Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Is this the gospel?

I won't be posting much in the next 10 days as I'm off to England for my brother's wedding. As a final thought before I go, I thought I'd post something the learnèd Orthodox blogger Kevin Edgecomb said in response to my post An Eastern Orthodox approach to Scripture. It has to do with the the Orthodox Church's view on the nature of Salvation, an understanding I'm finding increasingly more attractive (not sure about the message on the icon, though!). Why I find it attractive, I'm not sure. It may have something to do with the word "ontology." But in lieu of thinking too much about such weighty matters, I will simply leave his thoughts here for the world to critique and invest my energy into figuring out more relevant issues, such as the textual Vorlage of Ps 24:6.

Salvation is not an intellectual act ... . Salvation is an existential change effected by God Himself in our lives. God became human in order to save the human condition through divinizing it. Inasmuch as we are members of His Body, we are also saved in that same divinization, theosis. The Body of Christ is the Church, the Orthodox Church with its dogmatic theology and understanding of all manner of things. It is a package deal. God in His mercy may work in other ways and places with various people, but the ideal and the only proper way that we know of in the Church, the default option, is found in the Church, where salvation is certain. Outside it, God may or may not be working with someone. Inside it, God certainly does. And part of that work is expressed in the intellectual and spiritual training accomplished by the dogmatic statements in our liturgies, hymnology, and in the Church Fathers.

For some other interesting thoughts on the issue of theosis, I accidently came accross this intersting blog post: theosis as evangelism.

Oh, and of course, I decided to google "inhabitatio dei theosis" in order to see what one of my favourite bloggers has to say about this issue and came up with the following hits (replete with learnèd comment, as usual):

Theosis Defined

Justification as Theosis


yhwhmlk said...

Hi Phil, when you do get back into things I would appreciate it if you could post some of your insights here, esp. the discussion in comment #498 etc!

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

You're very kind, Phil. Thank you for the compliment. The more curious we are, the more we learn!

Someone was monkeying with that icon. The text that should be there is "I am the light of the world; my follower will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." That's the text that the Pantokrator icon almost always has when the Gospel Book is open (sometimes it's closed). Another favorite, though less popular, was "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life"; modern ones always, so far as I've seen, have "I am the light of the world...".

The Gorman quotes that Halden made on Inhabitatio Dei are also perfect descriptions of the Orthodox understanding of theosis, if worded a bit abstrusely. It's a difficult subject, and a difficult concept to define in a blurb like that. But those both get to the heart of the matter: participation in the life of Christ is theosis because He, God, entered this dual-natured existence, which we, humans, also enter into in His Body. This is koinonia proper. As St Athanasius the Great said: "God became man, that man might become god."

Now, there needs also to be emphasized the distinction that theosis does not describe one's becoming exactly like the Trinity. The hyperessential Godhead is always going to be beyond us, and theosis doesn't posit (as I've heard the Mormons do) that one can become "just like God." Instead, theosis desribes the continual approach toward that perfection ("Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect"), or rather a perfecting approach that will never, ever end. Our theosis will continue throughout eternity.

There are three books that I've been hearing good things about (though I don't yet have them myself), all centered around theosis:
1.) Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov, Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology.
2.)Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A. Wittung, Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions3.) Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic TraditionThe first is the most general treatment of the three, giving a kind of overview of theosis East and West, and describing its subsequent fading from view in the West. The second is a collection of papers describing the perception of theosis in various traditions. The third, I've heard, is the most detailed and annotated of the three, in keeping with the Oxford Early Christian Studies series (as is the price: ouch).

Phil Sumpter said...


thanks for the link, but unfortunately I haven't time to read up on the inerrancy debate at the moment, interesting though it is. I don't think such debates will bear too much fruit without taking into account these kinds of considerations.


Someone was monkeying with that icon.

I got it from the Orthodox blog I link to in the post. He seemed to think that caption was adequate to the subject matter of theosis, though I think it's misleading (as you point out in your comments). Thanks for the clarification, that's very helpful.

Our theosis will continue throughout eternity.

It'll continue in the new creation?

I've got your book recommendations stored on my blog. I may well get a chance to read them one day!

yhwhmlk said...

No worries Phil!

Out of interest would you affirm inerrancy or no?

Phil Sumpter said...

Give me a definition and I'll respond to it (I'm teffibly uninformed about this debate).

yhwhmlk said...

See here.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for the link. I'll give it a read when I find time and maybe I'll post some thoughts on it.