Monday, July 30, 2007

More on Deification in Early Christianity

Here are some more relevant quotes and sources on the widespread belief in deification in the early Christian church. The following passage is an extract from the lengthy article found on this site. I am not endorsing the entire article; but the passage is significant and relevant to the subject of our discussion. See my previous Blog “Deification of Man and Plurality of Gods”.

He [Professor Harnack] makes the bold statement that the doctrine of deification was a primary teaching of all the scholars of the first Christian community. Harnack states:

“After Theophilus, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Origen, the idea of deification is found in all the Fathers of the ancient Church, and that in a primary position. We have it in Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Apollinaris, Ephraem Syrus, Epiphanius, and others, as also in Cyril, Sophronius, and late Greek and Russian theologians. In proof of it, Psalm 82:6 (“I said, Ye are gods”) is very often quoted.” (Inge, p. 358) [Christian Mysticism, by R. W. Inge]

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Let us now look at what some of the early theologians (who lived in the four centuries after Christ) had to say about the biblical teaching of the deification of man.

Theophilus said “that a man, by keeping the directions of God, may receive from him immortality as a reward and become God (ad Autol. ii.27).

Clement of Alexandria said mankind was to become immortal: “to be imperishable is to share in Divinity [to be like God]” (Strom. v.10:63).

Hippolytus stated it even more clearly:

“Your body shall be immortal and incorruptible as well as your soul. For you have become God. All the things that follow upon the divine nature God has promised to supply to you, for you were deified in being born to immortality” (Philos. x.34).

One of the principal developers of the Nicene Confession was Athanasius. His works are filled with the doctrine of deification. “For He [Christ] was made man that we might be made God (De Incar. Para. 54). “The Word was made Flesh in order to offer up this body for all, that we might be deified (De Dec. para. 14). “He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us (Orat. I..para.39).

Chrysostom said: “Christ came to us, and took upon him our nature and deified it.”

Gregory of Nyssa said that Christ coming in flesh has now “deified everything kindred and related to mankind” (Catechism xxxv).

This doctrine of deification was also reflected in the teachings of Eusebius, the first historian of the Christian community. He was acquainted with all the top scholars before his time and was aware of the principal theological concepts then being taught throughout the whole of Christendom. When all his works are surveyed, it shows what real knowledge of early New Testament truth was understood at the time. . . .

In regard to the doctrine of salvation in Christ, Eusebius hit the nail right on the head. In fact, he merely stated what all knowledgeable scholars were aware of at the time. Note what Eusebius said about the meaning of Christian salvation:

“The Word of God [Christ] is now God as He had been man, in order to deify mankind together with himself (Demonst. iv.14). It was clearly understood by Eusebius that mankind is on earth finally to become, through Christ, as divine as Christ Jesus is now Himself divine.

Professor Ferrar, who translated Eusebius’ work Demonstratio Evangelica, gave an overall view of Eusebius’ understanding of salvation and how he reflected the general belief of all major theologians of his time. Ferrar said the doctrine of human deification which came by union with Christ is “perhaps the greatest theological system of antiquity, and it is obvious how it [deification] lies behind and beneath all that Eusebius says” (Intro. Proof of the Gospel, vol. I. p.xxvii).

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