On Catholic Deification

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TOmNossor

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I would like to discuss Catholic beliefs on deification. In interest of honesty let me explain that I am a LDS. Please do not get all anti-cultist on me. I will start by mentioning CCC #460 and a couple of statements of the ECF.

If you wish to compare and contrast LDS deification with Catholic deification that is clearly your prerogative and I will certainly participate, but that is not necessary for me to understand what I wish to understand. If we do not investigate LDS deification I will not get “apologetic” at all. The possibility of believing in deification as a Catholic was one of the things necessary for me to consider the Catholic Church. The fact that so few Catholics embrace any form of deification at all I think is sad. Anyway, on to the post.

I am of the opinion that there is a spectrum of beliefs available to the faithful Catholic. This spectrum must include an interpretation of CCC #460. I am of the opinion that it is your prerogative to define the beliefs of the Catholic Church (over mine) and it is absolutely your prerogative to define your beliefs (as you are the world authority on what you believe). I am interested both in what you as an individual Catholic believe, and what sort of bounds you would place around the spectrum of allowable beliefs available to the faithful Catholic.

So as not to spring too much upon anyone let me provide CCC460 and a couple of quotes. If you do not wish to be challenged to incorporate some form of deification into your beliefs, then feel free to not read past here (you can post a reply or not)

Much if not all of what I present here comes from a friend of mine. He may participate in this thread and he is welcome to claim his work, but let it be known that I am not as well read as might be incorrectly assumed by what I present.

The New Catechism

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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994 edition, p. 116.)

**Justin - Dial. 124 **…thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods”, and of having power to become sons of the Highest.(ANF 1.262)

**Irenaeus - Adv. Her. 5.Pref **

…the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.(ANF 1.526)

**Tertullian - Adv. Hermogenes 5 **Well, then, you say, we ourselves possess nothing of God. But indeed we do, and shall continue to do—only it is from Him that we receive it, and not from ourselves. For we shall be even gods, if we shall deserve to be among those of whom He declared, “I have said, Ye are gods,” and “God standeth in the congregation of the gods.” But this comes of His own grace, not from any property in us, because it is He alone who can make gods.(ANF 3.480).

**Athanasius - Contra Arians 1.11.38 **…but rather He Himself has made us sons of the Father, and deified men by becoming Himself man.(NF 4.329).

John Paul II

This is the central truth of all Christian soteriology that finds an organic unity with the revealed reality of the God-Man. God became man that man could truly participate in the life of God—so that, indeed, in a certain sense, he could become God. The Fathers of the Church had a clear consciousness of this fact. It is sufficient to recall St. Irenaeus who, in his exhortations to imitate Christ, the only sure teacher, declared: “Through the immense love he bore, he became what we are, thereby affording us the opportunity of becoming what he is.” (John Paul II, Jesus, Son and Savior, 1996, p. 215 - General audience address September 2, 1987.)

Charity, TOm
 
I guess i look at it this way. When we become what God “Is” we become “holy.”

I do not believe we can truly become all that God is because, we have a beginning. we will live in eternity with Him when we die but God is an uncaused cause. He is existence without Him we would not be. There is nobody before Him and nobody greater than Him.

I am called to be a saint, not a god. That is quite good enough for me.
 
Dear TOmNossor,

What I think and believe about deification is summed up in “The Living Flame of Love” by St. John of the Cross. If you haven’t read that particular work, I would suggest you do as it might help you out in your quest for fuller understanding.
 
Hi Tom,

OK Let’s start.

The Catholic view on Theosis (the more common term in Catholic Theology)

Those within the Beatific Vision (the presence of God) will acquire certain accidents in that experience.

Theosis is a gift of Grace where the essence of the soul is mystically united in a fashion to God.
(I John 3:2)

God does not ‘absorb’ us, the union is not, and will not be complete. We do not become God, and God does not become us.

He, instead, shares, as a gift, certain aspects of His Self. We are then capable of perfect Love and our will is brought in line with His. We will not, or cannot will for or desire something that God Himself does not Will. Not due to God changing our Will, but making known His plan to us, so that we will see fully the Beauty and Glory of His Plan. (I Corinthians 13:12)

St. Thomas Aquinas likened this change as to an iron placed in fire. The iron acquires certain accidents common to the nature of fire ( it sheds light, it burns ). But at no point does the iron actually become fire. It’s substance never changes.

Like the iron outside of the fire, we could not ‘retain’ this gift of Grace outside the presence of God. God alone chooses to share certain gifts of His Nature with us and it is only through Him that these gifts are manifest.

I hope this help clarify Catholic Theosis
 
Ryan Reeson:
I guess i look at it this way. When we become what God “Is” we become “holy.”

I do not believe we can truly become all that God is because, we have a beginning. we will live in eternity with Him when we die but God is an uncaused cause. He is existence without Him we would not be. There is nobody before Him and nobody greater than Him.

I am called to be a saint, not a god. That is quite good enough for me.
Ryan,

Thank you for your response.

I will comment from my understanding of Catholic theology.

That God is eternal and is the uncaused cause relative to us who are created creatures is true. I believe there is no room to say that we currently possess the nature of God.

I also think that it is quite acceptable for you to define your beliefs and reject the title of god. In doing this I assume that you link “godhood” to being eternal and the “uncaused cause.” I believe that there is reason to do this, but I believe that other Catholics throughout history have recognized that this is not the only way to define godhood. Perhaps this is the big difference, Catholic who embrace the statement, “Men may become gods,” allow for a more liberal definition of godhood. Catholics who reject the statement, “Men may become gods,” demand that godhood is associated with being the “uncaused cause.”

The above being said, to what extent is Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost the “uncaused caused.” Jesus Christ is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds, therefore I think we must acknowledge that they (while eternal) are not “uncaused.”

On being eternal:

We have this from St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haeresses 4:38:3 –

For from the very fact of these things having been created, [it follows] that they are not uncreated; but by their continuing in being throughout a long course of ages, they shall receive a faculty of the Uncreated, through the gratuitous bestowal of eternal existence upon them by God.

TOm:

So from the above I infer that St. Irenaeus says that the created do not become uncreated, but that God can give the “gratuitous bestowal of eternal existence” upon the non-eternal. I do not claim to understand this, but I would suggest that it has to do with unification with God.

I will try to make some more comments latter. I would again like to invite Catholics to comment not just on their take on CCC460, but on the spectrum of available beliefs. The Pope’s statement is not infallible nor Dogma, but as the saying goes, “Is the Pope Catholic?”

Charity, TOm

P.S. Thanks to everyone for their responses. I will try to comment more latter.
 
Br. Dan:
Dear TOmNossor,

What I think and believe about deification is summed up in “The Living Flame of Love” by St. John of the Cross. If you haven’t read that particular work, I would suggest you do as it might help you out in your quest for fuller understanding.
I have read the poem, and some of the commentary. I think I will need to read more.

One thing that does jump out at me is that St. John of the Cross is speaking of a living transformation. While still living the soul becomes part of the flame that is God. I would suggest there is much room for the statement, “men may become gods,” in his words; but I would also suggest that there is even greater unification with God after death and through resurrection.

Thanks for the suggestion.

Charity, TOm
 
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Brendan:
St. Thomas Aquinas likened this change as to an iron placed in fire. The iron acquires certain accidents common to the nature of fire ( it sheds light, it burns ). But at no point does the iron actually become fire. It’s substance never changes.

Like the iron outside of the fire, we could not ‘retain’ this gift of Grace outside the presence of God. God alone chooses to share certain gifts of His Nature with us and it is only through Him that these gifts are manifest.

I think this is certainly one way to discuss what CCC460 says. God is hot. Through our being in His presence we become hot. It is only through Him and with Him that we can be hot, for without Him we would become as we once were.

I think Dan’s linking to St. John of the Cross MAY go a little farther than St. Thomas Aquinas in that the wood in 1500’s speak actually becomes fire, but again not without the fire.
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Brendan:
God does not ‘absorb’ us, the union is not, and will not be complete. We do not become God, and God does not become us.

TOm:

I will quote Irenaeus again, but this does not mean that your understanding of theosis is not perfectly acceptable. It just means that I think there is more within the spectrum of Catholic belief than is comprehended by the statement you made, “We do not become God.”

**Irenaeus - Adv. Her. 5.Pref **

…the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.(ANF 1.526).

TOm:

Again as I said to Ryan, we cannot become the unmoved mover, but I think Irenaeus might at least qualify your statement that “We do not become God.” Of course I also think he might qualify his statement, “bring us to BE even what He is Himself,” too.

I will post in a minute some more quotes to prompt some discussion of the SPECTRUM of what a Catholic MAY believe.

Charity, TOm
 
Towards exploring the SPECTRUM of what a Catholic may believe let me share a couple more modern Catholic’s words.

G. H. Joyce

God, says St. Peter “has given us most great and precious promises that by these you may be made partarkers of the Divine nature (2 Pet. i. 4). Startling as the words are, the teaching which we have already considered will have prepared us for them. They signify that the sonship conferred on us through Jesus Christ raises us so far above our creaturely condition, that by it we partake in the life which is proper to the Three Divine Persons in virtue of Their nature. The passage does not stand altogether alone. When our Lord prays to His Father on behalf of the apostles and all who through their word should believe in Him, “that they all many be one, as Thou, Father in Me and I in Thee, that they may be made perfect in one” (John xvii. 22, 23), His words can hardly signify less than this. If our union with God is comparable to that which unites the Father and the Son, it can only be a union bases on a share in the Divine life…The fathers of the Church from the earliest times with one consent take the apostle’s words in their literal sense. There is no question of any figurative interpretation. They do not hesitate to speak of the “deification” of man. By grace, they tell us, men become gods. (G.H. Joyce, S.J., The Catholic Doctrine of Grace, London: 1920, pp. 34, 35)

Lugwig Ott

The Church prays in the Offertory of the Holy Mass : “Grant that by the mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His divinity, who vouchsafed to become partaker of our humanity.” Similarly in the Preface of the Feast of Christ’s Ascension into Heaven : “He was assumed into Heaven in order that we might be partakers in His divinity.” Cf. D 1021.

According to 2 Peter 1, 4 the Christian is elevated to participation in the Divine nature…Again, the scriptural texts which represent justification as generation or birth from God (John 1, 12 et seq. ; 3, 5 ; 1 John 3, 1. 9 ; Tit. 3. 5 ; James 1, 18 ; 1 Peter 1, 23), indirectly teach the participation of man in the Divine nature, as generation consists in the communication of the nature of the generator to the generated.

From the scriptural texts cited, and from others (Ps. 81, 1. 6 ; John 10, 34 et seq.), the Fathers derived the teaching of the deification of man by grace (theiOis, deificatio). It is a firm conviction of the Fathers that God became man so that man might become God, that is, defied. (Dr. Lugwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 256 - German ed. 1952; English 1955.)

Matthias Joseph Scheeben

If man is to be reunited to God as his Father, God Himself must raise him up again to His side…God must again draw man up to His bosom as His child, regenerate him to new divine life, and again clothe him with the garment of His children, the splendor of His own nature and glory…this transformation of the will is essentially bound up with the inner elevation of our entire being by the grace of divine sonship and participation in the divine nature…The children of God participate as such in the divine holiness of their Father, in His very nature. (Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, B. Herder Book Co.: St. Loius, pp. 615, 616, 617, 619 - emphasis mine - German first ed. 1865; English ed. 1946, translated from the 1941 German ed.)

Small comment to follow.

Charity, TOm
 
Again, I want to emphasize that these three men (and Pope John Paul II) are not presenting a dogmatic understanding of Catholic theology. They are presenting their understanding. In their words I see more than what I see in the words of most Catholics who discuss the “beatific vision,” but this does not mean that you as individuals must see more or embrace more than you currently do. I believe there is a spectrum of available beliefs within even the Catholic Church. As such, I only invite you to consider the words of these men and what CCC460 MAY mean.

It would still be interesting to me if someone would try to bracket what Catholics may believe. I would be very comfortable saying that no God exists apart from the Holy Trinity. The Bible seems pretty clear on this. This seems to be a form of bracket, but it may not be on the edge of the SPECTRUM at all.

Charity, TOm
 
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TOmNossor:
The above being said, to what extent is Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost the “uncaused caused.” Jesus Christ is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds, therefore I think we must acknowledge that they (while eternal) are not “uncaused.”
It is Catholic belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all possess the same divine nature, and that nature is One. From all eternity, the Father begets the Son; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Since we are speaking of eternity, not time, there is never any “instant” or interval between the Father’s existence and the Son’s being begotten, and never any “instant” between the Father’s existence and the proceeding of the Spirit. Because they are eternal, this is not “causation.” All three Persons of the Trinity equally possess the One divine nature which is the uncaused cause.

From His very existence, the Father speaks his Word which is the Son. The mutual love between Father and Son generates the Holy Spirit. No time interval. No causation.

We believe that in Baptism and the other sacraments, we receive sanctifying grace, which enables us to share in the life of God. And in heaven we will be united with Him. But that is not deification. Indeed, the temptation presented to Adam and Eve to induce them to sin was that “you will be like gods.” (Gen. 3:5) It continues to be our own temptation today.

JimG
 
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JimG:
It is Catholic belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all possess the same divine nature, and that nature is One. From all eternity, the Father begets the Son; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Since we are speaking of eternity, not time, there is never any “instant” or interval between the Father’s existence and the Son’s being begotten, and never any “instant” between the Father’s existence and the proceeding of the Spirit. Because they are eternal, this is not “causation.” All three Persons of the Trinity equally possess the One divine nature which is the uncaused cause.

From His very existence, the Father speaks his Word which is the Son. The mutual love between Father and Son generates the Holy Spirit. No time interval. No causation.

We believe that in Baptism and the other sacraments, we receive sanctifying grace, which enables us to share in the life of God. And in heaven we will be united with Him. But that is not deification. Indeed, the temptation presented to Adam and Eve to induce them to sin was that “you will be like gods.” (Gen. 3:5) It continues to be our own temptation today.

JimG
Jim,

Thank you for your response.

I found this today and thought I might add it in here. Alexander of Alexandria (I think) quoted by Newman, in Arians of the 4th Century:

Thus Alexander, the first champion of orthodox truth against Arius, in his letter to his namesake of Byzantium: “We must reserve to the unbegotten (or unborn) Father His peculiar prerogative, confessing that no one is the cause of His existence, and to the Son we must pay the due honour, attributing to Him the unoriginate generation from the Father, and as we have said already, paying Him worship, so as ever to speak of Him piously arid reverently, as ‘pre-existent, ever-living,’ and ‘before the worlds.’”

TOm:

I think there is room to question the “unmoved-mover-ness” of the Son. But, Alexander (while a champion of orthodoxy) was still, like all other ante-Nicean Fathers a subordinationalist.

Charity, TOm
 
This is an interesting discussion so far. The only thing that I would add is a reminder that God’s triune existance is a “mystery” and no words, whether from the ante-niceane fathers or John Paul II are going to adequately describe it. It is beneficial to explore what the great minds have said about it and to meditate on it for ourselves, but we must not think that we will ever in this life acheive a perfect understanding of it. Words cannot ever adequately explain HOW the Son is eternal and yet begotten.

We can know of mysteries because the existance of the mysteries has been revealed to us by God, but comprehending them is something altogether different. I can’t remember the exact quote but St. Augustine said that if you think you totally understand God then what you understand is NOT really God.

Something that you folks might enjoy reading is the explanation of the Trinity given by Frank Sheed in either “Theology for Beginners” or “Theology and Sanity.” Sheed has helped my appreciation for “mystery” a great deal.
 
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Socrates:
Something that you folks might enjoy reading is the explanation of the Trinity given by Frank Sheed in either “Theology for Beginners” or “Theology and Sanity.” Sheed has helped my appreciation for “mystery” a great deal.
Those are both great books. Many years ago, we used “Theology for Beginners” as a college theology text. Sheed does such a good job of covering the mysteries of the faith in a logical manner that after reading this book for the first time that I was able to have a really coherent understanding of my Faith.

JimG
 
Although I don’t like the term “deification” applied to human beings, there is certainly a sense within the Catholic faith in which we do become sons of God, and are raised above our nature. We do this by being incorporated into a life of Grace, which in Heaven is fully realized as a direct communion with God.

I have heard it said that if we could actually “see” a human soul in the state of sanctifying grace we would think that we were having a vision of God, so great is the glory of this gift which is given us.

We can never be equal to God ontologically—because there is but one divine nature. But we can become perfected morally through Grace. Our state in Heaven will be so far superior to our current human nature that we may view it as a sort of metaphorical deification. That’s what we mean by having a supernatural life of Grace.

JimG
 
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JimG:
Although I don’t like the term “deification” applied to human beings, there is certainly a sense within the Catholic faith in which we do become sons of God, and are raised above our nature. We do this by being incorporated into a life of Grace, which in Heaven is fully realized as a direct communion with God.

I have heard it said that if we could actually “see” a human soul in the state of sanctifying grace we would think that we were having a vision of God, so great is the glory of this gift which is given us.

We can never be equal to God ontologically—because there is but one divine nature. But we can become perfected morally through Grace. Our state in Heaven will be so far superior to our current human nature that we may view it as a sort of metaphorical deification. That’s what we mean by having a supernatural life of Grace.

JimG
JimG,

What you just said here I believe is a quite good way of looking at what these Catholic scholars and saints have said.

I even agree that we cannot fully know what “it” is, but that it is glorious beyond what we can comprehend.

C.S. Lewis also says that if we were to see our neighbors as they could be heaven that we would be strongly tempted to worship them.

Thanks again for your response.

Charity, TOm
 
Is monotheism still an accurate term in discussions of the Judeo-Christian tradition?

Strictly speaking, monotheism is the belief in one God. I must concede that a strict understanding of monotheism can no longer be used in meaningful discussions of the Judeo-Christian tradition. However, this does not mean that the term should be discarded. I would argue that a modified meaning of the term must be used in opposition to any modified form of polytheism in order to maintain an accurate description of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The following are some of the more salient terms that scholars have presented to describe the religion of Israel.

1.) Full blown polytheism – the belief that Israel acknowledged and worshipped more than one God.

2.) Henotheism/monolatry – the belief that Israel acknowledged more than one God, but worshipped only one God.

3.) Incipient/implicit monotheism – the belief that the intelligentsia of Israel were on the verge of pure monotheistic thought for some years before the exile, while the common peasants were either polytheistic and/or henotheistic.

4.) Practical monotheism – the belief that monotheism is the fundamental practice of Israel, without explicit denials of the existence of other “gods”.

5.) Creational monotheism – the belief that one God is the sole creator of the universe and all that is within.

6.) Strict/pure monotheism – the belief in only one God in an absolute sense.

As we move on to NT and the Christian religion the bare term “monotheism” is even more necessary to clarify. Though the NT speaks one God, the phrase is used only of God the Father. But, the NT also speaks of at least one other person as possessing divinity. As soon as one concedes that more than one person is God, the term monotheism must be reinterpreted.

Aug
 
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JimG:
We can never be equal to God ontologically—because there is but one divine nature. But we can become perfected morally through Grace. Our state in Heaven will be so far superior to our current human nature that we may view it as a sort of metaphorical deification. That’s what we mean by having a supernatural life of Grace.
I think you are missing a key point that was clearly made by many early Church Fathers, namely that Jesus Christ, though being God, became what we are (man) that we might become what He is (God). This, IMO, is no mere metaphor. Our Lord literally became man (without ceasing to be God); so, I see no reason qualify the rest of the ECF’s teaching: man (through grace) can become God (without ceasing to be man).

This fact remains: the ECF’s (and some modern Catholic theologians) do not qualify deification the way many lay Catholics do.

Aug
 
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