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Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Biblical Basis for the Orthodox Teaching on 'Theosis@.


Biblical Basis of Theosis

The mystical theology of Orthodoxy with its central theme of theosis has been profoundly imprinted by the words of the Lord in John 10: 34: “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” This verse is echoed in Psalm 82:6—”Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” But there are many biblical quotes, which can also be taken as bases for theosis, that have marked the Orthodox vision on Christianity and salvation. There are three—Gen. 1:26; 2 Peter 1:4, already quoted; and I John 3:2—that are extensively used by deification authors:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Gen. 1:26)

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2)

In the Genesis passage, we can see how men were created in the image and likeness of God, but also that they are charged with ruling creation. In this passage, there is already the implication that men are like little gods, by the grace of God. Yet, in Genesis 3, the Fall of man is also narrated causing man, as the eastern Fathers teach, to lose the likeness, only retaining the image. According to G. L. Bray, in “Deification,” from the Fathers’ perspective,

Christian life is best conceived as the restoration of the lost likeness to those who have been redeemed in Christ. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, who communicates to us the energies of God himself, so that we may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The energies of God radiate from his essence and share its nature; but it must be understood that the deified person retains his personal identity and is not absorbed into the essence of God, which remains for ever [sic] hidden from his eyes.[1]

Rakestraw, in “Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis,” asserts that “Whether the focus is placed on the image or the likeness of God being restored, or whether one sees these terms as synonymous, the concept of the Christian’s reintegration into the life of God remains central in all understandings of theosis.” As commented, this reintegration is only possible thanks to the incarnation of the Logos.

In the Peter text we are given the promise to participate—literally to become sharers (koinonoi)—of the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world. Thus deification implies a participation in God. Moreover, according to Norman, in “Deification: the Content of Athanasian Serology,” for the Fathers, another clear reference to deification is I John 3:2, that exhorts to purity and echoes the theme of Christ’s imitation delineated in John’s Gospel (John 5:19 ff.), after having healed a man at the pool of Betsaida:

Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.

Jesus also says: “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10). The Father does not only indwelt Jesus but also men who keep the Father’s commandments: “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (I John 3:23-24). It is love who binds men to God: “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).

Indeed, we do not only dwell in God, but God also dwells in His creatures and has given them a part of or share in His Spirit: “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4).The Father has bestowed upon us the gift of His Spirit, who is man’s companion. In the painful words of Job we hear: “For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me” (32:21).

It is also clear, as previously noted, that it is love that makes possible this dwelling: “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). Thus, He is not far from us: “Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?” (Jer 23:23). We, that do not lie in wickeness, are “of God”: “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). St. Paul says “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God , and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16). He also talks about the saving qualities of the indwelling Spirit: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he that raised up Christ the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11). Referring to this Spirit, at the time of His death, Jesus says: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46). The Latin Father, Ambrose (340-397), in On the Holy Spirit (Book II, 55), interprets this “spirit” as the soul:

Therefore he referred the thunders to the words of the Lord, the sound of which went out into all the earth, and we understand the word “spirit” in this place of the soul, which He took endowed with reason and perfect; for Scripture often designates the soul of man by the word spirit, as you read: “Who creates the spirit of man within him.” So, too, the Lord signified His Soul by the word Spirit, when He said: “Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.”

The implications of this expression is intriguing. It seems clear that His body saw no corruption. “But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption (Acts 1.3:37)” “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption” (2: 31). Jesus says to His disciples: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39).

But when is this Spirit bestowed upon Christ? Whose model will we follow to reply to this question? If we read John, we find that the same Jesus says the following, with John’s comments, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38-39). Christ did not receive the Holy Spirit before His Baptism. Yet He was full of the Spirit upon His Baptism:

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (Matthew 3:16)

And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan , and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. (Luke 4:1)

Mysteriously, the Spirit of God is eternally (spatio-temporally transcendent) born in the divine essence, but He acts in time and space. For the Orthodox Church:

Creation is the work in time of the Blessed Trinity. The world is not self-created, neither has it existed from eternity, but it is the product of the wisdom, the power, and the will of the One God in Trinity. God the Father is the prime cause of creation and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit took part in creation, God the Son perfecting creation and God the Holy Spirit vivifying creation.” (“The Orthodox Faith”)

Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the “breath of life”. “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils” (Job 27:3). “The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4). “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen 2:7).

God is also all-encompassing:

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. ( Col 1:16-17)

In the Book of Isaiah we hear: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (57:15).

As we have seen in the Scriptures, the eternal God the Father, being all pervading, out of love, lives in us as we live in Him. He has granted us His Spirit, interpreted in Orthodoxy as the Holy Spirit, who acts upon the circuit of uncreated energies, deifying humanity. The term “circuit” appears in Job (22:14),—”thick clouds are a covering to him, that he seeth not; and he walketh in the circuit of heaven—and Psalm (19:6). “His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” In these uncreated energies, the existential Father is personally and experientally present in time and space in the Spirit, that proceeds from Him and rests on the Son. For Orthodoxy, the Father is the eternal source of the Godhead, from Whom is begotten the Son eternally and also from Whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally. For Orthodoxy, through the Son’s incarnation and His restoration and final glorification of humanity, and His spiritual power, the Spirit adopts us as sons of God. We do not unite with God as an existential being, as a divine essence, but with His divine energies. We do not partake of the essence of divinity but of His energies, though the unifying characteristic of the Deity does not distinguish between “essence” and “energy.”

Knowledge of God also entails participation in the Divine and the attaining of Grace, as these bible quotes suggest:

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” how unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out! (Roman 11: 33)

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8)

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 2 (Peter 3:18)

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2)

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open. (Numbers 24:26)



There are also certain quotes related to the concept of God as a personality, the idea of God as a person/ality appears necessary as the union between man and God in His grace must be a personal communion. On this point Palamas remarks that it is an encounter of two persons, the former the humblest one; the latter the highest, a divine one. Our potential as perfecting persons is centered on the Father’s divine personality. In the book of Job, for example, we read that God is a person—”Will ye accept his person? will ye contend for God?” (Job 13:7-8). Job also says: “When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, there is lifting up; and he shall save the humble person” (Job 13:7-8). God is a personality, a personal being. “When we say that God is a personal being we mean that He is intelligent and free and distinct from the created universe. Personality as such expresses perfection …” (“The Nature and Attributes of God”). In contrast, man’s personality expresses imperfection. In Proverb, there is a similar reference to person in this sense: “It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to overthrow the righteous in judgement (18:15). Thus a personality would be evil, with no possibility for salvation, as the divinization process also entails the progressive spiritualization of humankind, or a righteous, moral personality. Kallistos of Diokleia in “Person and Personality in Orthodox Teaching,” explains what the human person is “The human person is the hypostatic manifestation of the human essence, the realization of who a human being is as an individual: being, again, common in his essence but individual in his hypostasis or person, as St. Gregory Palamas affirms.”

Yet, in the same way as divinization must be personal—as it is the deification of the individual human person—, our progression also depends on our relationship and socializing with other persons: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). The Fathers were of the opinion that we must be imitators of Christ. In this way we are unified as persons with Christ. Jesus says: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). He also states: “But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). Indeed “salvation is the realization of personhood in Christ” (“Person and Personality in Orthodox Teaching”).

Furthermore, in the New Testament, Christ is referred to as a personality, as being a personal being: “To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; (II Corinthians 2:10)” As in the case of God the Father, Jesus’ personality is not of the humble type like that of man but the “express image of His [God’s] person”:

[God] Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: (To the Hebrews 1:3)

Yet, being the primal, infinite source of everything, God is also the center of all other types of material, impersonal energies.

And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. (Deut. 4:19)

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: (Amos 8:9)

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. (Rev. 21:23)

There are however other scriptural texts which provided Church Fathers and current Orthodox theologians with a basis for the doctrine of theosis. Some of them stressed Christ as the image of God and Christians as being renewed and restored in the likeness of God, while others viewed baptism as a carrier and the container of our union with Christ, Christ’s followers as partakers of His passion and, thus, as sharers of His glory; still others perceived our inheriting of eternal life as perpetual fellowship, a glorious body, and divine sonship with God (Rakestraw; Norman).

Ángel F. Sánchez Escobar
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