I’ve been going through St. Gregory of Palamas’ wonderful work The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, and working on a paper that considers it alongside Thomas Aquinas’ On Being and Essence. Both works deal with metaphysics and physics, but for both men metaphysics is in woven into epistemology, thus giving rise to the point of distinction between the two (and the East and West at large): that is, the action of God and our knowledge of Him. In order to say anything of God we need to say something about His part, since we cannot comprehend His whole; or speak of Him in analogy, which still presupposes a great deal of our knowledge of the whole of God. One might also say that we must make distinctions regarding the Divine in order to say anything at all about Him. But how are we to parse such a subject? Certainly we cannot subsume God by predicating Him by any word: even words such as goodness, oneness, and truth, are inadequate for they necessitate limiting the unlimited. The doctrine of Divine Simplicity at least prima facie threatens our ability to make distinctions, or speak of God in part – since He is One. Does this mean that we cannot speak or know of God? Neither Aquinas or St. Gregory make that claim, so which one is more accurate, and holds in truest balance the tension of the immanent and transcendent God?
Here’s chapter 81 of the 150 on the topic:
They say that on the portals of Plato’s school there was the inscription: “Let no one enter who is ignorant of geometry.” One who is unable to conceive and speak of inseparable realities as separate is a man absolutely ignorant of geometry. For a limit without something limited belongs to the realm of the impossible. In the case of geometry virtually all discussion concerns limits, and even apart from actual limited things limits are sometimes defined and proposed per se because the mind separates inseparables. If a man has never learned to separate in his mind the body from the properties around it, how can he entertain nature in itself? Nature as it inheres in bodies is not only inseparable from the natural properties, but it can never exist without them. How can he entertain the universals which exist as such in particulars but are distinguished from them by the mind and reason alone and are conceived prior to the many though they have no existence at all apart from the many, in true reasoning at least. How can he entertain intelligibles and intellectuals? How will he understand us when we say that each mind possesses also thoughts and each of the thoughts is our mind? Will he not laugh and cry out accusing us of saying that each man possesses two or many minds? If in such instances he is unable to speak of or entertain indivisible realities as distinct, how will he be able either to speak of or be taught any such thing in God’s case, where according to the theologians there are and are said to be many unions and distinction. But since “the unions prevail and have precedence over the distinctions,” (Pseudo-Dionysius, DN 2.11) neither eliminating them nor being hindered in any way by these. The Akindynists do not accept nor are they capable of knowing the indivisible distinction in God, even when they hear us saying of the divided union in accord with the saints, that one aspect of God is incomprehensible and another is comprehensible; that God is one, the same being incomprehensible in substance but comprehensible from his creatures according to his divine energies, namely, his eternal will for us, his eternal providence over us and his eternal wisdom concerning us, and , to us the words of the divine Maximus, “his infinite power, wisdom, and goodness.” When Barlaam and Akindynos and those who follow in their footsteps hear us saying that these are necessary truths, they accuse us of speaking of many gods and many uncreated realities and making God composite. For they do not know that God is indivisibly divided and united divisible and experiences neither multiplicity not composition.