Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, IN) and author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011). He is a regular contributor to Catholic World Report and his "Eastern Christian Books" site is an invaluable source for information about books about Eastern Catholic and Orthodox history, theology, and spirituality. He recently interviewed Carl E. about Called To Be the Children: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification, recently published by Ignatius Press; the two discussed the genesis and purpose of the book, common reactions to the Church's teachings about theosis/deification, misunderstandings about the teaching, the Scriptural foundations for deification, and why this topic is so significant for ecumenical relations between Catholic and Orthodox believers:
Though it's been almost a decade since Daniel Keating's book Deification and Grace appeared from Catholic University of America Press, lingering suspicion of divinization or deification in Catholic circles is still to be found, which is staggering and stupid in equal measure. Happily, however, we now have what I hope will be the definitive answer to that nonsense: a new, and wholly welcome, collection of articles co-edited by Carl Olson (my editor, in fact, at Catholic World Report) and the Jesuit priest David Meconi, a patrologist who teaches at Saint Louis University. That collection, Called to Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification, really, really deserves a place in every Catholic library large and small so that, among other things, it can finally drive a fatal stake through the heart of the foolish notion one still finds in some Catholic circles (including as late last year at a major Catholic university in Europe) that theosis (deification or divinization) is (a) some esoteric and suspect "Eastern" notion held by those "schismatic" Orthodox; (b) something quasi-pagan and therefore suspect; or (c) both of the above.
And what a thoroughly catholic collection it is, too! It really does show the universal breadth of the Church, and some of her many diverse traditions, communities, and expressions. Thus we have, inter alia, chapters on deification in the Latin and Greek patristic traditions; in the Dominican and Franciscan traditions; deification in the French Catholic spiritual tradition; in the neo-Thomistic tradition; in the thought of Cardinal Newman (who was, of course, so deeply immersed in the Fathers, especially the Greeks); in the teaching of Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II; in the thought of Pope John Paul II; and in the liturgy (a chapter most aptly written by David Fagerberg, author of such works as On Liturgical Asceticism, which, like his break-out book Theologia Prima: What is Liturgical Theology? shows deep immersion in the Christian East).
All this and more is to be found in a handsome book (bearing on the front cover what is my favourite Byzantine icon of all time, Theophanes the Greek's rendition of the Transfiguration) that is both affordable and accessible to your average "lay" reader. This book really does belong in personal and parish libraries as well as those of every Catholic academic institution.
I asked the editors for their thoughts on this book, and Carl was able to respond. Fr. David is engaged in an extended period of travel just now, so I hope to have a chance to hear from him later.
AD: Tell us about your background.
Olson: I was raised in a Fundamentalist Protestant home, and my father was the co-founder of a small Bible chapel in western Montana that is still going strong. One of the great things about my upbringing was the immersion in Scripture, which would later play a key role in my decision to become Catholic and, more specifically, my recognition of the incredible truth of theosis, or deification. After a couple years of art school, I attended Briercrest Bible College in Saskatchewan, Canada, which proved to be a pivotal time for me, as I was (rather surprisingly) exposed to a wide range of Catholic and Anglo-Catholic theology and writing. Not only did I learn a great deal, I also learned how much I didn't know (a lot!), which spurred me on to studying a lot of Church history and theology on my own.
That led, eventually, to the realization that I was reading a lot of Catholic (or Anglo-Catholic) writers--Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Russell Kirk, and T.S. Eliot stand out--which led to my reading of the early Church Fathers, Newman, Aquinas, and John Paul II. More to the point, I wound up listening to a Scott Hahn tape series "The Catholic Gospel," which was actually a class he taught at the time at Steubenville. His focus was on "divine sonship," and he delved into a wide range of theologians, including Matthias Scheeben (the subject of a chapter in the book), whose Mysteries of Christianity was an eye-opening read. I also read Fr. Emile Mersch's Theology of the Mystical Body, which further impressed upon me the essential truth of deification. I was very happy and honored that Scott graciously wrote the Foreword to the book, because his influence on my own study and thought was substantial.
My wife and I entered the Catholic Church in 1997, and that same year I began working on a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas, via that school's Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies. Those three years of theological formation were invaluable for many reasons, not least a firm and deep grounding in the teachings and practices of the Church. This topic continued to be an important one for me, and I ended up writing a paper on the theme of deification in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has been revised and included as a chapter in this book.
Finally, I must note that our family has attended Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield, Oregon, since 2000, and my understanding and appreciation of theosis has deepened even further through the Divine Liturgy, the friendship and teaching of Fr. Richard Janowicz, and the weekly Bible study I've taught there for over fifteen years.
AD: What led you to collaborate on Called to Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification?
Read the entire interview on Dr. DeVille's "Eastern Christian Books" site.