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The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? #342561
01/31/10 12:10 PM
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What is the dogmatic status within Eastern Orthodoxy of the Palamite distinction, i.e., the teaching that there exists in God a real or ontological distinction between his essence and his energies?

As I understand these matters, the intent of the Palamite distinction is to assert and protect theosis, i.e., the participation of human creatures, by grace and adoption, in the eternal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Christ and by the Spirit we truly partake of the divine nature, yet without ceasing to be creatures.

The theological challenge is how to adequately verbalize this mystery of our participation in the Holy Trinity. Western scholastics, such as Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, chose to speak in terms of our participation in the divine nature enabled by the gift of created grace. Byzantine theologians, Gregory Palamas being the key figure, chose to speak in terms of divine essence and divine energies. Western theologians have found this introduction of an ontological distinction in the nature of God to be problematic, perhaps even heretical. As far as I know, though, the Catholic Church has never formally addressed the Palamite distinction and certainly has never dogmatically condemned it as heretical; and given that Gregory Palamas is acknowledged as a saint in the Catholic Church, it would appear to now enjoy the position as a legitimate theologoumenon.

During the past hundred years many Orthodox theologians and apologists have asserted that the Palamite distinction enjoys the position of dogma within the Church. Orthodox theologians are dogmatically bound, states Florovsky, by the decisions of the 14th century Palamite councils and the anathemas inserted into the Synodikon. Needless to say, if this is true, then reunion between East and West is impossible until the West fully embraces the Palamite distinction.

Is the Palamite distinction dogma? Must every Orthodox Christian believe and confess an ontological distinction within the divine nature between essence and energies, on pain of excommunication?

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Fr_Kimel] #342584
01/31/10 08:00 PM
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That distinction, as exclusive and dogmatic, is not found within Oriental Orthodoxy. As the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches now, for the most part, consider each other as "two families within the Orthodox Church", I consider the Palamite teaching as a uniquely Byzantine expression but non-dogmatic.

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Fr_Kimel] #342600
02/01/10 06:54 AM
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Father,

My impression is that yes, it is dogma. The Second Sunday of Lent, the language of the Hagioritic Tome as well as the Palamite Councils (and the Hagioritic Tome's inclusion in the Philokalia) make this pretty clear, at least to me.

Originally Posted by Fr_Kimel

As I understand these matters, the intent of the Palamite distinction is to assert and protect theosis, i.e., the participation of human creatures, by grace and adoption, in the eternal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Christ and by the Spirit we truly partake of the divine nature, yet without ceasing to be creatures.


This is not my understanding at all. Based on (my readings of) Father John Meyendorff's secondary literature on the subject, as well as the Hagioritic Tome, it seems to me more that it was a response to a specific assertion popular at that time in the Roman Empire: that God is completely unknowable beyond what's available in revelation. The essence/energy formulation was a way to explain that God manifests himself to us, particularly in the divine light which those who practice Hesychasm can (and have) seen. The paragraph of Meyendorff's quoted in wikipedia summarizes it OK, I think (I'm on travel and don't have my books with me):

Quote

Barlaam's views - that we cannot really know Who the Holy Spirit is exactly (an outgrowth of which is agnosticism), that the ancient Greek philosophers are superior to the Prophets and the Apostles (since reason is above the vision of the Apostles), that the light of the Transfiguration is something which is created and can be undone, that the hesychastic way of life (i.e. the purification of the heart and the unceasing noetic prayer) is not essential - are views which express a scholastic and, subsequently, a secularised point of view of theology. Saint Gregory Palamas foresaw the danger that these views held for Orthodoxy and through the power and energy of the Most Holy Spirit and the experience which he himself had acquired as a successor to the Holy Fathers, he confronted this great danger and preserved unadulterated the Orthodox Faith and Tradition.


Quote
Is the Palamite distinction dogma? Must every Orthodox Christian believe and confess an ontological distinction within the divine nature between essence and energies, on pain of excommunication?


Again, the Hagioritic Tome seems to have the answer, although IMO "confessing on the pain of excommunication" is a bit of an extreme way to describe it. Unlike other letters from Mount Athos, the Tome not only was accepted by all the monasteries (probably at a formal meeting), had the approval of the local bishop, and was accepted by the rest of Chalcedonian Orthodoxy (thus, its inclusion 400+ years later in the Philokalia).

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: MarkosC] #342601
02/01/10 07:00 AM
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The condemnations of the Palamite councils were aimed more at the neo-platonism of Barlaam of Calabria than anything else. Palamism is legitimate, saying that Palamism is heresy is not legitimate.

Having gotten that far, it is important to understand the unchanging content of the doctrine from its historically and culturally conditioned expression. There is nothing in the teaching of the Latin Church today that contradicts or is antithetical to Palamism, and Orthodoxy ought, instead of trying to constrain the Latin Church to the "essence/energies" terminology used by Palamas, determine whether Latin doctrine, in its own theological terminology, is saying much the same thing.

One would think that, after the catastrophes of the Nestorian and Monophysite schisms, that the Orthodox Church would not be so hung up on the use of specific words and terms, but would concern itself more with the substance of the issue.

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: StuartK] #342607
02/01/10 09:51 AM
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The link below is to various Christological agreements between the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches:

RECENT EFFORTS FOR UNITY BETWEEN THE TWO FAMILIES OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Apotheoun] #342608
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Below is a link to the Hagioretic Tome: The Declaration of the Holy Mountain in Defense of Those who Devoutly Practice a Life of Stillness (A.D. 1341):

The Hagioretic Tome

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Michael_Thoma] #342609
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Originally Posted by Michael_Thoma
That distinction, as exclusive and dogmatic, is not found within Oriental Orthodoxy. As the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches now, for the most part, consider each other as "two families within the Orthodox Church", I consider the Palamite teaching as a uniquely Byzantine expression but non-dogmatic.

In connection with this topic an Oriental Orthodox friend of mine sent me the following links to the website of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States:


Theosis (1)

Theosis (2)

Theosis (3)



Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Apotheoun] #342621
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The fact that the Palamite Councils were specifically Eastern Orthodox has significant ecumenical implications, for if the Orthodox would say that the teachings of those councils is "dogmatic", and therefore binding upon all Christians, then by the same token Roman Catholics can claim that the teachings of Trent and Vatican I are likewise dogmatic and binding. It would seem best if, in dealing with matters of "dogma", we limited ourselves to the first seven Great Councils recognized by both Churches.

That said, this matter was never raised by either side in the first millennium, nor indeed, until the fifteenth century. While Palamism expresses certain doctrines about theosis and the manifestations of God in the created universe in an explicit fashion, the same notions are present implicitly in Latin doctrine, albeit expressed in a Latin theological idiom.

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Apotheoun] #343132
02/09/10 10:06 PM
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Dear brother Todd,

Originally Posted by Apotheoun
Originally Posted by Michael_Thoma
That distinction, as exclusive and dogmatic, is not found within Oriental Orthodoxy. As the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches now, for the most part, consider each other as "two families within the Orthodox Church", I consider the Palamite teaching as a uniquely Byzantine expression but non-dogmatic.

In connection with this topic an Oriental Orthodox friend of mine sent me the following links to the website of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States:


Theosis (1)

Theosis (2)

Theosis (3)

Brother Michael Thoma is correct. The Essence/Energy distinction is not dogma in the Oriental Churches, and none of your links prove otherwise.

In fact, your first link demonstrates what I stated in another thread (http://forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=5662414&postcount=19) - that to Orientals, the Essence/Energy distinction is merely an epistemological distinction, not an ontological one. To Orientals, it is only about what we can experience, and we don't speak of Essence/Energy in terms of what God is. I don't understand in the least how one can dogmatically assert the ontological make-up of the Godhead. The only dogmatic distinction that Orientals recognize within the Godhead is the distinction of Persons.

Brother StuartK, I appreciate your incisive comments on the issue.

Blessings,
Marduk

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: mardukm] #343161
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A real distinction (diakrisis), as I have told you in past threads, does not involve a division (diaresis) in God any more than the reality of the three hypostaseis makes for divisions in God.

Obviously I do not agree with your interpretation of the first of the three cited texts from the Coptic Church's website, and the third text in particular seems to accept that the distinction is real and not merely noetic: "Our full union with God is a union with the 'energies' of God. These energies, while an extension of God, are not to be confused with the 'essence' or 'substance' of God, which is unknown by humans and is shared only by the Holy Trinity."

In the final analysis I suppose that we shall have to agree to disagree.

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Apotheoun] #343209
02/10/10 11:27 PM
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How, again, can Chalcedon and the councils after it be deemed ecumenical, while the latter 14 cannot? If one includes the Oriental Orthodox as part of "the Church," then Councils 4-7 are not ecumenical, right?

Alexis

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Apotheoun] #343212
02/11/10 12:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Apotheoun
A real distinction (diakrisis), as I have told you in past threads, does not involve a division (diaresis) in God any more than the reality of the three hypostaseis makes for divisions in God.

I don't think diaresis has any place in this discussion. As stated, the only distinction that Orientals recognize within the Godhead is the distinction of Persons, which does not involve diaresis.

Originally Posted by Apotheoun
Obviously I do not agree with your interpretation of the first of the three cited texts from the Coptic Church's website, and the third text in particular seems to accept that the distinction is real and not merely noetic: "Our full union with God is a union with the 'energies' of God. These energies, while an extension of God, are not to be confused with the 'essence' or 'substance' of God, which is unknown by humans and is shared only by the Holy Trinity."

From this writing, I do not see a difference between the Oriental teaching, on the one hand, from the Latin teaching on the immanence of God, on the other. We have union with God through his Energy, while to Latins, we have union with God through Grace. This statement does not necessitate an ontological distinction of Essence and Energy within the Godhead Itself, but can simply be understood as man's limited attempt to understand how we as Creatures can have relation to God Who is totally other.

Originally Posted by Apotheoun
In the final analysis I suppose that we shall have to agree to disagree.

I should also note that, from my personal experience, the terms "sanctification" and "grace" are more ubiquitously used in the common parlance of the Oriental Churches than the terms "theosis" and "energy."

There is one thing which strikes me as rather novel in some quarters of the EOC. I have (too) often heard and read the Essence/Energy distinction utilized by certain EO apologists in the debate on Filioque. The argument goes that the the Holy Spirit is "through the Son" only in a temporal manner - i.e., with regards to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Creation. From what I have gathered, only the Energy is "through the Son," but not the Essence, which alone is from the Father, and this energetic procession is regarded as purely temporal. This, to me, is an impermissible - and perhaps heterodox - conception of the Trinity (let me stress that I have only read this rhetoric from individual EO apologists, and am not aware that it has any official support from the EOC), for it seeks to inject within the Godhead itself a distinction of Essence and Energy. The Synod of Blacharnae and St. Gregory Palamas both testify that the manifestation is indeed eternal, not merely temporal, indicating that there is no distinction in Eternity between Essence and Energy. To claim that the energetic procession is simply temporal, as some EO apologists currently do, seems to place an impermissible, and perhaps heterodox, distinction in the Godhead itself, as if the relations of Persons was somehow subject to change.

I've never come across the use of the Essence/Energy distinction in the Filioque debate from the Coptic Orthodox Church, or from any of the OOC's.

Blessings,
Marduk

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Logos - Alexis] #343213
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Dear brother Alexis,

Originally Posted by Logos - Alexis
How, again, can Chalcedon and the councils after it be deemed ecumenical, while the latter 14 cannot? If one includes the Oriental Orthodox as part of "the Church," then Councils 4-7 are not ecumenical, right?

What does this have to do with the topic at hand? grin

In any case, at least in the talks between the CC and the OOC, there has been a mutual concordance that the first three Ecumenical Councils have a more primordial and foundational value than any of the other 4 Ecum Councils.

On the side of the OOC, the OO are willing to admit the dogmatic teachings of the other 4 Ecum Councils, without having to admit their Ecumenical Status (as the OO don't agree with some of the canons that came forth from them).

I would ask - is admission of the Ecumenical Status of these 4 other Councils more important than the admission of the dogmatic teachings that flowed from them?

To connect it to this thread - what Ecum Council has dogmatized the Essence/Energy distinction?

Blessings,
Marduk

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: mardukm] #343232
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While it may be that some OO are adopting the essence/energies distinction, my guess, and it's only a guess, is that this is a recent development. When one reads Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, one does not find this distinction employed to explain theosis. They seem to be content simply to assert that in Christ and by the Spirit we partake of the divine nature of God. What I do not know is how these two theologians understood the divine energies and their relation to the divine ousia.

Re: The Palamite Distinction: Is it Dogma? [Re: Fr_Kimel] #343290
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Dearest Fr. Kimel, bless,

Originally Posted by Fr_Kimel
While it may be that some OO are adopting the essence/energies distinction, my guess, and it's only a guess, is that this is a recent development. When one reads Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, one does not find this distinction employed to explain theosis. They seem to be content simply to assert that in Christ and by the Spirit we partake of the divine nature of God. What I do not know is how these two theologians understood the divine energies and their relation to the divine ousia.

The Essence/Energy distinction is part of the patrimony of the Oriental Churches, but as noted by my fellow Oriental, Michael Thoma, it is not dogma, so it is not on the forefront of an Oriental's spirituality or mental process. As stated earlier, from my experience, the terms "sanctification" and "grace" are much more common parlance among Orientals than the terms "theosis" and "energy."

I have not done much study on the development of thought in the Oriental Churches on the matter of the Essence/Energy of God, but I am almost 100% certain that during all attempts at reconciliation between the Oriental Churches and the Latin Church during the Middle Ages, the issue of Essence/Energy never came up.

Humbly,
Marduk

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