Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom

By Guiu, Adrian | Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom


Guiu, Adrian, Anglican Theological Review


Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom, by David Bradshaw, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 312 pp. $59.93 (cloth).

As the subtitle of the book indicates, Bradshaw attempts to explain the division of Christendom through metaphysics: the way the Aristotelian concept of energeia was adopted and transformed in the East and West respectively.

In the first part of the book, Bradshaw traces the development of the concept energeia from Aristotle through Plotinus. The heritage of Plotinus is furthered and transformed through Iamblichus and Proclus and is then picked up by Christian Neo-Platouists. The chapter on the formation of the Eastern tradition follows the development of energeia through the Cappadocian Fathers, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, Simeon the New Theologian and finally Gregory Palamas. The distinction between ousia and energeia (between God as He "remains beyond our reach" and "God as He "comes down to us") is first forged by the Cappadocians. Thus God's energeiai, his manifestations ad extra, are not creatures "but God himself appearing in a certain form" (p.169). This distinction will receive its best formulation in Gregory Palamas whom Bradshaw regards as the completion of the Eastern tradition.

The Wests trajectory after Plotinus goes through the anonymous commentator on the Parmenides, Marius Victorinus, Augustine, and ultimately Thomas Aquinas. The most important development to occur in the West was the association between energeia and esse: energeia as activity is transformed into esse. The turning point is reached in the Anonymous Commentary, with "its attempt to isolate the notion of existence as such in distinction from that of existence qua some particular type of thing" (p. 107).

Bradshaw's main contention against the Western tradition is the doctrine of divine simplicity which was first developed by Augustine. This theory will pose a very difficult question for the rest of the tradition: what is the status of God's manifestations in creation? Are they created or un-created? The principle of divine simplicity leaves the West with the very difficult question of how created human beings can communicate with this unmoved, simple and eternal substance. After Augustine, Aquinas also "failed to find a way beyond the limits that Augustine has placed on the manner in which Cod fan be present to creatures" (p. …

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