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.


Joseph said...

Thomas, this subject has been hammered out for the last few years over at pontifications. You can find some helpful comments from both the Palamite and Thomist side there. The article that stirred the pot was by Perry Robinson. You can read that article at Another article on a related subject written by David Bradshaw is at David Bradshaw has also written a book titled "Aristotle: East and West".

lexorandi2 said...

"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."

Herein lies the fallacy of your argument, I believe. In using such language as "beyond esse," Palamas certainly means "beyond created being," which then, of course, calls into question your assertion that God cannot know Himself in Himself. Why not?

It is true that Gregory holds to a more radical Creator/creature distinction than Thomas. But unless you are suggesting, like Barlaam, that Gregory's position compells a radical dichotomy between essence and energies (so that God's energies cannot truly be said to be uncreated and/or divine), then I don't think your argument holds up very well.

But I ain't no philosopher. So what would I know.

Jason Loh said...

Thank you for pursuing the "axioms" of the respective systems to their logical conclusions.

Thomas said...


Thanks for the links. I have read some of the material over at Pontifications. I did not run across these particular arguments however. They occurred to me in the course of my conversations with photius and acolyte4236 over at 3rd Mil.

What is your take on them? What responses – from the Palamite side – that you know of have been given? [I am not assuming that you support it or that all Orthodox are Palamites.]

How can that which is not being be in any sense revealed, since to reveal is to present an intelligible object?

If we restrict our knowledge of the Hypostases to God 'ad extra', how is that not a form of modalism?

Thomas said...

Dr. D.,

This is the very point for which I have been arguing. Does ‘beyond ‘esse’’ mean ‘beyond created ‘esse’’ but not beyond uncreated ‘esse’ as in St. Thomas, or does it mean beyond ‘esse’ as in beyond existence and anything attributable to it such as intelligibility. The failure to give a clear answer to this distinction is also a problem I have encountered in Lossky. If God is beyond created ‘esse’ (which everyone admits), but ‘ad intra’ is subsistent ‘esse’, as Thomas postulates, then He is comprehensible to himself and revealable – albeit analogically – to us. I do not see how you can apply exclusively the negative way to God ‘ad intra’ and the positive way to God ‘ad extra’ without drawing the conclusion that there can be no knowledge of God save what he is in relation to creation. This to me smacks of modalism.

I do not know the precepts of Barlaamism. So if I am one, I do not know it. As for the divinity of the energies, I am not necessarily saying that they are not divine. Neither am I saying – at this point – that Gregory’s ideas are unorthodox or untrue. My objection concerns specifically the use of absolute apophaticism in the system and the corresponding rejection of Thomas’s theory of analogy which instead of applying negative theology exclusively to the divine essence and positive theology only to the energies (aka Lossky) seeks to synthesize both modes of knowing into a single approach in which the whole mystery of God 'ad intra' (‘ousia’ and hypostases) are truly spoken and yet incomprehensible. The former position leads, I think, to an agnosticism regarding the knowledge of God ‘ad intra’ incompatible with the statements in Sacred Scripture and the Nicene Council regarding the ‘ad intra’ consubstantiality and distinction of the Divine Persons.

lexorandi2 said...


I'm a common sense kind of guy, with little by way of formal philosophical training. But it seems to me that the crucial difference between St. Gregory and the West (incl. Aquinas of course) is his pessimistic view of the natural ability of the human intellect to know God through a mere study of the creatures. According to St. Gregory what is known of God is known exclusively through what is revealed by God, via the uncreated energies or operations of God, supremely in the incarnation of God in Christ, the God-Man.

I've never come across anyone who suggested that the Palamite approach smacked of modalism before you made this suggestion. (I've heard charges of nascent pantheism before, but not modalism.) Still, I think that these suggestions are related and stem from the persistent western tendency to begin with a consideration of nature prior to person. This seems to be the default setting of the West, and causes much confusion for Westerners who try to understand Eastern thought. Personhood is not an aspect or attribute of a rational nature, rather it is an absolute instantiation of a rational nature, or something of that sort. (All this philosophizing is really stretching my ability to articulate a coherent statement.)

dmartin said...

Dr. D,

I am no philosopher either. Hell, I'm not much of a theologian. That is why I have not made a comment on your list... those guys could and would eat my intellectual lunch. I am able to follow the discussion, but I am not able to respond intellegently. You have done much better than I have.

But it is the very aspect that Tommy is bringing up that I am seeing and hearing from Eastern theology, which is a real dislike and distrust of philosophy in general. I don't think that they take it into account very much, and I understand your criticism of the West using it as the paradigm.

However, their idea of God seems very similar in its beginning to Islam, ie, the unknowability of God. This seems to be a very strong influence in the East, and not just with EO and Islam.

Thomas said...

Dr. D.,

Your point is well taken. Western Christians – especially Protestants – have gotten into the habit of thinking of God as a divine monad, albeit a personal one, and there is some truth to Rahner’s charge of practical unitarianism. God is generally not thought of as “three” hypostases whose perichorese constitutes the “one” divine nature.

Aquinas, however, treats of the divine nature first in the Summa Theologiae – at least according to some of his modern interpreters – not in order to tack the persons on at the end like so many attributes; as if the substance of his doctrine of God concludes with question 26. Rather, the treatise on the divine nature is a kind of prolegomena to be assumed by the treatise on the divine persons. Questions 2 through 26 illustrate the essential content of the various persons distinguished in questions 27 through 43. This is not unlike the Cappadocian view that the Nature is the content of the Persons, who, as you say, “instantiate” it. Also, in the treatise on creation which immediately follows the treatise on the divine persons, it is this latter treatise, i.e. concerning the procession of the divine persons, which grounds the procession of creatures from God:

“Hence also God the Father made the creature through His Word, which is His Son; and through His Love, which is the Holy Ghost. And so the processions of the Persons are the type of the productions of creatures inasmuch as they include the essential attributes, knowledge and will.” (STh q. 45, a. 6)

I grant you that I probably do not fully appreciate the subtleties of the Eastern approach to these mysteries. That said, I do appreciate the role of negative theology and the danger of over intellectualizing. Thomas's natural theology is meager compared to the knowledge of God grounded in faith in Christ Jesus. He did not envision natural theology as a kind of foundation for faith. He was also very skeptical about natural knowledge (SCG Bk. 1, ch. 4) and never foresaw a natural theology cut off from God's Word.

However, the Palamites owe some allegiance to logical consistency. What do you think they would say to my argument that absolutely no knowledge of God 'ad intra' regarding either unity of being or the distinction of hypostases (which is the end of a purely apophatic approach) combined with knowledge of the distinct hypostases only 'ad extra' through their energies results in a God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as far as we know, only in relation to creation. We cannot say that the Trinity is the Trinity ‘ad intra.’ That is the conclusion that leads me to the pseudo charge of modalism.

lexorandi2 said...

I wish I had more time to devote to this today. But I'm moonlighting tonight as a lecturer for a certain seminary that you, Doug, and I know only too well (up close and personal, as they say).

For now, I can't resist making an observation that is JUST SOOOOOOO IRONIC. The statement that you made (quoted below) looks amazingly like KARL RAHNER'S view! (as I understand it). You said:

"However, the Palamites owe some allegiance to logical consistency. What do you think they would say to my argument that absolutely no knowledge of God 'ad intra' regarding either unity of being or the distinction of hypostases (which is the end of a purely apophatic approach) combined with knowledge of the distinct hypostases only 'ad extra' through their energies results in a God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as far as we know, only in relation to creation. We cannot say that the Trinity is the Trinity ‘ad intra.’ That is the conclusion that leads me to the pseudo charge of modalism."

One of Rahner's distinctive ideas was to posit the radical identification of the Immanent Trinity and the Trinity revealed in creation and history, NOT in the Eastern sense that the Immanent Trinity is revealed in the Economic Trinity (thus maintaining the distinction between the two), but rather in saying that the Immanent Trinity **IS** the Economic Trinity, so that the hypostases become "modes of divine presence" in creation and history -absolutely distinct modes to be sure IN HISTORY, but seemingly irrelevant (or at least unknowable) outside of creation and history. As I commented before, this appears nascently modalistic.

I find it uncanny that your understanding of Cappadocian-Palamite theology has taken on a very Rahner-esque character. I'm sure you didn't intend it to.

Take care,

Thomas said...

Dr. D.,

Interesting. Rahner's mantra admittedly was in my head when I wrote what I wrote. However - and I have to go home so I cannot respond extensively - I will have to give some thought to the relationship between Rahnerian Trinitarian theology and the Palamite doctrines. My aim, however, is not to eliminate the distinction between the immanent and the economic Trinity. Knowledge of the Persons 'ad intra' is indeed based upon their missions 'ad extra' which reveal them, principally in the Incarnation of the Word. And because of the intelligibility of the divine essence - which in Thomistic theology includes the Persons in so far as they subsist - 'ad extra' knowledge refers back to the 'ad intra' relations in a real albeit analogous way. But in the Palamite view - and as you point out possibly in Rahner's view - this reference or simply revelation is not possible on account of the absolute unknowablility of the divine nature.

Joseph said...

Thomas, I do tend to side with Palamas as I would say most Orthodox do. The Orthodox that do not tend to just say there is not much difference between Gregory and Thomas. David Hart an Orthodox philospher tends to be this way. I think if you read Perry's post on Pontifications that it might give you a better sense of the Palamite position. I do not have any time to get into this discussion at the moment. After August 10 I will oblige but presently all my time is spend in Homer, Goethe and Chaucer. On a more practical note, part of the debate tends to be over theosis. How can one partake of the Divine Nature, as St. Peter says, without having a distinction between essence and energy?

Acolyte4236 said...

Here is an idea. Before accusing the "other lung" of crass heresy, it might be wise, prudent and charitable, to find out exactly what the position is. Certainly you wouldn't tolerate any kind of uninformed armchair speculation that impliled heresy for Thomas by an Orthodox writer, would you?

First, I don't think that Palamas takes the knowing and unknowing of God to be an antithesis. Essence and energy are not opposed and hence not distinguished by opposition.

Second, by phusis or nature, Gregory can mean more than one thing. To talk about the divine nature then, one has to be clear. Do you mean deity, which includes the Persons, energies and essence? Or do you mean just the divine ousia?

Third, Gregory doesn't collapse One into Nous, which is why the divine essence is not graspable by reason and why it is graspable by reason for Augustine and Co.

Fourth, not all of the energies have a begining, though all are uncreated and hence deity, so that the energies can't be limited to the economy of creation and salvation. As Maximus says, God never ceases from goods because he never began them.

Fifth, the energies are not attributable to God in the sense that they are only judgments made by us. They are really distinct realities apart from any epistemological judment on our part. In this way, Palamas is far more a realist than Aquinas or Augustine. Here is a helpful distinction to keep in mind. All energies are logoi, but not all logoi are energies since some logoi are never acts, God knows some possible states of affairs that he never wills to come about for example and hence there is always potentia or power in God and some potentia or potentcy in God in the sense of 2nd potentiality, not first potentiality.

Sixth, there may be no problem of disclosure for Aquinas, but there certainly is a problem for revelation and a free one. For if the divine essence is Nous, then the dialectical method will license knowledge of God, making revelation supurfluous and the knowledge of God necessary.

7th, for Aquinas, the reason why the created intellect cannot grasp God fully is because the created intellect can't grasp a absolutely simple object by composite terms. Incomprehensibility of the divine essence for Aquinas falls out of ADS and not the other way around.

8th it doesn't follow that if the divine ousia is beyond activity that it cannot be known by uncreated agents. it only follows that uncreated agents don't know things by reason, either discursive or non-discursive.

9th What the Trinity reveals are the divine persons, not esse/activity or ousia. The persons are fully and perfectly present in their act though not reductively. Persons, activity, ousia, not the other way around.

10th If the energies are at the level of being, then what God communicates is at the level of Nous and therefore intelligible. We just reject a Eudaimonian theory that grounds God's knowing in self love.

11th Since the energies are fully deity, the Palamite view cannot be convicted of Modalism, for on a Modalistic gloss, the persons aren't genuinely God, which is why the worry with Modalism is that God is not known and why it isn't one for Palamas.

12th Palamas doesn't claim that the distinguishing features of the Persons are only ad extra. What he claims, along with the Cappadocians is that we can't fill in the terms, Ingenerate, Begotten and Proceeding with Hellenistic conceptual content. When asked what it means to be begotten, the Cappadocians reply, we don't know.

13th Part of your objection turns on the idea that the Persons are exhaustively identical to the ousia. If they were, and there is no knowledge of the ousia then there can be no ad intra knowledge of the personal characteristics in any sense whatsoever. But they aren't so identical, but rather subsist in the essence.

14th As with Scripture, Moses nor any man can see God as he is, but only his glory and the Nicene Creed doesn't fill in ousia with any hellenistic conceptual content. That was the practice of the Arians which is why they could not agree with the Nicenes because Hellenism was not compatible with Nicene teaching. Saying that the Father and the Son are of one essence doesn't say jack squat about what an essence is, which is why with the Fathers we worship that which we do not know.


Revelation isn't a disclosure of the divine essence but of the divine persons. As Palamas writes,
“When God was conversing with Moses, He did not say, “I am the essence”, but “I am the One Who is.” Thus it is not the One Who is who derives from the essence, but essence which derives from Him, for it is He who contains all being in Himself.” Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts III.ii.12. Scripture never speaks to revelation of essences but of persons.

Beyond esse or being means for Palamas, beyond being in any sense, beyond activity, which is why God's actions are free. It doesn't follow that our restriction to God ad extra implies modalism, for not all of God's energies are related to creation. Certainly God's energy of knowledge isn't for God knows things that he doesn't will or create. And the distinction of the Divine Persons isn't a distinction of Energy, but a distinction found in Energy or Activity. The modalistic objection can only go through if we collapse person to act. This is why it doesn't follow that only because we know the divine persons in their activities, that the divine persons are only activities and hence not God ad intra. This seems to be the key mistake in Thomas' objection.

The Nicene Fathers never give direct inferences to a common essence. This is why their theology is at odds with Augustine's, because Augustine begins with a simple Good as ousia and then generates persons from it as relations of the essence to itself. The inference from Person, activity to essence is indirect. That which performs the same act, has the same essence, so if the Father is working, and the Son too, then the Father and Son must be of the same ousia, but this gives no epistemic access to the divine ousia, it conveys no conceptual content.

Given that the Muslims follows the Neoplatonic route of defining God as absolutely simple, so simple in fact that for Muslims, God has no essence, which is why all of the names for God are descriptions of his behaviors-Allah just is absolute Will. This is why the Muslims are voluntarists and why the Orthodox are not, because simplicity is an energy not a property of the essence.

Simplicity for the Orthodox means complete presence. To put it in scholastic terms, the soul is present to every part of the body yet it is not exhaustively identified with any part of the body. God is fully present in his activities, yet he is not exhaustively defined by them. On the Muslim gloss, God is not defined by his activities at all for there is nothing to define.

For Thomas, like Augustine, persons qua relations are a species of attributes. Again, the Hellenism here should be obvious. We can say that God is a Trinity theologically and economically because the persons exist in both the essence and their activities and are not reducible to either or both. Rahner's worry that God might not be God beyond revelation is unfounded, for it turns on the assumption that the presence of the persons is exhaustive in the activities. It's not. Rahner can't conceive of something that is not essence, but not accident, which is why he can't think of the Persons being present without being the essence. Which is why Rahner's own system generates the worry about Modalism. Just like the Arians and Augustine, they both agreed on the fundamental concept of the divine essence, both were Hellenists, they just developed it in different directions. So too with Rahner, which is why he has to collapse the economic and the theological and he needs the filioque because he is working with the hellenized concept of a simple essence.

As Palamas writes, “God also has what is not essence. Yet it is not the case that because it is not an essence that it is an accident. For that which not only does not pass away but also admits or effects no increase or diminution whatever could not possibly be numbered among accidents. But it is not true that, because this is neither an accident or essence, it belongs among totally non-existent things: rather, it exists and exists truly. Since the hypostatic properties and the hypostases are neither an essence or an accident in God, are they each on this account ranked among non-existent things. Certainly not. Thus, in the same way, the divine energy of God is neither an essence nor an accident nor is it classed among non-existent things.” Capita 135

I hope this helps.

Acolyte4236 aka Perry Robinson "At last we shall reveal ourselves."

Thomas said...


I did not mean to ruffle feathers. It seems a little hypocritical, however, to react with a "how dare you?!" annoyance at my probing of the possibility of some tendency – however slight – in Palamas’s Trinitarian theology toward modalism (or to be more accurate should I say a failure to adequately answer modalism) when you have explicitly and continuously accused the Augustinian tradition of the same heresy. Besides, this is my blog and I can say what I like.

If you find the intellectual quality of my arguments and opinions wanting, perhaps you need to remind yourself that this is the blogosphere, not the Sorbonne.

That said, there are two issues which, in my novice opinion, have not been adequately addressed: (1) The epistemological problem of revealing an unintelligible God and (2) the supposed identification of Aquinas’s 'actus purus' with the Plotinian ‘one’.

Please do not bother responding to this post. I will provide extended comments on these issues some time in the next few days.

Thomas (no alter ego)

Joseph said...

It seems that Perry is concerned that you criticize St. Gregory Palamas of modalism among other things without having read Palamas. I think it would be helpful if you actually read at least The Triads before being critical.

Thomas said...

How do you know what I havn't read, Pat?

My questions concern primarily the ideas put forth by Perry and others in the course of a conversation on 3rdMil. I am not knowledgeable enough about Palamas to accuse them of misrepresentation. At the same time, since this little debate has centered as much on Aquinas as Palamas, my responses have taken the form of a defense of certain Thomistic notions - ideas with which I am more familiar.

Truth be told, I have read portions of The Triads about 2 years ago for a course on The Trinity in the Western Tradition for which I wrote a paper analyzing the Trinitarian theology of Anselm's ‘De Processione Spiritus Sancti’ partly against certain aspects of the Orthodox criticism of Western Trinitarian theology. Admittedly, however, apart from that I have read only modern interpreters of Palamas's thought, i.e. Lossky and Meyendorff.

As I have repeatedly said, I am no expert on Orthodox theology in general or Palamas in particular; and I would not have even entered the conversation was it simply a friendly discussion of certain aspects of Palamas’s theology. It was instead – as I encountered it -an attack upon the Latin theological tradition in general and Thomas in particular.

I think that you have read at least some portions of the Summa, right? What do you think about Perry's version of Aquinas's metaphysics? It seems to lack the original nuances that Thomas himself goes to great lengths to demonstrate. Don’t you think?

Acolyte4236 said...


My annoyance was generated by the repeated experience of Christians of other traditions, but especially Catholics of finding ways to accuse the East of heresy, prior to any serious familiarity with it. They usually start out with "I am not an expert on Palamas, Photios, Orthodox Theology, etc." or " I haven't read really anything about this view but this seems heretical to me and therefore should be rejected." Your post follows that tradition or so it seems to me. Consequently my displeasure. I don't care if you reject Palamism. I do care about being fair.

I don't think we are in a symmetrical positon regarding familiarity. I am a grad student in philosophy with two earned defrees under my belt with a focus in late antiquity and medieval metaphysics. I also come from the Latin theological tradition. I am no Kretzman, Owen, or Gilson, that much is certain. But I have sat under a number of their students and have spent a number of years reading and writing about western writers on these subjects. I think after having read about a dozen or so volumes of Augustine, most of the SCG, ST, plus other works by THomas, lots of Anselm, some Albert, Scotus' commentary on the Metaphysics and other works, Henry of Ghent, etc. I have a good grasp of the Latin theological and philosophical tradition.

And I have spent the last 8 years reading Orthodox theology. While I am not a formally trained theologian, I think I have a good grasp of its core theological ideas. So, you'll forgive me if I say that I don't think we are in a symmetrical position. If we were, I don't think you would have prefaced your comments the way you did.

It just seems very funny to me that Catholics generally have a love/hate relationship with ORthodoxy. On the one hand, they wish they still had a liturgy like ours and desperately want reunion in hopes that it will spark renewal. On the other hand the Latins took serious steps to extinguish any trace of Palamism among the Uniates and accuse the "other lung" of gross heresy. Jugie calls Palamism the worst heresy ever. And Jugie's work strongly influenced Catholic writers (and Anglican) for the last century.

I realize that someone could object saying that the East accuses Rome of serious heresy. True, but the relationship is not the same-we don't recognize your orders and we don't have the same ecclesiology such that one can be a validly constituted body, though in illicit operation.

My comments on Thomas' metaphysics were sufficient for a blog entry with casual readers, many of whom do not have the apparatus or desire to capture such nuances. My comments are not sufficient for a professional paper, but as you note, this is a blog. There is no shortage of papers from the Modern Schoolman and other professional journals pointing out the problems that I have. (Where do you think I learned them?) Much of what I have said about THomas, Augustine or scholasticism is hardly new. Many of its own have made the same kinds of points. I differ in only offering an ancient model in its place, where they are generally left with hands empty.

If you think that I have mischaracterized Thomas' teaching, then please point it out to me.

dmartin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thomas said...


I apologize for questioning your authority.

The purpose of my posts, however, was to respond to certain statements challenging the character and consistency of the Thomistic interpretation of Augustinian theology.

I have to confess that at the time I did not know about the rule regarding the exemption of Eastern ideas from Western criticism.

For the record, I never questioned your “grasp” of Western metaphysics; I simply disagree with your interpretation of Aquinas.

I don't care if you think I'm a hillbilly. You were wrong, however, to take my comments personally. They were meant to be a contribution - no matter how slight - to the theological discourse.

In the future – and I address this to Joe as well, it might be better to avoid the ‘ad homonim’ turn. A man's knowledge ought to be judged by his words, not by his books or his titles.

Reply, don't reply, I don't care. Just know that your elitist attitude alienates many people who would benefit from open dialogue.

Acolyte4236 said...


I don’t think I framed my response in terms of authority. I tried to explain why I was annoyed. Think about it. Someone is introduced to another view, which is apparently at odds with his own. Instead of trying to become informed and then making a judgment, the person constructs uninformed arguments to show the heretical implications of the view. Put the East/West polemic aside, do you really think this is an intellectually virtuous method of investigation? Would you accept this method from anyone investigating Aquinas? I don’t think so. The lack of intellectual reciprocity here is obvious.

This approach strikes me therefore as something of a knee-jerk reaction-it is psychology in the place of argument. This is what people do (I know, I did it) when faced with a position which threatens their own. This is why critique books are so popular. By reading the critique one doesn’t have to engage the primary sources and give a charitable read themselves.

Furthermore, there is I think an implicit problem with your approach. It can’t be the case that Catholicism and Orthodoxy have the same faith and that Palamism is heretical. Which is it going to be? Or do you have some tertium quid in mind?

I wasn’t trying to establish any kind of authority but just to point out that I was generally informed as to the issues and ideas between the two traditions such that I didn’t think that your application of the same criticism to me, went through. If you don’t think that my training and experience establish that I think that my comments certainly do.

The way I read your post was not so much a defense of Thomism from criticisms but of a critique of Palamism, with an aim to show that Thomism was superior to it. That doesn’t seem like an attempt to understand Palamism or to dialog with it. That looks like a “All you people considering Catholicism, don’t believe this because if you do, the klingons will invade, your hard drive with crash, and’ll go to hell too!” kind of response. Call me elitist but that doesn’t seem like “dialog” to me or an attempt at it.

I don’t believe I stated a rule exempting Eastern ideas from Western criticism. I believe what I pointed out was that a certain line of reasoning was applicable in one case but not the other. That is not a universal exemption by any means. Here you have given exaggeration, when an argument would have been more helpful.

If you disagree with my interpretation of Aquinas, it would be beneficial to point out where exactly my interpretation is unacceptable or how an alternative interpretation is a work around my objections. I don’t think that you are a hillbilly. I think you are a Thomist. Perhaps I am blind, but I don’t see how I am an elitist. When challenged on being in a position to know, I brought forward evidence to the contrary. I have gotten the “you don’t understand Augustine and Co.” line before in the blogsphere. They pelted me with it over at Pontifications for months, until it was painfully obvious that I was better informed on the matter than they, in fact, they weren’t even aware of the issues at all. That of itself doesn’t make me right, but I don’t take too well to a dismissive response, especially when it walks around as if it were an argument, when it is nothing more than a psychological defense mechanism.

In any case, if I offended you personally, I apologize. I would just recommend that you alter your method of investigating a position. Do unto others.

Thomas said...


Since this is starting to get petty, I will limit myself to this last post.

The following claims were made by you in relation to Thomistic metaphysics in the course of our conversation. Their refutation forms the substance of my participation in the discussion and illustrates that I have assumed essentially a defensive posture with respect to Thomistic metaphysics:

(1) You worship what you know, while we worship what we do not know.

If you have read Thomas, you know that this statement is deliberately un-nuanced so as to give a false impression. One does not have to be fluent in Palamas to point that out.

(2) If God is ‘ad intra’ intelligible (esse), then revelation is superfluous.

Again, if you know Thomas (and especially if you have read the Summa Contra Gentiles), you know that this does not follow.

(3) The divine essence is not intelligible (contrary to a fundamental Thomistic thesis).

One does not have to be a Palamas scholar to point out the absurdity of such a claim. Also, refuting it can be just as much a defense of Thomistic principles as a criticism of Palamitism.

You seem to be suggesting that unless I am thoroughly read in Palamas I am not competent to comment on misinterpretations of Aquinas or respond to refutations of his metaphysical principles. I disagree. The points listed above all fall within the competency of someone trained in Thomistic theology – or scholastic theology in general.

Granted, extensive firsthand knowledge of St. Gregory would be very helpful in a consideration of the differences between these two theological systems. Time permitting, I would like to study it more extensively. However, as a Thomist, I do not always expect other people to have extensive knowledge of the text of Aquinas in order to grasp the basic concepts in my theology. Nor would I disallow them to defend their own principles – assuming I was compelled as a Thomist to refute them – on their own terms.



Acolyte4236 said...

I am suggesting that you at least read a major work on or by the man before accusing him of gross heresy. I think you’d expect as much from anyone else concerning a major Catholic figure. I am not asking for extensive knowledge. It isn’t an all or nothing deal. I am asking for some reciprocity.

I do expect people to have exposure to major works of a thinker before leveling charges of gross heresy. Serious charges seem to me to require some familiarity with the primary sources. So even if you do not always do so, that doesn’t imply that you aren’t bound to do so in appropriate circumstances.

If I made the kinds of charges against Augustine and Co. without any familiarity with the primary sources or the history of their ideas, you’d rightly write me off as a dud.

Tracing out Palamas’ thinking is one thing. Constructing a useful polemic against him is another.

As for 1,2,3, I lost what I wrote, so let me recap.

These are all conclusions, not bald statements. Does Thomas think that creation is necessary? No. Does he state that it is free? yes. Is he consistent? No. Thomism therefore implies a necessary creation.

1. At the end of the day, for THomas, the divine essence is knowable. Analogical or participatory knowing is still knowing.

2. If Trinitarian theology can be done using dialectic, one wonders why one needs revelation at all. Even Emery notices this problem. I am not pulling stuff out of my ass here.

3. I think you are getting this from my #7. I don't take it to be controversial. The unknowability of God for Thomas falls out of his simplicity. The mode of signification is off because terms are garnered from composite objects, but what we say about God is no less true. The disonance and distance between God as he knows himself and as we know him is because he is simple. So while God is intrinsically intelligible for Thomas, he is not exhaustively grasped by us because our way of grasping is inadequate and not suited to it. (Note the extrincism here) God is therefore ad intra for Thomas unknown to God and yet known, albeit analogically. This is all par for the course among Thomists. I would think that you should have no substantial objections to it.

dmartin said...

Perry wrote: "I do expect people to have exposure to major works of a thinker before leveling charges of gross heresy."

Thomas had already wrote: "Truth be told, I have read portions of The Triads about 2 years ago for a course on The Trinity in the Western Tradition for which I wrote a paper analyzing the Trinitarian theology of Anselm's ‘De Processione Spiritus Sancti’ partly against certain aspects of the Orthodox criticism of Western Trinitarian theology."

Doesn't this count as familiarity?

Acolyte4236 said...


What do "portions" amount to? Kinda vague don'tcha think?

dmartin said...

How much of the Summa have you read? Portions?

Acolyte4236 said...


I wrote, "I think after having read about a dozen or so volumes of Augustine, most of the SCG, ST..." "Most of" amounts to all of the first and third parts, and a majority, over half, of the second part. Of the SCG, I have read the first three volumes. Fair enough.

Moreover, the Triads is pretty short by comparison. "Portions" of the Triads couldn't be THAT long without reading practically all of it. Fair nuff?

dmartin said...

Since it is the 4th volume of the Summa Contra Gentiles that covers Thomas's theology of the Trinity, I find its omission in your comments very interesting.

AH said...


Give me a break. Acolyte obviously knows thomas, your stretching. If his summation is negligent, please show us where. I for one would like to see it...

Thomas said...


I have shown exactly how Thomas is consistent in his own thinking about the incomprehensibility of God. I have also pointed out exactly how certain caricatures misrepresent his thinking on this issue.

The charge that God is in principle knowable in Thomistic thought amounts to no more than the accusation that God perfectly knows Himself, whereas He is totally incomprehensible to us. I have no problem being guilty of such thoughts.

Thomas said...


The need for revelation is patently clear in Thomas. There can be no quidditative knowledge of God, thus no philosophical discovery of the Trinity.

dmartin said...

I am simply trying to show how petty it is to accuse someone of not reading or as Perry put it, even being familiar with the Triad when he has said that he has read some of it and obviously understands it enough to give a rudimentary critique. Again, this ain't no academic list, this is a blog and from what I have read and understand, Tommy understands Palamas pretty well.

I was not trying to show that Perry does not understand Thomas but simply to show the pettiness of saying, "you haven't read enough" when it is blatantly not true!

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