Theōsis: Deification in Christian Theology (review)
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Reviewed by
Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov, editors Theōsis: Deification in Christian TheologyPrinceton Theological Monograph SeriesEugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2006 Pp. ix + 185. $22.

The topic of deification continues to be popular since there is a freshness to the subject and the sense of unexplored territory that invites research and inquiry. This series of essays, edited by Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov, advances the exploration of the theme of deification (theōsis) and provides at the same time a valuable resource for students.

The editors begin with a general description of theōsis—"the transformation of believers into the likeness of God" (1)—but emphasize the imprecision of the term and the difficulty in defining it exactly. Instead of seeking a precise definition, they point to biblical texts and to other biblical doctrines (transformation, indwelling, sanctification, etc.) that together help us grasp what theōsis means. Then, following a brief account of the loss of the idea of deification in the West during the past millennium, they stake out their own position between what they identify as the two polarized views of theōsis that have for too long dominated the field. The first position, popularized by Adolph Harnack, rejects theōsis as the Hellenization of early Christianity. The second, promoted by Eastern Orthodox theologians such as Vladimir Lossky, makes theōsis to be all-important in Christian theology and claims that the Eastern church has a "copyright" on the doctrine (9).

The editors wish to promote a more historically-grounded, moderate view and so offer this volume as a means of shedding light "on the divinization concept" (12) across the Christian tradition. The historical summary they offer on the fate of deification certainly has merit, but the presentation suffers a bit from its brevity and lack of nuance. It seems too strong to say that Western churches have simply dropped the idea or that theōsis has nearly disappeared over the past millennium [End Page 122] in the West (8). The explicit references to deification in Aquinas as well as the development of the concept in Scheeben, Newman, and Mascall would modify the stark disjunction proposed between the first and second millennia in the West. Nonetheless, the stated goal of recapturing an historically-grounded, balanced understanding of deification is praiseworthy and capably carried out in the articles that follow.

For the sake of summary, the ten articles can be grouped into four categories (biblical, early patristic, mature patristic, contemporary). The first pair of articles lays a biblical foundation in both the Old and New Testaments. Greg Glazov defends the importance of seeking a foundation for Christian doctrine in the Old Testament and argues that the paternal-filial categories informing the divine-human covenant in Israel, as well as a sapiential anthropology from the Wisdom literature, "provide many bases for a biblical theōsis theology" (29). Stephan Finlan then explores the philosophical climate surrounding 2 Peter, concluding that the phrase "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1.4) means in context taking on the divine character, the knowledge of Christ, and proper ethical behavior (45).

The second pair of articles (both by Vladimir Kharlamov) on the apostolic fathers and apologists respectively provides, in a sense, the bridge between the biblical testimony and the full flowering of the theōsis concept. The terminology of deification does not appear in these early writers, but Kharlamov shows that many of the themes emerge that will later develop into an explicit notion of theōsis. The third and largest grouping of articles considers theōsis in four leading patristic figures: Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, and Maximus. In two fine studies, Jeffrey Finch shows the christological basis for human divinization in Irenaeus and the deifying work of the redeemer in Athanasius. Robert Puchniak revisits deification in Augustine, building on the findings of Gerald Bonner through an analysis of a recently discovered sermon (Dolbeau 6), and proposes reasons for why Augustine so rarely employs the deification concept in his vast corpus. Elena Vishnevskaya concludes the patristic studies with an overview of deification in the rich theological thought of Maximus the Confessor. The final pair of articles considers theōsis in two contemporary...


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