Theosis and the Holy Spirit  

Posted by Joe Rawls

A bit in advance of Pentecost, we have some words on the role of the Holy Spirit in the process of deification by Greek Orthodox priest and theologian Christoforos Stavropoulos.  It first appeared in Partakers of Divine Nature (Light and Life 1976); I found it in the excellent compendium Eastern Orthodox Theology:  A Contemporary Reader, 2nd edition, Daniel B Clendenin, ed,  Baker Academic 2003, where it appears on pp 188-189.


The Holy Spirit is the great resident of the church.  It is there that the Holy Spirit exercises all of his sanctifying and deifying power.  The work of our theosis, which our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished objectively, is completed by the Holy Spirit, adapting it to the life of every faithful Christian.  The Holy Spirit is the main and essential beginning of sanctification.  The Fathers of the church specifically teach that the theosis of human beings is attributable to the Holy Spirit.  The essential place of the Incarnate Word of God is matched by that of the Holy Spirit.  The divine Spirit that proceeds from the Father divinizes us.  The Spirit is "divine and divinizing".  The Holy Spirit is a divine bond which harmonizes and draws the mystical body of Christ, that is, the church, together with its Lord.  It is the Holy Spirit who makes the faithful into other Christs, and thus creates the church.  Our incorporation in the mystical body of Christ and our theosis are not exclusively the work of the incarnation of Christ.  They are also the work of the creative Holy Spirit, who creates the church with his spiritual gifts.

Through the Holy Spirit the faithful become sharers of divine nature.  They are formed in the new life.  They put off corruption.  They return to the original beauty of their nature.  They become participants of God and children of God.  They take on the shape of God.  They reflect the light of Christ and inherit incorruptibility.  Thus, the contribution of the Holy Spirit is always a finalizing action.  God the Father, before all ages, conceives of the work of salvation and theosis.  He realizes it in time, in the Son.  The Holy Spirit completes and perfects and adapts this work to people.  In the sphere of the church, the Holy Spirit mystically sanctifies and unites the faithful with Christ, thus creating and giving life to the mystical body of the Lord.  Here, in this  mystical body, the Holy Spirit's sanctifying energy shines forth.  These divine energies and the variety of graces of the Holy Spirit and the gifts which he mystically transmits to the soul of the believer, all shape and form the new Godlike human nature.  The Holy Spirit consequently has a power which re-creates, renews, and causes a rebirth.  Basil writes, "From the Holy Spirit there are the foreknowledge of the future, the comprehension of mysteries, the understanding of hidden things, the distribution of graces, the heavenly way of life, association with angels, unending happiness, residence in God, the likeness of God, and the highest of all things to be desired, to become God."  This re-creative power of the Holy Spirit is what is known as divine grace.  It comes and meets people.  It does not force.  It strengthens them in a spiritual way to walk the road leading to theosis.  However, it is absolutely necessary that people receive divine grace willingly and without coercion.  It is absolutely necessary for individuals to freely cooperate with divine grace in order to be able to travel the blessed road of union with God.

Alan Watts, Anglo-Catholic Roshi  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Many people with only a casual acquaintance with Alan Watts (1915-1973) are probably unaware that he was an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church earlier in his life.  As a boy he was a somewhat nominal member of the Church of England, but for a time he attended Canterbury School (adjacent to the Cathedral) at a time when the Cathedral dean was a strong Anglo-Catholic.  The young Watts was an acolyte under the dean and was exposed at an impressionable age to the glories of bells and smells.  After his first marriage, he and his wife moved to the United States where he came back--for a time--to the active practice of Christianity after an intense involvement with Buddhism.  They attended St Mary the Virgin (aka "Smokey Mary's") in New York City which further strengthened his love of high-church ritual.  Watts decided to become a priest and was accepted as a postulant for Holy Orders by the Bishop of Chicago, despite his lack of a university degree.  He was able to enroll in Seabury-Western Seminary and was ordained in 1945.  Following this, he was assigned to serve as Episcopal chaplain at Northwestern University.  For a time his ministry flourished; liturgies in the chapel featured lots of incense and Gregorian chant performed by Northwestern music students.  He became a popular lecturer and attracted many in the university community.

This all came crashing down in 1950 when his marriage failed.  He and his wife were unfaithful to each other, in both cases with Northwestern students.  His wife informed the bishop of the situation, and that was the end of Fr Watts. (the sordid details are recounted by Monica Furlong in her biography Zen Effects [1986, Houghton Mifflin]).  But before Watts self-destructed as a priest, he was able to publish Behold the Spirit:  A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion (Vintage 1971; orig 1947).  This amazing book was a reworking of his seminary master's thesis, and must be considered a minor masterpiece of Christian spirituality, all the more so considering the author's dedication to Zen and other Eastern traditions.  The book reveals a thorough knowledge of the Western Christian spiritual tradition.  Had Watts remained a priest, he might well have become one of the leading Anglican spiritual masters of the 20th century.

The final part of the book contains his thoughts on liturgy, some of which is excerpted below.


On the is probably safe to say that it impresses [the modern person] as less awkward when the form of worship is very frankly archaic and symbolic.  It may still seem unreal and remote from life, but this will only be true so long as the Church fails to complement symbolic religion with mystical religion.  Given an understanding of mystical religion, we shall not need or desire to mix formal religion with everyday life or make any compromise between secular forms and religious forms.  On the contrary, we shall keep our forms separate and realize complete harmony of inner meaning.  It is highly probable, therefore, that as the mystical understanding of Christianity increases, as union with God is realized more and more in everyday life, our forms of worship will become unashamedly archaic and symbolic.  We shall keep the ancient symbols of the Christian religion in all their original purity, for our spiritual progress will not consist in a development and adaptation of symbolism, but in an increased understanding of its meaning.

By and large, a prayer meeting in a modern living-room leaves one with nothing but a bad taste in the mouth.  The characteristic mentality of our time finds this kind of thing totally awkward and absurd, not because it "brings religion home" or too close for comfort, but because it smacks of exhibitionism.  Yet at Christmas intelligent pagans go by thousands to Midnight Mass in the local Roman or Anglican church and enjoy themselves immensely...Of course, they go in part to "see the show" and to hear fine music, but there is also the attraction of the numinous, the infectious fascination of the holy which delivers the soul from its own futility.