Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 11

21.  God knows Himself and He knows the things He has created. The angelic powers, too, know God and know the things He has created. But they do not know God and the things He has created in the same way that God knows Himself and the things He has created.

22.  God knows Himself through knowing His blessed essence. And the things created by Him He knows through knowing His wisdom, by means of which and in which He made all things. But the angelic powers know God by participation, though God Himself transcends such participation; and the things He has created they know by apprehending that which may be spiritually contemplated in them.

These texts begin a series that touch on something critical — how do we know God? A key point in the two texts above is the difference between the way God knows himself and his creation and the way created beings know God and other created things. God knows himself in his essence and he knows all creation in its essence and being because he made all things and all things subsist in him.

But created beings cannot know God in his essence. St. Maximos is using angelic beings in this text, but the same is true of us. We know God through participation with him. The ancient theologians make the distinction between the unknowable essence of God and his energies or actions. (That’s why every way we have of speaking about God ultimately describes something God is doing if you stop to think about it for a minute.)

And that’s really how we know each other as well. I can’t know another, even my wife or child or other close relative, in their essence as God can and does. Instead, I know them through interacting with them and participating in life with them.

It’s a topic that sounds esoteric and hard to grasp, but it’s really not. It’s something we all intuitively recognize. It’s just hard to put into words.

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