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Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom 1st Edition
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"...this impressively scholarly endeavor not only intends to inform us of the philosophical landscape of theologies of the Christian east, but would lead us to learn from their practice by undertaking comparative explorations, exemplified by the exchange he sets up between Aquinas and Palamas."
-David B. Burrell, Nova Et Vetera
"One of the central virtues of this book, which deserves to be called a tour de force, is that it builds bridges without employing rhetorical gimmicks. The gulfs between Eastern and Western Christianity, philosophy and theology, and ancient philosophy broadly and narrowly conceived all here come under attack...Beginning with the ancient concept of energeia, Bradshaw is able to cast light on a plethora of deeply divisive issues. Scholars of ancient philosophy primarily or exclusively devoted to the 4th century B.C.E. are hereby invited to a little horizon expansion."
-Lloyd P. Gerson, University of Toronto, Ancient Philosophy
"The study is a learned and original undertaking, presents many valuable insights, and is a fairly complete history of the career of the term energeia."
-L.J. Elders, Institute of Philosophy and Theology Rolduc Kerktrade, The Netherlands
Winner of the Journal of the History of Ideas's Morris D. Forkosch prize This book traces treatments of the relationship between God's being and activity from Aristotle, through the pagan Neoplatonists, and into thinkers such as Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas (in the West) and Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, and Gregory Palamas (in the East). The result is a powerful comparative history of philosophical thought in the two halves of Christendom, providing a philosophical backdrop to the schism between the Eastern and Western churches. It will be of wide interest to readers in philosophy, theology and medieval history.
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But worth any difficulty involved. It is a very serious work by someone who is both a philosopher by profession and an Eastern Orthodox Christian.
He gives an intellectual history of "energeia", a very important term for the early Fathers, later Fathers, and also the Great Fathers of the last millenium, such as St Gregory Palamas.
The Latin tradition is intelligently and even sympathetically discussed in a predominantly irenic spirit. Bradshaw manages to balance the prevailing atmosphere of Western ignorance and prejudice (well illustrated in a couple of the less sympathetic reviews here) with a lucid account of the thinking of important but underemphasized figures in philosophical scholarship; e.g., the Cappadocians, St. Dionysius and St. Maximus. While there have been a number of helpful studies of these thinkers in recent years, they have been mostly concerned with what is now called spirituality, or with dogmatic theology. The unity of faith, practice and intellectual life which has prevailed in the Christian East has not been generally appreciated. Bradshaw appreciates it.
I have shared this fine book with colleagues and students; they have always profited and appreciated its helpful treatment of an issue and of thinkers who are still far too little appreciated or ill understood in prevalent schools of philosophical scholarship. It is hard reading, but well worth the effort.
David Bradshaw angered a lot of people with this, though when one looks at what is actually said, it's hard to see how Bradshaw said anything new. Even where he suggests new readings, he is not reconstructing the readings in any major way.
A few words beforehand: this book cautions against reading later concepts into an earlier word. Contrary to the nonsense at Credenda Agenda, the Eastern fathers' use of "energies" stems not from Plotinus (since Plotinus did not invent either the word or the concept) but rather was an older word that was continually reinterpreted around increasingly Christian categories.
Aristotle was the first to use this word, energia (or any of its semantic cognates). Aristotle's use suggests something along the lines of actuality and activity. Other thinkers took the word and gave it different applications, but the term itself did not have much of a philosophical impact until Middle Platonism (the biblical use of the term will be dealt with later).
Plotinus makes several interesting suggestions. Plotinus expands energia from Aristotle's actuality to the intrinsic productivity of all things (77). Plotinus' Two Acts: Intellect comes from the One, leaving the one unchanged. The lower hypostasis goes forth from the higher hypostasis and looks to that higher hypostasis to attain being (81). The second act is the internal energia contemplating the return back to the higher hypostasis.
Palamas and Eastern theology in general have been accused of simply regurgitating Plotinus per salvation (cf. Doug Wilson's moronic essay to this title). But given that many Eastern writers were saying similar things before Proclus and Plotinus, and that later Eastern writers fundamentally changed key moves in Plotinus' system, it's hard to say that the Eastern view is simply neo-Platonic .
The highlight of Bradshaw's book is the comparison between St Gregory Palamas and the Augustinian-Thomist synthesis. Bradshaw got in a little trouble for this argument, but it's hard to see why, since Western authors have said the same thing. Bradshaw points out that for Augustine's view of divine simplicity (and truth in general), a number of reductios entail: if God's will and God's essence are identical, it's hard to see how God could have willed otherwise (since God's essence cannot be otherwise). Hence, a most radical form of fatalism. Thomas accepts this argument, but Bradshaw's critique focuses mainly on Thomas' inability to rise out of his presuppositions. He wants to have a form of participatory metaphysics in the afterlife, but this cannot square with his emphasis on the beatific vision.
While it is true that Roman Catholicism espouses a form of synergism, it's hard to see how. Since Aquinas says that God wills all things in a single act of willing (which is identical with his essence), creatures cannot contribute anything to their salvation (or even spiritual life). Thus, all that remains is the relationship of grace manifested in an extrinsic and causal way (254).
While inviting opprobrium from the academia (who do nothing in response but chant "De Regnon" and sneer "neo-Palamite"), Bradshaw has clearly outlined his case. Even accepting that he has misread Proclus and Plotinus at places, it can no longer be gainsaid that the theological vision of Augustine and Aquinas is fundamentally at odds with the Eastern fathers. And since Christianity came from the East, and developed its theological expression in the East; ergo....
About ten years ago Joseph P. Farrell advanced similar claims, and the scholarly world laughed at him, dismissing him because he believed in space pyramids or something. The unspoken implication was that all rejections of Augustinian Triadology reduce to this same absurdity. David Bradshaw, writing from a peer-reviewed and university position, says exactly the same thing. However, his book was only published by Cambridge. Since then Andrew Radde-Galwitz (Oxford 2009) has gone even further. More importantly, his book was published by Oxford. The point in all of this is modern university scholarship is catching up to what Farrell said fifteen years ago. It's easy to laugh at Farrell. However, other academically-published authors are saying the same thing. Farrell's detractors are finding themselves increasingly marginalized.
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Dr. Bradshaw is not polemical and goes right to the primary texts (and I believe he did his reading and analysis in the original...Read more