Theosis


A vision for theosis:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

I don’t hold to the patristic idea of synergism, at least as it is popularly conceived, because most work a contrastive view of agency (or a zero sum game). If it is 100% God, then it must be 0% human (and vice versa). If God exists outside the system, as supra-being, rather than another agent within the system, then you can have non-contrastive agency. Such that election is 100% God and 100% human, though the priority is always in God’s divine action and election. At any rate, that is my 2 cents on divine and human agency.

The Orthodox and patristic writers do not have the Augustinian-Pelagian controversy in mind and so are very pleased to use the terminology of synergism–fellow workers with God. Synergism is not Pelagianism. Synergism is not merely the independent agency of the human working together with the independent agency of God.  Patristic writers affirm the full dependency as created beings upon God the Creator, who is the source of ALL life, ALL light, ALL wisdom, ALL glory, etc.  To the extent that any creature experiences these attributes, they are participating in the grace and presence of God.  As believers these attributes are displayed not merely as creational participation in the Creator, but as new-creational participation in the Creator-Redeemer.  Accordingly, as believers partake in the life of Christ through the Spirit they are able to live–in the present morally and in the future with the resurrection.  They do not somehow create this moral action or their resurrection on their own in some Pelagian manner.  They only experience life through connection to the head who provides growth from God.  You might disagree with their view of agency, but their agency must always be considered in this context.

Several days ago HBU’s growing philosophy department hosted a conference on divine and human agency.  It was a really good event.  There was an eclectic group of scholars in attendance and an eclectic group of papers, which were widely stimulating.  I reconnected with some old friends and made several more.  William (“Billy”) J. Abraham came down from SMU and was the keynote speaker.  He’s an engaging speaker, and I had the pleasure of grabbing lunch with him and a couple of other friends on Saturday.  I’ve not read widely in the areas in which he writes, but he mentioned that one of his favorite writers is St Symeon the New Theologian, a byzantine writer whom I’ve recently been reading, which brings me to the paper I gave.

I finally took the opportunity to write a paper that’s been rattling around in my head for a couple of years now: “Situating God and Humanity: Theosis and the Creator-Created Distinction”.  My abstract:

The recent interest of westerners in the patristic and Eastern Orthodox idea of theosis, or deification, has forced theologians to reconsider the divine-human relationship. While many are positively inclined towards this model, when discussing the idea of believers being ‘gods’ from a western perspective, two questions repeatedly arise: does this break down the Creator-created distinction and does it entail absorption. Even those sanguine about the idea of deification are often unsure about these issues. For example, one recent theologian who argued for a form of deification in Calvin spoke of Christians who understood deification to be ‘literal’ rather than ‘hyperbolic’. In response to this lack of clarity, I argue that several key aspects of patristic and Byzantine deification theology reinforce the Creator-created distinction and make the issue of absorption unthinkable. Among these are Creationism, Trinitarianism, the essence/energies distinction, the hypostatic union, contemplation, participation/image language, and synergism. Orthodox Christianity follows a model of ‘attributive deification’ rather than ‘essential deification’. Both entail an ontological transformation, but the former is a transformation of attributes (hyperbolic), and the latter, a transformation of essence or nature (literal). As a result, the loss of human identity in the divine-human relationship has no place in orthodox discussions of deification. Other non-Trinitarian theological systems did/do not maintain these distinctions and therefore reflect ‘essential’ instead of ‘attributive’ forms of deification and are open to the charges that western theologians are concerned about.

For this paper I moved a little further on in history–moving on from early patristic writers to later patristic and byzantine writers–to substantiate my case, so I returned to Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas.  I expect to send it to a theological journal like Modern Theology or Scottish Journal of Theology later this summer.

Just a quick note for those that might be searching.  I’m working on an essay on why deification in the Eastern tradition can’t be absorption, and I’m doing a section on the essence-energies distinction.  Gregory Palamas is the guy to discuss on that, so I was looking up stuff on him.  John Meyendorff’s A Study of Gregory Palamas is great, but he had this footnote to a work (Cap. phys. 78) without a list to tell what the work was to.  I knew Palamas has a work entitled The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters (often noted as Capita), but I couldn’t find any connection to Cap. phys. in any indexes.  So I went and pulled up PG (you can find them online through Google Books through this listing http://graeca.patristica.net/), and found my answer.  The full title of the 150 Chapters is this: Capita CL, physica, theologica, moralia, et practica. So Gregory’s Cap. phys. does refer to the 150 Chapters.

Bill Murray again helps us understand theosis.  Importantly, he gets the key attribute of gods in the ancient world: immortality.  And it is this attribute that early Christians latched onto when discussing deification from the key text of Psalm 82:6-7: ‘I said you are gods and sons of the most High, but you will die like men…’.  Humans die but gods are immortal.  So when patristic writers like Irenaeus interpreted this passage, he read it through the lens of 1 Corinthians 15 and the like where humans become immortal through Christ and the Spirit and thus become gods.

HT: Scott William Bryant

The Ghostbusters weigh in on the correct answer about theosis.

HT: Scott William Bryant

As with most things this semester I’m about one step behind on getting things done, so here is a later-than-planned account of my SBL experience this year.

The greatest highlight for me was the publication of my thesis with Mohr Siebeck: Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria.  I got the proof-ready copy in right at the deadline, and there were reportedly some printing issues that might have delayed its arrival, but to Mohr’s credit they had several copies available at the display.  I was even asked to sign a couple of copies, which was unexpected to say the least.  Now the waiting game for reviews.

I also experienced the academic highs and lows associated with writing.  As a high, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Edith Humphrey’s paper on 2 Cor 5.21 (Manifest in the Body: Deeds, Sin, Righteousness and Glory), which interacted with the pdf copy of my thesis on Durham’s website.  (By the way, the printed edition fills in a few gaps and adds additional material in a few places.)  Her interest in my work is not surprising, but it is always nice to have someone interact with it.  After the session  I went to have coffee my good friend Nijay Gupta, who is the Associate Editor of the new Journal of Paul and His Letters.  He showed me a copy of the most recent issue, which has an article about Romans 3:23.  Since one of my only publications to date is an article about glory in Romans 3:23 in JSNT, I thought this article might interact with my arguments.  After a quick perusal through it, I didn’t see my name.  Through this I learned a lesson that disagreement is not the worst thing for an author to face; the worst thing is being ignored.  This is not to cast aspersions on the JSPL article since my article came out just last year, but it was a lesson in the lows that come with the highs from participation in the academic game.

I gave a paper this year in the Paul and Politics section: ‘Paul and Empire in Light of the Acts of Paul‘.  I don’t frequent that section, but I had some new evidence for them to consider.  Using Wright and Barclay’s debate as a proxy for larger discussions, I tried to situate the Acts of Paul, and particularly the Martyrdom of Paul which is the final section of the Acts, within this dispute.  While I started more on the Barclay side of things, I found myself working towards the middle since there are aspects of this second century reception of Paul (and possibly his letters) that supports both sides of the argument.  I didn’t add much new to the debate, but I think I won novelty points, which is often difficult to do in NT studies.

Of course, the best part of SBL is meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and this conference was as successful in that area as any other.  Now I just need to think of a paper for next year…

Like everyone else, I suppose I should give my roundup of SBL New Orleans.  But having lost a week of work and only a month left for my target of submitting my thesis, I won’t have time to run through all the details.  But I will say this has been the most enjoyable conference in recent memory. 

I went down early and hung out with two friends who are planting a church in one of the Katrina flooded areas, so they took me around to see how things look.  We poked around in a boarded up elementary school (they’re looking for a building) and it was pretty eerie.  They also scored tickets to a Hornets game, so that was an unexpected but fun night out.

Now that I’m getting close to the end, I’ve started second guessing myself a little, especially since I’m doing a non-standard way of reading Paul–backwards is a common description by some. : ) Anyhow, it was good to go to SBL and hear other theological interpretative stuff and to see that Mike Gorman’s work wasn’t just dismissed when he presented on a similar area.

My paper on 2 Cor 3.18 went well.  I got a couple of questions, but no real push back.  Mike Gorman also dropped my name a few times in his Romans paper since he overlapped with ideas that I had presented last summer at SBL Rome. 

Other than catching up with old seminary friends, I met quite a few new students and scholars this year.  Although I didn’t go into October with many plans to meet people, my meal schedule filled up pretty quickly with various people.  One enjoyable meal was with Tom Wright along with Chad Marshall (who’s doing similar work for NTW at Princeton), Kevin Bush of the NT Wright Page, Archie Wright (one of NTW’s former assistants, and a Durham PhD) and Ron Herms (a Durham PhD).  A few of us also got to grab a meal with Jim (aka James) Harrison from AU.  The capstone was a lunch on Tuesday with Joey & Sadie Dodson and Justin Hardin (college friends), and John Goodrich (current Durham student) and Nijay Gupta (Durham PhD).   

I thought it turned out to be the perfect balance of sessions and socialising.  Now just back to whittling my thesis from 110k to 99k words before Jan 4 or so…  You may not hear much from me between now and then.  So happy christmas.

Deification and Grace

Deification and Grace

Review of Daniel A. Keating, Deification and Grace. Introductions to Catholic Doctrine (Naples, FL: Sapiential Press, 2007).

While I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for about 6 months, I haven’t taken the time to read through it until now.  I would say this is the best introduction to deification/theosis around.  It’s relatively short–124 pages of text–but it deftly covers both biblical and historical bases for this theology.  In fact, I was quite impressed with the balanced presentation of biblical, patristic, catholic, orthodox, and protestant sources.  This methodology works well to support his 3 theses: 1) deification is biblically grounded (i.e., it grew out of interpretation of biblical texts), 2) deification arose of patristic roots with branches in both the east and the west, and 3) deification is embedded with many other doctrines so that it should not be ignored nor should it trump other doctrines. 

I think his interaction with key biblical texts was helpful and enlightening.  In particular, he helped show the organic connection between key texts and later patristic interpretations, focusing on key themes like image, adoption, Second Adam, exchange, conformity to Christ, etc. 

While this work is a volume in the Introductions to Catholic Doctrine series, Keating also did a good job of eliminating the polemics that can show up between catholics, othrodox and protestants.  In fact, he shows that different traditions emphasise different aspects but that they maintain several key points.  That is not to say that everyone teaches deification in the west, but that there are central catholic and protestant figures that use the terminology and they offer avenues for interaction for those in both traditions.  Accordingly, he reclaims the significance for the west while critiquing some aspects.

Particularly important for his case are the rebuttals of particular charicatures of deification.  These rebuttals are situated throughout the book, but he summarises them on page 122: deification is just an adoption of Greek philosophical ideas; deification is just based on Christ’s incarnation without proper emphasis on the cross,  resurrection and ascension; and deification confuses the Creator and the created.

While he alludes to the anthropological effects that constitute deification (e.g., sanctification, 50-56 and cruciformity, 84-87), I thought this aspect of his discussion was quite thin with the only specific discussion (that I noted) on pages 111-13.  To me the description of what actually happens, puts flesh on the bones and makes it clear what participation in the divine attributes really entails.  Without this kind of discussion, it becomes a bit etherial, in my humble opinion.  It can feel like semantic word games.  I was surprised to see hardly any sustained discussion of the participation in immortality and incorruption.  In my exposure to patristic texts, participation in these is the sine qua non of being deified. 

In spite of this ommission, this text still serves as an excellent introduction for all faith traditions, and we would do well to consider his three main conclusions.

See here for part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the interview.

9) How do you see your work on non-violence fitting into your discussions of co-crucifixion and theosis?

I have a whole chapter on this in Inhabiting, but basically because I see the cross both as the definitive theophany and as the display of God’s nonviolent way of reconciling enemies, participation in the life of this God must take on God’s nonviolent character. I think that is Paul’s perspective, and for him it is part and parcel of justification by faith/co-crucifixion.

10) How do you think Paul`s understanding of participation in Christ relates to the Platonic and Aristotelian understandings of participation?

I am not an expert on either Plato or Aristotle, but I suspect that Paul is not indebted to either tradition for his experience and understanding of participation. Paul’s participation in Christ is fundamentally narrative, kinetic, and missional by virtue of being a sharing in the story and reality of God’s self-giving love displayed especially in Christ’s incarnation and death. Thus participation is neither an end in itself nor static, both of which may be more appropriately attributed to certain philosophical traditions.

11) Could you comment on the timing of justification? It seems that you describe justification as a process in distinction to those who make it more an ‘already’ kind of thing, which could make some Protestants a little uncomfortable.

I am not sure I would describe justification as a process as much as it is a mode of existence that has an initial point and an eschatological culminating point. That’s somewhat similar to Tom Wright’s idea of justification having two moments. I would also stress the time between the two as part of justification. The justified live a life of justice, not as some supplement to justification understood as a finished reality, but as the embodiment of justification itself.

Here’s a relevant quote from chapter two:

What justification by co-crucifixion will imply, however, and not surprisingly, is that a theological rift between justification and sanctification is impossible, because the same Spirit effects both initial and ongoing co-crucifixion with Christ among believers, a lifelong experience of cruciformity or, in light of chapter one, theoformity—theosis.

If that makes Protestants uncomfortable, so be it!—and blame Paul, not me. He’s the one who won’t limit “”just-“ (dik-) language to some past event. In Christ we become the justice of God. That’s justification! That’s theosis!

Thanks again, Ben!

Thanks to you, Mike.

See here for part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of the interview.

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