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The Fathers and Theosis
29-04-2009, 04:42 PM,
Dear Marc,

Thanks for the straight answers to my questions. And, it sounds like we are on the same page here (except for the part about drinking espresso straight) :mrgreen: .

And, you have written well about what you have found from your intro to platonism, but as I mentioned before it is my view that even if this charge is removed from the discussion, not much is lost. Because, the results of this alleged influence would still be present, and our focus would then be necessarily right back to the early church fathers primarily (in our investigation of this). So I'm not sure what is really gained in this as it seems a close look at what the early fathers taught is the deciding factor.

But, as we might consider both 'concepts' and 'vocabulary,' or more specifically a common vocabulary of an Hellenistic civilization, I think you will find that primarily the vocabulary is almost identical more so than the concepts. You know Gregory did quote Plato without naming him ('one of the Greek divines') so it is not too hard to see why he is charged with being a platonizer, but it seems clear to me that when we get to where the rubber meets the road, the Christian thoughts/concepts expressed by Gregory represent a clear parting of the way--although there is a common vocabulary. And, for that matter St. John used the term Logos in his Christian writing as well, and he spoke to the Greek mind using what was known to explain the Unknown. This is an ancient rule of education, 'using what is known to explain what is unknown.'

Actually, as it relates to some of the aspects of "the concepts" that are to be found in platonism which do overlap in Eastern Orthodoxy . . . really, why stop there. Why not go to the group that the Greek divines ripped off and do a survey there (viz. the Indian Philosophers)? Many-many concepts are to be found in the Vedantic philosophers that would parallel Eastern Orthodox thinking from theosis to the divine darkness and the way of negation and unknowing as the way of knowing the divine. But, same thing here Marc . . . when these concepts are examined closely while there seems to be a saying of the same thing initally, at the end of the day we clearly are standing on different shores with what seemed to be our allies doctrinally in the beginning. While it appears that we are climbing the same mountain, a closer look reveals with great speed that we are not.

And, this look into Indian Philosophy might actually be somewhat illuminating, because in relation to Paul's speech on Mar's Hill, about the unknown god that they worshiped in his day, we see that there was an ancient time of "seeking" and "groping" as well as a finding . . . here, like Gregory, Paul quoted from the Greek Poets, and like John spoke the language of Greek philosophy, so did Paul as he presented a Christian ontology in a way that could be understood.

But, again, whether we would wind around about this and whether we might conclude that theosis is a Greek or even an Indian invention, or not, I'm not sure how fruitful or meaningful this would be to our discussion as it relates to what appears to be the deciding factor (namely, what the early church fathers say "deification" is as IT relates to either theopoiesis or theosis).

In Christ,
29-04-2009, 05:00 PM,
PS: What is Theopoiesis?

PS At the risk of being guilty of trying to do systematic theology in Orthodoxy, I am hoping that we can get into more of the 'nuts and bolts' of what theopoiesis is. This too might be a case of 'doing the easy part first.' We might be able to bullet point some of this, or put a kind of list together for this question.
29-04-2009, 06:01 PM,
I don't think that many EO's would suggest that the only means of salvation is an active pursuit of theosis, because that would mean that simpletons, the mentally challenged and children cannot be saved. So then, what is the purpose of theosis? Is it just an extracurricular activity for Christians? Theosis in EO thought is clearly a voluntary pursuit, and this is where it differs from Coptic usage of theosis or what I suggest is actually theopoiesis. Theopoiesis is the union of man to God and is freely bestowed on all who have been saved. God became man so that man might be made god. But there is no metamorphosis into the substance of God, but rather we are married to God and illuminated by Him. The EO's work out this connection ultimately too, but have gone through centuries of theological development regarding the difference between the divine essence and the divine energies and have sought to dissect and clearly define the more unknowable aspects of God. This pursuit, is what I believe to be that which, as others have noted, condemns theologians. Theopoiesis is not the journey to become God or the ascent of one's nous but rather is the completion of salvation, we are given the down payment of this promise at baptism/chrismation and thenceforth the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and we are charged with doing the will of God as our abilities allow so as not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. This requires also an understanding of blaspheming the Spirit. This is the permanent apostasy of an individual who has received the mysteries and has had the Spirit dwelling in them. This person cannot be saved.

God descended from on high, stooping down to our level and formed for himself a true human body and soul which was united to His Godhead at the moment of conception. He had bridged the chasm which divided the Creator from the creation and through His death and resurrection renewed mankind and made it possible for all to unite with Him. We are sons by adoption. As death came out of the will of man, salvation came by the will of God, and that will also became that of man's when God became man and thus when we conjoin ourselves to Christ through faith we also have a likeness of the will of Christ.

But because of Christ's sacrifice even those who have not known Him may be saved if they do by nature what is according to the law; but you may say then, why then must we go through the whole process of sacraments and going to church and what not? Here is the answer, both he who knows his benefactor and he who doesn't will both benefit from his generosity, but he who knows his benefactor should be thankful to him and love him and give him praise earnestly and honestly from the heart or else he is a thankless and selfish recipient and the benefactor will take away that which he has given and will give it no more.

And maybe now I'm preaching to the choir a little bit here too, but what I'm getting at is an illustration of what Christian life is; it's not to be a theologian and it's not a conscious and active pursuit of a method for salvation, it is willfully accepting that which has been bestowed upon us and being thankful for and giving due worship to Him who is our supreme benefactor.

While each has been given different talents and is expected to cultivate those talents for the glory of God and the edification of the church, we are not all called to the same earthly existence, some are monks, some are priests, some are husbands and wives, some are theologians, and some are factory workers. Therefore, not all can grasp theosis or comprehend it. There is nothing particularly wrong with theology but not all are predisposed to knowing it and they are no less equally awarded salvation than those who are. The Archimandrite George says that it is necessary to nourish our children's theosis and that later problems in life are the result of neglect - whereas we teach our children to love God and teach them about that which He has done for us; we baptize them and confirm them, and bring them to the eucharist, so that God can work in them.

Theopoiesis is not a process - it is a work of God. Theosis is a process and is the work of man with a final reward from God.
30-04-2009, 11:53 AM,
I have been thinking about this subject over the last day. It seems to me that we must avoid several extremes.

First of all I would wish to say that though I have always used the word theosis, I have generally understood the spirituality which I meant to describe by that word as being that more closely described by the word theopoiesis. It strikes me that even while there are those within the Oriental Orthodox tradition who perhaps have developed a too philosophical spirituality in recent times, nevertheless the majority of Oriental Orthodox, certainly Coptic Orthodox, are more ready to accept it practical spirituality, both of action and contemplation.

On the other hand, I would suggest that outside of some monastic circles and groups of Western converts, within Eastern Orthodoxy the traditional spirituality remains practical in the sense we have described.

It seems to me that for ordinary eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox the goal of spiritual life remains that described by St Seraphim of Sarov, the acquisition of the holy spirit. And it is this practical seeking of the holy spirit, both in the active and contemplative life, which distinguishes, as far as I can see, traditional Orthodox spirituality from a philosophy of the human spirit which is essentially that found in many other Eastern religions.

I must admit that I was always concerned, even while reading Thomas Merton before I became Orthodox, that it seemed so easy for many Roman Catholic spiritual fathers to find a common ground with Eastern monks, especially Buddhist, when in fact the substance of spirituality is so different and it is surely only the practice which is essentially similar.

But while I can see that a philosophical approach to spirituality has certain dangers and can become divorced from the truth of the Gospel, nevertheless I can see that a reliance on what might be called practical spirituality, both active and contemplative, can also become divorced from the gospel and become either a routine or simple moralism.

This is perhaps why I hesitate simply to abandon one technical term for another, since it seems to me that what matters most is the substance of the spirituality we are describing, and this is found not so much in simple adherence to a word, but in a deeper apprehension of the goals and methods the various spiritualities which we could consider.

Surely, as St Seraphim teaches, as indeed father Matthew the poor teaches, a truly Orthodox spirituality must have the same substance and goal even while it may use a variety of methods, as appropriate in the unique lives of those who live out that spirituality.

I have no problem at all with the spirituality of St Seraphim, it seems to me to be at one with the essential spirituality of the Oriental Orthodox tradition, as found in the deserts. And this seeking of the holy spirit, this reliance on the holy spirit, this being rooted in the holy spirit, seems to me to be liable to an out working in every life, both monastic and secular.

This is why I have always struggled with some strands of spirituality within Eastern Orthodoxy, and essentially these are those which developed in the middle ages and are therefore not necessarily, and I'm willing to be convinced, the same as those of the earlier period. These strands seem to rely on technique, and given some time I can find some passages which explicitly give instruction on how most quickly to see the uncreated light. This seems to be a different goal to that of St Seraphim.

On the other hand I also struggle with some strands of spirituality within Oriental Orthodoxy and these are essentially those which have developed in the most recent times. Some of these, it seems to me, are based on Protestant and Roman Catholic ideas and spirituality, while others present a morality based on lists of sins and a legalistic requirement to perform certain spiritual and religious practices.

Therefore I hope that we can discuss here both the extremes spirituality which fall away from the gospel, perhaps explaining those spirituality is common to our own communities which while different are perhaps Orthodox enough, and find that true common ground where we can all genuinely agree with fathers of both traditions, and experience a true unity of spirituality.

I must say that in my own life it has only really been over the last year or so that I've finally came to understand a little better at the role of the holy spirit in the life of a Christian. It seems to me that in many regards the holy spirit is not understood nor recognised enough. Indeed it has only been through my study of Christology that I have been taught that true life in Christ is the presence of the holy spirit in our hearts. It seems to me that if we fail to develop a new pneumatological spirituality then we fall to easily into a philosophical spirituality, only for the illuminati, or a ritualised spirituality which may include many worthwhile activities, but is also based on our human endeavour and fails to become the experience of a life lived in the freedom of the spirit.

I hope that we can be very honest and open with each other here in this fairly private forum, trusting each other's intentions, seeking together to find a shared experience of truth and love in the holy spirit.

God bless our seeking.

Father Peter
30-04-2009, 01:05 PM,
I see what you're saying here father, it can be quite easy to flee from one extreme and find oneself in quite the opposite extreme - that of the Pentecostals and Charismatic Evangelicals - this seems to be what has happened (or is happening) to the Anglican church who in the late 70's almost united with the EO's but since has gone quite the opposite way. The extreme liberal protestant movement is one of an experience with the Holy Spirit where instead of indwelling in us He actually takes control of us in sort of the same way a demon possesses of person - people lose control of their bodily functions and act in hysterical ways.

But that is the most extreme. I have witnessed what you refer to in our church, there are those traveling around from congregation to congregation who are very popular among the youth and who are teaching protestant ideals.

I am wondering though, father, if this discussion of extremes might better be the topic of another thread, as it seems to be diverging from the topic of this thread. This is unless, I have missed your point altogether.
30-04-2009, 01:45 PM,
Hi Marc

I don't want to divert the thread, but my concern is that we not argue about which word we use, but rather root ourselves in the actual substance of spirituality.

We need to be clear what it is that uses the word theosis to describe itself which we are resisting, while not gathering together all EO spirituality in the same resistance, even if it uses the same word to describe itself.

Is that a little clearer?

I just don't want to reject what is called theosis in the EO context if it is actually what you are describing by the term theopoeisis.

Father Peter
30-04-2009, 02:03 PM,
I see what you are saying. And I agree. The substance is what's important not what we call it. I tend to think that even in the EO community there is a lot of confusion over what theosis actual is, however, those who really seem to have a handle on it are describing the philosophy of Plato and Philo.

I have to go, but later I will reference Archimandrite George from the Greek Orthodox church.
30-04-2009, 02:07 PM,
On Describing 'Theopoiesis'

admin Wrote:I just don't want to reject what is called theosis in the EO context if it is actually what you are describing by the term theopoeisis.

Dear Father Peter, Dear Marc,

This is kind of where I am attempting to go at the present as well. I am not sure that we understand what theopoiesis is at this point.

I am hoping that we can clearly define what theopoiesis is as a stand alone doctrine and then go from there.

It is clear that what you are presenting, Marc, is that they are two separate doctrines/concepts as well as terms. But, I am thinking it might be helpful to speak of theopoieis on it's own terms in order to get a more clear picture.

You know what I mean Gene? Smile The time spent saying what is erroneous about theosis (Hellenic influence, etc.,) does not really shed light on what theopoiesis is so much.

So, I would like to humbly suggest that we do something like:

1.) Define theopoiesis

2.) Define theosis (as understood in Eastern Orthodoxy)

3.) See what the early fathers have to say.

So what do you think Marc? I wonder if you could bring the slow learners like me up to speed about what theopoiesis is by means of an outline with first and second level subheadings or bullet points or something like that on one post. I know that most of my posts are ramblers that are the opposite of an outline and/or bullet point . . . but, this sure would give us a good foundation and make things so much easier.

I would love to clearly understand what theopoieis is as you are presenting it here.

And, I really appreciate the following very much:

admin Wrote:I hope that we can be very honest and open with each other here in this fairly private forum, trusting each other's intentions, seeking together to find a shared experience of truth and love in the holy spirit.

Yes, open and honest . . . I sense there are good intentions here and I appreciate very much the openess and honesty that is present in this conversation (which seems to be void of agendas).

As for me, I am kind of like a dog on a track with what you are sharing with me Marc. And, I am very grateful for your presence here. I think we are headed in a good direction with this topic (which is a blessing to me). with your help things are becoming more clear each day.

Father Peter's post about extremes actually incites me to riot (in a good way) Wink and I would love to take off on this in a way that I think does speak directly to our topic (about how Pneumatology and Christology can be brought together in a full synthesis in Orthodox Ecclesiology and a Christian Anthropology); but, I will hold off and see what you think. After all dude, you do seem to be the most informed here about what you are presenting.

Thanks again!

In Christ,
13-05-2009, 12:47 PM,
Sorry for neglecting this thread, I have been busy. I've also been trying to do a little research on the development of theosis in the EO churches seeing as the topic inevitably comes up in this discussion and I don't want to misrepresent the EO understanding of theosis.

I think you're on the right track, but I would rather position your comments as: Theopoiesis is the result of having been Justified, Sanctified and Glorified.

Many protestant groups have been heavily researching the fathers, and if approached with earnestness and humility I believe it is possible for them to attain the truth. I don't think they're quit there yet.

That's all I have time for right now, forgive me if I neglect this thread for a bit longer, we're expecting our 5th child any day now.
11-08-2009, 01:03 PM,
Hi Marc,

I imagine you are a proud pappa of five now! Smile I keep watching the mail for my cigar, but it doesn't seem to be here yet. Wink

I was just thinking about this topic more today, as this thread has taken the turn that it has, and I am still wondering if it is possible to be more clear about what is being said?

I think most of us are familiar to varying degrees with theosis; but, I would still love to get a handle on what is being said about theopoiesis. Is it possible to help me to understand more clearly what theopoiesis is as a stand alone doctrine? I think I can see what it is not as the contrasts have been drawn with theosis; but, anytime my mind wanders, like this morning, in an attempt to understand what theopoiesis is I am left somewhat like my daughter's stupid dog which I think just has a noise like 'static' going on in his brain most of the time. Smile

In Christ,
11-08-2009, 02:06 PM,
Hi Rick,

Sorry for such a long lapse since the last time I posted. Yes, I am now the father of 5 girls, little Sophia Grace was born on May 27th.

Before the baby was born, I spent a little more time learning about the doctrinal development of Eastern Orthodoxy and spent a little time talking with a dear friend Fr Paul Malletta from the Romanian Orthodox church to get modern day perspective (as I spend most of my time stuck in the past).

From some of the earliest times of Christianity we can observe a variation in theological nuances throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. By the 4th century, we have three distinct and lasting theological traditions; that of the West, the Antiochene, and the Alexandrian. Now, don't get me wrong, these traditions were not bound rigidly by geographical or political borders, but rather just identified by the basic school of thought. There were also several other theological traditions, but they were cast out as heresies: Arianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, and so on.

When we read the fathers from the pre-schism period, it is clear that the fathers do not agree on some of the finer points of theology, and very much in some respects held positions that are considered to be heretical by all three traditional churches, nevertheless, we consider them all to be "fathers". Gregory Nazianzen speaks of Christ's Godhead mingling with His humanity. In many cases, it appears for the sake of unity, that the fathers agreed to disagree; Athanasius' theology was distinctly different from Gregory of Nyssia yet they still respected each other's authority within the church.

So before we can really continue, we must all understand that the theology of the fathers was not a clear and set out definition as many believe, from which we can take proof texts as can be done with the Holy Scriptures; and in many cases, fathers whom we all consider to be Saints, contradict each other.

Secondly, before we continue, we must understand that theology is not a stack of stand alone precepts, but rather is more nebulous with most of its components blending together and being dependent on each other.

Let's meditate on this for a while and pray that God gives us wisdom and understanding. For now, I have to get ready to go see a client that is two hours away.

PS they wouldn't let me send a cigar through the mail, but next time you have one, just think of me Smile
09-10-2009, 01:39 PM,
Hi Marc,

I was just thinking about this topic again today, and I am still wondering if it is possible to be more clear about what is being said about theopoiessis?

As I said a few months back, I would still love to get a handle on what is being said about theopoiesis in the positive (as opposed to what it is not).

In Christ,
09-10-2009, 01:51 PM,

Literally translated, theopoiesis is "made god". It is often translated as "deified" but the problem is, so is "theosis".

Theopoiesis is the voluntary act of God descending to our meagre level attach ourselves to Himself, thus transmitting a type of godliness to us, which is dependent on our continued connection to Him. As I think I may have noted before, I use a magnet analogy: a piece of iron when it mates with a magnet becomes itself a magnet, but not by its own virtue, rather only by the energy that is transmitted to it through its relationship to the magnet; if the were to separate, the iron ceases to be a magnet.

Comparatively, theosis is the process of willful ascent to God as performed by the individual, while God freely accepts the individual and supplies a greater capacity to do so during his ascent (provided his heart and conduct are pleasing to God), it is an act of the individual and not necessarily an act of God.
09-10-2009, 02:02 PM,
Quote:Theopoiesis is the voluntary act of God descending to our meagre level attach ourselves to Himself, thus transmitting a type of godliness to us, which is dependent on our continued connection to Him.

Well that was quick!

What is our part of maintaining this continued connection?
09-10-2009, 02:25 PM,
Our connection remains, because theopoiesis is the completion of our salvation. Now, I know this sounds a little semantical but theoretically this connection shall never be broken once it is attained, however, it remains completely dependent on God's Grace to be sustained.

Theosis is more of a process, obtained primarily through Byzantine Hesychasm (please forgive my oversimplification).

One might believe that there is a reasonable expectation of attaining theopoiesis, but only the the Desert Fathers really had the humility to believe this and not fall into sin (thus potentially losing any possibility), yet they still avoided stating it. We participate in our salvation by partaking of the sacraments, worshipping God, obeying the Law, and doing good in this world, but these things do not invoke a progression on the road of Theosis as some claim, but rather is a parallel to the parable of the virgins keeping the wicks trimmed and their lamps lit.

We should think of theopoiesis as the final step in salvation, baptism/chrismation being the first, where we are given the down payment of the Holy Spirit.

I try to avoid blatantly stating theologically "what is" in a potentially argumentative situation because it invites a spirit of evil into the conversation. St Cyril of Alexandria, was one of the greatest theologians, yet he criticized theology as a potentially destructive discourse, and only engaged it as a necessity in the face of heresy.

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