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November 23, 2007

Other perspectives on deification and Quakerism

I'm far from the first person to write about possible connections between Eastern Orthodoxy and Quakerism.

Carole D. Spencer, in The Creation of Quaker Theory: New Perspectives, an unfortunately expensive book (with some fascinating pieces in Google Books, fortunately!), writes on The Essentially Orthodox Nature of Quaker Holiness:

The concept of deification, unio mystica, a participation in God through Christ, is the foundational experience of all Christian mystics and has always existed within, and alongside, the dogmatic, liturgical, and institutional faith. This mystical aspect of faith, as divine union, biblically expressed as 'partakers of the divine nature', (KJV, 2 Peter 1:4) was so central to the beginnings of early Quakerism that one leader, Richard Farnworth, actually made it into a ditty, "Written by one whom the world called a Quaker, but is of the divine nature a partaker."

This experience-based faith was anchored to (and indeed could not be understood apart from) the mystery of the Trinity. Fox cared nothing for the dogmatic formulations, but the experience of the three persons, God, Christ, and Spirit, and the ultimate unity in the diversity of persons was paramount. This experience-based faith was also anchored in the doctrine of the incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, and the atonement, Christ's offering on the cross. The key biblical text for Quakers, John 1:9, 'the true Light that enlightens everyone' could not be understood apart from the incarnation, because the true Light was the Word become flesh. And Fox, like the Greek fathers, did not stop there, but recognized the inverse as well, that transfiguration was a two-way process. Since Word (God) became flesh, flesh could also become God-like (deified, perfect)....

Fox understood perfection as the return to the original God-likeness in which humanity was created, which Christ had restored through his incarnation and atonement. This concept of perfection as restoration and earthly glorification, rather than a glorification only to be experienced in eternity, is common to Christian antiquity and continues to be the traditional understanding of holiness in the Eastern Orthodox Church. (160-1, emphasis mine)

(Update: I knew I'd seen Carole Spencer's name before, and I probably found myself on this track because of her writing in George Fox's Legacy, where she discusses similar themes of Orthodox deification before looking at more specifically Quaker holiness, starting from Hannah Whitall Smith.)

In the blogging world, Larry at Reflections of a Happy Old Man wrote on deification and Orthodoxy in 2005, and Johan Maurer writes about Orthodoxy periodically.

And for a different take, see John Oliver's From Reason to Truth to Mystery: An Odyssey to Orthodoxy follows the writer's path from Presbyterianism to Evangelical Quakerism to Orthodoxy. There's an interesting if brief anecdote near the start:

At first blush, Quakers and Eastern Orthodox seem to have little in common. Yet here, as in other matters, I was light years behind Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann who, placed at a conference with representatives of liturgical traditions, said "Oh no. Orthodox belong next to the Friends."

I'll have more on the Orthodox side up next.

November 18, 2007

Deifying language

I'll have more to say about deification (or theosis) and how it might fit with early Quakerism, but for the moment I think I'll pause, and present the Bible quotes from the last two articles, with a bit of surrounding context and with the actual citations highlighted.

Quotes cited Pelikan's opening paragraph on deification and the Orthodox are cited in red, while quotes cited by Fox on related (I think) matters are in blue. Quotes cited by both are in purple.

(I've cited the King James Version of the Bible, because it's the Bible that Fox was most familiar with. Definitely feel welcome to check these verses in other translations or the original.)

Psalms 82:6 (Entire Psalm)

God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid [them] out of the hand of the wicked.
They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
I have said, Ye [are] gods; and all of you [are] children of the most High.
But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.

John 2:10 (9-11)

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: [but] thou hast kept the good wine until now.
This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

John 10:34 (32-36)

Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

1 Corinthians 6:2-3 (1-4)

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.

2 Corinthins 6:1 (1-2)

We then, [as] workers together [with him], beseech [you] also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now [is] the accepted time; behold, now [is] the day of salvation.

Ephesians 4:6 (4-7)

[There is] one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father of all, who [is] above all, and through all, and in you all.
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

Hebrews 2:11 (9-12)

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
For it became him, for whom [are] all things, and by whom [are] all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified [are] all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,
Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

2 Peter 1:4 (2-5)

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that [pertain] unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

1 John 3:2 (1-3)

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

1 John 4:17 (15-19)

Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
We love him, because he first loved us.

There are more verses that lead this direction and a huge number of verses that read differently when read with this perspective in mind, but this is a good start for now.

November 16, 2007

Orthodox salvation

Yesterday, I thought I was posting some of George Fox's hardest-to-accept moments, but judging by the comments, it sounds like people would like to see more of the same.

I don't have more of Fox right now, but I do have some related ideas that come from a very different place, focused on the nature of salvation.

I won't attempt to claim that there's a direct line between Eastern Orthodoxy and Quakerism as others have tried to claim for Quakerism and various mystical traditions. The Orthodox emphasis on changelessness, going back to the apostles, and the Quaker idea of Primitive Christianity Revived may have brought them to similar places, however different they appear on the surface. They both emphasize at their foundations a particular stream of New Testament thought that seems to have largely disappeared in Western Christianity. (I'll talk more about why that may have happened later.)

In The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, Jaroslav Pelikan outlines briefly how this doctrine looked in the time of Maximus the Confessor, under the headline "The Changeless Truth of Salvation":

"The chief idea of St. Maximus, as of all Eastern theology, [was] the idea of deification." Like all of his theological ideas, it had come down to him from Christian antiquity and had been formulated by the Greek fathers. Salvation defined as deification was the theme of Christian faith and of the biblical message. The purpose of the Lord's Prayer was to point to the mystery of deification. Baptism was "in the name of the life-giving and deifying Trinity." When the guests at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, as described in the Gospel of John (John 2:10), said that their host had "kept the good wine until now," they were referring to the word of God, saved for the last, by which men were made divine. When, in the epistles of the same apostle John, "the Theologian," it was said that "it does not yet appear what we shall be," (1 John 3:2) this was a reference to "the future deification of those who have now been made children of God." When the apostle Paul spoke of "the riches" of the saints, this too, meant deification.

But there were two principal passages of the Bible in which the definition of salvation as deification was set forth: the declaration of the psalm, "I say, 'You are gods,'" which was quoted in the New Testament (Ps. 82:6; John 10:34); and the promise of the New Testament that believers would "become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

The first of these meant that righteous men and angels would become divine, the second that "being united with Christ" was the means of deification. For similarity to Christ was a deifying force, making men divine. Greek paganism had already known that one should rise from the active life to the contemplative, but Greek Christianity discovered that there was a third step beyond both of these, when one was taken up and was made divine. From the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite the devotees of contemplation had learned that God was not only beyond all existing realities, but beyond essence itself; and thus they had come to the true meaning of deification.

The presupposition of salvation as deification was the incarnation of the Logos of God, for "the purpose of the Lord's becoming man was our salvation." (10, paragraph breaks added.)

There are some clear differences between this set of beliefs and that of the early Quakers, most notably baptism - but at the same time this fits extremely well with the message that "Christ has come to teach his people himself" and with Fox's moving through England as a holy man.

This is just the beginning, but it's already a lot to digest. If you'd like more on "deification", or theosis, this Wikipedia article seems like a good place to start. It's also interesting to go back with this in mind and re-examine Romans 8, which I wrote about earlier.

November 15, 2007

An embarrassing enthusiasm?

George Fox spent a substantial part of his early career facing down blasphemy charges. Perhaps more important, later Quakers (including Fox, to some extent) played down some of the things Fox said that got him into this trouble in the first place. Perhaps the strongest example, which was left out of the original Journal, is this in Carlisle:

And one sware one thing and another sware another thing against me. And they asked if I were the son of God. I said "Yes."

They asked me if I had seen God's face. I said "Yes."

They asked me whether I had the spirit of discernment. I said "Yes, I discerned him that spoke to me."

They asked me whether the scripture was the word of God. I said, "God was the word, and the scriptures were writings, and the word was before writings were, which word did fulfill them."

And so they sent me to prison. (Braithwaite, Beginnings of Quakerism, 117.)

Braithwaite, writing of an earlier but similar case, says that Fox's words are "open to misconstruction:"

Fox replies to the more serious charges, as he had done at the quarter sessions, by denying that he had ever made such statements in the sense that George Fox was equal with God or George Fox was Christ, but he insists that the new life, the spiritual man, is the Lord from heaven and that Christ is one in all His saints. Fox's words, even in this answer, are open to misconstruction. The following especially was laid hold of:

Where He [that is, Christ Jesus] is made manifest, the works of the devil are destroyed and there He speaks and is king, and is the way, and is the truth, and is the life... and he that hath the same spirit that raised up Jesus Christ is equal with God. And the scripture saith that God will dwell in man and walk in man. As Jesus Christ, which is the mystery, hath passed before, so the same spirit takes upon it the same seed and is the same where it is made manifest. According to the flesh I am the son of Abraham, according to the the Spirit the Son of God, saith Christ.

Fox, and others of the early Friends, had a vivid sense of personal union with their living Lord, but they coupled this experience of the indwelling Christ with a doctrine of perfection that betrayed them, during the first exhiliration of the experience, into extremes of identification with the Divine. They believed that inspiration gave infallibility, a belief that men have often held with respect to the writers of scripture, and they had to learn, with the help of some painful lessons, what we are learning to-day about the writers of scripture, that the inspired servant of God remains a man, liable to much of human error and weakness. (109)

One especially interesting edit of these stories comes in the Quaker Reader, which leaps on page 77 from Fox's telling in the Journal of these events to a citation in The Great Mystery which makes similar claims in somewhat more cautious language:

Object. 1. 'That he did affirm that he had the divinity essentially inside him.'

Answer. For the word essential, it is an expression of their own: but that the saints are the temples of God, and God doth dwell in them, that the scriptures do witness, 2 Cor. vi. 1. Eph. iv. 6. 2 Pet. i. 4. And if God dwell in them, then the divinity dwells in them; and the scripture saith, ye shall be partakers of the divine nature; and this I witness: but where this is not, they cannot witness it.

...O. 4. 'That he was equal with God.'

A. That was not so spoken; but that 'He that sanctifieth, and they that are sanctified, are of one,' Heb. ii. 11. and the saints are all one in the Father and the son, of his flesh and of his bone; this the scripture doth witness. And 'ye are the sons of God,' and the Father and the Son are one; and 'they that are joined to the Lord, are one spirit, and they that are joined to a harlot are one flesh.'

...O. 'That he was the judge of the world.'

A. That 'the saints shall judge the world,' the scripture witnesseth it, 1 Cor. vi. 2, 3. wherefore I am one, and I witness the scripture fulfilled.

O. 'That he was as upright as Christ.'

A. Those words were not so spoken by me; but that 'as he is so are we in this present world.' 1 John iv. 17. That the saints are made 'the righteousness of God;' that the saints are one in the Father and the son; that we shall be like him, 1 John iii. 2. and that all teaching which is given forth by Christ, is to bring the saints to perfection, even to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: this the scripture doth witness, and this I witness. Where Christ dwells, must not he speak in his temple? (594-5)

Fox's message that "Christ is come to teach his people himself" comes with more to it than people standing on a hillside and listening to Christ - it's more a matter of being possessed by Christ. Richard Bailey, in his essay in New Light on George Fox, writes of "celestial inhabitation," and writes:

The belief that the ordinary person became Christ, in some sense, was fundamental to early Quakerism. It explains Fox's high language, and the charismatic deportment of his followers appears less excessive and immature. His opponents accused him of claiming to be a god while his followers actually called him one. What is remarkable is that these were not isolated cases on either side, and we are able to determine this even though much of the exalted language directed toward Fox has been heavily censored. (113)

Bailey finds this hard for modern readers to deal with, and Braithwaite's comments on the writers of scripture suggest that it was hard in 1912 as well. I don't think it was all that much easier for most people in 1650s England, either, and the Nayler trial doubtless brought the question to an unpleasant head. Quakers backed away from the more extreme statements, though they certainly retained the idea of direct contact with an Inner Light.

However, that doesn't mean that this is genuinely unorthodox, and I've found some fascinating reflections on other aspects of Christian tradition that take these questions very seriously. I'll have more on that in future posts.