Deification as an Argument for the Consubstantiality of the Son with the Father in the Writings of Athanasius of Alexandria
AuthorStepp, Jonathan Leon
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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.