The contribution of Fr. Georges Florovsky to the rediscovery of the Orthodox teaching on the distinction between the Divine essence and energies
The objective of this essay is to discuss the re-emergence of the distinction between Divine essence and energies in Orthodox theology by focusing on the sophiological controversy in the first half of 20th century with a specific emphasis on the theology of Fr. Georges Florovsky and Fr. Sergei Bulgakov. In the works of Bulgakov the concept of Sophia, Wisdom of God, emerged as a theological construction somehow in parallel to the three hypostases of the Holy Trinity. Florovsky on the other hand viewed Bulgakov’s sophiology as alien to Patristic theology. The two theologians were highly respectful to each other and engaged into an indirect theological debate in which it was not the understanding of Sophia but its implication for the Christian dogma on creation out of nothing that emerged as the real stumbling block. Bulgakov addressed the doctrine of creation from a sophiological point of view. Florovsky, addressed the doctrine of creation by focusing on the distinction between Divine nature and will and, respectively, between Divine essence and energies. The focus on the above objective pursues three goals. The first goal is to point out that the key reason for the rediscovery of the teaching of the Divine essence and energies was profoundly theological. This fact is being currently diluted by arguments about the existence of special personal motives of the Russian émigré theologians in Paris who were trying to justify their theological presence within the context of their new non-Orthodox cultural environment. The second goal is to contribute to the contemporary re-evaluation of the theology of Fr. S. Bulgakov which is becoming increasingly, but sometimes quite uncritically, popular amongst both Orthodox and non-Orthodox theologians. The analysis of his theology suggests that: i) his theological contributions should not be considered apart from the specific context of his proper theological motivations – the sophianic development of the theology of St Gregory Palamas, ii) his major contribution should be associated with his dialogical role in opening up the opportunity for a critical theological response to his own theology that would provide some of the key Orthodox theological insights in the 20th century. The third goal is to point out the role of Fr. G. Florovsky for the rediscovery of the teaching on the Divine essence and energies as one of his key theological contributions by focusing on some of his letters to Bulgakov that were written as early as 1925 and on his work Creature and creaturehood (1927). The analysis suggests that these early works have determined the main direction of Orthodox theological reflection in the 20th century.
International Journal of Orthodox Theology, 2011, Vol 2, Issue 1, p. 15-71
Essence and energy; Orthodox theology; Sophia; Wisdom of God; Georges Florovsky; Sergei Bulgako