In a previous post I wrote about theosis as the human vocation. Theosis, was a central concept and theme within the early church and remains so today in Eastern Orthodoxy. Was theosis lost by the west in the East-West schism of 1054? Where is theosis within the Anglican tradition and more specifically in the American expression of Anglicanism, The Episcopal Church?
Anglicans have always maintained a deep rootedness in the patristic tradition of the early church and, though not always having done it well or consistently, have sought, through the interplay of scripture, tradition, and reason, to profess only the faith of the undivided church. Indeed, John Meyendorff has pointed out that the sixteenth century reformers were not rejecting the catholic faith as much as reacting against an unbalanced expression of the faith.
There is no question, however, that the Protestant reformation has diminished, within the western churches, the early church’s teaching of theosis. Anglicanism, however, nether rejected nor lost theosis. This is clearly seen in the Ascension and Pentecost sermons of Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), Bishop of Winchester. Andrewes views the entire Christian life as fulfilling the potential for divinization given to the Church on Pentecost. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Christians, he says, “actually become ‘partakers…Of His nature, the nature of God.’”
In his first Pentecost sermon Andrewes speaks of the “royal exchange” that took place on Pentecost. He says, “Whereby, as before He of ours, so now we of His are made partakers. He clothed with our flesh, and we invested with His Spirit. The great promise of the Old Testament accomplished, that He should partake our human nature; and the great and precious promise of the New, that we should be consortes divinae naturæ, ‘partake His divine nature,’ both are this day accomplished.”
Echoes of Andrewes’ sermon can be heard in the following statement from the Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue (Moscow Agreed Statement 1976). “Christians participate in the grace of the Holy Trinity as members of the Christian community. It is the Church which is filled by the Holy Spirit and it is precisely for this reason that every human person has the possibility of becoming a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1.4).” While “theosis language” is not normally used by Anglicans, the underlying doctrine such language seeks to express is not rejected by Anglicans and such teaching can be found within Anglican liturgies and hymnody.
Like Orthodoxy Anglicanism prays its theology. The western liturgical practice of using seasonal and festal collects, however, does not always offer consistent visibility to accepted theological doctrine. Within the Episcopal Church theosis in the exchange formula is an established doctrine found primarily, though not exclusively, in the Christmas season collects. The following collects are illustrative of theosis within the Episcopal Church.
- O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas).
- Almighty and everliving God, you have given us a new revelation of your loving providence in the Coming of your Son Jesus Christ to be born of the Virgin Mary: Grant that as he shared our mortality, so we may share his eternity in the glory of your kingdom; where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Station at a Creche).
- O God our Creator, to restore our fallen race you spoke the effectual word, and the Eternal Word became flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mercifully grant that as he humbled himself to be clothed with our humanity, so we may be found worthy, in him, to be clothed with his divinity; who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Station at a Creche).