Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Christian Anthropology, Part 03

Theosis: The Destiny for Which Man was Created

Mankind’s beginning and end are both summarized in Jesus Christ. We were created by and for Him, we were patterned after Him, and we are called to eternal oneness in Him. Man’s vocation is nothing less than to be Christ; that is, to be members of Him, co-workers with Him, and co-heirs with Him of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to a union with Him that is neither merely legal nor merely intentional, but is a true communion of being, like the union of a vine and its branches. (John 15:5) The oneness for which we were created takes place at every level: it is material (physical) and rational, moral and ontological, emotional and spiritual, human and divine. He created us to unite us with Himself via the human nature He shares with us, which in turn He unites in His Person with His Divine Nature; and His Divine Nature, in turn, is identical to the Divine Nature of the Holy Trinity. In short, God created us to become, by His Uncreated Grace, with our free and loving consent, everything He is by Nature. We are created to participate in the very activity and life of the Holy Trinity, just as Christ does; in fact, as Christ, or rather, as literal, organic, ontological members of Him. Our vocation is to be holy as He is holy (see Ephesians 2:10), to be co-creators with Him, and co-workers, sharing in all His glory and reigning with Him over all. We are called to be conformed in every way to the image of the all-holy, immortal, glorious Son. We are to become, body and soul, all that He is, to be united with Him in every way – by grace and not by sharing God's unique Essence. (Whatever the unknowable Essence of God is, It precisely does not involve becoming Itself. The Divine Essence is beginningless. Therefore, the thought of becoming God’s Essence is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron.)
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
Our destiny, while it does include seeing Christ face-to-face, does not include contemplation of the Divine Essence, because knowing the Divine Essence would require being it, and not even merely being It, but having been it forever. To suppose we had been divine forever without being aware of it would be pantheism, and would leave us groping for a satisfactory answer to the question: how and why did Divinity become so degraded as no longer even to be aware of its divinity? When the Logos of God became man, He was still aware of being God.

Our human destiny also does not include what Fr. John Romanides calls,
self-centered eudaemonia [contentment] attained by supposedly identifying the mind with the reality in the essence of God. This is supposed to cause a cessation of all movement of the mind and will toward any other person or thing since there is nothing more desirable for the human intellect than the divine essence... Such theories of eudaemonia simply project and elevate to a divine level the force that rules in the world, the force of necessity and self-interest called "fate" by the ancients. But man was not made for the purpose of finding satisfaction of the supposedly natural, self-centered longings within himself and, thus, of becoming unmoved and dispassionate. On the contrary, he was specifically made so he can love God and his fellow man with the same love that God as for the world. Love that arises out of self-interest is alien to the nature of God just as it is alien to the original destiny of man. (Romanides, op. cit. p. 106.)

Man was not made to be self-seeking and drawn by the supreme One so that, once he has been joined with it, man would cease to desire anything. If in fact the destiny of the soul is to incline toward the highest good and to find self-contentment in it, what kind of relationship can the soul have with secondary beings it if should ever achieve its goal? If the soul becomes totally satisfied by its union with the One, how can it also be inclined toward other beings like itself, or even lower beings, and maintain a relationship of love with them also? (ibid., pp. 112-113)
 In other words, there is no garden of carnal or psychological delights. There are no 72 virgins - nor 72 studs. There is no gratification of passions (nor even existence of any passions), not even the passion to know the Divine Essence, and especially no gratification of animosity by seeing other human beings burn in hell.

Neither does our human destiny involve only our individual selves and God, but the whole Body of Christ. Nor is our unique personhood to be swallowed up into any larger, amorphous whole. Rather, in Christ, each person’s unrepeatable personhood is loved and therefore affirmed, established, sanctified, glorified, christified. In short, Christ is the destiny pre-ordained from before all ages, to which all are called. It is a calling we begin to fulfill upon earth, but which Christ consummates later. It is called theosis (“THAY-oh-sis”), Greek for “deification.” Or, we could say we are to become “Christified”. In the famous dictum attributed to several saints, “God became Man that Man might become God.”

Volumes have been written on this subject, for which reason I will not dwell upon it further here. All I wished to do here is to distinguish the doctrine of theosis from some heterodox concepts of salvation. Of the many books on theosis, two I have read and can recommend are The Deification of Man by Georgios I. Mantzaridis (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984) and Deification in Christ:  The Nature of the Human Person by Panayiotis Nellas (St. Vladimir’s Seminiary Press, 1987).

But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror [or, 'reflecting'] the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)