The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition

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This book traces the history of deification from its birth as a second-century metaphor with biblical roots to its maturity as a doctrine central to the spiritual life of the Byzantine Church. It begins with two chapters on the doctrine's antecedents in Graeco-Roman and Jewish culture which draw attention to the contribution of Rabbinic exegesis, and also to the fact that in speaking of the soul's ascent to God as deification Christian writers anticipated the pagan Neoplatonists. Although the first enunciation of deification is in Irenaeus' celebrated 'exchange formula', it was in Alexandria that the doctrine was fully elaborated. Two important chapters discuss and contextualize the different Alexandrian approaches from Clement to Cyril, bringing out the pervasive influence of Origen, who develops the idea of the rational creature's participation through the Son and the Spirit in a dynamic divinity deriving from the Father. The technical vocabulary of deification becomes problematical for Cyril of Alexandria, who replaces it with references to 2 Peter 1:4 ('partakers of the divine nature'). It was therefore through Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor rather than Cyril that deification entered the Byzantine tradition. Maximus' many discussions of deification (or 'theosis') are examined in detail, for in his concept of theosis as God's gift of himself to human beings through participation in the divine energies the patristic doctrine of deification comes to full maturity. The final chapter shows how Maximus' synthesis informed the hesychast tradition and touches on the contribution of deification to recent theological reflection on the nature of the human person. Twoappendices review deification in the Syriac and Latin Fathers, and present a survey of the Greek vocabulary of deification to the end of the fifth century.
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"This book will be recognized as the oustanding study of its subject. Essential."--CHOICE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199265213
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/15/2005
  • Series: Oxford Early Christian Studies Series
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Norman Russell was formerly Vice-Provost of the London Oratory and is now an independent scholar.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1
2 Deification in the Graeco-Roman world 16
3 The Jewish paradigm : from Ezekiel to the Yored Merkavah 53
4 The earliest Christian model : participatory union with Christ 79
5 The Alexandrian tradition I : Christian schools and study circles 115
6 The Alexandrian tradition II : the imposition of episcopal control 164
7 The Cappadocian approach : divine transcendence and the soul's ascent 206
8 The monastic synthesis : the achievement of Maximus the Confessor 235
9 Epilogue 296
App. 1 Deification in the Syriac and Latin traditions 321
App. 2 The Greek vocabulary of deification 333
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