Monday, June 18, 2012

Deification

One of the chapters that I read in my latest reading of The Cambridge History of Christianity: Constantine to c. 600 was Alan Brown's "The intellectual debate between Christians and pagans".  An issue that Brown discusses is the deification of human beings through Christ.

Brown states on page 273 that, according to Christianity, Christ has united creation to divinity, healing such divisions as that between the sexes (through the virgin birth) and that between the observable world and the angelic.  Through baptism, human beings are incorporated into Christ, providing them with the potential to be deified.  They receive the Holy Spirit, and "their mode of existence [is] transformed from its previous lustful, unholy, vice-ridden, ignorant and self-loving mode to the mode of being manifested in Christ, which is non-sexual, holy, virtuous, knowing the true logoi of beings and possessed above all by a selfless love for God."  Brown states on pages 273-274 that "To the extent which the baptised person, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actively achieves this in his own freedom, his potential deification is actualised, as Christ becomes incarnate in him."

This topic is of interest to me because of my background in Armstrongism, which asserted that true Christians will become god-like beings in a God-family.  But that does not appear to be what ancient Christians (and even modern Catholics) mean when they talk about people being deified.  Rather, they mean being united with God, partaking of what is divine (i.e., the Holy Spirit), and having divine attributes of character.  My impression is that people don't become spirit beings, per se, for union with God entails the redemption of the physical, not the discarding of it.  (But I realize that there was debate in early Christianity about whether our resurrected bodies will be physical or spiritual.)

Brown distinguishes between the Christian view of deification and that of the pagans, but, if I'm correctly understanding the information that he presents, there appears to be some overlap.  Both are about healing differences and bringing people and things into union with the one.  Both assert that, on some level, this union is possible even now, in a world that still has limitations and differences.

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