Saturday, October 31, 2009

Response to Perry Robinson on Corporeal Vision of Uncreated Light

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Yesterday (10/30/2009), Energetic Procession webmaster Perry Robinson said the following in response to my 10/15/2009 post "God Cannot Be Seen with the Eyes of the Body":
But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.

Luke 9:32

I guess the glory isn't God.
Dear Perry,
1. The Apostles saw the Uncreated Light of His glory [Jn 1:14], but not by corporeal vision [Jn 1:18; 1 Tim 6:16]. With regard to the Transfiguration, St. Matthew uses the diction "Moses and Elijah appeared to them" [Mt 17:3] and quotes our Lord as instructing the Apostles to "do not tell the vision to anyone" [Mt 17:9], and mentions that after the manifestation, the disciples saw only Jesus with their eyes [Mt 17:8]. Perhaps this hints that the vision of the Uncreated Light was not with the bodily eyes.

2. But aside from this speculation, the authority of three Great Doctors of the West suffices to show that the uncreated light is not at all seen with the bodily eye: St. Augustine [Epistle 147], St. Jerome [On Isaiah 6:1], and St. Ambrose [On Luke 1:2].

God bless you and yours,
Will R. Huysman

4 comments:

Brandon said...

St. Gregory Palamas:

"Those who are not aware of this light and who now blaspheme against it think that the chosen apostles saw the light of the Lord's transfiguration with their created faculty of sight, and in thiis way they endeavour to bring down to the level of a created object not just that light -- God's power and kingdom -- but even the power of the Holy Spirit, by which divine things are revealed to the worthy. They have not heard, or have not believed, Paul's words, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.'"

Homily 34, On the Transfiguration I, The Homilies, Christopher Veniamin, tr. Mount Thabor Publishing (2009) pp. 270-271. Palamas is quite clear that the divine light "surpasses not only our senses but also our minds" and is therefore not a "visible, created light" and not "perceptible to the senses" even though it is visible and perceptible through "by virtue of a higher energy," the power of the Holy Spirit, which raises us above our natures through a "transformation of the senses" and a purification of the mind. And he is quite sharp with those who suggest that the divine light "was visible to bodily eyes", because the sort of light visible to bodily eyes is created light, and thus people who think that God can be seen with bodily eyes are treating the divine light as if it weren't really divine at all. (And, contrary to the sort of light we see with bodily eyes, with this light, capable of much greater revelation, the apostles could see that Moses and Elijah were there with him, and that it was Moses and Elijah, even though they had never seen either of them before. The divine light is an all-revealing, all-transforming light that can directly open the "eye of the understanding".)

In effect, Palamas's (very plausible) account of the Transfiguration is that it was, in a sense, the transformation of the apostles -- Christ always has the divine light, and always had it, invisibly. He didn't gain it on the mountain. But the apostles were transformed, exalted, raised up, so that they could see what surpasses all bodily sight: "It is invisible, and those who behold it do so not simply with their bodily eyes, but with eyes transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit."

So anyone who says that God can be seen with the eyes of the body is either merely playing with words, since God is not seen with the eyes of the body but with the power of the Holy Spirit, even if the Spirit in making this possible exalts the whole of human nature, the senses as well as the understanding, or they are committing what St. Gregory considers blasphemy.

Will R. Huysman said...

Dear Brandon,
Thanks for the info. I have no problems with the quotes from Palamas until this quote:
"It is invisible, and those who behold it do so not simply with their bodily eyes, but with eyes transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Am I misunderstanding Palamas's "playing with words," or does his diction imply that the Uncreated Light can be seen with the bodily eyes as long as these eyes are elevated/transformed by grace (as opposed to a natural ability to see the Uncreated Light with the bodily eyes)? I deny, for the reasons given in my original post that precipitated Perry Robinson's criticism, that even engraced corporeal eyes can perceive incorporeal substances. Instead, the vision of the Uncreated Light (Godhead) must be intellectual [Summa Theologica I, q. 12, art. 3].

Thanks for your help.

God bless you and yours,
Will R. Huysman

Brandon said...

Well, he's talking about the Transfiguration, which wasn't a purely intellectual vision -- the disciples physically saw Christ and his clothes and the mountain, for instance, even if they saw the divine light in Christ only with the purified eye of the understanding. Also, the 'transformation of the senses' is from fleshly sight to spiritual sight, and the emphasis in context should be on 'bodily' not 'simply'.

But we're talking a sermon here, one with a particular end in view (to deny that the light at the Transfiguration was merely a created light, which Palamas doesn't distinguish from being a light that can be seen by bodily eyes), not a rigorous treatise on the subject from which one can derive Palamas's full account of how the divine light is seen in general or of how it was seen by the apostles in the Transfiguration. But the point was that Palamas himself has no problem with saying that the uncreated light cannot be seen by the eyes of the body -- he says so himself several times, in several different ways.

Will R. Huysman said...

Dear Brandon,
I am always grateful for your insightful input. Thanks a lot for correcting my misunderstanding of Palamas by pointing to his own words and the intention behind them. I learned to look at what Palamas himself actually said, rather than relying on potentially misleading secondary sources (in this instance I was misled by the New Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 766). Thanks also for linking to my blog.

God bless you and yours,
Will R. Huysman