Thursday, May 24, 2007

Palamas and Composition

Does the ousia/energeia distinction violate the doctrine of divine simplicity. Gregory Palamas argues not:

Just as the substance of God is absolutely unnameable since it is beyond names according to the theologians, so also is it imparticipable since it is beyond participation according to them. Therefore, those who now disobey the teaching of the Spirit through our holy Fathers and revile us who agree with them, say that either there are many gods or the one God is composite, if the divine energy is distinct from the divine substance even if it be observed entirely within the substance of God. They are unaware that it is not acting and energy but being acted upon and the passivity which constitute composition. But God acts without being acted upon and without undergoing change.

[Gregory Palamas, The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, Robert E. Sinewicz, tr. PIMS (Toronto: 1988) ch. 145 (p. 251).]

One thing that is striking about this is that from a Thomistic perspective this is exactly how one should argue in order to show that the distinction does not violate divine simplicity. On Thomas's view, simplicity is noncomposition; and all compositio is in some way or another compositio actus et potentiae, a composition of actuality and passive potentiality (cf., e.g., SCG 1.18). If the distinction introduces no potentiality, it introduces no composition, and thus does not violate the doctrine of divine simplicity.

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