The Hallmarks of the Trinitarian Differentiation between Eastern and Western Christianity/essence-hypostasis distinction, filioque and essence-energy differentiation/
This paper represents an attempt to reopen the pending file of Christian division. Salient to this paper is the idea that it is the process of the Trinitarian differentiation between West and Orient that created the hiatus grown ever more apparent to date. It started seemingly at the time of Augustine and culminated in the experience of the ultimate alienation of Christian creed at the time of Gregory Palamas when Westerners and Orientals propounded distinctive creeds contravening each other. It is up to debate whether holding onto doctrines or rather leveling any dogmatic distinction should allow the modern Christians to make a headway into the world of Christian unity. One thing is clear—the Christian identity seems to be on the verge of extinguishing if faith is blunted with doubts, uncertainties and contradictions.

1. Introduction

The Trinitarian doctrine is firmly established in the witness[1] of the New Testament. However, it was only through the struggle of the Christian Church, both in the West and in the East, with the heresy of Arianism that the exact terminology (‘ἀκρίβεια ’) of this doctrine became a standard. In 325 A.D., at the Ecumenical Council of Nicæa, the term ‘ὁμοούσιος’ (of the same essence) expressed the truth of the Son’s equally divine dignity with the Father (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1971; Schaff, 1983). This concept, too, has opened the new pagein the long history that described verbally the two fundamental aspects of the Trinitarian doctrine: the “immanent and economic” Trinity (Ware 134). The first aspect, immanent, highlights the definition of the Deity, the identity of God, and the relationship between divine hypostases ( hypostases); whereas the second one, economic, focuses on the revelation of God to humans, the degree of participation of each divine hypostasis in the salvation of humans, and the explanation of how this salvation should be understood. At the beginning of this opening, nothing could foretell the sparking of the long-standing theological controversies between the Western and Eastern Churches—with the notorious outcome of the (in 1054 AD) East-West schism; on the contrary, the relationship between both sides was marked by a consensus fidei.

In terms of the modern inter-confessional dialogue, both sides have put in a great deal of effort to understand the reasons for the schism, and to help redress the unity. Alongside the considerable ecumenical efforts, my hope is that this paper, as well, will be a valuable contribution to research into one of the key questions of the East-West schism, namely — the Trinitarian differentiation. Specifically, this paper will seek to address the following questions:

·      What is the genealogy of the immanent and economic Trinitarian differentiation between East and West?

·      What are the reasons for such differentiation?

·      Does this differentiation represent a serious impediment for the reconciliation of Western and Eastern Churches?

Today it seems to be an exaggeration to attach so much importance to doctrinal issues, and an exploratory mind tends to explain the past events by pointing preferentially to political and social reasons. Within this context, the British patrologist, G. L. Prestige warns against such an underestimation of doctrine when he says:

Thoughtful people want to be reasonably well assured that the revelation of Christ and the holiness of the Spirit are really one with ultimate transcendent reality, if they are asked to count the world well lost for them…and on broad view of history, human society as a whole is disposed to demand the same assurance. Christian morality does not appear to survive for many generations after the loss of Christian dogmatic faith. (Prestige XVI)

Thus, when debating doctrinal issues, the religion of Christianity is at stake. An awareness of the immediate causal relationship between doctrine and the Christian model of life was inherent to Christians of the 3rd and 4th centuries. If assessing the historical records of the debates concerning the doctrinal controversies at the Ecumenical Councils, alert readers may surmise the existence of such awareness. That is why the hypothesis that the schism between the Eastern and Western traditions was essentially caused by doctrinal issues, which appeared to serve as a justification for Christian ethics and lifestyles, takes a key place in this study. The main emphasis in this research paper is, accordingly, to be made on three subsequent epochs that have determined the genesis of the Trinitarian distinction between West and East: 

·     The definitive elaboration of the essence-hypostasis terminology by the Cappadocian Fathers and its reception in the West, especially by Augustine of Hippo

·     The origin of the filioque concept in the West, and its analog, and further reception in the East

·     And the elaboration of the essence-energy distinction by Gregory Palamas, along with its role in the ultimate division

Due to the fact that the theological discussions linked with the name—Gregory Palamas—represent the apogee of the Trinitarian differentiation that occurred between West and East, and his modern reception in Orthodox circles is characterized by Western theologians as a modern rediscovery rather than as a constitutive component of the Orthodox theology since the fall of Constantinople, it is crucial to understand whether this reception has altered the original Byzantine view. This issue is especially emphasized by Flogaus (226-229), who is convinced that the modern “Palamismus” (!) produced an alteration within Palamas’ own thought. Regardless of how important this item is for understanding the present state of the ecumenical dialogue between the Orthodox Church on the one hand, and the Roman-Catholic and Protestant Churches on the other, it is not part of my present purpose to dissect this point, but rather to address the matter related to the genesis, reasons and seriousness of the Trinitarian differentiation as this developed in the Byzantium.

2. The Essence-Hypostasis Distinction

It is possible to distinguish at least three basic views of the conceptual context that hastened the elaboration of the essence-hypostasis distinction:

§   The increasing awareness that the subordinationist tendency could become widespread and inherently dangerous for authentic Christian belief in the genuine deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit

§   The rapid emergence of the unitarian tendency, which repressed the idea of the Trinity by construing it as three modes, not Persons, of one and the same God (O’ Donnell 100)

§   The gradual establishment of the Athanasian party as allegedly intellectually intolerant[7] to the “liberty of theological discussion” claimed by the supporters of Arianism (Prestige XV-XVI)

First of all, with the development of the doctrine of the Logos, subordinationism paved its way into theological discourse. The reason that this entrance became possible was because there was an exclusive emphasis on the Son’s act of creation in the Logos doctrine, emphasis which suggested that the Son had no distinct being before creation[8] (Prestige XXVII). It was, notably, Origen and Eusebius of Caesarea who have unintentionally facilitated, in a certain sense, the advent of Arianism, which enjoyed a considerable benefit from their confused terminology of “second god” near to “God” (Prestige XXVII-XXX). The resulting interpretation that the Son’s dignity derived from His subordination to the Father was predicated on the authority of these two Christian teachers. However, although Origen was in the vanguard of attempts to preserve the principle that all the divine attributes of the Son and the Holy Spirit were derived from the being of the Father, he too came across in his works as acknowledging the true deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit (Prestige XXVII-XXX). Speaking thus to no intention to harm the Christian faith, this derivation was a tenuous link in both Origen’s and Eusebius’ theology, because it could not assure other theologians that there is equality between the Son and the Father (Prestige XXVIII). The intellectual framework provided by Origen and Eusebius has surreptitiously helped to legitimize and sustain the conceptual growth of Arianism.

Secondly, the debate surrounding the relationship between the Spirit, the Logos, and the source of the Godhead clarified the issue of Unitarianism. In O’ Donnell’s view, “the great achievement of the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in affirming the co-equality of the three was immediately endangered through the Unitarian or modalist doctrine, i.e., that God only appears to be three whilst in his own life He is a bare monad[9]” (O’ Donnell 100).

Last but not least, competition between certain Hellenistic conceptions for intellectual supremacy over the Christian communities gave occasion to the subsequent flurry of debates (Prestige XV-XXVII). The subject of these debates was the modern critical reflections upon the triumph of formalism in the epoch of Leontius of Jerusalem and Leontius of Byzantium, with the essence-energy distinction, I dare say, over the top. One explanation for this was the tendency, first, to go on arguing in favor of a substantial influence of Neo-Platonism on the main protagonist of this distinction, Gregory Palamas, in tandem with his inspirer, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and, second, as in the case of either Leontius, to descry an intrusion of abstract logic and formal classification (Flogaus, 1997; Prestige, 1959). This topic will be discussed separately in § 4.3.


2.1 The statement of the problem

The core of the dissension between the Western and Eastern Trinitarian theological traditions is located both in the differences concerning the concepts, which expound the mystery of the One God in three Hypostases, and in the images or metaphors, which try to make these concepts intelligible for the human mind to the extent of its capacity to comprehend such a mystery (O’ Donnell 94; Kasper 218-219). The coining of the formula – one Ousia, three hypostases – in the Orient was a necessary act, which began with Athanasius the Great and was completed by the Cappadocian Fathers. In fact, this formula was vital to champion the unity of God and the equality of the three divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Specifically, the new terms – one Ousia and three hypostases – were called upon to “stress the concrete objectivity of the reality of one godhead in se, which, nevertheless, had three objective presentations ad alios” (Prestige XXIX; Collins 148). Functionally, they had a bearing on precluding the perils of both ‘Arian’ subordinationism (tritheism, or polytheism) and ‘Sabellian’ and ‘Pauline’ unitarianism (rehabilitation of the Jewish monotheism). Yet, the elaboration of both Trinitarian terms was not simultaneous. As a matter of fact, the practical meaning of the two terms – Ousia and hypostasis – was substantially identical for the Fathers both in the East and West, down to the time of the Cappadocians when the terminology became fixed and technical (Prestige 168). For instance, in the East, Athanasius suggests in his Second and Forth Discourses against Arianisers (contra Arianos 2, 32; 4, 33) that according to the Holy Scriptures (Heb.1, 33) the ‘expression’ is by no means different from the hypostasis, and therefore in another missive (Ad Afros, 4, 167, 245) he even says that hypostasis means ‘being’ (Ousia), i.e., ‘something which exists’. Alternately, in the West, ever since Tertullian (II. Century) the word ‘unius substantiæ’ gained currency standing for the meaning that ‘homoousios’ purported to mean after the Council of Nicæa in the East, i.e. ‘of the same stuff’, despite the fact that philologically ‘unius substantiæ’ meant literally of ‘one hypostasis’. Such an understanding, though, was definitely not sufficient for the Orientals, because, besides the importance of stressing the unity of the Son to the Father, it was necessary to convey the idea that they remain objectively distinct entities. Remarkably, since Tertullian the Western theological tradition conceptualized the meaning of that objective threefold distinction in the godhead using the term ‘personæ’, whereas in the East the establishment of an appropriate term amounted to the elaboration of new semantics for the term ‘ὑπόστασις’ by the Cappadocian Fathers (Prestige 220). Prestige (168) astutely avers that “the theological problem of the Trinity was to stereotype terms” which would give clear expression to this divine paradox, which was also a Christian truth, that “God is one in content and consciousness, but three to contact and apprehension” (Prestige XXIX). This particular process had been ventured in both theological traditions but on two essentially different terminological tracks. This appeared to later have two contentious semantic implications for the doctrine of the Trinity (Prestige 236).


2.2 The immediate philosophical and theological context

The awareness of an accrued differentiation with reference to the doctrine of Trinity between Occidentals and Orientals is documented in certain facts of particular mutual confrontation. Yet, the reasons for the recorded cases of discord are definitely not determined simply by the proliferation of different terminology in the West and East, but also by the varying extent of philosophical and theological sensitivity towards the potential spectrum of meaning the new terms carried.

The first paradigm of such a lack of sensitivity is represented by the negative reaction of Dionysius of Rome (260 A.D.) to the plurality of the hypostases, which he denounces as “separate hypostases”, three powers, and three godheads (ap. Ath. Decret. 26, 184). He refers to those who divided the holy monad into three hypostases alien from one another and altogether disjunctive (ap. Ath. Decret. 26, 184). The bishops of the Synod of Sardica[10] (342 A.D.) adopted the term ‘una substantia’, i.e. one hypostasis, in order to express the unity of the distinctive threefoldness, i.e. Ousia. In his fifteenth missive, Jerome, a Roman Presbyter (345-420 A.D.), considered the new term, hypostasis, used by the Cappadocians to denote the objective distinctive presentations of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as unorthodox. This missive passes judgment on the formula of three hypostases and castigates it as Arian (Epp. 15, 237).

These three separate facts might easily be construed as less significant than a good index of gradual growth of doctrinal confrontation between Westerners and Orientals due to the inadequate terminology; particularly, it could be tentatively true that mounting doctrinal confrontation was a result of reasoned mistrust on the part of Westerners towards emulating the new terminological model of Orientals, who were at pains to redefine philosophically the Scriptural teaching about the Triune God against the Trinitarian misrepresentation proffered by both Arians and Sabellians. Even so, there is much cause to presuppose the existence of a much more complex issue, namely the necessity for the Orientals to return to Greek philosophical discourse in order to secure the true sense of the Scripture against its own susceptibility to be in disagreement, out of particular verses, with its (Scripture’s) own global message. For instance, Christ’s words that He is lesser than his Father were boldly used by the Arians to allege that He is a created god. The philosophical discourse, thus, was indispensable for shaping the unambiguous lexical and semantic framework of the Trinitarian doctrine. Yet, there remained room for overstatements, and it seems that the use of hypostasis by the Cappadocians to redefine the authentic Scriptural message concerning the threefold distinction in God was perceived by certain Westerners as a stilted, and even reprehensible, term. Alternatively, this complexity demonstrates, too, a certain gap between the philosophical credentials of Westerners and Orientals. The term ‘ὑπ όστασις’ had two basic groups of usages in the Greek language: “in one group of usages the term derives its purport from the middle voice of the verb φίστημι , and in another from the active voice. Hereafter it may mean either that which underlies, or that which gives support” (Prestige 163). In the former sense the term is synonymous with the term Ousia; “it meant a single object of which the individuality is disclosed by means of internal analysis, an object abstractly and philosophically a unit” (Prestige 163-167). In its second sense though, the term ‘ὑπ όστασις’ had a different emphasis; “here the emphasis falls not on the content but externally concrete independence, objectivity in relation to other objects” (Prestige 168-169). In all probability, the second sense was unknown to the Westerners; therefore, when hearing ‘ὑπ όστασις’, Westerners thought of Ousia, and not something like persona (Prestige, 1959). Still the potential for misunderstanding was enormous, because it was not enough to claim the unity of God, or the equality of the hypostases or personæ. It was necessary to explain the words from Scripture which ascribed to each of the three one particularity: ἀγεννησία, γέννησις and ἐκπόρευσις. The distribution of these particularities, though, could only make sense when holding on to the principle of monarchy; yet, how could this monarchy be explained? If the monarchy was rooted in the hypostasis of the Father, did not then the idea of eternal co-sharing of Ousia by the other two hypostases allow for the principle of monarchy to be situated in the common Ousia? Most likely, it was at exactly this point that the two theological traditions took two different paths. One was expressed by the Cappadocians, who alleged that the monarchy of the hypostasis of the Father constituted the key to the elaboration of the doctrine (Alexopoulos 150), while the other tradition, expressed by Augustine, referred to the unity of God—‘una substantia’—as the fundament of the Trinitarian doctrine (McKenna, 1963).


2.3 Augustine’s reception of Cappadocians terminological tradition

  Beginning with a differentiation between with the Cappadocians’ (IV Century A.D.) and Augustine’s (V Century A.D.) version of the Trinitarian doctrine is reasonable, because the modern debates on this doctrinal issue focus on these personalities. For instance, Pannenberg alleges that “Cappadocians had not succeeded to avoid the imprint of subordinationism, because in the inner relations of the divine Persons the unity of the godhead is not expressed” (qtd. Collins 134-137). Further, Moltmann points out the “deficiency of the term hypostasis and accordingly its potentiality to incubate modalism, since it underlies the existence of the three Persons in themselves, without or before their relations” (qtd. Collins 137-139). Contrary to them, Karl Rahner is among “the first recent Western theologians who have broken important ground on criticizing Augustinian tradition for having failed in couching the idea that Trinitarian categories encapsulate the heart of Christian Gospel” (17). Gunton highlights the “charge against Augustine and many of his Western successors, since, in failing to appropriate the ontological achievement of his Eastern colleagues, he allows the insidious return of a Hellenism in which being is not communion, but something underlying it” (10).  

The terminological tradition of the Cappadocians advanced “the position of the objective triplicity of God as the basis of their thought, and from there, having presumed the equality of the three hypostases, went to the assertion that these three hypostases must constitute a single identical Ousia” (Prestige 242). Yet, why was this order of thought of great importance for them? Clearly, this notional prerequisite for the further doctrinal elaboration was concerned with stating the ontologisation of the category of person, an idea derived from the Scriptural source. This means that the Cappadocians’ terminology overcame the division between person and substance by having construed the category of person/hypostasis as an ontological rather than as a functional entity (Colins 144). The category of person was by no means a passive attribute/accident of the being/Ousia; instead, it was an active owner of being (Alexopoulos 154). For this reason the Cappadocians use the doctrine of ἀρχή, according to which there is a logical, but not a temporal priority between three divine Persons; the divine ὑπόστασις of the Father (ἀγέννητος) is not superior to the hypostases of the Son and the Holy Spirit with reference to their modes of existence (γεννητός, ἐκπορευόμενος) (Prestige 245-249). Basil’s treatise (de Spir. Sanct. 63)advances this idea considerably; he describes the relationship between the divine Persons by using the phrase “be with” (συνεῖναι) instead of “be in” (ἐνεῖναι). Heat, for instance, is said to reside ‘in’ a hot iron (from which it is separable) but ‘with’ the actual fire. Of course, the explicit intent of this metaphor is to express the intimate, inherent, and inseparable relation between the divine Persons. Implicitly, however, it underlines the objectivity of the divine Persons (against any monistic representation) and their equality (against any subordinationism). Yet, this idea of Basil the Great was often misrepresented as an inauspicious slide of his doctrinal elaboration into pluralism/tritheism (Prestige 282-287). Resulting from this misunderstanding, tritheism was often imputed to the Cappadocian Fathers; such imputations, however, strike as naïve unwarranted conclusions, because Cappadocians complied their metaphors of three distinctive hypostases with the conception that divine Persons contain each other (χωρητικός, περιέχεσθαι) (Gregory of Nyssa, Adv. Ar. Et Sab. 12). According to this concept, each hypostasis makes a headway in the next hypostasis (from the Father through the Son to the Holy Spirit) and simultaneously a back motion (from the Holy Spirit through the Son back to the Father), because the hypostases are receptive and permeative with each other (Prestige 289). Thus, a new ontology developed in which being God means to be in communion (Zizioulas, 1985). Orthodoxy is only preserved in such terms.

What is necessary to note concerning Augustine’s reception of the doctrinal elaborations of the Cappadocians is his acknowledgement of the dissimilarities between the Cappadocians and the Latins, which neither alarmed nor surprised him (de Trin. VII. 4 (7)). As Prestige indicates, “for Augustine both the Greek and Latin doctrine was legitimate, provided that such expressions are understood only in a mystery, for God can be more truly conceived than expressed, and exists more truly than He can be conceived; the transcendence of the godhead surpasses the powers of ordinary discourse” (237). Yet, what motivated his choice to couch the Trinitarian doctrine in different terms? And what were its implications? Importantly, Augustine admitted that he did not really see why the term “three Persons” should be used (Gunton 40). He stated: “this formula was decided upon, in order that we might be able to give some kind of answer when we were asked, what are the three4” (Gunton 40). He further states that “the particulars in the same Trinity that are properly predicated of each person are by no means predicated of them as they are in themselves (ad se ipsa), but in their relation either to one another or to the creature (ad alios), and it is therefore manifest that they are predicated  relatively, not substantially” (qtd. Gunton 40-41). Gunton sees the difference between the Augustinian and the Cappadocian doctrine in that “for the latter the three Persons are what they are in their relation, and therefore the relations qualify them ontologically” (41). Strictly speaking, for the Cappadocians it is the relatedness of hypostases that constitutes the substance[6], whereas for Augustine an unknown substance supports the three persons (Gunton 43). The dissimilarity of both tendencies is illustrated by the metaphors Augustine uses. He employs “the categories of the inner mental world for unpacking his analogies for the threefold being of God5” (Gunton 41). It is extremely difficult to understand Augustine’s suspicion of the idea of the three hypostases and why he prefers the monistic analogies of the human mind to describe the Trinity. In all probability, with his specific formulations he took the necessary measures against any concept by which the ‘Arian’ discourse might infiltrate. His “agnostic” attitude, as Gunton (40-48) defines it, was rather a product of the conviction that all human words and metaphors are inadequate and limited in their ability to exactly describe the Trinity, than a result of a neo platonic inclination. Yet, Augustine’s doctrine has had serious implications for the posterior generations of Western theologians. It has laid the foundation as much for the filioque as for the “coming era in which the church is conceived essentially as an institution mediating grace to the individual rather than the community formed on the analogy of the Trinity’s interpersonal relationships” (Gunton 40-55)

Augustine himself, thus, acknowledged that a Trinitarian differentiation started with his decision to develop a divergent Trinitarian doctrine from the Orientals. However, he did not evaluate this differentiation as a menace for the one Christian truth professed throughout the West and the East. For him all these concepts and metaphors served to help understand the mystery of God, without the pretense of having discussed it thoroughly. Unfortunately, this differentiation proved to be fateful for the posterior relation between the Christian Churches in the West and the East, as the issue of the filioque will demonstrate.


3. Filioque

The issue of filioque is the doctrinal statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father but also from the Son. The procession (ἐκπόρευσις) as well as the non derivation (ἀγεννησία) and Only-derivation by generation (γέννησις) are the terms used in the early Christian tradition as indicators of the three distinctive divine Persons representing the One God. They were Scriptural terms, but, like several other terms, they could afford no expected intelligibility for the reader. For instance, there were places in Scripture where the idea of the Holy Spirit being sent by Christ/the Son is clearly expressed (John 16, 14). The question whether these particularities have had a bearing on the Ousia or hypostasis, though, was unambiguously perceived as relating only to the divine Persons. Pseudo-Justin[8], Pseudo-Cyril[9], and the Cappadocians[10] emphasize that the terms ἀγέννητος, γεννητός and ἐκπορευτός do not express Ousia, but instead modes of existence (hyparxis). “Modes of hyparxis could be interpreted either in the sense of origin or, as in the time of Leontius of Byzantium, in the sense of mode of existence or constitutive principle” (Prestige 248). The issue may seem very clear, since the particularities (ἀγεννησία, γέννησις, ἐκπόρευσις) have had a bearing on the hypostases/Persons, and the hypostases/Persons are distinct from Ousia/substance; why then should this issue result in misunderstandings? In truth, the divine Persons are distinct, but they, too, contain each other by virtue of common Ousia. This divine paradox created another pitfall for the early Christian theologians. It started with Origen, who left another legacy to his school of thought, namely the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit (Prestige, 1959); Origen “clearly subordinated the Spirit to the Son[11]” (Prestige 249). The posterior Alexandrians reproduced this teaching in their assertion that “the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through ( διατουΥιού ) the Son” (Prestige 249). Athanasius the Great stated that ‘the Holy Spirit is a procession (ἐκπόρευμα) of the Father, ever in the hands of the Father who sends Him and of the Son who sustains Him’ (exp. fid. 4). He continues: “the Spirit is not external to the Logos, but by reason of being in the Logos is therefore through Him in God” (ad Serap. 3. 5). In Cyril the expression ‘out of the Father through the Son’ became a regular formula for the procession of the Holy Spirit (ador. 9E; thes. 33, 336D). Additionally, Basil the Great, one of the Cappadocians, taught that “the one Spirit is through one Son linked to one Father” (de Sp. Sanct. 64). Epiphanius of Cyprus taught that “the Spirit proceeds from the Father and receives from the Son” (ancor. 7). Maximus Confessor also defends the double procession…, arguing that the doctrine does not imply that the Son is the cause of the Holy Spirit, since the Father is the one cause of Son and Spirit, but “that the Spirit proceeds through the Son” (qu. Ad Thal. 63, 238 D). These selected witnesses from the Eastern patristic tradition show how the divine Persons are associated,[12] without falling into the risk of diminution of their distinct individuality within a species (Prestige 255). Additionally, the doctrine of monarchy, along with the double procession of the Holy Spirit, as strengthening the idea of the divine unity, is laconically expressed by Gregory of Nyssa, who asserted that “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are recognized as ever with one another in a perfect trinity consequentially and conjunctively (ἂκολούθως καὶ συνημμένως)” (adv. Maced. 12. 252). The idea of the double procession (more on its specifity later) of the Holy Spirit took, thus, precedence in the early Eastern patristic tradition.


3.1 The statement of the problem

The issue of the double procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son acquired a new dimension with its official denunciation and branding as heresy by the Constantinople Patriarch, Photius (858-886 A.D.) (Alexopoulos 3-7). He alleged that the theological tradition of the Latin Fathers, Ambrosius and Augustine, had a significant impact on the propagation of the filioque doctrine among Westerners. This allegedly allowed the old heresies of Arianism, Sabbelianism and Macedonianism to creep in the Occidental theology (Alexopoulos 4). On the other side, the adherents of filioque stated that it was Photius who had broken the continuity of the tradition, since double procession was allegedly an integral part of the early Christian patristic tradition (Alexopoulos 28-30).

Photius’ main problem with the ‘ex Patre filioque’ (procession from the Father and the Son) was that it confused the essential particularities with hypostatic ones. Photius’ opponents invoked one of Basil the Great’s ideas—everything that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son. They used this in order to justify the entitlement of the Son, too, to partake in the procession of the Holy Spirit into divine existence (John Bekkos, De unione ecclesiarum, 52)[13]. The hypostatic particularities of ἀγεννησία /non-generation, γέννησις /generation and ἐκπόρευσις /procession were for the Patriarch Photius special features of the divine hypostases that preserved their distinctiveness. Ownership of the essential/substantial particularities of the godhead–eternity, divine power and energy, in other words everything belonging to each of the divine Persons – was ascribed to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit by reason of the homousion. Confusion occurred, according to Photius, when the dialectic between the principle of source/cause on the one side and the principle of caused on the other was delineated hierarchically, i.e. the Father causes the Son and the latter causes the Holy Spirit, instead of according to the principle of monarchy. For Photius this deviation from the monarchy (the solely cause) meant both the relegation of the Holy Spirit to the lowest rank and the introduction of two principles as the source in the Trinity. Consequently, to the Son were ascribed two properties: (1) Only-generation, and (2) causal agent of the procession of the Holy Spirit. This meant introducing a misbalance between the divine hypostases, because an unequal distribution of properties between divine hypostases resulted: two to the Father (non-generation, generation of the Son), two to the Son (Only-generation, cause for the procession of the Spirit) and to the Holy Spirit only one (procession), excluding for the latter the possibility to be a cause of something else within the divine essence (Myst. 8)[14]. According to Photius, this misbalance destroyed the equality and the unity of the three divine Persons (Myst. 7; 31)[15].  Yet, the filioque caused more serious backlash to the basic principles of Trinitarian doctrine developed by the Capadocians: the principle of incommutability (ἀμετάπτωτον), non association (ἀκοινώνητον) and incompatibility (ἀσύμβατον) of the hypostatic properties, because these alone preserved the distinction between the three divine hypostases[16] (Alexopoulos 138-139).

3.2 The juxtaposition of the δια του Υ ιού with the filioque

The traditions of the δια του Υιού and filioque,as they developed, displayed both similarities and differences. The similarities concerned the idea of a successive and organic participation of the hypostases with one another. Gregory of Nyssa’s idea that “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are recognized as ever with one another in a perfect trinity consequentially and conjunctively ( κολούθως καὶ συνημμένως )” (adv. Maced. 12. 252) provides one illustration of how the δια του Υ ιού was conceptualized in Orient. The divine hypostases follow each other ( κολούθως ) and are joined to each other (συνημμένως) by common substance and co-inherence. However, one must not drop out the idea of the monarchy (sole origin) of the Father when interpreting globally the δια του Υο ύ . The function of this idea within the Eastern Trinitarian doctrine was to safeguard the concept of the Trinity from abdication, something possible considering the monistic potential of the concepts of homousion and co-inherence. The idea of monarchy was a fundamental concept on which the idea of Trinity could be preserved against any tritheism or polytheism. The homousion was able to perform this function, but it was weak against unitarianism, as the history of Sabbelianism and Marcelianism had previously proved (Prestige 212). The homousion could accomplish the important task of excluding the Arianism by conceptualizing a perfect trinity consequentially and conjunctively. The tradition δια του Υιο ύ could be tentatively interpreted as an early equivalent of the later developed idea of co-inherence[17] (περιχώρησις). Accordingly, it is sensible to presuppose that the Western tradition of ‘filioque’, which began with Augustine, ignored or shelved the idea of monarchy (only one source in the godhead), making the tenet of Trinity extremely vulnerable. It is exactly at this point that the difference between two traditions becomes distinctly manifest. This rather impressionistic presupposition makes sense in view of Augustine’s own acknowledgement of one source in the godhead, which he, nevertheless, made useless by reason of the provision that the Son, too, causes the procession of the Holy Spirit. He stated:

Yet there is good reason why in this Trinity we call none Word of God but the Son, none gift of God but the Holy Spirit, none of whom the Word is begotten and from whom the Spirit originally proceeds, but God the Father.  I add the word ’originally’ (principaliter) because we learn that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son (XV. 29, LCC 158)

The fundamental idea running through this extract, as Gunton perspicaciously notices, is that Augustine realizes the very basic requirement for a doctrine of the Trinity, namely a conceptual distinction between Son and Spirit (53). In other words, he is intentionally moving on the stream of the Cappadocians rather than on that of the unitarianists or ditheists. Yet, there is an important issue here not to overlook, namely Patriarch Gregory Cyprius’ (1283–89) claim that it is a grave mistake to equate both terms- δια του Υιο ύ and ‘ex Patre filioque’, because the former bears on the everlasting manifestation of the Holy Spirit from the Father through the Son (an aspect of the theology of oikonomia), while the latter is applied to the eternal coming into being of the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit (an aspect of immanent theology) (Apologia, PG 142, 240D-241A). According to his interpretation “the ‘ex’ has a bearing on the existential origin both of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and therefore has to be associated with the Father as the sole source and cause of the godhead, whereas the ‘δια’ is linked to the eternal emission, epiphany and sending of the Holy Spirit and therefore should be associated with hypostasis of the Son” (Alexopoulos 187).

One must acknowledge that the Patriarch Photius himself never ascribed ill-intention to Ambrosius and Augustine concerning their idea regarding the double procession of the Holy Spirit. He held to the conviction that they were simply inaccurate (Alexopoulos 30). One may surmise that what Augustine presumably endeavored to express lexically by means of the filioque was either the idea of co-inherence (a theological concept against any peril of tritheism), a term unknown to him at the time, or the idea of a congruence between the immanent and economic theology (Alexopoulos 196-197). The consequences of this awkward wording, though, proved to be fateful both for the later theological developments in the West as well as for the unity of the Christian Church (Gunton 40-59). Patriarch Photius’ major accomplishments was that he both was in the vanguard of attempts to contain the serious theological and philosophical problems associated the filioque, and generated a counter-argument that carried the pretense of tenability.


 3.3 The controversy over the filioque

In apologetic terms, the study of the scope of the controversy over the filioque would be insufficient without mentioning the argument provided by the zealous Byzantine theologian, Konstatinos Melitiniotis, who sustained the filioque (Alexopoulos 47-201). He was an Oriental, highly educated by Byzantine standards, who never gave up, even at the cost of his own freedom and likely early death in the exile, the belief that it was the filioque that represented the Orthodoxy and not the theoretical grounds provided by the followers of the Patriarch Photius. Most importantly, he made his contemporary audience believe that the filioque was by no means an imported element from the West, but instead an organic constituent of the early Eastern Trinitarian tradition (Alexopoulos 48-49). Theoretically there are three pivots around which the controversy over the filioque revolved:

·     The struggle over the Fathers

·     The debates over the intermediation model of the Son

·     The contest of the interaction between immanent and economic theology

The issue of the struggle over the Fathers concerns a divergent interpretation of the early (IV-IX Centuries) patristic sayings with reference to the relations between divine hypostases both by the supporters of Patriarch Photius (Patriarch Gregory Cypriot) and his ideological opponents (Patriarch John Bekkos and Konstantinis Melitiniotis) (Alexopoulos 49-53). The most debatable Fathers were the following: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianz, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, Maxim the Confessor, John of Damascus, and Epiphanius of Cyprus (Alexopoulos 53-104). Any attempt at doing full justice to this massive discourse would run beyond the limits of space allotted here; therefore, this study will confine itself to Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianz as two of most debatable figures in the struggle over the Fathers.

Concerning Basil the Great, K. Melitiniotis alleged that his sayings were forged by the supporters of Photius. The forgery consisted in the omission of the verse “τό παρ΄ αὐτοῦ τό εἶναι ἔχον καὶ παρ΄ αὐτοῦ λαμβάνον καὶ ἀναγγέλλον ἡμῖν καὶ ὅλωϛ ἑκείνηϛ τῆϛ αἰτίαϛ ἐξημμένον ” (He [the Holy Spirit] owns His existence from Him [the Son], He takes from Him and annunciates ye, and to a maximum extent, althogether, from this cause is dependent) (Contra Eunomius, III, 1). This verse is, according to K. Melitiniotis, one of most important places in the works of Basil the Great, where the latter expresses the idea that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son (Alexopoulos 56). The Greek patrologists, Orphanos and Savvatos, claimed that this verse of Basil the Great is retrievable only in the manuscripts with the so-called ‘latinophrone’ interpolations of the XI Century and later but not in the ones of IX Century (Orphanos 251; Savvatos Χρήσις , 157-174, 162). According to K. Melitiniotis, Gregory of Nazianz is also alleged to be forged with relation to certain verses by the adherents of Photius. In this way, his most important saying is: “πάντα ὅσα ἔχει ὁ Πατήρ τοῦ Υἱοῦ ἐστι πλὴν τῆς αἰτίας” (everything possessed by the Father is in the possession of the Son too, except of the principle of cause) (Or. 34, 10). On Melitiniotis’s view, the adherents of Photius have substituted the words “πλὴν τῆς ἀγεννησίας” with “πλὴν τῆς αἰτίας” (Alexopoulos 61). In Melitiniotis’s hermeneutic terms, the texts from Gregory of Nazianz propound the idea that “the Son differs from the Father because He unlike the Father is generated (γ εννητός ) and not because he is not a causer (αἴτιος) like the Father” (Alexopoulos 61). Melitiniotis tried, thus, to divide two concepts that were actually linked for the Cappadocians, i.e. the concept of non generation (ἀγεννησία) from the concept of source (αἰτία). Accordingly, Gregory of Nyssa said that “τὸ μὲν τὴν ἀρχὴν μὴ ἔχειν ἀγεννήτως εἶναι λέγειν” (to declare with reference to a certain object that there is no source within it means in other words to say that it is not derivative) (Eun. II, 22-23). Here, the notion source purports to be equivalent with the notion cause, since the primordial principle is the beginning for all others. Yet, this is meant with relation to the Son and the Holy Spirit in terms of their eternal being, of a derivation without beginning within the divine essence, whereas with relation to creatures this derivation occurred in time and apart from the divine essence. Therefore, the divine hypostases are said to be uncreated, while everything other than them is created. The adherents of the filioque, however, made the effort in the XIV Century to reduce the concept of source/cause (αἰτία) to the property of the Father as the sole generator of the Son. In other words, the Father may be termed causer but as One who causes the Son and not the absolute One. These properties—the one ascribed to the Father as the One who causes, and the other to the Son as being caused—have allegedly to do only with their mutual relationship, and do not denote the relationship of the Father to the Holy Spirit either. Consequently, there is room for suppressing the idea that the Father should also be the only cause of the Holy Spirit. Putting it differently, the Father is not identified with the property of being an absolute causer within the Trinity, but only as a non-generated being, who, too, generates the Son (Alexopoulos 62-63). These ideas were repudiated by Neilos Kabasilas, who claimed that the concept of cause/source (αἰτία) should be understood in an absolute way and not as referring solely to the idea of generating (γεννᾶν) (Alexopoulos 63).

The debates over the intermediation model of the Son began with the idea advocated by the philo-filioque current, according to which it was necessary to conceptualize the way the Son and the Holy Spirit came into existence in such a manner as to avoid the mixture of the divine hypostases. This mixture would have occured, if the distinction of the Son from the Holy Spirit had not been clarified by making a difference between their causal agent. If the Father were the only cause for both of them, his indistinctiveness with relation to the caused Persons would imply, according to the opponents of Photius, that the Son and the Holy Spirit were brothers (Alexopoulos 108-111). The intermediation model of the Son had allegedly the task of preserving the distinctiveness between hypostases in terms of underlining the fact that the Son was immediately generated from the Father, while the Holy Spirit acquired his existence through the intermediation of the Son. It becomes evident that the philo-filioque current conceptualized the hypostases in terms of relations (non-generation/causing, generation/caused, procession/caused) and not relations that became ontological (non-generation/as distinct mode of existence, generation/as distinct mode of existence, procession/as distinct mode of existence). The difference between both understandings of relation would be at the point where the latter secure the difference on the ground of the very properties, while the former require a regulative principle that will secure the difference. In other words, if the properties of the Son as ‘to be generated’ and of the Holy Spirit as ‘to be proceeded’ were to be taken as features that characterize the mode of existence of the Son and the holy Spirit and not simply as features that indicate their causal origin, i.e. that both take their existence from someone else, then “the idea of the Son to be immediately and of the Spirit intermediately caused would be entirely superfluous” (Alexopoulos 109).  

Finally, the contest of the interaction between immanent and economic theology may be perceived as the most subtle divergence that the filioque problematic unfolded. The basic issue behind this contest is whether someone could make inferences about inner Trinitarian life from the facts acquired in the divine revelation. The opponents of the filioque argued that such inferences were impossible, while the other side, since Augustine[18], promoted such inferences (Alexopoulos 131). The debates over this difficult issue were essentially linked with the name of Gregory Palamas and Neil Kabasilas. Gregory Palamas identified within this inference of immanent theology from the oikonomia two dangers[19]: 1) one of dyarchia and 2) one of relegation of the Holy Spirit to a subordinated being with reference to the Father and the Son (Alexopoulos 134-136). The essence of these two dangers was discussed above (by Photius); the counterargument of the philo-filioque stream on the necessity of the above-mentioned inferences was as equally serious. They called attention to the problem that in case these kinds of inferences were not vindicated, then why would God have to reveal Himself, provided that this revelation does not represent Him as He really is (Prestige XXVII). Trying to elucidate the intricacies of this problem necessarily implies the transition to the third and last point of this research, i.e. the debates over the essence-energy distinction.

4. Essence-Energy Distinction

The era of Gregory of Palamas inherited the controversy over the filioque from the previous generations of theologians. There was, though, one very important item which was brought to an outstanding position by the previous debates, namely the issue of whether it was orthodox to divide the Ousia from hypostasis, which allegedly happened when someone explained the way the Father generated the Son and proceeded the Holy Spirit only by reason of His hypostasis and not by virtue of his divine Ousia (Alexopoulos 142-165). The confusion behind this issue was huge and not easy to dissipate, because, by saying the Holy Spirit came into being only from the Ousia of the Father, someone could imply the abrogation of the homousion, since the Son, too, partakes in the divine Ousia. Alternatively, to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds solely from the hypostasis of the Father as opposed to the common Ousia, provided that the divine hypostases are distinct, could imply, however, the impermissible rationale of tritheism, because, for the early theologians hypostasis could not exist apart from the Ousia and vice versa. The Patriarch Gregory the Cyprius conceptualized the way the Holy Spirit is to be associated with the Father and the Son by using two terms: to have the existence (ὕπαρξιν ἔχει) and to exist (ὑπάρχει) (Alexopoulos 192-193). The first term conveys the idea that ‘the Holy Spirit has his existence solely from the Father (the item of origin), while the second term advances the idea that the Holy Spirit, too, exists from the Son, as the latter makes the Spirit to emanate, appear and to come into the world; the Holy Spirit rests in the Son and is permanently founded in him by virtue of their common essence and co-inherence’ (De processione Spir. Sancti, PG 142, 275C). Yet, was this emanation of the Holy Spirit his own hypostasis or the grace of God? For the followers of Photius, i.e., Gregory the Cyprius and Gregory Palamas it was the common grace of God that was bestowed on human beings and not the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit as Konstantinis Melitiniotis, the Patriarch John Bekkos, George Metochitis, and others claimed (Alexopoulos 182-185). The argumentation provided by the opponents of the filioque was developed on the ground of differentiation between the divine essence and divine actions.

4.1 The statement of the problem

The differentiation between divine essence and divine actions implied a contentious axiom, namely the idea that in communicating with God there should be a difference between the imparticipable (ἀμεθεκτὸν) and participable existence (μεθεκτὸν) (Savvatos, θεολογική, 80). The need to differentiate between the imparticipable and participable existence in God is conditioned by the serious problems that occur when such differentiation does not transpire. The Patriarch, Gregory the Cyprius, expressed these problems when posing the following questions:

And how can the gift be co-essential with the one who makes this gift? How can the gift be equated with him who makes this gift in terms of nature? How can the energy have the same rationale with the essence, whose action the energy is? And how can something have its autonomy (αὐθυπόστατον) when it is energy? Since the definition of the energy does not permit such a use… Moreover, if the Ousia of the Paraklet, which is present in His own ὑπόστασις , is the very gift and energy, whereas we are the participators of the gift that is offered to us, then it results that we have a part in the very divine essence?! What an inadequate teaching, if compared with the words of the one who said that our participation in/with God is solely the participation in His energies and spiritual gifts (De processione Spir. Sancti, PG 142, 289D-290A)[20]

Gregory the Cyprius refers here to the Corpus Areopagiticum, where the emphasis is on both the radical transcendence of God in terms of his essence and hypostases, and the acknowledgment that the communion with Him is nevertheless possible on the level of his energies (Alexopoulos 183). The idea of participation in the divine essence and hypostases was, according to Alexopoulos, later branded as a slip into pantheism[21] by Gregory Palamas (Alexopoulos 185). Additionaly, this dependence of the adherents of the essence-energy distinction on the Corpus Areopagiticum led to new accusations of Neo-Platonist influence that set the late byzantine theological thought apart from the true sense of the Scripture (Flogaus, 1997). Alexander Golitzin[22] remarks that the relationship between Gregory Palamas and the author of the Corpus Areopagiticumtakes the Gestaltof the three visions in the modern theological discussions:

·  Palamas, as a faithful disciple of the Areopagitica(Podskalsky, 1969; Schutze, 1975; Williams, 1977; Nadal, 1997).

·  Palamas, as a “distorter of Dionysius’ delicate adjustment of pagan discourse to Christian revelation in order to arrive at the lamentable and hitherto unheard of distinction between the divine essence and energies” (von Ivanka, 1964).

·  And Palamas, as “Christological corrector” to the Areopagitica,whereby “it is Dionysius who is the anomaly, a ‘lonely meteorite’ in the night sky of patristic thought” (Vanneste, 1963; Meyendorff 187-202; Ritter 565-579)

The fundamental question that arises from these debates is whether this distinction between the essence-energy propounded by Palamas finds support in the early patristic tradition.

Those who stumbled on the Areopagiticaconfronted the salient presence of Iamblichus of Chalcis’s thought and, above all, the thought of Proclus Diadochus, where it comes as no surprise that already “Martin Luther has dismissed its author as plus platonizans quam christianizans” (Koch 438-454). However, the “fundamental faithulness of the Areopagitica to prior currents of patristic thought and its consequent influence, if not dominance, on Maximus Confessor, Symeon New Theologian, Nicetas Stethatos, and Gregory Palamas” has been argued by a few scholars, notably Vladimir Lossky, Fr. John Romanides, and Andrew Louth[23]. This issue brought forward an item introduced earlier in this paper, the characterization of the post Nicene period as an era of competition for intellectual supremacy over the Christian communities between certain Hellenistic conceptions. The necessity of recurring to the philosophical discourse of the early Fathers has already been discussed. To give an adequate answer concerning the issue of why some philosophical terms and concepts have been preferred to others would exceed the scope of this research. Still, it is relevant to point out the terminological genealogy of the essence-energy distinction: Where and when did this distinction appear? How did the initiators of this distinction argue for the claim that this thought had a continuity as much within the global message of the Scripture as within the whole early patristic tradition?

4.2 The continuity of the essence-energy distinction within the patristic thought

George Florovsky notes that the doctrine of the Divine “energies” was elaborated and formulated at the Councils of Constantinople in the fourteenth century (1341, 1347, 1351, 1352)[24]. Though this distinction goes back to the time of Athanasius the Great, who said that God is present in all things by His power and goodness, but remains apart from everything in His own proper nature, “ ἒξωδὲτῶνπάντων --- κατάτὴνἲδιανφὺσιν” (de decr. 2). Noteworthy, the Cappadocians and, later, John the Damascene, along with Maximus the Confessor, too spoke to this distinction. For instance, Basil the Great stated that “solely the Divine energies, the active forces of the Divine goodness, are manifested and operate within the world; and it is only these energies that are comprehensible and accessible to us in our relations with Him[25]” ( Ep. 234, 1 (III, 370, 24 – 372, 30)). Even more explicit, Gregory the Nyssa claimed that “the divine nature is completely incomprehensible and unapproachable, so that someone may cognize it only through its energies[26]” (in Cant. cant. II, M.G. xlix, 1013 B). As for John the Damascene, he, too, shares this distinction between energy and essence in God by stating the idea that we know only the Divine actions—“something which follows on the Divine nature[27]”(de fide orth . I; 9). The important issue, however, is the question as to whether the divine energy has the capacity of communicating to humans the entirety of God. George Florovsky asserts that the early Fathers, mentioned above, although making the distinction between divine energies and divine nature, never divided them. Yet, how would this “indivisibility of the divine nature and divine grace in the unity of the divine being” (Florovsky X) not damage the concept of God as a simple existence? How can the most successful Byzantine exponent of Orthodoxy—Gregory Palamas—along with the succeeding theologians circumvent the charge of introducing polytheism[28]? The branding of the essence-energy distinction in the West as a resurrection of polytheism introduces the crossover with the last issue of this research: the reception of the essence-energy distinction in the West.


4.3 The reception of Palamas’ Trinitarian model in West

One of the most recent and fundamental works on palamite theological thought in the West is the doctoral dissertation, “Theosis bei Palamas und Luther”, by Reinhard Flogaus (1997). Alexander (Golitzin), an Orthodox theologian in Oxford, evaluates the work of Flogaus as an important contribution to the recent understanding of Palamas’ thought in the West[29]. On what merits does Flogaus credit Palamas as being an impeccable source for modern Orthodox theology? There are two explanations:

·  His theology shows the real reason for the θε ώσις teaching.

·  His theology explicitly differentiates between “theology” and “economy”, whereby the acting of the Holy Spirit is not dependent on His ‘processio’ from Father and Son (Flogaus 54)

The modern classical opposition between Western and Eastern traditions is, according to Flogaus, not the cause of the dispute between Palamas and Barlaam but its result. The so-called Palamite controversy was, according to Flogaus, an inner byzantine theological contention (Flogaus 60-62). At stake in this dispute was the negation/assertion of the possibility of a synthesis between faith and rational-argumentative thinking (Flogaus 62). This inner byzantine contention between two tendencies—negation/assertion of such a synthesis—brought, with the victory of the Palamite tradition, the establishment of mystic-traditional theology.

To appropriately understand the reception of Palamas’ Trinitarian model in the West, it is indispensable to draw attention to the abnegation of a continuity of Palamite theological thought within the Eastern tradition on the part of Western theologians (Flogaus 417). Notably, western theologians state that the Palamite doctrinal heritage has received a new interpretation with the modern Orthodox theologians since both Meyendorff’s classical work on Gregory Palamas and V. Lossky’s tractates on Eastern dogmatic theology. What is then the difference between original Palamite thought and its modern reception within Orthodox theological circles, according to the western theological tradition? The main problem the West has with this modern Orthodox reception of Palamas’ thought consists of one difficulty: modern Orthodox theologians state that Palamas’ denotation of the energy as ‘enhypostatic’ is equal to the characterization of the energy as a ‘personal act’ (Flogaus 227). The modern Orthodox theologians, Meyendorff, Lossky, Florovsky, Staniloae, Clèment and Yannaras have allegedly ascribed to Palamas the idea of encountering the three divine Persons in the theosis, while for Palamas, according to Flogaus, the energies are distinct from the hypostasis and therefore not to be put together (Flogaus 222). Still, it is very important not to identify the notion ‘person’ with the one of ‘hypostasis’, because both have different semantic content. The former notion has a bearing on the theology of economy whereby God is conceptualized as three distinct Persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, while the latter notion relates to the immanent theology where it is crucial to accentuate the ontological character of the three in One (Flogaus 224). For Westerners the basic problem with the essence-energy distinction is reduced to its alleged weakness to secure the particular role of each divine Person in the economy of salvation: the Father to receive the sacrifice of His incarnated Son for the sake of humankind, the Son to sacrifice Himself, and the Holy Spirit to sanctify the believers. This weakness is altogether obvious in Palamas’ preference to allegedly accentuate the idea that the theosis/divinization was, long before the Incarnation happened, possible by reason of the creation, moving thus from the major patristic understanding[30] of the theosis as healing the human nature from dilapidation, to Maximus the Confessor’s understanding of theosis as a given task from the very creation of humanity to become gods (Flogaus 232-234).  This fact compels Flogaus to doubt that the idea of the Trinity was, in contrast to the early Fathers, at work in the theology of Palamas, since whatever an individual could encounter before the Incarnation was only the energetic being of God (Flogaus 220-225). In failing to articulate the fundamental feature of the Trinitarian dogma, the idea of triple manifestation, Palamas has, according to Flogaus, moved away from the early patristic tradition (Flogaus 234). Even so, it would be an overstatement to claim that the Western reception of Palamite theological thought is definitively formed. Flogaus, for instance, acknowledges that the issue is very complex and far from being solved. He admits that one of the Cappadocian Fathers, namely Basil the Great, never taught the idea of participation in the divine essence, because for him participation in God was possible only on the level of the divine energies[31]. He also asserts that in Palamas’ homilies there is an obvious emphasis on the indispensability of the Incarnation for human salvation and the quality of theosis (Flogaus 234-238).

In summary, the Western reading of Palamas’ Trinitarian thought with relation to the essence-energy distinction is recast to the disadvantage of the Palamite tradition. However, the endeavor to argue for a deficiency of continuity within Palamite Trinitarian thought is definitely a hopeless quest, because this deficiency should be then assigned as well to the Cappadocians, who shared the idea that one can participate in God’s energies but not in His essence. Moreover, it is an erroneous statement to say that Gregory Palamas has relativized the importance of the Incarnation, because in his homiletic works he exerted the utmost mental effort in seeking to ground the significance of the Incarnation in detail.


5. Conclusion

Indeed, a body of evidences emerged suggesting that the division between Eastern and Western Christianity is a result of gradual Trinitarian differentiation. This one has both a chronological and conceptual framework. The beginning of the chronological framework is to be dated at the time of Augustine, who inaugurated the beginning of the conceptual differentiation between both sides because of his definitive influence on the posterior Trinitarian doctrine in the West. Augustine, himself, acknowledged the legitimacy for such differentiation because, for him, all the concepts and metaphors were merely distant analogies to the true life of the godhead in three Persons. Yet, this proved to be as fateful for the subsequent relationship between Westerners and Orientals. The debates over the essence-energy distinction, along with their consequences for the reinforcement of the further division between Westerners and Orientals, became a standing paradigm of the fatefulness of previous awkward expressions and metaphors adduced to explain the Christian creed. The question of whether the Trinitarian differentiation represents a serious impediment for the reconciliation of the Western and Eastern Churches could be answered with both yes and no, because of the very nature of this differentiation as theological. It has become increasingly difficult to reconcile both Churches because the resulted theological truths informed individual’s lifestyles, social practices, and even state policies for many centuries. It seems that the necessary support to repair the hiatus emerged in history should come from the Christian values. The spotlight remains on the Christian values because both Churches claim to embody them. Yet, it is the theological truths that exert the most important and enduring effect on the Christian values, so that these to be taken seriously by each individual, society and state. This concurrence of faith and value instills the vision that the rapprochement in the issue of Christian values might transfuse new light to the discussions about much more important and difficult issues of doctrines. Yet, having considered the Trinitarian differentiation between Westerners and Orientals learned-men should wonder whether this doctrinal differentiation has repercussions for the unanimity of understanding Christian values as well.


6. Reference list

Patristic sources:

1. Athanasius of Alexandria. Contra Arianos. (PG 25-28). Edition Ben

            –––. ad Afros   4; 8, Letter to the Bishops of Africa [authorship has been questioned

                    cf. Gwynn, p. 15,   note 12]. (CPG 2133)

    –––. epist. 4 ad Serap. Episcopus Thmuitanum , (CPG 2125)

2. Augustine. De Trinitate. (CCSL 50 u. 50A)

3. Basil of Caesarea. De spiritu sancto. (SC 17b)

            –––. adversus Eunomius. (I: SC 299; II and II: SC 305)

4. Cyril of Alexandria. De adoratione et cultu in spiritu et veritate (PG 68,, 133-1125)

            –––. Thesaurus de sancta trinitate. (PG 75, 33)

5. Dionysius of Rome. Ap. Ath. De Decret. 26

6. Epiphanius of Cyprus. Ancoratus, Dindorf (Leipzig, 1859-62), 5

        7. Gregory of Nyssa. Adv. Ar. et Sab. (PG 31. 609)

    –––. adversus Machedonianos. GNO III, 1 (Opera Dogmatica Minora), ed. F. Mueller,

    Leiden, 1958

    –––. in Canticum Canticorum. GNO VI. ed. H. Langerbeck. Leiden, 1960

        8. Gregory Cyprius. Apologia pro tomo suo suspect. (PG 142, 251-267)

    –––. de processione Spir. Sancti. (PG 142, 269-300)

9. Gregory of Nazian.z Orationes XLV (PG 35. 36). Ed. C. Moreschini./ P. Gallay [SC 358].

    Paris. 1990

10. Jerome, the Roman Presbyter. Epistolae 15. (PL 22-30, 325-1024). Ed. D. Vallarsi

11. John Damascene. De orthodoxa Fidei . (PTS 12)

12. John Bekkos. De unione ecclesiarum. 49 (PG 141, 120C.D)

13. Maximus Confessor. Ad Thalassium. (PG 90, 244-785; CChr.SG 7.22). Edd. Laga C.,

      Steel C. Turnhout, 1980. Leuven, 1990.

14. Photius. Liber de Spiritus sancti mystagogia. (PG 102, 263-391)

        15. Pseudo-Athanasius. Expositio Fidei  1; 2; 4 (PG 25)


Modern authors and secondary bibliography :

1. Alexopoulos, Theodoros, Der Ausgang des thearchischen Geistes [The Procession of the Holy Spirit ]. Göttingen, 2009.

2. Collins, P. M. Trinitarian Theology: West and East. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

3. Encyclopædia Britannica . 1971. Vol. 6

4. Flogaus, Reinhard, Theosis bei Palamas und Luther [Theosis According to Palamas and Luther]. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997.

5. Gunton,Colin, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology. 2nd ed. Norfolk:  T & T Clark International, 2006.

6. Kasper, Walter, Der persönliche Gott [The Personal God]. 1. Aufl., Leipzig: Sankt-Benno-Verlag, 1983

7. Koch, H., “Proklus als Quelle des Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita in der Lehre vom Bösen.” [Prockl As Source of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s Doctrine of Evil]. Philologus 54 (1895): 438-454

8. McKenna, Stephen, ‘Introduction’ to Saint Augustine: The Trinity. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1963

9. Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas , London: Faith Press, 1964

10. Nadal, “Denys l'Aréopagite dans les traités de Grégoire Akindynos [Dionysius the Areopagite in the Treatises of Gregory Akindynus].” Denys l'Aréopagite et sa postérité en Orient et en Occident. Ed. Y. de Andia. Paris. 1997. 535-563.

11. O 'Donnell, John J., The Mystery of the Triune God. London: Sheed and Ward, 1988

12. Orphanos, M. A., Κωνσταντίνου Μελιτηνιώτου Λόγοι αντιρρητικοί [The Polemic Letters of Constantine Melitiniotis] Athens. 1986

13. Podskalsky, “Gottesschau und Inkarnation. Zur Bedeutung der Heilsgeschichte bei Gregorios Palamas.” [Divine Contemplation and Incarnation. The Significance of the Economy of Salvation by Gregory Palamas]. Orientalia Christiana Periodica 35 (1969): 5-44

14. Prestige, George L., God in Patristic Thought. London: SPCK, 1959

15. Rahner, K., The Trinity. London: Burns and Oates, 1970

16. Ritter, A. M., “Gregor Palamas als Leser des Dionysius Pseudo-Areopagita.” [Gregory Palamas as Reader of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite]. Denys l'Aréopagite et sa postérité.Ed. Y. de Andia. Paris. 1997. 565-579

17. Savvatos, Chr., “ Χρήσις και παράχρησις χωρίων του μεγ. Βασιλείου εις τας συζητήσεις περί filioque .” [The Use and the Abuse of the Extracts from Basil the Great in View of the Debates About Filioque]. ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΑ 67 (1996): 157-174

18. Savvatos, Chr., Η θεολογική ορολογία και προβληματική της πνευματολογίας Γρηγορίου Β’ του Κυπρίου [The Theological Terminology and the Issues of Pneumatology as Interpreted by Gregory II of Cyprus]. Κατερίνη. 1997.

19. Schaff, Philip, ed., rev. by David S. Schaff, The History of the Creeds. The Creeds of Christendom: With a History and Critical Notes.1 vol. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983.

20. Schutze, B., “Grundfragen des theologischen Palamismus.” [The Fundamental Questions Concerning the Theology of Palamismus]. Ostkirchliche Studien 24 (1975): 105-135

21. Vanneste, J., Le mystère de Dieu [The Mystery of God]. Bruges. 1959.

22. Von Ivanka, E., Plato Christianus [The Plato-Christians]. Einsiedeln. 1964.

23.Williams, R. D., “The Philosophical Structures of Palamism.” Eastern Churches Review 9 (1977): 27-44.

24. Zizioulas, John D., Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985.


List of Abreviations:

SC Sources Chrétiennes, Paris

CCSL Corpus Christianorum Seria Latina, Turnhout

GNO Gregorii Niceni Opera

PTS Patristische Texte und Studien

CChr.SG Corpus Christianorum Seria Graeca

CPG Clavis Patrum Graecorum


[1]        ‘Go therefore and disciple all thenations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (Matt 28: 19; 2 Cor. 13: 14).

[7]         See also, Paradoxical Questions concerning the morals & actions of Athanasius & his followers,


[8]       Also, Theological articles of Fr. George Florovsky, Article V-VI–The Idea of Creation in the Christian Philosophy

[9]       Importantly, to bear in mind here is the distinction between the Unitarian doctrine of Paul of Samosata and the Sabelianism. The former believed that “God was simple and unitary, so that the Logos was a permanent and impersonal attribute of God and not a transient phase of the divine Person, as the Sabellians taught. For the latter, Christ in Himself was both Father and Son to Himself” (Prestige 205).Yet, ultimately both streams are termed as Unitarian, because of their abnegation of a united and equal Trinity.

3         “who being the effulgence of his glory and the expression of his ὑπόστασις“

[10]        Synodical Letter apud Theod. Hist. Eccl . 2.8

4         ‘Dictum est tamen tres personae non ut illud diceretur’ (de Trin. V. 10).


[6]        Gunton’s point here is that there is no Ousia but the Ousia of Father, Ousia of the Son, and Ousia of the Holy Spirit, which is qualitatively one divinity, but it is to be understood as a distinct threefoldness.


5        See more in (de Trin. XIV.11ff; XV.5; XV. 20),in the former he introduces the most difficult part of metaphor: the celebrated triad, memory, understanding and will.

[8]       Expositio rect. Fidei 3. Journal of Theological Studies XLVII (1946):185-186;57-58


[9]       De Sacrosancta Trin. 8, PG 77, 1137 B


[10]       Contra Eunomius 3. 6. 63, vulgo 8, PG 45. 793 A


[11]      “On St. John 2. 10, 75, 76“.  The Commentary of Origen on Saint John’ s Gospel: The Text Revised  With a Critical Introduction and Indices. Ed. Brooke, A. E.. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009

[12]        Association is a wording used by me here to denote the patristic idea of a relation resulting from interaction or dependence.

[13]     PG 141, 124A. Noteworthy, Xexakes established a new outlook on Basil the Great’s text given in Migne and cited here, after the critical edition of his text created by Sesboué. Xexakes, too, argued that the given idea was inadvertently put in the context of Theologia/immanent theology, while in Basil’ argument it had the function of presenting an argument in the context of Oikonomia (Alexopoulos 130).


[14]       PG 289A


[15]       PG 102 288B.C; 317C-318A

[16]     Alexopoulos notices that „der Versuch, das Vatersein als grundlegende Eigenschaft der väterlichen Hypostase aufzuzeigen, ist nicht zufällig, sondern erklärt sich im Rahmen einer allgemeinen Tendenz auf Seiten der Filioquisten, die Namen der göttlichen Hypostasen und nicht deren Existenzweisen als Basis für die Unterscheidungen in der Trinität im eigentlichen Sinne die Namen des Vaters, des Sohnes und des Geistes selbst sind“ (Alexopoulos 167)


[17]     In fact, the term ‘περιχώρησις’ has another, besides co-inherence, accepted equivalent in English, namely circumincession. See, Kattan, A. E., The Christological Dimension of Maximus Confessor’s Biblical Hermeneutics in: Studia Patristica, XLII (2006): 172. The term ‘co-inherence’ seems more visual than the term ‘circumincession’, because of its having a wide range of associations for modern English readers, as Prestige (282) has shown.

[18]        De Trinitate V, XIII, 14, 12-15; XIV, 15, 30-37 (CChr 50, 221 Mountain/Glorie)


[19]        Here Gregory Palamas proffers basically Photius’ argumentation.

[20]        My translation—P.C.

[21]      George Florovsky explains this accordingly, ‘the ultimate purpose of the Palamite distinction between the “essence” and “energy” in God was exactly to safeguard the Divine freedom and aseity. Denial of this difference seems to imply that the whole “economy” of God is but His “natural” act, i.e. to say “necessary,” or constitutive of His own being, as it were, imposed upon Him. The difference between “generation” and “creation” would be then obscured, the one and the other being equally acts of the essence or nature. Again, the difference between the οὐσία and the θέλησις of God would be obscured also. There would be no clear distinction between the Divine Prescience and the actual Creation: would not the actual creation itself become eternal or sempiternal? Briefly, the Freedom of God will be dangerously compromised (Capita,96 ss., c. 1181 ff.; cap. 135, c. 1216; cf. also Mark of Ephesus, Capita syllog.13 ss., ed. W. Casz, Die Mystik des Nicolas Cabasilas,Greiszwald, 1849, Appendix II, s. 217 ff.; St. Gregory Palamas refers himself to the authority of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Thesaur.ass. 18, M.G. lxxv, 313; τὸ μὲν ποιεῖν ἐνέργειας ἓστιν, φὺσεως δὲ τὸ γεννᾶν, φὺσις δὲ καὶ ἐνέργεια οὕ ταυτόν ). The only means to escape or to avoid these dangerous implications and consequences was precisely to draw a clear distinction between the “nature” or “essence” and the “energy’. Theological articles of Fr. George Florovsky, Article X–The Idea of Creation in the Christian Philosophy (Accessed on the 01.01.2011)

[22]     Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin)—‘Dionysius Areopagites in the Works of St Gregory Palamas: On the Question of a “Christological Corrective” and Related Matters’ (Accessed on the 01.01.2011)

[23]        Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin)—‘Dionysius Areopagites in the Works of St Gregory Palamas: On the Question of a “Christological Corrective” and Related Matters’ (Accessed on the 01.01.2011)


[24]    Theological articles of Fr. George Florovsky, Article X—The Idea of Creation in the Christian Philosophy (Accessed on the 01.01.2011)

[25]        δυνάμεως γὰρ, καὶσοφὶας, καὶ τέχνυς, οὕχι δὲ τῆς οὑσὶας αυτῆς ἐνδεικτικὰ ἓστιν ποιὴματα


[26]        τὴν θεῖαν φὺσιν ἀκατάληπτον οὕσαν παντελῶς καὶ ἀνεὶκαστον, διὰ μόνης ἐνέργειας γινὼσκεσθαι


[27]        τὶ τῶν παρεποῦμενων τῇ φὺσει,


[28]      ‘Palamas taught that by asceticism one could attain a corporal, i.e. a sense view, or perception, of the Divinity. He also held that in God there was a real distinction between the Divine Essence and Its attributes, and he identified grace as one of the Divine propria making it something uncreated and infinite. These monstrous errors were denounced by the Calabrian Barlaam, by Nicephorus Gregoras, and by Acthyndinus. The conflict began in 1338 and ended only in 1368, with the solemn canonization of Palamas and the official recognition of his heresies. He was declared the "holy doctor" and "one of the greatest among the Fathers of the Church", and his writings were proclaimed "the infallible guide of the Christian Faith". Thirty years of incessant controversy and discordant councils ended with a resurrection of polytheism’. Catholic Encyclopedia New Advent

[29]        Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin)—‘Dionysius Areopagites in the Works of St Gregory Palamas: On the Question of a “Christological Corrective” and Related Matters’

[30]        Here are meant Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius the Great, and Augustine.


[31]        Basil the Great, Ep. 234, 1 (III, 370, 24 – 372, 30)

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