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Divinization: A Lost Pearl

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Participation: Week 2

Divinization: A Lost Pearl
Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Greek word theosis, often used by the Eastern Fathers of the church, is probably best translated as “divinization.” [1] Although usually taught in the more mystical and Trinitarian Eastern Church, it was largely lost in the more practical, carrot-on-the-stick emphasis of the Western Church.

Every time the Christian church divided or separated, each group lost one half of the Gospel message. That seems to have been true in the Great Schism of 1054, when the patriarchs of East and West mutually excommunicated one another. The loss of Christian wholeness continued in 1517 with the protesting and needed reformations of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and Henry VIII, then again with our split from science at the time of Galileo, and many times since. Almost all of our Judeo-Christian history reflects a split from the feminine. Both sides always lose something good. This is the very sad result of dualistic thinking, which is incapable of comprehending, much less experiencing, the mystical, nonviolent, or nondual level of anything (“not totally one but not two either”). The contemplative non-dual mind should be religion’s unique gift to society. It “greases the wheels” of spiritual evolution, as Ken Wilber says.

So let’s reintroduce “divinization,” this Gospel “pearl of great price” to the Western Church, both Roman and Protestant, and to the secular seeker. [2] In case you think this is some old dangerous heresy, consider this statement from John Paul II in 1995: “The venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches, that is the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers on divinization (theosis), passed into the tradition of all the Eastern Churches and is part of their common heritage. This can be summarized in the thought already expressed by St. Irenaeus at the end of the second century: ‘God passed into humanity so that humanity might pass over into God.’” [3] The pope was surely acknowledging that the Western Church, both Catholic and Protestant, had largely lost its belief in divinization or had even denied its possibility. No wonder we suffer from such universal lack of self-esteem and such cultural self-loathing in our world now.

The shining and oft-quoted “proof text” here is 2 Peter 1:3-4, where the inspired author writes, “Divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of God, who called us to share in the divine glory and goodness. In bestowing these gifts, God has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come. Through them you’ll be able to share the divine nature.” [4]

There you have it: We are called to participate in the very nature of God, which is Love.

Gateway to Silence:
Spirit of Love in me, love through me.

[1] Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery a. Wittung, eds., Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Tradition (Farleigh Dickinson University Press: 2007). This excellent collection will give you the history, loss, and development of the theme of “deification” in the Christian tradition.

[2] If you want to do your own research here, the fathers of the church to study are St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Basil, St. Athanasius, and St. Irenaeus in the West; and St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Maximus the Confessor, Pseudo Macarius, Diadochus, and St. Gregory Palamas in the East. The primary texts are in the Philokalia collection and the teachings of the Hesychastic monks.

[3] (St.) Pope John Paul II, “Orientale Lumen,” Apostolic Letter of May 2, 1995, I:6.

[4] The Inclusive New Testament (AltaMira Press: 2004).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 117-119.

Image Credit: Candles by clarita.
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