"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Eastern Orthodoxy in the Academy Today (III): Becoming Partakers of the Divine Nature

In our last installment, we looked at two chapters in this important new collection, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education: Theological, Historical, and Contemporary Reflections, edited by Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides and Elizabeth H. Prodromou. Let us consider some more of the contents of this thick tome.

Aristotle Papanikolaou's chapter begins by recounting the challenge he faced in starting to teach undergraduates theology at Fordham University, noting that for many such students today the "question...is not 'why God?' but 'why religion?'"

In such an environment, he suggests that Orthodoxy may have an advantage, or perhaps something of an edge, insofar as it can help students, and others, to appreciate the role not of "organized religion" but of personal freedom whose consummation is to be found in theosis, which he calls "the single greatest contribution that Orthodox scholars can offer to the academic world, no matter what the discipline" (263).

Theosis (divinization/deification) has come in for an enormous re-think in the last decade and more, with numerous books, collections, and articles published on the topic by a variety of authors from a variety of traditions and publishers. I draw your attention in particular to one of the richest such collections, Called to Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification edited by Carl Olson (whom I interviewed here about this welcome book which I am using in a class this semester) and David Meconi.

Their collection draws on a wide array of Catholic sources, ancient and modern, East and West.

Other collections feature more intense focus on Greek patristic sources for theosis, as in Norman Russell's two valuable books, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition along with the relatively more accessible and shorter Fellow Workers With God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis.

Arguably the most important, and certainly most welcome, development of the last decade was the one that began to drive the nail in the coffin of the claim that theosis is purely some Eastern exotica, unconnected from, indeed opposed to, the rationalism of the West.

Such collections as Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions, published in 2008 and edited by Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A. Wittung, have been very helpful here. So too has the two-volume collection Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology, published in 2006 and edited by Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov.


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