“Quasi Deificari”: Deification In The Theology Of John Calvin -- By: A. J. Ollerton

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 73:2 (Fall 2011)
Article: “Quasi Deificari”: Deification In The Theology Of John Calvin
Author: A. J. Ollerton

“Quasi Deificari”:
Deification In The Theology Of John Calvin

A. J. Ollerton

Andrew J. Ollerton is Associate Director and Lecturer at the Centre for Missional Leadership in Watford, near London, and is beginning Ph.D. research in Historical Theology.

I. Introduction

Recent discussions regarding deification in Calvin’s theology have sounded rather like a Punch and Judy show: “Oh yes there is . . . Oh no there isn’t!” Mosser and Billings have adamantly affirmed deification in Calvin’s theology, whereas Slater and Garcia deny any presence of the motif.1 The tug-of-war reached a fruitless impasse of yes/no responses as both sides quoted Calvin to bolster their positions. Lee’s recent article signals a fresh attempt to navigate a different route, through the distinction of divine essence and divine kind.2

The present article argues that Calvin has a differentiated approach to deification such that yes/no responses lie within Calvin’s corpus of writings itself. In his commentary on 2 Pet 1:4 Calvin concludes that the scriptural phrase “partakers of the divine nature” refers to a kind of deification (quasi deificari).3 This phrase shows Calvin’s willingness to affirm the motif of deification (through explicit use of theosis terminology) whilst also using the qualifying term (quasi) to guard against certain versions of deification. If it can be shown that Calvin himself both receives and rejects different versions of deification in a differentiated manner, the Punch and Judy show can give way to a more fruitful discussion of the nature of true deification according to Calvin. This could not only reconcile some divisions in Calvin scholarship but also contribute to bridging the gulf between East and West.

II. Quasi deificari And The Patristic Background

For we must consider from whence it is that God raises us up to such a height of honour. We know how abject is the condition of our nature; that God, then, should make

himself ours, so that all his things should in a manner become our things, the greatness of his grace cannot be sufficiently conceived by our minds. . . . Let us then mark that the end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us [quasi deificari].4

Calvin’s direct reference to deification aligns him with a trajectory re...

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