Why did Gregory have this problem? Because he presupposes a real relation of God to the world. He presupposes that God is really determined in virtue of the world.
“Why can you say that? It is just the opposite! He holds that God is utterly transcendent. That we never contact him. Thus, the opposite of what you just said!”
No, but the matter is subtle. Here is the point. Gregory holds that if God were to effect something after not having effected it (“after” being once again taken from the perspective of imaginary time from the point of view of the flux of creation, not from God’s point of view as it were), then God would have to change. Since Gregory rightly holds that God cannot change he denies the antecedent.
But the conditional proposition itself is false! The conditional proposition itself is indebted to the following view of agency: That agent which effects something new must itself be really related to that something new. This premise will indeed land you in Gregory’s dilemma. Aristotle also held that premise. He held that premise and therefore concluded that the first effect of the Unmoved Mover had to be uniform. Were that first effect not uniform, the UM would have to change in order to produce a non-uniform effect.
But both of these views premise a real relation of God to the world, in the manner stated: No agent can effect something new without being really related to that something new.
We will some day pick up Aquinas on essence and existence and give the reasons for the intelligibility of holding that indeed God can effect something new without himself being affected.
My question: What ‘changed’ so that the uncreated energy inactive at time T–n became active at time T? Either God changed it (the energy) or some other energy changed it. But if God changed it, then God can effect something that (from the perspective of imaginary time) he had not been effecting before. (That is to say, more accurately, that there was a first moment from which time begins in the order of creation, as it were. That is, if we were to “rewind” the videotape of creation, we would come to a frame before which there was no frame of creation. And yet, there could have been a frame. That “could have been” is what I mean by imaginary time. It was an order of existence in which God obtained but nothing created obtained.)
Now, this claim, this very simple claim, is that God exists without flux but that the flux (flow of time) did have a first “instant” before which it was not. This claim is what Thomas Aquinas claims. It is evident that this claim destroys the need for this putative uncreated energy. Why? Because it is a claim that God can exist without the world at T-n and the world can begin at T and that God does not change. If Gregory asserts this, this argument of his for the uncreated energy is destroyed.
OR God did not effect the activation of the uncreated energy. So, some other uncreated energy effected the change. But why did this other energy effect it at this very time? Either God made it effect it from not having made it effect it, or some other energy made it effect it from not having made it effect it. And why did this other energy do this at Time T–n? Because of some other energy? Or because of God?
Very clearly, Gregory’s argument is no argument at all. It implies an infinite regress in the upward direction, a regress not of movers related sequentially in time but of movers related simultaneously. And such a regress does not allow for any causal account of the change. Therefore, Gregory has solved nothing.
But he could simply claim, with Aquinas, that God effects something from not having effected it (the ‘not having’ being taken from the perspective of the flux of imaginary time) while not changing. This is indeed a very difficulty thing to fathom. But it is not a false solution.
My Critique. This argument self-destructs. The uncreated “creating” energy either always or not always effects the world. Gregory says, correctly, following Moses’ teaching in Genesis 1, that the uncreated “creating” energy does not always effect the world. That is, the uncreated “creating” energy can be and yet a world does not therefore obtain. Otherwise, just as the uncreated energy always is, so would the world always exist. But revelation teaches the contrary.
Therefore, there was some moment before which the uncreated energy did not effect the world. Call this imaginary time T–n. (Let T = the first moment at which the world exists. n = any amount of imaginary time in the backward direction. We know that there was no such ‘real time’ since time is the measurement of motion, and since there was no measure before. Yet, we can imagine a cycle equivalent to one that will emerge [e.g. the earth’s cycle about the sun] as the measure going backward. This is imaginary time.)
Gregory thus posits that at Time T–n the creating energy was inactive, and that it became active at time T. We need not and we could not give “size” to the length of time n. It would make no sense to do so. However, we can differentiate two times, T and T–n, and that is all I am doing.
Gregory’s solution: Posit that there are “uncreated energies”. They are “uncreated,” Gregory defines, because they have no beginning. Thus, for him “uncreated” is basically synonymous with “without (temporal) beginning”. There are as many different energies as there are different kinds of product that God produces. For example, there is the “creating” energy because there are things God creates. There is the “sanctifying” energy because there are things God sanctifies. There is the “revealing” energy because there those to whom God speaks. Etc. So, contends Gregory, it is not that God changes from creating to not creating. It is rather that through his energies God creates things. God does not change. The energies suddenly produce their effects at the appropriate times. God always has his energy, Gregory contends, lest he be powerless at some point. But he is not powerless. However, these energies are not always effecting what they can effect, Gregory implies, lest the world always be (in the backward direction) and there be no “first day” of creation.
Gregory Palamas, a very important thinker for the Orthodox, proposed that God has “uncreated energies.” He has many reasons for these. We shall alight upon one or two of them. Gregory holds with the entire Tradition – and against the ever-changing and self-surprising God of von Balthasar – that God does not change. This is spot on.
His difficulty is understanding how on earth creation can be non-eternal (in the backwards direction). How can creation have a moment before which it was not? That is his difficulty. Another difficulty: How can you suddenly receive God’s grace? Don’t each of these things imply change in God?
The error to avoid: Do not think that God changes from not-creating to creating. That is treating God as though he were a “substance” that has “actions” as certain “attributes”. He would thereby no longer be absolutely simple. Rather, he would be complex, as you or I. From “not creating” he would change to “creating”. Gregory is right to reject this portrait of God, and for the reason he rejects it.