Thursday, December 2, 2010


I must confess that ever since taking the Calvin seminar my second year at Gordon-Conwell, I remain unconvinced that the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis and the ontological change within the human subject championed therein does not compromise the distinction between Creator and creature (CCD hereafter since I'm tired).

My professor, during discussion today, asked me why I would find it hard to believe that deification would not compromise CCD if I accept the Incarnation. If I believe that the CCD was not compromised by the eternal Son uniting Himself with human flesh, why would it be a problem for me to accept that God would be able to make deification possible without compromise as well?

Whether or not the Eastern tradition believes that the human subject participates in the essence or the energies of God (my professor said some support the belief that the human subject participates in the essence - gasp!), I keep coming back to Barth's famous thesis (?) in the second preface to the Epistle to the Romans:

My reply is that, if I have a system, it is limited to a recognition of what Kierkegaard called the 'infinite qualitative distinction' between time and eternity,and to my regarding this as possessing negative as well as positive significance: 'God is in heaven, and thou art on earth.' The relation between such a God and such a man, and the relation between such a man and such a God, is for me the theme of the Bible and the essence of philosophy (pg. 10)

Like I said, I'm really tired. It probably wasn't wise to post these thoughts since I'm simply putting forth statements and opinions without defending them. However, I felt the need to record my continued dissatisfaction with the doctrine of theosis. And for the record, I can't help but think that many in the Protestant church are leaving their churches for the East because they long so desperately for a robust account of sanctification. This makes me incredibly disappointed, because Calvin is clear that even though justification is never contingent upon sanctification, the two are never separated in the life of the Christian.


Douglas Dobbins said...

This was a great post.

In Theosis, one must define the type of "ontologal change." If ontological change is taken relationally (mystically united/participating in Christ) or ethically (being Holy like him), then Theosis seems compatible with the CCD and with the Hypostatic Union.

However, if Theosis is taken to reference human nature, then it can't apply to the hypostatic union (or us), at least not if one accepts Chalcedon: "we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son-Lord-Only Betotten in two natures...without confusing them." The unity of the two natures does not confuse the two. Therefore, the human nature does not ontologically change into a divine nature, either fully or partially.

W. Travis McMaken said...

I am very sympathetic to concerns of theosis. Here are two things you will benefit from reading:

First, Norman Russell's book is the definitive study of this issue in the patristics. He is very helpful in demonstrating that there are various sorts of theo-poetic soteriologies attested. For instance, that of the Cappadocians is very different from some others - specifically, theirs is a soteriology of moral participation in God. Essential reading.

Second, McCormack's essau in David Hall (ed) Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of His Quincentenary (Calvin 500) examines the question in Calvin, and returns the verdict that Calvin's notion of union with Christ is dissimilar to the patristics. My citation of Russell problematizes this claim to some degree, but its important considering the drift of Calvin studies.


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