The Hagiorite Tome
by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
One of the most basic teachings of St. Gregory Palamas is that of the essence and energy of God. To be sure, this did not originate with St. Gregory but is the teaching of the entire Orthodox Tradition, for the Apostolic Fathers referred to the subject of the distinction between essence and energy in God, and we see it again in the teaching of St. Basil the Great. Basil the Great was looking at this subject in relation to the heresy of the Eunomians.
St. Gregory laid great emphasis on the uncreatedness of the divine essence and the uncreatedness of God’s energy (activity). The word ‘uncreated’, is applied to God. God is uncreated, He has not been created, but is before all the ages. There is no beginning in God. Man and the entire creation were created by God, and are therefore created. Hence the uncreated is identified with the divine.
According to Barlaam, to whom St. Gregory Palamas is referring, only God’s essence is uncreated, but not His energy as well. According to the saint, he who regards only the essence as created, “but not also his eternal energies”, is going against the Holy Fathers of the Church9.
At this point St. Gregory Palamas is using a passage from St. Maximos the Confessor about the works of God saying that some of them “began to be in time” and others “did not begin to be in time”. The former include the immortal, the living, and so forth, and the latter include immortality, life, that is to say the uncreated and eternal energies of God. Moreover, here the uncreated energies of God are characterised as eternal, for the eternal is beyond time and duration. And what is beyond time and duration is divine, uncreated.
This passage of St. Maximos the Confessor is the following: “All immortal things and immortality itself, all living things and life itself, all holy things and holiness itself, all good things and goodness itself, all blessings and blessedness itself, all beings and being itself are manifestly works of God. Some began to be in time, for they have not always existed. Others did not begin to be in time, for goodness, blessedness, holiness and immortality have always existed”10.
It is clear, then, that goodness, blessedness, holiness and immortality are energies of God, which are eternal and uncreated. There is a difference between the uncreated energy of God and the things created. Goodness is an uncreated energy of God, but the good things are created. Life is the uncreated energy of God, but the living are created things, effects of the uncreated energy.
According to another passage from St. Maximos the Confessor which St. Gregory quotes, goodness, life, immortality, simplicity, immutability and infinity, and in general whatever “contemplative vision perceives as substantively appertaining to God are works of God and did not begin to be in time”11. So then, God’s uncreated energies, which proceed from His essence, are without beginning, of course without thereby impairing God’s supranatural and incomprehensible simplicity and His triadic unity, which alone is intrinsically without beginning12.
Therefore God’s energies are without beginning, eternal and uncreated. And, as God’s essence is divine, so are His energies as well. This is important for orthodox theology. For if we regard God’s energies as created, then we make it impossible for man to be deified. That is to say, if God communicates with the world through created energies, then we can attain union and communion with God only through created energies, which makes salvation impossible. God then remains entirely unknown to man, or if we commune with the essence of God, then the difference between created and uncreated is lost.
Barlaam was maintaining that all who speak of uncreated essence and uncreated energies are Messalians and believers in two gods. St. Gregory writes that whoever puts forward such theories is going against the holy Fathers of the Church and excluding himself from the inheritance of the saved, since salvation is attained in communion through the uncreated energies. So if he does not repent, he himself is falling away from “Him who by nature is the one and only God professed by the saints”. We must accept this mystery, but if we do not know the way of the mystery, we must seek to learn from those who have experience, from those who know it personally13. For in reality the saints, through deification and the vision of God, know from their experience that the energy of God is uncreated, ungenerated and enhypostatic. They have no doubt that it is a matter of divine and not created energy.
Indeed the teaching about uncreated essence and uncreated energy in God is not ditheism, since the energy is always connected with god’s essence, and of course this distinction does not do away with the divine simplicity, just as the three Persons of God do not do away with God’s oneness. Just as we cannot accuse Athanasios the Great of ditheism when he speaks of the uncreatedness of the Logos, or the other holy Fathers of being tritheites when they speak of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity being of one substance, in the same way St. Gregory Palamas cannot be accused of being a ditheite when he speaks of the uncreated essence and uncreated energy of God. Moreover there is no essence without energy or energy without essence. The difference lies in the fact that when the essence is uncreated its energy is also uncreated, and when the essence is created, then its energy is also created.
In the “Hagiorite tome” the deifying Grace of God which is His energy, apart from the fact that it is characterised as uncreated and ungenerated, at the same time it is called enhypostatic. This constitutes the basic teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, just as it is seen also in his other works, since the energy of God is not self-subsistent, that is to say, it does not exist on its own, but is hypostatic, which means that it is connected with the divine Hypostases, without being identified with them. We know from the teaching of the Holy Fathers that energy is the essential movement of nature, that is to say the active thing is nature, but that which acts is the Person or Hypostasis.
It is true that the energies of God are common to the Persons of the Holy Trinity, but without having hypostatic qualities. But what should be emphasised, commenting on the term “enhypostatised” for deifying Grace, is that the uncreated energy is not understood and interpreted independently of the divine Hypostases. And at this point one can see the great value and significance of the teaching of the Hagiorite saint Gregory Palamas for our time.