Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Meaning of Essence in Aquinas

In Palamite debates with the Roman Church, much is made over Aquinas' statement that the true goal of human life is to see the essence of God. They argue, according to their tradition, that no-one ever sees the essence of God, but rather only his uncreated energies. This looks like a clear difference between churches, but is it?

The word for "essence" in Latin is essentia. The word for "essence" in Greek is ousia. Really, then, Aquinas says that one sees the essentia of God, but Palamas says that one does not see the ousia of God. Perhaps they don't mean the same thing.

I came across a very succinct definition of essentia in I.28.2 ST: "Everything which is not the divine essence is a creature."^[omnis res quae non est divina essentia, est creatura.] So, if St. Gregory Palamas teaches that the ousia is uncreated as well as the energeia, then both would count as the essentia of God according to Aquinas' terminology. There is a way they can both be right: To see the uncreated energies of God is to see the essentia of God.

It's a matter of language, then, not doctrine.

Incidentally, one can find the Summa Theologica as an audiobook on the wonderful Librivox.org.