In Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholic theology, theosis (written also: theiosis , theopoiesis , theōsis ; Θεωσις, meaning divinization , or deification , or making divine ) is salvation from unholiness by participation in the life of God. According to this conception, the holy life of God, given in Jesus Christ to the believer through the Holy Spirit, is expressed beginning in the struggles of this life, increases in the experience of the believer through the knowledge of God, and is later consummated in the resurrection of the believer when the power of sin and death, having been fully overcome by God's life, will lose hold over the believer forever. This conception of salvation is historically foundational for Christian understanding in both the East and the West, as it has been developed directly from the apostolic and early Christian teachings concerning the life of faith.
Eastern Christian theology
St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, "God became man so that man might become God." ( On the Incarnation 54:3, PG 25:192B). His statement is an apt description of the concept. What would otherwise seem absurd—that fallen, sinful man may become holy as God is holy—has been made possible through Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate. Naturally, the crucial Christian assertion, that God is One, sets an absolute limit on the meaning of theosis : it is not possible for any created being to become ( ontologically) God, or even part of God (the henosis of Greek Neoplatonic philosophy).
Through theoria, the contemplation of the triune God, human beings come to know and experience what it means to be fully human (the created image of God); through their communion with Jesus Christ, God shares Himself with the human race, in order to conform them to all that He is in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. As God became human, in all ways except sin, He will also make humans god, in all ways except his divine essence. St Irenaeus explained this concept in Against Heresies, Book 5, in the Preface, "the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself."
St Maximus the Confessor wrote, "A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to deification of human nature is provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man god to the same degree as God himself became man.... Let us become the image of the one whole God, bearing nothing earthly in ourselves, so that we may consort with God and become gods, receiving from God our existence as gods. For it is clear that He who became man without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15) will divinize human nature without changing it into the divine nature, and will raise it up for his own sake to the same degree as He lowered himself for man's sake. This is what St Paul teaches mystically when he says, '...that in the ages to come he might display the overflowing richness of His grace' (Eph. 2:7)."(page 178 PHILOKALIA Volume II)
For many fathers, theosis goes beyond simply restoring people to their state before the Fall of Adam and Eve, teaching that because Christ united the human and divine natures in Jesus's person, it is now possible for someone to experience closer fellowship with God than Adam and Eve initially experienced in the Garden of Eden, and that people can become more like God than Adam and Eve were at that time. Some Orthodox theologians go so far as to say that Jesus would have become incarnate for this reason alone, even if Adam and Eve had never sinned.
All of humanity is fully restored to the full potential of humanity because the Son of God took to himself a human nature to be born of a woman, and takes to himself also the sufferings due to sin (yet is not himself sinful, and is God unchanged in being). In Christ the two natures of God and human are not two persons but one; thus a union is effected in Christ between all of humanity in principle and God. So the holy God and sinful humanity are reconciled in principle in the one sinless man, Jesus Christ. (See Jesus's prayer as recorded in John 17)
This reconciliation is made actual through the struggle ( podvig in Russian) to conform to the image of Christ. Without the struggle, the praxis, there is no real faith; faith leads to action, without which it is dead. One must unite will, thought, and action to God's will, his thoughts, and his actions. A person must fashion his life to be a mirror, a true likeness of God. More than that, since God and humanity are more than a similarity in Christ but rather a true union, Christians' lives are more than mere imitation and are rather a union with the life of God himself: so that the one who is working out salvation is united with God working within the penitent both to will and to do that which pleases God. Gregory Palamas affirmed the possibility of humanity's union with God in his energies , while also affirming that because of God's transcendence and utter otherness, it is impossible for any person or other creature to know or to be united with God's essence . Yet through faith we can attain phronema, an understanding of the faith of the Church. A common analogy for theosis, given by the Greek fathers, is that of a metal which is put into the fire. The metal obtains all the properties of the fire (heat, light), while its essence remains that of a metal. Using the head-body analogy from St Paul, every man in whom Christ lives partakes of the glory of Christ. As St John Chrysostom observes, "where the head is, the body is also; for by no means is the head separated from the body; for if it were indeed separated, there would not be a body and there would not be a head".
The journey towards theosis includes many forms of praxis. Living in the community of the church and partaking regularly of the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, is taken for granted. Also important is cultivating "prayer of the heart", and prayer that never ceases, as Paul exhorts the Thessalonians ( 1 and 2). This unceasing prayer of the heart is a dominant theme in the writings of the Fathers, especially in those collected in the Philokalia. The "doer" in deification is Holy Spirit, with whom the human being joins his will to receive this transforming grace by praxis and prayer.
Western Catholic views
“To restore man, who has been laid low by sin, to the heights of divine glory, the Word of the eternal Father, though containing all things within His immensity, willed to become small. This He did, not by putting aside His greatness, but by taking to Himself our littleness. . . . The humanity of Christ is the way by which we come to the divinity.” ( Thomas Aquinas, Compendium of Theology, §1-2)
"Now the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle." ( |Summa Theologiae I-II.112.1 co.)
In Western Catholic theology, theosis refers to a specific and rather advanced phase of contemplation of God. The process of arriving to such a state, or moving toward it (as arrival there is not necessary for salvation), involves different types of prayer which are recognized as beneficial. Various stages of prayer life are recognized as being likely to occur should a person respond to faith by moving along the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways. See ascetical theology.
Some western writers refer to theosis using the same implications given above. It is common to find western writings that flatteringly suggest that eastern spirituality uniquely manifests theosis , and that by implication their own tradition never attained to the idea. This may be a case of rhetoric obscuring fact. Under different terminology the western spiritual traditions, which also reach to the origins of Christianity (in the East), share the objective of sharing in the life of God. Some Catholic writers consider it lamentable that the term theosis is not used more extensively in western theology.
Although the West has generally given due credit to Eastern insight into deification (theosis) from a western point of view, the theological differences between western formualtions and understanding and Eastern is somewhat rhetorical. But there is also a slight difference in the idea of theosis itself. In the West there is a tendency to see it as the highest level of union (in the purgation, illumination and union model for deification).
Virtually all spiritual writings of any consequence during the Middle Ages, and all modern books published in the West that take seriously the Western historical tradition on this matter, manifest overt awareness of all the issues comprised in theosis , more commonly known as deification .
Whether or not eastern liturgies are more conducive to theosis is also at issue. In the West there has been much debate about the merits of the Mass of Paul VI, and some traditionalist Catholics claim that the Tridentine Mass is particularly conducive to the sort of prayer life that leads one along the path of theosis . This issue is moving toward resolution with the recent re-introduction of the ancient medieval liturgy into general currency in the Catholic West through Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum .
Early during the Reformation, thought was given to the concept of union with Christ ( unio cum Christo ) as the precursor to the entire process of salvation and sanctification. This was especially so in the thought of John Calvin. In the English Reformation, an understanding of salvation in terms closely comparable to the Orthodox doctrine of theosis is recognized in the Anglican tradition, for example in the writings of Lancelot Andrewes, who described salvation in terms vividly reminiscent of the early fathers:
Whereby, as before He of ours, so now we of His are made partakers. He clothed with our flesh, and we invested with His Spirit. The great promise of the Old Testament accomplished, that He should partake our human nature; and the great and precious promise of the New, that we should be “consortes divinae naturae” , “partake his divine nature,” both are this day accomplished.
Henry Scougal's work The Life of God in the Soul of Man is sometimes cited as important in keeping alive among Protestants the ideas central to the doctrine. In the introductory passages of his book, Scougal describes "religion" in terms that evoke the concept of theosis:
"... a resemblance of the divine perfections, the image of the Almighty shining in the soul of man: ... a real participation of his nature, it is a beam of the eternal light, a drop of that infinite ocean of goodness; and they who are endued with it, may be said to have 'God dwelling in their souls', and 'Christ formed within them'."
Theosis as a concept developed in a distinctive direction among Methodists, and elsewhere in the pietist movement which reawakened Protestant interest in the asceticism of the early church, and some of the mystical traditions of the West. Distinctively, in Wesleyan Protestantism theosis sometimes implies the doctrine of entire sanctification which teaches, in summary, that it is the Christian's goal, in principle possible to achieve, to live without any sin ( Christian perfection). In 1311 the Roman Catholic Council of Vienne declared this notion, "that man in this present life can acquire so great and such a degree of perfection that he will be rendered inwardly sinless, and that he will not be able to advance farther in grace" (Denziger §471), to be a heresy. Thus this particular Protestant (primarily Methodist) understanding of theosis is substantially different from that of the Roman Catholic Church.
This doctrine of Christian perfection was sharply criticized by many in the Church of England during the ministry of John Wesley and continues to be controversial among Protestants and Anglicans to this day. Most Protestants do not believe in Christian perfection as Wesley described it and most Protestants also do not use the term theosis at all, though they refer to a similar concept by such terms as sanctification, "adoption as sons", "union with Christ", and "filled with the Spirit". Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoed the convictions of Athanasius when he wrote "He has become like a man, so that men should be like him." ( The Cost of Discipleship, 301)
Nevertheless, similarities of concept notwithstanding, within the whole of the conception of the Christian life which the idea of "theosis" is intended to comprehend, differences of concept are disclosed especially in differences of practice, between the East and West, and between Orthodoxy and Protestantism.
Latter-day Saint views
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as "The LDS Church" or "The Mormon Church, and its people as "LDS," "saints," or "Mormons"), exaltation or eternal life is premised on the doctrine that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate beings who share in all that the Father possesses.
Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings are children of God, and have, therefore, as Children of God the Father (see Heb. 12.9) the divine potential to become as their Heavenly Parent is, and to be exalted to godhood, in the same way that God the Father 'exalted' His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ.
29 ¶ Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
Thus are the faithful blessed and exalted by Almighty God, inheriting all the characteristics of deity, including that of perfection.
Exaltation is to become, through the Atonement of Christ, a 'joint-heir' with Jesus Christ in all that the Father possesses; meaning that, God the Father makes each man a being like himself, perfect in power, authority, dominion, glory, attributes, knowledge, wisdom, might, &c , yet eternally subordinate to and worshipping God the Father. This heirship is consonant with Saint Paul's statement in Romans 8.16-18, that:
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God :
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Christian Universalist views
There has been a modern revival of the concept of theosis (often called "Manifest Sonship" or "Christedness") among Christians who believe in universal reconciliation, especially those with a background in the Charismatic Latter Rain Movement or the New Age and New Thought movements. The statement of faith of the Christian Universalist Association includes theosis in one of its points.
Some Charismatic Christian universalists believe that the " return of Christ" is a body of perfected human beings who are the "Manifested Sons of God" instead of a literal return of the person of Jesus, and that these Sons will reign on the earth and transform all other human beings from sin to perfection during an age that is coming soon (a universalist approach to millennialism). Some Liberal Christian universalists with New Age leanings also share a similar eschatology.
Edited by EEB aka AASB-AWSW, 19 February 2013 - 05:30 PM.