How Deification Became Eastern: German Idealism, Liberal Protestantism, and the Modern Misconstruction of the Doctrine
This article develops an original account of the rise of the modern misperception of deification as an exclusively Eastern Christian doctrine antithetical to Western theology. The study argues that the origins of the misconstruction lie in the distorting influence of German Idealism on the seminal treatment of the doctrine advanced by Ferdinand Christian Baur. With Idealist categories shaping his retrieval, Baur inaccurately portrays ancient Christian figures as advocating an automatic, mechanical deification of humanity as a whole that leaves the individual no role to play in his or her salvation. Such a view of deification as a mechanical, “physical” process is the precise basis on which Baur’s student Albrecht Ritschl and those in his school influentially claim it has no place in Western theology. The antecedent condition for deification coming to be characterized as Eastern, then, is it being understood as “physical,” and it is Baur who is ultimately responsible for Ritschl so viewing the doctrine. Baur’s Idealist‐inspired retrieval thus raises a mistaken understanding of deification to prominence in the modern period, resulting in misunderstandings of the doctrine that persist down to the present day.