David V. MECONI, S.J. The One Christ: St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification. Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2013. pp. xx + 280. $64.95 hb. ISBN 978-o-8132-2127-4. Reviewed by Jill RAITT, Professor Emerita, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65201
A book for scholars, this fine study of the 18 occurrences of forms of the word deificare in the works of St. Augustine is beautifully written, well-argued and organized.
Deification has been a subject of scholarly discussion for some time as Meconi’s references and notes testify. Meconi, however, begins his introduction with the flat assertion that “Deification of the human person is central to how St. Augustine presents a Christian’s new life in Christ.” No one disagrees that Augustine affirms the Christian’s incorporation into Christ, but can this be “deification”? Meconi’s careful analysis of relevant texts, not only in the works of Augustine, but of pertinent works of Augustine scholars, convinces me that Meconi has it right. He has both Gerald Bonner and Andrew Louth in his corner. Is theosis in Greek theology a model for Augustine? Or does Augustine use “deification” differently? A better question might be how one interprets Rom. 5:5. If the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts, are we not deified? God is where God acts, so the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is actually an indwelling of the Trinity, certainly a mode of deification!
A philosophical approach relies on Greek philosophy’s assertion that friendship can only occur between equals and yet surely Christians are friends of Christ who calls his disciples not servants, but friends? How else can a human become God’s friend except by God’s action bestowing a participated form of godliness? And Meconi is insistent, throughout One in Christ, on deification as participation through “the Son’s descent into the human condition” so that Christians “become other “gods” able to participate in and live in accordance with the divine nature.” (235).
Meconi begins with creation that Augustine analogously presented as “as a conversio ad Deum. That is, all creation must imitate the Word’s (eternal) turn toward the Father in order to receive existence and definition.” (234) Adam and Eve’s turn from God to themselves required the Son’s incarnation and sacrifice to allow a re-turn to the Father. It is that journey that this book spells out in terms of the gift of deification. The last chapter explains the church as first, the chorus of good angels, then the Hebrews and finds its fulfillment in Christ, man and God, who is the head of the totus Christus, in which the church is the body.
Reading this book was a challenge; I took copious notes, and found my prayer life deepened as well, especially by the chapters on the Holy Spirit and on the Church.
I found only one weakness in the text: although Meconi confidently repeats “Eucharistic sacrifice”, he supplies no citations to support this contested affirmation. Catholics argue for it; Protestants generally argue against Augustine having a theology of Eucharistic sacrifice. Meconi would have done well to refer to this literature or better, cited those places in the works of Augustine that support the Roman Catholic reading.
The book consists of five chapters, each with a succinct conclusion, and closes with a 10-page “Conclusion” containing a summary and a section titled “Possible Advantages of this Study”. The well-integrated chapters are: 1) Creation as the Unifying Prologue, 2) Made to be Godly: The Divine Image Bestowed and Broken, 3) The Son’s Descent, 4) The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling, 5) Ecclesial Reception of the Divine Life. Meconi has provided 38 pages of scholarly research tools: a six-column Appendix of Augustine’s Works, a Select Bibliography, Index of Augustine’s Works, Index of Scripture, and a General Index.
Note: Terry Archambeault, The Role of Theosis in St. Augustine, 2010. This 17 page e-book uses the same image on its cover as appears in the CUAP jacket for Meconi’s book: Philippe de Champaigne, 17th century painting of St. Augustine holding a flaming heart.