Saturday, April 23, 2005

Theosis

"God became man that we may become God."

Theosis - divinization - deification: said to be synonyms; only the last is in my Webster's.

I was all set to write a revelatory post on this subject when I found that someone else had already done a better job than I could ever do.

This is said to be Eastern Orthodox theology to a much great degree than it is in the West. Daniel Clendenin a convert from evangelicalism, has treated theosis exhaustively in his little book Eastern Orthodox Christianity (1994). As a convert Dan is very partial; nevertheless he provides much useful factual information. He cited a plethora of biblical and patristic quotes pointing to the deification of the believer. I found this one (of his own) quite striking: "The historical witness of Orthodoxy's sacramental life and theological literature both... repeatedly define salvation as divinization" (page 127).

Eastern Orthodoxy is not high on my list of favorite denominations, but I must express a pronounced preference of this definition of salvation over that of the tradionalists.

The doctrine of theosis puts the trinity in a new light. Many modern thinkers tell us that 3 is an incomplete number. Carl Jung, and some others have proposed adding Mary and making it a quaternity.

For Protestants theosis leads to the idea that the 4th member of the godhead might be humanity.

6 comments:

david said...

I too find the Orthodox articulation of salvation both more edifying and more true to the fullness of the Christian scriptures.

It is interesting that a branch of Christianity that is so committed to faithfulness to its traditions can read read the scriptures so much more fully and with so much more integrity to the full message(s) of scripture than those branches that reject tradition and call for scripture alone as the basis for faith.

OTH ther are other aspects of Orthodox practice that make me cringe. We'll each and all a kind of muddle of the thoughtful, the loving, the truthful, and jackal.

C'est la vie -- on this side of eternity anyway.

Larry said...

Thanks, David; I agree with what you say. I must confess that most of my life I've had a pretty healthy contempt for religion dating to the time when, a very young boy, I listened to Dad's Presiding Elder lying to us about where we were going to live the next year.

And then as a second grader listening to my two parents come home from college and talk about assorted professors: one called whiskers, and another windbag. A few years later I had some of the same professors.

Ah well. We are to a large degree what life has made us.

Jon said...

Hi, Larry,

Yep, I too admire Eastern Orthodox theology in many ways. The praxis is a bit more troublesome. I sometimes that never have more people spent more effort to make less difference to more people than the Orthodox!

Alice said...

Hi Larry,

Great post. I understand this "becoming G-d" as exactly what is at the root of the Quaker way. Being led personally and together by Christ risen and present, He can lead us every step of the way to perfect living in the Divine Life. Our salvation is based in following Him daily, a commitment of faith expressed in our actions.

I love the Christus Victor christology which Walter Wink writes, in Jesus' death G-d was able to shut the trap on the worldy powers and reveal them as corrupted, and call them to return to the service of G-d.

For me His sacrifice was to be G-d, to Live fully Divine as a human, through every ordinary moment, even through His awful death. Accepting that for me means committing to following Him in that journey, day by day, even though my progress may seem ridiculously slow and perfection very far away.

I really like your blog, thanks so much for all your writing.

Alice

Larry said...

Dear Alice:
I thank you very much for your comment, a happy combination of good theology and personal witness. It shows to everyone something of the power and glory of "living in the Light".

Jon, I would dearly love more explication of your "more/less" statement about the Orthodox.

Johan Maurer said...

I've witnessed the attraction of Eastern Orthodoxy on Friends over the years, to the point that several Friends I know personally have become baptized Orthodox believers.

My own understandings of discipleship and community have been fed by Eastern Orthodoxy for many years. In my Ottawa years, I often worshipped at the Russian Orthodox church a few blocks from the Friends meetinghouse. I've worshipped with Orthodox believers in several places in Russia and in Ramallah, Palestine, where they are the majority community among Christians.

I've grown to appreciate the Eastern Orthodox ability to balance tradition and personal search; tradition and Bible; ideal and reality in personal discipline; image and availability; mysticism and groundedness; perfection and common sense. Piety is God-centered, not centered on personal conformity or community approval.

The less attractive aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy (as I've discussed with more than one priest) include a naivete about nationalism and government, a tendency to one-up other Christians, and perhaps the praxis gap that Jon might have been alluding to. For people who have things so well balanced, there is a singular lack of prophetic passion. (Why, Johan, you've said that about Friends as well!!) Perhaps, in God's economy, balance is overrated?

Concerning the specific topic of salvation, I'm grateful to the Eastern Orthodox for preserving theosis as a crucial insight into both Jesus and Paul. There seems to me to be a profound link with the Quaker understanding of perfection. As Anthony Bloom says, in prayer we meet God with the humble awareness that we stand before our Creator, but we also meet God fully aware of our human worth: after all, God LOVED US INTO being.