Tom Hrywna Presentation 2 – Neo-Palamism

Jeffrey D. Finch
Jeffrey D. Finch
 Assistant distance learning coordinator at Holy Apostles College and
Seminary (Cromwell, CT)
 He received his Ph.D from Drew University (Madison, NJ)
 His dissertation was titled;
“Sanctity as Participation
in the Divine Nature
according to the AnteNicene Eastern Fathers
Considered in the
Light of Palamism.”
St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359)
 He was a monk of Mt. Athos and later became
the Archbishop of Thessaloniki.
 He is a theologian of Hesychasm; writings are
a famous defense of Hesychasm against the
attacks of Barlaam.
 Some of his writings can be found in the
 He is a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox
Churches, is now venerated as a Saint in
some Byzantine Catholic Churches and has
been cited as a great theological writer by
Blessed John Paul II.
 His feast days are November 14 and the Second Sunday of Great Lent.
Problems between East and West
 History shows all the differences and debates between East and West; a
new doctrinal difference has arisen about the Eastern vision of Theosis.
 In 1925, Augustinian friar Martin Jugie wrote an article accusing St.
Gregory Palamas of teaching heresy; referring to the distinction in
Gregory’s writings on divine essence and divine energies.
 Vladimir Lossky, with help from John Meyendorff and other Orthodox
theologians, began a defense of Palamas; Lossky de-facto became the
founder of the neo-Palamite school of thought
 Finch’s goal: argument between Jugie and the neo-Palamite school is “a
dispute over the authentically Christian meaning of ‘participation in the
divine nature’ of deification; and moreover, that the neo-Palamite critique
of Western theology is grounded in a false alternative.
Neo-Palamite Logic of
Essence-Energies Distinction
 The essence of God is absolutely incommunicable, unknowable, and
imparticipable to creatures even after the Incarnation and the Descent of
the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
 If this is so, Finch asserts that the uncreated operations or actions of God
in the world are either a part of His essence or something completely
separate and external to it; saying our participation with a divine life
diminishes/hurts the transcendence of God.
 West says, “whatever is not essence does not belong to God.”
 East replies, “God’s visible presence in the world is a created result of the
divine cause.” (Christos Yannaras)
 Finch then infers that theosis of man is impossible because in this
rendering, grace is an effect and result of the divine essence.
Gregory Palamas
 The uncreated light = energeia (the light that
shone through Christ’s body at the Transfiguration;
Palamas and fellow monks beheld this while in
contemplative prayer
 Energeia = divinizing grace (the righteous will shine with this, like the sun).
 Barlaam accused Palamas of Messalianism (heresy of continual prayer
allowing one to see God with corporeal eyes).
 This allegation prompted Palamas with the essence-energies distinction;
he believed the energies were divine virtues; they were manifestations of a
personal God; “the attributes of God in motion” (235).
 Not beings, as his opponents thought, for that would be polytheism.
 “The energies of God are as fully akin to the divine ideas or logoi as they
are to God’s will.” (235)
Divine Essence &
Divine Energies
 Problem in understanding: if the energies are part of the essence, then:
 Created world will be deprived of being the unconditioned work of the creative
wisdom (Augustine’s error)
 Creation will acquire the essence of God and be introduced to the inner life of
the Godhead (problem for sophiologists)
 Palamite movement turned the meaning of energeia (activity/operation)
into all the God has revealed of himself in the economy of salvation.
 Essence of God is not Western definition, which is where philosophy >
divine revelation; not Protestant because they hold God can only be
participated in His essence.
 For Palamas, God’s essence is necessarily being but being is not
necessarily essence…THIS IS PALAMISM!
Essence & Energies
 Finch thinks that this “assumption” of there needing to be something that is
both inaccessible and accessible to creation is ridiculous.
 Question: Are energies nominal or adverbial?
 East and West both say adverbial however, neo-Palamites also maintain a
nominal or ontological meaning, whereby the energies subsist in the essence
but are not the essence of God
 Greek Fathers: energies are outside the essence; dynamic & intentional
because they belong to the will (therefore, they are freely given) and are not
given out of necessity.
 Meyendorff agrees; divine energies must remain free and personal in order
for creation to be distinct from the divine essence.
 If there was no distinction between the essence and the energies, creation
would be as necessary as the Son and Holy Spirit…God wills us, to
participate with us; the Son and Holy Spirit are a part of His nature.
 Whatever God changes lies outside His essence…because He is
Meyendorff & Augustine
 Meyendorff makes Augustine a pantheist! Say it ain’t so…it ain’t…well it
is according to Finch.
 Finch is arguing that Meyendorff, as well as the neo-Palamite
argumentation, is simply drawing an arbitrary line of differentiation.
 Creation and adoption are free acts of the will; Son and Holy Spirit
(generation and spiration) are necessary acts of the will.
 If this is true, why couldn’t creation be co-essential? Are the Son and Holy
Spirit creatures? Why not?
 Does the divine energy just emanate from God or is it Trinitarian?
 Based on Meyendorff, Finch seems to think it is only from God,…and that
the Son and Spirit are acts of the essence and therefore not knowable or
communicable to creation. Is he completely missing the point?
Athanasius & A False Alternative
 Athanasius: Father begets the Son by will (freely) or by nature
(necessarily)? How about both…at the same time…because He is God!
 Lossky: “if we could at a given moment participate to some degree in the
essence, we would not in that moment be what we are, but gods by
nature.” (239)
 Great difference between East and West:
 East: cause only exists in creation; grace is His presence in all things.
 West: grace = causal relationship just like creation; God willed and it was so.
 Christian is called to “life in Christ” (perichoresis…a communication of the
human will with the divine energies) not an imitation of Christ (imitation
can become extrinsic acting).
 Gifts of Holy Spirit: not created effects; they ARE the uncreated energies
of God themselves.
Participate or Imitate
 Athanasius and Cappadocians believed in the restoration of the divine
element in man: does this happen in participation or imitation?
 Are participation and imitation two different words being used in the same
Reactions to Palamas
 David Bentley Hart: anti-Western passions lead to severe distortions of
Eastern theology.
 G. Podskalsky: distinction exists because of Palamas’ mistake; he’s
trying to make up for it by trying to comprehend the incomprehensible,
that being the relationship between Creator and creature.
 Rowan Williams: Palamas is dabbling too much in Neoplatonic terms
and his distinction only makes sense within this framework.
 Garrigues: Palamas reduces the idea of participation into a existential
participation; ignores the causal act of being and participation of the will.
 Hans Urs von Balthasar: Palamas reverts back to Middle Platonism and
Hellenism; he aims to secure God’s transcendence by making this
More Reactions to Palamas
 Friedrich Normann: Fathers were grounded in a sharp distinction
between “participation” and “identification” so as to not compromise the
individuals involved…neo-Palamism seems to be misconstruing
participation as mixture…this happens only by analogy.
 Theodorou: difference in being (ontological cleft) ensures that the
patristic doctrine of divinization is unobjectionable;
divinized creature is always finite while the infinite
being of God does not change.
 Ware & Congar: West has created grace only
through uncreated grace; Thomistic doctrine that
neo-Palamists misunderstand
 G. Philips: energies are identical to essence like
created grace is identical to uncreated grace; this
is good theological pluralism!
A Few More Reactions to Palamas
 Jurgen Kuhlmann: Energeia “is not God in himself, but God for us, in so
far as He is the being of creatures…[Palamas] wishes only to say with his
teaching that God does not remain within himself alone, but wills to exist
also for us and that both {essence and energies] are not simply identical.”
 A.N. Williams:
 Palamas’ purpose is to definitively affirm that the operations of God in the
world are fully God; not a created intermediary.
 God is infinitely knowable and communicable while being completely
transcendent and incomprehensible at the same time…PARADOX!
 Palamas’ doctrine must be separated from the polemical and obstructive
teachings of his modern, unnamed disciples
 There should be no opposition between East & West: “The uncreated
self-gift of God is always primary in the whole Christian economy of
salvation, both East and West agree.” (244)
 After all the talk of different theologies and
doctrine concerning divinization, after the
accusations of heresy and incoherent
theological inventions, only one question
Were East and West talking about the
same things with the same meaning
yet using different words? Is this all
just a big misunderstanding?

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