Весникар - најнови статии

Весникар - најчитани статии

The Knowability of God

Epistemological questions concerning how created beings are able to know the uncreated God have burgeoned for over 1500 years. Historically, the Christological controversies of the fourth century facilitated the rise of two very different theories about the knowledge of God; one held to a kind of radical apophaticism, claiming that God is totally unknowable, the other embraced the exact opposite view, proclaiming that we can know Him in His entirety (that is, by essence). If the essence-energies distinction is not made the question of the fourth century remains: How can we truly know and be united with God without confusion?

This article was originally published on ConciliarPost.com as a part of a Round Table. It was reposted here by its author, Benjamin Cabe. It was used as video script for the Theoria video “The Essence-Energies Distinction” which featured Benjamin as the speaker.

Epistemological questions concerning how created beings are able to know the uncreated God have burgeoned for over 1500 years. Historically, the Christological controversies of the fourth century facilitated the rise of two very different theories about the knowledge of God; one held to a kind of radical apophaticism, claiming that God is totally unknowable, the other embraced the exact opposite view, proclaiming that we can know Him in His entirety (that is, by essence).1 Though opposite, the conclusions of Arius and Eunomius share a common foundation: the belief that the Second Person of the Trinity is a creature (κτίσμα) like us. Worth noting is their motivation behind insisting on Christ’s subjugation, founded as it was in fear of damaging the doctrine of God’s divine simplicity. In consequence, the outcome for epistemology was a false dichotomy: either God is not knowable at all or He is knowable by essence. This dichotomy denies any possibility of union (without confusion) with God, and thus any real knowledge of Him.

According to the Eastern Orthodox Church, neither of these views are correct, as both systems obliterate the bridge between created beings and the uncreated God.2 The Orthodox understanding concerning Jesus Christ Who is this bridge – homoousios with God on account of His Divine Nature and homoousios with us on account of His Incarnation – is reflected in the Nicene Creed, the Vesperal Hymn Gladsome Light, and the fourth century responses to Arius and Eunomius (Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Chrysostom, et al). 

While all mainstream Christian confessions pay verbal homage to the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, hidden underneath the accepted technical terminology are a few fundamental differences. Namely, what are the implications of the Incarnation for our knowledge of God? And what constitutes knowledge of God? How one answers these questions will not only inform their adherence to a particular Christian tradition, but also how they live the Christian life on a day-to-day basis. 

For Orthodox Christians, becoming like God is the prerequisite for knowledge of Him.3 The pathway towards Christ-likeness (see Matthew 5:48; 1 Corinthians 11:1, etc.) begins with keeping of the commandments (see Leviticus 22:31; Luke 11:28; James 1:22; 1 John 15:3, etc.).4 Those that persevere on this difficult path move from law to grace, where the Majesty, the Glory of God is revealed.5 This is what Fathers like Gregory the Theologian called the vision of God – a vision which constitutes union with Him. Put simply: knowledge of God is participation in God; it is participation in His very life.

This participation is not a vision of, or union with, the essence. Rather, it is a vision of “the Back Parts of God, which He leaves behind Him, as tokens of Himself like the shadows and reflection of the sun in the water, which shew the sun to our weak eyes, because we cannot look at the sun himself, for by his unmixed light he is too strong for our power of perception.”6

The result of the Orthodox view is a paradox with which not everyone is comfortable – but as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware once said, “antinomy helps us to shatter these idols…[and] if we exclude the antinomic dimension of theology, the danger is that we shall never ascend to the level of spiritual understanding at all.”7 

Orthodox Christians confess, then, that we come to know God intimately by direct contact with Him (without mediation of created theophanies, effects, or acts), but we do not come to know or participate in His essence. This is made possible by His action – His involvement – in the world (His energies, also called powers). These actions of God in the world are manifestations of Himself, and as such they are uncreated, but they are not His essence, which is known only to the Holy Trinity. The essence-energies distinction in God is “an objective differentiation with God himself”8 that does not do damage to the divine simplicity.9 

Like Arius and Eunomius before them, modern theologians who criticize this doctrine – codified by Gregory Palamas in the fourteenth century – are concerned about its effects on the divine simplicity. However, just as the distinction of persons does not divide the oneness of God, neither does the essence-energies distinction, which belongs to nature (oneness, as the Three always act together). This reality is central to our interaction and relationship with any person. Consider, for example, how each of us has a private internal world, the depths of which no other human being can plumb. This world remains unknown to those around us (and sometimes even to ourselves) unless we reveal it to them. Those to whom we reveal this world gain knowledge about us; we might even say that, to a certain extent, they participate in this world. But their participation is only participation in our energies (actions, interactions, words: what we reveal to them). They can never “get inside” of us and participate in the essence. This kind of knowledge is markedly different than the kind of knowledge that one gets from memorizing facts about a favorite celebrity. In like manner, knowledge of God is not verbally confessing or adhering to dogmatic axioms about Him. It is a living relationship with Him.

If the essence-energies distinction is not made the question of the fourth century remains: How can we truly know and be united with God without confusion? Either we only know created effects, and thus not God Himself, or we know God as He is in His essence – a reality admitted only to the Persons of the Trinity, Who share the Divine Nature.

Sources:

(1) The early Arians (led by Arius), who claimed that God was completely ineffable (ἄῤῥητος), even to His Son,, and the later Arians (led by Aetius and Eunomius), respectively. See Athanasius, De Synodis, 15, p. 457, 458; Gr. PG 25: 708A.

(2) See Basil, Against Eunomius., 1.26, pp. 128–129; Cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 29.17–20, pp. 307–309;  Gregory of Nyssa draws this out in Against Eunomius, 2.12, p. 122–123; and  3.4, p. 145: “in the Incarnation, [the] Son of Man…link[ed] together by Himself what were divided by nature;” and 6.2, p. 184; 6.4, p. 189; 12.1, p. 241: “[Christ] through Himself…united humanity to God;” Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book, pp.291– 292; cf. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, 3.5, p. 97.

(3) See Gregory the Theologian, Oration 28.17, p. 294; Select Orations, Or. 20.1, pp. 107–108.

(4) See Gregory the Theologian, Select Orations, 20.12, p. 115. See also, Or. 27.3, p. 285; Or. 29.11, p. 305; Select Orations, Or. 20.1, p. 108). Gregory notes that this  model is based on Moses who ascends the mount and enters the cloud to speak with God. Aaron ascends, too, but does not enter, and the Elders ascend and stand a ways off – but the people who are not purified do not approach, “for it would be dangerous to [them.” (Or. 28.2, p. 298 [Exodus chs. 24–29]; cf. Select Orations, Or. 20.2, p. 108). See also 37.7, p. 287: Cf. Basil, Against Eunomius, 2.16,  pp. 151–152; Gregory the Theologian, Or. 27.4–5, pp. 285–286; Or. 28.1, p. 288; Select Orations, Or. 6.2, p. 4.

(5) Gregory the Theologian, Or. 28.3, p. 289; Cf. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, 2.10, p. 119. 

(6) Gregory the Theologian, Oration 28.3, p. 289. For “it is impossible to express Him, and yet more impossible to conceive Him” (Ibid, 3, p. 289–290. Cf. Plato, Tim., 28E). Cf. Select Orations, Or. 32.16, p. 202: “Moses himself scarcely saw the back of God…and this only…after much prayer.”

(7) Ware, The Debate About Palamism, p. 47,  51. This is why we confess God as unknowable in His essence and knowable in His energies.

(8) Ibid, p. 49. Thus, “God is…unknowable [in His essence] and yet known personally and directly [in His energies]” (p. 49).

(9) The Triads, 3.1.24, p. 82.

Select Bibliography

Original Link...


Tags: None
0 comments
Report        

Read On: