Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Salvation as deification

Summary and response to Trinities Episode 59.

2nd century church fathers, like Irenaeus, would not have been confused about the one true God and deified people (yes, apparently they said this, i.e. God became man so that men could become gods, etc. just start typing this into google and it will finish the search for you!). Mosser informs us this is because of the origins of the word theos. The way he describes original usage if this word in anquity reminds me very much if the colloquial "divine" used now (e.g. this glorious pudding).

Von Harnack and Albrecht Ritschl in the 19th century want to point the finger at the eastern orthodox church as having spoilt the simple message of Jesus, of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man by having added a deification salvation principle. This is refused by Mosser, who see this deification principle present also in Catholicism and Protestantism. Mosser claims that Von Harnack and Ritschl - for their own polemical reasons - subverted whole swathes of church history. So deification suddenly became conspicuously absent from the west's history, even though Mosser affirms it is present in lots of western church writers in history before then.

Some anabaptists (16th century, around the time of the reformation), Priestley, Newton, also at this time reject the dogmas of the incarnation and the trinity, as they appeared more to be based on Greek philosophical ideas, especially those of Plato.

Hornack and Ritchel realised however you cannot argue the trinity and incarnation dogma solely as taken from Greek philosophy. They realised that the early (pre-nicene) Church fathers' theology of salvation, which includes deification in the sense incorruptible,  glorious, eternal, etc, by grace through the work and person of Jesus Christ, requires that the deifying (saving) one, Jesus, must himself be divine in his nature and not by participation in and grace of another. Hornack: by faith alone, full revelation begun by Augustine. Completing the unfinished project of the reformation.

Plato: imitation and union with God as a goal for humankind.  Theology and Christology, therefore, argue Von Harnack and Ritschl, had to support this pagan preparation.

Hornack key message: Hellenisation of Christianity happened when 2nd century church fathers adopted soteriology of deification which then will eventually lead to the doctrines of the incarnation and the trinity.

They see this as REPLACING justification by faith alone. Deification goes head to head with justification by faith, hence our subject Deification, for Von Harnack,  as oposed to justification by faith.

Augustine has some deification; however for Von Harnack, Augustine brings deification to an end in the west. From then on, any variation Augustine's .... [fragment]

Eastern orthodox say yea! Migrated Russian theologians in Paris came across the accusations and say that the western church's denial of deification is a sign of the west's apostasy, on biblical grounds. But no one stopped to check to see if the West really had abandoned deification as Hornack was saying, because he was so influential.

Jesus participates in the Divine. Tuggy adds: "hierarchy of participation", and agreed that there this is [hellenistic?] influence. But they use the language and draw from it along with biblical passages Eph 5:1. Gen 1. 2 Peter 1:4.

1. I have been hearing Von Harnack's name mentioned a lot and it has been great to see more of his perspective and influence in this week's trinities podcast. I am particularly grateful as it seems like a lot of the work on the build up to Nicea 325 and Constantinople 381, it is just loose, speculative and unsatisfying. Von Harnack, and apparently Ritchel, may not be right in their hypothesis, but at least we seem to have something a bit more credible. In terms of contemporary influence at the turn of the last century (19th to 20th), he was the most influential scholar, not just theologian. He wrote 900 publications in his life!

2. I loved this episode because it is not just theological but also historical. I think that is why I found Holmes' book so enlightening.

3. I also want to underline the brief mention of the anabaptists in the 16th century. Stephen Holmes is very keen to point out consensus in time (save the last century) and east to west. He says that all traditions, East and West, pre and post reformation, accept the doctrine of the trinity.  However, it is interesting to note that this was not the case at the time of the reformation, there were fresh objections. What can be said is that the prevailing church view was pro-trinity. There is a little debate over one of the reformists clarity however, I think it was Calvin,  I need to to check it out.

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