Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition

Article excerpt

The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition. By Norman Russell. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. vii + 418 pp. $55.00 (paper), $175 (cloth).

Over the past 100 years, scholars of Western Christianity have begun to rediscover the startling patristic description of salvation as deification. Deification describes salvation as a process by which Christians are restored to the image of God, are united to God, and ultimately become "gods" in name, not in nature, by imitating and participating in the life of God.

In this revised Oxford doctoral dissertation, Norman Russell presents the history of Christian deification. He argues that, although Hellenic and Rabbinic Judaism possess concepts of deification, the New Testament authors do not express a systematic doctrine of deification. Instead they employ metaphors of participation and union. Later church fathers took up these images, often in the context of theological controversy. Gradually these images were given a metaphysical basis, linked with Psalm 82:6, and synthesized into a description of salvation as deification. From here the concept of deification was further developed. Finally, through Marimus the Confessor it became a pillar of Byzantine monasticism and has remained a part of Eastern Orthodox theology ever since. Russell asserts that we can place the various uses of deification by the church fathers into three categories: the nominal, anagogical, and metaphorical. Metaphorical uses can then be further described as ethical or realistic. Although these categories are often genuinely helpful, on occasion they appear forced and risk oversimplifying inherently complex perspectives. …

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