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Friday, August 1, 2014

ADS, e/e, and Heidegger's Critique of the Occluding of Being

One of the apparently insurmountable contradictions between Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology is the dispute over St. Thomas Aquinas' teaching of absolute divine simplicity, which appears to contradict St. Gregory Palamas' teaching of the real distinction between God's Essence and His uncreated Energies.  To summarize the conflict, absolute divine simplicity (ADS) recognizes that God is infinite, and as such, cannot have His being partitioned into parts.  To be able to divide God into parts is to turn Him into some finite entity.  The reasoning (Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1 chapter 18) takes two approaches; the first is that metaphysical composition implies act and potency where potency implies imperfection (i.e. God was not composed or cobbled together out of prior existing parts which He could later dissolve into - that leaves us uneasy as we think of God as the primordial reality), and the second acknowledges that any part taken by itself is imperfect compared to the whole, which would require imperfection in God's goodness, love, and all the other "parts" of God.

The essence/energies (e/e) distinction, by contrast, attempts to preserve the full force of the paradox of divine communion, that we know the unknowable God.  To do so, God as He is in Himself apart from participation by creatures (God's Essence) is held as absolutely ineffable, apophatic, and unknowable - to know God by "essence" would be to be God by nature.  And yet God is still known and participated in.  The capacity of an essence or hypostasis to be known or participated in is called an "energy" in Greek (following the definition of Christos Yannaras), so the participation of God is called knowledge of God's Energies.  These Energies are eternal and uncreated; Orthodox theology has no analogue to the Scholastic concept of created grace, and the Energy of God is identified with the Uncreated Light of Mount Tabor during Christ's Transfiguration.

These two positions are widely held as incompatible in ecumenical discussions between Roman Catholics and Orthodox.  The thesis here is that they need not be, if viewed in light of the work of Martin Heidegger.

Heidegger was known for his strong critique of Western philosophy and scholasticism - including that of St. Thomas Aquinas, for whom he makes no exception and whom we follow in not making any exception (following the argument of John Caputo in his extensive study of the question, Heidegger and Aquinas:  An Essay on Overcoming Metaphysics) - for the "occluding of Being", for losing sight of the self-disclosure of Being in favor of beings, of losing the ontological by restricting thought to the ontic, substituting ontology for meontology, and for replacing the fundamental question of existence with metaphysical composition masquerading as an ultimate explanation.  Heidegger believed that Aquinas' philosophy contributed to the decline of Being in the West and advocated returning to the pristine purity of pre-Socratic thought.  Following Caputo, we can take the critique seriously and acknowledge its application to Thomism, but nonetheless see Aquinas' thought as being capable of being salvaged using its own principles.

It is easy to see how Heidegger's critique of Scholasticism shows a roadmap for overcoming the impasse between e/e and ADS.  Thomas' basic insight in the SCG I:8 is the same as Heidegger's - God transcends metaphysical composition, and categories like act/potency (the scope of whose applicability to the created world can be "bracketed" here) cannot apply to the realm of the ontological, but are purely ontic.

In order for the Uncreated Energies to be truly uncreated, truly divine, they must also transcend metaphysical composition and belong to the realm of the ontological.  As such, they are not a metaphysical composition dividing a "thing" into parts.  They are of course existential, not ontic, categories, and therefore apophatic.  They do not describe a part "things" cobbled together from some prior existing parts.

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