March 18, 2020

Chapter 11 of my book, Orthodoxy and Catholicism: A Comparison (July 2004 / 3rd revised edition July 2015, 335p), co-authored with Fr. Deacon Daniel Dozier (Byzantine Catholic), pp. 275-302.


In Chapter Five, I briefly alluded to the fact that theosis (profound union with God) is just as much a part of Western tradition as it is in the Eastern tradition (yet it is often oddly claimed that this is not the case at all). I cited just one of St. John of the Cross’ many statements concerning this wonderful teaching of Catholic and Orthodox spirituality, and also related ones from St. Thomas Aquinas. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes reference to it:

460 The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”(2 Pet 1:4): “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God” (Irenaeus) . . . “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods” (Athanasius).

1996 Our justification come from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.

2009 Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God’s gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us “co-heirs” with Christ and worthy of obtaining “the promised inheritance of eternal life” (Council of Trent). The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. “Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due…Our merits are God’s gifts” (Augustine).

Presently, I shall cite St. Augustine on the topic, and fourteen Catholic mystics (whose notable utterances I recently compiled in my book, Quotable Catholic Mystics and Contemplatives).

For this thing God does, out of sons of men He makes sons of God: because out of Son of God He has made Son of Man. See what this participation is: there has been promised to us a participation of Divinity: . . . For the Son of God has been made partaker of mortality, in order that mortal man may be made partaker of divinity. . . . He that to you has promised divinity, shows in you love. (Explanations of the Psalms, 53:3 [53, 5] )

Let human voices be hushed, human thoughts still: let them not stretch themselves out to incomprehensible things, as though they could comprehend them, but as though they were to partake of them, for partakers we shall be….Partakers then we shall be: let none doubt it: Scripture says it. And of what shall we be partakers, as though these were parts in God, as though God were divided into parts? Who then can explain how many become partakers of one single substance? . . . it is good that he confess weakness, who desires to attain to the divine nature. (Explanations of the Psalms, 147:5 [147, 9] )

And the Son of God came and was made the Son of man, that He might re-create us after the image of God . . . (On the Trinity, iv, 4, 7)

[W]e should love that One who, without sin, died in the flesh for us; and by believing in Him now raised again, and by rising again with Him in the spirit through faith, that we should be justified by being made one in the one righteous One; and that we should not despair of our own resurrection in the flesh itself, when we consider that the one Head had gone before us the many members; in whom, being now cleansed through faith, and then renewed by sight, and through Him as mediator reconciled to God, we are to cleave to the One, to feast upon the One, to continue one. (On the Trinity, iv, 7, 11)

For there is but one Son of God by nature, who in His compassion became Son of man for our sakes, that we, by nature sons of men, might by grace become through Him sons of God. For He, abiding unchangeable, took upon Him our nature, that thereby He might take us to Himself; and, holding fast His own divinity, He became partaker of our infirmity, that we, being changed into some better thing, might, by participating in His righteousness and immortality, lose our own properties of sin and mortality, and preserve whatever good quality He had implanted in our nature perfected now by sharing in the goodness of His nature. For as by the sin of one man we have fallen into a misery so deplorable, so by the righteousness of one Man, who also is God, shall we come to a blessedness inconceivably exalted. (City of God, xxi, 15)

[T]he Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who became a partaker of our mortality that He might make us partakers of His divinity. (City of God, xxi, 16)

O pure and holy love! most sweet and blessed affection! O complete submission of a disinterested soul; most perfect in that there is no thought of self; most sweet and tender in that the soul’s whole feeling is divine! To attain to this, is for the soul to be deified; as a small drop of water appears lost if mixed with wine, taking its taste and colour; and as, when plunged into a furnace, a bar of iron seems to lose its nature and assume that of fire; or as the air filled with the sun’s beams seems rather to become light than to be illuminated. So it is with the natural life of the Saints; they seem to melt and pass away into the will of God. For if anything merely human remained in man, how then should God be all in all? It is not that human nature will be destroyed, but that it will attain another beauty, a higher power and glory. (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Love of God, ch. 10)

He who with full face looks to this propitiatory by looking upon Him suspended on the cross in faith, hope, and charity, in devotion, wonder, exultation, appreciation, praise, and jubilation, makes a passover – that is, the phase or passage [Exod. 12:11] with Him – that he may pass over the Red Sea by the staff of the cross from Egypt into the Desert, where he may taste the hidden manna . . . In this passage, if it is perfect, all intellectual operations should be abandoned, and the whole height of our affection should be    transferred and transformed into God. This, however, is mystical and most secret, which no man knoweth but he that hath received it [Apoc. 2:17], nor does he receive it unless he desire it; nor does he desire it unless the fire of the Holy Spirit, Whom Christ sent to earth, has inflamed his marrow. And therefore the Apostle says that this mystic wisdom is revealed through the Holy Spirit. . . . If you should ask how these things come about, question grace, not instruction; desire, not intellect; the cry of prayer, not pursuit of study; the spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness, not clarity; not light, but the wholly flaming fire which will bear you aloft to God with fullest unction and burning affection. This fire is God, and the furnace of this fire leadeth to Jerusalem; and Christ the man kindles it in the fervor of His burning Passion, . . . (St. Bonaventure, The Mind’s Road to God, ch. 7)

[W]e are taken possession of by the Holy Ghost, and we take possession of the Holy Ghost and the Father and the Son, and the whole Divine Nature: for God cannot be divided. . . . In that very moment in which man turns away from sin, he is received by God in the essential unity of his own being, at the summit of his spirit, that he may rest in God, now and evermore. And he also receives grace, and likeness unto God, in the proper source of his powers, that he may evermore grow and increase in new virtues. . . . For whosoever lives without sin, he lives in likeness unto God, and in grace, and God is his own.  (Bl. John of Ruysbroeck, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, Bk. II, ch. 59-60)

[S]ince the spirit is now like unto God, and means and loves God alone above all gifts, it will no longer be satisfied by likeness, nor by a created brightness; . . . the spirit is enkindled into fruition, and it melts into God as into its eternal rest; for the grace of God is to God even as the sunshine is to the sun, and the grace of God is the means and the way which leads us to God. And for this reason it shines within us in simplicity, and makes us deiform, that is, like unto God. And this likeness perpetually merges itself in God, and dies in God, and becomes one with God, and remains one, for charity makes us one with God, and causes us to remain one and to dwell in the One. (Bl. John of Ruysbroeck, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, Bk. II, ch. 63)

[S]uch enlightened men are, with a free spirit, lifted up above reason into a bare and imageless vision, wherein lives the eternal indrawing summons of the Divine Unity; and, with an imageless and bare understanding, they pass through all works, and all exercises, and all things, until they reach the summit of their spirits. There, their bare understanding is drenched through by the Eternal Brightness, even as the air is drenched through by the sunshine. . . . the created image is united above reason in a threefold way with its Eternal Image, which is the origin of its being and its life; and this origin is preserved and possessed, essentially and eternally, through a simple seeing in an imageless void: and so a man is lifted up above reason in a threefold manner into the Unity, and in a onefold manner into the Trinity. Yet the creature does not become God, for the union takes place in God through grace and our homeward-turning love: and therefore the creature in its inward contemplation feels a distinction and an otherness between itself and God. (Bl. John of Ruysbroeck, The Book of Supreme Truth, ch. 11)

[T]he more disengaged and abstracted the self-egression of such souls is, the more free will be their soaring exaltation; and the more free their exaltation, the deeper will be their penetration into the vast wilderness and unfathomable abyss of the unknown Godhead, wherein they are immersed, overflowed, and blended up, so that they desire to have no other will than God’s will, and that they become the very same that God is: in other words, that they be made blessed by grace as He is by nature. (Bl. Henry Suso, A Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, Pt. I, ch. 12)

For the annihilation of the spirit, its passing away into the simple Godhead, and all its nobility and perfection, are not to be regarded as a transformation of man’s created essence into God, in virtue of which all that he is is God, only that he does not perceive it through his grossness, or, in other words, that he has become God, and his own essence is annihilated; but they are to be understood of a going out of self, and a contempt for self, such as has been described. And thus it is that the spirit of a man is taken out of itself and passes away duly and rightfully, and then for the first time it is well with him. For God has now become all things to him, and all things have become, as it were, God to him; for all things present themselves to him now in the manner in which they are in God, and yet they all remain each one what it is in its own natural essence. (Bl. Henry Suso, The Life of Blessed Henry Suso by Himself, ch. 52)

In this merging of itself in God the spirit passes away, and yet not wholly; for it receives indeed some attributes of the Godhead, but it does not become God by nature. . . . it is unclothed of all created modes, though without ceasing to retain its own proper mode of existence as a creature. (Bl. Henry Suso, The Life of Blessed Henry Suso by Himself, ch. 56)

This entry of the spirit into God strips it of all images, forms, and multiplicity, and it loses consciousness of itself and all things, and Becomes merged with, the three Persons in the abyss of their indwelling simplicity, and enjoys there its highest and truest bliss. Here all striving and seeking cease, for the beginning and the end have become one, and the spirit, being divested of itself, has become one with them, . . . (Bl. Henry Suso, The Life of Blessed Henry Suso by Himself, ch. 57)

If a man could only once in his life thus turn to God, it would be well for him. Those men whose God is so powerful, and Who has been so faithful to them in all their distress, will be answered by God with Himself. He draws them so mysteriously unto Himself and His own blessedness; their spirits are so lovingly attracted, while they are at the same time so filled and transfused with the Godhead, that they lose all their diversity in the Unity of the Godhead. These are they to whom God makes their work here on earth a delight; so that they have a real foretaste of that which they will enjoy for ever. (Johannes Tauler, The Inner Way, Sermon 10)

This prayer is the entrance into union of the created spirit with the uncreated Spirit of God, and is the result of a design formed by the Holy Godhead throughout eternity. These men are the true worshippers of God, who worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. . . . All has been poured forth into God and has become one spirit with God; as St Paul says: “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” [1 Cor 6:17] What that is and how it comes to pass, it is easier to experience than to describe. All that has been said of it is as poor and unlike it as the point of a needle is to the heavens above. (Johannes Tauler, The Inner Way, Sermon 36)

The third sort, which is as perfect Contemplation as can be had in this life, consisteth both in knowing and affecting; that is, in knowing and perfect loving of God, which is when a man’s soul is first reformed by perfection of virtues to the image of Jesus, and afterwards, when it pleaseth God to visit him, he is taken in from all earthly and fleshly affections, from vain thoughts and imaginings of all bodily creatures, and, as it were, much ravished and taken up from his bodily senses, and then by the grace of the Holy Ghost is enlightened, to see by his understanding Truth itself (which is God) and spiritual things, with a soft, sweet, burning love in God, so perfectly that he becometh ravished with His love, and so the soul for the time is become one with God, and conformed to the image of the Trinity. The beginning of this Contemplation may be felt in this life, but the full perfection of it is reserved unto the bliss in heaven. Of this union and conforming to our Lord speaks St Paul thus: Qui adhaeret Deo unus spiritus est cum eo; [1 Cor. 6:17]. that is to say, he who by ravishing of love is become united to God, God and that soul are not now two, but both one. (Walter Hilton, The Scale [or, Ladder] of Perfection, Bk. I, Pt. I, ch. 8)

Highly ought we to rejoice that God dwelleth in our soul, and much more highly ought we to rejoice that our soul dwelleth in God. Our soul is made to be God’s dwelling-place; and the dwelling-place of the soul is God, Which is unmade. And high understanding it is, inwardly to see and know that God, which is our Maker, dwelleth in our soul; and an higher understanding it is, inwardly to see and to know that our soul, that is made, dwelleth in God’s Substance: of which Substance, God, we are that we are. And I saw no difference between God and our Substance: but as it were all God; and yet mine understanding took that our Substance is in God: that is to say, that God is God, and our Substance is a creature in God. For the Almighty Truth of the Trinity is our Father: for He made us and keepeth us in Him; . . . the high Goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in Him we are enclosed, and He in us. We are enclosed in the Father, and we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Ghost. And the Father is enclosed in us, and the Son is enclosed in us, and the Holy Ghost is enclosed in us: Almightiness, All-Wisdom, All-Goodness: one God, one Lord. And our faith is a Virtue that cometh of our Nature-Substance into our Sense-soul by the Holy Ghost; in which all our virtues come to us: for without that, no man may receive virtue. For it is nought else but a right understanding, with true belief, and sure trust, of our Being: that we are in God, and God in us, Whom we see not. (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, ch. 54)

Oh, abyss of love! What heart can help breaking when it sees such dignity as Yours descend to such lowliness as our humanity? We are Your image, and You have become ours, by this union which You have accomplished with man, veiling the Eternal Deity with the cloud of woe, and the corrupted clay of Adam. For what reason?—Love. Wherefore, You, O God, have become man, and man has become God. (St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, “A Treatise of Discretion”)

[B]y following His doctrine with the affection of love, you are united with Him, and, being united with Him, you are united with Me, because We are one thing together. And so it is that I manifest Myself to you, because We are one and the same thing together. (St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, “A Treatise of Discretion”)

Above thyself thou art: for why, thou attainest to come thither by grace, whither thou mayest not come by nature. That is to say, to be united to God, in spirit, and in love, and in accordance of will. Beneath thy God thou art: for why, although it may be said in manner, that in this time God and thou be not two but one in spirit—insomuch that thou or another, for such onehead that feeleth the perfection of this work, may soothfastly by witness of Scripture be called a God—nevertheless yet thou art beneath Him. For why, He is God by nature without beginning; . . . only by His mercy without thy desert are made a God in grace, united with Him in spirit without departing, both here and in bliss of heaven without any end. So that, although thou be all one with Him in grace, yet thou art full far beneath Him in nature. (The Cloud of Unknowing: ch. 67)

Wherefore God took human nature or manhood upon Himself and was made man, and man was made divine. (Theologia Germanica, ch. 3)

Behold! albeit no man may be so single and perfect in this obedience as Christ was, yet it is possible to every man to approach so near thereunto as to be rightly called Godlike, and “a partaker of the divine nature.” [2 Pet 1:4] And the nearer a man cometh thereunto, and the more Godlike and divine he becometh, the more he hateth all disobedience, sin, evil and unrighteousness, and the worse they grieve him. (Theologia Germanica, ch. 16)

Let Your presence wholly inflame me, consume and transform me into Yourself, that I may become one spirit with You by the grace of inward union and by the melting power of Your ardent love. (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ,  Bk. IV, ch. 16)

A heart which finds itself in God sees all created things beneath itself, not through pride or conceit of self, but by reason of its union with God, which makes all that is God’s appear to be its own, and beside him it sees, knows, and comprehends nothing. (St. Catherine of Genoa, Spiritual Dialogue, Pt. III, ch. 8)

God receives her into himself, where she is transformed by his burning love, and thus transformed remains in him forever. (St. Catherine of Genoa, Spiritual Dialogue, Pt. III, ch. 13)

I behold such a great conformity between God and the soul, that when he finds her pure as when his divine majesty first created her he gives her an attractive force of ardent love which would annihilate her if she were not immortal. He so transforms her into himself that, forgetting all, she no longer sees aught beside him; and he continues to draw her toward him, inflames her with love, and never leaves her until he has brought her to that state from whence she first came forth, that is, to the perfect purity in which she was created. . . . And when this is accomplished, she rests wholly in God. Nothing of herself remains, and God is her entire being. (St. Catherine of Genoa, Treatise on Purgatory, ch. 9-10)

[T]he soul . . . is inflamed with so burning a desire to be transformed into God, that in it she finds her purgatory. Not, indeed, that she regards her purgatory as being such, but this desire, so fiery and so powerfully repressed, becomes her purgatory. (St. Catherine of Genoa, Treatise on Purgatory, ch. 11)

How this, which we call union, is effected, and what it is, I cannot tell. Mystical theology explains it, and I do not know the terms of that science; nor can I understand what the mind is, nor how it differs from the soul or the spirit either: all three seem to me but one; though I do know that the soul sometimes leaps forth out of itself, like a fire that is burning and is become a flame; and occasionally this fire increases violently—the flame ascends high above the fire; but it is not therefore a different thing: it is still the same flame of the same fire. . . . What I undertake to explain is that which the soul feels when it is in the divine union. It is plain enough what union is—two distinct things becoming one. . . . one moment is enough to repay all the possible trials of this life. The soul, while thus seeking after God, is conscious, with a joy excessive and sweet, that it is, as it were, utterly fainting away in a kind of trance: breathing, and all the bodily strength, fail it, so that it cannot even move the hands without great pain; the eyes close involuntarily, and if they are open, they are as if they saw nothing; nor is reading possible,—the very letters seem strange, and cannot be distinguished,—the letters, indeed, are visible, but, as the understanding furnishes no help, all reading is impracticable, though seriously attempted. The ear hears; but what is heard is not comprehended. The senses are of no use whatever, except to hinder the soul’s fruition; and so they rather hurt it. It is useless to try to speak, because it is not possible to conceive a word; nor, if it were conceived, is there strength sufficient to utter it; for all bodily strength vanishes, and that of the soul increases, to enable it the better to have the fruition of its joy. Great and most perceptible, also, is the outward joy now felt. . . . Let us now come to that which the soul feels interiorly. Let him describe it who knows it; for as it is impossible to understand it, much more is it so to describe it. When I purposed to write this, I had just communicated, and had risen from the very prayer of which I am speaking. I am thinking of what the soul was then doing. Our Lord said to me: It undoes itself utterly, My daughter, in order that it may give itself more and more to Me: it is not itself that then lives, it is I. As it cannot comprehend what it understands, it understands by not understanding. He who has had experience of this will understand it in some measure, for it cannot be more clearly described, because what then takes place is so obscure. All I am able to say is, that the soul is represented as being close to God; and that there abides a conviction thereof so certain and strong, that it cannot possibly help believing so. (St. Teresa of Ávila, Autobiography, ch. 18)

One day, in prayer, I felt my soul in God in such a way that it seemed to me as if the world did not exist, I was so absorbed in Him. (St. Teresa of Ávila, Autobiography, Relation 9)

[I]f this is genuine union with God, the devil cannot interfere nor do any harm, for His Majesty is so joined and united with the essence of the soul, that the evil one dare not approach, nor can he even understand this mystery. This is certain, for it is said that the devil does not know our thoughts, much less can he penetrate a secret so profound that God does not reveal it even to us. . . .  These heavenly consolations are above all earthly joys, pleasure, and satisfaction. As great a difference exists between their origin and that of worldly pleasures as between their opposite effects, as you know by experience. . . . If we did not see it, how can we feel so sure of it? That I do not know: it is the work of the Almighty and I am certain that what I say is the fact. I maintain that a soul which does not feel this assurance has not been united to God entirely, . . . (St. Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, Pt. V, ch. 1)

So mysterious is the secret and so sublime the favour that God thus bestows instantaneously on the soul, that it feels a supreme delight, only to be described by saying that our Lord vouchsafes for the moment to reveal to it His own heavenly glory in a far more subtle way than by any vision or spiritual delight. As far as can be understood, the soul, I mean the spirit of this soul, is made one with God Who is Himself a spirit, and Who has been pleased to show certain persons how far His love for us extends in order that we may praise His greatness. He has thus deigned to unite Himself to His creature: He has bound Himself to her as firmly as two human beings are joined in wedlock and will never separate Himself from her. . . . Perhaps when St. Paul said, ‘He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit,’ [1 Cor 6:17] he meant this sovereign marriage, which presupposes His Majesty’s having been joined to the soul by union. (St. Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, Pt. VII, ch. 2)

[D]oubtless by its becoming one with the Almighty, by this sovereign union of spirit with spirit, the soul must gather strength, as we know the saints did, to suffer and to die. (St. Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, Pt. VII, ch. 4)

[I]n order to reach the summit of this high mount, it must have changed its garments, which, through its observance of the first two things, God will change for it, from old to new, by giving it a new understanding of God in God, the old human understanding being cast aside; and a new love of God in God, the will being now stripped of all its old desires and human pleasures, and the soul being brought into a new state of knowledge and profound delight, all other old images and forms of knowledge having been cast away, and all that belongs to the old man, which is the aptitude of the natural self, quelled, and the soul clothed with a new supernatural aptitude with respect to all its faculties. So that its operation, which before was human, has become Divine, which is that that is attained in the state of union, wherein the soul becomes naught else than an altar whereon God is adored in praise and love, and God alone is upon it. (St. John of the Cross,  Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. I, ch. 5)

In thus allowing God to work in it, the soul (having rid itself of every mist and stain of the creatures, which consists in having its will perfectly united with that of God, for to love is to labour to detach and strip itself for God’s sake of all that is not God) is at once illumined and transformed in God, and God communicates to it His supernatural Being, in such wise that it appears to be God Himself, and has all that God Himself has. And this union comes to pass when God grants the soul this supernatural favour, that all the things of God and the soul are one in participant transformation; and the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation; although it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before, even as the window has likewise a nature distinct from that of the ray, though the ray gives it brightness. (St. John of the Cross,  Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, ch. 5)

[W]hen the memory is transformed in God, it cannot receive impressions of forms or kinds of knowledge. Wherefore the functions of the memory and of the other faculties in this state are all Divine; for, when at last God possesses the faculties and has become the entire master of them, through their transformation into Himself, it is He Himself Who moves and commands them divinely, according to His Divine Spirit and will; and the result of this is that the operations of the soul are not distinct, but all that it does is of God, and its operations are Divine, so that, even as Saint Paul says, he that is joined unto God becomes one spirit with Him. Hence it comes to pass that the operations of the soul in union are of the Divine Spirit and are Divine. . . . all the first motions of the faculties of such souls are Divine and it is not to be wondered at that the motions and operations of these faculties should be Divine, since they are transformed in the Divine Being. . . . as Saint Paul says, the sons of God who are transformed and united in God, are moved by the Spirit of God, that is, are moved to perform Divine work in their faculties. And it is no marvel that their operations should be Divine, since the union of the soul is Divine. (St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. III, ch. 2)

The tenth and last step of this secret ladder of love causes the soul to become wholly assimilated to God, by reason of the clear and immediate vision of God which it then possesses; when, having ascended in this life to the ninth step, it goes forth from the flesh. These souls, who are few, enter not into purgatory, since they have already been wholly purged by love. Of these Saint Matthew says: Beati mundo corde: quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt. And, as we say, this vision is the cause of the perfect likeness of the soul to God, for, as Saint John says, we know that we shall be like Him. Not because the soul will come to have the capacity of God, for that is impossible; but because all that it is will become like to God, for which cause it will be called, and will be, God by participation. (St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, Bk. II, ch. 20)

When the soul has lived for some time as the bride of the Son, in perfect and sweet love, God calls it and leads it into His flourishing garden for the celebration of the spiritual marriage. Then the two natures are so united, what is divine is so communicated to what is human, that, without undergoing any essential change, each seems to be God — yet not perfectly so in this life, though still in a manner which can neither be described nor conceived. (St. John of the Cross, A Spiritual Canticle, Stanza XXII)

For as the understanding of the soul will then be the understanding of God, and its will the will of God, so its love will also be His love. Though in heaven the will of the soul is not destroyed, it is so intimately united with the power of the will of God, Who loves it, that it loves Him as strongly and as perfectly as it is loved of Him; both wills being united in one sole will and one sole love of God. Thus the soul loves God with the will and strength of God Himself, being made one with that very strength of love with which itself is loved of God. This strength is of the Holy Spirit, in Whom the soul is there transformed. He is given to the soul to strengthen its love; ministering to it, and supplying in it, because of its transformation in glory, that which is defective in it. (St. John of the Cross, A Spiritual Canticle, Stanza XXXVIII)

This is a certain faculty which God will there give the soul in the communication of the Holy Spirit, Who, like one breathing, raises the soul by His divine aspiration, informs it, strengthens it, so that it too may breathe in God with the same aspiration of love which the Father breathes with the Son, and the Son with the Father, which is the Holy Spirit Himself, Who is breathed into the soul in the Father and the Son in that transformation so as to unite it to Himself; for the transformation will not be true and perfect if the soul is not transformed in the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity in a clear manifest degree. This breathing of the Holy Spirit in the soul, whereby God transforms it in Himself, is to the soul a joy so deep, so exquisite, and so grand that no mortal tongue can describe it, no human understanding, as such, conceive it in any degree; for even that which passes in the soul with respect to the communication which takes place in its transformation wrought in this life cannot be described, because the soul united with God and transformed in Him breathes in God that very divine aspiration which God breathes Himself in the soul when it is transformed in Him. . . . God has bestowed upon it so great a favor as to unite it to the most Holy Trinity, whereby it becomes like God, and God by participation, . . . the soul becomes like God, Who, that it might come to this, created it to His own image and likeness. (St. John of the Cross, A Spiritual Canticle, Stanza XXXIX)

Fr. Deacon Daniel Dozier

Dave has done a great service to his readers in weaving together a tapestry of quotes from both the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as writings of Western Catholic fathers, saints and mystics. For my part, I would like to offer a brief overview of this subject as well, since many readers may not be familiar with this doctrine, which has especially come to the forefront of Orthodox teaching in recent decades as a means of recovering the patristic witness in Eastern soteriology. At the conclusion, I will also make mention of certain modern polemical developments within Orthodoxy.

In recent years, one of the subjects that has received greater scholarly and popular attention in both Western and Eastern Christian circles is the doctrine of Christian deification, or – according to the Greek term by which it is better known – , theosis. The historical reasons for this modern resurgence of interest in a subject dating back to at least the 2nd century and arguably the New Testament period itself, are many, and will not be covered here.1

It should suffice to say that the interest in theosis is wide-ranging, going far beyond its typical treatment in Eastern Orthodox settings to include both Catholics and Protestants in dialogue, most especially as it pertains to the roots of this doctrine in both Scripture and studies of the teachings of the Church fathers.

Daniel Keating has written a very helpful summary of this doctrine in both modern and ancient authors in his Deification and Grace (Ave Maria, Florida: Sapientia Press, 2007). On the evangelical side of the aisle, Daniel B. Clendin’s Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003) has in many respects opened up new vistas of dialogue and exchange between the Orthodox East and the Protestant West, exposing many of the children of the Reformation to the rich theological and spiritual heritage of their Eastern brethren. In this work he dedicates an entire chapter to the subject of “The Deification of Humanity: Theosis.”

Other very important recent treatments include Father David Vincent Meconi, S.J.’s The One in Christ: St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2013), Christopher Veniamin’s The Orthodox Understanding of Salvation: “Theosis” in Scripture and Tradition (Dalton, Pennsylvania: Mount Thabor publishing, 2014), as well as the edited work by Michael J. Christensen and Jeffrey A. Wittung entitled Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions (Baker Academic, 2007).

This particular work includes contributions from some eighteen authors all of whom hail from varied ecclesiastical and theological affiliations: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. And explores the development of the doctrine of theosis through four historical periods: Classical and Late Antiquity, the wide-spanning patristic period, the Medieval and Reformation eras and in modern times.

Luther, Calvin and Wesley’s treatment of this subject are explored in depth: which speaks to the potential resonance this subject can have in the ecumenical dialogue among Christians.     This fact has not been lost on Protestant biblical scholar, Michael J. Gorman, whose work, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2009), sees theosis as the best description of Paul’s entire doctrine of salvation, weaving together the threads of an incarnational and trinitarian kenosis as well as the doctrine of justification into “a single soteriological reality of inhabiting the cruciform God revealed in Christ by the power of the Spirit from the first moment of faith to the eschatological goal of complete glory.”2

To say more about Gorman’s treatment at this point would take us far afield and wouldn’t do justice to the whole argument of his project, but suffice it to say that this subject is far from limited to more narrow dogmatic and confessional commitments. When one considers how the ancient and modern Christian East, as will be shown, places theosis at the centerpiece of God’s creative and redemptive intentions, it is easy to understand why the implications are far more reaching.

The purpose of this small contribution is far more modest in its scope: to explore the main points of the doctrine of Christian deification or theosis by way of introduction in the hope that it establishes a foundation for further ecumenical exploration and discussion.

What is Theosis?

Theosis or deification has a long history, going back even into pre-Christian or especially pre-Socratic Hellenistic antiquity.3 In comparing pagan Greek antecedents to the Christian doctrine of theosis, John Lenz identifies in his chapter on “Deification and the Philosopher in Classical Greece,” in Partakers of Divine Nature, points of continuity and also profound discontinuity, especially as it relates to Platonism and its critical treatment by the fathers.4

That being said, the fact that the name was appropriated and cleansed of any pagan presuppositions antithetical to the gospel is not in itself a reason to discard it since, as will be seen, its fuller and fulfilled sense within the Christian message is based on divine revelation.

The Christian understanding of theosis is simply that it is “the ancient theological word used to describe the process by which a Christian becomes more like God.”5 It reflects the meaning of the words of the Second Epistle of Peter, which will be treated shortly, in which Christ makes us “partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Peter 1:4). This understanding of deification or theosis should not be understood in the sense of an immediate appropriation of the divine nature. Rather it is to be understood metaphorically within the broader context of the divine economy. According to Russell:

All theological language is rooted in metaphor. Redemption, for example, means literally ‘being ransomed or bought back.’ Salvation means ‘being made safe and whole.’ Theosis or ‘becoming god,’ implies more than redemption or salvation. It is not simply remedying our defective human state. It is nothing less than our entering into partnership with God, our becoming fellow workers with him (1 Cor 3.9) for the sake of bringing the divine economy to its ultimate fulfillment.6

Such a process occurs by virtue of the incarnation of Christ within the unfolding divine plan or economy of salvation. As the Orthodox Study Bible states:

Deification means that we are to become more like God through His grace or divine energies. In creation, humans were made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26) according to human nature. In other words, humanity by nature is an icon or image of the deity. The divine image is in all humanity. Through sin, however, this image and likeness of God was marred and we fell. When the Son of God assumed our humanity in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, the process of our being renewed in God’s image and likeness was begun…Because of the incarnation of the Son of God, because the fullness of God has inhabited human flesh, being joined to Christ means that it is again possible to experience deification, the fulfillment of our human destiny. That is, through union with Christ, we become by grace what God is by nature – we “become children of God” (John 1:12). His deity interpenetrates our humanity.7

Two points stand out in this paragraph. First, theosis is first and last a matter of participation in the energies of divine grace – that is the divine life and love overflowing from the Holy Trinity – and not by direct, immediate sharing in the divine nature, which would be a form of pantheism. This covenantal grace of theosis is ultimately something mediated to us through the Christ’s high priesthood and our incorporation into His living Body, the church.

Second, the ontological basis for this participation is twofold. It is based, first of all, in the fact of our created nature in the image and likeness of God. God’s original plan for man in Orthodox theology was deification, which is why it is frequently held in the Christian East that the incarnation was not solely a divine rescue mission in the spirit of the Augustinian felix culpa (“Oh happy fault, which deserved to have such and so great a Redeemer”), but rather part of God’s original intention at the covenant of creation.8 “Deification is the fulfillment of creation,” Louth says, “not just the rectification of the Fall.”9

This leads to the second part of the ontological basis for deification, which is the hypostatic union of two natures (divine and human) and the Divine Person in Jesus Christ at the event of the incarnation. Here we see not simply the dogmatic affirmation of Chalcedonian orthodoxy, but the unfolding of this dogma’s soteriological import. The Son’s kenotic self-emptying, begun in the incarnation, culminating in the crucifixion, becomes the basis of man’s elevation to participate in divinity. We see this in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5-11):

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This divine kenosis is the basis of a redemptive exchange through a double movement of catabasis (God’s descent to man) and anabasis (man’s ascent to God).10 As Russell notes, the Church fathers expanded upon this theme of the admirabile commercium with great regularity:

“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 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 of 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 Nanzianus, Oration 1.5).

“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).

“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” (Maximos the Confessor, Ambigua 10).11

Here we see how the Church fathers bore witness in the early years of the Church to this divine exchange as the starting point whereby man through the energies of grace is able to participate more fully in the very life of God in Christ. As the quote from Maximos the Confessor implies, however, man is called to actively participate in this exchange through cooperation with love. Our sanctification is not simply a passive and static reality. Rather, it is one in which we are called “work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12).

Once again, as the Orthodox Study Bible relates:

[T]he divine energies interpenetrate the human nature of Christ. Being joined to Christ, our humanity is interpenetrated with the energies of God through Christ’s glorified flesh. Nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, we partake of the grace of God – His strength, His righteousness, His love – and are enabled to serve Him and glorify Him. Thus we, being human, are being deified.12

If the directness of the nature of the exchange appears too much, Daniel Clendenin relates three very familiar pedagogical images that the Church fathers used to explain the doctrine of theosis beyond that of the incarnation, and in a manner more readily understood. He writes:

Macarius and Chrysostom employ the analogy of marriage to define theosis. Just as two people are joined together in one flesh yet all the while maintain the integrity of their separate identities, just as they share a single existence and hold all things in common, so the believer is joined to God in an “ineffable communion” (see 1 Cor. 6:15-17). Maximos even dares to call this theosis an “erotic union.”…Elsewhere Chrysostom compares our union with God to grains of wheat: “Just as the bread is constituted by many grains united together so that the grains cannot be distinguished from one another even though they are there, since their difference is made unapparent in their cohesion, in the same manner we are joined together both to each other and to Christ.” Cyril of Alexandria likens our participation in Christ to the joining of wax with wax, to the interpenetration of yeast with a lump of dough, and to red-hot iron penetrated by fire.

All of these images – marriage, erotic union, grains of wheat in bread, wax, yeast and dough and a red-hot iron in the fire – communicate the nature of the union presupposed by the doctrine of deification. This spiritual union is from the first – and ultimately – the initiative of God towards man with the purpose of allowing man to share in His own divine life through grace. This grace of adoption and sonship in the Son does not destroy our individuality, but fulfills us by healing and elevating our humanity through grace.

Finally, in the context of the verse most frequently cited related to deification and theosis, 2 Peter, 1:4, we see the full extent of the call of what it means to be partakers of divine nature:

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, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.13

Such participation by grace in divine nature should therefore be lived out progressively by pursuing the virtues of a godly life, principally the virtue of charity. It is this progress in holiness which conforms us more greatly to His likeness, moving us from corruptibility to incorruptibility through the power of the Resurrection, and from image to likeness. As St. Basil the Great observed in the fourth century: “the image was given to us in our nature, and it is unchangeable; from the beginning until the end it remains. The likeness on the other hand, we gain and achieve through our cooperation and volition; it exists potentially in us, and is energized through the good life and excellent behavior.”

To be sure, the doctrine of theosis or deification has a basis within the sources of Christian faith, most especially Sacred Scripture and the writings of the early fathers of the Church. Far from developing along a trajectory that is foreign to the biblical worldview, theosis helps to express more perfectly the unfolding divine plan of God for man at the beginning of creation. Man was called to participate in the divine nature by grace through the eventual event of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

Following the Fall, this plan at creation became simultaneously a redemptive mission, seeking through the condescension of the Son of God, the means to restore man to covenant communion with God, to heal him of his sins and to elevate him to participate in the divine life of grace flowing from the Holy Trinity through Christ.

Theosis thus becomes the true basis of our growth in sanctification and the basis of our participation in the glorious life of the Son in this life and the next. As the late Anglican clergyman, Philip E. Hughes observed:

[Theosis is] the reintegration of the divine image of man’s creation through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit conforming the redeemed into the likeness of Christ, and also of the believer’s transition from mortality to immortality so that he is enabled to participate in the eternal bliss and glory of the kingdom of God.14

Theosis and the Christian Faith of East and West

Finally, despite these shared roots and teachings, it is important to note in a work of Catholic apologetics, one more important chapter in Partakers of Divine Nature, namely “Neo-Palamism, Divinizing Grace, and the Breach between East and West,” written by Catholic theologian, Dr. Jeffrey D. Finch.       Finch, whose doctoral dissertation at Drew University was entitled Sanctity as Participation in the Divine Nature according to the Ante-Nicene Eastern Fathers Considered in the Light of Palamism, attempts in this short chapter to address the polemics of a group he identifies as the “Neo-Palamite school,” who began writing in the early part of the 20th century in response to the assertions of the Augustinian friar, Martin Jugie, concerning his assertion that St. Gregory’s Palamas’ distinction between the energy and the essence of God came close to heresy, something which has never been asserted, it is worth noting, by the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

The result of this unhelpful polemic, was an equally polemical reaction from the Orthodox side, most especially by theologian and one time student of the great Parisian Thomist, Etienne Gilson, Vladimir Lossky (c. 1903-1958). As one might expect, Augustine was made out in large part to be the theological villain in this drama due to the doctrine developed in the West of uncreated grace, which was treated as antithetical to the teachings of Palamas.

The great Orthodox historian and theologian, Father John Meyendorff, contributed greatly to this debate, as well as to the overall recovery of the long-forgotten memory and writings of this great saint of the East, St. Gregory Palamas, albeit with a slightly anti-Western edge as a result of the polemical atmosphere which precipitated his recovery.

Without attempting to reconstruct the whole argument here (which, while complex, is worth taking the time to read), one of the points which Finch brings up at the end is the fact that there is no consensus at all that Palamas’ teaching should be interpreted as neo-Palamites do: that is, in opposition to Western understandings of the manner of our participation in the divine nature.

He cites theologians such as Met. Kallistos Ware, Yves Congar, O.P., David Bentley Hart and A.N. Williams who argue against any false dichotomy between Catholicism and authentic Palamism. As with the discussion of the ancestral / original sin, I believe all sides would do well to avoid assuming incompatibility based on the assertions of certain modern Orthodox and Catholic theologians.

That being said, this topic also merits a fuller, in-depth treatment removed from the polemics on either side, so that the full beauty of this doctrine and its rich patrimony in the Church might be shared and celebrated by both East and West.


1    For a good summary of the underlying reasons for this newfound interest, see the “Introduction” to Norman Russell’s very fine Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009) 13-21.

2    Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2009) 168.

3    John R. Lenz, “Deification of the Philosopher in Classical Greece,” in Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions, ed. Michael J. Christensen and Jeffrey A. Wittung, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007) 62.

4    Ibid., 42, 53-54.

5    “Deification,” Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993) 561.

6    Norman Russell, Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis. (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009) 36.

7    “Deification,” Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms, 561.

8    Andrew Louth, “The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology,” in Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions, 34-35.

9    Ibid., 34-35.

10  Michael Kunzler, The Church’s Liturgy, (London: Continuum, 2001) 3-4.

11  Norman Russell, Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), 38-39.

12  “Deification,” Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms, 561.

13  Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 132-133.

14  The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989) 281.

Dave Armstrong

Theosis continues to usually be discussed as primarily or even solely an Eastern conception and belief, and many Orthodox (being apparently unfamiliar with the strong Catholic mystical and contemplative tradition and practice) casually assume this.

Yet it is directly indicated in the Bible and has a long and noble history in the West as well (with somewhat different terminology, as one would expect). May the “movement” of noting and rejoicing in things that the Christian East and West share in common grow by leaps and bounds.

We have enough real differences to work through (this book makes an attempt – however successful – to do that), without laboring under imaginary ones.


Related Reading

Theosis and the Exalted Virgin Mary [7-11-04]

Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis & Sanctification Linked to Justification [11-23-09]

“In Him” An Expression of the Oneness of Theosis? [3-13-14]


Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not Exist: If you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and two children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2700 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.
Photo credit: adonesFAO (5-12-17) [PixabayPixabay License]


November 12, 2017




Some of the texts brought forth as evidence of theosis / deification / divinization, or the attainment of a profound oneness with God, are the following (RSV):

Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

1 Corinthians 6:17 But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Ephesians 3:19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

Ephesians 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;

2 Peter 1:4 . . . you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

From my recent reading of Catholic mystic authors, I came across exposition of another biblical motif in this regard: that of being “in God” / “in him” (as a sort of “flipside” of His being “in” us; in our hearts, in the indwelling). Perhaps this has (at least in some of these passages) a connection with the notion of deification as well. It’s another way to think of the phrase that we casually use, not thinking much about its deeper meanings (I have omitted “in Christ”: which seems to have a much wider latitude of meaning):

John 6:56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

John 14:20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

John 15:4-7 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5] I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [6] If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. [7] If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.

John 16:33 . . . in me you may have peace. . . .

John 17:21 that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Acts 17:18 . . . In him we live and move and have our being . . .

2 Corinthians 5:21 . . . in him we might become the righteousness of

Ephesians 1:10 as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

Colossians 2:6-7, 10 As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, [7] rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, . . . [10] and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Colossians 3:3 For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

1 John 2:5-6 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: [6] he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

1 John 2:24, 28 . . . If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. . . . [28] And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3:24 All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.

1 John 4:13, 15-16 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. . . . [15] Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. [16] So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

1 John 5:20 . . . we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. . . .


Photo credit: Image by “geralt” (6-15-15) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons]


August 9, 2016


The Coronation of the Virgin with Six Saints (1504), by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (1483-1561) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




The exaltation of Mary is the supreme example of how highly God sought to raise man. This is part and parcel (as the foremost and most extraordinary instance) of the notion of divinization or deification or theosis — a common motif, particularly in Orthodox thought, Catholic mysticism and spirituality, and the early Eastern Church fathers.

Matthias Scheeben (1835-1888), the extraordinary German Catholic mystic and theologian, explains this concept in the detail necessary to avoid huge misunderstandings:

By grace the first man was deified, but he was not made God or turned into God, if we may so speak. It is only in a figurative sense that the Fathers refer to the deified man as God, that is, as a different God by similarity, not by identity, but only in the sense in which we are accustomed to speak of the so-called parhelion or mock sun as the sun. When man, the original bearer and possessor of a purely human nature, became also the possessor and bearer of a share in the divine nature through grace, he did not become another, but remained the same person. He did not lose himself; he continued to belong to himself. By participation in the divine nature he only acquired a new possession, a new, higher, supernatural character, by which he was transformed into God’s image, was made like to God in a supernatural manner, and in consequence of this resemblance necessarily entered into a most intimate union and unity with the divine Exemplar . . .

(The Mysteries of Christianity, translated by Cyril Vollert, St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1946; originally 1888 in German, 316-317)

Biblical indications for theosis are abundant:

1) The symbolic equation of Christ and His disciples (even all of mankind) is a most biblical concept:

. . . whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. (John 13:20; cf. Luke 9:48, Mark 9:37, Matthew 18:5 — NRSV)

. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink [etc.] . . . just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:35, 40)

2) In Scripture there is often taught a mystical (but almost literal) identification of the Body of Christ (the Church: 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:30, Colossians 1:24) with Christ Himself. Jesus equated Paul’s persecution of the Church with persecution of Him (Acts 9:5; cf. 8:1,3, 9:1-2). This is incarnational theology.

3) 2 Peter 1:3-4 is the all-important verse in this regard:

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature . . . (KJV; same clause in RSV / NKJV ; cf. John 14:20-23; 17:21-23)

4) Note also the following cross-exegesis (from RSV):

a) For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily. (Colossians 2:9)

b) For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell. (Colossians 1:19)

c) And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:16)

d) . . . to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:19)

e) until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)

f) But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Romans 8:9)

g) If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

h) What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them . . . ‘ (2 Corinthians 6:16)

i) and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . (Ephesians 3:17)

j) for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’: as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:28)

k) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)

l) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

(cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:14; 1 John 4:12, 15-16)

The Greek word for “fulness” in all instances is pleroma (Strong’s word #4138). These references also suggest the notion of theosis, or deification: a participation in God’s energies and power, through the Holy Spirit.

5) The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes frequent mention of theosis or divinization: see #398, 460, 1129, 1265, 1812, 1988.

Pope John Paul II, in his General Audience of May 27, 1998, spoke about this aspect of theology and spirituality, in his talk entitled, “Spirit Enables Us to Share in Divine Nature”.

To summarize: it is plausible that God could and would bestow an extraordinary place upon Mary in His redemptive plan for the human race. If we are all potentially partakers of the divine nature, as St. Peter informs us, then how much more so the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate New Eve, the Theotokos? If we all can be potentially God’s fellow workers, urged on by God’s enabling grace to work out our own salvation, then why cannot Mary conceivably have been chosen by God to be a dispenser of His salvific grace and Mediatrix?


Meta Description: Explanation of how theosis, or union of God, quintessentially applies to the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially as Mediatrix of all graces.

Meta Keywords: divine nature, theosis, mysticism, union with God, deification, divinization, Blessed Virgin Mary, Blessed Virgin Mary, Co-Redemptrix, distribution of graces, Marian doctrine, Mariology, Mary mediatrix

October 27, 2015

Original title:  Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis and Sanctification Linked to Justification
[public domain / Pixabay]
[see also a highly related article: “Justification as Healing: The Little-Known Luther” (Ted M Dorman)  ]
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

Now the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle.

(Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, Q. 112: The Cause of Grace, Art. 1: Whether God Alone is the Cause of Grace)

* * * * *

The following information was obtained from the fascinating article, “Luther and Theosis,” by Kurt E. Marquart, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), and was published in Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 64:3, July 200, pp. 182-205.

Many back issues of that excellent scholarly magazine are available online on a great site that I happily ran across. All subsequent words below are from the article, with Luther’s own words in blue. Footnotes appear in brackets immediately after the section that utilizes the sources therein.

* * * * *
The chief New Testament reference to theosis or deification is 2 Peter 1:4: . . . (AV : “partakers of the divine nature”; NEB: “come to share in the very being of God). Certainly John 17:23 is to the point: “The glory which Thou gavest Me I have given to them, that they may be one, as We are one; I in them and Thou in Me, may they be perfectly one” (NEB, upper case added). This at once suggests the divine nuptial mystery (Ephesians 5:25-32; one may compare 2:19-22 and Colossians 1:26-27), with its implied “wondrous exchange.” That the final “transfiguration” of believers into “conformity” . . . with Christ’s glorious body (Philippians 3:21; one may compare 1 Corinthians 15:49) has begun already in the spiritual-sacramental life of faith, is clear from “icon” texts like Romans 8:29, Colossians 3:10, and especially 2 Corinthians 3:18: “thus we are transfigured into His likeness, from splendor to splendor” . . . One may also wish to compare 2 Corinthians 4:16 and Ephesians 3:14-19.

The most celebrated patristic statement on the subject is no doubt that of Athanasius: “For He was made man that we might be made God.” To avoid any pantheistic misunderstandings, it is necessary to see that “deification” applies first of all to the flesh of the incarnate Son of God Himself. It is simply a traditional way of putting what Lutherans now call the second genus, or the genus maiestaticum, of the communication of attributes.

[ . . . ]

In a 1526 sermon Luther said: “God pours out Christ His dear Son over us and pours Himself into us and draws us into Himself, so that He becomes completely humanified (vermzenschetand we become completely deified (gantz und gar vergottet, “Godded-through”) and everything is altogether one thing, God, Christ, and you.”‘

[Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 58 volumes (Weimar, 1883- ), 20:229,30 and following, cited in Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism, volume 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962),175-176. The present author has altered the translation given there in order to make it more literal. All subsequent references to the Weimar edition of Luther’s works will be abbreviated WA.]

[ . . . ]

Sadly, this we] is now unknown in the whole world, and is neither preached nor pursued; indeed, we are even quite ignorant of our own name, why we are Christians and are so-called. Surely we are so-called not from Christ absent, but from Christ dwelling [inhabitante] in us, that is, inasmuch as we believe in Him and are mutually one another’s Christ, doing for neighbors just as Christ does for us.

We conclude therefore that the Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor, or he is no Christian; in Christ through faith, in the neighbor through love. Through faith he is rapt above himself into God, and by love he in turn flows beneath himself into the neighbor, remaining always in God and in His love.

[The Freedom of the Christian, Latin: WA 7:66,69; German: WA 7:35-36,38; English: Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 volumes, edited by J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia and Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986), 31:368, 371. In “Theosis as a Subject,” the end of the first paragraph has been rendered “mutually in one another, another and different Christ. . .” Subsequent references to the American edition of Luther’s works will be abbreviated LW.]

In an early (1515) Christmas sermon, Luther notes:

As the Word became flesh, so it is certainly necessary that the flesh should also become Word. For just for this reason does the Word become flesh, in order that the flesh might become Word. In other words: God becomes man, in order that man should become God. Thus strength becomes weak in order that weakness might become strong. The Logos puts on our form and figure and image and likeness, in order that He might clothe us with His image, form, likeness. Thus wisdom becomes foolish, in order that foolishness might become wisdom, and so in all other things which are in God and us, in all of which He assumes ours in order to confer upon us
His [things].

We who are flesh are made Word not by being substantially changed into the Word, but by taking it on [assumimus] and uniting it to ourselves by faith, on account of which union we are said not only to have but even to be the Word.”

[WA 1 2825-3239-41. Cited in “Grundlagenforschun,” 192; “Zwei Arten,” 163.]

[ . . . ]

The one who has faith is a completely divine man [plane est divinus homo], a son of God, the inheritor of the universe. . . . Therefore the Abraham who has faith fills heaven and earth; thus every Christian fills heaven and earth by his faith. . .

[WA 40 I:182,390; LW 26:1001 247,248.]

Obviously there are many implications here as well for love, good works, and other important topics . . .

[ . . . ]

. . . Luther . . . knows a God who is not gingerly beaming thoughts and effects at us from afar while taking care to keep His real being (if He has any!) well away from us. With Luther biblical realism is in full cry:

The fanatical spirits today speak about faith in Christ in the manner of the sophists. They imagine that faith is a quality that clings to the heart apart from Christ [excluso Christo]. This is a dangerous error. Christ should be set forth in such a way that apart from Him you see nothing at all and that you believe that nothing is nearer and closer to you than He. For He is not sitting idle in heaven but is completely present [praesentissimus] with us, active and living in us as chapter two says (2:20): “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” and here: “You have put on Christ. . . .”

Hence the speculation of the sectarians is vain when they imagine that Christ is present in us “spiritually,” that is, speculatively, but is present really in heaven. Christ and faith must be completely joined. We must simply take our place in heaven; and Christ must be, live, and work in us. But He lives and works in us, not speculatively but really, with presence and with power [realiter, praesentissime et eficacissim].

[WA 40 1:545-546; LW 26:356-357; “In ipsa,” 39-40.]

By faith, finally,

you are so cemented [conglutineristo Christ that He and you are as one person, which cannot be separated but remains attached [perpetuo adhaerescatto Him forever and declares: “I am as Christ.” And Christ, in turn, says: “I am as that sinner who is attached to Me, and I to him. For by faith we are joined together into one flesh and one bone.” Thus Ephesians 5:30 says: “We are members of the body of Christ, of His flesh and of His bones,” in such a way that this faith couples Christ and me more intimately than a husband is coupled to his wife.

[WA 40 1:285-286; LW 26:l68; “In ipsa,” 51.]

[ . . . ]

And that we are so filled with “all the fulness of God,” that is said in the Hebrew manner, meaning that we are filled in every way in which He fills, and become full of God, showered with all gifts and grace and filled with His Spirit, Who is to make us bold, and enlighten us with His light, and live His life in us, that His bliss make us blest, His love awaken love in us. In short, that everything that He is and can do, be fully in us and mightily work, that we be completely deified [vergottet], not that we have a particle or only some pieces of God, but all fulness. Much has been written about how man should be deified; there they made ladders, on which one should climb into heaven, and much of that sort of thing. Yet it is sheer piecemeal effort; but here [in faith] the right and closest way to get there is indicated, that you become full of God, that you lack in no thing, but have everything in one heap, that everything that you speak, think, walk, in sum, your whole life be completely divine [Gottisch].

[Sermon of 1525, WA 17 1:438; “In ipsa,” 54.]

When one ponders the lively, full-blooded realism of Luther’s theology, one can only wonder how such a legacy could have been so tragically squandered in world “Lutheranism” over the centuries. Chesterton complained about the Church of England’s tendency to tolerate “underbelievers” but to persecute “overbelievers.” Why this preference for ever less, for the minimal? Reductionist philosophy alone is hardly the whole story. Sin has a way of defending itself against God’s saving incursions on a broad front.

[ . . . ]

If there is such a thing as a characteristic “structure of Lutheranism” which distinguishes it from other confessions, then it must lie surely in a relentless realism of faith that will not let any of God’s life-bearing gifts be spirited away into significances and abstractions.

[ . . . ]

Very God of very God, a real incarnation, genuine, full, and free forgiveness, life, salvation and communion with the Holy Trinity, imparted in the divinely powerful gospel and sacraments – including the evangelic doctrine as revealed, heavenly truth, not academic guesswork, and the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar – all these mysteries to be cherished and handled for the common good by responsible householders in the God-given office, rightly dividing law and gospel (sola fide!): do not these constitute the “structure of Lutheranism”?

[ . . . ]

Luther insists just as rigidly, as does the Formula, on a radical differentiation between imputed and inchoate righteousness, only his terms for this are “passive” and “active” righteousness. Luther devotes a whole introductory section to this topic, under the title, “The Argument of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.” The distinctively “Christian righteousness,” by which alone we are justified and saved, “is heavenly and passive,” that is, Christ’s. All the various forms of earthly, active righteousness are excluded from this.

[ . . . ]

Luther’s sublime comment on Psalm 5:2-3 provides a suitable conclusion:

By the reign of His humanity or (as the Apostle says) His flesh, which takes place in faith, He conforms us to Himself and crucibles us, making genuine men, that is wretches and sinners, out of unhappy and haughty gods. For because we rose in Adam towards the likeness of God, He came down into our likeness, in order to lead us back to a knowledge of ourselves. And this takes place in the mystery [sacramentumof the Incarnation. This is the reign of faith, in which the Cross of Christ holds sway, throwing down a divinity perversely sought and calling back a humanity [with its] despised weakness of the flesh, which had been perversely abandoned. But by the reign of [His] divinity and glory He will conform [configurabitus to the body of His glory, that we might be like Him, now neither sinners nor weak, neither led nor ruled, but ourselves kings and sons of God like the angels. Then will be said in fact “my God,” which is now said in hope. For it is not unfitting that he says first “my King” and then “my God,” just as Thomas the Apostle, in the last chapter of Saint John, says, “My Lord and my God.” For Christ must be grasped first as Man and then as God, and the Cross of His humanity must be sought before the glory of His divinity. Once we have got Christ the Man, He will bring along Christ the God of His Own accord.

[0perationes in Psalmos (1519-1521), WA 5128-129. I am indebted for this reference to Walter Mostert, “Martin Luther- Wirkung und Deutung,” in Luther im Widerstreit der Geschichte, Veroffentlichungen der Luther-Akademie Ratzeburg, Band 20 (Erlangen: Martin-Luther Verlag, 1993), 78.]


May 31, 2021

Evangelical Protestantism (which I was an enthusiastic part of from 1977-1990, and retain many many fond memories of and gratefulness for) is known for having lots of slogans and catch-phrases and mantras that are repeated over and over as if they are Gospel Truth. One of these is: “Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s a relationship.”

I used to resonate with this sentiment quite a bit myself, but I never took it as far as many people do (I hardly could have: having obtained a college degree in sociology). I would have still said, if asked: “Christianity is one of the world’s religions, and the one that is the most true.” I’d like to unpack this famous saying a bit.

I found a great article on this topic by a United Methodist pastor named Jimmy Mallory, entitled, “It’s Not a Religion, It’s a Relationship, Right?” (Firebrand, 9-14-20). It will serve as a useful introduction to what I want to say. He observed:

The popular slogan certainly has truth in it, but it’s not the complete truth. In fact, I find it exasperating. . . .

It . . . gave me a reason to shrug away an annoyance: I no longer need to align myself with religious baggage that may make me seem weird, intolerant, and hateful. . . . I could have the best of both worlds because I could still have my faith without the baggage of religion. It was plain to me that there was something about Christianity not being associated with religion that somehow made it more accessible and palatable. . . .

“Ritual” is not a bad word. Neither is “religion.” They are simply the ways by which humanity can relate to God. Everyone utilizes ritual. Many have their own daily rituals. Some wake up in the morning to the sound of an alarm clock, get ready for the day, go to the kitchen for breakfast and coffee, send the kids off to school, and then head to work, where more rituals await. We have prescribed formulas in which we go about our daily routines, and if one thing is out of place, it could ruin the whole day. Our daily rituals keep our lives organized.

The same can be said for religious ritual. Every church service is full of ritual, whether we recognize it as such or not. Praying, singing, the preaching of the Word, partaking in the sacraments, even the day we choose to attend worship, the church service is determined by these formulaic routines that help us to connect with God. They create order. One can even say that ritual is Godly because that’s what God does; God brings order out of chaos. Religion, then, is built upon the rituals utilized by Christians to keep an orderly faith-life. . . .

In the case of the Pharisees, Jesus took issue with the appearance of religion. His concern was with those who act religious but lack the love of God for their neighbors. Without the heart of the law, religion is relegated to a show. We are just pretty tombs filled with death and decay, no better than our natural state apart from the grace of God.

Empty religion and spiritual death is a legitimate concern for all Christians. . . .

By definition, a relationship requires a mutual connectedness. . . . it’s true that we can do nothing on our own to earn our salvation. However, by God’s grace at work in our lives, we can respond. And the practices by which we respond are collectively called “religion.” It makes our mutual connectedness complete. The formula is Grace + Religion = A Relationship with God. This is how relationships work; by doing our part to maintain a healthy and life-giving connection. Our part in our response is “attending to the ordinances of God.” God comes to us in grace. We go to God in religion. Together, we form a relationship that puts all other relationships into right-relatedness.

This is dead-on, and I especially like it because it shows that this understanding is not simply a Catholic one, but a concept where Catholics and Protestants ought to be able to fully agree. And we can and should because, as I will shortly demonstrate, the Bible itself doesn’t pit these two valuable and altogether necessary things (relationship with God and religion) against each other.

I ran across a meme along these lines from “God TV”. It stated: “Jesus did not die to give us a religion. He died so that through faith in Him we could have an intimate relationship with God.” This is classic example of what we might call “evangelical folk piety.” It’s well-intentioned, rightly promotes the very important truth of having a relationship with God (which is wonderful and needed), but at the same time it blasts “religion” as if it were inherently, intrinsically, essentially a bad thing through and through: some sort of sin. It “throws the baby out with the bath water”, so to speak.

All “religion” means is to “observe” or “bind.” All Christians certainly “observe” many things. Almost all of us believe in baptism and receiving Holy Communion. That’s ritual and it’s religion. Jesus even said that receiving the Holy Eucharist is directly tied to salvation, and the Bible teaches that baptism is, too. We sing hymns in Church. That’s a ritual of worship. We bow our heads together to pray. Sometimes we kneel. Etc. All of this is “religion.” We should feel no need to pit it against faith and knowing God.

Many define “religion” as if it were inherently hostile and opposed to a personal relationship to Jesus, but this simply isn’t the case. We can’t all simply define terms as we like, or we wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other. The whole world would be like the Tower of Babel in no time with five billion “personal” definitions of each word!
No Christian of any sort who knows anything about his or her faith would deny the importance of a deep relationship with Jesus. But it’s one of the most cherished and repeated Protestant myths about Catholicism: that (many millions of us, if not most Catholics) we just go through the motions and don’t know God, and that we believe in salvation by works. Both are false.
Some Catholics do, of course do one or both things, but this is true of any group. One can always find hypocrites and bad examples; half-hearted, ignorant followers, who don’t even know the teachings of the religious group they are affiliated with (what is called religious nominalism). That’s why Jesus died, too: to not only save but to  transform people like that (like most of us Christians at least used to be before God transformed our lives). This is why God sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper and to guide and empower us as we walk with Jesus in discipleship.
If we read the Catholic mystics (Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ for example) — I put together a book of quotations of Catholic mysticism — , we find a very deep understanding of relationship with God: in no way spiritually inferior to similar understandings in Protestantism. I actually read that book as a Protestant, and to this day I think it is closer in spirit to the Bible than any book I have ever read. It’s nothing new that Protestants supposedly uniquely figured out 1500 years after Jesus.
But if we really want to understand the definition of “religion” why not go to the Bible: which all Christians agree (or should agree) is the inspired and infallible revelation from God? Here’s what we find:
1 Timothy 2:10 (RSV) but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion.
Note the “religion” is a positive thing, characterized by good deeds.
1 Timothy 3:16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
Here “religion” has to do more with the doctrinal creed or confession that we accept (it’s used by Paul in the same way, to describe his own former Jewish religious belief — many tents of which he retained, as did Jesus  — , in Acts 26:5). That’s part of it, too. We observe and do certain things because of what we believe in faith.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. [2] For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, [3] inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, [4] treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, [5] holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people.
Again, religion is a good thing, not a bad thing. But as with everything it can be corrupted, with folks making it an empty form and “denying the power of it.” Proper marital sexuality can be perverted to lust; enjoyment of food can descend to gluttony, rest to slothfulness / laziness, etc. So Paul is saying those who are lousy at religion should be avoided, not those who are religious, period.
James 1:26-27 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. [27] Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
The same thing is expressed again; religion is good, but a religious hypocrite is bad: exactly what Jesus scolded the Pharisees about.
Acts 17:22 So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op’agus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
This was not a rebuke at all. Paul was complimenting them. But they worshiped an “unknown god” (17:23), so Paul took the opportunity to proclaim the one true God to them; to preach the gospel (17:23-31). He built upon what they knew, and cited their own pagan philosophers and poets (17:28). He used his own evangelistic “methodological principle”: later expressed as “I have become all things to all people, that I may win all the more.” People often understand and believe partial truths. In these cases, we build upon what they know and introduce then to even greater, deeper spirituality and theology.
1 Timothy 5:4 If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.
Again, nothing negative about “religion” . . . it’s a “duty.”
With that, I rest my case.
Related Reading
“Tradition” Isn’t a Dirty Word [late 90s; rev. 8-16-16]
Catholic Converts’ Qualms: Mariology, Formal Worship, Etc. [2-11-04; some new recommended links added on 5-2-17]


Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis & Sanctification Linked to Justification [11-23-09]

Trusting God as an Element of Faith & Discipleship [1-8-10]

“Vain Repetition”: Jesus Shows What it’s Not (Did Jesus Condemn All Formal and/or Repetitious Prayers: Like the Rosary and the Mass?) [7-22-10]

Biblical Evidence for True Apostolic Tradition (vs. “Traditions of Men”) [6-23-11]

Informal Worship vs. Formal Catholic Liturgy [3-4-13]

“In Him” An Expression of the Oneness of Theosis? [3-13-14]

Theosis / Deification / Divinization in Western Spirituality [2015]

“Personal Relationship with Jesus”: Good Catholic Phrase? and Practice? [8-15-15]

Bible on Wholehearted Formal Worship [6-4-07; revised and expanded 1-22-16]

“Personal Relationship” vs. “Join the One Church”? [2-3-16]

The Rosary: “Vain Repetition” or Biblical Devotion? [5-24-16]

Is the Rosary Christ-Centered? [5-25-16]

Ritualistic, Formal Worship is a Good and Biblical Practice [National Catholic Register, 12-4-16]

Tradition is Not a Dirty Word — It’s a Great Gift [National Catholic Register, 4-24-17]

“Personal Relationship with Jesus” — A Catholic Concept? [National Catholic Register, 2-19-18]

The Rosary: ‘Vain Repetition’ or Biblical Prayer? [National Catholic Register, 3-16-18]

Biblical Evidence: Personal Relationship with Jesus [2013; expanded on 1-18-19]


Photo credit: tamara_cox1 (7-7-11) [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]


Summary: Evangelical Protestantism has lots of slogans & catch-phrases & mantras. One of these is: “Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s a relationship.” I show how it is a half-truth & quite unbiblical.

September 8, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 

He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.”

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “Someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.”

And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like he himself: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 48 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.


I was browsing Bob’s website, looking for something else of the innumerable items that are ripe for Christian refutation, and I happened to come across a citation where he actually cited me (!!!). This was just before the period where he (very conveniently) dissed me as unworthy of anyone’s further attention. Here it is:

Let’s continue with Christian apologists’ justifications for praise and worship of God . . . 

3. Worship isn’t for God’s benefit but Man’s

We don’t worship God because He needs it (He needs nothing and is entirely self-sufficient), but because we need it. . . . God “needs” no worship whatever because in Christian theology, He needs nothing. He’s completely all-sufficient and self-sufficient. It’s for our sake that we “render unto God’s what is rightfully God’s.” (Source) (God as Donald Trump: Trying to Make Sense of Praise and Worship (part 3) ) (8-27-18)

This is an adequate summary of the Christian position on worship, I think, but as usual, it goes over (or through) Bob’s head, and he doesn’t get it. Just nine days ago I refuted Bob on this very topic (Seidensticker Folly #47: Does God Need Praise? [8-31-20] ). That’s the basic Christian response. Presently, I will highlight a few different aspects of the question.

Don’t tell me that God gets no benefit from human actions.

God gets no benefit from human actions. Sorry!

Burnt offerings are a “pleasing aroma” in the Bible, 

Of course, He says this because the idea is that “proper worship of human beings is good for them, because they ought to praise and worship the God Who created them.” But it’s not literal; rather, it’s an instance of the very common anthropopathism and anthropomorphism in the Bible. This is what Bob has to learn and understand. He obviously is completely unfamiliar with it, so this is what comes from biblical illiteracy and ignorance.

Again, God doesn’t need anything. This is standard theology proper (theology of God) in historic Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike. Moreover, the “pleasing aroma” is necessarily symbolic because God the Father is a non-material spirit and has no nostrils. He’s simply communicating in terms that human beings can understand: condescending to us. The idea is human obedience and doing what is best for us (serving and obeying God, for out own happiness and well-being). This was a poetic, easily comprehensible way to express, “yes, you’re doing well and good.”

But when His people disobeyed Him and became sinful and unrighteous, He expressed the opposite:

Amos 5:11-14, 21-24 (RSV) Therefore because you trample upon the poor and take from him exactions of wheat, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. [12] For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins — you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. [13] Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. [14] Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said . . . [21] I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. [22] Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. [23] Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. [24] But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Proverbs 15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is his delight.

Proverbs 21:27  The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent. 

Jeremiah 6:19-20 Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing evil upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not given heed to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it. [20] To what purpose does frankincense come to me from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.

Malachi 1:6-14 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, `How have we despised thy name?’ [7] By offering polluted food upon my altar. And you say, `How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that the LORD’s table may be despised. [8] When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts. [9] And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts. [10] Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. [11] For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. [12] But you profane it when you say that the LORD’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised. [13] `What a weariness this is,’ you say, and you sniff at me, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. [14] Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished; for I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name is feared among the nations. 

It’s all anthropopathism (i.e., non-literal expression). What is true in this is that God’s will is for man to obey Him: precisely because that is how man will be happy and fulfilled and joyful; not because God needs anything at all. If Bob had the slightest understanding of the very complex, multi-faceted Hebrew literary / poetic idiom, he would grasp this.

but this wasn’t like incense, where God could take it or leave it.

As I just demonstrated, it was exactly like incense. If it was done correctly (whether incense or burnt offerings) by people who were seeking righteousness, God was said to be “pleased” with it (e.g., as regards incense: Lev 16:12-13). But if it was done by sinning hypocrites, He is said to not be pleased (e.g., Lev 26:30).

This is explicitly labeled a food offering 27 times in the Old Testament. 

Yes; so what? There was a right way and a wrong way to do it, depending on the righteousness of the offerer.

And in the Garden of Eden story, God created Adam to be the gardener (Genesis 2:15).

Sure; how is that relevant to the topic at hand?

Getting onto more cerebral or emotional needs, God refers to “everyone . . . whom I created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:7). No, God isn’t “entirely self-sufficient” when humans support his Maslow’s pyramid, providing food and labor at the bottom and glory and esteem at the top.

Nice try. This gets into the silly atheist argument that God is supposedly a “cosmic narcissist” or “egomaniac” and so forth: that I dealt with in my previous paper. Any “glory” given or attributed to God is for our sake, not His: just as if a child honors or praises or obeys his or her parents, it is for his or her own good. In fact, God does share His glory and gives human beings glory, as Scripture informs us. Now why in the world would He do that, if indeed He were indeed such a crazed, insecure egomaniac?:

Psalm 8:5 Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor.
Psalm 149:4-5, 9 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. [5] Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. . . . [9] . . . This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD! 

Proverbs 16:31 A hoary head is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.

Proverbs 28:12 When the righteous triumph, there is great glory; . . .

Isaiah 60:1-2 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. [2] For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

Isaiah 60:4 . . . the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

Daniel 5:18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnez’zar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty;

John 5:44 How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

John 17:22 The glory which thou hast given me [Jesus] I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,

Romans 2:9-10 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, [10] but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

Romans 5:2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Romans 9:23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory,

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Ephesians 3:19  and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

1 Thessalonians 2:12 to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

2 Thessalonians 2:14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 6:4 . . . partakers of the Holy Spirit,

1 Peter 4:14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

1 Peter 5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. (cf. 5:4)

2 Peter 1:3-4 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, [4] by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

See also:

“In Him” An Expression of the Oneness of Theosis? [3-13-14]

Theosis / Deification / Divinization in Western Spirituality [2015]

Christianity confuses itself because God evolved dramatically through the Bible. . . . early in his development, God needed humans, and that included their worship.

Sheer nonsense, as I have shown many times:

Seidensticker Folly #19: Torah & OT Teach Polytheism? [9-18-18]

Seidensticker Folly #20: An Evolving God in the OT? [9-18-18]

Madison vs. Jesus #6: Narcissistic, Love-Starved God? [8-6-19]

Loftus Atheist Error #8: Ancient Jews, “Body” of God, & Polytheism [9-10-19]

Do the OT & NT Teach Polytheism or Henotheism? [7-1-20]

The Bible Teaches That Other “Gods” are Imaginary [National Catholic Register, 7-10-20]

Perhaps an apologist could cherry pick Bible verses later in the Bible to show that God is aloof from human actions. Maybe this god sings along with Simon and Garfunkel, “I am a rock / I am an island.”

I suggest that Bob pick up a good book on the Christian theology of God and get up to speed, so he doesn’t embarrass himself any further (if indeed that is even possible).


Photo credit: geralt (4-20-18) [Pixabay / Pixabay license]


September 2, 2020

All of the following words (minus the section titles) are from one of the most prominent of the early Protestant leaders: John Calvin (1509-1564), from his Institutes of the Christian Religion. I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online.  This is taken from my book, A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages), from the final section: “Appendix of Areas of Calvinist-Catholic Agreement.”


Antinomianism; Cheap Grace

This is the place to address those who, having nothing of Christ but the name and sign, would yet be called Christians. How dare they boast of this sacred name? None have intercourse with Christ but those who have acquired the true knowledge of him from the Gospel. The Apostle denies that any man truly has learned Christ who has not learned to put off “the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and put on Christ,” (Eph. 4:22). They are convicted, therefore, of falsely and unjustly pretending a knowledge of Christ, whatever be the volubility and eloquence with which they can talk of the Gospel. Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart. Let them, therefore, either cease to insult God, by boasting that they are what they are not, or let them show themselves not unworthy disciples of their divine Master. To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful. If philosophers are justly offended, and banish from their company with disgrace those who, while professing an art which ought to be the mistress of their conduct, convert it into mere loquacious sophistry, with how much better reason shall we detest those flimsy sophists who are contented to let the Gospel play upon their lips, when, from its efficacy, it ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, fix its seat in the soul, and pervade the whole man a hundred times more than the frigid discourses of philosophers? (III, 6:4)


I insist not that the life of the Christian shall breathe nothing but the perfect Gospel, though this is to be desired, and ought to be attempted. I insist not so strictly on evangelical perfection, as to refuse to acknowledge as a Christian any man who has not attained it. In this way all would be excluded from the Church, since there is no man who is not far removed from this perfection, while many, who have made but little progress, would be undeservedly rejected. What then? Let us set this before our eye as the end at which we ought constantly to aim. Let it be regarded as the goal towards which we are to run. For you cannot divide the matter with God, undertaking part of what his word enjoins, and omitting part at pleasure. For, in the first place, God uniformly recommends integrity as the principal part of his worship, meaning by integrity real singleness of mind, devoid of gloss and fiction, and to this is opposed a double mind; as if it had been said, that the spiritual commencement of a good life is when the internal affections are sincerely devoted to God, in the cultivation of holiness and justice. But seeing that, in this earthly prison of the body, no man is supplied with strength sufficient to hasten in his course with due alacrity, while the greater number are so oppressed with weakness, that hesitating, and halting, and even crawling on the ground, they make little progress, let every one of us go as far as his humble ability enables him, and prosecute the journey once begun. No one will travel so badly as not daily to make some degree of progress. This, therefore, let us never cease to do, that we may daily advance in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the slender measure of success. How little soever the success may correspond with our wish, our labour is not lost when to-day is better than yesterday, provided with true singleness of mind we keep our aim, and aspire to the goal, not speaking flattering things to ourselves, nor indulging our vices, but making it our constant endeavour to become better, until we attain to goodness itself. If during the whole course of our life we seek and follow, we shall at length attain it, when relieved from the infirmity of flesh we are admitted to full fellowship with God. (III, 6:5)

Faith and Works are Both Necessary in the Christian Life

. . . the faith by which alone, through the mercy of God, we obtain free justification, is not destitute of good works . . . (III, 11:1)

We dream not of a faith which is devoid of good works, nor of a justification which can exist without them . . . This faith, however, you cannot apprehend without at the same time apprehending sanctification; for Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ, therefore, justifies no man without also sanctifying him. These blessings are conjoined by a perpetual and inseparable tie. Those whom he enlightens by his wisdom he redeems; whom he redeems he justifies; whom he justifies he sanctifies. But as the question relates only to justification and sanctification, to them let us confine ourselves. Though we distinguish between them, they are both inseparably comprehended in Christ. Would ye then obtain justification in Christ? You must previously possess Christ. But you cannot possess him without being made a partaker of his sanctification: for Christ cannot be divided. Since the Lord, therefore, does not grant us the enjoyment of these blessings without bestowing himself, he bestows both at once but never the one without the other. Thus it appears how true it is that we are justified not without, and yet not by works, since in the participation of Christ, by which we are justified, is contained not less sanctification than justification. (III, 16:1)

I think we have already put it out of the power of our calumniators to treat us as if we were the enemies of good works—justification being denied to works not in order that no good works may be done or that those which are done may be denied to be good; but only that we may not trust or glory in them, or ascribe salvation to them. (III, 17:1)

And as Paul contends that men are justified without the aid of works, so James will not allow any to be regarded as justified who are destitute of good works. . . . an empty phantom of faith does not justify, and . . . the believer, not contented with such an imagination, manifests his justification by good works. (III, 17:12)

Grace Alone; Initial Justification

Scripture, when it treats of justification by faith, leads us in a very different direction. Turning away our view from our own works, it bids us look only to the mercy of God and the perfection of Christ. The order of justification which it sets before us is this: first, God of his mere gratuitous goodness is pleased to embrace the sinner, in whom he sees nothing that can move him to mercy but wretchedness, because he sees him altogether naked and destitute of good works. He, therefore, seeks the cause of kindness in himself, that thus he may affect the sinner by a sense of his goodness, and induce him, in distrust of his own works, to cast himself entirely upon his mercy for salvation. This is the meaning of faith by which the sinner comes into the possession of salvation, when, according to the doctrine of the Gospel, he perceives that he is reconciled by God; when, by the intercession of Christ, he obtains the pardon of his sins, and is justified . . . (III, 11:16)

There is no controversy between us and the sounder Schoolmen as to the beginning of justification. They admit that the sinner, freely delivered from condemnation, obtains justification, and that by forgiveness of sins . . . (III, 14:11)

Grace: Greater Degree or Measure of

we must hold that the Lord, while he daily enriches his servants, and loads them with new gifts of his grace, because he approves of and takes pleasure in the work which he has begun, finds that in them which he may follow up with larger measures of grace. To this effect are the sentences, “To him that has shall be given.” “Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things,” (Mt. 25:21, 23, 29; Luke 19:17, 26). . . . I admit, then, that believers may expect as a blessing from God, that the better the use they make of previous, the larger the supplies they will receive of future grace; but I say that even this use is of the Lord, and that this remuneration is bestowed freely of mere good will. (II, 3:11)

Grace: Synergy; Free Cooperation with God’s Grace

Meanwhile, we deny not the truth of Augustine’s doctrine, that the will is not destroyed, but rather repaired, by grace—the two things being perfectly consistent—viz. that the human will may be said to be renewed when its vitiosity and perverseness being corrected, it is conformed to the true standard of righteousness . . . There is nothing then to prevent us from saying, that our will does what the Spirit does in us, although the will contributes nothing of itself apart from grace. . . . though every thing good in the will is entirely derived from the influence of the Spirit, yet, because we have naturally an innate power of willing, we are not improperly said to do the things of which God claims for himself all the praise; first, because every thing which his kindness produces in us is our own (only we must understand that it is not of ourselves); and, secondly, because it is our mind, our will, our study which are guided by him to what is good. (II, 5:15)

Justification and Sanctification: Closely Allied

. . . Christ cannot be divided into parts, so the two things, justification and sanctification, which we perceive to be united together in him, are inseparable. Whomsoever, therefore, God receives into his favor, he presents with the Spirit of adoption, whose agency forms them anew into his image. But if the brightness of the sun cannot be separated from its heat, are we therefore to say, that the earth is warmed by light and illumined by heat? Nothing can be more apposite to the matter in hand than this simile. The sun by its heat quickens and fertilizes the earth; by its rays enlightens and illumines it. Here is a mutual and undivided connection, and yet reason itself prohibits us from transferring the peculiar properties of the one to the other. . . . those whom God freely regards as righteous, he in fact renews to the cultivation of righteousness, . . . Scriptures while combining both, classes them separately, that it may the better display the manifold grace of God. (III, 11:6)

Law of Moses: not Abrogated or Abolished

When the Lord declares, that he came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil (Mt. 5:17); that until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or little shall remain unfulfilled; he shows that his advent was not to derogate, in any degree, from the observance of the Law. And justly, since the very end of his coming was to remedy the transgression of the Law. Therefore, the doctrine of the Law has not been infringed by Christ, but remains, that, by teaching, admonishing, rebuking, and correcting, it may fit and prepare us for every good work. (II, 7:14)


For if we have true fellowship in his death, our old man is crucified by his power, and the body of sin becomes dead, so that the corruption of our original nature is never again in full vigor (Rom. 6:5, 6). If we are partakers in his resurrection, we are raised up by means of it to newness of life, which conforms us to the righteousness of God. In one word, then, by repentance I understand regeneration, the only aim of which is to form in us anew the image of God, which was sullied, and all but effaced by the transgression of Adam. So the Apostle teaches when he says, “We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Again, “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds” and “put ye on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Again, “Put ye on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” Accordingly through the blessing of Christ we are renewed by that regeneration into the righteousness of God from which we had fallen through Adam, the Lord being pleased in this manner to restore the integrity of all whom he appoints to the inheritance of life. This renewal, indeed, is not accomplished in a moment, a day, or a year, but by uninterrupted, sometimes even by slow progress God abolishes the remains of carnal corruption in his elect, cleanses them from pollution, and consecrates them as his temples, restoring all their inclinations to real purity, so that during their whole lives they may practice repentance, and know that death is the only termination to this warfare. The greater is the effrontery of an impure raver and apostate, named Staphylus, who pretends that I confound the condition of the present life with the celestial glory, when, after Paul, I make the image of God to consist in righteousness and true holiness; as if in every definition it were not necessary to take the thing defined in its integrity and perfection. It is not denied that there is room for improvement; but what I maintain is, that the nearer any one approaches in resemblance to God, the more does the image of God appear in him. That believers may attain to it, God assigns repentance as the goal towards which they must keep running during the whole course of their lives. (III, 3:9)

The Scripture system of which we speak aims chiefly at two objects. The former is, that the love of righteousness, to which we are by no means naturally inclined, may be instilled and implanted into our minds. The latter is to prescribe a rule which will prevent us while in the pursuit of righteousness from going astray. It has numerous admirable methods of recommending righteousness. Many have been already pointed out in different parts of this work; but we shall here also briefly advert to some of them. With what better foundation can it begin than by reminding us that we must be holy, because “God is holy?” (Lev. 19:1; 1 Pet. 1:16). For when we were scattered abroad like lost sheep, wandering through the labyrinth of this world, he brought us back again to his own fold. When mention is made of our union with God, let us remember that holiness must be the bond; not that by the merit of holiness we come into communion with him (we ought rather first to cleave to him, in order that, pervaded with his holiness, we may follow whither he calls), but because it greatly concerns his glory not to have any fellowship with wickedness and impurity. Wherefore he tells us that this is the end of our calling, the end to which we ought ever to have respect, if we would answer the call of God. For to what end were we rescued from the iniquity and pollution of the world into which we were plunged, if we allow ourselves, during our whole lives, to wallow in them? Besides, we are at the same time admonished, that if we would be regarded as the Lord’s people, we must inhabit the holy city Jerusalem (Isaiah rev. 8, et alibi); which, as he hath consecrated it to himself, it were impious for its inhabitants to profane by impurity. Hence the expressions, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness,” (Ps. 15:1, 2; 24:3, 4); for the sanctuary in which he dwells certainly ought not to be like an unclean stall. (III, 6:2)

If the Lord adopts us for his sons on the condition that our life be a representation of Christ, the bond of our adoption,—then, unless we dedicate and devote ourselves to righteousness, we not only, with the utmost perfidy, revolt from our Creator, but also abjure the Saviour himself. Then, from an enumeration of all the blessings of God, and each part of our salvation, it finds materials for exhortation. Ever since God exhibited himself to us as a Father, we must be convicted of extreme ingratitude if we do not in turn exhibit ourselves as his sons. Ever since Christ purified us by the laver of his blood, and communicated this purification by baptism, it would ill become us to be defiled with new pollution. Ever since he ingrafted us into his body, we, who are his members, should anxiously beware of contracting any stain or taint. Ever since he who is our head ascended to heaven, it is befitting in us to withdraw our affections from the earth, and with our whole soul aspire to heaven. Ever since the Holy Spirit dedicated us as temples to the Lord, we should make it our endeavour to show forth the glory of God, and guard against being profaned by the defilement of sin. Ever since our soul and body were destined to heavenly incorruptibility and an unfading crown, we should earnestly strive to keep them pure and uncorrupted against the day of the Lord. (III, 6:3)

For we deny not that God by his Spirit forms us anew to holiness and righteousness of life . . . (III, 11:12)

Theosis; Divinization

Christ by justifying us becomes ours by an essential union, . . . the essence of the divine nature is diffused into us . . . (III, 11:6)


Photo credit: Portrait of Jean Calvin, by Titian (1490-1576) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


June 15, 2020

This was originally a lengthy Facebook discussion (7-24-14) about my article, Were Vernacular Bibles Unknown Before Luther? (Luther’s Dubious Claims About the Supposed Utter Obscurity of the Bible Before His Translation) [6-15-11]. Dr. Edwin Tait’s words will be in blue, and words of Pastor Ken Howes [LCMS] in green.


Here I go again with the nuancing and qualification:

1. Luther was not lying when he said that there was a pretty common opinion to the effect that the Bible as a whole should not be put into the hands of the laity because of the possibility of heretical misrepresentation. Ironically, this wasn’t a huge concern in Germany before Luther, because heresy wasn’t a huge problem. But there are instances of church leaders expressing concern about the widespread availability of Scripture. Of course, that still leaves Luther guilty of wild exaggeration and misrepresentation. But as you say, the metaphor of Scripture being “kicked under the bench” could mean a lot of things. So I don’t think the word “lie” is appropriate here. [I later changed that language, as a result of these dialogues]

2. I disagree more strongly with your claim that modern Protestants believe in the myth of an inaccessible Bible in the Middle Ages primarily because of Luther. In England in the century or so before the Revolt (I use that term out of courtesy to you!), laypeople were forbidden to read Scripture in the vernacular. Sure, that was a response to the Lollard Bible, but the Church did not sponsor an orthodox translation. The fact that there were 17 editions of the Bible in Germany (none of them, as far as I know, linked with heretical groups or condemned by the Church, though some clergy did mutter about the danger of heretical misinterpretation) highlights the fact that the only vernacular Bible available to the English was a heretical one. English-speaking Protestants have typically assumed that England was typical in this respect, when actually it was (in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries) unique to my knowledge. Certainly Luther’s over-the-top statements gave cover to this misunderstanding, but they were not solely responsible for it.

3. A further factor is the fact that the Council of Toulouse had banned vernacular Bibles (probably the versions in mind were actually heretical paraphrases, but the wording of the Council covers all vernacular translations) in 1229, and that from Trent until the 19th century the general policy of the Catholic Church (with notable exceptions, especially in England, ironically given the earlier history but understandably since England was a Protestant country and Catholics needed their own version) was to discourage lay reading of the Bible. It is therefore understandable that Protestants, especially English-speaking ones, would put together the 1229 condemnation, Arundel’s late medieval condemnation, Luther’s misleading language about the Bible being “under the bench,” and the post-Tridentine repressive policy toward vernacular Bibles, and assume mistakenly that the Middle Ages as a whole were a time when the Bible was unknown.

4. As you make clear, the Middle Ages were in fact a time when culture was saturated by the Bible. People who think that medieval people (devout people, at least) were ignorant of the Bible clearly haven’t read much medieval literature or seen much medieval art. However, the Bible wasn’t primarily read “straight” as the Protestant tradition would encourage. It was known above all through allusion, interpretation, preaching, art, drama, etc. The Renaissance brought a new way of thinking about texts and authors, and the printing press made it much easier to produce and handle large books as unified objects. So there was a new way of thinking about the Bible and using it in the age of the printing press, and some of Luther’s language can be explained on those grounds. Much medieval engagement with the Bible wouldn’t have seemed significant to Luther. For instance, he claims absurdly that the scholastics ignored the Bible. Actually the main job of a scholastic theology professor was to comment on the Bible, but Biblical books were typically treated as sources of theological propositions rather than as literary works.

So we agree that Luther’s language was highly misleading, and that Protestants widely misunderstand the depth and breadth of medieval engagement with the Bible. However, I don’t think “lie” is fair, and more to the point the Protestant belief that the Catholic Church discouraged lay Bible reading is not without foundation and is not solely based on these statements by Luther.

[see also the extensive comments in the thread by Catholic Alfonso Taboada Portal. I have to omit something due to the length of this thread, but they remain on Facebook for folks who want to delve more deeply into this topic (one / two / three / four / five / six / seven).]

Alfonso Taboada Portal, I note that your examples of the Church encouraging lay Bible reading are all from the years before the Reformation. As I said in my earlier long post, this was a period when lay Bible reading was allowed except in England. I am aware of St. Thomas More’s attempt to explain away the regulations of Archbishop Arundel, and I do not find them convincing. More apparently claimed that he knew of people reading vernacular versions, but I’ve never even seen a specific citation of the passage where More claims this (in other words, I’ve only seen this alleged by other people such as yourself), much less any evidence corroborating his claim. Of course Arundel was banning the Lollard translation, but the point, again, is that no other translation was available. In 13th-century France, in 15th-century England, and in most Catholic countries from Trent until the mid-19th century, the standard Catholic response to heretical use of the Bible was to limit or prohibit lay access to Scripture. Pope Clement XI condemned Paschasius Quesnel for saying that laypeople ought to read Scripture (see especially condemned propositions 79-81) [link].

So if you concede that Bible reading was prevalent in Germany before the Protestant Revolt, then how is it you say that Luther didn’t misrepresent this history? What does he care about England? He never even visited there, and I don’t believe he knew English. He must have been talking mainly about Germany, and we know it had many Bible versions before his and that they were available. I hear they are greatly inferior but they were there, and he claims that the populace was almost entirely ignorant of them, because of the wickedness of the Catholic Church in hiding the Bible.

I am very sad to see this unfair and unhelpful attack on Luther.

If you demonstrate any inaccuracies in it, Ken, I’ll be happy to modify them. I always respect your opinion. Certainly you are well aware that Luther said lots of disparaging things about the Catholic Church, and we are entitled to respond to them, no? It’s not like we have no answers and just wilt and die in the face of some attack made against us.

I like Luther in other ways. In fact, I am seriously considering doing a book collecting his writings where he says things that we agree with (just as a third of my book about him did). [I did later put together that book] But that doesn’t wipe out the fact that he is often quite unfair to the Catholic Church too.

Part of different kinds of Christians getting to know each other better includes, unfortunately, the negative things in our histories as well. We need to face those squarely, in all camps. But I am always open to correction, and will link to these discussions for a fuller perspective that all can benefit from.

I would add, too, that I am always happy to learn that some opinion or other in Luther was not as bad (from our perspective) as I first suspected. So to receive information that runs counter to what I have presented would be most welcome indeed.

I’m happy to talk about anything here. I’m not out to embarrass people or make them feel uncomfortable. I simply care about learning theological and historical truth, to the best of my ability.

I did not “deal with” the citations from Luther because obviously I accept that Luther said those things and that they are misleading. But you did not, as far as I can see, present any evidence that Luther actually denied that there were a number of editions of the Bible available. He spoke in a way that has misled later Protestants (especially in light of the rather different English history on this point) into thinking that this was the case. Luther’s language, as you cite it, is metaphorical and vague (you show that his favorite term was “leaving Scripture under the bench,” which can mean a lot of things). To justify the term “lie” you have to show that there was a specific claim Luther made which was factually false rather than simply being exaggerated or rhetorically misleading (like “leaving Scripture under the bench”).

I don’t see that you have done that. I’m not, by the way, denying that Luther did lie on occasion–he certainly advocated lying to cover up the bigamy of Philip of Hesse. But in his context, lying about the obvious fact that there were existing versions of the Bible would be pointless. In fact, if he had been able to deceive people on that score, this would prove that these versions can’t have been very well known. Luther’s words have deceived later generations of Protestants who didn’t know about the pre-Reformation versions. But it’s a bit odd to suggest that he was so fore-sighted in his deception as to lie for the benefit of generations yet unborn!

Okay; that’s fair. So you are saying that Luther wasn’t denying that they existed altogether, but was asserting that the Church deliberately kept people from them (perhaps a variation of the old fallacious “chained Bible” argument)?

I’m saying that his language is so rhetorical and over the top that it’s not clear exactly what he was claiming. Insofar as he was claiming that there was a widespread opinion that it was dangerous for laypeople to read Scripture, he was right. But obviously in Germany (and most other countries, except for England, on the eve of the “Revolt”) these concerns were not pressed very vigorously by the Church. I don’t know how far the Bible versions available in Germany were actually encouraged by the authorities of the Church, as they were in Spain if I remember rightly (contrasting sharply with the post-Reformation situation in Spain). I know that I came across a reference (I think in the Cambridge History of the Bible, but I don’t remember precisely) to at least one German bishop or other church official expressing disapproval of vernacular translations. But that’s pretty mild. Ironically, as on so many other points, the Reformation would turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy in many ways, since Church leaders responded to Protestantism by cracking down on lay Bible reading throughout the entire Church, instead of dealing with the issue locally as in the Middle Ages.

Let me clarify: my argument in the paper was that Luther was saying that the Catholic Church “obscured” the Bible (see its very title): not that Luther denied that earlier vernacular versions in German existed. He never mentions them, that I can see, so one might opine that he implied (for the less educated reader) that they didn’t exist, if he didn’t flat-out deny their existence. And so I wrote in the paper:

The big myth under consideration is the commonly heard legend among Protestants (especially of an anti-Catholic bent) of Catholic hostility to the Bible and desire to keep it out of the hands of the people, for fear that its doctrines will be exposed as contrary to the Bible. . . . the controversy at hand was whether the Bible was available to the populace in (mostly High) German to any significant extent before Luther. It certainly was.

One comment of mine above was poorly worded, in light of these considerations, and I changed the wording a bit.

I don’t know how far the Bible versions available in Germany were actually encouraged by the authorities of the Church, as they were in Spain if I remember rightly (contrasting sharply with the post-Reformation situation in Spain).

Actual evidence that I have presented in other papers of mine (linked in this one) strongly suggests both Church encouragement of vernacular translations (which definitely means lay readership, since scholars worked mostly in Latin, right?), and wide reading, since there were so many editions. Here are some of those facts:

The number of translations . . . of the complete Bible, was indeed very great . . . Between this period [1466] and the separation of the Churches at least fourteen complete editions of the Bible were published in High German, and five in the low German dialect. The first High German edition was brought out in 1466 by Johann Mendel, of Strasburg . . .

[Other editions in High German: Strasburg: 1470,1485 / Basel, Switzerland: 1474 / Augsburg: 1473 (2),1477 (2),1480,1487,1490,1507,1518 / Nuremburg: 1483]. Bible Translations in Low German: Cologne: 1480 (2) / Lubeck: 1494 / Halberstadt: 1522 / Delf: before 1522]

(Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumes, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [orig. 1891], vol. 1, 56-57; vol. 14, 388)

We know from history that there were popular translations of the Bible and Gospels in Spanish, Italian, Danish, French, Norwegian, Polish, Bohemian and Hungarian for the Catholics of those lands before the days of printing . . .

In Italy there were more than 40 editions of the Bible before the first Protestant version appeared, beginning at Venice in 1471; and 25 of these were in the Italian language before 1500, with the express permission of Rome. In France there were 18 editions before 1547, the first appearing in 1478. Spain began to publish editions in the same year, and issued Bibles with the full approval of the Spanish Inquisition (of course one can hardly expect Protestants to believe this). In Hungary by the year 1456, in Bohemia by the year 1478, in Flanders before 1500, and in other lands groaning under the yoke of Rome, we know that editions of the Sacred Scriptures had been given to the people. In all . . . 626 editions of the Bible, in which 198 were in the language of the laity, had issued from the press, with the sanction and at the instance of the Church, in the countries where she reigned supreme, before the first Protestant version of the Scriptures was sent forth into the world . . . What, then, becomes of the pathetic delusion . . . that an acquaintance with the open Bible in our own tongue must necessarily prove fatal to Catholicism? . . .

Many senseless charges are laid at the door of the Catholic Church; but surely the accusation that, during the centuries preceding the 16th, she was the enemy of the Bible and of Bible reading must, to any one who does not wilfully shut his eyes to facts, appear of all accusations the most ludicrous . . .

We may examine and investigate the action of the Church in various countries and in various centuries as to her legislation in regard to Bible reading among the people; and wherever we find some apparently severe or unaccountable prohibition of it, we shall on enquiry find that it was necessitated by the foolish or sinful conduct on the part either of some of her own people, or of bitter and aggressive enemies who literally forced her to forbid what in ordinary circumstances she would not only have allowed but have approved and encouraged.

(Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible, St. Louis: B. Herder, revised edition: 1939, 98, 105-106, 108, 120)

And in contrast we have Luther saying stupid stuff like:

[T]he Holy Word of God has not only been laid under the bench but has almost been destroyed by dust and filth. [1518]

But up to this time, the idea that the laity should read the Scriptures has been treated with derision. For in this the devil has hit on a fine trick to tear the Bible out of the hands of the laity; and he has thought thus: If I can keep the laity from reading the Scriptures, I will then turn the priests from the Bible to Aristotle, and so let them gossip as they will, the laity must hear just what they preach; . . . [1523]

When in our own day we saw how Scripture lay under the bench, and how the devil was deluding us and taking us captive with the hay and straw of men-made prayers, we tried, by the Grace of God, to mend matters, and have indeed with great and bitter pains brought Scripture back to light once more, and, sending human ordinances to the winds, set ourselves free and escaped from the devil. [1527]

[T]he Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench (as happened to the book of Deuteronomy, in the time of the kings of Judah). [1539]

Sorry, guys, but I have to object to these statements, as a Catholic apologist and lover of accurate history.

For the sake of charity and unity I took the word “lie” out of the paper’s title and contents.

Here is my new revised ending:

Luther’s Commentary on Peter and Jude from 1523 (cited at length above), explicitly states that Catholics (or the Church) supposedly desired to keep the Bible out of the laity’s hands. As a general statement, this is untrue. And it’s a bit difficult to believe that he could have been this ignorant of Church history and Catholicism (being quite a sharp guy).

But we know that Luther was prone to hyper-polemical utterances and exaggeration (and that context is always very important in interpretation of Luther); thus we hope (in charity) that this is altogether an instance of that, rather than reflective of his literal opinion as to the historical facts.

See, I did change some language and am trying to be more fair, taking into account your criticisms. “Lie” ain’t in the paper anymore . . . I continue to strongly disagree with Luther’s statements (in this regard and many others) about Catholic history and supposed “attitudes.”

Okay. We can differ about the accuracy of what he said; I’m glad that the accusation of deliberate falsehood is gone.

Of course the Catholic Church, and its apologists, are entitled to respond to charges Luther, or anyone else made. It’s your job to do that., just as it was my job to make the protest I made above. Grave charges have been made more than once on both sides, and neither side has always been fair. I think that we will get somewhere when each side understands that the other has taught and said what it thought was right. No one, certainly no one within the orthodoxy of each tradition, has gone out with the intention of doing evil, and very few have gone out to lie intentionally (we’ll assume that the idea of the “pious lie” that one group propagated in the 16th to the 18th centuries has been laid to rest). As in most things, we’ll probably ultimately discover that there was some justice to much of what each side said, and that much of the rancor has been misreading of what each other said. I don’t believe that the Catholic Church is now, if it ever was, anti-Biblical; Catholics should drop their common accusation that Lutherans are antinomians (my major project is the translation of the book by Finnish theologian Lauri Haikola Usus Legis from German into English, which is rather specifically covering the Antinomian Controversy of the 1550’s). There is in the works a project for a joint observance in 2017 of the events of October 31, 1517. It would be wonderful if some of the issues that have divided us were resolved by then.

Great, Ken! I’ve defended Luther against antinomianism:

Martin Luther: Good Works Prove Authentic Faith [4-16-08]

Martin Luther: Faith Alone is Not Lawless Antinomianism [2-28-10]

Luther on Theosis & Sanctification [11-23-09]

Merit & Sanctification: Martin Luther’s Point of View [11-10-14]


We mustn’t unfairly approach those who differ from us theologically. There is more than enough actual error in Luther’s teaching, from a Catholic perspective, without having to make up additional errors and distort and twist his views by cynically selective citations taken out of context (as happens in some Catholic circles, sadly, all too often).

Our duty as Christians is to be truthful about the views of those we disagree with. It’s not optional. Bearing false witness violates one of the Ten Commandments. If we fail to do this, it only reflects badly on us, not the ones whose true opinions we caricature and distort.

I totally agree. This is why I have vehemently opposed anti-Catholicism and anti-Protestantism alike. Both sides commit these errors and, yes, sins.

I don’t see that I’ve misrepresented Luther here. I think he has done that regarding the Catholic Church and the Bible, and plenty of evidence that I give here and in further links backs me up on that.

And as I said, if you have some data that shows otherwise, or puts these comments of Luther in a larger, more favorable context, no one would be happier than me, to learn about that and to add it to the paper, for a fuller picture.

I do have quotes from Luther extolling the Catholic Church in several respects, too (about true Catholic tradition that he agrees with), so, as always, he was complex and seemingly contradictory at times.

That was very well said; I would have said much the same in reverse; I would say there are errors in Aquinas and Bellarmine, but we should not invent errors on their part–nor should an error in one matter undermine our respect for the good work they did in another. Rather, we should as Christian brothers establish where we agree and see first that we do not misunderstand each other where we appear to differ, and then, if we really do differ, attempt to write respectfully of each other. We can look at the way Bellarmine and Gerhard interacted. Neither misrepresented the other’s arguments. Each, where he thought the other had gotten something right, acknowledged that. We can look at the fact that when the Catholic theologians wrote the Confutatio against the Augsburg Confession, they approved a good many articles of the Augsburg Confession–and when Martin Chemnitz wrote the Examination of the Council of Trent, there are many canons where Chemnitz said, “We do not disagree with this canon; just don’t include us in your condemnation of those who disagree with both you and us.’

I think Luther was stating accurately what he observed. He could be intemperate, but he wasn’t a liar. I wrote a paper in seminary on the efficacy of Scripture that looks at some Catholic statements from the 16th century that sound very much like what Luther complained of. But fairness from the Lutheran side requires that Lutherans recognize that it was not all that way. I wouldn’t be able to use St. Anselm, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Thomas Aquinas nearly as much in my work as I do if their work was all bad. They, especially St. Anselm, wrote some great stuff that showed a profound grasp of Scripture. Even some late Scholastics, like Gerson and Cajetan, wrote some very good things that were soundly based in Scripture. So if you rap Luther for an insufficiently broad perspective of pre-Reformation Catholic writing or for not giving more weight to the better Catholic writers of the Middle Ages, you have at least a defensible case. (Luther did like St. Bernard very much.) Many other Lutheran writers, like Melanchthon, Chemnitz and Gerhard, do recognize the good work that had been done in that era.

Great historical information there; thanks.
Photo credit: Martin Luther, 31 December 1525 (age 42), by Lucas Cranach the Elder [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
June 12, 2020

vs. James Swan

I joined William Possidento, the primary author, in a critique of James White’s book above. Protestant Reformed anti-Catholic polemicist James Swan then offered criticisms of our critique. His words will be in blue.; words of James White in green.


[originally posted on 3-15-04 and 9-7-05]


You assert that Irenaeus believed Mary to be co-redemptrix? (that is, you via “William Possidento”).

In a primitive, relatively undeveloped sense, yes. This was seen in his words, “Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy” and in the general idea of Mary as the New Eve or Second Eve. Elsewhere (Mary Mediatrix: Patristic, Medieval, & Early Orthodox Evidence). St. Irenaeus (130-202), in his famous Against Heresies (bet. 180-199) wrote:

[S]o also Mary . . . being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.” (3,22,4; from Jurgens, W.A., The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970, vol. 1, p. 93, #224)

[F]or in no other way can that which is tied be untied unless the very windings of the knot are gone through in reverse: so that the first joints are loosed through the second, and the second in turn free the first . . . Thus, then, the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied through the obedience of Mary.” (Against Heresies, III, 22,4; from Most, William G., Mary in Our Life, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1954, 25)

William Most comments:

Mary, says St. Irenaeus, undoes the work of Eve. Now it was not just in a remote way that Eve had been involved in original sin: she shared in the very ruinous act itself. Similarly, it would seem, Mary ought to share in the very act by which the knot is untied — that is, in Calvary itself. (in Most, ibid., 25)

Just as the human race was bound over to death through a virgin, so was it saved through a virgin: the scale was balanced — a virgin’s disobedience by a virgin’s obedience. (Against Heresies, V, 19, 1; cited in Most, ibid., 274)

Swan acts as if this is extraordinary special pleading to see in remarks such as these a kernel of the notion of mediatrix or the always vastly-misunderstood term, “co-redemptrix”. Funny, then, that the well-known Protestant patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly doesn’t think so (he precisely agrees with me):

The real contribution of these early centuries, however, was more positively theological, and consisted in representing Mary as the antithesis of Eve and drawing out the implications of this. Justin was the pioneer, although the way he introduced the theme suggests that he was not innovating . . . Tertullian and Irenaeus were quick to develop these ideas. The latter, in particular, argued [Against Heresies, 3, 22, 4; cf. 5, 19, 1] that Eve, while still a virgin, had proved disobedient and so became the cause of death both for herself and for all mankind, but Mary, also a virgin, obeyed and became the cause of salvation both for herself and for all mankind. “Thus, as the human race was bound fast to death through a virgin, so through a virgin it was saved.” Irenaeus further hinted both at her universal motherhood and at her cooperation in Christ’s saving work, describing [Ibid, 4, 33, 1] her womb as “that pure womb which regenerates men to God.” (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, revised edition of 1978, 493-494, emphases added)

So we see that William Possidento and myself were merely citing most of the same passages that Kelly cites, and interpreting them in precisely the same way. Even Mr. White is not a Church historian, so if it comes down to a conflict of historical fact between White and Kelly, it is obvious who has the advantage and who can be trusted for the facts. And that is not all one can find by way of Protestant historians. How about Philip Schaff? He writes:

The development of the orthodox Mariology and Mariolatry originated as early as the second century in an allegorical interpretation of the history of the fall, and in the assumption of an antithetic relation of Eve and Mary, according to which the mother of Christ occupies the same position in the history of redemption as the wife of Adam in the history of sin and death [Rom 5:12 ff., 1 Cor 15:22] . . . Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, are the first who present Mary as the counterpart of Eve, as a “mother of all living” in the higher, spiritual sense, and teach that she became through her obedience the mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race, as Eve by her disobedience was the fountain of sin and death. [Footnote: “Even St. Augustine carries this parallel between the first and second Eve as far as any of the fathers . . . “] (History of the Christian Church, Vol. III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974; reproduction of fifth edition of 1910, 414-415, emphases added. This work is available in its entirety online, too)

But James White makes the following profoundly ignorant historical summation, that James Swan cited from the original paper:

James White did not bring most of these ECF’s [early Church Fathers] up. DA has, in order to disprove White’s assertion that “the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the Bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary.” [pp. 75-76 of White’s book]

This being the case, I have the utmost sympathy and compassion for James Swan in his effort to defend such a ridiculously wrongheaded point of view. The old wise proverb says that “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” but maybe Swan can somehow pretend that these notions were absent from history, per White, when they clearly were not, according to Protestant historians Kelly and Schaff (two of the very best and most-cited, at that). Best wishes! I don’t envy you. And I think we can already see one reason why Mr. White won’t come out from behind his word-processor and defend his own historical absurdities from his book.

Furthermore, Lutheran historian Jaroslav Pelikan (who converted to Orthodoxy after the following was written), observed the true focus of patristic and Catholic Mariology, during St. Irenaeus’ time:

[A]s Christian piety and reflection sought to probe the deeper meaning of salvation, the parallel between Christ and Adam found its counterpart in the picture of Mary as the Second Eve . . . in is fundamental motifs the development of the Christian picture of Mary and the eventual emergence of a Christian doctrine of Mary must be seen in the context of the development of devotion to Christ and, of course, of the development of the doctrine of Christ.

For it mattered a great deal for christology whether or not one had the right to call Mary Theotokos [Mother of God] . . . an apt formula for their belief that in the incarnation deity and humanity were united so closely . . . It was a way of speaking about Christ at least as much as a way of speaking about Mary. (The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), University of Chicago Press, 1971, 242-243)


1. Which line from Irenaeus above actually says this?

The concept (in early development) was there, as seen in the quotes themselves and in the summary of Irenaeus’ teaching by Kelly and Schaff, where they actually relate it to “redemption” and “salvation” and use words like “mediate” and “instrumental” with regard to Mary’s place in the economy of redemption. The word no more has to be present than the word “Trinity” has to be in the Bible, in order to think that the teaching is there.

2. I direct your attention to Giovanni Miegge’s explanation of the passage from Irenaeus in question:

If we pass from the New Testament to the patristic field there is equal silence. Irenaeus’ famous parallel of Eve and Mary alludes only to the motherhood of Mary who gives the Redeemer to the world with her faith in the divine annunciation. The title “advocate” refers to the restoration of Eve and could be extended at most to the idea of a ministry of intercession which, however, is not explicitly contained in the term. All those who in various ways look for this parallel in the first century connect it with Mary’s motherhood. Mary is not associated with the redemptive sufferings of Christ: ‘if anyone is it is the martyrs, but in a quite indirect form as imitators of Christ, as members of His body, as witnesses of Him. In that sense the apostle Paul speaks of his part in the sufferings of Christ, with an ardent figure of speech, “to fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ” (Colossians 1 : 24, R.V.); but he attributes no co-redemptive significance to this thought. But Mary did not know martyrdom.

Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 163-164)

That does not agree with Kelly, Schaff, and Pelikan, and (frankly) they carry a lot more weight than Miegge does. Why don’t you tell us more about him? What are his credentials?

3. Where does Jaroslav Pelikan say that Irenaeus believed Mary was co-[re]demptrix?

It is implicit in the concept of Second Eve, by its very nature, as shown above.

I couldn’t find it in the quote from your paper.

That’s because you are looking for a word, rather than a concept.

Is your use of Pelican [sic] simply arguing for development of doctrine,

It’s not just development (though that is a crucial component of this discussion), but the fact that the concept of New Eve was already in full force at this early stage (as early as Justin Martyr, who died in 165 — and Kelly says it looks like he was just passing on what he received).

. . . in which case, the reader has to accept the faith claim of the “acorn and the oak tree”? If this is so, your critique of James White should spell this out clearly, with a statement like this: “Dave Armstrong’s interpretation of the history of Mariology demands the Roman Catholic notion of development of doctrine. Without this, James White’s book, Mary Another Redeemer makes historical sense.”

It’s not necessary to have a “Roman Catholic notion of development of doctrine” in order to accept this development, but to have whatever kind of development Schaff and Pelikan and Kelly accept (since they are not Catholics). This is the whole point. It’s not a “Catholic thing”; it is an “historical thing.” Schaff detests the very doctrines he is describing, and makes no bones about it, but he is also (invariably) an honest historian who presents the facts — whatever he thinks of them.

White detests the doctrines, too, but then tries to vainly pretend that they were absent from patristic history. This is the difference, and this is one of a multitude of reasons why I have long maintained that White is a sophist and special pleader.

In my portion of the book review I made elaborate and involved arguments showing that White himself accepts development in one area but denies it in another, and his criteria for doing so are completely arbitrary, self-contradictory, and instances of glaring double standards. So this has already been thoroughly dealt with.

Development of Mariology is no different than development of any other doctrine. One may quibble with it because it is supposedly so “unbiblical,” but then one would have to also toss out the canon of Scripture, which is absolutely unbiblical. Etc. I’ve made all the arguments.


As far as I am concerned, so far, not one thing I have contended has been overthrown or refuted. It was claimed (by White and his defenders) that St. Irenaeus taught not a thing about Mary Mediatrix. I responded with Protestant historians Kelly and Schaff (and a bit indirectly), Pelikan, who thought quite otherwise. It was claimed that I was demanding people to accept a presupposed Catholic version of development of doctrine. I showed how that was not the case, and my extensive reasoning for why I think that, in the review itself, needs to be dealt with. So we don’t have much substance so far. Let’s see how much can be produced . . .

I would like to work through all of DA’s Irenaeus quotes, slowly, as time allows.

It would be nice if you would counter-respond to my first lengthy response, since I raised, I think, several important issues that you need to deal with for your case to succeed. I cited three very reputable Protestant historians. But I guess that would be too much like a dialogue . . . I’ll take what I can get. But I will always note that you left something unresponded-to, so readers don’t miss that “detail.”

I would like to look first at this comment from DA’s paper:

St. Irenaeus wrote, for example, of Christ as the pure one opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God (Against Heresies IV,33,11) – words with which Irenaeus credited the Virgin’s womb and assigns to her a universal motherhood. Writing of the economy, that is, the plan of salvation, St. Irenaeus remarked ..without Joseph’s action, Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy… (Against Heresies III, 21,5, in Miravalle, p. 178). Contemplate that. St. Irenaeus gave, with those words, a second century statement of belief that Mary had a unique role in the plan of salvation.

DA’s comments about Irenaeus

Actually, William Possidento’s at this point (just to clarify). My arguments in the review were mostly analogical ones dealing mostly with development of doctrine, whereas his were textual ones from the Fathers and James White’s own book.

overlook something rather important: the context in which they were written.

Context does not nullify our points at all (as I will show). You only think it does when you apply the typically Reformed “either/or” dichotomous mindset to the passage in order to maintain that one must be doing only one thing and could not possibly be doing more than one (killing two birds with one stone).

Note above, the book written by Irenaeus is called Against Heresies. The intent of Irenaeus was not to write a Bible dictionary, so when he got to the letter “M” he wrote out his thoughts on Mary. Hardly.

In fighting heresy, one may express points of Mariology, just as he might express various aspects of christology, soteriology, anthropology, theology proper, etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. If you are fighting heretical theology, you have to give orthodox theology to counter it (in fact, fighting error is often the occasion for some of the most elaborate expositions of orthodox theology, as a counterpoint; for example, St. Augustine’s reactions to the Manichees and Donatists and Pelagians).

And if Mary is mentioned in any “theological” way, that is Mariology, pure and simple. It may be very primitive and undeveloped (of course it is, in the second century (Irenaeus’ era), though it is remarkably and surprisingly well-developed, given Protestant hostile assumptions about how little it should be by this time), but it remains Mariology because it offers some theology and interpretation of Mary.

Against Heresies is concerned with, you guessed it, heresy.

Very good; a refreshing note of agreement . . .

As Giovanni Miegge explains,

The gnostic teachers in the imposing cycle of their cosmogony brought in the Saviour Jesus at a certain point, one who came down into the material world to free the souls that had fallen. But, spiritualists to excess, they maintained that the purest “eon” could not really have incarnated himself in a man. They thought that the Christ had temporarily united himself to the man Jesus from his baptism to the crucifixion only, or that he manifested himself with a seeming body without true material substance (docetism, from dokei, seems). This second conception had the advantage also of not requiring a real maternity in the physical sense on the part of Mary, whom the eon Christ simply passed through as water passes through a conduit. The virginity of Mary in the bringing forth was the legitimate consequence of these speculations, although it was not one in the strict sense.

The Church reacted decisively to the gnostic docetism that denied the real humanity of the Lord and transferred salvation to a mythical plane away from the historical and human. The traces of this reaction are plain to be seen, first in the later writings of the New Testament, then through the references and confutations of the anti-heretical writers, and also in the elaboration of the oldest symbols of the faith.” The so-called Apostles’ Creed has an anti-docetic tone that is quite recognizable in the emphasis of its affirmation of the real humanity of the Lord and His historical life, “Begotten {gennethenta) by the Holy Spirit and by Mary”, “qui natus est de Spiritu Sancto et Maria Virgine“, as the Roman Apostles’ Creed affirms. Or “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”, “conceptum de Spiritu Sancto, natum ex Maria Virgine“, according to the more accurate rendering of the definitive Gallican wording. The Creed expresses the same insistence on the humanity and historicity of Christ in its particularizing of the Passion: “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried”.The Church did it directly again with the stress these expressions receive from Ignatius of Antioch: “Jesus Christ of the progeny of David by Mary, who was truly begotten, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died, in the presence of beings celestial, terrestrial and subterrestrial, who was truly brought to life from the dead, His Father raising Him up.” Mary and Pilate! The two pillars on which stands the affirmation of the real historicity of Christ, truly born in a human body at a definite point in history, and truly crucified in that body at an equally definite point in time. Mary and Pilate, the two witnesses of the humanity of the Saviour, that is of the reality of the incarnation. Mary owes her inclusion in the Creed—as does Pilate—to this her function of witnessing, but she assumes, besides, the other function of testifying to His divinity by the adjective that describes her, the Virgin Mary. This function she shares with the affirmation of the resurrection and ascension of Christ which ends the central article of the Creed, Vere homo et vere Deus, according to the concise formula of Irenaeus.

Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 36-37.

Yes, of course. I have no problem with this. Catholics have always stated that Mariology is christocentric, and that this was its primary purpose. It was to safeguard the deity and incarnation of Jesus. You guys are the ones who try to make out that we are somehow separating Mary from her Son Jesus, as some sort of ridiculous rival “goddess.” So now we have to be accused of the caricature that you try to make out is our belief, that we always deny, and you see this as some “debating point”? :-)

This is precisely why I cited Jaroslav Pelikan, in agreement with Catholic theology and perspective: “. . . in its fundamental motifs the development of the Christian picture of Mary and the eventual emergence of a Christian doctrine of Mary must be seen in the context of the development of devotion to Christ and, of course, of the development of the doctrine of Christ.”

But somehow you miss that “detail” because (apparently) you are so uninterested in my first response that you repeat things already dealt with in it, and agreed to. Weird . . . but this is common in the Protestant response to Catholic apologetics. It’s almost as if we are talking but the words don’t register. Many times in debates like this, I find myself repeating the argument I just made, because my opponent acts as if I never made it, in the very structure and thrust of his “response.” It’s very frustrating, and a bit insulting, I must say. In effect, you are forcing us to “believe” only what you want us to believe (i.e., the polemical caricature of “Catholicism”), no matter what we say; no matter how many times we clarify, till we’re blue in the face. Even when we fully agree with you, you don’t want to believe it.

So, the statements about Mary found in Irenaeus are not intended to present the “kernel” of the non-defined “co-mediatrix” dogma, but are rather intended to safeguard correct doctrine about Jesus Christ.

The negation you assert doesn’t follow, and is illogical. First of all, you haven’t proven that to argue about Christ necessarily excludes discussion of Mary, as if the two are like oil and water or two magnetic poles. In fact, the long citation you just provided puts the lie to this. Mariology was (and is) a subset of christology. This is how Irenaeus approaches it, and how the Catholic Church does, as well.

Secondly, when people are presenting a primitive, undeveloped form of a doctrine, they don’t themselves know how far it will be developed in the future, by definition. If they did, there would be no development! But there is development, of every doctrine. The canon of Scripture developed; so did original sin, and the Hypostatic Union, and trinitarianism, and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and Mariology, and sacramentology, and the doctrine of the atonement, and eucharistic theology. Irenaeus would have been incapable of presenting, for example, the full intricate doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, which was fully developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

So basically, you have argued nothing whatsoever in your last statement. That’s all it is: a bald statement. You state what you assume. This is not argument. It is an assumption. To the extent that you think it is an argument, it is merely logically circular. But you have some more reasoning to go, so I will desist.

The quote offered by DA:

St. Irenaeus wrote, for example, of Christ as the pure one opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God (Against Heresies IV,33,11) – words with which Irenaeus credited the Virgin’s womb and assigns to her a universal motherhood.

First of all, this is not just Catholic “special pleading” and “anachronistically reading our ‘papist’ views back into the 2nd century. Here we go repeating the argument we already gave, again, because you have ignored it and act as if it never happened (the only good thing about that is that repetition is a helpful learning tool). I cited J. N. D. Kelly arriving at the same exact same conclusion about this very passage: “Irenaeus further hinted both at her universal motherhood and at her cooperation in Christ’s saving work, describing her womb as ‘that pure womb which regenerates men to God.'”

So how is it that I am somehow the unreasonable one even though I can cite one of the leading Protestant patristic experts in exact agreement with my interpretation of Irenaeus, while you are reasonable when you ignore that and keep citing this Miegge — whom you won’t tell us a thing about (per my request)? Do you actually believe that Miegge is a better scholar than Kelly and Schaff, and to be believed over them in the event that they disagree? If so, why? But I don’t expect you to answer this, since you ignored my entire first reply. This gets old. But I’ll pray for patience and keep refuting what you write as long as I can stand your utter ignoring of my arguments.

Schaff (repeat, REPEAT) also asserts a “universal motherhood” as an early patristic belief:

Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, are the first who present Mary as the counterpart of Eve, as a ‘mother of all living’ in the higher, spiritual sense, and teach that she became through her obedience the mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race, . . .

Now, lets look at IV, 33, 11, in its context:

Sure, let’s. And I show you the courtesy of actually replying to your arguments. That’s kind of nice, isn’t it?

11. For some of them, beholding Him in glory, saw His glorious life (conversationem) at the Father’s right hand;(3) others beheld Him coming on the clouds as the Son of man;(4) and those who declared regarding Him, “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced,”(5) indicated His (second) advent, concerning which He Himself says, “Thinkest thou that when the Son of man cometh, He shall find faith on the earth?”(6) Paul also refers to this event when he says, “If, however, it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you that are troubled rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, with His mighty angels, and in a flame of fire.”(7) Others again, speaking of Him as a judge, and , as if it were a burning furnace, (to) the day of the Lord, who “gathers the wheat into His barn, but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,”(8) were accustomed to threaten those who were unbelieving, concerning whom also the Lord Himself declares, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which my Father has prepared for the devil and his angels.”(9) And the apostle in like manner says (of them), “Who shall be punished with everlasting death from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in those who believe in Him.”(10) There are also some (of them) who declare, “Thou art fairer than the children of men;”(11) and, “God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows;”(12) and, “Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Most Mighty, with Thy beauty and Thy fairness, and go forward and proceed prosperously; and rule Thou because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness.”(13) And whatever other things of a like nature are spoken regarding Him, these indicated that beauty and splendour which exist in His kingdom, along with the transcendent and pre-eminent exaltation (belonging) to all who are under His sway, that those who hear might desire to be found there, doing such things as are pleasing to God. Again, there are those who say, “He is a man, and who shall know him?”(14) and, “I came unto the prophetess, and she bare a son, and His name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God;”(15) and those (of them) who proclaimed Him as Immanuel, of the Virgin, exhibited the union of the Word of God with His own workmanship, (declaring) that the Word should become flesh, and the Son of God the Son of man (the pure One opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God, and which He Himself made pure); and having become this which we also are, He (nevertheless) is the Mighty God, and possesses a generation which cannot be declared. And there are also some of them who say, “The Lord hath spoken in Zion, and uttered His voice from Jerusalem;”(16) and, “In Judah is God known;”(17)—these indicated His advent which took place in Judea. Those, again, who declare that “God comes from the south, and from a mountain thick with foliage,”(18) announced His advent at Bethlehem, as I have pointed out in the preceding book.(19) From that place, also, He who rules, and who feeds the people of His Father, has come. Those, again, who declare that at His coming “the lame man shall leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall (speak) plainly, and the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear,”(1) and that “the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, shall be strengthened,”(2) and that “the dead which are in the grave shall arise,”(3) and that He Himself” shall take our weaknesses, and bear our sorrows,”(4)—(all these) proclaimed those works of healing which were accomplished by Him.

Now is Irenaeus “assigning to Mary a universal motherhood”?

According to Kelly and Schaff, he is. Why do they think that? Because of an incorrigible “papal propagandistic” bias?

and expressing Mary’s role in suffering with Christ as Coredemptrix? No.

That’s a later development, and I agree that it is improper to read into Irenaeus’ statements.

Irenaeus is protecting Christian doctrine against heretics.

That’s right, but no one is arguing that he isn’t. How does that preclude this particular interpretation of his words about Mary?

DA further offers:

Writing of the economy, that is, the plan of salvation, St. Irenaeus remarked ..without Joseph’s action, Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy… (Against Heresies III, 21,5, in Miravalle, p. 178). Contemplate that. St. Irenaeus gave, with those words, a second century statement of belief that Mary had a unique role in the plan of salvation.

Yes, indeed, let’s contemplate it. Here is III, 21, 5:

5. And when He says, “Hear, O house of David,”(9) He performed the part of one indicating that He whom God promised David that He would raise up from the fruit of his belly (ventris) an eternal King, is the same who was born of the Virgin, herself of the lineage of David. For on this account also, He promised that the King should be “of the fruit of his belly,” which was the appropriate (term to use with respect) to a virgin conceiving, and not “of the fruit of his loins,” nor “of the fruit of his reins,” which expression is appropriate to a generating man, and a woman conceiving by a man. In this promise, therefore, the Scripture excluded all virile influence; yet it certainly is not mentioned that He who was born was not from the will of man. But it has fixed and established “the fruit of the belly,” that it might declare the generation of Him who should be (born) from the Virgin, as Elisabeth testified when filled with the Holy Ghost, saying to Mary, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy belly;”(1) the Holy Ghost pointing out to those willing to hear, that the promise which God had made, of raising up a King from the fruit of (David’s) belly, was fulfilled in the birth from the Virgin, that is, from Mary. Let those, therefore, who alter the passage of Isaiah thus, “Behold, a young woman shall conceive,” and who will have Him to be Joseph’s son, also alter the form of the promise which was given to David, when God promised him to raise up, from the fruit of his belly, the horn of Christ the King. But they did not understand, otherwise they would have presumed to alter even this passage also.

As DA’s paper admonishes to “contemplate” that “ Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy” , I can’t quite see where I’m supposed to find the seed of co-redemption in the above quote. I’d rather simply read what Irenaeus said, and agree with this ancient author that Christ was not the biological son of Joseph.

The passage is actually from III, 21, 7, as Miravelle indicated in his notes. Here is the whole passage (emphasis added):

7. On this account also, Daniel, foreseeing His advent, said that a stone, cut out without hands, came into this world. For this is what “without hands” means, that His coming into this world was not by the operation of human hands, that is, of those men who are accustomed to stone-cutting; that is, Joseph taking no part with regard to it, but Mary alone co-operating with the pre-arranged plan. For this stone from the earth derives existence from both the power and the wisdom of God. Wherefore also Isaiah says: “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I deposit in the foundations of Zion a stone, precious, elect, the chief, the corner-one, to be had in honour.” So, then, we understand that His advent in human nature was not by the will of a man, but by the will of God.

Miravalle gives the Latin of the relevant phrase: sola Maria cooperante dispositioni.

Beware of reading history with the glasses of modern Roman Catholic Mariology.

Again (for the tenth) time, it is not just “Catholic-tinted glasses” but the informed historical opinions of Kelly and Schaff. James White claims that mediation and co-redemption are “completely absent” from “the early Church.” But Kelly, writing about Irenaeus’ Mariology, uses descriptive words like “cause of salvation,” “through a virgin it was saved,” “universal motherhood,” “cooperation in Christ’s saving work,” and “[her womb] regenerates men.” Schaff uses words like “The development of the orthodox Mariology and Mariolatry originated as early as the second century,” “redemption,” ‘mother of all living’,” and “mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race.” What more does one need?

Furthermore, a few centuries later, these concepts became extremely explicit in some of the Fathers (precisely as we would expect from the nature of development itself). So. for example, St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) wrote:

Mary was alone when the Holy Spirit came upon her and overshadowed her. She was alone when she saved the world — operata est mundi salutem – and when she conceived the redemption of all — concepit redemptionem universorum. (in Miravelle, Mark I., editor, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations, Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing, 1995, p. 14; from Epist. 49,2; ML 16, 1154)


She engendered redemption for humanity, she was carrying, in her womb, the remission of sins. (in Miravelle, ibid., p. 14; from De Mysteriis III, 13; ML 16,393; De instit. Virginis 13,81; ML 16,325)

St. Ephraem of Syria (c. 306-373) called Mary the “dispensatrix of all goods.” (in William G. Most, Mary in Our Life, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1963, 48)

Basil of Seleucia (died c. 458) referred to her as the “Mediatrix of God and men.” (in Most, ibid., 48)

St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) wrote:

Hail, Mary, Mother of God, by whom all faithful souls are saved [sozetai]. (in Miravelle, ibid., p. 13; from MG 77,992, and 1033; from the Council of Ephesus in 431)

The expression Mediatrix or Mediatress was found in two 5th-century eastern writers, Basil of Seleucia (In SS. Deiparae Annuntiationem, PG 85, 444AB) and Antipater of Bostra (In S. Joannem Bapt., PG 85 1772C. The theory developed in the work of John of Damascus (d.c. 749; see Homilia I in Dormitionem, PG 96 713A) and Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (d.c.733; see Homilia II in Dormitionem, PG 98 321, 352-353). [see Miravelle, ibid., 134-135]

The Protestant reference Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. F. L. Cross, 2nd edirtion, Oxford Univ. Press, 1983, p. 561), states concerning Patriarch Germanus:

Mary’s incomparable purity, foreshadowing the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and her universal mediation in the distribution of supernatural blessings, are his two frequently recurring themes.

St. Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740) referred to Mary as the “Mediatrix of the law and grace” and also stated that “she is the mediation between the sublimity of God and the abjection of the flesh.” (Nativ. Mariæ, Serm. 1 and Serm. 4, PG 97, 808, 865; in Miravelle, ibid., 283)

St. John of Damascus (c. 675-c. 749) spoke of Mary fulfilling the “office of Mediatrix.” (Hom. S. Mariæ in Zonam, PG 98, 377; in Miravelle, ibid., 283)

But remember, James White has informed us on pp. 75-76 and 137 of his book:

In fact, not only is the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the Bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary.

[T]he push to define Mary as Coredemptrix flows out of the piety seen so plainly in Alphonsus Ligouri [sic] and Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. It does not come to us from Scripture, nor does it come from history.

White consistently misspells Liguori as “Ligouri”. That saint lived from 1696-1787. White appears to date this theological development to him, but he is more than 1200 years off the mark, since, as shown, the very terms mediatrix or mediatress were being used in the 5th century by at least two writers, and the concept in kernel can be traced as far back as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Irenaeus. So much for Mr. White’s historiographical abilities . . . they are almost as deficient as his theological methodologies and conclusions.

Of course, he might want to argue that the 5th century (when St. Augustine and St. Jerome and St. Cyril of Alexandria lived) was not the time of the “early Church.” It wouldn’t be the oddest thing he has argued.

Contrarily, Read the Ancient Church Fathers in their contexts. I assume that anyone looking for Mary in the Roman Catholic sense will find any statement about Mary in ancient church history and find some way to apply it to their own paradigm.

You are merely assuming what you are trying to prove, by offering either no arguments at all, or circular ones (as I think I have shown).

Which leads me to ask the question: Does a Roman Catholic need an infallible interpreter to interpret history also? It seems they do.

No, we only need good, competent Protestant historians like Kelly and Schaff. But we need to avoid amateur historians like James White (and James Swan) who are clearly in over their head when trying to discuss early Mariology. I’m no historian, either, but it is very easy for me to find substantiation from the best Protestant historians of Church history and the history of doctrine, for my point of view.

I suggest as a friend that you give up this fight, before you dig yourself deeper into self-contradiction and futile opposition to plain historical facts. Let James White defend himself! Why should you have to take the fall for him?

James Swan further responds (on the CARM board):

I posted the following quote from Giovanni Miegge giving an explanation of the passage from Irenaeus put forth by Dave Armstrong:

If we pass from the New Testament to the patristic field there is equal silence. Irenaeus’ famous parallel of Eve and Mary alludes only to the motherhood of Mary who gives the Redeemer to the world with her faith in the divine annunciation. The title “advocate” refers to the restoration of Eve and could be extended at most to the idea of a ministry of intercession which, however, is not explicitly contained in the term. All those who in various ways look for this parallel in the first century connect it with Mary’s motherhood. Mary is not associated with the redemptive sufferings of Christ: ‘if anyone is it is the martyrs, but in a quite indirect form as imitators of Christ, as members of His body, as witnesses of Him. In that sense the apostle Paul speaks of his part in the sufferings of Christ, with an ardent figure of speech, “to fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ” (Colossians 1 : 24, R.V.); but he attributes no co-redemptive significance to this thought. But Mary did not know martyrdom.

Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 163-164)

It should be pointed out that Dave simply dismissed the quote rather than interact with the quote. It’s the old, “my scholar is better than your scholar” technique, of which I can also be guilty of utilizing at times. The technique is useful since it dismisses the content of the quote without ever interacting with the content of the quote.

This is not an accurate description of what I did, and I’ll explain why. First of all, roughly the second half of Miegge’s citation has nothing to do with Irenaeus in the first place, and his Mariology was the subject at hand, and so that portion can be dismissed for the time being.

Secondly, no argument that I can see is presented here, with regard to Irenaeus; there are only bald declarative statements:

“[in the] patristic field there is equal silence . . . ”

[this is, of course, demonstrably untrue, just as White’s summary of supposed patristic silence or “absence” is]

“Irenaeus’ famous parallel of Eve and Mary alludes only to . . . ”

“The title ‘advocate’ refers to . . . ”

“Mary is not associated with the redemptive sufferings of Christ:”

These are not arguments, but mere statements. There is a difference.

Thirdly, this being the case, it becomes basically an appeal to authority on both our parts. We’re all reading the same texts and drawing conclusions from them: the professionals (Miegge, Schaff, Kelly, and Pelikan) and the amateurs (me and you). Professionals hold more weight in these matters than amateurs do, because they are familiar with the whole body of a Church Father’s work, and with his thought, just as a Bible scholar can interpret the Bible with much more knowledge because they know much more about background, language, culture, exegesis, hermeneutics, etc.

Fourthly, if it is simply one scholars’ word against the other, I stand by my opinion that Kelly and Schaff are more to be trusted than Miegge. How does the layman decide when there are differences of opinions among scholars? In this case, I am citing all Protestant scholars, rather than Catholic partisans who already agree with me (as a foregone conclusion).

And I am citing some of the most well-known and reputable historians of Christian doctrine. I need not argue that. I don’t believe you would deny it. You, on the other hand, cite a relatively unknown scholar, who looks to be an anti-Catholic and a fellow Reformed. You’re citing your own guy. This carries less weight in disputes such as this, because you are obviously biased towards the person in your own camp (just as I am, and everyone is), and will tend to agree with most (if not everything) of what he says.

Schaff speaks of “Mariolatry” too, but he doesn’t deny that these ideas were present in Irenaeus (unlike Miegge and White). That is the difference. At best, you can only establish that either of our positions are equally tenable, based on which historian we go with. But Miegge’s and White’s assertions about “absence” and “silence” in the Fathers on these issues are able to be demonstrated as false, and I have already done so. That is something solid and factual to refute (it’s falsifiable), and since they have been shown to be in error on the facts, their judgment in matters of interpretation is not quite so credible as it was before we exposed their serious errors of fact.

You say that I dismissed the quote. I did insofar as no argument was presented in it. If he gives no argument, I am not obliged to refute what he says. In fact, I cannot, because there is nothing to refute if no argument from the texts is presented. He gives his dogmatic interpretation. I simply said that Kelly and Schaff disagree with his interpretation and that they carry more weight. As a layman, I yield to their judgment. And I can’t be accused of simply “choosing my own guy” because none of them are Catholics. You choose your one guy, though (and no one else thus far) and that doesn’t strike one as particularly “objective.”

Dave then asked, “Why don’t you tell us more about him? What are his credentials?”

Giovanni Miegge, was Professor of Church History in the Waldensian Faculty of Theology at Rome. He published a book on Rudolf Bultmann for which he is better known for.

Thank you. With all due respect to you and Dr. Miegge, this hardly puts him in league with giants in the field like Kelly, Pelikan, and Schaff. I look in vain to try to find this guy in any bibliographies of Mariological works (neither Pelikan nor Kelly list him, nor does Protestant Max Thurian, in his book on Mary). Can you give me any bibliographies that he is listed in? If you type his name in at Google, you find very little (at least not in English).

Therefore, it’s not a case of “my professor’s better than yers; nya nya nya nya naaaaa nya,” but a clear-cut case of some of the most eminent and widely cited Church historians vs. a relatively unknown one. So it is quite reasonable to side with the former in cases of disagreement.

Is this all you can come up with? You’ll simply keep quoting Miegge as if he is the last word on the subject, and blithely dismiss the fact that three major Protestant historians agree with my position almost exactly?

You haven’t acknowledged that all these things developed. To me it is self-evident. One cannot believe otherwise. It is simply the history of doctrine.

Is the following part of “primitive, undeveloped form of a doctrine” found in Irenaeus?

In his book titled, Irenaeus of Lyons, Grant wrote:

In Irenaeus’ judgment the Ephesian church, founded by Paul and preserved by John, is a reliable witness to the tradition of the apostles (Against Heresies, 3.3.4) though his exegesis of John 8:57 (“you are not yet 50 years old”) leaves much to be desired. He is convinced that Luke cannot have meant to say that Jesus was baptized in his thirtieth year, because unless he reached “the most necessary and honorable period of his life” he could not have had disciples. John certifies that he was over 40 but under 50. “All the presbyters of Asia who were with John the Lord’s disciple testify that John delivered the same tradition to them, for he remained with them until the reign of Trajan” (Against Heresies, 2.22.4-5). Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation assured him that in order to save men of all ages Jesus had to “recapitulate” the life of humanity and pass in five stages from infant to child to adolescent to manhood and finally advanced age. His analysis of ages is like what we find in Hippocrates, for whom each of the ages mentioned by Irenaeus occupies some multiple of seven years. One is a child from 1 to the loss of teeth at 7, a boy to puberty at 14, a lad till the trace of a beard comes at 21, a young man until the whole body is grown at 28, then a man from 29 to 49; an elderly man lasts only until 56, and after that becomes an old man. Jesus could not have become really mature before reaching 49. Since Irenaeus explicitly dated the birth of Jesus around the forty-first year of Augustus, he cannot have had in mind the real beginning of that emperor’s reign in January 27 BC, but must have backdated it to the death of Julius Caesar in 44. If then Jesus was born in about 3 BC he would have reached 49 during the reign of Claudius (41-54), and that is where Irenaeus set his death in his later Demonstration.

See Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 33.

He was clearly wrong in this respect, so no, this was not part of legitimate apostolic tradition that developed over time. It is simply an error.

I’m not trying to misdirect the issue here, only to focus on a crucial point in this discussion- If Irenaeus was the pupil of Polycarp (who was the pupil of John), why has this important aspect of Christology not been “handed down” and developed?

Because individual Fathers are not infallible. They can be mistaken in many things. We believe that popes can be, too, but that they are specially-protected with the gift of infallibility under certain carefully-defined circumstances. You need to learn a lot about how Catholic authority and epistemology works. I don’t mean that as a put-down, but a simple observation.

It’s funny how, whenever I write about Luther and point out some unsavory (and to Protestants, shocking) things (such as his advocacy of death for peaceful Anabaptists or his early position that the damned should cheerfully accept their fate), I am always told (what I already know, of course, and believed as a Protestant) that he was not infallible, nor the rule of faith himself, for Protestants. All Catholics do is apply that same outlook to the Church Fathers. Individually, they make plenty of mistakes. But when we look at the consensus of what they taught, we see the mind of the Church and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Yet you think you have found (if I gather correctly what you are trying to do here) a “difficulty” in my position by pointing out gaffes in Irenaeus, as if this negatively affects in the slightest way the argument I have made. The current dispute proper isn’t over whether Irenaeus was correct in his Mariology, but whether he held to any notion of co-redemption or Mediatrix at all. White and Miegge deny (as a factual matter) that he did. Kelly, Schaff, and Pelikan assert that he did, and take a position virtually identical to my own.

Now apply this to Mariology. Who determines what was in fact the Marian “kernal” [sic] that bloomed into a fully developed doctrine? Who reads the ECF’s and declares what is the “kernal” [sic]?

The Church decides that in the process of centuries of reflection, in its corporate gatherings called councils, just as it decided the proper Christology regarding the deity of Christ and the Incarnation (451 at Chalcedon) and the canon of Scripture (397). What’s so difficult to understand about this?

You RC folks read almost anything on Mary in the ECF’s and pick and choose what is, and what is not correct doctrine.

Kelly, Schaff, and Pelikan are not “RC folks.” Schaff is even nearly an anti-Catholic, who calls some of these beliefs “Mariolatry” and traces them back to “the second century.” You “Protestant folks” accept the verdict of a Catholic council almost 400 years after Christ’s death as to what books are in the Bible and which aren’t. Why do you allow them to “pick and choose”? Why do you fully accept this Church authority at that one crucial point, but turn around and deride it and caricature it at other points?

Our development is entirely self-consistent, but Protestantism literally reversed many doctrines which had been taught for centuries and from the beginning in primitive form. That is the truly important question here (how that can be justified), not some groundless claim of arbitrary “RC” choosing of one doctrine or another. We had councils made up of hundreds of bishops to decide these important things. You guys have lone, self-anointed individuals who claim some quasi-prophetic power and super-infallibility (Luther, Calvin). How is that scenario preferable to ours, I ask?

Jason Engwer pointed out some very interesting facts from Irenaeus’s Mariology. After reading through these (Dave, there no need to respond to every jot and tittle), note that certain aspects of Irenaeus’s Mariology have not been handed down:

This is uncontroversial. But it is part and parcel of the flawed premises and futile exercises of Jason Engwer in his tunnel-vision interpretation of the Fathers.

Roman Catholic apologists often claim that the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament is a type of Mary. They then use that typological speculation as an argument for doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. But Irenaeus saw something else in the ark:

so is that ark declared a type of the body of Christ, which is both pure and immaculate. For as that ark was gilded with pure gold both within and without, so also is the body of Christ pure and resplendent, being adorned within by the Word, and shielded on the outside by the Spirit, in order that from both materials the splendour of the natures might be exhibited together.” (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, 48)

The analogy was widespread, so the fact that Irenaeus didn’t hold to it has little relevance to its validity. So what?

Irenaeus refers to Mary giving birth to Jesus when she was “as yet a virgin” (Against Heresies, 3:21:10). The implication is that she didn’t remain a virgin. Irenaeus compares Mary’s being a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth to the ground being “as yet virgin” before it was tilled by mankind. The ground thereafter ceased to be virgin, according to Irenaeus, when it was tilled. The implication is that Mary also ceased to be a virgin. Elsewhere, Irenaeus writes:

To this effect they testify, saying, that before Joseph had come together with Mary, while she therefore remained in virginity, ‘she was found with child of the Holy Ghost;’ (Against Heresies, 3:21:4)

Irenaeus seems to associate “come together” with sexual intercourse. The implication is that Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations after Jesus was born.

As far as I know, Irenaeus held to the perpetual virginity of Mary. If you are claiming otherwise, prove it. This was not a point of contention. That came mostly after the Enlightenment and liberal Bible scholarship. Even virtually all of the “Reformers” held to this doctrine.

Many people don’t realize the extent of the RCC’s claims about Mary. For example, while many people are aware of doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, it seems that relatively few are aware of claims such as the following:

By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity….This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 967, 969)

According to the RCC, Mary completely adhered to the Father’s will, following every prompting of the Holy Spirit. She was the spiritual mother of us all uninterruptedly, from the annunciation onward.

She was without sin (YAWN). This is some big revelation and news to you guys, that we believe that (as did Martin Luther)?

One wonders how such things could be true in light of the fact that Mary didn’t even understand a simple statement Jesus made about His own identity after living with Mary for twelve years (Luke 2:49-50). Apparently, she was following all of the Father’s will and every prompting of the Spirit, while she was the spiritual mother of all believers, yet, at the same time, she didn’t even understand what Jesus said in Luke 2:49.
She also was among the kinsmen who thought Jesus was insane (Mark 3:20-35), and she didn’t honor Jesus as He should have been honored (Mark 6:3-4).

I have dealt with these silly, groundless objections:

Mary’s Knowledge About Jesus’ Divinity

Jesus’ “Brothers” Were “Unbelievers”? (Jason also claims that “Mary believed in Jesus,” but wavered, and had a “sort of inconsistent faith”) (vs. Jason Engwer) [5-27-20]

On Whether Jesus’ “Brothers” Were “Unbelievers” [National Catholic Register, 6-11-20]

The church father Irenaeus doesn’t seem to have agreed with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Instead of seeing Mary as following all of the Father’s will and every prompting of the Spirit, he sees Mary as being rebuked by Jesus in John 2:4, since she was ignorant of what He was doing and was interfering with the Father’s will:

With Him is nothing incomplete or out of due season, just as with the Father there is nothing incongruous. For all these things were foreknown by the Father; but the Son works them out at the proper time in perfect order and sequence. This was the reason why, when Mary was urging Him on to perform the wonderful miracle of the wine, and was desirous before the time to partake of the cup of emblematic significance, the Lord, checking her untimely haste, said, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come’ -waiting for that hour which was foreknown by the Father. (Against Heresies, 3:16:7)

He was wrong on that, too. So what? What did you expect me to say? That Irenaeus was omniscient? How silly is this whole conversation?
I thought you understood Catholicism much better than this.

The question then is:

-who determines what the tradition is? We could go through a bunch of the ECF’s on Mariology and find all sorts of things that have not been synthesized into Marian doctrine.

The Church.

It’s [sic] seems the way RC’s operate is they have a Marian doctrine, and then they go back into history and find “kernals” [sic] and toss out those other bits that don’t fit their paradigm- This was demonstrated quite clearly with your citations of Irenaeus.

Oh, so we hired contra-Catholic Schaff as one of our secret agents, and J. N. D. Kelly has somehow been hoodwinked and brainwashed into accepting and applying this stupid methodology (which is a gross caricature of what we do, anyway)? When will you ever deal with them? My patience wears extremely thin. As soon as you guys are nailed on some point, you immediately start a bunch of side issues so no one will notice what has happened, and see that you have no cogent reply to the really important stuff. This is a classic case. Shame on you! You can do far better than this.


Since James Swan continues to ignore the troubling implications of the strong disagreement with J. N. D. Kelly and Philip Schaff with James White’s position on the supposed “complete absence” of Mary Mediatrix and co-redemption in the early Church, I thought it would be fun to search James White’s site in order to find out what he thinks of the scholarly abilities of Kelly and Schaff. This is what I found:

1) Article: “Exegetica: Roman Catholic Apologists Practice Eisegesis in Scripture and Patristics” (3-4-02):

White cites “Protestant church historian” Kelly once with regard to whether Rome had a single bishop or a group of bishops in the second century (the same era as Irenaeus).

2) Article: “Did The Early Church Believe In the LDS Doctrine of God?” (7-27-00):

White, arguing against Mormonism, cites Kelly at length, introducing him as “One of the greatest patristic scholars”. And he is the only historian White cites, in an article about the “early Church”.

3) Article: “The Pre-existence of Christ In Scripture, Patristics and Creed” (7-27-00):

Again, in an article dealing in part with patristics, White cites only Kelly as a scholar in his section “Patristic Interpretation.” And then in the following footnotes, look who he mentions:

“25) For the text of the Nicene Creed, see J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (New York: Longman Inc., 1981), pp.215-216 and Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985) vol. 1:27-28.

26) Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1:30.”

4) Article: “A Test of Scholarship” (7-26-00):

Again, Kelly is proclaimed as “One of the greatest patristic scholars” and White notes after a very long citation from Kelly: “I am appending a selection of quotations from the early Fathers that substantiates the conclusions of . . . Kelly quoted above.” White writes later:

“. . . J.N.D. Kelly’s fine work, Early Christian Doctrines (1978), a work that occupies a space close to my desk (for frequent reference).”

Jaroslav Pelikan’s comments on the notion of theosis in the early Church are also cited at length.

5) Article: “How Reliable Is Roman Catholic History?: An Example in a Recent Edition of This Rock Magazine” (7-25-00):

Kelly is cited three times as an expert on early Church ecclesiology. It stands to reason, that if Kelly can be used in an effort to show that Catholic Answers’ history on a certain disputed point is inaccurate, he can also be used in such a fashion against James White. After all, Kelly is obviously White’s favorite patristics scholar and historian of the early Church.

6) Article: “A Debate Between Professor James White, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, and Brother John Mary, Representing the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” (7-24-00):

Kelly is cited as an expert about the very Church Father under consideration:

“I note that J.N.D. Kelly asserts that Ireneaus, Tertullian, and Origen all felt Mary had sinned and doubted Christ (Early Christian Doctrines, 493).”

Note: Kelly sees no contradiction between Irenaeus’ belief in a non-sinless Mary and a Mary who is involved in co-redemption. He asserts that Irenaeus believed both things about Mary. So this is no disproof of the question at hand, but rather, a strong proof, since Kelly is obviously not an advocate of specifically “Catholic” dogma.

Philip Schaff is also cited pertaining to the question of whether Pope Sylvester called the Council of Nicaea.

7) Article: “The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology” (7-21-00):

White cites “noted patristic authority J.N.D. Kelly”.

Philip Schaff is mentioned even more times on White’s site (29 compared to 11 for Kelly):

8) “An In Channel Debate on Purgatory” (2-21-02):

White cites Schaff twice with regard to the views of Pope Gregory the Great.

9) “Catholic Legends And How They Get Started: An Example” (6-11-01):

Schaff is cited interpreting a letter from Pope Zosimus.

10) “Failure to Document: Catholic Answers Glosses Over History” (10-25-00):

Schaff is mentioned twice with regard of the history of the proceedings of Vatican I.

11) “Whitewashing the History of the Church” (8-31-00):

Schaff is cited with regard to Cyril’s views and the Council of Florence. This provides us with more delightful irony (never lacking when one deals with the illustrious Dr. White), since if Schaff can be cited as a “witness” to alleged Catholic “whitewashing” of history, he can be utilized to show Mr. White engaging in this practice (with Mr. White’s full consent!).

12) “Truths of the Bible or Untruths of Roman Tradition? James White Responds to Tim Staples’ Article, “How to Explain the Eucharist” in the September, 1997 issue of Catholic Digest (7-25-00):

Schaff is cited twice with regard to historical debates on transubstantiation.

13) “The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology” (7-21-00):

Schaff is cited with regard to the Council of Chalcedon and Christology, and his work is recommended for further reading on the Council.


Photo credit: Cover of James White’s book, from its Amazon page.


March 11, 2020

From my book, Orthodoxy and Catholicism: A Comparison : 3rd revised edition, 2015; co-author: Fr. Deacon Daniel G. Dozier, whose words below will be in blue. This was drawn from chapter five: pp. 75-103.


The following is directly based on a discussion with two Orthodox Christians on a public Internet board. I will do my best to reproduce their arguments and to not misrepresent them. The differences here are important, I think, in understanding the different approaches to theology and philosophy between the two groups (generally speaking).

The first charge my friends made was that St. Anselm (c. 1033-1109), in his famous work, Proslogion, sought to use reason alone to prove God’s existence, (even the Christian God’s existence). They deemed this effort as “hyper-rationalistic.” In fact, St. Anselm’s aim and goal in his work was stated clearly enough:

. . . I have written the following treatise, in the person of one who strives to lift his mind to the contemplation of God, and seeks to understand what he believes. . . I accordingly gave [this work] a title . . .  faith seeking understanding. (St. Anselm: Basic Writings, translated by S.W. Deane, La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Pub. Co., 2nd edition, 1962, 2; emphasis added)

St. Anselm goes on to give his famous ontological argument. Far from this being a merely logical, solely rationalistic ploy, however, and denying the crucial role of revelation in any way; to the contrary, he is arguing that belief in God is pre-rational: it is already there in the mind, put there by God (as a sort of unproven axiom).

I think this is why the argument appeals to Calvinist presuppositionalists (such as the prominent philosopher Alvin Plantinga): precisely because it is distinct from the more strictly “logical” or “empirical” arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas. At any rate, he is not “proving” the Christian God by reason alone, but seeking to better understand what he already believes by faith. So this is a “bum rap.”

Philosopher Richard Taylor, in his Introduction to the book The Ontological Argument (edited by Alvin Plantinga, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1965, viii), supports my contention:

St. Anselm set forth his argument as an address to God. It is obvious, then, that he was not attempting to discover whether God exists. He was already perfectly convinced by faith of the reality of the Judaic-Christian God, conceived as a supreme being. His argument thus represents his attempt to understand, by his mind or reason, that which he already firmly believed by his faith or, as he expressed it, in his heart.

Thus, St. Anselm and those who reason in the same fashion (even including Scholastics and admirers of Aquinas), are not at all being “hyper-rationalistic.” They are merely “loving God with their mind” as well as their heart.

The Catholic, in constructing such theistic arguments from reason, is simply being biblical (and, for that matter, evangelistic / apologetic). To run these efforts down is, I say, to be unbiblical and very much unlike St. Paul (say, at Mars Hill in Athens), whom we are to imitate, and that is every bit as unbalanced and objectionable, if not much more so, as our so-called “hyper-rationalism” which the best Catholic thinkers do not follow in the first place. We are simply giving reason its proper place at the table, along with the “heart” and “soul,” as our Lord Jesus commanded us to do.

Do some Catholics go too far? Yes, of course. But if we are to talk about an entire system of theology and a Church, we must deal with its greatest teachers, not its worst representatives. Orthodox apologists and polemicists often go after Anselm as a “rationalist,” but that has been shown to be incorrect.

Likewise, even Met. Kallistos (who should know better) goes after “Scholastic theology” (by extension, St. Thomas Aquinas, who basically started that school), in his quote below. It is objectionable that this common Orthodox critique runs down some of our greatest theologians and philosophers, who hold to no such notions. Yet Kallistos Ware makes the following astonishing observation:

Latin Scholastic theology, emphasizing as it does the essence at the expense of persons, comes near to turning God into an abstract idea. He becomes a remote and impersonal being . . . a God of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph. (Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, The Orthodox Church, New York: Penguin Books, revised 1980 edition, 222)

Who else did Met. Kallistos have in view? Who are these Catholic “philosophers” who had such an atrocious theology of God? One might try to bring up certain nominalistic theologians, but we agree that that was a corruption of Scholasticism, actually breeding many errors of early Protestantism, so that would be equating the corruption with the real thing, just as Luther did, thinking that nominalism was the Scholasticism that he so hated, and heaped scorn upon. In both cases a caricature and straw man is set up and then despised.

The burden of proof is on the one making the charge. Orthodox who believe this need to show us where a reputable Catholic theologian (Scholastic or otherwise) teaches that God is “remote and impersonal.” It’s ludicrous. Catholics are not deists. One doesn’t have to disprove a groundless charge. If Met. Kallistos had qualified the statement he might have pulled it off, with the usual derisive remarks about western philosophy, with which we are well familiar. But he did not. He painted with a mile-wide brush.

To provide just one example of literally hundreds that could be brought forth to refute these outrageous assertions: I recently completed my book, Quotable Catholic Mystics and Contemplatives (2014). It was striking how all fourteen mystics or mystical works drawn from in the book, without exception, taught theosis, or divinization, or deification (as it is variously known): the notion that one enters into a profound union with God.

This is often falsely thought to be particularly or even exclusively an Orthodox belief. Needless to say that it completely goes against the assertions of a “remote god” that we so often hear.

The fourteen sources in my book included five Doctors of the Catholic Church and five orders of the Church Dominican (3) [St. Thomas Aquinas’ own], Augustinian (2), Carmelite (2), Franciscan, and Cistercian. The section on theosis runs from page 80 to page 93: all simply quotations from these great mystics and contemplatives. I shall cite just one of these, from St. John of the Cross (1542-1591): a Doctor of the Church:

In thus allowing God to work in it, the soul (having rid itself of every mist and stain of the creatures, which consists in having its will perfectly united with that of God, for to love is to labour to detach and strip itself for God’s sake of all that is not God) is at once illumined and transformed in God, and God communicates to it His supernatural Being, in such wise that it appears to be God Himself, and has all that God Himself has. And this union comes to pass when God grants the soul this supernatural favour, that all the things of God and the soul are one in participant transformation; and the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation; although it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before, even as the window has likewise a nature distinct from that of the ray, though the ray gives it brightness. (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, ch. 5)

Does this sound like anything in the same universe as “a remote and impersonal being”? It’s ludicrous. Now, the retort would probably be that Met. Kallistos was referring only to the Scholastics, and in context, probably only some of those. Maybe so, but it still remains a general critique from certain sectors of Orthodoxy, and St. Thomas Aquinas is often a major recipient of the scorn. But he taught theosis, too! The following statements all come from his Summa Theologica:

Now the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle. (ST 1-2, q. 112, a. 1c)

. . . the worth of the work depends on the dignity of grace, whereby a man, being made a partaker of the Divine Nature, is adopted as a son of God, to whom the inheritance is due by right of adoption, according to Rm. 8:17: “If sons, heirs also.” (ST 1-2, q. 114, a. 3c)

The head and members are as one mystic person; and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being His members. (ST 3, q. 48, a. 2, ad 1)

. . . grace is nothing else than a participated likeness of the Divine Nature, according to 2 Pet. 1:4: “He hath given us most great and precious promises; that we may be partakers of the Divine Nature.” (ST 3, q. 62, a. 1c)

. . . one can be changed into Christ, and be incorporated in Him by mental desire, even without receiving this sacrament [the Eucharist]. (ST 3, q. 73, a. 3, ad 2)

To be fair, one of my dialogical opponents later admitted that he had confused St. Anselm’s Monologion and Proslogion, and clarified that he was not arguing that Anselm was hyper-rationalistic, but rather, how he might “seem” that way to an “honest reader.” That’s acceptable; however, the general thrust of the argument is highly typical of much anti-Western Orthodox polemics.

Those who interpret St. Anselm in such a manner are neglecting the totality of his Christian theological views. Orthodox often imply that St. Anselm (and, by implication, many Catholic thinkers) make arguments from reason alone, and object that this is improper, unbiblical, and ultimately (at some point) at cross-purposes with both faith and mystery (grounded in revelation or Sacred Scripture).

My point, on the other hand, is that these arguments must be understood in a broader context: that they are never intended in terms of being in opposition to faith or revelation or mystery, but to complement them. This ties in to the common Orthodox critiques of western “hyper-rationalism.”

We contend that such analyses create dichotomies where they do not exist: that is, between faith and reason. We hold the two together in harmony. We don’t see that they are opposed to each other, or contradictory, or contraries; at odds with each other, pitted against each other, either in Scripture or in philosophy and theology.

For the Catholic, reason and faith are complementary (but faith is the far more important of the two). It is proper to use reason to a great extent in seeking to understand God and theology, because, indeed (as our Lord commanded us), we are to love God with our “minds” as well as our hearts. When the Orthodox seem to denigrate the role of reason in theology and Christian life, saying that Catholics go too far, they are, from our perspective, creating unbiblical dichotomies and placing reason lower in the scheme of things than the New Testament places it.

The Orthodox general view on this matter (as far as I understand it) is something like the following: faith is primary. Reason can be used to a degree in understanding faith and theology, but it doesn’t extend nearly as far as Catholic western “rationalism” takes it. Catholics speculate unduly and improperly on sacred, spiritual mysteries that are beyond human reason, thus undermining faith and belief in (and worship of) the Divine Persons, rather than merely philosophical “essences” or constructs, ultimately creating the milieu for (potentially) a detached, skeptical rationalism (detached from theology) to take hold.

What is particularly outrageous is that Met. Kallistos Ware not only asserted that western “Latin Scholastic theology” went too far in reasoned speculation, but that this somehow almost changes the very nature of God, in the mere exercise of it (“. . . at the expense of persons, comes near to turning God into an abstract idea”). The only qualification is the word “near,” but that doesn’t soften the falsehood all that much.

Discussing God’s essence does not in the least imply that therefore the Personhood of God is minimized. This simply does not follow. It’s an arbitrary dichotomy to assume that reason and faith are somehow opposed to each other, in a zero-sum game relationship (i.e., when one increases, the other decreases).

It was the deists who held to a “god” like this: a concept that flowed not from Catholic thought, but rather, from a deliberate rejection of it. The philosophes of France, like Rousseau and Voltaire, thought very little of the Catholic Church. More radical French revolutionaries (some outright atheists) sought to overthrow the Church altogether, and to enthrone a “goddess of reason.” This was much of the point of the French Revolution, along with overthrow of the monarchy.

Likewise, the British and American deists of the period, had, of course, very little connection with Catholicism: as the religion was still illegal in England and miniscule in numbers in America. None of this has the slightest connection to the 13th-century Catholic theology of God.

When we examine someone like St. Anselm, we need to ask ourselves what he is trying to accomplish, and from what axioms or premises he is proceeding, in his thought and arguments. He clearly states that his starting assumption is the Christian faith. The Proslogium, as an argument, is expressly intended within a Christian framework, as already noted.

The Monologium, on the other hand, takes a different approach. It tries to argue from reason alone, so as to reach the person who is at that place in his understanding, not yet in possession of faith, or the faith, as it were. Does this mean that Anselm “suspends” his own belief or momentarily becomes an atheist in order to make his argument, or pretends that he is not a Christian? No, not at all. What he is doing is precisely what Paul talked about, in his own evangelistic efforts and strategies:

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 [RSV] For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. [20] To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law – though not being myself under the law – that I might win those under the law. [21] To those outside the law I became as one outside the law – not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ – that I might win those outside the law. [22] To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. [23] I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Thus, the Christian apologist can do the same thing. To the atheist we become (in a purely rhetorical sense, “for the sake of argument”) “as an atheist” (not an atheist, as if we are intellectual chameleons). Paul assumed the Jewish mindset in order to argue with the Jews, “though not being without the law,” as he explains. This is common sense, it is an excellent means of winning them over; it is an act of charity; it is not forsaking his own beliefs for a moment.

Christian apologists can follow St. Paul’s example as the greatest evangelist of all time. There is nothing wrong with this whatsoever. If Orthodox disagree, then they must have a huge problem – bottom-line – with St. Paul, not the straw man of Catholic so-called “hyper-rationalism.”

And this is not the only biblical argument. St. Paul takes the same approach on Mars Hill in Athens. He seeks common ground with the pagan Greeks, in order to build bridges. Does this mean that he momentarily believed in the different Greek gods, or “the unknown god,” in so arguing? Again, of course not:

Acts 17:22-23 So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op’agus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. [23] For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, `To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

He cites their own poets later on in the discourse. Now what is wrong with this? Absolutely nothing! It is the biblical methodology of evangelization. The third biblical passage of great relevance is Romans 1, where St. Paul tells us that men can indeed know that God exists by simply observing the universe. This is an argument purely from reason, before one gets to theology (natural theology).

Neither Paul nor Catholics (not even St. Thomas Aquinas) think that men can come to know the Triune God of the Bible in all His fullness by reason alone. That requires revelation as well. But they can know quite a bit indeed:

Romans 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;

This is God’s infallible revelation, not just my own “Catholic” argument. Orthodox must deal with this. None of it entails a denigration of God or some silly notion that He becomes “remote and impersonal” or merely a “God of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph,” as Met. Kallistos and many other Orthodox apologists claim. And that is because the arguments from reason do not purport to change God’s nature; God Himself, at all.

The Lord God Almighty is Who He is, regardless of how someone attempts to explain or proclaim Him. They are simply “tactical” means, used to reach men who don’t yet possess the understanding of revelation or Christian background and understanding. If they are consistent with truths known from revelation, there is nothing at all improper about them (as truth is truth), and Met. Kallisto’s charge is an absolute falsehood. They don’t entail any denial of Christian belief.

Eastern Church fathers agree with my analysis, in commenting on this passage:

God has placed knowledge of himself in human hearts from the beginning . . . He put before them the immense creation, so that both the unwise and the unlearned, the Scythian and the barbarian, might ascend to God, having learned through sight the beauty of the things which they had seen. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 3; NPNF 1, 11:352)

These things apply to all human beings who possess natural reason. Yet they more specifically apply to those called philosophers . . . to perceive in their minds the things which are invisible. (Origen, Commentary on Romans; CER 1:142)

. . . the world . . . is truly a training place for rational souls and a school for attaining the knowledge of God. Through visible and perceptible objects it provides guidance to the mind for the contemplation of the invisible. (St. Basil the Great, Homily One, Creation of the Heavens and Earth 1.6; FC 46:11)

St. Anselm was merely applying the Pauline principle: “to those without Scripture, I became as without Scripture, though not without Scripture myself.” Was St. Paul also a “hyper-rationalist”? Whatever applies to St. Anselm in this critique also applies to St. Paul.

So either the critique collapses (and it is a very common Orthodox one), or we need to be shown what essential difference between St. Anselm and St. Paul makes the former “hyper-rationalistic”, whereas the latter was not. Does St. Anselm use reason? Yes. Does St. Anselm use reason alone? Yes (sometimes). Is either intended to be in some sort of opposition to faith and mystery or biblical revelation? No. Does St. Paul use reason? Yes. Does St. Paul use reason alone (sometimes)? Yes. Is either intended to be in some sort of opposition to faith and mystery or biblical revelation? No. I rest my case.

Reason is always necessary, in any view, and we all use it, whether we are aware of it or not, in adopting one particular framework and epistemology over against another. How one arrives at unproven axioms is another huge discussion.

At this juncture in the discussion, my Orthodox friends stated that Anselm had adopted St. Augustine’s approach with regard to faith and reason, and that he incorporated Platonism into Christian theology. If this is so, it is no different than what St. Gregory Nazianzus and Dionysius the Areopagite did, according to Jaroslav Pelikan, the Lutheran-then-Orthodox Church historian, who stated that the philosophical influence (mostly Platonic)was as prevalent in the last five centuries of Byzantium as it has been anywhere else.

St. Gregory Palamas fused Platonic and Aristotelian elements in his philosophical theology. Some Eastern fathers before Anselm and Orthodox saints after did the same thing. Everyone has a philosophy. Everyone reasons, and classical logic was formulated by the ancient pagan Greeks, not the ancient Hebrews. It’s unavoidable.

My friends continued on, observing that Western theology was based on “rational thought” whereas Orthodoxy was hesychastic (a tradition of inner, mystical prayer). I contend, on the other hand, that both have both elements. Catholicism has plenty of mystics (I just compiled a book of them) and Orthodoxy has plenty of rationality. It is silly to describe things in such black-and-white terms. It isn’t helpful for understanding and creates more division. If St. Paul can “do philosophy,” so can everyone else.

Nothing in Catholicism is unalterably opposed to mysticism. Quite the contrary; we have mystics who can more than match up with Orthodox holy men (St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Liseux, Thomas a Kempis). The stigmata, for example, or Marian apparitions, can hardly be classed as a species of “rationalism,” and G. K. Chesterton wrote books about both St. Francis and St. Thomas Aquinas, glorying in the fact that the Catholic Church can include both entirely different sorts of Christians without having to pit them against one another.

Yet the anti-Western impulse in Orthodoxy is alive and well (hopefully as a minority position); particularly in this attack on a supposed excessive Catholic reliance on reason. For example, here is an observation from  Fr. Seraphim Rose, a major, revered recent Orthodox figure:

[In Scholasticism], logicalness becomes the first test of truth, and the living sources of faith second. Under this influence, Western man loses a living relationship to truth. Christianity is reduced to a system, to a human level . . . It is an attempt to make by human efforts something better than Christianity. Anselm’s proof of God’s existence is an example – he is “cleverer” than the ancient Holy Fathers. (Not of this World: The Life and Teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose, Monk Damascene Christensen, Fr. Seraphim Rose Foundation, 1993, 591)

Apparently, St. Gregory Palamas was “cleverer” than the ancient Fathers, too, then, since he found a new way to synthesize hesychasm and apophatic theology in the 14th century, teaching that man could mystically know and experience the energies of God but not His essence, using a synthesis of Platonist and Aristotelian philosophy to do so.

As a Catholic, I think St. Gregory Palamas is great. I think theosis is great. My problem is that I see no big difference in Anselm’s (or Aquinas’s) reasoning. Several Orthodox participants in my old Internet list discussion group even went to the extreme of claiming that Catholics worship a different “god,” some citing the same quote from Met. Kallistos above, that I have been objecting to.

As the dialogue went on (and degenerated into a non-constructive haggling; ships passing in the night), I asked for “facts” in our theology that would suggest anything near to such an imagined thing. I got nothing. I asked for clarification and got none. I dealt with what I believe to be the proper place of reason within faith by giving several biblical examples (which were also utterly ignored). I requested citations. What did I get?: again, nothing.

If some Orthodox wish to be so opposed to reason and rationality that they can’t even explain their belief-system and religious practice at all to an outsider, then I suppose there is a certain consistency to that. Completely non-rational or anti-rational beliefs can only be experienced, not reasoned through or explained, by definition. I deny that historic Orthodoxy is “non-rational,” yet so often this is the type of thinking that its adherents exhibit.

The other frequent target (along with St. Augustine) of the legions of Orthodox who take a dim view of “Western rationalism,” is, of course, St. Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, Catholics approach theology a little more abstractly and philosophically than the Orthodox do (and some strains of Protestantism).

But philosophical speculation and cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments don’t rule out devotion or wonder or obedience or mysticism or prayer or worship. Our speculation (a la Aquinas) doesn’t change the character or nature of God (in our own minds and hearts) any more than scientific speculation and observation change the laws of nature.

Einstein and a 3-year-old child could both look at the nighttime starry sky and marvel at it. There is a huge difference in understanding and perception between the two, but that didn’t make the universe any less wondrous to Einstein (as he often expressed). The wonder and “mysticism” were still there, and reason and science didn’t wipe them out.

Orthodox (and many Protestants) often seem to act as if whenever Catholics merely apply reason to some theological matter, all other aspects of Christianity are somehow nullified or minimized. This is what Lutheran-turned-Catholic writer Louis Bouyer called the “dichotomous tendency.” We simply don’t have to choose between reason and devotion, reason and revelation, reason and mysticism, etc. These are all false dilemmas.

We see the same “both/and” outlook in St. Thomas Aquinas himself, who wrote wonderful prayers and devotional meditations, had a profound devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was exceedingly humble, and ended his life in a pronounced mystical state. He devoted his life to the synthesis of reason and revelation, and defense of the faith against Islam and other threats.

The early (pre-schism / undivided) Church engaged in the most rigorous logical / biblical argumentation concerning the nature of God the Father and God the Son. A great deal of fuss was made about one word: homoousios.  The Church thought that it was supremely important to establish that Christ had two wills rather than one (contra the heresy of Monothelitism), and that Christ had two natures (contra the heresy of Monophysitism).

The fathers engaged in extensive arguments with the heretical Sabellians about the Three Persons of the Godhead (as opposed to “modes” or “operations”), and the more blatantly heretical Arians, who thought Jesus was created, and with the Nestorians, who thought Christ was two Persons rather than one God-Man.

All of this had to do with the Holy Trinity, and certainly involved “conceiving” to a great degree the supposedly “inconceivable” God. God is comprehensible insofar as He has revealed Himself, and we can understand a lot about God, for that reason. Can we know everything? Of course we cannot. That is not at issue.

I believe that personal devotion to God is one area in which the Orthodox excel: a strong point. But it is a different consideration altogether when it is implied that Catholics place reason too high in the scheme of things. We think others are placing it too low. Catholics always try to achieve a balance, a “golden mean,” a harmonious whole, a synthesis. Faith and reason, faith and works, orthodoxy and orthopraxis, theology and devotion, marriage and celibacy, Scripture and tradition, Church and tradition, popes and councils, etc., etc.

Orthodox object that transubstantiation is delving into an “unfathomable mystery” and that it should simply be regarded as a mystery that finite minds cannot understand.  But then why do Orthodox concentrate so much on the Filioque? Is that not equally mysterious (if not much more so)? All Christians agree that there are three Persons who are God, and that these three Persons are equal in essence, power, and glory. All are eternal, and worthy of worship. One took on human flesh to come and die on our behalf, etc., etc. Why make the complicated and ultimately unfathomable relations of the three Divine Persons a matter of ecclesiological separation?

The West seems quite content to let the East analyze the Filioque in their own fashion. We see it as a complementary understanding. Yet when it comes to transubstantiation, the Orthodox often accuse us of “delving into what is an unfathomable mystery.” Well, what is more of a mystery than the Holy Trinity?

The essence of the Christian doctrines are theological and spiritual / mystical, not philosophical. Philosophy helps us to further understand the revealed truths of Scripture and tradition. We accept certain things as axiomatic on the basis of revelation and apostolic proclamation (kerygma). We don’t have to understand every jot and tittle to yield to this authority (hence, the utility of development as history flows on).

The very notion of development is an assumption that the same doctrines can be understood in greater depth by philosophy, reflection, battles with heretics, prayer, new social and ethical problems, the accumulated wisdom of the faithful, the Church, and experience, etc. Therefore, it is not at all inconsistent (or, surprising) for a later philosophy to be introduced in order to explain an apostolic doctrine. One is the servant of the other; they are not the same thing. No single philosophy rules in Christianity.

Reason can utilize various philosophies in order to elaborate on Christian belief, because the philosophies and the beliefs are two different things. That is why it is no contradiction to say that a doctrine remains apostolic, while it is being “filtered,” so to speak, through a new means of philosophical or epistemological understanding (such as Scholasticism).

Another Orthodox myth (which appears common, judging by how often I have encountered it on the Internet) holds that St. Thomas Aquinas died in a state in which he renounced his work, and possibly the Catholic Church. St. Thomas was setting out for the Ecumenical Council of Lyons when he struck his head and died soon after. On his deathbed, he said:

I have taught and written much on this most holy Body and the other sacraments, according to my faith in Christ and in the holy Roman Church, to whose judgment I submit all my teaching. (in James A. Weiseipl, Friar Thomas D’Aquino; His Life, Thought, and Work, New York: 1974, 326; cited in Warren H. Carroll, The Glory of Christendom, Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom Press, 1993, 298)

This hardly sounds like a man who has rejected his own work, let alone the Catholic Church. We don’t make a dichotomy between mysticism and reason (or devotion). All are crucial; all are Christian, and pious. St. Thomas combined all these aspects in both his teaching and in his person. This is the Catholic way: always a balance; everything in its proper place, and degree. St. Thomas Aquinas exemplified it to an extraordinary degree.

Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart scathingly critiques this prevalent strain of anti-western thought in Orthodoxy:

Since at least the time of Vladimir Lossky it has become something of a fixed idea in modern Orthodox theology that Western theology has traditionally forgotten the biblical truth that the unity of the Trinity flows from the paternal arche and come to believe instead that what constitutes the unity of God is an impersonal divine essence prior to the Trinitarian relations. It was Theodore de Regnon who, in 1892, first suggested a distinction between Western and Eastern styles of Trinitarian theology: the tendency, that is, of Latin thought to proceed from general nature to concrete Person, so according priority to divine unity, and of Greek thought to proceed from Person to nature, so placing the emphasis first on the plurality of divine Persons. This distinction was not made in order to suggest a dogmatic superiority on either side, of course; nor, I think, was it very true.

But it was seized upon, rather opportunistically, by a number of 20th-century theologians, and now we find ourselves in an age in which we are often told that we must choose between ‘Greek’ personalism and ‘Latin’ essentialism. And, supposedly, this is a difference that goes all the way back to the patristic period (at least, if certain extremely misleading interpretations of Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa are to be believed). It has become so lamentably common among my fellow Orthodox to treat this claim that Western theology in general posits some ‘impersonal’ divine ground behind the Trinitarian hypostases, and so fails to see the Father as the ‘fountainhead of divinity’, as a simple fact of theological history (and the secret logic of Latin ‘filioquism’) that it seems almost rude to point out that it is quite demonstrably untrue, from the patristic through the medieval periods, with a few insignificant exceptions. (“The Myth of Schism”: see full source information in Chapter One)

Fr. Deacon Daniel Dozier

“As a light from the west
he has illumined
the Church of Christ
the musical swan
and subtle teacher.
Thomas the all-blessed,
Aquinas by name,
to whom we, gathered together, cry:
Hail, universal teacher!”

— 15th century Byzantine canon composed by Bishop Joseph of Methone

This particular chapter touches upon many issues that frequently come up in debates between Western Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, namely the historical relationship between reason and faith as it relates to theology in general and Scholastic theology in particular. Part of the issue hinges on prevailing popular narratives and historical assumptions about scholasticism as a theological method, as well as residual biases that periodically appear on both sides related to the respective emphases on reason over faith or faith over reason or even faith in opposition to reason or vice versa. As Dave alludes to, the points of view and historical record is far more nuanced, though no less provocative in certain cases, than the polemicists would prefer.

Scholasticism as a theological method is defined as a systematic doctrinal synthesis of the teachings of Scripture, patristics, and Greek philosophy, that attempts to bring together both human and divine wisdom in a coherent, cohesive, and in certain cases, comprehensive presentation. Although evidence of such an attempted reconciliation and synthesis of human and divine wisdom can be found throughout the patristic period, although its development in the early medieval West began in the 8th and 9th centuries through the establishment of monastic schools in Europe. The period of “High Scholasticism” culminates in the 13th and 14th centuries, most especially with the work of the University of Paris and the development of the schools of the more Platonic Franciscan and more Aristotelian Dominican Scholasticisms represented by the two great luminaries, St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas respectively.

What is little known (and even less frequently acknowledged by some Orthodox polemicists) is that Orthodoxy also developed its own form of “Byzantine Scholasticism” around the same period, but less as an outgrowth of any university system and more as part of a tradition employing reasoned arguments in favor of the faith, developed especially by St. John of Damascus in his Fount of Knowledge. St. Photios the Great was also a practitioner of this method in the 9th century, as was St. Gregory Palamas. (See Orthodox theologian, Marcus Plested’s excellent Orthodox Readings of Aquinas, Oxford University Press, 2012.)

This is not to say that the methods employed in both Latin and Byzantine Scholasticism were the same substantively or stylistically, but it does undermine the false narrative that the employment of logic and appeals to reason in theological matters are themselves a purely Western – and ergo disfiguring – development.

What is more, around the middle of the 14th century, the writings of Aquinas were translated into Greek, sparking a period of energized discussion, debate and reception by Byzantine theologians during the period. According to Plested, however, far from a universal rejection of Aquinas, there appeared to be an enthusiastic embrace of his works across the spectrum of theological schools of thought during this period. He notes:

All this does not amount to a wholesale approval of Thomas, still less to a school of “Byzantine Thomism,” but it indicates that the supposition of methodological incompatibility between East and West is deeply flawed. The considerable enthusiasm for Aquinas across party lines – Palamite and anti-Palamite, unionist and anti-unionist – shows that the situation is far more subtle and complex than such a supposition would imply. Indeed, I know of only one Byzantine critique of Thomas that asserts methodological incompatibility in wholly unambiguous terms: the refutation of the Summa contra gentiles composed by Kallistos Angelikoudes. In this bitter and unrelenting polemic, Thomas is characterized as heretical…leading him into the errors of, among others, Arius and Mohammed. For Angelikoudes, human reason has nothing of real value to contribute to theology. Angelikoudes’s strategy, if one can call it that, is to pile insult upon insult, calumny upon calumny, with very little clarity of argument or structure. It is not an edifying piece and serves as a painful reminder of the depths of hostility to the Latin world felt in some quarters of Byzantium. (Marcus Plested, “Light of the West: Byzantine Readings of Aquinas” in Orthodox Constructions of the West. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013, 67)

Plested is also keen to point out that part of the resonance of Aquinas with Orthodox Byzantium had to do with his great dependence upon the Greek Fathers, in addition to St. Augustine and Aristotle. His arrival on the scene and mostly warm (but not uncritical at times) reception also came after the decisive, dogmatic victory of the Palamite hesychasts. The current attempts to pit Palamas against Aquinas in this respect is a somewhat pernicious modern invention by some Orthodox theologians that does not bear up under historical scrutiny.

The very fact that St. Nicholas Cabasilas, who vigorously defended Palamite teaching, as well as George Scholarios (later Patriarch Gennadios of Constantinople) who was a fervent anti-unionist following the Council of Florence, both made use of Aquinas’ teaching, with Scholarios even identifying himself as a fervent Thomist, further demonstrates that not all of the methods and substance of Western Scholasticism were and are antithetical to Orthodoxy.

It is interesting to note that Plested is the Vice Principal of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, with which the great Orthodox theologian, ecumenist and hierarch, Met. Kallistos Ware is also affiliated. There is a growing movement of interest on the part of Orthodox theologians in the teachings and writings of the Angelic Doctor. Part of the issue to overcome, as Orthodox priest and theologian, Father Andrew Louth notes in his review of Plested’s book in First Things (May 2013), is the differences in organization and language in the writings of Aquinas from those of Eastern Christian theologians. Such a difficulty is not insurmountable, and one can find in his writings teachings which would resonate among the most devout Orthodox and Catholic.

But how might one define an Eastern Catholic approach to these questions? Part of our challenge – both pastorally and ecclesiologically – is the need for our churches, clergy and faithful to become better acquainted with the writings from within our own tradition. This is not to say that we should not be engaged in the growing dialogue around Aquinas, but the sad fact is that many of us are already quite familiar with the teachings of the Western Scholastics and altogether too unfamiliar with the wonderful and inspiring teachings of St. Basil the Great, St. John of Damascus, St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Nicholas Cabasilas and St. Gregory Palamas, whose name was added to the Greek Catholic liturgical calendar on the Second Sunday of Lent first by the Melkite Synod of Bishops in 1971 and then some ten years later by St. John Paul II in an intriguing papal intervention in Eastern Catholic life to make us more familiar with our heritage and to bring us into conformity with Orthodox praxis.

I enthusiastically agree with Fr. Deacon Daniel’s very helpful historical survey. I think it’s a magnificent contribution to the overall discussion regarding the relationship of faith and reason, and that this issue need not be a dividing point at all,  once the true, multi-faceted positions of both sides are better understood.

I’ve always thought, too, that Orthodox would greatly benefit from reading Catholic mystics and contemplatives: whose writings I have recently compiled in a quotations book (much to my own edification and spiritual growth).

In a nutshell, then, I believe that if Orthodox read those sorts of Catholic books, and if Catholics read some of the more analytical and philosophical Orthodox works, that it could be seen that both parties do truly acknowledge faith and reason alike, and do not attempt to denigrate either.

There will be differences as to how faith and reason specifically interact or relate to each other (fine points), but these need not divide, and should be allowed as permissible opinions; allowable diversity, as long as no doctrines or dogmas are violated.

The last thing we need are Orthodox denunciations of Catholicism as supposedly sanctioning a ludicrous notion of a “remote, deist god” or Catholics claiming that Orthodox altogether reject reason in discussions of faith and theology. Stereotypes, caricatures, distortions, and outright whoppers are not pleasing to God, and need to cease. Charity, unity, and truth alike all demand it.

I’d like to also draw some thoughts from a paper I wrote in 2006, about Thomism and its place in the Church (thus this is not “new thought” for me at all; it’s been my position since the early 90s):

Thomism is not the last word on everything in the Church. The present pope [Benedict XVI] and John Paul Great (basically a phenomenologist, philosophically) were not particularly of that train of thought at all, and no one would suspect their orthodoxy or huge contributions to the Mind of the Church. Thomism is a great tradition, which has made immense contributions to the Church, and I love St. Thomas, but it’s not the magisterium or the extent of the Mind of the Church. If a Thomist acts like it is, he is wrong.

John Paul the Great was not a “Thomist” (nor is Pope Benedict XVI). He had great respect for St. Thomas and Thomism, as all Catholics should and must (I would say), but his thought is not a mere development of Thomism: it moves beyond it and dialogues with it, incorporating its truths within a larger intellectual sphere.

That is exactly how I would describe my own approach: I am a syncretist in terms of philosophical theology. The biggest intellectual influence on me was Cardinal Newman, who is also of a very different school and mode of thinking than Thomism (while immensely respecting its contributions, as I do).

I went on to cite George Weigel’s opinions on this question, from his 992-page volume, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York: HarperCollins, 1999):

The Thomism he had learned in Krakow and at the Angelicum . . . had given him an intellectual foundation. But it was precisely that, a foundation. And foundations were meant to be built upon.

. . . The phenomenologist . . . [is] interested in the experience as a whole, the psychological, physical, moral, and conceptual elements . . . It was phenomenology’s determination to see things whole and get to the reality of things-as-they-are that attracted Karol Wojtyla . . . That he looked to Scheler as a possible guide, and that he put himself through the backbreaking work of translation so that he could analyze Scheler in his own language, suggests that Wojtyla had become convinced that the answers were not found in the neo-scholasticism of Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange . . .

Wojtyla didn’t lock himself into intellectual combat with the philosophical method he had been taught, expending his energies in a war of attrition against an entrenched Catholic way of thinking. Certain forms of neo-scholasticism might have been an obstacle to a genuine Catholic encounter with modern philosophy. Wojtyla simply went around the barrier, having absorbed what was enduring about neo-scholasticism – its conviction that philosophy could get to the truth of things-as-they-are . . . The net result would be what Wojtyla would call, years later, a way of doing philosophy that “synthesized both approaches”: the metaphysical realism of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and the sensitivity to human experience of Max Scheler’s phenomenology . . . Wojtyla also agreed with Scheler’s claim that human intuitions into the truth of things included moral intuitions, a certain “knowledge of the heart” that was, nonetheless, real knowledge [Dave: this reminds one of Augustine and Pascal, as well as Newman] . . . The question Wojtyla posed in his habilitation thesis was whether Scheler (and, by extension, the phenomenological method) could do for contemporary Christian philosophy and theology what Aristotle had done for Thomas Aquinas. (pp. 87, 127-129)

This sort of intuitive or phenomenological or personalist knowledge is perhaps akin to the pre-rational or supra-rational experience of worship and liturgy that might be regarded as key to the Eastern approach. Both “modes” (for lack of a better word) are different from an approach that puts (or often is perceived to put) reason on the highest plane or subordinates all else to it.

Though the stereotype is that the apologist is usually a hyper-rationalist and would fit into the sort of Thomist “box,” this is not true in my case and has not been for at least 25 years, if ever. I’m not a Thomist at all (though I edited a book of St. Thomas Aquinas quotations, drawn from the Summa Theologica, and had a links-page about him on my website when I began it in 1997). In, for example, the (allowable, non-dogmatic) dispute over predestination, I am a Congruist-Molinist.

In “experiential apologetics” I was highly influenced by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s book, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870), in which he laid out his notion of the Illative Sense (which is largely intuitive or pre-rational or non-rational as well). It’s an extremely dense, heavy book (and that’s putting it mildly), but full of riches and treasures for the stout soul who perseveres with it.

It’s tough to find summary statements in it that can be comprehended on their own (no one requires being read in very deep context more than Cardinal Newman), so I will, rather, cite Catholic philosophy professor and Newman devotee John F. Crosby, from a wonderful article, entitled,  “Chairman addresses the question of Thomism in Franciscan University’s philosophy department,” which was part of that university’s journal (apparently no longer online).

From it we learn that Cardinal Newman was highly influenced by the Greek Church fathers; hence, I must be, myself, so influenced, though a Western Catholic, since he is what I call my “theological hero” and (by far) largest theological influence, and has been since 1990: the year of my conversion (largely as a result of reading his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine):

I base my remarks on my lifelong immersion in his works, and I say: anyone who dwells in Newman’s intellectual world knows that Newman is in no way indebted to Thomas for his first principles, which he instead derives mainly from the Greek fathers of the Church. In fact, Newman holds any number of philosophical positions that are hardly consistent with those of St. Thomas. . . . It is one thing to quote Thomas with respect; it is another thing to take over his first principles in one’s philosophy, and it is just this that is so conspicuously missing in Newman.

. . . Now why do I make so much of Newman’s independence from Thomistic philosophy? . . . I make so much of it because for all his non-Thomism Newman entirely belongs to the Catholic intellectual tradition, and in fact occupies a unique position in it. He is perhaps the most seminal Catholic thinker since the Reformation. He is called the “hidden Council father” of Vatican II, being commonly credited with doing more than any other single theologian to prepare the ground in the Church for Vatican II. The saying of Erich Pryzwara, S.J., has gained great currency in the Church: what St. Augustine was for the Church in the patristic era, and what St. Thomas was for the Church in the medieval era, that Newman is for the Church in the modern era. When in 1991 John Paul II took the first step toward canonizing Newman, the official declaration of the Church read in part: “John Henry Newman’s theological thought is of such stature and profundity that he is judged by many learned men to rank alongside the greatest Fathers of the Church.” But he has this stature and profundity without being a Thomist. Both Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI said that they looked forward to the day when Newman would be declared a doctor of the Church. This means that they looked forward to him being made an official model for Catholic philosophers and theologians even though he was not a Thomist.

We ought to interpret the recommendation of Thomism in the light of those whom the Church proposes to us as models. If a non-Thomist enjoys enormous prestige as a Catholic thinker, and if the popes confirm this prestige, and if none of them ever complains about his not being a Thomist, or expresses any regret about it, then we can only conclude: the recommendation of Thomism does not mean that each and every Catholic philosopher is encouraged to be a Thomist. Nor does it mean that a Catholic philosopher not a Thomist must have a deficient relation to the teaching Church and must be an accomplice to the confusion that presently wracks the Church.

. . . In the 13th century St. Augustine was the pre-eminent Christian philosopher; along came St. Thomas, who took over this position of pre-eminence. Why should this surpassing not happen again? There are weighty reasons for thinking that at least in certain points of philosophy, including certain fundamental points, Christian philosophers have already gone decisively beyond St. Thomas. I do not only speak of correcting St. Thomas, but also of their working toward a more comprehensive view of reality. Think of the way in which Karol Wojtyla has objected to what he calls the excessively “cosmological” approach of the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy; think of the more “personalist” approach that he himself takes. . . . He is of the opinion that with his personalism he is retrieving an important dimension of the human person that remained altogether undeveloped in the tradition.

. . . It is not to the point to insist on the special place St. Thomas occupied in this philosophical patrimony; I quite recognize it. But we cannot fail to recognize the fact that the Church since the Council has taken a more inclusive approach to Christian philosophy. This is also the approach we take in the philosophy department at Franciscan University.

The great irony here is that so many Orthodox apologists eschew or deride development of doctrine (of which Newman was the greatest proponent), and so he is a sort of “bad guy” from that perspective; yet on the other hand, he is not a Thomist (the school of thought that is also opposed so vehemently among many Orthodox) and according to Dr. Crosby, drew his “first principles” primarily “from the Greek fathers of the Church.”

That’s pretty extraordinary for a Westerner like Cardinal Newman, who came out of Anglicanism. In conclusion, I’d like to rejoice over all the “bridges” that we can see between East and West in these “philosophical” or “worldview” trends in the Catholic Church: thinking and approaching the spiritual life and theology in ways that are much more congenial to the East: more experiential, far less hyper-rational, more intuitive.

The Latin Church seems to be moving Eastward in many ways.  Things can change over time (and that entails development of doctrine: my favorite theological topic of all, and main reason why I was persuaded of Catholicism over against evangelical Protestantism). I think all this bodes well for the ecumenical movement towards eventual reunion. I’m very excited about it, and I hope that readers of this volume will be, too!


See my Eastern Orthodoxy web page for related reading.


Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not Exist: If you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and two children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2700 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.



Browse Our Archives