WHILE I WAS LEARNING TO BECOME GOD
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I was traveling in Florence recently with a group of Christians studying art and cultural transformation in the Renaissance. One of the people in our seminar, a pastor from the United States, recounted to me an experience he had some years prior. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of seeing that work in a particular setting where it was on loan had a powerful effect on his life.
It brought him to tears just telling me about it. Somehow that aesthetic encounter revealed to him some deep-rooted anger in his life. He was touched emotionally in a way that began to break down the sources of that anger and transform him. That is more than merely a revelation of truth. It is nothing short of redemptive! Another aspect of the truth-revelatory nature of art is evident when we engage in it ourselves. Creating art can be a way of learning about God and the world and coming to understand theological truths.
The very process of writing becomes the process of revelation. I write not because I see but in order to see.
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What is revealed has been there all the time, but it has gone unnoticed in our humdrum everyday experience. It needs the sensitivity of the artist to bring it to light, so that we notice things for the first time. We in the postmodern era face some particular challenges.
Claims to truth are being assailed on all sides, and no one voice seems to have ultimate authority anymore. The third reason I believe the arts are vital for Christians to engage with is that they embody beauty which can create in people a longing for something more—for the good and ultimately for God. Augustine wrote a classic account of how beauty drew him to God:. Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made.
You were with me, and I was not with you.
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The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours. One might ask why we should patronize the arts, which some might see as merely entertainment, when there is so much strife and hunger in the world.
Latter-day Saint beliefs would have sounded more familiar to the earliest generations of Christians than they do to many modern Christians. Many church fathers influential theologians and teachers in early Christianity spoke approvingly of the idea that humans can become divine.
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What exactly the early church fathers meant when they spoke of becoming God is open to interpretation, 15 but it is clear that references to deification became more contested in the late Roman period and were infrequent by the medieval era. The first known objection by a church father to teaching deification came in the fifth century. Why did these beliefs fade from prominence? Changing perspectives on the creation of the world may have contributed to the gradual shift toward more limited views of human potential.
The earliest Jewish and Christian commentaries on the Creation assumed that God had organized the world out of preexisting materials, emphasizing the goodness of God in shaping such a life-sustaining order. It became important in Christian circles to assert that God had originally been completely alone. Creation ex nihilo widened the perceived gulf between God and humans. It became less common to teach either that human souls had existed before the world or that they could inherit and develop the attributes of God in their entirety in the future. But revelations received by Joseph Smith diverged from the prevailing ideas of the time and taught doctrine that, for some, reopened debates on the nature of God, creation, and humankind.
Early revelations to Joseph Smith taught that humans are created in the image of God and that God cares intimately for His children. In , Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon experienced a vision of the afterlife. Joseph Smith continued to receive revelation on the themes of divine nature and exaltation during the last two years of his life. He used the occasion in part to reflect upon the death of a Church member named King Follett, who had died unexpectedly a month earlier.
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Human nature was at its core divine. The process would be ongoing and would require patience, faith, continuing repentance, obedience to the commandments of the gospel, and reliance on Christ. One of the most prominent scholars is Robert Kolb, who primarily roots this critique in Luther's use of marriage metaphors concerning the Christian's relationship with God.
Evangelical scholarship has yielded yet another view of theosis. Patristic scholar Donald Fairbairn has argued that theosis in the Greek Fathers is not an ontological exchange between the Son and the Christian. In general Fairbairn argues that the change that occurs in theosis is "something more than mere status but less than the possession of God's very substance. He supports this argument by identifying a distinction between the Son's warm-fellowship with the Father, and his ontological union with the Father. He argues that the Greek Fathers, primarily Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria were clear that we never share ontological union with God, but only this intimate fellowship.
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Like Athanasius, but with much more precision, Cyril distinguishes two kinds of unity between the Father and the Son. The first is a unity of substance, and the Father and the Son do not share this kind of unity with us in any way whatsoever. The second, though, is a unity of love or fellowship that the father and the Son have enjoyed from all eternity precisely because of their unity of substance.
There has been a modern revival of the concept of theosis often called "manifest sonship" or "Christedness" among Christians who hold to the doctrine of universal reconciliation or apocatastasis , especially those with a background in the charismatic Latter Rain Movement or even the New Age and New Thought movements. A minority of charismatic Christian universalists believe that the " return of Christ " is a corporate body of perfected human beings who are the "Manifested Sons of God" instead of a literal return of the person of Jesus, and that these Sons will reign on the earth and transform all other human beings from sin to perfection during an age that is coming soon a particularly "universalistic" approach to millennialism.
Some liberal Christian universalists with New Age leanings share a similar eschatology. The practice of ascetic prayer called hesychasm in the Eastern Orthodox Church is centered on the enlightenment or deification, theosis of man. While Constantinople experienced a succession of councils alternately approving and condemning doctrine concerning hesychasm, the Western Church held no council in which to make a pronouncement on the issue, and the word "hesychasm" does not appear in the Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitionum Handbook of Creeds and Definitions , the collection of Roman Catholic teachings originally compiled by Heinrich Joseph Dominicus Denzinger.
Despite the fact that the hesychast doctrine of Gregory Palamas has never been officially condemned by the Catholic Church, Western theologians tended to reject it, often equating it with quietism. This identification may have been motivated in part by the fact that "quietism" is the literal translation of "hesychasm". However, according to Kallistos Ware, "To translate 'hesychasm' as 'quietism', while perhaps etymologically defensible, is historically and theologically misleading.
For long, Palamism won almost no following in the West,. The 20th century saw a remarkable change in the attitude of Roman Catholic theologians to Palamas, a "rehabilitation" of him that has led to increasing parts of the Western Church considering him a saint, even if uncanonized. Hesychasm, which was never anything close to a scholar's pursuit, is now studied by Western theologians who are astounded by the profound thought and spirituality of late Byzantium.
Some Western scholars maintain that there is no conflict between Palamas's teaching and Roman Catholic thought,  and some have incorporated the essence-energies distinction into their own thinking. Philips asserts that the essence-energies distinction as presented by Palamas is "a typical example of a perfectly admissible theological pluralism" that is compatible with the Roman Catholic magisterium. Jeffrey D. Finch claims that "the future of East-West rapprochement appears to be overcoming the modern polemics of neo-scholasticism and neo-Palamism".
Pope John Paul II repeatedly emphasized his respect for Eastern theology as an enrichment for the whole Church, declaring that, even after the painful division between the Christian East and the See of Rome, that theology has opened up profound thought-provoking perspectives of interest to the entire Church. He spoke in particular of the hesychast controversy. The term "hesychasm", he said, refers to a practice of prayer marked by deep tranquillity of the spirit intent on contemplating God unceasingly by invoking the name of Jesus.
While from a Catholic viewpoint there have been tensions concerning some developments of the practice, the Pope said, there is no denying the goodness of the intention that inspired its defence, which was to stress that man is offered the concrete possibility of uniting himself in his inner heart with God in that profound union of grace known as theosis , divinization.
Among the treasures of "the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches" with which he said Catholics should be familiar, so as to be nourished by it, he mentioned in particular "the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers on divinization which passed into the tradition of all the Eastern Churches and is part of their common heritage. This can be summarized in the thought already expressed by Saint Irenaeus at the end of the second century: God passed into man so that man might pass over to God.
This theology of divinization remains one of the achievements particularly dear to Eastern Christian thought. Mormonism includes a belief in the doctrine of exaltation , by which is meant a literal divinization. According to Mormon scholars, there are similarities between the Mormon belief of eternal progression and the beliefs found in the patristic writings of the first, second, and third centuries A. According to Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith , through obedience to Christ and the gradual acquisition of knowledge, the faithful may eventually become heirs of God in the afterlife and "inherit all things" as Christ himself "inherited all things.
Mormons do not characterize the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in terms of an immaterial, formless substance or essence that sets godhood apart as a separate genus from humanity.
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Mormons believe that through modern day revelation, God restored the doctrine that all humans are spiritually begotten Hebrews , Acts —29 sons and daughters of Heavenly Father,  and thus are all part of the same heavenly family. Because humans are literally God's children, they can also be heirs of his glory, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ Romans — Therefore the process of inheriting his glory is a process of learning. As a crucial step in this process, all of God's spirit children had the choice to come to earth in order to receive a body and continue their development.
Mormons believe that the fallen state of humanity mortality was not the result of an unplanned cancellation of God's plan for an eternal earthly paradise, rather it was a crucial step that provides the opportunity to learn and grow in the face of opposition 2 Nephi , From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. See also: Sanctification. Main article: Theosis Eastern Orthodox theology. See also: Glorification. People by era or century. Desert Fathers. Contemporary papal views. Aspects of meditation Orationis Formas , Main articles: Christian Universalism and Universal reconciliation. Main articles: Exaltation Mormonism and Degrees of glory.
In Fitzgerald, Allan D. Augustine through the Ages. An Encyclopedia. Jaroslav Pelikan foreword. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. For as God is always the same, so also man, when found in God, shall always progress towards God. See his Stromateis, Athanasius, De inc. Augustine insists that such individuals are gods by grace rather than by nature, but they are "called gods" nevertheless. Maximus the Confessor. Retrieved: 2 October On the Unity of Christ.
Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. Kapsanis, George n. Retrieved See p. New York: Macmillan, Collier Books, , The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Westminster John Knox Press. The inner kingdom. St Vladimir's Seminary Press.