In the post Christmas season of Epiphany, we think of the manifesting of God in the person and life of Jesus Christ, but the early fathers went deeply into the consequences for salvation for those who walk in the way and life of God.
Origen in his meditation on the beatitude six, Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God [Matt.5.8], he says [On First Principles 1.1, 9], For what else is ‘to see God in the heart’ but also to understand and know him with the mind… By this divine sense, therefore, not of the eyes but of a pure heart, that is, the mind, God can be seen by those who are worthy.
Also, Gregory of Nazianzus [First Theological Oration] expresses the patristic mind in saying that theology is not for everyone, It is for those who have been tested, and found a sure footing in contemplation. More importantly, it is for those who have undergone, or at the very least are undergoing, purification of body and soul. For the one who is not pure to lay hold of pure things is dangerous, just as it is for weak eyes to look at the sun’s brightness.
This is echoed in Palladius [Lausiac History] who claimed that unless one is purified in body, mind and heart, one can gain only the most superficial understanding of the Bible.
This brings us to the heart of the matter because for the early Fathers salvation is linked to deification or (theosis) which means how the life of God is imparted to the believer so that he or she may participate or share in the triune life. No one expressed it more succinctly than Athanasius, The Son of God became man so we might become God. Or as St Peter [2 Pet. 1.4], Humanity is made in the image of God to become ‘partakers of the divine nature’.
We should never think of claiming God’s gift of salvation as an individualistic action, but as a process of growth, of responding to the Holy Spirit who brings us into the divine stream from which we are to drink and be transformed. Salvation does not mean we are changed into the divine nature, but remaining God’s creatures we are being restored the divine likeness that has been lost.
The Anglican Divines followed in the footsteps of the early Fathers in their concern to understand the mystery of participating in the life of God. They found in the study of the Fathers a gateway into the scriptural mind and subsequently a living tradition which guided the interpretation of Scripture, and finally a clue to the Church Catholic of the past and the future, the whole Church Catholic, Eastern, Western, our own.
Such divines have used the thought and piety of the Fathers within the structure of their own theological exposition. Richard Hooker speaks of Christ making us such as himself is, meaning that because of the Incarnation the self-impartation that exists within the Godhead finds expression in a self-imparting of God to his creation, allowing creation and redemption to become the two modes in which created beings participate in the life of God. In a sermon on the Holy Spirit, Lancelot Andrewes speaks of the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation and the mystery of our inspiration as great mysteries of godliness in both, God being ‘manifested in the flesh’.
We walk in this way for as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God…[John 1.12]
Canon Arthur Middleton