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The Fathers and Theosis
28-08-2008, 11:31 AM,
Dear John,

I am wondering if you could bring me up to speed please on a question I have as I read the following:

Quote:Athanasius? coinage of the word ?theosis? first appears in his Orationes Contra Arianos 1.38-39, where he writes: ?He Himself has made us sons of the Father, and deified men by: "becoming Himself man. 39. Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us.? "

I do not have anything resembling a timeline of the discovery/'development' of the doctrine of theosis; but, I am wondering where Athanasius might fit in. Specifically, as I consider his extensive writing against the Arains and how very closely these same issues relate to the issues that are emerging for me in your installements here, I would like to have a better handle on the magnitude of the contributions of Athanasius to teaching of theosis in his day.

Thanks for any help for this slow learner.

In Christ,
28-08-2008, 06:55 PM,
Dear Rick,

As far as I can see, St. Athanasius is the first to use the actual word 'theosis'. He also extends its possible meanings, and all the terms which you use: justification, salvation and glorification, are included in his use of the word.

Although it is not quite as clear as I should like it, I would read St. Athanasius as saying that theosis can only be completed at the Last Judgement. So it is a life long process. Christ is the crucial mediator for us. But unlike Origen, St. Athanasius does not hold that Christ is, Himself, first deified, and deifies us; he hold that Christ is of one essence with the Father - but that His assumption of our flesh heals it. What is missing with St. Athanasius is quite how our souls are also deified. I have suggested that the implication is via adoption, but even there, he is not clear.

I am reading through Anatolios' recent works looking for the answer my own reading fails to give me, and should I find it, I'll include it in a later post. The odd thing is that whilst most of the writers on this subject rightly make great play of this subject, they too cannot provide an answer to the question about the theosis of the soul; they mostly note that the theosis seems very 'fleshly'. Yes, even I can see that! But it would be nice if they could guide me to some answer other than that 'it is implied'.

St. Cyril, who is initially heavily dependent upon Athanasius, seems to be inspired by the Nestorian controversy to provide a fuller answer to this - and that's coming up soon!

My regret at not keeping up my schoolboy Greek grows daily!

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)
28-08-2008, 09:00 PM,
Theosis - a journey without end?
Just an observation from Orthodox reading I have done over the years and maybe from my own thinking too (but no I don't have any quotes from the Fathers to hand to back it up at all) but I am not sure that I see theosis as completed at death or at the Last Judgment. Since God is infinite and we are finite and no matter how great and wondrous we grow into the likeness of God throughout all eternity we will still be finite (maybe that much greater than we are now, maybe far greater than we can imagine - eye hath not seen, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared) but no matter how great and wondrous we become we will still be finite and even as we ever go on growing ever deepar and fuller into the likeness of God we can still go deeper... for we are ever fintie beings attaining theosis, the likeness of God...

So it seems to me that theosis may very well be a journey that has a beginning but that it will be for ever, even unto ages of ages, a journey that has no end, a journey that goes on and on into an ever increasing experience of God, our capacity for love and joy and bliss growing ever greater and greater and greater.

28-08-2008, 09:32 PM,
Dear Fr. Simon,

You raise an interesting point. I am not sure that I have an answer from the Fathers, but it would make sense, given that God is eternal and our life with Him will also be that.

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)
29-08-2008, 09:25 AM,
the fathers and theosis
Dear Everyone,
In his splendid book "Orthodox Prayer Life" Matta el-Maskeen writes of union with God and quotes a number of early Church Fathers, St Justin the Martyr, St Irenaeus of Lyon, St Clement of Alexandria, St Hippolytus, St Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nazianzus, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Ignatios of Antioch, the homilies of St Macarios, as well as St Athanasios.
He does not say whether St Athanasios was the first to use the term "theosis", but he does say that, of the early Fathers, he writes about it the most. The fact that our deification through Christ stems from the Gospels, the Letters of St Paul, the 2nd Letter of St Peter, and the 1st Letter of St John, and that it is taken up by early Church Fathers does show that it is absolutely basic. It is complicated to view it simply as a process because that suggests a 1-2-3 step approach. Rather we should link it with our life-long struggle against the devil through prayer, fasting, vigil, attending the Liturgy, and good works in the embrace of the Church, knowing that, whether we take one step forward followed by half a step back, followed by another movement forward, Christ is always there to give us the help we need. It is misleading to state that anything can be "once and for all time" simply because we are always capable of backsliding, and God is always eager to forgive.
With prayers,
Kirk Yacoub
29-08-2008, 11:51 AM,
Dear All,

Thanks for the information about Athansius. I appreciate very much the informed point of view of all here!

BUT . . . it seems now I am going to be forced to hit the books. It is becoming very obvious very quickly that there will be no silver platter here on the teaching of the Church on the subject of theosis.

On the one hand, it seems that according to the fathers, it appears to be shaping up that what the fathers have said about 'theosis' as it relates to our everyday life is exactly what many Non-Orthodox say today about 'sanctification.'

But, on the other hand (and while I understand this thread is about the fathers and theosis), I think I am seeing a sharp dichotomy about what is taught by modern Orthodox writing theologians, about theosis, and what was taught by the fathers about theosis.

Granted, during the time when I was making my journey towards Orthodoxy, I read primarily the modern Orthodox writers/'brouchures' who were more systematic or spoke what I considered to be a language of mystical theology, because it seemed like I could understand them very easily. And, again, granted, there were different views presented by them about theosis . . . none of them lined up with what I am seeing come into view here in this thread. I think one was Bradley Nassif who drew a very close parallel between theosis and a Wesleyan Perfection which is a have or have not situation and is a once for all occurrence. Others taught as stand alone doctrines, or compared theosis to what is commonly known as the Spirit-filled life or the Abiding life, or by other names in protestant renewal theology whereby there is a moment-by-moment experience of theosis.

So I think until I can gather some notes to support in a more intelligent way what I am sharing above, I will have to go mute in order to not promote the very thing I refuse to participate in in the real world which is a pooling of ignorance. And, it occurs to me that what I am sharing here is not appropriate for this thread about the fathers. So possibly another thread something like 'Contemporary Orthodox Teachings on Theosis?"

Either way, thanks again very much to the contributors of this thread for sharing the teachings of the fathers on theosis in a very clear way. This thread continues to be a true blessing, may it have a long term run . . . or become a book one day.

In Christ,
29-08-2008, 05:52 PM,
Dear Rick,

Without trespassing too much on the St. Cyril piece, I think he does provide us with some answers to some of your questions.

He sees Christ's own baptism as the type of our own, which brings the Holy Spirit back into us; so if there is a crucial moment or event, that it is; he sees Christ's human nature as being deified by the Spirit, even as ours is. But although crucial, baptism is not once and for all 'salvation'; we can lose the Spirit, as Adam's descendants did. (One of the features of St. Cyril's anthropology is that he does not see the loss of the Holy Spirit as being simultaneous with Adam's disobedience). That is why we need to live the Christian life, to grow in Him. It is also why the Eucharist is vital, because that literally gives Him access to us, and it thus renews us in Him.

So here we see the process. Sealed as His by the breathing of the Spirit into us at baptism and chrismation, we grow in Him through our following His example, and His ways, and through regular Communion and the rest of the life of the Church. Our bodies and souls thus become partakers in Him - sons by adoption and Grace. But, as I hope to show in examining St. Cyril's works here, there is no earthly end to this process - unless we fall from Grace into sin by not walking in His way.

Hope that helps a little.

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)
15-04-2009, 07:58 PM,
I'm going to go ahead and open a Pandora's box here, and make a comment on theosis. I will post more on the topic later. There are two traditional teachings here that are commonly referred to as theosis but are indeed two separate teachings: theosis and theopoiesis. Theosis is the teaching of the Cappadocian fathers and thoepoiesis is the teaching of Clement, Athanasius and Cyril, which is the adoption spoken of by Paul. The Cappadocian teaching of theosis is quite similar to that which belongs to Greek philosophy, and is riddled with philosophical terms. The problem begins with the translation of these two terms into a single English word: deify. Through reading the bible and the works of Athanasius I came the understanding of theopoiesis before I even knew the term and it wasn't until later that I learned there was a difference between it and what the Cappadocian fathers taught as theosis.

Theosis is becoming God by ascension through meditation and spiritual elevation and appears to include sharing in the divine substance when we finally reach full communion with God in Heaven. In theosis we become one with God by becoming a part of God.

Theopoiesis, is the being made a god through sonship by adoption. We unite with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb and the sonship which Christ has is transmitted to us only because of our connection to Him, much like the magnetic properties are transmitted to a piece of steel when it unites with a magnet. We do not become what God is but we become one with Him as a married couple becomes one.

A quick example of this:

Gregory Nazianzen, from his 21st oration:

Whoever has been permitted to escape by reason and contemplation
from matter and this fleshly cloud or veil (whichever it should be
called) and to hold communion with God, and be associated, as far as
man's nature can attain, with the purest Light, blessed is he, both from
his ascent from hence, and for his theosis there, which is conferred by
true philosophy, and by rising superior to the dualism of matter,
through the unity which is perceived in the Trinity.

St Athanasius, Four Discourses against the Arians:

it follows that He had not promotion from His descent , but rather Himself promoted the things which needed promotion; and if He descended to affect their promotion, therefore He did not receive in reward the name of the Son and God, but rather He Himself has made us sons of the Father, and deified (etheopoiese - past tense) men by becoming Himself man.

Gregory speaks of theosis and the ascent of man and it being attainable by man's nature and further equates it with "true philosophy"; but Athansius speaks of theopoiesis and the descent of Christ in order to promote us. These are not the same doctrines.

Now this was not meant to rock anyone's faith, but to initiate a real investigation into this topic. I am not presenting this to expose saints as heretics, but rather to identify the different teachings for consideration.
15-04-2009, 10:33 PM,
Thanks for sharing this Marc, I'm looking forward to more of your posts on this topic.
16-04-2009, 02:20 AM,
I'm going to talk to my priest before posting more on this because it is an area of contention for some. Norman Russell speaks to this topic as I believe also John McGuckin. I know that a lot of people vehemently support theosis and believe that this is what Cyril and Athanasius spoke of, so I do not want to upset anyone or cause anyone (or myself for that matter) to fall into sin over the subject. However, when I see what I believe to be erroneous understanding of the faith, I am compelled to speak. So be patient and I will provide more on the topic.

God bless.
16-04-2009, 03:01 PM,
Dear Marc

I'd be interested in your response to some material produced by a BOC member, John Charmley, on the subject..

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As ever

Father Peter
16-04-2009, 03:59 PM,
I would say, first of all, the doctrine being described by John Charmley is not theosis but rather essentially theopoiesis. Theosis is borrowed from Greek philosophy and St Gregory Nazianzen was primarily responsible for its introduction into the Christian faith. Gregory believed that man could ascend and be like God in the same degree in which He became like us.

Theopoiesis is becoming god by adoption and in name only and we must be careful not to include it as becoming God by nature. For Christ is God by nature and we only may be by adoption and title.

I have asked Abouna Athanasius if I can forward an article by him to you. It is thorough and well researched, but I do not want to take the liberty to post it without his consent.
17-04-2009, 12:15 PM,
Dear Marc and Others:

I hope my use of bold face font and underlining below is not too annoying, but I would like to contribute an article I read this morning [below]. This might help as we work towards at least a toe hold on the distinction here that you have drawn.

This is very interesting to me. I hope the Father allows you to post his article here.

Thanks again very much for your excellent contributions to this forum!

In Christ,


Carl Mosser of Eastern College gave a superb presentation on deification at the ETS meeting. A large part of the presentation was a study of terminology. He noted that the Greek word THEOS (often thought to be equivalent to "God") had a broader meaning, referring to powers that were immortal, incorruptible, and glorious - the very words that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 15 to describe the resurrected body. For the early fathers, this is what is meant by "deification," and they frequently link the doctrine to adoption via Psalm 82.

Deification is not a capitulation to Hellenism (as Harnack argued) but grew out of biblical exegesis and the patristic understanding of salvation. (Interestingly, Mosser said that 2 Peter 1:4 plays little role in the earliest fathers.)

Gregory of Nazianzus was the first to use the word "theosis" to describe this, and he used it very infrequently. The doctrine and terminology of theosis kicks into gear with Pseudo-Dionysus, the hesychast controversy, Palamas and Maximus the confessor. It is thus linguistically anachronistic to claim that the early fathers have a doctrine of "theosis." With the hesychast controversy, not only the terminology but the doctrine changes. Instead of a strongly soteriological understanding of deification, theosis develops in a mystical context, and is worked out by Palamas and others through the distinction between the essence and energies of God, a distinction that has no place in the earliest doctrine of deification.

The confusion of theosis and the broader doctrine of deification creates significant ecumenical problems. Deification is an ecumenical doctrine, taught in some form by everyone from Irenaeus to Wesley and beyond, but theosis is a distinctly Orthodox development. When the two are confused, deification appears to be a distinctly Orthodox teaching as well. Treating the two as synonymous also leads ecumenically minded Western theologians to downplay the distinctiveness of mystical theosis; Eastern apologists, meanwhile, claim that a true doctrine of deification must take the uniquely Eastern form - complete with the essence/energies distinction - and when the West is found to lack such a teaching, Eastern apologists can claim that the West lacks a doctrine of deification as such.

Mosser ended with some consideration of the best way to describe the reality of deification. The term raises problems, since it implies that men become deities; divinization is hardly better. Mosser suggested that "theopoiesis" is the best way to describe the general, ecumenical view of the church, of which theosis is a uniquely Orthodox variation.
17-04-2009, 12:45 PM,
I agree with this quote. I will further note that theopoiesis was part of the Alexandrine tradition and passed on into the OO traditions while theosis was out of the Cappadocian fathers then became part of the Antiochene tradition and finally the Byzantine and EO tradition. In recent years theosis has crept into OO theology in the light of dialogue between the two traditions, but I think that a lot of OO's not wanting to appear ignorant of what seems to be an important doctrine and not wanting to appear less sophisticated in terms of theology, have mistaken theosis for theopoiesis.
20-04-2009, 01:22 PM,
marc hanna Wrote:I'm going to talk to my priest before posting more on this because it is an area of contention for some. Norman Russell speaks to this topic as I believe also John McGuckin.

Dear Marc,

Thanks for your continued comments on this topic. I am wondering how things are going with the possibility of reading the essay by your preist. As well, I wonder if you are able to quote from Russell or McGuckin as it relates to this topic. I would like to be able to at least understand the issue(s) here with this distinction.

Thank you.

In Christ,

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