Irish With A Tan

Your Online Cup of Tea

On the Energies of a Simple God

It just dawned on me/started to sink in, that per more Platonic thinking any change per the Good is bad, since the Good can only be one and absolutely simple, change would necessarily imply a deffect. So whatever the Good does (its act and essence being the same) it does necessarily. Creation, or rather production becomes necessary. Since the lack of any act which it does/is would imply a lack qua perfection

Whereas per the Cappadocians, Maximos, Palamas, there are multiple distinct goods in the Good. This is because the goods are divine acts, and the acts are not taken to be identical with the divine essence. As such there are multiple goods/ends open for the divine will. So a difference in the divine will would not be a movement away from perfection, as if there were only one good. But towards one of many perfections in the Perfect. Or goods in the Good. As St Maximos would say “the many logoi of the one Logos.”

Part of what looks problematic then is that it seems the divine appears to gain or lose perfections depending on the choice of will. In other words if multiple acts are open to the divine but not all actualized, then it appears there is a lack/potential for goodness not realised in the Good.

The first thing to note is that the acts are not identical to the substance. As such a difference in act does not equate an essential difference. The divine essence remains ever immutable. The second thing is that the acts are actualized in one sense but not in another. They are actualized as second potentialities in the essence. This means that God possess the divine acts perfectly whether they are acted out or not. Aristotle gives the example of a doctor who has the knowledge/ability of practicing medicine fully whether they are at that moment practicing or not. The doctor who has it, doesn’t gain this actuality when he acts and neither lacks it by not acting.

Likewise God neither gains a perfection nor loses one depending on what activity he chooses to act (2). Two ways in which God and humans differ in this is that whereas people start from a position of potential and gain perfections and improve over time, God never had a beginning but has always been as He is , fully actualized, never needing to improve, learn or form habits. We form our characters by beginning to act, God has always acted as such has always had His character. The other thing is that whereas ability to practice medicine, even though fully actual, is accidental to humans (it is not necessary by nature that humans know how to do medicine), the divine activities are “propria” of the essence. Proprias are such that if X essence exists then Y propria must also exist, even if not being acted. Or if there is Y propria then X essence must exist. Just as it is in every human by nature to laugh. Though not all laugh all of the time.

This means that:

1) all divine goods are actual in the divine essence

2) some are eternally acted (love), some began to be in act (creation, wrath)

3) none are accidental or created things, but each are divine/uncreated logoi which when acted are energia.

It also means that the divine *persons* are free to choose amongst various goods in themselves, and not limited to only one option. Person, nature and activity/goods being distinct also means that a difference in activity does not deny the immutability of the essence or persons nor a a lack or gain of perfection.

This way the freedom of the divine persons are preserved, whilst keeping their immutability. And a notion of simplicity is espoused which affirms distinction without division.

That the divine activity are propria and not the essence, nor a created reality is evidenced in some of the Arguments against the Arians by both Athanasius and the Cappadocians. For they argued that the Son being of one power and activity as the Father must also be one in essence. If the activity was the divine essence then the argument becomes a tautology. If the activities were a created reality then that wouldn’t do the job either, even Origen affirmed one activity but not one essence of Father and Son. Only if they are taken to be proporia is the force of the argument felt, since if they are one the power of a propria which inheres in the divine essence, then they are also of one essence. That is why they reasoned from the powers that are known, the essence which is not.

Another truth of this is that since the essence is simple the divine persons are wholly and completely in each energy. And and such no energia can contradict. One such implication is that the energia of “the image of God” and “predestination” cannot contradict either. So since the end of the imago dei is glorification in Christ, God does not unconditionally determine by predestination that some be damned.

And since the imago dei pertains to nature, divine predestination has to do with the image reaching its telos, not whether X or Y individual is reprobate, per se.

This is only strengthened by the nature person distinction, where persons are not subordinate to nature, and Christology where Christ the examplar of humanity had a free human will at his incarnation.

“we ought to confess two natural volitions [one human, one divine], or two wills and two natural operations (energies) in Him Who was incarnate for our salvation, Jesus Christ, our true God.” – Third Council of Constantinople (Sixth Ecumenical Council)


  1. A good lecture on the topic, with transcripts Ancient Faith Radio
  2. I highly reccomend reading this paper on the Essence/Energies distinction




(1) “So we can describe our three knowers this way:

First potentiality

Second potentiality = first actuality

Second actuality

Here is another example (not Aristotle’s) that might help clarify the distinction.

First potentiality: a child who does not speak French.

Second potentiality (first actuality): a (silent) adult who speaks French.

Second actuality: an adult speaking (or actively understanding) French.

A child (unlike a rock or an earthworm) can (learn to) speak French. A Frenchman (unlike a French infant, and unlike most Americans) can actually speak French, even though he is silent at the moment. Someone who is actually speaking French is, of course, the paradigm case of a French speaker.”

Aristotle:  De Anima II.5, 417a22ff.


(2) «Hence it is wrong to speak of a wise man as being ‘altered’ when he uses his wisdom, just as it would be absurd to speak of a builder as being altered when he is using his skill in building a house.» (417b8-9)


2 comments on “On the Energies of a Simple God

  1. Pingback: Free Will, Evil & the Greatest Good | Irish With A Tan

  2. Pingback: Free Will, Evil & the Greatest Good – Irish Orthoblogger

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on October 21, 2016 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: