Theosis and Kenosis

I have been thinking about the two theological concepts of theosis and kenosis.  In the Latin Church, we have become rather familiar with kenosis, which is, simplistically stated, the self-emptying of God in the Incarnation. Jesus so loved us that he completely emptied himself so as to become one with us and ultimately lead us back to God, our Father.  This radical and complete divesting of worldly power and position was Jesus’ greatest show of power, for from it sin and death were destroyed and Satan defeated completely. All Christians are called by virtue of their baptism to this life of self-emptying, giving their lives in service (diakonia) to others.  Those ordained to the diaconate are called especially to a ministerial diakonia, a sacramentalized self-emptying

Theosis is far more familiar to the Eastern Churches.  This is not to say that great western theologians, including St. Thomas Aquinas, didn’t understand and write about it.  Theosis is the divinization of humanity which is occurring because of Christ’s Incarnation, i.e., his kenosis.  We become more God-like the more we empty ourselves of all grasping and clutching to what the world would deem as power or status.  One of my theology professors would say, “As God humanized man, he divinized him. The more human we become, the more we become as God.”  The Eastern Churches have a grasp of this that we in the West have to struggle to apprehend.  Our liturgies seem to speak of the kenotic, incarnate love of God in Jesus Christ.  The Eastern liturgies seem to eloquently speak of humankind being caught up and drawn into the mystery of divinity.  

As John Paul II said, the Church has two lungs with which she breathes.  It lives a life of self-emptying which in turn leads to the very life of the Trinity.

To me, this is such a great mystery, and the core of Christian belief and life.  Perhaps it also lay at the heart of a theology and spirituality of the diaconate, as Deacon Bill Ditewig suggests in his book, “Emerging Diaconate”.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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