The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition

Feast of the Holy Virgin Theodota
The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition by Norman Russell

Doctrine_of_Deification_Square.jpegGOD BECAME man in order that man might become God” is one of the dominant themes in the Greek Fathers from St. Irenaeus forward, the exegetical development of the scriptural phrases “you are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you” (Ps. 81/2.6) and “that you might . . . become partakers of the divine nature” (1 Pt. 1.4). The doctrine of deification (theosis), human persons becoming divine by grace, became the cornerstone of the Orthodox doctrine of salvation, the goal of human cooperation with the sanctifying energies of God through the Holy Spirit in the Church. Describing the development and content of this vision of human destiny strikes one as a little like trying to bottle light, but Norman Russell is a trustworthy guide. He systematically narrates the history of the doctrine with extensive chapters on precursors in the Greco-Roman world, ancient Judaism and the New Testament, and of course the Greek Fathers. Russell’s original contributions are his discussion of deification as a metaphor with two distinct emphases, “the transformation of humanity in principle as a consequence of the Incarnation . . . and the ascent of the soul through the practice of virtue”; and his survey of recent Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox engagements with the doctrine, ranging from Harnack’s dismissal of deification to Vladimir Lossky’s insistence that it lies at the very center of our understanding of God and humanity.

418 pp. paper $85.00

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