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The Fathers and Theosis
19-08-2008, 09:41 AM
Post: #1
The Fathers and Theosis
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the 'Conversion without conversion' thread, we have been discussing theosis, and I thought it might be useful to examine what the Church Fathers had to say on this subject.

I'd like to offer a few contributions, starting with the general background, and then moving on to looking at particular Fathers.

The first formal definition of the term theosis occurs in the sixth century writings of Dionysius the Areopagite: 'Deification is the attaining of likeness to God and union with Him so far as is possible.' (Patrologia Graecae, 3.376A). But this does not mean it was a late, Hellenistic import which somehow diluted the pure message of the Bible. Not only was it a topic which was discussed within Judaism, it was one which the early Christians inherited from both their Jewish texts and their own earliest writings.

Psalm 82:6 reads: 'I said, you are gods and all of you sons of the most high', and the early Church noted the similarity with the various Pauline verses about becoming 'adopted' sons of God, and becoming 'one in Christ'. Justin Martyr, who was familiar with the rabbinic exegesis on the Psalms, laid claim to the 'gods' for the Church, and Irenaeus, who shared that view, takes it for granted that Christians might be called 'gods' on the authority of Scripture because they have been incorporated into Christ by baptism, thereby attaining a potential immortality.

But in addition to this early interpretation, we see another, less allegorical in nature, coming from Alexandria (that home of allegory). Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus of Rome used the verb theopoie Literally, this word means 'to make God' or, more politely, 'to make divine'. Clement and Hippolytus assert that the Christian can be called 'a god' because he/she has become like God through the attainment of knowledge (gnosis) and dispassion.

We can see both these approaches - the realistic and the ethical - in use by the Fathers through the third century; the former is expressed in language about participation through the sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist, the latter through the language of imitation, relating to the ascetic and contemplative life.

As so often in the life of the early Church, it was only when an interpretation of the word of God which ran counter to the sense of the faithful appeared, that the Church found itself obliged to delve deeper into what certain Scriptural phrases meant. In this case it was Arius' claim that the Son was a creature, and therefore not divine, which forced others to think more closely about what it meant to say that 'God became man so that men might become gods.'

I'll stop there, having outlined the idea and some of its early manifestations. But I'd be happy for us to discuss any of the things here before moving on, later, to deal with the ways in which Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, and St, Cyril, all came to deeper understanding of what it means for us to 'become gods'.

In Christ,


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)
19-08-2008, 09:50 AM
Post: #2
Theosis: From Clement to Justin Martyr
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Having tried to outline the background to the developing understanding of theosis in the first post, I want to move on to examine what Clement of Alexandria, St. Ignatius and Justin Martyr had to say on this theme.

Two key texts for the Fathers were Psalm 82:6, which the last post looked at; another one is 2 Peter 1:4:
Quote:by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. (2Peter (RSV) 1)
In what way could we become 'partakers of the divine nature' and 'become gods'? How did such thoughts fit with what St. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 about becoming a 'new creation' in Christ? How did it fit with what he told the Galatians ( Galatians 3: 26-9) here:
Quote:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians (RSV) 3)
How do we 'put on Christ' and become 'one' in Him? It was these Pauline and Petrine texts which, along with Psalm 82, exercised the thoughts of the Early Church Fathers.

The first of the Fathers we see engaging with the task of exegesis here is St. Ignatius. In his Epistle to the Ephesians (4.2), he offers us this explanation of what is is to be one in Christ:
Quote:Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, ye may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that ye are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus ye may always enjoy communion with God.
whilst in 9:2 he calls them:
Quote:God-bearers, temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holiness, adorned in all respects with the commandments of Jesus Christ, in whom also I exult ..
In addition to participating in God, and being God-bearers, Christians are 'full of God' (Magnesians 14:1) and 'have God in themselves' (Romans 6:3).

But these all seem straightforward statements about authentic Christianity being complete obedience to the will of God, and about that will being expressed through the bishop (Philadelphians 3):
Quote:For as many as are of Christ are also with the bishop; but as many as fall away from him, and embrace communion with the accursed, these shall be cut off along with them. For they are not Christ's husbandry, but the seed of the enemy, from whom may you ever be delivered by the prayers of the shepherd, that most faithful and gentle shepherd who presides over you.
The blessed martyr writes as a pastor, with a tender concern for the cure of souls. For him, attaining God is a future possibility, one to which he aspires through obedience and suffering.

So we don't see with him any engagement with St. Paul's sense of participation in a personal union with Christ; indeed he does not use the characteristically Pauline words: 'in Christ'. But he does see that the individual is, in some way, transformed by being a true disciple of the Lord. But the nature of that transformation, and how it relates to a personal relationship with the Risen Lord, had to wait for the writings of Justin Martyr c.150, and Irenaeus, writing about the same time.

It is these two who first see the importance of Psalm 82:6 in connection with the Pauline writings.

In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin argues that the Christians have supplanted the Jews as the true Israel because they have inherited the divine promises (Isaiah 42:1-4 in the LXX) by a spiritual birth. When Trypho denies that the Christians are the children of God, Justin responds by citing Psalm 82:6 [Dialogue CXXIV)
Quote:And when I saw that they were perturbed because I said that we are the sons of God, I anticipated their questioning, and said, "Listen, sirs, how the Holy Ghost speaks of this people, saying that they are all sons of the Highest; and how this very Christ will be present in their assembly, rendering judgment to all men. The words are spoken by David, and are, according to your version of them, thus: `God standeth in the congregation of gods; He judgeth among the gods. How long do ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Judge for the orphan and the poor, and do justice to the humble and needy. Deliver the needy, and save the poor out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither have they understood; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth shall be shaken. I said, Ye are gods, and are all children of the Most High. But ye die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God! judge the earth, for Thou shalt inherit all nations.' But in the version of the Seventy it is written, `Behold, ye die like men, and fall like one of the princes, ' in order to manifest the disobedience of men,-I mean of Adam and Eve,-and the fall of one of the princes, i.e., of him who was called the serpent, who fell with a great overthrow, because he deceived Eve. But as my discourse is not intended to touch on this point, but to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons, and yet they, becoming like Adam and Eve, work out death for themselves; let the interpretation of the Psalm be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming "gods," and of having power to become sons of the Highest; and shall be each by himself judged and condemned like Adam and Eve. Now I have proved at length that Christ is called God.
In fact, the text does not necessarily prove Justin?s point; it actually proves only that all human beings have failed in their vication to become sons of the Most High.

But what Justin does is to provide a connection between this text and 1 John 3:1, and the Pauline kergymatic verses. (2 Corinthians 8:9; Philadelphians 2: 6-8 )

It was St. Irenaeus who first makes explicit the identification of ?the gods? with those who have been incorporated into Christ by baptism.

I'd welcome any comments and discussion.

In Christ,


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)
20-08-2008, 12:36 PM
Post: #3
In the End, the Beginning?
Dear John,

I just want to thank you publicly for this thread. It is a blessing to me personally. I can't help but to think that these contributions do fill a' void' for others as they do for me. I don't know how it is in the BOC, but as I shared earlier, it seems as far as theosis is concerned from the pulpit in my experience . . . mums the word! Though the voices of the church fathers we are seeing clearly here what is said and taught within Orthodoxy about theosis. Sometimes I wonder if Christian Education is still alive within Orthodoxy. Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing within Orthodoxy today as an Orthodox pedagogy namely on the part of the priests. Especially regarding theosis . . . one might think that there is a code of silence on this doctrine? The word 'pedagogy' comes from an ancient Greek word which means literally "to lead the child," sometimes it seems the shepherds and the fathers of today are too busy with festivals and fund raising to preach the Word. Yes, the kerygma of Paul as you have written above . . . I wonder what Paul would say about this today. Knowing how he spent his life/time and of his instructions to Timothy, it is not hard to imagine what he would say.

And, it occurs to me that while my background for contributing to this thread from a strictly patristic framework is very limited, this could be a perfect opportunity for the priests of the BOC to join in and offer some enlightenment on the teaching of the Church on theosis in this very worthwhile effort. And, John, especially, as you wrote in the close of your last post:

Quote:But the problem with Clement's view is that it is hard to see how the ordinary Christian can attain this state. For that, we need to turn to that most brilliant of the early Fathers, Origen.

there is one word that stands out as if in bold faced type to me when I read this. "How."

I am anxious to read Origen on this.

You see, theosis is taught in many other faith traditions and denominations, although it is not called theosis. And, believe it or not, it is expressed with more 'clarity' and more beautifully by those who have experienced it in other traditions/denominations than by any Orthodox writer that I have encountered. But, when it comes to the "How" these same writers of other traditions/denominations are completely mute--not even any hand gestures or grunting. So at the end of the day, what do you have but a travel brochure to a place with no directions how to get there. One has a carrot on a stick to chase for the rest of one's life . . . thanks but no thanks.

And, this is one huge reason why I was attracted to Orthodoxy initially. Because, in Orthodoxy, especially in the monastic writings the "How" is all spelled out. Boom-Boom-Boom! In my reading it is abundantly clear that the soul must go through three identifiable and distinct stages. This is the teaching of the Church, this is what we are to be obedient to as it is part of the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church. These three stages are:

1.) Catharsis (purification)

2.) Fotisis (enlightenment)

3.) Theosis (union with God)

On these "The Church" teaches that the last two stages are impossible to attain without having the soul first pass through the fires of catharsis from egotistical passions.

Isn't that great!/? There it is. There's the "How" of theosis right? Purificatiion, then enlightenment, and then one is positioned for theosis by the Grace of God, if He wills IT.

And, this is why I am so glad you are providing information here on the teaching of the church fathers about theosis . . .

Because, and here's the rub on this . . . within Orthodoxy today as the above three-fold way of Christianity is taught . . . examples are given to show that IT doesn't always work this way. It is explained that IT comes about for different souls in different ways. IT is explained as not being wrapped up in any nice neat tight package or system/formula. Past and present examples are given of some who just found themselves within a state of theosis with no struggling or even any strong desire. Examples are given of others who seemed to receive enlightenment and then went on to theosis from there (again without any focused attempts toward purification). Other examples are given of some who struggled for purification and then went through mini-cycles of mini-enlightenments and mini-experiences with theosis that were more of a moment-by-moment thing. But, as we consider the teaching of Orthodoxy today (when you read contemporary Orthodox writing theologians or press clergy and others who seem to be in a position to answer) you find out THERE IS NO ONE WAY.

So while the Orthodox Way(s) is more superior to that of the carrot on the stick found in even the best of the best renewal theologians and teachers in other faith traditions (viz. Holiness, Wesleyan, Keswick, etc.) what do we have here at the end of the day as it relates to the "How" of theosis on a personal level, in reality, where the rubber meets the road?

Now I'm somewhat embarrassed to hit the 'submit' button on this one as I reread it and see the low caliber contribution in light of your above works. But, possibly, it can at least serve as an encouragement to keep going with this effort that we might see what the church fathers as found in the Beginning have to say on this. Actually, what could matter more? As we consider something like trying to unclog a drain in the sink, we can get advice and hear from others that we should pour some drain cleaner down the drain because "That works for me" . . . or we might hear from another, that we should definitely get a plunger with a special end on it because "That's what works for most people." Do you see what I mean? But, we are not talking about clogged drains here, we are talking about our souls.

Yes, the "how" of the Orthodox teaching on theosis--according to the fathers.

Here's what I would really like to understand about the teaching of the fathers about theosis.

1.) Is there a more "active" way presented?

2.) Or, is there a more "passive" way presented?

3.) Or, is there something akin to a passive-activity or an active-passivity that is taught?

Possibly, the fathers teach that there are different ways, and in this sense different paths for different folks (not unlike the expression 'each as is appropriate for oneself). But, then if this is the case what have we said about the Orthodox way as regarding theosis?

And, lets be for real here . . . if for one it is deemed that there is to be a predominantly "active" approach in terms of ascetic practices, then this active-active-active, this do-do-do approach is diametrically opposed to a passive-passive-passive approach, whereby such things as absolute surrender and dependence on God are expressed as be-be-be (regardless of whether on has had two nights sleep and only a dried herring to eat in the past three years).

So, even though it may not be obvious right now, I am very open to learning here and I would move to celebration mode if I could learn more about what the church fathers taught about theosis.

BECUASE . . . either there is one size that fits all or there is not one size that fits all. And, I normally am not a fan of either/or propositions with a clear dispostion toward dialectical thinking . . . BUT, either The Orthodox Way as it relates to the "How" of theosis is 'each as is appropriate for oneself' or it is not.

And, this matters. Because, just as some drains will never become clear even if one plunges on them until hell freezes over . . . if there are some who are determined to spend their entire life in struggle-struggle-struggle or active-active-active or suffering-suffering-suffering mode because that's what they understand as the "How" of the Orthodox life in spite of the fact that they are among those whom an experienced spiritual guide would discern the need to walk the path of surrender-surrender-surrender or passive-passive-passive or the opposite of do-do-do . . . then this same one is the one who is walking on the wrong path. Even though this is what he/she read or heard somewhere--which is the Orthodox Way is struggling/suffering--but in reality, it is appropriate for this one to live more of a passive life characterized more by such things as peace . . . and a sweet resignation to the Providence of God . . . and in this sense more of a 'being' initially than a 'doing' then this same one is headed for a lifetime of plunging and increasing frustration and dissapointment and grief the whole time thinking this will work if I just stay with it long enough and if it is God's will.

And, I think I am rambling now and possibly not being too clear here.

So I will stop with the hope that we might see through the fathers of the church the "How" of theosis. That we might see there is something called the Orthodox Way, or we might see that there is no one single way but there are different ways that souls walk the path to theosis in the End. I do not know what the fathers say about this, but I hope to learn here over the course of time. I would love to 'know.' Actually, with your writing from the other day in mind, John, about a simple faith and a more intellectual faith . . . as it relates to 'knowing' how can there be any real harmony between our 'knowing' and our 'being' if we really don't know what our beliefs are . . . if we really don't know what the father's taught in this case. How can there be any genuineness or authenticity at all? How can there be any grounding, centering, or real trust/faith? We can have the best of intentions, but if all we know is what we are told (which often is little or nothing) we can be sincerely wrong or simply ignorant.

Again, with my limited knowledge of what the fathers say about theosis I hope I have not provided an obstacle in this thread, because my intent was to say thank you and keep going, as well as to invite others to help bring this question into view (especially the preists of the BOC, the OO). Where are our teachers to be found within Orthodoxy today? What are they doing?

I know you are a very busy man John, but once again I find myself in debt of the Good Doctor from the UK.

In the End, the Beginning?

In Christ,
20-08-2008, 05:03 PM
Post: #4
Dear Rick,

First let me thank you for the warm reception you have given my pieces. I have been, and am, working on this subject, and the notes I have posted were, initially, just for my own use. That gave me two sorts of hesitation: were they actually coherent; and was it a little egotistical of me to think that they would be of interest to others? But then, in the 'conversion' thread, the subject came up, which gave me the courage to post ... and see!

For the Coptic Church it is something of a hot potato because of some trying to read into the doctrine the idea that we actually 'become gods' and partake of the divine essence; we can see as early as Irenaeus that such a notion is ruled out because we have no ontological connection with God. Indeed, as I hope the piece on Origen will show (it needs a little more work before I post it), the idea is at the root of the soteriology he develops and which is, in many ways, perfected by St. Cyril. I am painfully conscious that beyond that point, what little expertise I have runs dry, and am busy reading both St. John Damascene and St. Maximus (although too little of the latter is available in English or French or German, which are the only languages I have) who clearly have interesting things to say; but how much they add to what St. Cyril wrote is the real question I am asking myself. If anyone has an answer, I'd really appreciate it Smile

Your post adds substance to any discussion. The threefold process you describe is certainly a later development, and does seem to be part of the contribution made by St. Maximus. Certainly for Origen, the process is still recognisably the same as it was for St. Clement, but he edges us towards a subtler and more articulated way of thinking about theosis as a process. But I am constantly reminded of my limitations here, and if there is anyone out there reading this who can offer a better insight, I'd welcome the contribution; again, I stress that these pieces originated as notes for my own use.

On the pedagogy front, I am with you. I know that Peter and Abba Seraphim have wanted us to do more here, and, as a professional teacher, I feel my own frustration at not having more time to help us produce some catechetical works. +Kallistos' famous book is excellent, of course, but from the Oriental Orthodox perspective, leaves something to be desired.

But I am also conscious of the perpetual catechesis that our clergy perform in their homilies. I am, of course, very fortunate in that I get to hear Abba Seraphim every other Sunday, and a collection of his homilies (now there's a good idea) would amount to quite an education in Orthodoxy. But I know that other clergy also talk to us about theosis. Indeed, I know of one (whom I will not embarrass by naming) who dwells on this theme consistently, using the hospital analogy - and emphasising that however good the care, if the patient carries on abusing his or her body, it will avail naught.

Indeed, not only is this a favourite theme of that priest, he emphasises, to himself and his flock, that part of his work with us is to know which spiritual medicine to prescribe to which person; so theosis requires us to work with a skilled physician, so to say; this is not just (or even) Do It Yourself medicine; though it certainly isn't 'someone else do it for you' medicine either.

And here, we come back to the idea of the Church as a family. I am struck, constantly, by something we so take for granted that we don't always, I suspect, grasp its significance - and that is the use of metaphors about family. God is 'the Father', Christ is 'the Son' and we can become 'sons of God' by 'adoption', and we are His 'children'. It may be that in the Western nucleated family we miss the richness of the extended family structures of the Middle East. But the 'abba' of the Lord' Prayer is not a stern and vengeful 'father', who is distant from us, He is a 'daddy' who loves us and who wants the best for us - and He has also provided a way for us to follow - and a person who has, in His own life, shown us that way.

Your post offers us a number of good questions to deal with - for which I am grateful as I press on with Origen; trying to compress what he writes is a real exercise - and a privilege.

Again, I am grateful for your engagement and encouragement.

In Christ,


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)
21-08-2008, 08:37 AM
Post: #5
theosis and the fathers
Dear John and Rick,
Just a note or two. In a special prayer addressed to Mary the Mother of God in the Syriac Orthodox Church we refer to Her as a "godess". This is obviously not meant in the pagan sense of the term, but in the sense of theosis. Have not the saints also achieved theosis? That would depend on its definition and, as far as I can see, only Orthodoxy makes the term active, becoming gods. In Roman Catholicism it implies an ever closer approach to God.
A useful but, for me, mind-bending approach (!) is to read St Gregory Palamas and how he differentiates between God's essence and His energies. Good luck!

Kirk Yacoub
21-08-2008, 09:08 AM
Post: #6
Dear Kirk,

Thank you for this - your contributions are always so useful; I always feel a sense of cheer when I see you've posted Smile

I hadn't known that about the Blessed Theotokos and the Syriac Orthodox; goodness me, that would send some of our protestant friends into paroxysms :wink:

I know what you mean by Palamas and 'essence' and 'energies'. This becomes a major part of the discussion of theosis with, I think, St. Basil the Great, who in his Letter to Amphilochius writes:
Quote:We say that we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His providence over us, and the justness of His judgement, but not His very essence ... The energies are diversified, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His energies, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His energies come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach ... So knowledge of the divine essence involves perception of His incomprehensibility, and the object of our worship is not that of which we comprehend the essence, but of which we comprehend that the essence exists.

He seems here to have been drawing on St. Athanasius, who, in his Against the Arians writes:
Quote:And how can there be deifying apart from the Word and before Him? Yet saith He to their brethren the Jews:'If He called them gods, unto whom the Word of God came.' (Jo. 10:34) And if all that are called sons and gods, whether in earth or on heaven, were adopted and deified through the Word, and the Son Himself is the Word, it is plain that through Him are they all, and He Himself before all, or rather He Himself only in the Son, and He alone is very God from the very God, not receiving these prerogatives as a reward for His virtues, nor being another beside them, but being all these by nature and according to essence.

Not to anticipate too much what I want to say later, we might also notice what the blessed St. Cyril has to say in chapter 9 of his Commentary on the Gospel of St. John when he examines Psalm 82:6:
Quote:Shall we then, leaving off being what we are, mount up to the Divine and unutterable Essence, and deposing the Word of God from His very Sonship, in place of Him sit with the Father and make the kindness of Him Who honours us as pretext for impiety? God forbid; but the Son will be unchangeable in that which He is, we, adopted unto sonship and gods by grace, not ignorant of what we are: and in this way do we believe that the saints are light.
For St. Cyril, it is always important to to emphasise that we are sons by adoption, receiving this gift of grace due to God's kindness; we are not sons by nature - the Only Begotten Son is the only one who is.

In Christ,


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)
26-08-2008, 05:04 PM
Post: #7
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 Christ,


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)
27-08-2008, 08:29 AM
Post: #8
the fathers and theosis
Dear John,
The saints whose writings are gathered together in the Philokalia emphasise that we are deified by grace, grace being one of God's energies. I am gathering together some useful notes from various sources regarding theosis, both Oriental and Eastern Orthodox and it seems that, for Orthodoxy, theosis is salvation itself, being the very aim of all our endeavours which is proclaimed when, for example, various saints have radiated the same uncreated light that transfigured Christ.
In the second volume of the Philokalia there are some 200 pages of writings by St Maximos the Confessor with, for me, his Second Century on Theology being the most concise regarding theosis.
With prayers,

Kirk Yacoub
27-08-2008, 08:51 AM
Post: #9
Dear Kirk,

Yes, I think that for the Orthodox theosis is indeed salvation itself.

There is little doubt that St. Maximos is the most sophisticated expositor of the doctrine, and my own posts here will, alas, stop before him, if only through want of familiarity with the corpus of his writings; but the Philokalia volume is, as you say, a great source for those of us without the facility in Greek. Russell's The Doctrine of Deification has some good chapters on him, and is a splendid detailed study of the tradition of theosis.

In Christ,


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)
27-08-2008, 11:58 AM
Post: #10
Dear John and Kirk,

It occurs to me, reading you posts, that this is what I like about the BOF. You both share what you have read and name sources. There is not much room for a pooling of ignorance this way.

And, with that said, and at the risk of me being in the pool by myself here . . . if any have any quotes about a moment-by-moment theosis as opposed to a once and for all type of theosis, I would appreciate this. And, this is because 'it is my understanding' that some Orthodox writers speak of salvation as a once for all thing for any who might experience it in this life. In this sense it is an experience to not be repeated. But, 'it is also my understanding' that some Orthodox writers speak of theosis as a thing that can come and go in our life and is a repeatable experience. In this sense it is similar to other faith traditions (some even non-Christian) whereby there can be mini-experiences of enlightenment as opposed to one big once for all experience. So if anyone knows of any references to this or stumbles across any, I'd appreciate a sharing of these.

And, just one final thing. Knowing this thread is somewhat of an offshoot of the 'conversion' thread, as Kirk has rightly pointed out that theosis is salvation (in terms of a final salvation) . . . this is another area where I think sometimes that in order for doctrines at the top of a house to be supported there needs to be a protecting of doctrines down in the lower part of the house. And, sometimes this requires circular talking in order to keep things from seeming less than tight, or less than sensical. What I mean is take for example the normal Orthodox usage of: 1) Conversion; 2.) Salvation; and 3) Theosis. Knowing sanctification (as understood by most Protestants and others) is the main meaning of salvation, we can focus on the Orthodox 'take' on these three. And, they seem to flow pretty well I think. 1, 2, and finally 3. Or, do they?

But, now I feel that I am possibly adding to my 'pooling' a blending of this thread and the other thread on 'conversion' with where I'm headed so I will quit here, and just look forward to reading more installments which come from the History of the Christian Church.

And, it occurs to me that I have always been highly interested in the History of Christian Thought or what is known by some as Historical Theology. But, these are not always the same as a consideration of a History of the Church. And, this is where I think we are all so blessed in this thread. And, these are very fine lines which separate the above fields, and in fact, there is so much overlap, they really are one big field in reality. But, I think there are different approaches here based on how much of a personal agenda one has. But, there needs to be a balance I think for the one who has no agenda other than to seek the Truth as nothing more than a disciple of the Truth, a learner/follower of Christ. And, as it relates to this mode, and any who would attempt to share what one has learned, for any who would attempt to express the Orthodox faith and in this sense share theology . . . I am reminded of a quote by another John. John Zizioulas, who wrote:

Quote:One of the major and permanent goals of a theologian, who wants to express the Christian faith, as it is held by the Orthodox Catholic Tradition, is to be able to do justice to history as well as to "systematic" thought addressed to contemporaries. In most cases, however, historians limit themselves to history establishing the facts of the past leaving open the issue of objective truth. Systematic theologians, on the contrary, neglect the rigorous demands of historical criticism, and use the past merely as a source of proof-texts, selected by them to support their own, so often arbitrary interpretation of truth.

This dichotomy is particularly dangerous for Orthodox theology, which simply ceases to be Orthodox is it neglects either Tradition uncovered in history, or forgets the truth, which is its raison d'etre.

Thanks again for you efforts here John. Hopefully, this is a labor of love. And, while this might be more of a slower moving, and more of a long term type of thread, I am grateful that it is here now and as a reference in the future. I think your work here and elsewhere does not allow much room for the dichotomy described above and because of this we are blessed.

In Christ,
27-08-2008, 03:04 PM
Post: #11
Dear Rick,

I have almost finished my examination of St. Athanasius (fortunately for me, my limitations soon become apparent, but that stops me trying to say anything of my own!).

I hope that Kirk may join us here in examining your question about theosis as a process as opposed to a once and for all phenomenon; I must say that thus far I have not seen the latter in any of the Fathers I have been reading; that of course may, again, speak more about my own deficiencies than anything else :oops:

Thanks, too, for the Zizioulas quotation. I have a particular horror of the proof-texting version of history; it is one of the things that most irritates me when dealing with Catholic apologists, who have a tendency to cite the ECFs as though the meaning of 'catholic' then was what it is now and say 'there, you see!' as though they have produced out of the hat something other than the rabbit one saw them putting in it earlier. Mind you, if the good doctor Z thinks historians confine themselves to establishing the facts of the past, he hasn't met many of them!

In Christ,


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)
27-08-2008, 03:49 PM
Post: #12
Dear John,

John Charmley Wrote:Mind you, if the good doctor Z thinks historians confine themselves to establishing the facts of the past, he hasn't met many of them!

Smile That's good! And, I defer to your more informed point of view.

John Charmley Wrote:I hope that Kirk may join us here in examining your question about theosis as a process as opposed to a once and for all phenomenon; I must say that thus far I have not seen the latter in any of the Fathers I have been reading; that of course may, again, speak more about my own deficiencies than anything else :oops:

That would be good if Kirk could bring his learning to the table. And, although I asked my question very poorly, what I was trying to ask about was not is theosis a process, because I think we should have 100% agreement that it is, but more along the lines of a either a "have" or "have-not" type of experience.

For example, it seems the saints within Orthodoxy are viewed as 'having' IT or experiencing theosis as 'the normal Christian life' (to quote Watchman Nee for any Nee fans). There is not moment-by-moment experience of theosis or what some call the Sprit-filled life, Abiding life, etc., it is an either or thing in one's life that once IT is bestowed it does not come and go--although this is rare in this life. I think this is the majority view in Orthodoxy.

But, I was asking for any writing/quotes from within Orthodoxy that speak to theosis as a gift that does come and go for the lack of a better expression. In this sense, it is the way is still the goal as in the above; however, there are foretastes possibly as opposed to the full-time condition of the saint described above.

As I reread this I see this all sounds clear as mud . . . but, I'll hit the submit button just in case there are any who can read my mind or see what I'm saying here.

In Christ,
28-08-2008, 08:40 AM
Post: #13
the fathers and theosis
Dear John and Rick,
I have seen it stated by one of the Fathers (I can't find that sheet of paper at the moment, when I do I will name name names!) that theosis, or deification, can only be complete after the Resurrection, which makes sense. This does not imply that saints have not experienced theosis, but that this will be confirmed when they are with Christ in His Glory at the Second Coming of our Lord.
Theosis is central to the understanding of the whole process of God's Saving act. Starting with the recognition that in the begining we were created in the image and likeness of God, that the Fall led to the tarnishing and almost complete burial of that divine image within us through sin. It explains why the Logos, God's Only-begotten Son was made Incarnate, and why we partake of His Holy Body and Blood, not as a symbol, but as an actual partaking of His divine humanity. When Christ said, "he who hath seen me hath seen the Father," He was proclaiming, among other things, that He was presenting what the true likeness of God must be in human flesh.
"The Word made flesh has deified the flesh," wrote St John of Damascus in
On Icons. St Paul explained that our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit, which makes us not our own. He also said that because of baptism we have "put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." (Col3:9-10).
That magnificent prayer spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of St John, chapter 17, should be read and re-read as the most definitive explanation of what theosis is.
Whether as babies or as adults we have been baptised into the Body of Christ, thus receiving the Holy Spirit, however, this is not the end of the story, because we must live our life in struggle against our lower, sinful nature, the wiles of the devils, and the need to live a life of love according to God's will. This is the meaning of prayer life, to become closer to God, to implement His commands, to overcome evil, a continuous struggle that will receive the blessed aid of the Holy Spirit.
I suggest that, if an English translation exists, everyone should read Matta el-Maskeen's "The New Creation of Man".

Kirk Yacoub
28-08-2008, 09:19 AM
Post: #14
A useful selection of Fr Matta's shorter texts in English are available for purchase here...

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I have bought quite a few in the past and profit from them.

28-08-2008, 10:41 AM
Post: #15
Dear Kirk,

Thanks for these comments, they are very helpful to me in attempting to learn more about our topic. And, I am not sure if this will be a help or a hindrance here, but as most of us know in other Christian traditions (especially found in revivalism) there is a three-part understanding of the journey of the soul which includes:

1.) Salvation or Justification (the beginning of the Christian life which happens during an hour of decision, once for all, not to be repeated)

2.) Sanctification (an ongoing lifelong process which includes foretastes of heaven found in the Spirit-filled life for some which are repeatable expereinces)

3.) Glorification (the end of the Christian life on this earth, when we are changed as the Apostle Paul has written)

I can see how these might just get in the way, but I wonder if they are of any help as we might consider some of what you are sharing above in relation to the following Orthodox model which includes:

1.) Baptism (the beginning of the Christian life)

2.) Salvation (an ongoing lifelong process)

3.) Theosis (the end of the Christian life on this earth)

And, I'm thinking of a book I read last winter by St. Theophan the Recluse titled, "The Path of Salvation" if any have read this book, especially the first section then there might be some good discussion from this as there is very heavy overlap in the above two models, especially in the beginning of the Christian life.

Hopefully you can find your notes from the father about theosis, this could be helpful I think. And, I'm thinking about another thread in another discussion community where we were discussing a book titled, "The Mountain of Silence." I will try to revisit that one because I am remembering now that there were varied examples given of different fathers and saints who had different experiences with the gift of theosis. And, I think there the conclusion was, in so many words, that one size does not fit all.

Thanks very much for bringing your contribution to the table.

In Christ,

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