For reasons I'm not entirely sure the blog seems to be refusing to let me add comments to my own posts, or stay signed in as Seraphim, which is frustrating because somebody left a question I wanted to respond to on the post "Transcendental Idealism: Brief Thoughts." I am going instead to respond here.
My original post was indeed quite brief. It read as follows:
Transcendental idealism in three sentences: I am I. I am not not-I. The non-I is given, and not derived from the self; the non-I is transcendentally constructed by and not known apart from the self.
Or in three words: identity, difference, act.
A poster named Christ wrote the following words last March, words which due to my family/work blogging absence I did not read until tonight:
I discovered your blog by way of the exchange that you had with the late Stratford Caldecott. It is oh so rare to find orthodox Christians who are genuinely familiar with the Traditionalist School of Guenon and Schuon.
I apologize for my presumption, but I hope that you'd be willing to give your opinion on a couple of things that have preoccupied me. I came (returned) to the faith of my childhood, Roman Catholicism, by way of the Perennialist point of view. Ever since then, I have immersed myself in the spiritual/intellectual tradition of the Roman Church, especially the Thomistic thinkers. I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to hear that I have found it difficult to reconcile the "transcendent unity of religions" with the central tenets of traditional Christianity. The "Perennialist-Christian project" seems to rest on the applicability of the doctrine of maya in Divinis, of the distinction between Nirguna and Saguna Brahman. Christian Perennialists seem to make the claim that same teaching can be found in their tradition by way of the Essence-Energy distinction. Do you think that these are, in fact, the same? And, how can a western Christian view this position who don't admit of the essence-energy distinction in the first place?
I would like to respond in the comments, and hopefully will when the bug is fixed. In the meantime, here goes:
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I apologize that I did not see your question until now. I get notifications of comments on my email, which I have not checked in a very long time - a heavy work schedule and increasingly growing family life has set things like that, and my blog, on the back burner. I'm about to quit teaching positions at two secular universities and move across the country to begin teaching at a small, orthodox Catholic liberal arts high school - named (appropriately enough for my background and interests, Chesterton Academy!) while finding that for the third time in the third year of our marriage we are once again pregnant. A quick prayer or two on your part would be appreciated once you see this.
You raise a good point, and I think that the comparison made between the two distinctions (saguna vs. nirguna or "s/n" and essence vs energies or "e/e") is illuminating, that it increases our understanding of the problems, and often applicable, but that ultimately it doesn't work. They're close, but not quite the same.
For one, the energetic mode of being God extends into the Trinity itself, and I don't believe that one can be an orthodox Christian and relegate the Trinity to saguna Brahman, as I suspect most "perennialist-Christians" or at least most Perennialists would do. I also don't think that, despite the "Godhead" language he uses that appears to do this, Meister Eckhart actually intended to relegate the Trinity to a lower way of being God below the ineffable Godhead. Meister Eckhart is of course the lens through which perennialism views Christianity - often in a manner which I believe is unbalanced and does not correctly reflect Eckhart's context within the Christian tradition. Perhaps a better recovery of Eckhart and his context and setting would help make the reconciliation between perennialism and Christianity a little bit less difficult?
The divine "energies" *do* need to be applied to the Trinity for two reasons. The first is that that is the Orthodox teaching concerning the procession of the Spirit - that the role of the Son in the Spirit's procession is energetic, not hypostatic. Neither hardline Orthodox nor Roman Catholics will necessarily feel the need to make this distinction, but both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions on a magisterial level have shared that common understanding since the 14th century.
The second reason is that the Trinity is not only immanent but also economic - and therefore preeminently "energetic" in the latter case - and the two ways of being Trinity are nondual. In Rahner's terms, "the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity, and the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity".
A second way in which the comparison breaks down is that in Hinduism, if I understand it correctly, Brahman actually refers not to God-as-He-exists-apart-from-any-consideration-of-our-existence, but rather quite directly and tangibly to the realization or experience of God; the word "Brahman" actually refers directly to the sacrificial Vedic prayers, and only by extension to the experience of God sought through those prayers. (And of course, any other God-talk would be dismissed as misguided - atman is Brahman, which entails that ALL discussion of God is discussion of the experience of God. Orthodox Christian theology must concur, acknowledging no avenue to God apart from the meeting-point between the human and divine natures in the Incarnation of Christ, and we remember Meister Eckhart's words about the threefold nativity of Christ in the eternal generation of the Logos in the cave of the Father, in the cave of Bethlehem, and in the cave of our heart - and these three are all one and the same.)
So saguna Brahman is the relationship of the devotee to his Lord, and nirguna Brahman is the nondual experience of God in the cloud of unknowing. In either case, we experience God through His energies. Theosis is energetic, which is simply another way of saying that we are God by grace and not by nature, that we are creatures who are becoming uncreated. This is still true if we take the standpoint of other standard schools within Hinduism that view the same process in terms of shedding ignorance and realizing something which was always the reality to begin with - God is eternal and if we "become God" that does not mean that God has not always been God or that He experienced some change in time.
So I'd point out those two ways in which the s/n and e/e distinctions don't exactly map onto each other. Nonetheless they're close to each other. God as He is beyond manifestation and form (nirguna Brahman) is God as He exists beyond all knowing and reach (God's ineffable Essence). God as manifested to us as Creator and Lord is God as known and loved and participated (God's uncreated Energies).
From a Latin Catholic POV, you'd want to talk about the analogy of Being and participation. There simply is no e/e distinction because there is no adequate Latin translation of the word "energeia". "Energeia" connotes the whole process of participated analogy of being which the mechanistic "operatio" misses. And "Essentia" in Latin is the whole Being of God in which we participate, which I believe is a bit broader than the Greek "ousia" (the divine depths of God-in-Himself beyond all knowing and participation).
When viewing through an Eastern Christian view, one must be careful not to separate God into a knowable part and an unknowable part. That destroys the paradox and mystery, which is that we know the unknowable God. (The blog wars over the apparent contradiction between absolute divine simplicity ["ADS"] and e/e testify to this. I plainly and simply believe the Thomists are right to affirm ADS. I also do not believe that their development of the understanding of divine simplicity departs from that of Damascene, who very strongly affirms both divine simplicity and e/e together.)