The Church Fathers on Deification
Below are more statements by the Church Fathers and early Christian writers on deification. Both on their own and taken as a whole, these statements illustrate how it is deification, not mere salvation, that has always been the aim of God for humankind, regardless of the stripping of any semblance of divinity and language sanitization that have occurred throughout the more recent centuries:
Ambrosius of Milan:
He makes us partakers of the divine nature in His power (On Christ. Faith 5.14).
Athanasius of Alexandria:
He Himself has made us sons of the Father and deified men by becoming Himself man . . . He was God and then became man, and that to deify us (Cont. Arian 1.11.38,39).
The work is perfected because men, redeemed from sin, no longer remain dead, but being deified, have in each other by looking at Me the bond of charity (Cont. Arian 3.25.23).
The Word was made flesh in order to offer up this body for all and that we, partaking of His Spirit, might be deified (De Decret 3.14).
He has become Man that He might deify us in Himself and He has been born of a woman and begotten of a Virgin in order to transfer to Himself our erring generation, and that we may become henceforth a holy race and ‘partakers of the Divine Nature’ as blessed Peter wrote (Lett 60).
Augustine of Hippo:
If the word of God came to men, that they might be called gods, how can the very Word of God, who is with God, be otherwise than God? If by the word of God men become gods, if by fellowship they become gods, can He by whom they have fellowship not be God? If lights which are lit are gods, is the light which enlighteneth not God? If through being warmed in a way by saving fire they are constituted gods, is He who gives them the warmth other than God? (On the Gospel of John, Trac 48.9).
It is evident then that He hath called men gods that are deified of His grace, not born of His substance . . . If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods: but this is the effect of grace adopting, not of nature generating . . . The rest that are made gods, are made by His own grace, are not born of His substance, that they should be the same as He, but that by favor they should come to Him and be fellow-heirs with Christ (On the Psalms 50.2).
The Son of God hath been made partaker of mortality in order that mortal man may be made partaker of divinity (On the Psalms 53.5).
That Godhead equal to the Father was made partaker of our mortal nature not of His own store, but of ours, that we too might be made partakers of His Divine Nature, not of our store, but of His (On the Psalms 139.1).
God wishes not only to vivify us, but also to deify us. When would human infirmity ever have dared to hope for this unless divine truth had promised it? . . . Our God, the true God, the one God has stood up in the synagogue of gods, many of them of course, and gods not by nature but by adoption, by grace. There is a great difference between God who exists, god who is always God, true God, not only God but also deifying God; that is if I may so put it, god-making God, God not made making gods, and gods who were made, but not by a craftsman (Sermon 23B).
You are already gods (Sermon 81).
Basil of Caesarea
Hence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of good gifts, the heavenly citizenship, a place in the chorus of angels, joy without end, abiding in God, the being made like to God, and, the highest of all, the being made God (De Spir Sanc 9.23).
Clement of Alexandria
I desire to restore you according to the original model that ye may become also like Me (Exhortation 12).
They are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Savior (Stromateis 7.10).
Cyprian of Carthage
What man is, Christ was willing to be, that man may be what Christ is (Treat 6.11).
Freedom made hateful the beauty of Adam that he might be god . . . But grace adorned its flaws and God came to be human. Divinity flew down to rescue and lift up humanity. Behold the Son adorned the servant’s flaw so that he became god as he had desired (Hymns on Virginity 48.14-18).
Gregory of Nazianzus
Who can mold, as clay-figures are modeled in a single day, the defender of the truth . . . be God and make others to be god? (Orat 2).
His inferior nature, the humanity, became God . . . in order that I too might be made god (Third Theol Orat).
What greater destiny can befall man’s humanity than that he should be intermingled with God and by this intermingling should be deified . . . that thou mayest become a god, ascending from below (Fourth Theol Orat).
Gregory of Nyssa
He was transfused throughout our nature in order that our nature might by this transfusion of the Divine become itself divine (The Great Cat 25).
The God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be defied (The Great Cat 38).
Gregory of Thessalonica
He who participates in the divine energy . . . becomes himself, in a sense, Light; he is united to the Light and with the Light he sees in full consciousness all that remains hidden for those who have not this grace. He thus surpasses not only the corporeal senses, but also all that can be known . . . for the pure of heart see God . . . who, being the Light, abides in them and reveals Himself to those who love Him (Serm Feast of Pres Bl Virgin).
Hilary of Aries
Just as God stepped out of his nature to become a partaker of our humanity, so we are called to step out of our nature to become partakers of his divinity (Intro Comm 2 P).
Hilary of Poitiers
The object to be gained was that man might become God (De Trinitate 9.38).
When God was born to be man, the purpose was not that the Godhead should be lost, but that the Godhead remaining, man should be born to be God (De Trinitate 10.7).
Hippolytus of Rome
Thou hast become God: for whatever sufferings thou didst undergo while being a man, these He gave to thee because thou wast of mortal mould, but whatever it is consistent with God to impart, these God has promised to bestow upon thee because thou hast been deified and begotten unto immortality (Ref Her 5.30).
Ignatius of Antioch
It is therefore good for you to be in perfect unity that you may at all times be partakers of God (Eph 4.2).
Irenaeus of Lyons
God stood in the congregation of the gods, He judges among the gods (Adversus Haereses 3.6.1).
To whom the Word says, mentioning His own gift of grace: ‘I said, Ye are all the sons of the Highest and gods; but ye shall die like men’ . . . it was for this end that the Word of God was made man and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God (ibid. 3.19.1).
Man does not see God by his own powers; but when He pleases He is seen by men, by whom He wills and when He wills, and as He wills . . . those who see the light are within the light and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God are in God and receive of His splendor . . . Men therefore shall see God that they may live, being made immortal by that sight and attaining even unto God (ibid. 4.20.5, 6a).
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” (ibid. 5.Pref).
As the opinions of certain [persons] are derived from heretical discourses, they are both ignorant of God’s dispensations and of the mystery of the resurrection of the just, and of the [earthly] kingdom which is the commencement of incorruption, by means of which kingdom those who shall be worthy are accustomed gradually to partake of the divine nature (ibid. 5.32.1).
Jerome of Stridon
We are gods, not so by nature, but by grace: ‘But as many as received him he gave power of becoming sons of God.’ I made man for that purpose, that from men they may become gods: ‘I said, You are gods, all of you sons of the most High’ (Homily 14).
He Himself is God and He hath called me god; with Him is the essential nature as an actual fact, with me only the honor of the name: ‘I have said ye are gods, and ye are all children of the most highest.’ Here are words, but in the other case there is the actual reality. He hath called me god for by that name I have received honor (Homily 2).
Man can become God and a child of God. For we read, ‘I have said, Ye are gods, all of you are the children of the Most High’ (Ps. lxxxii. 6).
And what is greater, the power to become both God and angel and child of God is put into his own hands (Hom Acts 32).
All men are deemed worthy of becoming ‘gods’ and of having power to become sons of the Highest (Dial 124).
The Word exercises an influence which does not make poets . . . by its instruction it makes mortals immortal, mortals gods (Discourse to the Greeks 5).
The man will triumph over the earth. He will be exactly similar to God (hic erit consimilis Deo) who has embraced the virtue of God (Div Inst 6.23).
Mark the Ascetic
The Logos became man, so that man might become Logos (Let Nic).
Origen of Alexandria
It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty (Comm J 2.2,3).
From Him there began the union of the divine with the human nature in order that the human, by communion with the divine, might rise to be divine (Adv Cel 3.28).
Tertullianus of Carthage
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 (Adv Herm 5).
Although Adam was by reason of his condition under law subject to death, yet was hope preserved to him by the Lord’s saying, ‘Behold, Adam is become as one of us;’ that is, in consequence of the future taking of the man into the divine nature [hominis in divinitatem] (Adv Marc II.25).
But how does deification apply to the Virgin Mary, since she has always been a creature and not the Creator?
(continued in Part 3)