NOTE: This is something about Luther’s concept of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that I was working on last month, before I learned my proposal had been accepted for the Illinois History Conference sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum — and my priorities changed! Now I have to crash my paper, another real spellbinder on creolization in Swedish Lutheran immigrant congregations from 1848 to 1860, and I won’t be able to get back to Luther and the Holy Spirit till later. In the meantime, I’m going public with my preliminary notes and links so I’m less likely to forget about them altogether.


So I started to share something to the blog for research purposes — it’s an article that came up in a Google search on a Finnish theologian’s interpretation of Luther I’m interested in — and when I tried to track it down, I stumbled across something just as interesting about an evangelical bible college that got shut down during Ukraine’s civil war.

So this post is gonna be a little bit different.

The article is by Viacheslav Lytvynenko, a research professor at Charles University in Prague who studied and later taught at Donetsk Christian University in Ukraine. Published in 2013 in Theological Reflections: Euro-Asian Journal of Theology, it explores similarities in Luther’s thought and the Russian Orthodox doctrine of theosis, or “likeness to or union with God”

The subject, obviously, is deep.

Suffice it for now to say Finnish scholars, led by Tuomo Mannermaa of the University of Helsinki, find that, in Mannerma’s words (as quoted in the Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology [p. 254]), “When a human being believes in Christ, Christ is present, in the very fullness of his divine and human nature, in that faith itself. Luther understands the presence of Christ in such a concrete way that, according to his view, Christ and the Christian become ‘one person’.”

Not an exact fit, but close enough for government work.

Or, more accurately, close enough for ecumenical work — in the form of intensive discussions from the 1970s onward between scholars of the Lutheran Church of Finland and the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. [SEE CITATION BELOW OF Hannu T. Kamppuri, ed., Dialogue between Neighbours, WHICH COLLECTS PROCEEDINGS OF THOSE SESSIONS IN HELSINKI, LENINGRAD AND ELSEWHERE.] The idea is understandably controversial, to Lutheran and Orthodox alike, and the discussion continues today.

Viacheslav Lytvynenko’s contribution is to suggest that Orthodox, Lutheran and evangelical believers alike can find common ground by grounding this discussion in “the personal aspect of Luther’s thought that revolves around the idea of the intimate union with God through Christ and employs the concept of love as the very content of what we partake in God.” [pp. 125-26]

This, by the way, is the sort of thing retired English teachers do for light summer reading.

Lytvynenko’s article was published in 2013 in Theological Reflections: Euro-Asian Journal of Theology, a journal that publishes evangelicals in Eastern Europe, especially the former Soviet Union; his essay was included in a special issue featuring scholars from Donetsk. By that time he was studying in Belgium, at the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, where he received his master’s before going on to doctoral work in Prague.

But in 2014, Donetsk was occupied by pro-Russian insurgents who set up a provisional government. [INSERT DETAILS HERE] It still has a website up, but it appears to have been closed.

Which means a flourishing western-oriented theological college in the former Soviet Union was snuffed out. Since it took me a while to establish that, I wanted to post that information — at least the links.

So what you are reading is a blog post that can’t decide what it wants to be — a theological reflection or glimpse at ecumenical relations in Eastern Europe. I decided to let it be both.


<ol><li>ecumenical relations

a. Mannermaa’s dialog with Russian Orthodox

b. evangelical colleges


a. Lytvynenko / Luther

b. St, Athanasius

c. quote in Jane Strohl, from Freedom of a Christian


[WIKIPEDIA:] Theosis, or divinization, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, formula quoted as, “He was made human so that he might make us gods.” He is also quoted, in the Wikipedia article on divinization The Word was made flesh in order that we might be made gods. … Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life.”[9] Athanasius also observed: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” Note 11  “Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπισεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν (Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 25, 192 B De incarnatione Verbi, 54: literally, “… that we might become …”. Grammatically, the verb θεοποιηθῶμεν could be translated as “be made God” Himself or “be made gods.”


Viacheslav Lytvynenko, “Theosis in Luther: Analysis of the New Finnish Luther Research.” Theological Reflections: Euro-Asian Journal of Theology, Donetsk Christian University (special issue), 2013, pp. 108-127.

[P. 125]

In describing what it means for God to give himself to us according to Luther, Finnish scholars, in my view, have managed very well to show that the fundamental locus of theosis for Luther is his theology of love.[65] However important is the idea of sharing in the divine essence of God, I believe that Luther’s notion of love as the basis for theosis provides a much more fundamental reflection on the personal nature of God and salvation than does the essentialist perspective. By using the idea of love in Luther, we should be able to avoid misunderstandings in our conversation with the Orthodox as we emphasize that participation is primarily about the intimate relationships between the lover and the beloved who are joined to each other in the union of love. Being the fullness of love, God loves us first through Christ and causes us to love him in response. Out of this unifying relation between God and man grows the latter’s love to his or her neighbor as the loving person becomes conformed to who is loved. In light of Luther’s strong emphasis on love, it is not surprising to find that he connects love and theosis with the notion of adoption as the most personal image of salvation.[66] To articulate this con[126]nection in Luther according to the Eastern way is to say that we become by grace what God is by nature. Or to say the same thing differently—and, indeed, express the heart of the Evangelical belief about God and salvation—is to state that we become God’s children by sharing in the Son’s loving relationships to his Father through the indwelling Sprit who joins us to the Trinity.[67]

[65] Union with Christ, 13 19. Cf. 76 82, 93 94, 113 17.

[66] e.g. WA 17 II, 74, 20 75, 11, as quoted in Union with Christ, 14.

[67] This short sentence recapitulates the main idea of the Evangelical perspective on God and theosis in Donald Fairbairn, Life in the Trini ty: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers (Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009). For the patristic perspective itself, see e.g. Irenaeus of Lyon, On the Apostolic Preach ing, trans. by John Behr, Popular Patristic Se ries (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997); Athanasius of Alexandria, Four Discourses Against the Arians, trans. by Hen ry Newman, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 4 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994); Cyril of Alexandria, Com mentary on the Gospel According to S. John. Vol. 1: S. John 1 8, trans. by P. E. Pusey, Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, vol. 43 (Oxford: James Parker & Co., 1874); Augus tine of Hippo, The Trinity, trans. by Edmund Hill, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Trans lation for the Twenty first Century, vol. 5 (New York: New City Press, 1991).



Lytvynenko’s CV is available on the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit (ETF Leuven, Belgium) website: (“In the Reformation tradition and in line with the world-wide evangelical movement, we study the Bible as the primary and authoritative source for Christian life and thinking.”) He has a PhD in Greek Patristics, Charles University, Prague; an MTheol from ETF and a Bachelor of Theology, Donetsk Christian University, Donetsk, Ukraine. He is an affiliated researcher in historical theology at ETF and a research professor at Charles University. He has written extensively about St. Athanasius of Alexandria


We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbour. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbour through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbour. [Strohl, p. 365] (The Freedom of a Christian (1520), WA7.69,1-6; LW 31.371)

Works Cited

Hannu T. Kamppuri, ed., Dialogue between Neighbours: Theological Conversations between the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland and the Russian Orthodox Church 1970-1986: Communiques and Theses. Helsinki : Luther-Agricola Society, 1986 [introductory summary by Kamppuri pp. 9-21]

Viacheslav Lytvynenko, “Theosis in Luther: Analysis of the New Finnish Luther Research,” Theological Reflections: Euro-Asian Journal of Theology, Donetsk Christian University (special issue), 2013, pp. 108-127.

Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, ed. Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel and L’ubomír Batka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Risto Saarinen, “Justification by Faith: The View of the Mannermaa School,” in Oxford Handbook, pp. 254-73.

Jane E. Strohl, The Framework for Christian Living: Luther on the Christian’s Callings, in Oxford Handbook, pp. 366-69.

[Draft posted as written, July 10]

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