Incarnation: Deification

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Patristic Orthodoxy centres on Christ’s divine humanity as the living heart of human redemption and deification.  Saints Irenaeus, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzus and Gregory Nyssa all bear witness that God became human so that humanity may be deified.  For Patristic wisdom, Christ’s birth, life, transmission of gospel wisdom, death, resurrection, ascension and glorification, together save and deify humanity, not the Cross of Calvary alone.  When Golgotha is perceived through a juridical perspective, as for example, by Anselm or Calvin, there is a danger that redemptive deification is fatally truncated and reduced, leaving deductive and reductive notions of redemption in place of wholesome healing and liberating deification.  For Saint Denys and Saint Maximus, as for Saint Symeon the New Theologian and Saint Gregory Palamsa, deification in Christ opens to a sevenfold deification in the Holy Spirit, through whom it is completed personally and as the glory of completeness.  Pentecost completes Christ’s life, death and resurrection by communicating personally the translucent mysteries of his ascension and glorification.  Glorification is the mysterious process of becoming what the ascended and glorified Christ already is, in the glorious completeness of the age to come.

Union with God by deification is always a personal mystery of revelation by the Holy Spirit, never merely an institutional conformity or a corporate, totalitarian imposition.  In fact, Hesychast wisdom is never totalitarian, because it is the fruit of the Spirit’s deifying liberation.  Saint Sophrony the Hesychast agreed with Vladimir Lossky that the Spirit’s revelatory unveiling is profoundly personal, radically releasing every totalitarian tendency.  This gave to his monastery in Essex, founded in 1959, an eschatological orientation that was person-centred and liberating.  Encountering Saint Sophrony in 1965 was a profound experience for a theological student who that year was just twenty years old and this encounter pierced his heart to leave a wound of love that informed the vision of a life-time.  For Saint Sophrony, God’s reign is not a dominion of domination but a glorious liberation, personal and revelatory.  The Spirit imparts a union that embraces diversity, just as Christ reveals a union that embraces difference, though Lossky’s binary theological scheme, in this regard, fails to do full justice to it.  The economy of the Spirit is never dualistically opposed to the economy of the Son, as Lossky appears to suggest it is, nor does union with Christ ever extinguish God-centred personal difference.

Incarnation is not, therefore, a Christological closure but a Chrisitological opening to Pentecostal enlightenment that is personal and liberating.  Deification is not a totalitarian extinction of personal uniqueness but a revelation of glory that grounds true human personhood in the divine persons of the Holy Trinity.  The incarnation is the foundation of deification precisely because it is the expression of the Father’s personhood revealed by the Son, imparted as glorification by the Holy Spirit.  God becomes man so that man becomes God by grace, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  If the gospel of hallowing glorification were not grounded in the Holy Trinity, it might be misconstrued to be an extinction of personal difference and therefore a divisive confusion, not a true union and communion.  Hesychast wisdom is Patristic through and through, vigorous in its co-inherent Orthodoxy, rigorous in its right-glorifying completeness.  The wisdom of Saint Sophrony the Hesychast was liberating and personal, handed on by him in our own day in a wide variety of catalytic ways that promise to renew Holy Orthodoxy for many generations to come. Hesychast wisdom bears witness to incarnation as deification both personal and universal, embracing creation personally and as a whole.