Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Mystery of Piety 1.5.1&2

To say that this one was immensely difficult is an understatement, and to say that it is therefore rough and preliminary should go without saying.


Fifth Part of the First Question

1.5.1  On Attributes of Divine Being

Having considered how we know God and how we name God, the natural next step is to consider God insofar as He is the object of our knowing and naming. In naming God as we know Him, we attribute certain things to Him, and what is attributed to Him is therefore called a divine attribute. (Some people confine the term 'divine attribute' to cases involving positive rather than negative names, but I do not regard this as a substantive and stable distinction, and therefore will count all names that may be truly attributed to God.) A divine attribute, therefore, is God insofar as He is known and named in a certain way. As we have previously noted, divine names, insofar as they follow our genuine knowledge of God, must be understood in a way appropriate to causation, remotion, and eminence. Therefore we must only count as divine attributes those things that we have established to belong to God on causal inference, from which we have carefully removed those things that indicate imperfection or defect or the nature of an effect, and that we understand in such a way as to recognize that God exceeds all our knowing and naming.

From this we can see that if we apply a term to God like 'being', we must do so in a way that is constrained by its causal inference. In this case, the causal inference is that we begin with the being of other things as effects that must participate being itself, and thus God insofar as being may be attributed to Him. To this, revelation adds the mystery of the Ineffable Name, in Exodus 3, which is testimony, an effect from which we infer what is testified, namely, that God may say (Ex 3:14 LXX), I am Being. As everything conceived is conceived in relation to being, and the attribution of anything to anything depends on how it is conceived, what is true of being serves as a kind of template for all other divine attributions. However, since 'being' as a divine attribute must be understood in a way appropriate to causation, remotion, and eminence, may use terms attributing being to God in ways that emphasize more or less any of these three. Understanding this is important for understanding differences in theological language over time or across cultures. This is also helpful for sorting out certain confusions about the divine attributes. 

(1) Some people have said that God exceeds anything that is attributed to him. In this they were thinking of terms and concepts insofar as they applied to creatures. Thus they held that God is beyond being, beyond wisdom, etc. 

(2) Others have held that divine attributes apply to God as perfect in all ways and wholly subsistent, and thus that God is perfect being or preeminently being, preeminently wisdom, etc.  In this they particularly considered God as that which is most excellent.

(3) Yet others have said that divine attributes are in God, so that God has being, has wisdom, and so forth. These attributions are attributed to God insofar as things attributed to creatures must derive from God as cause and source.

All three of these ways of talking are acceptable, if they are understood in such a way as not to rule out the others; that is, insofar as they are each understood in a manner appropriate to the unified triplex via of remotion, eminence, and causation. What we attribute to God is based on participation of and assimiliation to Him, and is to be understood in such a way; but any such participation and assimilation suggests that there is more to God than can be participated, so we must recognize it as suggesting God insofar as He is imparticipible and beyond all imitation. Thus we attribute being to God, insofar as beings derive from Him by participation and imitation, and the being we attribute to Him is not exhausted by such participation and imitation, and He is not confined to what we can attribute to Him even in this way. As all other attributions presuppose the attribution of being, this is true of every other divine attribute.

Actual being is the most fundamental form of being, and therefore is especially appropriate to attribute to God; thus we say, for instance, that God is pure act (actus purus). Everything that has actual being, however, is known by being related to another; that is to say, we are aware of and come to understand what actually is insofar as it actually is to, in, or with another. Such relative conception of being is known by many different names in different contexts, because there are many different ways anything can be to, for, or with another; for instance, depending on the context and intent we may call use terms like energy (energeia), active power, habit or active disposition, activity, action, operation, and many others. As all being can be conceived under a relation of some kind, only nonbeing lacks energy or activity in this sense. Because of this, when Damascene discusses the meanings of the term 'energy' (De Fide 2.23), he is quite generous in what he allows, saying that energy is the natural force and activity of each essence and natural energy is the activity innate in every essence and no essence can be devoid of natural energy; he calls it as well the force in each essence by which its nature is made manifest and the primal, eternally moving force of the intelligent soul and the eternally moving word of the soul, which ever springs naturally from it, and the force and activity of each essence which only that which is not lacks, and finally, drastic (δραστική, i.e., self-moved) activity of nature. Elsewhere (3.15), he calls it complete realization of power. As examples he gives faculties, actions, and affections or passions, as well as, in a looser sense, the results of these things. Activity is thus the expression of actuality; what is actual acts and acts only insofar as it is actual. We may even say that particular actions, i.e., activity with respect to a particular object, are the actual thing being not merely actual in itself but actual to, in, or with another. On the other side, what acts does so insofar as it is actual, precisely because to act in this sense is to be actual with respect to a given way of being related to another.

All of this follows of God as well, who is known through divine activity. Indeed, it is in some sense more true of God than other things that God is known through His activity, because we do not know what God is in Himself. St. Basil also says the same in discussing whether we know the God we worship (Ep. 234): I do know that He exists; what His essence is, I look at as beyond intelligence. This is because, as he notes, we know that God has certain attributes, even though this falls short of knowing God's very quiddity; in his words, We say that we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His providence over us, and the justness of His judgment, but not His very essence; but he goes on to note that he who denies that he knows the essence does not confess himself to be ignorant of God, because our idea of God is gathered from all the attributes which I have enumerated. In Epistle 235, he gives an analogy to this. If someone were to ask whether we knew Timothy, and on being told that we do, began to claim that we had said we know and understand Timothy's nature, he would have erred in his inference, because from the fact that we know Timothy in one way it does not follow that we konw him in such a way as to be able to give an exact, or even in any direct, account of his nature. We know him according to some of his attributes, but not in his very nature. This is, as Basil goes on to note true even of our self-knowledge (Ep. 235): I both know, and am ignorant of, myself. I know indeed who I am, but, so far as I am ignorant of my essence I do not know myself. And he concludes that those who conclude from our recognition of our ignorance of God that we therefore cannot worship Him err by ignoring that there are many ways we can be said to know and instead trying to force a single sense, direct contempation of divine substance. 

This line of thought can perhaps be thought of as symbolically represented in Exodus 33:19-23, in which the Lord shows Himself to Moses. The Lord promises to do so by way of His activity or energy: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. However, the Lord also notes the limitations of this: But, he said, you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live. As Nazianzen comments on this (Oration 28.3), For these are the Back Parts of God, which He leaves behind Him, as tokens of Himself like the shadows and reflection of the sun in the water, which show the sun to our weak eyes, because we cannot look at the sun himself, for by his unmixed light he is too strong for our power of perception. In this way then shall you discourse of God; even were thou a Moses and a god to Pharaoh; even were thou caught up like Paul to the Third Heaven, and had heard unspeakable words; even were thou raised above them both, and exalted to Angelic or Archangelic place and dignity.

Therefore, as Basil says (Ep. 234), knowledge of the divine essence involves perception of His incomprehensibility, and the object of our worship is not that of which we comprehend the essence, but of which we comprehend that the essence exists. On the basis of this, it is common in the Greek tradition of sacred doctrine to distinguish between knowledge of God in His energies, which is the knowledge that we may have, and knowledge of God in his ousia, which belongs only to Himself. When we translate ousia into English, we generally do so by translating it either as 'substance' or as 'essence', but either way but we must be wary because in this context specifically, energeia indicates divine being insofar as divine being is participable (whether by imitation or by cognition), and thus able to be known under these relations, but ousia, when it is contrasted with this, indicates divine being insofar as it is supereminent beyond all possible participation. It is clear that when we do this, we need to make the distinction between the two; thus St. Cyril of Alexandria says (Thesaurus 18), Essence and energy are not identical, and Palamas says (Cap. 127), Energy is neither essence nor accident. The energetic attributions in these contexts is relative to other things; as Palamas says (Philokalia IV, p. 127),  Not all things said of God betoken His essence. For what belongs to the category of relation is also predicated of Him, and this is relative and refers to relationship with something else, and does not signify essence. Such is the divine energy in God. In order to maintain this distinction, a certain sort of grammar is in play in Greek theological vocabulary, in order to prevent confusion; we may speak of energies in the singular or the plural but the ousia must be spoken of in the singular; energies may be described by figures of speech associated with change, but ousia may not be; ousia is treated as beyond name but energy as having many distinct names. On the other side, ousia and energeia may not be opposed in such a way as to suggest that they are separate, separable, or components of a composite whole; as Palamas says (Triads 2.8), We do not treat the unity of essence and energies as if they had the same meaning, but as something inseparable, and (Triads 3.2.7), God is entirely present in each of the divine energies. Thus the energy is said to proclaim the essence and the essence is said to be contemplated in or through the energy.

Ousia in the sense contrasted with divine energies is an example of the figure of catachresis, a stretching of the word into paradoxical territory in order to make simply a point that would otherwise take much labor or many words. Ousia in other contexts, however, may indicate that divine energy we know to be in God from the fact that other things actually are or have being, that is, divine being insofar as it is participable. When essentia is used in the Latin theological tradition, it mostly is associated with this latter energetic meaning rather than the catechretic meaning, although with it, too, there may be uses in which one emphasizes divine supereminence rather than the participability of effects in their first cause.  It is obvious that in general the use of a term will not be catechretic unless there is specific contextual need to take it in such an extended way; otherwise, it would not be catachresis. These matters have caused endless confusions among those who have difficulty understanding that Greek and Latin are different languages or, indeed, that even in a single question one term may be used differently depending on context and intent. We all suffer from the curse of the pride of Babel, and only the grace of the charity of Pentecost can overcome it.

We may therefore say, looking more to the reasons than to the particular vocabulary, that the following principles are true:

(1) Active power is to be attributed to God. As God is known from His effects, whether those of the natural world or those of grace and revelation, one must attribute to Him the power for producing those effects. Power, potency, potentiality, capability, capacity, and other such terms are attributed relatively and in two ways. When the manner of the relation by which it is attributed is in some way contrary to actuality, this is called passive power; for instance, we say that something has the power or ability to be changed into X, which attributes to it a power that is contrasted with the actuality of X. However, the relation by which we attribute power to something may be such that it is not contrary to actuality. This is called active power. We have already seen that the relation connecting God to His effects must be such that God has no potentiality, only actuality. For instance, incomplete actuality as an effect requires complete actuality as a first changing or making cause, which we call God. Therefore the power to be attributed to Him is not to be contrasted with actuality. Therefore active power is to be attributed to God.

(2) The active power of God is not other than the divine being, considered as that from which creatures have their being. First, active power belongs to something insofar as it is actual; thus God, as pure act, is not something receiving its actuality from something else, and therefore His power is not the kind that requires actualization or completion by anything. As He is God in His own simplicity, His power is not other than Himself. Likewise, God is subsistent being itself, and therefore does not have the kind of power that depends on participating in some other being, and therefore the power that God is is that which pertains to actual being itself. Any active power separable from the being of its agent is a categorical accident related to the agent as its substance; but there can be no accident or incidental characteristic in God, since that would make Him incompletely actual, deriving being participatively from some other being. Therefore the active power of God is not other than the divine being itself. What is more, we call this being 'active power' in terms of its being the principle of what has being from God, and we call this very active power 'action' insofar as we emphasize that which derives from God. 

(3) Distinguishable active powers are attributed to God, our attributions representing God imperfectly. When we speak of powers in created living things, or in things like water and fire that we think of as very active, we often speak of them as 'rooted in' or 'flowing from' the thing or from its essence; this language is sometimes used to speak of divine power. Such created things cannot act toward other things directly from their essence because whatever acts, acts in the way it is actual, but created things have to be disposed to their actions, whether in themselves or in how their actions relate to the material on which they act. Therefore their externally directed powers are, as it were, instruments that they use, and so accidental forms. This is not true of God, who produces directly and immediately by His action rather than by modifying his capabilities in various ways to produce the effect. However, in every action that produces an effect, the effect is in some way like the agent from which it is distinguished and from which it comes, which in created living things is associated with this aspect of their action; therefore we transfer the same language to speak of God's production of His effects. Likewise, we often think of created living creatures as arrayed or clothed with their powers, through which they express themselves, and therefore we may speak of the divine active power being  'around the essence' or 'about the essence' of God. These are metaphorical, but this flowing and procession is that in created living things which imitates what in God is active power without fluctuation or movement.

If we keep these principles in mind, then when we attribute different actions to God, we do so truly, but also always relatively, remotively, and recognizing that God is eminent beyond what we can attribute to Him. Where the energies appear, they proclaim the unseen essence, such that the essence is contemplated with the energies; this is the constant testimonhy of the Greek theologians. This is because divine action is divine active power understood with respect to its term, while the divine active power is the divine being itself understood insofar as it is related to and participated by creatures. But it is also the case that God is not exhausted by the ability of any or even all creatures together to participate, i.e., 'take a part of', His active power and action in this way. In recognizing the participation, we also recognize the inexhaustibility of what is participated; in recognizing that creatures imitate Him in their way, we recognize that divine being exceeds all capacity of creatures to imitate Him as He is. Thus Basil says (Ep. 234), The operations are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His operations, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His operations come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach. As noted above, this is often described metaphorically in terms of fluid, as a river flowing from a spring, or flame, as a radiance proceeding from a fire, in each case the one presupposing the other yet inseparable and indivisible with it. In the same way, God in Himself is absolutely prior to any and all creatures, depending on them not at all, and therefore cannot be wholly understood in terms of attributes derived from His relation to the latter. But all of these attributes presuppose that absolute priority, and can only be properly understood as attributed to God insofar as it is also understood that the attribution itself can never be adequate to the divine being itself. As Palamas says (Triads 3.2.7), Since God is present as a whole in each of the divine energies, we give names to God on the basis of each one of these, while, at the same time, affirming that essentially he transcends all of these. Otherwise, how would God be fully and indivisibly present in each of the many divine energies, and how would he be fully seen and named in each by virtue of his supernatural and indivisible simplicity, if he did not also transcend all of these. 

1.5.2  On the Multifold Simplicity of the Divine Energies

From all that has been said, we have seen that God exceeds what we or any created mind can identify as divine energies, active powers, activities, or operations. Understanding this helps us to avoid many errors. As God is first principle, when considering the distinction between being absolute and being relative, it is an error to think that this distinction is somehow prior to God, so that He must be placed simply on one side or the other. Of Himself, God is absolute, simple, incommunicable, infinite, necessary, but He is so only insofar as we understand this to mean that He eminently contains their opposites as well. Thus He is both, although it is crucial to understand that He is not both in the same way: thus it has been said that He is beyond being, beyond necessity, and so forth. This raises the question of how we may better conceive the way in which he is, in Palamas's phrase (Triads 3.2.7), fully seen and named in each by virtue of his supernatural and indivisible simplicity.

When we speak of divine energies, or active powers, we can think of them either absolutely or relatively, as one or as many. They are one, insofar as any attribution to God of active powers or energies is concerned with divine being, which is one. The unities we find in the world are divisible according to unity and multitude and thus can have unity in common while nonetheless receiving it in various ways and degrees. Whenever we find agreement in some respect we trace it back to primary unity. But all things agree in being, and therefore there must be a primary unity for all beings, and other unities must refer and trace back to it as source and measure. Since one is undivided being, if anything is supremely one it must be, and being itself would have to be utterly indivisible, since it cannot have its unity by participation. The one itself, from which all other things have their unity, is likewise being itself, from which all other things have their being. This we call God; as St. Anselm says (Pros. 18), You are unity itself. Thus everything attributed to God is attributed to Him as indivisible being; attribution of anything to God in such a way as to understand it as dividing the divine being is a false attribution. As St. Maximus says (Two Hundred Chapters 2.1), God is one, because divinity is one: a unity without first principle, simple, and beyond substance, both inseparable and indivisible.

Not all distinctions, however, are divisions, and because of this we may also think of divine activities as many; the attributions are many because we reach them by diverse routes with diverse starting points. Thus for instance, we attribute to God knowledge of the sun and knowledge of the moon. 'God's knowledge of the sun' and 'God's knowledge of the moon' are not divided from each other in God; God in knowing Himself knows all things. But 'God's knowledge of the sun' and 'God's knowledge of the moon' are not synonymous expressions, because 'sun' and 'moon' are not synonyms; they are distinct ways of referring to God's knowledge, wholly one, by which He knows all things, whether the sun or the moon or anything else. They do not signify the same thing, because they have reference to other things; as Palamas says (Philokalia IV, p. 127),  Not all things said of God betoken His essence. For what belongs to the category of relation is also predicated of Him, and this is relative and refers to relationship with something else, and does not signify essence. But the diversity does not in any way threaten the divine simplicity, because we do not attribute them to God as if they were component parts of any kind.

Likewise, it is not prejudicial to God’s simplicity if many relations are predicated of Him, although they do not signify His essence; those relations are dependent on God and the predications are consequent upon our way of understanding. Nothing prevents our intellect from understanding many things and referring them to a simple thing, so as to consider that simple thing under a manifold relationship. But more than this, the more simple a cause, the greater is its power and the more our minds can think of in relation to it, so that it is understood as related in so many more ways. God is the limit case of this; everything else can be related to Him as cause, and therefore when we seek to understand Him as cause, we do so by many different relations to His many different effects. As Damascene says (De Fid. 1.14), the divine effulgence and energy, being one and simple and indivisible, assuming many varied forms in its goodness among what is divisible and allotting to each the component parts of its own nature, still remains simple and is multiplied without division among the divided, and gathers and converts the divided into its own simplicity. The very fact that so many things are predicated of God in a relative manner bears witness to His supreme simplicity, which is therefore, as Augustine says (De Trin. 4.4), a simple multiplicity, or multifold simplicity.

Augustine uses the phrase simple multiplicity, or multifold simplicity in analogizing the divine unity to the unity of virtues. Each virtue has its own meaning, but the virtues are not separable but have a sort of circumincession and interpenetration. Fully to have fortitude requires prudence, justice, and temperance, and the full exercise of acts of fortitude requires that they involve the other virtues in some way. We see the effectiveness of this analogy in thinking of integrity of character; this integrity has often been thought, by the Neoplatonists, for instance, in terms of a simplicity by which we imitate the One. When our character is defective, it is more obviously composite, with different aspects clashing and our character as a whole most easily characterized in terms of warring parts. As we become more virtuous, these divisions and inconsistencies are healed and character becomes more unified. When virtue comes into its full completeness, the virtues are one, so that to have any virtue is to have them all. Even in this state, 'prudence' and 'fortitude' are not synonyms and can be distinguished, but prudence and fortitude in their completeness involve each other in such a way that to know one fully requires knowing the other fully; the diversity of attributes to a character of full integrity does not indicate any lack of simplicity. In the case of divine attributes, the unity is even greater than that which we find in fully virtuous character, but their very perfection means we must attribute more to the divine being. Thus after giving the analogy, Augustine continues (De Trin. 4.4), How much more therefore is this the case in that unchangeable and eternal substance, which is incomparably more simple than the human mind is? Since, in the human mind, to be is not the same as to be strong, or prudent, or just, or temperate; for a mind can exist, and yet have none of these virtues. But in God to be is the same as to be strong, or to be just, or to be wise, or whatever is said of that simple multiplicity, or multifold simplicity, whereby to signify His substance.  Thus we may borrow a phrase from elsewhere and say that diverse attributions are attributed to God, not in confusion, not in separation, but in such a way that each is in each, and each in all, and all in each, and all in all, and all are one.

In all of this, we have been concerned with divine active power primarily insofar as it is attributed to God; but we can also consider it primarily insofar as creatures are related to it. Thus we must also consider the divine presence and glory, to which we will now turn.