Writing Begets Writing: On Habit and Vocation

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
27 November 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, another few weeks has gone by and I haven’t posted anything. This hasn’t been due to a lack of ideas, or even a lack of events in my own life on which I could write. Instead, I think a lot of it come from sloth. Sloth and getting out of the habit of writing, anyway. You see, I’m a stay-at-home dad for the time being. And most of the time I love it. I love getting to cuddle with my boys and watch them grow. They’d probably love it better if skills went beyond bread and jam, bread and eggs, or bread, ham, and cheese. But still, with two 18 month-olds running around, getting extra work done can be difficult. Sadly, this isn’t because I’m too busy chasing after them, not most of the time anyway, but because it’s too easy to just sit and watch TV or sit and read. These would be OK, the latter at least, if when they went down for their naps I exercised or wrote or something. But so often I don’t. Writing while they’re awake has its own problems too. Little fingers like touching computers and when they don’t, the little mouths attached to them start crying. But still these are just excuses. I could probably find a way to work around this, to train my kids not to grab at my computer while I’m working and still spend time with them. So what’s the problem? Getting out of the habit.

As many of you know, since I wrote to you about it, I’m publishing a novel (or Faërie Romance as I like to call it) with Wipf and Stock Publishers. What you might not know is that I wrote that book while also blogging and working on my PhD thesis (which is also being published by Fortress Press). Just on my thesis and novel alone, not counting conference papers or blog posts or letters or journal entries, in the three years I was resident in Nottingham I wrote over 150000 words or close to 400-500 pages. Add in everything else and I probably hit thousands of pages (not all of it good, admittedly). You see, for me at least, and I think for most writers, writing begets more writing. I had a routine of writing in a few different journals, reading books for research, pleasure, and enrichment, writing letters to friends, blog posts, my thesis and more. All of these outlets for writing made me want to write more. So, once I finished my novel, and then my thesis, and stay-at-home parenting took over more and more of my time, I started writing in the other places less and less. Hence my relative silence here. Once I stopped writing in some areas, it became harder to write in others.

Virtue and vice have firm roots in habit. Vices are bad habits we engage in, they become second nature to us, so much so that often we don’t even recognise temptation or the choice to give in. There is only one way to rid ourselves of vices (with the aid of God’s grace), and that is to replace them with their corresponding virtues. These virtues must become habits replacing the vicious habits. I mention virtues and vices because their inherent relationship to habit has been precisely my problem. Vices like sloth (and others I won’t mention here) have gotten in the way. I have not simply gotten out of good habits (though some might contend that my writing here is not one) but have fallen into bad ones. That needs to change. I must pursue the virtuous life. For only then can I co-operate with the grace of God and work toward my deification. This might sound strange, writing for a blog doesn’t necessarily lead one to deification. But writing for me is part of that process and the only way I can get back into the habit of writing is to write, to replace sloth with diligence. So, I am committing myself to write in my journal every day; to write letters when I have some to write; to post here twice a week; and to begin work on a new research project; all while I work on preparing my two works for publication.

So, I have a request for you my correspondents, please help keep me accountable (a word with which I have some hang-ups). Feel free to ask me about my writing habits, clamor for new content out loud––I know you keep it bottled up, let it out. Being a father should not keep me from caring for my children and fulfilling my vocation of being a theologian, help me make sure it doesn’t. Give me advice, tell me about your own struggles, ask me to write about something, do anything you think might help me keep writing. I’ll let you know what works and what doesn’t. In the meantime, look out for two new posts next week.


The Sacramental Imagination of Harry Potter

David Russell Mosley

The Harry Potter Series: British Editions

The Harry Potter Series: British Editions

Ordinary Time
Pope St Leo the Great
10 11 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

The Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, are the last books from my childhood that I will be examining in this Sacramental Imagination series. I hope to turn my attention to a few books I read after my childhood, but which are still children’s books, like J. R. R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major; George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie, as well as some of his fairy tales; and perhaps others you might recommend.

I have written about the Christian nature of Rowling’s Potter books before, but today I want to spend a little time discussing how they might help children form a sacramental imagination. There are, however, some problems with Ms Rowling’s works that I would like to lay out at the forefront. First is something I have noted before, the almost Calvinistic system of how one becomes a witch or wizard. Following along relatively covenantal reformed lines, one primarily becomes a witch or wizard by being born from parents where at least one of them is a witch or wizard. This is a major plot point for the books commencing with earnest in book 6. However, whether one has wizard parents or not one still must be born a witch or wizard. It is not something one can claim for oneself. Muggles cannot learn magic, nor can squibs. This, therefore, suggests that the preferred way of living presented in the books, as a witch or wizard, is entirely outside of one’s control just as one’s salvation is outside of one’s control in a stringently Calvinist system. There are even those born of wizard ancestry who cannot do magic, who are not part of the community in the same way as everyone else, namely, squibs. This is, for me, a non-Calvinist, fairly problematic, though Rowling does back pedal a little in her The Tales of Beedle the Bard. In a footnote by Albus Dumbledore it is noted that research in the Department of Mysteries up to that point (likely somewhere around the mid-90s in the story’s chronology) that even those with Muggle parents who themselves can do magic likely have a witch or wizard somewhere in their ancestry.

The second problem I have is Rowling’s more or less Cartesian understanding of the human person. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, we learn that Dementors can suck out your soul. Your body would continue to function with your soul gone, but the person would no longer be there. Rowling’s books are based in an essentially Christian cosmos, but it is, in many ways, still a modernistic one, subject to post-Enlightenment thinking.

That being said, there is much that can be gained for children in Rowling’s Potter books. Perhaps the primary thing is how Rowling’s magical world gives us back our own world made strange. Wizards and witches do many of the same things we do: they shop, cook, throw parties, go to school, communicate with one another, and more, but each is rendered strange as we experience the magical world through Harry’s equally unaccustomed eyes. Harry’s first encounter with a magical being is Hagrid, a man too large to be allowed. As we later find out, not only is Hagrid big and a wizard, he’s even half-giant! Harry’s first shopping experience involves an apothecary, a wand shop, getting fitted for late-medieval/Renaissance style robes, and buying a pet owl.

What I find most interesting is how, even with magic, much of what the witches and wizards do would seem to us, slower. They don’t email one another or communicate by telephone, they write letters and send them by owls. It is almost astonishing how ultimately non-magical this is. The letters themselves, in fact nearly all the writing they do, with the exceptions of the newspaper, more recent books, and posters/cards, is done by hand, with a dip pen in the form of a quill. They actually dip a quill in a pot of ink and write, with their hands, on paper. The only magical element is when they send letters, the carriers are owls, but this is almost accidental to the whole process. They might just as well be carried by people. I think this is important. Rowling gives us a world with little technology and even less machining. Magic often takes the place of machines, but in the writing of letters or homework, neither magic nor sophisticated technology is used. Rather, the quill is a tool serving merely as an extension of the person holding it in order to effect a change in the world around them by the generation of something new, namely written words. It is interesting that wands serve the same basic function. They are tools, possessed of little magic themselves. Again, in the same footnote in The Tales of Beedle the Bard (footnote 4 in the notes after ‘Babbity Rabbity and the Cackling Stump), Dumbledore notes that a muggle picking up a magic wand might be able to do a random bit of magic, but only because there is a residual magic left in the wand by its owner. However, in the hand of a witch or wizard, it serves as a conduit for performing magic, magic which comes not from the wand nor any other external source, but from the wielder. Rowling, I think, is teaching children something about words, both that there is something magical, we might even say, sacramental about writing and the use of words (hence the magic spell). There is a relationship between the sign, the word or words, and the thing signified. In writing, the relationship is between the words and their author, with the quill/person as the conduit or sacrament and the letter the effect. In performing magic it is the word or words and their relationship to the change affected in the real world, with the wand/wizard as the sacrament and the magic performed the effect.

There is much more that could be said, particularly about human/animal relationships with the magical animals (like owls), and cosmic/terrestrial relationships (astrology as taught by Firenze the centaur). However, I have waffled on long enough. In the end, despite the flaws, Rowling’s Potter stories can help children see something magical in words, something sacramental in the relationship between words and what they represent, something that isn’t simply accidental. This makes her books immensely helpful in growing a sacramental imagination in children.

Sincerely yours,

Creativity as Deifying: On Fairy Stories, Part II

David Russell Mosley


4 April 2014
On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,
Here is the lengthier part 2 of yesterday’s thesis extract. This section is, in essence, a commentary on J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’. Let me know what you think.

On Fairy Stories

‘Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.’1 One could easily replace fantasy with poetry, make with create or poetise, made with created or a poem, and Maker with Creator or Poet. What Tolkien says about Fantasy and fairy-tales is equally true of poetry. As Tolkien writes, ‘Fairy- stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded.’2 In On Fairy Stories, Tolkien is laying out what he thinks fairy-tales are and what they are meant to do. Tolkien, as noted above, tells us that the purpose is to elicit desire. This desire is simultaneously a desire for what is past, namely a nostalgia for Eden. Equally, however, the desire is for what is to come, namely the new Heavens and new Earth, or deification, though Tolkien is not so explicit.

Nevertheless, Tolkien’s own work here bears out that fairy-tales are for more than the awakening of this desire, we might even call it a natural desire for the supernatural, but that it also serves as a kind of corrective lens. In chapter 2 I argued that the Fall incurs and includes an obfuscation of our sight, that humans can no longer see correctly. This is something Faerie can help us overcome. He writes:

Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re- gaining––regaining of a clear view. I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “see- ing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”––as things apart from our- selves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness of familiarity––from possessiveness.3

In Faerie we can see things for what they really are or could be or at least for how we are meant to see them. In any event, the fairy-tale helps us see more clearly. However, Tolkien also makes it clear that fairy-tales are not the only way to do this. ‘Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovering, or, prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough.’4 Nevertheless, fairy-tales mixed with humility will help serve as a corrective lens so that the world may be glimpsed in a the light we were meant to see it. This passage from Tolkien is particularly provocative on this point:

Faërie includes many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.5

Tolkien begins by showing us the things we expect to see in Faerie, or Elfland as Chesterton called it in Orthodoxy: fantastical beasts, mythological creatures, wicked and benign. Then, however, Tolkien shifts to things we see in the mortal world, the first four perhaps have a commonplace in our modern imaginings of Faerie (see Disney’s preference for his heroines to be accompanied by birds and other woodland creatures). Then, Tolkien makes a very deliberate shift that helps knit this chapter together, bread and wine, which is meant to incite images of the Eucharist. Indeed, even the inclusion of water, which may at first had us thinking of Bombur’s en- chanted sleep after falling in the river of Mirkwood, but after seeing bread and wine listed, baptism ought now to be in our minds, perhaps even the stone can evoke images of medieval fonts. Even humanity, when enchanted is encompassed by Faerie.

What Tolkien does here is show forth the notions of a sacramental universe as I described above. All things are or can be more than what they are because all things exist in Faerie. All that is needed is eyes to see them. This is one of the roles fantasy plays, that poetry plays. For Chesterton, this rendering strange is an essential aspect of fantasy. He writes, ‘The only words that ever satisfy me as describing Nature are the terms used in fairy books ‘charm’, ‘spell’, ‘enchantment’. They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched.’6 Perhaps one of the first things fantasy can do for us (particularly when written from a Christian perspective) is to show us that the God of Christianity and the Creation of Christianity are not the ones of deism. Rather God is, as I have argued throughout, Poet, Creator, intimately connected with his Creation/Poem.

This alone perhaps shows the purpose of including a long discourse on the purpose of fantasy/poetry in a chapter on redemption in an essay on deification. There is, however, more. Following on what Milbank has said above, the writing of poetry and fantasy, and particularly the act of world-creating, at least according to Tolkien, is a gift and therefore graced and also an aspect of our deification. Alison Milbank provides a perhaps even more crucial link between the writing of fiction (specifically fantasy, but all fiction ultimately) and deification. She writes, ‘And it is in the ability to create––fiction is linked to the Latin verb facere, to make––that the artist comes closest to God. For us to recognize the world as God’s creation, we have to see it as a work of art; for us to recognize the creative power of the artist, we similarly have both to experience his or her fiction as a world but also be aware of its constructed nature.’7 First note that our word fiction is related to facare which provides the latter portion of the word deification. This is the same as noting that the latter half of the Greek theopoiesis, namely poiesis, is the source of our word for poetry. Even more so, however, Milbank, alongside Tolkien, notes that this act of creativity, this act of artistic creation renders the artist as an imitator of God. What is more it reminds us that just as we need to immerse ourselves in an artists creation without forgetting its constructed nature, so too should we not forget the created nature of the cosmos around us because it has a Creator.

George MacDonald writes in an essay on imagination, ‘man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws; for there is that in him which delights in calling up new forms–which is the closest, perhaps, he can come to creation.’8 Again, connecting this to Milbank’s notions of our own creativity as a participation in the divine creativity––and indeed noting our creativity as an aspect of humanity being made in the image and likeness of God––, allows us to see this closeness to acts of creation (that is creation ex nihilo) already implies the deificatory and deifying significance of fantasy writing, of world creation. However, as MacDonald, Chesterton, Tolkien, and the Milbanks all make clear, this is a participatory creation. However real it is, however much it can be termed an addition to the Poem, it is still participatory and a gift. MacDonald writes:

In the moral world it is different [from the physical]: there a man may clothe in new forms, and for this employ his imagination freely, but he must invent nothing. He may not, for any purpose, turn its laws upside down. He must not meddle with the relations of live souls. The laws of the spirit of man must hold, alike in this world and in any world he may invent.9

MacDonald while noting that human creators can rework our physical world, as he does when he has a bedroom transmute into a forest glad right on the edge of Faerie, believes that the moral world cannot be changed. We can imagine a world in which humans are kept in cages and apes perform studies on them, but we are not to imagine a world where morality can become amorality, where falsity is given the place of prominence of truth, or evil the place of goodness, or ugliness/disorder the place of beauty.

What MacDonald writes of as almost a kind of suggestion, Chesterton sees as the only true laws of our universe. For Chesterton there are immutable facts even in world-creation:

But as I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened––dawn and death and so on––as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by their tales.10

Chesterton is here criticising the sciences which seek to suggest that the things they have observed and can predict with an amount of certainty are laws. The only laws, according to Chesterton, are those things we cannot imagine differently without unmaking them or redefining them. Two and one cannot not make three unless we change the meanings of two, one, and/or three. Similarly good cannot be evil without changing what the word good means. Alison Milbank writes that this view of the world is sourced in Chesterton’s consumption of fairy-tales, ‘Fairy-tales, however, are not natural but cultural productions and it is by means of these fictions that Chesterton comes to view the world itself as magical: utterly real and enchanted at one and the same time.’11 Thus, for Chesterton, the world is real, but it is also enchanted and this affects the way fantasy is written. While Chesterton, in the passage above, is not specifically writing about writing, that is, he is not directly speaking of the act and art of human creativity, it is implicit in what he writes. When we create worlds, whether in poetry, fantasy, science-fiction, etc., we may unhinge the ‘laws’ of nature:

break them open and make them stand on their heads. What we cannot do, however, is break the laws of mathematics or goodness/morality. It is not that the author is not allowed to do these things, but that they are not possible, or at least not possible consistently.

Milbank gives this its most theological voice when he writes:

Of course, in human beings other than Christ there is no absolute coincidence of the human will with the divine creative will; but nevertheless one can logically speak of a ‘participating’ in this creative will, where human action brings about something that is generally now, as in the case of a new sort of legal convention or a new sort of artistic idiom. But because the creative human being is ‘inspired’, and because she does not fully grasp or command the new thing she has brought about, there is no absolute creation here: the new thing invented is also ‘discovered’, given to the creator herself as a mysterious new potency.12

Milbank reminds us that humans cannot create in the same way as God. Not even divine creativity rests in us in the exact same way it does in the Godhead, despite the fact that (or perhaps precisely because) we are made in the image of God. Milbank couches our creativity in terms of gift and participation. It is our participation in divine creativity that allows us to create, yet that participation is a gift. What is more, the very things we create, insofar as they are good, are gifts from God. We receive them just as much as we create them. This is why, for MacDonald, ‘A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer the art, the more things it will mean.’13

MacDonald takes this notion of true art having multiple meanings and applies it to the differences between creations of humans and God: ‘One difference between God’s work and man’s is, that, while God’s work cannot mean more than he meant, man’s work must mean more than he meant.’14 Here, MacDonald is not denying a multiplicity of meaning within the works of God, but that the number of meanings cannot exceed God’s intention. This is not the case with human creation. The numerous interpretations of works by human beings stand as testimony to this. Yet this multifariousness can be a good thing when applied to meaning in human works. In this way Tolkien’s work can be considered both an indictment on capitalism15 through his depictions of the Shire and yet also as providing commentary on the necessity of war but without the love of it particularly in the words of Faramir.

In the end, for Tolkien, the fairy-story serves an even larger purpose, which is the introduction into our minds of eucatastrophe and participation in the Evangelium. A fairy-tale is almost not a fairy tale, for Tolkien, if it lacks a happy ending.16 This is precisely what makes it different from tragedy. Rather than a sudden turn that causes all events to go awry (Hamlet’s mother drinking the wine meant to kill Hamlet, Laertes being stabbed by his own poisoned sword, etc.) there is a sudden turn of events that causes all to go right. Tolkien called this the eucatastrophe. For Tolkien, ‘The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of the fairy-tale, and its highest function.’17 This is so because the happy ending participates in an even greater story. ‘But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater––it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.’18

The Gospel is, for Tolkien, the greatest fairy-tale, and is the source for all fairy-tales, even those that come before it. He writes in words similar to those I have used in the previous chapters, ‘But the story has entered History and the primary world; the desires and aspirations of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.’19 The Poet enters the Poem, but it is more than this. The entrance of the Poet into the Poem hallows (deifies, theo-poetises) the work going on within the Poem by us. For Tolkien:

But in God’s Kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, to hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.20

Our creative faculties, that aspect of our being made in the image of God, are redeemed and pulled up to the level of creation. In writing fantasy and poetry we imitate and participate in God as Creator, as Poet. What’s more, we participate in God as storyteller through salvation history, particularly through the story of the Incarnation which serves as the source for our storytelling.

All of this discussion of human creativity in fantasy and poetry, however, needs now to also be connected more directly to deification. Having looked at the foundations and purposes to which poetry and fantasy are put, I want to turn now to two stories about creation to show, in part, how they relate to deification, how they relate to the whole Poem and the process of Poem becoming Theo-Poem.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ in The Tolkien Reader (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Company, 1966), 75.

2 Ibid., 63.

3 Ibid., 77.

4 Ibid., 77.

5 Ibid., 38.

6 G. K. Chesterton, ‘Orthodoxy,’ in Everyman Chesterton (London: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 302.

7 Alison Milbank, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2009), 64-5.

8 George MacDonald, ‘The Fantastic Imagination,’ in The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. by U. C. Knoepflmacher (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 5-6.

9 Ibid., 6.

10 G. K. Chesterton, ‘Orthodoxy,’ 121.

12 John Milbank, Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 196.

13 George MacDonald, ‘The Fantastic Imagination,’ 7.

14 Ibid., 9.

15 See the chapter entitled ‘Fairy Economics: Gift Exchange’ in Alison Milbank, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2009), 117-141.

16 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ 85.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid., 88.

19 Ibid., 88-9.

20 Ibid., 89.

A Life Update: Ordination News, Thesis Update, and Babies

David Russell Mosley


22 October 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I thought it was necessary to do another life update as we’ve announced a few things recently and there are a few others I simply haven’t written about.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Lauren and I are now in the midst of the discernment process for me to be ordained in the Church of England. This past Monday we had our first meeting with the DDO (the Diocesan Director of Ordinands). She was absolutely lovely, and it went really well so far as I can tell. She simply wanted to get to know Lauren and I and understand why we think this is the direction God is calling us. We’ll have a few more meetings and hopefully get me into a Diocesan Panel by February so I can go on to a Bishop’s Advisory Panel in time to get the funding necessary to begin the training in September of 2014. If this is where God’s calling us, it’s all going to happen rather quickly. This is both terrifying and exciting.  One of the things Sue did mention is me doing a placement (following a vicar around for a little while) in order to ensure I know what various congregations are like in the Church of England. Hopefully I’ll be able to do this at the parish church in Beeston since Lauren and I don’t drive. Prayers on this front are most definitely appreciated.

One of the other major things we have going on this academic year is, of course, my thesis. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but this will the last year of my PhD. I am now in what is called the write up or Thesis Pending Period. Essentially what this means is I get fewer meetings with my supervisors, and have to be done by the end of next September (that’s right the same one I’d start my training in if all goes towards ordination), or else! I have half of my thesis written and plan to have the other half done by no later than May so I can spend the summer editing and getting it ready for submission. Prayers are also certainly appreciated on this front as well.

The final, and perhaps biggest news we have, as well as another reason for me needing to have the thesis written by May, is that Lauren and I are pregnant. Yes, technically she’s the only one who is actually growing a human child, but as its my child too, and we’re one flesh, I think I can say that we are pregnant.Image We are absolutely ecstatic about this! Having kids has been one of our biggest dreams since before we even got married. I’m sure there will be many more baby posts to come in the future, but for now I will say this: Lauren is doing well; we’re intentionally not finding out the gender; and our little one is due on 24 May 2014 (our sixth anniversary).

These are all the main things going on in right now in the Mosley Family (UK). Otherwise life is going on as usual. We’re getting stuck-in as the British would say, in our new church, and finally making some British friends. I hope you all are well. Look out for my next posts on Creation, food, and more.


Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Thesis Extracts: Why We Need a Deifier

 David Russell Mosley


1 August 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here’s another extract from my second chapter on Deification Creation. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to leave comments below:

English: The Nativity of Christ

English: The Nativity of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Need for a Deifier

What is left, in the end, is a created order that is good, that has an end which is God, and which it cannot achieve on its own. The universe needs humanity to fulfil its end in God, for without humanity, there is no one to receive creation as a gift and to mediate between creation and God as recipients. In humanity, then, there is the given vocation of serving as icons and priests to the rest of creation, showing forth the attributes of God. However, even though humanity has an innate desire for the divine, for divinity, for God, but this mad desire, as de Lubac calls it, cannot be met or fulfilled by humanity. The desire may be natural, but its fulfilment must be super- natural. Creation needs a deifier, one alongside of whom it can work. As Vladimir Lossky writes, ‘Certainly man was created by the will of God alone; but he cannot be deified by it alone. A single will for creation, but two for deification. A single will to raise up the image but two to make the image into a likeness.’1 God can create in his image, but cannot make man a god, according to Lossky. Instead, man must also will this. Lossky will go on to argue that humanity, prior to the Fall, may have been able to deify itself.2 In fact, in commenting on the Fall, Lossky seems to suggest that hu- manity would have enacted its own deification which would have made bridgeable to the gap between Creator and creature: ‘The infinite distance between the created and uncreated, the natural separation of man from God which ought to have been overcome by deification became an impassable abyss for man after he willed himself into a new state, that of sin and death, which was near a state of non-being.’3 This, how- ever, seems unlikely given both Scripture and the Fathers. Instead, it seems more likely that God requires our cooperation in order to deify us. That is, even though humanity wills to be like God and God wills it for them, the two wills must work together. So far I agree with Lossky. However, it seems that more than this is necessary in order to deify.

It cannot be emphasised enough that deification is the intended end for crea- tion from the very beginning. As Andrew Louth writes, ‘[D]eification is the fulfil- ment of creation, not just the rectification of the Fall.’4 Elizabeth Theokritoff simi- larly writes, ‘The Incarnation is not primarily a remedy for something gone wrong; it inaugurates the union between God and his creation for which all things were created.’5 It would be wrong to picture deification as merely a response to human- ity’s sin. It is not simply the resolving of this issue, though it is that, it goes beyond, it is the intended goal for creation from the very beginning. This is not, however, a goal creation can complete on it is own.

Creation Incomplete on Its Own

Maximus has reminded us that created beings cannot reach their own ends. They cannot fulfil themselves.6 Even any deathlessness humanity may have possessed in the story of the garden was not by nature. Aquinas tells us that it was by grace ‘that man was deathless before sin happened’ (ST 1a. 76, 5, ad 1). Adam, while without sin and incorruption, was still subject to becoming.7 Just as creation was in- complete without humanity, incapable of attaining its own end, so too is humanity incomplete without a deifier, without someone to raise him up to the status of divinity by participation, by grace, by adoption. Anthony Baker again reminds us, ‘Perfection is God’s gift to creation––the gift, in fact, of creating––and in sharing this creative work the divine nature opens itself entirely to creatures, extending to us the gift of our true and ultimate telos.’8 This gift, however, must be received and even then, it must be given. And while it is partially given in the act of creation itself, even this is not enough. Creation is still incomplete for it is not perfected. As I argued above, creation is incomplete without humanity, but humanity as well cannot bring about its own end, it cannot complete itself. Something much more surprising must happen. If God were truly the divine watchmaker or deism, then it would stand to reason that the telling of time (the end for which a watch is made) would occur naturally and re- quire only maintenance, but not divine aid in reaching its end, it would have been created at its end, that is the moment it started telling time it would have accomplished its end. This, however, is not the understanding of creation or its end the Father’s had. Instead, it seems that something more is needed for creation to reach its telos.

Creator Must Cross the Creature-Creature Divide

‘Christ assumed an individual and concrete nature that was in no wise “the” human nature as such. Yet what is more, by means of this partial contact, he touched nature in its entirety, a nature that is indivisible and continuous. And by this vital unity, he transmits grace, resurrection, and divinization to the entire body, thus uniting all mean, and through them, all creation to himself.’

-Hans Urs von Balthasar 9

What Balthasar notes in the quote above perhaps takes us beyond the purview of this chapter, but necessarily so. As I argued above, creation is incomplete without humanity, but humanity too is incomplete on its own. The only way creation’s telos can be completed is if the creator crosses the divide that separates him from creation. Only in this manner can deification reach to all of creation. Just as humanity takes within itself all of creation, so Christ by becoming man takes on all of creation and unites to it his divinity. More on this, however, in chapter 4. De Lubac writes concerning Augustine:

[Augustine] also realized the great gulf in any circumstances between the creation and Creator, and the madness of the creature’s dream, inspired by the Creator, to raise himself up to him for everlasting union. And in the revelation of Jesus Christ what he could see was principally the declaration that this mad dream could become a reality because it corresponded to the entirely gratuitous plan governing creation.10

We have noted this before, but it bares repeating, while humanity desires its proper end, it cannot accomplish it for its proper end is well beyond what it could even dare to hope for, union with God. The entire second chapter of Balthasar’s A Theological Anthropology is dedicated to the notion that humanity cannot perfect itself.11 Again, as Thunberg writes concerning Maximus, there is a gulf between humanity and God which only the ‘will of God can overbridge.’12 This is explicitly not something humanity can accomplish on its own.

1 Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction, translated by Ian and Ihita Kesarcodi-Watson (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978), 73.

2 Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. members of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (London: James Clarke and Co., LTD., 1957), 136.

3 Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. members of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (London: James Clarke and Co., LTD., 1957), 135.

4 Andrew Louth, ‘The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology,’ in Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Tradition, edited by Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A. Wittung (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 34-35.

5 Elizabeth Theokritoff, ‘Creator and creature,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, edited by Mary B. Cunningham and Elizabeth Theokritoff (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- sity Press, 2008), 69.

6 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 132.

7 Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor, 2nd Edition (Chicago: Open Court Press, 1995), 144.

8 Anthony D. Baker, Diagonal Advance: Perfection in Christian Theology (SCM Press, 2011), 141.


9 Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa, translated by Mark Sebanc (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 134-35.

10 Henri de Lubac, Augustinianism and Modern Theology, translated by Lancelot Sheppard. (New York: Crossroads Publishing, 2000), 17.

11 Hans Urs von Balthasar, A Theological Anthropology, trans. by Benziger Verlag (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967), 43-72.

12 Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confes- sor, 2nd Edition (Chicago: Open Court Press, 1995), 51.


Sincerely yours,

Thesis Extract: ‘Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways as Evidence of Deification’

David Russell Mosley

Festival of St Gregory of Nyssa and St Macrina
19 July 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today, I wanted to share another portion of my thesis. Sadly, this section neither features Gregory of Nyssa, nor his sister Macrina. Instead, it focuses on some work I’ve done concerning Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways or Proofs of God and their relationship to deification. I hope you enjoy.

Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways as Evidence of Deification

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas' proofs of God's e...

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas’ proofs of God’s existence was based on teleology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A. N. Williams in her work, The Ground of Union, suggests and demonstrates, ‘In seminal form, the Five Ways argue not only for God’s existence, but also the existence of a Thomistic doctrine of theosis.’1 For Williams, the Five ways do this first by creating a ‘deep ontological and conceptual divide,’ between Creator and creature.2 This provides safety from the danger that deification can have of appearing like pantheism. By showing how utterly other God is than his creation, the Five Ways not only disallow pantheism, but, in fact, allow for deification. This relates to one of our necessary categories for deification in the first chapter, namely, the Creator-creature divide. For Rudi A. Te Velde, ‘What Thomas is looking for [in the Five Ways] is not so much rational certainty as intelligibility; to wit the intelligibility of the truth expressed and asserted by the proposition “God exists.”’3 Thus, for both te Velda and Williams, the Five Ways are not intended as full blown proofs that God does in fact exist.4 The Five Ways show God’s connectedness and graciousness in sharing his own life, his very nature with his creation, especially the attributes, being, goodness, and perfection.5 Therefore, we shall take a brief look at the God described in the Five Ways to see the both the intelligibility of the God described and whether this God shows forth in this simple set of definitions is a God who deifies.

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God. (ST Ia. 2, 3)

In the first way, Thomas shows that change leads to God, that is, because things change, and change because of causes, there must be a ‘first cause of change not itself being changed by anything else’ (ST Ia. 2, 3). What Aquinas is doing here is, in one sense, showing the shortcomings of physics. Physics and natural science attempt to explain motion but cannot account for its existence.6 Thus Aquinas argues that for motion to exist there must be one who causes motion, is in fact, the first cause of all motion. As Te Velde notes, ‘The argument shows that being-in-motion, which is an essential feature of physical objects cannot be understood as being unless it is reduced to a first mover, which is itself not part of the domain of mobile being. As a consequence the domain of physics appears to be a finite domain, as being in motion cannot constitute the ultimate nature of reality.’7 This begins to build Aquinas’ implicit argument that there is a qualitative difference between God and creation. God is not merely a first or prime mover. If he were, then God would be just another thing within creation, even if greater than all other things in creation. Instead, at least as relates to motion, Aquinas posits God as being utterly different from all things that move/are moved.

This on its own is not enough to prove Williams’s point that the Five Ways show God as deifier, but this first way does show, as noted above, God as distinctly separate from creatures. Unlike all of creation, which is changeable, God is not changeable but is the first cause of all change. While not directly an argument for creation out of nothing, the first way shows forth a God that might create out of nothing. In fact, creation out of nothing would lead us to understand God as the first mover. As we saw in the previous chapter, for deification to work there must be a sharp distinction between Creator and creation. The first way leads us in that direction.

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God. (ST 1a. 2, 3)

The second way is related to the first in that it focuses on causation. This time, however, Thomas wants simply to look at causation as such and not motion. Again, as with the first way, God is the source of all causation. If anything has a cause, it will be found ultimately in God. Here again, while all things in creation are caused and have effects, God is uncaused and is the source of all causation, creating a qualitative distinction between God and creation. The Creator-creature distinction is reiterated. The God described as both first mover and first efficient cause is a God utterly unique. It is a God that is not merely qualitatively different from creation. While we are not yet to the aspects of participation and analogy in Thomas’ thought at this point, clearly the God described in the first two of the Five Ways can lead toward the God in whom all things participate.

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence––which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God. (ST 1a. 2, 3)

The third way shifts emphasis to necessity. Thomas reasons that all created beings are not necessary. If they are not necessary, then at some point they did not exist, for it is not necessary that they exist. This leads Thomas to question why there is anything at all then, for if nothing is necessary then at some point there was nothing at all. Therefore, there must be a being whose being is necessary in order to bring into being all unnecessary being. This necessary being is, again God. Thomas has now, in the first three ways, firmly established that God is completely and ontologically other than all creation. He is the only one who causes change without changing, who causes causation without being caused, and whose very being is necessary in order to bring all other being into existence. This third way begins to evidence to us deification. God as necessary being and the cause of all being is a God who shares himself with all unnecessary being, which is all other being besides himself.

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God. (ST 1a. 2, 3)

Then, in the fourth way we see God defined as the something from which all being receives its perfection. Here again we have the hints of deification. The fourth way shows us a God who is the source of all comparison. When we say something is beautiful, it is only insofar as it relates to God who is the source of beauty. This would perhaps not be enough to give us a notion of deification if Thomas did not say, ‘There is something therefore which causes in all other things their being, their goodness, and whatever other perfection they have.’ Thus, God is not solely the source of comparison, he is also the cause of perfections in created beings. As both source and cause of perfection, the God described in the fourth way is a God who shares of himself with his creation. This is a God who would be likely to deify.

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God. (ST 1a. 2, 3)

Finally, in the fifth way we reach what is often called the teological argument, that is, everything in nature has a goal for which it is intended and God is the director who directs created beings to their telos, their end. While Thomas does not make it evident here, this end is God himself (cf. ST 1a. 44, 4). Thus not only does the fifth way describe a God who progressively perfects his creation to an end, but it suggests that the end described is God himself. Thus again, we see the evidence that the God described in the five ways is a God who would deify.

This skeletal depiction of God is one of a God who seems to desire to make creatures and then make them more like himself. By being truly distinct from his creations, God can make them more like himself. By being their mover, their first and final cause; indeed by making them partakers of himself, the God described in the Five Ways is a God who deifies, perhaps at varying levels, his creations at least in part because he created them.

1 A. N. Williams, The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 41.

2 A. N. Williams, The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 40.

3 Rudi A. Te Velde, Aquinas on God: The ‘Divine Science’ of the Summa Theologiae (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 39.

4 Despite Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Proofs of God’s Existence (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969).

5 A. N. Williams, The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 41.

6 Rudi A. Te Velde, Aquinas on God: The ‘Divine Science’ of the Summa Theologiae (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 51.

7 Rudi A. Te Velde, Aquinas on God: The ‘Divine Science’ of the Summa Theologiae (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 55.

Let me know what you thought.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Thesis Extract: ‘The Four Aspects of Deification’

David Russell Mosley

17 July 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Russian Orthodox icon of the Transfiguration (...

Russian Orthodox icon of the Transfiguration (Theophanes the Greek, ca. 1408). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Friends and Family,

I recently asked some friends on facebook and twitter what they would like to see more of on my blog. One of the ideas was to write more about my thesis, maybe give extracts. There is a hard line to balance here. If I put too much, publishers might view this as already published material and not wish to publish it themselves, but to do nothing at all is, to me unhelpful, since I believe in the sharing of ideas. For now, then I will occasionally post sections from my thesis, or do posts discussing the sections I’m working on. I’m not sure precisely how this will work out, so please bare with me. Below is a section from my first chapter wherein I try to describe how I define deification or theosis.

The Four Aspects of Deification

Earlier [in the chapter] I mentioned the aspects that make up realistic and ethical deification Russell: participation and transformation for the former and imitation and virtue for the latter. While I will not be making the distinctions Russell makes concerning ethical or realistic deification, I do find this fourfold method of understanding the aspects of deification helpful. Each aspect of deification will now be examined, each in their turn, so as to understand what it is that makes up deification when it is examined in the subsequent chapters. These different aspects and defined below are interpenetrating. Particularly in the pairs of participation/transformation and imitation/virtue. However, it is equally not uncommon to see references made between the pairs.

Participation/Grace/Adoption Participation

The first aspect of deification goes by several names: participation, grace, adoption, union. For this section I will look at examples of each of these four mostly synonymous terms. It would not be true to say that the existence of any of these terms in a text would equal a notion of deification. They are, however, all terms used often with deificatory significance. Now, this beginning notion in deification is that humans in general and Christians in specific derive all things from God. From a Christian understanding, the notion of participation finds its source in 2 Peter 1:4.1 However, the Platonic tradition was also essential to configuring a notion of participation for Christians. It would seem, that there are two ways participation ought to be understood. The first is the notion that by nature of our existence we, along with all created beings, participate in God. Yet, as noted above, the other terms that are often used as synonymous with participation, grace and adoption, suggest something more specific. Yes, all nature is graced, just as all nature participates in God, but only some are adopted. More on this below. It is important before continuing to note an interesting aspect of participation. Participation, especially as will be seen below in its synonyms is something that is simultaneously active and passive. As noted above, in one sense participation means that humans have being. This is not something in which we actively participate. It is passive, it is done to us. On the other hand, there are methods by which humans can actively participate in God (i.e. prayer, contemplation, etc.). This will be discussed in more detail when come to the section on Redemption and the life of the believer in chapter #. Instead, then, of trying to understand participation via active or passive voice, perhaps the grammatical middle voice would be helpful here. Normally, the middle voice would be evidence of reflexion, the subject does something to itself. In this case, however, the middle ought to be understood as meaning something that is both neither active nor passive, and active and passive.

For now, let us focus on the specific kind of participation. As John Meyendorff suggests, ‘The view of man prevailing in the Christian East is based upon the notion of “participation” in God. Man has been created not as an autonomous, or self-sufficient, being; his very nature is truly itself only inasmuch as it exists “in God” or “in grace.”’2 This is true not only in the East, but in the West as well. Origen, one of the early figures says the Christian can become deified through the Son by participating in the Son’s participation in the Father. In order to realise this potentiality, it is necessary for Christians to have a life dedicated to prayer and virtue.3 Despite the suggestions of subordinationism, what Origen is suggesting is that a very specific kind of participation takes place between the Christian and Christ. This is more, beyond, the notion that all things which have being do so only via participation in God. Interestingly, even here in Origen, the notion of participation is not passive. It is not something that simply happens to a person, but it is something in which the Christian actively participates. Prayer, virtue, obedience are all essential to being deified.

The essential aspect of this deificatory participation is our participation specifically in Jesus Christ. Carolyn Schneider writing on deification in Athanasius says, ‘The incarnate one, after completing this mission [reversing evil], sends his Spirit to us so that humans can participate in him and thus become and remain children of God, since it is the Son of God’s own Spirit.’4 Here there is a hint of another synonym for participation, viz., adoption. To become children of God is to be adopted into God’s family. Augustine also views our participation as being in the Word, ‘Our enlightenment is to participate in the Word, that is, in that life which is the light of men (Jn 1:4). Yet we were absolutely incapable of such participation and quite unfit for it, so unclean were we through

sin, so we had to be cleansed.’ (De Trin. 4.2.4)5 For Augustine, this participation cannot be of the kind by which all creatures exist, for it is only possible after purification. I will discuss more in my chapter on the Fall, why there are two kinds of participation, but for now, note well that for Augustine humans do participate in the Word, and that doing so leads to enlightenment.

Another essential aspect of this second kind of participation is linked to Christ’s nature. Athanasius argues, according to Khaled Anatolios, ‘that the Son is proper to and not external to God by participation but essentially, whereas all other creatures are related to God by participation.’6 Deification, because it is so inextricably tied to the Incarnation means that in whatever sense humans are deified it must be by participation. Humans are not God by nature, but Christ is. In his becoming human he became by nature what humans are. Humans then can become what he is, but by participation.

Clearly, participation references humans coming to what humans are not by nature. However, ‘It is the nature of created things to participate in external Forms because the Word of God, in whom all forms cohere, orders all things and connects them to himself, so that they reflect the Word’s unity and participate in the Word’s life.’7 So in one sense, participation is natural to us. It is what created beings do. However, the deificatory participation is that participation by which humans transcend what is natural to them and receive that which is non-natural to them.


Each of these four terms––participation, grace, adoption, and union––are nearly synonymous. However, not well that while usually synonymous each can be, and often is, used in a slightly different manner. Nevertheless, grace is quite similar to participation, viz., it ought to be conceived of under two guises. The first is the idea that all nature is inherently graced. 8 As all creation is a gift from God, it is graced. However, there is a second understanding of grace, one that takes creation from where it is and moves it forward to transcend its current, specifically fallen state. Again, Weinandy shows that for Athanasius, ‘We remain creatures while becoming God by grace, as Christ remained God in becoming man by the Incarnation.’9 Especially in the early centuries, one of the key aspects of deification is that what Christ is and does by nature, humans can only do by grace (or adoption or participation). While safeguarding Christ’s divinity, the Fathers were equally reminding us that all we have, including deification, is ours only by gift, by the grace of God. I will look more deeply at the language of grace in the subsequent chapters, particularly the chapter on Redemption.


The next synonym is union. Specifically, this is when in reference to union with Christ, God, the Trinity, etc. Thomas Weinandy, writing about Athanasius, said, ‘Since the Son is himself God who became man, humankind can be deified by being united to his glorious humanity.’10 See the connection to the incarnation. Here, by nature of the incarnation, humans can be united to Christ. Paul Collins, writes, ‘The construct of theōsis found in the writings of Maximos the Confessor centres on the possibility of a union with God, which is a gift from God and by which human beings become “gods”.’11 This becoming gods is a kind of union with God. For Lossky, union itself is synonymous with deification. Not only that, but it is necessary to be on the path to deification to be a theologian:

‘To know God one must draw near to Him. No one who does not follow the path of union with God can be a theologian. The way of the knowledge of God is necessarily the way of deification.’12 See the various ways Lossky describes deification: knowing, drawing near, union, deification. All these terms are centred around that concept of union with, for Lossky is synonymous with deification.


What Christ is in nature, humans can only be by adoption.13According toWeinandy, ‘Athanasius perceives that the salvific work of the Incarnate Son must first progress within his own humanity and only then, after he himself has been made perfect and so deified, are human beings by being joined to him, able to progress themselves in the process of deification.’14 The Son cannot be made divine by his participation in the Father but must be so in nature, otherwise no others could participate in Him, nor could he deify if he had not first deified the flesh.15 As shown above, Athanasius uses both the paradigms of adoption and deification to show that what some humans are called throughout the Scriptures, i.e. sons and gods, is only possible because of the Word’s true Sonship and true divinity and humans adoption and participation into his sonship and divinity. 16

In a similar way to how Athanasius turns to deification and adoption as evidence that the

Word must be both fully God and Son, John Cassian in De Incarnatione 3.217 turns to condescension and adoption. Humans, specifically Moses and the addressees in Psalm 82, are called gods by God not because of who they are but because God condescends to give them these titles. If, for Athanasius, men cannot be called sons and gods unless the Word is Son and God; for Cassian men can only be called gods because the true God so calls them. Cassian also briefly mentions adoption noting that Jesus is not called God by adoption but by nature. The implication here is that what Jesus is not called by adoption those others God has called sons are so called by adoption.


The next major aspect of a doctrine of deification is often tied to participation, viz., transformation. As noted above, this is not transformation into something non-human. Instead this means a transformation into being truly human. This is reminiscent from passages such as in Ezekiel 36 where God promises Israel he will change out their hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. C. S. Lewis,

in Mere Christianity, envisages it as change from bios to zoe: ‘A man who changed from having Bios to Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changes from being a carved stone to being a real man. And this is precisely what Christianity is all about.’18 While humanity’s being is always dependent on God for its existence, humans still do not have being as they were meant to have it. Therefore, the transformative aspects are as if humanity went from in-animation to animation. Lewis later compares the process to a tin soldier becoming an enfleshed one. The only problem is enfleshment is uncomfortable and at least remaining tin would not be different. Nevertheless, it is essential for the tin soldier to become flesh, for it was intended to become flesh all along, it just was not always intended to hurt.19 Simply going from tin soldier to an enfleshed one, however, is not all there is to it. For the model into which humans are being transformed is Christ.

Lewis sounding not unlike Athanasius, points out in Mere Christianity––as well as in the Screwtape Letters––writes, ‘Every Christian is to become a little Christ.’20 The thing, or better, the one

into whom humans are being transformed is Christ. He became what humans are, so humans might become what he is. Thus, the transformation is more than a return to the pre-fallen state. Instead, humans are to go beyond the point reached by Adam and Eve for we have the benefit of the Incarnation. Without Christ having become human, how could humans have ever hoped to become gods. It may only be done by participation/grace/adoption, but it happens only because he did the reverse first. Humans are not, however, the only ones transformed. Christ’s becoming a creature, has far reaching implications for all of Creation. As Vladimir Lossky writes, ‘The world thus created will always exist, even when time is abolished, or rather, since time itself is a creature, when it is transformed into the eternal newness of the apocatastasis.’21 I will explore this notion more, however, in the next chapter.


If participation and transformation show the primarily or ambiguously passive (or middle) aspects of deification, then imitation and virtue give the primarily, but ambiguously, active (or middle) aspects of deification. On the one hand, these aspects of deification show how one actively participates in and so is transformed into God. On the other hand, however, both of these aspects are things only accomplishable by divine aid. This is the beauty of deification that our actions and God’s grace are inextricably tied. ‘To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ.’22 Lewis describes this ‘dressing up’ as an activity of which Christians do in order to be conformed to the image of Christ. Nevertheless, if is only with Christ’s help this can hope to be accomplished, this conformation.23

The main emphasis of imitation is imitation of Christ. If Christ is the one into whom humans are being transformed, then it stands to reason that part of that process would be an active attempts to be like him. If Christ is truly God, then it stands to reason that we are indeed, attempting to be like God. Lewis notes Christ’s words in Matthew 5:48, ‘The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas, Nor is it a comment to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words.’24 David Brakke writes that for Athanasius, ‘The available patterns [for imitation] included the biblical saints and more recent virtuous Christians, but the ultimate pattern was God and his word; thus, self-formation through imitation, in that one became as like to God as possible, was the ethical facet of the process Athanasius called ‘divinization’ (θεοποίησις).’25 This is reminiscent of Paul’s injunction that believers ‘join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us,’ (Phil 3.17). The idea being that as each of person endeavours to imitate Christ, she ought also look toward those in the past and in her times who exemplify imitation of Christ.

Acquisition of Virtue

The final main aspect of deification is the acquisition and employment of virtue. This, while seemingly the most active aspect of deification, is equally as passive as it is only through Christ that Christians can acquire and employ virtue. This acquisition of virtue is directly tied to the imitation of and transformation into Christ, for all virtues find their source ultimately in God. Daniel Keating reminds us, ‘It is important to recognize that when the Fathers speak of attaining virtue, they are not recommending a path of self-improvement or giving facile acceptance to moral practice in the ancient world. Rather they are issuing a call to “put on” Christ himself and the new way of life he teaches and models.’26 Deificatory virtue is not selfish. It is not a reference only to the individual, but the individual in relation to Christ, and to all of creation. I will return to the subject of virtue chapter #, but for now, it is enough to note these two things. First, virtue here must ultimately mean imitation of Christ. Second, virtue is something that the individual actively seeks to acquire, but must also be infused with by God.

1 ‘4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.’

2John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes (Oxford: Continuum, 1974), 138.

3 Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 142.

4 Carolyn Schneider, ‘The intimate connection between Christ and Christians in Athanasius,’ in Scottish Journal of Theology (58 (1), 2005), 11.

5 Augustine, The Trinity (De Trinitate), translated by Edmund Hill and edited by John E. Rotelle (New York: New City Press, 2005), 154-55.

6 Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought (London: Routledge, 1998),105. 7Carolyn Schneider, ‘The intimate connection between Christ and Christians in Athanasius,’ in Scottish Journal of Theology (58 (1), 2005), 5.

8 I do not have the time to go into the grace and nature debates, here.

9 Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. members of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (London: James Clarke and Co., LTD., 1957), 87.

10. Thomas G. Weinandy, Athanasius: A Theological Introduction (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 99.

11 Paul M. Collins, Partaking in Divine Nature: Deification and Communion (London: Continuum International Publishing, 2010), 107.

12 Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. members of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (London: James Clarke and Co., LTD., 1957), 39.

13. Romans 8:14-16 ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.’

14. Thomas G. Weinandy, Athanasius: A Theological Introduction (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 97.

15. Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought (London: Routledge, 1998), 105.

16. Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),178.

17 Give citation from NPNF.

18C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 159.

19C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 179. 20C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 177.

21Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction, trans. by Ian and Ihita Kesarcodi- Watson (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978), 61.

22 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 188.

23C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 189.

24C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 205.

25. David Brakke, Athanasius and Asceticism (London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 167.

26Daniel Keating, Deification and Grace (Naples: Sapientia Press, 2007), 79.

I hope you enjoyed this section and that it wasn’t too long. As I’m sure you’ll note, it is still a work in progress with some missing footnotes and more. I’d love comments on it. Let me know what you think.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Reposting Old Posts

Dear Friends and Family,

As some of you may know, I used to have a blog over on blogger. I switched not too long ago to WordPress liking the format better. There are, however, some posts from my old blog that I still like. So, over the course of this week, I will be reposting some of them here. I hope you enjoy them. My thoughts may often appear less mature or at least differently attuned, but I think this could be fun.

Please le me know what you think of them.



Publications, Presentations, Works in Progress, Oh My!

My Desk at Home

My Desk at Home

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve decided to add some pages to my blog. The first you can find here. It is a list of the papers and reviews I have presented and/or published. I thought this could be a useful way both to promote myself when I start the job hunt and allow any of my readers an opportunity to get in touch with me about things I’ve written. The second page can be found here. This page is dedicated to the things I am currently writing. I’ll try to keep it up-to-date so if anyone has questions, comments, or suggestions about my work they can see what I’m doing and contact me.

I hope at least some of you find these pages useful and that they don’t appear self-aggrandising. Please, feel free to contact me about my work, especially if you’re working on similar topics. I appreciate any opportunity I can have to discuss theology, literature, and more with people who enjoy it as much as I do.

Sincerely Yours,


A Prayer for Scholars from Thomas Aquinas

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve been working on my first chapter this past week and a half. Writing is a draining, but ultimately rewarding process for me. Today, while I was doing some grading, I came across a tweet from Matthew Moser (twitter, blog) which led me here and to a prayer from Thomas Aquinas. I will now try and pray this every time I sit down to write:

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion. I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.