What is the goal of the Christian spiritual life?
It's much more than becoming a good person, or a follower of Christ. Very early in the life of the Church, the recognition arose that the work of transformation effected by the Holy Spirit enabled us to partake in Christ's divine nature and to share with him his own knowledge of God (beatific vision). This process of being changed from a creaturely human being into one who possesses a human/divine nature like Christ's was called divinization, or theosis, in the early Church. Sts. Irenaus and Athanasius summed it up as follows: God became human so that humans could become God.
The purpose of the spiritual journey, then, with its dark nights of the soul and stages of development, is to effect this transformation of our nature through grace. Our Christian understanding, here, differs from Mormon, New Age and some Hindu philosophies by asserting that we are not divine beings by nature (i.e. ontologically), but are transformed into Christs through grace. Hence, the relational dynamic is retained throughout the transformative process, as we grow and grow and grow into the fullness of Christ, who always loves the Father in the Spirit.
There are some very fine discussions of theosis on the Internet, and I refer you to them for further reading and study.
Why I am here
Becoming Like God: An Evangelical doctrine of theosis.
Theosis (Eastern Orthodox view)
Theosis (more good reflections from the Eastern Church)
The Beatific Vision
What questions, comments or reactions do you have about theosis?
Phil: I have been reading Rakestraw's essay on theosis and find it quite compelling. Particularly so in that he likens it to the Wesleyan doctrines of sanctification. As you may know we who come from the Methodist tradition are preparing to celebrate the 300th aniversary of John Wesley's birth from June 17-28, 2003. I have Methodist lay preachers among my ancestors, one of whom may have been converted by Wesley himself.
I am also intrigued by the similarity of theosis and a thought expressed by Julian of Norwich in her "Revelations." I quote from Fr. John-Julian's translation, *Lesson of Love.*
"All we who shall be saved, for the period of this life, have in us a wondrous mixture both of weal and woe: we have in us our Lord Jesus arisen; we have in us the misery and misfortune of Adam's falling."
You may recall that I was working on an extended study of the "Fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23). When I completed that study, I was aware that I had been making a study of the way in which the Spirit provides us with a rule of life incorporating the nine gifts - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. My experience of living by this rule as enabled by the Spirit is something akin to what the theologians have been talking about as "transformation" in the Wesleyan sense.
What say you of these similarities with theosis?
Makes a lot of sense, John. I was delighted to find those links which addressed theosis from other Christian traditions besides the Eastern Orthodox, where it is very strongly emphasized.
I will soon be opening that lifestyle thread. Perhaps you can say more at that time about your reflections on the gifts of the Spirit and Christian lifestyle. Looking forward to it.
Great thread openers, Phil and John. Here is some more food for thought, which, to me, does not seem inconsistent with your own views:
from Cardinal Suenens in �A New Pentecost?� (1974)
pax, amor et bonum and amdg,
What a beautiful quote!! And a message I needed to hear. It is so easy to get caught up in what I need to do today to become closer to God, instead of remembering who is in charge. I am reading up on all the threads and hope to be up to speed soon. I think sometimes we loose the purpose in the process, if you know what I mean.
God id our joy, ever enough. May you rest in God's presence always, Diane
It's been a long time since anyone made any further comment on this thread. My own absence has been due largely to preoccupation with viral pneumonia (not SARS!) and my wife's increasing disability due to an arthritic hip.
However, as I re-read the paper on theosis, I became all the more convinced that what this concept is wrestling to define is what John Wesley called, not merely 'santification,' but 'perfect sanctification.'
Another term for the same experience became quite popular in the Holiness Movement that sprang from the Wesleyan evangelical movement. Wesley himself used the term, but he never claimed it for himself. The Holiness Movement extended its meaning to what was called "the second blessing." However, some of the more enthusiastic participants in the Holiness Movement of the 19th century did make such claims. It soon became an aspect of the movement that cut it off from the mainstream of evangelical experience and theology.
johnboy, great post dated March 06, 2003. What can one add to this quote that pretty much says it all and that we need to keep close to our hearts and minds daily in our spiritual journey becoming more like Christ in every way together with trusting Our Father God knowing He is in charge and not us.
Many prayers for John Shearman and his wife.
I think the notion of Theosis is a very important one. For me when I discovered the concept it was a spiritual revelation for me.
For me as a Christian, God is strongly affirmed as infinite and totally beyond any conception we can have of him. This is affirmed many times in Scripture, by the Church Fathers, from religions outside Christianity (if you wish to examine them) and also by the mystics of the Christian tradition. Gregory of Nyssa developed a very important lesson from the infinity of God and that is contemplation of God never ends, because the finite created being can never fully become 'God' in the sense of the finite becoming the infinite.
Of course there is the mystery where this appears to be excepted, Jesus, who Christian tradition affirms was both man and God. Because God became man, it is possible for man to 'partake in the divine nature' (as it is said in the Epistle of Peter).
I understand theosis not to mean humans become God, who is infinite and will as such always be entirely beyond both our ability to comprehend and unite with in a perfect ontological sense, in the sense we become a Being of the same nature as God. The finite cannot become the infinite.
But, by the same notion, God is not inaccessible and through Jesus it is possible for the believer to 'grow' more like the divine both in this life and the next, but this process never ends because of the infinity of God. While God dwells in inaccessible light no-one can see, and is the One in the dark cloud of unknowing, his son makes it possible for us to ascend towards God in an never-ending process of growth into Christlikeness.
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