Yesterday afternoon, at the request of an old friend, I began a series on the subject of theosis, Oswald Chambers, and Chamber’s conception of “Christian Perfection.” If you have not read the first post, I would highly suggest that you take the time to do so now, for without reading the first post, you will not understand what is being discussed in the remainder of this series.
Once I finished the first post, it became clear to me that many people might make the assumption that theosis (or deification in the Latin) was largely an Eastern theological construct. And because we, as evangelicals, do not tend to be overly conversant with our sisters and brothers in the East, we might be tempted to dismiss this as a “heretical” idea, much as we often flippantly lump certain Roman Catholic beliefs under the heading of “heresy.” So today, I want to briefly unpack the evidence that deification is taught by the Roman Catholic Church, and then I want to conclude with an important question that I believe Protestants must be able to answer.
Let’s start with a brief overview of significant Catholic figures that have taught on this subject. The Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches did not occur until 1054 AD. So, when it comes to understanding theosis and/or deification, both the East and the West appeal to the same body of early Church Fathers, such as Ireneaus, Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria, Basil the Great, etc… But the question is, after the split, did the Roman Catholic Church continue to teach this doctrine?
The answer, quite simply, is yes. In the Western Roman Catholic Church, the major figures that continued to teach on this doctrine include: St. John of the Cross in his Dark Night of the Soul and Ascent of Mt. Carmel, St. Teresa of Avila in her Interior Castles and even, more importantly, St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Catholic Doctor,” in his Summa Theologica.
Perhaps, more significant than all of the aforementioned teachers of this doctrine, is the fact that deification is still taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is used to indoctrinate Catholic believers worldwide. Consider the following excerpts:
CCC Article #460: The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”
CCC Article #759: ”The eternal Father, in accordance with the utterly gratuitous and mysterious design of his wisdom and goodness, created the whole universe and chose to raise up men to share in his own divine life,” to which he calls all men in his Son. “The Father . . . determined to call together in a holy Church those who should believe in Christ.” This “family of God” is gradually formed and takes shape during the stages of human history, in keeping with the Father’s plan. In fact, “already present in figure at the beginning of the world, this Church was prepared in marvelous fashion in the history of the people of Israel and the old Advance. Established in this last age of the world and made manifest in the outpouring of the Spirit, it will be brought to glorious completion at the end of time.”
CCC Article #1999: The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification: Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.
CCC Article #1988: Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ’s Passion by dying to sin, and in his Resurrection by being born to a new life; we are members of his Body which is the Church, branches grafted onto the vine which is himself: [God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature. . . . For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized.
As you can see, theosis or deification is not merely an Eastern construct. Rather, both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have historically taught this doctrine from as early as 200 AD to the present. This, of course, leaves us with a rather significant question. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, when Luther initiated the split from Rome, the issues largely centered around the abuse of the papacy and the issue of justification. Put simply, Rome was teaching that salvation is contingent upon both justification and sanctification, while the Protestants wanted to put the entire burden of salvation upon the act of justification alone? The issue here is that Protestants have always maintained that they were the true heirs to the apostolic teachings, while Rome had been the one to go astray. But when you examine the subject of theosis or deification, which is intimately tied to salvation, justification, and sanctification, it would appear that many Protestants are making a break with all branches of the historical Church. And the question that must be answered is this: if both the East and the West have taught theosis and deification for 2000 years, are we to believe that only in the last 500 years have Christians properly understood salvation? And if so, what does this mean about the clarity of Scripture? And what does it mean about the giftedness of the pastors and theologians that were working prior to the Reformation?
 In 1999, A. N. Williams released The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas. This book attempts to find common ground between the East and the West through their shared belief in the doctrine of theosis and/or deification.
 An online version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be found at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/index/g.htm