It is a common refrain for the orthodox to talk about salvation as Theosis or Divinization. But what does this mean? And how can I understand this rather startling claim? David Bentley Hart gives a hint of his understanding in a recent article [1] on the Eclectic Orthodoxy blog that I found really interesting and familiar. He plans to explain more in his forthcoming book You are Gods, but I want to somewhat approach his reasoning from my familiarity with some of his language, especially as used by some inthe traditionalist school. The main quote of interest from Dr Hart is (emphasis is mine):

Finite spirit is, as spirit, always also a self-positing “I,” for both better and worse. And it is only as such an “I” that any free spiritual being could be created by God. That is, God cannot create a free rational creature unless that creature is already free in being created — which is to say, unless that creature has freely consented to its own creation, and unless that consent is truly constitutive of the act of its creation. And so, then, it must also be true that no creature can exist as spirit except by its free acceptance of the invitation to arise from nothingness, and by intending itself in intending its final cause. Spirit exists as an act of assent to the Father and, in that assent, an act of complete acceptance of the gift of being. Though whatever is created must be created in its last end, still spiritual existence is possible only under the conditions of those rational relations (those aitiai) that logically define it. That assent, of course, cannot come “before” a creature exists; but it is necessarily the eternal truth of that creature’s existence, one that — from the perspective of time — is an eschatological reality, but sub specie aeternitatis is the very beginning of days.[1]

He goes on to explain what he means, but I imagine it is a lot to think about. I would suggest reading the whole thing before following me here, because these are my own thoughts based on his words. With that, we continue.

Dr Hart is here drawing on his very wide knowledge of Neoplatonism, in its varied forms, and stating what is in truth a very basic truth taken to its conclusion. It is that which animates discussion of the “eternal world” or “creation in God” or “world of forms” of which this world is an inferior “copy”. But this distinction between form and copy is not the whole story, because what links them is “participation”, and this “participation” is not a static reflection but a “movement in likeness” that should ideally end in unity with what is being copied.

This “movement” or “motion” of spirits is the very basis of time. Principially, it is Neoplatonic emanation, and this is not “motion” but eternal “act” of being which Ananda Coomaraswamy quotes W. H. Sheldon saying is “a process so intensely vivacious, in terms of time as extremely swift, so as to comprise beginning and end at one stroke”[2]. This act is precisely that “eternal now” that is eternity itself, with no duration yet containing all duration in itself. This is in fact, the beginning and end of time, as the implication of the true “directionality” of metaphysical “movement” being “vertical”, moving “up” and “down” the chain of being, from and to the gods, is that time itself is in this direction. This is why Dr Hart can say that “sub specie aeternitatis is the very beginning of days.”

The implications of this aside (one of which is cyclical and “horizontally” unending time), this is the way we understand the ancient maxim of “whatever has a beginning has an end”, because both beginning and end are the same. The appearance of a tree in time is the appearance of a limited and diminished possibility of the eternal form of tree. That tree comes from its form and its life in time is a journey back to it, progressively manifesting more of this possibility before inevitably perishing and “the spirit returns back to the one who gave it”. In human terms, and in Dr Hart’s words:

The final cause of all things that come into being is the whole reality of the created, in its accomplished and so original plenitude. The spiritual life is nothing more than a constant labor to remember our last end by looking forward our first beginning.[1]

But, what is our “first beginning”, and how is our freedom constitutive of our creation? How did we “assent to be created”? This is where my speculation goes deeper, and where theosis meets creation itself. It will be interesting to see how what I say here will compare to Dr Hart’s elaborations in You are Gods when it comes out, but I have little doubts that I am close to his line of thought.

In the Neoplatonic chain of being, the three major hypostases are The One, Intellect, and Soul. The One is simply, God. Intellect is the eternal “realm of forms” and Soul is the “image” of intellect which animates the realm of change and transfers the logoi of the forms to “matter”.

Importantly for my purposes, what distinguishes God is firstly, the non-distinction of essence and existence, and secondly, the radical apophaticism needed to affirm its reality. Why is this apophaticism needed? Because many of the attributes often ascribed to God are also true of intellect. Intellect is omniscient, could be said to be omnipotent, is eternal, and so on. All these can be said of the One, but in a heavily qualified way. For example, the One doesn’t “know” because that presupposes a distinction between knower and known, and ultimately essence and existence, which would mean it is not the One. But it can be said to be “omniscient” in the sense that, as Lloyd Gerson put it, “…it is the goal of everything that exists and that everything that could exist does exist, for it knows itself as activity that is boundless.”[3] Perhaps a cryptic way of putting it is that because the One knows no-thing, it knows everything.

But it is in the emanation of intellect that we see where Dr Hart meets Gerson, and even Schuon. Starting with Schuon, let us put these quotes side by side:

Dr Hart:

God cannot create a free rational creature unless that creature is already free in being created — which is to say, unless that creature has freely consented to its own creation, and unless that consent is truly constitutive of the act of its creation. And so, then, it must also be true that no creature can exist as spirit except by its free acceptance of the invitation to arise from nothingness, and by intending itself in intending its final cause.[1]

Schuon:

By definition, a possibility wants to be what it is, its nature is its will to be; God creates only by “giving existence” to that which wants to be this or that.[4]

What is this “creature” and what is this “possibility”? There are two answers, the second answer subordinate to the first, which is that the “first creatures” are the forms:

Schuon:

…what manifests itself is “real” and that what can either manifest itself or not is merely “possible”; but in another respect, which abolishes this distinction, it is the possible which is the real, manifestation being accidental or illusory; in this case, the possible is identified with a Platonic archetype.[4]

The forms are themselves the “gods”.

Algis Uzadvinys:

From this fragmental vision arises the multiplicity of Forms or intelligible beings (noetic gods, spiritual lights) and the actuality of pure thought or intellection (noesis).[5]

And it is these gods that are the beginning and end of creation.

Dr Hart:

No spiritual creature could possibly exist except as “saved,” as a god in God.[1]

What this means, really, if we combine the logic from all these quotes, is that the fullness of creation is itself uncreated. By this, I mean, the very essence of created being is uncreated being. By uncreated being I mean Neoplatonic Intellect, and by “uncreated” I mean “uncaused”.

Lloyd Gerson:

The Forms are later in the sense that they are an effect of which the One is the cause, though what they are is uncaused.[3]

What connects this further to Dr Hart’s would be to realize that “the form of man” is simply “Intellect” as such, at least with respect to life on earth. The form of man is “in a sense the ‘form of all things’, the human form being the ‘primordial form’ which contains all forms; an idea also expressed in the doctrines of the ‘Universal Man’ (Adam Kadmon, Purusha, Insân-i-kâmil) as a kind of Philonic logos or Platonic Nous”[6], or as the author further explains:

We could say that the Nous beholds the One in the form of a man (‘I looked and saw a figure like that of a man’ — Ez. 8:2), or, in terms of Kabbala, that the totally of the self-revelation of Ain Sof (the sefirotic tree) makes up the ‘body’ of Adam Kadmon.[6]

We can see the same line of thought in Dr Hart’s article:

Finite spirits are not monads, but are constituted in and by their communion in the eschatological fullness of the Adam of the first creation, which is a unity of coinherent love.[1]

This “coinherent love” being, in platonic terms, “a living interpenetrating universe, boiling with life”. [5]

What is most interesting here is that this is an “uncreated creation”, and if we are considering this in light of the hypostatic union, we are not considering Christ’s divine nature, but his human nature. His divine nature is “utterly dark to our gaze”[7], at the “point” where Nous and One are identical. The implication is clear. The very fullness of being of deified human nature is uncreated, and this is so precisely because of the still prior uncreated unknowable divine nature. And yet, this is still the first answer to the question “what is this creature?”

That the intellect containing the forms are the first uncreated creatures is all and good, but what about the salvation of individuals? How are we united to the absolute beginning in the uncreated intellect?

Describing the symbolism in Persian art, Dr Seyyed Nasr has this remark (emphasis mine):

We must now make clear the meaning and ontological status of this ‘world of imagination’, the ‘ālam al-mithāl, which has its correspondence in other traditional cosmologies, including those of ancient Persia. The multiple states of being can be summarized in five principal states which the Sufis call the five Divine Presences’ (hadarāt al-ilāhīyah), and which Islamic philosophers from Suhrawardi onward have accepted fully as the ground pattern and ‘plan’ of reality, although they have used other terminology to describe it.* These worlds or presences include the physical world (mulk), the intermediate world (malakūt), the archangelic world (jabarüt), the world of the Divine Names and Qualities (lāhūt), and the Divine Essence or Ipseity itself (dhāt), which is sometimes called hāhüt. The jabarīt and the states beyond it are above forms and formal manifestation, whereas the malakūt, which corresponds to the world of imagination (‘ālam al-khayāl or mithal), possesses form but not matter in the ordinary Peripatetic sense. That is why in fact this world is also called the world of ‘hanging forms’ (suwar al-mu’allaqah), and later Persian philosophers like Mullā Şadrā have devoted many pages to its description and proof of its existence. But from another point of view this world possesses its own matter (jism-i latīf), which in fact is the body of resurrection’, for in this world is located both paradise in its formal aspect and the inferno. This world possesses likewise its own space, time, and movement, its own bodies, shapes, and colours. In its negative aspect this world is the cosmic labyrinth of veils that separate man from the Divine, but in its positive aspect it is the state of paradise wherein are contained the original forms, colours, smells, and tastes of all that gives joy to man upon the earth.[8]

The “five divine presences” is a Sufi doctrine that has its roots in Neoplatonism, and Neoplatonism links every author quoted in this article. This doctrine in particular has similarities with the theology of Proclus, with several reservations. The “Essence” is simply “the One” who is “Beyond Being”. The “world of divine names and qualities” looks very much like the realm of the henads, although, again, with reservations and a few differences. The “archangelic world” is the more familiar “world of forms”, the “realm of imagination” represents hypostases Soul, and the physical world is no doubt our world of the sensible.

Dr Nasr’s description of the imaginal world, in particular, piqued my interest because of how it corresponds to Dr Hart’s descriptions of the resurrected body. Compare:

Dr Nasr:

The jabarīt and the states beyond it are above forms and formal manifestation, whereas the malakūt, which corresponds to the world of imagination (‘ālam al-khayāl or mithal), possesses form but not matter in the ordinary Peripatetic sense. That is why in fact this world is also called the world of ‘hanging forms’ (suwar al-mu’allaqah), and later Persian philosophers like Mullā Şadrā have devoted many pages to its description and proof of its existence. But from another point of view this world possesses its own matter (jism-i latīf), which in fact is the body of resurrection’, for in this world is located both paradise in its formal aspect and the inferno. This world possesses likewise its own space, time, and movement, its own bodies, shapes, and colours.[8]

Dr Hart:

This is why it is that those traditional translations of 1 Corinthians 15:35–54 that render Paul’s distinction between the σῶμα ψυχικόν (psychical body) and the σῶμα πνευματικόν (spiritual body) as a distinction between “natural” and “spiritual” bodies are so terribly misleading. The very category of the “natural” is otiose here, as would be any opposition between natural and supernatural modes of life; that is a conceptual division that belongs to other, much later ages. For Paul, both psychical and spiritual bodies were in the proper sense natural objects, and both in fact are found in nature as it now exists. He distinguished, therefore, not between “natural” and “spiritual” bodies, but only between σώματα ἐπίγεια (“terrestrial bodies”) and σώματα ἐπουράνια (“celestial bodies”). And this, again, is a distinction not between natural and supernatural life, but merely between incommiscible “natural” states: ἀφθαρσία (“incorruptibility”) and φθορά (“decay”), δόξα (“glory”) and ἀτιμία (“dishonor”), δυνάμις (“power”) and ἀσθένεια (“weakness”). In speaking of the body of the resurrection as a “spiritual” rather than “psychical” body, Paul is saying that, in the Age to come, when the whole cosmos will be transfigured into a reality appropriate to spirit, beyond birth and death, the terrestrial bodies of those raised to new life will be transfigured into the sort of celestial bodies that now belong to the angels: incorruptible, immortal, purged of every element of flesh and blood and (perhaps) soul. [9]

As Dr Hart would elaborate in that article, these are not incorporeal but in actuality a different kind of corporeality, that of the gods. This is the body that was glimpsed in the transfiguration and in the resurrection. In reality, this body and this world is described by Dr Nasr as “beyond this external world and within the soul of man”, echoing the truth that transcendence is also immanence.

This is the second answer to the question “what is this creation?’, because unity with the forms is concurrent with realizing one’s celestial body. To realize unity with the non-individual intellect is not to lose your ego or individuality, but to make it “transparent” and obedient. It is to “hook” yourself to that which you are already “hooked”. It is to realize your own beginning as that which is. It is to be “transfigured”, and just as the forms are coinherent in love as the primordial Adam, so you are coinherent in love with them and with the multitude that is creation as that Adam’s celestial body. You participate in that which is uncreated. In Schuon’s words:

At the summit of universal Existence this ‘migratory vibration’ comes to a stop, because it turns inwards in the direction of the Immutable; there remains only a single movement, a single cycle, that of Paradise, which opens onto the Essence. In God Himself, who is beyond Existence, there is an element which pre-figures Existence, and this is the Divine Life, which the Christian doctrine attributes to the Holy Spirit and which it calls Love; towards this Life converge those existences that are plunged in the light of Glory and sustained by it; and it is this Light, this ‘Divine Halo’, which keeps the Paradises outside the ‘migratory vibrations’ of existences that are still corruptible. The sage does not strictly speaking emerge from his existential movement- although from the standpoint of the cosmic wheel he does so- but turns it inwards: the movement becomes lost in the Infinite or expands in the ‘changeless movement’ of the ‘Void’.[10]

This movement that is “lost in the infinite” is not a loss of personhood, because:

When one speaks traditionally of a “dissolution” or of an “extinction” of individuality, one has in view the privative limitations of the ego, but not its very existence; if there is no common measure between the ego of the one who is “freed in this life” (jîvan-mukta) and his spiritual reality — so that it can be said of him that he “is Brahman” without having to deny that he is this particular man — the same incommensurability and, along with it, the same compatibility, or the same parallelism, present themselves in the hereafter; if this were not the case, one would have to conclude that the Avatâras had completely vanished from the cosmos, and this has never been traditionally admitted. Christ “is God”, which in no wise prevents him from saying: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise”, nor from predicting his return at the end of the cycle.[11]

This is why Dr Hart can say that “universalism is not merely entailed, but is in fact a necessary premise for any coherent account of spiritual creation”[1], because if the Primordial Adam himself is eternal, and in that contains all duration indistinctly in its eternal act of being, then as the end of all duration, all movements in duration must return to him, even those of perdition. Again, in Schuon’s words:

…when the Scriptures proclaim that ‘God is Love’, that implies metaphysically the relativity and even the end of Hell; he who says ‘relativity’, says ‘limit’, and so ‘end’; but this end derives from a ‘dimension’ that is higher than the reality of Hell; it is not therefore Hell which comes to an end, but the end which does away with Hell. It is as though the dimension of depth were to absorb one of the other two dimensions, or rather both of them at the same time, by dissolving or transmuting the plane surface; neither of the two dimensions would cease to exist in relation to their common plane, it is this plane itself which would cease to exist.[10]

This is how protology meets eschatology and is how resurrection is “new creation” and why Christ is also “Adam”. The end is in the beginning, and the beginning is in the end. It is an Ouroboros. In the end, as the scripture says, we will all say in view of our salvation and despite our damnation, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Originally published on https://theosymmetry.wordpress.com/

[1] Hart, D. B. (2021). If God is going to deify everyone anyway, why not deify everyone immediately? | Eclectic Orthodoxy. https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2021/01/20/if-god-is-going-to-deify-everyone-anyway-why-not-deify-everyone-immediately/

[2] Coomaraswamy, A. K. (1989). Time and Eternity. Select Books.

[3] Gerson, L. P. (1999). Plotinus (The Arguments of the Philosophers).

[4] Schuon, F. (2013). From the Divine to the Human: A New Translation with Selected Letters (Writings of Frithjof Schuon). World Wisdom.

[5] Uzdavinys, A., & Bregman, J. (2009). The Heart of Plotinus: The Essential Enneads (The Perennial Philosophy) (A. Uzdavinys (Ed.)). World Wisdom.

[6] On the “Holographic Universe” | Sensus Catholicus. (2020). https://sensuscatholicus.jimdofree.com/2020/10/17/on-the-holographic-universe/

[7] Wood, J. D. (2017). Creation Is Incarnation: The Metaphysical Peculiarity Of The Logoi In Maximus Confessor. Modern Theology, 7177. https://doi.org/10.1111/moth.12382

[8] Nasr, S. H. (n.d.). The World of Imagination and Concept of Space in the Persian Miniature. Islamic Quaterly, 6

[9] Hart, D. B. (2018). The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients. Church Life Journal. https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-material-for-the-ancients/

[10] Schuon, F., & Nasr, S. H. (2005). The Essential Frithjof Schuon. In The library of perennial philosophy. http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0513/2005014071.html

[11] Schuon, F. Form and Substance in the Religions.

I'm just a fiction loving theology amateur with a background in Physics, who loves to integrate the fragmented parts of his life into a Christocentric whole