CARM Denies the Christian Doctrine of Theosis/Deification
God, becoming a god
After you become a good Mormon, you have the potential of becoming a god, (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345-347, 354.)
"Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them," (D&C 132:20).
God, many gods
There are many gods, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 163).
"And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light: and there was light," (Book of Abraham 4:3).
God, mother goddess
There is a mother god, (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 443).
God is married to his goddess wife and has spirit children, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 516).
- - -
This typical and lightly referenced objection by CARM strikes at the heart of the Christian Doctrine of theosis, or, deification, that was once the core of Christian teaching and the meaning of salvation in Christian terms. The following article goes a long way to explain the basis of this early Cristian doctrine.
Theosis or Deification
The Christian Doctrine of Salvation
What does the Eastern Orthodox Church mean when it speaks of "deification" or "divinisation" (from the Greek for: ‘to make divine’)?
A Protestant, explains:
"In keeping with monotheism, the Eastern Orthodox do not teach that men literally become "gods" (which would be polytheism). Rather, as did many of the church fathers, they teach that men are "deified" in the sense that the Holy Spirit dwells within Christian believers and transforms them into the image of God in Christ, eventually endowing them in the resurrection with immortality and God’s perfect moral character" [ Robert M. Bowman, Jr, "Ye Are Gods? Orthodox and Heretical Views on the Deification Of Man" Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1987 (18).]
Historically, the word was employed both in pre-Christian Greek antiquity, and also in pagan quarters existing contemporaneously with the early Christian Church.
"The use was daring. Non-Christians employed it to speak of pagan gods deifying creatures. The philosophers Iamblichus and Proclus, the poet Callimachus and the dreaded Julian the Apostate had used it in that way. It was not first a Christian word nor always employed by only Christians after they made it central. From within his deep contemplative life and from previous Church Tertullian the Theologian picked it up, cleaned it up and filled it up with Christian sense. He and his fellow theologians took it captive and used it to speak about Christian realities." [Norris, F.W., "Deification: Consensual and Cogent". Scottish Journal of Theology, 49, No. 4, 1996]
Therefore, Church Fathers were observant to contrast their views with pagans that used similar language. For example, Athanasius testifies to theosis on innumerable occasions in his writings.
"We are as God by imitation, not by nature"; [Athanasius, Orat 3.20.] and "Albeit we cannot become like God in essence, yet by progress in virtue imitate God.” [Athanasius, Ad Afros 7]
Jaroslav Pelikan, Church historian, Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University and recent convert to Orthodoxy, explains:
"All of this Christian language about a humanity made divine was a part of a total Cappadocian system in which the Classical religion of deified men and women and of anthropomorphic gods and goddesses was described as ‘the superstition of polytheism’ and as the error of those mere mortals who had ‘turned aside the honour of God to themselves.’ Therefore, the Cappadocians insisted that it was as essential for theosis as it was for the incarnation itself not to be viewed as analogous to Classical theories about the promotion of human beings to divine rank, and in that sense not to be defined by natural theology at all; on such errors they pronounced their ‘Anathema!’" . [Pelikan, Jaroslav, Christianity and Classical Culture. Yale University Press, 1993, p. 318.]
It must be remembered that it was in the Christian East where Synods assembled (fifth through seventh centuries) to establish orthodox doctrine about the full humanity of Christ; insisting on a true human nature, soul and will. When one carefully sifts through the Eastern spiritual tradition, much more balance than is often supposed between the Cross and the Resurrection is found to exist. To be certain, Orthodoxy is absolutely clear that our salvation is secured for us on Calvary, as Fr. Georges Florovsky, eminent priest, theologian and scholar rightly notes:
"Salvation is completed on Golgotha, not on Tabor, and the Cross of Jesus was foretold even on Tabor (Cf. Luke 9:31).” Indeed, "the Tabor light which surrounds the risen Christ in His glorious victory over death, ie, in His saving resurrection, is the light which enters the world by way of the cross, and no other way". [Allen, Joseph J. (ed.), Orthodox Synthesis: The Unity of Theological Thought. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1981, p. 162.]
The liturgical books used in Orthodox worship are replete with references to the redemptive work of Christ on Calvary. Most Western Christians are accustomed to catechisms, and while they do not play as great a role in Orthodoxy, they nonetheless exist, and easily provide corroboration of this. For example, in A New Style Catechism on the Eastern Orthodox Faith for Adults, after quoting 1 John 2:2—‘He is the expiation of our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world’—it states:
"The Sacrifice of Christ is offered because of His love for mankind. He replaced the penalties of man, and by His Sacrifice reconciled man with God. Man’s finite mind cannot comprehend the ‘economy’ of this God-saving deed, which remains a mystery of the ages in that the highest penalty was imposed on the Innocent One instead of the guilty." [Mastrantonis, George, A New-Style Catechism on the Eastern Orthodox Faith for Adults. The OLOGOS Mission, 1969, p. 90.]
Orthodoxy, in discussions of redemption, employs many other salvific metaphors besides theosis, and in doing so follows an eclectic approach that was operative in the early Church. Evangelical Professor and scholar Daniel Clendenin offers some much needed corrective to the distorted picture given by some Evangelical commentators:
"Theosis and other biblical metaphors for the work of Christ need not be understood as contradicting one another. There is no reason that they cannot be seen as complementary. The East emphasises the crucial idea of mystical union and divine transformation, while the West tends to stress the believer’s juridical standing before a holy God. Both conceptions, and others beside, find biblical support and deserve full theological expression." [Clendenin, Daniel, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective. Baker Books, 1994, p. 159]
Christian themes of theosis and justification not only are not mutually exclusive, but in fact flow one from the other.
Despite the fact that "Deification, as God’s greatest gift to man and the ultimate goal of human existence, had always been a prime consideration in the teachings of the Church Fathers on salvation," [Mantzaridis, Georgios I., The Deification of Man. SVS Press, 1984, p. 12] one could read some Evangelical theologians and commentators and remain unaware that the theme of theosis is interwoven throughout the Patristic writings. St. Irenæus, who was the spiritual grandson of the Apostle John, explicitly stated this as early as the second century. In his famous work Against Heresies, he writes in the preface of the fifth discourse that:
"If the Word is made man, it is that men might become gods.” [Irenæus, Adv. Haer V (pref), in Clendenin, p. 127]
It is not difficult to understand why Protestant statements relative to theosis are not addressed in the context of the Church Fathers: this "long development" includes Saints that many Evangelicals hold up as pillars of the Faith. Many will, in fact, attempt to demonstrate that the Fathers were doctrinally synonymous with their own teachings on any number of subjects, and Anti-Mormon ministries are no exception, devoting sections (Patres and Verbatim) that include selected quotes from the Fathers that relate to a particular issue’s theme. But, it is woefully inadequate to merely cut and paste statements made by the Fathers, as if to suggest that these Fathers had the same phronema, or mindset. As Georges Florovsky pointed out:
"The Church always stresses the identity of her faith throughout the ages. This identity and permanence, from Apostolic times, is indeed the most conspicuous token and sign of right faith. In the famous phrase of Vincent of Lérins, in ipsa item catholica ecclesia magnopere curandum est ud id teneamus quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. However, ‘antiquity’ by itself is not yet an adequate proof of the true faith. Archaic formulas can be utterly misleading. Vincent himself was aware of that…The true tradition is only the tradition of truth, traditio veritatis. And this ‘true tradition,’ according to St. Irenaeus, is grounded in, and guaranteed by, that charisma veritatis certum, which has been deposited from the very beginning in the Church and preserved in the uninterrupted succession of Apostolic ministry: qui cum episcopatus successione charisma veritatis certum acceperunt. [Adv. Haereses IV.40.2]
Thus, ‘tradition’ in the Church is not merely the continuity of human memory; the permanence of rites and habits. Ultimately, ‘tradition’ is the continuity of divine assistance, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not bound by ‘the letter.’ She is constantly moved forth by ‘the Spirit.’ The same Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, which ‘spake through the Prophets,’ which guided the Apostles, which illumined the Evangelists, is still abiding in the Church, and guides her into the fuller understanding of the divine truth, from glory to glory." [Florovsky, Georges, "Following the Holy Fathers: Father Georges Florovsky and the Patristic Mindset".]. Anti-Mormon’s use of the Fathers amounts to little more than a "sola Patera" exercise, for when the Fathers are stripped from their traditional, ecclesial context, they can, it is claimed, 'be made to say anything.'
Some Evangelicals bring heavy indictments against Eastern Orthodoxy for its adoption of theosis, not realising that it is not an adopted doctrine, but the continuation of the early Church’s central belief in the nature of salvation. One who has read the Fathers in context wonders why they do not level the same charges against the many Fathers that are quoted approvingly by Evangelicals and Anti-Mormons.
For example, Athanasius could hardly escape blame, since theosis figured prominently in his soteriology. [Athanasius, Ad Serap 1.24; De decret 14; Vita Ant 74; Orat 1.38-39; Orat 3.38-39.] In his masterpiece On the Incarnation of the Word of God (54:3), he wrote the classic statement for theosis:
"He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God." [Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God (54:3).]
In fact, theosis was used by him in his defense of the full deity of Christ against the Arians:
"The Word could never have divinized us if He were merely divine by participation and were not Himself the essential Godhead, the Father’s veritable image." [Athanasius, Contra Arianos 2.24-6; 2.29f, (in Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines (Rev. Ed.), Harper & Row, 1978, p. 243).]
He argues in like manner against the Tropici sect concerning the Holy Spirit’s divinity, stating that
"If, by a partakability of the Spirit we shall become partakers of the divine nature, it would be madness then afterwards to call the Spirit an originated entity, and not of God; for on account of this also those who are in him are made divine. But then if he makes man divine, it is not dubious to say his nature is of God." [Athanasius, Ad Serap 1.24.]
Others have realised the profound implications of all of this:
"It should not be argued that anyone who speaks of ‘deification’ necessarily holds to a heretical view of man. Such a sweeping judgement would condemn many of the early church’s greatest theologians (e.g. Athanasius, Augustine), as well as one of the three main branches of historic orthodox Christianity in existence today." . [Bowman, Ye Are Gods?…]
Bowman’s statement truly cuts to the heart of the matter. There is no logical reason why charges of pagan perversion should be levelled against Christians that hold tenaciously to the Christian doctrine of theosis or divinisation as the correct term for salvation, for it is the unadulterated the teaching of the the New Testament and the Holy Fathers. It is a glaring inconsistency to label theosis as apostate yet ignore the history of the theological formulation of the very doctrines one is attacking. From a scholarly perspective, it is baffling how Christianity could be doctrinally studied outside of Patristic context.
Moreover, it is this essential unity with the earliest Christian doctrines that provides the basis for understanding how proper salvic doctrine flows from a right understanding of who Christ is as God and Man. Pelikan, commenting on the importance of Ephesus and Chalcedon, observes:
"A false understanding of the relation between the divine and human in Christ deprived human nature of the hope of salvation, for salvation could have come only through a distinct human hypostasis." [Pelikan, Jaroslav, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700), University of Chicago Press, 1974, p. 46.]
It is no accident that theosis was discussed by the Fathers within the context of the early christological and pneumatological heresies that culminated in the Œcumenical Synods that convened to address them. Theosis formed an essential part of Nicene theology; St. Gregory of Nyssa likewise did with regard to later christological issues:
"The God who was manifested mingled himself with the nature that was doomed to death, in order that by communion with the divinity human nature may be deified together with him." [Coniaris, Anthony, These Are the Sacraments. Light & Life Publishing, 1981, p. 126.]
Vladimir Lossky, one of the premier Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century, sums up this all-important point:
"The Fathers of the ‘Christological centuries’, though they formulated a dogma of Christ the God-Man, never lost sight of the question concerning our union with God. The usual arguments they bring up against unorthodox doctrines refer particularly to the fullness of our union, our deification, which becomes impossible if one separates the two natures of Christ, as Nestorius did, or if one only ascribes to Him one divine nature, like the Monophysites, or if one curtails one part of human nature, like Appolinarius, or if one sees in Him a single divine will and operation, like the Monothelites. ‘What is not assumed, cannot be deified’ – this is the argument to which the Fathers continually return." [Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. SVS Press, 1976, p. 154-155.]
Many Evangelicals accept the dogmatic definitions of these Œcumenical Synods that set forth orthodox doctrine on the Person of Christ – definitions which Harnack and others have denounced as eclipsing the "Biblical" Christ. As Pelikan notes,
"There are many writers, and not only sceptical writers, but Christian theologians—including, indeed, the most important school of German theology in recent times—who hold that the great controversies of the early Church about the Trinity and the Incarnation were…about subtleties introduced by Greek philosophy into the Christian religion." [Pelikan, Christianity, p. 21.]
The burden of proof is upon Anti-Mormons to demonstrate how oft-cited Fathers like Athanasius, Basil the Great, and Augustine—all of whom accepted theosis and utilised Greek philosophical elements in their theology—can evade his own thesis that these elements "come into direct conflict with apostolic warnings against mixing pagan and Christian thought (Col. 2:8)."
Actually, Evangelical Calvinist tradition is not entirely immune from this charge, for,
"Indirectly, through the works of Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius and others Neoplatonism exerted great influence not only on medieval Christianity but on all Christians who ever since, consciously or not, have been indebted to these thinkers." [O’Meara, Dominic J. (ed.), Neoplatonism and Christian Thought. International Society for Neoplatonic Studies; SUNY Press, Albany, 1982, intro-x.]
And yet evangelicals insist that any presence of Hellenic concepts within Latter-day Saint theology renders the Godhead a "paganized deity," evidently unaware that this accusation would impugn Augustine, who used some of Plotinus’ ideas about three hypostases in his own trinitarian theology, and others besides, as J.P. Farrell notes:
"As in Neoplatonism, where the being, will and activity of the One were ‘wholly indistinguishable,’ so it is in Saint Augustine when he considers what the definition of simplicity implies for the attributes. The essence and attributes of God are identified: ‘The Godhead,’ he writes, ‘is absolutely simple essence, and therefore to be is then the same as to be wise.’ But Saint Augustine carries the logic beyond this to insist also on the identity of the attributes amongst themselves." [Farrell, Joseph P. (Tr.), Saint Photios: The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1987, p. 26-27.]
“Emil Brunner considers that the most perilous of all Greek concepts is that of the absolute ‘simplicity’ of God, derived from Neo-Platonism by way of Pseudo-Dionysius. Strictly speaking, this concept not only forbids all anthropomorphism in the idea of God (such as is common in the Old Testament) but all distinguishable attributes whatsoever. It tends, we may say, to replace the God Paul preached to the Athenians with the Unknown God they had ‘ignorantly worshipped’ before hearing the Gospel at all." [ Horton, Walter M., Christian Theology: An Ecumenical Approach. New York, Harper, 1955, p. 94.]
It would seem that the hapless pursuit of a "pure" Christianity that only acknowledges its Hebraic roots must be taken into consideration here. This, of course, is historically untenable on a number of counts. First, it is clear from the New Testament that Judaism also posed a threat to some of the emerging church communities—just as St. Paul warned the nascent church community at Collosae about the potential dangers of Greek philosophy (Col. 2:8), so too did he warn the Galatians about slipping back into Judaic practices (Gal. 3).
The very core dogmas of Christianity concerning the nature of God were formulated amidst a Hellenic culture in light of previous monotheistic beliefs inherited from Judaism, as Pelikan explains:
"The congruence of Cappadocian trinitarianism, this ‘chief dogma,’ with Cappadocian apologetics, was summarized in their repeated claim that the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity was located ‘between the two conceptions’ of Hellenism and Judaism, by ‘invalidating both ways of thinking, while accepting useful components of each.’ Gregory of Nyssa put this claim boldly: ‘The Jewish dogma is destroyed by the acceptance of the Logos and by belief in the Spirit, while the polytheistic error of the Greek school is made to vanish by the unity of the [divine] nature abrogating this imagination of plurality.’ In sum, therefore, ‘Of the Jewish conception, let the unity of the nature stand; and of the Hellenic, only the distinction as to the hypostases, the remedy against a profane view being thus applied, as required, on either side.’" [Lossky, Mystical…, p. 50.]
Lossky also notes that
"It required the superhuman efforts of an Athanasius of Alexandria, of a Basil, of a Gregory of Nazianzen and of many others, to purify the concepts of Hellenistic thought, to break down the watertight bulkheads by the introduction of a Christian apophaticism which transformed rational speculation into a contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity." [Pelikan, Christianity…, p. 244-245.]
The twin experiences of Judaism and Hellenism in the history of Orthodoxy are masterfully counterbalanced by Lossky:
"Christianity at once fulfils and scandalises. But whatever may be the attitude of the ‘Greeks’ and the ‘Jews’ who deny Christ, in the Church—that is to say in the body of this Word which reclaims all things, makes anew, purifies and puts every truth in its proper place—there should be no difference between Greek and Jew. Two dangers appear here: the first is that the theologian may be a ‘Greek’ in the Church, that he may allow himself to be dominated by his forms of expression to the point of intellectualising revelation, and to lose at once the biblical sense of the concrete and this existential character of the encounter with God which is concealed in the apparent anthropomorphism of Israel.
“To this danger, which goes from the Scholastics to the intellectuals of the nineteenth century, corresponds in our age an inverse danger: that of a somewhat ‘structured’ biblicism which wishes to oppose the Hebrew tradition to ‘Greek philosophy,’ and attempts to remake theory in purely Semitic categories. But theology must be of universal expression. It is not by accident that God has placed the Fathers of the Church in a Greek setting; the demands for lucidity in philosophy and profundity in gnosis have forced them to purify and to sanctify the language of the philosophers and of the mystics, to give the Christian message, which includes but goes beyond Israel, all its universal reach." [Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction. SVS Press, 1978, p. 30-31]
Theosis Used in the Western Church
Although theosis is often presented by Anti-Mormons as either a pagan or a strictly Eastern Christian phenomenon, it must not be overlooked that the doctrine is found in several Western Church Fathers, as well as in isolated strands of Western Christian thought throughout the ages. [Clendenin, p. 124]
Hilary of Poitiers, known as the "Athanasius of the West" and the most respected Latin theologian of the mid-fourth century, writes in his work On the Trinity that
"the assumption of our nature was no advancement for God, but His willingness to lower Himself is our promotion, for He did not resign His divinity but conferred divinity on man." He further writes that our Lord came to earth for the purpose "that man might become God." [Rakestraw, Robert V., "Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis". Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, n11-12.]
"That we are gods is not so by nature, but by grace. ‘But to as many as receive Him he gave power of becoming sons of God." [Homilies of St. Jerome. Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964, p. 106-107.]
The second century Latin theologian Tertullian provides an interesting case, for although arguing against any synthesis of Christianity and philosophy, asking "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" nonetheless has no problem with a concept of theosis!
"Truth, however maintains the unity of God in such a way as to insist that whatever belongs to God Himself belongs to Him alone. For so will it belong to Himself if it belong to Him alone; and therefore it will be impossible that another god should be admitted, when it is permitted to no other being to possess anything of God. Well, then, you say, we ourselves at that rate possess nothing of God. But indeed we do, and shall continue to do—only it is from Him that we receive it, and not from ourselves. For we shall be even gods, if we, shall deserve to be among those of whom He declared, ‘I have said, Ye are gods,’ and ‘God standeth in the congregation of the gods.’ But this comes of His own grace, not from any property in us, because it is He alone who can make gods." [Tetullian, Against Hermogenes, cap. v.]
A significant Patristic witness the Anti-Mormon conception of theosis as an exclusively Hellenized view of salvation is the fourth century "lyre of the Holy Spirit," Ephrem the Syrian. As Sebastian Brock points out:
"It has sometimes been said that the divinization, or theosis, of humanity is something that crept into Christianity, especially Eastern Christianity, under Hellenic influence. It is clear, however, that St. Ephraim, whom Theodoret described as ‘unacquainted with the language of the Greeks,’ and whose thought patterns are essentially semitic and biblical in character, is nonetheless an important witness to this teaching. Moreover in this context it should be recalled that, since the term ‘son of’ implies ‘belonging to the category of,’ the title ‘children of God’ to which Christians attain at baptism would suggest to the Semitic mind that they had, potentially, the characteristics of divine beings, in other words, immortality. Once again the theological content of St. Ephraim’s poetry is remarkably similar to his Greek contemporaries—only the mode of expression is different. Just as St. Athanasius expressed this mystery epigrammatically (‘God became man so that man might become God’), so too, in his own way, does St. Ephraim: ‘He gave us Divinity, we gave Him humanity’" (Hymn on Faith V.17). Similarly, St. Ephrem writes in his Genesis commentary that, had Adam and Eve not disobeyed God’s command, "they would have acquired divinity in humanity." And from the hymn "On Virginity": "Divinity flew down and descended to raise and draw up humanity. The Son has made beautiful the servant’s deformity, and he has become a god, just as he desired." [Brock, Sebastian (Tr.), Saint Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990, p. 73-74.]
Augustine has historically enjoyed broad respect within Protestantism. And, while his views of grace and predestination are most familiar to Protestants, he is nonetheless an important witness to theosis (see Note-E), as Gerald Bonner explains:
"There is, however, in Augustine’s spirituality another element, perceived as a consequence of Christ’s taking human nature upon himself; for it is in Christ and through Christ, and only in and through Christ, that man becomes a partaker of God’s nature: ‘He who was God was made man to make gods those who were men’ (Augustine, serm. 192.1, 1). These words, which parallel the more-often-quoted words of St Athanasius in his De Incarnatione, show that Augustine did not shrink from using the language of deification, often said to be peculiar to the Greek Fathers." [Bonner, Gerald, God’s Decree & Man’s Destiny: Studies in the Thought of Augustine of Hippo. Variorum Reprints, London, 1987, p. 157.]
In fact, as GWH Lampe points out,
"Augustine repeats more often, perhaps, than any of the Greek theologians, the theme of the ‘interchange of places.’ ‘The Word,’ he says, became what we are that we might attain what we are not. For we are not God; but we can see God with the mind and interior eye of the heart’… ‘God hates you as you are, in order to make you what you are not yet. You will be what he is;’ but Augustine hastens to add that this means that we shall be God’s image in the sense in which a man’s reflection in a mirror is his image inasmuch as it is like him, not in the sense in which a man’s son is his image inasmuch as he is actually what his father is ‘according to substance.’" [Cunliffe-Jones, Hubert (ed.), A History of Christian Doctrine. Fortress Press, 1978, p. 153-154.].
Bonner stresses that
"[T]he notion of deification is to be found in Augustine, not as something added to his system as an afterthought, but as an integral whole. In itself, the notion of deification is no more than what is implied by the New Testament term – sonship by adoption – by grace, that is to say, and not by nature. It is, indeed, the consequence of human flesh being assumed by the divinity in the Incarnation: that flesh has been taken into heaven by the ascended Christ, and if men participate in Him through membership of the Church, the Body of Christ, they too may hope, after death, to enjoy the divinisation effected by His flesh-taking. So Augustine writes, in the last chapter of the last book of The City of God: ‘We ourselves shall become that seventh day [i.e. the eternal Sabbath], when we have been replenished and restored by His blessing and sanctification. There we shall have leisure to be still, and we shall see that He is God, whereas we wished to be that ourselves when we fell away from Him, after listening to the seducer saying: You will be like gods. Then we abandoned the true God, by whose creative help we should have become gods, but by participating in Him, not by deserting Him." [Bonner, p. 291-292.]
CS Lewis, the popular author of numerous apologetic, theological and fictional works, provides a good example of a contemporary Western writer—much beloved of Evangelicals—who makes use of the idea of theosis. In his Mere Christianity, basically he recites the famous Athanasian theosis statement into more modern language:
"He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has – by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else" [Lewis, Clive Staples, Mere Christianity. Macmillan Publishing Co., 1952, p. 153.]
He spells this out more succinctly a little later in the book:
"The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” [ibid., p. 174-175].
Finally, Lewis talks about God
"turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity" [ibid., p. 164.] .
With Evangelicals such as Daniel Clendenin and Robert Bowman, the attitude taken by many scholars within this tradition to theosis is quite different than that of Jones. Robert Rakestraw of Bethel Theological Seminary testifies that:
"I am convinced that we may receive considerable benefit from a judicious understanding and appropriation of the doctrine," and calls attention to the eminently Scriptural witness to theosis: "The most significant benefit is that the concept as a whole, if not the specific terminology, is biblical. Pauline teaching supports much that is emphasised by theosis theologians. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul writes that Christians, ‘who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Cor. 3:17-18). The Christian who experiences this transformation develops a remarkable God-given assurance that she is actually thinking the thoughts of God, doing the works of God, and, at times, even speaking the words of God. These energies and ministries of God in the Christian yielded to her Lord are the natural outcome of the life of God in the soul." Rakestraw goes on to discuss theosis in several other Scriptural contexts as well (1 Cor. 2:13, 16; 1 Thes. 2:13; 1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 1:15, 28, 2:9-10, 3:3-4; Gal. 2:20, 4:19, 1 John 4:16, etc.). [Rakestraw, p. 1-3; 14-17.]
So while theosis has historically been a much more prominent Eastern Christian theme, is has been voiced by Western Christians since ancient times. In addition to the individuals sampled above, theosis has been a part of Anabaptist spirituality; ["Anabaptism and Eastern Orthodoxy: Some Unexpected Similarities" in Journal of Ecumenical Studies 31 (1994) p. 67-91.] it formed a part of Wesley’s views on sanctification; [McCormick, K. Steve, "Theosis in Chrysostom and Wesley: An Eastern Paradigm on Faith and Love"] and it has also been found to exist in Martin Luther’s writings.
Theosis has recently been experiencing a ‘rediscovery’ of sorts by many within the Protestant tradition, who find it to be a neglected yet significant means of understanding the salvation we have in Christ. Norris correctly notes that
"Because significant Western theologians confess this deep sense of sharing in the divine nature and others like John Calvin and Bernard of Clairvaux speak of the beautific vision and mystical union with God, deification should be viewed by Protestants not as an oddity of Orthodox theology but as an ecumenical consensus, a catholic teaching of the Church, best preserved and developed by the Orthodox." [Norris, FW, p. 422.]
Justification vs. Theosis?
Some Anti-Mormon Evangelicals make attempts to contrast theosis with themes of justification by faith, atonement, etc., insisting that they are mutually incompatible. The first point that could be made is that nowhere in early Christian history (East or West) do we find anyone arguing against the teaching of theosis. Secondly, the notion that redemption should be rigidly interpreted in one particular way is itself foreign to early Christian thought:
"The seven ecumenical councils avoided defining salvation through any [one model] alone. No universal Christian consensus demands that one view of salvation includes or excludes all others." [ibid., p. 412]
JND Kelly further explains:
"Scholars have often despaired of discovering any single unifying thought in the Patristic teaching about the redemption. These various theories, however, despite appearances, should not be regarded as in fact mutually incompatible. They were all of them attempts to elucidate the same great truth from different angles; their superficial divergences are often due to the different Biblical images from which they started, and there is no logical reason why, carefully stated, they should not be regarded as complimentary" . [Kelly, JND, p. 376]
And this is precisely what we find in Orthodoxy:
"While insisting in this way upon the unity of Christ’s saving economy, the Orthodox Church has never formally endorsed any particular theory of atonement. The Greek Fathers, following the New Testament, employ a rich variety of images to describe what the Savior has done for us. These models are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, each needs to be balanced by the others. Five models stand out in particular: teacher, sacrifice, ransom, victory and participation." [(Ware), Kallistos, How Are We Saved? The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition. Light & Life Publishing, 1996, p. 48-49]
In fact, the entire cleavage of justification and sanctification into two different themes—the former said to occur instantly, and the latter being a life-long process—is of relatively recent origin in the history of the Church. It was only in the first era of the Reformation, as the eminent Protestant scholar Allister McGrath points out, that
"A deliberate and systematic distinction is made between the concept of justification itself (understood as the extrinsic divine pronouncement of man’s new status) and the concept of sanctification or regeneration (understood as the intrinsic process by which God renews the justified sinner)."
He goes on to explain that:
"The significance of the Protestant distinction between iustificatio and regeneratio is that a fundamental discontinuity has been introduced into the western theological tradition where none had existed before…The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification – as opposed to its mode – must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum.” [McGrath, Alister E., Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification-Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 182, 184, 186-187]
Interestingly enough, this unjustifiable cleavage has never been a part of Orthodoxy. After discussing the subject of theosis, Bishop Kallistos (Ware) explains:
"By this time it will be abundantly clear that, when we Orthodox speak about salvation, we do not have in view any sharp differentiation between justification and sanctification. Indeed, Orthodox usually have little to say about justification as a distinct topic. I note, for example, that in my own book The Orthodox Church, written thirty years ago, the word ‘justification’ does not appear in the index, although this was not a deliberate omission. Orthodoxy links sanctification and justification together, just as St. Paul does in 1 Cor. 6:11: ‘You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.’ The references to justification in the opening chapters of Romans (for example 3:20, 24, 28), we understand in the light of Romans 6:4-10, which describe our radical incorporation through baptism into Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. We Orthodox, then, ‘see justification’ and ‘sanctification’ as one divine action…one continuous process,’ to use the words of the Common Statement issued by the Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue in North America." [(Ware), …Saved?, p. 66-67]
Even St. Augustine, despite the proto-Protestant conception of him held by many within the Calvinist tradition, had this view.
McGrath notes that it is
"the Augustinian understanding of justification as both event and process, embracing the beginning, continuation, and perfection of the Christian life, and thereby subsuming regeneration under justification/í [McGrath, Alister, Forerunners of the Reformation? Harvard Theological Review 75:2 (1982), p. 225]
More specifically, St. Augustine integrated theosis within his concept of justification, as Lampe explains:
"Augustine makes much use of the idea of deification which he equates with sonship towards God. Justification implies deification, because by justifying men God makes them his sons; if we have been made sons of God (Jn. 1:12) we have also been made gods, not through a natural begetting but through the grace of adoption."
In Augustine’s own words,
"God wishes to make you a god, not by nature like him whom he begat, but by his gift and adoption. For as he through humanity became partaker of your mortality, so through exaltation he makes you partaker of his immortality" (serm. 166.4). [Cunliffe-Jones, p. 153-154]
"It is clear that He (i.e. God) calls men gods through their being deified by His grace and not born of His substance. For He justifies, who is just of Himself and not of another; and He deifies, who is God of Himself and not by participation in another. Now He who justifies, Himself deifies, because by justifying He makes sons of God. For to them gave He power to become the sons of God. If we are made sons of God, we are also made gods; but this is by grace of adoption, and not by generation (Ennar. In Ps. 49, 2).” [Bonner, p. 512]
Perhaps one might expect that Martin Luther—who led the "justification by faith" battle cry in the sixteenth century—would have pointed out the apostate nature of theosis in the Fathers and in what he called "the Greek Church." His writings indicate a familiarity—albeit a superficial one—with the Greek patristic tradition. Yet we find no such censures; in fact, theosis imagery is testified to in his very writings! This has been known for some time. As Marc Lienhard pointed out nearly twenty years ago:
"One is not able to exclude entirely the idea that the theme of divinization was present to a certain extent in the mind of Luther. The contrary would have been astonishing when one remembers how familiar he was with the patristic writings." [Bielfeldt, Dennis, Deification as a Motif in Luther’s Dictata super psalterium. Sixteenth Century Journal, 28/2, 1997, p. 405]
Indeed, "For Luther deification is the movement between the communicatio idiomatum and the beatum commercium. This leads straight into the heart of the concept of justification by faith. This faith has to be understood as taking part in the life of Christ and through Christ in the life of God. Luther designates this movement as deiformitas, in which the believer becomes identical ‘in shape’ with God justifying her or him in Christ. Herewith is underlined that deification and justification assume, amplify, and deepen each other." [Zwanepol, Klaas. "Luther and Theosis". Luther Digest, Vol. 5 (1997), p. 179]
In his commentary on Galatians 3:9, Luther unequivocally states that "The one who has faith is a completely divine man, a son of God, the inheritor of the universe. He is the victor over the world, sin, death, and the devil" . It is in Luther’s Dictata super Psalterium that a group of Finnish scholars have focused much attention recently, finding within it strong deification imagery. Spearheading this new scholarship is Simo Peura’s groundbreaking Mehr als ein Mensch? which traces the theme of deification in Luther between the time period 1513 – 1519.
Taking a critical look at this effort, Beilfeldt [see Note-G] summarizes some of the findings in the Dictata. In the scholion on Psalm 117 (118):12,
Luther writes concerning the Christian:
"On account of faith in Christ who dwells in him, he is God, the son of God and infinite (est deus, dei filius et infinitus), for God already is in him."
And "In the commentary on Psalm 84 (85) Luther speaks of a ‘mystical incarnation of Christ’ in the ‘new people of faith’" and that "he uses an image strongly associated with deification. The righteousness of Christ looking down from heaven actually elevates believers by ‘making them heavenly’ (coelestus): ‘Therefore Christ came to the earth so that we might be elevated to heaven.’"
In a final sample, Beinfeldt explains that
"If Luther were interested in deification at all, it can hardly be imagined that he would miss the opportunity provided by verse 6 of Psalm 81 (82) (‘Dii estis, et filii Excelsi omnes’). In the interlinear gloss he distinguishes between ‘being gods’ and ‘being sons of God’: ‘I say to you who are good: You are gods because you are born of God from the Holy Spirit, not through nature: and you are all sons through the adoption of the most high God the Father.’ To be a god is thus to be born from the Holy Spirit, the spirit which makes one just before God. Luther adds in the marginal gloss that here the speaker ‘passes from the deceitful body to the true one;’ he moves from his own goodness to that of God’s. The imagery of the scholion is even stronger: ‘…you are of God and are not men…gods and sons of the most high are recalled by him to his own condition (statum).’ To be deified is to be called back from human sinfulness to God’s own state. Through the birth of the Holy Spirit in the believer, God adopts the person, and brings them up to his own state".
Indeed, there have been recent fruitful discussions between Lutheran and Orthodox scholars on the subject of salvation that reach the exact opposite of Jones’ conclusion in SBP that theosis is incompatible with justification. The Rt. Rev. Michael C.D. McDaniel testifies that "the Lutheran emphasis on justification in light of the Orthodox emphasis on deification has revealed that, while Lutherans speak of ‘faith’ and Orthodox speak of theosis, both understand the Christian’s hope as ‘belonging to God.’ The Lutheran concern to specify the means of salvation and the Orthodox concern for its meaning are two insights into the one unspeakably wonderful reality that God, by grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone, has forgiven our sins and given us everlasting salvation". Echoing these sentiments, Paul Hinlicky testifies that "As a Lutheran, I want to say that the Orthodox doctrine of theosis is simply true, that justification by faith theologically presupposes it in the same way that Paul the Apostle reasoned by analogy from the resurrection of the dead to the justification of the sinner." He further explains that "The Lutheran doctrine of justification offers an Eastern answer to a Western question: Jesus Christ, in his person the divine Son of God, is our righteousness. He is the one who in obedience to his Father personally assumed the sin and death of humanity and triumphed over these enemies on behalf of helpless sinners, bestowing on then his own Spirit, so that, by the ecstasy of faith, they become liberated children of God in a renewed creation".
Dialogue between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Russian Orthodox Church concluded that "the traditional Lutheran doctrine of justification contains the idea of the deification of man. Justification and deification are based on the real presence of Christ in the word of God, the sacraments and in worship." "When justification and sanctification are properly modulated," Henry Edwards explains, "neither excluding justification by faith alone nor the fruits of that faith, a coherent message results which can be translated into the Orthodox term theosis…The Lutheran catechisms, the Augsburg Confession, its Apology, and the Formula of Concord all contain statements compatible with theosis."
Essentially, Orthodoxy’s understanding of salvation fails Jones’ criterion of orthodoxy for the following reasons: (1) salvation is not exclusively explained in the juridical/forensic language inherent to Calvinism; (2) it is tacitly assumed that theosis can in no wise exist alongside such legal categories, and (3) the misunderstanding that Orthodox only understand salvation in terms of theosis. As for point (1), it is first worth pointing out that "a case cannot be made for the patristic provenance of the Protestant concepts of imputed righteousness or forensic justification." Nevertheless, juridical language—although not used nearly as much as in Western traditions—can be found in Orthodox writers. Vladimir Lossky, for example, states that "The very idea of redemption assumes a plainly legal aspect: it is the atonement of the slave, the debt paid for those who remained in prison because they could not discharge it. Legal also is the theme of the mediator who reunited man to God through the cross."
Conversely, participation imagery is not entirely foreign to Calvin, as Clendenin explains: "the West has a well-developed concept of the Pauline idea of union with Christ. In the opening pages of book 3 of his Institutes Calvin, for example, before he raises the issue of justification by faith, speaks of believers’ being engrafted into or bonded with Christ through the ‘secret energy of the Holy Spirit’."
The work of scholars within Evangelicalism and other Protestant traditions amply demonstrates the falsity of point (2). As Clark Pinnock correctly notes, "The key thing is that salvation involves transformation. It is not cheap grace, based on bare assent to propositions, or merely a change of status. Romans 5 with its doctrine of justification is followed by Romans 6 with its promise of union. It is not just a matter of balancing two ideas; it is a matter of never conceiving of the former without its goal in the latter. For the justified person is baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there is no newness of life, if there is no union with Christ, if there is no coming out from under the dominion of sin, there is no salvation" . Concerning (3), we saw the reluctance in Orthodoxy to formally endorse any one model or metaphor for our salvation – which of course would include theosis.
In fact, in a reversal of (3), Orthodox Karmiris "warns about overemphasizing theosis," as does Stanilaoe. According to Clendenin, "We can say, then, that in addition to theosis Eastern theologians affirm any number of biblical metaphors for salvation, including juridical ones. They acknowledge that the work of Christ cannot be reduced to any single metaphor. Thus, while legal metaphors are truly Pauline and should be affirmed, they should not be allowed to dominate, but should be ‘relocated’ among the host of other biblical images."
Thomas Torrance provides in conclusion an interesting Protestant perspective on the fundamental unity of Christ’s saving work and the appropriation of that work to us: "It becomes clear, therefore, that what we require to recover is an understanding of justification which really lets Christ occupy the centre, so that everything is interpreted by reference to who He was and is. After all, it was not the death of Jesus that constituted atonement, but Jesus Christ the Son of God offering Himself in sacrifice for us. Everything depends on who He was, for the significance of His acts in life and death depends on the nature of His Person. It was He who died for us, He who made atonement through His one self-offering in life and death. Hence we must allow the Person of Christ to determine for us the nature of His saving work, rather than the other way around. The detachment of atonement from incarnation is undoubtedly revealed by history to be one of the most harmful mistakes of Evangelical Churches. Nowhere is this better seen, perhaps, than in a theologian as good and great as James Denney who, in spite of the help offered by James Orr and H.R. Mackintosh, was unable to see the essential interconnection between atonement and incarnation, and so was, on his own frank admission, unable to make anything very much of St. Paul’s doctrine of union with Christ. This has certainly been one of the most persistent difficulties in Scottish theology.
In Calvin’s Catechism we read: ‘Since the whole affiance of our salvation rests in the obedience which He has rendered to God, His Father, in order that it might be imputed to us as if it were ours, we must possess Him: for His blessings are not ours, unless He gives Himself to us first.’ It is only through union with Christ that we partake of His benefits, justification, sanctification, etc. That is why in the Institutes Calvin first offered an account of our regeneration in Christ before speaking of justification, in order to show that renewal through union with Christ belongs to the inner content of justification; justification is not merely a judicial or forensic event but the impartation to us of Christ’s own divine-human righteousness which we receive through union with Him.
Apart from Christ’s incarnational union with us and or union with Christ on that ontological basis, justification degenerates into only an empty moral relation. That was also the distinctive teaching of the Scots Confession. But it was otherwise with the Westminster Confession, which reversed the order of things: we are first justified through a judicial act, then through an infusion of grace we live the sanctified life, and grow into union with Christ.
The effects of this have been extremely damaging in the history of thought. Not only did it lead to the legalizing, or (as in James Denney’s case) a moralizing of the Gospel, but gave rise to an ‘evangelical’ approach to the saving work of Christ in which atonement was divorced from incarnation, substitution from representation, and the sacraments were detached from union with Christ; sooner or later within this approach where the ontological ground for the benefits of Christ had disappeared, justification became emptied of its objective content and began to be re-interpreted along subjective lines."
Due to the acceptance of points (1-3) outlined above, in SBP it is put forth that Orthodoxy’s emphasis on union with Christ via theosis, "omits or minimizes a justifying Cross." In fact, Jones goes so far as to say that "Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, the hallmark of Christian faith, plays no central role." Of course, we shall see in this section that the truth of the matter is otherwise—that "the cross [has] the very deepest expiatory significance—that "man’s life in its totality, and indeed the life of the entire world and the whole of creation, finds its source and fulfillment, its content and purpose in the cross of Christ."
Another reason that Jones is led to these conclusions is because theosis is often discussed within the context of the Incarnation. But this very same conception is found in the Fathers of the Church, as Panagiotes Chrestou notes: "According to Patristic thought, the Incarnation of the Divine Word granted theosis to mankind"
This idea is found even in St. Augustine, as Bonner explains: "Augustine’s view of deification is conditioned by his understanding of what the Incarnation has done. By the union of the two natures of God and man in himself, Christ brought about an elevation of the humanity which he assumed, and by being made members of Christ, who was a partaker of our human nature, men may be made partakers of the divine nature (ep. 140.4, 10)."
While Jones will only consider the Cross as having salvific importance, this is a marked departure from early Christian understanding. "The Fathers," as Stanilaoe explains, "do not make the death of Christ into a saving event independent of the resurrection and incarnation." St. Athanasius, for example, notes that "The Savior granted both benefits by the Incarnation: on the one hand, he abolished death from our midst and, on the other hand, he renewed us." However, "Both Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa, while viewing man’s restoration as essentially the effect of the incarnation, were able to find a logical place for the Lord’s death conceived as a sacrifice"
In the minds of the Fathers, "the emphasis on the incarnation was not intended to exclude the saving value of Christ’s death. The emphasis was simply the offshoot of the special interest which the theologians concerned had in the restoration in which, however conceived, the redemption culminates."
And commenting on the Orthodox, Rakestraw similarly notes that "Orthodox churches also work more with the incarnation than with the crucifixion of Christ as the basis of man’s divinisation. This is not to say that Christ’s atonement is minimised in the work of redemption, but that the intention of the Father in creating humanity in the first place, and of joining humanity to divinity in the incarnation, is so that human beings might assume Godlikeness, and be imagers of God in his divine life, character and actions."
The soteriological dimension of the Incarnation, so far from confusing the fruits of the Cross or fostering neglect of it, rather deepens and illuminates its meaning, as Emilianos Timiadis explains:
“Death would be impossible without presupposing the reality of the incarnation. All of the events of Christ’s earthly life are inseparable. The benefits of salvation are expounded in the life of our Saviour taken as a whole. All of our sufferings were laid on him who could not suffer, and he destroyed them. ‘He destroyed death by death and all human weakness by his human actions.”
This is the way to understand the representative character of Christ’s death and sacrifice and the possibility of man’s salvation in Christ. Christ was born for us, lived on earth for us, died for us, and rose for us and for the confirmation of our resurrection. Christ’s death was due not to his weakness but to the fact that he died for man’s salvation.
While Athanasius speaks of the incarnation and insists that ‘God became man that we might become gods,’ he says at the same time that ‘Christ offered the sacrifice on behalf of all, delivering his own shrine to death in of all, that he might set all free from the liability of the original transgression,’ and he speaks of Christ’s sacrifice offered for the redemption of our sins and for men’s deliverance from corruption.
For Athanasius, Christ’s death retains a place of importance in the plan of salvation. Immortality came to men through death. Christ paid our debt for us. In Athanasius we meet with the synthesis of the two ideas of immortality or reconstitution of our nature and the idea of expiation of our death."
"Of course," notes Chrestou, "death is the summit of the work of economy because it marks the extreme point of the Incarnation. In this course, the death of the God-man (not an ordinary death, but a death on the cross which is the most miserable death for man) is the lowest point of God’s kenosis [emptying] and is, consequently, the ultimate point of the Incarnation. It is precisely at this point that ‘economy was fulfilled’ or, in other words, that the salvific work done on man’s behalf was accomplished."
In a similar vein, Father Georges Florovsky notes that: "The Incarnation is the quickening of man, as it were, the resurrection of human nature. But the climax of the Gospel is the Cross, the death of the Incarnate. Life has been revealed in full through death." Elaborating further, he explains that "the climax of this life was its death. And the Lord plainly bore witness to the hour of death: ‘For this cause came I unto this hour’ [John 12:27]. The redeeming death is the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation."
Orthodox soteriology, then, "with its characteristic breadth, includes the whole work of economy" It is the understanding of Orthodoxy, according to Bishop Kallistos, that "we are saved through the total work of Christ, not just by one particular event in his life. The cross is central, but it can only be understood in the light of what goes before – of Christ’s taking up into himself of our entire human nature at his birth – and likewise in the light of what comes afterwards, the resurrection, ascension and second coming. Any theology of salvation that concentrates narrowly on the cross, at the expense of the resurrection, is bound to seem unbalanced to Orthodoxy."
It should be noted that some Evangelicals have a better sense of this unity. So despite St. Paul’s determination "not to know anything…except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), he also stated emphatically that "if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" (1 Cor. 15:17).
Jones writes that in Orthodoxy "discussions of substitutionary atonement and propitiation are virtually absent from their published explanations of salvation." Of course, the reader is meant to interpret this statement as a virtual denial of these themes, but a more informed understanding would instead reveal that Orthodoxy possesses a much broader conception of salvation than that found in traditional Western Christian thought. Moreover, there is an imminently Biblical reason for this "virtual absence."
Jones should also consider that ransom language is used throughout the liturgical texts of the Orthodox Church. If, on the other hand, it is a catechism that he has in mind, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow’s has this to say about the term propitiation: "An expression which is close in meaning to the present term [satisfaction], but which is more complete and is authentically Biblical, and gives a basis for the Orthodox understanding of the work of Redemption, is the word ‘propitiation’ (tr. from the Greek –ilasmos-), which we read about in the First Epistle of John: ‘Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’" (1 John 4:10).
In fact, references to justification, atonement and propitiation in contemporary Orthodox writings are far more numerous than most apparently realize. Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Isaiah states unequivocally that "Christ remitted our sins. He paid for them, in other words, when He died on the Cross. Christ our lord redeemed us by paying for our sins with His blood and His death on the Cross. It was this act which abrogated the old covenant and put into effect the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:16-18).
Christ our God made reparation for our sins by giving His very life." According to Anthony Coniaris, "Man will never know who he is until he meets Jesus at the Cross. It is here that man comes to realise his true identity: that he is loved by God, that he belongs to God, that he is worth to God as much as the blood of His only Son."
Timiadis exclaims that "the fact of the redemption, that Christ gave ‘his life as ransom for many’ (Matt. 20:28), is at the center of the church’s faith"
Fr. Georges Florovsky writes that "In the blood of Jesus is revealed the new and living way, the way into that eternal Sabbath, when God rests from His mighty deeds"
And Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, states that: "For being God, he became man, and being man, he became a slave; and being a slave, he became dead and not only dead, but dead on a cross. From this deepest degradation of God flows the eternal exaltation of man. According to the scriptures, man’s sins and the sins of the whole world are forgiven and pardoned by the sacrifice of Christ, by the offering of His life-His body and His blood, which is ‘the blood of God’ (Acts 20:28)—upon the cross. This is the ‘redemption,’ the ‘ransom,’ the ‘expiation,’ the ‘propitiation’ spoken about in the scriptures which had to be made so that man could be ‘at one’ with God. Christ ‘paid the price’ which was necessary to be paid for the world to be pardoned and cleansed of all iniquities and sins (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23)"
These are, of course, just a few samples; but they amply demonstrate the utter falsity of the claim that Orthodoxy “does not permit New Covenant justification”
Nor are these examples of "lip service" as Jones charges, for these very ideas constitute the centre of corporate worship in the life of the Orthodox Church, as we shall soon see.
Jones then connects his ideas to the participation of the faithful in the sacramental life of the Church, and makes the erroneous statement in SBP that "In Plotinus’s system, one can be redeemed/deified without any need of sacrificial atonement. Similarly, in the Eastern synthesis, the incarnation and sacraments could do the trick alone." Of course, it is all too easy to demonstrate the falsity of this charge (see Note-K). "Without the cross of Christ," as Stanilaoe explains, "salvation would never have been achieved" . Fr. Thomas Hopko completely contradicts Jones’ claim when he says that: "Orthodox spiritual and sacramental life is a life not only under the cross, but within the cross. The supreme expression of God’s mercy and kindness and love for man is that He enables His people to share in the sufferings of Christ and to be co-crucified with Him for the life of the world" . Moreover, participation in the sacraments avails us nothing except judgment and condemnation if we have not first embraced the Cross and take up our own, as Fr. Thomas stresses: "We invoke the Holy Spirit to come upon us and our gifts of bread and wine, and say this is the body broken, and the blood shed. But if we are not loving with the love that God has loved us, and our bodies are not broken and our blood is not spilled, we are not saved, nor will we be saved" . No Orthodox Christian who knows his or her faith could ever assent to the efficacy of mere mechanical, ritualistic participation in Church life, without inner conversion.
One of the fundamental problems with Jones’ critique is that he expects Orthodoxy to practice and to expound Christianity using the same methodology and terminology of Protestantism. However, it must be understood that unlike the Western confessions – whether Roman Catholic or Protestant – one will not discover the essence of Orthodoxy in dogmatic works or systematic treatises, as Clendenin explains: "Except for the monumentally important work Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (De fide orthodoxa) by John of Damascus (675-754), almost no Eastern theologians have written what we in the West have come to know as systematic theologies. In Eastern theology we find nothing at all that would compare with Aquinas’s Summa theologica, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, or Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics" .
There may be some truth to Jones’ statement in SBP that "one searches in vain for serious Eastern explanations of justification, atonement, propitiation, etc;" however, this lies not in some supposed neglect of these themes, but for the very legitimate reasons given above. Simply put, Jones has not grasped the Patristic dictum "the rule of prayer and worship is the rule of faith and doctrine." This has always been the Orthodox approach to the Faith, and this statement of St. Prosper of Aquitaine shows forth the falsity of Jones’ charge (SBP) that in Orthodoxy, "Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, the hallmark of Christian faith, plays no central role." Were he to examine the service books used by the Orthodox Church in celebrating its liturgical services throughout the year, Jones would find innumerable references to the saving Cross of Christ, and the benefits from it exalted and praised. He would also discover that references to the Cross are much more frequent than to theosis. Additionally, the two themes are sometimes connected, as in the Great Vespers hymn of the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Livegiving Cross, which states that it is the Cross "by which we earthborn creatures are deified" . This is a good example of how the Liturgy demonstrates Jones’ misrepresentation on this point; specifically the statement in EH that "deification is grounded in the Incarnation rather than the atonement." Aside from the service books, Orthodox prayer books are also replete with references to the saving power of the Cross.
The redeeming death of the Savior is at the very heart of Orthodox worship. "Being baptized and sealed," Fr. Thomas Hopko explains, "we eat and drink the Lord’s broken body and shed blood at the table in His Kingdom during the Divine Liturgy in order to bear His passion and suffering in our lives, so that dying with Him we can live with Him, and enduring with Him we can reign with Him in the Kingdom which has no end. Communing with the crucified, victorious Lord, we are anointed with the grace of His Spirit so that our sufferings in the flesh can avail to the salvation of our lives, and so that our very death can be, with that of Christ crucified, unto the forgiveness of our sins, the healing of our souls and bodies, and life everlasting" .
Indeed, we witness in the eucharistic celebration the intimate relationship between the Cross and theosis. Christians since the earliest times have understood theosis in the context of the participation in, and our subsequent uniting with, the broken Body and spilled Blood of Jesus. Kelly explains that "the eucharist for the Fathers was the chief instrument of the Christian’s divinization; through it Christ’s mystical body was built up and sustained…Hilary, for example, argues that, since he receives Christ’s veritable flesh, the Saviour must be reckonded to abide in him; hence he becomes one with Christ, and through Him with the Father. He is thus enabled to live here below the divine life which Christ came fro heaven to give to men. Ambrose writes similarly, ‘Forasmuch as one and the same Lord Jesus Christ possesses Godhead and a human body, you who receive His flesh are made to participate through that nourishment in His divine substance’…According to Cyril of Jerusalem, ‘We become Christ-bearers, since His body and blood are distributed throughout our limbs. So, as blessed Peter expressed it, we made partakers of the divine nature.’ The essence of communion, states John Chrysostom, is the uniting of the communicants with Christ, and so with one another: ‘the union is complete, and eliminates all separation.’ Thus ‘we feed on Him at Whom angels gaze with trembling…We are mingled with Him, and become one body and one flesh with Christ’" .
Of course, this relationship between the Cross and theosis has also been pointed out in the broader context of the Christian life (see Note-K), as Fr. Thomas explains: "If we are really called to be divine, then we are called to be crucified, because if God ultimately reveals Himself on the Cross, then that is where we have to reveal ourself too. If God fulfills Himself on the Cross, then that is where we fulfill ourself too. If He reveals His Godness in a broken Body and shed Blood, then these things have to take place in our life too" . In his article The Tree of the Cross, Fr. Thomas again links the Cross and theosis: "The cross gathers in itself the entire mystery of salvation, and as such, embraces the entire mystery of the spiritual life. To take up the cross and to live within its power is salvation. It is the Kingdom of God, defined by the Apostle as ‘the peace and the joy and the righteousness in the Holy Spirit.’ It is theosis, deification, the becoming God by grace that is the center and goal of human being and life" . No less than St. Athanasius himself attested to the unity of the Cross and theosis: "The Word became flesh in order both to offer this sacrifice and that we, participating in His Spirit, might be deified" .
Salvation by Grace or Works?
"Christian life," says Fr. Thomas Hopko in his lecture The Church & Liturgy, "is a miracle of grace." The Orthodox Church definitively teaches and believes that a person is saved entirely by the grace of God. But at the same time, this movement of God towards us does not overwhelm or abolish the human will, as Bishop Kallistos (Ware) notes: "We should consider that the work of our salvation is totally and entirely an act of divine grace, and yet in that act of divine grace we humans remain totally and entirely free." Or, as the second century Epistle to Diognetes puts it: "God sent his Son to save us – to persuade us but not to compel: for force is alien to God." While Calvin said that the capacity of humans to choose good was destroyed after the Fall, Orthodoxy would say that the will has become distorted and sickly, but not altogether dead. On the Orthodox understanding of the fall and its consequence, humans – retaining as they do the divine image – retain also the freedom to choose between right and wrong" .
Historically there has been much suspicion among Protestants as to the role of human will in our salvation—i.e., synergy, or cooperation with God’s grace (see Note-T). The understanding of the Orthodox position is further complicated because the Pelagian controversy (see Note-P) was a Western phenomenon, and this in turn makes it all too easy to transfer Western presuppositions onto Orthodoxy. As Hinlicky explains: "In the Western context, Lutherans were allergic to the term ‘synergy’ because of the Pelagian connotation it had for them, suggesting a self-initiated movement to God that, as such, could merit the grace of justification. This allergic reaction rendered them incapable of grasping or utilizing it in its Eastern sense to describe the new person of faith, who works with the Spirit in the battle against the flesh" . Theosis and justification working together can help shed light on the subject of synergy: "Integrating these two anthropologies [Lutheran doctrine of divine righteousness and Orthodox theosis], we see that justifying faith wholly involves the human will and its uncoerced participation, yet not in any Pelagian sense in which the will retains its Adamic form of autonomy over against God. Justifying faith is the concrete, nonmeritorious synergy of the new person in Christ with the Holy Spirit, inasmuch as on this side of the reign of God’s coming in fullness, the new person in Christ is nothing other than the sinner whom the Lord Jesus mercifully and effectively claims by the Spirit. In this light, the apparent dispute about the freedom of the will is shown largely to be the fruit of conceptual confusion" .
Essentially, in Orthodoxy grace and free will are not separated or discussed in isolation, thus preventing doctrinal imbalance, as occurred with Pelagius. Free will and our cooperation with God is always understood to be an act of grace. Bishop Kallistos is again helpful here. His comments offer a response to Jones’ question in SBP, in which he queries,—"how do the Eastern Orthodox attempt to explain that salvation is ‘not of yourselves?’" His Grace would reply: "When we speak of ‘cooperation,’ it is not to be imagined that our initial impulse towards good precedes the gift of divine grace and comes from ourselves alone. We must not think that God waits to see how we shall use our free will, and then decides whether He will bestow or withhold His grace. Still less would it be true to suggest that our initial act of free choice somehow causes God’s grace. All such notions of temporal priority or of cause and effect are inappropriate. On the contrary, any right exercise of our free will presupposes from the start the presence of divine grace, and without this ‘prevenient’ grace we could not begin to exercise our will aright. In every good desire and action on our part, God’s grace is present from the outset. Our cooperation with God is genuinely free, but there is nothing in our good actions that is exclusively our own. At every point our human cooperation is itself the work of the Holy Spirit" . This is a far cry from the assertion in SBP that in Orthodoxy "the beginning of salvation is purely by grace but the completion of the process is by human effort."
And Clendenin notes that "Interestingly enough, we can say that for the writers of the Philokalia, the gift of theosis comes by grace through faith, and not by works (see also Note-L). Especially significant here is Mark the Ascetic’s On Those Who Think That They Are Made Righteous by Works. On the contrary, we are, insist Maximus and Peter of Damascus, ‘deified by grace.’ We ‘become god through union with God by faith’" . Orthodoxy teaches, then, that the process of theosis, accompanied as it is by prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the sacramental life, etc., is totally grace driven—it is only made possible because of grace, as it is the life of God within us that provides the strength to sustain these spiritual efforts. When St. Paul writes that "if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom. 8:13), this obviously presupposes conscious effort on our part – but it flows from the Spirit, as the epistle says. Similarly, he counsels the Colossians to "Put to death therefore your members on earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5).
Jones does not seem to allow for a concept of "will" and "working" that is found in the thought of St. Paul—the kind that is predicated upon grace. He also writes to the Corinthians: "I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor. 15:10). We can follow St. Paul’s directive to the Philippian church to "work out your salvation in fear and trembling" because it is now "God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Php. 2:12-13). His use of the analogy of a runner competing in a race to the life-long process of salvation is another prime example of how we co-operate with the grace of God (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27). These Scriptures, and others besides (cf. Eph. 2:8-10), form the core understanding of "work" and "effort" in the Orthodox spiritual tradition . But again, even this conception is evidently anathema to Jones, for he asserts that "climbing up the chain of being, even when aided by grace, is Plotinus again, not New Covenant faith." This is simple misrepresentation, and we can turn to Clendenin again for a more informed explanation concerning the nature of the effort exerted within the life of the Christian: "In Pauline language, we labor and strive, but only through the empowering grace of God working in us (Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Cor. 15:10-11). What direction, exactly, does the human effort take? At the risk of oversimplification, we can summarize the Philokalia and the human means of theosis in one Greek word, nepsis—that is, vigilance, watchfulness, intensity, zeal, alertness, attentiveness, or spiritual wariness. The ‘neptic’ mind-set recognizes the reality of our spiritual warfare, that our Christian life is a strenuous battle, fierce drama, or ‘open contest’ (Theoretikon), and responds accordingly" .
The Orthodox concept of synergism, far from being a departure from Apostolic Faith, is attested to in Scripture and repeated throughout the centuries. "It is for God to grant His grace," said St. Cyril of Jerusalem; "your task is to accept that grace and to guard it" . St. John Chrysostom exclaims, "All depends indeed on God, but not so that our free-will is hindered. [God] does not anticipate our choice, lest our free-will be outraged. But when we have chosen, then great is the assistance He brings to us." St. Augustine himself witnesses to a synergism between God and Man, as Thomas Oden explains: "Though not the first, Augustine was the most brilliant exponent of how the action of grace can be both ‘from the will of man and from the mercy of God.’ Thus we accept the dictum, ‘It is not a matter of human willing or running but of God’s showing mercy,’ as if it meant, ‘The will of man is not sufficient by itself unless there is also the mercy of God.’ But by the same token the mercy of God is not sufficient by itself unless there is also the will of man." Commenting on Romans 9:16, St. Augustine states that "If any man is of the age to use his reason, he cannot believe, hope, love, unless he will to do so, nor obtain the prize of the high calling of God unless he voluntarily run for it." Finally, Oden notes "That the synergy of grace and freedom became the consensual teaching of the believing church is clear from the Third Ecumenical Council, held in Ephesus in A.D. 431: ‘For He acts in us that we may both will and do what He wishes, nor does He allow those gifts to be idle in us which He has given to be used and not to be neglected, that we also may be cooperators with the grace of God’" .
The Orthodox doctrine of synergy came to its fullest and most refined articulation with the Sixth Œcumenical Synod (680-681). This Synod declared that Christ has both a divine and a human will, and that these two wills co-operated synergistically. This has tremendous ramifications for Christian anthropology. Those who have been organically united to Christ in Holy Baptism (Gal. 3:27) have the Spirit of God living in them; and this Spirit quickens our soul and makes it alive unto God. Our own will then freely co-operates with this newly given Divine Energy which is ever renewed in us through ascetic struggle and participation in the Mystery of His Body and Blood. Thus, the Œcumenical Synods that defined and refined the doctrine of the Person of Christ set forth that, for us who are made in His image, it is not only God’s will that is operative in us (this would be a monoenergistic anthropology – one held by many Reformed Protestants), nor is it our own will working apart from God (this would be Pelagianism), but rather it is the two working together in harmony, neither overwhelming the other (cf. Phil. 2:13-14)."
The Orthodox Church unquestionably and definitively affirms that we are saved by grace through faith. It would be expedient to close this section with an excerpt from an essay on the subject of grace authored by Fr. Thomas Hopko, for in it he concisely summarizes the themes discussed in this section: "We would say that God’s speaking and acting in our world, and God’s entrance into our creaturely being and life is a free gift of God’s mercy and love for us, that there is nothing that we can do to earn or deserve it, and nothing that we can do to stop or prevent it. We would say that there is no human life without participation in God’s self-manifesting activity, and that we human beings are who and what we are because we are made in the image and likeness of God, male and female, for unending divine life. We would say that it is not a matter of God choosing us without or against our will, nor of our choosing or rejecting God. The mystery of God-with-me and I-with-God depends wholly on God to the extent that there is no ‘I’ without God. When I am with God, then I am who and what I am. When I am against God, I am struggling to destroy who and what God creates and saves me to be. This struggle is futile; I cannot rid myself of God’s presence in my being and life. To persist in it is madness and hell. It must be clearly affirmed, nevertheless, that I am not God and God is not me. Without God, I am nothing and can do nothing. With God, I am who I am and can do all things through God who vivifies, illumines and strengthens me. Through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Church, through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments, the presence and power of God is given as a gift: pressed down, running over, lavished upon us. All is given by God whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not. When we like it and want it, it is paradise. When we resist it, it is the hell whose very pain is the presence and power of God who is love and truth, peace and joy, beauty and bliss. God is with us. This, simply put, is the meaning of grace. God’s gift of divinity to human persons is undeserved and unmerited, unconditional and unstoppable. It cannot be resisted, yet it may be madly unsuccessfully resisted from our side forever" .
In his zeal to paint Orthodoxy as a pagan perversion of the Christian faith, Jones omits several key elements. He disregards the consensual teaching of the Fathers and unwittingly ends up impugning them in his very conclusions, for the Holy Fathers testify in their writings to the very things that Jones condemns in his articles—namely theosis! Their utilization of Greek philosophy to clarify and explain dogmas of the Christian faith is another truth utterly absent from SBP. Perhaps the greatest irony in Jones’ criticism of Neoplatonism is that one of its chief Christian synthesizers is St. Augustine – the watershed thinker for Western Christianity! Known as one of the great "Christian Platonists," St. Augustine’s appropriation of Neoplatonism is a fact that has been well known and documented by scholars [see Note-F]. "It [Neoplatonism] left a permanent impress upon Christianity, partly through Augustine of Hippo, partly through its share in shaping Christian thought in general, and especially in its contributions to Christian mysticism" .
Jones’ assertion that the Apostolic teaching of salvation by grace is confounded by the understanding of Man co-working with God is patently false. It arises from a complete misunderstanding of the Orthodox understanding of synergy, and an unwarranted transplantation of Latin notions of merit into their critique of Orthodoxy. Fortunately, there are within the Evangelical tradition individuals who have taken the time to familiarize themselves with Orthodox teaching [see Note-U]. And as with so many other areas, Clendenin sets the record straight on this subject: "As God works in us, we work out our salvation, not by self-effort or by any inherent ability (Pelagius), but by the transforming grace of God that works in us to will and to do his will (Phil. 2:12-13). …The Orthodox emphasis on the importance of the human response toward the grace of God, which at the same time clearly rejects salvation by works, is a healthy synergistic antidote to any antinomian tendencies that might result from (distorted) juridical understandings of salvation" .
The charge of neglecting the Cross or not holding to the efficacious work of the Savior is a flagrant error, and the liturgical texts, catechisms and contemporary writings amply demonstrate the outrageous misrepresentation of Orthodoxy on this point. In SBP, the charge is made against Orthodoxy that "It [the Cross] cannot accomplish anything definitively, because redemption/deification is a process." Actually, the last part of this statement is quite true—"redemption/deification is a process," but one cannot speak of this, let alone achieve it, outside of the context of the Cross, as Jones supposes Orthodoxy to teach. It is difficult to imagine a greater antithesis between the assertion that in Orthodox theology "the Cross cannot accomplish anything definitively" with the actual truth, which Fr. Thomas Hopko enunciates so well, defining the Cross as "the ultimate, definitive, absolute, total, perfect, unsurpassable act, word, revelation, manifestation of God," and "beyond the Cross, there is nothing more God can do. Beyond the Cross, there is nothing more God can say. Beyond the Cross, there is nothing more to be revealed" . Orthodox Christians pray this way in the Liturgy. During the Paschal season the Church sings: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life"—Christ’s death on Calvary destroyed death itself—the flaming swords of Eden are parted, and communion is restored with God.
But the Scriptural teaching is that we must take Christ’s Cross and actualize it in our own life, and become what He is (holy, loving, generous, merciful, etc.) by putting to death in us all that which barricades the transforming power of the Cross – this is theosis. "Genuine Orthodox spirituality," as Fr. Thomas notes, "is always a spirituality of the cross. When the tree of the cross is removed from the center of our lives we find ourselves cast out of paradise and deprived of the joy of communion with God. But when the cross remains planted in our hearts and exalted in our lives, we partake of the tree of life and delight in the fruits of the Spirit, by which we live forever with our Lord. Rejoice, O lifegiving Cross!" .
A See Jaki, Stanley L. 1978. The Road of Science and the Ways to God. Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh 1974/76. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. In these lectures, Dr. Jaki calls attention to "the enormous difference which there is between Platonism and Christian Platonism" . I would also highly recommend Jaroslav Pelikan’s Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism, as well as Constantine Cavarnos’ Hellenic-Christian Philosophical Tradition, a collection of essays on ancient Greek philosophy and its utilization by the Church Fathers (I would like to thank Patrick Barnes for bringing this particular work to my attention).
B It is interesting, in light of SBP’s thesis that theosis is a pagan teaching incompatible with Christianity, that the early Christians could on the one hand disparage the ultimate barrenness of Greek philosophy, as St. Gregory of Nyssa did, and yet write so readily of theosis. St. Athanasius devoted a whole book; Contra Gentes (‘Against the Heathen’) to the errors and fallacies of Greek paganism, and yet, as we have seen, theosis was a major soteriological theme for him. Of course, this occurred because—as was stressed earlier in this paper—theosis was for them, as it is for the Orthodox of today, understood to be inexorably bound up in christological considerations; that it flows from a right understanding of who Jesus Christ is.
C See articles on theosis and theopoie in Lampe, G.W.H., A Patristic Greek Lexicon. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1961-1968.
E See Bonner, Gerald, "Augustine’s Conception of Deification". Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., 37, October 1986, p. 369-386.
F For further information on the subject of St. Augustine’s use of Platonic and Neoplatonic elements, see the following resources: Anton, J. "Plotinus and the Neoplatonic Conception of Dialectic", Journal of Neoplatonic Studies 1 (1992): 3-30; Armstrong, H. Plotinian and Christian Studies. London: Variorum Reprints, 1979; Brown, P. Augustine of Hippo, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967; Clark, M. "Augustine’s Theology of the Trinity: Its Relevance". Dionysius (19XX): 70-84; Deck, J. Nature, Contemplation, and the One. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967; DuRoy, O. L’ Intelligence de la Foi en lat Trinite selon Saint Augustin. Paris, 1966; Hadot, P. Plotinus or the Simplicity of the Vision. Trans. Michael Chase. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993; Henry, P. Plotin et l’Occident. Louvain, 1934; McGroarty, K. "Plotinus on Sources of Augustine’s Illumination Theory," Augustinian Studies 2 (1971): 47-66; O’Conell, R., Saint Augustine’s Platonism. Philadelphia: Villanova University Press, 1984; ____. "Where the Difference Lies", Augustinian Studies 21 (1990): 139-152; J. O’Meara, "Plotinus and Augustine: Exegesis of Contra Academicos II. 5": Review of International Philosophy 24 (1970): 321-337; J. Sleeman and G. Pollet, Lexicon Plotinianum. Leiden: Brill, 1980; Teske, R., "The World Soul and Time in St. Augustine". Augustinian Studies 14 (1983): 75-92. It has also been called to my attention that in a relatively recent issue (undisclosed) of Augustinian Studies, M. Barnes has an article on St. Augustine and the Trinity; see also B. Studer’s article in the same review. I would like to thank Fr. Allan Fitzgerald of Villanova University for providing the above sources.
G Beinfeldt concludes his critical look at the Finnish effort by stating that "I believe Peura correctly perceives that significant deification imagery does occur within the Dictata. However, I am not as sanguine as he that divinization plays such a central role in the document," and "I have suggested that the deification imagery Luther employs in the Dictata is not uncommon within the Augustinian tradition of the time. That the mature Augustine operated within a theological framework not antithetical to deification has been richly documented. Perhaps Luther does occasionally pick up on the Augustinian motif of human participatory adoption through divine grace" .
H For further reading on the positive relationship between justification and theosis, as well as theosis imagery present in Martin Luther, see Aden, Ross, "Justification and Sanctification: A Conversation Between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy", St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 38:1 (1994), p. 96-98; Mannermaa, Tuomo, The Christ Present in Faith: Justification and Deification: The Ecumenical Dialogue (Hanover, 1989); the following papers from Luther Digest; from Vol. 3, (1995), Part III "Luther and Theosis": McDaniel, Michael C.D., "Salvation as Justification and Theosis"; Asendorf, Ulrich, "The Embeddedment of Theosis in the Theology of Martin Luther"; Posset, Franz, "Deification in the German Spirituality of the Late Middle Ages and in Luther: An Ecumenical Historical Perspective"; Kretschmar, Georg, "The Reception of the Orthodox Teaching of Divinization in Protestant Theology"; Mannermaa, Tuomo, "Theosis as a Theme of Finnish Luther Research". And from Vol. 5 (1997), Part V "Theosis Revisited": Bakken, Kenneth L., "Holy Spirit and Theosis: Toward a Lutheran Theology of Healing"; Peura, Simo, "The Deification of Man as Being in God"; Saarinen, Risto, "The Presence of God in Luther’s Theology".
I. On the question of the forensic nature of justification in St. Paul’s letters, see Robert Brow’s article "Did Paul Teach Law Court Justification?".
He notes, for example, that "The words in the original Greek might allow, but never require a judicial interpretation. Since the time of Chrysostom it has been pointed out in the Greek Church that dikaioo could equally well be translated ‘make upright or righteous’". See also "The Exegesis of Romans 5:12", St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 27.3, p. 133ff., (1983); Vol. 27.4, p. 187ff. (1983) & Vol. 28.1, p. 231ff. (1984). Joachim Jeremias also notes that there are instances in the Bible when dikaioo is used in non-judicious contexts (see The Central Message of the New Testament, 1965).
Spicq and Ernest note in their Lexicon that "He [God] infuses the believer with a dikaiosis zoes (Rom. 5:18), the infusion of a pneuma zoe dia dikaiosynen (Rom. 8:10; Gal. 3:2, 5). It is consequently a gift received (dorea, Rom. 5:17), a real justice/righteousness (4:4-5) that a person possesses beginning in the present, thanks to Christ…Understood thus, justice/righteousness by faith cannot be forensic. The sinner is transformed within, is prepared to live with God, prepared for eternal life (Rom. 5:21; 8:10), granted a power (5:17) that allows him to triumph over sin (6:18ff.; 2 Cor. 6:4), outfitted with the ‘weapons of justice/righteousness’ (Rom. 6;13; 2 Cor. 6:7; Eph. 6:14). Since the object of this initial justification is a living being; it must continue as an unending process; so in concrete terms it is identified with the Christian life (1 Pet. 2:24; 1 John 3:10) and with sanctification" .
Significantly, McGrath states that one of the chief discontinuities between the Reformation era and the early Church "is the understanding of justification as a forensic concept, distinguished, if only conceptually, from regeneration. It is of the greatest interest to consider what the origins of the concept of forensic justification might be. As we have argued elsewhere, it is possible that Melanchthon may have derived the idea from Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum of 1516, in which the forensic overtones of the notion of ‘imputation’ are specifically noted, using Roman jurisprudence as a model…It is quite possible that the distinguishing feature of Protestant doctrines of justification may owe its inspiration to humanism. The doctrines of justification associated with the Lutheran and Reformed Confessions may be concluded to constitute genuine theological nova .
J Fr. Thomas gave an excellent lecture a few years back entitled The Word of the Cross, and it is heartily recommend to anyone who doubts that the Cross is central to Orthodox life and experience. Also recommended is his The Tree of the Cross, which forms one of the essays in Orthodox Synthesis: The Unity of Theological Thought. Another helpful source would be The Death of Christ, presented by Fr. Paul Tarazi, Professor of Old Testament at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and also available from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
K Osborn notes: "deification of man is linked, especially in Clement [of Alexandria], with a theology of the cross. It is the martyr who is perfect man and at the same time divine; he speeds straight to the immediate presence of God; he is the true philosopher who has practised death. Persecution produces a theology of glory as well as a theology of the cross, for persectution means promotion, not punishment." .
L Osborn, commenting on St. Clement of Alexandria’s soteriology, notes: "The themes of deification and assimilation to God are linked with the insistence that there is none good but God. Only the good God can save sinful man and he can only save by giving himself to man. Man finds no goodness outside of God. Christ is his only righteousness. To the extent that we are saved, we are deified. In the language of the second century, deification means sola gratia" .
M Constantine Tsirpanlis sheds further light on Jones’ mistaken conclusions regarding the relative lack of judicial language in discussions of salvation within Orthodoxy: "The conception of Soteria [salvation] in the Eastern Church and Patristic tradition is broader and more inclusive than the Roman Catholic emphasis on ‘redemption’ and the Protestant ‘justification.’ The Orthodox Church prefers to use the term soteria also because the New Testament uses that term (about forty times) in order to describe the work accomplished by Jesus Christ (and the title given to Christ: soter-about twenty times)" .
N In the second note featured in the source section of SBP, Jones takes exception to the use of 2 Peter 1:4 as a proof-text for theosis, stating that the verse would go beyond even that which Orthodoxy teaches; namely that we cannot participate in the nature, or essential being, of God. Yet this observation hardly constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to the Orthodox doctrine of theosis. In fact, John Breck makes precisely the same point: "As Orthodox, we often content ourselves with quoting the late and problematic affirmation of 2 Peter 1:4, to show that the doctrine of theosis is, in fact, taught by Holy Scripture. But this is hardly adequate. The Fathers, after all, never held that we become participants of the divine nature, taken in the sense of essence". Breck prefers to approach theosis within the context of tripartite statements in the New Testament "that associate God, Jesus and the Spirit in terms of their hypostatic interrelationships as well as their economia, their saving work on behalf of the Church and the world" . Of course, 2 Peter 1:4 was nonetheless used by the Fathers, who, as we have seen, always noted the chasm between Creator and creature.
Approaching 2 Peter 1:4 from another angle, Evangelical Thomas C. Oden, as Rakestraw explains, "notes that the traditional distinction between incommunicable and communicable attributes clarifies how the soul may partake of the divine nature: there can be godlikeness by participation in the communicable attributes, such as grace, mercy, and longsuffering, but there is no possibility of finite creatures being made infinite, invisible, pure spirit, etc." . Additionally, Al Wolters, who like Jones opts for a covenantal reading of 2 Peter 1:4, nonetheless notes: "My point is not that the traditional interpretation is philologically impossible but rather that another interpretation is both possible and preferable" . Similarly, David Cairns (see The Image of God in Man. New York: Philosophical Library, 1953), although disapproving of theosis (because he mistakingly believes it to mean a fusion of the Christian with Christ (see p. 41-43), does admit that 2 Peter 1:4 teaches that believers actually share in the nature of God, and that Galatians 2:20 comes close to saying this also. He dismisses Peter’s statement, nevertheless, as an "off the record" remark (p. 42) .
One very important Scripture not mentioned in SBP that forms the underlying foundation for theosis is Genesis 1:26, which speaks of mankind’s creation in the image and likeness of God. As Rakestraw explains, "The Greek Fathers taught that, in the fall, humanity lost the likeness but retained the image….Whether the focus is placed on the image of God being restored, or whether one sees these terms as synonymous, the concept of the Christian’s reintegration into the life of God remains central in all understandings of theosis" (cf. 1 Cor. 15:49; pH. 3:16-19; 4:13-15) .
O Fr. Thomas Hopko wrote a very informative article entitled "The Fountain of Israel" which completely dispels Douglas Wilson’s comment in the Similitudes section of C/A Vol. 6 No. 5 that "The Orthodox Church is part of the modern movement to detach the church from its apostolic, Hebraic, covenantal, Abrahamic roots." According to Fr. Thomas, "there is a radical continuity between Israel and the Church…Spiritually, we are all Jewish. We are grafted to their covenant. We have access to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and sociologically speaking, He was the God of those people. And we are in their covenant. I think that is something that has to be really stressed." He explains further: "According to the New Testament Scriptures and particularly according to Saint Paul, the Church is in complete continuity with Israel, to the point that with all the emphasis in the New Testament on newness—the New Covenant, the new creation, the new heaven, the new earth—we don’t see the expression, ‘new Israel.’ Therefore, when Saint Paul says, ‘upon the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16), he is speaking of the Church. Because of this emphasis, Orthodox Christians believe that the Church is historic Israel as it continues, at least according to the theology of the New Testament. Jesus is a Jew, His Mother is a Jew, all the Apostles are Jews, Paul certainly flaunts that he is a Jew. The human form and fabric of the Christian Faith is that of Israel. You can’t even understand who Christ is without the Passover Exodus, the Temple, the Law, the prophetic utterances, the blood, the goats, the priesthood, the prophecy, the kingship, the land, Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem, and so on. It’s just part of Christian totality" .
P Pelagianism, a fifth century heresy promulgated by the British monk Pelagius, held that Man can approach God through his will alone, and that divine grace merely facilitates what the will can do itself. It was condemned by the Œcumenical Synod of Ephesus in 431.
Q In the Verbatim section of Vol. 6 No. 5, several Church Fathers are cited to support Credenda / Agenda’s belief in sola scriptura. Of course, it is well known that Sts. Athanasius, Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem and many others declared the Scriptures sufficient in doctrinal matters. Even in more recent times, however, such language can be found in Orthodoxy. For example, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow stated in the nineteenth century that "The only pure and all-sufficient source of the doctrines of the faith is the revealed word of God" . However, the conception of Scriptural sufficiency that exists in the Fathers and in contemporary Orthodoxy is a far cry from that championed by Credenda/Agenda.
The missing operative in the Protestant approach is that of a traditional hermeneutical (interpretive) function grounded in the living, Spirit-inspired Church. St. Vincent of Lérins, in his Commonitory (2), perhaps best encapsulated this notion: "Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason – because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters…Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of ecclesiastical and catholic interpretation." For St. Vincent, as Florovsky notes, "Tradition was, in fact, the authentic interpretation of Scripture. And in this sense it was coextensive with Scripture. Tradition was actually ‘Scripture rightly understood.’ And Scripture for St. Vincent was the only, primary, and ultimate canon of Christian truth’" .
R In the Definition of Faith of Constantinople II (680-681) we read: "For in the same way that his all holy and blameless animate flesh was not destroyed in being made divine but remained in its own limit and category, so his human will as well was not destroyed by being made divine, but rather was preserved, according to the theologian Gregory [Nazianzus], who says: ‘For his willing, when he is considered as saviour, is not in opposition to God, being made divine in its entirety’" .
S Many more examples could be cited. Both sides of the debate over the propriety of icons had recourse to christological arguments. The iconoclasts argued against them from the aspect of the portrayal of the two natures of Christ. It was impossible to portray His divine nature, and the portrayal of the human nature apart from the divine was a Nestorian error. However, "The iconoclasts had failed to recognize a third option, that an icon does not ‘represent His divinity or His humanity, but His Person, which inconceivably unites in itself these two nature without confusion and without division, as the Chalcedonian dogma defines it’" . Another good example is Mariology. It is not accidental that the only Marian dogma that exists in the Orthodox Church is that she is truly the Mother of God. The orthodox Fathers of the Third Œcumenical Synod in 431 insisted on calling Mary Theotokos because they recognized its christological implications—namely, that the One whom Mary bore was God in the flesh.
T Fr. Georges Florovsky wrote a very important essay entitled "The Ascetic Ideal and the New Testament" in which he carefully sifts through the entire New Testament and demonstrates that the doctrine of synergy is suffused throughout.
U For a fair, representative and informed Protestant evaluation of Orthodoxy, see Harold O.J. Brown’s contribution to the Christian History issue dealing with Orthodoxy (#54), as well as Daniel Clendenin’s. The issue can be accessed on-line at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/54h/ Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective is also a very good source.
 Pelikan, Jaroslav (ed.), Luther’s Works, Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Vol. 26, Concordia Publishing House, 1963, p. 247.
 Bielfeldt, p. 408, 410-411, 412-413.
 Meyendorff, John & Tobias, Robert (eds.), Salvation in Christ-A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue. Augsburg Fortress, 1992, p. 83.
 Hinlicky, Paul R., "Theological Anthropology: Toward Integrating Theosis and By Faith". Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 34:1, Winter 1997,p. 38, 62.
 ibid., p. 62, n59.
 Edwards, Henry, "Justification, Sanctification, and the Eastern Orthodox Concept of Theosis". Luther Digest, Vol. 5 (1997).
 McGrath, Forerunners…?, p. 236.
 Lossky, Mystical…, p. 111.
 Clendenin, p. 124.
 Pinnock, Clark, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit. InterVarsity Press, 1996, p. 156-157.
 Clendenin, p. 125, n20.
 ibid., p. 124
 Torrance, Thomas F., God and Rationality. Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 64-65.
 Verhovskoy, Sergei, The Light of the Word. SVS Press, 1982, p. 35.
 Allen, Joseph, p. 153.
 Chrestou, Panagiotes, Partakers of God. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1984, p. 45.
 Bonner, p. 157.
 Stanilaoe, Dumitru, Theology and the Church. SVS Press, 1980, p. 198.
 Chrestou, p. 44.
 Kelly, J.N.D., p. 384.
 ibid., p. 376.
 Rakestraw, p. 9.
 Timiadis, Emilianos, The Nicene Creed: Our Common Faith. Fortress Press, 1983, p. 69.
 Chrestou, p. 43.
 Florovsky, Georges, Creation and Redemption. Nordland Publishing Co., 1976, p. 96, 99.
 Chrestou, p. 42.
 (Ware), …Saved?, p. 48-49.
 Irons, Lee, "Raised for Our Justification", Modern Reformation, 1996.
 The Christian Activist (Vol. 9) Fall/Winter 1996, p. 30.
 Coniaris, Anthony, Orthodoxy: A Creed for Today. Light & Life Publishing, 1972, p. 135.
 Timiadis, p. 70.
 Florovsky, Creation & Redemption, p. 131.
 Hopko, Thomas, The Orthodox Faith (Vol. 1). Dept. of Religious Education, Orthodox Church in America, 1981, p. 88, 95-96.
 Stanilaoe, p. 194.
 Hopko, in Orthodox Synthesis, p. 165-166.
 Hopko, The Church & Salvation (lecture), SVS Press, 1996.
 Clendenin, p. 53.
 Hopko, in Orthodox Synthesis, p. 154.
 ibid., p. 165.
 Kelly, J.N.D., p. 450.
 Hopko, The Word of the Cross (lecture), SVS Press, 1989.
 Hopko, in Orthodox Synthesis, p. 162.
 St. Athanasius, De decret 14, in Kelly, J.N.D, p. 377.
 (Ware), …Saved?, p. 32, 40, 44.
 Hinlicky, p. 62.
 ibid., p. 38.
 (Ware), …Saved?, p. 42-43.
 Clendenin, p. 135.
 Hopko, The Church & Liturgy (lecture), SVS Press, 1996.
 Clendenin, p. 136.
 Cat. Orat. 1.4, in (Ware), The Orthodox Church (new ed.), Penguin Books, 1993, p. 222.
 Oden, Thomas C., The Transforming Power of Grace. Abingdon Press, 1993, p. 97-98.
 Hopko, Thomas, "About God’s Grace". The Living Pulpit, January-March 1995.
 Latourette, K.S., A History of Christianity (Vol. 1). Harper San Francisco, 1975, p. 95.
 Clendenin, p. 158.
 Hopko, The Word of the Cross
 Hopko, in Orthodox Synthesis, p. 166.
 Pelikan, Christianity…, p. 20.
 McGrath, Forerunners?…, p. 230-232.
 McGrath, Iustitia Dei… (Vol. 1), p. 36.
 McGrath, Forerunners?…, p. 230.
 Bielfeldt, p. 404, 420.
 Spicq, C. & Ernest, J (Tr.), Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, 1:335-6 & 336 n69. Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
 McGrath, Forerunners?…, p. 241.
 Osborn, Eric, The Beginnings of Christian Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 117-118.
 ibid., p. 117.
 Tsirpanlis, Constantine, Introduction to Eastern Patristic Thought and Orthodox Theology. The Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 61.
 Breck, John, The Power of the Word in the Worshiping Church. SVS Press, 1986, p. 142-184.
 Rakestraw, p. 19, n14.
 Wolters, Al, Partners of the Deity: A Covenantal Reading of 2 Peter 1:4, Calvin Theological Journal 25 (1990): p. 43, n. 73].
 Rakestraw, p. 22, n50.
 ibid., p. 1-2.
 Hopko, The Fountain of Israel. Again Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 4, Dec. ‘96/Jan. ’97.
 (Ware), Praying With the Orthodox Tradition. SVS Press, 1996, xi.
 Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition (Vol. 1), 1972, p. 75; cf 51, 79.
 Tanner, Norman P., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (Vol. 1), p. 128-129, Sheed & Ward and Georgetown University Press, 1990].
 Clendenin, p. 93.