Eastern Orthodoxy teaches the essence–energies distinction of God. Wikipedia quotes catholic-church.org's explanation:

The Ultimate Reality and Meaning of the Palamite theology consists of the distinction between God’s Essence and Energy. This is a way of expressing the idea that the transcendent God remains eternally hidden in His Essence, but at the same time that God also seeks to communicate and The Distinction between God’s Essence and Energy unite Himself with us personally through His Energy.

This sounds very similar to how theologians since Athanasius have spoken of the difference between the ontological (or immanent) and the economic views of the Trinity. R. C. Sproul explains:

Ontology is the study of being. When we talk about the ontological Trinity, or as some theologians term it, the “immanent Trinity,” we are referring to the Trinity in itself, without regard to God’s works of creation and redemption. In the Trinity, there are three persons —the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—who together are one being. The ontological structure of the Trinity is a unity (Deut. 6:4). When we speak of the economic Trinity, on the other hand, we are dealing with the activity of God and the roles of the three persons with regard to creation and redemption.

But while Catholics and Protestants generally accept the ontological/economic views of God, they regard the essence–energies distinction as problematic or even heretical.

So what is the difference between these views, and why would many Western theologians consider the essence–energies distinction to be heresy?

  • It seems having to do with how essence-energies "real" distinction compromises Divine Simplicity although both sides disagree that it does this. This 700-year controversy is filled with polemics because of other issues linked to this. A 2015 paper argues that essence-energies distinction isn't necessary to achieve the benefits (Thomism is enough) and provides great service by tracing the history of the formulations to dial down the polemics & affirms commonalities thus reducing the "heresy" to a "school debate". Feb 21 at 16:26
  • Excellent question by the way. I'm also reading another paper that is much shorter and less philosophical to introduce myself to the motivation behind the essence-energies distinction, which seems to enable support for certain practice of mysticism and a certain personal unitive experience of God. My first impression is that energy-essence distinction applies to a narrower field than the economic view of God, limited to mysticism and the immanence of God in creation rather than including soteriological application. Feb 21 at 16:35
  • This 2019 paper Essence and Energies:What Kind of Distinction? in a philosophical theology journal Analogia offers another intro (shorter but much narrower scope), authored by a possibly more neutral scholar (University of Kentucky philosophy professor, as opposed to a Dominican religious of the 2015 STH thesis referred above) but both tried to be faithful to the fountainhead of the distinction: George Palamas. Feb 21 at 16:47
  • My time is limited but this is the subject of much debate and whether Palamas and Bonaventure/Scotus are somewhat compatible, etc. Check out this paper for a bunch of related sources (but keep in mind the paper starts in the middle of an ongoing conversation): academia.edu/8586448/_Palamas_Among_the_Scholastics_
    – Dan
    Apr 12 at 0:47

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