Thursday, August 11, 2005

Theosis Revisited

Yesterday I received email commenting on my July 25 post. The writer seemed to me so knowledgeable about Quaker theology (and its relationship to theosis) that I requested (and was granted) permission to reprint it here verbatim:


I was surfing through a series of blogs today and came across your comment on July 25 (or maybe April 23) that you believe in the doctrine of Theosis.

I have been a student of Quakerism, a sometime attender at a Meeting here in Canada, and visited a few Meetings in America. For years now I have been of the impression that the combined doctrine of the affect of the Inner Light on the Seed gradually leading to the growth into Goodness, that that entire combination comes close to equaling the E Orthodox doctrine of Theosis. Yet Friends have never used that term.

I doubt that it was because they did not know about it. From the 17th C onwards, Friends were educated, well-connected, and travelled extensively throughout Europe and beyond. If they came to know about the Asian religions, one way or another they would have known also about the doctrines of the Eastern Church. They also probably would have known that Luther in the 16th C had flirted with the concept(choosing the term Deification instead of Theosis, but affirming Athanasias' belief that God became man in order that man might be made God). Barclay even described Mankind as being spiritually ill, and in need of treatment by Christ, the Cosmic Physician(that is another image which the E Orthodox use to describe how Theosis works). Yet I can find no mention of the term Theosis in any of Friends writings right up into the 20th C. On occasion they mentioned Deification, but mostly they talked vaguely about Sanctification. And after 1900, Modernism, pluralism, and flight from mainstream Western Christinianity so takes hold that Hicksite Friends became mostly Unitarians and non-Christian Mystics, and they became unconcerned as to how Salvation(whether by gradual Theosis or by some other means) might occur at all.

So this is all a long way of explaining that it is uncommon, in my experience, to come across a 21st C Quaker that knows about the concept Theosis(even more uncommon than amongst other Western Christians). I hope that you have some time to answer a few questions.

Do you think that Theosis is reflected in the Hicksite tradition? And do you know many other Quakers that think the way you do? Have you also studied any of the various Western Christian Mystic writings(eg Dionisius the Pseudo-Areopagite,The Cloud of Unknowing, Jacob Boehme, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Madame Guyon)? Do you know any Quakers that even know that at one time Quakers preached the Western Christian Mysticism approach to union with God(according to the Spring 2002 issue of Quaker Theology, the online Journal of the Quaker Ecumenical Seminars in Theology, 18th C English Quakers summarized them in a popular tract A Guide to True Peace)? Have you read any of the books by William Johnston about the various Mystic traditions(for example Christian Zen)?

I reckon that this must seem like I'm throwing a lot at you, but my recent experience is that Liberal Quakers know far more about Eastern mysticsm than about Christian mysticism, whether in Eastern or Western Christianity. I am pretty gob-smacked to find a Friend that says he believes in Theosis.

I hope that I am not putting you to any trouble."

I reprinted that here because I thought it might elicit some fruitful discussion about these subjects. I asked him to consider joining in such a discussion. I hope that it happens.


DrHalvey said...

I'm an Evangelical Friends (Quaker) pastor who holds to the doctrine of theosis. Through a second work of grace (entire sanctification) we believe that the likeness of God is restored and the life of God is imparted into man enabling him to live the God-kind of life i.e holiness (John 10:10; 2 Peter 1:4).

Matt Stromberg said...

George Fox did believe in what you call theosis, or atleast somthing very similar too it. For instance he writes in his journal "...being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus; so that I say, I was come up to the state of Adam, which he was in, before he fell." He continues,"I was immediately taken up in spirit, to see into another or more steadfast state, than Adam's in innocency, even into a state in Christ Jesus, that should never fall. And the Lord showed me, that such as were faithful to him in the power and light of Christ, should come up into that state...and come to know the hidden unity in the Eternal being."
You might want to look into the work of Quaker scholars Richard Bailey and Michele lise Tarter on 'Celestial Inhabitation' or 'Christopresentism'. According to Bailey for instance "The saints were transformed into divine beings through the endogenetic process of feeding on the substance of the glorified body of Christ which literally inhabited the believer"

Fox ask "Doth not the Apostle say, the saints were made partakers of the divine nature? and that God dwells in the saints, and Christ in them...and do not the saints come to eat the flesh of Christ? And if they eat his flesh, is it not within them? Doth not Christ dwell in his saints and are they not of his flesh and bone?"

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