"Partakers of the Divine Nature" (2 Peter 1:4) in the Byzantine Tradition
From the hommage to Joan Hussey ΚΑΘΗΓΗΤΡΙΑ, Porphyrogenitus Publ., Camberley UK, 1998
The deification of man is the characteristic Byzantine way of expressing the goal of human life. Far from implying a heretical notion of man's absorption into God, as Western writers sometimes assume, the term encapsulates a number of widely differing approaches to the doctrine of salvation. Among the Greek Fathers deification is expressed variously as filial adoption through baptism, as the attaining of likeness to God through gnosis and dispassion, as the ascent of the soul to God, as the participation of the soul in the divine attributes of immortality and incorruption, as the transformation of human nature by divine action, as the eschatological glorification of both soul and body, and as union with God through participation in the divine energies(1). In Byzantine writers the emphasis falls on the Pauline aspect of filial adoption and incorporation into Christ, the sacraments becoming all-important as the means by which divine life is communicated to the believer. With Palamas the chief focus of deification settles on participation in uncreated grace, which enables the human person to transcend himself and live with the life of Christ, so that he becomes 'uncreated through grace'(2).
The two classic biblical texts quoted in support of deification are Psalm 82:6 ('I said, you are gods and all of you sons of the Most High') and 2 Peter 1:4 ('precious and very great promises have been granted to us, that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature' [θείας κoινωνoί φύσεως]). The first of these texts (also quoted in John 10:34) was never a cause of controversy. There already existed a Jewish exegesis which applied the words, 'you are gods', originally to Adam and Eve, and then to those who kept the Torah, when Justin Martyr -the first Christian Father to quote them- used them as a gloss on the Johannine 'children of God' (1 Jn 3:1)(3). If baptism makes us sons of God and the Psalm addresses us as gods and sons of the Most High, then baptism must make us gods. Divine sonship through baptism therefore brings with it the divine qualities of immortality and freedom from passion. The text is often appealed to by later Fathers to express how baptism incorporates us into Christ, making us gods by grace in contrast to Christ, who is God by nature.
The quotation from 2 Peter was altogether more problematical. It was first used by Origen (thrice), then by Athanasius (six times), and subsequently by Cyril (more than forty times). It appears in the Macarian Homilies (ten times), but not in the Cappadocians and is not used again until Maximus the Confessor (twice). Thereafter it turns up very infrequently in Byzantine writers. Symeon the New Theologian appeals to it only once, so far as I am aware. Theophylact of Bulgaria passes over it rapidly in his commentary on 2 Peter. It re-emerges in the Palamite dispute when Akindynos uses 'partakers of the divine nature' to oppose the existence of the energies, forcing Palamas to give a detailed exegesis of the text. Why did this expression, 'partakers of the divine nature', present such difficulty? Why was it popular with Cyril but not with Maximus? Why was it practically ignored by the Byzantines in spite of the fact that the doctrine of deification was accepted without question? These are the problems to which we shall attempt to find solutions.
The Second Epistle of Peter is the latest document to find a place in the New Testament, commentators generally assigning it to the early part of the second century. It begins with a statement of the main theme couched in a metaphysical language not encountered elsewhere in the New Testament. Through his 'glory and virtue' Christ bestows on us his 'precious and magnificent promises' which enable us to 'escape from the corruption which is in the world' and so become 'partakers of the divine nature'. The promises are those relating to our eschatological fulfilment at the second coming (1:16; 3:4,9), when a new heaven and a new earth will be created (3:13) and we will enter into the eternal kingdom of Christ (1:11). The consummation of these promises in our becoming 'partakers of the divine nature' recalls the author of 1 Peter's description of himself as 'a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed' (5:1), and the Epistle to the Hebrews' 'we have become sharers in Christ' (3:14). The Hellenizing turn of phrase in 2 Peter 1:4, however, is particularly striking, and commentators have habitually drawn attention to its similarity to some of the expressions of Platonism. It is likely that the Platonic doctrine of participation lies behind the New Testament phrase. But to infer from this that the writer of 2 Peter understood the soul to share a community of being with God is to read more into 'nature' than the text demands. Φύσις here refers not to the essential nature of God but to one of his attributes, in this case the attribute of incorruption, for participating in the divine nature follows our 'escape from the corruption that is in the world'. In this connection the nearest parallel is Philo's της εαυτoύ φύσεως, ηρεμίας, τω σπουδαίω μεταδίδωσιν, where 'nature' is specifically a divine attribute, in this instance that of immutability, in which the virtuous man participates(4). The Book of Wisdom also provides a parallel: incorruptibility and eternity do not belong to the soul by nature but are divine attributes bestowed by God upon the worthy (cf. 2:23). It is therefore more accurate to say that the author of 2 Peter is developing an aspect of Hellenistic Judaism than to say, as some do, that he is 'naturalizing within Christian theology a widely diffused mystical tradition'(5). In any case, there is no return of the soul to its true home through awakening or rebirth, as in Hermeticism, nor is there any union with God which bypasses Christ. Those who partake of the divine nature do so through the promises of Christ who is God. Although the expression is different from Paul's, the content is not: participation in Christ wins incorruption and immortality.
Origen, a century later, is the first Father to quote 2 Peter 1:4. In Rufinus' Latin translation of the Peri Archon we read that we should follow the example of Christ, so that 'by this means we may as far as is possible become, through our imitation of him, partakers of the divine nature' (ut si forte per hoc in quantum fieri potest per imitationem eius participes efficiamur divinae naturae)(6). A little further on he defines this divine nature as intellectual light'. Since the heavenly powers receive a share of intellectual light, the human soul, when it receives a share itself, must be of one nature and substance with them, for it is axiomatic that 'everyone who shares in anything is undoubtedly of one substance and one nature with him who shares in the same thing'(8). This intellectual light, which belongs properly to God alone, is immortal and incorruptible. Therefore those who share in it receive a share of immortality and incorruption, thus coming to participate too in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit 'in proportion to the earnestness of the soul and the capacity of the mind'(9). Participation in the divine nature is participation in a divine attribute which obtains for them a certain kinship with God which they did not previously enjoy.
Commenting on this passage, Jerome protests that Origen teaches that the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the angelic powers and human beings are all of the same substance(10). But he has not understood the concept of participation which Origen is employing. The concept was a technical one which expresses the relationship between that which is self-existent and that which is merely contingent(11). Origen uses it in two ways, one static or ontological, the other dynamic or supernatural(12). On the first level all creatures that exist (οι όντες) do so because they participate in Him who is (ο ων)(13). All that are alive are so because they participate in Life itself(14). All that are rational are logikoi because they participate in the Logos(15). In this sense all human beings share a similarity with God and partake of him by their very nature. But there is also a supernatural or dynamic participation which is the result of the free human response to the operations of the Trinity and has the power to transform. In this narrower sense only the saint is logikos, only the Christian is alive(16). Human nature becomes divine not only in Christ by communion with the Logos but also in all who believe in him(17).
This dynamic participation in Origen is something new and is to be attributed to the personal nature of the Christian hypostases. As H.Crouzel has pointed out, 'the "gods" do not merely receive into themselves something of the reality of the Father and of the Word, the sons and the logika are not merely the reflections of the Unique Son and the Logos, but they are made gods and sons and logika by the voluntary action of the two divine persons'(18). God 'procures' men's becoming gods, giving them bountifully a share in his own goodness. The Lord by 'mingling' himself with beings gives them a share of his divinity and raises them to the right hand of the Father. By falling into logikai souls the Logos, like leaven, transforms them wholly into himself(19). This divine initiative calls for a human response. The Holy Spirit sanctifies those who choose to participate in him by faith, enabling them as they make progress in wisdom to participate more and more in Christ. By proceeding along 'the steep path of virtue' they become through imitation of Christ 'partakers of the divine nature'.
Participation, in Origen's dynamic understanding of the term, produces a genuine transformation as the higher reality 'informs' the lower, endowing it with its attributes. Yet there is no confusion or absorption because the relationship of participation ensures that the lower reality must be distinct from the higher as the term of the latter's action. Moreover, this participation is not in an undifferentiated essence but in the three divine persons. Thus Origen can say that the one God makes those in whom he dwells gods, the one Christ makes his adopted brethren christs, and the Holy Spirit makes the saints holy spirits. For through participation in the Holy Spirit the Christian becomes holy and spiritual. Through participation in the Son of God he becomes a son of God replete with wisdom, righteousness and logos. And in this way he shares in the divinity -and with it the goodness, immortality and incorruption- which has its principle of origin in the Father alone, becoming a god by participation (κατά μετουσίαν) as distinct from the unique Saviour, who is God by nature (κατ' ουσίαν)(20).
In the following century the need to oppose Arianism led Athanasius (bishop 328-373) to lay special emphasis on the chasm separating the 'ingenerate' order of reality, which included the Son, from the 'generate' order, which comprised the whole of creation. Nevertheless, he is still able to cite 2 Peter 1:4 no fewer than six times, on each occasion, like Origen, using the text to support the idea of the believer's dynamic participation in a personal God(21).
In the De Decretis Athanasius argues against the opinion he had heard Eusebius express that the Son alone participates in the Father while we participate in the Son. If that were so, we would then be the Son's sons. Rather, we are sons of the same Father as the Son is, our sonship being granted to us in accordance with our virtue, so that some sit on the twelve thrones, while others occupy lower places(22). Yet in a deeper sense the Son does participate in the Father. In the Contra Arianos Athanasius equates participation in the Father with the Father's begetting(23). But since the essence of God cannot be divided, his begetting the Son means that he communicates himself wholly to the Son. When men partake of God, they therefore partake of the Son, 'for that which is partaken of the Father is the Son'(24). Thus when men are said to 'participate in the divine nature', it means that the Son communicates himself to them.
This dynamic participation in the Logos is only possible because of the Incarnation and indeed is dependent specifically upon a Logos-sarx christology. When the Logos assumed a human body, he became the subject by the communicatio idiomatum of what the body experienced. 'For what the human body of the Logos suffered, this the Logos, being united to the body, ascribed to himself in order that we might be enabled to participate in the godhead of the Logos'(25). By participating in the deified humanity of the Logos we participate in his impassible divinity, because the flesh has been endowed with divinity, just as the divinity has been endowed with humanity. Athanasius is silent about the soul, which in Origen plays an important part in mediating between the Logos and the flesh. In Athanasius' view, because the Incarnation has transferred our nature to the Logos, we participate in the divine nature simply by participating in the humanity of the Logos.
Our participation in the Logos is made possible by the Spirit: 'for through the Spirit we are all called partakers of God'(26). That is to say, we participate in the Son through baptism. The Spirit is the chrism and the seal with which the Logos anoints and seals us, making us, as it were, the fragrance of Christ. Another way of putting it is to say that the Son is life-in-itself, the Spirit is life-giving and the faithful are life-endowed(27). It is because the Spirit is divine that he is able to make us 'partakers of the divine nature', that is, of Christ, for the divine nature is not impersonal. Through the Spirit we become 'partakers of Christ and partakers of God'(28).
The fruits of such participation are the communication of divine life and the contemplation of the Father. This is not because, as in Origen, we have become pure intelligences, but because we come to be wholly directed by the Logos and therefore receive his characteristics, characteristics which may be summed up by the expression 'fulness of life'. The enjoyment of this life is presented in eschatological terms, when we shall have ascended into heaven. There we shall sit on thrones and we shall contemplate the Father, for that which participates in the Logos joins the angels in the everlasting contemplation of God.
Although an entire generation separates Cyril of Alexandria (bishop 412-444) from Athanasius, he follows closely in his predecessor's footsteps uninfluenced for the most part by the writings of the Cappadocians. With Cyril 2 Peter 1:4 comes to the fore; the text is quoted more frequently by him than by any other Greek ecclesiastical writer(29). The reason for this lies in Cyril's struggle with Nestorius. In his earliest writings, the Thesaurus and the Dialogues on the Trinity, which draw extensively on Athanasius's Discourse against the Arians, Cyril makes frequent use of the technical terminology of deification -θεοποιέω and θεοποιός- in the Athanasian manner. After the outbreak of the Nestorian controversy in 429, however, Cyril clearly found this terminology unhelpful, for he ceases to use it(30). From Cyril's point of view Nestorius's Christ seems to be two-fold because he consists of the Logos and a human being deified by grace, the latter being no different from any baptized Christian. Nestorius for his part sees the deified manhood of the Athanasian tradition as something transformed so that it is no longer human. In order to express his opposition to this transformation he applies to it αποθεόω and αποθέωσις, terms with strong pagan overtones to which Cyril objects vigorously as distorting his point of view(31). Nevertheless, in his response to Nestorius Cyril is forced to modify the strongly physicalist anthropology he has inherited from Athanasius, dropping the vocabulary of deification in favour of a more spiritualized account of how human nature is transformed by God.
Even before the controversy with Nestorius had made Cyril wary of the technical terminology of deification, however, he still much preferred to describe men as 'partakers of the divine nature'. 'Participation' has different senses in Cyril. First there is the distinction between the Son's participation in the essence of the Father (which is denied to us) and our participation in God by grace. With regard to the second kind of participation, a further distinction may be made between its ontological and its dynamic aspects. The former refers to the transformation of humanity that took place in principle through the Incarnation, when the Logos endowed human nature with true being and life. The latter refers to our appropriation of this deified humanity through the Eucharist and our inward conformity to Christ. Conformity to Christ enables us to recover the divine image or likeness (the capacity for holiness and incorruption) which was lost through the fall.
Our dynamic participation in God begins when we receive the Spirit in baptism. By receiving the Spirit to dwell within us we become adopted sons of God and gods by grace. The Spirit and the Son together within us bring about our sanctification and filiation, which enable us to mount up to incorruptibility. By being 'partakers of the divine nature' we have both the Son and the Spirit, and through the Son we also have the Father. Our participation in the divine nature is fundamentally a participation in the personal life of the Trinity as a whole(32).
Cyril distinguishes between a corporeal and a spiritual aspect to our participation in God(33). Through the Eucharist we partake of Christ in a corporeal sense, becoming partakers of the divine nature and mounting up to life and incorruption. Through the Holy Spirit we are renewed inwardly and conformed to Christ: 'For the Son dwells in us in a corporeal sense as Μan, commingled and united with us by the mystery of the Eucharist; and also in a spiritual sense as God, by the effectual working and grace of his own Spirit, building up our spirit into newness of life, and making us partakers of his divine nature'(34). Through Christ, whose union with the Father is essential, and not relative as ours is, we have been made perfect in unity with the Father; 'we have been glorified and become partakers in the nature which transcends all things'(35).
The importance of the Eucharist to Cyril can hardly be exaggerated, for it is an essential means by which salvation through participation in the divine nature is conveyed to us. Those who keep away from it through feigned reverence 'exclude themselves from eternal life'(36). Because the eucharistic bread is the flesh of Christ which was deified by the Logos, it brings those who partake of it into intimate contact with the source of life(37). Christ's body, mingled with our bodies, guarantees our resurrection, and confers on us immortality and incorruption(38).
The Eucharist, however, does not exercise its power in a merely mechanical way. In book III of Against Nestorius Cyril returns to the spiritual aspect of our participation in Christ through an exegesis of how we are transformed 'from glory to glory' (2 Cor.3:18). 'What form do we leave behind', he asks, 'and into what are we transformed?'(39) In so far as the Son was made man we are all conformed to him. But there also exists a heavenly or spiritual conformation to Christ which is acquired by attaining a moral likeness to him. By overcoming the passions and conquering sin, we attain holiness, righteousness and superiority to death and corruption. Such a 'formation of Christ in us' does not blur the distinction between 'generate' and 'ingenerate'. The Son does not transform anything into the nature of his own Godhead, but impresses his spiritual likeness on those who have been made partakers of his divine nature through the Holy Spirit(40). We therefore advance from glory to glory by an inward conformity to the likeness of Christ. Participation in the divine nature implies the acquisition of virtue as an indispensable element in our task of recovering this lost likeness.
As I.-H. Dalmais has observed, with Cyril the doctrine of deification reaches its full maturity(41). Yet the later Byzantine tradition makes no direct use of his approach. The concept of participation continues to be important but not in connection with 2 Peter 1:4. This is because the later Byzantine tradition on deification derives from Maximus the Confessor, who draws his inspiration from the Cappadocian Fathers, the Macarian Homilies and the Dionysian writings.
The Cappadocians all make use of the doctrine of deification but clearly find 2 Peter 1:4 difficult to accommodate, for they avoid quoting it. The reason for this is to be sought largely in the apophatic nature of their theology. In Basil's view, when men contemplate God, they look up into an incomprehensible beauty. They merely become 'like' God through imitating his moral excellence, the term 'gods' being used either metaphorically or with reference to man's eschatological state(42).
Gregory of Nazianzus, the inventor of the term theosis, makes frequent use of the doctrine of deification as a means of expressing a dynamic relationship between God and man -a relationship in which man gradually grows into his fulfilment as a creature- but he avoids the language of participation. Each writer's concept of deification is correlative to his christology. Those who refer to 'participation in the divine nature' all worked within a Logos-sarx framework, in which the flesh is deified by participation in the divinity of the Logos. Gregory, however, presupposes a Logos-anthropos framework. He does sometimes speak of the flesh or the body or the will being deified, but more often it is 'man'(43). This 'man' is deified by 'intermingling' with the Logos through the mediation of the nous, the higher part of the soul. By analogy, the Christian believer is also deified by intermingling rather than by participation. He is not so much incorporated into Christ as led to imitate him. The emphasis is thus on moral progress and the ascent of the soul(44).
Gregory of Nyssa, by contrast, makes frequent use of the language of participation, while avoiding that of deification. But the Christian does not participate in the nature of God. It is the attributes or operations of God in which he participates. The most Gregory will say is that the Christian imitates the nature of God: 'if man was originally a likeness of God, perhaps we have not gone beyond the limit in declaring that Christianity is an imitation of the divine nature'(45). This imitation restores the divine likeness in man, but does not allow him to become what God is. Nothing in Gregory is allowed to compromise God's uncreated transcendence.
The Macarian Homilies are curious in speaking, like Gregory of Nazianzus, of a 'mingling' with Christ and the Holy Spirit, rather than participation in them, and yet at the same time also appealing to 2 Peter 1:4 in support of a doctrine of participation in the divine nature'(46). What enables the author of the homilies to use 2 Peter 1:4 is the absence of an apophatic reticence with regard to the divine nature. That we should become 'partakers of the divine nature' was the purpose of the Incarnation(47). This is bestowed by baptism and is entirely a gift of grace. It takes place when the soul 'is permitted to receive the heavenly birth' which gives it fellowship' with the Spirit and liberation from Satan(48). For God has made men worthy to become 'partakers of his substance' (μετόχους της oυσίας αυτού)(49). Faith and prayer are the human pre-requisites. He who is properly disposed feels the operation of divine power and participates in the divine nature. Being thus 'mingled with grace' he is able to keep the commandments and lead a life of virtue. Only the soul which has through the sanctifying power of the Spirit become in this way a partaker of the divine nature can enter the kingdom of heaven(50). At the resurrection the saved are described as clothed in the glory of divine light, 'for all alike are changed into a divine nature, having become christs and gods and children of God'(51).
This last statement is somewhat startling. The first part of it bears a close resemblance to one of the condemned Messalian propositions in the list recorded by Timothy of Constantinople: 'They say that the soul of anyone regarded by them as a spiritual man, after attaining what they call dispassion, is changed into the divine and uncompounded nature'(52). This is not the place in which to enter the debate on whether or not the Macarian Homilies are crypto-Messalian documents. We may note, however, that the statements in Timothy and the Homilies are not identical. Ps.-Macarius says: 'into a divine nature' (εις θεϊκήv γαρ φύσιν); the condemned proposition reads: 'into the divine and uncompounded nature' (εις τηv θείαν και ακήρατον φύσιν). In Ps.-Macarius the soul does not become the same as the Father but is spiritualised in a manner reminiscent of Origen(53). The soul, indeed, has no natural relationship with God(54). In so far as it does acquire a divine nature, this is 'a divine charism', 'a gift from the hypostasis of [the Father's] Godhead'(55). Yet the condemnation of the Messalian proposition may account in part for the wariness of the Byzantines with regard to 2 Peter 1:4.
Ps.-Dionysius never quotes 2 Peter 1:4. The transcendent Godhead is beyond all deity and beyond all participation, union with God only being attained through participation in the mediating hierarchies(56). Dionysius is characterised by a radical apophaticism. The actual nature of everything divine remains unknown, for there is no exact likeness between cause and caused(57). The raising of many by deification does not replicate the one God: he remains transcendent and undifferentiated(58).
The tradition that Maximus the Confessor (580-662) inherited was not
at ease with 2 Peter 1:4, and this is reflected in his own usage. In all his writings Maximus only refers to 2 Peter 1:4 twice, in both cases in his letters(59). In Epistle 12, perhaps deliberately glossing Ps.-Macarius, he says that Christ has made us partakers of the divine nature 'not through identity of substance, but through the ineffable power of his Incarnation'(60). Since Christ is equally God and man, the flesh he took from us represents the firstfruit of our own participation in divinity. In Epistle 24 this divine intention is referred back to the creation of man: 'For this is why he made us, that we might become partakers of the divine nature and sharers in his eternity, and that we might appear to be like him through deification by grace'(61). Although the expression 'partakers of the divine nature' is not used elsewhere by Maximus, these two statements sum up his doctrine of deification.
Deification is Maximus's preferred expression for the goal of human life(62). Fundamental to this doctrine is the tantum-quantum formula: Christ deified us by grace in the measure that he became man by nature, the κατάβασις of the divine incarnation being matched by the ανάβασις of human deification(63). This is based on what L.Thunberg has aptly called 'a reciprocity of natures between God and man'(64). The tantum-quantum formula (which goes back to Irenaeus and Athanasius) is enriched by Maximus through his basing it doctrinally on Chalcedonian christology - a mutual interpenetration without confusion of the human and the divine. On the ontological level reciprocity is expressed in terms of Archetype and image. On the dynamic level 'God's movement toward man in the Incarnation' is met by 'man's movement towards God in the imitative process of deification'(65). Yet the goal of deification lies beyond mere imitation. That which God is by essence, the creature can become by participation(66). The linking of participation in the divine nature with sharing in eternity finds expression in the Dionysian triad of being, well-being and eternal being(67). This Maximus explains more fully in his discussion of the mystery of the eighth day, a mystery which expresses a manner of existence above nature and time(68). Such a manner of existence Maximus describes as 'an identity with respect to energy between the participant and that in which he participates by virtue of the likeness'(69). A person fits himself by the moral life for union with God through the divine energy in a way which looks forward to Gregory Palamas. This is a union without annihilation and without confusion an interpenetration of created and uncreated, an αγέννητον θέωσιν(70).
The dominance of Maximus in the Byzantine tradition means that 2 Peter 1:4 is little quoted. In Symeon the New Theologian (949- 1022) participation in the divine nature is represented as the reward of the vision of God and is equivalent to becoming a god by adoption in Christ Jesus(71). In other words, 2 Peter 1:4 is assimilated to the Pauline doctrine of incorporation into Christ. Theophylact of Bulgaria (c.1050-c. 1108) interprets the text in a Maximian way: 'Since we have received countless blessings through the power of Christ we are also able to become partakers of the divine nature, and in order to advance towards life and true piety we need to live in such a way as to advance by faith to virtue, and through virtue to the progress of true piety, until we come to the perfection of blessings, which is love. We have become partakers of the divine nature through the sojourning of our Lord and God, who has enhypostatized and sanctified in himself a firstfruit of our nature by assuming it'(72). It is the Incarnation which has made us partakers in principle of the divine nature through the deification of the human nature of Christ by the divine. Such a participation has to be worked out in practice in our moral life.
In the fourteenth century a challenge to the Maximian approach from the opponents of Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) made 2 Peter 1:4 a subject of controversy. As J. Meyendorff rightly says in his fundamental study of Gregory Palamas, 'the problem of the exegesis of Dionysius was at the centre of the argument in the Byzantine controversies of the fourteenth century'(73). The anti-Palamites retained the radical apophaticism of Dionysius without giving sufficient weight to the doctrine of deification which tended to mitigate it. For Barlaam, Akindynos and Gregoras God-in-himself was imparticipable. Whatever was participable was caused by the unique Deity and was therefore created. 2 Peter 1:4 was quoted by them to prove that there was nothing uncreated in which to participate apart from the essence of God. But as the essence of God is in fact imparticipable, men participate in the divine nature only in a nominal or analogical sense(74). For Palamas this removed God entirely from human knowledge and experience. His opponents based their arguments on a philosophical position which was essentialist and nominalist. Palamas's starting-point, however, was a doctrine of a personal God who has taken the initiative in offering to man the opportunity to share in his life 'by grace'. As with Maximus, Palamas's emphasis is not on God as essence but on God as person.
Palamas expounds his thoughts on participation in the divine nature most fully in a polemical work, the dialogue Theophanes. In the dialogue he sets out to prove the distinction between the essence and the energies of God which his adversaries deny. As they appeal for biblical authority to 2 Peter 1:4, Palamas in the course of refuting their views discusses the text at some length.
The theses which Palamas sets out are first that the essence of God is imparticipable, otherwise God would be subject to multiplicity; secondly, that the power and energy of God are participable and accessible to the intellect; and thirdly, that the distinction between essence and energy does not imply that the energy is a hypostasis. Energy is different from essence but inseparable from it; the relationship is analogous to that between essence and hypostasis(75).
Palamas then shows what happens if his premises are denied. Those who say that the energies are created are polytheists. Those who do not distinguish the energies from the essence make God comprehensible; they are no better than polytheists for they confuse the participable with the imparticipable. Now then does Peter describe men as 'partakers of the divine nature'? The adversaries of Palamas claim biblical proof of a merely nominal participation in the essence and nature of God. The answer in Palamas's view is that the divine essence according to tradition is in one sense participable and in another imparticipable. On the authority chiefly of Maximus, it may be said that we both partake and do not partake of the divine nature. It is necessary to maintain both theses(76).
How can both be true? Palamas's opponents maintain a doctrine of participation purely on the ontological level. The fact that all things participate in God shows that there is only one essence, otherwise the participants would be 'fellow gods' and 'uncreated beings'(77). Palamas examines 2 Peter 1:4 and shows that partaking of the divine nature is a promised gift. He quotes Maximus's 24th Epistle: 'That is why God created us, that we might become partakers of the divine nature'. We were therefore not created partakers from the beginning. Palamas uses the Maximus text to oppose the ontological and nominalist idea of participation of his adversaries with one which is dynamic and personalist(78).
Some of the implications of this dynamic participation in a personal God are then drawn out. Do only the saints partake of the divine nature? No, this is a Messalian opinion. The essence of God is not participable even to the saints, for if it were, God would no longer be trihypostatic but polyhypostatic. Participation in the essence would only produce more hypostases. The imparticipability of the essence is correlative to its indivisibility(79).
On the other hand, the divine energy may be apportioned. Divine grace bestows theosis, for grace is not a divine 'thing' but God himself as he communicates himself ad extra. By an extension of the argument that the Son (or the Spirit) must be divine because he bestows deification, Gregory contends that grace must be fully divine because it is the agent of deification. But the energy is not a hypostasis, nor is it a part of God. Maximus is quoted to prove that every energy signifies the whole of God(80).
God is not participable to some and not to others. Nor is God participable in one part and imparticipable in another. The whole of God is both communicable and non-communicable. How can both be true? When the Fathers describe the divine essence as imparticipable, they are referring to that which is incommunicable. 'But if we say that we participate in the divine nature through such an energy but not in the divine nature in itself, we remain within the bounds of orthodoxy'(81). The participable and the imparticipable are thus both preserved.
With the victory of Gregory Palamas over the opponents of hesychasm his exegesis of 2 Peter 1:4 became authoritative for the Byzantine Church. Stimulated by the needs of controversy, Palamas linked the text with the doctrine of the divine energies, a fundamentally Cappadocian and Maximian concept which is brought to its full development in his writings. Dynamic participation in a divine nature which is more than an impenetrable essence enabled Gregory Palamas to use 2 Peter 1:4 in a way which was new but nevertheless based on a sound exegesis of the text.
We are now in a position to suggest answers to the questions raised at the beginning of this study. First, why did the expression 'partakers of the
divine nature' present such difficulty? We have seen that it was avoided by two kinds of writers: those who distinguished in an apophatic way between the essence of God and his operations or energies, and those who employed a Logos-anthropos christology which did not depend upon the concept of participation. It is noteworthy that writers of the Antiochene school do not quote 2 Peter 1:4. Conversely, the text was used by those who operated with a Logos-sarx christology and with a doctrine (deriving ultimately from Origen) of a dynamic participation in God. Such a doctrine presupposed a theology which was personalist rather than essentialist, and an understanding of 'nature' which included the attributes of the living God.
Why was 2 Peter 1:4 popular with Cyril but not with Maximus? Once he had embarked on his controversy with Nestorius, Cyril needed an alternative way of speaking about deification. Following in the tradition of Origen and Athanasius, he had such an alternative way to hand in the expression 'partakers of the divine nature'. His christology is one in which participation -the participation of the assumed humanity in the divinity of the Logos- is a key idea. He relates this to the participation of the believer in Christ corporeally through the Eucharist and spiritually through the moral life. Maximus, with a Cappadocian and Dionysian background, did not inherit a tradition in which 2 Peter 1:4 was used. Moreover, his Chalcedonian christology, based on the idea of 'a duality of natures in reciprocal communion', had no real need for the text(82). As with Cyril, his anthropology is analogous to his christology. Μan attains the divine life not so much by participation in God as by a reciprocal relationship between the energies of God and those of man.
Finally, why was 2 Peter 1:4 so neglected by the Byzantines? The fear of Messalianism must have played a significant part. But also important is the fact that the text was so little used by Maximus the Confessor. It was therefore easily ignored until Gregory Palamas was led by the needs of controversy to show how it could be reconciled with a theology that was both apophatic and personalist. In his understanding of the divine nature as more than essence, as He-who-is, a personal God who acts and in whom men may participate, he reveals his debt to a tradition reaching back to Maximus the Confessor and beyond him to Athanasius and Origen.
1. The most comprehensive study of deification is J.Gross, La divίnisation du chrιtien d'aprθs les Pθres grecs (Paris, 1938). Gross, however, concentrates on the attainment of immortality and incorruption and does not do justice to the full range of different approaches. Cf. I.-H. Dalmais, 'Divinisation', Dictionnaire de spiritualité, iii (Paris, 1954-7), cols. 1376-89.
2. On Symeon the New Theologian, see Μ. Lot-Βorodin, La déification de l'homme (Paris, 1969); and on Gregory Palamas, L.Contos, The Concept of Theosis in Saint Gregory Palamas (Los Angeles, 1963), and J. Μeyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas (Leighton Βuzzard, 1974).
3. Justin Μartyr, Dialogue, 124. Cf. Sifre Deut. 306; Midrash Rabbah on Lev. 11:1 and 3.
4. Post Cain. 28.
5. C.H. Dodd on 1 Jn 3:2, quoted by J.N.D. Κelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude (London, 1969), p.304, as applying also to 2 Peter 1:4.
6. Peri Archon IV, 4, 4 (GCS v, p. 355,4-6) Cf. In Lev. IV, 4 (GCS vi, p.319,16-I7); In Rom. IV, 9 (PG 14, col. 997C).
7. Peri Archon IV, 4, 9 (GCS v, p. 362,5-2).
8. Peri Archon IV, 4, 9 (GCS v, p. 361,16-17.
9. Ibid. (GCS v, p. 363, 2-3).
10. Ep. 124 ad Avitum, 14 (PG 22, cols. 1071-2).
11. Μετέχω and μέθεξις were first used by Plato in the Parmenides (132d) without explanation to express how the things of the world of experience are related to the Forms or Ideas. Aristotle in Metaphysics A 9 takes up the term in his criticism of the Platonic Forms. Although he rejects the Forms as pre-existent universals, his discussion sharpens the concept of participation as expressive of the relationship between that which exists in its own right and that which exists only in a derivative or dependent sense. The first Christian writer to take up this concept and apply it to theology was Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 6.
12. The two different levels of participation are distinguished by G. Gruber, ΖΩΗ: Wesen, Stufen und Mίtteilung des Wahrens Lebens beί Origenes (Munich, 1962); J. Dupuis, L'esprit de l'homme: étude sur l'anthropologie religieuse d'Origène (Bruges/Paris, 1967), 257; J. Rius-Camps, El dinamismo trinitario en la' divinizatiόn de los seres sacionales segϊύn Orfgenes (OCA 188, Rome, 1970), chs. I and V; the same author's `Communicabilidad de 1a naturaleza de Dios segun Or(genes', OCP, 34(1968), 5-37; 36(1970), 201-47; 38(1972), 430-53, esp. 36(1970), 214-24; and D. Βπr,πs, `The idea of participation in the structure of Origen's thought', Origeniana, Quaderaί di 'Vetera Christίanorum; 12(1975), 257-76 (esp. p. 265). Gruber distinguishes levels of participation in relation to `life'. Dupuis speaks of participation according to being and according to activity. Rius-Camps contrasts the `ser primero, contin- gente, commun a todos los seres creados' with the `ser divino, participado solamente a los san- tos'. Balas distinguishes between aatural and supernatural levels, i.e. `that of being and nature in general and that of salvation (including moral and religious perfection)', and proposes a further level for participations within the Trinity.
13. Com. ίσ Joan. II, 13 (GCS iv, p. 69,25-28); cf. Peri Aschon 3 (GCS v, p. 57,1-6).
14. Com. in Joan. Fragm. II (GCS iv, p. 485,24-26).
15. Peri Archon I, 3, 6 (GCS v, pp. 56,19-57,1).
16. Com. ίn Joan. II, 16 (GCS iv, p. 73,11-18).
17. Contra Celsum III, 28 (GCS i, p. 226 14-16).
18. Théologie de l'image de Dieu chez Origène (Paris,1956), p.173.
19. Com. in Joan. II, 2, 17 (GCS iv, pp. 54,36-55,2); XIX, 4 (iv, p. 303,5-11); Fragm. 302 in Matt. 13, 33 (xii, 135).
20. Sel. ίn Psalm. 135 (PG 12, col. 1656A).
21. Contra Arianos I, 16 (PG 26, col. 45A); III, 40 (409A); Epist.I ad Serap. 23 (585Β); 24 (585C); Vit. Ant. 74 (945C); Epist. ad Adelph.. 4 (1077A): Cf. A.L. Κolp, 'Partakers of the Divine Nature: The Use of II Peter 1:4 by Athanasius', Studia Patristica, 17(1982), 1018-23.
22. De Decret. 9-10 (PG 25, col. 432CD).
23. Contra Ar.I, 16 (PG 26, col. 45A).
24. Contra Ar. I, 16 (45Β) Cf. De Synod. 51 (784AΒ); De Decret. 24 (PG 25, col. 460AΒ).
25. Ad Epict. 6 (PG 26, col. 1060C).
26. Epist.1 ad Serap. 24 (PG 26, col. 585BC).
27. Epist.I ad Serap. 23 (584Β).
28. Epist. I ad Serap 24 (585C). Cf. Ps.-Athanasius (Didymus the Blind?), Dial. de Sancta Trinitate I, 7: 'We become partakers of the divine nature through partaking of the Holy Spirit' (PG 28, col. 1125D).
29. Glaph. Gen. 1:1 (PG 68, col. 29BC). De Ador. XII (pg 68, col.785A). In Psalm. 47, 9 (PG 69, col. 1056D). In Is. V,1 (PG 70, col. 1144C). In Hab. LV (PG 71, col. 932Β). In Luc. III, 21 (PG 72, col. 524A); VII, 28 (620A). In Joan. I, 8 (Pusey, i, 65a) (PG 73, col. 112Β); I, 9 (93d) (157Β); II, 1 (147a) (244C); III, 6 (325c) (521C); IV, 7 (437b) (700A); V, 2 (475c) (760A); VI, 1 (Pusey ii, 653c) (1045Β); IX (766b) (PG 74, col. 185D); IX (769b) (192Β); IX,1 (810e, 822d, 823d, 824a) (260A, 277Β, 280CD); X (831d) (292Β); XI, 2 (932b) (453A); XI, 11 (1000c) (561C); XI, 12 (1002ab) (564D-565A). Thes. IV (PG 75, col. 45D); XXIII (388Β); XXXIII (569Β). De Trin. IV (PG 75, col. 905AΒ); VI (1005); VII (1089BC). Adv. Nest. I, 8 (PG 76, col. 53D); II, 13 (108D); III (112); III, 2 (129AΒ); V, 1 (213D); V, 7 (248Β).
30. That is to say, he uses it occasionally in a christological context but ceases to use it for the deification of the Christian. This is not something which previous commentators on Cyril seem to have noticed. Cf. most recently W. Βurghardt, The image of God in man according to Cyril of Alexandria (Washington, 1957), pp. 65-125.
31. Adv. Nest. II, 8 (PG 76, col. 96AΒ).
32. In Joan. IX, 1 (823d) (PG 74, col. 280C). Cf. In Joan. XI, 12 (1002c) (PG 74, col. 565A); Adv. Nest.V,1 (PG 76, col. 213D).
33. In Joan. XI, 12 (1001e-1002b) (PG74, cols. 564C-565A).
34. Ibid. (1001e) (564C); English trans. by T. Randell, Commentary according to S. John, vol. 2 (Lίbrary of Fathers of the Holy Catbolic Church) (London, 1874).
35. Ibid. (1002b) (565A).
36. In Joan. III, 6 (325ac) (PG 73, col. 521AC).
37. The flesh of Christ is not life-giving in its own right but only through its union with the Logos. On Cyril's eucharistic doctrine, see most recently H.Chadwick, 'Eucharist and Christology in the Nestorian Controversy', JThS; n.s. 2(1951), 145-64; and E. Gebremedhin, Life-giving Blessing an inquiry into the Eucharistic Doctrine of Cyril of Alexandria (Uppsala, 1977).
38. Glaph. in Exod. (PG 69, col. 428A); In Mat. XXVI, 26 (PG 72, col. 452CD); In Luc. XXII, 19 (PG 72, col. 909A, 912A); In Joan. VI, 35 (PG 73, col. 520D). Cf. Cyril of Jerusalem, Myst. 4, 3: 'For thus we come to be Christ-bearing, because his body and blood are distributed through our members; that is how, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature'.
39. Adv. Nest. III, 2 (PG 76,col. 128C).
40. Ibid. (129Β).
41. Dalmais, 'Divinisation', col. 1385.
42. De Sp. Sanct. I, 2 (PG 32, col. 69Β); IX, 23 (109AΒ); Adv. Eun. III, 2 (PG 29, col. 660BC); Reg. fus. tract. 43, 1 (PG 31, col. 1028C).
43. Or. 29 § 19; Or. 30 §3; Or. 38, 13; Or. 39 § 16.
44. Or. 2 §22; Or. 7 §22. Cf. D. Winslow, The Dynamics of Salvation: A Study in Gregory of Nazianzus (Philadelphia, 1979), esp. pp. 171-99.
45. On What it is to Call Oneself a Christίan (PG 46, col. 244D).
46. 2 Peter 1:4 is quoted in Collection I (Makarios/Symeon Reden und Briefe die Sammlung I des Vaticanus graecus 694B, ed. H. Βerthold, GCS, Leipzig, 1973) in Hom. 40,1, 88 and Hom. 44, 5, 6; in Collection II (Die 50 geistlichen Homilien des Makarios, ed. H. Dörries, E. Κlostermann, Μ. Κroeger, Patristische Texte und Studien, Bd. IV, Berlin, 1964) in Hom. 25, 5, Hom. 39, I, Hom. 44, 9 (twice), and Hom. 49, 3; and in Collection III (Neue Homilien des Makarius/Symeon, ed. E. Κlostermann and H. Βerthold, TU 72, Berlin, 1961) in Hom. 8, 2 and Hom. 16, 6.
47. Collection II Hom. 44, 9.
48. Collection II Hom. 49, 3.
49. Collection III Hom.8,2.
50. Collection III Hom. 16, 6.
51. Collection II Hom. 34, 2.
52. Proposition 11 (PG 86, col. 49C).
53. Compare Collection II Hom. 34, 2 with Origen's Fragm. in Is. (PG 13 cols. 217A-218A).
54. Collection II Hom. 49, 4; but cf. II Hom 45, 5.
55. Collection II Hom. 39, 1.
56. Div. Nom. II, 5 (PG 3, col. 6444Β).
57. Div. Nom. II, 7 and 8 (PG 3, col. 645ABC).
58. Div. Nom. II, 11 (PG 3, col. 649C)
59. Ep. 12 (PG 91, col. 468C); Ep. 24 (609C). The latter is duplicated in Ep. 43 (640Β) and reproduced in The Centuries of Various Texts I, 42 (PG 90, col. 1193D).
60. PG 91, col. 468C.
61. PG 91, col. 609C.
62. W. Völker, Maximus Confessor als Meister des Geistlichen Lebens (Wiesbaden, 1965), pp. 471-89; L. Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator (Lund, 1965), pp. 454-9. Thunberg has given us the fruits of his continued reflection on Maximus's doctrine of deification in Man and the Cosmos (Crestwood, 1985).
63. Qu. Thal. 22 (PG 90, col. 320Β).
64. Μan and the Cosmos, pp. 53-4.
65. Ibid. p. 62.
66. Cap. Char. 3, 24 (PG 90, col. 1024AΒ).
67. Ibid. cf. also Cap. Var. 4, 32 (PG 90, col. 1317Β).
68. Cap. Theol. 54, 55 and 60 (PG 90, cols. 1104ABC, 1105A).
69. Qu. Thal. 59 (PG 90, col. 609A) = Cap. Var. 4, 19 (PG 90, col. 1312Β).
70. Qu. Thal. 61 (PG 90, coί. 637D).
71. Theological and Ethical Discourses II, 308-17 (SC 122) 152.
72. Commentary on 2 Peter (1:4) (PG 125, col. 1257AΒ).
73. Gregory Palamas, p. 204.
74. For a summary, see Μeyendorff, Gregory Palamas, pp. 204-6.
75. PG 150, cols. 928C-929C.
76. cols. 929C-932D.
77. col. 933A.
78. col. 933AD.
79. col. 936AD.
80. cols. 940C-944Β.
81. col. 937D.
82. The phrase is Thunberg's.