Reflections on St. Gregory’s Dialogue VIII

[Previous reflections, including a brief historical context, are to be found here.]

On the Divine Simplicity

L. . . . B[arlaamite]. Why is God not composed when He has both an eternal essence and an eternal activity?
O[rthodox]. . . . the divine is one and simple in its essence; and that “one” is, in an appropriate way, a whole in relation to all the things which we properly think about it, and not divided in relation to each individual part of them. For it is, as a whole, goodness, and, as a whole, wisdom, and, as a whole, justice, and, as a whole, power in our thoughts. Not because it becomes such, not even when it is thought, but because it is such from eternity and because it manifests itself through His works to us who are born later. For we have come to understand that He has been moved to produce the universe by His goodness, and also that He accomplished it completely since He has the power, and that He composed it in wisdom, and holds it together and rules it with foresight. But that that “one” is according to His essence and what genuine name can get, in accordance with that essence, that which produces and arranges the universe in unspeakable wisdom and power and goodness—no one has understood that yet to this very day.
–St. Gregory Palamas, Dialogue between an Orthodox and a Barlaamite which Invalidates in Detail the Barlaamite Error, L (Global Publications/CEMERS, n.d.; tr. Rein Ferwerda).

We must begin here, on this topic of the divine simplicity with a saying often attributed to Fr. Thomas Hopko, “One cannot know God . . . but one has to know him to know that.” That is to say, we begin with a paradox, and we will struggle mightily all the way through to keep these things in tension. In a simple, perhaps simplistic way, we are speaking of God’s transcendence and his immanence, about the God who is wholly other and who comes near.

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