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Uncreated Energies. Part Two: The Light of Truth

Uncreated Energies. Part Two: The Light of Truth May 5, 2021

Geralt: Apprehending the Light of Truth / pixabay

God, the unapproachable light of truth, draws us in; the more we engage the light, the more we are brought into it. The more we discover how great it is, the more we realize how little of it we have attained in relation to what is there. The light transcends us and yet it comes to us, so that we can call upon God and be heard. God is there, all around us, dwelling with us, indeed, is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, providing for us what we need. God comes to us in a form which we can apprehend, encouraging us and directing us from that form to journey onward and receive the divine glory in a new, greater forms, in a new, greater representations of that light. Every progression we make develops us, giving us the grace which we need to go beyond where we are and to take in and embrace more of the glory of God. As we partake of the light, we find ourselves coming to know and understand God, and all that God has created, in a new way, transcending all that we thought we knew and understood before.

The truth of God is revealed to us in a conventional form, in a form which remains true even if it is not the absolute truth, for the absolute truth transcends all understanding. The two, the conventional truth and the absolute truth, are one, even if they are distinct. What we apprehend and reason out, what we can say, is conventional truth, but we call it truth because it comes to us from the light of the absolute truth itself. The conventional truth is true so long as we do not try to divide it from the absolute from which it comes, that is, so long as we do not try to make conventional truth the absolute truth in and of itself. Thus, no matter what stage of development we find ourselves in, St. Thomas Aquinas was right in saying there is a “twofold mode of truth,” the first being those truths which transcend our comprehension but are revealed to us in the light of the absolute truth, God, and those truths which we discern from our apprehension of the light:

There is a twofold mode of truth in what we profess about God. Some truths about God exceed all ability of the human reason. Such is the truth that God is triune. But there are some truths which the natural reason also is able to reach. Such are that God exists, that He is one, and the like. [1]

For us, coming to the truth in the form of conventional truth, the two modes of truth always remain and so are distinct;  no matter how great we become, we will never comprehend God; the absolute truth will always be beyond our grasp.  Nonetheless, what we know of the truth, and so the content of what we discuss under the form of conventional truth will change, as it will become greater, and much more subtle, over time. Thus, as we are deified, we will transcend ourselves, and in that self-transcendence, what we apprehend of the truth, the conventional truth which we discern, will change and develop and become greater. Yet, no matter how great we become, we will never be God by nature, and so the absolute truth will always transcend us.

The two modes of truth, conventional and absolute truth, can be discerned in the difference between the economic activity of God with the immanent nature of God. Only the persons of the Trinity know and comprehend God’s nature. Thus, in our growth, the conventional truth grows with us, changing even as the absolute truth, the immanent nature of God, does not change. What we apprehend is true, and so properly called truth, even if God is ineffable to all of creation. God wants to engage us and does this by making space for us to act and react; we must cooperate with God if we want to receive the bounty of God’s grace. This means, we can and should call upon God, no matter how ineffable God is to us:

Let us call upon him, then, as the ineffable God who is beyond our intelligence, invisible, incomprehensible, who transcends the power of mortal words. Let us call on him as the God who is inscrutable to the angels, unseen by the Seraphim, inconceivable to the Cherubim, invisible to the principalities, to the powers, and to the virtues, in fact, to all creatures without qualification, because he is known only by the Son and the Spirit.[2]

While only God comprehends God, God condescends to work with and interact with us so that we are not left unaware of  the reality of the divine nature. And because we are aware of God, because we are aware of how God works in and with creation, we can, in some way, know God. We just need to be careful and understand what it means when we say we know God in this fashion, for what we know is what God reveals to us, leaving us, however, far from comprehending the substance of God:

But we say that “know” is a word of many meanings. We say that we know the greatness of God, and His power, and wisdom, and goodness, and the providence with which He cares for us, and the justice  of His judgment, not His substance itself. [3]

That is, from God’s operations, God’s works, that is God’s energies,[4] we know God; and insofar as we know God, we unite with God. We join with what we know about God, God’s energies, and as we do so, we become ever more aware of how God’s substance remains beyond our reach:

We say that from His operations we know our God; we do not undertake to approach His substance itself. His operations come down to us, but His substance remains inaccessible.[5]

St. Bonaventure, in the Breviloquium, puts all of this together in the following fashion:

However, God makes Himself manifest and  known in general by the universality of the effects emanating from Himself, in which He is said to exist by essence, power, and presence because He extends Himself to all things created. He makes himself especially known by other effects which lead to Him in particular and because of these effects He is said to dwell in, to appear, to descend, to be sent, and to send. To dwell in bespeaks a spiritual effect with an acceptance on the part of another just as it is the effect of grace to cause grace which is Godlike and to lead back to God and to make God possess us and be possessed by us and through this to dwell in us. Because the effect of grace is common to all persons, it follows that one person does not dwell in someone without another and hence at the same time the whole Trinity. [6]

The conventional truth which we apprehend comes to us from God’s work in and with us, and that work is a common work of the persons of the Trinity, even if each person engages that work in their own unique, personal way. When we have grace, we have God with us, and when we have God with us, we have the Trinity with us (whether or not we know or apprehend this truth). We know God, therefore, from the works of God, from the energies of God, works which leave their mark on creation so that in and through them we can discern their cause, God:

For effects bear within themselves, in their own way, the likeness of their causes, since an agent produces its like; yet an effect does not always reach to the full likeness of its cause. Now, the human reason is related to the knowledge of the truth of faith (a truth which can be most evident only to those who see the divine substance) in such a way that it can gather certain likenesses of it, which are yet not sufficient so that the truth of faith may be comprehended as being understood demonstratively or through itself. [7]

The energies of God, the works of God which we interact with, lifts us up, purifying, illuminating, and perfecting us. Thus, they reveal to us the truth of God, even as God transcends what is revealed.


 

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles. Books One: God. Trans. Anton C Pegis (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), 63 [c3].

[2] St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1982), 97 [Homily 3].

[3] St. Basil, “Letter  234” in Saint Basil: Letter. Volume 2 (186-368). Trans. Agnes Clare Way, CDP (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1955), 159.

[4] Energy, ἐνέργεια in Greek, refers to activity or operation, that is the work which is done. The divine energies are the divine operations of God.

[5] St. Basil, “Letter 234,” 160.

[6] St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium. Trans. Erwin Esser Nemmers (St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Company,1946). 33.

[7] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles. Books One: God, 76 [c8].

 

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