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Theosis

Theosis, deification, or divinization, is the Christian doctrine of sanctification[?] as it developed in Eastern Orthodoxy, especially in the hesychast tradition. According to this teaching, sanctification is the transfiguration[?] of man. Man is to become holy[?], godly, and in that sense adopt the nature of God. This early Christian understanding of sanctification was an important discovery of the pietist movement, and especially the Methodists, who used it to develop their distinctive Protestant doctrine of entire sanctification (which teaches, in summary, that it is possible to live without any sin).

The crucial Orthodox assertion, that God is one, sets an absolute limit on the meaning of theosis - it is not possible for any created being to become, ontologically, God or, another god. Rather, by deification is meant that, God causes Man to be in creaturely form everything that God is: that is, in terms of knowledge of the truth, in wisdom and in holiness, in all the energies of God[?].

That, the Trinity is this one God, is also an essential assertion underlying the Orthodox doctrine of theosis. Belief in the Trinity is the indispensible premise of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ: that He alone is the Son of God and the Son of Man, the only one who is ontologically both God and Man, having both natures, unmixed and distinct, in one person.

The proverbial expression of theosis, "The Son of God became man, that we might become God" (Athanasius of Alexandria), presupposes the limitations made explicit by the doctrine of the Trinity. That is, it is as absurd to suppose that a creature may become the eternally self-existant God, as that God would be changed into a creature. But what would otherwise seem to be absurd, that sinful people may become holy as God is holy, this has been made possible through Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate. Substantially the same idea can be expressed in terms more familiar to the Western Church: through the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, Man comes to know and experience what it means to be fully Man (the created image of God); through Man's communion with Jesus Christ God shares Himself with Man, in order to conform Man to all that God is in knowledge, righteousness and holiness.

Theosis also asserts the complete restoration of all men (and of the entire creation), in principle. All of mankind is fully restored to the full potential of humanity because the Son of God took to Himself a human nature to be born of a woman, and takes to Himself also the sufferings due to sin (yet is not Himself a sinful man, and is God unchanged in His being). In Christ, the two natures of God and Man are not two persons but one; thus, a union is effected in Christ, between all of mankind and God. So, the holy God and sinful Man are reconciled in principle, in the one sinless man, Jesus Christ. This reconciliation is made actual through the struggle to conform to the image of Christ.

The course of man's spiritual journey toward perfection and a holy life is set then, along the path established by what God has done in Christ: man must unite will, thought and action to God's will, His thoughts and His actions. Man must fashion his life to be a mirror, a true likeness of God. More than that, since God and Man are more than a similarity in Christ but rather a true union, the life of Man is more than mere imitation and is rather a union with the life of God Himself: so that, the man who is working out his salvation, is God working within the man both to will and to do that which pleases God. Gregory Palamas affirmed the possibility of man's union with God in His energies, while also affirming that because of God's transcendance and utter other-ness, it is impossible for any man or other creature to know or to be united with God's essence.

Theosis is thus usually regarded as an orthodox, Christian understanding of salvation from sin, in both the East and the West (although it is not everywhere regarded as the most helpful or clear terminology) — but such approval only applies where the term is used in the context of Trinitarian Christianity. Otherwise, theosis, the effort to put oneself in the place of God, is the kernel expression of all sin and false religion, and in fact Satan's own sin and the spirit of Antichrist, according to the Trinitarian Christian view.

See also: Desert Fathers[?], Maximus the Confessor, Monasticism,Philokalia[?]



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