Thursday, May 21, 2009

FATHERS: Essence and Energy


"Nothing in theosis (being formed into God likeness) is the product of human nature, for nature cannot comprehend God. It is only the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto the existing... In theosis man (the image of God) becomes likened to God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does not belong to him by nature, because the grace of the Spirit triumphs within him, and because God acts in him" (Letter 22 to Thalassius, St Maximus the Confessor, ca 611-641).


St Maximus is the champion of the doctrine of "essence and energy," a teaching that has been almost completely ignored in the Western Church. In this teaching he points out the distinction and similitude that exists between the essence of a being, and the energy of the being. The difference between the two is primarily that "essence" is the proper person or being, and the "energy" is what the being produces or creates. As an example he sates that a person is a being, and the voice that emanates from that person is their energy. When another hears the persons voice, the hearer is affected by the person speaking and in doing so they partake in the speaker, yet at the same time they do not take on the speaker's essence. Another would be this: if a sharp sword were heated by a flame, and then made to cut an object, the heat of the flame transferred onto the sword becomes the property of the sword which would burn the object, yet the sword does not become the flame. Therefore, if we ask what what burned the object, the sword or the flame, the answer would be the flame through the sword. This understanding of essence and energy is the basis for the eastern view of sanctification. When the energy of God acts upon the Christian and it affects the Christian's essence to the point that the energy of God becomes part of person's essence; body, mind, and soul. This is quite different from the western teaching that what is affected is merely the mind and the heart. In theosis, the whole person is transformed by God's energy into the likeness of God.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thess 5: 23-24


  1. "The only true statement that one can make about God's essence, is that no true statement about God's essence is possible." Maimonides.
    "Biblical language is a multilayered language of astonishment, expressing the insight that God is present in all phenomena. It is language at the edge of its capabilities." Richard Ellis
    Heartfelt gratitude from me to Father Carlos Miranda sharing in this weblog entry his language of astonishment of Maximus' teaching of how God is present in the phenomena of essence and energy.
    Gratitude too, for taking the biblical language of Catholic Evangelical-ism to the edge of its capabilities.
    I have come to a place in my life where I am mastering words, words are no longer mastering me.
    Words are my slaves, I am not a slave to words.
    I hope therefore to one day to be no longer at the mercy of "leaders" who debase language by using words for political expediency. Or to leaders in the church who debase biblical language by using words for their own political expediency.
    Take for instance the following.
    At one time in my life, I was taught by those within and without the Church the following. When asked to state the opposite of male, I would have said female.
    When asked to state the opposite of white man, I would have said black man.
    When asked to state the opposite of rich, I would have said poor.
    When asked to state the opposite of divine, I would have said human.
    By stating these as opposites, I was enrolled and exploited by those-inside and outside the Church- who knew the difference, to participate in their power games.
    Male and female are complementary aspects of human being. Not opposites.
    White man and black man are complementary aspects of male. Not opposites.
    Rich and poor are complementary aspects of finance. Not opposites.
    Heart/Mind and body are complementary aspects of humanity. Not opposites.
    The modern western Church is in thrall to those in positions of leadership within its institutions who present these and other complementary terms as opposites. Enough said on that account.
    In my mind, the Theosis process Maximus and Father Carlos cite, correctly place human and divine as complementary aspects.
    Aspects of what? The New Creation. Creation "participated" in the Old Creation when God said "Let there be Light." I participated in and was transformed by the essence and energy of the New Creation (and the New Birth), when God in His Grace allowed me to glimpse Jesus Christ as Lord, seated as the Ancient of Days on the Throne of God.
    Human and divine are revealed, to the Christian undergoing what Maximus calls the proces of "Theosis" as complementary. While he is right in stating that Nature CANNOT comprehend God, like the sword in Father Carlos metaphor we share in God's essence AND energy.
    Like others before them, (borrowing again from Richard Ellis), Maximus and Father Carlos do not teach us look to nature to understand the New Creation, but to use the energy of the biblical language of astonishment to describe it's Essence. And language has the ability, like Father Carlos sword to do so.
    In fact, the Word is a Sword.
    Nature, participating in Theosis, enters into a process where it begins to understand and comprehend God. Am I overstating my case? I think not.
    "For who has known the Mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? FOR WE HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST." I Cor 2:16.
    "...but then shall I know, even as also I am known." I Cor 13:12
    The "biblical language" that both Maximus and Carlos use express both their astonishment, and joy.
    By joining the "argument" from a Catholic Evangelical viewpoint, Father Carlos presents himself too, in my humble opinion, as someone who is not mastered by those whom he terms as being in "western teaching" who would have us believe that the opposite of mind and heart is body.
    Or any other of the foolish terms we have clothed in the foolish "Us and Them" language of Opposite.
    Like believer and unbeliever, sinful and holy, flesh and spirit, member and nonmember, and yes, Catholic and Non Catholic.

  2. Marques,

    I really appreciate your complimentary vs. opposite point, theosis is complimentary.

    There is so much to overcome that has been implanted in us by our contemporary education, our social practices, and our general worlview assertions that we need all the wisdom of the Fathers we can get.

  3. Fr. Carlos I was considering this very idea of theosis on the way to work today. It brought me back to the fundamental anthropological question...who, rather, 'What is man?'

    'Here today but then gone tomorrow'? No, for man is more than the flesh of his body, and his "essence" will be around for eternity, experiencing, if he wills, theosis, as the flame that is God, acts on his soul, the sword, while both maintain there separate essence.


  4. David, I do believe you are correct when you say that man's essence and God's remain seperate. However, a point worth considering is that while man never takes on God's essence, God in Christ does take on the essence of man. As such, in Christ there is the possibility of partaking in God. The question then is this: is it thru essence or thru energy that this partaking occurs? In the view of the church a fathers, the way that man partook in God was not by way of essence but by way of energy. The energy of God works in and thru man, and by it man is transformed and participates in God.

  5. Precisely! It is exactly this of which Anselm's satisfactionism is devoid. Sadly, much of western theology is based on this idea. Salvation ceases to be about participation in the energies of God - as Scripture, the Fathers, and the Church's liturgies teach - and is replaced by an impersonal and separated idea of standing justified before God. We still remain something separate, at a distance, and God is to be contemplated from afar. The Athonite hesychasts knew this was wrong for they themselves experienced something of that theosis as expressed at the Transfiguration, when they saw the divine Light of Tabor. Yet they faced criticism from those in the west who denied the possibility of this. The most extreme result of this way of thinking is seen in Penal Substitutionary Atonement, which is so bankurpt as an expression of God's love that it is difficult to know where to begin.

    I am so pleased to see what you have written.