And Never The Twain Should Meet
The Radical Divide Between Catholicism
and Eastern Orthodox Theology
and Eastern Orthodox Theology
By: James Larson
As the reader is aware, there exist powerful demonic forces operating within the Church attempting to dissolve every truth of our faith of its substantial nature and concise doctrinal formulation. Such efforts are an attempt to destroy Christ Himself. As St. John writes:
"And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus is not of God: and this is Antichrist…." (1 John 4:2).
Jesus is the Truth and the Word. Doctrine is simply the putting into words the Truths of Christ. Therefore, the primary means used by Satan to "dissolve" Christ is the undermining of those substantial formulations of Catholic truths which we call Doctrine.
Few Catholics realize that Eastern Orthodoxy, especially as represented by Palamite theology, represents a systematic and comprehensive attack upon Catholic doctrine. Catholic and Orthodox theology are not only in opposition to one another in their understanding of God (theology), but also in the various disciplines of philosophy – in Cosmology, Psychology, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Theodicy, and Ethics. They posit radically different views of God, of man, and of the relationship between God and His creation. Finally, and very crucially, they embrace radically different views of the final destiny of man. In this respect they both employ the concept of "deification", but possess very different understandings of what this term signifies.
Over the past 2,000 years there have been many heresies, schisms, and systems of thought comprehensively opposed to Catholicism. But none has carried the potential threat for corruption of all of Catholic dogma which Eastern Orthodoxy represents. Because of the validity of its sacramental system, the validity of its episcopate and priesthood, and because of the seemingly incurable blindness of Catholics to its extensive doctrinal aberrations, Eastern Orthodoxy is able to make incursions into the life of the Catholic Church which are not possible to other systems. Union with Eastern Orthodoxy is the premier goal of Catholic ecumenism. The achievement of such union without full conversion of the Eastern Orthodox would therefore amount to a massive ingestion of error into the interior of Christ's Mystical Body.
There is no question in my mind but that Palamism, derived from the theology of Gregory Palamas, and endorsed by a series of Eastern Councils in the 14th century, is the dominant system of thought in Eastern Orthodoxy, and has been for centuries. Therefore, while not denying that there have always existed counter-currents, I will feel free to consider the terms Palamism and Eastern Orthodox theology and mysticism as interchangeable.
In similar fashion, I equate Catholic philosophy and theology with the teaching of St. Thomas. From the standpoint of many contemporary Catholics this equation may seem to be unwarranted. Since Vatican II, Thomism has suffered severely. It has been virtually excluded from the training of priests in most seminaries. However, this is to be seen as an historical aberration, which must change if the Church is to be restored to its glory. The following passages are given as evidence of the degree to which Thomistic philosophy and theology are to be identified with official Catholic teaching. In his encyclical Studiorum Ducem, Pope Pius XI writes:
"We so heartily approve the magnificent tribute of praise bestowed upon this most divine genius that We consider that Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church; for the Church has adopted his philosophy for her own."
The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas was one of two books (the other being the Bible) placed on the altar during the entire time the Council of Trent was in session. The philosophical and theological foundations for the doctrines which Trent defined are rooted in St. Thomas. In order to emphasize the absolute centrality of St. Thomas to the understanding of Catholic doctrine, I would ask the reader to seriously consider the following quotes from Popes St. Pius X and Pius XI:
“Again, if we are to avoid the errors which are the source and fountain-head of all the miseries of our time, the teaching of Aquinas refutes the theories propounded by Modernists in every sphere….” (Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem).
“Thomas wrote under the inspiration of the supernatural spirit which animated his life and that his writings, which contain the principles of, and the laws governing, all sacred studies, must be said to possess a universal character.” (Studiorum Ducem)
“We therefore desired that all teachers of philosophy and sacred theology should be warned that if they deviate so much as a step, in metaphysics especially, from Aquinas, they exposed themselves to grave risk.” (Doctoris Angelici, Pius X).
“For just as the opinion of certain ancients is to be rejected which maintains that it makes no difference to the truth of the Faith what any man thinks about the nature of creation, provided his opinions on the nature of God be sound, because error with regard to the nature of creation begets a false knowledge of God; so the principles of philosophy laid down by St. Thomas Aquinas are to be religiously and inviolably observed, because they are the means of acquiring such a knowledge of creation as is most congruent with the Faith; of refuting all the errors of all the ages, and of enabling man to distinguish clearly what things are to be attributed to God and to God alone.” (Pius X, Doctoris Angelici)
It is well that we have begun by understanding the extent to which Thomism is necessary for the entire Catholic intellectual understanding of the faith. We might readily have admitted this of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, where the Aristotelian-Thomistic distinction between substance and accidents is integral to its solemn definition. But we must also see this necessity for the thinking of Thomas in our Catholic understanding of the very Nature of God, of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, of the nature of man, of the nature of original sin, of the distinction between nature and grace, and of the final destiny of man in obtaining to the vision of the Divine Essence. Nor is this Thomistic understanding of the faith something which only affects the Catholic intellectual. For many decades it was filtered down to the average layman and his children in the questions and answers of the Baltimore or Penny catechisms. And this, of course, is precisely why these catechisms were thrown into the garbage and burned by the Modernists after Vatican II. They were extremely effective manuals for forming the laity in a Thomistic understanding of the faith.
Absolute Divine Simplicity
The Absolute Divine Simplicity of God is a De Fide doctrine of the Catholic faith, defined by both Lateran Council IV and The First Vatican Council. The teaching of the former is expressed in the phrase “one essence, substance, or nature entirely simple.” The teaching of the latter: “one, singular, altogether simple and unchangeable spiritual substance.”
Absolute Divine Simplicity is central to St. Thomas' understanding of Who God is. Thomas' treatment of Divine Simplicity comprises the third Question in the Summa – the first Question is titled "On the Nature of Sacred Doctrine, and the second, "The Existence of God." In other words, after dealing with the absolutely foundational truth that God exists, St. Thomas turns to an explanation and exposition of Divine Simplicity as the first principle for understanding the Divine Nature – a principle in which all the rest of our proper understanding of God is rooted.
To affirm God's simplicity is to say that God is not composed of parts. It is, of course, our universal experience that all created things are compounded. They are made up of parts that can be split apart. It is integral to the nature of all created things that they are not their own cause. They owe their being, their substantial nature, their movement, and all their qualities to something outside themselves. They are caused by something exterior to them, and they are ever subject to change or dissolution. In scholastic terms they all possess, to one degree or another, potentiality for change, decay, and dissolution. They are, in other words and in a profoundly absolute way, not their own being. As God the Father said to St. Catherine of Sienna, "You are she who is nothing." This, of course, does not mean that Catherine did not exist, but rather that the only thing she could call her own, independent from God, was nothingness.
If God is absolutely simple, then the question naturally arises: How can we reconcile this Absolute Divine Simplicity with all the variety of Names which we apply to God. Do we not apply to God very distinct attributes? Is He not Truth, Love, Goodness, Infinite, Immutable, Eternal, and absolutely One? Do these Names really apply to God's essence, and if so, how are these multiple Names to be seen as not violating the Divine Simplicity?
Thomas' answers to these questions are cryptic and profound. First, he emphatically affirms that these Names substantially apply to God's essence:
"Therefore we must hold a different doctrine – viz., these names signify the divine substance, and are predicated substantially of God, although they fall short of a full representation of Him….So when we say, God is good, the meaning is not, God is the cause of goodness, or, God is not evil; but the meaning is, Whatever good we attribute to creatures, pre-exists in God, and in a more excellent and higher way." (I, Q.3, A.2)
Second, St. Thomas is emphatic in teaching that even though we justly apply a multiplicity of Names to God, this does not violate God's Unity or Simplicity:
"The perfect unity of God requires that what are manifold and divided in others should exist in Him simply and unitedly. Thus it comes about that He is one in reality, and yet multiple in idea, because our intellect, apprehends Him in a manifold manner, as things represent Him." (A.4)
Notice that in the passage immediately above that St. Thomas ties the Unity of God in with His Divine Simplicity. In Question 11 of the Summa, on The Unity of God, Thomas writes:
"I answer that, One does not add any reality to being; but is only a negation of division; for one means undivided being. This is the very reason why one is the same as being. Now every being is either simple or compound. But what is simple, is undivided, both actually and potentially. Whereas what is compound, has not being whilst its parts are divided, but after they make up and compose it. Hence it is manifest that the being of anything consists in undivision; and hence it is that everything guards its unity as it guards its being."
"Since one is an undivided being, if anything is supremely one it must be supremely being, and supremely undivided. Now both of these belong to God. For He is supremely being, inasmuch as His being is not determined by any nature to which it is adjoined; since He is being itself, subsistent, absolutely undetermined. But He is supremely undivided inasmuch as He is divided neither actually, nor potentially, by any mode of division; since He is altogether simple, as was shown (Q. 3, A. 7). Hence it is manifest that God is one in the supreme degree."
All this, of course, is in complete accord with the premier prayer and cry of the Old Testament concerning Who God is: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord." (Deut 6:4). For both Jew and Christian, this is intuitively the deepest principle of their faith. God is One, He is not divided.
The question might also be asked at this point: What about the Trinity? If there are three distinct Persons in God, then does that not negate the possibility of absolute simplicity in God? St. Thomas simply states that the Trinity, and each of the Divine Persons of the Trinity, is identical with the essence of God. We confess, for instance, the homoousious – that the Son is "one in Being" with the Father. The principle of absolute unity and divine simplicity which they share is the Being or Essence of God. Within the Trinity, therefore, there is no distinction of Being whatsoever.
In direct contradiction to Catholic theology, Palamite Eastern Orthodoxy considers Absolute Divine Simplicity to be the fundamental flaw in Thomistic Catholic theology. Just as the Absolute Divine Simplicity is the first and foremost principle in considering the Catholic view of the nature of God's existence, so a fundamental division in the Divine, a Divine Duplicity, is the fundamental principal for understanding the God of Eastern Orthodoxy.
This "Division of the Divine" is something which is posited between God's "Essence" and His "Energies." In Palamism, the essence of God (Palamas is forced to use this word essence in naming the unnamable even though he must, at the same time, posit that God is beyond essence since He is beyond all names) is Absolutely Transcendent. He is beyond all Naming. He is beyond all the attributes, including Being, which we might try to apply to Him. Consequently, God's Being, Power, Will, Love, Truth are not to be attributed to the "Essence" of God, but to His "Energies. These "Energies" are to be seen as including all that is associated with what are called the "economies" of God – with everything which we associate with God "operating." In other words they have to do with everything that we can name about God, including such things as Truth, Love, Will, Intellect, Infinite, Eternal, Omnipotent, Goodness, etc. And, of course, they apply supremely to everything that is considered to be God's actions outside Himself (creation), since God's Essence, in Eastern Orthodox theology, transcends all action.
These Divine Energies, according to Palamism, must in no way be construed as constituting, or as being in any way identified with, the essence of God. In Gregory Palamas' own words:
"all these [the Divine Energies] exist not in Him, but around Him." (The Triads, p. 97 - all quotes from Palamas are taken from The Triads, translated by John Meyendorff, published by Paulist Press).
Further, the absolute non-identity of God's energies with his essence is succinctly stated in the following passage:
"But He Who is beyond every name is not identical with what He is named; for the essence and energy of God are not identical." (Ibid)
However, the distinction between Essence and Energies goes much further than non-identity. It is an infinite distinction:
"The superessential essence of God is thus not to be identified with the energies, even with those without beginning; from which it follows that it is not only transcendent to any energy whatsoever, but that it transcends them 'to an infinite degree and an infinite number of times', as the divine Maximus says." (The Triads, p. 96)
The following statements are therefore absolutely true in regard to the conclusions of Palamite theology: God is not to be identified with His Will; God is not to be identified with His Intellect; God is not to be identified with Love; God is not to be identified with Truth. God is not to be identified with Goodness.
We would make a serious mistake, however, if we would conclude from all this that Palamism regards all these Names of the Divine, or the attribution of Intellect and Will to the Divine, as not real, or only some flawed function of our finite intellects in trying to apply understanding to the incomprehensible. According to Palamite theology the Names, economies, operations, and energies of God are not only real, but they are Divine and Eternal. They constitute every thing that is Divine, but is somehow compromised through dealing with anything in the universe that is outside of God's absolutely transcendent essence. They might be defined as "Divinity in any way involved with, or compromised by, creation." They are "the Divine outside of Transcendent God", while at the same time being "the Divine in the world." As we shall see, it is union with them, and not the Vision of the Essence of God, which constitutes Eastern Orthodoxy's view of the final destiny of man. Simply and succinctly stated, Eastern Orthodoxy denies the reality or possibility of the Beatific Vision.
The problem with such a theology, of course, is how to connect the absolutely transcendent God with the immanent Divine. According to Palamas, this transcendent God transcends the Divine Energies "to an infinite degree and an infinite number of times." It is as though we have two Gods. To the first – the totally transcendent, ineffable, unknowable Divine – Palamas gives the Name God. But to the second – the Eternal, Uncreated "God outside God" – He only applies the Name "Divine." How can we have two "Eternal Divines" without them being two Gods? His strange answer as to how this absolutely transcendent God can be connected to the energies runs as follows:
"Essence and energy are thus not totally identical in God [to say the least: we are certainly right to question how something which infinitely transcends something else, and then infinitely transcends it an infinite number of times, could be considered in any way identified with that which it transcends], even though He is entirely manifest in every energy, His essence being indivisible."
In other words, Palamism presents to us an infinitely transcendent and unknowable God somehow un-transcending Himself and His transcendence in order to be entirely manifest inevery energy. Again, we have the right to pose a question: How can a God Who is an infinity of infinities above His "Energies", and is in no way to be identified with them, yet be "entirely manifest in every one of them? It would thus appear that Palamism posits a God of Divine Self-contradiction as a logical and necessary consequence of the dualism which it has established in the Divine.
Divine and Human Freedom
Eastern Orthodox rejection of the Divine Simplicity brings in its train a consequent inability to understand the nature of both Divine and human freedom. A very clear example of this is found in the writings of Perry Robinson, a convert from Anglicanism to Eastern Orthodoxy. His attacks upon Divine Simplicity as being incompatible with any sort of freedom are a logical consequence of the Orthodox position. In regard to Divine freedom, his position is succinctly stated in his article "Anglicans in Exile:"
"The argument is fairly simple. If God is absolutely simple, the act of will to create is identical to his essence. Since his essence is had by him necessarily, it follows by transivity that the act of will to create is necessary as well."
It certainly is true that God's essence "is had by him necessarily." St. Thomas writes:
"Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being [God] having of itself its own necessity." (I, Q.II, A.3).
But we must not confuse the necessity connected with "Who God is" with the necessity that operates in regard to creation.
All arguments which claim that Absolute Divine Simplicity requires identifying God's "will to create" with Divine necessity, fail to understand how necessity and freedom are One in God. And this, in turn, is rooted in the failure to understand that necessity and freedom do not function in God the same as they do in man.
In man, exterior determinacy operates. Man's nature is determined by God. His life is largely determined by forces outside of himself. And yet man possesses a free will to make choices, especially those between good and evil.
In God, however, necessity operates from within. As Thomas says in the above-quoted passage, God is the only being "having of itself its own necessity." It is very difficult for us to conceive of such a thing. From a human standpoint we are used to opposing freedom and necessity. But God has his necessity "of Himself." Therefore this necessity is freely willed and chosen by God. God's freedom and His will are therefore one in His Absolute Divine Simplicity.
If Divine necessity in regard to "Who God is" (His Divine Nature) in no way compromises this being a totally free Willing, then so much the more (in a manner of speaking) is there total freedom in God's exterior acts. St. Thomas writes:
"As the divine existence is necessary of itself, so is the divine will and divine knowledge; but the divine knowledge has a necessary relation to the thing known; not the divine will to the thing willed. The reason for this is that knowledge is of things as they exist in the knower; but the will is directed to things as they exist in themselves. Since then all other things have necessary existence inasmuch as they exist in God; but no absolute necessity so as to be necessary in themselves, in so far as they exist in themselves; it follows that God knows necessarily whatever He knows, but does not will necessarily what ever He wills." (I, Q. 19, A. 3).
God therefore possesses total freedom in regard to all things willed outside Himself.
Palamite theology also necessarily believes that the Catholic doctrine of Absolute Divine Simplicity is incompatible with human freedom. Perry Robinson writes: "free will is always characterized as a choice between Good and evil." In arguing against the Catholic view of the Beatific Vision, and the belief that upon attainment of this state no person can ever fall away from God, he writes
"Since freedom is tied to the possibility of evil, either it is going to be the case that people are always free and hence always able to do evil, or if people become united with the Good, they will be good but not free. Why? Because a union with the Good in heaven renders it impossible, not just unlikely, that they could ever do evil."
Here, Mr. Robinson is right about the impossibility of the Blessed in Heaven ever falling away, but he is wrong about everything else. If we are to properly understand free will, we must understand the nature of the human will; and if we are to understand the nature of human will, we must understand its relationship to the intellect.
The will can only choose or will from what it knows. This is why St. Thomas calls the will the "intellective appetency." In the sojourn of this life our knowledge is always imperfect, and our appetites disordered. The exercise of "free" will therefore demands choices between various, and often opposed, things which are presented to it as true or good. In other words the view of free will which sees it as necessarily operating on the basis of a choice between good and evil is a view based on the person being in a contest between truth and error, and in potentiality towards his final end.
This contest ends in Heaven. The Beatific Vision, in Which we shall see the face of God, means that we shall also see the face of Truth. Freedom will thus not be taken away, but be perfectly fulfilled. The Blessed will not be able to fall away from the Beatific Vision, not because freedom shall be taken away, but because Jesus' words "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" are fulfilled. In other words, because there is no longer any possible intellectual delusion as to the nature of Truth, there is also no longer the possibility of choosing evil. This then becomes an exercise of free will which is vastly superior to that exercise of the free will which involves a choice between good and evil.
In light of the above, the following question immediately presents itself to any knowledgeable, orthodox Roman Catholic: Why should anyone want to do this thing to God and, consequently, to his own ultimate destiny? Why should anyone want to embrace a Divine Duplicity which places contradiction and division at the heart of the Divine, and denies to man the Vision of the Face of God? The answer is rooted deeply in the Gnostic history of the East.
It has often been asserted that all the major Christological heresies of the early Church originated in the Eastern Churches. Gnosticism, of course, was the first great heresy (other than the Judaizing heresy) which the Church had to face. Arianism was very clearly a form of Gnosticism applied to the question of Who Christ was; and we may in fact view all of the early Christological heresies as outgrowths of Gnostic contamination of Christianity.
Gnosticism is traditionally considered a syncretization of Hellenistic speculative philosophy and Jewish monotheism. And, of course, when Christianity came along, Gnosticism attempted to assimilate Christ and His teaching to its own philosophical and theological speculations. I believe we must also consider Gnosticism as having even more distant roots – in Vedantic Hinduism and those forms of Eastern theology which are profoundly Monistic, and in which the Divine is absolutely transcendent – to the point where the only thing that can be posited of this Absolute is, "Not this, Not this, Not this (Eastern Orthodoxy has its own name for this absolutely negative theology: "apophatism."). I believe, in fact, that we can justly view Eastern mysticism as a sort of tide of Gnostic-pantheism always attempting to eat away at the shores of Christian realism.
The great problem which Gnosticism had to face was the same problem which any theology must face if it posits the existence of One Infinite God: how to relate the Infinite to the finite without taking away from the Infinite. Simply stated, If I am God, and there is something out there that's not me, and is independent of Me (no matter how small), then I am not Infinite. Somewhere, someplace, I stop, and he, she, or it begins.
Platonism tried to solve this problem by making creation a sort of decay away from the Ideal. Gnosticism does something similar (in fact, the coming into being of creation is often considered a decay). In many and varied ways, it tries to solve this problem by initiating one or more births, emanations, energies, operations, or manifestations from the Absolutely Infinite Transcendent Godhead which somehow connect this Divine Transcendence to the world, hopefully without the faithful realizing that by doing so, they have compromised their transcendent God and made Him ontologically part of creation.
In other words, ultimately Gnosticism also ends up in Pantheism. It is, of course, common for Gnostics to deny that they are Pantheistic. They would have us believe that Pantheism is only constituted by a full and total identification of God with the world. But Pantheism, to one degree or another, is constituted by ontologically mixing and confusing to any degree the Being of the Divine with the Being of created things. It is constituted by in any way making Divine Being to be part of the nature of created things, or in any way making the nature of created things to be part of Divine Being. This, of course. is exactly what Palamism does. In speaking of the eternal, Divine Energies, and their role in our deification, Gregory Palamas writes:
“The essence of God is everywhere, for, as it is said, 'the Spirit fills all things', according to essence. Deification is likewise everywhere, ineffably present in the essence and inseparable from it, as its natural power. But just as one cannot see fire, if there is no matter to receive it, nor any sense organ capable of perceiving its luminous energy, in the same way one cannot contemplate deification if there is no matter to receive the divine manifestation. But if with every veil removed it lays hold of appropriate matter, that is of any purified rational nature, freed from the veil of manifold evil, then it becomes itself visible as a spiritual light, or rather it transforms these creatures into spiritual light.” (The Triads, p. 89)
Anyone who is familiar with the flavor of such systems of thought as Vedantic Hinduism, Platonism, Neo-Platonism, all the various forms of Gnosticism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and even the New Age movement should recognize the spirit of this passage. It is ascending gnosis by which one attains to enlightenment through a rending of the veils which conceal the Divine within creation, and especially within man. As John Meyendorff (translator of the Triads, and possibly the most influential Palamite of the 20th century) writes:
“The true purpose of creation is, therefore, not contemplation of divine essence (which is inaccessible), but communion in divine energy, transfiguration, and transparency to divine action in the world.” (Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology p.133)
This is so because the Divine is part of man's nature from the beginning of his existence:
“This concept of salvation is itself based upon an understanding of the human being which views the natural [this is Meyendorff’s own emphasis] state of man as composed of three elements: body, soul, and Holy Spirit….The Spirit is not seen here as a ‘supernatural’ grace – added to an otherwise ‘natural,’ created humanity – but as a function of humanity itself in its dynamic relationship to God, to itself, and to the world.” (Meyendorff, Catholicity and the Church, p.21).
There is simply no question but that this constitutes Gnostic Pantheism. And this is what Roman Catholicism and Thomism totally reject.
It is important to emphasize here that this Catholic rejection of any form or degree of Pantheism does not entail a correlative rejection of communion between the Divine and creation. We may rightly speak of a man possessing God's life within himself through the free gift of God's Sanctifying Grace superadded to his human nature. We truly speak of man's ultimate destiny as being union with God, of man partaking of God even in this life, of participating in the Divine Life of the Trinity through baptism and the reception of the Eucharist, of the final divinization of man by which, according to Holy Scripture, "When He shall appear we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is." (1John 2:2). But all of this precludes identifying or confusing the Being of God with the being of man in any way.
So, let us be clear what we are after here. We are in need of a Theology, Metaphysics, and Cosmology which absolutely precludes any pantheistic or Gnostic invasion of our thinking, while at the same time embracing the possibility and actuality of Divine Union and Deification. The key to this Cosmology and Metaphysic is the Catholic doctrine creation ex nihilo. We must spend some time examining it if we are to bring the proper solution to this problem.
Creation Ex Nihilo
Creation ex nihilo is a revealed truth of our Faith. It is a doctrine, however, which does not come easy to the human mind. In fact, no people, no philosopher, and no other religion has ever come up with this idea on their own. Its genesis lies exclusively in Judaic-Christian Revelation.
Creation from nothing is radically opposed to all human experience. Every thing which exists in this world comes from something, and not nihilo (nothing). The human mind, in other words, naturally operates from within creation, and therefore naturally only knows how things work from within creation. Creation ex nihilo is, therefore, only known with certainty from Revelation.
It is not surprising, therefore, that while accepting creation ex nihilo as a revealed dogma of the faith, the Christian world did not come up with a philosophy (cosmology and metaphysics) worthy of this doctrine until St. Thomas. God’s timing, however, was perfect. The 13th century was poised on the edge of the Renaissance, and poised, therefore, on the edge of that great onslaught of reductive materialistic thinking which would assault all the most profound truths of the Christian Faith.
Foremost among these would be the assault upon the Catholic truth that all created things possess their being in and through the act of God creating out of nothing, and that therefore the substantial nature of any created substance is not reducible to any quantitative existent, nor analyzable by the human mind. This truth, which is so fundamental to the understanding of all those Catholic doctrines which in any way are concerned with the relationship between God and man, has been almost totally eclipsed in the modern world. Virtually all educated persons, including Catholics, believe that physical reality really is reducible to atomic structure, quanta, or some other sort of quantification.
The great protector of this truth, as I have said, is the philosophy and metaphysics of St. Thomas. In order to emphasize this point it would be appropriate to again repeat the words of St. Pius X:
“For just as the opinion of certain ancients is to be rejected which maintains that it makes no difference to the truth of the Faith what any man thinks about the nature of creation, provided his opinions on the nature of God be sound, because error with regard to the nature of creation begets a false knowledge of God; so the principles of philosophy laid down by St. Thomas Aquinas are to be religiously and inviolably observed, because they are the means of acquiring such a knowledge of creation as is most congruent with the Faith; of refuting all the errors of all the ages, and of enabling man to distinguish clearly what things are to be attributed to God and to God alone.” (Pius X, Doctoris Angelici)
This prescription of St. Pius X for our well-being – of enabling us to properly understand the nature of creation and to be able to truly distinguish "what things are to be attributed to God and to God alone" – is precisely what we are after. And so we shall delve somewhat deeply into the cosmology and metaphysics of St.Thomas.
According to Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding, all created being is divided into ten categories: one category of substance, and nine of accidents. The categories of accidents are: Quantity, Quality, Relation, Place, Time, Posture, Habit, Action, Passion. Every thing the human mind can conceive of as being something must be conceived of as either a substance or as one of these accidents. In other words, we are not here just dealing with abstract philosophical concepts, but with real being as we experience it on the most concrete and common-sense level. If we look, for instance, at the life cycle of an oak tree, we can see every one of the accidental realities of this tree changing from its first state as a seedling up to the giant oak in its full maturity. Yet the substance – an oak tree – remains the same.
We should not, however, fall into the error of thinking that somehow accidents are unreal, or that they are only “appearances”, in the sense of their being some sort of chimera or illusion. Accidents are real categories of being. All those accidents of being which are part of that oak tree along its path of life are very real. But these accidents have no independent being. They inhere in substance as very real, but very dependent, being.
Substance, on the other hand, is being which exists in itself, and not (as is the case with accidents) in something else as its subject.
It is extremely important to realize that all the aspects of being that we can measure, or in any other way “put a handle on” through the use of the nine categories of accidental being, do not constitute substance itself. For some of the categories of accidents this is easy for us to see, but for others it is more difficult. We may well understand, for instance, that fluidity is a Quality (one of the categories of accidents) of water, but that it is not identical with the substance water. We may also see clearly that the Place (another category) that water occupies, or the Time it exists, or its particular Action (such as its necessary action in every cell of our body, or its destructive action in a tsunami) is not identical with its substance.
It is much harder for us to understand, however, that the atomic and molecular structure of water does not constitute its substance. Such, however, must be the case. In atomic analysis we are dealing with such things as measurements of quantity, extension, distances and energies which clearly fall under the accidents of Quantity and Relation. In other words, with atomic or sub-atomic analysis, quantum theory, speculations about such things as superstrings, or any other physical analysis of any substance we are still in the realm of accidental reality. All this, of course, makes perfect sense if we simply step back a bit from what has become the almost universal tyranny of modern scientific thinking. If we use our common sense, there is no way, for instance, in which we can equate the marvelous thing which is water with the atomic fact of a few electrons in orbit around a few protons. Such an atomic structure is necessary to water’s continued existence, and it is certainly true that a change in these quantitative and relational structures involves the change of water into something else; but this does not at all mean that such a structure is determinate of what water is. We might make a loose comparison to human life. Very small changes in the chemical structure of our blood, or in hormones, or in neurology can cause death. This does not at all mean, however, that these things constitute the substance that we know as human life. Substance is not reducible to any combination of accidental being.
We can therefore see why in the transubstantiation of the substance of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Consecration, all the accidental properties of real bread and wine can be measured and proved to still exist after the Consecration. If they did not, then this would not be transubstantiation. The accidents have to remain, and they must be measurable. This is also why Catholics are not involving themselves in cannibalism when they partake of the Substance of the Body and Blood of Christ. They are not receiving all the accidents (color, taste, texture, smell, etc.) of human flesh and blood, the eating of which justifiably evokes in us a strong reaction of disgust.
At the same time, however, we rightly speak of Christ being present in the Eucharist in His substantial physical nature. In other words, not everything that constitutes physical nature can be measured or gauged by one of the nine categories of accidental being. In fact, the most important part of any physical thing, its substantial being, cannot be measured at all. Yet it is an absolutely integral part of its physical nature.
What then is substance? If the substance of any self-subsisting physical thing is not reducible to anything that can be measured, or anything that can be analyzed by the other categories of being, then what is substance? What is water, for instance? Or, for that matter, what is a proton or an electron?
The Aristotelian doctrine which explains the nature of substance is called hylemorphism, this word being composed of two Greek words (hyle and morphe), meaning matter and form respectively. In scholastic terminology, we would say that any physical substance is the union of primal matter with substantial form. The philosopher Paul Glenn offers an explanation of these two principles of any physical substance:
“Now all bodies – solid, liquid, gaseous, living, non-living – are at one in this point: they are bodies. There is something, therefore, in all bodies, some substratum, some substantial principle, which is common to them: it makes bodies. There is also in bodies something substantial which distinguishes them into different species or essential kinds of bodies. By reason of the first substantial principle each body is a body; by reason of the second substantial principle each body is this essential kind of body. The first substantial principle is called Prime Matter; the second is called Substantial Form."
“….Prime Matter does not exist separately. It exists only with Substantial Forms in bodies. In other words, it exists only in an in-formed condition as the universe of all bodies. Prime Matter and Substantial Forms come together as substantial co-principles to form bodies; neither is a complete substance; together they form a complete bodily substance….When a body is changed substantially – as wood, for example, is changed by being burned up – the Prime Matter is not destroyed. What happens is that one Substantial Form is displaced by another, the Prime Matter remaining the same.” (The History of Philosophy, p. 90-91).
There is a point to be made here which is absolutely crucial to our discussion concerning the nature of all created things. The reader will remember that in the Aristotelian-Thomistic scheme of things there are only ten categories of being – one of substance and nine of accidents. We are now at the point of analyzing physical substance itself. We are therefore ontologically “below” or “previous” to any category of being. Substantial Form and Prime Matter are not to be considered as in any way independent being, or as in any way as “existents” previous to their union in some particular substance. Substantial Form and Primary Matter, while being totally real and necessary to our understanding of the nature of any physical thing, are not in themselves to be considered any sort of being. They are, in the terminology of St. Thomas, principles of being.
And yet we know that these principles of being are absolutely necessary to our understanding any physical thing. It is our everyday experience that when we encounter any substantial thing, we are face to face with something that must have a form which makes it what it is and not something else. A cow is a cow, and not a man or molecule of water, or a banana. Yet this form is not identifiable with anything (including atomic structure) that we can quantify or with any of the other accidental categories of being. At the same time, we also encounter the fact that this thing is “material”, and that the form itself would not exist without being informed in matter. It is therefore integral to all our knowledge of created things that these two principles of being are real. And since these principles cannot be categorized as any sort of existent being, it is at this point that any created substance devolves upon God’s creation of all things from nothing. It is here that the human intellect hovers over what scripture refers to as the glorious, mysterious, hidden, and secret work of God. We must be clear, however, that these two principles of created being are not in any way to be identified with God’s Being. They are the first principles of being encountered by the human intellect within creation itself.
With these two principles, we also stand at the source of all integrity and truth in philosophical knowledge. We are at that point where the human mind assents to two truths which are absolutely essential to both human and divine integrity. These two truths are:1) that every created substance is what it is simply because God willed its creation, as such, out of nothing and, 2) that God is absolutely distinct from all created reality. These two truths are encapsulated in one absolutely defined dogma of the Catholic Faith: Creation ex nihilo. And it is here where, I think, all heresy begins.
It is this wondrous, mysterious, and hidden point that human hubris finds so difficult to leave alone. There can be no creation ex nihilo if this point is violated, and yet it is astounding the extent to which Christian philosophers of all sorts of stamps and denominations, who would never have admitted to denying the doctrine of God’s creation from nothing, have violated this point in their metaphysics.
Reductive science is the most destructive heresy of our times. But it is more than a heresy. It is an ambience, a poisoned atmosphere, which modern man takes in with virtually every breath. This poison tells man that he is reducible to accidental properties – that his love is reducible to hormonal reactions; his aspirations for truth reducible to conditioned responses; his belief in God a neurological reaction to fear and uncertainty.
But its most destructive effect is that it eliminates that fundamental mysteriousness about life which leads a person to think about and hunger after God. This is why there is now so much indifference towards God. And this is also why, despite all the scientific and technological advance of our time, man becomes more and more confused not only as to his own nature, but also as to the nature of the smallest substance.
"And I understood that man can find no reason of those works of God that are done under the sun; and the more he shall labor to seek, so much the less shall he find: yea, though the wise man shall say, that he knoweth it, he shall not be able to find it." (Eccl 8 :17.
"For the works of the Highest only are wonderful, and his works are glorious, secret, and hidden." (Ecclus 2:4).
It is Thomistic Cosmology which, for centuries, was the great defense of this mystery. It has now been almost universally abandoned.
In Him We Live, and Move, and Are
But there is much more to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo than just the fact of initial creation. St. Thomas teaches that every created thing is also sustained in its being every moment of its existence by the same creative power which brought it initially into being:
"I answer that, God is in all things; not, indeed, as part of their essence, nor as an accident; but as an agent is present to that upon which it works…Now since God causes this effect in things not only when they first begin to be, but as long as they are preserved in being; as light is caused in the air by the sun as long as the air remains illuminated. Therefore as long as a thing has being, God must be present to it, according to its mode of being. But being is innermost in each thing and most fundamentally inherent in all things since it is formal in respect of everything found in a thing, as was shown above (Q. 7, A.1). Hence it must be that God is in all things, and innermostly." (Q. 8, A.1).
As the above passage clearly states, God is in us naturally not as part of our essence, but as a creative agent. We see here the absolute preventative against even the least degree of Pantheism: He is not part of our essence. But, at the same time, He is most inward to our very being because "He is in all things by His essence, inasmuch as He is present to all as the cause of their being." (Q. 8, A. 3). And as we have seen this creative presence of God within us is not only initial, but sustains our every moment of being and movement.
It is obvious, therefore, that we must not think of this presence of God to us and within us as being something passive, or merely permissive. Again, Thomas writes: "He is in all things as giving them being, power, and operation." This is in accord with the scriptural passage, "Lord…Thou hast wrought all our works in us (Isaias 26: 12), a passage also quoted by Thomas.
Again, all of this makes sense. The Infinitude and Perfection of God require that absolutely nothing in the universe exist independent of Him. St. Paul writes:
"For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and in him." (Col 1:16).
Which is why we must confess the scripture with which we titled this section: "In him we live, and move, and are."
The Analogy of Being
But God, Whose intimacy to us is such that He sustains us in our natural being every moment of our lives, has yet willed for us a union with Him which infinitely surpasses our natural being and power. He has willed our deification – the vision of, and communion with, His Divine Essence.
In order to philosophically and theologically penetrate into how this can be possible we must appreciate the extent to which the concept of "being" is absolutely central to our understanding of both God and man.
We speak of God as the Supreme "Being." God defines Himself to Moses as "I Am Who Am." The Catholic understanding of this Self-definition of God is that this means that God is, as we say, "His own man." He is totally uncaused, His Essence being undetermined by anything outside Himself. He is what He is, and not what anything or anyone else has in any way determined Him to be.
This also means that His Essence is identical with His Existence. There is no potentiality in Him to change, to become something different, or to cease to Be What He is. In scholastic terminology He is pure Act –where the word "Act" denotes that which is opposed to all potentiality. This connotation of the word "Act" comes down to us in our saying that something or someone is fully "actualized." This, of course, means also that God is infinitely "fulfilled" in Himself with no need from anything outside Himself. The only necessity which we can apply to God therefore is the interior necessity, determined by Himself alone, of Being Who He is. All acts outside Himself involve no necessity whatsoever, but simply acts of the Divine freedom.
The supreme concept, both theological and philosophical, of "Who God is" is therefore the concept of Being. Closely allied to the concept of Being are the concepts of Essence and Nature. God's Being is His Essence. God's Being is also His Nature, where the word "Nature" is conceived of as Essence in Operation." The only real distinction between the words "essence" and "nature" is that the word "Nature" is used from the perspective of how a thing operates. When, therefore, we say that God's essence is identical to His being or nature, we are simply saying that He is His Knowledge and Truth, He is His Will, He is His Goodness, He is His Beauty. In other words, God has a specific Nature which, if we are not to affirm duplicity and division in God, must be affirmed as united in Divine Simplicity with His Essence.
God created man in His own image. Therefore, the fundamental principle of man's existence, as it is in God, is the principle of being. God is infinite Being, man is finite being. Who man is, is determined by God creating his substantial form or essence out of nothing. Man's essence we find expressed in his nature. And so we say that man is created in the image of God because he possesses a spiritual soul with the faculties of intellect and Will. The proper object of the intellect is truth; the highest expression of the will is love. And herein we have what Catholic theologians term "the Analogy of Being, in that man is created with the faculties and the destiny to image his God Who is Truth and Love.
This truth is immensely important for understanding man's relationship to God, and the possibility of deification. The essence of God is not totally incomprehensible to man. The essence of God is transcendent, but not remote. The Analogy of Being provides us with a way of understanding that there is an intimate relationship between our highest values and Who God is. It also provides us, as we shall see, with the ability to understand that there is a certain proportion (St. Thomas' word) between God and man which is the basis upon which God's Grace can enable us to see and be united with His very Essence in the Beatific Vision.
Grace And Deification
Nowhere is the radical opposition between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy more clear than in their respective teachings concerning the knowability of God. It is the unanimous teaching of Eastern Orthodox writers that God is absolutely unknowable in His Essence, and that the State of Glory consists not in the Vision of God's Essence, but in union with the Divine Energies. Meyendorff writes:
"The true purpose of creation is, therefore, not contemplation of divine essence (which is inaccessible), but communion in divine energy, transfiguration, and transparency to divine action in the world (Byzantine Theology, p. 133).
The Catholic position is diametrically opposed. St. Thomas writes:
"It is written: We shall see Him as He is (1 John, ii,2). I answer that, Since everything is knowable according as it is actual, God, Who is pure act without any admixture of potentiality, is in Himself supremely knowable….Hence, it must be absolutely granted that the blessed see the essence of God." (I, Q.12, A.1).
This vision of the Essence of God is possible because there is true proportion (even though it be infinite) between the intellect of man and the Essence of God. This "proportion" extends to the possibility of the Vision of the Divine Essence. St. Thomas, in Summa Contra Gentiles, LIV, writes:
"There is indeed proportion between the created intellect and understanding God, a proportion not of measure, but of aptitude, such as of matter for form, or cause for effect. In this way there is no reason against there being in the creature a proportion to God, consisting in the aptitude of an intelligent being for an intelligible object, as well as of effect in respect of its cause."
This proportion (a proportion of aptitude in accordance with the analogy of being) is also why, as St. Thomas says, the positive Names of God such as Essence, Being, Love, Truth, Goodness, Beauty apply to God substantially. In other words, the highest values of which the human intellect can conceive bear an actual proportion to Who God Is. And this is also the reason why the Light of Glory is able to raise the created intellect to the direct Vision of God's Essence:
"Moreover, this light raises the created intellect to the vision of God, not on account of its affinity to the divine substance, but on account of the power which it receives from God to produce such an effect: although in its being it is infinitely distant from God, as the second argument stated. For this light unites the created intellect to God, not in being but only in understanding." (Ibid).
This aptitude of the intellect for seeing God bears emphasizing. St. Thomas explores this subject in Question 12 of the First Part of the Summa Theologica:
"Now it is manifest both that God is the author of the intellectual power, and that He can be seen by the intellect. And since the intellective power of the creature is not the essence of God, it follows that it is some kind of participated likeness of Him who is the first intellect. Hence also the intellectual power of the creature is called an intelligible light, as it were, derived from the first light, whether this be understood of the natural power, or of some perfection superadded of grace or of glory. Therefore, in order to see God, there must be some similitude of God on the part of the visual faculty, whereby the intellect is made capable of seeing God." (A.2).
The human intellect, in other words, created in the image of God and bearing a proportion of aptitude to the vision of God, also bears the aptitude to receive the Grace of Glory from God which will enable it to see God's Essence. Again, in Article 5 of Question 12, St. Thomas writes:
"On the contrary, It is written: In thy light we shall see light (Ps. xxxv. 10).
I answer that, Everything which is raised up to what exceeds its nature, must be prepared by some disposition above its nature; as, for example, if air is to receive the form of fire, it must be prepared by some disposition for such a form. But when any created intellect sees the essence of God, the essence of God itself becomes the intelligible form of the intellect. Hence it is necessary that some supernatural disposition should be added to the intellect in order that it may be raised up to such a great and sublime height. Now since the natural power of the created intellect does not avail to enable it to see the essence of God, as was shown in the preceding article, it is necessary that the power of understanding should be added by divine grace. Now this increase of the intellectual powers is called the illumination of the intellect, as we also call the intelligible object itself by the name of light of illumination. And this is the light spoken of in the Apocalypse (xxi. 23). The glory of God hath enlightened it – vis. the society of the blessed who see God. By this light the blessed are made deiform – that is, like to God, according to the saying: When He shall appear we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is (1 John, ii. 2)."
This Vision of the Divine Essence is not to be confused with "comprehending" God in all His Fullness. Again, St. Thomas:
"God, whose being is infinite, as was shown above, is infinitely knowable. Now no created intellect can know God infinitely. For the created intellect knows the divine essence more or less perfectly in proportion as it receives a greater or lesser light of glory. Since therefore the created light of glory received into any created intellect cannot be infinite, it is clearly impossible for any created intellect to know God in an infinite degree. Hence it is impossible that it should comprehend God." (Ibid, A.7).
This is the ultimate fulfillment of man in the Beatific Vision: while seeing, and obtaining complete union with the Essence of God, we yet do not fully comprehend Him Who is infinitely knowable. St. Thomas gives us the following description of the blessed in Heaven:
"But the blessed possess these three things in God; because they see Him, and in seeing Him, possess Him as present, having the power to see Him always; and possessing Him, they enjoy Him as the ultimate fulfillment of desire." (Ibid).
We thus have the perfect Catholic solution as to how the human person can come to full union with God in the Beatific Vision without this union in any way involving a pantheistic confusion of the human and Divine.
To Dissolve Christ
The Real Effect of the Denial of the Filioque
Denying a knowable Essence in God, it seems inevitable that Eastern Orthodox theology and philosophy would be corrosive to human nature. If such concepts as truth, love, goodness are not applicable to God's Essence, then it only makes sense that their eternal verity and applicability to the human condition should also be eroded. As the Essence of God must disappear behind an apophatic (negative) theology, so the being of man becomes engulfed in an eschatological anthropology which is the negation of all that we associate with being human. Vladimir Losskey writes:
"This is the perfecting of prayer, and is called spiritual prayer or contemplation….It is the 'spiritual silence' which is above prayer. It is that state which belongs to the kingdom of Heaven. 'As the saints in the world to come no longer pray, their minds having been engulfed in the Divine Spirit, but dwell in ecstasy in that excellent glory; so the mind, when it has been made worthy of perceiving the blessedness of the age to come, will forget itself and all that is here, and will no longer be moved by the thought of anything." (Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 208)
Such a description of human fulfillment sounds more like the state of Nirvana, or the Vedantic state of self-realization, than it does union with a Personal God. Even more explicitly "Eastern" is the description of beatitude offered us by Dionysisus the Pseudo-Areopagite who, next to Gregory Palamas, is the most important writer in this Eastern Tradition:
“But these things are not to be disclosed to the uninitiated, by whom I mean those attached to the objects of human thought, and who believe there is no superessential Reality beyond, and who imagine that by their own understanding they know Him who has made Darkness His secret place. And if the principles of the divine Mysteries are beyond the understanding of these, what is to be said of others still more incapable thereof, who describe the transcendental First Cause of all by characteristics drawn from the lowest order of beings, while they deny that He is any way above the images which they fashion after various designs; whereas they should affirm that, while He possesses all the positive attributes of the universe (being the Universal Cause) yet, in a more strict sense, he does not possess them, since He transcends them all; wherefore there is no contradiction between the affirmations and the negations, inasmuch as He infinitely precedes all conceptions of deprivation, being beyond all positive and negative distinctions….He is super-essentially exalted above created things, and reveals Himself in His naked Truth to those alone who pass beyond all that is pure or impure, and ascend above the topmost altitudes of holy things, and who, leaving behind them all divine light and sound and heavenly utterances, plunge into the Darkness where truly dwells, as the Oracles declare, that ONE who is beyond all.” (Dionysisus the Areopagite, Mystical Theology)
Such a view of God and the ultimate destiny of man destroys the foundations of all that we consider solid and of absolute value in this life. It undermines the very basis of all human thought. If God is beyond the law of contradiction, beyond all positive and negative distinctions, beyond purity , and if He dwells in a Darkness beyond all, then all of our beliefs and efforts on the way to this Divine Nihilism are deprived of ultimate legitimacy and meaning.
Considering this devaluation of all that is human which is integral to Eastern Orthodox spirituality, it is not at all surprising that Christ's humanity is also devalued. Vladimir Losskey writes:
"The cult of the humanity of Christ is foreign to Eastern tradition….The way of the imitation of Christ is never practiced in the spiritual life of the Eastern Church." (Ibid, p. 243).
Eastern Orthodoxy does not deny the importance of the humanity of Christ in the salvific sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. In other words, Christ's Humanity is integral to their view of the act of Redemption. It does, on the other hand, profoundly devalue the centrality of Christ's Sacred Humanity in the process of our sanctification and deification. This "bypassing" of Christ's Humanity is intimately related to the denial of the Filioque – the Catholic doctrine that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son (Latin: Filioque).
In the Catholic view the Holy Spirit is sent by both Father and Son in order to enable us to imitate Christ in His birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection. The Way of our humanity is the Way of Christ's Humanity, working out our salvation in imitation of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is thus in a spiritual sense truly "incarnate": sent by the God-Man Jesus Christ in order to form us into the likeness of the Man-God Jesus Christ. The Filioque is therefore absolutely integral to this incarnational work of the Holy Spirit.
It is otherwise with the Eastern Orthodox. Their denial of the Filioque enables the Holy Spirit to be "liberated" from this connection to the Sacred Humanity of Christ in order to that He might become what some Orthodox writers have been so bold as to call the "Soul of the World." The Holy Spirit, having been liberated from the necessity of working through the Humanity of Christ, thus becomes the source of those Divine Energies which are in creation from the beginning, and are the object and source of our Divine communication, sanctification, and deification.
Eastern Orthodox writers are therefore right in claiming that the rejection of the Filioque is the axis around which revolve all the significant differences between Eastern and Latin Rite theology and spirituality. Ultimately, while accepting the salvific fact of the Incarnation, it rejects or bypasses its meaning in regard to our salvation and deification. The Holy Spirit, sent by Christ in order to form us into His likeness, is deflected by Dionysian-Palamite theology into a type of Gnostic-Pantheistic Esotericism. And at the end of this road of ascending gnosis, we also find that our own humanity has also been bypassed. There, in this Heaven of Orthodoxy, we find no personhood as we know it, no love, no thought, no truth, no purity, and no prayer, but only a Divine Darkness beyond all being, essence, and naming. In other words: the negation of all that we now consider human. With a Heaven like this, who needs a Hell?
The View from the Beginning
Such a negation of all things human in regard to man’s final destiny invariably point to an element of Manichaean dualism in the Eastern view of the beginning of man’s existence. Equally opposed to Catholic understanding of things both Divine and human, therefore, is a prominent strain of thinking in Eastern Orthodox theology in regard to the nature of man’s origin and Fall. Manichaeism is present in Eastern spirituality from the earliest centuries, especially as evidenced in some of the “Eastern Fathers.”
One of the things most characteristic of Eastern Orthodox Apologists is their elevation of the thought of the Eastern Fathers to a kind of Quasi-Apostolic status. This of course is necessitated by the fact that, unlike Catholics, they do not possess a “living” infallible Magisterium. The “Eastern Fathers” are thus elevated to a status which becomes a kind of substitute for this Magisterium.
The fact is, however, that despite their great value for the Church, the writings of virtually all of the early Church Fathers contain serious philosophical and theological errors. This is especially true of certain Eastern Fathers in their views of human sexuality and the nature of original sin, and the denigration of the goodness of human nature which these teachings entail.
Both St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximus the Confessor taught the very serious error that the distinction between sexes was not part of God’s original plan for man, and that this division of man into two sexes was only made by God “in prevision of sin” – in other words, because God foresaw that man would sin. And because both Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor are considered enormously important as precursors of Palamite theology, this teaching appears to be an integral part of Eastern theology. The following analysis deals with the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor in his Ad Thalassium 61, titled On the Legacy of Adam's Transgression. St. Maximus writes:
"When God created human nature, he did not create sensible pleasure and pain along with it; rather, he furnished it with a certain spiritual capacity for pleasure, a pleasure whereby human beings would be able to enjoy God ineffably. But at the instant he was created, the first man, by use of his senses, squandered this spiritual capacity - the natural desire of the mind for God - on sensible things. In this, his very first movement, he activated an unnatural pleasure through the medium of the senses.”
In other words, there was no period of time in Paradise when Adam and Eve lived in a state of Original Justice and Innocence. There was no Tree, no Serpent, no temptation involving a sequence of events as described in Genesis. Adam's fall was simultaneous with his creation. Such a view is totally in keeping with Gnostic notions of creation as decay away from the Monad. It is not in accord with the Christian truth of creation as being "good", and that the Fall of man was a test within this good creation and in the context of man's historically real state of original innocence and justice. But there is much more. According to Maximus this "very first movement" (simultaneous with his creation) of Adam towards "unnatural pleasure" was a movement towards sexuality and the conceiving of other human beings in pleasure. Thus:
"After the transgression pleasure naturally preconditioned the births of all human beings, and no one at all was by nature free from birth subject to the passion associated with this pleasure; rather, everyone was requited with sufferings, and subsequent death, as the natural punishment [of this pleasure]." Christ, in the thinking of Maximus, then brought redemption through “another beginning”: "In truth, then, God became a man and provided another beginning, a second nativity, for human nature, which, through the vehicle of suffering, ends in the pleasure of the life to come. For Adam, our forefather, having transgressed God's commandment, introduced over against the original one [the original source of generation directly from God] another source of human generation based on pleasure and ending in the death that comes through suffering....And because of this unrighteous beginning based on pleasure, Adam subjected along with him his whole posterity, all who like him are born of the flesh, to the finality of death through suffering - and justly so. By contrast, our Lord became a man and in so doing fashioned for human nature another beginning, a second nativity through the Holy Spirit. He even submitted to the death through suffering which in Adam's case was thoroughly justified, but which in his own case was absolutely unjust since it did not have as its genetic root the unrighteous pleasure stemming from our forefather's disobedience. Therein the Lord destroyed both extremes - both the beginning and the end - of the mode of human generation inherited from Adam, such as were not originally of God's doing; and he liberated from liability to those extremes all who are mystically reborn by his Spirit and who no longer retain the pleasure of sexual conception derived from Adam.”
It is very clear from this and the following passage that "rebirth in the Spirit" absolutely requires renunciation of sexuality. Maximus writes:
"In other words, what sort of end or judgment awaits those who have not only kept alive and active - both in soul and in body, both in will and in nature - the Adamic birth based on pleasure...."
In other words, according to Maximus, putting it bluntly and not as elegantly, Original Sin was choosing sex over God. And further, there is no salvation without the renunciation of human sexuality.
So much for the sanctity of family life, and the validity of the marriage vocation as a way to God.
I think that if we meditate deeply upon all this, we should come to realize that such a view of Original Sin and human sexuality has intense ramifications which reach to the very heart of Who God is, what constitutes human nature, and what constitutes the relationship between man and God, and of course, man's ultimate destiny in God. Genesis 1:27 tells us that "God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them." St. Thomas teaches that human sexuality and its corresponding pleasure (but not lust) were absolutely integral to human nature from the beginning, and that its present disordered nature is only the result of that general disorder and rebellion of the sense life against reason which was the fruit of man’s prideful attempt to “be like God.” It is as though Maximus and Gregory of Nyssa totally ignored scripture in order to pursue a theology, metaphysics, and human psychology which accords with some sort of Gnostic understanding of the human condition. The additional tragedy is that it is not only Gnostic, but also Manichaean. Severely so.
This lack of the ultimate validity of all things involving human personality reflects itself in the aridity and impersonality of Eastern spirituality. The experience of the Palamite mystic is always an experience of light. One does not sense in it the experience of God being a Person. Absent to Eastern spirituality are the intimate dialogues of Catherine of Sienna with God the Father, the pleadings and lamentations of Jesus Christ to St. Margaret Mary, the revelation of the secrets of Christ’s merciful Heart to Sr. Faustina, the diminutive conversations between Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego, and all those tender and pleading dialogues between Our Lady and little children in such apparitions such as Lourdes, Fatima, and La Sallette. In fact the alleged mystical experiences are so different from each other as to impel us to believe that one of the two must be false. Either blessedness is a matter of impersonal union with divine energies which manifest themselves as a light and a rapture that negates all human thought and personality; or it is that purely gratuitous Gift of Divine Grace added to human nature and perfecting all valid human experience which culminates in the Vision of the Divine Essence, and which at the same time is the entrance of our entire being and personality into that sweet colloquy of infinite Knowledge and Love which is the interior life of the Three Infinite Persons of the Blessed Trinity.
Finally, we need also mention that the liberation of the Holy Spirit from the Incarnation, through the rejection of the Catholic doctrine concerning the Filioque, also has immense effects upon Eastern Orthodox positions in reference to all sorts of other Catholic doctrines: rejection of purgatory; rejection of the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption; rejection of Transubstantiation; rejection of the Catholic doctrine on Original Sin; rejection of the Papacy, rejection of the Church’s teaching on contraception and divorce (and, of course, there is no unanimity even in these rejections – there can be no unanimity where there is no Papacy or Magisterium) . If the ultimate road to union with the Divine is rooted in an apophatic theology and spirituality which demands the negation of everything that we can positively affirm about God, then ultimately objective, absolute truth itself becomes the victim, and all doctrine and dogma tend to be swallowed up in that darkness and union of contradictories which is the God of Eastern Orthodox theology.
Quick question: does this mean that belief in uniquely thomistic philosophy and theology is necessary for salvation? I think not. There are numerous papal endorsements of scotism as well, and no papal declaration has ever been made supporting a specifically thomisic thesis over a scotistic one. The buisness of the summa being on the altar at trent is a myth, disproven in the 50's (see schafer's bibliography on scotus for details).ReplyDelete
We do not aim for salvation alone, but beyond salvation, we aim for perfection, even in this life. The goal is not to slip into heaven, but to win the race.
Blog owner: please add www.Scholasticism.Info to your blogroll. There are free forums and video chat, so that scholasticism has a place of living discussion.
I have added the link for the blog on the side bar. Perhaps we can form some sort of online discussion group.ReplyDelete
You are right that the Church has never said Thomism or nothing, and has embraced Scotism and Eastern Catholic traditions as well when it comes to theology and philosophy. Pope Leo XIII has made this clear.
As for the Summa being put on the Altar at Trent, that is not a myth, and Pope Leo XIII explicitly made reference to this in (at least) one of his encyclicals.
It is not a matter of Thomism or nothing. But, Thomism is the only philosophy that has been accepted as a whole without reservation by the Church in her documents, etc. So, while there may be elements of other philosophies that may help to understand theological points of Catholicism, there is no philosophical system as whole other than Thomism that gets the Church's praise as it does. In other words, when you start to muddle in other philosophical thoughts and ideas to explain the Catholic faith, you have to be on guard, because they can only take you so far before they become useless. Thomism does not share in that danger.ReplyDelete
The thing you have to be careful with at that point is that Thomas was not correct or at least inaccurate on some of what he said in the Summa.ReplyDelete
And what most people don't know is that Vatican II was actually very good and necessary for giving Eastern Catholics the respect and dignity their contributions deserve. Too much Eastern heritage had become Latinized and/or pushed to the shadows.
I also enjoy reading the Eastern Fathers of the Church and so forth, they are of great spiritual benefit. But as far as using a particular philosophical system to expand upon theological problems of the day, especially when it comes to deciding moral questions, there is nothing that rivals Thomism. Thomism also offers the most solid understanding of the natural law as well. Until we can get the Church back under the wing of Thomism we are going to continue to see shoddy theological conclusions being made largely from the acceptance of bad philosophical systems being taken to their logical ends.ReplyDelete
When you base your entire theological work and studies on the principles of philosophical systems of thought that are not grounded in objective principles, you eventually go off the deep end. We see that with virtually every modern theologian who has adopted the philosophical systems of Kant, Hegel, Heidegger and so forth. They have contributed little or nothing to authentic Catholic theology. That is why it is so important to have a proper view of reality before you begin the theologize. You cannot expound upon the truths of Divine Revelation unless you believe that God and the truth He has revealed about Himself is objective reality, and not something that is rooted in my own subjective "reality." This is the in my view the problem in the Church today. Theology is now all about me, and what I think, and what I feel.
Thomism is very systematic and brings the wisdom of the past into one volume - I'd venture to call it the real "Institutes of the Christian Religion" (despite the utter arrogance of the title and the arch heretic who dared claim the title of 13th Apostle).ReplyDelete
I do agree that making Thomism the foundation of priestly formation (and even secular theological training) would be the most concrete step that can be taken - the problem is that Thomism was renounced precisely because it was too powerful at propping up the truth and not letting error stand.
But the church has never dogmatized a particular thesis of Aquinas, as opposed to that of Duns scotus or bonaventure. so when the church makes general recommendations for thomism, it is then a reference to the common body of doctrine handed down, and not to any particular point in which thomism stands alone from other scholastic systems. And scotism has also been recommended by numerous popes and bishops over the years (see Duns scot et la siege st. compiled by Longpre or bettoni). Additionally, the major scholastic thesis over which there was a great deal of controversy was the immaculate conception, in which case the church sided with scotus. there is no analogous event in which thomism was preferred over scotism. I remain by my claim that the summa was a myth and will supply the references if necessary. simply because leo xiii said so means nothing; the myth would have been well in place by the late 19th century.ReplyDelete
also, i would point out that the most extreme praise for thomism comes from the 19th century, when the only people actually studying scholastic thought were the thomists. the thomists grievously (as has always been their wont) misrepresented the thought of Scotus, so not surprisingly, the 19th cen. popes mandated thomism. Interestingly, it has long been the belief of the commissio scotistica in rome that the popes erred in their endorsement of thomism as a system to debate with modern thought; scotus has far more rigorous arguments, and also doesn't have the disadvantage or needing to be updated with respect to modern cosmology (unlike other scholastics, scotus does not devote endless pages to discussing the place of the chrystalline heaven vs. the emperyan. he was primarily a metaphyician).ReplyDelete
I almost forgot. Paul VI referred to Scotus and aquinas as twin candlesticks illuminating the Church; he did not add that one shone brighter than the other.ReplyDelete
Thomism, Palamism, Scotism and the positive philosophy which shines through in Tempier's condemnations from Laetare 1276/1277 (we would say it was already 1277 since Jan 1, they that 1277 began on Easter day after the condemnations) are ALL attacks on Averroism. Palamas attacked one Barlaam who was much closer to Averroes than to St Thomas. Wonder how much Modern Orthodox have been faithful to that.ReplyDelete
Cfr the Latin text of condemnations by Tempier:
either on my blog,
Index in stephani tempier condempnationes,
or in the publication of David Piché, Latin/French parallel pages (his translation from which I differ in two places).
Very enlightening. I do hope things aren't as bleak as you suggest. I will say one thing though, if discussion between East and West as it takes place on the Eastern Catholicism Forum at Catholic Answers is any indication, it will be a long, long time before there is TRUE unity between Eastern and Western Catholicism.ReplyDelete
I have written two blog posts criticizing what I see as errors in Aquinas' system. I did this to see if anyone could answer these problems I was seeing when examining Aquinas. Could you read my posts and point out where I went wrong?
I completely agree with this specific point, but I have a few questions to ask:ReplyDelete
"Either blessedness is a matter of impersonal union with divine energies which manifest themselves as a light and a rapture that negates all human thought and personality; or it is that purely gratuitous Gift of Divine Grace added to human nature and perfecting all valid human experience which culminates in the Vision of the Divine Essence, and which at the same time is the entrance of our entire being and personality into that sweet colloquy of infinite Knowledge and Love which is the interior life of the Three Infinite Persons of the Blessed Trinity."
I also completely agree with your criticism of the human-nature destroying and thought-denying mysticism here, but what should we make of other Church Fathers who propose something similar to that?
I am mainly talking about St. Augustine who talks about how we will no longer love ourselves for our own sake, but only for God's sake, and that lovin God with all our heart and mind means only loving God for His sake and everything else for God's sake: https://books.google.hr/books?id=Z3XYAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA169&lpg=PA169&dq=what+is+there+left+of+your+heart+for+you+to+love+yourself,+augustine&source=bl&ots=KB1IN2wfrd&sig=ACfU3U3e3v1ASaMetQR5J0tzuayOnKdrog&hl=hr&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjr5669taTmAhV65KYKHdB4A8EQ6AEwDnoECAgQAQ#v=snippet&q=left%20of%20your%20mind&f=false
Creation then is no longer an end in itself, or loved for it's own sake.
Is this type of mysticism also disagreeable (and to me it certainly is) and criticisable with the same logic you use, even if it comes from St. Augustine?
What do you think?
St. Gregory Palamas is a Catholic saint. He's commemorated on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent in some Eastern (Byzantine) Catholic Churches. Moreover, St. Gregory Palamas' teaching seems to basically be a comprehensive presentation of the theology of the Greeks. In other words, it's nothing particularly new. St. Basil taught that we cannot behold the divine Essence, but rather that we commune with God through His divine Energies. That's the core of St. Gregory Palamas' teaching. It's a fact that the Greek Fathers formulated a different theology of the Trinity than what was developed from St. Augustine's Trinitarian theology. My point is that Eastern Catholics are 'Catholic' as much as a Thomist is Catholic, and yet, Eastern Catholics can and do believe in the Essence-Energies distinction and Uncreated Grace. They also do not let apparent contradictions between the Latin theology and Greek theology to be modes through which Schism should be perpetuated. We can agree that this is finally a mystery that cannot be fully comprehended and the two Traditions are simply different modes of expressing the same truth, even if they apparently contradict. That's okay. A Thomist may think an Eastern Catholic Palamist believes in dietheism, but we don't.ReplyDelete
"Just as the Absolute Divine Simplicity is the first and foremost principle in considering the Catholic view of the nature of God's existence, so a fundamental division in the Divine, a Divine Duplicity, is the fundamental principal for understanding the God of Eastern Orthodoxy."ReplyDelete
This should say, "Eastern Catholicism" as well. But right off the bat, to be fair to the East, one must admit that the East absolutely does not teach there is a division in the Divine. Immediately the house of cards falls down.