Dale Tuggy

Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.


  1. Brandon
    September 18, 2008 @ 10:55 am

    At least some energies are usually taken as having the divine Persons as their terms (e.g. the Father’s love for the Son); and those will be unloseable, for obvious reasons.

    I’m still not seeing how the Gregory vs. Arians issue ties in with the one in the post. Gregory, I take it, criticizes the Arians (in the Third Theological Oration) for trying to have their cake and eat it too — for taking ‘God’ as applied to the Son ambiguously or univocally as it suits them. I don’t think it’s an insignificant criticism, and it is certainly a real worry that comes to mind when faced with any sort of Arian position, whether it be Eunomius’s or Newton’s. But note that, whether it is or not, it is an internal criticism about the coherence of Eunomian versions of Arianism, not an external criticism about its fitting of facts about the divine essence.

  2. Dale
    September 18, 2008 @ 8:52 am

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks – this confirms what some of the guys are saying above. I think I’m now seeing the difference between Greg’s patristic arguments for the divinity of the Son and Spirit, and modern ones. The modern ones go somewhat like I say in the post. But Gregory argues something like this:

    1. X is true of S.
    2. Whatever X is true of is manifesting one of the divine energies, E.
    3. S is manifesting one of the divine energies, E.
    4. Whatever manifests E possesses the divine essence.
    5. Therefore, S possesses the divine essence.

    Let S = Jesus, and X = healing, knowing everything, creating the world, etc.

    Arians will generally be granting 1 (not always, but I think often). When they do, they’ll agree with 2-3 as well. But they’ll get off the bus at 4 – they’ll deny that, and so claim the argument is unsound. For many X’s, they can simply point out some mere human, of whom X is true (e.g. healing, forgiving sins, having supernatural knowledge). For other X’s, they can say, “Hey, this ain’t an ordinary human, in our view – this is a logos in a human body. And this logos thing is godlike (they do their own text dump here), and so can manifest E as much as God himself can.” Who’s right?

    It may be the pro-Nicenes are implicitly arguing to the best explanation – so part of the purpose of the text dumping is showing that S manifests not only E, but F, G, and H – all which which seem to be divine energies. And *surely* they urge, we must conclude that S has the divine essence. Well, that doesn’t seem to logically follow, but it *might* be the best explanation of all the manifestin’ that’s going on, that the manifester is divine. But IF that’s what they’re doing (frankly, they don’t show that much intellectual integrity, that I can see) they have to display the competing Arian explanation(s) and show them to be somehow worse than theirs. Haven’t found this yet… still reading, when I can.

    Perhaps firmly held views about atonement are really in the drivers seat (along with a double shot of party-spirit).

  3. Dale
    September 18, 2008 @ 8:25 am

    Hi Brandon

    You’re right that I’m struggling to understand their views, and to translate them into my lingo (insofar as that’s possible.) When you say “at least some divine energies are non-lose-able properties” – I don’t know if that’s right or not. Sometimes “energies” are conceived as relations to creatures, or God-as-God-appears [to creatures]. If that’s what they are, then they’ll all be losable as well as nonessential (in the ancient sense). So it’ll be a contingent truth that God exudes energies X, Y, Z. (Though it might be necessary that IF God makes creation just as he has, then he exudes those energies. Hard to see how we’d know this though…)

    I think you agree that we experience God’s power not being limited by anything, other that that proposition just seeming true to us when we consider it. And I agree if “omnipotence” just means whatever power God has that, then Christians do rather often experience that (i.e. things we judge to be the results of exercises of God’s power). About Arians vs. Gregory – they both hold that Jesus healed and exuded glory (i.e. transfiguration). Greg and his pals say “Aha – obviously *the divine* energies – i.e. effects (or something) that can only come from God, or from the divine essence. Arians say: “obviously”? Why couldn’t those be the energies (to state their view contentiously) of a demi-god, of the created Logos, God’s chief agent in dealing with the cosmos? I don’t see him answering this at all – he only tries to unravel puzzles they raise for the pro-Nicene view, and just refers us to all the proof-texts. But this is failing to take his opponents seriously, it seems to me.

  4. Richard
    September 17, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

    Presumably the thought is something like this. Imagine that there are different kinds of substance, but that the only thing we know about them, and the only way we can distinguish them, is that they support different kinds of collections of accidents. The substances are ‘somethings, we know not what’ – we have no idea what they are, and what it is about them that enables them to support different kinds of collections of accidents. Greg is thinking that our words all really name, or derive from, divine activities, and that that’s all we know of the essence: that its the kind of thing, and the only kind of thing, that can do all those things that God does. And we know what those things are from the text dump. Of course, some agents can do some of the things that God can do, just not others of those things.

  5. Brandon
    September 16, 2008 @ 9:23 am

    If by ‘essence’ we simply mean ‘non-lose-able properties’, then we’re using the term in a very different sense than would be the case in the Essence/Energies distinction, because at least some divine energies are non-lose-able properties. So if we interpret Gregory in an E/E way, he’s using the term in a very different sense than you are.

    ‘Omnipotence’ is an ambiguous term; we may mean by it either divine power or a property of divine power (namely, that it is not limited by anything). If the latter, it’s simply a negative property, and is arrived at by rationally eliminating things that could limit the divine power. If the former, however, it obviously can be experienced.

    I’m not quite sure why you are sectioning revelation off from experience, as if they were two completely different things. Revelation by a thing is one form of experience of that thing. And whether collective experience alone can decide between Gregory and the Arians seems to me to be a very different issue from the one you brought up before; I don’t see how it’s related.

  6. Dale
    September 15, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

    Hi Gents,

    I guess I tilt towards something like Lockean skepticism about essences. I think there must be an essence for any substance there is, for the alternative seems crazy and impossible – that something could survive any change whatever. This isn’t to say I go for van Inwagen type modal skepticism – I don’t. (And I think, neither does he, much of the time his metaphysician’s cap is on.) So I’ll hold that some features of a thing can be lost, while others cannot. I that sense (which of course, is not the ancient sense) I think we can know some essences (i.e. non-lose-able properties), including God’s.

    Not clear just how experience relates to this, whether collective or individual. How would you experience, e.g. that God is all-powerful? Seems to me you wouldn’t, although you could be told this via divine revelation. How would collective experience decide between, say, Gregory and his Arian opponents. Both held that the pre-incarnate logos was what appeared to Israel numerous times. Both held to the same miracles, and sayings of Jesus, and that Prov 8 has to do with the logos. I think inference to the best explanation, not mere observation or experience, will be called for.

    About individual essences, I don’t really have firm intuitions either for or against them. On some days, I think there are such, but that they won’t do any real theoretical work.

  7. Dale
    September 15, 2008 @ 1:48 pm

    Hi Fonics!

    Great to hear from you. Hope the priesthood and the rest of life are treating you well!

    I don’t see a difference between what pseudo-Dion (and his interpreter / translator John Scotus Eriugena) says and what Plotinus says… I mean, a fundamental difference. Both have an ineffable God, which neither exists nor doesn’t exist (but “more-than-exists”). Tie me up and call me a earthly-minded literalist, but I just think God exists. I also think of him as a perfect person (i.e. self, personal being – being with mind and will), something personal pronouns are rightly applied to.

    I think Lossky does too – I think just about every Christian does – but isn’t the neoplatonic negative theology stuff inconsistent with that? (Rather, we’d be stuck with: God *appears* to us somewhat as a personal being would.)

    To me that last sentence in the Lossky quote has two non-sequiturs. But more to the point: if God has an essence, and if this was known by someone other than God, how would this “determine” or somehow badly limit God? He just is what he is, no? His essence defines what he must be, and what he can’t be. (e.g. he must keep his word, and can’t do wrong) Surely, we’ll all agree that none of knows God’s *whole* essence. But aren’t these a part of it? – eternal, perfectly good, all-powerful, all-knowing

  8. Fonics
    September 13, 2008 @ 11:35 pm

    Dale and friends,

    Although the following lenghty quote doesn’t address specifically the ponderings of Gregory Nazianzus that Dale mentioned, it is a discussion by a modern Eastern Orthodox theologian, of this idea of the impossibility of knowing God. It sums up the apophaticism found in the two Cappodocian Gregorys, carried on by Psuedo Dionysius, and refined by another Gregory (Palamas) with the essence/energies distinction already mentioned. I hope this will add something to the discussion. Please don’t ask me to explain it all.

    “The negative (apophatic) way attempts to know God not in what He is (that is to say, in relation to our experience as creatures) but in what He is not. It proceeds by a series of negations. The Neo-Platonists and India use this way too, as it is imposed on all thought which turns to God, raising itself towards Him. It culminates, with Plotinus, in the suicide of philosophy, in the matemorphosis of the philosopher into the mystic. But outside of Christianity, it only ends in the depersonalization of God, and of the man who seeks Him. Thus an abyss separates this quest from Christian theology, even when the latter appears to follow the way of Plotinus. Indeed, a Gregory of Nyssa or a Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (in his treatise, On Mystical Theology) does not see, in apophaticism, revelation but the receptacle of revelation: they arrive at the personal presence of a hidden God. For them the negative way is not resolved in a void where subject and object will be reabsorbed; the human person is not dissolved but has access to a face to face encounter with God, a union without confusion according to grace.
    Apophaticism consists in negating that which God is not; one eliminates firstly all creation, even the cosmic glory of the starry heavens and the intelligible light of the angels in the sky. Then one excludes the most lofty attributes, goodness, love, wisdom. One finally excludes being itself. God is none of all this; in His own nature He is the unknowable. He “is not.” But here is the Christian paradox; He is the God to Whom I say “Thou,” Who calls me, Who reveals Himself as personal, as living….
    Thus, side by side with the negative way, the positive way, “cataphatic,” opens out. God Who is the hidden God, beyond all that reveals Him, is also He that reveals Himself. He is wisdom, love, goodness. But His nature remains unknowable in its depths, and that is exactly why He reveals Himself… Certainly God is wise, but not in the banal sense of a merchant or philosopher. And His limitless wisdom is not an internal necessity of His nature. The highest names, even love, express but do not exhaust the divine essence. They constitute the attributes by which divinity communicates itself without its secret source, its nature, ever becoming exhausted, or becoming objectified benath our scrutiny. Our purified concepts enable us to approach God; the divine names enable us in some sense even to enter into Him. But we can never seize His essence, else He would be determined by His attributes; but He is determined by nothing and that is precisely why He is personal.”
    -Vladimir Lossky, “Orthodox Theology: An Introduction”, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989, pp. 32-33.

  9. JT Paasch
    September 12, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

    Of course, Aristotelians (like Aristotle, Aquinas, Scotus, etc.) believe much the same about every essence, created or otherwise. It’s possible that the Capps knew of this idea (perhaps through reading Porphyry?), in which case this might be one source for this Capp doctrine. I wonder if Dale’s questions could be extended to how we know any essence? Dale, have any thoughts on how we know what, say, bovinity is?

  10. Brandon
    September 11, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

    It seems to me this sweeps the problem under the rug of “divine activities / energies”. Which are those? Those which only the divine essence could issue forth.

    But this gets things backwards, even for creatures. We don’t start with a knowledge of the essence of (say) dogs, and then from there learn that this is looking like a dog, and this is wagging one’s tail like a dog, and that is panting like a dog; we start by experience this tail-wagging, panting thing that looks a certain way, and from this begin to learn what the essence is, by recognizing the activities (in a broad sense), and then analyzing them more closely, seeing the causes and effects, etc. So it doesn’t seem to me that this is a serious problem for the energies view. We learn what the divine activities are from the long experience of the human race with the divine (and for Gregory in this context this would be particularly the history of Israel as related in Scripture).

  11. Dale
    September 11, 2008 @ 4:06 pm

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    JT – If I understand him, activities/energies are just not in or part of DE. However, they think we can detect DE through its effects or manifestations. But I’m wondering how that could work… see below.

    Brandon – “early, only partially developed, version of the essence/energies distinction” Yes – I could see what one could read as gestures in that direction, in the texts. Undeveloped, but there. I intend to look more into that developed doctrine some time. For now, as I explain below, I have a hard time seeing how it helps their view.

    “we know Jesus has a divine nature because He engages in divine activities. (And, after all, how else would you know it?)”

    It seems to me this sweeps the problem under the rug of “divine activities / energies”. Which are those? Those which only the divine essence could issue forth. But why exactly could healing, forgiveness, supernatural knowledge, or authority only issue forth from the divine essence? One way to put it, is they need there to be an intelligible connection between the experienced energies and the (unexperienecable and unknowable) divine essence. But *on their own views* they don’t know enough about the latter to detect any connection.

    Perhaps what I’m asking is: Why don’t *they* think this is a problem?

  12. Brandon
    September 11, 2008 @ 10:51 am

    The standard way of reading St. Gregory in Orthodox and Eastern Catholic circles is to see him as laying out an early, only partically developed, version of the essence/energies distinction. (Much along the lines JT Paasch suggests in comparing him to the other St. Gregory.) On this view, the only things we can know about God’s essential attributes are negatives — that is, whatever they may be, we know they are not created, etc. But no one thinks (about anything, much less God) that the only thing one can know about a thing is its essential attributes, and features like knowledge, will, etc., are not in the Eastern tradition treated as essential attributes but as (so to speak) ongoing activities of the divine persons. And the divine activities can be known and recognized.

    Thus to answer the question about Jesus’s nature, if the Eastern interpretation of Gregory is right, then Gregory would answer the question in very much the way the question would be later be answered at Chalcedon and III Constantinople: we know Jesus has a divine nature because He engages in divine activities. (And, after all, how else would you know it?)

    I’m inclined to think you are misreading Gregory in the Fifth Theological Oration, at Section 8; he isn’t there defending the deity of the Spirit, since he has in fact already argued this, but is in fact arguing that his opponents cannot find a place for Procession. And, as he rightly says, this remains a problem even if his opponents try to turn the problem back on Gregory by demanding that he tell them what Procession is first, because that is a sharp divergence, and apparently an arbitrary one, from the approach they have already taken with regard to Unbegottenness and Generation.

  13. JT Paasch
    September 11, 2008 @ 8:14 am

    I myself haven’t read the Orations for some time, and I don’t think I really understand them when I did. I read Gregory of Nyssa more recently though, and he also thinks the divine essence is unknowable. But Nyssa puts it like this: every feature of the DE that we can name is really an action of God. Even the word ‘God’ (theos) is just a substantivized version of the verb ‘to see’ (theia? something like that? I haven’t done Greek in a long time…). As Nyssa sees it, we can talk about the DE and know things about it, it’s just that what we know are actions. We never — not in this life anyways — directly apprehend any non-action features of the DE.

    Do you think this avoids the problem?