable with saying “the Essence IS God,” and “the Energy IS God.” You won’t find Orientals saying that, for, to us, it would cause an ontological distinction within the Godhead, and the only ontological distinction within the Godhead that Orientals accept is the distinction of Persons (it shouldn’t surprise you to find polemical Oriental Orthodox referring to the Eastern understanding of the Godhead as a Quinternity). Orientals are more comfortable speaking of the “Essence OF God,” or “the Energy OF God.”

I admit that when I was not in communion with Rome, I had a polemic understanding of the Eastern teaching on Essence and Energy. Having come into communion with Rome, I now view the Eastern teaching as a legitimate development that cannot be constructively maligned. In fact, before I was in communion with Rome, and even for a short while after I joined the Catholic communion, I could never bring myself to call Gregory Palamas “a Saint…” Now, after reading more of what he taught, I don’t mind considering him a “Saint” and have even called him such in discussions with my EO and EC brethren.

Aside from that, I would answer all your three questions in the same way brother Ghosty answered it.

Blessings,
Marduk

However, I would think that would be benefical for Catholics to send monks to the monasteries to learn the Jesus prayer and the path for speaking with God. This way Union would be much easier if both Churches would have people speaking with God. Elder Ephraim from Florence Arizona monastery stanthonysmonastery.org/index.php would know where to send people that want to speak with God. Same for Protestants.
It might be better to ask God in this life.

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