Your Online Cup of Tea
Some interesting stuff here. Just started reading up on the doctrine of God as beyond being, and the roots of its development. It goes back to various Aristotelian and Platonic notions of form, being, intelligibility, intellect and intellection. The book I’m reading at moment is Eric D. Perl.
A *very* stripped back summary of the one of the reasons behind it that I’ve understood so far goes something like this:
To have being is to be one thing as opposed to another. A substance. What determines your substance are the forms/ideas of what it means to be the kind of thing that you are (for example, we all share in the common form of humanity. There are many humans but only one humanity). Therefore all beings are limited and defined. And so whenever you think about something, you are thinking about its form, since forms are the principles of intelligibility. So you can’t think without forms and you can’t exist without them either. So being, intelligibility and form are all intertwined.
What does this have to do with God as beyond being? For one God is infinite and not defined in His essence. If He were then there would be a form above God that defines Him. And without form, there is no being. So God in His essence is beyond being.
Likewise if God were being then He would be sharing that in common with us. Which means that this thing we have in common, being, would be before us and God. So God would not be first and ultimate. So God can’t be a being amongst others. But rather God is the source and ground of being and as such beyond it. Since also being form and intelligibility are intertwined, only that which has being and form can be known. But God in His essence is beyond being and thus beyond knowability.
That doesn’t mean we don’t know God. Because the three persons of the Trinity are known by their glory. Their goodness, light, life, love, power. These are divine activities. And are the same way that all people know each other and come to know each other. By their individual activities. Eternal life is to know God, which means not just having intellectual knowledge of Him, but to actually partake of the fullness of His glory. Union with God. And this protects the Creator/creature distinction because it is not partaking of God’s essence (ousia) but His activities/working (energia). So the Triune *persons* are known by their energies, which are their manifestations in being, but their divine essence remains unknown. Even the word essence doesn’t really apply here, but is used in the same way “X” is used in a maths equation to represent something you don’t know.
I’m sure I’ve probably butchered and oversimplified somethings. I also realise that there are other positions and ways of looking at it (it’s also just the beginning of the book). So I’ll keep reading and see what it says. I’ve also come across somewhere that for Augustine, the first principle, God, is intellect. While for the East, following Plotinus, that would put God qua essence as being. And this has something to do with the divergent approaches and expression to Triadology in the East and West. That could be simplifying (or wrong) but I’ve seen something akin to that stated somewhere before. Take for example the following:
“It is unfortunate that translations of Byzantine or Neoplatonic texts often tend to follow the Latin rendering of hyperousios as supersubstantiale or superessentiale. For while super can carry the same ambiguity in Latin as is found in hyper, the predominance in the West of a broadly entitative understanding of God that is grounded in an analogy of being inevitably flattens the double sense of hyper that we have noted. That is, the reference to the divine ousia as hyperousios is ultimately unnecessary and serves at best a kind of heuristic value. For, since the noun ousia refers to the divine ousia and the adjective, ousios, in huperousios, refers to the finite essence beyond which ( hyper-) the divine essence is supereminently founded, then huperousios ousia can be recast as divine “essence beyond essence” (ousia huper tên ousian). Hence, huperousios ousia can be rendered either as “essence beyond essence” or “supersessential essence.” But given what is involved in predicating “essence” of God, then the phrase “divine essence” implicitly contains “superessential” within it as a preeminent denial that the divine essence is like any finite essence. Hence, one can equivalently say “divine essence” or “divine superessential essence.” On this view, one can see why Aquinas observes that Dionysius often uses many words in a manner that seems to be superfluous. It is not at all surprising then that terms like supersubtantiale, superessentiale, superesse, superdeus, superbonum, which are so prominent in the Latin translation of Pseudo-Dionysius, are virtually absent from Aquinas’s own vocabulary. Rather, such terms appear for the most part in Aquinas’s works in the context of quoting or interpreting Dionysius. On this matter, I believe that Dionysius is fundamentally misread within the Scholastic framework and more broadly within the philosophical theology that is predominant in the West.” — John D. John, Manifesting Beyond be-ing Being (hyperousios ousia): The Divine Essence-Energies Distinction for Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite.
A friend of mine said to me “One way I approach it is this: being seems like an activity; there’s obviously a difference between power and activity; so, by what sort of power does God do the activity of being? Surely not by some *existing* power, since power must be distinct from act… Thus, God is beyond being.”
That’s interesting, being as activity is a crucial concept (one trying to grapple with). Particularly since being and form are seen as one or rather intertwined. And to think per Aristotle means the thought becomes the object of its thinking. So the prime mover is a self thinking thought. And thus pure act. I think that’s the Characterization. It’s the direction of Aquinas it seems. That God eternally wills Himself and this willing is one with Himself that is His essence. So God is pure act. And since being is intelligible and God is simple being, theosis here is not union with the being of God but the perception of the intelligible divine essence, thus the beatific vision.
The difference per Orthodoxy it seems is that being per the divine energies can indeed be united with, hence theosis is more than a culmination of intellect. Because we are united with the divine life as it is and not a similitude, since union here poses no danger of a creature partaking of the essence.
However, the question however is left open; does Plotinus’ problem with being and form as applicable to God apply if God is pure act?
Also note in the Triads by Gregory Palamas, the vision of God we enjoy forever is that of the divine energia. The divine light which is accessible even in this age. All that we know and partake of God is energy. The essence is unknownable. But per Catholic teaching the beatific vision is supposedly of the essence. But Palamas makes it clear that the light which we shall see in eternity is available now and will always be the energia. The same light which the Apostles saw when Christ Transfigured:
The issue that some would take with the essence energies distinction (amongst many) would be that it brings potency into God. However this would only be an issue if God were being and being was His essence. But if being is not His essence, then the fact that some energia are active and some are inactive wouldn’t mean a change or lack in God’s essence.
The inactive energia would be first actuality (a musician who has mastered her instrument but isn’t playing, a skill that is fully actual in their person) and when God acts it would be second actuality (the musician playing her instrument). God as pure act is considered to have no first actuality but *is* purely second actuality.
In the case of the musician, she is not lacking anything but rather has the freedom to choose how and when to act. Which is important, since when applied to God it means creation is not a necessary outcome of His essence but a free choice.
This is no easy topic. But it is certainly one that I will be coming back to again. Hence Part 1.