From Adrian Fortescue's article "Hesychasm" in the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The other element of fourteenth-century Hesychasm [spearheaded by Gregory Palamas 1296 - 1359] was the famous real distinction between essence and attributes (specifically one attribute -- energy) in God. This theory, fundamentally opposed to the whole conception of God in the Western Scholastic system, had also been prepared by Eastern Fathers and theologians. Remotely it may be traced back to neo-Platonism. The Platonists had conceived God as something in every way unapproachable, remote from all categories of being known to us. God Himself could not even touch or act upon matter. Divine action was carried into effect by demiurges, intermediaries between God and creatures. The Greek Fathers (after Clement of Alexandria mostly Platonists) had a tendency in the same way to distinguish between God's unapproachable essence and His action, energy, operation on creatures [This is a real philosophical problem]. God Himself transcends all things. He is absolute, unknown, infinite above everything; no eye can see, no mind conceive Him. What we can know and attain is His action [The famous dictum - You can't see the wind, but you can see the effects of wind].Here are a few questions:
The foundation of a real distinction between the unapproachable essence (ousia) and the approachable energy (energeia) is thus laid. For this system, too, the quotations made by Hesychasts from Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, especially from Pseudo-Dionysius, supply enough examples. The Hesychasts were fond of illustrating their distinction between God's essence and energy (light) by comparing them to the sun, whose rays are really distinct from its globe, although there is only one sun. It is to be noted that the philosophic opponents of Hesychasm always borrow their weapons from St. Thomas Aquinas and the Western Schoolmen [Amen to that!]. They argue, quite in terms of Latin Aristotelean philosophy, that God is simple; except for the Trinity there can be no distinctions in an actus purus. This distinct energy [as described by the Palamites], uncreated light that is not the essence of God, would be a kind of demiurge, something neither God nor creature; or there would be two Gods, an essence and an energy. From one point of view, then, the Hesychast controversy may be conceived as an issue between Greek Platonist philosophy and Latin rationalist Aristoteleanism. It is significant that the Hesychasts were all vehemently Byzantine and bitter opponents of the West, while their opponents were all Latinizers, eager for reunion.
- Why has Palamas become fashionable in the West?
- Why do people feel the need to reconcile Thomas Aquinas to Gregory Palamas?
- If we aren't trying to justifying Hesychast sprituality, why buy into the Palamite distinctions?
- Why not look to Thomas' beautiful and illuminating account of the Transfiguration instead of Palamas' appeal to the "divine energies".