Defining Theosis

In his essay, “The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology” Andrew Louth suggests that theosis or divinization has a specific doctrinal location in Orthodox theology and that it cannot simply be abstracted away from those doctrines. In this sense, it might be helpful to follow Hallonsten’s distinction between a theme and a doctrine of deification, emphasizing that many (if not most) of the recent proposals claiming to find a doctrine of deification in a historic Protestant figure is probably more of a theme than a doctrine. So, what are these doctrines? I will let Louth summarize:

…I have suggested that deification, by the place it occupies in Orthodox theology, determines the shape of that theology: first, it is a counterpart to the doctrine of the Incarnation, and also anchors the greater arch of the divine economy, which reaches from creation to deification, thereby securing the cosmic dimension of theology; second, it witnesses to the human side of theosis in the transformation involved in responding to the encounter with God offered in Christ through the Holy Spirit – a real change that requires a series ascetic commitment on our part; and finally, deification witnesses to the deeper meaning of the apophatic way found in Orthodox theology, a meaning rooted in the ‘the [sic] repentance of the human person before the face of the living God.'”

He doesn’t explicitly state it, but it seems like Louth is not terribly impressed with all of the “retrievals” that evangelicals (and others) are attempting to construct by adopting a form of theosis. For Louth, it seems, you can’t simply have theosis, you need to have the entire soteriological package – outlined by his four points above. What do we think about this? Is it possible to have a Reformed view of Theosis? I haven’t read Habets on Torrance yet, but I imagine that he must draw some helpful distinctions there. If we disagree with Louth, and I imagine many of us do, what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a true doctrine of theosis?

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40 thoughts on “Defining Theosis

  1. Kyle,
    Your last question is spot-on. I was invited into a conversation with a colleague whose evangelistic ministry depends upon using foursome collection of “laws” (let the reader understand), and was experiencing frustration with graduating students who were better shaped by the narrative of the university and NA culture than the Bible. So, he asked me for help: “What are you thinking about when it comes to discipleship and transformation these days?”

    “I am thinking about theosis.” Suffice it to say, he wasn’t happy and he did not want to pursue the question.

    But, a few thoughts that I’m still mulling over…one is that among evangelicals like myself, the expectation of confessing that one is justified by faith still wants fulfillment when the orientation of the traditional doctrine of theosis aims toward restoration with the Creator. Louth’s metaphor of the anchor (above) is well put.

    Another thought, closely related, regards an “open-ended-ness” regarding pardon for sin. If a “Reformed view of theosis” has anything going on, then it likely accounts for the kind of union that includes forgiveness to the human.

    Finally, I still am learning about the Orthodox approach to soteriology, and theosis is one of historic doctrines that impresses me as being culturally different first of all, and as you put it so well: puts the burden upon those outside to determine what are “the necessary and sufficient conditions” for the doctrine to work for Protestants. As I read patristic literature, Zizioulas, Fairbairn, and others, my ongoing sense is that I am entering a different culture and a different way of responding to Scripture than my previous training and experience have tutored me. Hence, the responsibility for understanding theosis will, in part, require that I enter the culture as well.

    Probably obvious enough, but those thoughts have lingered with me for a long time now: before and after my conversation with my colleague.

  2. Kyle – In my book on Pannenberg I argue that this is precisely the case for him; it is hard to miss a theme of theosis (especially in STvol. 3), but its harder I believe to argue that Pannenberg has a doctrine of theosis in the strict sense. He is still Lutheran, but his reading of Luther seems to have been significantly impacted by the Finnish School of Luther research at Helsinki (Tuomo Mannermaa, et. al) which reads Luther and finds divinization in Luther’s bride mysticism language.

  3. Kyle,

    Yes, you should read Myk’s book; it will answer your question and then some (in fact maybe Myk will come over and answer your question too). In lieu of that, let me just provide one snippet from the book that will at least give some flavor:

    ‘For St Paul the “image of the invisible God” is Christ. And man, as we shall see, is the image of the Image.’ The goal of humanity is to realise true and full human personhood, or to express the image of God fully. It that image is Christ then the goal of human existence is to achieve the image of Christ, or what in Orthodox language is termed ‘Christification’. In this way men and women are the ‘image of the Image’. Nellas remarks, ‘. . . man, having been created “in the image” of the infinite God, is called by his own nature — and this is precisely the sense of “in the image” from this point of view — to transcend the limited boundaries of creation and to become infinite’.

    Torrance draws upon many of these familiar Orthodox themes and adapts them in significant ways before applying the key insights to his own doctrine of theosis. What we find in Torrance’s work is a creative continuity with certain features of Orthodox thought alongside a rejection of other themes in that same tradition. While libertarian free will, determinacy, and sacramental striving towards perfection are rejected, the notion that humans are the image of the Image, who is ultimately Jesus Christ, is accepted, along with a nuanced version of theosis. (Myk Habets, “Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance,” 8)

    I’m not sure if this quote helps give anymore insight. Myk spends time developing points of contact with Calvin and theosis as well (so another Protestant who has correlation with EO thinking here — more importantly scriptural categories).

    I’m wondering what you’re looking for in specifics with your closing question, though? This question: Is it possible to have a Reformed view of Theosis?. . . and also this one: what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a true doctrine of theosis? I think Myk’s book, and Torrance’s theology of theosis would answer your question in the affirmative (on the possibility of a “Reformed theosis”). On your second question, I am wondering if you’re using EO as the standard criteria for defining theosis; or some other standard (like Scripture); or both?

    • Bobby, my question stems from Louth’s discussion, which seemed to read “theosis” only in light of EO soteriology. Therefore, the question would be, is it possible to use the term “theosis,” as a doctrine, outside the context of EO theology? In other words, should the Reformed stick to categories more in tune with the Reformed tradition – say, communion – rather than attempting to pull theosis out of its dogmatic matrix and put it in a foreign context? In any case, it is an interesting question to ponder.

      • Kyle,

        Thanks, that helps clarify for me. I think what Myk does in his book is helpful. With Calvin for example, he notes on Calvin’s I Pet comm. that Calvin does use the “language” of deification; but as I recall that’s the only time he uses the “language.” Nevertheless, I think what Myk shows is that while the semantics may not be the same between EO and Prot. usage; that in fact there is “conceptual” overlap (like with Calvin’s unio mystica).

        It may be confusing to use the language though relative to EO and Reformed contexts; nevertheless, according to Habets, TFT thought it a worthwhile conceptual endeavor to engage (for all traditions), Myk says of Torrance:

        While utilising the concept of theosis Torrance recognises that for much of the Western tradition this language may appear strange. This leads him to state: ‘let us not quarrel about the word theosis, offensive though it may be to us, but follow its intention’. He explains that intention thus:

        Theosis is an attempt to express the staggering significance of Pentecost as the coming from on high, from outside of us and beyond us, of divine power, or rather as the coming of Amighty God, the Maker of heaven and earth, to dwell with sinful mortal man, and therefore as the emancipation of man from imprisonment in himself and the lifting of him up to partake of the living presence and saving acts of God the Creator and Redeemer.

        Due to the reluctance of much Western theology to accept notions of theosis Torrance rarely uses the technical vocabulary of theosis and nowhere does he explicitly deal with the issues at any length. His theology is, however, profoundly compatible with, and shaped by, the central themes associated with doctrines of theosis. While the formal exposition of theosis may be absent, a strong case can be made that Torrance’s entire theology is significantly influenced by the conceptuality of creaturely salvation as a process of theosis. (Myk Habets, “Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance,” 1-2)

        So apparently for Torrance, according to Myk’s thesis, the answer to your question about the “Reformed” is, Yes and No. Yes in sticking to categories in tune with the Reformed tradition, and No to the issue of not pulling the “concept” of theosis out of its original dogmatic matrix. Since for Torrance he sees theosis, conceptually, as *cross-traditional* or something that has historical purchase — albeit with varied emphases — across both “Orthodox” and “Protestant” traditions.

        • What I found interesting about Louth’s comment is that theosis is not simply a doctrine, but a hinge point necessitating a certain location within a doctrinal matrix – the most notable being a certain ascetic lifestyle. If he is right, it is hard to know if there really is any kind of ecumenical purchase – even conceptually. I do think it is there though, certainly in Edwards and Torrance, I think doubtfully in Calvin (I think with Calvin we have to call it a theme instead of a doctrine). But there is enough material to explore it I think.

          • Interesting point on the “hinge,” I think I get you there; I think I would have to read Louth to get more of the context for what you’re saying though. I’ll take your word for it on Edwards (Doctor ;-), and I’m sure it’s there in Torrance; and relative to Calvin how would you differentiate between theme and doctrine? There are many, like Charles Partee, who believe that this is the centrum from which we should read Calvin (viz. the “mystical union” . . . not to mention the work that J. Todd Billings has done here). Of course to overtly state that Calvin followed an “Eastern” form of theosis, I’m sure would be too quick; but to say that he operated out of a Reformed version wouldn’t be saying too much, I don’t think. Again, I don’t know how Louth defines this “ascetic lifestyle” (although I think I might catch the gist of what you’re saying about Louth here); so I’m really not in a position to know how to take what he means and apply it to the “Reformed” version.

            I find this stuff very intriguing though!

            It would be interesting to compare a “Reformed” interpretation of the Pauline theology of “in Christ” (or union with Christ) with the EO interpretation — actually use the “Bible” as the standard for understanding points of departure and commonalities.

          • Hey Kyle,

            i’d be interested to hear from you more about what you find incompatible in Louth’s 3 ways of expounding the ‘shape’ or place that a doctrine of theosis gives to EO theology and how a doctrine of theosis might fit into or form a more reformed understanding. Certainly there is a place for asceticism in the Reformed life of sanctification….

            secondly, does Louth get to speak for the whole EO tradition? If reformed theologians find church fathers who understood theosis differently than Louth’s definition, are they not free to build on their understandings and construct a different set of factors which shape their theology?

            • I think the key to the discussion is Hallonsten’s distinction between a theme and a doctrine. Calvin, for instance, seems like he has a theme of deification but not a doctrine. In other words, Reformed thought, broadly, has similar categories, but they are not exact. Louth’s frustration, I think, is that people are just taking a broad family of terms and collapsing them into theosis – so union is suddenly the same thing as theosis, or, in the case of Welsey, perfection, etc. Louth’s point is that theosis, to be faithful to how EO talks about it, is necessarily tied up in a soteriology, ecclesiology and Christology not typically shared by others – as well as a certain view of apophatic thought, ascetic and, possibley, monastic vocations.

              In other words, it is not ecumenically viable to say that Calvin used the term “deification” once (as Billings tries to do). Therefore, when we talk about “Reformed” theosis (or Weslyan, etc.), what are we saying? Are we saying the same thing when we use the terms union and communion, and are just hoping that the use of the term theosis will ground it a bit deeper in the tradition? If not, then how are we grounding it in our own thought, and is it true to the original?

              • That’s a good point Kyle, and focuses the question a bit more for me.

                Would it be fair to say that, for a Reformed theologian to utilize the term ‘theosis’ in his dogmatics requres that that person/theologian both historically trace his sources (i.e. be clear which of the church fathers he is drawing from and how he sees them using it), and clearly state the relation that the doctrine of theosis has to other parts of the dogmatic corpus? Doing so, i think, would prevent flippant or reductive appropriations, but also allow for those of non EO traditions to responsibly develop this doctrine in a way that is consistent with (at least some of) the church fathers and to their respective traditions.

                • Geordie,

                  It comes from here: Myk Habets, “Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance,” 1-2) . . . his book. I have this biblio at the end of the quote above too ;-) .

                  Good points here, btw. I think, at least with Torrance, that he is grounded his usage of theosis in his study of the Patristics, themselves, and not necessarily through the layers of tradition built up around the concept within the EO tradition. If you read his book, “Scottish Theology,” you’ll see that he believes that many of the Scots go back to someone like Athanasius in their development of Calvin’s unio mystica. I think Torrance does with theosis what you mention here.

                • Yeah, but I think the emphasis has to be on the dogmatic (and we could even say experiential) location of theosis within a thinker’s corpus, rather than an emphasis on sources. Louth’s point is that a modern Protestant thinker can’t simply say, “Yeah, I think Palamas had it right,” without sharing an ascetic/monastic framework (among other things).

                • fair enough, but, seriously now, could Louth say ‘Yeah, Palamas had it right’ and by that mean he was buying into Palamas’ whole package? In other words, is Eastern Orthodoxy in that direct a continuity with the church fathers that they can make those kinds of statements and not have to pick and choose and qualify in the same way a Reformed person would have to?

                  Or to put it another way, does Palamas ‘own’ theosis? Just because he wrote a lot about it, does that make him the definer of the territory?

                  I want to respect the fact that the location one places theosis in the whole corpus is important without conceeding that one is bound by certain traditions to construe that in only one way. Honestly now, is that asking for (or expecting) too much?

                • EO certainly thinks they are that in line with the fathers!!! Yeah, the issue with Palamas is my question as well. Saying that someone sounds like Palamas is not the way to talk about a doctrine (although this is how it often is). My worry is that all of this revival of theosis among Protestants is nothing other than semantic in an attempt to provide greater ecumenical and historical coverage.

  4. I was actually just talking to George Kalantzis (Patristics prof at Wheaton) the other day about deification and he mentioned that one of the most helpful books is Williams’ “The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas” http://amzn.to/aY7SBy

  5. Hi all, been following along but not had time to comment till now – briefly. Great stuff. Kyle, I get annoyed with EO theologiasns who claim thesosis is ‘theirs’ and so westerners, or Protestants esepcially, can’t have it. I argue in several places that there is no doctrine of theosis – there are doctrines of theosis and thus one msut evalaute the doctrine on its merits in each theologian. Thus, one can have, I suggest, a Reformed doctrine of theosis, constructed on our own terms, with an internal consistency. I argue Torrance has just such a doctrine in my book ‘Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance’ (Ashgate, 2009).

    In an earlier work I argue for a Reformed version of thesosis too, in rudimentary fashion. See Myk Habets, ‘Reforming Theosis.’ In Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology. Princeton Theological Monograph Series, 52. Edited by S. Finlan and V. Kharlamov. Eugene. OR.: Pickwick Publications, 2006, 146-167. [ISBN 1-59752-438-7]

    In a recent work I extend this discussion and interact specifically with Hallosten’s theme/doctrine discinction – which is very useful, but also take him to task a little for some other errors, in Myk Habets, ‘Theosis, Yes; Deification, No.’ In The Spirit of Truth: Reading Scripture and Constructing Theology with the Holy Spirit. Ed. Myk Habets. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010, 124-149.

    In the conclusion I present this – would love to know what y’all think:

    “I suggest the following constituent features of a doctrine of theosis; understood from within an orthodox, western, and Reformed theological context.

    1. We must think from a center in God rather than from a center in ourselves. As a result we move from the economic Trinity to the ontological Trinity.

    a. This follows the hermeneutics of a scientific theology in which the method of knowledge must correspond to the nature of the object. This is the basic kata-physic, or ‘descending,’ structure to revealed theology.
    b. The stratification of truth and knowledge in all sciences applies equally to theological science. Through our experience of the triune God we come to know God as he wishes to be known, in his freedom to be God for us. We then develop theological heuristics to further indwell this revealed mystery and then settle on certain scientific beliefs which govern our thought and experience of God.
    c. The key heuristics we have are the doctrines of the homoousios of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of Trinitarian perichoresis, correctly understood.

    2. The doctrine of the ontological Trinity recognizes, upholds, and respects God’s freedom.

    a. All theological science must be a posteriori and as such must continue to rely on the Word of God and the Spirit of God for communion with God.
    b. This entails an utter rejection of the Orthodox distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies.

    3. God is always Father, not always Creator. Therefore, there is no necessary relation between God and the world which he has freely created.

    a. There is and ever remains an ontological distinction between God and human creatures.
    b. Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy should not exert an influence over a Christian use of theosis.
    c. Neoplatonic notions of essential participation are rejected.

    4. We cannot know the triune God by somehow going behind the back of the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ. Also, we cannot know Jesus Christ by going behind the back of the Holy Spirit.

    a. God meets us in our experiences; but the object of Trinitarian communion is and remains God and never becomes our experiences of faith and hope.
    b. The Word of God written remains our authoritative standard for faith and practice until the Parousia, but only in so far as it points us behind the words of Scripture to the eternal Word, and his Father, by the Spirit.
    c. Platonic notions of mystical contemplation are ruled out as valid paths to theosis.

    5. Jesus Christ is the Imago Dei, the one human who perfectly images God and has full communion with God.

    a. Human beings are created with a telos – to image the Image – Jesus Christ. This is only possible through union with Christ by the Holy Spirit.
    b. The hypostatic union of Jesus Christ ensures his uniqueness as the one Mediator between God and humanity. He who is the Son of God by nature, became a son of man so that we who are the humans by nature might become the sons and daughters of God by the grace of adoption.
    c. The hypostatic union applies uniquely to the Incarnate Son of God and thus in him humanity is ‘divinized’ and divinity is ‘humanized.’

    6. By his life, death, resurrection, and ascension Jesus Christ perfectly, fully, and finally, unites humanity to divinity.

    a. Without ceasing to be God the eternal Word takes to himself a human nature, healing and restoring this nature to its intended telos – communion with the triune God. In this way God becomes what we are and enables humans to become like he is when united to him.
    b. By means of the Holy Spirit, the Word incarnate lives a life of perfect obedience to the Father, dies a sinner’s death in our place, and then defeats sin and death through his resurrection. At Pentecost the Spirit of Christ is given to believers to recreate within them the life and mind of Christ.
    c. Theosis is thus Christologically conditioned from beginning to end as humans are united to the humanity of Christ and in that union they participate in the Divine life and love.

    7. Believers are united with the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ and thus participate in his continuing mediation and ministry for us and on our behalf.

    a. In our union with Christ we are justified and sanctified, declared righteous and made holy.
    b. Through participation in the humanity of Christ believers commune with the triune God in worship, ministry, and mission.

    8. Through the Church, the one Body of Christ on earth, the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and to one another by Word, sacrament, and communal life.

    a. By these means the Christ-like life is recreated in us.
    b. Our responses to Christ constitute our participation in Christ’s present ministry at the right hand of the Father in his ascended humanity.
    c. The sacraments instituted by Christ are the means by which believers commune with God and progress in theosis as they participate in Christ’s worship which moves from the Spirit through the Son to the Father.

    9. Worship and mission are understood as the act in which believers participate through the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father and the Son’s mission from the Father, with the Spirit, to the world.

    a. The vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ is salvific for all humanity.
    b. Those united to Christ participate in his ministry, his worship, and his communion with the Father by the Spirit.
    c. Christ’s continuing life of vicarious worship becomes the spiritual locus of theosis.

    10. At the resurrection the believer is given a new body like that of the risen Lord Jesus Christ and enabled to more fully participate in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father by the Spirit.

    a. With the sin nature removed the believer is enabled to see God more fully, to know God more clearly, and to participate in the Triune communion more completely.
    b. As we partake of the humanity of the incarnate Son by the Spirit unencumbered by sin we are now able, for the first time in our existence, to perfectly experience the love of the Father for the Son as love for us in the Son by the Spirit in such a way that we can return this love to the Father, through the Son by the Spirit with utter thanks and love and obedience.
    c. The communicable attributes of God are now able to be experienced by resurrected believers in such a way that perfect communion between God, humanity, and creation (the new heavens and new earth) is realized, without collapsing any one into the others.
    d. According to Paul faith, hope, and love remain for all eternity (1 Cor 13:13), thus the believer can expect the resurrected life to be a dynamic existence, in constant reliance on the Son and the Spirit, focused on the worship of the Father, in which we work, play, and rest in God. In this dynamic nexus of activity and rest the believer experiences the eternal realization of theosis – Trinitarian communion in which the Father is glorified through the Son by the Holy Spirit, but never apart from the ongoing presence of Jesus Christ, the one to whom believers are eternally united.” (pp145-149.)

    • Myk, thanks. I have your book sitting on my shelf ready to be read. How do you conceive of this somewhat new conversation of Reformed thought and theosis? Is this something that was always around under different terms, or are people going out and looking for something that isn’t truly there? We know certain individuals held to theosis (Torrance, Edwards, etc.), but is that truly foreign to the Reformed tradition? You mention a couple of ways a Reformed account would differ from an EO account, what do you think is the key difference?

  6. Hi Kyle,

    I think the theme has been there all along – right from Calvin onwards. But that is easy to prove as Hollonsten et al show. As a theme it resonates with sanctification and glorification, etc. So no new ground there.

    As a doctrine – well this is the contested area aye?! Some Reformed thinkers have it, others don’t. Not many have it as a doctrine and that may be for many reasons – they have not read or come into contact with EO, they don’t care for EO, they can’t see past the Platonising influences of EO thought, they aren’t very creative – their theological intuition is dull and so they can’t really add to the tradition in meaningful ways (how’s that for emmotive language!), they are in a stream of Reformed thought that precludes its inclusion (the federal/Westminster Reformed tradition with its Aristotelian framework), or they have been put off by caricatures of theosis.

    Some examples – Lewis Smedes did some masters work on Athanasius and theosis and then completed a doctoral thesis in Holland on it. He hates the idea and rejects it outright. But what he rejects is a Platonic version of mysticism that Palamite doctrines of theosis enshrine. (On this see Habets, ‘T.F. Torrance: Mystical Theologian Sui Generis.’ Princeton Theological Review 14 no.2 Issue 39 (Fall 2008), 91-104.).

    Then there is some like my friend Bruce McCormack – here is a first rate mind who knows his Reformed stuff and he rejects theosis on the grounds that it requires an ontology that is radically antithetical to Reformed theology. He develops this over several articles and makes some good points. But, here I disagree with him (and one of my articles is a direct contradiction of one of his article titles). I think if we can agree that there are doctrines of theosis then we can see if a Reformed version is possible, compatible, and useful. That is what I am trying to consctruct witht he help of Torrance et al. Also, Bruce is constructing a radically different divine ontology with a re-reading of Barth that is, at the very least, highly controversial…right or wrong. (on this see our very soon to be released book Trinitarian Theology After Barth. Princeton Theological Monograph Series 148. Eds. Myk Habets and Phillip Tolliday. Foreword by John Webster. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. [ISBN: 978-1-60899-490-8] ).

    So what are the key differences? – my ten theses above are an outline for that answer and my interaction with Gannon Murphy in Theology Today is also on topic.

    In brief:
    no Platonising mysticism!
    No essence-energies distinction!
    No radical sacramentalism!
    Union with Christ and his vicarious work and wonderful exchange are central! etc.

    Thanks Kyle.

  7. Myk,

    Here’s a few thoughts on your points. I’ll start with 1 and 2.

    1. We must think from a center in God rather than from a center in ourselves. As a result we move from the economic Trinity to the ontological Trinity.

    “Thinking from a center in God”…well, according to both Roman and Orthodox Catholics, this is impossible. Why? Because when one is centered in God (theosis), one is contemplating (loving) the eternal attributes of God that are specifically His, and one realizes that these are beyond human comprehension. Hence the term “unknowing” which, refers to this apophatic contemplation. “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.” A creature cannot say what God is in His nature. Secondly, moving from the economic Trinity to the immanent Trinity necessarily involves an “ascent.”

    a. This follows the hermeneutics of a scientific theology in which the method of knowledge must correspond to the nature of the object. This is the basic kata-physic, or ‘descending,’ structure to revealed theology.

    Of course here, you are not “ascending” but, “descending.” – a contradiction. If the method of knowledge must correspond to the nature of the object, in this case God’s nature, as stated above, then you are going to have to say what God’s nature (His “essence”) is, which you cannot because God’s essence exceeds human comprehension. Hence, again, the method is “unknowing” not “knowing.”

    b. The stratification of truth and knowledge in all sciences applies equally to theological science. Through our experience of the triune God we come to know God as he wishes to be known, in his freedom to be God for us. We then develop theological heuristics to further indwell this revealed mystery and then settle on certain scientific beliefs which govern our thought and experience of God.

    Is this relativism?

    c. The key heuristics we have are the doctrines of the homoousios of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of Trinitarian perichoresis, correctly understood.

    Correctly understood, the doctrine of perichoresis is an ad intra trinitarian operation and like the homoousios, exceeds the power of human reason. That is why they are referred to as “mysteries.” A mystery cannot be explained but, it can be entered into.

    2. The doctrine of the ontological Trinity recognizes, upholds, and respects God’s freedom.

    a. All theological science must be a posteriori and as such must continue to rely on the Word of God and the Spirit of God for communion with God.

    “All theological science must be a posteriori”….except mystical theology. St. John of the Cross writes in the Living Flames of Love, Stanza 4:5:

    “And here lies the remarkable delight in this awakening. The soul knows creatures through God and not God through creatures. This amounts to knowing the effects through their cause and not the cause through its effects. The latter is knowledge a posteriori, and the former is essential knowledge.”

    Do you want to refute “essential knowledge.” Then you must also refute 2 Peter 1:4, “Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.”

    So what I am saying is that one can share in the divine nature (God is love), without being able to explain fully what it is.

    b. This entails an utter rejection of the Orthodox distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies.

    Why? Do you want to say that the divine essence is the divine energies? I guess one way of putting this is that nothing can be said about the divine essence, but something can be said about the divine energies.

    That’s about it for now. Thanks.

  8. Shall I continue?

    3. God is always Father, not always Creator. Therefore, there is no necessary relation between God and the world which he has freely created.

    “God is always Father”….Hmmmm, I thought the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were inseparable according to perichoresis and that any act performed by any member of the Trinity necessarily involves the other two. I would object to the rest of this statement as a matter of fact. Although it was not necessary for God to create the world, the fact of the matter is that He did, and therefore there is a necessary relation between God and the world. For certainly no one would assert that the world could exist at all without God.

    a. There is and ever remains an ontological distinction between God and human creatures.

    OK.

    b. Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy should not exert an influence over a Christian use of theosis.
    c. Neoplatonic notions of essential participation are rejected.

    If you are rejecting here that man cannot participate at all in God’s essence, I would defer to my previous post. If you wish to assert that there always remains a separate identity between God and the creature, even in union, I would agree.

    4. We cannot know the triune God by somehow going behind the back of the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ. Also, we cannot know Jesus Christ by going behind the back of the Holy Spirit.

    What are you trying to say here?

    a. God meets us in our experiences; but the object of Trinitarian communion is and remains God and never becomes our experiences of faith and hope.

    Huh? Faith, hope and love are the proximate means of union with God.

    b. The Word of God written remains our authoritative standard for faith and practice until the Parousia, but only in so far as it points us behind the words of Scripture to the eternal Word, and his Father, by the Spirit.

    Huh? We can’t go behind Jesus’ back, or the Spirit’s back, but we can go behind the words of Scripture?

    c. Platonic notions of mystical contemplation are ruled out as valid paths to theosis.

    Take out the word “platonic.” Mystical contemplation, correctly understood, is the only path to theosis. Mystical contemplation, correctly understood, is theosis.

  9. Is “I Don’t Know What” your name? Anyway, to you…

    You are obviously EO or enamoured with EO and are not particularly well read in Reformed theology or the history of western theology, not to say the patristics. I do not say this as a slight, merely an observation. Given this, to try to reply to each of your points above would take up far too much space for a blog post, sorry. The best I can do is suggest some books to read to show what I am saying and the tradition within which I am standing. I would read the work of TF Torrane ‘The Christian Doctrine of God,’ and his ‘The Trinitarian Faith,’ and Paul Molnar, ‘Divine Freedom,’ for starters. Then perahps any standard theological textbook like Millard Erickson’s ‘Christian Theology’ or some such on basic Trinitarian doctrine from the early church to today. I am standing in an Augustinian, Greek Patristic tradition, mediated through Reformation theology. This explains the economic/immanent trinity distinction (radically different from the Palamite essence-energies distinction), perichoresis (which you seem to misunderstand), and a scientific method kata physin from Athanasius et al. For a more recent treatment see Alister McGrath’s 3-volume ‘A Scientific Theology.’

    Your two posts above make sense but only within the unexamined presuppositions of EO. Thus how you define mysticism, the trinity, revelation, particpation, etc are uncritically represented from that tradition alone. The odd appeal to a western mystic hardly helps the case at all – to be honest, who could care what St John of the Cross wrote?

    Thanks for the interaction and I don’t mean to stop it with this reply…

  10. Hey Kyle,

    back to your question (which you keep repeating :) ) about theosis and its appropriateness to the Reformed tradition. I think Habets and Gannon Murphy together make a good case for why theosis is actually BEST appropriated within a Reformed theological framework in their articles in Theology Today (V. 65).

    If one’s version of reformed theology allows one to understand justification and sanctification as benefits or outgrowths of union with Christ, a rejection of synergism, a rejection of a distinction between divine essence and energies, and a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ that ontologically relates all human beings to Jesus Christ without methexis or confusion, then we can build a doctrine of theosis which is actually MORE sound than that which EO are able to construct within their doctrinal system.

    Why so? As Myk points out in his article to which i refered, if the Gift and the Giver are one and the same, then what we have in theosis is not merely God’s energies, but union with Christ himself by the Spirit. This union is not metaphysical (believers are not dissolved into the essence of the divine nature), but ontological in the sense of a personal sharing and relational experiencing of the triune relations. Myk also points out that it is a mistake to restrict theosis to the subjective aspects of the ordo salutis. Theosis is not just about santification. Rather, it is a way of speaking about salvation in its entirety. In this way, justification and sanctification can be held together, rather than splitting justification off as only a forensic act.

    What this mean, i think, is that those versions of Reformed theology which do not want to put union with CHrist at the center will not want to work with theosis either.

    • Geordie,

      I think you are right, and this is where Edwards gets criticised in the Reformed community. For Edwards and many in the post-Reformed “high orthodox” tradition, union does ground justification and not the other way around (Horton goes after the high orthodox for not grounding union in the legal declaration). Furthermore, union is a self-giving of God in the Son and by the Spirit, to unite humanity to Christ – and in Christ, to be in the Sonship of the Son. Union therefore, for Edwards, rather than legal declaration, is the ultimate foundation for the ordo.

  11. So perhaps that observation can refine or focus the question a bit more? Perhaps the ‘great divide’ in terms of the appropriateness of using the language of theosis is more about the place of union and communion with Christ int he ordo rather than labels like EO or Reformed? Of course, a lot of people talk about ‘union with Christ’ but it is often not very doctrinally rooted.

    Having said that, it might be interesting to develop some probing questions of those Reformed (or other non EOers out there) who use the language of theosis, that push for clarity on how the whole ‘system’ fits together, how theosis as a doctrine correlates with other doctrines (i.e. vicarious humanity, pneumatology and christology, justification and sanctification, etc….) That might help sift out whether we use the term because its ‘cool’ or if it has any integrity and force to it.

    • Geordie, my inclination is that a broadly Reformed theology has the most resources, outside of EO, for this kind of move, as well as, in a different way, Lutheran theology. But with the Reformed, unlike Lutheran and EO, you will find a the most disagreement as to how this functions. If I’m right, it is no wonder that Theosis has never really been considered a Reformed doctrine. Take Edwards contra Torrance for instance: Edwards would deny his robust understanding of vicarious humanity, Edwards employs a conceptual parallel to the essence/energies distinction, but, at the same time, would be similar on the other points made by Myk. Horton could be another person brought into the discussion, who seems to like the idea of theosis as well as the essence/energies distinction. My inclination, and I could be wrong about this, is that the key doctrine here is the incarnation and how that is spelled out. If that is more static, as it is in EO (by static I mean that the doctrine is understood in the same way by all EO theologians – at least broadly), you are more likely to be able to talk about a doctrine like theosis with a great deal of consistency. If the doctrine of the incarnation is more fluid, particularly in terms of its scope, you are going to have a harder time talking about theosis consistently.

      What do you think? Am I right about that?

      • That’s a good and interesting point about ‘static-ness’ and ‘fluidity’ in various traditions. So are you saying that the essential doctrine that theosis congeals around is the incarnation and how one parses that will determine the ‘flavour’ of their theosis? It seems that one’s version of union with Christ will be deeply affected by one’s understanding of the incarnation. I’m curious, does Edward’s sort of theosis resemble that of Torrance, other than using some of the same terms perhaps? If their doctrines of the incarnation are significantly different, then i would think not. Just like a Horton version of theosis i believe would be fundamentally different than Torrance’s.

        I think someone more clear on Reformed and EO distinctives would have to give a more informed answer to you though….

        • I don’t know Torrance’s theology of theosis at all, but am about to pick up Habets book. I doubt that they are similar for a variety of reasons. In terms of the essential doctrine issue, I think that the essential doctrine for EO’s depiction of theosis is the incarnation, and I think that it is up in the air for other accounts. For Edwards, I think his doctrine of the Trinity does more work in this area than the incarnation as such – although the incarnation is not left out entirely. I am slowly working on an article on this, so hopefully I will have more time to work on that soon.

  12. Nicely put Geordie (and gidday!),

    You alsways talk sense mate, thank you. Your points on unio mystica are spot on. As you know, I am working with Bobby Grow on editing a work due out next year that seeks to make the links between union with Christ and other doctrines in this sort of way. I am getting really excitied abhout it as chapters begin to get finished and the editing process begins. So look out for ‘Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Toward Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda.’ Eds. Myk Habets and Robert Grow. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications, Forthco,ming. The chapter on unionw ith Christ by Marcus Johnson is pure gold!

  13. Sorry some of these posts are out of syn – by Kyke – thanks for the advice! :-) Nice one. I won’t get to do any real research between Feb – Nov this year :-(. So wish I had more time to think and write. But next year is shaping up well…Stay tuned for some excited ventures (well I think so anyway).

    Edwards on theosis – he is really interesting! I like Edwards for so many reasons. He is though, as is well known, a thorugh-going Platonist and so ghis doctrine (or is it merely a theme? Probably merely a theme) of theosis is Platonically shaped. Now he was no intellecutal slug (to understate the point) so he was able to incoporate his Platonism with Christian theology in a creative synthesis (but synthesis no less). So he speaks at times of theosis in the most ontological of ways. See pp 131ff of my Theosis book. As one reference to how strongly Edwards spoke of theosis note:

    There is an interesting parallel in the doctrine of theōsis articulated by Jonathan Edwards in response to a clergyman’s objection that he taught that believers could participate in the divine essence, not simply in the divine nature: ‘A diamond or a crystal that is held forth in the sun’s beams may properly be said to have some of the sun’s brightness communicated to it; for though it hasn’t the same individual brightness with that which is inherent in the sun, and be immensely less in degree, yet it is something of the same nature,’ J. Edwards, Ethical Writings; The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 8, ed. P. Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 640 (see 636-640).

    It would be nice to do an article on Edwards’s doctrine/theme of theosis soon.

    Hey – the refernce to Horton liking theosis – could you provide that along with his liking of the essence-energies theology please? Seems odd to me that Horton would like this. I also note he is just finihsing off a major systematic theology.

    Thanks.

    • Myk, I’m glad you’re going to finally get something out there! I look forward to the new stuff.

      In terms of Edwards, I actually don’t think the Platonic characterization is fair. There are, certainly, broad neo-platonic textures to his theology, but I don’t think that drives his theology or provide the real content for it. Interestingly, in his letter in response to the Religious Affections, where he defends his use of “nature” is almost an exact quote of Basil.

      Horton talks about the essence/energies distinction in Covenant and Salvation. I don’t have it with me right now, but it should be in the index. When I can I’ll see if I can get the page numbers.

  14. For various practical reasons, I often limit myself to Biblical theology. So I’m interested in what the Bible itself might say on this.

    1) But first, a note on our English word: I’m not sure “deification” is the best, most unambiguous translation for “theosis”; partially since deification probably a) most often refers to the profess not of becoming a god oneself, but b) designating something or someone else, as our god.

    2) In any case, “theosis” might indeed seem oriental and be offensive, if seen as so designating our selves, or other mere humans as god. (Though this process is not unknown among kings, “lord”s). There though, it would reflect a vanity in fact well known among oriental potentates (and some would say, Popes and Patriarches, Metropolitans).

    3) Fortunately in any case, there is a gentler, less presumptuous formulation, that may be biblical: Jesus himself says that a) he is “one with” the Father; while b) we in turn are invited to become one with, or be “in,” Jesus. So that we might be unified, one with, “in”God, in this way. By way interestingly enough, of the trinity. But to become perhaps part of, the “One.”

    4) Normally to be sure, to avoid presumptuousness, the sin of vanity, this is best thought of as an ideal and practically unattainable goal. Rather than as a common achievement.

    5) And it is perhaps thought of rather as us attempting to become “part of” or “in” God; rather than being one and the same as, or as great as, him. In Venn Diagram terms; as aiming to be just a small circle, but one wholly within a much larger circle.

    6) In some ways, it is no more or less mysterious than the way that a “mere” human being of “flesh,” Jesus, manages still somehow to be considered one with God. Jesus among other things, completely subsuming his personhood, within the larger sphere.

    The Bible itself might therefore, allow ordinary people to attain some kind of “theosis”; even being “one with” or “in” God.

    7) Elsewhere in fact, the Bible even seems to allow that “you are all gods,” or “sons of God.”

    Is this of any help? Or all too well known to everyone here? Or in need of some modifications?

  15. Myk Habets,

    If all theological science must be a posteriori and so this implies the preclusion of the essence/energies distinction, that doesn’t seem to be proof that the e/e distinction is to be rejected. It only picks out those notions of what theology is that are incompatible with it. One could go the other way and argue that this is why theology is not a science.

    You mention the communicable attributes but given the doctrine of divine simplicity it seems difficult to pry one set of attributes from the others. If God is simple in the way that most western writers have thought, then it doesn’t seem possible to communicate the attributes per se without communicating all of them. And further, attributes can’t be communicated since attributions are the things that get said and aren’t properties.

    You write that the communicable attributes are to be experienced by post-consummation believers without absorption into the divine essence but I am not seeing any mechanics here to specify how exactly you hold off the unwanted consequence.

    Glossing the account of Palamas as particularly platonic doesn’t seem plausible or helpful for a few reasons. First, Palamas’ primary aim was to secure the inclusion of matter in salvation, which is a very unPlatonic thing to do. Second, Palamas’ account bears no significant marks of radical development of a break with earlier accounts in say Maximus, Cyril, the Cappadocians or Athanasius.

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