"Creation is good, therefore, since God could never become evil. And salvation is a kind of dance, a process of growing ever more to be like God. God made humans in God's image, yet humans backed away from God. Jesus came as a human being to be with us; in his death and resurrection Christ went back to God, taking our common humanity with him to be reunited with divinity. Irenaeus's vision is one of cosmic unity, in which heaven and earth, spirit and matter, divine and mundane, intertwined in the beauty of universal love.

"Not only did Irenaeus affirm an innate spirituality of creation, but he also emerged as a Christian humanist. Because human beings participate in the journey of becoming like God, the divine presence infuses human activity. As one historian notes, 'Human nature, and so human actions, can no longer transpire without the divine nature.' Irenaeus's view is mystical, spiritual, and cosmic — very like Gnosticism. But unlike the view of the Gnostics, it is holistic, not dualistic. Salvation is not a secret reserved for an enlightened few; rather, the love of God is visible to 'all living on earth.' Deification affirmed human capacities rather than consigning humanity to an endless cycle of evil that can only be escaped.

"Irenaeus was probably the first Christian theologian to teach deification, but he was by no means the only. One of his contemporaries, Clement of Alexandria, said, 'The Logos of God had become man so that you might learn how a man may become God.' At first it may seem difficult to understand how deification is a practice: how do Christians do it? Harvard professor Stephanie Paulsell suggests that the emphasis on the goodness of creation emerges in the practice of honoring the body, 'the difficult friendship with our bodies.' She describes this practice as part of 'a way that bears witness to God' because 'the body reflects God's own goodness.' Early Christians, like Irenaeus, believed in deification because they believed that God had become incarnate — that he was actual flesh and blood in the exact same way we are — in Jesus Christ. Honoring the body, therefore, signals human connection with God through Christ. Intrinsic to salvation is befriending creation. In some ways deification, this honoring the body, is the flip side of imitating Christ. We imitate Jesus because he first imitated us; we are woven of the same spiritual cloth.

" 'The glory of God,' Irenaeus wrote, 'is the human person fully alive.' Irenaeus was not simply being cranky, attacking Gnostics because they interfered with his authority. No, he tried to articulate a very difficult part of the Christian way of life: to remember in all things that, beginning with Jesus's humanity, the 'body is a sacred gift.' Salvation works itself out within the context of this world; it is a process of honoring creation, of acting humanly toward God, ourselves, and our neighbors. I would later learn the rest of Irenaeus's quote:

" 'For the glory of God is the human person fully alive; and life consists in beholding God. For if the vision of God which is made by means of the creation, gives life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.'

"A life-affirming, universal vision of God's cosmic love where everything is sacred."