Becoming a “god” … Through the Catholic Church?! … (part 2)

The Division of the Church at the Time of the Great Schism in 1054 AD.

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.

Becoming a “god” … (part 1)

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.[1]

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.[2]  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?


[1] 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.

[2] 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

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Theology and Salvation, Theosis and Deification and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Becoming a “god” … Through the Catholic Church?! … (part 2)

  1. Wow. These are very deep stuff.

    • Hey friend. Glad to see you back here on the site.

      Quite honestly, I am still learning a great deal on this subject, so I would never want to put myself up as any kind of expert. But like you, I have been … impressed with the weightiness of this theology. If you hang with me, I plan to continue this discussion through significant Protestant thinkers and then conclude it all with a series of questions.

      Thanks again for chiming in.

      • You’re welcome.

        Like how you dived into “Christian Perfection” and the roots in it, but it’s still very deep as I say and I find it’s not really what some average person would read, being quite unfamiliar to a few terms in your post.

  2. Josh The Younger says:

    I echo the tactician’s sentiments. Truly deep stuff. Not sure I can agree with it, but I think that everything should be considered before being written off. Christians shouldn’t be screaming “heresy!” left and right. Not until they truly understand what they’re quite literally condemning to hell.

    I’m getting really interested in this now, especially the semantics and finer details. Looking forward to more posts on this subject.

    • Josh … You just made my heart soar! Seriously, you just made me smile from ear to ear. And not because you may or may not agree with this particular doctrine, but because you are becoming intrigued by a theological issue. My honest prayer for everyone who is gracious enough to read this site, but particularly for my students, is that they would become excited by coming to know more about the Scriptures, the Church, the Great Tradition, theology, the culture around them and ultimately – most importantly! – God Himself. Thanks for blessing me with your kind words, brother.

  3. Peter Sipes says:

    Shamefully, I had never heard of theosis being an Orthodox, let alone Catholic teaching. Funny that. Given this post and a little other crib reading, this kind of explains some of what I’ve seen at name-not-to-be-mentioned person close to me.

    I’m curious to keep reading this series. As to answer one of your questions: the bit of scripture you dealt with yesterday seemed clear enough–though I’m not quite sure what it means practically for me.

    • What that tells me, Pete, is that you come out of a thoroughly Reformed background. As you will see tomorrow, there are certain Protestant sectors that adhere to a theology that is close to theosis in nature. It’s only in the really Reformed tradition that theosis/deification has been buried.

      As for the implications, I’m going to save that conversation for the end of the series. Quite honestly, they may be significantly larger than you and I have been taught to believe.

      Glad to see you drop by. I’ve been hoping you might find your way here.

  4. Diane Schiller says:

    Wow!! I have never heard of theosis before. Coming from a Catholic tradition and having family in that church your comments on the devine nature and receiving graces through the sacrements sounds familiar. I have always thought this incorrect and somehow works but don’t have a full understanding. I’ll be looking forward to reading more.

    • Hey Diane. While “deification” is technically a teaching of the Catholic Church, I’m not sure how much “airtime” it really gets from the pulpit. I’d be really curious to know …

  5. Bob Bryant says:

    It is interesting to consider how much, as Christians, we simply accept as truth because it is what we were taught and brought up in the tradition of. From a practical standpoint, I have often wondered how eternity in the kingdom of God would work. From a justification standpoint, we know that we have been forgiven through the sacrificial atonement of Christ. However, even in forgiveness, our sin nature still wars with the Spirit and thus we are to continue to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, what we understand to be sanctification. I have often wondered if when the Kingdom of God is fully realized and established after Christ’s return, do we just simply forget about sin and temptation? Revelation paints a picture of a pre-Fall garden type scene with the absence of suffering and the absence of sin. The doctrine of theosis that you are exploring does seem to provide an answer or possible explanation for our fallen, yet forgiven souls being able to dwell in the presence of the Most Holy God for all eternity. This would certainly fit with the temple text understanding of Genesis 1 and our understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God.

    On a side note, it makes me wonder if this teaching of theosis is the central piece in the Mormon teaching of deification for mortal souls? Just curious.

    • Interesting that you make the Mormon connection, Bob. I had the same thought; and I wondered if you would make that connection because of your old friend.

      As for the Garden, the Temple, and “the image of God,” it’s all coming as part of this discussion.

  6. mahoneyrm5150 says:

    Your jump from ancient church theosis to Aquinas as a theosis theologian is a disputed point in contemporary theology. I have two articles, previously mentioned, that discuss the use of this theological concept in the history of theology. Needless to say, to include Aquinas in the theosis discussion requires a broadening of the concept, some might say beyond what can still constitutes a true ancient expression of theosis.

    Central to the East’s theosis is the distinction between God’s essence and energies. Such substance metaphysics grounded in Plato are just not at home with Aquinas that wanted to make use of Aristotle in his theology.

    I don’t think this point takes away from your basic point is that theosis must be at least a part of our conception of salvation. At an even more basic level, conservative evangelicalism (not in the academy) needs to get its collective head out of the sand and start drawing from and teaching from the “Great Tradition” of the Church. Who in their right mind would draw conclusions about scripture without consulting the Church?

    • Morning Mahoney,

      I hear what you are saying in terms of the dispute, and clearly from my post, you can see that I have landed on the side of seeing theosis in the work of Aquinas. Assuming, for a moment, that one does not see it there, I would be very curious to know how that individual reconciles this with the fact that theosis is being discussed in the Catholic Catechism. Given how formative Aquinas is in the formation of Catholic doctrine, I don’t see how a contemporary Catechism is likely to contain this theology without the “Catholic Doctor” having included it in his work. In short, I think those that dispute this are massively underselling Aquinas’ role in the systemization of Catholic doctrine. Thoughts?

  7. Morning Tacticianjenro,

    Hope you find this comment all the way down here. Unfortunately, my site is not set up to allow for comments to go more than three deep. I’m going to have to fix that.

    So here’s why I’m responding. You commented: “it’s not really what some average person would read, being quite unfamiliar to a few terms in your post.”

    Two quick points. One, just as you and I are able to readily discussion ideas such as communism, materialism, naturalism, etc., so too would people 2000 years ago be able to discuss ideas such as this. For these ideas are grounded in the philosophy of Plato, and his work was understood much in the way that we understand the various “isms” of our world today. So all that to say, an average person, 2000 years ago, would have understood the stakes of this discussion, which just shows you how far we’ve come from our theological roots.

    Second quick thought. If you look at the comments above, you’ll see that several people have never even heard of “theosis” or “deification.” And yet, I have often heard friends (I’m not talking about the people who posted above) say that they are becoming “bored” with the faith. They’ve heard it all, they get it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Part of my desire to explore various theological themes on this site is to reinvigorate those that feel like they have theology nailed down. Our history is so rich with meaningful discuss that actually might change how people conceive of themselves and the One they serve. And yet, we often live in the shallow end of the theological pool because many pastors and lay church members alike refuse to wade in past the three foot tank. It’s almost as if we’re scared that we will “lose” people along the way. And I don’t think that’s a wise move on our part. I think it leads to people thinking they have it all down, which in turn leads to spiritual malaise.

    Again, I so appreciate you finding this site and joining the conversation. I hope you continue to find this discussion as rich as I am found it to be.

    Your brother in Christ,
    Scott

Comments are closed.