The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition
By Normal Russell
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004
Review by Carl McColman
Deification, or theosis, is one of the least known and most misunderstood of ancient Christian teachings. Still a part of Orthodox theology to this day, in the west it evolved into what we now call “sanctification” or “sanctifying grace,” replacing the radical idea of “participation in God” with the much safer concept of merely “becoming holy.” This scholarly study by British scholar Normal Russell reclaims the importance of deification by tracing its development in the early Christian east. The author looks at pagan concepts of deification and at Jewish spirituality before charting the emergence of Christian theosis from New Testament times through to the fullest articulation of the doctrine in the writings of Maximus Confessor and Pseudo-Dionysius — and its later role in the emergence of hesychasm. This isn’t light reading, but it’s well worth the effort for anyone who intuitively senses that the Christian life involves more than just behaving yourself.