Essence and Energies of God – 3

Thaboric Light

Thaboric Light

Energies (ἐνέργεια; enérgeia)

In our discussion on God’s energies, I will rely heavily on the writings of the greatest expositor on the Essence and Energies of God, St. Gregory Pálamas (1296–1359).  Palamas was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the Archbishop of Thessaloniki.  He is known as the preeminent theologian of Hesychasm (Greek: silence, stillness, or quietude), the ancient Christian tradition of contemplative prayer and theosis, or union with God, dating back to the 2nd century.

In the 1330s and 1340s Palamas defended the theology and doctrine of Hesychasm against Barlaam the Calabrian, a theologian trained in Western Scholastic tradition of reason and logic, who attacked the doctrines and practices of the Hesychasts, accusing them of heresy and blasphemy.

In response to Barlaam’s attacks, Palamas wrote nine treatises entitled “Triads For The Defense of Those Who Practice Sacred Quietude [Hesychasts]”. The treatises are called “triads” because they were organized as three sets of three treatises.  Ultimately, Palamas prevailed and his theology was endorsed in a series of six patriarchal councils held in Constantinople between 1341 and 1351.  Barlaam was anathematized, returned to Italy, and joined the Roman Catholic Church where is views received a more sympathetic reception.

Most of what follows comes from Fr. John Meyendorff’s 1983 publication of St. Gregory Palamas’ “Triads”.

Myendorff observed that, “The distinction in God between “essence” and “energy” – that focal point of Palamite theology – is nothing but a way of saying that the transcendent God remains transcendent, as He communicates Himself to humanity.”  Unpacking this idea a bit further, he explains, “…for Palamas, this transcendent essence of God would be a philosophical abstraction if it did not possess “power”, that is, “the faculties of knowing, of prescience, of creating”.  In other words, the God of Palamas is a living God…”

“The real communion, the fellowship and – one can almost say – the familiarity with the “One Who Is” [God] is, for Palamas the very content of the Christian experience, made possible because the “One Who Is” [God] became man.”

“After the coming of Christ … God enters into immediate communion with humanity.”  So, for Palamas the Incarnation of Christ, the Logos, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is absolutely central. Indeed, true “deification” (theosis) became possible when, according to the expressions of St. Athanasius, “God became man in order that man might become God in him”.

To be continued…

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