Origen on theosis
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Encouraged by the response to the earlier posts, I continue on this theme of the Fathers and theosis. Origen is, for me, the most difficult of the Fathers to grasp, and any help, elucidation, or other comments are more than welcome; any corrections will be gladly received.
It is with Origen that we first encounter the problem that accompanies to doctrine of deification to this day ? that is the notion that man actually becomes of the same essence as God. In his Epistola ad Avitum (124), St. Jerome argues that Origen teaches that the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the angelic powers and human beings are all of the same substance. However, Norman Russell?s view is that he ?has not understood the concept of participation which Origen is employing. ?The concept was a technical [Platonic] one which expresses the relationship between that which is self-existent and that which is merely contingent?
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Origen is the first Father to quote 2 Peter 1:4. His reading is that we should follow the example of Christ so that 'by this means we may as far as is possible become, through our imitation of him, partakers of the divine nature' (ut si forte per hoc in quantum fieri potest per imitationem eius participes efficiamur divinae naturae)[ ibid. footnote 6 for full refs.] Origen refers to the divine nature as ?intellectual light?, arguing that since the heavenly powers receive a share of intellectual light, the human soul, when it receives a share itself, must be of one nature and substance with them, for it is axiomatic that 'everyone who shares in anything is undoubtedly of one substance and one nature with him who shares in the same thing.? This intellectual light, which belongs properly to God alone, is immortal and incorruptible. Therefore those who share in it receive a share of immortality and incorruption, thus coming to participate too in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit 'in proportion to the earnestness of the soul and the capacity of the mind'. Participation in the divine nature is participation in a divine attribute which obtains for them a certain kinship with God which they did not previously enjoy. But there is no confusion here between the essence of God and that of the human soul because the lower reality is always distinct from the higher reality.
Origen distinguishes between that which is divine in a dependant sense through participation, and which is divine in its own right. Thus, all creatures that exist do so because they participate in God?s creative powers; all who are rational participate in the Logos; but this is a static, ontological relationship. There is also a more dynamic, supernatural relationship which is the result of our free response to the operations of the Trinity. Origen held that the Son is God only by His participation in the source of the divinity (Commentary on John 2.2.17). We can become gods through the Son ?who has drawn from God the power that enables them to become deified? (John 2.2.17). But, of course, we see here one of the notions that was to get Origen into trouble posthumously, because for him the Logos is God in a subordinate sense. Christ mediates the divinity He receives from the Father by communicating it to those who receive Him; the Logos alone abides intimately with God. [Russell, Deification 145-146]. It is through Christ that men participate in the Father.
The Christian takes on a new identity through sharing in Christ?s nature in the here and now by walking in His way and taking on His moral excellence, and after the parousia by sharing in His eternal life. It is the Logos, who undertook the Incarnation in order to heal the wounds in our souls caused by the Fall, and to bring us back into a right relationship with God, who is the mediator between the Father and His creation. In de Principe 1.2.6, and 4.4.1, Origen calls the Logos the image of God, and our soul the image of the Logos; we, the lower creation, participate in the Highest through the Logos. The flesh is deified by the soul, and the soul by the Logos, who is, in turn deified by the Father. It was this last observation which was to cause St. Athanasius to find a different approach to deification.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)