Thursday, July 06, 2006
The Problem of Revelation in Palamite and Thomistic Theology
I am no expert on Palamite theology. So please clarify my question from the Palamite point-of-view if I have failed to anticipate the answers that may be given to it.
The intelligibility of the Divine Nature is a point at issue between scholastic theology and certain Orthodox interpretations of apophatic theology. St. Gregory Palamas sought to assert both the incomprehensibility of the divine nature and the meaningfulness (even to the point it seems of univocal meaningfulness) of theologiae (i.e. thoughts and words about God). St. Thomas Aquinas sought the same thing. Their methods, however, were radically different:
(1) Gregory (I am speaking as a non-expert) justifies this antithesis by making an ontological distinction between the essence of God – God ad intra, which is not esse and thus not intelligible, and the divine energies or acts of the Divine Persons within the history of Redemption – God ad extra. The latter are divine and attributable to the Divine Persons, but outside the intrinsically incomprehensible essence. Knowledge of God is thus founded upon the Revelation that comes in and with these energies.
(2) Thomas justifies the same antithesis by making a distinction between the intrinsic intelligibly of the Divine Essence, which is pure actual being and thus purely intelligible, and the weakness of the created intellect to understand it.
My question concerns the possibility of a Divine Revelation of which God is the subject. Which theology, Palamite or Thomisitc, succeeds better at accounting for both the absolute incomprehensibility of God and the meaningfulness of theologiae:
(1) Thomas, who posits subsistent esse in the Divine Nature, sees it as infinitely intelligible. Thus God, albeit in a sense only analogous to human cognition, knows Himself. There is no problem of the possibility of Revelation in this view. God reveals what he knows. He reveals what is in principle knowable. The fact that the created intellect cannot comprehend (i.e. intuit the quiddity) of the uncreated nature of God is due to the intellect of the creature, which cannot receive a created likeness of uncreated form.
(2) If the Divine Nature is beyond esse, then it is quite right to say that it cannot be the object of any intellect created or uncreated. It is also equivocal to say that God knows Himself in any sense. Here there is a problem of Revelation. Revelation is a communication. It is a disclosure of the incomprehensible to the created intellect. Since esse is the formal object of knowledge, God, in so far as he is the subject of Revelation, must acquire it. It is a contradiction to say that God speaks ‘nothing’. Thus the acts (energies) of the Divine Persons – which acquire esse in Palamite theology – are the exclusive subject of Revelation. From this the following consequences seem to follow:
A. The distinguishing personal characteristics of the Hypostases are true only ad extra and no absolute (i.e. ad intra) knowledge of personal distinctions is had. Which seems to leave open the possibility of modalism.
B. The words of Sacred Scripture and the Nicene Council on the Divine Essence are equivocal and meaningless.
I invite any clarifications or criticisms of this observation from either the Palamite or the Thomistic point-of-view.