The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition

The media attention given to the publication of The Gospel of Judas by the National Geographic Society as well as the continuing success of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown both indicate an enduring fascination in the popular mind with the ancient, and often convoluted, history of Christianity. And while it may have come as a surprise for many, the fact remains that the ancient Christian world was as splintered and diverse as is the modern Christian world. One of the most basic distinctions to arise among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth in the century after his death had to do with the language spoken by the common person—Latin in the western parts of the Roman Empire, Greek in the east—and the ways that linguistic reality translated into different cultural and religious experiences of a common Christian inheritance. The ramifications of the split in thinking between the Greek-speaking east and the Latin-speaking west is quickly illustrated by examining that branch of Christian theology known as soteriology, which concerns itself with those doctrines having to do with the salvation of the human person.

Greek-speaking and Greek-writing churchmen in the east came to understand the doctrine of salvation in Christ as one that involved the deification of the human person; but what exactly did they mean when they described those redeemed by Christ as gods? The publication of Norman Russell’s The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition, based on his 1988 Oxford doctoral dissertation, is the definitive answer that provides an in-depth analysis of the Greek Fathers (church leaders and writers) through the seventh century CE.

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