- The Glory of God's Grace: Deification according to St. Thomas Aquinas by Daria Spezzano
Is there a genuine doctrine of deification to be found in the Western theological tradition? Norman Russell, the chronicler of the Greek patristic doctrine of deification, raises just this question: "Whether you can really graft theosis on to a Western theological approach remains to be seen" ("Why does Theosis Fascinate Western Christians," Sobornost 34 : 15). Gösta Hallonsten answers this question in the negative: "The label 'doctrine of theosis' should preferentially be reserved for the integral doctrine of deification as presented by the Eastern tradition" ("Theosis in Recent Research: A Renewal of Interest and a Need for Clarity," in Michael J. Christensen and Jeffrey A. Wittung, eds., Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions [Madison/Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2007], 287). He maintains that a fully orbed doctrine of deification is grounded in an anthropology "that is significantly different from that of the Latin tradition" (ibid., 286) Why? Because "in the Western view efficient causality" takes the place of formal causality in the Eastern tradition, and the Eastern distinction between essence and energies in God "makes no sense to the [Western] scholastic point of view" (ibid.). Hallonsten clearly has Thomas Aquinas in view here. In his judgment, Thomas's philosophical principles prevent him from realizing a full-bodied doctrine of deification.
The Glory of God's Grace sets out to investigate just this question in Thomas's theology. While several studies have placed Thomas's account of deification in comparison with others, up until now there has not been a thorough study of his understanding of deification on his own terms. Daria Spezzano "[offers] such an in-depth examination of the nature of Thomas's mature teaching on deification in the Summa theologiae, the reasons for its development, and its highly significant—though sometimes hidden—role internal to his entire theological project" (3). Rather than taking a narrow view of the subject, limited to texts that specifically name deification, Spezzano wishes to investigate how Thomas's "understanding of deification shapes his larger theological project" and "how it operates within the larger body of his teaching" (5). This makes for a dense and detailed study that places great demands on the reader. But by taking this approach, Spezzano offers a substantial contribution to our understanding of Thomas's theology. She is not tracing a single theme simply on its own terms but seeking to grasp Thomas's entire theological project through the lens of deification.
Spezzano has to deal with two challenges. The first is the relative sparseness of deification terminology in Thomas (deificatio, deificare, deiformitas). Yet while the terminology appears relatively infrequently, this is true of many writers—East and West—who are reputed to teach a doctrine of deification. [End Page 310] The terminology is present in sufficient strength to warrant a presumption in favor of a doctrine of deification. The critical question is whether Thomas teaches a genuine theology of deification or simply uses the terminology occasionally in a metaphorical sense. Is deification really "internal to his entire theological project"?
The second challenge is the vast canvass that Thomas uses to display his theology. There is no "treatise on deification" in the Summa that provides a focal point for evaluation. Spezzano will conclude that "this examination of Thomas Aquinas's teaching in the Summa theologiae on grace, charity, and wisdom justifies the claim that he thinks of human salvation as deification" (328), but to demonstrate this she must wrestle with the Summa as a whole, with all its parts, in order to show how a doctrine of deification is found throughout and how that doctrine illuminates the whole.
In the first part of the study (chaps. 1-2), Spezzano explores what the Prima pars has to say about the divine source and goal of the "image of God." This is heavy going at points...