Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Theology

Program

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Long, D. Stephen

Second Advisor

Plested, Marcus

Third Advisor

Ogbonnaya, Joseph

Abstract

Across ecclesial lines, Christian language remains permeated by themes of imitative participatory union with God. However, ecclesial communions divergently retrieve these themes. Eastern Orthodox communities defend a particular doctrine of deification. Western traditions—Catholic or Protestant—continue to wrestle with the notion, at times negating or sublimating it into participation or likeness.How might these communities construct an ecumenical doctrine of deification? Each tradition’s model recedes into a dense thicket of competing metaphysical frameworks, spiritual priorities, and terminology. Mindful of the freight bound up in trying to discover parity between traditions that have developed their structures apart from each other, this project takes shape as an ecumenical dialogue. The dialogue determines a common question and guiding framework, exchanges distinctive contributions on the topic, facilitates cross-examination, and then looks for ways members might constructively reread themselves.Three deification loci—how via divine action in creation a creature becomes one with and like the self-determined God—determine dialogue parameters. This working definition of deification proves expansive enough to invite all three major Christian traditions to the dialogue table. It also highlights that the way any tradition relates these three components sets its terms of engagement with others. Dialoguing competing views reveals persisting difficulties in affirming creatures’ bodily union with the Divine. These disagreements also show how the traditions’ different metaphors for union with God, each emphasizing either divine self-determination or creaturely capacity, have become literalized into competing metaphysical constructions. The ensuing tensions surface underdeveloped pneumatology and theories of divine action. Without jettisoning traditional descriptions of deification, I suggest that refocusing them on the Spirit as the guarantor of divine action may guide them to a more trinitarian, metaphysically flexible, and ecumenical construction. The Spirit already appears within these traditions’ descriptions of theosis, so this project represents not an overhaul but a reorientation for guiding future work. The dialogue concludes by highlighting common resources that could lead members into envisioning together, across divides previously considered incompatible, a pneumatic deification. I close by drawing attention to how a pneumatic theosis might advance reclamations of the doctrine as the core tenet underpinning all theology.

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