Several days ago HBU’s growing philosophy department hosted a conference on divine and human agency. It was a really good event. There was an eclectic group of scholars in attendance and an eclectic group of papers, which were widely stimulating. I reconnected with some old friends and made several more. William (“Billy”) J. Abraham came down from SMU and was the keynote speaker. He’s an engaging speaker, and I had the pleasure of grabbing lunch with him and a couple of other friends on Saturday. I’ve not read widely in the areas in which he writes, but he mentioned that one of his favorite writers is St Symeon the New Theologian, a byzantine writer whom I’ve recently been reading, which brings me to the paper I gave.
I finally took the opportunity to write a paper that’s been rattling around in my head for a couple of years now: “Situating God and Humanity: Theosis and the Creator-Created Distinction”. My abstract:
The recent interest of westerners in the patristic and Eastern Orthodox idea of theosis, or deification, has forced theologians to reconsider the divine-human relationship. While many are positively inclined towards this model, when discussing the idea of believers being ‘gods’ from a western perspective, two questions repeatedly arise: does this break down the Creator-created distinction and does it entail absorption. Even those sanguine about the idea of deification are often unsure about these issues. For example, one recent theologian who argued for a form of deification in Calvin spoke of Christians who understood deification to be ‘literal’ rather than ‘hyperbolic’. In response to this lack of clarity, I argue that several key aspects of patristic and Byzantine deification theology reinforce the Creator-created distinction and make the issue of absorption unthinkable. Among these are Creationism, Trinitarianism, the essence/energies distinction, the hypostatic union, contemplation, participation/image language, and synergism. Orthodox Christianity follows a model of ‘attributive deification’ rather than ‘essential deification’. Both entail an ontological transformation, but the former is a transformation of attributes (hyperbolic), and the latter, a transformation of essence or nature (literal). As a result, the loss of human identity in the divine-human relationship has no place in orthodox discussions of deification. Other non-Trinitarian theological systems did/do not maintain these distinctions and therefore reflect ‘essential’ instead of ‘attributive’ forms of deification and are open to the charges that western theologians are concerned about.
For this paper I moved a little further on in history–moving on from early patristic writers to later patristic and byzantine writers–to substantiate my case, so I returned to Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas. I expect to send it to a theological journal like Modern Theology or Scottish Journal of Theology later this summer.