Incarnation, Theosis, Ecstasy

In a previous post I wrote about ecstasy; that God is ecstatic and we are called to respond to his ecstasy with our own ecstasy. This double movement of God to humanity and humanity to God underlies the doctrine of theosis and describes the very purpose of incarnation. This double movement is sometimes referred to as the “mystery of reciprocity” or the “exchange formula.”

Hear what some of the Fathers say about this mutual ecstasy of God and humanity:

  • The Son of God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5).
  • “The Word of God became man so that you too may learn from a man how it is even possible for a man to become a god” (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks 1.8.4).
  • “He became human that we might become divine” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation 54).
  • “He gave us divinity, we gave him humanity” (Ephrem, Hymns on Faith 5.7).
  • “Let us become as Christ is, since Christ became as we are; let us become Gods for his sake, since he became man for our sake” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 1.5).
  • The Word became incarnate “so that by becoming as we are, he might make us as he is” (Gregory of Nyssa, Refutations 13.1).
  • “The Son of God became the Son of Man that he might make the sons of men sons of God” (Augustine, Mainz Sermons 13.1).
  • “He became like us, that is, a human being, that we might become like him, I mean gods and sons. On the one hand he accepts what belongs to us, taking it to himself as his own, and on the other he gives us in exchange what belongs too him” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 12.1).
  • “God and man are paradigms of one another, that as much as God is humanized to man through love for mankind, so much has man been able to deify himself to God through love” (Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua 10).

(Source for statements: Norman Russell, Fellow Workers with God, pp. 38-39)


  1. Thanks for sharing these quotes from the Fathers. The mystery of reciprocity is a truly beautiful and moving dimension of the truth we celebrate during this holy time of the year.


  2. Theosis seems like the kind of Doctrine that one would have to carefull how it was shared and the ‘spiritual’ maturity of the person it was shared with.


    1. George, thanks for your comment. Yes, theosis needs to be clearly understood or it can easily and quickly be distorted. One of the distinctions we need to keep in mind is that humanity becomes/is divine not by nature (that is God) but by grace. In teaching this or any other doctrine I think it is important to know and respect the spiritual maturity of the learner. But I also wonder if we sometimes underestimate our learners. Maybe instead of waiting for maturity before teaching good theology we should trust that good theology will lead to maturity. It is always a balance.

      I was glad to find your new blog.

      Peace, Mike+


    1. Joe, it is a good book – clear and accessible. The next best thing to buying books for myself is encouraging a friend to buy! Glad I could help. Christmas joy and blessings, Mike+


  3. Perhaps this is another way of putting it:

    Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit in our baptisms, we are empowered to grow more and more into the image and likeness of Jesus, the God-Man. By grace, we are adopted through baptism as God’s sons and daughters. By grace, we become partakers of God’s divine nature without ever becoming ourselves fully divine. As the Eastern Orthodox might say, human beings participate in the energies of God, but not in the essence of God.


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