As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


These are two comments made on another thread. The topic they open is large enough to warrant a new post with separate comments.

Hajiburton said...

Dear PF,

I'm interested in your comment about theosis. Where does it come from? It reminds me of what might be a parallel concept in monastic theology, which lies at the heart of early western mysticism (i.e., non-visionary, non-passion obsessed, associated with Gregory, Augustine, and Bernard). It is the concept of "deification," (lat. deificare), which is not becoming God, but becoming one in willing and affection with God- it is the experience of Union which "consummation" epitomizes as regards the individual soul, and which all true Christian mystical experiences prefigure here below. I encountered it in Bernard, but he received it from Gregory (I think). You might look for it in Bernard's Sermons on the Song of Songs 71.9.

Sir R.F. Burton

Pauper Frater said...

St. Athanasius of Alexandria said, "The Son of God became man, that we might become God." Right of the bat, you can see that the Incarnation will play a much larger role in Orthodoxy. In their conception, the Incarnation was not needed because we fell. It would have happened anyway. God didn't just want to return us to our pre-Fall state. He wanted to do something more, and had planned that something from the beginning.

So how do we "become God" without becoming God, as it were. Palamas made a distinction between God's Essence and His energies. We cannot become one with God in His Essence. Rather, we become one with His energies.

Thus, we must struggle in addition to our faith. We struggle to attain that union. In the terms I grew up with, it's more about Sanctification than Justification. The latter is kind of a by-product of the former. But the common conception of Sanctification is not sufficient to describe Theosis. It's much more. My guess is that most Protestants would be quite uncomfortable with it.

Ecumanaically yours,


Blogger fra edwin said...

Pauper Frater writes: But the common conception of Sanctification is not sufficient to describe Theosis.

I guess I do not know the common conception of Sanctification then. In my understanding, as one is justified in the death and resurrection of the Lord, one is Sanctified by the Spirit of God. Sanctification is the emptying of oneself to become more and more of an image of God - and yet conversely, uniquely that person God created and intended you to be. Is theosis so different?

4:55 AM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

I believe it is. Let me give you what I understood Justification and Sanctification to mean.

Justification was becoming justified. That is, the righteousness of Christ was imparted to us so we could go to heaven.

Sanctification was becoming holy, becoming what Adam once was before the fall. It was a return, nothing more.

I now understand Sanctification, or Theosis, to mean becoming something more than Adam was before the Fall. Christ didn't just come to save us from our sin. He also came to make it so, as God joined Himself to man, we could also join ourselves to God. (Thus, the need for the distinction between "essence" and "energies.")

We're going beyond Adam.

Put another way, if I were to meet Adam in his pre-Fall state, I would probably feel the shame of my own nakedness and sinfulness in the presence of his goodness. But I could bear it. Moses, however, had seen God (well, his back). His being in the presence of God made him such that he had to veil himself from the people.

Same with Elijah and Moses at the Transfiguration. They were something more than just good humans, or even sinless humans.

What you're saying would, I think, lead to Theosis. Being in His presence and emptying yourself of yourself is, I believe, the process. But the understanding of the ultimate goal is different in your average Protestant church vs. Orthodox church.

Very not divinized,

2:40 AM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:02 PM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

Let me try that again....

Pauper Frater said...
But the common conception of Sanctification is not sufficient to describe Theosis.
I now understand Sanctification, or Theosis, to mean becoming something more than Adam was before the Fall.

I have to ask my original question again, what is the essential difference between sanctification and theosis? You seem to be using sanctification and theosis as synonyms but also say they are not.

To address your second statement quoted above, I also believe God wanted us to be more that we were before the Fall by "walking with God in the garden." The process was interrupted by Adam's sin. I cannot believe that God "intended" us to sin and die so that someday he could send his son to die for us.

What I see instead was that we were, from all eternity, created to develop and grow both in uniqueness and in holiness and maturity. We interrupted that process through sin. God, infinitely merciful and omnipotent (whatever that means) found a way to "straighten our path." Through Christ, we regained the divine image lost through sin. Now we can continue our walk with God - even if our current garden is strewn with thorns and weeds.

7:07 PM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

I use Sanctification and Theosis somewhat synonymously, not because they mean the same thing, but because that is the closest thing I can find to each other. In Sanctification, I think we're supposed to regain our Edenic state. In Theosis, I think we're supposed to not only be Sanctified, but divinized as well.

I don't believe, and I don't think anyone teaches, that God meant for Adam to sin. Rather, Christ would have become incarnate in the perfection and sinless obedience of Eden, thus accomplishing God's ultimate plan. Christ's death was necessitated by Adam's sin, not the Incarnation.

7:40 PM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

Frankly, neither of our scenarios play out. I said that if we had not sinned, we could have achieved theosis by continuing our walk with God. You said that if we had not sinned, we would still have acheived theosis through an incarnation. Upon reflection, we are talking unrealities because neither thing happened.

We sinned.

I am quite sure that God did not create us to sin, nor did he want us to sin, but I am also quite sure that he knew that by giving us free will, that we would sin. He knew that if he gave us the gift of free will, we would need to be saved from ourselves. Thus I can say with confidence that Christ was truly the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

This seems to me to be a remarkable expression of God's patience, mercy, love and sacrifice.

6:49 AM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

True. This is kind of like the "What If" series of comics. I still think it's important because it speaks to the larger issue, though. Are we meant JUST to return to Eden, or for something more? I think the Crucifixion and Resurrection were mostly to return us to Eden (and, yes, not possible without the Incarnation). And I believe the Incarnation was primarily for that something more.

But the reality is we did sin, so we needed it all.

8:20 AM  

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