Anda di halaman 1dari 26

Modern Theology 32:1 January 2016 DOI: 10.1111/moth.

ISSN 0266-7177 (Print)
ISSN 1468-0025 (Online)




The Palamite distinction between essence and energies1 is one that has come under
much criticism from Western systematic theologians for a variety of reasons.2 Robert
Jenson and Catherine Mowry LaCugna, two important theologians among the myr-
iad of voices raising concerns about the Palamite distinction, suggest in differing
ways that it eliminates any possibility of real communion with a God who is three
divine persons, Father, Son and Spirit. Jenson argues that the Palamite distinction
drives Orthodoxy to “a bluntly modalist doctrine” whereby “God himself is above
the biblical narrative, which applies only to his activities.”3 In Jenson’s reading, the
energies make the Father, Son, and Spirit known, but this knowledge of three per-
sons does not pertain to what God truly is because the divine essence is itself forever
hidden. Thus, the persons are reduced to a purely economic phenomenon. Catherine
Mowry LaCugna, on the other hand, argues that “the primary weakness of Palamite
theology” is the fact that the energies render the persons unknowable. Palamas,
according to LaCugna, ensures that “the creature cannot have immediate contact

D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

3129 W. Mangold Avenue, Apt. 5, Greenfield, WI, 53221, USA
I will refer to this as “the Palamite distinction,” not in order to make a historical claim in the nega-
tive as to whether Palamas continues a trajectory rooted in patristic and earlier Byzantine theologians,
but rather in recognition of the fact that Palamas is the theologian par excellence in developing this
Besides Catherine Mowry LaCugna and Robert Jenson, who will be discussed below, the following is
a representative sample of major Western figures to reject the Palamite distinction: John Milbank,
“Sophiology and Theurgy: The New Theological Horizon,” in Adrian Pabst and Christopher Schneider
eds., Encounter Between Eastern Orthodoxy and Radical Orthodoxy: Transfiguring the World through the Word
(Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 45–85; Rowan D. Williams, “The Philosophical Structures of Palamism,”
Eastern Churches Review 9, no. 1 (1977): 27–44; Bruce McCormack, “Participation in God, Yes, Deification,
No: Two Modern Protestant Responses to an Ancient Question,” in Ingolf U. Dalferth, ed., Denkw€ urdiges
Geheimnis: Beitr€age zur Gotteslehre (T€ubingen: Mohr Sebeck, 2004), 373; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic
Theology Volume 1, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (London: T. & T. Clark, 2004), 361–362; Karl Barth, Church
Dogmatics Volume II.1 – The Doctrine of God G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, eds. (Edinburgh: T. & T.
Clark, 1957), 331–332; Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Logic Volume 2, Truth of God, trans. Adrian J. Walker
(San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2004), 148.
Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997),

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 21

with a divine person, only with a person expressed through an energy.”4 The divine
persons are only known “indirectly” through the divine energies. “We do not know
the divine persons in themselves or as themselves.”5 LaCugna claims that, because
the divine persons “belong to the imparticible essence of God” they “do not enter
into direct communion with the creature.”6 Taken together, then, LaCugna and
Jenson represent objections at the two opposite ends of possible interpretations of
Palamas, where the essence/energies distinction is said either to render the persons
entirely economic or else to firmly hide them within the immanent Trinity, fully sep-
arating them from the economy of redemption. Fundamentally, then, these objections
relate Palamas to ongoing Western discussions of the relationship between the imma-
nent and economic Trinity.
The criticisms offered by Western theologians are particularly sharp when consid-
ered against the historical backdrop within which the essence/energies distinction
was fully developed by Gregory Palamas. In the words of John Meyendorff, “the ini-
tial and most decisive motivation which pushed Palamas to the formulation of his
theology was his concern to affirm the possibility, and, indeed, the reality of com-
munion with God Himself.”7 If this was indeed Palamas’ goal, and I think that
Meyendorff’s reading of Palamas here is both valid and widely held,8 then the ques-
tion at hand fundamentally concerns the success or failure of Gregory Palamas’s
entire theological project and with it much of Eastern Orthodox theology, particu-
larly since the Neo-Palamite resurgence in the twentieth century.9 Further, if the cri-
tiques are valid they render Palamas entirely unhelpful to many modern Western
theological concerns. In light of the significant ramifications of the critique, it is wise
to take time to consider Palamas in more depth. Does the essence/energies distinc-
tion eliminate the possibility of communion with God, as Western theologians worry,
or does it make such communion possible in the first place as Palamas and many
contemporary Orthodox theologians suggest? This essay will argue that the Palamite
distinction, properly understood and qualified, does indeed make possible real com-
munion with God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While I will not go so far as to
claim that the essence/energies distinction is the only metaphysical means of securing
real communion, it will become apparent that this doctrine, as developed in the theol-
ogy of Gregory Palamas, does make such communion possible. The goal in demon-
strating this is not only (or even primarily) to defend Palamas and/or Orthodox

Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco, CA: HarperSan-
Francisco, 1991), 186.
Ibid., 190.
Ibid., 194.
The emphasis is Meyendorff’s. John Meyendorff, “The Holy Trinity in Palamite Theology,” in
Trinitarian Theology East and West: St. Thomas Aquinas – St. Gregory Palamas, ed. Michael A. Fahey and
John Meyendorff (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977), 30. We see a similar claim made by
Vladimir Lossky: “The discussions [in which Gregory Palamas took part] center basically on the possibil-
ity of actual communion with God.” Vladimir Lossky, The Vision of God, trans. Asheleigh Moorhouse
(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1983), 156.
Palamas’s arguments surrounding the divine energies sought to preserve the possibility of the divine
energies being part of God themselves so as to preserve the possibility of deification, but he also sought
to preserve experience as one valid source of theology against purely rationalistic articulations of
Christian theology.
Here I am thinking of such noteworthy figures as Vladimir Lossky, John Meyendorff, and Dumitru
Staniloae, among others.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

22 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

theology against Western challenges, but rather to demonstrate how Palamas, when
rightly interpreted, offers distinctions that can be broadly consonant with Western
concerns. My intention is to show that Western theologians could draw on Palamas
as an important source within the tradition, rightly interpreting Palamas and yet not
sacrificing the major Western emphasis on communion that has emerged in modern
This essay will begin by establishing criteria by which to judge whether the Palamite
distinction allows for or impedes communion before moving to a sustained engage-
ment with the work of Gregory Palamas. After the basic contours of Palamas’s theol-
ogy have been outlined, a concluding portion of the article will place Palamas into
dialogue with both Jenson and LaCugna, chosen among various possible authors due
to the centrality of communion with God in each of their projects and because each
offers a unique challenge to the compatability of Palamite theology with a theology
of communion. This final section will demonstrate the fundamental compatibility of
Palamas’s metaphysics with their respective theologies of communion.

Relating to Persons through Communion: Preliminary Definitions

Before we turn to a prolonged discussion of the work of Gregory Palamas, it will be
important to make some terminological distinctions by which we can judge whether
the essence/energies metaphysic inhibits or facilitates communion. As the critiques
of Palamas have been raised largely from the West, the definitions used in this essay
will also be taken from Western thinkers in an attempt to show how Palamite meta-
physics could be seen as compatible with a broad range of modern Western attempts
to develop a theology of communion. Unfortunately, neither Jenson nor LaCugna10
develops clear metaphysical distinctions to explain what is meant by the phrase
“communion with God,” so key concepts will have to be drawn from earlier Western
figures: Leonard Hodgson and Petro Chirico. Drawing on such earlier figures offers
several benefits. First, each offers a helpful and philosophically sound distinction
useful for clarifying what “communion” means in ways that are consonant with the
later work of Jenson and LaCugna. Second, because neither Hodgson nor Chirico is
a major contemporary figure, their contributions can be utilized without having to
wade through disputes in secondary literature regarding the meaning of
“communion” in their respective theologies. There is plenty of secondary literature
on Palamas to occupy the reader’s attention without the need to introduce further
interpretative disputes. Third, the less-than-prominent stature of Hodgson and
Chirico as major theological figures does not mean that their definitions are marginal
to the theological tradition of the West. Chirico’s work is in many ways summative
of Pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic theologies of communion with the Trinity such that
his definition is still widely pertinent today. Similarly, Hodgson’s theology has affin-
ities with personalist theology that is still widely influential in certain circles.
Furthermore, Hodgson can be taken as an important early representative of social
Trinitarianism. Fourth, the intention of this essay is not to defend Palamas from an
Orthodox perspective against Western concerns, but rather to explore how a defensi-
ble reading of Palamas might be commensurable with Western theologies of com-
munion, perhaps even making solid contributions in this regard. Drawing on

Nor, for that matter, do many of the mid- to late twentieth-century critics of Palamas.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 23

Western metaphysical distinctions to define communion will therefore be helpful in

demonstrating how Palamas’s theology is compatible with a broad range of Western
Leonard Hodgson offers the first important distinction that will help to clarify the
idea of communion, one that distinguishes between possession and communion.
Possession, says Hodgson, allows us “to be lifted above ourselves in the perform-
ance of the work God has given us to do.”11 This elevation does not require that
human beings be consciously aware of this possession, much less be consciously
aware in the form of personal relationship with the one by whom the individual is
possessed. Hodgson reserves this consciousness for what he calls communion –
where, for example, one person is aware of speaking to another.12 The distinction
between possession and communion is particularly important for the validity of Pal-
amite theology. LaCugna and Jenson both reject (in rather opposite ways) the notion
of divine energies because, they claim, it precludes communion with God as God
actually is, either by hiding the real God behind the three Persons modalistically
conceived (Jenson), or by hiding the Persons behind the divine energies (LaCugna).
In both cases the objection is that there is no communion, no real awareness of God
as God actually is in three Persons. For this reason, the following analysis will focus
on the question of awareness of the Persons and will avoid any sustained analysis of
possession. The essence/energies distinction may be quite effective (or ineffective
for that matter) in securing the doctrine of deification whereby human beings are
possessed by the divine energies and elevated to a state above their natural one
without thereby doing anything to guarantee communion with Father, Son, and Spi-
rit. Therefore, this essay will emphasize communion and will defer questions con-
cerning the relationship between the energies and deification until the concluding
constructive portion of the article.
A second important distinction can be derived from the works of Petro Chirico.
Surveying late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Roman Catholic theological
disputes about whether and how human beings can have distinctive relationships
with the three Persons of the Trinity, Chirico distinguished between personal rela-
tionship and relations to a person. The debate was in large part inspired by the fact
that claiming opera dei ad extra indivisa sunt13 could be taken to imply that no relation
to a specific person arising from ad extra activities is possible.14 One strategy for get-
ting around this problem is to consider the three divine Persons as exemplary, either
individually or taken together, such that human beings participate in a unique way
in each Person insofar as created grace is exemplary of the Trinity. Chirico rejects
this option because, he argues, participation only implies relationship to a person.
For example, were the Father considered exemplary of fatherhood, then, given a cer-
tain metaphysic, all human fathers would participate in the Father insofar as they
are fathers themselves. This would be a relation to the exemplary person of the
Father through participation but not a personal relationship with God as Father.

Leonard Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Croall Lectures, 1942–1943 (London: Nisbet and Co.,
Ltd., 1946), 40.
Ibid., 39.
The external operations of God are indivisible.
Petro F. Chirico, The Divine Indwelling and Distinct Relations to the Indwelling Persons in Modern Theo-
logical Discussion (Rome: Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, 1960), 8.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

24 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

Chirico rightly recognized that the question at hand in the debate he was address-
ing was whether a personal relationship, which he defined as requiring “a mutual
exchange in the area of intellect and will,” could exist between the Father, Son,
and Spirit and a given human being.15 Such exchange, he contends, was not
required for exemplary participation, and so the relation was not a personal rela-
tion. For our purposes, this distinction establishes a similar criterion for determin-
ing whether the notion of divine energies inhibits communion with God as God
truly is, Father, Son, and Spirit. Hodgson notes that awareness is required in com-
munion, but Chirico more clearly points us to the form of awareness required: per-
sonal relationship. For Palamas to withstand the objections raised by LaCugna and
Jenson and to remain pertinent to Western theological concerns, his metaphysical
system must be shown to allow for communion that fits the definitions offered by
Chirico and Hodgson.

Palamite Metaphysics and Discourse

With this terminological apparatus in hand, we can begin our analysis of Gregory
Palamas’s theology. The analysis will unfold in four parts. Part one gives close atten-
tion to Gregory Palamas’s distinction between essence and energies in an effort to
determine how Palamas used the distinction and what he meant by each term. Part
two explores certain patterns in which Palamas describes the action of the Father,
the Son, and the Spirit in his various writings. The analysis of the metaphysical dis-
tinction between essence and energies, as well as the general economic patterns of
the acts of the divine persons, will provide the basis for the technical analysis in
parts three and four. Part three begins this technical analysis by considering
Palamas’s discussion of theological language and the divine energies in his 150
Chapters as illuminated by Basil of Caesarea’s debate with Eunomius, which Palamas
considered paradigmatic. The resulting theory of language informs the discussion in
part four concerning how the divine energies are enhypostatic. The category of enhypo-
static will be essential to establishing a personal relationship to the Father, Son, and
the Spirit through the energies. Palamite theories of language use, connected with
his theology and understood in light of the enhypostatic nature of the energies, pro-
vide the basis for affirming that Palamas, if interpreted in a particular way, allows
for distinctive communion as personal relationship with the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit. Following this four-part survey of Gregory Palamas, a systematic analy-
sis summarizes these findings (in dialogue with both Jenson and LaCugna), suggest-
ing that Palamite theology can be deployed in terms amenable to both of these
theologians’ projects.

1. Essence, Energies, and Hypostases: The Divine Ontology

Gregory Palamas’s understanding of God’s essence, energies, and hypostases is
revealed in a number of his polemical and occasional works, though some effort
must be made to reconstruct his divine ontology so that a systematic theology of his
doctrine of God can be developed. Fortunately, in homiletic contexts Gregory’s theol-
ogy is simple and clear, providing a basis for interpreting his more polemical works.

Ibid., 28.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 25

For example, in his Homily 35, Gregory offers a concise summary of his entire

It is possible for holy people to see and share in the kingly power and glory and
brilliance and ineffable light and grace of God, but not in God’s substance; and
we will make our way towards the shining of the light of grace, so that we may
experience and worship the Godhead in triple form, shining forth with a single
ineffable brilliance from a single nature in three hypostases.16

This simple summary introduces all of the key elements of Gregory’s system,
which can be summarized as follows: (1) The doctrine of deification affirms partici-
pation in God, but such participation cannot be in the divine substance itself. There-
fore, (2) participation is in the uncreated energies of God, such as glory, power, and
light, which (3) facilitate the direct trifold experience of God as Father, Son, and Spi-
rit. (4) These three forms are each eternal consubstantial hypostases (5) of the one
simple Godhead.
Had Palamas only written such homilies, the objections of Jenson and LaCugna,
among others, would be obviously false insofar as Palamas explicitly affirms the pos-
sibility of human communion with God: “we may experience and worship the God-
head in triple form.” The debate is possible because Palamas did indeed write
voluminously on the essence/energies distinction, elaborating a complex yet frag-
mentary metaphysic. Palamas’s specific metaphysical claims about the divine ousia,
energeia, and hypostases are what ultimately either affirm his homiletic claims or
undermine them. To determine which is the case, a brief exploration of each of these
five elements is required.
We begin by recognizing that Palamas developed his distinction between the
essence and energies in the context of a series of debates that sought to affirm the
doctrine of deification as an experiential as well as ontological reality. Deification
necessitates participation, but Palamas is adamant that such participation cannot be
in the divine essence. His fundamental objection is that, if “God’s essence is partici-
pated in, and is even participated in by everyone, this means that His essence is not
tri-hypostatic, but multi-hypostatic.”17 According to Palamas, something that partici-
pates in an essence must share something in common with that essence. But this
leads to the unsatisfactory conclusion that there are more than three hypostases in
the Godhead (a multi- rather than a tri-hypostatic relation).18 Thus, an imparticipable

Gregory Palamas, “Homily 35,” in Light on the Mountain: Greek Patristic and Byzantine Homilies on the
Transfiguration of the Lord trans. Brian E. Daley (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2013), §17.
English translation taken from Gregory Palamas, Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the
Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts, in St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St.
Makarios of Corinth, eds., The Philokalia, Vol. IV, trans. G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos
Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), §109. Critical edition consulted: Greogy Palamas, The One Hundred
and Fifty Chapters, ed. and trans. R. E. Sinkewicz (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1988).
Ibid., §111. Palamas does not fully explain the reasoning behind this argument, but it fits within his
larger metaphysic. If a hypostasis is simply the instantiation of a particular essence, then any hypostasis
that manifests a particular essence actually is that essence. Accordingly, deification cannot be participa-
tion in the divine essence. It seems to me that Palamas does not demonstrate the truth of this argument
beyond dispute, and this may be one point where the notion of divine energies can be rejected. Such a
question lies outside of the scope of this article. For the moment, we will simply consider whether
Palamas’s metaphysical system can satisfy his objectives, leaving aside the question of whether Palamas’s
metaphysical system should be accepted.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

26 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

essence is seen as the basis for simultaneously guaranteeing transcendence19 and pre-
venting pantheism.20
If deification requires participation, it must do so in a way that prohibits such par-
ticipation in the essence, and it is incumbent upon Palamas to explain how this type
of participation is possible. He rejects any notion that the deified participate in the
hypostasis of the Father, Son, or Spirit,21 and instead appropriates the patristic term
“divine energy/ies”22 to develop a theory of deification as participation in the
energy. Because the energy of the divine glory was visible on Mount Tabor, and
because vision is a form of participation, the energies must be participable.23 These
participable energies are distinct from the imparticipable essence, as evidenced by
the fact that we can meaningfully speak of energy and essence in different ways,24
but the energies are inseparable from the essence itself. There is therefore both a fun-
damental relatedness and a distinction between the essence and energies, though
there are two possible ways to interpret this distinction.
The first possible interpretation follows Vladimir Lossky, who sees the essence
and energies as two distinct divine modes, the essence within nature and hidden
and the energies outside of nature and revealed.25 This has been the dominant inter-
pretation in recent theology, in large part through the influence of Lossky and other
neo-Palamites. (It is important to note that both Jenson and LaCugna accept Lossky’s
basic interpretation of this point.)26 Such an interpretation would see the distinction
between energies and essence as one “between the inner being of God the trinity
and this God’s economic activities.”27 We might also point to the more recent study
of David Bradshaw, who suggests an account of the essence/energies distinction
similar to that of Lossky. According to Bradshaw, the Cappadocians teach that “the
energeiai manifest the ousia, making it present in an active and dynamic way, but

Meyendorff primarily sees the essence/energies distinction as a means of affirming both transcen-
dence and communion. Meyendorff, “The Holy Trinity in Palamite Theology,” 31.
Papademetriou explains the essence/energies distinction as a means of avoiding pantheism through
a fully participable essence, or deism through a fully hidden God. See George C. Papademetriou, Introduc-
tion to Saint Gregory Palamas (New York: Philosophical Library, 1973), 32.
Palamas, 150 Chapters, §109.
Palamas uses the singular and plural interchangeably. I will primarily use the plural except where
tense agreement requires the singular.
The English translation is taken from Gregory Palamas, The Triads, ed. John Meyendorff, trans.
Nicholas Gendle (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), III.ii.13. Critical edition consulted for original languages:
Gregory Palamas, Defense des saints hesychastes: Introduction texte critique, traduction et notes de Jean
Meyendorff, trans. Jean Meyendorff (Louvain: Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense, 1959).
Palamas writes, “Those who say that in God the activity is not different from His essence contend
that He does not have essence and activity but only activity or only essence. For if there is no difference
whatsoever between those things, why do they say that God not only has this but that as well unless
they say that those things belong to God as empty names which have nothing to do with real things?”
We will discuss Gregory’s theory of theological language in part three below. Gregory Palamas, Dialogue
Between an Orthodox and a Barlaamite, trans. Rein Ferwerda (Binghamton, NY: Global Publications, 1999),
Lossky, The Vision of God, 157.
LaCugna claims that the Palamite synthesis resulted in a defeat of trinitarian theology and illustrates
with a citation from Lossky as summarizing this synthesis (LaCugna, God for Us, 196). Jenson claims that
Lossky’s “static vision of God” is derived from Palamas (Jenson, Systematic Theology, 152).
Duncan Reid, Energies of the Spirit: Trinitarian Models in Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Theology
(Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press), 21. Reid treats Lossky and Georges Florovsky as paradigmatic of Eastern
views on the essence/energies distinction. Ibid., 34–54.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 27

they do not constitute it.”28 In the synthesis developed by Palamas, the essence is
recognized as transcending all energies “as cause.” (Bradshaw here alludes to Triads,
III.ii.7). The energies are a means of “the manifestation of God,” together forming “a
divine power and presence that is perceptible to the purified senses.”29 On the read-
ing offered by Lossky and others, the distinction between essence and energies
would correspond to a distinction between God ad intra and ad extra.
Though plausible, I am convinced that the first interpretation of the essence/ener-
gies distinction runs into a significant problem illustrated in Palamas’s treatment of
Dionysius the Areopagite. Palamas frequently explores how the divine energies are
“ousiopoios” (literally “essence-makers”).30 The term generally has two meanings in
patristic thought: ousiopoios may designate how God bestows being or essence on
created realities, or it may designate that which is determinative of the essence or
being of a thing.31 Palamas frequently deploys this term as a basis for the uncreated
nature of the divine energies. For example, in what is perhaps the earliest use by
Palamas of the term ousiopoios, he deploys an argument against Barlaam that is
rooted in Dionysius the Areopagite’s claim that, “If we call the superessential
Mystery. . . ‘Essence’. . . we are referring to nothing other than the deifying powers32
which proceed from God and come down to us, creating essence (ousiopoious).”33
This is a fundamental tenet of Dionysian apophaticism: whatever we can cataphati-
cally say about God is said about God’s powers acting toward creation, not about
the superessential God himself. Palamas uses this notion against Barlaam, who based
much of his objection to hesychasm on Dionysian apophaticism.34 Barlaam claims
that only the essence of God is unoriginate, but according to the Dionysian quote
above, that entails that there must be at least one unoriginate power, “that which cre-
ates essence” (ten ousiopoion).35 For Palamas this logically follows, because without
such a power we cannot speak of a divine essence. Conversely, to speak of an unori-
ginate essence is, more properly, to speak of an unoriginate energy. Throughout his
corpus, Palamas returns to this basic point again and again, typically relying on
Dionysius. “One could call [the uncreated energy] God’s essence because it makes

David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2004), 170. Bradshaw thus offers an exhaustively researched history of ideas
of divine energy, but one that is perhaps less influential (so far) in discussions of systematic theology.
I therefore focus on Lossky, though my comments may also point to some unique elements in Palamas
that Bradshaw does not sufficiently address.
Ibid., 238. I do not here intend to contradict Bradshaw’s interpretation of the tradition as a whole, as
much as suggest that Palamas’s role in advancing the trajectory within tradition in a new context pre-
vents him from quite so easily fitting in with uses of the essence/energies distinction from earlier in the
Palamas, Dialogue, §37; Palamas, 150 Chapters, §91, 106; Palamas, Triads, III.ii.11. Compare with
Palamas’ claim that an energy “creates individual essence (ousiopoios), life (zoopoios) and wisdom
(sophiopoios)” (150 Chapters, §87).
G. W. H. Lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 985.
Dionysius uses dunameis here, but energeia could be used interchangeably. Bradshaw, Aristotle East
and West, 182 n. 90.
Dionysius the Areopagite, On the Divine Names, II.7, as translated by Meyendorff in Palamas, Triads,
Thus Meyendorff can rightly say that “the problem of the exegesis of Dionysius was at the centre of
the argument in the Byzantine controversies of the fourteenth century.” John Meyendorff, A Study of
Gregory Palamas, trans. George Lawrence (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), 204.
Palamas, Triads, III.ii.11.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

28 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

essence (ousiopoios) and God’s nature because it is with him by nature.”36 To

acknowledge that God’s essence eternally exists, which Palamas affirms, implies that
one acknowledge the eternal existence of the “essence-bestowing procession and
energy of God (ten ousiopoion tou theou proodon te kai energeian).”37
That Palamas is writing in a polemical context different from the situation in
which Dionysius writes, and with different concerns, helps us appreciate how his
Dionysian point draws attention to a newly emphasized philosophical problem.
Creation is not eternal, but God’s essence-making (ousiopoios) energy existed before
any essences were made. Following Torstein Tollefsen, a contemporary commenta-
tor who successfully moves beyond an interpretation of the essence/energies dis-
tinction as an ad intra/ad extra distinction, one can see how Palamas grounds these
ad extra manifestations in eternal uncreated activities operating within the divine
life.38 In short, Palamas argues that the one energy of God which is the life of God is
in God himself; the energies are operative ad intra and are proper to God.39 Likewise,
Palamas argues that divine predicates such as “simplicity” and “the beginning”
belong to God by nature “as an inborn activity (energeian emphuton).”40 He empha-
sizes this point so strongly, and makes the fact that the energies are unoriginate so
central to his argument, that it is impossible to consider the essence/energies dis-
tinction a distinction between God ad intra and God ad extra. Instead, Palamas
grounds the eternal properties of God in the divine energies in such a way that there
is a sense in which the divine energy that is ousiopoios is so not only in the sense of its
creating the world, but also in the sense that it is determinative of God’s essence,
even constitutive of it.41
This conclusion leads us to a second interpretation, namely, that the energies not
only manifest God ad extra, but are also in some sense determinative and constitutive
of God. It is a common trope within patristic and Byzantine Christian philosophy to
conceive of no essence without energy, or energy without essence. “Whenever a
complete essential being occurs, it occurs as active.”42 Palamas writes in continuity

Palamas, Dialogue, §37.
Palamas, 150 Chapters, §106. Immediately after this statement, Palamas again appeals to Dionysius.
Torstein Tollefsen, The Christocentric Cosmology of St. Maximus the Confessor (Oxford: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 2008), 144–145.
Palamas, 150 Chapters, §113–116.
Palamas, Dialogue, §36.
Palamas’s Dionysian argument from energy as ousiopoios was apparently a point of contention
between him and his theological opponents. So Gregory Akindynos can argue against Palamas’s later
(and rather unfortunate) claim that the energies were a form of theotes hyperkeimene by also appealing
to Dionysius, but arguing that “the One by itself and through itself is singly the all creating and
essence-giving (ousiopoios). . . divinity and power.” Here the concern is to show that the energies are
not distinct from the One who creates directly rather than through intermediary deities, as Akindynos
interprets Palamas as saying. Such counterarguments may lie behind Palamas’s later theological
developments explored in the second possible interpretation. Gregory Akindynos, “To Branas,” in
Letters of Gregory Akindynos, trans. Angela Constantinides Hero (Washington, DC: Dumbarten Oaks,
1983), §41. In this argument Gregory cites portions of Dionysius the Areopagite, On the Divine Names,
Torstein Theodor Tollefsen, Activity and Participation in Late Antiquity and Early Christian Thought
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 193. See also the discussion in Georgi Kapriev, Philosophie in
Byzanz (W€ urzburg: K€onigshausen & Neumann, 2005), 285.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 29

with this tradition,43 particularly in later works,44 as is evident, for example, when
he argues of humans, “If the essence (ousia) does not possess an energy distinct from
itself, it will be completely without actual subsistence (anupostatos) and will be only a
concept in the mind.”45 In the following chapter, Palamas applies the same logic to
God: God has a natural energy which is distinct from the essence but which shows
him to “possess individual subsistence” rather than being “merely an essence with-
out such individual subsistence (ousia monon anupostatos).”46 There is therefore an
important sense in which the divine energies are also constitutive of and determina-
tive of the divine essence by virtue of ensuring its real subsistence with real proper-
ties, so that the energies are guarantors of the essence of God as well as of created
essences. Palamas is not an innovator in this regard as much as he is expanding on
patristic precedent. For example, when he appeals to Maximus the Confessor’s teach-
ing that there can be no “God or man when the natural will and the essential activity
(ousiodous energeias) is taken away,” he does so to defend the position (an argument
found in Palamas’s Dialogue) that a God without natural properties has no essence at
all.47 Therefore, contra Vladimir Lossky and the systematic theologians so heavily
influenced by him, the essence/energies distinction seems more closely to approxi-
mate the distinction between that-which-is and that-by-which-it-is. The energies are
that divine life ad intra by which and in which God has real hypostatic subsistence.
They are also that by which God manifests particular properties eternally ad intra
and temporally ad extra. In short the energies are that by which God is what He is.48
The above statements must immediately be qualified by the fact that the essence
equally cannot exist without a hypostasis, nor can a hypostasis exist without an
essence.49 The energies through which God exists are not extrinsic to God. Rather,
we might say that, for Palamas, God subsists and exists through his eternal act of
existing. This leads to the third ontological aspect of Palamas’ doctrine of God,

For perhaps the earliest version of this argument, see Palamas, Triads, III.ii.7. While Palamas writes
in continuity with the tradition, I believe Alexis Torrance summarizes rightly when he notes that Palamas
views the energies as the guarantor not only of created existence, but also of divine existence “with an
emphasis never as clear before him.” In fact, it is somewhat difficult to know with any certainty where
Palamas’s earliest version of this argument derives from. In Triads III.ii.7, Palamas thinks he is citing
Basil, but Torrance – following a suggestion from J. Zachhuber – suggests that Palamas possibly drew on
the fragmentary Tractatus ad Xenodorum, attributed to Gregory of Nyssa. See Alexis Torrance, “Precedents
for Palamas’ Essence-Energies Theology in the Cappadocian Fathers,” Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009): 51.
See, for example, Gregory Palamas, Contra Akindynum, in Leonidas C. Contos, The Concept of Theosis
in Saint Gregory Palamas with Critical Text of the Contra Akindynum (Oxford: University of Oxford, 1963),
I.vii.2, VI.xii.5.
Palamas, 150 Chapters, §136.
Ibid., §137.
Palamas, Dialogue, §5. Palamas has just argued that one who says the divine nature does not possess
natural things (phusika) does not preserve the divine transcendence, but rather eliminates the divine
essence altogether (Dialogue, §4). In certain respects, Palamas’s appeal to Maximus here reveals the ways
in which his essence/energies distinction fills some of the same roles as does Maximus’s distinction
between tropos and logos, where logos refers to the essence of a thing and tropos to the concretization of a
thing through specific acts. See Tollefsen, Activity and Participation in Late Antiquity and Early Christian
Thought, 144.
This could help explain, for example, why Palamas considers divine simplicity an energy (Dialogue,
§36). God is simple precisely because God eternally and perfectly embodies the act of being simple. In
this way, Tollefsen may be justified in his preference for translating energeia as “activities” (Tollefsen,
Activity and Participation in Late Antiquity and Early Christian Thought, 186).
Stavros Yangazoglou, “The Person in the Trinitarian Theology of Gregory Palamas: The Palamite
Synthesis of a Prosopocentric Ontology,” Philotheos 1 (2001): 139.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

30 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

namely, that the energies make God manifest in three Persons. Palamas clearly
affirms that the energies cannot exist independently (authypostaton),50 but must
always be enhypostaton (see part four below). They must exist in a hypostasis, which
means that insofar as they are eternal they must have existed in eternity in the hypo-
stases of the Father, Son, and/or Spirit.51 Because an essence must always have a
concrete existence, a hypostasis, and because this essence in a hypostasis is only real
insofar as it is active, we can conclude that any real essence must always have ener-
gies manifested in a hypostasis. An essence without an energy is authypostaton, but
an energy itself is necessarily enhypostaton. Palamas appears to take for granted the
fact that the perichoretic unity of persons cannot be disassociated from the essence
or the energies.52 The question becomes whether these energies are manifest in dis-
tinctive ways relative to Father, Son, and Spirit, or whether each energy is shared
indistinguishably by each divine hypostasis. The dominant interpretation suggests
that the energies are indistinguishably shared. For example, Thomas Anastos writes
that, “The three divine hypostases. . . exhibit identically one and the same energies
[emphasis added].” They are not differentiated “through their qualitatively distinct
energies.”53 Similarly, Joost van Rossum argues that,

The three Divine Hypostases are not separated from the divine energies, but the
Holy Trinity is ‘present’ in them. That means that in the energy of the Holy Spi-
rit, which Christ breathed over his disciples, the Person of the Holy Spirit was
present together with the Father and the Son.54

If Rossum intends that the Father, Son and Spirit are present in the indwelling of
the Spirit in such a way as to be indistinguishable, and if Anastos and others are cor-
rect that the three hypostases do not exhibit enhypostatically the energies in three
ways, a defense of Palamas is doomed from the start, and any effort to utilize the
Palamite distinction would be unlikely to suit modern Western theological concerns.
I will return to this point below, but I must first address the final two aspects of
Palamas’ doctrine of God.
Palamas’s theology assumes the Nicene faith, affirming that “He is one God in
essence and activity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”55 This affirmation of
the oneness of God in essence and activity entails an important ontological aspect of
Palamas’s doctrine of God: divine simplicity. Palamas’s understanding of simplicity

Palamas, Dialogue, §32.
From eternity there were no created hypostases in which the energies could exist.
Matti Kotiranta, “The Palamite Idea of Perichoresis of the Persons of the Trinity in the Light of
Contemporary Neo-Palamite Analysis,” Acta Byzanta Fennica IX (1999): 62. cf. Palamas, 150 Chapters, §112.
Thomas L. Anastos, “Gregory Palamas’ Radicalization of the Essence, Energies, and Hypostasis
Model of God,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 38, no.1–4 (1993): 341. Consider a similar statement
by John Meyendorff: “The three divine hypostases in fact possess one sole energy, and every divine act is
of necessity the act of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because of their consubstantiality.” Meyen-
dorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, 215. Basil Krivoshein also contends that the unity of the Triune action
and energies is “identity in the fullest meaning of the word.” Basil Krivoshein, “The Ascetic and Theolog-
ical Teaching of Gregory Palamas,” The Eastern Churches Quarterly Vol. III 1938–1939 (Amsterdam: John
Benjamins N.V., 1968): 141.
Joost van Rossum, “The Experience of the Holy Spirit in Greek Patristic and Byzantine Theology,”
Communio viatorum 53, no. 3 (2011): 32–33.
Palamas, Dialogue, §37.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 31

differs from the Western conception, which twentieth-century Orthodox commenta-

tors often suggest results from his tendency to eschew more philosophically based
notions of simplicity.56 This claim seems to be rooted in an anti-Western polemic
because Palamas’s notion of simplicity does indeed have a philosophical aspect (on
which see more below in a discussion of the Palamite theology of language). Palamas
clearly affirms God’s simplicity against his detractors’ objections that the essence/
energies distinction results in two gods. Just as we can speak of two natures in
Christ without revering two separate and distinct Sons, so too, claims Palamas, we
can speak of essence and energies in God without revering two gods.57 God is sim-
ple for Palamas in that there is only one being who is undividedly God.
This sketch of Palamite ontology raises several questions. First, as noted above in
our discussion of Anastos and Rossum, is the question of whether the three Persons
share the same energy equally in such a way as to be indistinguishable and thus
unknowable. If this question is answered in the affirmative, then – given Hodgson’s
definitions – deification must be possession by the Trinity and not communion with
the Trinity because there would be no distinctive awareness in the human of Father,
Son, and Spirit. This question will therefore be answered in the negative beginning
in the next section, though a full solution will depend upon a study of the notion of
If there is warrant for believing that Palamas intended distinct communion with
Father, Son, and Spirit, the next question to be addressed is the nature of divine sim-
plicity. Is Palamas’s notion of simplicity coherent? If human participation in God is
through the energies, and if the energies are an ontologically distinct thing from the
hypostases, then participation is not even relation to a person,58 much less personal
relationship (to use Chirico’s terminology). In other words, if the Palamite notion of
divine simplicity fails, then communion is impossible. For this reason, Palamas’s
notion of theological language will be explored as the basis for his understanding of
Finally, provided that the possibility of communion is defended against these two
threats, we must answer the question of how such communion can be explained
given Palamite metaphysics. This question will be explored in a discussion of the
enhypostatic nature of the energies, the basis of communion.

2. Palamite Trends in Discussing the Roles of the Spirit and the Son
It is true that Palamas teaches that the three hypostases all share the same energies,
but it is less clear that he would affirm, in the words of Anastos, that they “exhibit
identically one and the same energies [emphasis added].”59 To exhibit something
identically would seem to imply that the energies are exhibited as belonging indistin-
guishably to the Father, Son, and Spirit. However, when Palamas does speak of uni-
fied knowledge of the Father, Son, and Spirit through the energies, he often
differentiates the activity of the persons. For example, in the Dialogue Between an

Papademetriou, Introduction to Saint Gregory Palamas, 34. Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas,
Palamas, Dialogue, §29.
The relation would instead be with respect to an energy as distinct from a person.
Anastos, “Gregory Palamas’ Radicalization of the Essence, Energies, and Hypostasis Model of God,”

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

32 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

Orthodox and a Barlaamite, he affirms that, “As a whole, because God, being present
and active in [the deified] as a whole through the proper grace in a unified and sim-
ple and undivided way, is also known by them as a whole.”60 Knowledge of God
“as a whole” through the energies does not prevent Palamas from immediately dis-
cussing unique participation in the Spirit in the next chapter of the same work.61 In
fact, Palamas’s habit is to speak of the faithful acquiring “the incomprehensible Spirit
and by Him hear[ing], see[ing] and comprehend[ing].”62 It is the Paraclete who
“illumines from on high,”63 the Spirit whose energy is participated in by those who
have grace.64 Similarly, Palamas tends to identify light specifically with the Son and
the Spirit, but less often with the Father.65 Furthermore, the Orthodox at the time of
Palamas attributed the sanctification of the Eucharist specifically to the Holy Spirit,
and the reception of the essence/energies distinction did nothing to defunctionalize
the Spirit in this regard.66 These patterns suggest that, though the three hypostases
share the same energies without division, they do not share them in such a way that
one hypostasis cannot be epistemically distinguished from another through associa-
tion with specific acts. This is not yet metaphysically clear, but it should at least be
evident from Palamas’s patterns of speech that it is his intent to develop a theology
with such a possibility.
Palamas’s language fits with the historical trends of Byzantine theology. After the
defeat of the iconoclasts a “Christological doctrinal cycle” was replaced by a strong
“Pneumatological current,”67 of which the Palamite debates in some sense repre-
sented a culmination. The Holy Spirit was central in all hesychastic spirituality, and
in specifically Palamite soteriology and spirituality as well.68 In some sense, the hesy-
chastic debates were over the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, as Palamas sought to
explain how the Holy Spirit’s indwelling could truly bring about vision of God.
Therefore, though Palamas never devoted extensive time to explaining how the par-
ticular activities attributed to the Son and especially the Spirit were ontologically
related to the hypostases of the Trinity themselves,69 it is nevertheless incorrect to
claim that the essence/energies distinction “defunctionalized” the Holy Spirit.70
Certain metaphysical elements within Palamas’s work, when extracted and clarified,
allow all of the ontological pieces of his doctrine of God to ground the patterns of

Palamas, Dialogue, §47.
Ibid., §48.
Palamas, Triads, I.iii.18.
Ibid., II.iii.35.
Palamas, 150 Chapters, §93.
A. N. Williams, The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1999), 117.
Karl Christian Felmy, “The Development of the Trinity Doctrine in Byzantium (Ninth to Fifteenth
Centuries),” in Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2011), 221.
Lossky, The Vision of God, 153.
Tollefsen, Activity and Participation in Late Antiquity and Early Christian Thought, 204.
Bradshaw notes that, “For [Palamas] the energies are generally simply ‘of God’ or ‘of the divine
nature,’ and their manifestation is to creatures. Although he affirms both the traditional teaching about
the inner life of the Trinity and the distinction between essence and energies, he does not relate them to
one another.” Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West, 242.
The accusation is from Dorothea Wendebourg, Geist oder Energie: Zur Frage der innerg€ottlichen
Verankerung des christlichen Lebens in der byzantinischen Theologie (M€unchen: Kaiser, 1980).

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 33

speech whereby Palamas distinguishes between Father, Son, and Spirit. We turn now
to the first of these metaphysical elements: Palamas’s theory of language.

3. Theological Predication and the Divine Energies

In order to understand how Palamas’s metaphysics cohere with his patterns of speech
about the Father, Son, and (particularly) the Spirit, his account of how theological lan-
guage works must be better understood. He develops a theory of language use most fully
in 150 Chapters, an appreciation of which will be enhanced if situated within a certain his-
tory. Two main historical events are relevant here. First, Palamas writes within a tradition
profoundly shaped by the monothelite controversy, which both prohibited attributing an
energy to one specific divine person and resulted in the notion that each nature requires
an energy in order to be truly manifest.71 These two developments provide key compo-
nents of Palamite ontology, and they explain the strong emphasis on the indivisibility of
the energies among the hypostases. However, indivisibility need not entail that these
energies manifest one hypostasis indiscernibly from another, as seems to be implied by
the accounts of Anastos, Krivoshein, Meyendorff, and Rossum outlined above.
To understand why this is the case, we need to consider a second historical dispute
concerning theological language. The debate between Eunomius and Basil of Caeserea is
paradigmatic for Palamas in his defense of the essence/energies distinction.72 Eunomius
argues that the Father and the Son could not be homoousios because “unbegotten” was
predicated of the Father and “begotten” of the Son, but these were contradictory terms.
Eunomius suggests that, as a consequence of divine simplicity, which prohibits composi-
tion, any term that names God must name the divine essence.73 Basil of Caesarea rejects
the Eunomian notion of language on two grounds. First, he rejects treating God as poly-
onymous, whereby all predication applied to God must refer to the same thing (the sub-
stance) and must therefore ultimately mean the same thing.74 Second, Basil rejects
essential predication, which claims that predication must always point to substances, in
favor of a theory of meaning rooted in what can be called “common usage.”75 According
to Basil, words are ordinarily used to signify different meanings, and so it is absurd to
suggest that they all have identical meaning when pointing to God. If “all things attrib-
uted to God similarly refer to his substance,” writes Basil, then providence, creative
power, and foreknowledge would all be identical. “And if all of these names converge
upon a single meaning, each one has to signify the same thing as the others”; but if such
is the case then “each of the names is deprived of its proper signification.”76

Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, 211.
Palamas, 150 Chapters, §125–126; Palamas, Dialogue, §3, 14, 40–41, etc.
See the helpful discussion in Mark Delcogliano, Basil of Caesarea’s Anti-Eunomian Theory of Names:
Christian Theology and Late-Antique Philosophy in the Fourth Century Trinitarian Controversy (Leiden: Brill,
2010), 36–42.
Ibid., 141.
Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 116.
Basil of Caesarea, Against Eunomius, in Mark Delcogliano and Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, trans., The
Fathers of the Church, Vol. 122 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011), I.8. Basil
also believes that Eunomius is inconsistent here because he will still attribute “invisible” and
“unchangeable” to the Son and to the Father, but given the synonymous nature of words predicated of
the Father, these terms must be identical to unbegotten, which Eunomius denies to the Son (Ibid., I.8).

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

34 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

Basil’s alternative theory hinges upon several important distinctions. Particularly

relevant to Palamas, Basil writes, “We say that from His operations (energeion) we
know our God; we do not undertake to approach His substance itself.”77 If God is
known through the energies, speech about this knowledge is a certain form of
speech, and so Basil distinguishes between “knowing that” and “knowing what.”78
In Basil’s words, a “common notion” tells us “that God exists, not what God is.”79
As Andrew Radde-Gallwitz helpfully explains,

‘knowing that God is’ is either shorthand for ‘knowing that God is just, benevo-
lent, etc.’ or is a claim that ‘God’, understood as just, benevolent, etc. has being;
the extension of the set of items that fall under the concept is not null.80

Putting these distinctions together, along with Basil’s theory of how language
works, we can say that, for Basil, something predicated of God retains its common
use meaning, giving rise to “a notion that corresponds to the property or properties
that are considered in connection with the substance.”81 This property can be under-
stood as picking out a relative (i.e., a hypostasis) or a divine energy, but never an
essence, which in some sense remains beyond human knowledge.
An important corollary from Basil’s notion of theological language is a distinctive
idea of divine simplicity. Simplicity does not require polyonymy, but it does require
that nothing predicated of God is considered to refer to a part of God. Each predica-
tion must refer to God as a whole,82 but these predications Basil considers to be
concurrent (sundromon) with the substance, not identical with it. According to
Radde-Galwitz, this term “became a relatively common way of expressing the
necessary connection between some substance and its natural activity, power, or
property.”83 Radde-Galwitz thinks that Basil’s notion of simplicity is only fully
developed with the work of Gregory of Nyssa, and I believe that Gregory Palamas is
similarly drawing on the foundations Basil laid to try to develop his own notion of
theological predication and simplicity, which will be explained shortly. Though it is
unlikely that Basil would have conceived of as sharp a metaphysical distinction
between essence and energies as Palamas promotes, a survey of Palamas’s works
demonstrates that he consciously develops a theory of theological language that
builds upon the work of Basil in his arguments against Eunomius.
Returning to the writings of Palamas, we repeatedly see him appealing to the
debate between Eunomius and Basil in his disputes against Barlaam, Akindynos,
and Gregoras. So, for example, in the 150 Chapters, Palamas notes that Eunomius

Assert[s] that the Father and the Son did not have the same essence, and [he]
came to this conclusion because [he] imagine[s] that everything predicated of

Basil of Caesarea. “Letter 234,” in The Fathers of the Church Vol. 28: Saint Basil – Letters Volume II
(186–368) trans. Agnes Clare Way (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1955); PG 32, col. 870.
Radde-Gallwitz, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity, 123.
Basil, Eunomius, I.12.
Radde-Gallwitz, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity, 123.
Delcogliano, Basil of Caesarea’s Anti-Eunomian Theory of Names, 189.
Ibid., II.29.
Radde-Galwitz, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity, 159.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 35

God is said with regard to His essence; and so [he] contentiously argue[s] that
because to beget and to be begotten are different, on this account there are also
different essences.84

Palamas associates the Akindynists with the Eunomian position, and claims that
refuting this group is simply a matter of showing “that not everything predicated of
God is said with regard to his essence.”85 Taking as his cue the common trinitarian
faith shared between Akindynos and himself, Palamas insists that “what belongs to
the category of relation is also predicated of him,”86 thus demonstrating that non-
essential predication is possible. Palamas insists that the many attributes ascribed to
God cannot all apply to the divine essence, which is “absolutely nameless,”87 and,
assuming along the lines of Basil that each attribute truly signifies something differ-
ent, he claims that the essence would be divided if the attributes predicated of God
referred to the essence.88 Palamas believes that, of the ten categories of meaning,
only “relation” and “activity” can be predicated of God. The relations refer to the
hypostases, and the activities to divine acts such as creation.89
The 150 Chapters contain Palamas’s most extensive explanation of theological lan-
guage use; however, his other works provide further corroboration that his is a fun-
damentally Cappadocian theory of predication. Thus, the Dialogue affirms that “the
essence of God is without a name because it is above all names and transcends all
manner of signification by words,” but that God has the name “‘divinity’ from its
proper activity.”90 As noted above, the monothelite controversy resulted in a prohibi-
tion against attributing the divine energeia to a hypostasis, and so Palamas gives us a
rule for relating our predication of the two ontological categories:

The proper appellations of the divine hypostases are common to the energies,
whereas appellations common to the hypostases are particular to each of the
divine energies. Thus life is a common appellation of the Father, the Son and the
Spirit, but foreknowledge is not called life, nor is simplicity, nor unchangeable-
ness, nor any other energy. Thus each of these realities which we have enumer-
ated belongs at the same time to the Father, the Son and the Spirit; but they only
belong to one energy, and not to all; each reality in fact has its own signification.
Inversely, Father is the proper appellation of one sole hypostasis, but it is mani-
fest in all the energies. . . and the same is true of the appellations Son and

Here again, we see Palamas insisting that each energy has its own signification, is
distinct from the essence, but is common to all of the hypostases. Though it is

Palamas, 150 Chapters, §125.
Ibid., §127.
Ibid., §118.
Ibid., §119.
Ibid., §134.
Palamas, Dialogue, §20.
Palamas’s Against Akindynos V.27. Translation taken from Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas,

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

36 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

unclear how thoroughly Palamas was familiar with Basil’s theory of language use,
this is clearly a theory of language use in the tradition of Basil, and so the above
excursus should allow us to understand Palamas’s theology.
According to Basil, knowing “that God is” is simply shorthand for knowing “that
God is good, loving, etc.” For Palamas, predication is primarily of the energies,
which are that by which God is what he is. In other words, a divine energy gives
God “thatness,” insofar as it is determinative of essence (here also ousiopoios). We
can now connect Palamite ontology with the Cappadocian theory of language use –
which Palamas also affirms – to suggest that when Palamas speaks of the energies
he does so in Basil’s mode of saying “that God is ____,” where for Palamas, to say
that God is life is also to say that God is living, an activity.92 The energies give
“thatness” to the “whatness” of God, and so in speaking of the energies we say that
God exists as creator, redeemer, one who foreknows, etc., without explicitly saying
what it is that creates, redeems, or foreknows. The what or essence of God remains
for Palamas entirely above human comprehension.
With this theory of predication, Palamas can affirm simplicity as the inseparability
of the essence, energies, and hypostases, without recourse to polyonymy through
essential predication. To use Basil’s terminology, God’s energies are concurrent
(sundromon) with the substance, just as the hypostases are concurrent with the sub-
stance. As a result of the monothelite controversy, each energy speaks of the essence
of God, and these energies are that by which that essence is, but there is only one
essence realized by these energies, only one “what” or (to use a Western term), one
“thing” (res) that is indivisibly God. This is because the energies are not that by which
an essence is in a material sense, for that would entail composition. Rather, they are
the eternal activities in which the essence exists. Material composition requires that
the energies be authypostaton, hypostatic themselves.93 However, Palamas is quite
clear that they are enhypostaton, a point which we will elaborate below.
First, a response is necessary to one possible objection raised above. If divine simplic-
ity fails and human beings relate to God through energies alone, then does it not follow
that human beings cannot have a relation to the persons, much less a personal relation?
In brief, one may reply that insofar as the energies are, for Palamas, inseparable from
the persons and the essence, then a relation to an energy must be a relation to a person,
allowing for the possibility of personal relationship, though not guaranteeing it.

4. The Enhypostatic Nature of the Energies

To suggest that the energies are that by which God is God seems to come danger-
ously close to claiming that God is God by participation, hence deriving his divinity
from some set of external universals. This is one reason why Palamas insists that the
energeia are not authypostaton, not hypostases in and of themselves. Rather, Palamas
repeatedly teaches that the light on Mount Tabor,94 deifying grace,95 adoption,96 and
divine power and wisdom97 are all enhypostatic. An energy is enhypostatic because

Palamas, Dialogues, §40.
To put the matter in Western terms again, the energies are not “things” (res) from which God could
be materially constituted.
Palamas, Triads, III.i.19, III.i.28.
Palamas, Dialogue, §26.
Palamas, Triads, III.i.31.
Palamas, Dialogue, §25.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 37

it “remains together with the persons in which it comes.”98 Because the energies are
enhypostatic, they cannot exist as separate beings and simplicity is not compromised.
Palamas poses the issue rhetorically:

Since the saints speak here of an enhypostatic Reality, but not of an hypostasis
existing on its own, how could the light be an independent essence or a second
God, since it does not possess an independent existence?99

Just as Palamas will not admit an essence without an energy, and just as in accord-
ance with orthodox Christian faith he will not admit of a hypostasis without essence
or an essence without hypostasis, by the notion of enhypostaton, so too Palamas will
insist that one cannot think of an energy without a hypostasis. By definition, only
the hypostases are authypostaton.100 Thus far the notion of enhypostaton merely
strengthens what has been said about divine simplicity, but the most significant con-
tribution of the term to the question at hand will be in finally addressing the domi-
nant interpretation that Anastos and Rossum offered above, that the energies are
indistinguishably in the persons.
A key passage in Palamas’s Triads is particularly helpful in clarifying the signifi-
cance of the term and correcting the flawed dominant interpretation. Palamas
explains the light of Tabor in the following way. The light is

‘enhypostatic,’ not because it possesses a hypostasis of its own, but because the
Spirit ‘sends it out into the hypostasis of another’, in which it is indeed contem-
plated. It is then properly called ‘enypostatic,’ in that it is not contemplated by
itself, nor in essence, but in hypostasis (ou kath eauto, oud’ en te ousia, all’ en te
upostasei theoroumenon).101

Two important elements warrant comment. First, the energies as enhypostatic do

not have a hypostasis of their own, yet Palamas clearly believes that they are eternal
and uncreated.102 Therefore, in order for the energies to be both enhypostatic and
eternal, we must assume that the energies were eternally enhypostatic in the Father,
Son, and Spirit. This is, of course, just a corollary of the fact that essence and hypo-
stases are inseparable, and so, as Stavros Yangazoglou notes, “the energies have their
principle in the trihypostatic essence” and not just in the essence simpliciter.103 If the
energies are in the hypostases of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and if these
hypostases are themselves relatives, defined in relation to another, then there is war-
rant for believing that the energies are enhypostatized in the three hypostases in
such a way as to be part of these relations.
This is the thesis of Jacques Lison, who suggests that in Palamas the energies
belong to the Persons in common, but circulate among the Persons according to an

Ibid., §26.
Palamas, Triads, III.i.24.
See the helpful discussion in Stavros Yangazoglou, “The Person in the Trinitarian Theology of
Gregory Palamas: The Palamite Synthesis of a Prosopocentric Ontology,” Philotheos 1 (2001): 139–143.
Palamas, Triads, III.i.9.
Palamas, 150 Chapters, §69; Palamas, Triads, III.i.24.
Yangazoglou, “The Person in the Trinitarian Theology of Gregory Palamas,” 142. Emphasis added.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

38 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

order that corresponds to Palamas’s trinitarian theology.104 In the immanent Trinity,

the Father, by virtue of monarchy, has initiative in begetting and spiration, and the
Spirit is the terminus of trinitarian movement, who rests on the Son and accompa-
nies the Son. These roles correspond to the external manifestation of the energies,
which originate by the Father through Son in the Spirit. Thus, Lison suggests that
the unity and order of the divine energies is not rooted in speculation, but in the
Trinity itself. This proposal seems plausible, for if the energies are eternally enhypo-
static it stands to reason that they are not proper to only one hypostasis (a possibility
that Palamas has excluded), but neither are they enhypostatic in a way entirely unre-
lated to the fundamentally relative nature of the hypostases. Indeed, Palamas himself
seems to endorse this interpretation in chapter 112 of the 150 Chapters.

For the activity of the divine will is one, originating from the Father, the primal
Cause, issuing through the Son, and made manifest in the Holy Spirit. . . with the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit it is not the case that each one of the hypostases has
His own particular effect. Rather, all creation is the single work of the three.105

Such a possibility allows for unity of energy with awareness of the diverse ways
in which the energy is enhypostatized in the three persons of the Godhead.
We therefore see two unique ways in which the energies are enhypostatized. First,
in relation to the Son, it is clear that the incarnation is one example of a hypostati-
cally unique way of manifesting the energies indivisibly.106 Indeed, understanding
the energies is only possible through the incarnation viewed on the other side of the
monothelite debate. Christ has two energies, but one person, and so each energy is
enhypostatic and proper to a nature, but at the same time not reducible to nature or
hypostasis itself.107 As Meyendorff states, “Changing in His person, the Logos
bestows upon us the unchanging life proper to Him as God.”108 The light on Mount
Tabor was enhypostatic because its hypostasis was Christ,109 though this does not
mean that the energy of light is any less in the Father and the Spirit. It does mean,
rather, that the Son revealed the form of these energies, both by making the Father
known (John 1:18), and, through the communication of idioms,110 by revealing divi-
nized humanity. Beyond this distinctively filial enhypostatization, it is clear that
when Palamas frequently speaks of the energies of the Spirit, he does so because the
hypostasis of the Spirit is the terminus of the enhypostatized divine act.111 The Spirit
is the one who manifests the divinizing energies within the deified, bringing to com-
pletion the work of Christ. These distinctive ways in which Son and Spirit manifest

Jacques Lison, “L’Energie des Trois Hypostases Divines Selon Gregoire Palamas,” Science et Esprit
XLV, no. 1 (1992): 67–77.
Palamas, 150 Chapters, §112.
Consider the helpful discussion in Georgios I. Mantzaridis, The Deification of Man: St. Gregory
Palamas and the Orthodox Tradition, trans. Liadain Sherrard (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press,
1984), 27–33.
Yangazoglou, “The Person in the Trinitarian Theology of Gregory Palamas,” 142.
Meyendorff, “Trinity,” 34.
Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2004), 306.
Note that in Palamas what can be said idiomatically of God is said of the divine energies.
Lison, “L’Energie des Trois Hypostases Divines Selon Gregoire Palamas,” 71.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 39

the energies according to their relations allows for human awareness of the distinc-
tive persons, thereby satisfying Hodgson’s definition of communion.
With these considerations in hand, we can move to the second noteworthy point
in the Palamas quotation where he states “the Spirit ‘sends [the light] out into the
hypostasis of another.’”112 Here he is describing a two-fold enhypostatization of the
divine energies, from the Spirit to a deified human being. Again, this is rooted in
Christology, which demonstrated in the hypostatic union that an enhypostatized
reality was “a reality transmissible from one hypostasis to another.”113 It is brought
to its full terminus when the Spirit transfers the divinizing energy from its hypostasis
into the hypostases of the deified. If the energies are that by which God is divine,
when the energies enhypostatically rest in the believer by grace they are that by
which the believer is called divine, yet without being one in essence with God the
Father, Son, and Spirit.114 This enhypostatic transfer of energies from the Spirit to the
believer, who is aware of the unique role of the Spirit in this transfer, is the down-
ward half of the mutual exchange in the area of intellect and will that Chirico’s defi-
nition of personal relationship calls for. To complete the upward half of the mutual
exchange, one need only develop a theology of prayer, or of the incarnation, or of
worship, to name but a few examples. Though such an explanation lies outside of
the scope of this essay, it is evident that the energies in principle do not serve as a
barrier to personal relationship as defined by Chirico, and therefore for the fullest
sense of communion.

Systematic Applications in Dialogue with Jenson and LaCugna

Given the dichotomies of possession/communion and relation to a person/personal
relationship taken from Hodgson and Chirico, Palamas’s essence/energies distinction
allows for a robust notion of communion as personal relationship. Ontologically,
God has an unknowable essence, the “whatness” of God, which requires divine ener-
gies to give “thatness” to the ousia of God, while the energies themselves must be
enhypostatized in the Father, Son, and Spirit, who give “thisness” to the energies
and the divine essence. This ontology corresponds to the Palamite theory of theologi-
cal language. Palamas rejects essential predication and a polyonymous view of sim-
plicity, but he still retains a form of simplicity. Relative predication of the hypostases
and predicating that God exists in certain activities are two ways of speaking about
the whole of God, resulting in notions about God that correspond to properties con-
current with God but not identical to God’s essence. Yet, as each predication refers
to the whole essence, God is not divided into several things. Through the distinctive
ways that the energies are indivisibly enhypostatized in Father, Son, and Spirit, the
deified can distinctively know each person, facilitating communion and personal
relationship according to Chirico’s and Hodgson’s definitions, where Father, Son,
and Spirit are known distinctly and where mutual distinct exchanges between the
deified saints and the Father, Son, and Spirit are possible.

Palamas, Triads, III.i.9.
Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, 217.
In my concluding engagement with Robert Jenson I will offer my thoughts on how participation in
such energies allows the deified saint to participate enhypostatically in the energies without sharing
God’s essence.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

40 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

Establishing communion according to the definitions supplied by Chirico and

Hodgson provides an important step toward defending the essence/energies distinc-
tion as a viable ontology with respect to communion. However, some further com-
ment on the specific objections of Jenson and LaCugna must first be entertained.
Jenson writes that the distinction necessarily leads to modalism, because the superes-
sentiality of God is still unknowable and hidden behind the energies. He believes
that this reduces the persons in whom the energies are enhypostatized to something
less than truly God. This is unwarranted given Palamite ontology, whereby the
hypostases simply are the essence considered relatively, and where the essence is
nothing without the energies by which the essence is divine, good, beautiful, and so
forth. There is no superessence that is “true God” apart from the hypostases or the
energies. According to Palamas, an essence must have both hypostasis (or hyposta-
ses) and energies to exist. Therefore, the three hypostases in which the energies are
enhypostatic are still fundamentally constitutive of God and not mere modalistic
manifestations. Moreover, a further defense can be given that is aligned with
Jenson’s own trinitarian theology.
Jenson’s Triune Identity suggests that identity can serve as a new equivalent to
hypostasis, by which God can be picked out by three distinct sets of names that
“specify uniquely, yet all identifying the same reality.”115 In Jenson’s words, identity
means that God “ises” Godself, “that he is God in that he does Godhead, in that he
chooses himself as God.”116 As Jenson later explains in his Systematic Theology, God
is not identified by events, but rather with the events through which divine self-
disclosure occurs.117 God is thus the one who raised Jesus from the dead.118 Jenson’s
claims can be understood in both a weak sense and a strong sense. In a weak sense,
the fact that God “ises” Godself would imply something similar to what Palamas
means when he claims that the energies or activities of God give “thatness” to the
essence of God: God’s activities are constitutive of God’s being. God is God and
identifiable as such precisely because God does those things which are appropriate
to divinity. Taken in a strong sense, Jenson’s claim can be understood to mean that
there is no distinction between God’s doing and God’s being, a claim that stands in
stark contrast to those of Palamas. There is good reason to think that Jenson should
not be taken in the latter, strong sense. The very claim that God is God in that God
does Godhead depends upon the words “is” and “does” each having a different
referent, otherwise the statement is reduced to a tautology. At the very least, Jenson
would appear to admit a conceptual distinction between what Palamas calls
“essence” and “energy,” even if he denies a real metaphysical distinction between
the two terms. This explains why Jenson continues to speak of God’s activity as dis-
tinguished from the divine ousia, which he defines as the temporal eternality of that
activity.119 While there still may be metaphysical reasons for objecting to a real dis-
tinction between essence and energy, there are no grounds for such an objection to
the distinction on the charge that it destroys the possibility of communion. In fact,

Robert W. Jenson, The Triune Identity (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1982), 108–109.
Ibid., 110–111.
Jenson, Systematic Theology, 59.
Ibid., 63.
Jenson, Triune Identity, 164–6.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 41

the Palamite distinction can serve as the basis of divine identification in a way conso-
nant with the concerns of Jenson.
Palamas claims that we speak of the hypostases relatively and of the energies as
demonstrating that God exists as good, or true, etc. This distinction, in fact, provides
several helpful summaries for identifying God in the following ways:

Identity Question 1: What is Y? Y is this Z that does X.

Example: What (ousia) is God? God is this Spirit (hypostasis) that
deifies (through energeia).

Here, nothing is said of the “whatness” of God, but God is identified by the
“thatness” of an energy as manifest in a particular hypostasis, a “this.”120 Similarly,
to identify a particular divine person, we might ask a second Palamite identity

Identity Question 2: Who is this Z? This Z is the one that does X as Y.

Example: Who is this person (hypostasis)? This Spirit is the one that
deifies (energeia) as God (ousia), where “God” answers the
question “what?”

A specific hypostasis is the one in which the energy of the divine essence is active.
It is the fact that the energy belongs to the essence that is conveyed by the phrase
“as Y.” The Spirit is not just known as one completing a specific action, but as one
appropriately completing the activity by nature as God, whereas human beings par-
ticipate in the divine activities by grace as deified humans. Though little content is
given to the “whatness” of the divine essence, the hypostases must be identified as
possessing this essence as well as performing the divine activities in order to be
identified truly as God or deified human.
The above identity formulas finally allow me to address the question of how deifica-
tion as participation in the energies still allows for a Creator/creature distinction given
that the energies are that by which God is God. Using identity question 2, we can reply
to the question “Who is a deified saint?” with an answer informed by Palamas and con-
sonant with Jenson’s theology in the following way: This deified saint is one that loves
perfectly in a divine way as a grace-enabled human being. In this way the hypostasis of
the saint is distinguished from the hypostases of the Trinity because each can be identi-
fied as a different “this,” a different subject of a similar action. Likewise the essence of
the saint is distinguished from the essence of God according to what it is that is doing
the action in question. The Holy Spirit loves perfectly as God, where “God” answers the
question “what?”, whereas the deified saint loves perfectly as a grace-enabled human
being, where “grace-enabled human being” answers the question “what?” in a way
that identifies a different subject. However, the question “what?” is distinguishable
from the question “who?” in that the referent of the former can identify several persons,
while the referent of the latter is – to use one of several classical Western definitions of
personhood – an incommunicable existence that identifies only a single person.

This approach to language adds one category to the Western notions of quiddity and haecceity that
corresponds to the divine energies.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

42 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

Given that Palamite trinitarianism enables one to identify or pick out the persons
of God in a manner similar to Jenson’s theology, it is unwarranted to claim that Pala-
mas’s essence/energies distinction somehow necessitates modalism. After all, Jenson
himself is equally suspicious of what he considers Augustinian notions of simplicity
whereby the persons “identically possess” ousia, resulting in indistinguishable works
ad extra.121 Similarly, Jenson relegates ousia to a realm beyond predication. Cappado-
cian metaphysics, claims Jenson, taught that God was infinite being, which means
that it cannot be “some-thing” but must be what has “no ‘nature’ at all” precisely
because infinity “overcomes all definitions.”122 Despite the fact that Jenson does, in
fact, go on to define the ousia as “temporal unhinderedness,”123 it should be evident
that Jenson’s metaphysic is not far from Palamas’s, such that, if a non-definable ousia
and a rejection of Western (polyonymous for Palamas, Augustinian for Jenson)
notions of simplicity result in modalism, Jenson himself must be a modalist. Insofar
as Jenson claims this need not be the case, he has an ally in Palamas and no basis
for critique.
Whereas Jenson seemed to allow for communion with something other than the real
God (which he reads in Palamas as the superessence), Catherine Mowry LaCugna
denies the possibility of communion with the persons altogether, suggesting that they
are a sort of “intermediary level between essence and energy” such that “the creature
cannot have immediate contact with a divine person.”124 LaCugna contends that in
Palamas “the three divine persons are a step removed from the economy of sal-
vation.”125 She objects to the fact that, at least in her reading of Palamas, “ousia and
energeia become subjects of predication apart from the divine persons”126 and thus “the
divine persons are denied distinctive roles in the economy.”127 This results in theologia
and oikonomia being “ontologically distinct,” says LaCugna, such that “the defeat of
Trinitarian theology is total.”128
Contrary to LaCugna, this essay has demonstrated – given the distinctions offered
by Chirico and Hodgson – that claims to the effect that personal communion is
inhibited by the energy/essence distinction are unfounded. In fact, LaCugna herself
seems to agree with this in principle insofar as she makes use of the distinction her-
self in later chapters of God for Us, where she expresses specific reservations with the
Palamite articulation of this distinction. Her mistake is to associate the Palamite use
of the divine essence with theologia, on the one hand, and of the energies with oikono-
mia, on the other. For LaCugna theologia that refers to God in se divorced from the
divine economy is a fundamental flaw with the historical development of trinitarian
doctrine, the “defeat” of the Trinity. However, Palamas’s essence/energies distinc-
tion does not so easily map onto the theologia/oikonomia distinction in the way that
LaCugna assumes. As noted, God is known through the energies (we might add in
oikonomia), but these energies are eternally present in God because they are that by

Jenson, Systematic Theology, 112.
Jenson, Triune Identity, 163–165.
Ibid., 166.
LaCugna, God for Us, 86.
Ibid., 193.
Ibid., 194.
Ibid., 195.
Ibid., 196.

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Communion with God 43

which the essence exists.129 Simply put, there is no essence apart from the energies,
and thus the energies relate both to what God is in se and pro nobis. Consequently,
when the deified know God in energy, they know God as God in se and pro nobis.
What LaCugna fears is an ontological divide between theologia and oikonomia is not
present in the Palamite distinction between essence and energies.
Granting this correction, LaCugna’s other objections lose their strength. For exam-
ple, LaCugna’s objection that ousia and energeia are spoken of apart from the hyposta-
ses can be taken in a weak or a strong sense. Understood in its strong sense,
LaCugna objects to the existence of a distinct connotation of energeia and hypostasis
whereby the former means something different from the latter. If this is LaCugna’s
objection, she is guilty of the same terminological transgression, insofar as she too
speaks of the energies as distinct from the persons. On the other hand, taken in a
weak sense, LaCugna could mean that the energies should not be spoken of without
reference to the persons. Palamas seems to agree with this rule, both through his
theory of the use of theological language, and through the insistence that the ener-
gies are enhypostaton. Finally, regarding LaCugna’s claim that the persons have no
distinctive roles in the economy, part two above clearly establishes that this is not
the case. In fact, LaCugna has very little evidence to support her claim that there is
no distinctive role. She cites Christoph von Sch€ onborn’s analysis of 150 Chapters
§132, where Palamas says that the entire Trinity is Father with respect to the act of
creation. While Palamas does make this claim, it does not negate the way in which
the hypostases are given distinctive roles elsewhere in the work. She also cites Ger-
hard Podskalsky to the effect that “there is only one divine operation, grace.”130 This
interpretation of Palamas, however, is explicitly excluded by his theory of language
whereby the divine energies are not intersubstitutable in meaning because a polyon-
ymous simplicity is rejected. Rather, in Palamas’s own words, “the uncreated energy
of God is indivisibly divided and multiple.”131 To be sure, LaCugna’s concerns about
a divorce of theologia and oikonomia are valid ones, but it would be misguided to
attribute the mistakes that worry her to Palamas.

Concluding Reflections
Where, then, does the above analysis leave us? There are three main points to draw
from this analysis. First, if Gregory Palamas’s theology was developed in an effort to
preserve the possibility of communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit – as I have
argued – then his distinction between essence and energies fulfils his goal, given a
Cappadocian understanding of theological language use and a willingness to adopt a
Palamite ontology with its modified version of divine simplicity. At the very least, I
hope this essay has opened the door to possibilities of improved dialogue between
East and West with reference to the idea of communion with God.
Second, despite Palamas succeeding in his goal, provisions such as modified sim-
plicity may still be too problematic to warrant acceptance of Palamite ontology in the
West. Even if one concedes that this essay has done nothing to establish the necessity
of the essence/energies distinction, or to preserve that distinction from critique in

Indeed, “one would search in vain for a natural essence without energy.” Palamas, Triads, III.i.24.
LaCugna, God for Us, 195.
Palamas, 150 Chapters, §6

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

44 D. Glenn Butner, Jr.

other ways, it has nonetheless helped clarify which objections to the Palamite distinc-
tion are in fact valid, and which need to be abandoned. Facile objections to the
divine energies on the grounds that they inhibit communion with the Father, Son,
and Spirit are unfounded and should be rejected. To know the energies of God is to
know the activity of the Father through the Son and in the Spirit and is therefore to
relate personally to each hypostasis in full awareness of their distinction and unique
activities. Those who persist in their objection to the Palamite distinction should do
so on different grounds, or at the very least focus their critique on neo-Palamite
interpretations of the essence/energies distinction. Those who were only objecting to
the distinction on the grounds that it necessarily precludes any communion with
God are now one step closer to ecumenical unity.
Third, the argument presented here has taken preliminary steps toward showing
how the Palamite distinction might be translated in a way that enables dialogue with
many contemporary concerns of Western theology. I see this as an important locus
of future research. The Palamite distinction is not hostile to the project of LaCugna,
and is in fact amenable to the project of Jenson. I am certain that further translation
could bring the distinction into dialogue with other major theological figures of our
time. In much modern Western theology since the twentieth century the question of
relating the economic and immanent Trinity has been central. This is evident both in
Barthian circles, where recent interpretive disputes attempt to explain the extent to
which Barth’s trinitarian understanding of revelation and election grounds the imma-
nent Trinity in the economic, if it does at all,132 and in ongoing disputes about how
best to interpret Rahner’s rule that the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity.133
Each of these discussions attempts to balance binary distinctions between immanent
and economic, persons and being, revelation and the God who self-reveals. Perhaps
if Palamas is not automatically excluded from the discussion as producing a deficient
theology of communion, then his introduction of energies as a third term can, I
hope, help Western theologians move past the impasse that certain interpretations of
these binaries often creates. Of course, I do not mean to suggest that the West will or
even should adopt this metaphysic. But at the very least constructive Palamite theol-
ogies of communion ought to be given due consideration, for they might just inspire
non-Palamite Western theologians to reconsider their binary terms in a new light.
My hope is that this essay will serve as a call for further work in translation of Byz-
antine thought into more modern Western conceptual schemes to the extent that it
serves as itself an example of such an effort in translation. To be sure, the discussion
is far from resolved, but my hope is that some early steps toward allowing the West
to appreciate the Palamite metaphysic have been taken, even if complete resolution
awaits the day when all can readily see the light of Tabor in a state of beatitude.

See for example Paul D. Molnar, Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity: In Dialogue
with Karl Barth and Contemporary Theology (London: T. & T. Clark, 2002), chapters 3–4; Bruce McCormack,
“Grace and Being,” in John Webster, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2006), 92–110; Michael T. Dempsey, ed., Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology
(Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011).
Karl Rahner, The Trinity, Joseph Donceel, trans., (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970), 22. For a
helpful summary of the ways the immanent and economic Trinity have been related in modern theology,
see Chung-Hyun Baik, The Holy Trinity – God for God and God for Us: Seven Positions on the Immanent Eco-
nomic Trinity Relation in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011).

C 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Copyright of Modern Theology is the property of Wiley-Blackwell and its content may not be
copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for
individual use.