by Jared Ortiz
Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox all have an unfortunate habit of thinking that deification is somehow the exclusive provenance of the Orthodox. This claim is unfortunate not only because it has no basis in reality, but because it blinds us to the riches to be discovered in the tradition and because it slows down ecumenical progress.
The Reformed theologian Carl Mosser has done the most interesting work on how we all came to adopt such an odd prejudice (see his essay here). The details are too complicated for a short post, but let me summarize briefly. Many people know that Adolf von Harnack, the great Protestant historian of dogma at the turn of the twentieth century, proposed a theory about the development of Christian doctrine which cast the tradition primarily as one of decline. Starting from the simple moral teachings of Christ, Christian doctrine became corrupted due to the pernicious influence of Greek philosophy. What many people don’t know is that Harnack argued that the main culprit in this decline was the doctrine of deification which early Greek Christians imported from the pagans. While the west was only mildly infected with this doctrine, it became, he claimed, the defining feature of eastern Christianity. Continue reading