Thursday, October 17, 2013

Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: deification


One of the most powerful arguments employed by a number of the early Church Fathers for the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was the doctrine of deification—i.e. if Jesus Christ was not God, he could not truly 'save' mankind through deification.

Perhaps the most famous example of this doctrine was from the pen of Athanasius:

For He was made man that we might be made God. (Athanasius - De Incarnation, 54; NPNF, second series, 4.65). [For more than 100 examples from the CFs, see THIS THREAD.]

Aquinas was a serious student of the Church Fathers, and retained the doctrine of deification in his thought. Note the following:

1459 The word "God" is also used in three senses. Sometimes it signifies the divine nature itself, and then it is used only in the singular: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deut 6:4). At other times it is taken in a denominative sense: in this way idols are called gods: "All the gods of the peoples are idols" (Ps 96:5). And sometimes someone is called a god because of a certain participation in divinity, or in some sublime power divinely infused. In this way, even judges are called gods in Scripture: "If the thief is not known, the owner of the house shall be brought to the gods," that is, to the judges [Ex 22:8]; "You shall not speak ill of the gods," that is, of the rulers [Ex 22:28]. This is the way the word "god" is taken here, when he says, I said, you are gods, i.e., you share in some divine power superior to the human.

1460 Then when he says, If he called them gods to whom the word of God came, he shows the meaning of the authority he cited. This was like saying: He called them gods because they participated in something divine insofar as they participated in God's word, which was spoken to them. For due to God's word a person obtains some participation in the divine power and purity: "You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you" (15:3); and in Exodus (c 34) we read that the face of Moses shone when he heard the words of the Lord.

From what has been said above, one might argue in this way: It is clear that a person by participating in the word of God becomes god by participation. But a thing does not become this or that by participation unless it participates in what is this or that by its essence: for example, a thing does not become fire by participation unless it participates in what is fire by its essence. Therefore, one does not become god by participation unless he participates in what is God by essence. Therefore, the Word of God, that is the Son, by participation in whom we become gods, is God by essence. But our Lord, rather than argue so profoundly against the Jews, preferred to argue in a more human way. He says, and scripture cannot be broken, in order to show the irrefutable truth of Scripture: "O Lord, your word endures forever" [Ps 118:89]. (Commentary on the Gospel of John.)

Like so many of the Church Fathers before him, Aquinas argues that, "The Word of God, that is the Son", must be God, for if He is not God, then redeemed mankind could not become "Gods" (i.e. Sons of God).


More later, the Lord willing...


Grace and peace,

David

12 comments:

Rory said...

Dave,

You have to know I would love this post. But I am a Thomist. Or at least, I will defer to St. Thomas on most things, and philosophically, I do believe that we can sense objective realities.

What do we say to those who deny nature, essence, and being? LDS are open to the idea of deification, but it seems like their philosophical presuppositions will make them unable to even understand what you/Aquinas are talking about.

It seems to me that unless we can establish the viability of Aristotelian/Thomistic thought, somebody like me really has no where to go.

Rory said...

Clarification:

"...somebody like me..."

-equals-

somebody who does a lot of discussion with Mormons.

I don't want to distract into something pretty minor for most so let me put my concerns another way. Just leave it alone if you don't want to go off in this direction.

A very popular pope is outspokenly critical of theological rigidness. I believe that such a precise and surgically careful approach to theology as St. Thomas used is becoming increasingly discredited in our age. When even the Catholic pope criticises his church's theology as divisive it seems to leave us only with a "burning bosom" if you will.

It seems like Catholics are in the worst position historically to be proclaiming a Gospel that minimizes dogma in favor of an encounter with Christ.

Those of us like me, who tend to discount the subjective experience, need to work on re-establishing the possibility of revealed objective reality. In my opinion, modern philosophies are completely undermining traditional theology. As our numbers decrease, people like us can talk among ourselves, but we are being marginalized in the eyes of those who have happily despaired of being able to know dogmatic truth.

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

V and I just got back from the Great Wolf Lodge up in Chehalis. We met Lisa and her family up there to celebrate Liam's 13th birthday. For someone who cannot swim, I had a blast !!! Anyway, I am pretty tired, so I am going to wait until tomorrow before I attempt any meaningful response.


God bless,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello again Rory,

On the 20th, you posted:

==What do we say to those who deny nature, essence, and being? LDS are open to the idea of deification, but it seems like their philosophical presuppositions will make them unable to even understand what you/Aquinas are talking about.==

Me: Are the "philosophical presuppositions" you have in mind the predominant LDS view that God and man are the "same species"; and that, "There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter" (D&C 131:7-8).

==It seems to me that unless we can establish the viability of Aristotelian/Thomistic thought, somebody like me really has no where to go.==

Me: Interesting Rory. The above has prompted me to ask two questions: first, how would you go about "establish[ing] the viability of Aristotelian/Thomistic thought" ? Second, would not Platonists accept the concept of " nature, essence, and being" ?


Grace and peace,

David

P.S. I think you will find the new comments/posts in the previous thread quite interesting...

Rory said...

Hey Dave...

Did you get the Olympia fog, or the Vancouver sunshine (in Chehalis)?

Briefly, do you remember those philosophy quizzes we took a few times with the Mormons? Without my always understanding why, you and I would always seem to lineup with Augustine, Aquinas, and Plato. Those guys were always moderns: Sartre, Rorty, Wittgenstein.

In my opinion, these philosophers are compatible with their ideas about experience (burning bosoms) over dogma (orthopraxis). But it is virtually impossible to get to first base anymore trying to explain the Trinity when they do not accept that being, essence, or substance represent any kind reality.

I would not say they are Platonists. That is what I have been accused of over there. They are certainly conscious of it if they are.

It is pretty interesting that St. Thomas says that Jesus talked to the people in a "more human way." I wonder if there is a way to do that when our theological formulae just seem to present stumbling blocks.

We are heading down to see Vince and family again tomorrow. Back on Friday. I'll try to peek in at AF when I am there.

God Bless,

Rory

Rory said...

edits:

1) "They are certainly NOT conscious..."

2) Orthopraxis and burning bosom go together in opposition to defined orthodoxy.

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Yesterday, before your departure to SoCal, you posted:

==Did you get the Olympia fog, or the Vancouver sunshine (in Chehalis)?==

It was beautiful blue sky from LB until about 10-15 miles north of Longview, and then the Oly weather.

==Briefly, do you remember those philosophy quizzes we took a few times with the Mormons? Without my always understanding why, you and I would always seem to lineup with Augustine, Aquinas, and Plato. Those guys were always moderns: Sartre, Rorty, Wittgenstein.==

Yes, I do remember those quizzes. It was some online site that determined which philosophers teachings you were closest to after, if I remember correctly, 20 pointed questions.

==In my opinion, these philosophers are compatible with their ideas about experience (burning bosoms) over dogma (orthopraxis). But it is virtually impossible to get to first base anymore trying to explain the Trinity when they do not accept that being, essence, or substance represent any kind reality.==

That is why I started some threads that attempted to get them to define what made God God, and pressed them on the fact that their Scriptures teach that Jesus was already God in the pre-existence, and became man.

==I would not say they are Platonists. That is what I have been accused of over there. They are certainly conscious of it if they are.==

Agreed.

==It is pretty interesting that St. Thomas says that Jesus talked to the people in a "more human way." I wonder if there is a way to do that when our theological formulae just seem to present stumbling blocks.==

That is interesting, because I find his SCG to be a "more human way" of communication than his ST.

==We are heading down to see Vince and family again tomorrow. Back on Friday. I'll try to peek in at AF when I am there.==

Flying down, or driving ???

Say hi to Vince for me, and have a fun, safe trip.


God bless,

David

bloggingtheology said...

'One of the most powerful arguments employed by a number of the early Church Fathers for the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was the doctrine of deification—i.e. if Jesus Christ was not God, he could not truly 'save' mankind through deification.'

But according to the teaching of Jesus in the earliest Gospels sins could be forgiven by repentance (see the Our Father), and justification before God was possible through humility (see Luke 18:9-14).

Deification was not necessary.

simmmo said...

Interesting that the doctrine of theosis is treated with suspicion or outright denied by conservative Protestant evangelicals. Here is a Q&A video from a Ligonier Ministries conference where one of the participants, when asked about Orthodoxy, says that theosis is a "bizarre" doctrine and the result of misreading the Church Fathers.

http://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/orlando_2004_national_conference/questions-and-answers-2-3919/

I mean are these guys kidding? Just goes to show some of the misinformation and outright intellectual dishonesty from some of these reactionary "ministries". This sort of statement is also the result of reading the Fathers like they read the Bible - i.e. divorced from the Church. The Scriptures, as well as the writings that were handed down to us from the Holy Fathers are meant to be read in the Church. They were written for the Church and must be understood in the Church. It's amazing now to see how these Reformed reactionaries now think they are experts on the Early Church and somehow the Fathers disagree with established doctrines of the traditional communions. Simply unbelievable.

David Waltz said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks much for taking the time to post; you wrote:

==But according to the teaching of Jesus in the earliest Gospels sins could be forgiven by repentance (see the Our Father), and justification before God was possible through humility (see Luke 18:9-14).==

Me: IMO, the forgiveness of sins is only one aspect of 'salvation'. Man's eternal abode is heaven. One common aspect of heavenly existence shared by a number of Christians and Muslims is the Beatific Vision. My studies into this doctrine indicate that only 'perfected' mankind will participate in the BV. The doctrine of deification entails the perfection of mankind, enabling the BV.

Note the following from the lips of Jesus:

"Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48 - ASV)


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi simmmo,

So good to see you back ; thanks much for the link. At the opening of your post, you wrote:

== Interesting that the doctrine of theosis is treated with suspicion or outright denied by conservative Protestant evangelicals.==

Are you familiar with the 1998 BIOLA University report on Eastern Orthodoxy ???

The following is a link to an online PDF copy of the report:

BIOLA REPORT ON EASTERN ORTHODOXY

I would like to know what you think about the report...


Grace and peace,

David

simmmo said...

Thanks for the link David.

It is a rather extensive document. I will have a look at it over the coming days and hopefully will be in a position to give you my thoughts on it.

I can say, from skimming through the Justification section, that what the Orthodox affirm about Justification - i.e. that it is union with Christ/theosis - is also the direction N.T. Wright seems to be taking justification in his work on St Paul (although he doesn't call it as such). Faithfulness is not an abstract thing or merely a mental ascent, it involves acting in faith leading to works of love. I believe that Augustine also had this view, contra to the Reformers. This is justification according to the Fathers and, I believe, what St Paul meant. The categories Protestants have created (justification, sanctification etc) are not warranted.

Just some initial thoughts...