Praying Towards Deification: A Study in the Theology of Contemplation
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Pomeroy, Samuel Arthur
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The last century of patristic scholarship has seen a striking revival in the study of the Cappadocian Fathers, with particular attention given to Origen of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor. These figures are unique thinkers in and of themselves; yet, their thoughts follow the same kind of theological trajectory, each drawing upon preceding figures to extend their contribution with characteristic insight and philosophic acuity. As Christian theology and practice developed, so too did the meaning, purpose, and forms of prayer; how Christians prayed has always been intimately connected to what they profess as doctrine, particularly in regard to christology. An examination of the theological contours of the three aforementioned figures reveals that for their vein of thought (largely associated with the content of Cappadocian theology), prayer was largely concerned with man's deification through the reception of the Logos of God. Origen offers an emphasis on receiving the Word through the letter of Scripture; Gregory expounds upon the fact that man is made in the "image of God" to explain how man receives the True Man, Christ, through contemplative prayer and virtuous living; finally, Maximus takes us through three stages of contemplation with the end to know the Unknowable insofar as human nature is permitted. Through this study, I shall demonstrate that each figure unites in a common thread to emphasize that receiving the nature of Christ is to partake in His kenōsis love, a love of self-emptying, in order to receive the Divine Nature. Deification, then, is the embodiment of God in the individual, insofar as God is love and man is a creature innately possessing the way to love. For the Cappadocians, contemplation is a recovery of the εἰκών [image] of God by which the human is made, and the restoration—also the radical expansion—of man’s original state: spiritually attuned living amidst a corporeal world.