‘You Shall See My Back, But My Face Shall Not Be Seen’: The Energy-Essence Distinction

The Great Schism is the source of the ecumenical rift between the Eastern and the Western tradition. The East, largely understood as monastics/ascetics relying on the Cappadocians, and the West, largely understood as scholastics with the later Latin tradition, disagree on various points. One, which has drifted from the centrality of the distinction, is the teaching of the Eastern traditions Energy-Essence Distinction. Here, Gregory of Palamas, and other Cappadocian Fathers, distinguish the essence of God, that which he is in His very nature as unknowable, and the energies, the uncreated light in creation showing God as he is via his works and attributes.
This paper will seek to assess the Energy-Essence distinction from a Western Thomistic Metaphysical perspective. First, a history of the term energia will take place, from both a robustly philosophical perspective and a theological-historic perspective. This section demonstrates the Aristotelian origin of the term and the other Cappadocian usage. Second, the teaching in question will be brought into question regarding the doctrine of simplicity. The consistency of the distinction regarding simplicity is the core concern of those in the West. Third, the distinction of energy-essence is brought into consideration of a concern of human participation in the divine life. Finally, the concepts presented by Palamas are brought into comparison with various theological precepts used by the Western Thomistic metaphysic.