Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Enjoyers of the Divine Nature: Theosis According to Theodore Abū Qurra

This article analyzes the Arabic-language work of the ‘Abbasid-era Chalcedonian theologian Theodore Abū Qurra (ca. 755–830). Though his work is familiar to specialists in Islamic studies, it remains largely unknown in contemporary Orthodox theology. By closely analyzing Theodore’s unique interpretation of the doctrine of theosis, this article will argue for the rediscovery and integration of Theodore’s work into the contemporary understanding of Orthodox theological tradition. Theodore advances a concept of theosis meant to be rationally intelligible and universally accessible. Theodore’s central claim is that philosophical reflection on everyday human desires and experiences leads to the truth that we are all created to eternally enjoy the Divine Nature. After analyzing his method and arguments in philosophical and linguistic detail, this article will conclude with some reflections on the value of Theodore’s insights in the context of contemporary Orthodox theological epistemology and anthropology.


Toward the end of the tenth century, a traveler named Abū ‘Umar visited Baghdad, the great capital of the ‘Abbasid Empire. Probably curious about the local culture, he attended a debate session held by the city’s philosophers and theologians. As he tells it: “I witnessed a meeting which included every kind of group: Sunni Muslims and heretics, and all kinds of infidels: [Zoroastrians], materialists, atheists, Jews, and Christians.” Upon seeing all the participants present, one stood up and declared: “Let us dispute with one another only on the basis of arguments [End Page 47] from reason, and what observation and deduction will support.”1 Upon hearing all the participants agree to these terms, Abū ‘Umar stormed out of the meeting, utterly scandalized by what he had seen.

What Abū ‘Umar witnessed was, in fact, a routine feature of intellectual life within the urban centers of the ‘Abbasid domains. This style of theology came to be called kalām in Arabic, meaning “disputation” or “dialectic.” Though the ‘Abbasid Empire was ruled by a Muslim emperor and military elite, its subjects comprised a large variety of faiths and worldviews. The intellectual and bureaucratic classes in particular included members of every available religious community. Greek and Syriac speaking Chalcedonian theologians were active participants in these disputation circles,2 where they developed their own distinctive version of rational dialectical theology. Their work is, however, largely unfamiliar to contemporary Orthodox theology, despite the fact that these ‘Abbasid-era Chalcedonian theologians also built their work on the foundations of the Greek patristic and Byzantine tradition, most especially the Cappadocians, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus.

By focusing on one of the key treatises authored by the most important of these theologians, Theodore Abū Qurra (ca. 755–830), this article will advance two related claims. The first of these claims is analytical and the second is critical and prescriptive. First, this article will argue that Theodore Abū Qurra advances a concept of theosis that he intends to be rationally intelligible and universally accessible to anyone, regardless of their existing religious or philosophical worldview. As a practitioner of kalām, Theodore constructed his theology by means of philosophical dialogue with non-Orthodox, leading him to an interpretation of theosis that emphasizes its intellectual accessibility through contemplation of our shared, universal human nature. Theodore exhorts his listeners to philosophically reflect on their everyday desires and experiences in order to lead them to the truth that all human beings are created to eternally enjoy the Divine Nature.

Second, this article will close with some reflections suggesting that Theodore’s distinctive form of Orthodox theological method could be put into productive and critical conversation with the methodological concerns of modern Orthodox theology. This more general assertion is meant to open the door to larger conversations based on Theodore’s insights. Despite being well-known in the academic discipline of Islamic studies and related fields focusing on late antiquity in the Middle East, Theodore’s work has only rarely been mentioned as a component of the larger Orthodox [End Page 48] theological tradition of which it is a uniquely compelling part. When recognized as a part of Orthodox theological tradition, Theodore’s work can be put into conversation with modern Orthodox theology in ways that both challenge and confirm the presuppositions of modern Orthodox theological epistemology and anthropology.


Few details are known about Theodore’s biography.3 He lived ca. 755–830, was a native of the city of Edessa, and was at some point the Chalcedonian bishop of Ḥarrān (contemporary Harran in Southeastern Turkey). Arabic is the primary language of his extant theological work and, as Sidney Griffith has famously argued, Theodore is the earliest theologian whose name is known in the whole of the Christian tradition to use Arabic as their main theological language.4 He also wrote in Syriac and possibly in Greek, but nothing survives of his Syriac output and the question of whether the numerous extant Greek works attributed to him are indeed authentic is far from settled. Some of his works are also preserved in Georgian.5 In other words, Theodore’s great achievement was to construct the first systematic Chalcedonian theological vision entirely in the Arabic language, the intellectual lingua franca of his native society, the ‘Abbasid Empire.

Theodore’s own Christian intellectual milieu consisted of Chalcedonian monastic circles within ‘Abbasid territory (most notably the monastery of Mar Saba) that [End Page 49] were closely connected to one another but isolated from their coreligionists within Byzantine territory (on account of the fierce imperial rivalry between the Byzantine and ‘Abbasid states).6 These monastic circles represented indigenous Greek- and Syriac-speaking Chalcedonian Christians who shared the theology and liturgical tradition of the imperial Byzantine church, but who developed their own distinctive communal life and literature, as successive generations of them were born subjects of the Muslim ‘Abbasid Empire with no political or social connection to Byzantium. These communities gradually began to adopt Arabic as their everyday language, and beginning in the eighth century, monastic circles connected to these communities in locations such as Palestine, Edessa, Antioch, Baghdad, Damascus, Sinai, and Alexandria began to produce the earliest surviving examples of Christian Arabic texts, including translations of liturgical and biblical books and original theological tracts designed to explicate and defend the Orthodox Christian faith as understood by the Greek patristic tradition.7 Theodore’s work represents the most widely known example of the original theological work produced within this community, for whom native knowledge of Arabic and Arabic-language religious culture (including Quranic conventions and concepts) became everyday facts of intellectual life.8

In addition to his formation in the Greek patristic tradition, Theodore was also a native resident and product of the highly plural intellectual environment of his Syrian homeland within ‘Abbasid territory. During the period when Theodore was bishop of Ḥarrān, the city included a large Greek-speaking polytheist community, was a center of both Miaphysite and Dyophysite Syriac-speaking Christians, and was a crucial node in the developing network of Arabic-speaking Christian and Muslim elite intellectual culture within ‘Abbasid territory.9 As a thinker and scholar whose native language was Syriac, Theodore was also heir to the great tradition of Syriac Christian [End Page 50] Aristotelianism. A strong tradition of Aristotelian philosophical inquiry and translation had flourished among Syrian Christians in the sixth to seventh centuries, which meant that members of this community played a key role in advancing the ‘Abbasid emperors’ massive translation projects that produced Arabic versions of Greek philosophical and scientific texts. Aristotelian logical categories and methods of argumentation became the basic philosophical medium of interreligious discourse in the disputation circles that were so important to Theodore’s career, thanks in no small part to the efforts of his fellow Syriac-speaking Christian scholars.10

At the same time, it is important to note here that Theodore’s social environment was marked by deep tensions and ambiguities.11 As recent scholarship has demonstrated, non-Muslim subjects of the ‘Abbasid Empire during this period (the mid-eighth to the mid-ninth centuries) experienced a dual reality. On the one hand, they enjoyed a largely hands-off approach from the ‘Abbasid state, which did not pursue a policy of systematic persecution against them. This allowed for the development of the distinctive culture of salon-style debate described above, and Theodore lived during a period when extensive mixing between Muslims and non-Muslims was common at all social levels. On the other hand, the ‘Abbasids, like other rulers in the same period, enforced the supremacy of the ruling class by enforcing the social supremacy of their religion, which in this case was Islam. This meant that non-Muslims were subject to social stigma, legal restrictions, and even the threat of state violence if they offended the ruling order. By Theodore’s day, conversion to Islam had become an increasingly common way to gain access to higher social status and escape these difficult and complex circumstances. Theodore’s work is therefore deeply concerned with defending and strengthening Orthodox Christian identity by restructuring it with Arabic intellectual scaffolding.

With respect to his public intellectual career, Theodore was a well-known figure in his day as a debater and theologian, and his work was the subject of a specific refutation written by a renowned Muslim dialectical theologian from Baghdad, Abū [End Page 51] Mūsā al-Murdār (d. 841).12 Theodore’s works also clearly reflect his theological formation within the kinds of disputation circles described in the anecdote above. Many of his treatises (especially the one analyzed here) are strikingly original examples of the dialectical and dialogical style of theology developed by the participants in these circles, a distinctive theological genre called kalām.13 In his treatises, Theodore consistently defends Chalcedonian dogma and refutes a wide variety of opposing viewpoints, including Miaphysite Christology, iconoclasm, and other religions as a whole (most especially Islam and Judaism). Though his main theological works were written in Arabic and thus would have been intentionally accessible to thinkers of any faith tradition that he may have encountered, the main audience for his writings seems to have been his fellow Chalcedonian Christians.14 Moreover, it is clear that the specific arguments he makes in these texts were developed through conversation with others outside his faith, even if the written form of these arguments had an internal audience. Theodore’s work is thus unique for its utilization of the kalām theological method to systematically interpret and expound the Greek patristic theological vision.15

Despite the great renown he enjoyed during his own time, the significant gap between the dates of extant manuscript copies of his Arabic works (as discussed below) suggests that Theodore’s work may have fallen out of popularity after the ninth–tenth centuries (though Greek versions of his works and their Georgian translations enjoyed wide circulation and popularity).16 It is also possible that because the style and format of his Arabic works were so thoroughly bound up with the [End Page 52] particularities of the ‘Abbasid kalām style of the eighth–ninth centuries, they may have seemed less accessible to readers of later centuries. Interestingly, however, it appears that basic elements of his biography were preserved via the hagiographic tradition of “Theodore of Edessa” and thus passed down in Orthodox synaxaria to the present day, though it is not widely known that the historical elements of this hagiography are in fact referring to Theodore Abū Qurra.17

Previous analyses of Theodore’s work have described his theological method in a variety of insightful ways. John Lamoreaux argues that Theodore’s work is a kind of “natural theology.”18 In his highly important study, Najib George Awad describes Theodore as “eclectically orthodox,” meaning that his work affirms Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy via his innovative use of classical Arabic.19 It should be noted here that Awad’s extensive analysis is crucial for any further studies of Theodore’s work, including the present article, because it establishes that Theodore was able to successfully maintain Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy through his use of new Arabic terms and concepts.20

Theodore’s work may also be described as “rationalist” insofar as it conceives of human reason and intellect as the starting point of systematic theological epistemology. At the same time, and as Sidney Griffith and Sarah Leila Husseini emphasize, Theodore is not a pure rationalist, but rather a theologian using rationalist analysis to explicate and analyze his prior faith commitments.21 My analysis here emphasizes that, in addition to all of these characterizations, Theodore’s work should also be approached both analytically and constructively as a part of the larger Orthodox tradition that developed from the works of Greek and Byzantine patristic theologians. As the analysis below will demonstrate, considering Theodore’s work from this angle allows for a full appreciation of the depth and nuance of his arguments, in addition to revealing the potential significance of these arguments in the modern Orthodox theological context. [End Page 53]


Theodore’s systematic treatment of theosis is found in the treatise that will be analyzed in detail here, titled Fī al-dīn al-qawīm (On the true religion). This treatise is included in a larger compilation that in the manuscript tradition is given the title Maymar fī wujūd al-khāliq wa-l-dīn al-qawīm (Treatise on the existence of the Creator and the true religion).22 As both Lamoreaux and Alexander Treiger have noted, this book is in fact a collection of separate treatises that are frequently combined as a single work with this title.23 This larger single work is preserved as such in three extant manuscript copies: Sinai Ar. 545, from the tenth century; Dayr al-Shuwayr 215 No. 6 (dated 1532); and Dayr al-Shīr 373, pp. 2–59 (late seventeenth–early eighteenth century).

In addition, Treiger recently discovered a fourth manuscript that contains sections from this book that are themselves nested in a yet larger collection of treatises that Treiger refers to as Questions of Priest Mūsā (Masā’il sa’ala ‘anhā Mūsā al-qissīs anbā Thaddaws al-Ruhāwī, more literally: Questions that priest Mūsā asked Abba Thaddeus of Edessa).24 This fourth manuscript is the famous Forty Martyrs Palimpsest (preserved at Westminster College, Cambridge), dating from the tenth century. Treiger therefore argues that the texts contained in the first three known manuscripts are in fact excerpts from the even larger work Questions of Priest Mūsā, which was presumably compiled not long after Theodore’s death.25 What is important for our purposes is that all of the available evidence demonstrates that the treatise being considered here was written as a self-contained and systematic theological work in its own right, and will thus be analyzed as such below.


Following the work of Norman Russell and others, the term theosis (or deification) is used here to refer to the Greek patristic dogmatic and spiritual teaching that interprets the economy of salvation in terms of union with, or participation in, the Divine Nature.26 The specific phraseology that Theodore uses to refer to theosis is “becoming [End Page 54] a god.”27 The key term in Theodore’s various formulations of this phraseology is “god” (ilāh), which Theodore uses to denote the summit of the spiritual life toward which the entirety of human life and human nature aspires. By the phrase “becoming a god” Theodore means participation in the Divine Nature without ourselves becoming the Divine Nature.28 More specifically, Theodore describes participating in the Divine Nature as a process and experience of eternal “enjoyment” that is the culmination of the entirety of human spiritual life and the goal toward which all human beings are naturally inclined. We may therefore phrase Theodore’s definition of theosis in the following way: theosis is the enjoyment of the Divine Nature for all eternity. In this way, human nature is imbued with the qualities of the Divine Nature, such as immortality and incorruptibility, without ever becoming identical with it. The substance of my main analysis below will be devoted to clarifying the specifics of Theodore’s definition stated here in brief.

Theodore’s consistent usage of the term “god” also reveals the primary scriptural basis for his understanding of theosis, Psalm 82:6. As Norman Russell has shown, Psalm 82:6 is the oldest scriptural citation used in Christian discussions of deification.29 Citation of Psalm 82:6 is especially crucial in what Norman terms the “realistic” understanding of deification: that human nature is actually transformed through union with, or participation in, the Divine Nature. As Russell’s work demonstrates, citation of this particular scriptural language of “becoming a god” with reference to the process of the deification of the human individual appears as early as the works of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, and is particularly prominent in Clement of Alexandria.30

Theodore’s discussion of theosis is also deeply rooted in the Greek patristic tradition through the writings of John of Damascus, who appears to be the most immediate influence on Theodore’s work. This is indicated by Theodore’s reliance on Psalm 82:6 as discussed above, and his utilization of the distinctively Greek patristic metaphor of iron being infused by fire. This metaphor is principally used in two ways: to clarify the nature of the union of the two natures in the one hypostasis of Christ, and to illustrate the nature of the relationship between the divine and the human [End Page 55] in theosis.31 Theodore remarks that the process of deification is like the iron placed in the fire that therefore “becomes fire without change to its own nature [abī‘a].”32 Theodore argues that this is one way to understand how we can acquire the kind of perfect and eternal life that we naturally long for. We acquire it by participating in the Divine Nature in a way that is similar to the relationship between the fire heating and infusing an iron. Theodore uses this metaphor twice when discussing the process of “becoming a god.”33

The fact that Theodore combines Psalm 82:6 with usage of the iron metaphor strongly suggests John of Damascus as Theodore’s most immediate textual source for his language and conceptual vocabulary of theosis. This is because in his own writings John directly combines specific citation of the language from Psalm 82:6 with usage of the iron metaphor. For instance, John writes in his third treatise in defense of icons that the saints are “truly called gods, not by nature, but by establishment, just as red-hot iron is called fire, not by its nature, but by establishment and participation in the action of fire.”34 In addition, many of the other key steps in Theodore’s arguments (to be analyzed in detail below) are found with particular emphasis in John’s writings. Chapter 26 of On the Orthodox Faith focuses on human nature, stressing its being in God’s image and likeness and its deifying “inclination to God,” which culminates in its participation in the Divine Nature without being identified with it.35

This cardinal point by both John and Theodore is also made by Maximus the Confessor in his interpretation of Psalm 82:6 in Ambiguum 20, where he writes that the human being “is not a god, nor is he called such, in accordance with [the category of] nature or relation, but he has become a god and is called such in accordance with [the category of] adoption and grace.”36 It is also noteworthy that Gregory of Nazianzus also cites Psalm 82:6 in his discussions of theosis.37 Moreover, as Louth notes, John’s entire discussion of human nature and its relationship with deification is deeply indebted to Gregory in particular.38 In all these ways, Theodore’s work flows from the main wellsprings of the Greek patristic vision of theosis via the intermediary of John of Damascus in particular. At the same time, it is important to note that Theodore’s conception of theosis is distinct from John’s in one important respect: [End Page 56] John’s presentation of theosis is highly sacramental.39 Theodore does not specifically rule out the sacramental dimension, but because he aims to conceptually analyze theosis as rationally intelligible to non-Christians, he does not make consideration of liturgical and sacramental practices central to his argument.40


Theological Method and Epistemology

Having discussed Theodore’s context and influences, we can now turn our attention to a close analysis of the systematic theological vision he presents in “On the True Religion,” which culminates in his distinctive understanding of theosis. Theodore begins his treatise by posing a question that arises directly from his pluralistic social environment: How do we know which religion (dīn; pl. adyān) is the one true faith? He observes that every religion claims this designation, and urges others to follow it on this basis. He frames the dilemma in this way: suppose there were a person who spent their life isolated on a mountain, but then one day had to leave their isolation and encounter the rest of humanity. They would encounter a variety of religions all claiming to possess the ultimate truth about the world, each to the exclusion of the other. How can the individual human being decide among them? To underscore the complexity of this dilemma, Theodore then provides a summary of the major tenets of nine different religions, ranging from polytheism to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.41

Theodore proposes that, in order to solve this dilemma, the individual human being must rely on the inner mental faculties that are common to all human beings. Given the extreme plurality of viewpoints, this is the only shared basis upon which they can all be evaluated. Put simply, his solution to the problem is the use of reason. Theodore goes to great lengths to emphasize this point, and makes it explicit at the very beginning and the very end of his treatise. To introduce his discussion of his methodology, he declares it necessary that “we put the books of scripture to one side, and ask the intellect [al-‘aql]” how it can come to know which religion is the true one.42 Then, at the end of the work, Theodore makes sure to drive this point home: [End Page 57] “We have intended, in this treatise of ours, to prove the truth of our religion from reason [al-‘aql], not from the scriptures.”43

He proposes a very specific philosophical procedure: we can rationally examine our own human nature in order to derive answers to the questions that all religions seek to address (such as morality, the nature of God, and the nature of the afterlife). Then, once we have determined what these basic truths are by deriving them from our own human nature, we can compare this data to the claims of each religion as reflected in their scriptures. When we find the religion whose doctrines match the universal truths that we have derived from our own human nature, we will have found the true religion.44 To put it simply: Theodore argues that we can use our individual human reason to examine universal human nature in order to derive all that we need to know about God.

Before proceeding to Theodore’s specific arguments, we must first clarify his understanding of the two crucial concepts that form the foundation of his theological epistemology: “human reason” or “the intellect” (al-‘aql) and “human nature” (abī‘at al-insān). For Theodore, as for the other theologians with whom he was in conversation, the same term— ‘aql—is used to denote both the act of engaging in syllogistic reasoning and the faculty that accomplishes this act (the intellect). Therefore, disciplined rationalistic analysis is simply synonymous with the contemplation of the intellect. Theodore’s goal is, therefore, to outline a method that is objectively effective and communicable to anyone, regardless of their worldview. This is why he turns to reason or the intellect as his starting point, which in his view (and the view of his kalām theological circles) is the human epistemological faculty that is uniquely objective and systematic in its activity and function.

Likewise, Theodore’s conception of human nature—abī‘at al-insān—is meant in the widest possible sense.45 Theodore tries to discover both a method of analysis and a data set that are universally accessible. Theodore’s sense of the Arabic phrase here is very easily and clearly rendered by the common modern English usage of the phrase “human nature”: the naturalistic, inborn tabula rasa that all human beings possess prior to, or underneath, any subsequent cultural or religious conditioning. Theodore appeals to this concept because this is what all human beings, regardless of their worldview, have in common. Thus, Theodore believes that if he can construct an [End Page 58] argument on the basis of a universal method and a universal set of data, he will have constructed an argument that can be accessible and persuasive to any interlocutor, regardless of their existing religious or philosophical worldview.

It is precisely these claims to universality that are the cornerstone of Theodore’s theological method, and the parts of his argument that are most vulnerable to philosophical critique. The need to establish an objective criterion for religious belief in a pluralistic society seems compelling enough, but how can Theodore make such sweeping claims for the universality of his method? On what basis can we assume that human knowing and the perception of one’s own nature are experienced in a sufficiently universal way as to produce objective knowledge on their basis? Furthermore, even if this is indeed possible, how can we then suppose that this knowledge can lead to knowledge of God?

Theodore defends this methodology by first arguing that rationally certain and objective knowledge can result from perception of the likeness of a thing that we cannot directly perceive. Furthermore, we can observe that this form of knowing is indeed truly universal. Theodore provides this example: no human being can perceive their own face without seeing it reflected back at them in a mirror.46 In other words, we acquire objective information about our appearance only by perceiving the likeness of our appearance. We can never perceive our own face directly, but this does not prevent us from acquiring objective knowledge about it. Moreover, this is true of every human being. Simply by virtue of the nature of the physicality that we all share, none of us can perceive our own selves directly, but all of us can acquire objective knowledge about ourselves through perceiving some likeness of ours that is accessible to us through our senses.47

Therefore, Theodore considers it self-evident that there is some common form of human nature that we all inherently share, and there are forms of knowing that we all share as an inevitable consequence of this common human nature. We can therefore be assured that there are some universally available methods that all human beings use to acquire objective knowledge about the world. One of these, as Theodore asserts, is learning about the nature of a thing by perceiving its likeness. The likeness is not the thing itself, but raises our minds to awareness of objective truths about the thing itself.48

But how does this lead to knowledge of God? This is the point of Theodore’s argument that he clearly perceives as axiomatic and needing no rational explanation: we have been created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore if we analyze [End Page 59] our own nature, we acquire objective information about God’s nature.49 It is first worth pointing out that his assumption of the validity of this particular claim indicates that this argument was meant for his fellow Christians. Given the importance of discourses on humanity’s creation in the image and likeness of God in Greek patristic and Byzantine theological anthropology, the fact that Theodore takes this for granted, and assumes that his readers will as well, suggests that though he meant for his argument to be universally accessible (especially given that it was written in Arabic), the immediate audience of this argument seems to have been his own particular Christian community.50 At the same time, it is necessary to recall that, as emphasized above, Theodore clearly intended his Christian audience to use his arguments in their interactions with members of other faiths, and he also very clearly developed these arguments through his own conversations with non-Christian thinkers in his capacity as a kalām theologian and public intellectual.

More importantly, it is crucial to elucidate here how exactly Theodore is interpreting Genesis 1:27. He interprets this passage as referring to a concept of universal human nature (abī‘at al-insān). In other words, he is not simply observing that all individual human beings bear the image of God each in their own way. On the contrary: he is arguing that it is universal human nature itself, the nature that we all share and to which we all have objective access, that is created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, because he is referring to a concept of human nature as that which is created in God’s image, this means that anyone reflecting on their own selves will be led to the very same conclusions about God’s nature. Rational analysis of our own selves will lead to objectively true information about who God is, thereby allowing us to verify which of the various religions’ claims about God are true.

Human Virtue and Natural Knowledge of God

Having established the general methodological principle that we can know truths about God by analyzing universal human nature, Theodore specifies what precisely it is in human nature that we can focus on in order to reveal truths about God. We learn truths about God by analyzing the inherent virtues (fawāil) of human nature. By this term, Theodore means both qualities that are ethically laudable and qualities that signify a distinguished level of ability or capacity. Theodore suggests [End Page 60] that the manifestly imperfect and limited nature of these virtues in human nature points toward their perfect and eternal archetypes in God their Creator. Again, Theodore emphasizes that this is like the reflection in the mirror: God’s perfections are reflected, albeit it to an imperfect extent, in our own human nature.51 Theodore suggests that the imperfect nature of the virtues in ourselves indicates that they must exist in perfect and eternal form in their Creator, otherwise we would not be able to rationally explain the presence of these characteristics in ourselves.

These virtues include capacities such as existence, life, knowledge, wisdom, sight, hearing, or power; and moral qualities such as goodness, piety, patience, loving mercy, forgiveness, and justice (among many others, including generosity).52 To give an example that Theodore himself draws out, and that will have special significance in the context of theosis: we can observe that human nature possesses life, meaning the capacity to sustain active and conscious existence in the physical world. Yet precisely because of our physicality, human life is limited and contingent: it requires things outside itself to continue, such as food and drink. Moreover, it progresses through time, and eventually comes to an end through decay and eventual passing away.53

The human capacity for life is real because it reflects the One who created this capacity in us, but it does not possess the perfection of its Creator. By analyzing our own limited reflection of this quality, we can deduce that the One who created this quality in us must possess the perfect form of this quality. God’s life is unending, dependent on nothing, and subject to no variation or progress. It is the pure and perfect sustaining of self, in need of and subject to nothing else whatsoever.54 In a similar fashion, we can deduce the other basic perfections of our Creator, such as God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and infinite justice and loving mercy.55 Though this part of the treatise’s argumentation is somewhat summary in form, it establishes the basic argument that we can deduce the basics of monotheistic belief in general by using Theodore’s method; indeed, the basic list of God’s perfections provided here is generally Quranic and would have been recognized as such. Once these basic points have been established, Theodore then goes on to elaborate the specifically (Greek patristic) Christian doctrines of God that are his main concern.

Theodore very helpfully provides a list of the three main theological doctrines that we can discover rationally in our own natures to be the essence of the true religion, and thus, the essence of Christianity itself. These are God’s nature as Trinity (including the monarchy of the Father), love (al-ubb) as the core of morality, and theosis as the meaning and end of human life.56 Thus, the three points that structure [End Page 61] Theodore’s entire theological vision can be listed simply as Trinity, love, and theosis. Though the final of these three points is our main concern here, the former two points merit discussion as Theodore uses them to lay the foundations for his conception of theosis, the pinnacle of his entire theological vision.

Theodore argues that, in addition to the relatively simple monotheistic virtues and qualities mentioned above, human nature possesses other “more noble” (akram) virtues that are reflections of God’s nature. These include the virtues of headship or monarchy (ri’āsa), begetting (wilāda), and procession (inbithāq).57 Speaking here of human nature at the point of its origin in Adam, Theodore says: “we observe that there was begotten and proceeded from him that which was like him in nature, and we observe that he is head [or monarch] over that which is his like.”58 Yet like humanity’s other virtues, these virtues are bound up with the contingency and physicality of human nature. With respect to begetting, Theodore refers to Adam’s begetting of children. With respect to procession, Theodore refers to the formation of Eve from Adam’s rib as a kind of procession. Theodore states that in both cases, these are processes that involve precedence in and physical development over time.59 With respect to God’s nature, however, these virtues are perfect. They are Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These relationships are entirely atemporal and exist from eternity, and they involve no concept or experience of development or process.60 Thus, these virtues in the original human nature of Adam are imperfect reflections of their perfect archetypes in God.

Theodore anticipates the objection (no doubt frequently asserted by his Muslim colleagues61) that begetting or monarchy cannot be considered virtues at all, and thus attributing either to God is to commit the cardinal error of attributing physicality and temporality to God. Theodore responds in a way that grounds his later discussion of love (and that is a highly interesting argument in its own right). Theodore argues that the virtues of begetting and monarchy are in fact the condition of the possibility of all the other virtues. This is because these qualities enable Adam to interact with someone like him in nature, and it is this context of interaction and relationship that makes the other virtues (such as goodness, generosity, loving mercy, [End Page 62] justice, etc.) possible at all. As Theodore puts it: “his virtues would not be counted virtues were there not with him someone who was like unto him.”62

This is what makes the virtues of headship and begetting (and by extension procession) the “most noble” of Adam’s virtues: without them, subsequent human relationships are impossible, and thus virtue itself is impossible. In other words, Theodore does not refute the assertion that the philosophical principles of the Trinity are inimical to monotheism by merely asserting that they are compatible with monotheism. He instead makes the far bolder claim that the Trinity describes the concept of divinity that is objectively the most noble possible, and thus the most worthy of worship and belief.

The understanding of virtue as a quality grounded in relationship leads into Theodore’s discussion of his next cardinal point, the moral virtue of love. Following his general theological method, Theodore observes that we can discover the basic principle of morality by simply reflecting on the inclinations of our own self (nafs). We thus discover that all human beings intuitively and naturally recognize what deeds are evil by recognizing that we would not want such deeds done to us by someone else. Likewise, we intuitively and naturally recognize what deeds are good by recognizing that we would want such deeds done to us.63 We can therefore surmise that the following maxim is the essence of moral action: “do to your neighbor the praiseworthy and beautiful action that you would like for him to do to you.”64 The single-term definition of this moral principle and attitude is love (al-ubb).65

Pursuant to his overall method, Theodore further clarifies that this most fundamental basis of moral action is not only detectable in human nature by itself, but is also reflective of a perfect divine archetype. Theodore notes that the quality that enables human beings to behave in a truly loving way is the fundamental quality of asceticism. The fundamental quality that enables love is the purging of “desire for the world” (or “worldly desire” [shahwat al-dunyā]) and attachment to any material possession.66 What does this ascetic basis for love have to do with the Divine Nature? Theodore argues that it is precisely this quality in its infinite perfection that is the basis of God’s perfect love. God loves all because God desires nothing whatsoever for God’s self. Aspiring to perfect selflessness is therefore the essence of moral striving. What this means, then, is that all moral action has God as its telos (ghāya), in the sense of its ultimate orientation and its ultimate perfection.67 We will see in the following section how, just as Theodore’s discussion of the Trinity leads into his discussion of love by virtue of his conceptualization of relationship, Theodore’s discussion of love leads into his discussion of theosis by virtue of his conception of telos. [End Page 63]

The Enjoyment of God

Theodore’s discussion of theosis is the most striking example, and the ultimate goal, of his entire theological methodology. As with his discussions of the Trinity and love described above, he argues that the soteriology of theosis can be derived solely by reflecting on the natural components of universal human nature. Theodore’s derivation of theosis in this way constitutes the culmination of his argument for how we can discover the one true faith. After deriving the dogma of Trinity, the ethics of love, and then finally the soteriology of theosis from the rational analysis of universal human nature, Theodore then declares that we have found the true religion. The true religion is the one whose scriptures contain all three of these fundamental truths of human nature, and Theodore asserts that the only scriptures that fit this description are the Gospels (al-Injīl). Therefore, Christianity (in its particularly Greek patristic and Chalcedonian form) is the one true religion.68

My analysis asserts that Theodore’s depiction of theosis as rationally intelligible and universally accessible is the point of his theology that has the most to say to contemporary Orthodox theological reflection. It is, therefore, necessary to lay out Theodore’s argument for theosis in some detail, paying particularly close attention to its use of the concept of human nature. Faithful to his method, Theodore begins his argument for theosis with an intuitive observation about human nature. We can observe that human nature is fundamentally composed of desires (shahwāt)—specifically, desires for those things in the world that sustain and enhance human life.69 These desires include the desire for food, water, shelter, and clothing.70

Because our nature is created in God’s image, these desires must have been placed there by God on purpose, in order to lead us to that which brings us enjoyment and fulfillment in our earthly lives.71 These desires must have a telos that is their ultimate orientation and their ultimate perfection, just as Theodore argues is the case with the relationship between the striving of humans to love one another and God’s perfect and infinite love for all. Indeed, we can observe from our own nature that we desire life as far as possible: we desire to live as long and as enjoyably as we possibly can. We do not naturally desire to experience a small amount of discomfort and a large amount of comfort. On the contrary: we naturally desire to experience no discomfort whatsoever, and to experience comfort at all times. In other words, we possess a [End Page 64] natural desire for eternal life and fulfillment, a desire that, like all our desires, must have been implanted in us by God for a specific reason.72 The desire for life eternal is the desire for theosis precisely because God is life itself. Thus, the desire for eternal life means desiring to participate in the Divine Nature.

Theodore proposes the analogy of thirst to help us understand the relationship between the natural human desire to sustain our life in this world and the natural human desire for life eternal in theosis.73 Theosis can be understood as the infinite and perfect archetype of the sensation that every human being has when drinking a draft of cold water after thirsting in the desert. Each is the satisfaction of the longing for life and the cessation of suffering and discomfort. Thirst is the desire for something that will give us life and comfort in this world, but it is a desire that cannot be completely fulfilled in this world. This is because the one who satisfies their thirst after approaching death in the desert does not merely desire to avoid that one instance of danger: they desire that they never experience that kind of discomfort ever again, which is impossible to guarantee in this life. But the very fact that we naturally desire a level of comfort that is impossible in this world means that we naturally desire life eternal, and that God has implanted this desire in us purposefully. In other words, human physical desires for life in this world prefigure, and even ontologically participate in, the ultimate fulfillment of human desire that is theosis. Our desire for a life in this world that is contingent and temporary has as its telos our desire for life that is perfect and eternal—i.e., our desire for God, who alone is life itself.74

Theodore therefore establishes that human beings naturally desire theosis by analyzing our common experience of our human nature. But how can we be sure that God will indeed grant us this desire? How can we be sure that God intends for us to participate in God’s nature? As discussed above, and as Theodore reiterates at this point in his argument, God possesses the perfect and infinite form of all virtues, including the virtue of generosity.75 Given what we know about God’s nature, at this point in the progress of his overall argument Theodore makes it clear that we know that God would not implant in human nature good desires that are destined to simply be frustrated. This contradicts God’s infinite goodness, generosity, and loving kindness. As Theodore says, it simply “would not befit” God to treat us in this way.76

We can therefore construct Theodore’s argument as follows:

  1. 1. God created human beings to desire the enjoyment of life to the fullest extent possible.

  2. 2. God will not withhold fulfillment of this desire (because God must be infinitely generous, and God’s nature is life itself). [End Page 65]

  3. 3. Thus, God will grant eternal enjoyment of life to human beings through their participation in the Divine Nature.

It is worth pausing on the significance of what Theodore has achieved in this deceptively simple argument. The fact that Theodore constructs a syllogism that attempts to prove the soteriology of theosis is quite remarkable in and of itself. In doing so, Theodore advances a concept of theosis that he intends to be rationally intelligible to anyone, regardless of their religious or philosophical worldview. Rational analysis of universal human nature, and our everyday experience of our own nature, leads necessarily to the affirmation that deification is the telos of our existence.

The key concept in Theodore’s uniquely accessible presentation of theosis is the concept of universal human nature: abī‘at al-insān. As he maintains in his theological epistemology, it is the universally available mode of individual reflection through the use of human reason or intellect (al-‘aql) that gives us the ability to reflect on this common human nature. Put another way, Theodore argues that human reason and intellect connect natural experience with experience of the divine. In order to grasp the full import of Theodore’s argument for theosis, it is therefore necessary to analyze how he understands the connection between the human experience of the earthly and the human experience of the heavenly. A close analysis of this connection will reveal the full extent to which Theodore conceives of natural—even physical—human experience in this life as grounded in, and the prefiguring of, the human experience of divinization in life eternal.

One passage in particular in Theodore’s treatise summarizes, with poetic eloquence, his conception of this connection in theosis.77 Paying special attention to certain Arabic terminologies used by Theodore in this passage will reveal the nuances of the connection between human experience of the earthly and human experience of the heavenly. The terminologies in question all derive from the triliteral Arabic root N-‘-M, the basic verb form of which refers to “enjoyment.” At the same time, words derived from this root have an interesting double meaning in Arabic. Abstract nouns derived from this root can refer both to physical delight or comfort, and the blessing or grace of God.78 By using such derivations interchangeably throughout this section, Theodore exploits this continuum of earthly and heavenly enjoyment [End Page 66] that is built into the Arabic language itself.79 This linguistic technique serves to reinforce his theological argument that natural, physical enjoyment is evidence of, and ontologically participates in, the eternal bliss of theosis. Here is the passage in question, first leaving the key Arabic terms untranslated:

[God] generously gives himself to us, and we dwell with him, we touch him, we partake of his sweetness and his inline graphic (na‘ma / ni‘ma) by means of this desire for which our souls long, and which is the telos of every inline graphic (na‘ma / ni‘ma) and the fulfillment of every wish. We thus become gods through him and delight in him forever. Therefore, the telos of our nature’s inline graphic (na‘īm) is that we become gods and delight in God.

As is already clear from the first translation above,80 Theodore’s usage of these terms points to both the eternal and the earthly at one and the same time. In order to most precisely demonstrate the continuum of meaning that Theodore constructs here, it will be illustrative to translate this passage using both literal possibilities for each term. As outlined above, the Arabic terms here can be translated as referring either to (1) earthly enjoyment or (2) the grace of God, and Theodore very deliberately uses these terms interchangeably. This therefore yields two possible translations that illustrate the immense theological depth of the concept of “enjoyment” in Theodore’s usage:

  1. 1. [God] generously gives himself to us, and we dwell with him, we touch him, we partake of his sweetness and his enjoyment by means of this desire for which our souls long, and which is the telos of every enjoyment and the fulfillment of every wish. We thus become gods through him and delight in him forever. Therefore, the telos of our nature’s enjoyment is that we become gods and delight in God.

  2. 2. [God] generously gives himself to us, and we dwell with him, we touch him, we partake of his sweetness and his grace by means of this desire for which [End Page 67] our souls long, and which is the telos of every blessing and the fulfillment of every wish. We thus become gods through him and delight in him forever. Therefore, the telos of our nature’s blessedness is that we become gods and delight in God.

Finally, it is important to note here that the two instances of “delight” in the above passage are conjugations of the basic verb form of the root in question ( inline graphic/ nan‘am bihi).

Theodore’s rational argument for theosis is therefore considerably deepened by the nuances of the Arabic language itself, which expresses physical comfort and enjoyment in (quite literally) the exact same terms that it expresses the deifying grace of God. This passage reveals in striking theological detail, and with profoundly poetic texture, the general point of Theodore’s whole argument: that natural human experience, and individual reasoned reflection on this experience, can lead directly to knowledge and experience of the divine. Theodore’s entire theological methodology is designed to connect the soteriology of theosis with rationalist theological epistemology in order to render the concept universally accessible and intelligible. As demonstrated above, Theodore successfully makes this connection in two ways: through his carefully constructed syllogistic reasoning and his artful deployment of the Arabic language itself.


Theodore’s work offers numerous insights relevant to contemporary Orthodox thought, and it is one of the major goals of this article to present him as a uniquely insightful interlocutor with the contemporary Orthodox theological landscape. Theodore’s work can be seen as both challenging and confirming certain of the basic presuppositions of modern Orthodox thought. For instance, due to the influence of the neo-patristic paradigm, the notion of autonomous rationality as a good in and of itself is often taken to be inherently incompatible with Orthodox theological anthropology. A large body of contemporary research has explored in great depth how the neo-patristic paradigm is structured by a series of analytical dichotomies rooted in the Orthodox encounter with modern Western European political ascendency.81 [End Page 68] Prominent among these is the bifurcation of speculative reason and mystical experience, a dichotomy produced in reaction to the ascendency of Enlightenment conceptions of autonomous rationality.82 Indeed, neo-patristic theology can be understood as a modern restatement of Tertullian’s famous rhetorical question: What could Königsberg possibly have to do with Constantinople? Yet Theodore’s understanding of theosis as rationally discoverable and universally intelligible recognizes no distinction between speculative (or even scholastic) reason and mystical experience, and, in fact, is premised on their fundamental harmony and mutual support of one another.

At the same time, Theodore’s own words strongly support one of the central claims of the neo-patristic paradigm. Theodore explicitly states that it is the doctrine of theosis in particular that decisively separates Christianity from every other religion (which, for Theodore, meant Christianity as it was elaborated by the Greek patristic and Byzantine tradition).83 Immediately following his second citation of the iron and fire analogy for theosis, he states emphatically that this particular doctrine “does not even occur to any other religion; it has never entered their minds at all.”84 Along the same lines, it was the doctrine of theosis in particular that was frequently seen by neo-patristic theologians as the key to understanding what is distinctive about Eastern Orthodox theological tradition when compared with other faiths and worldviews.85 Though separated by a millennium and resident in very different corners [End Page 69] of the world, both Theodore and modern neo-patristic theologians lived and worked in contexts where their faith community formed a minority, pressing them to determine what made their tradition distinct from the multitude of others around them. It is striking indeed that they both identified theosis as uniquely definitional of the Eastern Orthodox theological tradition. It is, perhaps, in this sense most of all that Theodore’s work is most relevant to Orthodox in the present day: as an inspiration for how a distinctively Orthodox conception of self can flourish as a direct result of its encounter with difference and plurality. [End Page 70]

Philip Dorroll
United States

The author would like to thank Drs. Aristotle Papanikolaou, Teva Regule, Helen Theodoropoulos, and the other participants at the 2020 meeting of the Orthodox Theological Society in America for their encouragement and comments on an earlier draft of this article.


1. Quoted in Sidney H. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 64.

2. Chalcedonian Christian communities who were Byzantine subjects before the Arab conquests and who then became Arab subjects but stayed in communion with Constantinople after the conquests are often referred to as “Melkite” (following the Arabic terminology); in other words, these were the Christians under Arab rule who are part of the historical community now known as Eastern Orthodoxy. On the development of the distinctive identity of this community, see Sidney H. Griffith, “The Melkites and the Muslims: The Qur’ān, Christology, and Arab Orthodoxy,” Al-Qanara 23, no. 2 (July– September 2012): 413–43.

3. On his life and work, see Najib George Awad, Orthodoxy in Arabic Terms: A Study of Theodore Abu Qurrah’s Theology in Its Islamic Context (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015), 1–14; Ignace Dick, “Un continuateur arabe de saint Jean Damascène: Theodore Abuqurra, évêque melkite de Harran; La personne et son milieu,” Proche-Orient Chrétien 12 (1962): 209–23; 319–32; 13 (1963): 114–29; Georg Graf, Die arabischen Schriften des Theodore Abû Qurra, Bischofs von arrân (ca. 740-820) (Paderborn: Druck und Verlag von Ferdinand Schöningh, 1910), 1–20; Sidney H. Griffith, “Christian Theological Thought during the First ‘Abbāsid Century,” in The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology, ed. Sabine Schmidtke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 94; John C. Lamoreaux, “The Biography of Theodore Abū Qurrah Revisited,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 56 (2002): 25–40; John C. Lamoreaux, “Theodore Abū Qurra,” in Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History: Volume I, ed. David Thomas and Barbara Roggema (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 439–41; and Samir Khalil Samir, “Al-jadīd fī sīrat Thāwudūrus Abī Qurra wa-āthārihi,” Al-Mashriq 73 (1999): 417–49. Lamoreaux provides an exhaustive list of primary and secondary sources related to him, including a list and description of the entirety of his extant works, in “Theodore Abū Qurra (2009),” 441–91. Lamoreaux lists over thirty extant works that have been attributed to him. For a detailed discussion of the contents and merits of the primary sources for his life, see Sidney H. Griffith, “Reflections on the Biography of Theodore Abū Qurrah,” Parole de l’Orient 18 (1993): 143–70.

4. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, 60.

5. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, 60. For an analysis of the Greek and Georgian manuscript tradition, and the complexities associated with the Greek tradition in particular, see John C. Lamoreaux, “Theodore Abū Qurrah and John the Deacon,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 42 (2001): 361–86.

6. Awad, Orthodoxy in Arabic Terms, 76; Sidney H. Griffith, “Muslims and Church Councils: The Apology of Theodore Abū Qurrah,” Studia Patristica 25 (1993): 281–82.

7. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, 49–53. See also Sidney H. Griffith, “The View of Islam from the Monasteries of Palestine in the Early ‘Abbāsid Period: Theodore Abū Qurrah and the Summa Theologiae Arabica,” Islam and Muslim-Christian Relations 7, no. 1 (1996): 9–28.

8. The earliest extant example of this community’s original theological work in Arabic is an anonymous mid-eighth-century treatise in defense of Christian belief that is notable for its numerous Quranic allusions and clear familiarity with Quranic and Islamic theological idiom. See Mark N. Swanson, “An Apology for the Christian Faith,” in The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700–1700: An Anthology of Sources, ed. Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014), 40–59. Another prominent example is a comprehensive manual of Christian doctrine and practice produced in the late ninth century (shortly after Theodore’s death), the so-called “Summa Theologiae Arabica.” See Sidney H. Griffith, “Greek into Arabic: Life and Letters in the Monasteries of Palestine in the Ninth Century: The Example of the ‘Summa Theologiae Arabica,’” Byzantion 56 (1986): 117–38; Sidney H. Griffith, “The First Christian Summa Theologiae in Arabic: Christian Kalām in Ninth-Century Palestine, in Conversion and Continuity: Indigenous Christian Communities in Islamic Lands, ed. M. Gervers and R. J. Bikhazi (Toronto: PIMS, 1990), 15–31.

9. Peter Schadler, John of Damascus on Islam: Christian Heresiology and the Intellectual Background to Earliest Christian-Muslim Relations (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 184–85.

10. On these points, see Sidney H. Griffith “Disputes with Muslims in Syriac Christian Texts,” in Doctrine and Debate in the East Christian World, 300–1500, ed. Averil Cameron and Robert Hoyland (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), 272; John M. Watt, The Aristotelian Tradition in Syriac (New York: Routledge, 2019), 109, 168, 231–47; and Luis Salés, “‘Aristotelian’ as a  Lingua Franca: Rationality in Christian Self-Representation under the ‘Abbasids,” Studia Patristica 92 (2017): 453–63.

11. See on these points Milka Levy-Rubin, Non-Muslims in the Early Islamic Empire: From Surrender to Coexistence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), and Christian Sahner, Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020). Sahner’s important work charts a middle path between the “dhimmitude” argument that medieval Muslim empires were uniquely repressive, and the “convivencia” argument that describes them as utopian experiences of tolerance (Sahner, Christian Martyrs under Islam, 24). As Sahner demonstrates, the ‘Abbasid state used the mechanism of public execution for blasphemy and apostasy as a tool to reinforce the highly porous boundaries between ruling Muslims and subject non-Muslims (161–62, 198). At the same time, the ‘Abbasid state was generally “laissez-faire” in its posture toward non-Muslims, and the large majority of relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims were routine and peaceable (5, 162).

12. Griffith, “Christian Theological Thought,” 94.

13. For recent summaries of the history of this genre of theology, see Sabine Schimdtke, “Introduction,” in The Oxford Handbook on Islamic Theology, ed. Sabina Schmidtke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 1–26; and Alexander Treiger, “Origins of Kalām,” in The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology, ed. Sabine Schmidtke (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016), 27–43.

14. Sidney H. Griffith, “Comparative Religion in the Apologetics of the First Arabic Christian Theologians,” Proceedings of the PMR Conference: Annual Publication of the Patristic, Mediaeval and Renaissance Conference 4 (1979): 64; Sara Leila Husseini, Early Christian-Muslim Debate on the Unity of God: Three Christian Scholars and their Engagement with Islamic Thought (9th Century C.E.) (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 67.

15. As Joshua Mugler and Clare Wilde have shown, Theodore’s conception of “true” Christianity and the relationship of Christianity to the state was profoundly affected by his viewpoint as a Chalcedonian Christian from the Greek and Byzantine tradition. Their important analyses show that Theodore’s views on empire should be viewed in his own political context, meaning that like most of his contemporaries Theodore viewed state-sponsored religious supremacy as natural, provided that the religion in question was the one, true faith. See Joshua Mugler, “Theodore Abū Qurra and the Instability of ‘Heresy,’” Medieval Encounters 21 (2015): 1–25; and Clare Wilde, “Christian-Muslim (In)tolerance? Islam and Muslims According to Early Christian Arabic Texts,” in Intolerance, Polemics, and Debate in Antiquity: Politico-Cultural, Philosophical, and Religious Forms of Critical Conversation, ed. George van Kooten and Jacques van Ruiten (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 463–85. See also Sahner, Christian Martyrs under Islam, 222–23, on the role that the loss of imperial power played in the transformation of Chalcedonian Christian identity in the ‘Abbasid period.

16. Lamoreaux, “Theodore Abū Qurra” (2009), 441.

17. Christian Sahner makes this highly interesting point in Christian Martyrs under Islam, 109. Though the fantastical detail in this “hagiographic novel” cannot be verified historically, it is noteworthy that through its transmission Theodore’s basic historical personality came to be included in Orthodox liturgical practice, albeit unwittingly. On the hagiographic tradition of “Theodore of Edessa,” see Sidney H. Griffith, “The Life of Theodore of Edessa: History, Hagiography and Religious Apologetics in Mar Saba Monastery in Early Abbasid Times,” in Languages and Cultures of Eastern Christianity, ed. Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (New York: Rutledge, 2015), 147–69.

18. John C. Lamoreaux, “Theodore Abu Qurra,” in The Orthodox Church in the Arab World 700– 1700: An Anthology of Sources, ed. Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014), 62.

19. Awad, Orthodoxy in Arabic Terms, 191.

20. See Awad, Orthodoxy in Arabic Terms, and Najib George Awad, “Muṣtalaḥ ‘wajh’ fī maymar Abū Qurra ‘an al-thālūth,” Al-turāth al-‘arabī al-masīī (JACI-CCF) 4 (July 2018): 479–89.

21. Sidney H. Griffith, “Faith and Reason in Christian Kalām: Theodore Abū Qurrah on Discerning the True Religion,” in Christian Arabic Apologetics during the Abbasid Period (750–1258), ed. Samir Khalil Samir and Jorgen Nielsen (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 37; Husseini, Early Christian-Muslim Debate on the Unity of God, 56.

22. Maymar fī wujūd al-khāliq wa-l-dīn al-qawīm, ed. Ignace Dick, in Théodore Abuqurra: Traité de l’existence du Créateur et de la vraie religion, Patrimoine arabe chrétien 10 (Rome: Pontifico Instituto Orientale, 1986). For a full list of previous editions and specific questions relating to them, see Lamoreaux, “Theodore Abū Qurrah (2009),” 410.

23. John C. Lamoreaux, Theodore Abū Qurrah (Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University Press, 2006), xxxiii–xxxiv; Alexander Treiger, “New Works by Theodore Abū Qurra Preserved under the Name Thaddeus of Edessa,” Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 68, nos. 1–2 (2016): 1–51.

24. Treiger, “New Works,” 22.

25. Treiger, “New Works,” 31–33.

26. On defining “theosis” and its role as a unitive thread in Eastern Orthodox theological tradition, see Aristotle Papanikolaou, Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2006), 7; Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); 1–3; Norman Russell, Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), 21; and A. N. Williams, The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). At the same time, as Vladimir Kharlamov notes, it is important to recognize that modern Eastern Orthodox discussions of deification are often more systematic and homogeneous than the Greek patristic and Byzantine sources they draw upon. See “Theosis in Patristic Thought,” Theology Today 65 (2008): 161–62.

27. This phraseology occurs five times in various formulations at the end of the text, but in all cases uses the verb inline graphic (ṣāra/yaṣīr) for “become” and the noun inline graphic (ilāh/āliha) for “god” or “gods.” See Maymar, 11.23, 11.25, 14.20, 14.23, and 14.28.

28. Maymar, 14.23.

29. Russell, The Doctrine of Deification, 7–12; Russell, Fellow Workers with God, 55–64.

30. Russell, The Doctrine of Deification, 99, 106, 122n15.

31. Dmitry Biriukov, “Penetration of Fire into Iron: The Sense and the Usage Mode of this Metaphor for Description of Theosis in the Byzantine Theological Literature,” Scrinium: Journal of Patrology and Critical Hagiography 15 (2019): 144–45.

32. Maymar, 11.25, 14.24.

33. See Maymar, 11.25 and 14.24.

34. Quoted and translated in Biriukov, “Penetration of Fire into Iron,” 156. John uses this combination twice in the thirty-third chapter of the third treatise, and once also in the nineteenth chapter of his first treatise in defense of icons. See also on this point Russell, The Doctrine of Deification, 300.

35. Andrew Louth, St. John Damascene: Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 133, 179.

36. Quoted and translated in Russell, The Doctrine of Deification, 279.

37. Russell, The Doctrine of Deification, 217, 225.

38. Louth, St. John Damascene, 133.

39. Louth, St. John Damascene, 184; Russell, The Doctrine of Deification, 299.

40. On the differences between John’s and Theodore’s use of reason in their theological epistemology, see also Dimitris Athanasiou, “The Divine in the Theological Thinking of St. John of Damascus in Relationship with Relevant Teachings of Theodore Abu Qurrah,” International Journal of Orthodox Theology 10, no. 4 (2019): 164–65.

41. Maymar, 7.

42. Maymar, 8.37.

43. Maymar, 15.3.

44. Maymar, 8.36–37.

45. This Arabic phrase for “human nature,” literally “the nature of the human being,” is used by Theodore at the very beginning of his argument where he introduces and summarizes his methodology (Maymar, 8:37). As he develops his arguments, he also utilizes the phrases “Adam’s nature” or “the nature of Adam” (abī‘at ādam; Maymar, 9:8 and 9:41), and even more commonly “our nature” (abī‘atunā; Maymar, 9:1, 10:2, 10:12, 10:13, 12:2, 14:26). It is clear that all of these terms have the same meaning of universal human nature, as Theodore establishes in his opening summary of his argument. The variation in the latter two terms refers to variations in chronological point of view: Theodore uses “Adam’s nature” when speaking of the origins of universal human nature in the first human being, and “our nature” when rhetorically addressing his audience in the present.

46. Maymar, 9.1–7.

47. Theodore reinforces this point about the epistemological primacy of the physical senses in another treatise, not specifically under consideration here, but customarily combined in the manuscript traditions with the treatise being analyzed here. Like other kalām theologians, as part of their larger theological project of defining and defending one’s religious beliefs in terms that are universally accessible, Theodore argues that the human senses form the basis of all knowledge because they provide the intellect with the raw material for reflection and refinement, thus producing knowledge. See Maymar, 1.

48. Maymar, 9.1–7.

49. Maymar, 9.8, 9.42.

50. Even though Theodore’s primary audience is clearly his own Christian community, it is worth considering the possibility that he had Jews or even Muslims in mind when he axiomatically cited Genesis 1:27. Even though Quranic revelation does not include this passage from Genesis, some Prophetic Hadith that would have been widely known in Theodore’s day explicitly assert that Adam was created in the image of God. Christopher Melchert therefore argues that “it was widely believed [by Muslims] by at least the later second/eighth century and into the third/ninth that God had created Adam in His image” (121). See Christopher Melchert, “‘God Created Adam in His Image,’” Journal of Qur’anic Studies 13, no. 1 (2011): 113–24.

51. Maymar, 8.8–11.

52. Maymar, 9.12–23.

53. Maymar, 9.14–15.

54. Maymar, 9.16.

55. Maymar, 9.20–23.

56. Maymar, 14.26–28.

57. Lamoreaux translates ri’āsa as “headship.” Though not different in meaning, the translation “monarchy” is also included here because this term in Arabic is clearly used by Theodore as a direct translation of this specific Greek patristic theological concept. On this point, see Awad, Orthodoxy in Arabic Terms, 204n534.

58. Maymar, 9.25.

59. Maymar, 9.27.

60. Maymar, 9.28.

61. The doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation were considered the most objectionable by early Muslim theologians, who argued that they threatened the doctrine of God’s oneness. These doctrines were therefore the primary targets of the earliest Muslim theological refutations of Christianity and were heavily debated in Theodore’s theological and philosophical circles. On this point, see Husseini, Early Christian-Muslim Debate on the Unity of God ; David Thomas, “Christian Theologians and New Questions,” in The Encounter of Eastern Christianity with Early Islam, ed. Emmanouela Grypeou, Mark N. Swanson, and David Thomas (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 257–76.

62. Maymar, 9.32.

63. Maymar, 10.1–8.

64. Maymar, 10.8.

65. Maymar, 10.9.

66. Maymar, 10.7.

67. Maymar, 10.13.

68. Maymar, 12.3, 14.25. Lamoreaux provides an exhaustive list of the Gospel citations used by Theodore to support this assertion; see Theodore Abū Qurra (2006), pp. 19–22. Key examples include Matthew 28:19–20 and John 20:21 on the Trinity; Matthew 10:9–10 and John 13:34–35 on love; and John 14:3, 23 and 17:8–12, 20–24 on theosis. On the specifics of Theodore’s exegetical methodology, see Peter Tarras, “The Spirit before the Letter: Theodore Abū Qurra’s Use of Biblical Quotations in the Context of Early Christian Arabic Apologetics,” in Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims, ed. Miriam L. Hjälm (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 79–103.

69. Maymar, 11.5, 12.

70. Maymar, 11.7.

71. Maymar, 11.9–12.

72. Maymar, 11.18–19.

73. Maymar, 11.29.

74. Maymar, 11.19.

75. Maymar, 11.22–23.

76. Maymar, 11.22–23.

77. Maymar, 11.23 (lines 3–6). The passage being treated here is the first and fullest treatment of theosis in the text and has therefore been singled out for specific analysis, but the same terms and concepts occur throughout Theodore’s subsequent mentions of theosis in the rest of the text (see 11.25, 14.20, 14.23, and 14.28).

78. Further evidence that Theodore used this word in both senses comes from the fact that Arabic biblical translations produced in the ninth century by the very circles he was a part of used this Arabic term to translate Paul’s use of χαρις. To take only a few examples from the ninth-century manuscript Sinai Ar 154, see Romans 6:1 and 11:6, or 1 Corinthians 1:4 and 15:10; in An Arabic Version of the Epistles of St. Paul to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, with Part of the Epistle to the Ephesians: From a Ninth Century Ms. in the Convent of S. Catharine on Mount Sinai, ed. Margaret Dunlop Gibson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1894).

79. In this section of the treatise alone, which is less than eight pages in the original Arabic, Theodore uses words deriving from this root (either as verbs or verbal nouns) in over a dozen instances. Theodore uses the three following abstract nouns from this root: inline graphic (na‘ma/ ni‘ma), inline graphic (na‘īm), and inline graphic (tana”um). Theodore uses all of these terms interchangeably to refer to the same concept throughout this section. The first two terms, in particular, which are also the ones most often used by Theodore, are commonly used in both medieval and modern Arabic texts to indicate either God’s grace or the experience of physical comfort and enjoyment. Theodore uses the third term the least often, but clearly imbues it with the same range of meaning.

80. In his version, Lamoreaux translates nearly all of these derivations as “felicity,” which in essence splits the difference between focusing on either the earthly register of “enjoyment” or the heavenly register of “enjoyment.” Lamoreaux’s choice is therefore elegant and accurate, and no particular criticism of it is meant here. Rather, this analysis intends to utilize a greater degree of precision and therefore more fully reveal and explicate the specific nuances of Theodore’s usage, which is indeed very difficult to render with the use of a single English word.

81. On this point, see George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou, “Orthodox Naming of the Other: A Postcolonial Approach,” in Orthodox Constructions of the West, ed. George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 1–22; Paul L. Gavrilyuk, Georges Florovsky and the Russian Relgious Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 189–90; and Vera Shevzov, “The Burdens of Tradition: Orthodox Constructions of the West in Russia (Late 19th-Early 20th cc.),” in Orthodox Constructions of the West, ed. George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 83–101.

82. See, on this point, Paul M. Collins, “Theosis, Texts, and Identity: The Philokalia (1782)—A Case Study,” in Deification in Christian Theology, Volume 2, ed. Vladimir Kharlamov (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2011), 185–86; Laura Engelstein, Slavophile Empire: Imperial Russia’s Illiberal Path (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 102; and Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter, “Orthodoxy and Enlightenment in Catherinian Russia: The Tsarevich Dimitrii Sermons of Metropolitan Platon,” in Thinking Orthodox in Modern Russia: Culture, History, Context, ed. Patrick Lally Michaelson and Judith Deutsch Kornblatt (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), 43.

83. It is also worth noting here that Theodore’s focus on theosis is actually quite unusual for medieval Christian theologians writing in Arabic. As Treiger has shown, many traditions of Arabic-language Christian theology have been hostile to the language of theosis because of the fear that it might violate the necessary ontological distinction between the Creator and the created, thus endangering monotheism itself. On this point, see Alexander Treiger, “The Fathers in Arabic,” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Patristics, ed. Ken Parry (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 449; and Alexander Treiger, “From Theodore Abū Qurra to Abed Azrié: The Arabic Bible in Context,” in Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims, ed. Miriam L. Hjälm (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 34–40.

84. Maymar, 14.25. Theodore argues that this is the case because every other religion except Christianity is consumed by the sensual and absorbed by the pleasures of this world, while Christianity is uniquely ascetic and otherworldly. This stark dichotomy was a common polemical assertion made by the first generations of Christian theologians writing in Arabic. On the history and details of this argument, see Philip Dorroll, “Christian Polemic and the Nature of the Sensual: Depicting Islam in Arabic Christian Theology,” Studies in World Christianity 20, no. 2 (2014): 200–214.

85. Paul Ladouceur, “Treasures New and Old: Landmarks of Orthodox Neopatristic Theology,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 56, no. 2 (2012): 198; Russell, Fellow Workers with God, 13–18; Heleen E. Zorgdrager, “A Practice of Love: Myrrha Lot-Borodine (1882–1954) and the Modern Revival of the Doctrine of Deification,” Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 64, nos. 3–4 (2012): 292–94.