The Deification of the Virgin Mary in Christianity
Many tend to claim that the Virgin Mary is not deified, was not deified at the moment of her conception, and has never been deified. This claim seems to originate from the deep-seated fear, likely Protestant in origin, that the Holy Virgin is being worshipped with that kind of worship reserved for God alone, instead of being honored as the Mother of God. This fear, however, is unfounded. What seems to be happening is the perpetuation of a misunderstanding and lack of sufficient comprehension (and use) of the terms deification and worship.
What is Worship?
Two kinds of worship exist: the worship of latreia and the worship of proskynesis (Bartolo-Abela, 2017). Latreia is the kind of worship reserved for God alone, while proskynesis is the relative worship that can be legitimately given to any saints. Proskynesis is more commonly understood by people as veneration. However, it is still worship in a technical sense, although not the kind of worship that needs to be reserved for God. What is deification and what kind of worship is employed towards those human beings who have become deified?
Deification – Brief Overview
Have I not said that you are gods? (Jn 10:34).
God, you see, wants to make you a god; not by nature, of course, like the One whom He begot but by His gift and by adoption (Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 166.4).
Through Christ, the Word made flesh, man has access to the Father in the Holy Spirit and comes to share in the divine nature (Paul VI, Dei Verbum, 1965).
The Most High knew that Adam wanted to become a god, so He sent His Son who put him on in order to grant him his desire (Ephraim the Syrian, Nisb. Hymns LXIX.12).
He became human so that he might make us gods (Athanasius of Alexandria, De Incarnatione 54.3).
According to Dionysus the Aeropagite, deification is defined as “the attaining of likeness to God and union with Him so far as is possible” (EH 1. 3, PG 3. 376a) both in this life and the next. Maximus the Confessor called deification “the invocation of the great God and Father, the symbol of the authentic and real adoption, according to the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit, thanks to the bestowal of which the saints become and will remain the sons of God” (Ad Thalas 61, PG 90, 636C; Scholia 6, ibid. 644C). Thomas Aquinas stated that deification allowed “this name God [to be] communicable not in its whole signification, but in some part of it by way of similitude so that those are called gods who share in divinity by likeness, according to the text I have said, ‘You are gods (Ps 82:6)’ (Summa Theologica, Resp. to I.13,9).
Gross (1938/2002) elaborated that deification, [the] “divinization of the Christian is not an identification with God [but] an assimilation, a very eminent restoration of the original divine likeness [where one] participates by grace in the perfections that God possesses by nature . . . [Throughout the process of deification], the Spirit transforms the soul to the image of the Logos, the natural Son of God, thus making the Christian an adoptive child of God. Affecting, it seems, the very essence of the soul, this mysterious conformation is not of a moral nature only, but of a physical nature. It is a veritable partaking of the divine nature and of the divine life” (p. 272). Aquinas added that in deification “the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature . . . God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness” (Summa Theologica, 2.1:112.1).
Irenaeus of Lyons explained that God had “become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself” (Adversus Haereses, Preface). He added, “Do we cast blame on Him because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men and then later as gods? Although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, that no one may charge him with discrimination or stinginess, He declares, ‘I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are sons of the Most High’ . . . It was necessary at first that nature be exhibited, then after that what was mortal would be conquered and swallowed up in immortality” (ibid., 4.38). Clement of Alexandria declared, “Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god” (Exhortation to the Greeks 1). He stated, “If one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God . . . His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God and that man becomes a god since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, ‘Men are gods and gods are men’” (Stromateis 23). Clement added, “He who obeys the Lord and follows the prophecy given through Him . . . becomes a god while still moving about in the flesh” (Stromata 716,101,4). Augustine of Hippo stated, “He Himself that justifies also deifies for by justifying He makes sons of God: ‘For he has given them power to become the sons of God’ [Jn 1:12]. If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods” (On the Psalms 50.2.).
Deification is the process of fulfillment, starting from this earthly life, of the words of the Apostle Peter, “He [Christ] has given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature, flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world” (2 P 1:4). Deification as a term was common in the writings of the Greek Fathers and other Early Church Fathers until it was supplanted by the sterile and ‘safe’ language of the Reformation (Kharlamov, 2010).
(continued in Part 2)