theologia crucis: “Luther and Gerhard Dig Theosis”

Detail of Semen Zhivago, "Last Supper Mosaic" (1879-87) in St. Isaac's Cathedral, St. Petersburg

Detail of Semen Zhivago, “Last Supper Mosaic” (1879-87) in St. Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg; the figure to Jesus’s right appears to be St. Mary Magdalene, rather than St. John the Beloved.

Good stuff from Dr. Jack Kilcrease from a few years ago:

A couple of quotes that will likely make the low churchy and existentialist Lutherans among us go bonkers.


First Luther AE 26:247. Luther writes of the person of faith in the Galatians commentary of 1531-5:


“The one who has faith is a completely divine man, a son of God, the inheritor of the universe.”


From Gerhard in On Christ, 144. In discussing what the goal or end of the Incarnation is, Gerhard writes:


“However, because God wished out of His immense mercy to turn our disgrace and misery away from us, to join us to Himself again, and to restore to our possession the goodness that was lost, He used this manner and means: that He personally united His Son with our nature that we might in turn be joined to God through Him who touches us by kinship and nearness of the human nature.” Gerhard then goes on to cite Irenaeus: “Because of His immense love, the Son of God became what we are, to perfect us to be what He is. He became a partaker of our nature to make us sharers in the divine nature.”


Hence Gerhard views the true goal of the Incarnation as being what the Patristic theologians referred to as theosis.

Source: theologia crucis: Luther and Gerhard Dig Theosis.

Dr. Kilcrease teaching.

Dr. Kilcrease teaching.

There’s more good stuff in the comments, such as this lengthy explanation— again, from Dr. Kilcrease:

When I say low-churchy people, I’m thinking of those persons in the American Lutheran Church who are not into “church growth”, but are suspicious of any sort of Lutheran catholicity. They refer to people like me as “hyper Euros.” They’re the sorts who follow Herman Otten and Greg Jackson, who complain about Ft. Wayne driving people to Catholicism and Orthodoxy, simply because they emphasize Lutheran continuity with the Patristic heritage— something that Luther and the Lutheran scholastics were only too happy to do. They’re hung up on the Red book [TLH] and the KJV (or Beck’s An American Translation!— TDD). If they had their way, no one would wear vestments, everyone would wear Geneva robes. I’ve been encountering a lot of these people lately on the internet.


Anyways, Forde would definitely not like this. The reason is that he takes so much of his theology from Karl Barth, and for Barth, being Reformed, the goal was always to distance God and humanity from one another. I think that there is danger in this if one does substitute theosis for justification. With the except of the Finns and Melanchthon’s translation of the Augustana [Augsburg Confession] into Greek (which in the article on Justification actually does monkey with things so as to appeal to the Greeks), I’m not certain that any Lutherans have really ever done this.


Also, I would say, that this is another danger of construing theosis as a means of escaping our creatureliness and believing that our goal as Christians is to in a sense transcend mere human existence. If you see how this functions in EO and Catholicism, then there is that danger.


For Luther though, things are different. If we read Freedom Of a Christian, then his whole point is that the Christian, because he shares all and all with Christ, can return to the world, not transcend it. He also makes this point about Christ, who possessed the fullness of divine glory and therefore was capable of giving all. In other words, deification was automatic, wasn’t something you strive for. Hence, one doesn’t seek to escape the world through striving after it. One already has it! Hence one loses nothing if one stays in the world. In fact, because one possesses all in Christ, then one is free to give all to all, and spread the wealth around.


In this sense, just as God makes guilty to justify, he deifies to make human!


Regarding (Oswald) Bayer, I’m not certain what his attitude would be. To the extent I’ve read him I don’t think he’s commented on it. He of course does have an emphasis on the doctrine of creation and vocation, but as I’ve noted this doesn’t contradict that.


… Luther does definitely think that Adam and Eve would have transcended their earthly existence had they not fallen. This suggests a doctrine of theosis as well, since the Patristic theologians assumed that deification was always on God’s agenda and the fall just interrupted this movement towards heavenly existence. So, I see nothing in the Genesis commentary that contradicts his other remarks in this regard. In fact, Luther’s view of what would have happened without the fall seems to suggest that he interpreted this in the same way as Patristic and Medieval theologians who always thought human destiny was theosis.

It’s good to keep abreast of old stuff from the Golden Age of Lutheran blogs. Thanks, Dr. Jack.

What’s the Golden Age of Lutheran blogs? You’ll have to wait for the inaugural episode of Pseudepodcast 2.0 to find out!