White Horse Inn Modern Reformation

Certain New Theandric Energy, Part 1

Published Thursday, December 24, 2020 By Ryan M. Hurd

What God has done in Christ is cause for confession of praise. The delightful responsibility of the Christian theologian is not only to offer up the whole range of judgments about this, all the affirmations and negations, but to maximize as well as he can the “some understanding” within the predicates of these judgments. Judgment and understanding are the saying of Mystery, or theology as such.

At perhaps the end of all the judgments in the systematic order regarding what Christ is in himself, as the final judgment made prior to entering into those regarding what Christ does, there is this judgment which is signified as “certain new theandric energy.” It is nested within many prior judgments of what Christ is: that he is one person; that he is one person in two natures; one person with two intellects; with two wills; with two energies or operations. These last represent merely the stations we encounter whilst walking the Chalcedonian line in its invariable expression. Thomas says it better than anyone: “whatever is multiplied according to diversity of nature, it is necessary for us to confess it is plural in Christ.”[1] The truly enhypostatic view of Christ’s human nature is metaphysically geared to unfurl like a tendril. When touched with further questions, we spring and talk of “twos,” staggered and ordered. The natures are not parallel, not coordinate partners of an equivalent order; we aggressively disassemble any notion of “competition” or “dissonance” in more basic issues like two intellects, two wills, simply because we are dealing with a union according to subsistence across a qualitatively infinite distance; the same goes for the perfect operations of those powers, e.g. the issue of two consciousnesses, to nod to Lonergan. For the current topic, what was the enhypostasis of human nature issue is simply distributed onto the issue of energies in an appropriate way: the energy of the Son according to human nature is only “extant” by participating in the energy of the Son according to the divine nature. The reduplications quickly become unmanageable syntactically but cannot become such conceptually. Two energies, and everything else that is “two,” is only the twofold (dupliciter) of participant in participated, created in uncreated.

I say after all this, and many more items of significant theological value, and notably after the judgment that the divine and human energies are really distinct, there is yet another judgment that we make. This last is signified as “certain new theandric energy.” The judgment is this: “These two energies are not not-united.” This is the confession of the catholic church.

The Origin of the Phrase, and Roughly What Energy Means

The rather daring phrase of “certain new theandric energy” originates from Dionysius, in the now famous epistle 4 to Gaius (PG 3, 1072A). The phrase was most ably articulated by Maximos the Confessor in a few places (Ambiguum 5; Letter to Marinus; Letter to Nicander), in explicit accord with Dionysius’s explanation for how it was true, and what understanding was contained within this judgment. It was again brought forward by John of Damascus in his De fide orthodoxa (III c 19), the work as a whole serving as a central text for the high medievals after it was translated in the early 1200s. And, to include a theologian from the Latin West, the same elements of the “certain new theandric energy” are inferable from Thomas Aquinas, though it seems he may have stopped just short of explicitly offering this judgment, or at least he seems to be pulling away from it more than resting upon it (cf. ST III q 19 a 1; III Sent d 18 a 1; IV SCG c 36; De ver q 20 a 1 ad 2; De unione a 1 ad 16; a 5; CT c 212). In this, Maximos, along with Dionysius, perhaps managed to achieve a higher dogmatic position than Thomas Aquinas did at least in his written self, with their addition of the negative judgment that the two energies are not divided, and thus and so there is certain new theandric energy. The subsequent opportunity for systematic understanding (not found in the negative judgment itself, but what is gained via its function in Christology as a whole) is thereby and only in this way more potent. The difference between the Thomas of the East (Maximos the Confessor) and the Maximos of the West (Thomas Aquinas) would then be very slight but significant: it is what lies as the intelligible difference between Thomas’s true negative judgment, “The energies are not united,” and Maximus’s true negative judgment, “The energies are not ununited” (both judgments priorly conceding that there are two energies, divine and human, and operating within a theology that is consistently and fully Chalcedonian). This last judgment is the only way to dogmatically affirm “certain new theandric energy” in an orthodox way, and seems to be the final dogmatic statement available on this line, and therein the highest systematic understanding subsequent that judgment.

Certainly however, whilst Thomas’s concerns are different and his context is different, his theology is fully concordant with exactly what Maximos achieved before him and under pressure. The concerns and context of the time of the church served by Maximos are instructive. He faced the threat, perennial to the catholic church, of various positions that took advantage of the phrase offered by the respected father Dionysius: “certain new theandric energy.” The phrase was adopted and then malformed, to default back into a miaphysite, monothelite, ultimately monoenergist position. For instance, Cyrus of Phasis, a bishop, rather famously involved himself in the 633 Alexandrian Pact of Union, a statement more than friendly to the miaphysite position; Dionysius’s wording was massaged from “certain theandric energy” into “one theandric energy.” The change—accidental, purposeful, or one beset with textual difficulties—did not escape the notice of the 649 Lateran Council, nor Maximos himself, who was quick to point out that Dionysius had been taken advantage of and abused (cf. Ambiguum 5). In the ensuing controversy, it became clear that “certain new theandric energy,” if a phrase used at all, could only be deployed posterior to the whole complex of affirmative judgments consequent the dogmatic claim of two natures, and everything implied by that with all the precision expected by the standard Chalcedonic refrain: unconfused, undivided, unchanged, unseparated. I point out this broadest sweep of history, to underwrite the fact that the phrase operates within a mature Chalcedonianism, and only ever within such. Facing the happy limitations of orthodoxy, wording is not only essential, but indicates whether one has understood “theandric energy” with the orthodox affirmations behind it, or not: one does not say “a theandric energy,” not “the theandric energy,” definitely not “one theandric energy,” but “certain theandric energy,” or, in English, probably only “new theandric energy” without articulation.

What is this “energy” meant to encompass? “Energy,” ενεργεια in Greek, likely translates best to “operation,” operatio in Latin. It is somewhat difficult to pin down, given that not everyone uses it precisely, let alone precisely the same way, in the context of Monoenergism and Dyenergism debates, not to mention the somewhat separable issue of “certain theandric energy” at focus here. I say somewhat separable because this question could be fielded in the context of the debate between Monoenergism and Dyenergism (roughly where Thomas deals with it, with his primary focus on the judgment that there is not one energy), or exterior to it, after one has opted for the orthodox Dyenergism side. The broad intent of “energy” is specifically, to transpose to Latin, the not-yet-received “actus” of an agent that has “departed” from the agent but not yet “landed” in the patient. For instance, Maximos points out well in Ambiguum 5 that energy is not yet the effect in the patient: in the case of a hot sword, the effect is burning and the effect is cutting, and neither of these as effects are the illustration for the “theandric energy” being clarified. What for Maximos is “energy” for Thomas is rendered “operation” most frequently in his specific writings addressing this issue; less frequently “action,” though equally appropriate. It is my opinion that it is identical with what Thomas calls non-subsistens esse, in the case of the divine essence: i.e., it is the quid that the first effect is, “being” in proposition 4 of the Liber de causis as Thomas interprets it. And, in the case of a created essence, “energy,” “operation,” is identical to transubstantial motion. This, for the record, highlights something of the conceptual difficulty at hand, particularly that we are only on the existential line of being in working with this issue.

Making This Judgment

How is the judgment “certain new theandric energy” rendered? It is worth the time to be somewhat pedantic in explaining how this goes. It will be obscure to many why “The energies are not not-united” does not collapse to “The energies are united,” and particularly how this last defaults to heresy (!), while the first is the farthest line of orthodoxy. Nonetheless it should be noted that this is a frequent circumstance in the discipline of theology when dealing with the twin mysteries of the faith, Trinity and hypostatic union. And Maximos was extremely wise to point out the basic principle that theologians today would do well to remember more frequently: when we make a judgment of negation of two extremes this does not necessarily mean we then can make a judgment of affirmation (cf. Ambiguum 5); “is not not” does not per se convert to “is,” no matter what people think. Theology is not maths. Once again, this cardinal principle is especially operative throughout the doctrine of Trinity and hypostatic union, and I must say quite frequently missed in contemporary theology. Knowing this, both Maximos and John of Damascus label Dionysius’s phrase “certain new theandric energy” that signifies the negative judgment, merely “circumlocution”: contrasted to directly affirming, “The energies are united.” “Is not not” circumlocutes the point by specifically absenting from “is,” by coming at the point from the opposite way.

How does this go? “New theandric energy”: this is truly judged, as Maximos well explains in Ambiguum 5, only identically by and as negating the division of divine and human energies, a judgment that corresponds to the real non-division accomplished in hypostatic union. This line may be difficult to follow, but it is perfectly basic to orthodoxy and fundamental to Christology as such. It is perhaps useful to recall that we are making a judgment whose object is Mystery, whose utterance is by faith, and whose intelligibility is so restricted to the understanding which faith itself is seeking. As a judgment of this sort, we cannot expect to be met by the signified reality itself in the way we are confronted with stones and trees in the world. The highest knowledge, whilst in this life, is merely what is the being-true of the judgments we make, as Thomas Aquinas continually says.

If one is distressed at this, one will be sorry to hear the situation becomes more fraught, at least for those who expect these judgments to open the lid on Mystery. The judgment of certain new theandric energy is not an affirmative judgment: we do not affirm, “The energies are united,” because there is nothing to rise up and meet this judgment to make the intellect true, for nothing is between God and creation.

On the contrary, the judgment is a negative one; it signifies not what is, but what is not. The “division” (…just another word for “distinction,” but a different one to keep clear that real distinction is still affirmed and never denied) is really severed by the one God acting indivisibly; thus we confess, “the two natures are not not-united.” To put it extremely technically, the judgment is “per remotionem,” i.e. it is merely the intellect’s reasoning motion from the formality of the predicate (“division”) in which the subject (“two natures”) is being understood. This Dionysius knew, this Thomas knew, for this is how and why we make negative judgments in theology. This very intellectual motion, the “being removed division,” corresponds to reality as such: the real “being removed division” achieved in incarnation, presently persisting, and so on for eternity. This intellectual motion is referred to by the intellect in its own consciousness of its acts, as singular–“one energy,” watch it closely, not in reality but only in its being within the intellect. It is named, with a sign whose thing signified (significatum) is precisely this one energy, which as truly intellectually one corresponds to reality in the world at large, praise God.

This is all the regular way we handle negations in theology proper. Upon the utterance of this judgment of negation, we circumspectly or reflectively make aggressive inquiry whose object is identically and only our very own intellectual act; we make subsequent judgments about this, and some understanding is had.

RM Hurd is a systematic theologian whose area of expertise is doctrine of God, specifically the Trinity. His primary training is in the high medievals and early modern scholastics as well as the twentieth-century ressourcement movement. His main project is writing a robust systematics of the Trinity; he also teaches systematics on God as a teaching fellow with The Davenant Institute.


[1] Quaecumque enim secundum naturae diversitatem multiplicantur, necesse est quod in Christo plura esse confiteamur. Thomas, CT c 212.

  • Ryan M. Hurd