Partakers Of Divinity: The Orthodox Doctrine Of Theosis -- By: Daniel B. Clendenin

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 37:3 (Sep 1994)
Article: Partakers Of Divinity: The Orthodox Doctrine Of Theosis
Author: Daniel B. Clendenin

Partakers Of Divinity:
The Orthodox Doctrine Of Theosis

Daniel B. Clendenin*

For the shepherd David the question came in the middle of the night watch. Alone in the quiet darkness on a Palestinian hillside, he pondered the expansive heavens, the sparkling stars and soft moonlight and, in response, his own feelings of insignificance: “What is man, that thou dost take thought of him, or the son of man, that thou dost care for him?” (Ps 8:4).

For its part, Orthodox theology in the east places the questions of human destiny, sin and salvation at the forefront of its entire theological vision, albeit in ways very different from the western Christian tradition. The long history of Orthodox theology answers the question of the purpose of life with a definitive, unique and unified response. As we shall see in this article, it is a response that is not only different from western conceptions of theological anthropology but one that sounds very strange indeed to our ears.

In the Philokalia, an important collection of Orthodox texts from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries compiled by St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite (1749–1809), the Theoretikon (probably a fourteenth-century text) puts it this way: “Now the purpose of our life is blessedness … not only to behold the Trinity, supreme in Kingship, but also to receive an influx of the divine and, as it were, to suffer deification.”1 The contemporary Greek Orthodox theologian Christoforos Stavropoulos summarizes this Orthodox vision:

In the Holy Scriptures, where God Himself speaks, we read of a unique call directed to us. God speaks to us human beings clearly and directly and He says: “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the most high—all of you’ “ (Ps. 82:6 and John 10:34). Do we hear that voice? Do we understand the meaning of this calling? Do we accept that we should in fact be on a journey, a road which leads to Theosis? As human beings we each have this one, unique calling, to achieve Theosis. In other words, we are each destined to become a god; to be like God Himself, to be united with Him. The Apostle Peter describes with total clarity the purpose of life: we are to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). This is the purpose of your life; that you be a participant, a sharer in the nature of God and in the life of Christ, a communicant of divine energy—to become just like God, a true God.2

“Man,” writes Gregory of Nazianzus, “has been o...

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