Is God “Essence and Energies”?

According to many in the Eastern Orthodox Church, God is “essence and energies”. While the church fathers made a distinction between the essence of God and His energies (His attributes and operations), I could not find any fathers who said “God is essence and energies”. To the contrary, the fathers  maintained that God is simple and not compound, and that God’s qualities, attributes, will, and operations are not God, even though they are divine. Those who promote this view argue that anything that is “uncreated” is God, therefore they maintain that God’s energies must be God. But defining the divinity based on attributes and not essence, is the foundation for the argument in support of the Eunomian heresy. The Arians/Eunomians argued that since the Word is begotten and the Father is unbegotten, the Word cannot be God. Thus, they made a mere quality or attribute (to be begotten or unbegotten) the criteria for the divinity. Similarly, many assert that God’s energies are uncreated and therefore “God”. While not denying that God is uncreated, the church fathers already refuted this type of reasoning by explaining that it is not the mode of origin (or lack of) that is the criteria for the divinity. In other words, it is not the qualities or attributes of God–but rather His essence–which makes God Who He is. The Fathers explained that even though God’s energies are divine and belong to God, because they are not the divine essence, they are not God. Otherwise, the heretics would be right who argued that the Son of God is not truly God because He is begotten and not unbegotten. Additionally, God would be compound and not simple if we say “God is essence and energies”, as this would violate the fundamental theological  principle of divine simplicity.

Yet in His book “The Orthodox Way” Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes:

Since, then, the union between God and the human beings that he has created is a union neither according to essence nor according to hypostasis, it remains thirdly that it should be a union according to energy. The saints do not become God by essence nor one person with God, but they participate in the energies of God, that is to say, in his life, power, grace and glory…The energies are truly God himself – yet not God as he exists within himself, in his inner life, but God as he communicates himself in outgoing love. He who participates in God’s energies is therefore meeting God himself face to face…

God does not exist without a hypostasis. A hypostasis is the individual designation of an essence–a person. An essence without an individual designation is either extinct or imaginary. Dinosaurs are extinct because there is no longer an individual designation (hypostasis) of the dinosaurs. Likewise, unicorns are imaginary because an individual designation (hypostasis) of the unicorn essence never existed. If the energies of the Holy Spirit are literally God, with which does the Hypostasis of the Holy Spirit belong? The energies or the essence? Since the Hypostasis belongs to the essence only, how are the energies God Himself without a hypostasis? If the Hypostasis belongs to both the essence and energies, then God is inevitably no longer simple but compound. And God is simple, not compounded (more on this later). The only Hypostasis of the Trinity Who possesses any duality is the Word of God, after the incarnation. Thus, an operation or attribute is not God because it has no hypostasis. It cannot have a hypostasis because it has no metaphysical substance or essence of its own. God’s operations and attributes, therefore, belong to the divine Hypostases and essence, but have no hypostasis (or essence) of their own. Thus, it is theologically incorrect to say that God’s energies are “God” Himself.

Metropolitan Ware goes on to say:

To say that man participates in the energies but not in the essence of God is to say that between man and God there is brought to pass union but not confusion. It means that we affirm concerning God, in the most literal and emphatic way, ‘His life is mine’, while at the same time repudiating pantheism.

But the above is self-contradicting. If the purpose of distancing God’s hypostasis and essence from the believer, and asserting that the energies themselves “are God”, is to repudiate pantheism, how is pantheism repudiated if the energies of God are God? Either the energies are not truly “God” because they are not the essence, or they are “God” and we are pantheists because the energies themselves are “God”. The answer is that God’s energies cannot be said to be created, since anything that belongs to God’s essence cannot be “created”. However, they are neither created nor uncreated. The energies themselves cannot appropriately be called “God”. And their mode of origin is irrelevant (created or uncreated) since qualities and attributes are merely qualities of the divine essence. As mentioned earlier, attributes and operations have no metaphysical substance or subsistence. They are divine and belong to God, but are not God Himself. Neither did the early Church fathers refer to God’s energies as “God”, or said that “God is essence and energies” as this would violate the principle of divine simplicity.  So what do we receive? And how are we united with God? More on this later.

Yet many Eastern Orthodox argue that God’s energies are God Himself because as they argue, God is “fully present” in each one of His attributes. But if God is “fully present” in His attributes, this would have to mean He is present hypostatically and according to essence. Otherwise, how is God “fully present” without his essence? And if that’s the case, how does it not follow that since we receive God’s energies, in which God is “fully present” essentially, that we do not also partake of God’s nature, when we partake of His energies in which God is “fully present”? There is no satisfactory answer to this question. Yet those who hold this view nevertheless, maintain, as Metropolitan Khalistos Ware, they we partake of the energies and not of the essence, but we still partake of God because the energies themselves are “God”.

Those who argue that the energies of God are God Himself because God is “fully present” in each of the energies, utilize flawed logic. The presence of an entity in a second entity does not make the second entity the first entity.  If a person is fully present in a room, the room does not become that person. If a person is fully present when a photograph is taken, the photograph does not literally become that person. The photograph is a paper (or digital) representation or manifestation of the person, but can never be the person himself. Another example: Since a person is fully present while he is running, this doesn’t make the act of running the very person. Yet this is essentially the logic of those who argue that the energies of God are “God” Himself, because God “is fully present” in them. Still yet, one might ask without any satisfying answer from the: How is God fully present in the energies without His essence?

Refuting Apollinarism, St. Athanasius explained that the “mind of the Lord” is not God Himself, but His “action towards something”, and that God’s will or counsel or action is “not itself the Lord”:

St. Athanasius – Against Apollinaris
Now a man’s body is called body, and not soul: and a man’s soul is called (soul) and not body, each being in relation to the other, that is, spirit to body. For it is said, who knoweth the mind of the Lord? The “mind of the Lord” is not of itself the Lord, but is the Lord’s will or counsel, or action towards something. Why then do you desire such language, adulterating the word of God by made-up words? But the Church of God has neither received nor handed down this notion, but rather, as it is written, that that God and Word who was before the ages with God came among us at the consummation of the ages, and was born of the Holy Virgin, and of the Holy Spirit, Son of Man, as it is written…

St. Cyril of Alexandria explicitly explained that God’s judgement “is an operation and nothing else”. Note that he does not explain that God’s judgement (operation/energy) is God Himself:

St. Cyril of Alexandria – Commentary on the Gospel of St. John
Next we must consider this too. To judge or to give judgment, are rather operations and acts conceived as properties of essences than themselves truly essences. For we in giving judgment do something, being in ourselves what we are. But if we grant that judging or giving judgment is of the nature of an essence, how must we not needs grant, even against our wills, that some cannot exist at all, except as judges, and that their being wholly ceases together with the termination of the judgment? But so to think, is most absurd. Judgment then is an operation, and nothing else. What then hath the Father committed to the Son? No accession from His Own Nature, in committing all judgment to Him, but rather an operation in respect of them that are judged.

To the contrary, St. Cyril clearly explained that the divine being is not composed of “nature and energy”:

For if one is not too poorly endowed with the decency which befits wise men, one will say that the divine being is properly and primarily simple and incomposite; one will not, dear friend, venture to think that it is composed out of nature and energy, as though, in the case of the divine, these are naturally other; one will believe that it exists as entirely one thing with all that it substantially possesses. – St. Cyril, Dialogues on the Trinity, book VII; SC 246 (de Durand, ed.), pp. 200-202; PG 75, 1109 B-C.

Yet those who argue that the energies of God are themselves “God” (because they argue that the energies possess the attribute of uncreated-ness) are also refuted by St. Gregory Nazianzen. St. Gregory wrote against the errors of Eunomius who adopted a Christianized view of the essentialist view found in Platonic and Stoic traditions. He maintained that God’s essence is simply and merely unbegottenness. Based on this flawed reasoning, Eunomius argued that the Son is not equal to the Father because the Son is begotten, while the Father is unbegotten. In other words, Eunomius incorrectly made an attribute of God the sole criteria for the divinity. This is undoubtedly similar to the logic of those who argue that the energies of God are God Himself, merely on account the energies being “uncreated”:

To this end, he [Eunomius] adopts a Christianized version of the essentialist view of language found in Platonic and Stoic traditions, according to which the names of things are given by God himself and directly reveal the nature of each thing. Yet, in this essentialist framework, Eunomius is not simply saying that God’s essence is unbegotten, as one among many predicates that can be accurately attributed to God, but that God’s unbegottenness is the primary definition of God’s essence, superior to all others…. ‘therefore, God’s essence simply is unbegottenness.’ – Christopher A. Beeley (Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God)

St. Gregory explained that what makes the Son God is not whether or not He was begotten or unbegotten. It is His essence, which He shares with the Father. In other words, the attributes–in this case means of generation (or lack of)–are not what make an entity what it is, but its essence.

St. Gregory Nazianzus – Theological Orations 3: On the Son, 1
But if you say that the One who begot and the One who is begotten are not the same [sc. in nature], the statement is inaccurate. For it is in fact a necessary truth that they are the same. For it is the very essence of the act of begetting, that the offspring is, with respect to nature, the same thing as the parent…For example, wisdom and lack of wisdom are not the same in themselves. Yet both are attributes of the same thing, humanity; they do not divide the essences, but mark divisions within the same essence. Are immortality, innocence, and immutability also the essence of God? If so, God has many essences and not just one – that, or the divine essence is a compound of these qualities. For God cannot be all these things without forming a compound – if all these things are essences. In fact, they do not assert this, for these qualities are common also to other beings. But God’s essence is proper to God alone

Therefore the energies of God cannot be God, even if they are “uncreated”, because they are attributes and operations of God, and not the essence of God. It is the essence, not any one attribute or energy, which defines the Divine Being.

Similarly, St. Athanasius explained that the Son is not God merely because He shares attributes or moral qualities with the Father, but rather because He shares His essence. In doing so, He explained that the qualities of God are not what make God Who He is. Otherwise, God would be “compound of quality and essence”. This is an idea that St. Athanasius utterly rejected. Rather, he explained that the criteria for divinity is the divine essence because God is “simple essence”:

St. Athanasius – Letter To the Bishops of Africa
Here especially once more it is easy to shew their folly. If it is from virtue, the antecedent of willing and not willing, and of moral progress, that you hold the Son to be like the Father; while these things fall under the category of quality; clearly you call God compound of quality and essence. But who will tolerate you when you say this? For God, who compounded all things to give them being, is not compound, nor of similar nature to the things made by Him through the Word. Far be the thought. For He is simple essence, in which quality is not, nor, as James says, ‘any variableness or shadow of turning.’

Thus, as St Athanasius explained that God is not quality (energies) and essence, and that to maintain this idea is to make God compound. Thus, the notion that “God is essence and energies” would have been utterly rejected by St. Athanasius.

Maintaining the principle of divine simplicity, St John Chrysostom also explained that “God is simple and has no parts:” 

St. John Chrysostom – On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily I
Therefore, he is saying that his present knowledge of God is imperfect and in part. Paul did not say “imperfect” because he knows one part of God’s essence and does not know another part-for God is simple and has no parts.

St. Gregory goes on to argue that only Adam was created directly by God, but his offspring are all human like him even though they were begotten of their parents. This is because they share Adam’s essence, not his attributes:

What about Adam? Was he not alone the direct creature of God? “Yes,” you will say. Was he then the only human being? “Not at all.” And why so? Because humanity does not consist in direct creation; that which is begotten is also human.

Additionally, the assertion that operations of God are themselves “God” is problematic as it inevitably makes one hypostasis of the Trinity more divine than the others on account of the unique operations of the Hypostasis, and makes a verse such as this one extremely problematic: “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). If the operation (energy) of judging is “God”, as the EO would assert, this inevitably makes the Son more divine than the Father, since “all judgement” is committed to the Son. But St. Cyril addressed this flawed mode of thinking by explaining that to judge is merely an operation, and itself is not the divine essence. Therefore, the operation committed to the Son does not make the Son more superior to the Father (or Holy Spirit) as both share the same divine nature.

St. Cyril of Alexandria – Commentary on the Gospel of St. John
One may often see that he who has received anything is not inferior to the giver, and that the Father is not therefore of Superior Nature to His offspring, because He hath committed to Him all judgment. Next we must consider this too. To judge or to give judgment, are rather operations and acts conceived as properties of essences than themselves truly essences…Judgment then is an operation, and nothing else. What then hath the Father committed to the Son? No accession from His Own Nature, in committing all judgment to Him, but rather an operation in respect of them that are judged. How then will He herein be greater, or of Superior Nature, by having added anything which was not in the Son Who saith, All things that the Father hath are Mine?

Similarly, St. Cyril of Alexandria explained that while Christ was exalted as having the very essence of the Father`, He humbled Himself to be deprived of the “attributes” of Divine glory. Divine glory is an “attribute” of God. But Christ forsook His glory (attribute) for our sake. If God’s glory is God Himself, did the Word somehow decrease in His divinity? Of course not.  Therefore, God’s energies cannot be God Himself, even though they are attributes and operations of His nature:

-St. Cyril of Alexandria ( Commentary on Gospel of St. John, Book 12. Vol. 2)
“And in what sense was He degraded, if you do not take into account the lofty attributes of His ineffable Nature? Therefore, when He was perfect and all-sufficient as God, He humbled Himself for your sake, transforming Himself to your likeness; and though He was high exalted as the Son of God, and of the very Essence of the Father, He degraded Himself, being mulcted of the attributes of Divine glory, so far as His Nature admitted.”

Additionally, it is philosophically and theologically nonsensical to speak of the energies of God as created or uncreated, because an operation or attribute has no metaphysical existence in itself. An operation belongs to an essence, which can be said to have a metaphysical existence. We can only speak this way of an essence. Only an essence can be created or uncreated.

But since Scripture teaches us that “God is love” (1 John 4:7), does this not make “love” God Himself? No, otherwise we would also worship “love”. “Love” here is used as a name for God, for emphatical association. “God is love” means that love is a key attribute and operation of the divine essence, and that God is the source of all love. Similarly when we learn from Scripture regarding Emanuel that “…his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), we do not consider the attributes “wonderful”, “mighty”, “everlasting” to be “God” Himself. These are merely descriptive names of Christ, and scripture reminds this explicitly by saying “his name shall be called”. In the same manner, when we call someone who is skilled in mathematics, a “mathematician”, or someone skilled in athletics, an “athlete”, we neither consider that this person has literally become “mathematics” or “athletics”, nor do we consider mathematics and athletics to be that person. This would be absurd. These are mere titles, attributes, names, or operations. The same principle applies to “way”, “truth”, “life”, “door” and the many other names or attributes of Christ. These are not literally God, since God is simple and not compounded. He is the great “I Am”.  Therefore God’s names are not God, and God is not his various names, titles, attributes. and operations (energies).

“Just as the Word of God the Father is one but is called, according to his various operations, life, and light, and power, so it is too with regard to the Holy Spirit. He is one but is regarded as multiform because of the way in which he operates. That is why the most wise Paul lists for us the various kinds of gifts: ‘All these,’ he says, ‘are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’- St. Cyril of Alexandria (Commentary on Isaiah, the Nature of the Messiah)

For the sake of argument, let’s entertain the argument that God’s energies can somehow sensibly be referred to as “uncreated”, and take one of God’s attributes, such as omnipresence, for example, and call it “God”, on account of it being “uncreated”. Is uncreated-ness the only attribute of God? Obviously not. Many other attributes are unique to God, such as infinite wisdom, love, power, omnipotence, among many others. Yet, in order for omnipresence to truly be “God”, it must possess all other attributes of the divine nature. Else, how is it truly “God”, without all of God’s divine attributes? Does omnipresence possess omnipotence? Does omnipresence possess infinite love? Does omnipresence possess infinite wisdom? Is omnipresence to be worshipped? Thus, should be evident the absurdity of calling “God”, one of God’s attributes, on account of it being “uncreated” or eternal.

St. Gregory Nazianzen – Oration XXXVIII
For the nature of that which is without beginning does not consist in being without beginning or being unbegotten, for the nature of anything lies, not in what it is not but in what it is.  It is the assertion of what is, not the denial of what is not. And the Beginning is not, because it is a beginning, separated from that which has no beginning.  For its beginning is not its nature, any more than the being without beginning is the nature of the other.  For these are the accompaniments of the nature, not the nature itself. That again which is with that which has no beginning, and with the beginning, is not anything else than what they are. Now, the name of that which has no beginning is the Father, and of the Beginning the Son, and of that which is with the Beginning, the Holy Ghost, and the three have one Nature—God.  And the union is the Father from Whom and to Whom the order of Persons runs its course, not so as to be confounded, but so as to be possessed, without distinction of time, of will, or of power.

So what do we receive when we partake of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit’s nature or His energies? Before we delve into this question, we should first observe the similarity between hypostatic union and indwelling of the Spirit in the believers. As St. Athanasius explained, receiving the Spirit of God, we continue to be “men according to nature” and are not changed into the nature of God. In a somewhat similar manner, the Word united Himself with flesh but “remained God in his humanity”, and His humanity was not change to the nature of the divinity. Thus the communion of the Spirit in the believers and even the hypostatic union of the divine nature of the Word with His humanity does not change human nature to the divinity. There is no mention of uniting with “energies” in either case:

St. Cyril of Alexandria – Letter 1, to the Monks in Egypt
We have been enriched with his Spirit, for his Spirit has come to dwell in our hearts, and have taken our place among the children of God, and yet have not lost being what we are. For we are men according to nature even though we say to God, “Abba! Father!” Similarly he, God the Word, ineffably begotten of the substance of God and the Father, in assuming his humanity, has honored that nature, but has not departed from his preeminence, but has remained God in his humanity. T

The Eastern Orthodox say we do not partake of the essence of God because this would, according to them, make us gods by nature and this would be “pantheism”. However, if this were the case, then the incarnation would not have even been possible because the Lord’s humanity would not have remained human after uniting with the divinity. Bu to guard against this false dilemma, the Eastern Orthodox maintain that that we only partake of the energies of God, and not His essence. But unable to deny that we are the temples of God, these maintain that God’s energies are themselves “God”. Hence they define God as “essence and energies”, which inevitably violates the principle of divine simplicity. However, the fathers did not explain this, but refuted these ideas and maintained that the believers receive the very essence/substance of God. St. Gregory Nazianzen explained that in the believers, the Spirit “no longer present only in energy, but as we may say, substantially, associating with us, and dwelling in us”:

St. Gregor Nazianzen – Select Orations, Oration XLI, On Pentecost
Now the first of these manifests Him—the healing of the sick and casting out of evil spirits, which could not be apart from the Spirit; and so does that breathing upon them after the Resurrection, which was clearly a divine inspiration; and so too the present distribution of the fiery tongues, which we are now commemorating.  But the first manifested Him indistinctly, the second more expressly, this present one more perfectly, since He is no longer present only in energy, but as we may say, substantially, associating with us, and dwelling in us. 

St. Cyril explained that since we are made “temples of God”, how can the Spirit dwelling in us “not be of God, i.e. of His essence”:

St. Cyril of Alexandria – Gospel According to St. John, Book IX
Else how can it be that the Spirit is and is called God? For do ye not know, he says, that ye are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? But if, forasmuch as the Spirit dwelleth in us, we are made temples of God, how can the Spirit not be of God, i.e. of His Essence, whereas He makes God to dwell in us through Himself?

Even more clearly, St. Cyril explained that we are both “partakers and sharers in the Substance that transcends the universe”:

St. Cyril of Alexandria – Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Book XI
How, then, should we have had added to us, or how should we have been shown to be partakers in, Divine Nature, if God had not been in us, nor we been joined to Him through having been called to communion with the Spirit? But now are we both partakers and sharers in the Substance That transcends the universe, and are become temples of God.

If we were merely renewed by God’s energies, not also God’s “substance” dwelling in us, our renewal would be more like that effected by a painter. Rather, St. Cyril explained that we are renewed because God Himself delineates in us the Godhead’s “substance” by dwelling in our hearts:

St. Cyril of Alexandria – Thesaurs34 (PG 75, 609-12)
For not like a painter does the Spirit delineate in us the Godhead’s substance, being himself something other than it, nor does he bring us to the likeness of God in this way; but being God Himself and proceeding from God, he is invisibly imprinted like a stamp, as it were on the wax tablet of his recipients’ hearts, delineating the nature afresh into the archetypal beauty through participation and likeness to him and again disclosing man in the image of God.

St. Cyril further explained that we receive the Holy Spirit Who is not separate from the Son as far as “identity of Substance” is concerned. Thus, he refuted what he called an “ignorant view” held by some, that the Holy Spirit merely performs “ministerial functions” in us. Thus, St. Cyril refuted the notion that we merely partake of the Spirit’s operations (ministerial functions), and not His essence as well:

St. Cyril of Alexandria – Gospel According to St. John, Book X. 
He is My Spirit, and as it were My Mind, He will surely speak to you of the things concerning Me. And this the Savior saith, not that we should suppose that the Holy Spirit has merely ministerial functions, as some ignorantly maintain, but rather from a wish to satisfy the disciples that His Spirit, not being separate from Him so far as identity of Substance is concerned, will surely speak the things concerning Him, and will work and purpose the same.

So then do we receive the Spirit or His energies? We receive both. Therefore we receive God’s indwelling in us as well the manifestation of His presence in us. Or more precisely, we see multiple manifestations of the same Spirit because the Spirit personally dwells in us, and not merely His grace/energies. St. Cyril of Alexandria explained that we are “partakers of the divine nature” and are begotten of God “not by grace alone…but as having now God too indwelling and lodging in us”:

St. Cyril of Alexandria – Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, BOOK I
For either we shall say that the Evangelist certainly lies, or (if he is true and it be so and not otherwise), the Spirit will be God and of God by Nature, of Whom we too being accounted worthy to partake through faith to Christ-ward, are rendered partakers of the Divine Nature and are said to be begotten of God, and are therefore called gods, not by grace alone winging our flight to the glory that is above us, but as having now God too indwelling and lodging in us, according to what is said in the prophet, I will dwell in them and walk in them.

God’s operations are what we see externally because of the unseen God Who dwells in us invisibly and works in us. St. John Chrysostom does not call the gifts and miracles of the Spirit (God’s energies) the Spirit, but rather visible “manifestations” of the invisible Spirit. They are “proof” of the presence of the Spirit Himself, Whom the believers receive in Baptism. Thus it is evident that the believer receives both the Spirit and manifestations of the same Spirit.

St. John Chrysostom – Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily XXIX
For since on their coming over from idols, without any clear knowledge or training in the ancient Scriptures, they at once on their baptism received the Spirit, yet the Spirit they saw not, for It is invisible; therefore God’s grace bestowed some sensible proof of that energy…Wherefore also he so calls it, saying, “But to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given to profit withal;” (v. 7.) calling the gifts “a manifestation of the Spirit.”

St. Basil explained that the Holy Spirit is present and manages the distribution of spiritual gifts, which are as we stated earlier, manifestation of His presence.

“In every activity the Spirit is closely conjoined with, and inseparable from, the Father and the Son: while God’s activities effect the diversities of actions, and those of the Lord the differences of administrations, it is the Holy Spirit who is present, by his own authority, managing the distribution of spiritual gifts according to the worth of each recipient.” (DeSp. S. 21.52, PG 32)

St. Basil likens the operations of the Spirit as art is present in an artist, but only manifesting when the artist is working in accordance with it:

St. Basil – DE SPIRITU SANCTO, Chapter XXVI
And as the art in him who has acquired it, so is the grace of the Spirit in the recipient ever present, though not continuously in operation.  For as the art is potentially in the artist, but only in operation when he is working in accordance with it, so also the Spirit is ever present with those that are worthy, but works, as need requires, in prophecies, or in healings, or in some other actual carrying into effect of His potential action…And like reason in the soul, which is at one time the thought in the heart, and at another speech uttered by the tongue, so is the Holy Spirit, as when He “beareth witness with our spirit,” and when He “cries in our hearts, Abba, Father,” or when He speaks on our behalf, as it is said, “It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of our Father which speaketh in you”…This place Jacob saw and said “The Lord is in this place.” It follows that the Spirit is verily the place of the saints and the saint is the proper place for the Spirit, offering himself as he does for the indwelling of God, and called God’s Temple…For the grace flowing from Him when He dwells in those that are worthy, and carries out His own operations, is well described as existing in those that are able to receive Him.

St. Cyril of Alexandria explained that the Son “personally dwells in the Saints” through the Spirit, and since He is by nature God, He makes us “partakers of the Divine Nature”:

St. Cyril of Alexandria – Gospel According to St. John, Book XI
…surely the Holy Ghost has power, since He is by nature of God, to make those in whom He abides partakers in the Divine Nature through Himself. The Son then, being the Fruit and express Image of the Father’s Person by nature, engrosses all that is His. And therefore He says, All things whatsoever the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I unto you, that He taketh of Mine and shall declare it unto you—-the Spirit, that is, Who is through Him and in Him, by Whom He personally dwells in the Saints.

St. Cyril also explained that “the fullness of the consubstantial Trinity dwells within us through the Spirit”.:  

St. Cyril of Alexandria – On the Unity of Christ
For the fullness of the consubstantial Trinity dwells within us through the Spirit. This is why Paul says: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells within you?” (1 Cor 3:16). Indeed Christ Himself says: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word and my Father will love him. and we will come to him and make our abode with him” (Jn l4:23).

St. Gregory Nazianzen explained that the Spirit is the “maker” of truth, wisdom, understanding, might, knowledge–these are all the attributes that proponents of this error call “uncreated” and God Himself. Also contrary to the EO doctrine, which states that the believers only receive the energies of God, St. Gregory explained that the Spirit fills all with His essence

St. Gregory Nazianzen – Theological Oration 5: On the Holy Spirit
He is called “the Spirit of God,” Christ,” “the mind of Christ,” “the Spirit of the Lord,” and “the Lord” in His own right, “the Spirit of adoption,” “of truth,” “of freedom;” “the Spirit of wisdom, “of understanding,” “of counsel,” “of might,” “of knowledge,” “of godliness,” “of the fear of God”. For He is the Maker of all these qualities, filling all with His essence, containing all things, filling the world in His essence, yet incapable of being comprehended in His power by the world…

Because of the error of calling God’s energies “God”, there are some who resorted to defining God as “essence and energies”, and in doing so violating the basic theological principle of “divine simplicity”. Scripture revealed and the Church Fathers explained that God is simple and not compounded. He is the great “I Am”. He is not one thing and another. St. Basil (quoting St. Paul) explained there are diversities of operations and gifts, but the same Spirit. However, If the operations and gifts are themselves “God”, as some incorrectly argue, how then is God not inevitably compounded according to their logic?

St. Basil (TREATISE DE SPIRITU SANCTO, Chapter 16
“God works the differences of operations, and the Lord the diversities of administrations, but all the while the Holy Spirit is present too of His own will, dispensing distribution of the gifts according to each recipient’s worth. For, it is said, “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; and differences of administrations, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” “But all these,” it is said, “worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.”

To justify the incorrect doctrine, some use the below verse. They argue that God is inapproachable in his essence, and therefore, we can only interact with His energies:

He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15-16)

However, the above scripture does not say that God is unapproachable, but rather “unapproachable light”. In other words, no one can see or approach God in the fullness of His glory. He hides the fullness of His Glory from us, for our sakes, as we cannot bear to see Him in the fullness of His glory. Nevertheless, God Himself dwells in us and the Kingdom of God is within us.

St. Basil of Caesarea – The Doctrine of the Spirit
Now, we are also quickened by the Spirit, as says St. Paul, ” He that raised up Christ from the dead, shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.” Ye are built for an habitation of God by the Spirit. Can He then, by whom God dwells in us, be Himself of other nature than that of God?

Therefore, it is possible to maintain that vision of God’s glory and  comprehension of God’s essence are one thing (these are impossible), but fellowship with His essence is another. If fellowship with God’s essence were impossible for us, then how did the Word become flesh and walk among us? How did those who physically walked with Him and touched Him not die? This is because they saw Him manifest in the flesh, but did not see the fullness of His glory. In other words, they partook of His essence robed in flesh, but did not eye the fullness of His glory. The first was obviously possible, the latter was not. Neither does fellowship with the divine essence turn the nature of anyone into the divine essence. Else, those who physically touched the Lord would have been transformed to the divine essence. But it is absurd to think like this. Still yet, the Lord wished to reveal to them a small glimpse of His glory on Mount Tabor. Even then, the light they saw was not the divine essence, since no one can see His essence. What they saw was a manifestation of God’s glory, to the extent they could see and not die.

St. John Chrysostom explained regarding “No one has ever seen God” that this pertains to our inability to have a clear and perfect comprehension of God:

St. John Chrysostom – On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily IV
How is it, then, that John says: “No one has ever seen God?” He says this so that you may know that he speaking of a clear knowledge and a perfect comprehension of God. All the cases cited were instances of God’s condescension and accommodation: That no one of those prophets saw God’s essence in its pure state is clear from the fact that each one saw him in a different way. God is a simple being; he is not composed of parts; he is without form or figure.

Regarding seeing God, he went on to explain:

“No one has ever seen God,” you must understand that the words you hear mean that no one knows God in his essence with complete exactnessI have proved to you by all these arguments that the essence of God is incomprehensible to every creature. There now remains for me to show that the Son and the Holy Spirit alone know God with full and perfect knowledge.

In other words, just because we cannot see God’s essence or understand it, or behold approach Him in the splendor of His glory, this doesn’t mean we can’t approach Him at all or be in His presence now. We can and do, but only according to the measure that we are capable:

St. Cyril of Jerusalem – Cathechitical Lectures, Lecture VI
But some one will say, If the Divine substance is incomprehensible
, why then dost thou discourse of these things?  So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon him enough to satisfy my wants?  Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, wouldst thou have me go away altogether hungry?…No man hath seen God at any time What then, some man will say, is it not written, The little ones’ Angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven?  Yes, but the Angels see God not as He is, but as far as they themselves are capable.

Scriptural references

  • No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he had made him known (John 1:18).
  • No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. (1 John 4:12-13)
  • To the king of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory (1Tim. 1:17).
  • ‘…Who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see’ (1 Tim. 6:16).
  • “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable,. it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:42-44).
  • “who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, … ” (Phil 3:21)
  • For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God…For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:11-12,16)
  • Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. (John 14:23)
  • And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6)
  • Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)
  • “I have been crucified with Christ. I live, and yet no longer l, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:2)
  • And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” (2 Cor 6:16)
  • The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Cor 13:14)
  • But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26)
  • Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in.Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory. (Psalm 24: 7-10)
  • Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 39: 7-10)
  • But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11)
  • “In this way we know that he is in us, from the Spirit whom he has given to us” (1 John 4:13)
  • Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor 3:17-18)
  • The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
  • And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8)
  • However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (John 16:13)
  • And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
  • This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14.17)
  • But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (Romans 8:9)
  • “Now the Lord is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3.17)
  • At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. (John 14:20)
  • He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15-16)
  • The one who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Rom 8.11).
  • Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
  • For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matt 10:19)
  • “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? (John 14:7-10)
  • “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
  • Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
  • And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form (John 5:37)
  • But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33: 20-23)
  • For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Cor 13:9-12)
  • For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Col 2:9)
  • But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (1 John 1:12)
  • For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…(Romans 1:20)
  • In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; And He bore them and carried them All the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9 (NKJV))

1 thought on “Is God “Essence and Energies”?”

  1. Good article. I am Roman Catholic, having received an MA in Theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington DC in 2007, as well as an MA in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Albany in 1996. I have long been an opponent of Palamism. You highlight a number of my own concerns in regard to Palamism with respect to the doctrine of divine simplicity, the indwelling encounter with the divine persons and not merely God’s energies per se, the nature of the incarnation, etc. I found a number of useful quotes from the fathers in your work which I had not previously come across in my own limited but not insubstantial research into the matter. Not all of the quotes you cite from the works of the fathers are as decisive against Palamism as they might at first appear, however, and I choose not to make use of those, which can actually be used to support the doctrine as a matter of fact. I’d say it’s about half and half. The best one surely is St Cyril’s admonition against those who view God as a compound of essence and energy, for, he says, in God they are one and the same. Even our modern physics proves that energy and matter are expressions of one fundamental reality, which places that ancient distinction of Greek Philosophy between essence and energy into doubt. I have recently tried to explain to a very stubborn Greek Christian adherent of Palamism that Ephesian 3:7 teaches very clearly that divine grace is ‘the energizing of divine power within us’, which means that God’s power is not properly one of His uncreated energies, but as the lexicons put it, His power (or nature) in action, or, His nature in an active state at work in us. I do have to say that I am troubled to read in St Athanasius’s Discourse Against the Arians that while he makes full use of Hebrews 1:3 to refute the Arian heretics by pointing out that the Son as the brightness of the Father’s glory is therefore one in essence with the Father, he goes on to state at the end of His work that not even the angels in heaven have ever seen God. In the west we understand that created intellects only see God according to their limited capacity, but if the vision of God’s uncreated light in heaven is not a vision of His essence (seeing and comprehending not being identical things), we are back with the same bifurcation of an invisible essence and a visible energy dividing the divine simplicity, which we do not accept. Finally, it seems to me that just as it is impossible to see an essence that is not a hypostasis, as you rightly point out, it is likewise impossible to see an energy that is not the motion or activity of some substance, or an invisible energy (i.e. grace) at work in some visible created substance (i.e. a person’s change of heart, or Christ’s miracle working power stilling the waters, etc.), so that it would be impossible to see the divine light as purely an energy, as the Palamites maintain (it is not clear to me really what Athanasius’s view is on this matter), because it is impossible to see motion or activity if it is not manifested in some substance or nature, as in the movement of an athlete’s foot, as Gregory of Nyssa points out (Against Eunomius II.12 I believe). That is to say, the divine light must at the very least be contemplated as the divine nature in a state of activity, and not as mere energy. Overall I am favorably inclined toward this article, and I feel that you are a kindred spirit, in the sense that at one and the same time you draw richly from sacred tradition while not being afraid to apply a critical and investigative mindset towards it and its assumptions, and you are not afraid to express your opinions, without being hostile to tradition either.

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