Theosis


I have been kicking around doing a piece on Irenaeus’ Christology in light of his view of deification, and the opportunity to do something on pneumatology popped up, so I put in to do a paper on that side. Essentially, I’m arguing that if deification is a metaphor for Irenaeus, which it is since believers don’t become part of the Godhead, it is based upon his conception of true (non-metaphorical) deity. For the Spirit (and Christ) to deify believers means that these two are already truly God. This later became an argument for the Spirit’s deity in the fourth century: the Spirit deifies, he is not deified. I’m happy to see my friend Jonathan Morgan in the line-up since he does excellent work on Cyril’s Pneumatology.

Development of Early Christian Theology (S22-212)
11/22/2014
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room 30 B (Upper level) – San Diego Convention Center (CC)

Theme: The Spirit in the Early Church: Accounts of the Spirit in the Early Church

Christopher Beeley, Yale University, Presiding
Ben C. Blackwell, Houston Baptist University
Irenaeus on the Deification of Believers and the Divinity of the Spirit (25 min)
Kellen Plaxco, Marquette University
The Place of the Spirit in Origen’s Taxological Grammar of Participation (25 min)
Jonathan Morgan, Toccoa Falls College
Circumcision of the Spirit: Type and Pneumatology in Cyril of Alexandria(25 min)
David Kneip, Abilene Christian University
The Spirit and the Bible in Alexandria: Cyril and Didymus (25 min)
Paul M. Pasquesi, Marquette University
Reclaiming the Divine Feminine: Re-Reception of the Holy Spirit in the Divine Economy (25 min)

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

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