Tedmund Chan, the Associate Editor of the Thomas International Center, recently interviewed Fr. David Meconi, SJ, about Called To Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification (Ignatius Press, 2016), which he co-edited with Carl E. Olson:
A recipient of the pontifical license in Patrology from the University of Innsbruck and a D. Phil in Ecclesiastical History from Oxford University, Fr. Meconi is currently Assistant Professor of Early Christianity in the Department of Theological Studies at St. Louis University, Director of the Edmund Campion Centre for Catholic Studies, and editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He is also a former president of the Jesuit Philosophical Association, a Fellow at the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University, and member of the ecclesiastical board of the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. His recent publications include The One Christ: St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification (Catholic University of America Press), the forthcoming The Enemy Within: Augustine on Sin and Self-Sabotage, and his editing of the Cambridge Companion to Augustine and of On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Cultivating a Contemporary Theology of Creation.
Fr. Meconi, many Latin Catholics are suspicious of deification or theosis as not being a properly Christian teaching. Could you please give us a short explanation of what the Catholic teaching on deification is? Why isn’t it more familiar to Catholics in the West (or in the United States)?
We have lost sight that Christianity is foundationally a mystical and not a moral religion: we are saved not so much by what we do or not do but who we become. Galatians 2:19-20 is a perfect snapshot of this: Paul says he is now dead to the law because he is alive in Christ and it is Christ who is now living his fully human life. The Catholic teaching on deification (look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church §460 for an excellent synopsis) maintains that God becomes human so we humans can become godly–no longer having to live a merely fallen life as incomplete and sinful humans, we can now partake of God’s own life and become immortal, perfectly wise, loving, and so on.
How would you respond to the claim that the teaching of deification is not important or relevant to the Christian moral and spiritual life, as we’ve managed without it for so long? What does deification add to our understanding of the Christian life as being rooted in charity, the sacraments, and life in the Church?
Everything is grace, everything. In the Gospel of John, for example, Jesus Christ makes it quite clear that without him we can do nothing, absolutely nothing (Jn 15:5). Deification is the honest admittance that we are all in need of grace, not only for our mere existence, and not simply for the glory of being human, but especially for our sanctification which makes us God’s own sons and daughters. The sacraments are the channels of this new union, as they continue Christ’s own incarnate presence in the world.
It seems that quite a few books on deification by scholars both Catholic and Protestant have been published recently in the English-speaking world. The attention being given by Western Christian scholars to deification may indeed be an indication that something is missing in contemporary presentations of the Gospel. How does this particular volume of essays serve to change that?