"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).

Friday, August 31, 2018

Deification in the Latin Fathers

As I have often noted on here over the years, the theme of deification/divinization/theosis has become wildly popular over the last two decades. I can immediately think of at least eight  major studies, from Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic authors, since the turn of the century. Like iconography, theosis has suddenly become something Western Christians seem to have woken up one day and "invented" (in the Waughian sense). As they have done so, many have had to move past not just initial ignorance but also hostility to and suspicion of this misunderstood notion. Others have had to overcome ideas that the Western traditions are somehow bereft of any ideas of theosis--an overcoming aided, in part, by the recent collection edited by Carl Olson, whom I interviewed here. Once more, then, we realize how much bad history has allowed Christians to assume things about each other's tradition, and their own, that are later shown to be if not entirely baseless then certainly wildly exaggerated and misunderstood.

Early next year another very welcome contribution to this burgeoning literature will appear: Deification in the Latin Patristic Tradition, ed. Jared Ortiz (Catholic University of America Press, 2019). 336pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us the following:
It has become a commonplace to say that the Latin Fathers did not really hold a doctrine of deification. Indeed, it is often asserted that Western theologians have neglected this teaching, that their occasional references to it are borrowed from the Greeks, and that the Latins have generally reduced the rich biblical and Greek Patristic understanding of salvation to a narrow view of redemption. The essays in this volume challenge this common interpretation by exploring, often for the first time, the role this doctrine plays in a range of Latin Patristic authors. 
The introductory essay on the Latin liturgy shows the wide-ranging use of deification themes in Latin worship, while the last one comparing the Greek and Latin Fathers provides the first serious study of the East and West's understanding of deification in light of substantial evidence. The essays in between explore the theology of deification in Perpetua and Felicity, Tertullian, Cyprian, Novatian, Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Peter Chrysologus, Leo the Great, Boethius, Benedict and Gregory. Together, these essays demonstrate that deification is a native part of early Latin theology which was consistently and creatively employed. 
This volume on deification in the Latin Patristic tradition will be the beginning of a long-overdue conversation. It promises to stimulate further inquiry into the place deification holds in the grammar of Latin Patristic thought and its relation to the Greek tradition.

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