When describing the nature of salvation and the Christian life, the conceptual options are many. As of late, one of the more popular has been “participation” (due, in part, to renewed interest among Protestants in Patristic voices such as Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Maximus the Confessor, and Gregory Palamas).
Consider, for example, how Paul Fiddes describes the participation of human persons in God:
We dwell and dance in triune spaces. The room that God makes for us within God’s own self is not a widening of the gap between individual subjects, but the opening up of intervals within the interweaving movements of giving and receiving (p. 54).
The comprehensiveness of Christ as incarnate wisdom consists therefore in his relationship as Son to Father. This relationship in which Christ participates within the communion of God’s life comprehends the infinite aspects of all relations of giving and receiving in God. The filial relationship of this particular human son [Christ] to God exactly corresponds to the movement of relationship within God which is like that between a son and a father; thus, in Christ, human sonship is the same as divine sonship not only in function but in being, since relations in God are more being-full than anything else. This means that the pattern of son-to-father relationship made visible in the life, death and resurrection of Christ becomes the key to our own participation in God. It is this flow of relationship upon which we are dependent and must engage in the complex and inexhaustible communion of God’s life (p. 59)
“The quest for a place which is ‘not a place’: the hiddenness of God and the presence of God” in Silence and the Word: Negative Theology and Incarnation
For the sake of honest inquiry, a couple questions for discussion:
- What are the gains or losses that might accompany descriptions of the Christian life which trade heavily on participation in God? How does this mode differ conceptually from other descriptions such as “adoption”, “fellowship,” “filiation,” or “following”? To which do you feel most drawn and why?
- From this brief excerpt, does it appear Fiddes maintains a distinction between God and creatures in “kind” or of “degree”? Are there gains or losses that attend one’s choice here and what might they be?
- If we were intent to guard the distinction between Creator and creature (as many theologians would – this one included), how might we employ the language of participation and still maintain this priority?