Back in late May I watched a video by a Roman Catholic schismatic, simply for purposes of entertainment. Its topic was: “Eastern ‘Orthodoxy’ Exposed: Their Heretical Doctrine Of God.” I wrote a quick comment and I checked a week later seeing no responses to it. A friend of mine, an Orthodox inquirer, emailed me about the video and I simply pointed to the comment. It was still up at the time. Sadly the comment has since been deleted.
Recently, I was emailed about the video again from another friend who likewise is inquiring into Roman Catholicism and the sort. I wrote the following response, heavily edited so nothing of a personal nature comes up. This amounts to my response to the above video:
The video works under the presumption that logical premises and philosophy somehow are true theology. In fact, I think this whole tendency (other than anti-intellectual baptists) ruins western theology.
In short, the premise of the video is that the energy-essence distinction in God philosophically teaches polytheism (hence the title of the video). He literally tethers his argument to the idea if that if (some of) God’s divine energies are created, this in effect makes God created and therefore turns God’s energies into created gods.
Perhaps this argument makes sense to the armchair philosopher, but if we put down our Aristotle and picked up our Bibles, we would read in John 1 that the Word was made flesh! The uncreated became created! The eternal entered time. Due to the hypostatic union, we cannot properly speak of Christ without referring to His “generate and ingenerate” qualities, as Saint Ignatius put it so early on.
This literally obliterates the argument undergirding the whole video, which of course, is why he deleted my comment. Like Eph 4:6 states,”God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Obviously, this cannot be true of His essence as this would make God’s divine “substance” (which is why we often talk about “consubstantiality” in western theology) temporal–something Orthodox object to–hence the energy-essence distinction.
Western theology ultimately turns God into the Big Bang of sorts…a far away, unapproachable, point of singularity akin to the One of Neo-Platonism that cannot be transcendent. He really is not through all and in all, as this would make God created somehow. Orthodoxy rejects such false philosophy because we are sticking to the teaching of Christianity throughout the ages.
On a secondary note, one may appreciate the video’s side swipes against eastern mysticism. This is not entirely without justification. But, ask yourself. Is the West without sin in this regard? Don’t they have their mystics? In fact, their mystics are worse and practice propitiatory flagellations and the like.
What practice do the eastern mystics have which is suspect? Questionable body posture? (I am personally not a fan of the naval gazing, I think that some well-meaning people are simply cutting off oxygen to their brains and having phenomena that are common to fighter pilots who due to g-forces start having hallucinations, see a science article on the subject here).
The eastern mystics are not encanting demons. Praying with your head on your lap might be painful and bad for your neck, but it is only evil if there is a sense of pride that one can make God do a “miracle” of some sort.
If the mystical side of historic Christianity bothers us, then the obvious answer is Protestantism (or nihilism, as where intellectually the Protestant Reformation has ultimately led.) I suppose that if we do not deal with anything spiritual, we avoid the demons. But, Jesus went out into the wilderness to pray for a long time and was tempted! So, we are not to purposely look for demons, but we are not to avoid the spiritual life of Christianity because of them.
I will offer one final comment. Most of us armchair theologians online, and even those with seminary training, are theological morons. We do not have any Saint Maximus the Confessors or Saint Gregory of Nyssas alive today (or a Thomas Aquinas for that matter.) We are all pretending to understand the theological arguments of fathers which are couched in Greek terms and a intellectual culture centuries removed from ours.
I say this as someone who is actually published in the field of Neo-Platonism! I struggle mightily to follow the arguments of the fathers when they are trying to explain Christian theology in Platonic terms (hence our arguments about energies, essence, hypostasis, etcetera.) I think the vast majority of us would be much better off bowing out and not even discussing these subjects then pretending we understand them, let alone apply teachings based upon an understanding of the said concepts.
This is why I plant my flag not on my own understanding of theology or the Scriptures, but what the Church has always taught. Schismatics are not the Church. This is why when evaluating doctrine, the first question I ask is whether this doctrine is from a body which may be historically demonstrated to be in schism or not.
New winds of doctrine and philosophy are not Her teachings. The Church is Christ’s Body and has a wisdom from God Himself (1 Cor 2:10), and Her mind on these matters has been communicated by the saints throughout the ages. So, in short, I do not have to understand nor deliberate about these things. I can simply stick with what they have always taught.
So, to return to the video at issue, Saint Gregory Palamas is perhaps an outlier (of sorts) among the fathers. I would agree that his application of the term “energy” was different than what we often see in the Cappadocian fathers. But, this is to miss the forest from the trees.
Just as the Orthodox fathers of Nicea contradicted the Orthodox fathers that deposed Paul of Samasata a century previously in their usage of the term “same substance,” what we cannot avoid is that both were communicating the same thing. So, in the third and forth centuries, they were arguing that Jesus Christ is God using contradictory terminology. Likewise, Cappadocians and Palamas were affirming another essential Christian truth–God is transcendent.
We do not experience God through some sort of filter. We experience God Himself. We are literally indwelt with His Spirit. Our cells literally take on the physical matter of the Eucharist. We have a true and metaphysical union with God by grace through faith in Christ.
It was this essential Christian truth that Palamas sought to defend against Western thinkers who were in reality syncretists who taught that Aristotle, Plato, and the Bible were all teaching about the same God. Palamas was not specifically reacting against Aquinas, and in fact at the time of the Hesychast controversy Aquinas was actually viewed positively in the East (the anti-Aquinas thing is more of a result of the east becoming more anti-philsophical than would have been the norm in Palamas day, a move I personally agree with.)
Rather, Palamas was reacting against what would later become Renaissance philosophy, as arguably Barlaam (Palamas’ theological adversary and a teacher of Greek to Petrarch) was one of the first Renaissance humanists! Palamas nipped in the bud the sort of thinking that would be found in the Ficinos, the Miradollas, the Cusas…the thinkers whose approach to divine truth was a mixture of prayer and philosophical contemplation. Ironically, this sort of humanism planted the intellectual seeds of the Protestant Reformation itself.
Palamas was reacting against the idea that knowing God is some sort of intellectual exercise due to his remoteness and unknowability, only perceived in contemplation, Scripture reading, or whatever else. Rather, God is known by experience! Palamas’ writings are an intellectual defense (hence extremely philosophical) of the importance of knowing God apart from philosophy and human reason! Christians can know God, not merely know about God.
In closing, this is why the schismatics who made the video against Orthodoxy miss the mark so badly. They neither respond adequately to the particulars of Palamas’ argumentation, nor do they understand the spirit of Christianity (which is Orthodoxy) itself–God is transcendent and by grace we know God like a bride knows her husband. Beyond this, I cannot pass any more comment because I am already beyond my philosophical depth.
Interesting as usual. Your statement “Western theology ultimately turns God into the Big Bang of sorts…a far away, unapproachable, point of singularity akin to the One of Neo-Platonism that cannot be transcendent. ” does not ring true to me. As you say, we experience God through the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist; and we are truly close in our beliefs.
The statement pertained to theology it is most extreme ramifications from the scholastics and then the humanists.
I doubt Craig has actually read much Aquinas or Augustine as their works are vast and as his caricature of Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic is fairly facile in understanding, or at least he fails to grasp how either Aquinas or Augustine properly applied the philosophies to Christianity.
It’s interesting how he frames Catholicism as schismatics, which is a fairly traddy stance within Orthodoxy itself. Catholicism has the same streak, of course, some within Catholicism would assert Orthodox to be schismatics. But you know what happens when that language is used? The opposite side generally just turns off their ears to the rest of the rhetoric and it goes for both sides.
Originally in the 2nd century it was St. Justin Martyr who incorporated the Word into the philosophy of Greeks recognizing that even the pagans have “seeds of truth.” So, this anti-reason and anti-philosophical mysticism within the East seems to carry a string of anti-intellectualism.
A better understanding of God becoming man is Aquinas’ Part 3 Question 1 in the Summa Theologica.
I have read a fair deal of Augustine, but I am not intelligent enough to read the Summa. I have read Aquinas’ commentary on Job, however.
You’re intelligent enough to read it. You may have a curve with philosophical language such as the four causes, nature and essence, and etc. But Aquinas writes very simplistic and to the point other than that, whereas Augustine’s language is a bit more colorful.
Tried twice the syllogisms kill me
So if I wanted to read more of Eastern thought, should if you could recommend one theologian, who should I read?
East does not have a lot of comprehensive works of theology. Id recommend saint philarets longer catechism.
There is a Shorter Summa, about 350 pages, written by St Thomas himself, that I am ploughing through. There is a lot to be learnt from it, though in parts it is difficult to follow.
In the Shorter Summa, St Thomas has a chapter on the Incarnation, also exposing various heresies, about 45 pages. Well worth a read. (See if you can get it online Craig.)
“It’s interesting how he frames Catholicism as schismatics, which is a fairly traddy stance within Orthodoxy itself. Catholicism has the same streak, of course, some within Catholicism would assert Orthodox to be schismatics.”
He may have meant it was a schismatic *from* Catholics, because that’s what Most Holy Family Monastery is. It’s a sedevacantist group. If you’re fortunate enough to be unaware of what that is, sedevacantism is the belief that ever since Pius XII (or since John XXIII, depending on which sedevacantist you ask), there has been no pope and the people who have held the titles are pretenders. The funny thing is that sedevacantists seem to spend nearly as much time arguing about which sedevacantist group has their doctrines right as they do arguing against modern Catholicism. At any rate, the Most Holy Family Monastery is a schismatic Catholic group in the sense that they’ve schism’d *away* from Catholicism.
Perhaps the blog author did mean “Catholic schismatic” as you imply–he didn’t respond to that point directly in his response to you. But whether he did or didn’t, I did want to make it clear to anyone who after all this time both looks at the post and then reads this comment that Most Holy Family Monastery is only Catholic in the same way that Martin Luther was Catholic.
One final note not really related to this particular blog post: I first found this blog via an earlier post that argued AGAINST Eastern Orthodoxy and was confused by the blog’s title. At some point, it might be worth it to go back to older posts like that and add a header mentioning you no longer endorse their contents due to your viewpoint change.
(apologies if I accidentally posted twice)
You’re correct about MHFM, i was calling them schismatics. As for going back and adding new headers, that takes time 🙂 We shall see. I was content to leave them as is as a testimony of sorts.
Craig, I think that this is a bit ironic of Holy Family Monastery, that they said what you said they said about Orthodoxy talking on created energies and created grace. Actually, what Saint Gregory Palamas taught was uncreated grace and uncreated energies of God, the Uncreated Light obtained by ascetics through prayer, fasting, and the Jesus prayer. Few of us have obtained enough through proper ascetic practice and discipline such a view within our souls of Uncreated Light; purity of heart is difficult for a poor sinner such as me. It seems that the followers of Rome and Aquinas have this wrong. Aquinas taught created grace, and the grace of the Latin sacraments (which are really no sacraments because of their heterodoxy and schism) bestow grace as a created substance, a material thing. Orthodoxy teaches the Uncreated presence of Christ in the Orthodox Church’s holy mysteries. The polytheism they decry is what is implied by their semi-Sabellian Filioque. Such double procession implies an unlimited number of other processions, as there is nothing to prevent this in their Filioquism. I need to get back closer to Christ and to do better, with God’s help. There is much that is still wrong with me. Orthodoxy comes not by reading alone, but by reading and experience in the Church and her Divine Life, and I need much more of this divine experience, as I am new to Orthodoxy and only 4 years in, since my entrance into the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church of (outside of) Russia in America. Moscow Patriarchate. God bless our Patriarch, our Metropolitan, and our beloved bishop John. God save them all and God save us all together in Church. God bless and save all of you; and free all of you in schism and heterodoxy whether you are in Calvinism, Catholicism, or whatever. God bless us everyone. God bless America.
Could you give me a reference to this?
“the followers of Rome and Aquinas have this wrong. Aquinas taught created grace, and the grace of the Latin sacraments (which are really no sacraments because of their heterodoxy and schism) bestow grace as a created substance, a material thing.”
I’ve never come across such a concept.
You write: “He literally tethers his argument to the idea if that if (some of) God’s divine energies are created, this in effect makes God created and therefore turns God’s energies into created gods.”
Your comment here is a blatant misrepresentation of the content of the video. You obviously didn’t watch the video carefully or you are outright lying. Dimond’s video correctly represents the E. “Orthodox” position that the energies are, in their view, “uncreated.” He never said they believe them to be created. So you have no idea what you are saying, and your commentary should be rejected as not credible. People should watch the video instead.
Is this a sock puppet account?