« Hume et le bouddhisme | Main | John Keenan on Heart Sutra and Fourth Gospel »

December 03, 2012


Spirit of Vatican II

Many thanks for your generous remarks.

I don't think religious language is just metaphorical; I want to maintain its objectivity, just as the sciences are objective despite their conventional texture. The relationship between conventions and ultimacy needs to be thought out with rigorous concept and argument as the Madhyamaka thinkers have attempted for the last 2,000 years. This is not against orthodoxy but at its service. However, orthodoxy is a difficult goal -- those who denounce others for Pelagianism, Nestorianism, Sabellianism almost invariably fall into the opposed heresies of predestinarian determinism (as in Luther's reply to Erasmus), Monophysitism, Tritheism. Mainstream Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran theology has been stagnant for the last forty years because of a dull, would-be conservative attitude to dogma and metaphysics; and curiously the most decadent heresies have infiltrated it -- Marcionism is rife, Tritheism and Monophysitism too. The pharisaical "orthodoxism" that Loisy deplored is very much with us. In fairness to Radical Orthodoxy, however, the stress is on "radical", sometimes in a quite leftist sense.


I'm certainly interested in the book if and when my local university library obtains it. It does sound as if it explores the need for a theology that is less parochial.

I do have a question, however. Does this approach also deal with what is now called "neo-Palamism", the quasi-official theology of the Eastern Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian etc.), as represented by Lossky and others? Does it explore the "essence-energy" distinction as articulated by Gregory Palamas, (we can experience and "see" God's energies but not God's "essence" which remains "beyond" our sensorial and conceptual grasp)?

Spirit of Vatican II

No, I am ignorant about Palamas.


Well, if I may be so bold, I do suggest examining his writings. His defense of hesychasm against the attacks by one Barlaam, known as the Triads, are quite interesting. I have to admit I don't know Greek at all and so have only read portions of them translated into English from the French translation by John Meyendorff, ( I think a critical Greek edition has recently been done).
Barlaam is variously portrayed in Orthodox polemics as a "westerner or latinizer or even as a nominalist, but many scholars now view him as a fairly typical Greek intellectual of the day.
His attacks on hesychasm centered on hesychasts' claims to be able to see the "uncreated light" of God which is a real participation in God. To Barlaam this was ridiculous.
Gregory defended the hesychastic practice through the use of philosophy and theology, mainly arguments derived from both.
There's been quite some interest recently in Palamas contrasted with Aquinas.

The Ground of Union by A.N. Williams is one such work. Another, recently published, is by Marcus Plested on the reception of Aquinas in Orthodoxy.

To my limited perspective, some of Palamas' arguments come close to what's described in the review of your book as the clarification between conventional and ultimate truths.



I might add that ignorance of the Eastern Orthodox theological tradition is really a lacuna to your efforts. Christos Yannaras, for instance, has explored Heidegger in relation to Dionysius the Aeropagite. One can certainly dispute his arguments (and they should be), but they do express a certain viewpoint that should be explored. He does do a good job of exploring the notion of "Being".

I've been interested in exploring this area because I think the Orthodox viewpoint has not been taken seriously by Roman Catholic thinkers.

My interest is in seeing how close, or how far apart, their views are to different schools of philosophy, particularly the Kyoto school of Nishida. For instance, does Nishida argue for an understanding of "pure experience" that parallels that of the Orthodox notion of the "Nous"?

The Eastern Orthodox religious viewpoint should really be considered. It is not some backwater area of theology. It does represent an important aspect, considering how they have attempted to make relevant the Greek patristic theological experience, particularly the aspect of theosis, to contemporary theology.

Spirit of Vatican II

The trouble is that I dislike Greek Orthodox theology just as I dislike the music of Vivaldi. Wrestling with Origen and Gregory of Nyssa is as much as I can manage. I cannot stand Pseudo-Dionysius; and though I wrote a recommendation for a book by Yannaras, I thought his attitude to modernity was scandalous and I doubt if he understands Heidegger.

I also dislike the notion of theosis, other than in the sober version of Athanasius, where it means the gifts of aphtharsia and knowledge of God. The divinization of the human nature of Christ in so much Greek tradition seems monophysite to me.

And in their constant cult of the categories of the Fathers, the Greeks seem to condemn themselves to a sterile archaism, which is one reason why there is not a lively debate between then and the West.

Vincent Giraud is involved on research into the Kyoto School and Christian neoplatonism, but more oriented to Augustine and Scotus Eriugena than to the Greeks (though he has excellent Greek). I think Nishida would understand "pure experience" as non-noetic, though he does develop it toward a notion of "self-awakening" in dialogue with Fichtean self-consciousness and then into a vision a quasi-neoplatonic sustaining milieu of "nothingness". Nishida is a maddeningly murky and muddled writer.


Thank you for your comments. Mr. Giraud seems to be an interesting writer to read.

I think you should expand your notion of Orthodox theology. It is not limited to just the Greeks. You've forgotten the Russians and others who, while basing themselves on the Greek Fathers, have done work and thinking in a more contemporary vein.

Here is a link (it may take a little patience but it will show up), describing contemporary Orthodox theological currents;


Paul Gavrilyuk The Orthodox Renaissance, First Things December 2012.

Could you please clarify your point regarding theosis? How does it differ from notions of deification present in "Latin" theologians such as Aquinas, Augustine, etc. (even Luther, according to some had a notion of deification)?

I'm not clear as to what you mean by monophysitism, especially in Orthodox theologians such as Palamas.

I definitely agree with seeing Origen as a mighty one to strive to comprehend as well as Gregory of Nyssa. Have you looked at P. Tzamalikos whose works on Origen are quite interesting (as well as Mark Edwards)?

There's also some interesting work being done on Maximus the Confessor. Thurnberg, of course, is a major interpreter but there have been other works recently published. Antoine Levy, Le Crée et L'Incrée: Maxime Le Confesseur et Thomas d'Aquin-Aux Sources de la querelle
Palamienne, quite an interesting work.

There's also Thomas Cattoi,Divine Contingency: Theologies of Divine Embodiment in Maximos the Confessor and Tsong kha pa, an interesting book that compares the intellectual, theological efforts of Maximus and the Tibetan sage, Tsong kha pa.

Spirit of Vatican II

I dislike the Russians equally: http://www.religiologiques.uqam.ca/no25/recensions/Leary.html

Fine for liturgy, but their theology is bloated.

I reviewed Cattoi: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9418.2010.00701.x/abstract

I have Thunberg and have glanced at it, and also Balthasar's magnum opus. Maximus is the most interesting of the later Greeks, but by no means fun to read.

I bought Tzamalikos in its original form, almost unreadable; the two volume Brill re-edition is an improvement. I am a critic of Mark Edwards who desperately seeks to deplatonize Origen. http://www.editionsducerf.fr/html/fiche/fichelivre.asp?n_liv_cerf=9344. He replied to me in a talk at the last Oxford Patristic Conference.

Luther is riddled with monophysitism; Melanchthon corrects him but discreetly, stressing Chalcedon's doctrine that the natures are not to be confused (asunchutos).

What I object to in theosis is the substitution of an ontological for an event-centered view of salvation, and in the case of Christ its monophysite ascription of divine qualities to his human nature. Aquinas also tends to ascribe too many divine attributes to Christ's humanity, e.g. the notion that Jesus enjoys the beatific vision in his mother's womb. He is also rather docetic in his account of Christ's conception (his human nature was instantly perfect and ensouled, unlike the case of all other humans, for example).

In any case all of this is medieval metaphysics and not where deep theological thinking about Christ is found today.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)


Blog powered by Typepad