Deification

The deification of the Virgin Mary: A brief response

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He was made man that we might become god (Athanasius of Alexandria, De Inc, 54.3).

Many individuals these days, both in the Catholic Church (especially in America) and in Protestant ecclesial communities, tend to make the claim that the Virgin Mary is not deified, was not deified at the very instance of her conception, and has never been deified. Such a claim seems to be originating from the deep-seated fear, likely Protestant in origin, that the Holy Virgin is being worshipped with the worship that should be reserved for God alone, instead of just being honored as the Mother of God. Both, however, are wrong in their above-referenced claims. They are also wrong in their 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 worship that is reserved only for God, whereas proskynesis is the relative worship that can be legitimately given to the saints. Proskynesis is more commonly understood by the people as veneration. However, it is still worship, even though not the kind of worship that should be reserved for God alone.

What is deification?

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).

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). 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, Response to I.13,9).

Gross (1938/2002) explained 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 [whereby one] participates by grace in the perfections that God possesses by nature . . . 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 further elaborated 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).

The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

He has given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature (2 P 1:4).

According to Pius IX (1854), “From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints, so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.

“And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent. To her did the Father will to give his only-begotten Son — the Son whom, equal to the Father and begotten by him, the Father loves from his heart — and to give this Son in such a way that he would be the one and the same common Son of God the Father and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was she whom the Son himself chose to make his Mother and it was from her that the Holy Spirit willed and brought it about that he should be conceived and born from whom he himself proceeds” (Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, para. 1-2).

Note: This would become known as the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Church, a dogma that was implicitly and not-so-implicitly held also by the early Fathers of the Orthodox Church, namely the Byzantine Fathers.

Discussion

Is it not written in your Law: I said, ‘You are gods?’ (Jn 10:34).

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’ (Jerome of Stridon, Hom, 14).

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 (Hilary of Poitiers, De Trin, 10.7).

As can be seen from the above, the Virgin Mary is deified, was deified at the very instance of her conception, and has always been deified. Otherwise, she would not have been sufficiently worthy of being the Theotokos, the bearer of the sinless Word. The eternal Father Himself attested to Mary’s deification at the beginning of all time (Gn 3:15), as did her Son during the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:4) and the Archangel Gabriel during the Annunciation (Lk 1:28).

That having been said, the Virgin Mary is not God, nor has she ever been (or claimed to be) God. Deification does not mean that one becomes a god by nature – that is an erroneous understanding of deification; a false understanding borne of fear if not miseducation.

Deification is “God’s perfect and full penetration of man” (Staniloae, 2002, p. 362) and “all who share in this [divine] light are referred to as deified . . . above nature and virtue and knowledge . . . [as] this grace effects this ineffable union” (Gregory Palamas, 1338/1983). Hence as the Virgin Mary is, was, and will always be the Immaculate Conception, she is, as Palamas (2005) stated, the epitome of deification.

References

  • Bartolo-Abela, M. (2017). Icons as resistance: Challenging the new iconoclasm in the Catholic Church.
  • Dionysus the Aeropagite. EH 1. 3, PG 3. 376a.
  • Gregory Palamas. (1338/1983). The triads in defense of the holy hesychasts.
  • _____. (2005). Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas.
  • Gross, J. (1938/2002). The divinization of the Christian according to the Greek Fathers.
  • Maximus the Confessor. Ad Thalas 61, PG 90, 636C.
  • _____. Scholia 6, ibid. 644C.
  • Pius IX. (1854). Ineffabilis Deus. 
  • Staniloae, D. (2002). The experience of God: Orthodox dogmatic theology, Vol. 2, The world: Creation and deification.
  • Thomas Aquinas. (1225-1274). Summa Theologica.

Deification is the true aim of man

There is no other way to know God than by the vision of the Light which comes from Him (Symeon the New Theologian).

Deification – the restoration of the likeness (not the image) – is the true aim of humankind, not just salvation, because deification is 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 (Palamas, Ad Thalas 61, PG 90, 636C; Scholia 6, ibid. 644C). It is deification that allows 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)’ (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Response to I.13,9).

It is time – The relationship between the Father and the child

And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of My Name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life (Mt 19:29).

Give Him everything. It is time. Give Him everything without the slightest hesitation: everything you are and everything you are not; everything you have and everything you have not, down to the slightest thing. The Almighty and incomparable Father will supply and repay you like none other. He will repay you with a joy beyond description and He will give you His very own Self.

Yes, the Father will give you Himself and everything that is His in the entire universe, including His only-begotten Son in like (but not identical) manner to how He had given Him to the Virgin Mary – the coming of the Kingdom. Give yourself to the Heavenly Father, therefore, no matter who you are; no matter where you are. Give yourself to Him without fear, from the bottom of your heart. You can never lose, you can only gain.

On deification – 6

Deification and theology

Theology is theoria – the vision of God (Gregory Palamas).

All truly dogmatic work has a basis in mystical experience . . . all mystical work is connected to the realm of dogma, in that it expresses and exposes the content of the experiences of divine things (Lossky, 1967/1974).

To end, deification turns man into a theologian not because he has studied theology academically and intellectually, but because he attains theoria. At this stage of the spiritual life, man

communes with the angelic powers…approaches the uncreated Light and the depths of God are revealed to him through the Spirit. This man knows many things which are hidden from others, including mysteries that exist in Holy Scripture (N. Stithatos in Vlachos, 2010).

On deification – 5

Deification and Theosis

Suddenly the Almighty reveals Himself in boundless humility. The vision floods our entire being and instinctively we bow in adoration…Prayer to this God of love and humility rises from the depths of our being…Brought from nothingness into life, man is drawn by His Creator into the fullness of divine life (Arch. Sophrony, 1997).

Only those found worthy of seeing the uncreated Light are able to gain true knowledge of God (Vlachos, 2010).

When deification occurs, it is not solely the soul which takes part in theoria but also the body, for man sees the divine light and hears the voice of God after both his soul and the physical senses have been transformed by divine grace (Vlachos, 2010). Theoria is defined as seeing the glory of God through union with Him and deification.  (more…)

On deification – 4

Illumination and Deification

He who enjoys illumination is greater and receives more that he who only tastes, for he has within himself the assurance of his visions (Maximus the Confessor, Hom. 7,5-6, PG 34, col.527).

The Divine One purifies the man who desires Him: by this purification, He creates men of divine character, conversing as with friends with those who have attained this state; and uniting Himself as God with gods, and making Himself known to them perhaps to the same extent that He knows those who are known to Him (Gregory of Nazianzus, Hom, XLV.3, PG XXXVI, 625C-628A).

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Mt 5:8).

Union with God became discontinuous after the fall because man became imperfect. Therefore, man can become deified and attain theoria – start seeing God – only insofar as his nous has first been healed by the trials of purification and reopened by the illumination which occurs through baptism in the Holy Spirit (Vlachos, 2005, 2010). The phrase ‘baptism in the Spirit’ as used herewith refers to it as historically understood throughout Christian tradition (e.g., Kontzevich, 1989).  (more…)

On deification – 3

Deification versus Salvation

He was made man that we might become god (Athanasius of Alexandria, De Inc, 54.3). 

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, 1965).

Many, especially in Western Christianity, tend to commingle the terms deification and salvation as though they have the same meaning, but this manifests poor understanding of the two terms as originally meant by the Fathers of the Church. In fact, when the language and context of deification and theosis are replaced with the language and context of salvation, Patristic theology becomes, in effect, displaced by Reformation language (Kharlamov, 2010), with the consequent loss of the original meanings. Salvation is part of deification, but

(more…)

On deification – 2

Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods? (Jn 10:34).

He has given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature (2 P 1:4).

Two kinds of deification exist. The first kind refers to the

elevation of man to the highest level of his natural powers, or to the full realization of man…[when] the divine power of grace is active in him…[The second kind refers to the] progress which man makes beyond the limits of his natural powers, beyond the boundaries of his nature, to the divine and supernatural level (D. Staniloae, 2002, p. 363).

For man to pass from the first kind of deification which is well-known, to the second (more…)

On deification – 1

What is deification?

Deification is the attaining of likeness to God and union with Him so far as is possible (Dionysus the Aeropagite, EH 1.3, PG 3.376a).

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, Serm. 166.4).

Deification can be defined as “God’s perfect and full penetration of man” (Staniloae, 2002, p. 362). The deification or divinization of man is not “an identification with God; it is only an assimilation, a very eminent restoration of the original divine likeness…[whereby one] participates by grace in the perfections that God possesses by nature . . . (more…)

NEW – Deification of Man in Christianity

Deification Front CoverDeification is the transformation of man into god through the grace of God. Predominant in the theology of Eastern Christianity, but marginalized and obscured in contemporary interpretations of the theology of Western Christianity, Bartolo-Abela explores how it is deification, not just salvation, that was and remains the intent of God for mankind, with deification occurring not solely in patria, but in via and in patria. This is an understanding of deification which has been largely lost and needs to be recovered in the Western Church.

Examining the works of the Church Fathers on both sides of the East-West divide in Christianity, Bartolo-Abela shows that rather than being restricted to the East, deification featured consistently in many theological works popular in the West, with (more…)

Description of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God – 3

FOR THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER

The Virgin Mary sings

You stood at the right archway of my dining room late that weekday evening, once again without your crown; wearing your white, floor-length mantle with its blue ribbon traveling inside its borders. This time you came as the joyful Mother at work. Singing an incredibly beautiful albeit unknown song with boundless joy, happiness and love on your petite face, your luxuriously melodious and tonal singing made me feel as though liquid love was suddenly being drained all over me. It was as though Heaven itself was being poured out. No earthly voice or song can, in fact, compare to yours, as your infinitely sweet song was the song of joy of the Holy Trinity mediated through your deified body.  (more…)

Why we were created – 3 – To become deified by God our Father

“The highest expression of the dignity and vocation of man, according to the Christian vision, is crystallized in the doctrine of the divinization of man . . . The Greek Fathers, surmounting all the encumbrances that the pagan use had accumulated on the concept of deification (theosis), made it the fulcrum of their spirituality . . . ‘The aim of life for Greek Christians — one reads in the (more…)