Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Augustine on Deification

The following quote from St. Augustine should be of interest to LDS readers.

But God forbid that we should meet him with such an assertion as he says certain persons advance against him: "That man is placed on an equality with God, if he is described as being without sin;" as if indeed an angel, because he is without sin, is put in such an equality. For my own part, I am of this opinion that the creature will never become equal with God, even when so perfect a holiness shall be accomplished in us, that it shall be quite incapable of receiving any addition. No; all who maintain that our progress is to be so complete that we shall be changed into the substance of God, and that we shall thus become what He is, should look well to it how they build up their opinion; for myself I must confess that I am not persuaded of this. (On Nature and Grace, chapter 37)

I believe this indicates that some Christians even as late as St. Augustine believed that those who are saved will "become what [God] is" and that their "substance" will "be changed into the substance of God." The word "substance" should be interesting to anyone who has studied early Christianity. The early Christians used "substance" as a code word for "same nature." The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are said to be of one substance, that is, each is of the same nature.

Food for thought.


NM said...

It is no surprise (to me) that there were people (even professing Christians) in St. Augustine's day who thought they would somehow become like God...

The significance here is that St. Augusting did not believe that we could become like God in the same way that there are professing Christians today who also think the same.
Interestingly, if we were to take the Genesis account literally (which I do), the idea of becoming like God is as old as the serpent's lie =)

It seems this lie keeps cropping up - even today; and dare I say - mostly promoted by the new age movement...

Andrew Miller said...


I must respectively disagree with your analysis on some points. First of all, you're right that there were people in St. Augustine's day that thought they would somehow become like God. There were also some New Testament writers who felt the same.

Where I disagree is that "becoming like God" is the old serpent's lie.

Here's the Bible account:

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God has made. And he said unto the woman, Has God actually said ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

"And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the tree of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

"And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:1-5).

As you know, Eve and then Adam ate the fruit. God cursed them and the serpent. Then the Lord God said to his companion(s),

"And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil..." (Genesis 3:22).

So, you see, my friend, the serpent didn't lie about Adam and Eve knowing good and evil and become as gods. That was the truth, and the Lord confirmed that it happened. The serpent lied that they wouldn't die.

John knew that we could become like God (1 John 3:2) as did Paul (1 Cor. 15:49; Romans 8:29). (See other Biblical references to Deification HERE.) Of course, this idea continued in the early Church and is what Augustine is here dismissing--a true evidence of the apostasy.

See more on Deification in early Christianity HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.

NM said...

So, do LDS believe that human beings are first and foremost gods? Furthermore (and for understanding's sake), if we were to leave aside Christ's atonement, would LDS still regard human beings to be gods anyway?

Andrew Miller said...

LDS believe that we are literally children of God, and therefore have a divine nature. This nature, however, is corrupted through sin. Through the atonement of Jesus Christ a person can, however, be cleansed from sin entirely and eventually become fully divine (although this will be long after death).

As far as Adam and Eve: They became as gods in the sense that they knew good from evil. Before the fall they did not. However, they were not as gods in many other ways: they were subject to death (after the fall), sin, pain, sickness, they did not wield divine power, etc. Satan, however, did not lie about them being "as gods knowing good and evil." He didn't say they would simply "be completely as gods." That would have been a lie.

JayFlow22 said...

"if we were to leave aside Christ's atonement, would LDS still regard human beings to be gods anyway?"
If the Latter-day Saints, or anyone for that matter, leaves aside the Atonement of Christ...nothing of any merit in this life or in the life to come would be possible.
But, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, man may be fully redeemed from the Fall, reconciled to God the Father, and partake of the Divine Nature...being made joint-heirs of Eternal Glory with Christ.
That is the LDS view of "deification"...we just call it the "Purpose of the Atonement".