A quick thought about L. Rogers Owens incredibly helpful book, The Shape of Participation.

Reaching his argument’s conclusion, that the church is Christ practicing himself in the Spirit for the sake of the world, Owens turns to Maximus the Confessor, offering the following quote:

By his gracious condescension God became man and is called man for the sake of man and by exchanging his condition for ours revealed the power that elevates man to God through his love for God and brings God down to man because of his love for man. By this blessed inversion, man is mad God by divinization and God is made man by hominization. For the Word of God and God wills always and in all things to accomplish the mystery of his embodiment.[1]

I was struck by the phrase, “blessed inversion.” Here Maximus intimates that the priority or initiative is always ultimately God’s own, but it’s done in such a manner that creation goes ‘up’ with and toward God via cooperative grace. The “blessed inversion,” or God becoming human so that humans may become God, means for Maximus that humans continue on their path toward divinization through the practice of the virtues.

Owens is careful to note, however, that Maximus’s account of inversion does not only mean that humans are set aright on the path toward deification, but that “through the life of virtue God achieves…embodiment.” This is appropriate for Maximus, along with the premodern theological tradition, because Christ “is the substance of virtue.”[2] Hence Owens completely warranted claim that through the virtuous practices of the church – servanthood servanthood, suffering and the works of mercy – the church is “Christ practicing himself” (183).

[1] Ambiguum 7, 1084C-D quoted in Owens, The Shape of Participation, 174.

[2] Ambiguum 7, 45-74 quoted in ibid, 163.