Adjectives as Idols

Comments : 14

  1. Bubba Hillel

    12 years ago

    I think you did a great job of keeping intact our apophatic perspective. Even the saints’ experience of God’s Uncreated Energies is an unknowing. We don’t understand God rationally even when we become deified. The words St. Paul heard in the third heaven of theoria were ineffable and unutterable. Indeed, as you averred, concepts have no relation to God, His Essence or His Energies. The non-Orthodox are worshipping the Golden Calf when they read the Bible as a treasure-trove of concepts about God. They are certainly very “religious”, as Romanides would put it. Even the saint, whose nous is filled with the Spirit only, to the exclusion of all fantasia, still has a rational intellect which can do no more than produce thoughts which are according to True Reason. These thoughts are still not glorification. Having said this, these True thoughts are no small thing. They are the tools of spiritual fatherhood. However, they are not magical or ratio-mystical incantations, and can only can lead others to glorification with the accompanying willingness of the spiritual child to undergo katharsis and with the communication of the Grace of God, when and if God grants it.

  2. Andrew

    12 years ago

    ‘We would no then claim to “know God” the way it is common to do among the heterodox, proceeding to describe God’s attribues.’

    My brother-in-law teaches theology at Talbot Theological Seminary, the seminary in association with Biola University in Southern California, and he’s teaching a class next semester on the attributes of God. He asked me today if there were any Eastern Fathers who dealt substantively with the subject, hoping that he could incorporate this into the reading for the class and his lectures. I was with my family, and I didn’t really want to drag them along in getting into it with him, but I briefly mentioned to him that he probably wasn’t going to find what he was looking for due to the contrary doctrines of God in operation within the East and the West; essence/energies vs. absolute divine simplicity. Frankly, I don’t really know enough about the issue to speak intelligently with him about it, but was my gut reaction to his question correct? Could you elaborate more on this?

  3. []

    12 years ago

    Yes, he’ll find no Orthodox treatment of God having attributes, because that’s an Augustinian theology (or, more correctly, religious philosophy and system of speculation) that was rejected by the Orthodox. The Orthodox theology is often called Cappadocian, for the Cappadocian fathers who defended it, but it’s simply the theology of the Apostles.

    For a substantive treatment of this, I prefer Vladimir Lossky’s “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church”. There are other works. I’ve elsewhere mentioned God, History, and Dialectic.

    For popular consumption, there’s an audio recording entitled The Western God by Fr. Michael Azkoul. I would consider the tape quite moderate in its explanation, though some of Fr. Michael’s other material is more extreme than the Fathers of our own Church. And I don’t even like that word “extreme” as generally having any substance. But that’s my opinion. The tape, though, is an excellent little introduction to the subject that’s easy to understand in a short sitting for people who have no exposure to the way we really regard these issues.

  4. Andrew

    12 years ago

    Would you happen to know where specifically in Farrell’s work he speaks about the problem of God having attributes? I was slowly making my way through it prior to Great Lent, but I figured I probably ought to read something more conducive to the nature of the season, so I temporarily put it down. I am the ‘Honorary Mac Guy’, in case you were wondering.

  5. []

    12 years ago

    Sorry, no. You could ask Daniel at the Energetic Procession site.

  6. Andrew H.

    12 years ago

    I read Farrell’s appendix to his Free Choice, and in that he seems to use ‘attributes’ and ‘energies’ interchangeably. I was under the impression that they are not the same.

    Was I reading him correctly?

  7. []

    12 years ago

    Rhetorically, if he wants you to move in a certain direction, he may link them, but I can tell you he doesn’t see them as the same thing. In fact, while attributes are a part of Western-Augustinian theology, the notion is foreign to Orthodox theology, and that’s a point he makes repeatedly in his other books, culminating in God, History, and Dialectic.

  8. 12 years ago

    Holy God
    Holy Might
    Holy Immortal
    have mercy on us.

  9. []

    12 years ago

    Yep. Our hymnography ascribes things to God, as does our scriptures:

    “God is a jealous God.”
    “…Lest he become angry…”

    We do not understand these, however, in the sense that English adjectives convey to the heterodox mind. We consider them not attributes of a person, nor conditions of a person, but instead actions or, if you will, energies of a person. For us, as the Muslims say “God be merciful” we may say “Lord have mercy”. The energies of God are God uncreate, and we do not consider these to be analogous to our own condition: “My ways are not your ways.”

    So there are a handful of ways that adjectives are used:
    * One might say God is loving. But more correctly, God loves us. In a particular place and time, or for all eternity particular persons. But never in general.
    * One might say God is a jealous God. And there we mean not an attribute of God, but an energy, if you will.
    * We might say God be merciful to me a sinner, where we more often say “have mercy on me” – we are not asking God to change his quality but to change his activity toward us; this is an important distinction.
    * When we say God is holy. Remember, we also say that none is holy except God. So we are definitely not making an analogy – how can we? Instead, we are stating that what God is, is incomparable, beyond being beyond comparison, unattainable by anything else, and still we remember that we refer to God’s energies, and not God’s essence, which is indescribable. To say that God is holy is like saying that God is the Lord. God is what we can never be, except by deification – by becoming God. And that is a union in the Energies of God, not the essence.

    I’m willing to be corrected, of course, if I’ve erred, but I think I haven’t.

  10. 12 years ago

    Does not St. John say that “God is love”?

    “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God. And every one that loves is born of God and knows God. He that loves not, knows not God, ***for God is love.*** By this was the love of God manifested towards us, because God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we may live through him. In this is love – not as though we have loved God, but because He has first loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

    Expresses the apophatic nicely (“no one has seen God at any time”), while also making the statement that God is love.


    – V.

  11. []

    12 years ago

    I don’t think there’s more to respond to this than my response to Steve. Orthodoxy is in the distinctions.

  12. 12 years ago

    To sum, any descriptives of God would be that which is by nature unlimited (holiness, for example) – His transcendence – or that which is expressive of action (love, for example) – His energies.

    Fair summary?

    – V.

  13. []

    12 years ago

    Well, I recommend Lossky’s book “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church”. It makes these things quite clear. Some of your question is not answerable, given Orthodox belief. You’re talking of natures of descriptives and creating a category of unlimitedness. The question really can’t be answered, but no, that’s not what we believe.

  14. 12 years ago

    Here’s a quotation from St. Nicholas Kavasilas to help V. understand how ‘God is love’, but not in an adjectival sense:

    “As God’s loving-kindness is ineffable and His love for our race surpasses human speech and reason, so too it belongs to the divine goodness alone, for this is ‘the peace of God which passes all understanding’ (Phil. 4:7). Likewise it follows that His union with those whom He loves surpasses every union of which one might conceive, and cannot be compared with any model.”

    The Life in Christ, trans. C.J. deCatanzaro (Crestwood 1974) 45-46.

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