On Divine Energies

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

Adam, before the fall, also participated in this divine illumination and resplendence, and because he was truly clothed in a garment of glory he was not naked, nor was he unseemly by reason of his nakedness. He was far more richly adorned than those who now deck themselves out with diadems of gold and brightly sparkling jewels. St. Paul calls this divine illumination and grace our celestial dwelling when he says, ‘For this we sigh, yearning to be clothed in our heavenly habitation, since thus clothed we will not be found naked’ (2 Cor. (5:2). And St. Paul himself received from God the pledge of this divine illumination and of our investiture in it on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:3). As St Gregory of Nazianzos, surnamed the Theologian, has written, ‘Before he was cleansed of his persecutions Paul spoke with Him whom he was persecuting or, rather, with a brief irradiation of the great Light.’

The divine supraessentiality is never named in the plural. But the divine and uncreated grace and energy of God is indivisibly divided, like the sun’s rays that warm, illumine, quicken and bring increase as they cast their radiance upon what they enlighten, and shine on the eyes of whoever beholds them. In the manner, then, of this faint likeness, the divine energy of God is called not only one but also multiple by the theologians. Thus St Basil the Great declares: ‘What are the energies of the Spirit? Their greatness cannot be told and they are numberless. How can we comprehend what precedes the ages? What were God’s energies before the creation of noetic reality?’ For prior to the creation of noetic reality and beyond the ages – for the ages are also noetic creations – no one has ever spoken or conceived of anything created. Therefore the powers and energies of the divine Spirit – even though they are said in theology to be multiple are uncreated and are to be indivisibly distinguished from the single and wholly undivided essence of the Spirit.

The theologians affirm that the uncreated energy of God is indivisibly divided and multiple, as St. Basil the Great has explained above. And since the divine and deifying illumination and grace is not the essence but the energy of God, for this reason it comes forth from God not only in the singular but in multiplicity as well. It is bestowed proportionately on those who participate in it, and corresponding to the capacity of those who receive it the deifying resplendence enters them to a greater or lesser degree.

Isaiah has said that these energies are seven in number, and for the Jews the number seven signifies a multiplicity. ‘There shall come forth’, he says, ‘a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall come from it; and seven spirits shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, reverence, counsel, strength and fear’ (cf. Isa. 11:1-2). Those who hold the views of Barlaam and Akindynos dementedly maintain that these seven spirits are created; but this error we have refuted exhaustively in our Refutation of Akindynos. Moreover, referring to these energies of the Spirit, St. Gregory of Nazianzos says, ‘Isaiah likes to call the energies of the Spirit spirits.’ And Isaiah himself, the clarion voice of the prophets, not only distinguished them plainly from the divine essence by their number, but also indicated the uncreated nature of these divine energies by the words ‘rest upon Him’. For to ‘rest upon’ is the privilege of a superior dignity. How, then, could those spirits that rest upon the humanity the Lord assumed from us have a created character?

Our Lord Jesus Christ cast out demons ‘with the finger of God’, according to Luke (11:20); but Matthew says ‘by the Spirit of God’ (12:28). St. Basil explains that the finger of God is one of the Spirit’s energies. If one of these energies is the Holy Spirit, most certainly the others are as well, as St. Basil also teaches us. Yet there are not for this reason many gods or many Spirits. These energies are processions, manifestations and natural operations of the one Spirit and in each case the operative agent is one. Yet the heterodox make the Spirit of God a created being seven times over when they assert that these energies are created. But let them be humiliated sevenfold, for the Prophet Zechariah calls these energies ‘the seven eyes of the Lord that look upon all the earth’ (4:10). And St. John writes in Revelation, ‘Grace be with you, and peace from God and from the seven spirits that are before His throne, and from Christ’ (cf. Rev. 1:4-5), thus making it clear to the faithful that these are the Holy Spirit. (Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One hundred and Fifty Texts 67-71)