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Aspects of patristic cosmology.

GIVEN THE WEALTH of cosmological and metaphysical insights emanating from classical Hellenic philosophy, notably with the PreSocratics, Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists, it was inevitable (and, one might add, providential) that the early Christian theologians (known generically in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions as the Church Fathers), working to a large extent within the intellectual ambit of Hellenism, would employ aspects of that philosophical legacy in their exposition of Christian doctrine. This conceptual appropriation was further necessitated by the relative lack of cosmological content in the Christian scriptures, with the notable exception of the first chapter of Genesis.

The most fundamental distinction in Patristic cosmology is that between the uncreated (Greek aktistou), which refers to God alone, and the created (Greek ktistou). In its turn the created universe consists of spiritual and material spheres, the former including the heavenly beings usually called angels. A major implication of the distinction between the uncreated and the created is that the human being, who is created, cannot by nature know God, the uncreated. (1) In the patristic understanding, God is the only source of the entire created order: visible and invisible, intelligible and sensible, rational and irrational, and formed and formless. Thus all things to a greater or lesser extent reflect an aspect of the Godhead. (2) I will proceed to sketch salient aspects of the patristic cosmology in both the Greek and Latin traditions.

Creation from Nothing

An axiomatic concept in Christian theology is the doctrine of God's creation from nothing (Latin creatio ex nihilo), although this is not explicitly taught in the Judaic and Christian scriptures. Instead, in the Genesis account God is depicted as commanding chaos to develop into order. (3) However, the Platonist teaching that God creates the world "out of formless matter" (ex amorphou hyles) is echoed in the apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon (II : 17). The first scriptural intimation concerning creation out of nothing is found in the apocryphal book Second Maccabees (7:28), as interpreted by Origen in his Commentary on John. Referring to the heaven and the earth and all things therein, the text affirms that God made them "from nonexistent things"--(ex ouk onton). (4) According to the Hebrew scriptures, nothing can exist "before" creation or "outside" God, for time and space are presupposed by the creation. This implies that before creation or outside God there is only the nothingness out of which he creates. (5)

The New Testament is relatively silent on cosmology, except to declare that Christ is the Logos through whom God creates and sustains the cosmos (e.g., John 1:3, 10; Colossians 1:16-17). Paul does mention in his Letter to the Romans (4:17) that God "calls into existence the things that do not exist" (kalountos ta me onta os onta). Here the Apostle to the Gentiles indicates that the cause of the world is outside the world, with only the will of God making the world's being possible. (6) Or, stated in ontological terms, creation entails a movement from non-being to being.

Among the second-century Christian thinkers known as the Apologists, the Platonist notion that God creates out of formless matter was held by Justin Martyr. He found scriptural support for this in Genesis 1:1-2, in a reading that conforms to the Septuagint text. (7) Justin's younger contemporary Theophilus of Antioch moved closer to an affirmation of creatio ex nihilo. He taught that God made all things out of nothing and rejected the notion of uncreated, preexistent matter as in Hellenic philosophy. Instead, God first created (formless) matter and then fashioned the world from it. (8) Similarly, in the Latin tradition both Tatian and Augustine subscribed to the notion of pre-existent matter, which was itself created by God. (9)

Towards the end of the second century, Clement of Alexandria argued that according to both Genesis and Plato's dialogue Timaeus God creates the world out of formless matter, which is initially in a state of relative non-being (me on) until God grants being to it. (10) A fully-fledged doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is first encountered with Irenaeus of Lyons, who developed it to counter two Hellenic cosmogonies that were popular in his time, namely that uncreated matter forms the substance of the creative process, and that creation comes to be through a process of emanations from the Divinity. (11) In contrast, Irenaeus asserted that God creates the substance of matter, the process of which is not explained in Scripture. (12) During the third century Origen of Alexandria taught that God creates the world not out of relative non-being, or me on, but out of absolute non-being, or ouk on. (13) Matter is therefore not uncreated or coeternal with God. (14)

The fourth-century Greek theologian Athanasius of Alexandria rejected the Platonist teaching that God made all things out of preexistent matter. Athanasius argued that to deny God being the cause of matter is to impute limitation to him, for God cannot be called Maker and Artificer if his ability depends on another cause, namely matter. The Alexandrian then asserts that God made the cosmos not out of existing matter, but out of nothing through his Word. (15) In his authoritative eighth-century compendium of Greek patristic doctrine, John of Damascus affirmed the doctrine of creation from nothing. He argued that since God is supremely good, he could not find satisfaction in self-contemplation (as is the case with Aristotle's Prime Mover), but wished things to exist so that they may share in his goodness. Thus, "He brought all things out of nothing into being and created them, both what is invisible and what is visible.Yea, even man, who is a compound of the visible and the invisible." (16)

Working at the Carolingian court in the ninth century, John Scottus Eriugena provided an extended discussion of the "nothing" (nihil) out of which God creates. (17) The Irish thinker contends that the nihil indicates the supra-essential nature of God, which transcends both being and non-being. He agrees with Dionysius the Areopagite that God is a personal pre-being (ante on), while he is also the source of all being. (18) Thus in the Patristic understanding the nihil signifies the "hyper-ontological beyond-ness" (hyperousia), which is beyond all categories and therefore no-thing, or nihil. (19) In other words, the nothingness out of which God creates is none other than the depths of the Divinity itself, and not something outside God.

Ultimately the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo affirms that the created order possesses no ontological integrity in its own right, but exists solely by the grace of God. (20) The nineteenth-century Russian theologian Metropolitan Philaret poetically depicted the creaturely nothingness relative to God: "The creative word is like an adamantine bridge upon which creatures are placed, and they stand under the abyss of the Divine Infinitude, over the abyss of their own nothingness." (21) Or, stated in Greek patristic terms, creation exists due to the uncreated energies of God.

Intelligible and Sensible Worlds

Some of the patristic theologians were so convinced regarding the truth of the Platonist differentiation between the eternal realm of ideas (or forms) and the ephemeral world of phenomena, that they ascribed it to divine revelation. Thus the early Church historian Eusebius suggested that Plato followed the Hebrew prophets regarding incorporeal things seen only by the mind, "whether it was that he learned from hearsay which had reached him, or whether of him self he hit upon the true nature of things, or, in whatever way, was deemed worthy of this knowledge of God." (22) The interaction between the spiritual and the material has been well depicted by Origen: "All the things in the visible category can be related to the invisible, the corporeal to the incorporeal, the manifest to those that are hidden; so that the creation of the world itself, fashioned in this wise as it is, can be understood through the divine wisdom, which from actual things and copies teaches us things unseen by means of those that are seen, and carries us over from earthly things to heavenly." (23)

The biblical and patristic notion of the sensible pointing to the intelligible was similarly evoked by Gregory of Nazianzus: "Through what is accessible and known, God attracts us; while through what is inaccessible and unknown, God is marvelled by us and desired still more ardently." (24) According to Augustine of Hippo, God creates the visible world through invisible seminal reasons (rationales seminales), a notion that is partly derived from the Stoic concept of rational seeds, or spermatikoi logoi. (25) For Augustine the seminal reasons have a two-fold nature: they are invisible in the elements of nature, and as Platonist ideas they give form to physical existence. In addition, the Latin theologian compared the seminal reasons as invisible causes of things to the idea of numbers, and it could therefore be stated that seminal reasons and mathematical ideas are equally real. (26) Augustine's assimilation of Pythagorean and Platonist doctrines is clearly discernible in this regard.

In his writings Maximus the Confessor continued the Platonist doctrine that the sensible world is the realm of becoming, whereas the intelligible world is the realm of being. Maximus held furthermore that the eternity of the intelligible world is a created eternity (aeon), which is immutable. It is precisely through the immutability of the intelligible world that coherence and intelligibility are established in the sensible world. (27) In the cosmological system of Eriugena the invisible primordial causes (causae primordiales) are the first created principles through which the diversity of the visible world arises. This notion represents Eriugena's synthesis of the Platonist ideas and the Greek Patristic energies of God, although the latter are conceived as uncreated while the primordial causes are said to be created. (28)

The distinction between the intelligible and sensible realms also pertains to the notion of beauty (Greek kalos), since beautiful things obtain their beauty through participation in the eternal form of beauty--as Plato had taught, notably in his dialogue Symposium. However, some of the Greek theologians cautioned that an appreciation of material beauty should lead to worship of the creator thereof, lest one slide into pantheism. Thus Gregory of Nyssa argues that a man with a less developed mind will think that an object is beautiful in its essence and not penetrate deeper. On the other hand, a more developed mind will view outward beauty as a ladder by means of which he can ascend to that intellectual beauty from which all other objects of beauty derive their existence. (29)

It should be kept in mind that the Patristic acceptance of the intelligible/sensible distinction does not imply any kind of dualism. Rather, every created being is viewed as a unity of matter and spirit, in which the one dimension does not exist without the other. The acceptance of the spirit and matter duality accordingly entails a rejection of both a monistic single principle of explanation and a dualistic two principles. (30)

Divine Essence and Divine Energies

Another pivotal notion in patristic cosmology is the distinction between the essence (ousia) and the energies (energeiai) of God. The Greek patristic teaching deviates in this respect from that of Aristotle, who introduced the term energeia into Hellenic thought. For Aristotle the highest being was the prime mover, whose essence is identical with its actuality, or energy. (31) Justin Martyr took issue with the Aristotelian philosophers who held that God must have been the creator potentially, becoming the creator actually at creation. Therefore, they argued, God was imperfect and became perfect through creation. Justin countered by insisting that God did not create the world from his essence, but by his energy. (32)

Basil of Caesarea wrote that we know God by his energies that descend to us, but his essence remains inaccessible. Similarly, Gregory of Nyssa argued that God is knowable only through his energies, and that all our speech concerning God denotes not his essence but his energies. (33) These Cappadocian theologians drew a distinction between God as he exists within himself and God as he manifests himself to others--referring to the divine essence and the divine energies, respectively. (34) In other words, "The essence is God's inherent self-existence; and the energy is His relations towards the other (pros heteron)" (35) God is therefore one in nature, three in hypostases, and multiple in the uncreated energies that proceed from the divine nature. (36)

Dionysius the Areopagite referred to the divine energies as processions, principles, determinations, and divine volitions, (37) while John of Damascus wrote in this regard of the divine radiance and activity. (38) The most authoritative patristic exposition of the distinction between the essence and energies of God was provided in the fourteenth century by Gregory Palamas, who declared that God is one in supra-essentiality and multiple in energies. Furthermore, every created nature is completely foreign to the divine nature, and all things exist through participation (metousia) in the divine energies. Gregory distinguished between creative energy that brings forth all beings from nothing, and deifying energy. The latter is also known as divine grace, and is given to those who aspire after the divine light. (39) In this way Gregory distinguishes between the divine essence and grace, the latter signifying the divine energies. (40) Moreover, since the world is the result of the uncreated energies of God and not of his essence, the relations between God and the world are not according to essence, but according to energy. (41)

It should be noted that the patristic notion of the divine energies is not a philosophical one, but based on the biblical revelation. This pertains especially to Moses's encounter with God, as depicted in Exodus 33. (42) In fact, the divine energies should be identified with the divine glory (kabod) of the Hebrew scriptures. (43) Nevertheless, although the scriptures testify to the energies of God, the essence/ energies distinction is not explicitly taught therein. It has been suggested that Gregory Palamas was motivated by the logical necessity of building a bridge between the transcendent God and the world of phenomena. The distinction between the divine essence and energies is therefore equivalent to that between Beyond-Being and Being, that is to say, between God as essence and God as creator. (44)

Remarkably, the essence/energies distinction has remained foreign to Western Christian theology, in large part due to Augustine's rejection thereof. (45) The notion of the divine energies is in fact related to God's creation from nothingness. As Gregory Palamas reasoned, God creates from absolute nothingness, since he possesses energy that is all-powerful and makes him manifest. Created things are not God's energy, but are brought into being by it. Therefore all created beings are testimony of God's creative energy. (46) The grounding of the cosmos in the divine energies has been stated as follows by Philip Sherrard: "Underlying the whole cosmos and its minutest particles, God is active in nature and nature in God.... The cosmos is the other self of the Absolute." (47)

The Being of Creation

The Greek patristic theologians held an all-embracing view of being (ousia) and nature (physis), entailing the whole of the created order. Thus Dionysius the Areopagite wrote in the Divine Names that the Good (i.e., God) is the source of all that exists: the archetypes, the heavenly beings, rational souls, irrational animals, plants, and inanimate matter. (48) Accordingly, the Pre-existent is the cause and source of all eternity, all time, and every kind of being. Everything participates in this Being that precedes all entities. Souls also receive their being and well-being from the Pre-existent Being. (49) Just as every number participates in unity, Dionysius argues, so everything par ticipates in the One. The One precedes both oneness and multiplicity, and the latter only exists through participation in the One. (50) In a similar vein Gregory Palamas reasoned that since nothing can exist without a cause, the nature of things demonstrate the existence of a first principle that is self-existent. Furthermore, that the world will also have a consummation is shown by the fact that everything in it is contingent and partially coming to an end all the time. (51)

Although the cosmos comes to be through divine creation, it is by nature infinitely distant from God. As stated by John of Damascus, creation out of nothing produces a subject infinitely removed from God, not according to place but according to nature (ou topo, alia physei). Creation is therefore not coeternal with God, but represents a movement from non-being to being. This implies that the creature has no ontological ground either in itself or in the divine essence. (52) In this conception, "Existence has its cause in God's creative act and is maintained by God's providence." (53)

It was asserted by Eriugena that God first creates formless matter from nothing and then creates the world from formless matter. However, it would be erroneous to see the world as a kind of filling up between God on the one side and unformed matter on the other, since matter is "folded up" in the primordial causes through which God creates the sensible world. (54) The patristic appreciation of the material world reached its zenith in the work of John of Damascus, who argued in On the Divine Images that since our salvation has been effected by God through matter (i.e., the human form of Christ), we should hold material things in appropriate honor. This led John to exclaim, "Because of the Incarnation, I salute all remaining matter with reverence." (55)

According to Basil of Caesarea, creation preexisted in the mind of God, like the example of an artist who knows the beauty of each part before uniting them according to his creative purpose. (56) This notion was echoed by Basil's close friend Gregory of Nazianzus: "The world-creating Mind in His vast thoughts also mused upon the patterns of the world which he made up, upon the cosmos which was produced only afterwards, but which for God even then was present." (57) In his turn Dionysius the Areopagite wrote that the exemplars of everything preexist as a transcendent unity within the Cause and produce the essences of things. (58) Maximus the Confessor affirmed that these creative paradigms are none other than the eternal, perfect thoughts of God. Therefore created beings are images and similes of the divine ideas, in which they participate. (59) According to John of Damascus, God creates by thought, and the thought becomes deed. Thus God contemplated everything before its creation, and "hence each thing receives its being at a determinate time according to His timeless and decisive thought, which is predestination (proorismos), and image (eikon), and pattern (paradeigma)." (60) Gregory Palamas similarly declared that God foreknows, creates, and sustains all beings according to his will and knowledge. (61)

The triadic Neoplatonist cosmology of an eternally remaining first principle (mone), a procession (proodos) thereof through the forms into their effects, and a return (epistrophe) of the effects through the forms to the first principle would be adopted by Dionysius the Areopagite throughout his theology, while expressing it in Christian terms. Thus, in terms of motion the Areopagite preserved the basic triad of mone, proodos, and epistrophe. In terms of participation the cosmos displays the structure of unparticipatible (amethektos), participatable (methektos), and participating (metechon). Finally, in terms of activity the structure is classified by Dionysius as being (ousia), power (dynamis), and act (energeia). With this latter triadic formulation the Greek theologian allows for God's creation from free will instead of the timeless emanation taught in Neoplatonism. (62) Building on the Christian Neoplatonism of Dionysius, Eriugena reasoned that the link between the procession (exitus) of all things out of God and the return (reditus) of all things to God is in fact Christ, the cosmic Logos. (63)

Maximus the Confessor applied the Dionysian triad of being, power, and act to God as well as beings: existing by nature (ousia), the ability to act (dynamis), and the accomplished action (energeia). Out of the divine power the intelligible world is created as the triad of being (to einai), well-being (to eu einai), and eternal well-being (to aei eu einai). Finally, the sensible world arises as the triad of becoming (genesis), motion (kinesis), and rest (stasis).Thus for Maximus the mode of existence of the intelligible world is being, while that of the sensible world is becoming. (64) This distinction should not be understood in an absolute sense, since in the patristic view creation is neither self-existent being nor transitory becoming, but is utterly dependent upon a higher, extraneous principle for its existence. (65) Maximus taught further that all created being is limited and in the process of becoming, which is the sphere of space and time. Only God, being immovable, is outside space and time. (66)

Each created thing has its own essential reason (logos), Gregory of Nazianzus held, and nothing can exist if it is not grounded in the divine Logos. The latter grants ontological reality to the created order, and thus each created thing has a divine "idea" or "reason." (67) Although the Augustinian concept of seminal reasons (rationales seminales) is similar to the Greek patristic concept of the logoi, they differ in the sense that the logoi are uncreated and originate in the Logos.Yet both seminal reasons and logoi can be discovered due to the intelligibility of the created world. (68) The same reasoning applies to the primordial causes of Eriugena.

The concept of logoi as creative principles indwelling the whole of the created order was extensively developed by Maximus the Confessor. (69) God conceals himself mysteriously in the interior logoi of created beings, the Confessor wrote in the Difficulties (Latin title: Ambigua). Thus in diversity is concealed that which is one; in composite things, that which is without parts; in those which have a beginning, that which has no beginning; in the visible, that which is invisible; and in the tangible, that which is intangible. (70) Accordingly, the point of contact between a created thing and the Godhead is the logos thereof, which is also the end or goal (telos) toward which it inclines. (71) For Maximus these logoi of created beings are not part of the divine nature, but rather divine volitions, or energies. They can be viewed as one or many according to perspective. (72) As stated by the Confessor, the one is multiple in relation to its creating and sustaining progress toward created things, whereas the multiple are one in relation to the return of created things to their principle. (73)

Since creation entails a transition from non-being to being, its very nature is characterised by mutability, in contrast to the uncreated, which is immutable. As Gregory of Nyssa wrote, "The very subsistence of creation owed its beginning to change," (74) and also "the created nature cannot exist without change; for its very passage from non-existence to existence is a certain motion and change of the non-existent transmuted by the divine purpose into being." (75) This notion was affirmed by John of Damascus, arguing, "For all that is created is changeable, and only that which is un-created is unchangeable," and "All things, then, which are brought into existence are subject to corruption according to the law of their nature, and so even the heavens themselves are corruptible." (76)

Due to the mutability of created nature, a dynamic conception of matter is encountered in Greek patristic thought. For instance, both Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor saw matter as a fact of energy. The world and everything in it is an effected word (logos) of God. Therefore, in nature the human reason meets another reason, so that our knowledge of nature is dialogical. (77) This recognition implies that the natural world is a mode of discourse, in which God reveals to humankind the mystery of the unity in the variety of all things. (78) We thus encounter an indictment of the wanton disregard for the earth and its biosphere that humankind has been displaying since the dawn of history.

The material reality of the world and the endless number of logoi forming it are viewed by the Greek theologians as the result of a free, creative act of God. Thus created beings have the cause and purpose (telos) of their existence outside themselves. However, the movement of the world toward its purpose is by no means an automatic process, but only attainable through freedom. (79) This is possible because the substantial reality of created nature is manifested above all in creaturely freedom, namely the possibilities of moving toward God or away from God. This radical freedom of created beings includes choosing the way of destruction and death, thereby committing "metaphysical suicide." (80)

In the patristic understanding, the cosmos functions in accordance with laws of nature that were established in the beginning by God. For Origen these divinely ordained laws of nature account for physiological changes in the human body, as well as the movements of animals, plants, fire, and water. (81) The lawfulness of the created order was also commented on by Basil of Caesarea, who wrote that the divine command to the earth to bring forth vegetation became a permanent law of nature, and ever since nature has been following it. This natural law applies not only to living beings, but equally to inanimate objects, for example the effect of gravity. (82) As argued by Maximus the Confessor, the natural law pertains to being, just as the scriptural law pertains to well-being and the law of grace to eternal well-being. (83)

Building on the cosmological insights of Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Maximus the Confessor, the Irish-Carolingian scholar John Scottus Eriugena constructed a wideranging, theistic cosmology in his Periphyseon (subtitled On the Division of Nature). Therein he postulated a fourfold division of nature that encompasses all that is and that is not: that nature that is uncreated and creates (God as beginning of all things), that nature that is created and creates (the invisible primordial causes), that nature that is created and does not create (the visible effects of the causes), and finally that nature that is uncreated and does not create (God as end of all things). (84) Accordingly, all of created nature (i.e., the primordial causes and their effects) is a theophany, or God-appearance. (85) In other words, the cosmos is a manifestation of God, without being itself God.

The Unity of Creation

Some of the Greek theologians viewed the world as containing a seminal force through which God calls the immense variety of life-forms to unfold, from the elements through plants and animals to humans. In the words of Basil of Caesarea, the divine command "Let the earth bring forth" became an elaborate system imposed on the earth, displaying the strength of its power to produce herbs, seeds, and trees. Basil continues, "Thus nature, receiving the impulse of this first command, follows without interruption the course of ages, until the consummation of all things." (86) His brother Gregory of Nyssa argued that from the single divine creative volition outside time sprang instantaneously the seminal (spermatikai) potentialities of all things, which develop without further divine intervention successively into all the phenomena that constitute the world. (87) Gregory Palamas reasoned similarly that God created out of nothing "the heavens and the earth as a kind of all-embracing material substance with the potentiality of giving birth to all things." Therefore the earth and the water were pregnant with the various species of plants and animals. (88)

A number of patristic theologians also taught that the universe and time unfold together from their joint creation by God. In this respect they again built on the teaching of Plato, who wrote in the Timaeus that the Demiurge created time as a moving image of eternity. (89) Therefore, the Athenian philosopher continues, "Time, then, came to be together with the universe so that just as they were begotten together, they might also be undone together, should there ever be an undoing of them." (90) Basil of Caesarea affirmed that the succession of time was created with a nature analogous to that of the cosmos and the life in it. The fleeting nature of time is strikingly depicted by the Greek theologian: "Is this not the nature of time, where the past is no more, the future does not exist, and the present escapes before being recognised? And such also is the nature of the creature which lives in time." (91)

Similarly, for Augustine time began with creation, both coming from God. And ever since, "Time brings about the development of these creatures according to the laws of their numbers." (92) Dionysius the Areopagite remarked that time is related to the process of change, for instance birth, death, and variety. Thus in the scriptures eternity is the abode of being, whereas time is the abode of becoming. (93) Here the Areopagite evokes the Platonist distinction between being and becoming, which coincides with the intelligible and sensible realms.

A significant aspect of patristic cosmology is that creation is seen as an organic whole, because the cosmos arose through the will of God. Origen employs anthropological imagery in this regard, reasoning that just as the human body is provided with many members, which are held together by one soul, so the whole world should be regarded as "some huge and immense animal, which is kept together by the power and reason of God as by one soul." (94) Therefore, Nemesius of Emesa argued, a continuity runs through the whole, linking everything from the inanimate mineral to the rational human. (95)


The patristic theologians never saw the study of nature as an end in itself, but always as a means to a higher end. Origen, for instance, wrote in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, "The human mind should mount to spiritual understanding, and seek the ground of things in heaven." (96) As summarized by D. S. Wallace-Hadrill, "The Greek fathers, for all their intense appreciation of nature, for all their interest in the structures and processes of nature and their insistence upon nature as a means by which God reveals his nature, nevertheless hold that God and nature are not identical, and that the mind must penetrate nature to find God." (97)

The patristic theologians thus continued the tension that was already evident in the New Testament between appreciation of nature on one hand and a refusal to be seduced by its beauty on the other. (98) In this way the living duality of God and creation is recognized. (99) This duality of uncreated and created natures should not be con fused with any kind of ontological or metaphysical dualism, since the whole of the created order (both sensible and intelligible) receives its existence from the Creator, and thus forms a unified cosmos, albeit entailing various ontological levels. That is to say, the cosmos is a differentiated unity, and it should therefore not be conceived in either monistic or dualistic terms.

I have attempted to sketch a broad patristic consensus on various aspects of Christian cosmology, without wishing to ignore the existence of differences between the Greek and Latin traditions. For instance, there is no "uncreated supernatural" in the Christian East; the Western Christian realm of the supernatural is none other than the uncreated divine energies. Furthermore, God is the cause of grace in the Christian West; in the Eastern Christian view, God is the cause of creation, while grace refers to his self-manifesting energies. (100) However, not too much reliance should be placed on terminology, since different terms are often used to depict the same reality. One may think in this regard of the Latin conception of God as one substance in three persons, contrasted with the Greek doctrine of one divine essence in three hypostases. Moreover, if one reads the mystical literature on both sides, the theological differences often become obscure in the face of similar personal experiences of the divine energies.


(1.) John Romanides, An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics, ed. and trans. George Dragas (Rollinsford, NH: Orthodox Research Institute, 2004), 5, 9.

(2.) Philip Sherrard, The Greek East and the Latin West: A Study in the Christian Tradition (Limni, Greece: Denise Harvey, 2002), 32.

(3.) The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha, ed. M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and James R. Mueller (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), II .

(4.) Graham Castleman, "Cosmogony and Salvation: The Christian Rejection of Uncreated Matter," Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies 9, no. 2 (2004): 117-18.

(5.) Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction, trans. Ian and Ihita KesarcodiWatson (Crestwood, NY: St .Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1978), 51-54.

(6.) Georges Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Volume III: Creation and Redemption (Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1976), 46.

(7.) Justin Martyr, First Apology X & LIX; Castleman, "Cosmogony and Salvation," 117.

(8.) Theophilus of Antioch, "To Autolycus," Book II. 10, II. 13, The Patristic Understanding of Creation: An Anthology of Writings from the Church Fathers on Creation and Design, ed.William Dembski, Wayne Downs, and Fr. Justin Frederick (Riesel, TX: Erasmus Press, 2008).

(9.) Castleman, "Cosmogony and Salvation," 123.

(10.) Henry Chadwick, "Philo and the Beginnings of Christian Thought," The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, ed. A. H. Armstrong (London: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 171.

(11.) Castleman, "Cosmogony and Salvation," 115.

(12.) Irenaeus of Lyons, "Against Heresies, Book II.XXVIII," in Patristic Understanding.

(13.) Chadwick, "Philo," 189.

(14.) Origen, "On First Principles, Book II. 1.4," in Patristic Understanding.

(15.) Athanasius, "On the Incarnation of the Word II. 3,4 & III. 1," in Patristic Understanding.

(16.) John of Damascus, "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II. 2," in Patristic Understanding.

(17.) John Scottus Eriugena, Periphyseon (On the Division of Nature), Book III, 634-81, trans. I. P. Sheldon-Williams (Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies, 1968, 1972, 1981).

(18.) Dermot Moran, The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena: A Study of Idealism in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 230.

(19.) Castleman, "Cosmogony and Salvation," 120.

(20.) Ibid., 125, 127.

(21.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 45.

(22.) Paul Ciholas, "Plato: the Attic Moses? Some Patristic Reactions to Platonic Philosophy," The Classical World 72, no. 4 (1978): 224-25.

(23.) Commentary on Canticles III. 2; D. S. Wallace-Hadrill, The Greek Patristic View of Nature (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968), 120-21.

(24.) Gregory of Nazianzus, Homily 38; John Chryssavgis, Beyond the Shattered Image (Minneapolis: Light & Life, 1999), 133.

(25.) Alexei Nesteruk, Lightfrom the East: Theology, Science, and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 34.

(26.) Ibid., 34-36.

(27.) Lossky, Orthodox Theology, 62.

(28.) Deirdre Carabine, John Scottus Eriugena (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 2000), 29.

(29.) Wallace-Hadrill, Greek Patristic View, 128-29.

(30.) Philip Sherrard, Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 240-41.

(31.) Aristotle, "Metaphysics Book XII, 1071b," The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon, trans. W D. Ross (NewYork: Modern Library, 2001).

(32.) Romanides, Outline, 5, 7.

(33.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 64-65.

(34.) David Bradshaw, The Concept of the Divine Energies (2006), 10. http://www.uky .edu/~dbradsh/papers/Concept%200f%20the20Divine20Energies.doc

(35.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 68.

(36.) Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. anonymous (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1991), 74.

(37.) Gregory Palamas, "Topics of Natural and Theological Science, 85-87," The Philokalia, Vol. 4, trans. and ed. G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber & Faber, 1995).

(38.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 65.

(39.) Palamas, "Topics," 68, 78, 92, 93.

(40.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 67.

(41.) Romanides, Outline, 11.

(42.) Bradshaw, Divine Energies, 11.

(43.) Chryssavgis, Beyond, 86.

(44.) Frithjof Schuon, From the Divine to the Human: Survey of Metaphysics and Epistemology, trans. Gustavo Polit and Deborah Lambert (Bloomington: World Wisdom Books, 1982), 25-26, 47.

(45.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 66.

(46.) Palamas, "Topics," 133, 140, 150.

(47.) Sherrard, Lineaments, 241.

(48.) Dionysius the Areopagite, "Divine Names 4:1 & 4:2," Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, trans. Colm Luibheid (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987).

(49.) Ibid., 5:5, 8.

(50.) Ibid., 13:2.

(51.) Palamas, "Topics," 1, 2.

(52.) Lossky, Mystical Theology, 92-93.

(53.) Wallace-Hadrill, Greek Patristic View, 108.

(54.) Eriugena, Periphyseon Book III, 636-37.

(55.) Chryssavgis, Beyond, 123.

(56.) Basil of Caesarea, "Homilies on the Hexaemeron III. 10," in Patristic Understanding.

(57.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 59.

(58.) Dionysius, "Divine Names," 5: 8.

(59.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 61.

(60.) Ibid., 60.

(61.) Palamas, "Topics," 137.

(62.) I. P. Sheldon-Williams, "The Greek Christian Platonist Tradition from the Cappadocians to Maximus and Eriugena," The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, ed. A. H. Armstrong (London: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 430-31, 459.

(63.) Carabine, Eriugena, 53.

(64.) Sheldon-Williams, "Greek Christian Platonist Tradition," 492-96.

(65.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 51.

(66.) Lossky, Mystical Theology, 98.

(67.) Lossky, Orthodox Theology, 56.

(68.) Nesteruk, Lightfrom the East, 36.

(69.) Ibid., 251.

(70.) Chryssavgis, Beyond, 57.

(71.) Lossky, Mystical Theology, 98.

(72.) Sheldon-Williams, "Greek Christian Platonist Tradition," 497-98.

(73.) Chryssavgis, Beyond, 58.

(74.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 43.

(75.) Gregory of Nyssa, "On the Making of Man XVI. 12," in Patristic Understanding.

(76.) John of Damascus, "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II.3 & II.6," in Patristic Understanding.

(77.) Christos Yannaras, Elements of Faith: An Introduction to Orthodox Theology, trans. Keith Schramm (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), 40-41.

(78.) Sherrard, Lineaments, 240.

(79.) Yannaras, Elements of Faith, 46-48.

(80.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 48-49.

(81.) Wallace-Hadrill, Greek Patristic View, 104-05.

(82.) Basil, "Hexaemeron V.i, V. 10, IX.2," in Patristic Understanding.

(83.) Maximus the Confessor, "To Thalassius 64," On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: Selected writingsfrom St Maximus the Confessor, trans. Paul Blowers and Robert Wilken (Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003).

(84.) Eriugena, Periphyseon Book I, 441-42.

(85.) Ibid., Book I, 449.

(86.) Basil, "Hexaemeron V. 10," in Patristic Understanding.

(87.) Sheldon-Williams, "Greek Christian Platonist Tradition," 447.

(88.) Palamas, "Topics," 2i .

(89.) Plato, "Timaeus 3 7d," Collected Works, ed. John M. Cooper, trans. Donald J. Zeyl (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997).

(90.) Ibid., 38b.

(91.) Basil, "Hexaemeron 1.6," in Patristic Understanding.

(92.) Augustine, "On the Literal Meaning of Genesis IV.52, V. 12," in Patristic Understanding.

(93.) Dionysius, "Divine Names," 10:3.

(94.) Origen, "On First Principles," Book II.3.

(95.) Nemesius of Emesa, On human nature V. 25; Wallace-Hadrill, Greek Patristic View, 103.

(96.) Chryssavgis, Beyond, 75.

(97.) Wallace-Hadrill, Greek Patristic View, 129.

(98.) Ibid., 130.

(99.) Florovsky, "Creation and Creaturehood," 47.

(100.) Lossky, Mystical Theology, 88.
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Author:de Beer, Vladimir
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Date:Jun 22, 2015
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