Florovsky Plenary Paper Abstract - The Patristic Doctrine of Deification in the West

Feast of the Martyr Leontius & Companions

THE CHURCH fathers laid the foundations of the doctrine of salvation in the western church that reverberates down through ages and endures even to today. An apparent simplicity hides the many questions and complexities implicit in the controversies over salvation. This paper surveys five prominent theologians (three patristic, one medieval, one modern) who explicated salvation in terms of deification or theosis. Cyril of Alexandria, Hilary of Poitiers, and Augustine of Hippo expressed deification in different vocabularies but shared a common understanding that salvation means becoming partakers of the divine nature. All affirmed that becoming like God by being filled with God could only happen by incorporation into Christ. This heritage shaped the thought of Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, whose doctrine of deification explicitly went beyond the fathers in his doctrine of the Beatific Vision. This ancient and medieval inheritance was rediscovered in the work of Matthias Scheeben whose ressourcement of the fathers has enriched the modern Latin church. The works of all these giants converge in a Christological Principle of Salvation which places the Eucharist and Liturgy in the forefront of ecumenical discussions.  


Kenneth J. Howell is the Director of Academic Research of the Eucharist Project and President of the Pontifical Studies Foundation. Dr. Howell taught in higher education for almost thirty years, most recently for over a decade as a Professor of Religion at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) where he taught classes on the history, theology, and philosophy of Catholicism. At the same time, he served as the Director of the Institute of Catholic Thought of the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the same university. Dr. Howell was a Presbyterian minister for eighteen years and a theological professor for seven years in a Protestant seminary where he taught Hebrew, Greek, and Latin as well as biblical interpretation and the history of Christianity. In 2000, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award from John Paul II in recognition of his service to the Catholic Church (the lay equivalent of the title Monsignor). He has authored dozens of articles and seven books (on the Fathers, on biblical interpretation and modern science, on Mary, and on the Eucharist). He is currently at work on several books on the Eucharist at both scholarly and popular levels.


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