Athanasius of Alexandria defended the innovative “homoousion” language in the
Nicene Creed by means of his understanding of deification as God’s telos for humanity
and twenty-first century theology in the United States should follow Athanasius’
approach and give greater emphasis to deification.
There are three background issues to the thesis: Alexandrian theology as exemplified
by Origen (Origen and Athanasius both emphasized the importance of God as Father, but
disagreed about the use of the words “homoousios” and “hypostasis”), the influence of
Irenaeus on Athanasius, and Athanasius’ exegetical technique.
Deification is both central and assumed for Athanasius. Athanasius argued for the
Son’s status as Son and God “by nature” in part by using the idea of our adoption and
deification as God’s soteriological goal in the Son. His argument can be summarized as
follows: adoption and deification was God’s teleology for humanity and since that is true
it must follow that, for this goal to be achieved, the Son must be Son and God “by
nature.” His argument for the Son’s consubstantiality is an exegetical project driven by
the theology of deification.
The best way to define the gospel message and better appreciate the significance and
value of the language of the Nicene Creed is by following the pattern established by
Athanasius and using deification as an assumption for the construction of our own
theology. An Athanasian understanding of the gospel allows us to move beyond
theological dead ends, while at the same time rooting us firmly in the fullness of the
Christian tradition of the last two millennia.