23 June 2007

Principle Issues: Theosis, Justification & Sanctification

My good friend at Lutheran Enigma has left a "teaser-post" in which in promises a "series of blog posts under the title 'Sanctification, Third Use of the Law, and Theosis.'" His fear is that the "primacy of justsification" is sacrificed by those who embrace the patristic principle of theosis; that one can "go down the path of theosis away from the primacy of justification."

As he ponders and constructs these posts, I make bold to offer my friend a few suggestions:

* A definition of the term "primacy of justification" would be helpful. In other words, how does justification take primacy over sanctification, especially considering that several Lutheran theologians describe the two concepts as two sides of the same coin.

* On the surface it is easy to think that the patristic/Orthodox view of theosis is a subcategory of the Western/Lutheran view of sanctificatio. However, it is not; and, in fact, has many aspects that line up nicely with the best understanding of justificatio.

* In the Lutheran Book of Concord, it seems that what drives both justification and sanctification is Christology. Christology is also key to understanding theosis. I suggest that this is the "common ground" and, therefore, a good place to begin.

* It took me a while to understand that the patristic/Orthodox view of theosis is not a dogma or doctrine (one bit among many; one spoke in the wheel), but rather is something akin to a governing or foundational principle. In this regard, theosis is akin to Christology; and, in fact, I will be so bold as to state that theosis is simply Christology applied (potentially) to every man. (Of course, the essence/energy distinction is crucial in understanding this claim correctly.)

The above point did not become clear to me until I read more carefully and understood more fully the key writings of St Maximos the Confessor and the issues at stake in the fifth and sixth ecumenical councils. Until then, I willingly conceded the premises my friend has staked out; namely, that theosis is simply a Greek term for a different or fuller view of sanctificatio.


William Weedon said...

Fr. John,

Would you agree that sanctification (understood in the Western sense) is the RESULT of theosis? In other words, do you think that where theosis in Orthodoxy has some approxmiation to the mystical union as expressed by the Lutherans? "Abide in me" is the foundation upon which the bearing of fruit takes place?

Susan said...

Oh, I like Pr Weedon's questions. I have a piggyback question. (After all, reality is that I'm going to get to hear about your interchange with Gary, whether I want to or not. LOL!)

Your second suggestion is to remember that theosis (in the East) and sanctification (in the West) is not the same thing. When you say that, are you talking about the standard protestant definition of sanctification, or what *I* mean when I'm thinking about sanctification?

What about this definition of sanctification? "All that the Holy Spirit does through the Word and sacraments of Christ to make us holy. It is the entire work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian through which he is brought to faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the 'old man' is put to death, and the fruits of faith are brought forth in his life." Is that more like theosis than the idea that sanctification is the renewal of our hearts so that we can overcome sin and do good works according to the Commandments?

David Jay Webber said...

Fr. John,

I just want to echo Pr. Weedon's thought. I would contend that a Lutheran who understands his or her church's teaching on the Mystical Union would see that it is at that point where Theosis and Lutheran theology converge, and not at the point of sanctification. Joseph Stump wrote:

"There is a mystical union of God and the believer, which is taught in the Scriptures and experienced by the Christian, but which is difficult to describe. Chronologically its beginning coincides with regeneration and justification; logically it follows upon them... It is not to be interpreted simply as an activity of God in us, but possesses the nature of a personal fellowship (1 John 1:3). God lives in the believer, and the believer in God. It is the starting point and living source of that progressive sanctification which begins in the justified man and continues to the end of his earthly life. ... The Scriptures teach not only that by faith man is justified and forgiven, but that Christ dwells in him, and through Christ the Holy Trinity. St. Paul declares of the Christians that they are in Christ (Rom. 8:1) and again that Christ is in them (Gal. 2:20). ... The source of all spiritual life is in God through Christ. By faith the believer is reunited with God from whom he was separated and cut off by sin. Thus he who was spiritually dead is now made spiritually alive. As the severed branch which is grafted back into the tree lives again because of its new union with the tree, so the believer lives again because of his union with God through Christ. The branch grows and puts forth leaves and fruit; but it does so only because and as long as it is vitally united with the tree from which its life comes. The believer lives and bears fruit in holy living; but he does so only because and as long as he is united with God by faith. Through this mystical union life comes to him from God. Only by virtue of this union does he live spiritually. What this union meant to Paul he tells us when he says, 'Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me' (Gal. 2:20)."

That sounds a lot like Theosis to me!

Fr John W Fenton said...

Pr Weedon,

Thanks for your question. I apologize for my delayed reply.

Let me begin by preferring Pr Webber's description: the mystical union or theosis does not fall neatly within the categories of justificatio or sanctificatio, as these categories have developed since the Reformation. Rather, theosis describes the convergence of justificatio and sanctificatio.

Furthermore, I would suggest that theosis, particularly as it is described in Eastern Christian thought and applied in Orthodox theology, is the result of Christology rather than sanctification. In other words, theosis describes the fruits of pericoretic union in Christ which Christopher Wordsworth aptly indicated in the fifth stanza of his Ascension hymn.

Fr John W Fenton said...


Thanks for your comment. I apologize for the delayed response.

When I stated that theosis and sanctification are not the same thing, I was not as careful in my categories as I should have been. I contend that theosis is not an "Eastern" view while sanctification is a "Western" view. Such geography blurs the question while, at the same time, inviting an unlikely correspondence in terms while simultaneously suggesting that Westerners can't grasp or have theosis. What I should have written was that the patristic view of theosis, which is maintained in Orthodox Church, is not the same as the post-Reformational understandings of sanctification. Thank you for aiding me in writing clearly!

Concerning the definition of sanctification, let me first suggest that I had in mind the best use of the word "sanctification" as it was mediated to me through the 1580 Book of Concord, fully knowing that there are mischaracterizations of that word in Lutheranism and elsewhere. Concerning your self-chosen definition, I don't find it "more like theosis." Perhaps my recent reply to Pr Weedon is helpful; namely, that theosis describes the union between God and each man in the Church (and therefore, by the Spirit) due to the union between God and man in Christ.