Posts Tagged Christos Yannaras
“Increasingly, Christian life seems to be nothing more than a particular way of behaving, a code of good conduct. Christianity is increasingly alienated, becoming a social attribute adapted to meet the least worthy of human demands – conformity, sterile conservatism, pusillanimity and timidity; it is adapted to the trivial moralizing which seeks to adorn cowardice and individual security with the funerary decoration of social decorum.”
One of my main goals in writing is to discover and bring the ancient theology and doctrines of the early charismatic Christian church to the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement.
There is a clear disconnect between the doxis of Western Latin Christianity and the praxis of the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement which operates in the gifts and fruit of the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Renewal Movement certainly has the basic praxis (how beliefs are practiced, embodied and realized in conduct) of the early charismatic Apostolic church, but does not have a corresponding supportive, complementary doxis (religious beliefs, worship, doctrines, and creeds) which explains and supports that praxis.
The world needs to see lives transformed, but it also needs to know why and how they have been transformed. To do this, the world must see a complementary balance of belief and action at work. But, just as vital, the world must see something else in mutual support and balance: orthodoxy and orthopraxis– that is, right belief and right action.
A key essential in an orthodoxy which supports a Renewal Movement (apostolic church) orthopraxis is an understanding of the Essence and Energies of God and the distinction between them. It is only in understanding Essence (transliterated ousía in Greek) and Energies (transliterated enérgeia in Greek) of God that we can reconcile the seeming paradox of the unknowable transcendence of God with the universal, yet very personal indwelling presence and power of God in all humankind.
Throughout this discussion, I will rely heavily on the writings of 20th century theologians including Vladimir Lossky, Christos Yannaras, and Fr. John Meyendorff. They, in turn, refer to the authority of many early Church Fathers including St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Macarius the Great (all 4th century); St. Dionysius the Aeropagite (5th century); St. Maximus the Confessor (7th century); St. Symeon the New Theologian (11th century); and last, but not least, St. Gregory Pálamas (14th century). I make all of these citations so that the reader may understand that the theology and doctrines on the Essence and Energies of God are both ancient and continuously attested to throughout the Patristic literature up to this day. These citations also make it clear that none of what you are about to read is my original work or thoughts.
To be continued…
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…
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…
The same Christological framework makes it inevitable to distinguish between the transcendent essence, or nature of God, and His energies. Indeed, in Christ His two natures – so precisely defined at Chalcedon as both “inseparable” and “unconfused” – remain distinct. Therefore deification of communion between divinity and humanity does not imply a confusion of essences or natures. It remains nevertheless real communion between the Uncreated and His creature, and real deification – not by essence, but by energy. The humanity of Christ, “enhypostasized” by the Logos, is penetrated with divine energy, and Christ’s body becomes the source of divine light and deification. It is “theurgic”, that is, it communicates divine life to those who are “in Christ” and participate in the uncreated energies active in it.” (Meyendorff)
Theologian Christos Yannaras uses an analogy from Maximus the Confessor to further explain the distinction between essence and energies:
St. Maximus the Confessor uses as an image and an example of such communion the human voice, which being one is participated in by many, and is not swallowed up by the multitude. If by taking this example we can arbitrarily consider human reason as essence, then we can say that the voice represents the energy of the essence of reason, the possibility for us to participate in the essence of reason as the voice reveals and communicates it, to participate, all of us who hear the same voice, in the same essence of the one reason — without this communion becoming our identification with the essence of reason, and without the fragmentation of the essence in as many parts as there are participants in the reason through the voice. Reason, expressed personally, remains unified and indivisible, while at the same time, it is singularly participated by all.” ~ From “The Distinction Between Essence and Energies and its Importance for Theology”
To be continued…
An understanding of God’s energies allows humankind to experience God directly through a personal relationship with the Persons of the triadic Godhead; the divine persons in communion and relationship with humanity as persons. That aligns with and supports every human being achieving their purpose in life; having been created in the image of God, to attain to His likeness, partaking of the divine nature, in this life.
Without an understanding the distinction between God’s Essence and Energies we cannot reconcile the reality of a totally transcendent, ineffable, and unknowable God with the reality of the intensely personal relationship with Christ inherent in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Christos Yannaras described the problem:
“The West rejected the distinction, desiring to protect the idea of simplicity in the divine essence, since rational thought cannot accept the antinomy [paradox] of a simultaneous existential identity and otherness, a distinction that does not mean division and fragmentation. For the western mind…God is defined only in terms of His essence; whatever is not essence does not belong to God; it is a creature of God, the result of divine essence.”
Without this theology of the Essence and Energies of God, the praxis of the Renewal Movement, the indwelling presence and power of God in intimate personal relationship within us, is left with no complementary supporting theology or doctrine. It is left without its complementary, supporting doxis. We are left with a religion with a split personality, with no continuity between its belief and action; its doxis and praxis.
You will note that the Western Latin (Roman Catholic and Protestant) Church, embodied in the person of Barlaam of Calabria, does not recognize the Essence-Energies doctrine. Hence, Western theology and doctrine have no means of explaining and dealing with the transcendence of God and with the simultaneous indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit which animates Renewal Movement Christians. The West has no orthodoxis which complements and supports a spirit-filled orthopraxis.
This orthodoxis is only found in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
Christos Yannaras (1935 – ) was Professor of Philosophy at Pantion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens. His books include Freedom of Morality and Person and Eros. His essay first appeared in French in Contacts, No. 179 (1997), pp. 202-206.
“I dream of an ecumenism which will begin with a confession of sins on the part of each Church. If we begin with this confession of our historic sins, perhaps we can manage to give ourselves to each other in the end. We are full of faults, full of weaknesses which distort our human nature. But Saint Paul says that from our weakness can be born a life which will triumph over death. I dream of an ecumenism that begins with the voluntary acceptance of that weakness.” ~ Christos Yannaras
“…’person’ signifies the irreducibility of man to his nature…”
While Lossky warns us that we cannot make a complete and direct analogy between “hypostasis” or “person” as it applies to the Holy Trinity to the idea of “person” in humankind, some useful conclusions can be drawn. He tells us that, “Under these conditions, it will be impossible for us to form a concept of the human person, and we will have to content ourselves with saying: “person” signifies the irreducibility of man to his nature— “irreducibility” and not “something irreducible” or “something which makes man irreducible to his nature” precisely because it cannot be a question here of “something” distinct from “another nature” but of someone who is distinct from his own nature, of someone who goes beyond his nature while still containing it, who makes it exist as human nature by this overstepping and yet does not exist in himself beyond the nature which he “enhypostasizes” and which he constantly exceeds.”
O.K., so Vladimir Lossky can be a little deep and dense at times. Let’s get some help from some other very gifted contemporary theologians who can help explain and round out the concept of the “person” for us.
We’ll start with contemporary Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras (1935 – ) to further explain and expand on Lossky’s thinking:
“In everyday speech, we tend to distort the meaning of the word ‘person’. What we call ‘person’ or ‘personal’ designates rather more the individual. We have grown accustomed to regarding the terms “person” and “individual” as virtually synonymous, and we use the two indifferently to express the same thing. From one point of view, however, ‘person’ and ‘individual’ are opposite in meaning (see V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London, 1957), p. 121f.) The individual is the denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person, the attempt to define human existence using the objective properties of man’s common nature, and quantitative comparisons and analogies.”
“The demand of the person for “absolute freedom” involves a ‘new birth’, a birth ‘from on high’, a baptism.”
So, Yannaras adds to our concept of “person” the necessity of “personal immediacy” and “direct personal relationship”. At the zenith of this immediacy and relationship, of course, is love.
In his book, “Being as Communion”, Studies in Personhood and the Church”, Orthodox theologian Metropolitan John ( Zizioulas) of Pergamon (1931- ), maintains that the theology of the person would not have been possible without the mystery of the Church. Zizioulas maintains that humanity, being made in the image of God, has an inherent God-given drive for “absolute freedom”. However, existing as an “absolute freedom”, completely free and independent of its nature, is humanly impossible. He tells us that, “the being of each human person is given to him; consequently, the human person is not able to free himself absolutely from his “nature” or from his “substance”, from what biological laws dictate to him, without bringing about his annihilation.” To Zizioulas, deification and union with God involves escaping this “given” and sharing in the “absolute freedom” of divine existence; not after death, but beginning in this life.
Zizioulas tells us that escaping our “given” being, or nature, can only be accomplished through a “new birth”: “The demand of the person for “absolute freedom” involves a ‘new birth’, a birth ‘from on high’, a baptism. And it is precisely the ecclesial being which ‘hypostasizes’ the person according to God’s way of being. That is what makes the Church an image of the Triune God.” God’s way of being, Zizioulas notes, includes that “absolute freedom” which humans seek, and the Christian shares in this way of being even during his/her earthly pilgrimage.
This is the way in which a concrete, free “person” can emerge. Our “person” can emerge due to the fact that Christ deified our human nature through his incarnation. His perfect human nature deified humankind’s fallen nature.