The doctrine of uncreated energies according to Saint Gregory Palamas


Marin Mihalache


According to Saint Gregory Palamas, as well as to the Orthodox Church doctrine and dogma, in His transcendent essence God remains always “above” any given experience of Himself. He is the Creator “ex nihilo” and therefore uncreated. Therefore, all that is created and “outside” of God’s essence exists only through His “will” or “energies”. This distinction between Creator and creatures is expressed by a Greek term that can be translated as “nature” or “realities”. Thus, there is impossible to have a nature which is both created and uncreated. Also, there is distinction between God’s act of begetting and the act of creating.

Since the Son of God is an act of essence of God, the creation is an act of the divine will. In Christ each nature has its own will and energies, yet united in one hypostasis. As a consequence to the mutual permeation within the one hypostasis of the will and the energies the human nature is deified. But this does not mean that there is a mixture or confusion of natures. Each nature has its own “energy” or existential manifestations.

According to Saint Gregory Palamas, to the three modes of existence, i.e. (a) essence (nature), (b) hypostasis and (c) energy there is a corresponding mode of union, a union which finally determines that particular existence. Thus, (a) the union of essence is proper to the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. This union is inaccessible to the created human nature which essentially or naturally cannot enter in union with God; (b) the union of hypostasis which is realized in Christ, whose human nature is one hypostatically with the Logos; and (c) the union of energies (or by “grace”) that is due to the divine energies which having the Logos as their source penetrates the created nature in order to deify it. In this way, the created nature with Logos becomes by “participation”, not by “essence” a union with God Himself. This union is possible exactly because Christ is both sources of deification and of “uncreated” life because His human nature is created by nature and also “uncreated” by “participation”.

In view of the same line of Orthodox teaching and hermeneutics because the Church is the Body of Christ, the Eucharist itself is a participation “in the deified human nature” of Christ. Due to this participation in the Body of and the Blood of Christ, when a Christian is partaking the holy gifts he enters into the real union with the uncreated energies of God. Thus, Christ makes each Christian “a temple of the whole divinity for the very Body of Christ dwells corporeally in all the fullness of divinity” (Col. 2.9). In other words, the Body and Blood of Christ as “source of light of grace” from “outside” can illumine the worthy Christians from “within” only when the grace is “mingled with us” and “exists in us”. (Gregory Palamas, Triads I, 3, 38). Here, for Palamas “within” is not man’s purely intellectual reality but the whole being. For it is, according to Palamas, “within the body” where the divine light dwells for those who have been put in Christ.

Thus, although we still “possess a mortal and passionate body” we cannot be anymore attacked by the devil from “within”. This is possible also because for the Christians the original “logoi” have no separate and autonomous existence from God, but are even “the energies” of Him. Also, in Christ through “the circumincessio idiomatum”, our humanity finds access to God in His energies “which are not divine emanations of diminished God” (J.M.), but divine life indeed. “The deification” does not suppress humanity, but rather gives the chance to man to be truly and fully human: the communion with God becomes communion of life.

Therefore, by “making” divine his own human nature, through the Incarnation, Christ has granted not only to humanity in general, but also to all individual human hypostasis the chance of deification by the free choice. The participation in the divine existence, which otherwise would be inaccessible, it is a gift from God-giving Himself through the divine energy. This divine “energy” is unique and at the same time tri-hypostatic. The personal aspects of God as Trinity do not disappear in one energy, although the divine hypostasis lives in co-inheritance (perichoresis). For this reason, the divine energy is a perfect communion of love. This love which unites the divine hypostasis is coming down through the divine “energy” or “action” upon the man prepared, free to receive it and capable to transcend himself. Hence, the deification is that “participation” of the created man in the uncreated life of God, “though the essence of God remains always transcendent and totally unparticipable” (J.M.). Through deification man can become God only by grace or energy, never by essence or nature.

Saint Gregory Palamas thought also that there is a “grace of nature” different from “deifying grace”. Obviously, through the “created grace” he does not mean “created supernatural” in the Catholic “Thomist” understanding. For St. Gregory Palamas, the “created grace” is the “original beauty of created human nature which Christ restored” and “uncreated deifying grace” is the reality of man’s life as experienced in the Church. Thus, “grace” does not “complete” or “justify” the nature “adding” to it a created supernatural inasmuch as the “supernatural” is the divine life, thereby it is a reality which is existentially different from the creature.

At the same time, if God were divine energies, natural and essential but created, the essence of God which possesses them would be equally created (Gregory Palamas, Triads, 3,6). The energies are neither essence, nor accidents. Nevertheless, they involve a “distinction” in the divine Being, without dividing it. This shows why the common nature of the hypostatic Trinity which is “supernatural essence” and unknowable entity it is in the same time the living God who reveals and manifests Himself in His acts and energies. Those energies have not their own hypostasis, but come from the divine hypostasis as signs of God’s existence. They are called “uncreated” energies because they are in fact “the self-giving God Himself”.

The energies are “enhypostasized” inasmuch as the divine life “enhypostasized” in the divine hypostasis is also to be “enhypostasized” in human hypostasis. For this reason, through Christ the Trinity itself has become in an immediate and direct way accessible to man. Because the “copenetration” of the hypostasis all the three divine Persons possesses one common energy, the “hypostasized energies” which although belong to the three hypostasis as existence of God “ad extra”, they are distinct from “non-hypostatic” ones. Thus, since God in all His wholeness is incarnated through the energy and power of the divine hypostasis, through each of these energies we “share” all God. This show “how God, while letting Himself be contained by creatures in a limited manner could be shared in his completeness and contained “without be in danger to divide Himself”. The cause of these energies is the divine essence which is common to the Father, Son and the Holly Spirit. However, since the consubstantiality does not suppress personality, the energies themselves remain as personal acts.

Therefore, because God was Incarnate He was made also accessible to the personal experience. Palamas considers that on Tabor the Apostles saw divine presence and sanctifying grace, “the very grace of the Spirit which later comes to dwell among them” (Triads, III, 3, 9). Thus “in spiritual vision itself the transcendent light of God only appears the more completely hidden” (Triads, II, 3, 31). In other words, God cannot be seen in his “superessential” essence, but He can be seen through His energy and uncreated deifying gift and hypostasized glory. But each divine power and energy is God Himself. Nevertheless, “they do not compose the being of God” and “it is he who gives them their existence, without taking existence from them, indeed it is not the realities which surround God which are the essence of God, but He is their essence, but the essence which comes from He-Who-Is” (Triads, III, 2,12). Nevertheless, the power of the energies is an uncreated power because it “still remains attached to its source”. It is what Saint Gregory Palamas called the “inseparability of essence and energies”. The man receives from Christ an uncreated life so that man himself might become “uncreated through grace”. These energies are uncreated also insomuch as in both Christ and the baptized Christians there is one indivisible spirit. The Mother of God is such a human person who is “the limit of the created and uncreated” (Homily on Assumption). The saints also “participates in God: not only do they participate, but also communicate him… They not only live, but also bring life, and that is not the attribute of a created faculty.” (Ag. Akindynos IV, 22). They do not receive a different grace than we receive through sacraments but they do use it in a greater and more effective way. Thus, they “possessing understanding of God, possess it in an incomprehensible way.” (Triads I, 3,17).

However, neither the vision of Saint Paul, nor the deification of the saints was a way of “possessing God”, controlling or submitting Him to the law of creatures. At the Transfiguration also there was not a change in Christ, not even in His human nature, but a change took place in the way the apostles have seen Christ as, in the eternal light of His dignity. For when Saint Peter calls us “divinae consortes naturae” (II Peter 1:4) he is refers not to the divine nature in itself, but on the degree in which this nature is enabled to participate in energies. Thus, although God remains in Himself as essence, transcendent and free we can communicate with Him by our participation in His energies. This experience is not only for the monastic spirituality or for “hesichasts”, but also for everyone who embraces and lives “in the great gift of the Spirit”… this is, however, sufficient also to unite himself to the whole of the very divine light, for “it divides without dividing itself after the manner of bodies… that unique light belongs indeed to the unique Christ.” (Ag. Akind III, 6). The true knowledge of God is the real communion of man (which has now “eye of the Spirit”) with grace because His will and due to an act of condescension of God. Otherwise, the absolute transcendence of the divine essence would remain but an abstraction if it did not possess “the faculties of presence, of creating” (Triads, II, 2, 5) But because God does possess these faculties we can see in ourselves the glory of God, when it pleases God to lead us to “the spiritual mysteries” (Triads II, 3, II 17). This is possible inasmuch as God, by sending His only begotten Son among us to be incarnate, He Himself entered into real and direct communion with humanity (not only through angels) in order to transform it “into a vehicle worthy to receive the all-powerful Spirit” (Triads III, 3, 5). Yet, this divine plan of salvation of humankind is achieved by letting the full humanity to preserve its freedom by participating in an endless process of knowing God’s transcendent essence.

The Palamite’s doctrine of “uncreated energies” does not provide us a new “necessary” understanding of God and the creation but it continues and gives us a “synthesis” of the “personalist” and existentialist metaphysics following in his way the traditional Orthodox line, that of the Bible and of the Fathers of the Church’s holy teachings. It is not in vain that in the “Hymn of the Second Sunday of the Lent” the Orthodox Church calls him “the preacher of grace.”


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