Deification & Scripture

John Milbank says that Henri de Lubac sees the Christian understanding of the supernatural (supernaturalis / hyperphues) as infused with “the new Christian understanding of salvation as deification.” For de Lubac (and Danielou) “it was important to show that the authentic Latin patristic understanding of the operation of grace (especially that of Augustine) was not essentially different from the Greek patristic notion of deification.” (The Suspended Middle 16)

(I might add that David Bradshaw would probably take issue with de Lubac here; see this post.)

Does the Bible teach deification? There are several places to look, but it seems to me that 2 Pet 1:3-4 comes about as close as any to an all-out statement of deification or theosis:

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

Part of what is so intriguing about this text is the use of “divine nature” (theias physews), a use of physis with few (if any) parallels or precedents in the NT.

If, however, this passage cannot simply be read as an affirmation of the theosis, then is there some other set of texts, or some other hermeneutic reality, from which the affirmation of deification does arise? At this level, one wants to resist a simplistic version of sola scriptura.

Discussing this very passage in the context of Romans 5:5 (“God has shed is love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit”), Gregory of Nyssa says:

Paul calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Love; it is said of God himself that he is love, and the Son is called the Son of Love. Now … if this is so we should be certain that both the Son and the Holy Spirit come from that one foundation of Godhead which is the Fatherhood of God, and that of his abundance bounteous love is infused into the very heart of the saints so as to make them partakers of the divine nature, as St. Peter the Apostle taught. And this is so, so that by this gift of the Holy Spirit there may be fulfilled the words of our Lord, ‘That they may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee. That is to say: Let them be made partakers of the divine nature in the abundance of love diffused by the Holy Spirit.”

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