This article will appear to be a mix of both what would be considered “devotional” and what would be considered “academic.” And unless the reader are somewhat read in ancient controversies (which is not my highest recommendation), then he or she will be new to some of the terms used here; which I have attempted to utilize in such a way as to plainly convey their intended meaning. But again, this is not a merely academic discourse – which can too easily be in vain. This is rather more a devotional exercise involving a tearing down of said vanity with some usage of its own vocabulary.
As I said, this article will appear to be a mix, though truly it is a cohesive whole, which I hope is clear by the end. I simply could not split up any of the various aspects of the matters discussed here. I suppose the heart and the mind are meant to be one organ. There was no typical format which either allowed me to say what needed to be said or how. My simple hope is that this meandering treatise harmonizes all things contained within it well enough, and that the resulting harmony is edifying to someone.
Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.
[ἐνέργεια [“energeia“] – efficiency (“energy”): – operation, strong (effectual) working.]
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
1 Corinthians 12:6
“…but the greatest of these is love.”
The uncreated energies (ἐνέργεια – energeia) of God are distinct from the very essence of God’s being, just as our human energies and operations are distinct from our own being; yet they proceed forth from Him in accordance with His nature, just as our energies and operations proceed from our own nature, being made after His image.
Love is one of the chief operations of God, and indeed the “greatest of these,” which so perfectly characterizes His every other working that the apostle John even speaks of it in such a way that he risks sounding as though this particular energeia of God is the very substance of the essence of His being:
“God is love.”
But this statement cannot mean that His love is isomorphicaly identical to His very being or and one of His Persons; since He is not an absolutely simple monadic oneness of almalgimated attributes, which every single philosophy of man from east to west has ever concluded of their “unknown god”. Rather, He, being the personal triadic God of which the philosophers could never rightly conceive in their unregenerate minds, shows such love toward His creatures that it characterizes all of His works, just as it ought to characterize all of our works, we who are made in His image. “For whosoever loves is born of God.”
Some will object to this by saying that I ignore the “plain language of scripture”. Tell me then: when Christ says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” is this a plain one-to-one ontological comparison, or is it not rather the allegory of a mystery? In other words, did Jesus become a loaf of bread, or did He not rather become a Life-giving spirit? So also, then, when He says, “I am the light of the world,” is the very essence of His being reduced to an ontologically simple principle of spiritual enlightenment? Or is it not rather the case that His incarnation is the revelation unto a morally and spiritually darkened humanity? We hold that the latter is true; therefore John can rightly say that “God is light,” meaning that the action of the Son of God becoming man brings unto men an enlightenment that is special to God.
Hence, the same apostle John described the incarnation of the Son, saying, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” Christ is here called the light because He enlightens by way of His incarnation; whereas we do not say that “light is God:” for then all light, even that of fallen Lucifer, which has much variableness and shadow of turning, would be of equal moral status to He in whose there are no such properties (James 1:17). Therefore, “God is Light” is not ontologically stating the substance of God’s being, but is rather stating a central attribute of the nature of His character as seen through all of His actions and operations (energeia). For there is distinction between nature and being: in that being (or essence) possesses a nature or natures, whereas a nature possesses not its own being. So also it is with God’s love, as John likewise indicates. Not that there is danger in speaking as John did; but rather that by misunderstanding it in the way to which I here object, we unintentionally begin to import the pantheistic philosophical conception of absolute divine simplicity into the holy scriptures, which quietly infects many of our underlying assumptions about God’s nature, thereby eroding our defense against the religions of the heathen.
For He said, “I am who I am.”
“I AM” is not a philosophical statement of absolute ontological simplicity. For if that were so, we might flip John’s statement, “God is love” to render it “love is God,” and find it to be equal in its ontological truth. But this is not so; for even John himself says in the same epistle, “love is OF God” meaning that it is from God: presupposing a distinction between God’s love and God Himself. So the procession of love from God presupposes a distinction of love, as an energeia of God, from the very essence of His being.
“I am who I am” indicates to us the Lord’s personal or relatable quality, which allows adequate room for distinctions of God’s essence from His energies (energeia) without there existing any “tension” within His being; and also of the distinction of His Persons within His being (essence) without there existing any composition of “parts.” God is one in essence, and His Persons are one in will. His energeia proceed from His essence, which are therefore distinct: and this procession is partaken in by each of His Persons: from the Father, by the Son, through the Spirit.
Therefore, we can confidently say that God’s love, as with all His attribute, personify none of the Godhead, but rather characterize the nature of the whole Godhead; and that they proceed via His energeia from the Father, by the Son, through the Spirit. For the Spirit of God proceeds only from the Father, and in His Spirit we are baptized only by the Son, just as the one crying out in the wilderness declared: “He (the Son) shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost…” And countering the teaching of some that the Holy Spirit is merely a linguistic or conceptual personification of the invisible force of God’s love, Paul tells us that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts “through the Holy Spirit,” rather than “as” the Holy Spirit; since He is a Person of the Godhead.
Thus, we experientially know God through two means: firstly through His energies (energeia) administered to us in various unseen ways, although at times perceived as visible; and secondly through true direct interaction with the incarnate Son in our transfigured resurrection state – but not by directly beholding the Father’s essence. For no man shall live who beholds the very essence of God the Father. Yet just as Moses beheld not the face of God, but rather the energeia of His goodness, and at other times beheld the Angel of the Lord speaking with him as a friend; we now shall much more behold His glory – not directly – but rather “in the face of Jesus Christ,” the Incarnate One.
For Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, is the Bread of the Faces of the face of God, which occupies the soul of the temple and is seen by way of the Spirit’s light, whereas the outer court can only provide for a faith which remains grounded in a merely natural understanding. For that Bread is truly eaten not through a ceremony of bodily consumption, but rather by the inner revelation of His Divine Person through the enlightenment of the sevenfold lamp of the Spirit of God indwelling us, we who are that temple. By this Bread we are also instructed to enter further, as a sweet-smelling living sacrifice, into the holy of holies (the spirit of the temple), that we may truly worship in spirit and in truth.
For the outer court has the understanding of washings and of an offering for sins, just as we are commanded to be baptized and rest upon the offering of Christ for our sins. But the holy place pertains to the tasting and seeing of things invisible, and where the only light tolerated is that of the Spirit of God; so that we may become fit to continually abide in the most holy place: where we taste the hidden manna of His Covenant (Heb 9:4, Rev 2:17), and above it see the voice of He who stands in the midst of the golden candlesticks (Rev 1:12). For each successive place in God’s temple contains the true revelation of the previous. So returning back to the bread: Whereas the sign of baptism is outward, the Bread of which we are truly commanded to partake is not a visible bread that we eat bodily; yet in the partaking, we begin to see HIM.
For we partake in Christ’s broken body not by food and drink and appointed feasts, but rather by obedience to the same Spirit which raised Jesus bodily from the dead; the obedience by which the saints also shed their own blood and offer up their own flesh to be burned. For as often as we eat this bread of His fellowship, and drink this cup of His sufferings, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. As He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.” Therefore any man who partakes in the divine nature is in fact having the various energeia of God’s Life imparted to him through obedience to the leadings of the Spirit, and not through observance of that which men have interpreted as a “sacrament”. For “the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” And that Spirit is given without measure to those that obey Him. The clarity of our seeing of God depends upon the degree to which we walk in obedience by His love.
This is no vapid over-spiritualization of the matter: it is only a spiritualization insofar as Christ and the apostles explained it. For when Paul chastised the Corinthians, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat,” it is clear that their gathering’s failure to be considered by Paul “the Lord’s supper” was simply in that Lord was not honored due to their lack of consideration for the poor and hungry at their “love feasts” (Jude’s term for the early believers’ fellowship meals). “For in eating,” he continued, “each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.” (The presence of wine is no necessary indication of a ceremonial context; as wine is not forbidden to the Christian, and Jesus Himself drank frequently enough for the label of “drunkard” to stick among the prudish Pharisees who despised Him.)
What would constitute a “Lord’s supper” in Paul’s mind is that in their gathering together, they would eat and drink “to the glory of God,” neither neglecting the weak nor depriving the poor among them, which was the particular sin being addressed. For we miss supping with the Lord whenever we neglect the opportunities for love and charity that He places before us (Matt 25:31-46). Paul then utilizes the example of Christ’s last passover meal with His disciples (which He was about to fulfill once for all time in His passion) as an explanation of the mystical Body of Christ, and the discerning thereof, that they might honor Christ in the honoring of their brothers. For the neglect of their brethren was an “unworthy manner” of partaking of the Body and blood of the Lord, which is His church; for which reason many had become ill and even died.
Therefore Paul brings his admonition back down from spiritual allegory into the practical matter at hand with the words, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” So it is clearly a fellowship meal, and not a sacramental ceremony, which Paul took as an occasion to teach them of the mystery of Christ’s Body and blood: the church. Paul writes after a similar pattern to the Ephesians, weaving in and out of allegory when speaking of marriage, but then at last remarking, “I speak of Christ and the church;” while indeed still addressing the practical matter at hand.
For not much earlier in the same letter to the Corinthians, the apostle said, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” And is not their participation truly in the mystery of being one with His Body? Therefore he immediately explains this with the saying, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1Cor 10:16-17) For partaking of that Bread is the personal knowing of the Living Christ Himself, not the bodily consumption of a temporary stand-in, mysteriously endued with divinity. Any recommendation of such a supposedly vital practice is also conspicuously absent from the Jerusalem council’s advice to their newly baptized gentile counterparts (Acts 15).
And neither by saying “do this in rememberance of Me” was Jesus at all commanding them to observe the feast of Passover; for again in the same letter, Paul explained, “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” And lest we still insist upon the necessity of observing a feast, the apostle goes on to cast “keeping this feast” as the manner in which we partake of Christ’s Body and blood – that is, how honorably we interact with His people: “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1Cor 5:7-8) Yes, the practice of sincerity and truth among the brethren is truly the bread we must eat; and the sacrifice of our selfish desires for their good is truly the cup we must drink.
Thus, we partake in His divine nature through the Holy Spirit indwelling us by He who became not earthly bread but rather a Life-giving spirit – and not by means a wrongly construed “sacrament,” which takes a truth of the inward parts and pertains it to the outward. And one day we shall also see Him face-to-face; yet by the Son, and not by what some call the “Beatific Vision,” which is an eternal staring into the Father’s very essence. For our relating to God is personal and manifold.
But that concept of the Beatific Vision, which many have postulated awaits the faithful, is an eternal (and quite impersonal) seeing of God the Father’s pure essence; as opposed to the teaching of scripture, which indicates that whereas we now relate to God’s persons through His energeia, we shall soon in resurrected body relate to God in the bodily risen transfigured Christ. In other words, our present beholding of Jesus with unveiled face is “through the Lord who is the Spirit;” and our beholding of Him in the age to come will be in heavenly bodies like His, when we shall be like Him. For we shall still be men, which cannot behold the true impassible glory the Father at any time; but the one and only God, who is in the bosom of the Father: HE makes Him known.
Beatific Vision is really a “Christianized” adaption of the pantheistic notion that The Many will be re-absorbed back into the Beingness of the generic Oneness, or One or Fullness or Source from which they sprang, having always subsisted as mere extensions of Its being rather than as creatures distinct from the personal Creator who created all things ex-nihilo. Beatific Vision presupposes the absolute simplicity of God’s being, which at its ultimate end must be the generic impersonal ultimate being of ultimate beingness that is common to all perennial and gnostic philosophies, according to which all nations and religions are deceived.
For even the majority of the Jews, having missed God, have now followed after a god which is little more than this nihilistic conception, and the adherents of Islam worship a capricious god who transcends any personability that could be relatable to his creatures. Also, the seemingly endless pantheons of eastern Indian tradition eventually break down into impersonal principles, which themselves are ultimately slave to this over-arching impersonal principle of a generic oneness of all being. And the many practices of the orient are perhaps most obvious in following after this empty pattern.
Therefore, although man’s dim conceptions of the God of holy scripture too often become a balancing act of various attributes in seeming tension, the answer to this is not simply equating His attributes and His energies to His very being. For then God is rendered truly unknowable in ways that He has declared Himself to be quite knowable, impersonal in ways that He has declared Himself to be quite personable, and yet also able to be beheld in ways which He declares no man can behold Him (as in Beatific Vision).
For even Isaiah beheld “the Lord of Hosts;” which is God the Warrior-King of old times, the pre-incarnate Son of the cleansing of the land: who Himself visited Abraham with two messenger angels, raining down fire and brimstone upon the cities of Sodom; who Himself lead the armies of heaven in the days of Joshua’s conquest; and who Himself came down to slay 180,000 of the Assyrians in their sleep.
The temptation of men to make no distinction either between God’s essence and energies, nor between His being and Persons, is not merely a philosophical one – it is, in fact, rooted in the fall, by which man has become accustomed to a distance between himself and the direct workings (energeia) and personal presence of God, who once walked with Adam in the cool of the day.
“The Word (logos) became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
Now, the logos which the scripture here says “became flesh” is not being equated to the generic rational principle (logos) of Plotinas and the Greeks, as some would have us believe; nor is John merely taking that existing philosophical concept and inserting Jesus into it. John was a reader of the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), in which the “Word” of Yahweh was translated as the “logos” of the Lord. Much more than making a philosophical point – which to some degree I grant he may be – John is personifying the eternal logos of the Lord as Jesus; for often the “Angel of the Lord” who delivers the words of God in the Old Testament is very clearly the second person of the Trinity.
And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
All of creation burns with conviction of the triune personal God of scripture, who is revealed even in the design of the creature; and when the incarnate Son of God is declared, the witness of the Father by the Holy Spirit presses all the more with conviction upon the hearts of men, though without the light of His faith they cannot comprehend the matter, their own spirit being darkened through sin.
But the surge of atheism in recent decades has tempted the Christian anew to merely convince men of the existence of a generic deity, as if such were a legitimate stepping-stone towards knowing the true and living God. This reduction of our conception of God into terms that resemble little more than Aristotle’s “Great Architect” or Plato’s “Demiurge” is an apologetic of surrender to the religion of the unbelievers; and those who are newly convinced of its existence will simply come to worship any version of this reasonable singular generic deity, still hating He who is revealed, denying what He has made known within them.
And we, who ought to know better, still too easily think of God as transcendent in ways which do not allow for the fact that although now fallen, men are yet made in His image, and do indeed continue to reflect that truth in many ways; though they fail to walk according to it, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. This is a rebellious estimation of God’s transcendence, cushioning men from the perception of full accountability to Him. It especially achieves this by rendering the incarnation as described in scripture to be an utter scandal for such an impersonal creator, and therefore improbable; when truly the slaying of the Lamb was foreordained before the foundation of the world, and held up before every eye to see.
Where is the wise person? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians1:20-21 (LEB)
The Latin speaking fathers of the early church had much trouble with these things, being very learned in man’s philosophy; and so perpetuated and aggravated many of the misunderstandings and errors addressed above.
A most noteable consequence of the Latin scholastic tradition was an over-emphasis upon the legal aspects of Christ’s atonement, at the expense of its other vital elements. This (originally unintentional) reduction of the redemptive work has since lead much of God’s people into contriving countless ecclesiastical invetions and endless ritualistic innovations to fill the void. The extrapolation of the Latin tradition – which by default strictly submits all scriptural teaching under Aristotelian categorical understandings of being, substance, and accidents – and so casts the “ultimate divinity” as absolutely simple in nature – ultimately culminated in the Summa Theoligica of Thomas Aquinas, who is unequivocally Rome’s unofficial-official dogma.
Augustine, who preferred the legally-oriented language of Latin and worked very little with Greek, often gets the majority of the blame for starting all of this. For while his devotional life as shown to us in his great work “The Confessions” certainly displays a vibrant personal knowing of the God who redeemed him; his later theological works became especially filled with the relatively flat assumptions of Greek philosophical thought as perceived through the even flatter medium of Latin linguistics. Therefore he acknowledged no essence-energy distinction in God, somewhat frustrating his work “On The Trinity” (though perhaps not to his mind), and causing him to lay the groundwork for the doctrines of “created grace,” as well as reviving a version of the Beatific Vision that Origen had once proposed – all notions within which much of both Roman and Protestant understanding has remained grounded.
And while this may all sound quite obtuse and arcane to the majority of today’s ears, it does entually touch them all, however unwittingly. Therefore it remains necessary that some should be somewhat informed in these things, in order to provide an answer to the philosophical objectors who undermine the faith of many by much vain knowledge in matters which they themselves will yet declare cannot be truly known by men, since to them it is all merely conceptual. To such the apostle Paul declared of their unknown god, “HIM I proclaim to you” (not “it”). And thus, in preaching to the areopagus, he relied not upon sharing any presuppositions in common with those Greek philosophers; but rather he mmediately proclaimed the personally knowable God who is not far from men, who became incarnate, and who conquered death itself in bodily resurrection. Paul’s presupposition was not reliant upon the darkened plodding of fallen reason, but rather upon the immediacy of Christ’s manifest revelation.
The Greek-fluent “eastern fathers” of the early church were often wiser than their Latin counterparts in that they did not tend to presuppose the philosophy of man’s generic theism in their expounding of God’s revelation. One man in particular, who most thoroughly excelled in dealing with these matters, was Maximos (or Maximus) “The Confessor”. His voluminous writings summarize and explain many difficulties both in scripture and in the earlier church writers; frequenty offering his explanations in the philosophic language – yet not as submitting to the philosophers’ presuppositions, but rather as discerning many of those errors and emphasizing the good within the writings of his predecessors.
It seems that none of much note, however, have escaped even a mildly superstitious view of what men call the “sacraments:” especially those that exceed baptism, which I believe I have shown to be the only so-called “sacrament” that was commanded to the whole church.
In coming to understand these things, let us not squander them by adherence to yet another tradition which merely contains them in concept only; “for the word of God is not bound.”
And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend…