Can someone explain Catholic beleifs about theosis or divinization?

I came across some discussion of this on an old thread, but I left thoroughly confused and thought I’d ask myself, what exactly is the Catholic doctrine of Divinization? Is it the same as the Eastern Orthodox(/Catholic?) doctrine of Theosis, and by the way in either case can you explain that? What is the Biblical AND patristic basis for these doctrines and their interpretation? Additionally how does the Catholic/Orthodox doctrine differ from the LDS (Mormon) doctrine of exultation, or the belief that men may become gods?

Thanks, and God bless!

There is no Catholic doctrine. It’s heresy.

Is it the same as the Eastern Orthodox(/Catholic?) doctrine of Theosis

Maybe an Eastern Catholic can elaborate, but my understanding of theosis is a unity with God (not becoming divine ourselves). For example, a nation might unite with other nations to serve a common purpose, without becoming part of those nations.

As I understand it, Western Christians have spoken less often of divinization because of the different categories of Western thought, but the idea has become more prevalent as Western Catholics have learned to appreciate the Eastern Christian tradition better. Certainly I think theiosis is a central Christian teaching!

The orthodox Christian doctrine differs from Mormonism because of the radical difference in how orthodox Christians and Mormons think of God. Mormons do not believe that God is radically other than us–they believe that we are God’s “spirit children,” so that when we “grow up” we become like God. Thus, whereas the orthodox (and especially the Eastern, i.e., Orthodox) approach is to say that God is essentially beyond our comprehension (the Easterners say that we don’t see God’s essence even in our glorified state; the Thomistic tradition says that we “see” it but don’t “comprehend” it), the Mormons believe that our lack of understanding of God is simply due to our current limited condition. (Note that the Western approach is actually relatively closer to Mormonism in this respect than the Eastern, which is probably one reason why Westerners have more difficulty speaking of divinization without falling into heresy.)

In short, orthodox Christian divinization means that through the work of the Holy Spirit we share in the life of the God who created us in His image and likeness. It doesn’t mean that we become ontologically the same as God. It’s an act of grace.


From the Catechism:

**398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”.

1988 Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ’s Passion by dying to sin, and in his Resurrection by being born to a new life; we are members of his Body which is the Church, branches grafted onto the vine which is himself:

[God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature. . . . For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized.

1589 Before the grandeur of the priestly grace and office, the holy doctors felt an urgent call to conversion in order to conform their whole lives to him whose sacrament had made them ministers. Thus St. Gregory of Nazianzus, as a very young priest, exclaimed:

We must begin by purifying ourselves before purifying others; we must be instructed to be able to instruct, become light to illuminate, draw close to God to bring him close to others, be sanctified to sanctify, lead by the hand and counsel prudently. I know whose ministers we are, where we find ourselves and to where we strive. I know God’s greatness and man’s weakness, but also his potential. [Who then is the priest? He is] the defender of truth, who stands with angels, gives glory with archangels, causes sacrifices to rise to the altar on high, shares Christ’s priesthood, refashions creation, restores it in God’s image, recreates it for the world on high and, even greater, is divinized and divinizes. And the holy Cure of Ars: “The priest continues the work of redemption on earth. . . . If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love. . . . The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”

460 The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”:“For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”**

That is not correct. Divinization is a perfectly acceptable, catholic/orthodox teaching of our salvation as participation in the divine nature.

Maybe he was thinking of divination.

That is absolute rubbish. I am sorry to be so blunt (please forgive me :frowning: ) but calling “deification”, the central dogmatic belief for orthodox Christian mysticism, “heresy” is unacceptable.

This is one of the most important patristic teachings. It was taught equally in the West as it was in the East. This doctrine is fundamental to the teaching of the Church Fathers, who held that “God became man, so that man might become GodSt. Augustine, Sermo 13 de Tempore].

The entire purpose of the divine economy whereby the Son of God became incarnate was for the deification of man.

Maybe an Eastern Catholic can elaborate, but my understanding of theosis is a unity with God (not becoming divine ourselves). For example, a nation might unite with other nations to serve a common purpose, without becoming part of those nations.

Being made in the image of God means that our soul is a spiritual “mirror” which, when cleansed through the fires of purification and wiped clean of the passions and sins which cloud it, reveals the Face of God to be within us as the very centre of our Being.

By grace, we pass beyond even this natural apprehension of God as our “centre” to find a life above ourselves where our reason cannot reach to the extent that we are led into the vey embrace of the love between the Three Persons and share in their Divine Life.

Such a union cannot be compared merely to two nations serving a common “purpose”.

While the Mormon error of thinking that human beings become mini-gods ruling over planets must be sternly avoided, divinization cannot be made into some “platitude” or purely symbolic idea like two separate individuals serving a common purpose. It is deep, ineffable communion of humanity with God in the risen Jesus. We are really incorporated into Christ’s body and made **partakers of the divine nature (2nd Peter 1:4). **

As Blessed Pope John Paul II explained:

“…Jesus is the new man (see Eph 4:24; Col 3:10) who calls redeemed humanity to share in His divine life. The mystery of the Incarnation lays the foundations for an anthropology which, reaching beyond its own limitations and contradictions, moves towards God Himself, indeed towards the goal of divinization. This occurs through the grafting of the redeemed on to Christ and their admission into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life. The Fathers have laid great stress on this soteriological dimension of the mystery of the Incarnation: it is only because the Son of God truly became man that man, in him and through him, can truly become a son of God…”

***- Blessed Pope John Paul II (Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 23) ***

“…For the Son of God became man so that we might become God…For He became man that we might become divine…”

***- St. Athanasius (298 – 373), church father, De inc.54, 3: PG 25, 192B ***

This is the very essence of Christian mysticism, that we become by grace what God is by nature.

As Saint Catherine of Genoa explained in the Catholic tradition:

“…I will not be content until I am locked and enclosed within that divine heart in which all created forms lose themselves and, so lost, remain divine…My I is God, and I know of no other I than this my God…God became man in order to make me God; therefore I want to be changed completely into pure God…”

***- Saint Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), Italian Catholic mystic ***

This in no way undermines the truth that God always remains personal as well as distinct from us in essence.

It is simply the realization of the fact that the purified soul, through the grace of God, is lifted up into the very life of the Trinity.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

260 The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity.100 But even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity: “If a man loves me”, says the Lord, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him”:101

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.102

The above quotation “102” is cited as being from a prayer by Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a great Catholic mystic who died in 1906. Her very name signifies participation in the life of the Most Blessed Trinity. The Catholic approach to theosis is a distinctly Trinitarian experience, even when expressed at its most apophatic as with Meister Eckhart, and consists in sharing in the very unity of the Triune Persons through participation and grace, fulfilled in this life where we are called to become a house for the Most Blessed Trinity and more fully consummated after our deaths in the state of heaven when, in Latin understanding, we will have perfect sight of the Beatific Vision - the Divine Essence unknowable - and in the words of Ruusbroec, “In this simple act of seeing we are therefore one life and one spirit with God.”

That is a good deal more than “serving a common purpose”.

Thank you for your insightful replies! So, thus far I have gleamed that theosis seems to imply, for the Latin, a participation in the life of the Holy Trinity specifically through seeing God as He is (beautific vision), and thus we fully express the Devine image in which we were created by being united too and filled by God. We are almost avatars of God, is this correct? We do not become Gods in our own right but are fully encompassed by the one true God so as to be so filled with Him and become Him in a sense. We don’t lose our essence but gain His as He fills us.

So how do we understand St. Justin Martyr when he said:
“It is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming ‘gods’” (Dialogue with Trypho 124)?


I don’t think avatar is a good term to use here. An avatar, as I understand it, is a manifestation of the divine in the illusory world of maya. The Christian understanding of creation, as I see it, is that God creates beings who in some sense are genuinely different from Him so that they may freely, by God’s grace, return to union with Him. There are certainly points of contact with the Hindu concept–the two are probably nowhere near as far apart as many folks think–but I wouldn’t simply borrow Hindu terms to express the Christian idea, particularly not that one.

The view of divinization as sharing in the life of the Trinity isn’t a particularly Latin idea. It is, on the contrary, taught most explicitly by the Greek Fathers.

And that would be how I understand St. Justin.


Thanks for the response Edwin! Perhaps avatar isn’t the best term, but your response prompted another question, what exactly do you mean by return to union with Him? Since we believe the soul is created at the moment of conception and NOT before in some sort of pre-existence (once again like Mormons) and also believe in Original Sin (at least for Catholics, not sure what the Orthodox and Episcopal positions on this are), what do you mean return?

Good question. Aquinas and many other medieval theologians based their theology on what was called the “exitus-redditus theme”–that everything comes from God and returns to God. This did not deny creation ex nihilo, though I grant that it seems to. (It’s one reason why I think the differences between Christianity and Hinduism are often exaggerated.) A good brief comment on it is this Lenten meditation by Michael Liccione. Even though God creates “out of nothing” (in scholastic language, God is not our material cause), the “ideas” according to which we were created come from God, and in that sense we all come from God. We are shadows and images of the divine perfection. Everything real in us is a reflection of God. Aquinas’ basic discussion of creation can be found here.


Only God is divine. While we might share in that divinity when we reach Heaven that does not make us divine/gods.
I believe David Filmer is correct. For anyone to suggest we will be God or a god is a heresy.

Hmmm . . . .

You and DavidFilmer in one corner.

Pretty much all the Church Fathers, most notably St. Athanasius, in the other.

Whom to believe?:shrug:

Actually I think you and David are misunderstanding what divinization means. But that’s why I’m indulging in some sarcasm. You really shouldn’t be so hasty when dealing with the Fathers.


If by divinization someone means that we become gods on the level of essence, then yes, of course, that is heresy. However, there is a perfectly catholic/orthodox teaching of salvation as divinization, and yes, divinization is one of the terms that is used (even by popes), along with deification and theosis.

Perhaps. offers only one definition:

To make divine; deify.

This cannot happen to humans. We can never become divine. We can be more closely united with God, but we can never become God.

For example: God is eternal. We are immortal. Those are not the same thing. Both have no end-point, but “eternal” has no start-point. We do. Nothing will ever change that.

If we wish to use a different definition of “divinization” that, perhaps, says that we will live in union with God and our will becomes perfectly aligned (by our choice) with the Divine will, then that’s fine. That’s what the Catholic Church has always taught about our state in heaven. We don’t “become” gods, but we fulfill our potential as freewill beings created in the image and likeness of God in perfect harmony with the Divine will. Catholics call such people “Saints,” and it’s easy to see how protestants mistake them for “Catholic gods,” since they are perfected in God’s own image, and might even appear divine from our imperfect viewpoint.

It would be helpful if the OP would post a link to the “old thread” that he was reviewing, so we could answer more specifically.

Perhaps this question could be answered with the question

“Are angels divine or deity”?

Absolutely not. Angels are created beings (just as we are). They are finite, and had a beginning (just as we did). But angels are not made in the image and likeness of God (as we are).

In our fallen earthly state, we are a “little lower than the angels,” but Scripture says the same of Jesus himself. But, in heaven, we will be greater [Heb 2:5-8]

Angels were created to minister to US:

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? [Heb 1:14]

We don’t even know if angels are immortal. They exist only to serve humanity, and once all of humanity has passed from this life, their purpose will have been fulfilled.


“…330 As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness…”

- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ch. 1, Art. 1. Para. 5

I think that if Holy Mother Church tells us angels are “immortal” then angels are immortal. That’s, you know, good enough for me :shrug:

The entire sacred tradition of the Church has consistently taught that angels are immortal.

I personally would not want to have archangel Michael or archangel Gabriel be served a letter of redundancy.

OK, fine. Angels are immortal.

But they were created to serve us on earth, and are inferior to us (in heaven). I suppose that, once all of humanity is complete, the angels will make sure that the 24-hour pizza buffet in heaven is kept stocked, and the beer never runs out. Or something.

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