Since this blog is ostensibly to fill in our friends and family back home about our lives here in Nottingham, I thought I’d write a post about my topic. My new topic, I should say. I’ve recently changed the topic for my thesis and I thought I would give you all the skinny on what topic was, what is now, why I changed it, and why I think this topic is important.
What Was My Topic?
While Lauren and I were still in Lincoln and I was going to grad school, I became fascinated with ancient and medieval Church history. I had also been romantically involved with Irish history. I decided to combine those two interests with my love for theology and wrote my Master’s thesis about a sixth century Irish monk named Columbanus. I wrote about his theology of grace (how God saves us and how we interact with that) and his theology of the Trinity (how God is three, but one). From there, the plan had been to write my doctoral thesis about Columbanus and focus in on his view of grace. Things had already begun to change, however.
As I was writing my Master’s thesis I became concerned that if I continued on this path (writing about Columbanus) I would be pigeonholed into the very specific field of Celtic studies; that I would be seen as an Irish historian and not a theologian or even an early church (patristics) scholar. Those feelings continued with me, dogging my every step. Then, as I began doing my research here, new interests began to develop from my research. I became more interested in a new individual––John Cassian––and a new, albeit related topic––deification (or theösis). These new interests finally made me realize that this is the new direction I wanted to take.
What Is My New Topic?
So now, I am writing on a new topic. Instead of a sixth century Irish monk who spent a third of his life in Europe, I’m writing about a fifth century Gaulish (southern France) monk who spent quite a bit of time in Jerusalem and Egypt. Instead of grace and how humans interact with God in receiving His grace, I’m writing about deification. This is the idea that human beings in Christ come to participate in the attributes of God, that without losing ourselves in God (Buddhism) we still unite to God and become in some paradoxical way deified ourselves. The idea does not suggest that we become gods in the Greek or Roman sense (nor Mormon for that matter), but that we become as much like God in Jesus Christ as it is possible for us to become.
Why Did I Change My Topic?
I will admit right off the bat, that in some ways I changed my topic because this is easier (though also immensely harder). In order to continue on with my original topic I would have had to research and write about historical minutiae (the dating of texts, proof of authorship, manuscript traditions, etc.). These are not the subjects I personally am interested in. I have found that I am more theologian than I am historian (and this is probably for the better). Briefly, however, I changed my topic also because this subject is narrower, there are more general sources than my original topic (but no more specific sources), and as I noted above, this is more in line with what kind of academic I wish to be.
What is the Importance of My Topic?
Some of you may be wondering, however, what is the point? Why am I writing about any dead Christian who wrote ages ago about complicated topics? In short, it changes (or should change) how we live. Central to John Cassian (and the topic of deification) is that while we can do nothing to save ourselves without divine assistance, we still must strive to become what we are called to become. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, calls us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. In short, he calls us to an active faith. John Cassian (and deification) help us understand how to realize this call to an active faith by imitating Christ, being virtuous, rooting out the sins in our lives, and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of the Son. This is why I’m doing a Ph.D.; why I study theology; why I’m studying John Cassian and deification. I do this because it changes the way I live and helps me (and hopefully others) work with God rather than against Him or not acting at all, waiting for God to everything for me.
Thanks for reading. I’ll make sure to give updates as I make progress in my research. Also, make sure to check out my other blog, Christianity and Virtue, if you’re interested in seeing a bit more about my research and other theological interests.
Until next time.