Arthur Middleton on theological vision, purity and salvation as a participation in the life of God

A frequent refrain of Origen, appealing to Matthew 5.8, is the indissoluble connection between theological and exegetical insight and moral goodness and purity [On First Principles 1.1, 9]. ‘For what else is ‘to see God in the heart’ but 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.’

Historical-textual methodologies cannot replace this prerequisite for acquiring such vision. Gregory of Nazianzus [First Theological Oration] expresses the patristic mind in saying that theology is not for everyone because it is no such inexpensive or effort less pursuit. ‘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.

For the Fathers salvation is linked to theosis or divinization, how the life of God is imparted to the believer so that he or she may participate or share in the triune life, which Athanasius put succinctly, ‘The Son of God became man so we might become God.’ Humanity is made in the image of God to become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ [2 Pet. 1.4]. The work of salvation is restoration to that likeness that was originally within this image.

So salvation is a process of growth, which means, not the claiming of God’s gift of salvation as an individualistic action, but responding to the Holy Spirit who brings us into the di vine stream from which we are to drink and be transformed. We are not changed into the divine but remain creatures in whom is being restored the lost likeness to those redeemed in Christ, through a reintegration into the divine life.

Creation and redemption

Anglican theologians have 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 Catholic Church 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. 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-impartation 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, Andrewes speaks of the mystery of his Incarnation and the mystery of our inspiration as ‘great mysteries of godliness’, in both, God being ‘manifested in the flesh’. ND