- The One Christ: St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification by David Vincent Meconi, S.J.
Meconi introduces his study of deification in Augustine by a review of the recent scholarship that even includes some items dealing primarily with other ancient writers. Creation and the divine image in humans are treated in Chapters One and Two as the foundation for the doctrine. Meconi argues that when the creation imitates the Son’s conversion toward the Father, it is thereby both formed and brought to its proper perfection. He identifies the “heaven of heavens” (Conf. 12.12.15) as the intelligent creature most perfectly conformed to the divine from the beginning of its existence. In addressing the divine image in human beings, he contends that Augustine followed Ambrose in understanding an image as distinct from, but tending toward ever greater likeness to, its prototype. The distinction between the Son as the image of the Father and humans as made in the image of the Trinity is explained but not consistently maintained in the exposition. Adam, for example, is considered to have been made in the image of the Son rather than of the Trinity or of Christ. Similarly, the roles of the Son and the Christ in providing access to the Father (or the Trinity) are confused (48–52).
Chapters Three and Four are dedicated to the contribution of the descent of the Son and the indwelling of the Spirit to the process of deification. Meconi studies Augustine’s eleven soteriological uses of deification language under four (non-exclusive) categories: recapitulation, adoption, exchange, and ethical or physical changes in the human person. The most important of these is recapitulation: the healing and transformation of fallen humanity by its union with the Son in Christ. The “Great Exchange” of human imperfection for divine perfection is characterized (but not explained) as a commercial transaction (117). Meconi concludes that deificare could be used for any human similarity to God based on a divine gift rather than personal accomplishment (120–26). Meconi’s neglect of the humanity of Christ as a model and mediation of the process of deification takes a toll on the clarity of his exposition. Because Augustine’s theory of charity is more fully developed in his writings, the unmediated divine presence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that transforms human loving provides a clearer example of the deification of Christians—at least in mind and will—than does the incarnation of the Son. In those treatments, however, Augustine does not use the language of deification, even though the reality itself is discernible.
After considering the enfleshment of the Son and the indwelling of the Spirit, Meconi moves to the role of the church in Chapter Five. He distinguishes three ways in which Augustine identified the church: as the “heaven of heavens,” as composed of the just who lived before the incarnation, and as the visible institution gathering the followers of Christ. The third requires a consideration of the role of the humanity of Christ in the constitution of his ecclesial body. Augustine clearly distinguishes the Son’s relation to his own humanity from his union with the church. Meconi attends to the parallel between the gratuity of the Son’s taking humanity and the grace bestowed upon Christians but, again, does not [End Page 477] consider the deification of that human as a model for others (e.g. Rebuke and Grace 11.30), or catalog the various ways in which Augustine treats the “one voice and one person” of Christ and the faithful. Meconi shows that Augustine carefully set limits to divinization in order to prevent a teaching of confusion or mixing of divine and human. The final section of the chapter examines the role of baptism and the Eucharist in divinization, though without particular attention to Augustine’s characteristic teaching of the eucharistic presence of the Whole Christ.
Meconi has provided a useful survey of Augustine’s use of the language of deification and treatment of the...