Started 2 Peter for my morning NT reading time. 2 Peter is one of the last books of the NT to be accepted universally by Christians and one of the most hotly debated in terms of authorship among Christians since ancient times.
It did not receive universal acceptance until the late fourth century at the councils of Carthage and Laodicea.
One of my favorite sections speaks of the ancient Christian and orthodox doctrine of theosis or divinization and follows this up with a list of virtues called in ancient rhetoric a sorites or gradation which is itself embedded in the exordium of the whole passage.
Here is the passage, one of my favorites in the New Testament:
“3 His divine power has granted us all that we need to live in godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by glory and virtue. 4 Through these things, he has granted to us his precious and tremendous promises, so that having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust, you may become partakers of the divine nature.”
5 For this very reason, do your utmost to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge. 6 To knowledge, add self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness add brotherly affection; and to brotherly affection, love.
8 Truly, if these things are yours and overflow, they will prevent you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But those who lack these things are blind; they only see what is near and they have forgotten the cleansing from their old sins.
10 Therefore, brethren, do all that you can to make your calling and election assured. Indeed, if you do these things, you will never stumble. 11 Thus, you will be richly granted the entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-11)
Verses 5-7 contain the gradatio, a chain of virtues progressing from the foundational virtue of faith and culminating in the climactic virtue of love which binds them all together.
This is not meant to be a list where you master one virtue and then go to the next but a list exhorting us to make every effort to bring them together in our lives as a chorus, a harmony, or a symphony. In verse 5 the text says to “make every effort to add to your faith…..” with the verb “add” translating the Greek ἐπιχορηγήσατε and referring to one who is a choir director or one who puts together a drama. One could look at the invitation to this virtue list as “Orchestrate your life as follows, add to your faith……”
In Witherington’s Letter and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter he quotes Norman Hillyer’s commentary on the Petrine epistles for this passage: “Believers … must be lavish in the time and effort they put into developing their Christian lives—not being satisfied with getting by on the minimum, but striving like the chorēgos [the drama’s patron, financial backer] of old to achieve the finest and most attractive production.”
Let these quotes in commentary on Peter’s gradatio be for us a call to arms in the pursuit of virtue from St. Leo the Great and from St. John Chrysostom:
Realize your dignity, O Christian! Once you have been made a partaker of the divine nature, do not return to your former baseness by a life unworthy of that dignity. Remember whose head it is and whose body of which you constitute a member. (Leo the Great [Sermons 21.3])
When we hear these things, we must fortify ourselves and obey what is said, and cleanse ourselves from earthly things. If we do that, we shall share in his blessings, and we shall not need anything else. But if we do not obey, we shall be destroyed. What difference does it make whether we are destroyed through wealth or through laziness? Or if not through laziness, through cowardice? For when a farmer destroys his crop, it hardly matters how he does it.… Therefore it is necessary that once someone has been cleansed and has partaken of holiness, that he hold on to it through thick and thin, for without it he will not see the Lord. (St. John Chrysostom, Catena in Epistolas Catholicas, 86. Edited by J. A. Cramer. Oxford, 1840)