My background is in Philosophy, and I struggled with this for about five years. These TradCaths used to have my sympathy, but they walk with Aristotle stuck in their ears: if you do struggle with Intellectual Paganism, please read Saint Gregory Palamas’s Philosophy does not save.
On why Orthodox commentators keep using Barlaam as an example of what is wrong with Roman Catholicism:
Barlaam argued that mental knowledge of God was the highest possible knowledge, and that the philosophers had higher knowledge than the Prophets because of this. We, the Orthodox see Scholasticism and the Catholic concentration on Philosophy/Theology over all else as an example of the heresy known as Barlaamism.
See Andrew Stephen Damick’s book Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, page 51 for more information.
Philosophy can be good and virtuous, but it does not offer salvation nor save. Philosophy that begins without revelation is not Christianity, revelation cannot be subjected to Philosophy, but Philosophy to revelation. God has revealed things to us, and those are presuppositional.
The Philosophers and their mental knowledge (intellect) of God is lower than the Prophets and their intellect of the Heart’s knowledge of God. While the Philosophers are intellectual Christians, the Prophets are living Christians: for God is the God of the Living, not the dead.
This can also be expressed as: the Philosophers think about God, while the Prophets actually know God in their Heart and Being. Philosophers cut God to pieces inspecting their own mind. Prophets live the revelation and partake in him. This is what ‘Philosophy does not save’ means.
In this sense the TradCath mind is Pharisaical. People were touching, being healed, and knowing Christ merely by being in his presence, not by Philosophical rigour or the questioning of the Pharisees.
You interrogate the concept of God, but you were told: ‘Come and see’ (John 1:39), ‘Come with me’ (John 1:43), and ‘Come and see for yourself.’ (John 1:46). The Synoptic Gospels are the story of Christ: Catechism. The Gospel of John is Mystagogic, open your heart and partake.
On Absolute Divine Simplicity:
Saint Augustine from Plotinus, and on towards Saint Aquinas define the essence of God as identical with the attributes of God. While both Saint Dionysius and Saint John of Damascus say that the essence of the Father is beyond even the category of ‘being’ itself and therefore it is beyond all logical affirmations, even one such as simplicity. God the Father is beyond your Theology and Philosophy.
We Orthodox agree in a sense with divine simplicity, for example that God does not have parts, but because of our emphasis on salvation as theosis and on God as Persons (rather than as a ‘substance’), it makes more sense to teach in terms of his unknowable essence and knowable energies than to dwell on a philosophical category like simplicity. Which relates to the heresy of Barlaamism. If God is encountered as simple substance rather than as persons who can be met and whose energies may be participated in, then his otherness imbalances out his approachability and nearness. What we mean by this is again, God the Father is beyond your Theology and Philosophy, how we come to take part in him and understand him will not be through mere intellect. Your intellect is completely inadequate when it comes to God’s essence, you can only hope to understand his energies through revelation and participating in the body of Christ. To quote Saint Palamas: Philosophy does not save. Every tree bears true fruits according to its nature, and while Greek Philosophy may be helpful, it cannot save nor can it bear fruit that isn’t marred by Paganism.
Again, see Andrew Stephen Damick’s book Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, page 72-74 for more information.
(Almost all of what I have written above is taken from this one book).
‘The energies are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from his energies, but do not undertake to approach near to his essence. His energies come down to us, but his essence remains beyond our reach.’
Letter 234 by Saint Basil the Great.
God Bless, and may the Lord keep us all.