Unknown God, Known in His Activities

Incomprehensibility of God during the Trinitarian

Controversy of the 4th Century 

Tomasz Stepien (Author), Karolina Kochanczyk-Boninska, Berne: Peter Lang Verlag, 2018


What can man know about God? This question became one of the main problems during the 4th-century Trinitarian controversy, which is the focus of this book. Especially during the second phase of the conflict, the claims of Anomean Eunomius caused an emphatic response of Orthodox writers, mainly Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa. Eunomius formulated two ways of theology to show that we can know both the substance (ousia) and activities (energeiai) of God. The Orthodox Fathers demonstrated that we can know only the external activities of God, while the essence is entirely incomprehensible. Therefore the 4th-century discussion on whether the Father and the Son are of the same substance was the turning point in the development of negative theology and shaping the Christian conception of God.

(Text from the publisher)

Table of contents


  1. The origins of Christian Negative Theology

1.1 The ambiguity of the Holy Scripture concerning the knowledge of God

1.2 Philo of Alexandria – transcendence and negative theology

1.3 The apologetic usage of negative theology in the 2nd century

1.4 Clement of Alexandria – the unknown Father revealed in the Son of God

1.5 The incomprehensible Father in Origen

  1. Incomprehensibility of God in the First Phase of the Arian Controversy

2.1 The knowledge of God in Arius

2.1.1 The problem of Platonism of Arius

2.1.2 Monad and Dyad – the problem of creation

2.1.3 Creation ex nihilo? The problem of a “non-being”

2.1.4 The attributes of God from Arius’ perspective

2.1.5 Negative theology of Arius

2.2 The transcendence and knowledge of God in Athanasius

2.2.1 The knowledge of the image of God

2.2 Knowing God from the creations

2.3 Positive and negative theology reconciled in Marius Victorinus

2.3.1 God as non-existent above existents

2.3.2 Negative theology in speaking of God as the One

  1. “You Worship What You Do Not Know”

3.1 “Ingeneracy” as a positive attribute and the essence of God

3.2 Worship and knowledge – a puzzling question

3.2.1 The distinction between “that is” and “what is”

3.2.2 Faith and understanding

3.3 You are like the Samaritans

  1. Ousia and Energeia (Substance and Activity)

4.1 Eunomius and the two ways of theology

4.2 The philosophical sources of οὐσία and ἐνέργεια

4.2.1 Aristotle – the origins of ἐνέργεια

4.2.2 The use of ἐνέργεια  in Middle-Platonism and Plotinus

4.3 The Holy Scripture and early Christian concepts of ἐνέργεια

4.3.1 The Holy Scripture on the activities of God as away to know His attributes

4.3.2 The Church Fathers and the sources of Eunomius’ methods

4.4 The knowledge of the Unbegotten substance in two ways

4.4.1 The first method – from substance to activity

4.4.2 The second method – from activity to substance

4.5 Basil of Caesarea on language and comprehensibility of God

4.6 Gregory of Nyssa on knowing the activities and the essence of God

4.6.1 The ontological status of God’s activities

4.6.2 The criticism of the second way of Eunomius

4.6.3 The activity of generation and other activities of God

4.6.4 Activities and incomprehensibility of God

  1. The Development of Negative Theology in the Latter Half of the 4th Century

5.1 Basil of Caesarea’s incomprehensibility of οὐσία

5.2 Negative theology and mystical experience in Gregory of Nyssa

5.3 Unknown God of Gregory of Nazianzus

5.4 John Chrysostom against Eunomius






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