“Following John of Damascus, and especially Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), the East considers the essence of God to be unknowable, and only God’s energies or operations being revealed, the things around him (‘all that we can affirm concerning God does not shew forth God’s nature, but only the qualities of his nature’ [John of Damascus]). This dichotomy, as a sympathetic critic like T. F. Torrance argues, ‘implies that to know God in the Spirit…is not to know God in his divine Being—to know God is only to know the things that relate to his Nature as manifested through a penumbra of his uncreated energies or rays.’ This drives a wedge between the inner life of God and his saving activity in history, ruling out any real access to knowing God in himself,” R. Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective (Mentor 2007), 233-34.
“The questions to be addressed to these developments are whether, firstly, a yawning chasm has not been opened between the economic trinity and the immanent trinity, and secondly whether there is not a tendency towards a quaternity—the unknowable divine essence plus the three revealed persons. Along these lines, Fairbairn suggests that the distinction tends to create ‘a crisis of confidence in God’s character. If we insist that we can know nothing of God’s inner life…then can we really be confident that God’s outer life is consistent with his inner life” ibid. 234.
“Gregory Palamas’ development of the distinction between the unknowable essence (being) of God and his energies has won widespread approval. However, this drives a wedge between the immanent and economic trinities, between God in himself and God as he has revealed himself. This threatens our knowledge of God with a profound agnosticism, since we have no way of knowing whether God is as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ,” ibid. 283.
“It also defies rational discourse, since we cannot say anything about who God is. The acme of the Christian life becomes mystical contemplation rather than fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). As Barth says, ‘it goes beyond revelation to achieve a very different picture of God antecedently in himself’” ibid. 283.
“The point here is that this is not merely a development from the Cappadocians, whose work led to the resolution of the Trinitarian crisis. It is more than that—it is a distortion of the classic doctrine of the trinity. It introduces into God a division, not a distinction. As Dorthea Wendebourg comments, it results in the persons of the trinity having no soteriological functions. The classic doctrine affirmed that the three persons, each and together are the one God. By introducing a new level in God, the trinitarian settlement is undermined. It is the defeat of Trinitarian theology,” ibid. 283-84.