Nyssa and Absolute Divine Simplicity

Bound up in his adherence to the infinity of the divine nature (which is the only pure being), is Gregory’s commitment to divine simplicity. Eunomius was content to use the terminology of “simple,” however he held to a plurality of being among the Father, Son, and Spirit. Thus, for Eunomius, each being was itself simple, but each was also distinct from one another, allowing for a variation of quality between the various beings.

Nyssa rejects this “with all his might,” and explains that simplicity applies to the single divine nature, thus admitting no variance of quality between the persons sharing that being. Simplicity and infinity, both aspects of the same concept, are what allow for total equality between the persons of the godhead. Gregory states:

We believe that the most boorish and simple-minded would not deny that the Divine Nature, blessed and transcendent as it is, was ‘single.’ That which is viewless, formless, and sizeless, cannot be conceived of as multiform and composite. But it will be clear, upon the very slightest reflection, that this view of the supreme Being as ‘simple,’ however finely they [the Eunomians- sw.] may talk of it, is quite inconsistent with the system which they have elaborated. For who does not know that, to be exact, simplicity in the case of the Holy Trinity admits of no degrees. In this case there is no mixture or conflux of qualities to think of; we comprehend a potency without parts and composition; how then, and on what grounds, could any one perceive there any differences of less and more. For he who marks differences there must perforce think of an incidence of certain qualities in the subject. He must in fact have perceived differences in largeness and smallness therein, to have introduced this conception of quantity into the question: or he must posit abundance or diminution in the matter of goodness, strength, wisdom, or of anything else that can with reverence be associated with God: and neither way will he escape the idea of composition. Nothing which posses wisdom or power or any other good, not as an external gift, but rooted in its nature, can suffer diminution in it; so that if any one says that he detects Beings greater and smaller in the Divine Nature, he is unconsciously establishing a composite and heterogeneous Deity, and thinking of the Subject as one thing and the quality, to share in which constitutes as good that which was not so before, as another. If he had been thinking of a Being really single and absolutely one, identical with goodness rather than possessing it, he would not be able to count a greater and a less in it at all. It was said, moreover, above that good can be diminished by the presence of evil alone, and that where the nature is incapable of deteriorating, there is no limit conceived of to the goodness: the unlimited, in fact, is not such owing to any relation whatever, but considered in itself escapes limitation. It is, indeed, difficult to see how a reflecting mind can conceive on infinite to be greater or less than another infinite. So that if he acknowledges the Supreme Being to be ‘single’ and homogeneous, let him grant that it is bound up with this universal attribute of simplicity and infinitude. If, on the other hand, he divides and estranges the ‘Beings’ from each other, conceiving that of the Only-begotten as another than the Father’s, and that of the Spirit as another than the Only-begotten, with a ‘more’ and ‘less’ in each case, let him be exposed now as granting simplicity in appearance only to the Deity, but in reality proving the composite in Him.

~ Against Eunomius 1.19

Let us note that Gregory takes it for granted that the Supreme Being is one and simple. He relies on this axiom to show that simplicity entails an identification of nature, and thus the Only-begotten and the Spirit, being one with the Father, share his nature and all of his attributes completely. There can be no scale of greater or lesser among these without either severing the unity of nature or making the Supreme Being composite, which would also entail that it was not, in fact, the Supreme Being.

Furthermore, if there is such as thing as “absolute” divine simplicity (over and against other formulations of simplicity), and this is itself disputed and would be anachronistic to apply to the 4th century, Gregory would most certainly be affirming absolute divine simplicity. He states that a simple being is formless and sizeless. It admits of no difference of quality. The attributes of the divine nature are not external, but rather rooted in the very nature itself.

Finally, Gregory gives us the most straightforward affirmation of simplicity when he identifies the divine nature with the good. It does not merely possess goodness. It is identical with goodness. He identifies the essence of God with the attribute or property of goodness.

And so we have Gregory the Augustinian and Gregory the Thomist. We have Gregory the Western scholastic “essence-minded” theologian.

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8 thoughts on “Nyssa and Absolute Divine Simplicity

  1. Steven,
    I would advise you to read Nyssa’s short work, “On Not Three Gods,” where he explicitly denies an Augustinian style formulation of ADS. Whereas Augustine’s reasoning runs: We have all these different names for God that go with his different attributes; but God’s essence must be absolutely simple; The names are of God’s essence; therefore all these names and attributes must not be really distinct, but rather must be referring to the same thing.

    On the other hand…Nyssa reasons quite the opposite way:

    “We, on the other hand, following the suggestions of Scripture, have learnt that that nature is unnameable and unspeakable,

    and we say that every term either invented by the custom of men,
    or handed down to us by the Scriptures,
    is indeed explanatory of our conceptions of the Divine Nature ,
    …… but does not include the signification of that nature itself.”

    He goes on to say explicitly that all these names, including Divinity itself, are significations of energeai (energies/activities), not of the essence. Thus, even simplicity is not something predicated of the essence. For the Cappedocians, simplicity is used for God to express the fact that God is indivisibly and completely present in each of the Divine Energies; which is how Nyssa reasons to the conclusion that there is one God and not three.

    Hope that is helpful and that you actually get a chance to glance at this even though the post is really old.

    God Bless,
    Krause

  2. Krause,

    The “essence” which is “named” by all of the attributes actually would be unnameable because we can’t put all of the attributes together simultaneously in our heads. Augustine can wax apophatic as well, and he affirms the infinity and incomprehensibility of God. He’s not “limiting” God to human names.

    Nyssa’s point specifically has to do with “limitation.” God isn’t limited by His names. But that has never been the point of the doctrine of simplicity. Simplicity is an aspect of infinity, and Nyssa employs simplicity as a way to explain the unity of the three Persons (against an opponent who is actually overdoing the “threeness” stuff). Nyssa also says that which God “possesses” is “rooted in His nature,” and he says that a “single Being” is “identical” with that which it possesses.” So yes, our “names” cannot limit God, but that doesn’t contradict Nyssa’s other claims that God’s being does not merely possess attributes but is identical with them. Infinity demands that it be so.

    You’ll notice that in On Three Gods (which I read about a year ago while in my Nyssa phase), Nyssa again employs simplicity in a defense of divine unity. He says that the divine nature “rejects all diversity in essence.” He also spends a good bit of time arguing for the singularity of power and thus the unity of operations. There is one will, one mind, one power, and one work, and this is proof of monotheism. Michel Barne’s book on Dynamis in Nyssa is quite good on this. Give it a read, if you haven’t already.

    The problems arise when A) The polarity between Augustine and the Cappadocians is presupposed at the outset and B) The use of “energies” is read anachronistically in the post-Palamite sense.

    But of course, energies just means “works,” and the fact that Gregory can argue from the premise of unity of work to the conclusion of unity of the essence is enough for any Augustinian to be satisfied.

  3. Steven—

    I’m replying on behalf of Krause, per his request.

    You wrote:

    “The “essence” which is “named” by all of the attributes actually would be unnameable because we can’t put all of the attributes together simultaneously in our heads. Augustine can wax apophatic as well, and he affirms the infinity and incomprehensibility of God. He’s not “limiting” God to human names.”

    St. Gregory of Nyssa denies that the names refer to the essence. He says they refer to its “surroundings”:

    “Hence it is clear that by any of the terms we use the Divine nature itself is not signified, but some one of its surroundings is made known.”

    Notice the plurality of surroundings. What are these surroundings? (perhaps the “things around God” of which Maximus would later speak, or “the glory that surrounds God” of Irenaeus—the uncreated energies of God?)

    Consider also:

    “Thus, again, if we say that He is the Giver of life, though we show by that appellation what He gives, we do not by that word declare what that is which gives it. And by the same reasoning we find that all else which results from the significance involved in the names expressing the Divine attributes either forbids us to conceive what we ought not to conceive of the Divine nature, or teaches us that which we ought to conceive of it, but does not include an explanation of the nature itself. Since, then, as we perceive the varied operations of the power above us, we fashion our appellations from the several operations that are known to us, and as we recognize as one of these that operation of surveying and inspection, or, as one might call it, beholding, whereby He surveys all things and overlooks them all, discerning our thoughts, and even entering by His power of contemplation into those things which are not visible, we suppose that Godhead, or qeo/thj, is so called from qe/a, or beholding, and that He who is our qeath/j or beholder, by customary use and by the instruction of the Scriptures, is called qeo/j, or God.”

    Notice that he says the names apply to the divine attributes, such as life-giver, but not “what that is which gives life”. And he says that no term explains the nature itself. All names of God are based on the “several operations” (energies) of God. Gregory also seems to think that attributes are *things*, not names.

    The fact that Augustine speaks apophatically does not mean that he is doing the same thing as the Cappadocians. Why think that Augustine’s apophaticism is of the same kind as the Cappadocian apophaticism?

    The issue doesn’t seem to be “putting everything about God’s essence in our heads”. The issue seems to really be: can God’s essence be grasped intellectually in a positive manner? Can it be even partly defined—a positive object of thought or language? Surely some aspects of God can be grasped intellectually. But the essence?

    You wrote:

    “Nyssa’s point specifically has to do with “limitation.” God isn’t limited by His names. But that has never been the point of the doctrine of simplicity. Simplicity is an aspect of infinity, and Nyssa employs simplicity as a way to explain the unity of the three Persons (against an opponent who is actually overdoing the “threeness” stuff). Nyssa also says that which God “possesses” is “rooted in His nature,” and he says that a “single Being” is “identical” with that which it possesses.” So yes, our “names” cannot limit God, but that doesn’t contradict Nyssa’s other claims that God’s being does not merely possess attributes but is identical with them. Infinity demands that it be so.”

    Sure, simplicity is an aspect of infinity. But what kind of simplicity? There are different ways of understanding what simplicity amounts to. Does it mean a kind of definitional simplicity, whereby we can make equivalence statements like “God = essence = being = omniscience = eternity = …”—the Augustinian understanding? Or does it amount to a simplicity of indivisibility, where we say that God is not divisible into parts, and thus that He is wholly present (not partially present) in each of his energies? On this latter view, saying “God is simple” means the same thing as “God is one and indivisible” or “there is one God who is not divisible into different parts”.

    Notice that when Nyssa talks about possessing goods rooted in nature, not given externally, he says “wisdom or power or any other good” implying that there are a multiplicity of goods that God has. To say that “there is a multiplicity of goods that God is” is to say precisely that God is not absolutely simple.

    You wrote:

    “You’ll notice that in On Three Gods (which I read about a year ago while in my Nyssa phase), Nyssa again employs simplicity in a defense of divine unity. He says that the divine nature “rejects all diversity in essence.” He also spends a good bit of time arguing for the singularity of power and thus the unity of operations. There is one will, one mind, one power, and one work, and this is proof of monotheism. Michel Barne’s book on Dynamis in Nyssa is quite good on this. Give it a read, if you haven’t already.”

    Of course there is a rejection of diversity of essence in God. God doesn’t have many essences or a composite essence. The question is whether there is a diversity in kinds of energies, and if so, if the energies are uncreated and divine, or created effects. Singularity of power and unity of operations is not in dispute. But does union and simplicity mean “without multiplicity”? That seems to be going against what Gregory says.

    Yes, God has one mind, one will, one power. But does Nyssa say that will is mind, or that mind is power, or that power is work? That seems to be the kind of thing he would affirm if he believed in the absolute simplicity of God. And yet in the text I already brought up he seems to say otherwise:

    “Thus, again, if we say that He is the Giver of life, though we show by that appellation what He gives, we do not by that word declare what that is which gives it. And by the same reasoning we find that all else which results from the significance involved in the names expressing the Divine attributes either forbids us to conceive what we ought not to conceive of the Divine nature, or teaches us that which we ought to conceive of it, but does not include an explanation of the nature itself. Since, then, as we perceive the varied operations of the power above us, we fashion our appellations from the several operations that are known to us, and as we recognize as one of these that operation of surveying and inspection, or, as one might call it, beholding, whereby He surveys all things and overlooks them all, discerning our thoughts, and even entering by His power of contemplation into those things which are not visible, we suppose that Godhead, or qeo/thj, is so called from qe/a, or beholding, and that He who is our qeath/j or beholder, by customary use and by the instruction of the Scriptures, is called qeo/j, or God.”

    Gregory seems to affirm a multiplicity of operations. And he seems to be designating only one of numerous divine operations by the word “beholding”, which is distinct from “Giver of life”.

    Also, to bring up another quote I already used, Nyssa says “wisdom or power or any other good”, which seems to distinguish wisdom from power. Yes, there is one divine wisdom. But is the divine wisdom not distinct from the divine power? That doesn’t seem to be the case

    I haven’t read Barnes (have been meaning to for a long time). Doesn’t Barnes affirm precisely that there are a multiplicity of uncreated activities in God, distinct from the divine essence? I thought thats why his work was considered so interesting as a Catholic theologian—that he thinks Gregory of Nyssa taught something that seems incompatible with Roman dogma.

    You wrote:

    “The problems arise when A) The polarity between Augustine and the Cappadocians is presupposed at the outset and B) The use of “energies” is read anachronistically in the post-Palamite sense.
    But of course, energies just means “works,” and the fact that Gregory can argue from the premise of unity of work to the conclusion of unity of the essence is enough for any Augustinian to be satisfied.”

    I am not assuming a polarity between Augustine and the Cappadocians, or assuming that we should read a “post-Palamite sense” backward. All I am trying to do is infer from what Gregory says whether or not he (a) thinks that the energies are distinct from the essence (b) thinks the energies are distinct from each other (c) thinks that the energies are uncreated (d) denies that the essence can be a positive object of thought. If all of these are correct, then St.Gregory can’t believe in the absoulte simplicity of God, if we define absolute simplicity as denying that essence and energies are both distinct or denying that a multitude of energies are uncreated. So I am not assuming that Augustine and the Cappadocians are incompatible; I am attempting to use textual evidence to suppor this idea.

    Also, it seems we shouldn’t assume that the idea of energies held by St. Gregory Palamas couldn’t have existed this early on. In fact, the history of the use of the word energeia bears out a significant conceptual continuity between pre-Christian philosophical understandings of energeia, early Patristic Christian understandings, and the teachings of Gregory Palamas as David Bradshaw has argued at length in his Aristotle East and West. It is better to translate energies not “works” but “workings”, denoting activity, not the effects produced from activity. The operations are not cut off from the power out of which they come. Think, for instance, of how St. Gregory uses “operations” in this passage in On Not Three Gods:

    “the word “Godhead” is not significant of nature but of operation”

    If operations were created effects, cut off from the divine essence, surely one of them wouldn’t be called “Godhead”; for no created thing is “Godhead”.

    Also to again recall a text that was brought up earlier:

    “Since, then, as we perceive the varied operations of the power above us, we fashion our appellations from the several operations that are known to us, and as we recognize as one of these that operation of surveying and inspection, or, as one might call it, beholding, whereby He surveys all things and overlooks them all, discerning our thoughts, and even entering by His power of contemplation into those things which are not visible, we suppose that Godhead, or qeo/thj, is so called from qe/a, or beholding, and that He who is our qeath/j or beholder, by customary use and by the instruction of the Scriptures, is called qeo/j, or God.”

    It seems that the operation spoken of here is divine. God’s operation of surveying is the divine action of beholding the creation. Surely God’s act of beholding the creation is not a created effect? But if it is not a created thing, it must be uncreated.

    You use the following quote:

    “If he had been thinking of a Being really single and absolutely one, identical with goodness rather than possessing it, he would not be able to count a greater and a less in it at all.”

    The quote that you use does not deny that there are a multiplicity of equal, distinct goods in God, distinct from the divine essence. To say that the Being is identical with goodness is not to say that there is a definitional equation that can be done between “good” and “being” in God; it is rather to say that all things are good by participation in God, and God is good in and of himself. He is good naturally—that is, inherently, non-derivatively—while created things are good derivatively. Because goodness is an energy of God, and God is fully-present in each of his energies, it is true that the goodness of God is God himself—God is to be identified with his goodness. But this does not mean that the goodness of God is without an inherent distinction and multiplicity.

    The idea of a definitional equation between “good” and “being” seems hard to square with quotes like the following:

    “And if we may reckon that the Cause of our existence did not come to the creation of man out of necessity but by benevolent choice, once more we say that we have seen God in this way too, arriving at an understanding of his goodness, not of his being…He who is by nature invisible becomes visible in his operations, being seen in certain cases by the properties he possesses.” Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on the Beatitudes, VI.

    What do you think? Sorry that this was so long.

  4. Ah, a vicar of Krause!

    Well, let me first say that I’m fairly skeptical of these sorts of dialogues at this point in my life. I’m happy to have an actual conversation, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time going round after round with your theological team. Sorry to be so up front about that, but there it is. Been there and done that.

    But if you are interested in a conversation (between real people and not just potential apologetic opportunities), I am happy to engage.

    As to Barnes, I’m afraid you have him quite wrong. He’s very much invested in Augustine’s “pro-Nicene” status, and it is Barnes who is most responsible for debunking the East vs. West paradigm. I’ve summarized him here: https://wedgewords.wordpress.com/2007/10/26/michel-barnes-critique-of-augustines-modern-critics/

    You may purchase his most significant article on amazon.com. I would highly recommend it.

    Barnes also works closely with Lewis Ayres, and Ayres asserts, quite convincingly, that the entire pro-Nicene theology is founded on three commitments: A) Person and Nature Distinction B)The Eternal Generation of the Son Founded on Divine Simplicity and C) Unity of Divine Operations. I’ve summarized him here: https://wedgewords.wordpress.com/2007/10/28/ayres-and-pro-nicene/

    Next, I’m afraid the way in which you are using the term “essence” is quite nonsensical. You show your hand in this manner when you say, “Surely some aspects of God can be grasped intellectually. But the essence?

    The essence of God is not some independent thing, but rather His quality. It is merely a way of saying what He is like. To paraphrase David Hart, this is like trying to speak of “Blueness” in distinction from just being blue. There is no “ness” apart from the thing itself. God’s “essence” is God, and our Lord says that the pure in spirit shall see God.

    And so for you to speak of multiplicity in God is to speak of a finite being. You either have to make the energies something other than God (which is clearly the opposite of what you wish to accomplish) or you have to imagine some sort of “space” or boundary between the essence and the operation. An initial category confusion leads to serious problems. This is not how the early church used these terms.

    The use of “around” which you find in the Easterners is a way of saying the same thing as what later becomes referred to as the “economic” Trinity. There are all sort of distinctions between the “ontological” Trinity and the “economic” Trinity. It is a matter of the relationship between the infinite and the finite. The Easterners do not speak in precisely the same way as the Augustinian tradition will, but neither do they contradict it. Remember the entire point of the analogia entis is to both allow positive speech about the divine nature and prevent all univocal language. Never does simplicity “equate” God’s essence with a human concept or definition. That’s a misread of a fundamental variety.

    Now you did say:

    it is rather to say that all things are good by participation in God, and God is good in and of himself. He is good naturally—that is, inherently, non-derivatively—while created things are good derivatively. Because goodness is an energy of God, and God is fully-present in each of his energies, it is true that the goodness of God is God himself—God is to be identified with his goodness.

    This is good Thomism if ever I’ve seen it. Augustine applauds you. All is well.

    But then you say: But this does not mean that the goodness of God is without an inherent distinction and multiplicity.

    The goodness of God is now “distinct” from God himself? And we’re still talking about infinite being? I can’t say that I’m following you.

    God’s attributes are infinite and coterminous in all directions. They are distinct “for us,” finite beings that we are, but given the unity of God- which is Nyssa’s entire point- they are God (and most definitely not gods).

    And let us not forget that for an “Augustinian,” God’s being is pure act. (This is Athanasius’ theology too. Rowan Williams and Khaled Anatolios both make this point.) His operations are an (“economic”) expression of His being.

  5. Also,

    I don’t have the citation right on hand, but Nyssa actually says that we can’t know any essence. This has to do with the weakness of our intellectual skills. We know “about” them, but we don’t know them in full.

  6. Steven—

    I’m definitely not just cruising the internet looking for people to bruise or something like that. I’m grateful to learn from others, and receive correction myself. If you feel like I’m coming off to strong, just say, and I will withdraw without a complaint. I like dialogue, and sometimes I like debate (when both sides are civil, mature, and willing). But even in informal dialogue, I have been persuaded of things before.

    You wrote:

    “Next, I’m afraid the way in which you are using the term “essence” is quite nonsensical. You show your hand in this manner when you say, “Surely some aspects of God can be grasped intellectually. But the essence?

    “The essence of God is not some independent thing, but rather His quality. It is merely a way of saying what He is like. To paraphrase David Hart, this is like trying to speak of “Blueness” in distinction from just being blue. There is no “ness” apart from the thing itself. God’s “essence” is God, and our Lord says that the pure in spirit shall see God.”

    Of course God’s essence isn’t independent of God. The question then becomes, though, “are there distinctions in God?” All my quote was doing was questioning whether or not God has distinct aspects to Him—including at least his essence, and perhaps some other aspect. It seems like you’re assuming that the divine essence is *all there is* to God. But why think that?

    What do we see when we see God? Do we perceive a transcendent essence, unrelated to the universe (and definitely not spatio-temporally present within it)? Or do we perceive an immanent manifestation of the divine persons? It seems like on the former take, there isn’t anything to *perceive*. You might speak of “thinking about God”. But *sight* is not the same as having thoughts of something.

    When the Israelites saw God, it seems questionable to me to say that they saw his essence.

    “Essence” is a more specific concept than “what God is like”. At least we shouldn’t assume from the outset that “essence” can exhaust what God is like, especially if what the Fathers teach seems to imply that there are aspects of God distinct from his essence.

    You wrote:

    “And so for you to speak of multiplicity in God is to speak of a finite being. You either have to make the energies something other than God (which is clearly the opposite of what you wish to accomplish) or you have to imagine some sort of “space” or boundary between the essence and the operation. An initial category confusion leads to serious problems. This is not how the early church used these terms.”

    Why does multiplicity imply finitude? It doesn’t seem like any of the three persons of the Trinity are finite; but there are multiple divine persons.

    I’m not assuming any kind of opposition (I assume that’s what you mean by “space” or “boundry”) between essence and energies. I’m just assuming they are distinct. Surely the distinction between the divine persons of the Trinity doesn’t imply they are opposite kinds of things.

    I think that the early Church had Palamite concepts, even though precisely-defined Palamite language developed later. That’s what my textual arguments from St. Gregory of Nyssa’s treatise were an attempt to show. Same thing with the Trinity and Incarnation; Scripture teaches Nicene and Chalcedonian theology. It just doesn’t formulate its concepts the same way that Nicea and Chalcedone do.

    You wrote:

    “The use of “around” which you find in the Easterners is a way of saying the same thing as what later becomes referred to as the “economic” Trinity. There are all sort of distinctions between the “ontological” Trinity and the “economic” Trinity. It is a matter of the relationship between the infinite and the finite. The Easterners do not speak in precisely the same way as the Augustinian tradition will, but neither do they contradict it. Remember the entire point of the analogia entis is to both allow positive speech about the divine nature and prevent all univocal language. Never does simplicity “equate” God’s essence with a human concept or definition. That’s a misread of a fundamental variety.”

    It seems like there has to be more to the language of “around God” than just the economic Trinity. After all, the glory around God that Irenaeus speaks of is eternal:

    “[H]aving received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father, who freely gives to this mortal immortality, and to this corruptible incorruption, because the strength of God is made perfect in weakness, in order that we may never become puffed up, as if we had life from ourselves, and exalted against God, our minds becoming ungrateful; but learning by experience that we possess eternal duration from the excelling power of this Being, not from our own nature, we may neither undervalue that glory which surrounds God as He is, nor be ignorant of our own nature, but that we may know what God can effect, and what benefits man receives, and thus never wander from the true comprehension of things as they are, that is, both with regard to God and with regard to man.”

    The things around God for Maximus include his eternity and infinity, so it seems difficult, again to say that this is just a way of talking about the economic Trinity. Maximus states:

    “Once it [the purified mind] is in God, it is inflamed with desire and seeks first of all the principles of His being but finds no satisfaction in what is proper to Him, for that is impossible and forbidden to every created nature alike. But it does receive encouragement from the things about Him, that is, from what concerns His eternity, infinity, immensity, as well as from the goodness, wisdom, and power by which He creates, governs, and judges beings. ‘And this alone is thoroughly understandable in Him, infinity’; and the very fact of knowing nothing about Him is to know beyond the mind’s power, as the theologians Gregory and Dionysius have said elsewhere.”

    From Centuries on Charity, 1.100 quoted in Bradshaw, pg. 189

    Similarly we read in Maximus

    “The works of God which did not happen to begin in time are participated beings, in which participating beings share according to grace, for example, goodness and all that the term goodness implies, that is, all life, immortality, simplicity, immutability, infinity, and such things which are essentially contemplated around Him; they are also God’s works, and yet they did not begin in time.”

    From Chapters on Theology and Economy, 1.48 quoted in Bradshaw pg. 190

    Sure, simplicity isn’t trying to equate God’s essence with a human concept. But to say that the divine essence is in the analogy of being requires us to say that the essence of God can be a positive object of thought. Or so it seems to me (and I think that Rome would agree with this…). Isn’t that what Aquinas’ beatific vision amounts to—intellectual contemplation of the divine essence? And it seems to me that the consensus of the Fathers denies that God’s essence can be a positive object of thought. (though surely it can be negatively predicated of)

    You wrote:

    “This is good Thomism if ever I’ve seen it. Augustine applauds you. All is well.
    But then you say: But this does not mean that the goodness of God is without an inherent distinction and multiplicity.”

    Well, as much as I like finding common ground and agreeing with people, I’m suspicious of the idea that we’re saying the same thing as Thomas and St. Augustine (at least according to his Latin interpreters). After all, for Thomas, (unless I misread him, which is definitely possible—though the interpreters of him that I’ve read would agree with me) the goodness by which creatures are good is a created goodness—not the uncreated goodness of God. I think that creatures are good by sharing in the very goodness of God himself.

    You wrote:

    “The goodness of God is now “distinct” from God himself? And we’re still talking about infinite being? I can’t say that I’m following you.”

    No, saying “the goodness of God” is a manner of speaking about the uncreated goodness that is God. The reason that sometimes goodness is spoken of as though it is just predicated of God and other times is identified with God himself in eastern theology, is because although the energies are God, there is more to God than just his energies (the goodness of the persons of the Trinity as they actively manifest it), namely his essence. Language is difficult here, because on the one hand, saying “God is goodness” can mislead and give the impression that the divine energies (the many “Goods within the one Good”) are the only aspect of God. But saying “the goodness of God” gives the impression that God just “has” goodness the same way creatures do, and that each of the goods (energies) is not fully divine. So both expressions are used, and have to be explained. But of course we are affirming that the goodness of God (ie. God as He actively manifests Himself as his own goodness) is distinct from the divine essence.

    You wrote:

    “God’s attributes are infinite and coterminous in all directions. They are distinct “for us,” finite beings that we are, but given the unity of God- which is Nyssa’s entire point- they are God (and most definitely not gods).”

    How does the unity of God detract from the possibility of there being a multiplicity of uncreated energies? It seems like the texts of St. Gregory that I brought up strongly imply that he understands there to be distinctions within God. I don’t see how emphasizing unity should lead us to conclude that there is no multiplicity in God, unless we thought unity and multiplicity were in fundamental opposition.

    You wrote:

    “And let us not forget that for an “Augustinian,” God’s being is pure act. (This is Athanasius’ theology too. Rowan Williams and Khaled Anatolios both make this point.) His operations are an (”economic”) expression of His being.”

    Where does Athanasius affirm that God is pure act? Doesn’t his doctrine of free creation imply that He thinks God is not pure actuality, but that there are unrealized potentialities in God? I definitely don’t think that Anatolios (if we’re both talking about Athansius: the Coherence of His Thought) ever said anything about Athanasius believing God has no unrealized potentialities. What were you thinking of in Anatolios?

    Also, isn’t the Athanasian idea that God’s power is immanent in the universe? And wouldn’t that lend to the idea that the energies are divine self-manifestations? Sure Athanasius seems to focus on the economic aspect of the operations; but that also doesn’t mean he denies that there could be eternal self-manifestations of God.

  7. And wow, I will definately have to read Barnes. I’m hearing conflicting information about what he says from different people. So its time to read him myself.

  8. MG,

    I mispoke when I said Anatolios. I’m currently working on a paper on Athanasius, using all of these authors, and the writer I was actually thinking of in addition to Rowan Williams is R P C Hanson. He describes Athanasius’ theology of a “productive” essence on pg. 423 of The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God. Anatolios makes a very similar point, but in less detail, in his Athanasius (the bio in “Early Church Fathers” Routledge Press) when speaking of the divine philanthropia and the second person of the Trinity.

    Now you’ve said a lot here, but I need to bring it back to first principles. What do you mean by essence? This is important because all of the other late quotes will be read in dependence on this supposed meaning. It seems (certainly in Bradshaw and co.) that “essence” is being used as one “thing” and eneriges another “thing.” The essence stands somewhere behind the energies, and we never interact with it.

    This is bizarre to me. Essence just means “what you are.” My essence is my “Stevenness.” I can speak of not being able to know this, sure. In my introductory logic classes I ask the students to give me comprehensive definitions of objects. They can’t do it. If we can’t comprehend finite objects, then much less can we comprehend infinite ones. That’s what philosophers mean by an unknowable essence. And the West has always said that God’s essence is apprehendable, but not comprehendible.

    We can see God “as he is,” but then again, being creatures, we will never see God in the same way that He sees Himself. We always know analogically. This is true knowledge, but finite and appropriated. God, in Himself, is wholly other, though He freely chooses to reveal Himself truly to us in a manner in which we are capable of receiving.

    That’s all we mean by “positive” knowledge. Never is an attempt made to limit or contain God. Never do we make a brute identification between God and any one concept. Indeed, the point of saying that *all* of God’s attributes are coterminous with one another is to stretch our imaginations.

    This is similar to God’s status as hyperousia. God is being itself, yet He is also “beyond” being. We gain our being by participating in His being, yet we never become Him.

    Energies or operations, are God’s “works.” These have the “outward” expression, which is what we receive, but they also have the “inward” existence, which is God’s very own being. We can speak of a distinction between fire and heat, but at some point, the two are intertwined. There is a notional distinction (which the West confesses), but not a “real” (thingish) distinction. A real distinction may be made with finite things, of course. At some point the one ceases and the other begins. But this is not the case with infinite being. No part of God ever ceases. All of God extends infinitely. All of God is all of God. There are no “parts.”

    Hypostatic distinctions are different, which is why we have a Trinity. We speak of three persons. But never are we allowed to speak of three attributes- There are not three eternals. There is only one. Nyssa goes over this in On Not Three Gods.

    The Hypostases are subsistaeces of existence. They are not “persons” in our modern sense. They are not even persons in our created sense. They are means of existing, however mysterious. This is why explaining their “distinctions” is so challenging. The only difference is that one is Father, one is Son, and one is Holy Spirit. All else is fully shared between them. This can only work with simple being. Only with simple being can the Father give “all” of Himself, without losing anything. This is Nyssa’s point in the text I quote in this post.

    I will have to break on this, as I am at work, but there’s much more to say. I would recommend reading David Bentley Hart’s article in the Orthodox Readings of Augustine. He really hammers the position of Bradshaw, showing that it rests on incoherent uses of terms and false assumptions about the West. The discussions get so difficult precisely because of the equivocation that ensues.

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