Archive for January 15th, 2008

A Common Faith

January 15, 2008

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There are doubtless many differences to be found between groups of Christians – though there is probably more that all Christians share than not. Orthodox Christianity generally holds to those doctrines that were at one time universal and continues to be a watershed of classical Christian faith. It is interesting that some things that many think of as distinctives of Orthodox Christianity have a wider attestation than most people know. These common essentials are often blurred by an emphasis on distinctives or the fact that certain things which have remained central within Orthodoxy have become marginalized in other places.

Perhaps no single doctrine is more classically expressive of the Orthodox faith than the doctrine of the Divine exchange (divinization or theosis). First offered in its most classical form by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century (though there is ample Scriptural support for the doctrine), it is generally stated: God became man so that man could become god. This same statement of faith, in varying forms can be found in fathers, both East and West.

Daniel Keating has produced a small book on the topic: Deification and Grace. He says:

Following Irenaeus – and probably dependent upon him – we find wide attestation to this formula throughout the patristic period. It is noteworthy that some form of this expression can be found in writers from Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, Syria, North Africa, and Rome….

St. Clement of Alexandria:

the Word of God became man, that you may learn from man how man may become God.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria:

For he was made man that we might be made God…and…he himself has made us sons of the Father, and deified men by becoming himself man.

St. Gregory the Theologian:

Let us become as Christ is, since Christ became as we are; let us become gods for his sake, since he became man for our sake.

St. Gregory of Nyssa:

…the Word became incarnate so that by becoming as we are, he might make us as he is.

St. John Chrysostom:

he became Son of man, who was God’s own Son, in order that he might make the sons of men to be children of God.

St. Ephrem the Syrian:

He gave us divinity, we gave him humanity.

St. Hilary of Poitiers (in the West):

For when God was born to be man the purpose was not that the Godhead should be lost, but that, the Godhead remaining, man should be born to be god.

St. Ambrose of Milan:

For [the Son] took on him that which he was not that he might hide that which he was; he hid that which he was that he might be tempted in it, and that which he was not might be redeemed, in order that he might call us by means of that which he was not to that which he was.

St. Augustine of Hippo:

God wanted to be the Son of Man and he wanted men to be the Sons of God.

Pope St. Leo the Great (5th century):

[The Savior] was made the son of man, so that we could be the sons of God…and…He united humanity to himself in such a way that he remained God, unchangeable. He imparted divinity to human beings in such a way that he did not destroy, but enriched them, by glorification.

Even in Protestant writers…

Martin Luther in a Christmas sermon:

For the Word becomes flesh precisely so that the flesh may become word. In other words: God becomes man so that man may become God.

John Calvin, rather eloquently:

This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.

This is a wonderful testimony, of almost universal appeal, to one of the central tenets of the Christian faith. Often obscured by other doctrinal formula, it remains central in the Christian East, where the principle of exchange – that God took upon Himself our human condition that we might share in His divinity – runs throughout the whole of doctrine.

Keating’s book is a refreshing read. It was a Christmas present to me from Fr. Alvin Kimel (aka the Pontificator). My deepest thanks.

What Matters – A Redux

January 15, 2008

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Occasionally it is useful to re-run some of my earliest articles on the blog. They remind me of what I’m doing, and inform newer readers of what the blog is about. The following is among my earliest:

God matters and what matters to God matters. I know that sounds very redundant, but I’m not sure how else I want to say it. There are many things that do not matter – because they do not matter to God. Knowing the difference between the two – what matters to God and what does not requires that we know God.

And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.

Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.

Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.

It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

The Orthodox way of life is only about knowing God. Everything we do, whether it is prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, fasting – all of it is about knowing God. If it is about something else, then it is delusion and a distraction from our life’s only purpose.

Knowing God is not a distraction from knowing other persons, nor is knowing other persons a distraction from knowing God. But, like God, knowing other persons is not the same thing as thinking about them, much less is it objectifying them.

Knowing others is so far from being a distraction from knowing God, that it is actually essential to knowing God. We cannot say we love God, whom we have not seen, and hate our brother whom we do see, St. John tells us. We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies (1 John 4:7-8).

And this matters.

This blog does not matter – except that I may share something that makes it possible for someone to know God or someone may share something that allows themselves to be known. This matters.