Essence and Energies of God – 2

taboric light

Thaboric Light

Essence (οὐσία; ousía)

In order to understand God’s essence, we have to spend a little time understanding how to approach an understanding of God!

Since the writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite in the 5th century (e.g., “Concerning Mystical Theology”), apophatic theology, or the via negativa, has enjoyed undisputed authority in the theological tradition of both the Christian East and West (Lossky).

Vladimir Lossky tells us that, “Dionysius distinguishes two possible theological ways.  One – that of cataphatic or positive theology – that proceeds by affirmations; the other – apophatic or negative theology – by negations.  The first leads us to some knowledge of God, but in an imperfect way.  The perfect way, the only way which is fitting in regard to God, who is of His very nature unknowable, is the second – which leads us finally to total ignorance.”  Lossky does not leave us with that depressing thought, but goes on to explain that, “All knowledge has as its object that which is.  Now God is beyond all that exists.  In order to approach Him it is necessary to deny all that is inferior to Him, that is to say, all that which is.  It is by unknowing (ἀγνωσία) that one may know Him who is above every possible object of knowledge.  Proceeding by negations one ascends from the inferior degrees of being to the highest, by progressively setting aside all that can be known, in order to draw near to the Unknown in the darkness of absolute ignorance.”

Fr. John Meyendorff makes the same point as Lossky, “The writings of the Fathers – and particularly Dionysius – emphasized, as the starting point of any Christian discourse about God, the affirmation that God is not any of the creatures and that, therefore, the created mind, which “knows” only creatures, can conceive of God only by the method of exclusion.  The most frequently repeated liturgical prayers, familiar to all, were using the same apophatic approach to God: “Thou art God ineffable, invisible, incomprehensible,…”.  Later, Meyendorff remarks on “… the apophatic theology of the Greek Fathers, which affirmed absolute transcendence of the divine essence, inaccessible to the angels themselves.”

Eastern Christianity teaches that the essence, being, nature and substance (ousia) of God is uncreated and incomprehensible. Lossky finally summarizes all apophatic descriptions by defining God’s essence as “that which finds no existence or subsistence in another or any other thing”.

To be continued…

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