[Previous reflections, including a brief historical context, are to be found here.]
These are the reflections of someone particularly ignorant about such deep matters, let alone of this specific Church Father. There are others who are much more knowledgeable than me. What I will attempt with these reflections is to bring together the deep theology they explicate and some thoughts of a more practical, hopefully somewhat ascetical, bent. That is to say, what I want to attempt is to reflect on these things as a way to better my living of the faith, and my prayers. I’m happy to be corrected by those who discern errors in my thoughts here.
In this reflection, I will first quote an extensive section from the dialogue—the thought of which, once I began to grasp the distinctions, forcefully revealed to me that Orthodoxy is the truth. My fumbling grasping of this one truth is what solidified my conversion to Orthodoxy.
XXV. . . . [Orthodox] So we venerate one divinity with three hypostases but not as if it would be devoid of grace and power and activity, so that which does not proceed from God is the same as and similar to that which proceeds from God and that manifests itself is the same as that which remains hidden. For such is the talk of idiots. And just as we say that power and wisdom are common to the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and contend also that the Son is the power and the wisdom of the Father [1 Corinthians 1:24], but existing independently [authupostaton], and nevertheless venerate wisdom and power as one in the highest and venerate trinity—for the enhypostatic [enupostatos] power and wisdom of God is one; and when you speak about the common power and wisdom of the three hypostases, that one is also one—in the same way we honor the divinity of the three (hypostases) as one. For which one you speak about, the three have only one. The essence is existing independently [authuparktos] and is, in all respects, unthinkable; but the power which is around it in a physical way [phusikos] and which is understood by us according to our faculties on the basis of the creatures and which is named and praised appropriately on the basis of those things which are created from non-beings and which are composed and improved in agreement with that (essence), as foreseeing, creative and theurgic, is contemplating and directing everything. “For,” the great Basil says, “the creatures demonstrate the power and wisdom and skill, but not the essence itself.” [Against Eunomius 2, 32]
XXVI. B[arlaamite]. But you say that also that common theurgic power and grace are enhypostatic [enupostaton].
O[rthodox]. But not in the sense of independent [authupostaton]. Come on! In that respect too we once again follow the fathers. For they say that the light of the deifying grace is enhypostatic [enupostaton], but not in the sense you wrongly understand it. But since “enhypostatic” [enhupostaton] has many meanings, just as “anhypostatic” [anupostaton], they believe that the grace of deification is enhypostatic [enupostaton], not in the sense that it is completely independent (authypostatic), but that it remains together with the persons in which it comes; it is not, like lightning and thunder, born at the moment of passing away, and abolished together with its manifestation in the objects. “For,” he (Basil) says, “the light works in those for whom it shines, continuously and uninterruptedly.” But let us add a few words more to the unicity of the divinity. What do you think? Is the Spirit, one part of the trinity, not to be venerated by us? But we also call the grace of the Spirit which is a common characteristic of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, “spirit.” And God Himself, too, who is worshipped in the trinity, is spirit. Will we, on that account, be hindered from worshipping one spirit? And will someone because of that accuse us of saying that there are many spirits to be venerated?
XXVII. B. Not at all.
O. So then we know that both God’s essence and His activity are called divinity and nevertheless we are worshippers of one divinity. For Isaiah also said there are seven spirits which another prophet (Zechariah) called the seven eyes of God. [Isaiah 11:2; Zechariah 3:9; 4:10] And the divine Maximus says that these exist in a physical way [phusikos] in God the Son and Word of God. [Against Thalassius 63] Just as the seven spirits do not take away the oneness of the spirit—for they are the emanations and manifestations and powers and activities of the one holy spirit—so the oneness of the divinity is not annihilated by its manifoldness. For the divinity of the three hypostases is one, namely a superessential nature and essence, simple, invisible, imparticipable, in all respects unthinkable. . . . All these things, then, are emanations and manifestations and powers and activities of that one divinity; they are with that divinity in a physical [phusikos] and inseparable fashion. The person who separates them from it and drags them down to make them creatures also drags the divinity down along with them . . . .
-–St. Gregory Palamas, Dialogue between an Orthodox and a Barlaamite which Invalidates in Detail the Barlaamite Error, XXV-XXVII (Global Publications/CEMERS, n.d.; tr. Rein Ferwerda).
It is not easy to overestimate what the concepts the Saint presents here did, and have done, for the theology I now espouse and the life in which I strive. I can, without hesitation, affirm that my beliefs about God have changed in light of the things the saint here presents. These changes are not mere fashions, or affectations, but are, indeed, such that I cannot return to previous mores without a change in identity. And the differences between the former and the present are not subtle.
I will be speaking of my experience, and will be critical of it. I am well aware that those who identify themselves by that which I criticize may think that my criticisms of my former beliefs, with which they may identify, are rightly called “straw man” and “unfair.” In another context, they may well be right so to do. But here I wish to trace the differences in my own thoughts, and, more importantly, the effects on my living.
Continue reading “Reflections on St. Gregory’s Dialogue V”