The following is a brief summary and response to a short paper delivered at the Sophia Institute Conference, December 7, at Union Theological
Pia Chaudri attempted to bring Christian anthropology together with modern psychology in a fascinating paper, which explored how romantic love (even erotic love) can become a means for theosis. Her paper was both interdisciplinary and conceptually “thick.” (It was also after lunch.) So I will admit to having a difficult time following parts of it; thus the following summary may not do justice to the depth of her argument, and it probably blends her presentation with my reaction to it a bit more than I would like.
One of the struggle a married couple faces is how to form a union with another without also losing oneself to the “relationship,” which can act like a third partner in the marriage.
These three include the two partners and their “projected” understanding of their relationship. When the couple focuses on the relationship to the neglect of the people in it, it becomes a kind of false idol, resulting in inauthentic love and a loss of both selves, which get swallowed by this graven image.
The path of theosis offers a way to affirm the relationship and respect the individuality of the people in it at the same time. This is because the divinized person comes to find genuine fulfillment in the other, a fulfillment which makes one more fully oneself. So even conflict in marriage can be transformative when it is ordered toward the divine, for theosis does not result in the negation of the self. To the contrary, it makes one more fully oneself!
Thus the love of the couple and their love for God feed each other. Divine transformation requires frankness and honesty about who I am: my shortcomings, strengths, wants, and needs. My spouse helps me know what those are (in both pleasant and unpleasant ways). Theosis likewise enables me better to differentiate myself from my spouse. This makes it possible for me to affirm her or his inherent value as a bearer of the divine image, with strengths, shortcomings, wants, and needs of her or his own.